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PSALM 121:1-8 1 I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. 3 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. 5 The Lord watches over you– the Lord is your shade at your right hand; 6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The Lord will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life; 8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. Silent Prayer Does your family have a song you sing when you travel?  Something that gets you down the road, takes your mind off of the long journey, something that helps you pass the time?  It seems every trip we take another new road trip theme song is developed.  For many trips it was “Oh Hannah do you love Jesus,” . . . to which she would reply, “Oh, yes I love Jesus. . .”  On several trips, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in a round was a rousing family jingle.  Well we’re a diverse musical family and this past week on our way to Anderson, IN and all of the way home, the new family favorite became Justin Bieber’s smash hit, “Baby, baby, baby, oh!”  Just something we do as a family.  I didn’t say it was always something super spiritual!  J  Just always a part of our journey. The same was true for the Jewish people as they would travel.  Psalm 121 is one of the Psalms of Ascent that the Jews would recite or sing as they made their way to Jerusalem for annual feasts.  You could call it a pilgrim’s song or prayer.  When we leave for a trip, we always pray for God’s protection.  This Psalm served Israel in much of the same way.  So many would travel through the Jordan Valley where many dangers were possible and they would keep their eyes lifted up toward Jerusalem, the place they would go to worship and depend on God to help them arrive safely. The picture here is of someone on a journey, in a valley.  Perhaps it is someone in trouble, someone who needs to remind himself where His source, His help comes from.  He says, “The Lord is my helper.” The word “helper” carries with it the idea of deliverance.  It suggests that there is something you can’t do on your own.  If you are going to get from point A to point B and you can’t do it on your own, you’re going to have to have a Helper. Last night, Thom and I had the pleasure of eating at the home of Bill and Frances Snyder.  When I heard they were card players, I said, “Game on.”  Frances and I became partners in a game Thom and I had never played before.  Not only was it unfamiliar territory, but it was the kind of game where if you were going to win, you were going to have to depend on your partner to help you win it.  You can’t control the cards you are dealt or the cards you draw, but the difference between winning and losing is based on the kind of help you get from your partner.  In this particular game, there is no “going it alone.”  I won’t tell you who won lest it appear that I am using the pulpit for bragging rights.  I’ll simply say, “I can count on Frances.” Listen, in this life, you can’t control what “cards” you’re dealt or often what comes from the “cards” you choose.  If you are going to win in this life, you are going to have to depend on Someone to get you through.  Let me suggest Jesus as One on whom you can depend. If you have a task that is too big for you, you’re going to need to call on Jesus for help. If you are confused and unsure about the road ahead, like which way to go or when to stop and rest, you’re going to need to call on Jesus for help. If you are tired of carrying the weight of your sin and you’ve decided it’s time to unload your burden, you’re going to need to call on Jesus for help. In fact, “Help me, Lord,” is a prayer that works in any circumstance. Isaiah 41:10 “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you. Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Several somebodies complete this sentence, “The Lord helped me when ___________________.” Part of our struggle sometimes is that God sends help in ways we don’t expect or don’t want to accept.  We want help, but we want it a certain way.  We want help, but we want to control the kind of help we get.  We want it to look just a certain way and arrive at just a certain time.  Do you know people like that?  They’re glad to get help, but they want to tell you how you’re going to help them and sort of manage your assistance. I taught an adult education class at Ohio Christian University during one quarter when we lived in Cincinnati.  The drive was about two hours and the class was on Monday nights from 6-10 p.m.  The route was fairly rural and one particular evening, it was super foggy.  I remember clearly asking the Lord to send a car for me to follow so that I could anticipate the curves.  Out of heaven, a car appeared in front of me.  I was completely stoked that God had answered my prayer for help so quickly. My excitement diminished quickly as the car in front of me was traveling at a snail’s pace-like 35.  I remember thinking, “God, thanks for the help, but could you have put a faster driver in front of me to light my path?”  The truth is, God knows best.  There was a reason I needed not only light for my path, but to be forced to slow down.  God knew what was ahead and apparently I was too reckless to take care of myself, so He oversaw what kind of help I really needed that evening.  Part of depending on God’s help is allowing Him to decide what help you need and when you need it.  Do you know this morning that He is an “on time” God?  For “He makes all things beautiful in its time”  Ecclesiastes 3:11.  He’s never late. The most remarkable incident happened many years ago, and was told in a railroad magazine. One summer morning a twelve-car train containing the members of a Sunday school in eastern Missouri was bound for a picnic at a point about fifty miles away. Although the sky was cloudless when the excursion started, the train had not proceeded more than half way when a thunderstorm broke. The rain fell in torrents. The engineer was worried for fear the terrific downpour might cause a washout or spreading of the rails, and he slowed down to about thirty-five miles an hour. As the train swung around a curve and approached a small station which it was to pass without stopping, the engineer, peering through the broken curtain of rain, saw that the switch ahead was open. It meant a terrible disaster. Instantly he closed the throttle and put on the brakes. “Better stick to it,” he shouted to the fireman, “Hundreds of children are on board.” “I mean to,” was the answer. “God help us all!” His last words were drowned by a terrific crash of thunder which came with a flash of lightning that seemed to strike the ground just ahead of the engine. The next thing they knew they were past the station, still riding safely on the main-line rails. The train came to a stop and the engineer and conductor hurried back to discover what had happened and how the train had passed the open switch. They found the lightning had struck squarely between the switch and the rail and had closed the switch. “It was the act of God,” said the engineer. — J. M. Farrar You’d better believe that God’s kind of help includes closing roads, opening roads, and derailing you if it is in your best interest, and sometimes it takes an act of God to give us the help that is needed! The Lord is your helper. Why is it important that the Lord is your helper?  He is THE Ultimate Helper.  Ephesians 4:6 “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  He is the Maker of heaven and earth.  He didn’t go to Home Depot or Lowe’s to get any raw materials when He decided to fling stars into the sky or planets into the atmosphere.  He didn’t watch Design on a Dime or other HGTV shows to get ideas for how to landscape the earth.  He came up with it all on His own and out of nothing He made everything that has been made.  He is the Originator and Source of everything.  He receives counsel from no one and needs no permission to do anything. There have been times when I’ve been somewhere or tried to purchase something and either I wasn’t able to effectively communicate what I needed or the person in charge of helping me wasn’t being effectively helpful, and I have had to ask to speak to their supervisor.  Someone higher than them had more authority or a more full explanation of what was needed in the situation.  In that case, the person designed to help me was limited or unable to fully perform their function in order to help me get what was needed.  However, when I speak about the fact that the Lord is my helper, I am referring to the fact that the One with all authority and all of the answers is the One who attends to me.  I don’t have to work my way up the ladder to get what is needed.  I am speaking to the One who is over all and He is the One who has been assigned to my case. It’s always best to go to the Source when you’re in trouble.  Back at the turn of the 20th century there was an inventor who invented a new machine. He built several of these machines. One factory bought a machine. After a while they had a problem with it, and it quit working. Engineers from the company looked at it and tried to figure out what was wrong with it. No one could figure out what was wrong. Finally the owner of the factory called the inventor. He came out. He looked at it for a couple minutes, and then he got out a tool and tinkered on it for a couple minutes. He turned to the owner and said, “Well, your problem is solved.” The inventor handed the owner a bill for $100. Now remember this was over 100 years ago and $100 was a lot of money then. The owner exclaimed, “$100! You were only tinkered around for a few minutes.” The inventor replied, “$10 for tinkering and $90 for knowing where to tinker.” When we need help it only stands to reason to go to the One who created the world to begin with. The inventor knew more about the machine than anyone because he built it. God knows more about what we need because he created us to begin with. He is the always present Helper.  Hebrews 13:5-6 “I will never leave you or forsake you. So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? One of the worst feelings is that of loneliness.  None of us likes to feel alone.  Scripture reminds us that we are never alone and because we are never alone we don’t have to be afraid of anything or anyone.  It wouldn’t do any good for God to be always present if He didn’t care about us or intend to do anything for us.  Just having someone present doesn’t mean their presence is going to be helpful.  Do you know what I’m talking about?  The point in this Psalm is that He is always present and always present TO help.  That’s why He keeps tabs on us. He is always watching over us and that makes Him the Always alert Helper. Whether by day or by night because He never gets tired or sleeps.  Ancient pagan people commonly held the notion that gods slept or hibernated-even died, so to speak-during winter.  The Psalmist was assured his God was not like any other. There is something comforting to Hannah about going to bed when she knows that I am still awake.  She doesn’t like it if I go to bed at the same time as she does.  She finds some kind of comfort or security in knowing that I am still up even after she has drifted off to sleep.  We too can take comfort from the fact that our God is awake! Because He is always with us and always watching over us, He is always available to us.  When young David stood before Goliath he didn’t call on his friends for help. HE CALLED ON THE LORD! When the three Hebrew boys were put in the fiery furnace they didn’t call on the fire department.  They called on God.  When the people threatened to throw Daniel in the lion’s den, he didn’t call for animal control. HE CALLED OUT TO GOD IN PRAYER and God shut the mouths of the lions. WHEN ESTHER WAS FACED WITH SEEING HER PEOPLE DESTROYED BECAUSE OF PREJUDICE….SHE DID NOT CALL THE ACLU…SHE CALLED ON GOD!  WHEN NEHEMIAH SAW THE CITY OF JERUSALEM DESTROYED AND IN RUINS….HE DID NOT CALL THE CITY PLANNERS….HE CALLED ON GOD! WHEN PETER STARTED TO SINK AFTER WALKING ON THE WATER…..HE DID NOT CALL THE COAST GUARD….HE CALLED ON GOD! WHEN MY SOUL WAS LOST, SINKING IN SIN….WHEN I WAS DYING AND HEADED TO HELL….I DID NOT LOOK TO CAPITOL HILL….I LOOKED TO CALVARY’S HILL! I CALLED ON GOD. The Psalmist in 18:6 says, 6In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help.  From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. Aren’t you glad God doesn’t have voicemail?  Imagine praying and hearing this… Thank you for calling My Father’s House. Please select one of the following options: Press 1 for requests Press 2 for thanksgiving Press 3 for complaints Press 4 for all other inquiries What if God used the familiar excuse, “All the angels are helping other customers right now.  Please stay on the line. You call will be answered in the order it was received.” Our God is a very present help in time of trouble, Psalm 46:1, hallelujah!  So when you are in trouble, don’t look around you on the plane of your problems.  It will put your focus on the wrong thing.  Don’t look within you trying to rehearse what you could or should have done differently or how you can try to change your circumstances or solve your problems.  We can’t depend on ourselves in times of trouble.  Paul said, “I put no confidence in the flesh.”  Philippians 3:3. When you are in trouble, don’t look around you, don’t look within you.   Look up.  Look up and see the salvation of the Lord. What kind of help does He give?  He watches over us. He never takes His eyes off of us.  Matthew 10:29 says He sees even the sparrow that falls to the ground.  The world’s population is estimated to be 7 billion people.  7 billion.  I can hardly keep track of our two children and God never takes His full attention off of 7 billion people and goodness knows how many birds, ants, and bees!  Don’t think you are alone in your distress.  God sees and understands everything you are going through. He is there to protect us and guard us. In Psalm 91, we read, He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” 3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” The way He watches over contains the element of protection. Paul Ragland is newer to our church and he is retired from the Secret Service where he was on the presidential detail for several presidents through President Clinton.  You talk about sticking with someone like glue.  Those Secret Service people know the every move of those they are protecting.  They have gone ahead of where the President will be in order to ensure his safety.  Listen, our Lord is the same way only on a grander scale and with complete perfection.  He is ahead of us standing in the middle of tomorrow to make sure you will be guarded and protected.  Look at your neighbor and tell them, “God’s got you covered.” He will keep your feet from slipping. It is only if you are walking forward that you can experience the slip resistance God offers.  If you are standing still, you don’t need anyone to keep your feet from slipping.  If you are standing at the bottom of a wall that has become an obstacle and you refuse to move, you don’t need anyone to keep your feet from slipping.  It is only when you are at the bottom of the mountain, in the valley or at the base of the wall that is standing in the way of what God has for you and you have determined to keep walking that you need Someone to keep your feet from slipping.  We see here that the Psalmist expresses His dependence upon God as he implies, “I’m going on and God will keep my feet and legs strong.”  The terrain may be rocky, the path might be steep, but I’m going to journey with Jesus because He is my helper.  Jude 1:24 says Jesus is able to keep me from falling. The Psalmist says He is “shade” at your right hand. The sun will not harm you by day.  I lived in the Middle East for two years right out of college.  I know how important shade is in that part of the world.  It is hot, even in the shade.  That heat can zap you, dehydrate you and drain your energy.  Sunburn is a real threat.  Overexposure to the sun can cause major problems.  It is a reality. Friends, we go through things in this life that exhaust us, spiritually dehydrate us, and leave us without the energy we need to get through those tough times.  But when we walk with Jesus, there will be places of refreshment along the way.  There will be breaks for us to rest and get rehydrated because the Lord will provide them. The moon will not harm you by night. At first read, it might seem strange that the writer would include the moon as a threat. I mean it’s not like we get “moonburn” from extended exposure to the moon.  However, in ancient times, and even in some places today, the moon is believed to have the power to make people crazy. When we speak of the moon, we sometimes use the term “lunar.” Lunar comes from the same root word as “lunatic.” It was believed that overexposure to the moon would make someone a lunatic. Listen, we can have a secure and peaceful mind in our journey through this life when we depend upon the Lord.  What we can take from this idea about God protecting us from the moon is that God protects us from perceived threats. Often we believe something to be a threat that really isn’t. Author Beth Moore commented, “When I was little, I was convinced that there were dogs hiding under my bed. If I had to get up during the night, I would run and jump into bed so the dogs wouldn’t bite my foot. That is a perceived threat, and God protects us from those as well.” God is going to protect us from both those real and those perceived threats.  That is the whole crux of the Psalm.  Verse 5, the highlight of the Psalm, “The Lord protects you” or “The Lord is your keeper” depending on your translation, has 58 syllables before it and 58 syllables after it.  It is the main theme. God protects us wherever we go.  Verse 8 tells us, “The Lord will watch over your coming and your going.”  Wherever we are, God will protect us.  Students headed off to college, that’s a promise.  Parents with students heading off to college, that is a promise.  Some of you who are in uncharted waters, that is a promise. The Lord will watch over your coming and going when?  Both now and forevermore. God’s protection doesn’t ebb and flow. It’s not like the tide that comes in and out. His protection is permanent. Remember he doesn’t need a rest. After Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission to go into all the world, he said, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We will make it to our destination.  We will indeed “come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God,” (Heb. 12:22) and we’ll arrive there in one piece.  Nothing will hinder our arrival as long as we do verse one of Psalm 121.  What is the one thing the Psalmist does in this Psalm?  He lifts his eyes toward God.  He doesn’t say his help comes from his money, his friends, his career, his connections, or his boyscout abilities to navigate through life.  He says it comes from God alone.  True freedom isn’t independence, but complete dependence on the One who is with us on life’s journey.  Why not make today “Dependence Day?” Prayer (Salvation Prayer) Preparation for Communion-I’m not interested in depending on someone who just tells me I can count on them.  I’m putting my faith and my trust in the One who died to show me I could count on Him. 1 Cor. 11:28 “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” Ps. 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
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