Bread – Strings

October 30, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, October 30, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ezra 6:1-22; Rev. 5:1-10; Matt. 13:10-17; Psalms 49.53,119:49-72

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In Ezra, another set of orders from Cyrus concerning the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem is located by Darius. It reads in part: “Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the3 house be rebuilt … Let the cost be paid from the royal treasury … And whatever is needed – bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require – let that be given to them day by day without fail, that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons.” Ezra 6:3-4,9-10

Thus we have a major example of a secular government (Persia, Cyrus and Darius) supporting a particular religion and religious people (Jews). And we have a major example of what happens when government supports religion – there are strings attached (“that they may …pray for the life of the king and his sons.”)

Now in and of itself, these strings are not “that bad.” After all, as Christians aren’t we supposed to pray for our secular leaders, those whom God has placed in authority over us, no matter how “bad” they might be? The answer is “yes,” so we could look at this as nothing more than requiring the Jews to do what they would do anyway.

And that is how strings begin, as something very small and insignificant. And what are these strings against the benefits the government is giving to the Jews? The government is funding the rebuilding of the temple and giving away everything necessary to do it, including the wages of the laborers. And all the government wants us to do is to pray for the king? NBD (“no big deal”). Right?

By now I think we ought to be cringing, because we know that, somehow, it is a big deal. We just can’t see it until the strings become overbearing, at which time we realize that we have been weakened because of our dependency upon the government.

Today, the secular government does not, generally, pay for the temple and the priests and the food for sacrifice because we are not living in a theocracy. However, the government does subsidize it. It subsidizes it by giving the church tax deductions and exemptions.

And what does it extract from the church for its subsidies and waivers? Again, the strings are subtle, but slowly but surely the anti-discrimination laws are being imposed upon the church (“we, the secular government, only want you to obey the law, which is generally applicable to everyone, and you should be doing that anyway, shouldn’t you – after all, Jesus says obey the authorities, right?). Free non-religious speech is denied to the churches if the churches want to maintain their tax-exempt status (“we, the secular government, don’t want you talking about politics because, after all, you should be talking about the Bible and how Jesus came to save sinners, shouldn’t you”). Little strings. NBD, right?

But lest we become too much the judge of others and not ourselves, don’t we condition our gifts with little strings? Don’t we give something to the church with the idea that it be used for X and then become upset when it is used for Y? If we are a major donor to the church, don’t we privately think that we should be consulted by the pastor before something is done? Yes, our gift is a free-will offering to the work of God, but can’t it also do double duty as purchasing influence?

Actually, Darius (and Cyrus) were just acting like normal humans when they hooked a little string on their response to God’s call on their lives to help support the temple in Jerusalem. After all, the natural human condition is to ask “what’s in it for me?”

How do we know we are exercising Godly love as opposed to humanly love? Maybe one of the tests is to ask ourselves whether we have put any strings on the gift. If we have, then maybe our love is not motivated by the Holy Spirit but by my carnal self, desiring to get something out of the transaction.

Next time we give something away and we don’t get a thank you or take the tax deduction, will we be mad because our string wasn’t honored or will we even notice because there was no string attached to the gift in the first place? Release the gift and the string attached to it. And enjoy your freedom.

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© 2013 GBF

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Bread – Timeless

October 28, 2013


Readings for Monday, October 28, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Zech. 1:7-17; Rev. 1:4-20; Matt. 12:43-50; Psalms 41,44,52

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We are naturally time bound. We think in terms of the past (history), the present (now), and the future (plans). Everything we do is somehow time-related. We may not be slaves to the clock, but we watch it to make sure that we are getting things done on time and that we make our appointments and project deadlines. The clock may not tell us what to do, but it certainly orders our days and nights. We study history to understand the present, and we take both the past and the present to project into the future. We think of time as either a progression (past is prologue to present which is prologue to future) or as a cycle (the cycle of life). In other words, we think of time as linear or circular.

Even our science is time bound. It used to be that we could speed up (distance over time) to the speed of light. Now we recognize that the speed of light may be a barrier, but that things may slow down to the speed of light. In any event, however, the fact that we are even measuring speed means that we are measuring time. One cannot speak of evolution without speaking of time. One cannot speak of distance without speaking of time. One cannot speak of force without speaking of time.

It is therefore almost beyond our imagination to think of something, or someone, as timeless. But that is who God is. That is what God is.

In our reading today from Revelation, Jesus says simply “I am the Alpha and the Omega…who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Rev. 1:8 Later, Jesus says that He is the first and the last. Rev. 1:17

Since we know that “all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3), we know that this beginning, this “first” was actually outside of the beginning of time, and yet in some sense He is the beginning of time. Our Jesus is therefore both timeless and time bound, just as we are. He is both omnipresent and directly present at the same time. He is both omniscient and yet receives His knowledge from the Father, all at the same time.

It is enough to give us a headache, but only because thinking of anything or anyone outside of time bumps into the time limits of our understanding.

For a while, I stopped saying at the end of the Lord’s Prayer “forever and ever, Amen” and substituted instead “forever, Amen” (leaving out the “and ever”). The reason I did was that I thought that “forever” was just that, and saying “and ever” was just a weakening of the “forever” part. Later I came to realize that that the “and ever” part was merely our weak way of saying “for all time and beyond time.” God’s glory and power are time bound (“forever”) and timeless (“and ever”).

Perhaps our view of this and our ability to grasp the idea that there is something beyond our grasp, that there is an aspect of God which will never be understood because He is timeless while we are time bound, is partly why my scientist friends have such a hard time with Jesus. When you assume a closed system (time bound), the possibility of there being something outside that system (something timeless) is impossible to comprehend because its mere existence causes the system to no longer be closed. When we can conceive of something timeless, then we can conceive of something outside ourselves. When we can see a beginning which is outside of beginning and an end which is outside of end, we can invite the person who occupies the beginning and the end into our lives, because at that point He is no longer a stranger.

But not only is Jesus the beginning to the beginning and the end to the end, He is present in between. He may be timeless but He is also present in time; He is present today.

In the movie “Toy Story,” we laugh at Buzz Lightyear, one or the toy characters, when he holds out his arm and says “To infinity and beyond.” Jesus holds out His hand and says something similar, “For all time and beyond, forever and ever.” But what Jesus says is no laughing matter, because He is the timeless One, born into time, died, and resurrected for us. Repent of your sins, believe in Him, grab His hand today and be with Him, the Alpha and the Omega, for all time and beyond, forever and ever. Amen.

Our reading in the Old Testament today is from Ezra. Ezra reports that Cyrus, the king of Persia, after being stirred up in his spirit by the Lord, proclaims that the Jews may return to Jerusalem with these words – “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all His people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel – He is the God who is in Jerusalem. ..” Ezra 1:2-3

Who does Cyrus think God is? First, he says that God is “the Lord.” Then he says that God is “the God in heaven.” Then he says that God is the “God of Israel.” Then and finally he says that God is “the God who is in Jerusalem.” So, does Cyrus think that God is God over all, over a people, or of a city? Is God unlimited or limited to particular people who believe in Him, whom He has claimed as His? Is God unlimited or is He limited to a particular geography or place (Jerusalem)?

What does Cyrus believe about God? We really don’t know, except that Cyrus obviously believes enough in Him to obey Him. However, Cyrus is obviously confused in his own mind about who God is and who He belongs to and where He is located.

Don’t we relate?

Aren’t we often just as confused? We say that Jesus is Lord of everything, but we leave Him behind in His jurisdiction (the church) and fail to acknowledge Him as Lord in the world. We say that Jesus may be that person’s God, but fail to recognize that He is Lord over all. We may hear Him and believe Him just enough to obey Him, but do we believe Him enough to make Him exclusive. When we say that there are many paths to heaven, aren’t we really saying that Jesus is limited in what He commands, where He is, who He is, and whose He is?

In many, many, many respects, aren’t we just as confused as Cyrus?

Luckily, our position with God, our salvation, and our blessing is not dependent upon whether we are confused or not or whether we even “get it right,” but upon the solid rock that God Himself is not confused – He knows exactly what He is doing, when He is doing it, and with whom, for whom and to whom He is doing it. He is true to His word.

It is in this knowledge that, although we may be buffeted and confused by what happens to us, by other people, and by what we believe, God is steadfast that David can say in our Psalm 31 today: “Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me! For You are my rock and my fortress; and for Your name’s sake you lead me and guide me…You have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” Ps. 31:2b-3,5b

So, today, although we may be confused about many things, let us remember clearly and without confusion that God is not confused, He is our rock and our fortress, and He is faithful.

__________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Confused

October 25, 2013


Readings for Friday, October 25, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ezra 3:1-13; 1 Cor. 16:10-24; Matt. 12:22-32; Psalms 31,35

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Our reading in the Old Testament today is from Ezra. Ezra reports that Cyrus, the king of Persia, after being stirred up in his spirit by the Lord, proclaims that the Jews may return to Jerusalem with these words – “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all His people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel – He is the God who is in Jerusalem. ..” Ezra 1:2-3

Who does Cyrus think God is? First, he says that God is “the Lord.” Then he says that God is “the God in heaven.” Then he says that God is the “God of Israel.” Then and finally he says that God is “the God who is in Jerusalem.” So, does Cyrus think that God is God over all, over a people, or of a city? Is God unlimited or limited to particular people who believe in Him, whom He has claimed as His? Is God unlimited or is He limited to a particular geography or place (Jerusalem)?

What does Cyrus believe about God? We really don’t know, except that Cyrus obviously believes enough in Him to obey Him. However, Cyrus is obviously confused in his own mind about who God is and who He belongs to and where He is located.

Don’t we relate?

Aren’t we often just as confused? We say that Jesus is Lord of everything, but we leave Him behind in His jurisdiction (the church) and fail to acknowledge Him as Lord in the world. We say that Jesus may be that person’s God, but fail to recognize that He is Lord over all. We may hear Him and believe Him just enough to obey Him, but do we believe Him enough to make Him exclusive. When we say that there are many paths to heaven, aren’t we really saying that Jesus is limited in what He commands, where He is, who He is, and whose He is?

In many, many, many respects, aren’t we just as confused as Cyrus?

Luckily, our position with God, our salvation, and our blessing is not dependent upon whether we are confused or not or whether we even “get it right,” but upon the solid rock that God Himself is not confused – He knows exactly what He is doing, when He is doing it, and with whom, for whom and to whom He is doing it. He is true to His word.

It is in this knowledge that, although we may be buffeted and confused by what happens to us, by other people, and by what we believe, God is steadfast that David can say in our Psalm 31 today: “Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me! For You are my rock and my fortress; and for Your name’s sake you lead me and guide me…You have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” Ps. 31:2b-3,5b

So, today, although we may be confused about many things, let us remember clearly and without confusion that God is not confused, He is our rock and our fortress, and He is faithful.

__________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Lord

October 23, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, October 23, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Lam. 2:8-15; 1 Cor. 15:51-58; Matt. 12:1-14; Psalms 38,119:25-48

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“Jesus is Lord.” We say it; what does it mean?

I suspect that there are many ways of answering this question, and that the way one answers it reveals a lot about what we really think about who is Lord and what a Lord does.

For example, does a Lord set the law of the land? Maybe and maybe not, because the Lord may delegate that to others. Does a Lord create the land? This may be a more profound question, because creation is a product of God. But wait, I also create. Therefore, maybe I am a lord too. Does a Lord rule over an area? Yes, a Lord may rule over a land, but then so can I. So, although a Lord may be a law-giver, a creator, and a ruler, is this an adequate explanation for why we say the Jesus is Lord, not “a” lord but by implication “the” Lord?

Of course, one response to the question of what it means when we say “Jesus is Lord,” is to say simply that He is ruler of everything. And in and of itself, that is true but at the same time, does this compel us to behave or think any differently?

When I read the Scriptures for the day, one of the questions I always ask is whether there is anything in common between them. To do that, I often have to set them side by side and step back to see if there is a common theme or a common message. In today’s readings, we have Lamentations, where the writer laments the fallen state of Jerusalem, particularly focused (in my mind) on the starvation in the streets of infants and children. The reading begins with “The Lord determined to lay in ruins …” Lam. 2:8. In 1 Corinthians, Paul ends with this statement: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Cor. 15:58. In Matthew, Jesus heals the lame man on the Sabbath. After pointing out that it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath, Jesus “…said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other.” Matt. 12:13.

In and of themselves, there is no apparent relationship among these three readings. One has to do with destruction, another with our actions, and a third with healing. And, yet, who is the actor in all of these – the Lord. Even in Corinthians, Paul is pointing out what our response should be to the knowledge that “in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

But it is more than action by God in the present. It is control by God of the consequences of our action.

When we say Jesus is Lord, maybe what we are really acknowledging is that Jesus is in control of the results. We do and He delivers.

When we disobey, He is Lord over the consequences of that disobedience. When we obey, He is Lord over the consequences of that obedience.

I think that this idea may have tremendous consequences for how we act in the world as Christians. We say that we have freedom in Christ. Isn’t that freedom enhanced when we know that we can preach boldly … and Jesus is Lord over what the response is? Isn’t that freedom enhanced when we know that we can love deeply … and Jesus is Lord over what happens next? Isn’t that freedom enhanced when we know that, when we make a mistake and are disobedient … Jesus is Lord over the consequences?

Don’t we hesitate to speak the truth in love, and love in spite of our neighbors and ourselves, in part because we fear the consequences of doing what Jesus commands? Why should we fear when it is not us who are lords over the consequences, but Jesus who is Lord over them?

If we believed, really believed, that Jesus was Lord over results, does Paul’s instructions to be steadfast, immovable, and abounding in the works of the Lord seem impossible?

I think we should try an experiment. Do what the Lord commands (be obedient) and let Him be Lord over the consequences of our actions. I wonder what kind of miracles we would see? Probably more than we can imagine.

So why don’t we? Probably because we fear the outcome. And we should fear the outcome if the outcome depends upon us. But it does it? Is Jesus Lord over the outcome, the results, the consequences? What say you?

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Aware

October 21, 2013


Readings for Monday, October 21, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 44:1-14; 1 Cor. 15:30-41; Matt. 11:16-24; Psalms 9,15,25

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My wife is a nurse and, as such, has been trained in observation. She is what one might call “aware of her surroundings.” This means that she sees in the present, hears in the present, evaluates in the present, and acts in the present in response to what she sees, hears, and understands. When a person has a need, she sees it because she is aware. When a person is broken or hurt, she sees it because she is aware. And, since you need to know something exists before you can react and do something about it, awareness is a necessary precursor to action. How can we love our neighbor, as Christ calls us to do, when we are not even aware of our neighbor, when we do not see or hear him or her in the present.

The fact is that people who are aware in the moment are rare. To be aware is rare. It is not our natural state. Our natural state is to self-absorbed, seeing and listening to ourselves, our plans, our objectives, our hurts, our desires. We have to be trained to be observant; we have to be trained to be aware.

Our lack of awareness, our lack of observation and attentiveness, really helps Satan do his job. While we are self-absorbed, we are not God-absorbed. While we are self-absorbed, we are not neighbor-absorbed. While our eyes and ears are focused on ourselves, they cannot be focused on anything else.

In an odd kind of way, all of our readings today are about the bad things that happen when we are not aware. In Jeremiah, God tells the Jews in Egypt that He is going to destroy them too because they did not learn anything from His destruction of Jerusalem. The Jews did not listen to God because they were busy listening to themselves. The Jews did not see God because they were busy observing Egypt’s rules. In chasing after gods made with their hands, their focus was on themselves and not on the Creator. They were not aware of God’s Word, of His character, of their role as God’s people, of the sin of idolatry, of the need of repentance, of God’s cleansing action in Judah, and of their own future. And the end result of this lack of awareness was destruction.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul basically points out that you are who you are associated with (“Bad company ruins good morals.” 1 Cor. 15:33). How does one fall in with bad company? By failing to be aware of one’s own sinfulness, the fallen nature of man, the need for God, and the need to be surrounded by people who are trying to please God, instead of pleasing themselves. We do not need to be around people who are trying to be like ourselves; we need to be around people who are trying to be like Jesus. We need to be aware of the company we keep, just like we need to be aware of the food we eat, the music we listen to, the books we read, and the television and movies we watch. To discern good from bad we need to be aware of what is actually going on.

Finally, in our reading today from Matthew, Jesus expressed His frustration with the lack of awareness of the people in front of whom He has done miracles. “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades,. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” Matt. 11:23 Jesus is doing a bunch of miracles which are not only fulfilling Bible prophecy, but also demonstrating in power that the kingdom of God is among them. And, yet, the people of Capernaum are not aware of the significance of these things. They are locked into their routines, believe that they are naturally OK, and therefore pay no attention to the reality of their condition or the miracle in their midst.

To see our and others real needs, we need to be aware and be observant. To do this well, we need to be trained out of ourselves and into moment, into others. One might say that we need to have a mind-transformation, and soul readjustment, Christ’s boot camp.

To obtain this training we need to be aware that we need the training and subject ourselves to the Master’s guidance. If we have no awareness to begin with (except awareness of ourselves, and then only partial), by what art will we gain this awareness?

If we are starting from zero and all of our efforts result in zero (any number times zero is itself zero), how can we ever become aware enough that we can see our sin, our need for a savior, the identity of our Savior, our need for repentance, and our neighbors? God. God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He makes us aware, He reveals to us our true self, He takes us from death to life.

So as we begin this week, it is appropriate that we ask God to provide us, not just wisdom, but awareness. Lord, make us aware of our surroundings, make us aware of our neighbor, make us aware of our need for you, make us aware of You. And, then, Lord, with your Holy Spirit guide, guard, and empower us to act on that awareness to be Your people in the world, to proclaim Your Name, to do Your works, to love others as You have loved us. Help us to see clearly, to love mightily, and to act boldly, all in Your Name and in Your power. In Jesus name we ask these things. Amen.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Facts

October 18, 2013


Readings for Friday, October 18, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 38:14-28; 1 Cor. 15:1-11; Matt. 11:1-6; Psalms 16,17,22

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In the debate in schools regarding what should be taught, evolution (natural force) or some form of creationism (God force), one tactic of the “scientists” is to allege that their theory is based on “fact” whereas Christian’s “theory” is based on “faith.” The implication of course is that there is no element of faith in what scientists claim and there is no element of fact in what Christians claim.

Without dealing with the scientists’ implied claim of “no faith” in their theory of evolution, from time to time it is helpful for us Christians to remind ourselves that our religion is a rational religion, based upon fact (and, yes, faith as well). Our God is a God of history and history has a habit of laying down bread crumbs of facts for us to discover, verify, evaluate, and either recognize or ignore. Therefore, our God is a God of facts and not fancy. Our faith in what God says has its fundamental roots in our knowledge about what God has done, which is evidence of His character and characteristics, and pointers to what He is going to do now and in the future. If we recognize the facts for what they are (and do not ignore them, as many “scientists” are prone to do), then our faith is a rational faith, based in substantial part on our recognition of the facts of history. And, of course, this makes sense because God created us in His image and, although we have corrupted this through Adam’s and our disobedience and desire to make ourselves the idols of our lives, the God-image remains in part. Our rationality is a gift of God and there is no harm in using it. In fact, there may be great harm in not using it.

Our readings today are laden with recitation of facts. In Jeremiah, there is the recitation of the history of Babylon’s conquest of Judah and how that was ordered by God. Jeremiah repeats the conversation he had with Judah’s king, where he (Jeremiah) told the king that it was God’s will that he (the king) surrender to Babylon, and that if he did so, God would save him and his family. The king disobeyed God and you can read the consequences of this for yourself in Jeremiah 39:1-10.

Then there is the recitation by Jesus Himself in our reading from Matthew of the facts of John the Baptist, tying those facts to the prophecy of Malachi regarding the re-appearance of one who would minister in Elijah’s power (see Mal. 3:1,4:5; Lk. 1:17) (making then those prophecies facts as well).

But perhaps the most important recitation of facts today comes from Paul in our reading from his first letter to the church in Corinth, where he recites these facts: (1) Christ died for our sins, which was predicted by Scripture, (2) Christ rose on the third day, which was predicted by Scripture; (3) Christ appeared after He was raised to Peter; (4) Christ appeared to “the twelve,” (5) Christ appeared to “more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive…”, (6) Christ appeared to James, then to “all the apostles, and (7) Christ appeared to me (Paul). 1 Cor. 15:3-6. Of course, in order for Christ to die He had to live, and that fact is assumed in Paul’s recitation.

Paul speaks to these things because they are both the gospel of Jesus Christ and the facts about Jesus Christ. He was born, He lived, He died, He rose to life, and He ascended into heaven. As many doubts as people try to create around these facts, they are among the best documented facts in antiquity. Of course you can ignore them just like a person can try to ignore a negative bank balance, but just as the sun exists so does the Son.

As the detective in “Dragnet” would say, “Just the facts, ma’am.” Well, here are the facts.

Now, what you do with these facts is your business.

We stand as Christians with two feet planted on solid ground. That ground is made solid, not by whether we believe or the facts, but by the God of both the facts and the faith. Thank God that He gives us facts on which and through which to see Him in action. Thank God that He gives us the faith to see the facts and, through the facts, to see Him. Thank God.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Vanished

October 16, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, October 16, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 37:3-21; 1 Cor. 14:13-25; Matt. 10:24-33; Psalms 12,13,14,119:1-24

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Within the virtual space called “social media,” many, many opinions are given over everything. On one topic recently, the commentator was estimating millions of opinions were being generated within a day or two on the Internet.

Where is wisdom in this? Where is understanding? Although it is called the “social media,” it is more aptly described as the “anti-social media,” since it permits us to hide in our hidey-holes to engage people on our terms rather than force us to deal with people, life, and society in the raw.

Back in the days of King David, I wonder if the men and women of God didn’t have their own form of places to hide from society. In our reading today from Psalm 12, titled “The Faithful Have Vanished,” the Psalm begins this way: “Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished among the children of man.” Ps. 12:1

The faithful have vanished.

Have we, as Christians, vanished from the public discourse, from the public arena? Have we so weakened our proclamation of the gospel that we are indistinguishable from the background noise? Is our belief system so worldly that we are now blended into the background, one of the many, engaged in our version of opinion-giving, but without influence in a sea of opinion-givers?

In our reading from 1 Corinthians today, Paul attempts to distinguish the application of the two spiritual gifts of tongues and prophesy. Of note to the topic today, Paul says “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” 1 Cor. 14:24-25

The essential nature of prophesy is not only speaking the wisdom of what will happen, but what is happening. It is the piercing action of seeing clearly, speaking what is seen boldly, and also telling clearly what the solution is. Yes, it is a spiritual gift given to those whom God wishes, when He wishes, and for the purpose He wishes. But it is really no different than what businessmen do every day when they clearly observe something wrong in their business, speak boldly with wisdom about what that wrong is, and promote a solution. The difference of course is that the prophesy of a Christian who is in fact prophesizing is provided his insight, wisdom, and boldness by the Holy Spirit.

There is a problem with prophesy, however, and that is that the people who have to change their ways in response to it do not like it; in fact, they probably will hate it and take out their anger on you.

But Jesus says, “so what?” In our reading from Matthew today, He says: “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matt. 10:27-28

We all have spheres of influence, in our families, among our friends, in our churches, in our social organizations, in our business, in our industry, in our city, in our state, in our country, and in the world. Perhaps you are friends with only two people and you work alone and don’t participate in anything else. Well, you have a sphere of influence of two (or three if you include yourself). The question is, within your sphere of influence, have you, as one of the faithful, vanished? Do the other members of your sphere look to you as one of them or as a prophet, as a person with great wisdom and discernment, as a person who loves without condition, as a person who lives as a Christian? Are you at the forefront of their mind, challenging them to see clearly, to repent, to turn, to admit, to trust, and to claim Jesus, or have you merely faded into the background?

I know many Christians who will react with surprise at the challenge as whether they have “vanished,” because we are active in promoting our views of Judeo-Christian doctrine throughout law, politics, business, economics, and a variety of other “ics” and “isms.” However, is the proclamation of the benefits of free enterprise the proclamation of Jesus? Is the proclamation of a strong China policy the proclamation of Jesus? Is the proclamation of better health care the proclamation of Jesus?

See, the proclamation of some or many things may fail as the proclamation of who we are and whose we are. We may be fully present in the social debate, and totally vanished as one known as Christian.

There is a final thought in today’s readings. We may have vanished, but God has not. Psalm 12 also says this: “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.” Ps. 12:6. We may be blind, lame, lost, withdrawn, and gone, but the Word of the Lord stands forever. Thanks be to God!

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Details

October 9, 2013


In our reading today from 2 Kings, there is a major lesson in God’s forgiveness of those who repent and turn to Him. However, there is a part of the reading today from 2 Kings which started me laughing. It is:

“So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe…” 2 Kings 22:14

I laughed because of the level of detail as to who-all went to go see Huldah and the level of detail about who Huldah was. As if I cared? As if I knew who these people were or are?

And then I stopped for a minute and said to myself, I wonder who these people are, so I did an electronic search of my electronic Bible for their names. What I discovered caused me to sit back in my chair, because every one of these people are mentioned more than once (except for Harhas) and some are mentioned many times in many books of the Bible.

Which then lends itself to the question, if I have read the Bible, why did I not know them and why did I not care who they were?

I think it is because I (and we) tend to ignore the details while we read. Just get us to the quotable quote, the main meal. We gobble down our food, why not Scripture?

Why are all these people named? Because detail matters. It matters because the Bible is God’s revelation, and so therefore it obviously matters to Him. And it matters for a more practical reason – because the Bible is not only God’s revelation of Himself to us, it is the history report of God’s action in the world. The historian reports detail because it existed and therefore it should be reported. We like to see detail because detail underlines the truth of what we are reading.

Maybe we are not strong Christians because we have never locked onto the detail, the fact that the Bible reports actual history, actual facts, actual miracles, actual actions and statements of both people and God.

For example, in Paul’s letter to Corinth today we read about this factual history – “…that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it and said, ‘This is My body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me….” 1 Cor. 11:23. The details report a real event, involving a real Jesus at a real time of day taking real actions involving real bread and saying what He is reported as saying. But maybe the most important detail we often skip is this one – “This … is for you.” This Jesus is broken for who, for me and we.

Another example comes from the gospel – “As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man called Matthew sitting as the tax booth, and He said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed Him.” Matt. 9:9. The details report a real trip, a real observation, a real calling, a real person called, a real place where that person was when he was called, and real obedience to the call. As a tax collector, Matthew was not very high on the social ladder. Because of the detail, it is obvious that Jesus called Matthew from where he was in life, not where he hoped to be but where he was, just like He called us yesterday, is calling people today, and will call people tomorrow to follow Him.

Ross Perot, a man who ran for President of the United States, once said “The devil is in the details.” So is the blessing. The blessing is in the details too, particularly when those details come from God to us in His word.

If we realized that the blessing was in the details, how much closer would we pay attention to what God has to say? How much closer would we listen to our neighbors so that we can respond in truth and love to their real needs? How much tighter would we walk with God today?

The details matter to God. So, today, let’s try to pay attention to them too.

And see what blessings God has hidden for us today in those details.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Cycles

October 7, 2013


Readings for Monday, October 7, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Kings 21:1-18; 1 Cor. 10:14-11:1; Matt. 8:28-34; Psalm 106

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We understand cycles. For example, according to Peter, Paul, and Mary (the three singers), there is the cycle of flowers to young girls to young men to war to graves to flowers. There are the life cycles of people, of business, of economies, and of nations.

In today’s readings from Scripture, the cycle of God’s relief of man from his circumstances, man’s promise to obey, man’s disobedience, man’s chasing idols, God’s waiting, God’s action to punish, man’s saying “I’m sorry” and “I promise,” God’s action to forgive, God’s relief of man from his circumstances, etc. is apparent.

There is a tendency on our part to believe that cycles are inevitable. In other words, we tend to believe that no matter what we do, the valley will be followed by the mountain which will be followed by the valley which will be followed by the mountain, etc. We apply this to our walk with God, thinking that our promise to obey is always followed by our disobedience which is always followed by God’s punishment which is always followed by our repentance which is always followed by God’s restoration which then begins the new cycle. In this model, God will consistently behave and so will we, following some kind of cycle of life.

What we forget is that cycles can and often are broken and a new trajectory is set. The cycle of poverty is broken by education and opportunity. The cycle of death is broken by the cross of Jesus Christ.

The thing is, when a new trajectory is set, do we climb on to the new adventure or do we fall back into the old ways.

When Christ introduces Himself into our lives and leads and strengthens us into belief and discipleship, our old cycle is broken and we are set out on a new trajectory, a path into increasing joy, increasing love, increasing strength, increasing wisdom, increasing obedience, toward eternal life with God. How many of us, though, find more comfort in the old, familiar cycles of death than the new rocket of life?

Do we want to break the destructive cycle we find ourselves in? Grab hold of Jesus for the ride of your life. And in the process, discover that the obedience of duty, which leads to disobedience and the cycle we left behind, can be replaced by the obedience of gratitude, which never ends.

And discover that your cycle has, can, and will be broken by the One who has broken the chains of death, by Jesus.

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© 2013 GBF

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