To Be Valued
Heart Cries: To Be Valued
This is the weekend when annually we as a church family remember both the sanctity of human life and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. These two commemorations have very different origins. At the same time, the two are knit together by one essential truth that is central to Scripture, i.e., the value of every human life. Sanctity of Life weekend was initiated by followers of Jesus when people recognized that human life in the womb was being disregarded and discarded in our nation. The legacy of Dr. King is, to a great extent, that he called for all human lives outside the womb to be respected and treated justly.
For Christians, the statement that every life is sacred is rooted in the thoroughgoing teaching of the Bible that from the womb – at least, from about the fifth day after conception when the embryo is implanted in the uterine lining --to the grave, every human being is sacred because it is made in God’s image. Moreover, even though some will ignore this particular fact about Dr. King tomorrow, the two themes that appear most often in his speeches were 1) that God is sovereign over all things and, flowing from that, 2) that all persons regardless of race, nationality or gender have inviolable worth because they are, as he said, “created, loved, and sustained by the God of the Hebrew prophets and revealed by Jesus Christ.” Listen to his words:
"At the center of the Christian faith is the affirmation that there is a God in the universe who is the ground and essence of all reality and all morality. A Being of infinite love and boundless power, God is the creator, sustainer, and conserver of values.... In contrast to the ethical relativism of our world, Christianity sets forth a system of absolute moral values and affirms that God has placed within the very structure of this universe certain moral principles that are fixed and immutable."
Dr. Martin Luther King, Christ – the Center of Our Faith
That conviction was the foundation for his best known speech, “I Have a Dream”, delivered from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on 8/28/63. You may know that he had not planned for the “I have a Dream” section to be in that speech. But, toward the end of his speech, Gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, shouted to King from her seat, "Tell them about the dream, Martin." King departed from his prepared remarks and started proclaiming from his heart his dream, one based upon his understanding of what our world will be like when the kingdom of God comes in its fullness.
So, on this day, we gather here to worship the God who has made us all, who loves us all, and who has the mercy and power to save us all. We gather to thank God that each one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made as is every other human being we meet. We gather to commit ourselves as children of the Creator of life to care for human lives from the beginning to the end. What a simple thing that is! What a beautiful thing that is!
And, few passages in the Bible call us to that commitment more compellingly than Psalm139.
The Flow of Psalm 139
Just as Dr. King’s messages flowed from his relationship to God, so this Psalm does as well. In Psalm 139, we find some of the Bible’s most poetically beautiful teaching about who God is. Here’s the flow:
Stanza 1 (139:1-6) -- The Mystery of God Knowing Everything (Omniscience)
Stanza 2 (139:7-12) -- The Mystery of God Being Everywhere (Omnipresence) -- David declares that there is no place that God is not. There is no God-forsaken place in all God’s creation.
Stanza 3: (139:13-18) – The Mystery of God’s Sovereign Care of Each Human Life
Stanza 4: (139:19-24) -- The Human Response to This Kind of God (139:19-24)
In the two stanzas we look at today, in 139:13-24, just as Dr. King always did, David took what he knew about God and applied it to human life. Let me walk you through a few of the things David wrote:
#1: Our Maker Knew Us and Valued Us Before We Were Born.
You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb… My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place… (139:13,15).
If there is anything in this world that we experience that deserves to be called a mystery, it is the birth of a child. Of course, writing three millennia ago, David knew little about the details of genetics and embryology that we talk about in 21st C. medical science. He never wrote about DNA or chromosomes. He had never seen the pulsating heart of an unborn child on an ultrasound scan. And, because, up until very recently, men were absent when children were born, I doubt that David had ever seen the delivery of a baby.
But, David knew enough about a new human life to be amazed that something as complex as a human being could be put together in nine months in a mother’s womb. And, he was perceptive enough to know that there is only one adequate explanation for the remarkable complexity of human life, i.e., it was the sovereign and personal work of a personal, powerful and intelligent God. “You created me!” David says in wonder.
With awe, David considers the antenatal period of his own existence -- that time while he was in the darkness of his mother’s womb. Some in our day might say that, while David was what they would call a mere “fetus,” that God is too big to have cared about his life. But no, David is astounded by the fact that - “in my mother’s womb, I was the recipient of God’s personal care and attention.”
#2: Our Father Knows Us, Cares for Us and Adores Us Right Now
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made… How amazing are your thoughts concerning me(139:14,17)!
Notice the present-tense nature of these statements in vv.14 & 17. It’s not just when you were in the womb or when you are a small child that God cares about you. He knows you and cares about you now!
I’m sure you’ve heard the old maxim, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I think that is occasionally true. However, I think another maxim is true more often, i.e., “Out of sight; out of mind!” One of the beautiful realities of our relationship to God is that we are never out of God’s sight and never out of his mind. He never leaves us or forsakes us. God is a refuge and strength in times of trouble (Ps 46)! And, amazingly, while we are still sinners, he loves us (Rm 5:8).
I want you to notice v.17 especially. What David said in Hebrew could mean either of two things: 1) “How precious to me are your thoughts, God!” I pray today that this is true of you. That what God says and thinks really matter to you. However, there is another way to translate that verse that I think fits the context much better: 2) How amazing are your thoughts concerning me! I believe that this way of understanding the verse fits this Psalm much better.
In v.17, David realized that, in spite of all his own failings and weaknesses, he was precious to God. David knew that God knew everything about him and still God loved him anyway. And, I declare to you today: God loves you right now.” He knows everything about you and surely doesn’t want you to stay stuck in a pattern of sin or discouragement. But your Creator loves you. He “adores” you. I look for a word strong enough to capture what this king and warrior named David said? “How amazing are your thoughts concerning me!How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand(139:17-18a).”
Why would God love imperfect people like you and me? I fully confess that I cannot grasp it. I can only tell that God tells us he does – and I believe him. He sees his image in you and he loves you. He wants you to place your faith in him and to live for him. Today, I tell you unequivocally: Our Heavenly Father loves you, cares for you and adores you -- right now.
#3: Our God Will Always Know You, Love You and Be with You.
All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be… When I awake, I am still with you (139:14,18).
“All the days” -- It wasn’t just while David was in the womb that God knew him and cared for him. It was and would be all the days of his life that God would be involved in his life. That phrase, of course, would also describe the very elderly days of David’s life described in such detail in 1 Kings 1-2.
And, I want you to ruminate a bit on what David meant when he said, “When I awake, I am still with you”, in v.18. That could mean several things: 1) When David slept God was with him and when he woke up from the darkness of sleep God was still present. 2) The phrase is also a euphemism for awaking out of the darkness of understanding. David could be saying, “There was a time when I didn’t know God but now I am awake to him. And, 3) the phrase could refer to awakening from death.
Which one do you think David is speaking of? Could David actually have been thinking of all of them? I believe he may have. David’s main point is that, although everyone and everything may prove to be unfaithful in this world, God will always be who he is: whether you are in the womb, or in college, at the very end of life or even after this life is over, God will always be there. “Whenever I awake, I am still with you.”
David knew that each moment of his life was a moment God had intended. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” That’s true of you too: Every moment you live – day and night, you are a mysterious and beautiful work and gift of God.
When I read this Psalm, a lot of thoughts flood my mind, especially on this Sanctity of Life and Martin Luther King weekend. God’s Word is shouting out to me that every human being is “hand-made” by the most creative artist and designer possible, i.e., God. I was made in HIS IMAGE! You were made in God’s image. You and I truly are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).
And you and I are not the only ones. Every child who, rather than being born, is condemned unjustly to being aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the image of the Lord Jesus -- the one, who even before he was born, experienced the world’s rejection.
And, every mother, married or single, who carries a child bears the face of Jesus. When she is struggling to know what to do in a time of pregnancy, those who see human beings with the eyes of God should not scorn or mock her but offered the hope of Christ and the support of the family of God. That young unmarried woman who is ashamed and afraid – as Mary must have once felt while pregnant with Jesus – needs to know she is loved and not forsaken both by God and by his people.
And when we become old, even when we become physically ill or mentally impaired at the end of our days, we still bear the face of Christ. We are not to be disregarded, discarded or ignored simply because of age.
All human beings are created by God in his image. All people are potential recipients of the salvation Jesus died to make available to all. All these are worthy of being embraced by the love and support of God’s people. For as long as God gives us life, his Word says our lives as human beings have meaning.
Do any of you remember one of my first series of messages to you about divine appointments? I suggest to you that every time you meet another human being you have an appointment with one who bears the image of God. It’s an opportunity to share the message of eternal life through Jesus and to show personally the mercy-filled love of Jesus. Every life has value because every life is created by God in his image, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and is someone God either has called or wants to call into an eternal relationship with Him.
To Take Home: Two responses (139:19-24)
1. Regarding others – Act Justly (139:19-22)
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!... Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord? (139:19,21)
Some are shocked by the way vv.19-22 breaks into this thoughtful and lovely Psalm with so much anger. But, this is powerful poetry. The whole Psalm has been about the greatness of God, the value of human life and the reality of each moment of our lives being under God’s care. The point is that, if we believe all that is in Psalm 139:1-13, then we should be appalled both when we find people rejecting or mocking God and when we find human being being dealt with unjustly. Bottom line: There is a place for anger about evil.
In many places in the Bible, like Isaiah 58 and the books of Micah and Amos, this anger about evil and injustice in the world becomes a call to us furthering God’s kingdom by speaking up for those who have no voices and using God-given resources care for the poor to provide for the homeless and to walk with those who are devastated by the realities of this fallen world.
Of course, we know a part of why God places us as his family in neighborhoods like our own is to speak and act for justice and mercy in the world – to God’s glory. Today, we think specifically about the ministry to those who are pregnant and wondering how they will care for children they are carrying. We must contend for the protection of the young children. And, we must offer help for those who will choose to keep their children. We have a wonderful partner, the Woman's Pregnancy Care Clinic of Pasadena (WPCC) in this area of our biblical calling. They will have a table in our lobby this week and next. To care for people at such times requires a lot of time and love. As God puts this kind of ministry on your hearts, please contact them and, I’m sure, you will find a place of meaningful service.
And, I pray that, in keeping with this Martin Luther King weekend, you will let the truths of Psalm 139 penetrate your heart – so that you too will love God more and love people made in his image more. Then, you too will call on God to deal with those who perpetuate evil and bless those who are persecuted. But, until he completes his work and makes all things just, you and I should feel the way that David did in vv.19-22 – and then act as God for justice gives us ability in the name of Christ.
2. Regarding myself – Walk humbly with God (139:23-24)
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
The Psalm ends in a very personal way. David confess what we all know: Evil is not just out there in the rest of the world. It is “here” – in each of our hearts. It’s not just “they” – it is we who have sinned. And, we who gather and open this Word must stop and pray each time we worship, “Search me O God. Show me thoughts and emotions that are anxious and demonstrate a lack of trust in you. Show me my sins both intentional and unintentional, both of omission and commission.” Do you have any? Here the way you might pray in keeping with this word from God: “Lord, you know every thought and action of my life. I believe that. Are any of them offensive to you? I want to live your perfect way. Show me what is wrong in me and make me whole.”
You will here him say, “If you confess your sins, I will be faithful and just and will forgive your sins and will cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9).” And you will hear him say, “Go, and be my witness. As you go, see my image in all people I have created. Be my ambassador of reconciliation and peace.”