Bread – Silence

November 19, 2008


Readings for Monday through Wednesday, November 17-19

            from the Book of Common Prayer:

            Hab. 2:1-3:18, Mal. 1:1-14, James 2:14-4:12,

            Luke 16:19-17:19

            Psalms 89, 94, 95, 97, 99, 100, 101, 109, 119:121-144

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“I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what He will say to me, …

But the LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him.”  Hab. 2:1,20.

 

Bookends.  We stand watchful and waiting, waiting for God to speak.  Hab. 2:1.  We know that He is there, in such power and awesomeness that the prophet calls us and the whole world to be silent.  Hab: 2:20.

 

There is an old saying that “silence is golden.”  When we say it, we normally mean for someone else to shut up.  But in many respects it is a generally true statement.  Since it is such a true statement, why is there so little of it?  Why are we so uncomfortable when we are with other people and nothing is being said?  When the children are off at school and the dog is asleep, why do we have the radio or television on?  Something in the background to break the silence?  Why do we feel it necessary to break the silence?

 

“…the LORD is in His holy temple; let [me] be silent before Him.”

 

There are great benefits to silence, but also great costs.  For example, when we are silent before the Lord, the benefit is that we can fully appreciate and apprehend the Lord’s power, glory, majesty, holiness, splendor, strength, and honor.  For example, when we are silent before the Lord, the cost is that we can fully appreciate and apprehend our own weakness, frailty, poverty, sinfulness, and dishonor.  Perhaps that is why we avoid the silence, because the silence exposes and reveals.  It exposes and reveals who we are and what we are, it exposes and reveals the quality of our surroundings and relationships, and it exposes and reveals who our god(s) are.

 

There is another saying which goes something like this — “You should be silent and have people think you a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.”  Everybody always laughs at this, but there is a good point.  While we are being silent, we can do no harm.

 

And harm with the tongue, with non-silence, is what our reading in James is about today.  In James, we read about the tongue setting life on fire with rumors and falsehoods and slander (James 3:6), about the tongue speaking lies instead of truth (James 3:1), about the tongue speaking curses and anger (James 3:9), and about the tongue engaged in inappropriate boasting (James 3:14).

 

I am reminded in this comparison between silence and speaking of the two types of people who go to the beach for vacation.  The first type are the ones who are talking on the cell phones, playing volleyball, parasailing, boating, fishing, drinking, and playing arcade games.  The second type, the silent types, are spread out on the towels soaking in the “rays,” “vegging out.”  When they both come back from their vacations, which one do you believe is more likely to say “it was a great trip, but I am so tired.”

 

“…the LORD is in His holy temple; let [us] be silent before Him.”

 

As uncomfortable as it may be, let’s commit to set be silent before the Lord today for just a few minutes.  Then, maybe, in our Christian walk we will be able to say “it was a great trip, and I am so refreshed.”

 

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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 you 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 – Experience

November 14, 2008


Readings for Thursday through Friday, November 13-14

            from the Book of Common Prayer:

            Joel 2:21-3:8, James 1:1-27, Luke 15:11-16:9

            Psalms 23, 27, 83, 85, 86, 88, 91, 92

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Some days the content of the Bible verses for the day is overwhelming.  Today is such a day.  In today’s readings are (a) Joel’s prophecy of the gift of the Holy Spirit and the scattering and restoration of Israel, (b) James’ concerns about the Christian reflecting in practice the character (“new man”) we have acquired by our faith in Christ, (c) the parable of the prodigal son (Luke), and (d) Psalm 23, about which whole books have been written.  The material is so overwhelming that almost all I can see is the forest.

 

One of the beauties of reading the Bible in its entirety is that, in so reading the Bible, you lose the detail and are left with the terrain.  And sometimes in Bible study we get so enmeshed in the detail that we forget there is a terrain, a forest, a story which transcends the detail and says something of incredible importance.

 

So, taking a step back for a moment and looking at today’s readings from a wide perspective, it becomes apparent that these passages deal significantly with the Christian life and how we are to lead it.  That is why I called this Bread “Experience,” because we can look at these characteristics of the Christian life presented in these passages and determine if our “experience” is authentically Christian, if we are in fact living out our life out of the new man character which Christ has given us.

 

Some of the characteristics of the Christian life presented in today’s readings are:

 

1.   A radical dependence upon God.  “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; …”  Psalm 23:1, 4  “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'”  Psalm 91:1-2

 

2.   Times of wanderings and squanderings, followed by our receipt of a mercy which comes from the father, which we have not earned, and which we do not deserve.  “The son said to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to the servants … Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”  Luke 15:21-24

 

3.   Perseverance in trials.  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance …Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has withstood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”  James 1:2, 12

 

4.   A working out and away from sin and ‘moral filth.’  “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.  Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.”  James 1:22-22

 

5.   An attitude of reverence toward God, reflected in worship which demonstrates love to the world.  “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  James 1:26-27

 

6.   Infusion of the Holy Spirit in all worship, action and speech.  “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people…Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days…”  Joel 2:28-29 

 

Joshua said that he and his family will serve the Lord.  Why don’t we today say that we will experience the full Christian life … and then go do it!

 

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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 you 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 – Sweet Speech

November 12, 2008


Readings for Monday through Wednesday, November 10-12

            from the Book of Common Prayer:

            Joel 1:1-2:19, Rev. 18:15-19:21, Luke 14:12-15:10

            Psalms 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 119:97-120

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The passage of the pro-marriage amendment, followed by the preaching in our churches of the Biblical testimony against homosexual sin, has recently resulted in an outpouring of protests against the church and against all who preach Biblical truths.  We are accused of setting back “civil rights” years and years.  We are accused of “hate speech.”  These protestors are attempting and will attempt to use the “hate speech” laws which exist to shut down and shut up both us and our preachers, all on the theory that the statement “homosexuality is a sin” is equivalent to yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.

 

What is happening in a nutshell is that Party A is speaking a truth, which prompts a outrageous response from Party B, which then is used to blame Party A for the statement.  We could as well charge Party B with an outrageous response and arrest him for mayhem, but we would rather arrest the speaker.

 

Sexual sin is sin, along with anger, eating too much, drinking too much, swearing, selfishness, pride, and theft.  All are abominable to God.  All of us are guilty, but not all of us will be punished as we should be (more on that later).

 

To analogize what is happening, let us pick a different sin.  Our preachers speak out about the sin of abuse of our body, the temple of God, by drunkenness.  The drunks overreact and show up by the thousands outside our doors, saying that we are engaged in “hate speech” against drunks, and our preachers are arrested for speaking against drunkenness because their “hate speech” has caused an uproar.

 

But what has really caused the uproar?  Is it the “hate speech” or our overwhelming desire not to be confronted with our sin acts and our sinful nature?  The pronouncement of homosexual conduct as a sin should result in only on of three reactions: (a) repentance and a turning toward God and away from sin (of all kinds), (b) a dismissive response like – “you silly people, you don’t know what you are talking about,” or (c) a deferral response like “I don’t think I will deal with this today.”  Instead, the pronouncement of the sinful nature of homosexual conduct results in an absolutely hostile reaction — a reaction which speaks to our psychological abhorrence to being confronted by the truth of our sinfulness, our foolishness, and our separateness from the source of life.  If my whole life is defined by my drunkenness, then I will hostilely respond to suggestions that I am wallowing in sin.  If my whole life is defined by my relationship to God or at least a passing relationship with honesty, then I will respond to the charge of drunkenness with repentance, with dismissiveness, or with deferral of consideration.

 

So what has any of this to do with our readings today?  Actually, a lot.

 

First, God’s speech in the Bible is full of “hate speech,” at least if you are going to define “hate speech” as speech directed to confronting us with our sinful reality and our need for a Savior.  For example, Jesus says in Luke 14:33 that “any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”  By making this statement, Jesus is obviously showing “hatred” toward those people who want to hold onto a few things.  After all, if you tell me I can’t do something (or shouldn’t do something), you clearly “hate” me, right?

 

Second, God clearly lays out what should be our proper response to His “hate speech,” His confrontation with us about our sin.  And that response is properly acknowledgment of the truth of what is said and repentance.  In Joel, God unleashes a monstrous storm of locusts and warriors against the people and then follows that with this:

 

“‘Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, … Rend your heart … Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.‘”  Joel 2:12-13

 

In Luke, Jesus says the same thing — “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  Luke 15:7.

 

Have you been the recipient of “hate speech,” from the Bible, the pulpit, or a Christian friend?  Instead of getting angry and becoming hostile, have you thought about the fact that there are at least three other reactions you could have — repent, shrug it off, or ignore it?  Have you considered that God is calling you to repentance, not just for the one sin which has touched a nerve, but for all of your sins (and there are a lot, believe me)?

 

What has been keeping you from a proper reaction?  Is what you are hearing getting too close?

 

The truth hurts, but it heals and saves, particularly when your reaction to the truth is repentance.

 

Avoid the calamity which is coming — repent and turn to the Lord.  And all of a sudden the “hate speech” will become “sweet speech,” not because the content has changed but because, by being confronted with the reality of your sin as a saved Christian, you are reminded of how far Christ has brought you and how different you have become, and that is sweet indeed.

 

You see, when you realize that God is speaking to you to save you, what you thought was “hate speech” becomes “sweet speech.”  Think about it.  Pray about it.  Ask God to reveal it to you.

 

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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 you 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 – Perfect Storm

November 7, 2008


Readings for Wednesday through Friday, November 5-7

            from the Book of Common Prayer:

            **, Rev. 16:1-17:18, Luke 13:10-35

            Psalms 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 119:73-96

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Our Bible readings for the last two weeks have been in Revelation.  In my last Bread, I talked about the two groups who will exist in the last days.  The first group is the group of people who remain in their sin and bear the mark of man, the mark of the beast.  The second group are those marked for salvation, those who worship the lamb of God (Jesus Christ).

 

We read today about what is going to happen to the first group.  The title of this section in my Bible is “The Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath.”  Seven is often associated in the Bible with perfection, and so it is often called the number of perfection.  So what we have in these passages is “perfect God’s wrath.”  Ouch!  Or, another way to say it, the “Perfect Storm.”

 

Let’s see what this storm looks like:

 

We begin with “ugly and painful sores” on those people in the first group.  Rev. 16:2

 

The second wave is ruined seawater, causing “every living thing in the sea” to die.  So much for most of the fish we eat.  And, oh, the smell!  Rev. 16:3

 

The third wave of this perfect storm is the same thing as number two, but this time applied to all the rivers and the springs of water.  So much for the rest of the fish.  And maybe so much for us.  After all, we can only live a short while without water.  And will our modern technology be able to adequately filter all of the water?  And, oh, the smell!  Rev. 16:4

 

The fouth wave is a scorching sun, which burns the people.  Revelation described the people (in group one) of being “seared by intense heat.”  Remember now, the “ugly and painful sores.”  Now these get roasted.  Rev. 16:5.

 

The fifth wave is a blackout, during which “men gnawed their tongues in agony.”  Have you ever bitten your tongue, literally?  Well then you have an idea of what “gnawing your tongue” is going to feel like.  Rev. 16:5.

 

The sixth wave is the release of evil spirits, demons, who convince the world leaders to go to war against Israel (Armageddon).  Thus this sixth wave in the perfect storm is like a madness which overtakes all of the the world’s leaders and convince them to do something that makes no sense.  Rev. 16:12-16.

 

Before we finish the perfect storm, we need to pause and ask ourselves a question — when all these bad things are happening, why did the people in group one not join group two?  Why didn’t they repent and believe in Jesus Christ?  Group One people are described as being in agony, but instead of falling on their knees they “curse the name of God” (Rev. 16:9, 11).  In spite of these sores, thirst, heat, and hunger they “refused to repent and glorify him [God].”  Rev. 16:9, 11  Maybe instead of trying to answer this question in the third person (them), we should try to answer it in the first person (me, you).  Why, if I am suffering through hard times, emotional difficulty, confused understanding, loss, pain and suffering, why do I not reject my evil ways, turn to Christ, acknowledge the truth of His birth, death, and resurrection, and surrender your life to Him?  If you are truthful with yourself, you have to answer that question “because I can’t.”  And you are right, you can’t, but God can.  Ask Him.

 

Now, to pick up our perfect storm after following a very necessary byway, there is the seventh and final wave — earthquakes which split Jerusalem into three parts, destroys every island in the world, and levels every mountain, followed by 100 pound hailstones from the sky.  Rev. 16:17.

 

The perfect storm – the perfection of God’s wrath.

 

Perhaps this description of the perfect storm finds resonance in your life today.  Perhaps you feel like it is too late, given the sins you have committed and the kind of person you are, for you to come to Christ and join group two and avoid God’s wrath.  In Luke today, we read about the woman who came to Jesus for healing on the day other people thought she should not come, the Sabbath.  Luke 13:10.  Other people criticized her for coming to Jesus then, but she came anyway.  And Jesus healed anyway.

 

It is never too late until it is too late, and we never know when death will overtake us and our opportunity to join group two will end.  The end of your opportunity is coming.  Act now.

 

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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 you 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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**  The Book of Common Prayer prescribes readings for today from Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, which is from the Apocrypha.  The Apocrypha is a group of books which are not included in the Bible proper (in other words, they are not “canonical”), but are sometimes printed as an “addendum” to the Bible and used by some denominations.  The historical Protestant approach to the Apocrypha is that the books were not to be printed as part of any Bible and not to be used for doctrine at all.  However, the Anglican church has historically included the Apocrypha within its cycle of Bible readings, although not for doctrine, concluding that the banning of the publication and use of the Apocrypha is similar to the banning of the publication and use of devotionals and sermons.  Because the readings from Eccesiasticus are not useful for doctrine and can be misleading, however, I have chosen not to include them in Bread.

 

 

 

Bread – Labels

November 4, 2008


Readings for Monday and Tuesday, November 3-4

            from the Book of Common Prayer:

            **, Rev. 14:1-15:8, Luke 12:49-13:9

            Psalms 56, 57, 58, 61, 62, 64, 65, 68

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We like to talk about neutrality, a form of dual-mindedness where we can agree and disagree at the same time.  Let us compromise.  Let us meet in the middle.  Let us be tolerant.  Let us live without controversy, without having to take a stand.  All things in moderation.

 

This may be one of the great lies of our time, that we can live in the middle, avoiding engagement with the truth and each other, and while doing so avoiding intellectual, emotional, and spiritual engagement with ourselves.

 

Here’s some news.  God is not neutral and His people are not neutral either.  There is nothing in the Bible to indicate otherwise.

 

Our reading in Revelation today reveals that in the end times, there are two camps of people and only two.  There is the camp of those people who bear the name of Jesus and God the Father on their foreheads (Rev. 14:1), and there are those people who bear the mark of Babylon, the world, the beast (Rev. 14:9).  The camp of Jesus Christ and God the Father is preserved; the Babylon camp will drink the cup of God’s wrath, to their eternal tormenting.  Two camps, two labels, two results.  No neutrality.

 

In today’s lesson in Luke, Jesus Himself delivers the same message.  “I have come to bring fire on the earth…Do you think I came to bring peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but division.”  Luke 12:49-51.  Division divides.  Two camps, two labels, two results.  No neutrality.

 

We are used to wearing labels.  After all, I see them all the time on shirts, pants, hats, and other pieces of our wardrobe.  People even have labels tattooed onto themselves.

 

But can people who look at our face tell whose camp we belong to?  Can they clearly see the label of Jesus Christ and God the Father on our forehead, on our face, on our body, and in our lives?  Or do we wear a different label, or maybe even pretend to wear no label at all?

 

Do you have a label?  If so, do you wear it?  If you don’t have a label, why not?  If you don’t wear it, why not?

 

At the end, and there will be an end for each of us, whether we want to or not we will be found to be wearing one or the other label.  Two labels, two groups, two outcomes.  No neutrality.

 

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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 you 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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**  The Book of Common Prayer prescribes readings for today from Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, which is from the Apocrypha.  The Apocrypha is a group of books which are not included in the Bible proper (in other words, they are not “canonical”), but are sometimes printed as an “addendum” to the Bible and used by some denominations.  The historical Protestant approach to the Apocrypha is that the books were not to be printed as part of any Bible and not to be used for doctrine at all.  However, the Anglican church has historically included the Apocrypha within its cycle of Bible readings, although not for doctrine, concluding that the banning of the publication and use of the Apocrypha is similar to the banning of the publication and use of devotionals and sermons.  Because the readings from Eccesiasticus are not useful for doctrine and can be misleading, however, I have chosen not to include them in Bread.

 

 

 

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