Bread – Conflict

April 29, 2011


Readings for Friday, April 29, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Dan. 12:1-4, 13; Acts 4:1-12; John 16:1-15; Psalms 118, 136

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From Acts, we read about Peter speaking before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish rulers, when he said: “Salvation is found in no one else [except Jesus Christ], for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12.

From John’s Gospel we read the words of Jesus when He said: “…; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” John 16:2b

Although the context of Jesus’ statement was Christians being excluded from the Jewish synagogue, the words ring true today when Christians are slaughtered by Muslims because they think they are offering a service to God by doing so.

When Peter says that “salvation is found in no one else [except Jesus],” there is no way to soften this statement, to make it less offensive to those who believe differently, to protect the speaker from backlash, to protect the audience from the truth, to keep the speaker from being destroyed by a society or a people who do not want conflict and hate those people who set forth choices.

And yet there is a choice and it must be made. In fact, it will be made by default if no decision is made, because since there is no other name by which anyone can be saved except Jesus Christ, and if you run away from that conflict, that truth, that choice, then you will in fact have made a choice.

We claim we are Christians. Are we ready for war? Are we ready to speak the truth to power regardless of the consequences? Are we so aligned with Jesus Christ that we would feel love and, indeed, sorrow for the person who would kill us thinking they are offering a service to God? Are we ready to confront, to test, to debate, to engage, to love, to really live, to die?

We may like to ignore it for the semblance of security and peace ignorance provides, but the conflict is here. It is before us. And there are choices to be made, by us and by everyone we know.

If your reaction to what I have just said is to lower your head and say “God help us,” just remember He already has. It’s called a cross.

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Bread – Command

April 27, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, April 27, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Micah 7:7-15; Acts 3:1-10; John 15:1-11; Psalms 97, 99, 115

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I am not sure what to call this Bread and the word “command” may be the wrong word. If it is, pick your own.

Our focused reading this morning is from Acts: “The Peter said, ‘Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’” Acts 3:6

In most commentaries, the ordering of the crippled beggar to walk is an example of the apostle’s exercise of the Holy Spirit to perform a miraculous healing. Theology debate may exist regarding whether this exercise of Holy Spirit power was limited to the age of the apostles in order to demonstrate their authority or whether it is still alive today, but neither this debate nor the fact that this involved a healing is going to be discussed today.

Instead, I want to focus on the nature of the command which Peter gave. To get away from the medical aspects of this, pretend that the beggar is not crippled but is hungry. We as Peter, then, walking in the power of Jesus Christ, can say to the beggar “In the name of Jesus Christ, eat.” The result is the same. The non-believer has a need and, “in the name of Jesus Christ,” the disciple satisfies the need.

There are several aspects to this reading. First, there was a beggar – someone in need. Second, there was a disciple of Jesus Christ present, who today we might call a “Christian.” Third, grace was spoken by the Christian “in the name of Jesus” to the non-believer. Fourth, there is no exclamation point at the end of the sentence.

This last point is fascinating. Normally, we would follow a command with an exclamation point, for example “Halt!” Here the imperative is no less. Peter does not wish good tidings upon the beggar, he orders him to walk. There is no exclamation point though to the command. Why, maybe because when an act of charity, of grace, of outreach, of Christian power is done “in the name of Jesus Christ” there is no need for one. The God of the universe has no need for exclamation marks to punctuate His commands, and as His ambassador representing His full power in the world, neither does Peter.

The third point (working backwards) is that the command to satisfy the need was issued “In the name of Jesus Christ.” Now, what does this mean? I have heard it said that, for example, if you want someone to be healed, you say something like this “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command ….” This strikes me a whole lot like magic words or an incantation. If we only hold our mouths the right way and say “Abracadabra” then wonderful things happen. It appears to me the better meaning of this is that I, as a Christian, am so sold out to Jesus Christ and His work on the cross and am therefore so identified with Him that for purposes of the command I am Him. The use of the phrase “in the name of Jesus Christ” in this context is therefore no more than a reminder that, apart from the power of God (Jesus Christ), we can do nothing. This is in fact the very lesson we have today from John, where Jesus says “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….; apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:1, 4, 5b.

The second and first points are almost obvious except that we routinely forget them. There is a person in need and there is me, a Christian.

You will meet people all day long today who are in need. They are sick, they are hurt, they weep, they are hungry, they lack a place to sleep, they do not know that God loves them and sent His son to die for them, they are lost, they are broken. We are around these people. Why are we not speaking commands full of grace, hope, love, wisdom, and power into these people’s lives? Why are we content to let others feed these people, house these people, care for these people. Why are we not engaged like Peter was?

Maybe it is because we cannot really speak for Jesus, we cannot really speak in His name, because we do not abide in Him, we do not love Him, we do not honor Him, we do not obey Him, we do not worship Him. Where are the Christian commands into a dying world – walk, eat, love, pray, worship, live? Where are they – where am I?

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Bread – Knife’s Edge

April 20, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, April 20, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 17:5-17; Phil. 4:1-13; John 12:27-36; Psalms 55, 74

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This is Wednesday of Holy Week. It is in a sense a knife’s edge where we balance equally between the Law and the Prophets, which lies behind, and the New Testament, new birth by faith in Jesus Christ, which lies ahead.

It is at the knife’s edge where we tilt. We either hold back and retreat into what we know and understand, asking for one more sign, one more wonder, one more revelation, one more insight into truth before we act. The Law is a familiar place, particularly when encrusted by human tradition. It tells us what we must do for eternal life. No matter that what it tells us to do is impossible for us broken vessels. No matter that it is impossible for us as sinful people to meet God’s standards of sinlessness, righteousness, and holiness. What matters is that this is something with which we are familiar – rules, and we like the thought that we can earn ourselves into heaven.

Also at the knife’s edge we can tilt forward into relationship with the living Christ, Son of God and Son of Man. We can follow Christ through His ultimate sacrifice, His death on the cross, His separation from His Father as wrathful judgment for the sins, our sins, which He bore upon Himself. We can acknowledge the love of complete sacrifice in blood for something that we did. We can weep before the cross because what we do causes such a terrible result. We can hold our breath while the body is placed in the borrowed tomb, believing on the one hand that it is over and on the other that it has just begun. We can stand in celebration at the sight of the risen Lord, exalted in His Holiness, walking among us and talking to us, and stand in wonder at His defeat of death for us. We can do all this without law in grace. We can tilt forward into belief in Jesus Christ as the One Who Saves, realizing that we can never qualify before God based upon our defective obedience to the law, but that Christ can cover us in His holiness so that we are indeed presentable before God on the last day. In so doing we abandon our ability to rely upon ourselves and throw ourselves totally in reliance upon Jesus and God.

All the readings today point to this knife’s edge. What is missing from the Psalms is Psalm 119, which we have every Wednesday, which exalts the law. What is included in the Psalms is Psalm 55, which tells us to cast ourselves upon the Lord (tilt forward) and Psalm 74, asking us to remember God’s deeds in the past (tilt back).

Jeremiah says “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends upon flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord” [tilt back] “But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.” [tilt forward] Jer. 17:5, 7 Jesus says “The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going.” [tilt back] “Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” [tilt forward] John 12:35b-36

In a sense today (this Wednesday in Holy Week) represents almost every decision point in our Christian walk. We find ourselves on knife’s edge. We can tilt in one direction toward the familiar, the rules, the religious, the reliance upon self. Or we can tilt in the other direction toward relationship, toward God’s work, toward subjection of self to Jesus, toward reliance upon Him and His work.

Perhaps you or someone you know are on this knife’s edge today about whether he or she will trust Jesus Christ and Him alone for his or her salvation. Perhaps they want to tilt forward, toward the cross and the resurrection, but are afraid of what they will find – that our sinfulness knows no bounds and God’s mercy even exceeds that, that Jesus paid the price they cannot pay, that Jesus has conquered death for me. In today’s reading from Philippians, Paul says “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Phil. 4:13. Do you find yourself on the knife’s edge unable to move forward, uncertain, in doubt, weak, indecisive, unsure, dead? It is because you are all those things. It is Jesus who gives us strength to overcome. It is Jesus who saves. It is Jesus who acts. Therefore, with the spark of faith which Jesus has given you, ask Him to come to you and, when you tilt forward into eternal life, you will look back and say. Like Paul, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

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Readings for Monday, April 11, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 24:1-10; Rom. 9:19-33; John 9:1-17; Psalms 31, 35

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This weekend I went on a retreat where the book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Cost of Discipleship,” was discussed. Bonhoeffer argues that the weakness of the Western Church lies in its emphasis upon grace to the exclusion of radical obedience, resulting in what he calls “cheap grace.” He does not deny that we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone; however, he recognizes that both faith and obedience (which some might call “works”) are inextricably linked, are two sides of the same coin, are always found together whenever there is authentic faith. There is a certain uselessness in trying to sequence the two or segment or divide them, or to figure out which causes which, because both the power to believe and the power to obey (do) arise from the same grace, from the same mercy, from the same Jesus Christ.

As if to put an exclamation point on this lesson, in today’s readings we see an example of each, where a single side of the coin is revealed and where both together make the whole. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, we read “What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness [by obedience to the law], have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they [Israel] pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.” Rom. 9:30-32. Paul’s point is simple and true. Merely trying to be right does not make us right. Effort alone for effort’s sake does not cut it. Faith in God, in Jesus Christ – that is what works to bring us into right relationship with God. So, faith alone in Christ alone seems to be the formula and works, while appearing to bring us into better relationship with God, are a false path to salvation.

However, as counterpoint in today’s readings, we have Jesus healing the man born blind, a true miracle. When Jesus puts the mud on the man’s eyes, He does not wait for the man to ask for the gift and does even ask the man if the man believes in Jesus. Jesus puts the mud on the man’s eyes in a sovereign act of grace and then gives him a command – “Go…wash in the pool of Siloam.” John 9:7. What does the man say? Nothing. What does the man do? He obeys by going to the pool of Siloam and washing in it. Simple obedience – a work. And yet also a statement of faith, because if the blind man had no faith in Jesus than why would he even bother to go the pool of Siloam (any water would have done to wash the mud off his face)? Did faith precede action, did it occur while acting, or did it occur when the man became well after he obeyed Jesus’ command? We don’t know and quite frankly it doesn’t matter. The simplest obedience in response to the simplest faith; the simplest faith in response to the simplest obedience – both arise from the same cause at the same time. Jesus Christ took the initiative and Jesus Christ gave the power and the strength to both obey and believe.

In Romans today, words of action for action’s sake have no effect. In John today, there are no words of faith, only words of action taken in faith.

There is a concept of evidence law which we use in the courtroom called a “verbal act.” For example, there may be testimony that a person recoiled in horror. Nothing is said and yet that “act” of recoil states volumes about what event just occurred and is fact evidence of the severity of the event, even though nothing is said. In this sense, then, true faith evidenced, reflected, and spoken in radical obedience is a true “verbal act.” Nothing is said and yet everything is said. The work is not done for its own sake, to achieve an objective, but is done as an immediate response to the event.

Where are we today in our walk with the Lord? Do we say we have faith – where is our obedience? Do we do good works – where is our faith? In fact, are our good works actions taken in obedience to Jesus, to the commands of God, or are they simply “good” in the sense of what the world or I think are “good?” Do we recognize that obedience may not appear to us to be a “work” at all, like when we are “waiting” upon the Lord?

Who are you obedient to (for real)? Who do you have faith in (for real)?

As Christians, we know what the answer should be to both these questions. But what is it really?

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Bread – Delay

April 6, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, April 6, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:  Jer. 18:1-11; Rom. 8:1-11; John 6:27-40; Psalms 101, 109, 119:121-144

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When I logged on to my computer today, it sent out my Bread from last Friday, April Fool’s day. Why it didn’t send it out when I hit the “send” key, I don’t know.

So, my message was delayed. And, perhaps because it was delayed, you assumed that I had not written it.

Today’s readings talk about God’s delay and deferment of consequences, and the mistakes we make in reading into that delay that God does not care or that He will not act.

In Jeremiah, we are taken to the potter’s house and reminded that God is the potter. God gives the following message to Jeremiah – “If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.” Jer. 18:7-8 Here, God is saying that, in His mercy, He may delay a kingdom’s just punishment because they repent of their sins. God, through Jeremiah, is also reminding us that, because He is the potter, what He does with the clay is His business and not ours.

God may also delay with us, by failing (from our perspective) to either give us (them) the punishment we (they) justly deserve or help us in time of need. In Psalm 109 today, we see both. David begins with “O God, whom I praise, do not remain silent…” Ps. 109:1. Obviously, David is not happy with God’s delay in helping him, by virtue of the words “remain silent,” suggesting that God has been silent to his prayers. The silence has to do with the evil men surrounding David. David wants these evil men taken care of. God’s silence to David is also His silence toward the evil men. Failure to help David is also a failure to hurt the “bad people.” Just so that God might know what kinds of things God could do if He were to stop being silent, David has some ideas for Him: (1) “Let him [the bad person] be found guilty,” (2) “may his [the bad person’s] prayer’s condemn him,” (3) “may his (the bad person’s) days be few,” (4) “may another take his place of leadership,” (5) “may his children be fatherless and his wife a widow,” (6) “may his children be wandering beggars,” (7) “may they [his children] be driven from their ruined homes,” (8) “may a creditor seize all he has,” (9) “may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor,” (10) “may no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children,” (11) “may his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation.” Ps. 109:7-13 You get the picture.

Maybe God’s delay is because He does not know what I want? Let me tell Him in my prayers. Maybe God’s delay is because He does not really understand how evil has oppressed me? Let me tell Him in my prayers. Maybe God’s delay in judgment is because He needs some ideas about what to do? Let me give Him some ideas in my prayers.

Has God delayed acting in your life? Maybe it is because you repented and He has exercised mercy in delaying your just punishment. Maybe it is because we don’t understand and can’t understand His timetable. Maybe it is because He is the potter and we are not.

We are so much like David. If God doesn’t show up by our timetable, maybe it is because He is not paying attention. Maybe it is because He can’t. Maybe it is because He is mean and won’t. Maybe it is because He doesn’t understand the alternatives. Maybe it is because He needs some ideas from us for good solutions. Maybe it is because He wants us to show Him how it is done.

Foolishness. We should not read into delay anything except what it is, delay. And the creator of time and of space and of me does not have to account to me for why.

Oh we can be like David and contest with God about His timetable and His actions. And we can be like Jeremiah, listening for God’s explanations. But one thing we can also be during the time of God’s apparent delay – and that is to wait for and to trust Him.

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Bread – Bloom

April 1, 2011


Readings for Friday, April 1, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 29:1,4-13; Rom. 11:13-24; John 11:1-27; Psalms 22, 95, 141, 143:1-12

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Today is April Fool’s Day and I so much wanted to write about fools I couldn’t stand it. However, the readings today deal with God’s wisdom locked into His Word, so we will deal with that. Of course, to the world God’s wisdom is foolishness, so maybe as Christians talking about God’s wisdom on April Fool’s Day just about puts us in the right place as far as the world is concerned.

In Jeremiah, many of the Jews have been dragged off to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah is instructed by God to write them a letter.

Many people today believe that our country is in the process of being dragged off to Babylon, that we have been disturbed in our homes by a voracious government just chomping at the bit to consume our wealth, enslave us to political correctness, and micromanage our lives.

So it would not be that hard to put ourselves in the position of those Jews being dragged off to Babylon, their wealth confiscated, their freedom limited, their lives managed by their masters. And, if we can identify with them, then Jeremiah’s letter to them is a letter to us too. Let’s read parts of it together:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage…Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper…When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jer. 29:4-11

There is a saying which summarizes this passage, “bloom where you are planted.”

There are many messages in today’s reading today – (1) wherever you are, “I [God] carried” you; (b) bloom where you are planted, no matter how difficult or oppressive that may be and pray for those places where you are; (c) even though things may be bleak, My [God’s] plans for you are to prosper you; and (d) He [God] will deliver on His promises to you and will deliver you.

Bloom where you are planted. Easy to say and hard to do. Pray for those who hurt you. Easy to say and hard to do. God’s wisdom is foolishness to the world. But it is God’s wisdom.

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