Albeit short, Psalm 117 is a powerhouse! It starts and ends by praising the Lord. Praise is a common word in the Bible and we learn all praise should be directed to God. What is the difference, among the obvious, between God and ourselves? Why can’t we demand praise likewise? There are many of us that do. How many dictators, Hollywoodites, athletes, bosses and the like have elevated themselves above God’s opinion of them?
Too many have an exagerrated opinion of themselves. It gets worse as the generations progress. We are a more independent people today. Mankind believes it can handle anything. To this I say, watch the news, read the paper or be out in public. Our society has become cut throat and full of those worried about themselves and seeking attention. My generation was no better. As a matter of fact, it was the start of what we are seeing today. Styles and trends are not about being “cool” and “hip”. It is who can draw the most attention to themselves: bottom line! The Biblesomebody John 12:43, “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” Our world would be a better place if we cared more for others than ourselves.
God only is deserving of praise and rightfully requires it. Theologian Barnes says, “The idea is that God has a claim to universal worship, and that all the nations of the earth are under obligations to adore him as the true God. He is not the God of the Hebrew people only, but of all people; his praise should be celebrated not merely by one nation, but by all.” You see God knows who He is. Scripture declares it based upon His Holy attributes. After all, He is the One who created the universe. We on the other hand are nothing and the sooner we grasp that we can see God for who He is. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) and, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created (Re. 4:11).”
In contrast Scripture reveals who we are. “…there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rm. 3:10), “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rm. 3:23), and “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” (Is. 64:6). If we are honest with ourselves, we can see we are nothing apart from God. And if nothing in His eyes, does any other eyes matter? The human race is not praise-worthy; only God is worthy (Rev. 5:12). If we think ourselves a nobody, God will make sure we are somebody.
Asa was an impressive king of Judah. He is introduced as one who “did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 14:1). He trounced the Ethiopian hoards. He deposed the queen mother because she had made an idol. He brought revival to the land to such an extent that “they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul; that whosoever would not seek the Lord God of Israel should be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman” (2 Chronicles 15:12–13).
This is intense! Then, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Asa sends a bribe to Syria, trusting in the strength of men instead of God. When he is confronted by the man of God, Asa is angry and imprisons the messenger and goes on a rampage oppressing many others. In his sunset years, God still tries to get Asa’s attention by way of a disease in his feet. It’s almost as if God wants things the way they once were. Yet, Asa “in his disease sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians” (2 Chronicles 16:12). What changed?
George Muller is a well-known figure from the late 19th century because of his testimony of faith. There are many fabulous stories about his faith in God’s provision for the orphanages he ran. In a way, George Muller is the inversion of Asa. At the beginning of Muller’s life, he refused to seek the Lord, then everything changed. How did he remain so steadfast with the Lord? Here is a piece of his testimony:
“I was converted in November 1825, but I only came into the full surrender of the heart four years later, in July 1829. The love of money was gone, the love of place was gone, the love of position was gone, the love of worldly pleasures and engagements was gone. God, God alone became my portion. I found my all in Him; I wanted nothing else. And by the grace of God this has remained and has made me a happy man, an exceedingly happy man, and it led me to care only about the things of God. I ask affectionately, my beloved brethren, have you fully surrendered the heart to God, or is there this thing or that thing with which you are taken up irrespective of God?”
Muller’s challenge squarely hits us. It is often not a big thing which swiftly eliminates our reliance upon God. Asa wasn’t directly attacked. Israel was simply forming a blockade against Judah. It certainly was an economic disadvantage, but something the Lord could have corrected. Then Asa spun out of control piece by piece. The same is true for us. A little bit of this and a little bit of that and our surrender begins to erode as our lives turn away from God.
If only Asa consistently lived his pledge, “We rest on thee” (2 Chronicles 14:11).
In the 1930’s, much of Europe had become a hostile and life-threatening place for any Jewish person. Therefore, an increasing amount of Jewish people were fleeing Europe to escape the brutal Nazi regime. In 1938, a conference was held in France to find a haven for the fleeing Jews. Of the 32 nations present at the conference, only one country- the Dominican Republic- offered to become a place of refuge for the Jews. A small beachfront town known as Sosua became known as “Tropical Zion” when about 500 Jews took up residence at the place of refuge.
In Numbers 35, God told Moses that, out of the forty-eight cities given to the Levites, six of them were to be “cities for refuge.” These six cities were to be at a convenient distance from one another with three on each side of the Jordan river. They were to be at an accessible distance for any person who had caused the death of another person in order that the circumstances might be investigated, and it could be concluded whether the person was innocent or guilty. The law of God had made it clear that life was sacred and that the punishment for taking a life was the murderer’s own life. God made it clear to the people of Israel that premeditated murder was to be punished by death. The purpose of these cities was not so a murderer could evade justice, but rather that justice might be made certain. The cities of refuge were a place for a man to flee when he killed someone accidentally. They were a place where a person could flee from an avenger of blood and present their case before the congregation to ensure innocence. In these cities, the slayer could find safety from the avenger. Outside of these cities, the avenger of blood could kill the slayer and not be guilty.
The cities of refuge were a blessing and safe-haven to many Israelites. Many found freedom from the wrath of an avenger. These cities act as a type of the refuge that a believer finds in Christ. What these cities were to the Israelites in providing them shelter from judgment, Jesus Christ is to every believer. Just as these cities gave shelter to those who were guilty, so Christ offers shelter from the wrath of God for those who stand “guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19). Just as these cities were the only means of safety for the guilty, so Christ is the only name “under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Just as the cities were available to all, so Christ has “taste[d] death for every man” (Heb. 2:9) and calls “all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30). Just as the slayer had to enter the city without delay, so those who are guilty before God are called to repent and believe on Christ because “now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2).
It would come to no one’s surprise that church attendance is on the decline in America. In the 1950’s almost half of Americans found themselves in church on a weekly basis. Fast forward to 2018 and that number would be around 20%. I found it interesting that Utah, Alabama and Tennessee have the highest percentage of church-goers while Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire have the lowest numbers. Our great state of Pennsylvania was tied for 28th. That doesn’t even factor in the number of churches that preached the gospel in the 1950’s verses today.
Unfortunately the lack of attendance doesn’t just reflect our culture as a whole, but also has invaded our good Bible-preaching churches as well. Even many professing Christians, in evangelical and fundamental church members, find regular church attendance to be pretty low on their priority list. However, our reading today reminds us of the absolute importance of church attendance. Hebrews 10:25 says, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another: and so much the more as you see the day approaching.” This very familiar passage gives a very clear command to be in church. Yes, with the advent of the internet and live-streaming church services I could easily sit at home in my recliner, pull up the services of a good church and hear a good message. But this is no excuse and a poor substitute for the “assembling of ourselves”.
One of the main differences between live attendance and watching a message online is mentioned in this verse. While we are assembling, the admonition is given to exhort one another and to “provoke until love and to good works” (verse 24). We are just not to be pew warmers when we do come to church and simply check the box that we were there but to be actively engaged in being an encouragement to others while we are there. Our attendance shouldn’t just be based on what I get while I’m there but what I can offer others in the form of encouragement or exhortation.
On a side note, while there is no verse that commands us to be in church every time the doors are open, we have to ask ourselves when we do not attend a service if the reason we are not attending is really a good reason to stay home. If we are honest, more times than not, that if we really had a desire to be in church we could find a way to be there. True??
We have only to read the first eight verses of Psalm 119 to get the “feel” for this chapter. It contains such words as commandments, judgments and statutes; setting forth, the direction in which it goes. I have often thought if I could have one chapter from the Bible it would be this one. It could take a lifetime to preach through this chapter thoroughly.
Whenever I think upon Psalm 119 I am drawn to verse eleven: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” While living in Texas, my dear friend, mentor, and pastor Rbie Threatt would often teach and preach on it. It was among his favorite verses and it became the congregations too. He made it one of our memory verses. I can hear him now leading us in recital. Think on the wisdom in this verse.
Looking back on my life, I realize had I hid God’s Word in my heart there would not have been room for the debauchery that took its place. A worthless song of years ago droned, “All we need is love.” That would be nice, but the truth is all we really need is God’s Word. Only then will our problems be solved. Having dealt with the criminal element for many years I can say I never arrested anyone who was trying to hide God’s Word in their heart. They were hiding the money they stole or the fact that they murdered someone, etc.
The old illustration rings true. We all remember the children’s toy with different shaped pegs and different shaped holes. This will keep a child busy for quite awhile attempting to figure it out. The goal is to put the right shaped pegs in the matching holes! Well there is a hole in our heart that is shaped like God and only He will fit it rightly. Children learn easily, but many adults have yet to get it.
God’s Word is so simple. Humans wrestle with simple things; expecting everything needs to be thought through. We equate possessions and status as indicators of success and peace. But God tells us, “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD. Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart” (Ps. 119:1,2). Moreover in Ps.1:3, “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
Algebra is like life (confusing and boring); unless you plug in the proper figures: then it is joyful. When equations come out we experience satisfaction. God has given us the answers in His Word. We simply need to put the God-shaped plug into the God-shaped void in our hearts!