Bread – Rulers

June 27, 2017


Psalm 72

Give the king Your justice, O God, and Your righteousness to the royal son!  … Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people…May he defend the cause of the poor of the people…May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass…In his day may the righteous flourish…” Ps. 72:1-7

We have all experienced the situation where we know we ought to pray for people in power, our President or, if another country, maybe our king, prime minister, or dictator, but for whatever reason we don’t want to.  Maybe we see him or her as evil.  Maybe we him or her as grossly incompetent.  Maybe we don’t agree with his or her politics.  But we are commanded in all circumstances to be subject to and pray for those in authority.  Rom. 13:1.   To accomplish this command and yet maintain our anger (upset) toward our particular ruler, I am reminded of that famous prayer by Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” when he prayed: “God bless and keep the Tsar far away from us.”

But if we are inclined to really follow the commandment that we honor our rulers and when we are missing words, Psalm 72 is a great prayer to read, because it exalts the ruler, the king.  “May [the king] be like rain that falls on the mown grass.”  What a wonderful image of the true blessings a great ruler can have upon his or her country or dominion, when he or she is subject to God.

But this gives rise to wonder, what ruler is David (or the Psalm-writer, if not him) talking about?

Like so much of Scripture, there is a sense of it being present (the local king at the time) and future (the future King).  Who is the future king?  I think that verses 17 through 19 say it by description: “May His Name endure forever, His fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in Him, and all nations call Him blessed!  Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.  Blessed be His glorious Name forever; may the whole earth be filled with His glory!  Amen and Amen!”

Who is this person?  King Jesus of course.  His is the Name which endures through eternity.  His people are blessed “in” Him.  And one day, one day, when He returns in glory to rule on earth in His millennial kingdom, “all nations” will bow before Him and “call Him blessed.”

When you read Psalm 72, you are asking the earthly king to “be like rain.”  Sometimes that happens, but the truth is that man is fallen, our earthly kings are fallen, and even with the best intentions (which rarely exist), our earthly kings fall short and their “rain” does not bless, but tortures.

There is only one King who does all the things which the Psalmist prays for.  There is only one King who “alone [by Himself, without the help of anyone else] does wondrous things.”

And that is King Jesus.

Come, worship and adore Him!

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

 

 

 

Bread – Reflections

May 31, 2017


Psalm 67

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us, that Your way may be known on earth…” Ps. 67:1-2

As I think about God’s face shining on me, the image of Moses coming down the mountain comes to mind.  “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai…[he] did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.”  Ex. 34:29

In that event, the people knew that Moses had been with God because his face reflected it.

Does my face reflect God’s shining upon me?  Does my face reflect His graciousness, His love, His blessings in my life?

When the sun shines upon us, we will reflect either a suntan or a burn, but it will be obvious to everyone that we have been in the presence of the sun.  When the Son shines upon us, what do we reflect?  Do we reflect hope, charity, love, peace, or any other virtue?

One of the things we learned in school was that there were some surfaces which reflect light and others that absorb it.  For example, a plain stone absorbs light.  Polished granite, however,  reflects it.

Evil absorbs.  Good projects and reflects.

Anger absorbs.  Love reflects.

Worry absorbs.  Hope reflects.

Does my face reflect the hope that is in me, or does it merely absorb God’s light in a feeble attempt to recharge my internal batteries?  Am I outward focused (reflecting and projecting) or inward focused (absorbing and retaining)?

Another way of asking the same question is to ask whether it is my problems which I focus on (inward, absorbing) or the problems of my neighbor which I focus on (outward, reflecting)?

If God’s face has truly shined upon us, how can we not show it in our countenance (to use an old-fashioned word)?  How can we not show it in our faces, in our lives?

The truth is that we are very adept at receiving God’s blessings, of having God’s face shine on our lives, and then keeping it for ourselves.

If our skin reflects when we have been in the presence of the sun, then how much more should our face reflect when we have been in the presence of the Creator of the sun?

What blessing will we reflect today … that His way may be known upon the earth?

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

 

 

Bread – Cities

January 4, 2017


Psalm 46

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bread – Blessing

May 18, 2016


Psalm 20

“May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!  May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!…May He grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans!  May we shout for joy over your salvation…” Ps. 20:1,4-5a

I struggled with what to name this Bread, because the words above and the first half of this Psalm evoke several thoughts.  One, this is a prayer such that a leader might make over his or her people.  So I could have called this “prayer” and I would have been accurate.  Two, this could have been called “love,” because it expresses a desire that someone other than the speaker received many, many positive things in life.  We call these positive things “blessings,” and so that is why I named this Bread “blessing.”

It is indeed a blessing upon our lives when people who matter to us speak words of encouragement into our lives, speak words of hope and joy and happiness.  It is indeed a blessing to us when our leaders speak words of peace, and when their words cause peace.  It is indeed a blessing in our lives when we feel safe, wrapped in the arms of Jesus, surrounded by the Lord of hosts and the hosts themselves, armed for battle.  It is indeed a blessing for us to be satisfied, not by the accumulation of wealth, but by the accumulation of love and relationships and wisdom and peace.

But what is also happening here is that the person giving the blessing, offering up the prayer of hope and encouragement, is also being blessed at the same time.  When we speak peace into someone’s lives, we live peace.  When we speak hope into people’s lives, we live hope.  When we offer up our sincere wishes for our neighbor’s success in the evil day, we also wish the same upon ourselves because if our neighbor is successful, so are we.  I am fond of saying “a rising tide raises all ships.”  Well, the outpouring of “may you” in our prayers is a rising tide of invocation of the name of God, of His character, of His might and power.  We can and will overcome because God was, is, and always will be.

But in the midst of all of the prayers for blessing on our fellow man, read this … “May we shout for joy over your salvation…”

In these verses, this is the first “may” which changes from “you” to “we.”  And think about it, who would not want to join in the celebration over one person saved.  The angels in heaven do it; we should too.  And notice that is not a prayer that you be saved, because that is assumed.  After all, David is writing to his people, Israel.  They had been saved many times, both individually and as a group.  Now that Jesus Christ has come, died, and has risen, we are in the same boat as Israel.  For those whom God has chosen, salvation will come.  But what is our response … “get it out of my sight,” “ho hum,” or “kill the fatted calf and have a party.”

See, what God does on earth is a great blessing, but only if we see it, acknowledge where it came from, and revel in thanksgiving for the mighty work.

And so I end with the modern day version.  “May we shout for joy over our blessings from God, our salvation, our rock, our fortress, in the day of trouble.  Amen.”

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© 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 – Poverty

June 19, 2015


Readings for Thursday, June 18, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 2:27-36; Acts 2:22-36; Luke 20:41-21:4; Psalms 34, 85, 86

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There was a boy, about seven or eight years old, who had nothing. He received a cookie as a gift and immediately proceeded to break it apart and give the pieces to other children around him who also had nothing until he had one small piece left for himself. Seeing me sitting on a rock close by, he came toward me, broke his little piece even further in half, and gave me the piece and smiled.

That, my friends and readers, is a true story and it happened to me on a mission trip in Peru. In that one instant I saw our Lord’s instruction regarding the widow and her gift to the Lord contained in our reading today from Luke in its full reality. Out of his poverty the boy gave generously to me, a person who has everything. In that place in Peru, my wealth, which is average in the United States, would be staggering … and I was proud to give chump change to God’s work in Peru.

In another reading which was in Bread earlier this year, Jesus says of people like me, with many possessions, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” Mk. 10:23. In response to Jesus’ description of the almost impossibility of such, the disciples as Him “Then who can be saved?” And Jesus answers “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Mk. 10:27

As I meditated on this today, it struck me that those who have wealth can certainly drive themselves to poverty, but is that what Jesus is really saying in today’s reading and from the reading in Mark? I don’t think so, but the widow giving out of poverty is more important to God than giving out of wealth.

So where does that leave us? Well, there is more than one kind of wealth and more than one kind of poverty. When Jesus talks about “poor in spirit,” isn’t he really talking about a poverty in spirit? And don’t we have wealth in spirit, called “self,” “selfish,” “self-reliant” and the like?

And we can achieve poverty in spirit. How? By recognizing that everything we have is from God, that all of our works which proceed from sin are filthy rags before God, that we have no power to save ourselves by choice or otherwise. Maybe driving us to poverty in spirit is what is meant in part by “repentance.”

And once we have reached the bottom of our spirit, when we have realized that strength in self is an illusion, at that point we can throw ourselves in the offering plate and say “Jesus, take me, poor though I am.” And at that point He will, because He honors the widow’s mite, He honors the poor in spirit who offer themselves as a living sacrifice.

How do we get to this point? With man it is impossible, but not with God – for all things are possible with God.

Come Holy Spirit and fill us with a spirit of poverty so that we may be ready and willing to receive the gifts of love, of power, of self-control, of life which You have ready for us when we are ready.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Sojourning

March 28, 2014


Readings for Friday, March 28, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 47:1-26; 1 Cor. 9:16-27; Mark 6:47-56; Psalms 88,91,92,95

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Once in a while a word appears in a reading which is rare but meaningful. In today’s reading from Genesis today, that word is “sojourning.” “And Pharaoh said to Jacob, ‘How many are the days of the years of your life?’ And Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘the days of the years of my sojourning are….’” Gen. 47:8-9

Pharaoh asks Jacob how long he has lived, and Jacob answers that he has been sojourning.

The Hebrew word which is translated “sojourning” means living in a temporary abode or an inn, being on a pilgrimage, being a stranger or an alien. (from “Lexical Aids to the Old Testament,” Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (NASB), Ed. Zodhiates 1990)

If you think about it, “sojourning” is the perfect word for how a Christian leads his or her life. We live in a temporary body and in temporary places. We are on a pilgrimage as we come to faith and then grow in our walk with Jesus throughout our lives. And we are living as an alien in the world, as an ambassador of the kingdom of God.

It seems further that there are two ways we can answer a question about the number of days of our life. One is to say that we have been living in ourselves, in our moment, with our purposes and our objectives, tuned to ourselves. That is to say, we have been living in a stagnating condition, marking time until death. The thing about this answer is that, to the world, stagnation does not look bad because it is often accompanied by great wealth, position, and power, all those things which the world deems important and none of which we can carry with us in death. It is living for death.

The second way we can answer the question about the number of days of our lives is to recount not only that we have been on a journey, but that we are still on the journey. It is a journey through life, not around it, not over it, and not in spite of it. It is a journey through life alive. It is a pilgrimage where we know that every place we stay, whether it is a shack or a mansion; every meal we have, whether it is some thin soup or a sumptuous feast; every position we hold, whether as a janitor or as the president of a billion dollar company … we are sojourning. We are progressing through life going from strength to strength, maturing in wisdom, strengthening faith, embracing hope, accepting joy. It is living for life.

There is a final aspect of the concept of sojourning which strikes me as built into Jacob’s answer, but which is not obviously there. When we sojourn to a place, don’t we most often do it with a companion?

Who is our companion? If we are living for death, chances are it is the person who stares at us in the mirror. If we are living for life, chances are it is the person who stares at us from the cross.

How old are you? The years of my sojourning are …. Gives meaning to the answer, doesn’t it?

_______________

© 2014 GBF

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