Bread – Kings

May 25, 2016


Psalm 21

.“His [the king’s] glory is great through Your salvation; splendor and majesty You bestow on him.  For You make him most blessed forever; You make him glad with joy of Your presence.  For the king trusts in the Lord, and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.”  Ps. 21:5-7

Which king is the Psalmist talking about?

One answer could be the author of this Psalm, King David himself.  If this is the case, he is speaking of himself in the third person, but that is not unusual if David was intending to turn himself as king into the object of God’s pleasure.

Another answer could be Jesus Christ Himself, King of Glory.  One reason it could be him is that the Psalmist says “You make him most blessed forever.”  And who is most blessed, except the Son of God Himself.  Another reason could be that He bestows “splendor and majesty on him.”  And who has the most splendor and majesty except the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?  However, I do not think it is a reference to the Messiah because David starts off by saying that the king’s glory is great through “Your salvation.”  Although in one sense it is God Almighty who brings salvation to His people, Jesus Christ as God did not need to be saved – He is Savior; He saves.  Jesus’ glory pre-existed His death and resurrection and preceded creation itself.

So who else could David be talking about?  You … and me.

Think about it for minute.  Why not?

To the extent we reflect glory, it is made great through His salvation of us.

To the extent we reflect splendor and majesty in what we do and who we are, it is God who gives it to us.

To the extent we are blessed, it is because God has made us “most blessed.”  And since we are saved by God’s might, He has made us “most blessed forever.”

To the extent we are thankful for our blessings, it is through the power of God in us that we can even see the source of those blessings, much less be glad in His presence.

And how is it that we reflect glory, are bestowed with honor, splendor and majesty, receive our blessings, and become joyful in the presence of the living God?  It is because “the king trusts in the Lord.”

And finally and most importantly, to the extent we are unmoved by the world, by the opinions of others, by our own carnal desires, it is because of “the steadfast love of the Most High.”  If we stand strong in the evil day, it is because the God we worship is Himself steadfast in power, holiness, and love.

So personalize this psalm: “My glory is great through His salvation; splendor and majesty have been bestowed upon me by Him.  He has made me most blessed forever; and I have been made by Him to be glad and joyful in His presence.  It is because I trust in the Lord, and I shall not be moved from the rock because He is steadfast in His love for me.”

We are kings because He is King.

Now, do we behave like it?

_________

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

 

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Bread – Dominion

February 26, 2016


Psalm 8

“..You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.  You have given him dominion over the works of Your hands; and You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea…”  Ps. 8:5-8

The word “dominion” is also translated “rule” in the NASB translation of the Bible.

So, Psalm 8 reflects what happens in Genesis, when man was given rule over everything on earth.  When man was cast out of the Garden of Eden for disobedience, this charge, this appointment, was not revoked.  Instead, what was added to man’s life was the necessity to work and what was subtracted from his life was his total integration with God.

Instead of ruling over a perfect world, when man disobeyed God and followed the serpent, he was set over as ruler of an imperfect world.

Perhaps that is why man feels like he, and he alone, is in charge of making the world perfect again.  Part of the desire of man for the environment is to protect as a steward what God has given us, to be a good king over the bounty of God’s creation.  But another part of the desire of man for the environment is to exercise the iron fist of control, to be “in charge,” to “fix” the world, to “repair” what he broke.

The desire to fix what you broke is a common desire, but the effort makes us begin to believe that we are “masters of our lives,” kings over our destiny, ruler of the earth, exercising power and dominion in all phases of our lives. To be the king, we think we must act like the king and wage war against the enemies of the kingdom – poverty, ignorance, bullying, racial profiling, individualism to the extent of harming the community, etc.  [Does this begin to sound familiar?]

In a sense, this is a partial explanation for man’s current fascination with “global warming” or “climate change.”  Rather than face the reality that the earth is broken from our own sin and that God’s creation will operate in the way He has ordained, man’s understanding of his own dominion over the earth and all that is in it extends to the climate.  If it is broken, it must be man who broke it and, as king, then it is up to us to fix it.

Another aspect of dominion, in addition to believing that we as king can solve all problems, is that we get to dress like a king and live in places like kings live.  And so, in our pride as ruler of the universe, we build greater and greater monuments to ourselves, we collect more and more wealth, we surround ourselves with the riches of things, and we wear pretty and expensive clothing and jewelry, with a little perfume (cologne) thrown in for good measure.  We look good, we smell good … so, doggone it, we must be good.  Right?

Well, yes we have been tasked with exercising dominion over the earth (note, not the universe).

But does that put us on first?  No.

“You have made him [us] a little lower than the heavenly beings.”  So, the “heavenly beings” are higher than us.  And who are they?

One problem with translations is that, unless we reach under them, we can be quickly misled.  When I first read this, I assumed that “heavenly beings” meant angels.  This fits nicely into my predisposition to create hierarchies in heaven and on earth and so I am happy with my conclusion.  However, when I read the NASB version, it reads “…Thou hast made him a little lower than God..”  Ps. 8:5 (NASB).  And it turns out that the underlying Hebrew word is “Elohim,” which reflects the Genesis “…let us…”  In other words, there are two possible meanings, one being angels and the other meaning God Himself, likely in the form of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

But, whatever, it is clear that we are not boss.  At best, we are regents, we are appointed agents of God, to rule in accordance with God’s principles and according to His instructions.

What are God’s instructions to us as His regents on earth?  How are we to exercise dominion?

Some might say that the way we exercise dominion is through rules and regulations, much like in the Old Testament.  Others would say that we exercise dominion through the exercise of love and servant leadership, much like in the New Testament.  And indeed, Jesus tells His disciples that His followers are not to “lord” it over others.

So should we exercise dominion by the sword (the Law) or by the candy Valentine’s heart (Love)?

I think the answer to this, when we think about it, is “Yes.”  Exercising the law tempered by love and love strengthened by law results in  a balanced kingship, a way to be obedient the command “Love God first and love your neighbor as yourself.”

And it brings honor to God to raise up the entirety of Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments.  And it brings success to us, because now we have a plan to follow.

A heavenly plan, designed by God and not by man, over which we are in charge of implementing the earthly part.

We are kings but subjects, rulers but servants, leaders but disciples, helping others while seeking help from God.

Can you imagine what it would be like to exercise dominion without God’s plan, strength, power, and grace?  I can’t … and yet I do it every day.  Do you want to imagine what mess we would really be in if we were really the “top dog?”  Well look around, the evidence surrounds us.

God gave us dominion over the earth and, doggone it, we will exercise that dominion.  The only question is how – with God or without Him.  I think “with God” is the better choice.  What say you?

_________

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

 

Bread – Peal

February 22, 2016


Psalm 8

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!”  Ps. 8:1

It is in verses like this where I see the value (to myself) of capitalizing all references to God.  By capitalizing “Your Name,” God is emphasized both at the beginning and at the end.  “Your Name,” God’s name, is not something to be trifled with, ignored, subordinated, brought to earth … but exalted, raised up, worshiped and adored!

The word “peal” struck me because we normally use it in the phrase “peal of thunder,” but this one sentence strikes me as a “peal of praise.”  It is a word typically used with the sound of bells and generally a loud ringing of bells.  So thunder is a loud noise, a peal.  So praise as expressed by David is a loud outcry, a loud worship, a loud statement of truth, a proclamation – it is a peal.

The dictionary actually says that the word “peal” means not only loud, but prolonged.  In other words, it lasts a long time.

And, indeed, the phrase “How majestic is Your Name in all the earth” does seem to prolong itself in our mind as we listen to it – it seems to bounce off the recesses of our soul and echo deep within.  It is not just a fleeting statement, but one which resonates over and over and over again as we say it, as we speak it, as we sing it, as we shout it, as we yell it.

What a great way to begin the week!  With a peal of praise from our mouths.  “O Lord, our Lord, You are majestic, holy, and Your train fills the temple!”

What vision do we have of “majesty.”  What visions do we apply the word “majestic” to?

When I think of “majestic,” I think of the mountains, reaching to the sky, standing in permanence, full of color and life, full of adventure and opportunity.  Others may think of the sea, its vastness and regularity, its depth and breadth, its power and, in the times of storms, its unruliness.  Others may think of the stars and planets of the universe, their number and distance and balance and seeming endlessness.

What a way to begin the week!  Offering a peal of praise to our Maker, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Restorer, our God.

A reminder of who He is, who we are, and whose we are.  One we sorely need every day.  One to set us in our proper place.  One to set our compass correctly.

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!”

Amen.

_________

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

 

 

Bread – Foundations

February 16, 2015


Readings for Monday, February 16, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 63:1-6; 1 Tim. 1:1-17; Mark 11:1-11; Psalm 89

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What is the foundation of our faith?

There is much more behind this question than necessarily meets the eye.

In today’s readings, we see at least six (6) different possibilities.

One foundation of our faith could be a desire to escape the wrath of God and the coming judgment. From our reading in Isaiah today comes this: “It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save … I have trodden the winepress alone…I trod them in My anger and trampled them in My wrath;…for the day of vengeance was in my heart…I trampled down the peoples in My anger; I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.” Isa. 63:1-6 Let us call this the “Avoidance Foundation.”

Another foundation of our faith could be our own works, our desire to obey God’s law, just as Paul did: “I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful…” 1 Tim. 1: 12 Let us call this the “Self Foundation.”

Another foundation of our faith could be that we were given mercy by God. Again from 1 Timothy: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God…But I received mercy…The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason…” 1 Tim. 1:1,13b-16. Let us call this the “Chosen Foundation.”

A fourth foundation of our faith could be our need to live in victory beneath a victorious king – “And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest.” Mk. 11:9-10 Let us call this the “Victory Foundation.”

A fifth foundation of our faith could be our understanding of Christ’s work on the cross, His payment for us which we could not make so that we could stand in the throne room of God cleansed of sin. Let us call this the “Sin Foundation.”

A sixth foundation of our faith (and there may be more) is contained in the last sentence of our reading today from Paul’s letter to Timothy: “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Tim. 1:17. Let us call this the “Sovereign Foundation.”

In summary, the six potential concepts of the foundation of our faith which are struggling for prime position are the “Avoidance Foundation,” the “Self Foundation,” the “Chosen Foundation,” the “Victory Foundation,” the “Sin Foundation,” and the “Sovereign Foundation.”

If we re-order these, we realize that three of these proceed from man – what man wants and what man would choose. These are the “Avoidance Foundation,” the “Self Foundation,” and the “Victory Foundation.” “I” can avoid God’s wrath by choosing Christ, “I” can achieve God’s pleasure by obedience to the rules and by good works, “I” can obtain victory in life by following the King, the Creator, and appropriating His powers on earth.

The other three foundations begin with God – the “Sin Foundation,” the Chosen Foundation,” and the “I Am Foundation.” “God” solves the sin problem by dying for us, “God” chooses us for salvation, choosing those upon whom He will have mercy, “God” is Himself, the only God, most high.

I have become convinced through my walk that, although at different times in my life I believed that each of the described foundations was in fact the foundation of my faith, the only true foundation which makes any sense is the Sovereign Foundation – He is God and I am not; He rules and I do not. All of the other foundations are laid on top of this one.

If God were not sovereign, then why would there be sin? If God were not sovereign, then why would it be necessary that the saved were chosen? If God were not sovereign, then why would we be afraid of His wrath? If God were not sovereign, then why would His rules be something that we would measure our lives against and why would there be standards for “good” works? If God were not sovereign, then where is the victory?

God’s sovereignty is the key – it is the foundation upon which we rest our faith.

To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

__________

© 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 – Relationships

September 8, 2014


Readings for Monday, September 8, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Job 32:1-10, 19-33:1, 19-28; Acts 13:44-52; John 10:19-30; Psalms 41,44,52

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There are many relationships in the world. Some are defined by family: father-son, uncle-niece, grandmother-grandson, etc. Some are defined by economics or employment: boss-worker, president-vice president, director-officer, shareholder-director. Some are defined by politics: king-subject, office holder-citizen, senator-representative.

But these are roles. Most often when we talk about the word “relationship” we are not talking about a positional relationship but a “personal” relationship. In that respect, the relationship is often characterized by adjectives – cold, friendly, loving, uncaring, close, separate, estranged, etc.

But one thing which is sort of built into the American mindset about every relationship is that we are equal, equal in rights, opportunity, and standing. Somebody may be our boss in a particular circumstance, but otherwise we are the same. Each person is worthy. Each person’s opinion should be respected. Each person should be listened to. Each person should be treated fairly.

This is not the mindset of much of the world. In much of the world there is in operation something like a caste system, where you are born (created) into a particular position in life. This position defines your relationship and you may not get out of the position because you can’t. You were born into it and therefore, that is what you are. People are, in this relationship system, necessarily unequal because they were born into their categories unequally.

Thus, in feudal times, you were born into royalty or common. That was it. As royalty, you could be king. As common, you could be a serf. Unless there was a revolution, defining a new category of royalty, the serfs and the royalty did not eat together, they did not go to church together, they did not participate in the economic system in the same way. Their relationship was fundamentally unequal. Slavery represented another caste system. Islam’s treatment of women is another caste system.

Because we see relationships as free and equal, in spite of temporary role changes, there is a fundamental flaw in our relationship with God. When we talk about having a relationship with God, we think of it automatically as an equal relationship. God and I can get along because we are equal. God and I can talk to each other because we are equal. God will answer my prayers because we are equal. God and I are friends. God and I dialogue, communicate, participate, and work together for the kingdom. In fact, God looks to me to help Him build the kingdom because we are partners. God and I walk hand in hand. I choose God because He chose me.

These are our words … and they were Job’s words … and they were (and are) the wrong words.

Job’s friend Elihu says it simply but correctly in today’s reading – “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life…God is greater than man.” Job 33:4,12

In the relationship between man and God, there is a caste system. There is God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and then there is us. We are not God and He is not us. We are reflections of Him, but we are not Him.

If we are not equal to God, then what is our right relationship to Him? The entire Bible addresses this question. Are we family? Yes, but as adopted children through the sovereign work of God, we are not equal to God. We may speak boldly, but we must bow our head and bend our knee to His Kingship over us. Are we slaves? Yes, but as slaves in Jesus we bear a light yoke and have freedom well beyond that which we have following our own dictates. But in spite of our freedom, we are slave and He is master. Are we friends? Jesus calls us friends but, in our position vis a vis God, does that give us the right to call Him friend? To ask this question another way, if Jesus chooses to give us the best seat in the house at dinner, does that mean that we are entitled to the best seat in the house? Do we have any right to take God’s Word and place our interpretation on it? Can we subject God to our opinion, or must we conform our opinion to God’s truth?

Just because we are equal to each other as people does not mean that we are equal to God.

Our natural tendency to treat God as our equal will demonstrate itself in our interpretation of today’s reading in John – “…you do not believe because you are not part of My flock. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:26-30.

Now, reading that text, what does the phrase “My Father … has given them to Me” mean? Is there any element of man’s choice in that statement? Any element of man’s free will?

The answer to that question will say a lot about how you view your relationship with God. If your relationship with God is built upon equality, then your free choice becomes an essential element of the salvation transaction. If your relationship with God is built upon His sovereignty, His kingship, His glory, His power, and His work on the cross, then the caste-chasm has been breached, not by our choice, but by God’s.

So, what is your relationship with God? Is it based on position? Is it based upon choice? Is it based upon God’s sovereign work in your life? Want the answer? Read Job.

____________

© 2014 GBF

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 – Because

June 7, 2013


Readings for Friday, June 7, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 26:1-11; 2 Cor. 8:16-24; Luke 18:9-14; Psalms 40,51,54

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My last Bread was about parenting. One of the events which occurs between a parent and child is when the child asks “why?” The parent always attempts to give a good, but complete, answer, tailored to the age of the child. But the child keeps asking “why,” and sooner or later the parent does not know why and ends the conversation with “Because” or “Because I said so.”

In the last Bread, we read from Deuteronomy that we as parents were to talk about God’s words all of the time.

In today’s readings, we now have the answer to our children when they as “why?” Instead of saying “because” or “because I said so,” we can say “because of God,” or “because of who God is,” or “because God has acted to make it so.” And as our Scriptures today remind us, we can say that about everything.

In Deuteronomy 26:1, the Israelites are going into a land, to take possession of it. Why? Because God gave it to them.

In Deuteronomy 26:2, the Israelites go to a place which we would call church. Why is the church there? Because it is a place chosen by God “to make His name to dwell there.”

In Deuteronomy 26:10, the ground produces plants for our sustenance. Why? Because God gave us both the ground and the fruit of the ground.

In 2 Corinthians 8:16, Titus has a heart for the gospel and for other people. Why? Because “God put into his heart the same earnest care I [Paul] have for you.”

In Luke 18:9, the sinner who confessed his sin, repented, and turned toward the Lord was justified before God. Why? Because God has decreed it so, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Lk. 18:14b

For those people who do not wish to acknowledge God, the answer to “Why?” is simple. The answer ultimately is “I don’t know.”

For those people who follow God, the answer to “Why?” is also simple, but profoundly different. The answer always is “Because God [said, did, promised, says, does, promises]”

What is your answer to the “Why?” of the world. Is it because of you or because of God? Is it because of your boss or because of God? Is it because of good luck or because of God? Is it because you did something right or because of God?

Yes, often our woes and blessings are traceable to us. However, we are wrong to believe that we are the only “because” of that event or circumstance. There is a bigger “because” for those who would see. There is a bigger “because” for those who would hear.

There is a bigger “because” than us. And we call that “because” God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Benefactor

December 14, 2012


Readings for Friday, December 14, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 7:10-25; 2 Thess. 2:13-3:5; Luke 22:14-30; Psalms 31,35

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We often think of benefactors as those people who help other people, but even in our day the concept of “benefactor” can convey a darker tone, one which suggests someone behind the scenes, manipulating the results with their money or power. For example, if someone is successful in business, someone else might say that his or her success is not due to their ability or hard work, but instead is due to the fact that they have a “benefactor” somewhere higher up in the organization. In this context, a benefactor appears to be someone who is helping, but lurking in the background is some kind of pay-off. We “know” that this story ends with the “benefactor” requesting some return favor for his or her “beneficence.” To put it more bluntly – “I helped you in the past, so now it is your turn to help me.”

This darker tone is reinforced in today’s reading from Luke – Jesus said, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.” Lk. 22:25

Think about that. Because I am the king, whatever I do for you is a favor to you and you should respond with loyalty and a readiness to return the favor when needed. Because I am the king, I am “above” you and so whatever I do for you, you should be grateful for, because I am your king and have authority to do or not do. Because I am the king, whatever I do for you, no matter how trivial, is a blessing to you.

Now when we think further about this, we realize that in some sense we are describing God – God is King, He is all-powerful, He has authority to show or withhold mercy, to show or withhold favor. In response to these gifts, we should have no other reaction than thanksgiving, realizing that in our low estate we can never return the blessing.

But in Jesus’ description, He is applying the example of kingship to people, to people who believe they are God and that, therefore, they are the people to whom loyalty is owed, they are the people who are “benefactors,” they are the people to whom the return favor is owed.

And in making this description, Jesus is both describing the corruption of man by his claiming to be King when only God is king, and the corruption of the position of “king,” where it turns from the good gifts of God to the conditional gifts of human “benefactors.” By describing themselves as “Benefactors,” the “kings of the Gentiles” have demonstrated their corruption of the true state of affairs, where God and only God is King.

And then, to make the point more thoroughly, Jesus tells His disciples (and us) that we are not to behave that way – “But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” Lk. 22:26 We are not to act as givers of mercy and gifts, but as receivers of mercy and gifts. Whatever we do is not to be done out of a sense of power, lordship, as king or benefactor, but out of a sense of weakness, of dependency, of servanthood, as the least and not the most. As Christians, we are merely to pass on what we have been given, recognizing that but for what we have been given, we ourselves would have nothing to give. As Christians, we are commanded to give from the back of the line and not from the front of the line.

In today’s newspaper there is a story about a policeman from Plano who performed his duty as a policeman and as a servant. He caught someone driving without registration, who when asked by the policeman why he (the driver) had not done his duty to the authorities by registering his car, said that he had a choice this season to either register his and his wife cars or feed his family. The policeman did his duty as a policeman by giving the man a ticket, as he deserved. The policeman did his duty as Christ’s agent on earth by giving the man the money, in the form of a $100 bill, to pay the penalty the man could not pay as his own. No one knows who the policeman is, because no one is telling.

But I know who this Plano policeman is. He is Christ to a broken world. At a time when man lay guilty in his sins, unable to do anything, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to pay the penalty we could not pay by His birth, life, death, and resurrection. What God commands in response is nothing more than our faith in the One who calls us, lived and died for us, and raises us to eternal life…followed by our passing on the gifts of grace, mercy, peace, forgiveness, and resources we have been given to those who need them.

There are two ways to look at being a benefactor, one with a capital “B” and the other with a smaller “b.” The people who call themselves “Benefactors,” with a capital “B” give from the front, in their fine clothing and in their position of authority, letting you know that, but for them, you would have no blessing today. The people who know know that they are “benefactors,” with a small “b,” give from behind, in the silence and in secret, wearing non-descript clothes from non-descript places in non-descript circumstances, letting you know that, but for God, they would have no blessing today. The Benefactors point to themselves; the benefactors point to God.

Jesus said in today’s readings from Luke that “…I am among you as the one who serves.” Lk. 22:27. The one person entitled to be the “Benefactor” came to earth as a servant, as a benefactor. The one person entitled to be called King washed the feet of those who were unworthy to pick up the crumbs from His table. The one person entitled to be called King and God, the “I am,” bowed to come to earth as a baby so that He might deliver His people from death.

I know that sometimes in this season of the year I can get resentful, because I gave someone something and they didn’t give me something back. Why am I resentful? The truth is I am resentful because, in that moment, I have put myself into position of “Benefactor,” so where is my praise? In that moment, I have appointed myself king and God. In that moment, I have forgotten that I cannot give away anything which I myself have not been given, so the truth is that I already received before I gave.

Why do I behave that way? I would like to say it is because it is just the way I am. But the better answer is because I forgot in that instant what God did for me on Christmas and on the cross.

Don’t you forget too. Oh, give and give generously, but not as a Benefactor but as a follower of Christ, radically dependent upon Him, grateful for all the gifts He has given, which of course is everything. Merry Christmas.

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – False Worship

August 16, 2010


Readings for Monday, August 16th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Judges 17:1-13; Acts 7:44-8:1a; John 5:19-29
    Psalms 106
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The Bible is full of incredible little stories where man shows his true colors.  In Judges today, we are provided an insight into the life of Micah and his family.  In a nutshell, Micah tries to be holy and goofs it up big time.  It is almost laughable until we realize that we do the same things ourselves all the time.

The story begins with Micah’s mother having lost a bunch of silver, perhaps because it was stolen or "taken from" her.  Judges 17:2.  She has cursed her loss.  Micah, her son, has somehow come into possession of the silver and returns it to her.  Micah’s mother responds in an odd way out of joy at having her wealth returned – "I solemnly consecrate my silver to the Lord for my son to make a carved image…"  Judges 17:3.  She then gives 200 shekels (out of 1,100 recovered) to construct an idol.

Think about what just happened.  She responds in joy by consecrating "her silver" "to the Lord."  The phrase "her silver" in context suggests all of the recovered silver, not a portion of it.  In fact, however, she releases only around 15% of the silver, keeping the rest for herself.  In fact, however, she doesn’t even release that.  Her gift was "to the Lord for my son."  In other words, this was a gift to her son, not to the Lord.  What is worse is that it was not even a gift to her son, because she wanted him to make an idol out of it.  It is unclear whether Micah wanted the idol (given subsequent events), but we can probably agree (given the commandment against the making of idols) that God did not want the "gift."

How often have we fallen into that trap?  I have just had a successful day, so I will "give to the Lord for my favorite charity," or something like that.  Or here is a good one, like we see in some house blessings – "I will give to the Lord my house for me."

How often do we impose upon our "gifts" to the Lord various conditions which work to our benefit?  How many times do we acknowledge to the Lord that we owe Him everything, only to throw in some chump change into the collection plate?

But it is what Micah did with the idol which is almost more laughable, until we realize that we do it too.  The first thing he did was to set up a shrine, a self-designated "holy place" in his house.  Of course, if one idol is good for a shrine then more idols must be better, so he added some more idols.  Of course, no church is complete without a priest (or a minister), so then Micah appointed his son.  Then, when someone pre-approved by God to be a priest came by (a Levite), Micah upgraded his holiness by buying a "real" priest, who of course was more than happy to join the party for a good salary, a place to stay, and food to eat.  Judges 17:10-11.  Maybe Micah even evicted his son, although he may have just been demoted to assistant priest, since Micah now had a real one.

Was God anywhere in this?  Was God in Micah?  Was God in the idols?  Was God in the shrine?  Was God in the priests, whether or not they had been trained or ordained?

And yet, is there any doubt that Micah was trying to please God, that he was trying to be holy, that he was trying to put himself into position of being close to God?  I have no doubt of this at all.

So where is the error?  I think it is in the phrase "Micah (and his mother) were trying."  Through their own self-effort, through their own readings, through their own study, through their own ideas, through there own "merit" they were trying to conjure up God.  They were in fact making their own God and their own worship using their ideas, not God’s ideas and using their instruction manual, not God’s Word.

Judges today hits the nail on the head — "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit."  Judges 17:6.

The idea of a king is difficult for Americans to understand, because we are individuals and are used to doing "as we see fit" (as long as it doesn’t interfere with someone else’s individuality).  We do not like rules, we do not like following established guidelines, we do not like authority, we do not like taking orders, we do not bow our knees.

So when we say that we follow "King Jesus," we are like Micah … we tend to say "I dedicate my life to King Jesus for me" and then are thought of as "religious" if we actually end of up using 15%, just like Micah’s mother.  We then create worship services in places of our choosing using idols, priests, and ceremonies of our liking.   Although we know that there is something about Micah we should abhor, we actually sort of understand it.  We actually sort of do it.  And we actually sort of like it.

When Micah sat in his private shrine, using his private priest in his private ceremony to worship his private idols, who was he worshiping?  He was worshiping himself.  The idol is made by his hands, paid for by his money, housed in his house, and fashioned in the image he created.  The image is of him and the shrine is for him.  It is for Micah, not for the true king.

To what extent is your worship of the Almighty really worshiping you?  To what extent are your gifts to the church really gifts to you and for your benefit?  To what extent are you worshiping in a mirror?

To the extent that you can say "yes" to any of these questions is the extent to which you are engaged in false worship – because there is only one King and one God, and you are not Him and neither am I.

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