Bread – Vengeance

January 17, 2018


Psalm 94

O Lord, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth!…the Lord our God will wipe them out.”  Ps. 94:1,23

When I went to label this Bread, I almost called it “revenge” because we tend to think of “revenge” and “vengeance” together.  However, they are two separate things.  Revenge is an act of passion, committed in anger.  Vengeance is an act of justice, committed with thoughtful action focused on redress of wrong.  “Injuries are revenged, crimes are avenged.” [Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Zondervan 1966; citing Dr. Samuel Johnson].

Here the Psalmist is asking God to deliberately redress the wrong of those people, fools in the Biblical sense, who deny God and oppress His people.

Of course, we wish God to exercise vengeance in our time, according to our schedule and for our purpose.  He will do so, but in His time and according to His purpose.

And, indeed, the wicked will be wiped out, as we know from having read the biblical prophets, including John, the author of Revelation.

But, seeing where God sometimes appears to not care, we are inclined to exercise God’s vengeance ourselves.  Instead of asking God for it and being content to let God do what He will do when He does it, we like to accelerate the process and “help” God along.  But we are told not to.  “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath [vengeance], for it is written ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay.’”  Rom. 12:18-19 (NIV).

We will be wronged today.  The method and degree may be uncertain, but the fact is not.  The wrong may be to our ego or it may be to our person, including assault, or property, including theft.

Like so many things, the only question will be our response.  Will we react in revenge, making sure that we get even.  Or will we respond with mercy, praying to God to avenge or seeking God’s agent on earth, the magistrate, to deliver vengeance.

We are inclined to say “vengeance is mine.”  But the Lord says that vengeance is His.

When we are ready to deliver the blow, fight for our rights, or deliver the cruel verbal punchline which our tormentor deserves, what will we do?  Will we ignore God once again and turn to our own devices to secure our own revenge?  Or will we rely on Him who is faithful, and wait for His action on our behalf?

The truth is we don’t wait well.  But maybe the process of waiting for justice is its own schoolhouse of faith, driving us even further toward the true King, Jesus, and denying ourselves?

Tough call.  Even tougher obedience.  But necessary if we do in fact believe God is King and we are not.

_______

© 2018 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bread – Sin

February 6, 2017


Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”  Ps. 51:1-2

The context of this Psalm is that it is written by David after his adultery with Bathsheba, his murder of her husband, and his confrontation by Nathan the prophet.   His evil thoughts and acts revealed, David writes this Psalm, beginning with his plea to God for mercy.

The sins of adultery and murder in the Old Testament were what we might call today “mortal” sins.  The judgment for these sins was death.  Just so that we didn’t miss it, David doubled down on death by committing both sins together.  But for God’s mercy, David was doomed even though he was a king.  But for God’s mercy, David’s penalty imposed by Mosaic law for his actions was death.

 

What is sin?  In these two verses, we have three words for it – transgressions, iniquity, and sin.  We often talk about “sin” as missing the mark, as an arrow misses the bullseye.  And, indeed, sin can be described as our failure to obey God’s laws and regulations for good, righteous living.    We know we cannot meet God’s standards because they are so high and we are so weak, but using this concept of “sin” alone we are left with the idea that we are basically good people who, with a little bit of training and grace, can hit the bullseye.  Much of modern thinking is built upon this narrow and weak view of sin.

But this meaning, that of “missing the mark,” is not the meaning of either “transgressions” or “iniquity.”  When we transgress against someone, we cross the line and become enemies of that person.  The idea is that we transgress when we rebel against the law.  It is not enough that we “miss the mark” by trying, but in our transgressions we don’t even try.  God’s law apply to me?  You’ve got to be kidding!  That is rebellion; that is transgression.  In “sinning” we break the law essentially because of inability or by accident; in transgressing, we break the law on purpose because we are enemies of God.  In transgressing, we exalt ourselves to either ruling over God (we judge Him) or considering ourselves equal to God (we negotiate with Him).

In the word “iniquity,” we look at sin as a state of natural man, as a perversion of God’s plan.  Some might call “iniquity” as our original sin, born of disobedience in Adam and Eve.

So, “sin” in the complete way of thinking is (a) our state (born in iniquity), (b) our position vis a vis God (His enemy), and (c)  our actions or inactions when measured against perfection.

David sees clearly after his confrontation with Nathan that what he has done arises from iniquity, marks his position as an enemy of God, and falls seriously short of God’s moral law.

So David approaches God out of the box, in verse 1, relying solely on God’s mercy.  He is not good enough to merit God’s forgiveness.  He has not done enough good things to merit God’s forgiveness.  He cannot tell God what to do and he cannot negotiate with God as His equal.  He has one choice and one choice only, and that is to fall on his knees in front of God, confessing his sin, his transgressions, and his iniquity,  and plead for mercy.

From great degradation can come great deliverance.  From great depravity can come great transformation.  From great sorrow can come great healing.

And from a great God will come great mercy because of His “steadfast love.”

And for that, we confess our sin and are grateful.

_________

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

 

 

 

 

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.

_________

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

 

Bread – Wrath

March 4, 2016


Psalm 9

“The nations have sunk in the pit that they have made; in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.  The Lord has made Himself known; He has executed judgment; the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands.  The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.  For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.  Arise, O Lord! Let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before You!  Put them in fear, O Lord!  Let the nations know that they are but men!”  Ps. 9:15-20

We have all seen God’s wrath because we watch the movies and we know, at least from the movie “The Ten Commandments,” that when the Israelites built the golden calf to worship because God (and Moses) had taken His sweet time to get back to them and they thought He had taken too long, God (through Moses) threw His law at them and burnt them all up, etcetera, etcetera.  That, in our mind’s eye, is God’s wrath upon us, His judgment upon us, caught up in sparks of lightning, the destruction of fire, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth.  All very visual and very cinema graphic, and very exciting.  And then we leave the theater and pick up in our lives where we had left them.

I think it is because we have such a visual view of God’s wrath that we do not recognize it so easily in our own lives and in the lives of our cities, counties, states, and country.  This is because God’s wrath is not expressed in the cataclysmic but in the erosion; it is not expressed in the immediate but in the course of time; it is not expressed in noise and thunder but in the barely discernible day-by-day breakage of the foundation.  One we can see and avoid; the other is under our feet and we are so busy looking in the mirror at ourselves, we miss it altogether.

This Psalm is unusual because, at least in the previous eight Psalms, David has ended them on a high note (Ps. 1: “for the Lord knows the way of the righteous;” Ps. 2:”Blessed are all who take refuge in Him;” Ps. 3:”Salvation belongs to the Lord; Your blessings be on Your people!; Ps. 4: “for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety;” Ps. 5: “You cover him with favor as with a shield;” Ps. 6: “The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer;” Ps. 7: “I will give the Lord the thanks due His righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High;” Ps. 8: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!”).  However, this Psalm, Psalm 9, is ended on a low note – “Put them in fear, O Lord!”

It is a strange way to end the week, ending on the curse “Put them in fear, O Lord!”

But, really, is the request for the visitation of the wrath of God a curse or a blessing?

Let’s personalize it.  Let’s apply the curse to ourselves – “Put me in fear, O Lord!  Let me know that I am but a man!”

Now, have I called down a curse upon myself or a blessing?  If God intervenes in my life to show me that I am but a man and He is God, isn’t this the first step toward repentance and from repentance to acceptance of God’s mercy and from the acceptance of God’s mercy for all time in Jesus Christ, to eternal life?

See, when the nation has reaped its reward for its own actions, for its own avoidance of God’s law, for its willful disobedience, for its destruction of life, for its exaltation of the self and of the power of wealth over the power of the Almighty, it will die.  It will get caught up in its own traps and it will return to Sheol (Hell).  In the vernacular, the nation will go to hell.

Just like we will unless …

And that is where David leaves us – “Lord, visit Your wrath upon us!”  To what end?  That we go to hell?  No.  The purpose of the Psalm is not to condemn but to wake up, not to hide but to reveal, not to destroy but to build.

Because it is not until we know there is a God and that He hates sin of all kinds, degrees, shapes, and dimension, and that He hates it so much that He will destroy us … it is not until we know this that we understand the need for God the merciful, God the Savior, Jesus Christ.  It is not until we can recognize the wrath of God that we can accept the gift of God, the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for my benefit, for my life, for my ransom, for my sentence.

It is not until we see clearly the path we are on to destruction that we can also see the path to life.

David starts off Psalm 9 with “I will give thanks to the Lord” and ends with “Put them in fear, O Lord!”  He ends that way because his heart is that the people who are the end see that they are at the end and join him at the beginning.

From going to hell to being in fear of the Lord to giving thanks to the Lord is a journey with a beginning and an end.  Psalm 9 begins with life and ends in death, but in so doing there is the invitation – begin in death and end in life.  “Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways.”

Thank You, O Lord, for Your wrath in my life, that I might turn toward You and return to You, and thereby join with David in giving thanks to You for Your great glory, mercy, peace, and forgiveness!  Amen.

_________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Turn

February 11, 2016


Psalm 6

“Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of Your steadfast love…I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.  My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes.”  Ps. 6:4,6-7

Just before David says, “Turn, O Lord,” he asks God to be gracious to him because he is “languishing.”  In our first Bread on this Psalm, we talked about depression  and how we all find ourselves in trouble, when God seems angry with us.

This is a continuation of that same thought, where David is asking the Lord to turn and then repeats how depressed he is, stating that he is weary, that he is moaning our of his weariness, that his eyes fail because of his grief, and he feels surrounded by enemies, real and imagined.

The image is one of God having turned his back to David and David begging with him to turn around, comprehend David, and in turn be merciful to David “for the sake of [God’s] steadfast love.

My question is, is this the right image?

Certainly it is from our perspective.  We are depressed, we feel lonely, we feel abandoned, our eyes and bones hurt, we cry, we moan … and God has left the station, He has left us behind.

We say this because it feels to us like God has left us.

But is that true?  Who has turned their back to whom?  Who has left whom?

In other words, has God left us or have we left God?  Has God turned His back to us or have we turned our back to God?

When David prays that the Lord return to him, is it the Lord who returns to David or David who returns to the Lord?

What is interesting about this question is that it brings back images of the prodigal son, where it was the son who realized that his position with the pigs, with the depression, was caused by his disobedience, and things did not begin to get better until he (the prodigal) returned to the father.  And, actually, because the father saw the son from far off and ran to him, it was really the intention of the son to return to the father which starts the avalanche of restoration of relationship.

So recalling this parable, one is immediately inclined to jump on board the idea that it was really David who needed to return, that God was where He had always been.

But, now I want to argue against myself – maybe David is right.  Maybe in David’s dilapidated state, depressed, moaning, sore of bone and spirit, languishing, he cannot turn to the Lord, much less return to Him.  In other words, for David to be rescued from himself and his situation, can he even take the initiative or must God take the initiative?

We like to think that it is us, and that is where most of us begin and end.  It is all on us.  We lift ourselves out of the pits by returning to the Lord.

But the truth is, the greater truth, the deeper truth, is that salvation belongs to the Lord and the Lord alone.  If we are to be rescued, it must be God who turns toward us and not us toward God.

“Be gracious to me, O Lord…”  Lord, show me Your mercy by rescuing me even though I deserve Your wrath because of my disobedience.

So, built into this simple request from David are two turns.  The first turn is from David taking his focus off of his troubles to turn to God and address Him for help.  And the second is God, in His sovereignty and from a heart of love and mercy, turning toward David to rescue him.

And the remarkable thing about all this is that by the time David asks the Lord to turn toward him, He already has.  How do we know that?  Because there is no power in David to ask but for God’s power to make it so.

David can ask God to turn toward him and save him because God has first turned toward David and saved him.

So, when David cries from the pits for God to turn and save his life, God can truly answer and say, “Son, I already have.”

__________

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

 

 

Bread – Entry

February 3, 2016


Psalm 5

“O Lord, in the morning You hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for You and watch….

You destroy those who speak lies;…

But I, through the abundance of Your steadfast love, will enter Your house.”  Ps. 5:3,6-7

Built into these three lines is almost the entire Christian message.

How do we gain entry to the house of God?  To use less “religious” language, how do we get into heaven?

In the first line, we are speaking to God and preparing and making a sacrifice of our time, our attention, our worship, and ourselves to Him.

These are good works.  They are not directed outward toward other people nor inward to ourselves, but upward to God Himself.  Surely He must) be pleased with us, those who are religious and make proper sacrifices and follow the rules.  Surely when we do these good things, we will earn our entry into heaven?

And there are many in our Christian culture who believe just this.  One way this shows up is in the Sinner’s Prayer.   If I give God the proper recognition by acknowledging my fault and saying the words that I accept Him, then I get into the kingdom.  Another way this shows up is in Baptism.  If I go and get baptized, then I am doing a right sacrifice which will be pleasing to God, and through my good work in obeying Him, I will earn my way into the kingdom.  Another way this shows up is the avoidance of sin, at least mortal sin, and continually receiving the forgiveness of the Church, mediated by middlemen who understand the rituals and their significance and understand the rules and their proper application.  Now, in those communities, if I do good works through regular worship (at least on the designated days), paying the church 10%, taking communion, making confession, receiving forgiveness, kneeling, reading, writing, thinking, doing … then my good works will rise like a pleasant sacrifice, and God will let me into the kingdom.

That is the first line, and if we did not know that David’s motivation was one of obedience born of gratitude instead of obedience born of duty, we might think that he, too, believed that the only people who achieved entry to the throne room of God were good people, who did good works in keeping with the rules of the road.

But then we have to deal with the second verse, “You destroy those who speak lies.”  In one fell swoop we now have confronted our sin problem, even after we become Christians.  As I write this, how many lies have I spoken (or at least thought) today?  How many have you spoken today.  God’s wrath is visited upon those who tell lies (you may say that you are OK because you have only told one lie, not two lies, but then you would be guilty of your second lie).  Two lies and you are destroyed by God.  Why?  Because God abhors all sin, of every size and shape, make and model, from the least to the most (by our human rankings).  He abhors sin and He is a God of wrath!  He may also be a God of love (as our modern society would like to think of Him), but He is also a God of wrath (which is how He needs to be thought of by our modern society).  He destroys sinners … except those He doesn’t…and that leads us to the third verse today.

And that third verse is “But I, through the abundance of Your steadfast love, will enter Your house.”  Ps. 5:7

And there is a lot locked up in this sentence.  Let’s begin with the word “But.”  The longer way of saying it is “Even though I am a liar, thief, cheater, murderer, full of sin and worthy of Your wrath, Your destruction….”

Then there is the second word, “I.”  The “But” never applies to us as a group, it applies one on one, person by person…It applies to “I.”  Until it applies to “I,” it is only one of many thoughts, philosophies, ways of thinking, methods of analysis, etc.  Until it applies to “I,” it is not real to me.

Then there is the next phrase “through the abundance of Your steadfast love.”  Where is there any good works in that sentence?  What part do I play by God acting “through the abundance of [His] steadfast love?”

Then there is “steadfast love,” a love which does not come on strong and then dies, but a love which is there, for all time and in all places and in all circumstances.  Yes, God is a God of wrath who destroys those who sin … but …. He is also a God who so loved us that He sent His Son to die for our sins, to be the sacrifice we could not be, to be the completed work for our salvation.

And then there is this … “I … will enter Your house.”  By what merit do we enter His house?  None.  By what art?  None.  By what magic words?  None.  By what good works?  None.

We only gain entry to His house for all time “by the abundance of [His] steadfast love.”

How have you tried to gain entry into heaven?  Has it been though your efforts, your obedience to the rules, your good works, your morning sacrifice?  Or has it been through the merits, through the death and resurrection, of Jesus Christ?

David reminds us that it is not through his way that he has entry into God’s house, but through His way … the only way.

__________

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

 

Bread – Outcasts

August 11, 2015


Readings for Tuesday, August 11, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 14:1-20; Acts 21:1-14; Mark 10:1-16; Psalms 94,95,97,99,100

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In today’s reading from the second book of Samuel, the woman, speaking God’s words, says to the king “But God … devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.” 2 Sam. 14:14

From time to time, people so misbehave outside the rules of the tribe, the family, the church, or the city, that they must be banished, they must be outcast. Sometimes they are banished to prison. Sometimes to another part of the world. Sometimes, as in the case of the prodigal son of Scripture, to eat with the pigs. Sometimes they are just fired, if the particular group banishing them happens to be an employer. In the case of a club, sometimes the membership privileges are revoked. In a church setting, we might call it being banished from participation in communion or excommunication.

How do we feel when that happens? On the side of the people doing the banishing, generally it is a combination feeling of relief, anguish, worry, and loss. On the side of the banished, it is generally a feeling of anger, sorrow, depression, worry, and general upset. Both the banisher’s and the banished worlds have been changed.

There are three paths which the outcast can take. They can continue their downward spiral into degradation and death. They can “grow up” and become independent in spirit, but losing all ties to the group they used to be a member of. Or they can be restored to full relationship with their prior tribe, family, church, job, or other group. What makes the difference?

I think the difference is in two people. The first, the outcast, must come to grips with what he or she has become, must turn away from that, and must turn toward home. The second, the banisher, must come to grips with whatever actual or perceived injury has occurred to self, must set it aside, and must forgive. The first we call repentance and the second, forgiveness.

This passage from Samuel is a statement of simple truth which God fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Where there is no way to obtain restoration with God through earning it with good works, there is a way through Jesus Christ, beginning with our repentance and our acceptance of His forgiveness.

The first banishment occurred when we were ejected from the Garden of Eden, when our personal relationship with God was broken by our sin. But “God … devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.”

The question is not whether God has devised a means; the question is whether we will take advantage of those means. And for that, we need not only God’s means but His power. And so we pray, “Come Holy Spirit.”

__________

© 2015 GBF

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

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

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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.

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© 2013 GBF

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