Bread – Pride

July 12, 2017


Psalm 73

All in vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence…” Ps. 73:13

Stuck in the middle of this Psalm is, in one sentence, a classic example of the pride of the world and ourselves.

Asaph, the Psalmist, starts his Psalm by saying to himself (and to God), I believe in God but I see the wicked prosper and not me.  He ends his Psalm by saying that, in spite of his doubts caused by his observance of the ascendancy of the wicked, he knows that God exists and that God is “his strength and portion forever.”  Ps. 73:26

But in the middle is this great statement:  “And not only that, Lord, but I am better than they are – I keep my heart clean and I am innocent.”  (I took great liberalities with the actual text, which you can read for yourself in the first line.”

We look around as Christians, as people in this world, and how often does it cross our mind that we ought to be resentful because we are “better” than they are.  After all, we are righteous and they are not; we are washed in the blood of the Lamb and they are not; we have a “clean heart” and they do not.

Whoa, folks.  Who here reading this Bread or, for that matter, anyone in the world, as a “clean heart.”  Do we not covet, gossip, worry, protect our precious positions of power, scheme, speak sometimes with untruth and, certainly, un-love?  Do we not dream about a better vacation, a better lifestyle, a better car, a better bank account, a better job, a better relationship?  Do we really, really have a “clean heart.”

As for being prideful in our righteousness, whose righteousness have we taken on anyway?  Is it ours or His?  If we are righteous at all before God, who achieved that?  Was it us in our sinful state or was it Him who died for us and who intervened in our life at a time when we were dead to breathe His spirit into us so that we might have eternal life?

Asaph did not keep his heart clean “in vain” because he is human, and he did not keep it clean at all.  Asaph did not.  We do not.  We cannot without outside aid.

There is no ranking of sinners.  All people, saved and unsaved, fall short of the glory of God.  Those who are saved see that with great clarity and are grateful that they do not have to pay the penalty to God for those sins, that penalty having been paid by Jesus Christ on the cross.

Where did Asaph’s essential doubts come from?  Did they come from his objective look at the world and wondering where God was, or did they come from his subjective look at the world, through lenses that said “I keep my heart clean” and so, therefore, I deserve better than “they.”

Where do our essential doubts come from?  Do they really come from an objective view of the world or a view through a lens that says “God is being unfair … to me.”

Pride is often listed as our worse sin.  It probably deserves that ranking because it is the lens which distorts our view of ourselves, our view of the world, and our view of God.

Pride is what caused Asaph to believe and say that “All in vain I have kept my heart clean.”  What Asaph could have said was that “But for You, I would not have clean heart.”  And that would be a true statement.  But to get there will require the setting aside of pride.  And how will we do that?  We cannot, but God can … and so we pray, “Come Holy Spirit, and create in me a clean heart.”

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

 

 

 

Bread – Because

June 7, 2013


Readings for Friday, June 7, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 26:1-11; 2 Cor. 8:16-24; Luke 18:9-14; Psalms 40,51,54

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My last Bread was about parenting. One of the events which occurs between a parent and child is when the child asks “why?” The parent always attempts to give a good, but complete, answer, tailored to the age of the child. But the child keeps asking “why,” and sooner or later the parent does not know why and ends the conversation with “Because” or “Because I said so.”

In the last Bread, we read from Deuteronomy that we as parents were to talk about God’s words all of the time.

In today’s readings, we now have the answer to our children when they as “why?” Instead of saying “because” or “because I said so,” we can say “because of God,” or “because of who God is,” or “because God has acted to make it so.” And as our Scriptures today remind us, we can say that about everything.

In Deuteronomy 26:1, the Israelites are going into a land, to take possession of it. Why? Because God gave it to them.

In Deuteronomy 26:2, the Israelites go to a place which we would call church. Why is the church there? Because it is a place chosen by God “to make His name to dwell there.”

In Deuteronomy 26:10, the ground produces plants for our sustenance. Why? Because God gave us both the ground and the fruit of the ground.

In 2 Corinthians 8:16, Titus has a heart for the gospel and for other people. Why? Because “God put into his heart the same earnest care I [Paul] have for you.”

In Luke 18:9, the sinner who confessed his sin, repented, and turned toward the Lord was justified before God. Why? Because God has decreed it so, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Lk. 18:14b

For those people who do not wish to acknowledge God, the answer to “Why?” is simple. The answer ultimately is “I don’t know.”

For those people who follow God, the answer to “Why?” is also simple, but profoundly different. The answer always is “Because God [said, did, promised, says, does, promises]”

What is your answer to the “Why?” of the world. Is it because of you or because of God? Is it because of your boss or because of God? Is it because of good luck or because of God? Is it because you did something right or because of God?

Yes, often our woes and blessings are traceable to us. However, we are wrong to believe that we are the only “because” of that event or circumstance. There is a bigger “because” for those who would see. There is a bigger “because” for those who would hear.

There is a bigger “because” than us. And we call that “because” God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – By

May 30, 2013


Readings for Thursday, May 30, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 4:32-40; 2 Cor. 4:1-12; Luke 16:1-9; Psalm 37

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Not “buy” (like to purchase), but “by” (like expressing the way or means through which something happens or gets done, the cause of something).

This word appears a bunch in today’s reading from Deuteronomy: “Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror….And because He loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with His own presence, by His great power…” Deut. 4:34,37

This got me to thinking about how we think about how things are interrelated. For example, there are at least three ways of finishing this sentence — “I got a raise in pay today by …” One way to complete the sentence is to say “the sweat of my brow,” so that the sentence reads “I got a raise in pay today by the sweat of my brow.” Another way to complete the sentence is to say “my company” so that the sentence reads “I got a raise today by my company.” The third way to complete the sentence is with the words “the mighty hand of God,” so that now the sentence reads “I got a raise in pay today by the mighty hand of God.”

Which sentence is right? The answer to that question tells us a whole lot about how we see the world and how we assume things work. The first choice tells us that we are an “up by your bootstraps” kind of person, you eat what you kill. We might call those people “independents.” The second choice tells us that we are a “inter-dependent” kind of person, thinking that others more than we have control over our lives and good or bad fortune. This type of person thinks that they are dependent upon other people’s decisions. Carry this idea far enough and you get to the stage of victim, where nothing happens to you which is not “by” someone else. The third choice tells us that we recognize a source well beyond us and them, upon whom we are radically dependent for everything.

We who call ourselves Christians ought to be in the third category, but I really wonder for myself how often I get caught up in the “by me” or “by them” mentality, rather than the “by Him” mentality. I think more often than I care to admit.

This gave rise to a series of sentences built on our reading today, and I wonder how differently we would act as Christians if we began each day this way. The statements are:

O Lord, today as I rise I thank you.

I thank you because it is by Your wonders that I am alive today.

I thank you because it is by Your trials that I am made stronger.

I thank you because it is by Your signs that I know where to go.

I thank you because it is by Your Spirit that I am sustained.

I thank you because it is by Your mercy that I am forgiven.

I thank you because it is by Your love that I able to love.

I thank you because it is by Your provision that I have food.

I thank you because it is by Your decision that my name is written in the Book of Life.

I thank you because it is by Your grace that I am saved.

I thank you because it is by Your death that I will dwell in Your presence throughout eternity.

I thank you because it is by Your power I can be fearless today.

Amen.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread — When

September 19, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, September 19, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Job 42:1-17; Acts 16:16-24; John 12:20-26; Psalms 72,119:73-96

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Bread today is taken from our reading from Job: “And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends.” Job 42:10. The order of events presented by this translation (ESV) is that Job recognizes his proper relationship to God, seeing Him and repenting in “dust and ashes.” He then prays for his friends, taking the mercy shown to him by God and extending it to his neighbors. Once that happens, Job’s fortunes are restored. The NIV translation is even blunter regarding the order of events, saying “After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again …” Job 42.10 (NIV). The commentary from the ESV Study Bible confirms this conclusion, saying “It is of utmost significance to note that Job’s restoration occurs only at this point, when he has capitulated to God and he has been reconciled with his friends – still in his broken and bereaved state. Precisely at this point, community is reestablished and Job himself restored.” ESV Study Bible, Note on Job 42:10-17.

Perhaps enough said and the lesson is complete, and perhaps not. I often make the “mistake” of looking things up, which is what I did this morning. It turns out that the Hebrew word for “after” (NIV) and “when” (ESV) has no equivalent Strong’s number, but does have a G/K number of H928. (G/K is a compendium of words like Strong’s). When I ran a search for H928 in the Old Testament, I got 9,283 hits. The word is used a lot and in a lot of different ways. Some examples are:

“In [H928] the beginning, God created heaven and earth.” Gen. 1:1 (NIV)

“And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse between [H928] the waters to separate water from water.’” Gen. 1:6 (NIV)

“And God set them in [H928] the expanse of sky to give light on the earth.” Gen. 1:17 (NIV)

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in [H928] our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over [H928] the fish of the sea…’” Gen. 1:26 (NIV)

“By [H928] the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on [H928] the seventh day God rested …” Gen. 2:2 (NIV)

“To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with [H928] pain you will give birth…” Gen. 3:16 (NIV)

“To Adam He said….’Cursed is the ground because [H928] of you; through [H928] painful toil…’” Gen. 3:17

So the word for “when” or “after” is the same word for “in” (to set time), “in” (to set place or circumstances), “between,” “over,” ‘by,” “on,” “with,” “because” and “through.”

So, the headache begins. What does this word mean? Is it evidence of causation, or mere placement in sequence of time. Does it convey action or mere passive result. Or does it mean merely what the translator wants it to mean, at the time?

In thinking about this, something struck me. What is it that every instance of the use of this word has in common? It is that it is in the context of God’s action and something to do with man. Sometimes it is used in the context of man’s action after God has acted; sometimes it is used in the context of God’s action after man has acted, and sometimes you can’t tell.

And what great truths are built into this single, evasive word! Because God acts both in time and out of time. Because God actions are first causes – we act because God has first acted. In fact, we can only act because God has acted, not because of ourselves. Wherever this word appears, God appears. It is not the word for God, but it’s appearance is certainly evidence of God. And more than evidence of God Himself, but of God’s action within the universe of our understanding, in our history, in our lives, in our abilities, in our salvation, in our science and revelation, and in our hope.

And isn’t this the beauty of the reality of God, of Christ? When was Job restored? Was it when he recognized God for who He was, when he reached out in love to his neighbors, or when his fortunes were brought back to him? Or was it all of the above?

We are reminded in all this that our mind is not God’s mind and our ways are not His ways. From our perspective, Job first repented, then reached out to his neighbor in love, and then was restored. This is an important lesson because, knowing who we are and who God is, it is important that we reach out from our poor circumstances, no matter how dire, to those who need our love, and that we do this without expectation of anything because we deserve nothing. But it may not be the most important lesson today.

No, the most important lesson today may be that God operates in the past, present, and future, inside of time and outside of time, to work His purpose. And that purpose is that we should be restored to Him and to each other. And that purpose is demonstrated in the “whens” of the world, the “ins” of the world, the “betweens” of the world, the “becauses” of the world, and the “throughs” of the world. It is demonstrated at all times and in all places, in poverty and in plenty, in danger and in safety, in and out of our particular circumstances.

This word which appears when Job is restored also appears as the first word of the Bible, “In the beginning…” God is first, God creates, God saves, God restores. God, God, God … not Job, Job, Job … and not me, me, me. When we get that right, everything else falls out into its right order. We can love others because He first loved us; we can restore others because He first restored us; and we can live victoriously because He died for us, rose from the grave, and lives forever.

God lives in the smallest words and the largest places. Does He live in you?

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© 2012 GBF

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