Bread – Singing

June 9, 2017


Psalm 69

O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God; sing praises to the Lord, Selah …”  Ps. 69:32

Just like in the Bread on Wednesday, today we have another sentence fragment followed by “Selah” or “pay attention.”

This fragment comes after a long set of verses extolling God’s power, and it would be tempting to say that this is just the conclusion of that set of verses.  But I think there is something more going on here, because of the use of the word “kingdoms.”

The idea of kingdoms involves the entire realm, the entire nation-state to which it relates.  Often a kingdom is headed by someone called a “king” and is identified by that person, but it can also just be a large collection of people organized around a particular government.  Today, the United States might be a “kingdom,” as well as China or Chile.  Kingdoms have existed in ancient times and might even cross today’s borders.  For example, the kingdom of Assyria cut across modern Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and other places.

Kingdoms may also be a place-concept.  What I mean by that is that some places are associated with both a geographical location and also a particular philosophy of living.  Babylon was both a kingdom of place and concept (evil, as in Revelation’s reference to Babylon).  The United States is both a kingdom of place and concept (opportunity, individual liberty).

There may well be kingdoms of things.  For example, higher education in the United States might well be a kingdom, with its own leaders, thought structures, requirements for citizenship, etc.  Another kingdom in the United States might be the media, again with its own leaders, thought structures, and requirements for acceptance.

Finally, there are kingdoms of ideas, where large numbers of people declare allegiance to particular ways of thinking.  For example, there is the kingdom of science and there is the kingdom of evolution.

All of these are kingdoms of the earth and all are instructed by the Psalmist to sing to God, sing praises to Him.,

Perhaps this is why the word “Selah” is right here, to cause us to stop and ask ourselves the question, “Are the kingdoms of the earth singing to God?”

And, of course, the answer to this question is a mighty “No!”  I probably could have put in a thousand exclamation marks and still not come close to speaking clearly that, although God has shown us great blessing in the creation of the world and its preservation through time, and in the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, we fall very, very short in giving Him the praise to which He is due.

Which leaves me to the last kingdom, the Kingdom of God, which is both an earthly kingdom and a heavenly one.

Does the Kingdom of God sing to God?

Before we say “yes,” ask yourself two questions.  The first is, “are you a citizen of the Kingdom of God?”  If the answer to that is “yes,” then ask yourself “what song have you sung already today to God?”

At the end of the day, kingdoms only do what their people do.  If the kingdoms of the earth are to sing praises to God, it is only because the people of the earth sing praises to God.

And we be the people.  Are we singing in our heart thanksgiving for our salvation, for our blessings?  Are we praising with our mouth the same things?

“O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God.”  O citizens of the kingdoms of the earth, sing to God.  O you, sing to God.  O me, sing to God.

Your song begins right now.

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

 

 

 

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.

_________

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

 

 

Bread – Obedience

July 8, 2013


Readings for Monday, July 8, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 15:1-3,7-23; Acts 9:19b-31; Luke 23:44-56a; Psalms 1,2,3,4,7

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What Christian among us would, if the Lord commanded him or her to give away everything they owned, their house, their cars, their cash, their incentive stock options, their mutual funds, their furniture, their annuities, their cash value in their life insurance, their retirement funds, would immediately and without hesitation do so? I wouldn’t. I would like to say that I would, but I would be likely to hold back something (probably, most) for a “rainy day.” Surely if we received such a command from God, we would (and He would) understand that what He really meant was to give up those things that really cause us to sin, like sugar, coffee, chocolate, and maybe that extra house that we spend all of our time and attention on. And the reason He really meant that was that our witness to the world would be compromised if we could not buy plane tickets to go on mission, had to accept charity from others who needed it more, did not invest our talents wisely (at least deposit them at interest – isn’t that what Jesus said?), and couldn’t show others that the prosperity gospel works.

You are probably smiling now because in my list of rationalizations, I probably hit on at least one you yourself have used to justify some response of quasi-obedience.

Our motives are not bad. In fact, they may well be good because it is true that we are more able to give generously from wealth than from poverty, at least according to our definition of “generously.” But good motives from our perspective do not lead to obedience to God’s commands. And half obedience may be some obedience but it is not the sold-out obedience which Christ asks of His disciples. Our obedience is not of the quality or quantity desired by God. Mine isn’t, and I’ll let you speak for yours.

This is the unmistakable lesson from the prophet Samuel today in our readings. God has told Saul, the king whom God has appointed over Israel, to battle the Amalekites and destroy (devote to God for destruction) every one of them and everything they own, including all of their animals.

And Saul did this, sort of. What he did was to kill everything which was “despised and worthless.” But he kept the good stuff. He kept the king and the “best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fatted calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them.” 1 Sam. 15:8-9. And he did all this so that he and Israel would have the good stuff to sacrifice to God. He did such a good job that he built himself a monument. 1 Sam. 15:12b In his mind, he had completely and totally obeyed God’s command to him, saying to Samuel at the end “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” 1 Sam. 15:13b When confronted by Samuel, Saul was confused and again repeated what he knew was true, that he had obeyed God – “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the kind of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” 1 Sam. 15:20-21. It was clear to Saul that he had obeyed the Lord’s command as He surely intended it, and that he (Saul) had good intentions and desires. It was clear to Saul that what he had done in response to God’s commands was good and was what the Lord wanted.

But not true. God Himself said to Samuel “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not performed My commandments.” `1 Sam. 15:10-11a In response to Saul’s protest that he had obeyed God, Samuel repeated God’s actual command (not the one Saul heard). In response to Saul’s argument that he had reserved the good things from destruction so that they could be sacrificed to God, Samuel said – “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” 1 Sam. 15:22

God said to do one thing. That thing which God commanded did not sit well with Saul’s modern sensibilities. Saul heard what he wanted to hear. Saul went out and obeyed the parts of the command which he understood should be obeyed and rejected the rest. Saul developed a rationale, which made sense to him and probably to others as well, as to why he had obeyed and why it was better in the end. Samuel reminded Saul that what Saul thought about God’s commands was irrelevant and his arguments so much smoke and mirrors to disguise his disobedience to God and his obedience to the way he thought he should go and his obedience to the way the world thought he should go.

We are no different from Saul. God has made us king over something – our house, our family, ourselves, our job, our money, our food, our education. He has commanded us in great detail about how we should act as king. But what we don’t like or what society tells us we should not like, we do not do. We rationalize why, of course, using our great powers of reason and persuasion, but the only person we persuade is ourselves. God is not persuaded and He is not fooled, and He is not happy.

“Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.”

The next line is not in our readings today, but is important – “For … presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.” 1 Sam. 15:23a. When we change God’s commands to our liking, we presume that we know best. We take our role as king and elevate it to a role as God. And presumption is as bad as every sin there is, because our elevation of ourselves to the place of God, our disobedience, is why we are such poor kings.

Maybe today I can be obedient in one little thing. And then tomorrow, maybe one more little thing. Maybe I can, in the power of the Holy Spirit. But that is the only way. Come Holy Spirit.

_______________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Position

May 24, 2013


Readings for Friday, May 24, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ruth 4:1-17; 1 Tim. 5:17-25; Luke 14:1-11; Psalms 16,17,22

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Getting ahead in the world. For most people, this is our daily call. To get ahead in the world, we acquire money, power, position, and possessions. For men, we may acquire a trophy wife. For women, we may acquire security. For all of us, getting ahead in the world means adding to our retirement accounts, our savings, our electronics and furniture, our home square footage, our title, our salary, the size and quality of our cars or trucks, our memberships, our dinner parties. We must get ahead in the world or we will get behind.

Don’t we all know that?

Then what does Jesus mean in our reading today from Luke – “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Lk. 14:11 Oh we know the old adage that pride goeth before a fall, but if we always stand at the end of the line, aren’t we behind all the time? How do we get ahead in the world if, at least once in a while, we don’t step to the head of the line?

There is a tendency among some Christians to focus on the “in the world” part of the question and say simply that, as Christians, if we follow Christ’s lead we cannot get ahead in the world. In other words, poverty and being beat upon is just part of the Christian life, so discipleship means poverty. And there are plenty of quotations from the Bible that you can find to support this position.

There is a tendency among other Christians to focus on the “exalted” part of Christ’s statement and say that, if we behave properly, we will be exalted and will win the game of life. Proponents of this “prosperity” gospel can also find plenty of quotations from the Bible to support this position.

So which one is right? Maybe neither. There is a third alternative, and that is that in Christ there is neither victory nor defeat “in the world” because, while we live in Christ, our position is in the kingdom of God. That kingdom is both in heaven and on earth. That kingdom is ruled by God and we are His subjects, not His equal. To the extent we are “in the world,” we are no more than ambassadors of the kingdom of God, taking up residence in a foreign place. As ambassadors, where we live is our home in the limited sense of our home is where we are, but in the more fundamental sense of home, where we live in the world is not our home because we are only ambassadors.

What is our position in the kingdom of God? As subjects, our position in a sense is based upon our obedience to the King. To the extent we take on Christ, learn from Him, obey Him, and follow Him, our position is enhanced. To the extent that we reject Christ, learn from others, obey ourselves or others, and follow our own desires or the desires of others, our position is diminished.

Then, as subjects of the kingdom of God, our position in the world is enhanced when God wants it to be enhanced, when it serves His purposes, and our position in the world is diminished when God wants it to be diminished for His purposes. Remember that an ambassador does not live in a house provided by the host country, he lives in the house in the host country provided by the kingdom he represents. If the king of the kingdom wants his ambassador to live in a poor house, then a poor house it is.

When I was growing up, I always used to love to think about the concept of parallel universes, and I still think the concept of a parallel universe explains where missing socks disappear to. In many respects the idea of a present kingdom of God among us, here on earth right now, is like this parallel universe. The difference, however, is that according to the rules of the parallel universe, you are either in one or the other. With Christians, you are physically in both at the same time. However, there is some parallel in the concepts because, in your heart, in your spirit, you can only be in one or the other. You are in Christ or you are not; you are either saved or you aren’t; you are either a citizen of the kingdom of God or you are not.

So, in Christ we Christians have two positions, one in the kingdom of God and the other here on earth. In the kingdom of God, humility results in blessing. In the world, humility may or may not result in blessing. So what? Our home is not in the world, it is in the present kingdom of God.

How do we get ahead in the world? We who are in Christ really don’t care about the answer to that question, because as ambassadors to the world we know that our position is temporary in the foreign land but permanent in the homeland.

How do we get ahead in the world? We don’t because as servants of the Most High we don’t have to. We are already citizens of the kingdom of God and how much better can it be?

___________________

© 2013 GBF

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