Bread – United

October 13, 2017


Psalm 86

“…You alone are God.  Teach me Your way, O Lord, that I may walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name.”  Ps. 86: 10b-11

Every so often out of the middle of Scripture jumps a word which seems out of place.  In this case, the word is “unite.”  We understand asking God to teach (tell) us His way so that we know the way we should follow (“walk in His truth”).  But why is it necessary to ask God to “unite” our heart in order to “fear Him?”

Everyone is familiar with the phrase “United we stand; divided we fall.”  But who is familiar with the phrase “United we fear; divided we don’t?”

And yet the two phrases are in fact the same.  With God we can stand in the evil day; without Him, we cannot.  With God our house is built on solid rock and can withstand the storm; without God our house is built on shifting sand and will blow down when adversity comes.

And, yet, as we sit and study our heart, our innermost feelings and thoughts, the “heart of the matter,” our core … are we united in our thinking or divided?

I think that if we answer this question honestly, while we may wish we were united and consistent in our thinking, we realize that we are not.  Today we think one way and tomorrow another.  Our principles are not standards we latch hold of, but merely guideposts as we slalom down the ski slope of life.  Our reliance on God is more a theory than a fact.  We trust Him … sort of, mostly.

We have doubts and we call those doubts the effect of rational thought, so that we can have an excuse to avoid being united in our heart.

God tells us to flee sin, but instead we flee commitments.  The reason we flee commitments is that the making of a commitment is an act of being united in heart.  Once a commitment is made, if it is indeed truly made, then doubts about it are the fuel of mischief.

The Psalmist asks God to unite his heart because he knows that God is the only one with power to do it.

Another version of this same request is – “My Father, Who art in heaven … but deliver me from evil.”  What evil – a divided heart.  With a divided heart we cannot adequately fear God, we cannot adequately hear God, we cannot adequately follow God, and we cannot adequately worship Him.    Satan’s weapon of choice (other than lies) is the seed of doubt (which is another version of a lie).

Like so many Psalms, there is a great truth locked into this little verse.  Do we want to walk in God’s truth?  Do we want to hear Him and follow Him?  Do we want to be taught His ways?  Then we must first have a united heart, one wholly devoted to Him.

Who can unite our heart?  There is only one, the only one, for “You alone are God.”  Ps. 86:10.

And so, to fulfill our desire that we follow in His way and His truth, two things must be true and are bookended here.  The first is that we must know that God alone is God and the second is that we must have a united heart around that knowledge.

Unite my heart, O Lord, that I might fear You and know that You are God.  Then I will be ready to be taught and to follow.

United we stand; divided we fall.

_______

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

 

 

 

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Bread – Permanence

July 10, 2017


Psalm 73

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.  For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked…When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward You.  Nevertheless, I am continually with You; You hold my right hand.  You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will receive me to glory.”  Ps. 73:2-3,21-24

I almost coined a new word for this Bread, “permaninity,” meaning the state of being permanent, but “permanence” will have to do.

What is permanent?  We actually have a very hard time answering that question, because we have no reference point.  To a young kid in time out, permanent may mean three minutes.  To a young adult used to immediate gratification from the Internet, video games, Google, and Amazon, “permanent” may mean six months.  To us older adults, perhaps permanent is a house more than a hundred years old.  For those of us who have visited other places and have seen paint on ancient walls more than 1,000 years old, permanent may seem like a 1,000 years.  For those who study rocks and believe them to be very old, “permanent” may mean a million years.

In this Psalm today, we have object evidence of permanence.  Who does not find in the Psalmists words today great insight into ourselves.  We may have faith but that faith runs constantly into the bumps of doubt.  When we look abroad at the world and immediately around us, we see corruption in so-called Christians, we see cruelty, we see hatred, we see liars, we see thieves, we see charlatans and con men (and women), we see sexual perversion, we see the proud wealthy, we see those hungry for power, we see huge imbalances in living conditions, we see unfairness, and we see hopelessness.  In the face of all that, we are tempted mightily to cry out “Where are you God?  Where is Your proof?  Where is Your righteous indignation?  When is Your judgment upon all these terrible people?”    As the Psalmist, our soul becomes embittered and we become cold, “like a beast,” toward God.

So where is the evidence of permanence, other than the apparently permanent ascendancy of the wicked?

The evidence of permanence is in this – In all this, He holds our right hand.  He guides us with His revelation and truth.  And, in the end, He will receive us, for those who believe, to glory in eternity.

While we may jump from thought to thought and feeling to feeling and while we believe and yet doubt, God is there, permanent in His intent toward His chosen.  When we are conceived, He is there.  When we are born, He is there.  When we are ready to believe, He is there.  When we are ready to let Him lead, He is there.  When we are ready for wise counsel, He is there.  When we are ready to take up our cross and follow Him, He is there.  When we are ready to find rest under His wings, He is there.  When we are on our deathbed and ready to join Him, He is there.

He is.

That is permanence.

________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Conflicts

November 30, 2016


Psalm 43

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause …For You are the God in whom I take refuge; why have You rejected me?”  Ps. 43:1-2

We hate conflict and most of us avoid it whenever possible.  In just these two short versus, the Psalmist discloses that he is suffering through three conflicts at the same time.

The first conflict is with other persons.  The Psalmist is asking God to defend his cause.  Elsewhere in the same verse, the Psalmist describe this type of opponent who creates conflict as “the deceitful and unjust man.”  These types of people create nothing but conflict because instead of loving someone and doing their best for them, they use that someone and do their worse for them.  But one thing the Psalmist forgets to ask is whether he himself is one of those “deceitful and unjust” men.  The character he throws on his enemy may well apply to himself.  But, in any event, he is involved in an outward struggle with people who he considers to be bad, and he is asking God to go show them who’s boss.

The second conflict is internal and is self to self.  This is a little subtle, but I see it in the Psalmist’s reference to “For You are the God …”  In the times of the Psalmist, as today, there are many philosophies, people, religions, and contenders for “God.”  So, here, the Psalmist is a little irritated and maybe in conflict with his choice.  After all, he (the Psalmist) picked God out of the lineup to be his (the Psalmist’s) choice, and now he is saying to God … I picked You – now, where are you?  You should be more grateful that I picked you, God!  This internal conflict will always come to pass if we have picked God as “the God” out of many for reasons known to us.  Perhaps we claim to have picked God because He is generous to us, or because we want eternal life, or because we are medically sick and want to become well, or because our best friend did and we want to please our friend.  Perhaps we picked God because we just wanted to get the preacher-man off our back.  We are bound to have a conflict over this sooner or later because we will be sitting in a corner one day and the God whom we picked just won’t “bother” to show up.  And we will begin to doubt our choice – perhaps God is ineffective or perhaps He doesn’t care or perhaps He just wound up the world and is letting us go like wound-up dolls or perhaps He doesn’t know what to do or perhaps He is busy.  This subtle but real conflict arises because, by asserting that we have chosen God (for our respective reasons), we have set ourselves either over God (we will tell Him what He should do because He should be grateful we picked Him) or at least beside Him as His best buddy.

The third conflict is directly with God Himself.  I (the Psalmist) called and You (God) did not answer.  I prayed and nothing happened (that I could see or appreciate).  I asked you to go strike dead my enemy and he seems to be doing quite fine, thank you very much.

The first kind of conflict is terrible because it only exists when the self (you, me) cares about winning according to the rules of the world.  That kind of conflict will never end until the rules of the Kingdom of God are the ones being followed and not the rules of the world.

The second kind of conflict is terrible because our doubts about what to do and how to act will freeze us into inaction.

The third kind of conflict can be good because it shows that we have a real relationship with our Father.  After all, what child when he does not get what he wants from his earthly father will not first ask again, then ask his mother, then whine and pout, then stomp off in a fit, and then wander off, think about it, and either accept it or come back for rounds two, three, etc.  As long as they are talking, even if in conflict, good things ultimately happen.

The conflict with others is unnecessary, the conflict within ourselves is debilitating, the conflict with God ultimately strengthens our obedience, our wisdom, our perseverance, and our love for Him.

I can almost guarantee that you have had your conflicts with others and with yourself today already.

But have you had your conflict with God?  Isn’t it time?

_________

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

 

 

Bread – Testing

June 27, 2016


Psalm 26

“Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind.”  Ps. 26:2

This is a Monday and to begin the week is almost test enough without asking the Lord to step in and put me through my paces so that He can prove me to be His.

But are our weekly travails test enough?

Probably not, because these are the tests we live with on a daily basis, whereas perhaps the test of the Lord is one which we need to prepare for.

The test we know is coming is one which we prepare for.  If there is a final exam coming in a class, we will study for it (maybe waiting to the last minute, but we still will make a stab at advanced preparation).  Some people will begin preparing for the test at the very beginning of the course.  We know these people are wise, but we rarely do likewise.

Similarly, if we know that we have to pass a test of endurance, like climbing a mountain, we will begin to prepare for the test well in advance by doing long walks, using a treadmill which can create an incline to run up, wear heavy shoes and knapsack while we prepare so that we will be used to lifting heavy things and walking with them, and perhaps even taking some short trips to mountain-like areas to practice our ability to walk uphill.

But as Christians, do we really ever take the time or the effort to prepare for the test to come?  David the Psalmist invites the Lord to prove him, to test both his heart (his love) and his mind (his truth).   Are we ready to invite the Lord to do the same to us?

There will be a time of testing of our heart and mind by the Lord; we just don’t know when it will be.  Then, why aren’t we preparing?

Maybe we don’t prepare because we don’t care what kind of grade we get.  If we feel this way because we know we are saved by God’s grace, then do we not care because Jesus’ death on the cross for us was cheap?  Do we not care because we do not value the gift?  If so, then maybe we don’t understand the value of the gift or the price which was paid by the Giver.

Maybe we don’t care about the time of testing because, since we don’t know when it will be, there is no target.  If that is the case, we do not understand the immediacy of death; it may happen tomorrow but it can happen today.

Maybe we don’t care about our performance in the day of testing because we don’t care to impress God with how much we love Him, or maybe we don’t love Him at all – because don’t we go out of way to work hard to please those we love.   Do we really believe God honors sloth?

What am I going to do to get ready for the test?  The Psalmist suggests two things in the first verse, “…for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.”  Ps. 26:1  And he suggests two things in the third verse, “For Your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in Your faithfulness.”  Ps. 26:3

If you think about it, whether we can walk in integrity, whether we can trust in the Lord without reservation or wavering, whether we are always cognizant of the Lord’s steadfast love, and whether we can walk in God’s faithfulness … that is both the preparation for the test and the test itself.

Out challenge for the rest of the day, the rest of this week, the rest of this year, and the rest of our lives is to take the test every day – act like Christians, believe like Christians, love like Christians, and hold onto God like Christians.

So that when we have run the race, the Teacher gives us our grade, saying “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

_________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Frustration

April 27, 2016


Psalm 17

“Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him!  Deliver my soul … from men by Your hand, O Lord, from men of the world …You fill their womb with treasure; they are satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants.”  Ps. 17:13-14

You can almost hear the frustration in David’s voice.  Confront the evildoers, God…these are the same people who You fill with treasure, bring them an inheritance through children, and let them pass their wealth to future generations!

When we play the game by the King’s rules, when we are surrounded by those who do not, and when the King rewards them and not us, what else are we supposed to feel except frustration, anger, confusion, and resentment?

Here, we have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and we try to be obedient to His Word, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and yet the wicked prosper, often by taking it from us.  We appeal to the Lord and the wicked appear to prosper more.  We know God is sovereign, and therefore it is by His will that evil plays out, that the men of the world fill their caves with cash, live luxuriously, and dominate the affairs of man.

There are three answers to this frustration.  One is to be angry with God because it rains on both the just and the unjust, and the unjust have the just’ umbrellas.  When we do this, we need to accept the fact that we have elevated our will, our standards, our values, and our own belief about our importance over God, and stand in judgment of Him.

The second answer to this frustration is to join the other side, to reject God as uncaring or remote or, if present and caring, then impotent and unable to change the world.   If God is limited as we are, only able to influence outcome and not make outcome, then we might as well ally ourselves with the people having fun and wealth and worldly power.

The third answer to this frustration is to acknowledge our place – we are the subject, He is the King; we are the slave, He is the master; we are the saved, He is the Savior; our minds are limited, His mind is unlimited.  In other words, the third answer is to acknowledge the truth we see only partially, that His ways are not our ways, although we certainly would like Him to conform to our view of the world and our desires.

David picks this third way when he ends the Psalm in verse 15, immediately after expressing his frustration, as follows: “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with Your likeness.”  Ps. 17:15

To paraphrase, David is saying, “God, what you are doing makes no sense to me, but I am satisfied with You alone.”

When we have prayed and our prayers have come to naught as far as we can tell, when we become frustrated with God, what is our response?  Is it to stand in judgment of Him?  Is it to abandon Him to join the world?  Or is it to stay the course, knowing that His countenance is sufficient for the moment, for the day, and for our entire life?

Another way of asking the same question is, when we are frustrated with God because He seems to helping those who are against us more than He is helping us, do we (a) get mad and tell him to get right with the program, (b) start looking at the other side to see what we can satisfy ourselves with that the world offers, or (c) say “O Well, it is Your hands, O God, and not mine – thank you.”

The first results in anger, the second in worry, the third in peace.

What choose you?

_________

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

 

Bread – Budge

April 15, 2016


Psalm 15

“He who does these things shall never be moved.”  Ps. 15:5b

There are two questions built into this verse.  One is, what are “these things?”  Well, the answer to that is in the Psalm and you can read it.  But, in the interest of moving to the question of the day, “these things” are walking blamelessly, doing what is right, speaking truth in your heart, not slandering with your tongue, doing no evil to your neighbor, not taking up a reproach against your friend, despising a vile person, honoring those who fear the Lord, swearing to your own hurt, not changing, not loaning to brothers in need at interest, and doing justice (not taking a bribe against the innocent).

The second question is what does it mean to never be “moved?”

I call this Bread “Budged” because we probably think of movement from one position to another, but I think the meaning is closer to being budged, even a little, off the mark.   Perhaps a better translation is the one contained in the NASB version, which says that a person who does “these things” “shall never be shaken.”  Being shaken is the merest of movements, but from the beginning of a rock rolling down the hillside comes the avalanche.  In fact, the movement from one position to another begins with the smallest doubt, the smallest “budge” from certainty, the smallest “shaken.”

The best analogy I can think of is an earthquake.  The mountain appears to be immovable until an earthquake occurs, at which time it moves, an avalanche occurs, and damage to the mountain and anyone and anything who the mountain supports results.

An example of an earthquake in our personal life is the loss of a job, the death of a child or another closely loved one, the betrayal of a friend.  These events challenge our very view of the world.  These events attack our foundations and cause us to shake.  If our foundation is built on the sands of man, our house and our faith will not stand.  If our foundation is built on the sold rock of faith in Jesus Christ, our house and our faith will be challenged and we may be shaken, but we will not budge, we will not fall, and we will stand in the evil day.

But why does doing “these things” help us to keep from budging, keep from being shaken, keep from being moved, keep from collapsing, and keep us on the solid rock of faith?

I think it is because each of “these things” is practical and is done day-to-day.  Doing each of these things is actually counter-cultural and counter to our own instincts.  Doing of each of these things builds up our spiritual muscles and is exercise against the earthquake to come.  And doing each of these things is a minute-by-minute exercise in radical dependence upon God for our guidance and His Holy Spirit for our strength?

How does one “walk blamelessly” on a regular basis, all the time, except through the power of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

How does one “do what is right” on a regular basis, all the time, except through the power of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

How does one keep from slandering with our tongue, keep from doing evil to our neighbor, keep from repeating gossip about our friends, identifying and hating vile people while identifying and raising up people who fear the Lord, or any of these things, except through the power of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

How do we, as Christians, maintain the course through life, advocate well as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, love without fear, and walk exercise self-control, except through the power of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

If we practice running, then when we need to run we can.  If we practice endurance, then when we need endurance we have it.

And so, as we practice relying on Christ in the present, in the little things, we strengthen ourselves to rely on Him in the future, in the evil day, when all is at risk, when the foundations are challenged by the earthquakes of life.

If you “do these things,” you will not be budged, you will not be shaken, you will not be moved…but only if we remember that it is not in our power to do these things, except in, through, and by Christ …. And rest upon Him, the solid rock.

_________

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

 

Bread – When

April 8, 2016


Psalm 14

“When the Lord restores the fortunes of His people…”  Ps. 14:7

It is in little words that major meaning turns.  The Psalmist ends his lament about the fool and about the absence of righteousness from the earth by saying, simply, “When …”  No “if,” but “when.”

How often do we hesitate in our commitment to God, our proclamation of the gospel, our requests in prayer, our acceptance of forgiveness, our rejection of restoration, our failure to live fully, with a whole life – how often do we hesitate because, in our mind, the sentence always begins with “if” rather than “when?”

Throughout the Bible there are example after example of God, having been doubted by men, lives up to His promise.  Sometimes the fulfillment of promise is in judgment, wrath, and destruction, and sometimes the fulfillment reflects itself in restoration, love, mercy, forgiveness, salvation, and life, but we can say that the Bible communicates an essential nature of God – His promises are true, His promises will be fulfilled, His promises are trustworthy.

And, yet, we most often precede everything we do with respect to God with “if.”  Why?

I think we are doubtful because we are concrete people.  Like Thomas in the New Testament, we will not believe unless we can see, taste, touch, hear, and fully comprehend.  And, even then, we wonder whether what we have observed is accurate.  We know from our observations that everything fails sooner or later.  Man disappoints.  Foundations of concrete and steel will ultimately weather and rot, or maybe even crack.  Trees will fall.  Fires will consume.  Weather is fickle.  Man is fickle.  Two plus two equals four, except when it doesn’t.

When everything we see is at daily risk of disappointing, then it is natural to assume that God is the same way, and therefore live our life by sentences preceded by the word “if.”

This is why faith cannot come from the heart of man, but from the mind of God.  This is why, when we are secure in our belief that we are saved, it is because we know that is not a question of “if” we will survive the lake of fire, but of when we are taken to be with the Lord.

Where does this certainty come from?  From our observations, from our reason, from our tradition, from our knowledge or wisdom?  No, it cannot … because if our certainty comes from these things, all of which are ours, then it is no certainty at all.

If we have certainty of our future, if we know in our hearts, minds, and souls that the question is not “If the Lord restores our fortunes,” but “When the Lord restores our fortunes,” we have it only because the Lord gave it to us.  It does not come from natural things,  the things and thoughts of man, but from supernatural things, the things and thoughts of God.

Is our life guided by the word “if” or the word “when?”

There is no question about “if” God will restore us to Him.  The only question is “when.”

And we need to be ready.

_________

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Refuge

February 5, 2016


Psalm 5

“…because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against You.  But let all who take refuge in You rejoice…”  Ps. 5:10b-11a

When we use the word “refuge,” a lot of images come to mind.  When a spy “comes in from the cold,” he or she takes refuge in a “safe house.”  A “safe house” is one presumptively impervious to attack, but we who read spy novels know better – because the meanies on the other side know where the “safe house” is and how to break into it, we know that the “safe house” is not really safe at all.  It is only the illusion of refuge for the spy within.  When the spy enters the safe house, we know what will happen in the next chapter and it will not be good.  That person will be driven from his place of perceived refuge back into the cold, real world.

We may also have an image of a place in our home which is armor plated against intrusion.  That place of refuge might be called a “safe room” or maybe even a panic room.  And when the robber comes to the door, we might seek refuge in our internal safe room.  But for those of us who have seen the movie, we know that this “safe room” or “panic room” again provides only the illusion of refuge, because there is always some way for the bad people outside to force their way inside … or trick their way inside.  Because we know that the safe room, if designed right, can only be breached by our own foolishness of leaving it because we think the outside is safe, because we think that the bad person has left.

Then there is the image of the refugee from war or riot or famine who seeks a new life in another place, another country.  Today, it may be the people from Syria seeking refuge in the United States.  Tomorrow it may be Texans seeking refuge in Mexico, or vice versa.  But we know the end of that story, too.  They may find a better life in that new place, but the place of refuge is rarely the Nirvana which it is made out to be by the slick advertisers – instead, it has its own share of troubles, which it is happy to visit upon people seeking refuge there.

We have been talking about physical places of refuge, but there can been emotional places as well.  When we withdraw from the world to read a good book or play a good videogame, we may be seeking refuge in the mindless, in the mind-numbing, because the reality is just too tiring, too depressing, too destructive, too difficult to handle.

The Psalm today really speaks of two places in life.  The first place is within ourselves.  This is the place of self, where David points out that they live “by their own counsels.”  It is these people who David points out have an abundance of transgressions because, in relying upon self, they rebel against God, they say “no” to God.  One might be inclined to say that there is a third place, the place of society or friends or other people, but this would be wrong because all society is, all our friends are, all other people are is a collection of selves.  To the extent that this collection of selves each rely upon themselves, they are occupying the place of self.   have taken refuge in their own strength, in their own knowledge, in their own position and power, in their own wealth, and in their own ability.

The second place we can reside in life is with God.  We can take refuge in Him.  In Him and not ourselves, we can find love, safety, support, power, and position.  But to do it we have to “take refuge” in God.  We have to not seek refuge in ourselves or others, but seek refuge in God.

Where is our place of refuge?  Is it among our belongings, our house, our friends, our achievements, ourselves?  Or is it with God?

I have been somewhat unfair in how I have asked the question, because I have left off the third alternative, which is both.  Isn’t this the answer, really, that we choose most often?  We seek ourselves when that seems appropriate and convenient, and we seek God according to the same criteria.  Or we may take refuge in ourselves most of the time and then, in times of “real” trouble, seek refuge in God.  In so doing, we live in neither place for very long, always wandering and never resting, always looking for refuge and never finding refuge.

Why do we do that?  Do we believe that refuge in God is like refuge in the spy’s safe house, like God’s house can be invaded at will by Satan?  Do we trust God, mostly, but make sure that our own safe room is ready to retreat to when God fails?

We take refuge where we believe we can be protected.

Do you believe God can protect you?  Do you believe He will protect you?

Why do you think Christ died on the cross?

Why, indeed, except to save us, to provide us the place of refuge from the effects of our own sin, to preserve us for eternity.  We sing “A mighty fortress is our God.”  Maybe it should really be “The mighty fortress is our God.”  It should be “the” and not “a” because there is only one place of refuge where we may truly lie down in safety – every other place is only an illusion of safety.

You might think of it this way.  There are two places of refuge.  One is refuge “lite” and the other is refuge “strong.”  Why would you not pick the strong place?   Every time, all the time.

__________

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

 

 

Bread – Images

February 25, 2015


Readings for Wednesday, February 25, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 9:13-21; Heb. 3:12-19; John 2:23-3:15; Psalms 49,53,119:49-72

—————————————-

In today’s reading from Scripture, we have three images of our relationship to God – open rebellion, silent or secret rebellion, and submission.

In the open rebellion image, Moses has gone to the mountain to visit with God and receive the law. Upon his return down the mountain, he sees Israel worshiping the golden calf they have made with their hands. This is open rebellion against God because it is plain for all to see. Who cannot remember Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” when Moses flung the Ten Commandments into the midst of the golden calf, destroying it with the fire of the wrath of God? Who cannot remember from the same movie the demonstrations of sin and lust surrounding the worship of the golden calf.

What is remarkable about this scene and in fact the real reading from today in Deuteronomy is that God did not destroy these people, His people, but He did destroy their idols and reassert Himself as God. How many times have we been in open rebellion against God, raising up idols of our own making, and claiming allegiance to the world rather than to God, shaking our fist in His face, and laughing. God does not laugh at this, but neither does He destroy us. Instead, while we were still hostile to Him, He died for us so that whoever is empowered by Him to believe in Him should have eternal life and have it abundantly.

Then there are those in silent or secret rebellion. Their rebellion may not be as obvious, because they may have all the outward appearances of righteousness without the inner reality. They may claim to know Christ but then act as if they only know themselves. Our reading from Hebrews today presents the image of these people, in secret rebellion, as follows – “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God…For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end…For who were those who heard and yet rebelled?…So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” Heb. 3:12-19

It is not that we can “un-ring the bell” of salvation if we have been saved. However, just like the chosen people, Israel, turned away from God toward the golden calf, we too can turn away from our Savior and embrace the world, all the while maintaining an appearance of godliness. The writer of Hebrews does not warn us that secret rebellion may lead to losing our salvation; but he does warn us that secret rebellion may be evidence that we have not really shared in Christ. To quote the study notes to the ESV Study Bible, “This verse then provides a grave warning to everyone who claims to be saved – that is, to examine oneself carefully to be sure that one is in fact a genuine believer, because if there is no evidence of perseverance in faith and obedience, then there is real reason to doubt that such a person has ever been saved.”

Then there is the image of relationship to Christ described in our reading today from John, in which Jesus says to Nicodemus “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

This is the image of transformation, taken from the state of sinfulness into which we are born and translated into citizenship in the kingdom of God by the mercy of God, the act of God, and the love of God. The transformed man, with a heart turned to flesh, is the submitted man, obedient to the Creator, the King, the Redeemer, the Savior, God. This man runs away from temptation and not toward it, toward God and not away from Him. This man may suffer as we understand the term, but he is victorious in a way which we only vaguely understand from our human perspective. He is neither in open nor silent rebellion; he is in submission. The polarity of his heart is not toward himself but toward God.

Three images of ourselves. The golden calf, the clothing of belief covering the heart of unbelief, the transformed heart of submission to God. Three paintings, full of characters. Which painting are you in?

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© 2015 GBF

Bread – Certainty

September 24, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, September 24, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Esther 6:1-14; Acts 19:1-10; Luke 4:1-13; Psalms 81,82,119:97-120

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We may feel that our lives are uncertain, resting on a sea of doubt, but God tells us in many, many ways that life in Him and with Him is built on a rock, is certain.

We have three examples of this today in our readings from God’s Word.

The first certainty is that, when God acts, the outcome is certain – He wins. We see this in between the lines today in Esther. In Esther, Haman has set out to destroy Mordecai, the Jewish elder in the Assyrian kingdom. In a reversal of positions caused by the king’s realization that Mordecai should be blessed combined with Haman’s narcissistic selfishness, in a reversal of circumstances fit for the movie screen, instead of Mordecai being hanged, Mordecai is honored in an over-the-top way. After this set-back, Haman goes home and starts complaining. In response, his wise men and his wife said to him “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him.” Esther 6:13b To put a theological twist on it, if you oppose the person whom God has blessed, you lost already. When God acts, He and His people win.

The second certainty is that God’s purpose will be achieved and you will be re-purposed according to His plans and not yours. We see this in Acts today, where Paul enters into Ephesus and essentially takes up residence there, speaking boldly in the synagogue and, when that was thwarted by evildoers, in the secular hall. Paul’s purpose was to preach in the synagogue; God made sure that, after a while, this venue was unavailable to him; therefore, he went somewhere else. The reason for this was “…so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” Acts 19:10

The third certainty is that Satan opposes everyone, but that, in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, man can oppose him successfully. This conclusion comes from our reading today in Luke, where Jesus is tempted three times by Satan in the wilderness, first with an attempt to reach Jesus at His base needs level (food), second with an attempt to appeal to His ego (authority), and third with an attempt to appeal to His position in life (Lord of the angels). We say “of course He did that, He is God.” But He was also man and there was a necessary component of Jesus’ ability as man to resist Satan, and that was that Jesus was, at the time, “full of the Spirit.” Luke 4:1. If Satan opposed Jesus, he will oppose us. But Jesus as man gave us the certain tool of resistance, the Holy Spirit (together with a knowledge of God’s Word as our standard of living).

God overcomes circumstances (Esther), opposition (Acts), and treachery (Luke) with absolute certainty. He invites us to do likewise, joining Him through the cross in the fellowship of the Father (Esther), the Son (Acts), and the Holy Spirit (Luke).

With the Father, Son, and Holy Spirt we may live our lives in absolute certainty. Without them, absolute uncertainty.

Boring, you might say, living with certainty all your life. Really? What was boring about the life of Mordecai, Paul, or even Jesus? Mordecai was constantly threatened with death and exclusion, Paul was constantly threatened with expulsion and exclusion, Jesus was constantly threatened with ridicule, exclusion, and death. What was unexciting about their lives?

The truth is that certainty in Christ is a great adventure whereas uncertainty in the world is a drudge.

Our Scripture readings today ended well, but by the world’s standards they could have ended poorly. Mordecai could have been hanged and Paul could have been stoned. If those things had happened, many people would have been inclined to say “see, their faith got them no-where.” But the problem with that is that the certainty which surrounds God would still exist. When God acts, He wins. His purposes will be achieved. Satan may oppose Him, but He always overcomes.

And you can take that to the bank, with certainty.

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© 2014 GBF

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