All Saints Day (Psalm 149)

All Saints Day I, Wassily Kandinsky, 1911

Praise the Lord!

Sing a new song to the Lord;
    sing his praise in the meeting of his people.

Let the Israelites be happy because of God, their Maker.
    Let the people of Jerusalem rejoice because of their King.
They should praise him with dancing.
    They should sing praises to him with tambourines and harps.
The Lord is pleased with his people;
    he saves the humble.
Let those who worship him rejoice in his glory.
    Let them sing for joy even in bed!

Let them shout his praise
    with their two-edged swords in their hands.
They will punish the nations
    and defeat the people.
They will put those kings in chains
    and those important men in iron bands.
They will punish them as God has written.
    God is honored by all who worship him.

Praise the Lord! (New Century Version)

Most of us are aware and in touch with how imperfect we are. Sometimes we view our imperfections as failure, weakness, or sin. But how does God see us? In what way does the eternally perfect, infinitely strong, and sovereign Lord feel about us?

The Lord is happy with his people, he is pleased with us. And because God is delighted with people, the Lord saves the humble in heart, beautifies the unlovely, and turns the sinner into a saint.

Throughout the ages, the faithful have experienced the love of God. Even now, they are rejoicing, singing for joy, and celebrating the ways God changed them to make the world a better place.

On the Christian Calendar, November 1 is the day each year to remember the saints who have gone before us, to acknowledge that God has always taken pleasure in using imperfect broken people to impact the world.  

Today is meant to be a day of remembrance – a way of not forgetting the people, friends, and family, as well as the long-dead historical saints, who have made a significant difference in our spiritual lives.

All Saints Day is more than simply acknowledging extraordinary persons; today also highlights the work of ordinary Christians who faithfully lived their lives and persevered to the end. We give thanks for the gift of how they daily lived their faith.

We remember today that:

  • Christians everywhere and throughout time are united and connected to one another.
  • God’s good pleasure saves and redeems all sorts of people.
  • Underprivileged and underserved people are noticed by God and God’s saints.
  • Influential people in our lives, now in the presence of the Lord, can be honored through emulating their faith and perseverance.

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.  Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7, NIV)

The saints of the past are an inspiration to us in the present. They serve us as a model of faithfulness in persevering in our Christian lives. Through biblical stories of very human persons being used of God, as well as reading biographies of godly people who were dedicated to God in service, we gain motivation and patience until Jesus returns.

All Saints Day II, by Kandinsky, 1911

Who went out of their way to communicate God’s love to you with both words and actions? 

Who wrestled in prayer for you so that you and others might know God? 

If any of those persons are still around, and you know where they are, remember them. Drop them a note. Express to them a simple thank you for their influence in your life. You will not only encourage that person – it will help you remember and re-engage with something in your life you may have forgotten or have just taken for granted for too long.

We truly stand on the shoulders of faithful and wise people those who have gone before us. We will continue to persevere and thrive in faith by remembering them; and also by allowing people now, presently with us, to join us in our journey along the road of faith.

It is sage to recall events of rescue and pull them forward into the present so that all God’s worshipers can taste and see that the Lord is good.

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:2-5, NIV)

God uses symbols as a means of revelation and remembrance. We need both special days and ordinary events;  shared meals and silent fasting, tangible signs and necessary endings, active rituals and passive observances, iconic images and iconoclastic nonconformity.

We need both words and sacraments – to have days set apart for gathering together and expressing our verbal gratitude and love for each other, as well as giving our nonverbal gifts of food, fun, and friendship.

Our shared spiritual history connects us to God, to one another, and to all of God’s people who have gone before us. We remember that history by energizing our time together with words and symbols of care and redemption.

Christ told the disciples about his upcoming death and provided symbols which reinforced the words: 

“Take and eat – this is my body…. Take this cup – drink from it, all of you.” (Luke 22:7-20)

The taste of real bread reminds us of the physical incarnation of Christ, and Christ’s humiliation and death. Drinking from the tangible cup reminds us of the bodily sacrifice of Christ, the drops of blood which Jesus sweat in Gethsemane, and the beatings, floggings, nails, and crown of thorns that caused the bleeding. Tasting the bread and cup when celebrating communion reminds us that our sins are forgiven, we are united to Christ, and we are united together. 

There are past historical events which are now presently forgotten. Yet, there are also past actions that ripple and linger with continuing results into the present. The incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of the Lord Jesus are past redemptive events which continually exert powerful force into the here and now.

The saints throughout church history moved the message of Christ along and demonstrated for us that the past is alive in the person of Jesus Christ. Along with them, we proclaim:

Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ is coming again.

And God has something planned for those who have gone before us, along with us, so that together we will experience the perfect righteousness of Christ forever. (Hebrews 11:39-40)

Remember and celebrate, eat and drink, taste and see, that the Lord is good.

May we remember the Lord’s people and never forget their example of godly living.

Our spiritual ancestors in faith continue to praise the Lord, to proclaim that God is our refuge and strength, our ever-present help. Let us follow in their footsteps.

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of your Son: Give us grace to emulate your saints by living virtuous and godly lives so that we may share the joy you have prepared for those who truly love you, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns as one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Give Thanks and Praise (Luke 17:11-19)

Eastern Orthodox depiction of Jesus Christ healing the ten lepers

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (New International Version)

Today’s Gospel story is both joyous and sad. The healing of ten lepers is astonishing and elicits praise and thanks… from only one. Maybe it’s because they stood at a distance. After all, it’s a close connection to God which causes praise and gratitude to arise within us – and not some appreciation from afar. Therefore, methinks we ought to consider what the nature of our own connection is. 

“Thanksgiving” to most Americans is Thanksgiving Day – a holiday filled with food, football, and family, the trifecta of American celebration. I myself admit to liberally indulging in all three. Although Thanksgiving has become a form of secular liturgical worship, I believe that underneath all the gravy, naps at halftime, and the occasional obnoxious relative, we know why we celebrate: To praise God and give thanks for our abundant blessings. 

It seems that even those who do not readily acknowledge the Divine intuitively know there is a power and source of blessing well beyond themselves which makes all good things occur.

Celebrations are a spiritual activity. God invented parties. When Israel was preparing for a new national life in the Promised Land, God told them to celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the first fruits of the crops (Exodus 23:16). The Levitical law prescribed how to go about giving thanksgiving offerings and offering praise (Leviticus 7:11-34).

Gratitude and praise was commanded, expected, and an important dimension of Old Testament worship. King David established a group of 288 full-time musicians to do nothing but praise and give thanks before God day and night (1 Chronicles 25).

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

Psalm 95:2, NRSV

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him; bless his name.

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever
    and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:4-5, NRSV)

It ought to have been reflexive for all ten lepers healed by Jesus to offer their worship to Jesus. A Samaritan, considered by many of the time as the lowliest of the low, a “half-breed,” was the lone person who came and fell at Christ’s feet with effusive praise and heartfelt gratitude. While the other nine went about their lives, free from disease and glad for it, only one guy took the time to thank Jesus and give glory to God. 

The Samaritan leper alone gives thanks to Christ, by Unknown artist

Sometimes we need to be reminded that celebration is a spiritual practice. It’s important to celebrate Jesus and for the ways God has provided and blessed us. In Holy Scripture, it is often the homeless, the sick, the lowly, and the outsiders who lead the way and demonstrate what genuine praise and honest thanksgiving looks like.

We, the Church, who belong to God and possess the Spirit, are to always remember and be mindful of what we truly have in Jesus Christ:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7, NIV)

We, like King David of old, are to establish continual worship of God:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV

Our sacrifice as Christians is not with the blood of animals but with our lips and our lives:

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. (Hebrews 13:15, NIV)

And the worship service is eternal; it will never end:

And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying:

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
    the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
    and have begun to reign.” (Revelation 11:16-17, NIV)

Praising God and giving thanks to the Lord go together like mashed potatoes and gravy. Since God created everything, and since Jesus has brought healing to us through the cross, every juicy morsel of goodness we have is to be received with the full cognizance that God is behind it all.

Our lives need to be punctuated with times of celebration, praise, gratitude, and even blowout parties. Otherwise, we become dull, boring, lifeless, and bereft of Christ’s lifeblood coursing through our spiritual veins. A joyous and raucous group of healed believers jabbering incessantly with thanksgiving of God’s goodness are winsome and peculiar (in a good way and not in the strange way of your weird uncle who wants the turkey neck to gnaw on at the Thanksgiving meal).

Seems to me that Christians really ought to be at the forefront of having maximum fun because we are forgiven people; we know and experience the presence of God; our lives are hidden with God in Christ; we are confident and can approach the throne of God with boldness; and we possess the power of the Spirit and the shepherding ministry of Jesus.

Remember to give thanks. Plan to praise – out loud and with others – for the God who stands behind every good gift of creation. Let thanksgiving (not complaint) shape your life. Be the person who comes back to Jesus and offers praise and gratitude – and see how such gratefulness and glory can change the world.

Gracious God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and steadfast love to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all praise you for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

Give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages and forevermore. Hallelujah! Amen!

Psalm 75 – Don’t Talk Out the Side of Your Neck

We give thanks to you, O God;
    we give thanks; your name is near.
People tell of your wondrous deeds.

At the set time that I appoint,
    I will judge with equity.
When the earth totters, with all its inhabitants,
    it is I who keep its pillars steady.
I say to the boastful, “Do not boast,”
    and to the wicked, “Do not lift up your horn;
do not lift up your horn on high
    or speak with insolent neck.”

For not from the east or from the west
    and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
but it is God who executes judgment,
    putting down one and lifting up another.
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup
    with foaming wine, well mixed;
he will pour a draught from it,
    and all the wicked of the earth
    shall drain it down to the dregs.
But I will rejoice forever;
    I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.

All the horns of the wicked I will cut off,
    but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted. (New Revised Standard Version)

Way back in my college days, there were some lively characters within my group of friends and acquaintances. One of those friends had a phrase he called people out on, whenever he discerned there was some sort of insincerity or disingenuous talk… 

“Quit talkin’ out the side o’ ya’ neck!” he would say with a great deal of flavor. My friend’s phrase perfectly captures the psalmist when he exhorts the boastful person not to speak with an insolent or haughty neck.

Indeed, God will judge everyone on earth with equity, without favoritism. The Lord has no tolerance for evil speech. 

A telltale sign of the wicked is that they show ingratitude; they aren’t thankful. An ungracious boss will always point out mistakes and missteps; and rarely or never seeks to affirm someone for a job well-done. In those rare times when a “thanks” is given, its so mechanical that the person receiving feels the abject insincerity of it.

The parent who sparingly expresses gratitude tends to liberally correct and discipline, leaving the child in a pool of guilt and shame. Folks who enjoy airing their own opinions are usually bereft of thanksgiving; they leave in their wake of harsh words a group of angry or discouraged people.

You will likely not hear any of the aforementioned persons forthrightly declare the mighty acts of God. Rather, they highlight their own actions, even stealing the deserved attention of another onto themselves. Yet, the arrogant and insolent person will meet their match with the sovereign God who humbles and exalts according to divine standards of justice, mercy, and love.

Instead of talking out the side of our necks, the godly use their tongues in a different manner: They give thanks and practice gratitude for God’s wondrous deeds. 

The way to avoid the hubris of the proud person is to use our speech for thanksgiving. Humble, encouraging, and generous words cannot co-exist in the same sentence as insincere proud boasting. 

Freedom from useless, selfish, and harmful gibberish requires more than a decision to stop talking that way; it also includes a determination to speak words of encouragement, gratitude, and kindness. The following can be helpful advice when facing our own pride:

  1. Confess when you’re wrong. Acknowledge and admit the sinful speech without trying to put a spin on it to make it sound less offensive. Ask what you can do to make it right. Ask for forgiveness.
  2. Lighten up, man. Don’t take things so seriously. Learn to laugh at yourself. We all have our quirks, and we all make mistakes. Most stuff isn’t worth getting upset over. And some people are definitely not worth giving the satisfaction of making you get in a huff. Let it go, dude.
  3. Be good to yourself. Treat yourself with greater kindness. Arrogance is often a byproduct of failing to practice healthy self-care. Whenever we are obsessed with looking good and being good, we place unrealistic expectations not only on ourselves, but others, as well. It comes out in a “I-know-what-is-best-so-do-what-I-say” sort of attitude.
  4. Wake up and realize you are not always right. Arrogant people tend to think they are right most of the time, that their truth is the only truth that really matters. You’ve probably been wrong more than you realize, but arrogance tends to blind us to our own shortcomings. Not every battle is worth fighting. Sometimes you just have to smile and let things go.
  5. Learn to delegate. Let other people take the lead. Humility allows us to serve under another person or as a less dominant member of a team. Other people are not nincompoops. You aren’t the only one who can do the job.
  6. Ask for help. It takes humility to ask for help.Arrogant people wrongly believe they can do it themselves, especially thinking they are the best person for everything. Old Satan still believes he can do a better job of running the world than God. Don’t be like Satan.
  7. Offer meaningful encouragement and thanks. Go out of your way to build up others and thank them for their efforts and the job they did.
  8. Treat everyone with respect. No matter their position or station in life, acknowledge each human being as worthy of kindness and respect.

Remembering God’s gracious works in the world, and using our tongues to recount them, has the effect of putting us in our proper place and shooing away the arrogance.

One way of expressing gratitude to God is to take a few minutes each day, pause, and give thanks for the things you notice. 

If you take a walk, be intentional about noticing God’s creation. Then, give thanks for the specific things you see. At your workplace, take note of the blessings around you, and express gratitude for each of them. At home, notice the simple pleasures of being with family and be sure to offer God praise for them. 

For, if we do not observe the Lord in the common and the mundane, we will likely miss God when he shows up in the dramatic and the awesome.

Almighty God, you are the rightful Judge of all the earth. Today I forsake all proud and haughty speech, and, instead, give thanks to you for your mighty acts of salvation and deliverance in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Psalm 50:16-23 – Follow with Both Lips and Life

Photo by Adrien Olichon on Pexels.com

But God says to the wicked,
    Why should you recite my commandments?
    Why should you talk about my covenant?
You refuse to let me correct you;
    you reject my commands.
You become the friend of every thief you see,
    and you associate with adulterers.

You are always ready to speak evil;
    you never hesitate to tell lies.
You are ready to accuse your own relatives
    and to find fault with them.
You have done all this, and I have said nothing,
    so you thought that I am like you.
But now I reprimand you
    and make the matter plain to you.

Listen to this, you that ignore me,
    or I will destroy you,
    and there will be no one to save you.
Giving thanks is the sacrifice that honors me,
    and I will surely save all who obey me.
(Good News Translation)

God has something to say to the wicked, that is, those who claim the Lord’s Name, yet fail to honor the divine/human relationship.

One of the things people might oftentimes overlook or misunderstand is that God and humans are not on the same level. Whereas all humanity is equal, and so must be egalitarian in all they do, humans are the creatures and God is the Creator. It isn’t an equitable relationship.

That means our stance as people is to obey the Lord – without question. There’s no room for negotiation. There isn’t any way of leveraging to get the upper hand with God.

Ignorance, or outright disobedience, is manifested through trivializing or picking-and-choosing God’s commands. When a person quotes or cites instructions from the Lord, then completely disregards those divine words and does what they please, there will be a harsh reprimand.

The wicked, those who ignore the covenant relationship with God, tend to talk a good line and then turn around and participate in stealing, adultery, and slander. They glowingly cite the first few commands of the Ten Commandments, then generally flip the middle finger at the rest of the commands – doing whatever the heck they want.

The reason the Lord is so hard in today’s psalm is that the wickedness of humanity believes themselves to be like God. In other words, the people took what was true about themselves and superimposed that on God. This is the dual act of elevating humanity higher than who they are and making themselves like God, while simultaneously minimizing God, making the Lord smaller, to be just like us.

These are just some the mind tricks wicked persons play on themselves to justify their behavior. And God will have none of it. God is not some average household idol. The Lord is to be honored and worshiped as Supreme.

Wherever there is disorder, chaos, systemic evil, and injustice, the root of it is found in disparaging the divine relationship – making God a good ol’ boy who understands things just like you and me.

Wherever you see human life cheapened, taken advantage of, and oppressed, there you will find people and institutions who do not take God as holy, sovereign, and other than them.

Human life is cheapened because talk itself is cheap without the commitment to obey the Lord. So, how might we keep our lips and our life aligned together and working as a committed whole?

  • Be authentic. Embrace being genuine and real. If you’re happy, smile. If you’re sad, don’t. If you say, “yes,” do it. If you need to reinforce good boundaries, say “no,” and don’t do it. What’s more, if you have written statements in your business or organization about diversity, equity, and inclusion, then authentically and actively live into those ideals.

Jesus said, “Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37, CEB)

My brothers and sisters, practice your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ by not favoring one person over another. (James 2:1, GW)

  • Be trustworthy. Charlatans and slicksters try to make instantaneous trust so they can take advantage of another. The godly person realizes trust must be earned – mostly through quietly doing what needs to be done without complaint or bluster. Someone once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Do what God’s teaching says, don’t just listen and do nothing. When you only sit and listen, you are fooling yourselves. (James 1:22, ERV)

Now that by your obedience to the truth you have purified yourselves and have come to have a sincere love for other believers, love one another earnestly with all your heart. (1 Peter 1:22, GNT)

  • Be obedient. Observe the Lord’s commands. Biblical instructions include both our speech and our behavior.

For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3, NRSV)

Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. (Colossians 4:6, NKJV)

Jesus said, “If any of you want to be my follower, you must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross that is given to you for following me. (Matthew 16:24, ERV)

  • Be thankful. Words and actions which hurt and damage cannot be said whenever we are using our tongues to express gratitude. And if we keep our feet happy through dancing our thankfulness, then we will not walk into trouble.

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. (1 Thessalonians 5:18, MSG)

And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:17, NLT)

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.