To listen to the sermon use the Audio links below (when viewed on our website).
A very good morning to each and every one of you this morning and warm greetings from the Payne residence. It is so good to be with you this morning. Other than two short runs to the shops this is the first human contact, outside of my family, ... And all I can say is… help me! Save me! I don’t know if I can survive any longer with them…
Of course I am being completely tongue in cheek, because despite the lockdown and the restriction of movement I have been very fortunate because much of my work is online… and so other than the kids making a lot of noise and half killing each other in the background and Zena popping in on a regular basis for some attention, it has been pretty much business as usual. It has also been business as unusual and the financial impacts of the lockdown are starting to take effect.
I am not sure if you have found this but I have found the bombardment of news on COVID-19 relentless. Which is fair. The Tsunami of troubling stats with regards infection rates and death rates is a major cause for concern. In some ways overwhelming.
So what has your week been like?
At home working - interrupted
Mom at home
Video calls - not human contact
Over the last four weeks, if you can recall, we've been in the Psalms, in particular we have been looking at the Songs of Ascent:
a collection of 15 Psalms (120-134);
written over about a thousand years by various authors;
The Songs of Ascent were not originally written together, rather they received this title because the pilgrim Israelites sang them as they travelled from their homes all over the land and ascended up to Mount Zion (Jerusalem) for the annual feasts.
These 15 Psalms are then broken down in to five groups of three Psalms;
These then depict a journey, a journey that mirrors life's journey; from times to Distress, to times of Dependence, to times of triumph or deliverance
That did leave me with a question: Why do we love the Psalms so much?
What is it about the Psalms that attracts us?
Is it because they are nice and short, palatable bite-sized pieces with high impact? So we can get in there quickly and encourage us.
As I sat and I thought about this I came to realize it's because it's real.
It's just because it's raw and exposed.
These are songs, songs of triumph and deep despair.
That's why we love the Psalms so much. I'm not sure if you've ever heard of the Facebook effect.
Everybody posts their best moments, their best life;
Moments when they're out of the beach or their wherewith families;
Enjoying a beautiful sunset, an amazing holiday or making the most of the average day;
The problem is that we start to feel despondent because our lives are so mundane;
It creates a false picture of what life is really like. Not reality.
The reality is that they are tough times, there are trials.
Trials significantly outweigh the times of triumph;
But that's what we love about the Psalms, they're real, they're raw.
Today we are going to look at one of those groups of three, namely: Psalms 123, 124 & 125.
I trust that they are going to be an encouragement to you this morning.
Psalm 123 - Read by Lilian
Written at a time when the Israel nation had been taken into captivity by the Babylonian’s, a small group had been allowed back to rebuild the walls. However, it is not the lack of resources, materials and hardships which are listed but rather the reaction of the regional neighbours that is the trial.
Have you been ridiculed for your faith?
Have you ever been mocked or laughed at for being a Christian?
There was an incident this week that caught my attention.
Firstly, I know when it comes to the subject of America and COVID-19 it is all heavily laced with politics and I want to steer clear of this completely. We do know that there were a number of US companies that were high-lighted by the US president this week, for their efforts to change their production to make medical supplies, many of whom are Trump supporters… but there was one person that crossed the line, there was something in what this person said that stirred up the ire of the press and the online world.
Mike Lindell is a man who was a cocaine and crack addict who started his own business, MyPillow. He borrowed money from his bookie for start-up capital… but in 2009 while at the bottom of a very deep hole he prayed and asked God to deliver him, which he did.
So what it that he said that caused some to Joy Reid of CCN to tweet "Please tell me this is a prank,"
Norman Ornstein, “Fact: Mike Lindell is an awful human being. An utter embarrassment to my home state of Minnesota”
While at a press briefing at the White House this week he had the audacity to make the following statement.
“God gave us grace on November 8, 2016, to change the course we were on,” Lindell said. "God had been taken out of our schools and lives, a nation had turned its back on God. I encourage you to use this time at home to get back in the Word. Read our Bibles and spend time with our families.”
The ridicule, the scorn, the contempt!
So, what then are Christians to do when they are being ridiculed and persecuted for their faith? What are we to do in times of trial?
Are we to fight back? Are we to stew over the scorn and contempt for those around us? Are we to snap back?
No, the Psalmist reminds us to humble ourselves before the Lord AND to “look up”
Three times in the first 2 verse, he instructs us to “look”
Why does he do this?
Saying in the English language, “Chin up” - “Suck it up!”
In life's journey as we encounter hardship we should power through and ignore all others around you… including the problem… is this what he is asking us to do… NO
There is another saying, when we have respect from someone, then we say that “We look up to them”
Is this what he is telling us to do… to respect God… this is certainly we should do too, but this is not what he is telling us to do…
The act of looking up does not take a lot of effort, it is a simple movement with our eyes, BUT in doing so the Psalmist reminds us to look up to Him in prayer as our only source of help and mercy
We are to recognise that God is the maker of heaven and earth and that he has complete sovereignty, and it is only in him that we have salvation
Another saying in English
As a young boy, my father told me to “Keep your eye on the ball!”
Make the ball the object of your focus and attention, don’t lose sight of it and by doing so you have a chance of striking it!
“Till he has mercy upon us!”
In other words, never take your eyes off God!
I am reminded of the disciples in the boat during a storm and Jesus walks on the water to them and Peter climbs out of the boat and starts walking towards him.. But when he is distracted by the storm and takes his eyes off Jesus, he begins to sink!
This means we are to pray in faith, expecting God to act, not letting go until the Lord has shown mercy!
There are two parts. The second part is that we need to humble ourselves and to recognise that we are slaves to Christ and to submit ourselves to his will
I find this very difficult. I had a tough one this week where someone I trust in business completely let me down… and I have been stewing over it… but I am reminded here this morning to let it go… to do a frozen.
So in the first Psalm (123) the focus is on the trial, the distress, in the second Psalm the focus shifts towards our total dependence on God. David, the Psalm writer, is acutely aware of the ever present danger of their enemies and aware that if it was not for the presence of God in their midst they would have perished.
What does it mean to have God on our side?
This is difficult to express fully in words, but we can imagine what it would be like if God was NOT on our side. And so David uses 4 examples from his own life where God had been faithful.
“When people attacked us” - The blessing of God’s presence is the protection from being ambushed by the enemy. David had been in a situation where men had ambushed him and caught him off guard and if it had not been for the presence of God’s protection they would have been destroyed.
“They would have swallowed us alive” - David continues with his report stating that if their enemy had been allowed to advance on them, they would have been “swallowed alive”. Here there is a picture of a wild animal and its prey, completely helpless, which would be completely devoured by the wild animal. David knew lions, he had kill one with a sling and stone…
“When their anger flared against us” - David describes the kind of anger and wrath against him… in my mind I can picture a man with his face all twisted with rage, his veins protruding from his neck as his blood boils and burns with anger… and this hostility is towards God and his people… there is no compassion here pure hatred…
And then finally “the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away.” - If the enemy had been allowed to attack their numbers were so great that they would have swept over the people of Israel and been completely washed away.
These are terrifying images and situations… and if God were not on our side… we would be destroyed.
This is then followed by three blessing, where David praises the Lord, for not allowing Israel to be torn to pieces, he protects them, were like a bird in the fowler's snare he delivered us from danger and our enemies, and not only deliverance but a complete destruction of that which would have been to ensnare us.
And then final, well done, you have survived some 10 days of lockdown and you have nearly survived a message which spans 3 Psalms. I know that this is ambitious but I am hoping that you will have a picture of how the pilgrims would have sung these three Psalms together.
Read Psalm 125
In this final Psalm the writer compares the faith of the righteous as being immovable… this is the triumphant moment. The pilgrims have arrived at Jerusalem, they have reached Zion, and the hill upon which the Holy City stands… and the Lord is compared to the mountains and hills that surround and defend Jerusalem.
Those of us that are righteous, those of us that have placed our trust and faith in the Lord, we are safe and secure in Him. The Lord will forever surround his people as a protective force, keeping all other overwhelming forces from defeating them.
That means although we find ourselves in difficult times at the moment… Although we find ourselves in a time of trial… we know that the Lord is faithful, that he will deliver us, as he had done in the past, as he did for David, that he will protect us and that we will deliver us.
May you be encouraged with this this morning.
When I was first asked by Lawrence to speak this morning he asked us to continue with emphasis on Church growth, as has been from the church camp earlier in the year. Now that we are in lockdown, I must admit… how can we even be thinking of Church Growth and bringing people into Medway when we cannot even meet in person… how can we be concerned with Church Growth when we do not know how long this pandemic is going to last!
And my response would be this, we have a pattern for life, we know that there is going to be hardship, we know that there is going to be death. We know that the people of the world, the proud will have contempt for us… there will be trials… But we do know that in these trials we can look to the Lord and he will be a portion and strength, and if we are completely dependent on him, he will be faithful and will deliver us. That means even in difficult times we can live a life of triumph…
There are going to be many, many people that do not have that assurance, that do not trust in the Lord, and we should take the opportunity, where we can and from 2 metres distance to share our trust and confidence that we have in the Lord with them… we need to plant seeds… seeds that will later, with prayer, grow and bare fruit