Bread – gods

March 29, 2017


Psalm 58

Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods?  Do you judge the children of man uprightly?  No, in your hearts you devise wrongs…” Ps. 58:1-2a

To some extent, we are victims of our particular Bible translations.  Today is an example.  In the ESV translation, the Hebrew word is translated “gods.”  In the NIV, it is translated “rulers.”  In the NKJV, it is translated “silent ones.”  The problem is that the literal translation of the Hebrew word actually used is “muteness.”

Rather than consider this a barrier to understanding, I think that such multiple interpretations or translations actually help us to see deeper into God’s revelation, and to realize that words and meaning are not flat and poor, but are multi-dimensional and rich.

If we were to think for a minute about some of our major barriers to effective Christian engagement with the world, what would they be?  Top of the list probably would be our seeking after other gods, other idols – money, honor, power, respect from the world, our selfish selves.  Perhaps second on this list would be how we actually rank the importance of people in how we actually conduct our lives – us first, family second, others third, God fourth.    And then third on this list would be our chronic view that God is not really present to the point we have to pay attention to Him; our perspective that God is mostly silent in our lives.

And all these concepts are wrapped up in our interesting Hebrew word today.  There is the concept that there are many gods, many idols.  There is the concept of these gods as rulers of our lives.  There is this concept that these “gods” of our lives are our bosses, our political leaders, our captains of industry, our significant others, our “leaders.”  There is the concept that these gods keep silent when maybe they shouldn’t, in our view.

At one level, David is addressing mere people who think they are gods and lord it over the rest of us, misjudging, and devising and implementing a litany of wrongs which we must suffer under.  At another level, David is addressing the idols of power and money (the values of the world).  At another level, David is addressing the forces which we think of as gods, as having power over our lives.

But, unlike us sometimes, David is not thinking of these gods as “God.”

Do we organize our lives in such a way that God is one of many gods for us?  Do we give Him even as much attention as we give our boss at work?  Do we organize our day around Him or around them?  Are our emotions wrapped up in God’s truth or the whispers of the other gods in our life?

If the gods are silent, do we think of God that way?  If the gods are noisy, do we think of God that way?  If we listen to the lies of gods, are we made clean?  Do our gods offer us eternal life, or merely existence in time?

The gods may instruct us to be silent in the face of evil, but God says otherwise.  The gods may tell us to fear the evil day, but God says otherwise.  The gods may be silent, but God is not.  The gods may be confused about their names and character, but God is not confused about His.

Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods?  The answer to that is “no.”  Do You indeed decree what is right, God?  The answer to that is “yes.”

If what I said is true, then why do we pay any attention to “gods” at all?

________

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

 

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Bread – Sanctuary

March 24, 2017


Psalm 57

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in You my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge, until the storms of destruction pass by.” Ps. 57:1

The idea of sanctuary or refuge seems to be having a strong pull on all people today, as we seek what the secular press calls “safe places” or “safe zones.” We feel surrounded by a mist of confusion and doubt, loss and turmoil, anxiety and depression, and, as the Psalmist put it, “the storms of destruction,” and we reach out to safe places.

But what the world calls a “safe place” is a place where the gathered people are told that they are OK, that they are safe, that their thoughts and opinions are worthy, and that their view of the world is correct. The world’s safe places are places where they may be a guard at the door, fluffy couches to lay on, and donuts and coffee (or tea) to drink. These safe places may be infilled with soft music of a type to be found in a massage studio, murmured conversation and soft touches, and calming words. They are a place where people may retreat from what is going on outside the room, but they are not places of solution.

In this Psalm’s title, there is reference to this Psalm having been written “in the cave.” This is probably the cave where David lived while escaping from Saul. It is a place where the walls are defined, where the entrance is guarded, where the fires of evening warm the area and light it. The cave for David is a relatively safe place, and from a secular and worldly point of view, it qualifies as a sanctuary or a refuge.

Many people refer to our churches as places of safety, refuge, and sanctuary. In fact, my place of worship calls its main building a “sanctuary” because there we can meet God, worship Him, and leave the world outside. But is the church worship building really a sanctuary, whether we call it one or not? Do we really leave the world’s way of thinking outside when we walk in? Is all of our sinfulness immediately dropped at the foot of the door to the church sanctuary? Is the sanctuary free from politics, strife, worry, fear, and squabbles? If you have been in a church building any length of time, you know that the reality of the world exists inside the building as well as outside.

This is why David does not refer to his cave as his sanctuary or refuge. It may be the place where David has time and focus to think about where his real sanctuary is, but the place itself is not the place of sanctuary or David would refer to it as such.

No, David’s real place of refuge, his real sanctuary, as well as ours is “in You [in God Himself]” and in “the shadow of Your [God’s] wings.”

As we seek peace in our lives, we need to understand something fundamental. Peace is not found in ourselves. Peace is not found in others. Peace is not found in a place. Peace is only found in God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

But, you may say, that you find peace in good music, in good wine, in good company, in contemplation, in reading a good book, and in comfortable places surrounded by familiar things and people. And that sense of peace may very well be real…for the moment. As soon as the music is over, the wine is done, the company leaves, the book is over, and the door is shut on that special place, the peace is over. At best it is a temporary peace; at worse it is a false peace. The real peace, the peace which passes understanding, the peace which is eternal, comes from only one source and can be found in only one relationship – “for in You [God] my soul takes refuge…”

Seek sanctuary where it may really be found. Seek the mercy under the wings of the Almighty, the God Most High. And rest.
________
© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

Bread – When

March 15, 2017


Psalm 56

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.  In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.  What can flesh do to me?”  Ps. 56:3-4

This verse is preceded by David complaining that man steps on him and attacks him all the time.

Which then leads to the “when I am afraid…” verse.

My first reaction to this (and the reason Bread is called “When”) was this — isn’t it true that we never trust God in the good times, but only the desperate?  Men were trampling David and beating him up, and he was OK doing battle with them on his own.  But when the odds became overwhelming to him, when he became afraid, that is when he trusted God.  “When I am afraid …” could mean that I trust God when I am afraid, suggesting that I do not trust Him when I am not afraid.  This led me to an easy conclusion for this Bread, namely that we should trust God all the time.

However, when I started thinking about being afraid, being truly afraid, I asked myself what the typical human reaction is.  That reaction is either “fight or flight,” according to the psychologists.  When we are afraid, our natural reaction, our womanly or manly reaction, is to either run away and escape (flight) or become incredibly angry and somewhat crazy and fight (fight).  When we are afraid of losing an argument, we double down (fight) or admit defeat (flight).  When we are in a hostile zone where people do not like us or may be even trying to hurt us, we try to hurt them first (fight – the best defense is a good offense, right?) or we exit stage left (flight).

But God tells us that there is a third thing we can do.  Rather than exit the difficulty (flight) or put on our boxing gloves (fight), we can trust God.

How can Christians love their enemies when their enemies hate them?  By trusting in God and neither leaving the fight (flight) nor adding flames to it (fight).

How can Christians both speak the truth in love and not back down in the face of opposition, all without increasing hatred and anger?  By trusting in God and neither backing down in the name of tolerance (flight) or engaging in a knockdown, drag out fight over who is right and who is wrong (fight).

How do Christians stand in the evil day?  By trusting in God and neither retiring to their sanctuaries (homes or churches, flight) nor heaping curses upon those who do not believe (fight).

When put in this perspective, the simple statement that David makes when he says “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You” is not so simple after all.

We will be in danger and will be afraid many times today.  We may have to talk to the stranger in the elevator.  We may have to explain to a disbelieving colleague why we are a Christian.  We may be in economic circumstances which cause us to wonder whether we will eat tonight or make the rent tomorrow.  We may have just received a bad diagnosis from a doctor.  We may be in the middle of losing an argument or some other kind of fight which we believe in our heart we must win.

What will we do?  Will we run away from the fight?  Will we jump in the middle of the fight with our weapons of words, fists, or other devices?  Or will we reject man’s solutions of fight or flight and, instead, put on the full armor of God and trust in Him?

When do we trust in Him?  When will we?

________

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

Bread – Disappear

March 10, 2017


Psalm 55

My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me.  Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me, and I say “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest;…” Ps. 55:4-6

At the beginning of this Psalm, David is impatient with the Lord.  In the middle of this Psalm, David wants to disappear, to fly away from his troubles, whatever they are.  At the end of the Psalm, David turns to the Lord in confidence, saying “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you.”  Ps. 55:22

In this Bread, we are focused on the middle.  We have appealed to the Lord to help us out of our disaster, probably of our own making but sometimes caused by a stranger or (as in this Psalm) someone close to you.  We have told the Lord to pay attention to us and we have lost patience with Him.

So what is next, do we turn to our own might, power, intelligence, cunning, and resourcefulness?  Well, don’t you think David probably did that before he started telling the Lord to pay attention to him.  After all, don’t we usually try to do it first ourselves before we ask the Lord for help?

So I think we can assume that David has tried to get out the mess he is in, and he then turned to the Lord.  The Lord did not appear in David’s timing and, so, he impatiently started looking for alternatives.  He started to look for the rear exit.  He started to look for how he could gracefully exit “stage left” and disappear from the scene.  But, perhaps, there is no back exit for him and no solution coming from his own mind or from God’s hand.  So David looks at the sky and dreams, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove…”  We probably would more generic and just wish for wings like a bird because in those circumstances, for us, any old bird would do.  But David also realizes that in disappearing he can find peace, and so he probably thinks of the dove first, as the symbol of peace.

But maybe, just maybe, he also recognized that the dove also represents the spirit of God, what we today would call the Holy Spirit.   In that sense, then, he is praying for a miracle.

How often have we wished just to disappear?  To get out of harm’s way, to avoid the difficult conversation, to agree to be agreeable, to make our excuses for our non-involvement?

In today’s world, as secular society becomes more hostile to public displays of religious belief, there is a tendency for us as Christians, which means us as the Church, to disappear behind the walls of our churches, to our places of sanctuary.

And when I disappear, when I fly away, what do I leave behind?  At best, a memory.  And when the church disappears behind cloistered walls, what do we leave behind?  At best, a memory.

David was in a horrible circumstance – “horror overwhelms me.”  He wants help from God or by just disappearing.  But he gets neither.  Instead, he gets to stay where he is.

Just like we must stay where we are, where we are planted, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

Why?  So that God may be glorified in the actions of His people as salt to a sick and dying world, as a light in dark places, as truth in opposition to lies, as hope where there is none, as love where there is perhaps less than none.

The Church must not disappear.  The Church must stand in the evil day, unafraid, unbowed, unapologetic, full of grace, truth, love, and power.

Oh we may want to disappear and, in fact, the world (Satan) may make it very easy to disappear, calling it peace.

But there is no peace in retreat, but only in the arms of the Lord.

________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Impatient

March 6, 2017


Psalm 55

Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not Yourself…Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint…”  Ps. 55:1-2

In today’s thoughts expressed in soundbites and shorthand texts which barely acknowledge English much less good grammar, shouting is shown in all capital letters.  So, if David were writing this Psalm today, he would be yelling “PAY ATTENTION TO ME!”

Attend to me!  Answer me!  Now!

As if we had some right to summon God and demand that He do anything for us at any point in time.

But it’s almost funny that David is yelling at God to pay attention to him, and yet don’t we whine about that all the time.  We have trouble … we “pray” (at least our version of it) … and, pronto presto! … nothing happens.

We know the troubles we are in and when we get around to it we offer it up to the great bell-hop in the sky, fully expecting a “yes sir” or a “yes ma’am” to appear in our ear, followed by an immediate solution.  And, if we don’t get it on our timetable, well we just need to complain more, yell louder, knock on the door more furiously, scream, or whatever.

In this moment, at the beginning of this Psalm, David is acting with a great deal of impatience.  He is tired of waiting on the solution and he is tired waiting for God to show up – and so he says in the Flint rewrite of the Psalm – “Hey, you, God.  Pay attention!  Quit playing hide and go seek!  Attend me, wait on me, listen to me, answer me!  I’m fed up with how long you are taking!  You are taking too long!”

Have we begun this week impatient for the results we want?  Most likely we have. Whatever we want, we wanted it yesterday.  And with this kind of attitude, this kind of approach to life, whatever we get will never be soon enough, will never be good enough, will never be the right thing in the right place at the right time, will never satisfy, and will never meet our expectations.

Impatience is a byproduct of an emphasis on self.  It is what I want and the world, including God, is arrayed against me getting it.  Me, me, me, me.

One might be inclined to think that the opposite of impatience is patience, but I would argue that it is not.  The opposite of impatience is perseverance.  When we are impatient, we want something to happen and are aggravated when it doesn’t.  When we persevere, we know something will happen and treat each roadblock as one more event in the path to victory.  Impatience breeds disappointment; perseverance breeds hope.  We are impatient with God because we are not getting what we want when and where we want it; we persevere with God because we know that we will get what we need when and where He wants.  We are impatient because we know we are on our own and if we don’t get it done, it won’t ever happen.  We persevere because we know that we are not on our own and it will happen, maybe today and maybe tomorrow.

We start off this Psalm exactly where we are almost every morning of every day – yelling at God for His bad timing.  But we do not need to end up our morning in the same way.  Instead, we can finish our mind dump of our problems on God, and then look up and say, quite truthfully, “Now Lord, I have dumped my troubles on You, You are in charge of what happens next” … and walk out of that God-meeting unburdened from impatience, unburdened from fear, and unburdened from every negative thought… ready to persevere in the new day.

Or, will we just remain impatient?

________

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

 

 

Bread -Uphold

March 1, 2017


Psalm 54

“Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life…” Ps. 54:4

There is a picture fixed in my mind from a commercial which ran long ago.  The picture is of a professional football player (probably someone on the line, because he was a giant) holding in a cradle next to him and brand new baby.  The baby was content, as was the professional football player.  The professional football player did not need the baby to survive, but the baby sure needed the professional football player.

When I think of God upholding my life, that image of the football player and the baby comes to mind.

We like to think of ourselves as the football player, getting ahead in life by crushing the opposition, standing our ground, blocking out the bad from getting through, and ultimately helping our team win the day.  But, really, we are the baby.  We have no food but for that food provided by the Father, we have no life which is not upheld for us by God, we have no strength to fight off our enemies, and we can plan until the cows come home, but it is the Lord who provides.

God commands us to love one another as He has loved us.  Maybe another way of thinking about this is that we are commanded to uphold one another as we ourselves have been and are being upheld by God.

The nature of upholding someone is that we are beneath them, holding them up.  They are on top and we, by choice, are on the bottom.  We no not uphold by pushing down but by lifting up.  We uphold by making ourselves lesser so that the one we are upholding may become greater.

To uphold someone means that our foundation, where we place our feet, must be firm.  We cannot uphold another from a place of weakness, but only from a place of strength.

How is it that the professional football player made himself lesser in order to uphold the baby?  He stopped what he was doing to hold the baby, and he waited on the baby.  The football player sacrificed himself so that the baby would have a safe, peaceful place to live.

So God so much wanted to uphold me that He sent Himself, the Son, into the world to die for me.  He put Himself on the bottom so that I might be lifted up into the throne room of God.

Just as David said so long ago – “The Lord is the upholder of my life.”  And because I stand upon a firm foundation and because I am upheld, I can uphold others.

Who will we uphold today … in our prayers, in our thoughts, in our words, and in our actions?  Look around, we have lots of people to select from.  Including those who live with us.

_________

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

 

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