A Psalm of Lament audio (5MB)
Today we start a short series on the Psalms – culminating in our evening worship service with Sons of Korah on May 26th. Over the next 3 weeks we’ll be looking at 4 different types of psalm – today a psalm of lament, next week a psalm of yearning, then a psalm of hope and on that Sunday evening a psalm of praise.
Before we begin it’s important to understand that psalms are first and foremost poetry. Poetry is a great medium for expressing feelings. The words that are used are not always exact, nor are they meant to be heard literally. Rather they’re meant to evoke a response of the heart. They often appeal to the emotions rather than the intellect. That makes them particularly helpful for people who are struggling with life, who perhaps don’t have the energy to think things through rationally or who are too unsettled to think calmly. These people can join with the psalmist in pouring their heart out to the Lord. Psalms are also good when you’re so full of joy that you can’t put it into words. That’s when the psalmist calls on the mountains and trees to sing their praises along with his own.
Well, today we’re looking at Psalm 73, a lament.
The psalm begins with a familiar refrain: “God is good to those who love him.” That’s one of the foundations of our understanding of God, isn’t it? God is good. God loves us. God has chosen us. He’ll never forsake us. He’ll look after us. What’s more he’ll bless those who remain faithful to him with every good gift. And so the psalmist believes.
Be Strong in the Lord & in his Mighty Power audio (5MB)
Do you remember when we looked at Paul’s prayer in Eph 3 that I commented how difficult it is to achieve the sort of unity that God wants from his church? In fact I pointed out that that’s why Paul prays the way he does: because only by God’s power can this miracle come about. Paul knows that apart from the problem of our own weakness, our hardness of heart, there are forces in the world that’ll try everything they can to stop us showing God’s wisdom and glory to the world. The reality of life for the Christian is that we face opposition from the spiritual forces around us every day. We have an enemy whose sole aim is to ruin our efforts at every point. So Paul warns us. He says “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
So what do these spiritual forces want to do? They want to thwart God’s plans. Is God’s plan to create a new society? They’ll do their best to break it down. Has God, through the death of Christ, broken down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile, indeed between all people, independent of gender, race, or culture? Then the devil and his agents will try to build that wall again. Does God intend his new people to live together in harmony and purity? Then the powers of evil will sow the seeds of discord and sin in our midst. Never underestimate the danger. Never take for granted your victory over sin. Never stop fighting temptation. Never give up in your efforts to overcome it. And never be surprised when you see a Christian leader fall into sin of some sort or another. Until Christ returns to take us to the Father we’ll always be fighting these spiritual battles. The peace, which Christ has bought by his blood, is still a promised peace. It’s a peace that we enjoy in the midst of a relentless struggle against evil. The war is won but the battles continue.
A New Way of Relating - Mutual Submission audio (5MB)
I hope you’ve picked up as we’ve gone through this letter over the last few weeks that Paul isn’t just giving us lessons in Godly behaviour. He isn’t just telling us how to live lives that will please God. Rather, he’s telling us how to live lives that’ll recommend the gospel to those around us. God wants us to show the world how great is his wisdom and glory.
So how can we do that? So far we’ve seen that we can learn to speak the truth in love. We can learn to put away falsehood, wrath, anger and malice. We can earn a living so we can give money away. We can tame our tongues so that everything we say is gracious, uplifting, life giving. We can live lives that are counter-cultural, in that they shun immorality, obscenity and greed. Instead we can seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that others are blessed by our presence among them. And today we discover how we can do our part in the context of our household and work settings.
Now there’s an issue here that might cause us some trouble. It’s to do with one of the words that we find here. That’s the word ‘head’. You see, in our world the head is most often the one we look to for instruction or leadership. So we have headmasters or occasionally headmistresses. We have heads of government. We have head office. “head” has to do with ruling over someone. As a result I think in the Christian world we’ve accepted, probably unthinkingly, that headship has to do with leadership and rule. But let’s have a quick look at how head is used in Ephesians.
In Eph 1:22-23 we read “22[God] has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” At first glance that sounds like Christ is our head in the sense of the one in charge. That’s true, except that God has made him head over all things for the church. Christ is over everything else for our sake. Why over everything else and not us? Because we’re his body, his fullness. We’re part of him. Now you need to hold that idea for the moment.
Darkness into Light audio (7MB)
This is an image from my childhood that has just stuck with me. It’s from one of those movies that we used to watch over and over again, at least every holiday. It’s from the last of the original, and good, Star Wars movies. In my mind, it’s one of the pivotal scenes from the whole trilogy. It captures the moment when the hero, Luke Skywalker, is faced with a decision. I loved the way his face is so perfectly divided, with the light and shadow. It represents the struggle that is going on within him. Which way is he going to go? Will he turn to the Dark side of the Force or stick with the Light?
This scene, this image, is so embedded in my memory, that whenever I see someone in similar lighting, I can’t help but remember it. But regardless of the scene around us, it captures a decision that we all must face. Will we walk in light or darkness? It’s a decision we must all make. How will we live?
New Clothes audio (6MB)
Over the last three weeks, I’ve been to three weddings. They’ve all been very different, but they’ve all presented the same challenge – What am I going to wear? The first was Ellen and Jamin’s wedding. I thought I was pretty safe and had my outfit all figured out. But then, that morning I realized that the tie I had planned on wearing was gone! I’d forgotten that I’d lent it to someone!
The next wedding, which was later that same afternoon posed the same problem. It was an outdoors wedding, and the invitation said ‘More smart than casual’. Who knows what that means! I decided to wear the same suit, without changing a thing. However, when we arrived it was clear I’d misjudged things. I was clearly overdressed! I think I was even more dressed up than the groom! Slowly over the afternoon the jacket came off, then the tie, then the sleeves went up.
Unity & Diversity in the Church audio (5MB)
We come today to the core issue of the letter: If we're to fulfil our destiny as a church, if we're to demonstrate the manifold wisdom of God then we must be united in heart and mind.
Here in ch 4, Paul begins to outline how being the new people of God is to be worked out in the down-to-earth, concrete realities of life. As we'll see over the next few weeks, the new society that God has called us into has two major characteristics. First it's one people, composed of both Jew and Gentile, without distinction, and secondly it's a holy people, set apart to belong to God, and showing by its life, a purity and righteousness that suits the people of God.
So today let's think about the unity of the Church. How does that unity arise and how is it to be maintained?