Monday, April 3, 2017

FRUIT – Psalm 92 (Colossians 1:3-14)

A sermon preached on April 2, 2017 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Galveston.  To listen, go to the sermon page here.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling my age lately.  I know I’m not terribly old, but I’ve been finding that my memory's not as sharp as it used to be.  Also, my memory's not as sharp as it used to be.[1]

On the other hand, I’m quite young compared to some of the people who are out running the Half Ironman over at Moody Gardens this morning.  They divide the competitors into age categories. Did you know there’s an age category for 80 and older?[2]  And there are people competing in that category![3]  The Ironman started today at 7am with a 1.2-mile swim in Offats Bayou, followed by a 56-mile bike ride past the San Luis Pass at the east end of the island to Surfside Beach and back to Moody Gardens, and then finished off with a 13.1-mile run.[4]  By now some of them have already had more activity than some of us will have in a month or more! 

One of the competitors in today’s race is Lew Hollander.  He’s 85.  When he was 82, he made the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest triathlon competitor.  Lew says, "I’m not unusual. The only thing I have going for me is persistence. I just do what Lew can do and I’m not too concerned about what other folks do better or worse…"[5]

With that in mind, Psalm 92’s statement in verse 14 about bearing fruit in old age doesn’t seem too hard to imagine.  Lew Hollander says the key is persistence, and I think our psalm writer would agree.  Psalm 92 gives us some instruction about how to apply that persistence, and what sort of fruit we can expect.  We see in this psalm that our praise bears fruit – it keeps us close to God, helps us see his work, and makes us joyful witnesses.

Psalm 92, in most Bible versions, is divided into three parts.  The first part is praise.

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to God’s name….” (v1)

It is good to praise God.  It takes our eyes off ourselves and our problems, and gets us looking at God’s goodness instead.  It changes our perspective and our attitude.  God designed us to worship him.  That’s why the Westminster Catechism says that our chief purpose in life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.  That’s worship.  Psalm 92 talks specifically about singing, but we also worship in our prayers, in our reading the Bible and learning about God, in our working and serving, and in telling others about God.  We worship whenever we are using the gifts and talents that God has given us, and thanking him.

The psalmist is praising both in the morning and at night, thanking God for his constant love and faithfulness.  Maybe you do this already.  If not, why not give it a try?
  • ·        In the morning, thank God for a new day and for bringing you through the night. 
  • ·        At bedtime, thank God for bringing you through the day.

I was reminded this week of the importance of saying things out loud.  Psalm 92 says not only that it’s good to praise God, but also that it’s good to proclaim those praises, to say them out loud.  There are two benefits to saying them out loud:
  • 1.     So that others can hear them and join in the praise
  • 2.     So that we can hear ourselves saying them

When we say things out loud they become more tangible because we become more physically involved by saying the words and by hearing ourselves saying them.  Then our brains take in these words and process them differently, and the words stick with us better.
It is indeed good to praise God, morning and night!

The second part of Psalm 92 talks about God’s works.  (O Lord, what great works you do! V5) As we worship God, especially through saying thanks, we see God’s works more clearly.  In this psalm, as in many other psalms, God’s works are seen to include conquering evil.  We know that this is what Jesus accomplished with his death on the cross and resurrection.  We also know that through our faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit helps us to conquer the evil that is within us.

The third part tells of our response, and this is my favorite part of this psalm. (“But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.” V12)  One reason is that we are talking about trees again.  Back in Psalm 1, the psalm that sets the theme for the entire book of psalms, we saw the tree that stays near its water source, the river.  Some of you reminded me the day we talked about this psalm that there is also the tree of life in the Garden of Eden in the beginning of the Bible in Genesis, and the tree is there again at the end of the Bible in Revelation. 

Psalm 92 is encouraging us to remember that healthy, thriving trees stay close to the water of life, stay close to God, just like Jesus says in John 15 – remain in me.  A branch cannot bear fruit unless it stays connected to the vine, and we cannot thrive unless we stay connected to Jesus.  In fact, he adds, “apart from me you can do nothing” (v5).  Apart from Jesus, we can only do what we have in our own strength to do, but connected to Jesus, working under Jesus’ power, the power of the Holy Spirit, we can do far more than we can ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).

This is why the psalmist can say in verse 14, “in old age they still bear fruit.”  Old trees that stay close to the water are still fresh and flourishing, still green and vibrant, even though they are old.  Staying close to the water is what is being demonstrated in the beginning of the psalm – continuing to praise God and give thanks to him.  Continuing to reach out to God for strength and life.

What happens to trees that don’t?  Have you ever had a tree specialist tell you a tree needs to be cut down when that tree looked perfectly fine to you?  And then you cut that tree down and discover that although the tree looked perfectly fine on the outside, you find that the inside was all rotten.  Sometimes you even find that the tree is completely hollow inside.  In areas that have had severe drought, this is what happens.  When we lived in South Carolina, there was a drought for about five years and we had to cut down a bunch of trees that had gotten rotten from the lack of water. Trees that get rotten have to be removed because they won’t be strong enough in a storm to stay up, and in a storm you can’t control where the tree will fall.

We’re kind of like trees.  When we’re not staying connected to that living water that feeds our souls, we can get unhealthy, too.  We might look fine on the outside, but when the storms of life come, we aren’t prepared to withstand the storm.  But if we stay connected, keep letting God feed our souls, we can thrive into old age and keep on being fruitful.

The actor George Burns made the most of life in his old age.  He was 80 when he won an academy award for The Sunshine Boys in 1975.  At that time, he was the oldest person to ever win an Oscar.  Still working a dozen years later, he got to play a younger character.  In the movie 18 Again (1988), he played an 81-year old, but he was actually 92.  He said: “You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”[6]  Burns lived to be 100!  Probably still smoking those cigars right up to the end.

One reason we remain fruitful into old age is that it’s not our abilities that matter as much as the strength of God in us.  In Galatians 5:22, Paul says that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.  These are the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruit of our efforts. We can't produce those on our own. The fruit comes only as we submit our lives to God and let the Spirit control us.[7]

Psalm 92 ends by telling us in verse 15 what in simpler terms our fruit will be:

They will declare, “The Lord is just! He is my rock! There is no evil in him!”

We become witnesses.  We say and show that God is righteous and faithful and good – in our words and our actions.

There’s an example of this in the movie War Room (2015).  It’s a movie about a family with problems, and an older woman, Miss Clara shows the young woman, the wife and mother in that family, how to become a prayer warrior.  The more the young woman prays, the more the problems that seem impossible and insurmountable get resolved.  Miss Clara is a fruitful old tree who passes on her faith to the next generation.

If you search the Bible for the word fruit, you’ll find it in Genesis when God tells Adam not to eat the fruit, but you’ll also find it in God’s call to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:22,28).  There were a lot less people back then.  To get from there to here, a lot of babies needed to be born.  God repeats this call to Noah after the flood (Gen 9:1).  They needed to repopulate the earth after everybody got wiped out, so they really needed to be fruitful and multiply. 

God says it again to Abraham, this time in the form of a promise – you will be fruitful and multiply – I will make you a great nation (Gen 17:6).  The book of Genesis ends with the family of Israel having moved to Egypt and settled in to survive the drought that had come over the land, and being fruitful and multiplying.  The book of Exodus picks up where Genesis left off, telling us that the nation of Israel HAD been fruitful and multiplying – doing it quite well, actually (Ex 1:7).  God had blessed them, as promised….which leads to a whole new set of problems, but it works out because God had a whole new set of solutions.

In the New Testament, that great mandate to be fruitful and multiply becomes the great commission, go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19).  In the book of Revelation, the end of the story where we find that tree (Rev 22:2), we also find that there are people there from all the nations praising God (Rev 7:9).  The result of fruitful obedience to the great commission is that heaven is full of people singing joyful praise to God, just like what’s happening in Psalm 92.  Our joyful praise is our witness.  Joyful praise is infectious.  

Jesus says in John 12, “When I am lifted up I will draw all people to myself.”  He’s talking literally about being lifted up on a cross, but he’s also talking about what happens when we lift him up in praise.

Our joyful praise, whether we sing it or say it, helps us to be refreshed and renewed, helps us to thrive, and helps to draw others to the object of our praise, Jesus Christ.  We can do that at any age, but the more we’ve been through, the more we have seen, the greater our witness becomes when we are still praising God.

And so my prayer for us all is the same as Paul prayed for the Colossians in the:
May you…” lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father” 

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