Bread – Heritage

January 11, 2017


Psalm 47

He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom He loves.  Selah.”  Ps. 47:4

This is one of those passages which comes at the end of a quartet of verses and one is inclined to just race through.  But out of the clear blue sky comes the word “Selah,” which suggests that we stop and think about what we have just read.

What is “our heritage?”  What is the “pride of Jacob?”

It is very easy to read this and, given its Old Testament context, come quickly to the conclusion that the Psalmist is talking about Israel (the Jewish nation) and the land promise (our heritage, the land).  And if the Psalmist were writing without the inspiration of God, perhaps this would be all that it meant because that is all the Psalmist would know.

But I think the meaning goes much deeper, because in this single sentence we are talking about God’s sovereignty, His choice over who is awakened to the truth of the gospel and who remains blind to it, dead in their sins.

Jacob was the brother who “bought” his brother Esau’s birthright for a bowl of soup and then tricked his father into giving him the blessing belonging to the older son (Esau).  Just in case we miss the point, Paul in Romans drives it home – “…in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls – she [Rebekah] was told , ‘The older will serve the younger.’  As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’  What shall we say then?  Is there injustice on God’s part?  By no means!  For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy….So then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.”  Rom. 9:11-18

So who is the “pride of Jacob?”  I would suggest that the “pride of Jacob” are those people on whom God has chosen to have mercy.  Who are those people?  They are Jew and Gentile, from all nations and tribes, chosen by God for eternal life with Him.  They are those who have had the veil lifted from their eyes and see Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, as the Son of God, and not some mere prophet or good man or teacher or wise one.

“He chose our heritage for us?”  What is our “heritage?”  This is actually an interesting question, because it forces us to look outward rather than inward.  We normally would ask the question this way – “What is our inheritance?” And we would answer the question this way – “our inheritance is eternal life.”  But the question of what is our “heritage” is a question about what we leave behind, about what we give away and not what we get.

When we were adopted as children of God into the kingdom of God by the sovereign exercise of mercy by a loving God, we were given a job to do.  And that job is expressed in many ways – be an ambassador of the kingdom, be light in a dark place, be joyful in all circumstances, do good works which bring glory to God, live lives worthy of the King.  But it is really this – leave behind a footprint, not of personal worth or exalted achievement, but of a vision of Christ, of glory.

What is “our heritage” chosen for us – a beacon of hope, a pronouncement of truth and love, and exercise of grace, a revealing of glory, an example of discipleship and holiness.

What are we leaving behind?  Will the people who know us know the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?

What heritage are we leaving?

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

 

 

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Bread – Chosen

January 16, 2015


Readings for Friday, January 16, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 42:1-17; Eph. 3:1-13; Mark 2:13-22; Psalms 16,17,22

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In today’s reading from Isaiah, we read from a chapter, titled as “The Lord’s Chosen Servant,” which is often referred to as a Messianic chapter, referring to Jesus Christ.

I realize that I may ruffle a few feathers by doing this, but I want to ask a question – what would it mean to us if Isaiah were talking about us instead of Christ?

Read this with the substitution of Isaiah talking about you rather than some other person:

“Behold, My servant [your name], whom I uphold, My chosen [your name], in whom My soul delights;

I have put my Spirit upon him [your name]; he [your name] will bring forth justice to the nations.

He [your name] will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he [your name] will not break…he [your name] will faithfully bring forth justice.

He [your name] will not grow faint or be discouraged till he [your name] has established justice in the earth…

Thus says God, the Lord, …I am the Lord; I have called you [your name] in righteousness; I will take you [your name] by the hand and keep you [your name].

I will give you [your name] as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon…” Isa. 42:1-7

In a study note in my ESV Bible, the editors say “…justice means fulfilling mutual obligations in a manner consistent with God’s moral law.’

What is our job today as Christians? – to speak plainly the gospel of Jesus Christ and to bring light, salt, truth and love to a world sadly needing all of it. Some of this requires speech; most of it requires action. All of it together brings justice to the world. All of it together opens eyes which are blind, lights the path to hope and freedom, and releases prisoners in bondage to sin.

We are chosen by God to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and to act in obedience to God’s commands, loving our neighbor more than ourselves. In doing so, we will be opposed but God will sustain us in all difficulties. Through God’s Holy Spirit, we will stand as light in darkness, bringing justice, hope, and freedom. We will do this in faith, a faith which God has given us. And by His having chosen us and in our application of God’s Spirit through our lives to bring justice to the world, we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, a sacrifice in which God delights.

Yes, Isaiah is talking about Christ, but could he also be talking about us? Could he be talking about you?

Behold, Sam [Nancy, Joe, John, Alice …], God’s servant, whom He upholds and empowers and protects and loves. God’s chosen.

Behold you, a child of God, chosen by Him for eternal relationship with Him, chosen by Him for life in all circumstances, chosen by Him to bring His Word into the world and to be His Word in the world. Chosen by Him to bring sight to the blind, hope to the hopeless, freedom to those imprisoned by sin.

Sends a chill up your spine, doesn’t it? It should.

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© 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.”

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© 2015 GBF

Bread – Outsiders

November 26, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, November 26, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Zech. 12:1-10; Eph. 1:3-14; Luke 19:1-10; Psalms 119:145-176,128,129,130

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In today’s reading from Zechariah, there is this sentence: “And the Lord will give salvation to the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Judah may not surpass that of Judah.” Zech. 12:7

What is being talked about here? What is so special about “tents” that the people who live in them would be given salvation first?

That question got me to thinking about outsiders. After all, the people who lived in Jerusalem lived inside of Jerusalem, and the people who lived in tents outside of Jerusalem lived outside of Jerusalem. The outsiders (those who lived in tents) get salvation first; the insiders get it second.

We spend most of our lives working to become insiders, to get into the place of power, of prestige, of wealth, of security, of influence, of respect. We get jobs at the right businesses, go to the right schools, join the right societies and clubs, try to get invited to the right parties, drive the right cars, live in the right neighborhoods – all in an attempt to become an insider where we want to be.

And what do we find when we become an insider? That we are outside of the next group, event, place, or people we want to be.

But God says that salvation first comes to the tents, then to the city. First to those living outside, then to those living inside.

In the gospel from Luke today, we read about Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector, who is your classic example of being both an insider and an outsider at the same time. He worked in an important position for the government, was the “chief” tax collector, was rich, and was in position to influence many things. However, he was also an outsider because most people probably did not think highly of him (you would not want to be called a tax collector back then) and shunned him. Many tax collectors were official thieves, and therefore people thought of them as criminals. Many people were poor and therefore shunned the rich. Finally, Zacchaeus was “small of stature,” and I will leave it to you to dream of the number of jokes he was the butt of.

However, Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ house, Zacchaeus responded in gratitude and obedience, and Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.” Luke 19:9. Jesus brought the outsider inside because “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10.

Notice that the outsider did not become the insider because he wanted to be an insider or because he undertook special efforts to become an insider; he became an insider because Jesus invited Himself to his house and Zacchaeus responded with gratitude.

Who do you think knows they need salvation more, the people in tents or the people in fortified cities? Who do you think knows they need salvation more, the sinner or the “saint?” Who do you think knows they need salvation more, the outsiders or the insiders?

Do you feel like an outsider today? Do you lack influence, power, money, health, a job, respect, or even hope?

Well, welcome aboard. We are all outsiders until Jesus invites Himself to our house … until He reveals to us His truth and His love. “In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace…” Eph. 1:5 He brings us from the outside into the inside, from being lost orphans to being adopted sons through Jesus Christ.

I said earlier that the phenomenon of becoming an insider is that you realize that you are an outsider. While we are inside the world, we are an outsider to Christ. When we become an insider by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, we become an outsider to the world.

We are all outsiders and we are all insiders. The question is where.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Mirage

May 9, 2014


Readings for Friday, May 9, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 24:1-18; Col. 2:8-23; Matt. 4:12-17; Psalm 105

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In our childhood readings, we get introduced to the concept of mirages, fake images of an oases which appear while we are in the desert, craving water. At the times of our greatest need, we tend to see what we want to see, the image, the mirage, rather than what is real. We know that the image of the oasis is not the oasis itself, and that in grasping the smoke and mirrors of our mind’s invention, we grasp at despair. Pitiful is the person who is in the desert, alone, without water, with the image of hope ahead but without the reality.

Isn’t much of life figuring out whether what we are chasing is merely a mirage or is the real McCoy? How can we tell the difference, until we reach the end and discover that the place we are chasing contains nothing but sand or refreshing water?

So-called scientists among us would say that we of faith are chasing a mere mirage of faith, a necessary creation of our own minds while we are in the desert of life, something to chase after, only to be disappointed in the end. These people say that the reality is that we are in a hot, desert, wasteland with nothing to drink … and that is the way we will die. Nothing but the grave and dust, but at least they can “see clearly” and they are not fooled by mirages.

People of faith, on the other hand, some with and others without logic point to all of the evidences of God and say that people who perceive in all these proofs the absence of God are chasing their own mirage, their own will-o-the-wisps. For people of faith, the claim that man is god (or that there is no god, which is the same thing) is the ultimate mirage. The ultimate mirage is that we are in control, that we can cheat death.

What is worse is that we will warp reality to fit our mirage. For example, a man of faith might ignore good medicine because his god will answer all of his prayers, not realizing that he has slipped into the mirage of self, that our desires trump God’s sovereignty. On the other hand, the man of “science” might very well reject the real water which will give him life because he just “knows” that he is in a desert with no way out.

Another way of asking how we know if we are just seeing a mirage is to ask how we know what is real. Some people would say that the only reality is what we can see, touch, feel, hear, or smell. This is a closed box approach to life. To these people, there is no “outside the room.” Then there are people who realize that there is much evidence of there being something outside the room, which is not us (we are inside the room). How do figure out who is outside the room?

Luckily, we have a message from that person, called the Bible (or Scripture). In that big message, there is a small message about mirages today. It says “They [human precepts and teachings] have the appearance of wisdom … but they are of no value…” Col. 2:23 [speaking more precisely about man-made religious practices].

So, are you following a mirage or reality? I would say that only you can, but that is not true, at least for those who follow the man-mirage. The reason is really simple – “If you believe there is no God because you follow the mirage of man as god, then how will you ever not-know that?”

We are all in the desert, thirsty for water. While we are marching toward the mirage of our invention, how will we ever see the reality of the living water offered to us by the Creator, Jesus Christ? We can’t unless we are given eyes to see and ears to hear. We can’t unless God in His sovereign power mercifully gives us that ability. We can’t unless the God of the Universe snatches us.

How do I know there is someone on the other side of the wall? Because, by His grace, I have seen Him.

As Jesus said in today’s reading, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Indeed it is. Indeed it is.

________________

© 2014 GBF


Readings for Monday, May 16 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Lev. 26:27-42; Eph. 1:1-10; Matt. 22:41-46; Psalm 119:97-120

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Included in our readings today is Ephesians, 1:1-10. A slow read and a moment of contemplation will reveal that there is enough truth there to make up an entire semester of sermons.

But today I want to focus on the first sentence – “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God.” Eph. 1:1a

In many networking groups today, there is an emphasis on developing what is known as the “one minute elevator speech.” The idea is that you can (should be able to) introduce yourself to a stranger and deliver in one minute or less a short description of who you are and what you do so that the person remembers and, in the best of circumstances, hires you on the spot.

This first line is Paul’s elevator speech. It only takes about a second, but it tells people who he is, what his job is, who he works for, and by what authority he does these things.

As a Christian, do you have an elevator speech so that, within a minute or less, the listener knows you are a Christian?

About the only elevator speeches I know among Christians who actually are Christians and want to show it go something like this – “Hi, my name is George. Are you saved?” Of course I have shortened it for effect, but you know what I am talking about. We are trained in our evangelism classes to reach out to others with the truth of the gospel by engaging them immediately in a salvation dialogue.

In the meantime, among our more worldly acquaintances in the elevator, our elevator speech sounds more like the following: “Hi, my name is George. I am a …..” In this elevator speech, the words “God,” “Christ,” “Savior,” “Redeemer,” “Jesus,” never cross our lips. In this elevator speech, we never mention that we work for someone else (unless, of course, it is a multinational business of instant positive name recognition).

Are either of these good elevator speeches for Christians? The first is confrontational and the second contains no information about Christ whatsoever.

What if we designed an introduction like Paul’s? What if we said to people: “Hi, my name is George, an ambassador for Jesus Christ, by the will of God.” What results would occur? I assert that the reaction would be amazing. First, an “ambassador” is cool and exotic (an international man of mystery). Second, you have already told people that you are from a foreign country and that you have the ability to explain to them what that foreign country is all about. Third, you have told them that you are diplomatic and will not be mean. Fourth, you have identified yourself as belong to a person, Jesus Christ, and not a position, a concept, or a philosophy.

But the primary amazing reaction would be the fifth reason, and it has nothing to do with the people we are talking to and everything to do with us. The fifth reason the reaction would be amazing is that it would drive home a simple point, but one we miss in our pride all the time – “by the will of God.” It would remind us that what we do and whatever effectiveness we have is “by the will of God” and not by our will. And what would happen if we repeated that so often that we came to really understand it, really believe it, really act like it was true. The results would be amazing.

So, why don’t today we work on our introductions?

Are you inclined to put that off? I am. And this resistance arises from the fear we all have of what the listener’s reaction will be. Which goes back to the main point – How can we say we are who we are in the kingdom of God, a royal priesthood, redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross? “By the will of God.”

How can we say it? By the will of God. Why can we say it? By the will of God.

“Hi, my name is ____________, by the will of God.”

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