Sunday, September 30, 2012

Psalm 119:113-120

“What Are You Waiting For?”
MasterPiece Church
30 September 2012

What are you waiting for? (People shared things for which they are waiting -- lunch, to sleep, fall break...)

What should you be waiting for?

Not that waiting for 26 hours with thousands of other Geeks outside the Apple store to be among the first to own an iPhone 5.0 is such a bad thing -- BUT it’s probably not LIFE DEFINING WAITING.

I mean, there are certain kinds of waiting that do define us in profound ways. Waiting to join the Navy... or as soon as you get in, to get out of the Navy... Waiting to start college... waiting to graduate from college... waiting to get married... waiting to start a new career... waiting for a new job... waiting to die...

These are all things which will impact your life in ways broader and deeper than having the newest gizmo or the latest song by your favorite band or the coolest car... Or...

As we enter the world of the psalmist, the person who wrote Psalm 119 -- this great acrostic poem -- and again, we don’t know who he is. He is never identified and we don’t really have any solid identifying information.

But as we enter the world of the psalmist we discover that he defines his life by the waiting that he is doing for God to keep his promises. He is fixated on God’s Word -- his message -- his law -- his direction -- his statues. He has ten or more words to describe what God has said -- how God has revealed himself. He is obsessed with the promises of God. They define his life.

His most succinct statement of this hope is in vs. 114 -- “I wait for your promise.”

That’s his theme for life -- what he is about -- and what he hopes his readers will be about -- the process of waiting for God to do what God has promised to do.


Well, what exactly does that mean? What does it mean to wait for God’s promises? Practically speaking, what does that look like?

This morning I want to briefly touch on three aspects of this hope -- this waiting -- as they are spelled out by the psalmist in vss. 113-120.

Certainly there is a lot more to it than what is said here in these eight verses that make up the samek stanza. But they are a good starting spot.

So, the first thing we need to know about waiting for God to keep his promises is that it involves -- PUSHING AWAY ALL COMPETITORS.

What if you’re waiting in line for your new iPhone, as thousands did just a few days ago, and some guy comes along and tries to sell you a new in the box Samsung Galaxy S3 -- swearing that you’ll be happier with the Galaxy Android -- feeding you all of this tech detail about a better process, better screen, and that you can actually change the battery out on the Galaxy.

Now, if you don’t right off clobber the guy in the nose for being so stupid as to not understand the real difference between an Apple and an Android -- you may get into an argument with him about design and elegance -- and customer service.

I mean, if you are a true Apple groupie the argument could actually become very heated. For people into these things seem to hold very strong opinions about Apple -- and if you are camping out in line so you can be the first to get a new Apple iPhone -- you’re probably totally unwavering -- even cultish -- in your devotion.

If anything, the waiting in line increases your Apple devotion -- and disdain for all competitors.

Vs 113 -- “I hate fickle people...”

That is, the double-minded... People who waver in their devotion. One minute they’re big Apple fans, the next they’re buying an Android, and the next month they’ve got a Windows Phone -- of all crazy things.

One minute they’re all gung ho about God’s Word -- but as soon as they’ve left the building the most important thing in life is suddenly football or lunch or what phone they should own.

Such people are unworthy of being in our group, says the psalmist. “I hate them,” he proclaims. They’re losers -- even more so than all those slobs who have the wrong phone.

Vs 115 -- “Get away from me, you evildoers. I want to guard my God’s commandments!”

Push back!

The word there translated as “evildoers” is from the root word rawah -- which I only mention because it sounds putrid. It can also be translated as broken self-absorbed vexing good-for-nothing trash.

You get the point. You don’t want it in the house -- even in the inside trash bin. So put it out -- far far away!

Vs 118 -- “You discard everyone who strays from your statutes because they are dishonest and false.”

Vs. 119 -- “You dispose of all the wicked people on earth like waste...”

Are you starting to see a pattern here?

Some translations render “waste” as “dross.” Perhaps an even more precise translation is “slag.” Slag is the substance left over after metallic ore has been heated to 2,600° turning it into liquid, thus refining it. Slag is the hot liquidy waste product -- the impurity -- skimmed and dumped in the process.

And the psalmist says, God, you’re dumping the worthlessly wicked people who are trying to lure me out of line -- and you’re disposing of them like slag.

Now, of course, some of this metaphorical language sounds pretty harsh to our ears.

Doesn’t Jesus say that we’re to love our enemies -- the waste?

What about the prodigal son in Luke 15. If anyone was slag it was he. But the father in the story, representing God, doesn’t judge him or throw him out with the other waste -- but he runs to the returning son, hugs and kisses him, and throws a big party.

Are we talking about the same God here?

At least one thing that we need to keep in mind is the Middle Eastern propensity to engage in hyperbole -- and this psalm is, after all, poetry -- a form of expression where hyperbole and metaphor are common.

Of course, it’s not just Middle Easterners who engage in hyperbole.

The other day I over-heard a guy say, “To hell with the Democrats!”

But was he literally intending that all Democrats spend eternity burning in hell?

NOT LIKELY. For all I know his wife is a Democrat. He was just expressing frustration with what someone had said about his favored presidential candidate.

We all engage in hyperbole -- even in ordinary conversation -- but Middle Easterners, in all their stripes and variety -- not all Midde Easterners are the same... There is a lot of cultural variation. But generally speaking Middle Easterners are natural poets -- and in that context they have perhaps mastered the craft of hyperbole.

Rick Steves, my favorite PBS travel guide, tells about his first trip to Tehran. He was nervous because he kept hearing all the “death to America” and “death to Israel” propaganda. It made him nervous. But one time, he says, he was stuck in traffic, and the taxi driver started ranting and blurted out -- “death to traffic!”

So, Rick asked the driver to tell him what that expression meant. And the driver thought for a moment and then explained that “death to...” is what people say when they are frustrated by anything out of their control. He didn’t literally want to kill all the other drivers causing the traffic jam.

It’s Middle Eastern overstatement that expresses frustration or seeks to make a point. And there is some of that style of hyperbole -- maybe a lot of it -- going on in our passage.

The psalmist is vocally pushing against the enemy -- the frustrating voices competing with God’s Word for his attention.

He’s not going to let it happen. He is stating his resolve. And he is showing his frustration with the enemies by calling -- in a typical Middle Eastern fashion -- for their demise, destruction, death, and damnation.

Our take away here is that there is value in pushing against the competing voices -- at the very least, to do so in our minds. We need to be saying, “Hey, I hear you and that you’re trying to get me onto a different path -- but I’m as resolved to stay this godly course as an Apple fan who is waiting for a new phone. You’re not going to budge me out of line. Death to the Android”

The second aspect of waiting for and hoping in God’s Word is to PROCLAIM THE POSITIVE VALUE OF THE PROMISES.
  • Vs 113 -- “I hate fickle people -- BUT I love your Instruction.” He is confessing -- proclaiming his love.
  • Vs. 114 -- “You are my shelter and my shield—” Some translations -- “You are my hiding place.” 
 Do you remember the Maranatha Song we used to sing in the 80’s?
You are my hiding place,
You always fill my heart with songs of deliverance.
Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in you.
I will trust in you.

Let the weak say I am strong in the strength of my Lord.

by Michael Ledner. © 1981 CCCM Music (Administered by Maranatha! Music c/o: The Copyright Company, Nashville, TN).
The song is rooted in this line from Psalm 119:114 -- “You are my hiding place...” “my shelter...” “my shield.”

You keep me safe -- you shelter me -- you give me a place to hide.  And I’m going to sing about it. I’m going to rehearse it. I’m going to proclaim it until I fully believe it with all that I am.

And that is what the psalmist is doing. He is preaching to himself. He is reminding himself over and over again of the value of God’s promises. Life may be pitching all kinds of slag at me but YOU -- you God -- you’re my safe place -- my shelter -- my shield. You empower me to wait for your promise. I can trust in what you’ve said -- I can trust your word.

Vs 116 -- “Sustain me according to your word so I can live. Don’t let me be put to shame because of hope.”

That is, your word gives me life. Hold me together so that I can live it. But don’t let people shame me just because I’m hoping in you rather than the turkeys trying to talk me out of my spot in line. I mean, why would I even think of trusting some other promise. You are the source of sustained life.

Vs 117 -- “Support me so I can be saved and so I can focus constantly on your statutes.”

God, I’m leaning on you knowing that you will support me - and save me from the time of trial. I’m waiting on you to do your thing in my life and the world so that I can continue to focus on your expectations.

Your statutes are worth my undivided continual attention.
  • Vs 119 again -- You dispose of all the wicked people on earth like waste—that’s why I love your laws.
  • Vs 120 -- My body shudders because I fear you; I’m in awe of your rules.
God is on his side. He shelters and protects. The psalmist knows it because he’s seen it with his own eyes. So he, like we, proclaim it!

Finally, the psalmist actually finds his PURPOSE IN GOD'S WORD -- his promises -- his commandments!

Vs 115 again -- “Get away from me, you evildoers; I want to guard my God’s commandments!”

What is his life about? While he waits -- guarding God’s commandments.

Now don’t misunderstand. He’s not saying that he has to guard them in the sense that he has to defend or protect them.

We’ve seen how well that works these past few weeks where some in the Muslim world feel like they have to guard the reputation of Muhammad -- whom they consider to be the mouthpiece of God -- the bearer of God’s word. So when some troll makes a movie that doesn’t paint Muhammad in a good light, the devoted take to the streets to protest and riot.

Something similar happened this morning in Bangladesh. I just downloaded this news story a few hours ago.
Thousands of rioters torched Buddhist temples and homes in southeastern Bangladesh Sunday over a photo posted on Facebook deemed offensive to Islam, in a rare attack against the community.

Officials said the mob comprising some 25,000 people set fire to at least five Buddhist temples and dozens of homes in Ramu town and its adjoining villages, some 350 kilometres from the capital Dhaka.

The rioters claimed the photo allegedly defaming the Holy Quran was uploaded on Facebook by a young Buddhist man from the area, district administrator Joinul Bari said.
~ © 2012 AFP
In their minds they are guarding God’s word -- protecting it from imbeciles. But that is not the sense that the psalmist uses the word here. He’s guarding it, rather, through his own obedience to it. And some translations render verse 115 to bring out that nuance.

Thus the NLT nicely renders vs 115 --
“Get out of my life, you evil-minded people, for I intend to obey the commands of my God.”
He is onguard for God when he does what the God’s word says. And this is also what it means to wait for God, to keep his promises. To wait isn’t really a matter of lining up -- sitting around playing video games, texting with your buddies, camping on the street outside heaven’s gates so you can get the latest release when they open the doors.

As we saw in our study of James, waiting or hoping is active -- something fruitful is happening.

  • The widows and orphans are cared for. 
  • People are built up through our choice of words.

There is also a section at the end of Hebrews 11 which speaks powerfully on this topic. The writer of Hebrews makes a big long list of faith heroes in chapter 11.

And then, starting at vs 32 --
What more can I say? I would run out of time if I told you about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets.33 Through faith they conquered kingdoms, brought about justice, realized promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 put out raging fires, escaped from the edge of the sword, found strength in weakness, were mighty in war, and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured and refused to be released so they could gain a better resurrection.
That is, they lived busy and full lives in anticipation of what God was going to do. But even then they didn’t all see immediate fulfillment of God’s promises.

Hebrews 11 -- starting at vs 39 --
All these people didn’t receive what was promised, though they were given approval for their faith. 40 God provided something better for us so they wouldn’t be made perfect without us.
God has his reasons so sometimes we have to wait a long time to realize what he has promised -- what we have acted in faith to receive.

And because that is the case it is even more important that we recognize that waiting for God to fulfill his promises must:

  • First of all, involve PUSHING away all competitors -- that is, not allowing them to speak into your life on a significant level; 
  • Secondly, continually PROCLAIMING to others and self -- the positive value of the promises -- 
  • Thirdly, and finally, finding your PURPOSE in the promises -- in God’s instruction, his direction, his law, his Word.

And as we have emphasized throughout our Psalm 119 journey we have a definite advantage over the psalmist. What he saw was limited. He had God’s Word -- revealed, spoken, and written down. However, we have God’s Word revealed, spoken, and written down -- but more so we also have it in the flesh.

Jesus is the Word of God -- the fulfillment of all the promises -- not just in the form of more information -- but in the form of a man --
  • the God-man who lived among us, 
  • died for us, 
  • rose from the dead for us, 
  • ascended back to his spot in heaven to continue to advocate for us.

We follow him. We push all competing voices out of our lives, proclaim who he is and what he has done, and find our purpose in him.

What are you waiting for? The psalmist lobbies for lives defined by the process of waiting on God’s promises.

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