Bread – Joy

December 12, 2017


Psalm 92

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,…”  Ps. 92:1

The context of this Psalm is contained in its title, “A Song for the Sabbath.”  Therefore, the first line of the first verse could almost be phrased “On the Sabbath, it is good to give thanks to the Lord…”

For most Christians, Sabbath translates to Sunday, so another way of saying this is “On Sunday, it is good to give thanks to the Lord….”

Of course, it is good to always give thanks to the Lord, but for this Psalm and this Bread, let’s just focus on Sunday church.

Why is this Bread called “Joy” when the focus of this verse seems to be “good” and “thanks.”  One might well ask why giving thanks on Sunday is “good.”  Good for what?

Well, there are a lot of answers in “good for what.”  Good to restore our souls, good to bring rest, good to increase our awareness of God’s presence and His benevolence toward us, good to bring together God’s community so that we can better know how to love and be good neighbors, good for uplifting music, good for hearing informed preaching, etc.

But I wonder if that is what the real good is.  I wonder if the real good in giving thanks to the Lord on Sunday is that it brings us joy.

But, you say, “my Sunday does not bring me joy.”  I have to get up out my cozy bed; I have to get the kids fed and dressed; I have to hear everyone’s whining about “why do we have to go to Sunday School;”  I have to be nice to people when I get there; I have to pretend like I’m listening to the sermon; I have to put up with the restless child next to me, wondering why his or her parents didn’t put them in solitary; I have to try to sing even though my singing is best described as a resounding gong; and I have to look at my watch wondering if I will have time to cut the yard, play golf, watch the football game, drink with my buddies, work on the car, fix the light which just went out that morning.  What joy exists in those things?

We are in the middle of Advent, during a time of waiting for Christmas, at which time we will sing “Joy to the World.”  Who is this joy and what is this joy when the Sunday is not fun; it is work.

What our Psalm reminds us of is that each Sunday can be, if we will but open our hearts and minds, a mini-Christmas.  It can be celebration of our life in Christ and His community on earth.  It can be time of rest and renewal.  It can bring gladness, renew hope, fill us up with courage, outfit us with the clothing of the Holy Spirit, remind us of our eternal salvation by and through God’s grace, having nothing to do with our works.  In other words, it is good for us to give thanks to the Lord because it will bring us joy.

There is joy at Christmas because of the anticipation, because we see the target, because of Advent, because of the time before the event to get ready.

Let me make a suggestion.  Today and every day this week, let’s think about Sunday in anticipation of the truth it will bring, the love which will be felt and given, the communion which will shared, the opportunity to give thanks to the Lord, the hope it will instill, and the power of God which will be present and which infill us anew.

Instead of looking at the coming Sunday with dread, let us look at the coming Sunday with expectation of something exciting coming our way.

It is good on Sunday to give thanks to the Lord.  Why?  Because we will have a great blessing – joy.    Why?  Because Christ will be born anew in our hearts.  And we will worship.  And we will be blessed.  And that is very good indeed.

_______

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

 

 

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Bread – Silence

July 13, 2016


Psalm 28

“To You, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if You be silent to me, I become like those who go down into the pit.”  Ps. 28:1

When we are surrounded by the noise of the day, the honking of horns, the constant drone of televisions, the jabbering of voices … sometimes we say that all we want is silence.  But do we?

A long time ago I participated in a type of spiritual retreat called a “silent” retreat.  Unlike some “silent” retreats, it wasn’t totally silent because we could talk during mealtimes, but it was silent enough.  During the first day or so of that retreat, I thought I would go crazy.  Why?  Because I am used to filling my mind with external sound, living with a perpetual state of noise, which crowds out thinking and reflection.   So, when confronted with silence, I have no inputs whatsoever, except whatever my mind fills up with.

And if you’ve never tried it, go to a place of silence for a while.  Phase 1 is a high level of discomfort, Phase 2 is wondering what you are going to “do” next, and Phase 3 is your mind cluttering your thoughts with all kinds of thoughts, many of which are random and disorganized.

When your mind realizes that it is not getting external noise, it will try to generate noise of its own, which is Phase 3 above.

Most people fear Phase 3, the noise generated by the mind, and so retreat rapidly from silence back to the safe shores of external stimulation.

But there is a place beyond the noise of the mind where the mind becomes ready to listen and to observe.  At that stage, there is no noise coming from outside of you and there is no noise coming from inside of you – there is awareness, readiness, and at attitude of hearing, of listening, and not telling.

And at the stage, if we can get through the discomfort of silence, we are ready to hear.  Hear what?  Maybe it is the sound of a bird singing outside; maybe it is the soft rustle of the wind.  Maybe it is the gentle beat of the ceiling fan.  But, at some point, you are ready to hear the still, small voice of God reaching out to you through your prayers, your readings of His Word, or maybe even direct communication.   And when we hear it, because God is both holy and merciful, that sound strikes us with a combination of fear, wonder, excitement, and peace.

But what if, after a while, that still, small voice ceased for a while?  What if you asked God to speak and He did not, even though you are ready to hear (having readied yourself in silence)?

This is what the Psalmist is talking about.  That dead, spiritual silence when you have silenced the outside world, you have silenced the internal mind, and are ready to hear God – and He does not speak?

What happens then?  There is a tendency to misread this verse and to suggest that David is saying to the Lord that, if God does not speak to him, that he (David) will go down to hell (the pit).  However, what it really says is that “it will be like that.”  That makes sense.  Having been saved by grace, we do not lose our salvation because God is silent, but God’s silence toward us makes us feel like we are abandoned to our doom.

At this time, when God is silent, there are two responses we can make (there is a third response – believing that you are in hell, but we’ll skip that one).  One is to say to God, “well, you had your chance” and then return to the sound and fury of the world.  This is the attitude which says that “God has not spoken and He won’t any time soon.”  The other approach is to say to God, “I will wait in expectation.”  This is the attitude that says “God has not spoken yet but He will.”

The first response lets us return to the safety of noise.  The second response suspends us in the discomfort of silence.  The first response releases us back to the world.  The second response creates a radical dependence upon God – not because He has spoken but because He has promised that He will and because He has left us His Word to comfort and instruct us in the meantime.

Have you ever wondered how some people are always smiling, that nothing ever seems to faze them?  Maybe it is because they do not live in the land of noise, but rest in the heaven of silence.

Silence is a wonderful thing, but only if you are ready to meet God.  Are you?

_________

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

 

 

Bread – Heard

February 12, 2016


Psalm 6

“O Lord, rebuke me not in Your anger, nor discipline me in Your wrath.  Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing … The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer.”  Ps. 6:1-2a, 9

Psalm 6 begins with an urgent prayer for God not to be mad at David but be merciful because David is depressed and in the pits.  It ends with an acknowledgement by David that the Lord has heard him and that all of his enemies, the ones who have driven him into depression presumably, “shall be ashamed.”  Note the use of the word “shall” as opposed to the word “could” or “might” or even “will.”  There is a sense that they are defeated today, even though it may not be obvious until tomorrow.  There is a sense in the word “shall” that David’s prayer has been immediately answered, regardless of what appears to him to be the case.

So, my question is, what has changed?

There are at least three ways to answer this question, one from the perspective of a third person looking in at the facts, the second from God’s perspective, and the third from David’s.

From the third party’s perspective, the stranger (us) looking in, the answer is nothing, nothing has changed!  Have David’s enemies left the field of battle?  No.   Is David still in the pits?  Yes.  Has any word of God been audibly spoken so that we can hear?  No.  Has sunlight broken through the clouds in rays of glory?   No.  To us, from an objective perspective, nothing has changed and, if God was mad, He still is; if David was depressed, he still is; and if the enemies are surrounding David, they still are.

From God’s perspective, what has changed?  I realize I am reaching high to even begin to ask that question, must less answer it, but I will, at least from my understanding of who God is.  My answer to the question of, from God’s perspective, what has changed, is … nothing has changed.  God was angry at David’s sin, but He was from the beginning of time merciful and gracious unto David, choosing him for salvation and redemption and restoration.  God will remain angry at David’s sin forever, but He will lay aside that anger and accept David because the penalty for that sin has been paid by God.  God is wrath and love at the same time.  God’s attitude toward sin does not change.  He does not change.  Also, David’s situation has not changed.  David is subject to sin, although being rescued from it.  Whether David’s sin results in depression, illness, or even fleeting happiness is merely the moment’s passing of human emotional response to circumstances.  But whether David is as happy as a clam or as defeated as a skunk, he has not changed in God’s eyes and neither has his situation.  Finally, has God’s acceptance of David’s prayer changed?  The answer is “no.”  David, being saved by grace and not by works, can always have effective prayer before God and God hears his (and our) pleas and accepts his (and our) prayer in faith.

So, if anything has changed, it is from David’s perspective.  And, of course, David represents us.  And, man, look at what has changed in David’s life!  First, he has changed from a focus on himself to a focus on God.  Second, he has changed from a focus on his enemies (my enemies are overwhelming to me) to a focus on God (God will handle his enemies).  Third, he has changed in his attitude toward God – God the angry to God the merciful to God the savior.

So what has changed?  In one sense, nothing has changed.  David is in the pits and his enemies are at the door.  In another sense, everything has changed.  David is in the pits with no friend in God to David is in the pits with the knowledge that his Savior has won the day for him.  From defeat to victory; from death to life.

Why?  How?  Because in praying to God, in yelling at God, in submitting to God, in listening to God, in just talking to God, David has moved from himself to God, from weak to strong, from disturbance to peace, from horror to wonder, from loss to joy, from despair to hope.

David is us and we are there.  We need everything that David needed … love, mercy, rescue, favor, success, life, joy, happiness, hope.  And everything is available because God has heard our prayers …. when we turn to Him, even a little bit.

So, have you turned to God today, even a little bit, to acknowledge His presence, to acknowledge His power, to acknowledge His love, to acknowledge His glory, to acknowledge His rescue and salvation?

If not, why not?  If you need any motivation, look at what you are leaving on the table by not having that conversation with God.  “God has heard my plea.”  Yes, but only if you plea.  But only if you turn to Him.

_________

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

 

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