This is the manuscript for a message delivered at Good Shepherd Covenant Church on August 16th, 2009.
I was so honored when Pastor Hollis invited me to come share with you today.
I met him through my Dad, Jim Thomason, who used to be the pastor at Meadow Creek. He’s been here with you before.
It was great to meet Pastor Hollis.
It turns out that we have some things in common. He lived in Las Vegas and then moved away just before I moved there. We compared notes and discovered that we knew some of the same people. What a small world.
We were able to compare notes on what a strange and wonderful place Las Vegas is to do ministry.
It’s the only place I know of where churches don’t take up an offering every Sunday. They just put slot machines in the lobby. Just kidding.
It was a wild place, though. That’s for sure.
I moved to Las Vegas as an artist. I didn’t even know if there were churches there when my wife and I moved. I was offered a job right out of college and they made me an offer I could not refuse.
God has taken us on a wild journey.
Throughout my life I have had two passions.
One is art.
The other is teaching people about growing in a relationship with God and studying the Bible. As I said, I moved to Vegas to be an artist. We got involved in a really dynamic church that was growing fast and I was soon called into ministry.
For 12 years I was a pastor, and I got my Masters of Divinity. In 2002 God called us to leave the big mega church life and be a bi-vocational pastor of a house church. I was an artist and a pastor. The was a wonderful experience.
In 2007 God shut that ministry down and called us to move back home to Minnesota where I am now making my living as a freelance artist and doing a lot of writing.
As an artist I spend an incredible amount of time staring at my computer screen. It’s a good thing that I love technology.
I do love technology.
I’ve had a website and been a blogger for a while, but this year I started using Facebook. Anybody here a Facebook user? You can be my FBBFF (Face Book Best Friend Forever).
Did you here about the new merger on the internet? It’s pretty amazing. YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook are going to combine forces. It’s going to be called You Twit Face.com. Yeah, pretty wild. I wanna get it on that one.
Technology has woven itself into the fabric of our society. We live in the information age.
I think it’s the age of information overload. There’s just too much information to process.
I have a condition, maybe you suffer from it as well. It’s called Analysis Paralysis.
It hits me really hard when I walk up to the counter in a fast food restaurant. I’m dwarfed by this gigantic menu board, crammed full of a thousand tiny little items. I break out in a cold sweat and my brain just locks up on me. The symptoms get worse depending on how many people are standing in line behind me. I stand there like a deer trapped in headlights, with no idea what to order.
The greatest invention ever made was the value meal. Now I just look at that and say, “Give me a number 1, I don’t even know what it is, just give it to me, I have to get out of here.”
With the internet, and Twitter, and 24 hour news linked to live coverage via satellite TV from anywhere in the world, we all suffer from analysis paralysis and information overload.
A lot of people talk about how we are seeing the signs of the end times because of all the wars and violence and natural disasters.
I’m not so sure. I don’t think the world has gotten any more violent or terrible. I mean, people have been killing each other ever since Cain killed Able. If you want violence and mahem, just read the Old Testament. Nations have been rising up against nation, plagues and famine have been wiping out millions of people, volcanoes and tsunamis have been decimating villages for eons. It hasn’t changed.
What has changed is that now we know about it.
150 years ago, when a tsunami wiped out thousands of people in Indonesia, or an earthquake destroyed a village in northern China, the average American had no idea. They were just out plowing the fields. Chances are they didn’t even know there was an Indonesia or a village in Northern China, let alone that there was a disaster that day.
The only Tweet they knew was from an actual bird on the edge of the field.
Life was much simpler. You were aware of the happenings in your area, maybe 50 miles around you. If you did here about world events, it was months after the fact.
The information age has changed all of that.
Today we are flooded with information. It streams into us from every direction like a violent waterfall. There is almost no where to go to escape it.
I was having a discussion the other day with my sister in law about this very topic, and she was telling us how overwhelmed she feels when she hears about all the needs.
When you hear statistics about the fact that 1 billion people will go to bed tonight hungry, not knowing where their next meal will come from. That workers are being exploited by multinational corporations that transcend federal laws. Millions of children are being consumed in human trafficking. The drug industry is booming. And then, you get flooded with a hundred missionary letters telling you about their needs and asking for prayer, and 14 charities a day calling and asking for money. It just gets too much, and you want to shout, “STOP!”
In the wake of this information overload, people tend to react in one of two ways. They either Explode or they Implode.
The people who explode get angry about it.
Many times they get angry, and they get arrogant. Maybe you know some people like this. Their favorite pastime is to bash the president, loudly, and make it known to everyone around them how terrible the government is and how things are going downhill fast. The more they talk the louder they get and the redder their face gets. And then they end up, in exasperation, and just hope that the Lord comes back soon to take them away from this crazy mess. That’s an exploder.
The interesting thing about the exploder is that they don’t really have a clue. They are simply reacting to the thousands of disjointed sound bites that they hear and that scares them. It seems like the louder they are, and the more belligerent and arrogant they are, the less they really know about the issues.
Then there’s the imploder.
This is the person who gets overwhelmed by the issues, often gets overwhelmed by the amount of human need and thinks, “I’m so small, I can’t do anything about it.” This is the “analysis paralysis”. They see it all swirling around them, and they freeze. And do nothing.
In both cases, the exploder and the imploder, the solution tends to be self-medication.
They turn to the things that comfort them and mask the pain. Perhaps it is simply turning on the television and numbing out. Maybe its an addiction to comfort food, alcohol, drugs, or sex.
I believe this information overload is one of the greatest reasons why, even in an era when there is more anti-drug education than ever before, people are still turning to self-destructive behavior.
When all of the world’s problems are streamed in front of you on a daily basis, it is very easy to be swept away in the tide of hopelessness.
That’s the key.
If you were to poll the average kid in America today, and asked them about their hopes and dreams, I think a huge majority of them when simply shrug their shoulders and keep texting their friends.
There is a pervasive sense of hopelessness around us.
Where are you this morning?
Perhaps you are one of the statistics that have come out of our nations latest economic struggle.
When you lose a job, when you lose your home, when circumstances around you bring you to that place, and you listen to all the chatter and speculation about the economy.
What do you do?
At this point you’re thinking. This guy’s a downer. I’m so glad Pastor Hollis invited him to speak. I thought we were doing a series on the Psalms of Ascent, is he ever going to get to the message?
Well, as a matter of fact, we are going to look at a Psalm of Ascent this morning, and its one that might help us with these problems.
Go ahead and take out your Bible and turn to Psalm 131.
I’m sure, since you’ve been studying these Psalms for several weeks now, that each of you could get up here right now and tell us all about these Psalms.
Since I’m the new kid on the block, indulge me for a moment as I review.
The Psalms of Ascent, or the Songs of the Steps, as it can also be translated, were the songs that the people of Israel would sing as they approached the temple to bring their sacrifices to God and celebrate the annual feasts.
So, what’s the point of studying these psalms today?
We don’t have a temple, we don’t make sacrifices, and we don’t have annual feasts.
It’s true that we don’t have those physical things anymore, but we do have the equivalents.
The temple served as a physical representation for the presence of God. God didn’t live there.
The infinite creator of the universe could never be localized and confined to one point in space and time.
However, as finite human beings, it was necessary for God to allow us to build something that represented God’s presence, that allowed us to visualize and understand that it is possible to be standing in a right relationship with God, to be facing God, loving God, and worshipping God.
As with all metaphors and physical items that try to represent God’s presence, the temple got in the way and God had to let it be destroyed.
Let’s clarify something. God is eternal and infinite, and the creator and sustainer of life itself. It is impossible to be physically apart from the presence of God. David said in Psalm 139:7-12 (NIV)
7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
So, when we study the Psalms of Ascent today, we are not talking about approaching a physical place to worship God, or a specific time when we worship God.
Coming into the presence of God is not about a place and time, it is about an attitude and a relationship.
Right now I’m standing in your presence.
Now look at me (turn away from people) am I still in your presence?
Yes. But what is my attitude toward you? Is it engaging? Can we communicate?
When children are upset at their parents, what do they do? They huff and turn away. They haven’t left the presence of the parent, but they have disengaged in the contructive relationship.
In essence, the journey into the presence of God, the ascent up the stairs to the bema seat, is a rotation of attitude.
It’s moving from a denial of God’s presence, to an openness and receptivity to God’s presence, coming into the full light of God’s Grace and Wonder and life-transforming power.
Each of the Psalms deals with a different aspect of that journey. Different attitudes that need to change in order to be able to come into God’s presence.
Today we look at one of those in Psalm 131.
My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. 2 But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. 3 O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore.
It is short and sweet, but it speaks volumes about this process of rotation.
This Psalm tells us two things.
First it says what we should not do.
Then it tells us what we should do, or how we should be.
As with all good Hebrew poetry, each point is repeated. Let’s look at the first one again.
My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
When I first read this I had to laugh a little bit. “My heart is not proud – as a matter of fact, I’m the most humble person I know.” It seemed a bit ironic.
Then I realized that this is a Psalm of David and, as the king, he’s trying to set the example for his people.
He’s telling them that he didn’t become king because he thought he should or because he had great plans and charged in to take over.
He became king because God appointed him and brought him up from being a shepherd boy and made him a giant slayer.
The secret to David’s success was not pride and self-confidence, but humility and reliance upon God’s provision.
There are two ways that we can read this, and there are two messages to two different kinds of people.
The first message is to the overly self-confident.
If you think that you’ve got it all together, that you’re all that, and you are God’s gift to the world, and that if people would just listen to you, and do things your way, then everything would be better,
then there are two words for you.
The message for you today is to take a reality check.
Proverbs 16:18 (NIV)
18 Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.
If you are trusting in your own wisdom and understanding to navigate through this life, then it will eventually blow up in your face and some day you are going to look back and see a wake of death and destruction behind you.
That is one message, and if that speaks to you, then take it.
But, I have a sneaking suspicion that most of us are not in that place. I think most of us need to hear the second message from this Psalm.
When I first meditated on this Psalm in preparation to teach today, one phrase drilled into my spirit,
“I do not concern myself with things too wonderful for me.”
That can be translated,
“I do not spend time fixating on things that are way beyond my grasp or understanding or ability to control.”
Has anyone ever been anxious about something?
Do you know what causes anxiety is? Anxiety and worry churns up inside of us when we focus our attention on things we cannot control.
Think about it.
If we focus on things that we can control, and they need to be fixed, then what happens? We fix them, and there’s no worries.
But when we focus energy on something we can’t control, and that thing needs to be fixed, what happens? We freak out.
The economy is crashing. I’m losing my job. Soldiers are dying in war. Children are starving in the streets. A tornado wiped out a neighborhood. Gangs are in our school.
All of these issues pile up around us. They stream into us from every corner of the world and demand our attention.
So, what do we do?
we give it our attention.
We focus on it, but we can’t do anything about it.
What does that lead to?
Some of us explode and become arrogant and belligerent.
Some of us implode and become hopeless.
David says, “don’t do it.”
Don’t focus your attention on things beyond your ability to change.
What did Jesus say about this?
Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV)
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
So, if we aren’t supposed to worry about these things, what are we supposed to do? How is it possible to NOT worry about these things?
Look again at the second part of the Psalm.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
When my children were babies, it was always amazing to me to watch the transformation that took place in them.
They’d be screaming their heads off, writhing in pain. They didn’t even understand what was wrong with them, they just knew that it hurt and they were uncomfortable. But Mom knew. Lona would gently pick them up and bring them to her chest and they would latch on and quiet right down. After they had eaten, I would witness one of the greatest images of peace there is. My little baby resting on her mother’s chest. Totally content. Totally safe. Not a care in the world.
That’s the picture here.
I love this Psalm for many reasons.
One of them is because it’s one of the times in scripture where we see God as a mother. God is not male or female.
The image of God as Father carries certain truths about God’s nature and tends to dominate our theological understanding.
But there are times when we need to remember that God is as much mother as father.
When the world is going crazy around us, when our attention is focused on things too wonderful for us, we need to stop, get quiet, crawl onto God’s lap, and rest.
The Apostle Paul wrote,
Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
And, again, how did Jesus conclude his words about worry?
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Where are you today?
Where are your eyes?
Are they focused on lofty things, things outside of your control.
Are you worried and full of anxiety?
I’d like you to do something this week.
At least one day this week, I want you to set aside 30 minutes.
Write it on your calendar if you need to. Find a quiet place. Unplug your cell phone, completely. No vibrate, no texting. Turn it off. Be away from your computer. Be away from your telephone. No books, no words, not even the Bible. Total silence.
Sit still and breath deeply. In your mind, think about this message. Visualize yourself as the small child, snuggled up to God’s chest. Safe and warm.
And then, for 30 minutes, I want you to listen.
You are studying the Psalms of Ascent because you are looking at how to prepare yourselves to come into God’s presence.
Remember, coming into God’s presence isn’t about the physical journey of moving from the parking lot into this sanctuary. The journey is a rotation of the heart. It’s an attitude. It is positioning yourself for the relationship.
You are coming to hear Gods voice.
I believe that God is always speaking, the problem is that we aren’t listening.
God’s voice isn’t in the big things.
It isn’t in the “things too wonderful for me”. God’s voice is a whisper.
He says, “I’m right here. I’ve got you. I can handle this. Just trust me. Before you were born, I loved you. Just let me worry about these things. You are my child, and no matter what happens, my love will last forever.”
When we hear that voice we realize that in every moment of our lives God gives us the opportunity to tap into his love and grace and be a conduit of that love and grace to the world around us.
Yes, things are crazy in the world. Yes, you are being bombarded by way too much information about all the craziness.
So, what are you going to do?
Are you going to explode and rant and rave about it, or hope that you can muscle your way through it?
Are you going to implode and just medicate yourself or hope that Jesus comes back to take you away from it all?
Are you going to take the time to crawl up on God’s lap rest in God’s love.
I’ll tell you right now, what the world needs is not a bunch of loud mouth accusers, or weak hearted hiders.
What the world needs is a bunch of God’s children who live in the peace and love of God who don’t let the chaos rattle them. Instead, they draw on the peace and strength that comes from love of God and moves out into the world to carry that peace and love with them.
If we could do that, then we would realize David’s final words in this song,
put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore.
Let’s stand and pray.