Bread – Courts

September 29, 2017


Psalm 84

How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts!  My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord.”  Ps. 84:1-2

As a lawyer, when I think of the word “courts,” places of decision and judgment come to mind.  Some of these courts are plainly furnished and others elegantly, designed to impress with the power of the authority, but in all of them disputes are settled, decisions made, judgments handed down, and sometimes, punishments delivered.

What soul faints for these kinds of courts?

There is another kind of court which I generally associate with houses (palaces), where you have the outer courts, generally made up of open spaces, soaring ceilings, and lots of flowers and shrubbery, and the inner courts.  Again, sort of like courts of law, inner courts can convey the sense of power, authority, and place of decision – but they can also convey hospitality, welcoming, restful spirit.

And then there is another kind of court, the court of the king.  In this court we may have a throne where the king sits and lots of people in attendance, some just curious bystanders and others either supplicants (asking for things) or some form of bureaucrat (administering things).

So, what do the “courts of the Lord” look like?  We certainly have our vision of the heavenly throne room, with all the goings on.  But do we have a vision as well of the seat of judgment or, on a kinder note, the place of welcome, of hospitality?

But we also have concrete examples and those are our places of sanctuary called churches and, as an Anglican, the place at rail where communion is served.

These are places where we are, yes, judged against God’s measuring stick and found wanting, where we are welcomed as wanderers in the wilderness and fed the good food of love, and where we are reminded that, as Christ’s own, we are in fact forgiven and have hope and life, both today and forever.

But do we “faint for the courts of the Lord?”  Are we so driven by our need for truth, love, and the food of wisdom and life that we insist on going into the courts of the Lord on a regular basis?

The intent of this entire Psalm is to tell us that the best place to be is in the courts of the Lord, “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.”  Ps. 84:10.  But how often do we find ourselves in bed, on the golf course, at work, or eating breakfast reading the paper than finding ourselves in church.

If church (the courts of the Lord) is the best place to be, then why are we anywhere else?

Of course we have things to do and places to be.   But all the time?

If we are tired or lonely or just plain aggravated, maybe we should remember that the best place to be is somewhere else, the best place to be is the sanctuary, the courts of the Lord.  And go there.

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

 

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Bread – Defense

September 19, 2017


Psalm 83

O God, do not keep silence; do not hold Your peace or be still, O God!  For behold, Your enemies make an uproar; those who hate You have raised their heads….As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so may You pursue them …”  Ps. 83: 1-2, 14-15

The English Standard Version’s Study Bible’s (copy. 2008, Crossway Bibles) notes on this Psalm say that it is “a community lament, geared to a situation in which God’s people are threatened by Gentile enemies who aim to destroy them….Christians would use this this psalm … in cases where their persecutors would destroy them and all traces of their faith.”

In many parts of the world, sounds like now.

But then again, when people want to be their own god and follow the ways of the world, they hate God and all those who claim Him, so the circumstances described (“where persecutors would destroy them and all traces of their faith”) actually describes recorded history.

Sometimes this attempted destruction takes the form of weapons, guns, knives and poisons.  Sometimes the attempted destruction is political, driving Christians from positions of power and influence.  Sometimes the attempted destruction is corrosion, bringing into play anti-Christs who preach messages which tickle the ears and destroy the soul.  Sometimes the attempted destruction is intellectual, to place Christianity into the dustbin of history and marginalize faith as being unreasonable, illogical, or just plain stupid.  Sometimes the attempted destruction is merely to try to shut us up by exclusion from debate or, worse, by shouting us down by calling us names.

What defense do we make in this time of destruction?  Maybe the better question is “What effective defense do we make in this time of destruction?”

One idea might be to fortify ourselves with wisdom and knowledge so that we can always make “a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” 1 Pet. 3:15.  However, we know that no-one whose eyes and ears are closed will ever be argued into the kingdom of God.  The fact that we are to make defense to someone who asks shows that God has already intervened to cause that person to ask, and we are merely at that moment to continue a good work already begun by God.

Another idea might be to attack (the best defense being a good offense) by preaching the Word in all places, but although that world might see that as an attack, all we are really doing is what we are told to do – go and make disciples of all nations.  Matt. 28:19.  We are not attacking anyone when we follow our commission; but we certainly are proclaiming.  But even then, although we might obey by planting the seed, God is the one in charge of raising the seed up into good fruit.

Finally, we might defend ourselves by accessing positions of power and being in charge of everything.  But, as history has shown us, every time we do that we fall subject to the corrosion of the world and its corruption.

So, then, how do we defend ourselves?  The Psalmist has the answer.  We let God do it.  We ask God to step in and handle it.

Our problem is that, to us, it sounds like a cop-out, like we are giving up.  But when we do that, we are not giving up, we are giving in … to Him.  And when we do, we are strong; and when we do not, we are weak.

O, when someone attacks me with gun and knife, I can well defend myself with similar weapons.  But when the spirit of the age attacks me with the desire to destroy “all trace of my faith,” then there is only one defense and one defender.  At that time and now, our best defense is this – “O God, do not keep silence …”

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – gods

September 15, 2017


Psalm 82

God has taken His place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods He holds judgment…”  Ps. 82:1

Every so often in Scripture, God’s Word seems to play into the hands of our modern anti-God thoughts.  In my opinion, this is one of them.

How so?  Well, if you have the modern sense that God is somehow someone like the Chairman of the Board, then the “divine council” could be his board meeting.  Like all board chairman, he would yield a lot of power, but he can always be gotten rid of by the angry shareholders, which would, of course, be us.  And as modern people we often think this way, that we can just depose God from being God whenever we want when we don’t like the amount of profit we are getting from His enterprise.

Another modern sense which could be fed by this Scripture today is the sense that there is really a pantheon of “gods,” and that God is a first among equals, sort of like Zeus.  In this modern view, we can rise to the position of members of the divine council, as demigods, if we can but “channel” our thoughts in the right way.  An older version of this same thinking is in the pantheon of saints, who somehow have a special relationship to God because they are super-good people.

So, who are the “gods” which participate in the “divine council?”

Notice what I have done.  I have read into the concept of “divine council” the concept of participation.  Of having a right to speak.  And, more importantly, having a right to be heard.

But does this Scripture speak of any kind of co-equal participation?  No it does not.

What it says is that “God has taken His place.”  What is His place?  When you are the Creator, the King of King and Lord of Lords, … what is your place?  Is your place at the head of the table when you made the table, own the table, and choose who, if any, sit there as well?  When God takes “His place,” who has any right to be in the same room, much less at the same table?

And what is the nature of a “divine council?”  Is it a place where God appears to deliver to us His Word or where we make our requests known to Him (like, maybe, His throne room)?  Or is it a place where we participate, somehow joining with God in helping Him make His decisions?

And finally, notice that “in the midst of the Gods He holds judgment.”  He doesn’t make decisions based upon input; He judges.  He doesn’t take counsel from the gods; He judges the gods.

And so, when we consider that He is in His rightful place and that He judges “the gods,” doesn’t “the gods” sound a whole lot like us?

And, indeed, from our perspective we often are like gods, aren’t we?

I am fond of pointing out that, in our relationship to God, we can take only one of three places.  The first place is above Him, where we tell Him what to do and we interpret His Word in the ways we want to achieve our ends.  When we subject God to our judgment, we are elevating ourselves above Him and, in that moment, pretending that we are big-G God and He is not.

The second place we can take in our relationship to God is beneath Him.  In that role, we accept our position as servants (slaves) of the Most High, willing to accept that position in exchange for true freedom and unending life in Him.  If we are thoughtful Christians, we like to think that this the place we occupy.  And maybe sometimes we do.

But the third place we can occupy is right next to Him, maybe not as quite as a co-equal, but close.  In that position, we get to “participate” in the decision-making, we get to influence God to follow our desires, we get to “negotiate” with Him.  And, to some degree or another, this place is where most of us find ourselves all the time.  We are not quite God, but we are close and therefore “deserve” being called “gods.”

When we realize that this Psalm may therefore be directed to those of us floating around the third position of relationship with God, it has a strong message to us “gods.”  We may think of ourselves in the divine assembly, but God (a) takes His place and (b) holds judgment of us.

So the truth of this Psalm is simply to remind us that, when we begin to believe we are somehow close to His equal, we are not, and when we believe we are above or beside judgment, we are not.

God is not the Chairman of the Board and He is not Zeus, He is God.  And whether we think we are above Him, beside Him, or beneath Him, He is always in His place and He always judges.  No matter if we are “gods” or not.

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

 

Bread – Judging

September 13, 2017


Psalm 82

How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?  Selah”  Ps. 82:2

I have heard it said that, as Christians, we should not “judge” others.  Although this statement is a mistake when it comes to Christians “judging” other Christians (see 1 Cor. 5:12), it is also likely incorrect when applied to everyone because, although maybe we should not judge others before we first judge ourselves, the fact is that we do.  And that is not necessarily bad.

The problem is that the word “judging” has been equated to the word “condemning.”  Judging is not condemning; it is assessing what is being done or said by someone against a standard.  If the standard is a statute, then the judging occurs against the standard of the law.  If the standard is God’s revelation in His Word, then the judging occurs against the standard contained in His Word.

When the standard against which we measure is external to us, we can assess or judge objectively.  Did the objective behavior being judged meet the external standard or did it not?

When the standard against which we measure is internal to us (meaning that it is based on our personal sense of right and wrong, good and evil, etc.), we can only assess or judge subjectively.

The fact that we routinely judge (evaluate, assess) is the reason our insistence upon external standards (God’s Word or the “rule of law”) is so important.  If the standard is “relative to what I think” and the only standard that matters is the one I set internally, all judging will be condemning because, subjectively, “you” will never live up to whatever arbitrary standard I set in my own mind.

This “subjective” judging based on our relativistic “truth” is where we always go wrong.  Why do we judge unjustly?  Because we do not have an external standard (God’s Word) to which we relate.

Where does racism come from?  From our subjective standards that some people are better than others.  What God’s standards have to say about that is that all people were created by God.  That being the case, they are equal.

If we are judging unfairly, the answer is not to stop judging at all.  The answer is to judge according to the right criteria.

What is the right criteria?  The Word of God in Scripture and Jesus Christ.

Judge that.

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

 

 

 

Bread – Idols

September 6, 2017


Psalm 81

O Israel, if you would but listen to me!  There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god.”  Ps. 81:8b-9

What got me thinking about idols this morning was actually not the quoted verse above, but actually the title of the Psalm – “…according to the Gittith of Asaph.”

Now there is nothing about idols in this title; really all it is an instruction about how to read or sing the Psalm, the word “Gittith” likely meaning something musical.  However, the oddness of the phrase got me to thinking about how we are always referring to oracles of modernity as authoritative, as if they somehow had something to say worthwhile.  For example, when Tom Cruise speaks, many people listen because, after all, he is a successful actor.

If we are not very, very careful, when we place undue authority in a person or a document, we are lifting that person or document up as an idol as much as if we had a totem in our house surrounded by candles.  When we place the word of the preacher over the Word of God, we are raising up an idol.  When we place the Declaration of Independence over the Word of God, we are raising up an idol.

And this is what strikes me about our reading today.  One way to read this is to think of two complete thoughts.  The first is a lament “O Israel, if you would but listen to me!”  The second thought is a command “There shall be no strange god among you…”  And we might be inclined to read it this way because the two sentences are separated by an exclamation mark.

But another way to read it is as a continuous thought – “O Israel, if you would but listen to me there shall be no strange god among you…”  If…then.

If we but listen to God, if we read His Scripture, pray to Him, listen to Him and follow Him, if we worship Him … then our likelihood of following idols is greatly diminished.  But, if we are not engaged in God’s Word, are not testing our thoughts against His thoughts and our actions against His desires for us, if we are not listening to Him, then the chances of us chasing after idols is greatly enhanced.

Are we today preoccupied with listening to our oracles of the day, following the trail of fame, fortune, and futility, ever-engaged in the climb up the ladder?  What idols have we hooked onto?  What idols do we worship?

The answer to the idol problem is not in obeying God’s rules but in listening to Him.

What time have we spent today in listening to God?  How does that compare to the idols we are listening to?

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

 

 

Bread – Restore

September 1, 2017


Psalm 80

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel…Restore us, O God; let Your face shine, that we may be saved!…But let Your hand be on the man of Your right hand, the son of man whom You have made strong for Yourself!  Then we shall not turn back from You; give us life, and we will call upon Your Name!” Ps. 80:1-2, 18-19

This “thought” called “Bread” is always rooted in the present but, hopefully, calls us to a future based upon wisdom from God contained in His Word to us.  “His Word” is embodied in Scripture which I quote and Jesus Christ, the “son of man.”

What is rooted today about this Bread is the overwhelming disaster which has overtaken Houston, Beaumont, and indeed all of the coastal area of Texas.  Water, water everywhere and, literally, undrinkable because of the filth and the disease it harbors.  It has devastated everything built and owned by the people who live there.

Right now these people are being rescued from their dire state.  Then, soon, the work of restoration will begin, taking a people who are destroyed in possessions and hope and bringing them back into wholeness.  This massive restoration effort will be conducted by an army of people who will rebuild and restore.  If it is to be effective, this restoration will be driven by love for our neighbor…in other words, it will be driven and superintended by God.

But all this is nothing but physical and, perhaps, emotional restoration.  It is not restoration of the soul.

“Restore us, O God.”  Restore us to what?  To a right relationship with Him.

We can restore our bank accounts, our buildings, our possessions, and maybe even our relationships with each other.  But no-one can restore our soul except God Himself.

And God started that restoration with the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the “son of man” known by the Psalmist as revelation from God and the “son of man” and “Son of God” known to us as Jesus Christ.

But how weak are the words of this Psalm that say, when the “son of man” appears, “Then we shall not turn back from You.”  We ask for restoration and get it and then what do we do?  If you are like me, at the next available opportunity we do turn our back on Him who saved us.  We say that, if You “give us life, we will call upon Your Name,” but we have been given the gift of life and, most often, we do not call upon His Name.  In fact, when things are going well, we tend not to call upon Him at all.  All we have to do is to add up the time we spend in prayer, the time we spend in study of God’s Word, and the time we spend in worship, and then compare that sum to the amount of time we spend watching television or listening to radio, and we will know very quickly whether we are in the practice of calling upon His Name.

The sad fact is that the people of Houston cannot restore themselves to wholeness.  It will take the resources of an entire state and country to do so.

The sad fact is that we, the people, cannot restore our soul to wholeness.  It will take the resources of the Creator.

And the resources of our mighty God have been deployed in this restoration to glory – He has given us Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit for our use in this restoration of life.

There will be people in Houston who will reject the gift of restoration they are offered because of pride.  They should accept.

There are people who will read this Bread who will reject the gift of restoration of life eternal with God because of pride.  We should accept.

When the people of Houston are restored, their restoration will be temporary, gone again in the time of disaster and death.

When the people of God are restored, their restoration will be permanent into eternal life.

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

 

 

 

 

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