Bread – Praise

June 2, 2017


Psalm 67

Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You!  The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.  God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear Him!” Ps. 67:5-7

The first verse of these three verses ends in “praise You” and the last verse ends in “fear Him.”  There is a structure here, like two bookends between which is repeated twice, “God shall bless us.”

We normally connect the word “praise” with joyful outpouring of emotion in a happy, exuberant way; and we normally connect the word “fear” with the exact opposite, where we shrink or run away in terror.  With praise we approach the throne of God in our minds; with fear we run away from the throne of God, again in our minds.

We praise either in thanksgiving for our blessings or in anticipation of them.  Since we have gotten those blessings, are getting them now, and will get them in the future, praise of our Benefactor is to be expected.

We fear in comparison to power.  When someone has a gun pointed at us and we don’t, our natural and appropriate reaction is to fear.  When we contemplate our sinfulness in comparison against a holy God, our Judge, then fear may well be an appropriate response.

So why are blessings in the middle between praise and fear?  It is because that is where they belong.

We cannot fear that which we do not comprehend.  We fear a pointed gun because we understand its power, having seen its use on television.  We fear a mighty God if we understand His power; we understand His power in comparison to us if we are given wisdom to see by the same God.  When God gives us the power to see Him, we see ourselves for who we are in comparison, and the natural reaction then is fear of condemnation.  We are unworthy; He is worthy.  We are sinful; He is not.  We are promise-breakers; He is a promise-keeper.  We make some things; He makes everything.  We think in time; His thoughts are timeless, for all eternity.  When we see what God ought to do to us, we are rightly fearful and in awe of the coming Judgment.

But once we fear Him, once we fully comprehend who He is and who we are, His grace and mercy appears to us through Jesus Christ.  And once we understand the eternal blessing we have received through faith in Him, our fear turns to praise.  We may properly fear God for what He could do and what He should do, and simultaneously we may exult in joyful praise God because He has turned is righteous wrath away from us and dumped it on Jesus Christ, who stands with us, for us, and in us for eternity.  What God could do to me and should do to me because of my sinfulness, He chooses not to do because of the death of Jesus for my sins.  All I have to do is to recognize Him and have faith in Him, which I could not do but for God’s power.

The very thing which causes me to fear God is the very thing which causes me to praise Him, which is why fear and praise are bookends to blessing.

Now, why call this “Bread” “Praise” instead of “Fear?”  It is for a simple reason.  We cannot fear God unless we see Him and acknowledge Him for who He is.  And what better way to praise God than to recognize who He is in the world and in me?

We think of praise as raising joyful hands, but praise is also on our knees, in awe of Him, bowed before our King.

“Let the peoples praise You, O God … God, our God, shall bless us.  God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear Him.”  Between praise which acknowledges the sovereignty of God (fear) and praise which acknowledges the graciousness of God (praise), there is a double blessing.

Thank You, Jesus.

________

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

Bread – When

March 15, 2017


Psalm 56

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.  In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.  What can flesh do to me?”  Ps. 56:3-4

This verse is preceded by David complaining that man steps on him and attacks him all the time.

Which then leads to the “when I am afraid…” verse.

My first reaction to this (and the reason Bread is called “When”) was this — isn’t it true that we never trust God in the good times, but only the desperate?  Men were trampling David and beating him up, and he was OK doing battle with them on his own.  But when the odds became overwhelming to him, when he became afraid, that is when he trusted God.  “When I am afraid …” could mean that I trust God when I am afraid, suggesting that I do not trust Him when I am not afraid.  This led me to an easy conclusion for this Bread, namely that we should trust God all the time.

However, when I started thinking about being afraid, being truly afraid, I asked myself what the typical human reaction is.  That reaction is either “fight or flight,” according to the psychologists.  When we are afraid, our natural reaction, our womanly or manly reaction, is to either run away and escape (flight) or become incredibly angry and somewhat crazy and fight (fight).  When we are afraid of losing an argument, we double down (fight) or admit defeat (flight).  When we are in a hostile zone where people do not like us or may be even trying to hurt us, we try to hurt them first (fight – the best defense is a good offense, right?) or we exit stage left (flight).

But God tells us that there is a third thing we can do.  Rather than exit the difficulty (flight) or put on our boxing gloves (fight), we can trust God.

How can Christians love their enemies when their enemies hate them?  By trusting in God and neither leaving the fight (flight) nor adding flames to it (fight).

How can Christians both speak the truth in love and not back down in the face of opposition, all without increasing hatred and anger?  By trusting in God and neither backing down in the name of tolerance (flight) or engaging in a knockdown, drag out fight over who is right and who is wrong (fight).

How do Christians stand in the evil day?  By trusting in God and neither retiring to their sanctuaries (homes or churches, flight) nor heaping curses upon those who do not believe (fight).

When put in this perspective, the simple statement that David makes when he says “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You” is not so simple after all.

We will be in danger and will be afraid many times today.  We may have to talk to the stranger in the elevator.  We may have to explain to a disbelieving colleague why we are a Christian.  We may be in economic circumstances which cause us to wonder whether we will eat tonight or make the rent tomorrow.  We may have just received a bad diagnosis from a doctor.  We may be in the middle of losing an argument or some other kind of fight which we believe in our heart we must win.

What will we do?  Will we run away from the fight?  Will we jump in the middle of the fight with our weapons of words, fists, or other devices?  Or will we reject man’s solutions of fight or flight and, instead, put on the full armor of God and trust in Him?

When do we trust in Him?  When will we?

________

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

Bread – Terror

February 24, 2017


Psalm 53

There they [the wicked] are, in great terror, where there is no terror!”  Ps. 53:5

I probably read this passage three times before I realized that there was a “no” in front of terror.  The Psalmist is telling the people who work evil that they are in “great terror,” even though there isn’t any.

Is terror real or is it a figment of our imagination?

I think the answer to that is “yes” (to both).  There can be a very real danger to our safety and security which causes us to be afraid and terrified (which is the real part), and we are terrified because …. (this is the imagination part).

Why are we terrified of anything?  I think it is because we have no control in the moment or perhaps our very existence is threatened or because we are confronted with the ugliness of our ourselves.  But we are terrified because the “I” is at extreme risk.  The danger may very well be real and we may die from the encounter or be seriously hurt, but we are afraid only because we hate losing, we hate being hurt, we hate the thought of dying, we hate the thought of homelessness or misery or becoming penniless.  We are terrified because the “I” is at risk.

Yes, the evil ones, the doers of iniquity and wickedness – yes, these folks are terrified of God’s judgment on their lives, because they know that God’s judgment will destroy the “I.”  “I did I my way” will one day run into the wall of judgment, and the “I” will in fact be gone, dead to sin.

But God says in this simple line, but they should not be terrified because there is no terror.

Why is there no terror, according to God.  The answer is simple and profound.  There is no terror for those who believe in Christ because Christ took that terror, that wrath of God, upon Himself.  He invites those of us who abide with Him into a place of shelter.  Though we may be seriously injured, though we made be made poor, though we may in fact die a physical death, we have no terror because there is none to be had.  We live in Christ and Christ in us.  There is no “I” to destroy and therefore there is no need to be afraid.

“Though I walk in the shadow of death, I will fear no …”  How can we say this and mean it?  Because the same God which causes terror in the wicked because of who they are has forgiven us because of who He is.

To those who do not believe in Christ, there are many terrors.  For those who do believe in Christ, there are none.

Now, let’s live like it – in boldness, in freedom, in obedience, in the name and power of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

_________

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Speaker

October 5, 2016


Psalm 36

Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.”  Ps. 36:1

If we are listening in our minds, in our hearts, or in our souls (depending upon your philosophical bent), then who is speaking?  Who is the speaker who talks to us, guides us, and guards us?  Who do we listen to?

What led me to this question today is actually a translation issue with this verse.  In the ESV, which echoes the King James Version of the Bible, the speaker is “transgression.”  The wicked listen to their transgressions; sin speaks to them in ways that they want to hear and need to hear.

But there is a second translation of this verse.  It is contained in the New International Version translation and goes like this – “An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked; there is no fear of God before his eyes.” Here the speaker is an “oracle” which abides in the writer’s heart.  However, this itself is not complete, because the the Hebrew tie-in to “oracle” is “wickedness.” Instead of an oracle of God or an oracle of wisdom, here we have an oracle of wickedness.

Whereas “transgression,” representing an act of disobedience (blind or deliberate, doesn’t matter), relates to a “thing,” the word “oracle” most often relates to a person, an actual speaker for a deity.  People speak with the oracle to obtain wisdom from the deity behind the oracle, or to obtain favors from the deity, or to avoid trouble.   Therefore, the “oracle of wickedness” must relate to the fundamental source of disobedience, of transgression, the spiritual being behind the oracle.  In Christianity, this spiritual being is Satan.

So, is the speaker to the wicked the wicked’s sin (transgression) or is it Satan working through the transgression?

Because of the translation issue, it is possible to conclude that it is both.  However, I think that, to interpret the message properly, to hear the communication, one needs to know who and what the speaker is.  If the speaker sounds like he is speaking the truth but behind him or her is the Prince of Lies, then chances are the apparent truth is not the real truth, but a carefully orchestrated lie.

The second half of the verse though is where the rubber meets the road.  For the wicked, it is clear who the speaker is not – the speaker is not the Lord because “there is no fear of God before his eyes.”  How can one listen to a speaker whose very existence is denied?  It is not that God is not speaking; it is that the wicked is not listening.  The wicked is not listening because “there is no fear [recognition, apprehension, understanding] before his eyes.”

We can let books speak to us, movies speak to us, radio and television speak to us, our next door neighbor speak to us, our own life experiences speak to us.  Those are the apparent speakers, the ones directly in front of us.  Just like in this verse, the thing is before us (our transgression) and that thing speaks to us.  But who is the speaker behind the speaker?

Christianity has an answer to that question.  The speakers behind the speakers are either God or Satan.

When we are confused by the messages we are receiving, perhaps we should ask ourselves who the speaker of those messages is.  God’s speech leads to eternal life; Satan’s speech leads to eternal death.  God’s speech leads to victory in the worse circumstances; Satan’s speech leads to defeat in the best circumstances.

Who is the speaker you are listening to?

_________

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

 

 

Bread – Fears

September 12, 2016


Psalm 34

I sought the Lord and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”  Ps. 34:4

What do we really fear?  For some of us, it is the phobias of the world – fear of falling, fear of heights, fear of snakes and bugs, fear of closed in spaces.  For others of us, it is the fear of failure – fear of loss of position or power, fear of loss of wealth, fear of loss of reputation.  And then there are the fears related to our emotions – fear of rejection, fear of loneliness, fear of separation, fear of being disliked, fear of being unappreciated.  There are lots of fears out there, to the point that we have a lot of fear classifications.

One that has always fascinated me is fear of success.  I think closely allied to that is fear of the unknown.  If we are comfortable with living a life of poverty, then our greatest fear may be of getting a successful job and all the change which will occur because of that.  The Bible says that we get not because we ask not.  I think that, behind the not asking, is a real desire not to receive.  What if we asked for wisdom and then we got it … maybe we are afraid that, if we had wisdom, we would actually have to be wise, which then means that we would have to change the way we live and change the way we interact with others.

It is much easier to stay where we are than to change.  We never have to answer the “what if” if we are afraid to try, to reach out, and to grow up.

If you think about it, the essence of the new man promised by God when we trust in Jesus Christ is really the removal of fear of being a new creation.  For us to love others, it is not necessary that we first love ourselves, it is necessary that we have our fears of love, exposure, and others eliminated.  One of the miracles of new birth is the destruction of fear by the power of God.  One of Satan’s greatest tools to keep us enslaved to him is fear; one of God’s greatest tools to release us from bondage is to release us from fear of freedom.

Are you ready to be fearless this week?  Seek the Lord.   And when the Lord shows up, take His deliverance of you from all your fears … and be grateful.

_________

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

 

 

Bread – Power

September 2, 2016


Psalm 33

The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.  The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its might it cannot rescue.  Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love, that He may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.  Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.”  Ps. 33:16-20

Where is power located?  Where can it be found?

When I was getting my Masters of Business Administration, I took a course in power (of course, it wasn’t called that – it was called leadership).  We talked about a lot of things and looked at a number of psychological studies.  These showed things like how to arrange furniture to project power, where to stand, how to talk, etc.  We talked about technical power which comes from knowledge – engineers who know what they are doing have technical power because people absolutely rely on them to do things well so that bridges do not fall down, generators work, etc.  We talked about positional power, where a person’s power comes from the position they occupy, like a president has more positional power than does the bookkeeper; however, we learned that positional power is tricky, because the assistant who controls access to the president may have more positional power than even the president in some organizations.  Then we talked about situational power, where power is essentially derived from the group of people you are working with (where they voluntarily surrender power to you).  And we also talked about personal power, which arises from force of personality, drive, vision, charisma, and the such like.  I am sure new names have been attached to these and other similar concepts, but you get the drift.

But, in that entire course, we never talked about what David is talking about, the source of real power, God.

When we are in trouble, what do we fall back on?  Do we fall back on our great wealth, our family, our friends, our position, our intelligence, our native abilities, our talents, our knowledge?  To the extent we fall back on these things, and all of us do, we are demonstrating that we believe that real power comes from us or our surroundings or others somehow.  If only we could tap into the power source of self-awareness, self-assurance, or self-reliance, then we can dig our way out.  Of course, the operative word here is “self.”  When we fall back on ourselves or others, we have fallen into the arms of the world to give us the power we need to be saved, to survive the famine.

But David says that “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men … don’t hold a candle to the living God.” (or something like that)

The king is not saved by the king’s power nor his kingdom’s power; He is saved by the strong arm of the Lord and His kingdom’s power.

Where do you truly believe real power comes from?  Does it come from the sources we have been taught, or does it come from the Source which has been revealed to us by the Word written and the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ?

No doubt about it, there is a battle afoot.  There is a war.  It is the battle for ideas, the battle for resources, the battle for territory, the battle for position, the battle for truth, the battle for our families, the battle for our country, and the actual wars which grow out of these battles.  We cannot escape them.  They are here and we are players.

The question is, what kind of players are we?  Are we the players who plot and scheme and lead the charge (or follow the leader), who rely on ourselves and our fellow man and their resources, or are we players who are citizens of a different world, who know where real power lays, who rest in the knowledge that Jesus Christ, Father, and Holy Spirit are “our help and our shield?”

The time for testing is coming.  In whose army shall we fight?

_________

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

Bread – Fear

July 6, 2016


Psalm 27

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”  Ps. 27:1

Fear surrounds us, invades us, and is reflected by us in our avoidances and our doings.

We fear the disapproval of others.  Why do we wear certain clothing over others, attend certain events over others, associate with certain people over others, drive certain cars over others, live in certain places over others, or act in certain ways over others?  I daresay that for most people, it is fear which drives their decisions.  We fear being left out, we fear being found  boring, we fear being discovered biased or prejudiced, we fear being unloved (which we equate to lack of attention or acceptance), we fear not being in the “in crowd,” we fear being “wrong” in the eyes of the world, we fear being considered stupid or “out of touch” or uncool.

We fear that our work will be rejected, ignored, criticized, made fun of, or stolen by others for their glory.

We fear having too much wealth and thereby being considered greedy or having too little wealth and thereby being considered irrelevant.  We fear being too successful and we fear being unsuccessful.

We fear being incompetent, of not being “up to the task,” of failing others expectations of our performance.

We fear life and we fear death.

We fear bugs and technology we don’t understand.  We fear people who do not look like us, talk like us, or pray like us.

Why?  Why do we fear?  The Psalmist says clearly that, because the Lord guides me (is my light), delivers me (salvation), and protects me (the “stronghold of my life”), I can clearly ask the question – then who or what shall I fear?

Why do we fear?  Perhaps it is because the Lord is not our light, because we do not follow His ways (or even study His word to know what His ways are).  Perhaps it is because we know so little about His ways that we fear going into strange paths.  Perhaps we know His ways but fear the light itself, preferring to hide in darkness.  Perhaps we are deliberately disobedient and, knowing that, rightly fear His wrath or, if we are saved, His disappointment.

Why do we fear?  Perhaps it is because we do not believe that the Lord has delivered us from ourselves, from our sin, to live life eternal with Him.  If we believe that we can lose our salvation because we are responsible for winning our salvation with good works, then, because we all fail and fall short, perhaps fear here is justified.  If we believe, though, that Jesus is sovereign and by the Trinity’s will saves in spite of ourselves (exercising grace, mercy, and election), and we still fear that we can lose our deliverance, perhaps we fear because we do not understand God in His fullness of power, authority, and holiness.  Or perhaps we know and believe all those things but still fear because, although we say we believe, we harbor a little doubt.

Why do we fear?  Perhaps it is because we do not seek shelter in the Almighty, but seek it with others or in places of our making rather than God’s.

Why are Christians not powerful?  Why do we not pray for others with expectation of fulfillment?

I am going to answer that question personally.  I have a very difficult time praying for people who are sick and the reason is not what you think.  The reason I have a hard time praying for someone who is sick is that God might answer my prayers and heal that person … and what would that mean?

See, I fear the answer to that question.  It is because I would then be confronted with all the other times I have been commanded to pray for someone, to intervene in their lives, to walk through a particular door loving that person…and I did not.  To confront the depth of the harm I have caused others because I have been disobedient to my call as a Christian is to confront the reality of who I am and the depth of my depravity as a human being born of Adam’s disobedience.  But on the flip side, in the depths of such self-analysis, in the valley of self-knowledge, I also then see the miracle of grace that God reached down and saved me for Him, and I see the miracle of new birth that I have been snatched from the valley of death and placed on the mountaintop to be and to learn “new things.”

Who do we fear most of all?  Ourselves.  But even that is overcome when we are guided by the light, saved by grace, and sheltered in the wings of the Most High.

When we are guided by the Most High, saved by the Most High, and protected by the Most High, who is there to fear?  No one, not even ourselves.

Thank you, Lord.

_________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Fear

June 22, 2016


Psalm 25

“Who is the man who fears the Lord?  Him will He instruct in the way that he should choose.  His soul shall abide in well-being…The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He makes known to them His covenant.”  Ps. 25:12-14

“Fear” is an interesting word because of how we think about it.  When we think of “fear,” most often we think of the places where fear is most likely to occur and our reaction to the things which cause fear.

We know the places which make us fearful.  For some people, it is the place of loud noise or angry, yelling people.  For others, it may be a dark room or a tall place.  Our fear antenna goes up when we are walking alone on a poorly lighted street late at night, or when we see a group of mean-looking people harassing others.  We fear bullies and we may fear people with guns and knives.  Some of us are so skittish we may be afraid of our own shadow.  That is the kind of fear which causes our heart rate to go up and, often, causes a panic reaction.

Then there is the place of fear which is more psychological, where we fear being the one left out of the pickup ball game, or fear wearing the wrong clothes or having the wrong set of friends.  This is more of a social fear, but the panic can be just as overwhelming.

As I mentioned, when we think of fear and our own fear in particular, we often think of our reaction to it.  And our reaction to fear is most often to run away from the thing or the person or the situation causing it, to hide, or to not go there to begin with, to avoid the cause.

If we have the proper amount of fear, we are careful.  If we have a little too much fear, we are fretful.  If we have a lot of fear, we cower or run.  Part of becoming an adult is learning how to have a proper amount of fear and how to channel our reactions to it so that our reactions are appropriate in the circumstances.  For example, while our natural reaction to fear of an unruly crowd is to avoid them or run away, we might be trained in crowd control and so we actually confront our fears and engage the unruly crowd.  In the first instance, our fear is unmanaged; in the second, it is managed.

Why do we run away from God?  Why do we deny Him?  Why do we hide from Him?  Why, having accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior, do we not fully exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit and engage our friends and neighbors with the truth of the gospel?  Some would say that it is our pride and our arrogance, believing that there is no God or, even if we admit that there may be a God, believing that we don’t need Him.  I think the closer answer might be because we have either an unhealthy fear of Him or a fear of having to confront ourselves if what He says is true.  We first fear to know God and, when we finally bypass that fear to learn about Him, we then fear Jesus.  Once we bypass our fear of Jesus and come to know Him, we then fear the Holy Spirit and His effect on our lives.  When we fear God in this unhealthy way, we wall Him off.  When we fear Jesus Christ in this unhealthy way, we wall Him off.  When we fear the Holy Spirit in this unhealthy way, we wall Him off.

But this Psalm tells us to fear God first and then good things will happen.  The reason is simply that, in order to have a proper understanding of God, we need to recognize that He is not a teddy bear, He is not a clown, He is not our best friend, He is not our equal … He is holy, He is righteous, He is wrathful, He is judge, jury, and executioner, He is all-powerful, He is full of awe-inspiring wonder, He is above all things, He is creator of all things, He is Lord of all things, He is perfect – He is not us; He is God.  Knowing that God is all these things, the only proper place to be is on the ground, face down and covered, hoping that He does not burn us up and throw us into the fires of Hell where, but for His mercy, we belong.

This fear which comes from knowing our place in the world and from knowing God is a healthy fear.  It puts us in the right place, knowing that in all things we did not go to Him; He came to us.

But from that healthy fear, that knowledge that when we are in His presence we are in the presence of God Almighty and not God-of-man’s-invention, we are now ready to listen (to hear God’s instruction “in the way that [we] should choose.”  From that healthy fear, our souls will “abide in well-being” because we know that the God who has saved our souls and who protects our souls is able to deliver our souls into eternal life.  From that healthy fear, we know that God can and will deliver on every one of His promises.

And from a position of healthy fear of the Lord, we shall have the “friendship of the Lord.”  The word “friendship” here actually means a couch, a pillow, a place for a conversation or a consultation.   And, indeed, when we have a healthy fear of the Lord, we are ready to meet Him in prayer, in meditation, in His Scripture, whenever we are ready and He chooses.  In this conversation, with a healthy fear we understand that it is not a conversation among equals, but between master and slave, God and man, Savior and saved, Teacher and disciple.  It is when we have fear of the Lord that we are ready to speak to Him boldly, not because we are equal but because He has given us permission.  It is when we have fear of the Lord that we are ready to grow up.

The phrase “Have no fear” does not mean what it says.  Fear is a good thing and it will lead us to eternal life.  Better it is said “Have no unhealthy fear … and prosper.”

_________

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

 

Bread – Peacocks

July 9, 2015


Readings for Thursday, July 9, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 16:14-17:11; Acts 10:17-33; Luke 24:36-53; Psalm 18

—————————————-

I have always been fascinated by peacocks, not only because of their beauty but because of their offensive and defensive weapons. What are these weapons? The span of feathers which spread out when they are alarmed or want to make their point, displaying a broad variety of colors, many “eyes,” and a “huge” appearance, showing dominance in the situation. Of course, this display of color is also used for mating.

Many of us act like peacocks, strutting around in our finery asking the world to look at us and, then, when challenged or when we want to make an impressions, displaying a vision of ourselves much bigger than the reality. When we are told to think soberly about ourselves as we ought to, I translate this to “Don’t think of yourself as a peacock and don’t act like one either.” Our sin envelops us like filthy rags and not brilliant feathers, and our fear of what other people (the world) thinks of us lays waste to our self-image that we are bigger and better than life.

In today’s readings, we are introduced to a male peacock by the name of Goliath. When Goliath appears on the field of war, he stands nine feet tall, has on a coat of bronze mail which weighs, by itself, 125 pounds. The tip of his spear was an iron point weighing 15 pounds. He was one impressive dude – a peacock in full display. And yet we know from the history lesson (finished in tomorrow’s readings) that this titan of war was brought down by God through a boy without armor, a slingshot, and a stone small enough to fit in the slingshot. But before we get there, our lesson today ends with this – “When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine (Goliath) [“I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.”], they were dismayed and greatly afraid.” 1 Sam. 17:11

The world attacks Christians with peacocks. These enemies of Christ and the Word of God look big, they are well dressed and well-armed, they speak words which cast fear into the hearts and minds of the hearers, and they cause Christians to be “dismayed and greatly afraid.” Our recent pronouncement from the United States Supreme Court redefining marriage away from God’s definition have made Christians who attempt to teach God’s Word and His commands as the standard for life are dismayed and fear that society will marginalize them and turn them into refugees in the country which they built.

God reminds us in our reading today from Samuel that these fearful things the world throws at us are merely peacocks, ready to be brought down using God’s people using His tools in His time. There is nothing to fear from peacocks; there is something to fear in our reaction to them, because by so reacting we deny the power the God in the circumstances.

Peacocks cannot only be animals and people, but they can be concepts and ideas as well. Peter, as a Jew, was prohibited from dealing with unclean things and people. When he is invited in our reading from Acts to visit Cornelius, a Gentile Roman official, he reminds Cornelius “You [Cornelius] yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation…” Acts 10:28. Whether from tradition or otherwise, Peter was taught that he should not interact with Gentiles and, whenever he would approach, the peacock of an idea would spread its wings, saying “don’t come here, don’t pass by, or I’ll bite you or something worse!”

But there is a remainder to the sentence which I did not quote. Peter visited Cornelius because God added a “but,” “….but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.” Acts. 10:28

As our society devolves, the world (and the church) may throw up more and more peacocks to block our way, to convince us that we are going in the wrong direction. But God says to us that we don not have to become like them to engage them. We do not need the finery of the world to show that plain dress is worthy. We do not need the permission of the world to engage the world. We do not need to hide in the shelter of the sanctuary when the field is ready for harvest. We do not need the world to tell us what love is when we know who it is.

When we see whatever Goliath the world sends our way, we should not react with “dismay” and “great fear.” Instead, we should step into the field of battle, knowing that God has won and that we, in and through Him, get to participate in the victory. For this battle is not ours, but the Lord’s. And He is mighty to save.

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© 2015 GBF

Bread — Fear

June 23, 2015


Readings for Tuesday, June 23, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 6:1-16; Acts 5:27-42; Luke 21:37-22:13; Psalms 94, 95, 97, 99, 100

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Who do you fear?

This is actually a more profound question than may first appear. In fact, it is the topic of all three of our readings today.

In Samuel, the infidel Philistines feared God and so did what was right before God, even though their religious system did not recognize Him, and they returned the stolen ark to Israel, along with a “guilt offering” for their trespass.

In Acts, Gamaliel, “a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people,” sort of fears God and so he counsels the Jewish council to release the apostles from capture because “if this [the apostles’/Jesus’] plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” Acts 5:34,38-39. Gamaliel knew God well enough and feared Him enough that he knew that God was in control of the outcome and to avoid being opposed to God’s work. Here, Gamaliel did not necessarily “help” God by returning the ark (the apostles) but feared God enough to not oppose Him by keeping the apostles either.

And then, finally, there is our reading from Luke where “the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put Him [Jesus] to death, for they feared the people.” Lk. 22:2. The people were following Jesus rather than them, they feared “the people” and their loss of power and position, and they struck back against God to protect themselves.

In these three readings we are confronted with a certain reality. Those of us who claim Christ, may attend church from time to time, may participate in a “Bible study” as much for its social benefit as its revelation of the Word, and believe that “fundamentalism” is dead or dying because the church needs to “change” to reflect “reality,” really do take Him for granted. Those of us in that category are more afraid of what people may think of us than what God thinks of us; we are more afraid of disgrace, condemnation, death and imprisonment at the hands of man rather than eternal damnation at the hand of God.

Do we, so-called Christians, really fear God. How is it that the unbeliever (the Philistines) and the works-believer (Gamaliel) fear our God more than we do, we who claim to know Him and worship Him and love Him?

We don’t like to use the word “fear” because it is a negative word. If we fear God, the thinking goes, then we will want to run away from Him and not run toward Him. I suggest that the opposite is true. When we truly fear God, what is brought home is the grace-mercy by which we have been saved. When we truly fear God, the enormity of what God did for us on the cross is brought home. When we truly fear God, we have faith in our future because we know that a fearsome God fights for us and will deliver us. A so-so God may not keep His promise; a strong, fearsome God will always keep His promise because it is His nature. The very things which make God fearsome are those things which make Him Lord, Savior, and Redeemer.

So, who do we fear? Man or God.

Choose wisely.

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© 2015 GBF

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