You Are What You Eat

O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
    for those who fear him have no want.
The young lions suffer want and hunger,
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Come, O children, listen to me;
    I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Which of you desires life,
    and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
    and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
    seek peace, and pursue it.

(Psalm 34:9-14, New Revised Standard Version)

you are what you eat 2 

You’ve likely heard the phrase “you are what you eat.”  Of course, this doesn’t mean that when you look at me you see a delicious strip of bacon.  Rather, it’s meant to convey that the kind of food we ingest, whether it is physical groceries or spiritual sustenance, is of great importance and significance.  Eating unhealthy stuff makes you unhealthy.  Conversely, ingesting healthy things helps one to maintain proper health and vitality for functioning and thriving in life.

The psalmist encourages us to seek the LORD because in going after God we will be filled with goodness.  Using our tongues for good and not evil; our words for encouragement and not for forming lies; our constant verbiage for uplift and support and not with the poison phrases of evil; and, our voices for pursuing peaceful relations and not for disharmony; are all beautiful buffet foods of health and goodness to fortify our souls.

Back when I was in seminary (in a galaxy far, far away) it was difficult to keep up with the bills.  Finances were tight in our young family.  Despite working sometimes up to three jobs at a time, our budget had no budge to it.  In one unusually and particularly hard month, we were down to our last groceries.  In fact, on one summer evening we all had a bowl of Wheaties for supper.  The refrigerator was empty.  In our bedtime prayers with our girls, my wife and I voiced and expressed our need to God.

As Mary and I readied ourselves for bed, it was raining cats and dogs outside.  At 10pm, we heard a knock on our back patio door.  We looked at each other as if the other would know that we’re expecting someone.  We weren’t.  As I pulled back the curtain, there stood a sweet little Puerto Rican neighbor holding two large bags.  I quickly ushered her into our little apartment.  Her next words to us I will never forget:

“I went to bed at 9:00 and quickly fell fast asleep.  At 9:30 the Holy Spirit woke me up and told me to fill two bags with as many groceries as I could get in them; then, go and give them to the Ehrhardt’s.  So, here I am.”

All my wife and I could do was look at her and each other slack-jawed and simply say, “Thank you.”  No one knew our need.  We told no one about it; only God.

My family learned an invaluable lesson that stormy night, one you can’t learn any other way but being in a place of desperation.  The spiritual food that we eat is so important that Jesus put it this way:

One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Many years later after that rich spiritual feast, I told this same story in a congregation on a Sunday morning.  Afterwards, a middle-aged man came up to me and said something that initially took me aback: “So, how do you justify being in such a state of deprivation and not taking care of your family?”  After gathering my thoughts, I gave him this retort:

“You have asked me an honest question.  I will ask you one before I answer yours: Have your teenage kids, you, and your wife ever been in a situation where you needed God and cried out to him for something?”  Long pause…. “Well, no, not really.”  “Then, sir,” I replied, “I like the lessons my encounter with want and privation taught my kids better than the lessons your kids have never learned.”

You see, my friends, you are what you eat.  This obsession we have with being independent, self-sufficient, and our compulsions about money has spawned an entire generation of folks who just don’t know they need God.  Then, parents wonder why their kids abandon God.  God is simply irrelevant to them.  After all, why serve a God who has never touched my life in any significant way?  If we eat from a table of our own making, then the Table of the Lord becomes only a dusty piece of furniture in an empty church.

When we come and eat the bread which the Lord offers us we find satisfaction and fulfillment.  When we allow God to serve up a delicious spiritual meal we discover hospitality and joy.  When we accept the invitation to seek the Lord we find that little is much when God is in it.  In God’s upside-down kingdom, the poor are rich, and the rich are poor.

Good days of plenty don’t come because we ingeniously orchestrate it all.  Yes, of course, planning is both necessary and important.  Yet, all of our best laid plans are just that.  The outcomes belong to God, not us.  We have because God gives, and not because we figured out how to work harder, or smarter, or better.

you are what you eat

The one who truly fears the Lord has learned to first receive from Him.  Open-handed reception can only result from a heart posture of humility and need.  Close-fisted folks only know how to figure things out on their own and are not in the position to receive anything.

Whichever way you slice the Old Testament bread of poverty and the New Testament teaching on being poor in spirit, the rich are typically not in the best place – the poor are.  Being a spiritual beggar who recognizes his/her need for God, and who is desperate for Jesus is the one who has found the narrow entrance to where the Lord dwells.  And, upon entering, finds a lavish spread that is worthy of the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Psalm 23 – God Is Bigger than Your Darkest Valley

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You, Lord, are my shepherd.
I will never be in need.
     You let me rest in fields
of green grass.
You lead me to streams
of peaceful water,
and you refresh my life.

You are true to your name,
and you lead me
along the right paths.
 I may walk through valleys
as dark as death,
but I won’t be afraid.
You are with me,
and your shepherd’s rod
makes me feel safe.

 You treat me to a feast,
while my enemies watch.
You honor me as your guest,
and you fill my cup
until it overflows.
Your kindness and love
will always be with me
each day of my life,
and I will live forever
in your house, Lord. (Contemporary English Version)

A few days ago, I woke up to a white blanket of snow.  Yes, it is mid-April and I looked out my patio window at 7” of freshly fallen snow.  There is such beauty in the glistening snow with the morning light that it’s hard to lament the intrusion of winter into Spring.

Psalm 23 is a familiar place in Holy Scripture, even for many who are not followers of God.  Far from just a funeral prayer, this psalm contains a singular and timeless message:

No matter what the circumstance, and whatever the need, God is enough – He is bigger than your darkest valley.

That’s what I was reminded of on the snow-covered day.  God is here.  God is with us.  Despite old man winter, God trumps the weather every time.  His infinite beauty has a way of breaking through to the most challenging and desperate of experiences.  We have everything we need with God.  What’s more, I am reminded with the late intrusion into Spring, that fresh green new life will soon sprout from the eventual melting into the soil, even if it looks nothing like it right now.

God provides no matter the need.  God protects no matter the dilemma.  God’s power overshadows the darkest of valleys.  God’s presence is everywhere.  With the God of the Bible we shall never be in want of anything.

Today would be a good day to punctuate your schedule with a prayerful reading of Psalm 23.  As you can well see, it only takes a minute to read, maybe a few to carefully and slowly read.  Use the alarm on your phone, FitBit, computer, or other device for some set times today.  When the alarm goes off, take the few minutes to allow Psalm 23 to decenter your thoughts from worry, anxiety, and the fatigue of the day and center them in the sovereignty and grace of God.  Maybe use a different version of the Bible each time you read.  Here is Psalm 23 again in the New Living Translation:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.

     He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
 Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
forever.

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 – The Steadfast Love of God

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O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
those he redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south….

Some were sick through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities endured affliction;
they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress;
he sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from destruction.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
and tell of his deeds with songs of joy. (NRSV)

I’ve always found it a bit curious that there are people who continually equate the God of the Old Testament as nothing but a vengeful and wrathful God.  Certainly, there are passages dealing with God’s anger and his action out of that anger.  Yet, everything God does is from a place of love.  He has never been okay with sin because it damages and destroys people.

Which is why, when people are in need and they cry out to the Lord, he is there for them.  Far more prevalent is the reality that the Old Testament is populated with references to God’s “steadfast love.”  This is God’s covenant-keeping love.  It is the kind of love that holds on and doesn’t let go.  It’s the type of love that is gracious, merciful, and kind.  It is the love the has compassion on the needy and does something about their plight.

In our psalm for today, even when there were people sick and in distress because of their own doing, their own sin, God saved them from their plight.  That’s what God does – he is the expert on deliverance.  God doesn’t shake his finger at us when we screw up and realize our fault; instead, he shows steadfast love.  God doesn’t tell us “I told you so” or “that’s what you get for sinning.”  Nope.  God delivers, and he does it because of his steadfast love.

That’s why people all over the world have learned to sing the praises of the God of the Bible.  It’s why folks from every walk of life and every kind of society have found God as the great lover of humanity.  Their overflowing response to such a loving God is singing, praising, thanking, and offering their lives to him.

If you or someone you know struggles with seeing God as capricious, indifferent, or angry, then I strongly urge you to take in a steady and daily diet of the psalms over the course of the next month.  I think you need an intervention of the God of the Psalms.  Reading 5 psalms per day gets you through all 150 of them in a month.  More than that, pray the psalms.  Allow them to give you a new perspective on the world, your relationships, and yourself.

God of all that is good, your steadfast love has been shown to millions who find in you the desire of their hearts.  May I see your overflowing goodness, your steadfast love, and your infinite mercy operating in this broken world and in my needy heart; through your Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns forever.  Amen.

Psalm 84

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Psalm 84:10, Contemporary English Version

Every now and then I like taking a psalm and doing my own loose contemporary translation of the text (fyi – I’ve had training in the Hebrew language, so this isn’t weird for me, or for you!).  I find this exercise to be exhilarating and helpful for my own soul.  I hope you find this to be useful for you, as well.  The psalmist is talking about the temple.  But I’ve updated it for the Christian who enjoys fellowship with God in the many places where He can be found.  I encourage you to read it over once, then carefully read it again, prayerfully.  Do it both times out loud.  The psalms are meant to be prayed, and they are meant to be said aloud with flavor!

How lovely are all the places where you dwell,
powerful and mighty God of the numerous heavenly forces!

The depths of my soul long, even yearn,
for the intimate backyard gatherings where Yahweh dwells.
My heart and my body, my whole self
shout out loud for joy to the living God!

Yes, the lowly insignificant mother sparrow has also found a home with God;
the swallow has, too, found herself a homey nest
where she can lay her young beside your divine activity,
Large Lord of the numerous heavenly forces, my king, my God,

    You are so big that the lowliest of creatures find shelter in You!
Those who live within Your sacred space are truly happy;
they can’t stop praising you constantly and incessantly!

Those who put their energy in you are truly content;
a one-way road to You is in their hearts.
As they walk through all kinds of dry hard circumstances
they end up making them like a spring of living water.
Yes, even problems become like a gentle rain of blessing.
The biggest of dilemmas become manageable,
as they see the supremacy of God in it all.
Mighty Lord God of the numerous heavenly forces,
hear my prayer to you;
listen closely, O ancient God of my spiritual ancestors!

You are our great protective shield, God;
pay close attention to your chosen one!

Better is one single solitary day in your backyard gathering
than a ba-jillion of days anywhere else!
I would prefer to park cars out in the front yard of my God’s house
than live comfortably in the palatial hangouts of the ungodly!
The Lord is like the brightness of a warm summer day,

and even the suntan lotion protecting me; He’s all that!
God is full of crazy grace and unspeakable glory.
The Lord gives— and doesn’t withhold — good things
to those who walk with integrity of heart before Him.
Powerful Lord of the numerous heavenly forces,
those who trust in you are truly giddy with joy!

Psalm 19 – Living Wisely

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Most of life, as you well know, is lived in the mundane.  We drive the same well-worn roads to work; spend most of the time at our jobs doing routine ordinary things; repeatedly say the same things to our kids, day after day; engage in ordinary chores; and, worship in predictable ways each week.  Excitement is certainly to be had, but it is more the exception than the rule.  Yet, it is the patience, perseverance, and plodding that comes with living wisely which is the norm for realizing a thriving and flourishing spiritual life.

Psalm 19 is a celebration of God’s self-revelation.  Through both nature and law, the Lord has graciously made himself known to humanity.  What’s more, God’s moral and ethical teachings provide insight for living a good life.  This is to the benefit of the common good of all persons.

Wisdom in the Old Testament is the combination of knowledge and practice.  It is the application of God’s self-revelation to concrete situations in life.  We live wisely when we get to know the sovereign God of creation and use his revealed mores and ethos as our guide in daily experiences.

We need God’s gracious revealed law.  It’s not just for theology nerds or spiritual eggheads; God’s law is for everyone – the learned and the unlearned.  Every one of us needs the guidance and direction of God’s Holy Word, and the careful application of it to all our circumstances.  That’s wisdom.

You and I are shaped and formed as godly people as we allow God’s Word to awash us and seep into our souls.  Reading this psalm out loud slowly and contemplatively more than once is an opportunity to let our common ordinary experiences transform into divine appointments.

Self-revealing God of creation, your words are sweeter than honey and more precious than gold.  May I be humble and wise as I meditate and think about how you are the center of everything in my life; through my Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit; one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Psalm 105:1-11, 37-45 – Remember the Lord

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“Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.  Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced, you his servants… He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations…” (New International Version)

Every day I read in the psalms.  There are two reasons I do this: first, the psalms are the church’s prayer book.  They are more than reading material; the psalms are meant and designed to be owned for us as prayers; and, second, I need their reminders – a lot!

Remembering is a major theme throughout the entirety of Holy Scripture.  It’s just part of the human condition, fallen and forgetful as we are, to lose sight of what has taken place in the past.  Today’s psalm invites us to seek the Lord through remembering all the good and wonderful works he has done.

For Israel, remembering meant continually having Passover in front of them.  God redeemed his people out of Egyptian slavery and into a good Promised Land.  They were to never forget God’s miracle through the Red Sea, his protection over them from other nations, and his provision of food and necessities in the desert.

We are to remember because we are made in God’s image and likeness.  God remembers.  God has an ongoing reminder in his divine day timer: fulfill the promises I made; keep the covenant I initiated with the people, even when they’re stinkers and forget who I am.

God doesn’t forget.  He always keeps his promises.  For the Christian, all God’s promises are remembered and fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Deliverance from sin, death, and hell; the gift of the Holy Spirit; and, ongoing presence and provision are given to us graciously and freely by the God who loves and cares for his people.  For us, remembering means coming to the Lord’s Table, entering into the once of for all loving sacrifice of Christ on our behalf.

One of the reasons I write and journal about my life and Scripture is to remember.  Sometimes I forget.  There are times when I’m overwhelmed with life and it feels as if God has forgotten me.  In such times, I look back into my journal and see what God has done.  And I peer into the psalms and see that God is active in his big world, always attentive to working what is just, right, and good in his people.

I randomly opened my journal to an entry made on May 6, 2016.  May your journey with Jesus in this season of Lent cause you to remember the Lord Jesus, to have him always before you:

“Now We Remain” by David Haas –

We hold the death of the Lord deep in our hearts.

Living, now we remain with Jesus, the Christ.

Once we were people afraid, lost in the night.

Then, by your cross, we were saved;

dead became living, life from your giving.

Something which we have known, something we’ve touched,

what we have seen with our eyes;

this we have heard; life-giving Word.

He chose to give of himself, become our bread.

Broken that we might live.

Love beyond love, pain for our pain.

We are the presence of God; this is our call.

Now to become bread and wine; food for the hungry, life for the weary,

for to live with the Lord, we must die with the Lord.

Psalm 32

 

            The Old Testament Psalms are the church’s and the Christian’s prayer book.  In any kind of situation, in every trouble, in each trial of life, in all times of joy and celebration there are psalms available for you to pray and use as your own.  That’s why there is a psalm in the Lectionary readings every day, and why the same psalm is repeated at least three days in a row.  Psalms are not only to be silently read; they are to be repeatedly prayed out loud.
            Today, let this psalm be your confession, and allow yourself to receive the forgiveness of a merciful God.  Here’s a suggestion: Pray this psalm at least three times today; morning, noon, and night; or, repeat it three times in a row, each time saying it with some emotional flavor.  We are shaped by Scripture.  We are formed by prayer.  The two come together in the psalms.  Let them do their work of spiritual transformation in your life:
32 Our God, you bless everyone
whose sins you forgive
and wipe away.
You bless them by saying,
“You told me your sins,
without trying to hide them,
and now I forgive you.”
 
Before I confessed my sins,
my bones felt limp,
and I groaned all day long.
Night and day your hand
weighed heavily on me,
and my strength was gone
as in the summer heat.
 
So I confessed my sins
and told them all to you.
I said, “I’ll tell the Lord
each one of my sins.”
Then you forgave me
and took away my guilt.
 
We worship you, Lord,
and we should always pray
whenever we find out
that we have sinned
Then we won’t be swept away
by a raging flood.
You are my hiding place!
You protect me from trouble,
and you put songs in my heart
because you have saved me.
 
You said to me,
“I will point out the road
that you should follow.
I will be your teacher
and watch over you.
Don’t be stupid
like horses and mules
that must be led with ropes
to make them obey.”
 
10 All kinds of troubles
will strike the wicked,
but your kindness shields those
who trust you, Lord.
11 And so your good people
should celebrate and shout. (Contemporary English Version)
 
Amen.