Bread – Words

February 13, 2017


Psalm 52

Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?  … Your tongue plots destruction… You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right.  You love words that devour, O deceitful tongue.”  Ps. 52:1-4

I have had the honor from time to time of offering an invocation at a “secular” event.  Every time, I pray that the language we use during the event is language which will build up and not tear down, which will clarify and not confuse, and which will be positive and not negative.  I also ask that the language we use bring glory to God.

Why do I do this?  It is to remind me, primarily, that what I say and how I say it, the words I use, have great impact to either good or evil.

We have been given a tongue to use to communicate and a comprehensible language to communicate in.  With that tongue, we can speak truth or lies, encouragement or discouragement, positive or negative, hope or despair, patience or anger, forward leaning or backward reaching, love or hatred.  We can pick whether we raise up the people we are speaking with or whether we put them down, all in the choice of words we use.

The simplest example of this is how I have heard described optimistic or pessimistic people.  I have heard that optimistic people will say that the glass of water is “half full” whereas pessimistic people will say that it is “half empty.”  Both statements are true.   The first is positive, the second is negative.

In making this statement, we act like somehow the words we us are not our choice, that somehow the words we use arise purely from our psychology, from how “we are made.”

When we say we cannot help what we say or how we say it because that is merely a reflection of who we are, we abandon hope.  This is simply because we are born in sin and, if we remain in sin and if we can only use the words which reflect who we are, then there is no hope for “good speech.”

But as Christians we know that we are no longer who we were before Christ.  In Christ, we are a new creation, with hope for eternity arising from our steadfast God.

Then why do Christians use such poor language?  Why are we so often in the business of putting people down rather than raising them up?  Why are we so often criticizing rather than edifying?  Why do we so readily speak lies to advance our position, when the truth might hurt, but in the end heals and restores?

As we begin this week, let’s start a new experiment where we formulate in our mind what we are going to say before we say it, then test that proposed language against God’s standard of love and hope, then reformulate our language appropriately before we say it?  And then let’s say it.

As Christians, our glass is not only just half full, it is full to the brim and running over in grace and blessings.

Let’s talk like it!

_________

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

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Bread – Meditation

January 25, 2017


Psalm 49

Hear this, all peoples!…My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.”  Ps. 49:1,3

In the introduction to Psalm 49, the herald calls out to the people and tells them that what is coming next out of his mouth is great wisdom.

What is interesting about this is the personal nature of the wisdom.  The wisdom is understanding, and that understanding comes from “meditation of my heart.”

Not the meditation of your heart or the meditation of his or her heart, but the meditation of “my” heart.

A common theme which runs through education is that we receive wisdom or understanding through external sources.  We receive them from books, from songs, from movies, and from the Internet.  When we need to understand something, most of us now reach for that great search engine in the sky, “Google™.”

We fail to separate information or data, which we do get from our surroundings, from wisdom or understanding, which is something which connects to us inside.  Of course, there are many “wisdoms” of the world which we can lock onto, but the wisdom of the Psalmist and the understanding of the Christian is the wisdom of God.

From whence do we get God’s wisdom?  Immediately Scripture comes to mind and some would say direct revelation, or God speaking to us directly.

I would suggest to you, however, that wisdom is not obtained that way.  Information about God (revelation of His character, His purposes, His glory and majesty) come from His Word and direct messages may help illuminate our next step in faith, but these are inputs.

What do we do with those inputs?  The Psalmist, in saying that understanding arises from the “meditation of my heart,” suggests that wisdom comes from thinking deeply about this information and appropriating it into our character (heart) and, therefore, behavior.

We cannot utter wisdom until we are wise; we cannot be wise without engaging in meditation of our hearts, and that is only effective when we are working with the raw material provided to us by God, seen through discerning eyes enabled by the Holy Spirit.

We must process our data to make sense of it, and we cannot guide others until we understand it.  That process does not take place in the head, but in the heart.  That process does not take place by merely thinking about it, but by deeply and carefully processing it.

Perhaps we are weak Christians because we fail to meditate in our hearts the things we have seen and heard, rather than just think in our heads about it.  For us as westerners, it is so easy to just take in the truth of Scripture and let it roll around in our head, analyzing it from every direction, putting it into our systems of thought so that we can intellectually comprehend it.  We call that wisdom and understanding, but it is not because the processing has taken place in the wrong location – it has taken place in the brain and not the heart.  Until we meditate in our hearts the truth we hear, we will not be transformed in our thinking and our acting.  Until we meditate in our hearts the truth that we hear, we will not have wisdom.

This process of meditation does not occur quickly because, being in the heart, it is driven by a different timetable and different processes.  Why pray?  In substantial part, the reason for prayer is to allow us to set time aside for the meditation of the heart, the opportunity for connecting at a base level, at the level of the soul, with our Creator and our Savior.  At that level, we may be unconscious (in our brain) of the changes which are occurring, but they are occurring for sure.

Why do our words have so little power?  Perhaps it is because they come from the knowledge of the brain instead of the meditation of the heart.  Perhaps because they arise from analysis and not wisdom.

Do you want the deeper wisdom this week from God?  Meditate on what God is saying.  Let Spirit (the Holy Spirit) speak to spirit (our spirit).  Let the Word of God dwell on our hearts, where it may penetrate deeply and empower mightily.

And then speak with wisdom into a world which desperately needs it.

_________

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

 

Bread – Speaker

October 5, 2016


Psalm 36

Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.”  Ps. 36:1

If we are listening in our minds, in our hearts, or in our souls (depending upon your philosophical bent), then who is speaking?  Who is the speaker who talks to us, guides us, and guards us?  Who do we listen to?

What led me to this question today is actually a translation issue with this verse.  In the ESV, which echoes the King James Version of the Bible, the speaker is “transgression.”  The wicked listen to their transgressions; sin speaks to them in ways that they want to hear and need to hear.

But there is a second translation of this verse.  It is contained in the New International Version translation and goes like this – “An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked; there is no fear of God before his eyes.” Here the speaker is an “oracle” which abides in the writer’s heart.  However, this itself is not complete, because the the Hebrew tie-in to “oracle” is “wickedness.” Instead of an oracle of God or an oracle of wisdom, here we have an oracle of wickedness.

Whereas “transgression,” representing an act of disobedience (blind or deliberate, doesn’t matter), relates to a “thing,” the word “oracle” most often relates to a person, an actual speaker for a deity.  People speak with the oracle to obtain wisdom from the deity behind the oracle, or to obtain favors from the deity, or to avoid trouble.   Therefore, the “oracle of wickedness” must relate to the fundamental source of disobedience, of transgression, the spiritual being behind the oracle.  In Christianity, this spiritual being is Satan.

So, is the speaker to the wicked the wicked’s sin (transgression) or is it Satan working through the transgression?

Because of the translation issue, it is possible to conclude that it is both.  However, I think that, to interpret the message properly, to hear the communication, one needs to know who and what the speaker is.  If the speaker sounds like he is speaking the truth but behind him or her is the Prince of Lies, then chances are the apparent truth is not the real truth, but a carefully orchestrated lie.

The second half of the verse though is where the rubber meets the road.  For the wicked, it is clear who the speaker is not – the speaker is not the Lord because “there is no fear of God before his eyes.”  How can one listen to a speaker whose very existence is denied?  It is not that God is not speaking; it is that the wicked is not listening.  The wicked is not listening because “there is no fear [recognition, apprehension, understanding] before his eyes.”

We can let books speak to us, movies speak to us, radio and television speak to us, our next door neighbor speak to us, our own life experiences speak to us.  Those are the apparent speakers, the ones directly in front of us.  Just like in this verse, the thing is before us (our transgression) and that thing speaks to us.  But who is the speaker behind the speaker?

Christianity has an answer to that question.  The speakers behind the speakers are either God or Satan.

When we are confused by the messages we are receiving, perhaps we should ask ourselves who the speaker of those messages is.  God’s speech leads to eternal life; Satan’s speech leads to eternal death.  God’s speech leads to victory in the worse circumstances; Satan’s speech leads to defeat in the best circumstances.

Who is the speaker you are listening to?

_________

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

 

 

Bread – Strife

August 19, 2016


Psalm 31

In the cover of Your presence You hide them from the plots of men; You store them in Your shelter from the strife of tongues.”  Ps. 31:20

I was planning to write on something else today, when the words “You store them in Your shelter from the strife of tongues” leaped out at me.

In this political season, I think we can safely say that we all suffer from the “strife of tongues.”  The idea of strife is that of bitter arguing or bitter fighting.  Strife arises from our desire to be in control, to be right, and to win.  And our vehicle for fighting bitterly in ancient and modern times both is with action (weapons) and speech (tongues).

It seems like all people everywhere suffer the “strife of tongues.”  We are condemned by the tongue, spoken rudely to by the tongue, criticized by the tongue, and contended with by the tongue.  If anyone is angry or upset with us, they let us know through the tongue.  If anyone disagrees with us, they let us know through the tongue.  Even the church fathers had problems with this – as James said, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire?  And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.  The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell…no human being can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”  Js. 3:5-8  I think you get the point.

So what do we do when we are confronted with someone else’s tongue?  We generally do one of two things; we either respond in kind or we retreat.  God says, through David, abide in Me and you will do neither – you will not respond in kind (but with kindness) and your will not retreat (stand firm in the evil day).  To neither respond in kind nor retreat is a supernatural thing – it is only through God’s power and His protection in our lives that we slough off the strife of the tongue.

But what about the “strife of the tongue” which we ourselves initiate.  We are condemning in our speech, violent in our speech, angry in our speech – what about the fires that we set with our own tongues?  How do we deal with that?  God says, through David, abide in Me and you will have no need to create strife, but can speak truth with love.  To not speak our mind in all things, but to speak God’s mind is a supernatural thing – it is only through God’s power and our sense of safety in His arms and under His wings that we slough off our need to defend ourselves in all things, and are therefore able to speak truth in love, avoiding the strife of the tongue.

There is much talk in today’s world about “coming together” and “speaking kindly” and all those other good things which we believe in Utopia will exist.  These things cannot exist because of the nature of man (and the nature of nature), unless and until we find shelter in the same place – in the arms of Jesus, of God.

In the meantime, as Christians, what are we to do with the “strife of the tongue.”  Well, first, because we are under the shelter of the Most High, we can be quiet when that will have a positive effect and we can speak truth in love when that is what is needed.  And second, we can stand.  When the storm of the strife of tongues encircles us, under the shelter of the Most High we stand in the center, in the eye of the hurricane.  From there we have peace.  From there we have options.  From there we can change the “strife of tongues” into the “peace of tongues.”

The opposite of strife is peace.  And peace does not begin with the tongue.  It begins where we have shelter.   If we want peace and seek the shelter the world provides, we will have no peace.  Peace is to be found in the shelter of God.

May you, today, find that shelter and that peace, and thereby be protected from the “strife of tongues.”

_________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Speech

April 13, 2016


Psalm 15

“O Lord, who shall sojourn in Your tent?…He who … speaks truth in his heart; and who does not slander with his tongue…” Ps. 15:1-3

I called this Bread “Speech” because the Psalm says “speak truth” and “no slander,” both of which are speech and both of which come from the tongue and the mouth.

However, the Psalm does not talk about the person who speaks truth to others through his mouth, but who speaks truth “in his heart.”  How do you speak truth “in” your heart?

Nowadays we tend to think of the center of man to be his mind.  The mind calculates, orders the tongue to speak, and the intended speech flows out.  The mind calculates, orders the limbs to move, and the intended movement occurs.

Because we exalt reason, we focus on the mind as what separates us from beasts and what enables us to be fully human.

But, historically and probably more accurately, the mind is not considered to be the center of a man, but the heart.    From the heart comes love over logic, emotion over rationality, integrity over decision, belief over analysis, courage over assessment, wellbeing over wealth.

When a man speaks truth “in his heart,” his character is formed around that characteristic.  While the mind may use truth as a weapon, the heart uses it as a standard.  While the mind adapts the truth to the circumstances, the heart where the truth “is in” adapts truth to nothing, because truth is not adaptable.  For the person who speaks truth “in” his heart, it is natural and probably even necessary that he speak truth from his mouth.  Because a man speaks truth “in his heart,” in his centermost being, in his core, we know him as reliable, as trustworthy, as a wise counselor, and as honest.  We trust those who speak the truth (even though we may not like them because we don’t like what they have to say or how they say it) and we distrust those who don’t (even though we may like them because they are telling us what we want to hear).

Once the truth is spoken “in his heart,” the man of God will not slander with his tongue.  Slander is a type of lie which has the added quality of being intended to hurt the object of the slander.    It is a lie designed to harm.  It does not reflect love of neighbor but hate of neighbor.

Somebody may now come forward and say, well, what about so-called “white lies,” the little lies we all tell when it is socially advantageous to do so.    We all know them and we all do them.  For example, for men, when a woman asks you whether she looks good in the dress she loves and she doesn’t look so good in it, what do you say?  For women, when a man asks you on a date who you do not want to go out with, how many times do you have a non-existent appointment which interferes with the proposed date?

What I think is interesting about this Psalm is that it speaks to truth as character, of being trustworthy, but does not say that that truth has to come out of your mouth every time.  It only says that we should not use our tongue to harm, to slander.  Perhaps the difference between someone who speaks truth “in” his heart and someone who doesn’t is this – the trustworthy man knows when he has said a little lie and has deliberately done so in order to avoid hurting someone’s feelings; the untrustworthy man does not care whether he utters a lie or not as long as the objective is achieved.  The trustworthy man knows when he has told a white lie and wonders whether it was the right thing to do; the untrustworthy man never does that.  For a trustworthy man to speak a small lie, it hurts; an untrustworthy man doesn’t feel a thing.

We tend to think of all speech as external, but as this Psalm shows, it is not.  The man who can walk with God is the man who speaks God in his heart; the man who can obey God is the man who speaks obedience to God in his heart; the man who can speak truth in all circumstances where it needs to be spoken must first of all have spoken that truth in his heart.

What language do you speak to and in your heart?  Is it the language of fear and defeat, or the language of life?  Is it the language of truth or the language of lies?  Is it the language of Satan or the language of God?  Is it the language of the heavens or the language of the world?

Jesus said “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”  Matt. 12:34b-35

What treasure is deposited in your heart?

Don’t like the answer?  Then start speaking truth in your heart … the truth of Jesus Christ, the truth of the gospel, the truth of Scripture, the truth of God … and see what happens.

_________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Speechmaking

July 22, 2013


Readings for Monday, July 22, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 24:1-22; Acts 13:44-52; Mark 4:1-20; Psalms 41,44,52

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For many people, the thought of getting up among a group of people, whether large or small, to make a speech is a fearful thing. We get butterflies in our stomach, a headache, ours brains are filled with cotton, and our mouths with stones. We stumble and mumble and make little sense and then sit down with great embarrassment, knowing that whatever important we had to say was lost in our inability to deliver the goods. There are in fact organizations built up around giving speeches, training us to be more outgoing, more organized, more pointed, and more self-confident. The Toastmasters come to mind, but I am sure there are other groups as well. Speechmaking is a an act best left to others with more talent, right?

Wrong. The truth is that we make speeches all day long. We argue our points, explain our positions, explain the good, deconstruct the bad, and generally talk to people, recommending movies, recipes, cars, good jobs, television programs, stocks, golf clubs, shoes, dresses, etc. The audience may not be large, but there is an audience. There are the people who are listening, of course, but there are the people those people will talk to, there is ourselves (any speech given to others is also given to ourselves), and there is God. So, right there, even if you are just speechmaking to one person, you are talking to at least an audience of three.

In our readings today, we are introduced to at least three different kinds of speeches. The first is by David, when he steps out from the safety of the cave to stand in front of Saul, who wants to kills him, to simply speak the truth, that Saul has nothing to fear from David. The second is by Paul and Barnabas, who proclaimed God’s Word in Antioch, a place which was both receptive and rejecting. The third is by Christ Himself, who spoke a parable about sowing seed and its reception by various kinds of ground.

Whether we call these speeches confessions, proclamations, or parables, they all have the same elements. First, God’s man is the speaker. Second, the truth is told. Third, the audience has the potential, always sitting on a knife’s edge, to either be welcoming or hostile to the truth. Fourth, the speaker does not know how the audience will react. Fifth, one possible reaction of the audience results the speaker’s death, imprisonment, loss, damage, rejection, etc. Sixth, what is not affected by the audience, no matter how welcoming or rejecting, is the speaker’s joy. [see “The Jews … stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district…And the disciples were filled with joy…” Acts 13:50-52]

Whether or not you want to give speeches or think you can give speeches, God sends us out into the world every day as His ambassadors to give speeches about Him, His kingdom come in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and His kingdom to come in Christ’s return.

So, knowing that we are going to give speeches whether we want to or not, I would think that we would want to give good speeches. This requires us to be a man or woman of God, clothed in Christ’s righteousness and not our own. It requires us speak the truth as given to us by God in His Word and by our actual circumstances (see David in our reading today from 1 Samuel). It requires us to speak to the audience that is before us, but not particularly care about the quality of the reaction we get. It requires us to not really care about the reaction we get, as long as the truth be told.

How then can we be good speechmakers? In our own power, we can’t. We can’t because we cannot be God’s man or woman in our own power (salvation is of the Lord), because we cannot deliver the truth without knowing the truth and without our wills being steeled by our knowledge of our place in eternity, and because we, as people, care about being liked by our audiences and do not take rejection well. In our own power, if we are rejected by our audience, we will not leave the place with joy in our heart.

How then can we be good speechmakers? When we are saved by God, disciplined by God, instructed in God’s Word, look to God for approval and not man, know that our safety is in God’s hands, and know our place in eternity. When we are infused and empowered by the Holy Spirit. When we are clothed by Christ, with Christ, and in Christ. When our armor is not of our fashioning or invention but is of God’s manufacture. When we come to truly understand that although the speech is ours to give, the result in the audience is God’s to deliver.

Wow, it sounds like I have just described Superman. Maybe I have, but I think it is more likely that I have just described a Christian. Have I described you?

______________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Silence

October 24, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, October 24, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Rev. 8:1-13; Luke 10:17-24; Psalms 38,119:25-48

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In Revelation today, the following is reported: “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour….” Rev. 8:1

There are really only two times when we stand silent. The first is when we are overwhelmed with awe at what just happened, and we are silent. In such circumstances, we say that we are speechless or dumbfounded. The second time we stand silent is when we choose to shut our mouths, when we choose to live with our own thoughts and to listen. This second time is almost so rare that we don’t even have a name for it. We can’t say that we are speechless, because we have our speech, we just choose not to use it. Perhaps if we are in school, church, or someplace where we are “supposed” to be quiet, we might call that “enforced silence,” but otherwise when we just choose to be silent, we don’t have a good name for that. Well, I am going to coin the phrase “expectation silence” because, often, we choose to be silent when we are expecting something to happen, to hear words of wisdom, to encounter God in prayer, to hear the deer approach in the forest, that kind of thing.

In our reading, what kind of silence is happening in heaven? Is it the speechless, awe-filled kind? Or the enforced silence type? Or is it the expectation silence? Maybe in these circumstances it is all three. The angels and saints are speechless because of the majesty they are witnessing. The angels and saints are staying silent out of respect for the holiness of God. The angels and saints are expecting to hear something wonderful, and they are silent. Any and all of these explanations work, I think.

They were silent for thirty minutes. Have you ever tried not to say anything for thirty minutes? It is almost impossible, because we love to hear ourselves talk, even if it is only to ourselves.

What if we were silent before God today for just thirty minutes? What kind of wonders would we see for the first time? What kind of truth would we hear from Him or even from those He has placed among us to love and to hear from?

If we don’t shut up, we may never hear that quiet voice, that still voice, that wind of the Holy Spirit which blows around and through us. If we don’t shut up, we may never see the miracle which is happening before our eyes.

See, what happens when we are silent is that our mind begins to become uncluttered from our own agenda and our own reasoning, and begins to seek input through the eyes and the ears. And what do the eyes see and the ears hear – God, God’s presence through nature, and other people.

See, what happens when we are silent is that we are really setting aside our importance, our thoughts, our agendas, our focus on ourselves, and turning that focus upon our world, our God, and our neighbors.

And when we are quiet, we can really listen, maybe for the first time. We can listen to Scripture, we can listen to the Holy Spirit, we can listen to our spouse and our children, we can listen to the sounds of the world, and we can listen to ourselves, our heart, our aches, our needs, our anger, our sins, our joys, our sufferings.

It is the last point, that of shutting up so we can listen to ourselves, which drives many people to hate silence. But think of this, in our silence, as each concern, loss, sin, and negative thought arises, we can grab it and hand it over to Jesus. We can confess in the silence, because we can see and hear clearly what we need to confess. But there is more. In the silence we can also hear our joys, our happiness, our loves, our Savior who lives in us and us in Him. And while are in silence, listening to ourselves and these wonderful gifts we have been given, we can give thanks to the same Jesus who has taken our burdens.

This is the middle of the week and will be filled with busyness, talk and bustle. Take a moment, take thirty minutes. Don’t say anything during this period. Just listen, and as the things which need confession bubble to surface, let them go, release them to the One who says that He will carry your burdens; and as the things which need celebration also bubble to the surface, give thanks (silently) to the One who has given them to you. And in so doing, with all the angels and saints, stand in the presence of God – in silence, in expectation silence. And see what happens.

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*Today’s readings designate Ecclesiasticus, sometimes called the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach. This is not a book contained In the canonical Old Testament, but instead belongs to that body of work called the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical Books. These books are accepted by some Christian denominations as useful, but are rejected by other denominations. I have not included this reading today because of these controversies. However, if you want to read it, the reference for today is Ecclus. 7:4-14.

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© 2012 GBF


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bread – Cursing

August 10, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, August 10, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 14:21-33; Acts 21:15-26; Mark 10:17-31; Psalms 101, 109, 119:121-144

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We are surrounded by them all day long – curses. In fact, we probably contribute daily to the cacophony of curses. We stub our toe and what comes out of our mouth? We get hurt by someone we trusted and what comes out of our mouth? We are late to an important meeting and what comes out of our mouth? And the ultimate opportunity for curses – we get behind someone doing 40 miles an hour in the high speed lane (with a 70 mph speed limit), and then they slow down, and what comes out of our mouth?

The specification in the Book of Common Prayer for today’s readings omits verses 5 to 19 in Psalm 109. I love it when the authors do that – because in my contrary spirit that is exactly then what I will read. And in today’s “excluded” reading, what is David doing – cursing!

And he is very good at it. Let’s see how many of these we can associate with having done ourselves:

Ps. 109:6 – “[to God] Appoint an evil man to destroy him.” (“I hope he gets a boss as bad as he is”)

Ps. 109:7a – “When he is tried, let him be found guilty.” (“I hope he gets what he deserves and goes to jail, the ____”)

Ps. 109:7b – “May his prayers condemn him.” (“If he dares talk to you God, then zap him good!”)

Ps. 109:8a – “May his days be few.” (“Why don’t you just die!”)

Ps. 109:8b – “May another take his place of leadership.” (“I hope he is fired!”)

Ps. 109:9 – “May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.” (“I hope somebody kills him!”)

Ps. 109:10 – “May his children be wandering beggars…” (“I hope he loses his job, he doesn’t deserve it anyway!”)

Ps. 109:11 – “May a creditor seize all he has…” (“Someone needs to send him to the poor house!”)

Ps. 109:12 – “May no one extend kindness to him …” (“He needs to be treated the same way he treats me!”)

Ps. 109:13 – “May his descendants be cut off…” (“He and his whole family can go to ______!”)

Ps. 109:17 – “He loved to pronounce a curse – may it come on him” (“Let him get what he deserves!”)

What is included in the assigned reading are verses 1-4 and then 21 through the end. Verse 4 ends “…but I am a man of prayer,” and Verse 21 starts “But you, O Sovereign Lord, deal well with me for Your name’s sake; out of the goodness of Your love, deliver me.”

Isn’t this so much like we live our lives? On Sunday we say to God, “Hey, I’m here – I’m a man of worship and prayer – now deal well with me so You look good, love me like You should, and deliver me.” The rest of the time, in that space between “I am a man of prayer” and “please deliver me because You love me,” we fill with curses toward our brothers and sisters, toward our life, and toward God.

“O, I have a right to be mad against so-and-so because they …..” you say. And indeed, for their offense against you, you probably do have that right.

And because we disobey God and are born into sin, into the nature of disobedience, God has the same right. But for His children, for us, He declines to exercise it and instead extends the gift of grace, the gift of mercy, the gift of salvation, the gift of everlasting life. Out of the goodness of His love, He delivers.

The person who wrote this Psalm, David, was obviously having a bad hair day. He was mad at some people and it showed up in his prayer to God – “God, curse these bad, bad, bad, bad people – please.” God did not blow David up for having these thoughts, but one wonders if He laughed a little.

Psalm 109 ends with two statements.

In the first ending statement, David said “With my mouth I will greatly extol the Lord; in the great throng I will praise Him.” Ps. 109:30. Really. And how does David’s curses fit into his witness? Do you think that curses either extol the Lord or praise Him? How do your curses fit into your witness?

In the second ending statement, David said “For He stands at the right hand of the needy one, to save his life from those who condemn him.” Ps. 109:31. And who does David have reference to? The people David is condemning – and the person, David, they are condemning. Both needy.

Today, when we are ready to curse at the greatest or least slight, it may pay to remember two things. When we say that we are people of prayer and that we extol the Lord but we curse others, is there something out of sync. When we curse others, how do we know that God is not standing by them, the needy, too?

Perhaps if we thought first about who we are as God’s earthly ambassadors and second about the objects of our wrath, people no different from ourselves, our cursing would fade away into distant memory. And there would be no need to cut it out of our Psalm, because it would not be there in the first place.

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