Bread – Bonds

January 13, 2016


Psalm 2

“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth set themselves … against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’”  Ps. 2:1-3

What “bonds” are they talking about?  Why do the rulers of the people, the ones who are ordained by God to execute justice and rule honestly in the land, want to throw off “their bonds” (the “their” referring to the Lord and His Anointed)?

There are four kinds of bonds which I think the writer has in mind.  The first are the bonds of rules and regulations (the Law).  As Jews in the Old Testament, they were bound to follow the Law and in fact invented broader, deeper, and more detailed laws than God dictated.

The second kind of bonds are the bonds of relationship.  We live in a covenant relationship with God, where He has shown love to us by His death on the cross and His payment of our debt of sin, and in turn we have promised obedience.  This obedience though is not to a set of rules and regulations, but a set of the requirements of love in a relationship – love of the Father, love of our neighbor, love for the lost.  When we get married we make a covenant with our spouse, and everyone who is married understands the bonds of relationship.

The third kind of bonds are the bonds of society, or the rules of civility, of tolerance, of kindness.  Sometimes these are rooted in the bonds of the law and sometimes in the bonds of relationship, but I think that society itself places its own bonds upon us.  These may show up in rules and regulations, but most often they show up in phrases like “out of date,” “out of touch,” “un-stylish,” etc.  These are the bonds created by society to make us look like we belong.

The fourth kind of bonds are the bonds of the past and the future.  We may feel like we are shackled by our past, but if one believes prophecy, then to a certain extent we are subject to the bonds of God’s plan for us and for the world.  We are bound to the end times, whether we witness them or not.

So when the rulers want to cast away “their bonds,” they are essentially saying to God, “I want to cast away Your Law, Your Relationship with me, Your relationship in the community of the saints, and Your Future.

When the rulers do that, it is so that they can run their own game.  When the rulers cast off the Law of God, what do they have left?  The tyranny of man, unmoored from standards, morality, truth, integrity, honor.

When the rulers cast off the Presence of God, the Relationship with God, what do they have left?  Hopelessness because death is the only end.  A hole in their heart originally filled by God.  Lovelessness, hatred, anger, bitterness, anxiety, loss, depression.

When the rulers cast off God’s community, what do they have left?  “Friends” borne of convenience, treachery, isolation, withdrawal, bitterness.  Lack of accountability for anything they do or say.

When the rulers cast off God’s future, what do they have left?  The future they create?  Barns filled with treasures stolen from others (or maybe earned, doesn’t matter), all of which is left behind at death.  No future.

What do you get when the rulers cast off ‘their bonds.”  The rise of man as boss, tyrant, murderer, and thief.  Unlovable and unloved.  Chaos.  Anarchy.  Death.  Destruction.  Disaster.

We as Americans have spent the last hundred years acting as the rulers who are busy “bursting their bonds.”  Has it bought us more freedom?  No.  Has it bought us more happiness?  No.  Has it brought us more riches of the eternal kind?  No.  Has it made us a more civil society?  No.  Has it made us love more?  No.  Has it helped our neighbor (if we even know who that is)?  No.

And God laughs and we suffer.  But there is a way to end the suffering.  There is a way to recovery.  Jesus says “Take My yoke (My bonds) upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke (My bonds) is (are) easy, and My burden (My bonds) is (are) light.”  Matt. 11:29-30

Embrace the bonds imposed by God and you will free and alive.  Burst the bonds of God and you will be both dead and miserable.   Our choice every day, and we will either suffer or rejoice in the consequences.

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

 

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Bread – Lord

June 5, 2015


Readings for Friday, June 5, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 26:1-11; 2 Cor. 8:16-24; Luke 18:9-14; Psalms 40, 51, 54

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Recently I have been confronted with taking the Bible translation (in my case today, the ESV), reading it in its plain meaning, adopting the meaning of the word used which I understand the meaning today to be in present English (or in my assumptions), thinking that I know what I am talking about, and then researching the word in its Greek or Hebrew form and realizing that I was losing much of the meaning because I thought I understood what the English word meant.

Something like that happened today in our reading from 2 Corinthians. In this reading, Paul writes “…for we aim for what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man” [ESV translation] and “…for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. “ [NASB translation].

Now, reading this, I was going to write on the fact that honorable behavior can be seen as such by both the Lord and by man and that when we behave in a way which is honorable to the Lord it is likely also to be considered honorable by man (remembering that just because behavior is considered honorable by man does not mean that it is appreciated or recognized by man; you can be honorable and still in jail because as a Christian you are adverse to the purveyors of lies).

So in preparation for that I started looking words up which were underlined in my study bible and which were in this phrase, and lo and behold I found out that the word translated “Lord” is not what I thought it was.

When I see the word “Lord,” I think of position and not character; I think of Lord as Jesus Christ and not standing for a particular aspect of Jesus’ character. And yet in the use of the underlying Greek word translated to “Lord,” there is an implicit recognition of a particular character which is good for us to remember in our walk with Christ.

See, the word translated “Lord” in our reading today is the Greek word “Kurlos” which means the “lord” wielding power and authority for good. The direct opposite in the Greek is “Despotēs” which means a lord [despot] wielding authority over slaves. The word used for “Lord” in today’s reading conveys so much about our relationship with Christ and who He is. We obey Him because we want to, not because we have to. We follow His path because we believe in His promise that it is the right path, not because we are whipped mercilessly if we disobey. When our Lord corrects us, it is for our good end; when the despot correct his slaves, it is for his good end. Our Lord gives His power to us for daily living; the despot takes power from us to use in his daily living. Our Lord gives us talents and tells us to work the fields because the harvest is ripe; the despot takes our talents and forces us to work the fields. In Christ and beneath Christ and through Christ, we are to live freely and with hope. Beneath a despot, we live as slaves with no hope. Beneath Christ as our Lord, as our “Kurlos,” we will live forever. Under the despot Satan, as our “Despotēs,” we will die.

All this from one word.

What treasures await us in God’s Word if we will but stop from time to time on a single word, in a single phrase, and ask ourselves simply “What does this really mean.”

What does the word “Lord” really mean?

To many, it would seem that bowing the knee to God in submission is a step toward slavery. Because Christ is “Kurlos,” it actually means a step toward goodness and freedom. Knowing that, why would anyone choose to be slave to the despot?

I think it is because the despot speaks to our mind, saying “Why subject yourself to the Lord who wields power for good when you are good yourself?”

But as Jesus reminds us in today’s reading, “No one is good except God alone.” Lk. 18:19

Now, just stop for a minute and marvel at the unity of God’s Word. In the translation, “good” is mentioned only In today’s reading from Luke, when Christ reminds us that only God is good. In the middle of literally nowhere in Corinthians, when Paul is talking about honesty with handling money, the translated word “Lord” really means a Lord who wields authority power for good. Only God is good. The Lord who wields power for good can do so because He is God. Christ is God.

And, now, based upon just a few minutes of investigation into God’s Word, I now see that, everywhere I see the word “Lord” in a translation, I need to think “Lord wielding power for good.”

Leaves you with a good feeling for this weekend, doesn’t it?

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Slavery

January 23, 2015


Readings for Friday, January 23, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 45:18-25; Eph. 6:1-9; Mark 4:35-41; Psalms 31,35

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Slavery is a difficult topic because of our history and yet we are confronted squarely with it in our reading today from Ephesians: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering services with a good will as to the Lord and not to man…Masters, do the same to them, …knowing that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with Him.” Eph. 6:5-9

For many years Christians used this language as some kind of approval of the slave-system, and yet it was Christians who broke the back of the slave-system ultimately. In fact, built into this quotation today are the seeds of the systems’ destruction – “Masters, do the same to them …” There is no partiality with the Lord; we all stand before Him, regardless of our birth or circumstances, steeped in sin, saved by the grace and power of God alone, inheritors of the kingdom, brothers and sisters in Christ. Be we king or pauper, rich or poor, master or slave, genius or dumb, athletic or a couch potato – we all stand together as equally sinful, equally saved, equally justified by Christ’s death, and equally judged.

So do we ignore this passage as dealing with something in the past, part of history but irrelevant today? The answer is “no,” not because of slavery today but because all of the Bible is God’s Word to us and all of it, whether we understand it or not, is useful to us for training, growth in the Lord, and rebuke.

But the fact is that there is slavery today. For the moment, set aside slavery with chains (although this still exists), because people tend to get stuck in that traditional description of slavery.

But let me ask you some questions. If you are in the work environment, needing to bring home a paycheck to feed your family, is not your boss the functional equivalent of a “master” and are you not the functional equivalent of a “slave?” We may soften the words with employer and employee, but when the boss tells you to do something on pain of losing your job, don’t you do it? Similarly, in the military, when your commander (master) orders you private (slave) to do something, is this not the functional equivalent of slavery, even though we may soften it with language like sergeant and private? When you are a college professor, with control over the grades of your students and their present and future success, are you not a “master” and the student a ‘slave?” We may soften the description by calling one a professor and the other a student, but there is a master-slave relationship no matter how we want to sugarcoat it.

So what are we to do when we are the slave in the circumstances? Scripture tells us. We are not to act in a way which pleases man, but in a way which pleases God. And what does He tell us but to obey your earthly masters. By obedience to Christ, we are not obedient to the world but to Him. He appoints authority over us and He will exercise His judgment over that authority He appoints. As slaves, we obey our boss, we obey our teachers, we obey ranking officers. Not because they tell us to and show us the whip, but because we are obedient to Christ – we are slaves to Christ, our true Master.

And what are we to do when we are the master in the circumstances? Scripture tells us. We are not to act in a way which pleases man, but in a way which pleases God. And what does He tell us but to but to obey our slaves (“Masters, do the same to them …”). If God gives us authority over others, we are to love those people, listen to them, watch over them, consider their wisdom, obey them, and if necessary die for them. A position of authority is not only a position of steward, but a position of shepherd (if that is a word).

How can the student obey the teacher and the teacher obey the student? Because, and only if, they both obey Christ. If they are both slaves to the true Master, Christ, then each of them to each other is both master and slave – bound in mutual love, respect, honor, and trust.

Does this sound like utopia? Yes. Can this be brought about by the act of man through self-regulation, improved thought, more education, or the right kind of government or proper rules and regulations? No.

But what is impossible with man is possible with God. As words from our reading in Isaiah remind us today, “I am the Lord, and there is no other …I declare what is right…there is no other god besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides Me.” Isa. 45:18-21

True equality does not come through man but through Christ.

Therefore, if you want to really throw off the shackles of slavery, bring everyone (including yourself) to Christ. Become a slave to Christ, the true Master, and you will be free, free indeed.

A strange concept, I know. How we be slave and free at the same time? Ah … the answer to that question is … who is your Master?

“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done. On earth, as it is in heaven.” Amen and Amen.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Slavery

June 30, 2014


Readings for Monday, June 30, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Num. 22:1-21; Rom. 6:12-23; Matt. 21:12-22; Psalm 106

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When we speak of slavery in our civic discourse, it is with negativity, because we have seen what man’s oppression of man through slavery does. In this context, slavery is involuntary servitude, where I am forced by another of greater power (police power, economic power, caste power, etc.) to serve them against my will.

But there is another form of slavery. This is slavery by choice, a place where I willingly subject myself to the objectives of another.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans in our readings today, he reminds us that we are always in some form of bondage, some form of slavery, to someone or something. If we crave alcohol, we are slaves to drink. If we need men’s approval for our self-esteem, we are slave to those people whose approval we desire. If we submit ourselves to pornography, we are slaves to the producers of filth.

Paul puts it this way: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions…Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness…But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom. 6:12,16-18, 22-23

In simple translation, we are slaves to something or someone. If we are slaves to the world, to sin, we will die. If we are slaves to God (evidenced by obedience to righteousness), we will live. In either event we are slaves; however, the outcome of our slavery is different depending upon who or what we yoke ourselves to.

In our modern culture of individualism, liberty, and free choice, the idea that we are slaves does not sit well. In fact, it is an obnoxious concept.

And yet, think about it. If the most important people in our lives are our family, we are slave to our family. If our boss is the most important person in the world to us because he or she holds our paycheck, we are slave to our boss or to the work or both. If we indulge our sexual passions or eat to an extreme, we are slaves to those desires. If we are an actor and receive our positive feedback from the crowds, we are slave to the crowds, forever doing what pleases them. If we believe in Allah, we are slave to him. If we believe in Christ, we are slave to Him.

Recognizing this, the question is never “will we be a slave?” but “who or what will we be a slave to?”

This is the decision put before us by Paul. Will you be a slave to sin or to God? Will you obey your passions or God’s commandments? Will you look to the mirror or to our significant others for approval, or will we seek approval from God?

Why does the question matter? Well, Paul summarizes the answer in the end of our reading from Romans today. Slavery to sin leads to death; slavery to Jesus Christ leads to life.

To whom or to what are you slave?

The answer matters.

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© 2014 GBF

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