Bread – Melting

June 6, 2017


Psalm 68

God shall arise … as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God!  But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!” Ps. 68:1-3

As I read “as wax melts before fire” a couple of images came to mind.  None of them were candles.   Another image was from the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” where the Nazi soldiers are melted away in the blast which came from the Ark of the Covenant when they dared to breach it.  A third image was of the Wicked Witch of the West, when a bucket of water was poured over on her, and she dies screaming “I’m melting.”

Now these images have one thing in common.   The wicked perish.  In the first, God is clearly the agent.  In the second, you have to realize that God is the author of nature to realize that the water used to douse the wicked witch was itself a gift from God.

We are sinful people.  What will happen to us on that day of judgment, when God arises to judge the earth and us?  Will we melt away as wax melts before the fire in the heat of wrath?

While you meditate on that question, I actually had a third image which came to mind as I read this verse.  That image was the one of a great steel mill where the iron ore was smelted in great furnaces, melted into big buckets, to be poured into objects useful for construction and building.

This third image also involves melting as wax melts before the fire, because the ore was hard until it melted in the great cauldron, only then to be converted.

What happens in this second kind of melting?  We have a reference to that in Psalm 66, where it is said “For Thou hast tried us, O God; Thou hast refined us as silver is refined.” [Ps. 66:10; NASB translation] (the word “refined” means to melt, to purge precious metals by fire).  God, through His cross and the daily dose of the Holy Spirit in our lives, refines us by removing the impurities in our lives and pouring us as living sacrifices into useful objects for His purposes on earth.

So, at the judgment day, when faced with the wrath of God, do we melt “as wax melts before fire?”  The short answer is “no” for the simple reason that Christ is with us and, literally, He is our shield.

So, when God arises, are the righteous glad because the wicked melt in the face of wrath or are we glad because, by the grace of God, we do not melt?

As I write this, it strikes me that this last question is the heart of the gospel, of the good news.  We do not rejoice in others’ suffering, because but for the grace of God go we.   Instead, we celebrate in thanksgiving because we have received and accepted the gift of eternal life from the only One able to give it and empower us to receive it.

The heart of the gospel is this:  God shall arise, the wicked shall melt away, and the righteous shall rejoice.  Who are the righteous? “And he (Abraham) believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:22-25.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Righteousness

January 18, 2017


Psalm 48

We have thought on Your steadfast love, O God,…Your right hand is filled with righteousness.”  Ps. 48:9,10b

“Righteousness” is one of those words which I always think I know what it means until I start really thinking about it.  What is “righteousness?’

The Hebrew word translated “righteousness” in this passage means “the right thing (whether nationally, morally or legally); equity (in an abstract sense); prosperity (in a figurative sense); straightness (in a physical sense); rectitude (in an ethical sense); … justness, honesty, integrity … liberation.” From The Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (NASB) (Zodhiates, Ed. 1990).  The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament (Intervarsity 2004) takes 21 pages to give examples, but summarizes the word “righteousness” this way: “In Biblical thought the idea of justice or righteousness generally expresses conformity to God’s will in all areas of life: law, government, covenant loyalty, ethical integrity or gracious actions.  When humans adhere to God’s will as expressed in His law, they are considered just or righteous.  Jesus taught that those who conform their lives to His teachings are also just or righteous.”

Well, I am not sure if these definitions help or hurt me in trying to understand what righteousness is.  However, the other day someone summarized righteousness for me as “right relationships.”  I find this definition nowhere in my materials, but it actually makes a lot of sense to me.  After all, if we lives of justice, of doing right toward others and ourselves and our God, don’t we find ourselves in a “right (correct, beneficial, loving) relationship?”  When we are fair toward others, don’t we find ourselves in right relationships with others?  When we are obedient to God’s law expressed in Scripture, don’t we find ourselves in right relationships with others?

What, then, does it mean for God to have “righteousness” in his “right hand?”  Before we go there, I think it is important to recall that our right hand (for many people) is the hand of power.  It is the hand which holds the sword of vengeance, the hammer of anger, the book of wisdom, the item being offered as a gift or a sacrifice.  We shake right hands because, by doing so, we demonstrate our hand is empty of any weapon which could cause harm.

Because of His steadfast love toward us, God holds in His hand of power the key to right relationships with Him, with each other, and within ourselves.  Thinking of what He holds as merely the law is not sufficient because mere compliance with the law out of avoidance of punishment does not, in itself, create good relationships.  Thinking of what He holds as merely love is not sufficient because mere love which is not bounded by truth does not, in itself, create good relationships.  It is righteousness which creates good relationships – obedience, honor of God’s rules and His ways of living, loving others as He has first loved us.

God wants to have a right relationship with us and, therefore, His right hand holds the mystery to accomplishing that.  His right hand holds righteousness.

And He extends that gift, that gift of righteousness, to us through Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate before the Father.  Through Jesus we have His righteousness, the righteousness carried in the right hand of God, and with that we can properly order our lives between us and God, between us and others, and within ourselves.

Are your relationships good?  If not, maybe you need a dose of what God holds in His right hand, a dose of righteousness.   For those who worship Jesus, the wisdom to build right relationships is brought to us by the Holy Spirit – Come Holy Spirit!  For those who do not know Jesus, righteousness is available from He who is Himself righteous, the Creator of the world, Savior and King, Jesus Christ.

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

 

 

Bread – Foundation

March 16, 2016


Psalm 11

“…if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”  Ps. 11:3

This verse is quoted a lot among my political friends, because they (and I) see the crumbling of the society arising from the increasing secularization of our culture, the redefinition of language, the rise of selfishness over selflessness, the increasing dominance of government in our lives, the loss of liberty to security, and the removal of God from the public square.

When the universities no longer teach but propagandize, when the churches no longer proclaim but entertain, when government no longer protects but burdens … when the foundations are destroyed, what can we, the righteous, do?

Our inclination is to become even more involved in civic affairs, from attending organizing meetings to listening to speakers about topics of interest, reading more books, showing up to vote, and discussing the state of affairs with our friends.  Our inclination is to run to the rescue, to try to shore up the foundation with various designs to give it strength and stability, to patch the cracked foundation to keep it from cracking further, and to enlist our friends in the rebuilding effort.

And for many of us, we respond to the clarion call to fix the foundation by saying, “we can do it.”

But, of course, we can’t.  If the foundations are destroyed because sin runs rampant, the solution is to turn to the Lord and let Him solve the problem, if He will.  If the foundations are destroyed because people are becoming more selfish, the solution is to turn to the Lord and let Him solve the problem, if He will.  If the foundations are destroyed because we see our society, our life, running off the cliff, the solution is to turn to the Lord and let Him solve the problem, if He will.

The righteous can do  what they are called by God to do.  They can proclaim Jesus Christ, they can live lives which gives honor to Him, they can teach others, they can pray and they can love their neighbors.

That’s it.  That’s what the righteous can do.  And, oh, one more thing.  The righteous can stand on the one foundation which can never be destroyed, Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.

In a sense, this is a trick question because the one foundation which matters is the one which can never fail, and the many foundations built by man are temporal, weak, and capable of being destroyed.  And the question is not “if” the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do.  The question is “When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

The foundations will be destroyed; the Foundation will not.  Therefore, in season and out of season, the righteous need to do the same thing – praise God, glorify Him, grow toward Him, and proclaim Him … and God has promised that He will take care of the rest of the foundations.

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

 

 

Bread – Justice

March 2, 2016


Psalm 9

“But the Lord sits enthroned forever; He has established His throne for justice, and He judges the world with righteousness; He judges the peoples with uprightness.”  Ps. 9:7-8

Yesterday, March 1, 2016, was primary voting day in Texas, where Texans exercised their preferences for candidates for various offices.  Among those offices were judges for our local county and district courts, for our courts of appeal (both civil and criminal), and our Texas Supreme Court.  Yesterday was about our personal selection for our judges who are supposed to be “judicial,” that is deliver justice, and today is about our Almighty God who is justice and has established His throne for justice.  By “His throne” we could have as easily said “His kingdom,” which then extends to us, His people living in His creation.

So, what is justice?

Like so many things in life, there are two answers to this question.  One answer is the answer of self.  Justice is what I think it is, according to my values and my standards.  When we expand the concept to the group of selves, then justice is what society as a whole (or its subunits of people) think it is.  I might call that “group think justice.”  So, today, it may be justice to leave the poor to suffer and let the rich man keep his wealth because he earned it and it is his, and tomorrow it may be justice to steal the rich man’s property and give it away to the poor person because they need it (or want it, since for people there is barely any difference between “wants” and “needs”).  Perhaps in this definition, justice within the community is merely deciding who wins and who loses, without regard to particular standards.  In this game, there is only winner … whoever is in power and the identity of the group that put him or her there.  Justice based upon the self or the aggregate community self can be broken down to “might makes right.”

The other answer to this question is the answer of God.  What are God’s standards for living, what are the objects of His love, what path would He have us follow as His disciples?  In the NASB Bible translation, the word “justice” is rendered “judgment” and the underlying Hebrew word refers to all government, not just the judiciary.  The nature of the judgment is in the next sentence of the Psalm, which is judging with the character of righteousness.  The Hebrew word for righteousness conveys doing the “right thing,” straightness, rectitude, honesty, and integrity, exercised by making decisions according to the truth and without partiality.

Thus, the concept of justice is also grounded in the truth.  Pilate, who ordered the crucifixion of Christ, did not act justly (and he knew it) because he did not know the truth (famously saying “what is truth?”).

And if the truth is a shifting sand of meaning imposed by self and the self-congregation of community, then there will be no justice because there is no standard by which it can be measured.  But God is also truth, and therefore exercises righteous judgment, or “justice.”

We are God’s ambassadors on earth, we are God’s emissaries.  We represent the throne; we carry the kingdom.  If there is to be justice in the world, if there is to be truth, then we must carry that ourselves into the marketplace, into the courts and the government at all levels, into the university and into the family.

Has justice failed?  Many would say that it has.

Is it because God is unjust?  No, it is because we are ineffective ambassadors.  How can we carry the truth well unless we know the truth?  How can we speak the truth in love when we know neither truth nor love?   How can we tell others to tell the truth and to act with justice when we do neither ourselves?

As Christians, we love to lay things off on other people – the job of caring for the poor is the job of government; the job of educating our family is the job of the schools; the job of exercising justice is the job of the courts.  But the truth is that it is our job – we are the ambassadors, not the government, not the schools, not the judiciary.  You and I are the ambassadors of a kingdom of truth, of love, and therefore of justice.  Not them and not anybody else.

Do you claim to follow Christ?  What today are you going to do to remedy the unjust things you have done in the past?  What today are you going to do to exercise justice yourself today … and tomorrow?

When we pass on gossip and slander, have we exercised justice?  When we ignore the poor and the oppressed, have we exercised justice?  When we exercise our power to fulfill our wants rather than God’s wants, have we exercised justice?  When we withhold our wealth and keep it for ourselves, have we exercised justice?  When we withhold the truth because we are embarrassed by it, have we exercised justice?

Every one of these things in the previous paragraph I have done … and you probably have to.  We are just fortunate that our God is not only a God of justice but also a God of mercy and second chances.

So let’s accept that forgiveness, dust ourselves off, and with a face to the future become the ambassador of Christ we are meant to be.  And let justice ring throughout the land!

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

 

 

Bread – Ways

January 8, 2016


Psalm 1

“Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous, for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”  Ps. 1:5-6

Yogi Berra is famous for saying “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

There is great wisdom in this statement and a great lie as well.

The wisdom is that, when you come to a place of division of the road, when the road divides into two places, the worse thing in the world you can do is sit there.  For while you are sitting there, double-minded about which way to take, which direction to go, which path to follow, you are in fact following a path of nothing.  No progress, no achievement (no risk of loss either), no having to put up with change, no nothing.  When we use the term “couch potato,” we are not only referring to someone who fills their day with dribble from the television, but we are also talking about someone who is stuck at the fork, going neither to the left nor the right.  So, the wisdom of Yogi Berra is that, when we are at a point of decision, make a decision and stick with it.  Go!  Do!  Choose!

Now that is the wisdom.  The lie is that the world treats either choice, to the left or the right, as equally valid, as equally appropriate.  See, the world says that you may not know where each road leaves, so just pick one and you will find out.  And if it was the wrong road, you can always come back and start over, and if was the right road, then you win.  But you can never win if you stay stuck at the fork.  That is the wisdom of the world.  And it is a lie.

God in His Word today has made clear that there are in fact two ways, two roads, and that we are always at a fork in the road, choosing which way to go.  But one way is the way to death (the way of the wicked) and the other is the way of to life (the way of the righteous).  Knowing that and seeing that, why do we continuously pick the way of the wicked?

The answer to this question is locked up in verse 5, the first half of this quote.    “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.”  (emphasis added).  Verse 5 says that people who are “in the congregation of the righteous” and who sin will not stand in the judgment and Verse 6 says essentially that the righteous will not perish.  How can these be reconciled?

The difference is the difference between being “included” in the group of people who consider themselves to have a right relationship with God and being “counted” by God as righteous.  One is the way of man, where man reaches God through effort, which will always fail because every man (and woman) falls short of the glory of God and sins.  You and I both know that we are sinners, even though we may hold ourselves to be in group of righteous folk.  The other, being counted as righteous, is the way of God, the work of God, the power of God, and the grace and mercy of God.

The Bible has all kinds of ways of saying this, but isn’t it remarkable that locked in this first Psalm is not only the message of God’s revelation (His Law) of Himself on which we should meditate, but also the message of God’s grace and His salvation.

There are two ways and only two ways.  Being at the fork and being stuck there is the way of man and the world, where we are trapped in time between different philosophies and the demands of different people, including our family.  Being stuck at the fork is no different than taking the way of the wicked.  So the way of the wicked includes sitting at the fork.  But the way of the wicked also includes sinners in the congregation of the righteous.  If the way of the wicked includes people on that path, who are stuck at the fork, and who are sinners in the congregation of the righteous, then who is following the way of the righteous?  Who is saved?

The people who follow God.  Those people are not trapped between philosophies of life, because they know the law of the Life- and Law-Giver.  They do not follow the demands of different people because they follow the only Father, who does not change and is not double-minded.  Because they follow the right way, the way of the righteous, they bloom and perform good works, being like a “tree planted by streams of water that yield its fruit in season.”  Ps. 1:3

But to do that, we must be counted as righteous and there is only way to do that – through the narrow gate, down the narrow path, to rest in the arms of Jesus Christ, the only Righteous One.

There is only one way to get on the path of the way of the righteous, and that is to be carried by Jesus Christ.  As He bore the cross on His way to death and resurrection, so He bears us.  And it is the path of the righteous not because we are righteous, but because He is.

Revealed in Psalm 1 is Jesus Christ, because He is the way of the righteous.  Every other path is the way of wickedness, no matter how hard we try.

So we are at a fork in the road, what path do we take?  If we want to take the path of righteousness, we don’t.  Jesus does and we follow through the door God has opened for us onto the path which God lights up for us using the power which God gives us, all for His glory and His glory alone.

© 2016 GBF

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

 

 

 

 

Bread – Lament

July 7, 2015


Readings for Tuesday, July 7, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 15:24-35; Acts 9:32-43; Luke 23:56b-24:11; Psalms 5,6,10,11

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While there is celebration in the streets rejoicing over the triumph of man’s law over God’s, there is lament by many, including me, about how we as a society have come to reject God’s law as triumphant and substituted instead the sand of man’s whims and desires.

Our readings today speak powerfully to this.

From Psalm 11, “Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, ‘You will not call me to account?’” Ps. 11:13

When man rejects God and His Word, His standards for life, isn’t he like the wicked, believing that there will be no accounting for his sin?

Well, there is an accounting. In our reading today from 1 Samuel, Saul admits to Samuel that “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” 1 Sam. 15:24. In refusing to following thousands of years of history and the dictates of the Old and New Testaments, our United States Supreme Court feared the people more than God and obeyed the voice of the mob rather than the voice of God. So, Saul did what we have done, and this is what follows – Saul then says to Samuel, “’Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me…’ And Samuel said to Saul, ‘I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” 1 Sam. 15:25-26. Is this what will now happen to us in this country? There is a day of being called to account. Whether that day is today, as it was for Saul, is up to God and we certainly pray that He defers His judgment, but He knows what He will do.

So, returning to the Psalm, we read this lament – “if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? The Lord is in His holy temple…” Ps. 11:3-4

When the foundations are destroyed, what can we do indeed? The Psalmist answers this question by skipping the answer and going straight to the solution – God. Our answer to the question of what do we do when the foundations are destroyed is to remind ourselves that God reigns, not us.

And so what are the righteous to do in the evil day, in the day of destruction of foundation?

Our answer is found in our reading today from Luke – Jesus has been crucified. “The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how His body was laid….On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” Lk. 23:55-56 Jesus has been murdered and put in a borrowed tomb. His body has not been properly prepared with funeral spices, so there is action to be taken by the righteous. But wait! No action is taken because it is now the Sabbath and God has commanded His people to rest. Even though there is something to do, God’s people wait because it is God’s command to wait.

And while they wait in obedience to God’s Word and His commandments, God works. When the women returned, the stone had been rolled away because Jesus had been resurrected.

We can and should lament the situation in which we as people of faith find ourselves. But before we take matters into our own hands, we would do well to reflect on the Psalms, on Saul, and on the righteous women. God is in His Holy temple; God is in control. Yielding to passion rather than God’s law and His love results in bad things. Obedience to God’s will in our lives matters, because while we obey, God works His miracles.

The foundations crumble; what are we to do? God. Christ is crucified; what are we to do? God. We are appointed to a position of influence; what are we to do? God.

There is an eternal pattern here. So let’s follow it.

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© 2015 GBF

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