The Greatest Story Ever – Psalm 145

The study of one’s ancestry has taken on an entirely new dimension in the computer age. The technology and resources make it an accessible endeavor for common people. The web site is an extraordinarily successful online engine with powerful tools. I have used it in recent years when researching my lost family background and found it to be amazing.

But also amazing to me is the way ancestors are so quickly forgotten in most families. When I finally met a blood relative (a cousin) from my biological, pre-adoptive family of origin, he was almost completely devoid of any stories or information farther back than our common grandparents. When we went to the family plot in the cemetery in Easton, PA, it was I who pointed out to him that our common great-grandparents were actually buried next to his own parents. He did not know that and knew nothing about them.

This loss of information does not seem to be uncommon for many people who are descended from anything less than someone rather universally famous. Most folks cannot recount anything about any ancestors more than three or four generations. But those who had ancestors who were extraordinarily famous for some reason, stories exist that they can pass down from generation to generation.

And this is the ability we have as God’s children. Our Father God – through his mighty deeds – is famous to the ultimate extreme, and his power and glory resides in the stories and accounts of what he has done. His character and works need to be passed on from generation to generation. Imagine if you were George Washington VIII … the 8th generation of the first President. Would you tell your children the story of who you are, who they are, who they are descended from … or would you just never get around to saying anything about it?  Well, in Christ, we are related to the creator God of the universe. Why would we not be quick to pass on the story of that incredible connection? Why would we not daily meditate on such a blessing of relationship? How could that reality not cause us to respond in worship?

These sorts of thoughts seem to be what the Psalmist has in mind today in verses 3-7 – the portion of the Psalm of most interest relative to our theme of generational ministry.  In our homes and in our church family, we need to understand the role we increasingly possess as we age – to be the mouthpiece of God’s greatness to those who are coming behind us.

Psalm 145

I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works—and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.

The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
10 All your works praise you, Lord; your faithful people extol you.
11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.

Annoying Rich People – Deuteronomy 6:1-26

There are two types of annoying rich people in the world who flaunt their wealth. The first is the guy who simply was born in the right place at the right time, and then he managed to live long enough to inherit the incredible wealth that existed even before he was a spark in someone’s eye. The second annoying type is the one who talks incessantly about all his hard work, but seems to forget the strength and good health God allowed him to have and all the infrastructure around him that helped facilitate the rewards of his labor.

It was this second category of person that Obama was seeking to address in his ill-advised campaign remarks when he said, “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. … Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”  This, of course, offended the bulk of business owners who are not actually wealthy, and rightly saw that their conscientious hard work was devalued. Yet, apart from the unfortunate categorizations, the President did have a legitimate point that the ability to work hard and succeed is built upon the shoulders and inter-connectedness of others who have done the same—before us and around us.

When standing at the front door of a successful business, it is easy to forget and overlook both the diligent work over a long period of time that went into it, as well as the surrounding infrastructure that likewise contributed to making it possible. And so, in our reading today, Moses reminds the people that when they would soon be standing successfully in the towns and countryside of the Promised Land, that they should remember that the buildings, wells, and vineyards were not of their construction; rather, it was God’s strength through them and by his provision that these riches existed for them to enjoy. They needed to have an accurate “remembrance.”

That is the big idea today – remembrance. It is not a stretch whatsoever to state that whatever we have is due to God’s grace and provision. Life itself is from him. Our health and ability to succeed is from him. We stand upon the generations of others before us who have done much to make anything we enjoy possible – including the passing down of timeless truth to us.

By nature, our reality goes as far as our personal remembrances and experiences. The rest of true reality needs to be taught to us; and in turn, all we know needs to be taught by us to those coming after us – to our children in our homes and in our church family.

Here are some formulas for success and failure …

Remembrance + trust + obedience = success.

Forgetfulness + independence + disobedience = failure.

Left alone to our own devices and natural drift, we will tend to forget and devalue the work of God in the past. That is the problem Israel had, and it is a problem endemic to all generations apart from the older folks reminding the younger about these truths. An illustration is given in today’s passage in verse 16,  “Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.”  This story from the time of the Exodus from Egypt was one the Israelites would rather not recall, though it was an event they needed to remember. The people under Moses were in a position where they were out of water. And though they had previously seen God’s incredible provision for them, in a lack of faith and trust, they grumbled and rebelled. Essentially, they had forgotten – failed to remember. So the story of Massah is recalled here (and in a number of other places in the Bible) as “exhibit A” of unbelief; and the exhortation is, “Don’t be like that!”

That’s the lesson!  Don’t be like that! But that is how people will be – our children and youth especially – if we don’t help them remember! And it is my role as the lead pastor in this place to remember to remind you to remember and help the rising generations to remember! Don’t be like the annoying rich person who forgets the source of his success. I’m writing this in advance of the first sermon, and you’re reading it after it has been done, but I’m likely to have yelled a little bit at this point! But it is the main thing that I believe God has told me to tell this church … so I’m doing it.

Love the Lord Your God – Deuteronomy 6:1-26

6:1These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

13 Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. 14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. 16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah. 17 Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. 18 Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors, 19 thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said.

20 In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” 21 tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders—great and terrible—on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. 23 But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors. 24 The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. 25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”

God’s Plan Tied Together – Malachi 4:1-6 / Luke 1:5-17

The founding of the colony at Jamestown, Virginia was a long time ago – 406 years to be exact. We think of that as a substantial hunk of time, and it is. And that is the amount of time that passed between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament.

Yet the story from Genesis to Revelation is one grand story of God’s work. We even speak of it in our children’s ministry curriculum at TSF as “God’s Big Story.”  It is God’s masterpiece – it is THE BIG PICTURE. And we fit into that story as his workmanship … his ambassadors to a lost world.

What might not be immediately evident in today’s two Scripture passages is that, though there are 400 years between them, the story line itself has essentially no gap. The reading in Malachi chapter 4 is the end of the Old Testament. The reading in Luke chapter 1 is actually on the flip side of the page in terms of the working out of God’s plan. Malachi ends with the promise of the return of Elijah before the great day of the Lord, and Luke says that John the Baptist is the coming and fulfillment of that prophecy.

In the previous chapter 3 of Malachi, just prior to today’s reading, the prophet wrote,  14 You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’”

We have all had that feeling sometimes, right? … the sense that those who do wrong get away with things while good people suffer injustice. But the next several verses remind the readers that God is really good at record keeping, and in the end, the following happens …..

4:1 “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.

“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

Malachi says that in a final day, there will be a just judgment – of fire upon those who are evil, and of light and life upon those who are the righteous. The picture presented here is of cattle who have been penned up, and then when set free, they really do run and jump for joy!

And verse four brings back to our memory so much of what we emphasized in the writings from our Deuteronomy series this past spring – that God honors his covenant and blesses those who are obedient to remember and observe. “Remember” is a word that was used 18 times in contexts of exhortation in Deuteronomy.

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

The concept of the “day of the Lord” is a bit complicated. This is the time when the Messiah does come – as Christ did, accomplishing salvation through the cross – though every aspect of the final judgment of evil and sin has not yet been fully realized. But the sunrise of this entire period was heralded by the coming and ministry of John the Baptist …

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold – Luke 1:5-17

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

So John the Baptist is sent as a sort of “warm-up” act for the coming of Jesus. His ministry was recognized by masses of people as unique, and it set up a fresh expectation of God stepping into time to fulfill his covenant promises to the nation of Israel; and we know now that the plan of God through the work of Christ was truly universal – touching us as well.

God has a master plan. It is not about just the Old Testament and the covenant people of Israel. It is not just about the Christian church. It is about how God has redeemed a lost creation of mankind back to himself through the work of Christ on the cross. The Old Testament looked forward to it – presenting the background and the need. The New Testament finishes the story by telling how it was fulfilled in Christ, and how that message is one for us to preach until such time as God returns to make an end of his entire earthly work.

In a way, it might be said that we fit into that story book somewhere in the next to last chapter. And we have a lot of history and obligations to understand and put into practice in our world. We have obligations to live in a way that we are in right relationship with God. But our obligations extend beyond ourselves – most particularly to be passing along this truth to the rising generations behind us … in our homes first, then in the church, and finally to the rest of the world. We need to understand where we (personally, and as a church) fit into God’s plan, not how do we get God to fit into our vision.

All of this story was passed down to us … over thousands of years of people transmitting it – some at the cost of their very lives. We now carry the baton, but it must be passed off as well to those who will run after us (pending God’s return). How are you involved generationally in that transfer?