Sunday, July 22, 2018

Sermon - Brought Near

(audio starts below, after the call to worship, which was not recorded)

I have not often preached from the lectionary here at Trinity River, but today I will. With churches around the world, we will look today Ephesians 2, verses 11-22.  I encourage you to have your Bible open there, where you will find the verse, “He is our peace.”
Do you remember the song “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart?”  When I was little, Mom taught me that song.  When we got to the second verse, she used the King James language that she had learned, singing “I’ve got the peace that passeth understanding down in my heart.”  In my six-year-old mind, what I heard was: “I’ve got the peace that passes thunder standing down in my heart.”
There is gospel in that. The peace that passes thunder.
When we talk about “peace” in church, we often focus on our horizontal relationships, how Jesus helps us all get along better.  I believe that is true. Romans tells us, so long as it is up to us, to live at peace with all. I believe that God makes us more loving and kinder and more compassionate as we are transformed, and that makes the world a better place.  That was a big part of Jim’s excellent sermon last week.
That is important, but that is not the peace that Jesus talks about and it is not what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 2.  We are today going to talk about a fundamental gift that comes to God’s children, peace with God. This is the principal meaning of peace in scripture, and it is the one that is much harder to conceptualize, much harder to grasp, much more mystical.  But it is of so much value.  And it comes because God lives within us, because the canyon we have created between ourselves and God has been bridged by Jesus Christ.
In praying about and preparing for this week, my mind has been brought back time and again to the great hymn we will sing today, “Before the Throne of God Above.” Its words were written 150 years ago, so it is remarkable that it has become, in the last 15 years, one of the most popular contemporary worship songs that our college students and young adults share. Earlier this week, not knowing it would be a part of our service today, my daughter Annessa began singing it at the piano, just because. I can’t get away from it. It has been on my mind all week. As God has directed me in how to preach about our access to Him, He has kept these lyrics in the forefront of my heart and mind:
     Before the throne of God above I have a strong, a perfect plea:
     A great high priest whose name is Love who ever lives and pleads for me.
     My name is graven on His hands, My name is written on His heart.
     I know that, while in heaven He stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.

     When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within,
     Upward I look and see Him there, who made an end to all my sin.
     Because the sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free,
     For God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me.

     Behold Him there, the risen Lamb, my perfect spotless righteousness,
     The great unchangeable I AM, The King of glory and of grace.
     One with Himself I cannot die. My soul is purchased by His blood.
     My life is hid with Christ on high, with Christ my Savior and my God! 
     [Charitie Lees Bancroft, “Before the Throne,” 1863]  

I look forward to our sharing it together as we worship.
So, glorify the Lord with me.  Let us exalt His name together.
           SERMON audio begins here

Peace. Jesus brings us peace, but not as the world gives. [John 14:27] What we get is not what we expect. It is so much better. Those around us have a limited, earth-bound view of “peace,” just hoping that the yelling will stop and all the skirmishing sides will go back to their own corners. Jesus conveys so much more. The peace Jesus brings is peace with God. It is the assurance that comes from knowing that our sins are forgiven and our eternity is secure because God holds us in the palm of His hand, that we need not worry because everything will be all right. Not as the world gives, Jesus is moving and speaking and acting in an entirely different dimension.
In 2004, the reigning Emmy-winning best drama, consistently at the top of the ratings, was “The West Wing.” In its fifth season, it aired an episode that portrayed a mock documentary, a PBS-style behind-the-scenes interview with the White House staff, taking its audience backstage to hear the whys and the hows and the unvarnished “reality,” so to speak, of what the characters were really like. The name of the episode was “Access.”
For 22 years, “Access Hollywood” has found a home on your TV, reporting so-called news and gossip and inside information on the entertainment industry. There is apparently a real audience who wants to know this stuff.  Last December, the show shortened its name to just “Access.”
Have you noticed that your nose never itches until your hands are full, until you don’t have access to scratch.
Access is addicting. We want right of entry, an admission voucher, the key. Like Charlie in Roald Dahl’s novel, we want the golden ticket to get into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. When we have access, we are smiling. When access is denied, we are frustrated and itchy, and we are far from at peace.
In the Old Testament, access to God was a struggle. God spoke through law and prophets and donkeys and bushes instead of interacting with the people directly. Moses at least got to go inside the Tent of Meeting. But even Moses, when he asked to see the face of God, was denied.
If you have been in church very long, you know the story of the temple curtain. As Jim taught us a couple of weeks ago, the most sacred part of Solomon’s temple was the Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies. This area, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, was guarded by gilded cherubim and separated from the people by a massive curtain. The curtain was both beautiful and heavy and was meant to divide God from the people.  The Ark – the presence of God – was on one side; the worshipers were on the other. This was not an odd whim of God’s; this was an image, an indication of the sin that separated all people from holy God.
And then, when Jesus was crucified, the curtain of the temple was “torn from top to bottom.” [Mark 15:38] The top of this thirty-foot-high curtain was beyond reach, so this split did not begin with human hands. This emblem of the old ways, the partition between God and His people, was ripped in two. Symbol of all symbols.
Jesus was, during His time on earth, the Word made flesh [John1:14], the exact representation of the Father [Hebrews 1:3]. All there is of the Deity dwelt in Him [Colossians 2:9]. He told His closest followers that when they saw Him, they saw the Father [John 14:9]. This is the meaning of incarnation – God in a body. A singular importance of the coming of Christ was to show us God, up close and personal. Max Lucado’s book dedicated to the incarnation is called God Came Near. Lucado says:
Pilgrims with no vision of the promised land become proprietors of their own land.  They set up camp.  They exchange hiking boots for loafers and trade in their staff for a new recliner. Instead of looking upward at Him, they look inward at themselves and outward at each other.  The result? Cabin fever.  Quarreling families.  Restless leaders.  Fence-building.…  Humans were never meant to dwell in the stale fog of the lowlands with no vision of their Creator.  That’s why God came near. 
[Max Lucado, God Came Near, Multnomah Press, 1987, pp. 160-161]

After His time on earth, Jesus made sure that our intimate knowledge of God was permanent. In our scripture for today, Paul teaches that the cross of Christ provides us access. First God came near to us, now we have been brought near to God.
If I can leave you with one idea today, let it be this: Peace with God results from access to God. The two are inextricably intertwined. The reason that Jesus is our peace is that He has destroyed what divided us from God. He has torn the curtain in two. He has demolished the wall. He has bridged the gap.

Ephesians 2:11-22 :
 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

            It is tempting to read this Ephesians passage solely as a call for a termination of tensions between the Jews and the Gentiles. That is indeed a message of Paul, who consistently tells us that, in Christ, there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, male nor female: for we are all one in Christ Jesus. [Colossians 3:11; Galatians 3:28] The early church had struggles between its Gentile Christians and its Jewish Christians, just as the church today has struggles. Doubtless, part of Paul's message is pointing out that through the cross, God has brought Jews and Gentiles together.
But that is not the primary point of this passage.
It is tempting to read these verses as an object lesson on immigration, on accepting the foreigner and ending xenophobia. I believe that when the peace of God enters our lives, we are changed. We look on others differently than we did before and see them not for their labels but as children of God. That is a truth of scripture, but that is not Paul’s focus in Ephesians 2, where he describes our citizenship in an eternal kingdom, built on the cornerstone of Christ.  Today’s scripture is not about national borders and political asylum.
It is also tempting to read this half-chapter as a call for what Miss America finalists speak of as “peace on earth.” Surely, we may think, if Jesus came to preach peace, then His coming must mean that hostilities will end, that bullets will stop flying, that politicians will quit sniping, that bullies will quit bullying, that war in the Middle East – and indeed around the world – will cease. But if that is what Paul meant, then he was hopelessly wrong, and Jesus was a failure, for not a day has gone by since Jesus set foot on earth without bloodshed and war.  If that is what the angels meant when they sang “peace to those on whom His favor rests” on the night of His birth, then the angels were sadly incorrect. Not a day has gone by in the meantime that can be classified as “peace in the Middle East.” If that is what Isaiah meant when he declared the coming messiah to be the Prince of Peace, then Isaiah was terribly misguided. Not an hour – indeed not a minute – has passed since Jesus came without aggression and meanness and destruction somewhere on this planet. An eighth-grade history student can tell you that the coming of Jesus did not make all nastiness and cruelty stop, did not end all war, did not even put a measurable dent in worldwide hostilities. If that is what Paul meant, then these verses amount to no more than a fairy tale.
Yes, God’s peace means that the lion and the lamb will lie down together one day, but that is not here and now; that is on the Holy Mountain of the Lord after the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. [Isaiah 65:17-25] Yes, they will beat their swords into plowshares and study war no more, but the prophet tells us that too will be on God’s mountain in the last days.  [Isaiah 2:4]
None of that is what Paul is getting at here. Paul is talking about something else, something much more immediate. This scripture is about peace with God because we have access to God. Peace comes because the presence of God is with us and inside us. That is why Emmanuel – God with us – means peace on earth. The angels were right. We are “no longer strangers” because He has broken down the wall, bringing near all of us who were far away, giving us access to the Father by the work of the Spirit through Jesus Christ.
The first half of this great second chapter of Ephesians focuses on what we were – dead in our sins and gratifying the cravings of the flesh – before God, who is rich in mercy, saved us by grace through faith in Jesus Christ to do good works prepared in advance for us. Then, in verse 11, the Apostle moves from discussing members of his audience as individuals to discussing his Gentile Christian readers as a community. Just as we were formerly dead in our sins, so too were the people of Ephesus, home of the great pagan temple of Diana, formerly excluded from the children of God. They were known as uncircumcised Gentiles. In that time and place, circumcision was what the Jews thought of as the crucial distinction. Paul says the Ephesians were hopeless, separated from Christ and without God. This is not racial or ethnic commentary. This is a continuation of the first half of the chapter, another way of saying that they were dead in their sins.
Paul hastens to verse 13, telling the Ephesian church and, by extension, us – those who have been saved by grace through faith - that they, and we, have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  No matter how far away they were, the salvation of Christ is sufficient to bring them to God. No matter how far away we are – no matter what we have done, what thoughts we have cultivated, what words we have spoken in anger, what selfish ambitions we have recklessly pursued, what greedy passions we have gorged – God’s saving grace brings us near.
This is the good news. We were not far away because of nationality or address. We were not far away because we had been blown there by a typhoon. We were far away because we went running full speed in the wrong direction, because our addiction to sin left us so separated from our holy God that we could not even see Him from there. There was so much more than a curtain between us and God. We had no sense of His presence and no desire to walk with Him. We were so removed that there was no way we could get back.
So, God reached through time and across the chasm and brought us near.
Despite the disappointing recent movie adaptation, I strongly recommend to you Madeline L’Engle’s classic novel A Wrinkle in Time. The title comes from L’Engle’s explanation of the tesseract.  In higher geometry, a tesseract is a cube of a cube. If you think of the first dimension as a line, and the second dimension as a square, then the third dimension allows the cube. And squaring the square renders the fourth dimension, called time; and cubing the cube – the tesseract – is the fifth dimension.  You cannot draw it with a pencil.
The characters in the novel explain how the tesseract allows them to whisk across the universe:
Mrs. Whatsit sighed. “Explanations are not easy when they are about things for which your civilization still has no words.” Mrs. Whatsit looked over at Mrs. Who. “Take your skirt and show them.”
Mrs. Who took a portion of her white robe in her hands and held it tight.
“You see,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “if a very small insect were to move from the section of skirt in Mrs. Who’s right hand to that in her left, it would be quite a long walk for him if he had to walk straight across.”
Swiftly, Mrs. Who brought her hands, still holding the skirt, together.
“Now, you see,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “he would be there, without that long trip…. We travel in the fifth dimension…. The fifth dimension’s a tesseract…. A straight line is not the shortest distance between two points.”
[Madeline L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time, (1962, Appreciation edition, New York: Square Fish, 2007), pp. 85-88]

If the theoretical mathematics are beyond you and if the science fiction language is not your cup of tea, that’s ok. The point is this –through the work of Jesus, God moves in dimensions for which we have no vocabulary to fold the laws of the universe, to wrinkle time, if you will, to bring us near to Him. We are, by comparison, an insect, so remote that we could never even map out the route. The line to get us back extends way beyond what we could ever travel.
God has brought us near.
Verse 14 is critical to Paul’s point.  “He is our peace, who has made the two groups one and destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” Yes, Paul is saying that the Jew and the Gentile are reconciled as the wall between them is torn down, but there is so much more here.  He does not say that Jesus brings peace by tearing down walls. He says that Jesus is our peace, and that one thing that peace does is tear down walls. In other words, peace comes first and then peace removes barriers, not the other way around. Jesus walks on water long before he quiets the wind and waves.
Too many settle for asking Jesus to be a subtractor, to take away what bothers us. We don’t achieve peace by stopping our hostilities; we receive peace despite the surrounding hostilities. Jesus has come to add to the world. The easy way out is to ask for the storm to be calmed; the mature Christian finds Jesus in the midst of the storm and understands peace even as the thunder rolls. The peace that passes thunder, standing down in my heart.
Another song you learned in a long-ago Sunday School class or perhaps Vacation Bible School was absolutely right: With Jesus in our boat, we can smile through the storm, as we go sailing home.”
Paul says that Jesus makes peace within Himself, reconciling all of us to Christ. And doing so took a cross, where God looked on Christ and pardoned us. We were brought near from far away, across what my late friend Grant Cunningham called “The Great Divide.” God made a way. There is a bridge to cross the great divide. There is a cross to bridge the great divide. [Grant Cunningham and Matt Huesman, “The Great Divide,” BMG Music Publishing, Inc.,1996]
As Jeremiah and Ezekiel warned us, there are many in the world who proclaim “peace, peace,” when there is no peace. [Jeremiah 6:14; Ezekiel 13:10] The best the world can offer is something like the fantasy John Lennon sings about in “Imagine,” perhaps the worst song of all time: people living in peace because they have imagined away all countries, all possessions, all religion. The song is right about one thing – he is a dreamer, but he and the world are so wrong about what brings peace. The Dalai Lama is wrong when he says that peace is the manifestation of human compassion. [] Please do not mishear me. I am happy for John Lennon to inspire people to be nice and live in brotherhood. I understand that the Dalai Lama is tapping into a universal truth about compassion. Jim challenged us last week to change the world through friendship. I know many people whose entire life’s course has been changed for the better because someone showed them kindness and benevolence; but peace, the kind of peace that Paul is talking about and that Jesus gives, is not something that we humans create. Peace is Jesus, tearing down the wall between us and God.
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?... Consider the lilies of the field…: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ … Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you…. Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself…. [Matthew 6:26, 29, 31-34 (ESV)]
There is much in the world that can bring worry, whether it is 110° days; or the news, with word of politics and wildfires and hackers and tropical storms; or the latest report from your doctor, with cautions and concerns and prescriptions and lists of things you are not allowed to do anymore; or your bank statement or the silence when you wish phone would ring or the state of our schools or those kids today or whatever. And yet Jesus says, “Do not be anxious, Consider the lilies of the field...” In Philippians, Paul says:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:6-7, NIV]

The Living Bible paraphrases that: “Don’t worry about anything.  Pray about everything…. [and] you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand.” [Philippians 4:6-7, TLB]
That is peace that passes all understanding, and it is not what the world gives. Jesus is telling us that, despite all those things that cause most people to worry, everything will be all right because He is present. We revel in our access, in having been brought near, as we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness – trust Jesus and have faith in God - and it will be all right. That is peace.
In Ephesians 2, Paul says that the cross means that all of us – Jew and Gentile, those far away and those near – are reconciled to God in the here and now.
Think about how we use that word reconcile in other contexts.  People get divorces because of “irreconcilable differences.”  We reconcile our checkbook, or at least we are supposed to.  When you reconcile it, you bring it into balance, you make sure that your records match the bank’s, that there is agreement.
When we are reconciled to God, we are brought into equilibrium, into accord, even though our lives were a mess, unbalanced and completely out of harmony with God. We are reconciled to the Father, Paul says in verse 16, by the cross, where our hostilities with God were ended. We have peace because we are no longer separated from God, for the two have become one.  He is our peace, who has broken down the wall.
And if it were not clear enough, Paul writes verse 18: “For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” How wonderful. All persons of the Trinity working together to be our peace. Through Christ, to the Father, by the Spirit. The paragraph that begins with “He is our peace” concludes with “we have access.”
Jesus said: “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep…. [W]hoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture.” [John 10:7,9]
Why are peace and access inseparably woven together?  Why does access bring us peace? When we frame the question that way, then the answer jumps out at us. We are not at peace when we are not near God. When we are brought near to God, we are at peace. The Psalmist says:
Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  Those who are far from you will perish… but as for me, it is good to be near God. [Psalm 73:25-28] 
Now, we get to the punchline.  Verse 19.  We are no longer strangers to God.  The NIV says we are no longer “foreigners and strangers.” Other translations use words like “aliens,” “sojourners,” and “outsiders.” The Message says, “wandering exiles.” Paul is not speaking derisively of people from other lands; he is describing us, before we knew Christ, as homeless, souls with nowhere to land, people condemned to a peripatetic, rootless life of drifting, with nowhere to go and nobody waiting for us when we get there. That is as good a description of hell as I know.
But that is no more.  We are no longer strangers; but instead we are fellow citizens with God’s people and members of His household. We have been brought near. We have access.  We have been given the garage door code. We can get in, and we don’t have to sneak. We have an engraved invitation and a place set at the table.
And it does not stop there. He is, with us as a part, building something better that is rising to become a temple which will be God’s very home. “Fix in us Thy humble dwelling.” [Charles Wesley, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”] Isaiah would call that the Holy Mountain of the Lord.
            The verses we read responsively from Hebrews place the exclamation point on this whole idea of peace and access. Just as the ancient High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place, we approach the throne with confidence and, in words that echo Paul, we “draw near to God” with a sincere heart and full assurance. Peace comes because of that assurance, because it is here, before the throne of God above, that we receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
John Lowe says:
Christ is the author of peace between God and His people. Sin separates men from God; nor can any man, on his own, make his peace with God; what he does, or can do, will not do it; and what will, he cannot do. Christ is the only suitable person for this work, for He stands between God and man, and is the only One able to bring it about, seeing that he is God as well as man. His peace is a lasting one.                     [John Lowe, “The Peace Which Christ Accomplished in His Death,” 5/9/18,]
            Let me tell you what peace means to me, in my life, as I live out my faith.  Peace means that everything is going to be all right. Yes, it will be all right eternally, in heaven, on the Holy Mountain of the Lord. But it is more than even that. It will be all right right now. Peace is not the absence of trouble. Peace is the presence of Christ in the middle of my storm. Before the throne of God I stand. I have access to the one who is our peace, who has broken down every wall, the wall between me and my God and the walls between me and the people around me. I can hurt, but it will be all right. I may not understand, but it will be all right. I can commit the same sin again and again and again and know I am wrong and feel guilt and even shame as the Holy Spirit convicts me, and I must work on that and repent because sin robs me of some of the joy of my salvation, but it will be all right. I can be abused, people I love can hurt and die, I can face disappointment, politics can disillusion me, my wife can be mad at me, my kids can move away, work can be unsatisfying for weeks on end, and this church can grow all too slowly as we founder looking for a permanent place and time, but it will be all right.
It will be all right because I have access to the Creator of the universe, to the savior of the world, to pure love, to peace, to the One who has already accepted me and pardoned me and made a way so that I am no longer a stranger, who brings me near and abides with me and has given me the golden ticket to something much greater than a chocolate factory.  Come to think of it, it will be a lot better than all right.
            In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Many Christians, when they think about peace, limit that to two things.  One is that if we are good Christians, we will be nice to each other and inspire the world to less conflict. Of course, we should show kindness and compassion. That was last week’s sermon. In Ephesians 2, Paul is going deeper, talking about what is primary and what has to exist for there to be real world peace, on God’s Holy Mountain, when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess. 
            The other way that many Christians think about peace is in relation to death. They read passages about the peace of God as a comfort to themselves and others as death approaches, and of course God offers a special measure of serenity to His children as we walk through the valley of the shadow.
I am so grateful to Russell for singing “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” We tend to think of that hymn as a funeral song, a song about death. And indeed, it is a consolation at the end. You may remember the string quartet playing it in the movie as the Titanic sinks.
But death is not really what that hymn is about. We do not have to wait to die to grow nearer to our God – He has already done the work, already bridged the divide.  Sarah Flower Adams actually wrote those words about Jacob’s ladder at Bethel, thinking not about death but about new life after an encounter with God. One stanza of the hymn that was not in the arrangement Russell sang says this:
Then with my waking thoughts bright with Thy praise,
Out of my stony griefs Bethel I'll raise;
So by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
[Sarah Flower Adams, “Nearer My God to Thee”|

Jesus has come and preached peace to those of us who were far away, for through Him we all have access to the Father by the Spirit. And His peace, which passes all understanding, is not limited to kindness and helpfulness and being able to face the end. His peace breaks down every wall and brings us near to God.
            This time of invitation is for anyone who has for the first time experienced God’s grace through faith and is ready to share that faith with us all, anyone who is ready to join our church, anyone who has renewed your faith and reveled once again in that nearness. If that is you, you may come forward and share with me or kneel at this altar as we sing or respond to God within your own heart as you stay right where you are. However you respond, God is speaking to you.  Don’t be a stranger.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Sermon - O My Soul

CALL TO WORSHIP – We are focused today on praise. I am not one who usually makes a point of suggesting you take notes during my sermons. I know some of you do, and that’s great if it helps you. Today, however, I want to encourage you to keep a pen and a piece of paper handy.  I am going to reference a number of scriptures, and we do not have time to look them all up during the sermon, but some of you may want to make a list so you can read later today or during the week.  It is a way to let God continue to speak to you.

Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth…” [Matthew 11:25]. And Jesus said, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters, in the assembly I will sing your praises.” [Hebrews 2:12]  Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.” [Matthew 5:16] And of course, Jesus taught us to begin our prayers with the greatest of praise: “Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” [Matthew 6:9]
The song Debra will play for our offertory, Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons,” includes these lyrics:
You're rich in love and You're slow to anger. Your name is great and Your heart is kind. For all Your goodness, I will keep on singing ten thousand reasons for my heart to find. And on that day when my strength is failing, the end draws near and my time has come, still, my soul will sing Your praise unending. Ten thousand years and then forevermore. Sing like never before, O my soul. I'll worship Your holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul. [Matt Redman, “10,000 Reasons,” 2011]

So let there be praise!  Let there be joy in hearts.  Sing to the Lord.  Give Him the glory! 
Glorify the Lord with me.
Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and 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 eagle’s. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. 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. 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. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of 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. The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the Lord, my soul.

(You can hear the sermon from this point forward here.)

Praise the Lord, o my soul!
We praise God because of who He is and what He does. – Creator, Savor, Sustainer. He redeems our life from the pit. He saves us from our sins. Great is the Lord, and worthy to be praised.           
We praise God because of what He will do. He will not treat us as our sins deserve. From everlasting to everlasting, He will love us. He has established His throne, and there will be no more death or mourning or pain.  He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more night.  Great is the Lord, and worthy to be praised. Praise the Lord, o my soul!

If you were listening to contemporary Christian music in the 80s, then these words may be familiar to you:

When you feel the urge within you to submit to earthly fears, don't let the faith you’re standing in seem to disappear. Praise the Lord. He can work through those who praise Him. Praise the Lord, for our God inhabits praise. Praise the Lord, for the chains that seem to bind you serve only to remind you that they drop powerless behind you when you praise Him. [Brown Bannister and Mike Hudson, “Praise the Lord,” 1979] 
In words we read together, the Psalmist tells us, “How good it is to sing praises to God. How pleasant and fitting to praise Him!” [Psalm 147:1] Perhaps the Psalmist is not demanding that we praise so much as modeling praise for us; not saying “(You must) Praise the Lord” but rather (much as we would in many a worship service) “Praise the Lord!”, reminding us how good it is to praise God.
  Many translations of the 103rd Psalm, including the King James Version that Judy just sang, use the term “Bless the Lord.” John Piper says, “to bless God means to recognize his great richness, strength, and gracious bounty and to express our gratitude and delight in seeing and experiencing it.”           [] Psalm 100 tells us to “enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.  Give thanks to Him and bless His name!” [Psalm 100:4]
Scripture’s praises are not second-rate words of affirmation but extravagant and selfless recognition and proclamation of the preeminence of the Creator, the power of the Sustainer, the love of the Redeemer, and the faithfulness of the One who walks with us day by day.
 But there is more here. There is no period after “Bless the Lord.”  The Psalmist is calling from his very core. The words are “Bless the Lord, o my soul!”
 Actor Chris Pratt, the lovable Star Lord from “Guardians of the Galaxy” and Andy from “Parks and Recreation” who is apparently a relatively new Christian, made headlines a couple of weeks ago. Speaking to – of all audiences - an MTV awards show, Pratt talked about the reality of God. He ended this way: “… grace was paid for with somebody else’s blood. Do not forget it. Don’t take it for granted.”  Early in the speech, he said this: “You have a soul. Be careful with it.” []
Somehow, it is news in the secular world to acknowledge that we have souls, that there is a part of us separate from the physical and the mental, a part that makes us who we are and lives on after us, something we need to be careful with.
Two weeks ago, I worshiped in a tiny American Baptist Church in Brooklin, Maine. The special music was presented by a woman from the congregation who sang six stanzas, a cappella, of “Amazing Grace.” For the last time through, she used only two words: “Praise God.” It was not the most beautiful music I ever heard. She was far from the most talented. But she sang from her soul, and the congregation was moved. The Lord was in that place.
Psalm 103 exemplifies praise from our souls. You have a soul.  Be careful with it. Use it for the eternal. Bless the Lord, o my soul!

 Praise is rarely the sermon topic. Praise is almost always included in worship services, but it tends to be kind of the warmup act.  We sing a hymn like “To God be the Glory” or “How Great Thou Art,” and then we read a Psalm before we get on to the meat of the service. Here at Trinity River Church, we begin worship each week with the call “Glorify the Lord with me. Let us exalt His name together.” Then we praise as we conclude our offering, singing the Doxology or the Gloria Patri or, today, the first verse of the 103rd Psalm. I am not condemning that practice – starting or ending our worship services with praise is worthy and valuable.  My only point is that praise is often used in our worship as a place of beginning or conclusion rather than as the focus.
Praise has been in the news this week. A potential Supreme Court nominee is being criticized because she belongs to a group called People of Praise. Some in the media and the political world are immediately suspicious of her membership in this parachurch organization. I don’t know enough about that group to take a position one way or the other, but I have noticed with interest how the group’s name alone has raised concern.
In the modern American church, “praise and worship” has become a euphemism for a certain style of church music. In Europe, “praise” music is loud and boisterous, while “worship” music is contemplative and mellow. We have taken much of the meaning from the word “praise” by turning it into an adjective to delineate a particular character of worship service or musical type.
The Bible uses praise as a noun and as a verb, an active verb.
On our vacation last week, I had a long discussion with my adult children, already mature Christians, about praise. They agreed that praise is not about responding to a command but rather is a part of the Christian lifestyle. There is a danger here: we can act out of habit, out of guilt, out of obligation, even out of self-interest, and suddenly our obedience and our discipleship are no longer acts of praise. Helping others and following the Golden Rule are acts of praise when they stem from a recognition of the greatness and goodness of God. They proclaim that God is worthy of our attention every moment of our life. My son pointed me to these lyrics from the group Casting Crowns:

Empty hands held high: such small sacrifice. If not joined with my life, I sing in vain. May the words I say and the things I do make my lifesong sing to You.… I want to sign Your name to the end of this day, knowing that my heart was true…. Let my lifesong sing to You “Hallelujah.” [Mark Hall, “Lifesong,” 2005] 
Praise becomes difficult when our life’s song is not sung to God but is merely our routine, and we double down on that hazard when we do not reserve time for praise for its own sake. When praise is the daily response of our lives to the Lord, we look to add intentional dedicated times of expressed praise, to honor and proclaim the overwhelming holiness and salvation of God with no other aim in sight.
The 103rd Psalm is exactly that, written in overwhelmed response to God. Bless the Lord, O my soul!
  • ·         He redeems us from the pit into which we have fallen or, so often, flung ourselves.
  •  ·         He crowns us with love and compassion of which we are so profoundly unworthy.
  •  ·         He renews us so that we rise with figurative eagles’ wings, as we did at the height of our strength when we were young and strong and most eager.
  •  ·         He is slow to anger and abounds in mercy.

The enduring image from this Psalm is the idea of forgiven sins’ being separated from us “as far as the east is from the west.” The Message paraphrases this verse “as far as sunrise is from sunset.” The point is clear, the poetry is inspiring, and the meaning is life-changing: God has acted to remove us completely from what would kill us. When we are having a bad day, or a bad year, it can be hard to see the healing and satisfaction provided by God. This Psalm springs from an eternal perspective, for while it may take experience and hindsight for us to understand, God is good all the time. This is the message of our souls. Bless the Lord, o my soul!

And yet, praise can be difficult for many of us. True praise is unnatural because we are self-centered beings. Praise requires us to humble ourselves, but not in the same way we bow and kneel in prayer to show that we know our place so that God will hear and grant our petition. Praising God requires us to look outside ourselves, to bow our souls, to kneel our wills. True praise requires acknowledging the Other, to get ourselves out of the way. 
Sometimes, praise is hard because the words sound too familiar or somehow juvenile. We hear “praise the Lord” and tune it out. In our everyday parlance we have reduced the concept of “praise” to a pat on the back, an encouraging yell to a seven-year-old at an almost-meaningless soccer game, or even a teaching tool for a pet. We have cheapened the idea of praise and thus find it not worthwhile when we address the Father. Our inner voice whispers, “there they go again,” and something inside us decides to check out until something more important happens. If that is you, please humor me for the rest of this sermon and stay with us – God may have some scripture that convinces you differently.
Praise is trying for some of you because it makes you self-conscious. You are at ease talking about what God has done for you, telling others your testimony; but aiming your high-sounding words and thoughts to God for the purpose, the sole purpose, of His glory makes you uncomfortable. Talking to others about God when the story is not about you but rather is pointing out the majesty and greatness of the Father is off-putting to some.
Praise is challenging because we know that God is perfect and complete and does not need our words. We have somewhere heard something about God’s inhabiting our praise [Psalm 22:3, KJV], but we don’t know what that means. How can our praise be important to Almighty God?  Is He so conceited that He needs to hear our exalting words?  It may surprise you that this precise question troubled the great C.S. Lewis when he was a new Christian. In his Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis explains how he found an answer:

The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers praising their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside …. [T]he humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least… [J]ust as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely?  Wasn’t it glorious?  Don’t you think that magnificent?”  The Psalmists, in telling everyone to praise God, are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about…. I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment….  It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.  It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch…  The worthier the object, the more intense this delight would be…. The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify.  In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him. [C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 1958, pp. 95-98] 
Praise sometimes gets lost in the shuffle when we are caught up in the daily: how we feel, what the bank balance shows, what is going on in politics; then we don’t lift up our eyes, and praise gets forgotten in the grind. When we wake up and realize that all our dreams have not come true, that life is harder now than it used to be, that “happily ever after” does not mean what it did when we were just starting out – then praise can be hard.
You may praise Jesus the Savior easily, yet the evil and suffering in the world make it hard to understand how to praise God the Father. Of course, praise may be toughest when you are hurting, when you don’t understand, when bad things are happening, when your suffering just continues, when in your heart of hearts you don’t really think God has done much to deserve your praise lately.
Nevertheless, there is this Psalm: Bless the Lord, o my Soul.

The writer of Hebrews calls for us to offer a “sacrifice of praise.” [Hebrews 13:15] Struggling congregations and loyal patrons built mighty cathedrals in the Middle Ages not to satisfy some selfish need of God’s but rather to praise One much greater than the builders. The widow’s tiny offering was extravagant in no one’s eyes but her own…and those of Jesus, who commended the sacrificial gift offered personally to Him. [Luke 21:3]
Praise takes different forms for different people. And frankly, it can be hard for each to understand the other. If you enter “praising God images” into your Google search engine, the first forty-six photos you will see will be people with their arms outstretched toward heaven. Raising holy hands is a Biblical concept [Psalm 28:2; 1 Timothy 2:8]; but I do not praise that way, and I don’t get much out of the idea. You might see nothing spiritual in the building of a cathedral, but one of my best friends joined his church primarily because of the architecture. The story of the widow’s mite may not speak to you of praise, but the person sitting next to you may praise God most personally from her checkbook.  There is the church member for whom music – whether in the form of hymn or instrument or solo – is nice and soothing and maybe entertaining but not important from a worship standpoint as he waits for the sermon. That church member does not really understand or appreciate the next, for whom music is the primary form of praise, for whom music expresses what a sermon never will. And so, too, this second church member really does not understand the former, cannot comprehend how music does not speak to all of us the same way.  I will be quick to admit that I fail to appreciate dance as a worship form. If I am in a service where someone is dancing as a means of praise, I can appreciate the talent, but it makes no difference to me as a part of a worship service. On the other hand, I am moved by sung praise and instrumental praise; by well written praise; by inspired visual art; by drama; and by much spoken praise in prayer, sermon, and testimony. While it is hard for me to understand, there are church members who feel about music, about written praise, or about spoken praise the way I feel about dance and hand-raising.
And then, of course, those groups subdivide.  You may be one who is moved by musical praise, so long as it is the right kind of music. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Elevation Worship and Sandy Patty and Hillsong United and the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Hee Haw Gospel Quartet and the Centurymen may not all speak to the same people. We have sung a variety of hymns today: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” a 17th Century hymn of the German Reformed church; “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name,” a hymn arrangement of one of the most successful American protestant choral anthems of the late twentieth century; “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” a British hymn from Charles Wesley written during the Great Awakening; and “How Great Is Our God,” a recent hit by a forty-something contemporary Christian megastar from down the road in VanZandt County. I have quoted from the Imperials in 1979 and Casting Crowns a decade ago and Matt Redman from this decade. We will conclude this service with a popular chorus of the forties. I may be the only person in the room who likes all of that music, and that is my point. Similarly, spoken praise may be the language of David in the Psalms, a sonnet of Spenser, the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, a Jim Pannell sermon, or Jerry Clower’s exclamation of “Ain’t God good!” Appreciating one does not mean you appreciate them all.
God appreciates it all. God looks at the heart and revels in our joyful noise.

Scripture’s praise is moving. In 2 Samuel 22, David is quoted: “I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised.  So shall I be saved from my enemies. The Lord lives! Praise be to the Rock of my salvation!” [2 Samuel 22:4, 47] Despite all the tragedy that has happened to him and the evil that he has caused, David’s victories have stemmed from the power and provision of God. David knows that he lives only because God lives.
How shall we be saved? It is not through our own ability; nor is it through being good, for we cannot be good enough. We shall be saved through the Lord God, the Rock of our salvation. We call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised. So shall we be saved. This is the lesson of David and the song of our soul.  Bless the Lord, o my soul!

Praise is found throughout the Psalms, Samuel, Isaiah, the letters of Paul, and elsewhere, like the praise of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, that Freddie read to begin our service of praise today. Moses’s song after the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus 15 is similar in form, and these verses from Deuteronomy 32, just before the death of Moses, are intended as a vehicle for generations to come to praise God. Moses says:
I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. [Deuteronomy 32: 3-4]

The story of God’s work with His people and His forgiveness of their bad choices is the story on which we depend. Praise the Lord, o my soul!

In 1 Chronicles 16, David speaks majestically of the exploits and character of God. David knows the power of history, and so he reminds us to “remember the wonders He has done, His miracles, and the judgments He has pronounced.” [1 Chronicles 16:12] David knows the awesomeness of creation, so he instructs the people to watch and listen as “the heavens resound” and “the sea resounds” and “the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord.” [1 Chronicles 16:31-33] David knows the throne of God in the world, so he demands that his subjects “declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples, for great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.” [1 Chronicles 16:24-25]

Another Old Testament lesson about praise is found in 1 Chronicles 23. In ancient Israel, those who held the position of Levite had wide-ranging duties as assistants to the priests, from room custodians to unleavened bread preparers. The Levites had another task. In this chapter, we learn that they were “to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord.” And then they were to do the same every evening. [1 Chronicles 23:30]
Think about the constancy of this praise. Every morning. Every evening. Good days and bad. Whether the Levites felt like it or not, they had to stand to praise God. And then do it again at night. Like clockwork. Rain or shine. Like the sentry who walks a prescribed beat at the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Levite took his place and fulfilled his duty.
Regular, disciplined praise – even when we do not feel grateful or think we have much to praise God about – is good for our soul. That inner, eternal part that makes us who we are needs the consistent, patterned, unmistakable practice of praising eternal God. You have a soul.  Be careful with it.
In the long run, our praise must come voluntarily. Sometimes, however, especially on days when our Bible study is tedious and prayer is hard to conjure and our ability to fight temptation is waning, the self-control of regular praise may be the only way to press on. Some days, we just need to be Levites.

Another great Old Testament story about praise comes from 2 Chronicles 20. Facing the attacking Moabites and Ammonites, Jerusalem’s King Jehoshaphat prays, and the Spirit of God tells him that he will not have to fight, that he should stand tall and see the mighty arm of God. King Jehoshaphat appoints men to sing, “Praise ye the Lord. His mercy endures forever and ever” as the attackers rush forward to surprising and swift and total defeat. The victory for Judah is so great that it takes them three days to haul off the spoils. [2 Chronicles 20:18-25]
This is not a story that should be read as a tactical guide for modern warfare. God makes no promise that every military skirmish can be won by laying down weapons and singing. What this story teaches is this: As we face each conflict of life, we must recognize that God has a way out for us if we choose to follow it, no matter how unlikely His way may appear. And the One who provides that way out is worthy of praise.
Building an ark mystifies a man who has never seen rain. Throwing your rod on the floor in front of Pharaoh is a foolish idea. Marching around Jericho blowing trumpets hardly seems to be the recipe for success. Pouring water on altars is not Elijah’s first choice for getting a fire to start. And singing praise instead of fighting is counter-intuitive to the soldier-king.
Battles will come. Stand firm.  Praise ye the Lord. His mercy endures forever and ever. Bless the Lord, o my soul!

The New Testament amplifies this idea for us. The reaction of the people to the miracles of Jesus or just to His showing up time and again is praise. After Jesus’s ascension, the disciples, according to the last verse of the Gospel of Luke, “stayed continually at the Temple, praising God.” [Luke 24:53] In the second chapter of Acts, from which Jim preached just a few weeks ago, we learn what is characteristic of the early, growing church:
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God…. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. [Acts 2:46-47]

Paul describes God as the “one to be praised forever” [2 Corinthians 11:31] and speaks repeatedly of God’s work through Jesus having the purpose of “bringing praise to His glory.” [Ephesians 1:6, 14] 1 Peter 1:3 exhorts us: “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.” [1 Peter 1:3] In the next chapter, Peter reminds us that we are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” precisely so that we may “declare the praises of Him who brought [us] out of darkness into wonderful light.” [1 Peter 2:9] And, of course, scripture ends with Revelation, where we read this in chapter 5:
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever! [Revelation 5:12-13]

So finally, we come to the Psalms. I cannot possibly do justice to the multitude of praise Psalms, but let me reference a few.
Psalm 8.  When I consider the heavens, what is man that you are mindful of him? We cannot comprehend God, but we, like the Psalmist, can praise Him.
Psalm 34. God is greater than we. God is better than we. God is higher and stronger and smarter and more powerful than we.  Taste and see that the Lord is good.  [Psalm 34:8]
Psalm 89 starts with elation: “I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever.” [Psalm 89:1] Like all human emotions, this one wanes. Within a few verses, in the very same Psalm, the Psalmist asks, “How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?” [Psalm 89:46] Despite circumstance and confusion and anger toward God, he nevertheless writes, “Praise be to the Lord forever! Amen and amen.” [Psalm 89:52]
Psalm 108 comes when David is on top of the world, when his authority is unquestioned, when all Judah honors him. The very next Psalm, on the other hand, grows out of his anguish when wicked and deceitful enemies are getting the better of him. He lashes out with words that are nothing more than desperate, emotional cries from the pit of despair, a place where we have all been. In both these Psalms, whether from victory or despondency, in the first verse of Psalm 108 and the last thought of Psalm 109, David praises God. [Psalm 108:1; Psalm 109:30]
The Book of Psalms ends with a rush. Praise, and more praise, and more praise. After all is said and done, after the complaints of bitterness, the songs of wonder, and prayers for forgiveness have been uttered and sung and offered, what is left is praise. We have read from Psalms 146, 147, and 148 in this service. Psalm 149 begins and ends with “Praise the Lord.” [Psalm 149:1,9] The last Psalm, Psalm 150, is printed for you to read as Debra plays us out. (Not now – wait till then to read it!)
There is a time for weeping, a time for inquiry, a time for honest introspection, a time to debate and consider and wonder. But we must not stay there. Our souls need to praise. Do you move past your honest questions to praising God? Do you weep by the waters of Babylon but then find a tambourine? Do you stand in amazement at the honor God has given you and then move on to the sounding trumpet and the harp? There must be a time to put away your demands and your tears and your contemplations, to stand with David and proclaim, “I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart…. I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your unfailing love and your faithfulness.” [Psalm 138:1-2]
Even our witness, which is of course an act of praise, must take a back seat to our expressed praise, at least for a time. The first and greatest commandment is that we love our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our strength, and those who best share the gospel will tell you they do so when their own tank is full, when they are in right relationship with God, when they have taken a Sabbath time to praise the rock of their salvation.
 Ultimately, the Bible does not choose for us how to praise, does not tell us which is better: music or spoken praise. There is no scripture to define whether building cathedrals is better praise than a chant or a musical or a TaizĂ© hour of contemplation, no Biblical favoritism between Amy Grant and Chris Tomlin and George Beverly Shea. The Psalmist does not end with a definition of praise; the Psalms end with a repeated call to praise.  Your praise may sound different from that of your neighbors, hence the need for a harp for one and cymbals for another. Our church will likely never use this trap set over here, but there are five congregations who praise God in this room, each in our own way. One person may praise with dancing while another praises in humble silence.
 The method is not the point. The tone of our hearts directed to our audience of one is the point.
Mercy calls for praise.
Forgiveness calls for praise.
Grace calls for praise.
It is the song of our souls.
Praise the Lord.
Bless the Lord, o my soul!
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Regardless of what kind of praise works for you, we must all praise with the instrument we have – whether that is a piano or a wallet or a song or a hammer or a speech or a guitar or a didgeridoo or a typewriter or a dance. We praise everywhere we are, working out our life’s song moment by moment. Our souls cry out as deep calls to deep, and the Psalmist ends with praise upon praise upon praise.
            Practice praise. It will not come easily. It may not come at all when you first start. Take your time. Repeat. Work at it. Again. God is worth it. The praise of God is the language of your soul and the key to the growing church.


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