Bread – Conflicts

November 30, 2016


Psalm 43

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause …For You are the God in whom I take refuge; why have You rejected me?”  Ps. 43:1-2

We hate conflict and most of us avoid it whenever possible.  In just these two short versus, the Psalmist discloses that he is suffering through three conflicts at the same time.

The first conflict is with other persons.  The Psalmist is asking God to defend his cause.  Elsewhere in the same verse, the Psalmist describe this type of opponent who creates conflict as “the deceitful and unjust man.”  These types of people create nothing but conflict because instead of loving someone and doing their best for them, they use that someone and do their worse for them.  But one thing the Psalmist forgets to ask is whether he himself is one of those “deceitful and unjust” men.  The character he throws on his enemy may well apply to himself.  But, in any event, he is involved in an outward struggle with people who he considers to be bad, and he is asking God to go show them who’s boss.

The second conflict is internal and is self to self.  This is a little subtle, but I see it in the Psalmist’s reference to “For You are the God …”  In the times of the Psalmist, as today, there are many philosophies, people, religions, and contenders for “God.”  So, here, the Psalmist is a little irritated and maybe in conflict with his choice.  After all, he (the Psalmist) picked God out of the lineup to be his (the Psalmist’s) choice, and now he is saying to God … I picked You – now, where are you?  You should be more grateful that I picked you, God!  This internal conflict will always come to pass if we have picked God as “the God” out of many for reasons known to us.  Perhaps we claim to have picked God because He is generous to us, or because we want eternal life, or because we are medically sick and want to become well, or because our best friend did and we want to please our friend.  Perhaps we picked God because we just wanted to get the preacher-man off our back.  We are bound to have a conflict over this sooner or later because we will be sitting in a corner one day and the God whom we picked just won’t “bother” to show up.  And we will begin to doubt our choice – perhaps God is ineffective or perhaps He doesn’t care or perhaps He just wound up the world and is letting us go like wound-up dolls or perhaps He doesn’t know what to do or perhaps He is busy.  This subtle but real conflict arises because, by asserting that we have chosen God (for our respective reasons), we have set ourselves either over God (we will tell Him what He should do because He should be grateful we picked Him) or at least beside Him as His best buddy.

The third conflict is directly with God Himself.  I (the Psalmist) called and You (God) did not answer.  I prayed and nothing happened (that I could see or appreciate).  I asked you to go strike dead my enemy and he seems to be doing quite fine, thank you very much.

The first kind of conflict is terrible because it only exists when the self (you, me) cares about winning according to the rules of the world.  That kind of conflict will never end until the rules of the Kingdom of God are the ones being followed and not the rules of the world.

The second kind of conflict is terrible because our doubts about what to do and how to act will freeze us into inaction.

The third kind of conflict can be good because it shows that we have a real relationship with our Father.  After all, what child when he does not get what he wants from his earthly father will not first ask again, then ask his mother, then whine and pout, then stomp off in a fit, and then wander off, think about it, and either accept it or come back for rounds two, three, etc.  As long as they are talking, even if in conflict, good things ultimately happen.

The conflict with others is unnecessary, the conflict within ourselves is debilitating, the conflict with God ultimately strengthens our obedience, our wisdom, our perseverance, and our love for Him.

I can almost guarantee that you have had your conflicts with others and with yourself today already.

But have you had your conflict with God?  Isn’t it time?

_________

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

 

 

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Bread – Beginnings

November 28, 2016


Psalm 43

Send out Your light and Your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling!”  Ps. 43:3

Yesterday, Sunday, began the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the church calendar according to many denominations, the four Sundays aiming for Christmas.  It is a time of anticipation as well as self-examination, a so-called “penitential season” which precedes the “joyful” season of Christmas.  Of course, we should be both penitent and joyful all the time as Christians, but it is helpful to emphasize some emotional states over others at different times.

It is also useful to remind ourselves that now is a time of preparation, not by racing to the stores to get the best bargains so we can give the biggest gifts, but to prepare ourselves to receive the biggest gift ever given – the Lord Jesus Himself.

Sometimes in the simplest of words there is the most profound meaning.  “Send out Your light and Your truth…”  These are some words from today’s Psalm, but they are profound.

Why?

Well, first it is God who does the sending.  The request (prayer) from the sons of Korah (presumably, since this Psalm ties to Psalm 42) is that “[God] send…”  It is by the sovereign act of God that His light enters the world; it is by the sovereign act of God that we see the light and follow it to God’s dwelling, into His presence.  No one else is available to do the sending of light.  We can by a laser send a point light to a location, and by the illumination of an electric bulb can fill a room with light.  But we did not place the sun in orbit to give the world earthly light; and we did not place Jesus Christ on earth to the be the spiritual light of the world.  God did it.

Second, the light is sent “out.”  If we were writing this, we might rephrase this to say that God sends the light “to.”  To His people, to me, to my fellow Christians, to the world. But since God is Himself the source of light, the light is sent out from Him and it hits all, but is only recognized by those whom God has enabled to behold it.

Third, the light is His – “Your light.”  It is not our light which is refocused or enhanced by some kind of God-prism or God-reflector.  It is His light.  He is the source; He is the generator; He is His light.

Fourth, light and truth go hand in hand.  “Send out Your light and Your truth…”  Not first one and then the other.  Not truth first and then light to illuminate it.  Not light first and then truth to focus it.  But both together, at the same time.  They do go together.  To those who say they have no truth or truth is relative to what they think (if they think it is truth, then it is), I would ask whether they have light.  They may say that they are enlightened, but if there is a light which they follow it is a false light, a half-light, a man-made light with a beginning and an end, which will fade into oblivion when the batteries run out.  God’s truth accompanies God’s light, and God’s light accompanies God’s truth.

We are beginning the race downhill toward Christmas, toward celebration of the moment when God indeed sent out His light and His truth in the substance of God the Son.

Let us prepare to behold the light and the truth as we again visit that manger scene and marvel about how God began his rescue operation for us.  In light.  And in truth.

_________

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

 

Bread – When

November 23, 2016


Psalm 42

My soul thirsts for You, O God, for the living God.  When shall I come and appear before God?”  Ps. 42:2

Another reading of this question is “When shall I come and see the face of God?”

In both versions of the question, the operative word is “when?”

When shall I satisfy my thirst, the hole which is in my heart which can only be filled by God?  When shall I give up my foolish ways and follow the ways of God?  When shall I say “no” to Satan and the world and say “yes” to Christ and life.  When shall I turn from my sinful ways and turn toward God?  When shall I die?  When shall I meet God face to face and be asked that terrible (or wonderful) question, “What do you have to say for yourself?  What do you have to say for your life?”  When shall I be judged?  When shall I belong?  When shall I be safe forever?

When shall I abandon the straightjacket of man’s reason and embrace the wonder of faith in God’s wisdom?

When indeed?

If you have not already had your “when” moment, when you fell before God and received His gift of grace, when you believed in Jesus Christ and turned from sin toward God, then there are only three choices which man will claim – I will do it now, tomorrow, or never.

These man-made when’s (today, tomorrow or never) have a nice ring to them, because they tickle our self-bone and exalt us over everything.  There is a problem, though, because the real answer to the question “When shall I come and appear before God?” is either today or tomorrow.  It is never “never.”

One of Satan’s greatest tricks, I think, is to make us believe that decisions and consequences can sometimes be put off forever.  But God says that there is a time coming when all of us will meet Him face to face, and at that time we will either be judged by Him to eternal judgment or be found guilty but forgiven, covered by Jesus’ sacrifice.

We are entering into the seasons of distractions, when the world clamors for attention.  But attend to this, please …. When will you come and appear before God?

It may be sooner than you think.  In fact, it may be today.

_________

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

 

Bread – Poem

November 21, 2016


Psalm 42

“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for You, O God.” Ps. 42:1

Wonderful saying.  Somewhat stilted, but wonderful nonetheless.

How much better this one: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, O God.”  Ps. 42:1 (1984 NIV)

Just a slight change of pronouns and a reversal of the verb-noun order, and what then comes across as stilted now sounds poetic.

The first is likely a better translation of the original Hebrew; the second actually raises up my soul and makes me wonder what it is to pant for streams of living water, for God.

I just got back from hunting this weekend, where I saw two female deer (does) which were just grazing away to their hearts’ content directly underneath the deer stand where I was hiding.  It would not have taken much for me to disturb this idyllic scene.  A cough would have done it.  A whiff of aftershave would have done it.  And best (or worst) of all, a rifle shot would have done it.

Why would a deer pant for running water?  Because it was running away from danger, from fright, from fearsome things – noises, sounds, smells, the unknown, injury and death.

A deer pants after running.  So do we.

A deer knows it needs streams of water to survive and runs to it for nourishment, for strength, and for safety.  Where do we run to in the same circumstances?

It is in poetry, in the deft turn of the phrase in a mnemonic way, that we are taught, that we are encouraged, and that we take flight with our imaginations into a better place.

This Psalm is entitled “Why are you cast down, o my soul?” and it begins with poetic language that brings us from panting to the place of refreshment, rest, and restoration.

Perhaps in the deepest time of need, in the race run ragged where we are panting and striving toward streams of water, we need to remember this poetic language and let our soul pant for God.

Built into this poetic language is an image of a flowing stream.  This is an important image because flowing water is living water, which carries health and life, as opposed to stagnant waters which can hold poisons and death.

But also built into this simple poetic phrase is an image of Christ.  For Jesus says to us “If you knew the gift of God, and Who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have giving you living water.”  Jn. 4:10.

In the presence of the source of living water, as we pant for God, why is our soul cast down?  Why indeed?

_________

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

 

 

Bread – Responsibility

November 16, 2016


Psalm 41

“Blessed is the one who considers the poor!”  Ps. 41:1

In my political circles, liberty is quite often spoken about, as well as individual responsibility.  And, yet, how many of us who claim to be Christian actually considers the poor?

What I mean by this is not promotion of social programs which create so-called “safety nets” or which provide “sustenance” living to the poor, whether that living be by way of food, transportation, shelter, or cell phones.  It is very easy to be righteous with someone else’s money.  I can be gracious and spend tons of money through hundreds of “programs” designed to “take care of” the poor, if it is your money I am spending.  The fact is, our “Christian” endeavors often find their way to influencing our government to do for others (and therefore for us) what we should be doing ourselves.

When I vote for a government program to feed the poor, I can say with a straight face (at least to myself and others, but probably not to God) that I “considered the poor,” while not having spent either time or treasure in doing so.

What is the chicken and what is the egg?  Do we have government programs because Christians have not exercised their responsibility to consider the poor, even within their own congregations?  Or have Christians become weak in their consideration of the poor because it is so easy to say, “Oh, they’ll handle it,” or “Oh, we have a government program for that.”

Perhaps worse, I have focused this discussion so far on things, on money and financial support.  But what about love, the kind of love which causes us to depart from our agenda and listen to someone else?  What do we do to put ourselves in the place of the poor where we can engage them as brothers and sisters, either in Christ or needing Christ?

Well, we all sin and fall short and I definitely come within the category of “all” on this one.  If you do a self-assessment, you probably do too.

Why are those who consider the poor blessed?  Is it because they have obeyed and are therefore rewarded?  I think not.  I think it has more to do with baskets.  If I take what is in my basket and give it to someone else, I now have an empty basket for the Lord to fill – and we call that filling a blessing.  If my basket is already full with stuff which I claim is mine, then where is the room for the blessing?

We are coming upon times of the year when we are acutely aware of our blessings.  Let’s give them away to someone else so that we will become even more acutely aware of how truly dependent we are upon Him Who creates, Who reigns, Who saves, and Who supplies our every need.  Let us make room to receive our blessing by being a blessing to others who need it more.

Let us consider the poor.

_________

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

 

Bread – Patient

November 7, 2016


Psalm 40

“I waited patiently for the Lord;…He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog,…”  Ps. 40:1-2

I love words that sound like they mean.  Somehow the phrase “miry bog” conveys just the sense of being stuck in a lonely place.  More than stuck, however, it conveys being mired down in thick, gooey, mud.  The kind of thick gooey mud that you sink a foot into and then, when you try to lift your leg up, it sucks off your shoe.  My idea of bog is a mist-covered barren place, with a few sticks which try to simulate bushes sticking out of the ground, and bigger sticks barely observable in the gloom, which might be trees.

In other words, stuck knee deep in a place which will not let you go, which wears you out totally as you try to make progress, all surrounded by … nothing.

This is a dreadful place and a place where many of us find ourselves on a regular basis.  Perhaps out miry bog is our work, perhaps it is our relationships, perhaps our family, perhaps just even ourselves.

Now, here we are, no rescue in sight … will we be patient and wait?  No.  Instead, we will look around for ways we can help ourselves out of the bog and get on solid ground.  We may seek the assistance of a bushy stick and we likely will yell for help, thinking that help even from a denizen of the deep is better than no help at all.

How much worse than to have that miry bog at the bottom of a deep well.  Even if you could unstick yourself, you still have to climb out!

What did David do while he was in the miry bog, in the pit of destruction?  He waited patiently.

When we are surrounded, when we are dug in deep, when we are in the pit, when we are stuck in the mud … what is our action as a person?  It is to do, impatiently.  What is our action as a Christian?  It is to wait patiently, to be patient.

This week, as we are beset with many problems, not the least of which is the election of a new President of the United States, we know we are mired in mud in a boggy place, deep in the pit.

David and the Lord counsel patience, waiting upon Him to act on our behalf.  Not very easy and, to western eyes, often not very fruitful.  And yet that is what we do when we trust Him, and not ourselves.

God, give me patience, please!  And, Holy Spirit, why don’t you hurry up and come so that I can have patience.  Oh, wait a minute, I guess I need to have patience for that as well.

Come, God, pull me out of my pit, out of my miry bog!  I know He will; I just don’t know when.  And that is why I am impatient – I want out now.  But I am not God – He is.  And that is why I need to patient, because my true help comes from the Lord.

_________

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

Bread – Ignore

November 4, 2016


Psalm 39

“For I am a sojourner with You, a guest, like all my fathers.  Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more!” Ps. 39:12b-13

David ends this Psalm with a request to God – “Leave me alone!”

Aren’t we a strange bunch of people?  We like the peace of God, but we do not like the yoke of God.  We like God to be around when He is friendly, but we do not like Him around when He is judging.  We like the freedom of God, but not His commands.  We like God’s mercy, but not His chastisement.

If there are going to be rules, we want to make them…not have to follow them.

There were three tee-shirts I saw the other day.  One said, “I am the oldest child.  I make the rules.”  The second said “I am the middle child.  I am the reason there are rules.”  The third said “I am the youngest child.  The rules do not apply to me.”

All three are about children making the rules, causing the rules, and ignoring the rules.  But what happens when we become of age as Christians, when we become adults, when we eat meat and not just milk, we come to realize that God makes the rules and we ignore them at our peril.

But perhaps David wanted to become a child again for a moment.  Lord, go away and take Your rules and Your love with you “that I may smile again.”

Smile at what?  Reveling in sin?  Wallowing in our own selfishness?  Idly wasting our time on the foolishness of the world.

We may very well be like David and want to push God away, but we are unwise to do so.

Why would David do this?  Perhaps the answer is in the preceding sentence – “For I am a sojourner…”

With God we are sojourners in the world.  We are in the world, but we are not of the world.  We wander through the world pursuing the path God has laid out for us, but there is no place for us to rest in the world, only in the arms of God.  The world despises and distrusts the sojourner because he or she is not a citizen of the place they are, but of the place where they are going.  The world despised Jesus; why should it behave any differently because of us.

There is a real danger for us in the world as sojourners, and that is that we want to belong.  We want to be part of the world.  We want to enjoy worldly things and have the company and approval of worldly people.  As long as God is around, He reminds us that we are His citizens and not the world’s.  He reminds us that we are to behave differently than the world, seeking His glory and not our own or the glory of other people.  He reminds us to aggregate the wealth of heaven and not the wealth of the world.

In other words, He reminds us that we do not ultimately belong where we are.  And sometimes we want to belong where we are … and so we tell the Lord “Go away!”

But although we may behave like the Lord has obeyed us and left, He has not.  Oh He may let us go for a period, following our own foolish ways, but sooner or later He will appear on scene again, reminding us of who we are and whose we are.

So David says and we say “Look away from me, that I may smile again…”  And the Lord, to His children, responds “No.”

And we will smile again, not because the Lord has ignored us like we asked, but because He has not.

But God has ignored something.  He has ignored our request that He ignore us.  He has ignored our sins and instead gone to the cross to die for our sins.  He has ignored His just wrath which we deserve and has replaced it with love and mercy which we do not deserve.

Ignore that at your peril.

_________

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

 

Bread – Urgent

November 2, 2016


Psalm 39

O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” Ps. 39:4

When something becomes urgent in our lives, we focus more and more and work harder and harder to achieve the goal.  For example, we are working on a two hour exam and we are two-thirds of the way through and look up at the clock, realizing that we have just 20 minutes left.  The alarm bells go off, our daydreaming ends, and we sharpen eye and pencil to complete the test on time and accurately!  Our failure to budget our time has resulted in the urgent, the need for rapid, decisive action.  And we take off like a rocket to “git ‘er done.”

For another example, we start getting sick at noon but have other business to attend to.  It is now 6:00 and we are running a fever and have a splitting headache.  We need urgent attention, but the doctor’s office is closed.  We race, perhaps even dodging the slow-poke drivers in our way, to the “urgent” care center, where we know relief is one shot of medicine away.  Cost?  Irrelevant.  Other things to do?  They take a back seat.

When we are in the moment of urgency everything takes a back seat.

Why was David asking God to let him know how fleeting his life was, how long he had to live?  Maybe to remind him that there is only 20 minutes left on the test clock.  Maybe to remind him that our life on earth has a definite limit.  God didn’t have to tell David the measure of his days; David already knew his days were numbered, whether many or few.

We know this too.  Death lurks behind the door of our lives.  We say that a person’s death is untimely.  Really?  Do we not know that our life may be gone tomorrow?  Of course we do, when we think about it.  We just don’t like to think about it, so we don’t.

But David understands that if a person thinks about death, if a person knows it could be tomorrow and that death is imminent, one immediately moves from the tomorrow to the today.  The urgent drives us to live in the moment, with no care for the past and no worry for the future.

David wanted to live an urgent life, one full of concentration, joy, and effort … and so he needed God to help him focus by pointing out the ticking clock.

What would we do today if we lived the urgent life?  What phone calls would we make, what apologies would we give, what good things would we do for others, what conversations would we have?  What would we do to make amends, to get done the important projects, to show love, and to engage with everyone around us?  What would we do with our relationship with God?

We are fleeting; our days are numbered.  Are we living like it?

_________

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

 

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