Bread – Passive

July 30, 2010


Readings for Friday, July 30th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Judges 5:1-18; Acts 2:1-21; Matt. 28:1-10
    Psalms 69, 73
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Why am I passive?  Why are we passive?  This is a question which has concerned me as I survey my and our current state of affairs.

It is a question which concerned Deborah in our Old Testament reading today.  In our reading in Judges, Israel has been under the control of a Canaanite king, King Jabin, for twenty years.  Deborah, a prophetess, told Barak to form an army and to battle Jabin, because God would assist him (Barak) to defeat Jabin.  Barak balked and said, basically, "I’ll go if you go."  In response, Deborah told Barak that it would be a woman who would receive the honor of killing Jabin’s chief general.  Barak then went out and gathered 10,000 Israelites.

The attack on Jabin is successful and Israel is now free from the yoke of Jabin.  To commemorate the occasion, Deborah sings a song, which is the reading today.

In the song, Deborah praises the fighters, which she notes only came from a few of the tribes of Israel.  She laments the absence of the other tribes, their passivity in the face of the Lord’s command to go to war, to become engaged in what was going on.  She says things like "In the districts of Reuben there was much searching of heart.  Why did you stay among the campfires….?…Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan.  And Dan, why did he linger by the ships?  Asher remained on the coast and stayed in his coves."  Judges 5:15b-17.

Deborah never answers her own question.  While some of the tribes in Israel were risking life and property to rescue Israel from cruel oppression, other tribes stood by, passively.

Perhaps the "why" can be discerned from the song.  Perhaps Reuben represents those of us who are paralyzed into passivity by doubt, by intellectual debate, by our contemplation of alternatives.  Perhaps Reuben’s "much searching of heart" is no more than intellectual foggery about what should be done.  Perhaps it is no more than the substitution of our thoughts for God’s thoughts, hearkening back to our original sin in Adam when the serpent said "Did God really say…?"  Perhaps our passivity is related to our not really believing God, or our doubt that we heard God accurately, or our intellectualization of the fight we are in, or our succumbing to the attraction of the question "Did God really say?"  After all, if we can ask the question "Did God really say…" then we must take the time to search our heart for the answers, and in the time it takes to do that maybe God will take care of the problem some other way.

Perhaps the "why" of our passivity can be discerned from the position of the tribe of Gilead, "beyond the Jordan."   I just received a magazine called "Voice of the Martyrs" in which the trials of Christians in Islam-dominated countries were chronicled.  The progression of my thoughts went from horror to anger to thanking God that it was "over there" and that I lived here.  My passivity took over because I was "beyond the Jordan."  How many times have we been passive to the cries of our neighbors, because the problems are "beyond the Jordan" – in the next country, in the next state, in the next city, in the next church, in the next neighborhood, in the next house, in the next bedroom?

Perhaps the "why" of our passivity is that we are in a place of safety ourselves and are afraid to leave.  The tribe of Dan stayed close to its ships, ready to vacate the place of trouble on a moment’s notice, and the tribe of Asher "stayed in his coves," in the restful place.  After all, why be bothered with the grit, the grime, the deprivation, the ugliness, the horror and, to say the least, the possibility of loss of life, liberty, and property in war when we can just stay home and stay cozy?

Or perhaps the answer to the "why" of our passivity can be found in our inability or our unwillingness to take hold of the truth contained in our reading from Matthew today, that "He [Jesus] is not here [in the tomb].  He is risen, just as He said."  Matt. 28:6.  Perhaps we are unwilling or unable to believe, really believe, that He has conquered death and that He has fulfilled His promises to us.

Or perhaps the answer to the "why" of our passivity can be found in our unwillingness to take hold of the gift of the Holy Spirit promised and delivered in our reading today in Acts.

Living the life of a Christian as we have been called to by our Lord is not a life of passivity and safety – it is a life of engagement in love and in truth with a world which really likes neither but which needs both.  It is a life of engagement with our children, with our spouse, with our friends, with our neighbors, and with our enemies.  There is no safety in engagement and often no "niceness."  There is, however, love of the richest kind, where one man lays down his life for another.

Come Holy Spirit!

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Bread – I Swear

July 26, 2010


Readings for Monday, July 26th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Joshua 24:16-33; Rom. 16:1-16; Matt. 27:24-31
    Psalms 56, 57, 58, 64, 65
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In Joshua today, Israel has taken much of the promised land.  Joshua has told the nation to pick who they will follow, saying one of those immortal lines "But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15b.

In response to Joshua’s question, the nation Israel responds "We too will serve the Lord, because He is our God." Joshua 24:18b.  In response, Joshua warns them that God will be angry if they don’t fulfill their oath, their promise to follow Him and then tells them, as a first step, to "throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel."  Joshua 24:23.

So far, so good.  However, in the middle of this event, Joshua says to the people "You are not able to serve the Lord.  He is a holy God; He is a jealous God.  He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins."  Joshua 24:19.  The people respond "yes, we can and yes, we will" (paraphrased).  Joshua points out that they are witnesses against themselves by their empty promises, their "I swear," and he predicts their downfall.  Joshua ends by noting, however, that Israel "served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel." Joshua 24:31.  But we know what happened after that.

The people swore their oath of obedience, but they never once invoked God’s power to help them keep that promise.  In spite of Joshua’s warning that they were not "able" to serve the Lord in their own power, they continued to swear and to act under their own power.  That worked for a long time – as long as it took for the people who had actually witnessed the miracles and had the moral authority to reinforce the promise lived; once these leaders died, the people went astray and a large portion of the rest of the Bible (the Prophets) is devoted to Israel’s meanderings.

The people were told to throw away the "foreign gods that are among you." Now we don’t know from this reading in Joshua what happened, but do really believe they did?  After all, their "I swear" of obedience began in disobedience – Israel never completely destroyed everyone in the promised land as commanded by God and Israel never took all of the promised land which God told them to take.

When we as Christians said that we believed that Jesus Christ was the son of God, risen from the dead, and that we trusted in Him as our Lord throughout eternity, we swore.  Have we taken to heart what Joshua said about our swearing to serve the Lord?  Have we thrown away our foreign gods – such as money, prestige, honor, position, power?  Have we recognized the truthfulness of Joshua’s statement that "You are not able," and in response look minute-by-minute to the Holy Spirit for guidance, courage, strength, perseverance, wisdom, discernment, and power?  Do we recharge our batteries daily in the powerhouse of prayer, in the powerhouse of relationship with God?

If you are like me, you probably said "no" to these questions.  If you are like me, you rely too much on you and not enough on Him.  If you are like me, you think "I can" and act most of the time like we don’t need God.  If you are like me, you still have a bunch of foreign gods stuffed into our hiding places.

There is another swearing which occurs in today’s readings.  In Matthew, Christ is presented before Pilate, Pilate says that he is not guilty, and the nation Israel says "Let His blood be on us and on our children!"  Matt. 27:25.  This swearing does not involve a promise but a cursing.  To paraphrase, "We swear that we will take responsibility for killing God."

But although the Israelites in the Old Testament and the Israelites in the New Testament might very well say that it was in their own effort that they swore what they swore, in each we can see the hand of God.  In the first, in Joshua, the hand of God let the people swear their obedience to God in their own power, only to show us throughout history that Joshua was right, we can not serve God without supernatural help.  In the second, in Matthew, the people thought they were swearing a curse upon themselves, but the hand of God made that curse a blessing — the blood of Jesus must be upon us if we are to be able to serve God.

Are you inclined to swear to a promise or a cursing today?  If so, know this – you can’t deliver on your promise in your own power and God can and often does take what you intend for evil and turn it into good, take your curse and turn it into blessing.  So we return to what we already know – to be an effective Christian I must depend upon, I must trust God.  And we discover what we should be swearing about today – "God, I swear that I will trust you, follow you, and serve you now, not in my own power but in the power of the Holy Spirit."  Amen.

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Bread – Reality

July 23, 2010


Readings for Friday, July 23rd
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Joshua 9:22-10:15; Rom. 15:14-24; Matt. 27:1-10
    Psalms 40, 51, 54
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In today’s readings, we have Joshua killing everyone in sight to seize the promised land for Israel, Paul telling the church in Rome that he will come visit them after he takes a side trip to Jerusalem, and Judas committing suicide after he realizes that Christ is going to be killed and that he is the one who betrayed Christ.  What do these readings have in common?

It strikes me that what all three have in common is an insight into aspects of the reality of what it is to walk the walk of faith in Christ.  Each represents an element of the reality of what it is to be a Christian.

In Joshua, God has told Joshua to take the promised land from the current inhabitants and to make the land holy (set aside for sacred use) by destroying everything (every man, woman, and child) in it.  There are two aspects of this which are highly distasteful to people of modern sensibilities, to "civilized" man.  The first aspect is that Israel is being instructed by God to take (steal) something from someone else.  The second aspect is that the method of this eviction was absolute destruction, killing, and death.  Yet this is what God commanded Israel and its leaders to do, and they were being obedient in doing it.

Thus, one reality of our walk as a Christian is that, from time to time we are asked (told) by God to do something which is uncomfortable for us and which is not only contrary to the rules of the world (of "civilized" people), but may well appear contrary to God’s own teachings.  I say "appear contrary" on purpose, because nothing which comes from God is inconsistent, and just because obedience to Christ’s commands may appear contrary to Christ’s teachings does not make it actually contrary – God is God and we are not.  An example of this is that we are told by Christ that peacemakers are blessed, but are also told to proclaim the reality of sin, the need for repentance and a Savior, the identity of that Savior in Jesus Christ, and the absolute need of faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.  These are invasions of the world’s peace and constitute a violent overthrow of Satan and his followers.  The proclamation of the gospel does not bring peace, it brings truth.  The old song "Onward Christian Soldiers" comes to mind – there is a time to go to war when God tells it is time to go to war.  We may not like it but, if we are obedient, we will do it, just like Joshua did.

The second aspect of the reality of the Christian walk is that we may be doing a good work in the name of Christ for the people of Christ, only to return to our home (our church, friends, fellow Christians, family) and receive criticism for it.  Paul demonstrates this reality in our reading from Romans today.  In this reading, Paul reflects on his great desire to preach "where Christ was not known," the fact that he had done so, his desire to visit Rome on his way to Spain, but the need to visit Jerusalem to deliver the Macedonian offering he had received which was intended for the Jews in need.  In spite, however, of his good works in preaching the gospel and in collecting money for the needy back in his home country, he knows he is going back to opposition — you can see this in the prayer he requests from the Romans: "Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there."  Rom. 15:31.  The reality of Christian life is that there is only one safe place, and that is under the wings of God, within the shelter of the Almighty.

Finally, Judas for us represents two realities of the Christian life (remember, he was a disciple).  The first is that we will fail.  The second is that, when we fail, we run the danger of forgetting that there is forgiveness, hope, restoration, and redemption in Jesus Christ.  Judas’ betrayal of Jesus is well known.  We say that we will not betray Jesus but I know that I already have done so in the time it has taken me to begin Bread and to get to this point.  We all fall short, and any betrayal of our position in Christ, no matter how small, is a betrayal.  Judas’ reaction was to demonstrate remorse (confession and repentance is an appropriate Christian response to failure to obey), but his reaction was to kill himself, forgetting that there is hope in the redemptive power of Jesus Christ.  He forgot the primary lesson of Christ, that man has betrayed God but God is long-suffering and is merciful and forgives those who turn to Him and have faith, and that it is God (Jesus Christ) who has paid the price for our betrayal of Him.  In our failure we should never forget that, in Christ and with our transformed heart and mind, we have eternal hope.  There is no need for us to die for our sins because Christ has already done so.

So the reality of Christian life is that we will sometimes be asked by God to do, in faith, what He commands, although it will seem unpleasant and maybe even wrong to us; we will not necessarily face easy times in our homes and churches and among our friends and even fellow Christians; and we will fail, we will betray, we will fall short in our obedience.  However, there is an offsetting reality which drives and sustains us into eternity – it is the knowledge that God so loved us that He sent His Son to die for us, so that our failure, our sin would be shielded from God’s just judgment and so that, in spite of ourselves, we would experience God’s love for all eternity.  The reality of Christian life is that, in all circumstances, good and bad, we have hope.

Thank you God.

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Bread – Consecration

July 14, 2010


Readings for Wednesday, July 14th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Joshua 3:1-13; Rom. 11:25-36; Matt. 25:31-46
    Psalms 38, 119:25-48
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It is time for God’s people, the nation Israel, to cross the Jordan and take possession of the land promised to them by God.  Joshua tells the people "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you."  Joshua 3:5.

Two questions come to mind immediately – why and what is consecration anyway?

The "why" is essentially answered in the same sentence – "for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things …"  The "for" can be substituted with the word "because," and the sentence becomes paraphrased "Consecrate yourself today because the Lord will do something amazing in your life tomorrow."  However, this answer may be too simplistic, because one has to ask whether the reason for the consecration is because God is coming and, when He comes, if you are not ready (consecrated) something not-so-good will happen, or whether somehow the appearance of God and the working of miracles in our lives is somehow dependent upon our readiness to see and receive, to recognize the works of God.

I can actually see both arguments, one where consecration is necessary for us to receive the benefits of the miracles to be worked by God (which He will do whether or not we are prepared) and the other where the actual working of the miracle is somehow dependent upon our readiness, our consecration..  However, I think our other readings today give us some indication that the correct answer to the "why" is the first answer – that for us to receive the benefit of God’s action in our life, we must be consecrated to Him.

The first indication is in Romans, where Paul says "For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all."  Rom. 11:32.  Another way of saying this is that all men (and women) are sinful so that God might have mercy on those upon whom He has mercy."  The choice is His and He will choose based upon His knowledge, His standards, His love, and His will.  To me, this says that He will act whether or not I am ready.

The second indication is from Jesus Himself, where in Matthew He says that at the end (tomorrow) He will return to earth and judge us based upon our response to our salvation, on our works.  Matt. 25:31-46.  Jesus is going to come anyway, whether we are prepared or not, and will determine whether or not we are consecrated to Him based upon evidence.

In other words, the other lessons today suggest to me that God will act and because He will act, we need to be consecrated to Him in order to receive the benefits of the miracles.  The "why" answer to Joshua’s command to Israel to "consecrate yourselves" is so that Israel will receive the full measure of God’s benefits and will not be destroyed in God’s presence.

So what is "consecration" (Strong #6942)?.  Technically, the word means to make holy, to become clean in the purest sense of the word.  It is to reserve oneself exclusively for God.  It is to set oneself aside for sacred purposes.

So again, the Old Testament foretells the New Testament.  Joshua tells the nation of Israel to make themselves holy today in preparation for God’s coming tomorrow.  The nation of Israel are those people elected by God to be Jews.  The elected people now have a choice, to prepare themselves (in other words, to use their intentions and efforts) and to set themselves aside as holy instruments of God or not, for the reason that God is coming tomorrow.  In Joshua, it is left hanging as to the consequences for those people who do not set themselves aside – will they enjoy the benefits of being part of the nation of Israel anyway or will they be burned to a crisp in the presence of a holy God when they are unprepared?

This is the classic Christian struggle between the roles and interrelationship of God’s work and our work.  Clearly the message of Scripture is that, after we are selected by God to be part of the nation of Israel (Old Testament) or part of the Church [or Israel] (New Testament), we are commanded to do something to consecrate ourselves, to set ourselves apart, to become dedicated exclusively to God’s purpose.  The "or else" part is left, I think, deliberately vague [compare Jesus’ statement in today’s reading about the separation at judgment of people based upon their compliance with the command of love versus Paul’s statement in our reading today that "God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:29)].

We are not going to settle today in a few words what many spiritual and Godly people have argued over for centuries.   However, we can settle this – for those of us who are Christians, you know that God is coming and that we are commanded, in light of that knowledge, to set ourselves aside for sacred use, for use by God in His works.  We can ask ourselves – what am I doing right now, today, this week to consecrate myself?  What spiritual discipline am I following to bring me into alignment with God’s instructions to me?  To whom am I attuned?

And we can thank God that we do have to consecrate ourselves alone because Christ has already done the heavy lifting and He has sent us the Holy Spirit to help us.  Now, we can do our part.  Will we?

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Bread – Conviction

July 12, 2010


Readings for Monday, July 12th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Joshua 2:1-14; Rom. 11:1-12; Matt. 25:1-13
    Psalms 9. 15. 25
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What would you like people to say about you?  I have often thought that "good and faithful servant" would be nice.  Recently, however, another phrase has come to mind – "His God is God."

In today’s reading from Joshua, the two spies have been sent by Joshua to Jericho to scope out the city for the big attack coming as the Israelites prepare to cross the Jordan into the land promised to them by God.  There, they are sheltered by Rahab, the prostitute, who helps them escape.  Because she took care of God’s people, she and her family were blessed and she herself is mentioned in the Bible as one of the great people of faith (see Heb. 11:31).

The part of this story I want to focus on is her statement to the spies – "…For the Lord your God is God …"  Joshua 2:11.

There is no evidence whatsoever that Rahab is a secret Jew, contemplates spiritual things, or even practices any kind of religion.  She is a "working girl," and as a woman and prostitute has one of the lowest positions in society.  She may very well be your perfect "atheist/agnostic/secularist" who only real interest in life is her family, making a living, and surviving.

Given her background, what is it that precedes the spies that makes Rahab acknowledge that "Their God is God" as opposed to a pantheon of possibilities?  She is knows that "Their God is God" for two reasons (in sequential order) – (a) she is aware of what God has done ["We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt…"] and (b) she is aware of what they (the nation Israel) has done in God’s name ["We have heard … what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed."]  Joshua 2:10.

In order for anyone to recognize that "Your God is God" or "His God is God" or "Her God is God" they must see clearly two things in your life: (1) they must see that it is God who has acted in you and on your behalf, and, after that,  (2) they must see that you in turn have acted in obedience to God’s commands.  In other words, they must see God’s grace (see today’s reading in Romans) followed by your works, infused and empowered by grace (see today’s reading in Matthew).

Because Rahab may well represent our average, modern person (atheist, agnostic, secularist in practice), this vignette from Scripture may very well contain the secret of how we are to project our Christianity upon the world.

Most people who read Bread claim to be a Christian.  Do you have the conviction of your stated beliefs?  Are you convinced that it is by the power of God (grace) that you have been saved from bondage to the taskmaster of sin (and not by your own hand)?  Are you so convinced of the reality of God’s grace and miracles in the present life that everyone around you knows that it is God who has brought you through your barriers (the Red Sea)?  Are you so convinced that you have been saved that you are radically obedient to God’s commands?  Are you so convinced that you in fact love your neighbor as yourself, that you bless your enemy, that you follow God’s guidance even unto battle when required, or that you engage in the battle of everyday life armed to the teeth with the Holy Spirit?  Are you so convinced that you, every moment of every day, are ready for Christ’s return?

We say that our purpose in life is to glorify God.  How much is God glorified when even the atheist/agnostic/secularist states that "Your God is God?"  Do we have the power of our conviction that people say and believe of us that "His God is God," even if they don’t believe in God or Jesus themselves?

Do we?  Do you?  Do I?

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Bread – Agents

July 9, 2010


Readings for Wednesday, July 7th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Deut. 1:1-18; Rom. 9:1-18; Matt. 23:27-39
    Psalms 12, 13, 14, 119:1-24
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In today’s reading from Matthew, Jesus is critiquing the priests of the day, cursing them in part because they murdered the prophets and teachers sent by God to them.  Jesus ends His lecture by saying "For I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’"  Matt. 23:39.  A number of church services or liturgies include the phrase "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."  Perhaps this statement is merely a statement of fact, because those who in fact proceed forth in the strength and dependence upon the Lord are truly blessed.  Or perhaps it is like a mantra, encouraging Jesus’ return by reciting what He said should be recited before His return, in which event meaning has been stripped because Jesus is not talking here about an incantation but, instead, about a heartfelt recognition of the truth that those people sent from God are in fact blessed (a truth which the world cannot see).

In any event, the question this raised today in my mind was, "How do you tell who it is who ‘comes in the name of the Lord?’ 

How do you tell indeed?  The analogy which comes to my mind is the legal concept of agency, where a person fully represents his or her "principal."  Legally, we consider an agent to "stand in the shoes" of his or principal, such that the acts and statements of the agent are the acts and statements of the principal.  Since an agency is an important legal relationship, which can have major impact upon significant transactions, one of the major legal questions which has to be answered when dealing with agents is "How can you tell if the person is a real agent, how can you tell if the agent really does speak for his principal?"  Using the words of today’s lesson, the question becomes again "How can you tell who really ‘comes in the name of the Lord?’"

There are several "tests" of a real agent.  One is whether or not the agent has been chosen by his principal.  This is an important concept, because the authority which the principal gives to the agent to act for the principal, to stand "in his name" or "in his shoes," comes from the principal to the agent; it is not taken by the agent from the principal.  In today’s lessons, we have three examples of this.  In Deuteronomy, Moses appoints judges to help him rule Israel; however, these judges are raised up from the people as men who the community recognizes have good character.  In this case, the agents (the judges) have dual principals, the people who raised them up and the leader who confirmed them.  The third lesson is from Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he teaches the doctrine of election – that God grants mercy to those He chooses.  God gives us our authority to be His agents on earth; we do not take that authority.

A second test of agency is whether there is any documentation from the principal to prove that the person is an agent.  This notion may be partly behind the urgency with which some people insist upon a "Certificate of Baptism" or a "Certificate of Holy Orders," because how can we identify the agent of Christ without papers?  Although the documentation is an important consideration, it is not necessarily a major one  because we know that documents can be forged.  That is, we know that documents may appear to have the signature of the principal, but really be created and signed by the agent who wants to pretend that he or she is the principal’s agent.  In similar vein, we rely heavily upon a formal process of authentication by the Church to determine whether the "Certificate of Baptism" or "Certificate of Holy Orders" has in fact been "signed" by God, but we know in our hearts that we may very well be looking at something which is fake or which has been forged.  Therefore, although this second test to determine whether we are dealing with the "real McCoy" is important, it is not necessarily the most important test.

A third test of agency is almost practical, it is almost common sense.  In fact, it may be the most important test of all.  That test is whether or not the agent is doing or saying things that we know the principal would probably say or do.  For example, if a child is giving away lemonade, we can probably assume that they have authority to do so (i.e. that they are the agent of the parents in giving away something of little value).  On the other hand, if a child is giving away gold coins, we probably want to check into whether this is something the parents (the principals) have authorized the child (the agent) to do.

Likewise, for a Christian, in testing whether a person "comes in the name of the Lord," we ask ourselves whether they are behaving in a way which parallels how we know the principal (the Lord) would behave.  We ask ourselves the questions, "are they walking the walk," "do their actions bring glory to God," "are their statements edifying to the people," "do they demonstrate love toward their neighbor," and "do they speak the Word of God?"

The danger in this last test is that it requires us to know intimately the nature of the principal, the nature of God, in order to test whether His agent is acting within the agency, whether the agent comes "in the name of the Lord."  To assess the agent, we must know the principal.  The reason this last test is dangerous is because we have a way of substituting ourselves for the "principal."  In other words, in asking ourselves whether an agent comes "in the name of the Lord," we many times are really asking ourselves "does this agent look like our view of God (like us)?" and answering "Yes" to that question rather than the question we should be asking.

When we realize the power of this subtle substitution of the identity of the principal, we realize why it is so difficult so often to adequately evaluate whether the preacher, the teacher, the prophet, or the Christian in fact comes in the name of God.  We accept the agent as coming in the name of God when he does not because (a) we fall into the trap of believing that the agent can select the principal, (b) we fall into the trap of believing that the paperwork is the most important thing, and (c) we fall into the trap of believing that the agent of God looks like us, because we subtly substitute our view of who God is for God as He really is.

In order to say "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord," we have to know the true agent.  In order to know the true agent, we have to know the true principal.  We know the true principal – through His self-revelation in His Word (Scripture) and in His incarnation (Jesus Christ) – through who He says He is and not through our ideas about who He says He is.

Today, you may find yourself evaluating whether the person before you in fact "comes in the name of the Lord."  Before you make this evaluation, ask yourself "Do I know the principal – do I know God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?"  And if the answer to that question is "yes," you might then also ask the questions "Do I myself come in the name of the Lord?" and "Would anyone else recognize it?"

Do you?

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Bread – Concrete

July 9, 2010


Readings for Friday, July 9th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Deut. 31:7-13, 24-32:4; Rom. 10:1-13; Matt. 24:15-31
    Psalms 16, 17, 22
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There are abstract thinkers and concrete thinkers.  Abstract thinkers work in the realm of ideas, concepts, and theories.  Concrete thinkers work in the realm of the five senses – if I can’t touch it, feel it, smell it, hear it, and taste it, it doesn’t exist.  Because concrete thinkers deal with realities and because abstract thinkers mostly live in reality, abstract thinkers can be concrete thinkers.  However, because concrete thinkers are grounded in the realm of reality, the reverse is not necessarily true.

As a result, in order to address Himself to everyone, God presents Himself in concrete terms.  In other words, He talks about Himself in public, He appears in public, and He works in public.  Although we certainly try to turn God into an idea or a concept, He not only appears in reality, He created reality and is reality.  Although many of our churches do not display signs or images or representations of God for fear of turning the signs, images, and representations into poor substitutes (or idols) for God, this is not a statement that God is only an idea but a statement instead that we do not need concrete substitutes for God when God Himself is a concrete presence in the world and in our lives.

In all of today’s readings, we have God appearing on earth, in reality, in concrete terms, in real time history, to accomplish His work.  In today’s readings, we have a God who acts in our history appearing to do His real, not imagined, work.  First, in Deuteronomy, we have Moses handing down God’s law, written in Scripture, for the purpose of serving as a witness against us, as a witness that we all fall short in obedience to God.  Deut. 31:26b.  Second, in Romans we see Jesus Christ appearing on earth as the end of the law, to establish faith in Him as our path to salvation.  Rom. 10:4, 8-10.  Third, in Matthew Jesus Himself discusses the end times, when He will physically, concretely appear in glory to gather His flock and judge all.  Matt. 24:15-31.

I know that I myself many times fall into the habit of thinking of God as an idea, as a concept.  This is a slippery slope of reasoning, because an idea is no more than a theory until it can be touched, smelled, heard, or tasted.

However, the fact is that we worship a real God who has operated in history, is operating today in our lives and in the Church, and will operate in the future.  He is concrete.  He is here.  And He is with those who call upon His name yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  Amen.

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Bread – Agents

July 7, 2010


Readings for Wednesday, July 7th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Deut. 1:1-18; Rom. 9:1-18; Matt. 23:27-39
    Psalms 12, 13, 14, 119:1-24
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In today’s reading from Matthew, Jesus is critiquing the priests of the day, cursing them in part because they murdered the prophets and teachers sent by God to them.  Jesus ends His lecture by saying "For I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’"  Matt. 23:39.  A number of church services or liturgies include the phrase "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."  Perhaps this statement is merely a statement of fact, because those who in fact proceed forth in the strength and dependence upon the Lord are truly blessed.  Or perhaps it is like a mantra, encouraging Jesus’ return by reciting what He said should be recited before His return, in which event meaning has been stripped because Jesus is not talking here about an incantation but, instead, about a heartfelt recognition of the truth that those people sent from God are in fact blessed (a truth which the world cannot see).

In any event, the question this raised today in my mind was, "How do you tell who it is who ‘comes in the name of the Lord?’ 

How do you tell indeed?  The analogy which comes to my mind is the legal concept of agency, where a person fully represents his or her "principal."  Legally, we consider an agent to "stand in the shoes" of his or principal, such that the acts and statements of the agent are the acts and statements of the principal.  Since an agency is an important legal relationship, which can have major impact upon significant transactions, one of the major legal questions which has to be answered when dealing with agents is "How can you tell if the person is a real agent, how can you tell if the agent really does speak for his principal?"  Using the words of today’s lesson, the question becomes again "How can you tell who really ‘comes in the name of the Lord?’"

There are several "tests" of a real agent.  One is whether or not the agent has been chosen by his principal.  This is an important concept, because the authority which the principal gives to the agent to act for the principal, to stand "in his name" or "in his shoes," comes from the principal to the agent; it is not taken by the agent from the principal.  In today’s lessons, we have three examples of this.  In Deuteronomy, Moses appoints judges to help him rule Israel; however, these judges are raised up from the people as men who the community recognizes have good character.  In this case, the agents (the judges) have dual principals, the people who raised them up and the leader who confirmed them.  The third lesson is from Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he teaches the doctrine of election – that God grants mercy to those He chooses.  God gives us our authority to be His agents on earth; we do not take that authority.

A second test of agency is whether there is any documentation from the principal to prove that the person is an agent.  This notion may be partly behind the urgency with which some people insist upon a "Certificate of Baptism" or a "Certificate of Holy Orders," because how can we identify the agent of Christ without papers?  Although the documentation is an important consideration, it is not necessarily a major one  because we know that documents can be forged.  That is, we know that documents may appear to have the signature of the principal, but really be created and signed by the agent who wants to pretend that he or she is the principal’s agent.  In similar vein, we rely heavily upon a formal process of authentication by the Church to determine whether the "Certificate of Baptism" or "Certificate of Holy Orders" has in fact been "signed" by God, but we know in our hearts that we may very well be looking at something which is fake or which has been forged.  Therefore, although this second test to determine whether we are dealing with the "real McCoy" is important, it is not necessarily the most important test.

A third test of agency is almost practical, it is almost common sense.  In fact, it may be the most important test of all.  That test is whether or not the agent is doing or saying things that we know the principal would probably say or do.  For example, if a child is giving away lemonade, we can probably assume that they have authority to do so (i.e. that they are the agent of the parents in giving away something of little value).  On the other hand, if a child is giving away gold coins, we probably want to check into whether this is something the parents (the principals) have authorized the child (the agent) to do.

Likewise, for a Christian, in testing whether a person "comes in the name of the Lord," we ask ourselves whether they are behaving in a way which parallels how we know the principal (the Lord) would behave.  We ask ourselves the questions, "are they walking the walk," "do their actions bring glory to God," "are their statements edifying to the people," "do they demonstrate love toward their neighbor," and "do they speak the Word of God?"

The danger in this last test is that it requires us to know intimately the nature of the principal, the nature of God, in order to test whether His agent is acting within the agency, whether the agent comes "in the name of the Lord."  To assess the agent, we must know the principal.  The reason this last test is dangerous is because we have a way of substituting ourselves for the "principal."  In other words, in asking ourselves whether an agent comes "in the name of the Lord," we many times are really asking ourselves "does this agent look like our view of God (like us)?" and answering "Yes" to that question rather than the question we should be asking.

When we realize the power of this subtle substitution of the identity of the principal, we realize why it is so difficult so often to adequately evaluate whether the preacher, the teacher, the prophet, or the Christian in fact comes in the name of God.  We accept the agent as coming in the name of God when he does not because (a) we fall into the trap of believing that the agent can select the principal, (b) we fall into the trap of believing that the paperwork is the most important thing, and (c) we fall into the trap of believing that the agent of God looks like us, because we subtly substitute our view of who God is for God as He really is.

In order to say "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord," we have to know the true agent.  In order to know the true agent, we have to know the true principal.  We know the true principal – through His self-revelation in His Word (Scripture) and in His incarnation (Jesus Christ) – through who He says He is and not through our ideas about who He says He is.

Today, you may find yourself evaluating whether the person before you in fact "comes in the name of the Lord."  Before you make this evaluation, ask yourself "Do I know the principal – do I know God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?"  And if the answer to that question is "yes," you might then also ask the questions "Do I myself come in the name of the Lord?" and "Would anyone else recognize it?"

Do you?

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Bread – Selah

July 5, 2010


Readings for Monday, July 5th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Num. 32:1-27; Rom. 8:26-30; Matt. 23:1-12
    Psalms 1, 2, 3, 4, 7
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Today’s Bread is a little different.  "Selah" is a word which appears in some of the Psalms.  We do not know what it means.  Some people think that it is a word of praise.  Some think its nothing but a musical term.  Others think that it is a word of "wait," of "pause," of "think about what you just read or said," "of meditate upon the Lord."  I prefer this last interpretation.

So I invite you into my "Selah" at the six places in the Psalms today where the word "Selah" appears.  I also invite you into your own Selah (pause for thought) as you reflect on the words of God:

"O Lord, how many are my foes!  How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me ‘God will not deliver him.’  Selah"  Ps. 3:1-2

Who cannot identify with this lament?  Who has not been in that place where many of our friends would have said (and we ourselves would have said to ourselves and to others) that we were in such a low place that ‘God will not deliver [us]’?  Perhaps we are there today, right now.  Perhaps we are ill or heartbroken over a destroyed relationship with a friend, spouse, child, or parent.  Perhaps we are broken economically.  Perhaps we are worried, perhaps we are afraid, perhaps we are lonely, perhaps we are in a dark place with no obvious exit.  How many times have I said "the world is out to get me."  How many times have other people been out to get you?

And yet we have a saying that "it is always darkest before the dawn."  What reality does that represent?  What truth does it hold?

In our reading from Romans today, Paul says "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purposes."  Rom. 8:28  Is this another way of saying that "it is always darkest before the dawn?"

Atheists would say that God will not deliver us from death, that death is permanent and this life is all there is.  Their world is a dark world forever.  What of mine?  What of ours?  Is it a world where darkness reigns supreme, or a world where darkness is but a temporary waystation on the trip of a lifetime, not only in the present age but for all eternity?  Do I agree that "God will not deliver [me]?"  No, for I know that God sent His Son to earth to die as me and to be resurrected to life so that all, including me, who believe in Him shall have eternal life.  I know that God not only will deliver me, He has.

"But You are a shield around me, O Lord; You bestow glory on me and lift up my head.  To the Lord I cry aloud, and He answers me from His holy hill.  Selah"  Ps. 3:3-4

This is the answer to the first two verses.  But it also contains a "Selah."  For what purpose?  The first two verses deal with questions, the second two with answers.  Perhaps it is all right to ask the questions, when the questions are followed by the answers.  Perhaps it is all right to address these questions to God.

A shield I understand – that You protect me from the worst of the storm.  But what about glory?  Is not glory reserved for You, the only holy one?  And yet God thinks enough of me to "bestow me with glory."  He honors me in my sinful state, when I have no honor.  He gives me a piece of Himself, when I have nothing to give Him.

And, indeed, the richness of this gift is demonstrated in their fullness in Paul’s letter today to the Romans, saying that "And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified."  Rom. 8:30  He "bestows me with glory" only after He determines, calls, justifies through a right relationship with Him through Jesus Christ, and then He "bestows glory."  To those who question whether God is there but who believe in Jesus Christ, He bestows glory.  To those who have assurance of the fact that God will deliver him or her, He bestows glory.  We do not call upon Him, He calls upon us and, because He first called us, we are able to recall Him in time of trial.

"From the Lord comes deliverance. May Your blessing be on Your people. Selah"  Ps. 3:8

Blessing is not only on me, but on His people.  I so often forget that I am not an island, that I exist in community, in the community of believers and non-believers alike.  My blessing is their blessing; their blessing is my blessing.  My fear of abandonment by God is their fear; my confidence in salvation is theirs.  Lord, give me a heart to share Your blessings with Your people.  Lord, give me humility so that I might share fully in Your blessings offered to me by and through Your people.  Lord, help me to preach Your gospel clearly, so that all who hear may know that from Jesus Christ comes deliverance for all of His people.

"How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame?  How long will you love delusions and seek false Gods? Selah"  Ps. 4:2

God has given me glory and understanding, but people call me foolish and challenge my intellect and ability to reason.  "How can a smart person believe in this nonsense?" they ask.  "How can one look at all the evil in the world and say that there is a loving God?" they inquire in their man-idol self-righteousness.  "God is nothing but a psychological trick to help us deal with the unknown" they say in their scholastic smartness.  These people try to take my glory, the holiness which God has placed into me, and turn it into something ugly, something shameful.

Well I have an answer for them – "How long will you love delusions and seek false Gods?"  Do you really believe that man is the pinnacle of ethics, of truth, of hope, of knowledge?  Do you really believe that man’s idols, beginning with himself, are anything but that?  What fruit do your idols bring forth?  What solution for sin do you have?

How long will they seek after false Gods and try to embarrass the children of God?  Until their death and destruction, because that is their end.

"In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.  Selah"  Ps. 4:4

Good advice, Lord, and hard to do.  How can I do this when my anger burns hot against those who have slandered me, who have used my valuable time foolishly, who have done their best to interfere with my plans, who have interrupted me, and who have forced me to stop doing what I want to do and instead do something they want done?

Again, in today’s readings, Paul comes to the rescue by describing one of the works of the Holy Spirit — "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express."  Rom. 8:26  When will this happen, when we quiet our hearts and are silent before the Lord.  The Lord will deal with our anger, our self-righteousness, our hypocrisy, our idol-worship, our sense of loss, our worry, our needs.  All we have to do is (a) search our own hearts so that our confession before God may be thorough and so that we might understand the real motive and underlying causes of our actions, (b) be silent, and (c) let the Holy Spirit intercede on our behalf.

"O Lord my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands — If I have done evil to him who is at peace with me or without cause have robbed my foe — then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; let him trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust.  Selah"  Ps. 7:1-5

This last "Selah" in today’s readings from the Psalms reminds me that there are consequences to my actions, that even though I am unable to keep from sinning I am in fact responsible for what I do.  So, Lord, when bad things happen to me which are caused by my bad doing, keep me from blaming others for my calamity and keep me from blaming You.  Bring to my mind those wrongs and encourage and strengthen me through Your Spirit so that I am empowered and willing to correct the harm I have caused.

And, Lord, when the number of my foes appear to overwhelm me, whether those foes come from hostility to You or arise from wrongs I have done to them, remind me of the other meditations in today’s Bread, that I should know that You have delivered me for all eternity, that You have bestowed me with glory which is rightfully Yours and not mine, and that You have given me the Holy Spirit to quiet my anger, search my heart, and be silent before You as I live my life in the present.

Thank you Lord for all Your mercies.  Amen.

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Bread – Claims

July 2, 2010


Readings for Friday, July 2nd
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Num. 24:1-13; Rom. 8:12-17; Matt. 22:15-22
    Psalms 140, 141, 142, 143:1-12
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We love to claim things.  In a couple of days, we will claim a right to be free, to live in a country where the right of the individual is raised up because we recognize that God made individual people, not groups or classes, that God blesses individuals and through them classes and nations (and not vice versa), that God sent His Son to die for the individuals who believe in Him, not classes or groups.  Based upon our relationship with Jesus Christ, we might claim a right to call Him "friend."  We certainly love to claim "our" property – in fact we even have a gospel based upon our "claims" to property, the so-called "prosperity gospel" where we can "name it and claim it."

As if we have the power to claim anything as ours, as if we have the right to snatch from the hands of God the property which is "ours," the rights which are "ours," or the relationships which are "ours."  In our pride, we lay claim to everything – to intelligence, to freedom, to lifestyle, to economic circumstances, to health, to government benefit, to employment, to money, to retirement — well, we lay claim to anything and everything.  We do this without even thinking twice that we can claim nothing but what God has given us.

Claims are prevalent in our readings today, but in each case God instructs us that the only One who can make any claim at all is Him.

In our reading from Numbers, for example, we see King Balak getting mad at the "oracle" Balaam.  King Balak has bought and paid for Balaam’s curse upon Israel and has paid for Balaam’s transportation to the outskirts of the Israeli camp so that the curse will have special effect.  However, Balaam does not curse Israel but blesses Israel.  Balak gets mad at Balaam because he has bought a curse, has a "right" to a curse, and claims a curse.  Balaam reminds Balak that the only claim to blessing or curses belongs to God and that all Balaam can do is to do what God tells him to do.  Balak responds that Balaam’s claim to payment is now forfeit, and Balaam reminds Balak that he has no claim to payment unless God lets him.

Whereas Numbers involved a claim of right to results, our reading in Romans confronts us with our claim of relationship.  We claim a relationship with God as children by our belief in Jesus Christ.  Paul reminds us that our ability to make such a claim arises from God’s claim on us, that our ability to make any claim whatsoever is because we are "led by the Spirit."  To do this, we must have first received the Spirit, not by any right but by the sovereign grace and gift of God.  In other words, God first claims us and then empowers us to follow Him, to claim Him so to speak.  The claim of relationship does not originate from us but from God.  It is "by Him" that we are able to cry "Abba, Father."  Rom. 8:15b.

Finally, Jesus deals with our claim of possessions.  In Matthew, Jesus looks at a coin, claimed by Caesar as his by virtue of the stamp of Caesar upon it.  Jesus, in responding to a question of payment of taxes, says simply "Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s."  Matt. 22:21b  Instantly it appears that the joke is on Caesar – Caesar may claim what he wants, even to the point of impressing his image on the things of "his" kingdom, but in reality we know that Caesar’s claim is at best temporary and fleeting whereas God’s claim on both the thing and the person claiming the thing is permanent and eternal.

What claims are you making today?  Are you making a claim of right, a claim of entitlement, a claim of property, a claim of relationship?  Perhaps instead we should try making no claims whatsoever and instead try to appreciate the gifts have been given, beginning with this new day, beginning with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and beginning with our acceptance of the miracle that God’s claims us as His.

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