Bread – Cities

October 18, 2017


Psalm 87

On the holy mount stands the city He founded; the Lord loves the gates of Zion…Among those who know me I mention Rahab (Egypt) …” Ps. 87:1-2,4

The Psalmist here is speaking in his own day about a city he knew, called then Zion; a place today which is likely Jerusalem.

We know from other Scripture that there is also a holy city in the heavens which will be brought to earth in the last days.  (“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, … And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, …”  Rev.21:1-2

But the Psalmist could also be talking  about a type of modern city, a city on a hill which shines forth the glory of the Lord, is inhabited by believers, and is sustained by the power of God.  This city Jesus referred to in Matthew, where He said: “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden…In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your people in heaven.”  Matt. 5:14,16

There are three “places” we can live in.  We can live in the past and look to Jerusalem.  We can live in the heavens and look to the holy city in heaven, waiting for the end.  Or we live in the present, in the place we are planted, in the city we can call home.

We are here as ambassadors of the kingdom of God.  But we are also here as citizens of our city.

Does our city, comprised of God-fearing citizens, shine forth the light of Christ?

Probably not and so we have two solutions to that.  One solution requires us to use the city-power to tax and spend, pretending to shine a light by government-sponsored and operated “good works.”  By this “solution,” we try to use our political and economic power to create a pseudo-light, a light-lite so to speak.  Because this light is generated by a city comprised of men acting as men, it sputters and dims, sometimes going out completely, and never quite reaching the places of darkness for which it is intended.

The second solution requires us to use God-power to change us and by changing us, transform our relationships, actions, and our entire lives into light sources.  Since we, by living in close proximity together, are the city, our transformed lives and individual lights then give light to the entire city.  Because this light is generated by a city comprised of men acting as saints, it does not fade, it does not die, and it reaches into a dark world.

We do not change a city by edict or rule but by changing ourselves, by becoming lights which, when combined, create a city which shines forth in the darkness, becoming a beacon of hope.

America is a beacon of hope to many.  It is not a beacon of hope because it intended to be a beacon of hope.  It is not a beacon of hope because of governmental programs.  It is not even a beacon of hope because of economic theory.

America is a beacon of hope because each citizen who follows Christ is himself or herself strong light sources.  And we live in cities, and we live in a nation.

If the people are good, the city is good – not so vice versa.

Do we want to live in places of light, hope, charity, love and peace?  Then let’s begin by looking at ourselves in the mirror and asking ourselves, today, whether we will shine with the light of Christ, today.  As we do that, we may one day look back and see that, indeed, we did live in the city on the hill which is the lighthouse of the world.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Bread – gods

September 15, 2017


Psalm 82

God has taken His place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods He holds judgment…”  Ps. 82:1

Every so often in Scripture, God’s Word seems to play into the hands of our modern anti-God thoughts.  In my opinion, this is one of them.

How so?  Well, if you have the modern sense that God is somehow someone like the Chairman of the Board, then the “divine council” could be his board meeting.  Like all board chairman, he would yield a lot of power, but he can always be gotten rid of by the angry shareholders, which would, of course, be us.  And as modern people we often think this way, that we can just depose God from being God whenever we want when we don’t like the amount of profit we are getting from His enterprise.

Another modern sense which could be fed by this Scripture today is the sense that there is really a pantheon of “gods,” and that God is a first among equals, sort of like Zeus.  In this modern view, we can rise to the position of members of the divine council, as demigods, if we can but “channel” our thoughts in the right way.  An older version of this same thinking is in the pantheon of saints, who somehow have a special relationship to God because they are super-good people.

So, who are the “gods” which participate in the “divine council?”

Notice what I have done.  I have read into the concept of “divine council” the concept of participation.  Of having a right to speak.  And, more importantly, having a right to be heard.

But does this Scripture speak of any kind of co-equal participation?  No it does not.

What it says is that “God has taken His place.”  What is His place?  When you are the Creator, the King of King and Lord of Lords, … what is your place?  Is your place at the head of the table when you made the table, own the table, and choose who, if any, sit there as well?  When God takes “His place,” who has any right to be in the same room, much less at the same table?

And what is the nature of a “divine council?”  Is it a place where God appears to deliver to us His Word or where we make our requests known to Him (like, maybe, His throne room)?  Or is it a place where we participate, somehow joining with God in helping Him make His decisions?

And finally, notice that “in the midst of the Gods He holds judgment.”  He doesn’t make decisions based upon input; He judges.  He doesn’t take counsel from the gods; He judges the gods.

And so, when we consider that He is in His rightful place and that He judges “the gods,” doesn’t “the gods” sound a whole lot like us?

And, indeed, from our perspective we often are like gods, aren’t we?

I am fond of pointing out that, in our relationship to God, we can take only one of three places.  The first place is above Him, where we tell Him what to do and we interpret His Word in the ways we want to achieve our ends.  When we subject God to our judgment, we are elevating ourselves above Him and, in that moment, pretending that we are big-G God and He is not.

The second place we can take in our relationship to God is beneath Him.  In that role, we accept our position as servants (slaves) of the Most High, willing to accept that position in exchange for true freedom and unending life in Him.  If we are thoughtful Christians, we like to think that this the place we occupy.  And maybe sometimes we do.

But the third place we can occupy is right next to Him, maybe not as quite as a co-equal, but close.  In that position, we get to “participate” in the decision-making, we get to influence God to follow our desires, we get to “negotiate” with Him.  And, to some degree or another, this place is where most of us find ourselves all the time.  We are not quite God, but we are close and therefore “deserve” being called “gods.”

When we realize that this Psalm may therefore be directed to those of us floating around the third position of relationship with God, it has a strong message to us “gods.”  We may think of ourselves in the divine assembly, but God (a) takes His place and (b) holds judgment of us.

So the truth of this Psalm is simply to remind us that, when we begin to believe we are somehow close to His equal, we are not, and when we believe we are above or beside judgment, we are not.

God is not the Chairman of the Board and He is not Zeus, He is God.  And whether we think we are above Him, beside Him, or beneath Him, He is always in His place and He always judges.  No matter if we are “gods” or not.

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

 

Bread – Place

September 24, 2012


Readings for Monday, September 24, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Esther 4:4-17; Acts 18:1-11; Luke 3:1-14; Psalms 77,79,80

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In Esther, Haman, using Xerxes blessing and power, has just ordered the genocide of all Jews in the kingdom. Esther (now Queen Esther, Queen to Xerxes) has learned about the order and has been asked by Mordecai to intercede for the Jews. She hesitates because to go into the king’s presence without being first invited results in death, unless the king shows mercy. Therefore, to implement Mordecai’s request means that Esther will face almost certain death. She is thus confronted with the question we must all ask at some point in our life – “Do we stand for our principles and risk almost certain death (ruin to reputation, expulsion from the country club, loss of wealth, termination of employment, etc.), or do we just do nothing and hope it all goes away?“

Mordecai, seeing this indecision, says something which all of us need to think deeply about:

Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:12-14

What is the king’s palace to us? Maybe it is our bedroom, our home, our business, or some other place of power, wealth, and sanctuary. What has all these elements on the world stage? The United States of America. Thus, Mordecai’s warning is clear to all Americans – Do not believe that just because we live in the most wealthy, powerful, protected place in the world, we will be protected from the wrath to come. Do not believe that you are safe in your cocoon; you are not safe if you rely upon the power of man or the world, because these powers fade and disappear. At best the king’s palace provides the illusion of safety, the illusion of protection. If poverty strikes your neighbor, it will ultimately strike you. If your neighbor is wrongly imprisoned, you soon will be. If you hate a particular form of speech and wish that speech eliminated, your speech will soon be limited as well. We cannot long ignore events in the street, less they overwhelm us in our perceived sanctuary.

What is “this time?” The time for action, the time for truth and love. If a person is drowning before our eyes, the time for action is now, not later; it is complete, not conditional upon the “right circumstances.” The nature of Christian action is immediate action. From Luke today, the mandate is clear – “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” (Lk. 3:11) If we see someone who is lost, we are to immediately proclaim the truth of Christ. If we see someone in need, we are to immediately provide blessing from our blessing. If we see ourselves fall into sin, we are immediately to repent and to do works with the aid of the Spirit in keeping with that repentance. “This time” is now, this minute, this day, this month, this year. Not later, not tomorrow, not next year.

Why does Mordecai say “you and your father’s house will perish?” We forget that we do not operate in a vacuum. Our statements and our actions are judged observed and judged continually by any number of people, including our family, our friends, our “followers,” our supervisors, our employees, and our competitors. Of us is always being asked the question, “Will he act like a Christian?” Will he act in humility, with knowledge of truth steeped in love, with charity, with friendship, with light, with joy, with long-suffering, with perseverance? Or will he act out of selfish self-interest, annoyed, with only his objectives first and foremost, taking advantage of the situation to line his pockets? Is he real or is he a hypocrite? When we claim one thing and do another, we perish in the eyes of those observers, and they (our house) perish as well. Because they are not exposed to the truth in action, Satan has grounds to derail their Christian walk or maybe even never be saved at all.

And who knows whether you have been placed where you are by God for such a moment? Yes, Esther was a Queen, placed in the palace by God so that the Jews might be saved. This is a high and mighty place, and you might say to yourself that you don’t occupy such a place of influence anywhere – in your church, in your home even, in politics or in business, or even in your social circles. So what? When you are driving down the road and you see someone in distress on the side of the road, have you been placed where you are for such a moment? A moment where you can abandon your objective and focus on the need on the side of the road? When you are in an elevator and see someone who needs a kind word of encouragement, have you been placed on that elevator by God for such a moment?

The truth is that every day we find ourselves in situations like Esther, where God has placed us at that moment where good can be accomplished in His name and to His glory, but we to act decisively and immediately, in truth and in love, with graceful words and actions infused with salt and light. We are there, we are ready, we are trained, but will we act? Most of us will tend not to act because we are afraid of death, of being rejected, of being laughed at, of stumbling into some social norm or rule which declares our actions to be incorrect (judgmental, intolerant, hateful, etc.), of looking foolish, of appearing unworldly, of being accused of being nuts. We won’t act because we are afraid of the world.

But if we don’t act, we will die and so will other people. Oh we may not die a medical death, but we will die a mental one. Our heart will become hardened, and we will become self-centered, forgetting what Jesus did for us on the cross. We will become no better than those who reject Christ. We will lose the effectiveness of our witness, and will bring dishonor upon God.

Esther did not know the consequences of acting. She thought she would die but she did not know she would die. On the other hand, she knew the consequences of doing nothing. She could not stick her head in the sand and hope that it would blow over. Neither can we. Mordecai’s words ring out today with the same clarion call to action they did when he uttered them to Esther.

Am I where I am today, this minute, for such a time? Will I see clearly? Will I act without fear, leaving to God the results? With the help of the Holy Spirit, I pray that the answer to these questions is “yes.”

In Esther’s situation, what would you do? When you are in this same situation today, what will you do?

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Sequence

July 18, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, July 18 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Joshua 3:1-13; Rom. 11:25-36; Matt. 25:31-46; Psalms 38, 119:25-48

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From our reading in Joshua today: “…they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan…and they lodged there before they passed over.” Josh. 3:1

In this phrase there are three places mentioned. The first is where the people of Israel were, where they came from – Shittim. This was a place of great sexual immorality (Num. 25:1-3) and is a place where rampant disobedience to God occurred. The second is the place where they prepared for their journey – the bank of the Jordan River. The third is the place where the people were going, their destination – the Promised Land. This last place is not explicitly stated in this quote; it is implied from the words “passed over.”

The sequence here is important. In order to get to where the people wanted to go (the Promised Land), they had to move from where they were (the bad place, Shittim) and move temporarily to a new, neutral, location, where they could properly prepare for their journey into their destination. The movement was deliberate, from a bad place (Shittim) to a neutral place (a place of preparation) to a good place (the Promised Land). Israel did not immediately move from Shittim into the Promised Land; instead, they located an interim place where they could get ready.

So often, we want to leap immediately from our bad place into our destination, our good place, without realizing that effective movement from the bad place to the good place requires movement from the bad place to some other, middle, place first. As much as we want, we cannot move directly into our desired outcome without first leaving the bad place and moving to a middle ground, where we can shed the limitations of the old and prepare, get ready, for the new.

So, if a person is to move from the couch to a good job, they must first move from the couch to a place of preparation (like a training program) and, once prepared, can move from the place of preparation to the destination (a good job). If a person is to move from addiction to freedom, they must first move from the bad place (addiction) to the neutral place (where they can learn how to avoid falling into the trap of addiction) and, after a time of preparation, can “cross over” into living. If a person is to move from a bad relationship to a good relationship, they must first move away from the bad relationship to a place of neutrality, of “time out,” to regain their strength and to gain the skills necessary to nurture good relationships. Once prepared, they can then move from the place of preparation to the destination.

If you have moved from a bad place to what you thought would be a good place, but it has not worked out to be as good as you thought, perhaps it is because you have not followed the path of the Israelites – you forgot to stop off in the middle, for a time of preparation.

The Christian walk is one of movement and sequence. Where we are is not where we have been, and where we are is not where we will be. We have left Shittim and are camped out on the bank of the Jordan, preparing ourselves so that when God leads, we will follow into glory. We have left Shittim but we are not yet in the Promised Land.

But we are getting there.

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© 2012 GBF

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