Bread – Rulers

June 27, 2017


Psalm 72

Give the king Your justice, O God, and Your righteousness to the royal son!  … Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people…May he defend the cause of the poor of the people…May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass…In his day may the righteous flourish…” Ps. 72:1-7

We have all experienced the situation where we know we ought to pray for people in power, our President or, if another country, maybe our king, prime minister, or dictator, but for whatever reason we don’t want to.  Maybe we see him or her as evil.  Maybe we him or her as grossly incompetent.  Maybe we don’t agree with his or her politics.  But we are commanded in all circumstances to be subject to and pray for those in authority.  Rom. 13:1.   To accomplish this command and yet maintain our anger (upset) toward our particular ruler, I am reminded of that famous prayer by Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” when he prayed: “God bless and keep the Tsar far away from us.”

But if we are inclined to really follow the commandment that we honor our rulers and when we are missing words, Psalm 72 is a great prayer to read, because it exalts the ruler, the king.  “May [the king] be like rain that falls on the mown grass.”  What a wonderful image of the true blessings a great ruler can have upon his or her country or dominion, when he or she is subject to God.

But this gives rise to wonder, what ruler is David (or the Psalm-writer, if not him) talking about?

Like so much of Scripture, there is a sense of it being present (the local king at the time) and future (the future King).  Who is the future king?  I think that verses 17 through 19 say it by description: “May His Name endure forever, His fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in Him, and all nations call Him blessed!  Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.  Blessed be His glorious Name forever; may the whole earth be filled with His glory!  Amen and Amen!”

Who is this person?  King Jesus of course.  His is the Name which endures through eternity.  His people are blessed “in” Him.  And one day, one day, when He returns in glory to rule on earth in His millennial kingdom, “all nations” will bow before Him and “call Him blessed.”

When you read Psalm 72, you are asking the earthly king to “be like rain.”  Sometimes that happens, but the truth is that man is fallen, our earthly kings are fallen, and even with the best intentions (which rarely exist), our earthly kings fall short and their “rain” does not bless, but tortures.

There is only one King who does all the things which the Psalmist prays for.  There is only one King who “alone [by Himself, without the help of anyone else] does wondrous things.”

And that is King Jesus.

Come, worship and adore Him!

________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Awake

May 22, 2017


Psalm 66

Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of His name; give to Him glorious praise!  Say to God, ‘How awesome are Your deeds!’”  Ps. 66:1-3

This morning, when I got out of bed, I made coffee, got the newspaper, showered, shaved, and prepared for the day.  Very routine, almost tiring.  And probably something very similar to what you did this morning.

And then I sat down to write Bread and read Psalm 66, the first three verses of which are quoted above.

And the first thought I had after reading “Shout for joy to God…” was, “How would my day be different if I woke up shouting for joy to God?  Instead of the mundane and the routine, what if I woke up every day with praise on my lips for the new day ahead of me, reveling in the majesty of God’s creation?

I think that if I awoke with a “shout for joy” on my lips, I would have started the day truly awake.  I would have been awake to the possibilities.  I would have been awake to the miracles.  I would have been awake to the overflowing blessings of God in my life and through my family and friends.  I would be awake to the mighty roar of welcome which the Lord presents us every day in His sunrise.

What does it take to be truly awake in this life our ours?  I think it is all contained in our quote for the day.  If we shout for joy at the awesomeness of God’s deeds, we will be very, very awake.  The other people around us are likely to be awakened as well.

Satan would have us fall into the trap of daily grind, making the rounds of the daily newspaper, the daily coffee, the daily teeth brushing, and the daily dressing for work.  Satan would have us focus on our “to do list” and all the labors before us, grinding us into submission and joylessness.

God on the other hand would have us wake up to Him and His – His creation, His majesty, His glory, His hope, His blessings, and His creatures – me and you.

“Rise up like a lion in the service of the Lord!”  This should be our war cry every morning.  But to even make this, we need to be awake to the glory of God around us, in us, and through us.  If we wake up with a shout for joy, we can then follow with a shout for service.  If we wake up with a shout of truth, we can then follow with a shout of love.

“Wake up and hear the birds sing?”

No.  Wake up and know God.

________

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

 

 

 

Bread – King

August 1, 2016


Psalm 29

“Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.  Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” Ps. 29:1-2

What do we ascribe to the Lord God?  What features does He have, in our mind?  What is His character?  Who is God?

These are important questions and how we answer them will result in different present actions and endings.

Interestingly, the choices we make in what characteristics we attribute to God are ours to make.  God presents the evidence and we must, from that evidence, conclude.  Our view of the truth may be distorted by sin or made clear by God’s sovereign act of grace to enable us to see, but it is still our view.  We possess the view, we attribute the characteristics, and we must live for all eternity with the consequences of those choices.

One feature which we could ascribe to God is fancifulness.  In other words, God is what we make Him up to be.  If we want Him to be a clown, then He is a clown.  This is the view of many atheists, who acknowledge that there may be a God, but that He is a figment of our imaginations.  This conclusion from our ascriptions to God is logical from our beginning point, our ascriptions, but leads to death for all time and beyond time.

Another feature we could describe to God is remoteness.  God sits on His holy hill and looks down at us uninvolved in our daily lives; God exists but He is remote.  From this ascription of remoteness to the Lord, we would easily conclude that, although there is a God, He is irrelevant for daily living.  We may respect Him and even fear Him, but we cannot love Him because there is no relationship – no involvement, no relationship.  The persons who ascribe remoteness to God may have the label of one religion or another, but they do not walk in the power of the presence, because there is no presence.   They tip their hats toward God in acknowledgment of His existence, but proceed to live their lives as they see fit because God doesn’t care and isn’t involved anyway.

The characteristics we ascribe to God matter, which is why the Psalmist begins with instructions to the angels about the characteristics they, and we, should ascribe to God.  Ascribe to Him “glory and strength” and the “glory due His name.”

What does this mean?  There is nothing friendly about this, loving about it, all-knowing about it, all-involved about it, or ever-present about it.

The meaning is simple and the reason this must come first is clear.  The meaning of glory is weight, honor, esteem, majesty, abundance and wealth.  These are the attributes of a King, of a sovereign.  These are the attributes of the King of Kings.

Why must this come first?  Because, at the end of the day, we will progress nowhere in our worship, our hope, our growth in maturity, our wisdom, our perseverance, or our love without first recognizing that (a) there is a king and (b) we are not that person.  “I am not the king over my life” is perhaps the most important conclusion we can ever come to.  And it begins with an attribution to God that He is full of glory, as the King of the universe should be.  Once we recognize that He is glory, we then come to the conclusion of the quoted verses today – “Worship the Lord in the splendor of [His] holiness.”

Now these are instructions to angels, who always sit before God worshipping Him in His glory, honor, and holiness.  So why do they need the reminder?  I don’t know, but knowing that Lucifer was a fallen angel, it might have something to do with the same phenomena which happens to us when we look at ourselves in the mirror and say, “I am the master of my destiny.  Look at my things, look at my glory.”  As the angels reflect the glory of God they may begin to believe that they are the ones producing the glory, instead of just reflecting it, and in so doing forget that God is the sovereign one and they are not.

Our glory is not our own; our holiness is not ours.  Anything we have like that is because we reflect the Father’s glory and the Father’s holiness.

Why must we ascribe glory, honor, and power to God?  Because in doing so we take the first steps of acknowledging who the true King is, we grow in obedience and good works, and we can accept the gift of eternal life from Jesus Christ the Son.

But how can we do this?  Though it be impossible for man, nothing is impossible for God.  Therefore, we pray, “come Holy Spirit and empower us to see You as you are so that we too, with the angels, may worship You and You alone in the splendor of Your Holiness.”

_________

© 2016 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.

—————-

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

 

 

Bread – Intend

February 29, 2016


Psalm 9

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

I will recount all of Your wonderful deeds.

I will be glad and exult in You;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Peal

February 22, 2016


Psalm 8

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!”  Ps. 8:1

It is in verses like this where I see the value (to myself) of capitalizing all references to God.  By capitalizing “Your Name,” God is emphasized both at the beginning and at the end.  “Your Name,” God’s name, is not something to be trifled with, ignored, subordinated, brought to earth … but exalted, raised up, worshiped and adored!

The word “peal” struck me because we normally use it in the phrase “peal of thunder,” but this one sentence strikes me as a “peal of praise.”  It is a word typically used with the sound of bells and generally a loud ringing of bells.  So thunder is a loud noise, a peal.  So praise as expressed by David is a loud outcry, a loud worship, a loud statement of truth, a proclamation – it is a peal.

The dictionary actually says that the word “peal” means not only loud, but prolonged.  In other words, it lasts a long time.

And, indeed, the phrase “How majestic is Your Name in all the earth” does seem to prolong itself in our mind as we listen to it – it seems to bounce off the recesses of our soul and echo deep within.  It is not just a fleeting statement, but one which resonates over and over and over again as we say it, as we speak it, as we sing it, as we shout it, as we yell it.

What a great way to begin the week!  With a peal of praise from our mouths.  “O Lord, our Lord, You are majestic, holy, and Your train fills the temple!”

What vision do we have of “majesty.”  What visions do we apply the word “majestic” to?

When I think of “majestic,” I think of the mountains, reaching to the sky, standing in permanence, full of color and life, full of adventure and opportunity.  Others may think of the sea, its vastness and regularity, its depth and breadth, its power and, in the times of storms, its unruliness.  Others may think of the stars and planets of the universe, their number and distance and balance and seeming endlessness.

What a way to begin the week!  Offering a peal of praise to our Maker, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Restorer, our God.

A reminder of who He is, who we are, and whose we are.  One we sorely need every day.  One to set us in our proper place.  One to set our compass correctly.

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!”

Amen.

_________

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

 

 

Bread – Entry

February 3, 2016


Psalm 5

“O Lord, in the morning You hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for You and watch….

You destroy those who speak lies;…

But I, through the abundance of Your steadfast love, will enter Your house.”  Ps. 5:3,6-7

Built into these three lines is almost the entire Christian message.

How do we gain entry to the house of God?  To use less “religious” language, how do we get into heaven?

In the first line, we are speaking to God and preparing and making a sacrifice of our time, our attention, our worship, and ourselves to Him.

These are good works.  They are not directed outward toward other people nor inward to ourselves, but upward to God Himself.  Surely He must) be pleased with us, those who are religious and make proper sacrifices and follow the rules.  Surely when we do these good things, we will earn our entry into heaven?

And there are many in our Christian culture who believe just this.  One way this shows up is in the Sinner’s Prayer.   If I give God the proper recognition by acknowledging my fault and saying the words that I accept Him, then I get into the kingdom.  Another way this shows up is in Baptism.  If I go and get baptized, then I am doing a right sacrifice which will be pleasing to God, and through my good work in obeying Him, I will earn my way into the kingdom.  Another way this shows up is the avoidance of sin, at least mortal sin, and continually receiving the forgiveness of the Church, mediated by middlemen who understand the rituals and their significance and understand the rules and their proper application.  Now, in those communities, if I do good works through regular worship (at least on the designated days), paying the church 10%, taking communion, making confession, receiving forgiveness, kneeling, reading, writing, thinking, doing … then my good works will rise like a pleasant sacrifice, and God will let me into the kingdom.

That is the first line, and if we did not know that David’s motivation was one of obedience born of gratitude instead of obedience born of duty, we might think that he, too, believed that the only people who achieved entry to the throne room of God were good people, who did good works in keeping with the rules of the road.

But then we have to deal with the second verse, “You destroy those who speak lies.”  In one fell swoop we now have confronted our sin problem, even after we become Christians.  As I write this, how many lies have I spoken (or at least thought) today?  How many have you spoken today.  God’s wrath is visited upon those who tell lies (you may say that you are OK because you have only told one lie, not two lies, but then you would be guilty of your second lie).  Two lies and you are destroyed by God.  Why?  Because God abhors all sin, of every size and shape, make and model, from the least to the most (by our human rankings).  He abhors sin and He is a God of wrath!  He may also be a God of love (as our modern society would like to think of Him), but He is also a God of wrath (which is how He needs to be thought of by our modern society).  He destroys sinners … except those He doesn’t…and that leads us to the third verse today.

And that third verse is “But I, through the abundance of Your steadfast love, will enter Your house.”  Ps. 5:7

And there is a lot locked up in this sentence.  Let’s begin with the word “But.”  The longer way of saying it is “Even though I am a liar, thief, cheater, murderer, full of sin and worthy of Your wrath, Your destruction….”

Then there is the second word, “I.”  The “But” never applies to us as a group, it applies one on one, person by person…It applies to “I.”  Until it applies to “I,” it is only one of many thoughts, philosophies, ways of thinking, methods of analysis, etc.  Until it applies to “I,” it is not real to me.

Then there is the next phrase “through the abundance of Your steadfast love.”  Where is there any good works in that sentence?  What part do I play by God acting “through the abundance of [His] steadfast love?”

Then there is “steadfast love,” a love which does not come on strong and then dies, but a love which is there, for all time and in all places and in all circumstances.  Yes, God is a God of wrath who destroys those who sin … but …. He is also a God who so loved us that He sent His Son to die for our sins, to be the sacrifice we could not be, to be the completed work for our salvation.

And then there is this … “I … will enter Your house.”  By what merit do we enter His house?  None.  By what art?  None.  By what magic words?  None.  By what good works?  None.

We only gain entry to His house for all time “by the abundance of [His] steadfast love.”

How have you tried to gain entry into heaven?  Has it been though your efforts, your obedience to the rules, your good works, your morning sacrifice?  Or has it been through the merits, through the death and resurrection, of Jesus Christ?

David reminds us that it is not through his way that he has entry into God’s house, but through His way … the only way.

__________

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

 

Bread – Motions

February 9, 2015


Readings for Monday, February 9, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 58:1-12; Gal. 6:11-18; Mark 9:30-41; Psalms 77,79,80

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We have a saying, “He is going through the motions.” We know what that means. Who “he” is, he is merely following a pattern of life laid out for him; he is not trying, he is not committed to either the task or the end of the task. He is living life shallowly. He likes like he is doing right, but he is not doing right. His heart is not in what he is doing. He is acting to please whoever he feels like needs pleasing. The show is there, but none of the substance.

In our religious activities, there is much which passes for true commitment but which is only show. There are many religious motions we go through, but our heart is not in them. We make much of prayer but we do not pray. We make much of worship and attendance at worship but we do not worship. We make much of trust and faith, but we have little of either.

In today’s readings, we see a lot about going through the motions and discover that God is not impressed. For example, in Isaiah God addresses fasting. “Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure…Fasting like yours will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? … Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house…?” Isa. 58:3b-7 We can deny ourselves by going through the motions of not eating, hoarding our food until the fast is broken and we can feast. Or we can fast for real, giving away our food so that there is no feast of food, but poverty of food. In the first instance, we have set the conditions for poverty of the spirit because all we have done is delay gratification, not denied it. In the second, although there may be poverty of food there is richness of soul, because we have given away that which we have in reliance upon God’s replenishment. The motions look like the real thing but they are not the real thing. The real thing may not look like much but it has high payoffs.

Similarly, in Mark the disciples are going through the motions of being disciples but are not engaged in the reality of being disciples. The disciples are hanging out around Jesus but they are not engaged with Him. For example, Jesus tells them plainly that He will be killed and will rise again on the third day. However, Mark reports that the disciples “did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask Him.” If the disciples were engaged with Jesus and struggling against their own limits to be with Him, talk with Him, and love Him, they why did they not ask Him what He meant? They did plenty of other times. What about this mystery caused them to go through the motions of discipleship but not the reality? Maybe it was because of the topic – not kingship but death, not the presence of the kingdom but an end to a kingdom, not things that “tickled the ears” but things which were agonizing. We go through the motions when we are not interested in being engaged, either because we are afraid of the outcome or because we are bored or because we just don’t care. Perhaps all this talk about death and resurrection was just too boorish for the disciples, particularly as they selfishly discussed their places in the kingdom and jealously considered others who were preaching in Jesus’ name but who were not listed in their little band of brothers.

As we go through this week, we will have many opportunities to display our Christianity, either in our silent prayer or study, our participation in group discussion, or our opportunity to just talk about church. Perhaps we will even have the opportunity to go to church for some reason during the week. When we do these things, will we just be going through the motions or will we be engaged, enlivened and empowered by our walk with God.

Too often we are going through the motions. Why? To please ourselves? – we typically do not like exercise and we typically do not engage the spiritual disciplines of prayer, study, fasting, meditation, or worship with any particularly zeal. To please others? – do we really find it necessary to act “Christian” to please our friends or family, or do we just think we do? To please God? – God is not pleased with fake prayers, study, fasting, meditation, or worship.

So why go through the motions at all? One might be inclined to say at this point “we don’t” and then quit. However, there is an answer. As we go through the motions in prayer, if we are trying to reach out to God about ourselves, our world, our needs, our hopes, and each other, is the “motion” truly empty? As we take the time to go through a fast, even when we hoard our bread for ourselves, and we are doing the fast because God calls us to lay aside our wealth every so often to focus on Him, is the “motion” truly empty? As we attend church because we “ought to” and not because we “want to,” is the tiniest little piece of worship which ekes through our self-centeredness wasted?

God has redeemed us unto salvation by His sovereign grace? Do we really think He cannot redeem our motions toward Him, no matter how weak or self-centered? Is His hand so short that He cannot take the mustard seed of faith and turn it into a tree of blessing in time?

See, there is a reality to all this which transcends our human understanding. We never should just “go through the motions” but we should also never stop going through the motions.

Perhaps the difference between the two statements is the word “just.” If we are just going through the motions, we are not reaching out to God. But if we intend to reach out to God, then our feeble motions are an offering and a fragrant one at that.

So why are we going through the motions? To please others? To please ourselves? Or to please God? The motions look the same to the observer, but not to God.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Overextend

September 15, 2014


Readings for Monday, September 15, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Job 40:1-24; Acts 15:36-16:5; John 11:55-12:8; Psalms 56,57,58,64,65

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The word for today is “overextend,” meaning to go over reasonable limits.

When we overextend in our commitments, we have no time to rest and therefore go over the reasonable limits of activity. If we overextend our arms during exercise, we run the risk of torn muscles because we have gone over the reasonable limits of exercise or natural extension capacities of the arm. If we overextend in eating, we gain weight because we have gone over the reasonable limits of daily caloric intake.

It would appear from my examples that any overextension results in some kind of injury to ourselves.

Based upon our experiences, therefore, we create reasonable limits to our activities so that we can avoid the negative consequences of overextension. The problem, though, is setting the definition of what is “reasonable.” What is reasonable with one person may be unreasonable for the next (the exercise which results in more muscle in a person who has exercised may result in a trip to the hospital for someone who has not exercised in a long time). The question of overextension and reasonable limits, therefore, becomes a personal question – what is a reasonable limit for me?

But the problem with making it personal is that we may well err on either being too conservative or too liberal. For example, we need a fitness coach to argue us through our reasonable limit of exercise to set a new limit. If we set the limit for exercise, it would do us no good because it would be too conservative and we would never “stretch” the muscles.

Now the point of all this is to make a point – there are reasonable limits for our action set by man and there are reasonable limits for our actions set by God…and they are not the same.

One might say that the process of growing up in the faith is learning God’s reasonable limits for our lives and then living up to those limits without exceeding them.

In Scripture today, we have two examples of this. The first example is from Job. Now we know Job and all that has happened to him (the loss of position, power, wealth, health, and self-esteem). Job complains to God about his condition. Job has his reasonable limits on his complaining – he can complain to God about anything he wants to, all the time. He can even, according to his limits, complain to God about God Himself, about God’s creation, His unfaithfulness, anger, hatred, pettiness, etc. toward Job. We might well consider Job’s complaining to be justified in the circumstances, asking ourselves “How can a loving God do this?” From our perspective, nothing we say or do by way of critique of God is overextended; our reasonable limits of complaining have no bounds. Except for one thing … God Himself has set the reasonable limits of complaining, pointing out that it is not for man to judge God less man be God himself. We can complain all day long, but we cannot presume to judge God. That is the reasonable limit set by God and any complaining we do which challenges God’s sovereignty, His goodness, His justice, His love, or His power is an overextension which can hurt us.

So Job has overextended God’s limits on complaining (although not his own), and this is what God says to him: “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?…Will you [Job] even put Me in the wrong? Will you condemn Me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, …?” Job 40:2,8-9

When we do not accept God’s plan for ourselves, be it low or high, poor or rich, we overextend ourselves and, ultimately, hurt ourselves.

The second example is the reverse of Job. Why is it that so few people sing during church services, or if they do sing it is so low that you have to bend an ear toward them to hear them? Embarrassment? A desire not to stand out in the crowd, to blend in? A wish for an “orderly” service? The truth is that many Christians set their reasonable limits for worship, prayer, Bible study, and meditation very conservatively. And we dare not go beyond our own self-set limits. Why? Well we know that, if we overextend ourselves beyond our reasonable limits, we run the definite risk of being injured in our public reputation, the disdainful eyes of those who are important to us, the acknowledgement of our own weakness that we do not have a singing voice, the embarrassment of it all.

And yet, in these matters, where our relationship is between us and God, God’s reasonable limits of behavior are much more liberal, are much more extravagant.

In today’s lesson from John, we read about Jesus’ anointment by Mary, using a lot of expensive perfume. Mary pours out the perfume upon Jesus feet and His head without regard to how much she is using and without regard to cost, she bows over His feet like a servant would of her master, and she uses her hair to wipe His feet, demonstrating that in His presence she can show the most intimate devotion. Judas the apostle (and betrayer) complains about the extravagance; he would put a reasonable limit on worship which leaves something over for the poor (or himself). We don’t know about the other disciples, but we can probably assume that they were as shocked by this spectacle as was Judas, thinking that Mary’s act of worship was overextended well beyond reasonable limits.

But Jesus’ commends her, demonstrating a standard of worship and love of God which is over-the-top, extravagant, and ever offensive to “normal” sensibilities. Jesus’ reasonable limits of interaction with Him, the Father, and the Holy Spirit would almost be unbounded; there is no way that you can overextend your worship of God.

Built into these two lessons are three examples of where reasonable limits come from. The first is ourselves, the second is other people (society), and the third is God.

Are you overextended such that your life, your soul, your body, your relationships are injured, are hurting? If so, you might ask yourself who sets your reasonable limits – you, others, or God?

And if it you or others who are setting these limits, maybe it is time to recalibrate to God’s limits. And then live within them.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Lazy

February 26, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, February 26, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Prov. 6:1-19; 1 Jn. 5:1-12; John 11:45-54; Psalms 119:145-176,128,129,130

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Everyone has favorite verses from the Bible. One of mine is today’s reading from Proverbs:

“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, and little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” Prov. 6:6-11

To paraphrase, “Get up and get out of bed! Stop being lazy! Stop waiting on someone else to tell you what to do! Work! Or you will regret it.”

I have called this Bread “Lazy” because that is what a sluggard is. He or she sits around, contemplating their life, rather than getting up and living life. They let things happen to them rather than cause things to happen.

One would think that the world would encourage work and diligence, like the ant, but I actually think it rewards laziness.

Think about it, we have comfortable beds, fluffy pillows, warm blankets, and cuddly sheets, all to keep us in bed as long as possible. We have televisions to passively feed minds which are doing little except wondering where the chips are. We have elevators to carry us up against gravity with little effort except finding the right button to push. We have escalators which take us to stores where we can find a variety of gadgets designed to “simplify” our lives and make them easier. There is talk of going to a shorter workweek, and who would not want a weekly dose of three-day weekends? We now can be fulfilled on public welfare, food stamps, government telephones, and “free” healthcare to further enable our indulgent lives. And we have robots coming down the line and 3-D printers, which we will one day be able to command to fix us dinner or fix our broken toy. We already have cars which judge the distance between you and the next car and stop the car for you; soon we will have cars that drive themselves. These cars will likely even have automatic connect chargers in your garage so that you won’t have to get out of the car in bad weather to manhandle uncooperative gasoline pumps. Literally, we are driving ourselves toward a place and time where we will never have to “lift a finger.”

But is any of this healthy?

God says “No.” A little sleep, a little slumber, a folding of the hands, and poverty will overtake us.

I think there is a reason that God says “No” to laziness and, although it may be because we are instructed to be stewards of our gifts, I think it is something else. I think the reason that God says “No” is and it because we cannot worship Him lazily and we cannot love our neighbors lazily. Worship of God requires an active mind studying His Word, an active soul communicating with Him, and an active body on our knees, singing, speaking the truth in love, listening to Him, and taking His communion meal. Love of our neighbors means actually talking to our neighbors, listening to them, going out of our way to do things for them.

We must be active to obey the commands of Christ. Period.

Are you feeling lazy today? Are you being passive today? This is Satan urging you to sleep, to slumber, to folding of the hands, to passivity, to loss, to poverty.

God speaks to us to consider the ant. We should, but only after considering Him. Given what He has done for us on the cross, do we really want to respond to Him by being lazy?

I doubt it. So, go do something about it.

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© 2014 GBF

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