Bread – Near

July 26, 2017


Psalm 75

We give thanks to You, O God; we give thanks for Your name is near.”  Ps. 75:1

What does it mean to “near” someone?  It doesn’t mean “upon.”  When I say I am “near” to you, it does not mean that I am top of you.  And it doesn’t necessarily mean “close to” or “next to” in the sense that our personal space is somehow invaded.  All of us have been in crowded situations where the person standing next to us is “too near” to us, touching us, pushing us, invading our personal space.  We may put up with someone being “too near” to us because of the circumstances (like on a crowded bus), but we are not happy about it and we ready to push that person away and re-establish our “comfort zone” as soon as possible.

No, “near” does not mean “on top of” nor does it mean “next to.”  Instead, I think it means “close enough to be reached by me.”  If someone is near to me, then I can reach out and, by a slight movement in that person’s direction, touch them, talk to them, engage with them, and hear them.

Since the phrase “Your name” is synonymous with the person described, the direct modern translation might be “God is near (to me).”  Asaph says that he (and we) give thanks to God because He is close (but not too close) to us.  He does not smother us by being on top of us; He does not make us uncomfortable by invading our personal zone.  But He is near, able to be reached, able to be touched, able to be spoken to, and able to be heard from.  He is not only able, but willing.  We may be able but we are often not willing.  But that is on us, not on Him.

There is a flip side to His being near to us and that flip side is that we are near to Him.  We cannot shake it; we cannot slam the door in His face (we have no power to “dis-near” Him).  We are always near to Him, even in our deepest despair.  Even while we are steeped in sin, we are near to Him because He is near to us.  What is amazing to me is that this “nearness” is not established by anything which we did or because of who we are, but because of what He has done and who He is.

In order for us to benefit from this nearness, the Holy Spirit has to enable us to do two things.  The first is not obvious, but is absolutely necessary.  The second is obvious, but we tend to think it is not necessary even though it is.

To the person who is dead in their sins, the first thing the Holy Spirit does is make us aware that God is near.  If we do not recognize God is in the room and we therefore don’t recognize God is near, then we don’t even see Him at all.  He may be near to us but His presence is unknown to us.  The best example I can think of is I was shopping the other day with my wife and this woman who I knew was standing right next to me.  I was so focused on my shopping that it did not register with me that someone was standing next to me, much less someone I knew.  I about jumped out of my skin when she said “Hello, George,” and I immediately thought to myself “How did I not see her?”  I did not see her because I had not been awakened by her voice.  Just so, while we are dead in our sins, God is near but we don’t even see Him, feel Him, or hear Him, much less acknowledge that He is in the same room as we are.  The Holy Spirit by necessity has to wake us to the fact that He is who He is and that He is near.

We often think that, once the Holy Spirit has done His work in waking us up, that it up to us to say “Hello, Jesus, thank You for coming; please set up shop in my soul.”  (This is a sloppy rendition of the so-called “sinner’s prayer.”)    However, this is where the next step occurs, after recognizing that God is in the room, we much reach out to Him.  The reason I call this “obvious” but we think it unnecessary for the Holy Spirit to be involved is that many of us believe that this next step is ours to take, on our own in our own strength.  We believe that, if God is near and we have become aware of that fact, then it is up to us to engage Him.

However, how does one reach out to God, even if you know He exists, when one is dead in sin?  Because we are dead, it is God who must come near, it is God who must wake us up to recognize Him, and it is God who must bring us, while we are still dead, to Him.  The Holy Spirit enables us not only to see but to do.  We see God across the room but we are stuck at the buffet line of the world unless He takes us by the hand and brings us to Himself.

How near is God?  As near as you need Him to be.  Come Holy Spirit, open our eyes and move us into position to touch Him, talk to Him, and listen to Him, enabling us to give thanks because He is indeed near.

________

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

Bread – Signs

July 21, 2017


Psalm 74

Your foes have roared in the midst of Your meeting place; they have set up their own signs for signs.”  Ps. 74:4

Those who are of the world and are not for God are against God.  “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?”  Jas. 4:4b  Therefore, the word “foes” here not only includes people who would see God removed totally from life on earth, but also those who wouldn’t go that far but are still hostile to God and those who are neutral toward God, perhaps believing that there are many gods.  So, God has many foes, many enemies.

But what do the enemies of God do to demonstrate their enmity?  The most obvious way is to work to depose His people on earth, to imprison them in their homes or churches, to make sure that none of their infectious ideas (like eternal life through belief in Jesus Christ) are spoken in the public square or reflected in public policy or laws.

The less obvious way is to create symbols and signs which lead away from God or, worse, mislead people into finding a false god.

Ultimately, unless we are the recipient of direct revelation, we take in our information and our knowledge by words, by language.   The foes of God attempt to create signs and symbols which sound like and look like the words they replace, but which lead away from a sovereign Lord and which therefore lead away from life.

There are many illustrations of this, but I will pick three and hopefully one or more you will find accurate.

The first is our description of God in our own translations of Scripture.   What I mean by that is the destruction of the word “he” or “him” when that pronoun refers to God.  In a sentence referring to both me (a man) and God in every major Bible translation today, any reference to either me or God will be either “he” or “him.”  Very, very, very subtly, by doing so the foes of God have equated man and God to the same level.  Do Christians today have a diminished view of God’s sovereignty, His power, and His majesty?  Perhaps it is because God is referred to in man-made translations as “him” or “he.”  Just like I don’t deserve the royal capital “H,” neither in the opinion of these Bible translators does God.

The second is our corruption of the word “love.”  We “love” football, we “love” ice cream, we “love” our children, and we “love” our neighbor become all the same word.  What has great meaning in a covenantal relationship as between us and God or between us and our spouse is reduced in practical terms to “like a lot.”  When we can love our ice cream with the same meaning as we love our neighbor, why should there be any doubt about why we do not understand the concept of “love our neighbor as we love ourselves.”  We may preach about “sacrificial love,” but isn’t it interesting that the word has become so corrupted that we have to try to strengthen it with an adjective to get our point across.  And is there any reason to wonder why we don’t understand what “sacrificial love” is when the real practical translation is “sacrificial like a lot.”

My third example is actually a strange one because it still means something but the meaning is disappearing in front of our eyes.  That word is “privacy.”  When I was young, this was a core concept of life.  When I was in my room alone, I had privacy.  When I was on the telephone, I had privacy.  When I got a letter in the mail, I had privacy.  The notion is related to a strong Christian view that each man is in the image of God and is therefore worthy of respect.  Part of respect is giving each man then the freedom to be alone, to be private.    Some people today believe that the notion of “privacy” is gone in our electronic culture.  E-mails are monitored, we are moving to a cashless society where everything is run through monitored computer, we have “smart meters” which can monitor our internal home usage, we have smart boxes which are constantly listening to “Hey ______,” we communicate through devices which track our buying habits, and we even have laws in place specifying which information is private and which is not.  Of course, the laws that “give” us privacy can take it away.  Finally, our privacy rights (if any we have) in bathrooms are being taken away in the name of social reform.

So, the foes of God set up their own signs (symbols, meanings) for God’s signs (symbols, meanings).

What are we to do?  Well, obviously first we pray for God’s intervention in our worldly affairs.  But the truth is that we can take back the language.  We can substitute our signs for their signs, our symbols for their symbols, our meanings for their meanings.  How do we do that?  I think we do it by becoming a lot more sensitive to the language we use.  For example, let’s reserve the word “love” for where it really matters.  Let’s honor people’s privacy the way we demand they honor ours.

And let’s refer to God as “He” with the royal capital, as He deserves.

________

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

Bread – Night

July 19, 2017


Psalm 74

“You [God] split open springs and brooks; You dried up ever-flowing streams.  Yours is the day, Yours also the night;…”  Ps. 74:15-16

In every book I have ever read and every television show I have ever watched, it is the night when bad things typically happen.  The bats, the secretive people, the trolls, and such ilk always show up at night.  We even have the idea of vampires, where the slightest touch of the sun causes them to melt away.  Night dwellers, night crawlers – when we add the word “night” in front of a word, it automatically casts a sinister shadow.

Our general operating philosophy is that God rules the day and Satan (or evil) rules the night.  We think like that and we act like that.  We are wrong.

In this Psalm, God is missing but He is remembered.  Asaph, the acknowledged Psalmist, acknowledges that God is Creator and that He owns and controls both the day and the night, having invented them both.

It may very well be the hardest reality to swallow as a Christian – that God is God over everything, good and bad, day and night.  It is hard for us to swallow because we want to offer an escape hatch for God, feeling like He needs to be defended by us.  If the night belongs to Satan, then we can understand why God has not stopped evil at night.  But if the night belongs to God, we are left with the question “why is God [apparently] missing?”  It is hard for us to swallow because we know that God is good, but we see what we perceive to be bad things happening and are then left with the question, “if God is good, then why ….?”

Whether we are trying to find an escape hatch for God or attempting to assess God’s purpose according to our own standards, we are engaged in the same sport.  We are either acting as God’s judge (“You, Sir, are doing wrong.  Straighten up!”) or as His partner and coach (“Hey, God, this is not what we agreed to,” or “Hey God, if You did it this way, we would be better off.”)  In both instances, we have either elevated ourselves to be equal to God (His partner, friend, coach) or above Him (His judge).

The end of logic is this – if God is sovereign over all, then He is sovereign over both day and night, good and bad, ups and downs.

But this is also the end of faith – If God is sovereign over all, and I do not understand why He has or has not acted the way He has, then I must stand down and trust in Him.  He is God and I am not.

We may very well be in the night of our lives, where nothing is clear and everything is a threat.  God is in control.  We know this logically because He is sovereign king over all, which includes the night, and we know this by faith because we trust in Him.

When we are in the night and we acknowledge the presence of God, worshiping Him in all circumstances, it would not surprise me for someone to ask the question – who turned on the light?

________

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

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Pride

July 12, 2017


Psalm 73

All in vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence…” Ps. 73:13

Stuck in the middle of this Psalm is, in one sentence, a classic example of the pride of the world and ourselves.

Asaph, the Psalmist, starts his Psalm by saying to himself (and to God), I believe in God but I see the wicked prosper and not me.  He ends his Psalm by saying that, in spite of his doubts caused by his observance of the ascendancy of the wicked, he knows that God exists and that God is “his strength and portion forever.”  Ps. 73:26

But in the middle is this great statement:  “And not only that, Lord, but I am better than they are – I keep my heart clean and I am innocent.”  (I took great liberalities with the actual text, which you can read for yourself in the first line.”

We look around as Christians, as people in this world, and how often does it cross our mind that we ought to be resentful because we are “better” than they are.  After all, we are righteous and they are not; we are washed in the blood of the Lamb and they are not; we have a “clean heart” and they do not.

Whoa, folks.  Who here reading this Bread or, for that matter, anyone in the world, as a “clean heart.”  Do we not covet, gossip, worry, protect our precious positions of power, scheme, speak sometimes with untruth and, certainly, un-love?  Do we not dream about a better vacation, a better lifestyle, a better car, a better bank account, a better job, a better relationship?  Do we really, really have a “clean heart.”

As for being prideful in our righteousness, whose righteousness have we taken on anyway?  Is it ours or His?  If we are righteous at all before God, who achieved that?  Was it us in our sinful state or was it Him who died for us and who intervened in our life at a time when we were dead to breathe His spirit into us so that we might have eternal life?

Asaph did not keep his heart clean “in vain” because he is human, and he did not keep it clean at all.  Asaph did not.  We do not.  We cannot without outside aid.

There is no ranking of sinners.  All people, saved and unsaved, fall short of the glory of God.  Those who are saved see that with great clarity and are grateful that they do not have to pay the penalty to God for those sins, that penalty having been paid by Jesus Christ on the cross.

Where did Asaph’s essential doubts come from?  Did they come from his objective look at the world and wondering where God was, or did they come from his subjective look at the world, through lenses that said “I keep my heart clean” and so, therefore, I deserve better than “they.”

Where do our essential doubts come from?  Do they really come from an objective view of the world or a view through a lens that says “God is being unfair … to me.”

Pride is often listed as our worse sin.  It probably deserves that ranking because it is the lens which distorts our view of ourselves, our view of the world, and our view of God.

Pride is what caused Asaph to believe and say that “All in vain I have kept my heart clean.”  What Asaph could have said was that “But for You, I would not have clean heart.”  And that would be a true statement.  But to get there will require the setting aside of pride.  And how will we do that?  We cannot, but God can … and so we pray, “Come Holy Spirit, and create in me a clean heart.”

________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Permanence

July 10, 2017


Psalm 73

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.  For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked…When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward You.  Nevertheless, I am continually with You; You hold my right hand.  You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will receive me to glory.”  Ps. 73:2-3,21-24

I almost coined a new word for this Bread, “permaninity,” meaning the state of being permanent, but “permanence” will have to do.

What is permanent?  We actually have a very hard time answering that question, because we have no reference point.  To a young kid in time out, permanent may mean three minutes.  To a young adult used to immediate gratification from the Internet, video games, Google, and Amazon, “permanent” may mean six months.  To us older adults, perhaps permanent is a house more than a hundred years old.  For those of us who have visited other places and have seen paint on ancient walls more than 1,000 years old, permanent may seem like a 1,000 years.  For those who study rocks and believe them to be very old, “permanent” may mean a million years.

In this Psalm today, we have object evidence of permanence.  Who does not find in the Psalmists words today great insight into ourselves.  We may have faith but that faith runs constantly into the bumps of doubt.  When we look abroad at the world and immediately around us, we see corruption in so-called Christians, we see cruelty, we see hatred, we see liars, we see thieves, we see charlatans and con men (and women), we see sexual perversion, we see the proud wealthy, we see those hungry for power, we see huge imbalances in living conditions, we see unfairness, and we see hopelessness.  In the face of all that, we are tempted mightily to cry out “Where are you God?  Where is Your proof?  Where is Your righteous indignation?  When is Your judgment upon all these terrible people?”    As the Psalmist, our soul becomes embittered and we become cold, “like a beast,” toward God.

So where is the evidence of permanence, other than the apparently permanent ascendancy of the wicked?

The evidence of permanence is in this – In all this, He holds our right hand.  He guides us with His revelation and truth.  And, in the end, He will receive us, for those who believe, to glory in eternity.

While we may jump from thought to thought and feeling to feeling and while we believe and yet doubt, God is there, permanent in His intent toward His chosen.  When we are conceived, He is there.  When we are born, He is there.  When we are ready to believe, He is there.  When we are ready to let Him lead, He is there.  When we are ready for wise counsel, He is there.  When we are ready to take up our cross and follow Him, He is there.  When we are ready to find rest under His wings, He is there.  When we are on our deathbed and ready to join Him, He is there.

He is.

That is permanence.

________

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

 

 

 

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