Bread – Opposites

June 16, 2017


Psalm 70

“May all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You!  May those who love Your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’  But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God!”  Ps. 70:4-5a

We have all heard the phrase, “two sides of the same coin.”  We know that “heads” and “tails” are opposites and, if we are betting, have different results, but we also recognize that they are bound together on and in the same coin.  This basic understanding has been extended to different philosophies, where there is proposed a balance in the universe, equally between good and evil, yin and yang, the good side and the dark side of the force, etc.

And one might be inclined to read the above quote from Psalm 70 and, given that David wrote the Psalm, he was expressing two opposites in his personality, one joyful and upbeat as he considered his salvation and the other “down in the mouth” as he considered his poor condition.  The question is, is joy the opposite of depression?

I think the answer to this question is “yes” from one perspective and “no” from another.

When is it “yes?”  When joy and depression are opposites is when man is in control of both.  If we are to look for the measurement solely to our feeling, what we think, how we behave, then clapping your hands in gladness is certainly the opposite of wringing your hands in despair.  In the first instance, we feel upbeat and ready to take on the world.  In the second instance, we feel downbeat and ready to retreat from the world.  Both are our feelings, and joy and depression cannot occupy the same feeling space.  One crowds out the other.  They are opposites.

When is it “no?”  When the Lord is involved.  When God is in our life, is possible to say “I am poor and needy” and “Praise be to God” in the same breath.  It is possible because, by saying we are poor and needy, we are accurately describing our situation.  When we say “Praise be to God” we are accurately describing the source of our overcoming power.

What is the combination of depression and joy in the Christian life?  It is hope.

When we acknowledge Christ as Savior and King, we become new.  And this newness is a transformation of opposites into wholeness.  Oh, it takes a while for the complete integration to occur, and for most of us will take our entire lives.  But when we become Jesus’ sheep, the sheep of His pasture, we no longer have to suffer the opposites of feeling good or feeling bad, because we now have hope.

So, was this juxtaposition of David between joy and being poor and needy an expression of opposites?  No, it was an expression of God’s involvement continuousy in all circumstances to bring about His purposes and His glory.  In these verses, God is present.  He is present in the praises and He is present in the delivery from David’s poor condition.

The expression of “Help me … Praise You!” is not an expression of opposites but an expression of unity of spirit and the ascendancy of hope, a gift from God.

“Help me … Praise You!” is merely an expression of a great truth … we are radically poor and radically saved, all at the same time with the grace and mercy of God.

In Christ, with the flip of the coin we have heads I win and tails I win too.  It is the same coin, but it is different than it was.  So are we, in Christ.

________

© 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?

________

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

 

 

Bread – Vain

April 14, 2017


Psalm 60

O, [God] grant us help against the foe, for vain is the salvation of man!”  Ps. 60:11

As we finish this week of Easter, ending today on Good Friday, we stop for a second (maybe more, if we realize the significance of the event) to realize that this event is more than just a holiday for some people.  It is the marking of the destruction of the separation between man and God arising from man’s disobedience of God and the restoration of the hope of victory over death by our reconciliation to God through His perfect sacrifice for our sin, God Himself, Jesus Christ.  Today we are reminded that salvation is only accomplished by the sovereign act of God and not by any art or work of man.  It is “good” because it God’s work.  On Friday, it is the hope of victory over death because the resurrection has not yet occurred.  But we know it has occurred, and therefore our hope of victory which became evident when the curtain between us and God was destroyed on the cross will become certain three days later, on the day we now celebrate as Easter.

But this Psalm was written well before these events and David, the author, asks God for help against his enemies, because he knew that to depend on man for salvation was “vain.”

The Hebrew word translated as “vain” means nothingness, emptiness, anything which disappoints the hope which rests upon it, anything which is not substantial, is not real, or is materially or morally worthless.

The world tells us to put our hope of help against our foes of fear, worry, death, disease, and ignorance into the things which man provides – science, technology, education, economy.  And yet everyone one of us knows that there are instances where science, technology, education, economy and all of the other worldly solutions or philosophies or “isms” have failed us.  They fail us in the present, they do not give life, they do not give us true rest, they do not give us hope, and they do not give us victory over death.  Reliance upon the solutions of the world is vain.  The forms of salvation, the methods of salvation, the process of salvation offered by man (“of man”, of man’s invention or design) will always disappoint any hope which rests upon them.

David asked for God’s help against the foe.  God has delivered that help in Jesus Christ.

Every day we have a choice to make, to follow the hope which does not disappoint, Jesus Christ, or to place our trust in vain things, the things of the world.

Today, are we going to be vain and choose ourselves and the world we have made, or are we going to be obedient and choose Christ and His kingdom?

What say you?

________

© 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.

_________

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

 

Bread – Fortress

January 2, 2017


Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble… Selah.”  Ps. 46:1

The title of this Psalm is “God is our Fortress.”  James Boice in his commentary on the Psalms notes that this Psalm was on of Martin Luther’s favorites, from which he wrote “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

My focus today is not so much whether God is a fortress or what kind of fortress is He, but where this fortress is.  What is its location?  Where on a map may it be found?

We tend to intellectualize Scripture and God, and so our first response might well be to say that the fortress who is God is “up there,” and point to the heavens.  And, indeed, there is much in this Psalm to suggest that God’s fortress is the New Jerusalem, which will descend in the end times to bring in the thousand year reign of Christ.  “God is our refuge and strength” suggests a place of refuge, a place where we can physically go for protection.  Perhaps the image comes to mind of a high mountain redoubt, armed to the hilt with massive guns, which provides us peace and safety if we can only get there.  Perhaps we recall the place of fortress called the “shadow of His wings,” where we can hide under Him and let life’s travails flow over us, leaving us untouched and unscathed.  Perhaps we have a view of heaven with the heavenly hosts surrounding God’s throne and bring ourselves to the place of refuge there.  Perhaps we climb in our imaginations to the peak of the mountain where the transfiguration occurred, and in the presence of God’s glory revealed.

But the second part of our reading today says “God is … a very present help in trouble.”  How can one be “very present” when one is “over there” or “up there.”  The only way one can be “very present” is to be here, in the place where the calamity exists, in the place of worry and fear.

And so we realize that God is not only “over there” or “up there” but also “right here.”  He is “very present.”

Which means this, if God is in me, beneath me, above me, and around me, then the fortress is in me, beneath me, above me, and around me.  If I am in God and He is in me, then I am in the fortress right now.

If that is true, then why do we worry?  Why do feel defeat in calamity?  Why do we yield to trouble instead of just looking at it as it flies by our fortress, which is God in us?

I really don’t know the answer to that question, because I do it too.  I look at a problem and say to myself, “I am in trouble,” instead of sitting under God’s wing, in His fortress, and say to God, “look at this problem and help me solve it, or, better yet, solve it yourself.”

But the implications of our failure to recognize that the fortress to which we can retreat is in us go well beyond us.  The reason is simple … if we, as God’s ambassadors, act like we live in a fortress who is God, then those who need healing, those who need help, those who need love, will find shelter in us.  The beacon of light we should be not only shines light in darkness, but it reveals the fortress from which the light comes.

Imagine for a moment if people said “God’s people are our refuge and strength,  a very present help in trouble.”

Whether or not it has happened to you yet, calamity will come upon us all.  We suffer in this fallen world from disease, death, disaster, pain, and loss.  And where will we turn?  Will we turn to the empty promises of the world or the true promises of Christ?  Will we run to the fortress in heaven in our mind, or run across the street to our Christian neighbor who stands in the evil day and is a fortress of hope, of light, of help, of friendship, and of  strength?  If we claim to follow Christ, we should be that fortress in the storm, we ought to be that fortress in the storm, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can be that fortress in the storm for our neighbor.

“A mighty fortress is our God …”  And, to the extent He lives in us, so are we.  Let’s act like it … and let our light so shine before men that they will see our good works and praise not us, but our Father in heaven.  Amen.

_________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Recall

December 5, 2016


Psalm 44

O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us, what deeds You performed in their days … You with You own hand drove out the nations, but them You planted…”  Ps. 44:1-2

This will be an interesting week because this Psalm begins one way and quickly turns to another.  A calamity has fallen on the people of Israel and they lament to God why?  But before the Psalmist writes about the calamity, he writes about God’s exercise of His power in the past to help Israel and its people.

There is a saying that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.  However, when it comes to God, those who forget history forget who God is.

Recall of God’s blessings upon our nation, our families, and each of us personally is critical to anchoring us in knowing God, in knowing His faithfulness through all generations.  It is not enough in our tumultuous lives that our anchor to God be set in emotions, in the high of the moment, or in mountaintops, but in the deep past, in the valleys of despair, in the memory of rescue, of salvation, of gifts, of blessings, of hope, and of love.

In order for our ship to be stable on the stormy waters of life, our anchor must be placed firmly in God.  And even though God is here today and will be here tomorrow, it is in the past where His glory, power, and authority has been exercised over and over again for our benefit, laid in stone of history, there for the viewing if we but recall.

We celebrate Christmas this year, recalling the advent of the Christ-child in history.  We will celebrate Easter this year, recalling Christ’s death on the cross in history.  The Psalmist recalls God’s great deeds, the blessing of Sarah with children, the exodus from Egypt, the burning bush, the fall of the walls of Jericho, and many more large and small, written down in the past.

So, as we begin this week, let us recall our history as God’s people, both the ups and the downs, the weaknesses and the strengths, the times of obedience and disobedience, the power and the grace and the blessings and, yes, the flood and forgiveness and the cross and the resurrection, and, yes, the birth of hope for the world in the birth of Jesus.  Let us recall not only the great history God’s people but our own history as God’s son or daughter.

Let us place these recollections firmly in our memory and anchor ourselves in them.

Why, because we will need these recollections to anchor us in the coming storm, to remind us that, when God seems absent and uncaring, He is neither.  And to remind us that, even in defeat, in Christ there is victory.

_________

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

 

Bread – When

November 23, 2016


Psalm 42

My soul thirsts for You, O God, for the living God.  When shall I come and appear before God?”  Ps. 42:2

Another reading of this question is “When shall I come and see the face of God?”

In both versions of the question, the operative word is “when?”

When shall I satisfy my thirst, the hole which is in my heart which can only be filled by God?  When shall I give up my foolish ways and follow the ways of God?  When shall I say “no” to Satan and the world and say “yes” to Christ and life.  When shall I turn from my sinful ways and turn toward God?  When shall I die?  When shall I meet God face to face and be asked that terrible (or wonderful) question, “What do you have to say for yourself?  What do you have to say for your life?”  When shall I be judged?  When shall I belong?  When shall I be safe forever?

When shall I abandon the straightjacket of man’s reason and embrace the wonder of faith in God’s wisdom?

When indeed?

If you have not already had your “when” moment, when you fell before God and received His gift of grace, when you believed in Jesus Christ and turned from sin toward God, then there are only three choices which man will claim – I will do it now, tomorrow, or never.

These man-made when’s (today, tomorrow or never) have a nice ring to them, because they tickle our self-bone and exalt us over everything.  There is a problem, though, because the real answer to the question “When shall I come and appear before God?” is either today or tomorrow.  It is never “never.”

One of Satan’s greatest tricks, I think, is to make us believe that decisions and consequences can sometimes be put off forever.  But God says that there is a time coming when all of us will meet Him face to face, and at that time we will either be judged by Him to eternal judgment or be found guilty but forgiven, covered by Jesus’ sacrifice.

We are entering into the seasons of distractions, when the world clamors for attention.  But attend to this, please …. When will you come and appear before God?

It may be sooner than you think.  In fact, it may be today.

_________

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

 

Bread – Poem

November 21, 2016


Psalm 42

“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for You, O God.” Ps. 42:1

Wonderful saying.  Somewhat stilted, but wonderful nonetheless.

How much better this one: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, O God.”  Ps. 42:1 (1984 NIV)

Just a slight change of pronouns and a reversal of the verb-noun order, and what then comes across as stilted now sounds poetic.

The first is likely a better translation of the original Hebrew; the second actually raises up my soul and makes me wonder what it is to pant for streams of living water, for God.

I just got back from hunting this weekend, where I saw two female deer (does) which were just grazing away to their hearts’ content directly underneath the deer stand where I was hiding.  It would not have taken much for me to disturb this idyllic scene.  A cough would have done it.  A whiff of aftershave would have done it.  And best (or worst) of all, a rifle shot would have done it.

Why would a deer pant for running water?  Because it was running away from danger, from fright, from fearsome things – noises, sounds, smells, the unknown, injury and death.

A deer pants after running.  So do we.

A deer knows it needs streams of water to survive and runs to it for nourishment, for strength, and for safety.  Where do we run to in the same circumstances?

It is in poetry, in the deft turn of the phrase in a mnemonic way, that we are taught, that we are encouraged, and that we take flight with our imaginations into a better place.

This Psalm is entitled “Why are you cast down, o my soul?” and it begins with poetic language that brings us from panting to the place of refreshment, rest, and restoration.

Perhaps in the deepest time of need, in the race run ragged where we are panting and striving toward streams of water, we need to remember this poetic language and let our soul pant for God.

Built into this poetic language is an image of a flowing stream.  This is an important image because flowing water is living water, which carries health and life, as opposed to stagnant waters which can hold poisons and death.

But also built into this simple poetic phrase is an image of Christ.  For Jesus says to us “If you knew the gift of God, and Who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have giving you living water.”  Jn. 4:10.

In the presence of the source of living water, as we pant for God, why is our soul cast down?  Why indeed?

_________

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

 

 

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.

_________

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

Bread – Power

September 2, 2016


Psalm 33

The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.  The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its might it cannot rescue.  Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love, that He may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.  Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.”  Ps. 33:16-20

Where is power located?  Where can it be found?

When I was getting my Masters of Business Administration, I took a course in power (of course, it wasn’t called that – it was called leadership).  We talked about a lot of things and looked at a number of psychological studies.  These showed things like how to arrange furniture to project power, where to stand, how to talk, etc.  We talked about technical power which comes from knowledge – engineers who know what they are doing have technical power because people absolutely rely on them to do things well so that bridges do not fall down, generators work, etc.  We talked about positional power, where a person’s power comes from the position they occupy, like a president has more positional power than does the bookkeeper; however, we learned that positional power is tricky, because the assistant who controls access to the president may have more positional power than even the president in some organizations.  Then we talked about situational power, where power is essentially derived from the group of people you are working with (where they voluntarily surrender power to you).  And we also talked about personal power, which arises from force of personality, drive, vision, charisma, and the such like.  I am sure new names have been attached to these and other similar concepts, but you get the drift.

But, in that entire course, we never talked about what David is talking about, the source of real power, God.

When we are in trouble, what do we fall back on?  Do we fall back on our great wealth, our family, our friends, our position, our intelligence, our native abilities, our talents, our knowledge?  To the extent we fall back on these things, and all of us do, we are demonstrating that we believe that real power comes from us or our surroundings or others somehow.  If only we could tap into the power source of self-awareness, self-assurance, or self-reliance, then we can dig our way out.  Of course, the operative word here is “self.”  When we fall back on ourselves or others, we have fallen into the arms of the world to give us the power we need to be saved, to survive the famine.

But David says that “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men … don’t hold a candle to the living God.” (or something like that)

The king is not saved by the king’s power nor his kingdom’s power; He is saved by the strong arm of the Lord and His kingdom’s power.

Where do you truly believe real power comes from?  Does it come from the sources we have been taught, or does it come from the Source which has been revealed to us by the Word written and the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ?

No doubt about it, there is a battle afoot.  There is a war.  It is the battle for ideas, the battle for resources, the battle for territory, the battle for position, the battle for truth, the battle for our families, the battle for our country, and the actual wars which grow out of these battles.  We cannot escape them.  They are here and we are players.

The question is, what kind of players are we?  Are we the players who plot and scheme and lead the charge (or follow the leader), who rely on ourselves and our fellow man and their resources, or are we players who are citizens of a different world, who know where real power lays, who rest in the knowledge that Jesus Christ, Father, and Holy Spirit are “our help and our shield?”

The time for testing is coming.  In whose army shall we fight?

_________

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

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