Bread – Cursed

March 27, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, March 27, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 17:5-10,14-17; Phil. 4:1-13; John 12:27-36; Psalms 55,74

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From Jeremiah in today’s readings – “…Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord…Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.” Jer. 17:5,7

What does “cursed” mean. Well, in my mind it means that bad things are going to happen all the time, but it turns out that this is one of those English words which we think has a unitary meaning when back in Old Testament days it took six different Hebrew words to describe “curse” or “cursed.” The Hebrew word used in today’s passage [Strong’s 779] is generally interpreted to mean “to bind (with a spell), to hem in with obstacles, to render powerless to resist.”* Paraphrased then, today’s passage from Jeremiah means that, if you trust in man and man’s ways, you are going to be limited, hemmed in, confronted with obstacles to fully living life, powerless to resist temptation and evil, locked into a prison of your making from which there is no escape.

Think about this for a minute. What man says he wants more than anything is free will, to be free to decide and to live. This is what society pushes and we think of as the high life. And, yet, if we trust in man and man’s ways, our will is in fact circumscribed. By striving to do it our way, we make sure that we can never have it our way. The very thing we do in our own strength and the strength of others does not free us, it binds us and imprisons us. What looks good to us is in fact bad for us.

In other words, when we rely on ourselves and others, we are cursed – bounded and limited by the mirage of doing it our way.

But, if we surrender to Christ, if we trust in the Lord, if we give up our “rights,” we are set free to live fully, productively, excellently, and completely.

What does the blessing from trust in Christ, what does this freedom look like? In today’s reading from Paul’s letter to Philippi we have a taste. “Rejoice … Let your reasonableness be known…do not be anxious about anything … And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:4-7

What keeps us from acting in love toward our fellow man? Is it because we are anxious – if we give our money away, we won’t have any for tomorrow; if we share our food we will have less; if we give up our time, we won’t get things done which need to get done; if we love freely, we will get hurt? There are many negatives to see from man’s perspective, and they hem us in and render us powerless. Is it because we cannot be reasonable, because if we are reasonable, then people will think that we are weak-willed or weak-kneed or of weak conviction or too willing to surrender the truth? Isn’t being unreasonable, to prove our strength, actually proving our weakness and putting us into a prison of our making, hemming ourselves in with our own obstacles?

The truth is that Christians are often hemmed in by anxiety, by unreasonableness, by fear, by turmoil and strife, by selfishness, and by the world. Why?

As we believe, so we think. As we think, so we act. Jesus has said to us that He has chosen us and has saved us and that His promises to us are trustworthy. Satan has murmured to us, “No, you are still cursed.” Are your actions reflections of being cursed or being blessed? Whom do you believe? “Cursed is the man who trusts in man … Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.” Jer. 17:5,7. And just to make sure you get the point, this quotation from Jeremiah begins with “Thus says the Lord:…” Jer. 17:5.

As a nation, our money says “In God We Trust.” Today it might well say “In Man We Trust.” Is it any wonder that we feel hemmed in, powerless to resist the inevitable forces which seem to surround us, anxious, cursed?

What’s your motto, “In God I Trust” or “In Man I Trust?” And whichever it is, do you live it?

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© 2013 GBF.  *The quotation is taken from “Lexical Aids to the Old Testament” in the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, N.A.S.B. (Ed. Zodhiates, AMG Publishers 1990).

Bread – Lunch

March 26, 2013


Readings for Tuesday, March 26, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 15:10-21; Phil. 3:15-21; John 12:20-26; Psalms 6,12,94

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Today “Bread” lives up to its name because we are going to talk about lunch.

From our reading today in the prophecy of Jeremiah: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by Your name, O Lord, God of hosts.” Jer. 15:16

Jeremiah “found” God’s word written (Scripture) and he “ate them” for lunch. (The lunch part I added).

I am reminded of a commercial a long time ago where the worker in his hard hat opens his lunch box, takes out his peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and gets this smile on his face as he tastes the goodness and appreciates the person at home who packed his lunch for him. Inside the lunch box of course was some treasure, like a yellow cream-filled cake wrapped in cellophane. Satisfied, the man went back to work after gulping something like a soft drink, juice, or milk. Not sure what they were advertising, but it sure made me want to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or go get one of those yellow things.

Let’s break this commercial into its elements. First, someone had to package the lunch box and put food in it. Luckily for us, God has already done that with the Bible. The Bible is a container which holds God’s written revelation to us, His words He would have us eat, savor, digest, and use to our good health. The food was put into the lunchbox with loving hands, hands which would have us live freely and victoriously in Christ.

Second, the worker has to take the lunch box with him to work.

Third, the worker has to stop for lunch.

Fourth, the worker has to take the time to open the lunchbox and remove its contents.

Finally, the worker has to take enough time with lunch to enjoy the food.

The questions are obvious. Do you have your lunchbox with you today? Are you going to take the time to have lunch? If you are going to take the time to have lunch, are you eating the food of the world or God’s words, His food? If you are taking the time to open Scripture for lunch, are you taking the time to savor and digest it? Are you slamming down the feast which God has prepared, or are you savoring each morsel, dwelling over each word and phrase, giving time to you and to the Holy Spirit to open your mind and heart to the message which God has for you at that moment?

Jeremiah says “…and Your words became to me a joy…” Notice that Jeremiah does not say “were” a joy, but “became” a joy. We know that the words of God can sometimes comfort, but oftentimes also convict. Sometimes the words of God take us to the mountain and other times they take us to the valley. The words of God become a joy because, while eating lunch with God we are in communion with Him. While we read and think upon what God has to say to us, we are saying something to Him – we trust You, we love You, we worship You, we bow down before You, we listen to You, we follow You, we give thanks to You, we acknowledge Your presence, we recognize Your grace and providence in our lives, … We become joyful as we eat our lunch because one of God’s gifts to us through His Word, His Son, His redemption, His power, and His grace is joy. We become healthier as we eat God’s lunch.

We Christians often seem to be lacking in basic joy. Maybe it is because we do not find God’s words and eat them. Maybe it is because we don’t take time for lunch.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Exits

March 20, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, March 20, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 25:30-38; Rom. 10:14-21; John 10:1-18; Psalms 119:145-176, 128,129,130

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From our reading today in the Gospel of John: “So Jesus again said …I am the door of the sheep…I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” John 10:7-9. Jesus goes on to say that He is the good shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep, that He knows them and they know Him, and that His sheep come from many places (folds).

Because of Sunday School and the pictures we see of a shepherd (someone who looks like the painters concept of Jesus in the flesh) and sheep, this is actually one of the Bible passages best known by people, even if they are not followers of Christ.

But like many commonly known passages, there is a piece of it that I have missed until today – “If anyone enters by Me, he …will go in and out…” John 10:9.

Isn’t it interesting how doors are both entrances and exits. If you want to come in, you come through the door. If you want to leave, you leave through the door.

Come into where? Exit from what?

First, there is shelter. There is the pen in which the sheep are located, where they are safe, where they are gathered together. This is shelter for the sheep. To get there the sheep go through a door. When that door is Jesus Christ, the protection throughout eternity is secured, because He is the good shepherd and lays down His life to protect the sheep from Satan and death, from the judgment that they deserve but from which they are rescued by the mercy of God. What are the sheep exiting from? From a world groaning under the weight of man’s disobedience to God, under the burden of sin. From confusion. From loss. From hurt. From a life of disobedience unto a grateful life dedicated to God’s standards for life and not ours. From danger to safety. From death to life.

Second, there is freedom. There is the green pasture out in the world where the sheep can rest in the sun, graze on good food, and be protected from predators by the diligence of the good shepherd. The entrance to this freedom is through the door. When that door is Christ, we can enter the world confident that we, in all circumstances, are given the green pasture by the God who so loved us that He sent His Son to die for us that we might have eternal life. We can leave the sheep pen and enter into the same world we left, free of the burdens of Satan (fear, loss, degradation, powerlessness, lack of self-control), free to follow Jesus into green pastures. We are entering the world as free men and we are exiting our prison. It is a prison because the sheep pen can be and is a source of protection, but it is also a place of stagnation if we stay there. We may rest under God’s wing, but we must take up our own cross and follow Jesus out into the world.

Where do you need to exit from in order to find green pastures? Do you need to exit from the prisons of relationships, of addiction, of work, of play, of immersion in sinful behavior, of depression, of confusion, of fear? Jesus is the door. He is the exit from those things, and He is the entrance into eternal green pastures.

“If anyone enters by Me [Jesus], he … will go in and out…” John 10:9. Jesus is the door into peace and protection, and He is the door out to green pasture, to victorious engagement with the world in the power of the Spirit.

This is good by itself, but it is not the best. Preceding the “in and out” phrase is one even more important. “If anyone enters by Me [Jesus], he will be saved…” John 10:9

There it is. The big exit and the big entrance. The big exit from death and the big entrance into eternal life.

Perhaps you are friends with someone (even yourself) who needs to find this door, this Jesus. In today’s reading from Romans, Paul asks the questions – How can you call on Jesus if you do not believe Jesus? How can you believe Jesus if you have never heard of Him? How can a person hear unless someone tells them? Who is to tell them, except someone who is sent to tell them?

The exit from one place is the entrance to another. Jesus says “I am the door.” Take the exit from death and the entrance to eternal life. Take it. And if you have already taken it, show others where it is. Please.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Sources

March 13, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, March 13, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 18:1-11; Rom. 8:1-11; John 6:27-40; Psalms 101, 109, 119:121-144

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Sources. Where do things come from? Where do we get our stuff from?

There are three choices for answers to these questions. The first answer is “man.” We get our stuff from my work and your work. I can go buy food at the grocery store because I earned the money, the grocer erected the store, the trucker brought the food, and the farmer raised the food. So all of our stuff comes from man as the source. If man is the source of stuff, then he is the source of language, of literature, of reason, of good health, of strength, etc. If man is the source of stuff, then man is the source of life itself.

The second answer to this question is “nature.” The immutable course of history, beginning with the first atom which evolves itself into a protozoa which then evolves itself into a bacteria which then evolves itself into a fish which then evolves itself into a monkey which then evolves itself into man which then evolves itself into something else. The natural progression of life from simple to complex, from time immemorial in the past to the present and beyond, all in a careful balance. Stuff comes from nature, and therefore the study of nature can reveal to us the source of life itself.

The third answer to this question is “God.” God is someone outside of nature and man, who creates, empowers, frees, and punishes. God is the source of our stuff, our reason, our everything, our life.

So, where do you get your stuff from? Is the result of your effort? Is it from the quirky, random forces of nature? Is it a gift from God?

If you are honest, if I hadn’t thrown God into the equation, most people would have picked “man.” And why not? We are born, we are who we know, we hurt, we feel, we try and sometimes succeed and sometimes fail, we build, we make money, we make stuff from other stuff, we think, we wield the sword and can kill. What we observe rationally is “we.”

It should not therefore surprise us that the disciples thought of themselves first as the source for eternal life – from our reading today in John: “Then they said to Him [Christ], ‘What must we do to be doing the works of God?’” John 6:28

This question is our question and it is a profound question. Great works are founded upon this question. Great religions such as Islam are organized around answers to this question. What must we do to please God? If we are the source of stuff, then it is a natural question to ask what must “we do.” After all, we are responsible for earning our daily bread, right? We are responsible for building our businesses, right? Therefore, why wouldn’t we be responsible for what we have to do to have eternal life?

But it is the wrong question. Jesus does not ask the right question, but He answers the right question, thereby implying what the right question is. What Jesus says in response to the disciples’ question “What must we do,” that “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” John 6:28. From this answer we deduce the right question. The question is not “What must I do,” but “What must God do.”

See, the questions we ask reveal where we think our stuff comes from; it reveals who we really think is the source. If we are asking “What must we do,” then we ask that from a position of belief that man is the source. If we ask “What must God do” we ask from a position of belief that God is the source.

Think about how that changes what we do and what we say. The businessman, instead of asking “What must I do to fix this problem,” he or she would ask “What must God do through me and others to fix this problem.” If we think man is the source, we look to man for answers. If we think God is the source, we look to God for answers.

Ever wonder why we are such weak Christians? I do. I think one of the reasons may be here – in the questions we ask. Our weakness is due to confusion, is it man’s doing or is it God’s? We are not sure so we are double-minded and how we reflect Christ in the world is thereby seriously and negatively affected.

What is man doing so that I can lead the team or get out of the way? What is God doing so that I can jump on board?

Which question will you ask today? Who do you really believe is the source?

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Hunters

March 11, 2013


Readings for Monday, March 11, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 16:10-21; Rom. 7:1-12; John 6:1-15; Psalm 89

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From our reading in Jeremiah today: “Behold, I [God] am sending for many fishers, declares the Lord, and they shall catch them [people of Israel]. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks.” Jer. 16:16

It strikes me that there are two types of hunters. There are those hunters who lay in wait for their prey to wander by in the hope that prey will in fact wander close enough for the hunter to reach out with his weapon to touch the prey. The modern deer hunter comes to mind, who rests in his or her tree stand or ground blind, in eager expectation (sometime, but not all the time, rewarded) of a prey-sighting or a prey-touching. Maybe it will happen and maybe it won’t, but the “lie in wait” hunter have a good time anyway.

The second kind of hunter is one who goes out after the prey. He or she will study where the prey hangs out and go there, stealthily walking or crawling through whatever is in their way in order to get close to the prey. This type of hunting requires activity of a purposeful kind. If the hunter does not properly know where they prey is or makes too much noise on the way or otherwise disturbs the prey, the hunter may see his or her target but can rarely complete the hunt with the trophy. The pig hunter or bird hunter come to mind as examples of the active hunter. Maybe it will happen and maybe it won’t, but this kind of hunter knows that he or she tried.

What kind of hunter is called for by God in Jeremiah? It strikes me that it is the active hunter, the one who studies where his or her prey lives, eats, runs, plays, and generally lives their lives, and then goes to those places to find the prey. God instructs his hunters in those days to “hunt them [Israel] from every mountain and hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks.” The people who God has chosen are in hiding, and the hunters are ordered to go flush them out and bring them in.

As Christians, what are our weapons? Are the guns of hunters or the truth of the gospel, the sword of the Spirit, the shield of faith? Are we to hunt with bullets or with love?

We all know the answers to these questions. We are not to hunt for God’s chosen with guns and bullets, but with His power, His Spirit, and His love. We have powerful weapons indeed.

However, how do we use them? Are we the kind of hunter who sits around, waiting for something to happen, hoping that some lost soul will wander by so that we can reach out and touch them? Or are we the kind of hunter who knows where the unsaved live, where the need for love is mighty, where hearts are broken and there is no hope, where the people lay in the dark, in hiding? If we know where these people are, are we the kind of hunter who goes after them?

God did not say to Jeremiah that He was going to designate hunters to wait for the children of Israel to walk by so they could be snuck up behind and nabbed for the kingdom. God said to Jeremiah that He was going to raise up hunters to go after His people where they were hiding, to flush them out into the light, to hunt them down for Him.

We know which kind of hunter God wants. What kind are you?

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Our

March 4, 2013


Readings for Monday, March 4, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 4:9-14; 2 Cor. 10:1-18; Matt. 6:7-15; Psalms 1,2,3,4,7

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In today’s lesson from Matthew, Jesus is talking to the disciples about prayer and teaches them what most of us know as the “Lord’s Prayer.” It begins “Our Father …” Matt. 6:9.

Why “our” rather than “my?” Before we just respond that it was because Jesus was speaking to the disciples as a whole, consider the previous paragraph from Matthew. There, Jesus was saying “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” Matt. 6:6 That is a singular activity. Pray by yourself in secret so that other people will not be impressed, so that you can carry on a real conversation with your Father. The focus here is on individual activity, private activity, personal activity. Therefore, the context is that, even though Jesus was speaking to the disciples as a whole, He was describing to them how they should pray in secrete, in their rooms, behind shut doors. It is in the context of this private prayer, one (man) on one (God), that Jesus teaches the method of prayer, beginning not with “My” but with “Our.”

I think Jesus is using the word “our” because it is both a fact (and therefore an acknowledgement of truth) and a reminder to us of the fact. In one sense God belongs to me, but from the Christian perspective God belongs to “our.” When we, in the power of the Holy Spirit, confessed, repented, claimed, and were baptized, we did not join a cacophony of individual voices but a choir of united voices, united in Christ. When I joined the body of Christ, the “I” became part of the great “We,” reaching back into history and forward into eternity, the communion of saints.

This does not mean that I lose my individuality, but it does mean that I am not free-standing, I am not alone, I am not without help, I am not without correction, I am no longer the captain of my ship. When I chose Jesus as my head, I chose the family He heads, the church.

It is very easy for us to fall into individualism. “I” studied and am smart. “I” got the degree. “I” got the job. “I” provide for my family. “I” make smart investments. “I” built that. “I” am a free actor. And this is not bad, because each of us, individually, was made in the image of God, has been known from the beginning of time by God, and was saved by God.

But perhaps this is the reason that we are reminded by God to pray to Him this way – “Our Father, …” Not “My Father,” but “Our Father.”

A reminder that we are part of something bigger, that we are brought together to be a family set aside for His glory, that we are part of the “Our.”

As we live our individual lives today, I encourage us (and me) to reflect on the “our” and to “see” those of the faith who have preceded us, who walk beside us today, and who will walk with us in worship before the Father for all eternity.

One final thought. When Jesus taught the disciples this prayer, did Jesus use it Himself when He was on the earth? I think so. That being the case, Jesus has put Himself on our footing, in our family, addressing the Father from our same perspective – “Our.” His Father and my Father. His Father and your Father.

What does this mean? Quite simply it means that, because of who Jesus was and is, His Father can be called “Our” Father. He is ours because we are His. We are His because He first loved us and broke death’s grip on our lives by His death on the cross and resurrection. We are His because, by the Holy Spirit, we are able to claim Him as ours. We are His because He is ours.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Jars

March 1, 2013


Readings for Friday, March 1, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ruth 3:1-18; 2 Cor. 4:1-12; Matt. 5:38-48; Psalms 140,141,142,143

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From today’s reading by Paul to the church in Corinth – “But we have this treasure [the light of Christ] in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 2 Cor. 4:7

This morning, I would like to focus on the word “jars.” Jars hold things. They are typically glass, meaning that they can hold something without changing it. Jars can hold both solid food (think marmalade) and liquid (think water). Jars are useful and they are practical. Some jars are pretty and some are not, but they all do their job pretty well.

Until they are broken, at which point all the insides spill out to the outsides and the insides are ruined. Although we may try to glue a jar back together, the end result never works as well as the original result.

Paul describes us as jars of clay. Clay jars are weak jars until they are fired and tempered (think ceramics). However, even ceramics can be brittle and break upon striking a tile or stone or marble floor.

What is remarkable to me about this passage is its focus. We normally think of ourselves as the container and God fills up the container with faith, His love, His providence, etc. Think about how prideful that is. We provide the container. Of course we provide the container – we can see it in the mirror, right?

Paul reminds us that we do not even provide the container. God provides us the container, the body, which is a fragile body, a container made of clay, a jar of clay. He does this for a reason – “to show that surpassing power belongs to God, and not to us.” He has the power to create us, to strengthen us (reinforce the clay jar), and to fill us with good things, things we need to meet our physical needs (food, shelter, clothes, transportation) and our spiritual needs (faith, the Holy Spirit, wisdom, grace, love, encouragement).

There are many of us, and perhaps all, whose jars have actually been broken. Our jars of clay have been shattered physically, emotionally, or spiritually, or perhaps all three. Like I said a minute ago, when we try to put our jars back together, the end result never works as well as it did before. When we put our jars back together, with some caulking here and some glue there, patched as it were, we end with a jar which does not look as good as when we started, maybe does not hold as much, and for sure probably leaks somewhere.

But what happens when God puts our broken jar back together? What is the end result?

O the jar repaired and restored by God may look the same, but is it the same? After God has fixed our jar, listen to what Paul says – “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed.” 2 Cor. 4:8-9

When we live in the clay jar of our making, we naturally live in fear because we know that the jar is fragile and once broken, cannot be restored to its original state. When we live in the clay jar of God’s making, we supernaturally live in victory because we know that, though the jar is fragile, its Maker is not, and we know that the jar, once broken, will be restored by God to an even better state.

“Surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” We live in jars not of our making, to live to a purpose not of our design, sustained by power greater than anything we can generate or imagine, saved by a love which surpasses all understanding, all for the glory of God. Cool!

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© 2013 GBF

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