Bread – Keys

October 27, 2010


Readings for Wednesday, October 27, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: *; Rev. 12:1-6; Luke 11:37-52; Psalms 49, 53, 119:47-72

——————————————————–

What do we use keys for? To unlock and reveal things. When the key is missing, whatever is locked up cannot be unlocked – it remains hidden, secret, inaccessible, unavailable.

Jesus says in Luke today – “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge.” Luke 11:52

“Knowledge” in English is, unfortunately, a word which combines many concepts. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary (College 2nd Ed. 1976) “knowledge” means (a) acquaintance or familiarity with a fact, place, etc., (b) awareness, (c) understanding, (c) all that has been grasped by the mind, (d) learning, (e) enlightenment, and (e) the body of facts, principles, etc. accumulated by mankind. However, the Greek word in Luke translated “knowledge” is “Gnosis,” which means an experiential type of knowledge which is incomplete and fragmentary. So what Jesus is essentially saying is that the people who exalt the law make unavailable and inaccessible to others even incomplete, experiential knowledge, much less knowledge which is complete and which comes from a variety of sources, not just man’s experience. Not only does an uncommon allegiance to the law deprive one of “full” knowledge, it deprives one of essentially all knowledge or understanding.

And, as we read today in Psalm 49 “A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish.” Psalm 49:20. Without knowledge we die.

And so strict adherence to the law, without more, leads to death.

And what leads to life? The word for “knowledge” used by Jesus is used only one other time in Luke – in this excerpt from the Song of Zechariah, speaking of John the Baptist – “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins…” Luke 1:76-77

The same knowledge which is lost to us when the keys to it are stolen by undue adherence to the law is the same knowledge which leads one to repentance and salvation through Jesus Christ, through whom our sins are taken away.

And that makes all the sense in the world. The law essentially represents those who believe they can do it if only they do it right, consistently, every time. Knowledge begins with understanding that I can do nothing without God. In God’s sight and at His judgment, the best of man is a horror. In God’s sight and at His judgment, those people who are covered with Jesus Christ, who truly is the only sinless man, are clean and acceptable.

The danger of all of our self-help, self-esteem, self-promoting, self-whatever teachings is that the key is stolen to knowledge, to real knowledge, fragmented and incomplete as it might be. When we exalt our good works, we “be acting” like the lawyers whom Jesus is criticizing today.

Today, are you stealing the key of knowledge from some person looking for it by failing to acknowledge your radical dependence upon God for everything you have? Have you stolen the key to knowledge from yourself, believing worldly wisdom that you can do it? Have you slipped from “it’s all about God” to “it’s all about you” to “it’s all about me?” As Jesus essentially said, without knowledge only woe awaits.

—————————————————————————

Bread – Guard

October 25, 2010


Readings for Monday, October 25, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:  *; Rev. 11:1-14; Luke 11:14-26; Psalms 41, 44, 52

—————————————————————————————-

In Luke today, Jesus says this – “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils.” Luke 11:21-22

There are four obvious discussion points to this and one, more important, not so obvious.

The four obvious points are (a) how do we know a strong man, (b) what does it mean to be fully armed, (c) what is “his own house,” and (d) what possessions is he trying to protect?

How do we know a strong man when we see him? Well, as a short, sort of pudgy, sort of unmuscular guy, my image of a strong man is someone like biblical Sampson, someone with sinewy arms and legs, large muscles, and square-cut jaw, large hands, and skin showing the various bruises and cuts of non-stop street fighting. Nowadays, also, maybe a few tattoos would help the image. Great personal physical strength is certainly one characteristic. Other characteristics might be great strength of character (as honest as the day is long, truthful, straightforward, good for his words, etc.), great strength of perseverance (“Never give up. Never, ever, give up.”), great strength of intellect, great strength of biblical knowledge, full possession of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual armor which goes with the study of the Word of God and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Any of those type of people we might very well call “strong.”

The second obvious question is “what does it mean to be fully armed.” If our idea of a strong man is Rambo, being strongly armed is to be possessed with a Gatling machine gun and a few grenades. If our idea of a strong man is someone like the Christian we wish we were, then “fully armed” means to have the full complement of spiritual weapons, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, etc.

The third question is what “is his own house?” In other words, what is the strong man defending or, better, where is the point of defense? One answer would be where the guy lives – his country, his city, his neighborhood, his house. Another answer is his physical body, since we live in our bodies. Another answer, more “spiritual,” is where the guy’s seat of his being is – his heart, his mind, his soul. In other words, the house being defended may be just that, a place, or it may be himself, his physical body or his spiritual body.

The final obvious question from the text is “what are the possessions being protected.” An obvious answer to this is, if we are talking about an armed man guarding his house, the “protected possessions” are just that, his stuff (his worldly possessions). An equally obvious answer for trained Christians is that the possessions could be the purity of the spirit, the chastity of the bed, the holiness of worship, the revelation of God contained in Scripture, etc. These last things are great possessions over which we are protectors and stewards; therefore, we must be strong and well-armed to protect them.

If you have reached this portion of Bread essentially agreeing with my analysis, now is the time to ask yourself what is wrong with it? The answer to that question lies in the non-obvious question.

The non-obvious question is this – who is the “someone stronger?”

We live in this world. If we are fully armed and fully aware, fully ready, who is stronger? A knee-jerk reaction would be, well of course Jesus Christ is stronger! That would be a fair answer, but should be followed up with the question, “who else is?” And the answer to that is Satan. Satan is stronger than we are, no matter what our state is, no matter how holy we are, no matter how well-studied, no matter how Christian. Whether we lose our armor and our possessions to Satan because we are asleep or because we trust in the armor and strength we have required, the result is the same. The stronger man wins.

Jesus speaks to this in his “mini-parable” today from Luke – “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, …it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. …And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.” Luke 11:24-26.

In other words, Satan is stronger than man. Period, end of story but for the fact that there is someone stronger than Satan.

So, we come to the conclusion that Jesus is saying in between the lines that there are many men who appear to be strong. However, they are not strong against Satan nor can they be. There is only one strong one capable of defeating Satan, and He has done so.

Which strong man defends your house? Is it you, wrapped up as you are in your knowledge, your studies, your weapons, your work-outs, your muscles, your brain, your strength, your wisdom? Or is it Him, Jesus Christ, with His knowledge, His truth, His weapons, His holiness, His strength, His wisdom?

If you really care to defend your most important possession, your eternal soul, against the stronger man who would take everything you have, there is only one answer – Jesus Christ, the strongest man who ever lived, God eternal. Do this and you will discover something remarkable – when you have the strongest man defending you, you don’t have to be strong – you can be you and you can love and live in freedom, knowing that no thief can ever steal anything of value from you…ever.

——————————————————————————————————

Bread – Pride

October 22, 2010


Readings for Friday, October 22, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: *; Rev. 9:13-21; Luke 10:38-42; Psalms 31, 35

—————————————————————————————-

Why do men ignore God?

Perhaps one of the greatest frustrations of an evangelist, a preacher, a teacher of Scripture, or a defender of the faith is the absolute inability of our words to penetrate into someone who lives their life ignoring God. Oh we like to believe that we can have influence and sometimes God lets us participate in His miracle of faith or healing or restoration, but much seed falls upon rocky ground.

Why do men ignore God? Perhaps the best place to begin answering that question is to ask why we do. Why do I ignore God?

Pride. That sense of “I am special; I am good; I am not as evil as him; I have earned it.” I, I, I, I, and me. Oh, yeah, and maybe whatever god we need at the moment.

In our reading in Revelation today, God kills one-third of mankind, and yet “the rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping … [anything or anyone except God].” Rev. 9:20. Why? Pride.

In our reading in Luke today, Martha prepares the house for Jesus while Mary sits as His feet and watches and listens. We instantly know and relate to Martha because, who would not prepare their house for their dinner guests or the President of the United States? Why listen to the King of the Universe when I need to be about my business so that I can look good? Martha essentially ignored God while God was present. Why? Pride in her house and her hospitality; since our houses and our actions are merely representative of who we are, the underlying answer is pride in herself.

Psalm 31 in our reading today ends with this: “The Lord preserves the faithful, but the proud He pays back in full. Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” Ps. 31:23b-24. Do you really want to be paid back by God for who you are and the things you have said and done? Do you really?

I think most thoughtful men (and women) would answer this last question “No, I do not want to be paid back (really) for whom I (really) am and for what I have (really) said and done.” And yet we act this way, sometimes all day every day. Why? Pride.

If I know that Mary chooses the better way by listening to Jesus and being with Him, and I know that God preserves the faithful but pays back the pride, how do I stop acting like it is me? One answer might be that I should nail my pride to the cross of Jesus…but look how prideful that statement is. Like I have any power whatsoever to nail anything to Jesus’ cross! The “I should” suggests that “I can.” And if “I can” then why don’t I? See the “I.” See the pride.

The fact is that we can’t and we won’t in our own power. We need someone to come grab us and take us, to open our eyes and ears, to love us first. That someone is Jesus Christ, that someone is the Holy Spirit, that someone is God the Father. That someone is God.

But … in our pride we want to do something to help. So let us do this today … pray “Come Holy Spirit.” Or pray this line from our last reading today, Psalm 35: “Awake, and arise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and my Lord.” Ps. 35:23 Amen.

——————————————————————————————————

Bread – Resolve

October 18, 2010


Readings for Monday, October 18; designated by the Book of Common Prayer:

*; Rev. 7:1-8; Luke 9:51-62; Psalms 9, 15, 25

—————————————————————————————-

In Revelation today, we are presented with the sealing of the 144,000 from the tribes of Israel. This whole excerpt from Revelation may very well be one of the great focal points of controversy in the modern church, where people who believe that “Israel” and the “tribes” refer literally to living Jews at the time of the Tribulation (when during the Tribulation is another great focal point of controversy) and therefore to “physical” Israel, are opposite those equally well-meaning Christians who believe that the reference to Israel means the entire believing Church and that the reference to 144,000 and the tribes merely means the “complete and total number” “from all the corners of the earth.” One might find oneself forever mired in one or the other of these positions, totally resolved to prove one’s point. These controversies show two types of resoluteness. The first type is a resoluteness to the authority of God’s revelation to us, Scripture, and a sincere desire to honor God through thorough and proper study of His revelation. The second type is a resoluteness to ourselves, our positions, our arguments, our theories – in other words, a resoluteness to win the day, win the argument.

In Luke, Jesus talks about the kind of resolve we need in order to be His true disciples. It is a resolve which turns our back to the past and sets our face to the future. It is the kind of resolve where we follow regardless of our physical comfort (Luke 9:57-58), regardless of social conventions (not stopping to bury your father; Luke 9:59-60), and regardless of past relationships (Luke 9:61-62). The resolve necessary to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is the kind of resolve which Jesus commends.

Jesus not only commends this kind of resolve, He practices it. At the beginning of our reading today in Luke, Luke reports “As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. …the people there [Samaritan village] did not welcome Him, because He was heading for Jerusalem…” Luke 9:51-56 Knowing the outcome (death on a cross, separation from God, bearing the horror of man’s sins) He went anyway, “resolute” in His direction, His purpose, and His efforts toward that end. Once He resolutely set His face to His destination, He did not look back, He did not say good-bye, He did not participate in social customs. He just did it.

The connection between Revelation and Jesus’ resolute action is that He did not get bogged down in controversies either. Remember that He was denied access to a Samaritan village on the way to Jerusalem, probably because of long-standing argument and theological and political conflict between the Samaritans and the Jews. He did not care, because He knew where He was going and why He was going there. Not only did He bypass the village, but He refused to engage in any kind of verbal or physical confrontation with them. His mission was too important to get side-tracked.

If you claim to be a Christian, are you resolute in that purpose? Is your face set toward your final destination for eternity, in glory, with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the celestial city? Or do you look back, eager to become “acceptable” to the world and perhaps even your family again? Or, maybe, instead of looking back, do you find yourself looking sideways, being caught up in the debate of the moment?

The other day I saw a great tee-shirt. On it was a fisherman, a bear, and a fish. The fish was hooked on the fisherman’s line and was also being held in the bear’s paw. The fisherman looked like he was getting ready to pull on the pole, thereby yanking the fish from the bear, which looked like he was in the process of bringing the fish to his mouth for a bit of lunch. The caption on the tee-shirt (talking about the fisherman, of course) was “Determination – that thought you get just before you do something incredibly stupid.”

And, of course, we recognize that yanking a fish out of bear’s paw is probably not a good idea.

And yet does not this picture of a fisherman, a bear, and a fish caught in the middle truly symbolize our readings today. “As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Why? Because it was there that Jesus snatched the fish (us) from Satan (the bear) and to do that He had to be resolute, He had to be determined. He had to be resolute because He was getting ready to do something incredibly stupid from the world’s perspective – He was getting ready to sacrifice Himself for the fish … and in so doing save the fish for all eternity.

It is that kind of resoluteness which Jesus calls us to. He calls us to confront the bear daily and to do things which the world finds incredibly stupid. He says to us to love the fish (other people) so much that we will, resolutely, preach the gospel in all circumstances and love even those who hate us. He says to daily run the risk of being killed by the bear.

The tee-shirt could have said something else for Christians, with the same picture. It could have said “Determination – that thought you have just before you obey God’s commands, that thought you have just before you confront the bear.”

Resolve today to set your face toward Jesus. Resolve today to turn your back on the past. Resolve today to embrace the Kingdom. Resolve today to obey. Resolve today to give thanks. And if by your resolve you find yourself seriously injured or killed by the bear, resolve to enter eternity with Christ with joy because you know, follow, and obey the King of Resolve, Jesus Christ.

————————————————————————————————

*The Book of Common Prayer this morning lists Ecclesiasticus 1:1-10, 18-27 as the Old Testament reading. Ecclesiasticus is not a canonical book of the Old Testament, but is one of those books which is “almost” canonical, and as a result is normally included in a section of the Bible called the “Apocrypha,” which many Bibles do not contain because of the significant disputes over the validity of these additional books. Because these disputes exist and because this book is not normally listed as an Old Testament Book (and in fact is not even included in most Bibles), I am not including it in my readings for Bread

————————————————————————————————

Bread – Provisions

October 15, 2010


Readings for Friday, October 15, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:

*; Acts 28:1-16; Luke 9:28-36; Psalms 16,17,22

—————————————————————————————-

In today’s readings, we are taken from shipwreck (Acts) to the Mount of Transfiguration, where Christ’s glory was revealed to some of the disciples (Luke). However, today I want to focus on the mundane – provisions for the journey.

You may think about provisions as food, shelter, and transportation. We have to eat and drink, we have to be able to sleep is safety from the weather and the wild animals, and we have to be able to get where we are going. Anything that helps us on our way is a form of provision. Provisions are something we need all of the time.

We like to think we get these for ourselves, but do we really? Or are our provisions for daily living, our daily bread so to speak, a gift of God? How we look at this subject probably says a lot about our belief in ourselves as compared to our belief in God. Are you the kind of person that says “I can do it!” Or are you the kind of person who says “I can do it with God’s help!” Or are you the kind of person who says “I cannot do it because I can do nothing without God’s help; therefore, it is He who does it.” I suspect most of us fall into the middle category and slip sometimes into the first, even though we know we should be in the third. How we think about this will drive our prayer life, will drive our relationship with God, will drive our concepts of self-worth and self-esteem, and will ultimately impact our faith.

In Acts, Paul and his crew have shipwrecked on the island of Malta, where they are met by a group of pagans. This is such an incredible historical event that there are probably a month of sermons contained in it, but for the time being we are going to focus on the provisions which Paul received from the pagans.

When Paul shipwrecked, he had nothing literally except the clothes on his back. There is no evidence that he or his companions had any food. There is no evidence that he had a tent with him (although he was a tentmaker). And the only evidence about his transportations suggests that it was at the bottom of the sea. Paul and his buddies had no provisions with which to sustain them. They had nothing. As a result, they were totally dependent upon – a bunch of pagans.

Now of course the Bible reports that the pagans fed them and housed them and, ultimately, arranged for pagan transportation (a ship with the two gods of Castor and Pollux on its bow) to get them off the island. But wasn’t it really God who provided? Wasn’t it God who placed the island at a convenient location for the wrecked castaways to find? Wasn’t it God who placed the kindly pagans on the island? Wasn’t it God who provided the soil, the rain, the seed, and the sun so that the pagans could raise crops to feed themselves and Paul?

And if you wonder whether it was God, think about this – God’s purpose was to save Paul so that he could continue his missionary journey into Rome. His purpose was apparently not to save the pagans from their unbelief. Why do I say that? While Paul was there he demonstrated miracles to the pagans – he did not die from the bite of the venomous snake and he healed all of the sick who came to him. Is there any doubt that, while they did that, Paul told them that he himself was not God but that there was One who worked in and through him to accomplish these miracles? Is there any doubt, given Paul’s fervor for the gospel, that he failed to share with them that Jesus Christ was God the Son, that He became man so that He could take man’s sin with Him to the cross, that He conquered death from sin by His resurrection, and that He offers the path to salvation for all those who believe in Him? And yet there is no report that any of the pagans became Christians. None. God did not purpose salvation for these people at this time, and therefore none believed. God did purpose that Paul should continue to Rome, and therefore He made provision in His grace for Paul’s needs.

Many of us may find ourselves shipwrecked in a strange place, with strange people, with nothing we can call our own. Like the miners in Chile who endured seventeen days a half mile underground in cramped, hot, humid, dark quarters with only two days food or who waited another two months for rescue, we may find ourselves in a dark, dank, uncomfortable and unhealthy prison – a prison of the mind, a prison of the body, and prison of the soul. In both of these cases there were no provisions except those provisions provided by – who?**

What is your answer to the question of who? Who do you thank when the pagan (saint?) next door shows up to help?

Who do you thank for your daily bread?

——————————————————————————————————

*The Book of Common Prayer this morning lists Ecclesiasticus 1:1-10, 18-27 as the Old Testament reading. Ecclesiasticus is not a canonical book of the Old Testament, but is one of those books which is “almost” canonical, and as a result is normally included in a section of the Bible called the “Apocrypha,” which many Bibles do not contain because of the significant disputes over the validity of these additional books. Because these disputes exist and because this book is not normally listed as an Old Testament Book (and in fact is not even included in most Bibles), I am not including it in my readings for Bread.

**For those English teachers among you, you are probably cringing because instead of “who” I should have used “whom.” I did this on purpose, for which I apologize to all defenders of proper English.

————————————————————————————————

Bread – Intervention

October 11, 2010


Readings for Monday, October 11, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:

Micah 7:1-7; Acts 26:1-23; Luke 8:26-39; Psalms 1,2,3,4,7

———————————————————————–

In both our reading from Acts and Luke today, we are confronted with examples of God’s intervention in people’s lives to save them from something.

In Acts, Paul is speaking to Festus and Agrippa, high Roman officials, and is recounting to them his Damascus road experience, where God intervened in his life to confront him with the reality of salvation through Jesus Christ, to redirect his life away from his fanatical persecution of Christians, and to point him in the direction of mission to the Gentiles, to us.

Why was an intervention necessary? Paul loved God and wanted desperately to serve Him in holiness and righteousness, so Paul had good motives. However, both his training (education) and his position (an influential Pharisee) blinded him to the truth. He was enamored of his intellectual ability, his position as defender of the Pharisaic interpretation of Judaism, and his knowledge of Scripture and interpretations of Scripture. As a result, Paul wore a form of blindfold which did not let him see or hear clearly the message Jesus Christ bore. His training focused him like a laser, and once launched nothing was going to deter him. Paul in many respects represents the educated man of today, mired as we are in the world’s wisdom, our wealth and position, and our focus on our job. In a sense, Paul was a hard nut to crack because he was so well insulated from the truth – he had power, position, ability, intelligence, and learning, so why bother trying to figure out what Christians had to say? Paul had the answers, just like we do. His answers came from his knowledge of Scripture; our answers come from our knowledge of “science.” The result is the same, however – a hatred of Jesus Christ and His followers, an unreasonable and illogical commitment to our form of the truth (grounded in human wisdom and understanding), a laser focus upon our jobs and career, the acquisition of wealth and power, and the elimination of people who disagree with us. Paul was so bound up with himself that only God could intervene. We are similarly so bound up with ourselves that our need is the same – God’s direct intervention to reveal to us His truth, His love, and His purpose in our lives.

In Luke, the intervention is different but equally necessary. In Luke, Jesus takes the demon-possessed man and intervenes to cast out Legion into the pigs, causing the man to become sane (previously, he was insane). This man had apparently possessed these demons since birth and had no capacity whatsoever to relieve himself of this burden. It took the power of God intervening in his life to give him life, hope, wellness, and a future. This man might be analogized to those of us overcome by sin, addiction, loss, and burdens which we cannot handle on our own (sin, of course, being the first and primary problem). Unlike Paul, we seem to have had no freedom of choice to bind ourselves with worldly wisdom; instead, Satan has bound us with our sin.

Whether we find ourselves in a prison of our own making (Paul) or a prison of Satan’s (Luke’s man), it is still prison and we do not have and we cannot get the keys. Instead, what has to happen is for One more powerful than the jailer, more powerful than us, more powerful than the army of people, ideas, thoughts, and sins we surround ourselves with, more powerful than anything, to free us. What we need is an intervention, not by man but by God.

Are you confused about where you stand regarding Jesus Christ being the only way to salvation? You are bound with the world’s wisdom and your learning – pray for an intervention by God. Are you in doubt about your faith? You are also bound, perhaps by the world and perhaps by Satan – pray for an intervention by God. Are you trapped in sexual, food, work, drugs, or other form of addiction? You are like the demon-possessed man – your path to sanity is to pray for an intervention by God.

Neither Paul nor the demon-possessed man were good or were righteous when God helped them. God helped them because of His great mercy, because of His grace, and not because they deserved it. Paul hated Christians and condemned them to death – he did not deserve God’s mercy (by human understanding of the meaning of “deserve”), but God gave him the grace of revelation and repentance anyway. The demon-possessed man was totally devoid of anything good, he had the mind and heart of Satan – he had not earned the right to receive mercy or grace, but God gave it to him anyway.

We don’t deserve anything either. But God has intervened in our lives and intervenes today when we go astray through following worldly wisdom (Paul) or following the lusts of our old man (the demon-possessed man). And for that, I am extremely thankful.

How has God intervened in your life? How is God intervening in your life? Reflect on this, and be thankful that we get help.

—————————————————————–

 

Bread – Planted

October 8, 2010


Readings for Friday, October 8, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:

Micah 3:9-4:5; Acts 24:24-25:12; Luke 8:1-15; Psalms 140,141,142,143:1-12

—————————————————————————————-

Consider the potted plant. It sits there, being itself, doing little, alone, looking pretty, until we decide to throw it out for something better.

In our reading today from Acts, Paul is sitting in a Roman prison while Felix, who was “acquainted” with Jesus, talked to him. This went on for two years until Felix left. Two years.

I wonder if Paul felt like a potted plant. For two years he is kept in prison (essentially, a form of home arrest) and from time to time brought out so that he and Felix could have a “good” discussion. These discussions resulted in nothing, because there is no evidence that Felix ever became a believer. He knew about Jesus, he had two years of discussions with the person who wrote a substantial part of the New Testament and who was arguably the greatest Christian theologian of his day, and at the end of the day nothing changed. In one sense, Paul sat there (in prison), being himself, doing little (or so it might have appeared to him – this may be when a good many of the Epistles were written), looking pretty for Felix, only to be tossed out to the crowd for trial when Felix left.

As Christians, we may often feel like potted plants, planted in a particular location, seemingly doing nothing and having no effect on our family, our friends, our business associates, our neighbors, our churches, our country – no effect whatsoever except to sit there, look pretty, being left to ourselves, ready to be thrown out when people get tired of us hanging around. Certainly the world wishes we were potted plants – if only we would stop engaging people and just sit over in the corner like nice citizens!

When we begin to feel just planted, not doing anything and not going anywhere, not advancing the Kingdom of God, ignored and lonely, we might want to remember Jesus’ parable today in Luke, the parable of the sower. We may wish for an active life, where the seed we throw bears active fruit many times over, but God reminds us that the seed of truth spread by us is just as likely to go nowhere or having begun to grow, to be stamped out by ignorance, indifference, the cares of the world, the actions of those opposed to us, or other reasons beyond our control.

Jesus reminds us that we may look planted like a potted plant, we may be told by the world that we are planted like a potted plant, but that in reality we are nothing of the sort. For two years, Paul appeared to be planted in prison, a talking companion with the governor (who could care less what Paul had to say, except as an intellectual curiosity), with little positive to say or do. But even if Paul had not used those two years for other purposes, God used them. Before it was over, Paul preached the Word before two governors, their families, Caesar, the emperor’s court, and in a sense to the entirety of Rome.

If, today, you feel planted in position and unable to sense that you are having any effect whatsoever on anything, reflect on the power of God that brought you to that place, that sustains you in your time of depression or spiritual decline, that is even now taking your efforts done in His name (weak though they may be) and using them for His purpose and in His time, and that in the proper time will bring you into permanent fellowship with Him. Consider this and be glad that you are planted where you are – in His presence, in His will, and in His love.

——————————————————————————————————

Bread – Appearances

October 6, 2010


Readings for Wednesday, October 6, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:

Micah 2:1-13; Acts 23:23-35; Luke 7:18-35; Psalms 119:145-176; 128, 129, 130

—————————————————————————————-

We judge according to appearances. Admit it. We do.

When we go by a fine church, we look at it and remark that there must be some good preaching which goes on (or some wealthy parishioners). When we see someone drive a fine car, we see a successful person. We say the same things about someone wearing good clothes. When someone speaks well, they appear well-educated and maybe even wise.

However, we also know our judgment based upon appearance can be false. We can be deceived by appearance.

One of the ways that appearances can deceive us is by playing upon our biases and our prejudices. This is an incredibly subtle form of deception, because it is so hard to see our own bias – after all we are looking through our biased glasses to see our bias, and when prejudice looks at itself it often appears to be, well, “normal.” Therefore, if we are biased in our thinking to believe that we are successful and we see other people through ours lens of success, they will also appear successful when they look like us (or look like our perfect model of where we think we are going).

In today’s reading from Luke, we see an interesting discussion of appearances and our response to them. Jesus speaks to appearances when He talks about John the Baptist and then Himself. First, He asks why everyone is going out to see John – to see “a man dressed in fine clothes?” Luke 7:25. He then answers His question by saying, “no,” because “those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces.” This is a statement of appearance – people who appear wealthy are found in places which appear wealthy, so why would you look for a wealthy person in a lowly place?

Jesus then discusses with the crowd what John appears to be to them. He says about John that he “…came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say ‘He has a demon…’,” (Luke 7:33), when in fact “…among those born of women there is no one greater than John.” Luke 7:28. In other words, to many in the crowd (I think here He is focused on the Pharisees and the ‘experts in the law’) John appears demonic (after all, he is dressed funny, he eats weird stuff, and he talks about repentance), even though he is the greatest person ‘born of women.’

Finally, Jesus discusses how He appears to people (particularly, again, I think He is addressing the Pharisees and ‘experts in the law,’ even though His comments are to the crowd around Him). The crowd sees Jesus “eating and drinking” and He therefore appears to these people to be a drunkard, a glutton, and a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.’ Luke 7:34.

Both John and Jesus appear bad to the crowd (and to particular people in the crowd) because they were already wearing biased glasses – they were prepared to see anyone who did not agree with them as sinful, ugly, stupid, crazy, demon-possessed, law-breakers, etc. Therefore, they saw what they were prepared to see, what they wanted to see, what they were predisposed to see.

Since we see with our eyes and hear with our ears, what can be done to make sure that we are seeing and hearing accurately, that things appear to us as they are as opposed to what we believe them to be, want them to be, hope that they are, or expect them to be?

Jesus ends His teaching today with these words “But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” Luke 7:35. What an odd sentence ending a lesson on appearances. Its oddity is increased when I realized that the phrase “proved right” in the NIV is translated differently in the NASB (“vindicated”), and the NKJ and ESV (“justified”). The underlying Greek word takes over a full page of explanation. My summary of this explanation is that the sentence can be rephrased as “Wisdom’s children [“her children”] bring out or demonstrate [“proved right,” “vindicated,” “justified”] wisdom.” This is the wisdom spoken of in Proverbs 8:1-36 and is the wisdom of God.

So how do we see clearly, looking past appearances, created by our biased perspectives applied to distorted or incomplete facts, to truth? We see clearly when we see through the eyes and ears of God’s wisdom, recognizing that what we bring to the table is too warped by sin to be much good.

Through wisdom’s glasses, people could see that John the Baptist was the messenger predicted by Malachi. Through wisdom’s glasses, people could see that the miracles which Jesus performed fulfilled the prophecies concerning the Messiah and labeled Him as such. Without wisdom’s glasses, John just appeared to be demon-possessed; Jesus just appeared to be drunk. To the world, both appeared crazy; to the person with wisdom, both appeared as fulfillment of the promise of God.

Many people struggle to see God in Jesus Christ, using worldly reasoning, seeing through biased lenses, without even realizing what they are doing. How does one obtain God’s wisdom so that truth can be clearly seen, so that reality can be fairly assessed, so that power in Christ can be appropriately exercised? The answer can be found in God’s wisdom – His Holy Scripture, His revelation of Himself to us – James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God,…”

As we walk through today, let’s try something – instead of judging on appearances, let’s judge using God’s wisdom instead of ours. Let’s just ask God.

——————————————————————————————————

Bread – Words

October 4, 2010


Readings for Monday, October 4, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:

Hosea 14:1-9; Acts 22:30-23:11; Luke 6:39-49; Psalm 106

—————————————————————————————-

In our reading from Hosea today, God says to Israel – “Take words with you and return to the Lord.” Hos. 14:2

This is an interesting statement. God is telling Israel to repent. However, He does not say to Israel to return to Him with deeds. He does not say “bring your heart” with you to Him. He does not even say “present your body.”

Furthermore, He does not describe which “words” we should take with us. God does not say “take your words” or take “Socrates’ words” or “science words” or “words of knowledge,” but just plain “words.” He says to “take words…and return.”

So what “words” are we supposed to take with us when we repent?

Hints about the kinds of words we should take with us when we return to the Lord are found throughout today’s Scripture readings.

First, it may be the “words” we are given by God in His revelation to us. The Hebrew word used here in Hosea is Strong’s #1697, is one of the most general words used in Hebrew, occurs more than 1,400 times in the Old Testament, and in the King James Version is translated into eighty-five (85) different English words. The Ten Commandments are “words” with this same meaning. So the unlimited phrase “bring words” may mean to bring all of God’s revelation to us with us when we return – to bring the law, the promises, the history, the prophecies, and the most important thing, the Word incarnate in Jesus Christ. So which “words” should we bring with us when we return to the Lord? – all of His and none of ours.

Our second hint is in our reading from Acts. In this history, Paul is brought before the Sanhedrin and uses words designed to create a riot between the Pharisees and the Sadducees so that he can escape in the confusion. One might say that the words which Paul uses are crafty, used with deliberate effect to create desired dissension. The words he uses are purposeful and are used to promote his continued ability to preach the gospel into all circumstances. At the end of the reading in Acts, God in fact tells Paul that the words Paul used in Jerusalem to sow confusion in the Sanhedrin were used so that Paul could preach in Rome. So what words should we bring with us when we return to the Lord? From this hint we can conclude that the kinds of words we should bring would be intelligent words, wise words, words which help us fulfill our role as preachers, teachers, and servants.

The third hint is contained in our reading from Luke, Jesus is commenting on the reflection of a good heart in good works – “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart…For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45. Good words, words that bring hope, peace, charity, love, encouragement, strength, power, good results, self-control, are brought forth from a heart changed by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. What words should we bring with us when we return to the Lord? Good words which arise and are formed by a good heart which has been brought to health and life by the Word itself, Jesus Christ.

Finally, the fourth hint is in our reading of Psalm 106, which begins with this simple phrase – “Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” Ps. 106:1 When we return to the Lord, bring with us words of praise is also a good idea.

Words of revelation, words of promise, words of truth, words of power, words of wisdom, words from a good heart, words of praise – all these are words we can take with us when we return to the Lord.

But it strikes me that, even so limited, this is still a lot of words. If we analogize that returning to God is like a trip somewhere, would we rather carry a big suitcase which we have to lug behind us and which weighs 70 pounds, or would we rather carry a satchel, something we can sling under our arm and weighs but a couple of pounds? Just because we can take these words, should we? Which words are absolutely necessary to carry with us when we return to the Lord?

I would assert that there is only one word we need carry on our trip to return to the Lord — The Word, Jesus Christ. One word is enough and only one will do.

Are you in the process of trying to find the Lord or trying to return to Him? Are you carrying words with you? If so, which ones? Many or few? A lot of words can be a problem – because the flood of words can drown almost anything and can weigh us down. Dump those words and pick up the One that matters. And with Him, the Word, in hand, complete your journey to God. Instead of being tired, you will be refreshed, and isn’t that just wonderful!

——————————————————————————————————

Bread – Lost

October 1, 2010


Readings for Friday, October 1, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:

Hosea 10:1-15; Acts 21:37-22:16; Luke 6:12-26; Psalms 102, 107:1-32

—————————————————————————————-

Psalm 107 in our readings today present to us four forms of being lost, what one might call situations of “lostness.”

The first are – “Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle.” Psalm 107:4

These are the people who find themselves in Nowhereville. The desert provides nothing to eat or drink. People die in the desert from lack of nourishment. Most deserts are hot to the point of burning. One can find no shelter in the desert, no covering, no protection against the forces of nature. In the desert, one direction looks no better than the other. Which way to green pasture? Which way to life-giving brooks of water? Which way to comfort? In the middle of Nowhereville, in the middle of the desert, no one knows the way.

The second are – “Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains, for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High.” Psalm 107:10

Since we are all children of Adam, we all have rebelled against the words of God and, therefore, at one time or another we all find ourselves lost in the dark. In the dark we are afraid, so afraid that in this passage we are actually just sitting rather than trying to find a way out. Our fear and our hopelessness drives us to depression (“deepest gloom”), so the lostness of dark may be just in our mind. We are surrounded by light but cannot see because our minds are imprisoned to the darkness of despair. While we are sitting in darkness, depressed and full of despair, hopeless, in chains to our misery, we cannot see a way out. We cannot see the solution to our problems. We cannot figure out which way is out. We are lost, we are in chains, we are in a miserable state. In the dark, one direction looks no better than the other. Which way to light? Which way to hope? We don’t know, and we won’t know because we are sitting in the dark, lost.

The third are – “Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.” Psalm 107:17

We love to use our reason, so set our science and our thoughts on the pedestal of worship. In so doing, we ignore God’s commands because they are “old-fashioned,” “for another time, culture, and place,” or “written by ignorant people who only knew how to raise donkeys and knew nothing about the Internet.” In so doing, we rebel against God’s rules for our life, His instructions for our safety, and so find ourselves lost in the foolishness of the world’s wisdom. Once we get there, of what good is God? When we can think of all alternatives, achieve all possibilities if only we “think we can,” conquer life through intelligent use of technology, and dream up unnecessary complexities to justify our jobs and our existence, then we will one day find ourselves in a corner of our own logic, retired by obsolescence, destroyed by predictable mistakes, conquered by the next person with superior “reason.” In the sorry state of self-reliance, we are more lost than perhaps even when we are in the desert or in the dark. We may be more lost because, in our own minds and our own strengths, we do not even realize that we are lost. We are lost and don’t know it, so we are not even trying to find a way out. Like the frog boiled to death in the pot of water, one degree at a time, we become more lost as days go by, glorying in our knowledge, reason, and technology, not even realizing that we have no place to go, no real eternal hope, no real direction.

The fourth are – “Others went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters…in their peril their courage melted away.” Psalm 107:23, 26

The fourth situation of lostness is where one is successful and adventurous, perhaps even guided by an accurate compass, but finds oneself in the middle of the storm, in the situation of great peril. We can become so overwhelmed by the storm we are in, by the complex perils of family life, by the negative situations in our jobs, by just the quakes of life, that we become lost. We are in the storm. What direction do we go in? What is the solution? Where is the hope? How do we get our way out of this mess? In the storm we are lost, we are afraid, we are frozen into inaction, we lack direction.

Maybe today you find yourself in one of these categories of lostness. Perhaps you are in the desert of life. Perhaps you are in the storm. Perhaps you are sitting in the dark. Perhaps you are so self-reliant that you don’t even know that you are lost. In all events, the solution is the same and is given in the same Psalm.

To the one lost in the desert, God says “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress.” Psalm 107:6

To the one lost in the dark, God says “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress.” Psalm 107:13

To the one lost in his foolishness, God says “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress.” Psalm 107:19

To the one lost in his storm, God says “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress.” Psalm 107:28

So what do you do when you are lost? I’ve got a great idea! What about calling out to the Lord? And He will bring you, He will carry you, He will deliver you, and He will save you.

——————————————————————————————————

%d bloggers like this: