Bread – Blessed

February 25, 2013


Readings for Monday, February 25, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ruth 1:1-14; 2 Cor. 1:12-22; Matt. 5:1-12; Psalm 106

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In today’s reading from Matthew, Jesus begins his “Sermon on the Mount” with the Beatitudes. In one sermon a long time ago, these were referred to as the “Attitudes” you should “Be.” Every one of them is a description of who in the kingdom of God is “blessed” – those who are “poor in spirit,” who “mourn,” or “are meek,” who “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” who are “merciful,” who are “pure in heart,” who are “peacemakers,” and “who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Matt. 5:1-12.

Blessedness has a common denominator – you, with God’s help, put pride in its place, subordinated to an “attitude of gratitude.” Blessed people are people who know where their bread really comes from, where their safety really comes from, where their life (both now and hereafter) really comes from, where their wealth, honor, power, and hope really comes from. They don’t necessary have answers to every problem, but they know that the answer does not lie in themselves. They are blessed because God blesses them and because they do not act in ways which block or interfere with receipt of the blessing. They take their blessings from God and not from themselves or their neighbors or the world, and they are therefore truly blessed.

This does not mean they live well according to worldly standards. In today’s reading from Ruth, a Moabite pagan (more than likely, because Naomi tells her to go home to her family and her “gods”) chooses to subordinate her life to that of Naomi, the Jewish mother-in-law, and to support her. This requires Ruth to “glean” the fields (a poor person’s way of permissible self-help) without expectation of any real thanks or benefit, other than having enough food to live another day. Yet in her “poverty of spirit,” Ruth is blessed with being redeemed by “type” of Christ, a kinsman-redeemer who runs the risk of sacrificing his good name to bring Ruth into the family of God, an integration so complete that Ruth is in the line of genealogy for King David and Christ Jesus.

But it does mean that they live well according to eternal standards.

It is very easy to read the story of Ruth and say that that is nice for her, but hard for me. It is very easy to read the list of Beatitudes and say that that is nice for them but hard for me. After all, it is hard to be “poor in spirit” when we are well-educated according to worldly standards, when we are wealthy according to worldly standards, when we are powerful according to worldly standards, when we are important according to worldly standards.

It is very hard, because we want so much to believe that we are it, that we are the stuff out of which the universe is made, that we are king. The world tells us that these things are important and then organizes our life so that slowly but surely, what we have is discovered to be a chimera, here today and gone tomorrow. Over time, what appears to be real power, real wealth, real importance, turns to dust. God tells us the exact opposite, that these things are not important. When we adopt the beatitudes, the way of blessing, and realize that these things are not important, God then so organizes our life so that slowly but surely, we get them – but this time for real. Instead of the “here today, gone tomorrow” promise of the world, we get the “gone today, here tomorrow” reality of God. Over time, what appears to be a life absent of wealth, power, and importance in God turns to a real life of real wealth, real power, and real, eternal importance. With God, we turn in the fake to obtain the real. With the world, we surrender the real to the fake.

The world knows that it is a shill selling lies, and therefore it attempts to ridicule those people of God who give the truth away for free. The theory goes that, if people are thought of as silly or stupid, then no-one will listen to them.

But there is a problem with this because when we repeat God’s words, it is God who speaks and not us. So we can be reviled all day long, but the truth will still poke through the smokescreen of insults. All we have to do is to remember that it is not our battle to win because it has already been won on the cross.

Are you feeling blessed today? No? Why not? Maybe it is because you are not “being” the right “attitude.” When we deserve the worse (which we do) but are given the best (because God wants to), then how can we be anything but blessed?

Are you feeling blessed today? No? Maybe you need to change positions by subordinating your will to God’s, by exchanging a spirit of “heart-richness” for a spirit of “heart-poorness,” by stepping down from your throne of self-actualization and handing it to God, who really is a better King than we are.

Are you feeling blessed today? No? Maybe it is time for this prayer – “Come Holy Spirit and take over….now!”

_________________________

© 2013 GBF

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Bread – Red Herrings

February 20, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, February 20, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 63:15-64:9; 1 Tim. 3; Mk 11:27-12:12; Psalms 101,109,119:121-144

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A “red herring” is a statement, objection, question, or some other kind of verbal or written engagement which is designed to cause the other person to go down a “rabbit trail,” and to derail that person from the main argument. Red herrings are used for distraction, but they are also used to create a kind of self-destruction, where a person who is making a good point is now sidelined into trivial matters. Typically, a person who poses a red herring could care less about the answer; he or she is only trying to get a reaction.

Why do red herrings work? Because somehow we feel like we have to respond to every objection, answer every question, address every concern, discuss every possibility, and defend all attacks. Since the idea of “all” does not allow for major and minor issues, questions, or concerns, it is possible to set up a red herring and then let the person answering the question go chase it.

Jesus dealt with a red herring in today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark. The temple big dogs have confronted Jesus and asked Him “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them [miracles, etc.].” Mk. 11:28 Jesus answers them by giving them a red herring – “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” Mk. 11:30 Inherent in both questions is the issue of the skeptic – will you believe the answer even if it is true, but unverifiable in man’s reasoning of what is and is not verifiable? Since the big dogs could not conclude that John’s baptism was from heaven, in spite of evidence in front of them, Jesus knew that it did not matter what He answered them regarding His authority, they would not believe the answer. Their world view was so fixed against the possibility of someone like Jesus, His presence in front of them, His miracles, and His fulfillment of ancient prophecy, could all be ignored. The purpose of the question about authority was not to determine whether or not He did have authority or verify that it really was from God the Father, it was to bog Him down in endless proofs (which they would ignore anyway), endless “rabbit trails” of logic and reason, and endless defenses, leading (so they hoped) to some kind of logic error which they could then pounce upon to bring Jesus down. So Jesus called it the way it was – “Folks, your question is a red herring and I am going to ignore it and move on.” (actually, what He said was “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Mk. 11:33)

If we are confronted with red herrings as we present Jesus Christ to the world, we have two choices. One is to try to respond and to thereby get lost in the weeds of debate. One example recently given to me was this – “If Jesus really existed and we have all these books written about him, then why isn’t there more reports in secular history books, hard evidence, etc.?” This is a red herring because all of the very things that that person cited to show lack of proof are actually the items, to the person wearing the lens of faith, which show great proof. Oh, I could have argued the rational basis for believing that it really happened – the eyewitness testimony, the lack of “contrary” proof that it did not happen given the desire of the Pharisees and others at the time to disprove it, the miracles, the appearances, the fact that the Bible is not only God’s revelation but also a very good history book which often reports the good, bad, and the ugly, etc. Some people might think that that is the way I should have gone, making a stand-up defense of the faith. But I sensed that this was not question arising from earnest search for Christ, but a red herring to prompt hours of essentially fruitless conversation. I therefore reversed it by answering the question this way – “for a person who has not been given the gift of faith by the mercy of God, there would not be enough proof of Jesus Christ even if I had a video tape of His death and resurrection.”

So the second thing we can do when confronted with a red herring is to drop it, is to let it go. We will never intellectualize a person into the Kingdom; we will never argue a person into faith. All we can do is to fully live the life in Christ He has appointed us to, speak plainly and boldly of the truth we know of God’s mercy and salvation, avoid endless arguments over genealogies (red herrings), and let God handle the rest.

But that is so hard. That red herring is so tempting to deal with because we know the answer. But we need to avoid the temptation and persevere. God help us to do that!

__________________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Gong

February 18, 2013


Readings for Monday, February 18, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 63:1-6; 1 Tim. 1:1-17; Mk 11:1-11; Psalm 89

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The gong has always been an interesting instrument to me. It is the instrument of entrances and exits. A gong would often be used to introduce a king or some other potentate as they entered the room. It is an announcement – “Wake up! Someone important is coming close!” It is also the instrument of exits. In this respect, “The Gong Show” comes to mind, as some hapless would-be entertainer is gonged off the stage to the boos of the audience.

But the gong, particularly the big ones, also create a visceral reaction, a reaction deep in the recesses of our soul. It is almost like there is a sympathetic vibration which is taken up, begun by the gong but ended by the bodily response. It is a basic reaction, so fundamental that, although we are aware of it at one level, that level is beneath our consciousness. We cannot “think” a gong; we can only experience a gong.

In a sense, truth has that same gong-like effect. When someone speaks the truth, your ears perk up, your eyes turn toward the speaker, and you have a visceral, fundamental reaction of “yes.” Oh the mind may rationalize away the truth or corrupt it to the particular need of the day, but we “know it when we hear it.” We do all those things which humans do – we ignore it, we submerge it, we disown it, we twist it, we flip it, we complicate it – but at the end of the day the gong in our soul vibrates because it has been touched by God (God being the source of all truth).

You notice that I have said nothing of feeling good. Feeling good and sensing the ringing of the gong, the vibration of truth, in our soul are two different things. The fact is that the gong noise can hurt and the truth which the gong heralds can be bitter to the taste. Truth and feeling good are disconnected events. Truth and the sympathetic vibration in our soul when we are properly aligned with God are connected events. The healing nature of truth may bring, ultimately, good feelings, but truth does not begin pain-free.

So what does any of this have to do today with our readings? My “gong” moment this morning was with the first verse of Psalm 89: “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known Your faithfulness to all generations.” Ps. 89:1

What got me about this verse is its double meaning. One way of reading it is me-focused – “I…forever; with my mouth … to all generations.” The other way of reading it is God-focused – “…love of the Lord, forever; … Your faithfulness to all generations.”

Will I really speak of God’s love forever? Will I really speak to all generations about His faithfulness? I would hope so, but it will be in heaven because my time is finite. However, the Lord’s time is not finite. His love really does last forever. His faithfulness is really to all generations. Gong!

One way we read Scripture exports us to God. The other way we can read it imports God into us.

Are we taking the time to savor the sound of the gong in our soul? If not, maybe we should ask the question of whether we are in the business of exporting our thoughts to God or importing His truth to us.

___________________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Ashes

February 13, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, February 13, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 59:15b-21; 2 Tim. 1:15-2:13; Mk 10:1-16; Psalms 81,82,119:97-120

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Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the forty day period of time known as Lent, leading up to the crucifixion of Christ and His resurrection (Easter). So, I labeled this writing today “Ashes” in the expectation that I could find something in today’s readings to “hook on” to the church calendar.

However, I could not, at least in the specific way I intended. Yes, the reading from Isaiah speaks of our sorrow arising from our disobedience to God and the ugliness of society where there is no justice. And the reading from Paul to Timothy speaks of the parts of the church and its leadership which stray from the gospel of Christ and instead preach a gospel of man. And the reading from Mark has Christ first critiquing our failure to live up to our marital covenant (to break what God has joined) and then critiquing an intellectual approach to finding Him, stating that we must accept the kingdom of God “like a child,” trusting in the good God. And all these are “ashes” in one sense, directing our attention to our depraved and deprived state when we do not have Christ as our savior.

But the idea of “ashes” has inherent in it a permanent destruction – “from dust we have come and to dust we shall return.” We may begin with that realization, that without Christ we are dead in our sins. We may begin with ashes, recognizing that without Christ the grave is our only destination. But just as the ashes which begin Lent point to a way out through resting in God’s work on the cross, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so do the readings today point to a greater reality, where in Christ there is no death which has not been overcome, no loss which has not been recovered, no sin which has not been forgiven, no broken relationship which has not been restored.

In other words, the message of today’s readings is that God is victorious where we are not, that He is strong when we can not, that He loves when we dare not, that He provides when we see not.

It is for this reason that God in Isaiah speaks of the Redeemer who will come with good results for man “from this time forth and forevermore.” Isa. 59:20-21. It is for this reason that in 2 Timothy, Paul speaks to Timothy that, although we may be bound as prisoners, “the word of God is not bound!” 2 Tim. 2:9b. It is for this reason that Christ points out the way to Himself, through the quality of trust which we see demonstrated in little children with a radical dependence upon others.

What begins in ashes ends in victory when God is in control. All of Scripture speaks of this.

We all begin in ashes because we all sin. The question is whether we stay there or not. And the answer to that question is found in the answer to the question, who do we trust?

Who indeed?

___________________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Appearances

February 11, 2013


Readings for Monday, February 11, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 58:1-12; Gal. 6:11-18; Mk 9:30-41; Psalms 77,79,80

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There is something about British television which is such a commentary on the human condition. One such show is “Keeping up Appearances,” where the “lady of the house” is constantly putting on airs which impress no one but herself, where the form reigns supreme over the substance, and where reality is but an episode away, getting ready to strike to reveal the foolishness and vainness of appearances in the face of stark reality. The show is a comedy, but while we laugh at the characters we know that we are laughing at our neighbors and then, while we look in the mirror, at ourselves.

The topic of appearances is what our Scripture lessons are today about. The first lesson concerns the appearances we try to keep up with God. The second lesson concerns the appearances we try to keep up with society. The third lesson concerns the appearances we try to keep up with our friends. There is one message to us throughout all three lessons – don’t go there.

In Isaiah, God through Isaiah is discussing fasting. God asks the people of Israel to ask themselves why, when they fast, God takes no notice. His point is that the people fast only to keep of the appearance of holiness, which pleases only themselves and not God. “Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure…Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight…Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.” Isa. 58:3b-4. The appearance of fasting is to take something on so that you might be thought holy. The reality of a true fast is releasing the bondage which wealth has over us, so that we can be free to be God’s children unburdened by the world. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness…Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house;…Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’” Isa. 58:6-7,9.

In Galatians, Paul is discussing circumcision and whether it is more important whether we obey the law or whether we are a new creation in Christ. Paul again warns about taking on appearances rather than demonstrating reality. He says “It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised…” Gal. 6:12 In other words, the people “who want to make a good showing” are those for whom appearances matter more than reality. It is important to them that you appear obedient rather than actually practice obedience (“[T]hey desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh…” Gal. 6:13b).

In Mark, the disciples are arguing along the road about who is the greatest. In this discussion they are demonstrating their belief that where they sit or the order of precedence is most important, thinking that if they appear more important than they are more important, if they appear more holy than they are more holy. Jesus sits them down and says this – “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mk. 9:35b. In other words, appearances are deceiving. Those who appear to be first are really last, and those who appear to be last are really first. Man looks to appearances, but God looks to the reality.

We know that appearances are important to man, so to the extent we live in this world and try to impress each other, we keep up appearances. But everyone really knows that underneath the appearance is the reality. If the reality is broken, the appearance will soon break. If the reality is strength in relationship between a person and God and in a person and another person, that reality soon causes contrary appearances to fade in the background.

Knowing that God sees us as we are and that people of discernment do too, why do we constantly enter into our own show of “keeping up appearances?” Why indeed? Do we think that God cares? Do we think that anyone who really matters cares?

No, we don’t, but …. And Satan whispers in our ear, “Did God really say …?”

___________________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Lists

February 8, 2013


Readings for Friday, February 8, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 56:1-8; Gal. 5:16-24; Mk 9:2-13; Psalms 69,73

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There are many lists. One that most often comes to mind is the “to do” list. “To Do Lists” are the lists of things we must do to keep things in order or avoid other people’s censure. They include the mundane things such as taking out the trash and the thoughtful things such as preparing our goals for the next quarter or year. They all involve us “doing.”

Closely related to the “to do” list is the “checklist.” The check list is a list of the things we must do, often in the order listed, in order to be able properly complete the “to do” lists. If the checklist is big enough, we might turn it into a book or entries into a large computer system.

God today in Galatians speaks to us of “being” lists, lists of behaviors which will give us an indication of whether we are walking in the ways of the world or the ways of the kingdom of God; whether we are walking in the “works of the flesh” or the “Spirit,” to use the language of Galatians.

The meditation for today is for us to take these lists and ask ourselves honestly, on a scale from one to ten (where one is that I am not affected by this at all and ten is that this has totally overtaken me), where we are spiritually – are we walking in the Spirit or in the flesh?

Here goes. The works of the flesh are:

○ sexual immorality No. _____ (1-10)

○ impurity                    No. _____ (1-10)

○ sensuality                 No. _____ (1-10)

○ idolatry                      No. _____ (1-10)

○ sorcery                       No. _____ (1-10)

○ enmity                       No. _____ (1-10)

○ strife                          No. _____ (1-10)

○ jealousy                   No. _____ (1-10)

○ fits of anger            No. _____ (1-10)

○ rivalries                    No. _____ (1-10)

○ dissensions             No. _____ (1-10)

○ divisions                  No. _____ (1-10)

○ envy                          No. _____ (1-10)

○ drunkenness         No. _____ (1-10)

○ orgies                      No. _____ (1-10)

The works (fruit) of the [Holy] Spirit are:

○ love                         No. _____ (1-10)

○ joy                           No. _____ (1-10)

○ peace                     No. _____ (1-10)

○ patience               No. _____ (1-10)

○ kindness              No. _____ (1-10)

○ goodness            No. _____ (1-10)

○ faithfulness        No. _____ (1-10)

○ gentleness         No. _____ (1-10)

○ self-control       No. _____ (1-10)

I don’t think there is a person reading this who does not fervently want to live their life in the second list, realizing the works of the Spirit, but find themselves routinely living in the first list, realizing the works of the flesh, of the world, of man. If we are there, then why are we there.

Perhaps the answer lies in part in our reading today from Mark, where we join the disciples Peter, James, and John in witnessing what is called the Transfiguration. On the high mountain Jesus is revealed to man in His glory, joined by the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah). God the Father speaks on that high mountain, saying “This [Jesus] is My beloved Son; listen to Him.” Mk. 9:7

How is the answer locked up here? Because we tend to focus on Jesus the man, in part because we can relate to that and in part because we can make Jesus the man as our equal (so we can pretend that we are mini-Gods). But here, Jesus is revealed as God, someone to worship and, as the disciples reported, be “terrified” of. It is here that we receive our marching orders as Christ’s disciples – “Listen to Him.”

Do we take this command to heart? Do we really listen to Him and to the Holy Spirit, the counselor whom He has left behind to help us, instruct us, and empower us? Looking back now on our checklist above, I think the answer has to be, quite often if not most of the time, “No, I don’t listen to Him; I listen to myself or someone else.”

So, knowing these things, what are we going to do about it? If we are living in the wrong checklist, what are we going to do about it? The first step may well be this simple prayer – “Come Holy Spirit.”

___________________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Darkness

February 1, 2013


Readings for Friday, February 1, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 50:1-11; Gal. 3:15-22; Mk 6:47-56; Psalms 40,51,54

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There are many places where darkness dwells and many types of darkness which dwell there. Perhaps the place is the time of the loss of innocence, a time of sexual abuse, a time of loss of a loved one, a time of loss of a job, a time of depression, a time of loss of trust, a time of loss of love, or a time of addiction. Perhaps it appears in the form of anger, hatred, abuse of ourselves or others, depression, anxiety, worry, despair, hurt, melancholy, sadness, or fear. Wherever it is and whatever form it takes, it is fair to call that “darkness” or a “dark place” or a “dark time.” Light is missing – there is no path which is obvious, no clarity in view, no sense of belonging, no door to another place. It is dark and you cannot see. You cannot see what brought you to that place, you cannot see yourself, and you cannot see a way out. Why? Because it is dark.

When you are in the dark, there are two things, however, you can do. You can either rely on God or you can rely on yourself (the world). That is what today’s lesson from Isaiah addresses.

Isaiah 50:10b begins God’s pronouncement of these alternatives. First He says “Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.” Isa. 50:10b What happens when you do this? Good things. Our Psalm 40 reading today says “He [God] drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth … Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust.” Ps. 40:2-4. Some words have great images, and doesn’t the phrase “miry bog” just completely describe the place of darkness where many of us find ourselves all the time? Stuck, sinking, smelly, dark. And God brings us out into light, gives us a new song, and blesses us.

Isaiah keeps going to address the second alternative, reliance on man (the world) to bring us out of darkness into light. God says “Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from My hand: you shall lie down in torment.” Isa. 50:11 God through Isaiah says simply that you do have an alternative when you are in the dark – you can locate the light switch designed and built by man, flood the place with the light of man, and rely upon your science, your wisdom, your knowledge, your tools (your “fire”) to light up the place. And where does that ultimately take you? To hell (“you shall lie down in torment”).

When you find yourself in darkness, do you reach for man’s solutions or God’s solutions? Is your light the fake light of man or the real light of God?

But isn’t fake light real light? After all, light is light, right? Wrong. As I said earlier, there are many forms of darkness. Because the light which comes from man is its own form of darkness, it is possible to be “enlightened” and yet be sitting in the dark emotionally and spiritually. The Enlightenment was the beginning of a period where man woke up to the fact that he could create his own light and didn’t need God to create it for him. Tell me, is there more peace, love, integrity, or hope today because of that? I don’t think so. Man’s light is darkness, just in a different form.

So when you are in the dark, to whom will you turn? It makes all the difference.

___________________________

© 2013 GBF

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