Bread – By

May 30, 2013


Readings for Thursday, May 30, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 4:32-40; 2 Cor. 4:1-12; Luke 16:1-9; Psalm 37

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Not “buy” (like to purchase), but “by” (like expressing the way or means through which something happens or gets done, the cause of something).

This word appears a bunch in today’s reading from Deuteronomy: “Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror….And because He loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with His own presence, by His great power…” Deut. 4:34,37

This got me to thinking about how we think about how things are interrelated. For example, there are at least three ways of finishing this sentence — “I got a raise in pay today by …” One way to complete the sentence is to say “the sweat of my brow,” so that the sentence reads “I got a raise in pay today by the sweat of my brow.” Another way to complete the sentence is to say “my company” so that the sentence reads “I got a raise today by my company.” The third way to complete the sentence is with the words “the mighty hand of God,” so that now the sentence reads “I got a raise in pay today by the mighty hand of God.”

Which sentence is right? The answer to that question tells us a whole lot about how we see the world and how we assume things work. The first choice tells us that we are an “up by your bootstraps” kind of person, you eat what you kill. We might call those people “independents.” The second choice tells us that we are a “inter-dependent” kind of person, thinking that others more than we have control over our lives and good or bad fortune. This type of person thinks that they are dependent upon other people’s decisions. Carry this idea far enough and you get to the stage of victim, where nothing happens to you which is not “by” someone else. The third choice tells us that we recognize a source well beyond us and them, upon whom we are radically dependent for everything.

We who call ourselves Christians ought to be in the third category, but I really wonder for myself how often I get caught up in the “by me” or “by them” mentality, rather than the “by Him” mentality. I think more often than I care to admit.

This gave rise to a series of sentences built on our reading today, and I wonder how differently we would act as Christians if we began each day this way. The statements are:

O Lord, today as I rise I thank you.

I thank you because it is by Your wonders that I am alive today.

I thank you because it is by Your trials that I am made stronger.

I thank you because it is by Your signs that I know where to go.

I thank you because it is by Your Spirit that I am sustained.

I thank you because it is by Your mercy that I am forgiven.

I thank you because it is by Your love that I able to love.

I thank you because it is by Your provision that I have food.

I thank you because it is by Your decision that my name is written in the Book of Life.

I thank you because it is by Your grace that I am saved.

I thank you because it is by Your death that I will dwell in Your presence throughout eternity.

I thank you because it is by Your power I can be fearless today.

Amen.

__________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Position

May 24, 2013


Readings for Friday, May 24, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ruth 4:1-17; 1 Tim. 5:17-25; Luke 14:1-11; Psalms 16,17,22

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Getting ahead in the world. For most people, this is our daily call. To get ahead in the world, we acquire money, power, position, and possessions. For men, we may acquire a trophy wife. For women, we may acquire security. For all of us, getting ahead in the world means adding to our retirement accounts, our savings, our electronics and furniture, our home square footage, our title, our salary, the size and quality of our cars or trucks, our memberships, our dinner parties. We must get ahead in the world or we will get behind.

Don’t we all know that?

Then what does Jesus mean in our reading today from Luke – “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Lk. 14:11 Oh we know the old adage that pride goeth before a fall, but if we always stand at the end of the line, aren’t we behind all the time? How do we get ahead in the world if, at least once in a while, we don’t step to the head of the line?

There is a tendency among some Christians to focus on the “in the world” part of the question and say simply that, as Christians, if we follow Christ’s lead we cannot get ahead in the world. In other words, poverty and being beat upon is just part of the Christian life, so discipleship means poverty. And there are plenty of quotations from the Bible that you can find to support this position.

There is a tendency among other Christians to focus on the “exalted” part of Christ’s statement and say that, if we behave properly, we will be exalted and will win the game of life. Proponents of this “prosperity” gospel can also find plenty of quotations from the Bible to support this position.

So which one is right? Maybe neither. There is a third alternative, and that is that in Christ there is neither victory nor defeat “in the world” because, while we live in Christ, our position is in the kingdom of God. That kingdom is both in heaven and on earth. That kingdom is ruled by God and we are His subjects, not His equal. To the extent we are “in the world,” we are no more than ambassadors of the kingdom of God, taking up residence in a foreign place. As ambassadors, where we live is our home in the limited sense of our home is where we are, but in the more fundamental sense of home, where we live in the world is not our home because we are only ambassadors.

What is our position in the kingdom of God? As subjects, our position in a sense is based upon our obedience to the King. To the extent we take on Christ, learn from Him, obey Him, and follow Him, our position is enhanced. To the extent that we reject Christ, learn from others, obey ourselves or others, and follow our own desires or the desires of others, our position is diminished.

Then, as subjects of the kingdom of God, our position in the world is enhanced when God wants it to be enhanced, when it serves His purposes, and our position in the world is diminished when God wants it to be diminished for His purposes. Remember that an ambassador does not live in a house provided by the host country, he lives in the house in the host country provided by the kingdom he represents. If the king of the kingdom wants his ambassador to live in a poor house, then a poor house it is.

When I was growing up, I always used to love to think about the concept of parallel universes, and I still think the concept of a parallel universe explains where missing socks disappear to. In many respects the idea of a present kingdom of God among us, here on earth right now, is like this parallel universe. The difference, however, is that according to the rules of the parallel universe, you are either in one or the other. With Christians, you are physically in both at the same time. However, there is some parallel in the concepts because, in your heart, in your spirit, you can only be in one or the other. You are in Christ or you are not; you are either saved or you aren’t; you are either a citizen of the kingdom of God or you are not.

So, in Christ we Christians have two positions, one in the kingdom of God and the other here on earth. In the kingdom of God, humility results in blessing. In the world, humility may or may not result in blessing. So what? Our home is not in the world, it is in the present kingdom of God.

How do we get ahead in the world? We who are in Christ really don’t care about the answer to that question, because as ambassadors to the world we know that our position is temporary in the foreign land but permanent in the homeland.

How do we get ahead in the world? We don’t because as servants of the Most High we don’t have to. We are already citizens of the kingdom of God and how much better can it be?

___________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Work

May 22, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, May 22, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ruth 2:14-23; 1 Tim. 3:1-16; Luke 13:18-30; Psalms 12,13,14,119:1-24

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Our Old Testament reading today is from Ruth, an honored woman who is in the lineage of King David and Jesus. The passage finds Ruth in the presence of Boaz, who has her eat with the workers and then, when she goes out to glean, he tells the workers to make sure that she has plenty to glean.

Now this in itself is a simple story, but with profound implications for our work in the world while in Christ. To understand this, it is important to see the roles of the parties in this episode of history.

First, there is Ruth. She lives in poverty with her mother-in-law in a foreign land. Every day she goes out to “glean” in the fields, meaning simply that she goes onto the farm after the reapers have collected the crops and picks up the leftovers, if there are any. Gleaners got whatever the reapers by accident left behind.

Second, there is Boaz. He actually owns the land where Ruth is gleaning and employs the reapers. The reapers are then people in Boaz’ employ. Boaz is also a kinsman to Naomi, the mother-in-law who Ruth lives with, and will prove himself to be a “redeemer” as well. Boaz therefore becomes an image of Christ, a “type” of Christ.

So in the hierarchy of life, Ruth is at the bottom and Boaz is at the top. Boaz pays attention to her and lets her eat at his table with his reapers.

But, after showing favor to Ruth, he says this to his reapers – “Let her glean …” In other words, even though Boaz showed her favor and could have instantly lifted her out of her circumstances and at least made her a reaper (although perhaps that was limited to men at the time), but instead sent her back out to work in her current position – to glean. He made her life easier as a gleaner (he instructed the reapers to leave extra on the ground), but she was still a gleaner.

As Christians, have we ever been in position of work, of a job or a customer or a client or a decision, where we just ask the Lord to take the burden of the job off of us? Sure we have. And what often is the answer we get? Go back to gleaning! Go back to work! Go back to scrubbing toilets, dealing with belligerent people, stacking boxes, or whatever work it is that is assigned to you!

Just because God has identified you as someone invited to eat at His table does not mean that you have the option of quitting your nasty job. Your nasty job may be just the place where God wants you to do His work. He may make your work easier to bear (as Boaz did for Ruth), but He may not elevate you to the position you wish.

So, we have been saved by Christ, eaten at the table of his blessings, and sent from the table to pick up our shovel and work at our nasty job.

This is not a prosperity gospel but a gospel that works. A gospel which goes into the lives of ordinary people, us, into ordinary circumstances, into ordinary work and which transforms nasty labor into opportunities for life.

Jesus reminds us today in our reading from Luke of the following: “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures, until it was all leavened.” Lk. 13:20-21.

When we are invited to eat the Lord’s meal and then told by Him to return to our nasty work, we carry with us the kingdom of God. We carry with us the leaven of life. And with that leaven, in our nasty work, we are able to bring the kingdom to others who are in the same circumstances we are in, who are working at the same work in the same place. And our work as ambassadors of Christ, ambassadors of the kingdom of God, in the midst of that worldly work, may plant the seed of that kingdom in the hearts of those who so desperately need to hear about it.

When we go off to work today we may go with the song of lament or the happy song of the seven dwarfs in “Snow White” (Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go….). The writer of Ruth reports that Ruth ate at Boaz’ table “until she was satisfied” and then went off to glean the fields. Which song do you think she was singing?

We as Christians eat at the Lord’s table when we commune with Him at dinner, on the road, in prayer, in meditation, in reading His Word, in worship, and in just talking to Him. When we finish and are satisfied, we are then told to pack up our bags and go glean in the fields. What song will we sing on the way? The song of the redeemed or the song of the dead?

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Selfishness

May 17, 2013


Readings for Friday, May 17, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ezek. 34:17-31; Heb. 8; Luke 10:38-42; Psalms 102,107

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There is a passage from Ezekiel today that I do not remember reading before, but which drives home our need as Christians to be very, very careful about the degree to which we abuse the blessings God has given us. The passage is:

Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep…Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet?…Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep…” Ezek. 34:17-18,20

Since every Christian chosen by God for salvation is one of God’s sheep, feasting upon God’s pasture and water, representing His many blessings in our lives, we need to ask ourselves a serious question – are we one of the “fat” sheep or one of the “lean” sheep?

Since everyone I am writing to (I think) are Americans, one easy answer would be to say that we are all fat sheep, because even in the midst of our poverty we are wealthy beyond many in the world. However, we cannot get away with easy answers to this personal question.

We may be wealthy, but where did our wealth come from? Did it come as a natural blessing from God or did it come from our efforts to crowd out the weaker as we trampled the pasture and muddied the waters? Have we become fat on the back of others? In other words, are we selfish?

I would like to say that I have not done these things, but then I would be a liar, compounding the sin. Let me give you an easy example – who among us, seeing a beggar in the road, have passed by them brusquely on the way to an important meeting, where we can close the “deal?” How many of us have held onto our money, afraid that it will disappear, when we know someone out of a job, suffering grave and expensive illness, or just plain needing a helping hand monetarily?

Forget money for a moment. How many of us have spent a few hours this week doing something for someone else who we know can never return the favor? After all, time to the busy person time may even be more valuable than money. So, we may give money away generously so that we can be conservative in our expenditure of our, more valuable, time. See, being fat isn’t just about collecting money.

What about power. Who among us has taken an opportunity which would advance our position and, instead, given it to someone who needs help up the corporate ladder? Who has resigned from a position of power so that someone else who needs it more gets it?

Money, time, power, position – who reading this has not acted like a fat sheep, trampling the pasture and muddying the water, to advance their agenda?

God is going to judge between sheep and sheep. When He asks me whether I have been a fat sheep or a lean sheep, I have to say that I fall on the fat side of the ledger. Lucky for me that, as our reading from Hebrews today emphasizes, I have a great high priest in Jesus Christ who will intercede for me, argue my case before the judge, and win the case because of the cross. I will be saved but I will also be judged, probably as a fat sheep. But I will also have a lot of friends joining me.

So, it is obvious that I need to work on my diet. But how? I can’t. That is why it is a work of God. I can’t but He can. And, thank God, He is.

___________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread — Sanctuary

May 15, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, May 15, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ezek. 11:14-25; Heb. 7:1-17; Luke 10:17-24; Psalms 101,109,119:121-144

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From today’s reading from the prophet Ezekiel – “Though I removed them [Israel] far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the in the countries where they have gone.” Ezek. 11:16

Paraphrased, “Even though I [God] have taken you from your place of comfort and safety and transported you to a place you would not have chosen for yourself, and even though you are in trouble there, yet I remain a sanctuary to and for you, even in that place.”

Don’t you just love the image of sanctuary? A place in the midst of the storms of life, while we are in physical, economic, or emotional prison, stripped to the bare essentials – a place of rest, peace, safety and restoration – a sanctuary. A place where we can escape to in the midst of our harried lives. Is it any wonder that we often want to stay in the place of sanctuary once we have found it. Just let me hide O Lord! Just let me rest! Just let me take up residence under Your wing!

There is a phrase within our reading today that portends a shorter stay in sanctuary than we would want. That phrase is “for a while,” which can also be translated “in small measure.”

So God provides us sanctuary in small measure as we need it; enough sanctuary that we can rest and be restored but not so much that we disengage from the world where He has placed us.

Which is why the reading from Ezekiel is not enough. Yes, God provides us sanctuary. But He also provides us the ability to persevere in the evil day, fully exposed to its harshness and wickedness. In Hebrews today we read that Christ is a High Priest who powerfully intercedes for us all the time before the Father. In Luke we read about the power given to us by the Holy Spirit to overcome evil, all the while reminding us that we should not be glad to have power, but glad that our names are “written in heaven.” Lk. 10:20. In Psalm 109 we read that God also stands beside us, at our right hand, to save us from those who would condemn us.

God provides us sanctuary, He empowers us, He saves us, He provides us a great high priest to pray for us and to intercede for us, He stands beside us, He enables us to walk to integrity.

Sanctuary is not just a place but also a state of mind. It is not only a place for the body but a place for the soul. It is not only earthly, it is heavenly. It is no-where when we seek sanctuary; it is everywhere when seek God first.

Are you in the midst of exile or fear or hopelessness? God stands at your right hand. Sanctuary is close. Love is closer. See it, take it, live in it.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Relationship

May 10, 2013


Readings for Friday, May 10, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ezek. 1:1-14,24-28b; Heb. 4:14-5:6; Luke 9:28-36; Psalms 85,86,91,92

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Have you noticed that good relationships between people have at least two features – one is respect for the other person and the other is approachability. We cannot have a good relationship with people who are unapproachable and we cannot have a good relationship with someone we do not respect.

For example, people in a good relationship listen to each other. Why listen? One because the person we are listening to permits us to listen because he (and you) are approachable. Second, we listen because we respect the speaker.

Let’s try another example. Work. Who do we work best with? Those people for whom we have respect (and respect us) and those people who are approachable.

Where do these thoughts come from? From today’s readings.

In today’s readings from both Ezekiel and Luke, we have images of a holy God, a God who is so mysterious as to strike awe and wonder, a God of “wheels” and “wings” and “eyes” and “lighting” and “light” and power and glory. We have images of God to where we are seeing things which we cannot describe. We have images of God which cause us to fall down (“And when I saw it, I fell on my face…” Ezek. 1:28b). We have images of God which drive awe and the utmost respect. So much respect, in fact, that we realize that we are the made and He is the Maker, we are the created and He is the Creator, we are nothing and He is All in All.

But, in today’s readings, we also have images of an approachable God. In our reading from Hebrews today, we read “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Heb. 4:16

So, we can have a relationship with a holy God who we have awe and the utmost respect for by approaching Him where He is.

How can this be? What occurred that we went from Ezekiel’s vision to the writer of Hebrews saying with absolute confidence that we can, with confidence, draw near to the throne of grace?

The secret to this is locked up in two things. First is the “we” in the Hebrews passage. The “we” is not “we” globally, but “we” who have been saved by the grace of God through, forgiven of our sins by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In other words, the “we” is Christians. The second is from our reading today in Luke – “And as He [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of His face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white…And a voice came out of the cloud, saying ‘This is My Son, My Chosen One, listen to Him!’” Lk. 9:29,35 We call this event the “Transfiguration.” Jesus’ identity as man also revealed as His identity as God.

In other words, God is approachable because He first approached us as God the Son, laying down His life for us so that, because of who He is, we might have a relationship with Him for eternity.

And in this, God teaches us a very interesting thing about relationships. I can have a relationship with another whom I respect, even though I am not worthy of respect, and I can have a relationship with another who is approachable even though I am not very approachable. But can there be a relationship in return? In other words, if I am not worthy of respect and am unapproachable, can the person who has respect and is approachable have a relationship with me? The answer to that question is “yes.” Why? Because of love.

If I have love, I can create relationships with those who don’t deserve respect or who are not very approachable. I can have those relationships because there is a first love.

And that first love is God. God so loved us that, in spite of our disobedience, sin, unfaithfulness, and hatred toward Him, He sent His Son to live among us and die for us. And we can approach God in His throne room because Christ rose from the dead and sits on the throne.

Love trumps circumstances. Love trumps attitudes. Love trumps sin. Love trumps offense. Love trumps all.

We can have a relationship with God because God has chosen to build the bridge we can cross to Him. What we need to remember is that this relationship is built on God’s terms, not ours, on His work, not ours, and on His love, not ours.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Reliance

May 8, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, May 8, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; James 5:13-18; Luke 12:22-31; Psalm 119:97-120

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Who should we rely on? The first thought that comes to mind is ourselves. This is natural man speaking. One of the great “quotes” from the Bible which people have told me through the years is “God helps those who help themselves.” Of course, this is nowhere to be found in the Bible because the exact opposite is true – God helps those who cannot help themselves and know it. But the way of the world is not the way of the kingdom of God.

So the next thought is to rely upon God. And this is a good response, based upon the fact that, since God created the universe, time, and that ever has been, is, and will be, He can be relied upon; He is a strong foundation. In fact, we have to rely upon God for our salvation and, really, for all the blessings of this life and of life everlasting. Whatever we have is from God, so we radically rely upon Him whether we know it or not, whether we are grateful or not, and whether we worship Him or not.

There is a third option and it is implied in our reading from James today. “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him…” James 5:14

In other words, we can rely in times of need and trouble on other people.

Not just other people, though, but people of wisdom and faith who are God-called elders of the church. These are not just the titular heads of the church (those who hold titles such as bishops, priests, deacons, overseers, apostles, prophets, or elders), but the people whom God has called to discernment and wisdom and, through the Holy Spirit, empowered them to preach, teach, serve, and love. In other words, Christians who are sick can rely upon the elders.

Does this require faith on the part of the asker? No, but it does require the willingness to ask for help and to accept help when it comes. It requires us to recognize that, in our current state, we cannot help ourselves and, for whatever reason, we have little faith at that moment to rely upon God. It requires us to be willing to open ourselves up and to ask.

Why do we not actively use this third source of help? Why do we not rely upon the elders in our time of need?

I think I know the answer to question. It is because we are prideful. We are willing to rely upon ourselves. We are willing to rely upon God because that is a secret transaction between God and us. In other words, we will rely upon God because when He helps us, we can keep it a secret from others that we needed the help. But we are not willing to rely upon those who are God’s agents in the circumstances. We are not willing to reveal our weakness so that God through others can reveal His strength. By relying upon others, we have to tell them our story, we have to admit our weakness, we have to ask for help, and we have to accept that help.

Do you find today that your reliance upon yourself is misplaced or is not working and that your private reliance upon God is awaiting a response? Perhaps all these circumstances call you to a different place, one where you have to call upon the elders of the church for help.

And who are these elders? They are people who have learned not to rely upon themselves. They have learned that they have not earned their salvation or anything else for that matter – that it is all a gift of a sovereign God. They see the world through the lens of Christ. They carry the kingdom of God with them wherever they go, even though they live in the world. They serve and they love, not in their own might but in the power of the Holy Spirit. Some of them bear titles in the church and others are your next door neighbors. Some are old and some are not.

In other words, the elders are people who need help too in their time of sickness. They, however, have learned to call upon other elders for help in such times. They have learned to rely upon the body of Christ as the agents of Christ in the world.

Next time you are sick, spiritually or physically, when the self-medication is not enough, when reading a book is not enough, when private prayers are not enough, when all the communications between you and God are not enough, remember that God has provided another people-group upon which you can rely, His representatives on earth. Rely upon them and let them lift you up. After all, God has made them, God has saved them, God has empowered them, and God uses them for His good purpose. So, why not rely upon them?

____________________

© 2013 GBF

*Omitted reading is from the Apocrypha

Bread – Tests

May 6, 2013


Readings for Monday, May 6, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 8:1-10; James 1:1-15; Luke 9:18-27; Psalms 77,79,80

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The reading from James today begins this way – “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” James 1:2

I don’t know about you, but I have a very hard time equating “joy” to “tests” and “trials.” It seems to me that tests were always something we had to have in school to advance to the next level or to graduate, but they were never anything I was joyful about (except, of course, when finished). Trials are even worse; who has joy in trials?

And, yet, that is what God calls us to.

Now I thought of a way out of this dilemma – maybe “joy” doesn’t mean a good feeling, just an attitude, an orientation. So I looked it up. The word used by James for “joy” means to rejoice because you have received a gift from God. So it means both an action and an orientation – the act of rejoicing caused by or resulting in an attitude of joy. We get there by recognizing that our tests today, our trials today, are in fact gifts of God.

And, indeed, our reading from Deuteronomy emphasizes this – “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart…And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna … that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you…For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land…” Deut. 8:2-7

Testing is a time of discipline; discipline is a sign of love. We are tested because the Lord loves us and has in mind for us a “good land,” a place we are going after having gone through the time of testing.

This is all easy to say but very hard to live when we are preparing for or taking the test. When we are in the middle of a trial, we are tired, depressed, worn out, at a loss for what to do, sad, confused, doubting, angry, and a bunch of other things all tied up into one. The Lord says to us – “Have joy in the test and during the test, rejoice because I Am and I care enough about you to discipline you.”

Rejoice because we see God’s blessing, purpose, and love in the trial we face, in the trial we are in. How can we do this?

We can do this only because the same God who tests is the same God who loves who is the same God who saves and who is the same God who, in His sovereignty and according to His purposes, has chosen to reveal Himself and His purposes to us. In our reading today from Luke, Christ ask the disciples who He is and Peter responds “The Christ of God.” Matthew reports something else that Jesus’ said – “Blessed are you, [Peter] for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Matt. 16:17 We can have joy in bad circumstances, in times of testing and trial, because we have wisdom about our circumstances when we ask God for such wisdom in faith that He will reveal it to us (“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God…and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith…” James 1:5-6).

Joy in trial; joy during the test. Rejoicing in our heart arising from Godly wisdom that our trial today, the test we are taking, is a blessing, a gift from God.

This is not natural; it is supernatural. This is not normal; this is supernormal. This is not the natural state of man; this is the new man created by God when he comes to faith in Jesus Christ. This is not the work of man; this is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Thus our tests are a double blessing. The first blessing is that the trial exists at all, that God so loves us that He disciplines us as a father would discipline a son. The second blessing is that we are given both the faith in Christ and the faith to ask for wisdom without doubting, so that we may have the wisdom to see the trial and the test for what it is.

Double blessing. Now isn’t that a reason for joy, for rejoicing, if there ever was one?

____________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Faith

May 3, 2013


Readings for Friday, May 3, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Rom. 14:13-23; Luke 8:40-56; Psalm 106

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There was an incident this week involving me and another person, where out of anger, tiredness, frustration, irritation, self-righteousness, and probably a bunch of other things, I lashed out verbally. As James said about the tongue, “..the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. …no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” James 3:6—10

The net effect was a broken relationship, with me being accused of being a hypocrite.

Which brings us to our readings today. Paul in our reading from Romans today says: “Therefore, let us … rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother…For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died…For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbringing…Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God…it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats…” Rom. 14:13-21

Now the specific context for this passage is “unclean” food, not hurtful speech, but the kingdom principle being spoken of is the same in both cases Types of speech (tone, content, etc.) may be appropriate in many contexts, but if your brother takes offense, then it is a stumbling block and a grief to a brother. This becomes clear when we substitute “speech” words for “food” words in the Romans passage: “Therefore, let us … rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother … For if your brother is grieved by what you [say or how you say it], you are no longer walking in love. By what you [say or by how you say it], do not destroy the one for whom Christ died…For the kingdom of God is not a matter of [speaking and talking and arguing and condemning] but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…So then let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbringing … Do not, for the sake of [your speech, words, tone], destroy the work of God…it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he [says or how he says it]…” Rom. 14:13-21 (modified).

So if we are talking about speech and hypocrisy and stumbling blocks, why is this Bread called “Faith.” It is because of our gospel reading today – “And there was a woman who had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and … could not be healed by anyone. She came behind Him [Jesus] and touched the fringe of His garment and immediately her discharge of blood ceased…And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling…and He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’” Lk. 8:42-28

This woman had a disease. The tongue is a disease. The woman could not be cured by the technique of the world. The tongue cannot be tamed (cured) by man. The woman’s problem made her unclean and breaks relationships. The tongue stains us and breaks relationships. Neither can be controlled by the person with the problem or by the tools of society. What heals and cures and tames and controls is the decision to turn from what has not worked to Jesus, finding Him and touching Him. The woman was not hidden and neither are we. We are not hidden when we sin, we are not hidden when we repent, we are not hidden when we touch the Master … we only think we are. But when we do, when we turn, believe, and touch Him, we have acted in faith.

Who can tame my tongue? Only the Holy Spirit, given to me when I first touched Jesus and when I call upon Him. But I have to have faith in Him so that His power will operate in my life.

But there is a greater truth in all this. What happened to the woman the day after she touched Jesus? Did the problem return? We think not but we don’t know. But we do know this, the tongue which is tamed today is spouting evil tomorrow. So what happened? The truth is that our faith in Christ is not a one-time faith but an active faith, exercised minute-by-minute, day-by-day. To have faith in Christ to control our tongue means that we have faith that He will take care of the problem we are so angry about, He will handle the hurt, He will provide us words of encouragement and wisdom instead of discouragement and selfishness, He will give us the strength to subordinate our rights to another’s needs, He will give us power to say no to anger and yes to love, and He will handle the wrong, if indeed there has been any. And so the bottom line is that, in order to have gracious speech worthy of our King, we have to have the faith at the moment that Jesus knows what is going on, He will handle it, and I don’t have to do anything except lean on Him and follow what He says. Not faith exercised yesterday and faith which may be exercised tomorrow, but faith right now, in the moment.

When my tongue pops out to defend my rights, to prosecute wrongs done to me, to pursue my agenda, to beat down others so that I can be “king of the hill,” I am not exercising faith in God, because I am relying upon myself in my power to solve my problems. Not only am I not exercising faith, I am not demonstrating love for either Christ or my neighbor. So the accusation of “hypocrite” is accurate, and by my selfishness I have caused another to stumble, as Paul warned the Roman church would happen.

Radical faith. Minute by minute faith. Letting Jesus handle me, him, the situation, the action, the reaction, the response, the result, everything … that requires faith.

This is what we are called to as disciples of Christ. Nothing less. Impossible for us. Not impossible for Him. So we need to always be touching Him because His power and only His power is sufficient.

Very hard. And so we pray – Come Holy Spirit.

____________________

© 2013 GBF

*The Book of Common Prayer reading marked by the asterisk today is from Wisdom, which is a book of the Apocrypha. Since not all Christians recognize this collection of books as appropriate Scriptural reading, it is omitted.

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