Bread – Vows

May 19, 2017


Psalm 65

Praise is due to You, O God, in Zion, and to You shall vows be performed.”  Ps. 65:1

Basically, a “vow” is a solemn promise.  “I promise to take out the garbage” is not a vow, nor often is it much of a promise.  It is more like a statement of good intent, but by making a “promise” and not keeping it we cheapen the term.  In fact, the word “promise” has so lost its substance in many respects that, when some promises to do something for us, we are happy when it is done but we know that the likelihood of the promise being fulfilled is, well, highly dependent on the trustworthiness of the person making the promise.  Which basically means, for most of us, that the promise is somewhat unreliable.

Whereas promises are made to each other, when a vow is made there is a third persons involved, namely God.  As the Psalmist says, it is to God that a vow is performed.

We often forget this.  We vow to tell the truth and then don’t.  Who have we failed to honor by breaking our vow?  God, because it is to Him the duty is owed.  We vow to honor our spouse and then don’t.  Who have we failed to honor by breaking our vow?  It is God (and our spouse).

We may sit under judgment of others every day, but those judgments are temporal.  God’s judgment is eternal.

God’s judgment is eternal but then, so are His own vows, His own covenants.  And luckily for us, God’s performance of His covenant toward us, when He has chosen us, is not dependent upon our performance of our vows to Him.  “Blessed is the one You choose and bring near, to dwell in Your courts!”  Ps. 65:4

Blessed indeed we are, which is another reason we should stand steadfast in performance of our vows.  To the One to whom we owe our eternal lives in Christ, should we not honor by our diligent performance of our vows?

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

Bread – Forget

December 28, 2016


Psalm 45

“Hear, O daughter and … forget your people and your father’s house, …” Ps. 45:10

There are three stages in the process of coming to Christ and a pre-stage.  All of these are dealt with in this Psalm, written many, many years before the first Christmas, before the Incarnation.

The pre-stage is the setting of the entire Psalm.  The King is coming for His bride.  How does He know who that is.  The pre-stage is where God has chosen His bride from the beginning of the world.  He has chosen her and now the Psalm shift to the three stages of the bride’s coming to Christ, of her preparation for His appearance on her doorstep.

The first stage we considered in the last Bread, although we did not call it that.  It is the admonition that the bride must hear, consider, and incline her ear.  She must hear the good news of the gospel, that Christ has come into the world to save her.  She must hear the words of invitation, consider them deeply, and respond by leaning toward Christ (inclining her ear).  The stages do not begin if she cannot or will not hear.  Because she is dead in her sin, this too is not a work of hers but a work of God, that she has the power and has received the grace to hear what the Lord says to her.  It is a call made to the world, but it is only heard by a few, those chosen as bride.

The second stage is repentance from sin and turning toward God.  What is repentance of sin?  It is “forgetting your people and your father’s house.”

Although we may reside in the world, our life is in the kingdom of God once we become Christ’s disciples.  We love the people in the world, but not the world.  We rest in our house, but our house is not what possesses us.  To serve Christ as His disciple, we must “forget” the past, rest in Christ in the present, and otherwise stand in the evil day.  Jesus said it Himself, “A person’s enemies will be those of his own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.  Whoever finds his life shall lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”  Mt. 10:36-39.

There is hardly anything to be gained by having one foot in the world and the other in the kingdom of God.  If we are to follow Christ as His bride, we must follow Him and not the world; we must forget the world and leave it behind.

How easy to say and how hard to do!  How can we “forget” the world when we are surrounded by it; how can we “forget” the office when our phones ring with office needs and our schedules have appointments throughout the day?

How can we “forget” when the world will not let us “forget.”

The truth is that we will never “forget” if the word means that we will have no memory of it (which is what most people think it means).  We have our memories and some of them are treasured and some are not, but unless one can hypnotize oneself and live in an alternative universe, we have our memories.  But memories are nothing but that unless they retain power over us, unless they guide what we say and how we behave.  In that sense, “forget” means not to lose memory, but to lose the power the memory has over our behavior and actions.  “Forget” in this sense means that, since we follow Christ, it is the memory of Him and His Word in Scripture which drives our actions, not the memory of the world.  For example, the memory of the world is that love is often returned with hurt so we should be careful; the memory of Christ is that love will not necessarily be reciprocated, but love anyway in abundance.  If we do not forget the world, we will be shy in our ambassadorship for Christ; if we forget the world with eyes fixed on Jesus, we will be bold in our speech and our actions.

How do we break that link between the past and the present?  How do we “forget your people and your father’s house?”

The apostles asked a similar question of Jesus in John:  “What must we do…?”  And Jesus’ response was “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”  Jn. 6:28b-29

The work of God, and not of ourselves, is that we are empowered and enabled to believe and to grow in grace and love.  To do so, we must forget our ties to the world so that we can be used as Christ’s agents in the world.  How do we forget our ties?  The work of God is this, that ….”

Come, Holy Spirit, and empower us today to forget the world and remain fixed on Him and His work on earth, so that we can begin this new year right around the corner fully armed in the Spirit for the battle which is here.  Amen.

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© 2016 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

Bread – Reputation

January 25, 2016


Psalm 4

“Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!…O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?”  Ps. 4:1-2

In the first century B.C., Syrus said “A good reputation is more valuable than money.”  This is a knock-off of an even older quote, from Ecclesiastes 7:1, “A good name is better than precious ointment…”

So, knowing this, we protect our reputations like a tiger.

This is what David is referring to when he says that his “honor” has been turned into “shame.”  His reputation (honor) is being attacked unfairly.  And he is fighting back by appealing to the Lord to intervene.

When was the last time your reputation was attacked?  Probably pretty recently.  You consider yourself honest and someone falsely accuses you of lying.  You have avoided sexual sin resolutely and are accused by an employee you did not promote of committing retaliation because you wanted a romantic encounter and he/she refused.  You are honest in your sales and a customer accuses you of shorting the shipment.  You love your neighbors and you hear gossip that some people are saying that you are cheap and selfish.  I am sure you can fill in the blank.

When our reputations are attacked, what do we do typically?  We usually protest immediately, of course – “I did not say (do) that!”  And we might actually start a counter-slander campaign … “Oh, you know, the person saying that is known as a liar … is crazy …. Is out to get me because …”  Or we might retreat and dress our wounds, nursing our anger for just the right moment for counterstrike.

But we would rarely go to the Lord and ask Him to intervene.  After all, what is He going to do?  Put the genie back in the bottle?  Cause my defamer to get laryngitis and die?  Cause the lies and the deceit to disappear?  Cause the libelous statement in the newspaper to evaporate?  Open the world’s eyes to the lie behind the defamer’s statements and the truth behind my own?

So we don’t go to God typically in response to an attack on our reputation.  Instead, we figure out how to deal with it.  We may even go so far as hiring a public relations expert, people artful in the campaign of public words.  We may do lots of things … but we hardly ever go to the Lord.

Why not?  Why don’t we go to Him first?

Maybe it is because we know the truth, and the truth is that our reputation is tarnished.  We tell the truth except when we don’t.  We pay our taxes except when we don’t.  We speak well of others except when we don’t.  We trust in the Lord except when we don’t.  We are honest businesspersons except when we aren’t.  We avoid sexual sin except when we don’t.  We hold our tongue except when we don’t.

So one of the reasons we may not go to the Lord is that we know, in our heart, that the “slander” is not true of us, but neither is it totally false.  And so, why go to the Lord for the protection of our reputation when we know that His response may well be “Come on, now, you may not have lied to the accuser but you have lied, today, to someone, haven’t you?”  We just know in our heart that we are unworthy to ask for the Lord’s intervention; therefore, we don’t.

But we are wrong to think so.  Just before verse 2 of Psalm 4, David prays to God “Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!”  Ps. 4:1c

David is asking God to be merciful to him, not because he is worthy but because he is God’s child (“But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself…” Ps. 4:3).

The truth is that our reputation lies in the hands of others, because what they say about us is what they say about us.  Our honor and glory, however, lies in the hands of God and in the degree of our obedience to His commands.

The only reputation that matters is our reputation before God and that is good.  It is not a good reputation because we are good; it is a good reputation because Jesus is good.

Christians have had their reputations sullied throughout the years and many have died because of that travesty.  However, they have gone to be with the Lord with their real reputation, their identity in Christ, preserved.

If we look to God first, our reputation becomes irrelevant to how we think of ourselves and, ultimately, how others think of us as we become obedient to God’s Word.  If we look to others for our fulfillment, then our reputation means everything because the approval of others is everything.

Who do we look to for our approval, for our help in time of need?  We know David’s answer.  What is ours?

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© 2016 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

 

Bread – Foundations

February 16, 2015


Readings for Monday, February 16, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 63:1-6; 1 Tim. 1:1-17; Mark 11:1-11; Psalm 89

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What is the foundation of our faith?

There is much more behind this question than necessarily meets the eye.

In today’s readings, we see at least six (6) different possibilities.

One foundation of our faith could be a desire to escape the wrath of God and the coming judgment. From our reading in Isaiah today comes this: “It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save … I have trodden the winepress alone…I trod them in My anger and trampled them in My wrath;…for the day of vengeance was in my heart…I trampled down the peoples in My anger; I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.” Isa. 63:1-6 Let us call this the “Avoidance Foundation.”

Another foundation of our faith could be our own works, our desire to obey God’s law, just as Paul did: “I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful…” 1 Tim. 1: 12 Let us call this the “Self Foundation.”

Another foundation of our faith could be that we were given mercy by God. Again from 1 Timothy: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God…But I received mercy…The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason…” 1 Tim. 1:1,13b-16. Let us call this the “Chosen Foundation.”

A fourth foundation of our faith could be our need to live in victory beneath a victorious king – “And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest.” Mk. 11:9-10 Let us call this the “Victory Foundation.”

A fifth foundation of our faith could be our understanding of Christ’s work on the cross, His payment for us which we could not make so that we could stand in the throne room of God cleansed of sin. Let us call this the “Sin Foundation.”

A sixth foundation of our faith (and there may be more) is contained in the last sentence of our reading today from Paul’s letter to Timothy: “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Tim. 1:17. Let us call this the “Sovereign Foundation.”

In summary, the six potential concepts of the foundation of our faith which are struggling for prime position are the “Avoidance Foundation,” the “Self Foundation,” the “Chosen Foundation,” the “Victory Foundation,” the “Sin Foundation,” and the “Sovereign Foundation.”

If we re-order these, we realize that three of these proceed from man – what man wants and what man would choose. These are the “Avoidance Foundation,” the “Self Foundation,” and the “Victory Foundation.” “I” can avoid God’s wrath by choosing Christ, “I” can achieve God’s pleasure by obedience to the rules and by good works, “I” can obtain victory in life by following the King, the Creator, and appropriating His powers on earth.

The other three foundations begin with God – the “Sin Foundation,” the Chosen Foundation,” and the “I Am Foundation.” “God” solves the sin problem by dying for us, “God” chooses us for salvation, choosing those upon whom He will have mercy, “God” is Himself, the only God, most high.

I have become convinced through my walk that, although at different times in my life I believed that each of the described foundations was in fact the foundation of my faith, the only true foundation which makes any sense is the Sovereign Foundation – He is God and I am not; He rules and I do not. All of the other foundations are laid on top of this one.

If God were not sovereign, then why would there be sin? If God were not sovereign, then why would it be necessary that the saved were chosen? If God were not sovereign, then why would we be afraid of His wrath? If God were not sovereign, then why would His rules be something that we would measure our lives against and why would there be standards for “good” works? If God were not sovereign, then where is the victory?

God’s sovereignty is the key – it is the foundation upon which we rest our faith.

To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

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© 2015 GBF

Bread – Chosen

January 16, 2015


Readings for Friday, January 16, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 42:1-17; Eph. 3:1-13; Mark 2:13-22; Psalms 16,17,22

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In today’s reading from Isaiah, we read from a chapter, titled as “The Lord’s Chosen Servant,” which is often referred to as a Messianic chapter, referring to Jesus Christ.

I realize that I may ruffle a few feathers by doing this, but I want to ask a question – what would it mean to us if Isaiah were talking about us instead of Christ?

Read this with the substitution of Isaiah talking about you rather than some other person:

“Behold, My servant [your name], whom I uphold, My chosen [your name], in whom My soul delights;

I have put my Spirit upon him [your name]; he [your name] will bring forth justice to the nations.

He [your name] will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he [your name] will not break…he [your name] will faithfully bring forth justice.

He [your name] will not grow faint or be discouraged till he [your name] has established justice in the earth…

Thus says God, the Lord, …I am the Lord; I have called you [your name] in righteousness; I will take you [your name] by the hand and keep you [your name].

I will give you [your name] as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon…” Isa. 42:1-7

In a study note in my ESV Bible, the editors say “…justice means fulfilling mutual obligations in a manner consistent with God’s moral law.’

What is our job today as Christians? – to speak plainly the gospel of Jesus Christ and to bring light, salt, truth and love to a world sadly needing all of it. Some of this requires speech; most of it requires action. All of it together brings justice to the world. All of it together opens eyes which are blind, lights the path to hope and freedom, and releases prisoners in bondage to sin.

We are chosen by God to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and to act in obedience to God’s commands, loving our neighbor more than ourselves. In doing so, we will be opposed but God will sustain us in all difficulties. Through God’s Holy Spirit, we will stand as light in darkness, bringing justice, hope, and freedom. We will do this in faith, a faith which God has given us. And by His having chosen us and in our application of God’s Spirit through our lives to bring justice to the world, we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, a sacrifice in which God delights.

Yes, Isaiah is talking about Christ, but could he also be talking about us? Could he be talking about you?

Behold, Sam [Nancy, Joe, John, Alice …], God’s servant, whom He upholds and empowers and protects and loves. God’s chosen.

Behold you, a child of God, chosen by Him for eternal relationship with Him, chosen by Him for life in all circumstances, chosen by Him to bring His Word into the world and to be His Word in the world. Chosen by Him to bring sight to the blind, hope to the hopeless, freedom to those imprisoned by sin.

Sends a chill up your spine, doesn’t it? It should.

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© 2015 GBF

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