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 – 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.

________

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

 

 

Bread – Fortress

January 2, 2017


Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble… Selah.”  Ps. 46:1

The title of this Psalm is “God is our Fortress.”  James Boice in his commentary on the Psalms notes that this Psalm was on of Martin Luther’s favorites, from which he wrote “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

My focus today is not so much whether God is a fortress or what kind of fortress is He, but where this fortress is.  What is its location?  Where on a map may it be found?

We tend to intellectualize Scripture and God, and so our first response might well be to say that the fortress who is God is “up there,” and point to the heavens.  And, indeed, there is much in this Psalm to suggest that God’s fortress is the New Jerusalem, which will descend in the end times to bring in the thousand year reign of Christ.  “God is our refuge and strength” suggests a place of refuge, a place where we can physically go for protection.  Perhaps the image comes to mind of a high mountain redoubt, armed to the hilt with massive guns, which provides us peace and safety if we can only get there.  Perhaps we recall the place of fortress called the “shadow of His wings,” where we can hide under Him and let life’s travails flow over us, leaving us untouched and unscathed.  Perhaps we have a view of heaven with the heavenly hosts surrounding God’s throne and bring ourselves to the place of refuge there.  Perhaps we climb in our imaginations to the peak of the mountain where the transfiguration occurred, and in the presence of God’s glory revealed.

But the second part of our reading today says “God is … a very present help in trouble.”  How can one be “very present” when one is “over there” or “up there.”  The only way one can be “very present” is to be here, in the place where the calamity exists, in the place of worry and fear.

And so we realize that God is not only “over there” or “up there” but also “right here.”  He is “very present.”

Which means this, if God is in me, beneath me, above me, and around me, then the fortress is in me, beneath me, above me, and around me.  If I am in God and He is in me, then I am in the fortress right now.

If that is true, then why do we worry?  Why do feel defeat in calamity?  Why do we yield to trouble instead of just looking at it as it flies by our fortress, which is God in us?

I really don’t know the answer to that question, because I do it too.  I look at a problem and say to myself, “I am in trouble,” instead of sitting under God’s wing, in His fortress, and say to God, “look at this problem and help me solve it, or, better yet, solve it yourself.”

But the implications of our failure to recognize that the fortress to which we can retreat is in us go well beyond us.  The reason is simple … if we, as God’s ambassadors, act like we live in a fortress who is God, then those who need healing, those who need help, those who need love, will find shelter in us.  The beacon of light we should be not only shines light in darkness, but it reveals the fortress from which the light comes.

Imagine for a moment if people said “God’s people are our refuge and strength,  a very present help in trouble.”

Whether or not it has happened to you yet, calamity will come upon us all.  We suffer in this fallen world from disease, death, disaster, pain, and loss.  And where will we turn?  Will we turn to the empty promises of the world or the true promises of Christ?  Will we run to the fortress in heaven in our mind, or run across the street to our Christian neighbor who stands in the evil day and is a fortress of hope, of light, of help, of friendship, and of  strength?  If we claim to follow Christ, we should be that fortress in the storm, we ought to be that fortress in the storm, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can be that fortress in the storm for our neighbor.

“A mighty fortress is our God …”  And, to the extent He lives in us, so are we.  Let’s act like it … and let our light so shine before men that they will see our good works and praise not us, but our Father in heaven.  Amen.

_________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Fret

October 10, 2016


Psalm 37

Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of evildoers!…fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!…Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.” Ps. 37:1,7-8

The “frets” of a guitar are the little ridges along the handle which are used to tighten the string when they are pressed down to produce a higher note.

The “frets” of this life are similar.  They are the little things which, when pressed by us or by others, cause the strings of our lives to tighten, producing higher and higher, shriller and shriller notes.  Whereas the frets on the guitar are used deliberately to produce chords and melodies, the frets of our life are pushed by us and others haphazardly to produce shrillness and dissonance and non-chords, or discord.

What are these frets of our lives?  Primarily, they arise when we start comparing ourselves to others.  “Be not envious of evildoers?”  Why would we be envious?  Because many, many sinful people manipulate our society very well, producing great temporary wealth, position, and fame.  We look around and see the big houses we do not have, the nice cars we do not drive, the retirement accounts we do not have, the clubs we do not belong to, the schools we do not attend … and we fret about our well-being, we worry.  We say to ourselves, “why do the wicked prosper” and, in the process, the haphazardly push the frets of our lives, bringing discord and disharmony unnecessarily to our self-assurance, our friendships, our family, and our relationship to God.  And Satan smiles.

What happens when we worry about getting ahead in the world, of keeping up with the Joneses, of making sure that we too have the big house, the expensive clothes, the nice car, and idyllic lifestyle of the rich and famous?  The Psalm is clear — “Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”  When we fret over what we do not have (or what other people have), we tend to want to copy them … and since they sin and do evil (in all likelihood), so might we.

So we have a choice this week.  Fret and pay the consequences, or trust in the Lord and receive the blessings.

Fret or trust, worry or faith.  One leads to discord; the other to concord.  One leads to disharmony; the other to good music.  One takes on the burdens of life; the unloads the burdens of life onto someone more capable of carrying them.

What are you fretting about today?  Is it helping?

To fret or not to fret?  That is the question.  What is your answer?

_________

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

 

 

 

 

Bread – Crushed

September 14, 2016


Psalm 34

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”  Ps. 34:18

How many of us are “crushed in spirit?”  For a salesman, it may be the big sale that you just knew you were going to make, but don’t … and there goes your commission.  For a trial lawyer, it may be the big case you know you are going to win, except you don’t … and there goes your confidence.  For someone asking someone else to marry them and they are sure the other person will say “yes,” and they don’t … and there goes your hope.  For the investor who just knows he or she has discovered the next wealth-generating investment, and the stock tanks … and there goes your ideas of wealth.

Those are the easy ones, but what about the person who goes out day by day to do battle with the world and comes home one day, realizing that the promotion, the big house, the opportunity for fame, the contented family, the loving children, the happy spouse, the attainment of the dream … just isn’t going to be there, at least to the degree wanted, dreamed for, or imagined?   What about those people who live their lives in silent despair?

What happens to them?

The Psalmist tells us that the Lord is near to those people who know Him and trust Him, and that He “saves the crushed in spirit.”

We think that when a person is crushed in spirit, they are down and out.  But the Lord who saves says “you may say you are down and out, but I say that you may feel down but you are raised up.”  In the world’s view, when you are crushed you are crushed.  In God’s view, when you are crushed you are saved.

We may feel crushed in either event, whether we take our view or God’s view, whether we trust God or we trust ourselves or the world.  So what is the difference?  When we trust in God, we are saved out of our condition of being crushed in spirit; when we do not trust in God, we are still there.

When I was writing this and trying to think about what is means to feel crushed and be saved at the same time, an analogy came to mind.  If I am wandering in a swamp and get stuck in deep mud, I have mud all over me.  I am crushed in spirit, reflected by the amount of mud I have all over my clothes and my body.  If I remain stuck in the swamp and in the mud, I am imprisoned by the mud and have no freedom and no life, except to wallow in the mud.  If my savior, though, comes and pulls me out of the mud, I still have mud all over me but I am now free.  I am free to continue to wear the symbol of crushedness, the mud, or I am free to act like it never existed by having God help me wash it off.

When God saves the “crushed in spirit,” they may still feel crushed, but they are not.

You are depressed; you are crushed in spirit.  God says He saves you in that condition.  Do you believe Him?  Do you believe in Him?  If so, the Holy Spirit is right there ready to help you wash the mud of despair from your clothes.  Just ask.

And, oh, by the way, Jesus crushed the serpent’s head. Now that’s down and out … for the count.

_________

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

 

 

Bread – Fears

September 12, 2016


Psalm 34

I sought the Lord and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”  Ps. 34:4

What do we really fear?  For some of us, it is the phobias of the world – fear of falling, fear of heights, fear of snakes and bugs, fear of closed in spaces.  For others of us, it is the fear of failure – fear of loss of position or power, fear of loss of wealth, fear of loss of reputation.  And then there are the fears related to our emotions – fear of rejection, fear of loneliness, fear of separation, fear of being disliked, fear of being unappreciated.  There are lots of fears out there, to the point that we have a lot of fear classifications.

One that has always fascinated me is fear of success.  I think closely allied to that is fear of the unknown.  If we are comfortable with living a life of poverty, then our greatest fear may be of getting a successful job and all the change which will occur because of that.  The Bible says that we get not because we ask not.  I think that, behind the not asking, is a real desire not to receive.  What if we asked for wisdom and then we got it … maybe we are afraid that, if we had wisdom, we would actually have to be wise, which then means that we would have to change the way we live and change the way we interact with others.

It is much easier to stay where we are than to change.  We never have to answer the “what if” if we are afraid to try, to reach out, and to grow up.

If you think about it, the essence of the new man promised by God when we trust in Jesus Christ is really the removal of fear of being a new creation.  For us to love others, it is not necessary that we first love ourselves, it is necessary that we have our fears of love, exposure, and others eliminated.  One of the miracles of new birth is the destruction of fear by the power of God.  One of Satan’s greatest tools to keep us enslaved to him is fear; one of God’s greatest tools to release us from bondage is to release us from fear of freedom.

Are you ready to be fearless this week?  Seek the Lord.   And when the Lord shows up, take His deliverance of you from all your fears … and be grateful.

_________

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

 

 

Bread – Frustration

April 27, 2016


Psalm 17

“Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him!  Deliver my soul … from men by Your hand, O Lord, from men of the world …You fill their womb with treasure; they are satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants.”  Ps. 17:13-14

You can almost hear the frustration in David’s voice.  Confront the evildoers, God…these are the same people who You fill with treasure, bring them an inheritance through children, and let them pass their wealth to future generations!

When we play the game by the King’s rules, when we are surrounded by those who do not, and when the King rewards them and not us, what else are we supposed to feel except frustration, anger, confusion, and resentment?

Here, we have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and we try to be obedient to His Word, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and yet the wicked prosper, often by taking it from us.  We appeal to the Lord and the wicked appear to prosper more.  We know God is sovereign, and therefore it is by His will that evil plays out, that the men of the world fill their caves with cash, live luxuriously, and dominate the affairs of man.

There are three answers to this frustration.  One is to be angry with God because it rains on both the just and the unjust, and the unjust have the just’ umbrellas.  When we do this, we need to accept the fact that we have elevated our will, our standards, our values, and our own belief about our importance over God, and stand in judgment of Him.

The second answer to this frustration is to join the other side, to reject God as uncaring or remote or, if present and caring, then impotent and unable to change the world.   If God is limited as we are, only able to influence outcome and not make outcome, then we might as well ally ourselves with the people having fun and wealth and worldly power.

The third answer to this frustration is to acknowledge our place – we are the subject, He is the King; we are the slave, He is the master; we are the saved, He is the Savior; our minds are limited, His mind is unlimited.  In other words, the third answer is to acknowledge the truth we see only partially, that His ways are not our ways, although we certainly would like Him to conform to our view of the world and our desires.

David picks this third way when he ends the Psalm in verse 15, immediately after expressing his frustration, as follows: “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with Your likeness.”  Ps. 17:15

To paraphrase, David is saying, “God, what you are doing makes no sense to me, but I am satisfied with You alone.”

When we have prayed and our prayers have come to naught as far as we can tell, when we become frustrated with God, what is our response?  Is it to stand in judgment of Him?  Is it to abandon Him to join the world?  Or is it to stay the course, knowing that His countenance is sufficient for the moment, for the day, and for our entire life?

Another way of asking the same question is, when we are frustrated with God because He seems to helping those who are against us more than He is helping us, do we (a) get mad and tell him to get right with the program, (b) start looking at the other side to see what we can satisfy ourselves with that the world offers, or (c) say “O Well, it is Your hands, O God, and not mine – thank you.”

The first results in anger, the second in worry, the third in peace.

What choose you?

_________

© 2016 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.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Affairs

June 12, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, June 12, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 31:30-32:14; 2 Cor. 11:21b-33; Luke 19:11-27; Psalms 72,119:73-96

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From the single word “affairs,” one might think that this Bread is about sexual temptation. However, it is not. It is about daily affairs.

You know the kind of daily affairs that I am talking about, the kind of daily affairs which translate to “there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for …” 2 Cor. 11:28.

These are the kinds of daily affairs which translate to “daily pressure” and from which arise “anxiety for.” And you must admit, we all suffer from the daily affairs of life which are the daily pressure of life and which result in many, many anxieties and worries.

We tend to trivialize these little matters, but they are not trivial. They occupy much of our day, crowd out gratitude and joy, nag at us from near and far, and cause tension throughout our body, mind, and soul. They are often the tools of Satan’s discouragement, making us doubt whether we are children of God, victorious in everything, persevering in triumph, capable of love of others. These daily affairs grind us down, distract us from our role as ambassadors of Christ, confuse us, and make us feel like we are distant from God and others. These daily affairs support our focus on ourselves, build pride, and give us our false sense of independence from God. These daily affairs, these daily pressures, these sources of anxiety and worry are not trivial.

In today’s reading from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul is trying to demonstrate that, from a worldly measure point of view, he has all of the qualifications to say what he says. In the process, he lists a lot of problems he has faced. Here is his list:

“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” 2 Cor. 11:24-27.

In other words, Paul reports suffering many near death experiences, being beat up, at severe risk of loss, tortured and starving, among other things. We would treat each of these as a major life event and we would give thanks to God for bringing us through these life events more or less intact. We would consider survival of these things proof of God’s grace and mercy in our lives. And we would be right, and wrong.

Because Paul does not see these things as the major things in his life. Instead, Paul sees the daily affairs as the major things because, following his litany of trials, Paul ends this way – “And, apart from [these] other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all of the churches.” 2 Cor. 11:28

Apart from all that, I (Paul) have to worry about the things in my daily life over which I have been appointed by God.

So, Paul, the great man of faith to whom Jesus appeared personally, the author of much of the New Testament, has anxiety, has worries, feels daily pressure, has to confront his daily affairs.

Our reading today from Luke is about the talents (minas). Most of what I always remember from this parable is the guy who buried his talent in dirt and then Jesus got mad at him for not at least investing it in the bank so it could earn interest.

Our days are gifts from God. They are our talents, our minas. Are we investing them with eternity in mind, focused on earning a profit for the kingdom of God? Or are we all tied up in our daily affairs, bearing our daily pressures and our anxieties?

While Paul recognized these burdens as such with no attempt to diminish their influence on how he spent his day, he also recognized them as something which should occupy very little of his time or attention. He was about investing his day productively for the kingdom, not about investing his energies recovering from his daily pressures.

Daily affairs – burden or opportunity? Today, will you bury your time in the ground out of anxiety or will you invest it for kingdom return? Each day, the choice is ours. How choose you?

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Cursed

March 27, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, March 27, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 17:5-10,14-17; Phil. 4:1-13; John 12:27-36; Psalms 55,74

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From Jeremiah in today’s readings – “…Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord…Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.” Jer. 17:5,7

What does “cursed” mean. Well, in my mind it means that bad things are going to happen all the time, but it turns out that this is one of those English words which we think has a unitary meaning when back in Old Testament days it took six different Hebrew words to describe “curse” or “cursed.” The Hebrew word used in today’s passage [Strong’s 779] is generally interpreted to mean “to bind (with a spell), to hem in with obstacles, to render powerless to resist.”* Paraphrased then, today’s passage from Jeremiah means that, if you trust in man and man’s ways, you are going to be limited, hemmed in, confronted with obstacles to fully living life, powerless to resist temptation and evil, locked into a prison of your making from which there is no escape.

Think about this for a minute. What man says he wants more than anything is free will, to be free to decide and to live. This is what society pushes and we think of as the high life. And, yet, if we trust in man and man’s ways, our will is in fact circumscribed. By striving to do it our way, we make sure that we can never have it our way. The very thing we do in our own strength and the strength of others does not free us, it binds us and imprisons us. What looks good to us is in fact bad for us.

In other words, when we rely on ourselves and others, we are cursed – bounded and limited by the mirage of doing it our way.

But, if we surrender to Christ, if we trust in the Lord, if we give up our “rights,” we are set free to live fully, productively, excellently, and completely.

What does the blessing from trust in Christ, what does this freedom look like? In today’s reading from Paul’s letter to Philippi we have a taste. “Rejoice … Let your reasonableness be known…do not be anxious about anything … And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:4-7

What keeps us from acting in love toward our fellow man? Is it because we are anxious – if we give our money away, we won’t have any for tomorrow; if we share our food we will have less; if we give up our time, we won’t get things done which need to get done; if we love freely, we will get hurt? There are many negatives to see from man’s perspective, and they hem us in and render us powerless. Is it because we cannot be reasonable, because if we are reasonable, then people will think that we are weak-willed or weak-kneed or of weak conviction or too willing to surrender the truth? Isn’t being unreasonable, to prove our strength, actually proving our weakness and putting us into a prison of our making, hemming ourselves in with our own obstacles?

The truth is that Christians are often hemmed in by anxiety, by unreasonableness, by fear, by turmoil and strife, by selfishness, and by the world. Why?

As we believe, so we think. As we think, so we act. Jesus has said to us that He has chosen us and has saved us and that His promises to us are trustworthy. Satan has murmured to us, “No, you are still cursed.” Are your actions reflections of being cursed or being blessed? Whom do you believe? “Cursed is the man who trusts in man … Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.” Jer. 17:5,7. And just to make sure you get the point, this quotation from Jeremiah begins with “Thus says the Lord:…” Jer. 17:5.

As a nation, our money says “In God We Trust.” Today it might well say “In Man We Trust.” Is it any wonder that we feel hemmed in, powerless to resist the inevitable forces which seem to surround us, anxious, cursed?

What’s your motto, “In God I Trust” or “In Man I Trust?” And whichever it is, do you live it?

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© 2013 GBF.  *The quotation is taken from “Lexical Aids to the Old Testament” in the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, N.A.S.B. (Ed. Zodhiates, AMG Publishers 1990).

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