28 October 2012
Those of you who reside in Laveen know that this is a great place to live -- although it does have its challenges. The crime rate here seems disproportionate to the number of people living here.
Maybe it just feels that way -- and it’s not just in Laveen -- watching the news the other night there were shootings in Tempe, Chandler, and yesterday -- North Phoenix. All tragedies.
You’re aware of last Saturday’s close to home tragedy. Jose Ruiz, the 18-year-old kid who worked at the Boost Mobile store at 51st Ave and Southern was shot and killed in a suspected robbery.
It’s really heart-breaking. This is a kid who was working two jobs -- a real go-getter -- outgoing -- super responsible.
Mary, who owns the water store next to Boost, talked with him often and she was telling me that he was just a great guy -- very nice. It’s very disconcerting -- heart-breaking.
We’ve got more than our fair-share of crime -- which is another good reason to develop a church in Laveen. And it’s one of the reasons that I’m always happy when the police cruise down our street -- as they often do. I feel like they are relatively close by.
Whenever I’ve had to call the police -- and I’ve done so many times -- they’ve usually shown up within two or three minutes.
I remember one time when I was out-front talking with a neighbor and heard five gunshots behind our house on 51st Ave. I whipped out my phone to call 911 but no sooner had I pulled it out of my pocket than the PD SUV went racing by in the direction of the shots. He had been hanging out just down the street and had heard the shots, too.
It’s good to know that help is close by.
When we lived in North Texas we used to travel to Arizona once or twice a year to visit my parents and Cheryl’s parents, who were living in Green Valley.
We’d leave after church on Sunday and drive until late and overnight in Las Cruces. Then we’d leave in the morning and once we were on the road I remember more than once we’d comment -- “Well, now we’re in range.”
That meant, if we had car trouble we were close enough that my father could come and rescue us. He has a reputation for doing that kind of thing. If someone was within a certain range you could count on him and his tools to show up. And that was always reassuring.
Close is good.
And the psalmist has come to a similar conclusion -- not about my father or the police -- but about God.
As with the other stanzas in Psalm 119 the psalmist is once again rehearsing his woes. There is a lot of that going on in this psalm. During the men’s Bible study on Tuesday morning someone said, “I’m not sure I can take much more of this whining.”
I chuckled because I had a similar thought. And indeed, it does seem to go on and on. For example,
- vs 146 ~ “I cry out to you, ‘Save me so I can keep your laws!’”
- vs 147 ~ “I meet the predawn light and cry for help. I wait for your promise.”
- vs 149 -- “Listen to my voice, according to your faithful love. Lord, make me live again, according to your justice.”
- That is, “God, I’m dying here. How about dishing out some of your justice on my behalf.”
- “The people who love to plot wicked schemes are nearby, but they are so far from your Instruction!”
- Translated this means, “the people who have dissed your guidance -- your instruction -- are running the hood.
- They’re close by -- all over the place. And they are evil people on crime sprees. God, danger is near.”
- vs 151 -- “But you, Lord, are nearby too, and all your commandments are true.”
- Lord, you are near -- and you’ve got truth -- your word -- in your holster.
- You’re the law -- and you are present.
- I know that I can count on you to use your Word to clear Dodge.
“But you, Lord, are nearby too, and all your commandments are true.”
GOD’S TRUTHFUL WORD REVEALS HIS REASSURING CLOSENESS.
Now, as I look at what’s going on here in Psalm 119 there are three benefits to having God close by that come to mind. Three ways that our lives are better because of God’s proximity.
The first is this, GOD’S CLOSENESS CREATES CONFIDENCE -- confidence in who we are, confidence in what we’re called to do, confidence in God’s justice.
Today is Reformation Sunday in the church’s calendar. On October 31, 1517 a German pastor and university professor named Martin Luther nailed 95 debate topics onto the notice board on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.
Luther was upset with
- the commercialization of the church,
- the lack of authority that the church was giving to the Bible, the institutionalization of the church’s ministry,
- and the idea that one could earn one’s salvation through good deeds or by making contributions to the church.
As a young man he busted his tail trying to figure out how to get God’s attention -- how to get God on his side -- how to get God to come near to him.
He was highly introspective about the whole thing and that just made him depressed. But on July 2nd, 1505, the 22-year-old Luther was on horseback during a thunderstorm and a lightning bolt struck near him. It sacred the hooey out of him and he vowed to become a monk if God would rescue him from the storm.
He followed through with his vow -- which only made him more depressed -- but eventually as he grappled with the scriptures he gained a fresh awareness of God’s grace and that God was closer than he had been aware.
It’s like that little sign on the car mirror -- “Objects are closer than they appear.” The ripple effect of it all was the Protestant Reformation -- and a new awareness of not only the power of God’s Word but that God is present and active in the lives of all Christians -- not just the priests.
Luther went from being a wimpy sniveling insecure indecisive 20-something to a bold and confident biblical scholar and prophet.
And while we’re not all called to be prophets we’re all transformed when we become aware of God’s presence.
Okay, who knows this song? -- if so sing along --
Has your family tried 'em,Yes, this is Garrison Keilor’s jingle about "Powdermilk Biscuits" -- the long-time, make-believe sponsor of his weekly "Prairie Home Companion" radio show.
Has your family tried 'em, Powdered Milk ...
Well, if your family's tried 'em
You know they've satisfied 'em
They're a real hot item,
And as you probably know Powdermilk Biscuits are for shy people.
They’re, as Grrison says --
Made from whole wheat grown in the rich bottom-lands of the Lake Wobegon river valley by Norwegian bachelor farmers, so you know they're not only good for you, but also pure... mostly. Heavens, they're tasty and expeditious, giving shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.Isn’t that really what God’s presence does -- gives us shy and timid persons the strength -- the confidence to get up and do what needs to be done?
Dennis and I were having a discussion the other day about Moses in Exodus 33. God was annoyed with the people of Israel and said that he didn’t personally want lead them into the promised land lest he destroy them. He’d rather delegate the task to some angels.
That made the people unhappy and Moses enters into a discussion with God about needing him to be present there with them. Angels were not enough. They needed to know that God was close by or they couldn’t move forward.
Likewise, the psalmist wants to point out that he
- can get through the crazy times --
- surrounded by crazy people --
- as long as he knows that God is close by.
- And he knows that through God’s Word.
Secondly, GOD’S CLOSENESS CREATES STRUCTURE.
Sometimes, especially when we’re struggling, we just need to have a little structure or direction. We need to know what is expected of us. And that’s one of the benefits of having God and his word close by.
When he is close he is easier to hear.
You know how it is when you have a phone conversation with someone whose first language is different than yours -- or who is from deep Alabama. Sometimes it’s hard to understand what they’re saying.
But if you’re in the same room -- close by -- communication improves significantly. It’s not 100% effective but its a whole lot better.
In our Turlock church we had a quadriplegic named Dave who had been in a motorcycle accident that put him in a wheelchair. His disability affected his speech -- and if he called me on the phone -- as he often did -- I could only pick out about 35% of what he was saying.
But if I was there with him in person -- and even if I had to close my eyes to tune out everything else so as to focus on what he was saying -- I could understand 95% of what he was saying the first time he said it.
That just came from being there -- sensing what was going on -- tuning into the situation. And that’s easier when you are close.
Likewise, it is easier to understand what God is saying -- what he expects of us -- when we are in close proximity to him.
And since we experience that closeness through his Word we also grow in our understanding of what God wants us to do and how he is restructuring our lives for his agenda.
Notice again how many different ways the psalmist speaks of God’s Word --
150 The people who love to plot wicked schemes are nearby, but they are so far from your Instruction! 151 But you, Lord, are nearby too, and all your commandments are true.Instruction, commandments, laws, precepts, statutes... All of these provide direction or set boundaries.
If you are feeling that God is far away and that you’re directionless in life -- the chances are that you are not paying attention to his Word. You’ve become distracted or rebellious -- and you’ve stopped listening.
No, God doesn’t always give specific instruction or direction about every little detail. Sometimes he does -- at critical times or junctures. But sometimes he sets the general direction and enjoys letting us create the course in the specifics.
I know that I’ve talked before about Karole, my former administrative assistant in Turlock. Sometimes I would tell her exactly what I wanted her to do -- how to word a letter or the announcements in the bulletin. But usually, I just let her figure it all out based on her knowledge of how I operated and her general understanding of my expectations.
And most of the time -- even if she did a project a little differently than I’d do it myself -- I let her do it her way because it fit within the general direction of my word. I actually enjoy giving some very general structure or direction and then watching the creativity of others.
And this is how God’s Word functions.
If someone tells me that they don’t know what God wants them to do -- his will for their lives -- I’ll say something like, “Well get close to God by listening to his Word -- the general direction and instruction of his Word. And over the course of time and with the input of your siblings in Christ -- the specifics will usually naturally become more clear. Just be patient. When God is close the general and clear direction of his Word usually works out the specifics."
The Word creates the framework around which the house can be built. But that is not going to happen if you distance yourself from God and his Word.
Thirdly, GOD’S CLOSENESS CREATES CONNECTION.
It would be hard to read through Psalm 119 and come to any conclusion other than that the psalmist feels very connected to God -- even though he is going through a hard time -- even though God doesn’t seem to be responding at times... The psalmist -- the poet -- continues to find reassurance and connection to God through his Word. The Lord is the one to whom he continues to “cry out with all his heart” according to vss 145 and 146.
In vss 147-148 he implies that he stays awake all night thinking about God’s word -- his message. He is totally connected to God through the Word.
And that is the purpose of God’s Word. That’s why he communicated -- so that we can connect with him and walk with him and be with him -- and enjoy his closeness.
I know that I keep coming back to the idea that we have an advantage over the psalmist. But I think it is important. He only had the Word in written form. That’s how he got God’s message. That’s how he connected with God and how he drew near to his presence.
But we know that according to John 1 “The Word became flesh and made his home among us.”
That is, he became even closer as the Word of God entered into humanity and became one of us.
“We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
God’s glory revealed in full view of the world -- grace and truth in the flesh -- THE WORD.
And this is one reason why I enjoy spending time in Psalm 119. Even though it was written a thousand years before Jesus it’s so easy to see where the whole poem is going.
It leads us right up to the Word made flesh. It tells us, even though his name is never mentioned, that we connect to God and his word through Jesus.
If you want a close relationship with God turn to his Word -- Jesus -- the one around whom the written Word revolves.
- If you seek confidence in your life...
- even in a violent and evil world If you are looking for structure and direction...
- If you are serious about connecting with God turn to his Word -- Jesus -- the one around whom the written Word revolves.
If you want to be close to God, choose the Word-filled life he offers -- the Word as it is written... the Word as it is in Jesus.
As we heard in the Gospel text this morning --
“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching. (Think Word) 32 Then you will know the truth (think Word), and the truth (Word of God) will set you free.”It will give you the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.
And that’s the good news.
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