Bread – Signs

July 21, 2017


Psalm 74

Your foes have roared in the midst of Your meeting place; they have set up their own signs for signs.”  Ps. 74:4

Those who are of the world and are not for God are against God.  “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?”  Jas. 4:4b  Therefore, the word “foes” here not only includes people who would see God removed totally from life on earth, but also those who wouldn’t go that far but are still hostile to God and those who are neutral toward God, perhaps believing that there are many gods.  So, God has many foes, many enemies.

But what do the enemies of God do to demonstrate their enmity?  The most obvious way is to work to depose His people on earth, to imprison them in their homes or churches, to make sure that none of their infectious ideas (like eternal life through belief in Jesus Christ) are spoken in the public square or reflected in public policy or laws.

The less obvious way is to create symbols and signs which lead away from God or, worse, mislead people into finding a false god.

Ultimately, unless we are the recipient of direct revelation, we take in our information and our knowledge by words, by language.   The foes of God attempt to create signs and symbols which sound like and look like the words they replace, but which lead away from a sovereign Lord and which therefore lead away from life.

There are many illustrations of this, but I will pick three and hopefully one or more you will find accurate.

The first is our description of God in our own translations of Scripture.   What I mean by that is the destruction of the word “he” or “him” when that pronoun refers to God.  In a sentence referring to both me (a man) and God in every major Bible translation today, any reference to either me or God will be either “he” or “him.”  Very, very, very subtly, by doing so the foes of God have equated man and God to the same level.  Do Christians today have a diminished view of God’s sovereignty, His power, and His majesty?  Perhaps it is because God is referred to in man-made translations as “him” or “he.”  Just like I don’t deserve the royal capital “H,” neither in the opinion of these Bible translators does God.

The second is our corruption of the word “love.”  We “love” football, we “love” ice cream, we “love” our children, and we “love” our neighbor become all the same word.  What has great meaning in a covenantal relationship as between us and God or between us and our spouse is reduced in practical terms to “like a lot.”  When we can love our ice cream with the same meaning as we love our neighbor, why should there be any doubt about why we do not understand the concept of “love our neighbor as we love ourselves.”  We may preach about “sacrificial love,” but isn’t it interesting that the word has become so corrupted that we have to try to strengthen it with an adjective to get our point across.  And is there any reason to wonder why we don’t understand what “sacrificial love” is when the real practical translation is “sacrificial like a lot.”

My third example is actually a strange one because it still means something but the meaning is disappearing in front of our eyes.  That word is “privacy.”  When I was young, this was a core concept of life.  When I was in my room alone, I had privacy.  When I was on the telephone, I had privacy.  When I got a letter in the mail, I had privacy.  The notion is related to a strong Christian view that each man is in the image of God and is therefore worthy of respect.  Part of respect is giving each man then the freedom to be alone, to be private.    Some people today believe that the notion of “privacy” is gone in our electronic culture.  E-mails are monitored, we are moving to a cashless society where everything is run through monitored computer, we have “smart meters” which can monitor our internal home usage, we have smart boxes which are constantly listening to “Hey ______,” we communicate through devices which track our buying habits, and we even have laws in place specifying which information is private and which is not.  Of course, the laws that “give” us privacy can take it away.  Finally, our privacy rights (if any we have) in bathrooms are being taken away in the name of social reform.

So, the foes of God set up their own signs (symbols, meanings) for God’s signs (symbols, meanings).

What are we to do?  Well, obviously first we pray for God’s intervention in our worldly affairs.  But the truth is that we can take back the language.  We can substitute our signs for their signs, our symbols for their symbols, our meanings for their meanings.  How do we do that?  I think we do it by becoming a lot more sensitive to the language we use.  For example, let’s reserve the word “love” for where it really matters.  Let’s honor people’s privacy the way we demand they honor ours.

And let’s refer to God as “He” with the royal capital, as He deserves.

________

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

Bread – Refocus

January 20, 2016


Psalm 3

“But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.”  Ps. 3:3

In the last Bread, we found David evicted from his palace by his son, hiding in the desert, surrounded by many enemies, many foes.  And we ended there, with the word “Selah,” which I interpret as meaning stop, listen, think, meditate.  And so that is where we stopped, in the middle of contemplation of all of the real troubles we face every day – debt, worry, income, torn family relations, unethical co-workers and supervisors, the daily scramble for shelter, transportation, and food, defending ourselves constantly from the naysayers while attempting to make progress.  Abandoned perhaps by our perceived friends and, maybe even, our family.  And we hide or strike out in anger or confusion, not knowing which way to turn.

Selah!  Stop, think, recall, remember, look back so you can look forward.  Refocus.

Refocus on what or who?  Follow what David did … in the midst of his troubles, surrounded by many foes, he remembered God and refocused on Him.

Look at the transition from many foes and people saying “there is no salvation for him (David) from God” to the very next line, “But You, O Lord..”

And what does David remember?  That the Lord is (1) a shield, (2) his glory, and (3) the lifter of his head.

How often, when we look back and remember, has the Lord been our shield in time of trouble, bringing us through the valleys, walking with us, speaking to us in words which are unspeakable but are real nonetheless?  How often has this shield caused the darts of the enemy to fall to the ground?  If we believe in Jesus Christ, we know that He is the greatest shield of all, protecting us from God the Father’s just wrath upon us for our sin, for our disobedience.  He is the shield for us from eternal death.

But is He our glory?  Do we shine when we are before Him, on our knees, in obedience and worship?  I think that, if we are in touch with our souls, the answer is “yes.”  Because He is light, when we are in His presence we reflect His light.  Because He is holiness, when we are in His presence we reflect His holiness.  Because He is glory, when we are in His presence we reflect His glory.  When have you been happiest?  When you got the big promotion, when you graduated from school, when you got married, when you got your first dog or cat?  I daresay not even those things have made us really happy, although we are inclined to say so.  I daresay that the date you were the happiest was the date you met our Lord Jesus and knew in your heart that on that day, you were born again into eternal life.  I daresay the date when you are the happiest now is when some great truth from God, some great wisdom, penetrates into your soul, waking you up with His power to do His will in His way.  So, yes, He is not only our shield, but He is our glory.

And, finally, David acknowledges that He is the lifter of David’s head.  When we are burdened down with the bricks and stones which the world throws at us, when we are covered up, by what strength do we look for the new day?  By what strength do we laugh at death and destruction?  By what strength do we lift our own head?  It is not our strength and it is not by our act that we have hope.  It is by God who lifts our head for us.  He provides the power and the action.  All we have to do is to remember, refocus, and trust.

When we are so focused on our troubles that all we can think of is to hide, retreat, cover up, protect ourselves, or maybe strike in anger or reaction, what is the solution?  Selah!  Remember, refocus, and trust.

Instead of looking at our foes and meditating on how powerful they are, David’s message to us is that we need to look at God and meditate on powerful He is.

How do we refocus?  Let God be our shield, our glory, and the lifter of our head.

Now this verse 3 (and 4) are followed by another “Selah!”  And so we stop again, this time to meditate upon God instead of our foes, to meditate on our blessings instead of our curses, to meditate on the eternal as opposed to the temporal, to meditate with our eyes to the hills whence cometh our help instead to the ground, to meditate on the trustworthiness of God instead of the untrustworthy nature of the world.

Is you day going poorly?  Refocus on the truth instead of the lie, on the victory instead of the defeat, on God instead of yourself and the world.

And watch how quickly your shield, your glory, and your lifter of your head comes to be all three.

Selah!

———————————————–

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

 

 

 

Bread – Concrete

January 18, 2016


Psalm 3

A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

“O Lord, how many are my foes!  Many are rising up against me…”  Ps. 3:1

There is a tendency among all of us to intellectualize God and His role in our lives.  We thinks of enemies in the abstract.  We think of difficulties in general.  Except when we are sick, maybe, we tend not to put a specific point on our ideas about help from God.  We talk about mountains and valleys, but we rarely talk about the mountain or the valley.

That is why I call this Bread “concrete.”  This Psalm is not about David’s enemies in general as an idea but about Absalom, David’s son, who led a revolt against David and caused him to run away for his life.  In case you doubt the concreteness of this event, read 2 Samuel, chapters 15 and 16, for a blow by blow.

This Psalm is about a concrete event resulting in David’s fearing for his life, his safety, and his future.

We have been attacked.  Perhaps by a neighbor, a friend, a co-worker, a boss, an employee, a customer, our spouse, our children, and someone else.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s Monday and the sharp knives are out.  You are doing the best you can and are now in full retreat, running for your life as fast as you can.  What did you do to cause it?  Maybe a word.  Maybe an action.  Maybe something building up over a long period of time.  Maybe nothing.  Doesn’t matter … you are being attacked, you are in full retreat, you are feeling overwhelmed and you might in fact be overwhelmed (feelings sometimes do reflect reality).

What do we do?  Perhaps we retreat and cower in fear of what will happen next?  Perhaps we behave like the peacock or gorilla, making ourselves seen or heard for long distances, making ourselves seem bigger, bolder, stronger, and braver than we really are.  Perhaps we plot the counter-attack.  Perhaps we start making calls to find ourselves some allies, some fellow soldiers, so that we can build an army and take back what is ours.  Perhaps we respond in anger and counter-attack immediately, setting fire to the relationships and the situation by our tongue and by our arm.

This is the set-up.  This is the concrete deal.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  All we can see is our foes, our enemies.  All we can see is what we have lost.  All we can see is how much ground we have to get back to put us even or to get even or both.

David was driven out of his home by his own son.  His own son was trying to kill him.  His own son had spread gossip around so that people who David thought were his friends were not, but were hostile to him.  All this came upon David so fast that he ran for the Mount of Olives, the desert, without his shoes (2 Sam. 15:30).

And so in such concrete circumstances, we like David lament, “how many are my foes.”  The cataclysm in our lives is so big that all we can do is shake our head at our situation, convinced in our heart that hope is gone.

And then we, in this Psalm, run into the “Selah.”  No one knows what this means, exactly, but I have noticed that, where it appears in the Psalms, it is like an exclamation point, saying stop … look … and listen.  Sort of God’s ways of saying, in the Psalms, “Pay attention!” or “Stop and watch and listen.”

And so in our reading today, in the concrete moment of disaster, when the only thing occupying our minds is the depth, breadth, number, and power of our foes … God (and the Psalmist) say “Selah!”

How often in the midst of our daily grind do we feel under attack?  How many times are we actually under attack?  In all these circumstances, we can be like David and lament our situation, whine about the strength of our enemies, and be miserable.  But as Christ’s own, once we are done there is a moment when God says to us “Selah!”  And with that we know the next chapter has begun.

Selah!

——————

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

Bread – Payback

September 25, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, September 25, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Kings 6:1-23; 1 Cor. 5:9-6:8; Matt. 5:38-48; Psalms 81,82,119:97-120

—————————————-

There are many hard teachings in Scripture, but the hardest in my opinion involve how we should treat those people who are our enemy. In other words, how as Christians should we “pay back” those who hurt us, both inside the church and outside in the world. All three of our readings today from Scripture address this shortcoming in our Christian walk.

In the first reading, the king of Syria has sent out an army against Elisha because he is tired of Elisha’s messing with his war plans. Elisha’s servant goes outside, sees the army, and panics. In one of the great scenes of the Old Testament, Elisha prays that the servant’s eyes are opened and, when he looks with new eyes, he sees the Lord’s army in the hills, in flaming chariots. Elisha says simply “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 2 Kings 6:16. This is where I love to stop, because it tells me that, when I am surrounded by my enemies, my God surrounds them and will come to my aid. Payback time, right?

Wrong. There is more to the reading. Elisha asks God to blind the Syrian army and then leads the blind army into Samaria, where the Israeli king asks Elisha whether he should kill them all. Elisha says essentially “no, don’t do that.” Instead, Elisha says, “Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” 2 Kings 6:22. In other words, feed them and send them home. Pay them back by being nice to them.

Our lesson from 1 Corinthians is Paul writing the church in Corinth about the stupidity of Christians suing other Christians before unbelievers, saying “So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?” 1 Cor. 6:4 Then Paul essentially asks, why pay them back at all for their wrong, why sue them? “To have lawsuits with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” 1 Cor. 6:7. In other words, when someone cheats you, blow it off! No payback for you. Let them cheat you! So what you have lost money, prestige, position, or power.

Finally, Jesus hits the nail on the head by saying in our third reading today quite simply that “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” Matt. 5:38-41

I believe that if I were to cut out part of the Bible as being just wrong (from my worldly perspective), it would be Jesus’ statement today. But, of course, I am in no position to judge what Jesus said. I can either accept it or not. I can either apply it or not. I can either obey it or not.

Why is it so hard for anyone to “forgive and forget.” I know it is hard for me, and I’ll bet it is hard for you. In fact, it is probably close to impossible for me and I’ll bet it is close to being impossible for you too.

Why? I think it is because we think we are king of our dominion, our world, no matter how small or large that might be. It is our rights which are trampled, our money which is stolen, our peace which is compromised, our reputation which is sullied, our status which is at risk, our power which is removed, our position which is compromised. There is one common feature of all this, and that is the word “our.”

If it’s not mine, then what difference does it make if I lose it? I’ll just report the loss and the circumstances to the person who does own it and let them handle it.

So, really, our desire for payback is really a statement that Jesus is really not our king, a statement that what I have is mine and not God’s, an assertion of priority of position and right over another of God’s creatures (as dishonest as that creature might be, for all I know he or she is one of God’s elect as well, just waiting for a undeserved kindness from a Christian to break into his consciousness that the greatest undeserved kindness is what Jesus did for us on the cross).

Our desire for payback is really a statement that we don’t trust God to make it right, that we really don’t trust God’s army on the hill.

In 2 Kings, our reading today ends with this: “And the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel.” 2 Kings 6:23.

Why not? Why didn’t they treat the Israeli’s feeding them and sparing them the sword as a sign of weakness? The ways of the world would say that, if a populace is that passive, then they can be easily overrun.

There is a great mystery here. Great power is shown by not having to exercise it.

When we turn the other cheek, what message is sent to the wrongdoer? Is it that we are weak and easily beat upon? Or is it that we don’t worry, because we have a defender who is stronger? We don’t worry, because those who are with us are greater than those who are against us. We don’t worry because our God is God.

What should we do today when we are struck by our opponent, by our enemy, by someone who intends to do harm to us? What will we do?

I know what I’ll do. If someone hits me, I’ll hit them back, harder, for payback. That is what I will do. That is not what I should do. What I should do is to obey my master, my Lord, and take the blow and maybe more so that I can tell my enemy about a power greater than him or me, so that I can present the gospel without hypocrisy. But what I should do is so against my natural grain, my carnal state, that growing from “should” to “is” will take a power outside myself greater than me. And that is why we have the Holy Spirit.

Come Holy Spirit.

____________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Cooption

October 31, 2011


Readings for Monday, October 31, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Neh. 6:1-19; Rev. 10:1-11; Matt. 13:36-43; Psalms 56, 57, 58, 64, 65

—————————————-

Cooption (pronounced co-option) is a word which is peculiarly close to “cooperation” and is therefore doubly dangerous because cooption can occur in the context of cooperation; cooption can occur in the context of trying to be a nice guy, a person who goes along to get along.

What is cooption? Webster’s dictionary defines the verb “co-opt” as follows: “to persuade or lure (an opponent) to join one’s own system, party, etc.” Cooption (or co-option) is the noun, reflecting the process of luring someone into another way of thinking.

In Nehemiah today we have an excellent example of cooption in action. Nehemiah is following the instructions of God and rebuilding Jerusalem. He is in the process of finishing the wall and gates around Jerusalem. In the middle of his work, he gets this letter from an opponent of the work, “Come, let us meet together [outside the city]…” Neh. 6:2. In and of itself, this appears to be a neutral offer. We are not getting along, so let us talk together so we can resolve our differences. Let us cooperate instead of fight. Let us have peace.

The allure of this is substantial. No one likes to live within a context of hostility and opposition. We all believe that, if only we could talk to the other side, they would swoon over our arguments and we will have won a friend. We all are confident in our ability to stay the course of our own beliefs, so it is OK to let a little “other thinking” in. After all, aren’t we required as Christians to love our neighbor? Isn’t part of that meeting with them in a neutral place to talk out our differences? In fact, isn’t a little compromise a good thing, because it acknowledges respect for the other side, because they may have some truth on their side too?

See how subtly I have coopted you, relying upon your desire to be nice, to be recognized, to be loved, to be respected, to live in peace and friendship?

But Nehemiah was not engaged in his own work, which he could cast aside in favor of compromise. He was engaged in the Lord’s work. And so he had this response: “I am carrying on a great project and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Neh. 6:3

To us this seems rude and offensive. “Let us dialogue” has been rejected by “I am doing and I will not stop the work to engage in useless talk.” What work could be so great that it cannot be delayed for a few minutes to talk to our enemies?

There is subtle lie in that last question, which is at the core of cooption. The problem is that, once the dialogue with people who oppose God’s work begins, it does not last a “few minutes;” it lasts forever. There is always one more thing to talk about, always one more point or concept to massage into unrecognition. There is always one more meeting, one more telephone call, one more speech, one more reconsideration, one more “let us reason together.”

There are enemies of the Gospel. These enemies have lots of tools – discouragement, misrepresentations (lies), worry, hopelessness. But one of their biggest tools is one of their least recognized – cooption. They appear as angels of light to engage you in endless dialogue about useless trifles, while the work of the kingdom assigned to you is set aside on the shelf, is delayed, is compromised, and is ultimately rendered tasteless, lightless, soulless, and lifeless.

How do we avoid being coopted? There were three things which Nehemiah had going for him. The first is that he knew who his God was and what job his God had assigned him. In Nehemiah’s case, it was rebuilding Jerusalem. In your case, it might be cleaning bathrooms. It doesn’t matter, because whatever job God has given us to do at that point in time is His work, not ours, and is to be done for His glory, not ours.

The second thing Nehemiah had going for him was that he recognized the enemy of the gospel. This is not as hard as it appears. Anyone who would assert a false god as king (work, power, money, prestige) is an enemy of the Gospel. Anyone who would urge us to satisfy our lusts rather than our new life in Christ is an enemy of the Gospel. Anyone who tells us that we are in control is an enemy of the Gospel. Anyone who loves the ways of the world rather than the ways of righteousness is an enemy of the Gospel. But you look around and say, “that is a lot of people.” Yes it is and so what?

The third thing that Nehemiah had going for him was that he was empowered by the Holy Spirit to discern when to say “no.” He had good boundaries. He recognized that not to say “no” to his enemies was tantamount to saying “no” to God. He knew he could not do both. He knew that the objectives of his enemies was not to win – it was to delay, derail, and ultimately destroy the work God had assigned him to do.

We also have all three things. We have a job to do given to us by our Creator. It is a job of pronouncing the reign of Christ, His work on the cross. It is a job of taking care of those people whom God has brought into our circle of care, whether it be in our family, our neighborhood, or the church. It is a job of praising God for our blessings. It is a job of good works which bring glory to God. It is a job of obedience. It is a job of joy. It is a job of love. We also have enemies who would rather deny us our hope and life than anything else. We also can say “No.” We can join with Nehemiah in saying that we will not stop the work to compromise with the enemy of the Gospel. How can we do this? Through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

—————————————————–

%d bloggers like this: