Psalm 85 – God Gives Grace

Psalm 85 by American artist John August Swanson, 2003

Lord, you poured out blessings on your land!
    You restored the fortunes of Israel.
You forgave the guilt of your people—
    yes, you covered all their sins.
You held back your fury.
    You kept back your blazing anger.

Now restore us again, O God of our salvation.
    Put aside your anger against us once more.
Will you be angry with us always?
    Will you prolong your wrath to all generations?
Won’t you revive us again,
    so your people can rejoice in you?
Show us your unfailing love, O Lord,
    and grant us your salvation.

I listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying,
    for he speaks peace to his faithful people.
    But let them not return to their foolish ways.
Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
    so our land will be filled with his glory.

Unfailing love and truth have met together.
    Righteousness and peace have kissed!
Truth springs up from the earth,
    and righteousness smiles down from heaven.
Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings.
    Our land will yield its bountiful harvest.
Righteousness goes as a herald before him,
    preparing the way for his steps. (New Living Translation)

Unfailing love, truth, righteousness, and peace are terms which all spiritual folk need to be familiar with, as well as experience every day.

Such love and commitment have their ground in God’s covenant loyalty and kindness which always holds on, even despite people’s fickle commitment.

Righteousness and peace are primarily relational terms which communicate a harmonious way of being with others and all creation.

Today’s psalm informs us that God will give exactly what the people have prayed for. This divine giving is a blessing by the Lord to those who long for wholeness, integrity, and unhindered connection with God and creation.

The metaphors surrounding the wonderful words give us a beautiful picture of the blessing realized, as if a big bucket of grace were being liberally poured over our heads.

This is no generic blessing from the almighty and everlasting God; it is personal.

In the grand immensity of the universe, the Creator God bends and condescends to the individual, as well as to all humanity. God’s steadfast love and ever-present faithfulness will meet to bless you and me.

The Lord will come alongside us with divine blessing. God’s grace will stick to us like glue in the form of right relationships and unity. It’s as personal as a kiss on the lips.

All of God’s attributes and character work in a seamless whole to bring divine acceptance and assistance to our lives. The good news here is that our struggles to be right and live right amidst terrible conditions of disease, war, and unrest will be vindicated with divine help.

So, take a big breath and exhale, allowing the worries and anxieties of adverse situations to be expelled from your weary soul. The Lord will give what is good.

“God gives where he finds empty hands.”

St. Augustine

Today’s psalm is a good reminder that salvation is not limited to a future state; it is also deliverance in this present world we inhabit, basking in the Lord’s love and shalom, and enjoying the good gifts God wants to give us right now.

But what if we have strayed from the truth and wandered down a bad road with unsavory characters?

The Lord will restore us. Why? Because that’s what God does.

Grace isn’t grace if we deserved it. Grace is only operable whenever there is a stink of a situation we have created for ourselves. God’s mercy exists to deal with all of our shortcomings, failings, sins, confusion, and misguided attempts at life.

Without mercy we are lost. Apart from grace, there’s no hope. The good news is that mercy really does exist, and, what’s more, there is an infinite storehouse of it. There is no point in which our screw-ups exhaust the supply of grace.

This reality brings us confident hope and inner gratitude. God’s unfailing and steadfast love brings deliverance, not bondage. The Lord’s infinite mercy, when truly experienced, is not taken as a license to do whatever I want but as a joyous get-out-of-jail-free-card which leads to a righteous life of wanting to please God in all I say and do.

He Giveth More Grace by Annie Johnson Flint, 1941

1. He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.

2. When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

3. Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

4. His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21 – A Prayer for Every Believer

A mosaic of the Apostle Paul in St Isaac’s Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia

For this reason, I fall on my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God.

To him who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of: to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever! Amen. (Good News Translation)

In Jesus Christ, the believer has been given incredible blessings – adoption into God’s family and belonging with God, redemption through Christ’s cross and experiencing freedom from the power of sin, and intimacy and help by means of God’s own Spirit.

Today’s New Testament lesson is a prayer of the Apostle Paul for the Church. After three chapters of describing who we are and what we have in Christ as Christians, he goes to prayer, asking that the new life we have in Christ will be pressed firmly into our heads and our hearts so that this reality of spiritual blessings will be practically realized for the believer.

Here’s a quick remedial grammar lesson: a “verb” expresses an action between two things; a “participle” or “participial phrase” is a word or group of words which help describe the action of the verb.

There are two main verbs Paul uses: “I ask (pray)” for God “to give.” The participles all explain or modify the action of pray and give. In other words, the following actions are what Paul deeply desires that God will do for us as believers in Jesus….

To Become Mighty Through the Spirit

God grants us all the blessings of being in Christ. We are delivered from sin, death, and hell so that we will live into God’s purposes for this new life of freedom.

We live into the Christian life, on a practical level, as our faith is strengthened, and our inner person becomes powerful. This is the Spirit’s work in us – to strengthen our spiritual spine so that we can bear and carry our cross in this life, despite whatever the adversity or difficulty.

We are not alone. The Spirit is with us always. God is present. The believer is never promised that life will be a bowl of cherries and that being a Christian is all rainbows and unicorns. However, the believer is assured that God will be with us through the trouble – which is why we need a strong and robust faith.

You set a table for me
    right in front of my enemies. (Psalm 23:5, CEB)

To Dwell In Christ Through Faith

The “heart” in the New Testament is a reference not to the physical muscle in our chest but the seat or center of our inner person.

Paul’s prayer is that God gives or plants the seeds of the gospel in the hearts of people. Those good seeds then take root and become anchored firmly in the soul. They grow and mature, producing a harvest of love.

Not only do those roots grow down and deep, but they also grow out and connect with all other believers everywhere.

To Grasp God’s Love in Christ Through the Spirit

Enjoying this mystical union with Christ and connection with Christians, we come to experientially grasp together the vast dimensions of God’s love for us. God’s love is a multiverse of blessing. In fact, an eternity in heaven will never reach the bottom or top of the God who is Love itself.

When God our Savior made his kindness and love for humanity appear, he saved us, but not because of anything we had done to gain his approval. Instead, because of his mercy he saved us through the washing in which the Holy Spirit gives us new birth and renewal. God poured a generous amount of the Spirit on us through Jesus Christ our Savior. (Titus 3:4-6, GW)

To be filled with all the fullness of Love, is to be filled thoroughly with God – because God is Love.

My dear friends, we must love each other. Love comes from God, and when we love each other, it shows we have been given new life. We are now God’s children, and we know him. God is love, and anyone who doesn’t love others has never known him. (1 John 4:7-8, CEV)

Conclusion

Prayer is a gift. Like a little child bursting into her daddy’s office at work and crawling up on his lap, so we have the wondrous privilege of coming to God without hindrance and asking for whatever we need and want.

And what God wants and enjoys hearing, is us asking for spiritual strength, faith, and love. Because it is these things which create a thriving inner person who blesses others.

May it be so, to the glory of God, for the edification of the Church, and in the proclamation of the gospel. Amen.

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

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.