Bread – Gloating

June 14, 2017


Psalm 70

Make haste, O God, to deliver me!…Let them turn back because of their shame who say, “Aha, Aha!”  Ps. 70:1,3

“Gloating” is one of those words which is almost painful to say; saying it almost puts your teeth on edge.  It seems to form the mouth into an unnatural shape to utter the word “gloating.”

We may not say the word, but we do it all the time.  When someone has made a mistake and is paying the consequences of failure, aren’t we always ready with the “Didn’t I tell you that ….”  We are gloating in that instance, because we are standing in our superior position of knowledge, expertise, decision-making skill, wisdom, and just plain good sense.  And we are driving home the point just so the other person, who so desperately needs our help, will listen “next time.”

Or maybe we just won something, like a sports game.  We are all puffed up with pride at that very moment, gloating over our obvious superiority to the “also rans.”  Now you may not admit that you do this, because someone will call you “conceited,” so your public persona may be different, but in the silence of your bedroom or study you are saying to yourself…”Yes!”  That is gloating.

Now, in our reading today, the Psalmist David has obviously done something which is causing other people to stand around him and gloat, saying “Aha, Aha!”

And David does two things in response.  First, he calls those people shameful (“Let them turn back because of their shame.”).  Why is their behavior shameful?  I think the reason is captured in God’s command to us in Leviticus 19:18 (“…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”).  When we fail, do we gloat over ourselves?  No.  Then why should we gloat over the failings of other people?

But the second thing he does is call upon God’s help.

When we are dealing with the emotional baggage of someone else who is gloating over our failures or our bad choices, do we ask for God’s help in dealing with that person?  Before we respond to the gloater in anger or in retreat, do we listen to the Lord’s advice about loving them and about coming to Him first as the solution rather than last?

We will fail and, when we do, there will be some in the world who delight in our hurt, in our failure, and who say “Aha, look at him!”  The world tells us that there are two solutions to this, either respond in anger by telling them where they can go or respond in retreat, by accepting their criticism and slinking off to feel sorry for ourselves.  God tells us there is a third choice – come to Him.

Go to God for comfort.  Go to God for truth.  Go to God for healing.  Go to God for judgment.

When confronted with the laughter of the world, rather than retreat into ourselves or explode in reaction there is another place of safety, wisdom, and power.  Go to God.

________

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

 

 

Bread – Wilderness

June 7, 2017


Psalm 68

O God, when You went out before Your people, when You marched through the wilderness,  Selah…” Ps. 68:7

The word “Selah” appears from time to time in the Psalms as a way of saying, “stop, pay attention, meditate on what you just read.”

What is interesting here is that the word “Selah” follows a sentence fragment. I actually appears right after the comma.  Therefore, we stop and think about what we just read.

There are two parts to this sentence fragment which stand out to me.  One is the word “wilderness.”  The other is the word “when.”

Who reading this has not been in a wilderness of their lives?  A long time ago, when I was much younger, I backpacked in the Weminuche  Wilderness of Colorado.   And I really tried hard, too.  I was carrying a 70 pound backpack, trying to climb up the trail of scree rock, sliding one or two steps back for every two or three steps forward, up a steep incline, with no one to help (I was very slow compared to my companions).  I was hot, tired, thirsty (even though I brought plenty of water) and extremely aggravated.  My legs and feet were killing me.   I wondered why I even started the journey.

This physical experience is similar to the emotional and psychological experiences we go through as we try to navigate life, raise a family, make money, and plan for the future.  We carry our burdens on our back, whether it addiction, anger, fear, worry, disappointment, depression, and a bunch of other maladies.  It seems like we are always on slippery stones, sliding backwards more often than going forward.  We feel like we are always going uphill.  We get tired.  We get hungry and thirsty.  We long for a better life, and sometimes we even wonder why we started the fool trip to begin with.  Finally, we feel like we are all alone on this fight for life.  Although we may claim a relationship with God, when we are in the wilderness of life He sometimes seems to have abandoned us too.

The second word is “when.”  “When You went out before Your people.”  “When You marched through the wilderness.”

Not “if,” but “when.”  Concrete in reality; provable in the events of history.  A real presence in a real time of need.  The “You” is God, not me.  “When God went out before His people.”

In the Old Testament, God led His people Israel through the wilderness into the promised land.  Today, for those brought by God into His sheepfold, He goes out before us into and through the wildernesses of life to bring us to victory.

We will not be able to avoid the wildernesses of life.  To think we can is to fail to understand that our broken world which creates such wildernesses is our fault, due to our rebellion against God and our sinful state.  But, while we are in those wildernesses, we can remember “when God.”   And realize that the same God that led Israel is the same God who leads us.  He goes out before us.  He marches through the wilderness with us.

One of the interesting things about my wilderness hike I now remember is that I was always looking down, trying to make sure I was planting my feet on solid ground so that I would not slide backwards.  But to find God, I cannot look at my feet but must look at Him.  And when I looked up from my feet and looked around, I saw not the rocks but the mountain flowers, the streams of water off the mountain, the mountain itself, and the sky.

The nature of wildernesses is that we are inclined to look down.  God is the God of “when.”  So can we see Him?  To do that, we need to look up. And when we do, we see Him.  And we trust.  And, as any good hiker will tell you, when we trust we will find that that mountain can be climbed, the danger can be overcome, and the wilderness will become a place of joy rather than a place of burden.

Think about it.  Selah.

________

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

 

 

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.

 

 

Bread – Strife

August 19, 2016


Psalm 31

In the cover of Your presence You hide them from the plots of men; You store them in Your shelter from the strife of tongues.”  Ps. 31:20

I was planning to write on something else today, when the words “You store them in Your shelter from the strife of tongues” leaped out at me.

In this political season, I think we can safely say that we all suffer from the “strife of tongues.”  The idea of strife is that of bitter arguing or bitter fighting.  Strife arises from our desire to be in control, to be right, and to win.  And our vehicle for fighting bitterly in ancient and modern times both is with action (weapons) and speech (tongues).

It seems like all people everywhere suffer the “strife of tongues.”  We are condemned by the tongue, spoken rudely to by the tongue, criticized by the tongue, and contended with by the tongue.  If anyone is angry or upset with us, they let us know through the tongue.  If anyone disagrees with us, they let us know through the tongue.  Even the church fathers had problems with this – as James said, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire?  And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.  The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell…no human being can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”  Js. 3:5-8  I think you get the point.

So what do we do when we are confronted with someone else’s tongue?  We generally do one of two things; we either respond in kind or we retreat.  God says, through David, abide in Me and you will do neither – you will not respond in kind (but with kindness) and your will not retreat (stand firm in the evil day).  To neither respond in kind nor retreat is a supernatural thing – it is only through God’s power and His protection in our lives that we slough off the strife of the tongue.

But what about the “strife of the tongue” which we ourselves initiate.  We are condemning in our speech, violent in our speech, angry in our speech – what about the fires that we set with our own tongues?  How do we deal with that?  God says, through David, abide in Me and you will have no need to create strife, but can speak truth with love.  To not speak our mind in all things, but to speak God’s mind is a supernatural thing – it is only through God’s power and our sense of safety in His arms and under His wings that we slough off our need to defend ourselves in all things, and are therefore able to speak truth in love, avoiding the strife of the tongue.

There is much talk in today’s world about “coming together” and “speaking kindly” and all those other good things which we believe in Utopia will exist.  These things cannot exist because of the nature of man (and the nature of nature), unless and until we find shelter in the same place – in the arms of Jesus, of God.

In the meantime, as Christians, what are we to do with the “strife of the tongue.”  Well, first, because we are under the shelter of the Most High, we can be quiet when that will have a positive effect and we can speak truth in love when that is what is needed.  And second, we can stand.  When the storm of the strife of tongues encircles us, under the shelter of the Most High we stand in the center, in the eye of the hurricane.  From there we have peace.  From there we have options.  From there we can change the “strife of tongues” into the “peace of tongues.”

The opposite of strife is peace.  And peace does not begin with the tongue.  It begins where we have shelter.   If we want peace and seek the shelter the world provides, we will have no peace.  Peace is to be found in the shelter of God.

May you, today, find that shelter and that peace, and thereby be protected from the “strife of tongues.”

_________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Judgment

July 13, 2016


Psalm 28

“Give to them according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds; give to them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward.  Because they do not regard the work of the Lord or the work of His hands, He will tear them down and build them up no more.”  Ps. 28:4-5

When I write Bread, I am never sure if I am writing for my immediate audience or someone far distant in place and time.  As a result, I try not to use current events because, although the reference is readily understood today, it is probably not going to be understood tomorrow.

However, one current event repeats itself so often, my mention of it today will likely resonate tomorrow as well.  It is the senseless, evil killing of five policemen in Dallas last week.   I was asked by several people to publish something on this shortly after it occurred, but I confess I could not.  I could not because my anger was so deep, my desire for revenge so strong, my readiness to blame others so immediate, that I realized that nothing I would be willing to say would be the proper thing to say to bring glory to God.  I was ready to judge and in so doing react by giving back double the horror of the moment.

At a much milder level, we are faced with this every day.  Someone does us a wrong, and we react in immediate defense and anger.  Someone says something bad about us, and we immediately attribute bad motives to someone who we now perceive is our enemy.   We are so ready to judge right from wrong, good from bad, and pure from impure.

Now I am not saying that we should not use God’s plumb line to assess right from wrong, truth from untruth, pure from impure, good from bad.  In fact, knowing God’s Word helps us to discern these things which we must understand in order to do right and to resist wrong.  We can speak the truth to evil without condemning evil.

Boy, this last statement is hard.  When we know what is good, should we not condemn the bad?  No.  Instead, we should always be ready to show mercy, having been shown mercy ourselves.

The portion of the Psalm quoted above shows who is charge of judging, who is in charge of condemnation.    Maybe it becomes clearly by understanding that David is praying to the Lord and essentially says this – “[You-the Lord] give to them according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds; [You-the Lord] give to them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward.” Ps. 28:4

Judgment belongs to Him.

I want to condemn the man who shot those policemen to hell; I do.  But that is not my job.  My job is showing unmerited mercy to those who would do evil, just like I have been shown unmerited mercy by my Savior when I was in the same position, doing evil all the time, opposed to God.

This is tough.  But no one ever said being a Christian was easy, did they?

_________

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

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Frustration

April 27, 2016


Psalm 17

“Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him!  Deliver my soul … from men by Your hand, O Lord, from men of the world …You fill their womb with treasure; they are satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants.”  Ps. 17:13-14

You can almost hear the frustration in David’s voice.  Confront the evildoers, God…these are the same people who You fill with treasure, bring them an inheritance through children, and let them pass their wealth to future generations!

When we play the game by the King’s rules, when we are surrounded by those who do not, and when the King rewards them and not us, what else are we supposed to feel except frustration, anger, confusion, and resentment?

Here, we have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and we try to be obedient to His Word, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and yet the wicked prosper, often by taking it from us.  We appeal to the Lord and the wicked appear to prosper more.  We know God is sovereign, and therefore it is by His will that evil plays out, that the men of the world fill their caves with cash, live luxuriously, and dominate the affairs of man.

There are three answers to this frustration.  One is to be angry with God because it rains on both the just and the unjust, and the unjust have the just’ umbrellas.  When we do this, we need to accept the fact that we have elevated our will, our standards, our values, and our own belief about our importance over God, and stand in judgment of Him.

The second answer to this frustration is to join the other side, to reject God as uncaring or remote or, if present and caring, then impotent and unable to change the world.   If God is limited as we are, only able to influence outcome and not make outcome, then we might as well ally ourselves with the people having fun and wealth and worldly power.

The third answer to this frustration is to acknowledge our place – we are the subject, He is the King; we are the slave, He is the master; we are the saved, He is the Savior; our minds are limited, His mind is unlimited.  In other words, the third answer is to acknowledge the truth we see only partially, that His ways are not our ways, although we certainly would like Him to conform to our view of the world and our desires.

David picks this third way when he ends the Psalm in verse 15, immediately after expressing his frustration, as follows: “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with Your likeness.”  Ps. 17:15

To paraphrase, David is saying, “God, what you are doing makes no sense to me, but I am satisfied with You alone.”

When we have prayed and our prayers have come to naught as far as we can tell, when we become frustrated with God, what is our response?  Is it to stand in judgment of Him?  Is it to abandon Him to join the world?  Or is it to stay the course, knowing that His countenance is sufficient for the moment, for the day, and for our entire life?

Another way of asking the same question is, when we are frustrated with God because He seems to helping those who are against us more than He is helping us, do we (a) get mad and tell him to get right with the program, (b) start looking at the other side to see what we can satisfy ourselves with that the world offers, or (c) say “O Well, it is Your hands, O God, and not mine – thank you.”

The first results in anger, the second in worry, the third in peace.

What choose you?

_________

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

 

Bread – Wrath

March 4, 2016


Psalm 9

“The nations have sunk in the pit that they have made; in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.  The Lord has made Himself known; He has executed judgment; the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands.  The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.  For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.  Arise, O Lord! Let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before You!  Put them in fear, O Lord!  Let the nations know that they are but men!”  Ps. 9:15-20

We have all seen God’s wrath because we watch the movies and we know, at least from the movie “The Ten Commandments,” that when the Israelites built the golden calf to worship because God (and Moses) had taken His sweet time to get back to them and they thought He had taken too long, God (through Moses) threw His law at them and burnt them all up, etcetera, etcetera.  That, in our mind’s eye, is God’s wrath upon us, His judgment upon us, caught up in sparks of lightning, the destruction of fire, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth.  All very visual and very cinema graphic, and very exciting.  And then we leave the theater and pick up in our lives where we had left them.

I think it is because we have such a visual view of God’s wrath that we do not recognize it so easily in our own lives and in the lives of our cities, counties, states, and country.  This is because God’s wrath is not expressed in the cataclysmic but in the erosion; it is not expressed in the immediate but in the course of time; it is not expressed in noise and thunder but in the barely discernible day-by-day breakage of the foundation.  One we can see and avoid; the other is under our feet and we are so busy looking in the mirror at ourselves, we miss it altogether.

This Psalm is unusual because, at least in the previous eight Psalms, David has ended them on a high note (Ps. 1: “for the Lord knows the way of the righteous;” Ps. 2:”Blessed are all who take refuge in Him;” Ps. 3:”Salvation belongs to the Lord; Your blessings be on Your people!; Ps. 4: “for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety;” Ps. 5: “You cover him with favor as with a shield;” Ps. 6: “The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer;” Ps. 7: “I will give the Lord the thanks due His righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High;” Ps. 8: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!”).  However, this Psalm, Psalm 9, is ended on a low note – “Put them in fear, O Lord!”

It is a strange way to end the week, ending on the curse “Put them in fear, O Lord!”

But, really, is the request for the visitation of the wrath of God a curse or a blessing?

Let’s personalize it.  Let’s apply the curse to ourselves – “Put me in fear, O Lord!  Let me know that I am but a man!”

Now, have I called down a curse upon myself or a blessing?  If God intervenes in my life to show me that I am but a man and He is God, isn’t this the first step toward repentance and from repentance to acceptance of God’s mercy and from the acceptance of God’s mercy for all time in Jesus Christ, to eternal life?

See, when the nation has reaped its reward for its own actions, for its own avoidance of God’s law, for its willful disobedience, for its destruction of life, for its exaltation of the self and of the power of wealth over the power of the Almighty, it will die.  It will get caught up in its own traps and it will return to Sheol (Hell).  In the vernacular, the nation will go to hell.

Just like we will unless …

And that is where David leaves us – “Lord, visit Your wrath upon us!”  To what end?  That we go to hell?  No.  The purpose of the Psalm is not to condemn but to wake up, not to hide but to reveal, not to destroy but to build.

Because it is not until we know there is a God and that He hates sin of all kinds, degrees, shapes, and dimension, and that He hates it so much that He will destroy us … it is not until we know this that we understand the need for God the merciful, God the Savior, Jesus Christ.  It is not until we can recognize the wrath of God that we can accept the gift of God, the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for my benefit, for my life, for my ransom, for my sentence.

It is not until we see clearly the path we are on to destruction that we can also see the path to life.

David starts off Psalm 9 with “I will give thanks to the Lord” and ends with “Put them in fear, O Lord!”  He ends that way because his heart is that the people who are the end see that they are at the end and join him at the beginning.

From going to hell to being in fear of the Lord to giving thanks to the Lord is a journey with a beginning and an end.  Psalm 9 begins with life and ends in death, but in so doing there is the invitation – begin in death and end in life.  “Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways.”

Thank You, O Lord, for Your wrath in my life, that I might turn toward You and return to You, and thereby join with David in giving thanks to You for Your great glory, mercy, peace, and forgiveness!  Amen.

_________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Entry

February 3, 2016


Psalm 5

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

You destroy those who speak lies;…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________

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

 

Bread – Anger

January 27, 2016


Psalm 4

“Be angry and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.  Selah.”  Ps. 4:4

We know that “Selah” means, in part, to stop and reflect on what we just read.  So as hard as this passage may be to understand, we need to stop and think about it.

When somebody steps on us physically, emotionally, or spiritually, our natural response is anger.  The “step on us” can be something as simple as a misplaced word or a misinterpreted word from someone close or it can be as complicated as being bypassed for a promotion because someone else is more politically correct within the organization.  Somebody can hit us and somebody can accuse us and our natural response, almost our animal response is anger.  We show this anger in harsh words, by striking back, by stomping off, by yelling, by pouting, by silence, by throwing whatever object happens to be close by (a golf club comes to mind).  We are insulted and, d…n it, someone “is going to pay through the nose.”

It is suggested by Jesus that anger is the equivalent of murder (compare Matt. 5:21 and 5:22).  And yet the Psalmist, David, tells us to “be angry” and, at the same time, do not sin.  How is that possible?

One way is to deal with your anger Scripturally.  Paul says in Ephesians 4:26 “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  In other words, one way to deal with your anger Scripturally is to recognize it for what it is, hold your tongue so that it does not add to the fire (“…be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…” Js. 1:20), and release it so that it does not hold you down.  Do not carry it with you to bed, so that it torments you all night and deprives you of your rest.

A second way is to realize that the Hebrew word translated as “anger” in the ESV can also be translated as “tremble,” which is how it is translated in the NASB: “Tremble and do not sin; Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still.” Ps. 4:4 (NASB)

Now being angry makes me tremble, and so the words are closely related.  But we are also expected to tremble before God and His holiness.  (“Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled…” Ex. 20:18).

Now, if you think about it, when we get angry and begin to sin in our thoughts and even our actions, who is more angry?  God hates sin, all sin.  When we respond in anger to the slights of others, we would be deserving to suffer God’s wrath upon us.

When we tremble in our anger, ready to strike out and revenge our honor, perhaps if we thought about God at the same time, we would also be trembling before Him, reminding ourselves that if anyone should be angry, it should be Him.

So, there are two ways to deal with our anger … in our own strength by biting our tongue and leaving the gun in the closet, or trembling also before God, awed by both His righteousness and His mercy in not taking us out right then.

When we think about God first in our response, we recall His mercy on us and, in turn, we can, in the strength of the Holy Spirit, give mercy to others.  To they deserve our condemnation for their insults upon us which make us angry?  Yes they do, but then so do we before a Holy God.

In our anger, we tremble.  Maybe, just maybe, this is a physical message from God to remind us that the only person we should be trembling before is Him, not out of anger but out of holy awe and fear.

How can we be angry and not sin?  Tremble before the right Person and let Him handle it.  And, somehow, we will find that we are no longer angry.  Why?  Because we have been saved from God’s own anger at us by His own Son, and, being mindful of this, recalling this in our anger, we can no longer be angry, but grateful.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Payback

April 29, 2015


Readings for Wednesday, April 29, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: **; Col. 1:24-2:7; Luke 6:27-38; Psalms 49, 53, 119:49-72

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We get hurt, we get stepped on, we get insulted, we get harmed, we get laid low. What is our reaction to the person causing this hurt, injury, harm, suppression? Payback.

In a city called Baltimore this week, there have been riots causing destruction throughout the city. A person is possibly seriously injured or killed by the police or just circumstances, and his ethnic brothers throw rocks and bottles at the police and burn down buildings in their own neighborhood. Why? Payback. A fellow officer is injured by a rock and reacts by hitting someone or maybe shooting. Why? Payback.

You hurt me and I’ll hurt you back. Why? Payback.

Probably the hardest command in all of Christianity is contained in our reading from Luke today, where Jesus says essentially the Christian rule of love is this – you hurt me and I love you back. No payback. Why? Because I [Jesus/God] said so.

In case you doubt me, here is the reading: “But I say to you who hear, ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from the one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. … If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you?…And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you?…And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you?…But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:27-36

When we have been saved by God’s mercy alone in spite of our ingratitude, disobedience, and evil, it is only fair to ask us in return to love our neighbor the same way.

However, to be frank obedience to this command is almost impossible for me. If you pull a knife on me, I’ll pull out a gun. If you call me a name, I have a better one for you in my vocabulary. And you know what? I’m willing to be that if I say “If I pulled a knife on you, you would pull a gun on me” would not be far from the truth.

Why is this true? Do we really need what is stolen? Probably not. If our house is burned down, wouldn’t our life in Christ go on in a tent? If we are killed, are we not now with Christ?

So why do we fight fire with fire? Why do we seek payback? I think for the simple reason is that it feels good, to us. “Don’t tread on me” is our ultimate statement of self. It is the ultimate statement of “I am.”

But wait a minute, isn’t there only one “I am” and I am not He?

If you want to see the man reborn in Christ fight the same man with one foot still stuck in the grave of self, one has to look no further than our desire to win, our desire for payback, or desire for justification, our desire for respect. When we say “It is not all about you” what we are often saying is, “But it may be all about me.”

How can we balance what Christ says today in Luke with how we live our lives on a regular basis? We can’t.

And the reason we can’t is that we are either obedient to Christ’s command to love or we are not. And we are not. I am not.

But I am His and at least when I go after payback, there is a part of me which says “George, you know better.” And just this gleam of truth winnowing its way into my conscience sometimes has an effect – sometimes, instead of going after payback, I will sigh and say “Not today.” And in the Holy Spirit, our “not todays” will increase and paybacks will decrease. And when that happens, we know the fools of the world will scoff. But, maybe some will say, “There goes Christ’s ambassador.” And we know what He will say — “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Now that is a payback worth receiving.

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© 2015 GBF

**The Book of Common Prayer lesson omitted today is from the book of Wisdom, which is from a group of writings which some churches do not consider valid at all and others consider useful for teaching but not for doctrine. Because these books are disputed by many in the church, I choose not to include them in Bread.

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