16 October 2011
We’re in our fourth week of together looking at Psalm 119 -- an acrostic poem about the wonders of God’s word, built around the 22 consonants in the Hebrew alphabet -- which, of course, is not so obvious in our English translations.
In the first section all the sentences begin with the Hebrew letter Alef; the second section Bet; the third, Gimel, and this week -- Dalet. Listen.
25 I lie in the dust;Some of us are living in the dirt -- some literally -- some quite figuratively. So the first verse of the stanza, verse 25, really resonates. It also establishes the theme in the stanza -- dust-busting.
revive me by your word.
26 I told you my plans, and you answered.
Now teach me your decrees.
27 Help me understand the meaning of your commandments,
and I will meditate on your wonderful deeds.
28 I weep with sorrow;
encourage me by your word.
29 Keep me from lying to myself;
give me the privilege of knowing your instructions.
30 I have chosen to be faithful;
I have determined to live by your regulations.
31 I cling to your laws.
Lord, don’t let me be put to shame!
32 I will pursue your commands,
for you expand my understanding.
When you’re so low, where do you go? When you’ve bottomed out so that you’re on the edge of survival -- ashes to ashes, dust to dust...
The psalmist leads us in crying out to God: “I lie in the dust; revive me by your word.” That’s the NLT.
I really like the way the CEB puts it, too. “My life is stuck in the dirt. Now make me live again according to your promise!”
Quite literally in the Hebrew it's, “My soul clings to the dirt.”
In our house dirt clings to everything. Unless we seal it off -- never open doors or windows -- there is no way that you can dust enough or vacuum enough to keep it clean. But there comes a point when you’re so low that you stick to the dirt -- where it is hard to differentiate between your skin and the dust that covers it.
And it might be because of something you’ve done -- unwise or sinful choices -- your substance abuse, your lust, your greed -- it has come back to stick to you.
Or perhaps something has happened -- something over which you have no personal control. I’m thinking of the pictures of the Somalis living in dusty camps -- distended stomachs -- dying children.
Or what about the Haitians? Through no fault of their own, born into one of the world’s most dysfunctional societies, devastated by earthquakes, battered by storms, surrounded by death -- many still living out in the open after a year and a half following the big earthquake. In their case they can’t seem to find a way out of the mud. For it is a tropical island.
Regardless of how you arrived -- you’re in a dirty place. And for some the dirt is thicker than for others... And at various times we find things dustier than other times.
You know what it’s like to be in the dirt -- grit that won’t go away. Perhaps you’re feeling stuck in the dirt right now.
The psalmist has become your spokesman -- your poet -- giving you the words you need to plead your case.
“I lie in the dust; revive me by your word.”
This is my Shrek green Dust-Buster that I bought on clearance for $5 -- several years ago. It’s great for dealing with small pieces of debris. But I always thought it was slightly misnamed. It doesn’t actually have the kind of power needed to do real dust-busting.
This is our Shark vacuum cleaner -- which I bought a little over a year ago, maybe two. Not on clearance. Not cheap -- but I did have a Costco coupon. And I think that it’s the best vacuum cleaner we’ve ever owned -- light but powerful. It’s a major dust sucker.
But frankly, it doesn’t really eliminate the dust. It provides a temporary reprieve from some of the dust -- but it doesn’t really bust it either.
I suspect that we all have our devices and plans for dealing with the dust in which we sit. Some of us just give up and don’t even try to keep things clean. Some of us do an annual cleaning. Some of us take the twice a week approach.
But we all struggle with the dust and dirt fills our lives. And the psalmist wants us to know -- to join with him in declaring that GOD’S WORD IS THE #1 DUST-BUSTER. That’s the point that the psalmist is trying to make -- and it’s our key point this morning. GOD’S WORD IS THE #1 DUST-BUSTER.
And he offers us five action words that explain how this dust-busting system works. Five ways that God’s word purges the dirt from our lives -- or perhaps we should say, lifts us out of the mud and muck -- the dirt and crude in which we all at times find ourselves.
The first of these five words is UNDERSTAND.
Verse 26 -- the psalmist speaking to God: “I told you my plans, and you answered. Now teach me your decrees. Help me understand the meaning of your commandments, and I will meditate on your wonderful deeds.”
God, I told you MY plans, he says.
And apparently they were a bit half-baked. That is implied in the “and you answered.” He goes on -- “now teach me” -- “help me understand” -- “I will meditate on your wonderful deeds.”
The temptation may be to grovel and eat the dust -- but I’m going to chew on what you’ve done, he tells God. I’m going to shift my focus to you and your message -- your activity -- so that I can understand -- who you are -- what you’re about.
The paradox is that when we spend all of our time trying to deal directly with the dirt in which we find ourselves, we can never bust it. But when the focus is beyond -- in understanding God and his word -- somehow, in someway, the dirt gets taken care of.
The second action word is actually two words -- GET REAL.
Verses 28 and 29: "I weep with sorrow; encourage me by your word. Keep me from lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing your instructions."
How many of your problems -- our problems -- are related to the fact that we have convinced ourselves that something wrong is right or that we are operating in the best interests of others -- when in fact we are mostly thinking of ourselves.
When we engage God’s word it cuts to the heart of the matter. Hebrews 4:12 says,
"For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires."Or check out the Message translation:
"God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon's scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God's Word. We can't get away from it—no matter what."When we allow it to do so, the word of God, draws us to reality. Sometimes that is extremely painful and there is a lot of sorrow involved. All the time is saves us from the kind of self-deception that keeps us groveling in the dirt.
Last week I mentioned the C.S. Lewis’ book The Last Battle, which is the last book in the Chronicles of Narnia seres. At the conclusion of the battle the heroes come across a band of dwarfs who had convinced themselves that they were prisoners in a stable.
Except the stable does not actually exist.
Aslan the lion appears and sets before them a glorious feast. But they convince themselves that they are eating hay, an old turnip, and raw cabbage -- and drinking dirty water from a donkey trough.
Finally, Aslan says,
“You see, they will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison, and so afraid of being taken out that they cannot be taken out. But come. children, I have other work to do.”How many of our problems are related to self-deception? We believe that we are in charge -- and that it is all about us -- and that the problems we face are there because everyone is out to get us. But we don’t allow the word -- the good news to really get deeply into our lives. We don’t HEAR the message that we are free-- that we don’t have to live in a barn anymore. The walls are not real.
We have been freed from the dirt. But we won’t step out to embrace the freedom -- either because we can’t bring ourselves to believe that it is real freedom or because we are enjoying the dirt so much that we don’t really want to do anything else -- in spite of what we may say to others and ourselves.
The psalmist invites us to get real.
The third action word is CHOOSE.
Verse 30 -- “I have chosen to be faithful; I have determined to live by your regulations, your instructions.”
One of the problems of self deception is that we convince ourselves that we have no other real choices -- or that the deception is the best choice.
The psalmist declares that he has chosen to be faithful to God. Not that it was necessarily an easy choice but in spite of the dirt -- and the mud-flow heading his direction -- he will not budge when it comes to living by God’s standards.
The fact is that a good deal of the time we’re stuck in the dirt because we have chosen the dirt. We have made choices. But they do not have to be final choices. They don’t have to be your final answer to God.
By the grace of God you can choose to start doing things God’s way. You can choose.
And then once you choose -- CLING. That’s the fourth action word -- CLING.
Verse 31 -- “I cling to your laws. Lord, don’t let me be put to shame!”
The haboob is coming. The dust is flying. But I’m unphased. I’m not going to abandon you for some kind of quickie relief. I’m going to cling to your word, your law, your standards -- no matter what. Because I believe that I’ll ultimately be refreshed -- restored -- renewed by doing so.
Many of our problems are related to our tendency to embrace short-cuts -- to let go of God’s standards for more immediate pleasure -- more immediate solutions. That is, we chose short-term options instead of clinging to God and his long-term solution.
The guarantee is that if you stick with him -- no matter what comes your way -- good, bad, or downright ugly -- you will be better off in the long-run. CLING.
Then finally, PURSUE.
This is probably a no-brainer, but the psalmist doesn’t mind reminding himself -- or God... Verse 32 -- “I will pursue your commands, for you expand my understanding.”
Can you see how all of these ideas are related? Understand, Get Real, Choose, Cling -- and now Pursue? If your life is absorbed with God’s commands -- his way of doing things -- then you are not going to have the time nor the heart to pursue the things which keep you in the dust.
- What is keeping you down in the dirt?
- What is it that you are pursuing rather than God’s commands?
- His way of thinking and doing things?
In Hebrew it is more literally “for you make my heart wide.” That is, you open up my heart to you and your ways. In the Hebrew ways of thinking the heart is center of affection -- but it’s also the center of understanding -- yet it is more than that. It is also the seat of decision making. Yes, that involves knowing and understanding -- but the knowledge and understanding is so deep that it affects behavior -- and decision making.
If I were to paraphrase this verse I might say, “You, God, have expanded my heart so wide that I’m pursuing you, and that which is important to you, above all else.”
You see, life is naturally messy -- dirty. Think about it, how much of your life is spent trying to stay clean -- dusting, showering, shampooing, dusting, laundering, dusting, vacuuming, -- did I mention dusting? And that’s just on the physical side of things. We also end up dealing with way too much dust and dirt spiritually and emotionally speaking, too.
And the only way that we’re going to bust free from being stuck in the dust is if our hearts are elsewhere. And the psalmist seems to think that GOD’S WORD IS THE #1 DUST-BUSTER. If I might be so bold -- I think he is right.
But again this week, I would add. The psalmist didn’t fully understand that the word of God -- the law -- the instruction -- the direction -- the message of God would actually take on flesh and blood. He would have been elated to have lived 1,000 years later to find that out for himself.
God himself came down to live in the dust with us so that he could lift us out of it. Jesus is the #1 dust-buster.
- When he walked those dusty paths,
- when he healed the sick,
- when he was crucified on our behalf,
- when he rose from the dead to prove his victory and lead us into it -- he busted the dust.
I want us to read together a portion of 1 Corinthians 15 -- verses 42-49.
This is way it is with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies
The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later. Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.