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 – Presence

June 16, 2016


Psalm 24

“Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?  And who shall stand in His holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.”  Ps. 24:3-4

It is a rare occasion, but a few times in my life I have been the presence of a truly holy person.  It is the classic you know it when you see it.   My best example is a bishop of Nigeria, who I was in a prayer meeting with just before he was going to speak to a bunch of folks.  While I was there, he received word that his house had been attacked by Muslims and burned.  When asked if he wanted to put off speaking, his response was simply that the Lord was taking care of his family, that his house could be rebuilt, and that there were souls in the audience who needed to hear the gospel.  He then stood up, walked out, and delivered the truth to those hungry to hear it.   The reason I say he was holy was really nothing he said; it was the way he said it.  He lived in the power of the Holy Spirit, he lived without fear, and he knew whose he was and what his job was.  Every word he spoke he believed; there was no doubt.  And to say the least, I was lifted up, honored, and humbled at the experience.

We may say that we would like to be like him, but is that really true.  Can we live our lives in absolute trust in the Lord to preserve us and our loved ones?  Can we suffer the complete loss of our possessions on earth so that we obtain possessions in heaven?  Are we willing to truly leave everything on the table to follow Christ?  Are we willing and able to preach the gospel in and out of season?

I think if we are truly honest with ourselves, there is something always held back, something always reserved for ourselves.  We are willing to sacrifice our time, but are we willing to sacrifice our life?

In one sense, though, we Christians are all set apart for God and we are all in that sense holy.  But this bishop was truly holier than me.

And yet, as holy as this man was, could he ascend the hill of the Lord or stand in His holy place?  Does even this bishop, this holy one, have clean hands and a pure heart?

The answer is “no.”  He may be a holy man but he is a man and therefore a sinner, made able to climb God’s hill and appear in God’s throne room only because Jesus Christ precedes him and saves him.

“Who shall stand in His holy place?”  Who has clean hands and a pure heart?  It is those whose hands have been made clean and who have a new heart as a result of new spiritual birth, all made possible by Jesus’ obedience to the cross, His sacrifice of Himself on the cross, and His resurrection and ascension to the Father.

“Who shall stand in His holy place?”  If you are a Christian, you know the answer to that question.  If you do not know the answer, it is in the gospel of John, 14:6, where Jesus says simply “No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

“Who shall stand in His holy place?”  Who shall be in the presence of the Lord?  Will you?

_________

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

 

Bread – Immanuel

December 12, 2014


Readings for Friday, December 12, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 7:10-25; 2 Thess. 2:13-3:5; Luke 22:14-30; Psalms 31,35

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From our reading in Isaiah – “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Isa. 7:14

“Immanuel” means “God is with us.”

I grew up reading this passage as a prophesy of the coming of Christ incarnate into the world, born of a virgin, at a time which we celebrate in a couple of weeks called “Christmas.” In the midst of our need for a Savior since we, who live in sin and are therefore spiritually dead, cannot save ourselves. God’s sovereign act in sending Himself to earth is truly Immanuel, God is with us. I always understood it this way, until I was presented with an alternate reading in this passage.

See, there are group of Biblical scholars who hold that Isaiah is not speaking to Christ’s coming in the far term, but to Isaiah’s listeners of events to come in the near term. They argue, based upon textual analysis, that fulfillment of this sign occurred in Isaiah’s day. From this perspective and to integrate Matthew’s description of the passage, these persons often adopt a “both” strategy – that the prophesy has a double fulfillment, once in Isaiah’s day and another with the birth of Christ. I think there are a number of problems with this analysis, but then again I am no Biblical scholar. However, I find good company in the gospel of Matthew, where Matthew quotes this Scripture and says “All this [the birth of Jesus] took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet [Isaiah]:…” Matt. 1:22. So, I am sticking with my belief that this statement by Isaiah of the coming of Immanuel points to Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

But so what? Immanuel (God is with us) occurred in history, at the birth of Jesus.

Now you may well say “Wait a minute!,” “Yes, Jesus died, but He rose again and is standing at the right hand of God, interceding for us.” But does this mean that God is with us or in heaven, at the right hand of God?

Most people reading this are becoming very uncomfortable right now, and you should. You should because I am getting very close to how we actually behave on a daily basis. Do we behave today like “God is with us” or that God is remote, that He was then (when He was born and died) or He is there (in heaven, beside the Father).

If Immanuel, God is with us, then He is not remote in time or space, He is present here and now.

If you believe that God is here and now, then why don’t you act like it?

If Immanuel, then our sin is an immediate affront to God, not something which is postponed to when He comes back to earth and not something which is delayed in the report until the angel can whisper it in His ear.

If Immanuel, our failure to pray, to talk to Him, and to be with Him is an immediate rejection of Him, not something which is OK because He is “over there.”

If Immanuel, our failure to step out in faith in the direction He leads is a present, immediate statement of lack of trust, of unbelief in Him.

You get the point. Immanuel is either true or it is not. Because if l God is with us, then He is not not with us. He is either one or the other. He is either present in time and space or He is remote in either or both. He is either an ever present help in time of trouble or He is sometimes, when He is in the area.

Our third reading today from Luke is Christ instituting Holy Communion (the bread and the wine, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”). Luke 22:14-20. Here, as we drink and eat in accordance with His command, we experience Immanuel.

But if Immanuel, then we don’t have to wait for Communion. Immanuel exists in our prayers, in our hope, in our trust, in our obedience, in our relationship with Christ and each other, in our love, in our life and in our death. It exists in our trouble and our victory. It exists in the morning, throughout the day, in the evening, and throughout the night. It exists 24x7x365.

If Immanuel, then it exists all the time, everywhere, in all circumstances.

So when we celebrate Christ’s birthday, we are not celebrating a one-time event of Immanuel. We are celebrating Immanuel every day of our lives when Christ has deemed to save us.

Every day is Immanuel when Christ is ours. Christmas may be special, but it is not the only day of Immanuel.

Come, Let us adore Him. Not just on Christmas, but always. Immanuel. Thank you, God.

____________

© 2014 GBF

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