Bread – Downers

July 29, 2013


Readings for Monday, July 29, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 2:1-11; Acts 15:36-16:5; Mark 6:14-29; Psalms 56,57,58,64,65

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There is a television show called “Saturday Night Live” which has a comedic routine called “Debby Downer,” who, no matter where she is or she is with, will take the opportunity during every good time and celebration to bring up some disaster which has overtaken the nation, the city, the neighborhood, friends of the people she is with, or even herself if it comes to that. No matter the joy, there is always something wrong.

Like all comedy, it is built upon an aspect of our makeup. While we are having fun or enjoying ourselves, we don’t want to hear about problems. In fact, if we can maneuver it, we will never deal with problems.

Look at all of the effort we make to hide problems. We package food in nice little containers, and disguise behind closed doors the death of chickens, cows, and pigs required to have that food. We typically don’t talk about death at all. We trend toward dialogue through computers, even finding love on dating sites, so that we can avoid the face to face terror of having to deal with the down and dirty. We use drones to conduct wars, so that whatever killings there are become mere images on a television screen, which can be turned off with the push of a button. We even soft-pedal our Christianity, speaking of a God of love rather than, an equally true, God of wrath. We flock to churches which teach a “prosperity gospel,” where you can have everything you ever wanted if you believe in Jesus, rather than the good news of truth, where we are steeped in sin and degradation from our conception, saved by the mercy of a holy God who required Jesus to die for our sins so that we could even show up before Him without being destroyed.

But we don’t want to talk about sin, or death, or loss, or casualty, or storms, or disasters, because, “Man, what a downer!” We so much don’t want to be Debby Downer to our friends or family who live in La-La Land that we avoid the discussion altogether.

And when we behave this way, we substitute the joy of the gospel, of being stolen from the pits of hell by a gracious, forgiving God, for the hollow happiness of modern life in the world, sheltered by our technology, by our desire to be positive and upbeat, by our foolishness, and by the machinations of the enemy. In the comedy routine, the friends are living happily in the moment and, when interrupted by Debby Downer, just want to push her out of the way.

Every one of our readings today has aspects of downers. In Second Samuel, David has just been made king of Judah in an uplifting ceremony, and he immediately confronts a puppet king being established in Israel, with whom he must war in order to recover the land promised by God. In Acts, Paul and Barnabas get into a big fight over Mark which is so big that they go their separate ways. In Mark, John the Baptist is beheaded in order to fulfill an oath given in a drunken moment. Uplifting, right? No, these are downers which happened to God’s chosen people. These are the concrete results of a broken world. Yes, we know that God uses these for good … but in the moment, for the participants, there is little happiness.

But there can be joy. See, the gospel truth is that we are all downers, lost in sin, lifted up by the sovereign decision of a God who loves us into a relationship with Him, not earned by us but earned by Christ on the cross for us. And because, while we were still downers, God acted to save us, we can have joy in all circumstances, whether “down and out” or “up and away.”

Who are Christians? Debby Downers, saved by grace, transformed and transforming into people who, despite knowledge of the truth of themselves, rise in Christ to victory over the day. This is not a prosperity gospel; it is a reality gospel. But it is a gospel which does not shake in the earthquakes of life, which recognizes in both the negatives and positive of the world the same truth – we have victory in Christ.

It’s Monday, and so by definition we are probably acting like downers, or at least feeling like it. But we don’t need to hide or fear the problems. We know they are there. But we also know that, even if we die today, we live forever. Therefore, there are no downers but only opportunities to live life fully, completely, abounding in love, smiling, because we know that, in Christ, we have won.

Carpe diem! Seize the day!

______________

© 2013 GBF

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Bread – Calm

July 24, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, July 24, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 25:23-44; Acts 14:19-28; Mark 4:35-41; Psalms 49,53,119:49-72

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There once was a fool who insulted a man bound to be king, and the king was angry and gathering his army of men, decided to eliminate the fool and his followers. Seeing the disaster to befall her family, a woman confronted the future king and said to him, “Blame me, for I am the one at fault,” even though there was no fault in her at all because she did not know what the fool had done. And the future king acknowledged her gift, thanked her for keeping him from revenge, and did not kill the fool or his followers. Later, God took care of the fool as he deserved.

The story above is the story of Nabal (whose name means “fool”), Abigail, and David (on his way to becoming King David) from our reading today in 1 Samuel.

But it is in a sense our story as well. God came to us and we, the fools, insulted Him. Someone else, a person without fault in the circumstances, goes to apologize for us and the king stays his hand and a temporary calm came to the situation. However, God will not be mocked and, if we do not repent and put our faith in the King Himself, God will take care of us in a way we will not like, at a time of His choosing.

Fast forward to the New Testament. In our reading today in Mark, Jesus is asleep in a boat which is in rough waters. The disciples become full of fear and wake Him up, asking Him why He doesn’t care for their safety. He rebukes the wind and wave and calm is restored. The disciples are in awe and wonder who is Christ, for He has just commanded the forces of nature. In a sense this question is an insult to the King, because man, the fool, dares to question whether God has power over creation, which He created.

When we are in the midst of storm and seeking calm, what can we learn from these examples from Scripture today? Well, for one we can realize our part as the fool. We are the ones who do not recognize who God is, we do not recognize His power and authority, we do not recognize His abilities. We are often the ones who create the mess, who create the storm. Even if we do not create the storm, as fools we increase its intensity through over-reaction, fear, or avoidance. Then there is something which happens to interrupt the flow of events. In the story of Nabal, it is the self-sacrifice of Abigail. In the case of Jesus and the storm, it was the disciples asking Jesus for help and Him rebuking nature. Then there is the action of the king. In David’s case, he found Abigail’s apology sufficient. In Jesus’ case, the action to interrupt nature and the action to bring calm are the same action, because God is both the sacrifice and the King.

But there is another element in this as well. Nabal and Abigail were married. Even though Abigail had nothing to do with the insult to David, her action to ask the King for calm was in a very real sense Nabal’s request as well. Nabal created the storm; Nabal through Abigail asked the king to substitute calm for the storm. In the boat, it wasn’t the disciples who created the storm but it was the disciples who asked for peace.

Do you want calm? Ask the King. After all, He is the one in control.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Speechmaking

July 22, 2013


Readings for Monday, July 22, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 24:1-22; Acts 13:44-52; Mark 4:1-20; Psalms 41,44,52

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For many people, the thought of getting up among a group of people, whether large or small, to make a speech is a fearful thing. We get butterflies in our stomach, a headache, ours brains are filled with cotton, and our mouths with stones. We stumble and mumble and make little sense and then sit down with great embarrassment, knowing that whatever important we had to say was lost in our inability to deliver the goods. There are in fact organizations built up around giving speeches, training us to be more outgoing, more organized, more pointed, and more self-confident. The Toastmasters come to mind, but I am sure there are other groups as well. Speechmaking is a an act best left to others with more talent, right?

Wrong. The truth is that we make speeches all day long. We argue our points, explain our positions, explain the good, deconstruct the bad, and generally talk to people, recommending movies, recipes, cars, good jobs, television programs, stocks, golf clubs, shoes, dresses, etc. The audience may not be large, but there is an audience. There are the people who are listening, of course, but there are the people those people will talk to, there is ourselves (any speech given to others is also given to ourselves), and there is God. So, right there, even if you are just speechmaking to one person, you are talking to at least an audience of three.

In our readings today, we are introduced to at least three different kinds of speeches. The first is by David, when he steps out from the safety of the cave to stand in front of Saul, who wants to kills him, to simply speak the truth, that Saul has nothing to fear from David. The second is by Paul and Barnabas, who proclaimed God’s Word in Antioch, a place which was both receptive and rejecting. The third is by Christ Himself, who spoke a parable about sowing seed and its reception by various kinds of ground.

Whether we call these speeches confessions, proclamations, or parables, they all have the same elements. First, God’s man is the speaker. Second, the truth is told. Third, the audience has the potential, always sitting on a knife’s edge, to either be welcoming or hostile to the truth. Fourth, the speaker does not know how the audience will react. Fifth, one possible reaction of the audience results the speaker’s death, imprisonment, loss, damage, rejection, etc. Sixth, what is not affected by the audience, no matter how welcoming or rejecting, is the speaker’s joy. [see “The Jews … stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district…And the disciples were filled with joy…” Acts 13:50-52]

Whether or not you want to give speeches or think you can give speeches, God sends us out into the world every day as His ambassadors to give speeches about Him, His kingdom come in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and His kingdom to come in Christ’s return.

So, knowing that we are going to give speeches whether we want to or not, I would think that we would want to give good speeches. This requires us to be a man or woman of God, clothed in Christ’s righteousness and not our own. It requires us speak the truth as given to us by God in His Word and by our actual circumstances (see David in our reading today from 1 Samuel). It requires us to speak to the audience that is before us, but not particularly care about the quality of the reaction we get. It requires us to not really care about the reaction we get, as long as the truth be told.

How then can we be good speechmakers? In our own power, we can’t. We can’t because we cannot be God’s man or woman in our own power (salvation is of the Lord), because we cannot deliver the truth without knowing the truth and without our wills being steeled by our knowledge of our place in eternity, and because we, as people, care about being liked by our audiences and do not take rejection well. In our own power, if we are rejected by our audience, we will not leave the place with joy in our heart.

How then can we be good speechmakers? When we are saved by God, disciplined by God, instructed in God’s Word, look to God for approval and not man, know that our safety is in God’s hands, and know our place in eternity. When we are infused and empowered by the Holy Spirit. When we are clothed by Christ, with Christ, and in Christ. When our armor is not of our fashioning or invention but is of God’s manufacture. When we come to truly understand that although the speech is ours to give, the result in the audience is God’s to deliver.

Wow, it sounds like I have just described Superman. Maybe I have, but I think it is more likely that I have just described a Christian. Have I described you?

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Opportunity

July 16, 2013


Readings for Tuesday, July 16, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 19:1-18; Acts 12:1-17; Mark 2:1-12; Psalms 26,28,36,39

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God is in control, which means that we are not. This simple statement has been the source of much fighting and gnashing of teeth as we debate, then, whether we have free will or not, or the degree to which God exercises His control or not. When it comes down to God orders things according to His plan, but we have responsibility, our minds want to short-circuit (or at least mine does), pointing out to us that there truly is a limit to our understanding because we are not God. I realize that saying there is a limit to our understanding may be blasphemous to the modern mind, but it is true.

We have examples of this in today’s reading. From 1 Samuel, we have Saul committing to kill David and then being talked out of it by Jonathan. However, later in the same passage, Saul again changes his mind because “…a harmful spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand.” 1 Sam. 19:9. A modernist might well say that this passage is an example of ancient thinking, where physical or mental maladies were attributed to gods (God) rather than to natural causes, and that we understand much better today medicines, the brain, etc. I tend to read the Bible plainly, and this “harmful spirit” is said by God-ordained Scripture to have been “from the Lord,” so why would I want to change that. The truth is that God intervenes in bringing about Saul’s bad intent and, later in our reading today in Mark, brings about healing by Jesus because Jesus forgave the paraplegic’s sin and told him to walk. He brings these things about in His sovereign authority for His sovereign purposes, and who are we to argue with that (even though we don’t understand it and don’t like it).

But the more dramatic example is from our reading in Acts today. Herod decides to go after the Christians, kills James and puts Peter in prison to kill the next day in a public spectacle. James dies with the sword, but Peter who is chained between two guards with guards at the gates of the jail is released miraculously by the intervention of a God-sent angel. Why? Was James the brother of John and an apostle a lesser person than Peter? No. Very simply, we don’t know why and we won’t know why. God was finished with this James the brother of John and an apostle (another James, the brother of Jesus, takes on the apostleship role), but not finished with Peter. God caused the “bad” (from our perspective), the death of James, and the “good” (from our perspective), the rescue of Peter from the jail and from certain death.

So, why is this Bread called “Opportunity?” It is simple. If you are reading this, you are alive. Are you alive because of you or because of the grace of God? If God’s plan for you was over, then you would be over (in the present, but as a Christian, alive for eternity in Christ). But you (and I) are here, meaning simply that God’s plan for us continues in the present. What a gift! What an opportunity!

How will we exercise our free will today to use God’s gift of a new day for His glory and His honor? Will we use this opportunity wisely or will we squander it?

Yes, what we do and how we do it is God’s plan, but it is also our responsibility. How will we exercise that responsibility so that, when we lay our heads down tonight, we will hear the words from God “well done, good and faithful servant.”

Carpe diem. Seize the day. Seize the opportunity.

And not just in your own power, for the same God who gives us today, gives us this opportunity, gives us the power, love, and self-discipline to use it well. Come Holy Spirit!

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Obedience

July 8, 2013


Readings for Monday, July 8, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 15:1-3,7-23; Acts 9:19b-31; Luke 23:44-56a; Psalms 1,2,3,4,7

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What Christian among us would, if the Lord commanded him or her to give away everything they owned, their house, their cars, their cash, their incentive stock options, their mutual funds, their furniture, their annuities, their cash value in their life insurance, their retirement funds, would immediately and without hesitation do so? I wouldn’t. I would like to say that I would, but I would be likely to hold back something (probably, most) for a “rainy day.” Surely if we received such a command from God, we would (and He would) understand that what He really meant was to give up those things that really cause us to sin, like sugar, coffee, chocolate, and maybe that extra house that we spend all of our time and attention on. And the reason He really meant that was that our witness to the world would be compromised if we could not buy plane tickets to go on mission, had to accept charity from others who needed it more, did not invest our talents wisely (at least deposit them at interest – isn’t that what Jesus said?), and couldn’t show others that the prosperity gospel works.

You are probably smiling now because in my list of rationalizations, I probably hit on at least one you yourself have used to justify some response of quasi-obedience.

Our motives are not bad. In fact, they may well be good because it is true that we are more able to give generously from wealth than from poverty, at least according to our definition of “generously.” But good motives from our perspective do not lead to obedience to God’s commands. And half obedience may be some obedience but it is not the sold-out obedience which Christ asks of His disciples. Our obedience is not of the quality or quantity desired by God. Mine isn’t, and I’ll let you speak for yours.

This is the unmistakable lesson from the prophet Samuel today in our readings. God has told Saul, the king whom God has appointed over Israel, to battle the Amalekites and destroy (devote to God for destruction) every one of them and everything they own, including all of their animals.

And Saul did this, sort of. What he did was to kill everything which was “despised and worthless.” But he kept the good stuff. He kept the king and the “best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fatted calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them.” 1 Sam. 15:8-9. And he did all this so that he and Israel would have the good stuff to sacrifice to God. He did such a good job that he built himself a monument. 1 Sam. 15:12b In his mind, he had completely and totally obeyed God’s command to him, saying to Samuel at the end “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” 1 Sam. 15:13b When confronted by Samuel, Saul was confused and again repeated what he knew was true, that he had obeyed God – “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the kind of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” 1 Sam. 15:20-21. It was clear to Saul that he had obeyed the Lord’s command as He surely intended it, and that he (Saul) had good intentions and desires. It was clear to Saul that what he had done in response to God’s commands was good and was what the Lord wanted.

But not true. God Himself said to Samuel “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not performed My commandments.” `1 Sam. 15:10-11a In response to Saul’s protest that he had obeyed God, Samuel repeated God’s actual command (not the one Saul heard). In response to Saul’s argument that he had reserved the good things from destruction so that they could be sacrificed to God, Samuel said – “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” 1 Sam. 15:22

God said to do one thing. That thing which God commanded did not sit well with Saul’s modern sensibilities. Saul heard what he wanted to hear. Saul went out and obeyed the parts of the command which he understood should be obeyed and rejected the rest. Saul developed a rationale, which made sense to him and probably to others as well, as to why he had obeyed and why it was better in the end. Samuel reminded Saul that what Saul thought about God’s commands was irrelevant and his arguments so much smoke and mirrors to disguise his disobedience to God and his obedience to the way he thought he should go and his obedience to the way the world thought he should go.

We are no different from Saul. God has made us king over something – our house, our family, ourselves, our job, our money, our food, our education. He has commanded us in great detail about how we should act as king. But what we don’t like or what society tells us we should not like, we do not do. We rationalize why, of course, using our great powers of reason and persuasion, but the only person we persuade is ourselves. God is not persuaded and He is not fooled, and He is not happy.

“Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.”

The next line is not in our readings today, but is important – “For … presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.” 1 Sam. 15:23a. When we change God’s commands to our liking, we presume that we know best. We take our role as king and elevate it to a role as God. And presumption is as bad as every sin there is, because our elevation of ourselves to the place of God, our disobedience, is why we are such poor kings.

Maybe today I can be obedient in one little thing. And then tomorrow, maybe one more little thing. Maybe I can, in the power of the Holy Spirit. But that is the only way. Come Holy Spirit.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Weaponless

July 5, 2013


Readings for Friday, July 5, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 13:19-14:15; Acts 9:1-9; Luke 23:26-31; Psalms 140,141,142,143

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Christians have, in the west, lived for many generations more or less in control of government and, as a result, their lives. This has resulted in a certain national attitude among Christians of self-sufficiency (I can do it, I can earn it, I can reason it, I can achieve it, I am good) which in turn has weakened the radical dependence upon God which He requires of His disciples in order for them to receive the full measure of the gifts He has in mind for them.

However, things are changing as the rising tide and philosophies of worldly people have lapped away at Christians’ power base, slowly eroding it from the inside (as Christians become less disciples of Jesus [who they cannot change] and more the disciples of their particular tribe [which they can change to their fancy]) and the outside (as Christian thinking becomes less acceptable as the norm of behavior and thought).

Sooner or later, we will find ourselves like the Israelites and the Philistines. In our reading today from the prophet Samuel, the Philistines have taken away from the Israelites everything which could be used as a weapon. “Now there was no blacksmith throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, ‘Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears.’” 1 Sam. 13:19 In other words, the Israelites were weaponless. They had no guns, no tanks, no missiles, no bombs, no swords, and no spears. They lacked the weapons of conventional warfare. They could not launch a revolution against their pagan taskmasters because they had nothing to fight with.

In the midst of these circumstances, Jonathan and his support team of one said, “Let’s go start a revolution.” (not quite, but you can read it for yourself). Then Jonathan said that the reason was “It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord by saving by many or by few.” 1 Sam. 14:6

In this is a critical lesson for us – the Lord does not require us to have our self-made special weapons in order to do His will; He merely requires us to do His will with what we have. He provides whatever weapons and circumstances are necessary for victory, if victory is what He has in mind.

Of course, I am referring to weapons made by man, weapons of steel and chemicals, artfully designed, manufactured, and used by us. I am not talking about the kinds of weapons God gives us to use in their place – love, charity, hope, joy, faith, peace, long-suffering, perseverance, truth, His righteousness, His wisdom, His power, His victory over death.

There may well come a time, sooner than later, when our guns are gone, are knives are dulled, our access to power is denied, our freedom is shackled, and our places at the head of the table are replaced by others. It is not too soon to begin thinking about what we will do in that evil day. Will we retreat to our corners, living in the margins? Will we rely on our own plans, warehouses, and things to bring victory? Or will we just show up, remembering that “nothing can hinder the Lord by saving by many or by few?”

To find out how we might answer that question tomorrow, we need to ask ourselves how we will answer it today. There will be a time today (there always is) when we will confront the prince of this world weaponless. We will then have a choice – flight, fight, or follow (Christ).

If we are going to prepare for tomorrow, we must begin by practicing today. Flight, fight, or follow (Christ). The choice is ours, every minute of every day.

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© 2013 GBF

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