Bread – Encourage

January 22, 2010

Readings for Friday, January 22 as
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Gen. 6:1-8; Heb. 3:12-19; John 2:1-12
    Psalms 16, 17, 22

"But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness." Heb. 3:13

There is a richness to God’s Word spoken to us in Scripture which is often buried in the necessary shorthand of translation.  The reading from Hebrews today contains such a buried treasure.

"Encourage."  When I use that word, I am inclined to project back in time to when I stood on the soccer field sidelines, yelling at my son (who was then about 6 years old) to "Come on" or "Hurry up" or "Pay attention" or "Look, the ball is coming to you," or "That’s OK, you’ll do better next time."  Many of us think of encouragement as a form of urging on to greater heights, of reaching a destination.  And, indeed, the passage today uses the word in that sense, of us urging our fellow Christians to walk each day in a better way – more obedient, more loving, more Christ-like.

This sense of "encourage" is actually strengthened in the English Standard Version translation, where the word "exhort" is used instead of "encourage."  The way I differentiate between the two is that "encourage" translates to "You can do it" whereas "exhort" translates to "YOU CAN DO IT."  In other words, "exhort" is the yelling form of "encourage."

And that, as far as it goes, is pretty good.  But it is not complete.  There is a deeper meaning, a deeper definition.

The word actually used in the Greek is "parakaleǒ" (Strong 3870).  It is formed of two words, "para," translated "by the side" and "kaleǒ," translated "to call."  Put together, in a fundamental sense the word means "a calling to one’s side."  According to the "Lexical Aids to the New Testament" contained in the Key Word Study Bible (NASB), the word is used for "every kind of calling to a person which is meant to produce a particular effect."  From the concept of "every kind of calling to one’s side," we see that the word means more than encouragement from the sidelines or an urging, it can mean whatever it takes to help a person through the difficult times – hospitality, aid, comfort, blessing, admonishment, prayer.

From be called to a person’s side, one has to be willing to be called and one has to respond to the call.  Then one has to provide the support which the person being encouraged requires – we must meet them where they are.  To be able to do any of this, we have to be paying attention to the person receiving the encouragement.  In other words, we have to so love that person that we are willing to go out of our way for them – we have to sacrifice time, energy, and talent.  We have to be fearless in the face of possible anger or rejection.  We have to love.

Thus the word for "encouragement" is found in many different contexts in the Bible.  It is in Matthew 5:4 – "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted [parakaleǒ]"  It is in the parable of the prodigal son – "The older brother became angry and refused to go in.  So his father went out and pleaded [parakaleǒ] with him."  Luke 15:28.  It is in the spreading of the gospel – "’How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?  So he invited [parakaleǒ] Philip to come up and sit with him."  Acts 8:31.  It is the response to injury and criticism – "…when we are slandered, we answer kindly [parakaleǒ]" 1 Cor. 4:13.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to encourage each other so that the deception of sin will not overtake us.  Somehow, if we think about it, we know we don’t have to be told because we know that we need encouragement ourselves all day, every day.  We need it and we need to show it, we need to do it.

In what we call the "Lord’s Prayer," we ask the Lord for our "daily bread."  We can look to the Lord for our daily encouragement because of the grace He has shown us by bringing us to saving faith and by His infusion of us with His Holy Spirit.  And because we have been encouraged, we can encourage.

Let’s do it.


Bread – Fear

January 20, 2010

Readings for Wednesday, January 20 as
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Gen. 4:1-16; Heb. 2:11-18; John 1:29-42
    Psalms 12, 13, 14, 119:1-24

From today’s reading in Hebrews – "…He [Jesus] too shared in their [our] humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death."  Heb. 2:14-15.

This passage requires careful reading.  When we talk about Jesus breaking the power of death, we often speak of death itself, of avoidance of the pit of hell and presence for eternity with the Father.  However, this passage does not speak of freedom from death, but freedom from the "fear of" death.

Is this an important distinction?  Yes, because it affects us here and now, in this present life, in the world, in the presence of evil, in the midst of difficulty.  Physical death is something that we will all experience; eternal life will be experienced by those who trust in Jesus Christ.  But in the meantime we are here, in the world, trying to survive.

In a very real sense, the knowledge that we will be with God for eternity is an intellectual knowledge.  We understand it and ‘know" it to be true because Jesus has promised it to those who believe in Him; however, we won’t really "feel" it until it happens.  "Fear," however, is a feeling which affects and infects our whole quality of life today.  Those who fear will struggle with opening themselves to being hurt, they will have difficulty in loving, they will have difficulty in giving, they will have difficulty in opposing wrong, they will have difficulty in standing for good, they will have difficulty finding contentment and joy, they will worry.  Why?  They fear death in all of its various forms.  They fear love because they fear rejection, they will not give because whatever they give away they do not have left over for a "rainy day," they will not oppose wrong because evil has perceived power and they might get hurt or lose their job or not get voted for, they will not stand for good because they might get shot at and might get hurt, they have no joy because they worry about the "what if’s" and the "but’s" and the "no one has done it’s."  They listen to the criticism and the negativity of the world and it all makes sense to them because they "feel" the fear of death (failure, loss of reputation, loss of position, loss of being ‘loved’, etc.).

Christ became a man so that as man and God He could bridge the gap between man and God.  In so doing, for those people who believe in Him He destroyed death and covered us with His righteousness so that we might stand forever, in eternity, in the presence of God.  Wonderful.

But even more wonderful, for me, for you, right now, is that by His birth, death, and resurrection, He has brought us something in our lives, here, today, — He has freed "those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death."  He can and He does remove fear.  He can and He does remove our fear of death.  And by removing our fear of death, He can and He does free us from our present slavery to fear of death, fear of loss, fear of hurt, fear of embarrassment, fear of condemnation, fear of today, and fear of tomorrow.  And my friends, this is more than wonderful, this is awesome.

Is your life still marked by the fear of death, not the fear of an ultimate death (which is an intellectual fear), but the fear of living in victory today (which is a feeling of fear, which is a prison), the fear of death (hurt, misunderstanding, loss, criticism, etc.)?  Are you afraid of living in victory right now?

God told John the Baptist in today’s readings that "The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit." John 1:33.  Of course, God was talking about Christ.  It is Christ who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.  And as we learned from the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost, it is the Holy Spirit who provided the disciples and provides us with power to fully live and act in the promise which Christ has for us.

So if the answer to the question above is that "yes, today, right now, I am fearful to live my life in victory, free of fear of death," the solution presents itself clearly.  The same Jesus who saves is the same Jesus who baptizes with the power to overcome, in the power to become free of the prison of fear.  And after you pray for the Holy Spirit’s assistance to remove your fear of death, remember to thank the One who was born, died, and rose again to defeat death and the fear of death, in our lives today on earth and for all eternity.  Amen.


Bread – Geritol

January 13, 2010

Readings for Wednesday, January 13 as
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Isa. 45:14-19; Col. 1:24-2:7; John 8:12-19
    Psalms 121, 122, 123, 131, 132

I woke up flat this morning, with lots of things to get accomplished today and very little energy to achieve them.

When I was younger, there was a product heavily advertised on television and radio – Geritol.  This product diagnosed the cause of lack of energy as "iron poor blood" and, of course, represented the cure.  Over the years, Geritol has ceased advertising on the stations and at the times when I watch television; therefore, I don’t know if the product is still on the shelves or not, but if not I am sure there is a more contemporary product to take its place.

If you have no energy, there is a pill or an elixir to take or there is a better way of thinking or doing.  Those are the prescriptions of the world for lack of energy.

Hidden in today’s reading is an interesting line.  Paul is talking about his labor for the church and has this to say: "To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which powerfully works in me."  Col. 1:29.  The "his energy" refers to the previous sentence, where Christ is referenced.  Therefore, a fair restatement of this sentence would be "To this end I labor, struggling with all Christ’s energy …"

We know that Paul struggled mightily for the gospel in all kinds of adverse circumstances and against all kinds of criticism, much of which came from fellow Christians.  In this one sentence Paul reveals the reason he can labor so hard – he struggles with Christ’s energy, not his own.  He struggles with the aid of the Holy Spirit and not in his own power.

Energy, the kind that moves mountains, does not come from pills or elixirs, and it does not come from right ways of thinking.  It comes from the right relationships with the right people.  And who can be more right than God?

Are you, like me, without energy today to accomplish the tasks which are laid out before you?  It may be that we have forgotten that it is not our energy which gives us power to overcome, but it is His – Christ’s, God’s – energy.  It may be that we have forgotten to invest time with the one source of energy which matters.

Is our lack of energy caused by iron poor blood or Holy Spirit poor blood?  The practical among us are probably inclined to say "both" and then reach for the Geritol, hoping to add the Holy Spirit if they have time later.  Instead, why don’t we try the reverse – spend time with Jesus Christ and get our daily fill up of Christ’s energy?  Then, perhaps, we can leave the Geritol on the shelf and say with Paul – "To this end I struggle, laboring with the energy which God gives me daily, which powerfully works in me."

And then, after a while, we can take the Geritol off the shelf, blow off the dust, and throw it away.


Bread – Between

January 6, 2010

Readings for Wednesday, January 6 as
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Joshua 3:14-4:7; Eph. 5:1-20; John 9:1-12, 35-38
    Psalms 85, 87, 89:1-29

There are two times God parted the waters in the journey of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to possession of the promised land.  The first we have a visual of from the movie the Ten Commandments, that is the parting of Red Sea so that Israel could pass from slavery into the wilderness.  The second is in our reading today from Joshua – the parting of the waters of the Jordan River so that Israel could cross over from the wilderness into the promised land.

There is a great parallel here with our lives as Christians.  It was God who delivered us from slavery to our sins through Jesus Christ and it will be God who delivers us at our death into the promised land.  In the meantime, of course, we are in the "wilderness" or the "world" or, as I called it in the title of Bread today, "between."  We are between where we were, lost for all time, and where we will be, in the presence of the Holy for all time.

During this "between" time, we are necessarily in the world, in the wilderness, but we are called to be different.  How different is partly described in our reading today from Ephesians.  Since I can’t improve on Scripture, Paul’s word for us from God is quoted:

"Be imitators of God … and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.  Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving…Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them… Be very careful then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit.  Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."  Eph. 5:1-20

This is how we should behave during our between time, our time on earth, our time in the wilderness.  Now – read the paragraph carefully, making a mental list of everything it says.  Then – ask God to bring to your mind every way in which you fell short last year (or if that is too much, yesterday) of the items in this list.

Since this is a new year and resolutions are in vogue, do the following – confess your failure to live life in the between the way that God intends and resolve then … not to do better, because we in ourselves have no power to fill that resolution … but to ask the Holy Spirit daily for the discernment, strength, power, fearlessness, and love to make progress.

And this New Year’s resolution will work … and you will live in the between, in the world, in the wilderness … in victory.


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