Bread – Fake

April 27, 2009


Readings for Monday, April 27    

            from the Book of Common Prayer:

            Dan. 4:19-27; 1 John 3:19-4:6; Luke 4:14-30

            Psalms 9, 15, 25

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How does one tell the fake from the real?  Perhaps when the object or person is put to the test, its, his, or her essential nature will be revealed.  Perhaps the real stands while the fake retreats.  Perhaps the fake protests (“The lady protests too much methinks – from Hamlet) while the real merely speaks.  Whatever your test of “fake” versus “real” is, most people have a pretty good sense of the fake – probably a better sense then they give themselves credit for.

 

Jesus was fully man and fully God, and so could easily distinguish between fake and real.  In today’s reading from Luke, that is exactly what He did:

 

All spoke well of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips.  ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ they asked.  Jesus said to them, ‘Surely you will quote this proverb to Me:  Physician, heal yourself!  Do here in Your hometown what we have heard that You did in Capernaum.  I tell you the truth,’ He continued, ‘no prophet is accepted in His hometown.”  Luke 4:22-24

 

The people in Jesus’ home town spoke well of Him, they were amazed by His speech, but they did not believe or trust Him.  They put on the covering of being real, of being nice and believing, but underneath they were faking it.  Their faith was a fake faith and Jesus called them on it.  Their amazement was also fake and would quickly disappear.

 

When people are fake and they are called on it, what is their reaction?  Remorse?  No, typically it is anger.  We do not like to be “outed” as the fakes that we are, and we instantly go onto the attack or we retreat.  Again, what does the real do when tested and what does the fake do?

 

The fakers in Jesus’ home town did not appreciate being told that they would see no miracles because of their unbelief, and so their reaction was one of anger:

 

“All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.  They got up, drove Him out of the town, and took Him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw Him down the cliff.”  Luke 4:28-29

 

Notice how quickly the anger appeared.  This was not an anger which slowly developed over time, but the people from “amazement” to “furious” instantly.  The trigger for this was Jesus’ calling their reaction to Him merely a veneer, a covering of “wow” to hide their fundamental disbelief.

 

We all have a “game face.”  What is our reaction when someone calls us on it?  What is our reaction when we are called a fake?  Remorse or anger?  Running toward the brave person who dares to tell us the truth, thanking him or her for their friendship, or running away from them, covering our ears in the process?

 

I have often wondered why Christians of all stripes are so resistant to hooking themselves up to an accountability partner, a person who will tell them the truth as they see it no matter how hard it hurts.  Is it because we are so afraid that our “cover” will be blown?  Is it because we are so afraid that we will have nothing if our “fakedness” is exposed to the light and confessed?  Is it because we are so prideful that we forget that we share the same sinfulness with our brothers and sisters, a sinfulness so deep, wide, and long that we could only be rescued by a crucified Christ?

 

Why do we worship God?  In part it is because deep down we recognize the real over the fake.  As the Psalmist said in today’s readings:

 

“Those who know Your Name will trust in You, for You, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek You.”  Psalm 9:10

 

God, the real, stays, He does not forsake or retreat.  And having Him run our lives means that we can be real too.  Thanks be to God!

 

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Lord, help us to wisely answer the question, “Will you really lay down your life for Me?”  Lord, help us to love your Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ and written in Scripture.  Help us Lord to come to You, once having come to You to become closer to You, and to preach the Gospel to all people in all circumstances, in and out of season, as You have commanded.  Help us know that You are God and we are not.  Assist us Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to be willing and obedient servants.  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 – Seasons

April 22, 2009


Readings for Wednesday, April 22          

            from the Book of Common Prayer:

            Dan. 2:17-30; 1 John 2:12-17; John 17:20-26

            Psalms 12, 13, 14, 119:1-24

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In the lesson today from John’s first epistle, we read the apostle’s description of his audience — children, young men, and fathers (adults):

 

“I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His Name.  I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father.”

 

“I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.  I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”

 

“I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning.  I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning.”  1 John 2:12-14 [re-written to demonstrate the parallel structure and chronological relationships]

 

This passage demonstrates our relationship with God throughout our walk with him, regardless of our chronological age when we first come to Christ.

 

First, we begin as children with a simple, but effective, knowledge of Jesus Christ as our Savior, who died for us upon the cross, grounded in simple faith in God’s promises that through belief in Jesus Christ we will have eternal life with the Father.  Our knowledge of the Father is intellectually limited at this stage, but we are saved because our sins have been forgiven on account of Jesus Christ and we have accepted this salvation by simple faith [Note: simple does not mean easy.].  As Jesus Himself said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  Luke 18:17

 

Then, once we have accepted faith in Jesus Christ, we grow up into adolescence.  Like all adolescents, we typically rebel against obedience to God and become full of doubts and questions.  It is at this time that spiritual war may wage in our minds and our members, as Satan attempts to regain lost ground.  It is at this point that the Word of God takes on an even more important role, as knowledge of God gained through good teaching in doctrine and study of His Word becomes a vital factor in our adolescent-minded ability to walk through the land of darkness and confusion which the devil, with the cooperation of the world, attempts to create.  Our reading in Psalms today makes this very clear:

 

How can a young man keep his way pure?  By living according to Your Word….I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You.”   Psalm 119: 9, 11

 

John recognizes that being strong, having the word of God living in you, and being able to resist the evil one go hand-in-hand, and write to us in our adolescence because we can, with God’s help, persevere through these trying times in the Lord’s strength and with His Word sunk deep into our hearts and minds.

 

Finally, we come to some level of adulthood, where we now have a deeper knowledge of God, begun in simple faith and refined through the doubts, disobedience, and trials of adolescence.  This is a stage where we begin to recognize thinks like “Him who is from the beginning,” and begin to recognize God’s holiness, His true power, and His true love.  This is a stage of growing humility as we see more clearly who we are and who God is and as we become more amazed at the fact that God even acknowledges us, much less loves us, much less loves us so much that He died the cruel death we deserve.

 

What is interesting about John’s writing is that he mixes up the order.  He puts children first, then adults, then adolescents.  And isn’t this reflective of our own Christian life?  Who among us has had a true progression from childlike trust through doubt through maturity?  Very few, probably.  If you are like me, you started off thinking you were an adult, worked through doubt, fell on your knees as a child, bounced back to adulthood, fell back into adolescence only to learn that the trust I thought I had was really trust-lite, went back to falling on my knees like a child, etc.

 

There are seasons to the Christian walk.  There is the season of simple faith.  There is the season of doubt.  There is the season of amazement at the holiness and awesomeness of God.  There should be a progression from childhood through adolescence to adulthood, but often the path is zigzag with “start over” signs.

 

The beauty of all this is that God through John writes to us where we are and commends us in our walk, where we are.

 

God’s Word is written to us to be read, loved, revered, honored, and obeyed in all seasons.

 

Thanks be to God!

 

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Lord, help us to wisely answer the question, “Will you really lay down your life for Me?”  Lord, help us to love your Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ and written in Scripture.  Help us Lord to come to You, once having come to You to become closer to You, and to preach the Gospel to all people in all circumstances, in and out of season, as You have commanded.  Help us know that You are God and we are not.  Assist us Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to be willing and obedient servants.  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 – Captured

April 20, 2009


Readings for Monday, April 20

            from the Book of Common Prayer:

            Dan. 1:1-21; 1 John 1:1; John 17:1-11

            Psalms 1, 2, 3, 4, 7

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In the first verses of Daniel, Daniel is forcibly removed from Jerusalem by the Babylonia king Nebuchadnezzar and put into a training program for the king’s service.  His first reported test in captivity is food — he is instructed to eat the king’s food, but he knows he is commanded by God to only eat certain foods.  He therefore cuts a deal with the headmaster to let him eat only vegetables for ten days while the other trainees eat the king’s food and then to test which people look better.  We know the rest of the story, obedience to God wins and Daniel and his friends are permitted to continue to eat good food and not the king’s food.

 

A light, fluffy story, suitable for children’s bedtime tales and mother’s instructions on value of vegetables – but for the context.

 

What is the context?  Daniel is a prisoner of war.  He is lucky, yes, that his prison appears to be in the palace rather than the dungeon, but it is a prison nonetheless.  The king has ordered that Daniel be put through a “re-education” program.  The purpose of this program is to strip all Jewishness from Daniel, to change him from a Jewish noble to a Babylonian noble.  As part of this re-education program, he is given a new (Babylonian) name, he is to become accustomed to Babylonian ways of living, such as the food he is told to eat and the clothes he is given to wear, and he is to receive formal brainwashing (sorry, “education”) in the history, arts, culture, and, one may assume, ethics and morality of the Babylonian society.  He is to be so well trained that he can be entrusted to be an advisor to the king – not a Jewish advisor but a Babylonian advisor.

 

It is in this context that the food commanded by the king to be eaten takes on special significance.  On a matter which apparently is minor and in circumstances where the velvet glove of his apparent master hides an iron fist, Daniel is put to the test — choose God or choose the king.  Follow God’s ways or society’s ways.

 

We Christians are in captivity in Babylon.  Every day society tries to give us a different name.  We as Christians call ourselves bond-servants to Christ; society calls us slaves to myths.  Every day society tries to give us something different to eat.  We as Christians try to listen to wholesome music; society says that we are limiting ourselves and suggests that we broaden our perspective to forms of music which are “realistic.”  Every day society tries to teach us the truths of Babylon.  We as Christians attempt to honor God who gave us Scripture by acknowledging the truth of creation as described in Genesis; society insists that its faith in evolution is more accurate, even to the point of insisting that it is “science.”

 

Taken by itself, whether or not Daniel does or does not eat kingly food appears trivial and insignificant.  Understood in the context of captivity and what is required to continuously remind ourselves that we are not citizens of Babylon but citizens of the Kingdom of God, the test of wills over food is not trivial at all, but an essential battle between the forces in our lives struggling between obedience and disobedience, standing against the world and compromise with the world, life and death.

 

There are two features to a slippery slope.  One, it is slippery, meaning that you slide on it.  The second is that it is a slope, meaning that the slide is always downhill.  Had Daniel compromised even a little on his faith, he would have been on the proverbial slippery slope and there would have been only one destination – the bottom.

 

Are you in position today where you are being asked to compromise what you know you should do as a Christian “out of necessity” in order to “get along” with the world?  Are you being asked to eat the king’s food when you know the Lord is calling you to eat vegetables?

 

It may seem like a trivial choice, but it is not.  Immediately following Daniel’s obedience we learn that Daniel was found the most useful to the king.  Being obedient to God makes us more useful to the world rather than less useful.

 

What food will you eat today?  And in being obedient to God rather than submissive to the demands of your captors, what slippery slope will you avoid?  And in being obedient to God, what blessing will you bring to a world which so sorely needs them?

 

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Lord, help us to wisely answer the question, “Will you really lay down your life for Me?”  Lord, help us to love your Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ and written in Scripture.  Help us Lord to come to You, once having come to You to become closer to You, and to preach the Gospel to all people in all circumstances, in and out of season, as You have commanded.  Help us know that You are God and we are not.  Assist us Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to be willing and obedient servants.  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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Readings for Friday, April 17

            from the Book of Common Prayer:

            Dan. 12:1-13; Acts 4:1-12; John 16:1-15

            Psalms 118, 136

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Eternity exists and there will be a time of reckoning, where some will go to everlasting life and others to shame and everlasting contempt.  From today’s readings in Daniel:

 

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.  Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever…Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked.  None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.”  Dan. 12:2-3, 10

 

Salvation is found in no one else except Jesus Christ, so those who are wise will come to Him, repent of their sins, and accept the gift freely given to all who truly accept Him as Lord and trust Him.  From today’s readings in Acts:

 

They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead…..’By what power or what name did you do this? [they asked]’  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: …’It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed….Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.'”  Acts 4:2, 7-12

 

Wise men come to Him.

 

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Lord, help us to wisely answer the question, “Will you really lay down your life for Me?”  Lord, help us to love your Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ and written in Scripture.  Help us Lord to come to You, once having come to You to become closer to You, and to preach the Gospel to all people in all circumstances, in and out of season, as You have commanded.  Help us know that You are God and we are not.  Assist us Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to be willing and obedient servants.  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 – The Beggar

April 15, 2009


Readings for Wednesday, April 15

            from the Book of Common Prayer:

            Micah 7:7-15; Acts 3:1-10; John 15:1-11

            Psalms 97, 99, 115

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“When he [the crippled beggar] saw Peter and John about to enter [the temple gate], he asked them for money…Then Peter said,, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you.  In the name of Jesus Christ, walk.’  Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.”  Acts 3:3-7

 

In this vignette from history, God gives us several elements to consider in our dealings with unbelievers.

 

First, notice that Peter did not pay attention to the beggar until the beggar asked for money.  Although Peter was full of the good news, he did not go out of his way to confront the beggar with the beggar’s sin or with his need for Christ.  He waited until the beggar was willing to engage in the conversation.  The fact that the beggar began the conversation with an expectation of receiving money is irrelevant.  The beggar initiated the conversation and therefore began with a somewhat open mind.

 

Second, there must have been something about Peter which attracted the beggar to ask him for money.  The beggar was not asking the crowd – he specifically asked Peter or John.  Perhaps they exuded an air of confidence.  Perhaps they reflected the peace of Jesus on their face.  Perhaps even they looked rich, because they were rich (although not in money).  In any event, the beggar saw them and immediately felt that these were people who would help him.

 

Third, Peter was paying attention.  When the beggar called, he was not steeped in conversation with John nor was he on his cell phone, but he was paying attention to his surroundings.  He was engaged with the people around him, and he heard the beggar and was willing to respond to him.

 

Fourth, Peter was not in a hurry, even though he had a reason to be.  Prayer began promptly at 3:00 (Acts 3:1), and if Peter stopped to talk to the beggar he might be late.  Even though the call to prayer at the appointed times was important, Peter stopped and listened.  He was not in a hurry to meet the demands of his schedule, but had time for those who wanted his help.

 

Fifth, Peter was willing to directly address what the man wanted, but did it in a positive way.  Peter could have said “No, I don’t have any money.”  Instead, he said “silver and gold have I none.”  The man wanted money and Peter was directly honest in telling him that he did not want money, but he did it in a way which conveyed, although subtly, that what the man was really asking for was riches (of which money is a shadow image) and Peter actually had some of that.  In other words, Peter was sensitive to the words being used and did not throw the words back at the beggar, but changed the conversation by converting “money” to “riches.”

 

Sixth, Peter clearly presented the gospel, having been given the opportunity by the beggar to engage in a conversation.

 

Seventh, God in this passage describes the peculiar (to us) methods by which God brings a person to life through salvation.  There are three parts to this process.  First, there is the intervention of God in the life of the beggar.  Peter commands the man to walk, but only in the name of Jesus Christ, recognizing that without God’s power to awaken man to his sin and toward faith in Jesus Christ, there can be no walking.  Second, there is the help of Peter.  The man did not get up on his own; Peter helped him get up.  Third, there is the effort of the man to listen, to obey, and to stand up.  The man had to have faith and that faith had to be exercised.

 

In our desire to follow Christ’s commands and to make disciples of Christ, we can draw several principles from this story:

 

1.   Be out and about.  If Peter and John had not been where the beggar was, there would have been no meeting.

 2.   Be aware.  If Peter had not been paying attention, he might not have heard the beggar.

3.   Let your first gospel message be yourself.  The beggar talked to Peter because he was attractive to the beggar.

4.   Let the beggar speak first.  It is hard for us as beggars to admit that we are sinners, that we need bread, that we need a savior.  Listen for that opening.

 5.   Be prepared to use the language of the listener.  In part, Peter got the beggar’s attention because he spoke of other riches, which the beggar was interested in.

6.   Be prepared to use the language of the kingdom.  In part, Peter got the beggar’s attention because he spoke the good news without diluting it.  He didn’t care if the beggar didn’t know who Jesus Christ was.

7.   Don’t be in a hurry.  It is (probably) OK if you miss the appointment.

 8.   Help.  It is not enough to say “walk!” or “believe!” or “go be healed!”  God has determined that in some miraculous way we are to be part of the process.  The man walked because of Jesus Christ, true.  But Peter’s help was involved.  However, it was a special kind of help.  It was a help which assisted the beggar in being called out of his circumstances into new life; it was not a help which enabled or encouraged the beggar to stay where he was.

9.   Take the new believer to church where he or she can be nurtured and taught in Christian community.  As soon as the beggar began to walk, he followed Peter into the temple courts (Acts 3:8)

 

Today is tax day, and as a result I can truly say that “silver or gold I do not have.”  I’ll bet that there are a lot of readers who share that sentiment.

 

But can I truly say the rest of the sentence.  Can I truly say to the beggars of the world who ask — “…but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ …?”  Can you?  Do you?

 

If your answer is “I can’t” or “I don’t,” then consider the beggar and realize we are all there.  We all think we need one thing when God knows we need another.  We all need to abandon our beggar ways and start to walk.  And we all need Jesus to do so.

 

“Jesus, I need some money.”  And Jesus says, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have, My life, I gave to you.  In My Name, stand up and walk!”

 

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Lord, help us to wisely answer the question, “Will you really lay down your life for Me?”  Lord, help us to love your Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ and written in Scripture.  Help us Lord to come to You, once having come to You to become closer to You, and to preach the Gospel to all people in all circumstances, in and out of season, as You have commanded.  Help us know that You are God and we are not.  Assist us Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to be willing and obedient servants.  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 – Clinging

April 13, 2009


Readings for Monday, April 13

            from the Book of Common Prayer:

            Jonah 2:1-9; Acts 2:14, 22-32; John 14:1-14

            Psalms 66, 93, 98

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“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs…Salvation comes from the LORD.”  Jonah 2:8, 9b

 

We all understand the idea of clinging, of holding tightly to something.  It seems to always appear in contexts of safety.  We see clinging when people hold tightly to the side of rescue boats.  We see people clinging to the landing rails of rescue helicopters.  In fast-moving streams into which people have fallen, we see them clinging to a log or a rock.  We see parents clinging to their children in times of difficulty, confusion, and distress – and we see children clinging to their parents.  We hold on tightly because we are safe there and we have a sense that, if we let go, bad things will happen.

 

Jonah reports the simple fact that we tend to cling to idols as our source of safety and security – we cling to work, we cling to our educational achievements, we cling to retirement accounts, we cling to government, we cling to each other.  But in a single word Jonah sums up the real effectiveness of these idols to protect us — “worthless.”  Not an ounce of worth – useless, ineffective, a waste of money and time.  In contrast, Jonah simply states that the LORD is where salvation comes from, where rescue comes from, and where ultimate safety comes from.

 

In the Christian life, there are at least two different times when we cling to idols.  First, we may cling to idols before we acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Savior, before we come to Him in faith and obedience.  Jonah is quite clear that, if we cling to idols before we know and have faith in Jesus Christ, we will “forfeit the grace” that could be ours.  In other words, if we do not release our idols and grab hold of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we will not be saved and we will have forfeited the grace (salvation) that could have been ours for the asking.

 

But there is also the time after we have confessed our sins and accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.  After we have become a Christian, attempting to walk in the way of obedience, how many times have we clung to the old idols – money, human love, fame, education, work – as if they could do something?  We say that we believe in Jesus Christ, but then we examine our bank deposits to see if we are wealthy enough.  Jonah has two things to say about that.  First, our efforts to cling to these idols is worthless because the idols are worthless.  Second, he says that we have clung to those idols and therefore “forfeit the grace” that could have been ours.  In this case, the grace he is referring to is not the grace of salvation but the graces of blessing and rewards which follow from a life of obedience to the Lord.  To the extent we hold onto these worthless idols, we forfeit our blessings which we are given by being declared children of God.  These blessings are not the kinds of blessings which the world gives (e.g. money or power), but the blessings which matter (e.g. peace, love, self-control, perseverance).

 

What worthless idols are we clinging to today, and what graces are we not realizing because of that?

 

And now for the hard part.  We are clinging to these worthless idols because we know we are unsafe and at least we are familiar with the idol we are holding onto.  In order to receive the graces (salvation and the post-Christian benefits of growth in Christ), we need to let go of these worthless idols.  To do that, we have to trust something or someone.  Doesn’t it make sense that, if we are to trust anyone, it would make sense to trust the God who created and who has a history of saving us from our sin and folly?  If we have to trust someone for our salvation, doesn’t it make sense for us to trust the man who is resurrected, who demonstrated profound power, even power over death?

 

So the question really becomes, what worthless idols are you clinging to today and are you willing to let go?  Are you willing to let go of your past and rest in the arms of Jesus?  Are you ready to let go and to trust in Jesus with all your heart?

 

There is a reason that Jonah caps his comment on worthless idols and forfeited grace with the simple statement “Salvation comes from the Lord.”  We need to know where grace comes from if we are going to let go of what we are presently holding on to.  Do you want to be saved, either for all eternity (salvation) or right now, in your present unsafe circumstances (blessings, rewards)?

 

Let go them worthless idols.

 

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Lord, help us to wisely answer the question, “Will you really lay down your life for Me?”  Lord, help us to love your Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ and written in Scripture.  Help us Lord to come to You, once having come to You to become closer to You, and to preach the Gospel to all people in all circumstances, in and out of season, as You have commanded.  Help us know that You are God and we are not.  Assist us Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to be willing and obedient servants.  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


Readings for Friday, April 10 (Holy Week)

            from the Book of Common Prayer:

            Gen. 22:1-14; 1 Pet. 1:10-20; John 13:36-38, 19:38-42

            Psalms 22, 40, 54, 95

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Genesis 22 reports the history of Abraham and his son Isaac, when God asked Abraham to sacrifice (kill) Isaac as an offering to God.  No reason was given – it was simply a time of testing of Abraham’s faith.

 

Underreported in this event is Isaac.  Isaac walked up with his father to the place of sacrifice without complaint.  Isaac accepted Abraham’s statement that God would provide the sacrifice, recognizing in fact that Isaac was a gift to Abraham from God in Abraham’s old age, and so God had in fact provided the sacrifice.  But even more remarkable is this:

 

“When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.  He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.”  Gen. 22:9

 

There is no report of Isaac complaining, there is no report of him resisting.  He let himself, without objection and without fight, be bound by his father, realizing as he must have that he was the sacrifice.  Isaac was willing to die because he trusted his father.  Isaac was willing to die because he trusted God.  He was not only willing to die, but ready to die.  He saw obedience and trust as more important than life.

 

Contrast this with another history lesson from today’s readings.  In John, we read of Peter:

 

“Peter asked, ‘Lord, why can’t I follow You now?  I will lay down my life for You.’  Then Jesus answered, ‘Will you really lay down your life for Me?…”  John 13:37-38

 

Will you really lay down your life for Jesus Christ?

 

The question of a lifetime.

 

And in these two history lessons we find the peculiarity of God’s promises.  Because in laying down his life for his father and for God, Isaac discovered that he did not have to – that God provided the lamb.  Isaac no doubt arose from what he thought was his death bed and rejoiced.  Peter on the other hand was later confronted with his failure to lay down his life for God, and wept when he realized the enormity of what he had failed to do.

 

Today, on Good Friday, God provided the lamb for the sacrifice, His only Son Jesus the Christ.  And in so doing He made it unnecessary that we, who ought to die for what we and our ancestors have done, do not have to die.

 

But there is a question we are confronted with.  Jesus asks us “Will you really lay down your life for Me?”  And if the answer to that is really “Yes,” then you will discover that you don’t have to, because it has already been done for you.  And you will wake up from what appears to be your death bed to rejoicing.  And if the answer to that is really “No,” then you will miss out on a miracle and will follow Peter into regret, into the outer areas where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.

 

“Will you really lay down your life for Me (Jesus Christ)?”  The question of a lifetime.

 

Please answer wisely.

 

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Lord, help us to wisely answer the question, “Will you really lay down your life for Me?”  Lord, help us to love your Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ and written in Scripture.  Help us Lord to come to You, once having come to You to become closer to You, and to preach the Gospel to all people in all circumstances, in and out of season, as You have commanded.  Help us know that You are God and we are not.  Assist us Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to be willing and obedient servants.  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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Readings for Thursday, April 9 (Holy Week)

            from the Book of Common Prayer:

            Jer. 20:7-11; 1 Cor. 10:14-17, 11:27-32; John 17

            Psalms 102, 142, 143

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Thursday in Holy Week is, in many Christian traditions, referred to as “Maundy Thursday.”  “Maundy” itself derives from the Latin “mandatum,” meaning “command,” and is a time for recognizing and reflecting upon Christ’s command that we love one another, as Christ loves us.  And of course the next day (Good Friday), Christ showed His love for us in that He died for us that through Him, and Him alone, we might have eternal life.

 

But in a sense, Maundy Thursday is also a tipping point, because it was not Christ’s birth which changes everything but Christ’s obedience to death for our sins, so that through Christ we can appear cleansed of sin before the Father without fear of the condemnation, the righteous anger, and the death our sins deserve.  It represents the tipping point between the old covenant and the new covenant, between the law and grace, between wrath and forgiveness.

 

For non-Christians, this is also a tipping point, because each is confronted with the cross of Christ. Are you going to watch Christ die a cruel death for what you have done (for your sins), accept the gift of forgiveness, salvation, and relationship with the Father which His act of obedience has made available to you, and take on the yoke of obedience to the King who sacrifices Himself out of perfect love for you, or are you going to refuse to acknowledge your sin, accept the gift, and become obedient to God and therefore die?

 

But once you are a Christian, there are other tipping points.  Today in Jeremiah, we read of one:

 

“I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me…So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long.  But if I say, “I will not mention Him or speak any more in His Name,” His Word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones.  I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”  Jer. 20:7b-9

 

Jeremiah learned and heard the Word of God, but obviously kept it in himself, because he comments that he became weary of keeping it in.  Then at some point, the Word of God so burned a hole in his heart that he could no longer keep it in, even though the result of his speaking the Word of the Lord was mocking, insult, and reproach from the world.

 

Jeremiah reached a tipping point in his walk with the Lord where he could no longer keep the truth inside, but had to let it out to his neighbors, regardless of the consequences to himself.

 

Does the fire of God’s love, revealed in Jesus Christ on the cross, burn in your heart?  Does the Word of God revealed in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ rest in your heart and burn there?  How long have you held it in?

 

On this tipping point day, it would be a good time to let it out, engage each other, and proclaim the gospel clearly and forthrightly, letting the chips fall where they may.  On this tipping point day, it would be a good time to die to our egos, to stop worrying about the world’s reaction, and to in fact live out Jesus’ command – to truly love one another as He has loved us.

 

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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 be both willing and obedient servants.  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 – Sanctuary

April 8, 2009


Readings for Wednesday, April 8 (Holy Week)

            from the Book of Common Prayer:

            Jer. 17:5-17; Phil. 4:1-13; John 12:27-36

            Psalms 55, 74

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“A glorious throne, exalted from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary.”  Jer. 17:12

 

We think of a sanctuary as a place of peace, a place of protection, a place of rest.  It can also mean a place of worship.  Webster’s Dictionary* has three definitions for the word, beginning with a place of worship and ending where animals are protected from hunters.  The second definition is particularly appealing – (a) a place of refuge or protection, (b) immunity from punishment.  The Hebrew word (Strong’s #4720) means “holy place,” but it derives from a root Hebrew word (Strong’s #6942), which means to be clean, to be made clean, or to make clean, or to be set aside for God.  Stringing these concepts together, one comes to the definition of a sanctuary as a holy place where one receives immunity from punishment as a result of being made clean and being set aside for God.

 

At the end of this week we as Christians will acknowledge Jesus’ death on the cross whereby he purchased our immunity from punishment by making us clean before God.  It is fair to say that in Jesus we find our sanctuary.

 

But there is another aspect to this passage from Jeremiah, and that is the reference to “throne.”  Kings sit on thrones.  God sits upon a throne.  The concept of “throne” includes the concept of authority.  Without the throne, without the authority, there is no sanctuary because there is no place for the sanctuary to be.

 

At the end of this week, we as Christians will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from death for our sins to life, and now seated on the throne (see Rev. 5:6).  Jesus occupies the throne which is our place of sanctuary.

 

When Jeremiah wrote his words approximately 600 years before Christ’s birth, isn’t it amazing that he was referring to Jesus Christ?  Isn’t it more amazing what Jesus did for us on the cross to become our sanctuary?

 

Do you need rest?  Come to your sanctuary, Jesus the Christ.  Do you need protection?  Come to your sanctuary, Jesus.  Do you need immunity from the punishment your sins cause you to so richly deserve?  Come to your sanctuary, Jesus.   Come to the throne of God, repent, trust in Jesus, and you will find sanctuary.

 

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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 be both willing and obedient servants.  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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 *from Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition (Collins World 1976)

 

Bread – Turning

April 7, 2009


Readings for Tuesday, April 7 (Holy Week)

            from the Book of Common Prayer:

            Jer. 15:10-21; Phil. 3:15-21; John 12:20-26

            Psalms 6, 12, 94

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The prophet Jeremiah recites the LORD’s words in today’s reading:

 

“If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve Me;

If you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be My spokesman.

Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them.  Jer. 15:19

 

The people are to turn to Jeremiah, not Jeremiah to the people.  In this little sentence is a remarkable word from God about how we should behave toward those who are unrepentant — We should act in such a way that the world turns to those who are Christ’s, instead of us turning toward the world.

 

Think about this, and its strangeness to our common way of thinking becomes obvious.

 

First, there is the direction of the turning.  We whose are Christ’s are to keep our head turned in the right way, as opposed to the wrong way which is the way of the world.  We are to keep our heads straight, not crooked (as is necessary when we turn).  When distractions arise, we should not turn toward the distractions but should maintain focus on what matters.  Finally, as part of the direction, we should recognize that when we turn our head, our body will tend to turn in the same direction.  If we are walking forward, and turn to the left, our momentum in the direction we were going slows down and we are inclined to begin walking in the direction of our gaze.

 

Second, there is the purpose of the turning.  We turn because we are interested in what is beside or behind us.  As soon as we become interested in one thing, we become less interested in another.  A person who is studying and turns his head to watch television is now more interested in watching television than he is in studying.  As we become interested in something else, our desire to return to the humdrum of what we were doing diminishes; we might even say that our love of what we were doing fades as we turn.  To put it more bluntly, if we say that we love Jesus but turn to, say, pornography, aren’t we saying that we are more interested in pornography than Jesus?  A second purpose of the turning is to show respect to the person or thing to whom or to which we turn.  But if we turn toward a respected person and we are already conversing with a respected person, have we not shown disrespect to the person who we turned away from?  A turning toward always involved a turning away from.  When we focus on one, we leave the other.

 

Third, there is our physical location in the turning.  Have you ever noticed that, in order to turn toward something, it has to be either beside or behind you?  In other words, in order for you to have to turn, you have to be in the front of the line, you have to be ahead.  We are urged as Christian and Christian leaders to be servants of all.  Where are the servants located?  Generally behind everyone.  Do you have to turn away from anyone when they are all in front of you?  Worldly principles of leadership would require us to turn from our God toward our followers.  Kingdom principles of leadership would require the world to turn toward us, because we are behind, we are supporting, we are servants.

 

Lest we think this is an Old Testament principle, Jesus Himself today perfectly demonstrates God’s instructions to us about turning.

 

Our reading in John today begins with some Greeks asking to speak to Jesus.  They ask properly – they go through the disciples who then run the request up the chain of command, so to speak.  John 12:20-22.  The important thing here is to recognize the attitude of the situation.  These Greeks did not go to Jesus.  Instead, they asked for an appointment.  They asked that they either meet Jesus as equals or, perhaps, were even asking that Jesus meet with them.  In other words, they were asking Jesus to turn from His agenda toward their agenda.  Greeks represent science, philosophy, education, and reason.  In a very real sense, those things which we exalt in today’s world were asking for an appointment with Jesus, so that they could “discuss.”

 

But Jesus does not turn to them; He does not turn away from His purpose to dialogue with the Greeks and all they represent.  His response to the disciples trying to set up the meeting is to say “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…”  John 12:23.  Jesus’ response is literally – “I will not turn to you, you turn to me.  I have a job to do.”

 

If you claim to be Christ’s, are people turning to you for answers or are you turning to them?  If you claim to be Christ’s, are you turning to the world to try to figure out how to fit your Christianity into the reality of life, or are you demanding that the realities of life turn to and bow down to Christ?  What are you turned toward and what have you turned from?

 

If you do not claim to be Christ’s, do you recognize that He will not turn toward you, but demands that you turn toward Him?  Yes, He will hold you; yes, He will ask you; yes, He will teach you.  But He will never turn toward you and your ways, but demands that you turn toward Him.  Do you have a desire to turn away from your sins toward the Creator of the universe, the One who died for you so that you might, by belief in Him, have eternal life?  Re-read Jeremiah 15:19 – “If you repent …”  Repent, and turn toward home with the Father, toward life, toward abundant joy.  Turn 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.  Help us Lord to recognize Your timing and to accept it.  Assist us Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to be both willing and obedient servants.  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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