The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



Guest Sermon - October 28, 2018
Pastor Arnie Johnson
Sermon Title: "When in Doubt...(Praise the Lord)!"

Old Testament: Psalm 117:1-2, (NRSV) - 1 Praise the LORD, all you nations! Extol him, all you peoples! 2 For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD!

Gospel: Luke 5:21-26, (NRSV) - 21 Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, "Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 22 When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Stand up and walk'? 24 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" -- he said to the one who was paralyzed--"I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home." 25 Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. 26 Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, "We have seen strange things today."

Epistle: Philippians 4:4-9, (NRSV) - 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our Lord, our Strength, and our Redeemer. Amen.

Praising the Lord with gratitude is something that all major religious denominations do but with some differences. Some do it extraordinarily well in word, song, and demonstration, and others not so well, in my viewpoint. I’m going to start today’s message with a story by Bruce Larson that illustrates how another religious denomination praises the Lord.

“At a conference at a Presbyterian church in Omaha, people were given helium filled balloons and told to release them at some point in the service when they felt like expressing the joy in their hearts. Now, you must understand that since they were Presbyterians, they weren't free to say "Hallelujah, Praise the Lord" or any other such expression. All through the service balloons ascended, but when the service was over 1/3 of the balloons were still unreleased.” Larson ended his story with a short little statement: “Let your balloon go.” (Bruce Larson, Luke, p. 43.)

I agree 100% with Larson, who is by the way, a Presbyterian himself. “Let your balloon go!” Why did 1/3 of the attendees not release their balloons? What’s wrong with the Presbyterians at that time that caused them not to audibly or more strongly praise the Lord in gratitude? Well, I found this very interesting since I started life as a Presbyterian in my hometown of Gardner, Kansas and I do not remember much, if any, praising in church. People would just sit and sing hymns. I am now very happy that I saw the light in my later years, and that I am now in a denomination that encourages praising and demonstrating God’s love! What’s most important isn’t that I’m a Methodist or a Presbyterian or UCC or any other denomination, it is that I am a Christian! I apologize to any other denominations here today if this ruffles some feathers! I do not mean to be derogatory to that denomination. I’m just glad I am able to be more demonstrative in my praise of our Lord for what had been done for me and others!

How many of us like to receive praise? And, how many of us like to give praise for a job well done? How many of us give praise to others when it’s really not deserved? How many of us give praise only when it is deserved? How many of us ignore or forget to give praise when it’s deserved?

When I think of the word “praise,” I think of my own life and look back to my father, and I don’t remember him saying very often “Good job, Arnold” or give much praise to anyone. Now and then I would hear, “Good dinner, Mother” to my mother for a well-prepared meal. I’m not saying that my father was a bad person or a non-caring person, I just think it was his personality trait, and maybe he patterned himself the way he had been brought up (like father, like son?). Or, was it that I really didn’t do much worthy of praise? I will admit that receiving praise from my father and others always gave, and still gives me a wonderful feeling! I love it! How many of you like to receive praise?

If any of us do have problems praising, maybe we just don’t understand the importance, methods, and reasons for praise. I have a wonderful study Bible, “Life in the Spirit” that contains an article called “Praise” where it describes the importance, the methods, and the reasons for praise.

The article states that some of the Biblical reasons for the importance of praise are that “God calls all nations to praise him” which are found in many places in the Bible. The article continues “In other words, everything that has breath is called to shout out the praise of God. As if that is not enough, God also commands inanimate nature to praise him – such as the sun, moon, and stars; lightning, hail, snow, and wind; mountains, hills, rivers, and seas; all kinds of trees; and all kinds of living creatures.” And I ask, do we not have breath; are we not living creatures?

The question of how can we praise leads us to some methods of praise: “singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” which we have done here today; “sung through the mind (spoken language) or with the spirit;” “musical instruments such as rams’ horns and trumpets; stringed such as the harp and lyre; and percussion such as tambourines and cymbals.” We can also praise God by telling others about our God’s wonderful deeds. We can even use part of our bodies, such our hands and arms.

[Mention the bulletin insert]

And lastly, what might be some reasons for praise to God and having gratitude for this earth we live on and what we have in our lives? First and foremost is that God has given us life! Another of the most obvious reasons for praise and gratitude is because of the splendor, glory, majesty, and beauty of our God, who created the heavens and the earth. Another reason for praising is God’s acts of salvation, redemption, unfailing mercy, grace, and love. We would also want to praise God for specifics acts of deliverance in our lives, such as being rescued from our enemies or healed of our sicknesses. And finally, we should praise God for care and provision for us day and night, both physically and spiritually.

As I was working on this sermon, I was looking outside and was so blessed when I stopped thinking about and writing this message and instead watched the birds flying, observed the marvelous tall trees losing their leaves and the color change, and watching the squirrels and chipmunks storing food for winter. After seeing those things, it became so natural to praise God for all that was created those many thousands of years ago and all that has been done for us since! Praise the Lord! And then I became thankful about one of the negative sides of God’s love, the massive number of mosquitoes God made were now gone! (Ha ha!)

It was also interesting to do some research on another scripture in the Bible that we actually read together today as our Call to Worship:

Old Testament: Psalm 117:1-2, (NRSV)
- 1 Praise the LORD, all you nations! Extol him, all you peoples! 2 For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD!

It appears that when this Psalm was written, some Biblical scholars feel that the words “all you nations” and “all you peoples” only meant those people in Judah. But others, such as Charles H. Spurgeon in his ‘Treasury of David’ believe something more. Spurgeon states, “This Psalm, which is very little [small, short] in its letter, is exceedingly large in its spirit; for, bursting beyond all bounds of race or nationality, it calls upon all mankind to praise the name of the Lord. In all probability it was frequently used as a brief hymn suitable for almost every occasion, and especially when the time for worship was short. Perhaps it was also sung at the commencement or at the close of other Psalms, just as we now use the doxology. It would have served either to open a service or to conclude it. It is both short and sweet. It may be worth noting that this is the shortest chapter of the Scriptures, and it is the central or center portion of the whole Bible.” We find this again with an almost exact quote in Romans 15:11 where it says, “and again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him.’" So, now the Gentiles have been highlighted which really does expand the thought to include more people, more than just Judah.

One thing we have found in this scripture is that in God's worship it is not always necessary to be long; few words sometimes say what is sufficient, as this short Psalm gives us to understand.

So, we can thank and praise God for His wondrous words of encouragement, the words in this short scripture reading where we are told to put praise where praise is due, to do what is proper in circumstances of joy, to “tell it like it is!” If someone has done something for us that makes us feel good, we should thank that person. If things have happened in our lives that can be attributed to God’s unfailing mercy and grace, don’t you think we should thank and praise God also? There is nothing wrong with praising others for what they have done. And since God is the master of our universe and is our Lord all the days of our lives, we too should thank and praise God which is what John Wesley did with his last breath!

John Wesley was about 21 years of age when he went to Oxford University. He came from a Christian home, and he was gifted with a keen mind and good looks. Yet in those days he was a bit snobbish and sarcastic. One night, however, something happened that set in motion a change in Wesley's heart. While speaking with a porter, he discovered that the poor fellow had only one coat and lived in such impoverished conditions that he didn't even have a bed. Yet, he was an unusually happy person, filled with gratitude to God. Wesley, being an immature 21, thoughtlessly joked about the man's misfortunes. "And what else do you thank God for?" he said with a touch of sarcasm.  The porter smiled, and in the spirit of meekness replied with joy, "I thank Him that He has given me my life and being, a heart to love Him, and above all a constant desire to serve Him!" Deeply moved, Wesley recognized that this man knew the meaning of true thankfulness, praising God!
Many years later, in 1791, John Wesley lay on his deathbed at the age of 88. Those who gathered around him realized how well he had learned the lesson of praising God in every circumstance. Despite Wesley's extreme weakness, he began singing the hymn, "I'll Praise My Maker While I've Breath." (Our Daily Bread.)  Words of that song to remember are:
      “I'll praise my Maker while I've breath;
      and when my voice is lost in death,
      praise shall employ my nobler powers.
      My days of praise shall ne'er be past,
      while life, and thought, and being last,
      or immortality endures.”

Can we do no less than John Wesley? Let us all leave here today with joy in our hearts and that peace that passes all understanding, knowing that God is always with us and helps us through all situations, good and bad. Like John Wesley, let us always praise God for what has been done for us and will continue to be done for us as long as we have breath. And now as Christians, not Presbyterians or Methodists or any other denomination, can we express our gratitude to God for what we have had, what we presently have, and what God will provide for us in the future.

          Can I have a “Praise the Lord?” [Response]

          Can I have a “Hallelujah?” [Response]

          Can I have a “Thank You Jesus?” [Response]

          So, to finish, I complete the title of my message today, “When in doubt, praise the Lord!”

          So may it be. And the people of God said Amen.

What Does it Really Mean When People Lift Up Their Hands at Church?

By Brooke Metz, Student, Wake Forest University

The band’s playing. Everyone’s singing. Some people even have their hands lifted up in the air.
If you’ve ever been to church, you probably know what I’m talking about.
When I was younger, I thought the people waving their hands all over the place were kind of weird. It just seemed awkward and unnecessary. As I got a little older, I thought I’d figured out the reasoning behind the action — to demonstrate joy and praise to God through worship. It was a way to be connected to Him by simply reaching out.

I wasn’t wrong about that last part. Worship is certainly a way to feel God’s presence, and it can be powerful for people in different ways. Some people (like me) prefer worshipping through our instruments instead of singing. Others are content to simply stand and enjoy the knowledge that God is right there in the room with us as the church unites as one voice and one body. And some like to reach their hands out to the ceiling, like they’re trying to blend the physical and spiritual sensations.

But lifting your hands doesn’t always imply joy or praise. Biblically, the gesture is actually a sign of surrender.

In Exodus 17, when the Amalekites try to attack the Israelites, Moses must find a way to defend the people. He holds up the staff of God at the top of a hill, hands raised—in surrender.

Moses knows they cannot defend themselves against the Amalekites without God. He knows the power of the Lord is the only way to save the Israelites, so he holds up his hands as if to proclaim his own unworthiness, as if to say, “We can’t do this on our own. We need You.”

The next verse confirms that idea: “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.”

With God on their side, the Israelites have the victory. But when Moses stops surrendering to God, the enemy swoops in, ready to attack.

Surrendering is what makes them powerful.

This idea is found all throughout the Bible. Another powerful example is in 2 Corinthians, when Paul talks about his “thorn in the flesh,” or weakness. He seems grateful the thorn is there, saying he can now “boast” of his weakness because he is made strong through it. When he is weak, he must call on God, who then empowers him to overcome the obstacle.

Paul and the Israelites got the victory. But first they had to acknowledge their own weakness.

When we admit we can’t do anything without God, we actually become stronger through that confession because we invite God to strengthen and guide us. And once you have Him on your side, you can’t be defeated.

When Moses lowered his hands, the enemy won. That physical sign of keeping his hands in the air no matter how hard it was for him revealed his devotion to God and that he knew he needed God’s help. So in a way, it is still a sign of praise — but more in terms of realizing our own unworthiness.

When people raise their hands during worship at church, whether they know it or not, they are admitting that they are weak and without any power aside from the power they receive through the Holy Spirit. They’re praising God by physically and publicly demonstrating to Him that they need Him.

When I think about this, I remember how when I was a little kid I used to think people raising their hands looked awkward or even kind of weird. But the people worshipping don’t care how they look. They’re surrendering to God—and becoming empowered through it.

"For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised; and he is more to be feared than all other gods. For all the gods of the nations are false gods; but the Lord made the heavens. Honour and glory are before him: strength and joy are in his holy
place. Give to the Lord, O you families of the peoples, give to the Lord glory and strength. Give to the Lord the glory of his name; take with you an offering and come before him; give worship to the Lord in holy robes." 1 Chron 16:25-29 (BBE)

The basis of praise is declaring God's character and attributes in the presence of others. When we recognize and affirm his goodness we are holding up his perfect moral nature for all to see. Praise benefits us because it takes our minds off our problems and needs and focuses on God's power, mercy, majesty, and love. Genuine praise also involves ascribing glory to God. Remember this in your worship — give God all the glory. —Life Application Bible Notes
"Let all those who are looking for you be glad and have joy in you; let the lovers of your salvation ever say, May God be great." Psalms 70:4 (BBE)

This short psalm (similar in content to Psa 40:13-17) was David's plea for God to come quickly with his help. Yet even in his moment of panic, he did not forget praise. Praise is important because it helps us remember who God is. Often our prayers are filled with requests for ourselves and others, and we forget to thank God for what he has done and to worship him for who he is. Don't take God for granted and treat him as a vending machine. Even when David was afraid, he praised God. —Life Application Bible Notes