Sunday, February 5, 2012

Psalm 119:65-72

5 February 2012
MasterPiece Church
"Prone to Wander"

Kenny lost sight of his mother when they were in the women’s clothing department at Kohl’s. In reality she was less than 10 feet away but because he was only four-years-old -- and appropriately short in stature -- Kenny couldn't see her on the other side of the dress rack.

So, he began to worry. Had she left him? Was she lost? What if he never found her again? But because he was four he wanted to appear in control. So, he didn’t dare call out to her.

Maybe she had gone back to the shoes where they’d just been moments earlier. Forgetting everything he had learned about staying put if he ever got lost, he decided to walk back there. Besides, he wasn’t lost. She was. He knew right where he was.

So the little boy in the bright yellow t-shirt set out to find his lost mother. He back-tracked to the shoes department -- then to where she had looked at socks -- then to where she had held up the package of sheets against a bed spread.

Then, he looked out the store window to see if their car was out where she had parked it but he couldn’t see it. That, of course, was because he was so turned around at that point that he was looking out the wrong window.

And just as he was about to cry he heard his mother’s voice, “Kenny.”

“Where have you been?” she asked. Of course, she knew all along because she’d seen out of the corner of her eye the bright yellow blur wander off. And she’d followed him at a safe distance just to see how far he’d go.

“Remember, I told you to stay close to me and if you ever got lost to stay put and I’d come to you. Now you’re going to have to hold my hand for the rest of the time in the store.”

He wasn’t too excited about that idea but he was so happy to see her that he grabbed her smooth hand and held on tightly. He didn’t even resist as his mother led him into the lingerie department.

Tammy loves going into Costco with her father. And even though there are not a lot of toys there -- at least for children, there is a lot to look at -- and samples -- lots and lots of samples.

Now, Tammy is a free-spirited seven-year-old with a sense of adventure. That’s why her father makes her push the cart.

When she was little they used to put one of those child harnesses on her and lead her on a leash -- in spite of the nasty looks that drew from certain self-righteous shoppers. But now they played a game where she had to keep her hands glued to the cart. She liked it that she was in charge of driving the cart and sometimes when no one was looking she’d stand on a back bar and push off down the aisle.

And that’s exactly what she did that time that her father paused to look at the portable generator being featured on the end of the aisle with the tools. He became engrossed in reading the pamphlet on the Champion 6500 watt unit with wireless remote -- which can run for 8 hours on full tank at 50% load. No wonder he didn’t notice that Tammy -- and cart -- slipped away and began to wander the wild aisles of Costco.

You see, as she was riding the cart she had spotted this big yellow kayak prominently displayed on the top of a fixture across the store. You probably know the one I talking about.

It conjured up a vision in Tammy’s mind of paddling across the ocean to Hawaii, which they had visited the previous year -- and where they had kayaked in the ocean.

Forgetting the existence of her father she aimed the cart that direction -- not Hawaii -- but toward the kayak. However, halfway there she spotted a fabricated playhouse and keeping one hand on the cart as per the rules she opened the door and wide-eyed began to imagine it in her backyard.

Suddenly she remembered her father -- the one would most certainly buy it for her upcoming birthday. She aimed the cart back toward the generator display.

And she was moving so fast that she nearly ran over a man who had stopped to eat a chip and salsa sample. Then she rolled right up to the Champion 6500 and... her father wasn’t there.

He’d moved on. She’d have to find him. She went down one aisle after another -- past the plastic folding chairs, the vacuum cleaners, the boxes of paper and the cans of cold air that you blow on your computer (or your little brother).

She then wandered through the book stacks and DVD’s. The latest Disney movie was on display at the end. She stopped to pick one up -- to hold it in her hand -- and to imagine that she had long flowing princess hair, like the character on the cover.

And it was then that she heard her father call out, “Tammy, where have you been? Put that down. I told you to stay by me. Now we have to go and there’s no time to look for samples.”

“But... Dad, there’s this playhouse that you could get me for my birthday and there were these kayaks like in Hawaii...”

“Nope, no time. You got lost and now we have to go.” She grunted indignantly and they headed toward the door with an empty cart.

There are two kinds of wandering that we do -- well at least two kinds. I suppose there are others. Sometimes people wander through no choice of their own.

After WWII people wandered throughout Europe because their homes were destroyed and their families scattered. They didn’t know what else to do -- so they wandered from place to place for awhile. That’s happening in parts of Africa right now.

More often, though, people wander because they’ve lost sight of their bearing point -- like Kenny losing sight of his mother and wandering around trying to find her. Or people are like Tammy and allow themselves to become distracted -- and they wander chasing this idea or that -- from here to there -- with no really sense of direction -- and no one to guide them because they are fiercely independent.

The psalmist understood the perils of wandering.

Psalm 119:67 -- “I used to wander off until you disciplined me; but now I closely follow your word.”

This confession or testimony is a part of a section where he rehearses the goodness of God and his word in relation to the aimless distractions of life...

Of course, aimless, senseless wandering was a common theme in ancient Israel. Deuteronomy 26:5 (describing the litany that accompanied the annual harvest offering) --
“You must then say in the presence of the LORD your God, ‘My ancestor Jacob was a wandering Aramean who went to live as a foreigner in Egypt. His family arrived few in number, but in Egypt they became a large and mighty nation.”
Then you remember that after the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, God miraculously freed them through the Exodus. But after the great escape they started to grumble and failed to trust God, so he made them wander in the desert for 40 years.

Although that was not totally aimless. For God sent a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night to lead them when it was time to move.

The Israelites began to see themselves as wandering nomads without a place of their own -- until God opened the door to a promised land.

Still, there was even a lot of wandering after that point -- metaphorically speaking. These people of God’s own collection were easily distracted and way too independent. Keeping them together was like herding cats. Or more appropriate to their world -- stupid sheep.

As a matter of fact, Psalm 119 wraps up with just that thought. The very last verse of this very long chapter -- his final thoughts on the subject matter -- Psalm 119 vs. 176 --
“I’ve wandered off like a sheep, lost. Find your servant because I haven’t forgotten your commandments!”
At the men’s Bible study on Tuesday morning we talked briefly about the authorship of this psalm. And frankly, we don’t know who wrote it or the experience behind it. But as I’ve lived with it -- and this is somewhat speculative on my part -- I’ve begun to wonder if the psalmist isn’t trying to describe the collective experience of Israel but in an individual voice.

It fits well with the whole narrative history of Israel -- the wandering -- the enemies -- the rescue -- the gift of God’s torah -- the law and guidance.

Yet, these is definitely an individual application, too. For it’s not just groups of people -- nations -- who wander -- but as individuals we do our fair share of that as well.

And it’s not just little children wandering from their parents -- which of course, I never did as a child -- don’t listen to my parents.

Actually, truthfully, I was probably more, shall we call it “active” than the average child. I still have the attention span of a gnat at times. I’m easily distracted.

I distinctively remember wandering away from home when I was five, crossing a street (using the skills I’d been taught), going to the school a few blocks away, playing on the equipment there, starting to worry that I might get in trouble, returning home, and then realizing that no one had missed me.

I think they all assumed that I had wandered over to the neighbors for awhile. And they were probably relieved that I wasn’t there squirming in the house.

But you know, it’s not just children who wander. Our good friends Tim and Melody lost one of their daughters when she was in her early thirties. She had some mental health issues which she tried to deal with through drugs and alcohol -- self-mediction. She ended up on the streets in California. Then she drifted to Phoenix -- living on the streets down here. In 2009 the police found her murdered body in a dumpster on a side street about 27th Ave and Camelback.

Tragic. But the consequences of wandering aren’t always so dramatic. Sometimes wandering just eats us up inside. Sometimes it spills out and ruins relationships. It always has negative consequences.

The kind of wandering of which the psalmist speaks is never healthy -- regardless of the causes. But he is saying that there is an alternative. You don’t have to wander -- literally or metaphorically.

You know, our inclination is to read Psalm 119:67 as an indictment of aimless wandering and wanderers. And it is -- in a small way. More to the point though, the psalmist is offering an alternative. And he is celebrating the confidence he has because of that alternative -- God’s word.

Hear it again, this time from the Message paraphrase: Starting at vs. 65 --
Be good to your servant, God; be as good as your Word. Train me in good common sense; I'm thoroughly committed to living your way. Before I learned to answer you, I wandered all over the place, but now I'm in step with your Word.
And then he adds the reasons why --
You are good, and the source of good; train me in your goodness. The godless spread lies about me, but I focus my attention on what you are saying; They're bland as a bucket of lard, while I dance to the tune of your revelation. My troubles turned out all for the best— they forced me to learn from your textbook. Truth from your mouth means more to me than striking it rich in a gold mine.
This inspired me to try my own paraphrase -- a summary paraphrase: God, your word is way better than wandering aimlessly, uncorrected, through life. Your word gives me purpose and direction - the sort of which my adversaries can’t understand. God, your word is the best thing that has happened to me.

Many people look at God’s word as unwanted interference in their lives. The psalmist says, wait, time out, that’s not it at all. Think of it as a life-giving intervention.

In the 1960’s Francis Schaeffer wrote a book called He Is There, and He Is Not Silent. Modernism and postmodernism minimized the existence -- or the significance of God. But in that book Schaeffer argues that if God is truly there and giving direction -- speaking into our lives -- he is not silent -- and he is certainly not giving us the silent treatment -- AND that changes everything.

We’re not stuck with the despair and meaninglessness that ultimately comes with undirected wandering. You have a choice. You don’t have to wander. He even redeems the wandering as he redeems the wanderer.

God wants to give us -- you -- some new direction. And that direction starts with the living Word of God, who is Jesus the Christ. God intervened -- personally stepped into the story to change the outcome through his sacrificial death and lead us in a new direction through his resurrection.

In scripture we have the written account and application of the living word -- an authoritative guide that when embraced with Jesus -- speaks into our lives -- into your life in a fresh way. And saves us from wandering aimlessly through more than Costco.

The Apostle Paul tells us as much, although in a slightly different way, in 2 Timothy 3:15-17 -- and I want us to read it together. You can find it in the bulletin.

Reading scripture together is powerful and life-changing. And Here is why:
There's nothing like the written Word of God for showing us the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.
Let’s sit in silence for a moment to consider what God might be saying to us -- to you -- then in a moment I’m going to read it for you again. Then we’ll pray. Close your eyes. Savor the words.
There's nothing like the written Word of God for showing us the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.
And perhaps you’re here this morning thinking about your own unfocused drifting -- sometimes even getting into big trouble through your wandering.

God wants to get you back on track under his care and direction. Perhaps you’ve never allowed God to be in charge of directing your life -- or maybe you’ve done that in some way for some time -- but have found yourself inexplicably distracted and wandering again. Either way, today is the day that the living Word wants to get your ear again so that he can direct your life. If that’s the case I want to encourage you to pray these words after me -- silently, moving only your lips -- but speaking from your heart.

You, God, are the good shepherd and the gracious cat herder. I confess that I have wasted a lot of time and energy wandering -- sometimes getting into real trouble. Sometimes engaging in self deception about how under control things are. But I need you to change me. Send your Holy Spirit into my life. Clean out my ears. I want to hear and follow Jesus the living word from here on out -- now and forever. Keep me on track so that I can bring honor to you with my life -- living and walking with you -- and as confident as the psalmist of the power of your word to change me.

Let’s continue to pray for the world about which God so cares.

We do thank you, God, for bringing new life to all who invite you into their life -- to those who receive Christ as Savior and Lord. We ask that would would strengthen us all so that we can be faithful to what you are saying to us.

We pray for those people in our lives -- friends, family members, children -- who are resistant to direction and inclined to wander. We don’t judge them, God, or feel in anyway superior to them. But we know that they, like us, are in need of you and so we would ask again that you would be at work in their lives -- softening their hearts, minds, and wills -- that they might be open to your word.

We pray for your church, too, that we all together might be alert and tuned into what you’re saying to us. We know that there are people who are poor or on the edge of being in extreme need. We really aren’t quite sure of how to help without hurting and creating unhealthy dependencies. We pray for their provision and for wisdom for us. And not just MasterPiece Church but all your people -- and especially today for our brothers and sisters at Passages Christian Fellowship in Laveen.

We pray too for missionary endeavors -- the outreach to children, for families taking the Financial Peace classes that start this week, for our ministry with Micronesians through Karyn Sorenson and Pacific Islands University.

We pray for those who are in jail or prison. Sustain them. We pray for those whose lives are in danger because they follow Jesus. We pray for their release. And if that is not possible at this time -- that they might be courageous and bold -- filled with faith and joy -- even in their suffering.

And we would bring before you the names of those about whom we are extremely concerned -- those who are in need of a healing or encouraging word from you. And so we mention aloud their first names.

And we complete this prayer returning to the words and pattern that Jesus taught to his first followers. They are ours, too -- not just something we repeat week after week but the desire of our hearts.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your Name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.

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