Category Archives: Sermons

The Sound of Worship

Drums and Cymbals

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty firmament!
Praise Him for His mighty acts;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
Praise Him with the lute and harp!
Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!
Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him with clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!
(Psalm 150)

[This excerpt is from a sermon on Psalm 150 entitled “The Sound of Worship.” You can read the full sermon here]

Psalm 150 anticipates the coming of Christ and foresees the day when God’s praise will cover the earth. Jesus said that “all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44). This psalm, like all the psalms, points us to Christ. The final words of Psalm 150 anticipate Christ’s words in the Great Commission.  The psalmist calls upon “everything that has breath” to “praise the Lord.” In Mark 16:15 Jesus commands His disciples to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” We are to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). Psalm 150 finds its ultimate fulfillment in the conquering grace of Christ displayed in His church.

Church history is a testimony to the fulfillment of Psalm 150. God is at work sanctifying instruments and voices from every tribe and tongue, culture and nation for His glory. He is continually adding new voices, new instruments, new cultures, and new songs to the tapestry of His praise through the ages.

The fulfillment of Psalm 150, however, has not been without opposition. Satan has been enraged and at war with church since its beginning (Revelation 12). It has been his scheme to thwart the spread of God’s praise. He has attempted to shroud the world in darkness so that men remain blind to truth. He has sought to hinder the spread of the gospel so that men remain in bondage to their sin. He has sought to distort truth about God so that men believe and sing lies. And he has cast doubt on music (especially the use of musical instruments) miring them in sinful associations.

In the early days of the church, many musical instruments from Greek and Roman culture were associated with pagan worship and pagan cults. The aulos (a wind instrument like the flute) was used in the worship of the goddess Diana.  The lyre (a stringed instrument) was said to be played by the Greek god Apollo. Many Christian writers and commentators of the first three centuries condemned such instruments based on their associations with pagan rituals. Some presented farfetched explanations and allegories in an attempt to reinterpret passages like Psalm 150, that include clear commands to worship God with musical instruments. (An excellent resource is: Music in Early Christian Literature by James McKinnon, Cambridge University Press, 1987.)

Throughout the history of the church, well-intended arguments have been made that certain musical instruments are incompatible with worship. Some have tried to constrict the Regulative Principle so that it excludes the use of musical instruments in the church altogether.  Drums, guitars, banjos, kazoos, and even the piano have been scorned and disparaged. 

One musical instrument that was slow to be accepted by the church to accompany praise to God was the organ. This may be surprising, since today the organ is regarded as the grandest musical instrument of the church.

“The organ was invented around the 3rd century BC. Back then it was designed to use water rather than air in the pipes and was called the hydraulis. The water organ was quite loud and was used most prominently in the amphitheaters. 

“During the time of the Roman Empire it was used to accompany the processions and events at the gladiatorial games. Some ballparks today use the organ in a similar way to create a festive atmosphere—to signal and stir up the crowd. It was to the celebrative sounds of the organ that many Christians were paraded in before cheering crowds to be martyred. 

“So you can imagine the difficulties with association that early Christians must have had whenever someone finally had the idea to introduce the organ into church as a worship instrument. How could this instrument that accompanied so much death, ever be used in worship?

“But God had a purpose for the pipe organ. He designed to rescue that instrument and use it for His glory. Rome was sacked in 410 and the empire fell over the next 150 years. The organ was finally brought into the church around 7th century AD—well after the fall of Rome. It was not until the 1300s that the first organ was permanently installed in a church. But for hundreds of years after, the pipe organ was a prominent instrument in carrying the praise of God’s people.” (from Thoughts on Music and Worship)

The reality is that there are no musical instruments that cannot be used to worship God, only instruments that are incompatible with our comfort zone and expectations as to what worship music should sound like.

Certainly, we want to use music wisely.  We want to be like the sons of Issachar and have “an understanding of the times” (1 Chronicles 12:32). We want to employ music in ways that will adorn worship and serve our singing, not hinder worship and obscure the words we are singing. The inscriptions on the psalms in Scripture teach us to be intentional in our musical arrangements. In an earlier study on the Psalm Inscriptions, I concluded:

“The psalms set a musical precedent for worship that God will accomplish in fuller measure in the New Testament through the church. Throughout church history, God has added and continues to add many musical styles and sounds to His praise. As the gospel goes out in the power of God’s Spirit, conquering hearts and lives, people from each generation and from every tribe and tongue and nation add their voice to the music of the church. There is not one sound that is solely sacred, but a vast array of musical composition that God is weaving into a tapestry of praise for His glory.” (from Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions: Titles of Interpretation).

The sanctification of music—musical expression, musical styles, musical instruments—to the praise and glory of God is an outcome of the spread of the gospel and fulfillment of the Great Commission. 

Some will still ask: Where are the musical instruments in the New Testament? Where in the New Testament do we find precedent for using them in the church? Musical instruments are there, of course. They are inherent in the New Testament fulfillment of God’s commands to fill the earth with His praise. They are implied in Paul’s admonitions to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19). And they are explicit in John’s descriptions of music in heaven (Revelation 5:8; 8:2, 6; 9:14; 14:2, and 15:2). But it should come as no surprise that the New Testament doesn’t provide an orchestration for music in the church. The New Testament emphasizes the spiritual nature of worship and sees it spread to the ends of the earth. Unlike the worship music of the Old Testament that was specific to one place (the tabernacle / Temple), music in the New Testament is adaptable to every place—everywhere there is breath!

  • We don’t have descriptions as to how to build our buildings and worship spaces.
  • We don’t have orders of worship to plan and design our services.
  • And we don’t have specific instruments designated as necessary and sacred.

There may be times when the church is not able to use musical instruments. They may be scarce. There may not be skilled musicians available to play them. Most of the first three centuries of the church, believers faced severe persecution and had to worship in secret. Loud instruments and music would have needlessly attracted attention.

As the gospel goes out and conquers hearts and lives, where there are musical instruments, they should be sanctified and employed for God’s praise. Where there are no musical instruments, God can still be worshipped with voices alone. He is sovereignly orchestrating His praise throughout the ages and around the world. All glory is His!

[This excerpt is from a sermon on Psalm 150 entitled “The Sound of Worship.” You can read the full sermon here]

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The Joys of Corporate Worship Part 3

Hymnal and Bible

Open your Bibles this evening to Psalm 43. Tonight, we return to our study of Psalm 42 and 43. These two psalms are two halves of a single psalm. Together they form a lament with 3 stanzas and 3 refrains. 

In this psalm, the psalmist expresses sorrow. He is afflicted and oppressed. He is separated from the people of God. And he is providentially hindered from being in Jerusalem at a time when the nation is gathering to worship God. His heart longs to “go with the throng” and join with the “multitude observing the pilgrim festival.”

In this study we are specifically interested in what we can learn about worship. What are the joys that come from corporate worship? What are the blessings that the psalmist longs for and desires to experience again?

In the first stanza in Psalm 42:1-4 and its refrain in verse 5, we looked at the first joy of corporate worship: The Joy of Seeking God and Delighting in Him Together.

The Psalmist longed to be in God’s presence in the midst of God’s people. His chief joy in worship was seeking God and delighting in God with the people of God.

When God brought Israel out of bondage and established them as a people, He promised to be their God, to be near them, to tabernacle among them. This great truth—God dwells with His people—fills the Old Testament and finds its fulfillment in the coming of Christ, the Messiah, who is Immanuel, “God with us.”

The presence of God with His people was the psalmist’s greatest joy in worship.

In the second stanza in Psalm 42 (verses 6-10) and the second refrain in verse 11, we discover his second joy—The Joy of Finding Strength and Encouragement in Times of Suffering.

The psalmist remembered the times and places where God had brought deliverance to His people. He was encouraged and drew strength when he saw and heard about God working in the lives of His people. 

He also longed to return to worship so he himself could testify of God’s goodness in delivering him from his trial. He desired that his own suffering be turned to praise and thanksgiving. He looked forward to the time when he could bring a peace offering of thanksgiving and testify to the gathered congregation that God had heard and answered his prayer. All the people of God would rejoice and give thanks when they saw him—his joy and thanksgiving to God would be multiplied many times over in the context of corporate worship! His experience would bring encouragement and strength to others who were facing difficulty. 

This evening we are going to consider the third joy of corporate worship. It is found in the third stanza (Psalm 43:1–4) and the final refrain (43:5): The Joy of Walking Together in Light and Truth.

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The Joys of Corporate Worship Part 2

Bible and Hymnal in Church Pew

Open your Bibles this evening to Psalm 42 and 43. Last time I had an opportunity to bring God’s Word to you, we began a study of these two psalms as they relate to corporate worship. The psalmist who composed Psalm 42 and 43 was one of the sons of Korah. He was providentially hindered from being in Jerusalem and thus could not take part in the pilgrim festivals of Israel and worship God with all those who gathered. He was in the midst of trial and persecution, and was separated, at least for a time, from the people of God. As he pours out his lament and seeks God’s help, he reveals his longing to worship God with the multitude in Jerusalem. He reveals, as well, why corporate worship is so precious to him.

This evening I want us to once again consider the joys of corporate worship.

What is it about corporate worship—

That worship of God that we enjoy, as we gather at certain times in a designated place to seek God together, to sing and pray together, and to hear God’s Word read and taught together

What is it about corporate worship that is so necessary and desirable? Why does the psalmist long for worship in the company of God’s people? 

If you remember, last time I left you with a question. We understand from Scripture that God is present everywhere. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. God was near the psalmist as he poured out his lament. So, what is this thirst that the psalmist has for God and His presence?

Why does he long to meet with God in a setting of corporate worship?

Is it really as important as the psalmist seems to indicate, that we gather together to seek God? Is it really necessary to worship God as a gathered church?

OR          Can we worship God just as well apart from each other,

                  in the privacy of our own hearts and in our own homes?

I hope to demonstrate for you as we continue to work through this psalm, that corporate worship really is necessary in God’s design of worship, both in the Old and New Testaments. It is essential that we come together as God’s people, as His gathered church to seek Him in worship. There are joys and blessings that we will miss and sorely lack if we neglect the frequent and consistent meeting together of the visible church in this place.

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The Joys of Corporate Worship Part 1

Church Sanctuary in Sunlight

When you think about corporate worship, what first comes to mind?

When you are providentially hindered and unable to attend, what do you miss?

When you made the effort to come to the service today, what motivated you to attend?

What brings you the most joy in corporate worship?

Please open your Bibles to Psalm 42. Tonight, we begin a brief series from Psalm 42 and 43 on “The Joys of Corporate Worship.” These two psalms may at first seem like an unlikely source to learn about corporate worship. They are not composed by one who is in the midst of God’s people, enjoying the blessings of gathered worship. They are rather a lament of one who is providentially hindered from joining in worship—he is prevented from being in Jerusalem and is, at least temporarily, separated from the people of God.

In this lament the psalmist pours out his heart to God and reveals his longing to return to Jerusalem and gather once again with the people of God in worship. Through his words, we are taught what should be most desirable about worship. We learn why corporate worship is so necessary for the people of God.

Psalm 42 and 43 are actually a single psalm made up of three sections. Each section ends with a similar refrain. In each section the psalmist sings about an aspect of worship that he especially misses and longs to experience again.

The Joys of Corporate Worship.

I.  (42:1-4)  The Joy of Seeking and Delighting in God together.
(42:5) Refrain

II. (42:6-10)   The Joy of Strength and Encouragement in time
of suffering.
(42:11) Refrain

III. (43:1-4) The Joy of Light and Truth
(43:5) Refrain

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The Certainty of God’s Word

Open Bible on a Rock

Everything God has said in His Word will most certainly come to pass!

This is an axiom, a truth upon which you can trust your soul. What God says will happen.

This is an anchor for your soul when your life gets stirred up and clouded by things you were not expecting.

Yet too often, (I know I find this true of myself) when temptations come and they whisper their enticing promises, I am prone to hear and pursue the false promises, rather than resting in the sure and proven promises of Scripture. When troubles come, I am too quick to be fearful, when I should be trusting; too quick to doubt, when I should cling to truth.

I have often wondered in the midst of my own struggles with doubt and sin, in the times when I am reeling in my own failures and capriciousness,… I have often wondered how much sin and misery I could avoid if I would just simply learn to take God at His Word.

The Word of God is abundant with promises. It teaches us, reproves us, corrects us, and instructs us in the path of righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

No matter what situation we may find ourselves in, God’s Word is an ever-present help and guide.

  • If we are tempted to sin, God teaches us in His Word: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
  • If we are lonely, He promises: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
  • If we are weak, He tells us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  • When we are enticed to sin, He warns us: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
  • If we fall into sin, He tells us: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
  • When we need wisdom, we are told: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).

This list could go on and on as we think through the rich and abundant pages of Scripture.

And all God says in every verse is true and sure. We can believe it. We can trust in it. We can treasure it in our hearts and count on it.

[This excerpt is from a Sermon on Genesis 1:1–5 entitled “The Certainty of God’s Word.” You can read the full Sermon  here.]

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How to Live in This Present Age

Church Steeple and Clock

In Titus 2:11–12 Paul summarizes how we are to live together in this present age.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.

Because “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,” we must live and walk in ways that commend and adorn that gospel. Our identity must be in Christ and we must live for Him. Paul tells us that in this present age we should live soberly, righteously and godly.

He says we are to live soberly (sophronas) — This is the word that Paul has used throughout this chapter to describe the conduct of older men (verse 2), younger women (verse 5), and younger men (verse 6); and the teaching (sophronizo) of older women (verse 4). We must act wisely according to the light God has given us in His Word illumined by the work of His Spirit.

We are to walk justly— Walk in a right way with integrity in our relationships and dealings with one another.

We are to walk in a godly way— Walk with our minds fixed and our passions focused on the things of God, desiring to see God magnified and His glory displayed in our lives.

Paul instructed Titus to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (2:1). Sound doctrine is a faithful companion and a fitting counterpoint to “things which are proper.” Things that are foolish—things that are trivial—things that are superficial—these things will be uncomfortable where there is sound doctrine. But those things that are wise and just and godly—these are to accompany sound doctrine.

There must be a connection between the doctrine we profess and the conduct we display. Both must glorify and exalt God.

Doctrine must be lived out in devotion. We must believe what is right and then do what is right. The truth we know with our minds and cherish in our hearts must be lived out in our hands and feet. The truth we hold must be made evident as we love God and love one another.

Read more from this sermon on Titus 2:1–15 entitled “How to Live in This Present Age”

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Magnify the Lord with Me!

I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
(Psalm 34:1–3)

Magnify the Lord

The first three verses of Psalm 34 are an invitation—a call to worship. In verse one David expresses his own commitment to praise God.

I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
(Psalms 34:1)

God is worthy of all praise—worthy of unending praise. David desires that God’s praise be continually on his lips—at all times, whether it be in enemy territory or in the courts of God’s temple with His people.

In verse two David calls upon the humble to hear him and rejoice with him as he lifts his praise.

My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.
(Psalm 34:2)

His words are good news to the humble. For those whom God has brought low, for those who see themselves in peril and needy of a way of escape, David knows where to point them for hope and strength.

In verse three he invites those who hear him to join his praise, that God would be magnified.

Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
(Psalm 34:3)

This psalm, like many in the book of Psalms, begins as personal praise and then spreads as it is shared and joined by others. What was individual devotion is now sung by many as corporate worship. David is not content to praise God by himself for his deliverance—he wants the people of God to join him. He wants the Lord to be magnified.

As we help and encourage others to look to God and acknowledge God and praise Him; as we share what God has done for us to encourage the hearts of others to look to Him and trust in Him, He is magnified—not in the sense that we add to God or make Him appear large or great (as a microscope would take a small thing and make it look large), but rather we take who God is and what He has done and bring it close to others, so they can see it and know it and rejoice in it (as a telescope would take a large and magnificent object and bring it into focus so all can enjoy and marvel in viewing it up close).

David wants to take the deliverance he has experienced by the grace and mercy of God, and bring it close to the people of God so that they can see it and rejoice with him in an overflow of praise and thanksgiving.

Read more from this sermon on Psalm 34 entitled “Taste and See!”

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Out of Zion

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.
(Psalms 14:7)

Church and town at Sunrise

Verse 7 of Psalm 14 represents a crucial turning point. The psalm began as a meditation, that quickly turned to a lament, but now is a petition, looking forward to a time of praise and rejoicing.

David considers the hopeless of man left to himself. He mediates on the depravity and corruption of man, and realizes that if anyone can be saved, it must be through God’s grace and life-giving power.
But notice from where God’s salvation is to come: out of Zion!

What is Zion?

David could have prayed that salvation would come from hand of God. He could have said that salvation would come from the promised Messiah. And this would be true. But he expands his statement at the end of the psalm, praying that salvation will come out of Zion.

This is more than a reference to the physical city of Jerusalem, where Christ would be crucified and accomplish in time and space the salvation of God’s people. Zion is also used in Scripture as reference to the people of God.

Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion.
(Psalms 65:1)

God’s purpose in salvation includes its being fulfilled and accomplished by Christ-but also its application and proclamation in us! God is the One who saves. Notice—

Verse 7 continues: “When the LORD restores…”

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.
(Psalms 14:7)

It is the Lord who restores! But God uses means to accomplish His salvation. As God saves, we respond with joy and gladness-joy and gladness that compel us to share the good news of salvation with others. It is our joy and responsibility to spread the Gospel—out of Zion, knowing with confidence that God will work-His Word will go out and will not return void.

He has established us here as a church in this community for a purpose. I encourage you to think from this mindset—out of Zion. God has put us here to make Him known. Every friend, every acquaintance, every relationship is in your life for you to magnify Jesus Christ.

Read more from this sermon on Psalm 14 entitled “Out of Zion”

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Behold Your God, Believe His Word!

Isaiah 40 Bible

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
And all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
When the breath of the LORD blows on it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God will stand forever.
(Isaiah 40:6–8)

Isaiah reminds us that God always is faithful to His Word.

Our experiences in this life are temporary—including both joys and trials; but God’s Word endures forever. We are like the grass that withers and the flower that fades—but God and His Word are not. Darkness and difficulties may come, or prosperity and ease—but regardless of circumstances, regardless of how well or how badly things appear to be going, God will always accomplish all He has purposed. His Word is true and faithful. For Judah, devastation and exile are looming, BUT there is hope, there is comfort, there is a SAVIOR. Christ will come, because “the mouth of the LORD has spoken it.”

Read more from this sermon on Isaiah 40 entitled “Behold Our God, Believe His Word”

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Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So!

Autumn Trees

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the LORD say so…
(Psalm 107: 1–2)

Psalm 107 teaches us that we are to give thanks to the Lord. And we are to do so in the hearing of others: Let the redeemed of the Lord say so! In each stanza we see people in various afflictions and trials. And each time the Lord brings deliverance, each time we see His hand at work, we see an exhortation to give thanks.

In light of God’s glory manifest in His work in us, we are to speak and sing and pray His praise. We are to encourage one another by giving thanks for what God has done and what He has promised to do. God intends that our words and our prayers strengthen those who are weak and feeble among us, that they might hear and have faith and persevere in prayer and hope.

The word that is translated “thanks” here in Psalm 107 is the Hebrew word yadah. Literally it means “to publically confess or acknowledge.” Thanksgiving in the Hebrew understanding of the term was not a private affair. It was always public—making known what God has done. The verb yadah simply means to declare or recognize a fact, whether that fact is good or bad. When it is used in the context of sinful human beings, the verb denotes the acknowledgment of a person’s character, most often in the context of confessing or acknowledging sin. When it is focused upon the glory and splendor of God however, it denotes the giving of thanks—a grateful acknowledgement and public confession of the greatness of God.

Having an attitude of thankfulness was not just for the Old Testament or worship in the temple. We see it in the New Testament as well, especially in the ministry of Paul.

Listen to what he writes to the churches:

To the church at Corinth:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:4).

To the church at Ephesus:

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers (Ephesians 1:15–16).

To the church at Colossae:

giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1:12).

To the church at Thessalonica

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers (1 Thessalonians 1:2).

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth (2 Thessalonians 1:3).

And remember, these were churches that were experiencing many problems and troubles. Paul writes long letters explaining how they are to live and serve together as sinners saved by grace. And yet when Paul thinks of them, he give thanks. He recognizes that each assembly is a miracle of the power of the gospel, a display of God’s glory in changed lives. Here were people who had been in darkness, worshipping idols and false gods, and now they are serving Christ and giving glory to God. The transformation of their lives is amazing!

We need to keep this in mind as well—as we live and serve here at Grace—as we remember and think of one another. We are a testimony to the saving power of the gospel and we have every reason to give thanks.

Paul instructs the churches—including us:

[give] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:20).

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Let me encourage you to take time to give thanks. Think about God’s work in your life and in the lives of brothers and sisters here in the church. Where you see evidence of God’s grace and mercy—Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.

[This excerpt is from a Sermon on Psalm 107 entitled “Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So.” You can read the full Sermon  here.]

See more Sermons and Articles by Ken Puls