Surround Me O Lord
As we begin I want you to think back to this morning as you left your home. As you walked out of your house what was the last thing you did? Or if it’s still a little early to think back that far, then what was the last thing you did as you got out of your car and headed into the building this morning? I would venture to guess that everyone of us did the exact same thing, we locked our doors. No matter how safe we believe our little corner of the world is, we all lock our doors.
When we lived in Texas, Trista checked with the police department about the different neighborhoods. We bought a house in the safest area in Port Neches, but our first night in our new home, someone got into my truck and helped themselves to my cell phone and the boys handheld games. The nice officer told me that while we were living in a safe neighborhood, we needed to make sure we weren’t seduced into the idea of being safe.
We were reminded this week about how quickly the weather can change and in the process change our lives forever. A disturbance off the coast of Africa can end up as a tropical storm in the gulf coast or worse. Here in Alabama it seems like just under the surface of everyday life we have this awareness of a tornado ripping towns, families, and lives apart.
Even when our economy seems to be in an upswing, there is this overwhelming insecurity in our jobs. I heard a story of a manager and a sales rep looking at a map with colored pins that indicated the company rep in each area. The manager looks at the map and then looks at the rep beside him and says, I’m not going to fire you but I’m loosening your pin a bit just to emphasize the insecurity of your situation. Whether we are the employer or the employee, all of our pins are a little loose. We are left wondering in this broken world if there is any place to find security, or are we just waiting for the pin to drop.
That’s why I believe today’s Song of Ascent is so powerful for us in a world that struggles with security. It is a song that dispels fear and points us toward something, or in this case Someone, who can give us such eternal security.
Every week as I am reading through these songs, I pause to reflect on those ancient travelers on their way to Jerusalem. As they would get closer to the city they were able to see those mountains and it naturally became a metaphor for God’s eternal protection. The mountains that surrounded the city of Jerusalem enforced the reality of God’s love and caused them to sing about the security that God provides.
But we also need to acknowledge that the simple fact that someone had to write this Psalm meant that there were people who needed to be reminded of the security God provides. They struggled with fears and doubts as we do today.
As we sing our song, we are reminded that there aren’t enough locked doors to protect us completely. There is not enough sunny days to erase the fear of the changing weather, and there is not enough time backlogged to give us real job security. And in the midst of all of this insecurity, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Sing As The Mountains Surround Jerusalem
Surrounded by God
I need to be reminded from time to time that these songs are put in a specific order, and not some haphazard collection. With the words from Psalm 124 still in the air, we begin to sing a new song. Psalm 124 is a honest song about the struggles in this life and the hazards of living, but Psalm 125 is a song about the security that can be found in God.
Anyone who does a quick read through the stories in the Bible will admit that the Bible is very honest about the the struggles and difficulties God’s people have endured in this life. In Mark 4 we read about the time that the Apostles were crossing the Sea of Galilee when a storm suddenly appeared that was so fierce that it scared a group of seasoned fishermen. They woke Jesus up in their fear and He spoke to the storm and brought peace.
Or what about the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Three boys taken from their homes, their families, and placed in Babylon. They were encouraged to learn and consume the Babylonian culture and gods. But they refused to bow down to the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar and for their faith they were thrown into a fiery furnace. My favorite part of their story is found in Daniel 3:16 where these boys said, the God whom we serve is able to save us … But even if he doesn’t … we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up. These three men had faith that God could save them, but even if He didn’t they would not worship the Babylonian fake gods. Nebuchadnezzar’s rage boiled and he heated the furnace seven times hotter than normal and threw those boys in, and even the guards who threw them into the furnace died.
The Bible is very honest in describing the struggles that God’s Children endure. But if we are willing to slow down enough to see the whole story we will see that while God’s Children struggle, they never struggle alone. If you know the story, you remember that after Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the furnace, Nebuchadnezzar asks “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”… “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” They were in the furnace, but they were not alone.
One more, the story of Elisha and Ben-Hadad in 2 Kings 6. Ben-Hadad was the king of Syria who was trying to wage war on the Israelites. The problem was that every time he devised a plan, God told the prophet Elisha, who told the King of Israel. Ben-Hadad was furious, determined to put to death the traitor who was leaking his plans. One of his officers told him that the reason that the Jewish armies escaped was that the prophet Elisha lived in the land. Ben-Hadad set out to capture and kill Elisha.
The next morning a young man when out to draw water. When he saw the Syrian soldiers he ran back to Elisha terrified. Elisha said, Don’t be afraid, because there are more of us than there are of them. Then Elisha prayed, O God, open his eyes and let him see. The eyes of the young man were opened the whole mountainside was full of horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha!
What wonderful words of hope; There are more of us than there are of them. It’s not that we don’t have enemies and struggles in this world. We must be honest and admit there are so many things in this world that make us feel insecure, but our song serves to remind us that God is on our side and He is greater than those who stand against us. God is greater than our enemies, and every other cause of our anxiety. We can have peace because He never leaves us alone. We will have our own valleys to cross, but we can have peace because fear and Jesus cannot exist in the same space.
Sing Anywhere With Jesus
Our Response to the Danger
We have two ways to look at this song today, the first is to belabor the point that brokenness and evil exists. And while this song references the danger in the world, that’s not the point. The Psalmist knew that Jerusalem was not totally secure, there were times in her history that she had been attacked and seized. The point has never been that there would never be struggles and hard times, the point has always been that we would not walk through those valleys alone.
To the Jews, the city of Jerusalem was the place that they went to meet God, the place that they were in His presence. The city of Jerusalem was the foundation for their relationship with Jehovah. It was only in this city that they could gather to be in His presence.
We come together to worship because our Messiah closed the gap that exists between us and a holy and righteous God. Because we have a relationship with God that is not limited to a place, we have the assurance of His presence in every aspect of our lives.
We worship because we acknowledge that in the same way Jesus did not keep the storms of life from His disciples, He will not keep the storms of life from us either. Christians in Australia are facing terrible droughts, Christians in India are facing monsoons and mudslides, and Christians on the Gulf Coast are cleaning up after Gordon made landfall on Tuesday. We must make sure that we aren’t seduced into believing the lie that God’s goal for us has been personal safety. The truth is that God’s goal has never been safety, Jesus died on a cross so that we can have a relationship!
Instead of lamenting over the brokenness and pain in this world, let’s look at the song and see how ew are called to respond to the dangers in our world.
In verse 3 we see the first response, a promise. - The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous,
Think for a moment what was happening in your life on March 19th of this year. If that date doesn’t immediately register, that was the night that the tornado ripped through Jacksonville. Think back to that day, if you can. Think back to seeing the pictures on the television. Think back to driving to the university and seeing all of the calamity and destruction in the neighborhoods and on the campus. Do you remember the fear and frustration that was going through your mind?
We all have moments and times and periods of doubt and despair. There are times in our lives that we don’t feel at all like Mount Zion. We feel anything but steady. One moment we are filled with faith and ready to take on the world, and the next moment the world comes crashing down.
While I may not be a steady rock, I can find security in the fact that God is aware and present. That’s why we rejoice, that’s why we can have peace in the middle of the hurricane. That’s the promise in this text, that the brokenness of this world will not last forever. By singing this song, we are reminded that our security comes from God, which is vital to our worship when our feeling fail us.
Here we are almost 6 months after the tornado and we know that life continues, there was wickedness but it did not remain, there was pain but it did not stay. The Psalmist reminds us that our problems will not last and that God has not forgotten us. Evil, pain, and suffering do not endure. If pain was permanent, even the most faithful person would break under the pressure. But that’s not the reality of faith and that’s not the witness of our faith.
The kinds of evil we face in this world are not too great for faith, they were not too much for Job, they were not too much for Jeremiah, and they were not too much for Jesus. There will be a deliverance, when we leave this place and go home, and for those who love God with their very lives, home will be a place with no tears, no pain, no fears, and no struggles. Home is what we were created for, home is why we can endure for just a little longer. Because as beautiful as this world is, we are not home yet.
Sing 1st Verse of This World Is Not My Home
In verse 4 we see our second response, a prayer - Be good to your good people,
While we live on this earth we need help. The last few weeks have been a bit hectic, between getting ready for Trafton’s Senior year, Trista’s new school year, Doctor appointments, Vet visits, and the upcoming Basketball season I have hit the pillow every night exhausted wondering if I got everything done. Last week, I was at the YMCA talking with one of the ladies who works there about how life just keeps getting faster and faster, and I wish that it would slow down just a bit. She smiled and said, don’t worry God’s got this. I said I believe that He does but, then I asked her to remember me in her prayers. She got this confused look on her face, and asked why would a pastor ask her for prayers, she wasn’t a pastor. I just smiled and said I need all the prayers I can get.
The truth is that all of us benefit when someone brings us to the throne of God because we all need help. The Psalmist writes this song out of the experience of living in difficult times, and out of that experience he offers a prayer for God to be gracious to His Children because they need it.
Honestly, I tend to pray better when I understand the pain. I had the great blessing once to hear a man who had fought with cancer 3 different times pray for someone who just received her diagnosis. I could never have prayed that prayer. It was a beautiful prayer of understanding, and hope in a frightening time. But that’s what happens when fellow strugglers get together, there is understanding, compassion, and mercy.
The final response is found in verse 5 and it’s a Blessing - Peace be upon Israel.
Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, the human race has not been what it was meant to be. Sometimes it’s because we have let too much of the world in and other times it’s simply the world has crashed in on us. Let me remind you that we were not created for confusion, we were created for shalom.
Even if you never studied Hebrew, you have heard the word shalom. But since there is no good English translation, we don’t fully understand the depth of its meaning. While it means peace, it goes much deeper that that. It is this idea of completion and fulfillment, a sense of wholeness and harmony in relationships, especially with God. When the Psalmist prays for shalom, and when we sing for shalom, we are saying that we will do whatever we can to make sure the other travelers have the chance to find harmony with God. We are committed to one another’s health, happiness, quietness of soul, tranquility, prosperity and security. It is the thought of pointing you to God where you can find the wholeness that you are seeking for so desperately.
A relationship with God is a relationship of peace. This relationship is available for each one of us who know him. Peace is there for the taking. Nothing can rob you of your peace, because it is based on what Jesus has already done, not on who we are or what we have done, or the circumstances we find ourselves in. Be confident in the fact that God is all powerful and He is in control. We can have shalom even in the midst of brokenness and chaos because we are surrounded by the God of peace.
Do you have peace today? Do you want peace today? We come to the part of our time together when we take a few moments to examine our relationship with God. Is God the first priority in your life? Because true peace comes from a relationship with Him. Make your relationship with God a priority and let Him surround you as the mountains surround Jerusalem. God will be your strength, your protector, and because He will never walk away from you, He will be your peace.