Bread – Quandaries

January 30, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, January 30, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 49:1-12; Gal. 2:11-21; Mk 6:13-29; Psalms 49,53,119:49-72

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Today’s readings present proofs of the gospel of Jesus Christ, if one wants to and is, by the grace of God, able to hear and see, but also quandaries which the talking heads can exploit if they want to confuse and confound men of reason, the wisdom of the world. Which you see is based upon what God has equipped you to see.

The first reading is from Isaiah, where God through Isaiah in Chapter 49 speaks about the servant whom God called from his mother’s womb, whom He gave a tongue which was a “sharp sword.” Of this servant, Isaiah reports God saying “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isa. 49:6 From the believer’s perspective, this is clearly a prophecy of Jesus Christ, God’ servant who in fact is the “light for the nations” and who in fact brings God’s “salvation …to the end of the earth.” To the person interested in quandaries, in careful analysis and tortuous reasoning, the question might be “who?” “Who” is Isaiah talking about? He just says “servant,” not “Jesus” or the “Messiah.” What you see in this is what God equips you to see.

The second reading is from Galatians, where Paul is attacking Peter for his inconsistent behavior with the “Gentiles.” The context for this is that certain Jews were saying that a believer in Christ is not saved (justified) by just belief in Christ, but by following certain works of the law (in the case before Paul and Peter, certain dietary laws). Paul says expressly that “…we know that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Gal. 2:16. Now this seems simple for those of simple faith, who believe what God has said. However, for those who are interested in quandaries, who apply the wisdom of the world to the works of God (as if the lesser could judge the greater), there are many questions which are raised by this passage. For example, if the Jews were God’s people and they felt that obedience to the law was critical to salvation, shouldn’t we listen to them? What about people who say they believe but continue to bad things and maybe worse things? How do we know we are saved unless we do good works? How can we have an organized body of believers without rules which have to be followed? The questions abound, relating back to Satan in the garden of Eden, when he said “Did God really say…?” What you see in this is what God equips you to see.

The third reading is from Mark, where the account is given about the beheading of John the Baptist. People were trying to figure out who Christ was – whether He was John the Baptist come back to life, Elijah, or some other prophet. This account reminded me of a fundamental truth. John the Baptist was not raised from the dead. Who has been raised from the dead? Jesus and the people Jesus raised from the dead (e.g., Lazarus). That’s it. Being raised to eternal life is something that Jesus does – we don’t and neither does anyone else. I can’t raise you to life and you can’t raise me to life. Our best magicians may be able to make you “magically” disappear, but they cannot “magically” bring you back from the dead. Dead is dead unless God acts. Now, this seems simple and irrefutable to some, but to many it just raises many questions, many quandaries. For example, how do we really know that Lazarus was dead; maybe he was just in a coma (and how would such uneducated, stupid people ever know about that, since we are the people of science, smarts, and the Internet). How do we know Jesus was resurrected; all we really know is that he was laid in a tomb and disappeared. Oh there are some reports in the Bible about Him coming back around in the flesh, but all those reports could have been made up by people who wanted to build a new religion around Jesus Christ, or they could have been hallucinating, or the reports are inaccurate. How do we know what really happened? Maybe the Bible, written over thousands of years by bunches of people, is just the fabrication of the members of a conspiracy. There are just so many questions; how can I believe? What you see in this is what God equips you to see.

Truth or quandary. The wisdom of God or the wisdom of the world.

Doubts are common to man. That does not mean that they are good guides to truth. What is common to man is sin, flaws, defects, loss, discouragement. What is uncommon to man is the wisdom of God. That is because it comes from God and not from man, must be sought from God and not from man, and will, in God’s good pleasure and time, be given to man freely, not because man demands it but because God wills it.

Do you have doubts? Seek wisdom from the source of wisdom. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Prov. 2:6.

Seek from God and you will find….truth

Seek from man and you will find….quandaries.

From whom are you seeking wisdom today?

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Man-Made

January 28, 2013


Readings for Monday, January 28, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 48:1-11; Gal. 1:1-17; Mk 5:21-43; Psalms 41,44,52

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The first commandment (of the ten) is to love God, placing no other “gods” before Him. Deut. 5:7. The second commandment prohibits the construction and use of idols, things that substitute for God. Deut. 5:8-10.

Obviously, to God our relationship to and with Him is paramount, and He is saying that that relationship should be paramount to us.

But sadly, it is not. Our biggest idol stares at us in the mirror in the morning. A friend of mine calls it the “unholy trinity” – me, myself, and I. We are our biggest idols, or we raise up idols which are the products of our thinking or our doing. The problem with Christianity is not in its lack of proofs (there are many) or the lack of history which accompanies Christ’s death and resurrection (the more we learn about our past, the more the Bible is proven); the problem with Christianity is that we did not invent it. It does not come from “us;” therefore, we view it with skepticism.

God knows that we are inclined to corrupt His work so that we can turn it into our own and then claim that we created it, that we earned it, that we figured it out. And so God does things that we cannot explain, to remind us that it is not us in the mirror who are gods, but Him and Him alone who is God. Our reading from Isaiah today drives this home:

“The former things I declared of old; they went out from My mouth, and I announced them; then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass.

I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’

From this time forth I announce to you new things, hidden things that you have not known. They are created now, not long ago; before today you have not heard of them, lest you should say, ‘Behold I knew them.’” Isa. 48:3,5,6b-7 (emphasis added)

God utters prophesies and says and does things which to our mind are incomprehensible so that we cannot take credit for them, because we will take credit for it if we can even though we had nothing to do with it.

Don’t we try to re-make everything in our image? Aren’t we always trying to make the things of God our things, our inventions, our imaginations?

We add works to grace because we understand works but we do not understand the kind of mercy which results in the death of a man for our sins. Works make more sense to us because we can invent them (create the standards), we can do them, we can control them, we can test them, and we can judge them. In other words, works is a natural religion for man because we can then be god. A religion based on mercy, on relationship, on God is not a natural religion for man, because man does not naturally make a religion where there is something beyond his grasp. Christianity makes the wise foolish because the wise would not invent Christianity because grace cannot be boxed up, it cannot be fathomed, it cannot be boxed in, it cannot be measured, and it cannot be judged. Our relationship with God exists because God acts to make it exist, not because we have done anything to merit it. We can enjoy it, but we cannot earn it.

Today, look at your actions and your thoughts, taking everything captive. What is your basic view of the world, of your position and your wealth, of your relationships? Are they man-made or God-made? Who or what do you honor? Who or what do you thank? Who or what do you worship?

Our knee-jerk reaction is to say God because instinctively we know that is the “right” answer. But is it the “true” answer? I think if we are honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge the same tendencies which God states that we have in Isaiah. Our tendency, our orientation is to say that I did it, we did it, our idols did it – when the truth is that God did it. We take the things of God and we profane them, calling them ours.

Two thoughts, two paths, two belief systems, two world views – man is supreme or God is supreme. How choose you?

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Unknown

January 23, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, January 23, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 44:24-45:7; Eph. 5:1-14; Mk 4:1-20; Psalms 38, 119:25-48

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In our times of darkness there is often a desire to hide from the light, to walk among people who do not know us, to remain unknown and anonymous. It is in anonymity that we can pursue our base desires, hoping that no one recognizes us. We can hide in crowds, hoping that no one really sees us. These crowds can be anywhere. They can be on the subway or on the street, in the lecture hall of a college classroom, in the sanctuary of a large church. They are places where we can go and participate, without being known. We believe we can remain unknown and unknowable if we try, and try we do. We try to remain unknown behind the mask of daily pleasantries, of work and play routines, of bantering conversation about irrelevant matters, behind our desk at work, inside our closed homes. In today’s world, we can also hide behind the computer screen, remaining in a world of isolation and unknownness. We play hide and seek all day except that there is, to our mind, no seeker … so all we do is hide.

We think we are alone and we act like it. Wrong!

We are not alone, and today’s reading from Isaiah emphasize that. In Isaiah, God is speaking about Cyrus the Great of Persia:

“I call you by your name, I name you, thought you do not know Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides Me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me…” Isa. 45:4b-5

Although Cyrus, a pagan, does not know God, God knows him. He actually not only knows Cyrus, but He calls Cyrus to do His bidding and He equips Cyrus with what Cyrus needs to achieve God’s purpose.

How would we behave differently if we really, really understood this truth – that God knows us even if we don’t know God, that God equips us even though we might believe that I equip myself, that God calls us even when we are in hiding? We might be able to hide from other people and we might be able to even hide from ourselves, but we will never hide from God.

You and I are not unknown. We are known to God.

A sobering thought. A releasing thought. A mighty thought. Because if we are known to God, then what need do we have to hide? The person who knows us best is the Person who loves us most, warts and all. He loved us so much that He died for us, that we might have life through Him.

So why continue to live life in hiding? Why indeed?

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© 2013 GBF

Bread — Fear

January 16, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, January 16, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 41:1-16; Eph. 2:1-10; Mk 1:29-45; Psalms 12,13,14, 119:1-24

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Today’s readings concern three types of fear – fear of death or physical harm, fear of abandonment or emotional harm, and fear of obedience or harm to our self-image.

In Isaiah, we look at the fear of death or physical harm. Isaiah is addressing the people of Israel. He points out that people will be incensed and angry against the Jews, that people will work against the Jews, and that people will wage war against them. In the face of this potential for death or grave physical (and economic and emotional) harm, Isaiah says “..fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;…For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” Isa. 41:10,13

In Ephesians, we look at fear of abandonment or emotional harm. Basically, Paul was in prison and, apparently, the Ephesians were becoming concerned about him. That concern can be of two types. One type is that they could be concerned for Paul’s wellbeing. Another is that they are concerned for themselves, that their leader will be taken away from them, will essentially abandon them, and that, as a result, they will suffer emotionally. Paul says to the Ephesians “…in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.” Eph. 3:12-13 Another way of saying the same thing would be for Paul to say “Fear not, for you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. You do not need me; you only need Him.”

The third type of fear is more subtle, but equally powerful. It is the fear we have of being obedient to Christ and His commands, based in part in fear of baring our souls to Him and in part because our sin is revealed with power in those close encounters with Christ. The knowledge of God forces us to change some, and we are fearful of change. The relationship with God at the heart level forces us to change a lot, with a commensurate rise in our fear of change factor. We do not confess our sins because, when we do, our sins are before us and our self-image, the haughty prideful image of man at the apex of life, is brought low. We fear this. This lack of obedience is demonstrated today in Mark, where Jesus cleans a leper and tells the leper what to do next, instructions which are totally ignored by the leper. Why would the leper disobey the Christ who healed Him? Why do we do so every day? Perhaps it was because of exceeding joy in the leper, which caused him to do what he wanted to do in celebration and not what he was told to do. Perhaps, though, it was because in the process of being obedient to Christ, he would discover other, deeper sin, requiring him to return to Christ regularly for forgiveness, restoration, and love.

Isaiah reports the word of God – “Fear not, for I am with you.” Paul tells the Ephesians not to fear or to lose heart, because God is with them. Mark demonstrates a single act of disobedience resulting in a receipt of half a loaf of blessing; the leper is made clean of his leprosy, but there is no evidence that the man was restored to fellowship with God (else why the disobedience?).

In a very real sense, we are always being forced to look at simple dichotomies between kingdom thinking and worldly thinking. The way of Christ is light; the way of the world is darkness. The way of Christ is salvation through grace; the way of the world is salvation through works. Likewise, the way of Christ is the absence of fear; the way of the world is action and thinking driven by fear all the time.

You might ask yourself today in your decision-making whether you are being driven by fear or by love. If being driven by fear, why when God has said to “Fear not” because He is with you. Why be driven by fear when God has commanded us not to be?

Lord, help us today to be driven by love and grace and not by fear, knowing that You have it well under control. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Immediately

January 11, 2013


Readings for Friday, January 11, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 65:13-16; Rev. 3:7-13; John 6:15-27; Psalms 91,92,148,150

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From our reading today in John, “They were glad to take Him [Jesus] into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” Jn. 6:21

This sentence comes from the history of Jesus’ walking on the water to His disciples while they were crossing the sea. Pretty much all of the focus is always on the fear of the disciples and the water-walking miracle of Jesus. However, today let us focus on the end of the story – The disciples invite Jesus into the boat and instantly the boat arrives at its destination across the sea.

In a very real sense, this is what happens at the moment we repent of our sins and trust in Jesus for all salvation. As soon as we invite Jesus into the boat of our lives, on our journey, we are saved. There is no additional rowing required, no good works necessary to the maintenance of Jesus on board, just immediate arrival at all salvation destination, communion with God.

So, what keeps us from realizing that, here, right now?

Fundamentally, I think it is because we refuse to accept the miracle for what it is. Imagine for the moment that the disciples refused to believe that they had immediately reached their destination – would they have? Well, in one sense the answer is “yes,” because they had reached their destination in fact and that was true whether they believed it or not, trusted it or not, acted upon in or not. In another sense, however, the answer is “no” because, by refusing to recognize that they had arrived, there was power in the disciples to stay on the boat, to refuse to dock it, to refuse to get out, to sit in their corner on the boat, muttering about how long it was taking when all they had to do was stand up and look out onto the place of destination. Although the reality was that they had arrived, the disciples could keep that reality at bay by refusing to see it, by refusing to act upon it, by refusing the accept God’s grace of immediate transport.

Don’t we do the same thing all the time? We are in our boat, on our journey, to a destination of our desire. Jesus appears and invites Himself into our lives. We accept the invitation (because God has given us the power to accept it) and we are immediately transported to a restored relationship with God … which we do what with? We delay our appropriation of the destination by refusing to believe it can be that easy, by thinking it is but a mirage or an image of a greater reality to come later, by creating burdens and works necessary to continue to the journey from where we are (with Jesus in the boat) to where we want to go (no realizing we are already there). We deny the miracle, which of course then requires us to do something, be something, acquire something, etc., to help it along. We continue to sit in the boat of our making, holding the oars of our making, contemplating the destination of our making, without realizing that, with Jesus, we have arrived at the destination of His making, and the destination of our deepest desire, with no further need of the boat or the oars, only Him.

We may have a leaky boat, a smelly boat, broken oars, a disturbed compass, torn sails, a raggedy net … in other words, we may have the worse fishing outfit imaginable. But if we have Jesus in the boat, we have arrived and it happened immediately, whether we realize it or not and whether we act on it or not.

But since we are here, since we who have Jesus have arrived, why not accept the miracle for what it is, engage with God fully in His presence, His power, and His peace, and forget the boat? Why not be grateful that we have arrived rather than be forever fretting over how the miracle happened or even whether it did happen?

Why not immediately accept the gift immediately and miraculously given?

What is your excuse today for staying in the boat when you have arrived?

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Simple

January 7, 2013


Readings for Monday, January 7, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 52:3-6; Rev. 2:1-7; John 2:1-11; Psalms 103,114,115

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Keep it simple. In the “kiss” formula, there is actually another word which follows “keep it simple,” but you can fill that in.

Isn’t it amazing how we can take the simplest concepts – there is a God, trust Him, obey Him, the world is broken by sin, etc. – and turn them into multiple volumes of theological treatises, religious rules, lists and measurements. In response to simple statements with which we find we cannot agree (because we have not been given the gift of faith), we develop complex questions and arguments which, to our “reasonable” minds, must be met with equally complex questions and arguments, else we are fearful that we will lose the argument, acting as if it was ours to lose or win.

In today’s readings, there are three “simple” points.

In Isaiah, God says “…here am I.” Isa. 52:6 At the end of the passage, which I am sure can be dissected into a million pieces, comes the simple truth – “…here am I.” God is present, God is real, God is here. He is present in the world. He is present among His people. He is with you. He is with me.

In John we read the familiar story of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding feast. The story ends with this: “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did … and manifested His glory.” John 2:11. How is Jesus’ glory manifested in the manufacture of wine? How is God’s majesty manifested in the morning sun? There is no complex explanation required, no understanding of how a magic trick was performed needed, no great theological argument raised. The fact that Jesus blessed a wedding feast by providing the food is a simple act of God on behalf of His people. No more and no less. Yes, it is outside of our reason, our common sense, and our scientific understanding. But does that make God’s action in our lives complicated or hard to understand? No, not unless we make it so. Jesus did a simple miracle at the feast to provide a simple blessing upon His people at a simple point in time. No more and no less. It is in the simple things of day-to-day life where miracles occur every day because God is present, He is active, and He loves us and sustains us. Simple – not hard to see and hear, but maybe hard to accept. And in the simple miracles of daily living God’s glory is revealed, if we have but eyes to see and ears to hear.

Finally, in Revelation Jesus writes to the church in Ephesus, congratulating them on the religious compliance and critiquing them because they had forgotten the love they had at first. Jesus says to them “Remember therefore from where you have fallen…” Rev. 2:5. Now this might very well be a reference to the love the Ephesians had for Christ when they first understood what He had done for them on the cross, but it could also be a reference to the beginning, when man through his lack of trust and resulting disobedience was evicted from Eden and both he and the entirety of earth was brought low by his desire to be like God. But, simply, both references are the same reference. We fall from relationship with God when our faith in Him becomes transmuted to faith in ourselves, when reliance upon God’s work is lost in the shuffle to reliance upon our work. The simple but hard is “love God.” The complex but easy is “love ourselves.”

Why do we make simple complicated? I think it is because there is nothing you can do with simple except to either accept it as it is or reject it. With simple, there are no exceptions, no explanations, no better or worse performances, no measurements. There is either acceptance or rejection, recognition or blindness, hearing or deafness. There is no “in between” state.

Will we keep it simple? Only time will tell. But it is a worthy objective for the new year.

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© 2013 GBF

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