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 – 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.

 

 

 

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