Bread – Steadfast

October 11, 2017


Psalm 86

Incline Your ear, O Lord, and answer me; for I am poor and needy…For You, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon You.”  Ps. 86:1,5

We pray to God for help in times of need … why?  Do we believe He pays attention?  Do we believe He cares?  Do we believe that He will in fact intervene to save us in our distress?  Do we believe He is able?  Do we believe that He is God?

We know that we do not bring before God the first fruits of our labor.  We do not spend time with Him.  We do not thoroughly study His Word, although we actually have a Bible on our bookshelf.  We may acknowledge His existence in some kind of reality, but we routinely ignore Him, blithely going about our lives wrapped up in ourselves.

Maybe we pray to Him in times of need as reflex action.  Maybe we do it because, having reached the ends of ropes of our making, we think that there can be no harm and, who knows, there may be some good.

Sounds all pretty cynical, doesn’t it?

I write this way to make a point.  We do not really understand what “steadfast” means because we, ourselves, are driven by the mood of the day, the breakfast we ate, the quality of the relationships we have, our title, our possessions, the need of the moment, the crisis before us, the weather, and 10,000 other things which drive us to and fro, from the heights of victory to the valley of despair, from left to right.  We do not understand what “steadfast” is because we ourselves are naturally built of sticks upon sand, constantly changing our direction based upon the direction of the wind.

And what is our reference point, if not us?

This is the ancient and modern fallacy of thinking.  If we are indeed the reference point, then the concept of steadfast has no meaning because we ourselves are steadfast for maybe a few minutes a day.

To understand steadfastness, we need to have an absolute reference point – and that is God.  We may pray out of need, but we pray to God because we know who He is.  We know Him as Creator and Savior.  We know Him as the only God.  We know Him as full of grace (mercy).  We know Him as One who is steadfast.

If we understand steadfastness at all, it is because we kneel before the One who invented the concept, who is the concept, who demonstrates the concept.

Where in our lives does God show steadfast love?  We are still denied the promotion, the salary increase, the wished for and dreamed about opportunity, the miraculous healing from cancer.  We are not happy clappy, so where is this so-called “steadfast” love?

It is shown quite simply in that we are forgiven our sins (trespasses) against Him, that we are saved from ourselves and in spite of ourselves, for all eternity, in Jesus Christ.

Regardless of whether we are in the valley of our failures or the mountaintops of our successes, God’s steadfast love does not move, it is not shaken, it is not compromised, it does not wane, it does not lose intensity, it does not diminish, it does not go away.  It remains, through thick and thin, darkness and light, worry and elation.

We, too, can be steadfast in our faith, in our love, in our devotion … if we will but stand on the solid rock, the absolute steadfastness of God.  All else is sinking sand.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 – Rocks

May 2, 2016


Psalm 18

“I love You, O Lord, my strength.  The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold…For who is God, but the Lord?  And who is a rock, except our God? — …He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights….You gave me a wide place for my steps under me…The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation – “  Ps. 18:1-2, 31, 33, 36, 46

This excerpt from Psalm 18 clearly says that God is David’s rock [singular].  So why call this Bread rocks [plural]?

The reason is that, as I was contemplating God as my rock, different sized rocks came to mind – small, medium, and large.  Three sizes, three rocks.

The first size I thought about were tiny rocks, the size of pebbles.  The image I had was that one of me as a little boy, rolling pebbles over.  Under these pebbles would be moist soil and the little bugs and animals which thrive and hide in good soil.  We are like that so often.  The sun may come and dry up the soil and heat up the rock, but for those of us who seek shelter under them, there is water and shade and life.  But the other image I have is from camping, and in a dry, windswept place, there would be rocks.  And one time, when I sat down next to one about the size of my hand, just beside it, in the middle of literally nowhere, there was the green leaf and stalk of a young plant growing.  It was not under the rock where there would be no light and it would be crushed, but it was beside the rock, protected from the boiling sun and the whipping winds, making its way from childhood to adulthood.  And, again, isn’t that like us?  Little plants which can take root and grow in the shelter of a rock, but so weak that exposure apart from the rock will likely kill us.

The second size I thought about were the size of rocks you can hide behind, like boulders.  And the image which came to my mind then were the old television westerns, where someone would hide behind a rock in order to catch someone unawares as they went by.  But not only were these rocks a place where people could hide to cause harm, but they were also a place where the good guys to go and hide from the bad guys.  And so, just like in the movies, we as men can use God as a rock as either a place of hiding in wait, ready to spring our ambush upon unsuspecting passersby, or places of protection, of hiding from the evil in the world which would harm us.   Furthermore, we all knows from these same movies that bullets and arrows bounce off of rocks, so they make pretty good barriers between us and bad things.  This is the kind of rock which I think David had in mind when he said that God was his fortress, his place of refuge, his hiding place, his stronghold and his shield.  The rock the size of boulders.

But then there is the third size, the large ones.  The image I have there is the hiker who has climbed to the top of the mountain, who is standing on the flat surface of a rock, and who surveys the world beneath him or her with the attitude of a conqueror.  We have all seen the image – the silhouette of the man on top, pointing into the distance or hands of victory raised into the air, awash in his freedom and his accomplishment.  And the reason the victor can stand there is because he stands on solid rock and not sinking sand.  He may declare the victory but it is the rock which is victorious, because but for the rock there would be nothing to climb, no vistas to comprehend, no distance to observe, no opportunity to touch the sky.  For man to stand tall, his feet must be firmly set.  And so David says of God – “He…set me secure on the heights…You gave me a wide place for my steps under me…”

You know, whether a rock is small (pebble size), medium (boulder size) or large (mountain size), it is still a rock.

What size do you need your rock to be today?  Well, God is that size and more, because He is the rock.  On which all creation rests.  On which we stand, behind which we seek refuge, and in the shadow of which we live.

_________

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

 

Bread – Budge

April 15, 2016


Psalm 15

“He who does these things shall never be moved.”  Ps. 15:5b

There are two questions built into this verse.  One is, what are “these things?”  Well, the answer to that is in the Psalm and you can read it.  But, in the interest of moving to the question of the day, “these things” are walking blamelessly, doing what is right, speaking truth in your heart, not slandering with your tongue, doing no evil to your neighbor, not taking up a reproach against your friend, despising a vile person, honoring those who fear the Lord, swearing to your own hurt, not changing, not loaning to brothers in need at interest, and doing justice (not taking a bribe against the innocent).

The second question is what does it mean to never be “moved?”

I call this Bread “Budged” because we probably think of movement from one position to another, but I think the meaning is closer to being budged, even a little, off the mark.   Perhaps a better translation is the one contained in the NASB version, which says that a person who does “these things” “shall never be shaken.”  Being shaken is the merest of movements, but from the beginning of a rock rolling down the hillside comes the avalanche.  In fact, the movement from one position to another begins with the smallest doubt, the smallest “budge” from certainty, the smallest “shaken.”

The best analogy I can think of is an earthquake.  The mountain appears to be immovable until an earthquake occurs, at which time it moves, an avalanche occurs, and damage to the mountain and anyone and anything who the mountain supports results.

An example of an earthquake in our personal life is the loss of a job, the death of a child or another closely loved one, the betrayal of a friend.  These events challenge our very view of the world.  These events attack our foundations and cause us to shake.  If our foundation is built on the sands of man, our house and our faith will not stand.  If our foundation is built on the sold rock of faith in Jesus Christ, our house and our faith will be challenged and we may be shaken, but we will not budge, we will not fall, and we will stand in the evil day.

But why does doing “these things” help us to keep from budging, keep from being shaken, keep from being moved, keep from collapsing, and keep us on the solid rock of faith?

I think it is because each of “these things” is practical and is done day-to-day.  Doing each of these things is actually counter-cultural and counter to our own instincts.  Doing of each of these things builds up our spiritual muscles and is exercise against the earthquake to come.  And doing each of these things is a minute-by-minute exercise in radical dependence upon God for our guidance and His Holy Spirit for our strength?

How does one “walk blamelessly” on a regular basis, all the time, except through the power of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

How does one “do what is right” on a regular basis, all the time, except through the power of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

How does one keep from slandering with our tongue, keep from doing evil to our neighbor, keep from repeating gossip about our friends, identifying and hating vile people while identifying and raising up people who fear the Lord, or any of these things, except through the power of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

How do we, as Christians, maintain the course through life, advocate well as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, love without fear, and walk exercise self-control, except through the power of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

If we practice running, then when we need to run we can.  If we practice endurance, then when we need endurance we have it.

And so, as we practice relying on Christ in the present, in the little things, we strengthen ourselves to rely on Him in the future, in the evil day, when all is at risk, when the foundations are challenged by the earthquakes of life.

If you “do these things,” you will not be budged, you will not be shaken, you will not be moved…but only if we remember that it is not in our power to do these things, except in, through, and by Christ …. And rest upon Him, the solid rock.

_________

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

 

Bread – When

April 8, 2016


Psalm 14

“When the Lord restores the fortunes of His people…”  Ps. 14:7

It is in little words that major meaning turns.  The Psalmist ends his lament about the fool and about the absence of righteousness from the earth by saying, simply, “When …”  No “if,” but “when.”

How often do we hesitate in our commitment to God, our proclamation of the gospel, our requests in prayer, our acceptance of forgiveness, our rejection of restoration, our failure to live fully, with a whole life – how often do we hesitate because, in our mind, the sentence always begins with “if” rather than “when?”

Throughout the Bible there are example after example of God, having been doubted by men, lives up to His promise.  Sometimes the fulfillment of promise is in judgment, wrath, and destruction, and sometimes the fulfillment reflects itself in restoration, love, mercy, forgiveness, salvation, and life, but we can say that the Bible communicates an essential nature of God – His promises are true, His promises will be fulfilled, His promises are trustworthy.

And, yet, we most often precede everything we do with respect to God with “if.”  Why?

I think we are doubtful because we are concrete people.  Like Thomas in the New Testament, we will not believe unless we can see, taste, touch, hear, and fully comprehend.  And, even then, we wonder whether what we have observed is accurate.  We know from our observations that everything fails sooner or later.  Man disappoints.  Foundations of concrete and steel will ultimately weather and rot, or maybe even crack.  Trees will fall.  Fires will consume.  Weather is fickle.  Man is fickle.  Two plus two equals four, except when it doesn’t.

When everything we see is at daily risk of disappointing, then it is natural to assume that God is the same way, and therefore live our life by sentences preceded by the word “if.”

This is why faith cannot come from the heart of man, but from the mind of God.  This is why, when we are secure in our belief that we are saved, it is because we know that is not a question of “if” we will survive the lake of fire, but of when we are taken to be with the Lord.

Where does this certainty come from?  From our observations, from our reason, from our tradition, from our knowledge or wisdom?  No, it cannot … because if our certainty comes from these things, all of which are ours, then it is no certainty at all.

If we have certainty of our future, if we know in our hearts, minds, and souls that the question is not “If the Lord restores our fortunes,” but “When the Lord restores our fortunes,” we have it only because the Lord gave it to us.  It does not come from natural things,  the things and thoughts of man, but from supernatural things, the things and thoughts of God.

Is our life guided by the word “if” or the word “when?”

There is no question about “if” God will restore us to Him.  The only question is “when.”

And we need to be ready.

_________

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Strike

January 8, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, January 8, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 17:1-7; Col. 1:15-23; John 7:37-52; Psalms 112,113,117,118

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In our reading from Exodus today, the people are complaining about being thirsty and asking Moses why he just didn’t leave them imprisoned in Egypt, where at least they had food and water. Moses goes to God and God says: “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” Exod. 17:6. Moses obeyed God, water flowed, the people drank, and, as they say, the rest is history.

In John, Jesus says “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:37.

Both passages involve striking, although in the second passage it is implied. It is implied because we know what happens. We know that Jesus died a most horrible death on the cross, prior to which and during which he was stricken with blows, with the whip, with the nails, and with the spear. He was stricken so that those who believe in Him might drink and, having drunk living water, might themselves be the source of living water for others.

Our greatest problem is sin, our rebellion against God, our disbelief in God’s truth and His promises, our desires for ourselves first, our belief that, even if there is a God, so are we, somehow, more or less equal. Our sin makes us thirsty for truth, although we may not often realize that is what we are thirsty for. Because we are thirsty, we complain about our condition. We complain to whoever is available to hear us. We complain to the government, to each other, to our family and friends, to our co-workers, and we complain to God.

So how are we to find water in the parched desert of our existence? How are we to drink.

God’s answer to Moses and to us is to “strike Him.” “No,” you might say, God said strike the rock, not Him. Read the passage more carefully. God was standing before Moses on the rock. To get to the rock, Moses had to strike through God. Moses had to strike God. For all intents and purposes, God was the rock in Exodus. For all intents and purposes, Jesus was the rock in Exodus. To obtain living water, the water necessary for life, God told Moses to strike Him, God. And Moses did so, and water flowed and the people were saved.

To obtain this living water, the water of life, the lesson here is that we must strike God, we must strike Jesus. “How,” you might ask. Well, a simple answer might be to say simply that every time we are disobedient, every time we lie, cheat, steal, swear, eat too much, spend wastefully, curse (you get the point) that we are “striking” Jesus.

But the truth is that we already struck Jesus back 2,000 years ago when we stood with the soldiers who hit Him, and nailed His feet and hands, and stabbed Him. He took those blows, our sins, upon Himself so that, through belief in Him, we might not die for eternity but have everlasting life. We struck Him then and we strike Him now – and what is His response? To gush forth living water for you and me.

When are we going to lay down our arms, drop the lies with which we strike Jesus, and just drink at the well of life? When?

Well, it is a new year. What about right now?

___________________

© 2014 GBF

Bread – Confused

October 25, 2013


Readings for Friday, October 25, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ezra 3:1-13; 1 Cor. 16:10-24; Matt. 12:22-32; Psalms 31,35

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Our reading in the Old Testament today is from Ezra. Ezra reports that Cyrus, the king of Persia, after being stirred up in his spirit by the Lord, proclaims that the Jews may return to Jerusalem with these words – “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all His people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel – He is the God who is in Jerusalem. ..” Ezra 1:2-3

Who does Cyrus think God is? First, he says that God is “the Lord.” Then he says that God is “the God in heaven.” Then he says that God is the “God of Israel.” Then and finally he says that God is “the God who is in Jerusalem.” So, does Cyrus think that God is God over all, over a people, or of a city? Is God unlimited or limited to particular people who believe in Him, whom He has claimed as His? Is God unlimited or is He limited to a particular geography or place (Jerusalem)?

What does Cyrus believe about God? We really don’t know, except that Cyrus obviously believes enough in Him to obey Him. However, Cyrus is obviously confused in his own mind about who God is and who He belongs to and where He is located.

Don’t we relate?

Aren’t we often just as confused? We say that Jesus is Lord of everything, but we leave Him behind in His jurisdiction (the church) and fail to acknowledge Him as Lord in the world. We say that Jesus may be that person’s God, but fail to recognize that He is Lord over all. We may hear Him and believe Him just enough to obey Him, but do we believe Him enough to make Him exclusive. When we say that there are many paths to heaven, aren’t we really saying that Jesus is limited in what He commands, where He is, who He is, and whose He is?

In many, many, many respects, aren’t we just as confused as Cyrus?

Luckily, our position with God, our salvation, and our blessing is not dependent upon whether we are confused or not or whether we even “get it right,” but upon the solid rock that God Himself is not confused – He knows exactly what He is doing, when He is doing it, and with whom, for whom and to whom He is doing it. He is true to His word.

It is in this knowledge that, although we may be buffeted and confused by what happens to us, by other people, and by what we believe, God is steadfast that David can say in our Psalm 31 today: “Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me! For You are my rock and my fortress; and for Your name’s sake you lead me and guide me…You have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” Ps. 31:2b-3,5b

So, today, although we may be confused about many things, let us remember clearly and without confusion that God is not confused, He is our rock and our fortress, and He is faithful.

__________________

© 2013 GBF

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