Bread – Opposites

June 16, 2017


Psalm 70

“May all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You!  May those who love Your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’  But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God!”  Ps. 70:4-5a

We have all heard the phrase, “two sides of the same coin.”  We know that “heads” and “tails” are opposites and, if we are betting, have different results, but we also recognize that they are bound together on and in the same coin.  This basic understanding has been extended to different philosophies, where there is proposed a balance in the universe, equally between good and evil, yin and yang, the good side and the dark side of the force, etc.

And one might be inclined to read the above quote from Psalm 70 and, given that David wrote the Psalm, he was expressing two opposites in his personality, one joyful and upbeat as he considered his salvation and the other “down in the mouth” as he considered his poor condition.  The question is, is joy the opposite of depression?

I think the answer to this question is “yes” from one perspective and “no” from another.

When is it “yes?”  When joy and depression are opposites is when man is in control of both.  If we are to look for the measurement solely to our feeling, what we think, how we behave, then clapping your hands in gladness is certainly the opposite of wringing your hands in despair.  In the first instance, we feel upbeat and ready to take on the world.  In the second instance, we feel downbeat and ready to retreat from the world.  Both are our feelings, and joy and depression cannot occupy the same feeling space.  One crowds out the other.  They are opposites.

When is it “no?”  When the Lord is involved.  When God is in our life, is possible to say “I am poor and needy” and “Praise be to God” in the same breath.  It is possible because, by saying we are poor and needy, we are accurately describing our situation.  When we say “Praise be to God” we are accurately describing the source of our overcoming power.

What is the combination of depression and joy in the Christian life?  It is hope.

When we acknowledge Christ as Savior and King, we become new.  And this newness is a transformation of opposites into wholeness.  Oh, it takes a while for the complete integration to occur, and for most of us will take our entire lives.  But when we become Jesus’ sheep, the sheep of His pasture, we no longer have to suffer the opposites of feeling good or feeling bad, because we now have hope.

So, was this juxtaposition of David between joy and being poor and needy an expression of opposites?  No, it was an expression of God’s involvement continuousy in all circumstances to bring about His purposes and His glory.  In these verses, God is present.  He is present in the praises and He is present in the delivery from David’s poor condition.

The expression of “Help me … Praise You!” is not an expression of opposites but an expression of unity of spirit and the ascendancy of hope, a gift from God.

“Help me … Praise You!” is merely an expression of a great truth … we are radically poor and radically saved, all at the same time with the grace and mercy of God.

In Christ, with the flip of the coin we have heads I win and tails I win too.  It is the same coin, but it is different than it was.  So are we, in Christ.

________

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

 

Bread – Ignorance

April 5, 2017


Psalm 59

Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city.  There they are, bellowing with their mouths with swords in their lips — for ‘Who,’ they think, ‘will hear us?’  But You, O Lord, laugh at them;…Kill them not, lest my people forget; make them totter by their power and bring them down, O Lord, our shield!”  Ps,. 59:6-8,11

There are three parts to this excerpt from Psalm 59.  The first is the description of the people behaving like dogs, ignorant of God and the judgment to come.  The second is God Himself, who by the Psalmist’s description is amused at their ignorance.  The third is the Psalmist, who is praying to God that He not destroy them, so that their collapse over time can be a testimony to God’s people.  This last one caught me by surprise, because my natural reaction would be “God, shoot the dogs and get me out of my misery from having to listen to them!”  But the Psalmist prays for God to spare them for a time so the ignorance and depravity of their ways can become apparent to all.

There are sayings like “ignorance is bliss” and “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.”  The problem, which David points out, is that ignorance is not bliss; instead, ignorance is a fast track to punishment for eternity.  What you don’t know does hurt you.  You cannot step in front of a moving train and wish it away.  You cannot remain ignorant of the natural law of gravity.  You cannot remain ignorant of the spiritual law that the product of sin is death and that we all sin, no matter the degree of our “good works.”

The deliberately evil people and the ignorant people are all destined to the same end.  The evil people may say “We don’t care if He hears us” and the ignorant people may say “Who is He and why would He hear us in the first place,” but the result of a good, ignorant life without God and the salvation which comes from Jesus Christ alone has the same ending.  When God confronts us on our day of judgment, an inadequate response is “I didn’t know.”

The statement “I was blind, but now I see” was preceded by the acknowledgment “I am blind and I want to see.”

How does one proceed from ignorance of God to knowing Him?  Not initially by one’s own effort, just like going from unsaved to saved is not accomplished by our own effort.

Ignorance is its own form of blindness.  When we are blind, we know it because we cannot see with our eyes and the world is dark.  However, when we are ignorant, part of that ignorance is the fundamental belief that we know something, so we believe that we can see.  However, our seeing in the throes of ignorance is like peering through distorted glass.  However, the distortion is not apparent to the one in ignorance.

So what are the ignorant to do?  The same as the blind.  The same as the unredeemed.  The same as we all have done whether consciously or unconsciously – pray “Come Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and wake me up, let me see, rescue me, and save me.  Amen.”  Truth, not ignorance, shall set you free.

________

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

 

 

Bread – Power

September 2, 2016


Psalm 33

The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.  The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its might it cannot rescue.  Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love, that He may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.  Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.”  Ps. 33:16-20

Where is power located?  Where can it be found?

When I was getting my Masters of Business Administration, I took a course in power (of course, it wasn’t called that – it was called leadership).  We talked about a lot of things and looked at a number of psychological studies.  These showed things like how to arrange furniture to project power, where to stand, how to talk, etc.  We talked about technical power which comes from knowledge – engineers who know what they are doing have technical power because people absolutely rely on them to do things well so that bridges do not fall down, generators work, etc.  We talked about positional power, where a person’s power comes from the position they occupy, like a president has more positional power than does the bookkeeper; however, we learned that positional power is tricky, because the assistant who controls access to the president may have more positional power than even the president in some organizations.  Then we talked about situational power, where power is essentially derived from the group of people you are working with (where they voluntarily surrender power to you).  And we also talked about personal power, which arises from force of personality, drive, vision, charisma, and the such like.  I am sure new names have been attached to these and other similar concepts, but you get the drift.

But, in that entire course, we never talked about what David is talking about, the source of real power, God.

When we are in trouble, what do we fall back on?  Do we fall back on our great wealth, our family, our friends, our position, our intelligence, our native abilities, our talents, our knowledge?  To the extent we fall back on these things, and all of us do, we are demonstrating that we believe that real power comes from us or our surroundings or others somehow.  If only we could tap into the power source of self-awareness, self-assurance, or self-reliance, then we can dig our way out.  Of course, the operative word here is “self.”  When we fall back on ourselves or others, we have fallen into the arms of the world to give us the power we need to be saved, to survive the famine.

But David says that “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men … don’t hold a candle to the living God.” (or something like that)

The king is not saved by the king’s power nor his kingdom’s power; He is saved by the strong arm of the Lord and His kingdom’s power.

Where do you truly believe real power comes from?  Does it come from the sources we have been taught, or does it come from the Source which has been revealed to us by the Word written and the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ?

No doubt about it, there is a battle afoot.  There is a war.  It is the battle for ideas, the battle for resources, the battle for territory, the battle for position, the battle for truth, the battle for our families, the battle for our country, and the actual wars which grow out of these battles.  We cannot escape them.  They are here and we are players.

The question is, what kind of players are we?  Are we the players who plot and scheme and lead the charge (or follow the leader), who rely on ourselves and our fellow man and their resources, or are we players who are citizens of a different world, who know where real power lays, who rest in the knowledge that Jesus Christ, Father, and Holy Spirit are “our help and our shield?”

The time for testing is coming.  In whose army shall we fight?

_________

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

Bread – Hope

May 30, 2016


Psalm 22

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?  Why are You so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?…Yet You are holy…In You our fathers trusted…” Ps. 22:1-4

How often have we felt like this?  Out in the middle of our trials and tribulations, surrounded by events not of our (apparent) doing and surrounded by people we would rather not be associated with, we feel really, really alone.  Where are our friends?  Where is our family?  Where is God?

Perhaps the closest we can come from feeling like we have been totally abandoned is if we are a small child and both parents are killed or disappear, or we have some terrible disease fall upon us which is horribly contagious, and all of our friends and family melt away.  But even then, the small child may be helped by some people who come alongside of him.  The contagious disease-ridden person, may see the nurses and doctors surrounding them and they may even see their loved ones outside the windows, aching to get in.

But what if we have fallen to the bottom of the well and the voices of the searchers have wandered away to be replaced by the sounds of the night and by the predators who wander it?

Or we find ourselves alone in a desert, accompanied only by scorpions and drenching heat?

But even in those circumstances we may have memories to attach to, to fill our longing for companionship.

The fact is that, even when we feel like we have been forsaken, there is a part of us which knows that we have not.  The Psalmist joins us in this knowledge, reflecting that, even In the worst of times, we know that God has been faithful to those who believe in Him – “In You our fathers trusted.”

And, yet, as we read this and apply it to ourselves, perhaps there is a “gong” going off in the back of our mind, that we have read or heard those same words before.

And, the answer is, “yes, you have.”  You have heard these words before because they are the same words spoken by Jesus on the cross – “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?”  Matt. 27:46

This Psalm is known as the “Psalm of the Cross” by some people because it is a prophecy, written by David at a time when crucifixion was unknown, of a crucifixion, of Jesus’ crucifixion.

In order for God the Father to forgive our sins, there had to be a perfect atonement.  Because Jesus took on our sins, the sins of the world, and because sin is abhorrent to God, an affront to His holiness, God left Jesus and Jesus was truly forsaken.   For a moment in time, all connection, all love, all relationship, between Jesus and the Father was broken.

And in the moment of that separation, in the agony of being abandoned by the Father, what did Jesus remember?  Did He, as the Psalmist suggests, remember that God was faithful historically and, by extension, would be faithful to Him?  We were not there and we do not know, but why not?  He of all people knew the character of God the Father – the very character that had to separate from Jesus because of sin was also the same character which had shown Himself time and time again would not forever abandon His people.  The connection between God the Father and God the Son had to be broken because of wrath, because of sin, and the connection would be restored because of love.

In the moment of His greatest desperation, when Jesus was separated from the Father, because He knew His Father’s character, Jesus also had the greatest hope.

We may and probably will feel abandoned by many around us.  We may also feel so abandoned that we cry forth “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”  And in that moment, instead of despair, perhaps in this we will find hope – the God who rescued Israel is the God who raised Jesus from the dead is the God who has saved us from death eternal to life everlasting.    For those who trust Jesus, we may feel abandoned but we are not, we may feel forsaken but we are not, we may feel unforgiven but we are not.

We have hope in spite of ourselves, in spite of circumstances … because we remember.

_________

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

 

Bread – Caught

November 8, 2013


Readings for Friday, November 8, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ezra 7:27-28, 8:21-36; Rev. 15:1-8; Matt. 14:13-21; Psalms 69,73

—————————————-

In our reading from Ezra today, he is ready to take his journey from the king to Jerusalem. He is carrying a bunch of gold and silver. There are enemies of the Jews on the way and there are potential villains, bandits who would ambush him and his party for the gold and silver they carry, if nothing else.

And, faced with this reality, Ezra is caught. Should he line up some protection, should he ask the king for soldiers to protect him and his party? I am sure that the king would have granted his request, but there is a problem. Let us dive into Scripture to see what the problem was:

For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, ‘The hand of our God is for good on all who seek Him, and the power of His wrath is against all who forsake Him.’” Ezra 8:22

Whoops! Ezra has told the king that God was all-powerful and now Ezra has to go into bandit territory with his gold and silver. He has a choice, reveal his hypocrisy by asking for soldiers to “help” God to protect or just trust God with his protection. Ezra chooses to avoid the double-talk by calling a fast to pray: “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods.” Ezra 8:21.

When I consider why my Christian walk is as weak as it is, why I compartmentalize Sunday from the rest of the week, why I read Scripture with earnest, burn it into my heart and mind, and then blithely ignore it in daily affairs, I wonder if it is because I am trying to avoid being caught in the dilemma of being a Christian – do I trust God or others (including myself)? Do I trust Him for my daily bread, really? Do I trust Him for protection, really? Do I trust Him for wisdom, really? Do I trust Him for salvation, really?

There, I (and we) are caught with the bright light shining upon our hypocrisy, upon our saying one thing and then acting like we didn’t say it, upon our disbelief in our own stated beliefs.

Perhaps one day there will be identity between what I believe and what I do. Perhaps one day I will so learn to trust God that I will do what Ezra did, radically rely upon Him and Him alone for my preservation and safety. In the meantime, I will fail and, if I am honest, I will be caught in the hypocrisy because that is what I am, a sinner, a hypocrite, an imperfect follower of Christ.

And what can I say about this? Thanks be to God that He does not need or even want my perfection in order to do His mighty work to save me from me!

We are caught, whether we admit it or not. We fall short, whether we admit it or not. We sin, whether we admit it or not. But, in the Holy Spirit, we can aspire to turn the moment from reliance upon me to reliance upon Him, we can line up in this moment our actions with our beliefs. We can pray that we, in the power of the Holy Spirit, take this moment of self-reliance and turn it into a moment of Jesus-dependence.

See, we are surely caught, but not in the condemnation of sin but in the grip of Him Who died for us and Who raises us, protects us, loves us, sustains us, and delivers us.

Ezra realized that He was caught in the horns of a dilemma, but also caught in the hand of God Who would not let go.

Who have you been caught by today? Satan who would whisper to you that there is nothing to be caught for? Our own sinfulness, where we are caught up in self-analysis over our own shortcomings? Or our God, where we are caught up into new life in Him?

You are caught. But by whom and for what?

________________

© 2013 GBF

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