Bread – Mercy

October 31, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, October 31, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Rev. 12:1-6; Luke 11:37-52; Psalms 49,53,119:49-72

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Jesus says today in the Gospel of Luke: “But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.” Lk. 11:41

“Alms” is translated “charity” in the New American Standard Bible. The Greek word used is “eleĕmosunĕ,” which literally translates to “mercifulness,” which is the outward expression of character formed by having first received mercy. The giving of “alms” outpours from having received alms. We can love others because Christ first loved us.

But Jesus does not say give alms, what He says is “give as alms those things which are within.” Rephrased then, if I may take the liberty, Christ is saying to give everything we have internally (our heart, mind, and spirit) as love, as an expression of mercy which flows from our very character, having been transformed by God in His good pleasure by His Son once we repent, turn toward Him, acknowledge Him as the risen Savior, and accept the gift of mercy, forgiveness, and grace which He gives us.

That paraphrase is a mouthful. Essentially, Jesus is giving the Pharisees a task which they cannot achieve, because they do not have the character of mercy until they take on the mantle of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and He lives in them. Essentially, in saying the phrase “as alms,” Jesus is telling the Pharisees to be born again.

Will the Pharisees understand this – probably not because they are into works and not faith, into doings and not relationships.

We have another problem, though. Those people who are non-Christians may well be saying that this is baloney because they often exercise mercy toward others by giving of themselves and their wealth in response to perceived need. Interestingly enough, Greek contains another word for mercy, “oiktirmos,” which is the kind of mercy which does not come from a changed heart but from emotion, from sentiment. For the one word “mercy” in English, Greek has two words, one of which is mercy born of emotion and sentiment, and the other of which is born of character, of who we are. Jesus used the second word in His statement to the Pharisees, but Satan has developed a parallel concept which lacks the power of mercy outpouring from the character of the giver.

There is mercy which we show which comes from ourselves and there is another which comes from our new character in Christ. There is a mercy which derives from our deepest places, from who we are. And there is a mercy which derives from our feeling bad for the person we are showing mercy to. The gift to the recipient may look the same (after all a $100 is a $100), but we know it is not the same. That $100 in mercy which comes from our character is nothing to us because it is a reflection of Christ who lives within. That $100 in mercy which comes from our emotion and our sentiment is a loss to us, because it is coming out of our wallet.

So, are you exercising mercy in your dealings with others? If so, is it because you feel badly for them or is it because it is your character and you are a man or woman of integrity and act in line with your character? An old-fashioned way of asking the same question is whether the mercy you exercise comes from your mind (emotion, sentimentality) or your heart (your character)? When you give (if you give), do you wince over the loss from your bank account or do you just pass it on as a gift from the gift you have received from God?

If you are giving or showing mercy as oiktirmos and would like to acquire the change of heart which results in mercy being given by you as eleĕmosunĕ, then ask God for a heart-transplant, that Jesus may take His rightful position on the throne of your life as Savior, Redeemer, Lord and King.

If you are not giving or showing mercy to others, regardless of whether it comes from emotion or character, then check yourself out because you may be dead.

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*Today’s readings designate Ecclesiasticus, sometimes called the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach. This is not a book contained In the canonical Old Testament, but instead belongs to that body of work called the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical Books. These books are accepted by some Christian denominations as useful, but are rejected by other denominations. I have not included this reading today because of these controversies. However, if you want to read it, the reference for today is Ecclus. 28:14-26.

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© 2012 GBF

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Bread – Division

October 29, 2012


Readings for Monday, October 29, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Rev. 11:1-14; Luke 11:14-26; Psalms 41,44,52

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Jesus says today in the Gospel of Luke: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls…Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.” Lk. 11:17,23.

This can be applied to many circumstances. A household divided in philosophy, in family tradition, in religion, in fundamental worldviews ultimately divides and then falls.. The division may not be obvious because we are very good at maintaining a “straight face” over a long period of time, but the fractures are there. There are fewer get-togethers, conversations turn into yelling matches, the older or younger generation is sidelined, and at whatever get-togethers there are, some people are ignored.

Similarly, a political body divided in philosophy, in traditions, in religion, in language, in fundamental worldviews ultimately divides and then falls. Some people might (and have) observed that the emphasis on multiculturalism rather than acculturation has resulted in a certain Balkanization of America, where there are divisions in philosophy, in ethnic traditions, in religion, in language, and in fundamental worldviews among various people-groups. Within the word “diversity” is the same root word as in “division,” “di” or “apart” (in Latin). A divided household falls, and many people believe that the United States is in the middle of a great fall.

What about the church? We can see a plethora of denominations, independent churches, and cross-currents of theological movements. We are unified in some fundamentals (generally contained within the Apostle’s Creed), but divided in others (for example, the authority and inerrancy of Scripture and the degree to which we are willing to “bend” Scripture to our particular objective of the day). Is there any wonder that the Church is weak, that people see an institution hardly distinguishable from every other club to which people belong, that the attitudes and behaviors of Christians can hardly be distinguished from the attitudes and behaviors of pagans? A house divided cannot stand. A house divided will fall. If a church is not with Jesus, it is against Him.

What should we do about this sin-filled mess? Well we should definitely pray for unity for our family, for our nation, and for the body of Christ, the church. Why pray? Because the task is too big for us. At the micro level, my wants will always interfere with your wants. If I am selfish and you are selfish, then at the end of the day there is division. So we need a heavy dose of the Holy Spirit, of God’s action, to push against division and toward alignment with Jesus Christ.

But there are also other things we can do. What are these? I don’t know, because they are situational. Maybe giving up your seat on the bus to someone who needs to sit more. Maybe, in the face of criticism and unjust accusation, speaking words of kindness rather than self-protective response. Maybe always telling the truth, but doing it in ways which build up rather than tear down. Which is better? Telling someone they are sinful and need Jesus Christ, or reminding them that we all sin and fall short and I am included in the “we” and so are you – so I need Jesus as badly as you do.

So, today, I urge you to ask yourself, before speaking, acting, or writing, whether what you are about to do, say or write encourages division, and whether it promotes the truth (which we should never abandon) in love (which is really difficult to do some times), whether it promotes Jesus Christ or yourself, and, ultimately, whether it helps gather or scatter.

Lord, help us in this task.

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*Today’s readings designate Ecclesiasticus, sometimes called the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach. This is not a book contained In the canonical Old Testament, but instead belongs to that body of work called the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical Books. These books are accepted by some Christian denominations as useful, but are rejected by other denominations. I have not included this reading today because of these controversies. However, if you want to read it, the reference for today is Ecclus. 19:4-17.

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Condemned

October 26, 2012


Readings for Friday, October 26, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Rev. 9:13-21; Luke 10:38-42; Psalms 31,35

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There is nothing easy in today’s Bread. In Revelation today, the following is reported: “By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed … The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshipping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” Rev. 9:20-21.

How can we see a third of mankind killed and not recognize that this is caused by our sin, by our disobedience, by our lack of faith and belief in God? How can we see the events of war, of immorality, of pestilence, of loss, of anger, of selfishness without falling our knees asking for forgiveness?

And yet we are told that, at the end of the world, when a third of mankind has perished, the remainder of mankind remains stiff-necked, refusing to repent, refusing to turn away from their race toward their own death, refusing to recognize, believe in, honor and worship the God that created them. We see an entire meltdown of the condemned.

What do these people not repent of? The answer is (1) the works of their hands, (2) demons and idols, (3) murders, (4) sorceries, (5) sexual immorality, and (6) thefts. When you think about it, this is a pretty complete list of what is going on in our world and our own lives. We are the ones who revel in our wealth, our edifices, our economy, our military, our power, our sexuality, our ability to beat the other person. We are the ones who worship idols of power, influence, wealth, position, education, titles. We are the condemned, unless …

Unless what? More “good” works? More religious ritual? More spells and incantations? More chasing after fools’ gold?

No, we instinctively know those are the wrong answers. What is not instinctive but is true is that we are condemned unless we repent and turn toward God, truly believing in Jesus Christ raised from the dead, accepting the gift of salvation from death in our sins, and letting Jesus take over His rightful place as lord of our lives.

Why don’t “the rest of mankind” turn from their sins when confronted by their wages for sin, which is death? I don’t know.

But I know this. You can cast your lot with the “rest of mankind” and be condemned or cast your lot with God and be saved. Today.

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*Today’s readings designate Ecclesiasticus, sometimes called the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach. This is not a book contained In the canonical Old Testament, but instead belongs to that body of work called the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical Books. These books are accepted by some Christian denominations as useful, but are rejected by other denominations. I have not included this reading today because of these controversies. However, if you want to read it, the reference for today is Ecclus. 11:2-20.

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Silence

October 24, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, October 24, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Rev. 8:1-13; Luke 10:17-24; Psalms 38,119:25-48

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In Revelation today, the following is reported: “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour….” Rev. 8:1

There are really only two times when we stand silent. The first is when we are overwhelmed with awe at what just happened, and we are silent. In such circumstances, we say that we are speechless or dumbfounded. The second time we stand silent is when we choose to shut our mouths, when we choose to live with our own thoughts and to listen. This second time is almost so rare that we don’t even have a name for it. We can’t say that we are speechless, because we have our speech, we just choose not to use it. Perhaps if we are in school, church, or someplace where we are “supposed” to be quiet, we might call that “enforced silence,” but otherwise when we just choose to be silent, we don’t have a good name for that. Well, I am going to coin the phrase “expectation silence” because, often, we choose to be silent when we are expecting something to happen, to hear words of wisdom, to encounter God in prayer, to hear the deer approach in the forest, that kind of thing.

In our reading, what kind of silence is happening in heaven? Is it the speechless, awe-filled kind? Or the enforced silence type? Or is it the expectation silence? Maybe in these circumstances it is all three. The angels and saints are speechless because of the majesty they are witnessing. The angels and saints are staying silent out of respect for the holiness of God. The angels and saints are expecting to hear something wonderful, and they are silent. Any and all of these explanations work, I think.

They were silent for thirty minutes. Have you ever tried not to say anything for thirty minutes? It is almost impossible, because we love to hear ourselves talk, even if it is only to ourselves.

What if we were silent before God today for just thirty minutes? What kind of wonders would we see for the first time? What kind of truth would we hear from Him or even from those He has placed among us to love and to hear from?

If we don’t shut up, we may never hear that quiet voice, that still voice, that wind of the Holy Spirit which blows around and through us. If we don’t shut up, we may never see the miracle which is happening before our eyes.

See, what happens when we are silent is that our mind begins to become uncluttered from our own agenda and our own reasoning, and begins to seek input through the eyes and the ears. And what do the eyes see and the ears hear – God, God’s presence through nature, and other people.

See, what happens when we are silent is that we are really setting aside our importance, our thoughts, our agendas, our focus on ourselves, and turning that focus upon our world, our God, and our neighbors.

And when we are quiet, we can really listen, maybe for the first time. We can listen to Scripture, we can listen to the Holy Spirit, we can listen to our spouse and our children, we can listen to the sounds of the world, and we can listen to ourselves, our heart, our aches, our needs, our anger, our sins, our joys, our sufferings.

It is the last point, that of shutting up so we can listen to ourselves, which drives many people to hate silence. But think of this, in our silence, as each concern, loss, sin, and negative thought arises, we can grab it and hand it over to Jesus. We can confess in the silence, because we can see and hear clearly what we need to confess. But there is more. In the silence we can also hear our joys, our happiness, our loves, our Savior who lives in us and us in Him. And while are in silence, listening to ourselves and these wonderful gifts we have been given, we can give thanks to the same Jesus who has taken our burdens.

This is the middle of the week and will be filled with busyness, talk and bustle. Take a moment, take thirty minutes. Don’t say anything during this period. Just listen, and as the things which need confession bubble to surface, let them go, release them to the One who says that He will carry your burdens; and as the things which need celebration also bubble to the surface, give thanks (silently) to the One who has given them to you. And in so doing, with all the angels and saints, stand in the presence of God – in silence, in expectation silence. And see what happens.

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*Today’s readings designate Ecclesiasticus, sometimes called the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach. This is not a book contained In the canonical Old Testament, but instead belongs to that body of work called the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical Books. These books are accepted by some Christian denominations as useful, but are rejected by other denominations. I have not included this reading today because of these controversies. However, if you want to read it, the reference for today is Ecclus. 7:4-14.

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© 2012 GBF

Bread –Excuses

October 22, 2012


Readings for Monday, October 22, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Rev. 7:1-8; Luke 9:51-62; Psalms 9,15,25

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Jesus says “Follow Me” and what is your response? In today’s reading from Luke, we see a bunch of excuses for delay in responding to this call, making one wonder if the people whom Jesus calls will ever in fact respond.

In Luke 9:57, someone tells Jesus boldly that he will follow Jesus “wherever you go.” Jesus responds that He has nowhere to lay his head. Here, Jesus has not even said “Follow Me,” but the person is volunteering to do it. Essentially, Jesus’ response to that offer suggests that the person has not counted the cost of following Him, of really following Him. Are we really ready to follow Jesus when we offer to do so? Have we thought about what that means about setting aside our agenda, our needs, our pride, our timing, our results, and even, perhaps, our comfy bed? How is this example an excuse for failing to follow Jesus? I think it is an excuse because we use our failure to recognize how hard something is as our reason to quit doing it. In other words, we set ourselves up for the necessity to make excuses by failing to count the cost of discipleship in the first place. When we say that we have no time to pray because we have a meeting, what we are also saying is that we have no time to pray because we did not realize the load it would place on our schedule and our agenda, and now that we have figured that out we are not willing to pay the price. When we say that a particular person is unlovable, what we are also saying is that we did not realize that loving was such a difficult endeavor, that we said “we can do it” without realizing that we cannot do it (without help). “Well I didn’t know before I said …” Jesus says, “I am telling you so that you will know.”

In Luke 9:59, Jesus says “Follow Me” to a man, who then says essentially that he will once he has buried his father. Now burying your father is an important matter, as well as earning a livelihood, paying the bills, making that critical meeting, closing that new sale to a new customer, making that phone call you have been putting off, etc. Life presents us with a barrage of doings, all of which are important or which will become important if we ignore them. Our world is filled with busyness, which of course gives us our usual excuse for not following Jesus when He calls – “Mr. Jesus, I will, but I first need to do ….” This excuse is useful for avoiding the key question of salvation, of whether you believe and trust in Jesus, the risen Lord, enough that you will confess your sins, turn toward Him, ask Him for more help, and accept His gift of forgiveness and everlasting life. This excuse is also useful for avoiding Jesus’ calls to follow Him into prayer and relationship with Him; to follow Him into establishing loving relationships with family, friends, and strangers; to follow Him into worship; to follow Him into obedience, growth, and production of good fruit. The excuse of “I have something else I also need to do first” is useful for all kinds of things, none of which are a positive response to Jesus’ call to follow Him.

In Luke 9:61, we see the same excuse played out in a different context, this time focusing on maintaining over relationships over the relationship with Jesus. Here, the person who says he will follow Jesus says, however, that he must first say “Goodbye” to his friends and family. If Luke 9:59 represents the excuses of things over Jesus (I have to go to this meeting first; then we can have prayer time), then Luke 9:61 represents the excuses of people over Jesus (let me first say “Goodbye”). This set of excuses from following Jesus shows itself in a variety of ways, but perhaps the most insidious one is “If I do ____________, what will people think?” For example, “I can’t follow Jesus by talking about him right now to my pagan friend, because he will think that I am being pushy” is no different than saying to Jesus, “I will follow you after I tell my family goodbye.” It is putting the sensitivities of others above God.

Three types of excuses. “God, I can’t follow You today because I didn’t realize that Your demand on my life would cost me my new car.” (the excuse of “I didn’t know what I was getting into”). “God, I can’t follow You today because I have something else I have do first.” (the excuse of “I have something more important to me to do right now”). “God, I can’t follow You today, because following You might disturb a personal relationship I have with someone else.” (the excuse of “my relationship with others is more important than my relationship with You.”).

Jesus will call you today to something. Maybe it will be to belief and salvation. Maybe it will be to closer relationship with Him. Maybe it will be to participate in a miracle. Maybe it will be to enjoyment of life. Maybe it will be to forgiveness. Maybe it will be to love of neighbor. Maybe it will be to peace.

Will you respond in faith, or will you find an excuse?

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*Today’s readings designate Ecclesiasticus, sometimes called the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach. This is not a book contained In the canonical Old Testament, but instead belongs to that body of work called the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical Books. These books are accepted by some Christian denominations as useful, but are rejected by other denominations. I have not included this reading today because of these controversies. However, if you want to read it, the reference for today is Ecclus. 4:20-5:7.

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Attention

October 19, 2012


Readings for Friday, October 19, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Acts 28:1-16; Luke 9:28-36; Psalms 16,17,22

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“Pay attention!” It is a command we all heard somewhere in our lives, as our mind wandered into our imaginations while something important was going on.

It is a command which we all could do a better job with in our Christian walk.

For example, my last Bread “Pits” had Noah in the fish. That would be nice, except it was supposed to be Jonah. Everyone knows that it was Jonah in the big fish and not Noah, but somehow I wasn’t paying attention. But neither was anyone else. Out of all the people who read this, only one person e-mailed me with the error. Maybe some or most of you were just being kind, but I daresay that, for most people, since they knew that it was supposed to be Jonah in the fish, they read right past what I had actually written (Noah) and substituted in their mind Jonah and kept on reading.

There are at least two lessons in today’s Scripture readings about paying attention. The first is in Acts as Luke reports Paul’s journey from Malta to Rome. When Paul arrived at Puteoli, it is reported simply that “there they found brothers.” Acts 28:14. How did they do that? It is not like they had an e-mail list and could send a text message. To find brothers it took looking, paying attention to the signs, talking to people and listening to what they were saying. In other words, it took paying attention to what they were seeing, hearing, and sensing. It probably took paying attention to how the Holy Spirit was guiding them. Now this may seem like a trivial example, but it is real world and points up a problem — don’t we pay the most attention when we are after something we want? How often do we really pay attention if it involves someone else, their needs, their life, and not ours? Do we really pay attention to the person in the elevator, who sits next to us in their cubicle at work, who is talking to the room but not to us particularly? Do we really read what we are reading, see what we are looking at, hear what is being said, or look upon events and other people with a sharp, discerning eye? Unless it involves us, probably not.

The more important example is what Peter did at the transfiguration of Christ (in today’s reading from Luke). Here he is in the middle of seeing Jesus, Moses, and Elijah together and his thought is immediately turned to setting up a place for them to separately stay, to hang out. The importance of the event was in the revelation of Jesus as God, standing with the Law and the Prophets in complete unity. However, rather than pay attention to the miracle, to absorb its grandeur and holiness, to let it encompass and infill him, Peter reacts practically, paying attention to his own concepts of what the miracle needed, offering his own take on the situation. How often do we not pay attention to the miracle around us, instead taking the opportunity to pursue our own agenda? How often have we ignored the splendor of the new morning, the rising of the sun, the cry of the new baby, the wisdom of the old, the existence of hope in dreadful circumstances, the word spoken to us by Scripture or by the teacher or preacher. These are miracles designed for us, that God has let us participate in, and we walk right past them daily, paying no attention at all.

So, will today be any different? I hope so, because Noah does not belong in the fish and because I don’t need to be so wrapped up in myself that I am not paying attention. What about you?

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*Today’s readings designate Ecclesiasticus, sometimes called the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach. This is not a book contained In the canonical Old Testament, but instead belongs to that body of work called the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical Books. These books are accepted by some Christian denominations as useful, but are rejected by other denominations. I have not included this reading today because of these controversies. However, if you want to read it, the reference for today is Ecclus. 1:1-10, 18-27.

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Pits

October 17, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, October 17, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Jonah 1:17-2:10; Acts 27:9-26; Luke 9:1-17; Psalms 12,13,14,119:1-24

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It sometimes helps us to understand something by visualizing it. So let us join Noah in the fish. He is sitting in the middle of no-where, bounded on all sides by engulfing waters, thrown into almost certain death by God (acting through the sailors), being transported to a place he does not want to go by a vehicle not of his choosing. The place must have been very dark and very wet. Because it was inside a fish, his surroundings may have had a certain unpleasant odor. Rejected by the sailors, in depression himself, in nasty circumstances, going to a place he hates. One might come out of this visualization saying that he was in the pits.

And, indeed, that is where Jonah thought he was. He described where he was as “the deep, into the heart of the seas” (Jonah 2:3), as “the belly of Sheol” (Jonah 2:2b), as at the “roots of the mountain, …the land whose bars closed upon me forever” (Jonah 2:6), and “the pit” (Jonah 2:6).

Jonah was in a terrible place, and what did he do? He gave thanks to God because God was using Jonah’s place, his circumstances, his pits, as the vehicle for his restoration to life and to his position as God’s prophet to the pagans in Nineveh.  Listen to him – “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and He answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas … yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to You…Salvation belongs to the Lord!” Jonah 2:1-3, 6-7, 9.

This pattern of being thrown into the pit, recognizing God’s mercy, compassion, and providence even in such dire straits, and then giving thanks for life repeats itself in every reading today.

In Acts, the boat carrying 276 people, including Paul, was capsizing, but in the pit of despair while all worldly goods were being cast overboard, God spoke to Paul and told him that God was in control. Paul then said to everyone, stay in the boat, in the place of despair, because God will rescue. “And when he [Paul] had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. Then they were all encouraged …And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea. These sailors so trusted the Lord that they gave thanks to the Lord in their despair and then threw out their food, so that they would be ready for their promised deliverance. In their pit, they threw themselves on the mercy of God, giving thanks in the midst of it all.

In Luke, the audience has gathered around Jesus in a “desolate place.” Lk. 9:12. They were in the middle of no-where with nothing to eat. They, however, were gathered around the Savior. Without food and in a desolate place, the people were in a pit. But Jesus did not fret, instead He “looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them [the five loaves and two fish].” “Then He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets in broken pieces.” Lk. 9:16-17

In the pit of despair there is plenty of blessing to be had for the asking, because God is merciful, caring, compassionate, and long-suffering toward His people. God blessed the one (Jonah), the few (the people on the ship), and the many (the 5,000 in the desolate place).

There is a pattern here on purpose. The truth is that in this sinful world we live much of our lives in pits, in smelly circumstances, without sufficient resources (food) for our purposes, being taken places we don’t want to go, surrounded by deep waters, storms, and other calamities of life. What is striking about the people of God is that they see God in the pits, they see Him in their circumstances. They see Him and recognize that His hand protects them, carries them, caresses them, and leads them. They see Him and realize that, although they are currently in the pits, that is not where they will be; the pits is not their destination. And recognizing that, they pray, they give thanks, and they accept the gifts they have been given – a second chance, a rest from the storm, a rock to stand on, food for the road, a helping hand from a neighbor, joy, eternal life. They look to heaven and not their feet. They look up and not down.

This is what the people of God (Jonah, Paul, the disciples, the crowd) do in the pits. What do you do? What are you going to do?

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Confrontation

October 15, 2012


Readings for Monday, October 15, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Micah 7:1-7; Acts 26:1-23; Luke 8:26-39; Psalms 1,2,3,4,7

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Nobody likes to be confronted, to be disturbed in their self-importance, routine, or their particular reality. Particularly, no-one is interested in being confronted with the truth, because then they might have to criticize their current situation and change to something else. In this weekend’s newspaper there was even an editorial asking Christians to stop being so pushy or confrontational, saying essentially that the best way to show love was to stop being “judgmental” and to be tolerant and accepting. Well, Christians do accept everyone where they because we know that we are all sinners and, but for the grace of God, we would be condemned to hell along with them. This does not make us superior, just saved. Since we are all sinners, some saved by grace and others not, we are in a good position to confront each other and to judge (or assess) rightly, in truth and in love.

In our readings today, we see nothing but confrontation, as perceived by the people who see what God is doing through His people.

In Micah, the prophet confronts the world, by saying that the people of the world practice evil regularly, so that they can do it better (“Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well;…” Mic. 7:3), by saying that sons, daughters, and daughters-in-law rise up against their families, treating them with contempt (Mic. 7:6), and by saying that the best people the world can produce are no more than a “brier” or a “thorn hedge.” (Mic. 7:4). In the midst of this, however, Micah does not despair, but waits upon the Lord (“But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” Mic. 7:7). While this daily confrontation with the world might wear out the prophet, it does not because he looks, not to the world for his sustenance, but to his God. In Micah, we have the confrontation between God’s truth and the masses, the people who have so bought into the world’s lies that they want no part of the truth. The result of the confrontation is that the people reject the prophet and tells him to go away.

In Acts, Paul speaks to King Agrippa, confronting him with the choice we all need to make, between believing the world or believing God. Agrippa is an educated man, with a broad understanding. Although he is a representative of Rome, appointed by emperor Claudius, he is a Jewish believer. In Acts, therefore, we have the confrontation between God’s truth and the people who have been so convinced by education, religious practice, or power that they have difficulty with the truth, not necessarily able or willing to reject it but not able or willing to accept it either. After Paul has presented the history of his personal confrontation with Jesus Christ and his conversion, Agrippa gives him the classic educated response, skepticism – “In a short time, would you persuade me to be a Christian?” Acts 26:28. When confronted, the educated person’s classic reaction is deflection, because if I can deflect the truth, I don’t have to deal with it. The result of the confrontation is that the leaders reject the evangelist and tell him to go away.

In Luke, Jesus confronts the man possessed by Satan’s demons, together called “Legion.” Although it may appear like it, there is no real confrontation with the demons, because they know who Jesus is and submit to His authority. The only thing we see from the demons is negotiation; they know their end is coming, but they are angling to soften the blow. However, there is a real confrontation with the people as they are confronted with the reality of Jesus’ power over Satan and the world, and see with their own eyes the miracle of redemption of the possessed man and his passage before their eyes from death into life. When confronted with Jesus’ power, the people were afraid and asked Him to leave (Lk. 8:37). They did not embrace the miracle, because they did not want to deal with what it implied. “Please get out of here” the people cried, because they could not handle the self-confrontation required to change their worldview, their allegiance, or their life. “Please don’t talk to me, confront me, or tell me the truth, because I don’t want to know, I don’t want to change, I don’t want to have to deal with this!” So say many who are actually confronted by Jesus.

Given these readings today (and much of the Bible for that matter), why are we afraid of confrontation?

Are we afraid of confrontation because we accept the premise of those objecting – “If you confront me, you will drive me away from Christ.”? That is their premise, after all. Basically, those who object to being told the truth are saying that you will communicate more effectively with them if you soften the discussion or avoid it altogether. And by failing to tell the truth, present the gospel, and exercise our ministries for all to see, we are accepting their premise. We are believing that, by watering things down, we have a shot at wooing them to our side, of bringing them to Christ by lowering their barriers.

Do we really believe that, if Micah were less confrontational, Israel would have turned from its evil ways to the Lord? Do we really believe that, if Paul were a little less pushy, Agrippa would fall over for Christ? Do we really believe that, if Jesus had asked the population for permission to cast out the demons, they would have been more likely to have believed and been saved?

Of course we don’t. We know that our job is to simply present the truth in love. If people want to react to the truth negatively, then that is what they do. Our job is simply to present the truth in love. If it is controversial or confrontational, so be it. Controversy and confrontation did not stop Micah, it did not stop Paul, and it did not stop Jesus. Nor should it stop us. Ever.

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Go Away

October 12, 2012


Readings for Friday, October 12, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Micah 3:9-4:5; Acts 24:24-25:12; Luke 8:1-15; Psalms 140,141,142,143

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In Acts today, we read about the interaction Paul had with Felix. Acts reports that “…as he [Paul] reasoned [with Felix] about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, ‘Go away …” Acts 24:25

In Luke today, Jesus is giving the parable of the sower and the good and poor soil. Part of this reads “And as he [the sower] sowed, some [seed] fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it … The see is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” Lk. 8:5,11-12

How often have we done the same thing that Felix did to Paul. Someone comes to us with a truthful and loving spirit and tells us things we don’t want to hear. These are not things about how well we are doing at work or in sports or in marriage, but things about our relationships, things about our integrity, things about our exercise of Godly discipline and obedience, or things about the coming judgment when all will either stand on their own before the wrath of God or behind the shield of Jesus. What do we do in those circumstances? If we are truthful with ourselves, we will probably answer by saying that we tell the bearer of such news about righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment to just “Go Away!” Maybe we will say it, like Felix, because we are alarmed and need time to absorb what we just heard, but more likely we will say it (Go Away!) because what is being said conflicts with our self-image, our pride.

Where does this pride in oneself come from? In modern thinking, it comes from a positive self-image. And how do we get this positive self-image? There are really only two ways. One is from the world, by looking in the mirror and telling ourselves, with Satan’s help, that we are good people even though we think bad thoughts and do bad things. In this first method of positive self-image, we obtain it by adopting Satan’s greatest lie – “I am (a) god.” In adopting the world’s position, in saying that “I am the master of me,” you fall right into Satan’s trap because the truth is by saying “I am the master of me” you have just, in your pride, said essentially that “Satan [the world] is the master of me.”

The second way we obtain a positive self-image is to accept two truths, both given to us in love by our Father. The first truth is that we are needy, that we are disobedient, that we are selfish, that we constantly reject to best for the good and reject the good for the worse, that, to use a religious word, we are “sinners.” The second truth given to us by God about ourselves is that we are made in His image, that we are intended for relationship with Him if we are ready to accept our low estate, our place where God is first and we are not, and that we have access to that relationship by belief in Jesus Christ, his life, death, and resurrection, and our voluntary acceptance of a life of obedience to Him and not to ourselves.

Isn’t it interesting that the world tells us that, in order to be “good,” we must believe in ourselves, guaranteeing that by doing so we become slave to sin and death. Isn’t it interesting that the world tells us that belief in Jesus Christ is ignorance of science and good sense, when it is in fact the only way to true freedom.

Is there any wonder that, when Felix heard the truth, he became alarmed and said to the truth-teller, “Go Away.”

How often have we done that when the truth does not fit our pride, our self-image as mini-Gods?

God today said, in Luke, that sometimes His word falls on paths to be trampled upon by people who listen to the world, to Satan. What do you think those people said when they heard the word of God? – more likely than not, they said “Go Away.”

What will you say when confronted like this? “Go away” or something else? Will you be disturbed by the truth and amend your life in keeping with it, or will you just be disturbed by the truth and tell it to go away?

And when you tell the truth to go away and it doesn’t, now what will you do? You can ignore the truth; it is still there. You can distort the truth; it is still there. You can run away from the truth; it is still there. You can hide from the truth; it is still there.

God is truth and He is still there. So now what are you going to do?

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Foundations

October 8, 2012


Readings for Monday, October 8, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Hosea 14:1-9; Acts 22:30-23:11; Luke 6:39-49; Psalm 106

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In today’s reading from Luke, Jesus says: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against the house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” Lk. 6:46-49

Throughout my legal carrier, there have been many people who have come to me with foundation problems with their houses. In fact, I have a foundation problem right now with my house.

Why do we have foundation problems with our houses? A glib answer would say it is because we live in North Texas. A more accurate answer is that either the foundation was not built originally as it should have been, with appropriate thickness and steel, or the ground underneath it has decayed because it has not been watered or it has otherwise not been taken care of properly. Another reason which is often given is that it does not rest upon rock, but instead floats on top of shifting soil.

Why do we have foundation problems in our walk? Jesus tells us that there are three reasons. The first reason, and the reason for those who are not Christians, is that they have not “come to Him.” A foundation to be solid needs to be tied into the rock of the earth. What better tie-in than to the creator of those rocks, Jesus Christ.

The second reason our life foundation may have stresses and cracks, and may not be able to support us adequately, is that we need to “hear His (Jesus’) words.” It is not enough to know about Him and, in and of itself, it is not enough to know Him as personal Lord and Savior. Jesus says that, for us to have a strong foundation, we must know His word, Holy Scripture. We must so digest it that it is part of us. Every Wednesday we read part of Psalm 119. This Psalm ends this way – “Let Your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen Your precepts. I long for Your salvation, O Lord, and Your law is my delight. Let my soul live and praise You, and let Your rules help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments.” Ps. 119:173-176 How can we say this if we do not know what His precepts are, what His law is, what His rules are, and what His commandments are? How do we know what these things are if we do not study them, digest them, and learn them, so they become our superstructure, our rules for action, integrated throughout our very being.

Then, finally, Jesus says that, if we are to have a strong foundation, we must “do” His words. It is not enough to know Him and it is not enough to have an intellectual appreciation for Scripture, we must implement what we learn. We must do it. We must walk the walk.

One more thing to note. Water runs downhill. As a result, think about where the house is built in Jesus’ story. It is built at the bottom of the hil; it is built in the valley, in the pit of life. The house is not built in a lofty place, above the fray. It is built in the world, where it will be hammered by the flood, where the world’s torrent of hatred, of fear, of aggression, and of hellish power will crash against it. It is built where people live. It is built were we live.

Do you feel that your house, your being, is built on solid rock or shifting earth? Is your house leaning or collapsing? Is your soul bending to life, or standing against it?

If your house is collapsing, you are not alone for two reasons. The first is that there are a lot of people in the same boat, sometimes only every so often and other times seemingly all of the time. The second is that Jesus has told you how to establish yourself for all time. He does not leave you alone to your own devices – He tells you what to do. First, come to Him. Second, listen to Him. Third, do what He says to do.

Why do we spend all of our time fixing our broken foundations, when we know what we need to do to build them right the first time?

Why do we spend all of our time trying to fix ourselves, when we have the roadmap to the place where no storm can overcome us, no evil befall us, no despair overtake us, no loss engulf us? Why do we just not do what Jesus says to do – come to Him; listen to Him; obey Him.

When we do these things, life will not be easier. The flood and the storm will still come and crash against our house. And the foundation may shake, but it will hold. And our house will stand … forever.

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© 2012 GBF

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