Psalm 100 – Know That the Lord is God

Shout for Joy by Lucy Adams

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations. (New International Version)

The worship of God cannot be contained with one dimension of a person – their spirit. Worshiping God requires the body, mind, and emotions, as well. Anything less, is withholding praise. We are to worship with our entire being.

The original use of today’s psalm was for the ancient Israelites approaching the temple to worship God.  Before worshipers ever came into the presence of the Lord, they were preparing themselves to encounter God through giving thanks, using this very psalm.

When King David and other Hebrew writers penned their poetic songs, they centered what they most wanted to draw attention to in the middle, so that what came before it and after it pointed to that central message. The center of the psalm is:

Know that the Lord is God. Knowing God is to experience the divine through a close relationship. It means we have a place and a purpose. It is a knowing and belonging which exists deep down in our gut.

We get to know God by how he has worked in people’s lives, as well as our own. So, gatherings of believers (whether physical or virtual) are an opportunity to reinforce collective values, strengthen faith, and encourage the discouraged.

Faithful worshipers deeply desire to focus on who God is and what God has done, remembering and rehearsing divine qualities and deeds. Through this activity, we help one another know the Lord. And knowing God is what real life is all about. The Lord is worthy of all the praise, adoration, and worship we can give.

There are three imperatives (commands) that come before the middle phrase to know that the Lord is God; and three imperatives coming after it.  All six imperatives are meant to help us know God better, to give our proper praise to the Lord.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Declaring loudly of God’s gracious and loving character, expressed through right, just, and fair actions.

Worship the Lord with gladness. Kneeling and prostrating before God in humble reverence, awe, and adoration.

Come before the Lord with joyful songs. Approaching God’s throne with confidence and boldness.

Those are the three imperatives which lead us to know the Lord. 

The following three imperatives point back to know that the Lord is God:

Enter the Lord’s gates with thanksgiving. Immersing oneself in the presence of God.

Give thanks to the Lord. Giving voice in gratitude to God

Praise the name of the Lord. Declaring God’s holy name with heartfelt expression.

We belong to God. God’s people celebrate this tremendous experience of belonging with deliberate actions that put us in a position to know God better.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Ephesians 1:17, NIV)

One of my all-time favorite verses in the Bible has to do with knowing God:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.

Philippians 3:10, NIV

Everything in our lives, whether good or bad, is designed to help us know God better. Shared experiences with each other encourage Christians to keep living for Jesus. All of life, from a Christian perspective, points us to the mid-point of history, Jesus Christ, and him crucified, risen, and coming again.

And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3, NRSV)

So, let us express gratitude today for all the gracious ways of God’s self-revealing and reaching out to save such ones as us.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:16-21, NIV)

Gracious and almighty God, the One who works on my behalf, give me grace to put away the rootless existence of someone who has no place; and help me to experientially know your radical acceptance and inclusion into the dance of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit – one God, now and forever. Amen.

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2, NIV)

Amen. Soli Deo Gloria.

Revelation 19:1-8 – The Time Is Coming

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After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a large crowd of people in heaven, saying, “Praise God! Salvation, glory, and power belong to our God! True and just are his judgments! He has condemned the prostitute who was corrupting the earth with her immorality. God has punished her because she killed his servants.” Again, they shouted, “Praise God! The smoke from the flames that consume the great city goes up forever and ever!” The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. They said, “Amen! Praise God!”

Then there came from the throne the sound of a voice, saying, “Praise our God, all his servants and all people, both great and small, who have reverence for him!” Then I heard what sounded like a crowd, like the sound of a roaring waterfall, like loud peals of thunder. I heard them say, “Praise God! For the Lord, our Almighty God, is King! Let us rejoice and be glad; let us praise his greatness! For the time has come for the wedding of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself for it. She has been given clean shining linen to wear.” (The linen is the good deeds of God’s people.) (Good News Translation)

The past few years, it seems as if the world is upside-down. For many people, living on this earth has become something of a surreal experience of folks dying apart from loved ones, racism rearing its ugly head through microaggressions, as well as overt words and actions, and neighbors killed due to gun violence. The suffering is palpable.

However, things will not always be this way. There is coming a time when disease, death, and poverty will end. In the age to come there will be no more numbing grief, seemingly endless tears, constant oppression, grinding hardship, and silent suffering.

The day will arrive when, together with all saints past and present, and along with the angelic host, we will collectively shout, “Hallelujah!” The end of this present age will eventually come.

Time is nothing more than the relationship between events. When all events are ended, there will be no more time – only unending eternity in the presence of God. For the Christian, this is our hope and ultimate salvation. Our deliverance from sin, death, and hell will be complete.

So, we wait and watch, preparing ourselves for the consummation of God’s kingdom. Meanwhile, we are truly in an awkward time between the two advents of Christ. It is the already/not yet time. We are already saved, yet not fully; we are holy, yet not completely; we have our adoption papers as children of God, yet still wait for our celebration feast with Christ.

There are few times more impatient, agonizing, joyful, and hopeful than a marriage engagement. It’s as if two people are inextricably connected but not yet completely together.

I still remember the weird feeling of the six months between my engagement to my heart’s love and standing at the altar marrying my bride. Those months included every emotion imaginable, from exuberant happiness to agonizing waiting, along with hopeful anticipation and sheer nervousness.

It was a time, for me, of unique joy and unwanted suffering. Since I was separated by two-thousand miles from my beloved for most of our engagement, it was an unparalleled longing for the marriage to occur.

That is likely how believers have felt throughout the ages as they look forward to the second coming of Christ. In a period of hardship and even persecution, Christians long for their Savior – to be with Jesus forever and be shed of the world’s crud, the sinful nature, and the machinations of the devil.

In this present age, we have received the Holy Spirit as a sort of engagement ring, a constant sign and presence to help us until the marriage happens with Christ as groom and the Church as bride. Since we have not yet experienced this, it is difficult for us to anticipate just how incredible and inconceivable the coming age will be.

Yet, the Christian intuitively knows, by means of the Spirit, that the upcoming marriage supper will be a heavenly paradise – and so we long for it, especially in these days of uncertainty and difficulty.

Presently, the great harlot attempts to seduce the believers, if that were possible, away from Christ. However, along with all God’s holy angels, we will join in the heavenly chorus which continually sings, “Praise God!” to Father, Son, and Spirit.

The book of Revelation describes the end of history for the purpose of encouraging the saints of God in the present moment of hardship. God will, once and for all, destroy evil, and faithful believers will be united with Christ forever in glory.

So, as we plod through the Christian season of Lent, we do so with the anticipation and hope of Easter and new life. Because Jesus is risen from death, we gaze into the future longing for our own resurrection. Presently, we hold both suffering and glory together, the past and the future.

For it is the past redemptive deeds of Christ which guide us in the present and gives shape to our future. Christ shall return – and it will be soon.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

2 Chronicles 20:1-22 – Praying in Desperate Times

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The armies of Moab and Ammon, together with the Meunites, went to war against Jehoshaphat. Messengers told Jehoshaphat, “A large army from Edom east of the Dead Sea has invaded our country. They have already reached En-Gedi.”

Jehoshaphat was afraid, so he asked the Lord what to do. He then told the people of Judah to go without eating to show their sorrow. They immediately left for Jerusalem to ask for the Lord’s help.

After everyone from Judah and Jerusalem had come together at the Lord’s temple, Jehoshaphat stood in front of the new courtyard and prayed:

You, Lord, are the God our ancestors worshiped, and from heaven you rule every nation in the world. You are so powerful that no one can defeat you. Our God, you forced out the nations who lived in this land before your people Israel came here, and you gave it to the descendants of your friend Abraham forever. Our ancestors lived in this land and built a temple to honor you. They believed that whenever this land is struck by war or disease or famine, your people can pray to you at the temple, and you will hear their prayer and save them.

You can see that the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Edom are attacking us! Those are the nations you would not let our ancestors invade on their way from Egypt, so these nations were not destroyed. Now they are coming to take back the land you gave us. Aren’t you going to punish them? We won’t stand a chance when this army attacks. We don’t know what to do—we are begging for your help.

While every man, woman, and child of Judah was standing there at the temple, the Lord’s Spirit suddenly spoke to Jahaziel, a Levite from the Asaph clan. Then Jahaziel said:

Your Majesty and everyone from Judah and Jerusalem, the Lord says that you don’t need to be afraid or let this powerful army discourage you. God will fight on your side! So, here’s what you must do. Tomorrow the enemy armies will march through the desert around the town of Jeruel. March down and meet them at the town of Ziz as they come up the valley. You won’t even have to fight. Just take your positions and watch the Lord rescue you from your enemy. Don’t be afraid. Just do as you’re told. And as you march out tomorrow, the Lord will be there with you.

Jehoshaphat bowed low to the ground, and everyone worshiped the Lord. Then some Levites from the Kohath and Korah clans stood up and shouted praises to the Lord God of Israel.

Early the next morning, as everyone got ready to leave for the desert near Tekoa, Jehoshaphat stood up and said, “Listen my friends, if we trust the Lord God and believe what these prophets have told us, the Lord will help us, and we will be successful.” Then he explained his plan and appointed men to march in front of the army and praise the Lord for his holy power by singing:

“Praise the Lord!
    His love never ends.”

As soon as they began singing, the Lord confused the enemy camp. (Contemporary English Version)

King Jehoshaphat and Judah were about to be attacked. War was imminent. Anxiety was high. The people were on edge. What were they going to do in the face of a combined army that seemed as if they’d steamroll over the nation of Judah? 

Here’s what Jehoshaphat did: He admitted his fear, sought the Lord for help, and proclaimed a national fast for everyone in Judah. Then, the king prayed, and God responded.

A most unconventional method of defeating the enemy was put into motion. The king and the people of Judah put together a praise team and a worship gathering to go before the army; they believed God was good for divine promises and would deliver them.

The king’s prayer was a deeply felt and sincere belief that God could and would answer, according to ancient promises to the people. The meat of the prayer affirmed both the powerlessness of their situation and the power of God to transcend even the most difficult of circumstances. They didn’t know how deliverance was going to come; they simply believed it was going to happen. 

This is, indeed, the kind of prayer God delights to answer! It was a prayer born of great need and desperation – a prayer upholding the name of God and discerning that unless the Lord showed up, all would be lost.

The foundational basis of all prayer to God is the recognition that we do not know what to do, other than look to the Lord. 

We pray because we desperately need God to show up and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. 

We cry out to God in our affliction and believe that the gracious ears of the Lord will hear and save us from our terrible plight. 

And once we pray, we are to stand firm, hold our position, and see the salvation from God on our behalf. 

If we need some inspiration for prayer and find ourselves in need of faith to believe what God can do, then take the time to read carefully and prayerfully over today’s Old Testament lesson several times. 

Then, let the prayers arise to the God of deliverance so that our stressful and worrisome pressure is transformed into praise for the Lord’s steadfast love.

Almighty God, you rule over all the nations of the earth. In your hand are power and might, so that none are able to withstand you. My eyes are fixed on looking for you to act on my behalf so that I might declare that your steadfast love endures forever, through Jesus Christ, my Savior. Amen.

Psalm 36:5-10 – Steadfast Love

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.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.

O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
    and your salvation to the upright of heart! (New Revised Standard Version)

Love suffers. Every parent knows this. Because of a parent’s committed and faithful love toward a child, they feel not only the joys but also the sorrows and pain of their children. I can say that this feeling does not go away, even with adult children. And it is compounded with grandchildren. Just as our love is big enough to hold multiple children and grandchildren, so our capacity for experiencing deep emotion for their welfare is equally large.

True love is sacrificial. It is willing to suffer anything on behalf of the beloved. God’s steadfast love is immensely large, holding both the joy of witnessing our lives as well as the pain of watching us make unhealthy decisions which damage us and each other.

God’s people, walking in the way of love, quickly discover that it is simultaneously walking in the way of suffering. From Old Testament times through the New Testament and into the present day, the faithful have always experienced suffering as a central part of their piety and devotion in showing steadfast love. 

The medieval mystics of the Church understood well the connection between suffering and love. They could not imagine a Christian life without hardship, difficulty, and persecution. Thomas à Kempis, a sort of pastor to pastors, wrote in the fifteenth century these words:

“Sometimes it is to our advantage to endure misfortunes and adversities, for they make us enter into our inner selves and acknowledge that we are in a place of exile and that we ought not to rely on anything in this world.  And sometimes it is good for us to suffer contradictions and know that there are those who think ill and badly of us, even though we do our best and act with every good intention….  When men ridicule and belittle us, we should turn to God, who sees our innermost thoughts, and seek His judgment….  It is when a man of good will is distressed, or tempted, or afflicted with evil that he best understands the overwhelming need he has for God, without whom he can do nothing….  It is in such times of trial that he realizes that perfect security and full peace are not to be found in this world.”

Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

And yet, it is because of love that suffering is transformed and endured as something wholly other than sheer pain or hurt. Thomas à Kempis went on to say:

“Love is a mighty power, a great and complete good; Love alone lightens every burden and makes the rough places smooth. It bears every hardship as though it were nothing and renders all bitterness sweet and acceptable. The love of Jesus is noble and inspires us to great deeds; it moves us always to desire perfection. Love aspires to high things and is held back by nothing base. Love longs to be free, a stranger to every worldly desire, lest its inner vision become dimmed, and lest worldly self-interest hinder it, or ill-fortune cast it down…. Love knows no limits, but ardently transcends all bounds. Love feels no burden, takes no account of toil, attempts things beyond its strength; love sees nothing as impossible, for it feels able to achieve all things. Love therefore does great things; it is strange and effective; while he who lacks love faints and fails.”

Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

In this season of Epiphany, we remember that Jesus is the light of the world. God became flesh and blood to experience the full range of the human condition – both joys and sorrows in a love so committed to us that it led to a cruel cross of suffering.

Salvation has come to all peoples because of God’s steadfast love – a love that never lets go no matter the circumstances.

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacrament, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen.