Monday, October 15, 2012

Psalm 119:129-136

“The Steadying Word”
MasterPiece Church
14 October 2012


This morning we’re in Psalm 119:129-136, which means that today is brought to you by the Hebrew letter פ pe. If you were reading this psalm in Hebrew, its original language you would notice that all of the sentences in this stanza begin with the letter Pe. And that is consistent with the pattern throughout Psalm 119 -- which is an acrostic poem built around the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

So, listen closely to Psalm 119:129-136 -- the Pe stanza
129 Your laws are wonderful! That’s why I guard them. 130 Access to your words gives light, giving simple folk understanding. 131 I open my mouth up wide, panting, because I long for your commandments. 132 Come back to me and have mercy on me; that’s only right for those who love your name. 133 Keep my steps steady by your word; don’t let any sin rule me. 134 Redeem me from the people who oppress me so I can keep your precepts. 135 Shine your face on your servant, and teach me your statutes. 136 Rivers of tears stream from my eyes because your Instruction isn’t being kept. (CEB)
Do any of these themes sound familiar to you?

  • The Word gives light...
  • The distance of God -- and that the psalmist is calling for him to draw near to him and to save him... 
  • The oppression which the psalmist is enduring... 
  • The importance of God’s Word -- his commandments and statutes -- especially in that context... 
  • And the fact that there are people who are not taking God’s Word seriously -- which grieves the psalmist.

We’ve heard all of this before. There is a lot of redundancy in Psalm 119. Why say something so important in a brief and concise fashion when you can draw it all out, repeating it over and over again to emphasize the awesomeness of God’s Word?

This morning, I want to zoom in on a single verse which God led me to focus on and which is extremely relevant to where we are today.
Vs 133 -- “Keep my steps steady by your word; don’t let any sin rule me.”
And as I read this verse over and over again an image came to mind which I think is a great illustration of the point that the psalmist is making. It’s a prop -- literally. A walker is a prop that people use to steady their steps if for some reason they have a difficult time balancing and are prone to falling.

You’ve all seen these. Some of you have perhaps used one at some point or another in your life.

(I CALLED ONE OF THE YOUNG MEN FORWARD TO DEMONSTRATE THE WALKER.)

Now, I know that some people are embarrassed by the fact that they need a walker. But there are others who embrace the walker WITH A PASSION.

When we lived in Turlock, California we had had quite a few people from Covenant Village, which is a retirement center run by the Evangelical Covenant Church, who were a part of our church plant. I was actually chairman of the management advisory board at the Village for about seven years. In other words, I was around a lot of people who had walkers.

And I noticed that there were two kinds of people with walkers.

Some were embarrassed and prone to “forget” to use them. If you went into their apartment they had the walker in a closet. And those people always made me nervous. They were in a state of denial about their limitations -- what they could and couldn’t safely do. And they made everyone around them nervous. In their stubbornness they didn’t realize that they caused others, including me, to worry.

There was a second group of people with walkers -- that is, those who embraced the walker as an extension of themselves.

Perhaps I’ve mentioned Vi Martinson before. She lived to be 102 years old and was a sharp as a tack until she left. I’ve never met anyone quite like her -- loving, creative, energetic, playful -- totally into helping those around her feel at ease. She had the gift of hospitality and I could tell you story after story of how she did that.

But in her last few years Vi used a walker -- which she decorated for each season. She hung flowers on it in the spring and draped it red, white, and blue for Independence Day. She turned it into a candy cane or a Christmas tree with flashing lights at Christmas time.

She was wobbly on her legs but she didn’t let that stop her. With her decorated walker she could go anywhere and engage anyone in a conversation -- and she did. The walker actually enhanced her fun and charming persona. She was already a bigger than life personality but her walker made her even more so.

This particular style of walker wasn’t invented until 1953 but it’s still a great way of illustrating what the psalmist was saying nearly 3,000 years ago -- and what God’s Word continues to do today.

And I want to suggest that HEALTHY CHRISTIANS EMBRACE GOD’S WORD AS THE WALKER WHICH STEADIES THEM THROUGH LIFE. (key point)
Vs 133 -- “Keep my steps steady by your word; don’t let any sin rule me.”
Here’s what I mean -- four ways that the Word of God acts as a stabilizing walker.

#1 -- WHEN YOU USE A WALKER YOU ARE ACKNOWLEDGING YOUR OWN BROKENNESS AND VULNERABILITY.

If you rely on the walker you know that you are prone to fall. You’re not fooling yourself -- pretending that you’re someone else or even a younger version of yourself. You no longer see yourself as strong and invincible. The ruse is over.

And each time you get out of the chair and reach for the walker there is a kind of honesty at work that you don’t see in too many places.

Likewise, when we reach for God’s Word to structure and support our lives we are acknowledging that we need the guidance and direction. We are acknowledging that we are broken people depending on God’s grace and that if we don’t have it we are naturally prone to drift off course and to fall -- to give in to sin.

And by sin we mean, all in thought, word, and deed that is contrary to God and his ways.

Sometimes we talk about original sin. And by that we mean that we have inherited a propensity to sin -- that is to act sinfully -- to fall. We have a nature that is sinful.

And like the psalmist we are very matter of fact about that reality. We are not denying it or trying to pretend that we are stronger than we are. And is no big surprise or drama.
“Keep my steps steady by your word; don’t let any sin rule me.”
That is, by your word, God, don’t let any sin take control in my life! Steady my life so I’m not falling all over the place -- which I am naturally prone to do. I’m one of those guys who needs a walker -- spiritually speaking. I can’t make it on my own.

That’s what God’s Word tells us -- we can’t make it on our own. It’s reality therapy.

Our friends in AA have framed this reality as their first step in the 12-step process:
“We admitted we were powerless over sin —that our lives had become unmanageable.”
God’s Word is a reality moment.

J.I. Packer tells the bizarre story of a man who had mastered denial. He says,
A psychiatrist once faced a man who thought he was dead. After hours of futile attempts to convince the patient that he was alive, the psychiatrist settled for what he thought was a foolproof plan. He gave the patient some medical books and asked him to read the sections showing that dead men to not bleed. The man agreed to do so. A few days later the two of them met again.

“What did you learn from the books I lent you,” the psychiatrist asked.

“I’m convinced,” the patient replied. “It’s perfectly clear that dead men don’t bleed.”

At that the psychiatrist brought out a pin and pricked the patient, who stared in shock as the blood began to flow.

“My God!” the patient cried out. “Dead men DO bleed!”

In some ways people today are like that man -- only in reverse. We, too, with him are in a fixed state of denial. We think we are alive, when in fact we are spiritually dead. -- (pp 49-50, This We Believe)
We are broken people and vulnerable to the force of sin. God’s Word makes the case -- explains the reality of the situation. And when we continue to lean on God’s walker we are taking that reality seriously.

God’s Word helps us deal with the nitty gritty reality. It is a constant reminder, we are broken and vulnerable people in need of a walker -- a Word from God to prop us up. We can’t make it on our own.

Secondly, and closely related, GOD’S WORD STABILIZES US AND PROTECTS US FROM FALLING.

The message of God protects us from giving in to sin. Yes, it informs us so we know the right thing to do -- and props us up in that sense.

  •  God’s Word consistently tells us that greed is sin. So we know that when we hoard wealth and things we are being sinful. 
  • God’s Word consistently tells us that sexual relationships belong exclusively in marriage. So we know that if we have sex with someone who is not our spouse we are participating in sin. 
  • God’s Word consistently tells us that we’re to respect or honor our parents. So if we treat them disrespectfully -- for whatever reason good or bad -- we are sinning.

We know these things because we’ve heard them from God himself -- through his Word -- his message. Having this knowledge in a sense protects us.

But then there is also another sense -- perhaps even mystical -- in which the Word of God works. We find a sense of communion or fellowship through God’s Word as we listen, read, meditate on, contemplate, engage with what God has said.

We realize in our hearts the proximity of God when we hear the Words -- when we engage with them and dialogue with them -- which is exactly what the psalmist is doing. Just as God spoke through the words of his message long ago the Holy Spirit still speaks through these same words today. And we’re formed by those words. They get in us and reshape our conscience and hearts. We begin to think differently and love differently.

Our goals and values are transformed. We develop a protective outer skin -- a sin screen -- a combination sin-detector and shield. Shields up! In that way the Word shields us from sin because we realize that when we engage in things which are contrary to God’s Word -- our fellowship or closeness with him -- something we’ve come to enjoy -- suffers -- it is disrupted.

Thirdly, the Word of God acts as a stabilizing walker that EMPOWERS US TO GO PLACES WE COULDN’T OTHERWISE GO.

The Word of God gives us the power we need to actually take steps. And it reveals at least in the most general way the steps that we need to be taking.

And if you get the general steps down -- if you’re moving in the right way -- then the specific steps will fall into place for us as the Holy Spirit takes God’s Word and massages it into our legs and arms and minds.

Many people detest having to use a walker. But think about it. If your body or your brain isn’t working right -- and if you don’t use the walker -- you’re stuck at home -- and even then pretty much in one chair -- very limited mobility.

But the walker gives you freedom to get up and move around the countryside. You can go to the store, to the park, the mall -- or fly cross country to see your family. You can go places and do things that you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. And that’s the way that the Word of God works. It gives you the knowledge, support, and confidence to venture out.

And that leads us right into the fourth way that the Word of God acts as a stabilizing walker. THROUGH THE WORD OF GOD WE’RE GIVEN NEW CONFIDENCE.

When people first start using a walker they tend to be uncertain and unsure of themselves. I’ve visited lots of people in physical therapy while they are learning to use the walker. And they can be very tentative.

I suspect that the initial uncertainty has to do with the fact that when people first start using a walker it is often after a hospital stay. So they’ve been stuck in a bed for a long time and they’ve become a little wobbly.

But then, once they get going -- and get the hang of it -- they feel like they can get out of bed on their own. They’re up and down the halls and outside and in the cafeteria and... soon they’re home -- and then out and about.

If they actually embrace the walker, a transformation occurs in their thinking -- and they’re willing to do healthy things like exercise and visit other people. They’re more fully alive!

And when you’re acting alive -- truly alive -- you are less likely to give in to sin. We are most vulnerable to sin when we are living in a constant state of depletion.

And depletion CAN happen because you’ve been extremely successful in business or sports or whatever. When we’re successful there are lots of demands made on us. And we say yes to all of them because we either feel obligated or because its feeding the ego.

So we don’t have time or energy for rest and sabbath -- we’re constantly on the go with little time to reflect about what’s happening -- little time to keep in touch with God -- to listen to his Word. We’re stressed and then we snap -- and sin finds a place in our lives! And then we become less confident.

In contrast, when we’re walking with the Word in front of us, with hands on the frame of the Word, leaning on the Word with each step -- visualize the walker -- we’re moving at a healthy pace. And we’re confident about the things which matter.

When we hear God say that he loves us and that he wants to include us in his mission and that he is going to be with us -- no matter what -- instead of sitting around stewing on our problems we move out and start loving our neighbors.

And once we’re up and off our butts -- out and moving -- then new doors open and new opportunities arise -- and we see God’s provision so much more clearly. And we start to trust God to do more with and through us -- to take more risks -- healthy risks. Success breeds success -- confidence breeds more confidence -- even in the Kingdom of heaven. We have God’s message so we have confidence about life.

HEALTHY CHRISTIANS EMBRACE GOD’S WORD AS THE WALKER WHICH STEADIES THEM THROUGH LIFE.

The walker is a great metaphor or object lesson for the steadying power of God’s Word. But it’s not the only object. I’m wondering if there are other objects that you can think of that would illustrate the point of this verse.

(PEOPLE SHARED IDEAS WITH THE GROUP.)
“Keep my steps steady by your word; don’t let any sin rule me.”

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