Bread – Distress

May 2, 2018


Psalm 102

“Hear my prayer, O Lord; let my cry come to You!  Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my distress!…For my days pass away like smoke..”  Ps. 102:1-3a

When one reads this entire Psalm, you are struck with the litany of physical ills which are described.  And for sure, bad health causes us great distress, whether caused by abuse of our body, family history, circumstances, mosquitoes, the weather, allergens, or just advancing age and infirmity.  During this time, we call upon the Lord for healing, for comfort, and for perseverance through it all.

But there is a greater distress than bodily illness.  That distress is also caused by abuse of our relationships, our family history from Adam, the attacks of the enemy (mosquitoes), changes of mood caused by the absence of light, or just advancing cynicism and selfishness.  That greater distress is separation from love, from relationships with one’s friends and family, from people at large, and, either initially or ultimately, separation from God.

So, in a very real sense our prayer to God “in the day of my distress” is not a prayer so much of fixing what is broke for today, but fixing what is broke for eternity.

Do you feel that distress today?  Do you sense that things are not “quite right,” that maybe you are not “quite right?”  Do you feel like you need to make amends to a friend or a family member but do not have the strength or courage to do so, and are distressed by your lack of will, power, or desire?  Do you feel like there is a gap between where you are and where you need to be?

Distress is not a bad thing, because it is a warning sign of something deeper, something longer lasting, something which is broken.  Ignore the warning sign at your peril.

What is the key thing being said here in this Psalm?  Is it the commentary on the physical illnesses resulting in distress?  Is it teaching us how to “yell” at God when He appears to be absent, when He appears not to care?  Is it a demand for action?

I think the key thing which is being said here is that the Psalmist is saying it at all.  While we might, in the day of our distress, reach for the bottle or the pill or demonstrate self-pity, whine, or retreat into victimhood, the Psalmist does not retreat into himself but goes to the throne room of God, where he knows his prayer will be and is being heard by the only One with power to do something about it.

The key thing being said in this Psalm is “Hear…O Lord.”

In the day of our distress, we run first to our self-help books, our Internet, our physicians and friends, and our pharmacists.  Maybe, instead, we should run first to God.

It is amazing how resting in the arms of the Almighty is a major distress reliever.

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© 2018 GBF   All quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible  (Crossway Bibles, 2008), unless otherwise noted.

 

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Bread – Love

December 8, 2017


Psalm 91

For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day …” Ps. 91:3-5

A friend of mine who was in the military told me that Psalm 91 was what he and some of his fellow soldiers recited in the midst of danger. And, indeed, the imagery of this Psalm is powerful to demonstrate for us that the Lord is our Protector and our source of the spiritual clothing which we need to stand in the evil day.

So why is this Bread labeled “love?”

As Christians, what do we fear? What is the “terror of the night” or the “arrow that flies by day?”

When the danger is upon us from our enemies, like in war, the “terror of the night” and the “arrow that flies by day” are obvious. The fear is that we will be horribly disfigured or killed.

And in these circumstances, it is easy to apply this Psalm because, for most Christians, the truth is that we may never be on a real battlefield with enemies with real guns and knives. As a result, we can rationalize the “since we have overcome death through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we do not fear death.”

But we as Christians are commanded to go to the battlefield and there love. The place is the battlefield of our work and our homes, our clubs and our churches, our world.

And on that battlefield we fear much, but primarily we fear that we will pour ourselves out in love to our spouse, our children, our bosses and subordinates, our co-workers, our friends and our acquaintances and we will receive back … the terrors of wondering in the night how they will react and the arrow shot at us by the very people we are trying to love by day. We are on the battlefield of life where our love will be met by indifference, by hostility, by blame, by anger, by ….

In our battle in life, the fowler is the person which will keep us from flying as birds with free spirit and the deadly pestilence is the disease of needing other people’s approval or thanks.

When we are in this battle, the only way we succeed in loving in the night of adversity is to recognize, as does our Psalmist, that it is God who delivers us from the bondage of the fowler and sets us free to fly victoriously, it is God who heals us of our sorrow of rejection and provides us the medicinal elixir of His love to recharge our batteries, it is God covers us with His wings and gives us rest, it is God who is faithful, it is God who equips us, and it is God who can overcome our fear, if we but ask and accept His Holy Spirit.

Why are weak Christians? Perhaps it is because we do fear what we do not know and what we do know, because we still want the respect and love of others.

There are many kinds of death. There is the death of life caused by gunshot. There is the death of life caused by the thousand cuts of uncaring friends, forgetful spouses, ungrateful children and parents, petty bosses, and a variety of people and events we can easily blame.

These are snares, these are diseases, these are terrors, these are arrows which pierce our heart and cause us to wallow in defeat. But they are overcome – by God.

While we live under the shelter of the Most High, we overcome and can love without acknowledgment or return. While we wear the armor provided by God, we overcome and can love without acknowledgement or return.

If we do not fly there is no one for the fowler to catch. If we do not enter the dark places, there are no terrors to confront. If we do not stand in the evil day, there is no one to shoot an arrow at.

So why don’t we just retreat? It is because we are called elsewhere; we are called out into the world to do battle. And in doing so God will free us from our chains, give us powerful medicine to ward off Satan’s disease, give us our daily bread, clothe us for the job, calm us in the day of terror, and give us rest. All we have to do is show up and love without condition … and God has and will do the rest.
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© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

Bread – Disease

August 17, 2016


Psalm 31

I will rejoice and be glad in Your steadfast love, because You have seen my affliction; You have known the distress of my soul…Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also.  For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.” Ps. 31:7,9-10

A child has a form of strep infection which causes their skin to slough off, and requires treatment as if they had been burned.  Another child develops an infection in his bone.  A young adult dies at 39 from some kind of a stroke; another dies from a drug overdose; another dies from suicide, for some reason giving up on themselves and us.   An older adult finds out that they have a particularly aggressive kind of cancer.  Another is told that they need to start taking pain medications so that, as they die, they will not hurt so bad.  Another is attacked by shingles, another by pneumonia, another by some new bacteria or virus floating in the air.  And then there are those of us whose self is disappearing in the arms of Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia.

Disease is around us and in us.  Some of it is curable, at least to some degree, and other is not, at least by modern medicine.  To some are granted the miracle of recovery and to others, not.

David, our Psalmist, talks about some kind of disease which has overtaken him.  Whether it is the disease of depression, the disease of cancer, the disease of heartache, the disease of fear, the disease of the heart or of the bone or of the eye or the ear, we do not know.  Whatever it is, it is causing him great sorrow and distress to the point that he is spending his years with sighing.  He is feeling sorry for himself and that is OK, because he is sick, he is diseased, he is hurting, and he cannot figure a way out.

But there is a deeper disease, affecting all of mankind, and David acknowledges this in this phrase – “my strength fails because of my iniquity.”  The Hebrew word “iniquity” here means depravity; it is sin.   “My strength fails because of my sinfulness, because I am full of sin.”

We know this from the entirety of Scripture.  All were cast down from perfection by Adam’s disobedience; all are full of iniquity (sin), all fall short.  We are all filled with the disease of exile from Eden, and with the disease caused by our own disobedience to God and caused by the brokenness of the world, caused by disobedience to God.

So, when we are diseased and are suffering and God appears to do nothing about it, should we be mad at Him, particularly when we claim to follow Him, believe in Him, trust in Him, live in Him?  If we are loyal to God by attending church and praying and worshiping and reading His Word, shouldn’t we be blessed with protection from disease?  Shouldn’t we be able to summon up a miracle on demand?

David knows better and so do we.  David is rejoicing because he knows that God knows his suffering, He knows “the distress of my soul.”  And David says the only thing he, and we can say, “Be gracious to me, O Lord.”  We tend to think of being gracious as being nice.  It is not being nice – being gracious is being merciful.  Our disease is the natural result of the state within which exists because of Adam and because of us.  God has no obligation to us.  We cannot earn His good pleasure, His mercy, His graciousness.  It is only mercy because it is freely given, in God’s sovereignty, when He wants and for the purpose He intends.

If you think about it, the biggest disease we suffer is our own belief that we deserve something, when we in fact deserve nothing.  All is a gift of God, a gracious act by Him.  If we are rich, it is God’s gift to us.  If we are powerful, it is because God has set us in this place.  If we are saved, it is because God has acted to save us.

You want to get rid of disease?  Kneel before the Lord, Your God.  Trust in Him.  Follow Him.  Obey Him.

And if we suffer from a medical condition, that suffering will not matter because it will fade into the glory of God’s presence in our lives.   His presence with us in suffering will be enough, because He is enough.

How is this possible?  Because we give up the me and the we … and follow the He.

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

Bread – Decision

April 22, 2015


Readings for Wednesday, April 22, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Dan. 5:1-12; 1 John 5:1-12; Luke 4:38-44; Psalms 38, 119:25-48

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In our reading from Daniel today, Belshazzar, the son of Nebuchadnezzar, has taken over rule of Babylon. In the preceding verses, Nebuchadnezzar is prideful and is brought low by God, only to be restored to his kingship by God after Nebuchadnezzar “lifted my eyes to heaven … and praised and honored Him who lives forever…” Dan. 5:34

Now King Belshazzar knows this history, but behaves sinfully anyway. He has a party for 1,000 men and takes out the gold and silver “vessels” which had removed from the Temple in Jerusalem by his father. He then drank wine from what had been consecrated to God and he and his fellow revelers “praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone.” Dan. 5:4 In other words, King Belshazzar and his friends worshiped everything that the world offered and not God. We end today’s reading with the hand of God writing Belshazzar’s future on the wall.

In another reading from today’s lessons, Jesus in Luke is reported as follows: “Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to Him, and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them.” Luke 4:40

What do these verses have in common. Each involves an individual, a single person, making a decision for himself or herself. Belshazzar could not rely upon the faith of his father Nebuchadnezzar, but had to learn history for himself and make his own, individual, decision about whether he would worship idols of his making or God. Likewise, each person who came to Jesus for healing made an individual decision to come; he or she may have been helped by their friends, but there is nothing in the passage to suggest that these friends brought the sick to Jesus against their will. The sick came voluntarily to Jesus for healing.

In the study notes in the ESV Bible I am using, it is noted that Jesus could have healed everyone at one blow with a single word, but that He did not. Instead, even though the sun was going down and time was running out (electricity was still to be invented), Jesus “laid His hands on every one of them [individually].”

We make our decision to worship our idols or God individually. No one makes us make that decision. History may point the way to a good decision, but it does not dictate the decision. We make the decision to acknowledge God as an individual, detached from our history and, quite frankly, our future. Our decision to follow God rather than the world is an individual decision made, in one sense, once for life and, in another sense, daily as we choose to walk in obedience or not.

Likewise, our understanding that we are sick is our understanding, not someone’s understanding for us. As a parent, we may teach our children, we may show our children, we may pray for our children, and we may even coerce our children – but the decision to realize that I am sick with sin resides with me alone. The decision to go to Christ for healing is an individual’s decision, not a group decision.

And isn’t it amazing that our Savior takes the time to heal us individually, that His decision for us is not as a group but as an “I.”

We like to hide our decision-making in groups and committees. There is safety in group decisions because the individual cannot be wrong.

But the decision to follow God, to admit sin, to accept forgiveness and mercy is not a group decision and never will be. I cannot choose for you. You must choose for yourself.

So, we can try to hide behind our family, our community, our friends, our co-laborers at the workplace, in committees, groups, and clubs – but the decisions that matter our each individual’s decision. You may be helped by friends, but they do not and cannot make the decision for you.

So, as we sit here in the middle of the week, what is your decision today? Don’t look around…just look in the mirror. And answer the questions. Who or what do you worship today? Are you pumped up in pride today or sober in assessment? Will I seek to be healed or just talk about it? Are you ready for Jesus to touch you?

What can you do today? Anything you want. What should you do today? Follow Jesus. What will you do today? It is your decision, so only you know.

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© 2015 GBF

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