Bread – Helicopters

November 29, 2013


Readings for Friday, November 29, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 24:14-23; 1 Pet.3:13-4:6; Matt. 20:17-28; Psalms 140,141,142,143

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When I first heard the term “helicopter parents” some time ago, I didn’t know what was being talked about. In the last week there was an article in the newspaper about the problems colleges were having because parents were getting themselves directly involved with the professors. There was a great visual of a parent in a helicopter hovering over their child (the college student) in class. Sometimes visuals really bring it home.

Usually when people think of helicopter parents, they think of hovering. But, when you think about it, helicopters do more than hover. First, they make a lot of noise which generally calls attention to themselves. Who hasn’t looked up to the sky when a helicopter passes, wondering what it is doing there, where it has come from, and where it is going? A second thing that helicopters is kick up a lot of wind and dirt, which cause the people on the ground to turn away and cover their eyes. Helicopters make grand entries. The third thing that helicopters do is to scare the wits out the people who are in them. Some of the most dramatic real time video footage I have ever seen is the I-Max trip over a city and throughout the wild hills and valleys in a helicopter.

So the helicopter parent not only is scared out of their wits, but makes a lot of noise and a grand entry which drives people to hide their faces while they land. Not a good way to begin a conversation.

I wonder if, as Christians, we behave the same way with people who are not Christian. Do we act scared to death that they will die and go to hell? Do we clatter about in our noise-making machines (sometimes called proselytizing or witnessing) calling attention to ourselves? Do we create such a wind and a fury that we cause the people we are landing on top of to hide their faces against the onslaught?

In today’s Scripture reading, we have a great example of a helicopter parent. “Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Him with her sons…She said to Him, ‘Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left , in Your kingdom.’ … and when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus … said…’whoever would be great among you must be your servant…” Matt. 20:20-26

This is almost too funny to think about. You can imagine the conversation at home: “Well, sons, I think you must be the best disciples; why wouldn’t Jesus want you to be His two chief disciples? Well, if you won’t ask, I will.” So she gets in her helicopter, flies over to Jesus, and makes her “request.” Jesus, of course, knows when she is coming, why she is coming, what she is going to say, what the sons are going to say, and what He is going to say. He just lets it play out, probably so we can read about it later and He can make His point – seek not the top (which will only lead you to the bottom) but the bottom (which will lead you to the top).

But notice how Jesus handles this. He does not berate the mother or even her children. He does not tell her to get back into her helicopter and leave. He is not rude to the children. He is loving and He is plain and He is simple and He lovingly, plainly, and simply says “No.” And then He protects the mother and the sons when the other disciples complain about them – “Don’t worry about them because you are only upset because you wanted to be first — instead, deliberately be second and let those who want so badly to be first strive for first and fail.

See, when we deliberately are first a servant, we may accept first place but we don’t care about first place. And when we don’t care about first place, there is no need for helicopters, self-promotion, infighting, bruised egos, or anything else which goes with always trying to be first. When we don’t have to be first (but are ready, in the Holy Spirit, to be first if that is where God leads or where we find ourselves), then we are free.

In our reading from Peter today, he says that we should “…honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” 1 Pet. 3:15 This means that, when challenged in our faith, we don’t have to swoop into battle in our helicopter, but merely answer the question, Why?

Why do you have this hope? Is it because you want to be first or you are glad to be last? Or is it because that your hope is not grounded in your performance but God’s grace, His mercy, His promises, and His deliverance?

When you realize that our hope is in God’s control and not ours, our need for control disappears and our need for position, power, and wealth goes with it. And when our need for position, power, wealth and control fade into the background, we can let the helicopter rust.

And won’t that be really Independence Day, Christmas, and Thanksgiving all rolled up into one!

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© 2013 GBF

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Bread – What!

November 25, 2013


Readings for Monday, November 25, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Joel 3:1-2,9-17; 1 Pet.1:1-12; Matt. 19:1-12; Psalm 106

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When confronted with a major event which is shocking, there are many words which people use today to express their surprise. They may use the Lord’s name (in vain), they may use a curse word (a “bad” word, generally four letters), or some phrase unique to them, like “Holy Toledo.” One old, old expression was to utter when surprised the word “Jehoshaphat!” (or some other variation). The modern translation of “Jehoshaphat” could be “Say What?”

All this is to lead up to our reading from Joel today, where God says: “For behold, in those days and at that time, …I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there…” Joel 3:2

This passage is similar to our recent readings in Revelation, pertaining to the last days and the judgment of God passed upon us. When I read this, the thought jumped in my head that we will, when brought to the Valley of Jehoshaphat for judgment, we will in fact be shocked, we will be surprised, we will be overwhelmed, and we will say something at that time like “Jehoshaphat!” or “Say What?” or “Oh ….” or some other epithet. I had to smile at this thought, but the truth is that this event is not funny and will not be funny and even if we use the Lord’s name as our phrase of choice for our shock, it will a use which does not keep us from the pit of hell. And as we descend we will be showing our surprise that it could ever happen to us, our shock at the circumstance we find ourselves in then.

So, to those who will say “Jehoshaphat!” or the modern equivalent on that day of judgment, your expression will be accurate but late and useless. Why we will be surprised, we don’t know because God has clearly told us over and over and over again what lays ahead. But it will.

Equally shocking is the solution, summarized in our reading today from 1 Peter: “According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” 1 Pet. 1:3-4

See, when we are called to that time of judgment, to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, to the place of surprise, for those in Christ there will be no surprise. Oh, we may use the same name, “Jesus Christ,” but it will not be said by way of shock and surprise but by way of faith, claim and salvation

The “What!” is either death caused by sin followed by judgment and damnation in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, or death to sin brought into our life by faith in Jesus Christ and, in the same Valley, saved by grace into eternal life.

That is the “What” the Bible tells us. So our question should not be “what” but “which?” Which version of the Valley do you prefer, the one where you are judged, clothed by your filthy rags of sin into hell or the other where you are clothed by Jesus Christ and saved into heaven?

The sad thing is that so many people will be surprised when it happens. Will you?

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Healing

November 22, 2013


Readings for Friday, November 22, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Rev. 22:6-13; Matt. 18:10-20; Psalms 102,107:1-32

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The other day I was driving and on the radio was some ad for some over-the-counter formulation based upon some kind of leaves from some kind of a tree in, I think, the Amazon (or maybe it was China). The ad spoke of the leaves’ remarkable properties to heal, restore, and protect some part of my digestive, circulatory, muscular, or nervous system. Just like penicillin came from mold, I was reminded that many of our great advances in medicine begin with some person realizing that a particular leaf, berry, seed, fruit, or natural product had healing properties.

Our reading today from Revelation begins with “And he said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true….” Rev. 22:6. What words? So I backed up to the beginning of Chapter 22 where I read “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” Rev. 22:1-2

So part of what is true is that the throne of God and Jesus, the Lamb, gush forth the water of life, the Holy Spirit. This water nourishes the tree of life which in turn produces leaves which contain the medicine by which the nations are healed.

I believe that this is literally true, that there is a tree of life watered by the water of life which proceeds from the throne of God. But it also struck me that the “tree” is on both sides of the river. There is only one way that this can be physically, in my limited understanding, and that is by the tree bridging the river (part of the tree is on each side). However, there is nothing in the passage to indicate that the water of life runs under or through the tree. It could, but there may also be another way of thinking about this.

See, the tree of life could be me. And it could be you. Although we may be on opposite banks, the water of life can refresh us equally.

If you think about being a tree of life for a moment, you realize that you may be the only tree of life someone ever sees, touches, or talks to. You may be the person whom they see producing fruit on a regular basis, month by month, day by day. They may see that your embodiment, your persona, your character, your actions, your behavior, your leaves are for their healing and the healing of the nation.

Are we producing good fruit in and out of season, every day of every month of every year? Are we covered with attributes, characters, personalities, and features which are for the nations and which can be used by God for that purpose? Are we a tree of life to our family, our friends, our co-workers, our authorities?

We can be, if we drink constantly from the waters of life which proceed from the Father and the Son.

There is a great bald cypress tree in my yard. The nature of these trees is that they grow large and strong when they can tap into water, and they aggressively seek out that water. I think my cypress tree has tapped into my city water supply.

If our leaves look withered and our bark is peeling and our growth is stunted, maybe it is because we have not sought out the only water which truly feeds us.

Search today for that living water so that you might be a tree of life to others. It’s there. It’s running down the middle of our lives if we have but eyes to see and ears to hear.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Center

November 20, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, November 20, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Rev. 21:9-21; Matt. 17:22-27; Psalms 101,119:121-144

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On yesterday’s news, there was a picture of a tropical storm, a massive thing in a white pinwheel organized around the center. For some reason this morning, amongst the turmoil of ordinary life, I remembered this quote from the poet Yeats: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre the falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…”

If the center does not hold together, the storm falls apart. If the center does not hold together, the world falls apart. As we spin farther and farther away from the center, the center’s grip on us is lessened and, after a while, we cannot hear or feel it and we spin off into the blackness of space, of nothing.

Interestingly enough, this quote from Yeats is from his poem called “The Second Coming” and that is what our reading from Revelation is about today.

In Revelation today, we have the image of Christ’s Bride, the saints comprising the church, coming down into the form of New Jerusalem. The image, regardless of whether it is taken literally or symbolically, is one of absolute glory, literally “heaven on earth.” There is no temple in this New Jerusalem because there is no need. Christ (God) resides corner to corner and His glory abounds beyond human imagination or understanding.

What we see in the coming of the New Jerusalem is the consummation of a process begun by God in creation. The bookends of Scripture are Genesis (creation) and Revelation (re-creation). In the middle, in the center, is Jesus Christ and the cross.

History pivots around this center, this Jesus. Good world order pivots around this center, this Jesus.

The question is, do I? Do you? Is Jesus Christ and His work for us on the cross the center of our lives, or have we turned and turned in widening arcs away from Him so that we no longer hear His voice clearly?

Do we feel like the world is spinning apart? Do we feel like our lives are spinning out of control? Maybe it is because the “centre does not hold.”

But we know that this is wrong, because God is God and He is unchangeable. Jesus Christ, the center of life, history, love, past, present, and future, does not fail to hold. What then fails? It is the falcon who flies off and cannot hear the falconer, his master, calling. And it is us who move away from the center, finding our own place in life, making our own idols, building worldly success on our works. The center appears not to hold because we are flown far from it, but it is there, even when we can no longer feel it, pulling us toward itself, reminding us that triumphant life exists closer to Him rather than farther from Him.

Do you want to feel the strength of the center, the pull of the center, the power of the center? Do you want to feel the warmth of the sun? Turn your face toward it. Instead of looking away, look toward.

And be grateful that, just like the falcon cannot escape the bounds of gravity, no matter how far away it flies, Jesus still holds us in His grasp. The center holds. God’s plan is and will be accomplished. And Yeats is wrong.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Tired

November 15, 2013


Readings for Friday, November 15, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Rev. 19:11-16; Matt. 16:13-20; Psalms 88,91,92

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This morning, after reading our Scriptures of the day, I stopped and thought about the readings, and nothing came to mind for today’s Bread. Knowing that I could not force it, I leaned back in my chair and prayed that God would reveal something to me. And nothing happened. So, then I went back to prayer and, after a few minutes, God sent me something – a yawn. And then I just felt tired.

We are so tired. We are tired of the squabbles. We are tired of trying to understand. We are tired of trying to get something accomplished. We are tired of our bosses. We are tired of our jobs. We are tired of our lives. We are tired of being called names. We are tired of not being called names and instead being ignored. We are tired of the ways of the world. We are tired of the ways of the church. We are tired of others and we are tired of ourselves. We are tired of earning a living. We are tired of saving for a rainy day. We are tired of standing, sitting, and laying down. We are tired.

Depressed yet?

And then I started chuckling to myself, because God had in fact sent me a message. It was a message that I am not able to get myself out of the ditch that I am in.

And our readings today are to that point. In Matthew, Jesus asks His disciples who He is, what people are saying about Him. After the usual list of possible reincarnations of great people of the Old Testament, Peter says “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matt. 16:16. Jesus responds by telling Peter that he is blessed, that God revealed this to him and Peter did not come to this belief through his own understanding, and that Jesus will build His church on “this rock.” Matt. 16:18 The blessing which Jesus mentions is not the blessing which Jesus gives, but the blessing which Peter already has because he has been graciously, sovereignly chosen by the Father to receive the personal revelation that Jesus is the Christ. Peter may be tired, but he is blessed and by his confession of Jesus he is saved. The person who could not lift himself out of the daily rut has been lifted by God into eternal life with Him.

Then we have Revelation. Jesus is in heaven, ready to tread the winepress of the fury of wrath of God the Almighty. He rides a white horse, the horse of victory. He wears a superior crown of diadems; He is King. He wears a robe dipped in blood because it is by His sacrifice on the cross that we are saved. He has a name written which is both known (“the Word of God” and “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”) and unknown (“a name written that no one knows but Himself), because God is both known to us through His Word and Jesus, and yet unknowable in His entirety. He is all-powerful and He is coming. And He is doing all this without our having to do anything.

See, even if we are tired, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is and are not. When we could not save ourselves, He saves us. When we cannot fend for ourselves, He protects us. When we are too tired to act, He empowers us with His Holy Spirit to act. When we are weak, He is strong. While we lack power, He is power.

And in Revelation, Jesus is accompanied by “the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure.” Who do you think those people are?

They are the saints. Tired on earth but victorious in life.

Are you tired? Jesus could have said: “Be Peter, come to me and acknowledge Who I Am, and then join me in the day of victory.” Those are my words – Here are His: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Legacies

November 13, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, November 13, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Neh. 7:3b-8:3-18; Rev. 18:21-24; Matt. 15:29-39; Psalms 81,82,119:97-120

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Today’s readings are sort of strange and disconnected. In Nehemiah, we have the reading of the law and the reinstitution of the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles). In Revelation, we have a commentary on the death of a society driven by money rather than by God. In Matthew we have Jesus feeding the four thousand, after having shown the crowd that He is the One who causes the mute to speak, the crippled to come to health, the lame to walk, and the blind to see. In and of themselves, each reading is not strange, but it is strange that they appear so disconnected, because usually there is a common thread.

But prior to the reading of the law in Nehemiah, there are a number of verses dedicated to a census of those who are participating in the Lord’s miracle. For example, “..the sons of Parosh, 2,172…” (Neh. 7:8).

I was impressed with the number of “sons” allocated to Parosh and realized that I was looking at his legacy. Out of his obedience to the Lord, his dedication to his work, his devotion (whatever it was) to maintaining God’s law, he now had 2,172 people (or more) who could be counted among those whom the Lord restored to Jerusalem, to the law, and to the seasons of celebration (one of which is the Feast of Booths).

And it made me think about my legacy. When I reach heaven, will I be able to look out at legacy of 2,172 who are in the New Jerusalem because of me? Will I?

I was at a meeting on Tuesday discussing major philanthropy. It is gifts of many millions of dollars that put names on buildings or scholarships or whatever. Many people consider that their legacy. Some consider their legacy to be children. Some consider their legacy to be their work, their writing, their craftsmanship, their family. But isn’t our real legacy as Christians the number of people who are counted, just as Parosh’s were, as part of the gathering of God’s people?

So, what will your legacy be? “…the sons of X, 2…” or “…the sons of X, 2,000…”?

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Remember

November 11, 2013


Readings for Monday, November 11, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Neh. 9:1-25; Rev. 18:1-8; Matt. 15:1-20; Psalms 77,79,80

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Our reading from Nehemiah today is part of a speech given by the priests to the people. In it, the priest recalls (remembers) the history of God’s involvement with them. It is an amazing speech because it recalls not only who God’s people are but who He is.

We are sometimes so forward looking and present-attended that we fail to remember who we are in God’s eyes, what He has done for us, and who He is.

As you read this excerpt, ask yourself what rivers God has helped you cross, what wilderness He has led you in and out of, what food He has provided to you, what living water He has given you, what protection He has afforded you, what blessings He has given you, what miracles He has performed in your presence, what good rules for living He has set forth for our benefit, and what obedience and worship you have returned:

You are the Lord, You alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them, and You preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships You. You are the Lord, the God who chose Abram … You found his heart faithful before You…And You have kept Your promise, for You are righteous. And you saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt … and performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh … And You divided the sea before them…You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments…You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock…But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey Your commandments. They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that You performed among them…But You are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf … and committed great blasphemies, You in Your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness…You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold You manna from their mouth…Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.” Neh. 9:6-21

God has brought us out of slavery and not abandoned us in the wilderness of our own making. He has given us His good rules for living. He has given us His “good Spirit” to counsel us. And He has given us Himself on the cross as a permanent sacrifice for our disobedience, our sin. He preserves us and He preserves the world we live in.

Remember these things.

Thanks be to God!

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Caught

November 8, 2013


Readings for Friday, November 8, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ezra 7:27-28, 8:21-36; Rev. 15:1-8; Matt. 14:13-21; Psalms 69,73

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In our reading from Ezra today, he is ready to take his journey from the king to Jerusalem. He is carrying a bunch of gold and silver. There are enemies of the Jews on the way and there are potential villains, bandits who would ambush him and his party for the gold and silver they carry, if nothing else.

And, faced with this reality, Ezra is caught. Should he line up some protection, should he ask the king for soldiers to protect him and his party? I am sure that the king would have granted his request, but there is a problem. Let us dive into Scripture to see what the problem was:

For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, ‘The hand of our God is for good on all who seek Him, and the power of His wrath is against all who forsake Him.’” Ezra 8:22

Whoops! Ezra has told the king that God was all-powerful and now Ezra has to go into bandit territory with his gold and silver. He has a choice, reveal his hypocrisy by asking for soldiers to “help” God to protect or just trust God with his protection. Ezra chooses to avoid the double-talk by calling a fast to pray: “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods.” Ezra 8:21.

When I consider why my Christian walk is as weak as it is, why I compartmentalize Sunday from the rest of the week, why I read Scripture with earnest, burn it into my heart and mind, and then blithely ignore it in daily affairs, I wonder if it is because I am trying to avoid being caught in the dilemma of being a Christian – do I trust God or others (including myself)? Do I trust Him for my daily bread, really? Do I trust Him for protection, really? Do I trust Him for wisdom, really? Do I trust Him for salvation, really?

There, I (and we) are caught with the bright light shining upon our hypocrisy, upon our saying one thing and then acting like we didn’t say it, upon our disbelief in our own stated beliefs.

Perhaps one day there will be identity between what I believe and what I do. Perhaps one day I will so learn to trust God that I will do what Ezra did, radically rely upon Him and Him alone for my preservation and safety. In the meantime, I will fail and, if I am honest, I will be caught in the hypocrisy because that is what I am, a sinner, a hypocrite, an imperfect follower of Christ.

And what can I say about this? Thanks be to God that He does not need or even want my perfection in order to do His mighty work to save me from me!

We are caught, whether we admit it or not. We fall short, whether we admit it or not. We sin, whether we admit it or not. But, in the Holy Spirit, we can aspire to turn the moment from reliance upon me to reliance upon Him, we can line up in this moment our actions with our beliefs. We can pray that we, in the power of the Holy Spirit, take this moment of self-reliance and turn it into a moment of Jesus-dependence.

See, we are surely caught, but not in the condemnation of sin but in the grip of Him Who died for us and Who raises us, protects us, loves us, sustains us, and delivers us.

Ezra realized that He was caught in the horns of a dilemma, but also caught in the hand of God Who would not let go.

Who have you been caught by today? Satan who would whisper to you that there is nothing to be caught for? Our own sinfulness, where we are caught up in self-analysis over our own shortcomings? Or our God, where we are caught up into new life in Him?

You are caught. But by whom and for what?

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Interpretation

November 6, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, November 6, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Neh. 13:4-22; Rev. 12:1-12; Matt. 13:53-58; Psalms 72,119:73-96

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There is a real danger we all fall into regarding our reading of Scripture, and that is to read it in English applying common modern understandings of the English. This can get us into real trouble unless we are careful to stop and think about something which is seemingly out of place. I almost fell into that trap today regarding our reading from Revelation: “She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to His throne…” Rev. 12:5. Since this sentence arises in the description of Satan’s fall from heaven and I am mindful of the serpent in Genesis, it struck me that the “male child” was most likely Jesus. I then thought about the “iron rod” and wondered what that was.

Our idea of an “iron rod” suggests an “iron ruler,” someone who rules with an “iron fist.” Using this common modern understanding of “rule…with a rod of iron,” it would appear therefore that Jesus is going to rule the earth as a dictator, a strong man. Yet this seemed wrong to me, so I looked up “rod of iron” or “iron rod” and came across Revelation 2:27, which says in part “Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I Myself have received authority from My Father.” Rev. 2:25-27 Here the iron rod is in the hands of the persevering saints appointed to rule, but the concept appears to be the same. Everyone will be ruling with the “iron rod,” which does not sound very pleasant to me.

But I still felt that something was wrong with my understanding, because although I know that Jesus will rule over all and that the persevering saints will rule as appointed over the nations, my impression from the rest of the Bible is that the rule will not be cruel, but protective. So I felt I should look further.

And I’m glad I did. It turns out that the word “rule” is a derivative of “shepherd” and it means in Greek “to shepherd,” involving all of the actions of the shepherd to guide, guard, lead to pasture, and gather.

When we substitute the word “shepherd” for “rule,” we get the idea of a shepherd with a shepherd’s crook (rod) made of iron.

And here we run into another interpretation problem, not with Scripture but with our images. I have never seen a shepherd’s crook made of iron; they are always made of wood. And what is one characteristic of wood which is different from iron? Wood breaks; iron does not.

Many, many people doubt Jesus’ ability to guide them to clear waters and good pasture, so they “help” Jesus with their own effort. Many, many people doubt their salvation (they lack assurance of salvation); therefore, they help with good works.

I wonder if some of this doubt doesn’t arise from our image of Jesus as a shepherd with a rod which can break (one made out of wood). I wonder as we think about it, if the soft, warm and fuzzy image we get of Jesus as shepherd, an image to which we are attracted, doesn’t lead us into wondering if we don’t need to help Him because, after all, His staff might break.

And now we can see clearly what Jesus’ revelation to us through John in Revelation is all about. Jesus is the good shepherd who will guide, guard, lead, and gather with an unbreakable staff, an iron rod. Not intended to beat us over the head or to force us into submission to His will, but to ensure that, in the evil day, His victory is complete.

I would have missed all this if I had left Scripture to my interpretation. And I would have left with the image of Jesus as good dictator rather than Jesus as good shepherd. And no telling what foolishness would follow from that.

Does our Christian understanding seem foolish to us sometimes? Maybe if it does it is the Holy Spirit whispering in our ear “check it out!” The results will amaze you.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Discernment

November 4, 2013


Readings for Monday, November 4, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Neh. 6:1-19; Rev. 10:1-11; Matt. 13:36-43; Psalms 56,57,58,64,65

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Discernment is an important ability, because with it we can have insight into people’s motivations, can see trends in random facts, and can sense when there is safety and danger. Most importantly, with this gift from God we can receive understanding about what we should do, separate evil from good, and turn away what is bad for us and receive instead what is good for us.

In our Old Testament reading today, we see Nehemiah’s discernment in the following passage: “Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah…he said ‘Let us meet together in the house of God, in the temple. Let us close the door of the temple, for they are coming to kill you…’ … But I said, ‘…I will not go in.’ And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because [my enemies] had hired him.” Neh. 6:10-12

How we get discernment?

Well, first it is a gift of God. That being said, we cannot say we do not have discernment because that is not our gift. The reason I say this is the passage from Hebrews: “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Heb. 5:14. Discernment can be strengthened through training. How?

How do we train? I think the secret to this question is locked up in the last clause in the sentence from Hebrews, “to distinguish good from evil.” The purpose of discernment is “to distinguish good from evil.” And we train in discernment by learning how to and practicing how to distinguish good from evil.

To separate two things, here good and evil, we must know what both things look like. This can be tricky with evil, because evil masquerades as good quite often. And it can be particularly difficult for us if we are relying on ourselves, because our hearts are naturally sinful and, therefore, we are inclined to discern evil as good, or at least good-ish.

So how do we know what the good looks like? We know it because God has given us His revelation, His Scripture, to establish the measuring line, the plumb line, against which we can judge, against which we can test and discern.

So discernment is a gift, but it is a gift which all have received because we have been given Scripture. And by reading, learning, and digesting Scripture, by integrating it into our hearts and minds, we have established the baseline of what is good, against which we can test other things. This is the first half of the practice of discernment, learning what the first half looks like. But it is also the second half of the practice of discernment, because if we know what the good is, then we can see clearly what is not good. By knowing one, we know the other. By practice with God’s written revelation, we are practicing actual discernment in real life. Of course, it is often the Holy Spirit which brings our study of Scripture to mind when needed in a particular moment of discernment, so that we are empowered at that point in time to accurately discern.

Why could Nehemiah discern Shemaiah’s true motivations? Because Nehemiah was grounded in Scripture and he had his marching orders from God. His marching orders were to build the walls and gates of Jerusalem, something that the surrounding temporal powers did not want. He knew the work which God wanted him to do and he judged what he was being told against the standard of what action would either help that work or hurt that work.

So, another way of helping us practice discernment is to know what work we are being asked to do by God. And we already know a lot of that – we know that we are to proclaim the gospel, love our neighbors, worship the Lord, obey the Lord, do all things so that God receives the glory and not ourselves.

Do we know when we are being dragged away from loving our neighbors? Do we know when we are being tricked into disobedience to what God has clearly commanded? Do we know when the quality of our worship is diminished because of some perceived flaw in the service or the pastor? Do we know when we are making sure that the glory falls on us rather than God?

Of course we do. And in so doing we are exercising discernment.

We are more able to tell right from wrong than we often give ourselves credit for. The problem then is not our ability to discern but our willingness to discern.

And that is the rub, isn’t it? Discerning is hard work, not because of what it is but because of what it demands. Discerning makes demands upon us because we must then act on what we see, we must then act on what we know. To discern is to see clearly. To see clearly imposes upon us choices which we must deliberately make. By making those choices, we confront our true selves, our true motivations, our true sins. Very dangerous stuff to our ego, our self-image, our pride.

But discernment is also a blessing, because in discerning good from evil, right from wrong, the best from the better, and in then seeing clearly our inability to choose well, we then also can see clearly what Jesus has done for us and what He is doing for us. We can discern Him in our lives and the lives of others.

And we can see clearly that, but for Him, we would have no choice because we would be dead in our sins, unable to discern, unable to respond, unable to act, unable to live forever.

And so, in a very real sense, our power of discernment derives from our being woken up by God and raised by Him to eternal life. In many respects, it may be the first gift, the discernment that I am a sinner in need of a Savior, the discernment that Jesus Christ is that Savior, the discernment that I need to repent of my sins and turn to the One who died that those sins, all of them, might be eternally forgiven and that I might have eternal life.

If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you have discernment. Now, how strong is it? Well, ask yourself the question of how well you have been exercising it. Probably not much.

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© 2013 GBF

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