Bread – Wisdom

August 28, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, August 28, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Kings 3:1-15; Acts 27:9-26; Mark 14:1-11; Psalms 12,13,14,119:1-24

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In our reading today from 1 Kings, Solomon is described in three events. The first event is going to Egypt to make a marriage alliance. 1 Kings 3:1. The second event (series of events) is sacrificing to God at multiple “high places.” 1 Kings 3:3. The third event is where Solomon asks God for wisdom, for “an understanding mind to govern Your people, that I may discern between good and evil…,” which God then gives him. 1 Kings 3:9-12.

These events really describe three different “sources” of wisdom which Solomon exercises, and these events are therefore instructive for us regarding how we obtain wisdom and the results of how we obtain it.

The first event describes the wisdom of the person, whether it arises from reason, education, experience, or “out of thin air.” This is a form of worldly wisdom, one which is tied to the exaltation of self over community and God. For whatever reason, Solomon believes that it is a good idea for him to create a marriage relationship with Egypt. Egypt was a powerful country, in terms of economy, culture, and military. One way to obtain peace with such countries was to create family alliances, the primary one being through inter-marriage. From Solomon’s personal perspective, marrying Egyptian royalty is great “common sense” wisdom. However, it is wisdom which opposes God because God has told the Hebrews not to create close ties to Egypt (Deut. 7:16 warns against “returning to Egypt”) and not to intermarry with foreigners, because they will lead the nation (and Solomon) to worship other gods (Deut. 7:4). God’s wisdom, contained in His revelation to man (Scripture) is rejected in favor of Solomon’s personal wisdom about what he should and should not do. Although this first type of wisdom has the appearance of wisdom, it is not.

The second event describes the wisdom of the community, of society, whether it arises from social custom, mores, standards, culture, or whatever. This is a form of wordly wisdom, one which is tied to the self being subject to the community and neither being subject to God. Here, Solomon is worshiping God in the “high places.” These were not necessarily “high” places (on mountains), but were public places set aside for worship, sometimes of whatever “god” the people wanted to worship there. These were not places designated by God for His worship (remember that He was present in the “tent of meeting” and, later, the temple), but were places created by the community. The community wisdom was that these “high places” were appropriate places for worship of God, but here again the law of God (Deuteronomy 12) describes the one place. 1 Kings describes that Solomon worshiped particularly at Gibeon, because that was the “great high place,” but there is no designation by God of Gibeon as that place. Yes, a miracle occurred at that place (see Joshua 10:12), but it was still a place designated by the people for the people, not by God. Again, although the wisdom of the community may have the appearance of wisdom, it is not when it is contrary to God standards.

The third event represents Godly wisdom, given to Solomon because he asked for it. It is the ability to discern right from wrong, good from evil, truth from untruth. It does not come from education or experience, but as a gift of God. In this sense, it is supernatural, because it does not come from us, either alone or in the aggregate as community, but from God. Its beginning is in the fear (awe) of God, recognizing Him as God. Prov. 15:33.

Good, better, best. Self-wisdom is better than none. Community-wisdom may be better than self. But the only true wisdom, true discernment, is a gift of God.

So the question for each of us is, “Where do we get our wisdom from?” Is it from books, observation, what people tell us, or what God tells us?

If you think about it, we get our wisdom from whom we obey. If we obey ourselves, we get wisdom from ourselves. If we obey what people around us want, we get wisdom from them. If we obey God, we get wisdom from God.

So maybe the question for each of us today is “Who do we obey?” And the answer to that question may well lie in the answer to the first – where do we get our wisdom from?

We say we are followers of Christ. Do we really, really get our wisdom from God? If not, are we really followers of Christ?

Tough questions, requiring wisdom to answer. Now, what well of wisdom will we drink from to answer them?

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Appearances

August 26, 2013


Readings for Monday, August 26, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Kings 1:5-31; Acts 26:1-23; Mark 13:14-27; Psalms 1,2,3,4,7

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Appearances, or how a person looks or appears, is a strange concept. We are taught to ignore appearances (“you can’t tell a book by its cover”) and not to ignore them (“you are who you hang out with;” “if you look good, then you feel good”). We spend a great deal of our time with our appearances (think of all of the skin products which are bought today by everyone) because we want to look successful; look too successful, however, and you might be a “con man.” It is important to look successful (drive a nice car), but people who drive nice cars are “probably loaned up to the hilt” (meaning, of course, that their appearance of success is a mirage). There is a British comedy, “Keeping Up Appearances,” where a woman beats up everyone, her husband, family, and neighbors included, over maintaining her image of a “fine life.” But then there is a successful British soap opera (“Downton Abbey”) where maintaining appearances is all they do, as they should, because each of them has a role to play in life.

We maintain the appearance of beauty when we are not beautiful, the appearance of calm when we are full of worry, the appearance of success when we are borrowing money to make ends meet, the appearance of education when the last time we read a real book which did not involve sex or aliens or alien sex was many years ago, the appearance of tolerance while hate spews from our mouths, the appearance of Christ with the reality of self-idolness.

Our readings today are all about appearances. One of King David’s sons, Adonijah, is claiming to be king and has all the trappings of kingship (food, followers, clothes, family relationship) without actually being appointed king (David has already indicated that Solomon should be king). In Acts, Paul’s appearance of learnedness is so profound that, when he begins to report the truth about his experience on the Damascus road in his confrontation with the risen Christ, Felix interrupts him with a “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” Acts 26:24. Christ, in Mark, warns us against the false prophets and false christs who “will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” Mk. 13:22. Adonijah was not king although he had the appearance of being king, Paul was not crazy even though he had the appearance to Felix of being crazy, and false prophets and false christs will arise in the last days with the appearance of authority from God, even though they have none.

So what are the lessons about appearances from these passages? The first, I think, is that we should not be like Adonijah and take on the appearance of something we are not. If we are not wealthy, we should not put on the appearance of wealth. If we are not the boss, we should not pretend to be the boss. We should not hide our true state of affairs under the blanket of “I’m fine” when we are not fine.

The second lesson, from Acts, is that we should appear to be who we are, and if people misunderstand that, then let God handle it. Paul did not add to his appearance or change his appearance; he merely showed up and reported what he had seen and heard. Felix misunderstood and thought that Paul appeared crazy. Paul did answer him, but did not take the effort to change his mind – he left that to God. Paul just stayed true to himself. What you saw is what you got and whatever interpretations of that you had were yours to have.

Third, we must be so rock solid in what we know about Christ and ourselves that we are not easily fooled by the appearance of others who would, if they could, lead us astray. The person who appears to be a friend but who leads us into temptation is no friend. The person who appears to be a Christian pastor but teaches a way other than the gospel of Christ is no Christian pastor.

We work so hard at keeping up appearances. Why? Who are we fooling? Who are we afraid of? What are we afraid of?

Come, Holy Spirit, and help us conform our appearance to our reality in Christ, help how we appear to align with who and whose we are. And then redeem the time, money, and energy keeping up appearances for our use to Your Glory as You have commanded. Amen.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Captured

August 23, 2013


Readings for Friday, August 23, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 19:24-43; Acts 24:24-25:12; Mark 12:35-44; Psalms 140,141,142,143

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A long time ago I was riding in our Chevrolet Suburban with my wife and children on a road trip coming north from Austin to Dallas, where outside of Waco I got stopped by the highway patrol for speeding. The stop was a worthy stop because I was driving sinfully. The officer walked up to my window, looked at my driver’s license, asked me to step out (leaving my young children and wife behind) and follow him to his car. He asked me to get in the front seat with him, asked me what I did for a living, and when I told him I was a lawyer he spent the next 20 minutes (while my wife and children are waiting in the stopped truck) telling me about his divorce and asking me questions about how he should do things. I engaged in a pleasant conversation with him in the hope (and expectation) that the ticket would be forgiven, but at the end he gave me the ticket anyway. I think the reason the conversation was over was because I suggested reconciliation rather than legal proceedings. I then walked back to my truck to the insistent questions about what was going on, free of capture.

I recall this event because in our reading today from Acts, the same thing happened to Paul. He is standing before Felix and Drusilla, both Jews, giving his defense against the accusations of the Jewish leaders. Paul spoke about faith in Jesus Christ, righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment. Acts 24:25. Upon hearing these things, Felix was disturbed and sent him back to prison. Off and on for two years, Felix would recall Paul from prison, listen to him for a little while, and then put him back in. Felix was succeeded by Festus who ultimately sent Paul to Rome on appeal to Caesar, a right which Paul exercised to avoid being sent back to Jerusalem.

Now the differences in our two stories are important, because I was charged rightfully but Paul was charged wrongfully, and I was released from captivity after a while and Paul was not released, but there are similarities. One, we were both captive for a while. Second, one of the reasons we were held captive was that the civil law enforcement was interested in what we had to say. Third, what we had to say challenged the pre-set thinking of our captors – me by suggesting reconciliation when he was more interested in techniques of fighting and Paul by suggesting that Felix and Drusilla would not survive the coming judgment by relying upon obedience to the law, but only by faith in Jesus Christ. Fourth, what Paul and I both had to say was the truth, delivered in kindness surely, but the truth nonetheless. Fifth, neither of us was thanked for our message – me the ticket, Paul continued imprisonment.

But in both situations, I have to ask the question – who was the real captive? Was it the person who appeared to be free, with the power to arrest and imprison, but who was captive to the thoughts of the world with no ability to grasp the path of destruction he was on? Or was it the person who appeared to be imprisoned, with no power to extricate himself until let loose, who was captive to the voice of God? Was it the slave to sin or the slave to Christ who was, and is, the real captive?

Yes, Paul ultimately died at the hands of the Roman authorities, imprisoned in life temporal and free in life eternal. Felix and Drusilla died too, because it is the common end of man. We don’t know how they died (from the Biblical texts), but die they did. If they kept on the way they were going after they met Paul, they rejected the truth because they were captive to the world, they were dead in their sins during life and died in their sins at death temporal, and are not free in life eternal, but are committed to the lake of fire. Felix and Drusilla were both imprisoned in life temporal by the world, dead for all eternity. Paul’s chains were obvious, but removed. Felix’ and Drusilla’s chains were not so obvious, but permanent.

The question is not whether we want to be captured or held captive, but who are we captured and held captive by? Are we captured by the truth or captured by lies? Are we captured by God or by Satan? Are we slaves of Christ or slaves of sin?

And in God’s remarkable economy, when we are captured by Christ we are free indeed. How does capture lead to freedom? With man, it is not possible. With God, it is sure.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Gloating

August 21, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, August 21, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 18:19-33; Acts 23:23-35; Mark 12:13-27; Psalms 119:145-176,128,129,130

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In our reading from Samuel today, two runners come to him with the news that the insurrection against him as king is over. When he finds out that the leader of the insurrection is dead, he weeps.

The reason for this is that the leader of the insurrection against David and his authority as king is his son, Absalom. The leader of the insurrection who is now dead is David’s son, Absalom. So he weeps for his son, saying “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 2 Sam. 18:33

Absalom hated his father so much that he led a group of men who wanted to kill David and take the throne. However, David wanted to defeat his son, not kill him. He had given strict orders that his son not be killed, but Absalom died anyway.

Even though this Bread is labeled “gloating,” it is not about gloating but the opposite of gloating. There is no celebration of victory by a father over a son who is proven wrong and dies. There is only sadness, with a heartfelt desire that, if the father could give his life for his son, he would do so if it would restore the son to wholeness.

Wait a minute! Doesn’t this sound a whole lot like God the Father? Haven’t we as children of God taken up arms of rebellion against Him, leading others into a similar opposition? Didn’t God the Father send God the Son to die in our place so that, by faith in Him, we could be restored to proper relationship?

The answer is “yes.” We have engaged in open conflict with God, denying His relationship and His authority and holiness, even denying His very existence. We have disobeyed God and reaped the consequences of a broken world as a result of that disobedience. We are engaged in a battle which we will not win against a Father who loves us so much that He, as God the Son, died for us, in our place, so that God’s wrath at our disobedience might be satisfied on the cross. But we will die like Absalom on the battlefield for all eternity if we do not have faith in Jesus Christ, His death and His resurrection.

Is there gloating by the Father when a sinner dies without having put his or her faith in God the Son? The answer is “no.” Instead, there is God saying “George, my son….” or “Julie, my daughter…. Would you have accepted My death for you.”

Is there gloating in heaven when a sinner dies without having put his or her faith in Jesus Christ? The answer is “no,” but there is celebration – “…there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Lk. 15:10

David did not die for his son, but God did for us. Now, what is our response? Is it to die on the battlefield in rebellion or to repent and place our faith again in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and return to grateful obedience for God’s gracious act on our behalf to restore us to relationship and obedience and to save us for eternity with Him?

No matter what we choose, there will be no gloating in heaven. But there will be joy over those who are saved.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Figs

August 19, 2013


Readings for Monday, August 19, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 17:24-18:8; Acts 22:30-23:11; Mark 11:12-26; Psalm 106

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I don’t like figs, so our lesson from Mark today about Jesus being hungry and going to look at a fig tree to see what it had on it is, to me, almost an abstraction. On the other hand, my wife loves figs and we have been known to stop walking just to see if a fig tree had any figs on it. So my natural reaction to Jesus’ looking at a fig tree for food is to ask “why,” and my wife’s natural reaction is to say “of course.”

How often do we treat Scripture like that? If I like it, well I’ll just look at it closely to see if there is anything good to eat on it. If I don’t like it, well I will just pass it by as quickly as possible, thinking that a story about fig trees makes no sense, particularly when Jesus kills it anyway.

But, in writing Bread, I read this passages differently, slowly, with the question constantly being raised up to God – why? What message is there here?

Once I studied this passage, I realized that this is a story about appearances and reality, a story about predictable ends from observable beginnings.

For the first time, I read this – “On the following day, when they came from Bethany, He was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf…” Mk. 11:12-13. I have emphasized the “in leaf” because that is the key description and the key fact. It turns out that when a healthy fig tree is “in leaf” it begins to bear fruit – the fruit and the “in leaf” are concurrent events. The fruit may not be ripe and fit for eating, but it is apparent when the tree is “in leaf.” But that is not what Jesus found when He went there. He did not find a healthy tree bearing fruit while “in leaf,” He found a diseased tree which had “nothing but leaves” – the appearance of righteousness without the fact of righteousness, the appearance of beauty without the reality of beauty, the appearance of life but the reality of death. I always thought Jesus killed the tree, but the truth is that the tree was already dead – it just didn’t know it. A fig tree which is “in leaf” but which is bearing no fruit is a dying tree.

Notice, too, that the fig tree did not have to have ripe fruit in order to be in the process of maturing fruit. In other words, the tree can have fruit which is not ready for prime time, but is there nonetheless.

How many hungry people, people hungry for truth and love, come to us, attracted by our outward appearance, only to discover that we are bearing no fruit, that we have nothing to offer but appearances? How many hungry people, hungry for truth and love, who come to our pretty religious institutions, only to discover that there is no fruit in the process of maturing?

It always struck me that Jesus overreacted by cursing the fig tree. But that is me speaking and judging, not God. God is merciful, but He is also wrathful. What judgment will we receive if we have the appearance of life but not the reality, if we have the appearance of a “good person” but have not received the grace of God in Jesus? We will receive the curse which is justly ours. This is one of the messages God has for us, but there is another message too. God can bring the dead to life and He has. God brings the dead to life every day when He brings them into trusting relationship with Jesus Christ. God enables us unto salvation, to bear the fruit of grateful obedience in response to everlasting grace. He makes us into the fig tree He will not curse.

Later in the reading today, the disciples ask Jesus about the dead fig tree and His response appears to be peculiar, because He answers “Have faith in God” and then gives them a lesson in prayer. Why?

Until today, I always thought of these as just disconnected events, but they are not. The same God who curses the dead unto death is the same God who brings life to the dead, who finds the lost and gathers them into His arms, who has reached out His mighty arm of salvation to rescue us from the reality of sin and death, so that we may enter into the new reality of victory and life in Jesus Christ. What is the proper response to the dead tree? Have faith in God that I am not like that tree. Pray to God that He re-births me unto life. Have faith in God that He will bring forth good fruit from those whom He has brought into life. Have faith in God that the good work He has begun in you will be seen to its completion.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread — Want

August 16, 2013


Readings for Friday, August 16, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 15:19-37; Acts 21:37-22:16; Mark 10:46-52; Psalms 102,107:1-32

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Jesus asks the blind beggar in our reading today from Mark “what do you want?”

Not “what do you think you need,” “what do you need,” “what do you think you ought to have,” not even “what do you wish for in your wildest dreams,” but “what do you want?”

This is an important question, because it really addresses where we always are. Oh, we may think into the future and ask ourselves what we wish we had, and plan for it. We may look around and see the cupboard is bare and say that we “need” food, but the most important question we can always ask ourselves in the present is, “what do we want, now.”

Think about the list of answers we have to that question, “what do you want.” We might say, “I want dinner” if we are past dinner time. Having had dinner, in our response to “what do you you want,” we might answer “dessert” or “ice cream.” If we are out of work, in response to “what do you want,” we might answer a “new job,” but more likely our answer would be even more limited and immediate – “I want some money for gas,” or “I want some money for the house payment.”

The more you think about it, the more you realize that the question of “what do you want?” exposes our real condition, where what we want varies in the moment and the condition, and is generally self-focused. How many of us, really, would answer the question “what do you want?” with “I want my wife to have more love from me” or “I want my children to know Jesus?” Now that I have raised these as possibilities, you may be thinking “Oh, I would say that,” but you in your heart know better. If I went to you, a car enthusiast, right now and asked you what you wanted, if you had just gone shopping for groceries and had eaten recently, you are likely to say “I want a new set of wheels for my hot car.” I, I, I. Me, me, me. My, my, my!

Jesus asks the blind man “what do you want?” And he answered “Let me recover my sight.” Mk. 10:51.

Now, before we say “of course, he would say that, because he is blind,” remember his state of life. He is a beggar on the side of the road. He probably lives a life of subsistence, poor, hungry, spat on, rained on, living in the same set of clothes for long periods of time, unwashed, dirty, stinky. He is used to asking for money, but to Jesus he asks for mercy and for recovery of his sight, which he somehow understands are tied together. He does not ask for something common, but something uncommon. He does not ask for something which man can give, but something which only God can give.

In one very very real sense, when we pray to God, God asks us “what do you want?” Many of us are inclined to ask for the trivial of the day, the “want” in the moment rather than the “want” for all life. How do you respond to that question?

What do you want today? What do you really want today? This is no easy question, and the answer is a lot harder to come up with than we often think.

What do you want to today? Satan whispers in our ear, “Say a bowl of soup.” Will we ask for that or will we ask for something which lasts for much, much longer? God is waiting for an answer.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Appeasement

August 14, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, August 14, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 14:21-33; Acts 21:15-26; Mark 10:17-31; Psalms 101,109,119:121-144

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How many of us, in our desire to obtain peace in our conversation and relationship, will agree with those with whom we disagree fundamentally? We blame politicians for this all the time, but don’t we do the same thing? We think that by holding onto our belief secretly, that somehow in appeasing the other side we have not compromised ourselves. However, that is not true. When we know the truth and choose not to speak the truth in appeasement to other people’s thinking, we deny the truth. We actually set ourselves in an inferior position, because we believe that we must be quiet in the face of opposition, even though the people in opposition are not quiet themselves. Whether we label this “tolerance” or an ability to get along with others, in our search to avoid being a bully we let ourselves be bullied. In our efforts to reach Jesus’ standard of turning the other cheek, we reject Jesus’ standard of speaking the truth in all circumstances, understanding that persecution is a likely outcome. We don’t understand the difference between a personal insult (to which we should turn the other cheek, as the only violation is against us) and a statement hostile to the kingdom of God (to which we should never turn the other cheek, as the violation is against God and we are His ambassadors on earth).

In today’s reading from Acts, we actually see the Church, represented by the Jerusalem Council, in full appeasement mode. Paul is before the Council explaining to them the mighty work which God has accomplished among the Gentiles. The response of the Council is to say: “You see, brother, how may thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach the all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses….” Acts 21:20. To translate, “We have a bunch of our fellow Jews who are greatly concerned that the Jews you are teaching are not zealous for the law, like they (and we) are.” The Council then notes, however, that they have given an exception to the Gentiles, telling them that they do not need to obey the law of Moses except by abstaining from what has been sacrificed to idols, from blood and what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. The Council then asks Paul to purify himself in accordance with the law of Moses, so “all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.” Acts 21:24

What the Church in Jerusalem is about doing is appeasing two factions, one (the Jews) with requiring Paul to strictly observe the law while in Jerusalem and the other (the Gentiles) with a “law lite” set of requirements. This appeasement does bring a temporary peace to the conversation, but does it result in bringing wholeness or reconciliation to anything? This appeasement does what all appeasements do – it kicks the can down the road. And much of the letters written by Paul afterwards constitute instructions about how to deal with those who would add works to grace (adding the law to grace links works to salvation). And this controversy has never left the Church.

Of course, those people on the spot, who had to deal with the conflict, would say that appeasement to the different groups was necessary to buy time, to reduce tensions, to defuse anger, to permit opportunity for “more dialogue” among the competing factions, to properly manage a volatile situation. And, from a worldly point of view, they are right. But are they right from a kingdom point of view?

Everyone knows that today, from the secular media to my own children, the Church is indistinguishable from the world by most measures, such as divorce rate, sexual promiscuity, etc. As part of the generalized appeasement going around to achieve an appearance of “tolerance,” there is a growing wave of belief that there are many routes to heaven and Jesus’ claim to exclusivity is, well, just a claim which has no real effect on “enlightened” people such as ourselves (after all, we have that source of all wisdom – the Internet [I say tongue in cheek]).

But appeasement is fake. When I withhold the truth from my neighbor in order to avoid conflict, I do neither my neighbor nor myself any favor. Is it “tolerance” when my neighbor lives in his house thinking his thoughts and I live in my house thinking my thoughts, and neither of us believes enough in what we believe to engage each other, and neither of us has enough trust in the other to expose ourselves to critique, thinking that any and all critique is “intolerance?”

No, the greater “tolerance” is when I respect my neighbor and I love him even when he is “wrong,” when I engage him in decent debate about our respective understandings, when I am always careful to first check out the log in my eye instead of the speck in his. Real tolerance exists when appeasement does not exist, and yet the two warring parties sit down to dinner together, knowing that at the end they are neighbors, they are people, they all fall short, and that none of us is righteous or better in our own merit.

There is no need of appeasement when we know that God handles the outcome, and our only job is to speak the truth in love and to exercise the gifts we have been given, taking the great idol of ourselves out of the picture.

So who are we going to appease today? Andy why?

___________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Punishment

August 9, 2013


Readings for Friday, August 9, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 12:1-14; Acts 19:21-41; Mark 9:14-29; Psalms 88,91,92

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In today’s reading from Samuel, we have the story of the aftermath of David and Bathsheba. Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, but David saw her, thought she was very beautiful, and took her, killing Uriah by a trick in the process. Sort of like what we might do to get something we want.

God sends Nathan the prophet to confront David with his sin by telling David about a rich man who took a baby lamb from a poor man who had nothing so that the rich man could entertain his neighbor. In hearing this story, David of course rises up in righteous anger and says, essentially, “who could do such a thing?” Nathan then says, simply, “You are the man.”

How many stories could be told which, when we hear them, we would be angry about such an injustice, only to have God or our conscience tell us, in our quiet of reflection, that “you are the man.” “You are the evil doer.” “You are the one who has answered viciously, plotted for advantage, conducted murder in your heart, etc.

Yes, we are the people who are involved in these sordid stories of our lives. And we are responsible. And we are guilty. And we are sinful.

David hears Nathan and says “I have sinned against the Lord.” 2 Sam. 12:13. And in this he is right. Yes, his sin was against Uriah (who he killed), Bathsheba (who he turned into an adulteress), and even his own subjects (who he let down by his lack of integrity and honesty). But first and foremost it was against God. It was against His holy standard of behavior, of right and wrong, of His perfection.

Likewise, our sins are against others, but primarily they are against God’s will in our lives and His rules for living. They are violations of God’s holiness. They are insults hurled at God by us.

For which we deserve punishment. For those who do not believe in Jesus Christ, who have not repented and turned to Him in faith, it means punishment in this world and the next, for all time. For those who are saved by God’s mercy and in His sovereign will through faith in Jesus Christ, there is a different outcome.

Oh, there is punishment, but of a different sort.

Immediately after David has confessed his sin, Nathan has this to say – listen in very carefully: “And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.’” 2 Sam. 12:13-14.

In Christ Jesus, we are like David. The Lord has put away our sin by His sovereign grace, His mercy extended to us who are utterly undeserving of it but receive it anyway. However, God does not take insults lightly and there are consequences. In David’s case, the loss of a child. In our case, punishment may be less or more, but it will be.

When we are saved in Christ, we will receive punishment for our sins in this life, with perhaps even the reduction of rewards in heaven, but “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” Salvation is assured. And so is punishment for our sins. We do not avoid punishment for our sins by the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; we avoid destruction in the lake of fire. We do not avoid the consequences of our sin, but we do not die either.

God was not happy with David, and He punished him for his sins against Him. But God was merciful and spared his life, just like He is merciful to those whom He brings to Christ.

Isn’t this the “good news,” actually the best news? Through Jesus Christ the permanent consequences of our sin, death, is overcome and we will live forever in the presence of the Lord. The permanent punishment of death for all eternity is held back because God has mercy and took out His wrath on His Son and our Savior. However, the temporal consequences of sin are real. God will not be scorned. And, for our sins against God, we will be like David, saved and punished – which beats punished and dead for eternity all day long.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Self-Denial

August 7, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, August 7, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 9:1-13; Acts 19:1-10; Mark 8:34-9:1; Psalms 81,82,119:97-120

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In our reading today from Mark, Jesus tells the disciples “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” Mk. 8:34

What does it mean to “deny himself?” What does it mean to engage in “self-denial?”

The way this is often described in sermons is to engage in ascetic behavior, taking a vow of poverty, giving away your stuff, and other similar behaviors, even to the point of harming oneself physically.

Does “deny himself” mean you have to give up your stuff? I don’t think so.

I think denial of self goes much deeper than giving up your stuff. One can give up everything, torture the body, live in absolute squalor, and still have a hardened heart toward God, his neighbor, and even himself. Pride can exist throughout poverty and wealth, at all stages of life and in all circumstances. Covetousness can exist throughout poverty and wealth, at all stages of life and in all circumstances. Hatred of neighbor can exist throughout poverty and wealth, at all stages of life and in all circumstances.

Furthermore I think denial of self goes much deeper than saying “Jesus is first” and “I am second.” Denial of self does include, in part, a recognition that God is God and I am not He, but I may still realize this and yet still have hardness of heart, still have hatred of neighbor, still have a desire for more wealth, more power, more of everything. In fact, I may go so far as to try to enlist God on my side to achieve that wealth, power, everything. So, in and of itself, recognition that God is on first is not self-denial.

I think denial of self means giving up the right to stuff. It means giving up the right to have it our way, even partially. It means giving up the right to be free. It means giving ourselves over to Christ. Living in Christ means that we have recognized that there is no part of us which is adequate before a Holy God. It means giving up those rights, first to God and second to our neighbor. It means that we demand nothing because we are not important; Christ is important.

When we give up our rights, we acknowledge that who we are, what we are, and what we have does not belong to us. Oh, we might possess and enjoy all these things, but we hold them loosely because we know that they are not ours.

In our reading from Samuel today, we have the history of David and Mephibosheth, the lame son of Jonathan, son of Saul, who David defeated to become king. David restores all of the lands and property of Saul to Mephibosheth, meaning that Mephibosheth had great wealth. David tells Mephibosheth that he will always eat at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. The story ends with Mephibosheth eating always at the king’s table, even though he could have easily lived on the fat of his own property.

Did Mephibosheth deny himself and his rights to eat at the king’s table? In a real sense, “yes,” because he ignored his great wealth in order to eat at the king’s table. Although he owned his lands, the fact is that David the king gave him those lands and could easily take them away. But did Mephibosheth live a good life? Of course he did; he ate at the king’s table.

In order to eat at King Jesus’ table we have to deny ourselves. We have to be like Mephibosheth. We have to deny our “rights” and instead accept the gift of grace offered by God to us in His sovereign will.

But Jesus says we must also “take up [a] cross.” We normally think of taking something on, but I think it is just the other half of the coin of self-denial. The reason it is the other half of the coin is this – how easy is it to give up our rights and to trust Jesus completely, unwaveringly, without hesitation or doubt? Not easy at all.

The most interesting part of this is how God works. Like Jesus said, “whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mk. 8:35.

Denial of self is, in God’s economy, acceptance of our true self, as adopted sons of the Father through the finished work of Jesus Christ on His cross. And isn’t that just wonderful!

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Leaven

August 5, 2013


Readings for Monday, August 5, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 7:1-17; Acts 18:1-11; Mark 8:11-21; Psalms 77,79,80

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In our reading today from Mark, Jesus tells the disciples “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Mk. 8:14 What is he talking about?

Leaven is that ingredient which causes bread to change chemically so that it rises. But, as far as we are concerned, it also makes bread tasty. Unleavened bread is bland.

One of the articles in this weekend’s newspaper was on the state of the baguette in France. Basically, the French have started using older, slower techniques of preparing their bread for baking so that it will taste better. Although they did not use the word “leaven” in the article, it was obvious that they were talking about a process of leavening, over a period of time, where a small amount of leaven would have the opportunity to change the big batch of dough so that it would make a proper tasty baguette.

Now, this writing is called “Bread” and we have just been discussing baguettes, so one might be inclined to think this “Bread” is about food. When Jesus talked about the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod to the disciples, the disciples thought He was talking about food too. Jesus responds with a “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” Mk. 8:18. So, obviously Jesus is not talking about food. But He is talking about things that change one’s life.

What is the leaven of the Pharisees? The Pharisees were the keepers of the law in the synagogue, in church. Follow their (God’s) rules and you would go to a good place when you die; fail to follow their rules and you would go to a bad place. The remarkable thing was they really believed that we, as humans, could follow God’s law in all things, in our hearts, minds, thoughts, behaviors, speech, action, and attitude. Really? Name me one perfect person (other than Jesus) and naming yourself does not count! And yet, the leaven of the Pharisees requires one to have good works if one is to achieve their right place with God. Less you think this attitude is gone from the modern church, why do you go to Bible studies, attend worship, read the Bible, fast, meditate on the Word, read Bread, or do anything religious? Is it because you believe your works will help save you, or is out of gratitude for the work done by Jesus for you on the cross? In the first one, you are building your tower of Babel to the heavens. In the second, you are living in the presence of God’s kingdom on earth.

What is the leaven of Herod? Herod represents the world in all of its power and pseudo-glory. In another sense, he also represents education and reason. In another sense, he represents the perversions of the world, the lusts of the flesh, etc. Herod represents our reason, our base desires, our old man. He actually is us without Christ.

A little leaven goes a long way toward ruining the dough (if you consider the dough to be OK as is). Of course, a little leaven also makes life “tasty,” or so Satan would have us think.

Isn’t this last point why we deliberately let leaven into our lives or deliberately add it. We dabble in corruption, lying, lust, almost pornographic movies, books on evil (zombies) or sex, which appeal to our inner desire for things tasty – adventure, danger, power, money, fancy houses and cars, the most advanced electronics, stuff. We think we do it just enough to get a taste out of life, but Jesus reminds us that a little leaven affects the entire loaf, and that little taste leads to severe loss of who we can be in Christ.

The leaven of the Pharisees and Herod affects the quality of the victorious life we can have in Christ. Jesus’ question strikes home at this place, this time, these circumstances we are in – when we reach for the leaven of the world, He asks – “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?”

And the short answer to this question is “No, we do not.” Most of the time we do not use our eyes to clearly see Christ; most of the time we do not use our ears to clearly hear Christ.

To do that, we need the help of the Holy Spirit minute-by-minute, day by day. It is not enough to say – “Don’t touch that hot stove, don’t touch that leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod.” Instead, we must say “Come Holy Spirit” and then use, really us, our eyes to see and our ears to hear.

“God, protect me from leaven, because I cannot protect myself.” A short prayer, but a necessary one. And He will because, by His sovereign will in our lives and through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, He already has.

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© 2013 GBF

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