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.”

_______

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

 

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Bread – Wilderness

June 7, 2017


Psalm 68

O God, when You went out before Your people, when You marched through the wilderness,  Selah…” Ps. 68:7

The word “Selah” appears from time to time in the Psalms as a way of saying, “stop, pay attention, meditate on what you just read.”

What is interesting here is that the word “Selah” follows a sentence fragment. I actually appears right after the comma.  Therefore, we stop and think about what we just read.

There are two parts to this sentence fragment which stand out to me.  One is the word “wilderness.”  The other is the word “when.”

Who reading this has not been in a wilderness of their lives?  A long time ago, when I was much younger, I backpacked in the Weminuche  Wilderness of Colorado.   And I really tried hard, too.  I was carrying a 70 pound backpack, trying to climb up the trail of scree rock, sliding one or two steps back for every two or three steps forward, up a steep incline, with no one to help (I was very slow compared to my companions).  I was hot, tired, thirsty (even though I brought plenty of water) and extremely aggravated.  My legs and feet were killing me.   I wondered why I even started the journey.

This physical experience is similar to the emotional and psychological experiences we go through as we try to navigate life, raise a family, make money, and plan for the future.  We carry our burdens on our back, whether it addiction, anger, fear, worry, disappointment, depression, and a bunch of other maladies.  It seems like we are always on slippery stones, sliding backwards more often than going forward.  We feel like we are always going uphill.  We get tired.  We get hungry and thirsty.  We long for a better life, and sometimes we even wonder why we started the fool trip to begin with.  Finally, we feel like we are all alone on this fight for life.  Although we may claim a relationship with God, when we are in the wilderness of life He sometimes seems to have abandoned us too.

The second word is “when.”  “When You went out before Your people.”  “When You marched through the wilderness.”

Not “if,” but “when.”  Concrete in reality; provable in the events of history.  A real presence in a real time of need.  The “You” is God, not me.  “When God went out before His people.”

In the Old Testament, God led His people Israel through the wilderness into the promised land.  Today, for those brought by God into His sheepfold, He goes out before us into and through the wildernesses of life to bring us to victory.

We will not be able to avoid the wildernesses of life.  To think we can is to fail to understand that our broken world which creates such wildernesses is our fault, due to our rebellion against God and our sinful state.  But, while we are in those wildernesses, we can remember “when God.”   And realize that the same God that led Israel is the same God who leads us.  He goes out before us.  He marches through the wilderness with us.

One of the interesting things about my wilderness hike I now remember is that I was always looking down, trying to make sure I was planting my feet on solid ground so that I would not slide backwards.  But to find God, I cannot look at my feet but must look at Him.  And when I looked up from my feet and looked around, I saw not the rocks but the mountain flowers, the streams of water off the mountain, the mountain itself, and the sky.

The nature of wildernesses is that we are inclined to look down.  God is the God of “when.”  So can we see Him?  To do that, we need to look up. And when we do, we see Him.  And we trust.  And, as any good hiker will tell you, when we trust we will find that that mountain can be climbed, the danger can be overcome, and the wilderness will become a place of joy rather than a place of burden.

Think about it.  Selah.

________

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

 

 

Bread – Away

April 24, 2017


Psalm 61

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint.”  Ps. 61:1-2a

Perhaps I should have called this Bread “Far Away,” but that would have violated my one word summary rule.  However, the “away” in the title today is meant to convey that sense of distance, far distance, from wherever you want to be or whomever you want to be with.  Our Psalmist uses the phrases “from the end of the earth.”

Wrapped up in this image of being “away” are, of course, our ideas of geographic distance.  If I live in Texas but am presently visiting China, then I am indeed “far away.”  But also wrapped up in this image is emotional distance.  I can be “far away” from my spouse sitting in a chair next to him or her.  I can be far away from my studies by daydreaming.  So there is physical distance, emotional distance, mental distance, and, as we know from our tumultuous relationship with God, spiritual distance.

We may not even be aware that we are “away.”  I remember that when I first went to college, the sights and sounds of Boston and the university were so exciting that I forgot I was away from home … until I became homesick a couple of months later.  We may be so wrapped up in our daydream that we aren’t even aware that we have wandered away mentally.  We may get so caught up in the routine of life that we become emotionally detached or “away” from our significant others and not even realize it.  We may become so self-dependent, powerful, rich, respected, educated, that we lose track of how far away we are from God.  We become so lost in the ways of the world that we drift away from the laws of the Kingdom of God.

The fact that we become unaware of how far away we are is reflected, actually, in the quoted verse from our Psalm today.  David did not call upon God because he was far away; he called upon God because his “heart is faint.”  When his heart became faint and he became aware it was time to pray to God, he was at the “end of the earth.”  In his self-focus, he had gone away from God, but it took an event to make him realize it.

In college, that event of homesickness may come upon us when we realize that we haven’t eaten a particular food in a while, when we walk into our dormitory room and find that it is empty, when we call home and no one answers, or when we recall some fond memory of good times.  In studying, we may realize that we have wandered away in our daydream when our head hits the desk because we just fell asleep.  In our relationships with each other, it may in fact be a heart moment when we realize how far we are away emotionally from our loved ones.

Sometimes we go away to a far place on purpose, but most of the time it is because we drift on open waters with no direction in mind, permitting our boat to be carried on the random winds and waves of the seas.   The prodigal son deliberately left his father and went to a far place where he ate with the pigs, but we tend to end up far away due to inattention, negligence, slothfulness, and aimless wandering.

In such times, we may be inclined to say to ourselves “How did we get here?”  But that is the wrong question, because “here,” “away” you are.  The right question is “How do we get back to where we should be?”

In a very natural way, David the Psalmist tells us.  The way back from being away is to come near.  When we are far away from God, the way back is to talk to Him, to pray to Him, and to let Him help you back.  If I wake up in China but belong in Texas, what do I do?  I get on the next airplane.  Well God has given us a transport mechanism to get back to Him from the end of the earth, and that is prayer.

Are you away from God today?  Have you gone to a faraway place from Him?  The journey of a 1,000 miles begins with the first step.  That first step is prayer.  Start now!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Particularize

April 30, 2016


Psalm 17

“He is like a lion eager to tear, as a young lion lurking in ambush.  Arise, O Lord!  Confront him, subdue him!”  Ps. 17:12-13

In our prayer life, we are so often ready to generalize, to talk about “evil” in the abstract, to talk about “evil people” in the collective, to talk about “them” or “us.”

But the truth is that rarely do we deal with the collective or the abstract – most often we are dealing with a particular situation or a particular person.  The person we are dealing with may be part of a greater whole or may well represent that greater whole or the idea, but the contest before us is between “me” and the other person, not the other philosophy or the other abstraction.  Situations are concrete and people are concrete.  We may think abstractly, but we deal concretely.

We must deal with the person and the situation before us.

David was confronted with a particular person in this Psalm.  This particular person was out to get him; he (David’s adversary) was “lurking” around trying to catch David unawares, pounce on him, and, most likely, kill him.

So, in a moment of clarity, David stops praying to God about the wicked people (“They close their heart to pity”) and speaks directly and personally about the wicked person (“Confront him!”)

Sure David might pray to God to deal with the entire category of lions and to soften their anger and bring to their mind a friendship with man, but there came a moment when David realized that God had to deal with a particular lion, one who was going to kill David if God didn’t intervene against that single, solitary man-lion.

Do we personalize our prayers like this?  Do we pray to an abstract God, one which resides in our minds as an idea, or to a personal God, one who resides in our hearts as our Savior?  Do we pray to God about things in general, or about situations in particular?  Do we pray to God about fixing the problems of a nation, or do we pray to Him about the particular guy or gal who is giving us fits?

We love to read the Psalms because of their overarching majesty in representing the prayer and song life of those who wrote them, in reflecting the great struggles between understanding a God who is sovereign, holy, loving, and faithful and His dealing (or, from our perspective, not dealing) with our particular needs and the needs of others.

However, which portion of David’s prayer of Psalm 17 was closest to David’s heart and, therefore, God’s desires for him … “keep me from them” or “keep me from him, the lion?”

There was an old pastor-priest friend of mine, now deceased, who told me one time that, as he drove down the street to get to a meeting with a parishioner, he always prayed as he reached each stoplight that God would turn it green so that he could drive unimpeded.  I told him that wouldn’t it make more sense for him to pray that God just get him to the appointment on time, and he said, “no,” because God was quite capable of taking care of each stoplight and the accumulation of each stoplight would result in him getting to where he needed to go in the time appointed for him to get there.

In reading this Psalm today and hearing David ask God to “stop that man,” I am reminded that each event, each person, each situation, each minute by minute occurrence in our life, is an opportunity for us to ask God for help and for Him to show up with a little demonstration of His power.  We so much want the light show that we don’t realize the opportunity for prayer when we turn on the light and hope the light bulb turns on.

Can you imagine the power by which we would lead our lives if we could personalize and particularize everything as an opportunity to speak to God about our need, right then?

And if we particularized our prayers down to the specific before us, wouldn’t we also then live our lives in constant gratitude for the things fulfilled?

When we pray to God for a good journey, we get to thank Him at the end of that good journey.  When my friend prayed to God for a green stoplight, he got to thank God for that green stoplight when it occurred.  But what we forget is that he also got to thank God for the red stoplight as well because it gave him an opportunity to think about why God might not have turned it to green – was it to protect him?  Give thanks.  Was it to give him an opportunity to make that phone call he needed to make and had forgotten?  Give thanks.  Was it to give him an opportunity for rest from a frustrating drive?  Give thanks.

If we want to witness God in every moment of our lives, if we want to live our lives in power, if we want to have an attitude of gratitude, maybe we need to particularize our prayers more, realizing that every moment in life is both an opportunity to pray and, regardless of the outcome, an opportunity to give thanks.

Then, instead of praying and giving thanks once or twice a day, we would be doing it thousands of times a day.

And, maybe then, we would truly walk with Him, talk with Him, be with Him, and do His will.

_________

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

 

Bread – Winds

October 1, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, October 1, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Hosea 4:11-19; Acts 21:15-26; Luke 5:27-39; Psalms 101,109,119:121-144

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In our reading from Hosea today, there is a useful phrase – “A wind has wrapped them in its wings…” Hosea 4:19

Not only is this phrase poetic, it is visual and practical. You can just see the fingers of the wind blowing here and there, wrapping themselves around us, comforting us, supporting us, calming us, and even caressing us. Who has not thought or dreamed about being carried upon the wind from one place to another? Isn’t that what hot air balloons are about?

What winds have wrapped us in their wings today?

Maybe it is the wind of fear, wrapping us and enveloping us in a brew of suspicion, concern, and distraction. We here about new diseases, one of which has just come to our city, and the winds of disease and destruction swirl throughout the news media and our conversation, wrapping us up in today’s disaster.

Maybe it is the wind of work, wrapping us and enveloping us in a brew of busyness and business, wrapping us up in the wings of economics, jobs, money, position, activity, and “achievement.”

Maybe it is the wind of new ideas from the mind of man, wrapping us and enveloping us in a brew of self-satisfaction, intellectual treats, educational snobbery, and “thoughtful” pursuits.

In Hosea, it was the wind of whoredom which has wrapped Israel in its wings, sending Israel into both spiritual adultery (where idols made by man become more important than God) and physical adultery (where man’s conduct devolves into immorality and satisfaction of base passions).

We know as Christians that the only wind we should have wrapping us up in its wings is the wind of the Holy Spirit, the breath of life, the power to engage the world without becoming polluted by the world.

And yet, what wind do we let wrap itself around us? The wind of change, the wind of politics, the wind of activity, the wind of intellectual curiosity, the wind we create ourselves, the wind that others create for us?

It is Wednesday and the week is half over. What wind have you let envelope you this week? What wind will you let cover you this week going forward?

You know, my earlier reference to a hot air balloon sticks with me. Man makes the balloon and he makes the hot air which fills the balloon. When filled with hot air, the balloon will carry the man over far distances, limited only by the amount of hot air the man can generate from his machines. When the hot air runs out, the balloon lands on the ground and the trip is over.

But when we fill our spiritual balloon with the wind of the Holy Spirit, where can we go? To infinity and beyond, to eternity. Will the wind of the Holy Spirit go away? No (We might fail to use it; we might even fail to see it, but the wind of the Holy Spirit remains.)

So, ultimately, there are two winds which can enfold us. One is from God and the other is of the world, of man, of Satan. One is the breath of life, and the other is the wind of idolatry.

Both winds can fill our sails, but one sustains us on the journey of life and the other on the journey of death. Which wind will you let wrap you in its wings today?

____________

© 2014 GBF

Bread – Journeys

March 21, 2014


Readings for Friday, March 21, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 43:1-15; 1 Cor. 7:1-9; Mark 4:35-41; Psalms 69,73,95

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In today’s reading from Genesis, Israel’s children have returned from Egypt with the bread given to them by Joseph (unknown to them as the brother they threw away), but Israel and his sons and family have consumed what was returned. So, another trip to Egypt is in store. Israel tells them to go back to Israel, but the sons refuse unless they can take Benjamin, the youngest, with them, because Joseph told them to and they cannot go back and ask for bread without the youngest in tow. Judah, the oldest son, finally swears that he will take care of Benjamin or bear the shame of his failure forever. Israel relents because the famine was great and they needed food.

The brothers, including Benjamin, then set out on their journey to Joseph and Egypt with these words of Israel ringing in their ears – “…if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” Gen. 43:14b

I have probably read this history at least ten times in my life, and my memory of it was that Israel lamented his youngest going on the trip and cried. Instead, however, a closer reading (and a more correct reading) is that Israel was resigned to the fact that the journey might end with all of his children dead. “If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” If I lose everything, so be it.

Have you ever launched into a journey with the understanding that everything could be lost on the way? Knowing this, some people are frightened into never beginning the journey. Knowing this, some people spent enormous amounts of energy, money, and time preparing for all contingencies on the journey, so they take the journey all burdened down with stuff. Knowing this, some people are just fatalistic and go on the journey, with an “Oh well” mentality. But there is a fourth type of person, a person who takes the journey with their face steeled against the possibility that things will turn out poorly, but also believing in faith that it will not. Sometimes that faith is in themselves, which we know to be a weak foundation. If they are Christian, that faith is in Christ, in God, which we know to be a strong foundation.

Jesus in our reading today from Mark speaks of a journey, a journey across the sea in a small boat, tossed and turned by the waves, the wind, and the rain. Jesus appears and calms the storm, and then asks the disciples why they were afraid, why they had so little faith.

What is interesting about the disciples on the sea in the boat in the storm quieted by Jesus is that the journey for the disciples did not end. They were still in the boat in the middle of the sea. They still had to cross to the other side. Things could still turn out badly; they had a taste of that earlier. The difference was, however, that Jesus was in the boat and, knowing that, the disciples might, just might, have gained that measure of faith to see them to the end of their journey.

We are all on a journey. We may be on a journey to our next meeting, to lunch, to our next promotion, to our next job termination, to health or illness, to wealth or poverty, to gain or loss, to freedom or imprisonment, to life or death. We are on a journey through life.

The question is really, not whether we will be on the journey, but what our attitude will be about it. Will we be so afraid that we will not venture out to even take the first step? Will we be so worried that we will spend so much time in preparation that we never have any time to enjoy it? Will we be so trusting in ourselves that we will walk far out onto bridge across the water before we realize that the bridge we have built is weak and failing? Or will be so trusting in Christ that, when the waves come and the lightning strikes, we turn to Him with a smile on our face and say, ‘Thank you, Jesus, for this opportunity to trust You more, now please take care of it!’

We take many journeys, but can we truly say “If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved?” Can we truly say, “Come what may on my journey, I still have won?” In Christ, you can.

_______________

© 2014 GBF

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