Pilgrim, Was it Worth the Trouble? – Part 2

By: Dr. Michael Easley; ©2005
I call Psalm 40 “Hindsight Theology,” because the psalmist is going to look back on life to be able to endure some of the things he’s facing in his current context that he can’t quite grapple with.

Pilgrim, Was it Worth the Trouble? – Part 2

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: Cindy and I have friends who on their 25th wedding anniversary decided to go to Florida and rent one of these nice places near the water and to celebrate their 25th. They were looking back on having raised two daughters, both of whom are grown, one married, one a school teacher, doing very well with her life and their plans. His career had gone well. Their marriage had gone well. Their girls were doing extraordinarily well. The new son-in-law was great. And they were truly celebrating God’s kindness in that 25 years of marriage and just reveling in all the good things.
They rented a couple of bicycles and decided to go for a ride on these little cement trails that go in and out along the beach and so forth. And they rented a couple of bikes and they were riding along, a beautiful early morning, and he was leading the way. And he crossed the road and was hit by a driver. He did not have a helmet on. He hit the front of the car, hit the hood, the windshield, rolled over the roof of the car, over the trunk and landed on the pavement. She dropped her bike and ran to him. His spinal cord was exposed in his back. His neck was all shifted over. His back’s completely distorted. He had serum coming out of his eyes, nose and mouth and she’s screaming for help, and yelling for help.
She has two things in her pocket, her lip gloss and her lip liner. She has a key card from the hotel that is completely blank on either side. She doesn’t know where they’re staying, because the husband always took care of those details. So she’s completely alone in a city she knows not where she is from. She doesn’t even know how far they’ve ridden the bicycles, screaming for help as she watches her husband writhe on the pavement.
Well, it seemed like an eternity. An ambulance finally arrives. They rush him to the nearest hospital. They wheel him in. In a few moments after they have got him hooked up to IV’s and monitors a couple of people in medical gear, one presumably a surgeon comes out and says to this woman, “We have to operate. We don’t know if he will survive. If he survives we cannot tell you what he will be like.” She prayed this prayer: “God, whatever comes out of that room, I will love him.” She tells the story later saying, “I don’t know where the prayer came from, but I sat alone in a city where I knew no one, pre-cell phones, pre-call your daughter, before you can go call a friend, waiting and waiting to find out what was going to happen to my husband.”
You know, when those things happen there’s not much you can do in the moment. But it’s how you have lived your life up to that point that begins to matter.
Open your Bible to Psalm 40. I call Psalm 40 “Hindsight Theology,” because the psalmist is going to look back on life to be able to endure some of the things he’s facing in his current context that he can’t quite grapple with. Psalm 40: when catastrophe strikes, when troubles come, when problems emerge, when the unwelcome becomes your visitor, what are you going to do? How are you going to respond? And it will largely depend upon how we have lived up to this point.
Follow as I read. Psalm 40, verse 1: “I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the miry pit of destruction, of clay. He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise for our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord. How blessed is the man who has made the Lord his trust, who has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood.”
The psalmist David begins here by remembering a past deliverance from some tragedy, some calamity. It could either be an illness, it could be enemies. And in verses 1-4, I hope you noticed as I read, the verse are past tense. It’s important when you study the Psalms always watch the verbal structures of the verbs. One of the habits I do, I have three pens I use. Some of you are Precept students. You do this much better. But I have three pens, a blue, red and a pencil and every time I have a pronoun “you” I circle it. Every time I have the pronoun “I” or “me” or “my” I circle it. All the verbs that have importance in that verse or strophe I circle them or underline them, and I do connecting dots to show myself where repetitions are, because even though I studied it many, many, many years morning by morning new verses I read. So it’s helpful if I have written down something I read before. Oh, I remember now and it saves me a little time.
But all these verses are past tense. He’s looking back on something God had done in his past. Remembering what God has done in his past encourages him in his current calamity, this current problem. Again we don’t know the precise trouble that he’s in. He uses figurative language to describe how desperate he is and how great the need of rescue is.
Notice he waits patiently but verse 1, he’s heard, “He inclined to me, He heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit,” and as we’ll see as the psalm unfolds he waited patiently in the past, but now he says I waited before, would You hurry up? That’s how the psalm’s going to go. I’ve waited before, but would You please hurry up now?
And this is one of the reasons I love the psalms because they’re so wonderful in their; forgive me for saying it, humanity; because every emotion you’ve ever felt or expressed is in the psalter: Being mad at God and patient at God, angry at the wicked, why does injustice occur, why do bad things happen to seemingly good people? Why do the wicked prosper, as well as praise and thanksgiving and joy; every emotion you can identify, from anger to imprecation, meaning kill my enemy, all points in between, all the emotions are comprised in the songs of the psalter.
Now look at what he attributes to God. He says, “You heard my cry. You’ve inclined your ear.” And we think of that you know, like this, when you cup your ear. That’s a pretty good illustration of the metaphor behind “He inclined His ear to me.” Not literally; the sovereign of the world didn’t cup His ear and lean over when you and I prayed, but that’s the picture we get. He’s paying attention to you prayer. I love Psalm 116: “I love the Lord because He hears my prayer. I will call upon Him all the days of my life.” Implication: simply because He hears me. If you love God, David says, you will pray to Him just because He hears you, not even if He “answers you.” We tie the hearing issue—heard my prayer, you’ll do something about it—not so always in the psalm.
Well, look at some of the things that he attributes to God in this. First of all, He inclined to me and He heard my cry. Again those are parallelisms, repetitions, so the singer of the song, the reader later on, you and me, we would hear those words. I’m going to get my NIV here: “I waited patiently for the Lord, He turned to me and heard my cry.” There’s this waiting and there’s this turning and he’s anxious for him. He inclined, He heard my cry.
The second observation he attributes, “He brought me up.” And that means He lifted me out of the slimy pit. So he’s attributing, what did God do in the past? He inclined, He heard, He brought me up. That expression is an idiom for floundering in hopelessness. You ever gotten where you just, in a situation, it’s just hopeless? You just can’t quite find your footing. Now, many of you have been through your own challenges or those of you or your spouse or children or parents. And at my worst when I was in some of my worst times pre and post-surgery, I was just floundering. I couldn’t find footing.
I was talking to a woman last night who also suffers with some back issues and you’re on some of these medications they put you on, and you don’t remember what you say and when you say things, people turn their head like the RCA dog. They go “What is he saying?” And I had to have a driver and Cindy had to be with me at all times because I was on so many narcotics they wouldn’t let me drive lest I had an accident and I would go to prison forever. They said “You cannot drive your car.” For almost two years I couldn’t drive a car. I had to be taken—I felt like Peter—taken by the hand by people that, where I didn’t want to go. And when I spoke no one understood what I said and my wife just said, “It’s the drugs, it’s the drugs.” It’s hopeless. You’re floundering. You just can’t find your footing and nobody can help you. It’s a terrible place to be.
He brought him up. Thirdly He set his feet. So now the former floundering situation has been rectified and he’s on terra firma. He’s on solid ground and it feels good. Any of you ever gone deep sea fishing? Do you like to go deep sea fishing? Usually if you do it once and like it you’re in for good. If you do it once and you hang over the side of the boat the whole time you’ll never do it again. You say, “God just kill me. I’ll drown before I would do that again.” There’s one of two reactions. I’ve been out enough to know it’s not my cup of tea. But boy when you get on terra firma it’s nice to be on the dock. I had enough of that wet stuff. Let the Navy and the Marines have the water. I’m fine watching them and praying for them as they go.
He inclined, He heard, He brought me up out of this floundering situation. He put my feet upon a rock, and then He put a new song in my mouth. A new song does not always mean that He wrote a new song. It could mean the idea of there’s a new aspect to this song. Do you remember post 9/11, how hymns changed when you sang them? Words just made you sob. I remember seeing the American flag and sobbing uncontrollably, post 9/11. When you’ve been in a bad strait, things take on depth. He put a new song in my heart. In other words, God heard me. He inclined His ear to me. I was floundering in hopelessness. He put me back on a solid foundation and I had a reason to praise Him.
David’s looking back on a past situation where he was in trouble. He needed God’s help. God helped him and heard his cry and delivered him from it and he remembers that. It’s a good time to remember.
Look at verse 3, the second strophe of verse 3 again. “Many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.” And one of the things I think I missed the first few times I studied this psalm was he’s not talking about himself. He’s talking about others. And it strikes me that when I’m in trouble and God delivers me, I’m pretty happy about it. And I’m very ingratiated. God, thank you for helping me out. But it’s not entirely self-centered. The song says I’m going to choose to praise God and I’m going to tell others about it, not just that I’m better, but praise God.
I have a friend back in Texas, the first little church I served. Every time he prayed, every time he prayed, he’d say, “Father, we love You. Father, we love You.” Every time he prayed. And it was, you know how when people pray, some of us are, let’s just admit it, we have meaningless repetition in our prayers. Well, this guy prayed. I mean, he meant it as if it was the first time ever said it, “Father, we love You.” After hanging around him for a year, I said to him one day, I said, “Dave, you’ve helped me love God more.” And he said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Just the way you pray, ‘Father, we love You’.” And over the years I’ve changed it to “Father, we love You, help me to love you well.” Because when understand your predicament and what He’s done for you it’s not just words. If I love Him well, what do I do as a response? And David moves his selfishness aside. He chooses to praise God and he says, “I’m going to tell other people about it.”
Verse 4, the structure changes from a psalm of hindsight theology to now a declarative. Look at how the language changes. Your NIV, “Blessed is the man;” NASB, “How blessed is the man who has made the Lord his trust, and has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood. Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders which You have done, and Your thoughts toward us; there is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count.”
The psalm changes now from remembering what He’s done to a declaration of His character. Because he was delivered, he can now trust God, He can bless Him and the one who trusts God, verse 4, has great confidence rather than turning to the proud. And this is an important point for all of us, when you and I are in trouble we have a knee jerk reflex response, with the first thing we do, we call a friend. We talk to our spouse. Maybe you call your mom. Maybe you internalize. Maybe you’re real busy.
But I suspect, I often tell our church, study your sin. Study your reactions when bad things happen, because it will tell you a lot about where you’re going when problems come along. And the psalmist here is telling us something. “How blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord and has not turned to the proud, has not turned to those lapse into falsehood.”
I think it’s very simple. We don’t over exegete it. Where do you turn when you’re in trouble? It seems to me, myself included, I turn to God last. So when my back flares up or when I start,… now I know too much about my body now, after 10 years of fussing with my back. I know sometimes more than the young doctors I see, because I’ve studied it and studied it and read and read. And I can read my MRI’s or my x-rays and EMG’s and I’m the 1% of the patient population that gets the radiology report out and looks every single word up and writes it in a narrative I can understand. And I go back and say let’s get by the medical mumbo jumble and tell me what all these words mean. And I’m that one nagging patient; some doctors love you for it, some doctors do not like me for it. I don’t care. It’s my body not theirs. They’re going to cut on me, I live with the consequences, not them. They go home at night. I go home in pain at night, so I want to know about what’s going on.
Where do I turn when I get in trouble? I don’t always turn to prayer. I don’t always say, okay, Lord, go to my knees, what do I do now? And I’ve got some doctors who are great friends of mine. I’ve got their cell phone numbers and they say call me anytime and I do. I call Dr. Tubb and I call Dr. Moss and I say, guys, “What am I going to do, man? This is,” how you doing? Tell them over the phone. Well, let’s do this, let’s order this, want to order this? What about doing this? Okay, we’ll do that. Now, half the time they’ll do what I ask them; 90% of the time they’ll do what I ask them. I think I need an EMG. I think I need a new MRI. I think I want to get a full panel x-rays of my entire spine. Okay, I’ll order them for you, because I’m that 1% patient.
I don’t always stop, drop and pray. And it’s not that those men are falsehoods or wicked or those who are proud, but I just draw it out to say how blessed is the man whose trust is in the Lord and not in the props that we create in life. Yes, He put the body of Christ there to help us. Yes, yes, yes, yes, but where is the knee jerk response when the problem knocks on the door? Where do we turn? The one who has a good healthy hindsight theology turns to Christ.
Living with chronic pain is an interesting thing. God’s blessed me with every kind of treatment and great, great doctors. I’ve tried acupuncture and prolotherapy and Chinese drink things that would make a mule ill, and I have gone to all sorts of chiropractors and different physiologists and physiotherapists and physiatrists and pain management doctors and surgeons, and everybody’s got a snake oil to sell me. It’s quite interesting, really. And everybody who sees me says, oh, they can help me, and I go, “You don’t have a clue what’s going on.”
And I went to a guy recently that’s supposed to be this great pain management back guy. And I went in and we talked for about 20 minutes and he diagnosed me by watching me walk around the room about three minutes. He goes “Oh, that’s, you don’t have stenosis. You don’t have this. You have this problem.” And I just said, “Thanks for your time,” and left. Everybody’s got a cure. And they may be well intentioned. But when you’ve been dealing with it as long as I’ve dealt with it you get to know some things. I don’t want to sound haughty. But you do, you have to learn.
I had a pain management doctor in Chicago named Dr. Ira Goodman. He’s a great guy, a Jewish doctor. He was an extraordinary help to me. And he had all these different cocktails, injections and things he would give me, and they really were helpful. And I remember going into Dr. Goodman’s waiting room and it was, Jeremy talked about the size of this. It was probably from about the piano to there, not quite that big, and the little counter here when you checked in and another counter here when you checked out; this is the one that no one can see. That’s where you have to pay. This is the one you come in and you check in, sign the little clipboard. And because they had narcotics and they wrote narcotic prescriptions, everything was highly secured in this little area.
The waiting room in Dr. Goodman’s area was a metaphor for me of the most debilitated, people wracked with pain, people with walkers and wheelchairs, people that needed assistance to get up, to get down, to get in, to get out, many aged, many were completely immobilized, and they were writhing humanity in agony. The lines on their faces were enough to just make you depressed. And some of them are chronically ill. Some are terminally ill. And they were going to see Dr. Goodman. It was hard to get to see him. He was a very busy man with a full practice. And I would watch them moan and wince and struggle to get up.
I remember one woman; I’ll never forget her as long as I live. She was having like these tremors and she was kind of scooting around the room. She couldn’t sit down she was in so much pain. And you always waited an hour longer than your appointment. If your appointment was at two, it wasn’t until three, and if you got there late it was six. You know, I mean you, it was toast. So you better be there on time and read a book, you know, because it’s just going to be that way. And so you get there and I remember watching this woman in the corner of my eye and I felt so sorry for her. And they called her name and she stood there and she said “I’m sorry, I’m having an episode. I can’t even think straight or move right now.” Can you please wait for a few minutes? And she just stood there and the nurse came out and said she said, “Please don’t touch me.”
And I was able to drive myself there at that point, and get out of the car, check myself in, go, sit, do, come. I was living with pain, but I could function. I remember going in there, going, God forgive me, forgive me, forgive me for whining about my pain. Sure, my pain’s terrible. Yes, I couldn’t sleep. Yes, it was 24/7. Yes, it was a distraction. Yes, it made me short with my wife and my children and people I work with. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, but there are people with so much more. And not that it’s relative. Your pain’s your pain. I’m not trying to minimize it.
But that picture gave me a picture of God’s waiting room of sinful humanity waiting to see the doctor. Take away my problem. Give me a pill. Give me a shot. Absolve me. Do something for me. I don’t like to wait, but I find,… and if Jeremy shares a little bit of his story, sometimes when you’re in a waiting room it can be a miserable and sweet time, because there’s nowhere else to turn. So you’re going to be parked for a while? Do you trust? Do you rest in Him?
I lived in Virginia prior to my first surgery and I remember sitting on a little couch we had in our home there, uncontrollable tears running off my face. I think I have a pretty high pain threshold, but maybe I don’t. And I was on all kinds of narcotics and they had given me these injections and nothing was working. And I was in so much pain and I told Cindy, I said “Cindy, if they can’t do something about this I’m going to jump off 66 over 495 and kill myself.” Now I wasn’t going to do it. It wasn’t a veiled threat. I was just saying I don’t how to do this. And that’s when I learned I had to be my own advocate and I called my doctor. I was on an HMO at the time and I had left five or six messages with his assistant and I called and I said, you know, “I want to speak to somebody who can help me. I don’t want you to put me in voice mail. And if you can’t, I want you to give me to 911. I want somebody that’s really going to help me.”
“What’s wrong sir?” And I told them. I said, “If you can’t see me today I want a referral. It says here in my handbook that after so many times you can’t help me I want a referral.” And when you say that word “referral,” that means the money goes up for the HMO and they said, “Well, why do you want a referral?” I said, “Look, I’ve left the messages. You don’t call me back. I’m not trying to be angry here. I just need help.” And I had to become my own advocate. I learned a lesson that period of time. You’ve got to fight a little bit. You’ve got to be nice because these people are going to take care of you. You better not make them mad, but you better be nice.
And I remember telling Cindy, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” And I looked at her and I said, “How do you put up with me? How do you press on?” I’ll never forget what she said. I can see her saying it. She was quiet for a minute and she said, “I look back on our lives and where God has brought us today. Why would He not care for us today and tomorrow?” Hindsight theology. She carried me through the dark time, hindsight theology. How do you get through it?
Verse 5: “Many, O Lord, my God are the wonders that you have done, and Your thoughts toward us; there is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count.” Remember the old song, “Count Your Many Blessings,” “name them one by one, count your many blessings, see what God has done.” When’s the last time you took a yellow pad and just wrote down the blessings God has done? He saved me; He forgave me of all my sins; He is sanctifying me and turning me into a person I’m not; He is my propitiation; He’s creating me anew; the person of the Holy Spirit, the very spirit of Christ indwells in me; He will never leave me nor forsake me; He will always be with me; He’s sanctifying me into something I am not and into something I will be; He’s removed my transgressions as the east is from the west. Anything you can think of, any blessing.
Ephesians 1:3 says, “He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” If we just stopped there would we have enough blessings? “With every spiritual blessing.” We’re looking for the tangible blessings, but this is a waiting room. The spiritual blessings are a lot more important, but we are fixated on this one. David remembers, and he declares God’s incalculable blessings, and he recalls the rescue he had in the past. Notice verse 5: “Many, O Lord, my God, are the wonders which You have done.” It’s the last strophe, and then he says too numerous. I can’t even count them, they’re incalculable.
Verse 6: “Sacrifice and meal offerings You have not desired.” What he’s saying here is, you know, it’s better to obey than to get forgiveness. Sacrifice, remember a blood or a guilt sacrifice, was just that. You had done something wrong and something had to be killed in your place instead of you; the blood spilt to symbolize the life spilt burnt offering. A free will offering, a first fruit offering, an offering of grain was what? Offerings of worship. We miss these things. They’re so simple we miss them. One is a guilt offering, a sin offering: Somebody had to die. A first fruit is a choice: God’s going to bless my crop. Look at the first, I’m going to give it back to Him. The first fowl, I’m going to give it back to Him. The first perfectly unblemished male, I’m going to give it back to Him. It’s a statement of faith and thanksgiving and worship and a free offering. Guilt offering, sin offering; both. Here he says both of them. Neither one, sacrifice and meal You don’t want.
“Now my ears You have opened.” This is one of the most frustrating verses in all of the Psalms. There’s not one Hebrew scholar that knows what it means. Some say, I think the King’s English said, “My ears You’ve dug open.” And that really is a good literal rendering. Here’s my guess and that’s all it is is a sanctified educated guess. I think what he’s saying here is, “I didn’t understand. I couldn’t hear what You were doing or who You were before and now I understand.” That’s Michael Easley’s interpretation. I can’t put it in, you know, permanent indelible ink. Write it in pencil. My ear you opened.
I mean, there’s lots of problems with the Hebrew words and the language and expressions, but when you step back on it, what’s God trying to say? If it’s not a problem verse that we can’t resolve I think it’s pretty good theology. When I look back in the past, how You delivered me in the past, I look at my present trouble and circumstance, and you know what? I didn’t understand You before, I don’t know how the dilemma will be solved, but You dug wax out of my ear and I can hear now. I’m receptive to the truth, we might say. I think that’ll preach so we’ll keep going. That’s verse 6. Burnt offering, “My ears You have opened, my ears You have dug open.” And God prefers the worshiper not the sacrifice.
So, a question for you and me. When you sin—and I’m assuming most of you do because you’re godly people. You’re at The Cove. You never sin any more. Isn’t it interesting? We don’t, as we get older we don’t act out on our sins. They’re in here and they’re between the temples and they come out in the words. We’re more sophisticated. I think they’re dangerous because we cover them over, because we’ve been Christians for 97 years. “I was a Christian before you were born, Michael.” God bless you. It doesn’t matter if you’re older. It matters if you’re mature, right? We know a lot of old Christians that have never grown up. So we’re maturing.
So when you sin, when I sin, is there a thing in the back of my head that says, you know, I can sin because I know 1 John 1:9 backwards and forwards. I can always get out of jail free. All I have to do is confess. I’ve tried to teach my kids this as they’ve grown, “He prefers obedience to sacrifice.” He wants obedience. Yes, He’ll forgive you when you confess, but that’s not the point. He’d rather you obey Him on the front end than confess on the back end. That’s what Paul screams about. Shall we continue in sin that grace might increase, Romans 6:1? May it never be! The strongest way you can say it, “No way, Jose! Nada, never no! No, five times no!” That’s not the point. This is the trouble we get into. We’re smart and we’re slick.
Well, David responds to God with a willingness to obey, to do God’s will. We wrongly think the Old Testament Jew hated the law. Somewhere along the line Bible churches got to the point where the Old Testament, the old law, the law’s been done away, the law’s been fulfilled. And it’s almost like we vilify it. David delights in His Word. He loves the law. The problem with the law is he can’t measure up. It’s not that he hates the law, he just can’t measure up to the law. He loves God’s Word. So we need to be careful that we don’t disregard the Old Testament.
Verse 9: “I have proclaimed glad tidings of righteousness in the great congregation; behold, I will not restrain my lips, O Lord, You know. I’ve not hidden Your righteousness within my heart; I have spoken of Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your lovingkindness.” That’s our word last night checed “h-s-d” the most important word in the Old Testament. “And Your truth from the great congregation.” Checed is two-fold. God loves to be loyal to His covenant promises; God loves to be loyal to His chosen people. When God makes a promise, He loves to be loyal to His character. When He chose you before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 13, when He chose you before you were an inkling in your mother’s eye, when He chose you to be His own, He will never revoke that. He loves to be loyal to His chosen people and His covenant promises. That’s what checed means.
Well, the result is a proclamation in these verses. There’s news of salvation. He’s saying, in other words, you can’t shut me up. I will talk about these things. I have proclaimed the glad tidings of righteousness. Righteousness is the character of God that He always does the right thing in the right way at the right time. He always does the right thing in the right way at the right time. I won’t be quiet. We might paraphrase, “I will not restrain my lips.” You know this, Lord. I don’t know if I can say that, Michael Easley, personally, that I won’t restrain my lips. A lot of times I’m quiet when I should speak and I talk when I should be quiet. Well, he’s going to share the name with the congregation. He says he won’t be quieted.
When something good happens to you and me, we can’t wait to share it. Most of us, you in this room, I suspect are grandparents, right? When that first grandchild was born, it was the first grandchild ever born in the universe, right? I mean, right? That grandchild was perfect in every way, shape or form. They were smarter than any grandbaby that had ever been born. They were more beautiful than any grandbaby that had ever been born. They were going to be the next president. I mean, they were going to be the next whatever. That first grandbaby. I love the bumper sticker that says, “Have grandchildren first.” Howard Hendricks says grandchildren are God’s reward for not killing your teenager. And you dote over your grandchildren when they’re little and you spoil them rotten.
My mother and father, I’ll never forget. My nephew John Paul was born before,… my daughter Hanna was the second grandchild, but she was the first granddaughter so she did pretty well. But the first grandson, I remember seeing my dad on the floor playing with that boy like he never played with Steve, my older brother or me. And I remember sitting on the couch. I remember my brother. He was mad. He didn’t have children, and he’s going, “All they talk about is John Paul. That’s all they talk about John Paul.” I said, “He’s the first grandson.” “All they talk about is John Paul.” He was fuming over it. He was smarter than me, and I’d already figured that part out. It’s the first grandbaby. And I watched dad laugh and giggle and play with that little boy on the floor. What a delight he was. He couldn’t stop talking about the grandchild, a grandson.
When something good happens to you and me, when it excites our heart, we want to talk about it. Do we do the same in our spiritual lives when we recount God’s goodness and blessing and forgiveness that we can’t wait to talk about it? I was reading this morning in 2 Corinthians 9, 10, 11 and some of the things I saw, oh God, I can’t wait to tell you about it later today and tomorrow. Been working on it for weeks, never taught the next two messages I’m going to share with you. That’s kind of dangerous, actually. But can’t wait to talk about it.
What about you? When God answers a prayer, when He comes through for you, when He blesses you, when you. You know sometimes God blesses us with stuff we didn’t even pray about. Isn’t that interesting? Do you ever talk about how undeserving you are and how kind God has been? I picked up a line years ago from a dear friend of mine and I use it all the time. I use it in pagan settings especially. You go into a restaurant, “How are you doing?” I say, “In God’s great kindness, better than I deserve.” And they go, “Oh, that’s interesting.” Or they go “Oh, me too.” And God’s great kindness is better than I deserve. It doesn’t matter how I feel, that’s true. It doesn’t matter you feel, it’s truth.
I was at a promotion ceremony a few years back when I was in the Washington DC area. I was privileged to do a lot of those things and you have to have the token preacher come give the token prayer for the change of command or the invocation or the retirement ceremony, whatever it was, and I was always honored to do it. And I got to go places and do things that I never dreamt I would be able to do.
And I was at the most prestigious Air Force Base in the world as the change of command was occurring. My friend was being promoted. I was privileged to pin his first star on him. His wife did the other one and I got to pin his second star on him, and his wife did the other one in his career. What an honor. And when he took over this command,… Any of you serve in the military? Thank you, thank you for your service. I love you men and women. I love the military. They’re the best people in the world. And here we are in this prestigious Air Force Base, all the hoi polloi. Everybody’s in uniform except a few civilians, and, I mean, you know, as a civvie, you put your best on. I wear my best wool suit. I shine my shoes. I got the lace up shoes. I’ve got the cuffs. I mean, I’m ready because I’m in, everybody else looks really good in their uniform. I ain’t got one, so I get as close as I can because I want to honor them.
And we’re there and now I’ve got to sit up on the dais. Oh, I didn’t know that. I was going to sit,… no you’re going to sit up here. So all the hoi polloi’s there; a lot of important people; politicians of all sorts in between. And I pray in Jesus’ name. I always have and I always will, and I don’t care what they tell me to do, I’m going to pray in Jesus’ name because they can pray in Allah’s name, they can pray in Buddha’s name. I’m going to pray in Jesus’ name. I don’t care. And so I’m praying in Jesus’ name.
And he gets up after all the exchange and he says three things to know about General So-and-so. Number one: I am a believer in Jesus Christ. I about dropped my jaw. He says what that means is I believe Jesus lived, died and buried and I’ve trusted in Christ, in Christ alone for my salvation. And that’s how I govern everything I do in my life, my marriage and my family. I’m not expecting you to believe that, nor will I ever cram it down your throat, nor will I tell you have to believe it to be one of my XO’s or important in my command. But you need to know that’s how I operate. Number two: we will be the most excellent Air Force Base on the planet that’s ever been in this area. It’s been excellent before. It will always be excellent. We’re going to be more excellent. Number three: we’ll be the safest Air Force Base that’s ever existed.
And that was about as long as his little speech was. And afterwards we were whisked away with a small delegation and went to a private officer’s area where we were served with people with white gloves and had a meal to beat the band. And I said, “General, how in the world did you get away? That was a career ender.” He said, “Michael, I made a decision long ago when I became an officer, I would tell the world I was a believer in Christ first and leave the rest to Him. If they boot me out for it, fine. But I’m not going to go in there, Oh, by the way, I’m a Christian.” And he said, “You know what I’ve discovered in my career? God’s been kind, no doubt, but when I say that, every Christian in the group sits up a little straighter, says, wow, my boss is not afraid to say he is a believer.”
The military has a principle; it’s called conviction without compromise. Now you’ve got to get along with the Muslims and the Wiccans and all the other people there. You’ve got to get along with them because this isn’t a Christian organization. But technically you are allowed to have a conviction without a compromise. You just have to smile and be gentle and firm. And that’s what he did. And God honored it tremendously. It made a big impression on me, as you can tell.
The tone changes dramatically from thanksgiving now to a desperate urgent prayer. We’re back in the waiting room. We have a new problem. He’s looked at hindsight theology. Now we’ve got a new problem. Look at verse 11: “You, O Lord, will not withhold Your compassion from me.” And if you’re a marker, a Bible student, a BSFer, a Precept student, this is where you look at the pronouns used for God. I’m going to overemphasize all of them as I read them. “You, O Lord, will not withhold Your compassion from me; Your lovingkindness and Your truth will continually preserve me. For evils beyond number have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to see; they are more numerous than the hairs of my head and my heart has failed me.”
Huge structural change in the psalm right now. It’s all been kind of swimmingly so far and now we have this form and function change. What’s the cause of his trouble? We know two things: evil and his own sin. Look at this pairing very carefully. Evils beyond number. Look at the verse 12. Innumerable blessings we just looked at; we’ve got innumerable evils. Never miss the structures of the psalm. I can’t count the blessings. I can’t count the evils.
But notice they’ve surrounded him, but then he’s forthcoming and says, “My sin is up to my eyeballs. I have so much sin in my life.” You know, we talk about I’m up to my neck in trouble, I’m up to my chin. I’m up to my elbows. He says I’m up to my eyeballs in sin, my own sin. So he’s acknowledging the evil that is pressing down on him; we don’t know what it is, but he’s also acknowledging and admitting my sin is up to my eyeballs.
And then he prays for deliverance. Now, he’s going to ask God to do something about his enemies, but he’s also acknowledging his own culpability and his sinfulness. Or said another way, he owns his sin. He admits his own sin is part of the problem. So when bad things happen to “good people,” what do we do? Is it improper and right to say, what have I done, Lord? Absolutely. I take inventory all the time.
And sometimes when I’m really in a depressed funk, sometimes when I’m discouraged with my pain, when I can’t get a control over it, when I don’t have energy to start making these appointments and going to see the four and five and six doctors and change of medications, putting them on the chart, and figuring out, you know, I’ve learned my med. I’ve sat down with a doctor of pharmacology last year and he’s got two PhD’s and he’s a very humble guy. He gave me about an hour and a half of his time. He took an Excel chart, I gave him all my meds. He put them on an Excel chart, a PowerPoint slide and a word document. He told me about half life, about interaction with chemistries, about food, how my medicines are processed when I swallow them, what time of day I take them, when they have the great efficacy, when they have the worst effect.
It was like a whole new area of dealing with my health that no one had ever explained to me before. It was a huge gift. He says “When you take them don’t take these two together, because the liver enzyme production goes up when you take that medication. It’s got to go through your liver and kidneys. Swallow something, one of those organs is going to handle it, sometimes both. So when you take that pill if the liver goes to work on it it’s going to cut the efficacy in half, so they put enteric coatings on them to slow down the way they go through your digestive track.” That’s good and bad. Because if it goes through your digestive system and you’ve got a big meal it could be good and bad. It depends. And he explained all this stuff to me. So I learn all this stuff and I’m okay, I’ve kind of got the thing down. I know how to do the chemistry.
And I’ve got a new problem now. Oh it’s going to be domino effect. It’s going to affect everything I know. And I get into a real deep funk. And then I start praying, “Lord, okay, time out, Lord. Is there some sin I haven’t dealt with yet, before I start calling doctors? I mean, is there something we can deal with right now and just take care of this, please, please, please, please?” And sometimes I just sit there for a while.
I was telling a friend the other day that’s had two liver transplants, this is not a walk in the park. This is an eight month recovery. The first time in four month recovery, the second time, and a lifelong challenge. I said, “How in the world do you do this?” He says, “You’ve got to be your own advocate. Because doctors see you for a little bit and they’ve got 60 other patients they’re taking care of. They can’t do it all. They’re human beings.” So you know, I go to the Great Physician a lot more than I used to.
Let me ask you another meddlesome question. Do you own your sins? Do you own them? You know, raising children is the greatest, Dennis Rainey says, “It’s the last opportunity God gives us to grow up.” Because you see yourself in them mirrored back. The thing that ticks you off most about your son or daughter is you. You don’t like looking at it in that son or daughter. That’s why that son or daughter and you clash as much as you do because it’s just like you.
And it’s good that God gives us two parents, when the family stays together in God’s kindness, because generally speaking we’re a tag team. When Cindy’s about to kill our son I say, “It’s my turn. Let me step in there.” When she’s about to kill our daughter I step in there. When I’m about to kill my daughter she steps in there. “You’re looking at the wrong way, honey. You’ve got to stop.” And of course, kids read you like a book. They know the switch. They don’t even know what they’re doing. They just know how to do it. They just know how to do it. God has made them depraved that way. If you don’t believe in depravity go spend a half an hour with two year olds in a nursery and you will believe in in the doctrine of depravity. They are wicked. They will look at you and read your number and do the thing you tell them not to do.
And it’s a reflection of you and me and our God. Every time I over-parent my kid,… I don’t hear God talk to me very often. I mean, He’s the Word and the Spirit. I don’t hear the small still voice. Some of you do, that’s wonderful. I don’t, and if I did I’d mess it up anyway. But there are a number of times I hear it when I’ve parented a child and walk away. There’s a slow echo and God says, “Michael, you are exactly the same way with Me. How dare you tell your son that when you’re just the same! How dare you say those words to your daughter when you’re no different!”
And that’s what I think it means about the sins of the parent visiting the children, not this nonsense about going back and praying for 15 generations ago of when your great, great, great, great, great, great grandparent was a wiccan or something. I mean, don’t hear me overstate the case. I think the passage is saying the stuff we deal with as parents we give to as an inheritance to our children. It changes your perspective as you get older. That’s why older people are kinder to their grandchildren, because you realized how bad of a parent you were. You can’t admit that when you’re raising teens. If you admitted that they’d kill you. They’d take over the fort, so you’ve got to keep up defenses while they’re teenagers.
Dr. Meeker says, “Michael, they’re brain-damaged until they’re 25. Just hold on.” Their brain is not functioning right, 21, 23, 24, with a boy, 25. I said, “Dr. Meeker, my son, da, da, da, da.” He says, “Give you a number, Michael, 25, 25. Just don’t kill him till he’s 25. Just wait, 25, there’s the word, trust me, trust me.”
God parents us. Do you own your sin? Oh, we’re so quick to see it in others. Maybe you’re more godly than me. I hope you are. I hope you are. Please don’t hear me being condescending. I was pastoring a little church in Texas and I can’t even remember the sermon I was preaching, but I was in a fever pitch. And I was going, yeah, I sin every day. I sin all the time. I had this dumb goal of, could I go one day without sinning? And I thought that’s stupid. Can I go an hour without sinning? That was really dumb. Now, this is how, I mean forgive me. I’m very anal. I’m going okay, can I go five minutes without sinning? Could I read the Bible five minutes, and maybe not sin, not have thought come in?
Now what am I asking? How much of the fabric of our lives are we so accustomed to our sin? We just have sort of grown and incorporated it into our spiritual concept in contrast of who we are as Christians. Christ has paid for it, yes, yes, yes. He forgives us, yes, yes, yes. But do you own them? So I was going on and on about this message, and then I said to this audience, “I sin every day. I sin all the time. It drives me crazy, but I sin every day. I sin every day. I sin every day.”
Afterwards this little woman came up with a bee in her bonnet. And she got up to us, “I don’t like to hear my pastor say he sins every day.” I was 28 at the time. This is what I said to her: “I sin every day.” And she just, I mean, she just got so mad at me. And I loved every minute of it, I have to confess. I said, I sin every day. And I wanted to say, and so do you, but I didn’t say that. I was that smart. I was that smart. She was so mad at me. Your pastor shouldn’t say those things. Why?
David says, “My iniquities have overtaken me and I’m not able to see.” Do you own your sins? Verse 13: “Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me; make haste, O Lord, to help me. Let those be ashamed and humiliated together who seek my life,” the enemies are still real, “let them be turned back and dishonored who delight in my hurt. Let those be appalled because of their shame who say to me, ‘Aha, aha!’” What he’s saying here is deliver me from my sins and my enemies. They’re tangible enemies and there are tangible sins.
And now the psalm becomes urgent. This is the “You’ve helped me in the past. I’m in trouble. Hurry up and help me again, please!” Verse 16: “Let those who seek You rejoice and be glad. Let those who love Your salvation say continually, ‘The Lord be magnified!’” This is all about Him, in other words. “Since I am afflicted and needy, let the Lord be mindful of me. You are my help and my deliver do not delay, O my God.” Let those enemies be ashamed, let those who seek You, is the contrast against the two kinds of people. Let those enemies be ashamed; let those who see You be blessed and forgiven and take care of them.
A couple of lessons. Number one: trouble and waiting may be your lot in life. Aren’t you glad you paid for this conference? Trouble and waiting may be your lot in life. The question of the psalm begins with remembering God’s kindness, but it ends with an urgent depressed, discouraged prayer. “Help, hurry up, will You? Where are You Lord?” We might say if we were Eugene Peterson’s message. If it’s so desperate that God has to intervene, it’s gotten pretty bad.
Now, we have to admit, the American Christian has a lame view of suffering. And if you haven’t been abroad you don’t understand that. We’re obsessed with health care and surgeries and health management and convenience. I get so frustrated if I have to wait three or four weeks to see a doctor. I just,… I’m a consumer, baby, I’m paying money. Why the heck do I have to wait three or weeks to see a doctor, for goodness sakes?
Go spend some time in Nigeria. Go spend some time in any Middle Eastern country. Go spend some time in Africa and go to a clinic. A clinic there is a place that has a glucometer. If you’re a diabetic you’ve got three at home, and a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. And the floor is pocked marked linoleum and they don’t use sterile precautions. They don’t own a latex glove. And that’s a clinic. And they might give you quinine because they probably think you have malaria. We have no idea.
Our fellowship team, of which Jeremy is one of the four, have written two CD’s: Fellowship Songs I and Fellowship Songs II. One of the songs is called “All Things New.” I love the words. These are the lyrics: “We live here as strangers. In brokenness we labor. We hold on with our expectations of our redemption. Grateful still that You are patient with us, Lord. So we watch and we wait and we hope and we pray that You will come and make all things new. So we watch and we wait and we hope and we pray that You will come and make all things new.” Isn’t that a great line? “We watch and we wait and we hope and we pray that You will come and make all things new. And we won’t be afraid as we long for the day You will come and make all things new.”
And then this is the one for me: “Our struggle here cannot compare with what we have to gain. Our struggle here cannot compare with what we have to gain.” Do you believe that? There’s days I don’t. I mean, I know it up here, but I don’t feel it. “Our struggle here cannot compare with what we have to gain.” Trouble and waiting may be our lot in life, so we watch and we wait and we hope and we pray that You’ll come and make all things new.
Secondly: are you aware, am I aware, of God’s countless blessings and wonders in our lives? And this is how hindsight theology helps. You’ve got to look back and see where it brought you. Were you in the middle of the struggle and disappointment and the strife and the sins and the enemies and the pain and the problem, the cancer and the “what if’s” and the diagnosis, and the Alzheimer’s, the dementia and our grandchildren breaking our hearts?
Back to the Florida room, emergency room. My friend’s waiting for her husband. She waits for hours. They come out and say, “Well, we’ve done our bit and now we have to wait for him to come out of recovery. We do not know what’s going to happen.” So she waits and waits and waits. She prayed the whole time.
Well, he woke up. He’s not the man she married. He can’t smell or taste. He’s “Regarding Henry” if you saw the movie. He’s a very different guy. He’s not mean. He’s not ornery. He can work five or six hours a day. He’s a financial planner. His clientele has changed, but they’re okay. They’ve gone on to adopt some children from Russia. Some of that was good. Some of it was horrible. He came home from the hospital and rehab. He hated the family cat and the family cat hated him. A godly man. He sat down in his chair and the cat jumped in his lap and he and the cat are best friends ever since. That one just blows my theological categories. You know cats were once worshiped as gods in Egypt and they’ve never forgotten it. He likes the cat and the cat likes him.
I don’t even want to attribute that to God, but all I can say is something weird happened there. He’s a different man and she loves him. And they have a very different life and he loves her. God, whatever happens in that room, I will love You, I will serve You because our struggle here cannot compare with what we have to gain. How you doing pilgrim?

Prayer: Father, in heaven, we need You. Help us to be less fixated on the here and now and more hopeful of the then and there. In Christ’s name, amen.


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  1. […] Pilgrim, Was it Worth the Trouble? – Part 2 By: Dr. Michael Easley […]

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