Bread – Forget

December 28, 2016


Psalm 45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Bread – Disobey

August 22, 2016


Psalm 32

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven…” Ps. 32:1

The three Breads this week will focus on the three types of sins which David talks about and the three ways in which God deals with those sins for those who turn to Him in repentance and believe in Jesus Christ.  Because of the use of words and Jewish poetic parallelism, these three distinctive forms of sin and God’s work with each type are almost lost in the speed with which David delivers them.  But they are important enough that they need to be broken apart.  This week, therefore, we will not go beyond the first two verses, where it all is.

What is a “transgression.”  I admit that my normal automatic interpretation of this is to think that it means a violation of God’s law.  It does not.  It means a stepping upon God’s person, His authority, His righteousness, His kingship.  It means a rebellion against God and His authority over all.  This transgression first occurred in the garden of Eden, before there was law.  There was one simple command, meant to maintain a proper relationship between God and man.  And that instruction was to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  And that request by God was ignored by man, Adam and Eve ate, and man’s relationship with God was torn to pieces.

There can be all kinds of disobedience to God, some having to do with His law but most having to do with our relationship with Him.  God asks us to step through a door in faith, perhaps to pray for sick person or engage in a new job, and we resist in doubt and worry.  Is there any law in this?  No.  Is there rank disobedience and unbelief?  Yes,  God asks us to live our lives to bring glory to Him.  Is there any law to this?  No.  When we follow our own paths to act in ways which bring glory to ourselves, is there rank disobedience and unbelief?  Is the failure to trust God and follow Him transgressing His good name, denying His authority and power, and placing Him either beside or beneath us, instead of over us, a transgression?  Yes it is.

And what does God do about these transgressions to His person when we do them and we return to Him, confessing our sins against His Majesty?  David says that the transgressions are forgiven.  The Hebrew word for “forgiven” in this Psalm means to “lift off.”  When we disobey God, we know it.  O we may hide it in a dark closet where we put away our worse memories, or we may bury it in a flurry of busy-ness, or we may discount it by saying that my disobedience was trivial compared to other people’s or compared to some standard of my making, but we know it.  And because we know it, it is a burden which drags us down.  We lose our sense of the Lord’s presence.  Satan finds the hole to discourage us.  We begin to wonder if He cares.  We find excuses to run further and further away.  We either undervalue our disobedience or over inflate it.  All of our disobedience, no matter how silly to us or how serious, is a horror to God.

And yet what does God do with our sin of transgression, of disobedience?  He lifts it from our shoulders and throws it away when we come to the cross of Christ in repentance.

And the amazing thing is that God does it immediately.  David says in verse 5b: “I said ‘ I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”  Ps. 32:5b

In Jesus parable of the prodigal son, the son is far away from the father, steeped in his transgressions against his father’s will … and he turns toward the father and says “I will go back and say to my father, I have sinned …”  What happens?  The father, while the son is on the way back, starts up the party and is waiting for him.  As soon as he turned and acknowledged that his transgressions needed to be confessed and forgiven, they were forgiven.”

The pressures of life this week will cause us to bend and stoop and will pile up on our backs without slowing down. But these burdens are nothing compared to the burdens we carry around as weighted stones, due entirely to our desire to disobey God, to transgress against Him.  When we sin, we do not just violate a law, we step on God Himself.  These burdens can get so severe that they cause us to look at the ground as we plod away, step by step.  And yet, in the midst of this, if we will but turn toward Him and raise our eyes to hills from whence cometh our help, He is ready to forgive us, to lift the burden from our back for all time, and to place us on solid rock where we may stand free.

How crazy glorious and amazing is this!  And yet there is more to come.

But you can begin right here, right now.  If you have been disobedient to God (and you know you have), turn to Him now in repentance and He will forgive you your trespasses against Him.  You can count on it.

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

 

Bread – Says

June 1, 2015


Readings for Monday, June 1, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 11:13-19; 2 Cor. 5:11-6:2; Luke 17:1-10; Psalms 41.44,52

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In today’s reading from Luke, Christ says “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:3b-4

This is a familiar saying and so when I read it, I almost moved on, but then my eyes caught the word “saying.” To paraphrase, it appears that if my brothers says “I repent,” then I am commanded to forgive him (“you must forgive him”).

My grandson the other day tried to hit me in the head with a hard toy. His mother said to my grandson, “tell him [me] you are sorry.” He came over and gave me a big hug, but he would not say that he was sorry. At the second instruction from his mother to tell me that he was sorry for trying to hit me with a toy, he came over, gave me a big hug, and kissed me, but he still did not say he was sorry. On the third instruction, he came up to me and muttered ‘Sorry,’ quickly spun around, and ran off.

Now he said he was ‘sorry,’ but did he mean it? He hugged me because he loved me and he kissed me for the same reason. But he deliberately through the hard toy at my head to see if he could hit me and he was not in the least sorry that he had thrown it, although I suspect he was sorry he had missed. Did he “repent” of his “sin?” No, but he said “Sorry” (in religious terms he said “I repent”) and, because he said it (and not because he actually was sorry), I am commanded by Christ to forgive him.

We say things all the time we don’t mean. We say “I’m sorry” when we are not sorry. We say “I’m fine” when we are not fine at all. We smile at someone while saying the nicest things, while thinking the exact opposite.

Just because we say we repent of our offense does not mean that we have repented, intend to repent, or ever will repent. We know this and we can see it in actual tone of voice, body position, and by what is done later by the same person. When a person says “I repent” of doing a bad thing and then repeats that bad thing ten minutes later, it is probably fair to say that they have not repented (acknowledged sin and turned away from that sin) but have only said so.

But even if they are just “saying” “I repent,” we are commanded to forgive them. Jesus in this passage does not say to judge the truthfulness of the statement or inspect the fruit of repentance to see if the deeds line up with the statement. If he (or she) simply says “I repent,” we are to forgive him.

Why? One answer might be that we are not to judge the motives or reality of what is said, but merely to take it at face value. This objection against judging is the world speaking, but maybe God is saying that we should just take the truth of what we are told at face value. Another answer might be along the same lines, which is that we should leave judging the heart to God and, therefore, take everything at face value. In the first explanation, if a person says “I repent,” but does not, that is on him and not us – we are to forgive and forget because we are not to judge. In the second explanation, if a person says “I repent,” but does not, that is on him and not us – we are to forgive and forget because God is the judge. The first alternative absolves us of all responsibility for judging; the second alternative passes that responsibility to God.

But there is a third answer to the question which is contained in the passage quoted. Jesus begins this way – “If your brother sins, rebuke him …” Wait a minutes! Isn’t that judging? Yes, it is, but it is a particular kind of judging. It is not the kind of judging that judges and sits but the kind that judges and does. It is the kind of judging which requires engagement by us. We cannot just say “that is a bad person” and stop, but we must (a) identify what exact action or statement, behavior or character, that was “sinful” and (b) physically go to that person, talk to them, “rebuke” them (pointing out the sin and why it is a sin), and call them up into repentance.

The pattern which Jesus lays before us is one of constant engagement with others, where we are rebuking them and then accepting them immediately upon their mere statement of repentance. In this form of engagement, there is no room for hiding because in rebuking you for your sin I might well find myself rebuking myself for mine; there is no room for bitterness or anger because we are confronted immediately with the consequence of our rebuke (whether or not there is repentance); there is no room for loss of relationship because I am commanded to forgive immediately upon a statement of repentance. The pattern which Jesus lays out before us maximizes honesty in relationship, maximizes healthy relationships, maximizes healthy self-examination, and maximizes freedom from bondage to what each other think or what we think they may think.

We have another name for this kind of engagement – it is called “love.”

And we have an adjective for this kind of engagement – “rare.”

Why is it so rare? Maybe it is because we are afraid. We are afraid of what people will think of us when we confront, speak the truth in love, and rebuke. And we are afraid of what we will think of ourselves when we just accept people’s “I’m sorry” at face value, when we forgive them automatically upon their “saying” of repentance. Both of these are forms of hurt, and what Jesus tells us to do we will not do because we are afraid of getting hurt.

But there is really more here than just the avoidance of hurt. Why would we not confront people of their sin and rebuke them if we loved them – after all, isn’t it better for them they hear the truth when stated by someone with no agenda except the highest and best good for the hearer? Why would we not forgive someone automatically who has said that they are sorry – after all, isn’t it a true act of love that we say to them that we believe them, that we trust them, and that we accept them?

When we say that we do not judge what we are really saying is that we do not want to be engaged. When we say that we do not accept the “I’m sorry” at face value without accompanying deeds, what we are really saying is that we do not want to be exposed.

And yet Jesus commands us to be both engaged and exposed. So who will we rebuke and whose statement of repentance will we accept by forgiveness? Let’s begin with the guy or gal in the mirror and see where else it leads!

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© 2015 GBF

Bread – Yield

January 22, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, January 22, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 9:18-29; Heb. 6:1-12; John 3:22-36; Psalms 38,119:25-48

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In my senior year of high school, I was selected as the first seat, first trombone player for both the All State Band and All State Orchestra. By this selection, I was labeled “best” in the state. I had honed my ability to play the trombone through many, many, many hours of intense practice, playing the same thing over and over again until I got it absolutely “right.”

Then, at the state orchestra practice, there was a part which we were struggling with and the conductor brought in a 13 year old trombone player from the North Carolina School of the Arts, who sat down and played the part like he was an angel. In an instant, I saw my better by light years (in fact, I marveled at his ability), and I yielded my position to him.

This is not to pat me on the back, because the difference in quality was too much to ignore. I was an excellent amateur and he was a professional, even at 13. I had received my reward for my hard work, and it was time to move on to the next stage of my life. I was excellent, but there was an excellence higher than me who had just appeared.

Our reading today from John has both John the Baptist baptizing and Jesus also baptizing (through His disciples). When John’s disciples point this out to John, he says some things we need to all remember – “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven…He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:27,30

When the superior comes, we must yield.

Why do we not? Is it our pride in our accomplishments? “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given to him from heaven.” Our accomplishments are but the diligent application of our talents (given to us by God) to our work (given to us by God). Is it pride in our position? Our position is but the world’s acknowledgment of our accomplishment, and that acknowledgement is fleeting as the wind. The gold medal given to the racer at the Olympics is repeated every four years, and not to the same person. The position that matters is our place at the end of God’s banquet table, which we did not earn anyway but is a gift from God, so that no one can boast.

Maybe we don’t willingly yield because we find our merit in our accomplishments or our position or our wealth. Why is that? Because we “earned” it? Because it gives us self-satisfaction? Because we are “god” over our little universe? “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given to him from heaven.” What part of “even one thing” do we not understand?

Christ has shown up, so “He must increase, but I must decrease.” I must yield to the superior. And what happens when I do? Freedom.

Yes, freedom. When we are ready, at an instant, to yield our “rights,” our “power,” our “position,” and our “pride,” what hold then does anyone have on us? What hold does the world have on us when we are ready to both receive the gold medal and, at the same time, refuse it? What hold does the world have on us when we are willing to receive the gold it has to offer and then we turn around and pass it on, give it away. Have we rejected the world? No, but we have rejected any hold it has on us.

By yielding we receive. By letting the superior replace us, we are made free of bondage to ourselves, our position, our abilities, our world.

Try this experiment. Today, yield to everyone. Yield your right to complain by not complaining. Yield your right to be first on the elevator or through the door by holding it open for someone else. Yield your right to speak by being silent. Yield your right to get where you are going faster by just staying in your lane in traffic behind the slow person in front of you. Yield your right to set your own agenda by asking God what His agenda for you today is. Yield your right to worry about yourself and, instead, look into other’s eyes and worry about them.

After all, God yielded to us when we needed a Savior and sent His Son to die for us so that we might, in His power, have eternal life. If God yielded for us, surely we can yield to Him and each other. Can’t we?

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© 2014 GBF

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