Bread – Pride

July 12, 2017


Psalm 73

All in vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence…” Ps. 73:13

Stuck in the middle of this Psalm is, in one sentence, a classic example of the pride of the world and ourselves.

Asaph, the Psalmist, starts his Psalm by saying to himself (and to God), I believe in God but I see the wicked prosper and not me.  He ends his Psalm by saying that, in spite of his doubts caused by his observance of the ascendancy of the wicked, he knows that God exists and that God is “his strength and portion forever.”  Ps. 73:26

But in the middle is this great statement:  “And not only that, Lord, but I am better than they are – I keep my heart clean and I am innocent.”  (I took great liberalities with the actual text, which you can read for yourself in the first line.”

We look around as Christians, as people in this world, and how often does it cross our mind that we ought to be resentful because we are “better” than they are.  After all, we are righteous and they are not; we are washed in the blood of the Lamb and they are not; we have a “clean heart” and they do not.

Whoa, folks.  Who here reading this Bread or, for that matter, anyone in the world, as a “clean heart.”  Do we not covet, gossip, worry, protect our precious positions of power, scheme, speak sometimes with untruth and, certainly, un-love?  Do we not dream about a better vacation, a better lifestyle, a better car, a better bank account, a better job, a better relationship?  Do we really, really have a “clean heart.”

As for being prideful in our righteousness, whose righteousness have we taken on anyway?  Is it ours or His?  If we are righteous at all before God, who achieved that?  Was it us in our sinful state or was it Him who died for us and who intervened in our life at a time when we were dead to breathe His spirit into us so that we might have eternal life?

Asaph did not keep his heart clean “in vain” because he is human, and he did not keep it clean at all.  Asaph did not.  We do not.  We cannot without outside aid.

There is no ranking of sinners.  All people, saved and unsaved, fall short of the glory of God.  Those who are saved see that with great clarity and are grateful that they do not have to pay the penalty to God for those sins, that penalty having been paid by Jesus Christ on the cross.

Where did Asaph’s essential doubts come from?  Did they come from his objective look at the world and wondering where God was, or did they come from his subjective look at the world, through lenses that said “I keep my heart clean” and so, therefore, I deserve better than “they.”

Where do our essential doubts come from?  Do they really come from an objective view of the world or a view through a lens that says “God is being unfair … to me.”

Pride is often listed as our worse sin.  It probably deserves that ranking because it is the lens which distorts our view of ourselves, our view of the world, and our view of God.

Pride is what caused Asaph to believe and say that “All in vain I have kept my heart clean.”  What Asaph could have said was that “But for You, I would not have clean heart.”  And that would be a true statement.  But to get there will require the setting aside of pride.  And how will we do that?  We cannot, but God can … and so we pray, “Come Holy Spirit, and create in me a clean heart.”

________

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

 

 

 

Advertisements

Bread – Meditation

January 25, 2017


Psalm 49

Hear this, all peoples!…My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.”  Ps. 49:1,3

In the introduction to Psalm 49, the herald calls out to the people and tells them that what is coming next out of his mouth is great wisdom.

What is interesting about this is the personal nature of the wisdom.  The wisdom is understanding, and that understanding comes from “meditation of my heart.”

Not the meditation of your heart or the meditation of his or her heart, but the meditation of “my” heart.

A common theme which runs through education is that we receive wisdom or understanding through external sources.  We receive them from books, from songs, from movies, and from the Internet.  When we need to understand something, most of us now reach for that great search engine in the sky, “Google™.”

We fail to separate information or data, which we do get from our surroundings, from wisdom or understanding, which is something which connects to us inside.  Of course, there are many “wisdoms” of the world which we can lock onto, but the wisdom of the Psalmist and the understanding of the Christian is the wisdom of God.

From whence do we get God’s wisdom?  Immediately Scripture comes to mind and some would say direct revelation, or God speaking to us directly.

I would suggest to you, however, that wisdom is not obtained that way.  Information about God (revelation of His character, His purposes, His glory and majesty) come from His Word and direct messages may help illuminate our next step in faith, but these are inputs.

What do we do with those inputs?  The Psalmist, in saying that understanding arises from the “meditation of my heart,” suggests that wisdom comes from thinking deeply about this information and appropriating it into our character (heart) and, therefore, behavior.

We cannot utter wisdom until we are wise; we cannot be wise without engaging in meditation of our hearts, and that is only effective when we are working with the raw material provided to us by God, seen through discerning eyes enabled by the Holy Spirit.

We must process our data to make sense of it, and we cannot guide others until we understand it.  That process does not take place in the head, but in the heart.  That process does not take place by merely thinking about it, but by deeply and carefully processing it.

Perhaps we are weak Christians because we fail to meditate in our hearts the things we have seen and heard, rather than just think in our heads about it.  For us as westerners, it is so easy to just take in the truth of Scripture and let it roll around in our head, analyzing it from every direction, putting it into our systems of thought so that we can intellectually comprehend it.  We call that wisdom and understanding, but it is not because the processing has taken place in the wrong location – it has taken place in the brain and not the heart.  Until we meditate in our hearts the truth we hear, we will not be transformed in our thinking and our acting.  Until we meditate in our hearts the truth that we hear, we will not have wisdom.

This process of meditation does not occur quickly because, being in the heart, it is driven by a different timetable and different processes.  Why pray?  In substantial part, the reason for prayer is to allow us to set time aside for the meditation of the heart, the opportunity for connecting at a base level, at the level of the soul, with our Creator and our Savior.  At that level, we may be unconscious (in our brain) of the changes which are occurring, but they are occurring for sure.

Why do our words have so little power?  Perhaps it is because they come from the knowledge of the brain instead of the meditation of the heart.  Perhaps because they arise from analysis and not wisdom.

Do you want the deeper wisdom this week from God?  Meditate on what God is saying.  Let Spirit (the Holy Spirit) speak to spirit (our spirit).  Let the Word of God dwell on our hearts, where it may penetrate deeply and empower mightily.

And then speak with wisdom into a world which desperately needs it.

_________

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

 

Bread – Speech

April 13, 2016


Psalm 15

“O Lord, who shall sojourn in Your tent?…He who … speaks truth in his heart; and who does not slander with his tongue…” Ps. 15:1-3

I called this Bread “Speech” because the Psalm says “speak truth” and “no slander,” both of which are speech and both of which come from the tongue and the mouth.

However, the Psalm does not talk about the person who speaks truth to others through his mouth, but who speaks truth “in his heart.”  How do you speak truth “in” your heart?

Nowadays we tend to think of the center of man to be his mind.  The mind calculates, orders the tongue to speak, and the intended speech flows out.  The mind calculates, orders the limbs to move, and the intended movement occurs.

Because we exalt reason, we focus on the mind as what separates us from beasts and what enables us to be fully human.

But, historically and probably more accurately, the mind is not considered to be the center of a man, but the heart.    From the heart comes love over logic, emotion over rationality, integrity over decision, belief over analysis, courage over assessment, wellbeing over wealth.

When a man speaks truth “in his heart,” his character is formed around that characteristic.  While the mind may use truth as a weapon, the heart uses it as a standard.  While the mind adapts the truth to the circumstances, the heart where the truth “is in” adapts truth to nothing, because truth is not adaptable.  For the person who speaks truth “in” his heart, it is natural and probably even necessary that he speak truth from his mouth.  Because a man speaks truth “in his heart,” in his centermost being, in his core, we know him as reliable, as trustworthy, as a wise counselor, and as honest.  We trust those who speak the truth (even though we may not like them because we don’t like what they have to say or how they say it) and we distrust those who don’t (even though we may like them because they are telling us what we want to hear).

Once the truth is spoken “in his heart,” the man of God will not slander with his tongue.  Slander is a type of lie which has the added quality of being intended to hurt the object of the slander.    It is a lie designed to harm.  It does not reflect love of neighbor but hate of neighbor.

Somebody may now come forward and say, well, what about so-called “white lies,” the little lies we all tell when it is socially advantageous to do so.    We all know them and we all do them.  For example, for men, when a woman asks you whether she looks good in the dress she loves and she doesn’t look so good in it, what do you say?  For women, when a man asks you on a date who you do not want to go out with, how many times do you have a non-existent appointment which interferes with the proposed date?

What I think is interesting about this Psalm is that it speaks to truth as character, of being trustworthy, but does not say that that truth has to come out of your mouth every time.  It only says that we should not use our tongue to harm, to slander.  Perhaps the difference between someone who speaks truth “in” his heart and someone who doesn’t is this – the trustworthy man knows when he has said a little lie and has deliberately done so in order to avoid hurting someone’s feelings; the untrustworthy man does not care whether he utters a lie or not as long as the objective is achieved.  The trustworthy man knows when he has told a white lie and wonders whether it was the right thing to do; the untrustworthy man never does that.  For a trustworthy man to speak a small lie, it hurts; an untrustworthy man doesn’t feel a thing.

We tend to think of all speech as external, but as this Psalm shows, it is not.  The man who can walk with God is the man who speaks God in his heart; the man who can obey God is the man who speaks obedience to God in his heart; the man who can speak truth in all circumstances where it needs to be spoken must first of all have spoken that truth in his heart.

What language do you speak to and in your heart?  Is it the language of fear and defeat, or the language of life?  Is it the language of truth or the language of lies?  Is it the language of Satan or the language of God?  Is it the language of the heavens or the language of the world?

Jesus said “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”  Matt. 12:34b-35

What treasure is deposited in your heart?

Don’t like the answer?  Then start speaking truth in your heart … the truth of Jesus Christ, the truth of the gospel, the truth of Scripture, the truth of God … and see what happens.

_________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Sacrifice

February 1, 2016


Psalm 5

“Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning.

Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray.

O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice to You and watch.”  Ps. 5:1-3

What morning sacrifice is David preparing?

Because this is the Old Testament, one answer might well be a slain lamb or a grain offering.

However, isn’t this Psalm, this prayer, really the sacrifice?  Isn’t the time David is spending with the Lord his morning sacrifice?

Before we slough this off as too easy an answer, think about your own morning sacrifice to God.

When you are in bed and before you arise, are your first thoughts of God or of breakfast, a shower, and for men, a shave?  Before we get out of bed in the morning, are we saying to God “Give ear to my words, O Lord,” or are we making out our mental “to do” list for the day’s affairs?  Where do our priorities lie before we get up in the morning?

Now we have risen from bed.  We have turned off the alarm.  Do we fall on our knees in fear of the Lord, asking Him to intercede for us in the evil day … or do we go into the kitchen to turn on the coffee and either go outside to get the newspaper (for us older folks) or fire up our tablet to look at the news online?

Now we have gotten our newspaper and our coffee.  Do we drink our coffee while we read God’s Word and meditate on it, or do we go back into the bedroom and the bathroom to get ready for the day.

After we get ready for the day, what do we do next?  Do we spend a half hour with God in prayer in our chair or on our couch, or are we listening to talk radio in the car as we go to work?

What kind of sacrifice to we make to the Creator of the Universe on a regular daily morning?

But notice that David doesn’t just say that he “sacrifices” to God.  He says that he “prepares” a sacrifice.

The idea of preparing a sacrifice as opposed to just sacrificing suggests a higher level of intentionality, and a higher and more intent use of time.  To prepare for something, we have to think about it, we have to gather the ingredients, and we have to put the ingredients together.

What are the ingredients for preparation of a sacrifice?

Some people say that they can pray in bed in the morning.  I cannot.  In order for me to write Bread or pray or do anything else with a focus on God, I have to (a) decide to do it, (b) get out of bed, (c) walk to the room and the chair where I meet God, (d) sit down, (e) deliberately turn my thinking from “I don’t have time for this” to God, and (f) start.  And a lot of times, I start just like David does here … “Give ear to my words, O Lord.”  “And, Lord, if I have no words, then as David said ‘consider my groanings.’”

But is this the sacrifice?  Most people would say “yes” because time and effort is being sacrificed to God.  However, the answer is “no.”  The reason is that all this, including the prayer, is only preparation for the sacrifice.

Then what is the sacrifice?  “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”  Ps. 51:17

In our world, when we are in “control,” when we are the master of our ship, how will we ever appear before God, today, this morning, with a “contrite heart,” with an acceptable sacrifice, without preparation, without taking the time and making the effort to come to God and asking Him to love us, to listen to us, to forgive our trespasses, and to fill us with His Holy Spirit that we may in turn love others, listen to others, and forgive others?

When we begin our day thinking first of God and preparing for our sacrifice by meeting Him, listening to Him, talking to Him, and loving Him, then we will, with a good preparation, know by what grace, by what mercy, we are even given the right to do what we are doing.  And when that awe settles over us, well then the sacrifice of a contrite heart has begun.

Before the sacrifice is the preparation.  What have you done today to prepare?  What time have you set aside; what time have you spent in prayer, in communion with your Savior?  What morning preparation have you made to give to God your sacrifice of your heart?

__________

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

 

 

 

 

Bread – Images

February 25, 2015


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

—————————————-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Meanie

March 7, 2014


Readings for Friday, March 7, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ezek. 18:1-4,25-32; Phil. 4:1-9; John 17:9-19; Psalms 31,35,95

—————————————-

A “meanie” is someone who is just mean, who just likes to see people suffer.

So, the question of the day is … Is God a meanie?

You may laugh, but how often do we blame God for our troubles, for the consequences of our sin, for our plight in life? How often do the God-bashers among us (and, really, ourselves) say something like, “How can God be a loving God when …?” or “Surely a loving God would not do …..” Of course, by doing that, we are placing ourselves in judgment over God, but that little absurdity never keeps us from doing it.

So, we are in the pits and we think God hates us. Or we pray and pray and pray for a particular outcome and God does not even seem to respond. Why would He do that? Is it because He is a meanie?

This question today does not come out of left field. In fact, it is the essence of our reading today from Ezekiel. The children of Israel are whining about their lot in life, saying that “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Essentially, Israel is saying that they are upset because God ate something which bothered Him (He is having a bad day so they are having a bad day too). God’s response is this:

“What do you mean by repeating this proverb … ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?’ As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel…Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is My way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? … Therefore, I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! … I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn and live.” Ezek. 18:1-3, 25-32.

God does not like to be called a meanie because that is an unjust accusation. It is us who sin, it is us who transgress, it is us who chose to live apart from God rather than in His presence, it is us who reject His gift of eternal life. It is us who are the meanies toward God because we die in our sins rather than accept the truth, we reject the new heart and new spirit he offers us through His Son, and In the process we do not give Him pleasure.

It would do well for us today to meditate upon this truth, that God is not mean toward us by giving us what we have earned. He is not unjust by giving us the penalty of our disobedience. He is not the one who has “eaten sour grapes” that our teeth should be set on edge; it is us who have eaten the sour grapes even though God has given us good grapes to eat. Our teeth are set on edge because of what we have done; not because of what God has done.

So if God has given us Himself in Jesus Christ, through whom we can receive our new heart and spirit, and we reject Him, who is the meanie?

Who indeed?

_______________

© 2014 GBF

Bread –Come Out

November 7, 2011


Readings for Monday, November 7, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Neh. 9:1-25; Rev. 18:1-8; Matt. 15:1-20; Psalms 77, 79, 80

—————————————-

In Nehemiah today, all of Israel has gathered together. One quarter of the day is spent in reading Scripture. Another quarter of the day is spent in confession and worship. The entire reading is an introduction to this ceremony, where the history of God’s action with His people to date is recounted. It begins with Abram, where God “brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans.” [Neh. 9:7] It continues where God brought out His people from Egypt, from bondage. It further continues where God brought out His people from their forty years in the wilderness into the promised land.

The title of today’s Bread is “come out.” This word combination suggests the human side of God’s action of “brought out.” God brings out; the people, in obedience, come out. Out of what? Out of slavery, bondage, fear, imprisonment, darkness, death. Into what? Freedom, adventure, life, light, opportunity, discipline, courage. Out of a life of man’s laws and into a life of God’s laws. Out of a life of consequences from following man and into a life of consequences from following God.

This human side is emphasized in our reading today from Revelation. In Revelation, we read “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! … Come out of her, My people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; …” Rev. 18:2, 4 This is the clarion call to leave the ways of the world if you are God’s and to follow Him and Him only. “Come out!” How can we do this? Because God brings us out?

What is the command in the present to which it appears we respond (“Come out!”) is in fact the action of God which we recognize in hindsight (God “brought out.”) The net effect is the same – we are saved from the corruption of our world, but our ability to “come” is dependent upon the action of the God who “brings.”

In Matthew, Jesus speaks today about our state of uncleanness which flows from our heart and out of our mouths. Although the context is food and the tradition of the elders with respect to the handling of food (to make it clean), Jesus makes it clear that the issue of uncleanness goes well beyond simple adherence to external behavioral standards and instead is only rightly measured by the condition of the heart. The “called out” by God (and the “come out” by man) is demonstrated not just by compliance with the external demands of the moment, but also and more importantly by the accompanying change of heart which then demonstrates itself in “clean” action.

The command in Revelation to “come out” is not a command to leave a physical place (although that might be involved); it is a command to leave a spiritual place, a place of the heart. Babylon existed in Egypt as the time of the Exodus. Babylon existed in the Israeli nation as it built and worshiped the golden calf, saying that a god of their making had brought them from Egypt. Babylon existed in the Pharisees. And Babylon exists in us.

Have we “come out” yet from Babylon? Have we “come out” of our cruel bondage? If not, why not?

—————————————————–

Bread – Hardness

July 27, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, July 27, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 3:22-39; Acts 16:16-24; Mark 6:47-56; Psalms 72, 119:73-96

—————————————-

What causes us to be or become hardened?

In today’s readings we have three examples from Scripture of hardened hearts, resulting in behavior which is opposite the virtue which is desired.

In 2 Samuel, we read about David, Joab, and Abner. Abner was David’s enemy and supported the forces of Saul against David. However, recognizing that God had appointed David, Abner offered to come before David. Instead of killing Abner, David set out a feast for Abner and his men, David released Abner and “he went in peace.” 2 Sam. 3:21-23. David forgave Abner and there was peace between them. Joab, however, hated Abner and arranged to kill him. Even though David told Joab that Abner was released to go in peace, Joab held onto his anger, did not forgive him, and arranged to kill him, which he did. Joab’s heart was hardened against Abner and it was hardened against his king David. As a result of his hardness of heart, he could not forgive Abner and instead committed murder. Here, hardness comes from anger, hate, and a spirit of unforgiveness; the virtue lost is peace.

In Acts, we read about the possessed servant girl who so bothered Paul (by shouting out the truth – “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” Acts 16:17) that he ordered the demon to leave her, leaving her free but bereft of her ability to predict the future (fortune-telling). Her masters, “realizing that their hope of making money was gone (Acts 16:19),” stirred up the city and had Paul and Silas thrown in jail. Instead of focusing on Paul and Silas, let’s focus on the masters of the demon-possessed fortune-teller. Why would they keep her in bondage and resent the fact that she was set free by God? In this case, the masters’ hearts were hardened by economics. They made money from the girl’s unfortunate state; she was different and they made money from that difference, so why change it? Their greed hardened their hearts against their neighbor’s best interest. They would have the girl imprisoned (by Satan) for life, but failing that they were content to have Paul and Silas imprisoned. Here, hardness comes from greed; the virtue lost is freedom.

In Mark, the disciples are on the boat in the stormy waters. We are all familiar with this event. Jesus passes by walking on the water and the disciples forgot he was a ghost. Mark explains their confusion by saying this – “They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” Mk. 6:52. What caused their hearts to be hardened against Jesus? What caused their hearts to be hardened against the possibility and reality of miracles, when they had just witnessed one and were in the middle of another? I daresay it was their prior training, their prior education, their existing prejudices, their “scientific” personality that it is not real unless you can describe it and reproduce it, their predisposition. Here, hardness comes from predisposition; the virtue lost is amazement, wonder, excitement, and recognition of who God is and who we are in comparison to Him. The virtue lost is the right view of ourselves and the clear view of God’s power, glory, holiness, and love.

So, you probably can guess the question. What hardens your heart today from the realization of all that God has in store for you? What blinders are you wearing? What predisposition have you succumbed to?

And having a hardened heart, a heart of stone, what have you lost? Love? Freedom? Amazement? Beauty? Peace?

Come, Holy Spirit, help us.

—————————————————–

Bread – Conceited

February 23, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, February 23, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 63:15-64:9; 1 Tim. 3:1-16; Mark 11:27-12:12; Psalms 101, 109, 119:121-144

————————————————

Children can be mean to each other by picking up a character trait in another and making fun of it. Somehow, if we can keep from being beaten into conformity by our peers, then at some point the world rewards us.

In junior high school, I played the trombone very well and I made sure everyone knew it. As a result, my “friends” called me “conceited.” This hurt a lot, because who wants to be conceited when one is trying to be liked by his peers? So, for a while, I retreated into conformity only later to discover that adults had created some synonyms for “conceited” which had better connotations, such as “self-confident” or “assertive” or “self-aware” or just plain “confident.” So, instantly, I went from being conceited (according to others) to being self-confident (according to me). No change, but much better perceptions and feelings.

In our reading today from Paul’s first letter to Timothy, in the middle of Paul’s description of the characteristics of bishops-ministers and deacons, there is this sentence – “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.” 1 Tim. 3:6

In the NIV Bible translation, the word “conceited” appears in two other places in Paul’s writings. The first is Romans 12:16, where Paul tells those in the church simply “Do not be conceited.” The second is Galatians 5:26, where it says “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

However, the translation differs in the NASB Bible translation, where Romans 12:16 says, instead, “Do not be wise in your own estimation,“ and Galatians 5:26 uses the word “boastful” instead.

Reaching back into the Greek words being used, there appear to be two underlying concepts associated with the English word “conceited.” The first is Strong’s #5187 (used in the Timothy passage), which means “to raise or make a smoke, symbolizing pride, insolence; to be drunk with pride with a heart lifted up not only against man, but against God.”* The second is Strong’s #5429 (used in the Romans passage), meaning “thinking oneself to be prudent judging by one’s self-complacency.”*

There is something wonderful about the first definition, starting off with the idea of making a smoke. Just visualize what we do every day. We start sending out smoke columns, smoke signals, saying “here we are, pay attention to me.” The beautiful thing about smoke is that it can hide us, it can drive other people away, it can be seen by other people (thereby acting as our own advertisement) and it even rises to heaven (picking up the element of the second definition where our pride is not only directed toward others but toward God).

So why would conceit, another name for excessive pride, result in our apparent fall from grace, as suggested by our passage today – “fall under the same judgment as the devil?” Paul is dealing with someone who has declared himself to be a Christian and is living such a walk that he is promoted to being a deacon or overseer and he warns about that person not having enough experience and therefore falling prey to conceit, resulting in him falling under the same judgment as the devil.

I think there is a simple, but profound answer to this question and that is to ask ourselves what happens when we receive the heart transplant from true belief in Jesus Christ? What happens? Is it a mere opportunity to do good or is it really a “new birth” into a “new man?” If it is a new birth, what are some of the primary characteristics of the true believer?

I think a major characteristic is that our conceit is gone, because we know someone who is more perfect than we are, more loving than we are, more caring than we are, more creative than we are, more knowledgeable than we are, more honest than we are, more wise than we are, more powerful than we are, more holy than we are. We have met Jesus Christ, God the Son. And just like in playing the trombone, I met a young kid who had five times more talent than I ever dreamed of and my pride, my conceit in my trombone abilities was instantly stripped away, when we have truly met Jesus Christ we know that we are subject to His rule, that we are slave to His yoke, and that, as a result, we are free from the greatest prison of all – ourselves. The overseer filled with conceit may fall the way of Satan not because it is possible to lose his salvation, but because he has never truly met Jesus Christ.

Are you pumped up about yourself today? The world would say that is OK. I would ask you the question, are you pumped up because you know your place in the Kingdom of God or are you just sending out smoke signals?

—————————————————–

*Definitions are from the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (Zodhiates ed.), AMG International 1990

———————————————–

%d bloggers like this: