Monday, October 22, 2012

Psalm 119:137-144

"The Trustworthy Word"
MasterPiece Church
21 October 2012

Psalm 119:137-144 (CEB)

צ tsade
137 Lord, you are righteous,
and your rules are right.
138 The laws you commanded are righteous,
completely trustworthy.
139 Anger consumes me because my enemies
have forgotten what you’ve said.
140 Your word has been tried and tested;
your servant loves your word!
141 I’m insignificant and unpopular,
but I don’t forget your precepts.
142 Your righteousness lasts forever!
Your Instruction is true!
143 Stress and strain have caught up with
me, but your commandments are my joy!
144 Your laws are righteous forever.
Help me understand so I can live!

At the conclusion of my sermon this morning I’m going to ask you for your advice. If you could give a single sentence of advice to someone about the most important way to go about trusting in God’s Word, what would you say?

So noodle on that for a few minutes while I talk.

Before and during college I worked a little as a journalist. And one time I was assigned to attend a press conference held by Dr Benjamin Spock, who at the time was the People’s Party candidate for president of the United States.

It was actually a poorly attended press conference and so it became an interview. I got to interview Dr Spock -- No, not the one from Star Trek but the Dr Spock who wrote the famous book Baby and Child Care in 1946.

That book was one of the bestsellers of all time and throughout its first 50 years on the market it was the second-best selling book -- next to the Bible.

And indeed many of the parents of baby boomers treated it as THE BIBLE of childrearing. We’re still living with the impact of that book -- even in 2012.

Spock was the first pediatrician to try and integrate psychoanalysis into child rearing and family dynamics. He advocated flexibility and high levels of demonstrative affection toward children -- not necessarily bad thing -- not at all.

And perhaps most significantly he really pushed the idea of individuality. That is, each child first and foremost needs to be treated as an individual and thus his educational and childhood experiences should be custom designed for his individual needs. Did you ever wonder where such an idea came from or did you assume that we’ve held them all along? Those ideas were not so common in our culture before Dr Spock.

His thinking also perhaps indirectly set the stage for the hippie movement and sexual revolution of the 60’s and 70’s. And I would suggest that his influence cut into the roots of American culture and pushed us deeper into individualism.

The kind of hyper-individualism that we experience now is perhaps a product of what he taught our parents back then.

His influence is often understated. But the super primacy of the individual over the group that we’re now trying to deal with can probably be traced back to his book -- at least on the popular level.

Dr Spock made some major positive contributions but some of what he said didn’t make much sense and he had a lot of personal issues. So, while we could learn from him -- and in spite of his bestselling status -- we certainly wouldn’t classify him as trustworthy -- at least in an absolute sense. His readers were constantly having to sort the wheat from the chaff -- and not all of them were very good at that.

In contrast we talk about God’s Word. And while the task of biblical interpretation is sometimes complex and challenging -- as Bible readers we never have to sort through God’s Word -- to determine what is true and what isn’t true. We trust that it is all true and authoritative for how we live our lives and what we believe.


We’ve had lots of untrustworthy sources. Maybe that’s being too negative.

Let’s say, we’ve had lots of only relatively trustworthy sources. There are limits to the trustworthiness of people like Dr Spock. And BTW, I liked the guy. He was a strange bird but I kinda liked him -- which isn’t to say that I trusted what he said as gospel. I wouldn’t have voted for him to become president or used a lot of what he said to raise my kids.

When we say that someone or something is trustworthy we are saying that the information or content provided is true and reliable. And we are saying the person behind the information or content is consistent with it. That is, what is being said is consistent with the life of the person saying it. The person is righteous -- standing right -- living right.

You can trust him -- you can lean on him.

One of the first real crises of confidence that I had as a young pastor was when it came out that a very influential pastor whom I deeply admired -- not just because he was visibly successful with a big church, but because he seemed to have some depth to him -- and I read his books and quoted from him freely -- Well, it came out that he had been having an adulterous affair with his secretary for five years.

Suddenly I began to doubt everything he wrote. He was no longer trustworthy. And while he and his family have recovered well I’m still hesitant to read anything he writes or listen to anything he says.

It’s not that I don’t believe in grace and second chances -- I do -- strongly so. I’ve seen a lot of good come out of second chances.

Before we went to Guam I was the president of the Covenant Ministerium for four years. The ministerium is the official association or community of all the pastors in the Evangelical Covenant Church. And when you’re the president of the 2,000 Covenant ministers and missionaries you’re also on the Board of the Ordered Ministry -- which oversees all the credentialing and discipline of ministers. I’ve seen all the pastoral screw-ups you can imagine I’ve worked with lots of troubled ministers and worked on structuring second chances for many people. And I’ve never regretted those second chances and have seen so much healing and good come out of them.

But in the case of this one big name pastor with all the books and speaking engagements -- I still find it hard to trust him -- to even read his books or articles. If he fooled me once -- in my mind, he could easily do it again.

His character flaws made me question the validity of his information. And while I have not found anything wrong with what he has written or said, I still have difficulty trusting it as reliable.

It has also made me gun shy of anyone that seems to be too much like a celebrity preacher. It’s my issue -- I’m still working through it. But I have a problem trusting what the people with big names say.

In contrast, the psalmist says,

  • Vs 138 -- “The laws you commanded are righteous, completely trustworthy.” 
  •  Vs 140 -- “Your word has been tried and tested; your servant loves your word!” 
  •  Vs 142 -- “Your righteousness lasts forever! Your Instruction is true!”

I love that last verse. God, your righteousness -- your character lasts forever. That is, you don’t make mistakes or have lapses of judgment. So I can trust that your instruction is true.

Do you know what this is? (a level) Right. And the level helps us see if something is level or true. That is, if it is true it is on the bubble.

You are true and reliable -- always on the bubble, thus, I trust that what you say is true and reliable. I never doubt what you’ve said. I may doubt my interpretation of what you’ve said, but I never doubt what you’re saying because I know that you never flake out. Your words are never disappointing.

Sometimes when we talk about the reliability and trustworthiness of God’s Word we’re inclined to draw from the well of academic theology.

We gravitate toward bantering over whether the scriptures are inerrant in their original manuscripts -- manuscripts which by the way don’t actually exist. But theoretically -- because God stands behind his Word guiding the authors and any historical inaccuracy or erroneous imprecision could lead us to doubt the whole thing. That’s the inerrantists position.

Others, however, are inclined to say that the Bible is the infallible Word of God -- which means it is a reliable reflection of what God intended to say but because they are ancient documents, they are disinterested in providing modern scientifically precise information.

And that’s an important discussion. And I teach about this in some of my theology classes. But as far as I’m concerned we can let the professional academic theologians debate over the best way to define the nature of biblical inspiration -- inerrancy, infallibility, or whatever.

The psalmist, however, seems to be more interested in biblical authority than the nature of inspiration -- how it is that we allow God’s Word to have authority over our lives -- to actually trust in God’s Word -- his commandments, precepts, teaching, guidelines, law -- especially when things aren’t going so well.

And he does so by recognizing that God’s Word is an extension of God himself. That is, he’s spoken. So when we say that his Word is trustworthy we are really saying that we find God trustworthy.

Now, all of this is fairly easy to believe in. If you’re a Christian it tends to be the party line and it’s all great until you hit a rough patch, as apparently the psalmist had. That’s why he is writing the poem. He wasn’t a professional theologian but a struggler. And he is working out his struggles through the poetry.

  • You experience the loss of a child -- 
  • you experience injustice or unfairness in your life -- 
  • not just someone giving you the wrong change in the store but major injustice that holds you back because of your race or color or faith.

And we can begin to really wonder whether all of this stuff we believe about God’s Word is consistent with the reality we’re experiencing.

Is God and his word trustworthy? Is it powerful enough -- even when you hit a difficult patch? Or is it just like all the other so called experts where you have to sort through and pick out the good from the bad?

The psalmist’s conclusion? Basically he is saying that the world has gone to hell in a breadbasket there is nothing reliable left in the world. My only point of stability -- the only person I really trust is God and the whole thing I find trustworthy is God’s Word -- his commandments.


I saw a little poster on Google Plus the other day. It said, “Regardless of who wins the election Jesus will still be the king.”

I’m not going to throw a hissy fit if my candidate doesn’t win. I’m not going to take up arms if taxes go up or health care goes down. Those things are all subject to the whims of the wind. But if Jesus is king and his word is trustworthy, I’m going to stick with that to define what is important -- what is right, what is just, what I need to do.

Someone else I got to interview during my brief but notable journalism career was one of the former governors of California who was considering a run for the presidency at the time -- an actor -- a guy named Ronald Reagan.

It was a strange meeting. Sitting in person with him across the table he came across as artificial and contrived -- and yet also like a bit of an air head. But you know where he ended up.

And President Reagan was fond of quoting an old Russian proverb which he actually learned to say in Russian.

Доверяй, но проверяй -- Doveryai, no proveryai -- And I apologize to you Russian speakers -- my pronunciation leaves a bit to be desired but in English it means -- “Trust, but verify.”

It’s talking about starting with trust and then seeing if it works -- a kind of limited trust.

I think it might be fair to tweak it a bit and say, “Trust and verify” -- and then we could apply it to the psalm. The psalmist is inviting his readers to see that God’s Word is trustworthy -- and to verify it themselves -- to experience it.


So, I want to ask you, if you could give a single sentence of advice to someone about the most important way to go about trusting in God’s Word, what would you say?

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The "CEB" and "Common English Bible" trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Common English Bible. Use of either trademark requires the permission of Common English Bible.

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