The Bigness of God and The Smallness of Me
In 6 weeks we will be celebrating our 25th anniversary as a church family. I really appreciate all of the work going in to making December 9th a time of celebration and one of the things I have enjoyed the most is how you have shared your stories about the history of this church through the years. The excitement you felt when this church was beginning, when we were involved in Model City Missions, or Winterfest. We are in the process of digitizing old Stunt Night videos, and we have sat in the office and laughed and tried to figure out who certain folks were.
There is something that draws us to the past, I think we like to talk about the old days because there is something safe about it. The stress and strain that we feel now was 1,000 miles away and life just seemed simpler. There was a time when you could sit at the dinner table and share a family meal with out a cell phone in your hand. Our jobs seemed simpler, faith seemed simpler, and even the games that we would play just seemed simpler. The only thing you needed for a day’s worth of entertainment was an outside to go play.
Trista and I tried to teach the boys how to play real games like Freeze Tag, Hide and Go seek, dodgeball, and Red Rover; games from our childhood when life was simpler. You have probably tried to share a bit of your past with those who are coming behind us, only to realize how different the world is now and how you are doing in your battle against time. This past summer there were several of our younger members here and we decided to play hide and go seek in the building and I realized pretty quickly that I am not as elusive or quick as I was 30 years ago.
I would imagine that by now many of you have already started to drift a bit to thinking about the days gone by to some of the games you used to play and the fun that you had with those games. Maybe your favorite game was kick the can, or Simon Says, or Mother May I. Without a doubt my favorite game to play when I was younger was King of the Mountain. Maybe it was because I was always the biggest kid in my class, or maybe I was the meanest, but I loved that game.
If you have never had the pleasure of playing the game, the rules are pretty simple; someone stands on a dirt pile, park bench, log, or hay bale and says I’m King of the Mountain. At that moment they become the target and everyone tries to knock them off their perch and take claim to the title King of the Mountain. While I loved the game, I am not so sure my mom liked it because I was always coming home with something bleeding and ripped paints. But when you were a kid, being able to stake claim to being the king of the mountain, or the king of anything was the best feeling in the world. It was our first real taste of power, and after one taste we were hooked.
That was a long time ago, and we were just kids being kids. The problem is that we grow into adults and we find ourselves still playing the game. I mean it looks a bit different now, no one stands on a church pew and yells out I am the King of the Mountain; when you get older you just stand on top of a pet peeve or a belief, or a desire. We don’t have to yell I’m King of the Mountain anymore, we just have to be demand our rights, or just let folks know that they are not as smart, or strong, or talented, or good looking, or important as I am.
People in our families, churches, and communities battle every day to be the King of the Mountain. This attitude infecting our jobs, our hobbies, and even worse our families and churches. When we play King of the Mountain in our church families, with the people we are called to love, prefer, encourage, and serve, we leave a trail of carnage behind that causes a horrible spiritual suffering. Every church split that ever happened was a result of someone wanting to be the King of the Mountain. Unfortunately this family knows all to well that the pain of those splits last for decades. Some of you are still living with the wounds and raw emotional scars from things that were said, and accusations that were made a decade ago. Friendships were lost, relationships were severed, but the pain remains.
Let me point out here that Greenbrier is not the only family to endure this struggle, and it’s not even a 21st century struggle. It’s actually quite apostolic. The Apostles were always arguing over who was the King of the Mountain. Even after spending three years with Jesus they were still focusing on their own importance, on getting their own way, on working their way into the limelight. They were playing King of the Mountain in Matthew 18 when they asked “who is the greatest in the Kingdom?” I don’t know what type of answer they expected, but Jesus told them the truth. Jesus said it wasn’t Peter, Andrew, Thaddeus, or Mathew. What Jesus said was that the greatest was the one who was humble. And can we be honest enough to admit, especially with what has happened in our past, that it is a lesson that we are still trying to learn today.
We have been looking at the Songs of Ascent, or the songs that the Jewish travelers would sing on their way to Jerusalem to worship God in the Temple. Today our traveling song is found in the 131st Psalm. It is a song addresses the problem of trying to be the King of the Mountain because it calls us back to a truth that we often don’t recognize.
If I were to ask you to explain what you were doing here this morning, where would you start? You might say, well I am here to worship, but what does that mean? Worship is not just showing up in a certain place and singing a few songs. It’s not bowing your head and thinking about all the things you have to get done while someone else talks to God, or even taking communion. Worship is so much more than just being here physically, you need to be here emotionally and spiritually as well.
Worship is acknowledging with our whole being the bigness and grandeur of God. But in acknowledging the awesomeness of God we are also declaring our smallness. We gather to worship God because He alone is worthy of our time, He alone is worthy of our love, He alone is worthy of our respect. And everything else is the byproduct of that relationship. Right now we are gathered to humble ourselves in the presence of an almighty and awesome God.
Sing Humble Thyself
King David had it all. He was handsome, talented, had power, money, the best horses and chariots. He would definitely make every top 10 list of most successful people of all time. He was unbelievably successful, but that’s not how David would describe himself. He refused to stand on his own power, or abilities. In our song this morning David reminds us that if we want to be people after God’s own heart we must first get rid of our pride and arrogance.
The Psalm starts with “My heart is not proud,” which is a very difficult statement to make. David had achieved tremendous success, rising from a shepherd boy to becoming the most powerful king in the world. Yet in the face of all of that success David declares that his achievements are not a source of pride and arrogance in his life. He might be the king of Israel, but in his heart he is still that young insignificant shepherd boy that Samuel found in his fathers house.
God understood that we would have a life long battle with pride, that’s why the Bible has so many different warnings about the destructive nature of pride, 1 Peter 5:5 and James 4:6 warn us that “God gives grace to the humble but resists the proud.” Proverbs 16:18-19 warns “pride leads to destruction and a haughty spirit comes before a person falls.” From Genesis to Revelation this warning is echoed over and over again.
Our ability to be humble is directly affected by the size of our God. If we don’t believe that God has the power to direct our lives then worship becomes secondary. If we spend all of our time and focus on what we can control then why would we waste our time worshiping a God that we cannot see? If we live like we are the greatest, the king of the mountain, then why would I give my time, talent, and treasure away. Humility is the choice to credit God, not ourselves, for our abilities and then to use those gifts in God’s service.
Our society values power and control. We celebrate the sin of pride that shows itself in self-sufficiency, self-importance, self-righteousness and self-indulgence. Pride tells us to take things into our own hands, be our own god, improve ourselves by whatever means you can to get ahead, regardless of the price. When we value people who are self sufficient and motivated, and do whatever it takes to make the sale, make the point, or win the war we give value to the very thing that keeps us away from God. Sadly there is no room for God in a life that is filled with pride.
David says: “My eyes are not haughty” yet we seem to encourage and celebrate arrogance. David is not saying that he did not having pride or a good self esteem. David is addressing arrogance that goes beyond pride straight to looking down on other people. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine and they were struggling because of how nasty some other kids were being to their daughter. The kids at her school were constantly telling her that she was worthless. Well they weren’t using those words, it was more like, “Did you get your clothes out of a dumpster?” “You’re too slow to be on my team!” or “Do you have soap at your house?”
Each one of us have a daily struggle with wanting to be the King of the Mountain. We play the game when we make a snap judgment about other people. Can we own the fact that we have stereotyped someone according to clothing, race, sex, nationality, or any of 100 different things this week? Can we be honest and say that our pride has made it difficult for us to model love in the model city?
When we play King of the Mountain we end up making blanket statements about people who were made in the image of God. The truth is once you get to know someone, his life is as good and bad as yours, she has the same concerns about her family or her job that you do. David is not calling us to foster an inferior attitude or poor self-esteem. Rather, David is reminding us to own our own strengths and weaknesses honestly.
Worship is recognizing that our God is Holy and unapproachable, yet He loved us so much that He allowed Jesus Christ to die for our sinfulness and bridge the gap that we created. We worship God because He is full of mercy and grace. We worship God because we realize how awesome He is and that He desires for us to have the relationship we were created to have with Him. For that to happen our souls must be willing to bow down and cry out Holy, Holy, Holy.
Sing We Fall Down
Worshiping God is a call to recognize our own limits
David finishes verse 1 by saying “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.”
One of the marks of humility is recognizing your limits, accepting the fact that there are things that you are not going to be able to do or to understand. But in our culture acknowledging your limits is social suicide. One of the most recognizable ad campaigns in the last 10 years is about the most interesting man in the world. But he’s not just interesting; His shirts never wrinkle, His blood smells like cologne, He bowls overhanded, and He has won the lifetime achievement award, twice. And while he is the most interesting man in the world, truthfully he is no David.
Even with all of David’s upside, he had no problem admitting there were things he didn’t know. And there is a sense of peace in that confession because he was confident in his relationship with the one who does. Folks who are playing King of the Mountain have a difficult time admitting that there are things we don’t understand. Folks who play King of the Mountain have this need to express an opinion or be the expert on every subject. They can tell you the right way to grill a T-bone steak, the best way to treat a migraine headache, and whether a Mercedes is superior to a BMW, although they have never owned, or even ridden in either one. They are utterly confident of their own opinions, and utterly scornful of anyone who disagrees.
But those who walk in humility are slow to express an opinion about matters where they have little knowledge. David demonstrates for us what humility before God really looks like. It doesn’t mean having a low opinion of yourself, and it’s not having a high opinion of yourself. Humility is having the right opinion of yourself, from God’s perspective. And it’s only when we can see ourselves from God’s perspective that we will be drawn to worship Him.
In verse two David teaches us that we can worship because we have learned the value of Contentment.
David gives the beautiful example of a child; but it’s not just a child, the key word here is weaned. You see this psalm is not only about the virtues of humility, but of trust as well. When David says that his soul is like a weaned child, he is not saying that he has always been content with God or even merely that he is content with God now. He is reflecting on the difficult weaning process.
I remember when the boys were young and we were trying to get them to eat real food. I had thought that it wouldn’t be a big deal, I could just make some rice substance out of the gerber box and we would be on the road to hamburgers in no time. But that’s not what happened. They fought it tooth and nail. There was resistance, tears, angry accusing glances, and fierce temper tantrums. It was a difficult time in our home, but we knew that if the boys were to grow and mature it was a process that they had to go through.
David has come through the weaning process and has learned to trust God to care for him and provide for him. And the trust was not built on David's terms but on God's terms. You see before he was weaned, David wanted God only for what he could receive. But after he learned that God loved him and would care for him David could not help but worship God. That was a better and much more mature relationship.
You know there are very few psalms that reach this level of personal disclosure. And even though David is writing about himself and his experiences with God, he makes it personal on a different level. He is not content to let us read about his process, in verse 3 we are invited to learn the same lessons.
David challenges us to "put our hope in God both now and forevermore” Only God is worthy of our hope and will never disappoint us. To know that truth is to be spiritually mature. To know that truth draws us to worship Him with our lives. This morning we gather to worship because we are trying to learn to love God for Himself and not merely for what blessing He places in our lives. If you are gathered here for any other reason then you may need to spend some time in quiet reflection.
Today our invitation is a call for you to quit playing King of the Mountain. Put down the burden of always having to be right, of always having to know all the answers. Quit striving to be the greatest in the kingdom and acknowledge that God is alone worthy of your worship and praise.
Today our invitation is an invitation to those of you who are carrying around hurt to lay it at the foot of the cross and allow God to heal your wound. It’s an invitation for you to be honest about the wounds your received when this church spilt. I know you want to ignore the wound, you want to act like you are past the pain. When in reality all you have done is tried to ignore the wound, because it is still there, festering and growing more and more infected. The thought of some of the people coming back to celebrate our 25th anniversary makes your stomach hurt. Your hurt is keeping you from being honest and open with this church body. Your hurt is keeping you from enjoying abundant life in this church family. We cannot take the offense away, we cannot take the pain away. But you can bring the pain to the cross today and release those that hurt you. You can begin healing today and find the peace that God offers your life.