Saturday, June 30, 2007

Independence Day! – Psalm 126

Independence Day! – Psalm 126
By Pastor Lee Hemen
July 1, 2007 AM

I cannot imagine what it is like to live under oppression and suddenly find yourself free. I remember when the first families from Russia came here and they could not believe what Americans took for granted. The tremendous variety of food available in grocery stores, the ability to purchase clothes, to own their own home and buy land. Freedom to worship for may from the ex-Soviet Union was the ultimate freedom. For many it was like dying and waking up in heaven. Isaiah the prophet was directed by God to remind God’s people that they were to be “a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:6-7) In fact God’s people are told “to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’” (Isaiah 49:9) Independence day has come but few in this country hear of it anymore.

Here in this Psalm, the writer reflected the struggle of returned exiles. The psalmist was joyful because the Lord had restored them to their land, but he also prayed for a full restoration of the captives. A complete spiritual restoration. He found comfort in the principle of sowing and reaping because he knew the spiritual cost involved if God’s people did not proclaim their independence day to others around them. While no other nation on the face of the earth enjoys greater freedom than America, it has come at a great cost of time, talent, and treasure. The same is true for the people of God if they desire to do the will of God and proclaim Independence Day to a lost and dying world. It will not just happen if we want it to, it will cost every believer their personal time, talent, and treasure as well. Independence Day needs to be proclaimed anew in our day and age if we want to see this nation, this community, won to Jesus Christ. Let’s discover how this morning.

READ: Psalm 126

The prophet Isaiah heard God ask, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” He immediately replied, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8) That call has not changed. In fact, it has become even more urgent in our day and age. We discover that for spiritual independence to be proclaimed…

I. Christians need to remind themselves of the cost involved! (vv. 1-3)

1. Remembering what God has done, encourages God’s people to proclaim their independence! Being in trouble, the returning pilgrims reminded themselves of their national trials which were followed by God’s remarkable deliverances: 1) God had rescued them in the past. 2) Then, their sorrow was gone like a dream, and 3) the joy which followed was so great that it seemed too good to be true! “When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.” So sudden and so overwhelming was their joy that they felt like men in a ecstatic trance. So full of joy were they that they could not contain themselves: Their “mouths were filled with laughter” and their “tongues with songs of joy!” The mercy of God was so unexpected, so amazing, so extraordinary that they could not do less than laugh out loud! Their deliverance was so great and incredible that when God brought it to pass they were as men in a dream. Paul would exclaim “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:8) Paul would ask, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15) For spiritual independence to be proclaimed, Christians need to remind themselves of the cost involved.

EXAMPLE: There are so many in today’s world that are dying without Christ, it should make us shudder. It is startling to experience someone die in your arms and breath their last breath, without ever knowing the love of God. Never in the history of Christianity have so many died not hearing of the loving name of Jesus. AIDS is epidemic in Africa and threatens to wipe out whole generations and populations of people. When Islam becomes the predominant religion of any nation, that nation becomes illiterate, poverty stricken, and depressed. Sickness, death, and oppression soon follow. In America we find millions who either do not care or have not heard about Jesus and instead of reaching the lost with the gospel message, many churches are using the latest scam and pithy program to attract watchers. For spiritual independence to be proclaimed, Christians need to remind themselves of the cost involved.

The psalmist turned to the Lord to ask for restoration from Israel’s disastrous predicament—a disaster brought on by God’s anger and cried out, “You have rejected us, O God, and burst forth upon us; you have been angry—now restore us!” (Psalm 60:1) Could God be angry with America today? Perhaps, but we find here in this Psalm that for spiritual independence to be proclaimed…

II. Christians need to pray for the total restoration of their nation! (v. 4)

1. Believers cannot rest on the “feelings” of their own spiritual security! The Psalmist makes a startling statement for celebrating people to make: “Restore our fortunes, O Lord!” He understood that the people were still captives! They were still prisoners in sin! So, in remembering the former joy of their past rescue, they cry to the Lord for a repetition of it! If God would hear and restore them it would be “like streams in the Negev” -- water in a dry and thirsty land! When we pray for the sin shackles of our captivity to be loosened, it is wise to recall former instances of spiritual drought and who supplies the streams of living water for our thirsty souls! Nothing strengthens faith more effectually than the memory of past history. The text shows us how wise it is to return anew to the Lord, who in former times has been so good to us. Where else should we go but to Him who has done such great things for us? Who else can release us from captivity but the one who released us before? The restoration of God’s people must come before the Lord can win a lost and dying nation! This is why God tells His chosen people that “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) The spiritual restoration of a nation begins with God’s people returning to God! Christians need to pray for the total restoration of their nation!

EXAMPLE: Restoration usually involves taking something and trying to make it new again by using part of what was left. When you restore an old car, you try to keep as much as possible of the original vehicle. The same is true when restoring old furniture. Yet, when God restores His people, He does the job completely. In fact God told Isaiah that one day, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17) It is a perfect example of what God does for us because of Jesus Christ. Jesus told the Apostle John, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5) This is why the Psalmist repeats three times: “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80) Christians need to pray for the total restoration of their nation!

There is a lie that permeates our society today: “If it does not affect me personally, ignore it.” This is why many so-called believers can do a spiritual and mental “disconnect” after leaving worship on Sunday mornings. We have forgotten what it means to be brokenhearted for the lost. Not just in some far away land, but those who live next door, those who live with us, and those we work with and go to school with. The Psalmist teaches us that for spiritual independence to be proclaimed…

III. Christians need to plant the seed and harvest the crop! (vv. 5-6)

1. The believer have heartfelt sorrow over their nation that is lost and dying in sin! The Psalmist reminds us that “Those who sow in tears” remember the sin the world is caught in. Sorrow is found in our sowing because we know that sin is deeply rooted, but rejoicing shall be found in our reaping: Christians “will reap with songs of joy!” If there were no sowing in heartbroken tears there would be no reaping in abundant joy. We who were once captives ourselves can lead those held as slaves to sin to freedom! The admonishment found here is the fact that Christians must sow the gospel seed. “He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” It is a promise of God if we go and sow! We will return with a harvest! We may have to sow in the damp weather of sorrow; but we shall reap in the bright sunlight of autumn’s joy! Jesus would warn His disciples about their spiritual apathy: “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.” (John 4:35-36) We cannot save anyone, but we are to plant the seeds of the gospel as we go! Jesus’ last words were: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you!” (Matthew 28:19-20) The Psalmist makes it plain that “those who sow… will reap!” Christians need to plant the seed and harvest the crop!

EXAMPLE: I read a fable about a man who was browsing in a store when he made the shocking discovery that God was behind a sales counter. So the man walked over and asked, "What are You selling?" God replied, "What does your heart desire?" The man said, "I want happiness, peace of mind, and freedom from fear . . . for me and the whole world." God smiled and said, "I don't sell fruit here. Only seeds." In Galatians 6, Paul stressed the importance of sowing seeds of God-honoring behavior: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:7-9) We can't expect a sin-captive world to experience the fruit of God's blessings if we as believers do not recognize the importance of doing our part. Christians need to plant the seed and harvest the crop!

For spiritual independence to be proclaimed there are three things the Psalmist teaches us that needs to occur: 1) Christians need to remind themselves of the cost involved! 2) Christians need to pray for the total restoration of their nation! And 3) Christians need to plant the seed and harvest the crop!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

How to Sleep Well – Psalm 4

How to Sleep Well – Psalm 4
by Pastor Lee Hemen
June 24, 2007 AM

The makers of the Serta mattress state that “Sleep is necessary for our bodies to build up energy reserves and regenerate body cells and tissues. During sleep, your heartbeat and breathing slow, growth hormones peak, muscles relax, and your body temperature lowers. Sleep is a sophisticated process carefully regulated by our brain with valuable restorative properties for our physical and mental health…. Sleep deprivation is thought to cause half of all traffic fatalities on U.S. highways. In fact, studies have shown that being forced to stay awake 17 to 19 hours can cause the same impaired abilities as having a 0.05 percent blood alcohol content. Irregular sleep patterns and lack of sleep can bring on short attention span, memory and vocabulary loss, and other symptoms. Complication can include obesity, premature aging, fatigue and increased risk for diabetes, infection, cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal disease. Chronic sleep deprivation can even lead to paranoia or hallucinations.” I guess sleeping well is important, huh?

Shakespeare’s Hamlet lamented, “To die, to sleep; to sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause...” I am sure there have been times when all we wanted was a good night’s sleep. Of course Hamlet is thinking about the ultimate “sleep,” death. Often times sleep is hard to find when we know our own lives are not what they should be. King David found this to be true, especially when he was fleeing Absalom, his own son, who wanted to kill him and take over the throne. I wonder if David suffered from sleep deprivation? With a son like Absalom, probably. However, we find David speaking to the issue of how to sleep well. In fact he gives us several pieces of advice that will help anyone to sleep a whole lot better. Let’s discover what David relates on how to sleep well, shall we?

READ: Psalm 4

Bible students have widely recognized that this psalm is closely connected with Psalm 3. The two psalms, based on the similarities in their expression and structure, may have stemmed from the same crisis. If so, then David may have written Psalm 4 after he spent the night in the midst of danger (see 3:1, 5-6). The connection between the two psalms is not certain. However, the message of Psalm 4 is one that teaches us how to sleep well. David teaches that…

I. Sleep is found by those who seek the Lord! (v. 1)

1. Comfort is found in the One who can rescue you! In his anguish David cries out, “Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God.” In this David tells us several important facts: 1) When we are anxious about life, we often do not listen well to God’s voice, and 2) God is “righteous” and therefore always does the correct thing in our lives. David wanted more than anything for God to “hear” his prayer and to “Give me relief from my distress.” More than anything David wanted God’s mercy in his life. David understood what the writer of Proverbs meant when he wrote, “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully.” (Proverbs 28:5) Justice is found in God who is righteous and gives mercy. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) Jesus taught, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8) Having restless nights? Unable to sleep well? David knew that sleep is found by those who seek the Lord!

EXAMPLE: Eugene Field wrote, “"Sleep, oh, sleep! The Shepherd guardeth His sheep. Fast speedeth the night away, Soon cometh the glorious day; Sleep, weary ones, while ye may, Sleep, oh, sleep!" The shepherd king David knew that sleep is found by those who seek the Lord!

David teaches us that…

II. Sleep is found when our hearts are right with God! (vv. 2-5)

1. A right heart is placed in the hands of the Lord! David in his distress understood four things that people needed to be aware of in order to find the rest they need: 1) Stop trusting in false gods. “Delusions” in the NIV is literally empty things or things that are nothing at all! When we trust in vain stuff like wealth, jobs, houses, things, or even friendships, relationships, or family members that are empty we are trusting in “false gods” rather than the real thing! We turn God’s “glory into shame.” 2) David states that those who trust in God, He has “set apart for Himself.” God delights in those He loves. In fact, “the Lord will hear when I call to him!” 3) Again, sleep comes to those who have found the peace of God. When we are getting ready for bed, is there anything we have harbored in our hearts? Any angry thought, unkind word, or ungodly deed we are guilty of? “Search your hearts and be silent,” David says. John would write, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) A confessed heart is a heart right before the Lord and will find rest for the weary soul. And finally 4) We are to “offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord!” David discovered long before this that “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.” (Psalm 51:17) David discovered that sleep is found when our hearts are right with God!

EXAMPLE: Gregory Dent wrote, “When we sleep, sleep, sleep. Are promises made that we always keep. And imagined fears make it easy to weep. And forbidden pleasures we dare not reap. When we sleep, sleep, sleep…” David discovered that sleep is found when our hearts are right with God!

David teaches us that…

III. Sleep is found when God gives us inner peace! (vv. 6-8)

1. Discontented people often demand from God what they do not deserve! They angrily ask, “Who can show us any good?” The tacit meaning of this is “What good thing does God have for me?” They only follow God when good things happen in their lives. David’s answers this narrow-mindedness by praying, “Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord!” He knew where all blessings come from. The inner joy and peace David experienced was far greater than anything man could make or experience. This is why he would say, “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.” No beer or booze, festival or celebration, harvest or record crop, could compete with the joy and peace in a life that followed God! Paul would write, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Paul would continue by telling his readers to “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18-20) Happiness is not found in what God can do for you, but in knowing Him personally. This is why David could confidently sing, “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Nothing else in life could. David teaches us that sleep is found when God gives us inner peace!

EXAMPLE: Donovan sang a song that went something like this: “Sleep now sleep, And so fade sorrow. Sleep beloved sleep, Sleep now sleep afar tomorrow. Sleep beloved sleep; You are home this night; Home of winter; Your home of autumn; Summer and spring; You are home this night. Lasting home; Eternal home; Your eternal home.” David teaches us that sleep is found when God gives us inner peace!

How to sleep well? David knew that sleep is found by those who seek the Lord! David discovered that sleep is found when our hearts are right with God! David teaches us that sleep is found when God gives us inner peace!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Blessed Man – Psalm 128

The Blessed Man – Psalm 128
By Pastor Lee Hemen
June 17, 2007 AM

“You decide if you are happy or not,” my father used to say to us when we were moping around. There are many in the world who do not understand this philosophy in life because they think that it is someone else’s responsibility to make them happy. Some folks place the responsibility on personal relationships and when these fail, they blame others. Some misguided people place it on things, and when these break or get lost, they blame their unhappiness on the product and not themselves. Still, others blame it on God and think of Him as a big genie in the sky who should grant their every wish because, after all, if He were a truly "loving God" He would give them everything they ever wanted! Happiness for these folks becomes elusive. The Psalmist relates for us where true happiness is found.

In our world today we often find ourselves asking, “What’s in it for me?” Sadly it is a selfish narcissistic preoccupation that is narrow in focus, however, it can be valid when we are looking closely at our relationship with the Lord. Here is what I mean: When we discover the spiritual truth that God blesses those who follow Him faithfully! Wow! I know this is not a new spiritual concept but a true one none the less. In fact it is one that can be life-changing if we make it a priority in our lives. The man who lives for God finds true happiness in life. The Psalmist did and he wanted others to discover for themselves what it means to be “the blessed man.” Let’s discover how this morning…

READ: Psalm 128

My Dad loved to read. And, he would read anything from newspapers to tin can labels. If someone left a book unattended, he would pick it up and read it. Magazines made their way to his bedside so he could read them before he slept. When asked why he liked to read so much, he replied, “It makes me happy.” I asked him one time what he would wish for if he had just one wish. He promptly replied, “Happiness and peace of mind.” Here in this Psalm we find the writer teaching us that the blessed man has discovered…

I. The inner happiness of a life lived for God! (vv. 1-2)

1. All who fear God understand who He is! Fear is not just a means of being afraid, but this fear is an understanding of who God truly is. He is all powerful, all knowing, everywhere, and all loving. He is sinless and holy and “all who walk in His ways,” will “eat the fruit” of their spiritual “labor.” The “blessings and prosperity” described here are the fruits of the Spirit a godly man displays: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) These “fruits” that are found in a man of God tell the tale of a life of inner happiness. He is truly blessed! This is why in the preceding Psalm the writer related that “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” (Psalm 127:1) Jesus would say, “Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:29-31) Jesus is not saying, “Do not work for a living.” Rather, He is teaching us that Godly men find inner happiness in a life lived for God.

EXAMPLE: Inner peace is not found by trying to be a better person. If this were true, then Jesus did not have to die on the cross. All we would have to do is meditate on our belly buttons or watch bugs crawl across a leaf and let our “minds go.” Kind of like a self-induced transcendental state. What this becomes is not inner peace, but a numbing of the mind and senses to the realities of life. My father had an direct response to this self-induced state of being: He would whack us smartly on the back of the head and ask, “Boy, what in the world are you daydreaming about?” God does not desire us to be numbed to the realities of life, but to understand that we can trust Him with our lives: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me…. I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me…. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:1, 6 & 27) Men can find the inner happiness of a life lived for God!

We did not have very much growing up. It was due to the combination of my father’s poor health and his wandering spirit. He got bored easily and sought to keep his mind as active as possible. Sometimes, sadly, this meant he would go from job to job. However, one of the things in life that made him “blessed,” was his family. We were boisterous, we were loving, and we were protective. Sure, we had our faults, but our family was a place where we were loved deeply. The Psalmist understood this as well and we discover him teaching us that the blessed man has discovered…

II. The outward happiness of a Godly family! (vv. 3-4)

1. A godly man looks at life through those he has influenced! Notice where the focus of the Psalmist’s attention was. He realized that a husband who loves God first will have a wife that is like a “fruitful vine.” Where large families were prized in order that your retirement years were protected when you got older, the writer related that a godly man’s wife will be “fruitful.” Not just in bearing children, but in everything she does. The reason? She is not worried about her husband’s spiritual health. Her focus is not worrying where he will spend eternity or if they as a couple will be separated from each other in eternity. She is emotionally, spiritually, and physically secure because he is secure. And she can be “fruitful” in all she does because of this! In fact, a home where the man is a consistent godly husband and father, enjoys children who are “like olive shoots around the table.” They are growing, maturing, and secure in themselves and their relationship with God! How sad to see homes where the mother and father are at odds with one another. When this occurs the children usually blame themselves! Yet how wonderful to find a man of God secure in what he believes and is happy with himself and his relationship with the Lord. When this occurs you will find the outward happiness of a Godly family!

EXAMPLE: Too many husbands do a “disconnect” on their families either emotionally, spiritually, or both! When they do, their families suffer the consequences of their sin. Children are not emotionally and spiritually equipped to handle what the ungodly world throws their way. They end up doing what feels good at the moment. Wives look elsewhere for comfort and security: Either in extramarital relationships, through things – in spending more than the family can withstand -- or in seeking security by overly wrapping themselves up in their work or children. This is why Paul would admonish “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:25-28) And later he would write, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) It is the man's role in life. Like the Psalmist, Paul understood that blessed is the man who experiences the outward happiness of a Godly family!

I received a Father’s Day card several years ago that I have kept. It reads: “Dads know stuff. Not just the things like math problems or how to throw a ball – but that mysterious dad stuff, like when a wink, a high five, or a goofy joke is just what you need.” Yet, I have discovered that a dad knows more than that. They know when to give out hugs, when a shoulder works just as well, or when by just being there gives a sense of security. This is why so many children grow up insecure. They do not have a father to help them understand what security is all about. The Psalmist writes that the blessed man understands…

III. The security of eternal happiness! (vv. 5-6)

1. Security is found in the One who can keep you safe forever! Why would this be so important? The Psalmist prayed for additional blessings from God on the man who fears Him. The idea here is that those blessings include seeing Jerusalem prosper and living long enough to see one’s grandchildren. We discover that what we do as men of God not only influences our children and families, but it influences future generations as well and thereby the entire nation! The future of the world is in the hands of men today! What we believe, why we believe it, and what it means matters not just to our generation but to generations yet unborn. Jesus would ponder, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) The writer of Hebrews would warn, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. “ (Hebrews 12:1) The idea here being that we not only influence future generations but that we are accountable to those who came before us! Then, the psalmist also prayed for the peace on the nation. Why? He knew that one man living for God can change the course of an entire nation! David had. Jesus would. The only way Israel would know “peace” would be if its people knew the Prince of Peace! Eternal security is found in God alone. Many followed Jesus wanting to be fed, healed, or to hear him tell it like it was, yet to all of these myopic people Jesus related, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:27) The Psalmist teaches us that a man is blessed when he finds the security of eternal happiness!

EXAMPLE: At a 1994 Promise Keepers Conference -- a huge spiritual rally for men that was a fad for a few years -- in Denton, Texas, Pastor James Ryle explained how the sins of the fathers influence future generations. When he was two years old, his father was sent to prison. When he was 7, authorities placed him in an orphanage. At age 19, he was in a car accident that killed a friend. Ryle sold drugs to raise money to pay his legal fees until the law caught up to him. He was arrested, charged with a felony, and sent to prison. While in prison Ryle eventually turned to Christ. After serving his time, he went into the ministry. Years later he sought out his father to reconcile with him. When they got together, the conversation turned to prison life. James's father asked, "Which prison were you in?" James told him, and his father was taken aback. "I helped build that prison," he said. He had been a welder who went from place to place building penitentiaries. Pastor Ryle concluded, "I was in a prison my father built." How amazing that a father's example can build a cursed place or a blessed place for his children to live. It can literally be a prison or a place of eternal hope! No wonder the Psalmist related that blessed is the man who understands the security of eternal happiness!

Here in this Psalm we find the writer teaching us that the blessed man has discovered the inner happiness of a life lived for God; the outward happiness of a Godly family; and the security of eternal happiness. Have you discovered this for your life?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Nothing of the Nations – Psalm 2

The Nothing of the Nations – Psalm 2
June 10, 2007 AM
By Pastor Lee Hemen

Quick, name the most important thing President Millard Fillmore did during his administration. Okay, I’ll make it easier: What about Presidents Taft or Harding? Unless you are a history wonk you could not readily name even one important thing for any of these men. By the way, Fillmore took over the office of President when Taylor died. He was never elected. Taft not only served as President but he was also the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Solicitor General of the United States, a federal judge, Governor-General of the Philippines, and Secretary of War before being nominated for President! However, President Harding was often quoted as saying, "I am not fit for this office and never should have been here." So much for great nation builders.

The Bible makes it clear that great men or great nations are established by the will of God alone. Take for instance the Roman Emperor Diocletian (245-313 AD). He was such a determined enemy of Christians that he persecuted the church ruthlessly. He had a medal made that read: “The name of Christianity being extinguished.” He also had two monuments built on the frontier of his empire with these inscriptions: “Diocletian Jovian Maximian Herculeus Caesares Augusti for having extended the Roman Empire in the east and the west and for having extinguished the name of Christians who brought the Republic to ruin,” and “Diocletian Jovian Maximian Herculeus Caesares Augusti for having everywhere abolished the superstition of Christ for having extended the worship of the gods.” Most of you did not know who Diocletian was until I told you, yet we all know who Jesus Christ is! In fact, shortly after Diocletian’s death, Christianity became the “official” religion of Rome! The Hebrew people understood that nations and kings were established by God. Here in this Psalm the writer exhorted the pagan nations around Israel to abandon their rebellious plans against the Lord and His anointed king and to submit to the authority of the one whom God has ordained to rule the nations. It teaches us about the nothing of nations. Let’s see what I mean…

READ: Psalm 2

The Psalmist quickly relates something quite startling for his readers. He tells us that…

I. The plans of people are nothing to God! (vv. 1-3)

1. God is the one who builds nations or kings, people or places! It was inconceivable to the writer that a ruler or nation would try to “conspire” or “plot” against God! He understood that every king anointed by God or His prophet was a “messiah,” an “anointed one.” If he obeyed God his rule had the legitimacy of God’s election and the support of His power. This is why the plans of other nations whose leadership was not anointed were futile. Yet, these other nations wished to be free of the political, and therefore the spiritual, control of God’s “anointed” king. Their expression of rebellion against God’s ruler describes their perceived bondage as if they were restricted in what they could do. They wanted to be “free” of God. The writer is describing perfectly for us the exact problem an ungodly world has toward God and His anointed Jesus Christ. The world literally “rages” against God’s plan and they “plot” or imagine vain things against Him! They rage and are angry with Jesus Christ, who is King of kings and Lord of lords! King David would later write, “The Lord foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.” In fact, he would dramatically declare, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His inheritance.” (Psalm 33:10-12) Paul would teach that “In Him [Jesus] we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will!” (Ephesians 1:11) We discover that in all of their angry plotting and empty scheming, the plans of people are nothing to God!

EXAMPLE: Rising 6.3 miles from its base on the ocean floor and stretching 75 miles across, Hawaii's Mauna Loa is the largest volcano on Earth. But I learned last night from a History Channel TV show called “The Universe,” that on the surface of the planet Mars stands Olympus Mons, the largest volcano yet discovered in our solar system. The altitude of Olympus Mons is three times higher than Mt. Everest and 100 times more massive than Mauna Loa. It's large enough to contain the entire chain of the Hawaiian islands! Long ago, David looked up at the night skies and stood in awe at the wonder of his Creator's universe. He wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). As space probes explore more of our solar system, they will continue to discover unknown wonders. But whatever they find is the work of the same Creator. David would sing, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4) No wonder that the plans of people are nothing to God!

Here in this Psalm we also discover that…

II. The plans of God are eternal! (vv. 4-9)

1. God’s plans always carry eternal significance! Can you imagine a holy, all present, all powerful God watching what His creation was up to and not seeing what was happening? Too many folks think that God does not care or does not know. That He is disconnected in some way and left His creation running on its own. Nothing could be further from the truth! It also carries with it the idea like New Agers who sanctimoniously declare, “I am god!” when in fact they are just one sin-stained speck among billions of other sin-stained specks. Humorously the Psalmist writes, “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.” It would be quite humorous if it was not so deadly serious. People often wonder why they go through their own problems they have brought about in life. The Psalmist gives us a partial insight. When God is deliberately ignored He “rebukes them in his anger.” Many want to be their own “god” to do what they want when they want: “It’s my life and I’ll do what I want!” The Psalmist rightly states that God has “installed” the king of His choosing. The one He desires to rule over our lives “on Zion, my holy hill!” He is God’s “Son,” the nations are His “inheritance,” and “the ends of the earth [His] possession.” He will “rule them with an iron scepter” and “will dash them to pieces like pottery!” Paul would write “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11) While the schemes of men are momentary, the plans of God are eternal.

EXAMPLE: Did you know that the ancient kings and pharaohs would often have clay pots with the names of rebellious nations or cities inscribed on them brought before them? Then, they would dramatically smash each one to represent that they, as maker of the pot and ruler of the city or nation, could destroy it by smashing it to pieces! Jeremiah was told to go and buy a clay pot and in front of the elders and leaders of Israel he was to “break the jar while those who go with you are watching, and say to them, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired.’” (Jeremiah 19:10-11) We love to plot and plan our lives, trying to think of every contingency, yet our best laid plans can be smashed in a moment because we forget that this life is temporary, but the plans of God are eternal.

And, finally, we find within this Psalm the wonderful truth that…

III. To know God is to know your place in the world! (vv. 10-12)

1. God is God and we are not! In view of all that the Lord had determined for His “Son,” the psalmist exhorted the foolish nations to submit to the king God had chosen before His wrath was kindled. He tells them “be wise,” “be warned,” “serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.” The words “serve,” “rejoice,” “fear,” and “trembling” are a picture of God’s people in loving worship. “They are to lead lives of submission, not rebellion; lives characterized by fear and trembling, not arrogance [and selfishness]; lives filled with exultation, not the gloom of oppression.” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary by Walvord and Zuck) In fact the Psalmist tells his readers to do something extraordinary. They are to immediately “kiss the Son, lest He be angry and you be destroyed in your way.” This is a concept they would immediately comprehend. In their day and age if you did not pay proper respect and homage to the ruler of the land, his wrath could “flare up in a moment” and you and your entire family could be wiped out! Your heritage, future generations, would be gone entirely in a second because of your foolishness and arrogance. Herein is a spiritual truth: All who do not know Jesus as Savior and Lord, need to understand their position before God. Jesus would say, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36) Paul warned that “because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed!” (Romans 2:5) Yet there is hope, the psalmist would sing, for “Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.” Those who come to King of kings and take Him as their Sovereign will find refuge. To know God, through Jesus Christ, is to know your place in the world!

EXAMPLE: New things often scare the living daylights out of us. New homes, new places to live, new schools, new classmates, new parents, new jobs, new friendships, or any “newness” in life. I guess it is the fear of the unknown. I believe that one of the greatest obstacles we face in following Jesus Christ is fear of the unknown. We yearn to know in advance the outcome of our obedience and where He is taking us, yet we are given only the assurance that He is with us and that He is in charge. And with that, we venture into the unknown with Him. Scary! Yet He is the ruler of the universe and Creator of all things, certainly we can therefore trust Him with our lives? Perhaps it is because we like to be in charge of where we go and what we do? However this Sovereign king provides for us a place of refuge, security, and hope. “If it were not so, I would have told you,” He related. (John 14:2) In fact, He related, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1) To know God is to know your place in the world.

The plans of people are nothing to God, the plans of God are eternal, because to know God is to know your place in the world!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Man of God – Psalm 1

The Man of God – Psalm 1
June 3, 2007 AM
By Pastor Lee Hemen

If you were to decide just how much modern Christianity has influenced today’s society in America what number would you give it on a scale of one to ten? The Barna Group reports that “Two-thirds of the nation’s adult population firmly embraces the idea that their most important purpose is to love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. However, a deeper look at people’s full array of spiritual beliefs and behavior calls into question the sincerity of their commitment.” Only 37% of Christians believe Jesus was sinless, only 24% believe Satan is a real being, and Americans are less likely to volunteer at church and less likely to read the Bible. However, in kind of schizophrenic spirituality 45% of Americans interviewed by the Barna Group asserted “that the Bible is accurate in all the principles it teaches.” It kind of makes you wonder where the men of God are today?

I will never forget talking with a youth minister about his attitude and actions concerning youth. He displayed more of a willingness to encourage the youth he was supposed to be mentoring to rebellion instead of holding up a godly lifestyle. His reasoning? He related, “Today’s youth do not connect with old concepts of right and wrong.” So I asked him, “How can they if they do not see it in your life?” He no longer serves in the ministry. This goes to the heart of the Christian life. Righteous living never goes out of style. From the Garden of Eden to today, God expects His people to live like His people. Herein this Psalm we discover eternal truths of what it means to be the man of God He desires.

READ: Psalm 1

Instead of influencing the society around it many churches have opted for trying to sell a product instead. In the long run it will not work. Why? A relationship with God is not a product that you can buy. It is a way of life that begins with intimately knowing the one you are to live buy. The writer describes it for us perfectly here in this Psalm as he relates to us about the man of God.

I. The man of God will be firmly planted in God! (vv. 1-3)

1. The strong wind of peer pressure can blow over a weak-willed faith! With three stark statements of fact the psalmist described the life of the blessed man: 1) he “does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,” 2) he does not “stand in the way of sinners,” and 3) he does not “sit in the seat of mockers.” Each statement becomes more intense and carries with it a powerful impact for a person’s life. For although the writer used the term “man,” he meant anyone. It is a progression from a casual influence with ungodly people to complete collusion with them in their scorn against holy living. In other words a godly person does not walk with ungodly friends, a godly person does not take the side of sinful people and their actions, and finally a godly person does not fellowship with those who would openly deride God. One who is not characterized by the evil influence of the world is “blessed,” (happy) that is, he is right (happy) with God and, the connotation is that God is equally happy with them. This person enjoys the spiritual peace and joy that results from their relationship. In fact, “his delight is in the law of the Lord” and on this he “meditates day and night.” It is part and parcel of his life. So important was this for the writer that he could sing, “He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” A godly man will be firmly planted in God!

EXAMPLE: A firmly planted tree is one that has deep roots. Most trees that withstand the wind and rain storms are those whose roots dig deep into the soil and grab a hold of the bedrock. They can survive during the toughest drought, the biggest winds cannot uproot them, and they are secure in the mightiest of snows. Why? Their roots go deep. The same is true for the person who has a deep abiding faith in Jesus Christ. No shallow watered scrub here. What survives in the spiritual realm is the person whose spiritual roots dig deep into the bedrock of the Lord Jesus Christ. When the drought of life comes they are still watered by the Holy Spirit. When the wind of life blows with hurricane force, their anchor root of faith holds safe and secure. When the deep snows of winter come, and death knocks on their doorstep, they are snug in the arms of God. A godly man will be firmly planted in God!

We have all heard the convoluted advice at some time or other to “not stand out.” In fact, there are those who now espouse the absurd notion that to succeed in school is stupid, while flunking every subject is smart. Kind of odd, huh? While many of us rebel, we rebel against the wrong things in life. Instead of rebelling against the ungodly “normalcy” of a sin-stained world, we try to fit in as best we can. Why is that? Yet, here in this Psalm we find the writer telling us that…

II. The man of God will not be like the wicked! (v. 4)

1. A Godly person will be best remembered for how they lived not what they acquired! There is not much that lasts in this world. The Psalmist reminds us of this fact, especially if we live an ungodly life. “Not so the wicked!” he tells us. It is a startling contrast to the righteous person described before this. The idea here is that this kind of person is ruled by their passions and emotions. They have the worldly motto of “If it feels good, do it!” Their ethics are completely situational and revolved around their desires and lusts. Yet, whatever they have gained in this life will be like so much “chaff.” The empty husks left over after the wheat has been winnowed, “that the wind blows away.” Interestingly these kinds of folks think of themselves as “good people.” Yet even their best efforts are empty and will not last. They may do kind and charitable deeds, but God’s evaluation of them is that they are without eternal merit. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ,” Paul would write. “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15) Like chaff in the wind, a wicked person’s life is burned up. However, the man of God will not be like the wicked!

EXAMPLE: In Jesus' day, wheat was separated from the chaff by a process called winnowing. A person would shake the winnow back and forth, while allowing the wind to blow away the chaff. Jesus used this analogy to prepare Peter for the trauma he would face when he'd see his Master being led away to the cross. He said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat" (Luke 22:31). Satan would later shake Peter to the core of his being in an attempt to destroy his faith. Guess what? Satan still uses the same tactic to get God’s people distracted from following Him. They are shaken by life’s trials. Cancer occurs, sickness overcomes us, a friend or family member suddenly dies without warning. Then our best efforts in life and our worldly acquisitions seem so useless. We would give all we owned to see ourselves or our loved one healed, cured, or alive again. We forget that what we own now, will soon be so much trash. Like chaff in the wind, a wicked person’s life is burned up. The Psalmist writes that the man of God will not be like the wicked.

Recently, fires swept through parts of California again destroying lands and homes. One woman standing in front of where her home used to be remarked, “It’s all ashes now.” Everything in her life had been burned up. Nothing was left. This is how it will be for those who have placed their trust in the things of this world. However, the Psalmist related that…

III. The man of God will not face God’s judgment! (vv. 5-6)

1. Judgment comes only for those who deserve it! In stark contrast between the godly and the wicked, the psalmist wrote that God will separate the righteous from the wicked in the judgment. The righteous are those who are related by covenant with the Lord which is now found Jesus Christ, those who live by His Word, and those who produce things of eternal value. God will divide the righteous and sinners as a man separates the wheat kernels from weedy tares. Jesus related that “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:49-50) John the Baptist warned the crowd, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11) Yet for the man of God he will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23) You see, the man of God will not face God’s judgment.

EXAMPLE: People who reject absolute standards of right and wrong are often inconsistent. When they think they are being treated unfairly, they appeal to a standard of justice that they expect everyone to adhere to. A philosophy professor began each new term by asking his class, “Do you believe it can be shown that there are absolute values like justice?” The free-thinking students all argued that everything is relative and no single law can be applied universally. Before the end of the semester, the professor devoted one class period to debate the issue. At the end, he concluded, “Regardless of what you think, I want you to know that absolute values can be demonstrated. And if you don’t accept what I say, I’ll flunk you!” One angry student got up and insisted, “That’s not fair!” “You’ve just proved my point,” replied the professor. “You’ve appealed to a higher standard of fairness.” While we may think that the judgment the Psalmist writes about is “not fair,” it is. Yet how wonderful to know that the man of God will not face God’s judgment.

The man of God will be firmly planted, the man of God will not be like the wicked, and the man of God will not face God’s judgment.