Bread – Progression

February 27, 2017


Psalm 54

“O God, save me by Your Name, … Behold, God is my helper; … I will give thanks to Your Name, O Lord, for it is good.”  Ps. 54: 1,4,6b

Something that sometimes gets lost in the translation of “God” or “Lord” are the various names of God in the Old Testament.  In this Psalm, we have a progression of those names from the word often used by God (and implying His triune nature) to the word used intimately by those who have become obedient to Him as Lord to the name of God Himself.

What is interesting about this progression is that occurs in the heat of oppression, where David needs to be saved from his dire circumstances.

 

The first name of “God” used is the word “Elohim,” the predominant name of God in the Old Testament.  When we refer to God in general, this is the term we might often use.  As we are first introduced into the church and a life with Christ, this is the name by which we may relate to God.  He is the God of the community; He is the God we talk about in Sunday School.  He is the impersonal God, the third party God, the God of the group, the reference point.  Before we knew Christ, “Elohim” might be the name which we would have in mind when we say “they worship God.”

So David starts out his Psalm with a plea to God-Elohim, sort of like saying “O God [which you all know] …”

By the time we get to verse 4, God has become more personalized.  The name for God used here is “Adonai,” often translated “Lord.”  So, David in verse 4 says “God is my helper.”  “Adonai, my Lord, is my helper.”  With the idea of Adonai, we have a God who is our personal Lord and Savior.  He is our master.  We have a direct relationship with Him, can speak with Him, and can pray with Him.  We know Him to the point that we can say “He … that God right beside me … is my helper in time of trouble.”

And, indeed, in our Christian walk we go from understanding God in the abstract (Elohim) to knowing Him personally (Adonai), and we go from obedience to the law to obedience from love and gratitude.  Same God, but two different views or understandings arising from where we are in our walk with Him.

And, if you think about it, Psalm 54 is a particular kind of prayer, arising from deep need, but doesn’t our prayer life follow this.  We begin our prayer somewhat stiffly, praying to an objective God who we know by study, observation, and instruction, and we proceed as we pray into His throne room, into His presence, where He becomes highly personal and our Lord.

But the real name of God, the one given to Moses by God Himself, is left to the end of the Psalm, where David says “I will give thanks to Your name, O Lord (YHWH), for it is good.”  This is the name barely repeatable because of its holiness, its power.  The translation is given to use by God – “I am.”

To me, this last step in the progression of understanding of God is perhaps the hardest for me to understanding, because to understand it is to realize that God is not only Creator, Savior, and Lord – but He is sovereign in all things.  He has no beginning and no end; He has no need of anything; He is was, is, and will be forever; He is unchangeable.  Everything else about God we can relate to – we understand creators (think of a car maker); we understand kings and lords (we have a boss at work); we may even understand saviors at some level (someone rescued me from starving by fixing dinner).  But we do not understand forever, unchangeable, immutable, all powerful, all sufficient, ever existing.  We the finite do not really understand the infinite.

And yet, as we progress in our Christian walk, we come to understand God as others do, then as personal Lord and Savior, and then Him as He is.

And that, too, is how David progresses in his prayer in this Psalm and how we progress in ours.  We acknowledge God in the abstract and then talk to Him one-on-one.  And then, as we pour out our hearts and needs, we receive that peace which passes understanding, because our problem was just taken on by “I AM.”  All analogies fail at that moment, all negotiations cease, all of our thoughts become useless.  And we rest in knowing that the great “YHWH” has just appeared.

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© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

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Bread – Terror

February 24, 2017


Psalm 53

There they [the wicked] are, in great terror, where there is no terror!”  Ps. 53:5

I probably read this passage three times before I realized that there was a “no” in front of terror.  The Psalmist is telling the people who work evil that they are in “great terror,” even though there isn’t any.

Is terror real or is it a figment of our imagination?

I think the answer to that is “yes” (to both).  There can be a very real danger to our safety and security which causes us to be afraid and terrified (which is the real part), and we are terrified because …. (this is the imagination part).

Why are we terrified of anything?  I think it is because we have no control in the moment or perhaps our very existence is threatened or because we are confronted with the ugliness of our ourselves.  But we are terrified because the “I” is at extreme risk.  The danger may very well be real and we may die from the encounter or be seriously hurt, but we are afraid only because we hate losing, we hate being hurt, we hate the thought of dying, we hate the thought of homelessness or misery or becoming penniless.  We are terrified because the “I” is at risk.

Yes, the evil ones, the doers of iniquity and wickedness – yes, these folks are terrified of God’s judgment on their lives, because they know that God’s judgment will destroy the “I.”  “I did I my way” will one day run into the wall of judgment, and the “I” will in fact be gone, dead to sin.

But God says in this simple line, but they should not be terrified because there is no terror.

Why is there no terror, according to God.  The answer is simple and profound.  There is no terror for those who believe in Christ because Christ took that terror, that wrath of God, upon Himself.  He invites those of us who abide with Him into a place of shelter.  Though we may be seriously injured, though we made be made poor, though we may in fact die a physical death, we have no terror because there is none to be had.  We live in Christ and Christ in us.  There is no “I” to destroy and therefore there is no need to be afraid.

“Though I walk in the shadow of death, I will fear no …”  How can we say this and mean it?  Because the same God which causes terror in the wicked because of who they are has forgiven us because of who He is.

To those who do not believe in Christ, there are many terrors.  For those who do believe in Christ, there are none.

Now, let’s live like it – in boldness, in freedom, in obedience, in the name and power of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

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© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Knowledge

February 22, 2017


Psalm 53

Have those who work evil no knowledge, who …do not call upon God?”  Ps. 53:4

The NASB translations says it this way, “Have the workers of wickedness no knowledge…?”  I like the “workers of wickedness” because it rhymes.  But “work evil” has the same meaning.

This one line is full of more meaning than we can imagine.

First, what is wickedness?  Well, it turns out that there are 12 Hebrew words which stand for various kinds and demonstrations of sin, sin being multi-faceted and everywhere.  The word used here for “wickedness” is one of the major Hebrew words for sin, often translated “iniquity.”  According to the lexical aid to the Old Testament contained within the  Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (NASB, Zhodiates, Ed., AMG Publishers 1990), the word means “vanity, breath, vainness, nothingness, falseness, falsehood, idol, idolatry, wickedness, sin, sorrow, distress, hardship, toil – there are two aspects to the primary meaning of the word: (a) emphasis upon trouble which moves onward to wickedness; (b) emptiness which results in idolatry…The word focuses on the planning and expression of deception, pointing more to the consequences of sin.”

To summarize this definition, it seems like the wickedness which is being talked about is the kind of action which occurs (a) from emptiness, (b) which causes a chasing after idols, (c) which works a deception, (d) which results in turmoil and sorrow, (e) which results in an outworking of evil in the world.  Isn’t it interesting that the word “wickedness” has as its foundation an emptiness which can only be filled with God, and yet the person has “no knowledge” because they do not call upon God in their distress.

So, now that we have looked at what “wickedness” is, what is the “knowledge” which they apparently do not have?

Well, it turns out that the kind of knowledge which is being referenced is “…the various types of knowledge which are gained through the senses.”  [Hebrew-Greek Study Bible].

Since our senses are sight, sound, touch, and smell, one might say that the knowledge being referenced is that knowledge which we can discover for ourselves, what we can observe.  One might call this scientific knowledge or demonstrable knowledge.  It is what we learn in books.  So, in a sense, the question is “Have the workers of wickedness no knowledge of science…?”  This sounds odd because, in today’s world, the knowledge of science is equated with the understanding that there is no God, no creation.  However, the existence of God is proclaimed by what is observable in science, if we have but eyes to see and ears to hear.

But the Hebrew word used as “knowledge” here can also refer to the knowledge which comes from relationship.  This same word is used for sexual encounters, rape, homosexuality, and relationship to God and idols.  This relationship, however, arises from knowledge which arises from the senses.  It arises from what we can observe.

Another way of asking this same question, as is asked in our reading of Psalm 53, is this – “Have those who work evil no knowledge of God’s creation, of His presence, of His reality?”  And the short answer is that they do have knowledge (from the senses, of the existence of God as seen through His revelation of Himself in creation), but it is useless to them because their eyes have not been opened by the sovereign act of God.

So, in a sense this is a trick question.  We who do evil have knowledge without knowing, we have discernment without wisdom, we have relationships without connection … why, because for whatever reason God has not revealed Himself to us.  Those who work evil see creation but they do not see the Creator because it is God who provides the link between the two.  Everything is apparent to those who do evil, but they do not understand what they see.

When we ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we became like God in our own understanding but we did not become God.  Our knowledge from the senses falls short; it is the supernatural knowledge provided by God in His sovereign time and way which provides us the link between our physical reality and our spiritual reality.

And so we pray, “Come Holy Spirit and open the eyes of those who cannot see so that they knowledge they have naturally will be enhanced with the knowledge they receive supernaturally so that they will have knowledge of You and will have the ability and desire to call upon You and know You.  Amen.”

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© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – They

February 20, 2017


Psalm 53

The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’  They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good.”  Ps. 53:1

Who is “they?”  There is an inclination to say that it is those people who are “fools,” but the reference may in fact be to everyone.  Later, in the same Psalm, God looks down on the “children of man” and says, again, “there is none who does good, not even one.”

 

But even if we limit the reference of “they” to “fools,” the real question then is “who are the fools?” and “Am I a fool too?”

A “fool” in biblical terms is a person who says in his heart, “There is no God.”  Of course we, as Christians, would look at this and say that “we know there is a God; therefore, we are not a fool.”  But not so fast.

We can acknowledge there is a God with our mind and even have accepted Him as Lord and Savior in our hearts and souls, and yet think and act on a daily basis as if there is no God.  Do I do that?  Do we do that?  Have I acknowledged God with my lips and by baptism and by attendance at worship, and yet act throughout the entire day like He doesn’t exist?

Of course I do, and so I will bet do you.   Let me ask some simple questions.

Do I (we) see sin as it really is, as something that we do minute by minute as we disobey the commands of Christ to love each other and love our neighbors as ourselves?

Do I (we) see sin as it really is, in all of its forms, mild and strong, as an absolute affront to a holy God?

Do I (we) blow off sin in our lives as something which is minor, or inconsequential, or, worse, forgiven and therefore acceptable or necessary?

Do I (we) encourage sin in others, ignoring the consequences of bringing others into ruin?

Do I (we) consider sin a mere weakness in the circumstances or imperfection which can be worked out by better education, better food, a better environment, better schools, or just the best of what the world has to offer?

Do I (we) pay more attention to what is in front of us or beneath us rather than above us?

Do I (we) believe that television is important or the news or our bank account or the car we drive or the job we have or the college degrees on our wall?

Do I (we) spend more time pursuing excellence or the treasure at the end of the rainbow or more knowledge than building relationships with our neighbors, with our family, and with God?

There are more questions, but I think I (we) get the drift.  We may not be total fools because we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, but we may be fools nonetheless because, although we know who our Savior is, we often think and act like God does not exist.

Every time we minimize God in our lives by ignoring Him and His commands, we are saying in our heart, in that moment, that God does not exist.

The “they” is me and the “they” is us.  Even though we know the truth and have exclaimed the truth, we do not live in the truth.  But, thanks be to God, while we are weak, He is strong.  While we are the “fool,” He is the fool-redeemer.  While we forget Him, He does not forget us.  When we forget who He is and what He has done, He calls us to remember and to restoration to Him.

It is sort of funny that the world would call us believers “fools” for our belief.  They are right, but not in the way they think.  For we are all fools, fallen short of the glory of God.  For we are all fools, demonstrating this daily as we walk in the ways of the world rather than in the ways of God.  But, as the redeemed, we are a special kind of fool, one who has been transformed in our minds enough to know that sin is sin, that sin results in death, that we are sinners saved by God’s mercy and purchased by blood on the cross by Christ, and that every day, as we walk in faith into the opportunities which God creates, we are growing and maturing toward that day when we will be made perfect.

And that makes all the difference.

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© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

Bread – Words

February 13, 2017


Psalm 52

Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?  … Your tongue plots destruction… You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right.  You love words that devour, O deceitful tongue.”  Ps. 52:1-4

I have had the honor from time to time of offering an invocation at a “secular” event.  Every time, I pray that the language we use during the event is language which will build up and not tear down, which will clarify and not confuse, and which will be positive and not negative.  I also ask that the language we use bring glory to God.

Why do I do this?  It is to remind me, primarily, that what I say and how I say it, the words I use, have great impact to either good or evil.

We have been given a tongue to use to communicate and a comprehensible language to communicate in.  With that tongue, we can speak truth or lies, encouragement or discouragement, positive or negative, hope or despair, patience or anger, forward leaning or backward reaching, love or hatred.  We can pick whether we raise up the people we are speaking with or whether we put them down, all in the choice of words we use.

The simplest example of this is how I have heard described optimistic or pessimistic people.  I have heard that optimistic people will say that the glass of water is “half full” whereas pessimistic people will say that it is “half empty.”  Both statements are true.   The first is positive, the second is negative.

In making this statement, we act like somehow the words we us are not our choice, that somehow the words we use arise purely from our psychology, from how “we are made.”

When we say we cannot help what we say or how we say it because that is merely a reflection of who we are, we abandon hope.  This is simply because we are born in sin and, if we remain in sin and if we can only use the words which reflect who we are, then there is no hope for “good speech.”

But as Christians we know that we are no longer who we were before Christ.  In Christ, we are a new creation, with hope for eternity arising from our steadfast God.

Then why do Christians use such poor language?  Why are we so often in the business of putting people down rather than raising them up?  Why are we so often criticizing rather than edifying?  Why do we so readily speak lies to advance our position, when the truth might hurt, but in the end heals and restores?

As we begin this week, let’s start a new experiment where we formulate in our mind what we are going to say before we say it, then test that proposed language against God’s standard of love and hope, then reformulate our language appropriately before we say it?  And then let’s say it.

As Christians, our glass is not only just half full, it is full to the brim and running over in grace and blessings.

Let’s talk like it!

_________

© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

Bread – Broken

February 10, 2017


Psalm 51

…let the bones You have broken rejoice….The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”  Ps. 51:8b,17

This Psalm has so much in it, so much exalted language and so many truths, it is almost impossible to write about.  I could have written about “Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me,” (Ps. 51:10) or “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.” (Ps. 51:15).  I could write about what God does to lift us up, to give us a clean heart, to open our lips, to exalt our praise of Him, to empower us to good works in loving our neighbor.  All this would be very uplifting and it would all be true and it would be a great way to end the week.

 

But instead I quote two separated passages where the Psalmist talks about broken bones, a broken heart, and a broken spirit.   Why?

 

In our journey as Christians, we may be brought up in the church and raised as Christians.  We may read Scripture and be able to recite it at will.  We may go to Sunday School and receive instruction and debate the fineries of theology and religion.  We may think deeply, act nobly, and speak gracefully.  We may do all these things, but it is not until we realize that we were dead on arrival, dead in our sins, dead in our trespasses, fundamentally broken in disobedience, that we truly understand the worth of the gift of salvation which God gave us on the cross.

We must be broken first before we can be healed.  We must know first that we are broken before we can comprehend, appreciate, and grab onto God’s mercy in taking us from our pit and setting us on firm foundation.

If we can walk and we break our leg, we can no longer walk.  Once the broken bone has healed, we can walk again.  And when we do, we end up in a place where we remember the broken bone, we remember the healing process, we appreciate the healer, and we are grateful for the simple thing – walking – which we previously took for granted.  And, in the process, we become more obedient to the rules which keep us from getting a broken leg to begin with (like, don’t jump from the roof of a house to the ground).

What I just said works if we know what health is (we previously walked).  But what if we are broken from the beginning; how do we know we are broken and in need of a healer?

Deep in our spirit is a longing for a better place, and we know that place exists.  The question is how do we get there?  The world answers that question by saying we can build ourselves up and out, we can make ourselves better people, and by our ingenuity and hard work we can achieve that better place.  This theory relies on the person who is broken to heal himself, partly on the idea that “I broke it, so I can fix it.”  Some religions answer this question by a variation on theme of the world, saying that you are broken because you fall short of God’s expectations, but you can climb the ladder of good works into that better place, the place of non-brokenness.  Both the world and these religions rely on man to fix himself, to repair his brokenness.

But the Psalmist says something different.  He says “let the bones You have broken rejoice.”  The Psalmist says that we are broken, but that our broken state was caused by God on purpose, on His purpose.

This may sound cruel at first, but it is actually very good.  Because of God broke the bone, the spirit, and the heart, He can heal it.  If we broke it, we can heal it; if God broke it, He can heal it.

And when we realize that we are broken and that we have no power to fix it, we turn to the only One who can.

There are many ways to say it – broken, lost, dead – but only one truth.  The One who has broken us is the One who heals us.  How?  By becoming broken Himself on the cross for us, paying the penalty for our disobedience we cannot pay ourselves.  That One is Jesus, the Christ.

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© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

Bread – Sin

February 6, 2017


Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”  Ps. 51:1-2

The context of this Psalm is that it is written by David after his adultery with Bathsheba, his murder of her husband, and his confrontation by Nathan the prophet.   His evil thoughts and acts revealed, David writes this Psalm, beginning with his plea to God for mercy.

The sins of adultery and murder in the Old Testament were what we might call today “mortal” sins.  The judgment for these sins was death.  Just so that we didn’t miss it, David doubled down on death by committing both sins together.  But for God’s mercy, David was doomed even though he was a king.  But for God’s mercy, David’s penalty imposed by Mosaic law for his actions was death.

 

What is sin?  In these two verses, we have three words for it – transgressions, iniquity, and sin.  We often talk about “sin” as missing the mark, as an arrow misses the bullseye.  And, indeed, sin can be described as our failure to obey God’s laws and regulations for good, righteous living.    We know we cannot meet God’s standards because they are so high and we are so weak, but using this concept of “sin” alone we are left with the idea that we are basically good people who, with a little bit of training and grace, can hit the bullseye.  Much of modern thinking is built upon this narrow and weak view of sin.

But this meaning, that of “missing the mark,” is not the meaning of either “transgressions” or “iniquity.”  When we transgress against someone, we cross the line and become enemies of that person.  The idea is that we transgress when we rebel against the law.  It is not enough that we “miss the mark” by trying, but in our transgressions we don’t even try.  God’s law apply to me?  You’ve got to be kidding!  That is rebellion; that is transgression.  In “sinning” we break the law essentially because of inability or by accident; in transgressing, we break the law on purpose because we are enemies of God.  In transgressing, we exalt ourselves to either ruling over God (we judge Him) or considering ourselves equal to God (we negotiate with Him).

In the word “iniquity,” we look at sin as a state of natural man, as a perversion of God’s plan.  Some might call “iniquity” as our original sin, born of disobedience in Adam and Eve.

So, “sin” in the complete way of thinking is (a) our state (born in iniquity), (b) our position vis a vis God (His enemy), and (c)  our actions or inactions when measured against perfection.

David sees clearly after his confrontation with Nathan that what he has done arises from iniquity, marks his position as an enemy of God, and falls seriously short of God’s moral law.

So David approaches God out of the box, in verse 1, relying solely on God’s mercy.  He is not good enough to merit God’s forgiveness.  He has not done enough good things to merit God’s forgiveness.  He cannot tell God what to do and he cannot negotiate with God as His equal.  He has one choice and one choice only, and that is to fall on his knees in front of God, confessing his sin, his transgressions, and his iniquity,  and plead for mercy.

From great degradation can come great deliverance.  From great depravity can come great transformation.  From great sorrow can come great healing.

And from a great God will come great mercy because of His “steadfast love.”

And for that, we confess our sin and are grateful.

_________

© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

 

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