Bread – Gloating

June 14, 2017


Psalm 70

Make haste, O God, to deliver me!…Let them turn back because of their shame who say, “Aha, Aha!”  Ps. 70:1,3

“Gloating” is one of those words which is almost painful to say; saying it almost puts your teeth on edge.  It seems to form the mouth into an unnatural shape to utter the word “gloating.”

We may not say the word, but we do it all the time.  When someone has made a mistake and is paying the consequences of failure, aren’t we always ready with the “Didn’t I tell you that ….”  We are gloating in that instance, because we are standing in our superior position of knowledge, expertise, decision-making skill, wisdom, and just plain good sense.  And we are driving home the point just so the other person, who so desperately needs our help, will listen “next time.”

Or maybe we just won something, like a sports game.  We are all puffed up with pride at that very moment, gloating over our obvious superiority to the “also rans.”  Now you may not admit that you do this, because someone will call you “conceited,” so your public persona may be different, but in the silence of your bedroom or study you are saying to yourself…”Yes!”  That is gloating.

Now, in our reading today, the Psalmist David has obviously done something which is causing other people to stand around him and gloat, saying “Aha, Aha!”

And David does two things in response.  First, he calls those people shameful (“Let them turn back because of their shame.”).  Why is their behavior shameful?  I think the reason is captured in God’s command to us in Leviticus 19:18 (“…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”).  When we fail, do we gloat over ourselves?  No.  Then why should we gloat over the failings of other people?

But the second thing he does is call upon God’s help.

When we are dealing with the emotional baggage of someone else who is gloating over our failures or our bad choices, do we ask for God’s help in dealing with that person?  Before we respond to the gloater in anger or in retreat, do we listen to the Lord’s advice about loving them and about coming to Him first as the solution rather than last?

We will fail and, when we do, there will be some in the world who delight in our hurt, in our failure, and who say “Aha, look at him!”  The world tells us that there are two solutions to this, either respond in anger by telling them where they can go or respond in retreat, by accepting their criticism and slinking off to feel sorry for ourselves.  God tells us there is a third choice – come to Him.

Go to God for comfort.  Go to God for truth.  Go to God for healing.  Go to God for judgment.

When confronted with the laughter of the world, rather than retreat into ourselves or explode in reaction there is another place of safety, wisdom, and power.  Go to God.

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

 

 

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Bread – When

March 15, 2017


Psalm 56

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.  In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.  What can flesh do to me?”  Ps. 56:3-4

This verse is preceded by David complaining that man steps on him and attacks him all the time.

Which then leads to the “when I am afraid…” verse.

My first reaction to this (and the reason Bread is called “When”) was this — isn’t it true that we never trust God in the good times, but only the desperate?  Men were trampling David and beating him up, and he was OK doing battle with them on his own.  But when the odds became overwhelming to him, when he became afraid, that is when he trusted God.  “When I am afraid …” could mean that I trust God when I am afraid, suggesting that I do not trust Him when I am not afraid.  This led me to an easy conclusion for this Bread, namely that we should trust God all the time.

However, when I started thinking about being afraid, being truly afraid, I asked myself what the typical human reaction is.  That reaction is either “fight or flight,” according to the psychologists.  When we are afraid, our natural reaction, our womanly or manly reaction, is to either run away and escape (flight) or become incredibly angry and somewhat crazy and fight (fight).  When we are afraid of losing an argument, we double down (fight) or admit defeat (flight).  When we are in a hostile zone where people do not like us or may be even trying to hurt us, we try to hurt them first (fight – the best defense is a good offense, right?) or we exit stage left (flight).

But God tells us that there is a third thing we can do.  Rather than exit the difficulty (flight) or put on our boxing gloves (fight), we can trust God.

How can Christians love their enemies when their enemies hate them?  By trusting in God and neither leaving the fight (flight) nor adding flames to it (fight).

How can Christians both speak the truth in love and not back down in the face of opposition, all without increasing hatred and anger?  By trusting in God and neither backing down in the name of tolerance (flight) or engaging in a knockdown, drag out fight over who is right and who is wrong (fight).

How do Christians stand in the evil day?  By trusting in God and neither retiring to their sanctuaries (homes or churches, flight) nor heaping curses upon those who do not believe (fight).

When put in this perspective, the simple statement that David makes when he says “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You” is not so simple after all.

We will be in danger and will be afraid many times today.  We may have to talk to the stranger in the elevator.  We may have to explain to a disbelieving colleague why we are a Christian.  We may be in economic circumstances which cause us to wonder whether we will eat tonight or make the rent tomorrow.  We may have just received a bad diagnosis from a doctor.  We may be in the middle of losing an argument or some other kind of fight which we believe in our heart we must win.

What will we do?  Will we run away from the fight?  Will we jump in the middle of the fight with our weapons of words, fists, or other devices?  Or will we reject man’s solutions of fight or flight and, instead, put on the full armor of God and trust in Him?

When do we trust in Him?  When will we?

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

Bread – Disappear

March 10, 2017


Psalm 55

My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me.  Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me, and I say “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest;…” Ps. 55:4-6

At the beginning of this Psalm, David is impatient with the Lord.  In the middle of this Psalm, David wants to disappear, to fly away from his troubles, whatever they are.  At the end of the Psalm, David turns to the Lord in confidence, saying “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you.”  Ps. 55:22

In this Bread, we are focused on the middle.  We have appealed to the Lord to help us out of our disaster, probably of our own making but sometimes caused by a stranger or (as in this Psalm) someone close to you.  We have told the Lord to pay attention to us and we have lost patience with Him.

So what is next, do we turn to our own might, power, intelligence, cunning, and resourcefulness?  Well, don’t you think David probably did that before he started telling the Lord to pay attention to him.  After all, don’t we usually try to do it first ourselves before we ask the Lord for help?

So I think we can assume that David has tried to get out the mess he is in, and he then turned to the Lord.  The Lord did not appear in David’s timing and, so, he impatiently started looking for alternatives.  He started to look for the rear exit.  He started to look for how he could gracefully exit “stage left” and disappear from the scene.  But, perhaps, there is no back exit for him and no solution coming from his own mind or from God’s hand.  So David looks at the sky and dreams, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove…”  We probably would more generic and just wish for wings like a bird because in those circumstances, for us, any old bird would do.  But David also realizes that in disappearing he can find peace, and so he probably thinks of the dove first, as the symbol of peace.

But maybe, just maybe, he also recognized that the dove also represents the spirit of God, what we today would call the Holy Spirit.   In that sense, then, he is praying for a miracle.

How often have we wished just to disappear?  To get out of harm’s way, to avoid the difficult conversation, to agree to be agreeable, to make our excuses for our non-involvement?

In today’s world, as secular society becomes more hostile to public displays of religious belief, there is a tendency for us as Christians, which means us as the Church, to disappear behind the walls of our churches, to our places of sanctuary.

And when I disappear, when I fly away, what do I leave behind?  At best, a memory.  And when the church disappears behind cloistered walls, what do we leave behind?  At best, a memory.

David was in a horrible circumstance – “horror overwhelms me.”  He wants help from God or by just disappearing.  But he gets neither.  Instead, he gets to stay where he is.

Just like we must stay where we are, where we are planted, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

Why?  So that God may be glorified in the actions of His people as salt to a sick and dying world, as a light in dark places, as truth in opposition to lies, as hope where there is none, as love where there is perhaps less than none.

The Church must not disappear.  The Church must stand in the evil day, unafraid, unbowed, unapologetic, full of grace, truth, love, and power.

Oh we may want to disappear and, in fact, the world (Satan) may make it very easy to disappear, calling it peace.

But there is no peace in retreat, but only in the arms of the Lord.

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

 

 

 

Bread – Payback

September 25, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, September 25, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Kings 6:1-23; 1 Cor. 5:9-6:8; Matt. 5:38-48; Psalms 81,82,119:97-120

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There are many hard teachings in Scripture, but the hardest in my opinion involve how we should treat those people who are our enemy. In other words, how as Christians should we “pay back” those who hurt us, both inside the church and outside in the world. All three of our readings today from Scripture address this shortcoming in our Christian walk.

In the first reading, the king of Syria has sent out an army against Elisha because he is tired of Elisha’s messing with his war plans. Elisha’s servant goes outside, sees the army, and panics. In one of the great scenes of the Old Testament, Elisha prays that the servant’s eyes are opened and, when he looks with new eyes, he sees the Lord’s army in the hills, in flaming chariots. Elisha says simply “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 2 Kings 6:16. This is where I love to stop, because it tells me that, when I am surrounded by my enemies, my God surrounds them and will come to my aid. Payback time, right?

Wrong. There is more to the reading. Elisha asks God to blind the Syrian army and then leads the blind army into Samaria, where the Israeli king asks Elisha whether he should kill them all. Elisha says essentially “no, don’t do that.” Instead, Elisha says, “Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” 2 Kings 6:22. In other words, feed them and send them home. Pay them back by being nice to them.

Our lesson from 1 Corinthians is Paul writing the church in Corinth about the stupidity of Christians suing other Christians before unbelievers, saying “So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?” 1 Cor. 6:4 Then Paul essentially asks, why pay them back at all for their wrong, why sue them? “To have lawsuits with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” 1 Cor. 6:7. In other words, when someone cheats you, blow it off! No payback for you. Let them cheat you! So what you have lost money, prestige, position, or power.

Finally, Jesus hits the nail on the head by saying in our third reading today quite simply that “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” Matt. 5:38-41

I believe that if I were to cut out part of the Bible as being just wrong (from my worldly perspective), it would be Jesus’ statement today. But, of course, I am in no position to judge what Jesus said. I can either accept it or not. I can either apply it or not. I can either obey it or not.

Why is it so hard for anyone to “forgive and forget.” I know it is hard for me, and I’ll bet it is hard for you. In fact, it is probably close to impossible for me and I’ll bet it is close to being impossible for you too.

Why? I think it is because we think we are king of our dominion, our world, no matter how small or large that might be. It is our rights which are trampled, our money which is stolen, our peace which is compromised, our reputation which is sullied, our status which is at risk, our power which is removed, our position which is compromised. There is one common feature of all this, and that is the word “our.”

If it’s not mine, then what difference does it make if I lose it? I’ll just report the loss and the circumstances to the person who does own it and let them handle it.

So, really, our desire for payback is really a statement that Jesus is really not our king, a statement that what I have is mine and not God’s, an assertion of priority of position and right over another of God’s creatures (as dishonest as that creature might be, for all I know he or she is one of God’s elect as well, just waiting for a undeserved kindness from a Christian to break into his consciousness that the greatest undeserved kindness is what Jesus did for us on the cross).

Our desire for payback is really a statement that we don’t trust God to make it right, that we really don’t trust God’s army on the hill.

In 2 Kings, our reading today ends with this: “And the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel.” 2 Kings 6:23.

Why not? Why didn’t they treat the Israeli’s feeding them and sparing them the sword as a sign of weakness? The ways of the world would say that, if a populace is that passive, then they can be easily overrun.

There is a great mystery here. Great power is shown by not having to exercise it.

When we turn the other cheek, what message is sent to the wrongdoer? Is it that we are weak and easily beat upon? Or is it that we don’t worry, because we have a defender who is stronger? We don’t worry, because those who are with us are greater than those who are against us. We don’t worry because our God is God.

What should we do today when we are struck by our opponent, by our enemy, by someone who intends to do harm to us? What will we do?

I know what I’ll do. If someone hits me, I’ll hit them back, harder, for payback. That is what I will do. That is not what I should do. What I should do is to obey my master, my Lord, and take the blow and maybe more so that I can tell my enemy about a power greater than him or me, so that I can present the gospel without hypocrisy. But what I should do is so against my natural grain, my carnal state, that growing from “should” to “is” will take a power outside myself greater than me. And that is why we have the Holy Spirit.

Come Holy Spirit.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Retreat

June 7, 2012


Readings for Thursday, June 7 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Eccles. 3:16-4:3; Gal. 3:1-14; Matt. 14:13-21; Psalms 8, 50, 84

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In our reading from Matthew today, we are confronted with Jesus feeding the 5,000 men (plus women and children) with five loaves and two fish. There is no one who probably does not know this story and there are many sermons preached from it. However, there is always something new from Scripture every time you read it, as the Holy Spirit takes God’s revelation and enlightens and transforms our minds and hearts, and something today “popped out” to me as I re-read the familiar lines.

The disciples said “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over, send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Matt. 14:15.

We are in a special place where we hear a great lesson taught by a great teacher. Perhaps that special place is our own bedroom as we read the Bible or some powerful commentary. Perhaps the special place is church or some other location as we hear great preaching. Perhaps we are witnesses to miracles in this special place. At the end of that event, though, we retreat into the world, there to use our money to buy our food at our stores, to eat it for our sustenance. After the mountaintop there is the retreat to the valley, to reality as some might say.

Isn’t this the way we really think about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? It is great to engage them in the special places, but hey, we know that to get what we “really” need to live we have to go someplace else – home, the store, the dry cleaners, school, work, … We engage God and then we retreat.

But Jesus says “They need not go away…” Matt. 14:16. In this case, the children of God were fed by the miracle of God.

But we know that the people did not stay in that desolate place. Once they had their fill of the miracle, they retreated back to buying their food at the local market. This was a onetime event.

Or was it?

“They need not go away…” How can we reconcile Jesus’ statement that we need not go away with our knowledge that, indeed, we do go other places – home, work, school, etc.?

This is the danger of places. If Jesus is in church and we go home, then we have left Jesus in the place where He lives so that we can go live our lives where we have to live them, in the “real” world, using our money to buy our food from our stores in our cities. Retreat is necessary by that thinking.

But according to Jesus, you “need not” leave, you “need not” retreat, you “need not” depart from Him in order to live.

And indeed we “need not.” We can go to the store with Jesus, we can drive our car with Jesus, we can sit in our boardrooms with Jesus, we can listen in our classrooms with Jesus, we can lead, speak, act, and do with Jesus. Or … we can act as if the special event is over, it is time to go home, retreat and leave.

And the amazing thing is that we can be with Jesus without the necessity of the talisman. We don’t need the “bobble-head” Jesus doll in our car to be with Jesus in our car; we don’t need the cross on chain around our neck to carry Jesus with us in our work.

We do this by faith. “The righteous shall live by faith.” Gal. 3:11b (our reading today). We “need not go away” to live our lives. We can abide in the Vine.

Having met Jesus this morning, are we inclined to retreat to the world to buy our food? We “need not.” Instead, we can go into the world on purpose abiding in the Vine, in faith, carrying the place where Jesus is with us and eating of the true bread and the true drink which He offers. We will go into the world in either event. The difference is whether we go into the world on our own or with the power of God. The difference is whether we go into the world in retreat because we have to in order to eat or because we want to as ambassadors of Christ. The difference is whether we go into the world in defeat or in victory.

Jesus says you “need not” leave Him in order to live. How choose you?

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