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.

________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Ignore

November 4, 2016


Psalm 39

“For I am a sojourner with You, a guest, like all my fathers.  Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more!” Ps. 39:12b-13

David ends this Psalm with a request to God – “Leave me alone!”

Aren’t we a strange bunch of people?  We like the peace of God, but we do not like the yoke of God.  We like God to be around when He is friendly, but we do not like Him around when He is judging.  We like the freedom of God, but not His commands.  We like God’s mercy, but not His chastisement.

If there are going to be rules, we want to make them…not have to follow them.

There were three tee-shirts I saw the other day.  One said, “I am the oldest child.  I make the rules.”  The second said “I am the middle child.  I am the reason there are rules.”  The third said “I am the youngest child.  The rules do not apply to me.”

All three are about children making the rules, causing the rules, and ignoring the rules.  But what happens when we become of age as Christians, when we become adults, when we eat meat and not just milk, we come to realize that God makes the rules and we ignore them at our peril.

But perhaps David wanted to become a child again for a moment.  Lord, go away and take Your rules and Your love with you “that I may smile again.”

Smile at what?  Reveling in sin?  Wallowing in our own selfishness?  Idly wasting our time on the foolishness of the world.

We may very well be like David and want to push God away, but we are unwise to do so.

Why would David do this?  Perhaps the answer is in the preceding sentence – “For I am a sojourner…”

With God we are sojourners in the world.  We are in the world, but we are not of the world.  We wander through the world pursuing the path God has laid out for us, but there is no place for us to rest in the world, only in the arms of God.  The world despises and distrusts the sojourner because he or she is not a citizen of the place they are, but of the place where they are going.  The world despised Jesus; why should it behave any differently because of us.

There is a real danger for us in the world as sojourners, and that is that we want to belong.  We want to be part of the world.  We want to enjoy worldly things and have the company and approval of worldly people.  As long as God is around, He reminds us that we are His citizens and not the world’s.  He reminds us that we are to behave differently than the world, seeking His glory and not our own or the glory of other people.  He reminds us to aggregate the wealth of heaven and not the wealth of the world.

In other words, He reminds us that we do not ultimately belong where we are.  And sometimes we want to belong where we are … and so we tell the Lord “Go away!”

But although we may behave like the Lord has obeyed us and left, He has not.  Oh He may let us go for a period, following our own foolish ways, but sooner or later He will appear on scene again, reminding us of who we are and whose we are.

So David says and we say “Look away from me, that I may smile again…”  And the Lord, to His children, responds “No.”

And we will smile again, not because the Lord has ignored us like we asked, but because He has not.

But God has ignored something.  He has ignored our request that He ignore us.  He has ignored our sins and instead gone to the cross to die for our sins.  He has ignored His just wrath which we deserve and has replaced it with love and mercy which we do not deserve.

Ignore that at your peril.

_________

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

 

Bread – Justice

March 2, 2016


Psalm 9

“But the Lord sits enthroned forever; He has established His throne for justice, and He judges the world with righteousness; He judges the peoples with uprightness.”  Ps. 9:7-8

Yesterday, March 1, 2016, was primary voting day in Texas, where Texans exercised their preferences for candidates for various offices.  Among those offices were judges for our local county and district courts, for our courts of appeal (both civil and criminal), and our Texas Supreme Court.  Yesterday was about our personal selection for our judges who are supposed to be “judicial,” that is deliver justice, and today is about our Almighty God who is justice and has established His throne for justice.  By “His throne” we could have as easily said “His kingdom,” which then extends to us, His people living in His creation.

So, what is justice?

Like so many things in life, there are two answers to this question.  One answer is the answer of self.  Justice is what I think it is, according to my values and my standards.  When we expand the concept to the group of selves, then justice is what society as a whole (or its subunits of people) think it is.  I might call that “group think justice.”  So, today, it may be justice to leave the poor to suffer and let the rich man keep his wealth because he earned it and it is his, and tomorrow it may be justice to steal the rich man’s property and give it away to the poor person because they need it (or want it, since for people there is barely any difference between “wants” and “needs”).  Perhaps in this definition, justice within the community is merely deciding who wins and who loses, without regard to particular standards.  In this game, there is only winner … whoever is in power and the identity of the group that put him or her there.  Justice based upon the self or the aggregate community self can be broken down to “might makes right.”

The other answer to this question is the answer of God.  What are God’s standards for living, what are the objects of His love, what path would He have us follow as His disciples?  In the NASB Bible translation, the word “justice” is rendered “judgment” and the underlying Hebrew word refers to all government, not just the judiciary.  The nature of the judgment is in the next sentence of the Psalm, which is judging with the character of righteousness.  The Hebrew word for righteousness conveys doing the “right thing,” straightness, rectitude, honesty, and integrity, exercised by making decisions according to the truth and without partiality.

Thus, the concept of justice is also grounded in the truth.  Pilate, who ordered the crucifixion of Christ, did not act justly (and he knew it) because he did not know the truth (famously saying “what is truth?”).

And if the truth is a shifting sand of meaning imposed by self and the self-congregation of community, then there will be no justice because there is no standard by which it can be measured.  But God is also truth, and therefore exercises righteous judgment, or “justice.”

We are God’s ambassadors on earth, we are God’s emissaries.  We represent the throne; we carry the kingdom.  If there is to be justice in the world, if there is to be truth, then we must carry that ourselves into the marketplace, into the courts and the government at all levels, into the university and into the family.

Has justice failed?  Many would say that it has.

Is it because God is unjust?  No, it is because we are ineffective ambassadors.  How can we carry the truth well unless we know the truth?  How can we speak the truth in love when we know neither truth nor love?   How can we tell others to tell the truth and to act with justice when we do neither ourselves?

As Christians, we love to lay things off on other people – the job of caring for the poor is the job of government; the job of educating our family is the job of the schools; the job of exercising justice is the job of the courts.  But the truth is that it is our job – we are the ambassadors, not the government, not the schools, not the judiciary.  You and I are the ambassadors of a kingdom of truth, of love, and therefore of justice.  Not them and not anybody else.

Do you claim to follow Christ?  What today are you going to do to remedy the unjust things you have done in the past?  What today are you going to do to exercise justice yourself today … and tomorrow?

When we pass on gossip and slander, have we exercised justice?  When we ignore the poor and the oppressed, have we exercised justice?  When we exercise our power to fulfill our wants rather than God’s wants, have we exercised justice?  When we withhold our wealth and keep it for ourselves, have we exercised justice?  When we withhold the truth because we are embarrassed by it, have we exercised justice?

Every one of these things in the previous paragraph I have done … and you probably have to.  We are just fortunate that our God is not only a God of justice but also a God of mercy and second chances.

So let’s accept that forgiveness, dust ourselves off, and with a face to the future become the ambassador of Christ we are meant to be.  And let justice ring throughout the land!

_________

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

 

 

Bread – Sameness

January 30, 2015


Readings for Friday, January 30, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 50:1-11; Gal. 3:15-22; Mark 6:47-56; Psalms 40,51,54

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The new tolerance standard would require all to be the same. In order to be acceptable, we must think alike, talk alike, behave alike, worship alike. Now to do this and maintain some level of distinctiveness, there is only one solution, and that is to deem all behaviors, all theories, all thoughts, all ideas to be of equal weight and merit. This is embodied in the concept of relativism – what is true for me is true for me and what is true for you is true for you, and the only way to peace is to be the same. And we can be the same when we all adopt the common baseline that we are independent unto ourselves but not unto society. Within society we must think and act the same, and the only way to accomplish this is to realize that everyone is the same, without distinction and without judgment or evaluation as to the rightness or wrongness of any particular position. The power of the state in the age of tolerance is therefore not to maintain right, but to maintain conformity with the standards of society. Since the standards of society are not based upon “right” as such (remembering that all “rights” and “wrongs” are equal, except the wrong of failing to be tolerant), the standards are necessarily based upon power. If I am in control, then my views may not be “right,” but they can certainly be “enforced” in order to bring order. And, besides, why shouldn’t my ideas be enforced; you should think of them at least as highly as you think of your own ideas. Right. And so societies built upon sameness are driven to despotism.

So what does this mean from our Scripture reading today in Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus?” Gal. 3:28.

Does this mean that we are the same?

Simple observation will tell us that this is not true. We are still male and female, although modern thought is trying to strip us of this “bias.” We are still born into families, tribes, cities, states, nations, although modern thought would try to deny this reality as well by defining a “we are the world.” I live in Plano and therefore am a Planoite. I live in the United States and am therefore an American. I was born in the family of Flint and am therefore a Flint. Likewise, we also understand that we are somewhat stratified by our training, degrees, and specialization. I may in fact be a slave. I may in fact be free. I may in fact be an engineer. I may in fact be a sanitation worker.

It is clear that we are not the same, although modern thought would try to drive us toward that conclusion.

There are two further points to make. First is that I have engaged in some proof texting. To put the quote in context, it is necessary to add the previous sentence: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Gal. 3:27 If the quote is to be understood completely, one must realize that it has something to do with the nature of Christ, of what happens when one “puts on Christ.” The second point is to focus on the word “all” (“for you are all one in Christ”). Casual readers of Scripture are prone to see the word “you…all” and translate it to mean everyone. However, Paul is not writing to everyone. He is writing to the churches in Galatia. He is writing to Christians. The proper interpretation of “all” is “all you Christians.”

Christians find their unity in Christ. “In Christ” they are the same – sinners saved by grace, redeemed by the sovereign act of God, made righteous by Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection, not by their own works so that there is nothing special about any of them. They are not the same in life – in life they are Greek, Roman, English, Nigerian, French, Spanish, Cuban, Mexican, Canadian, slave, free, smart, stupid, educated, uneducated, rich, poor, leaders and followers. In Christ, they are none of these things because all fall short of the glory of God, no one is righteous, no one has sufficient good works to bring themselves into heavenly relationship, they are all in the soup unless redeemed by the Redeemer.

So, the question is simply this, as Christians are we the same? Yes and no. We are not the same in our birth, our relationships, our standards of living, our education, our life. We are the same in spirit, in need, in hope, and in our future bound up in Christ.

So how can we be the same and not the same? Maybe by abandoning our concept of “sameness” and adopting a new concept, a Godly concept. We are different, bound to go in our own direction in selfish, sinful pursuit, unless and until we surrender and declare allegiance to the one true King, Jesus Christ. At that moment, we are still ourselves and therefore different from each other but at that same moment we have admitted our common fundamental weakness, sought our common and only solution, and become part of the one and true communion of the saints.

The world would have us suppress our differences and become one through choice to accept all. God would have us embrace our differences and become one through choice to accept One. The world would say that we can build our tower of Babel to the heavens and reach God upon the shoulders of our works. God would say that our towers are but filthy rags, have us touch the ground with our knees and on our face, and in the process enter the throne room of God.

The world would have us reject ourselves as individuals and gather together in sameness; God would have us accept ourselves as individuals and gather together with our differences in unity under one King.

The world would say that to be tolerant, our allegiance must be to each other and to each other’s own thoughts. God would say that, to be tolerant, our allegiance must be to Him and to His thoughts. The world’s perspective on sameness results in oppression and real disunity. Christ’s perspective on diversity results in freedom and real unity.

“United we stand; divided we fall.” When we are united we can stand, not because we are the same, but because we are different but united under the same King. Divided we fall, not because we are individuals who refuse to be tolerant, but because we refuse to surrender to Christ and follow Him as King.

Think about it.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Sovereignty

January 12, 2015


Readings for Monday, January 12, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 40:12-23; Eph. 1:1-14; Mark 1:1-13; Psalms 1,2,3,4,7

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Who is sovereign over our lives, us or God?

The knee-jerk reaction is to say, of course, God. But do we behave like that, or do we really behave like “God is sovereign over some things” and “I am sovereign over other things?”

Now, there is a difference between sovereignty and authority. God gave us authority over the earth, permitting us to name the animals, but did He relinquish His sovereignty in doing so? I think the answer is “no.” Now it is easy for us to forget that and think that, because we have started a successful business, somehow we are sovereign over that business. But are we really? Are we not really God’s appointee, His delegate, to build that business and run it as well as we can, in obedience to His will and His Word?

A while ago, I heard an author ask the question what some New Age person would sound like to God. In his highest, squeakiest, voice, the writer said the New Ager would yell at the heavens (in a high pitched, squeaky voice) “I’m God, I’m God, I’m God.” The person sounded ridiculous to me, so I can imagine what they sounded like to God. And yet, isn’t that what we do most of the day – yell at the world and at God, “I’m God….”

Isaiah asks some questions today which really put into context how ridiculous it is that we insist that we are “God” or even a “god” or “demigod.” Isaiah says:

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?

Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows Him counsel? Who did He consult, and who made Him understand? Who taught Him the path of justice, and taught Him knowledge, and showed Him the way of understanding.” Isa. 40:12-14

The fact is that we dare to do it every day. We are the ones who would tell God what the best plan is, what the alternatives are that He should choose, what He should stay His hand from doing and what He should positively do. We are the ones who tell God what He should think, what virtues He should value, what works He should reward. We tell Him this in our prayers and we tell Him this when we ignore His Word on the matter. When we place Scripture through a filter of man’s understanding, we have stepped into the role of judge over the “rightness” of God’s position on things. When we don’t like what God has to say or we don’t want to do what He commands us to do, we create a version of God who better fits our ideas, who we better understand, and who we can better manipulate … and we worship the idol we have created rather than the God who created us.

Why harp on this today? The reason is our reading today from Ephesians – “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…Blessed be the God ..who has blessed us in Christ … even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world … In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ …” Eph. 1:1-5 (emphasis added)

This is an old fight in the church … and I will not resurrect it here. But before those of us who bristle at the thought that we did not choose God, but He chose us … who is sovereign?

Who is sovereign? There are three choices – Him, me, or both Him and me.

How you answer that question will make all the difference in the world. If God is sovereign, then obedience is the only answer. If I am sovereign, then God and the Bible are irrelevant. The problem is in the middle, where we think that both God and we are sovereign. This is why we plead for our way, this is why we re-interpret God’s Word, this is why we obey when we feel it is appropriate, this is why we live defeated lives, this is why we doubt our salvation. If God and we are both sovereign at the same time, we have a mess … we have the world.

We listened to Satan, ate of the tree of knowledge, and now think that we share God’s sovereignty. And what has that gotten us.

In today’s reading from Mark, Jesus says “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand;…” Mk. 1:15 The kingdom of God has God as its sovereign, not us.

Recognizing this, we bend the knee and obey … sometimes. The rest of the time our self-image of ourselves as in control rises to the top and meets God on what we think is an even playing field. But as Isaiah implies in the quote above, the playing field is not even because there is only one King.

God wins. But, then, so do we. Not because of us, but because of Him. Because He is King and we are not, we get to live in His kingdom…forever. Not a bad exchange for giving up our sovereignty we think we have to the position of disciple and servant that we know we have. Not “I am because I am,” but “I am because You (Jesus) are.”

____________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Am

October 20, 2014


Readings for Monday, October 20, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Rev. 7:1-8; Luke 9:51-62; Psalms 9,15,25

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In today’s readings from Scripture, we are confronted with the difference between “I will” and “I am.” This is always used in the context of what is going to happen next or is happening right now. For example, with respect to breakfast, we would say “I will eat breakfast [tomorrow]” or “I am eating breakfast [now].” The “am” is immediate; the “will” is future. When I am doing something in the present, I “am” doing it. When I intend to do something in the future, I “will” do it.

In our reading in Revelation today, the four angels are standing at the four corners, holding back the four winds. They “are” holding back the four winds from destroying the earth and the sea. Another angel tells them “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God …” Rev. 7:3. From this passage we understand that the four angels “will” release the winds and harm the earth, seas, and trees, but right now they “are” not doing so until an event occurs. Upon the occurrence of the event, the “will” changes to “am,” and then something happens.

In today’s reading from Luke, Jesus differentiates between those who ‘are” His from those who “will” be His. In doing this, He essentially says that there is no “will” in the kingdom; there is either “am” or nothing. The passage most clearly demonstrating this principle is “Yet another said, ‘I will follow You Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” Luke 9:61-62

As Christians, we live much of our lives in the “will” rather than the “am.” We “will” pray for our friends, rather than actually pray for them right then. We “will” worship on Sunday, rather than worship right now. We “will” give tomorrow rather than give today. Built into every “will” is some form of a condition … if I live, if I am able, if I want to, if I have to, if, if, if…. The “am” has no condition to it, because as soon as you say it you are doing it. With the “am” there is no difference between the future and the present, because the future is always the present. The “will” is a promise; the “am” is a fact.

Are we fit for the kingdom? How much of our attitude, our intent is “will”-driven as opposed to “am”-driven?

Do you love your neighbor as yourself? Is your answer “I will” or “I am?”

Do you love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, and soul? Is your answer “I will” or “I am?”

When God calls us in whatever way He does, is our tendency to say “I will once I get my affairs in order” or “I am in spite of my affairs being in disarray?”

The commitment God demands of us is now; we want to defer our response to the future.

God says that when we put it off, when we make it conditional, when we adopt the “I will” approach to Him, we are not fit for Him.

Think for a minute about how difficult it is to say “I am.” To say “I am” to God means that every bit our my agenda is out the window, everything I care about takes second fiddle, my wants and desires become irrelevant. If I am really going to say “I am” to God, it must be the absolute subjection of myself to my master. How difficult is this? It is impossible without the work of the Holy Spirit.

To proceed from “I will” to “I am” is nothing we accomplish on our own; it is impossible on our own. It can only be done by a power greater than us, by the one and only “I am” – God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So if I have any chance of saying “I am” it is because “He is.”

____________

© 2014 GBF

Bread – Positions

October 8, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, October 8, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Micah 2:1-13; Acts 23:23-35; Luke 7:18-35; Psalms 128,129,130,119:145-176

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Our readings today from Scripture struck me as somewhat disconnected until I realized that they really speak to positions we have in life and how those work themselves out in God’s plan. Sometimes positions are called roles or titles. There are many positions we have in life, and in a way our Scriptures today speak to all of them.

In Micah, there are at least three positions spoken of – leaders, family, and preachers. Micah speaks about all three of these in the negative – people using their position to cause harm or to have harm visited on them by their position. With respect to leaders, Micah says “Woe to those who devise wickedness …because it is in the power of their hand.” Micah 2:1. The reason we know he is talking about leaders is because of the reference “it is in the power of their hand.” Of course, this is true of any person in a position of authority, and so could refer to an elected government official, a president of a company, a boss, or even a father or mother. With respect to the position within a family, Micah reports that, just as the family might benefit from the leader’s abuse of authority, so will they be punished along with the leader at the time of reckoning. (see Micah 2:3).

With respect to preachers, again Micah refers to leaders of the church (synagogue) who would use their positions of authority to preach untruth, saying that people who “devise wickedness” will take preachers who state “I will preach to you of wine and strong drink.” Micah 2:11. Before we start laughing, imagining our preacher telling us that wine and strong drink are beneficial for us, isn’t this a form of “name it and claim it” or “prosperity gospel” which thousands of people are flocking on Sunday to hear from the pulpits of progressive churches?

In Acts, we pick up the story of how Paul ultimately reaches Rome. He has been threatened by a plot to kill him, and, because Paul points out that he is a Roman citizen (a position), he has been put into protective custody and rushed to the Governor to determine his fate. Paul is a preacher, a follower of Jesus, a man, a Pharisee (by training), and a tentmaker, but it is his position of citizenship which becomes important. As a citizen of Rome, he has certain rights and, at an appropriate time, he stands on those rights.

In Luke, we see a dialogue between John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ. John, in the position as questioner, asks Jesus who He is. Jesus responds by pointing out all the ways He has fulfilled Old Testament prophecy and lets John work it out for himself based upon the evidence. But Jesus also says that John is the messenger, the forerunner, prophesied in the Old Testament, to come before Jesus and “prepare [His] way before [Him].” Luke 7:27.

But Jesus then says this: “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” Luke 7:28

Think about this for a minute. John and all the prophets and the leaders are born of women, and John the Baptist, the prophet of God who was the advanced messenger for Jesus Christ is the greatest. And yet, as great as he is and was, the believer in Jesus Christ who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John.

You see, in our lives there are only two positions which matter. We can be great leaders or followers, of the basest or the finest character, and be on the side of John (the Old Testament, with its righteousness gained through works, through obedience to the law) or Jesus (the New Testament with its righteousness gained through the finished work of Christ on the cross, reborn through the Holy Spirit into belief in Jesus Christ, transforming our minds through His word written and made flesh).

Our position is either Christian or not. Those are the two positions which matter. One is life and eternity in the kingdom. The other is death and judgment when the time comes. One is received by the power of the Holy Spirit and the other is earned by “good” works, the best of which are filthy rags before a holy God.

Two positions which matter. One in Christ and the other without. In what position are you … really?

____________

© 2014 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

Bread – Cooption

October 31, 2011


Readings for Monday, October 31, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Neh. 6:1-19; Rev. 10:1-11; Matt. 13:36-43; Psalms 56, 57, 58, 64, 65

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Cooption (pronounced co-option) is a word which is peculiarly close to “cooperation” and is therefore doubly dangerous because cooption can occur in the context of cooperation; cooption can occur in the context of trying to be a nice guy, a person who goes along to get along.

What is cooption? Webster’s dictionary defines the verb “co-opt” as follows: “to persuade or lure (an opponent) to join one’s own system, party, etc.” Cooption (or co-option) is the noun, reflecting the process of luring someone into another way of thinking.

In Nehemiah today we have an excellent example of cooption in action. Nehemiah is following the instructions of God and rebuilding Jerusalem. He is in the process of finishing the wall and gates around Jerusalem. In the middle of his work, he gets this letter from an opponent of the work, “Come, let us meet together [outside the city]…” Neh. 6:2. In and of itself, this appears to be a neutral offer. We are not getting along, so let us talk together so we can resolve our differences. Let us cooperate instead of fight. Let us have peace.

The allure of this is substantial. No one likes to live within a context of hostility and opposition. We all believe that, if only we could talk to the other side, they would swoon over our arguments and we will have won a friend. We all are confident in our ability to stay the course of our own beliefs, so it is OK to let a little “other thinking” in. After all, aren’t we required as Christians to love our neighbor? Isn’t part of that meeting with them in a neutral place to talk out our differences? In fact, isn’t a little compromise a good thing, because it acknowledges respect for the other side, because they may have some truth on their side too?

See how subtly I have coopted you, relying upon your desire to be nice, to be recognized, to be loved, to be respected, to live in peace and friendship?

But Nehemiah was not engaged in his own work, which he could cast aside in favor of compromise. He was engaged in the Lord’s work. And so he had this response: “I am carrying on a great project and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Neh. 6:3

To us this seems rude and offensive. “Let us dialogue” has been rejected by “I am doing and I will not stop the work to engage in useless talk.” What work could be so great that it cannot be delayed for a few minutes to talk to our enemies?

There is subtle lie in that last question, which is at the core of cooption. The problem is that, once the dialogue with people who oppose God’s work begins, it does not last a “few minutes;” it lasts forever. There is always one more thing to talk about, always one more point or concept to massage into unrecognition. There is always one more meeting, one more telephone call, one more speech, one more reconsideration, one more “let us reason together.”

There are enemies of the Gospel. These enemies have lots of tools – discouragement, misrepresentations (lies), worry, hopelessness. But one of their biggest tools is one of their least recognized – cooption. They appear as angels of light to engage you in endless dialogue about useless trifles, while the work of the kingdom assigned to you is set aside on the shelf, is delayed, is compromised, and is ultimately rendered tasteless, lightless, soulless, and lifeless.

How do we avoid being coopted? There were three things which Nehemiah had going for him. The first is that he knew who his God was and what job his God had assigned him. In Nehemiah’s case, it was rebuilding Jerusalem. In your case, it might be cleaning bathrooms. It doesn’t matter, because whatever job God has given us to do at that point in time is His work, not ours, and is to be done for His glory, not ours.

The second thing Nehemiah had going for him was that he recognized the enemy of the gospel. This is not as hard as it appears. Anyone who would assert a false god as king (work, power, money, prestige) is an enemy of the Gospel. Anyone who would urge us to satisfy our lusts rather than our new life in Christ is an enemy of the Gospel. Anyone who tells us that we are in control is an enemy of the Gospel. Anyone who loves the ways of the world rather than the ways of righteousness is an enemy of the Gospel. But you look around and say, “that is a lot of people.” Yes it is and so what?

The third thing that Nehemiah had going for him was that he was empowered by the Holy Spirit to discern when to say “no.” He had good boundaries. He recognized that not to say “no” to his enemies was tantamount to saying “no” to God. He knew he could not do both. He knew that the objectives of his enemies was not to win – it was to delay, derail, and ultimately destroy the work God had assigned him to do.

We also have all three things. We have a job to do given to us by our Creator. It is a job of pronouncing the reign of Christ, His work on the cross. It is a job of taking care of those people whom God has brought into our circle of care, whether it be in our family, our neighborhood, or the church. It is a job of praising God for our blessings. It is a job of good works which bring glory to God. It is a job of obedience. It is a job of joy. It is a job of love. We also have enemies who would rather deny us our hope and life than anything else. We also can say “No.” We can join with Nehemiah in saying that we will not stop the work to compromise with the enemy of the Gospel. How can we do this? Through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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