Bread – Beginnings

November 29, 2010


Readings for Monday, November 29, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 1:10-20; 1 Thess. 1:1-10; Luke 20:1-8; Psalms 1, 2, 3, 4, 7

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November 28 (yesterday) does not seem to be the beginning of the year, but it is. It is the beginning of the church year, called Advent, when we begin anew to prepare for the Lord’s birth, His coming into the world.

There is a certain pattern which has developed in our lives as Christians, in the church, and in our society, where we have a time for giving thanks and for eating orgies, followed by an immediate turn to Christmas, the overnight transformation of our dull landscape into artificial illumination, and the focus of our efforts into buying the gifts (the sooner the better in order to help the economy) which we believe are so necessary to our happiness and the happiness of others.

In today’s readings, God has something to say about this:

“Hear the Word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; Listen to the Law of God, you people of Gomorrah! …Stop bringing [Me] meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me.  Your New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations – I cannot bear your evil assemblies.” Isa. 1:10, 13

Ouch.

This is why we have beginnings which predate the event. When we begin to look at the event from far off, we have the time to observe it for what it is before we enter into the maelstrom of holiday cheer. We have the time to think soberly about God’s Work. His Work in creation. His Work in history. His work in and through Jesus Christ. His Work in our lives.

So, since we are at a beginning and are thinking about beginnings, where did your beginning come from? Did it come from your mother giving you birth, your environment, and your decisions in life or did it come from God?

In Luke today, Jesus is confronted with the question by the Pharisees of where His authority comes from. Jesus asks them about John the Baptist in response. The question that Jesus asked was: “John’s baptism – was it from heaven or from men?” The Pharisees responded that they did not know. Jesus then said that, since they did not know the answer to that question, neither would they know the answer of where Jesus’ authority comes from. Luke 20:1-8

Same question, isn’t it? And it is only a question which can be answered by you. No one can tell you the answer and no amount of argument will reveal it to you. You either know the answer or you don’t. The answer has either been revealed to you or it hasn’t.

So before we launch into Christmas, both the heavenly version and the earthly version, maybe at the beginning it would be useful to answer the question about beginnings. Was John’s baptism from man or from God?

Maybe your answer is “from man.” If so, have a merry Christmas! Maybe your answer is “from God.” If so, have a holy Christmas! Maybe your answer is “I don’t know.” If so, my prayer for you is that, just as the wise men began their journey to truth through seeing a light from God, you will also right now begin your journey toward life in the power and by the guiding light of the Holy Spirit.

Merry Beginnings and Happy (Church) New Year.

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Bread – Rock

November 25, 2010


Readings for Wednesday, November 24, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Zech. 12:1-10; Eph. 1:3-14; Luke 19:1-10; Psalms 119:145-176, 128, 129, 130

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In the reading from Zechariah today, we have a glimpse of the “end times” – “On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.” Zech. 12:3

In the reading from Ephesians today, we learn that Jesus Christ “…chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will – to the praise of His glorious grace…” Eph. 1:4-6

When I read the sentence quoted above from Zechariah, I asked myself what it would be like to be an “immovable rock” in my Christianity, what it would mean if I were so strong in my faith and practice that “all who try to move [me] will injure themselves.”? What would it take to be an “immovable rock?”

What would it take indeed? Would it take being predestined from the beginning of creation to be holy and set apart? Check. Would it take someone to stand in front of me in front of the judge of the universe to defend me, to cover me with His righteousness, to pay the just verdict for my sins by His death on the cross? Check. Would it take the gift of mercy? Check. Would it take the power of the Holy Spirit residing in me? Check.

If I have these things, then why are we not “immovable rocks,” capable of injuring those who would try to move us?

I can think of all kinds of reasons. Maybe we are little rocks, with little weight because of little study or little faith. Maybe we are porous rocks, where the lies of the present age absorb into us rather than bounce off. Maybe we are soft rock, ready to yield to the newest pressure from our friends. Maybe we are rocks resting on the edge of a cliff, ready to fall into the valley of addiction, rather than resting on solid ground where we belong.

Maybe we don’t act like rocks because we don’t know we are rocks. Maybe we don’t act like a rock because we have not fully accepted the gift of mercy, the gift of forgiveness and salvation, the reality of life beyond the grave.

But I think the answer to these questions are in the beginning of the reading from Zechariah – “…on that day…I will” Maybe we are not rocks today because “that day” is not yet here. Maybe we are not rocks today because God has not yet “I will[ed]” it.

But maybe this is the day and God has willed it for me and you. If so, are you ready?

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Bread – Gloss

November 19, 2010


Readings for Friday, November 19, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Mal. 3:1-12; James 5:7-12; Luke 18:1-8; Psalms 102, 107:1-32

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When I read, I highlight. It is my way of focusing and taking notes. Today, I took a new highlighter which I had not previously used on the Bible I use as my base translation for Bread and used it while I read Malachi. My Bible paper did not like the new highlighter, however, and I promptly created a mess. Made a mess of God’s Word, as it were.

In fact, the smearing of the highlighter was so bad the words of Scripture were distorted through the gloss. What I thought would be an aid to reading, understanding, and studying Scripture turned out to be a hindrance. Actually, even worse, it became a barrier.

In a sense, this whole event this morning is a parable about how we go about reading Scripture. We are so ready to highlight the portions we like or understand and ignore the portions we don’t like or don’t understand. We are so ready to put our gloss on Scripture so that we can study it better. At a simple level, our gloss is simply the biases we bring to the table. At a more complicated level, perhaps the gloss we put on the Bible is what our preacher or teacher has told us, which we have accepted without inquiry or critique, or maybe what we have even read in this Bread. At the most complicated level, perhaps the gloss we try to put over the Bible is “cultural context” or “literary criticism” or even “higher criticism” or maybe even our particular system of thought to which we have pledged intellectual loyalty (the “isms” all come to mind).

What we tend to forget, however, is that the gloss we put on the page to help us study in fact may hurt us – it may distort and corrupt the very truth we seek after. Today I ruined a page in my Bible – how many times, however, have I ruined Scripture because of me, my preacher, my teacher, or my education?

Gloss is an interesting word because that is exactly what Malachi is talking about today. In Malachi, we read about the “refiner’s fire.” In a notation next to Malachi, a notation I did not harm with my misbehaving highlighter, Arthur T. Pierson, a writer who lived from 1837-1911, said the following: “The old refiner never leaves his crucible, but sits down by it, lest there should be one excessive degree of heat to mar the metal. But as soon as he skims from the surface the last of the dross, and sees his own face reflected, he puts out the fire.”

“Sees his own face reflected.” “Sees His own face reflected.”

There is a gloss that matters, but it is not one applied by us to God’s Word. It is a gloss applied to us by God’s Word, by the Holy Spirit, by the death of Christ on the cross. It is a gloss that does not corrupt, that does not destroy, but a gloss that reflects God. It is a gloss that refines. It is a gloss that saves the true meaning of the text of our lives – that we are here to reflect God’s glory, His love, His honor, His majesty, His holiness, and His mercy.

So, the decision of the day is whether we will continue to apply our form of gloss to God or whether we will let Him apply His to us.

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Bread – Messengers

November 17, 2010


Readings for Wednesday, November 17, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:  Mal. 1:1, 6-14; James 3:13-4:12; Luke 17:11-19; Psalms 101, 109, 119:121-144

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We are messengers of God on earth. We know this to be true, but do we act like it is true? Do we behave in ways which clarify the message of Good News in Jesus Christ or do we cloud it? Is our message sharp and to the point or is diffused and unfocused, scattered among our responses to the world’s cares?

Our readings today are a compilation of warnings from God about all of the different ways our message can be destroyed. Listen to these and ask yourself how many of these you are guilty of.

The first reading is from Malachi, which means “messenger.” In Malachi, God criticizes Israel for lazy worship, for not offering God our best, but only offering Him the leftovers. Are you guilty of that? Have you compromised the Sabbath, staying in bed rather than spending it in worship? Have you been distracted during the sermon, wondering if the local football team will improve from their sorry record or wondering if you turned the oven off when you left the house? Have you offered to God the popcorn prayer of “Help me do (fill in the blank)” rather than spend time with God in prayer and reflection, building a relationship with Him? If we are not drinking deep from the well of living water, how will be refreshed to give a fresh, strong message to a tired world? Will we be an effective messenger of the truth about a caring God when we do not believe it ourselves sufficiently to give Him our best?

The second reading is from James. Any of you who have read James know that he was very good at describing all of the different ways we can fall short in our daily witness of Christ in our lives. In our short reading today, we find described the following limitations on the effectiveness of our message – (a) bitter envy, (b) selfish ambition, (c) boasting (self-promoting), (d) lying, (e) earthly thinking, (f) disorder, (g) evil practices, (h) selfish desires, (i) quarrelling and fighting, (j) improper motives, (k) self-centeredness, (l) adultery with the world, (m) hatred of God, (n) double-minded, (o) criticizing others, (p) criticizing the burdens and requirements of life, (q) judgment of others, (r) slandering others, (s) pride. Which of these apply to you? When I was listing them, I thought that (m) probably did not apply to me, because I did not hate God, but James says otherwise – “don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?” James 4:4. So I guess (m) does apply to me too. After reading this list and examining ourselves, does anyone wonder any more why our message is weak and ineffective? Why should anyone care about the message of the Kingdom of God when the messenger is dressed in rags and speaks with forked tongue?

The third reading is from Luke. Here, the physician relates the healing of the ten lepers by Jesus. Of the ten which were healed, only one – the least, the Samaritan – returned to give thanks. Ungratefulness. We have now come full circle to Malachi. We do not give God glory by giving Him our best because we are ungrateful.

Why was the Samaritan leper the only one to return to Jesus and give thanks for his healing? Maybe because he knew he was an outcast. Maybe it was because he knew that he was not a member of the “special people,” the Jews, except indirectly. Maybe it was because he really understood his disease – that it was incurable, that it isolated the bearer from life and fellowship and love, that it always resulted in death. And knowing the depth of his removal from position in society, from health, from wealth, from life itself, maybe he realized how wonderful it was that God showed him mercy, removing his affliction, and restoring him to life.

With a clear view of how utterly dead we were in our sins we may have a clearer view of how much mercy has been shown to us by the gift of salvation, by the gift of the cross. With a clear view of how much mercy we have been shown, we may have a clearer view of how grateful we should be. With a clear view of how grateful we should be, we may have a clearer view of how we fall short in our worship, in our prayer, in our speech, in our behavior, in our love, and … in our message.

And once we have a clear view of these things, maybe we will have something to say.

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Bread–PvP

November 10, 2010


Readings for Wednesday, November 10, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:  Joel 2:12-19; Rev. 19:11-21; Luke 15:1-10; Psalms 81, 82, 119:97-120

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“PvP” – what kind of word is this? It is a new word, coined by me, to stand, perhaps, for “Private versus Public.”

The reason for the “versus” is that we often believe, based upon the objective evidence of how politicians are routinely decimated by the public media and all forms of evil which appear to run rampant, that the private life and the public life are antagonistic. People who see the “versus” generally believe that, if you lead a public life, you have no private life and that, if you are going to have a quality private life, you must stay out of the public life. This perspective is in part what drives Christian separatists to hide in their Christian enclaves and to engage with the outside world as little as possible. In their view, the public pollutes the private. This perspective is also in part one of the reasons why secularists would ban all forms of religion from the public arena. In their view, one’s private (religious) beliefs have no place in public display – they are best kept in private, in ones hearts, home, and sanctuary. Just as the one believes the public harms the private, the other believes the private harms the public. Each are focused on the “versus” part of the equation.

But, you know, the letter “v” can stand for things more than “versus.” It can stand for the middle number (the Roman “V”). It can stand for “victory.” It can stand for “verse.” It can stand for “version.” It can also stand for “voice.” If you wanted to read the “v” any of these ways, you could come up with a number of interesting and arguable points. For example, consider the fact that private is “voiced” through public.

Our reading in Joel today gives us some insight, perhaps, into God’s perspective on the “private” and the “public.” In verse 13, God declares the following regarding confession and repentance, a uniquely private act – “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God…” The very next paragraph (thought group), God says “Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call as sacred assembly…” Joel 2:15 Private repentance, something which is always done one-on-one between you and God, is immediately followed with public assembly in worship (the “sacred assembly”). Once you have repented, you are commanded to appear in public and “blow the trumpet.” Once you have repented, you are commanded to appear in public and in the public, in the assembly, exercise your spiritual disciplines (“holy fast”).

The private conversion (repentance, followed by God’s acceptance of you through His Son, Jesus Christ) necessarily precedes the ability to fast, proclaim, and celebrate in public; but the public demonstration of our Christianity necessarily follows our private conversion. Both are commanded. Neither is omitted.

So, in a sense I fell into a trap and brought you with me into the same trap. That trap is the belief that the symbol between “private” and “public” is “v,” when God says that the correct symbol between “private” and “public” is “&” (and).

The life of the Christian is to be lived in the private and the public. The two are not antagonistic but are bookends of the Christian life. God gives us our salvation through Jesus Christ and our power to believe and love through the Holy Spirit for two purposes. One we talk about all the time – the gift of eternal life. The other we need to remember – the gift of the job of proclamation in the world. We were made and saved for eternal relationship with God in heaven. We were also made and saved so that we might be the public face and hands of God in a dying world. What is forged in private in the power of the Holy Spirit is intended to spring forth in public, also in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Where between the bookends of private and public do you fall? Are you a little closer to the private? – maybe it is time to reflect Jesus’ light in public. Are you a little closer to the public? – maybe it is time for you to engage God in private.

Maybe it is time to get rid of the “v,” the “versus,” and embrace the “&,” the “and.”

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Bread – Omissions

November 5, 2010


Readings for Friday, November 5, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: *; Rev. 17:1-18; Luke 13:31-35; Psalms 69, 73

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I am always fascinated by what portion of Scripture are “skipped over” by the assigned readings in the Book of Common Prayer or elsewhere. Today, the actual assigned reading for Psalm 69 is this: Psalm 69:1-23(24-30)31-38. If you read the NIV (the Bible I use as my primary reading source) and you skipped over the bracketed passages, this is what you would get: “May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever…This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hooves.” Ps. 69:23, 31. So, to paraphrase, God’s vengeance is more pleasing to God than sacrifice. What? Since where in the Bible is God more pleased with revenge than with sacrifice? We know from other Scripture that God is pleased with worship which comes from a grateful heart, but is God pleased with revenge? Is there something wrong with this omission in our readings today? Yes, there is, because verse 30, which is suggested to be omitted but which comes before verse 31 reads this way: “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving.” Ps. 69:30. Then, when verse 31 follows, “This will please the Lord…,” the whole passage makes more sense. The omitted part is necessary for a complete understanding, but we might have discovered the omission if we did not know something about the rest of Scripture, if we had not bothered to read the omitted parts, or we did not engage our brain in critical thinking about the truth of what is being said.

But there is another omission from this as well. When I realized what the authors of the list of daily readings had done, I thought that they could not have been that unscriptural. So, I looked further and discovered that our daily reading assignment ends at verse 38, but the NIV translation I am using ended at verse 36 (the NASB, NKJV and ESV end there as well). So where are the missing two verses, or did the writers of the Book of Common Prayer just mess up?

Well, it is helpful to know that the Book of Common Prayer contains its own version of the Psalms. These Psalms are from “The Great Bible of 1539,” written by Cloverdale, which was a “a translation from a Latin translation of a Greek translation of a Hebrew original.”** Psalm 69 in the Book of Common Prayer contains 38 verses. However, a side by side comparison shows that the translations are substantially similar, just the verse numbering is different. However, if you use the Psalm contained in the Book of Common Prayer for the reading, you come up with this: “”They gave me gall to eat, and when I was thirsty, they gave me vinegar to drink…Let them be wiped out of the book of the living and not be written among the righteous.” Ps. 69:23,30. Now the verses tie together – David was being mistreated in his mind, so he calls down a curse on his oppressors. It turns out that the omitted verses then are additional curses, which when totaled equal seven curses in all, so the perfection of curses. I guess the authors of the readings decided that one curse was good enough.

The omitted parts have then been reconciled and found to conform to what we know about God through other portions of Scripture.

So what is the purpose of this long, drawn-out analysis? It is this – look at what it took to (a) identify that something had been omitted, (b) discover what had been omitted, and (c) reconcile the omission to what we knew when we got started. It took a lot of analysis and work.

When lawyers read a contract, it is not hard to determine when something has been worded wrong but it is very hard to determine when something has been left out. The reason we have difficulties with omissions is that, to discover the omission, we have to know how it (the contract, life, relationships, etc.) should be. To see the lie we have to know the truth. To know what is missing from our relationships we have to know what a good relationship looks like. To know what is missing from our Christian life we have to know what our Christian life should look like. In other words, to know what is lost we have to know what is supposed to be.

To see what is missing from the good, we have to know the good. To see what is missing from the better, we have to know the better. To see what is missing from the best, we have to know the best. To see what is missing from the perfect, we have to know the perfect.

When we know the perfect, Jesus Christ, we know what is omitted from our lives. Satan’s great trick is to keep us in the dark so that we have no idea what is missing, what is omitted, from our lives. The light of truth shows us where we are defective, where we are in error, where we are in sin, where we are lost. In other words, the light of truth, Jesus Christ, the perfect, shows us what has been left out of our lives.

But, once we know what has been omitted we are empowered to put it back in. And our desire and our ability to replace the bad with the good, the good with the better, the better with the best, and the best with the perfect is the gift of the Holy Spirit. When we know the perfect in Jesus Christ we are simultaneously enabled to locate the “left outs” in our lives and put those “left outs” back in.

Is something left out, omitted in your life – you sense it but you don’t know what it is? Go, meet Jesus Christ and ask Him, the perfect, to reveal to you what Satan has deprived you of. And then, in the power of the Holy Spirit, let Him help you put into your life what belongs there but is missing.

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*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.

**The quote is from Hatchett, Marion J., “Commentary on the American Prayer Book” (HarperCollins 1995), page 551

 

Bread–Understanding

November 1, 2010


Readings for Monday, November 1, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: *; Rev. 14:1-13; Luke 12:49-59; Psalms 56, 57, 58, 64, 65

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Do you ever get frustrated reading the Bible? I admit that sometimes I do, particularly when I read it without understanding a single thing I have read. For example, what are we to make of the following readings from Revelation today: “The I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads…No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women…They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they were blameless. …This calls for faithful endurance on the part of saints who obey God’s commandment and remain faithful to Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven say ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’’Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” Rev. 14:1-5, 12-13

Who are the 144,000? Why are they special (or are they special)? Even if we assume that they are those rescued from the nation Israel, how is it that “No lie was found in their mouths; they were blameless…” If they were under the Law, then to be blameless they must have followed all of the law all of the time in every way with the proper intent. Who can do that except Jesus Christ. Isn’t Jesus Christ the only One who is sinless and therefore blameless? Is 144,000 a “magic” or “code” number, standing for some kind of perfection or an actual count? Why are they the only ones who can learn the song of worship? There are over six hundred million declared Christians today; if only one percent of them are really Christians, that is still over 6,000,000. Are they included in the 144,000 or excluded? How were they purchased – was it through the death of Christ on the cross or some other way? If it was through the death of Christ on the cross, why aren’t I included (or am I)? It appears that the angels are speaking to saints on earth who are not part of the 144,000. Why are these people any better than “saints?” If there are saints still on earth but the 144,000 before the throne, why were the saints left on earth – to suffer? To test their faith?

These questions give me a headache. And they only scratch the surface of the questions that can be asked about this reading.

Someone may say to me that I may not have understanding because I have not read the complete Bible, because I am not coordinating this passage with other Bible passages (I am reading this passage out of context), because I have not studied enough interpretations of this reading, because I have not listened to enough tapes or gone to the right Sunday school classes – all of which may very well be true.

But is this the real reason I lack understanding? Maybe I have lack of understanding because I just do, because my mind is not God’s mind, because God is not ready to give me insight into this, because the time is not right for me to have understanding. Maybe my understanding lies beyond the horizon, at that point which I will never reach until I rest in the bosom of Abraham.

But lack of understanding hurts our pride. After all, we are educated, we are modern, we are intelligent, we are searching, we have books, and we have the Internet. So surely we must understand, or we have just not done enough – we have not prayed enough, we have not meditated enough, we have not read enough, we have not studied enough.

Or maybe I don’t understand because I am not God. Maybe I don’t understand because I can’t. Maybe I don’t understand because I am permanently defective, distorted and deformed by Adam’s sin and my own.

Maybe I will never understand, even in eternity.

Maybe that’s why God placed Revelation into our lap, to teach us this last truth – that maybe I will never understand.

Because when you don’t understand, you have to rely on something else, you have to rely on someone else. I may not understand how a car works, but I believe that it will work because it has worked and is working. And I know that there is someone else who does know how it works.

And when I find that I have no understanding I find, incredibly, the greatest understanding – that I do not need to know it myself, I need to know the One who knows. I need to know the One who understands. I need to know the One who created. I need to know the One who sacrificed it all for me on the cross. Jesus Christ understands how things really work, He understands who I really am, He understands everything.

And that means that I need to understand nothing except Christ, and Him crucified for me.

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