Psalm 67 – Make Your Face Shine Upon Us

May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known upon earth,
    your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
    let all the peoples praise you.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
    for you judge the peoples with equity
    and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
    let all the peoples praise you.

The earth has yielded its increase;
    God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us;
    let all the ends of the earth revere him. (New Revised Standard Version)

One of the many reasons I like using the Revised Common Lectionary daily readings is that a psalm is read every day.

This is important because, slowly and over time, the reader moves to becoming a worshiper and a faithful person of prayer. What’s more, the psalms help us become familiar with the human range of emotion, various life situations, and sound theology. 

In an era when so many believers are “too busy” for basic Bible reading, daily prayer, and connection with God, this creates a dearth of sage spiritual direction from others. The “advice” which many well-meaning Christians give to each other is many times nothing more than microwaved leftovers of common foolishness in the guise of wisdom.

We’re devouring the innards of roadkill when we could be eating a choice meal of select and juicy psalms.

The psalms are the Church’s prayer book. We need the biblical psalter, just as much as we need the air we breathe. We also live in a time in which many people can access Holy Scripture (for free) via their smart phones, tablets, and computers. One can even add the voice function so that the believer can pray along with particular psalms.

An advantage to becoming conversant in the psalms is the ability to use them for all kinds of situations. Today’s psalm meets a particular need for prayer: How ought to politics and religion meet in our prayers to God?

In the USA, just say the word “politics” and many people get a visceral response before there is even a discussion about it. Feelings and opinions run high. Negativity is rampant. Mudslinging and name-calling are rife.

Psalm 67 offers a different path. It is the way of blessing the nations, the nation’s blessing God, and all of us together as a community of God’s people inviting God to work divine grace among us. 

The prayers to be offered are for the nations of this earth to know the Lord and bless God as Savior and Sovereign; for the Lord’s true identity and character to be revealed as Shepherd and Supreme to all; and for God’s people to be blessed so that the Lord will be revealed as the salvation of the nations.

Rather than become mucked in worry or despair over present circumstances and the unknown future, the psalmist orients our minds, hearts, and voices toward the sovereign God.

The psalms are meant to be used – repeatedly. One cannot overuse them. So, give this a try: Today set your phone, watch, or other device to alarm at two or three hour intervals. Whatever you are doing (if you are able) stop and pray Psalm 67. It will take less than a minute.

Let the positive approach to blessing others and seeing God’s control shape how you go about the rest of your day. Who knows? Maybe the psalter will eventually alter how you view the world, as well as yourself.

Lord, the light of your love is shining
In the midst of the darkness, shining
Jesus, Light of the world, shine upon us
Set us free by the truth you now bring us

Shine on me, shine on me

Shine, Jesus, shine
Fill this land with the Father’s glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be light

Lord, I come to your awesome presence
From the shadows into your radiance
By the blood I may enter your brightness
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness
Shine on me, shine on me

Shine, Jesus, shine
Fill this land with the Father’s glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be light

As we gaze on your kingly brightness
So our faces display your likeness
Ever changing from glory to glory
Mirrored here may our lives tell your story
Shine on me, shine on me

Shine, Jesus, shine
Fill this land with the Father’s glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be

Send forth
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be
Send forth your word
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be light – Graham Kendrick

Psalm 133 – The Blessing of Unity and Harmony

How wonderful it is, how pleasant,
    for God’s people to live together in harmony!
It is like the precious anointing oil
    running down from Aaron’s head and beard,
    down to the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew on Mount Hermon,
    falling on the hills of Zion.
That is where the Lord has promised his blessing—
    life that never ends. (Good News Translation)

Unity, solidarity, and harmony are beautiful blessings. Disunity, division, and fragmentation are ugly curses.

Within every family, faith community, neighborhood, organization, and workplace are a diverse bunch of people – which brings the potential of both wonderful fellowship and disagreeing fights.

Today’s reading is a psalm of ascent. It is one of a group of psalms the Israelites would say and sing together as they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, ascending the temple mount to worship the Lord. Their common purpose and shared experience led to a blessed unity among all the worshipers.

The metaphors the psalm uses are meant to convey the feeling and impact of a unified people’s blessing as one harmonious bunch. The reference to oil communicates abundance and extravagant blessing beyond expectation. The dew pictures a giving of life to a dry landscape. The psalm is a celebration of life’s simple pleasures, enjoyed with friends and family.

People created in the image of God are hard-wired for community. Rather than existing in isolation, doing our own thing, and keeping to ourselves, the Lord’s intention for humans is to be close enough to one another to rejoice with those experiencing joy and to weep with those mourning a loss.

True community requires unity and harmony.

To live in harmony with one another means we regard everyone the same way by not playing favorites, being condescending, or giving more weight to one group more than another. It is a willingness to interact, work, and play with all kinds of people – not just those whom we like or help us get ahead in life.

We are designed by our Creator to live and work together in common purposes. And that takes a great deal of effort.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:2-3, NIV

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. (Philippians 2:1-4, MSG)

If we long to enjoy blessed relationships, then we will engage in genuine conversation, focused listening, and fair dialogue; simply stating opinions at each other will not do the trick.

Unity and harmony take work because it is easy to have a nasty tendency to think better of oneself than what is true, and of others what is not so good. We might inflate our positive qualities and abilities, especially in comparison to other people. 

Numerous research studies have revealed the propensity to overestimate ourselves. For example, when one research study asked a million high school students how well they got along with their peers, none of the students rated themselves below average. Interestingly, 60% of students believed they were in the top 10%; and 25% rated themselves in the top 1%.

College professors were just as biased about their abilities. When they were asked how well they got along with others, only 2% of professors rated themselves below average; 10% were average and 63% were above average, while 25% rated themselves as truly exceptional in getting along with their peers. Of course, this is statistically impossible.

One researcher summarized the data this way: “It’s the great contradiction: the average person believes he is a better person than the average person.”

Christian psychologist Mark McMinn contends that this study reveals our pride. He says, “One of the clearest conclusions of social science research is that we are proud. We think better of ourselves than we really are, we see our faults in faint black and white rather than in vivid color, and we assume the worst in others while assuming the best in ourselves.”

Where sinful pride rules, disharmony runs amok within a community. The acid test of harmonious love is how we treat the lowly.

“If a poor man comes into your church, behave like him, and do not put on airs because of your riches. In Christ there is no rich or poor. Do not be ashamed of him because of his outward dress but receive him because of his inward faith. If you see him in sorrow, do not hesitate to comfort him, and if he is prospering, do not feel shy about sharing in his pleasure. If you think you are a great person, then think others are also. If you think they are humble and lowly, then think the same of yourself.”

St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, 4th Century

We cannot function apart from harmony.

A tuning fork delivers a true pitch by two tines vibrating together. Muffle either side, even a little, and the note disappears. Neither tine individually produces the pure note. Only when both tines vibrate is the correct pitch heard. 

Harmony is not a matter of give-and-take and compromise to make each other happy or satisfied. Harmony comes through a common mission and purpose which engages in the shared experiences of loving and caring for others.

My Christian convictions and tradition tell me that the Word of God is applied by the Spirit of God through the people of God.

We are to embrace community.

We are to do life together.

We are to view everyone as our brother or sister.

After all, we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper.

So, let us ascend the hill of the Lord together. Let us worship God together with glad and sincere hearts. Let us be mindful of all our brothers and sisters, no matter who they are.

Lord Jesus, who prayed that we might all be one, we pray to you for the unity of Christians, according to your will, according to your means. May your Spirit enable us to experience the suffering caused by division, to see our sin, and to hope beyond all hope. Amen.

Luke 14:12-14 – Abundance and Inclusion For All

The Great Banquet by Hyatt Moore

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (New International Version)

A lot of people live by the old adage, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” It’s a phrase referring to reciprocity. In other words, if you give me something I want, I will then respond by giving you something you want.

That old adage works fine, that is, unless you have no ability to give or give back to another. If we only operate by the principle of reciprocity, a large chunk of people automatically get left out. And this situation is untenable and unacceptable to Jesus.

Christ observed that the religious insiders of his day were keeping entire groups of people on the outside through their practice of scratching one another’s backs.

We need to get ahold of the reality that God loves us, as well as everyone else – even the people we may not give the time of day to. God so loved the world that he sent his Son. Jesus has come to feed us. 

The kingdom of God is about food. The food given by Jesus is to feed the hungry by staging a banquet. It is a feast of God’s abundance. Yet, many seem to hoard the resources they have, only thinking about their friends, family, and people just like them. They act as if there is no need to invite outsiders, consumed as they are with their own daily lives.

We have an incredible abundant feast contained in Scripture – in fact, Jesus said that his food and drink was to do the Father’s will, that Scripture was his bread. (Matthew 4:4; John 4:34) 

It’s much too easy to take our blessings of food for granted. After all, when we are well-fed, it’s easy to assume that everyone else is, too. Feeling healthy, it’s easy to forget that others are hurting. Making money, it’s easy to think there are not many poor people around. Living in a community with plenty of churches and more bibles than people, it’s natural to assume that everyone knows the gospel of Jesus – but they don’t!

Then, whenever we get around to acknowledging there are people who need Jesus, we keep devising ways to reach them without having to change or accommodate our own lives to do it.

Christ’s call to faithful discipleship requires people to change from having a narrow focus on our small circle of friends, to including those who have no means to pay us back.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is open to outcasts and failures, to problem people and to unimpressive persons. People with needs and flaws are especially dear to Jesus. It’s the people who outwardly have it all together who are being replaced wholesale with those who admit their need. 

We must not be picky about who we invite to participate in the largess of abundance we possess. We are to avoid the spiritual snobbery of looking down our noses at the needy and less fortunate, who have nothing to offer us in return.

St. John Chrysostom (348-407, C.E.) was a Bishop of Constantinople and arguably one of the greatest preachers in the history of Christianity. John always thought of both the recipient and the giver in his sermons, insisting that both need God’s mercy.

With a concern for the giver’s soul, John insisted that givers provide for all – even the lazy, the fool, and the sinner. By opening our hearts in almsgiving, we open ourselves to Christ, who is present in the least of those among us. Refusing mercy to people deemed as unworthy, givers then actually shut themselves off from the very mercy God desires for them.

There is no reward from God when there is only reward from others.

“If we are going to examine lives, we will never have mercy upon any human being; rather, hindered by this inopportune meddlesomeness, we will remain fruitless and destitute of all help ourselves.”

St. John Chrysostom, On Repentance and Almsgiving

It’s not only the poor who suffer when the rich fail to give. In judging whether or not a particular person is worthy of love and aid, the wealthy person rejects the spiritual fruit that he would have received by giving with humility.

Giving to the poor, simply to relieve our own conscience, is not real charity; it doesn’t consider the other. We attend fully to the other by observing their spiritual and holistic needs for community, purpose, respect, and dignity. Dispassionate giving from a distance, without relationship, refuses to acknowledge the whole person. It exploits the poor for the mental comfort of the rich.

We need to be involved in people’s lives, and that takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. There are too many lost people who need Jesus, and too many Christians who are the walking wounded and need the healing touch of Jesus, for us to pay scant attention to the call of Jesus to invite the needy into our lives. 

Seeing people come into God’s great banquet, and into a joyous and vital relationship with Christ, probably takes about ten times more work than what you are thinking it does right now. Yet, this is the pathway of true blessing – to having God’s stamp of approval on our lives.

Merciful God, thank you for the abundance of life, relationships, health, comfort, and wealth you have provided to so many. Thank you that, even in times of need, despair, and brokenness, you are there. Please, put your arms around children and families in  poverty and disability so that they feel your comfort and hope. Meet their needs both physically and spiritually. And guide me so I can be your hands and feet pursuing justice for the poor and upholding the cause of the needy, in the way of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Ephesians 1:3-14 – We Are Blessed

Hallelujah by Mike Moyers

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (New International Version)

God has blessed us. The word “blessing” comes from the same word for “giving thanks.”  So, when, we consider the ways God has spiritually blessed us, it leads us to effusive gratitude and praise.  And this was exactly the case for the Apostle Paul.

In writing these words, Paul was so excited to share with the church at Ephesus about the blessings of God that he could not stop. In our English translations we have broken these verses up into several sentences and two paragraphs. But Paul originally penned this as one sentence!

More than anything, Paul wanted the church to know the wonderful blessings of God to them. Throughout the book of Ephesians, Paul’s constant theme to the church is reconciliation and restoration. In fact, that is the end game for God. God has cares about reconciling people to himself, and others. The Lord deeply cares about restoring the entire world to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

To accomplish this gigantic feat, God intervened into humanity by giving the church three main blessings: election, redemption, and inheritance.

Election 

The word “chose” and “chosen” in some English translations is the Greek word ἐκλεκτός (eklektos) or “election.” This is where it all begins for us. Even before the creation of the world, God had the end of the story in mind. Divine decisions were made about outcomes and results. 

This approach, by the way, is how we are to engage ministry in the church. That is, we begin with the end in mind of what we want to accomplish. Then, we gather the people and begin making the needed decisions to see that end purpose realized. Too often, churches begin with a group of people and wonder about what they should do – which is backwards from how God does it. 

In eternity past, in love, God predestined us to be adopted as his children. You and I are so loved by God that we were special to him before we were even ever born! Election means God has a purpose for us. On the human level, we elect candidates so that they may serve the common good and put their energies into accomplishing some noble cause. 

Likewise with God. We were not elected or chosen by God solely to go to heaven when we die.  Although that is true and shall happen, the reason we were chosen by God was for us to be holy and blameless, to be for the praise of God’s glory. We are not in some sort of holding pattern on earth, impatiently waiting for the afterlife. Rather, we are to be active in accomplishing God’s purposes for our election. And what is that purpose?

We are to participate with God in the grand scheme of reconciling and restoring all of creation back to the original design. Therefore, every act of forgiveness, grace, love, and kindness; every overture of faith and communication of the gospel to others; and all steps of obedience are small movements toward the great restoration story God is writing. 

For example, the book of Acts ends on a dramatic note with no resolution to it. That’s because the story is still being written. We are chosen to be a part of it.

Redemption 

To be redeemed means to be delivered by a payment of a price. In the ancient world, slavery was an entrenched part of the society. The picture of the slave market provided a means for Paul to communicate a spiritual blessing: We have been redeemed from the slave market of sin through the payment of Christ’s blood, and so now, we enjoy the freedom from and forgiveness of sin. 

This is not just redemption from something (sin, death, and hell); it is also redemption to reconciliation and restoration. God elected us to receive redemption so that the grand design of bringing all the earth under the lordship of Christ will happen. God has and is creating a new society, the community of the redeemed, that will realize the original design of unhindered connection with God and others. 

Inheritance

We are receiving an inheritance. It will be put into effect when God’s timing and purpose is accomplished – and Paul spells the purpose out: To bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, Jesus Christ. 

Here is how Paul envisions what is coming: The chosen and redeemed of God will one day die, then they will go to be with Christ. But that is not yet the end because the entire world still needs redemption. This is why the preacher of Hebrews could say about the great heroes of the faith:  

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.  God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40, NIV)

There is not just life after death; there is life after life-after-death. All those people of faith, including our believing friends and relatives who have gone before us to be with Jesus, are waiting. They, along with us, have not yet received all the promised blessings of our inheritance. 

We are waiting for the reconciliation and restoration of all things, a new heaven and a new earth in which we will be together as sons and daughters in the kingdom of God with Jesus as King over us. The possession of the Holy Spirit is the guarantee that this is the case, and it will happen. 

Conclusion

Our blessings of election, redemption, and inheritance are all activated by faith. Belief is the switch that turns on the blessings to us in a real and actual way. The electricity is there in the person of the Holy Spirit. The light bulb is there, and it is us. 

So, the question for us today is: Are we turned on and shining brightly, or is the switch off?  We must access our blessings by belief in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us.

God is on a mission to reconcile and restore the world. Our salvation is part of God’s plan to make that happen. God is a missionary. The Lord has chosen us to be emissaries to a world that needs redemption and restoration. 

The church is like no other institution on earth – existing for the life of the world, and not for itself. Like a mighty army, we are to train ourselves for godliness so that we can engage an invisible enemy and see the kingdom of God come and the will of God done here on earth as it is always done in heaven. 

The camaraderie we enjoy as fellow soldiers is not the end purpose – restoring enemy territory back to its original government is. So, we care for our wounded and do everything we can for them. There are yet more spiritual battles to be won and hearts captured for King Jesus. 

May you and I, then, give thanks with grateful hearts for the great spiritual blessings of election, redemption, and inheritance so that God’s benevolent and merciful rule might spread everywhere to everyone.

God our Savior, you desire that none should perish, and you have taught us through your Son that there is great joy in heaven over every sinner who repents: Grant that our hearts may ache for a lost and broken world. May your Holy Spirit work through our words, deeds, and prayers, that the lost may be found and the dead made alive, and that all your redeemed may rejoice around your throne, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.