Bread – But

January 27, 2012


Readings for Friday, January 27, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 17:15-27; Heb. 10:11-25; John 6:1-15; Psalms 40, 51, 54

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“But, …” “But” is one of the most powerful words in the English language because it introduces reasons to think critically about what action is being proposed. “But” is also one of the weakest words in the English language because it brings in worry, distraction, diversion, and subtraction. “But” does not support; it negates. “But” is always our reason for not doing something or doing something only half-heartedly.

Where does the “but” come from? It comes from us, it comes from our knowledge and experience with the human condition and with life, it comes from our “education,” it comes from the world. “But” is human reason and wisdom run amuck. “But” is our contribution.

Trying to negotiate the “buts” of the world is what drives decision-making and achievement to mediocrity. It is because of the “buts” of the world that we become couch potatoes. It is because of the “buts” of the world that we retreat from engagement, we retreat from love, we retreat from truth, we retreat from conflict, we retreat from growth, and in the end we retreat from life. It is the ‘buts” of the world which ultimately imprison us in the “paralysis of analysis.”

Ask yourself, why do we not believe God? Why do we not believe in His promises? Why do we not believe He can and does deliver in small ways and large, every minute of every day, grace, love, power, purpose, strength, and life to us, through us, and into us? I daresay it is because, when we hear God’s promise, we are so ready to always add in our mind “but, ….”

Every one of today’s readings from Scripture has within it testimony about people who are diminishing God’s power in their lives by following each promise with a “but…”

In Psalm 40, David starts off with these strong words of faith – “I waited patiently for the Lord…He lifted me out of the slimy pit…” Ps. 40:1-2 In the middle of the Psalm, however, he says “For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see…Be pleased, O Lord, to save me; O Lord come quickly to help me…” Ps. 40:12-13. Translation – “You help me in times of trouble, but [not today? not always? not in my present circumstances? not in these really tough times?]” You are, but …

In Genesis, God promises Abram that Sarai (now Sarah) will be the mother of nations. Gen. 16:16 Abraham says essentially to himself, laughing under his breath, “That’s nice, but ‘will a son be born to a man a hundred years old?’” Gen. 16:17 God promises and man says, “Yes, but …”

In Hebrews, the writer exhorts his readers, Christians, to “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” Heb. 10:23 Why the need for this statement if we believe God? The need is obvious because then as now Christians are prone to insert their weaknesses into God’s promises, saying to themselves “I believe, but …” or “God’s promises are true, but …” or “I have hope, but …”

Finally, in John we have a tremendous illustration of “but” in operation. Christ is speaking to the crowd and it is late. Everyone needs dinner, so Jesus asks His disciples where can they get dinner. To us who are far off and have read the end of the story, the answer is obvious – “Well, you, O Lord can and do provide us everything we need. You give it to us.” However, to those people on the scene, who know Jesus personally and who have seen His miracles first hand – their immediate reaction is the same ours would have been – it is to say “but.” One disciple says, “but there is no money.” Another disciple says, a little more positive, says “well we have enough food here to feed a couple of folks but not so much to feed everyone” (asking “but how far will they go among so many?”) John 6:9 Jesus of course blesses what little there is, turns it into much, and feeds everyone there. What though do you think will happen the next time the disciples see the same situation? “Yeah, Jesus did it last time, but …”

We say we believe in an all-powerful God, but … We say we believe in miracles, but… We say we believe that God lives up to His promises, but … We say that Christ’s death on the cross was sufficient, but …. We say all kinds of things, but ….

In the statement, “I believe in X, but …,” which part of the statement comes closer to representing our true beliefs? Is it the statement which comes before the comma, “I believe in X,” or is it the statement which comes after the comma, “but …” I assert that it is the “but” part of the sentence which tells us what we really think, what we really believe.

Why do we have such weak faith? Why do Christians exhibit such weak love? Why are Christians almost indistinguishable in their habits from non-Christians? My suggestion is that it is partly, if not totally, because we live in the “but” part of the sentence and not in the “believe” part.

Want to begin recovering the strength of your faith, of your walk with Lord, of your growth in holiness and righteousness all of the days of your life? Stop the “but.” Cut it out of your vocabulary. Cut it out of your life. Kill the “but.”

And live in victory.

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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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Bread – Responsibility

January 25, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, January 25, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 16:1-14; Heb. 9:15-28; John 5:19-29; Psalms 49, 53, 119:49-72

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In today’s reading from Genesis, we have something of an excerpt from what could be a soap opera. Sarai is married to Abram. Sarai does not conceive and does not believe she can have children. Sarai believe that she can build a family indirectly through Hagar, her maidservant. She tells Hagar to sleep with Abram and tells Abram to sleep with Hagar. Hagar becomes pregnant and begins to resent Sarai and get mad at her. Sarai gets upset at this treatment, which she did not expect, and goes to Abram and delivers these immortal words – “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering…” Gen. 16:5

Now if you were Abram and were writing the soap opera episode script, you would respond something like – “I am responsible. No, you are responsible. You told me I could sleep with her, you ordered her to sleep with me. You wanted her to get pregnant. She is pregnant. This is your doing, not mine. I am not responsible for this mess; you are.” This is not in the Bible, but how far off do you think I am?

Satan tells us we are too busy to pray today. We don’t pray because we are too busy. Who is responsible, Satan or me?

Our spouse tells us that he or she is too tired to go to church and they would like to read the paper. We don’t go. Who is responsible, my spouse or me?

A person needs help who has fallen in the street. We are late to a client meeting, so we walk on by. Who is responsible, my client (my schedule) or me?

We have permission from someone to do what we know is wrong. We do it to be “cool” or “part of the gang” or “to go along.” Who is responsible, them or me?

We are told by our boss to lie on a business report or we will be fired. We do it in order not to be fired. Who is responsible, my boss or me?

We are told by someone not to vote because it doesn’t matter anyway. We don’t vote. Who is responsible, “someone” or me?

Sarai hit the nail on the head. Yes, she was the initiator. Yes, she was the instigator. Yes, she was the encourager. Yes, she was the enabler. Yes, she started the ball rolling. But she was not responsible. Abram was responsible. He was the one who committed the act. He was the one who acted on the encouragement when he knew better. He failed to say “no.” He gave in. He is responsible. What Sarai said, “you are responsible,” is neither untrue nor unfair.

Those who are reading this are either Christian or likely on their way. You are responsible for reading this. You are responsible for your actions and words today. You are responsible for the outcomes your actions and words cause. There is no use blaming God, Satan, your boss, your spouse, your children, your next door neighbor, or anyone else.

What a heavy load! In fact, it is too heavy to bear when we think about the enormity of our responsibility and the enormity of our failures to properly exercise our responsibility. Good for us that we have a God who knows our failures and forgives us, who died for us to bear the price of our failure, who carries us in our times of need.

Built into today’s readings is a lesson in our responsibility. But also built into today’s readings is a lesson in God’s mercy, and the readings in mercy overwhelm the readings in responsibility. Psalm 49:15 – “But God will redeem my life from the grave; He will surely take me to Himself.” Heb. 9:15, 28 – “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance – now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant….so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those whose are waiting for Him.” John 5:21, 24 – [Jesus speaking] “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom He is pleased to give it…I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

Because we are responsible, we are charged with our failure. Fortunately for us, the ultimate penalty for our failure – our death forever – has been forgiven for those whom God has chosen to believe in Him.

But we are still responsible. So how are we going to act today? Let us pray that is responsibly.

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Bread – Obey

January 23, 2012


Readings for Monday, January 23, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 14:1-24; Heb. 8:1-13; John 4:43-54; Psalms 41, 44, 52

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From our reading today in the Gospel of John: “Jesus replied, ‘You may go now. Your son will live.’ The man took Jesus at his word and departed.” John 4:50

What is interesting about this event is that Jesus did not give the man what he wanted. What he wanted was for Jesus to “come and heal his son.” John 4:47. In other words, the man with the sick son wanted Jesus to come to his house and lay hands on his son or do something else which required his physical presence. Instead, Jesus does not (apparently) do anything. He just tells the man to “go” and “your son will live.” The man asks for an action, for a miracle, and Jesus gives him an order and a promise.

The man obeys and leaves to go home, and the boy lives. After doing some calculation, the man and his servants figure out that the boy got well at the same time that Jesus was saying “your son will live.”

Big question. Was the son made well because Jesus said so or was the son made well because Jesus said so and the son’s father was obedient? If the obedience had not been there, would the healing have been there?

The fact is we don’t know. At the same time Jesus said “your son will live,” the man “took Jesus at His word and departed.” The promise and the obedience are so intertwined in the same moment that they cannot be divided.

Of course, Jesus, being God, could save the boy with a word of command. And perhaps He did in this instance. But Jesus, being God, could also have conditioned the effectiveness of His command upon a man’s obedience. And perhaps He did in this instance.

This is a great mystery. It shows itself in this little history lesson. It shows itself in the Bible instructions in prayer. It shows itself in salvation.

“Obey” is not a word which many Americans are comfortable with. About the only place where “obedience” is practiced on a routine basis is the military, and even there we give a place to the private who gives due regard to the “conditions on the ground” and therefore disobeys an order from someone which is “wrong” in the circumstances. Everywhere else, obedience is something which is practiced when it works together with our individual objectives and rights, and ignored the rest of the time.

But “obey” is a good word and a good thing to do. As a Christian, the effectiveness of what we do is often related to the degree of our obedience to God’s instruction book, the Bible.

So, there is a problem at work or at home. You have gone to the Lord in prayer about it and, after a while, whether through Scripture, Godly counsel from a fellow Christian, or plain revelation by the Holy Spirit, you have received an answer with an instruction. Maybe the answer is “I am in control, so go home and don’t worry about it.” What do you do? Obey? Ask for more proof? Worry some more? Which of these answers is most likely to result in a successful outcome? If you don’t know the answer, read the story about the father and his son again.

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Bread – Strength

January 20, 2012


Readings for Friday, January 20, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 11:27-12:8; Heb. 7:1-17; John 4:16-26; Psalms 31, 35

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An old Webster’s dictionary (1974 New World Dictionary, College Addition) has several meanings for strength. The first four in order are: “1. The state or power of being strong; force; power; vigor. 2. The power to resist strain, stress, etc.; toughness; durability 3. The power to resist attack; impregnability 4. Legal, moral, or intellectual force or effectiveness.” Those definitions will do.

In today’s lesson from Scripture, we are shown four different ways in which God gives us strength.

The first way is the strength we have through God-given faith. In our reading from Genesis, God tells Abram “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” Gen. 12:1 Scripture reports that “So Abram left, as the Lord had told him…” Gen. 12:4 Where does the strength come from to be radically obedient to the Lord’s purpose in our lives? Through the exercise of faith in the Lord’s promises. Through the exercise of faith to go where God would have you go, even though you may not know where that is or even how or when you will get there.

The second way is the strength we have by virtue of Christ’s position. In Hebrews, we are presented with a discussion about the high priest we have in Jesus Christ, who forever intercedes for us. “Therefore He [Jesus] is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.” Heb. 7:25 We have the strength to stand before God because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross.

The third way is the strength we have by virtue of the truth spoken into our lives by the Holy Spirit. In our reading from John, Jesus speaks truth to the Samaritan women, not only about who He is but about who she is. The Samaritan woman has her sin revealed to her, but does not run away and hide. Instead, in the light of true revelation of her true state, she is given the strength to not only recognize who she is but who Jesus is. When we know nothing is hidden from God but He has forgiven us anyway and given us faith, we can stand fearless at all times, knowing that in life and in death there is victory.

The final way God gives us strength is by being our strong place of shelter. In Psalm 31, David is having a bad time, but he recognizes the strength he can find to overcome all adversaries by seeking refuge in the Lord, starting the Psalm off by saying “In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge…be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.” Ps. 31:1,2b. After resting within the Lord’s place of safety, David has the strength to end the Psalm with “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” Ps. 31:24

Today, will we engage the world in our own strength? Or in the strength of God’s gifts of faith, of Himself for our salvation, of truth spoken into our lives, or of safety, of refuge, of sanctuary, of rest? Which source of strength, ours or His, will give us vigor and power? Which source of strength, ours or His, will give us power to resist strain and stress? Which source of strength, ours or His, will give us the power to resist attack? Which source of strength, ours or His, will give us effectiveness where it counts?

I know you think the answer is obvious. But if it is so obvious, why do we rely on ourselves so much?

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Bread – Peace

January 18, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, January 18, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 9:18-29; Heb. 6:1-12; John 3:22-36; Psalms 38, 119:25-48

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Have you ever noticed how un-parallel some language is? For example, what is the opposite of war? The answer would be “peace.” At first blush, these would appear to be parallel. Both are nouns. War is the opposite of peace and peace is the opposite of war. However, there is a difference. “I war against you” is a proper sentence, containing a noun (“I”) and a verb (“war”). However, the sentence “I peace against you” is not a proper sentence, because there is no verb.

Why is it that “war” is a verb but “peace” is not? We have the state of peace but not the doing of peace? Maybe because “peace” is the absence of striving, of doing, of warring, so there is no such thing as “doing” peace. Maybe it is because we don’t know how to “do” peace, so it does not appear in active, verb form.

But why shouldn’t we have a verb “peace?”

In John’s gospel today, both Jesus and John the Baptist are baptizing. John’s disciples complain, saying “Rabbi, that man [Jesus] who was with you on the other side of the Jordan – the one you testified about – well, he is baptizing and everyone is going to him.” John 3:26

John’s response is to “peace” the situation. He says “A man can receive only what is given to him from heaven … He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:27, 30

Wrapped up in this are all of the elements of what it means to “peace” a situation. First, John recognizes a great truth, which is that whatever it is we have, it is a gift from heaven. Our talent, our treasure, our time on earth, our relationships, our position, our power, our abilities, our productivity, our love, our life – all of it is a gift. Second, John recognizes that he is capable of receiving (handling, dealing with, using, appropriating, investing) only so much, and that the limit is not his ability but what is given him. If He receives little, he has control over little. If he receives much, he has control over much. Whatever it is he has, whether great or small, is a gift, so he can be thankful and gracious in good times and in bad. Third, John recognizes that, as a result of God’s sovereign act, there will be some people who increase while you decrease. We tend to think of these people in terms of jobs and power. But what about our spouses? What about our children? As we place our spouse ahead of us, as we love him or her, our spouse increases while we decrease. As our children grow up, they may very well increase while we decrease.

What John does with this knowledge – the knowledge of gifts, the knowledge of himself, the knowledge of God, the knowledge of his proper purpose and rank in the world – is to deliberately withdraw from conflict, to let the other person increase while he decreases.

John “peaced” the situation.

Maybe there is a situation today you can “peace” by going through the same mental process, by taking the same action as John did to let someone else be first, to let someone else be in the spotlight, to let someone else be the leader.

Are you cringing a little, thinking that this is not in my nature? You are right, it is not in our nature. Maybe to help make it our nature we need to develop a new verb called “peace.” Maybe to help make it our nature, we need to remember that God Himself went to the back of the line when He died on the cross – and in so doing He “peaced” the world. How can we do less?

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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 – Understanding

January 16, 2012


Readings for Monday, January 16, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 8:6-22; Heb. 4:14-5:6; John 2:23-3:15; Psalms 9, 15, 25

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How do we gain understanding? In our account of the Flood from Genesis, we see that understanding comes both supernaturally and naturally. Supernaturally when we receive instructions from God, whether from direct speaking of the Holy Spirit into our mind and soul, whether directly through hearing the Word spoken by Godly preachers, or whether directly through our reading of God’s Holy Scripture. Naturally when we respond in obedience to the revelation we have received, naturally when we scientifically test our environment to assess its nature, naturally when we logically think. God speaks to man; in God’s power we listen and respond. The net effect of the transaction is understanding of the type that says “I know.”

God speaks to Noah supernaturally in direct revelation and says “build an ark according to my directions.” Noah obeys and I am sure there is little rational understanding immediately as this big boat arises in an empty field far from water. God speaks to Noah further and says to load the ark up with every animal on earth. Perhaps Noah’s understanding increased as he obeyed and was able to identify and capture male and female pairs of every living creature. He may not have fully understood the Lord’s words that destruction by flood was coming, but he certainly understood the Lord was involved as the animals were gathered, captured, sorted, and loaded.

Our focus today, however, is not the beginning of the flood but its end. How did Noah come to an understanding that the calamity had ended? First, there was a physical event – the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat (it stopped floating; Noah probably felt a bump). Gen. 8:4. Second, looking straight out of the window, after a while, Noah could observe the tops of mountains (use of sight). Gen. 8:5. Third, after a while longer, Noah began scientific testing, first by sending out a raven and second by sending out a dove. Gen. 8:6-12. Since Noah could not see the ground, he had to rely upon his science project to tell him when the ground was dry. Once the dove did not return, Noah took off the top of the ark so he could see with his own eyes. Sure enough, the ground was dry.

However, at the point of observation, that the ground was dry, was Noah’s understanding complete? Did he know enough to act? To the man of science, the answer would be clearly “yes.” However, to the man of faith, to the man who relies upon God in the good times (before the Flood) and during calamity and bad times (during the Flood, while on the water), why would that man of faith abandon his faith to jump off the boat when the science, when the rational understanding said it was “OK?” Noah did not abandon his faith. Instead, he waited until he had received his marching orders from God – “Then God said to Noah, ‘Come out of the ark…” Gen. 8:15

Where is man’s reason in all of this? It is everywhere (Noah used his knowledge of tools and construction to build the ark; he used his knowledge of management to manage the animals during the trip; he used his knowledge of the world to test his environment to see if it was safe). And it is nowhere (Noah radically relied upon God in building the ark in the first place; Noah radically relied upon God’s promise that the calamity would end by not despairing in his circumstances; Noah radically relied upon God in waiting to exit the ark until he was permitted by God to do so).

As we deal with the week ahead, how will we understand what is going on? Will we rely upon our own devices, our own thoughts, our own senses, our own science experiments, our own knowledge, our own reason? Or will we rely upon God’s revelation to us of Himself, upon His instructions, upon His promises, upon His timing, upon His toolbox. Or will we rely upon both? Noah relied upon both, but he did it in the right way. The order of events was Noah listened to God, he obeyed God, he worked, he observed, he tested, he applied his mind to his circumstances, he listened to God, he obeyed God.

Noah had complete understanding in his circumstances because he began and ended with God. Perhaps our understanding would improve with such support at the beginning, in the middle, and the end.

Do you lack understanding this week? Check out where you are in the order of events. Maybe you started by listening to the wrong person.

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