24th May 2020 APC
Psalm 103 “Count your blessings!”
Welcome and Introduction
Good morning everyone and welcome to our service of worship.
Today we continue our series looking at some of the wonderful songs and poems we have recorded in the bible. These Psalms are the prayers of God’s people and have been used for centuries as a vehicle for expressing our feelings to God. Last Sunday we thought about the mystery of God in Psalm 139 and on Wednesday we reflected on the goodness of God through Psalm 107. This morning we will be thinking about some of the amazing ways that God has blessed us as we read together Psalm 103. But before we read and reflect on it together, let’s take a moment to talk to God, let’s pray…
Loving God, we are glad to come and worship you, glad to stand in your presence and give you the honour due to your name.
Praise and glory, thanksgiving and worship are yours by right.
You are greater than our highest thoughts, mightier than we can ever comprehend, before all, in all and beyond all.
Praise and glory, thanksgiving and worship are yours by right.
So we come, acknowledging your greatness, marvelling at your power, rejoicing in your love, celebrating your blessings and praising you for all the mercy you have shown to us throughout our lives.
Praise and glory, thanksgiving and worship are yours by right.
Accept now our songs of praise, our words of prayer, the thoughts of our hearts, this act of worship.
Praise and glory, thanksgiving and worship are yours by right.
Let us share in the words of the Lord’s prayer together…
Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name,
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread, And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us,
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil,
For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory,
For ever and ever, AMEN.
1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits--
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children--
18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.
19 The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
20 Praise the Lord, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
21 Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
22 Praise the Lord, all his works
everywhere in his dominion. Praise the Lord, my soul.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Reflection Psalm 103 ‘Count your blessings’
You know I’m very proud of being Irish. There are loads of things that I love about Irish people. I think we smile a lot and know how to enjoy ourselves. I think we are friendly and generous and have a good sense of community. I think we look out for the most vulnerable in our society like children and the elderly. As Katie Taylor has proved, we punch above our weight in world sports and generally we still have a good sense of spirituality and an open ness to God. But there’s one aspect of Irish culture that I’m not so proud of. We’re always giving out! It doesn’t matter how much effort someone has put in or how well something runs, we seem to have this inbuilt desire to find some fault and point it out! We give out about our politicians and local councillors. We complain about our schools and colleges. We moan about the weather. We grumble about our doctors and health care professionals. We winge about our work places and whine about our churches. We’re particularly good at giving out about other people! Not to their face of course, but rather to as many others who will listen!
The problem is that even as Christians it’s all too easy for us to allow ourselves to adopt this very negative aspect of our culture without even realising it. We can even allow this negativity to influence our relationship with God. Of course, we may not have the audacity to criticise Him directly or say bad things about Him to other people, but we can all too easily become like an ungrateful child who never takes the time to say ‘thank you’ to their mother no matter how much she does for them.
If you’ve unwittingly allowed the busyness of life and the ‘giving out’ nature of our culture to cause you to become ungrateful towards God, then let me recommend a good dose of Psalm 103 for your soul!
For in this Psalm, David tells himself to Praise God from the bottom of his heart and to make sure that he doesn’t forget all God’s blessings.
But why was David so sure that he had something to thank God for?
Now of course, it is simply not true to say that all illness is a result of personal sin. It wasn’t true for Job or for Paul or for the blind man who met Jesus. When the disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Jesus clearly answered, “Neither!”
Having said that, the bible also teaches that in certain instances, there can be a link between sin and illness. We also know this can be true from human experience. Anxiety associated with unconfessed guilt may give someone an ulcer. Abuse of certain substances can make our bodies sick. Sexual misbehaviour can result in sexually transmitted diseases. We don’t know the details of David’s sin before writing this Psalm, but it seems clear that in his own mind he felt it had been as a result of his own moral failure. What’s more, his illness seems to have been a life-threatening condition. So he talks about his life ebbing away as if he is staring over the edge of a grave or ‘pit’.
At the same time, this Psalm is full of joy and positivity. It is a Psalm of praise, adoration and thanksgiving to God because David is convinced that in answer to his confessions God has been merciful to Him and has healed him completely. In fact he says that he feels so much better he feels like a young man again. So David praises God as the one who “forgives all your sins, heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagles.”
Of course, in using these words, David isn’t saying that his experience will be everybody’s experience. He isn’t saying that God will always heal us and will always make us feel like a young woman again! But given what has happened to him at this particular point in his life, David is so overjoyed, that He just can’t help describing God as the great forgiver and healer! It’s as if he’s so ecstatically happy that He simply overstates His case!
Of course someone who is a sceptic might say, “Well there could have been any one of a number of other reasons why David got better. Why did David believe it was because of God’s answer to his repentance?”
Well, in a nutshell, David goes on to say that he believed it was God who had healed him because His experience of life tallied with what He had been taught from the OT as he grew up within the Jewish community. There he had heard the record of how God had disciplined his ancestors when they disobeyed God during their years of wandering in the wilderness. He’d also read about how God had forgiven them, delivered them from the oppression of their enemies and brought them safely into the land of Canaan that he had promised them. That’s why David writes, “The Lord works righteousness and justice for the oppressed. He made known His ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel.”
David then quotes from Exodus the words that God says to Moses during this period in the history of Israel. It was just after the Israelites had fallen into idolatry by worshipping a golden calf.
Moses pleaded with God to be merciful to the people. In reply God said, “I am the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness and rebellion and sin.”
In response Moses fell to the ground and worshipped God saying, “Although this is a stiff necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin and take us into your inheritance.” We know from reading the rest of the story that God did have mercy on the Israelites.
As he thinks about how God had forgiven and healed him, David looks back on this story in the Old Testament and says something like, “This God of my ancestors and their leader Moses is my God too. He delivered them. He forgave their sins and healed them. That’s what He’s done for me too!” David believed that God had healed Him because His experience in life matched up with the historical experience of his ancestors.
You know you may not be able to prove that God is real to your friends or family members but let me encourage you not to be afraid to share with them that the God of the bible has been real to you. Let me encourage you to pray for them so that God may reveal Himself to them, even in miraculous ways.
But what are the other blessings that David thanks God for in this Psalm?
He praises God that He’s a God who doesn’t get angry with us easily. He writes, “He will not always accuse, nor will He harbour His anger forever.” You know, in one sense God’s anger is not a natural attribute for Him to have. It is something that was brought into existence by the fact that the first humans Adam and Eve decided to rebel against their Creator and so sin entered the world. The fact that we have inherited their sinful nature means that when we deliberately disobey God, we too are giving God no option but to be angry. If He wasn’t angry at sin and its consequences, then He wouldn’t be perfect. He wouldn’t be fair and He couldn’t be trusted. But the good news is that in the future there is coming a day when God will make a new heaven and earth in which those who love Jesus will live forever. Then God will never need to be angry again, for everything in heaven and on earth will be reconciled to Him. Until that day, God will be angry when we deliberately disobey His ways but He will also be more than happy and willing to forgive us when we are genuinely sorry for those sins.
David reflects this by moving on to thanking God for His generous mercy. He says, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.”
The story is told of how a young deserter was brought in front of the emperor Napoleon. He ordered that the man be shot. Immediately the young man’s mother came forward and pleaded with Napoleon saying, “Have mercy on Him.” Napoleon replied, “He doesn’t deserve mercy!” The mother responded, “If he deserved it, it would not be mercy.”
Let me assure you today that the God of this world is as far removed from Napoleon as it is possible to be. Our God is a God of mercy. He does not treat us as our sins deserve! Let me encourage you, no matter what it is you have done or said, no matter how serious the consequences might be, do not be afraid to admit your sin honestly to God. For in Him you will not find someone who is ready to shoot you down. You will find someone who will forgive you and have mercy on you. Let me also encourage you to be careful how you judge or treat other people…We must always ask ourselves, “Am I being as merciful to this person as God is to me?”
David then praises God for the greatness of His love and the comprehensiveness of his forgiveness. He writes, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the West so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”
Amazingly in 2012 American scientists successfully landed a buggy on Mars. The planet is so far away that it took 9 months to cover the 354 million miles. To be honest, we don’t know how vast the universe really is. It’s so vast it’s almost impossible to measure. Well, says David, that’s what God’s love is like towards people who respect Him. That’s how much God loves you this morning.
What’s more, David says that when we honestly confess our sins, God is so forgiving that he takes those sins and puts them completely out of sight- as far as the east is from the West. How far that is, is probably impossible to measure. Perhaps the idea in David’s mind is that in order to look east you have to turn your back completely on the West.
Isn’t that a wonderful picture of what God has done for us in Christ? When Jesus died on the cross, God the Father turned His back on His own Son as He took the punishment for all the things we say and do and think that are wrong. Now that we have accepted what Jesus has done for us, God in a sense has turned His back on our sins and sees us instead as righteous and acceptable in His Son. Of course that doesn’t mean we can just keep on sinning behind God’s back as it were. God still sees our sin. He still accepts us, He never stops loving us, but when we know we have grieved Him and hurt others we need to come and confess that honestly. But we can do that knowing that God will forgive us because He loves us and will put those sins so far away from us that we’ll never be associated with them again in His eyes. Let me also encourage you to constantly ask yourself, “Am I being as loving and forgiving to that person as God is to me?”
Next David thanks God for His intimate understanding of our frail humanity and the fatherly compassion He has for us as a result. He writes, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him, for He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”
You know, the longer I live, the less there is that surprises me about myself and about people in general. But God knows us better than we even know ourselves. He made every molecule in our bodies and understands every complexity of our beings. He knows how we are wired and how our up-bringing and environment have affected us. He knows the temptations we struggle with and the unpredictability of our feelings. He knows every good thing we have achieved and every mistake we have made. He knows that there is nothing we are incapable of doing without His grace to prevent it. We are weak, we are frail. Thankfully, because He knows what we are like, God’s heart is filled with compassion for us. Just as a loving parent worries about their child going off to school or university for the first time, just as they hold out a hand to guide a toddler across the monkey bars, so God cares about us, worries about us, and will do all that He can to be there for us. God knows that we need Him. If only we realised just how much….
David moves on to praise God for is His utter reliability. He says, “As for man his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower in the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him and His righteousness with their children’s children- With those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts.”
You know I was pleasantly surprised recently when someone told me looked too young to have a daughter who was just about to finish her first year of University. If I’m honest, I don’t feel as young as some people obviously think I look! If I sit in one position too long it hurts. I went down the stairs last week to get something from the kitchen. Half way through my descent I’d forgotten what I was going down for! Life goes faster than we think. One day, death will come to us all.
When they are older I’m thinking of asking my children to write “Have you seen my glasses” on my gravestone to give them a bit of a laugh any time they might visit. But the truth is, even that will eventually be worn away by the wind and the rain. David reminds himself and us of the brevity of life and the reality of our own mortality. It’s not something he shighs away from or even something that he dreads. Because even when the world has forgotten us, David reminds us that God never forgets us. David understood God’s faithfulness, His utter reliability, that ‘Hesed’ love we were talking about on Wednesday. It’s because David understood God was committed to loving Him no matter what, that he was completely sure that nothing, not even death itself, could sever that loving relationship. He also believed that the utter dependability and unfailing love of God extended to his own children and to his grandchildren.
You know what was true for David is true for us too. God has promised us that through our committed faith to Jesus Christ that we are eternally His. In Christ, God has set His love upon us, a love that will last forever. A love that will see us through life and death and bring us into an even better life to come in His very presence. As Peter said on the day of Pentecost, that promise “is to us and to our children and to all who will believe!”
The last thing David praises God for is His complete control over the universe. He writes, “The Lord has established His throne in the heaven and His Kingdom rules over all.”
Isn’t it a great comfort to know that our God is King over the universe! What assurance that can give us whatever the circumstances of life are throwing at us to know that ultimately God is sovereign. Nothing surprises Him. Nothing stresses Him out or makes Him feel nervous. Nothing causes Him to make a mistake. Nothing can defeat Him or spoil His overall plans and purposes for us and for this world. Ultimately our God is in charge. He will win.
In a nutshell, David says “Let everything that has breath Praise the Lord!” Whether that’s the angels, all the works of creation, or himself, David concludes his Psalm by saying that God is so great and so good to us, that He deserves the praise of everything and everyone and that includes you and me.
You know, one of the real dangers for all of us is that we can lose sight of the great wonder and the goodness of God. It’s so easy for the cares and the worries of this life to choke the appreciation of God in our lives so that there’s no spark left. That’s why it’s so important to work at our relationship with God in the same way that we need to work at our marriages and friendships. We need to make the time to be with Him. We need to make coming to church or listening online the priority of our week. We need to talk to Him in prayer. We need to not only skim read the bible but we need to make the time to really meditate on it until we find the cold embers of our hearts being fanned into flame again with love for God. That’s what David does here and that’s how it helps him.
Let me encourage you to make time this week to really think about God and all that He has given us in Christ. Don’t stop reflecting until you find that your heart is just bursting with love and praise for Him, so much so that you want to live all of your life for His glory! That is your greatest purpose, that’s what will bring you most happiness and satisfaction in life!
And when the lockdown ends, and we once again have the privilege of being able to come to church, let me encourage you to prepare well on Saturday night so that when you get up on Sunday morning you can rise with excitement at the opportunity to come and worship God together. And as we come to church week by week, let me encourage you to sing the hymns and songs with sincerity and to join in the prayers and make them the prayers of your own heart to Him. Let me encourage you to listen carefully to His word, acknowledging its authority for your life and to commit yourself by God’s grace to obeying what it says.
Let me also encourage you to get involved in serving God by using the gifts He has given you in church and in the community. If you would like more advice about how you might do that, please speak to myself or one of the elders. We’ll be more than happy to sit down and talk about where you might fit into the life and effective functioning of our church.
So take time to read Psalm 103 over the next few days. It is my prayer that as you do that, God may rekindle His love afresh in all of our hearts so that every part of our lives may be lived as an offering of praise to Him who deserves all the glory…Amen.
Prayers for Others
Heavenly father, we thank you for how technology has allowed churches throughout our world to stay in touch and to broadcast services and messages. We ask that these services will continue to be a blessing to people. May they provide a strong sense of your presence and help to keep your people together during these times when we cannot meet together.
We pray for church leaders and ask that that you will give them wisdom as they consider how they might navigate the difficulties of running church activities in the future with the restrictions of social distancing.
We thank you for all the people who work behind the scenes to keep the larger structure of our denomination functioning. We pray for all the preparations being made for the meeting of the Standing Commission of the General Assembly at the beginning of June. God help this group to work wisely and well so that they may be enabled to progress necessary pieces of business in the absence of this year’s regular format of General Assembly.
We give thanks for the ministry of the outgoing Moderator, the Right Rev Dr William Henry and we pray your blessing upon our incoming Moderator, Rev David Bruce and his family as he continues to prepare for his year of office in this unusual season of church life.
Lord, we remember people who feel particularly isolated and anxious and those for whom the circumstances have caused deep depression. Lord, we ask that you will bring peace and calm to everyone and that those who are struggling will receive every possible support.
God enable our life together to continue to flourish despite the lockdown and social distancing restrictions. We ask that anyone who is feeling vulnerable or in any danger would have the courage to speak to someone and that they would receive the help that they need.
Father, we think about patients in hospital and residents of care homes at this time when the need for additional measures to ensure safety from spread of infection can be upsetting, especially when they hear of restrictions being lessened elsewhere. We ask that you would give everyone patience, understanding and a freedom from fear and anxiety.
We remember hospital and care home staff who feel tired and stressed by confronting the continuing challenges of coronavirus, and ask that God would renew them in body and mind.
Lord, as the conversation in society turns from lockdown to lifting restrictions, please give us all the necessary confidence to begin to take the tentative steps permitted towards resuming more regular patterns of life.
Give us a gathering sense of looking forward in hope as overall figures of deaths and the rate of infection from coronavirus begin to subside across the world.
Take a few moments to prayer for your own family and friends…
It’s been a joy and privilege to share with you again today. Thanks again for logging on. I hope you’ve felt challenged to count your blessings and inspired to really appreciate what a privilege it is for us to know and be able to worship and serve God in freedom together. Currently the government has set a provisional date of the 20th July for the reopening of Masses and church gatherings. Since that is a Monday we are currently considering reopening on Sunday 26th July. Please do pray for our church leadership as we pray and plan for this. I hope you can tune in again on Wednesday morning as we consider how we can learn to manage our anxiety as we reflect on psalm 55. I want to thank Alison and our growing virtual choir for all their efforts. You will be able to enjoy them singing their latest piece “How Deep the Father’s love for us” in a moment. But first, let me share the benediction, after which I invite you to say the grace together…
May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble; May the name of the God of Jacob defend you; May He send you help from His sanctuary, And strengthen you out of Zion; May He remember all your offerings, And accept your sacrifices. May He grant you according to your heart’s desire, And fulfill all your purposes.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and for evermore, Amen.”
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.