Bread — Made

December 31, 2010

Readings for Friday, December 31, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 26:1-9; 2 Cor. 5:16-6:2; John 8:12-19; Psalms 46, 48


In the German version of “Silent Night” there is this word “gemacht.” “Gemacht” is an adjective translated simply as “made,” but in the German there is much more conveyed – there is a sense of making by the exercise of sheer will, of sheer power. We use the word “make” in a light form, like “make a sandwich.” “Gemacht” has a gravitas to it, like “make a tool which will last a hundred years.” Using this sense, therefore, Jesus Christ is made by God (with the exercise of great power). Not born by the exercise of human will, but born by God’s will.

“Made” is a word with considerable meaning. When we “make” something, we are using our will and our power to craft something special in our mind, something which we have an intent for good use (even if it is a sandwich). We gather the raw materials and exercise a plan, a design, in our creativity, and at the end of our “made” process we have something new, something perhaps which has never been seen before.

If we know how to make something worthwhile ourselves, why do we so often assume that God has neither the power nor the willingness nor the creativity to make something of greater value? To make it for the world, for our family, for us?

In today’s readings, God “making” is all over the place. In Isaiah, the prophet says simply “God makes salvation.” Isa. 261b. Not “God has made salvation.” Not “God will make salvation.” God “makes salvation.” He did it in Isaiah’s time, He did it on Christmas, and He is doing it now, perhaps even in someone we know. He (God) is the one who designs the bridge that we might travel to Him, He empowers us to recognize that bridge and to walk across it. He makes guidance so that we might know the Way across the bridge to Him. He (God) makes (with great power, in the sheer exercise of His will) salvation.

The second reading today tells us how God made salvation. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinth church we read: “God made Him (Jesus Christ) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor. 5:21. Jesus Christ was made to be born on earth by the power of God so that He could be the complete sacrifice to God for our sins, so that those of us who trust in Him acquire the shield of His righteousness when we stand before God. Christ, who was blameless, took the punishment due us for us so that we might walk across that bridge into God’s presence, in glory for eternity. Jesus Christ (who was and is God) made salvation by His birth, death, and resurrection.

We are ready to enter a new year. In this new year, let us grab hold of what God has made us. Let us know, believe in, trust, and follow the path to salvation made by God — Jesus Christ. Let us live into the new (made) creation in Jesus Christ that we are when we trust in Him. Let us put on our God-made clothes and wear them proudly as ambassadors of Christ. Amen.



Bread – Smarts

December 29, 2010

Readings for Wednesday, December 29, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 12:1-6; Rev. 1:1-8; John 7:37-52; Psalm 18


In today’s reading from John, Jesus says “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” John 7:37b-38. In juxtaposition, the Pharisees, the learned ones among Israel, said “Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him [Jesus]? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law – there is a curse on them.” John 7:48-49

The people with the smarts (with the education, the learning, the training, the brains, the degrees, the certifications) think that Jesus is nuts or worse, an emissary of Satan to again cause God’s people to depart from the law. The “mob,” the people with heart but (according to the Pharisees) with no brains are the ones who listen to Jesus, learn from Him, believe Jesus, believe in Him. The “mob” is paying attention; the Pharisees are not because they know better.

You know the problem with logic, reason, the mind, and smarts? The problem is that bad assumptions will always result in bad conclusions. If the foundation is poor, you can build the most beautiful, elegant, rational, well-designed, “smart” house and that house will still be rotten because the assumption it is built on (the foundation of the argument, so to speak) is rotten.

The Pharisees’ assumptions upon which they base their rejection of Jesus were wrong; therefore their “logical,” smart rejection of Jesus was wrong. First, the Pharisees believed that the law was all there was. There is a reason that the Torah is the law. The Prophets are useful for bringing us back to the Law and reminding us of our necessity for it, but they are not the law. The law given by God is the law given by God. The Pharisees began with an assumption that God was finished with His declarations, with His creation, with His history and concluded that Jesus was therefore not from God, much less God Himself. If God’s law given through Moses is all there is, it is easy to see how the Pharisees applied their smarts to conclude that Jesus was therefore an aberration. If I know all there is to know, how can I know any more? When you present me with more to know, you must be wrong because how can there be something else when I know all there is.

The second assumption the Pharisees made was that their learning, their schooling, their education, their training, was the only way to obtain true knowledge. We see this today in the hubris of our universities, particularly those which call themselves “elite.” The idea that one could obtain anything of value through experience, through relationship, through the heart is anathema to those who start off with the assumption that their way of knowledge is the only way of knowledge. Since Jesus was not a Pharisee and since the people who listened to Him were the “mob,” anything He had to say must be of no value – right?

If anything could be labeled “funny” about the Pharisees, however, is that they base their entire logical argument on an entirely false factual assumption. They think that Jesus was born in Galilee rather than Bethlehem – “’How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem…?’ …They replied [to Nicodemus], ‘Are you from Galilee too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” John 7:41b, 52

How on earth can you get it right, if you are going to use your smarts, when you start off with the wrong facts, with the wrong assumptions? If you are a logical person, you can’t.

As we prepare for the New Year, it is useful to begin by using our smarts to look carefully at our assumptions we walk around with all the time and to challenge those assumptions to test whether they are true. To get you started, I have some ideas:

– If you have concluded that someone is not worth your time, what assumptions have you made about yourself? Are these assumptions based on truth or wishful thinking? What assumptions have you made about them? Are those assumptions true?

– If you have concluded that the Bible should be reinterpreted in light of modern circumstances, what assumptions have you made about yourself? Have you assumed that you are in a position of judgment? Have you assumed that you can dialogue with God as equals? Have you assumed that you are God? Are these assumptions based on truth?

– If you have concluded that miracles have ceased, what assumptions have you made about God? Have you assumed that God is powerless or lacks desire or is disinterested?

– If you have concluded that life is all there is, that there is nothing after death, what assumptions have you made about history? Have you assumed that historical facts are non-existent or useless? Have you assumed that Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection are fairy tales?

Heavy stuff, granted. But the Pharisees made a terrible logical error based upon a false assumption. We must be ever-diligent to not fall into the same trap.

We must use our smarts – enhanced by discernment and wisdom given to us by the Holy Spirit.

Come, Holy Spirit.


Bread – Freedom

December 27, 2010

Readings for Monday, December 27, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: None are designated


Today I ran across something that has never happened to me in writing Bread for three years – nothing is assigned by the Book of Common Prayer for reading today. Since I rely on the Book of Common Prayer for the readings from which I develop a topic, this means that, today, I have no guidance whatsoever on what to write about.

I am cast upon the vast ocean of free will to write about anything I want to write about without limits or guidance from anyone. What freedom! What choice! What release from the prison of obedience to a book!

Or is it freedom? When I can write about anything, it means that really I can write about nothing, because what topic has such relevance, such gravitas, such import, that deserves a smidgen of your time reading it, no matter what I write? If I have absolute freedom, so do you. And absolute freedom is not freedom at all – it is anarchy and chaos. Darkness is chaos. Light divides and defines. Pure freedom is utter darkness and unpleasant. Guided freedom is light and joy.

There is a Christian group called the Navigators and they have a saying paraphrased like this – when one has a ship but no guide, one has no freedom of the seas, but is limited to sailing along the coastline where one can keep view of the shoreline; when one is bound to a compass which shows true direction, one can sail the open seas with freedom.

By limiting our choice to a guiding light, we gain choice and freedom. By refusing to be subject to a good guide, we lose choice and freedom.

Maybe there is a good reason why there is nothing assigned to read today – what if we did not have God’s Word? We would feel as lost, as clueless, as scattered as I do now.

We have just celebrated the birth of Jesus. What if God had not appeared – what if He had not died? Let’s roll back farther. What if God had not created? What if He had not ordered the universe? What if He had not laid down His measuring rod in His Word?

We know what the answer to the questions are – we would live in chaos. We would live in darkness. We would live in hopelessness. We would have lost everything and be so lost that we did not even realize it.

Sometimes we do not appreciate the gift until it is taken away. Sometimes we do not appreciate the gift until we are deprived of its use.

How often have we ignored our prayers, ignored our study, ignored our worship, ignored our God because we take Him, His creation, and His revelation for granted?

Lucky for us, God With Us does not depend upon Us With God. However, our good health and our freedom does. This is why Jesus said “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matt. 11:30. If we are to have good health and true freedom, we must take on a yoke, a harness, guidance for life, direction, and standards for daily living. And the lightest yoke around belongs to Jesus.

Imagine what it would be like for you to have no yoke, to have no rules, to have no limits, to have no boundaries, to have no “designated Scripture.” The world would call that “possibility thinking.” I call it true bondage. What do you call it?


Bread – Rewrite

December 24, 2010

Readings for Friday, December 24, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:  Isa. 35:1-10; Rev. 22:12-17, 21; Luke 1:67-80; Psalms 45, 46


I debated whether to merely quote Isaiah this morning and let it stand on its own, but I decided instead to rewrite it. The “I” can stand for you or me – you substitute whatever word for “I” you want. The rewrite is:

I, who at times have been in the desert in my life and places called parched, am glad.

I, who at times have been lost in the wilderness, rejoice and will blossom.

I, who have feeble hands and knees which buckle under pressure; I who am fearful – the Lord says to me “Be strong, do not fear, I am here.”

My God comes to defend me; indeed, He is here already.

I, who was and can be blind, have had my eyes opened by the power of my God.

I, who was and can be deaf, have had my ears unstopped by the power of my God.

I am lame, but through God who strengthens me I can leap like a deer.

I, whose tongue was sealed shut because of my unclean lips, can shout for joy.

In the wilderness of my life, I can drink from gushing waters and bubbling springs.

Where my house use to be barren of life, good things can now grow.

God has revealed to me a path – it is called the Way of Holiness.

Only those whom God has delivered through the blood of Jesus Christ may walk on that path.

On that path, there is nothing which can destroy me, there is no ferocious beast who can devour me.

On that path, I will meet the redeemed.

On that path, I will enter into Zion in the congregation of singers.

Everlasting joy crowns my head.

I am overtaken by gladness and joy.

Sorrow and sighing are no more.

Jesus says today “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” Rev. 22:17

Tomorrow, Christmas Day, we celebrate the appearance on earth of that free gift – the water of life, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Creator, Redeemer, King.

I rewrote Isaiah. God rewrote me. And He can rewrite you.

Holy Christmas!


Bread – Peace

December 20, 2010

Readings for Monday, December 20, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 11:1-9; Rev. 20:1-10; John 5:30-47; Psalms 61, 62, 112, 115


Many Christmas cards are being and have been mailed which contain the word “Peace.” Indeed, “peace” is something we so much strive for and wish for that we stretch mightily toward living at peace, only to crash and burn when someone irritates us, like the shopper who gets to the last popcorn popper before we do.

We laugh at that image, but we should cry because we have turned the time of focus on the eternal blessing of God’s mercy in His son Jesus Christ, a time of eternal peace, into a time of striving, of jostling for position, of one-upsmanship, of war. We have done and are doing what the world always does – we take God’s Word, His Son, His love, His opportunity for victory, His life, His peace – and turn it upside down.

Today’s reading from Isaiah says in part: “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Isa. 11:9

Do you want peace in this season of anxiety? The solution to your want is contained in Isaiah’s prophecy.

If you want to be in the position mentally, emotionally, and soulfully where peace is actually obtainable, where you “neither harm nor destroy,” three things are essential according to this sentence from Isaiah. The first is to be in the right place – on God’s holy mountain. The second is to be well fed – full of the knowledge of the Lord. The third is to have the right clothes, as the waters cover the sea.

Regarding the place, one might be inclined to say that God’s holy mountain is just that, the mountain where the Ten Commandments was given. Perhaps it means the tabernacle, where God was present to meet with His people, represented today by our modern churches and sanctuaries. We understand, though, as Christians that we walk around with God’s holy mountain inside of us, because the temple of the Holy Spirit is within us, is our body. However, although God may be always present, whether He is accessible by us today is, to a large extent, whether we are willing to recognize that we are always in the presence of the Almighty in His holy temple, on His holy mountain, and that our only proper place before God is on our knees and our face. Peace begins when we realize that, when we are on God’s holy mountain, we do not need to be trying to share the throne, but we need to be living “in the delight in the fear of the Lord.” Isa. 11:3a.

The second element of living in peace is to be content, being well fed. For folks like me, I immediately jump to the conclusion that being well fed means living with the Scriptures, for “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matt. 4:4 However, Jesus has a warning to us about that in today’s readings, saying “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life.” John 5:39-40. It is not enough to know God’s Word through the mind; one must know God’s Living Word in Jesus Christ to have life, to be full, to have peace.

The third element of living in peace is to be dressed properly. We know how to dress to go out on a date in the evening. We know how to dress to go hunting. We know how to dress to play basketball. We know how to dress to go swimming. We know how to dress if we live in North Dakota in the winter. How come we don’t know how to dress to live in peace? The “How” is contained in Isaiah when he says “full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” Isa. 11:9b. There are two points here. The first is that the “full of knowledge” is to cover us like clothing (“as the waters cover”). The second and more important part, however, is to realize that the waters not only cover the “sea,” but the “sea” is known by its waters. The concept of “sea” and the concept of “waters” are so intertwined as to be inseparable. There is no sea which is not defined by the waters which cover it. Just like we say that the clothes “make the man,” so wearing the clothes of God, putting on Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit as His and our helper, makes us so intertwined with Him that His righteousness, His peace, His love, His power is carried over to us.

Shelter, clothes, food – the three essentials to survival. All of which are available from God, all of which are necessary to have eternal peace, as well as peace on earth. These are not things however made or imagined by us, but they are made by God and made available to us by His goodness, not our effort. Shelter – what better place than God’s holy mountain? Clothes – what better clothes than the armor of God? Food – what better food than God’s own self, His Word in writing, creation, and in Jesus Christ?

Are you missing the peace which your Christmas card offers? Where are you? What are you eating? Whose clothes are you wearing?


Bread – Hubris

December 17, 2010

Readings for Friday, December 17, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 10:5-19; 2 Pet. 2:17-22; Matt. 11:2-15; Psalms 40, 51, 54


“Hubris” means “wanton insolence or arrogance resulting from excessive pride” [Webster’s New World Dictionary, College Edition (1974)].

It is an appropriate word to summarize today’s readings.

From Isaiah, we read about Assyria and our Lord’s attitude about it: “Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of My anger, in whose hand is the club of My wrath…’I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes. For he says: ‘By the strength of my hand I have done this, and by my wisdom, because I have understanding.’’” Isa. 10:5, 12-13. The King of Assyria acted with hubris toward God because the King of Assyria believed that he was king, that it was by his strength and his knowledge and wisdom that he conquered the then-known world, and he did not recognize that all power, knowledge, wisdom, and authority come from God. “Woe to him [the King of Assyria].” Woe to him because he did not know his place.

From 2 Peter, we read about rotten teachers and leaders: “These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words…They promise them [their followers] freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for a man is slave to whatever has mastered him.” 2 Pet. 17-19. These folks demonstrate hubris against God. We know this because they do not mouth words given to them by God, but instead mouth words which are boastful, which come from pride of the heart. Instead of subjecting themselves to the master of the universe they subject themselves to depravity. Instead of being a slave to the kingdom of God, they are slave to the kingdom of self and the selfish paths which flow from self.

From Matthew, we read about the difference between the best on earth and the least in heaven: “I [Jesus] tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Matt. 11:11. The greatest man of woman who ever lived doesn’t hold a candle to the most minor person in heaven. What can be achieved through man’s hubris, through his overweening pride, is nothing compared to the achievements of the most humble in heaven.

When you are ready to look around your home or your place of work and pat yourself on the back for the good things you have done, ask yourself if you are behaving like the Assyrian, ready to take credit for having the talents and smarts to “do it,” instead of acknowledging the One Who really did it. When you begin to talk, perhaps to impart information to a colleague, give a presentation to a group, participate in a discussion, or even to pass gossip, ask yourself whether you are behaving like the rotten leader, ready with your boastful words but not ready at all to be slave to the One who gives you the power to speak.

When you think about being the best at what you do, ask yourself this – if I become the best and win the prize on earth, have I done it in a way which makes me the least in heaven?

I am going out hunting this weekend and I hope that the only thing I shoot dead as a doornail is my hubris, my pride. Do you want to join me? You can find the bullets at the foot of the cross.


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All Bible citations are to the New International Version (NIV), unless otherwise noted.


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Bread – The Greater One

December 15, 2010

Readings for Wednesday, December 15 designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 9:8-17; 2 Pet. 2:1-10a; Mark 1:1-8; Psalms 49, 53,119:49-72


Today’s readings are contrasting. From Isaiah we read “But the people have not returned to Him who struck them, nor have they sought the Lord Almighty. So the Lord will cut off from Israel both the head and the tail … the elders and prominent men are the head, and the prophets who teach lies are the tail. Those who guide this people mislead them,…” Isa. 9:13-16. From 2 Peter we read “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers from among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them…Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.” 2 Pet. 2:1-3

Obviously these first two lessons address false elders, prophets, leaders create mayhem among themselves, within the church, and in us.

The contrasting reading is from Mark, where the example of the good elder, leader, prophet and teacher is given. And this was his message according to Mark: “After me [John] will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, be He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mk. 1:7-8

What is the difference between the condemned and the commended? The acknowledgment that there is One Who Is Greater than I. The acknowledgment that there is One so much greater than I am that I am not important enough to be in the same room with Him or stand beside Him or even talk to Him.

This is not our normal view and, because it does not line up evenly with our egalitarian ideas of equality and equal authority (authority derived from the governed), it is a view we have to deliberately adopt based upon our understanding of our death to sin and the merciful and unmerited gift of salvation we have received from God. Our normal view would place us beside Jesus, walking with Him hand in hand, talking to Him as an equal (as a “friend”), and asking Him for the same kind of favors we would ask of our earthly friends, offering in return our friendship and some measure of loyalty, when we feel like it.

If you don’t think that is the way we naturally think, look at the ubiquitous symbols contained throughout our modern Bible translations. What symbols you ask? Well – which pronouns are capitalized and which are not? “I” is always capitalized, as if “I” were something important. Pronouns which relate to Jesus and the Father are never capitalized.

Why is this? I think it is because we do not recognize, truly recognize, that there is a Greater One who is behind us, before us, above us, and sustaining us, raising us up. We so much focus on the “I” that we forget the “He.”

Our culture has a certain fascination with the birth of Jesus, as well it should because He is the incarnation of God among us. However, I also think that the fascination comes about because, as a baby, Jesus seems somehow cuddly and nice and, as a baby, He needs us. With the baby Jesus, we get to feel like we are the greater one and He is the lesser, we get to feel in control. Instead, the reality is that we are not even worthy to change His diapers (or what passed for them).

If you think about it, who is the “greater one” in your life right now? Is it your spouse, your children, your boss, your teacher, or maybe the person staring back at you in the mirror, who? Who should it be?


Bread – References

December 13, 2010

Readings for Monday, December 13, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 8:16-9:1; 2 Pet. 1:1-11; Luke 22:39-53; Psalms 41, 44, 52


From Isaiah today, we read “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” Isa. 8:19-20

In the library there is an entire shelf, sometimes an entire bookcase, sometimes an entire section, and sometimes an entire floor which is labeled “Reference Section.” In the reference section one can find many books, article collections, encyclopedias, dictionaries, treatises, maps, catalogues, compendiums, and a variety of gatherings of the world’s “objective” knowledge – that is, that collection of wisdom, facts, theories, and conclusions upon which we rely for the truth, when we have a doubt about it. When we go to the reference section, we believe that we are not receiving opinion, but fact; that we are not receiving theory, but systems of knowledge upon which we can rely for our daily living.

How much of this, in our daily “scientific” culture, is really the product of mediums and spiritists? Is not, in many respects, the geologist who tries to tease truth from dead rocks the equivalent of a medium teasing truth from a crystal ball? Oh No, the scientists among us would cry, because the geologist is trained in scientific truth and theories, is trained in observing objective fact, and is educated in applying the rational mind to those observed facts and carefully calculated theories, to come up with the truth. How can a person be called a medium or a spiritist with that much knowledge, that much training, and that much rational thinking? Certainly the word “scientist” has a better connotation than the word “medium,” but if a medium has made conclusions that what he predicts from observation of the crystal ball comes to pass and a scientist-geologist has made conclusions that what he predicted from observation of seismic waves from subsurface testing has come to pass (in the discovery of oil), how are either any more or less “scientific” in their conclusions than the other?

I am not here to put down scientists or the scientific method, because clearly the process of thinking rationally from observed fact, capable of repetitious, consistent, reproduction, has resulting in great benefit. However, I am here to point out that Isaiah’s words have just as much meaning today as they did then, even though we may not be familiar with either a medium or a spiritist, as such. Isaiah’s words could, in the modern vernacular, be translated almost as well by saying “When men tell you to consult reference books [earthly wisdom, smart people, the universities, the sciences], should not the people of a God consult their God?…If they do not speak according to this [His] word, they have no light of dawn.”

If you claim to be a Christian, Isaiah says to you “When men tell you to consult …, why on earth don’t you consult your God [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] through His Word?” Why don’t you make God and what He says your reference instead of the reference shelf at the library, or your next door neighbor, or your college professor, or the newspaper or the television or Allah or …?

As if to answer the implied question of whether God’s Word has any value for daily living, our readings today are full of grace, wisdom, knowledge, and hope. Just a sampling:

With respect to the progression of life, From 2 Peter, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness … make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” 2 Pet. 1:3-8

With respect to seasons of life, From Jesus Himself as reported in Luke: “’When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?’ ‘Nothing,’ they answered. He said to them ‘But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Luke 22:35-36

With respect to our relationship to others, “Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the Lord will deliver him in times of trouble.” Ps. 41:1

With respect to who really wins the battle for us, “It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your face, for You loved them.” Ps. 44:3

With respect to the future for those who despise God, “Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin…The righteous will see and fear; and they will laugh at him, saying ‘Here now is the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others!” Ps. 52:5-7

When you read the above quotes from today’s Scripture, ask yourself if you would hear the same advice, the same analysis, the same observations, by making reference to any other source – would Allah say the same thing? Would the Encyclopedia Britannica? Would Word Facts and Figures? Would the modern university (pick any course)?

Isaiah knew that the references we use will determine how we think, what we think about, how we talk, how we behave, and ultimately our character. Therefore he asks the question, why would you not inquire of your God (if you really believe Him)?

Do you feel weak in your Christian witness, your Christian discipline, your Christian walk, your Christian obedience, your Christian purpose, your Christian love? If so, one question you might fairly ask yourself, when you look for a reference book, what book do you look for? Where do you go for your answers? Who do you ask?

If it’s not God, then you have the answer why you have no answers (why you are in the dark), because “if they do not speak according to this [His] word, they have no light of dawn.” Isa. 8:20.

What reference do you use when you need an answer?


Bread – Getting It

December 8, 2010

Readings for Wednesday, December 8, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 6:1-13; 2 Thess. 1:1-12; John 7:53-8:11; Psalms 38, 119:25-48


The citation to Thessalonians today has a two (2) in front of it, meaning it was the second letter we have that Paul wrote the church in Thessalonica. There may have been others; what God has chosen to preserve for us is two. Paul had to write multiple letters to many churches in order for them to get it. In many if not most if not all cases, one is not enough. It takes multiple messages over time before we begin to get it.

Today’s readings are powerful. In Isaiah, Isaiah is transported to the throne room of God where he instantly realizes that his sin will destroy him in the presence of a God of perfect holiness. In second Thessalonians, Paul prays that the Thessalonians will be found worthy of their calling in Jesus Christ, that “the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in [them].” 2 Thess. 1:12. In John, we witness Jesus’ handling of the accusations and the accusers of the adulteress.

In Isaiah, God sends His truth, represented by the angel carrying a live coal, to purify Isaiah and to transform him instantly from a person of woe, of unclean lips, to a person ready to become a soldier for God (“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” Isa. 6:8). To the people of Thessalonica, God (through Paul) reminds them that their power to fulfill every one of their good purposes comes by “His power.” 2 Thess. 1:11. In John, Jesus takes the sinful woman and, instead of delivering the punishment required by the law, releases her to sin no more.

When are we going to get it? How many letters do God’s messengers have to send us before we wake up to what is going on?

There was nothing the adulterous woman could do to do away with her sin and, under the law, she deserved stoning to death. Jesus interceded to erase the condemnation and to set the woman free to sin no more. In Thessalonica, the people were filled with good desires; God reminds them that it is through His power that they have any ability to do good. Isaiah has no right to be where he was – he was a man of unclean lips and he came from the race of humanity where everyone has unclean lips; he was purified through God’s holy fire (the Holy Spirit) to become worthy to become a messenger of God.

Someone once told me that it is very easy for us to give gifts and very hard for us to accept them. I think this is true. Before Isaiah was ready to accept God’s gift of forgiveness, Isaiah had to be confronted with his sin compared with the absolute holiness and perfection of God. Before the people of Thessalonica were ready to accept God’s gift of the Holy Spirit for daily living, they were persecuted. Before the adulterous woman could receive forgiveness from God, she had to be accused of a crime deserving of death.

We have Christmas upside down. Maybe what we need to be about doing is being about the business of accepting the Gift we have been given – the gift of love, the gift of forgiveness, the gift of strength for daily living, the gift of eternal life, the gift of salvation through Jesus’ birth, life, and death – and not worry so much about giving gifts.

In twenty minutes on Christmas morning we will have waded through the mountains of stuff we have been given by people.

What about the rest of the time? How long does it take to wade through the inestimable gift we have been given by our God?

God’s way of doing things always seems to be the reverse of what we do, of what the world dictates. At Christmas we act like we should be giving gifts so that we can receive them; instead, what we should be doing is recognizing that we have been given the greatest gift, accept it for it is, and then in the power of the Holy Spirit we will be able to give good gifts to others – the gifts of family, of community, of caring, of time, of reconciliation, of forgiveness, of love, of grace, and, yes, of truth. And none of these gifts can be packaged or tied up in a bow. And none of these gifts are neat. But these gifts have real power, and they take more than twenty minutes to open. And these gifts bring happiness and joy.

When will we get it?


Bread – Excellence

December 6, 2010

Readings for Monday, December 6, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 5:8-12, 18-23; 1 Thess. 5:1-11; Luke 21:20-28; Psalms 9, 15, 25


What is wrong with being excellent at something? Most people’s kneejerk response would be “nothing.” Upon further reflection, however, we might say that it matters what we are excellent at. For example, we might say that it is OK to be excellent at jumping rope, but not so OK for us to be excellent at consuming Thanksgiving turkey. For example, we might say that it is OK for us to be an excellent marksman in competition, but not so OK for us to be an excellent assassin. For example, we might say that it is OK for us to be excellent at studying and taking exams, but not so OK for us to be excellent at studying how to assemble a bomb in our kitchen.

However, isn’t it interesting that even we may have some issues with what I just said? We know some people prize the ability to eat large quantities of food, we know that some people are excellent murderers, and we know that some people are very good at preparing homemade bombs. And, depending upon our point of view, we may actually admire those people.

So if excellence is something to be desired, what is wrong with being excellent at producing poison?

What I have just demonstrated is an object lesson in the problem of relativism, where each one of us sets the standards of morality, of the bounds of acceptable behavior, or the appropriateness of particular objectives. What can be wrong with me being excellent at blowing up airplanes if I think it is a good idea? The relativist, if he or she is true to their intellectual position, has to answer this question – “nothing is wrong with it.”

From Isaiah today, we read – “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks.” Isa. 5:22

What a great line – whoever thought that it was possible to be a hero at drinking, and a champion of making drinks for others? To say it differently, “Woe to those who drink and mix liquor excellently.”

Woe to those who do the wrong things excellently. Woe to those who do the wrong things well.

Are you excellent at something? I’ll bet you are. Is what you are excellent at consistent with God’s Word on the subject? If it is not consistent with God’s word, what is it consistent with – the world’s principles, your own ideas of what works and what doesn’t, your boss’ idea of what works and what doesn’t?

Are being a hero of something which God does not like? Are you championing a cause which is not God’s? Do you realize what God has to say about that – “woe to you.”

Today is Monday. As we set our objectives for the rest of the week, let’s set them on being excellent, but being excellent at the right things. Let’s look to God’s Word for what we should be doing – and then let’s become a hero at loving and speaking truth and a champion of the good.

There is an old saying which speaks to all this – “Rise up like a lion in the service of the Lord.”

Rise up indeed and be a hero, be excellent – in the service of the Lord.


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