A Sacred Service Announcement (Psalm 117)

Praise the Lord, all you nations.
    Praise him, all you people of the earth.
For his unfailing love for us is powerful;
    the Lord’s faithfulness endures forever. (New Living Translation)

The Lord is God of the nations – and not only of you and me – whether they recognize it, or not.

All nations, not just the good ones, are invited to praise the Lord. Everyone is encouraged to glory in the love and faithfulness they see.

Since God is present, faithful, just, right, good, loving, and gracious – all the time – those very same dynamics are continually operating in God’s big world. Just as the storm clouds rain on both the righteous and the wicked, and just as the sun shines over every nation and people group on the earth, so the Lord’s great love is a powerful force which encompasses the entire world.

God’s faithfulness and steadfast love never ends. Let that sink in…. Ruminate on it for a bit…. 

What does it mean? How does it work itself out? Is God faithful to me? 

As a Pastor and Chaplain, I can tell you that one of the most difficult things I see people struggling with is if God can really do things in their lives like he does in other people’s lives. 

Many times, we have a strong faith for other people – that God will forgive, heal, help, and show up in their lives. Yet when it comes to me personally, it becomes an entirely different thing. My faith is like a wet noodle. We wonder if anything can really change. *Sigh*

Just as we hear public service announcements, it is good to hear the sacred service announcements which are just as important. We need our spiritual awareness raised so that we can make some behavioral changes and adjustments.

We need the reminder, and continual announcement, that God makes good on divine promises. The Lord will accomplish all the decrees and promises made, no matter how long ago they were uttered.

It certainly might seem like God is strolling through the park, burning away precious time, being agonizingly slow in moving on our behalf. 

But know this: As it is in heaven, so shall it be on earth. The sovereign Lord of all creation doesn’t only work in other places amongst other people. Jesus is presently building his church and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

There is no handwringing, nail-biting, or eye-rolling in heaven. The Lord is sovereign and limitless, and so, reaches into every geographical locale amongst every people group – and does it all with love.

I know God is a healer because I have seen him heal. I know the Lord is a deliverer because I’ve been delivered. I know God is a provider because I see the Lord’s merciful abundance every day. All this, and more, is reason to offer praise, glory, and honor to the great Sovereign who is worthy of it.

From all that dwell below the skies,
Let the Creator’s praise arise;
Let the Redeemer’s name be sung
Through every land by every tongue.

Eternal are Thy mercies Lord;
Eternal truth attends Thy Word;
Thy praise shall sound from shore to shore
Till suns shall rise and set no more.

– Isaac Watts, From All That Dwell Below the Skies

Since God can and does work everywhere, the Lord will show up in your life and your family and your church and your community, just like what has been happening throughout all eras, in all places, and in all times.

If you are waiting and watching for that to happen, perhaps the most appropriate response is to praise God for what is going to happen. Have some vision to look ahead, give thanks ahead of time, and praise the Lord for the incredible work of saving, healing, teaching, growing, and transforming that will occur in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

It isn’t just for others; it is for you, my friend. How will you trust him today?

Let every nation praise you, Lord,
each with its different tongue;
in every language learn your word,
and let your name be sung.

Let our unceasing songs now show
the mercies of our Lord;
and make succeeding ages know
how faithful is your word.

Your mercy reigns through every land;
your grace is spread abroad;
forever firm, your truth shall stand.
We’ll praise our faithful God!

– Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

Like Father Like Son (John 5:19-29)

The Trinity, by Ukrainian painter Feodosiy Humeniuk, 1981

Jesus responded to the Jewish leaders: 

“I assure you that the Son can’t do anything by himself except what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he does. He will show him greater works than these so that you will marvel. 

As the Father raises the dead and gives life, so too does the Son give life to whomever he wishes. The Father doesn’t judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to the Son so that everyone will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever doesn’t honor the Son doesn’t honor the Father who sent him.

I assure you that whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and won’t come under judgment but has passed from death into life.

I assure you that the time is coming—and is here!—when the dead will hear the voice of God’s Son, and those who hear it will live. Just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. He gives the Son authority to judge because he is the Human One.

Don’t be surprised by this, because the time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice. Those who did good things will come out into the resurrection of life, and those who did wicked things into the resurrection of judgment.”

(Common English Bible)

So goes the parent, so goes the child. Sons look and act a great deal like their fathers. And there is no mistaking the resemblance between Father of the heavens and Son of the incarnation.

In Christianity, to see Jesus is to see God. To know Christ is to know the Lord. They are distinct, yet inextricably linked as one; each is differentiated from the other in personhood, yet united with the same divine substance.

The deity of the Father and the deity of the Son is one, equal in glory, co-eternal in majesty.

What the Father is, the Son is.

Uncreated, eternal, almighty, and sovereign is the Father; uncreated, eternal, almighty, and sovereign is the Son.

The Father and the Son are not two gods but one God.

There is only one Father; there is only one Son. Each is neither greater nor lesser than the other.

Whoever wants to be saved from guilt, shame, sin, death, and hell – and to be delivered from the injustice of the world, the failings of oneself, and the machinations of evil, should think about the Father and the Son and the Spirit, the Holy Trinity, one God.

– Athanasian Creed

So, why is all this creedal Christian doctrine of any importance? Why pay attention to such things?

Because there are many issues and problems in this world of great importance which must be addressed and dealt with. We need to have some idea of how to go about: 

  • Governing ourselves as a free people
  • Eradicating poverty and disease
  • Educating our children
  • Paying taxes
  • Providing excellent and cost effective healthcare for everyone
  • Dismantling racism
  • Seeking peaceful international relations
  • Building responsible and accountable local community relationships
  • Supporting small businesses
  • Helping workers make a decent contributive living
  • Loving our families and faith communities 

It is my unshakable conviction that all these issues, and many others, need more than our collective mental attention and physical resources; these problems also need spiritual resolutions and solutions.

Seasons, years, centuries, and millennia come and go. People are born, live, and die. Generations exist and then are no more. Civilizations rise and fall. Through it all and above it all is the person of Jesus.

Christ is alive. He brings breath from dust, beauty from ashes, order from chaos, stability from insecurity, dignity from disrespect, and meaning from uncertainty. Jesus gives life, abundant and to the full.

Christ the King, San Miniato al Monte Church, Florence, Italy

Today, this very moment, Christ is still on the throne of all creation. 

Human elections and institutions only have authority as given by Jesus, the Ruler of all.

Presently, Jesus is attentive and vigilant to people, actively interceding for us at the right hand of his Father in heaven. At this very moment, the Holy Spirit is the continuing presence of Christ on this earth, applying Christ’s redemption of humanity to the lives of millions. 

Sometimes we need to remember how important our spiritual resources are to living in this world – and to clarify what’s really of ultimate significance in this old broken world. 

My unwavering spiritual persuasion is this: People need the Lord. Therefore, it only makes good spiritual sense to live in ways that foster a connection with Jesus. 

This morning, I did what I do every morning – whether I’m sick or well, sad or happy, facing a busy day or a relaxed day – I began my day with Scripture reading, prayer, reflection, and gratitude. And I do it with the realization that Christ is King, that as the divine/human Lord of all, his:

  • authority is real
  • rule is benevolent
  • sovereignty is ubiquitous
  • reign is supreme
  • judgments are right and good
  • power is mighty enough to raise the dead

The Christian tradition holds that Jesus Christ is the exalted and glorified Son of God, the Sovereign authority over every dominion. The works of Jesus bear testimony to the cosmic reality that he is Lord of all. And, if that were not enough, Jesus shares his divine power with us, his people.

In the face of Christ’s majesty, the valid and appropriate response is sheer submission to Christ’s authority. 

Just as Jesus listened to the Father and obeyed the Father’s will, so we need to listen to Jesus and carry out his will. 

Just as Jesus enjoyed his relationship with the Father, so we are to bask in our wonderful relationship with Jesus. 

Since Jesus submitted to death on a cross and rose from the dead through God’s power, we now have access to that power by God’s grace through faith in Christ. And we are to use that divine power to take up our own cross and bear the great issues and problems of our day with all the spiritual resources granted to us in Christ Jesus.

Like Father, like Son. Like Christ, like Christians. May all followers of Jesus resemble their Lord in each word and in every way.

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Psalm 93 – Ultimate Power Belongs to the Lord

Psalm 93 by Bernard C. Winter

Our Lord, you are King!
Majesty and power
    are your royal robes.
You put the world in place,
    and it will never be moved.
You have always ruled,
    and you are eternal.

The ocean is roaring, Lord!
    The sea is pounding hard.
Its mighty waves are majestic,
but you are even more majestic,
    and you rule over all.
Your decisions are firm,
and your temple will always
    be beautiful and holy. (Contemporary English Version)

God is bigger than any threat of chaos or destruction. That’s because the Lord is sovereign over all things. The Lord is King. From a Christian perspective, today’s psalm finds its ultimate fulfillment in the ascension of Jesus Christ.

When we talk about kings, there are a few things a ruler needs: a realm (a kingdom); and the ruled (the subjects) of the realm. In reflecting on Christ’s ascension, the three elements which make up a rule are: King Jesus as Ruler; God’s people as the ruled; and the entire world as the realm of Christ’s lordship.

Rule, glory, and kingship were given to him;
    all peoples, nations, and languages will serve him.
His rule is an everlasting one—
    it will never pass away!—
        his kingship is indestructible. (Daniel 7:14, CEB)

Now, as soon as I state that all the world is Christ’s realm, it is quite understandable to at least be curious about this, as well as perhaps be outright doubtful of it.

After all, this old fallen world is filled with all kinds of catastrophes like pandemics and natural disasters; myriad human vices; and potent spiritual foes. Sometimes, it appears that if Jesus were King, he is either sleeping on the job or just indifferent to our plight.

I’ll reframe this by putting it in military terms. The battle and the war has been won – there are, however, some clean-up or mop-up operations still taking place. Pockets of resistance to God’s rule and reign still very much exist. And they unfortunately lead to casualties.

Every Memorial Day weekend in the USA, Americans remember and pay homage to our fallen men and women in uniform. Many of those soldiers were lost from mopping up resistance after a battle achieved and a war won.

For example, the Battle for Okinawa in the Pacific theatre toward the end of World War II resulted in an American victory. However, in securing the island after the Japanese defeat, small groups of Japanese soldiers still mounted resistance resulting in hundreds of American deaths.

In a 1944 article from the Stars and Stripes, an interview of one patrol leader from the battle said, “It’s a tough, methodical grind, this mop-up operation. Here, the Japanese have gotten together, organized, and are carrying out a planned guerilla warfare, even though the battle is won…. I wish a mop-up was as easy as people think it is.”

We live between the two advents of Christ, his ascension to heaven and his coming again. That means we live in the already/not yet kingdom and realm of God. Deliverance from sin, death, and hell has been achieved through the cross of Christ – yet that achieved salvation will not be here in its complete fulfillment until Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead.

Meanwhile, Christians everywhere continue to pray that God’s kingdom spreads and is realized in the hearts of humanity – the true place where war begins and ends.

There is no power in heaven or on earth which can circumvent or overcome the plans and purposes of an almighty God.

Ocean waves are a powerful force. The United States Energy Information Administration Ocean states that ocean waves contain one-thousand times more kinetic energy than wind. They estimate that the annual energy potential of waves off the east and west coasts of the United States to be as much as 2.64 trillion kilowatt hours. That’s about two-thirds of all American needs for electricity in a year. 

And yet, the incredible strength of ocean waves are no match for the might of God.

“Your rule is eternal, and you are king forever. The Lord is faithful to his promises; he is merciful in all his acts.”

Psalm 145:13, GNT

Even though we might worry about the power and influence of human governments, systems, and institutions, the actual weight they carry is infinitesimal compared to the glory of God. Since God has fixed the earth in place, there is no conglomeration of people who can move this planet off its axis, even a millionth of a degree.

The Most High God is firmly in control, even when it seems otherwise. The Christian tradition is consistent in proclaiming that the throne of Jesus Christ has been established forever. It shall not be moved. Love has won the day and will have the eternal day forevermore.

“Entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.” (2 Peter 1:11, NRSV)

Sovereign God, you reign over all things! Robed in majesty and armed with strength, you hold our world and our lives securely. Your throne has been established. From everlasting to everlasting, you are God.

Even when waves of grief, disease, and hardship rise-up—when surging seas threaten to overwhelm me, and a pounding storm crashes around me—I know that you are mightier and more powerful than any threat. Wash over me with your own cleansing flood. Grace me with your mighty presence. Refresh me with the water of life, for I know, Holy God, that your decrees are firm and unshakeable and will last forever. Amen.

Psalm 119:89-96 – Relying on the Eternal

Your word, O Lord, will last forever;
    it is eternal in heaven.
Your faithfulness endures through all the ages;
    you have set the earth in place, and it remains.
All things remain to this day because of your command,
    because they are all your servants.
If your law had not been the source of my joy,
    I would have died from my sufferings.
I will never neglect your instructions,
    because by them you have kept me alive.
I am yours—save me!
    I have tried to obey your commands.
The wicked are waiting to kill me,
    but I will meditate on your laws.
I have learned that everything has limits;
    but your commandment is perfect. (Good News Translation)

Our present life, currently in the here and now, is characterized by limitations and continual change. Whatever is up today can be down tomorrow, and vice versa. The people around us, as well as our own emotions, can be often frustratingly fickle. And our circumstances are constantly changing, not to mention our bodies and minds. For some, even their very life hangs in the balance due to either a personal enemy or the enemy of disease, disaster, or death.

In this orbit of revolving change, we are limited in our choices. We can make changes to our lifestyle that will hopefully extend the quality and quantity of life, yet every one of us will eventually die. There is decision-making we can make with our resources and finances, yet if a company closes and jobs are lost, or the market plunges and our investments tank, there is no nice seamless transition to getting back on our feet.

It might be easy to slide into discouragement, if we all we know is a domino effect of change, revolving circumstances, and an inability to influence very little of it all. Yet, there is hope because there is another side to the coin.

Although life situations change, and we experience limitations in both our choices and our abilities, there are some bedrock realities which will never change that we can bank and build our lives upon. God’s Word and God’s faithfulness are eternal; they will last forever.

Whenever it feels as if nothing is on solid ground, it is necessary to come back to the things we know which are permanent and reliable. Notice some of the unchangeable elements of God’s Word….

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears, and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13, MSG)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever! (Hebrews 13:8, CEB)

Notice the unchangeable nature of God’s faithfulness….

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
    your judgments are like the great deep;
    you save humans and animals alike, O Lord. (Psalm 35:5-6, NRSV)

This saying is reliable:

“If we have died together, we will also live together.
        If we endure, we will also rule together.
        If we deny him, he will also deny us.
If we are disloyal, he stays faithful”
    because he can’t be anything else than what he is. (2 Timothy 2:11-13, CEB)

It is possible to have peace smack in the middle of hardship and adversity. Racing thoughts do not need to be a given experience whenever there are those who oppose us or give us grief. Relying upon God’s Holy Word is the very ballast and rock we need. It will never fail nor pass away….

Just thinking of my troubles
and my lonely wandering
    makes me miserable.
That’s all I ever think about,
    and I am depressed.
Then I remember something
    that fills me with hope.
The Lord’s kindness never fails!
If he had not been merciful,
    we would have been destroyed.
The Lord can always be trusted
    to show mercy each morning.
Deep in my heart I say,
“The Lord is all I need;
    I can depend on him!”

The Lord is kind to everyone
    who trusts and obeys him.
It is good to wait patiently
    for the Lord to save us. (Lamentations 3:19-26, CEV)

This present life with all its change, limitations, and transience can and will give way to that which is permanent, unending, timeless, immortal, imperishable, and indestructible.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. (1 Peter 1:3-4, NIV)

May you know the joy and peace of relying upon the eternal and changeless reality of God.

Our God and Father, thank you that in a world of despair that you are our hope. In a world of darkness, you are our light. In a world of sorrow, you are our joy. Help us to strengthen and encourage one another with your eternal faithfulness and steadfast love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.