[Church camp is] where I first heard the song, “They’ll Know We Are Christians.” The hymn was written in the 60s, by Peter R. Scholtes. A parish priest in Chicago, Scholtes was leading a youth choir and “was looking for an appropriate song for a series of ecumenical, interracial events.” Unable to find a song that worked, Scholtes wrote his own, and it has stood the test of time.
Jesus wanted to be sure the disciples knew the most important message of all: Love. No matter how many miracles they might perform, or how big the church might grow, or how many people they might baptize or visit in prison, none of that would mark them as disciples of Jesus. These things weren’t radical to the mind of Christ… What would be astounding to a watching world would be the love that Christ’s disciples displayed for each other.
Psalm 99 begins by proclaiming that “The LORD reigns” (99:1). God is sovereign, not only over Israel, but over all nations (99:2). Therefore all nations should tremble and praise God’s “great and awesome name” (99:3). Verse 4 adds to this picture of the sovereign God who is worthy of our praise: “The King is mighty, he loves justice.” Though God is strong and can do whatever he wishes, he is not a king who oppresses or takes advantage of his subjects. Rather, he “loves justice.”
Jesus of Nazareth really did live, die, and rise again. Through his life, death, and resurrection, God’s grace is truly offered to us. We can be truly forgiven, truly renewed, truly restored to relationship with God, and truly called into God’s work in the world. As Christians, we are to share the truth of the Gospel with others. Yes, this means using our words. But words are not enough, especially in today’s world.
The Gospel is not just a moving story. It is also a true story. Jesus really was God Incarnate. Jesus really did die for us. Jesus really was raised from the dead, demonstrating God’s victory over sin and death. For the Christian, these are not just beautiful themes or powerful symbols. They are accurate statements that form the core of the Gospel. They not only move us, but they also demonstrate to us the love and grace of God.
Years ago, when I was serving as the College Director of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, I got into a fascinating conversation with several of my students. They were sharing with me that living for God seemed to be, in reality, very boring. And boredom was just about the worst thing these collegians could imagine. I tried to make the case that living for God was actually exciting, but I was getting nowhere fast… Is existing for the praise of God’s glory boring? Is it really a big drag?
According to Ephesians 1:11, we exist for the praise of God’s glory. For much of my life, I assumed this referred primarily to the things we did in worship services at church. In our prayers and in our singing, we praised God. So, I read Ephesians 1:11 as saying, in effect, “You exist to go to church and sing hymns and songs. That’s the core purpose of your life. Everything else is secondary.” … But is this what Ephesians 1:11 envisions?
In the beginning, God creates the heavens and the earth. He organizes this earth, and ensures that everything is working and functioning properly. This great big God then makes humankind in his image and likeness and calls this first man Adam… For our purposes today, it is worth focusing on Adam’s role as the first human being to receive a vision or plan from God.
I had lunch the other day with a young business colleague. He has a good job for which he expressed gratitude. Nevertheless, he struggles with a lack of intrinsic meaning and purpose in his work. He believes that work should be an expression of God’s calling in his life. Still, he couldn’t reconcile that conviction with his own lack of personal connection to his work. If God has called him to his work, shouldn’t he find meaning and purpose in that work?
Today, we explore Psalm 98. Almost three centuries ago, this psalm inspired an English hymn writer who was working on a collection of compositions based on the Psalms. Most of Isaac Watts’s psalm-based hymns have been long forgotten. However, one of his compositions remains extremely popular today. In fact, I’ll bet you could sing at least one verse from memory. This hymn is based on Psalm 98.