Bread – Signs

July 21, 2017


Psalm 74

Your foes have roared in the midst of Your meeting place; they have set up their own signs for signs.”  Ps. 74:4

Those who are of the world and are not for God are against God.  “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?”  Jas. 4:4b  Therefore, the word “foes” here not only includes people who would see God removed totally from life on earth, but also those who wouldn’t go that far but are still hostile to God and those who are neutral toward God, perhaps believing that there are many gods.  So, God has many foes, many enemies.

But what do the enemies of God do to demonstrate their enmity?  The most obvious way is to work to depose His people on earth, to imprison them in their homes or churches, to make sure that none of their infectious ideas (like eternal life through belief in Jesus Christ) are spoken in the public square or reflected in public policy or laws.

The less obvious way is to create symbols and signs which lead away from God or, worse, mislead people into finding a false god.

Ultimately, unless we are the recipient of direct revelation, we take in our information and our knowledge by words, by language.   The foes of God attempt to create signs and symbols which sound like and look like the words they replace, but which lead away from a sovereign Lord and which therefore lead away from life.

There are many illustrations of this, but I will pick three and hopefully one or more you will find accurate.

The first is our description of God in our own translations of Scripture.   What I mean by that is the destruction of the word “he” or “him” when that pronoun refers to God.  In a sentence referring to both me (a man) and God in every major Bible translation today, any reference to either me or God will be either “he” or “him.”  Very, very, very subtly, by doing so the foes of God have equated man and God to the same level.  Do Christians today have a diminished view of God’s sovereignty, His power, and His majesty?  Perhaps it is because God is referred to in man-made translations as “him” or “he.”  Just like I don’t deserve the royal capital “H,” neither in the opinion of these Bible translators does God.

The second is our corruption of the word “love.”  We “love” football, we “love” ice cream, we “love” our children, and we “love” our neighbor become all the same word.  What has great meaning in a covenantal relationship as between us and God or between us and our spouse is reduced in practical terms to “like a lot.”  When we can love our ice cream with the same meaning as we love our neighbor, why should there be any doubt about why we do not understand the concept of “love our neighbor as we love ourselves.”  We may preach about “sacrificial love,” but isn’t it interesting that the word has become so corrupted that we have to try to strengthen it with an adjective to get our point across.  And is there any reason to wonder why we don’t understand what “sacrificial love” is when the real practical translation is “sacrificial like a lot.”

My third example is actually a strange one because it still means something but the meaning is disappearing in front of our eyes.  That word is “privacy.”  When I was young, this was a core concept of life.  When I was in my room alone, I had privacy.  When I was on the telephone, I had privacy.  When I got a letter in the mail, I had privacy.  The notion is related to a strong Christian view that each man is in the image of God and is therefore worthy of respect.  Part of respect is giving each man then the freedom to be alone, to be private.    Some people today believe that the notion of “privacy” is gone in our electronic culture.  E-mails are monitored, we are moving to a cashless society where everything is run through monitored computer, we have “smart meters” which can monitor our internal home usage, we have smart boxes which are constantly listening to “Hey ______,” we communicate through devices which track our buying habits, and we even have laws in place specifying which information is private and which is not.  Of course, the laws that “give” us privacy can take it away.  Finally, our privacy rights (if any we have) in bathrooms are being taken away in the name of social reform.

So, the foes of God set up their own signs (symbols, meanings) for God’s signs (symbols, meanings).

What are we to do?  Well, obviously first we pray for God’s intervention in our worldly affairs.  But the truth is that we can take back the language.  We can substitute our signs for their signs, our symbols for their symbols, our meanings for their meanings.  How do we do that?  I think we do it by becoming a lot more sensitive to the language we use.  For example, let’s reserve the word “love” for where it really matters.  Let’s honor people’s privacy the way we demand they honor ours.

And let’s refer to God as “He” with the royal capital, as He deserves.

________

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

Bread – Words

February 13, 2017


Psalm 52

Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?  … Your tongue plots destruction… You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right.  You love words that devour, O deceitful tongue.”  Ps. 52:1-4

I have had the honor from time to time of offering an invocation at a “secular” event.  Every time, I pray that the language we use during the event is language which will build up and not tear down, which will clarify and not confuse, and which will be positive and not negative.  I also ask that the language we use bring glory to God.

Why do I do this?  It is to remind me, primarily, that what I say and how I say it, the words I use, have great impact to either good or evil.

We have been given a tongue to use to communicate and a comprehensible language to communicate in.  With that tongue, we can speak truth or lies, encouragement or discouragement, positive or negative, hope or despair, patience or anger, forward leaning or backward reaching, love or hatred.  We can pick whether we raise up the people we are speaking with or whether we put them down, all in the choice of words we use.

The simplest example of this is how I have heard described optimistic or pessimistic people.  I have heard that optimistic people will say that the glass of water is “half full” whereas pessimistic people will say that it is “half empty.”  Both statements are true.   The first is positive, the second is negative.

In making this statement, we act like somehow the words we us are not our choice, that somehow the words we use arise purely from our psychology, from how “we are made.”

When we say we cannot help what we say or how we say it because that is merely a reflection of who we are, we abandon hope.  This is simply because we are born in sin and, if we remain in sin and if we can only use the words which reflect who we are, then there is no hope for “good speech.”

But as Christians we know that we are no longer who we were before Christ.  In Christ, we are a new creation, with hope for eternity arising from our steadfast God.

Then why do Christians use such poor language?  Why are we so often in the business of putting people down rather than raising them up?  Why are we so often criticizing rather than edifying?  Why do we so readily speak lies to advance our position, when the truth might hurt, but in the end heals and restores?

As we begin this week, let’s start a new experiment where we formulate in our mind what we are going to say before we say it, then test that proposed language against God’s standard of love and hope, then reformulate our language appropriately before we say it?  And then let’s say it.

As Christians, our glass is not only just half full, it is full to the brim and running over in grace and blessings.

Let’s talk like it!

_________

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

Bread – Recognition

October 26, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, October 26, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ezra 6:1-22; Rev. 5:1-10; Matt. 13:10-17; Psalms 49, 53, 119:49-72

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Recognition of the truth can be demonstrated in multiple subtle ways, and it can be refused in multiple subtle ways. One of the most subtle ways we can either recognize something as true or deny its truth is through our language, through our thought patterns.

We have some demonstration of that today in our readings.

In Ezra, Darius has ordered a search for Cyrus’ written order permitting the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. The written order is found and contained in it is a subtle, but powerful recognition by Cyrus of who God is:

“In the first year of King Cyrus, the king issued a decree concerning the temple of God in Jerusalem: ‘Let the temple be rebuilt as a place to present sacrifices, and let its foundations be laid…Also, the gold and silver articles of the house of God…are to be returned to their places in the temple in Jerusalem; they are to be deposited in the house of God.’” Ezra 6:3-5 (emphasis added)

Cyrus recognizes the temple in Jerusalem to the house “of God,” not “of a God” and not “of the Hebrew God,” but “of God.” One house, one God. And this from a pagan believer. Cyrus recognizes who God is and his recognition is reflected subtly in his language. He has no need to qualify who God is because to him it is self-evident, it is true, it is understood, it is a fact. Therefore, his recognition of that truth is reflected subtly in the language he uses, in his thought patterns.

In Revelation, the elders and living creatures are worshiping the Lamb, Jesus, in the center of the throne, singing a new song. Contained within this song is this:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,…” Rev. 5:9-10 (emphasis added)

The elders and living creatures recognize that, when Christ came, He came to make us something which we could not achieve on our own, He came to make us a kingdom and priests for a purpose, and that purpose is to “serve our God.” A recognition reflected subtly in language, woven into song, but a recognition of their, and our, role nonetheless. This is a recognition of something profound, particularly to Western thought. The purpose of life in Christ is to serve “our God,” not “my God” and not myself. Not society, or other people, or family, or friends, but to serve our God. This is not the Christian witness from my perspective, but from our perspective. It is not individualistic, but community formed of individuals submitting to the same purpose, tuned to the same channel.

Do we recognize God to the same degree that Cyrus the pagan did? Do we recognize our role on earth as God’s servants, to do His will, to be obedient to His ways and decrees?

Before you answer too quickly, think about the subtle ways in which we Christians deny recognition of the truth today. Here is one. Why do we lower case the pronouns for God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our Bibles and writings? We use lower case pronouns for ourselves with one exception, “I.” We capitalize “I” but lowercase “you, him, his” when we speak of God. Shouldn’t we be capitalizing God’s pronouns and putting ours in their rightful place? Here is another – How come so many Christian songs today begin with “I.” Is this a subtle way of denying who God is, and subtly saying that God is who “I” say he is [I deliberately lower-cased “he” although it hurt me to do so].

Check out our language and our thought patterns! Do we really recognize who God is and what He has done for us on the cross? Do we really? Does our language reflect that? Do our thought patterns reflect that? Do our lives reflect that?

By this blog, I hope to light a fire in us, a fire to change our language and the way we think, a fire to honor God and to put Him first, not because I think He is first but because He is first. Let us begin this fire subtly, by changing one thing today. Let us refer to God with capital letters in all that we do. He is not our equal. He is our King.

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Bread – The Greater One

December 15, 2010


Readings for Wednesday, December 15 designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 9:8-17; 2 Pet. 2:1-10a; Mark 1:1-8; Psalms 49, 53,119:49-72

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Today’s readings are contrasting. From Isaiah we read “But the people have not returned to Him who struck them, nor have they sought the Lord Almighty. So the Lord will cut off from Israel both the head and the tail … the elders and prominent men are the head, and the prophets who teach lies are the tail. Those who guide this people mislead them,…” Isa. 9:13-16. From 2 Peter we read “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers from among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them…Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.” 2 Pet. 2:1-3

Obviously these first two lessons address false elders, prophets, leaders create mayhem among themselves, within the church, and in us.

The contrasting reading is from Mark, where the example of the good elder, leader, prophet and teacher is given. And this was his message according to Mark: “After me [John] will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, be He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mk. 1:7-8

What is the difference between the condemned and the commended? The acknowledgment that there is One Who Is Greater than I. The acknowledgment that there is One so much greater than I am that I am not important enough to be in the same room with Him or stand beside Him or even talk to Him.

This is not our normal view and, because it does not line up evenly with our egalitarian ideas of equality and equal authority (authority derived from the governed), it is a view we have to deliberately adopt based upon our understanding of our death to sin and the merciful and unmerited gift of salvation we have received from God. Our normal view would place us beside Jesus, walking with Him hand in hand, talking to Him as an equal (as a “friend”), and asking Him for the same kind of favors we would ask of our earthly friends, offering in return our friendship and some measure of loyalty, when we feel like it.

If you don’t think that is the way we naturally think, look at the ubiquitous symbols contained throughout our modern Bible translations. What symbols you ask? Well – which pronouns are capitalized and which are not? “I” is always capitalized, as if “I” were something important. Pronouns which relate to Jesus and the Father are never capitalized.

Why is this? I think it is because we do not recognize, truly recognize, that there is a Greater One who is behind us, before us, above us, and sustaining us, raising us up. We so much focus on the “I” that we forget the “He.”

Our culture has a certain fascination with the birth of Jesus, as well it should because He is the incarnation of God among us. However, I also think that the fascination comes about because, as a baby, Jesus seems somehow cuddly and nice and, as a baby, He needs us. With the baby Jesus, we get to feel like we are the greater one and He is the lesser, we get to feel in control. Instead, the reality is that we are not even worthy to change His diapers (or what passed for them).

If you think about it, who is the “greater one” in your life right now? Is it your spouse, your children, your boss, your teacher, or maybe the person staring back at you in the mirror, who? Who should it be?

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