Bread – Selfish Blessing

August 19, 2009


Readings for Wednesday, August 19
    from the Book of Common Prayer:
    2 Sam. 18:19-33; Acts 23:23-35; Mark 12:13-27
    Psalms 119:145-176; 128, 129, 130
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You may be familiar with the blessing which begins "May God bless and keep you, may God …"  Every blessing that I have heard has the same formula – you (the speaker) are wishing something good upon another person (the listener).  This is a good thing, because we are focused, as we should, upon the welfare of the listener and are speaking God’s peace and wisdom into their lives.

But wouldn’t it be nice to have a selfish blessing?  A selfish blessing would be one which we would speak for ourselves – in other words, there is no listener except us.  We would use a selfish blessing for our good, to speak God’s peace and wisdom into our lives.  In other words, we would be selfish about it.  But that is OK, because how can we be wells producing living water without the living water residing in the deep places of our own lives?

Today, in our readings I have found the perfect selfish blessing.  Here it is:

"May my cry come before You, O Lord; give me understanding according to Your word.

May my supplication come before You; deliver me according to Your promise.

May my lips overflow with praise, for You teach me Your decrees.

May my tongue sing of Your word, for all Your commands are righteous.

May Your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen Your precepts.

I long for Your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight.  Let me live that I may praise You, and may Your laws sustain me.

I have strayed like a lost sheep.  Seek Your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands."  Psalm 119:169-176

My version:
May God grant me Godly wisdom;
May God deliver me when I have strayed, when I am lost, when I am down, when I am lonely;
May God deliver me at the end of my days on earth;
May God grant me a spirit of thankfulness for my many blessings, all of which come from Him;
May God help me when I need it, in all things at all times in all places
May God grant me abundant life that I might live it to His praise and glory.

Very, very, very selfish.

And very much OK.

Thank you Lord.

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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, and to solely rely upon them as our source of information about how we should live.  Help us Lord to come to You, and 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 – Terrorists

August 14, 2009


Readings for Friday, August 14
    from the Book of Common Prayer:
    2 Sam. 15:19-37; Acts 21:37-22:16; Mark 10:46-52
    Psalms 102, 107:1-32
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Today’s readings provide us an interesting study in terrorists and terrorism.

Paul has come to Jerusalem and is attending church.  People see him at church and get mad, because they believe that he is teaching "everywhere against our people (the Jews) and our law (the Law), and this place (the Temple).  They get so mad that they have him arrested.  Not only that, but the mob (of God-fearing people) became so violent that the Roman soldiers had to take Paul into protective custody.  As Paul and the soldiers enter the barracks, Paul asks if he can speak to the commander.  The commander is surprised because he is addressed by Paul in Greek, and then says:

"Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago?" Acts 21:38

This is the first time (I believe) the word "terrorists" is used in the Bible.   The ESV and NASB translations use the phrase "men of the Assassins" for the word "terrorists."  The Amplified Bible uses the word "cutthroats" and the King James version uses the word "murderers."  In other words, bad actors.

So Paul has been labeled, essentially, a terrorist twice, the first by the church mob (he teaches against us, our standards of living, and our homeland) and the second by the commander (you are the leader of 4,000 bad people).

Paul’s response to the accusation that he is a terrorist by (a) speaking in a language the commander understands (Greek), (b) pointing out his birthplace (not Egypt), and (c) acknowledging the commander’s authority and decision-making ability to let Paul speak.  As a result of (a) hearing the facts, (b) hearing well-spoken words, and (c) hearing no threat to the commander’s authority (and in fact, hearing a deference to that authority), the commander lets Paul speak to the mob outside.

Paul tells the mob who he is and how he came to be a follower of Christ.  He then gives his post-conversion testimony, giving emphasis to his obedience to the law and to the commands of Christ.  He speaks to them in the common language of all present – Aramaic.  And then he tells him what task God has set him to – to bring the good news to the rest of the world (the Gentiles).

At hearing that God’s Word was being preached by a missionary (Paul) to the Gentiles, the listening group responded — "Rid the earth of him!  He is not fit to live!"  Acts 21:22.  The commander responded by removing Paul, subjecting him to torture (flogging), and asking him why the crowd was mad at him.

What did Paul do to justify the actions of the church mob? – nothing except to challenge their "comfort zone" with love and truth.

From this history lesson we can draw several conclusions about terrorists.  First, there really are some (the Assassins).  Second, there are those who challenge us and are therefore perceived to be terrorists who are not (Paul).  Third, there is the state (or any organization) acting logically but without common sense or compassion (the Roman army and its commander).  Fourth, there is the mob whose fundamental beliefs and status quo are challenged.

Out of this list there is only one person who is unjustly accused of being a terrorist and that is Paul.  And out of this list there is only one person who has acted in a totally civilized manner, speaking the truth in love – Paul.  And there is only one Christian – Paul.

Are you ready to be called a terrorists for Christ?  All you have to do is speak love and truth to a world which desperately needs to hear both and you will be attacked by (a) the real terrorists, (b) the state, and (c) the mob (of pseudo-Christians and non-Christians alike).

Me?  A terrorist for Christ?  Hmmm…

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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, and to solely rely upon them as our source of information about how we should live.  Help us Lord to come to You, and 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 – Benefits

August 12, 2009


Readings for Wednesday, August 12
    from the Book of Common Prayer:
    2 Sam. 14:21-33; Acts 21:15-26; Mark 10:17-31
    Psalms 101, 119:1-30, 121-144
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You have heard it – "He (or she) has a good job because of the benefits."  We ask them "what benefits do they have?," and among the personal time off, the vacation time, and the Friday casual day we often are answered with the big two – health benefits and retirement benefits.

So, what kind of benefits do we get in our jobs as Christians?  Jesus gives us a pretty good outline in our reading today from Mark, when He says:

"…no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for Me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields — and with them, persecutions)…"  Mark 10:29-30

So, if we follow Christ the way we should, with our whole body, mind, and spirit, we will reap a hundred times the benefits of what we give up – instead of one sister, we will have a hundred; instead of one field, we will have a hundred fields; instead of one persecution, we will have a hundred persecutions.  Wait a minute!  When did persecutions become a "benefit."  Well, with benefits come costs and Jesus reminds us that, in addition to having to give up ourselves and the things from this world we hold dear when we follow Him, we must also be ready to take on persecutions.  But Jesus also reminds us that a hundredfold return is not bad, particularly when you consider the retirement benefits.

What are the retirement benefits?  Jesus concludes His statement with these words — "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for Me and the gospel will fail to receive … in the age to come, eternal life."  Mark 10:29-30.

In other words, the retirement benefit from giving up all to follow Jesus and preach His gospel is eternal life.

What retirement benefits does the world offer?  Decline, being a couch potato in front of the television, and death.  What retirement benefits does Jesus offer?  Eternal life.

Knowing that the retirement benefits for following the world are television and death and the retirement benefits for following Jesus are personal relationship with the living God and eternal life, why would anyone pick the world?  Why indeed, unless they either don’t know or can’t (or won’t).  Just before the quoted reading above, Jesus has an answer to this question … if man can’t or won’t, then "Who can be saved?"  Jesus answers "With man this is impossible, but not with God…"

But for the grace of God, I am not chosen for the Christian job and I therefore have no long-term, eternal retirement benefits.  Thank you God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for my job and for my retirement benefits.  Thank you.

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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, and to solely rely upon them as our source of information about how we should live.  Help us Lord to come to You, and 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 – Consequences

August 10, 2009


Readings for Monday, August 10
    from the Book of Common Prayer:
    2 Sam. 13:23-39; Acts 20:17-38; Mark 9:42-50
    Psalms 89
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There used to be an old television show called "Truth or Consequences."  You either answered the question correctly or you paid some minor penalty for the mistake (or lie).  One of my oldest memories of a cartoon is watching Porky Pig do something and then watching Daffy Duck hit him over the head with a mallet, each time telling him that "you must pay the penalty!"

In many respects, the distance between our bad choices or incorrect representations of truth and the consequences we must suffer is so great that we lose the connection.  We trivialize the connection by creating game shows and cartoons, and we forget the connection because there is so much distance and so many intervening events that we are often times not sure (or don’t care) about what causes what.

One good example which comes to mind is eating and a garden.  When the connection between action and consequence is close, we tend to do things right.  For example, when the garden produces its fruit and vegetables, it tends to do it all at once.  At that point, there are three choices – let it rot in the fields, give it away, or preserve it for the winter, when there is no garden.  Historically, not wanting to pay the consequence of starvation, the food was either canned (preserved) or given away.  In the winter, if you needed food, you could either get it from your preserved store or you could at least go to your neighbor, who would (hopefully) return the earlier kindness with a donation.  In this environment, little if any food was permitted to rot in the field.

Today, however, with modern supermarkets, whether or not we plant on time, harvest properly, and store up for tomorrow is irrelevant.  After all, if we forget something at the store, we do not starve, we just go back.  Thus, we can let food spoil, we can fail to plant in times of good, we can fail to harvest in season, and we can fail to store up for bad weather – and there are no consequences for this bad behavior, for this ignoring of the truth, or, if they are, the consequences are remote and somewhat disconnected from our bad behavior based upon bad truth.

In Luke’s history of the early church, Acts, Paul has called the elders of Ephesus together for a goodbye speech.  In it, he asks the elders to "keep watch" over themselves and their parishioners (the flock), and to be shepherds of the church.  He warns them that "savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock."  He then goes on to say something which, for an elder, should be very scary — "Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them."  Acts 20:30.

There is a consequence to the actions of those people who arise from the church elders to distort the truth and mislead the disciples.  This consequence is described by Jesus in our reading from Mark today:

"And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.  If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands go into hell…" Mark 9:42-43

Knowing this consequence, one might fairly ask the question as to why any elder would distort the truth (of Christ, of Scripture).  Of course, the easy answer might be because the elder was wicked or was not a true believer or was self-centered or was delusional or any number of other excuses.

However, my answer to this question would  be, assuming that the elder is a Christian, that he has forgotten the consequence of his careless dealing with truth, his careless comment, or his careless action.  How has he forgotten?  The complexity of modern thought, the abandonment of clear reading of Scripture for "higher criticism" or historical analysis, the disconnect between a bad act today and hell tomorrow, the trivialization of consequence of hell, the dense over layer of wealth and knowledge, and the length of time between cause and effect.

What the elders should realize is that their actions, their thoughts, their writings, their preaching, and their teaching bear consequences, not only for the lives of the those whom they touch but there own eternal life.  The consequence of not preaching or teaching the full truth of Christ and Scripture, thereby leading those who are pastored to sin, is not nice.  In fact, the consequence is so "not nice" that Jesus warns us that it is better to maim ourselves and live life in eternity than to let things drift and live life in hell.

But we will never realize how "not nice" the consequences are for those elders who distort the truth to tickle the ear of their hearers, until we fully contemplate Jesus’ statement that it is better to go into eternal life maimed than into hell with everything.

Our game show has a message for the elders, which is the same message given by Paul and the same message given by Jesus — "Truth OR Consequence."

And so our prayer for ourselves and our leadership should be – "Lord, help us to speak your truth in love so that we will not lead your children into sin and will not therefore suffer the consequence."   Amen.

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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, and to solely rely upon them as our source of information about how we should live.  Help us Lord to come to You, and 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 – Leaven

August 5, 2009


Readings for Monday, August 3
    from the Book of Common Prayer:
    2 Sam. 7:1-17; Acts 18:1-11; Mark 8:11-21
    Psalms 77, 79, 80
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"Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod."  (Jesus, speaking in Mark 8:15)

"Leaven" comes from the Latin "levare" meaning to "make light, relieve, or or raise."  The same root produces the word "lever."  Thus, leaven is a type of lever, causing dough to become light and rise.  Yeast is a type of leaven.  Yeast is a fungus about which Webster’s Dictionary* has this to say:  "…they [yeast] live on sugary solutions, ferment sugars to form alcohol and carbon dioxide, and are used in making beer, whiskey, etc., and as a leavening in baking."

Thus, to paraphrase Jesus’ teaching, "Watch out for the wisdom and practices of the Pharisees and Herod which cause God’s truth to become diluted and lightweight, feed on fluffy thinking instead of the truths taught by Jesus Christ and Scripture, ferment disturbance among the followers of Christ, and are used to create products which kill (carbon dioxide), destroy man’s soberness and ability to assess truth (alcohol), and feed our stomach rather than our intellect (baked goods)."  Of course, Jesus said it much simpler – "Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod."

Whose wisdom and practices are we to guard against?  Pharisees and Herod.

Pharisees represent the religious authorities of the day, but they also represent a broader collection of people who impose rules and regulations upon other people to (a) raise themselves up as "better" people [because they can follow the rules], and (b) to take away the people’s freedom, because to know whether or not your are breaking the law you need to go through them (the priests).

Herod represents the secular authorities of the day, but he also represents a broader collection of government and people who impose rules and regulations upon other people to (a) raise themselves up as "better" people (because they are given power to decide what the laws are and how to enforce them) and (b) to take away the people’s freedom, because to know whether or not you are breaking the law you need to go through them (the kings).

What do we call the end result of the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod — slavery.  But it is a particular kind of slavery.  It is the kind of slavery which binds us to worldly reasoning and thinking which does not produce good fruit, but produces things that kill (carbon dioxide), maims (alcohol), and feeds our lusts (baked goods).

Jesus calls us to a another kind of slavery, that to Him and to God.  This kind of slavery binds us to truth and love which produces good fruit and eternal life.  It is the kind of slavery which creates life and freedom.

Watch out!

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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, and to solely rely upon them as our source of information about how we should live.  Help us Lord to come to You, and 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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* Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition (William Collins 1976)

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