Bread – Vain

April 14, 2017


Psalm 60

O, [God] grant us help against the foe, for vain is the salvation of man!”  Ps. 60:11

As we finish this week of Easter, ending today on Good Friday, we stop for a second (maybe more, if we realize the significance of the event) to realize that this event is more than just a holiday for some people.  It is the marking of the destruction of the separation between man and God arising from man’s disobedience of God and the restoration of the hope of victory over death by our reconciliation to God through His perfect sacrifice for our sin, God Himself, Jesus Christ.  Today we are reminded that salvation is only accomplished by the sovereign act of God and not by any art or work of man.  It is “good” because it God’s work.  On Friday, it is the hope of victory over death because the resurrection has not yet occurred.  But we know it has occurred, and therefore our hope of victory which became evident when the curtain between us and God was destroyed on the cross will become certain three days later, on the day we now celebrate as Easter.

But this Psalm was written well before these events and David, the author, asks God for help against his enemies, because he knew that to depend on man for salvation was “vain.”

The Hebrew word translated as “vain” means nothingness, emptiness, anything which disappoints the hope which rests upon it, anything which is not substantial, is not real, or is materially or morally worthless.

The world tells us to put our hope of help against our foes of fear, worry, death, disease, and ignorance into the things which man provides – science, technology, education, economy.  And yet everyone one of us knows that there are instances where science, technology, education, economy and all of the other worldly solutions or philosophies or “isms” have failed us.  They fail us in the present, they do not give life, they do not give us true rest, they do not give us hope, and they do not give us victory over death.  Reliance upon the solutions of the world is vain.  The forms of salvation, the methods of salvation, the process of salvation offered by man (“of man”, of man’s invention or design) will always disappoint any hope which rests upon them.

David asked for God’s help against the foe.  God has delivered that help in Jesus Christ.

Every day we have a choice to make, to follow the hope which does not disappoint, Jesus Christ, or to place our trust in vain things, the things of the world.

Today, are we going to be vain and choose ourselves and the world we have made, or are we going to be obedient and choose Christ and His kingdom?

What say you?

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

 

 

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Bread – Apparent

October 26, 2016


Psalm 38

“O Lord, all my longing is before You; my sighing is not hidden from You.”  Ps. 38:9

I have been justly accused of not being very observant.  In a crowded room, my best friend might be standing three feet away from me and I might not see him.  My wife might have put on a brand new dress which complements her wonderfully, and I might not notice it for eight hours or so, if then.  Terrible, terrible, terrible.  But very very human.

And this happens to me (and I daresay you) on a regular basis even when the things we are (not) looking at are apparent, even when they are obvious.

We are commanded as Christians to love one another.  I think we often believe that this is complicated.  It probably isn’t.  In fact, we might begin by just training ourselves to be attentive to the apparent, the obvious, and then react to it.  If we look at a person’s face instead of looking through them to our next agenda item, we might notice the apparent hurt or sadness or anger or frustration.  And then having seen the obvious, we have an opportunity at least to react to it in a way which loves the person we are looking at.

But if we cannot see the obvious and apparent in that which is around us and can be touched, seen, and heard, then how are we to ever become aware of the apparent and the obvious which belong in the spiritual realm?

What strikes me as so powerful about this verse from Psalm 38 is that it states the obvious, which is not so apparent to most people.  Are you in trouble?  God knows it.  Are you sick?  God knows it.  Is there a longing in your heart which is unsatisfied?  God knows it.  Are you sighing?  God hears it.

God is not us.  We ignore the apparent.  God sees both the apparent and the hidden.

So why prayer, when God already knows it?  Maybe it is because you don’t know it.  Speaking our sighing before God makes us focus on the apparent (and hidden) causes of that sighing.  Speaking our sighing before God reminds us that God loves us, that He hears us, and that He has mercy on us.   Speaking our sighing before God reminds us that we are in fact sighing, that we are broken, hurt, fallen down, people, that are sinful and that we fall short in every way imaginable.  Speaking our sighing before God transfers that burden from us to Him, because now that we have recognized our error and recognized the Person who can heal us, we can cast our cares upon Him.

But before we can get there, we must acknowledge the most apparent thing in the room, and that is God.  But we will not see him because  we do not see apparent things unless we have eyes to see and ears to hear.  And for that we need to be trained and to be best trained, we need a trainer.  And so we begin the process of seeing the apparent by praying, “Come Holy Spirit.”

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

 

 

 

Bread – Appearances

May 4, 2016


Psalm 18

“With the merciful You show Yourself merciful; with the blameless man You show Yourself blameless; with the purified You show Yourself pure; with the crooked You make Yourself seem tortuous.”  Ps. 18:25-26

How does God seem or appear to you?  Loving?  Mean?  Nice?  Powerful?  Caring?  Remote?

The Psalmist here seems to be suggesting that the way God appears to us has a lot to do with who we are.  In other words, God appears to us through the glasses we wear.  We see God through rose-colored glasses of our making.

If we are merciful, God appears to us to be merciful.  If we are hateful, God appears to us angry.  If we are crooked, then God appears to us to be complicated.  If we are loving, then God appears to be a loving God.

So we impose on God ourselves.  If we have a loathing self-image, then God appears to us as someone who does not like us very much.    If we have an exalted image of ourselves, then God appears to us as someone who loves us very much.

So, if we want to change how God appears to us, the answer would be for us to change ourselves?

If we think this way, then God is merely a mirror, reflecting back to us who we are.  With this approach, when we see God we see ourselves, which then makes us God.

There is a another way of reading the same passage.  That way would reverse the order – God appears to us as merciful; therefore we are merciful.  God appears to us to be loving; therefore we are loving.

In this way, we conform to the image of God we have rather than God conforming to the image we have of ourselves.

And we know this is true of life in general.  When we are in the mountains and we look out over a peaceful meadow with butterflies, if we are at peace the scene becomes more peaceful to us, but the reverse is even more true.  By gazing over a peaceful scene, we become more at peace ourselves.

So if our image of God affects who and how we are, how are we to gain an accurate image of God?

Quite frankly, this is where the rubber meets the road and where we so often fall down.  Where do you get your image of God?  From the movies, from friends, from books about God, from famous authors, from your grandmother, from the thoughts which flood your mind on a daily basis, from an amalgam of pagan, Christian, New Age, animalist, orthodox, far east and near east, or western philosophies or writings?  Do you get your image of God from what the world tells you about Him?

Or do you get your image of God from Him through His revelation to you – from God revealed in Scripture and revealed in the flesh, in Jesus Christ?

If you want to see anyone’s true appearance, you have to look at him and not at what people say about him.

As we gaze upon the appearance of God in Scripture and in Jesus Christ, as He really is and not as He is reported to be, something will happen to us.  As we see Him as the loving God who sacrificed Himself for us, we in turn become more able to sacrifice for others.  As we see Him as the merciful God who has given us the gift of life although we deserved nothing, we in turn become merciful to those who have hurt us.

All this comes to a head with the last phrase of today’s quote – “to the crooked You make Yourself seem tortuous.”  Are they crooked because they see God as crooked?  Perhaps … but if so, then they have an inaccurate perception of God.  And where did they get that from?  Not from Scripture, not from Christ, and therefore not from God.  They see God improperly because they are crooked and they are crooked because they see God improperly.

So what is the solution for the crooked?  To see God clearly, from His Word and not from Satan’s world, from Christ the King and not the prince of darkness.

But how can the blind see?  With man it is not possible, but with God…well.

God is not who He appears to be.  God is who He is.

Our job is to find out who He is by meeting Him in the place where He is to be found … in His Word written and His Word in the flesh in Jesus Christ.

And then appearances will match reality.

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

 

 

 

Bread – Appearances

September 26, 2014


Readings for Friday, September 26, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Esther 8:1-8,15-17; Acts 19:21-41; Luke 4:31-37; Psalms 88,91,92

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“Appearances can be deceiving.” Who has not heard that truism and in fact probably uttered it on more than one occasion?

In today’s readings we have three examples of different types of appearances. Two appear to be one thing when they are of another (deceiving appearances) and the the third is real. The real question is how to tell them apart.

In Esther, Esther has overcome her fears and gone to the king to protect Mordecai and the rest of the Jews. She is successful. Mordecai is given great honor and is permitted by the king to speak for him and to seal his messages with the king’s ring. Mordecai uses this power to send an order throughout the empire that, not only are the Jews not to be touched, but they now have the power to protect themselves and, on one day, to take “take vengeance on their enemies.” Esther 8:13. Our focus is not so much on this, however, as it is the last sentence – “And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them.” Esther 8:17b

These people said they were Jews because it was the safe, the easy thing to do. They appeared to be Jews but they were not Jews. How many so-called Christians fall into the same camp today? It is an easy life, to say that “Jesus is my king and savior,” and yet have no meaning behind it. You get to participate in Christian things, show up in the assembly with your trappings of Christian affiliation, dine with people of like mind, and yet still have the appearance without the reality, just like the Assyrians claimed to be Jews when they were not.

In Acts, Paul has brought the gospel to Ephesus. Ephesus was the center of the worship of Artemis, one of the Greek and Roman pantheon of gods, and the people of the city made quite a living off the tourists who came to see the great god of silver. These craftsmen made a good living off of selling little silver Artemis-gods and they complained that Paul was teaching “gods made with hands are not gods.” The context of this statement is that their little gods were made with hands and therefore not gods, but the broader application is that Artemis himself was no god either because man had invented him and crafted his image as their idol. Artemis had the appearance of deity without the reality of deity; he had the appearance of power without the reality of power.

In Luke, Christ preaches with authority in the synagogue on the Sabbath. The people were astonished at His teaching, because it was with great authority. A demon proclaims that He is the “Holy One of God” and Christ commands the demon to leave and he does so. The people are astonished and ask themselves “What is this word? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out!” Luke 4:36. Jesus has both the appearance and reality of being God.

What is the difference between the first two, where the appearance is deceiving, and the third, where the appearance represents reality? I think the answer is actually pretty simple – if the actions of the person are consistent with the person’s appearance, the appearance is likely reflecting reality; whereas, if the actions are inconsistent with the appearance, the appearance is likely deceptive. In Esther, the self-proclaimed Jews likely only made a stab at compliance with God’s Word and His instructions for life; they likely said they believed in God without actually believing in God. In Acts, there were no actions taken by Artemis consistent with his appearance as a god; the actions were all by people on Artemis’ behalf. With Jesus, however, the actions and the appearance were synchronized. He was God and He acted like God would act. He interpreted Scripture with authority because He superintended the writing of Scripture. He commanded the demon to leave because as God He is sovereign.

Today, you may appear to be a Christian … you may attend Bible studies, engage in your daily moment of prayer, attend services at a the church of your choice, and chip in a few bucks toward the cause. But is your appearance deceiving? Are your actions consistent with your appearance? Are you poor in heart and humble in spirit, giving generously from what God has given you, living in gratitude for your blessings, renewing your mind on the anvil of the Word, working on your relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, loving your neighbor as yourself, setting self aside, obeying King Jesus, growing in maturity in Christ?

We like to put on the suit, read the script, live in the right neighborhood, join the right organizations, have the right friends … and make a good appearance.

It is between each of us and God as to whether that appearance matches reality, of whether our works are reflective of our appearance. If we claim to be Christian, this question, this testing must occur … or we deceive no one except ourselves.

____________

© 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

Bread – Figs

August 19, 2013


Readings for Monday, August 19, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 17:24-18:8; Acts 22:30-23:11; Mark 11:12-26; Psalm 106

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I don’t like figs, so our lesson from Mark today about Jesus being hungry and going to look at a fig tree to see what it had on it is, to me, almost an abstraction. On the other hand, my wife loves figs and we have been known to stop walking just to see if a fig tree had any figs on it. So my natural reaction to Jesus’ looking at a fig tree for food is to ask “why,” and my wife’s natural reaction is to say “of course.”

How often do we treat Scripture like that? If I like it, well I’ll just look at it closely to see if there is anything good to eat on it. If I don’t like it, well I will just pass it by as quickly as possible, thinking that a story about fig trees makes no sense, particularly when Jesus kills it anyway.

But, in writing Bread, I read this passages differently, slowly, with the question constantly being raised up to God – why? What message is there here?

Once I studied this passage, I realized that this is a story about appearances and reality, a story about predictable ends from observable beginnings.

For the first time, I read this – “On the following day, when they came from Bethany, He was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf…” Mk. 11:12-13. I have emphasized the “in leaf” because that is the key description and the key fact. It turns out that when a healthy fig tree is “in leaf” it begins to bear fruit – the fruit and the “in leaf” are concurrent events. The fruit may not be ripe and fit for eating, but it is apparent when the tree is “in leaf.” But that is not what Jesus found when He went there. He did not find a healthy tree bearing fruit while “in leaf,” He found a diseased tree which had “nothing but leaves” – the appearance of righteousness without the fact of righteousness, the appearance of beauty without the reality of beauty, the appearance of life but the reality of death. I always thought Jesus killed the tree, but the truth is that the tree was already dead – it just didn’t know it. A fig tree which is “in leaf” but which is bearing no fruit is a dying tree.

Notice, too, that the fig tree did not have to have ripe fruit in order to be in the process of maturing fruit. In other words, the tree can have fruit which is not ready for prime time, but is there nonetheless.

How many hungry people, people hungry for truth and love, come to us, attracted by our outward appearance, only to discover that we are bearing no fruit, that we have nothing to offer but appearances? How many hungry people, hungry for truth and love, who come to our pretty religious institutions, only to discover that there is no fruit in the process of maturing?

It always struck me that Jesus overreacted by cursing the fig tree. But that is me speaking and judging, not God. God is merciful, but He is also wrathful. What judgment will we receive if we have the appearance of life but not the reality, if we have the appearance of a “good person” but have not received the grace of God in Jesus? We will receive the curse which is justly ours. This is one of the messages God has for us, but there is another message too. God can bring the dead to life and He has. God brings the dead to life every day when He brings them into trusting relationship with Jesus Christ. God enables us unto salvation, to bear the fruit of grateful obedience in response to everlasting grace. He makes us into the fig tree He will not curse.

Later in the reading today, the disciples ask Jesus about the dead fig tree and His response appears to be peculiar, because He answers “Have faith in God” and then gives them a lesson in prayer. Why?

Until today, I always thought of these as just disconnected events, but they are not. The same God who curses the dead unto death is the same God who brings life to the dead, who finds the lost and gathers them into His arms, who has reached out His mighty arm of salvation to rescue us from the reality of sin and death, so that we may enter into the new reality of victory and life in Jesus Christ. What is the proper response to the dead tree? Have faith in God that I am not like that tree. Pray to God that He re-births me unto life. Have faith in God that He will bring forth good fruit from those whom He has brought into life. Have faith in God that the good work He has begun in you will be seen to its completion.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Appearances

February 11, 2013


Readings for Monday, February 11, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 58:1-12; Gal. 6:11-18; Mk 9:30-41; Psalms 77,79,80

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There is something about British television which is such a commentary on the human condition. One such show is “Keeping up Appearances,” where the “lady of the house” is constantly putting on airs which impress no one but herself, where the form reigns supreme over the substance, and where reality is but an episode away, getting ready to strike to reveal the foolishness and vainness of appearances in the face of stark reality. The show is a comedy, but while we laugh at the characters we know that we are laughing at our neighbors and then, while we look in the mirror, at ourselves.

The topic of appearances is what our Scripture lessons are today about. The first lesson concerns the appearances we try to keep up with God. The second lesson concerns the appearances we try to keep up with society. The third lesson concerns the appearances we try to keep up with our friends. There is one message to us throughout all three lessons – don’t go there.

In Isaiah, God through Isaiah is discussing fasting. God asks the people of Israel to ask themselves why, when they fast, God takes no notice. His point is that the people fast only to keep of the appearance of holiness, which pleases only themselves and not God. “Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure…Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight…Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.” Isa. 58:3b-4. The appearance of fasting is to take something on so that you might be thought holy. The reality of a true fast is releasing the bondage which wealth has over us, so that we can be free to be God’s children unburdened by the world. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness…Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house;…Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’” Isa. 58:6-7,9.

In Galatians, Paul is discussing circumcision and whether it is more important whether we obey the law or whether we are a new creation in Christ. Paul again warns about taking on appearances rather than demonstrating reality. He says “It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised…” Gal. 6:12 In other words, the people “who want to make a good showing” are those for whom appearances matter more than reality. It is important to them that you appear obedient rather than actually practice obedience (“[T]hey desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh…” Gal. 6:13b).

In Mark, the disciples are arguing along the road about who is the greatest. In this discussion they are demonstrating their belief that where they sit or the order of precedence is most important, thinking that if they appear more important than they are more important, if they appear more holy than they are more holy. Jesus sits them down and says this – “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mk. 9:35b. In other words, appearances are deceiving. Those who appear to be first are really last, and those who appear to be last are really first. Man looks to appearances, but God looks to the reality.

We know that appearances are important to man, so to the extent we live in this world and try to impress each other, we keep up appearances. But everyone really knows that underneath the appearance is the reality. If the reality is broken, the appearance will soon break. If the reality is strength in relationship between a person and God and in a person and another person, that reality soon causes contrary appearances to fade in the background.

Knowing that God sees us as we are and that people of discernment do too, why do we constantly enter into our own show of “keeping up appearances?” Why indeed? Do we think that God cares? Do we think that anyone who really matters cares?

No, we don’t, but …. And Satan whispers in our ear, “Did God really say …?”

___________________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread –Genuine

August 22, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, August 22 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Judges 18:16-31; Acts 8:14-25; John 6:1-15; Psalms 119:145-176, 128, 129, 130

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How can we tell the “Real McCoy” versus the fake, the genuine versus the imposter? This is something we are always trying to do, establishing our own litmus tests for “correctness” so that we might easily distinguish the true from the false. Sometimes we establish these tests from our own experience, sometimes we borrow these tests from the experience and observations of others, and sometimes we appeal to an “absolute” standard, whether it be the Bible, the church’s creeds throughout the years, our doctrinal statements or confessions of faith, or perhaps even “science” or a set of man-made principles and laws. We feel like we have to do something, however, or we will become entrapped by incorrect thinking. Anyone though engaged in thought over this realizes quickly that, although broad principles may have more or less unanimous agreement, assessing the true from the false on the edges becomes very difficult. In response to this difficulty, we tend to fall into two camps, absolutists (what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong, resulting in easy conclusions about the genuine) and relativists (who abandon all hope of assessing the genuine, figuring all positions and thoughts are equal).

I raise this not because it is something I am comfortable talking about but because the issue is front and center in our Scripture readings today. In Judges, we have Micah who has built himself an idol of silver and developed an entire worship system around it, using a system of worship very similar to that specified by God in the Torah for His worship. This false worship became so attractive that in our readings a group from the tribe of Dan go and seize the silver idol, the priest and the “stuff” used in worship, take over a city, and set up their own society around the idol. This worship system may have lasted a fairly long time at that location. For these people, they lost track of the genuine and substituted for it something which they thought was genuine, but was not. How did that happen?

In Acts, we have Simon the magician who has declared his faith in Jesus and been baptized. However, when he observed that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of hands, “he offered them [Peter and John] money, saying ‘Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’” Acts 8:18. Peter perceived in this that he was not genuine in his belief, rebuked him, and said that his heart was not right, telling him to “Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours…” Acts 8:22. Simon responded with a request that Peter pray for him. Was this repentance? Was the faith real? The ESV Study Bible has this note: “Commentators differ over whether Simon had genuine saving faith” and then, later, “Whether Simon was truly repentant or not is unclear.” If there is confusion in the ranks on this, then by what ability are we to assess genuineness in others?

In John, we have Jesus feeding of the 5,000 by the Sea of Galilee. What the report tells us is that “A large crowd [the 5,000] was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick.” John 6:2. Was this genuine saving faith at the time, or was it merely curiosity brought about by remarkable events? Later in the report, it is said that the people witnessing the feeding believed that “This is indeed the Prophet…” John 6:14. There is nothing said about whether this belief was of a type to lead to transformed life, a further curiosity, or merely a simple “Wow” with no change whatsoever.

The truth is that this topic is enough for at least one book, but the question remains – how do I tell the genuine?

I think in these readings today there are three hints about how we do that. From Judges, we learn that one way to test genuineness is against God’s standard. God said “You shall not make for yourself a carved image…You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…” Exodus 20:4. Micah made a silver idol. Let’s see, is that a “carved image?” I think most of us would agree that it is. Micah’s god was not the “Real McCoy.” That is apparent for those who know God’s standards.

From Acts, we learn that another way to test genuineness is by insight from the Holy Spirit. With respect to Simon, it was Peter who said that “I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.” Acts 8:23. Peter’s sight could have come from training, but as he was a fisherman given spiritual abilities by the Holy Spirit, I would tend to think that his insight here also comes from the Holy Spirit and not by virtue of his training. This tells me that, in testing truth, we should be sensitive to our “gut instinct,” our “sixth sense,” our discernment given to us by the Holy Spirit. However, notice that even Peter did not directly challenge whether Simon had saving faith. He pointed out the objective signs of lack of saving faith, stated that “your [Simon’s] heart is not right before God,” but left to God the final judgment of Simon’s heart.

And then, finally, from John we learn that another way of testing genuineness is to let it work itself out. Jesus did not separate the believers from the curious; He fed them all equally. Who had genuine faith and who did not was left to be worked out.

While writing this, however, it dawned on me that there is a deeper lesson here. We are drawn to Micah’s story because we get to look in on him and critique him. We are drawn to Simon’s story because we get to look in on him and critique him. We are drawn to the 5,000 because we get to question the how, why, and who of that event.

But that is not where the battleground for genuineness is. It is with us. The person I need to be testing for genuineness is not you, it is me. We need to be testing ourselves. How are we like Micah, following the dictates of our hearts rather than the dictates of God? How are we like Simon, skimming along Christianity picking up its benefits without engaging its truths? How are we like the 5,000, along for the ride, curious about the miracles but not loving Jesus?

Am I a genuine Christian? If I really asked myself that question on a regular basis, I wonder if I would have any time to ask it of others?

Am I genuine? Am I the “Real McCoy?” When we really realize how much like Micah, Simon, and the 5,000 we are, I think we will begin to understand the true depth of God’s mercy and grace toward us. And then maybe, just maybe, we will turn from testing to thanksgiving, from critique to joy, from judgment to hope, from bitterness to love, and from death to life. Because in so doing we will discover the genuine – Jesus Christ. And that will be enough.

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Witnesses

August 3, 2012


Readings for Friday, August 3 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Judges 5:1-18; Acts 2:1-21; Matt. 28:1-10; Psalms 69, 73

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As I write this, I have in the background, through the window, the mountains of Colorado.

In Judges today, Deborah has been appointed by God a leader (judge) over Israel, and the Hebrews and the surrounding inhabitants of Canaan and other areas of the promised land are witnesses to God’s actions to establish Israel as His people in a specific geographical place at a particular time. See, it is easy to witness what is real. Our God is a God who involves Himself in the lives of His people, raises up leaders, and authors history as He writes it. Today, we have a historical account of Deborah because she is not a myth or a bedtime story.

In Matthew today, some women go to Christ’s tomb in order to “see” it. I am sure that among the reasons they went there, in addition of course to offering prayers and respect for the dead, was to do a “reality check,” to see that, yes, Jesus was dead and buried. In front of their eyes an angel (a) “descended from heaven” and (b) “rolled back the stone and sat on it.” Matt. 28:2 The angel did not report that he had done that; the women saw it happen. The angel then invited them to see the empty tomb which was revealed when the stone was rolled back. There was no room for error in the observation, because the stone was not already rolled back before they arrived, but it was rolled back while they were standing, watching it happen. Indeed, the women witnesses saw with their own eyes that the tomb was empty. While they were on the road, racing to tell the disciples what they had seen, they “met” Jesus and talked with Him. Less we be inclined to think that they were talking to an apparition or a ghost, the women reported that “they took hold of His feet.” Matt. 28:9.b. The women were witnesses of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, not by hearing a report, but by fully engaging their senses – touch, hearing, and seeing. These are the same techniques we use every day in our “scientific” inquiry into reality. Our God is a God who is so real that He can be seen, heard, and touched by real people operating in real time and place.

In Acts today, the disciples are gathered and together receive the power of the Holy Spirit. This is not a phantasy play to describe concepts of religious fervor, but a real event witnessed by real people. And the people who witnessed this event were not even the people who received the Holy Spirit; the witnesses were “outsiders” with no agenda, no story to assert, no propaganda to promote. “And at this sound the multitude came together [devout men from every nation under heaven], and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.” Acts 2:6 Our God is a God who is so real that His power is so demonstrated in the lives of His disciples that the results are obvious to the senses of others. Events as reported by those who were the actual witnesses are real. To the extent that these witnesses report what they heard, what they tasted, what they saw, and what they touched, reality is staring us in the face.

But for us, who were not there when these events occurred, we are vicarious witnesses, people who see reality through the lenses and reports of others. Now that is not bad because the witness of actual historical events, the empty tomb, the descent of the Holy Spirit and the explosion of the Church following its empowerment by God, are all trustworthy. But, like Thomas, we like to engage our own reality.

So right now, I am engaged in my reality. I can see the mountains. I can touch the dirt and the stones. I can hear the wind whistling through the aspens. I can taste the rain which has been falling. I can see the sun rising slowly over the peaks, heralding a new day.

I am witness to the complexity, to the simplicity, to the order, to the majesty, of creation. I may have not have met Deborah; I may not have watched the angel roll away the stone from the empty grave; I may not have heard the disciples speak in my language or seen the tongues of fire descending upon them.

But I have seen the mountains…and the valleys. And in so doing, I have seen God. He is real; He is here; He is forever. To that, we are all witnesses, whether we want to admit it or not.

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Real

June 15, 2012


Readings for Friday, June 15 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Eccles. 11:9-12:14; Gal. 5:25-6:10; Matt. 16:21-28; Psalms 69, 73

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I have about decided that we (the world) strive for the false goal of perfection while God wants us to strive to be real, even with our imperfections, relying upon Him to take care of our shortfalls.

Look at Peter in today’s readings from Matthew. Christ has just told the disciples that He will be going to Jerusalem to be killed and raised in three days. Now this is a prophetic statement, uttered by God (Jesus), worthy of respect. Peter’s response to this is to “rebuke” Jesus and tell Him, essentially, “no you won’t.” Christ then delivers His own rebuke of Peter, stating essentially that Peter’s statements and actions are aligned with Satan. Matt. 16:21-23.

Forgetting for a moment how truly funny (and common) it is for us to tell God what God will (or even should) do, isn’t Peter being real at that moment. Peter had just had the gift of the Holy Spirit to recognize Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Matt. 16:17 Next he is telling Christ what to do.

Don’t we do the same thing? We are introduced to Christ, with the power of the Holy Spirit operating in our lives we acknowledge our sins, turn with true repentance away from our sins, and accept that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, and then turn around in our prayers and tell God what to do for us, according to our agenda.

Notice, however, that although God (Jesus) Himself rebuked Peter, He did not throw him out of the group of disciples or out of fellowship with Him. Peter was real in the moment and Jesus took the action appropriate to the reality – He rebuked Peter for being selfish and stupid. But Peter remained in fellowship and, in fact, became closer bound to Jesus as a result.

The same is true of David in the Psalms. Psalm 69 is David being real – he is sinking in the mire, his life is miserable because he is a follower of God, his fasting is not uplifting but instead is something which people make fun of, he is asking God for redemption from the mess, knowing that God’s lifting him from the mire of life will occur in God’s time and not his, but complaining just the same. David is real — and he is a man after God’s own heart (see 1 Sam. 13:14). The Psalms are full of David being imperfect, of being real before God.

The fact is that being real in Christ means us taking positions opposite to God, telling Him what He should do in our lives. It means often living in the mire, complaining to God about our poor circumstances. It means being sick. It means being tired. It means being sorrowful. It means being imperfect.

But being real in Christ also means that we know we have a great King above all Kings, Creator of all, all-loving and all-powerful, who we can go to with our burdens. It also means that we have freedom to fail in life on earth (according to worldly thinking) knowing that our King has conquered death and that for those whose faith is in Christ there is victory in eternity. It also means that we have hope. It also means that we have joy. It also means that we have real treasure. Being real in Christ means we can live in the sun instead of hiding in the dark. It means we can love others and ourselves too.

Being imperfect and yet being perfected in Christ. Being a follower of Christ who wanders off the trail from time to time, and yet being brought back to the trail by the guiding hand and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Being a sinner and yet being so loved by God that He redeems us anyway, restoring us into fellowship with Him for all time.

A great mystery while being the truth, while being reality.

How much more real can it get?

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