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Practicing The Presence, Week 2 — The “Nothing Compares 2 U” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Used a “prop” of a ladder;
  • Hinged on Psalm 63:0.  Yes, verse 0;
  • Did a sort of grammar test by inviting people to circle all the verbs in Psalm 63:1-8;
  • Actually had three “write them down” suggestions near the end;
  • Landed at this bottom line:  The object of your pursuit determines your level of contentment once you reach it. 

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Now this is a little different & even a little awkward: I’ve got a ladder up here.  And a lot of us climb this latter; some do it literally for painting or gutter cleaning.  And then most of us do it metaphorically, as we all have things we pursue, things we seek, things we chase, and it is as if we’ve got to climb the latter to reach it.  The most common, of course, is climbing that ladder of success, which we think of in work terms, but it’s actually much more widespread than that.  When I was a kid – and you know this – the thing I was seeking, the ladder I was climbing to reach was to be the #1 tennis player for my age in Texas.  That was the pinnacle; my whole childhood & adolescence revolved around that.  Then later that sort of pursuit had more to do with grades or church or becoming the biggest UMC in NC.  (See a pattern?)

            But for you as a kid it could have that prize in school, the part in that play, or getting that college scholarship.  It was a goal and you pursued it.  With everything you had.  And that’s great.  Then for others, it’s not so much accomplishment; it’s relationship.  The goal was that guy.  Or that girl. You would not rest, would not settle, until you got him or got her.  And now the goal is all about KEEPING him or KEEPING her.  Add to that, OMG, there’s the house, the subdivision, the car, the zip code, the clothes, the LOOK.  And then these days, maybe the most intoxicating pursuit of all … (Show FB emojis) … LIKES, LOVES, LAUGHS, FRIENDS.  All social media all the time.  Unending validation … or condemnation.  Followers on Twitter, likes on FB, comments on Instagram, and these are what we climb for, what we pursue.

            So closely related to this for me is what they call WORDS OF AFFIRMATION.  Probably because they were kind of few & far between growing up, they’re like the air that I breathe.  It’s like, Julie, I don’t care how much you love me, just tell me how great I am.  Sometimes I feel like I have perfected the art of fishing for a compliment without appearing to do so.  Years ago, we had some kind of Preacher Day at Mt. Carmel & ppl voiced appreciation and I was like “ahhhh, they finally recognize what a gift they have and are SAYING IT!” 

            Heh.  The ironic thing about all that pursuing, all this climbing is the aftermath.  The pursuit is the MATH; what’s next is its AFTERMATH!  Because I remember after that preacher day so long ago came a season of discontent, dissatisfaction, opposition.  Almost like indulging in this thing unleashed a set of forces intent on dragging me down.  I mean this was over 20 years ago in a dif church and dif world, but I still remember.  Maybe you know what it’s like.  Maybe it’s that realization that when you reach the summit of your ladder and you get that promotion and you wonder, “what’s next?”  Or you get the acclaim, the Likes, the followers, the sales, and you look around and realize to your horror, SOMEONE ELSE HAS MORE OF ALL OF IT!  Or you get that guy or get that girl & discover on the honeymoon just how bad their morning breath really is.  You got your top and your top disappointed you.  This is why so many people at the top – athletes & politicians & preachers & entertainers – get to the top of the ladder and DECIDE THEY HATE THE VIEW.  So what do they do?  They SABOTAGE IT! 

            Because here is the stunning realization from exploring my life, your life, and the lives of the rich & famous:  the problem is NOT the ladder.  The problems is not the climb or the pursuit.  The problem is that you climbed to the top of the ladder of success BUT THE LADDER WAS ATTACHED TO THE WRONG BUILDING!  A building of professional achievement, sports fame, words of affirmation, relational romance, whatever, and in every case it was a building that overpromised and under-delivered.  Because SUCCESS AT GETTING THE WRONG THING IS STILL FAILURE.  And now so much of your life has instantly snapped into focus.

            So I want to harness all that energy & passion you put in to pursuing, that you expend on climbing, and then re-direct it as part of our journey into Practicing The Presence.  I want you and I want me to pour that energy into something that, should we attain it, fully satisfies as Psalm 63:5 promises us:

I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
    with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

Or that’s actually better than life as Psalm 63:3 promises us:

Because your love is better than life,
    my lips will glorify you.

Pretty impressive promises there, right?  And you’re OK to wonder why are we working our way BACKWARDS through the words of this psalm.  And as notable as that is, this is even moreso:  Psalm 63 only makes sense when you read verse 0.  What?!  Yeah, Psalm 63:0 which is the scholarly & digital way of referring to what they call the superscription of these Psalms.  The context or the instruction that precedes many of them.  Look at this one: READ 63:0:  A Psalm of David. When he was in the desert of Judah

            You know what that means?  He had nothing.  He’d been stripped of his possessions, his comforts, his friends, his air conditioning, and when God can do that – metaphorically or even literally – he has you where he wants you.  Because look out Psalm 63 proper begins, a psalm written/sung by a fugitive who has nothing.  What ladder does he climb?  What is the object of his pursuit?  Psalm 63:1 tells us:

You, God, are my God,
    earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
    my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
    where there is no water.

Ah, not water, not food, not friends, not a fan. Instead, just the presence.  To know you better, to feel you more, to serve you completely.  I’ve had it with confusing the glitter for the gold, for mistaking the shiny for the real.  I just want more of you, the invisible, unstoppable God.  The only thing that when I find what I’m seeking won’t leave me hollow asking like the Grammy winner, “is this all there is?”  Because here’s what the breathtaking experience of Psalm 63:0 and following shows us:  The object of your pursuit determines the level of your contentment when you get it.  Or:  if you’re climbing the ladder of success, make sure it’s connected to the right wall!

            You know why this matters so much?  Why we’re Practicing The Presence?  Because the root of all your self-destruction is taking a good thing and making it the only thing.  Taking a desire to be #1 in the state & making it the only thing.  Taking that romance and making it the only thing.  Taking that vintage wine & making it the only thing.  Taking the natural desire to be loved, twisting it into this unending need for affirmation, and making it the only thing.  Taking that wish to provide well for your family and making that job or your monty the only thing.  God wants to be the only thing, and if it takes stripping away all those things to do it, that’s what he’ll do.  This is so true of our possessions in particular.  Because we can get so wrapped up in what we own.  But you dive into Psalm 63 and you realize that the big deal is not what you own but who owns you.  Not what you’ve bought but who bought you.  One gives fleeting happiness; the other enduring peace.  The object of your pursuit determines the level of your contentment when you get it.

            I’m pretty certain I know why that is.  None of those things we climb for & pursue – affirmation, accomplishment, attention – will ever chase us back.  You seek them but they never return the favor.  Like a lot of you know I really like my Nissan Maxima. But I’ve realized, it doesn’t like me back.  All it wants me to do is buy the 2017 model.  And your iPhone 10?  No way it loves you the same way you love it; it’s really designed to make you long for the iPhone 11!  Bigger and better than ever and even though you’ve never seen one, you know your life won’t be complete without it!  Well, in contrast to all that striving and seeking, the presence of God is the only one who seeks you back.  Better, the love of God is the only one the chased you FIRST.  Didn’t climb up to you; descended down to you, making the first move, giving you that glimpse of eternity, hoping to whet your appetite so that he would be the sole object of your deepest desire.  Every product has planned obsolescence; God never grows old.  The object of your pursuit determines the level of your contentment when you get it.

            Let me show what is so great in this psalm.  This guy with NOTHING (remember 63:0?) is all about the verbs.  I’m going to read 63:1-8 & you circle all the verbs:

You, God, are my God,
    earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
    my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
    where there is no water.

I have seen you in the sanctuary
    and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
    my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
    and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
    with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

On my bed I remember you;
    I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
    I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you;
    your right hand upholds me.

 

 Whew!  Seek, Thirst, Long, Glorify, Lift, Remember, Think, Sing, Cling.  There are things you DO to demonstrate that you’re done with glitter and ready to search for the gold.  There are some actual practices you embrace to indicate his love and his presence is your highest goal and your deepest object.  It doesn’t happen passively; the incredible run of verbs here tells us that stripping away the fake to obtain the genuine takes effort and purpose.  So I’m going to get exceedingly practical here and invite you to write some of these down on the way to The object of your pursuit determines the level of your contentment when you get it.

            First REPEAT HISTORY.  Usually, we think of repeating history in negative terms as in those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it.  Actually, no!  Those who DO study history, GET to repeat it.  Here’s what I mean:  the life, death, resurrection, and CORONATION of King Jesus is the most important thing that ever happened not only on planet earth, but in your life.  Yes!  The most important thing in your life didn’t happen in your life but in Jesus’!  Find a time every day to repeat that history to yourself and to someone else.  It is so healthy & helpful to pause & to remind:  I am loved. I am bought. I am resurrected. I serve a coronated King.  You do that and share that everyday, and that brings perspective and correction to all your ladder climbing.  2) As you REPEAT HISTORY, MEMORIZE THE WORD.  We’re giving you a memory verse a week throughout Practicing The Presence because what better way to be dialed in to his presence than to have his word in your mind and heart.  This week’s is familiar b/c you’ve been looking at it!  Let’s read it together: READ Ps 63:1.  3) So you’re REPEATING HISTORY & MEMORIZING THE WORD out there. In here?  LIFTING HANDS.  Among all the verbs of Ps 63, did you notice 63:4b?  READ.  (PLEASE PLAY PAD BEHIND ME NOW.)

            Now, when some of  you see raised hands, you think snakes are next.  Do you know what it signifies?  I agree with what is being said or sung AND I surrender to the one we’re singing to or talking about.  Agreement & surrender.  So here’s what I’d like now …

            Prayer exercise with raised hands which looked like this at our Zoar Road Campus:

 

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