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 – Pursuit

January 23, 2017


Psalm 49

Hear this, all peoples!…Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.”  Ps. 49:1,20

What will we pursue or chase after this week.  Will we be engaged in the pursuit of fame, of fortune, of happiness, of self-satisfaction, of beauty, of honor, of position, of power, of things, of others, of our family, of friendship?  There are many pursuits which can occupy our attention and our time, and most of these are emphasized by the world as necessary if we are to lead a “full life.”  We must pursue quiet time for ourselves, adequate money for retirement, housing, transportation, education.  We must pursue the “good life,” which our advertising media has taught us is a large house in pleasant surroundings, a dog and a cat, two well-dressed and well-behaved children, a good job, two new cars, and a kitchen which looks like the ones in the cook books.

On top of all that, we are told that we should be engaged in the “pursuit of excellence.”

The writer of this psalm suggests instead that we should be in the pursuit of wisdom, which begins with the understanding that we end our lives with nothing.  And yet, although we “know” this intellectually, we behave as if we can take it with us and as if, in any event, we will live forever.  Death, however, is imminent.

Maybe we should be pursuing excellence in all things as if unto the Lord, but excellence in what?  In doing or in being?  In amassing wealth in many storehouses or in depositing treasurers in heaven?  In worry about tomorrow or engagement in love with the world around us as ambassadors of Christ today?

Perhaps as we begin this Monday, it is an entirely appropriate question about what we will be pursuing today and this week.

The nature of pursuit is that we eye what we want and we go after it.  We do other things along the way, but those things are not the main things.  The only main things are those which enable us in our pursuit.  For example, if we pursue wealth, then we may eat dinner, but preferably we will do it with someone who can increase our wealth or, failing that, we will eat with our digital assistant in our laps checking e-mails less we fail to push the next business deal along as fast as it should go.  If we pursue other people, if we pursue interpersonal relations, we may still prefer dinner with someone who can make us wealthy, but we will turn off the digital assistant and carefully listen to the conversation so that we may build up those interpersonal bonds we are pursuing.

Who or what is our eye on today and this week?  Who or what are we in pursuit of?

The Psalmist suggests that what we ought to be in pursuit of is eternal life and the God who can give it.  Do you agree?  Are you pursuing it?

_________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Righteousness

January 18, 2017


Psalm 48

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________

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

 

 

Bread – Testimony

January 16, 2017


Psalm 48

As we have heard, so have we seen...”  Ps. 48:8

Psalm 48 is generally about Jerusalem as representative of God Himself.  In the middle of it is this phrase, “As we have heard, so have we seen…”  The direct reference is that the writer has heard about God’s victory over Israel’s enemies, and has witnessed this very same victory himself.  The inhabitants of the City of God have heard about God’s salvation and have themselves seen that salvation.

If we had merely heard about God’s faithfulness, His power, His majesty, His mercy, and His love, would we have a testimony to give?  In a court of law, the answer may be “no” because we lawyers might call it is “hearsay.”  We have only heard about it from third persons, so the fact we have heard it is not itself evidence of its truth.  And so, in that place (a court), we may have no testimony to give.

However, we do rely on documented history in our ordinary life.  In fact, we say that those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it.  So, at least in this context, since the Bible contains documented history, we certainly have a practical testimony based upon what we have heard about God’s work historically.

But our God is a living God, God of the present as well as the past.  And, therefore, each of us has an actual testimony.  Each of us can say in their own lives, “as we have heard, so have we seen…”  We have seen God’s mercy, grace, love, and power in our own lives and we have seen it in the lives of others.  We have each seen things which are miracles, even though as “educated” man we may be inclined to mark them up to “predictable, but low probability outcomes” or perhaps “mere coincidences.”

We have a good testimony from what we have heard and what we have seen, but is it the best testimony?

Psalm 48 is about Jerusalem, the place of God’s residence.  It is a physical place, a place which can be touched and felt.  It is a place in time which can be observed.

God’s residence today is in us, in our souls, our hearts and minds.  Can people touch us and know that God lives in us?  Are we a physical, walking, breathing, touchable place of God’s habitation?  Would people see us as a fortress, a sanctuary, a place where God is in residence?

There is the testimony of what we have heard.  There is the testimony of what we have seen.  There is the testimony of who we are.

What testimony will we give this week?  About whom and about what?  To whom will we give it?

_________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Heritage

January 11, 2017


Psalm 47

He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom He loves.  Selah.”  Ps. 47:4

This is one of those passages which comes at the end of a quartet of verses and one is inclined to just race through.  But out of the clear blue sky comes the word “Selah,” which suggests that we stop and think about what we have just read.

What is “our heritage?”  What is the “pride of Jacob?”

It is very easy to read this and, given its Old Testament context, come quickly to the conclusion that the Psalmist is talking about Israel (the Jewish nation) and the land promise (our heritage, the land).  And if the Psalmist were writing without the inspiration of God, perhaps this would be all that it meant because that is all the Psalmist would know.

But I think the meaning goes much deeper, because in this single sentence we are talking about God’s sovereignty, His choice over who is awakened to the truth of the gospel and who remains blind to it, dead in their sins.

Jacob was the brother who “bought” his brother Esau’s birthright for a bowl of soup and then tricked his father into giving him the blessing belonging to the older son (Esau).  Just in case we miss the point, Paul in Romans drives it home – “…in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls – she [Rebekah] was told , ‘The older will serve the younger.’  As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’  What shall we say then?  Is there injustice on God’s part?  By no means!  For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy….So then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.”  Rom. 9:11-18

So who is the “pride of Jacob?”  I would suggest that the “pride of Jacob” are those people on whom God has chosen to have mercy.  Who are those people?  They are Jew and Gentile, from all nations and tribes, chosen by God for eternal life with Him.  They are those who have had the veil lifted from their eyes and see Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, as the Son of God, and not some mere prophet or good man or teacher or wise one.

“He chose our heritage for us?”  What is our “heritage?”  This is actually an interesting question, because it forces us to look outward rather than inward.  We normally would ask the question this way – “What is our inheritance?” And we would answer the question this way – “our inheritance is eternal life.”  But the question of what is our “heritage” is a question about what we leave behind, about what we give away and not what we get.

When we were adopted as children of God into the kingdom of God by the sovereign exercise of mercy by a loving God, we were given a job to do.  And that job is expressed in many ways – be an ambassador of the kingdom, be light in a dark place, be joyful in all circumstances, do good works which bring glory to God, live lives worthy of the King.  But it is really this – leave behind a footprint, not of personal worth or exalted achievement, but of a vision of Christ, of glory.

What is “our heritage” chosen for us – a beacon of hope, a pronouncement of truth and love, and exercise of grace, a revealing of glory, an example of discipleship and holiness.

What are we leaving behind?  Will the people who know us know the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?

What heritage are we leaving?

_________

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

 

 

Bread – Enthusiasm

January 9, 2017


Psalm 47

Clap your hands, all peoples!  Shout to God with loud songs of joy!”  Ps. 47:1

When I woke up this morning, on a Monday, I was in dreary shape.  I had a list of to-dos, I had meetings to prepare for, my allergies were acting up, and I had a headache from sleeping in some kind of awkward position.  I need gas in my car.

And then I read this … Have enthusiasm for the Lord, clap your hands, jump up and down, shout with loud songs of great joy!  Wonderful.  How can one have enthusiasm in the midst of common experience?

Wake up!

How indeed are we to have enthusiasm in the midst of trouble, in the midst of obstacles, in the midst of daily living?  How are we to clap our hands when there is no music?

It struck me while I was thinking about these things that my enthusiasm, my joy, tends to come from external sources – the compliments of a friend or a boss, the kindness of a stranger, a good meal, the achievement of some goal, the playing of good music on the radio, the visual stimulation of a bird on the roof of my house, the touch of a loved one, a “good” worship service, some great comedy from television or the newspaper.  These are all external stimuli and I respond to them.

But we read and are told that God in us, the internal source, is our strength.  Our joy ought to come from inside because of our residence in the kingdom of God; we should emanate joy out and become a source of enthusiasm and not reflect the world around us.  When our joy, our enthusiasm, is based on the external situation, we are but a reflection of what is going on around us.  When our joy, our enthusiasm, is based on the internal situation, on God in us, we project that joy and enthusiasm into a world sorely needing it.

Are we a reflector of enthusiasm or a generator of enthusiasm?  Are we a reflector of joy or a generator of joy?

Perhaps one test of the degree of our dependence upon the Lord is the degree we generate joy.

A long time ago I heard about a prayer to be said first thing in the morning – “Rise up like a lion in the service of the Lord!”  A lion roars, a lion is enthusiastic.

To make this prayer, though, you have to know who you are talking to and why this is a prayer.  Are you talking to yourself (a little self-improvement), are you talking to God, or are you talking to an empty room?  Why is this a prayer?  Because we have no capacity on our own to do anything – if we are to rise up like a lion it is because we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so.  That requires a request.  The implied words before “Rise up…” are “Let me [rise up…]”  This requires that we begin each day with our Maker, in prayer, in communion.

Where is our enthusiasm and our joy this Monday?  Forgotten alongside our forgotten time of prayer with the Lord.

Now, one of the great things about our relationship with the Lord is that, while we wander off, He does not.  So the fact that I did not begin today properly is no obstacle to my beginning now properly.  And so, Lord, three hours later, I pray “Let me rise up like a lion in Your service.  Amen.”

And now I’m enthusiastic.

_________

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

 

Bread – Cities

January 4, 2017


Psalm 46

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.  God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved. … The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Selah.”  Ps. 46:4-5,7

This is the second “Selah” of this Psalm, and it is therefore appropriate that we stop and consider what we have just read.

Although the name “Jerusalem” is not used, the holy habitation of the Most High in the Old Testament was the Temple (the city Jerusalem) and heaven (the New Jerusalem, Rev. 21:10).  In both the Old Testament and the New, the river of life proceeds from the throne of God, making glad the “city of God.”

In the title to this Bread, I used the word “cities.”  This could mean both Jerusalems, but I would challenge us to think much, much broader.  When Christians gather, the church is there.  When the saints congregate in the multitude, there God is in the midst of them.  Couldn’t this also be a city of God, where God is King and we worship Him in spirit and in truth?  Couldn’t the City of God be Plano, Texas?

What would it take for this to happen, short of the second coming of Christ (and, indeed, that may be the answer)?  I think this set of verses gives us the three things required.  First, it is necessary that there be a river of living water, the Spirit of God in each of us, welling up and overflowing in praise, grace, love, and glory.  Second, it is necessary that God be in the midst of us, in our hearts, minds, and souls, walking beside us, guiding us, and commanding us.  And, third, we must see God as who He is, “our fortress.”  He must be our place of refuge, not our money or our homes or our jobs.

What will it take for us to see God for who He is, so that we can be who we are intended to be and so that our city, our dwelling-place may be a city of God?

One of my favorite Bible chapters is 2 Kings 6, because it shows the transformation which occurs when we see.  In that history lesson, a man walks out of his house in the morning to see that the Syrian army had surrounded the house with horses and chariots.  Seeing this, the man said “Alas…what shall we do?”  Elisha, the prophet, basically laughed and told the man not to worry, that “those that are with us are more than those who are with them.”  Elisha then prayed that the man’s eyes would be opened to the truth, and they were.  And as the man looked around with new eyes given to him by God, he realized that the house was surrounded by a heavenly host “full of horses and chariots of fire.”  2 Kings 6:13-19

Let us see Him today and know that He is Lord, that He is our fortress, and that He sets us beside streams of living water in the midst of trouble.  And let us be glad.  Amen.

_________

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

 

Bread – Fortress

January 2, 2017


Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble… Selah.”  Ps. 46:1

The title of this Psalm is “God is our Fortress.”  James Boice in his commentary on the Psalms notes that this Psalm was on of Martin Luther’s favorites, from which he wrote “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

My focus today is not so much whether God is a fortress or what kind of fortress is He, but where this fortress is.  What is its location?  Where on a map may it be found?

We tend to intellectualize Scripture and God, and so our first response might well be to say that the fortress who is God is “up there,” and point to the heavens.  And, indeed, there is much in this Psalm to suggest that God’s fortress is the New Jerusalem, which will descend in the end times to bring in the thousand year reign of Christ.  “God is our refuge and strength” suggests a place of refuge, a place where we can physically go for protection.  Perhaps the image comes to mind of a high mountain redoubt, armed to the hilt with massive guns, which provides us peace and safety if we can only get there.  Perhaps we recall the place of fortress called the “shadow of His wings,” where we can hide under Him and let life’s travails flow over us, leaving us untouched and unscathed.  Perhaps we have a view of heaven with the heavenly hosts surrounding God’s throne and bring ourselves to the place of refuge there.  Perhaps we climb in our imaginations to the peak of the mountain where the transfiguration occurred, and in the presence of God’s glory revealed.

But the second part of our reading today says “God is … a very present help in trouble.”  How can one be “very present” when one is “over there” or “up there.”  The only way one can be “very present” is to be here, in the place where the calamity exists, in the place of worry and fear.

And so we realize that God is not only “over there” or “up there” but also “right here.”  He is “very present.”

Which means this, if God is in me, beneath me, above me, and around me, then the fortress is in me, beneath me, above me, and around me.  If I am in God and He is in me, then I am in the fortress right now.

If that is true, then why do we worry?  Why do feel defeat in calamity?  Why do we yield to trouble instead of just looking at it as it flies by our fortress, which is God in us?

I really don’t know the answer to that question, because I do it too.  I look at a problem and say to myself, “I am in trouble,” instead of sitting under God’s wing, in His fortress, and say to God, “look at this problem and help me solve it, or, better yet, solve it yourself.”

But the implications of our failure to recognize that the fortress to which we can retreat is in us go well beyond us.  The reason is simple … if we, as God’s ambassadors, act like we live in a fortress who is God, then those who need healing, those who need help, those who need love, will find shelter in us.  The beacon of light we should be not only shines light in darkness, but it reveals the fortress from which the light comes.

Imagine for a moment if people said “God’s people are our refuge and strength,  a very present help in trouble.”

Whether or not it has happened to you yet, calamity will come upon us all.  We suffer in this fallen world from disease, death, disaster, pain, and loss.  And where will we turn?  Will we turn to the empty promises of the world or the true promises of Christ?  Will we run to the fortress in heaven in our mind, or run across the street to our Christian neighbor who stands in the evil day and is a fortress of hope, of light, of help, of friendship, and of  strength?  If we claim to follow Christ, we should be that fortress in the storm, we ought to be that fortress in the storm, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can be that fortress in the storm for our neighbor.

“A mighty fortress is our God …”  And, to the extent He lives in us, so are we.  Let’s act like it … and let our light so shine before men that they will see our good works and praise not us, but our Father in heaven.  Amen.

_________

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

 

 

 

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