Readings for Monday, June 27, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 4:9-14; 2 Cor. 1:1-11; Luke 14:25-35; Psalms 9, 15, 25

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Our readings today begin with this from Moses: “Only be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.” Deut. 4:9

Many of us, and I fall into this category, often treat God and Christ as someone “up there,” a great theoretical construct of the mind, deserving of attention and great debate, yet having little “concreteness.” Moses says that we need to examine ourselves regularly so that we “do not forget the things our eyes have seen.” Our eyes see things that are real before us. Our eyes do not see “up there” or in “history.” They only see what is before us right now.

And what have our eyes seen which we should not forget, which are the glory of the Lord? I will speak of what I have seen and in your private time you can add your own.

I have seen the sun come up in the morning, breaking forth in its glory as the darkness of night is broken and a new day begins. The sun that I have seen does not burn me up because I see the solar system and our earth in careful, created balance, a balance set forth by a hand and a mind greater than mine. I have seen good food and water produced from the ground in regular season. I have seen babies born into the cycle of life, sinful yet born in God’s image. I have seen people die, both in contentment and in bitterness. I have seen a day made better by early prayer. I have seen people healed and I have seen them not healed, not as I or the doctors desire, but as God decides. I have seen great works of man and I have compared these to the great works of God, and I have seen that the latter win. I have seen great love and great hate. I have seen the awakening of a person who has repented of their sins, turned toward Jesus, accepted Him as their Lord and Savior, and reveled in the realization that all is forgiven and eternity waits. I have seen myself and, in so doing, realized the depth of love which God showed me by His death on the cross for what I did.

I see these things and yet I am in constant danger of forgetting them, letting the troubles and busyness (and business) of life overtake me, steal my concentration and my rest, deprive me of time with God, and interfere with my relationships.

So what is the solution to forgetting what we have seen? – Moses says that it is in self-examination (“watch yourselves closely”). To see outward clearly we must see ourselves honestly.

So what are the questions this self-examination could ask to help keep us focused on not forgetting what we have seen? Here are a few, add your own: (a) Who am I? (b) Whose am I? (c) What am I busy about today? (d) Why am I busy about those things? (e) Have I begun the day right?

“Be careful and watch yourself closely so that you do not forget the things you have seen.” Amen.

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Bread – Yeast

June 24, 2011


Readings for Friday, June 24, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Ruth 4:1-17; 1 Tim. 5:17-25; Luke 14:1-11; Psalms 16, 17, 22

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Yeast is hidden in the dough and becomes obvious only when the bread rises.

So it is with sinful deeds and good deeds.

From Paul’s first letter to Timothy we read: “The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment behind them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden.” 1 Tim. 5:24-25

Regarding sin, there are some people who may appear for a day and avoid the public knowing of their sin (their sin trailing behind them), but in the end Paul notes that they can still be ultimately seen. Regarding good works, Paul notes the same phenomenon. Although good works may be obvious upon observation, but they will not remain hidden.

In this sense, both sin and good deeds are like yeast, hidden in the dough of our lives so that they are not obvious to casual observation, but having a huge effect in the ability of the bread to rise to usefulness, to quality, to excellence, to worthiness. It is when the bread rises, when people are able to witness the product of our lives, that sin and good deeds become unhidden. Sin and good deeds cannot be ultimately hidden because how we think is how we do, and how we do builds who we are, and who we are becomes apparent over time.

What kind of yeast is cooking in you right now? Is it the kind that brings forth love and truth, the building up of the kingdom, charity, hope, perseverance? Or is the kind that collapses the bread, turning it into something hard and unfit for consumption by a world which needs good food to eat.

Whatever it is, it will become apparent to all those who observe. And it is apparent to the One who judges and saves.

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Bread – Proximity

June 22, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, June 22, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Ruth 2:14-23; 1 Tim. 3:1-16; Luke 13:18-30; Psalms 12, 13, 14, 119:1-24

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In our reading today from Ruth, Naomi says to Ruth “It will be good for you, my daughter, to with his [Boaz’] girls, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.” Ruth 2:22

The situation is that Ruth, as a poor person, was gleaning the fields for leftover grain from the harvest, so that she could feed herself and Naomi. The field she happed to be in belonged to Boaz, who Naomi describes someone “who has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead,” who is a “close relative,” and who is one of “our” “kinsman-redeemers.” Ruth 2:20. In other words, Naomi was saying that Ruth had found the right place to be, that the owner of the place cared for her because of his character and his relationship to the family, and that Ruth should keep going there, where she could be in close proximity to him.

Another way of saying the same thing is that Naomi was telling Ruth to stay, to live, to work in the proximity of a good place occupied by good people. In such a place, Ruth would be safe from being harmed.

How does one become associated with something or someone, whether it be a philosophy, a religion, a gang, a business, a sports team, etc.? I would say that a person becomes associated with something or someone by living and working in close proximity to them. Not their friend, not their confidant, not even necessarily their boss, but just in the same room, in the same place general location. In other words, close enough is good enough.

This is a real simple concept. Living in proximity to God’s Word, we become more associated with Christ and begin to take on His attributes. If we live in proximity to the world’s great philosophies, we become more associated with the world and begin to take on its attributes. If we live and work in proximity to greatness, we become associated with greatness; if close to meanness, we acquire a mean personality.

Who are living in close proximity too? Who are you working in close proximity to? What things do you live in proximity too? What radio and television stations do you live in proximity to? What books do you live in proximity to? What kinds of neighbors do you live in proximity to?

Just like Naomi told Ruth, if you stay in proximity to the places and people who are good, you will not be harmed.

But there is more. Boaz has been recognized as a type of Christ, a reflection of Christ in the Old Testament. As kinsman-redeemer, Boaz ultimately takes a Gentile woman (Ruth) and gives her standing before God. As kinsman-redeemer, Christ takes us and by His work on the cross redeems us so that we too have standing before God.

So just as Naomi told Ruth to stay in the proximity of Boaz so that she would not be harmed, we need to understand that our place of safety is in proximity to Christ.

Are you living in proximity to Christ? If not, start moving!

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Bread – Seasons

June 20, 2011


Readings for Monday, June 20, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Ruth 1:1-18; 1 Tim. 1:18-2:8; Luke 13:1-9; Psalms 1, 2, 3, 4, 7

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In Psalm 1 in the appointed readings for today we read “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked…But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season …” Ps. 1:1-3

In today’s economy, where fresh fruit can be obtained from all over the world all the time, our stores are always full of fruit and vegetables. As a result, we have become less aware of the seasons of the year – a time for planting, a time for growing, a time for harvesting, and a time for rest. But the seasons are there nonetheless, and if we lived according to our what our local farmers can produce, there would be many times during the year when particular fresh fruits and vegetables would be impossible to come by.

There is always much discussion around Christians about whether we are producing good fruit – whether we are telling people the Good News, whether we are taming our tongues and behaviors to be more Christ-like, whether we are becoming excellent for the Kingdom, whether we are praying more, loving more, doing more, caring more, studying more, worshiping more, etc. And those of us who tend to be self-critical will focus on this daily – what good fruit did I produce today?

We forget that fruit is born in season and the seasons, the times, are ordained by God. We forget that there is a season of winter, of barrenness, where little if any fruit is forthcoming. We forget that, prior to the fruit appearing, there is a quickening throughout the entire tree as it awakes from its slumber and begins to draw deeply from the water and nutrients contained in its roots, in the good ground. It is when the seasons of preparation have passed that there appears the season of good fruit.

Are you beating yourself up today because your life, your marriage, your occupation, your church, your private prayer life, your friendships, your community works are not showing good fruit? Maybe it is because you are not in the season of fruit. Maybe it is because God has guided you into a time of barrenness, where all hope appears lost, so that you might be trained for the race toward eternity. Maybe it is because God has placed you in the season of growth and is feeding you with His Spirit, His righteousness, His wisdom, His strength, His love. Maybe it is because God has led you to green pastures, where you might find rest from your labors. Notice the ratio of the Psalm and the seasons, three-quarters of preparation yields one quarter of fruit to last the year.

While preparing for today, I ran across a short prayer I wrote almost ten years ago. Here it is – “There is fruit, but in season. Lord, help me to abide in Your arms, minute by minute, so that my fruit will be plentiful and good in the season You have appointed.”

Amen.

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Bread is sent to those people who have asked that it be sent to them, and maybe it has been forwarded to you by a friend. If you are not on my mailing list and wish to be, please e-mail me at flintg@verizon.net. I also know that many things fill your inbox and, if you would like to be taken off the list, please e-mail me and your request will be promptly honored.

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

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This and previous Breads may be read, critiqued and commented upon at the Bread blog: https://1bread.wordpress.com

Bread – Enough

June 10, 2011


Readings for Friday, June 10, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Ezek. 34:17-31; Heb. 8:1-13; Luke 10:38-42; Psalms 102, 107:1-32

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What drives us for more? Is it the need to surround ourselves with things so that we can say “I did this”? Is it to prove to ourselves that we are “blessed”? Is to prove to others that we are someone important, powerful, talented, beautiful, able, good, or lucky? Is it to make sure that we have enough to live on in time of famine? Is it to pass onto the next generation enough stuff that they can be free from bondage to work, from the consequences of their own actions? Or is to use for advancement of the Kingdom, for God’s glory (or is that simply a convenient “covering” for our own purposes)?

Let’s face it, unless our wealth is inherited, we have acquired it because we have some talent, professional skills, or leadership (business) abilities which society appreciates and rewards. In other words, unless our wealth is inherited, we have it because in one way, shape, or form, we are ahead of the pack, we are leaders.

Ezekiel talks about wealth today from the perspective of leaders. He says “Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must My flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet? … See, I Myself [God] will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.” Ezek. 34:18-20

I think most of us today would have to classify ourselves in the “fat sheep” category. The question is, have we become fat from feeding on the good pasture or is our desire for “it is never enough” driven us to consume, to trample, everything else? Have we been content to feast on the portion which God has given to us, or have we reached across the table to feed on someone else’s portion as well?

In today’s lesson from Luke, Jesus has been invited to dinner at Martha’s house and, in that classic exchange between being busy with the world (Martha) and being attentive to Christ (Mary), there may be a deeper question as well. How often have we put on “the dog and pony show” when we have had people over, both to impress them and to make ourselves proud of our ability to be hospitable and to make sure that no one goes away hungry or lacks entertainment or good conversation? Martha was in this boat. Jesus was an important guest and Martha was bound and determined to make a good showing, as any of us would in the same circumstances.

But Jesus asks Martha in between the lines the same question Ezekiel asks – “Is it not enough?”

Perhaps we need to ask this same question more often than we do. When we go to buy that new television set, maybe we should ask the question “when is enough?” When we see poverty and reach out a helping hand, maybe we should ask the question “when is enough?” I suspect that, if we were to ask that question more often, we would not be afraid at the time of judging between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Until then, … .

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Bread – Focus

June 8, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, June 8, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:  Ezek. 11:14-25; Heb. 7:1-17; Luke 10:17-24; Psalms 101, 109, 119:121-144

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From Luke today, we read about Jesus’ commissioning of the seventy-two disciples to essentially spread the gospel and heal the sick. The seventy-two “returned with joy” and said to Jesus: “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name.” Lk. 10:17. Jesus replies “…do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Lk. 10:20

I don’t think I have ever seen a ranking of good works. Sometimes good works are perhaps the absence of something, like avoiding sexual immorality, but in the “positive” good works category I would think that (a) preaching the gospel, (b) healing the sick, and (c) exorcising demons would approach the top of the list. After all, don’t we report with great pride when we have had a conversation with a non-believer about our faith and maybe “witnessed” to him? If we offer intercessory prayer and laying on of hands of a sick person and they get well by the grace of God, don’t we walk around all puffed up as if we had done (or at least participated in) a great work? And who cannot imagine the pinnacle of good works, standing firm in the evil day and backing down Satan in Jesus’ name? [of course Jesus would say that the pinnacle of good works is love for your neighbor as yourself, but that is not as grand in our thought processes at the three above]. So, in a very real sense, the seventy-two are coming back, having done the “great” works of evangelism, healing, and “casting out” demons. They came back all puffed up with pride because of their “mighty” works, awfully happy (joyful) about the good works they had accomplished in the world as Jesus’ ambassadors.

So, essentially, what Jesus has just told them is “don’t be joyful in all your good works, be joyful that you are saved.” Don’t revel in what you do in Christ’s name; revel in what Christ has done for you.

This Bread is called “Focus” because so often in our daily affairs we focus on what we have done as Christians and give thanks for that, as opposed to who we are as Christians, our position as saved by the grace of God. Christ tells us in today’s reading from Luke that we should be focused daily on the Mighty work that Christ did on the cross for us, as opposed to any “mighty” work of our own. Christ tells us today that we should be joyful in our eternal security and not joyful for the works we can do with the help of the Holy Spirit.

It is a question of focus. Are we focused on eternity, with grateful hearts that our “names are written in heaven,” or are we focused on whatever good work will make us temporally happy today?

As we go to bed tonight, let us be glad in our salvation and not our good works, reflecting soberly that all we have done at the end of the day is our duty as Christians in response to the great gift we have been given. Come Holy Spirit and help us to focus today on the right things.

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Bread – Resolute

June 6, 2011


Readings for Monday, June 6, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Ezek. 4:1-17; Heb. 6:1-12; Luke 9:51-62; Psalm 89

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“As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Luke 9:51

Webster’s* defines “resolute” as “having or showing a fixed , firm purpose; determined; resolved; unwavering.” The Greek word [Strong #4741] suggests steadfastness. So, another way of saying Luke 9:51 is that Jesus set out for Jerusalem unwavering, with a fixed, determined, firm purpose from which He would not be sidetracked.

All the other readings today talk about our steadfast, resolute actions toward our goal, toward our eternal life in Christ. In the passages today in Luke following the quote above, Jesus tells His followers that they be uncomfortable [“the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” Lk. 9:58], that they have no time to honor their old way of life [“Let the dead bury their own dead…” Lk. 9:60], and that they should always be looking forward to their new life in Christ and not backward to their old ways [“No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Lk. 9:62]. In Hebrews, the writer urges people onward toward maturity in Christ, and warns that turning away will have serious consequences. Heb. 6:4-8 The follower of Christ, His disciples, must be resolute in their belief, their obedience, and their march toward glory.

Even in Ezekiel today, we have an example of resolute obedience to God’s commands. Ezekiel is a prophet and God tells him to lay on his left side for 390 days for the sins of Israel, eating only about eight ounces of food a day (basically only grain cakes cooked on excrement) and drinking only about two-thirds of a quart of water. Ezek. 4:9-15. As a servant of the Most High God, Ezekiel of course resolutely complied.

Unfortunately, I have to admit that, if asked by God to do something like He told Ezekiel to do, I would be tired and inclined to quit after the first day or two, returning to the comfort of my air conditioned house and eating my “three squares” a day (plus a few snacks). And yet Jesus says “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Lk. 9:62

I have to admit that, prior to today, my interpretation of “fit for service in the kingdom of God” translated to “worthy for service.” However, the more I thought about this as I wrote Bread today, the more I realized that none of us is truly “fit.” “Fit for” may mean “worthy,” but since we know that none of us are worthy to have received the blessings God has chosen to give us, not the least of which is salvation, it more likely means “performing at a high level.” We all know that fitness is a combination of endurance, power, strength, ability, agility, prowess, capability, etc., and that none of us achieve fitness without a desire, a purpose, a helper, a plan, and hard work. The test of our fitness is how resolute we are toward maturity, or on the other side of the coin, how often and longingly do we look back.

Today, let us turn toward Jesus and be resolute in our desire and our effort to progress from infancy in Christ to maturity. Are we fit? No. But with the desire and purpose of following Jesus, with God’s plan in His Word, with our helper the Holy Spirit, and a lot of the exercise of obedience, which is our hard work, we may become daily more fit for service in the kingdom of God, both here and now among our neighbors and for all eternity.

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*Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition (World Publishing,1976)

Bread – Providence

June 1, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, June 1, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: *; James 5:13-18; Luke 12:22-31; Psalm 119:97-120

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“Providence” is one of those beautiful words that almost speaks its meaning. It is a relaxing word; just saying it seems to remove the weight from our shoulders. It is a word full of grace, hope, and charity. It is wonderful.

It is also a word which for the most part is missing from our vocabulary today. There is no doubt why this word is missing. If we are the ones in charge; if it doesn’t get done unless we do it; if Murphy’s Law is lurking around the corner ready to bite us when we are not looking; if life is a series of fights where we are constantly overcoming our opponents; if worry and fretting is our ability to remind ourselves of all the things we did not get done; if stress is what keeps us alert to the never-ending attempt to steal our money, our time, our attention, our energy, and our life, then there is no room in our life for the word “providence” or anything like it.

In today’s reading from James, there is a very difficult passage – “…and the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well…if he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:15-16. I have prayed for people to get well and they have not (that I have seen). Does that mean that I did not offer the prayer “in faith?” Does that mean that I am not a “righteous man” [I am not claiming righteousness on my own merit, but through the righteousness of Jesus Christ]? Some people would say “yes” to my questions; others would say that healing is a miraculous gift which ended in the days of the apostles. This Bread is not devoted to that argument (which has taken many people over much time in many words and books to debate).

Juxtaposed against this reading from James is the reading today from Luke: “The Jesus said to His disciples: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat…Life is more than food…Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest…But seek His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” Luke 12:22-31.

Worry on the one hand (Luke) and prayer, healing, forgiveness of sins, and wellness on the other (James). In the reading from Luke today, man chases after the results of his own effort; in the reading from James today, man chases after God (prayer) in expectation that God provides.

As God is so prone to do through His Word, He shows us today two patterns for life – a pattern of self-reliance (reflected by the emotion, worry), where God’s providence is shoved out the door, or a pattern of God-reliance, where we offer our prayer (praise) for ourselves and for others with an expectation that God’s providence is there.

What pattern of life have you adopted for today? Is it a pattern of worry, knowing that it all depends on you? Or is it a pattern of reliance upon God, the creator of the universe, for His providence in your life and the lives of others?

You may be tempted to reject reliance upon the providence of God as a pattern of life because He does not provide for what you want. I want a Maserati but don’t get one; He does not provide. I want a good looking business suit but I can’t pay for it; He does not provide. I want someone to get well, but the sick person does not get well; He does not provide. But, you know, life is not about what you or I want, it is about what God wants. Your things are not from what you have earned and worry about; they are God’s gifts to you, from His providence.

When we understand that all things come from God, James makes all the sense in the world. If we know that God gives, why wouldn’t we go to Him in prayer for all things, including health? If we know that God is God and we are not, why wouldn’t we take both the “yes” and “no” as answers to prayer, as God’s providential goodness toward us, and give thanks in all circumstances?

Behind door number one is worry. Behind door number two is reliance upon God and thanksgiving in all things. Let’s see…I think I’ll choose door number 2. What about you?

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*The assigned reading today is from Baruch, which is a book contained in the Apocrypha, which is outside the canon of Scripture. Although the Apocrypha is recognized in many churches as a source of good thought, it is not properly a source of doctrine and, therefore, I do not include it in the readings from which Bread is written.

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