Bread – Vows

May 19, 2017


Psalm 65

Praise is due to You, O God, in Zion, and to You shall vows be performed.”  Ps. 65:1

Basically, a “vow” is a solemn promise.  “I promise to take out the garbage” is not a vow, nor often is it much of a promise.  It is more like a statement of good intent, but by making a “promise” and not keeping it we cheapen the term.  In fact, the word “promise” has so lost its substance in many respects that, when some promises to do something for us, we are happy when it is done but we know that the likelihood of the promise being fulfilled is, well, highly dependent on the trustworthiness of the person making the promise.  Which basically means, for most of us, that the promise is somewhat unreliable.

Whereas promises are made to each other, when a vow is made there is a third persons involved, namely God.  As the Psalmist says, it is to God that a vow is performed.

We often forget this.  We vow to tell the truth and then don’t.  Who have we failed to honor by breaking our vow?  God, because it is to Him the duty is owed.  We vow to honor our spouse and then don’t.  Who have we failed to honor by breaking our vow?  It is God (and our spouse).

We may sit under judgment of others every day, but those judgments are temporal.  God’s judgment is eternal.

God’s judgment is eternal but then, so are His own vows, His own covenants.  And luckily for us, God’s performance of His covenant toward us, when He has chosen us, is not dependent upon our performance of our vows to Him.  “Blessed is the one You choose and bring near, to dwell in Your courts!”  Ps. 65:4

Blessed indeed we are, which is another reason we should stand steadfast in performance of our vows.  To the One to whom we owe our eternal lives in Christ, should we not honor by our diligent performance of our vows?

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

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Bread – When

April 8, 2016


Psalm 14

“When the Lord restores the fortunes of His people…”  Ps. 14:7

It is in little words that major meaning turns.  The Psalmist ends his lament about the fool and about the absence of righteousness from the earth by saying, simply, “When …”  No “if,” but “when.”

How often do we hesitate in our commitment to God, our proclamation of the gospel, our requests in prayer, our acceptance of forgiveness, our rejection of restoration, our failure to live fully, with a whole life – how often do we hesitate because, in our mind, the sentence always begins with “if” rather than “when?”

Throughout the Bible there are example after example of God, having been doubted by men, lives up to His promise.  Sometimes the fulfillment of promise is in judgment, wrath, and destruction, and sometimes the fulfillment reflects itself in restoration, love, mercy, forgiveness, salvation, and life, but we can say that the Bible communicates an essential nature of God – His promises are true, His promises will be fulfilled, His promises are trustworthy.

And, yet, we most often precede everything we do with respect to God with “if.”  Why?

I think we are doubtful because we are concrete people.  Like Thomas in the New Testament, we will not believe unless we can see, taste, touch, hear, and fully comprehend.  And, even then, we wonder whether what we have observed is accurate.  We know from our observations that everything fails sooner or later.  Man disappoints.  Foundations of concrete and steel will ultimately weather and rot, or maybe even crack.  Trees will fall.  Fires will consume.  Weather is fickle.  Man is fickle.  Two plus two equals four, except when it doesn’t.

When everything we see is at daily risk of disappointing, then it is natural to assume that God is the same way, and therefore live our life by sentences preceded by the word “if.”

This is why faith cannot come from the heart of man, but from the mind of God.  This is why, when we are secure in our belief that we are saved, it is because we know that is not a question of “if” we will survive the lake of fire, but of when we are taken to be with the Lord.

Where does this certainty come from?  From our observations, from our reason, from our tradition, from our knowledge or wisdom?  No, it cannot … because if our certainty comes from these things, all of which are ours, then it is no certainty at all.

If we have certainty of our future, if we know in our hearts, minds, and souls that the question is not “If the Lord restores our fortunes,” but “When the Lord restores our fortunes,” we have it only because the Lord gave it to us.  It does not come from natural things,  the things and thoughts of man, but from supernatural things, the things and thoughts of God.

Is our life guided by the word “if” or the word “when?”

There is no question about “if” God will restore us to Him.  The only question is “when.”

And we need to be ready.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Intend

February 29, 2016


Psalm 9

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;

I will recount all of Your wonderful deeds.

I will be glad and exult in You;

I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.”  Ps. 9:1-2

“I will” are perhaps the most abused words in the English language.  “I will pray for you.”  How many of us have said that and then not?  “I will take out the garbage.”  How many of us have said that and then not?  “I will call him/her/it when I get a chance.”  How many of us have said that and then not?

When I read this Psalm, which is described by many as a “praise” Psalm, I asked myself the question of why David didn’t just do it.  Why didn’t he say “I give…,” “I recount….,” “I am glad…,” and “I sing…”?  Why did David say “I will” when he could have just done it?

There are perhaps several potential answers to this question.  One is that David may have been thinking about the future, about a variety of circumstances to occur in the future, and in a sense be committing himself now to praising God in those circumstances then, because he knew himself and knew that, in those future circumstances, he would not be inclined to praise God unless he remembered that he said he would.   And, indeed, that is a good thing – for us to contemplate today what may happen tomorrow and to steel ourselves today for what we will do tomorrow when something bad happens.  For example, if a bad person says to you “Deny Jesus Christ or die by having your head chopped off,”  what will you do then?  Rather than waiting for that to happen and then thinking about it, it might be a good time today to ask of yourself whether, in a crisis, you would deny Jesus.  Just like we plan today for tomorrow in our personal and business lives, maybe we should plan today for tomorrow in our spiritual lives.

Another potential answer is that David meant something by the word “will.”  I used the word “intend” to describe Bread today because, in modern English, there has been a softening of the word “will” to mean “intend.”  Today, when we say we “will” do something, it often means that we “intend” to do it, so it is OK if we don’t.  In David’s time and in our not-so-far distant past, the word “will” though meant something much more like a “firm intent,” a “promise,” a declaration of what we will do “come what may, in all circumstances.”  At a time when a promise means something, then to say “I will” is a form of “bond oath” which will not be broken if at all possible.  Today, we might even say that people of integrity will keep a promise, pay a debt, do what they say they “will” do, no matter what.  But if you only “intend” to do it, then it is OK if you change your mind or just forget.  Therefore, for modern man, it is easier for us to say “I will” when we really mean “I intend” than it is to say “I will” and mean it.  For David, however, the statement “I will” probably meant something like “You can count on me to do it no matter what.”

But neither thinking and planning for the future nor a discussion of the strength of the commitment of “I will” really deals with the question of, if David says “I will,” then why didn’t he also then just do it.  Rather than say, “I will pray for you,” why not just pray for the person?  Rather than say, “I will take out the garbage,” why not just take out the garbage?

This is typically where I begin to wonder if the translation is complete and so I go to more basic sources.  However, in this matter, I hit the wall on my ability to use the Hebrew reference materials I have access to.   Although I was able to find the Hebrew symbols and a simple English letter translation of those symbols, I could not find a translation of the “words” themselves which I could understand.

So, like so many things, we are left to wonder – when David said, “I will,” is the correct interpretation that he will in the future or that he has in the past, is in the present, and will in the future?

And then it hit me, what difference does it make?  God is a God of new beginnings.  If I have not praised Him in the past and am not in the present, then what is keeping me from doing it tomorrow?  Nothing, really … unless I only “intend” to and am using tomorrow as the opportunity to avoid today.  And why would I do that if my “I will” has meaning?  If my “I will” has meaning, then now is the perfect time.  If “I will” is but a wisp of a promise, then tomorrow will never come.

And then I realized the truth – “I will” means now, this minute.

“Will”you praise God now, or only intend to tomorrow?

_________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Challenges

March 20, 2015


Readings for Friday, March 20, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 23:1-8; Rom. 8:28-39; John 6:52-59; Psalms 95, 102, 107

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There are many difficulties in the Christian faith, many intellectual and emotional challenges. Our readings today seem to be an entire collection of them.

In Jeremiah, God pronounces woe to those shepherds who would scatter and destroy the sheep of His pasture. Jer. 23:1. And yet we know from other readings in Jeremiah that it was God Himself who caused the collapse of Judah and, earlier, Israel because of their sinfulness. So, in a sense the false shepherds may have been driven by Satan or their own selfish desires, but they may also have been placed on earth by God to mislead the people. So, God is to blame? The bad shepherds are to blame? Or are the people who follow the bad shepherds to blame for not understanding God and His Word so well that they recognize the bad shepherd and leave for more holy, more Godly pastures? God will dispose as He will, but we have responsibility for listening to and following the Word of God, once our minds are open to His truth. We would like to blame God and we would like to blame our leaders, but one of the great truths (and conflicts) of the faith is that we must begin in the mirror – it is us who obey the rules of the world rather than the rules of God, it is us who have faith in ourselves first rather than God first, it is us who sin and fall short. We are intellectually and emotionally challenged in the Christian faith to recognize that we are not number one, we are not over God or equal to Him, we have no right to judge Him, and He has every right to judge us.

In Romans, we are confronted with the Biblical truth that we did not choose Jesus but He chose us. Rom. 8:28-30. One of the great intellectual and emotional challenges we have as Christians is that we, ourselves, have and had nothing to do with our salvation because there is no work of man which meets God’s standards. We were chosen by God because He chose us. The challenge is to recognize that God is sovereign and that we are subject, that God is master and we are slave. The further challenge both intellectually and emotionally is to realize that, when we realize that it was God who saved us and not we ourselves, we are in fact free – that by becoming slave to God we become citizens of the kingdom of God, worthy to stand before God in His throne room, making intercession for others. There is true freedom in Christ, but we can only get there by realizing that while we were still dead to sin God reached down and lifted us from the pit. Our intellectual and emotional challenge as people is to realize that true freedom is gained by abandoning our slavery to the world and its systems and thought patterns and bowing our knee to the true King.

Also in Romans, we see the intellectual and emotional challenges which come from being beat down, being criticized, being sick, being tired and lonely, being weak. We say to ourselves, “We are Christians and saved by grace, why cannot we live with plenty and be well? And there are some shepherds who would pervert the message to say that, as Christians, we indeed may demand the first place in line and full prosperity. But our state as Christians is to be hated by the world – “For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” Rom. 8:36, citing Psalm 44:22. But because we have God on our side, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Rom. 8:37. As Christians we do not have joy because we have retirement accounts, we have joy because God is with us and our permanent retirement is assured for all eternity. Our intellectual and emotional challenge is to realize that we do not need worldly approval, position, or wealth to be free; we need Jesus.

And then we are confronted with our reading today from John, where Jesus says “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.,” John 6:53-54. Both our intellect and our emotions are severely challenged when we consider what Jesus is saying here. Great debates over the last two thousand years have occupied our minds and hearts over these words. Many claimed disciples abandoned Jesus over these words; will you? Again, however, we are confronted with our greatest challenge – to realize that we are not up to the challenge, that we cannot climb the hill without help, that we cannot save ourselves through works, that we cannot understand all things, that we cannot pierce some mysteries, that we are not God. If the net effect of the revelation we receive through Scripture, through Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is that we must radically depend upon Him daily for our daily blessing and power, then Jesus’ point has been made. If the net effect of this passage is to drive us away from Christ because “we” do not understand, or “we” are offended, or “we” reject God’s Word, we have missed the point. Our greatest intellectual and emotional challenge is to drive to the edge of understanding and proceed the rest of the way in faith. Faith, not in ourselves, but in the One who is, the “I am.”

Great challenges. All overcome on the cross. If we will but bow the knee, hand over the reins, have faith, follow Christ, and abide in Him.

Our greatest challenge is to figure out who is Lord. Jeremiah, Romans, and John tell you. But do you know?

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Temptation

February 5, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, February 5, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 22:1-18; Heb. 11:23-31; John 6:52-59; Psalms 72,119:73-96

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If you read our Scriptures today, nowhere will you find the word or even the concept of “temptation.” In fact, we see the opposite – the benefits of faith: the Lord provides (Genesis), being made strong in our weakness (Hebrews), and eternal life (John).

So why “temptation?”

From our reading today in Genesis: “After these things, God tested Abraham … He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering …’ When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.” Gen. 22:1-2, 9-10

We see in this piece of history the tension between testing and temptation. As a natural father, I would have been tempted to say “no,” tempted to debate with God the wisdom of killing my heir, tempted to reinterpret God’s command to something else more palatable, tempted to look around for an alternative, tempted just to say “no.” The test is God saying “Will you fear me? Will you love me more than anything or anyone else? Will you obey me? Will you trust me?” The temptation is our tendency to do things which please us, indulging in the notorious sins of the flesh or the not so notorious but equally sinful state of the elevation of ourselves either equal or superior to God.

The test is “will you be obedient?” The temptation is not to be obedient.

So, did God tempt Abraham by testing him? The answer is “no.” We say we trust God and God tests us by putting us into situations where that is exactly what we need to do, trust Him. Our temptation is to trust ourselves or to fall back on our bad ways, but at least ways we know, rather than step out in faith. But the temptation is not God’s, it is ours. God simply tests the truth of our statement that we love Him and worship Him and serve Him. God simply tests whether our affirmation that “Jesus is Lord” is really true. Our response is either evidence that what we say is true or evidence that we do not trust Him enough to walk away from our fundamental temptation to worship ourselves.

Is testing a time of temptation? Yes, but only because we make it so. God does not set up the test so that we are tempted; He sets up the test that He might be glorified by our obedience to His call, to His command, to His lordship over our lives, and that we might demonstrate our true belief in Him, in His promises, and in His love for us.

Why did Abraham respond the way he did, in faith and love toward God? God had promised him a son, and now God had commanded him to destroy the very thing which God promised him and gave him. What is the justice in that?

From our perspective, there is no justice. It is not until we put on the mind of God that we realize that there is great justice. What we have is a gift of God; why should we not be willing to give it back when asked? It wasn’t ours to begin with and it is not ours while we have possession of it. The injustice is our refusal to return what is not ours in the first place. The injustice is our belief that we are entitled to anything, that God owes us something, that we have somehow earned something.

Isaac was not Abraham’s son; he was a gift from God to Abraham for Abraham to raise up, nurture, teach, and encourage.

So, if today you are suffering from temptation, ask yourself why? Has God demanded something of you that you don’t like, that doesn’t fit in with your image of yourself as a mini-God? If so, who do you choose – yourself or God?

We are tempted all the time in many, many ways. Each time we are, we need to ask ourselves the question – who do we obey, ourselves or God?

Although we focus on the Isaac story because it is the “high point” of obedience and trust in God’s provision, the truth is that we live the testing every minute of every day. Will be trust and obey God, or will we trust and obey ourselves (or some other idol).

Who are you obeying today?

__________________

© 2014 GBF

Bread – Obey

January 23, 2012


Readings for Monday, January 23, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 14:1-24; Heb. 8:1-13; John 4:43-54; Psalms 41, 44, 52

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From our reading today in the Gospel of John: “Jesus replied, ‘You may go now. Your son will live.’ The man took Jesus at his word and departed.” John 4:50

What is interesting about this event is that Jesus did not give the man what he wanted. What he wanted was for Jesus to “come and heal his son.” John 4:47. In other words, the man with the sick son wanted Jesus to come to his house and lay hands on his son or do something else which required his physical presence. Instead, Jesus does not (apparently) do anything. He just tells the man to “go” and “your son will live.” The man asks for an action, for a miracle, and Jesus gives him an order and a promise.

The man obeys and leaves to go home, and the boy lives. After doing some calculation, the man and his servants figure out that the boy got well at the same time that Jesus was saying “your son will live.”

Big question. Was the son made well because Jesus said so or was the son made well because Jesus said so and the son’s father was obedient? If the obedience had not been there, would the healing have been there?

The fact is we don’t know. At the same time Jesus said “your son will live,” the man “took Jesus at His word and departed.” The promise and the obedience are so intertwined in the same moment that they cannot be divided.

Of course, Jesus, being God, could save the boy with a word of command. And perhaps He did in this instance. But Jesus, being God, could also have conditioned the effectiveness of His command upon a man’s obedience. And perhaps He did in this instance.

This is a great mystery. It shows itself in this little history lesson. It shows itself in the Bible instructions in prayer. It shows itself in salvation.

“Obey” is not a word which many Americans are comfortable with. About the only place where “obedience” is practiced on a routine basis is the military, and even there we give a place to the private who gives due regard to the “conditions on the ground” and therefore disobeys an order from someone which is “wrong” in the circumstances. Everywhere else, obedience is something which is practiced when it works together with our individual objectives and rights, and ignored the rest of the time.

But “obey” is a good word and a good thing to do. As a Christian, the effectiveness of what we do is often related to the degree of our obedience to God’s instruction book, the Bible.

So, there is a problem at work or at home. You have gone to the Lord in prayer about it and, after a while, whether through Scripture, Godly counsel from a fellow Christian, or plain revelation by the Holy Spirit, you have received an answer with an instruction. Maybe the answer is “I am in control, so go home and don’t worry about it.” What do you do? Obey? Ask for more proof? Worry some more? Which of these answers is most likely to result in a successful outcome? If you don’t know the answer, read the story about the father and his son again.

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