Bread – Safety

August 26, 2011


Readings for Friday, August 26, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: 1 Kings 11:26-43; James 4:13-5:6; Mark 15:22-32; Psalms 31, 35

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In the reading from 1 Kings today, we find the prophet Ahijah walking with Solomon’s official Jeroboam, at which time Ahijah tells Jeroboam that God is taking ten out of the twelve tribes of Israel from Solomon and giving them to Jeroboam as a new kingdom. Thereafter, we have the division of Israel into Israel and Judah.

The reason that Ahijah gives to Jeroboam for this work of God is in God’s own words – “I will do this because they [Solomon and his people] have forsaken Me and worshiped Ashtoreth…., and have not walked in My ways, nor done what is right in My eyes, nor kept My statutes…” 1 Kings 11:33

Now Solomon is often referred to as the wisest man who ever lived. Two days ago I wrote about the verses where the Queen of Sheba worshiped God because she observed the wisdom which God had given Solomon and recognized that Solomon represented the God worthy of praise.

What happened?

Maybe the better question is, what corrupted Solomon’s wisdom where at one time the wisdom he demonstrated showed the power of God in his life and at another time it caused him to follow false gods, causing him to lose most of his worldly wealth? What indeed.

In reflecting on this question, I realized something. Solomon’s wisdom was not something he read, but something he thought. His wisdom was not bounded by God’s revelation, by His commandments, or by his statutes, but was bounded by what came to him about which was right.

One can imagine this progression – (a) wisdom from God’s law, to (b) wisdom from Solomon’s interpretation of God’s revelation to him, to (c) wisdom from man’s reason. Solomon lost his kingdom, he lost his gift from God, because he became full of himself rather than full of God.

Man’s reason, his wisdom, justifies many gods – the gods of work, the gods of wealth, the gods of leisure, the gods of family, the gods of power. God’s reason, His wisdom, pronounces that He is God and there are no others. God’s reason, His wisdom, establishes the boundaries of wisdom.

What happened to Solomon? The same thing that happens to us. Perhaps at some point we hear the Word spoken, respond in faith, and study God’s written revelation of His wisdom to us – His Scriptures. At that point, we are filled with wisdom of the type that invites the Shebas of the world to acknowledge and to praise God. We then get smart and begin to analyze, interpreting God’s Word from God’s Word. We then get smarter and begin to interpret God’s Word in light of our own understanding. We then get smarter and begin to impose upon God’s Word our worldly wisdom. At some point, we yield our allegiance from God to gods of our making, and our walk with God is seriously harmed.

How are we to resist this natural progression from God’s wisdom to man’s wisdom to serious damage? God said it through Ahijah – “they have not walked in My ways, nor done what is right in My eyes, nor kept My statutes…” If we want to resist, if we want to preserve the power of our relationship with God made possible by Christ’s death on the cross, we must walk in His ways, we must do right in His eyes [and what is right to Him is stated in His Word], and we must keep His statutes.”

The place of safety is not in our logic, in our reason, in our wisdom – the place of safety is in God’s Word.

Let us flee to it and cling to it. Then we will have wisdom worth something.

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Bread – Witness

August 24, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, August 24, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: 1 Kings 9:24-10:13; James 3:1-12; Mark 15:1-11; Psalms 38, 119:25-48

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Praise be to the Lord your God, …” With these words, the Queen of Sheba acknowledged the strength of Solomon’s witness for God to the world. 1 Kings 10:9

On what did she base this? What witness did Solomon present of God’s power and presence on earth? “In wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard.” 1 Kings 10:7.

Wisdom and wealth. Solomon had both and as Christians we have both. Oh, we may not have the gold and silver of Solomon, but we have the wealth of assurance of eternal life with God by Christ’s saving work for us on the cross. Oh, we may not have the comprehensive wisdom of Solomon, but we have the sufficient wisdom which comes from God’s Word as enlightened in us by the Holy Spirit and by God’s delivery of wisdom to those who ask (see James 1:5).

The Queen of Sheba heard about Solomon from a far place, she was curious enough to visit him, he talked to her and answered her questions, and based upon her observations, she said “Praise be to the Lord your God, …” There is no evidence that she became a follower of God, but she certainly saw God’s holiness and power behind and through Solomon, His servant. To use modern parlance, Solomon witnessed to her and, as a result of that witness, she thought enough of God to offer praise to Him and she recognized that God was acting through Solomon. Not bad.

Now for the hard questions. Who has visited you because they have heard about your wealth and wisdom in Jesus Christ and want to know more about it? What visitors have you actually entertained who, before they leave, look at you, marvel at your wealth and wisdom in Jesus Christ, and say “Praise be to the Lord your God?” I’ll answer for me. Zero.

Why is this? Our other Scripture readings today may give us some insight into some of the reasons.

We first have the portion from James, who talks about the tongue and the damage it does. James 3:1-12. He asks an important question – “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” We instinctively know the answer to that is “no.” If we have been transformed by new birth in Jesus Christ, where does the salt water come from? How many times already today have we harmed our witness by the quality of what comes from our mouth? How many times have we denied wisdom by uttering trash? How many times have we spoken from our spirit, our old man, rather than in the power of God’s spirit? Is there enough fresh water coming from our spring to constitute any witness whatsoever of the wisdom and wealth in our life given to us by God?

We then have the portion from Mark, where Jesus is handed over to Pilate and ultimate crucifixion. Mark 15:1-11. How often are we like them, ready to hand Jesus over, to abandon Him, to accept the ways of the world (Barabbas, the thief) over the ways of God (Jesus)? If we are inclined to say that we never do that, ask yourself these questions. How much time already today have you spent with Him, talking with Him, listening to Him, contemplating His Word, doing what He says? Is there enough engagement of God in our lives to constitute any witness whatsoever of how much value we place on the wisdom and wealth given to us by God?

Wisdom and wealth. Do we really believe we have these in full measure from God’s Word, from Jesus’ work on the cross, from God’s creation, from the Holy Spirit? If we do, who knows about it?

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Bread – Politics

August 19, 2011


Readings for Friday, August 19, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 19:24-43; Acts 24:24-25:12; Mark 12:35-44; Psalms 140, 141, 142, 143

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The Bible reflects unvarnished reality, and in our reading today from Acts there is the unvarnished reality of politics.

In Acts, we find Paul imprisoned in Caesarea. There, he is under the control of Felix, the governor. Felix, although a Gentile and probably a pagan, was married to a Jewess. It is stated that Felix was “well acquainted with the Way [Jesus Christ].” Acts 24:22 (Parenthetically, isn’t it interesting how we can be well acquainted with something which does not penetrate our brain, our heart, or our soul.) Felix had Paul speak to him on many things, including “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.” Acts 24:25. This made Felix afraid, but he did not believe.

Now the Jews had levied charges against Paul of stirring up riots, blasphemy, etc. In verse 24:22, Felix says “I will try your case.” However, politics gets in the way and that never happens. Paul is left in prison for two years (with intermittent religious discussions with Felix) “because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews.” Acts 24:27 Here was a man of God, an innocent man, a man whom Felix, the governor of Caesarea, liked, who remained in prison because some powerful Jews wanted him to be in prison because Felix wanted to curry their favor.

After Paul was in prison two years, Felix was succeeded by Festus. Festus is an interesting person because he resists the Jews’ attempts to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, promptly convenes Paul’s court hearing as soon as he gets to Caesarea, and then, after listening to the charges and Paul’s defense, himself succumbs to politics. Festus, “wishing to do the Jews a favor,” then tried to get Paul to agree to go to Jerusalem for trial. Acts 25:9. Sensing the trap, Paul (himself a Roman citizen) insists upon being tried in a Roman court and then, realizing that Festus might well agree to hand Paul over to the Jews, “appeals to Caesar.” Acts 25:11.

In a full demonstration of the effect of politics upon honest decision-making, instead of making the decision that the Jews had not proven their case and that Paul was innocent, Festus punts the ball down the field into Caesar’s court, saying to Paul “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go.” Acts 25:12

Politics perverts justice, it perverts people’s lives (Paul was held in prison for over two years), and it perverts the decision-making process. The Jews had power and they exercised it, the Romans were concerned about it enough to let it affect their legal process, and the net effect was harm to an innocent person.

However, politics has no effect upon God and His purpose. In this vignette of history we see the ugliness of man’s manipulation on the surface and the wonder of God’s working in history below the surface. Just two chapters in Acts before, God said this to Paul – “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” Acts 23:11. Where is Caesar’s court? Rome.

God’s will be done.  Amen.

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Bread – Lost

August 12, 2011


Readings for Friday, August 12, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 15:19-37; Acts 21:37-22:16; Mark 10:46-52; Psalms 102, 107:1-32

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There are many ways of being lost, and our reading today from Psalm 107 talks about four of them.

The first way we can be lost is by wandering in desert wastelands. These are places of dryness, where there is nothing of value to eat or drink. This is a place where our natural reserves of fat and water are rapidly depleted and we can do little for ourselves except stumble around, trying to find food and water, hoping we can “luck” upon a place of refreshment. These are barren places, where we cannot see clearly because of the dust and the sand born in the air by fierce winds of opposition.

The second way we can be lost is finding ourselves imprisoned in darkness and in the “deepest gloom.” This may be darkness of the heart, where we see no life worth living ahead. This may be darkness of the mind, where we see no path whatsoever to victory, only defeat. This may be darkness of the soul, where we are best by the demons in our lives.

The third way we can be lost is by losing the best through our foolishness, through our disobedience to good instruction, to God’s law. From this disobedience comes affliction of all kinds, imposed by society, God, or ourselves, it does not matter – we are in the pit of despair. In this state we may hate the good, refuse instruction in the right, ignore knowledge and truth. Our way appears to become the best way and quickly turns into the hideous reality of no way.

The fourth way we can become lost is by launching into an adventure only to confront adversity which overwhelms us and leaves us with no options. In the Psalm today, this adventure is described as the “sea” and the “mighty waters” and the adversity is described as the “tempest that lifted the high waves.” In this peril there appears to be no hope, no solution, no peace, no way out.

Each of these places can be conquered, but not by us. In describing these places of lostness, the psalm writer also describes the way out.

In the first place of lostness, the desert, the person who was lost “cried out to the Lord” and was delivered from his or her distress. The Lord delivered them “by a straight way to a city where they could settle.”

In the second place of lostness, the dark place, the person who was lost “cried to the Lord” and was saved from his or her distress. The Lord saves them by bringing them out of this gloom and by breaking their chains, cutting through the iron bars which imprison them.

In the third place of lostness, steeped deep in sin through disobedience, the person who was lost “cried to the Lord” and was saved. The Lord saves them by sending to them His Word, by healing their sin, and by rescuing them from the grave.

In the fourth place of lostness, on the adventure of life, the person who was lost “cried out to the Lord” and the storm was still and they were guided to their safe haven.

In every place of lostness there is an out, but only one. We must “cry out to the Lord” and let Him do the heavy lifting, let Him set the path, calm the storm, break the chains, heal our soul, teach us through His Word, save us. We have no power over the desert, the tempest, the consequences of sin, the chains of our prisons – but God does and He can and does set us free.

“Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord.” Ps. 107:43

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Bread – Cursing

August 10, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, August 10, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 14:21-33; Acts 21:15-26; Mark 10:17-31; Psalms 101, 109, 119:121-144

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We are surrounded by them all day long – curses. In fact, we probably contribute daily to the cacophony of curses. We stub our toe and what comes out of our mouth? We get hurt by someone we trusted and what comes out of our mouth? We are late to an important meeting and what comes out of our mouth? And the ultimate opportunity for curses – we get behind someone doing 40 miles an hour in the high speed lane (with a 70 mph speed limit), and then they slow down, and what comes out of our mouth?

The specification in the Book of Common Prayer for today’s readings omits verses 5 to 19 in Psalm 109. I love it when the authors do that – because in my contrary spirit that is exactly then what I will read. And in today’s “excluded” reading, what is David doing – cursing!

And he is very good at it. Let’s see how many of these we can associate with having done ourselves:

Ps. 109:6 – “[to God] Appoint an evil man to destroy him.” (“I hope he gets a boss as bad as he is”)

Ps. 109:7a – “When he is tried, let him be found guilty.” (“I hope he gets what he deserves and goes to jail, the ____”)

Ps. 109:7b – “May his prayers condemn him.” (“If he dares talk to you God, then zap him good!”)

Ps. 109:8a – “May his days be few.” (“Why don’t you just die!”)

Ps. 109:8b – “May another take his place of leadership.” (“I hope he is fired!”)

Ps. 109:9 – “May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.” (“I hope somebody kills him!”)

Ps. 109:10 – “May his children be wandering beggars…” (“I hope he loses his job, he doesn’t deserve it anyway!”)

Ps. 109:11 – “May a creditor seize all he has…” (“Someone needs to send him to the poor house!”)

Ps. 109:12 – “May no one extend kindness to him …” (“He needs to be treated the same way he treats me!”)

Ps. 109:13 – “May his descendants be cut off…” (“He and his whole family can go to ______!”)

Ps. 109:17 – “He loved to pronounce a curse – may it come on him” (“Let him get what he deserves!”)

What is included in the assigned reading are verses 1-4 and then 21 through the end. Verse 4 ends “…but I am a man of prayer,” and Verse 21 starts “But you, O Sovereign Lord, deal well with me for Your name’s sake; out of the goodness of Your love, deliver me.”

Isn’t this so much like we live our lives? On Sunday we say to God, “Hey, I’m here – I’m a man of worship and prayer – now deal well with me so You look good, love me like You should, and deliver me.” The rest of the time, in that space between “I am a man of prayer” and “please deliver me because You love me,” we fill with curses toward our brothers and sisters, toward our life, and toward God.

“O, I have a right to be mad against so-and-so because they …..” you say. And indeed, for their offense against you, you probably do have that right.

And because we disobey God and are born into sin, into the nature of disobedience, God has the same right. But for His children, for us, He declines to exercise it and instead extends the gift of grace, the gift of mercy, the gift of salvation, the gift of everlasting life. Out of the goodness of His love, He delivers.

The person who wrote this Psalm, David, was obviously having a bad hair day. He was mad at some people and it showed up in his prayer to God – “God, curse these bad, bad, bad, bad people – please.” God did not blow David up for having these thoughts, but one wonders if He laughed a little.

Psalm 109 ends with two statements.

In the first ending statement, David said “With my mouth I will greatly extol the Lord; in the great throng I will praise Him.” Ps. 109:30. Really. And how does David’s curses fit into his witness? Do you think that curses either extol the Lord or praise Him? How do your curses fit into your witness?

In the second ending statement, David said “For He stands at the right hand of the needy one, to save his life from those who condemn him.” Ps. 109:31. And who does David have reference to? The people David is condemning – and the person, David, they are condemning. Both needy.

Today, when we are ready to curse at the greatest or least slight, it may pay to remember two things. When we say that we are people of prayer and that we extol the Lord but we curse others, is there something out of sync. When we curse others, how do we know that God is not standing by them, the needy, too?

Perhaps if we thought first about who we are as God’s earthly ambassadors and second about the objects of our wrath, people no different from ourselves, our cursing would fade away into distant memory. And there would be no need to cut it out of our Psalm, because it would not be there in the first place.

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Bread – Places

August 3, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, August 3, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 9:1-13; Acts 19:1-10; Mark 8:34-9:1; Psalms 81, 82, 119:97-120

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In 2 Samuel, in thirteen verses we are presented with a tableau, a stage with three players. In no particular order, the players are David (the king), Ziba (the wealthy servant), and Mephibosheth (the cripple).

At first when I read this this morning, it seemed to me just a nice story about a king who shows favor to his unfortunate subject, where David gives out of his wealth to help the crippled person of low estate. However, upon further reflection, there seems to be a great deal more going on and it only appears when we focus on the details.

The details are these. David has been appointed by God as king and he has conquered Saul, the previous king. Mephibosheth, the cripple, is the only remaining heir of Jonathan, Saul’s son (Jonathan is also dead). From the context, it would seem that Mephibosheth has little property. Ziba is David’s household servant and was previously servant in Saul’s house, but Ziba is well to do (“Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.” 2 Sam. 10c).

So Mephibosheth, who was of royal lineage, lived in poverty in his disabled condition, while Ziba, who was “only” a servant, lived in the king’s household, among wealth, and was wealthy himself.

Does this sound familiar? What about Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son – one son lived among the pigs and the other lived close to the father?

When this vignette of history begins, Mephibosheth has seen his fortunes go from prince of the kingdom to ruin. He is crippled and therefore unable to easily fend for himself. And yet he is not resentful – when brought by David to appear before him, Mephibosheth did not ask for special favors, he did not whine – he merely asked “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” 2 Sam. 9:8 Likewise, when the son who was lost returned home to the father, he did not ask for special favors but merely said “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” Lk. 15:21

There is a difference. Mephibosheth was in a bad place by birth (crippled and, as a relative of a deposed king, subject to destruction), whereas the prodigal son was in a bad place by choice. Both, however, were in a bad place.

Are you in a bad place today? Perhaps it is by birth (you were born into poverty, into illness, into an abusive family, into difficult circumstances). Perhaps it is by choice. In any event, it is in a bad place.

So what is 2 Samuel about? Hope and knowledge. Knowledge that there is a King who cares about you and is looking for you. Hope born of knowing that this King is head over all, that He finds who He wishes to find, and that in the appointed time He will raise those who are His up to sit at the King’s table, regardless of their (and your) present circumstances.

Of course there is a condition, actually two. The first condition is that you acknowledge there is a King. Mephibosheth recognized David’s existence and his power over Mephibosheth’s life; had he not, he would not have come when summoned and he would not have referred to himself as a “dead dog.” The prodigal son recognized his father’s existence and his father’s power over his life; had he not, he would not have remembered his father’s house and returned to it, begging to just be treated as one of the servants.

The second condition is that you actually obey the King’s command, come into His house, sit at His table, and enjoy His provision for your life.

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