Readings for Monday, September 29

            from the Book of Common Prayer:

            Hosea 2:14-23; Acts 20:17-38; Luke 5:1-11

            Psalms 89

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Because I have missed a few days in writing Bread, but the scheduled readings from the Daily Office of the Book of Common Prayer keep on moving, we have moved in our Old Testament reading from Esther to Hosea.  And I thought, “why Hosea?” and then I thought, “Well, that is the reading designated for today so I might as while read it.”

 

What is the purpose of this vignette?  It is to remind me, and hopefully you, that in discipline and order there is freedom.  By not just wandering willy-nilly through the Scriptures, but by subjecting myself to a reading structure determined by someone else, I am not burning my time and energy wandering and wondering “what will I read or write on today,” but instead I am totally free to dive into the Word of God in front of me and, within those designated readings, find the true freedom in knowledge, wisdom, action, and Christ which the Lord has in mind for me today in His Scripture.  Wandering presents the illusion of freedom but no apprehension of real freedom; being obedient to order and discipline gives us the energy, time, and intensity to experience real freedom.

 

What I have just said makes no sense to the mind, but there is a reason why is makes no sense.  We assume that when we are confined into a small area, there is nothing there.  We assume that when we are put into a box, the box is empty.  However, that assumption is false when dealing with God.  When God puts us in a box, there is more there than we will ever discover or appreciate.  When discipline puts us into specific Bible verses, we are not presented with an empty box but with deep treasures to which there is no limit.

 

But we do wander, and there is freedom in that as well, but God has in mind a different kind of freedom than we do.  We have in mind that our wandering will give us the freedom to do as we want; God has in mind that our wandering will lead us to the freedom we can find in Him.

 

We see that wandering does not contain freedom but leads to freedom in our reading today in Hosea.  Through Hosea’s relationship with his wife Gomer, a prostitute, God describes His relationship with Israel with the following words:

 

“Therefore, I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.

…’In that day,’ declares the LORD, ‘you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’

I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips…I will betroth you to me forever…” Hosea 2:14-19

 

We normally think of a desert as a place of wandering, and indeed many of us have been there and are there.  But isn’t it exciting that God is the one who leads us there.  God lets us wander.  For what purpose – that we may experience freedom in the desert?  No, He leads us there so that we will be prepared to respond to His personal touch, so that we will willingly join with him and, in the confines of that relationship, be lead to true freedom.

 

These ideas are well expressed in a prayer which the editors of The NIV Worship Bible (Zondervan 2000) included next to Hosea 2:14, quoted in its entirety as follows:

 

“Lord, I confess that I have been the wandering, unfaithful one.  My heart has been enticed by so many glittering illusions.  But Your amazing love will not let me go!  Instead, you lead me to the wilderness.  One by one you take away the illusions and reveal them to me for what they are.  The empty world that I have created falls down around me.  Lead me once again to the place where I may hear the tender call of Your love.  By Your grace, renew my heart to sing Your praise with all the zeal of my first love!”

 

Amen.

 

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Lord, help us to love your Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ and written in Scripture.  Help us Lord to come to you and to bring others to you.  Help us know that your are God and we are not.  Assist us Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to so conform our lives to your revealed plans that there is identity of our actions with your will.   It is only through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ that we are empowered to even make this prayer.  And so we thank you and praise you!  Amen.

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Bread — Opportunity and Fear

September 23, 2008


Readings for Monday and Tuesday, September 22-23

            from the Book of Common Prayer:

            Esther 4-5; Acts 18:1-28; Luke 3:1-22

            Psalms 77, 78, 79, 80

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In our readings today we see opportunity refused because of fear and then opportunity seized because of fear overcome by the strength of the Lord.

 

In Esther, Haman has convinced the king Xerxes to issue an edict to destroy the Jews and seize their things on a date certain.  Mordecai goes into mourning.  Esther (a Jew), who is the king’s wife (the queen), discovers what is going on and is faced with a terrible dilemma – try to undo what Haman and Xerxes have done (and face almost certain death) or refuse to do anything.

 

Esther and Mordecai have this exchange:

 

“[Esther]…All the king’s officials … know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned by the king has but one law: that he be put to death…thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.

 

[Mordecai] … Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape.  For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish.  And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?

 

[Esther]  … Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me…I and my maids will fast as you do.  When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law.  And if I perish, I perish.”  Esther 4:11-16

 

Esther has learned the need of her people and yet shrinks from taking the opportunity to save them from certain death because she is afraid of dying herself.  And who would not think the same way as Esther did in the same circumstances.

 

To realize that Esther reacted in fear, but normally, we only have to consider our own situation.  We know that a person at work needs to know the Lord in order to be saved from certain death, but we shrink from telling him or her about Jesus because we are afraid of the kind of death which comes from being criticized by our boss or our fellow workers or perhaps by the very person we are trying to speak to.  We know that we ourselves, perhaps, need to be saved but we refuse to take the opportunity to come to Jesus because we are afraid of dying to the familiar, of dying to the safety of sin, of dying to those who are not saved and who do not, can not, and will not understand.

 

I do not care to count the opportunities which have been lost to me because of fear, and I daresay that I can count on each person who reads this message to join me.

 

So Esther is reality.  We are called upon by God to seize the opportunity He has placed in front of us to be useful to Him and to His people, and we refuse because we are afraid.

 

But Esther overcomes her fear and takes the opportunity.  How?  I would suggest that she overcomes her fear and takes the opportunity because of three things that happen.

 

The first thing that happens is that she is reminded by Mordecai of who she is and whose she is.  Mordecai reminds her that (a) she is one of people she could be helping, (b) she is one of the people who themselves are standing on shaky ground, and (c) she is the person placed by God in a unique position to take the opportunity and run with it.  In similar fashion, we all need to be reminded daily through our prayer life with God and our fellowship with fellow Christians about who we are, where we have come from, and our uniqueness of position and responsibility.

 

The second thing that happens is that Esther gets ready, but not just alone, but with the community.  The successful Christian life does not take place in a vacuum or on an island – it takes place in community — A community which will pray with you, cry with you, laugh with you, study with you, and, in Esther’s case, fast with you.  The second aspect of getting ready is that Esther uses a tool which is given to us by God to prepare for times of difficulty – fasting.  Fasting is unusual for Christians today, but it has always been used in the Church as preparation for doing the Lord’s work.  It has two components, both of which Esther needed.  The first component is repentance, and Esther needed to be reminded that, even in her status as Queen, she had nothing except that which God had given her.  The second component is to honor God, using the fast as a reminder that all life comes from God and Him alone.  And Esther needed to be reminded that God was in control.

 

The third thing that happens is that Esther recognizes that the result is in God’s hand and it doesn’t matter if she dies.

 

Opportunity and fear.  The two go hand in hand.  But when you, Christian, are faced with opportunity and the spectre of fear haunts you, remember Esther … (a) remember who you are, (b) prepare (with your Christian community), and (c) remember that death does not matter.

 

Paul tells us that God is not the author of timidity and fear [2 Tim. 1:7].  So who is?  Three guesses and the first two don’t count.

 

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Lord, help us to love your Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ and written in Scripture.  Help us Lord to come to you and to bring others to you.  Help us know that your are God and we are not.  Assist us Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to so conform our lives to your revealed plans that there is identity of our actions with your will.   It is only through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ that we are empowered to even make this prayer.  And so we thank you and praise you!  Amen.

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Bread – Priceless

September 19, 2008


Readings for Tuesday – Friday, September 16-19

            from the Book of Common Prayer:

            Job 28, 41-42; Esther 1:1-19;

            Acts 16:6-17:15; John 12:9-43

            Psalms 61-62, 68-69, 70-74, 119:73-96

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There is a commercial for a credit card which shows you several things you can buy with a credit card and then shows you something you can not buy with a credit card, which the admaker calls “priceless.”  The implication in the commercial, of course, is that you can use the credit card to buy what you need in order to get the thing which is priceless.

 

This commercial is the zenith of a particular world view that says that man can buy what he needs.  A world view that says if you have enough good looks, enough power, enough government support, enough friends, enough money, enough credit, then you can get (buy) what you need to obtain that which is priceless.  And, of course, in this particular world view, what is “priceless” is what you believe it is – spiritual nirvana, peace, prosperity, long life, full life, happiness, health, contentment, good food, whatever.

 

Of course, once we use our power and our wealth and our credit to obtain that which is priceless in our eyes, we find that instead of being priceless, what we have is worthless.   And instead of costing nothing and buying everything, it costs everything and buys nothing.  The approach to life proposed by this credit card commercial is a great lie, but it is a lie that is easy to believe in because it lines up with what we think naturally.

 

In todays readings, we are confronted with another idea about what is priceless, and it has nothing to do with us.  Job sets this up beautifully:

 

“But where can wisdom be found?  Where does understanding dwell?

Man does not comprehend its worth; it cannot be found in the land of the living.

…It cannot be bought with the finest gold, nor can its price be weighed in silver.

…It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing, concealed even from the birds of the air.

…God understands the way to it and He alone knows where it dwells.” Job 28:12-23

 

This thing called “wisdom” according to Job is truly priceless.  It cannot be found anywhere.  It cannot be bought.  It cannot be discovered.  The only place where this priceless thing is is with God.  He knows where it is and what it is.  Wisdom cannot be discovered by man, it must be revealed.  It can not be uncovered by investigation, it must be disclosed by God’s favor.

 

We are not left to guess as to what this priceless thing called wisdom is, however, because God has told us.  He says — “The fear of the Lord–that is wisdom.”  Job 28:28.

 

The Hebrew word for “fear” (Strong’s 3374) comes from a root word with a double meaning.  The first meaning is what we would expect — “the emotional and intellectual anticipation of harm, what one feels may go wrong for him.”*  The second meaning is what we would not expect — “a very positive feeling of awe or reverence for God.”*

 

So the fear of the Lord, or wisdom, is comprised of two halves, both of which inform the other.  If one realizes that one is full of sin and has been from birth and that that sin will be judged and that God is angry at those who sin against Him, there may well be both an emotional and an intellectual anticipation of great harm and there may well be a feeling that going to hell may be something which “could go wrong.”  Just this realization may in turn create a positive feeling of awe and reverence for God.  One might think of this as a German in World War II on the hills of Normandy watching the Normandy invasion unfolding before his eyes.  Such a German might well have an emotional and intellectual anticipation of great harm coming to him, but he cannot help at the same time to be seized by a positive feeling of awe in the power being displayed before him.

 

On the contrary, if one has a positive feeling of awe or reverence for God caused by a realization that God has shown His great love by the death of His Son on the cross to protect us from the consequences of our sin, one might have a fuller appreciation and an emotional and intellectual anticipation of great harm which has been averted through belief in Jesus Christ, but also of great harm through the loss of great blessing by failure to be obedient to God’s will.  One might think of this as a scientist involved in the discovery of the splitting of the atom.  Such research is driven by a positive feeling of awe and reverence for God (or at least God’s creation), but when the scientist discovers the power unleashed by the splitting of the atom, he and she would have an emotional and an intellectual anticipation of great harm.

 

Thus we have the definition of what is priceless.  Wisdom is priceless.  Wisdom is the fear of God.  Therefore, the fear of God is priceless.

 

Now, put that on a credit card.  Actually, why don’t you try putting that on anything and everything?  What would happen if we superimposed the fear of God on everything we bought, everything we said, and everything we did?

 

I suspect the results would be priceless.

 

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Lord, help us to love your Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ and written in Scripture.  Help us Lord to come to you and to bring others to you.  Help us know that your are God and we are not.  Assist us Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to so conform our lives to your revealed plans that there is identity of our actions with your will.   It is only through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ that we are empowered to even make this prayer.  And so we thank you and praise you!  Amen.

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*These definitions are taken from explanations of the Hebrew words (Strongs 3374 and its root, 3372) by Spiros Zodhiates in the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (NASB translation) (AMG Publishers 1990)

 

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