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.

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.

Psalm 23 – I Have Everything I Need

Psalm 23 by John August Swanson, 2010

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have everything I need.
He lets me rest in fields of green grass
    and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water.
He gives me new strength.
He guides me in the right paths,
    as he has promised.
Even if I go through the deepest darkness,
    I will not be afraid, Lord,
    for you are with me.
Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me.

You prepare a banquet for me,
    where all my enemies can see me;
you welcome me as an honored guest
    and fill my cup to the brim.
I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life;
    and your house will be my home as long as I live. (Good News Translation)

I once had a neighbor named Art. Art was a shepherd. He spent a good chunk of his day, every day, leading his sheep around his five acres of property across the road from me. On occasion, Art would politely ask if some of his sheep could come to my backyard and feed on some of the wild plants that were in abundance. I was amazed how “artfully” he cared for his sheep.

Sheep get a bad rap, in my opinion. I have often heard others refer to them as stupid. Having grown up on a farm, I realize there are animals that are not so bright. Sheep aren’t one of them. Cows, however, are. I think when God created cows the raccoons came along and stole some of their brains. 

There’s a reason sheep possess the reputation of lacking smarts – they are prone to being afraid. Sheep get spooked and upset easily. And, when they are skittish and scared, sheep tend to panic.

More than once I’ve seen a flock of sheep run full-steam head-first into a stone wall. If you don’t know much about sheep and come along and see this, they most certainly appear to be downright stupid. Yet, sheep are really, quite intelligent.  It’s just when fear overcomes them, they can do some nonsensical things.

Jesus the Good Shepherd by Solomon Raj

The presence of a faithful shepherd makes all the difference.

Sheep become familiar with their shepherd and learn to depend on them. There were times that Art had to leave the sheep alone and I would do a sort of babysit with them. Around me the sheep were cautious and had their guard up. The presence of anxiety was clear. But when Art showed up, he didn’t have to say a word. I could feel and observe the flock collectively relaxing.

God Pastors

God is the ultimate shepherd of the sheep. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. When we sense the presence of God’s Spirit, there is faith, trust, and confidence. This, then, brings a settled conviction of calm and comfort. Whenever that sense is absent, we do things like buy two pallets of toilet paper and try to bring it home in a compact car. It’s non-sense.

Psalm 23 is a beloved portion of Holy Scripture for a reason; it helps us as sheep to settle down and trust, even in the middle of uncertainty and anxiety. 

God’s presence + God’s provision + God’s protection = God’s providential care. God’s presence is constant, not sporadic; his provision is enough, not stingy; and his protection is total, not partial.

To know and feel God’s presence watching over us and giving generously to us is the very balm we need. It melts our fear in the face of adversity and opposition; it helps us relax in tough economic times; and it inoculates us from believing the sky is falling. 

Our courage and confidence cannot be ginned-up through sheer willpower; it comes as we get to know the great shepherd of the sheep standing there watching over us with compassionate and competent care.

God Provides

God is personal, not generic. God is the great “I AM,” the God who is. The Lord is my shepherd – not was or will be – is. God is not just somebody else’s God and shepherd, but my shepherd. 

The Lord is My Shepherd by David Hinds

Shepherd is an apt term because a shepherd cares for the sheep – watches over them, is present with them, protects them, and provides whatever they need to both survive and thrive.

God benevolently leads us; and does not act outside of his character and attributes. If we believe this about the great “I AM,” then worry and anxiety begins to diminish. Too many of us suffer from the heebie-jeebies because we don’t see the shepherd standing in the field watching over us.

The answer to our worry is not to keep telling ourselves to stop being anxious. With God on the job as shepherd, I shall not be in want; I have everything I need. 

Troubled times will always be with us, this side of heaven. Fear can grab hold and prevent us from living with settled intentions and reasonable plans toward the future. Every day we see folks running headlong into a stone wall. 

It’s okay to be afraid; it is not okay to let fear rule our lives. The solution is to speak, despite your fear; to act, despite your worry; to live, knowing God has your back.

God Is Present

Within much of Hebrew poetry, the focus of the writing is found smack in the middle. Everything before it builds toward it; everything after it points back. Smack in the middle of Psalm 23 is that God is with us. 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, even though it may seem that everything is bleak and that all things are against me – God is with me, which is why I do not succumb to fear. 

We walk through the valley, not around it. God does not cause us to avoid difficult circumstances. Instead, God promises to be with us through them. The way to deliverance is to confront our fears and walk with God, rather than expecting God to take away everything unpleasant that we don’t like.

My neighbor Art had a shepherd’s crook. He mostly used it as a walking stick. Yet, I did see times when he fended-off predators seeking to get to the sheep. More often, Art used his shepherd’s crook as a way of guiding the sheep where they could feed and be protected. 

The discovery of God’s guidance comes from movement and creativity. We aren’t going to experience the leading we want apart from embracing the uncomfortable in the confidence that God provides and protects through the trouble, and not apart from it.

Coptic Church icon of Jesus the Good Shepherd

God Protects

Even with enemies of disease, death, and disorder surrounding us, God’s presence is such that his protection and provision are providentially working to create blessing in the middle of trouble. Whereas fear and panic believe in a culture of scarcity, a culture of abundance discerns that there is plenty for all – and will thus work toward equitable distribution and fostering an egalitarian spirit.

God refreshes, encourages, and restores. There are abundant blessings – even within troubled times. God’s provision is right here, amidst the worst of circumstances. We don’t have to pick a fight with someone in the Costco parking lot, who has what I want, to get the things we need.

It’s easy to believe that God’s goodness and love will follow me when my health is good, my income is solid, and I have plenty of friends around me. It is another thing to have an awareness of that goodness in dark days.  Yet, God’s love and goodness hasn’t sequestered itself.  God providentially uses each life situation and bends it to redemptive purposes.

Experientially knowing God brings contentment and confidence. The radical nature of Psalm 23 is that peace is realized while chaos and uncertainty is all around. Establishing spiritual practices that reinforce our sense of security can aid us through difficulty and hardship.

With a settled conviction that God indeed has our backs and stands as the divine sentinel watching over the beloved sheep, we find the ability to relax and trust that all is well with my soul.

Lord, help me to relax.

Take from me the tension
that makes peace impossible.
Take from me the fears
that do not allow me to venture.
Take from me the worries
that blind my sight.
Take from me the distress
that hides your joy.

Help me to know
that I am with you,
that I am in your care,
that I am in your love,
that you and I are one,

Through the mighty name of Jesus,

In the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Amen.