Sunday, November 20, 2011

Now thank we all our God! - Psalm 100

Now thank we all our God! - Psalm 100
By Pastor Lee Hemen
November 20, 2011 AM

For some people being thankful is kind of like the story told about a 4-year-old daughter and her mother who were strolling through an open-air market. As the little girl stared at a large pile of oranges, a generous vendor took one from the pile and handed it to the little girl. “What do you say to the nice man?” the mother asked her daughter. The little girl looked at the orange, then thrust it toward the man and said, “Peel it!” Often, thankfulness is something we learn and grow into. How easy it is for us to respond to God’s graciousness like that 4-year-old. An attitude of being thankful is a mark of a maturing faith.

The early Pilgrims understood this. In fact, after surviving the first years in the American wilderness, they deliberately set out to print a song book of praise taken from the Psalms. The Bay Psalm Book is an important piece of our nation’s history. It was the first book entirely written and printed in the Colonies. When one considers the difficulties of mere survival during this time, accounting for the short time of 20 years after the first arrivals in Plymouth in 1620, the magnitude of the effort and accomplishment is even more impressive. The first printing press in New England was purchased and imported specifically to print this book in order to give God praise and thanksgiving! Why would our forefathers make such a big deal out of praising and thanking God? Let’s find out…

READ: Psalm 100

Music in worship by the Pilgrims was done without musical accompaniment, by the whole congregation, with men on one side and women on the other. Calling themselves “Separatists”, they believed in separating themselves from ungodly influences of the world and the Anglican Church even in singing! They had sailed to America from England for freedom of worship. Scripture was taught both literally and historically. This Psalm reminded them to be thankful for God’s provision. Why? Because…

I. An attitude of gratitude honors the Lord and changes our life! (Vv. 1-2)

1. Joy is the best proof of having the presence of God in our life!
1) Notice how the Psalmist sings in these first two verses – he relates, “shout for joy,” “worship… with gladness,” and “come… with joyful songs!” The focus of this glad, joyful singing and shouting is “the Lord.” A rejoicing believer is one of the best advertisements for God. It is a fact that when you are joyfully singing to the Lord, you forget about the cares of life. David would sing, “Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him; let all the upright in heart praise him!” (Psalm 64:10 NIV) Paul would write the persecuted church, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4 NIV) Paul knew that a believer who joyful encourages others refreshes those around them. He wrote to Philemon, “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.” (Philemon 1:7 NIV) There are three things that are the enemies of a joyful heart: 1) boredom, 2) worry, and 3) self-centerness. However, when our focus is on the Lord and encouraging others to “come before Him with joyful song,” we honor God with the happiness of our hearts. A joy is multiplied when it is divided with others! Today if you are downcast, sad-faced, or wallowing in disappointment, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” An attitude of gratitude honors the Lord, and it can change your life!

EXAMPLE: The Pilgrims knew that joy is a decision of the human heart and a determination of our will. We decide whether to rejoice and be glad in each day that God has made or not. And in doing so, we bring the joy of the Lord to others around us. You cannot fake it, nor manufacture it. It is something that grows out of the happy heart of the believer, boils over in their soul, and splashes out on others. It is infectious, vibrant, lovely, and wonderful. Contrary to popular folk myth, the early Pilgrims were neither grim nor straight-laced folk. In fact they were some of the most happy, joyous, and loving people on earth. Pilgrims did not wear dire black clothing or big buckles on their boots and belts. Quite the contrary they loved colorful clothing, telling stories, dancing, and singing songs that remembered an attitude of gratitude which honored the Lord. They knew their attitude could change their whole outlook on life!

This attitude would serve them well the first few years of their settling on America’s shores. Most would die that first year from disease, cold, and the weather. Ill-prepared, they were resilient folk who loved God wholeheartedly. They left England for America in order to practice their faith the way God desired them to. This Psalm was one of their favorites. Why? They understood…

II. Gratitude should always be the keynote of our worship of God! (v. 3)

1. He who puts God first, will be happy at last!
1) Notice what David states: “Know that the Lord is God.” He calls the people to recognize and “know” God’s words, works, and character. When we “know” intrinsically who God is in our lives, our humble obedience is the only fitting reaction. We also understand that God is the one “who made us, and we are his.” When we recognize God’s authority and kingship in our lives, we become “his people, the sheep of his pasture.” This is why David could sing, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” (Psalm 23:1 NIV) David did not need to worry about anything. His Creator and Shepherd would provide. Later, the Psalmist would say, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” (Psalm 95:6-7 NIV) Paul would relate, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV) Our care is to be founded in the Shepherd of our souls Jesus Christ. “I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me,” Jesus related. (John 10:14) Our gratitude should always be the keynote of our worship of God, who is our good shepherd!

EXAMPLE: After the Pilgrims survived the first year and began to see some sort of success, they paused to thank God for His love and care. They declared several days of thanksgiving and praise. Edward Winslow, one of the early pilgrims, wrote a small book in 1624 where he thanked God for the “hope of converting the Heathen of their evil ways, and convincing them to the true knowledge and worship of the living God, and so consequently the salvation of their souls by the merits of Jesus Christ….” He saw “the good providence of God working” in the “preservation from so many dangerous plots and treacheries, as have been intended against us; as also in giving his blessing so powerfully upon the weak means we had… they might easily have swallowed us up…. Blessed therefore be his name, that hath done so great things for us, and hath wrought so great a change amongst us.” He could not help himself; he just had to thank God for all his care! Gratitude should always be the keynote of our worship of God.

The religious practices of the pilgrims, as I stated earlier, included the unaccompanied singing of metered and rhymed versions of the psalms. To sing the hymns, many rural congregations practiced what was known as “lining out”, a technique that involved their own memory and the leadership of someone with a powerful voice; the leader would sing one line at a time, and the congregation would sing it back. Again, this Psalm was a favorite to sing. Why? Because…

III. God is worthy of our thanks and praise! (Vv. 4-5)

1. Thankfulness is a duty before it is a feeling!
1) Notice that David commands his listeners to “Enter his gates with thanksgiving.” It is a call to worship God with thankful hearts. God is found in two places – at home in heaven and a thankful human heart. This is why Scripture reminds us to “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever…. Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1-3, 26) Thanksgiving proceeds from a heart that has been redeemed by God. However, also notice that we are called to “enter… his courts with praise.” In fact, Psalm 107:31-32 commands us to “give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men,” and to “exalt him in the assembly of the people and praise him in the council of the elders.” God teaches us that “the people I formed for myself” were specifically created to “proclaim my praise.” (Isaiah 43:20 NIV) The reason we thank and praise God is because he “is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations!” (v. 5) God is steadfast towards those who love him. Every generation, from David down to now, is reminded God is worthy of our thanks and praise!

EXAMPLE: Pastor John Robinson ended his farewell letter to the Pilgrims onboard the Mayflower, before they left England by encouraging them to praise God’s “name all the days of your and our lives.” Pastor Robinson could not go but wanted them to remember God who took care of them no matter what happened. It was good advice, because most would perish within the first year of landing in Massachusetts. In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast to acknowledge God’s providence. It lasted three days and was interspersed with praise and prayer. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn't until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November. The proclamation was written by Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward. It began, “The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.” Whether surviving severe conditions or a “civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity,” our forefathers understood that God is worthy of our thanks and praise!

Conclusion:

What are some of the discouragements in our lives? They are not always the big difficulties, but often the petty annoyances, the little trials from which we cannot escape. If you are looking for a way to increase your thanks, why not this week memorize Psalm 100. These five short verses containing less than a hundred words could launch you into a new adventure of thanksgiving. Put it into your mind and heart today. Repeat it to a friend. Offer it as a silent prayer before each meal every day. Say it aloud and allow the Lord to change your focus from problems to praise.
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

John 17:20-26 - Jesus prayed for us!

John 17:20-26 - Jesus prayed for us!
By Pastor Lee Hemen
November 6, 2011 AM

“I’ll pray for you” are words often uttered as an empathetic gesture by many, yet they can have a tremendous impact on the life of a person. Have you ever had someone pray for you? Perhaps you were sick, maybe even in the hospital, and someone from the church stopped by and, after a brief visit, prayed for your recovery. Or perhaps there was a significant decision to be made, and someone from your family prayed with you and for you. How do you feel when someone prays for you?

We discover that Jesus paused to pray for his disciples, but did you know he also prayed for each of us as well? On the night he was betrayed, the Son of God himself prayed — not just for the little band of Galileans who followed him across the Palestinian landscape for three years — but for each one of us here this morning! Let’s discover what Jesus prayed…

READ: John 17:20-26

We may have forgotten that prayer is much more than the mere asking of requests or the wishful thoughts of Christians. Prayer is a sacred intimate relationship between you and God. Jesus understood this fully and often taught his followers how to pray by his own example. Here in this passage we find that having prayed for those men who were to become his apostles, Jesus now focused his prayer on his future followers, us. Let’s find out what he prayed for. First we see that...

I. Jesus prayed for our Godly unity! (Vv. 20-21)

1. God wants us to walk in the unifying light of His Son, not stumble in the darkness of the world!
1) It is found in the unity of the message! Christians today are included along with the disciples as those who placed their faith in Jesus because of their message. From the 1st century to the 21st century, we are all one in faith! Paul wrote, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve… and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5, 8 NIV) From then until now, the message of the cross has been handed down and given to those who believed their message! WOW!
2) It is discovered in the unity of prayer! It is always encouraging to know that someone is praying for us. How much more to realize that Jesus prayed for us and how much more wonderful to know that he prays for us still! He is at the right hand of God interceding for us even now! Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34)! Hebrews tells us that Jesus “always lives to intercede for” believers (Hebrews 7:25).
3) It is felt in the unity of fellowship! There is a purpose in Jesus’ desire for the unity of believers, “that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Jesus saw the lack of unity as a hindrance to evangelism. We know from our own experiences that non-Christians often mention the division in the church as a reason for their lack of interest in the Gospel. This unity is described as koinonia, oneness in mind, will, and purpose that is expressed in our love for God and for all Christians. Paul recognized this “partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5) and how Christians are to seek to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), being “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Philippians 2:2). Godly unity is important.

EXAMPLE: One of the major tragedies in the history of Christianity is the division among Jesus’ followers and the sheer hatred that they at times have shown to one another. An example of this may be seen in the reaction the Catholic Church had to the first complete translation of the Bible into English in the late 1300s under the influence of John Wycliffe. He was viciously castigated by the church, being called “the Devil’s Instrument, People’s Confusion, and Heretic’s Idol!” How terrible that someone who was trying to put the Word of God into peoples’ hands and in a language they could understand was considered an enemy of the God he loved and served. Several years after his death, Wycliffe was publicly condemned as a heretic, and his bones were dug up and burned. The ashes were then scattered in a nearby river. We need to remember that Jesus prayed for our Godly unity.

There is an incorrect theological undercurrent that says denominational loyalty causes disunity, thus all denominations are “bad” and that we do not need them. It is the Rodney King theology of “Can’t we all just get along?” This is a subtle lie. Christians are to be unified in loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. However, Jesus never intended that his followers were to undermine the gospel or his teachings to do it. Unity disguised in compromise or the placation of basic Christian doctrines is ungodly. This is why...

II. Jesus prayed for our unified witness in the world! (Vv. 22-23)

1. It is a simple fact that if you walk with Christ, you can’t run with the world!
1) It is the unity Christians enjoy in sharing God’s glory! Jesus lovingly prayed about the glory (doxa - splendor) God had given him and how he gave it to each of his followers! Jesus lived in heavenly glory before he came to earth (v. 5). Eventually he would return to that glory at the Father’s right hand. This is the glory that Jesus shares with his followers, as verse 24 indicates! God “did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory” (Romans 9:23)! Paul wrote: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us… I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God.” (Romans 8:18) We share in God’s glory because of the love of Christ in our salvation. It unifies us with God and his Son!
2) It is the unity of our loving witness! Such complete unity is a powerful witness to the world as Jesus prayed it would be! The world will know that Jesus came from God because of our unity. The world will also know that God dearly loves those who commit their lives to Jesus. Jesus taught, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Many in our society today are starving for such unified love that is different than the selfishness the world offers!

EXAMPLE: The other day as I was working around my yard I heard the little croaking of a tree frog. I paused from my work to see if I could find him. It took me several minutes and a little difficulty but I finally located him. His color was so well blended to the tree he was perched on that it was hard to distinguish him from the bark. Christians often take on the color of their surroundings as well. They can become like the people they associate with, whether good or bad. In Acts 4:13 it tells us that when the people realized that Peter and the other disciples "were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” The disciples had become like Jesus because they had spent time with him, learned from him, and followed his example. They were unified in Christ. We can become like Jesus as we spend time with him and his people in his church unified in our witness to a dying world. Jesus prayed for our unified witness in the world!

Jesus knew he would soon go to be with his heavenly Father again. There he would become our advocate before the throne of God. Knowing this, Jesus wanted those to come to always remember that there would be a time when he would not only come again, but a time when we would go to be with him when we die. It is one of Jesus’ most profound promises that has given all Christians throughout the ages a certain hope. What a joy to know that...

III. Jesus prayed for our future with him! (Vv. 24-26)

1. The last line in the life of every Christian’s story should be: “To be continued… above!”
1) Jesus now looked beyond his departure from his disciples and into eternity! He has been with these men for three and a half years. But he wants to be with them forever! The rewards of Heaven are not grudgingly given. Jesus wants all his followers to spend eternity in glory with him. The most precious promise all of us desire to hear, when we face our own death are the words the repentant thief heard from Jesus, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 NIV) Yes Lord, I desire to hear that I will be with you forever!
2) Jesus’ desire was that his followers would continue the work he started! He relates, “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” Jesus would go to the cross to complete his work. He desired that his disciples would continue in his work because he knew that the world did not “know” God (v. 25). In fact, since much of the world does not think it “worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God” (Romans 1:28 NIV) it was the disciple’s duty to tell the world! (Matthew 28:19-20)
3) Jesus’ prayer therefore was to make God known to the world through all of his followers – including us! Jesus said, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26 NIV) Some of his last words to his disciples were, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21 NIV) Jesus continues to make God know through those who believe in Him. Just as Jesus made God known to us, he will be with us as we make him known to the world! He promised, “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20 NIV) This is why the writer of Hebrews would state, “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’" (Hebrews 13:6 NIV)

EXAMPLE: The American evangelist Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) told a story of a soldier in the Crimean War. Though severely wounded he was able to crawl back to his tent. When he was later found, he was laying face down, his open Bible before him, his dead hand stuck to one of its pages by the blood which covered it. When his hand was lifted, some of the words were clearly visible on the pages where his fingers rested. The words were, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live.” (John 11:25) Moody stated, “I want a religion like that.” I do as well. It is one that gives me a future and a hope. It is one that reunites me with my Savior and Lord and those who willingly live for him. How wonderful to know that Jesus prayed for our future with him!

Conclusion:
I am so glad Jesus prayed for me. Aren’t you? Jesus prayed not only for our unity in God, but for the witness we would have, and he prayed for our future with him. What a joy to know that Jesus prayed for us! Now, let me ask you – do you know the one who prayed for you?
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.