Psalm 100 – Knowing God

scenic photo of castle during dawn
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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. (NIV)

The original use of this 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 him thanks, using this very psalm.

When David and other Hebrew writers penned their poetic songs, they would center 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 Psalm 100 is verse 3: Know that the LORD is God.

There are three imperatives (commands) that come before this phrase; and, three imperatives that come after it.  All six imperatives are meant to help us know God better. “Shout” for joy to the LORD. “Worship” the LORD with gladness. “Come” before him with joyful songs are the three that lead us up to knowing the LORD.  “Enter” his gates with thanksgiving; “give thanks” to him; and, “praise” his name all come after the central command to “know that the LORD is God.” We belong to God. As God’s people we celebrate this tremendous knowledge with actions meant to impress God’s gracious inclusiveness firmly into us.

There perhaps is no better biblical way to experience God than through these six words: shout; worship; come; enter; give thanks; and praise. Declaring loudly of God’s character and works; kneeling and prostrating before God; approaching God’s throne with boldness; immersing oneself into the presence of God; voicing aloud gratitude to God; and, praising God’s holy name are all heartfelt actions of the faithful. These pious activities are to happen here on earth as they are always done in heaven. It’s what folks with a settled sense of belonging do.

To “know” God is to experience him through 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 engage in the six imperatives of today’s psalm. Faithful worshipers deeply desire to focus on who God is and what he has done, remembering and rehearsing his qualities and deeds. Through this activity, we help one another know the Lord.  And knowing God is what real life is all about.  He is worthy of all the praise, adoration, and worship we can give to him.  So, let us praise God with heartfelt thanksgiving.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible has to do with knowing God. The Apostle Paul said, “I want to know (to experience with his entire being and not just with his mind) Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing 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 us to keep living for Jesus.  So, let us express gratitude today for all the gracious ways God has revealed himself and reached out to save such ones as us.

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

Click Psalm 100 (Enter In) for a time of praise and thanksgiving to God.

Thanksgiving

 
 
            Food, football, and family have become the annual trifecta of the American Thanksgiving Day.  I liberally indulge in all three, and look forward to doing so.  I’m not here to bash on the fact that Thanksgiving has become almost a day of secular worship around an unholy trinity.  And that’s because I really believe that underneath all the gravy, naps at halftime, and obnoxious relatives that we actually know why we are celebrating the day:  to give thanks for our abundant blessings.  And I think even those who do not readily acknowledge a God in the world intuitively know that there is a power and source of blessing well beyond themselves that makes all good things occur.
 
            Celebrations are a spiritual activity.  Parties were not invented by secularists.  God created them.  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; they were commanded and expected.  Gratitude was an important dimension of Old Testament worship.  Even before America as we know it was in existence, the people of God were used to setting aside certain days as events of special thanksgiving to God.  The church has always acknowledged that God as our Creator is also the Provider of all the bounty we receive.
 
            Consider some biblical verses that encourage us toward giving thanks.  “Come to worship the LORD with thankful hearts and songs of praise” (Psalm 95:2).  “Be thankful and praise the LORD as you enter his temple.  The LORD is good!  His love and faithfulness will last forever” (Psalm 100:4-5).  Our mouths need to speak our thanks out loud to God.  “Tell the LORD how thankful you are, because he is kind and always merciful” (Psalm 118:1). 
 
            In the New Testament, Luke tells the story of ten men with leprosy who were miraculously healed by Jesus.  A Samaritan, the lowliest of the low, was the lone person who came and fell at Christ’s feet with intense 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 (Luke 17:11-19).  Indeed, sometimes we must be reminded to give thanks and to show gratitude for the ways in which God has provided for us.  And it is often the homeless, the sick, the lowly, the marginal of society that are the ones who lead the way and teach us what genuine thanksgiving looks like.
 
 
 
            The people of God are to never forget what they possess in Christ.  Paul told the Colossian church, “You have accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord.  Now keep on following him.  Plant your roots in Christ and let him be the foundation for your life.  Be strong in your faith, just as you were taught.  And be grateful” (Colossians 2:6-7).  Prayer and thanksgiving are to go together like mashed potatoes and gravy:  “Never give up praying.  And when you pray, keep alert and be thankful”(Colossians 4:2).  Since God created everything –  each bite of juicy turkey, every homemade roll, and that piece of pumpkin pie – it is all good (maybe not good for you – but good!).  Every meal is to be eaten with the cognizance that God is really behind it all (1 Timothy 4:4).
 
            If church ministry is not perpetually punctuated with times of celebration, praise, giving thanks, and even blowout parties, then that particular local church will become dull, boring, lifeless, and will not have the lifeblood of Jesus coursing through their corporate veins.  But a joyous church which takes advantage of giving thanks to God at every excuse to do so will be attractive, winsome, and peculiar (in the good way, and not in the weird way of your strange uncle).  Christians really ought to be at the forefront of having maximum fun because they have been forgiven; know the presence of God; are provided for; are confident in the fact they are protected; and, know the power of the Spirit and the shepherding ministry of Jesus.
 

 

            Yes, eat to your heart’s content and have a belly full of cornbread stuffing.  But remember to give thanks – out loud and with others – for the God who stands behind every good gift of creation.  Let thanksgiving and not constant complaint shape you and your church.  Be that one person who comes back to Jesus and offers praise, worship, and gratitude – and see how God can change your life and your church.

Psalm 75

            Way back in the day, when I was in college, there were some lively characters within my group of friends and acquaintances.  One of those friends had a phrase he would call 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 some flavor.  His phrase captures the psalmist when he exhorts the boastful person to not “speak with a haughty neck” (ESV).
 
            Indeed, God will judge everyone on earth with equity, not showing favoritism.  Evil speech he shall not tolerate.  Instead of talking out of the side of our necks, the godly use their tongues in a different manner.  “We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near.  We recount your wondrous deeds.”  The way to avoid the proud words of the haughty person is to use our speech to express gratitude.  Generous words and proud words cannot co-exist in the same sentence.  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 pride.
 
            One way of expressing gratitude to God is to take a few minutes each day to pause and give thanks for the things you notice.  If you take a walk, be intentional about noticing God’s creation and giving thanks for the specific things you see.  At your workplace, take note of the blessings for which you can give thanks.  When you are at home, notice the simple pleasures of being with family and be sure to give God praise for them.  For, if we do not observe God in the common and the mundane, we will likely miss him 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 107:1-16

            The psalmist calls upon others to give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.  He furthermore exhorts those who have been redeemed to say so, to declare God’s praises for delivering them from trouble.  Whatever the circumstances and however difficult the experiences may have been, the believer is not to remain in silence but is to publicly thank the LORD.
 
            Speaking our spiritual stories to others is important both for those who share them, and for those who listen so that the community of the redeemed will be strengthened in their faith and emboldened to also share.  Far too many Christians are reticent to talk about what God has done or is doing in their lives.  Shame or embarrassment or a host of other reasons might prevent us from being vulnerable enough to let others in on God’s work within.  But the psalmist does not let us off the hook, even if we feel we are not articulate or are too afraid to speak.
 
            We all likely have had the privilege of hearing another person share his/her heart and experience of hardship and God’s deliverance.  It was uplifting, encouraging, and helpful.  Let’s not keep our stories to ourselves.  Stories are meant to be told, not hidden.  Bringing to light our faith journeys is healing for all, as well as declaring that Jesus is the light of the world.
            Great God of deliverance, I praise you that I have a story to tell of your grace and faithfulness.  Help me to tell of your mercy in my life so that the name of Jesus will be exalted, and that your people might be built up in the faith.  Amen.