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.

 

 

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Bread – Crushed

September 14, 2016


Psalm 34

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”  Ps. 34:18

How many of us are “crushed in spirit?”  For a salesman, it may be the big sale that you just knew you were going to make, but don’t … and there goes your commission.  For a trial lawyer, it may be the big case you know you are going to win, except you don’t … and there goes your confidence.  For someone asking someone else to marry them and they are sure the other person will say “yes,” and they don’t … and there goes your hope.  For the investor who just knows he or she has discovered the next wealth-generating investment, and the stock tanks … and there goes your ideas of wealth.

Those are the easy ones, but what about the person who goes out day by day to do battle with the world and comes home one day, realizing that the promotion, the big house, the opportunity for fame, the contented family, the loving children, the happy spouse, the attainment of the dream … just isn’t going to be there, at least to the degree wanted, dreamed for, or imagined?   What about those people who live their lives in silent despair?

What happens to them?

The Psalmist tells us that the Lord is near to those people who know Him and trust Him, and that He “saves the crushed in spirit.”

We think that when a person is crushed in spirit, they are down and out.  But the Lord who saves says “you may say you are down and out, but I say that you may feel down but you are raised up.”  In the world’s view, when you are crushed you are crushed.  In God’s view, when you are crushed you are saved.

We may feel crushed in either event, whether we take our view or God’s view, whether we trust God or we trust ourselves or the world.  So what is the difference?  When we trust in God, we are saved out of our condition of being crushed in spirit; when we do not trust in God, we are still there.

When I was writing this and trying to think about what is means to feel crushed and be saved at the same time, an analogy came to mind.  If I am wandering in a swamp and get stuck in deep mud, I have mud all over me.  I am crushed in spirit, reflected by the amount of mud I have all over my clothes and my body.  If I remain stuck in the swamp and in the mud, I am imprisoned by the mud and have no freedom and no life, except to wallow in the mud.  If my savior, though, comes and pulls me out of the mud, I still have mud all over me but I am now free.  I am free to continue to wear the symbol of crushedness, the mud, or I am free to act like it never existed by having God help me wash it off.

When God saves the “crushed in spirit,” they may still feel crushed, but they are not.

You are depressed; you are crushed in spirit.  God says He saves you in that condition.  Do you believe Him?  Do you believe in Him?  If so, the Holy Spirit is right there ready to help you wash the mud of despair from your clothes.  Just ask.

And, oh, by the way, Jesus crushed the serpent’s head. Now that’s down and out … for the count.

_________

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

 

 

Bread – Despair

March 28, 2016


Psalm 13

“How long, O Lord?  Will Your forget me forever?  How long will You hide Your face from me?  How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?  Ps. 13:1-2

There are many titles I could have given this Bread.  “Depression” is one.  “Lost” is another.  “Abandoned” is a third.

I think, though, that the word “despair” says it best.  In depression there is knowledge that there will be a better day.  In being lost there is the built in hope of being found.  “Abandoned” is closer to the word “despair,” but even being abandoned one has the sense of being found, sort of like when one is lost.  But “despair?”  When we despair, we are at bottom.  When we despair, all choices of better evaporate.  When we despair, we are at the bottom of the well of life and there is, seemingly, no way out.

When we are forgotten by our family or friends, surrounded by real and imagined enemies, at the end of our rope, there is still God.  But when He has apparently disappeared as well, never to again touch or soothe or protect or empower us, then despair sets in.  Abandon all hope, ye who enter into the chamber of despair.

And when we despair and see no way out, when we feel that both God and man have abandoned us, when our personal reserves of energy, vitality, and life are consumed … what then?  A minute in despair feels like an eternity.  An hour in despair tears down the mind.  A day in despair shuts down our bodies.  A week in despair destroys our spiritual self.  What about a month of despair?  A year of despair?  The mere thought crushes life, desire, and action.  The mere thought of prolonged despair is more than we can imagine, more than we can stand.

So is it any wonder that David says, four times, “How long, O Lord?”  The darkness of despair is so intense that it does not matter how long in reality it is, it is always too long and we ask, “How long, O Lord?  Will You forget me forever?”

Who has not been to the place of despair, of the blackest thoughts, the deepest depression, the midnight of the soul?  Abandoned by God and man, beaten down by our adversaries, submerged under the flood of bad things, left to our thoughts and sorrows, crushed by life, lost to the world, at our wit’s end.  Bottom.

Now that I’ve put you in the mood, think for a moment about what Jesus felt on the cross when He was abandoned by the Father, left in despair, on His own without spiritual support.

When Jesus was abandoned, He too cried out “How long, O Lord?” It was in the form of “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  Matt. 27:46.  But regardless of the form, it was a cry of despair to God the Father who appeared to have forgotten Jesus, who appeared to have hidden His face from Jesus, who had let Jesus’ enemies be exalted over Him.

When we despair, when we feel abandoned and alone, we can always bring to mind that we are in good company – Jesus felt the same way for the same reason, and God raised Him from despair and death unto life.  And through His despair, death, and resurrection, as our advocate before the Father, Jesus does the same for us when we cannot do it for ourselves.

If it feels that God has abandoned me, has He?  If it feels that I am at the bottom of the well with no way out, is this true?

We cannot deny our feelings and we may in fact be in despair, feeling that we are abandoned by God, lost from God’s favor, stepped on by our enemies, left to our own sorrowful devices and thoughts.  And we, too, can cry out like David and yell at God, “How long?”

It’s OK.  Jesus did it, and God answered Him.  And He will answer you, too.

_________

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

 

 

Bread – Tired

November 15, 2013


Readings for Friday, November 15, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Rev. 19:11-16; Matt. 16:13-20; Psalms 88,91,92

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This morning, after reading our Scriptures of the day, I stopped and thought about the readings, and nothing came to mind for today’s Bread. Knowing that I could not force it, I leaned back in my chair and prayed that God would reveal something to me. And nothing happened. So, then I went back to prayer and, after a few minutes, God sent me something – a yawn. And then I just felt tired.

We are so tired. We are tired of the squabbles. We are tired of trying to understand. We are tired of trying to get something accomplished. We are tired of our bosses. We are tired of our jobs. We are tired of our lives. We are tired of being called names. We are tired of not being called names and instead being ignored. We are tired of the ways of the world. We are tired of the ways of the church. We are tired of others and we are tired of ourselves. We are tired of earning a living. We are tired of saving for a rainy day. We are tired of standing, sitting, and laying down. We are tired.

Depressed yet?

And then I started chuckling to myself, because God had in fact sent me a message. It was a message that I am not able to get myself out of the ditch that I am in.

And our readings today are to that point. In Matthew, Jesus asks His disciples who He is, what people are saying about Him. After the usual list of possible reincarnations of great people of the Old Testament, Peter says “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matt. 16:16. Jesus responds by telling Peter that he is blessed, that God revealed this to him and Peter did not come to this belief through his own understanding, and that Jesus will build His church on “this rock.” Matt. 16:18 The blessing which Jesus mentions is not the blessing which Jesus gives, but the blessing which Peter already has because he has been graciously, sovereignly chosen by the Father to receive the personal revelation that Jesus is the Christ. Peter may be tired, but he is blessed and by his confession of Jesus he is saved. The person who could not lift himself out of the daily rut has been lifted by God into eternal life with Him.

Then we have Revelation. Jesus is in heaven, ready to tread the winepress of the fury of wrath of God the Almighty. He rides a white horse, the horse of victory. He wears a superior crown of diadems; He is King. He wears a robe dipped in blood because it is by His sacrifice on the cross that we are saved. He has a name written which is both known (“the Word of God” and “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”) and unknown (“a name written that no one knows but Himself), because God is both known to us through His Word and Jesus, and yet unknowable in His entirety. He is all-powerful and He is coming. And He is doing all this without our having to do anything.

See, even if we are tired, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is and are not. When we could not save ourselves, He saves us. When we cannot fend for ourselves, He protects us. When we are too tired to act, He empowers us with His Holy Spirit to act. When we are weak, He is strong. While we lack power, He is power.

And in Revelation, Jesus is accompanied by “the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure.” Who do you think those people are?

They are the saints. Tired on earth but victorious in life.

Are you tired? Jesus could have said: “Be Peter, come to me and acknowledge Who I Am, and then join me in the day of victory.” Those are my words – Here are His: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28

________________

© 2013 GBF

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