Bread – Fear

August 4, 2017


Psalm 76

But You [God], You are to be feared!  Who can stand before You … when God arose to establish judgment, to save the humble of the earth.  Selah.”  Ps. 76:7,9

As we have noted before, in the Psalms when the word “Selah” appears, it is time to stop our speed reading, take a breath, read more slowly and hear what God is saying to us in His revelation, the Bible.

Fear is one of those emotions which can be short term or long term and in either case can cause us to make wise decisions or foolish ones.  When our fear is short term and arises from the circumstances ahead of us, we recognize it by our reaction, which is an immediate heightened awareness of our surroundings and an immediate readiness to either attack to eliminate the cause of our fear or to run away and get as far away as possible.  This kind of fear is legitimate and arises from our desire to protect ourselves from the coming disaster.  For example, I was on the Dallas North toll road yesterday driving about 65 miles an hour with cars to either side of me at the same speed when a car about four car lengths in front of me blew (shredded) a tire.  Not only were there flying tire parts everywhere but there was a real danger that the car would lose control, flip over, and that I would be in the middle of the mess in a couple of seconds.  I was afraid of what was going to happen, my flight or fight reaction set in, and I was lucky that, not only did my brakes work, but the drivers to either side of me and behind me were also paying attention and their brakes worked too.

But then there is the fear which is long term and which debilitates us over time, causing us to behave poorly.  I grew up with a lazy eye, which was not corrected by surgery until I was in my late 50’s.  For most of my adult life, I was afraid that people would see me and laugh, and so I avoided eye contact.  I developed lots of defensive behaviors to make it appear I was not doing this, but I did it anyway.  My fear of ridicule (unfounded by the way) caused me to live a lot of my adult life unengaged from those around me.

We have lots of fears which drive us to poor decisions.  We have the fear of failure, the fear of ridicule, the fear of loss, the fear of not being loved, the fear of insecurity, the fear of loneliness, the fear of crowds, the fear of small places and large places, the fear of appearing (or being) stupid.  These fears can drive us into living lives of quiet desperation, living lives depressed, living lives full of fears about the next shoe to drop, the next Murphy’s law to appear, the next slight to bear, the next failure to deal with.

But the Psalmist points out something which we really should pay more attention to.  That point is that God is person we should be fearful of, because He is the one who judges according to His standard, which we cannot meet on our own.  “But You, You are to be feared!”

But if we see clearly that God is to be feared, does that lead us into permanent depressed state?  No It does not.  Unlike most long-term fears, which drive us into poor decisions, the fear of God does exactly the opposite – it drives us to good decisions!  Because when God arises to establish judgment He also arises to save “all the humble” of the earth.  Who are the humble – those who fear God!

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” Pr. 1:7  “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.”  Pr. 29:25

In man’s way of thinking, to fear God would mean to fear everything, because God is Creator of everything.  In God’s revelation to us, this truth stands firm – fear God and worship Him and Him only, and we will fear nothing.  Because when we fear Him, when we see Him who He is and we see ourselves for who we are, we are protected by Him into eternal life.

So, as we tackle our world today, let us fear Him and only Him … and, then fearing the only God who is to be feared, let us then live life in victory, free from fear, as He has promised.

________

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

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Praise

June 2, 2017


Psalm 67

Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You!  The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.  God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear Him!” Ps. 67:5-7

The first verse of these three verses ends in “praise You” and the last verse ends in “fear Him.”  There is a structure here, like two bookends between which is repeated twice, “God shall bless us.”

We normally connect the word “praise” with joyful outpouring of emotion in a happy, exuberant way; and we normally connect the word “fear” with the exact opposite, where we shrink or run away in terror.  With praise we approach the throne of God in our minds; with fear we run away from the throne of God, again in our minds.

We praise either in thanksgiving for our blessings or in anticipation of them.  Since we have gotten those blessings, are getting them now, and will get them in the future, praise of our Benefactor is to be expected.

We fear in comparison to power.  When someone has a gun pointed at us and we don’t, our natural and appropriate reaction is to fear.  When we contemplate our sinfulness in comparison against a holy God, our Judge, then fear may well be an appropriate response.

So why are blessings in the middle between praise and fear?  It is because that is where they belong.

We cannot fear that which we do not comprehend.  We fear a pointed gun because we understand its power, having seen its use on television.  We fear a mighty God if we understand His power; we understand His power in comparison to us if we are given wisdom to see by the same God.  When God gives us the power to see Him, we see ourselves for who we are in comparison, and the natural reaction then is fear of condemnation.  We are unworthy; He is worthy.  We are sinful; He is not.  We are promise-breakers; He is a promise-keeper.  We make some things; He makes everything.  We think in time; His thoughts are timeless, for all eternity.  When we see what God ought to do to us, we are rightly fearful and in awe of the coming Judgment.

But once we fear Him, once we fully comprehend who He is and who we are, His grace and mercy appears to us through Jesus Christ.  And once we understand the eternal blessing we have received through faith in Him, our fear turns to praise.  We may properly fear God for what He could do and what He should do, and simultaneously we may exult in joyful praise God because He has turned is righteous wrath away from us and dumped it on Jesus Christ, who stands with us, for us, and in us for eternity.  What God could do to me and should do to me because of my sinfulness, He chooses not to do because of the death of Jesus for my sins.  All I have to do is to recognize Him and have faith in Him, which I could not do but for God’s power.

The very thing which causes me to fear God is the very thing which causes me to praise Him, which is why fear and praise are bookends to blessing.

Now, why call this “Bread” “Praise” instead of “Fear?”  It is for a simple reason.  We cannot fear God unless we see Him and acknowledge Him for who He is.  And what better way to praise God than to recognize who He is in the world and in me?

We think of praise as raising joyful hands, but praise is also on our knees, in awe of Him, bowed before our King.

“Let the peoples praise You, O God … God, our God, shall bless us.  God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear Him.”  Between praise which acknowledges the sovereignty of God (fear) and praise which acknowledges the graciousness of God (praise), there is a double blessing.

Thank You, Jesus.

________

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

Bread – Power

September 2, 2016


Psalm 33

The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.  The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its might it cannot rescue.  Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love, that He may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.  Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.”  Ps. 33:16-20

Where is power located?  Where can it be found?

When I was getting my Masters of Business Administration, I took a course in power (of course, it wasn’t called that – it was called leadership).  We talked about a lot of things and looked at a number of psychological studies.  These showed things like how to arrange furniture to project power, where to stand, how to talk, etc.  We talked about technical power which comes from knowledge – engineers who know what they are doing have technical power because people absolutely rely on them to do things well so that bridges do not fall down, generators work, etc.  We talked about positional power, where a person’s power comes from the position they occupy, like a president has more positional power than does the bookkeeper; however, we learned that positional power is tricky, because the assistant who controls access to the president may have more positional power than even the president in some organizations.  Then we talked about situational power, where power is essentially derived from the group of people you are working with (where they voluntarily surrender power to you).  And we also talked about personal power, which arises from force of personality, drive, vision, charisma, and the such like.  I am sure new names have been attached to these and other similar concepts, but you get the drift.

But, in that entire course, we never talked about what David is talking about, the source of real power, God.

When we are in trouble, what do we fall back on?  Do we fall back on our great wealth, our family, our friends, our position, our intelligence, our native abilities, our talents, our knowledge?  To the extent we fall back on these things, and all of us do, we are demonstrating that we believe that real power comes from us or our surroundings or others somehow.  If only we could tap into the power source of self-awareness, self-assurance, or self-reliance, then we can dig our way out.  Of course, the operative word here is “self.”  When we fall back on ourselves or others, we have fallen into the arms of the world to give us the power we need to be saved, to survive the famine.

But David says that “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men … don’t hold a candle to the living God.” (or something like that)

The king is not saved by the king’s power nor his kingdom’s power; He is saved by the strong arm of the Lord and His kingdom’s power.

Where do you truly believe real power comes from?  Does it come from the sources we have been taught, or does it come from the Source which has been revealed to us by the Word written and the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ?

No doubt about it, there is a battle afoot.  There is a war.  It is the battle for ideas, the battle for resources, the battle for territory, the battle for position, the battle for truth, the battle for our families, the battle for our country, and the actual wars which grow out of these battles.  We cannot escape them.  They are here and we are players.

The question is, what kind of players are we?  Are we the players who plot and scheme and lead the charge (or follow the leader), who rely on ourselves and our fellow man and their resources, or are we players who are citizens of a different world, who know where real power lays, who rest in the knowledge that Jesus Christ, Father, and Holy Spirit are “our help and our shield?”

The time for testing is coming.  In whose army shall we fight?

_________

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

Bread – Sacrifice

February 1, 2016


Psalm 5

“Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning.

Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray.

O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice to You and watch.”  Ps. 5:1-3

What morning sacrifice is David preparing?

Because this is the Old Testament, one answer might well be a slain lamb or a grain offering.

However, isn’t this Psalm, this prayer, really the sacrifice?  Isn’t the time David is spending with the Lord his morning sacrifice?

Before we slough this off as too easy an answer, think about your own morning sacrifice to God.

When you are in bed and before you arise, are your first thoughts of God or of breakfast, a shower, and for men, a shave?  Before we get out of bed in the morning, are we saying to God “Give ear to my words, O Lord,” or are we making out our mental “to do” list for the day’s affairs?  Where do our priorities lie before we get up in the morning?

Now we have risen from bed.  We have turned off the alarm.  Do we fall on our knees in fear of the Lord, asking Him to intercede for us in the evil day … or do we go into the kitchen to turn on the coffee and either go outside to get the newspaper (for us older folks) or fire up our tablet to look at the news online?

Now we have gotten our newspaper and our coffee.  Do we drink our coffee while we read God’s Word and meditate on it, or do we go back into the bedroom and the bathroom to get ready for the day.

After we get ready for the day, what do we do next?  Do we spend a half hour with God in prayer in our chair or on our couch, or are we listening to talk radio in the car as we go to work?

What kind of sacrifice to we make to the Creator of the Universe on a regular daily morning?

But notice that David doesn’t just say that he “sacrifices” to God.  He says that he “prepares” a sacrifice.

The idea of preparing a sacrifice as opposed to just sacrificing suggests a higher level of intentionality, and a higher and more intent use of time.  To prepare for something, we have to think about it, we have to gather the ingredients, and we have to put the ingredients together.

What are the ingredients for preparation of a sacrifice?

Some people say that they can pray in bed in the morning.  I cannot.  In order for me to write Bread or pray or do anything else with a focus on God, I have to (a) decide to do it, (b) get out of bed, (c) walk to the room and the chair where I meet God, (d) sit down, (e) deliberately turn my thinking from “I don’t have time for this” to God, and (f) start.  And a lot of times, I start just like David does here … “Give ear to my words, O Lord.”  “And, Lord, if I have no words, then as David said ‘consider my groanings.’”

But is this the sacrifice?  Most people would say “yes” because time and effort is being sacrificed to God.  However, the answer is “no.”  The reason is that all this, including the prayer, is only preparation for the sacrifice.

Then what is the sacrifice?  “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”  Ps. 51:17

In our world, when we are in “control,” when we are the master of our ship, how will we ever appear before God, today, this morning, with a “contrite heart,” with an acceptable sacrifice, without preparation, without taking the time and making the effort to come to God and asking Him to love us, to listen to us, to forgive our trespasses, and to fill us with His Holy Spirit that we may in turn love others, listen to others, and forgive others?

When we begin our day thinking first of God and preparing for our sacrifice by meeting Him, listening to Him, talking to Him, and loving Him, then we will, with a good preparation, know by what grace, by what mercy, we are even given the right to do what we are doing.  And when that awe settles over us, well then the sacrifice of a contrite heart has begun.

Before the sacrifice is the preparation.  What have you done today to prepare?  What time have you set aside; what time have you spent in prayer, in communion with your Savior?  What morning preparation have you made to give to God your sacrifice of your heart?

__________

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

 

 

 

 

Bread – Miracles

September 11, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, September 11, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Kings 17:1-24; Phil. 2:1-11; Matt. 2:1-12; Psalms 49,53,119:49-72

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In 1 Kings today, we read about a woman who has shown hospitality to a prophet of God, Elijah, and whose son has just died. The mother gets angry at Elijah, accusing him of bringing tragedy to her home because of her sins. Elijah takes the boy to his room, lays on him, and prays to God three times to let the child’s life come back into him. “And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah/ And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.” 1 Kings 17:22

This was a miracle and the woman responded to the amazing, supernatural event by saying to Elijah “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” 1 Kings 17:24. The woman recognized the miracle of her son’s revival from the dead, and acknowledged it, saying that she now believed.

This woman is so much like us. For a miracle from God, we look for the amazing event, the circumstance which could only have been put together by God. We expect spectacular results, a mountaintop religious experience. If there are fireworks of sight, that is a great add-on, but we’ll take fireworks of experience as a substitute.

But there are other kinds of miracles all around us, which when we think about them add up to a miraculous experience, mundane yes, but miraculous nonetheless. It is the miracles of everyday life which should drive us to our knees.

The widow in our story had actually experienced one of these mundane miracles many times previously. When Elijah first met her, the widow was at her wits end. She had no money and only enough food to last for one more meal. She had no help apparently from her neighbors, and she was preparing for she and her son to die. When she showed hospitality to Elijah by sharing what little she had with him (at his request), her pantry was never empty after that – “The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty …” 1 Kings 17:16.

But this daily miracle, this provision of God literally from thin air, from left field, was not enough for the widow to declare that Elijah was a man of God. God’s miracle stared her in the face every day at every meal, and yet it was not enough to recognize the presence of God in her surroundings. She harbored doubts until the “big” miracle happened.

And, like I said, isn’t this woman so much like us. For the moment, sit back and drop the pretense of knowledge, the veneer of science and education, the chimera of reason. Just drop them and look around. Isn’t it a miracle that every day we are warmed by the sun? Isn’t it a miracle that our farms produce good food for us and that our cupboards have any food at all in them? Isn’t it a miracle that, whether I live a shack or a mansion, that I live at all? Isn’t it a miracle that we have a God who cares so much for us that He has saved us when we cannot save ourselves?

When we look at a young child in new circumstances, we see wonder and curiosity in their eyes, words, and behavior. What happened to the wonder in our lives, in our eyes, in our words, and in our behavior?

What if we couldn’t explain things? Would we then be excited about the miracles that surround us all the time?

This is not a plea to toss away reason or education or knowledge. It is a plea that these not be shrouds and blinders by which we are covered up, hidden from God’s wonders.

You want to know that God is real and His Word is truth? Walk outside and look around. Look inside yourself and walk around. And then give thanks to God, for it is His miracle which caused us to be borne, His miracle which causes us to be sustained in this life, and His miracle which will bring us into relationship with Jesus Christ and eternal life.

____________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Relationship

May 10, 2013


Readings for Friday, May 10, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ezek. 1:1-14,24-28b; Heb. 4:14-5:6; Luke 9:28-36; Psalms 85,86,91,92

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Have you noticed that good relationships between people have at least two features – one is respect for the other person and the other is approachability. We cannot have a good relationship with people who are unapproachable and we cannot have a good relationship with someone we do not respect.

For example, people in a good relationship listen to each other. Why listen? One because the person we are listening to permits us to listen because he (and you) are approachable. Second, we listen because we respect the speaker.

Let’s try another example. Work. Who do we work best with? Those people for whom we have respect (and respect us) and those people who are approachable.

Where do these thoughts come from? From today’s readings.

In today’s readings from both Ezekiel and Luke, we have images of a holy God, a God who is so mysterious as to strike awe and wonder, a God of “wheels” and “wings” and “eyes” and “lighting” and “light” and power and glory. We have images of God to where we are seeing things which we cannot describe. We have images of God which cause us to fall down (“And when I saw it, I fell on my face…” Ezek. 1:28b). We have images of God which drive awe and the utmost respect. So much respect, in fact, that we realize that we are the made and He is the Maker, we are the created and He is the Creator, we are nothing and He is All in All.

But, in today’s readings, we also have images of an approachable God. In our reading from Hebrews today, we read “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Heb. 4:16

So, we can have a relationship with a holy God who we have awe and the utmost respect for by approaching Him where He is.

How can this be? What occurred that we went from Ezekiel’s vision to the writer of Hebrews saying with absolute confidence that we can, with confidence, draw near to the throne of grace?

The secret to this is locked up in two things. First is the “we” in the Hebrews passage. The “we” is not “we” globally, but “we” who have been saved by the grace of God through, forgiven of our sins by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In other words, the “we” is Christians. The second is from our reading today in Luke – “And as He [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of His face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white…And a voice came out of the cloud, saying ‘This is My Son, My Chosen One, listen to Him!’” Lk. 9:29,35 We call this event the “Transfiguration.” Jesus’ identity as man also revealed as His identity as God.

In other words, God is approachable because He first approached us as God the Son, laying down His life for us so that, because of who He is, we might have a relationship with Him for eternity.

And in this, God teaches us a very interesting thing about relationships. I can have a relationship with another whom I respect, even though I am not worthy of respect, and I can have a relationship with another who is approachable even though I am not very approachable. But can there be a relationship in return? In other words, if I am not worthy of respect and am unapproachable, can the person who has respect and is approachable have a relationship with me? The answer to that question is “yes.” Why? Because of love.

If I have love, I can create relationships with those who don’t deserve respect or who are not very approachable. I can have those relationships because there is a first love.

And that first love is God. God so loved us that, in spite of our disobedience, sin, unfaithfulness, and hatred toward Him, He sent His Son to live among us and die for us. And we can approach God in His throne room because Christ rose from the dead and sits on the throne.

Love trumps circumstances. Love trumps attitudes. Love trumps sin. Love trumps offense. Love trumps all.

We can have a relationship with God because God has chosen to build the bridge we can cross to Him. What we need to remember is that this relationship is built on God’s terms, not ours, on His work, not ours, and on His love, not ours.

____________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Vanity

June 4, 2010


Readings for Friday, June 4 as
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Eccles. 5:1-7; Gal. 3:15-22; Matt. 14:22-36
    Psalms 40, 51, 54
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Have you ever thought about the appropriateness of the name which we call the table-mirror combination we stand or sit in front of every day – a "vanity?"  To be vain is "having or showing an excessively high regard of one’s self, looks, possessions, abilities, etc."  Webster’s New World Dictionary – Second College Edition (1976).  Surely every morning every one of us looks in the mirror and, in our most vain way, prepare ourselves for the day.

In our reading today from Ecclesiastes, there is a warning – "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.  Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools…Much dreaming and many words are meaningless.  Therefore stand in awe of God." (Eccles. 5:1, 7 [NIV])

Why do we use many words in our prayers and in our worship of God?  Do we really believe that we can argue God into submission?  Do we really believe that we are worthy to stand before God as equals, subjecting His revelation to the confines of our reason, our thoughts and desires?

Unfortunately, many of us do.  We go to prayer or go to worship and "offer the sacrifice of fools," using many meaningless words.  Solomon tells us to go before the Lord to listen.  But why would we listen when we know everything or at least know what God should do for us today?  Many times we don’t listen, we don’t stand in reverential fear before an awesome God – instead, we engage in a conversation of our choosing, using our wisdom and our words and our plans as the content and structure of the dialogue.  And, as a result, often there is no dialogue, no insight, no "spiritual blessing," no nothing.

In another translation of the Bible, there is a different wording of the same quote from Ecclesiastes.  This translation comes from the English Standard Version as follows:  "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.  To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools … For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear."  (Eccles. 5:1,7 [ESV]"

"When dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear."

There is one place on the throne, and it is either occupied by God or by me.  Of course, it can only be occupied by me in my dreams, because God is God and I am not.  But what vanity for me to believe I should occupy it, I am able to occupy it, or I am already occupying it!

Our vanity interferes with our worship of God.  It interferes with our communication with God.  It interferes with our ability to seize the benefits of the new life which Christ offers us.  It turns us into people who act from self-interest rather than love.  It turns us into people who would rather be thought of as nice than as truth-tellers.

There was a great Saturday Night Live skit where the comedian sat in front of the mirror and said something to the effect of "I’m smart, I’m good, I’m wonderful, and doggone it, people like me!"  We can stand in front of our vanity mirror in the morning and say the same thing, or we can say "Thank you Lord.  I’m ready to listen."

Which will it be for you today?

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