Sermon series: Going Right in a Culture Gone Wrong
In this sermon, Lloyd Stilley uses Psalm 139. Pastor Lloyd says, "In the opening six verses of Psalm 139, there are eight different Hebrew words that stack up to tell you that God knows your story intimately." He also says, "There are four truths that, if believed, are guaranteed to replace pity-parties with purposeful pursuits as we learn the true value of our investment in others."
Note from Lloyd Stilley: I am indebted to Chip Ingram and his book I Am with You Always: Experiencing God in Times of Need for the general idea for the series, as well as some of the content.
This sermon uses a clip from the film Mr. Holland's Opus. Be certain your church obtains the proper license from CVLI prior to showing any copyrighted work during a service.
One of the most moving motion pictures I've seen is Mr. Holland's Opus. It tracks thirty years of a man's life as he raises a family and teaches high school music. But he goes beyond instructing his students; he pours his life into them. As the story unfolds, we discover that he took the teaching job because he couldn't make a living writing and performing his own music. So this dream of composing a symphony was put on the back burner for more pressing matters. But it was always there, vibrating just beneath the surface, waiting, hoping.
Then came the day when the music program at the high school was axed because of financial cutbacks. As he struggles with being put aside by the school board after so many years, Mr. Holland is left questioning whether his life has mattered. He put his dream on hold to take up the daily goal of trying to impact the lives of teenagers through music. Now that too is gone.
In the scene you're about to see, Mr. Holland goes to his old classroom for the last time. The weight of the world is on his shoulders when Bill, the football coach drops by to see about his hurting friend. Watch. (Excerpted from Mr. Holland's Opus, 1995)
Do you ever feel that way? I mean, deep down, when it's quiet and everybody else is in bed? Or when you're driving and you don't have to pay much attention, do you start thinking about where your life is headed, what you've done or haven't done? Do you ever pause and add up what your life amounts to and - well, come up short? Or maybe you just feel like a rat in a cage, turning the big wheel. Life is a treadmill of the same-old, same-old. You're working hard, but it doesn't feel like you're getting anywhere. You feel under-appreciated, overlooked, under-paid, or even unnecessary. There are many versions of what Mr. Holland was going through.
It seems to me that most people who take the time to reflect on their lives struggle with these incomplete feelings and dead end thoughts. Some people wrestle with them every day. If you take stock of your life and say, "What difference does my life make? Does anybody really know or care about me?", then you're in the right place at the right time this morning. God has a word for you in Psalm 139. He wants to show you a different picture of your life. He wants to give you a view from the top, to help you see the meaning of your life from His perspective.
There are four truths that, if believed, are guaranteed to replace pity-parties with purposeful pursuits as we learn the true value of our investment in others. Get ready!
1. God knows you
In the opening six verses of Psalm 139, there are eight different Hebrew words that stack up to tell you that God knows your story intimately: "O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I stand up; you understand my thoughts from far away. You observe my travels and my rest; You are aware of all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You know all about it, LORD. You have encircled me; You have placed Your hand on me. This behind and before, and lay Your hand upon me. [This] extraordinary knowledge is beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to [reach] it."
Each of these words conveys a different layer of God's knowledge of you. Combined, they picture God like a detective, tracking even our most mundane activities, studying us even when we think we're alone. He dissects our inner world into parts, discerning what makes us tick and why we do what we do. He has penetrated past our best foot forward. He has such a grasp of each one of us on an programming level that He knows precisely what you will say or do next, as if it had already been uttered or performed.
So God knows your heart, your fears, your thoughts, motives, dreams, and frustrations. He knows your past, present and your future. He understands you. He notices what's going on around you, to you, inside you. He gets you. In fact, God has you pegged better than you do. You think your motive for doing something is this, when God, who is not fooled, knows it is that.
That sounds unnerving, but you can rest assured about this: God knows, but He loves you still. When David says that God has laid His hand upon him, he's referring to an OT practice of bestowing a blessing on someone. A wise father would place his hands on his children and speak words into their lives about who they are and will be, what their place in the family meant, and what their future will be. This was one of the most important acts that happened in Hebrew families.
In the same way, your Heavenly Father who knows you bestows blessing on you, borne out of love, that marks your place in His family and what your future is all about. In His family, nobodies are non-existent.
2. God pursues you
When David affirmed God's thorough knowledge of himself, he concluded in v. 6 that this is beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to [reach] it." What he meant is, "I just can't deal with this. It's too overwhelming. It's out of my reach!."
David's first instinct is the same as ours - How can I escape? Where can I hide? If He knows all that, He knows I'm a hypocrite, He's heard my lies, He saw what I did last week." In v. 7-12, he says: "Where can I go to escape Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there. If I live on the eastern horizon [or] settle at the western limits, even there Your hand will lead me; Your right hand will hold on to me. If I say, 'Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light around me will become night,' even the darkness is not dark to You. The night shines like the day; darkness and light are alike to You."
David's fear of total exposure moved him to ponder if there was some retreat, geographically or spiritually, to which he could secret himself away. But God will not let him run away. "He tracks my path," says David, "but not to point out what's wrong or exact justice from me. He is determined to give me grace, to be involved in my life."
That's what David is saying in v. 10 when he says, "If I could ride the sun's rays and fly at blinding speeds to some remote place or bury myself under miles of ocean, even there, writes David, Your hand will lead me (that's guidance); Your right hand will hold on to me (that's security).
You know what this means, don't you? You are wanted by God. Over and over in the Bible, we see this affirmed. We are called God's beloved, chosen, dearly loved children. We are told that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. When you feel the crushing weight of loneliness and wonder if you would be missed if you were gone, remember this.Mary Ann Bird writes that when she was growing up, she knew she was different. "And I hated it," she said. "I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I looked to others: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth, and garbled speech.
"When schoolmates asked, 'What happened to your lip?' I'd tell them I'd fallen and cut it on a piece of glass. Somehow it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different. I was convinced that no one outside my family could love me.
There was, however, a teacher in the second grade whom we all adored - Mrs. Leonard by name. She was short, round, happy - a sparkling lady. Annually we had a hearing test. ... Mrs. Leonard gave the test to everyone in the class, and finally it was my turn. I knew from past years that as we stood against the door and covered one ear, the teacher sitting at her desk would whisper something, and we would have to repeat it back - things like "The sky is blue" or "Do you have new shoes?"
I waited there for those words that God must have put into her mouth, those seven words that changed my life. Mrs. Leonard said, in her whisper, "I wish you were my little girl."2 (Mary Ann Bird, The Whisper Test, cited at PreachingToday.com) Oh how He loves you and me. And He pledges to us that now that we belong to Him because of faith in Christ Jesus, we will never be separated again. God knows you and wants you.
3. God Himself made you
Read v. 13-16a with me: "For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother's womb. I will praise You, because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well. My bones were not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless - "
Pay attention to the words. It was God who knit you together in your mother's womb, a picture of the intricate attention to detail of a seamstress as she creates a garment one thread at a time. And notice that phrase in v. 13 where David writes, "I have been remarkably and wonderfully made." The adverbs in that sentence make plain that after God made you, He threw away the mold. You are totally unique, a one-of-a-kind, fashioned with awe-inspiring skill by the Almighty right down to the thumbprint. And as the old preacher used to say, "God don't make no junk!"
The most powerful computer in the world is currently the IBM BlueGene/L, housed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. It can perform 280 trillion calculations a second!But, that's nothing compared to the computer they're trying to put together at the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Components for this super-computer began arriving in the fall of 2006. Thirty-six moving vans full of equipment will be needed to complete it. By the time it's finished in 2008, the computer will fill a room the size of a hockey rink and consume as much power as a small town. And the goal is for this computer to do a quadrillion calculations a second. How fast is that? It is roughly a billion times faster than your desktop computer at home.
(Mike Toner, "Nations in Race to Produce World's Fastest, Most Powerful Computer," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, (10-18-06); submitted by J. Richard Love, Ruston, Louisiana)
But get this: the human brain processes information even faster than this as yet incomplete computer! Scientists estimate that the brain carries out 10 quadrillion operations a second - 10 times faster than a computer the size of a hockey rink! God has done some fancy knitting, wouldn't you say?
If you don't like what you see in the mirror, you have been taking your cues from this carnal world rather than your Heavenly Papa, the incredible Artisan who made you for Himself. There is no one in history like you. He gave you a personality, innate abilities, spiritual gifts, and a particular purpose that sets you apart for Him. You are His treasured creation, made in His likeness. God knows you. He wants you. He made you
4. God has plans just for you
Check out v. 16b-18: " - all [my] days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began. God, how difficult Your thoughts are for me [to comprehend] ; how vast their sum it!
David says that the script for your life was already written by God, that the Lord has carefully mapped the details that will fill your days, ordaining what will and will not happen. The Hebrew word the Holy Spirit has David use here indicates that God has created each day of my life, tailoring circumstances, establishing boundaries, and fashioning opportunities for His glory and my good.
But God doesn't just set the plan in motion and look the other way. His thoughts are on you constantly. He greets you each morning with fresh mercy and new opportunities, ready to go through the hours with you. He loves your company. And He has specific plans that you alone can fulfill.
He knows you. He pursues you. He made you with a purpose, and is ready to live out those plans with you each day. Will you allow yourself to hear His still, small voice? "I am so glad you are my child. Take my hand. Let's run this race together."
This is a $100 bill. If I offered it to you, you would take it. But what if I ball it up and throw it on the ground - would you still want it? What if they stepped on it, kicked it, and even spit on it? Could you still go to the store and spend it?
Yes. This bill has value because of what it is, not because of how it looks, where it's been, or what it's been used for. A crisp, clean $100 bill is worth the same amount as an ugly, older, more used one. You may feel like you've been stepped on, beat up, or kicked around. You may feel dirty, unworthy, or useless. Just know this - you matter to God.
Maybe your parents have said words that ring in your ears to this day; or they didn't say the words you were longing to hear! Maybe your spouse has rejected you, verbally, emotionally, or physically. Don't let what another human does define you. Don't draw conclusions about yourself based on them. Look higher - You matter to God so much He sent His Son for you. You belong, you are cherished, you are His - forever!