Bread – High

April 26, 2017


Psalm 61

[God] Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.”  Ps. 61:2b-3

Over my life, I have been fortunate to be exposed to great adventure, perhaps none so strengthening of endurance and spirit than climbing mountains.  Sometimes the climbs were part of a week of backpacking and sometimes they were what is thrown into the concept of “day hikes,” but they all had one thing in common.  After a great deal of exertion and many moments when I wanted to stop and turn around and go back down the mountain, I reached the top or “summit.”  I was high up and from that vantage point, I felt like I could see forever.  Sometimes, depending upon the weather, I would actually be above the clouds.  Other than being wrapped in a commercial jet, that is the highest I have ever been.

 

But being high is relative in some sense.  My grandson is working with concepts and he is fond of pointing at my ceiling fan and saying “high.”  He is correct.  My ceiling is high compared to my floor, but not so high that I can’t lift him up and let him touch the fan.

There is a natural part of us which longs to climb higher and to touch the face of God (as stated in our armed forces commercial).  We want to be geographically, emotionally, and spiritually “high” and we will do what it takes to get there.

And built into all this is an assumption, and that is that, through careful planning, exercise, the right diet, building strength and endurance, and with the right equipment made by man, we can in fact climb to the summit, we can in fact reach God.  If we can reach the moon, then we can reach God.  Built into us as part of us being made in the image of God is the native knowledge that we find our pleasure in that high place, in communion with God.  Built into us as part of our sinful nature is the idea that we can do it, if only we try hard enough, study hard enough, plan smart enough, invent well enough, and desire it enough.

Notice that David in the Psalm does not speak of himself climbing to the rock or summiting the peak of the mountain.  There are two parts to his request and both are significant.

The first part is the request is that God “lead me to the rock…”  Unless God reveals truth to us and unless He empowers us with His Holy Spirit, we know neither where the rock is or how to get to it.  God goes ahead so that we may follow.  God reveals Himself (who is the Rock) so that we may hold tight to the summit of life, a right relationship with Him because of Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension.

But the second part of this request is critical to full appreciation of what is going on, because David says “…the rock that is higher than I [am]…”  When we reach God the Father in our relationship, in our prayers, in our study of His revelation in Scripture and His Son, we are not at the summit of the rock because the rock is “higher than I.”  The reason is simple.  God is sovereign and He is king.  He is higher than we are and always will be.

We may climb far in our relationship with God and we may in fact reach a plateau of self-satisfaction about our holiness.  We may in fact believe that we are at the summit of wisdom, of peace, of prosperity, of life.  But we are not.  When God has brought us to the rock which is higher than ourselves, there is a simple truth.  It is higher than us.  And at that point, two things should come to mind.  The first is that we should recognize that God is God and we are not.  The second is that we should be eternally grateful that He has brought us to that place, because we could never have gotten there on our own.

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

Bread – Mysteries

May 13, 2015


Readings for Wednesday, May 13, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; James 5:13-18; Luke 12:22-31; Psalm 119:97-120

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There is a difference between our mysteries and God’s. In our typical mystery, there are characters acting in a plot, typically trying to solve why something happened or why something is the way it is. It can be a murder mystery or a science mystery, but the setup is the same – something has happened which is, on the surface, unexplainable; trained, intelligent, and curious people undertake a detailed investigation of all of the facts leading up to and surrounding the mystery; and the ending is appropriate – the great Holmes solves the murder or the great

Einstein solves the equation … and we are done. Man’s reason and worldly wisdom has solved the mystery, proving that man is in control.

In God’s typical mystery, there is an unexplainable event in which both man and God play some kind of part. Man is instructed by God what to do and what to say, how to behave, and God acts in His sovereign way of decision. Man does his part and sometimes the result is good and sometimes it is not, sometimes it is effective and sometimes it is not, sometimes God shows up and sometimes He does not. The mystery is this – we have done what God has told us to do and yet, there is the sovereign work of God in the mix. This sovereign work is in one sense predictable (fulfillment of God’s promise) and in another sense it is not predictable (God’s sovereign will in the circumstances does not necessarily align with ours). The mystery surrounding why this is, the explanation sought in man’s mysteries, is and cannot be solved by man. The solution lies just out of reach. Man’s mind and his efforts cannot reach it; God’s mysteries are and remain mysterious. To a rational man full of worldly education and wisdom, this is nuts. To his thinking, everything can be explained if but we knew all the facts and knew how things logically work together. To a faithful man full of heavenly wisdom, the mystery lays as it should … at the feet of God.

God’s mysteries abound through the Bible. We are responsible for our sin (because it comes from our disobedience) and yet is the sovereign work of God who saves us from death to sin. In God’s economy, 90% (what we have left after the tithe) is worth more than 100%. We are commanded to preach the Gospel in the world and work in the fields where the harvest is great, but it is God who delivers saved lives.

Today our readings deliver to us two such mysteries. The first, in James, is the instruction to Christians regarding sickness. “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” James 5:14-15 Now, we know from personal experience that when the elders of the church pray over a sick person, sometimes they get well and sometimes they don’t. That is the mystery. However, our instructions are clear – We need to pray for those who are sick in full expectation (faith) that they will be healed. That is our job … We are to pray in faith. But it is not our prayer of faith which delivers the result, it is God in His sovereignty deciding how and when this Christian will be healed. Whether the sickness is healed in life or in death, it will be healed – that is the prayer of faith. But delivery of the results – that is the action of God. The mystery is how these two interact (the prayer of faith and the sovereignty of God). This mystery cannot be solved because God cannot be compelled to obey our prayers; but we are to pray in faith in full expectation that He will listen and that He will act. Can this be explained by human wisdom? No. We have reached the edge of rationality and stepped into faith and obedience – obedience to do what God through James has commanded, and faith that God will act upon those prayers.

The second mystery is in Luke. Jesus says in Luke today not to be anxious, knowing that God will deliver you what you need when you need it. Instead of worrying, Jesus says “…seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” Luke 12:31. The reason this is a mystery is that we are commanded elsewhere to work, to invest and use our talents unto the Lord, and to share our wealth with those in need. To do this in today’s world, we cannot sit back on our couches in reliance upon other people to feed and clothe us, and we cannot leave our wealth to winning the lottery. On the other hand, God says not to worry, because God will fulfill our needs. So isn’t that a mystery? We are supposed to work hard as unto the Lord and yet, it is not our labor that produces wealth for us, it is God’s grace, mercy, and benevolence toward us. If we make a fortune in business, it is us who made it or God who gave it to us? The mystery is wrapped up in the answer to that question, which is “yes.” “Yes” we made it and “no” we didn’t. Somehow, our industriousness and God’s blessing combine to provide us what we need. The illusion of the world is that we produce our own wealth; the mystery of God is that it comes from God, but we cannot sit in the corner and anticipate those blessings. The mystery is that we do not work for our blessings but somehow the blessings are tied to our obedience to the Lord, which means we work. If we work alone without God, we work in vain even though we may have wealth by worldly standards. The cost of our work in this case is worry and anxiety, because if it depends on us, then we are in big trouble. However, if we sit over in the corner doing nothing, we are not obedient to God and the cost of our laziness is presumption toward God, resulting in little if any blessing. Are work and blessing connected? No, but the mystery is that, in some way, they are connected. We need not worry because God will give us what we need; we need to be obedient and work because we have been commanded to do so. Somehow, in combination with our work and God’s gifts, we become wealthy in spirit and maybe in goods and possessions as well. This mystery is unexplainable and must be embraced, not with our mind, but with our heart of faith.

Mysteries. There are many, many, many of these we will run across in our walk as Christians with Jesus our Lord. Will we run around trying to solve them or will we just accept them in faith and keep on trucking down God’s path for our life.

It is a waste of time for us to try to solve God’s mysteries because we are not God. It is not a waste of time to accept these mysteries, these miracles, in faith and to resolutely set our face toward God and walk in the path laid out for us. And while we are at it, we can contemplate the greatest mystery of all – why God bothered to come in flesh to save us, to die for us on the cross, and to give us mercy when we deserve none. And be thankful.

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© 2015 GBF

Bread – Blind

November 1, 2013


Readings for Friday, November 1, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Neh. 2:1-20; Rev. 6:12-7:4; Matt. 13:24-30; Psalms 40,51,54

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We can be blind to the most obvious things and then, when someone points it out to us, we say “Oh, yeah.” Sometimes, even more tragically, we still can’t see from our blindness even when someone has pointed it out to us.

Our Scripture readings today are sort of object lessons or at least object observations in blindness to reality.

In Nehemiah, he has asked the king to send him to Jerusalem to evaluate the situation and rebuild the city. The king approves and Nehemiah goes and check it out. He says of himself “I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire.” Neh. 2:13. Pretty graphic. He then says that he gathered “the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were going to do the work” and said to them “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned…” Neh. 2:17. Now, let us stop here for a second and ask a question, “Did they [the nobles, officials, priests, etc.] really ‘see’ the trouble they were in, that their city was in ruins?” Did they? Probably not, because if you think about it they were being “priests, officials, nobles, etc.” within and among the very rubble being described by Nehemiah. They were not only living in it, they had been living in it for quite a while. Why did they not see this until Nehemiah showed up, and if they saw it, why didn’t they do anything about it?” Because they were blind to their own condition and the condition of their surroundings.

In Revelation, we read that the sixth seal has been broken and calamity has struck the earth. In response “Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” Rev. 6:15-17. These people, great and small, powerful and powerless, all are blind. Oh they see the calamity, but what they don’t see is that the great mountains are no more able to hide them or save them then their houses of straw can; what they don’t see is sanctuary in God’s grace, in His forgiveness, in His Son, the very Lamb of wrath (and salvation).

And in these brackets, the Old Testament and the New, we can see very clearly what we are blind to as well. We are blind to our own decrepit circumstances (sin) and we are blind to the solution (the cross). We don’t recognize that our walls are broken down and our gates are burned to a crisp, so we never engage in the investigative work and labor to make our city sound again. Once we realize the depth of destruction our sin has caused, we hide in worldly structures of education, reason, science, knowledge, things which appear to be houses made of stone (impregnable mountains) but which are really houses of straw ready to be consumed by the fires of wrath. We hide in weak places because we are blind to the strong place, the shelter of the Most High.

We are blind to our condition and we are blind to the cure for our condition.

That is why we need a Nehemiah to point out our sin. That is why we need a John to point out our need for the savior from our sin, Jesus Christ.

Why are we blind? It would be nice to blame it on Satan or say that it is our natural condition, but psychologically, if you think about it, blindness is actually a pretty safe place. After all, if I can’t see my ruin, I can live is blissful ignorance of my poverty. If I can’t see the ruin of others, I don’t have to do any work or I don’t have to love. If I can’t see the weakness of the mountains to protect me in the day of wrath, I can blame the mountains when they collapse on me. Being blind, I can be the victim. Being blind, I have a built-in excuse. Being blind, I have no neighbors I can see. Being blind, I can let others do the work. If I can’t see, then how do I know what I am missing?

Isn’t this a miracle? Isn’t this grace? That God so loves us that He will not let us live in our blindness, but opens our eyes to the reality of our condition … not so that we can despair but so that we can receive His gift of eternal joy, eternal life with Him, His protection, His good pleasure. He opens our eyes to His Son, so that in the day of the wrath of the Lamb we do not join those running to the mountains because we know that our safety is in Him.

The people hiding ask “who can stand?” The answer is “We can because He (Jesus) has, He is, and He will.”

So, in the power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit He has sent to us, let us see clearly the ruin which surrounds us, and let us take up the spade and begin the work, knowing in whose strength the work is really accomplished. Amen.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Work

May 22, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, May 22, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ruth 2:14-23; 1 Tim. 3:1-16; Luke 13:18-30; Psalms 12,13,14,119:1-24

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Our Old Testament reading today is from Ruth, an honored woman who is in the lineage of King David and Jesus. The passage finds Ruth in the presence of Boaz, who has her eat with the workers and then, when she goes out to glean, he tells the workers to make sure that she has plenty to glean.

Now this in itself is a simple story, but with profound implications for our work in the world while in Christ. To understand this, it is important to see the roles of the parties in this episode of history.

First, there is Ruth. She lives in poverty with her mother-in-law in a foreign land. Every day she goes out to “glean” in the fields, meaning simply that she goes onto the farm after the reapers have collected the crops and picks up the leftovers, if there are any. Gleaners got whatever the reapers by accident left behind.

Second, there is Boaz. He actually owns the land where Ruth is gleaning and employs the reapers. The reapers are then people in Boaz’ employ. Boaz is also a kinsman to Naomi, the mother-in-law who Ruth lives with, and will prove himself to be a “redeemer” as well. Boaz therefore becomes an image of Christ, a “type” of Christ.

So in the hierarchy of life, Ruth is at the bottom and Boaz is at the top. Boaz pays attention to her and lets her eat at his table with his reapers.

But, after showing favor to Ruth, he says this to his reapers – “Let her glean …” In other words, even though Boaz showed her favor and could have instantly lifted her out of her circumstances and at least made her a reaper (although perhaps that was limited to men at the time), but instead sent her back out to work in her current position – to glean. He made her life easier as a gleaner (he instructed the reapers to leave extra on the ground), but she was still a gleaner.

As Christians, have we ever been in position of work, of a job or a customer or a client or a decision, where we just ask the Lord to take the burden of the job off of us? Sure we have. And what often is the answer we get? Go back to gleaning! Go back to work! Go back to scrubbing toilets, dealing with belligerent people, stacking boxes, or whatever work it is that is assigned to you!

Just because God has identified you as someone invited to eat at His table does not mean that you have the option of quitting your nasty job. Your nasty job may be just the place where God wants you to do His work. He may make your work easier to bear (as Boaz did for Ruth), but He may not elevate you to the position you wish.

So, we have been saved by Christ, eaten at the table of his blessings, and sent from the table to pick up our shovel and work at our nasty job.

This is not a prosperity gospel but a gospel that works. A gospel which goes into the lives of ordinary people, us, into ordinary circumstances, into ordinary work and which transforms nasty labor into opportunities for life.

Jesus reminds us today in our reading from Luke of the following: “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures, until it was all leavened.” Lk. 13:20-21.

When we are invited to eat the Lord’s meal and then told by Him to return to our nasty work, we carry with us the kingdom of God. We carry with us the leaven of life. And with that leaven, in our nasty work, we are able to bring the kingdom to others who are in the same circumstances we are in, who are working at the same work in the same place. And our work as ambassadors of Christ, ambassadors of the kingdom of God, in the midst of that worldly work, may plant the seed of that kingdom in the hearts of those who so desperately need to hear about it.

When we go off to work today we may go with the song of lament or the happy song of the seven dwarfs in “Snow White” (Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go….). The writer of Ruth reports that Ruth ate at Boaz’ table “until she was satisfied” and then went off to glean the fields. Which song do you think she was singing?

We as Christians eat at the Lord’s table when we commune with Him at dinner, on the road, in prayer, in meditation, in reading His Word, in worship, and in just talking to Him. When we finish and are satisfied, we are then told to pack up our bags and go glean in the fields. What song will we sing on the way? The song of the redeemed or the song of the dead?

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© 2013 GBF

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