Bread – God

September 28, 2012


Readings for Friday, September 28, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Esther 8:1-17; Acts 19:21-41; Luke 4:31-37; Psalms 88,91,92

—————————————-

The three Psalms in our reading today give three different perspectives of God, which together build insight into Him.

Psalm 88 is a lament. This Psalm expresses our valleys in our relationship with God, and gives us insight into ourselves and the wrath of God which we deserve for our sin. Listen to the Psalmist:

O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before You…For soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol…I am a man who has no strength…You have put me in the depths of the pit…Your wrath lies heavy upon me…O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?…Your wrath has swept over me…” Ps. 88:1,3,4,6,7,14,16

Psalm 91 is a praise. This Psalm expresses our mountaintops in our relationship with God in some of the most powerful words contained in the Psalms, and gives us insight into the times of rest, when we experience in full measure the mercy of God:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust…under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and a buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday…Because he holds fast to Me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him because he knows My name. When he calls to Me, I will answer him…With long life I will satisfy him and show him My salvation.” Ps. 91:1-6,14-16

Which one is God? The one who doesn’t answer us in our grief (Psalm 88) or the one who shelters us from the storm (Psalm 91)?

There is a subtle danger in this question and it is not obvious. The danger is that we are asking the question from ourselves, out of ourselves, out of our situation. The danger is that in the very way we ask the question we are judging God. And what is worse, we are not only judging God according to our criteria, we are judging Him according to our emotion. In Psalm 88, we are in despair and we want to know immediately why God has not made things right, why He has not made us happy, why He has not responded to our commands, our requests, our desires, our purposes, our hopes, and our dreams. In Psalm 91, we are praising God because we are happy, not because of who He is but because of our emotion at the time; we are happy so God is good.

Don’t these Psalms reflect our perception of God minute by minute in our lives? When we are upset or in the pits, God is remote and hates us. When we are happy and on the mountaintop, God is present and loves us. Our view of God and what He has done for us is driven by our emotion at the time, not on what and who God is but what and who we want Him to be for us. These Psalms are self-centered, which is in part why we understand them so well.

But both Psalms contain a deep and abiding truth about God. Notice how each Psalm is addressed to God. The Psalmist is having a conversation with God? Why? If God is mean and wrathful and hateful and leaves us in our position of misery, why bother to have a conversation with Him, why plead with Him, why ask Him for anything? If God is all-loving and all-giving and supportive of us in every way, why bother to have a conversation with Him, why thank Him, why acknowledge His presence in anything?

The deep and abiding truth about God is stated in the first verse of Psalm 88 – “O Lord, God of my salvation…” Ps. 88:1

He is in charge of our salvation, not us. He saves. Even in the pits of despair, when God appeared silent, the Psalmist in Psalm 88 knew that truth – that if he were going to be saved, it would be God who saved Him, because God is the God of “my” salvation.

Furthermore, God has a personal relationship with us. “O Lord, God of my salvation.” Whether I am in the pits or on the mountaintop, feeling great or feeling poorly, He is the same God, the God who saves. What I feel today is irrelevant; what matters is that my God is the God who saves me.

Then, finally, we reach the last Psalm in today’s reading, Psalm 92. It is the capstone to Psalms 88 (the pits) and Psalm 91 (the mountaintop), because it reminds us bluntly that God is God and we are not Him: “How great are Your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep! The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this… He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” Ps. 92:5-6, 15

Who is God? He is God of truth and love. He is God of wrath and of mercy. He is God who is righteous in all things, at all times. He is God who is our rock and shelter. He is God whose thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways. He is God who cannot be known in His entirety by us, yet knows every hair on our head in our entirety. He is God of eternity and of today.

He cannot be judged by what He does or does not do for us and He cannot be judged by how we feel about Him.

But He is God who saves. So whether we are in the pits today or on the mountaintop, we can know this about God – He is God of my salvation.

That is the cake; that is the whole enchilada. And if you think about it, the fact that He is also shelter for us in the storm – well that is just icing on the cake.

So let’s end this week with a simple prayer – “Thank you God for saving me, a sinner.”

—————————————————–

© 2012 GBF

Advertisements

Bread – Reputation

September 26, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, September 26, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Esther 6:1-14; Acts 19:1-10; Luke 4:1-13; Psalms 81,82,119:97-120

—————————————-

In our readings from Esther today, Mordecai has been honored by Xerxes and Haman is shocked, because he wanted Mordecai declared an enemy of the state and killed by hanging. Haman goes back to his wife and his friends, complaining about what happened. What then follows is remarkable:

Then his [Haman’s] wise men and his wife Zeresh said to him, ‘If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him.’” Esther 6:13b

These “infidels” knew who God was and associated Him with the Jews, who they knew were devoted to Him. They, without knowing anything more, assumed that, if Mordecai was in fact a Jew, and bad things had happened to Haman because he messed with Mordecai, then Haman would lose that fight, every time. Not because of Mordecai’s abilities or even because of the Jews’ abilities, but because who God was.

Among even these people, God had a great reputation, as did His people. Even though the “infidels” were willing to kill all the Jews to get rid of their influence, even they recognized that, if they started running into problems, they would likely lose the fight.

Now, why did God have such a great reputation among non-believers? Was it because of what God had done in history? Perhaps. Was it because of the commitment His disciples had toward Him? Since this is what the un-believers actually saw and experienced, I daresay that God’s reputation was enhanced because of how his followers behaved. And how did they behave? Mordecai gives us some insight:

When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Morecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes…He went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. And in every province…there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting…” Esther 4:1-3 “[After Mordecai had been honored by Xerxes,] Then Mordecai returned to the king’s gate.” Esther 6:12

When Mordecai was confronted with death because he was a Jew, he did not rely upon his power but immediately went to the Lord. He did not hide who he was, but covered himself in sackcloth and ashes, a very visible sign. Furthermore, even while this was happening, he was respectful of authority, of the rules which had been imposed by civil government (he did not go through the gate, but sat outside of it). The Jews used spiritual tools (fasting, etc.) against the coming holocaust. Finally, when the world raised up Mordecai with honor, he permitted the honor to be bestowed upon him, but he did not let the world change him (it did not matter whether he was being praised or insulted); he returned to the gate, he returned to the place where God appointed him to be.

Coming forward in time to today, would the unbelievers in American society today have the same view of God that Haman’s wise men and wife had? Would they say “If George is a Christian, and you have been losing to him, you will keep losing to him [because of who his God is].” Would they say that “Since George is a Christian, you will not overcome him.”

Do Christians as a group have that kind of reputation in society, that they cannot be overcome by the world? I would suggest that they as a group have exactly the opposite reputation, that they are in fact almost totally overcome by the world, by worldly customs and philosophies, by worldly problems, by worldly solutions.

Do I have that reputation? Do you?

God of course can take care of His own reputation, but we who say that we are Christians can either polish that reputation to a fine luster, or we can tarnish it. And the reputation of Christians, which reflects on our God, is made up of the reputation of each of us.

It is Wednesday, the middle of the week. What have I done so far to make God’s and my fellow Christians’ reputation better, so that the people will say to others, “you will not overcome them”? What will I do the rest of the week?

How cool would it be if people would say about us – “He is a Christian; therefore if you are opposed to him you will not overcome him”?

How incredible it would be if people would say of us – “His God is God.”

Why don’t they?

—————————————————–

© 2012 GBF

Bread – Place

September 24, 2012


Readings for Monday, September 24, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Esther 4:4-17; Acts 18:1-11; Luke 3:1-14; Psalms 77,79,80

—————————————-

In Esther, Haman, using Xerxes blessing and power, has just ordered the genocide of all Jews in the kingdom. Esther (now Queen Esther, Queen to Xerxes) has learned about the order and has been asked by Mordecai to intercede for the Jews. She hesitates because to go into the king’s presence without being first invited results in death, unless the king shows mercy. Therefore, to implement Mordecai’s request means that Esther will face almost certain death. She is thus confronted with the question we must all ask at some point in our life – “Do we stand for our principles and risk almost certain death (ruin to reputation, expulsion from the country club, loss of wealth, termination of employment, etc.), or do we just do nothing and hope it all goes away?“

Mordecai, seeing this indecision, says something which all of us need to think deeply about:

Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:12-14

What is the king’s palace to us? Maybe it is our bedroom, our home, our business, or some other place of power, wealth, and sanctuary. What has all these elements on the world stage? The United States of America. Thus, Mordecai’s warning is clear to all Americans – Do not believe that just because we live in the most wealthy, powerful, protected place in the world, we will be protected from the wrath to come. Do not believe that you are safe in your cocoon; you are not safe if you rely upon the power of man or the world, because these powers fade and disappear. At best the king’s palace provides the illusion of safety, the illusion of protection. If poverty strikes your neighbor, it will ultimately strike you. If your neighbor is wrongly imprisoned, you soon will be. If you hate a particular form of speech and wish that speech eliminated, your speech will soon be limited as well. We cannot long ignore events in the street, less they overwhelm us in our perceived sanctuary.

What is “this time?” The time for action, the time for truth and love. If a person is drowning before our eyes, the time for action is now, not later; it is complete, not conditional upon the “right circumstances.” The nature of Christian action is immediate action. From Luke today, the mandate is clear – “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” (Lk. 3:11) If we see someone who is lost, we are to immediately proclaim the truth of Christ. If we see someone in need, we are to immediately provide blessing from our blessing. If we see ourselves fall into sin, we are immediately to repent and to do works with the aid of the Spirit in keeping with that repentance. “This time” is now, this minute, this day, this month, this year. Not later, not tomorrow, not next year.

Why does Mordecai say “you and your father’s house will perish?” We forget that we do not operate in a vacuum. Our statements and our actions are judged observed and judged continually by any number of people, including our family, our friends, our “followers,” our supervisors, our employees, and our competitors. Of us is always being asked the question, “Will he act like a Christian?” Will he act in humility, with knowledge of truth steeped in love, with charity, with friendship, with light, with joy, with long-suffering, with perseverance? Or will he act out of selfish self-interest, annoyed, with only his objectives first and foremost, taking advantage of the situation to line his pockets? Is he real or is he a hypocrite? When we claim one thing and do another, we perish in the eyes of those observers, and they (our house) perish as well. Because they are not exposed to the truth in action, Satan has grounds to derail their Christian walk or maybe even never be saved at all.

And who knows whether you have been placed where you are by God for such a moment? Yes, Esther was a Queen, placed in the palace by God so that the Jews might be saved. This is a high and mighty place, and you might say to yourself that you don’t occupy such a place of influence anywhere – in your church, in your home even, in politics or in business, or even in your social circles. So what? When you are driving down the road and you see someone in distress on the side of the road, have you been placed where you are for such a moment? A moment where you can abandon your objective and focus on the need on the side of the road? When you are in an elevator and see someone who needs a kind word of encouragement, have you been placed on that elevator by God for such a moment?

The truth is that every day we find ourselves in situations like Esther, where God has placed us at that moment where good can be accomplished in His name and to His glory, but we to act decisively and immediately, in truth and in love, with graceful words and actions infused with salt and light. We are there, we are ready, we are trained, but will we act? Most of us will tend not to act because we are afraid of death, of being rejected, of being laughed at, of stumbling into some social norm or rule which declares our actions to be incorrect (judgmental, intolerant, hateful, etc.), of looking foolish, of appearing unworldly, of being accused of being nuts. We won’t act because we are afraid of the world.

But if we don’t act, we will die and so will other people. Oh we may not die a medical death, but we will die a mental one. Our heart will become hardened, and we will become self-centered, forgetting what Jesus did for us on the cross. We will become no better than those who reject Christ. We will lose the effectiveness of our witness, and will bring dishonor upon God.

Esther did not know the consequences of acting. She thought she would die but she did not know she would die. On the other hand, she knew the consequences of doing nothing. She could not stick her head in the sand and hope that it would blow over. Neither can we. Mordecai’s words ring out today with the same clarion call to action they did when he uttered them to Esther.

Am I where I am today, this minute, for such a time? Will I see clearly? Will I act without fear, leaving to God the results? With the help of the Holy Spirit, I pray that the answer to these questions is “yes.”

In Esther’s situation, what would you do? When you are in this same situation today, what will you do?

—————————————————–

© 2012 GBF

Bread – Reward

September 21, 2012


Readings for Friday, September 21, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Esther 1:1-19; Acts 17:1-15; John 12:36b-43; Psalms 69,73

—————————————-

“Unintended consequences” are those things which we don’t expect or predict will happen, generally because we don’t bother to think about the natural sequence of events of human decision-making. We will generally follow the path of our rewards. If we are being paid to clean ditches, then guess what gets cleaned? However, if we intended that the house be cleaned, we would say that the “cleaning of ditches” was an “unintended consequence.” However, two seconds of thought would have brought home the realization that, if we are paying people to clean ditches and being paid is perceived by those people as a great reward, then the cleaning of ditches (as opposed to houses) is a natural consequence of how the reward was created. It may be an “unintended consequence,” but it is certainly not an “unpredictable” consequence.

In today’s readings, we have two clear examples of unintended consequences at work, both operating from a misplaced reliance upon certain kinds of rewards and the source of those rewards. The first example is from Esther. In Esther, King Xerxes has thrown a feast for the nobles of Persia which has lasted six months. At the end of this period, he tells his wife, Queen Vashti, to make an appearance dressed her queenly regalia, so that he can show her off. She refuses, for essentially unknown reasons. Now refusing a command of the king is a bad idea, particularly when he is advised by other men who warn him that failing to do something will only lead to the exercise of independence by all of the women in the kingdom. Queen Vashti looked to herself for approval and no doubt received her reward from herself, patting herself on the back for her display of independence. The unintended consequence of her actions, however, was to be banished from the King’s sight forever and to ultimately lose her place to Esther. The reward of self-satisfaction followed by the penalty of disobedience. I daresay that Queen Vashti was not expecting the result she got. She probably thought she would be bribed by the King and instead she was banned. Here, the source of the reward was herself and the reward was self-satisfaction.

The second example is from the Gospel of John. From John 12:42, we read: “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in Him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” There were many people who believed that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, the Son of God, but they never confessed it because their reward was from man and not from God, and man’s approval was more important to them. Their reward was from others, and was the approval of others. The unintended consequence of this reward was eternal damnation. Certainly these authorities would not deliberately choose to die, but they did so choose because they did not confess that Jesus is Lord, and they did not confess with their mouths because the approval of man, the rewards from man, were more important to them than the approval of God.

There is a pattern here. Be yourself, be selfish, deny the call from your God to come to Him, believe in Him, and confess Him, receive your rewards from self-satisfaction and self-approval, and you will be banished, you will die, you will be judged and found wanting. This consequence of self-centeredness may be unintended, but it is entirely predictable. Or, bee beholden to what the world wants and thinks, be focused on approval from others, receive your reward from other people, deny Christ because that is what the world demands, and you will be banished from eternal life, you will die, you will be judged and found wanting. This consequence of loving the approval of man may be unintended, but it is entirely predictable.

There are three sources of rewards – ourselves, others, and God. If we focus on the rewards we receive from ourselves or others, there will be unintended consequences, and these unintended consequences will not be good. If we focus on the rewards we receive from God – joy, peace, charity, love, eternal life – if we consider the glory that comes from God greater than the glory that comes from ourselves or from other men, the consequences are sure and they are good.

Is your hope in yourself? There will be unintended consequences, one of which is death. Is your hope in others? There will be unintended consequences, one of which is death. Or is your hope in the One who is the Creator, the Sustainer, the Savior, the Redeemer, the source of all good gifts? There are consequences to that choice as well, one of which is life.

Death or life? Choose this day whom you will serve.

—————————————————–

© 2012 GBF

Bread — When

September 19, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, September 19, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Job 42:1-17; Acts 16:16-24; John 12:20-26; Psalms 72,119:73-96

—————————————-

Bread today is taken from our reading from Job: “And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends.” Job 42:10. The order of events presented by this translation (ESV) is that Job recognizes his proper relationship to God, seeing Him and repenting in “dust and ashes.” He then prays for his friends, taking the mercy shown to him by God and extending it to his neighbors. Once that happens, Job’s fortunes are restored. The NIV translation is even blunter regarding the order of events, saying “After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again …” Job 42.10 (NIV). The commentary from the ESV Study Bible confirms this conclusion, saying “It is of utmost significance to note that Job’s restoration occurs only at this point, when he has capitulated to God and he has been reconciled with his friends – still in his broken and bereaved state. Precisely at this point, community is reestablished and Job himself restored.” ESV Study Bible, Note on Job 42:10-17.

Perhaps enough said and the lesson is complete, and perhaps not. I often make the “mistake” of looking things up, which is what I did this morning. It turns out that the Hebrew word for “after” (NIV) and “when” (ESV) has no equivalent Strong’s number, but does have a G/K number of H928. (G/K is a compendium of words like Strong’s). When I ran a search for H928 in the Old Testament, I got 9,283 hits. The word is used a lot and in a lot of different ways. Some examples are:

“In [H928] the beginning, God created heaven and earth.” Gen. 1:1 (NIV)

“And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse between [H928] the waters to separate water from water.’” Gen. 1:6 (NIV)

“And God set them in [H928] the expanse of sky to give light on the earth.” Gen. 1:17 (NIV)

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in [H928] our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over [H928] the fish of the sea…’” Gen. 1:26 (NIV)

“By [H928] the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on [H928] the seventh day God rested …” Gen. 2:2 (NIV)

“To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with [H928] pain you will give birth…” Gen. 3:16 (NIV)

“To Adam He said….’Cursed is the ground because [H928] of you; through [H928] painful toil…’” Gen. 3:17

So the word for “when” or “after” is the same word for “in” (to set time), “in” (to set place or circumstances), “between,” “over,” ‘by,” “on,” “with,” “because” and “through.”

So, the headache begins. What does this word mean? Is it evidence of causation, or mere placement in sequence of time. Does it convey action or mere passive result. Or does it mean merely what the translator wants it to mean, at the time?

In thinking about this, something struck me. What is it that every instance of the use of this word has in common? It is that it is in the context of God’s action and something to do with man. Sometimes it is used in the context of man’s action after God has acted; sometimes it is used in the context of God’s action after man has acted, and sometimes you can’t tell.

And what great truths are built into this single, evasive word! Because God acts both in time and out of time. Because God actions are first causes – we act because God has first acted. In fact, we can only act because God has acted, not because of ourselves. Wherever this word appears, God appears. It is not the word for God, but it’s appearance is certainly evidence of God. And more than evidence of God Himself, but of God’s action within the universe of our understanding, in our history, in our lives, in our abilities, in our salvation, in our science and revelation, and in our hope.

And isn’t this the beauty of the reality of God, of Christ? When was Job restored? Was it when he recognized God for who He was, when he reached out in love to his neighbors, or when his fortunes were brought back to him? Or was it all of the above?

We are reminded in all this that our mind is not God’s mind and our ways are not His ways. From our perspective, Job first repented, then reached out to his neighbor in love, and then was restored. This is an important lesson because, knowing who we are and who God is, it is important that we reach out from our poor circumstances, no matter how dire, to those who need our love, and that we do this without expectation of anything because we deserve nothing. But it may not be the most important lesson today.

No, the most important lesson today may be that God operates in the past, present, and future, inside of time and outside of time, to work His purpose. And that purpose is that we should be restored to Him and to each other. And that purpose is demonstrated in the “whens” of the world, the “ins” of the world, the “betweens” of the world, the “becauses” of the world, and the “throughs” of the world. It is demonstrated at all times and in all places, in poverty and in plenty, in danger and in safety, in and out of our particular circumstances.

This word which appears when Job is restored also appears as the first word of the Bible, “In the beginning…” God is first, God creates, God saves, God restores. God, God, God … not Job, Job, Job … and not me, me, me. When we get that right, everything else falls out into its right order. We can love others because He first loved us; we can restore others because He first restored us; and we can live victoriously because He died for us, rose from the grave, and lives forever.

God lives in the smallest words and the largest places. Does He live in you?

—————————————————–

© 2012 GBF

Bread – Gold

September 15, 2012


Readings for Friday, September 14, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Job 29:1, 31:24-40; Acts 15:12-21; John 11:30-44; Psalms 40,51,54

—————————————-

Gold has stood as the symbol of wealth for generations, if not for all known history. The radio ads pronounce that in gold there is safety from economic turmoil and that no person’s life is complete without a mini-horde of gold in the closet. We know this to be true at one, surface, level, and totally false at another, deeper level.

In the reading from Job today, he says: “If I have made gold my trust or called fine gold my confidence, if I have rejoiced because my wealth was abundant or because my hand had found much, if … my mouth has kissed my hand, … I would have been false to God above.” Job 31:24-25, 27-28

There is so much in these lines. If we trace what Job has to say and how we behave similarly, we will come to the same conclusion, that we have been false to our God.

Job makes what he is saying conditional or theoretical … “if.” I recommend that for us, who deal with our wealth as Americans every day in every way, we make it unconditional and actual – “when.” If we do this, if we acknowledge our sin, then we would say “When I have made gold my trust … I have been false to God above.” But if you think you don’t behave this way, then go ahead and use the “if.” The lesson is the same.

I have a little prayer book I obtained a long time ago, called the “Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book,” which I keep primarily because of it contains several pages of “self-examination” if we are in the mood to meditate on all the sins we have to repent of. It begins with “Pride,” which it defines as “…putting self in the place of God as the center and objective of our life, or of some department thereof. It is the refusal to recognize our status as creatures, dependent on God for our existence, and placed by Him in a specific relationship to the rest of His creation.” (pg. 113) It then goes on to list the many ways in which Pride shows itself – irreverence, sentimentality, presumption, distrust, disobedience, impenitence, vanity, arrogance and snobbery. Within each of these words are many other ways in which Pride is demonstrated on a regular basis. In fact, there are four pages of these. Pride infects everything we do.

In fact, pride is what Job demonstrates when he uses the conditional or the theoretical “if.” How could a righteous man make gold his trust? Job thought of himself as righteous, as naturally good because he conformed to the law, and so to him sin was “if,” not “when.”

Our readings from the gospel of John end with Jesus saying to Lazarus as he walked from the tomb “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:44.

This miracle is performed by Jesus every day. He found us and He finds others. He took us when we were dead in our sins and He brought us from the tomb where we lay. His Word to us as we leave is to be “unbound.” Unbound from what? Unbound from the clothes of death. Unbound from our death to sin. Unbound from sin itself. “Let him go.” Jesus command was to the world and to the world’s evil overseer, Satan. Jesus commanded the world to unbind Lazarus and “let him go.”

And now we see the power in Job’s words, when applied to himself after he has been freed of the tomb by Christ. Because we stand in Christ’s righteousness, when can claim the conditional, the “if.” We know we are fallen and often we have to use the word “when we sin,” but we know that because of what Christ has done for us and because we can live in His righteousness (not ours), we can use the word “if we sin.” We may not be able yet in our growth toward glory to be able to say “if” with truth, but we know it is a real possibility. It is a real possibility because the One who lives in us is greater than the one who lives in the world. Through Him who took our place on the cross we can live the “if” life, victorious in our progress toward eternal life, no matter how often we have to say “when I sin.”

We fight the sin fight daily. We may be prideful like Job, confident in our gold, confident that we are so righteous and so good that we can talk like “if.” We can talk like that and we will be wrong, because we will still be laying in the tomb, bound by our funeral clothes, imprisoned. Or we can believe in Christ, recognizing that without Him we are dead and that with Him we are released from the tomb, unbound, and set free. Yes, free to exercise our pride (quite often, I might add), so that we have to acknowledge our sin and say “when.” But also free to stand outside ourselves, to stand with and in Christ, and to laugh at ourselves for our presumption in the face of a mighty God. Mighty enough to save, mighty enough to forgive, mighty enough to change the prideful “if” to the repentant “when,” and to change the repentant “when” to the hopeful “if.”

Actually, the radio ads are right, if you understand what “gold” really is. Our true security is found in gold. But it is not in the false gold of the world but the true gold of Jesus Christ. After all, He made the gold and He made us. And He forgives those who follow Him, and He saves. But the ads are also wrong, because you don’t have to buy this gold (and in fact you can’t), all you have to do is ask for Him. Do you want to hear the words “Unbind him, let him go?” Ask for gold, the real gold, Jesus Christ. “Ask, and …” Matt. 7:7. Ask Him.

—————————————————–

© 2012 GBF

Bread – Insides

September 12, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, September 12, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Job 29:1, 30:1-2,16-31; Acts 14:19-28; John 11:1-16; Psalms 49,53,119:49-72

—————————————-

In the reading from Job today, we find him focused on how his insides feel, and how hopeless his illness and difficulties are making him feel. He begins with “And now my sould is poured out within me; …” Job 30:16. How often have we felt like our soul, our inmost self, is just leaking away somewhere inside. Instead of being poured out in worship or in good deeds or in love, we sense that our soul is just leaking away into never-never land. Enthusiasm wanes, excitement dims, the light of our soul fades … and it is all poured out within us, making us empty and poor of spirit.

Job also discusses other parts of his insides. “The night racks my bones, and the pain that gnaws me takes no rest.” Job 30:17. Chronic pain in the neck, in the back, in the legs, in the arms, in muscles, sinew and bone. Chronic pain, the pain that gnaws me and takes no rest. Job describes it perfectly. And how I feel stiff in the morning, like my bones have been on a rack. Yes, Job’s insides are a mess, and I can identify with him. His insides don’t feel good; in fact they feel bad.

Job also discusses, indirectly, the problem with our insides (and our outsides) getting fat – Isn’t this the perfect description of the creeping clothes’ sizes: “With great force my garment is disfigured; it binds me about like the collar of my tunic.” Job 30:18. My insides have gotten so big my clothes just don’t fit!

And all this leads to turmoil on the inside, in our soul, our mind, and our heart. Again, hear the words of Job – “My inward parts are in turmoil and never still; days of affliction come to meet me. I go about darkened, but not by the sun…” Job 30:27-28a It is the insides which are messed up. It is the insides which are all mixed up. It is the insides which are dark. We are ill prepared for the external afflictions because our insides are not right.

And when our insides are in disarray and in darkness, there is not help from others. As Job points out, while he is feeling this way he notes that he is related to “jackals” (people who will pick on him to get the last morsel of life) and is a friend of “ostriches” (people who stick their head in the sand). When Job’s insides are in turmoil, his perspective of the outside world is that no one cares and no one, including God, is willing to do anything except make matters worse. We know this is not the case, but our insides have such an influence on our view of reality, when our insides are messed up we can see or hear nothing clearly.

It is the state of our insides which affect our outsides. It is the state of our insides which will determine our outsides.

In John today, Lazarus has died and been buried in the tomb for four days. In translation, this means that he was truly dead. Jesus restores him to life, saying these words which transform the world: “I [Jesus] am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26.

When Job was miserable, he was examining his insides from his perspective. When Job had hope, he was examining Jesus (“I know my Redeemer lives”) from inside out. When Job had wisdom and peace, he was living in God and looking at his insides through Jesus’ lenses.

We can remain inwardly focused and be overwhelmed with our insides, our internal afflictions. We can turn outwardly focused and see the Savior. We can “live [in Me] and believe in Me [Jesus]” and be healed of death of the soul. Our soul looks all messed up through our eyes, just as it looked messed up through Job’s. When we live in Jesus, abiding in the vine, we can look through Jesus’ eyes, past our present circumstances, and into eternal life.

How do we get from point A, where we are mired in ourselves, to point B, where we celebrate freedom from death? We must answer the question which Jesus posed – “Do you believe this?” Do you believe Jesus is the resurrection and the life? Do you believe that, if you live and believe in Him, you will never die?” Do you believe in Jesus? If so, let His power deal with your insides while you live in Him. He can and He will.

—————————————————–

© 2012 GBF

Bread – Hope

September 7, 2012


Readings for Friday, September 7, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Job 19:1-7, 14-27; Acts 13:13-25; John 9:18-41; Psalms 31,35

—————————————-

On Monday, Bread was called “Plodding” because the Scripture readings focused on the mundane living of life, not so much in the valley of despair, but in the plainness of life, where sometimes we just have to take the job God has given us and just put one foot in front of the other. Many of us live most of our lives in the plodding mode. It was a good way to begin the week, in part because that is the way most people see Monday.

The Scriptures today speak of something much different, the hope that is within us. They speak of that vision to the hills which we have to call on from time to time to help us through the plodding part of life, as well as the more adversarial parts of life. They speak of Jesus – the light on the hill, the Savior of the saved, the Son of God, God Himself.

We begin with Job in one of the most memorable parts of Scripture. I will let him speak for himself – “And even if it be true that I have erred, my error remains with myself….I call for help, but there is no justice … My relatives have failed me, my close friends have forgotten me…and those whom I loved have turned against me…For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. After my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself…” Job 19:4,7b,14,19b,25-26. We have all sinned (erred) and our error is ours and ours alone and we have all felt abandoned from time to time by family, by good friends, by people we have invested in. We have been misunderstood, mistreated, rejected, and seemingly set aside for failure. And yet, as Christians, we know the same thing that Job knew in the Old Testament – Our Redeemer lives. Not “has lived” at some time in the musty past or “will live” in the far future, but “lives” in the present, in our lives, leading us, guiding us, loving us, carrying us, crying over us, and healing us. And He will return to stand upon the earth. And because of Him and His mercy on us, we “shall see God” for eternity. Hope surrounded Job in his misery and caused him to look up to his Redeemer. Hope surrounds us too, but we to see Jesus.

In Acts, Paul recounts the history of the Jews from Egypt to Jesus, demonstrating that God works through history and through ordinary people to achieve His purpose. This reminds us that the hope which Job saw and embraced has existed throughout known history, constantly being proven to us by God’s actions on behalf of His people, even though they often insult Him, ignore Him, and hate Him. We are part of that history, today. Our hope is based upon the solid rock of a God of fact, not fiction, and of action in time, not suspended animation in eternity. If we are but to read, think, ponder, see, and hear, our hope surrounds us in reality. It is not a myth and it is not a dream. It is grounded in observation, in reason, in faith, and in the entirety of time, past, present, and future.

In John, the man Jesus healed is born blind. As that man says himself, “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind.” John 9:32 From the Jewish perspective, that blind man was so steeped in sin at birth that sight was impossible. Jesus took the man born in sin, blind from birth, and restored his sight, restored his relationship with his world, stripped him from his sin, and set him free. This man who had no hope according to then-modern religious and scientific thought was given hope by Jesus. With his new eyes, the man could worship anything he wanted to. He could worship his family, the religious establishment, or the then world order. Instead, he sought out Jesus, saying “Lord, I believe [in You],” and then worshiping Him.

We began the week with plainness. We end the week with wonder. We begin the week with looking at ourselves. We end the week looking at Jesus – the Jesus who lives throughout time and in all time, the Jesus who exists in reality, and the Jesus who heals and restores. We begin the week looking down at our feet and we end the week looking to the heavens. The began the week knowing that we were blind and knowing that our error was ours. We end the week with sight restored and the error forgiven.

So when we are in the plodding phase of life let us hold tightly to the hope we have, let us look from our feet to our future, let us look from ourselves to our Savior. And let us live in victory, because we have it – and we have Him who won it.

—————————————————–

© 2012 GBF

Bread – Plodding

September 3, 2012


Readings for Monday, September 3, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Job 12:1-6, 13-25; Acts 11:19-30; John 8:21-32; Psalms 9,15,25

—————————————-

Sometimes the readings of the day are filled with great wisdom, beautiful words and thoughts well phrased, which cause us to stand on mountaintops. It is easy to write Bread when the lessons help it. Today, however, we are dealing with lessons with no punch, no great revelation. Instead, we are talking about life, our lives. Where we plod along from task to task, problem to problem, delay to delay, objective to objective. We are plodding along and our lessons today plod along with us.

First, we have the reading from Job. He tells us that he is bad straits even though he is a good man, not deserving of God’s disfavor. Yet, he suffers even more than those people who should suffer (“the tents of robbers are at peace, and those who provoke God are secure” Job 12:8). Furthermore, no one understands his plight, because as he notes “in the thought of one who is at ease there is contempt for misfortune.” Job 12:5. He knows that, even though he is in the pits of misfortune, brought upon him by God, other people are believing that his misfortune comes from some defect of his – perhaps laziness, inability, spendthriftiness, sin, lack of education, unwillingness, lack of perseverance, etc. Not only are you suffering misfortune which you do not deserve, other people are beginning to unfairly believe that you do deserve it. You in the meantime (like Job) get to plod through life, burdened with your undeserved misfortune, looked down upon by other people, with no (apparent) help from your God whom you trust. Well, as Job points out, as we plod through life God is the same God. The same God who lifts us up can strike us down. Job gives us a list of the types of people who God strikes down – counselors, judges, kings, priests, trusted advisors, princes, strong people, and chiefs. Who would not want to rank with these types of people, and yet they too can be chastened by the Lord. They too are faced with the task of plodding through life no matter what it delivers.

Second, we have the reading from Acts. In Acts, people have been driven from their homes by persecution and begun to move into the Gentile worlds. As they do so, they begin to teach about Jesus, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. Jerusalem had doubts about the conversions of Gentiles, so it sent Barnabus as an investigator.  Barnabus goes and finds Paul, who together work in the area for a year, “taught a great many people.” The story ends with prediction of a famine in Judea, with the Antioch church raising financial help for the Jews in Judea from each person “according to his ability.” Acts 11:29. So, here we have people plodding through life, reacting to negative circumstances by moving to a new location, meeting new people, telling them about the love they have for Christ, meeting those people with common beliefs (now called Christians) in community, listening to the Word preached and taught, and giving as they can to help others in need. Sounds like us – we move to a new city to find a job, we meet new people, we bring them into the Christian community as believers, we eat, teach, and learn within that community, and we slowly but surely improve our lives, which we then share with those who need what we have more.

In our third reading, the one from John, we read about one of the common talks which Jesus had with the Jews. Basically, he is saying if you do not believe in Him, you will die in your sins and go to Hell (what he actually says is that “you cannot come” where He is going, allowing us to use our reason to say that, if Jesus is in heaven and I cannot go where he is, then I must be in what is left over, which is Hell). Plain statements made to people with closed ears, hearts, and minds. So Jesus is plodding through life too, obeying the Father, telling the truth, and walking toward the cross.

So what are the lessons today, particularly given the fact that it is Monday? Well, the first is that we have company – Job, the people who fled to Antioch, Jesus – all are plodding through life, dealing with the circumstances which beset them, putting up with the indifference and scorn of the world. The second lesson is that we have help – Job knew that all blessings come from God and therefore, who should complain about their circumstances; Jesus was following the will of His Father and therefore says He is help for us for eternity; in Acts we are presented with the Christian community, which provides a time of teaching and refreshment, and becomes the source of financial help in time of crisis. The third lesson is that we have hope – Job knew there was a better time ahead because he knew who His God was; the Christian community knew there was a better time ahead because they knew who Jesus was; Jesus knew there was a better time ahead because He knows who His Father is.

People who have lived our walk, understand it, and share our burdens; help in time of need; fellowship of the Church and the Holy Spirit; and hope well founded upon knowledge that, because we believe in Jesus we will live with Him in eternity.

As Christians, though we may plod along we do not plod alone, ever.

—————————————————–

© 2012 GBF

%d bloggers like this: