Bread – Castles

February 24, 2012

Readings for Friday, February 24, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ezek. 18:1-4, 25-32; Phil. 4:1-9; John 17:9-19; Psalms 31, 35, 95


From our reading today in Psalm 31 – “Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe…” Ps. 31:3 (1979 BCP). “For thou art my strong rock and my castle…” Ps. 31:4 (BCP 1928). “Be my rock of refuge, a fortress of defense to save me.” Ps. 31:2b (NKJV). “Be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.” Ps. 31:2b (NIV).

Castles are cool. Which little boy has not dreamed of being Sir _____, dressed in chain mail, the cross of Christ on his breastplate, sword in hand, on the parapet with flags waiving, ready to fend off the dragon or the evil hordes assaulting the walls?

But who has not also seen the interior of the castle, far from the sun, where the weary king sits on the throne, tired, bitter, torn between one last stand and surrender, at a loss for what to do next, imprisoned by his hopeless and inability to think or decide. Who has not witnessed in the stories the dark advisers, feeding the king lies of defeat, whispering loss into his ear, encouraging death and defeat, urging “Give up, Give up?”

Castles can be places of strong defense, of mighty deeds, of lofty vision, full of light and life. Castles can be the place of dungeons and death, dark and dreadful.

So, what predicts which one, which conclusion, which vision we are talking or thinking about? Well the first question we might ask is who built it, man or God? Actually, God does not even need to build it. According to Psalm 31, He is a castle, a strong fortress to keep us safe. If we abide in Him and He in us, we already live in a castle. Because it is a castle not made by man, it cannot fail, it cannot be overtaken by the dragon or the hordes, there are no dungeons and places of darkness. It is a place of refuge and protection, and it is not a prison. It is strong. It is durable. It is forever. None of its stones will be torn down. In God’s castle, we do not need to look to ourselves to defend the parapet because God’s army is in residence and mighty to save.

A second question we might ask is where is righteousness found? In our reading from Ezekiel today, we learn that a righteous man lives whereas a man who sins dies. Ezek. 18:3-24. Elsewhere in the Bible we learn that if we say we are without sin (and therefore righteous), “we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” 1 Jn. 1:8. Righteousness is found in God and not in man. The place of righteousness is in Jesus Christ, the castle built by His hands, and not in us and not in the castle built by us.

There is a time in all of our lives where we are in the day of desolation, of destitution, of profound loss, of deep worry, of doubt and confusion, of depression, of loss and impending doom. This is not the end of days predicted by Scripture, but as far as we are concerned it might as well be. In the world cataclysm at the end of days, we are advised by God to flee to a place of safety. That advice works well for us to in our personal cataclysm. And where do we flee? To Christ, to God, to the castle, to the strong fortress, under the protection of the Most High.

Earlier in this writing I described a picture of a tired king, lost in his musings, with evil advisers by his side whispering loss and defeat into a mind and soul already feeling defeated. What is wrong with this picture?

What is wrong with this picture is the identity of the king on the throne. Is it you or is it God? Is it your friends or is it God? Is it your pastor or teacher or boss or leader or is it God?

The key to the effectiveness of the castle is who sits on the throne. When we say we have fled to God’s castle but somehow we are still assaulted, we are still defensive, we are still at a loss, we might ask ourselves are we really in God’s castle, where He is on the throne, or are we in a castle which we call God’s, but where it is really we or some other person who sits on the throne.

There is a strong place of safety, a fortress in times of need and plenty. A place of safety in all circumstances. That castle is God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Flee to it.


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Bread – Humility

February 20, 2012

Readings for Monday, February 20, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Prov. 27:1-6, 10-12; Phil. 2:1-13; John 18:15-18, 25-27; Psalms 9, 15, 25


We say with great pride, “I can be so humble!” We laugh, because in that very statement we evidence in very spades the very lack of the humility we claim to have. We know it, and yet we do it.

Our lessons today approach the topic of humility from different angles, but it is the same message. If we are in our Christian walk attempting every day to better understand Christ, to be obedient to Him, and to conform our language and our doings to Christ, then as Paul said in Philippians: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus – Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality of God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing,…” Phil. 2:5-6.

So how does one practice humility for real? The readings today suggest some approaches. First, we must not count equality with each other something to be appreciated or gained or even secured, but must subordinate ourselves appropriately to the true needs of others. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Phil. 2:3. This is not to say we should not have boundaries and is not to say that taking care of oneself is a bad idea, but it is to say that at the minimum we must somehow build into our thinking “me and you.” Not “me and not you” which is the ultimate in selfishness, not “you but not me” which is a dishonoring of self, and not “me or you” which pits us against each other, but “me and you.” Immediately following Paul’s instruction that we should “consider others better than yourselves,” Paul states “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Phil. 2:4. Part of healthy humility is taking care of ourselves, not out of “selfish ambition” and “vain conceit,” but out of an understanding that we do our best for others when we ourselves are healthy and capable.

The second way we can practice humility is contained in our readings from Proverbs. Prov. 27:1, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” is a reminder that we are not God and we can only handle well what is before us. Humility is practicing the fact that we are not in control, thanking God for the present and leaving in His hands tomorrow. This is not to say that tomorrow is ignored, because God has taught us that we must plant today to reap tomorrow; what it does mean is that in our pride we should not presume to believe that tomorrow (or even later today) is controlled by us. In humility we act with our best today, praying that God takes that best and bestows blessings tomorrow, but understanding that it is not ours to either control or to worry about (worry being a reflection of our lack of humility – “If I don’t worry about it, it won’t get done”). Prov. 27:2, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth” is a reminder that pride puffs up, and one of the best measures of our “puff-up-edness” is our self-promotion, our self-praise, our tooting our own horn. In other words, if we are to be humble let us set our boasting aside, our boasting about our future, our past, our present, and ourselves. Let it go and let who we are and what we do stand on their own without dressing them up.

The third lesson in humility is demonstrated in Peter’s three times denial of Christ in our reading today from the Gospel of John. Peter’s actions remind us of who we are on our own – afraid. Peter was afraid of the consequences of the truth, of standing firm as Christ’s in a hostile world, of claiming his allegiance at the time of oppression. We need to be reminded of this always – when push comes to shove, in our own efforts, in our own pride, we can be pretty sorry people. We act out of fear than love. We retreat rather than engage. We lie rather than speak truth. We hide rather than show up.

And in Peter’s example, we see the classic fundamental conflict between the ways of the world and the ways of God, between the economy of the world and the economy of God. In the economy of the world, we demonstrate pride, which is a cover for our fear. In the economy of God, we demonstrate humility, which is the revealing of our new nature in Christ, free and full of love, self-controlled, and powerful. The very thing which Satan (the world) has equated to power (pride) is the very thing which truly demonstrates lack of power. The very thing which Satan (the world) has equated to lack of power (humility) is the very thing which demonstrates real power.

So, today, let us practice some humility. While we are talking with someone, instead of putting our best foot forward, why don’t we just sit back and listen? Instead of promoting ourselves, let’s just be quiet. And while we are trying to be humble, let us pray that God protects us from being prideful of our humility. Let us pray that God the Father reminds us of how Jesus, His Son, “ being in the very nature God, did not consider equality of God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing,” (Phil 2:6-7a), and pray that He strengthens us in our walk to do likewise. Amen.


Bread – Debts

February 10, 2012

Readings for Monday, February 10, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 27:46-28:22; Rom. 13:1-14; John 8:33-47; Psalms 88, 91, 92


If I use the word “debt,” like in the sentence “You owe me a debt,” what is the natural thought by Americans about what is owed? Be honest. The most common response would be “money.” In America, if we owe someone a debt, we typically owe them money. People who come to collect our money are called “debt collectors.”

However, in the Bible there are many forms of debt. There is the debt of kindness. There is the debt of forgiveness. There is the debt of gratitude. There are a variety of debts.

In our reading from Romans today, Paul warns us to keep our ledger of debts clean. In other words, pay our debts promptly. “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another …” Rom. 13:7-8. In Paul’s mind, we owe each other a debt of love which can never be completely paid because it is ongoing. Not said, but we know to be true, is that we can never completely pay the debt of love because we are selfish; we always hold something back for ourselves.

There is an interesting thing about the concept of “debt,” and that is that we don’t like owing people, so we constantly try to make sure that someone owes us a debt. We pay for lunch, perhaps out of a motivation of love and respect, but often out of a sense of making sure the books are balanced in our favor – he owes us lunch. We think that people owe us a debt of honor and respect and get mad when we don’t get promptly paid. We demand that people forgive us because we set up their debt to us in our mind larger than it probably is. We take on the attitude that, if they are going to want their debt paid, when then they are going to pay their debt to me.

Rather than taking Paul’s attitude of making sure my books of debt are clean about what I owe you, I turn it around and make sure that my books are clean about what you owe me. If we are going to be forced to look at the balance sheet of life from the liabilities (what I owe) perspective, we are going to make sure that we also look at it from the assets side (what I am owed) as well.

In other words, Paul tells us to clean and clear our debt, in other words clean it off our books. Our approach is not to clean but to balance. That is why it is called a “balance sheet” and not a “clean sheet.”

This approach to life with our fellow humans follows us into our approach with God. We know we owe Him a great debt (although we think that it probably not as large as our preacher constantly tells us it is), but maybe we can get Him to owe us something, so that we have some debt owed to us which we can balance on our books and make them look better. Isn’t that what works is about? If I do good works, then God owes me something? If I can do enough good works, then God owes me more than I owe Him? Isn’t that what we turn prayer into? If I pray for something, then God owes me a debt of results? And then, if I don’t get those results, then God owes me double results next time?

This human art of turning a debt I owe you into a debt you owe me is demonstrated today in our reading from Genesis. In Genesis today, we have the story of the dream of Jacob’s ladder. Jacob has been selected by God to receive the first born blessing from Isaac (see Gen. 25:23), has actually received that blessing, and is on his way to his mother’s relatives for safety. God has revealed Himself to Jacob, and further reveals that He will give Jacob the land on which he is resting and that all peoples of the earth would be blessed through Jacob and his offspring. Now, at the minimum one would think that this would create in Jacob a debt of gratitude to God for unmerited and unearned grace. And it probably does to some extent, so Jacob now feels that he must balance the books by creating a debt from God to him. He does it in this way, saying: “If God will be with me and will watch over me … then the Lord will be my God …” Gen. 28:20. A non-literal translation: “God, if you pay me what you owe me, then I’ll pay you what I owe you.” Wait a minute! How is it that God owed Jacob anything? By what art does Jacob create a debt of God to him out of thin air? Well, the human art. And God laughs.

“I am not going to believe God unless he does so-and-so for me.” So what? If you believe God, it is not because He owes you a debt or a benefit, or that He has fulfilled His end of the bargain you created. If you believe God, it is because He has chosen you to believe Him. Jesus says clearly today in today’s readings that “He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” John 8:47.

God does not owe us anything; we owe Him everything. There is no balance sheet with God. There is either a clean sheet or an unclean one.

And the remarkable thing is that there is no way for us to achieve a clean sheet, free of debt, by our own actions, in our own strength. That is what Jesus did for us on the cross with God, to give those who believe in Him a clean sheet with God. Then, clothed with Jesus, we can in this life work on cleaning up our debt sheet with our neighbors.

So, let’s today as followers of Christ, as His disciples, work on having a clean sheet with others, work on paying our debts – giving love, giving honor, giving respect, giving truth, giving forgiveness. We can forget the debt of others to us, the receivables that we carry on our balance sheet, because compared against the asset God has given us – eternity with Him – the receivables are worthless. God has taken care of the assets, He has taken care of the debt to Him, and He has left it to us to take care of our debts to others. Let’s start!


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Bread – Birthright

February 6, 2012

Readings for Monday, February 6, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 25:19-34; Heb. 13:1-16; John 7:37-52; Psalms 77, 79, 80


In Genesis today we have the beginning of the history of Jacob, the younger, and Esau, the older, both sons of Isaac. This is the report of how Esau sold his birthright, the right to be the primary inheritor from his father, to Jacob for a bowl of soup (stew), because he (Esau) was temporarily hungry. What good is a birthright anyway when your parents are not dead? To realize some value to your birthright, you have to think about the future – you have to be able to think many months and years in advance. So, as Genesis says, “So Esau despised his birthright.” Gen. 25:34b

This e-mail and blog are not normally written about politics in a political season, so I apologize in advance for any offense this may give my readers. But isn’t this where we are today as a nation?

Haven’t we been the recipients of a great nation, founded upon great principles, which has done and is doing great good? Don’t we stand on the shoulders of giants, our founding fathers, our relatives who rebuilt this nation after war and depression, our grandfathers and fathers who contested against evil and rebuilt the world after defeating it? We are the inheritors of the greatest nation on earth, founded upon principles of individual choice, individual rights, and individual responsibility. We have a birthright – which we can either keep and treasure – or sell and despise.

One wonders if our desire for the government to do everything for us, to “help,” is really our consumption of a tasty stew while we think we are hungry, delivered to us by deceivers (Jacob’s name means “grasps the heel,” which figuratively means “he deceives”).

I cannot help but see the parallel between our current state of affairs and the decision confronting Esau in the kitchen, tempted as he was by the deceiver.

But there is more here than just a simple parallel. God ordained that this would happen to Esau (He to Rebekah what would happen – “..the older will serve the younger”). Gen. 25:23 And perhaps God is ordaining what is happening to us right now. Perhaps He intends for us to sell our birthright right now, for some bread and stew, to fill our temporary hunger. Perhaps He has ordained that we despise our birthright.

But I don’t think so. God has placed the Bible in our hands for reasons, not the least of which is to help us to know Him, to understand His will, and to understand the natural consequences of our actions. Perhaps this lesson is here in Genesis to not only explain the development of two nations from Jacob and Esau, but to also speak to us, this generation, who have our own choice to make – our own choice to treasure and preserve our birthright, or to despise and sell it for the equivalence of temporary convenience.

Why are we here, with this choice before us? Maybe because we as Christians do not act like Christians. Maybe because we take the name but not the reality. Maybe because we allege allegiance to God but do not bow down, do not kneel, do not worship Him. We do not “continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess His name.” Heb. 13:15

Our readings from Hebrews today (part of which is quoted above) is a litany of how we are to live our lives as Christians. Here is a self-test. How many of these do we fall short on? – (1) keep on loving each other as brothers; (2) entertain strangers; (3) remember those in prison; (4) remember those who are mistreated; (5) honor marriage; (6) keep the marriage bed pure; (7) maintain a life free of the love of money; (8) be content with what you have; (9) ignore strange teachings; (10) strengthen our heart by grace and not just by ceremony. Heb. 13:1-9 But perhaps the most important command about how we are to live our lives is contained in the second part of Heb. 13:15, “…and do not forget to do good and to share with others…” Heb. 13:16.

Both worship as a sacrifice of praise and doing good and sharing with others are the kinds of sacrifices which please God. Heb. 13:15-16

So, as Christians we have two choices which confront us. Do we sell our birthright and thereby despise it? Do we present sacrifices to God which are pleasing to Him, worshiping and praising Him and doing good, sharing with others? Interestingly, both of these choices relate to each other. If we sell our birthright, aren’t really saying to God that we do not rely upon Him, that we do not honor His word, and that we do not need to share with others because the government is taking care of it? So the answer of “yes” to the first choice is really an answer of “no” to the second. But if Esau was going to eat, Jacob had to share with him what he had. And so we realize that if we do not sell our birthright, if we answer “no” to the first choice, we must then answer “yes” to the second.

Choose this day whom you will serve.


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Bread – Slipping

February 3, 2012

Readings for Friday, February 3, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 24:1-27; Heb. 12:3-11; John 7:1-13; Psalms 69, 73


Psalm 73, ascribed as a “Psalm of Asaph,” says: “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Ps. 73:2-3

Who has not been in position of slipping? Sometimes it is because the way is treacherous, like with snow, ice, or “black ice.” Sometimes it is because we are so caught up with ourselves or our mission that we do not look where we are going. Sometimes it is because the way we have chosen to go is crooked, sloped, or just plain difficult. But more often than not, it is because we are paying attention to something or someone else – in the case of David (or Asaph) it was paying attention to the wealthy of the world, the “arrogant,” the prideful, the powerful people. In the case of a man or a woman, it might be a beautiful person. In the case of a worker, it might be a co-worker who seems to have it all together. In the case of the poor, it might be the wealthy.

What happens when we slip? The most obvious answer is that we fall or twist our ankle and hurt ourselves. A less obvious answer, but universally true, is that we lose our forward momentum. Wherever it was we were going, that journey has temporarily been suspended while we recover ourselves, tend to our wounds, and perhaps even focus more intently on the reason we slipped in the first place.

In fact, the last thing (increased focus), is what happened to David (or Asaph). Immediately, after saying that he had “almost slipped,” he describes the wealthy and prosperous in such detail that you know he remains focused on them: “They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace…Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.” Ps. 73:4-9 For all intents and purposes, he has slipped.

Now slipping in and of itself sounds like a bad thing and something to be avoided, but it appears like it may be inevitable for us who are human, who look at ourselves and others first rather than God, who are prideful, envious, and jealous. And so what is the effect? Are we lost, never to be recovered? Or are we merely distracted, temporarily disabled, still on the journey although waylayed?

There is great hope and assurance in today’s Psalm for those who are the Lord’s, who are God’s, who are followers of Christ, who are Christ-bearers.

While David (or Asaph) had slipped, and was focused on the wisdom and riches of the world, he realized two things. The first is important but the second is even more important. The first is that he recognizes that his heart is grieved and his spirit bitter, making him senseless and ignorant. The second is that he recognized that while he was in that state, he was a brute beast before God – “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before You [God].” Ps. 73:21-22

A brute beast before God – stupid, mindless, ignorant, incapable of godly thought, focused on urges and wants, succumbed to the basest instincts.

That was his standing before God while he was slipping.

But it didn’t matter because … “Yet I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory…My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Ps. 73:23-26

I may and will slip, but God will not. God will sustain me through everything, He will take my brutishness and through His correction, His wise and true counsel, lift me up “into glory.” Period, end of story.

So, there is something here for today and for the rest of our life. We may slip on the sidewalk of life and find ourselves down on the ground, hurt body and ego, unable to regain our balance and get up. We may be really hurt. We may be merely shaken up. We may just have bruised pride. But luckily for us, reaching our destination does not depend upon us because we are held by our right hand by the mighty God, we have God’s guidance through His Word and Holy Spirit, and we will be taken in God’s time into glory.

Thank you, Jesus.


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Bread – Courage

February 1, 2012

Readings for Wednesday, February 1, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 22:1-18; Heb. 11:23-31; John 6:52-59; Psalms 72, 119:73-96


Where does courage come from? Is it from blind ignorance of possible outcomes – “I’ll go jump in the river to save someone because I don’t know that I can sink?” Is it from an overwhelming sense of pride, of invulnerability – “I’ll go jump in the river to save someone because I think [I know] that I am the best swimmer in the world?” Is it from a cavalier attitude toward life – “I’ll go jump in the river to save someone because I don’t care to live anymore?”

I don’t think so. I think today’s readings give us some idea about where courage comes from. I think it comes from an attitude born of faith, born of the certainty that God is in control of all things, born of obedience to a higher calling, a greater demand, a summons from the Lord of Lords.

For example, in Genesis we are told the story of Abraham being called to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Abraham, in obedience to this most daunting task, boldly and courageously takes Isaac to the place of worship, prepares him for the sacrifice, and takes up his knife to complete the deed. Abraham’s courage to complete the task in the knowledge that Isaac was the son promised to him by God, in the face of common sense and worldly wisdom which would tell him to stop, is founded upon his attitude of faith, of his knowledge of the truth of God’s promises – “We will worship and then we will come back to you” and “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Gen. 22:5b, 8 He acted courageously because he knew that God would provide. Even if Isaac died upon the altar, he knew that God would provide.

In Hebrews, faith is the foundation of one act of courage after the other. Moses parents defied Pharaoh – “they were not afraid of the king’s edict” – when they courageously hid Moses. Heb. 11:23 Moses courageously rejected his position in Pharaoh’s household because “he was looking ahead to his reward” [from God]. He was able to look ahead to his reward because he had faith and through faith, “because he saw Him who is invisible.” Heb. 11:24-27

In John, Jesus’ disciples courageously accepted the hard teaching from Jesus that “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you…The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” John 6:53, 63. Although many fled, many through faith saw that there was nowhere else to go, that Jesus has “the words of eternal life.” Courage to hear the hard and to obey God – a courage bound to faith in the promise and in the one who makes the promise, God.

If we lack courage today in whatever we do, perhaps it is because we are looking at things through the eyes of man, ourselves or others. Perhaps it is because we have faith in ourselves first, others second, and God last. If so, our faith is built upon weakness and it is no wonder our courage fails. If it is grounded on ourselves and others, it is grounded on shifting sand.

Do we want courage to love others, to live life in victory, to “be all we can be”? If so, the formula is not to change the order of faith, to make God first, ourselves second, and others last. No, the formula is to have faith in the only place where it belongs – God first, God second, and God last. With faith like that, there is no room for anything except courage. With faith like that, there is no room for anything except life.


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