Bread – Building

November 8, 2017


Psalm 89

For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever.”  Ps. 89:2

The nature of Scripture is that, as you look for one thing, you find another revealed to you by the Holy Spirit.  So it is today.

What I was looking for was the word “forever.”  In Psalm 89, the word “forever” occurs eight times, even trumping the word “faithfulness” (seven times).

And in the process of looking at the use of the word “forever,” I stumbled across the words which preceded it – “will be built up.”

When we think of God’s steadfast love toward us, we think of a constant, stable and unchanging through time.  We don’t think of it being “built up.”

So, in which way is God’s steadfast love toward us “built up?”

There are at least three different ways (and probably many more) we can answer this question.

One way is to say that, although God’s love toward us is constant, stable, unending, forever, He doles it out to us as we can take it or as we can use it.  In this view, God’s love is a giant reservoir of water and God controls the spigot, letting out so much at a time.  I think this view is unsatisfactory because it somehow suggests that God’s steadfast love is not so steadfast, but only comes to us in pieces and in intensity as He wills it.  I think sometimes when we get mad at God because He has not “helped” us in the way we want or need, we think this way – that God controls the amount of love from He we get.  This kind of thinking can also lead us into believing that, because God has appointed His “priests” as His representatives on earth, they (the priest) have their hand on the faucet of God’s love and can either grant or deny us access to it (as received in the sacraments, particularly of communion).

Another way we can answer the question of how God’s steadfast love “will be built up” is to answer it from our perspective.  As we become more mature as Christians, even in our darkest hour we learn how to take more and more of God’s love into us to sustain us.  In this point of view, God’s steadfast love is the reservoir, but we control the valve which lets it into our lives.  As we become less afraid, stronger in the Lord, we become more willing and able to turn the faucet on full blast.  From this point of view, when we are in the valley of despair and we do not sense or believe that God loves us, perhaps it is because we have forgotten to turn on the water of life or, more likely, Satan with his tricks has convinced us to turn the faucet knob the wrong way, closing it off rather than opening it up.

But I actually prefer a third point of view.  That is to look at our life as a building, one which begins with the foundation on solid rock of faith and is built over the years with loving hands into a man or woman able and willing to do good works which bring honor and glory to God.  With a building in mind, the phrase “steadfast love will be built up” suggests that there is no spigot or restriction on God’s love, but that as we are able to hold more of God’s love (because our building is bigger), God’s steadfast love [in us] will be built up into larger and larger quantities.

There are two delightful results from the building concept.  The first are the words “will be.”  As we walk in our Christian faith, it “will be.”  Not “may” be, but “will be.”  The result is certain – God’s steadfast love will be built up [in me].  The second delightful result is that there are now two reservoirs of God’s steadfast love.  The first reservoir we have talked about.  The second is the reservoir of God’s steadfast love which has been built up in us.  It is a reservoir which, because it draws on an unlimited supply, can be shared with others.  We can draw freely from God’s reservoir in us of His steadfast love to give freely to others.

As Christians, we often think of sharing “our” love with others.  That is nice, but our love has a limit – His love is unlimited.   Perhaps we love so poorly and so rarely because we are drawing on the wrong source.

As we are being built today to hold God’s steadfast love, let us help build up others so that they, too, can be filled … forever.

_______

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

 

 

Advertisements

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.

_______

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Kings

May 25, 2016


Psalm 21

.“His [the king’s] glory is great through Your salvation; splendor and majesty You bestow on him.  For You make him most blessed forever; You make him glad with joy of Your presence.  For the king trusts in the Lord, and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.”  Ps. 21:5-7

Which king is the Psalmist talking about?

One answer could be the author of this Psalm, King David himself.  If this is the case, he is speaking of himself in the third person, but that is not unusual if David was intending to turn himself as king into the object of God’s pleasure.

Another answer could be Jesus Christ Himself, King of Glory.  One reason it could be him is that the Psalmist says “You make him most blessed forever.”  And who is most blessed, except the Son of God Himself.  Another reason could be that He bestows “splendor and majesty on him.”  And who has the most splendor and majesty except the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?  However, I do not think it is a reference to the Messiah because David starts off by saying that the king’s glory is great through “Your salvation.”  Although in one sense it is God Almighty who brings salvation to His people, Jesus Christ as God did not need to be saved – He is Savior; He saves.  Jesus’ glory pre-existed His death and resurrection and preceded creation itself.

So who else could David be talking about?  You … and me.

Think about it for minute.  Why not?

To the extent we reflect glory, it is made great through His salvation of us.

To the extent we reflect splendor and majesty in what we do and who we are, it is God who gives it to us.

To the extent we are blessed, it is because God has made us “most blessed.”  And since we are saved by God’s might, He has made us “most blessed forever.”

To the extent we are thankful for our blessings, it is through the power of God in us that we can even see the source of those blessings, much less be glad in His presence.

And how is it that we reflect glory, are bestowed with honor, splendor and majesty, receive our blessings, and become joyful in the presence of the living God?  It is because “the king trusts in the Lord.”

And finally and most importantly, to the extent we are unmoved by the world, by the opinions of others, by our own carnal desires, it is because of “the steadfast love of the Most High.”  If we stand strong in the evil day, it is because the God we worship is Himself steadfast in power, holiness, and love.

So personalize this psalm: “My glory is great through His salvation; splendor and majesty have been bestowed upon me by Him.  He has made me most blessed forever; and I have been made by Him to be glad and joyful in His presence.  It is because I trust in the Lord, and I shall not be moved from the rock because He is steadfast in His love for me.”

We are kings because He is King.

Now, do we behave like it?

_________

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

 

Bread – Entry

February 3, 2016


Psalm 5

“O Lord, in the morning You hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for You and watch….

You destroy those who speak lies;…

But I, through the abundance of Your steadfast love, will enter Your house.”  Ps. 5:3,6-7

Built into these three lines is almost the entire Christian message.

How do we gain entry to the house of God?  To use less “religious” language, how do we get into heaven?

In the first line, we are speaking to God and preparing and making a sacrifice of our time, our attention, our worship, and ourselves to Him.

These are good works.  They are not directed outward toward other people nor inward to ourselves, but upward to God Himself.  Surely He must) be pleased with us, those who are religious and make proper sacrifices and follow the rules.  Surely when we do these good things, we will earn our entry into heaven?

And there are many in our Christian culture who believe just this.  One way this shows up is in the Sinner’s Prayer.   If I give God the proper recognition by acknowledging my fault and saying the words that I accept Him, then I get into the kingdom.  Another way this shows up is in Baptism.  If I go and get baptized, then I am doing a right sacrifice which will be pleasing to God, and through my good work in obeying Him, I will earn my way into the kingdom.  Another way this shows up is the avoidance of sin, at least mortal sin, and continually receiving the forgiveness of the Church, mediated by middlemen who understand the rituals and their significance and understand the rules and their proper application.  Now, in those communities, if I do good works through regular worship (at least on the designated days), paying the church 10%, taking communion, making confession, receiving forgiveness, kneeling, reading, writing, thinking, doing … then my good works will rise like a pleasant sacrifice, and God will let me into the kingdom.

That is the first line, and if we did not know that David’s motivation was one of obedience born of gratitude instead of obedience born of duty, we might think that he, too, believed that the only people who achieved entry to the throne room of God were good people, who did good works in keeping with the rules of the road.

But then we have to deal with the second verse, “You destroy those who speak lies.”  In one fell swoop we now have confronted our sin problem, even after we become Christians.  As I write this, how many lies have I spoken (or at least thought) today?  How many have you spoken today.  God’s wrath is visited upon those who tell lies (you may say that you are OK because you have only told one lie, not two lies, but then you would be guilty of your second lie).  Two lies and you are destroyed by God.  Why?  Because God abhors all sin, of every size and shape, make and model, from the least to the most (by our human rankings).  He abhors sin and He is a God of wrath!  He may also be a God of love (as our modern society would like to think of Him), but He is also a God of wrath (which is how He needs to be thought of by our modern society).  He destroys sinners … except those He doesn’t…and that leads us to the third verse today.

And that third verse is “But I, through the abundance of Your steadfast love, will enter Your house.”  Ps. 5:7

And there is a lot locked up in this sentence.  Let’s begin with the word “But.”  The longer way of saying it is “Even though I am a liar, thief, cheater, murderer, full of sin and worthy of Your wrath, Your destruction….”

Then there is the second word, “I.”  The “But” never applies to us as a group, it applies one on one, person by person…It applies to “I.”  Until it applies to “I,” it is only one of many thoughts, philosophies, ways of thinking, methods of analysis, etc.  Until it applies to “I,” it is not real to me.

Then there is the next phrase “through the abundance of Your steadfast love.”  Where is there any good works in that sentence?  What part do I play by God acting “through the abundance of [His] steadfast love?”

Then there is “steadfast love,” a love which does not come on strong and then dies, but a love which is there, for all time and in all places and in all circumstances.  Yes, God is a God of wrath who destroys those who sin … but …. He is also a God who so loved us that He sent His Son to die for our sins, to be the sacrifice we could not be, to be the completed work for our salvation.

And then there is this … “I … will enter Your house.”  By what merit do we enter His house?  None.  By what art?  None.  By what magic words?  None.  By what good works?  None.

We only gain entry to His house for all time “by the abundance of [His] steadfast love.”

How have you tried to gain entry into heaven?  Has it been though your efforts, your obedience to the rules, your good works, your morning sacrifice?  Or has it been through the merits, through the death and resurrection, of Jesus Christ?

David reminds us that it is not through his way that he has entry into God’s house, but through His way … the only way.

__________

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

 

Bread – Peniel

February 21, 2014


Readings for Friday, February 21, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 32:22-33:17; 1 Jn. 3:1-10; John 10:31-42; Psalms 102,107:1-32

—————————————-

“Peniel” means “the face of God” (ESV Study Notes). In our reading today from Genesis, it is the place named by Jacob (Israel) after he had wrestled with God, because he said “For I have seen God face to face and yet my life has been delivered.” Gen. 32:30

Have you seen the face of God at your Peniel? I’ll bet you have.

I am always fascinated by what the Anglican Church in its Book of Common Prayer daily readings chooses to leave out. Today, the lesson includes Psalm 107:1-32, but what about verses 33 through 43. There are not that many of them. So why leave them out?

I don’t know exactly, but I can guess because they are somewhat confusing, particularly if you consider God “warm and fuzzy.” In rearranged order, so that the context can be properly set, they say:

“Whoever is wise, …; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.” Ps. 107:43

“He [God] turns the rivers into a desert…a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the evil of its inhabitants.” Ps. 107:33-34

“…He raises up the needy out of affliction and makes their families like flocks. The upright see it and are glad, …” Ps. 107:41-42

The “steadfast love of the Lord” evidences itself in judgment and in mercy. Those who rely on themselves will ultimately find themselves being judged. Those who rely upon Christ’s work on the cross will find themselves being bathed in mercy. This is not meanness in action, it is love in action.

The fact is that we wrestle with God all the time. When we ignore Him, we fight against the proofs of His existence which surround us everywhere. When we embrace Him, we fight with Him to let us into the kingdom of God on our terms. When we are saved by Him, we fight with Him about what we will do today, and tomorrow. When we are told by Him what to do, we wrestle with Him on interpretation.

The truth is that we wrestle with God all the time. Our Peniel is our inner soul, our home, our job, our club, our political party, our country.

We confront the face of God all of the time and, quite frankly, we rise to the occasion by arguing rather than listening, by doing rather than by being, by being angry instead of being joyful.

Consider the steadfast love of the Lord, that He does not strike us down when we see His face and when we dare to wrestle with Him, that He takes our sinful nature and by His grace alone brings us from death to life.

Consider why, at your Peniel, when you confronted God face to face, He let you live. Consider the steadfast love of God toward us.

And be thankful.

________________

© 2014 GBF

Bread–Stability

March 19, 2012


Readings for Monday, March 19, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 49:1-28; 1 Cor. 10:14-11:1; Mark 7:24-37; Psalm 89

—————————————-

There are “classic” images. One of them was a demonstration on an old Ed Sullivan television show, where a person attempted to keep a variety of plates spinning on their poles. The first few went fine, but he kept adding poles and plates and started running around like a mad man keeping the plates spinning so they would stay up on the poles. We watched in fascination as a plate would slow down and begin to wobble, wondering if the person could work fast enough to come back and start it spinning. Slowly but surely too many of them started slowing down and wobbling at the same time, the man couldn’t keep up, and finally one and then all of them crashed to the floor. (At least this is what I remember of the show; your memory and in fact the show itself may have a different ending).

There are several great lessons in this demonstration. One is that we can so overload our life with spinning plates that we lose track of them and they all fall down. Another is that there are limits; spinning plates slow down (there is no such thing as a machine which, once started, runs forever). Another is that one cannot be stable on a stick unless you are (a) glued to it or (b) doing something. Another is that, if you are a plate and want to be stable without spinning, you are best off resting on a larger, broader, stronger foundation than just a stick (like a table). Another is that order and stability descend into chaos if left alone or if left to human intervention.

Psalm 89 from today’s readings deserves attention. In it we are reminded that God controls chaos; He brings order from chaos – “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, You still them.” Ps. 89:9 In it we are reminded that there is a stability in God’s love and faithfulness to us which does not slow down, does not collapse, does not disappear – “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord forever; with my mouth I will make known Your faithfulness to all generations. For I said, ‘Steadfast love will be built up forever; in the heavens You will establish Your faithfulness.’” Ps. 89:1-2 In it we are reminded of the covenant God has established with David and his heirs, including Jesus – “My steadfast love I will keep for him [David] forever, and My covenant with him will stand firm for him. I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of heaven.” Ps. 89:28-29

The context of Psalm 89 is that God seems to have removed His blessing from the line of David and crushed His people. God has let Israel’s plates slow down, wobble, and crash. Order has collapsed into chaos. That is the context of Psalm 89.

And yet Psalm 89 begins with God’s sovereignty over chaos, His establishment of order, His creation of the firm foundation for us, the plates. We cannot keep the plates from falling; God created them so He does not need to. And yet they (we) appear to become unstable, wobble, fall down, and crash. How can we reconcile this?

The key is in the middle of Psalm 89, where God says “If his [David’s] children forsake My law and do not walk according to My rules, if they violate My statutes and do not keep My commandments, the I will punish their transgressions with the rod and their iniquity with stripes, but I will not remove from him My steadfast love or be false to My faithfulness. I will not violate My covenant or alter the word that went forth from My lips.” Ps. 89:30-34

Gravity, friction, time, our own lack of coordination, time, energy, ability, desire, small sticks acting like foundations – all these cause us and our plates to crash to the floor. The elements of nature and our own shortcomings conspire together to bring down the house.

Then what stabilizes it? What establishes it? Us?

We know we can’t do it but we try anyway. We take the flimsiest of foundations and stack life on top of it, expecting the plates to stay in the air and then marvel when they all fall down.

Why bother? Why not put the plates, ourselves, on the strongest foundation possible, the Word of God, His control over chaos, His steadfast love, His faithfulness to all generations? Then they won’t slow down, they won’t wobble, they won’t crash. And even when it seems like they are (just like what was happening when Psalm 89 was written), we can end the same way the Psalmist did with these words – “Blessed be the Lord forever. Amen and Amen.” Ps. 89:52

—————————————————–

%d bloggers like this: