Bread – Talent

January 31, 2011


Readings for Monday, January 31, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 48:1-11; Gal. 1:1-17; Mark 5:21-43; Psalms 41, 44, 52

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We love people who have talent. If they can sing, we exalt them to “American Idol” status. If they can write, we buy their books. If someone has the talent of management, we reward them with position, perhaps even the high position of president. If they have the talent of the blarney, we may promote them to sales manager. If we have the talent of making money, we get rich. If we have the talent of sports, we get even richer. Everyone loves people with talent, which is why in school we spend a lot of time discovering our own talents – after all, we should like ourselves. By discovering our talent and working toward our strengths, while minimizing our weaknesses, we can become successful in the world.

In Isaiah today, the Lord has a message for those of us who think we have talent, or think we are the big cheese, or think that we have done something:

“I foretold the former things long ago, My mouth announced them and I made them known; then suddenly I acted and they came to pass.…..I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you so that you could not say, ‘My idols did them; my wooden image and metal god ordained them.’” Is. 48:3-5

In His Word, God tells us what is going to happen so that when it does, we have difficulty in saying “I did it” or “my metal god” [sounds like a computer] did it.

Throughout Isaiah and, indeed, all the prophets, God is continually reminding first Israel and then us that it is He who has made things, it is He who has ordained things, it is He who commands things, it is He who blesses things, it is He who does things. Except by the grace of God, we don’t create, we don’t ordain, we don’t command, we don’t bless, and we don’t do.

Do you have talent? Good. Does that talent make you think that you are the one who creates, ordains, commands, and does? Bad.

Today, we do not have to fear so much the idol of metal, word, or stone, as much as the idol of self, the idol of flesh, the idol which reflects in the mirror.

God has given us His Word so that we are not sucked into idol worship of self, so that we remember that is God who promises and then delivers.

What talent do you have which is your idol? What talent do you have which makes you idolize yourself, to think of yourself as better than you ought? In light of God’s creativeness, His mercy, and His freely given gifts, all of which have been foretold before you ever step foot upon the stage of life, can you really say “I did it?”

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Bread – Nothing

January 26, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, January 26, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 44:24-45:7; Eph. 5:1-14; Mark 4:1-20; Psalms 38, 119:25-48

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I have been asked many times how I write Bread. I wish I could say that it is some great labor, that great research is behind it, or hours spent in study. None of that is true. The fact is that I look up the readings for the day, I read them, and then, typically, the Holy Spirit will guide me to write about something that I have read. Sometimes as I write I am required to do some research to better understand what I read, but that is it.

So what happens when I read the readings and nothing comes to mind to write about? The answer is nothing. This is what happened this morning. The readings are great, the lessons are true, but I did not feel guided to write about anything. In fact, the more I prayed about it the blanker I got.

Don’t we find ourselves in this situation all the time? We have some great need for wisdom, for guidance, for strength, for truth, and we go to the Lord for it in prayer or meditation and … nothing. It is not only an uncomfortable feeling, a feeling of lostness, but what is worse is that we feel like we have no way out of the box. We know we need God but He does not answer in a way we can understand – How do we get out of this box? Oftentimes, in the times when God does not seem present, we can’t get out of the box.

I wonder if this is the feeling that people really have when they are bound to an addiction. They know it, they ask for help, and it appears like the help they get is non-existent or worthless (to them). They ask for something, for some way out, and get nothing – no wisdom, no strength, no direction, no discernment, no power, no self-control – nothing. We do not sense God’s presence and we do not feel that God is blessing us in any way whatsoever.

But have we really received nothing when we ask? Isn’t the problem we have rooted in the words “sense” and “feel”? Is the fact that I have received no guidance today from the Holy Spirit that I recognize any proof whatsoever that God does not exist for me today, or that the Holy Spirit is not there sustaining me, or that perhaps there is something that I have missed because I have been so busy thinking about myself, my bills, my to-do list, my …?

Every Wednesday in the Book of Common Prayer there is an assignment for a reading from Psalm 119. I am sure there is a reason. Psalm 119 is very long, so one conclusion about it is that whatever it says is important and needs to be repeated over and over again. Wednesday is in the middle of the week, the day when we are most steeped in the ways of the world. Psalm 119 is in the center or close to the center of Bible, suggesting that it may make a central point to the success of our Christian walk. Psalm 119 talks about the Word of God, God’s self-revelation to us. When the “sensing” and the “feeling” are no more, when we are experiencing nothing, Psalm 119 reminds us that God is with us and has something to say to us through His Word. The reading from Psalm 119 today begins: “I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to Your Word.” Ps. 119:25. It continues, “My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to Your Word.” Ps. 119:28

When it appears to us that we have nothing from God, the truth is that we have His Word in Scripture and in Jesus Christ – we have everything from God. What appears to us as nothing is in fact everything. When we sense that the Holy Spirit is not speaking to us, is not guiding us, is not listening to us, is not giving us what we need, perhaps it because He already has – and it is in His Word.

In Mark today, Jesus speaks in a parable about the seed and the different quality of crops from it. We are fortunate to go behind the scenes to get its interpretation, but Jesus says that the reason He speaks in parables is so that people who have not been given the grace by God to understand do not understand. Mark 4:11b-12. To those who listened but did not hear, did not understand, it must have felt that they received nothing. But did they receive nothing? No – they heard the truth from the Creator. They heard the truth from God.

There is another reading today from Psalms which expresses this feeling of abandonment, of helplessness, of nothingness, of being in a box which we can’t get out of, and that is Psalm 38, where David cries out “O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God. Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Savior.” Ps. 38:21-22. To which David himself responds in Psalm 119: “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.” Ps. 119:45

So, do you feel today that you have been abandoned by God, that He is not speaking to you, that you have received nothing from Him for your daily bread? Have you read and thought about God’s Word? Have you sought out God’s precepts? If so, walk around in freedom from bondage to feelings and, instead of feeling that you have nothing, know that you have everything.

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Bread – Blindness

January 21, 2011


Readings for Friday, January 21, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 42:1-17; Eph. 3:1-13; Mark 2:13-22; Psalms 16, 17, 22

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Blindness in the sense of not being able to physically see things through my eyes is not something I have experienced, nor is it anything I want to experience. It must be difficult being blind. You are always running into things. You have to rely upon your other senses and upon other people or, perhaps, a seeing eye dog. You always run the risk in traffic or a lot of people of being run down or trampled. People sort of ignore you because you are sort of strange and, besides, you have a handicap. You can’t see beauty or ugly (at least the surface versions of these things). You live in utter darkness.

Come to think of it, every one of those characteristics is something we experience pre-Christian. Without the guidelines of God, we are running to and fro, running into things, bouncing around as we careen through life. We have to rely upon other people telling us what to do or who to be. We get our sense of self through worldly philosophy and ideas. We are always being run down by people and events. You really can’t see beauty or ugly for what it is, except to the extent that the world tells you what it is. You live in utter darkness.

The one difference is that being blind pre-Christian does have the benefit that you are just like everyone else, so people don’t ignore you because you are strange. Because pre-Christian you are of the world and in the world, the world recognizes you as belonging to it. When everyone is blind, being blind is no handicap that you recognize as such.

It is this world of blind people to whom Jesus came. As Isaiah said of Jesus in today’s readings, “…I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, so free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who is in darkness.” Isa. 42:6-7.

Jesus said the same thing in today’s readings, but a little differently – “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mk. 2:17

Are you suffering from blindness today? Is there some decision you need to make but cannot because you do not “see” the correct solution. Is there something about Christ which you do not understand, something in His Word which is confusing, something in life where you feel like you are in the dungeon?

When we ask these questions, we are inclined to lean on another person or obtain some aid to help us walk, like knowledge from the library or help from the latest and greatest “solution.” When we realize we are blind, we are inclined to immediately reach for the help which the world offers.

Why not instead reach for the Word? Why not instead reach for Jesus, the person who “opens eyes that are blind.” Why not instead reach for the Holy Spirit, the person who is the Comforter, who gives us wisdom when we ask?

Why not indeed? Maybe it is because we are in fact blind and need Him.

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Bread — Mornings

January 19, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, January 19, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 41:1-16; Eph. 2:1-10; Mark 1:29-45; Psalms 12, 13, 14, 119:1-24

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It is morning and what have we typically done? Maybe our eyes have “popped” open and we are wide awake, or maybe we slowly gain consciousness as we struggle to fight our way out of sleep’s grip. Typically, the sun is out. We may roll around a few times in our bed as our minds begin to contemplate the daily “to do” list. We may let gravity have its way with us as we crash back into the pillows, remembering what we forgot to do yesterday. Our patterns may involve getting up to let the dog out, to get the paper, to make coffee and maybe to make breakfast, whether it be out of a box or a frying pan. We might then read the paper or just turn on the television or the radio for that morning program where we can listen to the daily drivel. We go to our bathrooms where we prepare ourselves for the day, putting on our clothes, cleansing ourselves of the dirt and grime of the previous day, refreshing our mouths and bodies, and transforming ourselves from unconsciousness to the halls of success. For some of us, all of the above takes a couple of hours; for others, a few minutes. But there is hardly anyone I bet who does not do 90% of what I just described.

So, where is God in all of this?

Before you start thinking that this now becomes a lecture on how we should all wake up in the morning praising God or praying or meditating or reading the Word — stop. That is not where I am going at all. My question is “where is God in all of this?” Where is He indeed? He is everywhere in all of this.

Isn’t it interesting that our perspective is that, if we don’t invite God into our lives, then He is not there. We think that if we don’t initiate the conversation, there is none. If we don’t pray, then God does not hear. We think that if we don’t initiate, He does not respond. How prideful of us to think that we have a choice of whether God is involved in our lives or not. How arrogant.

It has been said that at our deepest sleep we are closest to death. During this time, we have no understanding (that we know of) and certainly no conscious control. At this time, the body is in “automatic” mode and it will either cycle to wakefulness or it won’t. If it doesn’t, we lie in a coma. If it does, we call that “morning.” While we are in this state of “near death,” where is God? He is there and He is awake.

In Ephesians today, Paul tells us a hard lesson, one our prideful hearts do not want to hear – “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” Eph. 2:4-5. When we were, when we are, incapable of taking care of ourselves, of waking ourselves up, of giving ourselves strength for the coming day, of giving ourselves life, God is there to do it for us. We live today because God is and because God does.

Where is God in the morning? Everywhere. Where is God in the awakening from death to life every day? Everywhere. Where is God in our ability to live victoriously? Everywhere. Where is God in our salvation for eternity? Everywhere. Where is God right now? Everywhere.

So since God is everywhere, we have nothing to do except to be aware of that, to listen to the still small voice, to observe the miracle of the morning, to watch as God delivers on His promises, to hear our marching orders from our Master. And here is what God has to say this morning from the prophet Isaiah: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand…for I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid, …for I Myself will help you…’” Isa. 41:10, 13-14

Open those sleepy eyes this morning and see that the Lord is good, He is everlasting, He is here, He is with us, and He helps us.

Good morning!

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Bread – Comparisons

January 17, 2011


Readings for Monday, January 17, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 40:12-23; Eph. 1:1-14; Mark 1:1-13; Psalms 1, 2, 3, 4, 7

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We are prone to comparisons. In fact, one might say that we understand almost everything by comparison to something else. We understand light by having been in darkness. We understand good in its comparison to evil. We recognize kindness because we have seen meanness. We have scales, good…better…best…superior…excellent. We know where we are on the scale by comparing the attributes of what we are looking at.

But although we live in a world of relativism, where things are known in relationship, in comparison, to other things. But somewhere, in the back of our minds, we also know that there are absolutes. For example, we know there is such a thing as an atomic clock which keeps completely accurate time and against which we can measure the accuracy of our watches. We know that there is a plumb line, an absolute straight line created by gravity, against which we can measure the rise of a wall so it won’t lean over and fall down. We know that pi equals a very large absolute number and that that number does not vary no matter how large or small the circle is.

So to whom shall we compare God? Some people would compare Him to Satan. Some would actually compare God to themselves. In a pantheon, we might compare God to other gods. Sometimes we compare God to our particularly favorite idol, choosing our idol when God “compares out” at being too judgmental, or too harsh, or too demanding, or too remote.

This is the question Isaiah deals with today. And he answers the question by essentially asking another question – are you crazy? Why would you compare an absolute to anything? Here is his commentary:

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? Who has understood the mind of the Lord or instructed Him as His counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten Him, or who taught Him the right way? Who was it that taught Him knowledge or showed Him the path of understanding? … To whom then will you compare God? What image will you compare Him to? … ‘To whom will you compare Me? Or who is My equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?” Isa. 40:12-14, 18, 25-26

What is the answer to these questions: To whom will you compare God? To anyone who has a lick of sense, the answer is “no one.” There is no comparison to an absolute. There is a comparison against an absolute, but not to an absolute.

What do we do with an absolute? We observe it, we try to understand it, we try to approach it, but we cannot compare it to anything. In God’s case, as pointed out by Paul today in our reading from Ephesians, we also worship it/Him. “In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, in order that we, who the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory…Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…– to the praise of His glory.” Eph. 1:11-14

There is no comparison between us and God, between us and the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Like all absolutes, God is who He is. We do not need to be comparing ourselves to God because such a comparison is foolish. He is above us, beneath us, within us, around us, behind us, before us, in us and without us, all at the same time. He has no personality and yet every personality. We act in response to circumstances. He acts and circumstances respond. There is no comparison and there never will be.

So, have you fallen into the folly, into the foolishness of trying to compare yourself against the incomparable? Before you say “no, I haven’t,” ask yourself if you compare God’s revelation of Himself (His Scripture) against man’s “science,” against man’s “philosophy,” or against man’s sense of right and wrong? If you do, then you are in the business of comparison rather than the business of recognition and reliance upon the absolute.

If we cannot compare, then what can we do? We can follow, we can obey, we can believe, we can acknowledge, and we can rely upon the absolute. That is all we can do.

Or, one more thing, we can bring ourselves into tune with the absolute. We can get our clock lined up with the atomic clock. We can get our life in tune with God, and we can thank Him in worship for who He is.

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Bread – Be Courageous

January 5, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, January 5, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Josh. 1:1-9; Heb. 11:32-12:2; John 15:1-16; Psalms 2, 110

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A strange thing happened yesterday. I was with a group of people who were asked to raise their hands if they had made any New Year’s resolutions, and almost nobody raised their hands. Either nobody had made resolutions or nobody was willing to admit that they had, even though the audience was friendly. Nobody had any courage to plan for the future or admit that they had.

Every day we confront this same dilemma – do we hide in the corner, hoping that the day does not bring more difficulty, or do we plan for day, raise our hands to be counted, stand up, and proclaim the Good News in general and in our life in particular? Every day, do we get out of bed to tackle the world, to wrestle it into submission, maybe to stand victorious or defeated at the end of the day but at least knowing we were in a fight and fought well, or do we stay in bed and succumb to the blandishments of Satan – stay, retreat, it’s OK, it doesn’t matter anyway, rest, hide, decline, die?

To rise up and to engage life in love and in truth requires courage. We must be courageous. But how?

Our readings today tell us how to be courageous.

The first way we can become courageous is to listen to God. God spoke to Joshua three times – “Be strong and courageous….Be strong and very courageous…Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged…” Josh. 1:6,7,9. God told Joshua why he (Joshua) could and should be courageous – “for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Josh. 1:9. We can be courageous because the creator of the world, the strongest man we have ever known or ever will know, has told us that He is with us, that He is contending for and with us, that He carries us, that He will protect us, and that in the end we will live in eternity with Him. God also told Joshua what to do to be courageous – “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Josh. 1:8

The second way we can become courageous is to have faith in God’s promises, to have faith in Jesus Christ, to believe in God. In our reading today from Hebrews, we read about the early overcomers. There were those who had apparent success – “…conquered kingdoms, …who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” Heb. 11:33-34. There were those who had apparent failure – “Others were tortured and refused to be released…Some faced jeers and flogging, while others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated…” Heb. 11:36-37. In all of these circumstances, they were courageous because of their faith.

The third way we can be courageous is to remain connected to God. Jesus reminds us in our reading today from John that we must, if we are to live victoriously with courage in the evil day, remain connected to Him – “I am the true vine…No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:1,4-5

It is a new year and a new day. Are you courageous to step out into whatever it has to offer and deal with it as a conqueror? If not, are you (a) listening, (b) believing, and (c) abiding? If you answered “no” to any of these questions, then let’s try this New Year’s resolution on for size – “With God’s grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit, I resolve to (a) listen to God, (b) believe in God, and (c) abide in God.” And then be courageous.

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