Strength

Psalm 46: Fortress, 14 August 2022

Psalm 46: Fortress
Series—Restoring Your Soul: Psalms

Series Big Idea: The Psalms are filled with passionate expressions of the soul.
 
Big Idea: God is our refuge, strength, help, and fortress in a broken world. 
 
The movement of Jesus began with…Jesus! The Jewish Messiah gained Gentile followers of the years, becoming the first multi-ethnic faith in the world. In 1054, the global Christian Church split in two—Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox—following the East-West Schism. About 500 years later, the Protestant Reformation protested many practices of the Roman Catholic Church, further dividing Christians into Catholic and Protestant in addition to Orthodox. One of the leading figures of the Reformation was a priest named Martin Luther, the figure behind the Lutheran Church today.
 
Luther wrote the song we sang earlier,
A Mighty Fortress is Our God. It was often called “Battle Hymn of the Reformation” and is based on our text today, Psalm 46 which begins
 
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
 
We’re in the middle of a summer series on the Psalms, songs written thousands of years ago, yet writings which are amazingly relevant today. Some things never change!
 
It’s like that Psalm 46 was written as a response to the deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians during King Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18-19; 2 Chron. 32; Isaiah 36-37). Some believe the king himself wrote this psalm, and the next two.
 
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
 
This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible for many reasons, not the least of which is the last word: trouble. If I know anything about you, I know you’ve experienced trouble, you’re experiencing trouble now, or you will experience it in the future…or all three!
 
The original Hebrew word is
tsarah and it means distress, affliction, anguish, trouble.
 
There’s an old song that say, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen/Nobody knows but Jesus.”
 
Jesus himself said,
 
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b)
 
Maybe some of you have been told if you love God, everything will be happy, happy, happy. If so, you were told a lie! Isaiah prophesied about Jesus the Messiah hundreds of years before his birth:
 
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. (Isaiah 53:3)
 
Does that sound happy, happy, happy to you?!
 
I don’t claim to be an expert on world religions, but I know of no other faith that follows a suffering servant.
If you are going through trouble today, Jesus understands. He knows loneliness, betrayal, disappointment, rejection, …and he really knows pain. He promised trouble in this world, but then added
 
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b)
 
Jesus conquered sin and death, pain and trouble. His followers will, too…in time. We all know trouble of one kind or another, which leads us back to our text for today in Psalm 46.
 
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
 
When we’re in trouble, we want help.
When we’re in trouble, we want strength.
When we’re in trouble, we want a refuge, a safe haven, safety, protection, a fortress, a shelter, a tower.
 
That’s God! He’s not just help, He’s an ever-present help. That’s good news! That’s gospel!
 
I want to pause for a moment and lead you in a time of prayer.
 
-       Prayer for those in trouble.
-
       Prayer for those who know someone in trouble.
 
Thank You, LORD! He is our refuge, our strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. (Psalm 46:2-3)
 
Fear is an interesting thing. I may be afraid of something that bring you no fear.
 
How many of you are afraid of snakes?
How many of you like snakes?
How many of you like snakes behind glass rather than crawling up your leg?
 
I’m not a big fan of snakes, but people have no fear of them at all. If you know something is harmless or if you are protected from it, there’s less fear…maybe none. I am not afraid of snakes at the zoo. The glass is a refuge, a fortress from any harm that could come my way from the source of the fear, the snake.
 
Because God is our refuge, our strength, our help, even if the world around us is out of control—and it is—we will not fear. We will exercise faith.
 
Whatever you fear has mastery over your life, which is why we are told to fear God and only God. When God is your master, every other fear will lose its control over you. Pastor Erwin McManus says,
 
“When all your fear is directed at God, his perfect love casts out all the fear and now you can live a life that’s truly free.” – Erwin McManus
 
Who doesn’t want that?
 
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. (Psalm 46:4) God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. (Psalm 46:5)
 
This is not a literal body of water, but a poetic image of God’s presence. Jerusalem was the Holy City which God set apart, yet unlike most cities, Jerusalem has no river. God’s blessings provided more value and help than any river. If they trust in the LORD, it will become almost like the Garden of Eden. In these days, God’s presence was usually contained in the Jerusalem temple. How blessed we are that the curtain the kept that presence in the Holy of holies was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died…and since the Holy Spirit was unleashed upon believers in Acts 2, we can experience God’s presence and power wherever we go.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. (Psalm 46:6) Here's another brilliant image. Imagine the earth melting at the sounds of God’s voice. It’s really not a stretch since the earth was created at the sound of God’s voice!
The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46:7) There are two distinct messages here. The first is incarnation…Emmanuel…God with us. He’s with us, family! You can’t see Him or touch Him, but just like the invisible wind, you can see His activity. When do you feel closest to God? For me, it’s nature and the arts, especially music. Some feel close to God while studying the Bible, others in serving the poor, and still others engaging in justice and righteousness activities. The message of Christmas is God is here. The message of Acts chapter 2 is God is here, the Holy Spirit, living within us. What a beautiful mystery!
 
God is also our fortress. We don’t often see a fortress in modern architecture. The closest thing some have is a safe room in their house…or a basement for tornados. A fortress or refuge is a place of safety. God is that for us.
 
Our God is a mighty fortress! He is a shelter in the time of storm. He is our refuge and strength. He is our protector. Last Sunday we were reminded that He is our shepherd (Yahweh-Rohi). He is the strong one who sees (El-Roi). He is God Almighty (El-Shaddai-Rohi). He is the everlasting God (El-Olam). He is the most high God (El-Elyon). He is our provider (Yahweh-Jireh). He is the Lord over all (Adonai). He is the Lord who is present (Yahweh-Shammah). That’s just a few of the names of God!
 
What is your favorite name for God?
Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. (Psalm 46:8)
 
That sounds rather dark, but the scene is the fields surrounding Jerusalem, filled with the destruction of the Assyrian army the LORD defeated.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. (Psalm 46:9)
 
God is God. He is the definition of justice…and yet He is also merciful, hallelujah! We don’t want what we deserve from God! As the psalmists describe God’s power, the tone changes in verse ten.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10) Be still and know that I am God.
Be still, and know that I am
Be still, and know that
Be still, and know
Be still, and
Be still,
Be
 
If you’re like me, it’s hard to be still. Noise surrounds us. Activity never ends. Even when my head hits the pillow, my mind often runs endlessly.
 
Maybe you’ve asked God to speak and heard nothing. Could it be you’re too busy to hear? He speaks primarily through His Word. Are you reading it daily? He’ll never contradict it.
 
If your brain feasts on cable news, you’ll forget He is God.
If your mind is filled with social media, God will diminish.
If your calendar is packed with activity, your love for God will grow cold.
If your life is lived at a non-stop pace, you will fail to worship the LORD.
 
I’m guilty! I don’t like slow. I struggle with still. I spent three years engaging in the Life on Life Retreat Experience specifically because I needed help…and I still do…even as I lead Life on Life Retreats! One of the practices, one of the rhythms is so be still, to be quiet, to rest, to Sabbath…not to gaze at our navels, but to fix our eyes on Jesus, to know that He is God.
Be still! The phrase literally means, “Take your hands off! Relax!” Jacob got in trouble taking matters into his own hands rather than trusting the LORD. Have you ever done that? Be still. Keep calm. Trust God. It doesn’t mean be inactive, but don’t worry…pray…and obey!

Check out
this recent interview with John Eldredge (start at 4:40) and his 3-minute tool that could literally restore your soul.
 
The verse also says, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
 
For God so loved the…United States of America?
For God so loved the…English-speaking people?
For God so loved…the world! The nations!
 
One of the most beautiful visions in the Bible is from the book of Revelation. John wrote,
 
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. (Revelation 7:9a)
 
God will be exalted among the nations, exalted in the earth.
 
The final verse declares,
The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46:11)
 
This is a perfect summary of the chapter.
 
The LORD. There is none like Him.
 
The LORD Almighty. He’s greater than any trouble, enemy, fear, army, addiction, or disease.
 
The LORD Almighty is with us. He is present. He is here. He’s not just out there. The Holy Spirit lives inside every follower of Jesus.
 
The God of Jacob is our fortress. He’s known as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. From generation to generation, He remains faithful. What He did then, He can do now.
 
God is our refuge, strength, help, and fortress in a broken world. Hallelujah!

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library
here.

Fit for the King, 27 December 2020

Fit for a King
Mark 12:30

Big Idea: We are to glorify God not only with our heart, soul, and mind but also our bodies.

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas. It was great to worship with many of you, both here on campus and with those who participated online.

Here we are…that awkward time between Christmas and New Year’s. Gifts are returned. Decorations come down. Toys are broken! And if you’re like me, you may have eaten too many Christmas cookies which leads to those dreadful
new year’s resolutions! I think our entire world is looking forward to Friday, though the calendar change will not end the pandemic, political chaos, and division in our land, unfortunately. But a new year is a chance to develop a new you, to maybe set some goals, begin some new habits, and get a fresh start.

I want to challenge you with two things:

  1. 1. Mission:119 (Mission119.org)
  2. 2. 40 Days of Prayer (https://mailchi.mp/cmalliance.org/40daysofprayer-signup)

According to YouGov, 28% of Americans planned to make New Year’s resolutions last year: 39% of Millennials, 30% of us GenXers, and 19% of Baby Boomers. The most popular resolutions are

  1. 1. Exercise more (50%)
  2. 2. Save money (49%)
  3. 3. Eat more healthily (43%)
  4. 4. Lose weight (37%)
  5. 5. Reduce stress (34%)
  6. 6. Get more sleep (30%)
  7. 7. Stick to a budget (30%)
  8. 8. Focus on spiritual growth (28%)
  9. 9. Travel more (25%)
  10. 10. Learn a new skill (25%)

(
https://www.theactivetimes.com/home/most-popular-new-years-resolutions/slide-15)

I think they are all noble quests, but I found the first seven especially fascinating because they all fit into two categories: money (2, 7) and body (1, 3, 4, 5, 6).

We’ll talk about money in the future, but today’s focus is on the body, becoming
Fit for the King.

The Jewish Bible we call the Old Testament is loaded with hundreds of rules and commands about everything from relationships to animal sacrifices. Religious leaders would add their own rules, traditions, and interpretations to suit their preferences and ensure others would be impressed by their outward piety (despite their prideful, unseen hearts).

During Jesus’ years on earth teaching and modeling what it means to be human and glorify God, he was asked which of the laws was most important. He replied,

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30)

I think most people understand what it means to love with your heart. After all, a heart is the symbol of love. The original Greek word here for heart, kardia, refers to feelings. We can emote love to God. Loving God with all your soul is different. It involves the spirit, something a bit more abstract, perhaps. The Greek word psuche literally means breath. Many in the western world understand loving God with our mind. We read and study the Bible. We develop statements of faith and talk theology, helping one another understand a knowable yet mysterious Creator God. Loving God with our mind can involve our imagination and understanding in addition to mere facts and data.

But then there’s the last one. How do we love the Lord with all our strength, our might, our ability, our power? This certainly takes on a physical dimension. First, a little church history lesson.

In the early days of Christianity, there were some who believed the body and all material reality are evil. This was called Gnosticism. These people thought only the spiritual was good, and salvation was achieved by moving toward a purely spiritual state, transcending the body. Even today, some churches see the body as just a temporary skin that will burn up, a vehicle for our journey on earth until the bus to heaven comes. All that matters, they teach, is the spirit, the soul.

The opening pages of the Bible in the book of Genesis reveal everything as created by God, for God, and for God’s glory…including you and your body. God’s reaction to His work was repeatedly “very good.” Obviously sin has corrupted God’s beautiful work, but that never classified the material world as evil.

Our celebration of the birth of Jesus is testimony to this. He came as Emmanuel, God with in what we call the incarnation. God became flesh. Jesus came into our world with a real body like ours. His presence. To quote writer Ragan Sutterfield,

Early theologians saw this as a work by which Christ was renewing creation, restoring the bodily life through resurrection. Christ’s mission was not to rescue spirits for an ephemeral heaven, but rather to bring resurrection to a created order that had been trapped by the powers of Death. For Christians, the body is not a thing to transcend, but to resurrect.

Someday our bodies will be like the resurrected body of Jesus, but a physical body nonetheless.
Our bodies are not evil. In fact, Paul gave a wonderful teaching to the church in Corinth about our bodies. He said,

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

Where is God? God is everywhere, but God’s Spirit which used to appear in different places throughout scripture was unleashed in the second chapter of Acts. The Jewish temple in Israel was destroyed, but now God lives within every follower of Jesus.

We are God’s temple.

What a remarkable reality! God’s house is not this building. It’s us! This might be why we sometimes talk about letting Jesus come into our heart. We invite God to dwell, to make His home in us. It doesn’t mean that we are God or become God, but that God lives in us.

You were made by God.
You were made for God.
You were made for God’s glory. This includes your body.

Your body is a gift from God. No matter how it compares to supermodels or professional athletes, you were created by God in His image with dignity, value, and worth. All of our bodies are different—and they change over time—but we’ve been given them to bring glory to God.

How do we love God with our body?

We can glorify God with what we
put into our bodies.

I’m not going to shame you for your holiday feasting, but think about your fuel. If you put Mountain Dew in a car’s gas tank, how long would it run? If you feed a dog nothing but Cheetos, how healthy would it become?

When I was a kid growing up in church, I used to hear people say, “Don’t smoke. Your body is a temple.” We know now that tobacco use can harm our bodies, leading to cancer and other ailments. But do you know what the number one killer in the USA is?

Presently, it’s COVID-19…so please wear a mask to protect those around you. It’s a simple way to possibly save lives.

The number two killer—and the number one killer in most years—is heart disease. I always found it ironic when an overweight, potluck-loving preacher told people to avoid tobacco while he ate his way toward death! One large Christian comedian remarked, “If the body is a temple, I’m a megachurch!”

I think we all realize obesity, COVID-19, cigarettes, and drug abuse can be harmful to our temples. What we are learning more about is nutrition and the effects of chemicals in our foods. I’m not a nutritionist, but good information is easy to find. One of our church members, Nancy Pickens, is a great resource on nutrition.

We can glorify God with what we
do with our bodies.

I asked for some input on this sermon from Nancy and her husband, Dr. Michael Pickens. Here’s what he said:

Loving God with all our strength means using our body to show God you love Him. This means directly loving Him through our worship and by giving Him the first fruits of our labors, both of which require using our bodies. And, it involves loving others as Jesus commanded us - being His hands and feet, which also involves using our physical bodies.

Therefore, we are to “enthusiastically” use our physical bodies, the “temple” of the Holy Spirit, to show God we love Him. How are we going to be able to do this foggy headed, tired/exhausted, and sick all of the time, because we are eating refined and nutritionally deficient artificial foods and not exercising? We can’t! How can we give abundantly from the fruits of our labor if we are spending a huge chunk of our income on doctors’ visits, drugs and hospital stays? We can’t!

To “run the race”, to “fight the good fight”, we need to get back to nourishing our bodies with the bounty that nature provides. God’s nature. Fruits and a lot of veggies in a rainbow of colors, with smaller amounts of meat and grains… Who would want to fly in an airplane made out of parts from a junk yard?

And, we have to get out of our chairs and move! That doesn’t mean tedious hours on end on the elliptical trainer or pumping iron for endless hours in the gym, unless you like to do those things. Walk, bike, swim. You can play games, such as tennis or pickle ball. Make it fun! Just do it on a regular basis. Make arms and legs of steel, instead of spaghetti, to serve our God with all your strength!

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

There’s not much in the Bible about working out at the gym, swimming, or playing pickle ball, but that’s because they didn’t spend 93% of their time indoors…or driving cars! I doubt Jesus and his friends lacked exercise.

That reminds of one of my favorite stories. Entertainer John Davidson was told by his dad that he could have the keys to the car for the upcoming prom if he got straight A’s in school, read the Bible every day, and cut his hair. On the night of the prom, he asked his dad if he could drive the car. His dad said, “You had to do three things.” John replied, “I got straight A’s and read my Bible every day.” His dad said, “Son, you didn’t cut your hair.” John said, “Dad, Jesus had long hair,” to which his dad wisely added, “Jesus walked everywhere he went!”

We can glorify God with what we do with our bodies…and that includes rest. We are human beings, not human doings. We need good rest daily. We need to sabbath weekly, taking a day off to enjoy God and those things which bring us joy and delight. We need to use our vacation days, recharging not only our bodies, but our brains. I’ve heard many say the pandemic has caused them to slow down, which can be a good thing, especially when we’re driven to be so busy. I find it’s easier to focus, care for others, pray, and work well when I’m well-rested. Self-care is vital, and that includes rest.

There’s another issue related to what we do with our bodies that Paul addressed to that church in Corinth. He said,

Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:16-17)

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.
19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:18-20)   

As I’ve said before, sexual immorality is essentially any sexual activity outside of a marriage between a man and woman. I know, it’s not politically correct, but that’s God’s plan. Making Jesus Lord means making him master, following his wisdom, obeying his commands. We’re given the freedom to make choices about what we put into our bodies and what we do with our bodies, but those decisions have consequences. I don’t mean to be simplistic, but Daddy knows best. God can be trusted…even with your body. I’ve never met someone who kept themselves pure and regretted it, but there are plenty of examples of people who did whatever felt good at the time, only to find themselves with unwanted pregnancies, diseases, or memories.

If you are a follower of Jesus, God lives in your body. Honor God with your body.

There’s one more thing I want to mention about loving God with our bodies.

We are the
hands and feet of Jesus to those we encounter.

People can’t see your heart, your soul, or your mind. They only see our bodies. We are to be Jesus with skin on, the hands and feet of Jesus. It’s been said that you are the only Bible some people will ever read. Whether you know it or not, people are watching you if you call yourself a Christian. They’re evaluating whether you’re real or a faker. Do you act like Jesus or just talk religious? How you treat your body and use it to serve others matters. Actions speak louder than words, and when we love well, it will be noticed.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30)

You can’t have a part-time Lord. He’s master and controller…or not. Following Jesus is not a Sunday-thing. It’s a 24/7/365 devotion to your Maker. Jesus calls us to love him with
all of our heart and with all of our soul and with all of our mind…and with all of our strength…our body.

So What?

What’s your next step today? Perhaps you should make some new year’s resolutions to better take care of the temple. I’ve been trying to do ten pushups a day. It’s not much, but it’s a start. Maybe you need to reduce the food products with ingredients you can’t pronounce, order the small instead of the large portion, or simply eat more fruits and vegetables. Some of you need to choose once and for all to honor God with your body in the bedroom. I believe rest some of us need more rest, whether it’s sleep, taking a weekly sabbath, or using all of your vacation days (I said “some of us!”). We could probably all do more to use our bodies to serve, bless, and love others. Jesus said the most important command was to love God, but then he added,

The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31)

My prayer for you and me is that we would honor God with our bodies in 2021, loving God well and loving others well. To God be the glory!

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library
here.
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