Bread –Genuine

August 22, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, August 22 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Judges 18:16-31; Acts 8:14-25; John 6:1-15; Psalms 119:145-176, 128, 129, 130

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How can we tell the “Real McCoy” versus the fake, the genuine versus the imposter? This is something we are always trying to do, establishing our own litmus tests for “correctness” so that we might easily distinguish the true from the false. Sometimes we establish these tests from our own experience, sometimes we borrow these tests from the experience and observations of others, and sometimes we appeal to an “absolute” standard, whether it be the Bible, the church’s creeds throughout the years, our doctrinal statements or confessions of faith, or perhaps even “science” or a set of man-made principles and laws. We feel like we have to do something, however, or we will become entrapped by incorrect thinking. Anyone though engaged in thought over this realizes quickly that, although broad principles may have more or less unanimous agreement, assessing the true from the false on the edges becomes very difficult. In response to this difficulty, we tend to fall into two camps, absolutists (what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong, resulting in easy conclusions about the genuine) and relativists (who abandon all hope of assessing the genuine, figuring all positions and thoughts are equal).

I raise this not because it is something I am comfortable talking about but because the issue is front and center in our Scripture readings today. In Judges, we have Micah who has built himself an idol of silver and developed an entire worship system around it, using a system of worship very similar to that specified by God in the Torah for His worship. This false worship became so attractive that in our readings a group from the tribe of Dan go and seize the silver idol, the priest and the “stuff” used in worship, take over a city, and set up their own society around the idol. This worship system may have lasted a fairly long time at that location. For these people, they lost track of the genuine and substituted for it something which they thought was genuine, but was not. How did that happen?

In Acts, we have Simon the magician who has declared his faith in Jesus and been baptized. However, when he observed that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of hands, “he offered them [Peter and John] money, saying ‘Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’” Acts 8:18. Peter perceived in this that he was not genuine in his belief, rebuked him, and said that his heart was not right, telling him to “Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours…” Acts 8:22. Simon responded with a request that Peter pray for him. Was this repentance? Was the faith real? The ESV Study Bible has this note: “Commentators differ over whether Simon had genuine saving faith” and then, later, “Whether Simon was truly repentant or not is unclear.” If there is confusion in the ranks on this, then by what ability are we to assess genuineness in others?

In John, we have Jesus feeding of the 5,000 by the Sea of Galilee. What the report tells us is that “A large crowd [the 5,000] was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick.” John 6:2. Was this genuine saving faith at the time, or was it merely curiosity brought about by remarkable events? Later in the report, it is said that the people witnessing the feeding believed that “This is indeed the Prophet…” John 6:14. There is nothing said about whether this belief was of a type to lead to transformed life, a further curiosity, or merely a simple “Wow” with no change whatsoever.

The truth is that this topic is enough for at least one book, but the question remains – how do I tell the genuine?

I think in these readings today there are three hints about how we do that. From Judges, we learn that one way to test genuineness is against God’s standard. God said “You shall not make for yourself a carved image…You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…” Exodus 20:4. Micah made a silver idol. Let’s see, is that a “carved image?” I think most of us would agree that it is. Micah’s god was not the “Real McCoy.” That is apparent for those who know God’s standards.

From Acts, we learn that another way to test genuineness is by insight from the Holy Spirit. With respect to Simon, it was Peter who said that “I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.” Acts 8:23. Peter’s sight could have come from training, but as he was a fisherman given spiritual abilities by the Holy Spirit, I would tend to think that his insight here also comes from the Holy Spirit and not by virtue of his training. This tells me that, in testing truth, we should be sensitive to our “gut instinct,” our “sixth sense,” our discernment given to us by the Holy Spirit. However, notice that even Peter did not directly challenge whether Simon had saving faith. He pointed out the objective signs of lack of saving faith, stated that “your [Simon’s] heart is not right before God,” but left to God the final judgment of Simon’s heart.

And then, finally, from John we learn that another way of testing genuineness is to let it work itself out. Jesus did not separate the believers from the curious; He fed them all equally. Who had genuine faith and who did not was left to be worked out.

While writing this, however, it dawned on me that there is a deeper lesson here. We are drawn to Micah’s story because we get to look in on him and critique him. We are drawn to Simon’s story because we get to look in on him and critique him. We are drawn to the 5,000 because we get to question the how, why, and who of that event.

But that is not where the battleground for genuineness is. It is with us. The person I need to be testing for genuineness is not you, it is me. We need to be testing ourselves. How are we like Micah, following the dictates of our hearts rather than the dictates of God? How are we like Simon, skimming along Christianity picking up its benefits without engaging its truths? How are we like the 5,000, along for the ride, curious about the miracles but not loving Jesus?

Am I a genuine Christian? If I really asked myself that question on a regular basis, I wonder if I would have any time to ask it of others?

Am I genuine? Am I the “Real McCoy?” When we really realize how much like Micah, Simon, and the 5,000 we are, I think we will begin to understand the true depth of God’s mercy and grace toward us. And then maybe, just maybe, we will turn from testing to thanksgiving, from critique to joy, from judgment to hope, from bitterness to love, and from death to life. Because in so doing we will discover the genuine – Jesus Christ. And that will be enough.

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© 2012 GBF

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