Bread – Love

December 8, 2017


Psalm 91

For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day …” Ps. 91:3-5

A friend of mine who was in the military told me that Psalm 91 was what he and some of his fellow soldiers recited in the midst of danger. And, indeed, the imagery of this Psalm is powerful to demonstrate for us that the Lord is our Protector and our source of the spiritual clothing which we need to stand in the evil day.

So why is this Bread labeled “love?”

As Christians, what do we fear? What is the “terror of the night” or the “arrow that flies by day?”

When the danger is upon us from our enemies, like in war, the “terror of the night” and the “arrow that flies by day” are obvious. The fear is that we will be horribly disfigured or killed.

And in these circumstances, it is easy to apply this Psalm because, for most Christians, the truth is that we may never be on a real battlefield with enemies with real guns and knives. As a result, we can rationalize the “since we have overcome death through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we do not fear death.”

But we as Christians are commanded to go to the battlefield and there love. The place is the battlefield of our work and our homes, our clubs and our churches, our world.

And on that battlefield we fear much, but primarily we fear that we will pour ourselves out in love to our spouse, our children, our bosses and subordinates, our co-workers, our friends and our acquaintances and we will receive back … the terrors of wondering in the night how they will react and the arrow shot at us by the very people we are trying to love by day. We are on the battlefield of life where our love will be met by indifference, by hostility, by blame, by anger, by ….

In our battle in life, the fowler is the person which will keep us from flying as birds with free spirit and the deadly pestilence is the disease of needing other people’s approval or thanks.

When we are in this battle, the only way we succeed in loving in the night of adversity is to recognize, as does our Psalmist, that it is God who delivers us from the bondage of the fowler and sets us free to fly victoriously, it is God who heals us of our sorrow of rejection and provides us the medicinal elixir of His love to recharge our batteries, it is God covers us with His wings and gives us rest, it is God who is faithful, it is God who equips us, and it is God who can overcome our fear, if we but ask and accept His Holy Spirit.

Why are weak Christians? Perhaps it is because we do fear what we do not know and what we do know, because we still want the respect and love of others.

There are many kinds of death. There is the death of life caused by gunshot. There is the death of life caused by the thousand cuts of uncaring friends, forgetful spouses, ungrateful children and parents, petty bosses, and a variety of people and events we can easily blame.

These are snares, these are diseases, these are terrors, these are arrows which pierce our heart and cause us to wallow in defeat. But they are overcome – by God.

While we live under the shelter of the Most High, we overcome and can love without acknowledgment or return. While we wear the armor provided by God, we overcome and can love without acknowledgement or return.

If we do not fly there is no one for the fowler to catch. If we do not enter the dark places, there are no terrors to confront. If we do not stand in the evil day, there is no one to shoot an arrow at.

So why don’t we just retreat? It is because we are called elsewhere; we are called out into the world to do battle. And in doing so God will free us from our chains, give us powerful medicine to ward off Satan’s disease, give us our daily bread, clothe us for the job, calm us in the day of terror, and give us rest. All we have to do is show up and love without condition … and God has and will do the rest.
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© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

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Bread – Personal

December 6, 2017


Psalm 91

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place – the Most High who is my refuge – no evil shall be allowed to befall you…”   Ps. 91:9-10

Psalm 91 is a wonderful psalm, much memorized, which is comprised of three parts, the “I” part, the “you” part, and the “I am” part.

The quoted Scripture today comes from the “you” part and I am quoting it because it is inconsistent in that it says that “because you” … “my refuge.”  To achieve consistency in the reading, one would think that the Psalm should say “…The Most High who is your refuge – no evil shall be allowed to befall you.”  No, instead, the Psalmist makes sure that he is using the word “my.”  Why?

I think the answer is actually in the structure of the entire Psalm.  It begins with I, it proceeds to you, and beyond it proceeds to God.

This is the inverse of how we think.  We tend to think first in the abstract – God.  We then tend to think in how that abstract applies to others – you.  And finally, if we really have to, kicking and screaming, we will apply the abstract to ourselves.  So, if we were to write this Psalm, we would likely start with the God statements, then proceed to apply the God statements to you, and then proceed to application to me.

If you think about it, this way of thinking results in two things, neither of which is good.  First, if we begin with the abstract we may stay there, which is a very safe place to be.  It is safe because it is of the mind, the intellect, and we can play “mind games” with it to the fullest extent of our training, education, and ability.  The second reason this way of thinking is not good is because it is selfish – we end up looking at ourselves last, meaning that we are looking down and looking inward, quite satisfied that we have ended up in the most important place in the room – with ourselves.

But this Psalmist, out of heart of gratitude for what the Lord has done for him, speaks first of himself and then looks outward to others and then to the heavens.

When we speak from the mind, we speak from the abstract to ourselves.  When we speak from the heart, from the core of our person, we speak from ourselves outward.

I think what the Psalmist has done is to say indirectly that he cannot speak to you about who the Lord is until he, the Psalmist, knows Him personally.  That is why the Psalmist immediately sticks the “my” in the reading today.  The Lord Almighty is your refuge and I know this because He is personal to me, He is the Most High, He is my refuge.”

Our job today may be to speak out in favor of God and to act in ways which bring glory to Him.  But we cannot do this effectively until our heart is right, and our heart is not made right without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

We tend to preach at people, telling them that God should be their refuge.  Maybe the better evangel is the simple statement that God is “my” refuge, proven in our acts as we live life victoriously with abundance of love and charity.    At some point, when people see your heart in Christ, they will ask you why … and then you can say simply because I know Him personally … and then when they asked you how… you can say simply “because He first loved me and saved me.”

Make it personal.  Because it is.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Sanctuary

March 24, 2017


Psalm 57

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in You my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge, until the storms of destruction pass by.” Ps. 57:1

The idea of sanctuary or refuge seems to be having a strong pull on all people today, as we seek what the secular press calls “safe places” or “safe zones.” We feel surrounded by a mist of confusion and doubt, loss and turmoil, anxiety and depression, and, as the Psalmist put it, “the storms of destruction,” and we reach out to safe places.

But what the world calls a “safe place” is a place where the gathered people are told that they are OK, that they are safe, that their thoughts and opinions are worthy, and that their view of the world is correct. The world’s safe places are places where they may be a guard at the door, fluffy couches to lay on, and donuts and coffee (or tea) to drink. These safe places may be infilled with soft music of a type to be found in a massage studio, murmured conversation and soft touches, and calming words. They are a place where people may retreat from what is going on outside the room, but they are not places of solution.

In this Psalm’s title, there is reference to this Psalm having been written “in the cave.” This is probably the cave where David lived while escaping from Saul. It is a place where the walls are defined, where the entrance is guarded, where the fires of evening warm the area and light it. The cave for David is a relatively safe place, and from a secular and worldly point of view, it qualifies as a sanctuary or a refuge.

Many people refer to our churches as places of safety, refuge, and sanctuary. In fact, my place of worship calls its main building a “sanctuary” because there we can meet God, worship Him, and leave the world outside. But is the church worship building really a sanctuary, whether we call it one or not? Do we really leave the world’s way of thinking outside when we walk in? Is all of our sinfulness immediately dropped at the foot of the door to the church sanctuary? Is the sanctuary free from politics, strife, worry, fear, and squabbles? If you have been in a church building any length of time, you know that the reality of the world exists inside the building as well as outside.

This is why David does not refer to his cave as his sanctuary or refuge. It may be the place where David has time and focus to think about where his real sanctuary is, but the place itself is not the place of sanctuary or David would refer to it as such.

No, David’s real place of refuge, his real sanctuary, as well as ours is “in You [in God Himself]” and in “the shadow of Your [God’s] wings.”

As we seek peace in our lives, we need to understand something fundamental. Peace is not found in ourselves. Peace is not found in others. Peace is not found in a place. Peace is only found in God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

But, you may say, that you find peace in good music, in good wine, in good company, in contemplation, in reading a good book, and in comfortable places surrounded by familiar things and people. And that sense of peace may very well be real…for the moment. As soon as the music is over, the wine is done, the company leaves, the book is over, and the door is shut on that special place, the peace is over. At best it is a temporary peace; at worse it is a false peace. The real peace, the peace which passes understanding, the peace which is eternal, comes from only one source and can be found in only one relationship – “for in You [God] my soul takes refuge…”

Seek sanctuary where it may really be found. Seek the mercy under the wings of the Almighty, the God Most High. And rest.
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© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

Bread – Refuge

August 15, 2016


Psalm 31

In You, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in Your righteousness deliver me!  Incline Your ear to me; rescue me speedily!  Be a rock of refuge for me; a strong fortress to save me!  For You are My rock and my fortress…for You are my refuge.”  Ps. 31:1-4

A refuge is a place of safety from the world.  In the Bible, this refuge may be a strong castle with walls that cannot be breached and a wide moat which cannot be crossed; or it may be the shelter of a rocky cave, high above the fray, protected from the storm; or it may be the shelter of God’s wings which cradle us in times of emotional need.   In the world, a refuge may be a private room when one can gather his or her thoughts before the day begins; it may be a chair in that room which is incredibly comfortable and which holds us; it may be a book which is read in that chair which lets us imagine things beyond our current mess; or our refuge may be a person in whom we have great trust.

God through David says two things about being a refuge – “Be a rock of refuge” (verse 2b) and “For You are my rock and my fortress…” (verse 3).

If He “is” David’s refuge, then why is it necessary to ask God to “be” it?

One answer to this question has to do with continuity.  The refuge today may not be the refuge tomorrow.  The enemy discovers the cave; your private room is invaded by a ringing telephone.  Your book of refuge ends and you must find another.  The problem with this answer is that it flies in the face of God’s nature.  He is not changeable, in that today He is a fortress of refuge and tomorrow He is not.  No, He was a refuge, He is a refuge, and He always will be a refuge.  This is one of His characteristics, that of being a place of safety among the turmoil of the world.

So in what sense is David asking God to “be a rock of refuge?”  I think that this is really a prayer for David.  God is being asked by David to continue being a refuge for David.

Why would David have to ask this of God?  When a refuge disappears, it is either because the refuge has disappeared (and we know that is not in God’s nature) or because you (David) are no longer in the refuge.  If David is no longer in the refuge of God, why not?  Since he is no longer there, it can only be for three reasons – (1) the bad people came and kidnapped him; (2) God told him to leave; or (3) he left on his own accord.

We know that David would not leave God’s refuge because the people seeking him out have found and seized him, because what kind of refuge is that.  We know that God is mighty to save and His is a mighty fortress against which nothing can prevail.  So, if David is in God’s fortress, he is safe.  Option 1 is not the answer.

Option 2 is that God told him to leave.  There is only one refuge built by God which God told us to leave – and that was Eden and was due to our disobedience (sin).  And He created another refuge for us, Himself in Jesus Christ, where we may find safety if we profoundly believe in Him.  So, in that sense, God evicted us from a place of refuge so that we might find Him, the person of refuge.  David was not thrown out of God’s fortress by God.

This must mean that David either left the refuge on his own or knew that he would unless empowered by the Holy Spirit to stay.  The plea by David to God to “Be a rock of refuge for me” is really a request by David for God to help David not leave.

Are we, today, out in the rain of the world, getting wet and blown around from place to place?  Why?  It is because God has left us or because we have left Him?

But to have left something, you had to have found it in the first place.  So, the real question is, have you asked God to be your shelter from the storms of life, your strong place of refuge?  Have you found that place of protection, knowing that all is well because Christ is Lord and not you?  If not, what are you waiting for?  If so and you are outside the place of refuge, return.  If so and you are in that place, then give thanks.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Sanctuary

March 14, 2016


Psalm 11

“In the Lord I take refuge…Flee like a bird to your mountain…”  Ps. 11:1

One of the reasons I like to capitalize the personal pronouns which reference God is that the direction of the personal pronoun reference is more clearly seen.  For example, here the phrase “your mountain” does not refer to God’s mountain, but to David’s.

When we are in trouble today or this week, there are two basic sanctuaries we can seek out, our mountain and God.

“Our mountain” may not be a literal mountain, but simply a place.  And there are three types of places.  The first place is the one we go to most often, and yet we rarely think about it as a sanctuary – and that is ourselves, our minds.  How many times, when we are in the midst of difficulty, do we reach into ourselves for the solution?  In fact, we know that some people so retreat into their mind that they stay locked up in it, becoming withdrawn, recluses or hoarders, or evidencing psychological disturbances.  So one place of sanctuary is our mind.

The second type of mountain could be a collection of minds, or the society of others.  We do this every day.  When we are in trouble, we seek the advice of other people or, if not their advice, at least their friendship.  These groups may be family, best friends, co-workers, respected peers, or others with whom we find comfort and safety.  People then are our sanctuary.  But, like all people and people-groups, they are fickle and have their own issues, and so the reliability and effectiveness of the sanctuary may be in doubt from time to time.

The third type of mountain is more of a physical place, a true “mountain.”  Now this physical place may not be a literal mountain, but it has the same elements – perceived permanence, earthly, strong, defensible, calming, and peaceful.  Our mountain may be a favorite chair to which we run when we are in trouble.  Our mountain may be a particular room in the house where we can escape the various demands being put upon us.  Our mountain may be our office if we are escaping from the house, or our house if we are escaping from the office.  Our mountain may be the place we like to take vacation.  Our mountain may just be a place of respite, a fountain, a bench, a park, a museum, a gallery … any place where we can escape the troubles we have.

 

When we are in trouble, when our enemies surround us, when we are paying the consequences of our sin or others’ sin, how often do we seek the sanctuary of our mind, other people, or a special place?  I think, if we are honest, the answer is most of the time.  Although God may be found in every one of these places, atop every one of these mountains, He is not necessarily there if we are not seeking Him there.  The mountaintop house, perched over the valley, where we drink our coffee while we watch the world come to life is, in itself, a man-made place of refuge.  My mountain is my mountain.  It is a choice to seek refuge there, but God may or may not be present there unless I also seek Him.

Which then, of course, leads us to the second place of refuge – God Himself.  In this Psalm 11, someone is advising David to flee to his mountain, and David’s response is “In the Lord I take refuge.”

Can we say that?  Can we truly say that we take refuge in the Lord when we face difficulties, or do we try to work it out ourselves first?  When we are faced with danger, do we seek first a well-defended sanctuary made of brick and stone, of a well-defended fortress of well-armed men and women, or do we first seek the Lord?

As we begin today, Monday, there is an entire week when we will be attacked from every side, by people who we thought loved us and respected us, by people who we known neither love us nor respect us, by circumstances, by events, by sin, by trouble, by Satan himself.  When this happens and we need respite, where will we seek sanctuary?

Will we flee to the mountain (ourselves, our friends, our good places) or will we flee to God?

What I think I tend to do is to first seek the comfortable chair, the book, the place of peace … and then, if I think about it, I will talk to God.  And isn’t this our true selves, our true order of events.  Flee first to our mountain and, once we get there, talk to God, maybe?

What would happen if I first sought refuge “in the Lord?”  Would I then need the chair, the book, the drink, the conversation with a friend, the self-analysis?  Perhaps, but then it would be because God led me there and not because I led myself there.

Have you ever fled to your mountain to find that your place of sanctuary was not very helpful, that it did not protect you as well as you thought it would?  How often have we retreated to vacation only to return from vacation unrested?

Perhaps our failure to find true sanctuary, to find true refuge, is because we have it in the wrong order.  We flee first to our mountain and then, maybe, to God.  Instead, we should flee first to God and then, if He says, go find the place of His choosing to rest ourselves.

“In the Lord I take refuge.”  Is this a reality or just a motto?

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

 

Bread – Refuge

February 5, 2016


Psalm 5

“…because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against You.  But let all who take refuge in You rejoice…”  Ps. 5:10b-11a

When we use the word “refuge,” a lot of images come to mind.  When a spy “comes in from the cold,” he or she takes refuge in a “safe house.”  A “safe house” is one presumptively impervious to attack, but we who read spy novels know better – because the meanies on the other side know where the “safe house” is and how to break into it, we know that the “safe house” is not really safe at all.  It is only the illusion of refuge for the spy within.  When the spy enters the safe house, we know what will happen in the next chapter and it will not be good.  That person will be driven from his place of perceived refuge back into the cold, real world.

We may also have an image of a place in our home which is armor plated against intrusion.  That place of refuge might be called a “safe room” or maybe even a panic room.  And when the robber comes to the door, we might seek refuge in our internal safe room.  But for those of us who have seen the movie, we know that this “safe room” or “panic room” again provides only the illusion of refuge, because there is always some way for the bad people outside to force their way inside … or trick their way inside.  Because we know that the safe room, if designed right, can only be breached by our own foolishness of leaving it because we think the outside is safe, because we think that the bad person has left.

Then there is the image of the refugee from war or riot or famine who seeks a new life in another place, another country.  Today, it may be the people from Syria seeking refuge in the United States.  Tomorrow it may be Texans seeking refuge in Mexico, or vice versa.  But we know the end of that story, too.  They may find a better life in that new place, but the place of refuge is rarely the Nirvana which it is made out to be by the slick advertisers – instead, it has its own share of troubles, which it is happy to visit upon people seeking refuge there.

We have been talking about physical places of refuge, but there can been emotional places as well.  When we withdraw from the world to read a good book or play a good videogame, we may be seeking refuge in the mindless, in the mind-numbing, because the reality is just too tiring, too depressing, too destructive, too difficult to handle.

The Psalm today really speaks of two places in life.  The first place is within ourselves.  This is the place of self, where David points out that they live “by their own counsels.”  It is these people who David points out have an abundance of transgressions because, in relying upon self, they rebel against God, they say “no” to God.  One might be inclined to say that there is a third place, the place of society or friends or other people, but this would be wrong because all society is, all our friends are, all other people are is a collection of selves.  To the extent that this collection of selves each rely upon themselves, they are occupying the place of self.   have taken refuge in their own strength, in their own knowledge, in their own position and power, in their own wealth, and in their own ability.

The second place we can reside in life is with God.  We can take refuge in Him.  In Him and not ourselves, we can find love, safety, support, power, and position.  But to do it we have to “take refuge” in God.  We have to not seek refuge in ourselves or others, but seek refuge in God.

Where is our place of refuge?  Is it among our belongings, our house, our friends, our achievements, ourselves?  Or is it with God?

I have been somewhat unfair in how I have asked the question, because I have left off the third alternative, which is both.  Isn’t this the answer, really, that we choose most often?  We seek ourselves when that seems appropriate and convenient, and we seek God according to the same criteria.  Or we may take refuge in ourselves most of the time and then, in times of “real” trouble, seek refuge in God.  In so doing, we live in neither place for very long, always wandering and never resting, always looking for refuge and never finding refuge.

Why do we do that?  Do we believe that refuge in God is like refuge in the spy’s safe house, like God’s house can be invaded at will by Satan?  Do we trust God, mostly, but make sure that our own safe room is ready to retreat to when God fails?

We take refuge where we believe we can be protected.

Do you believe God can protect you?  Do you believe He will protect you?

Why do you think Christ died on the cross?

Why, indeed, except to save us, to provide us the place of refuge from the effects of our own sin, to preserve us for eternity.  We sing “A mighty fortress is our God.”  Maybe it should really be “The mighty fortress is our God.”  It should be “the” and not “a” because there is only one place of refuge where we may truly lie down in safety – every other place is only an illusion of safety.

You might think of it this way.  There are two places of refuge.  One is refuge “lite” and the other is refuge “strong.”  Why would you not pick the strong place?   Every time, all the time.

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

 

 

Bread – Refuge

August 27, 2012


Readings for Monday, August 27 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Job 4:1, 5:1-11, 17-21, 26-27; Acts 9:19b-31; John 6:52-59; Psalms 1, 2, 3, 4, 7

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With talk of hurricanes and bad weather, thoughts turn to places of refuge, of shelter from the storm. Every one of our readings today describe the place where we may find such protection.

In Psalm 1, this place of refuge is a place of strength, built upon God’s law, His rules and regulations for our lives. “He [the person whose delight is in God’s law] is like a tree planted by streams of water…In all that he does, he prospers.” Ps. 1:3

In Psalm 2, this place of refuge is a place of blessing, built upon God’s favor. “Kiss the Son … Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.” Ps. 2:12

In Psalm 3, this place of refuge is a place of protection, built upon God’s saving acts. “But You, Oh Lord, are a shield about me … Salvation belongs to the Lord; …” Ps. 3:3,8

In Psalm 4, this place of refuge is a place of peace, built upon God’s sovereign will. “But know the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself; … In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Ps. 4:3,8

In Psalm 7, this place of refuge is a place of forgiveness, built upon God’s righteousness. “O Lord my God, in You do I take refuge … I will give to the Lord the thanks due to His righteousness…” Ps. 7:1,17

In Job, this place of refuge is a place of restoration, built upon God’s mercy. “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves … For He wounds, but He binds up; He shatters, but His hands heal. He will deliver you from six troubles; in seven no evil shall touch you. In famine He will redeem you from death, …” Job 5:17-20

In Acts, this place of refuge is a place of fearlessness, built upon God’s truth. In this reading from Acts, Saul (Paul) proclaims the name of Jesus boldly and every time ends up in controversy and trouble, but escapes. He has no fear because he is grounded in God’s truth and in the reality of Jesus Christ.

In John, this place of refuge is in Jesus Christ Himself, built upon His being the bread of life.

A place of strength, of blessing, of protection, of peace, of forgiveness, of restoration, of fearlessness – a place of refuge. Who would not want to go to such a place? Who would not want to run to such a place?

That place is Jesus. Go. Run.

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© 2012 GBF

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