Bread – Journeys

November 7, 2017


Psalm 89

I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever … You have cut short the days of his youth, You have covered him with shame.  How long, O Lord?  Will You hide Yourself forever?…Blessed be the Lord forever!  Amen and Amen.”  Ps. 89:1,45-46,52

This is a long psalm in part because it describes a long saga, a long journey of the Psalmists observations of God’s faithfulness through time.  The only problem is that the Psalmist sees what to him is a failing of that covenant because bad things have happened and there appears to be no end in sight.

When we are born of woman, we begin a journey which, from our perspective, begins at the delivery table.  For our mother and father, though, that journey began at conception, working through nine months of development.  For our Father in heaven, that journey began when we were conceived at the beginning of the world.  When we are born again by God, our spiritual journey with and in Him begins at that moment of infusion into us of the mercy of faith and our subsequent response to that gift.

When we are born of woman, our journey ends at death.  When we are born of God, our journey lasts a lot longer.

But what happens in between our beginning and our end?  This is the journey of life on earth, in time, among others, in and out of community, toward or away from earthly wealth and pleasures.

It is a journey of mountaintops and valleys.

We have a lot of choices about how we take or manage that journey.  We can go by ourselves, in our own strength, using our own intelligence and talents, walking or running as the sole runner in a race laid out for just me.  We can go with others, sharing our hopes and fears, our heights and our depths, either in covenant relationship (like marriage) or buddy relationships (friends), but then being bound by the thoughts, moods, and desires of others, subject to “group think” and going in the direction set by the community.   In community, both our highs and lows are buffered by the averaging which occurs in groups, by having others’ shoulders to “cry on” or “celebrate with.”  And finally, we can go on our journey with God, suffering the intensities of lows (as did the Psalm 89 psalmist) but having a companion to lean on, learn from, rest under, and be empowered for perseverance by.

Who is your companion on your journey today?  Do you not have one because you are a free spirit and independent?  Do you have many because you are a friendly person, naturally surrounding yourself with your networking groups?  Or do you have One, the One?

If you are on your journey with Jesus Christ as your savior, you might well feel like the Psalmist, thinking that in the ruin and destruction surrounding you that God has abandoned His covenant, that God has somehow proven unfaithful to you.  But, truly, in your heart, in your soul, you know better.  The Psalmist says today “Lord, where is Your steadfast love of old,…Blessed be the Lord forever!”  (Ps. 89:49,52).  How can he say that?  How can you say that?

Both the psalmist and you who know the Lord can say it because, while He may have appeared to have abandoned you, He has not.  Even in the valley of your journey He lifts you up and carries you.  And He will carry you because He was, is, and forever will be.  Blessed be the Lord forever!

To which we reply during our journey of faith into the fearful and unknown, “Amen and Amen.”

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

 

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Bread – Apparent

October 25, 2017


Psalm 88

Is Your steadfast love declared in the grave…Are Your wonders known in the darkness, or Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?”  Ps. 88:11-12

The Psalmist finds himself in deep trouble and God apparently does not feel to him to be present in the psalmist’s dark days.

So the questions being asked by the Psalmist in the quoted passage may well be a type of argument or urging to God, suggesting that because, once a person dies God’s grace is no longer available, when a person sits in darkness God’s wonders are far away, or once a person forgets God then God’s righteousness disappears to them, He should always endeavor to bring us from our darkness into light so that we can see His steadfast love, His wonders, and His righteousness.  Otherwise would argue the Psalmist, perhaps, then God’s steadfast love, wonders, and righteousness will never be revealed.

And, indeed, much of the Bible talks about bringing man from darkness into light, shining light in dark places, and so forth, as if God is absent in the dark and that, as long as we are in the dark, we cannot know God.

Which really raises the question of “when is God apparent to us?”  On first blush, we know the answer to the question?  He is apparent in nature, in His Word written, and in His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.  He is apparent in order.  He is apparent in the light.  When we can see His miracles, experience His basking love, sit under His shelter, and engage in strong, good fellowship, God is apparent to us.

So the Psalmist would say, perhaps, that God is not apparent in the dark.  While we are in the valley of despair, the Psalmist would say that God’s steadfast love is not seen, His wonders are not observed, and His righteousness is merely a theory.

Is the Psalmist right in his implication?  I would suggest that he is not.

Western society has been criticized to some extent, perhaps justifiably, by relying on the senses, the observable, rather than the spirit, the unobservable.  If we can’t see, hear, touch, feel, taste, or smell it, to our Western minds it does not exist.  We can see Jesus on the cross; we can see Him dies; we can hear His agony; we can see the empty tomb (all of which is in the light) – and therefore it is real.

So, in the dark, when our senses are cut off, when we cannot taste, see, hear, smell, or touch, to us God may well not be apparent.  It takes eyes to see His wonders, touch to sense His steadfast love, and hearing to know His righteousness – doesn’t it?

Well, other cultures know that there is another “sense” by which we can operate.  I hesitate to call it “spirit” but prefer to describe it as a knowing which occurs in our heart, not because of our sense or knowledge, but because of our faith.

How does this knowing occur?

I will answer this question this way – “even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us live together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…”  Eph. 2:5  While we were in the grave, God’s steadfast love toward us became apparent to us and in our heart, we knew Him.

We may be in the dark, in sickness, despair, worry, depression, loss, and grief a long, long time, just like the Psalmist.  It may be that, while we sit there, God has shown us no way out and, to our senses, He is missing.  But He is apparent, even in the darkness, if we have a heart of faith.  In the darkness His steadfast love is apparent, His wonders are apparent, and His righteousness are apparent – if we have a heart of faith.

How do we obtain this heart of faith?  First, it is not obtained but given.  Second, we can begin this way – “Come Holy Spirit and, today, renew a right spirit within me.”  The spirit of faith.  Even in the dark.

_______

© 2017 GBF

Bread – Patient

November 7, 2016


Psalm 40

“I waited patiently for the Lord;…He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog,…”  Ps. 40:1-2

I love words that sound like they mean.  Somehow the phrase “miry bog” conveys just the sense of being stuck in a lonely place.  More than stuck, however, it conveys being mired down in thick, gooey, mud.  The kind of thick gooey mud that you sink a foot into and then, when you try to lift your leg up, it sucks off your shoe.  My idea of bog is a mist-covered barren place, with a few sticks which try to simulate bushes sticking out of the ground, and bigger sticks barely observable in the gloom, which might be trees.

In other words, stuck knee deep in a place which will not let you go, which wears you out totally as you try to make progress, all surrounded by … nothing.

This is a dreadful place and a place where many of us find ourselves on a regular basis.  Perhaps out miry bog is our work, perhaps it is our relationships, perhaps our family, perhaps just even ourselves.

Now, here we are, no rescue in sight … will we be patient and wait?  No.  Instead, we will look around for ways we can help ourselves out of the bog and get on solid ground.  We may seek the assistance of a bushy stick and we likely will yell for help, thinking that help even from a denizen of the deep is better than no help at all.

How much worse than to have that miry bog at the bottom of a deep well.  Even if you could unstick yourself, you still have to climb out!

What did David do while he was in the miry bog, in the pit of destruction?  He waited patiently.

When we are surrounded, when we are dug in deep, when we are in the pit, when we are stuck in the mud … what is our action as a person?  It is to do, impatiently.  What is our action as a Christian?  It is to wait patiently, to be patient.

This week, as we are beset with many problems, not the least of which is the election of a new President of the United States, we know we are mired in mud in a boggy place, deep in the pit.

David and the Lord counsel patience, waiting upon Him to act on our behalf.  Not very easy and, to western eyes, often not very fruitful.  And yet that is what we do when we trust Him, and not ourselves.

God, give me patience, please!  And, Holy Spirit, why don’t you hurry up and come so that I can have patience.  Oh, wait a minute, I guess I need to have patience for that as well.

Come, God, pull me out of my pit, out of my miry bog!  I know He will; I just don’t know when.  And that is why I am impatient – I want out now.  But I am not God – He is.  And that is why I need to patient, because my true help comes from the Lord.

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

Bread – Recover

April 3, 2016


Psalm 13

“But I have trusted in Your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.  I will sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with me.” Ps. 13:5-6

Today is April 1, April Fool’s day, and I have been thinking all week about how I could bring together this fact together with the fact that this is the 13th Psalm, and, therefore, the presumably “unlucky” Psalm, together.

We began the week with whining .. “How long, O Lord.  Will You forget me forever?” Ps. 13:1  We then began the process of prayer, reaching out to God in the knowledge that unless God “light up my eyes,” we will “sleep the sleep of death.”  Ps. 13:3  While we are in the pit of despair, we may feel like we are dying, but without God lighting up our eyes, we really are dying.

And so we end the week singing to the Lord, because “He has dealt bountifully with me.”

What has changed?  Have our circumstances changed?  We don’t know, but probably not.  If we were in the pit of despair because we had no money and no food, we probably still have no money and no food while we acknowledge our trust in God because He has dealt bountifully in the past.  Are situation has not changed, but our attitude about our situation has.

When we turn from our problems and face God, our problems are still there, but our depression has made way to hope, our fear to courage, and our anger to love.

Well, it is April Fool’s Day and this is the 13th Psalm, so is there a joke in here somewhere.

The world would say that there is a joke and it is on us.  They would point to the problems which drove us to despair and say, “See, the problems are still there.  Your faith is empty.  It has produced no solutions.  Now follow the ways of the world, get up and get moving, and start earning your way to prosperity.

Are they right?  In their own mind, they are and we are a bunch of fools for believing in who cannot be seen.  And they would be right but for one thing.  The God who gives us His steadfast love, whose promises are sure, who has dealt “bountifully with us,” is the same God, who in His sovereignty, in His majesty, in His mercy, and in His power has lit up our eyes so that we will not be asleep in the sleep of death, but awake to life, life now and life eternal.

Our faith is not something which we learn, we grow into, we acquire, we build, or we invent.  Our faith is given to us by God who loves us, so that, when we find ourselves staring at our problems, at our lives lived poorly, at opportunities wasted, at loss and ruin, we may turn to Him and, in so doing, remind ourselves that we have trusted in God and His steadfast love and that He has in the past dealt “bountifully” with us.

So, is the 13th Psalm unlucky?  Yes, but not for us … for Satan.  For built into this Psalm is reminder of what to do when we despair … turn toward God, pray, and remember.  And in so doing we steal from Satan one of his primary tools to draw us away from God – discouragement, and lay it at the feet of Him who calls us into hope, joy, and life.

The Bible does say that those people who do not seek after God are fools.  But we do not need to go there on April Fool’s day.  Instead, all we need to do is to know that we are not, and be grateful to the One who has brought us to the point where “our heart(s) shall rejoice in Your salvation.” Ps. 13:5

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© 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 – Sinewave

June 12, 2015


Readings for Thursday, June 11, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; 2 Cor. 12:1-10; Luke 19:28-40; Psalms 70, 71, 74

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I don’t know if “sine” and “wave” can be combined to form a single word, “sinewave,” but I did it anyway for today’s Bread.

When I was first introduced to sine waves in college, I always thought they were neat. There is the curve which goes up to the top, beginning slowly and then speeding up at first and then slower, followed by the crash to the bottom, slow at first and then faster – only to reach the bottom and repeat the process. There was always a middle point, a line, around which the sinewave would go up and down.

In our readings today from both Luke and 2 Corinthians, both Paul and Luke report the existence of lives lived around the cycle of ups and downs, where the ups are really high and the downs are really low.

In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he describes the height of being caught up in the third heaven, into paradise, where he experience things and heard things which were too wonderful and powerful to be repeated. He then goes on to describe the valley which followed, where he was given a “thorn .. in the flesh,” which was so bad that he prayed three times to be relieved from it, only to hear from God …”No.”

In Luke’s gospel, Luke recounts Jesus’ grand entry into Jerusalem where he was given a king’s reception by the crowd, throwing their cloaks on the road and proclaiming “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” Lk. 19:38. Of course we know that from this high point on the sine wave of life, Jesus crashes to the lowest point on the cross, abandoned by all after having been praised by all.

There are some who believe that the Christian life involves the leveling out of the sinewave of experience, putting us into a warm soup of friendship, joy, hope, blessing, and love. Instead the exact opposite is true. The Christian life accentuates the sinewave, taking us to unimaginable heights of revelation and glory and bringing us back to the crassness of our own sin and the sorrowful state of the world around us. The Christian whom God has freed from death to live now lives on the edge because, in his or her ability to love mightily, he or she has the opportunity to ascend to greatest heights and to descend to the greatest depths.

But as I mentioned before, the sinewave operates around a center point, a line. If that line is Christ, the highs may be higher and the lows may be lower, but the sinewave itself is stable because it is rotating around a stable center, a sure promise. In fact, if one were to stand off from our lives in Christ and look at them in time, one would realize that the line around which the highs and lows of life operates is actually ascending. From beginning to end that line runs toward that place of the saints, from dust to eternal life. The lows of the valleys may be low, but they are never quite as low as they were before Christ. The elevator so to speak is going up, so that maybe all we can see is that particular place on the sinewave we are (going up either slow or fast or going down either slow or fast), but what we cannot see but sense is that the center line is rising.

On the other hand, if we do not have Christ as our center line, we are still rotating around a center, but our highs are lower and our lows are lower still until we hit bottom – judgment and eternal death.

We may want to level out the highs and the lows because both are scary places to be for different reasons, but the fact is that God the Father even today in His Word shows us that neither Paul, His apostle, nor Jesus, His Son, were spared the sinewave of life. So our life will have its ups and downs no matter what.

The question is not whether we will have highs and lows. The question is the direction of the line around which the sinewave moves. Is it going up, down, or nowhere?

In our reading from Psalm 70 today, the psalmist says “Make haste, O God, to deliver me! O Lord, make haste to help me!” Ps. 70:1 How often have we said that when we are so high up on the top of the sinewave that we are fearful of crashing? How often have we said that when we are so low at the bottom of the sinewave that we despair of ever returning to normal?

At that time, at the time of crying out to the Lord “Make haste,” is the center line going up, down, or nowhere? The subjective evidence is that it is going down or nowhere.

The objective evidence is that it is going up. Why? Look who you are praying to; look who you are relying upon.

Our feelings about whether we are going up or down in life are merely based upon where on the particular sine wave we are today and are therefore untrustworthy measures of our real direction.

The only real measure of our real direction is who we are asking to “make haste” to help us.

I can say “O Lord, make haste to help me!” because I am on the up escalator cycling up or down depending upon where on the sinewave of my life I am, but pressing forward to the top floor from whence cometh my help.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Darkness

September 10, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, September 10, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Job 29:1, 30:1-2,16-31; Acts 14:19-28; John 11:1-16; Psalms 49,53,119:49-72

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In today’s lessons from Scripture, God gives us no joy and no respite from our troubles. Instead, there is the reality of pain, of loss, of despair, of sadness, of loss. There is little light in today’s readings, but much darkness.

Just to make the point, here are three quotes from today’s readings:

From Job, “I cry to You [God] for help, and You do not answer me…You have turned cruel to me … But when I hoped for good, evil came, and when I waited for the light, darkness came.” Job 30:20-21,26

From Acts, “But Jews came from Antioch… and…they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city…[Paul] saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:19,22

From John, “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus…Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where he was…Now Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died…” John 11:1,5-6,14

There is much darkness in these passages. Job was considered righteous and yet he suffered loss of health, looks, wealth, and family. Paul was Jesus’ disciple to the Gentiles and was stoned to almost death. Lazarus was Jesus’ friend and yet Jesus tarried two days where He was and, in the meantime, Lazarus died.

We cry out and God does not hear us! True or false?

It is fortunate in a way we end with our reading about Lazarus, because we know what happened to him. Jesus went to him and brought him back to life. When Lazarus could not have walked out of darkness (he was dead), Jesus carried him from darkness into light. Job was, after his tribulations, restored by God into the light. Paul was, in spite of his persecutions, empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach, to teach, to write the Scripture we read today, and to persevere in bringing the light to us Gentiles. We are fortunate to end with stories where we know the outcome because it gives us hope in the dark times that rescue is right around the corner.

But what if there is no rescue right around the corner. What if we are to suffer physical illness for a long time, maybe until our death? What if we are ruined economically and are to live the rest of our life in poverty? What if we find ourselves in darkness, day after day after day?

What are we to do in such circumstances? Get angry? Pray more? Lift ourselves up by our bootstraps? Go to a self-improvement course? Stand in front of a mirror and utter words of self-affirmation and self-love?

There actually is an answer in Scripture and it is built into today’s lessons. What are we to do? We are to wait upon the Lord, knowing that He will arrive with the answer in His time. This may be faith. This may be wisdom. This may be just obedience to God’s promises in Scripture. Whatever it is, it is not easy.

When we find ourselves in darkness, there are three responses possible. One is to try to find a light switch or a door. This is self-help and ultimately arises from the idea that we trust ourselves more than we trust God. Another response is to retreat into a corner. This is fear speaking and is our natural attempt to flee darkness. The third is for us to sit in the darkness in active waiting and listening, in full expectation that God will appear and take care of things (perhaps by revealing where the light switch is).

For those who have sat in darkness in a closed room, an interesting thing happens when we wait upon the Lord. The first is that fear is replaced by hope and expectation. The second is that we are given a second set of eyes by the Holy Spirit to begin to see things as they are. When this occurs, often we discover that there is quite a bit of light in the room, if we would but see. We find ourselves ready to see in the darkness and hear in the stillness. The third is that we become receptive to God’s message for us.

Favored by God or not, saved by Jesus or not, blessed by the Father or not, empowered by the Holy Spirit or not – we will find ourselves sooner or later (and perhaps now) in some kind of darkness. When we find ourselves in darkness, what is our response – Fight, Flight, or Faith?

____________

© 2014 GBF

Bread – Darkness

February 1, 2013


Readings for Friday, February 1, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 50:1-11; Gal. 3:15-22; Mk 6:47-56; Psalms 40,51,54

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There are many places where darkness dwells and many types of darkness which dwell there. Perhaps the place is the time of the loss of innocence, a time of sexual abuse, a time of loss of a loved one, a time of loss of a job, a time of depression, a time of loss of trust, a time of loss of love, or a time of addiction. Perhaps it appears in the form of anger, hatred, abuse of ourselves or others, depression, anxiety, worry, despair, hurt, melancholy, sadness, or fear. Wherever it is and whatever form it takes, it is fair to call that “darkness” or a “dark place” or a “dark time.” Light is missing – there is no path which is obvious, no clarity in view, no sense of belonging, no door to another place. It is dark and you cannot see. You cannot see what brought you to that place, you cannot see yourself, and you cannot see a way out. Why? Because it is dark.

When you are in the dark, there are two things, however, you can do. You can either rely on God or you can rely on yourself (the world). That is what today’s lesson from Isaiah addresses.

Isaiah 50:10b begins God’s pronouncement of these alternatives. First He says “Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.” Isa. 50:10b What happens when you do this? Good things. Our Psalm 40 reading today says “He [God] drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth … Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust.” Ps. 40:2-4. Some words have great images, and doesn’t the phrase “miry bog” just completely describe the place of darkness where many of us find ourselves all the time? Stuck, sinking, smelly, dark. And God brings us out into light, gives us a new song, and blesses us.

Isaiah keeps going to address the second alternative, reliance on man (the world) to bring us out of darkness into light. God says “Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from My hand: you shall lie down in torment.” Isa. 50:11 God through Isaiah says simply that you do have an alternative when you are in the dark – you can locate the light switch designed and built by man, flood the place with the light of man, and rely upon your science, your wisdom, your knowledge, your tools (your “fire”) to light up the place. And where does that ultimately take you? To hell (“you shall lie down in torment”).

When you find yourself in darkness, do you reach for man’s solutions or God’s solutions? Is your light the fake light of man or the real light of God?

But isn’t fake light real light? After all, light is light, right? Wrong. As I said earlier, there are many forms of darkness. Because the light which comes from man is its own form of darkness, it is possible to be “enlightened” and yet be sitting in the dark emotionally and spiritually. The Enlightenment was the beginning of a period where man woke up to the fact that he could create his own light and didn’t need God to create it for him. Tell me, is there more peace, love, integrity, or hope today because of that? I don’t think so. Man’s light is darkness, just in a different form.

So when you are in the dark, to whom will you turn? It makes all the difference.

___________________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Pits

October 17, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, October 17, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Jonah 1:17-2:10; Acts 27:9-26; Luke 9:1-17; Psalms 12,13,14,119:1-24

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It sometimes helps us to understand something by visualizing it. So let us join Noah in the fish. He is sitting in the middle of no-where, bounded on all sides by engulfing waters, thrown into almost certain death by God (acting through the sailors), being transported to a place he does not want to go by a vehicle not of his choosing. The place must have been very dark and very wet. Because it was inside a fish, his surroundings may have had a certain unpleasant odor. Rejected by the sailors, in depression himself, in nasty circumstances, going to a place he hates. One might come out of this visualization saying that he was in the pits.

And, indeed, that is where Jonah thought he was. He described where he was as “the deep, into the heart of the seas” (Jonah 2:3), as “the belly of Sheol” (Jonah 2:2b), as at the “roots of the mountain, …the land whose bars closed upon me forever” (Jonah 2:6), and “the pit” (Jonah 2:6).

Jonah was in a terrible place, and what did he do? He gave thanks to God because God was using Jonah’s place, his circumstances, his pits, as the vehicle for his restoration to life and to his position as God’s prophet to the pagans in Nineveh.  Listen to him – “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and He answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas … yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to You…Salvation belongs to the Lord!” Jonah 2:1-3, 6-7, 9.

This pattern of being thrown into the pit, recognizing God’s mercy, compassion, and providence even in such dire straits, and then giving thanks for life repeats itself in every reading today.

In Acts, the boat carrying 276 people, including Paul, was capsizing, but in the pit of despair while all worldly goods were being cast overboard, God spoke to Paul and told him that God was in control. Paul then said to everyone, stay in the boat, in the place of despair, because God will rescue. “And when he [Paul] had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. Then they were all encouraged …And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea. These sailors so trusted the Lord that they gave thanks to the Lord in their despair and then threw out their food, so that they would be ready for their promised deliverance. In their pit, they threw themselves on the mercy of God, giving thanks in the midst of it all.

In Luke, the audience has gathered around Jesus in a “desolate place.” Lk. 9:12. They were in the middle of no-where with nothing to eat. They, however, were gathered around the Savior. Without food and in a desolate place, the people were in a pit. But Jesus did not fret, instead He “looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them [the five loaves and two fish].” “Then He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets in broken pieces.” Lk. 9:16-17

In the pit of despair there is plenty of blessing to be had for the asking, because God is merciful, caring, compassionate, and long-suffering toward His people. God blessed the one (Jonah), the few (the people on the ship), and the many (the 5,000 in the desolate place).

There is a pattern here on purpose. The truth is that in this sinful world we live much of our lives in pits, in smelly circumstances, without sufficient resources (food) for our purposes, being taken places we don’t want to go, surrounded by deep waters, storms, and other calamities of life. What is striking about the people of God is that they see God in the pits, they see Him in their circumstances. They see Him and recognize that His hand protects them, carries them, caresses them, and leads them. They see Him and realize that, although they are currently in the pits, that is not where they will be; the pits is not their destination. And recognizing that, they pray, they give thanks, and they accept the gifts they have been given – a second chance, a rest from the storm, a rock to stand on, food for the road, a helping hand from a neighbor, joy, eternal life. They look to heaven and not their feet. They look up and not down.

This is what the people of God (Jonah, Paul, the disciples, the crowd) do in the pits. What do you do? What are you going to do?

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Decision

November 21, 2011


Readings for Monday, November 21, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Joel 3:1-2, 9-17; 1 Pet. 1:1-12; Matt. 19:1-12; Psalm 106

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In the reading from Joel today, there is a phrase, “valley of decision.” Joel 3:14 The reference is to God’s decisions of judgment against the nations in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 3:12), but it struck me that it is the valleys in our lives, the deepest places of loss, despair, hurt, anger, poverty, loneliness, lifelessness, jealousy, selfishness, etc., where we make decisions which affect us for the rest of our lives.

Decisions made on the mountaintop are often fleeting in their effect; decisions made in the valley of decision rarely are fleeting and most often are of long and strong impact.

It is in the valleys of life where we decide whether we belong to the world or to God, where we decide whether what other people think is important or whether what God thinks is important, where we decide to yield to our loss or fight our way out, where we choose despair or we choose hope. It can be a place where faith in God is embraced or where it is abandoned.

It is in this valley of decision where Peter finds the disciples, the children of Christ, when he writes to them. Listen to his words:

In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into the inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may prove genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Pet. 1:3b-7

There is great danger in talking about the light, life, love, power, and self-control which comes from belief in Christ and the ongoing effort to lean into that new person and to shed the old man within us. The reason is that we associate light, life, joy, hope, power, self-control and similar words with good things, with happy things, with positive things. But Satan inserts into those positive things a few valleys, a few set-backs, a few losses, a few hurts, a few times of darkness and death. He then uses the valley to discourage us, to have us doubt the truth of God’s revelation to us in His Word, both in Scripture and in Jesus Christ, to cause us worry, to abandon dependence upon God and depend instead upon the false strength of ourselves and our world. We then might say, in such a valley, that we must not have faith because we are feeling no joy, we are seeing no light, we are experiencing no love.

What is the decision to be made at this time, the time in the valley? To believe the promise. When it is pitch black, we need to decide to believe the promise of light. When we are on death’s doorstep, we need to decide to believe in the promise of salvation. When our faith is weak, we need to decide to believe in God’s strength to achieve His purpose in our lives. When we are in chains, we need to decide to believe that God is a good God with a good plan for us. In the valley of despair, we must decide in the power of God to have hope.

Can we decide these things in these circumstances on our own? We know the answer to that intuitively, and the answer is “no.” How then, is it possible to make positive decisions in difficult times? The secret is in Peter’s reference to our faith being “shielded by God’s power.” It is not our power which sustains the day; it is God’s power. It is not our power which helps us to decide well in the valley, it is God’s power.

So when we are in the valley, what is the best decision we can make? I think it is the decision to rely upon God’s power. To do that, we begin, “Come Holy Spirit.”

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All Bible citations are to the New International Version (NIV), unless otherwise noted.

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This and previous Breads may be read, critiqued and commented upon at the Bread blog: https://1bread.wordpress.com

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