As I was approaching the end of June, I knew I wanted to end the sermons on Acts and begin something new for the summer. I had preached on the Psalms of Ascent, psalms 121 to 133 in the summer of 2000 and decided to return to them this summer. The question was to decide on which psalms to focus. Annie and my daughter Caitlin both suggested I look at the Penitential or Confessional Psalms and I did but did not resonate with the thought of preaching on confession for all summer long.
I love numbers so I thought of preaching on the prime number psalms. I looked at psalms 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, and 17 but thought that might not be the right way to approach the series. Then I discovered with a Google search that you can generate random numbers on Excel. So I did that and did not like the results. For one thing, I ended up with a couple of the psalms of ascent.
Finally I decided to preach on psalms that spoke to me. This may seem terribly obvious to you and my path to these psalms may seem strange, but all’s well that ends well and we have been brought to where I believe we need to be.
As the three weeks with our daughter and her husband came to an end, I was feeling the pain of separation and so came to Psalm 137 from which I preached two weeks ago. I preached this sermon at RPF two weeks ago and again last week in Casablanca and the response to the sermon was to make people feel their pain of separation. This was a heart response to the sermon.
This is how I think we are to approach the psalms. In Romans or Acts it is important to discover the historical context and investigate Paul’s theology but that is not as necessary with the Psalms. It is still helpful but they are not meant to speak to us through our head but through our heart.
Psalm 25 has been speaking to my heart for the past several months. Let me tell you what I have been feeling.
Christians entered into the politics of Morocco this year. The government wanted the support of American evangelicals for the disputed Sahara and so invited them to come for inter-faith dialog and to put on a Christian concert in Marrakech. The fundamentalists saw this as an opportunity and began attacking the government’s collaboration with American evangelicals and there were a number of media stories in newspapers and magazines about Christians in Morocco. Most of the information was inaccurate and the numbers reported were inflated, but it is a bit uncomfortable to be living in a country where Christianity is merely tolerated and then to have these attacks in the press.
Because of this pressure from the fundamentalists, the government began to watch Christian activities in the country more closely and then Deon Malan, pastor of the international church in Marrakech was kicked out of the country. This happened the week before Easter and I entered into a whirlwind of activity. I went with Karen Thomas Smith to the newspapers in Casablanca to protest. I was constantly on the phone talking with people around the country. And then on Easter, after Deon and his family had left the country, I was at the Easter brunch and in talking with people I realized for the first time that it was possible I could be kicked out of the country as well.
I had always thought myself to be invulnerable but I crossed over from invulnerability to vulnerability and I was depressed. I realized how deeply my heart is embedded in Morocco. I love being part of this international church. I love having Pentecostals and Baptists together in one church. I love having a discussion in Sunday School with so many cultural and denominational perspectives. I love being part of the Village of Hope and all the ways it is helping the children and community of Ain Leuh. I love being part of l’Eglise Protestante and its efforts to support the other churches of Morocco and to reach out a charitable arm and love the people of Morocco in the name of Jesus.
But at any point, with a change in the political climate in Morocco, we could be told we have to leave the Village of Hope. Our association could be taken from us. We could have much stricter restrictions for our church and I could be asked to leave Morocco.
The thought of losing all this made me depressed. I asked Annie, “Where would we go and what would I do if I had to leave Morocco?” I realized that I have no Plan B. My life is in Morocco and I have no contingency plans for having to leave this country.
It is in this context that God has spoken to my heart over the past few months through Psalm 25.
One morning a couple months ago when we were having a meeting of l’Eglise Protestante and we started with prayer, Graham Kendrick’s song of Psalm 25 kept running through my head and so I went to the stereo and played it for us as a way of beginning our prayers.
I had a similar experience with the Village of Hope and read that psalm at our board meeting just a couple weeks ago. I did not have the CD and so read the psalm. Psalm 25 speaks to us with or without music.
I want to point out that Psalm 25 has been resonating in my heart not because I initially read the psalm in the Bible but because Graham Kendrick’s song using the words of Psalm 25 have been ringing in my ears.
The psalms were sung, not read and so it is, I believe, that the psalms speak best to us when we sing them. At the end of this sermon I want to play this song for us to hear and I trust that the psalm will go deeply into your heart and be a great encouragement to you.
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;
This is the refrain that Kendrick sings over and over again.
Where do you put something you want to keep safe? My mother used to hide certain treats so we would not eat them all and I remember one day playing with a ball and it bounced under the steps going from the garage to the house. When I picked it up, I found out where she had been hiding the sodas she brought out as a treat just once in a while.
When I was young, I used to bake a cookie called a snickerdoodle and with five sisters, I had to find a place to hide them so they would not disappear all at once. That is hard to do. With the family at the dining table, I would go to my secret stash and bring them out for desert.
The more precious something is, the more difficult it is to find a safe hiding place. If you want to hide something so burglars will not find it, where do you hide what is precious to you?
In a safe deposit box in our bank in the US I have a Patek Phillipe watch that was my grandfather’s. I have the most valuable coins of my coin collection. We have our will and other important documents. That is the safest place I know to store something. But disasters happen even to banks. There is no place on earth where it is absolutely safe to store something.
In Peter’s first letter, I Peter 1:3 he wrote:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you,
In our relationship with Jesus, we have received an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. It is kept safely for us in heaven. So when Graham Kendrick sings over and over, To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; there is a comfort we receive because we know the most precious part of us, the part that will not be left behind when we one day die, our soul is safe with God.
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;
2 in you I trust, O my God.
Where do you go for help? Many of us go to our parents when we need help. Even when our parents cannot help us, we feel somehow safer knowing that they are there. When the last parent dies, even if the child has had to feed and clothe their parent, there is an emotional loss because now there is no longer a parent to go to when you need help.
One of the benefits of marriage is that you have a spouse to whom you can go for help. We have special friends to whom we can go when we need help.
You may need financial help. Who do you go to? Will your boss help? Perhaps he or she might give you a raise but perhaps not. Do you need money for tuition? Maybe the school would give you a scholarship but schools are businesses and need money to operate so scholarships are difficult to get. If you go to the bank and ask for money because you are a bit short and need money for rent or to repair your car, do you think the bank will say, “You’re a good person. Here’s some money to help you get by until you find a job.”
The problem with seeking help from any human relationship or institution is that all human relationships and institutions are imperfect and limited.
Parents sometimes are not fair. Some parents are abusive. Some parents are so caught up with their own lives that they have little energy to care for their children and if they do, they care in a manipulative way that serves their own interests.
Spouses do not always support each other. Huge fights erupt because a spouse asserts his or her rights and although the other may be suffering and in need, self-interest becomes more important than loving the spouse. It may be that both are hurting and unable to care for the other person.
We depend on others. We are meant as Christians to live in community. But our human relationships are imperfect and we will always be disappointed at some point or another in any relationship we have. Even the best parent will one day die. The most loving spouse will one day die. Your best and most faithful friend will one day die.
So Proverbs 118:9 offers us wise advice:
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.
And Psalm 146:3
Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortal men, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
God, on the other hand, is not limited or imperfect. He is ever watchful.
Psalm 121 says:
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
God’s eye is constantly on us.
II Chronicles 16:9a
For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.
God is not finite. He does not have a limited attention span. He does not get bored and begin to contemplate creating another universe. God does not get distracted. When the tsunami hit South Asia, God’s attention was not drawn from you so he could focus on what was more important at the moment. It is not that he can keep only 10,000,000 people in his mind at a time and must switch from screen to screen with the hope that he will see each person for a second every ten minutes.
There is never a moment when you are outside of his attention.
God does not have limited assets. Psalm 50:10 says:
every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
The Village of Hope and the Children’s Haven are both homes for children in Azrou and Ain Leuh, just 20 minutes by car apart from each other. They have begun to work more closely together and some have asked, “Isn’t that difficult since you compete with each other?” If God were finite, then that statement would be true. We both are looking for parents to take in children. We both are looking for funds to expand our operations. But we both are serving God who is without limits. And in God’s plan, unity is a primary concern. By working together we become more effective and God will provide the personnel and funds we need.
Our trust is in God who is not limited by a finite bank account. The cattle on a thousand hills are his and he will provide for us when it is his plan to do so.
There is no better place for you than to put your life in the hands of God. He loves you. He watches over you and he promises that he will never leave you or forsake you.
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;
2 in you I trust, O my God.
Do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
In coming to Morocco we stepped out on a limb. We took a financial risk that our savings will provide for us what we need to live here and pay for a house when we return to the US in another ten or so years. Will we return to the US and be unable to afford a house? Will I need to search for work at the age of 65 to pay our bills? We are out on a limb and live with the possibility that the branch may break.
I am a risk taker. I put myself in positions where if I fail, my failure will be very visible. I have put a lot of myself into the Village of Hope and in l’Eglise Protestante.
Whenever I finish a board meeting of the Village of Hope, I am overwhelmed. I see before us all the things that could go wrong. There are so many ways in which we could fail. I come out of those meetings seeing the mountain before us yet to be climbed. There are immense challenges in front of us and I need to take a look back and see how far we have come. I need to remember that God who brought us this far will continue to help us climb what lies in front of us.
Richard Lovelace pointed out that evil comes in the form of the world, the flesh and the devil. There is spiritual opposition to anything that is a work of God. We are warned in Scripture to be vigilant toward this spiritual attack. But there is also the weakness of the flesh that is a danger to any work of God. Relationships can easily be strained. Homes for children are magnets for pedophiles and someone could slip through our protective net and be seriously destructive.
Because the Village of Hope is a Christian home for children in a Muslim country, there are political dangers that could threaten our existence.
God has given us a wonderful vision of what we could become, a source of hope not just for the children who are adopted into the Village of Hope but for the entire community surrounding us. God has given us this vision and we are moving forward in obedience to what we believe he has called us to do.
And so I am aware that we exist and make progress only because of the grace of God and we are under his protection. I need to be continually reminded that this is God’s work in which we are participating and so I can trust him.
L’Eglise Protestante is a new association for the churches of Morocco and from the beginning our existence has been threatened by others in the country. We are told that the Minister of Religious Affairs considers us to be an illegal association. We are told the government may move all Christian groups into one association with one set of statutes.
And meanwhile we are moving forward toward the vision we believe God has given us to strengthen the churches of Morocco, work toward the unity of the church and serve the charitable projects taking place in Morocco.
So much of myself is invested in these ventures that when I see the attacks against a Christian presence in this country, I become anxious and fear what might happen. I see the works with which I am involved as vulnerable and fragile.
It is this state of mind that I hear the chorus of the Graham Kendrick song.
No one whose hope is in you
Will ever be put to shame
That’s why my eyes are on you, Oh Lord
Surround me, defend me
Oh how I need you
To you I lift up my soul
To you I lift up my soul
This is the reassurance that I need and I seek. Time and time again I am brought back to the fact that it is God who is in control of my life. God will surround me, defend me and I will be safe with him. Whatever happens to me in this life, I will be safe with him because it is to him that I lift up my soul.
I don’t know the circumstance of all of your lives. I know the struggles some of you are facing. But God is intimately aware of each of your circumstances. You may be worried because you have a relationship you thought was going to move toward marriage seems to be disintegrating. You may be anxious because your sources of income seem to be drying up. You may be concerned because you are graduating from university and don’t have a job prospect.
You may be involved in starting a new business or working with one of the many projects in this country to help and love people in the name of Jesus.
There are so many circumstances in which we can feel threatened and I want you to know that you are not outside of the eye of God who is actively watching and caring for you.
Hold on to the promises of God who loves you.
Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him and he will do this:
6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
Listen to Graham Kendrick sing the words of Psalm 25 that are printed in the bulletin and allow this song to minister to your heart.