The Deliverance of the Righteous

Psalm 40
A hundred and twenty years ago the Hymn writer wrote “He brought me out of the miry clay, he set my feet on the rock to stay”, and it is a great hymn, but not all that original. David wrote the same sentiments three thousand years before Henry Zelley put pen to paper. But that shouldn’t surprise us, Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 1:9 History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Really if you think about it “Adam was the last man to have an original thought.”
You see both Henry and David took the same journey, travelled the same road to meet their God, and again not surprising it is a journey that many of us have made as well, so let’s take a look into the intimate thoughts of David and perhaps we will be retracing the steps in your own journey. Or maybe you will see yourself on the side of the road and realize that you still need to take the next step.
Psalm 40:1 I waited patiently for the LORD to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. I think that if the truth was known it wasn’t so much that David had to wait for God to do something as God had to wait for David to do something. Most of us are like Augustine who as a young man prayed “Lord, make me chaste (sexually pure) – but not yet!”
But the longing and desire of God’s heart is that we would reconnect with Him. Remember last week one of the scriptures we looked at was Romans 5:10 For since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life.
So the first thing we see is That this is a
Picture of God Waiting for Us David said he was waiting patiently for god to help him, but the reality was that God was waiting patiently for David to ask him for help.
Last week people were all abuzz about the group from California that was predicting the Return of Jesus, and I know that there are people that wonder why he hasn’t returned yet. Well the reason is found in 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. In the book of history the return of Christ will close the chapter called grace and open the chapter called Judgement and while apparently there are those looking forward to reading that chapter it appears that God isn’t all that anxious to write that chapter.
Do you remember the story of the prodigal son? Sure you do, Jesus told the story in Luke chapter 15. The youngest son demanded his inheritance from his rich father and when he got it he did like most of us would do with our inheritance at that age he blew it. Partied it away and when he was broke and destitute he swallowed his pride and came back to the farm looking for a job, but listen to what he found. Luke 15:20 So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.
The father respected his son’s ability to make his own choices even if they weren’t good choices, even if they were choices that alienated the son from his father, even if they were choices that broke the father’s heart. But the father never stopped loving the son and never stopped waiting for his son to return. And in the story it said that the father saw his son returning while he was still a long way off, do you know what that means? It means that Dad was waiting and watching for his son to return. But it was up to the son to make the trip home.
You understand the application here right? God wants his kids to come home, he wants the friendship to be restored but he’s not going to pull you kicking and screaming into the fold. He respects your ability to make your own choices even if they aren’t good choices, even if they are choices that will alienate you from your heavenly father, even if they are choices that will break your heavenly father’s heart.
Don’t make the mistake of waiting too long, thinking “well if he’s waiting for me he can wait a little longer.” It’s not all about the “there and then” it is also about the “here and now.” Last week when all the talk was of the impending rapture someone asked me, “if the rapture happens will be it too late then to join the ‘Jesus team’?” I don’t know when it might be too late but why would you waste your life? I guess the question would be: Do you just view Jesus as a fire escape from hell?
So what is it that starts us on the journey?
Psalm 40:2 He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. . .
This Is A Picture Of Where David Started Out If you go back to the beginning of the story you discover that we were created for the Garden, to live in the sunshine to have a relationship with God. And when mankind rebelled they turned their back on all of that and determined to find their own way, but there has always been that longing that yearning, that sense that something in life is missing. We were created to have a relationship with God and when that is missing it leaves a hole, a vacuum in our soul.
And in seeking that which we have turned out backs on there is a frustration of never quite being able to get there. Have you ever had the sensation of one step forward two steps back? You are trying to get from point “a” to point “b” but you can’t quite make it. It’s like you are walking on ice, swimming against the tide or perhaps trying to climb out of a pit with muddy walls. Your intentions are good but it seems like the very forces of nature are pushing back against you.
And in a very real way they are, and they are the forces of your nature. The very nature that rebelled against God in the first place.
And it is frustrating and discouraging and depressing. David called it Psalm 40:2 He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. . . And there is such a sense of hopelessness wrapped up in those words. “The pit of despair.” The frustration of wanting to be a friend of God but not sure how to get there. Or perhaps it’s not even knowing what it is you want but knowing you want something.
I remember before I became a Christ follower, I was 18 years old and my very best friend in the world had chosen to follow Christ and him and his girlfriend had gone off to Bible College. One evening I drove to Sussex to visit with them and on my way home I stopped at my favourite auntie’s where my mother was visiting. And we got talking and I said “I don’t understand it, Reg and Sherry are broke, they can’t even afford to pay attention and they are happy, I have a great car and a great job and I’m miserable.” And my Aunt said “Maybe you need what they have.” And I said “I don’t know what it is but that’s not it.” But it was.
Let’s go back to the story, Psalm 40:2 . . . He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. If the pit is where David started out This is a picture of Where David Ended Up when he stopped trying on his own and finally called out to God, God was waiting and God lifted him out of the pit, but more than that he set David’s feet on solid ground. And in that statement there is the hope of stability, of new life the difference between day and night. No longer was David surrounded by the walls of despair and hopelessness now the sun was on his face, the ground was solid beneath his feet, the vacuum has been filled and David had been made complete. He was once again feeling what he had been created to feel. He was once again in a relationship with God.
This is what Jesus was telling us in Matthew 7:24-25 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock.”
I don’t know about you but when I’m not on firm footing I’m a little skittish, never really comfortable, always half expecting to slip and fall. But when the ground under my feet is firm and dry and stable I’m a lot more comfortable.
That is the joy of our salvation, the knowledge that we are grounded in what is secure, which is what John told us in 1 John 5:13 I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.
But the story didn’t just end with David being lifted out of the pit, Psalm 40:2 . . . He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. This is a picture of What David Did When He Got There Sometimes people are pulled out of the pit, but they are not encouraged or not willing to go any further. Some just stand there and never move, and never grow and never do anything. There are folks like that in every church, don’t look around. They have never grown or matured in their Christian walk, are no further along in their relationship with Christ then when they were pulled out of the pit.
And others either fall back into the pit or climb back into the pit. Because we have been created to do something it’s not natural to do nothing. And so for some people they are touched by Grace but it becomes frustrating because they are not doing anything in their new lives, they have been given no direction and no encouragement and so they begin peering back into the pit, remembering what it was like when they had some direction, even if it was the wrong direction.
Billy Sunday was a pro-baseball player in the states who became one of the greatest preachers of all time and he said “When a man starts to follow Christ and looks back it’s only a matter of time until he goes back” And if you think that is a little harsh consider the words of Jesus who said in
Luke 9:62 But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
So when you escape from the pit but don’t have a plan for moving forward you stay in dangerous territory. The Christian life is described as a walk, as a race, as a climb but never as a sit or a stand.
So David wrote that God steadied him as he walked along. And listen to the path that he walked along.
Psalm 40:3 He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be astounded. They will put their trust in the LORD. David began to worship God. The words song or sing are mentioned almost 400 times in the Old and New Testament? It seems like from the beginning of time when God’s people came together they celebrated and worshipped with music. And when heaven is described there are always songs and singing. And so when David was lifted from the pit he began to celebrate singing songs of praise and worship.
And you may be thinking “but I don’t sing”, that’s fine because you can still worship. While music has been a part of worship for three thousand years it’s not the only part. Worship is attributing worth to God; it is taking time to take your eyes off yourself and setting them on God. It is looking up from the pit and looking to the creator. And that is why we take time on Sunday to come together. Part of the worship experience is stepping away from the everyday to stop and focus on God and his things.
But the walk wasn’t limited to worship, David writes in Psalm 40:4 Oh, the joys of those who trust the LORD, who have no confidence in the proud, or in those who worship idols. It also involves trusting God. Oh the joy of those who trust the Lord. It is an act of surrender and act of giving it over to God. Giving what over to God control, giving it all over to God . And that is the next step that we see. We love getting out of the pit, we love being able to worship God. He is so good, his grace is so sweet, his forgiveness makes us feel clean and new and refreshed.
And last week we looked at the 23rd Psalm whose entire focus is on the wonderful joy and confidence that comes with trusting God. And you can only trust God by trusting him. Not yourself, not others, not the stock market or the government but by trusting God.
But there is more than that, listen to Psalm 40:8 “I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your law is written on my heart.” This is a commentary on an earlier verse: Psalm 40:6 You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings. Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand— you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings.
Now we know that at that point in the history of Israel that God did delight in sacrifices and offerings, there were entire books of the bible that outlined the sacrifices and offerings that God required.
But what happened was that human nature took over and the sacrifices and offerings took precedent over obedience to God’s will. People didn’t see the need to be obedient if they were offering sacrifices. And so sacrifices were simply seen as the price to sin. Do what you want but at the end of the day offer a sacrifice. In 1 Samuel King Saul deliberately disobeyed God and when he was confronted with his sin and his disobedience his response was, “Well I was going to make an offering when it was all over.” And listen to the response from God’s prophet Samuel: 1 Samuel 15:22 But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. Listening to him is much better than offering the fat of rams.
 And that isn’t an isolated thought, David wrote in Psalm 50:14 What I want instead is your true thanks to God; I want you to fulfill your vows to the Most High. And again when David was dealing with his own sin and disobedience he wrote Psalm 51:16-17 You would not be pleased with sacrifices, or I would bring them. If I brought you a burnt offering, you would not accept it. The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise.

 And the prophet Hosea wrote these incredible words to the people of Israel: Hosea 6:6 I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that’s more important than burnt offerings.

 And in 2011 we don’t do that with sacrifices but we do it with God’s grace. It is seen as the price to be paid for sinning. How often do people think: I know it’s wrong but I will just ask for forgiveness. After all isn’t that what Grace is all about?

 The same question was asked and answered 2000 years ago in Romans 6:1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more kindness and forgiveness? And then Paul answers it, even though it is actually a rhetorical question that doesn’t need an answer, Romans 6:2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?

 But David wasn’t just being obedient because he was afraid of being punished, it wasn’t a drudgery or a chore, listen again to is words Psalm 40:8 “I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your law is written on my heart.” David knew that God, his Father wanted what was for the very best for David. A relationship with God is not just a way to get out of hell, it’s not just joining “Team Jesus” to avoid judgement it is the fulfilment of all we were supposed to be.
When we treat others the way that Jesus wants us to treat them, when we treat ourselves the way that Jesus wants us to, when we treat God the way he deserves to be treated it brings a wholeness and completeness in our relationships. With others, with God and with ourselves. The book explains how we are supposed to behave, it tells us to love God and love others. And it tells us that he wants us to not only show respect to him and to others but also to show respect for ourselves as well, and often sinful behaviour is destructive behaviour, behaviour that God knows will harm us and he is telling us to be careful.

There We Went. . . Not!

What do you say when you’ve already said it all? It is interesting that Harold Camping and his followers have been conspicuously silent since the weekend came and went without all the true believers having come and gone. Not even an “oops” or “I’m sorry”. And so millions of dollars were spent and who knows how many lives were disrupted and possibly ruined, Christianity as a whole was mocked and not even an apology. But the biggest injustice that was done was that the entire doctrine of the return of Jesus was mocked and ridiculed. And not just by unbelievers, we were guilty as well.
The reality is this: Jesus will return, the Church will be taken to be with Him and judgement will come upon the earth. And it won’t be pretty. Sometimes I hear people say, “I can’t wait until the rapture!” To clarify 1) You are going to have to. 2) that is an entirely selfish wish. When, not if but when, Jesus returns it will close the book on the chapter called grace and will open a new chapter called judgment. And Judgement will come on those we neglected to reach.
The rapture didn’t happen last weekend but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen next weekend. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Protection of the Righteous

It is probably the best known psalm in the western world and possibly the best known scripture period. It is loved by Jews and Christians alike and probably the reason is that it is an incredibly positive Psalm, all up beat and uplifting.

 It has been quoted and misquoted, it’s on plaques and mugs and posters, T-shirts and tombstones. It’s featured in the sacred and the profane. Most of us can quote at least a portion of it from memory if only from hearing it read at funerals. It was read earlier but let’s read it again together. Normally we use the New Living Translation on Sunday Morning but some scriptures aren’t right unless they are from the KJV. This is one of them.

 Psalm 23 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

 It is a very positive Psalm, not a negative word in it at all, not a hint of complaint. It is a psalm of comfort and reassurance, and maybe that just because we are so familiar with it. But what does it mean to us today, May 22, 2011? If anything.

 For the person who originally wrote it, it meant something. For the people who originally read it, it meant something, but does it mean anything to us? Is it anymore then a familiar litany that we can recite by heart without really thinking about what it says? The Lord is my shepherd, now I lay me down to sleep, hickory dickory dock.

 So what can we learn from the 23rd Psalm today? Are they simply words of comfort and reassurance to be repeated like a mantra or are there actual lessons to be learned and if so then what are they.

 This is a Psalm of thanksgiving, David is writing it to give praise and honour to his God. And long before there was David the King or even David the giant slayer there was David the shepherd. From the time David was just a young boy he spent his days tending the sheep that belonged to his father Jesse. Maybe this Psalm had its beginnings in the pasturelands overlooking Bethlehem. We will never know for sure, but what we do know is that when David was searching for a metaphor for the provision of God to his people he reached back in his past and pulled out the imagery of the shepherd and the sheep.

 So how did David say that God provided for him and for us?

 Psalm 23:1-2 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. Tells us that God cares for our 1) Our Physical Needs. Let me start by saying God cares about you. He loved you so much that he willing came to earth as a human, lived here for thirty three years and willing offered his life up as a sacrifice for your sin.

 It’s easy sometimes to get a pout on and think that nobody loves us and life’s against us and we never get what we deserve and others are better off than we are. And if we were writing a Psalm it would go something like: Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I’m going to eat some worms. But listen to me, God loves you and God cares for you and God is concerned about you. And God wants to meet all your needs. The problem is that we have such a tough time separating needs from wants.

 Maybe that’s part of why David used sheep in this analogy because their needs and their wants are so close together. Sheep need and want good grazing and a quiet source of water to drink from. That’s it, don’t want a bigger pasture, don’t need more water then they can drink from, just water and grass. And that’s what the shepherd does for them, he leads them to the place where they can find all they need. He doesn’t take them to brown wilted pastures he leads them to green pastures. He doesn’t direct them to a rushing torrent to drink instead he leads them to the still waters.

 Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 10:29-32 What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”
Or Matthew 6:28-30 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

 Our problem isn’t that God doesn’t provide us with what we need, it’s that sometimes he doesn’t provide us with what we want. For too many people our prayer list is kind of like this: Janis Joplin song: “Mercedes Benz” (I used a MP3 clip here but you could read the lyrics)

 Mercedes Benz by Janis Joplin

 Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?

 Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV ?
Dialing For Dollars is trying to find me.
I wait for delivery each day until three,
So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV ?

 Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?
I’m counting on you, Lord, please don’t let me down.
Prove that you love me and buy the next round,
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?

 Everybody!
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends,
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?

 That’s it!

 
 Do I think we ought to live in poverty? No. Do I think that we shouldn’t have nice things? No. Do I think we shouldn’t drive nice cars? No. Do I think that God should provide all those things for us? No. Another one of the promises of provision that Jesus made is found in Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Jesus said that God feeds the birds but he doesn’t just drop the worms in their mouths and if they just hang around their nest and do nothing then they will eventually starve to death.

 It’s funny if you watch the progression of churches and denominations. They often begin reaching the down and outers. Those on the fringe of society and yet within a couple of generations they are made up of affluent folks. Why is that? Could it be that when those on the fringe get saved they begin to give up expensive vices and start providing a day’s work for a day’s wage? That God makes a change in their hearts which makes them better citizens and better employees who are more responsible with their resources? Could be. I truly believe that God wants to provide for our needs and he wants to make us the type of people who will be responsible for the rest of it. Are you trusting God to provide your needs?

 I love the story of the old Christian lady who was struggling to make ends meet and one day as she was praying two teens walked by her window and heard her. They decided to play a little joke on her. They got together a box of food from their homes and put in front of her door, rang the doorbell and hid around the corner. When she came out and saw the box she began praising God for providing for her. The two teens jumped out and said “You silly old woman it wasn’t God who gave you that it was us.” To which she replied “God provided even if he used the devil to deliver it.”

 Do you believe that God will provide for your physical needs today?

 Psalm 23:3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. It’s here we discover that God is concerned with 2) Our Spiritual Needs.

 Sometimes we think that we are in this spiritual walk thing all by ourselves, but that isn’t true. God is there for us, he’s given us his word and he guides us with his spirit. Throughout the bible he tells us that he will guide us, and protects us. But it’s always our choice.

 Have you had your soul restored lately? That’s what God offers. He doesn’t just put a new coat of paint over the old; he restores it to the way it’s supposed to be. The way it was before it was tarnished with sin and all the crud that comes with it. Jesus spoke of the New Birth, Paul talked about us becoming new creations. That’s the offer, that when we come to God and repent, that is say we are sorry for our sins and mean it, and ask for his forgiveness that we become new creations. We have our souls restored. Listen to what it says in Romans 5:10-11 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

 Jesus has made us friends of God. That’s a concept that is difficult to even imagine. That’s taking us back to the relationship before the fall, that is what we were created for, to have a relationship with God, our creator, the master of the universe.

 And he doesn’t just restore us and leave us. “Ok Guys you’re a brand new creation and you’re on your own.” The very next thing the Psalmist writes is he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. The NLT says it this way He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Listen to the promise that Jesus made to his disciples in John 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. And Jesus brother James tells us in James 1:5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. And he gave us the book.

 But here is the reality he may lead you in paths of righteousness or he may guide you along right paths but he will never drag you there. You can choose to do right or you can choose to do wrong, but It is now, always has been and always will be your choice. If you want wisdom, to know what God wants you to do you have to ask.

 Do you believe that Jesus will provide for you spiritually?
        
Psalm 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. The Shepherd also provides for 3) Our Emotional Needs. When Anne Landers was writing her advice column she was receiving over ten thousand pieces of mail a month, and most of that mail was from people with problems. Big problems and little problems as well as little problems that they thought were big problems. She was asked one time if there was any one problem that came up more often than any other. She said there was and it was . . .? Any ideas? Fear!

 People are afraid of losing their health, their wealth, and their loved ones, they are consumed with fear. I’m no expert but I would suspect the one thing that wears down our emotional health more than anything else is fear.

 Fear of what will happen and fear of what won’t happen. David is saying that because of his Shepherd his fear is under control. Knowing that he comes under the protection of someone greater then him. Now we are all afraid of something Dave Barry wrote “All of us are born with a set of instinctive fears–of falling, of the dark, of lobsters, of falling on lobsters in the dark, or speaking before a Rotary Club, and of the words “Some Assembly Required.”

 But it is when we allow those fears to control our lives and control our emotions that we become crippled by them. The Psalmist says even when we are in death’s shadow we need to understand that God is in control. If we are in God’s hand then we are safe. And that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be afraid of falling on lobsters in the dark, but we shouldn’t let that fear control us. One of my favourite stories in the gospels is when the apostles were crossing the Sea of Galilee and were caught in a storm. You remember it right? The storm blows up and Jesus comes walking on the water and he says “It’s all right, I am here! Don’t be afraid.” And that’s what he still tells his disciples today, “It’s all right, I am here! Don’t be afraid.” . And when we can come to grips with that concept then we are well and truly on the way to emotional stability.

 Do you believe that Jesus can provide for your emotional needs?

 
 Psalm 23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. And finally the Shepherd will provide for 4) Our Eternal Needs. Sometimes you hear people who say “Because I’m a Christian I’m going to live forever.” Got news for you, it don’t matter if you are a Christian or not you’re going to live forever. The only difference is going to be the address. The Bible, God’s word is very clear about that, each one of us has an eternal soul and when this life is over we will live forever. Either in the presence of God with all that is good and beautiful and right or out of the Presence of God in the Presences of all that is evil and ugly and wrong. When we are a child of God not only does he provide for us all the days of our lives, but he provides for us forever.

 That’s why we have the promise of Jesus in John 14:2-3 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.

 If we trust him with our here and now we certainly will be able to trust him with our there and then.

 Can you believe that Jesus will provide for your eternal needs?

 But here’s the bottom line, these promises and these provisions aren’t for everyone! Listen to how the Psalm starts. Psalm 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd; Here’s 5) The Condition. People, if you want to be provided for as one of the shepherd’s sheep he has to be your shepherd. David wasn’t comparing himself to a wild sheep that wandered the Palestinian hills, not beholden to anyone. You gotta watch out for those feral sheep. Nor was he saying that he was someone else’s sheep who just snuck into the pasture for a free ride.

 Now we aren’t an agricultural society, most of us have never met a shepherd and probably never will meet a shepherd. So let’s put it in terms which may be easier for us to understand. The Lord is my master, my boss, my owner. The Lord is my Lord. And it isn’t just a verbal thing, it’s not just a matter of calling him lord and saying that he is my Lord. It’s making him your lord by allowing him to be your lord by believing in him and obeying him. It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer the German theologian who died for his faith under the Nazi’s who said “Only he who believes is obedient and only he who is obedient believes.”

 And that’s why Jesus had this conversation in Matthew 7:22-24 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.

 Is he your Shepherd? Is he your Lord? Do you listen to his teaching and obey him? If not it can happen, but it has to be your choice. Jesus said John 10:14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me. . .

 If you haven’t made a decision to know Jesus, not just know about him but to know him then you can make it today. Is it time to make the 23rd Psalm more than simply a pretty poem? Is it time to make it your own?

The End is Near (Again)

If you are able to read this again on Sunday, either he was wrong or you were.  In case you haven’t heard the Rapture is supposed to happen this Saturday at 6:00 p.m., Eastern time I presume.  I have seen the billboards myself, once in Accra Ghana and then last week in Dartmouth so I figured it must be true.  Apparently, Harold Camping, 89, founder of Family Radio, a Christian radio network in California, has decided that the end is near, and maybe it is.
Camping obviously believes it and he has convinced others of the validity of his theories.  His group has paid big bucks to have billboards with the news placed throughout the US, Canada and around the world.
Regardless of whether you view Camping as a prophet or a kook, you have to admire his commitment to what he believes.  He has set himself up to be ridiculed and mocked and has spent an estimated 3 million dollars in the process; and why?  Obviously it isn’t to make money and win popularity.  I would suspect that right or wrong, it is because he believes that it is important that people get right with God before it’s too late.  And that wouldn’t be a bad thing for the rest of us to believe. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Despair of the Righteous

Psalm 22
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? And so begins the cry of the Psalmist’s heart in the 22nd Psalm. Some have called this the Psalm of the Cross and point to several parallels between this scripture and the story of the crucifixion of Christ.
The Psalm begins with the words: Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Which of course is linked to Matthew 27:46 At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Later we read, Psalm 22:16 My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and feet. Defintely sounds like crucifixion to me, listen to the words of Luke 23:33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.
And probably the reference known the most is found in Psalm 22:18 They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing. And you will remember from the Easter story what was done with the clothing that Jesus had been wearing when he was arrested. Mark 15:24 Then the soldiers nailed him to the cross. They divided his clothes and threw dice to decide who would get each piece.
And for many people this is evidence of the plan that God has for each one of us and the incredible sacrifice that was made at Calvary for each of us. And that’s pretty impressive considering this psalm was written a thousand years before the birth of Christ.
And some commentators find reference after reference that with a little stretching and a little prodding, and if you read it with your left eye close while leaning back you can find a description of much of the Easter story in Psalm 22.
But I’m kind of a simple guy, when I read the Psalm 22 I saw a man struggling with despair, overwhelmed with the circumstances that surrounded him and even questioning the presence of God in his life. And then it seems like a corner is turned, the Psalmist doesn’t seem to find solutions but he finds strength, strength in who his God is and the promises that his God had made. This is the same David who wrote Psalm 28:7 The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. And Psalm 9:2 I will be filled with joy because of you. I will sing praises to your name, O Most High.
And the same David who wrote in Psalm 119:141 I am insignificant and despised, . . .
And maybe you have ridden that roller coaster. And if you have you know what I mean, the feeling that you are under a cloud that will never lift, wondering why the God whom you love so much seems so distant and far away. Echoing David in Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Maybe you understand what Poet John Keats meant when he wrote “I am in that temper that if I were under water I would scarcely kick to come to the top.”
Last week in the introduction to the Psalms I mentioned that the Psalms are not doctrinal dissertations they are poetry and are more interested in how things feel rather then what they mean. There is no other book in the bible that more accurately charts the ups and downs of a person’s relationship with God then the book of Psalms. In some cases we are reading a person’s innermost thoughts and they don’t always provide answers. Instead we get “Life stunk and now it doesn’t.” But no “why” and no “how”.
If you read through the Psalms you ride a roller coaster of ups and downs with David, and we don’t know what all David struggled with. Maybe he had to deal with SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and these were written during his down months, when he hadn’t seen the sun in forever. February isn’t my favourite month at all, I’m down, cranky and irritable, I’m sure if you took the time to read Penn’s of Denn that were written in February you would find a theme in them.
Or maybe in David’s case it was Situational Depression that was David’s muse when he was writing these Psalms, maybe life really was that bad right then. If you read the story of David’s life you see there were times that he had every right to be depressed, times when his enemies really were out to get him, times that he had given into temptation and fallen into sin, times that his children rebelled and times that his marriage was rocky. And when we are going through times like that in our lives we ought to be depressed.
Or maybe it was a physiological thing for David more than psychological. Maybe he was struggling with chemical imbalances, enzyme deficiencies or hormonal issues. We will never know, but what I do know is that there are those here today who go through those very same struggles, and there is no shame in that, any more than there is shame in having heart problems, or cancer or diabetes. And the same as you would go to a specialist for help with physical problems there are mental health professionals who can help when you are dealing with the dragon, or the blue funks or whatever you want to call them and they stretch on for more than a couple of weeks.
Seriously, if you were having chest pains with pains radiating down your left arm the answer you would be looking for wouldn’t be “you have un-confessed sin in your life.” Come on! And yet too many churches and Christians have a whole barrel of stock answers when someone is suffering from depression or burn out. Let a Christian admit to emotional problems and hear the rhetoric that comes from their peers. “You need to go to the altar, pray it through, it’s just a trick of Satan, pull up your socks or you need to get into the word.” One thing that we need to realize is that Christians can get depressed, they can suffer from burnout, or bipolar or, or or.. But listen up it might be part of your story but it doesn’t have to be all of your story.
Now I mentioned that David didn’t offer a solution and so we are going to look elsewhere this morning. What practical advice could David have used when he was writing Psalm 22? And the answer comes from a bible story that happened a couple of hundred years later. It involved the Prophet Elijah and it is a classic case of clinical depression and in his story we find some answers.
The story is found in 1 Kings and happened during the time that Israel was ruled by the wicked king Ahab and his equally wicked queen, Jezebel. It was Jezebel who introduced Baal worship throughout the kingdom and immorality ran rampant. It was during those dark days that Elijah stood out as a beacon of righteousness in a sea of degradation. His speech was characterized by boldness and his ministry was marked with miraculous deeds. It was Elijah who challenged the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and then prayed down fire and then rain.
And you are thinking, “And this guy suffered from depression? Not likely.” And yet we are reminded by the brother of Jesus in James 5:17 Elijah was as human as we are. And so we have to conclude that the type of experiences that we have that he would share and that we would share his experiences as well.
Elijah is a prime example of Herbert Freudenberger’s contention that “Burnout is the let-down that comes between crisis or directly after ‘Mission Accomplished’.”
Elijah was a successful, high achiever type “A” personality. He had spent a pile of emotional, spiritual and physical energy in the show down at Mount Carmel and as a result he saw the people of Israel turn away from their idol worship and turn back to God. He then prayed for an end to a three year drought and it rained. When that prayer was answer he ran 30 kms from Carmel to Jezreel and at that point he was certain that Queen Jezebel would fall on her knees and repent. Instead she threatened to have him killed. He was expecting more success instead he was rejected and threatened and his joy turned to fear. 1 Kings 19:3 Elijah was afraid and fled for his life.
Existing on a physical and emotional high, he was caught off guard. Emotionally and spiritually he was depending on his own strength and when that failed he ran instead of prayed. The entire story climaxes in 1 Kings where we read this 1 Kings 19:4 Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”
In Elijah’s case we see several feelings that are associated with burn out and depression.
1 Kings 19:10 Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

1) Feelings of Self-Centredness. Elijah came to the place where he felt that everything depended on him. He thought he was indispensable and felt that if he didn’t do it then it wouldn’t get done. “Oh Lord, it’s just you and me and nobody else understands the situation. But that’s ok Lord because I have broad shoulders, just pile a little more on.” This line of reasoning is common among pastors who refuse to delegate because they don’t think anyone else can do as good of a job. I knew a pastor who had gone thirteen years and never missed a Sunday in his pulpit. Why? Because he didn’t think that was anyone else who could do as good of a job.
The problem is that it doesn’t take long to go from “I don’t need anyone but God” to “God can’t do it without me” to “I can do it all by myself.” And we expect that from toddlers but not from grown-ups. Read Psalm 22 again and see how many times David uses the words “I, me, or mine.”
Listen to the words of Paul in Romans 12:3 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.
Getting back to the story 1 Kings 19:10 Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets.
2) Feelings of Resentment. To put that in perspective in the verse before God had asked Elijah where he was and Elijah goes off on this tirade that has nothing to do with the question that had been asked. That’s so typical, when we can’t or don’t want to answer a particular question we act like it was never asked.
I remember there was a difficult question asked on a systematic theology exam I was writing in college and a friend of mine wrote. “I don’t know the answer to this question but I do know who the twelve apostles were.” And he listed them, nice try but no marks because while he may have answered a question correctly it wasn’t the question that had been asked.
The question that God asks had nothing to do with the children of Israel. And yet that is where Elijah started. I would hazard a guess that there were a lot of unresolved hostilities in Elijah’s life.
In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus explains in the Sermon on the Mount the dangers resentments and lack of forgiveness pose to our spiritual lives. I don’t know how many times I have sat across from someone for counselling and it all comes bubbling out, the hate and bitterness over some hurt or slight, either real or imaginary that is literally eating them up from the inside. And what they don’t realize is that they are still allowing those people to hurt them.
1 Kings 19:10 Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”
3) Feelings of Paranoia It’s not a great distance from “No one appreciates me” to “Everyone is out to get me.”
It was Henry Kissinger who said “Even a paranoid can have enemies.” And there was no doubt that there were those who were opposed to Elijah, but he took one threat against him and turned it into the entire nation being out to get him.
In Elijah’s mind Jezebel’s lone threat had become a national conspiracy against him, seeking his assassination. Read Psalm 22 again and see how many times David refers to those who mock him and his enemies.

4) Feelings of Self Pity Did you catch the whining here? If there is one particular emotion which supersedes all others in burnout and depression it is self-pity, “Oh poor me, I have it so bad.” Most people know the story of Helen Keller, who lost her sight and hearing as a small child, lots to feel sorry about listen to her words: “Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.”
Elijah was so caught up in Elijah that he couldn’t see anything else and the same with David. Let go back to Psalm 22 where David writes Psalm 22:6 But I am a worm and not a man. I am scorned and despised by all!
And if people don’t agree with you about how bad things are then you start to detach yourself from others because at least you understand how bad things are for you.
1 Kings 19:4 . . . He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”
5) Feelings of Resentment Against God Sometimes it’s resentment against our spouse or parents, or friends. In Elijah’s case it was resent against God. When Elijah asked God to take away his life he was in effect saying “I am not satisfied with what you are doing in my life and it’s your fault.” And so from the depths of despair we begin blaming God for where we are. Now instead of it being my problem or the result of the way “They acted” now it is God’s fault. Remember how David opened Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Elijah and David both demonstrate their dissatisfaction and lack of trust concerning God’s control in their lives. But we know that God hadn’t abandoned David or Elijah.
David didn’t stay in the first part of Psalm 22, by the end of the Psalm he is praising God and talking about how blessed he is, but again the Psalms are about feeling not about fact and so we don’t see the transition, how he moved from point “a” to point “b”. Instead it was “Life stunk and now it doesn’t.”
Let’s see what we can find in Elijah’s story. Elijah has come to the lowest point in his life and he wants out. He is showing classic symptoms for burnout and depression, so how does God deal with that?
1 Kings 19:5-6 Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree. But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, “Get up and eat!” He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down again.
1) He Met Elijah’s Physical Needs. Even though depression is a psychological condition some of its behaviour results in physiological problems.
Loss of appetite can become a vicious circle with the lack of proper nutrition resulting in a lack of energy and general apathy which causes a loss of appetite which results in a lack of proper nutrition which. . . Well you get the picture.
Difficulties in sleeping result in listlessness and once again the resulting apathy contributes to the ever deepening despondency and the downward spiral into depression.
God didn’t tell Elijah to go to the altar and get right with him, he didn’t tell him he needed to pray more or read the scripture. Instead God provided the two things that Elijah needed the most. Good food, proper nutrition. Did you catch that not just food but good food, proper food. You ever notice what you tend to eat when you get into deep blue funk? That’s right, chocolate ice-cream, with peanut butter, chocolate chips and chocolate sauce. Or so I’ve heard.
And then he provided Elijah with a deep restful sleep. You ever notice how much better life looks after a good night’s sleep?
1 Kings 19:11-12 “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the LORD told him. And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.
2) He Met Elijah’s Spiritual Needs. Elijah needed to know that God was still on his throne and that things were as they should be. In demonstrating his power God was showing Elijah that he was still in control of the situation. In doing this he was taking the responsibility off of Elijah’s shoulders and assumed it himself.
In demonstrating his control over events he allowed Elijah to release some of the burden. God set the tone for the conversation. Elijah needed to be back in touch with God and God set the stage for that.
3) He Met Elijah’s Emotional Needs. God Promoted Elijah to Get Rid of His Intense Feelings. During the communication God allowed Elijah an opportunity to air his grievances.
There are a lot of people out there who are literally walking time bombs. They have crammed resentment, hurt, bitterness and disappointments into their souls. And because they are afraid it’s sinful to express those emotions they’ve kept them under pressure and some day it will explode and hurt a lot of people.
To get rid of those negative feelings you can’t continue to suppress them and bury them and hide them. Instead they need to be expressed, not in a hurtful way but in a constructive healing manner.
It is only when we expose those problems, that we can begin to see those problems realistically. That’s part of what David was doing in Psalm 22. And it’s only when we begin to see those problems in the light of day that we can begin to deal with them and get rid of them.
And it’s not always a one off process, in the account of Elijah God had to prompt Elijah three times to open up. It may be with a professional, or it might be with a friend who is just willing to listen.
4) He Met Elijah’s Practical Needs Only after the physical issues had been dealt with and after Elijah had purged himself of his resentments did God give him new things to do. A person who is climbing out of the pit shouldn’t be immediately put back into the same circumstances that had put him there in the first place. But they do need something to do to take their minds off the almighty “ME” they also need those tasks to help rebuild their self-respect and self-esteem. We were created to be productive, to create and to do, we weren’t created to lay around and do nothing and so one of the needs that has to be filled in our lives is the knowledge that we are doing something.
5) He Met Elijah’s Companionship Needs. As the final step toward Elijah’s recovery God provided him with something everybody on the face of this earth needs and that is a true friend. From that point on Elisha became Elijah’s friend, fellow worker and confident.
Do you remember what God said after he created Man? Genesis 2:18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. . .”
In 1988 when we had finished our building project in Truro I went into a slump, yeah that is a good word a slump. For several months I literally hid in my office, I didn’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone. A major part of my putting my ministry back together can be attributed to a student we hired that summer.
And for a year and a half I poured my life into John. For the first four months we spent all our time together, he lived at our house and I invested myself into his training and in return he became a friend and confident.
Elijah felt like he was alone, now that wasn’t reflected by the fact that the Bible tells us there were seven thousand other Israelites who refused to worship Baal. On the other hand Elijah had been very much alone, but only because like so many sufferers of burnout and depression he had brought about his own loneliness by abandoning other people.
Everybody needs a friend.
Now this wasn’t a do it yourself psychoanalysis course. Burnout and depression are serious business. But God doesn’t want us to live in that particular emotional desert. God has a great plan for your life, don’t let depression and burnout rob you of that plan.
Now listen to Psalm 22:22 I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people.

Not a Prophet but. . .

I don’t really consider myself a prophet, but (there’s that pesky “but” again) five years ago I predicted that once the same sex marriage legislation was passed the courts would have to deal with polygamy, and here we are. 
For the past little while, the BC Supreme Court has been dealing with a case to determine if the ban on multiple spouses is constitutional.  Who would have thought?  I mean besides me?  It’s not that polygamy is something new, it has been practised by a break-away group of the Latter Day Saints for fifty years in Bountiful BC. Now we are hearing that it is a growing practice among Muslims in Toronto, and probably Halifax.  But I’m pretty sure it’s just that those who practiced it never really thought it was their constitutional right, but here we are. And if the court doesn’t find in their favour this time, eventually it will. 
According to a recent poll, when asked whether polygamy should be legal, just 15% of Canadians polled by Abacus Data said yes, 68% said no and 16% were unsure.  I’m not sure but I would suspect those were probably in the same range for same sex marriage a decade ago, and yet here we are.  Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.


 

The Joy of the Righteous

Psalm 1
I love this Psalm, absolutely love it and when we asked for suggestions on what Psalms people wanted included in this series this was my pick.
Now before we look at the first Psalm just a little intro material.
So here we are in the Psalms, which are quite accurately considered to be the song book of the Bible. It’s here that we find the longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119 with 176 verses and the shortest chapter, which is Psalm 117 with only 2 verses. Psalm 117 is also the middle chapter in the Bible.
The Psalms make up the 19th book in the Bible. There are many different authors including Solomon, Moses and Asaph but King David wrote 73 of them including the one we are looking at this morning. When were they written? Actually they were written over a thousand year span between 1400 – 400 BC but they were arranged in their present form around 400 BC. The reason for the Psalms is as varied as the Psalms are, some were written to be sung in a solitary or personal setting others were written to be sung by a group of people as worship. It is speculated that some of the Psalms were written to be sung by soldiers while marching to battle. The Psalms are not doctrinal dissertations they are poetry and are more interested in how things feel rather then what they mean. There is no other book in the bible that more accurately charts the ups and downs of a person’s relationship with God then the book of Psalms.
So let’s start with a question: Are you blessed? Seriously that’s the question are you blessed? Now don’t minimize the word by thinking it simply applies to material things, more money, bigger homes, nicer cars more stuff. Are you blessed in your life? Psalm 1 begins with these words Psalm 1:1-2 Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. Or perhaps you are more familiar with the words of some of the older translations that Psalm 1:1-2 Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
And whether the original Hebrew is translated as Joy or blessed in the English the intent and meaning of the original was not just “smiley happy” not just “I am happy on the inside happy.” Or “Happy Face” happy. Instead it was an all-encompassing joy, a contentment.
Because so many folks are familiar with the Psalms in older translations of the bible we are going to find a happy medium during our look into the Psalms by using the more familiar words of the New King James Version.
So, what is this blessedness or joy that David is speaking of, what is this type of happy? How do we define it? And how will we know whether or not we have it if we don’t even know what “it” is?
So what is “Happy”? Good question. For some it is possessions, a feeling, unencumbered leisure, absence of all restraint, uninterrupted ecstasy, a sense of purpose and freedom from threats. Hmmmm, maybe the problem is that we don’t actually know what happiness is. Maybe we have allowed the world to define what happiness is and when we reach for it, poof it disappears.
Sometimes I think that we can get so caught up in trying to get the stuff that is supposed to bring us joy and make us happy that we miss the very things we are looking for. It was Glen Buck who wrote “If your capacity to acquire has outstripped your capacity to enjoy, you are on the way to the scrap-heap.”
Do you remember what William Lyons Phelps said about happiness? No? Phelps stated “If happiness truly consisted in physical ease and freedom from care then the happiest individual would not be either a man or a woman; it would be I think, an American cow.”

When the Jews translated the psalms into Greek the word they used here was the same word that Jesus used in the beatitudes and that was word Makarious and it literally meant to be “Supremely blessed, well off, fortunate or happy.” Sounds like what we are looking for. E. Stanley Jones defined joy as “Swallowing sunshine.”
Jesus was passionate about it and Paul lists it second in his list of the Fruit of the Spirit, only after love. And in the Psalms David talks about Joy over 70 times, telling us to be filled with joy, to shout for joy and sing for joy. Sounds like it might be important.
And so David begins by telling us where we won’t find Joy.
Psalm 1:1-2 Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; . . .
So our first thought today is Joy: Where it Ain’t. David begins by telling us where we won’t find joy. A few years back there was a song called “Looking for love in all the wrong places.” And David begins by warning us not to be looking for joy in all the wrong places. He’s reminding us that happiness won’t be found in a life style that leaves God out. There is this craving, this yearning in the soul for more. We know we aren’t it and that there has to be a greater force than us, inside each one of us is that God shaped hole that needs to be filled.
And so David begins by telling us that Joy won’t be found by walking in the counsel of the ungodly. Or as the NLT says it by “Following the advice of the wicked.”
That first picture is one of someone strolling along and listening to someone espousing ideas that are contrary to the teaching of God. Remember in the Gospels how often we read that Jesus taught as his apostles followed him. It is hard to get our head around a culture and a time without planes trains and automobiles but for most of human history that was the case.
And so much was taught while people were walking, to travel from here to Hillside Wesleyan in Cole Harbour would be a day’s journey and so as people made their way from one location to another it often involved intentional and unintentional teaching.
A while ago we showed the first part of this song, which reminds us to be careful of what we are seeing, but there is more to it. (Be careful little eyes what you see.) There’s some deep theology in that song, maybe we should start each day singing it in the mirror.
This isn’t sitting in the classroom of an atheist this is simply the stuff we take in everyday without even paying attention, it is a careless learning, a learning that happens when we don’t realize that we are learning. You know what I mean. It’s what you are learning is acceptable behaviour by watching television, whether it is comedy, drama or the news. We are being constantly undulated with what the world defines as happiness. We are walking with the ungodly, we are following the advice of the wicked, and worse than that we are bringing up an entire generation who is hearing the message that they can find joy or happiness far from God.
And so we learn that if we are unhappy because we are lonely than we will find happiness in sex, and if we wind up pregnant and we aren’t happy than we end the pregnancy, and if we are married and aren’t happy we end the marriage and if that doesn’t work then there are always happy pills and happy hour to help in our quest.
We have allowed the ungodly to dictate and define what should make us happy. But it’s not just what we learn on the journey, the unintentional careless learning. David continues by writing: Psalm 1:1-2 Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.
See the progression, they are walking, but now they stop, now things are getting more intentional. Now they are paying attention, the NLT translates it “Stands around with sinners.” This is the company you keep and the example you follow.
And most of us know what a sinner is, right? Sure a sinner is someone who does what we don’t do. And maybe a little more extreme might be to say a sinner is someone who does what we don’t do but wish we could do.
And it’s easy to reduce sinning to a list of things we aren’t supposed to do, but it’s a lot more about our attitude then our behaviour. Because once we get a right understanding about what God wants in our lives then it’s our behaviour has to follow. But you can do all the right things and not do any of the wrong things and still be a sinner because of your attitude toward God. In its purest biblical sense “Sin” simply means that we miss the mark. And the mark is being more and more like God.
So, does that mean that we don’t have anything to do with sinners? No, one of the main accusations made about Jesus was that he was a friend of sinners. But he was changing them and they weren’t changing him.
So, we’ve been walking with the Godless, now we are standing with the sinners, while if you are like me if you’ve walked for a while and then have stood around for a while you want to sit down. And that’s the next warning, Psalm 1:1-2 Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;. . . In the NLT it says “Mockers” but however you word it these are those who are scornful and cynical about the things of God and about God himself. These are the people who laugh at moral standards and attack divine principles. But as is so often true with people like this they very seldom offer any other solutions.
And you have to be careful because it really is a natural progression. It is the entire: “More is Caught than taught” thing. If you spend your time with the ungodly and with sinners then eventually it is going to rub off. Remember it was Cyrus Ching who said “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty and besides, the pig likes it.”
But ultimately for someone who has tasted God’s grace embracing the ways of the world isn’t the path to happiness. Peter Marshall hit the nail on the head when he wrote: “We are too Christian really to enjoy sinning, and too fond of sinning really to enjoy Christianity. Most of us know perfectly well what we ought to do; our trouble is that we do not want to do it.”
So there has to be another answer, if joy isn’t found in the ideas and philosophies of those who reject God where can it be found? Joy: Where it Is The greatest part of those two verses is one three letter word, and that is the word “But” We’ve mentioned before that one of the realities of life is that: After the but comes the truth. When you think about it “But” can be a truly incredible word, that one word can change everything, it’s been raining for 18 days but tomorrow the sun is supposed to shine. Our house burnt down, but we have enough lumber in the attic to build a new one, ok maybe that didn’t work.
David has looked at the negative side of the story, but (there’s that word again) there is a positive side as well. He has told us where we won’t find that Joy and now he tells us where we will find it.
Psalm 1:1-2 Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.
Imagine playing a game where you didn’t know the rules, or they kept changing. Think of how frustrating that would be. You would never know if you were ahead or behind, whether you were out of bounds or right where you were supposed to be.
Have you ever watched kids play a game where they made up the rules as they went along, new rules to suit whether they were winning or losing. God’s word gives us guidelines for life. The biggest mistake we can make is to look at the word of God as something that is going to make to make life miserable.
Any time we learn new skills and abilities we learn the rules that go with those skills and abilities. And we don’t question why we need to follow the rules of the road when it comes to driving, or piloting a boat or piloting an airplane. We know that if nobody followed the rules that we wouldn’t be able to safely drive, sail or fly. Without the assumption that people would stop at red lights and stop signs, that people would stay on their side of the road and yield for pedestrians the roads would be crazier than they already are.
We expect there to be rules in society and rules in marriage and rules in business. And we want to know what those rules are. We don’t want to find out when someone says “Hey you can’t do that.” And then punishes us for not following a rule we didn’t even know existed.
And the same goes for life, and so God didn’t just turn us loose without rules and guidelines, instead he put those in place and there is a joy in understanding that. In knowing that at the end of the game called life we aren’t going to be called up for things that weren’t mentioned.
Some of those rules help us to play together nice, thou shalt not kill, is one of those. In theory that keeps us from breaking into people’s houses in the middle of the night, shooting them dead and throwing their bodies in the ocean. Any similarities between my examples and real life are only coincidental. They tell us that we aren’t supposed to cheat on our spouses or in our business. That our word is supposed to be good that we shouldn’t take what isn’t ours. And not only did God put those rules in place he gave us a copy of the rule book so we would know what was expected of us.
The joy comes from knowing what is expected of us and knowing why. That in its simplest sense God our father is telling us to not play in traffic, not to run with scissors and not to take candy from strangers.
And maybe you’re thinking “That doesn’t give me any joy because I’ve already broken most of those rules.” But here’s the great thing, the joyful thing, the blessed thing. If we read his book and meditate on what it says we discover that not only does it tell about God’s rules it tells about God’s love and God’s grace. Romans 4:7-8 “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight. Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of sin.”
When we read his word we discover there is a God out there who loves us and wants the very best for us. And so he gave us directions and guidelines so our lives can be everything they should be, and loves us so much that even when we are wilful children who want to do it our way that he is there to help us pick up the pieces of our lives when they are broken through our negligence or disobedience.
And you will never discover that if you are forever hanging out with those who deny an scoff at God. But if you read his story, it’s there for you to discover.
This morning we handed out reading cards and we invite you to spend the next 6 weeks reading the Psalms with us. And some of them are full of Joy and some are full of despair, some you will say “I could have written that.” And others you will say “I just don’t get it.” But at the end of six weeks you will know more of God’s word then you did before you started and perhaps a deeper insight into God himself.
 

Justice?

So, Bin Laden is dead. For many people that is like being told the bogeyman is gone. The question now is; what will they fear at night? For ten years Bin Laden has been the face of those who hate America, but simply getting rid of the face won’t change the opinion of others, it will only reinforce those opinions.

It was reported that President Obama said, “Justice has been done.” Interesting…. I am pretty sure that the justice system in the US doesn’t approve of breaking into your enemies’ home, shooting them dead and then dumping their body in the ocean. Sounds more like the mob. That’s not justice, that’s revenge, so just call it what it is. However I would counsel you personally that before you head down that path you should remember the words of Nietzsche who said, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

And if Nietzsche don’t float your boat then remember the Bible tells us, “Never pay back evil with more evil, . . . Never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of the Lord.” Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

A Lesson from Hezekiah

Well that was edifying. We used that video a couple of years ago but thought we could drag it out again. This is week four of our Treasures of the Heart series. If you haven’t been with us during that time or if you are new to Cornerstone I will bring you up to speed.
I decided that instead of preaching about money when we were behind or there was a financial crunch or crisis in the church, which comes across as scolding or begging, that I would spend three or four weeks each year taking a biblical look at giving and stewardship, and this is the last Sunday of that series. Which for some of you is good news because that means that starting next Sunday you have 11 months of money free preaching. And really: Who could ask for anything more.
I do want to thank you for last Sunday’s offering, awesome job, close to 17,000.00 came in putting as in the black as we move into the new church year.
Did you catch the last line of that scripture that was read earlier? Let’s look at it again. 2 Kings 18:1-5 Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before or after his time.
Most of you probably had never heard the name Hezekiah before this morning and now you discover that he was the greatest king to ever serve the Southern ? Kingdom.
Little history lesson here. This might just look like a line but it is in reality a “Time Line.” We will end it here at the birth of Christ and we will begin it here, where Joshua leads the people of God into the Promised Land and for the first four hundred years that they lived there they were ruled over by men and women called Judges. Around this point (1065) the people decided they wanted to be like all the other countries and have a king and so Samuel, the prophet of God appointed Saul to be King, started off well and then turned into a train wreck. Then David, you remember David, he was the shepherd boy who killed the giant goliath and the author of most of the Psalms. David became King (1043) and under David Israel flourished. When David died his son Solomon (984) assumed the throne, remember Solomon’s temple, yep same Solomon. Solomon wrote most of the proverbs and was reputed to be the wisest man who ever lived.
But it was after the death of Solomon that things took a turn for the worse. After a whole lot of infighting the Kingdom divides into the (950) Northern Kingdom, often called Israel and the Southern Kingdom referred to as Judah. This is what it looks like on a map. North, South. And each kingdom had its own King. Some were good but most were bad. Goes back to the old adage that first coined by Lord Acton, the British historian, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
And so for the most part the Kings of both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms led their people far from God, either adopting the idolatrous practices of their neighbours or just fell into complete immorality. This is what History records about Hezekiah’s father Ahaz, 2 Kings 16:2-3 Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. He did not do what was pleasing in the sight of the LORD his God, as his ancestor David had done. Instead, he followed the example of the kings of Israel, even sacrificing his own son in the fire. In this way, he followed the detestable practices of the pagan nations the LORD had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites.
And so when Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah became King, at this point on the time line seven hundred years after the people of Israel entered into the promised land and seven Hundred years before Jesus was born, Hezekiah was committed to turning the nation back to God.
And that was the introduction to the message.
Hezekiah knew that if he was going to move the people back to worshipping God that it would begin with the Temple, our worship is very seldom a solitary exercise, it seems that God historically calls his people to come and worship him together. There is something about worshipping God as a collective. There is a synergy, energy and an accountability that comes with being with like-minded people. That is why we worship together as a church. Can people worship by themselves? Yep, but it’s hard and God knew that and so that is why the plan has been to join together.
And in 2 Chronicles chapter 31 we see the initial process of re-instituting the temple worship in Jerusalem. 2 Chronicles 31:2-4 Hezekiah then organized the priests and Levites into divisions to offer the burnt offerings and peace offerings, and to worship and give thanks and praise to the LORD at the gates of the Temple. The king also made a personal contribution of animals for the daily morning and evening burnt offerings, the weekly Sabbath festivals, the monthly new moon festivals, and the annual festivals as prescribed in the Law of the LORD. In addition, he required the people in Jerusalem to bring a portion of their goods to the priests and Levites, so they could devote themselves fully to the Law of the LORD.
The very first part of his plan involved equipping and empowering the priests and Levites. These were the men who did what had to be done on a daily basis to keep the temple running and making sure that everything was in place for the people to offer sacrifices and worship. And Hezekiah knew that this wasn’t only a spiritual exercise it was also a practical exercise. That if the all of these things were going to be put into place that it would involve giving. In verse three it tells us that “The king also made a personal contribution. . .” So the giving started at the very top but that isn’t where it ended, so let’s move into Verse 4
2 Chronicles 31:4 In addition, he required the people in Jerusalem to bring a portion of their goods to the priests and Levites, so they could devote themselves fully to the Law of the LORD.
Their Giving was Required The King was under no illusion that resuming worship in the temple would be free or even cheap. And He knew that if he simply assumed that people would give, they probably wouldn’t or wouldn’t give enough.
Because my sermon preperation involves spending a fair amount of time with the people of the past I am continuing amazed at how little people have changed through the years. Peoples passions, motives and thought process were very much the same three thousand years ago as they are today.
And so I would suspect that Hezekiah was probably well aware of the potential for people to either underestimate what it costs for the temple or overestimate how much others would give to support the temple and things haven’t changed. Through the years I continue to be amazed that people either underestimate what it costs for the church or overestimate how much others will give to support the church.
In the first case I don’t think it is a matter of neglect as much as a matter of ignorance. People either don’t think about it at all or they don’t do the math.
I didn’t. Until I started pastoring it never crossed my mind. The church was there when I arrived to worship, it was warm, the lights were on, the building was clean, the pastor was there and he preached, the water was turned on and never once did it cross my mind: “I wonder how they pay for this?” and if that thought had of crossed my mind I’m not sure that I would have been bright enough to have connected the dots and figured out how much it cost.
And Hezekiah knew that if the people of God were going to resume worship in the temple than there were expenses that would be involved.
Now in saying that he required the people of Jerusalem to bring a portion of their goods I’m not sure if there were consequences for not doing it. Don’t know that they would have been turned away at the door to the temple if they hadn’t given, don’t know if someone would have come to their door demanding that they give. But the King let them know that if they didn’t give then there would be no temple and no priests and no sacrifices and no corporate worship.
Do we require that people at Cornerstone give? Yep, sure do. Does that mean that if you don’t give you can’t worship here? Nope. Does that mean that if we are going to send someone around to your door looking for your offering envelope? Nope.
But if you don’t give there will be no Cornerstone. You understand that right? If the people of Cornerstone don’t make the sacrifices necessary to pay the bills than the staff would be laid off, the building would be sold and there would be no Cornerstone. Because there is no magical pot that we go to for our funds.
And I think that every person who worships at Cornerstone should adopt the philosophy “If it’s gonna be it’s up to me.” Because it’s not the other person’s responsibility it is our responsibility. You wouldn’t go to Montana’s and expect to eat for nothing or that the people at the table next to you should pay for yours. While you might but you’d end up washing dishes.
Remember the video that we started with? I was surprised at some of the negative responses to that video that had been posted on line. They really demonized the church and the Pastor. But they weren’t people who attended 12stone, because those folks knew that if they wanted the building and the staff that someone would have to pay for it. And long before there were buildings and staff people were giving as a part of their worship to God. You’ll remember a couple of weeks ago I spoke about Cain and Able the sons of Adam and Eve. Genesis 4:3-4 When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the LORD. Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock.
We need to get beyond thinking that giving to God is about God’s need to receive, listen to what the word of God says in Psalm 50:8-11 I have no complaint about your sacrifices or the burnt offerings you constantly offer. But I do not need the bulls from your barns or the goats from your pens. For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine.
It’s not about God’s need to receive it is about our need to give, because anything that doesn’t cost you something is worth exactly what you pay for it.
Listen again to verse 4 2 Chronicles 31:4 In addition, he required the people in Jerusalem to bring a portion of their goods to the priests and Levites, so they could devote themselves fully to the Law of the LORD.
Hezekiah didn’t require the people to give so he could have a nicer palace, or so the kingdom could have nicer roads or so the people could have a better retirement. The reason was very clear it was so they could devout themselves fully to the Law of the Lord. Who was the “They”? “They” were the Priests and Levites and the people gave so that “They” could commit themselves full time to the ministry. It was part of the practical aspect of the temple. If the temple was going to operate then it needed someone to operate it and if that was the case than that someone had to be provided for. And with that would have been the tools that the priests needed to do what they had to do.
So how much were the people required to give? Listen to verse 4 again 2 Chronicles 31:4 In addition, he required the people in Jerusalem to bring a portion of their goods to the priests and Levites, so they could devote themselves fully to the Law of the LORD.
Their Giving was Equal The king commanded them to bring a portion of their goods, and then the portion is defined. You see we only hear “portion” but to the people or Jerusalem they heard “10%”. When the law was laid down over 700 years prior it stated Leviticus 27:30 “One tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain from the fields or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD and must be set apart to him as holy.” And it was reiterated in Deuteronomy 14:22 “You must set aside a tithe of your crops—one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year.”
And you might be thinking, “Well Denn you are just assuming that they knew it was 10%.” Maybe, but listen to the next verse
2 Chronicles 31:5 The people of Israel responded immediately and generously by bringing the first of their crops and grain, new wine, olive oil, honey, and all the produce of their fields. They brought a large quantity—a tithe of all they produced.
And just in case we missed it the story continues 2 Chronicles 31:6 The people who had moved to Judah from Israel, and the people of Judah themselves, brought in the tithes of their cattle, sheep, and goats and a tithe of the things that had been dedicated to the LORD their God, and they piled them up in great heaps.
When I was checking to see if 12Stone had done a different stewardship video I found some folks who were fairly critical of the Tithing rap that we showed earlier. One of the things they mentioned was that the tithe was an Old Testament concept, and that is a sermon in itself, but when Paul was writing about money to the church in Corinth this is what he wrote.
1 Corinthians 16:2 On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once. The believers in Corinth had a Jewish heritage so I wonder what they assumed when Paul said that should put aside a portion of the money they had earned.
The second criticism that was levelled against 12stone for producing the video, I was really surprised at how serious people took that silly video, was that the tithe wasn’t money in the Old Testament it was produce and animals. Sure, that was their currency in many cases. When I was travelling in Ghana at each village the church folk would bring the tithes they had collected to Joe Ocran, the national superintendent when we visited. And it wasn’t money it was yams and chickens. Made for an interesting trip. And when we got back Joe found a buyer for the chickens and yams and sold them and was able to send the cash back to the pastor for his salary and the expenses of the church.
In a worldly sense it was like a “Flat tax”, so the poor person and the rich person each made the same sacrifice, they returned 10% and kept 90%.
Works the same way today, but there are two temptations that we need to be careful of. The temptation on the part of the poor person is to see how much the rich person gets to keep and the temptation of the rich person is to see how little the poor person has to give.
But the original plan was that you gave 10% and kept 90%.
Cute story, really has nothing to do with the message but it’s still worth telling. Two men have ended up marooned on an island in the South Pacific. You can fill in the blanks as to how they got there.
So they are on the clichéic deserted island, one palm tree, nothing to see but the ocean. One guy is in a complete panic, pacing back and forth, ranting about how they are going to die, hungry and alone, that nobody will stumble on them until they are nothing but bones. The other guy is sitting under the tree snoozing. Finally the first man can’t stand it anymore and he demands “What’s wrong with you, don’t you understand the situation?” To which the reply came “Sure I do, we are stranded on this island hundreds of miles from anywhere” “Well aren’t you worried?” “Nope” came the reply “I make $10,000.00 a week.”
The first guy was at a complete loss, “What does that have to do with anything, you have no access to the money and no place to spend it if you did.” To which the second guy replied “No you don’t understand, I make $10,000.00 a week and I tithe, my pastor will find me.”
Back to the message. Hezekiah shows up to see how things are going at the temple and he is absolutely floored by the amount of offerings that had been brought to the temple. The word says they were piled in great heaps and the King asked the priests “Where did all this come from?” And the reply came in Chronicles 31:10 And Azariah the high priest, from the family of Zadok, replied, “Since the people began bringing their gifts to the LORD’s Temple, we have had enough to eat and plenty to spare. The LORD has blessed his people, and all this is left over.”
The Giving Was Blessed. The last line in verse 10 says “The LORD has blessed his people, and all this is left over.” The people were living well on their 90%, they had what they needed and because of their faithfulness God’s work was provided for.
God didn’t ask them to take food away from their children, he didn’t ask that they sell their homes or not pay their bills. That’s what the 90% was for.
The prophet Malachi wrote these words 300 years after the story of Hezekiah, Malachi 3:10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!”
You understand how blessed you are, right? And if all the people of Cornerstone decided to give out of their blessing there would never be a financial issue in this church. But it really isn’t about the church’s need to receive and it really is about the believer’s need to give. God has done so much for us how can we possible hold back from him?
So where are you at today?
This is family time now, if you are a guest with us this morning, thank you for being here, I trust that you enjoyed the worship and the message and if you can give me a couple of minutes to talk to the Cornerstone family I will appreciate it.