Thursday, June 30, 2016

“Praise Ye The Lord”

Read Psalm 146*


Befor the sermon, I want to give you a little background about the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” because I believe that the truth in this hymn is also found in our Psalm 146 reading.

In 1871, Horatio Spafford, a prosperous lawyer and devout Presbyterian church elder and his wife, Anna, were living comfortably with their four young daughters in their home in a north side suburb of Chicago.

The Spaffords hosted and sometimes financially supported many guests. Horatio had been active in the abolitionist crusade and the cottage was a meeting place for activists in the reform movements of the time such as Frances E. Willard, president of the National Women's Christian Temperance Union, and evangelical leaders like Dwight Moody, who ignited a religious revival in America and Europe.

Spafford, a senior partner in a thriving law firm, invested in real estate north of an expanding Chicago in the spring of 1871. When the Great Fire of Chicago reduced the city to ashes in October of the same year, it also destroyed Spafford's sizable investment.

Two years later the family decided to vacation with friends in Europe. At the last moment Horatio was detained by business, and Anna and the girls went on ahead, sailing on the ocean liner S.S. Ville de Havre. On November 21, 1873, the liner was rammed amidship by a British vessel and sank within minutes.

The four children drown. However, Anna was picked up unconscious on a floating spar by the crew of the Lochearn, which itself was in danger of sinking. Fortunately, the Trimountain, a cargo sailing vessel arrived to save the survivors.

Nine days after the shipwreck Anna landed in Cardiff, Wales, and cabled Horatio, "Saved alone. What shall I do…"

After receiving Anna's telegram, Horatio immediately left Chicago to bring his wife home. On the Atlantic crossing, the captain of his ship called Horatio to his cabin to tell him that they were passing over the spot where his four daughters had perished. He wrote to Rachel, his wife's half-sister, "On Thursday last we passed over the spot where she went down, in mid-ocean, the waters three miles deep. But I do not think of our dear ones there. They are safe, folded, the dear lambs."

Horatio wrote this hymn, we’re singing today, as he passed over their watery grave.

Here was a man who had suffered losses, physical, financial, and emotional.  And yet his faith allowed him to write, “It Is Well With My Soul”.

Do an internet search if you’d like more information about this man.

Opening Hymn: “It is Well With My Soul”

1. When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,                                                 When sorrows like sea billows roll.                                                             Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say                                                          It is well,  It is well, with my soul.

Refrain:                                                                                                                 It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul)                                                   It is well, it is well, with my soul.                                           

2.  My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought:                                                                                                               My sin, not in part but the whole,                                                                          Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.                                                    Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!


3.  Oh Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight                                       The clouds be rolled back as a scroll.                                                                 The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,                                              Even so, it is well with my soul.


Sermon:Praise Ye The Lord”

Psalm 146 is one of five Psalms called “Hallelujah Psalms.”  They all begin and end with the phrase “Praise ye the LORD!”  That phrase is the translation of the Hebrew word “Hallelujah!”

Israel had just recently returned from a terrible time of bondage in Babylon when this psalm was written.  They had returned to find their shining city on a hill, Jerusalem, was in ruins.  Their temple, the center of their spiritual life, was stripped of its ornaments and sacred items and was but a few walls and scattered stones.  Their joy of release of bondage and their homecoming was tempered with the knowledge of the labor that lay before them.

They gathered craftsmen and laborers and began the rebuilding.  Slowly the walls came together around their beautiful city.  The temple was reconstructed and redecorated.  The few sacred items that had survived were brought back and new ones created.  They could now begin to truly worship God as they and their ancestors had done before.

Israel’s neighbors had sought to destroy not only their nation but the people themselves.  Many had been killed or assimilated into the cultures of the surrounding nations.

As they slowly returned to their homeland, they also began to once again turn to the God of their ancestors.  They lamented what had been lost, which is natural.  However, they also began to praise God for what he had brought them through.  As their nation was rebuilt, so also was their identity as the Children of the one true God.  They remembered the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, your God is one God.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

It was then this this psalm was written.

Do you understand why I gave you the background story about the writing of “It Is Well With My Soul”?  What Israel had gone through as a nation, is like unto what all people everywhere and in every generation go through.  Suffering and loss is not what God intended for his people.  However, due to the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve, God’s perfect world was broken.  This is the world in which we now live.  If you believe that, say amen.

Let us look at Psalm 146 and see what we may learn about praising God in all times and situations, so that we may also have the deep down knowledge that “All is well with my soul”. 

Lesson One:  The people came to understand that, though prophets of God had warned them to turn from their disobedience and return to God, they had wandered from the true path that God laid out for them.  Centuries later, the apostle Paul said it quite simply, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”  That realization as a nation and as individuals gave them the perspective to accept that it wasn’t so much a punishment from God, as the consequence of not staying true to God.  Only as we recognize our sin and admit to it, can we truly repent and ask for forgiveness.

Lesson Two:  God is worthy of our praise, of our hallelujah.

As the Israelites came to realize that it was only through God’s goodness and his Grace that they were returned to their land.  They sang praises to his name.  We too have been saved by grace, through faith -- and this in not from ourselves, it is the gift of God.  (paraphrased from Ephesians 2:8)  It is because of Christ’s sacrifice, we can sing “Amazing Grace”, “Rock of Ages”, “It is Well With My Soul”, and many others.

Lesson Three:  I want to praise the Lord throughout my life.  I want to make music to praise my God as long as I live.”  Praising God in not conditional on our circumstances or our feelings.  Understand that though it is well with our soul, we are not exempt from the pain and suffering of this life.   Amen? However, as followers of God in Christ, we have been delivered from an eternity separated from the love of God, an eternity in Hell.  Praise God!

As the Jews rejoiced because they were freed from bondage, we too can rejoice as we are freed from our chains of sin.  Sometimes it is hard to remember that we are but visitors in this earthly life, that our true home is in heaven.  The span of our earthly life is less than a tick of the clock of eternity.  When we are standing in the magnificent presence of God, we will praise him throughout all eternity. 

I sometimes think of this life as “practice” or “rehearsal”.  We often think we are in the middle of “life” when in truth we are still in the locker room or the green room off stage. Our true life hasn’t even begun. This is our training ground … let us make the most of it.

Lesson Four: Be careful of where you place your trust: “Do not trust influential people, mortals who cannot help you.  When they breathe their last breath, they return to the ground.  On that day their plans come to an end.”

“Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”  We have all heard that before. Amen? And it usually precedes something going terrible wrong.

Over nearly 70 years, I have placed my trust in a lot of people, a lot of organizations, and a lot of great thinkers.  I have placed a lot of faith in myself as well.  One thing I’ve learned is, that at some point, all trust in earthly people, places, and things is misplaced because, as I’ve said, we live in a broken world. 

We may not be intentionally misled.  However, another thing I’ve learned is, a stupid idea said by a smart man, is still a stupid idea.  A wrong direction is still a wrong direction even if everyone agrees that it is the right way to go.  Personally, I will never intentionally mislead you.  However, despite my good intentions, I could still be wrong.  Don’t rely on me.  Rely on God.  

Most of us know the Old Testament story of Job.  I was amazed when I actually read it through.  What amazed me was the advice that his friends were giving him as he was going through his testing.  They were true friends and really wanted to help, to ease his suffering.  It says in chapter 2:11-13 “When Job’s three friends heard about all the terrible things that had happened to him, each of them came from his home—Eliphaz of Teman, Bildad of Shuah, Zophar of Naama. They had agreed they would go together to sympathize with Job and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they didn’t even recognize him. They cried out loud and wept, and each of them tore his own clothes in grief. They threw dust on their heads.  Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him because they saw that he was in such great pain.”

These sound like the kind of friends that you would want with you in times of trouble. Amen?

His friend, Eliphaz, said to him, “Now think about this: Which innocent person ever died an untimely death? Find me a decent person who has been destroyed.  Whenever I saw those who plowed wickedness and planted misery, they gathered its harvest. God destroys them with his breath and kills them with a blast of his anger.” The implication was that Job must have done something that displeased God and he should make it right before he was destroyed.

“Then Bildad replied to Job, … If you search for God and plead for mercy from the Almighty, if you are moral and ethical, then he will rise up on your behalf and prove your righteousness by rebuilding your home. Again it is implied that Job had done something to displease God.

“Then Zophar replied to Job,  “Shouldn’t someone answer this flood of words? Should a good public speaker be acquitted? Should your empty talk silence others so that you can make fun of us without any shame? You say, ‘My teaching is morally correct,’ and, ‘As you can see, I’m innocent.’  I only wish God would speak and open his mouth to talk to you. He would tell you the secrets of wisdom, because true wisdom is twice as great as your wisdom, and you would know that God forgets your sin.”

All of this was good solid advice based on everything that they knew.   In other circumstances, it would have been great advice.  However, it was completely wrong.  My point is, although people may be well meaning and even helpful at times, they don't know the path that God has chosen for us. 

Lesson five:  “Blessed are those who receive help from the God of Jacob. Their hope rests on the Lord their God, who made heaven, earth, the sea, and everything in them.”

Our true hope rests in the Lord alone.  As believers, this should be self evident.  Who would you rather trust, the man who seeks shelter from the storm or the one who commands the storm, “Peace, be still”? 

The God who created the vast universe and the smallest sub atomic particles loves and cares for me and for you.  He even knows the number of hairs on our heads.  I find that, in equal amounts, humbling and comforting.

Lesson six:  “The Lord remains faithful forever.”   I said earlier that at some point, all trust in earthly people, places, and things is misplaced.  However in psalm 103 it says, “From everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children.”

From everlasting to everlasting is the kind of faithfulness in which we can trust.  Right?

It isn't from “beginning to end”.  It starts before the begining and zooms right past the end.

Lesson seven:  The Lord cares.  The psalmist gives a list of ways that God provides for all people.

Justice for the oppressed. The history of the Jewish people is a history of oppression.  Over and over they were carried away to distant lands or their homeland was occupied by other nations.   Israel has seen oppression since the beginning of their nation.  From the time of the Philistines of the Old Testament to the Roman occupation during the time of Christ, the pattern continued.  In more recent history there has been the persecution and execution of European Jews during the holocaust.  The modern nation of Israel was established within my lifetime and continues to be fraught with conflict and war.

So too were the early Christians persecuted, enslaved, and executed.  Even today, when one third of the world’s population claim to be Christians, are we persecuted, sometimes covertly and sometimes openly.  It is not surprising since the Kingdom of God has always been at war with the rulers of this world.  God’s will verses Man’s will is the whole story of the Bible in a simple sentence.

Though conflict and oppression are a constant part of the life of the church, we are never abandoned.  We read this promise in Isaiah 30:18-19 “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he rises up to show you compassion.  For the Lord is a God of justice.  Blessed are all who wait for him!  People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.”

Again we see God’s justice at work in Psalm 34:17-18 “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

God provides food to the hungry.  I can easily think of several remarkable times that God has directly provided food for the hungry.  Exodus 16 details when God provided manna and quail to the Israelites fleeing Egypt. During their time in the wilderness water was also provided for them in spectacular ways.

In the new testament we find that Jesus’ first recorded miracle was him providing drink at a wedding.  All four of the gospels give the account of Jesus feeding of 5000 people with a boy’s lunch of five barley loaves and two fish.  The gospels of Matthew and Mark also record a second time when Jesus feed the people who had followed him into a remote place.  This time it is recorded that he feed 4000 with seven loaves and a few fishes.  After his resurrection, Jesus found his disciples had gone back to fishing.  He prepared a meal of fish for them on the shore.

I have had my own miraculous cases of food arriving just when I needed it.  Oh, the heavens didn’t open and rain down bread upon me.  God used human agents as his messengers but that did not make it any less miraculous.  We are commanded, among other things, to feed the hungry as though we were feeding Jesus.

Freedom for the prisoners:  Wow!  Where to start? Maybe with Joseph being thrown into a deep pit and then sold into slavery by his brothers,   How about Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being cast into a fiery furnace?  Or maybe just Daniel in the lions’ den.  Sampson breaking his chains?  Paul and Silas when the earth shook, the doors of the prison opened, and their chains fell off.  No, there are just too many examples to try and list them all.

Sight to the blind: at least three times in the gospels are examples of Jesus healing the blind.  In one example the man’s friends brought him to Jesus for healing. (Mark 8:22-25).  In Luke 18:35 Jesus stopped his journey to Jericho to heal a blind beggar along the side of the road.  And in John 9 Jesus uses his healing of a man blind from birth as a “visual aid” (sorry about the pun) to teach his disciples a truth about God’s plans.  But let’s not forget that Saul of Tarsus was blinded in an encounter with the risen Christ and later in Damascus something like fish scales fell from his eyes and he could see.  But Paul’s sight was more than physically restored.  His spiritual eyes had also been opened.

Straightens the backs of those who are bent over: This statement is much more than just about the physical healing.  It is also about the downtrodden in society, those that live on the fringes of society, those that are outcasts, those that are different, those that live in fear, paranoia, and depression.  These are people who have had their backs broken by their burdens.  In many cases the Lord is the only hope they have.  Certainly the ten lepers mentioned in Luke 17:11-19 that Jesus healed fit this category.  They had to not only deal with their disease but also the rejection of society.  Yet Jesus approached them and touched them.  He laid hands on them and healed them.  God cares.

Loves the righteous:  Can we just agree on this one?  Search your own Bible for the thousands of examples.  If I took time to cover them, we’d be here a very long time indeed.

Protects the foreigners: One of the commands repeated over and over in the Old Testament was to care for the strangers within your borders.  It was also to be a remembrance that the Jews had also been foreigners in strange lands.  We know that in this country, with the exceptions of the native people, we are all descendants from foreigners.  I had my DNA tested.  Here are the results for my personal history:

· 48% Western Europe (germany, france etc.)

· 28% Great Britain

· 13% Ireland

· 3% Scandinavian

· 2% Western Asia

· 2% Iberian peninsula  Spain/Portugal

· 2% European Jew

· 1% Finland / NW Russia

· 1% Pacific Islander Melanesian

· 1% Northern Africa

I am going to sidestep the issue of “illegal” foreigners in our land and just restate that we are to remember that we too were foreigners and we are to treat those within our borders with respect and dignity as commanded by God. 

Along with the oft repeated command about the foreigners,we are also to provide relief for the the orphans and widows.  These three groups of people are so important to God that He reminds the Israelites (and by extension us) multiple times.

Special laws forbade farmers from harvesting all of their crops.  They were to leave enough in the fields that the widows and orphans could gather enough food to feed themselves. 

Jesus in his parable of the sheep and the goats declares that those who feed, cloth, shelter, heal the least of His brothers, will be credited as doing it for the Lord himself.  And those who don’t, will be condemned. 

The Psalm ends with the declaration that “The Lord rules as king forever.  Zion, your God rules throughout every generation.  Hallelujah!”


*Psalm 146 GOD’S WORD Translation

1 Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord, my soul!                                                               2 I want to praise the Lord throughout my life.  I want to make music to praise my God as long as I live.                                                                                       3 Do not trust influential people, mortals who cannot help you.                           4 When they breathe their last breath, they return to the ground.  On that day their plans come to an end.                                                                                    5 Blessed are those who receive help from the God of Jacob. Their hope rests on the Lord their God,                                                                                                6 who made heaven, earth, the sea, and everything in them.  The Lord remains faithful forever.                                                                                                     7 He brings about justice for those who are oppressed.  He gives food to those who are hungry.  The Lord sets prisoners free.                                                     8 The Lord gives sight to blind people.  The Lord straightens the backs of those who are bent over.  The Lord loves righteous people.                                            9 The Lord protects foreigners.  The Lord gives relief to orphans and widows.  But he keeps wicked people from reaching their goal.                           10 The Lord rules as king forever.  Zion, your God rules throughout every generation.  Hallelujah!

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