Bread – Wilderness

June 7, 2017


Psalm 68

O God, when You went out before Your people, when You marched through the wilderness,  Selah…” Ps. 68:7

The word “Selah” appears from time to time in the Psalms as a way of saying, “stop, pay attention, meditate on what you just read.”

What is interesting here is that the word “Selah” follows a sentence fragment. I actually appears right after the comma.  Therefore, we stop and think about what we just read.

There are two parts to this sentence fragment which stand out to me.  One is the word “wilderness.”  The other is the word “when.”

Who reading this has not been in a wilderness of their lives?  A long time ago, when I was much younger, I backpacked in the Weminuche  Wilderness of Colorado.   And I really tried hard, too.  I was carrying a 70 pound backpack, trying to climb up the trail of scree rock, sliding one or two steps back for every two or three steps forward, up a steep incline, with no one to help (I was very slow compared to my companions).  I was hot, tired, thirsty (even though I brought plenty of water) and extremely aggravated.  My legs and feet were killing me.   I wondered why I even started the journey.

This physical experience is similar to the emotional and psychological experiences we go through as we try to navigate life, raise a family, make money, and plan for the future.  We carry our burdens on our back, whether it addiction, anger, fear, worry, disappointment, depression, and a bunch of other maladies.  It seems like we are always on slippery stones, sliding backwards more often than going forward.  We feel like we are always going uphill.  We get tired.  We get hungry and thirsty.  We long for a better life, and sometimes we even wonder why we started the fool trip to begin with.  Finally, we feel like we are all alone on this fight for life.  Although we may claim a relationship with God, when we are in the wilderness of life He sometimes seems to have abandoned us too.

The second word is “when.”  “When You went out before Your people.”  “When You marched through the wilderness.”

Not “if,” but “when.”  Concrete in reality; provable in the events of history.  A real presence in a real time of need.  The “You” is God, not me.  “When God went out before His people.”

In the Old Testament, God led His people Israel through the wilderness into the promised land.  Today, for those brought by God into His sheepfold, He goes out before us into and through the wildernesses of life to bring us to victory.

We will not be able to avoid the wildernesses of life.  To think we can is to fail to understand that our broken world which creates such wildernesses is our fault, due to our rebellion against God and our sinful state.  But, while we are in those wildernesses, we can remember “when God.”   And realize that the same God that led Israel is the same God who leads us.  He goes out before us.  He marches through the wilderness with us.

One of the interesting things about my wilderness hike I now remember is that I was always looking down, trying to make sure I was planting my feet on solid ground so that I would not slide backwards.  But to find God, I cannot look at my feet but must look at Him.  And when I looked up from my feet and looked around, I saw not the rocks but the mountain flowers, the streams of water off the mountain, the mountain itself, and the sky.

The nature of wildernesses is that we are inclined to look down.  God is the God of “when.”  So can we see Him?  To do that, we need to look up. And when we do, we see Him.  And we trust.  And, as any good hiker will tell you, when we trust we will find that that mountain can be climbed, the danger can be overcome, and the wilderness will become a place of joy rather than a place of burden.

Think about it.  Selah.

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

 

 

Bread – Despair

March 28, 2016


Psalm 13

“How long, O Lord?  Will Your forget me forever?  How long will You hide Your face from me?  How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?  Ps. 13:1-2

There are many titles I could have given this Bread.  “Depression” is one.  “Lost” is another.  “Abandoned” is a third.

I think, though, that the word “despair” says it best.  In depression there is knowledge that there will be a better day.  In being lost there is the built in hope of being found.  “Abandoned” is closer to the word “despair,” but even being abandoned one has the sense of being found, sort of like when one is lost.  But “despair?”  When we despair, we are at bottom.  When we despair, all choices of better evaporate.  When we despair, we are at the bottom of the well of life and there is, seemingly, no way out.

When we are forgotten by our family or friends, surrounded by real and imagined enemies, at the end of our rope, there is still God.  But when He has apparently disappeared as well, never to again touch or soothe or protect or empower us, then despair sets in.  Abandon all hope, ye who enter into the chamber of despair.

And when we despair and see no way out, when we feel that both God and man have abandoned us, when our personal reserves of energy, vitality, and life are consumed … what then?  A minute in despair feels like an eternity.  An hour in despair tears down the mind.  A day in despair shuts down our bodies.  A week in despair destroys our spiritual self.  What about a month of despair?  A year of despair?  The mere thought crushes life, desire, and action.  The mere thought of prolonged despair is more than we can imagine, more than we can stand.

So is it any wonder that David says, four times, “How long, O Lord?”  The darkness of despair is so intense that it does not matter how long in reality it is, it is always too long and we ask, “How long, O Lord?  Will You forget me forever?”

Who has not been to the place of despair, of the blackest thoughts, the deepest depression, the midnight of the soul?  Abandoned by God and man, beaten down by our adversaries, submerged under the flood of bad things, left to our thoughts and sorrows, crushed by life, lost to the world, at our wit’s end.  Bottom.

Now that I’ve put you in the mood, think for a moment about what Jesus felt on the cross when He was abandoned by the Father, left in despair, on His own without spiritual support.

When Jesus was abandoned, He too cried out “How long, O Lord?” It was in the form of “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  Matt. 27:46.  But regardless of the form, it was a cry of despair to God the Father who appeared to have forgotten Jesus, who appeared to have hidden His face from Jesus, who had let Jesus’ enemies be exalted over Him.

When we despair, when we feel abandoned and alone, we can always bring to mind that we are in good company – Jesus felt the same way for the same reason, and God raised Him from despair and death unto life.  And through His despair, death, and resurrection, as our advocate before the Father, Jesus does the same for us when we cannot do it for ourselves.

If it feels that God has abandoned me, has He?  If it feels that I am at the bottom of the well with no way out, is this true?

We cannot deny our feelings and we may in fact be in despair, feeling that we are abandoned by God, lost from God’s favor, stepped on by our enemies, left to our own sorrowful devices and thoughts.  And we, too, can cry out like David and yell at God, “How long?”

It’s OK.  Jesus did it, and God answered Him.  And He will answer you, too.

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

 

 

Bread – Gloating

August 21, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, August 21, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 18:19-33; Acts 23:23-35; Mark 12:13-27; Psalms 119:145-176,128,129,130

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In our reading from Samuel today, two runners come to him with the news that the insurrection against him as king is over. When he finds out that the leader of the insurrection is dead, he weeps.

The reason for this is that the leader of the insurrection against David and his authority as king is his son, Absalom. The leader of the insurrection who is now dead is David’s son, Absalom. So he weeps for his son, saying “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 2 Sam. 18:33

Absalom hated his father so much that he led a group of men who wanted to kill David and take the throne. However, David wanted to defeat his son, not kill him. He had given strict orders that his son not be killed, but Absalom died anyway.

Even though this Bread is labeled “gloating,” it is not about gloating but the opposite of gloating. There is no celebration of victory by a father over a son who is proven wrong and dies. There is only sadness, with a heartfelt desire that, if the father could give his life for his son, he would do so if it would restore the son to wholeness.

Wait a minute! Doesn’t this sound a whole lot like God the Father? Haven’t we as children of God taken up arms of rebellion against Him, leading others into a similar opposition? Didn’t God the Father send God the Son to die in our place so that, by faith in Him, we could be restored to proper relationship?

The answer is “yes.” We have engaged in open conflict with God, denying His relationship and His authority and holiness, even denying His very existence. We have disobeyed God and reaped the consequences of a broken world as a result of that disobedience. We are engaged in a battle which we will not win against a Father who loves us so much that He, as God the Son, died for us, in our place, so that God’s wrath at our disobedience might be satisfied on the cross. But we will die like Absalom on the battlefield for all eternity if we do not have faith in Jesus Christ, His death and His resurrection.

Is there gloating by the Father when a sinner dies without having put his or her faith in God the Son? The answer is “no.” Instead, there is God saying “George, my son….” or “Julie, my daughter…. Would you have accepted My death for you.”

Is there gloating in heaven when a sinner dies without having put his or her faith in Jesus Christ? The answer is “no,” but there is celebration – “…there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Lk. 15:10

David did not die for his son, but God did for us. Now, what is our response? Is it to die on the battlefield in rebellion or to repent and place our faith again in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and return to grateful obedience for God’s gracious act on our behalf to restore us to relationship and obedience and to save us for eternity with Him?

No matter what we choose, there will be no gloating in heaven. But there will be joy over those who are saved.

___________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Repent

November 14, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, November 14, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Joel 2:12-19; Rev. 19:11-21; Luke 15:1-10; Psalms 81,82,119:97-120

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In Monday’s Bread, we dealt with the apocalyptic messages of total destruction for those persons who have not repented and trusted in Jesus Christ.

In today’s readings, the focus is on avoidance of that destruction. That avoidance begins with repentance.

Listen to Joel – “’Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.” Joel 2:12-13. Notice that repentance does not come from speaking a particular set of words or a demonstration of religiosity or ceremony, it comes from a “rendered heart,” one that is broken, one that realizes there is no hope in man apart from God, one that realizes that he or she needs God for everything, one who looks at what he or she has done or not done and realizes that there is nothing but sin, that there is no health in him or her. A rendered heart may occur in bed, in the reading room, in the board room, in the bathroom, in the mountains, on the seashore, in prison, while out of a job and with a job. A rendered heart may happen at any time and anywhere when we return to Him who has created us, understanding our poverty completely, and acknowledging His free gift of life to us who are totally unworthy of even receiving a crumb from His table.

Listen to John in Revelation – “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The One sitting on it is called Faithful and True .. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords … And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet …These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest [of mankind, who had not repented and returned to the Lord] were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of Him who was sitting on the horse…” Rev. 19:11,15b-16, 20-21 The white horse stands for victory and the rider of the white horse is Jesus Christ. Those who follow the beast die; those who do not bear the mark of the beast, who have repented and trusted in Jesus Christ, live in victory.

Finally, in Luke we have a description of what happens when a person repents and trusts in Jesus. “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance…Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:7,10

Have you caused joy in heaven already? If not, wouldn’t you like to? If so, begin by repenting.

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Affliction

April 2, 2012


Readings for Monday, April 2, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Lam. 1:1-12; 2 Cor. 1:1-7; Mark 11:12-25; Psalms 51, 69

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“Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of His fierce anger.” Lam. 1:12

Affliction – pain, loss, distress caused by trial, difficulty, illness, adversity, etc. – is the kind of concept which causes itself. Talking about affliction causes affliction – distress and depression caused by having to think about distress and depression. Yuk! And yet we must talk about it.

We must talk about it for two reasons, all given in today’s Scripture reasons. The first is because affliction is brought upon us by God because we have been disobedient to God. In Lamentations, the author writes poems of lament, of sorrow, because of the affliction caused to Jerusalem by the invading hordes. Lest anyone be in doubt, the author is clear that, even though Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by invading armies, the affliction was “which the Lord inflicted on the day of His fierce anger.” Jerusalem had ignored the prophets. It had ignored God’s Word. It had ignored God. It had treated God’s forbearance in love as permission to sin. It had followed its own way. In so doing it had invited judgment and judgment it received.

God’s judgment for failure to follow Him is also reflected in today’s reading from the gospel of Mark, where Jesus first condemns the fig tree for not producing fruit (again judging Jerusalem, symbolized by the tree) and then upsets the moneychangers in the temple courts, because they have converted His place of worship and prayer into a commercial enterprise. Mk. 11:12-19.

The second reason we are afflicted is because we follow Christ. This is not an affliction which comes from God, but from Satan and his minions on earth as an attempt to dissuade us from perseverance in the faith. The first kind of affliction is essentially judgment on our disobedience. The second kind of affliction is essentially the world striking back because we are obedient. God permits the first to remind us that there are severe, eternal consequences for failure to follow Him. God permits the second for our strengthening and so that His glory will be revealed in our perseverance and His comfort that He gives us in return. As Paul says today in the second letter to the church in Corinth, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort that we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” 2 Cor. 1:3-5

Whether, however, affliction comes to us from punishment or chastisement or comes from rejection by the world of Christ, to us it still feels the same. It is still affliction. It still hurts. It still depresses. We are still sick and tired.

The fact that affliction still looks the same and feels the same when you are on the receiving end of it makes the disciples’ question to Jesus in today’s reading from Mark very important. “As they [the disciples] passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered … And Peter remembered and said to Him, ‘Rabbi…The fig tree that you cursed has withered.’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God.’” Mk. 11:20-22

Indirectly, Peter was asking Jesus to explain the withered fig tree. Jesus answers him “Have faith in God” and then talks about the power of prayer. Most sermons address the power of prayer in causing the fig tree to wither; however, one wonders if what Jesus had in mind was the power of God to bring the fig tree back to life.

Isn’t that what Paul is talking about? Have faith in God to bring about comfort and healing in our lives and, through us in the power of Christ, to others in affliction? The very God who afflicts is the One who saves. The very God who punishes disobedience forgives us our sins through Christ’s payment on the cross. So whenever we are suffering affliction, for whatever reason, “Have faith in God.” He is merciful, He is powerful, He is mighty to save. “Have faith in God.”

Jesus answers the affliction of the withered fig tree with “Have faith in God.” Paul answers the affliction of believers with “Have faith in God.”

And so does the writer of Lamentations. In a familiar passage, the writer says “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’” Lam. 3:22-24

Jesus, Paul, the Old Testament writer – “In your affliction, regardless of the cause, have faith in God.”

Is there a pattern here? I think so. We are afflicted – have faith in God.

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Bread – The Pits

August 20, 2010


Readings for Friday, August 20th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Job 2:1-13; Acts 9:1-9; John 6:27-40
    Psalms 140, 141, 142, 143
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Who has not found themselves in "the pits?"  We see mountains ahead we cannot climb, suffer bodily ailments which seemingly cannot be cured, endure chronic pain, lay in bed not feeling like we can get up and deal with the new day, hear the telephone call with a message we never want to hear, ask for help when none comes, purchase goods which fail, lose jobs or money or prestige or power.  Sometimes these "pits" are merely temporary; other times they last throughout our lives (or at least seem to).  The "pits" are bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.  When we say that we shouldn’t criticize until we have walked a mile in the other person’s shoes, what we are essentially saying is that his (or her) "pits" may be worse than ours.  I say "may" because, at least as far as we are concerned, there can never be any "pits" worse than our "pits."

If you noticed the first reading in today’s list, you will know where I am going – yes, Job.  In our reading today, God has already given Satan permission to destroy all of Job’s stuff (his lands, cattle, possessions, money, job, etc.) and He now gives Satan permission to give Job every ailment possible, as long as Satan doesn’t kill him.  Think about this for a moment.  God has essentially denied to Job his escape hatch – death.  God has said to Job – you once were rich and healthy and now you are neither, but you must keep on living.

Even Job’s wife recognizes the situation God has put Job in, because she says to Job "Curse God and die!"  Job 2:9.  She knows that if Job curses God, Satan has won and God will let Job die, which of course eases the worldly pain.  What she does not realize is that her statement may have a deeper meaning, because by rejection of God, by blaspheming the Holy Spirit in denying God’s offer of salvation to us through belief in Jesus Christ, we do in fact die – for all of eternity.  Death can come in many forms, and death to the body is but one.

Job responds as I bet we all wish we could (or would) – "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"  Job 2:10.  Shall we indeed?

In today’s reading from the Apostle John, we overhear this exchange between Jesus and the disciples:

Disciples:  "What must we do to do the works God requires?"
Jesus:  "The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent."  John 6:28-29

The disciples ask what they can do – Jesus responds by saying what God does.  Works by man or works by God.

What does Job need to do to get out of the "pits" he is in?  To ask differently the same question, what does Job need to do which God requires?  Job answers that all things come from God, so why should we celebrate any differently on the mountaintop or in the pits?  Jesus answers that the "work of God" is Jesus and that He gives us our ability to believe in Him.

In our third reading today, we walk with Saul (soon to be Paul) on the Damascus road, where Christ appears to him in a vision.  For a while, Paul is in a process of sorting through what just happened, and he is changed.  He might be described as residing for a moment on the mountaintop, where the air is clean, the view is spectacular, and closeness to the Father can be easily imagined.  But that will not last long.

What is different about the likes of Job and Paul, who suffer mightily but who maintain a clear view of their radical dependence upon God for all good things, and those of us who despair in the pits of life?  Perhaps the difference is this – we ask what we should do and God responds by telling us who He is.  The difference is whether we can hear the message.

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