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 – Meaning

March 21, 2016


Psalm 12

“Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.  Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.”  Ps. 12:1-2

At first blush, this verse seems like so many we have already read.  It is an observation that there appear to be very few righteous people left, that God needs to enter our circumstances and save us, and that the people who are left tell lies, deceive us by flattery, and speak with a “double heart.”  Even though we may have heard this before, to many it sounds like an accurate description of where we are today, where people are tired of distortions and want to hear the “truth.”  Unfortunately, many want to turn to people who are themselves deceivers but who appear to speak the truth instead of turning to God, saying “Save, O Lord” and listening to the One who speaks nothing but the truth.

Sometimes our plain reading of Scripture causes us to rush through it without really savoring the depth of what we are being told.  This happened to me today.  After all, “lies” are lies and “flattery” is flattery, right?

Well, as usual, the underlying original words have a greater depth of meaning.  For example, “lies” does not mean just an untruth, but more.  The Hebrew word translated “lies,” means nothingness, emptiness, vanity, anything which disappoints the hope which rests on it, falsehood, wickedness, sin, iniquity, calamity, destruction, profanity, using the Lord’s name lightly, meaningless repetition (in prayer), thoughtlessness, anything which is not substantial, is not real, or is morally or materially worthless.

If you realize that “double heart” is a Hebrew expression for double-minded, or talking out of both sides of one’s mouth, then lies, flattery, and double-talk begin to look like a lot of the same thing – statements which are intended to mean something which, in the light of day, mean little or nothing.

One of the ways we kill ourselves morally is by so weakening and changing the meaning of words that everything which is spoken becomes less true, less relevant, less specific, and, really, less useful.  When our words have become morally or materially worth less, then ultimately they become morally and materially worthless.

Do we resemble these first two verses?  Have all of our words and sentences and paragraphs become a series of lies, spoken with double-meaning, flattering to the hearer but deceptive in reality?

Think about even the word “lie.”  Even if it means not telling the truth, so what?  If I have a philosophy that truth is what I make it to be, then none of my lies are failures to tell the truth … but they are lies nonetheless because, since there is no absolute reference for truth, but only what I make it, the meaning of my words is “nothingness.”  When there is no absolute standard by which to judge love, then my statement “I love you” is probably a statement which will disappoint the hope which rests on it.

We like to disguise the fact that we are a nation of liars by talking about the necessity of telling “white lies” so that we will not hurt people’s feelings.  Even talking about “white lies” suggests that there are lies which are wrong and some which are right.  But if there is not some absolute reference point to judge truth, then the statement “Everyone utters lies to his neighbor” is probably totally accurate.

How do we fix this problem of the meaning of words?  How do we get to a place in our lives, in our society, where things are spoken which are not empty, which are not morally or materially worthless, which do not disappoint the hope which the listener places in them?

Well, the answer to this question resides in the first part of today’s reading … “Save, O Lord…”  Save us from those who lie.  Save us from ourselves who lie.  Save us from I who lies.  Save us, because only You can.  Save us and teach us Your truth … and then give us a spirit of obedience and the power to speak that truth into a world hungry for a rock upon which it can stand – not the shifting sands of lies, flattery, and double-speak — but the the truth of ages, the truth of God, the truth of Christ.

Everyone does not need to include you and me.  But it will include you and me if we do not find truth where it is to be found, do not rest in truth, do not abide in truth, and do not bow our knee to truth … God’s revelation to us in His Word written, Scripture, and His Word made flesh in Jesus Christ.

_________

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

 

 

Bread – Suicide

June 8, 2010


Readings for Tuesday, June 8as
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Eccles. 8:14-9:10; Gal. 4:21-31; Matt. 15:29-39
    Psalms 61, 62, 68
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Today is a tough day.  It has been made tougher by the reading this morning from Ecclesiastes 8:14:

"There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth; righteous men get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve.  This too, I say, is meaningless." (NIV)

When I read this passage this morning, I thought it would be impossible to deal with.  This may very well sum up the modern idea of relativism, that my truth is truth and your truth is truth, so why is anything different from anything else?  It certainly is used to support an argument for indulging in extreme addictions and sin.  You might be reading this and thinking, "if life is meaningless, then why bother?"  That is why this Bread is labeled "Suicide."  There are many ways to commit suicide and not all of them are immediate.  Bad diet, failure to exercise, drug addiction, overwork, and underwork all come to mind as possible long term suicide efforts.

And not once in this passage in Ecclesiastes is there a "but …"

But while I was being depressed, thinking about this passage from Ecclesiastes, I read another translation of the same thing:

"There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous.  I said that this also is vanity." (ESV)

In this translation, "meaningless" is converted to "vanity."  When you do this, your entire perspective changes because you realize that life is not "meaningless." It (life) just may appear to be meaningless to us in our vanity, insisting on our way, using our thoughts and ideas about what is right and wrong, substituting our judgment for God’s judgment about what is right and what is wrong, wallowing in our pride, self-interest, stubbornness, and sense of entitlement.

What is God’s perspective on whether life is "meaningless?"  I think the answer to that is built into two other readings today.  The first is from Psalm 61.  Listen to the cry of David as "his heart grows faint:”

"Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer.  From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe…you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.  Increase the days of the king’s life…"  Psalm 61:1-3, 5b-6a

David progresses from extreme depression and tiredness ("cry," "ends of the earth," "heart grows faint") to a request to God to give David God’s perspective ("rock that is higher than I") to a request that his days be extended ("increase the days..").  David knows that, on the rock which is higher than him (from God’s perspective), life is worth living and therefore asks that his days be extended, even though at the time of his request he may very well think that his life is meaningless.  He knows that this perception of how bad life is is his perception, born of vanity and his own mind.  In the midst of this depression, he asks God to extend his life, not end it.

The second reading is from Matthew 15 and is the familiar reading about Jesus miraculously feeding the 4,000 men, plus all the women and children with them, on seven loaves of bread and "as few small fish."

Sometimes lessons like this are so familiar that we fail to stop and take notice of them.  Stop and think about this for a minute.  Put yourself in the middle of where the men are.  They have just heard some wonderful teaching, but they are in the country, they have been with Jesus three days, and they have nothing to eat.  They have just seen great miracles, but they are hungry.  They were physically tired and they were hungry.  This is not the kind of "spiritual hunger" which we like to think about, but the kind of real hunger for real food which comes from an extended period of time without food (I think we can assume that, after three days, their picnic supplies were long gone).

Matthew reports that Jesus said "I have compassion for these people."  Jesus had compassion and He fed them.  This is after He healed many of them, "the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others."

So where does that bring us?  From our perspective, life may seem meaningless today.  We may very well see it that way because of our vanity.  We may very well see it that way because we have real needs, such as hunger.  We have two choices.  We can look through our own eyes and see a brick wall, or we can follow the model of David and ask God to take us to a higher place, to a rock upon which we can stand to see clearly the value of who we are in God’s eyes.  So valuable in fact that God sent Himself to earth to sacrifice Himself for us, that we might have life on earth and for eternity.  David, in response to God’s blessing in his life (in the midst of being "faint of heart"), asked God for more years on earth.  He saw what I pray you see, that in God’s eyes your life is meaningful.  Amen.

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