Christ is Triumphant
“The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; You will rule in the midst of your enemies.'
(Ps. 110:2, NRSV)
This royal psalm announces David's authority as king and priest of ancient Israel. Both of these roles were held
together in antiquity. The New Testament often uses this psalm to refer to Jesus as the Anointed
One (Messiah=Christ) in the continuing dynasty of David. This new Messiah defeated and disarmed
the powers (“rulers and authorities”) and paraded them as conquered enemies.
Thus, the word of Scripture is compelling. The only way to view and comprehend history is to begin,
openly and clearly, with Christ. He is the Alpha in the alphabet of historical discussion. He is neither
incidental nor an afterthought injected as deus ex machina (“God from the machine”), a dramatic
device utilized by Greek tragedy to supply some contrived solution to a serious problem.
This Psalm 110 was a favorite song of the early Christian church. Some of the language still rings
loud and clear to our own generation: “[Jesus} Rule in the midst of your foes. . . . . The Lord is at your right
hand; . . . he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations. . . .”
Traditional, Bible-serious Christians refuse to become too emotional or sentimentalize Christ, because we
understand that there is a tough, fierce militancy in the text. And reality must be allowed. The world is in conflict;
our Lord Jesus is the leader on the field of battle. Serious issues are decided daily. Christ is not only honored
and worshipped each Sunday, He is triumphant every day of the week. –RLM
“The Lord set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones
. . . that were very dry. He asked me, Son of man, can these bones live?”
(Ez. 37:1—3, NIV)
The prophet, Ezekiel, living in exile (ca. 593-571 B.C.), was tested by God about his faith, and his
hope for the future restoration of the nation Israel after its destruction by the Babylonians.
Ezekiel 37 sets forth the national and spiritual restoration of God's chosen people Israel
concerning future kingdom blessings.
This matter of “dryness” and “death,” treated metaphorically in Ezekiel, may have national implications
for the USA, insofar as this country continues to seek to be the faithful people of God today. It also has
personal relevance for the Church, and for the people of God who call themselves the disciples of Jesus.
Sometimes we, like the Israelites of old, experience a terrible dryness in our spiritual lives. We may not have
been carried into physical exile, but we have been transported to places of spiritual dryness.
We have no desire to pray, no feeling for God's presence, no enthusiasm for worship, and we even think that
most of the stuff we ever believed about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is little more than children's fancy.
It is important to realize that most of these thoughts and feelings are just that -- thoughts and feelings, and that the
spirit of God is beyond our human thoughts and feelings. It is a wonderful grace to experience God's presence in
our thoughts and feelings, but when we don't think about or feel His presence, it does not mean that God is absent.
It usually means we are absent. It also means that God is calling us to greater faith and higher trust.
It is precisely in times of spiritual dryness that we must hold on to our spiritual discipline and our profound
recollections of past blessing so that we can then grow into new intimacy with God. Embrace your dryness today,
and then anticipate the water of restoration tomorrow. -- RLM
Being Honest about Our Pains
“Pile your troubles on God's shoulders –
He'll carry your load, he'll help you out” (Ps. 55:22, The Message)
For those of us who worship regularly in a local congregation, it is easy to be honest in the presence of God with our
“Amens,” “Praises,” and “Hallelujahs.” It is much more difficult to be honest in expressing our personal
hurts and pains; it is almost impossible to be honest before God in expressing our “dark side”
of emotions concerning anger and hate. So what do we do? Mostly, we hold in all our negative emotions
and we continue to hide that dreaded dark side of our personality.
But when we pray along with the prayers of our favorite biblical characters, or pray in the words of the Psalms –
the classic songs and prayers of God's people – we find that hiding all the negatives of our life is unacceptable.
We are forced to pray who we really are, not who we think we are, or not who we think we should be.
In prayer, as in praying the Psalms, we soon discover that not everything is milk and honey, or spirit light.
The way of prayer is not spraying glossy paint over our unsightly emotions so that they will appear respectable,
but expose them to God's light so that they can be transformed and incorporated into the work of God's kingdom.
Let a word to the wise be sufficient, get honest with God. -- RLM
For Those in Christ, It's a Matter of Loving and Growing
“Out of respect and reverence for Christ, be courteous and lovingly submissive to one another.” (Eph. 5:21, Author)
Love is an awesome and mysteriously awe-filled experience that propels us into new, dangerous life-experience territory.
It means searching out and exploring the “new,” while leaving the “old” behind. It means giving up
earlier chapters of our life-story, where we may have had much success and accomplishment in
relationships, and turning to the next chapter where we are challenged to grow into new ones.
Every loving act for the Christian is risky business; it risks losing something of the old self. There are no
guarantees in love for disciples of Jesus. Much can go wrong: we might get rejected; we might get hurt;
we might be deceived; we might be disappointed. But without risking these personal dangers there can only
be the same old, same old for us – old patterns, old personalities, and old habits of comfort repeated over, again and again.
Our Christian “self” can never be “itself” if it does not grow into further selfhood . And that always
involves risk. For a new creature, in Christ, and made in the image of God, to grow is to love, and to love,
and to love . . . over and over again-- RLM
Grace, Grace, It's All about Grace
“I thank God continually for you, and I never give up praying for you.” (Eph. 1:16, Phillips)
Most Bible scholars agree that the letter to the Ephesians was a circular epistle, that is, it was intended
to be read in one central church in the city, and then passed on to the other churches in the area.
The stated author, Paul, greets these young churches, saying that he has heard of their “faith in
the Lord Jesus” and of their “love” for one another in the church. He says, further, that this
knowledge makes him extremely grateful and that gratitude prompts his continual prayers for them.
Near the end of the first century, John in the “Apocalypse” wrote to the same churches and shared
with them a word from the risen Christ. Mixed in with his praise was also a word of criticism about having
lost their “first love.” From this we might conclude that the churches in Ephesus were not maintaining
the high standard of faithfulness and mutual love that they had demonstrated earlier. Yet Paul continued to give thanks and
prayed for them regularly.
Assuming that the churches in Ephesus had the same kind of people as modern churches, that is,
sinners (about 100%), it would probably be a mistake to suggest that Paul was overlooking something,
or, perhaps, wearing rose colored glasses when he expressed his feelings. We know too much about
this Apostle to afford to him such an error in judgment. He had other reasons for his gratitude: he seemed to have
the unique ability to see God's action in those churches, in spite of their obvious shortcomings. He had a burning
passion to see goodness and God's grace still working among those congregations; grace still overwhelming
their sins. We should be so passionate here at First Baptist Church, Gloucester City. -- RLM
Acknowledge Your Defects
“Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry – but don't use your anger
as fuel for revenge. And don't stay angry. Don't go to bed angry.
Don't give the Devil that kind of foothold on your life.” (Eph. 4:26, The Message)
“Be angry.” There is no such thing as a perfect day, or week, or life. The old saying is correct,
“If anything can go wrong, it probably will.” Some things always go awry,
many of them because of spite, malice, and just a bad attitude toward God. An old
mentor of mine once advised me, when I went to him with several complaints as
I was completing my graduate studies, “Look your problems in the eye, face squarely
the stuff they are throwing at you, and get . . . angry.” Don't make excuses – don't rationalize
or offer extensive theological and/or psychological explanations – for yourself or for others. And
don't gloss over any defects or flaws that you may be experiencing. Call a “spade” a spade,
and then move on to your next step in the process of recovery and healing.
It is not a bad thing to be angry; in fact, it is a good thing. But here's the real point: “ Do not sin !”
Your anger is not a work order or agenda for you to preplan a way to “get even” with someone
or something so that you can “fix” the wrong in your life. What's wrong with your situation
and with the world is God's business, not yours. Your business is to keep moving,
and watch how God is working together with you for your own “good” as you continue to
fulfill your calling to love and to serve others. Also, your work is to understand more of
what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “I have learned to be content
whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11). -- RLM
God Speaks Back to Those Who Are Listening
“I'm thanking you, GOD, out in the streets,
Singing your praises in town and country: (Ps. 108:3, The Message).
[We are beginning a summer series of sermons on the Psalms. Traditionally the Hebrew Psalms
are the most popular parts of the Bible for reading, singing, and study. I hope that you will
join us each Sunday at First Baptist Church, Gloucester City, NJ, as we explore together
these wonderful poems and songs of the faithful, that some scholars have referred to as,
“Israel's Prayers and Ours.” ]
The authors of the Psalms, including David, who wrote (and probably sang) most of them,
are not very interested in the self-esteem of women and men, or in the complexities of human
potential; they are, primarily, most alert to and passionate toward GOD – the omnipotent, omniscient,
heavenly Being, who is equally, in Peterson's terms, “obedience shaping, will-transforming,
sin-revoking, praise-releasing God” (Answering God).
The Psalms are products of people who love, seek, and listen to God. They actually
hear Him speak to them and realize that His Words are the most important words they will
ever hear spoken to them in their lifetime. And, in their hearing, they decide to respond.
They answer, and their answers are in the form of poetic song-prayers.
The Words they hear from God take precedence over all human words, regardless of their source
or intellect. Human wisdom, earthly advice, manly discourses, womanly inquiries, all pale to insignificance,
in the light of the lyrical Word of God recorded in the beautiful lines of these prayerful songs.
May these prayers also be our prayers. And may we as Christ's people in his church be ready
and willing to listen, to ponder, and, ultimately, to apply the great Words that God would
speak to us in these most challenging times. – RLM
Our Ministry of Listening and Burden Bearing
“Help carry one another's burdens, and in this way
You will obey the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2, TEV)
What does Paul mean by “burden”? The original language suggests “anything that weighs
a person down.” Within the church, then, we are to be alert to the needs of others all the time.
This becomes our mutual ministry for the health of the Body of Christ.
How do we begin to “carry one another's burdens”? Try really “listening” to another person for
a change. Have you noticed all the “talk” shows on the air today? Have you heard any popular
“listening” shows lately? Or, have you been among a group of friends recently, and noticed that
most of them can hardly wait to tell you what's going on with them ; but not many are
asking you the question, “How are things with you and your family?”
We all talk too much. And people are surprised when they find that someone really
wants to listen to them. Pastors and teachers are especially guilty of this bad habit.
(Why do you think we are called “preachers” and “lecturers”?)
But actually listening to another may open the door to communication, and through that
dialogue, we may learn what it is that is weighing down the other person, e.g. sorrow, worry,
fear, guilt, sin, or maybe something practical, like the need for food, clothing, or rent money.
I know that it is easy to avoid the tough, intense work of listening to others. I have been there
myself because I was too busy, or too scheduled/programmed to be an effective listener.
I drop by a member's home, and the first thing I say upon entering is, “I have four more calls to make.”
It is never a matter of counting how many people you have spoken to today, but rather, how many
have you “listened” to in the name of Christ this week?
Let me encourage you to begin listening to one other person this week. Then, as you
truly enter into an awareness of the “burdens” of the other, pray to God that He
will give you the courage to ask, “What can I do to share this burden with you.”
Try it! You'll be blessed for trying, I know that for a fact. – RLM