Bread – Conduct

February 12, 2010

Readings for Friday, February 12 as
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Gen. 24:1-27; Heb. 12:3-11; John 7:1-13
    Psalms 69, 73

"May those who hope in You not be disgraced because of me."  Ps. 69:6

The context of this statement by David is one of utter despair.  He describes his condition both before and after this prayer as being in water "up to my neck," (v. 1), in "deep waters (v. 2), "worn out calling for help" (v. 3), with failing eyesight (v. 3), where people hate him "without reason" (v. 4), a stranger to his family (v. 8), where his faith is mocked (vs. 9-12), "in trouble" (v. 17), with a "broken heart" (v. 20), and helpless (v. 20).

In other words, when David said these words, he wasn’t feeling too swell.

Built into the middle of his anxiousness about his condition is David’s concern that his bad situation not turn into something which "disgraces" other believers.  The Hebrew word translated here (bǔwsh – Strong’s # 954) means to be ashamed, to be confounded, to be disappointed, to deceive – "The idea of shame at the hands of an utter defeat pervade the mood." [Lexical Aids to the Old Testament, Key Word Study Bible (NASB) (Ed. Zodhiates 1990)].

What about David’s personal situation could cause an embarrassment, a shame, a disgrace to someone else?  Certainly not because David is depressed, or out of work, or ill, or devastated by the loss of a loved one?  The reason for David’s despair is not the cause of my shame or yours either, for that matter.

However, what David does in response to his terrible situation can do one of two things – it can bring blessing to those bystanders who look on, or it can be disgrace, embarrassment, shame "at the hands of utter defeat."

Notice who it brings shame to – not just third party bystanders, not just the public, but a particular group of people – those people who "hope in You."  Who are the people who "hope in God?"  Back then it was his fellow trusting and believing Jews; today, it is anyone who trusts and believes in Jesus Christ.

So to update and paraphrase David’s prayer, we could say "May Christians not be put to shame because of what I do in response to my circumstances."

Just as Bible teachers bear a terrible burden to rightly teach the Word of God on pain of misleading those who hear the teaching, so we as Christians bear a terrible burden in this life to so handle ourselves and our circumstances so that we do not bring shame upon our fellow Christians.

What an incredible concept; what an incredible prayer!  The person next to us in traffic cuts in front of us and then throws on his brakes.  How much would our natural response change if we said the prayer "May other Christians not be disgraced because of me," before we responded?  We are sick and don’t feel well.  How would our natural response change if we recognized that, if we are not careful, how we respond will bring shame to our fellow Christians?

What to me is most interesting about this verse is that God writing through David does not want us to focus on the shame which David may bring upon himself, but the shame that David can bring upon others.  The prayer is not a selfish prayer – it is a selfless prayer.  David is not focused in this prayer on his condition or his reaction, but the effect his reaction may have on other believers.

Does our conduct as Christians, in the worse of circumstances as well as the best, bring disgrace upon our friends who are also Christians?  Unfortunately for me and I daresay for anyone reading this, the answer to this question is too often "yes."

Perhaps we would be more able to say "no" to this question if we remembered that how we react and what we do not only reflects on us but on Christians and on the very Christ whom we worship.  Perhaps we would be more able to say "no" to this question if we asked the Holy Spirit for strength and wisdom to persevere, to respond in love, and to conduct ourselves as members of the "holy priesthood."

Perhaps we would be more able to say "no" to this question if, in all circumstances, we prayed "May those who hope in You not be disgraced because of me."

There is a statement which can be said upon getting out of bed in the morning which I heard a long time ago – "Rise up like a lion in the service of the Lord."  It seems appropriate to add to this, "and my those who hope in Your not be disgraced because of me."  Amen.


Bread – Heart Occupants

February 5, 2010

Readings for Friday, February 5 as
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Gen. 17:15-27; Heb. 10:11-25; John 6:1-15
    Psalms 40, 51, 54

"I desire to do Your will, O my God; your law is within my heart."  Ps. 40:8

There are sort of two ideas about occupying a place.  One idea is that we have taken over the place, but our takeover is external.  An example might be Germany’s occupation of France in World War II.  There was occupancy of the countryside, but what went on in the homes was something else.

Then there is an occupancy within, where the occupying person actually occupies a space (and maybe the entire space) within the home, within the heart of our existence.  Usually this is someone whom we have invited in and for whom we have provided a place (although once in a while it is externally forced, as by a burglar.  When it is voluntary, when it is by invitation, the occupation takes on a permanency; when it is by force, the occupation is always temporary.  When the occupation of the home is by invitation, we willingly adjust our lives to accommodate the new occupant; when the occupation is by force, we may change our behavior by force but we never change our hostile attitude toward the intruder.

"Your law is within my heart."  For the Psalmist David, the law occupied his heart.  If we analogize his heart to his home, God’s law occupied David’s home co-existent with David.  Because this was an invited occupancy, David adjusted his behavior and his attitude to accommodate the occupant.  As a result, he desired "to do Your [God’s] will."

This quote raises something of a chicken and the egg problem.  Did David desire to do God’s will because His law occupied David’s heart, or did God’s law occupy David’s heart because David desired to do God’s will?  I would suggest that we don’t know, because both always occur together.  If we desire to do God’s will, how will we know what that will is without knowing God’s desires stated in His law, including His law of love?  If we want God’s law as an invited occupant in our home, in our heart, how can that happen without a desire to love God, to honor Him, to glorify Him, to obey Him, and to trust in the life, work, promise, and hope of Jesus Christ?  When God gives us the desire, He gives us the means.  When God has blessed us with the means, if we have invited God’s law (His means) to occupy our home, we automatically adjust our lives to seek His will in all things.

Because both seem to appear together, when we are seeking God’s will we can seek our heart to determine whose law, God’s or the world’s, occupies it.  When we have come to understand the law which we have allowed to occupy our heart, we are seeking God’s will.

Now, some people might be inclined to balk at all this "law" stuff as "Old Testament."  If you are so inclined, meditate on this other passage from our reading today, this one from Hebrews, quoting a Messianic passage from the prophet Jeremiah:

"This is the covenant I will make with them after that time [the time of Messiah], says the Lord.  I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds…Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more."  Heb. 10:16-17, quoting Jer. 31:33-34

After Jesus has come and the new covenant is made, God "will put my laws in their [the persons who have invited Jesus Christ into their life, their home, and their hearts] hearts."   The invitation to Jesus Christ to take up occupancy in our heart is an invitation for God’s law to occupy our hearts as well.

Who and what occupies your heart?  Whose will do you desire to follow?

Can you say with David – "I desire to do Your will, O my God; your law is within my heart."? 


Bread – Rich

February 3, 2010

Readings for Wednesday, February 3 as
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Gen. 16:1-14; Heb. 9:15-28; John 5:19-29
    Psalms 49, 53, 119:49-72

"Do not be overawed when a man grows rich…for he will take nothing with him when he dies…Though while he lived he counted himself blessed (and men praise you when you prosper) …A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish."  Ps. 49:16-20

The views from Haiti remind us that we are rich in America beyond some people’s wildest imaginations.  In North Texas, where many of you live, rich is a norm.

Who among us is not impressed when someone drives by in a $ 250,000 Bentley or some other expensive car?  Who does not marvel at the palaces some people call homes?  Who does not wonder what some people do for a living that they should have so much wealth?

And who among us does not spend a good bit (if not a majority) of our lives striving to become rich, or having achieved some level of richness, striving to keep it?  In fact, we are so obsessed with riches that there are whole churches devoted to enlisting God to help us add to our riches, and there are a lot of people who go to those churches.

The Psalmist reminds us today of the foolishness of this thinking, reminding us that on the way to the grave there is the coffin and the hearse, but no U-Haul carrying our things.  In fact I have been to many estate sales where the decedent’s precious riches were sold for a pittance.

The Psalmist further reminds us that riches are only useful and good when they are combined with understanding.  Without being combined with understanding, with nothing more than riches we are no better than the "beasts that perish."

What is this understanding referenced by the Psalmist?  It is best described by using today’s Scriptures:

"You are my portion, O Lord … I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes."  Ps. 119:57, 59

"Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him."  Heb. 9:27-28

"I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."  John 5:24

"You (God) are my portion…"  Not fame, not riches, not power, not addictions, not me, not us, not a cause, not politics – "You (God) are my portion."  If you can say this and mean it, you have understanding.

Is God really our portion, or is our reliance upon our bank account?  When we say the prayer given to us by Jesus, for God the Father to "give us our daily bread," do we really look to Him for our portion for the day or do we look to our agenda, our friends, our retirement account, or ourselves?  Do we act to please God or our friends or ourselves or the world?  Do we have understanding?

There are three quotes above from our readings today.  The second and third relate to Christ’s finished work on the cross for us, so that those who trust in Him and believe what He did, what He does, and what He will do will in turn have eternal relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, will have eternal life.  If you know this, if you believe this, you have understanding.

If so, if we do have understanding, riches may exist in our life or they may not, but neither matters because "You (God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are my portion."

And with understanding and with God as our portion, we can say that we are truly rich, regardless of what the U-Haul contains.


Bread – Good Name

February 1, 2010

Readings for Monday, February 1 as
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Gen. 14:1-24; Heb. 8:1-13; John 4:43-54
    Psalms 41, 44, 52

"…in your name I will hope, for your name is good."  Ps. 52:9b

The "your name" referred to by David in his Psalm is "God’s name," so the passage could easily be rendered – "In God’s name I will hope, for God’s name is good."

In our common use of the word "name," we not only know it as a "label" for a person, but also as a shorthand summary of everything of who that person is (characteristics) and what that person has accomplished, and what that person’s reputation is.

We actually even recognize the concept in law.  Companies which have expended a lot of advertising money on branding their name are protected with trademark or trade name protection.  A company name, such as "Apple," immediately creates an image in our mind about who that company is, what the quality of its products are, and its general reputation.  When asked for adjectives about the name "Apple," people might respond "clean" or "stable" or "simple" because those are characteristics of the name which have been carefully nurtured over time.

Even beyond our current thinking, historically names have been considered to substitute and stand for the "essence" of a person, to represent their core nature.

There is a tendency to equate "good" with an absolute moral standard, and for its opposite to be evil.  Therefore, a person with a good name is one who is not evil or who does not evidence devilish qualities.  We probably all aspire to have a "good" name in that sense, and certainly God’s name is "good" in that sense as well.

But there is another sense of "good" which appeared to me in my research over the Hebrew "good" (Strong #2896) used in this passage.  Listen to the definition – "good, pleasant, beautiful, excellent, lovely, delightful, joyful, fruitful, precious, , sound, cheerful, well being, good things, the best things, virtue, happiness, pleasantness."  In these senses, the correctness of "good" is moderated by the wonderfulness of "good."

"Good" as moral correctness is something to be accomplished; "good" as pleasantness is something to be felt, to be "leaned into," to be experienced.  The translation of David’s Psalm then goes from "God’s name is good," to "God’s name is absolute moral righteousness" to "God’s name is pleasant, beautiful, excellent, lovely …"

Built into this single phrase "God’s name is good" contains implications for both truth (moral correctness) and love (pleasant, excellent, lovely).  And both inform and reinforce the other.  The moral standards of goodness are required to create the conditions in which beauty and excellence thrive and survive.  The beauty and joyfulness of goodness are required to temper the sharp edge of the moral standards.  Both combine together into the single word "good."  And the word "good" is properly applied to the name of God, because He is the only person in whom the characteristics of goodness reach full measure.

David had hope in God’s name because God’s name is good.  We can too.


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