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 – Poverty

June 8, 2016


Psalm 23

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”  Ps. 23:1

In our Declaration of Independence, three things are stated that man should strive for without the interference of king government:  life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

At our deepest level, aren’t those the things we most strive for in life – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

What is the fullness of life?  Satisfaction of basic needs, like water, food, a dry place to sleep, a safe place to work and sleep, a way to get around (transportation)?  Or is it something more than that, the building of family and friends, good relationships with others, and perhaps doing something which leaves the world a little better than we found it?

What is the best evidence of liberty?  Freedom from fear, limitless opportunity for growth, power to act independently exercised in moderate ways, the ability to be in or out of community as best suits our temperament, the strength of mind and body to be able to say both yes and no as appropriate, courage to be alone and courage to be with others?

What evidence exists when we are able to pursue happiness?  Probably both life and liberty, because with both we are able then to chase after our dreams and grab hold of what builds us up and reject what tears us down.

“I shall not want.”  I shall not want for life, I shall not want for liberty, and I shall not want in my ability to pursue happiness.

When the Lord is my shepherd, my Lord who guides me, guards me, and guarantees my place in the flock, I shall not want for life, I shall not want for liberty, and I shall not want in my quest for happiness.  When He is not my shepherd, I will have wants in all these areas.  In Christ there are riches overflowing.  In the world there is poverty of life, liberty, and the ability to pursue happiness.

You notice that I have mentioned poverty in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but I have not mentioned poverty of things.

There is a reason for this.  If we follow the world’s ways, we will chase after gods of gold, power, and position, and we may be poor in these things or we may be rich in them.  But even if we have no poverty of things, we will want for the things that matter.  If we chase after the world, we will have poverty of life, of liberty, and of the pursuit of happiness.  The reason is simple … when we chase after things, after the ways of the world, we chase after slavery.  We cannot give of our wealth if we need our wealth to buy more things.  We cannot have relationships if we are bound up in business making more money.  We cannot have liberty if we must forever tend to the wheel of commerce to make sure that our things do not disappear.  We have no time to pursue happiness if we must instead use our time to gather more things.

When you are bound to Jesus, when He is your shepherd, you are subject to His authority, to His commands, to His guidance, to His way, to His rules, and, most importantly, to His love, protection, peace, mercy, and life.  And yet, as sheep, when we follow the Master we have the freedom to live, knowing that He will take us where we need to go to take care of our needs (“He leads beside still waters.”), knowing that we have the liberty to wander off because He knows where we are and will find us and will save us from ourselves, and knowing that pursuing Him first is pursuing happiness.

Do you suffer from poverty of spirit, of hope, of conviction, of life, of relationships, of growth, of love?   Then say (and mean it) that the Lord is my shepherd.  And when you do, the rest of the sentence will follow – “therefore, I shall not want.”

_________

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

 

 

Bread — Want

August 16, 2013


Readings for Friday, August 16, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 15:19-37; Acts 21:37-22:16; Mark 10:46-52; Psalms 102,107:1-32

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Jesus asks the blind beggar in our reading today from Mark “what do you want?”

Not “what do you think you need,” “what do you need,” “what do you think you ought to have,” not even “what do you wish for in your wildest dreams,” but “what do you want?”

This is an important question, because it really addresses where we always are. Oh, we may think into the future and ask ourselves what we wish we had, and plan for it. We may look around and see the cupboard is bare and say that we “need” food, but the most important question we can always ask ourselves in the present is, “what do we want, now.”

Think about the list of answers we have to that question, “what do you want.” We might say, “I want dinner” if we are past dinner time. Having had dinner, in our response to “what do you you want,” we might answer “dessert” or “ice cream.” If we are out of work, in response to “what do you want,” we might answer a “new job,” but more likely our answer would be even more limited and immediate – “I want some money for gas,” or “I want some money for the house payment.”

The more you think about it, the more you realize that the question of “what do you want?” exposes our real condition, where what we want varies in the moment and the condition, and is generally self-focused. How many of us, really, would answer the question “what do you want?” with “I want my wife to have more love from me” or “I want my children to know Jesus?” Now that I have raised these as possibilities, you may be thinking “Oh, I would say that,” but you in your heart know better. If I went to you, a car enthusiast, right now and asked you what you wanted, if you had just gone shopping for groceries and had eaten recently, you are likely to say “I want a new set of wheels for my hot car.” I, I, I. Me, me, me. My, my, my!

Jesus asks the blind man “what do you want?” And he answered “Let me recover my sight.” Mk. 10:51.

Now, before we say “of course, he would say that, because he is blind,” remember his state of life. He is a beggar on the side of the road. He probably lives a life of subsistence, poor, hungry, spat on, rained on, living in the same set of clothes for long periods of time, unwashed, dirty, stinky. He is used to asking for money, but to Jesus he asks for mercy and for recovery of his sight, which he somehow understands are tied together. He does not ask for something common, but something uncommon. He does not ask for something which man can give, but something which only God can give.

In one very very real sense, when we pray to God, God asks us “what do you want?” Many of us are inclined to ask for the trivial of the day, the “want” in the moment rather than the “want” for all life. How do you respond to that question?

What do you want today? What do you really want today? This is no easy question, and the answer is a lot harder to come up with than we often think.

What do you want to today? Satan whispers in our ear, “Say a bowl of soup.” Will we ask for that or will we ask for something which lasts for much, much longer? God is waiting for an answer.

___________________

© 2013 GBF

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