OAKRIDGE BIBLE CHAPEL

A Poem Celebrating God’s Foreverness (Psalm 111:1–10)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a theologian who grew up during WWI. His older brother was killed in battle and his mother was irreparably shocked by the loss. Fear and morbidity filled their home. To cope with those years, Dietrich, along with his twin sister, Sabine, would put themselves to sleep each night thinking about heaven, repeating into the darkness a single word: eternity. They wanted to make it their only thought as they fell asleep. When he turned twelve and was given his own room, Dietrich would lie in his bed and tap the wall that separated the twins. It was his signal to his sister that meant, “Think of God. Lift your mind to heaven. Think of eternity.”

We too face much in our present world that can break our hearts, cause us fear, and steal our sleep. But Psalm 111 knocks on the bedroom wall of our lives and reminds God’s people to think of God, to lift our minds to heaven, and to think of eternity.

SERMON MANUSCRIPT 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a theologian who grew up during WWI. His older brother was killed in battle and his mother was irreparably shocked by that loss. Fear and morbidity filled their home. Dietrich would later admit that, even as a child, he became obsessed with dying a good death.

To cope with those tense years, Dietrich, along with his twin sister, Sabine, would nightly put themselves to sleep thinking about heaven. They hung glow-in-the-dark crosses all over their room and would repeat to one another a single word: eternity. They wanted to make it their only thought as they fell asleep. Eternity. When he turned twelve and was given his own room, Dietrich would lie in his bed and *tap* the wall that separated the twins. It was his signal to his sister that meant, “Think of God. Lift your mind to heaven. Think of eternity.”

Obviously, setting their minds on things above didn’t stop the war below. Thoughts of heaven didn’t bring back their brother or heal their mother. But as they considered eternity these children were given needed perspective, they were reminded of truth that transcends terror, and they placed everlasting goodness at the forefront of their minds. 

We too face much in our present world that can break our hearts, cause us fear, and steal our sleep. Rebellious children, fractured marriages, loss and loneliness, illness and purposelessness, rising crime and falling culture. Concerns like these are unavoidable realities of living in a sin-scarred world full of sin-stained people.

But Psalm 111 is going to knock on the bedroom wall of our lives this morning and remind us to think of God, to lift our minds to heaven, and to think of eternity.

Psalm 111 is an acrostic poem that opens with a grand Hallelujah! Hallelujah is the transliteration of the Hebrews phrase, Praise Yahweh! or Praise the Lord! Interestingly, for as ubiquitous as that phrase is in Christian circles—we say it, pray it, and sing it often, don’t we?—it’s only found in two books of the Bible: one is the Psalms, obviously, and the other is the book of Revelation. 

It’s almost as though Hallelujah! is reserved for special times and special reasons. And Psalm 111 is one of those times, as this poem celebrates the foreverness of our God—his eternal character, his everlasting works, and his unchanging words. It lifts our minds to that which transcends the fear and morbidity of this world and then it invites us to respond.

EXPLORING THE FOREVERNESS OF GOD

Did you hear the psalmist tapping on the wall, reminding us of eternity and inviting us to explore the foreverness of God?

“His righteousness endures forever … he will remember his covenant forever … upheld forever and ever … he has ordained his covenant forever … His praise endures forever.” Psalm 111 shouts Hallelujah! as it celebrates the foreverness of God.

His character is eternal. [111:3b] God’s loyalty to what is proper and moral and his dedication to justice knows no bounds. “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness” (119:142a). 

And God’s eternal, unbending righteousness would be terrifying for unrighteous creatures like us if it wasn’t coupled with perfect mercy and gentleness. [111:4b]

Finally, [111:9c]. Yahweh is unspeakably holy, totally set apart and undefiled from his creation. He is immeasurably awesome, forever demanding reverence. Moses rhetorically asked the right question: “Who is like you among the gods, O Lord? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders” (Ex 15:11)? The answer? No one!

I heard one cynical pastor say, “Ministry would be great if it wasn’t for the people.” Most of us could likely say that about life in general. People can be dishonest, hypocritical, selfish, malicious, inconsistent, greedy, immature, and down-right criminal. And, if we’re honest, that includes us! But Psalm 111 lifts our minds away from human rottenness, inadequacy, and inconsistency to a God whose character is eternally righteous, holy, gracious, and awesome. Not every being in this universe is a disappointment! Think of God!

And not only is his character eternal but his works are everlasting. [111:2a, 3a, 4a, 6a, 7a] It isn’t only who God is that calls for a Hallelujah!, but it’s what he’s done. His deeds are on display, observably and memorably great, majestic, and glorious like he is. What God does is true and right as he is truth and righteous. 

One amazing example of such divine effort is found in [111:9a‌]. God didn’t have to clothe Adam, save Noah, call Abram, endure Jacob, and send Moses. He wasn’t obligated to choose Israel, grow them, lead them, guard them, help them, forgive them, tolerate them, discipline them, and use them. God didn’t need to provide a way for sinners to be made right with him, to worship him, to walk with him, and to love him. He didn’t have to send his Son, Jesus, to die for the sins of the world and be raised from the dead. God didn’t have to do any of this. But he did. He sent redemption to his people because he is gracious, merciful, and awesome. Hallelujah! His works are everlasting.

All that we do in life, the deeds we accomplish, the resumes we build, and the legacies we leave, will all decompose on the compost heap of history. We sweat, bleed, stress, and sacrifice and, ultimately, the fruit of our labour fades. And that can be deflating, discouraging, and depressing: “What’s the point?” “Why bother?” 

But Psalm 111 lifts our minds away from our temporary works and sets them on God’s works, those that are everlasting. As we sometimes sing together: “Should nothing of our efforts stand / No legacy survive / Unless the Lord does raise the house / In vain its builders strive.” His works are everlasting.

Finally, God’s words are unchanging. [111:5–6] The everlasting works of God are, in this case, tightly tethered to the unchanging words of God. God swore an oath to Israel and he’s going to keep it even if they break it. He will feed them, help them, and be faithful to them.

[111:7b–9] I’ve said it several times before but my three foundational convictions when it comes to studying God are: 1) he has spoken, 2) he’s good at it and wants to be understood, and 3) he means what he says. God has not stumbled over his thoughts, he has not changed his mind, and he has not equivocated on his promises. God’s words are not only comprehendable but they are unchanging and binding because they have been spoken by the God of the universe who is truth.

We live in a world of half-truths, relative truth, and personalized truth; of misinformation, disinformation, and mass information; antiauthoritarianism, skepticism, and cynicism. Many people are more likely to study at the feet of social media influencers than from actual experts and many “experts” are anything but that. Can we trust legacy news outlets? Are institutions of higher education honest and altruistic? Where do we turn for truth?

The world tells me to listen to my heart as it’ll never lead me astray. But that’s just not true! Historically, my heart usually leads me astray!

Psalm 111 shouts into that cloud of confusion: there is truth available and it comes from the God who is truth. Will God’s people have the courage to listen to him or will they stumble over the ancient serpentine question: “Has God really said?” We don’t have to stumble because God’s words are unchanging. Hallelujah!

*Tap, tap, tap.* This psalm celebrates the foreverness of our God, lifting our minds and hearts away from this world and unto his eternal character, everlasting works, and unchanging words. Hallelujah!

Years ago I had a seminary professor who told us that he spent most of his time alone singing hymns because he found it almost impossible to sin against God while singing about God. His point was a biblical one: where we set our hearts will affect our hands. If we think about things above, about God’s character, works, and words, it will change our hearts, hands, and heads.

RESPONDING TO THE FOREVERNESS OF GOD

But how, specifically? How does the psalmist expect his hearers to respond to the foreverness of God? Well, it seems to me, that there’s a call here for a proportioned response from God’s people.

[111:1b–c, 10c] The psalmist says, I’m going to praise God with all of myself and then I’m going to get together with all of God’s people and we’re going to join in worship for all time. Because of who he is, what he’s done, and what he’s said, God is owed my entire heart, his entire congregation, for the entirety of history. That’s just fair!

And what is the content of our whole praise? Well, we’re to thank him. [111:1b] I mean, sometimes that’s all you can do, isn’t it? My family and I have been shown incredible kindness by many people in this church family and when that happens my kneejerk reaction is to seek ways to reciprocate, to pay back. But most of the time, we simply can’t and, ultimately, all we can do is say a sincere “thank you.”

When we think of all that God has given us in Christ, all that we’ve been saved from, all the truth he’s revealed, and the riches that lie ahead, all we can do is echo Paul in 2 Corinthians 9, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift” (v. 15)! One way we respond to the foreverness of God is to thank him.

Second, we’re to explore him. [111:2, 10] I was once given this marriage advice: “Make a constant study of your spouse.” Why? For one, she’s a puzzle and, for two, it honours her with my fascination. 

The same is true with our eternal God. In a world where people love to study themselves, talk about themselves, assess themselves, diagnose themselves, and know themselves, God’s people are to turn that attention onto him who is forever fascinating. He’s given us life, love, grace, forgiveness, and so much more. He’s given us everything. Is he not worthy of our exploration?

It’s been rightly said that everyone is a theologian. We just want to be good ones, not sloppy ones. And so, we respond to the foreverness of God by knowing him, studying him, and exploring him.

Finally, we’re to praise him. That’s how this poem both opens and closes. [111:1a, 10c] Declare his worthiness! Sing his beauty! Tell of his majesty! Give him access to all of my life, all of my hopes, all of my dreams, all of my resources, all of my time, all of my comforts. 

He’s eternally worthy because he is eternally beautiful. He’s owed it all because he’s given all. Praise him always. Hallelujah!

Today our world is hurting. According to the United Nations, the following are some concerning “global issues”: the economics of Africa, the aging world population, AIDs, atomic energy, child and youth safety online, climate change, decolonization, attacks against democracy, disarmament, poverty, food and water shortages, gender equality, health, human rights, international law and justice, and refugees from the over 110 current armed conflicts raging throughout the world. It’s a mess!

And, as shielded as Canada is from some of those pains, we’re not immune to brokenness. And neither are our individual lives and the lives of those we love. Psalm 111 isn’t ignoring those realities. But it is tapping on the wall that all of God’s people share, signalling to us, reminding us, pleading with us, to think of God, to lift our minds to heaven, and to think of eternity.

This inspired poem reaches down into the hardship of life in a fallen world and yells, Hallelujah! There’s something greater. Hallelujah! There’s Someone greater. His character is eternal, his works are everlasting, and his words are unchanging. He is the God of forever that invites us to thank him, explore him, and praise him.

We’re going to do that now as we recline together at the Table of the Lord. Please turn to Mark 14.

[Mark 14:17–21] Jesus came, as prophesied, to offer Israel a kingdom, proving himself to be their Messiah. Not only did they disbelieve him, but they hated him and, now, he’s marching toward torture and public execution at their hands. 

But in his final hours, our Lord Jesus gathers his closest followers to him for Passover, a meal that remembers God delivering his people from Egypt’s bondage by the blood of a lamb painted on a doorframe. But Jesus is about to repurpose that ancient meal into one that remembers God delivering his people from sin’s bondage by the blood of the Lamb dripping down a wooden cross. It’s his blood. He’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

This is an intimate and special scene. And notice who’s invited to it. Mark says more than once, “The twelve.” Throughout Mark’s gospel, “the twelve” have struggled to understand Jesus’s identity. They fumble and fail, stumble and fall. Peter will deny Jesus, Thomas will doubt Jesus, Judas will betray Jesus, and they will all flee Jesus. 

It’s an unimpressive group of uneducated disciples with imperfect faith living in a chaotic cultural moment full of shifts and changes, pains and disappointments, unknowns and uncertainties. Yet, it’s them that are invited to the Table, to lift their minds and hearts to something greater, something that transcends their terror and sin; something everlasting.

[Mark 14:22–26] Jesus not only invited imperfect disciples to his Table, but he gave his body and shed his blood for imperfect disciples. 

And that’s a wonderful thing because that’s the only type of disciple there is! We’re all imperfect disciples, burdened by our pride, doubts, ignorance, and weakness. We’re all disciples experiencing the fear and uncertainty of life in a fallen world. And yet, Jesus invites us to his Table and says, “Lift your minds to things above. Think of me.”

Following the Lord’s invitation, as we take and eat and take and drink, we are remembering Jesus. We remember his eternal character—gracious, loving, kind, holy. We commemorate his everlasting work—his sacrificial, atoning death for our sins and his victorious, life-giving resurrection. And we celebrate his unchanging words—that we have everlasting life with our everlasting God if we believe in him for it.

Today we celebrate the foreverness of our God, the foreverness of his Son, the foreverness of his love, and the foreverness of grace. May we thank him, explore him, and praise him. Hallelujah! Let’s eat and drink together.

Hallelujah! We praise you today, our eternal heavenly Father, and sing with all our hearts. As we gather together as an assembly of believers, we give you all thanks with unified passion.

Your works, Lord God, are stunning and beautiful. When we see the sweet smile of a child, we’re filled with joy. When we see a stunning sunrise or the elegance in the fine details of a flower, we’re in awe. You are our God, our eternal Creator. Everything you do is glorious and majestic!

You are forever compassionate, kind, loving, and gracious. You gave us everything we have and give us everything we need. You have lavished your unfading gifts upon us and we thank you.

Lord God, you keep all of your promises because your word is truth. You are unfailingly faithful and we repent of our doubts. We know that we can trust you. You are the one constant in our fractured lives, in this fractured world. Your ways are perfectly just and forever true.

You have provided redemption to we who deserve it not—a way to eternal life with you by grace through faith. Your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, has paid the penalty for us, a payment made once for all. You have redeemed us from the pit of guilt and shame. You have lifted our heads so that we may smile with joy again.

We are in awe of everything about you our eternal God. We revere you, honour you, thank you, want to know you, and worship you. Again, we sing Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! In Jesus’ name, amen.

 



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Josiah has served the Oakridge Bible Chapel family as one of its elders and one of its pastoral staff members since September 2018, before which he ministered as an associate pastor to a local congregation in the Canadian prairies. Josiah's desire is to be used by God to help equip the church for ministry, both while gathered (edification) and while scattered (evangelization). He is married to Patricia, and together they have five children—Jonah, Henry, Nathaniel, Josephine, and Benjamin.

Josiah Boyd

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