Pilgrim, Was it Worth the Trouble? – Part 1

By: Dr. Michael Easley; ©2005
Psalm 12 is about words. The way we use words reveal our thoughts, our intentions, our hearts, our character. They can reveal our anger, our frustration, our ego.

Pilgrim, Was it Worth the Trouble? – Part 1

This message was recorded at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina. Through the ministry of The Cove we’re training people in God’s Word to win others to Christ. It’s our goal to develop Christians who experience God through knowing Him better, knowing His Word, building godly relationships and helping others know Him. We trust that this message will strengthen your walk with God and help you experience Him right where you are.


Dr. Michael Easley: It’s great to see so many of you here. Thanks for coming tonight. Some of you remember the story about the monk that, during the monastic period there were different monasteries and they had different criteria. And this particular monastery had the criteria that you could only speak two words once a year. The rest of the time it was silence. You heard this story? And so this one priest decides to join this monastic order and really seclude himself, and he’s going to be with God in quiet and learn to work and be quiet. And so he goes and signs up and agrees.
And at the end of the first year they have a big banquet. And at that banquet you get to come out and say your two words. And so after the first year everyone gets up there and it’s his turn and he comes up and he says “Bed hard.” He works another full year and he doesn’t say a word, keeps his commitment. At the end they have a big banquet and he comes up and he says, “Food bad.” Another year passes; he works hard diligently, never says anything. They have the big banquet; he comes up and he goes, “I quit!” The head of the monastic order walks him outside the compound and he says, “You know, now that we’re outside I can talk to you. It’s no surprise you’re quitting. All you’ve done since you’ve been here is complain.”
As I get older, and I know as I look at my brothers and sisters in front of me, many of you are older than me, it is relative. The surgeries I’ve had and the pain I live with and even my neurosurgeon tells me, “Mr. Easley, your spine is 80 years old.” So I don’t know what that means if I live to be 80. But at almost 55 I feel like a very old man. And every morning I wake up I feel like I’ve been hit by a gravel truck and I feel like saying, “Bed hard, food bad.” I’m ready to exit this stage to the right.
And it’s not time obviously. It’s in His hand, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten curmudgeonly. I’ve always been a bit of a cynic, but I’m getting really curmudgeonly. And maybe you are not, and if you’re not then you can pray for me, but I’m just being candid. It’s just, you know, I get impatient. I get weary of the nonsense I have to deal with sometimes. I had a Student Ministries pastor that had a sign on his door with the international “No” symbol on it and the word “whining” underneath it. Come to my office, don’t whine to me.
And, you know, in ministry it’s hard to have that attitude. You have to love God’s people and you have to be kind even when you don’t want to. But you go through these stages where you just get a little tired of it all. And I’ve entitled these few messages, “Pilgrim, Was It worth the Trouble?” And we’ll talk about that throughout the next four times we are in the Word. But as we walk this life of faith, and as we get older and look back on things and the “what ifs” and the regrets and all the things we learned, I don’t know about you, but there are times when I take a pulse and say, “Was it worth the trouble?”
How do I forge on? How do I not become the cynic? How do I not become the curmudgeon that I don’t want to be? Because that stuff creeps in, and if you visit assisted living homes or if you’re around them there are two kinds of people. There are the joyful ones and there are the bitter ones and you can tell them in the first two minutes. I don’t want to be bitter. I think that’s entropy. I think that’s the way it tends to go unless, because I have met believers in Christ, extraordinary men and women of faith who are bitter, who are jaded, who are cynical, so I’m not above that. Some of you are joyful spirits. You’re already, you know, you’re always half full. You’re three-quarters full, and I make up for the quarter empty, you know. I’m that guy. My wife balances me out very well in that regard. And as I get older I don’t want to get that way.
I want to look tonight with you at Psalm 12, which is a psalm about words. And as we think about it we’re in a culture that’s talking a lot about civility. We’ve had our president give us a lecture about civility. We’ve had some people have attempted to be more civil in the way they speak. I watch a lot of news. I feel like starting out saying, “Hi, my name is Michael. I’m a political junkie.” Cindy and I lived in the Washington DC, northern Virginia area for 12 years, and we learned to love our country. We learned to love the men and women who serve our country. We learned to love it, the men and women, many of whom are appointed and elected officials, and of course, the others are there too. But we learned that there are a lot of good people trying to make a difference on the Hill; a lot of good men and women in uniform, in the military, some of the finest people I have ever been around in my life. And we grew in great respect for them.
And so we’re still political junkies. Even though when we live in Nashville, you know, there’s local news and there’s national and world news. I don’t even know what the local news channel is after three years of living in Nashville. We just don’t watch it. It’s like who cares if there was a fire in downtown Nashville? I’m sorry, let’s see what’s going on in the world, because we’re bent that way. In DC there’s no local news. Nobody cares, because it’s the world. It’s the nation, continuous network news, and other names I’ll refrain from calling it. But it goes on and on and on, and when you live in that environment before long you watch the rhetoric and the fever pitch of how people use words.
Jeremy and I were talking; I’ve watched all the debates. I’ve recorded the ones I haven’t been home for, and I will actually go and watch them. I mean, that’s how weird I am. And Cindy and I will talk about them endlessly, and no one at the church but maybe three people cares about it, but we do. And I find it startling, the language that they can use with one another. I mean, they can vilify each other and then as soon as the nominee is picked they all line up and go “This is our person. Everything we said and vilified and all those nasty things, that’s in the past. Now this is the one and we’re behind them a 100%.”
What happened? They were killing each other with incivility and lies and accusations and half-truths and overtones and over the top comments, and about to punch each other on stage over words, over words.
Words cut. They confuse. They clear up. They can hide. They can reveal. Words become documents. Documents become contracts. Contracts become law. Words can bind. Words can be broken. Words can libel. They can slander and they can convict and accuse. Words can ruin a person’s life. Words are what men and women die for. If all men kept their words most of the attorney’s in our country would be out of work. Because if you kept your word and the document you signed they would be doing things like adoption laws. They wouldn’t be deciding disputes of criminal and civility issues because people would have kept their word. But we’re a fallen broken people and we do not keep our words.
The way we use words reveal our thoughts, our intentions, our hearts, our character. They can reveal our anger, our frustration, our ego. And as I age and I live and I deal with pain sometimes I say things and I would wish to God I could reel them back in. Oh, if I had just had,… And you know that person or my wife Cindy will remember those words the rest of their life. You said,…; I’ll never forget it.
Some of us have messages our parents told us; we’ll never forget them as long as we live. I was telling Jeremy I read an article this week about a child prodigy named Vanessa Mae, and she started playing violin at three years of age, Suzuki violin. She played in the Beijing Philharmonic. It was the youngest performer ever. And this thing’s like 30,000 people. It’s unbelievable how many people can come into this place, and she plays before them. And by 18 was one of the top selling violinist soloist and playing symphonies in the world. And at 20 years of age she had broke from her mother as her manager who had enslaved her basically to play the violin. Gifted and a prodigy, no doubt. And in the UK press she said, her mother said, “I want nothing to do with you. You will never make me happy unless you’re playing the violin.” And at 20 years of age she’s walked away from her mother and they’ve not spoken in 12 years. Words, words; they reveal, they cut, they tell, they hurt.
Psalm 12 deals with words. It’s classified, technically, as a lament psalm. There are psalms of praise, of thanksgiving. There are enthronement psalms, royal psalms. There are ascent psalms, the psalms that they sang as they went up to Jerusalem. You always go up to Jerusalem to worship. No matter if you’re north or south you’re going up to worship and they would sing the ascent psalms as they would travel days or several days to get to Jerusalem to the place where God established His name.
We have all kinds of different psalms. This is classified technically as a lament. The worshiper is crying out, David is crying out to God, and we don’t know the precise time stamp of it. It’s hard sometimes, but you’ll notice here there is a hint in the psalm about Absalom. If you look at the superscription, a psalm, God is a helper against the treacherous, for the choir director; upon the eight stringed lyre, a psalm of David. And some would argue it may have to do with Absalom. We cannot know for sure. It could be Saul. It could be other enemies. Some psalms are time stamped. Some we do not know; nevertheless it was a song.
Let’s think just a little bit about the psalms that you hold. The psalms, psalter, are 150 chapters; we might call them, songs. Some are probably ones that are broken in two sections. But those songs were known. The pious Hebrew knew those songs like you know some hymns. Because when you sing something you get the words more quickly and you put the melody. In the Hebrew world it was structure and rhythm and repetition and restatement and parallelism and many devises that the Hebrew mind would track to. They didn’t have the disadvantage of television and media and all the distractions and the word was the focus and the songs were sung in the home and at work and when they were at exile and when they came back from exile and when they up to worship.
So this is not just a song book; it’s the theology. It’s the history. Psalm 78 tells the history of the exodus. Psalm 1 is the front piece of the book. This is come in and find wisdom and God’s chaciyd love and what it means to be a pious devout worshiper of Yahweh Elohim. And so they’re rich in texture, not only in the language and the structure, but in the back stories. And whether or not there was a specific event in mind, we always know there is enough principle, enough of a setting that we can apply it yet today.
Well, first let’s look at verse 1, the words of the wicked, Psalm 12:1, “Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be, the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.” He begins talking about the words of the wicked and he uses in the first word “help,” yasha. There are derivatives of it in Hebrew that we get “Joshua” from. “Joshua” is a wordplay which means Yahweh saves. So it’s a little bit of a double entendre. Help the one who saves. You’re the one who, you’re the helper, Lord. And you almost put them together, “Help, Lord” because He’s the only one who can aid at this.
The Hebrew word of salvation is intentional. Most of your English translations say, “Help.” The ESV we use the word “save” for a good reason. Yasha and its cousins are found 353 times in the Old Testament. It’s a big word. We need God’s help. When man has expended his resources we need someone that has more capacity than us. We need Yahweh’s help. When we do it ourselves we don’t need God’s help.
Now, isn’t it a truism that the only time you really trust God is when you’ve exhausted your human resources? It is for me. When I have money in the bank, when Cindy and I are getting along, when the kids are all compliant and obedient and say, “Yes, father,” when I like the job, the health is manageable, enough – whatever that means – money in my retirement accounts, my things are going well, people love me, I love them, I don’t need God. I really don’t.
But when my health becomes the throbbing constant irritation and distraction of my life, when my wife and I are at sorts, when you have six people, four children, there’s always two of you out of fellowship. It’s just a truism. So when you have two of your children out of fellowship with God and, man, you’re dealing with that, when something at the job, something about the money, when the economy affects my investments and my retirement; and I tell my wife, you know, she runs our investments now because she likes it more than I do and she’s better at it, and I say, “Honey, go for it. I’m going to die anyway probably actuarially and it’ll be all yours, so let’s just make as much money for you to have when I’m gone.” She doesn’t like that, but that’s the way I talk to her. When those things aren’t going well, what happens? I get diligent in my prayer. I ask God for help.
Now here’s the nagging corollary. Does God in His sovereign providential design for your life and mine allow the afflictions which we endure so that we depend on Him? That one will keep you awake at night. I’m not saying it’s cause and effect; I’m not saying you sinned and ergo you have a problem. I’m not saying that. Sometimes that’s true. What I’m saying here is if I’m not always that way in my diligence and my faith and my trust and my security. I don’t need God’s help when things are going well. I need Dr. Chang’s help. I need Dr. Mott’s help. I need Dr. Amada’s help. I need Dr. Christenson’s help. I need Dr. Tubb’s help. I don’t need these. I don’t need God’s help, and we turn too quickly.
Well, to get out of distress, to get out of danger, to be delivered from something that our human resources cannot deliver us from, we cry out to God, “Help, Go; help, Lord; help, Christ;” because the godly man ceases to exist. Now, Yahweh may not deliver us. In 1 Samuel 17:47 He may not deliver with the sword or the spear. He may save us with extraordinary signs or wonders as we saw in Exodus 14. He might fight for Israel as He does many times, Deuteronomy 20 being one.
But the application screams out to me: my life and your life are going to have corollaries when there is nowhere else to turn but “Help Lord!” And I don’t think I can ever tire of being reminded of that. I don’t know about you. Maybe you’ve got it a lot better than me. If you do, good for you, God bless you. But I find I depend more on my human resources than I really do my Savior, unless, when, if, those things in my life are disrupted.
Now the psalmist’s plea is not something about an ancient terrorist who might come and kill a king. It’s not about an immediate problem defined in a back story, but it is about the lack of godly men. And this is where the psalm becomes interesting. Look again at verse 1. “Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be.” Knox rendered it, “Lord, come to my rescue, piety is dead! In a base world true hearts have gone rare.” Isn’t that good? Come to my rescue, piety is dead! In a base world true hearts have gone rare.”
It’s quite easy to see, we commence to parallelism and that’s what the psalms are all about, structure, parallel, repetition, restatement. Notice, look at your verse, “godly men” is contrasted with “faithful.” The “godly man” and the “faithful.” The godly man what? Ceases, and the faithful disappear. Just like a song we would sing to refrain over and over again, In Christ Alone, you’ve got that refrain down pretty well. You may not know all of the verses, but you get the refrain. And so the Hebrew would use it. “Godly man” is parallel to “faithful.” “The godly man ceases” is compared and paralleled to “disappear.” Always look for those little gems. They’re hidden from hasty eyes, but if you read the Psalms over and over you’ll begin to see the restatements and the parallelisms.
God, here is the, “godly” is the word chaciyd. Our English Bibles do a tad of an injustice when they say “the godly man ceases to be, the faithful disappear.” Godly is chaciyd, h-s-d in English would be the transliteration. You know the difference: Baptizo, there’s no English equivalent so we say baptize. It’s a letter for letter transliteration. You with me? Chaciyd, h-s-d would be the transliteration. If you own a New American Standard every single time chasid shows up it’s translated “lovingkindness.” If you own an ESV it’s “steadfast love.” NIV, all bets are off. They do it differently, many ways. The stem of this collective word is the faithfulness and the godly have to do with His chaciyd love. Let’s talk a little bit about chaciyd love. Chaciyd love is simply this: God’s character, who He is loves to be loyal to two things, His chosen people and His covenant promises. Or to say it more simply, His promises He makes to His, on His Word and the promises He makes to His people, His chosen people His covenant promise.
So we think of loyalty like a dog’s loyal or a friend’s loyal, not the way we need to think about God’s loyalty. Loyalty of God, His character is if He says something His character is once I say it I love to be loyal to it. When He chose Israel, once He chose them, He loved to be loyal to them. Once He chose you He loves to be loyal to you. That’s His character. It’s not that He has to, that He ought to, that He should. It’s a wonderful marvelous word. In my humble opinion it’s the single most important word in the Old Testament is this lovingkindness, His faithfulness.
And what David is saying here, the nature of God being a Person who makes a promise and keeps it, who chooses His people and supports them, is that men do neither. The godly man ceases to be, the chaciyd, the faithful, disappear from the world? No! The sons of men. The implication is the Jew, who is supposed to be the pious, godly example, not only within their tribe, but within the cultures where they lived. David looked and found himself surrounded by evil men. The godly and faithful have been replaced by deceivers. They disappear from among the sons of men.
Before we look at verse 2, do you look at the world, even the church, even your peers you run with and you feel like, where are the godly men and women? Where are they? Mark Sumner was telling me about one of the speakers they had in recently talking about generation Y, which would be your grandchildren, or maybe great grandchildren and they’re now differentiating between those two, even the Y generation is being differentiated the way they look and view different things. And I look at our, we call them Two for Two groups, with our student ministries, junior high and High school kids, those groups. The relativism with which they view truth, the lack of courage they have to say, “I believe in Christ, I am a follower of Jesus.” I don’t care what lingo they use, just to say I’m a Christian, the lack of capacity they have to say this, because it’s so peer influenced. They can’t take a stand that probably – and this is just my guesstimation – I would guesstimate that the average kid in the average church by age 14 has been sexually involved. It’s happening in your church friends. Younger and younger and younger; the media, Internet, the texting, the data packages they have on their devices; we are a sexualized culture like we’ve never seen, like the likes of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Where are the faithful kids? We’ll just say, let’s don’t do this. I often tell my son who’s 17, I said, “Devin, all it takes is one of you to say, ‘I’m not going to do that. I’m out of here.’ Just one of you to have the courage to do that.” That’s risky when you’re 17. That feels like the biggest risk in life. Or in college when cheating is so prevalent and commonplace today. The teachers don’t even worry about it. They’ve given up. They’ve abdicated. Everybody knows, they all cheat, they all lie, they all plagiarize. But in the church, “Help Lord, for the godly man ceases.” You ever feel that way? I look around, where are they? Is this part of me getting curmudgeonly? Is it a part of you becoming curmudgeonly?
Let’s see what the psalmist says, verse 2. How does he define the lack of godliness? Verse 2, “They speak falsehood to one another; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.” You’d expect him to say let me be saved from these murderous Canaanites. Kill those Canaanite, idolatrous, Asheroth-worshipping, Baal-worshipping non-believers who are trying to kill Your people and disgrace Your name. That’s not who he’s talking about. He’s talking about his own. This is just a garden variety liar, not the big liar. They are characterized by falsehood.
The word “falsehood” has a number of aspects to it. There are three kinds of speech listed in verse 2: Falsehood, which means empty talk. It’s hollow, just noise. Howard Newton defined it as the thoughtless are rarely wordless. Isn’t that true? The thoughtless are rarely wordless. I have a small group in my home every Sunday night and I always say, “Having nothing to say, he said something.” The thoughtless are rarely wordless. We’re most familiar with the term in Exodus 20 and in Deuteronomy 5, “You shall not take the Lord’s name, the Lord your God’s name in vain.” That’s the same word. It’s a false empty thoughtless transaction. We think of using it as a curse word, which is true, but it literally means empty talk, void of any value. Another way it’s used is if it compares, comparing idols. Idols are worthless. They are vain. Same exact word. And, of course, we love Isaiah’s mockery where a man takes a piece of wood he carves an idol, worships it and the other half, he burns it, warms himself by the fire. Ridiculous!
I don’t know if you saw a couple of years ago. It was an extraordinary illustration. Jaguar had a brochure that they put out and it was called the Seven Deadly Sins, and each one was lust. Every one. And they had a different picture of a different Jag on this four-color brochure. It was a wonderful brochure. So we’ve become very sophisticated in the way we look at these things.
But, you know, you can spend $75,000. A friend of mine bought a Bentley not long ago. Bless his heart. And I said, “You know, that cannot love you back.” You can spend $275,000 for a vehicle, fine. I’m not saying that’s bad or wrong, you shouldn’t do it. I wish you had consulted me first and given me some of that money. But nevertheless, it cannot love you back. You can polish it. Remember the Lexus commercial last Christmas, the guy’s hugging his car. His wife comes out and she goes back in and he hugs his car. It can’t love you back. We’re no different, we’re just more sophisticated we think.
Taking the Lord’s name in vain is not only foolish, it’s empty, but we’re culpable because we use His name lightly. I don’t watch them because I can’t stand them, but my family likes to watch American Idol and they used to watch Grammys and Emmys and Oscars, and I just cannot abide it. And from time to time you see the highlights of those things and you’ll see and they come out and what do they say when they win? What do they say? Thank You, Jesus! I want to reach through the TV and just give them a gentle spiritual dope slap. That’s empty talk. Now, I’m the cynic. I’ve already told you that as we began. I don’t believe most of these folks mean what they say. That’s a cliché, it’s mockery. You’re speaking to the God of the universe. I hope you know Him. If you attribute sex and fame and wealth to a trophy, thank You, Jesus. I’m sure there’s some genuine folks out there.
Flattering lips. Lips depict speech in the Old Testament. We think of the physical lip, but it’s a picture of a smooth agreeable spokesman. To have a voice like Ron’s I would die for. To have a voice like James Earl Jones, I would die for. To have a smooth,… that’s the idea, a person who, just the way they speak, it’s so calming. It’s so affective. It’s so flattering. They look you in the eye and they smile and they lie to you and a double heart. Literally it means a heart and a heart in Hebrew.
James talks about this in a similar way when he says being a double-minded man. Your affections are here when it’s appropriate and they’re over here when it’s appropriate. So my son can play the game, if he’s not careful, of being a 17 year old teenager around a bunch of other 17 year old teenagers and then he can play the game in youth group of being a good Christian 17 year old teenager. That’s a double heart if he does that. It’s a double heart if you and I do it too.
And David is lamenting because as he looks around Israel, “Help, Lord, the godly man ceases to be, the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.” And this is what characterizes them: “They speak falsehood to one another with flattering lips, with a double heart they speak.” You might put it this way: empty talk, smooth talk, double talk. That’s what characterizes these men.
Remember the day when a handshake was a person’s word? A few years ago when I was at Moody, I was at the Institute, we had a company come in from California and they were doing some work for us and had been long time friends of the Institute. Some of you might know Peggy Campbell and her father Al Sanders. Extraordinary Christian agency. And Peggy and her brother Jim Sanders came out and we were working an arrangement with a radio program, and we talked about it in this big fancy boardroom. And when it was done my COO at the time said, “What do we need to do?” And Peggy and Jim stood up and put their hands out and said, “All we need is a handshake because that’s as good as your word where we come from.” It was so refreshing. And we talked numbers and we talked details. Just give us a handshake. We’ll send a paper, but all we need is a handshake.
And that’s how our contract with them began. And they were extraordinary to work with, and they kept their word. They did everything that they said they were going to do and we paid them and felt great about paying them, and frankly they didn’t charge us very much. They were very kind to us.
When was the last time when you had a contract, bought a car or house? “Oh, I’ll just shake your hand. I’ll trust you to give me a quarter of a million dollars. I’ll trust you to send me the title of that car after I write a personal check for $34,000 and change. I trust you.” Abso-dang-lutely not! I want the title right here. I want it notarized. I want it signed. Otherwise we keep the lawyers busy. Tragically, someone wrote, “He is as good as his word, and his word is not that good.” Double talk, empty talk, smooth talk.
As I mentioned, there’s six Easley’s under my roof. Actually, there’s only four now. Two have grown and left the coop. We’re hoping we survive three more years to be empty-nesters. I’m sorry, I confess before you, I cannot wait until they are all gone. I know some of you say, have grandchildren first. I don’t even want grandchildren right now. I just want an empty house and a quiet home and my wife to my selfish self. I am done with the kingdom of raising children. I’ve done 27 years. I’m just wore out.
They were both gone a youth retreat this weekend and Cindy and I felt guilty feeling so happy. Lastly I said, and they’re in a good place. They’re on a youth retreat. They’re with Christian kids being taught Christian things. And she said, “I feel like I’m doing something wrong.” It’s just that we felt so bad. We have tried to train all of our children that if you wear the name Easley you don’t lie. Easley’s aren’t liars. Easley’s tell the truth. My dad imprinted that in me early on in life. He died a little over a year ago and Joe Easley was a man of his word. If he said something he did it. My dad would help anybody with anything. He might give you, you know a little trouble along the way, but he’d do it. And if he said he would do it he was as good as his word, and he told the truth. They were married 62 years. Mom still misses him every day. She’s miserable, bless her heart. And I want to leave a legacy to my kids that say, Easley’s don’t lie.
I have two wedding bands. They’re welded together. One is my maternal grandmother’s. That’s the one in 1980 when Cindy and I married that ironically – she’s a large woman – it fit my hand. Cindy had it engraved. That’s all we did. My dad passed away. I asked mom, “What are you going to do with his wedding band?” She says, “Why? You want it?” I said, “Absolutely.” I took, literally I took the ring. I grabbed the ring. I said, “Yeah, I want it.” “What are you going to do with it?” “I’m going to weld it to your mother’s ring.” They kept their word all their married lives. That’s a rare commodity today, isn’t it? One day I’m going to give it to my boy. Here it is, son. What are you going to do? Easley’s don’t lie. Easley’s keep their word.
Sure it’s hard. Sure it’s hellish at times. Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, it’s not easy. But listen, if you tell the truth. When they’re little what do we tell them? We catch them red handed smoking on videotape DNA evidence, got them, got them every direction, and they lie. They look us in the retina and they say, “I didn’t do that.” And what do you do as a parent? You say this: “If you will come clean now things will go easier on you. You persist in this it’s going to be far worse.” And they look you in the eye and lie one more time, and you know they’re lying. You know they’re lying. Why does that incense us so? Because we don’t want to raise liars.
We want to teach them early in life, be a truthful person. Yes, it has consequences. Being a liar has far greater consequences. And God in His great mercy and kindness, is not He kind with all of us when we come clean and keep short accounts and confess, be merciful to me the sinner? “I did it. I was wrong.” Look at David, a man after God’s own heart. He had some pretty big sins. And God loved him because of his willingness to come clean.
Let me ask you a meddlesome question. When did it get easy for you to lie? When did you last lie? When did you tell a little bit of a hyperbole or a one-up-man story? Michael, you’re kind of harsh right out of the gate here. Yeah, maybe, but I hope I’m biblical too. I don’t want to be liar. I don’t want to be known as a person who speaks with flattering lips, smooth lips, double talk, empty talk. A man of his word. I need Christ’s help to get there.
Proverbs 10:19, “When there are many words transgression is unavoidable.” Don’t you just hate that proverb? I mean, think about it. “Where there are many words transgression is unavoidable.” If you’ve got the gift of gab, God bless you. You know in the South that means you really are stupid. Don’t you? You know that, don’t you? When someone says, “God bless you, bless your heart, bless your heart,” that means, in Tennessee that means you really are stupid, aren’t you. I’ve just learned that lately when people tell me that. “Bless your heart.”
“Where there are many words transgression is unavoidable. But he who restrains his lips is wise.” You know, one thing I have made a concerted effort, by God’s Spirit and I’m seeing a little bit of control over, is just keeping my mouth shut. Proverbs 10:19.
Well, the psalmist continues, verses 3-4, let’s look at it. “May the Lord cut off flattering lips, the tongue that speaks great things?” Now look at the parallels again. Let me show them to you. Cut off flattering lips, tongue that speaks great things. There’s your parallels again, the tongue and the lips, cut off. “He who said, ‘With our tongue we will prevail; our lips are our own; who is lord over us?’”
Now, this gets interesting here. Some historians argue that the oriental monarchs, when they had captors, they would cut out their tongues. It’s possible. There are some records of that. I wouldn’t build an entire theology, but then they were guilty of treason or they were a captor, a victim of spoil they cut their tongue out as part of the consequence of it. David asked God to destroy the enemy’s flattering lips or those in Israel, the flattering lips who speak of treason.
Now that they’re talking about treason the psalm structure changes just enough that he’s probably moving beyond the camp of Israel. “Help Lord, for the godly man ceases to be.” He’s not talking about godly Canaanites. But now in the transition of these two verses structurally it seems that he starts to then zero it in to the pious Jews. “Cut off their flattering lips, the tongue that speaks great things, those who say with their tongue we’ll prevail.” Sure it still applies to the enemy. Now it starts getting a little personal.
Evil here is described in terms of speech. The crisis began with their words. G. K. Chesterton wrote “The speeches that comfort cruel men.” Who will be our Lord is the question. This is hubris. Now I don’t know what your opinion is of the recent killing of Muammar Gaddafi and how it’s been handled in the press and what will continue to be discussed about whether it was a war crime or an execution or, or, or, or, or. I don’t know what you want to think about that. What is interesting is how the world is looking at it. Interesting how certain countries have condemned the action.
We were in our small group a few weeks ago and the question was asked, “If you could have killed Hitler would you have killed him?” And then the heat was turned up. If you could have killed Hitler’s mother when she was pregnant would you have killed her? Seven some million Jews, what would they say? And David is speaking with God. Notice this. “May the Lord cut off flattering lips?” After 9/11 we had a service at the church. Of course we were there in Washington DC. We lost one from the church and we had one who was severely burned and probably close to 250 people, men and women who worked in the Pentagon who were part of our fellowship in that day. And that was a surreal experience. We all have stories to tell.
But I remember we had that Sunday after 9/11, it was like Easter Sunday when, as far as attendance goes. It was, I mean, we had just gone from three to four services. That day was the first day and we still turned people away. It was, it was Easter Sunday for many churches. I remember my daughter who was in public school at the time, she said, “Dad, prayer came back to the public school on 9/11.” Teachers and students stopped in the hall and nobody complained about them praying. I remember we had a 9/11 service on 9/12 and then we had service on the weekend and, of course, when you’re in a pastor, a pulpit in a church like that you’ve got to talk about it. You can’t just go, “Okay, we’re back in Luke 12 today.” You’ve got to address it. And I remember writing a prayer to the extent of Lord protect us from those who would hurt us. If they will not repent and come to salvation, will You stop them any way You can?
Now, you know, the pacifists and the peace loving folks may not like that, but that’s the way I prayed, because I felt it was appropriate to say, “Lord, protect us. We need Your help. If they won’t repent and come to the knowledge of Christ, stop them anyway.” I don’t want them to just be destroyed. I’d love for them to come to Christ. They’re made in the image of God. God does not overlook big talk. Schweitzer says “Truth has no special time of its own. Its hour is always now.” “Truth has no special time of its own. Its hour is always now.”
Who is our Lord? The question the psalmist asks expecting, “Nobody’s our Lord. We don’t need your Jewish God. We don’t need your Lord.” It’s an outright refusal to acknowledge Yahweh Elohim. It’s an outright denial. “Great things… we will prevail.” Look at it. They boast with words, prevail smacks up against the covenant. You made a covenant with your monotheistic God. We’re going to prevail on our own. We don’t need your props. As long as life’s working for me I don’t need those gods.
Verse 5, the psalmist laments the longing for deliverance from lying and arrogant people. “‘Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, now I will arise,’ says the Lord; ‘I will set him the safety for which he longs.’” Verse 5 is God is not going to overlook injustice. God will not overlook injustice.
I believe verse 5 is the center of the psalm. You know the term chiasm? If you think of a stylistic X. The first letter of Christos, Christ, in the New Testament is a stylistic X, okay. And that letter key is a way literary genre is explained. For example: momentary light affliction producing an eternal weight of glory. Momentary would be A; light affliction, eternal, would be A prime. Momentary is compared and contrast to eternal. See where I’m going? Momentary compared; momentary light affliction, eternal weight, weight, substance versus light. A light versus weight. Momentary light affliction. Eternal weight glory. See what I’m saying? Okay, that’s called a chiastic device. A, A prime, B, B prime, C, C prime. The middle of the chiasm. And the way God’s word is designed is always the point and verse 5 is the middle of your chiastic part of Psalm 12. “‘Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, now I will arise,’ says the Lord; ‘I will set him in the safety for which he longs.’”
Let’s look at this as the focal point. There are two causal statements. Look at your Bible. It may read a little different than mine, but they both begin with “because” in the way we would render it in English. “Because of the devastation and because of the groaning.” Remember the cycle of Judges. They sin, they’re in big trouble and hot trouble, and then finally they cry out to the Lord. When they’re in the sin He has probably, always in the cycles of Judges, He sent someone to discipline them. And it gets so bad they cry out to the Lord and then the Lord responds and raises up a judge. And that judge is a man, in one case Deborah a woman, and they act based on God’s word and they deliver Israel and then there’s a time of peace. And then very quickly they’re back into sin. And then He sends a disciplinary agent on them and they cry out to the Lord.
And you see the same sins here. The devastation of the afflicted, the groaning of the needy, now I will arise. I will get up. The words become actions when the poor are oppressed. You read the book The Same Kind of Different as Me? If you haven’t you should pick it up sometime. I don’t know if you all have it downstairs or not, The Same Kind of Different as Me. It’s Ron Hall and Denver Moore. And it is a delightful story. If you read it it’ll keep you up tonight until you finish the book. But Denver is a modern-day slave. He grew up as a slave basically. And he’s befriended by a husband and wife in Fort Worth, Texas. I won’t tell you the story of the book but it’s interesting to watch the transformation of how Ron and Denver are very successful, Denver, the poor man, and a very successful Ron Hall become friends and what they teach each other in the process. And Denver’s comment to him at one point is you’re the same kind of different as me.
It’s a powerful story, but he lived under oppression because where he was born as a migrant crop picker he had no opportunity. And he rented back the shanty without plumbing from the land owner. And no matter how hard he worked he could never repay the amount of rent that the land owner wanted for the shanty in which he lived. And he eventually jumps on a train and he goes west and figures, well, I’m going to try my hand at something else. He becomes a hobo for a number of years and street guy for a number of years until he’s met at a mission.
It’s an astonishing story about how he was oppressed. We don’t think about it those terms. There’s a lot of people in our country today who are oppressed. Because of the devastation, because they are, and the word picture is because they’re down and devastated he’s going to arise. You see it in the middle of verse 5. “Now I will arise.” Because man is devastated, he’s needy. He’s groaning. He’s down. He has lost all ability to use any resource to get himself out of trouble. And this is the point where God injects, “I will set him in the safety for which he longs.” Arise is a picture for a divine action. “Set him in safety” means I’m going to put him in a place where he’s no longer oppressed, he’s no longer breathing hard to survive.
Now, the words expose a great deal about a person. They expose a great deal about our faithfulness or our lack of faithfulness in the psalm. He is not going to overlook any word that is said. He knows what we say and when you and I feel alone, when we feel a victim, when we feel like we look around there’s nobody godly but me. Verse 6: “The words of the Lord are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times. Thou O Lord will keep them; Thou will preserve him from this generation forever. The wicked strut about on every side when vileness is exalted among the sons of men.”
So thirdly here it’s clinging to God’s word, verses 6-8, clinging to God’s word. When you have confidence in God’s word, no matter what your experience tries to tell you, you still trust Him. And I don’t know about you, but I can tell you my experience rarely, if ever, tells me to trust God. My experience almost always tells me contrary of who my God is and how He is and He treats me and how He loves me. My experience doesn’t come through for me. And if I depended upon my experience alone I’d be in big trouble.
Now let’s look at how he clings to God’s words. Unlike men’s words, and if you follow the lilt of the psalm, the faithful disappear, they speak falsehood, flattering lips with all this word language. Now he compares and contrasts it to pure words. Unlike men’s words, God’s words are pure. The word is ethically pure. It’s used in Psalm 51 of a clean heart, same word. It’s used in Habakkuk 1:13 of clean eyes, and it’s used in Job 17 of clean hands. So we have four images, pure words here, pure heart in Psalm 51:12, clean eyes in Habakkuk 1:13 and clean hands in Job 17:9. They’re all the same.
Silver is the compared element because when you purified silver you melted it, you skim off the dross, you let it solidify. You melt it again, you skim off the dross, you let it cool and solidify. You do it again and again and again and again until you have 99.9% pure sterling silver. God’s words are refined. Look at that again. “The words of the Lord are pure as silver tried in a furnace on earth refined seven times.” You can trust them.
When I was a boy, my father, we would go to gas stations, and most of us in this room are old enough to remember the lead weights that they would bend on the side of the rim of your tire to balance your tires. And as a boy when we would go to the gas station with dad, my brother Steve and I would get out of the car and we would comb the ground of the gas station and pick up all the lead weights. We would take them back home. And then on a given Saturday, maybe three or four times a year, dad would pull out the Bunsen burner in the garage. He had a gas line in the garage with a Bunsen burner on it, and he had this big cast iron ladle thing that fit on the Bunsen burner. And we would break off the steel tang of these lead weights and we’d put the lead weights in the little cast iron bowl that set over the blue flame Bunsen burner, and we’d watch that lead just melt into like liquid mercury, just instantly. I can smell it right now just thinking about this. And we would watch it, go in there and then we’d skim off the dross.
Of course that’s why we’re all dying of cancer probably. But anyway, that’s what we did as kids. And we’d melt them all down and then he had these molds and he called them the lead solder molds. And we had four or five different molds and they were made out of a certain metal and they had a clamp on them. And one of them was an army man laying on the ground holding a rifle. Another one was a guy standing up with a rifle. Another one was just sort of a sentry with his rifle beside him. There were four or five of them; I forget. And we would melt the lead, skim off the dross, melt the lead, skim off the dross, melt the lead, skim off the dross.
And, of course, when you’re a boy you get really impatient. “Let’s just make it, dad. Let’s just make it.” Forget this heat and cool, heat and cool thing. And so in the experimentation of teaching his boys he says “Fine, do it your own way.” So Steve and I are all in. You soak the inside of the lead molds and we melted that lead down and we poured it in there and we waited about 10 minutes and you pry open the mold and there’s a soldier with no head. The guy, the riflery man had no rifle. Half his body wasn’t there, because we hadn’t gotten the dross off, and when it filled the mold the dross was in there and it just falls apart.
The word of the Lord is refined. And seven, of course, is the number of perfection. God’s word can be heated and cooled and heated and cooled and heated and cooled and blast furnace and cooled and blast furnace and cool and it’s pure every time. Unlike men’s words, unlike the cruel speeches that come from easy men’s words, unlike the empty words, flattering lips, God’s Word is refined. It’s pure. You can trust it.
How can we know His words are pure? Verse 7, because God keeps them: “Thou, O Lord, will keep them. You preserve him from this generation.” The “them” is the antecedent back to the word in verse 6, and the “him” is the man who clings to God’s word.
The wicked, verse 8, are still everywhere. Look at it. “The wicked strut about on every side when vileness is exalted among the sons of men.” So the wicked are there. They’re still guilty of sin. The idea is they’re everywhere around us. And we go back to the big picture of the psalm is, everybody lies, everybody uses hyperbole, everybody overstates their case, everybody talks in superlatives “when vileness is exalted among the sons of men.” It’s the idea again of light, of worthless, of cheap words.
“Exalted” is a word again we don’t think about a lot. A lot of Christian Bible words are kind of lost on us, glory, blessing, honor, righteousness. We don’t know what they mean. We think they’re important; we don’t know what in the world they mean. This is a good example of one of them. “When our eyes are exalted” means when we’re arrogant. And this is where I, maybe not you, get in trouble at this stage in my life. I work with a lot of young people. Jeremy and I were talking about this in the car coming up. I hope we have a lot of young people. And they’ve got juice and vim and vinegar and they want to go and they want to lead and they want to do and they want to charge. But they’ve got about that much wisdom. How do I help them? How do you help them? It’s their words and it’s their hubris. They think they know so much. They read a book. I read a book!
Forgive me for saying it, but we’ve a whoring after the market place in the business world in the church. Well, these books say this and we should do this in the church. I heard a pastor not long ago say, “The church needs to be more like the world.” And I just about exploded right there in front. You’ve got to be kidding me! The church shouldn’t be anything like the world. Now, we ought to be shrewd, gentle, but not like the world. Does that mean I’m stuck in singing hymns in the King James? No, that’s not what I’m saying. We should be otherworldly people. Form and function are always the challenge, right.
When our eyes are exalted, when we’re lifted up, Proverbs 16:17, when the horn is lifted up; look at me! I’ve triumphed! I’ve won! But when the worthless lift up their voice, their word, it’s vileness, it’s wickedness. Paul says the same thing. You want to turn over to Romans 1 for just a moment, Romans 1:29: “Being filled with all unrighteousness,” watch the emphasis on words Paul uses. “Being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful.” How many of these are words? “Inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful, and although they know the ordinance of God that those who practice such things are worthy of death, and they not only do the same, but give hardy approval.” I’m saying something, I’m approving, “of those who practice them.”
Nothing’s changed. We live in a culture that argues for civility and tolerance and love and they’ve completely turned us on our head, and we’re mute in four languages. I always tell our folks be gentle and firm and smile. No, I think that’s wrong. Get ready for the maelstrom but be gentle, be firm and smile. No, that’s wrong. That’s not true. That’s a misrepresentation. That’s a mischaracterization. That’s not fair to say those things. This is what’s true.
But the bombastic nature of the debate, as an example, gets nowhere. It polarizes. It gets everybody angered up and we go, “if I could take his brain and his looks and his bravado and his money and his character and her integrity I’d have the right candidate.” It doesn’t exist. And they won’t solve our problem. They might help us.
I pray for our country. I pray for our current president. I pray for the Cabinet around him. I pray that they come to know Christ if they don’t know Him and I pray that that impacts their life more than anything else, and you need to as well.
Well, the words are impossible to miss. A couple lessons, then we’re done. Number one: others suffer from our evil speech. Others suffer from our evil speech. I’m not trying to be harsh here. Some of you men and women are far more mature than me in this realm. I’m not just saying that. I believe it, I mean it. But it’s just a reminder to all of us that other people suffer from our evil speech. The psalmist laments over the effect of the evil speech and if you’ve suffered because of something someone said about you, or to you, or in front of you and it’s wounded you deeply, then you know.
Because Cindy and I love politics we also listen very carefully to what people say. Some of them are slick and smart and they’re really cleaver. And some of them are just downright sleazy, and so are we. We’re slick and smart and cleaver and sometimes we’re just downright sleazy. Maybe you’re not. I will admit that I am. Others suffer from my evil speech. When you and I speak hard things it impacts other people.
Gossip seems to be the one that we have the biggest trouble with. I’ve tried to analyze gossip and study it in the New Testament. What does it mean about being a gossip? And I don’t know that this is the right answer or not, but one of the conclusions I’ve come to, when I’m whispering I’m probably gossiping. Unless, of course, I’m telling about a surprise birthday party. Why do you whisper in a hallway at work or at church? Either don’t say it or say it in such a way that it’s reasonable and important to say.
Remember the old Rotarian placard? Maybe some of you were in the Rotary Club. There were four questions to ask before every conversation. Is it kind? Is it true? Is it confidential? Is it necessary to share? That rocks! I often tell people if that was on all of our minds our conversations would last two minutes. Is it kind? Is it true? Is it confidential? Is it necessary to share? Unbeknownst to me, the church I served in DC, they made little stickers and they stuck it on all the telephones on all the worker’s at the church, “Is it kind? Is it true? Is it confidential? Is it necessary to share?” Wow! Would that shorten our conversations! At least it would mine.
Well, you know, when I say things that are gossip, I say it to a friend and, you know, it’s an accountability issue. And, you know, I’m just concerned, and I’m praying about it, and I’m hard pressed to discover any of my gossip that only affects me, because information is powerful.
Confidentiality is a fascinating thing. “I’m going to tell you something, Jeremy, and you can’t tell anybody. You can’t tell anybody. You can’t tell anybody. Promise you won’t tell anybody.” And Jeremy goes home and goes, “Jennifer, because you’re my soul mate, you’re my one. I’m going to tell you something. Now, Michael told me you can’t tell anybody. Can’t, I promised,” not, not that you would do that. And then Jennifer goes to her friend. Now she’s your best friend and that’s how confidentiality works. That’s how it works. So either don’t say it or don’t share it.
Do we exaggerate the truth? Do we embellish the story? Do we inflate the adjectives? Do we expand it as it goes along in time? How do we speak of our kids, our sons and daughters-in-law? That’s hard for me.
Secondly, do you feel like you’re surrounded by the faithless? I do. I look at our country. I look at our churches, and I go, “Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be, the faithful disappear from among the sons of man. With flattering lips they speak lies to one another.” And I go, this is our church!
Well, let me give you two last parting thoughts. Philippians 4:8, “Brethren, whatever’s true, whatever’s honorable, whatever’s right, whatever’s pure, whatever’s lovely, of good repute, if there’s any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” What a great passage! Now some of us know people like this and they’ve ministered to us extraordinarily.
There was a woman in Grand Prairie, Texas, when I served a little church there, there was the Summer Institute of Linguistics, SIL, Wycliffe, was right near where the church was located, so we had a little cadre of Wycliffe ladies primarily, most of whom had never married, some who were widowed. They’d spent, you know, 20, 30 years in the bush and any kind,… I mean Nigeria, and Papua New Guinea. I mean, they lived in hard, hard places. And this is their retirement years and they come back and they work on computers and continue working with grammar and so forth and so on.
There was one woman there named Elaine Beekman, and her husband John Beekman is a legend in the linguistic world, John Beekman, and one other man whose name is skipping right now, Ken somebody. It’ll come to me after I finish speaking. They were the ones who really figured out linguistic analysis and set this whole thing in motion on how to take a non-written language from an oral to a written grammar to a communication color book, elementary kind of book to the Bible. And they figured this thing out long ago. And it’s pretty much been the same ever since.
Elaine Beekman grew up as one of the charter pioneer missionaries with SIL. She had a number of kids, all of them in full time ministry today, except one who’s an engineer and he says, “Michael, I’ve got to have a real job to support my family.” But Elaine was in a small group Bible study I had one year. And I never heard Elaine ever, ever, ever say anything negative about anyone, ever heard her say a bad thing. And I asked her son who’s about my age, I said, “Tom, your mom never says anything negative about anyone or any situation.” He said, “Michael, she’s always been that way. I heard her get mad one time and she said ‘Hat pins and handkerchiefs!’” Well, gee, I’m in real trouble you know if Elaine gotten mad.
So I had her in my Bible study for this, and I was like this 29 year old pastor, didn’t know his left hand from his right hand. And I asked her, I said, “Elaine,” because she, I mean, there was no point in me leading a Bible study. It was just, “Elaine, just talk to us.” You know, I mean, that’s all we wanted to do. And so I asked her one time, I said, “Elaine, what’s your secret?” I’ll never forget her answer. She said “When I was a girl of 7 I memorized Romans chapter 12. I’ve been trying to live it my entire life.” You know what I started memorizing the next Monday morning? Romans 12. And in tandem with Philippians 4:8, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there’s any excellence in anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”
What is this? Renewing of your mind. Is this making the flesh better? Absolutely not. You c


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