Bread – Sober

December 30, 2013


Readings for Monday, December 30, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 25:1-9; Rev. 1:9-20; John 7:53-8:11; Psalms 20,21,23,27

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We are encouraged to “sober” living. “Sober” is one of those words which, to my ears, sounds like it means. “Sober” essentially means temperate in matters of feeding our own desires, our own lusts. Normally it is applied to drinking excessive liquor, but it can also be applied to almost any form of addiction or extremism, where God’s way is distorted by reason of our feeding of the great “I me” (me) as opposed to the great “I am” (God).

This is an important word given this time of the year because we are in the middle of excess, from excessive gift giving and receiving to excessive eating and now, on the verge of the celebration of the new year, excessive drinking, followed by excessive sleeping.

So where is this word in today’s readings? It isn’t. But there is something in today’s readings which points us to be careful, to be sober, in this season of joy.

In Isaiah, the prophet speaks of a time when God (Jesus) “will swallow up death forever…” Isa. 25:8. We know this is Jesus because of our reading from Revelation today where Jesus says “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Rev. 1:17c-18.

So then in today’s readings from John, we read about the woman caught in adultery, the accusers, Jesus writing in the dirt and him telling the accusers that the person without sin should cast the first stone, everyone dropping their rocks and going home, and Jesus saying to the woman “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” John 7:53-8:11.

But there is a problem. The English Standard Version Bible translation I am reading has a big warning above the reading from John, “The Earliest Manuscripts do not include John 7:53-8:11. “ The footnote then says “Therefore it should not be considered as part of Scripture and should not be used as the basis for building any point of doctrine unless confirmed in Scripture.” This is an example of being sober in our reading, meditating upon, and studying Scripture.

This passage could easily be used as a “proof text” that it does not matter what we do in life; Jesus forgives us anyway. It could also be a “proof text” that we can “sin no more” in our own power and with our own abilities. It could also be taken as a “proof text” that we should not judge others, because Jesus does not judge them. The problem with all three of these statements is that they sound right (because that is what the world would have us believe) but they do not line up with other parts of Scripture. It is true that Jesus forgives those whom He chooses and who repent and turn toward Him, proclaiming their trust and belief in Him, and subsequently acting in obedience to Him. But to see that as license to do anything we want fails to recognize that there are many who claim Jesus and who are not recognized by Him. If we are able to avoid sin, it is not in our power that we do it but in His, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Finally, we are instructed to judge those who claim to be Christian, not in order to condemn them but in order to restore them to full fellowship and to help them be obedient to Christ’s commands. Simple application of our reading today from John could easily result in sober-less living.

So, as we leave the Christmas season and enter the New Year, let us soberly take stock of our position and our sin, soberly acknowledge that it was our sin which required Jesus to be born, to die on the cross, and to be raised from dead, and soberly be grateful for the tremendous gift of salvation we have in Jesus. See, we can be soberly joyful, soberly grateful, soberly thankful, soberly prayerful, soberly strengthened, soberly victorious, soberly joyful, soberly happy, and soberly saved.

Happy New Year.

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© 2013 GBF

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Bread – Signs

December 18, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, December 18, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 9:8-17; 2 Pet. 2:1-10a; Mark 1:1-8; Psalms 49,53,119:49-72

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Signs are an important part of life. They tell us about danger and warn us away, to slow down, to stop, to look around, to change lanes carefully, to be careful of radioactive waste, to avoid rocks crashing down off of a mountain. Some signs are serious and some not so. I one time saw a road sign warning us to watch out for a spaceship lifting cows into space. The real sign of course was to be careful of animals crossing the road, but a creative sign modifier had worked their magic to make the sign appear to be about something else.

Signs also tell us where to go, which exit to take, whether to turn right or left or go north or south.

Sometimes signs even tell others who we are. A business card is a type of sign.

Signs are important.

So, if we know this, how come we like to ignore the signs which God sends us. In Isaiah today, God warns us that he sends signs to us and gets upset when we ignore them and Him. In 2 Peter today, the apostle talks about false prophets, preachers, teachers, and leaders, but points to Bible signs showing God “knows how to rescue the godly from trials…” 2 Pet. 2:9. In Mark today, the appearance of John the Baptist, a voice of one speaking in the wilderness, is a sign of Jesus, Messiah, to come.

What signs are we paying attention to now? Is the signs of the season pointing to the birth of our Savior, or is it the signs of the season pointing to the largest sales of stuff?

In the clutter of noise and visual stimulation which surround us, which signs we are paying attention to is often a measure of where we are going. If we are going to a mall to go shopping, we pay attention to the traffic signs telling us what exit to take. If we are already in the store, we are watching for signs telling us what department we are in and where the sales are.

Are you tired of these signs? Then change where you are going. If you want more time to see the signs pointing to Jesus and to His birth, then change your direction toward Him and His birth and away from the world’s version of it.

Merry Christmas.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Traffic

December 13, 2013


Readings for Friday, December 13, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Haggai 1:1-15; Rev. 2:18-29; Matt. 23:27-39; Psalms 31,35

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A week ago we had an ice storm which froze up everything, literally. For somewhere between two and four days, people were without power or their normal schedule was totally disrupted with various closures, traffic lane blockages, icy bridges, non-starting cars, frozen pipes, etc.

Then, once the weather began to moderate, the crowds hit the highways and everything came to a crowded, dirty, tiresome crawl. Traffic crawled and crawled and crawled. What would normally take ten minutes took an hour. And in the middle of the Christmas season, people’s moods (including mine) went from somewhat happy to somewhat upset to aggravated to downright aggravated to angry. Such is the nature of traffic. It opposes our objectives and our timetables, and we don’t get our way, we become more insistent on having it our way, even though the net effect is to increase the traffic and the opposition.

God has something to say about this. In our reading from Haggai today, He says: “Consider your ways. You have sown much, and have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes….You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away.” Haggai 1:5b-6, 9

Sounds like traffic to me. We beat ourselves to death getting from point A to point B, only to find out when we get there that the effort results in little return.

What is the solution to this? God through Haggai tells the people that, instead of building their own houses, what about building His house? In the context of Haggai, this message was addressed to rebuilding the Temple; in our context today, when God dwells within us, this message is addressed to taking the time to build our relationship with Him.

How much time is really spent by us in building our relationship with God? How much time or effort is spent daily in prayer … or worship … or even simple reading and meditation on God’s Word? I am not talking about when we are at church or some churchy function. I am really not even talking about when we may be preparing to lead or participate in some Bible study, or, for me, when I am writing Bread. What I am talking about is the time we spend deliberately building our relationship with God, talking to Him, walking with Him, listening to Him. How much per day? One minute, five minutes, ten minutes?

And yet, while we may only spend ten minutes a day building God’s house within us, we will spend three times that long (30 minutes) driving to the supermarket to get a loaf of bread or driving to the pizza parlor to pick up dinner.

Is there any wonder then why we feel our lives are being wasted in traffic? Haggai the prophet would say, “No, there is no wonder.” God asks the question why we are earning our wages and putting them in bags with holes when we can be (and should be) building our relationship with Him.

Imagine what would happen if we took the thirty minutes we would spend getting a loaf of bread and instead spent the same thirty minutes in communion with God. Do we really not think that God is sovereign over the traffic in our lives, so that if we spent more time with Him our ways would be smoother?

What would happen this Christmas season if, before we hit the road searching for that perfect gift, we spent five minutes at our kitchen table praising God for His blessings in our lives? What would happen? I think that, instead of us being one of those people who are sitting in traffic, tired and angry, frustrated and pained, a curse to ourselves and others, we would be driving with a smile on our face, knowing that God would deliver us to our destination in His time. I think that, with that smile and lightness of heart, we would then be a blessing to ourselves and to others.

And how would that change the world?

Well, it might mean that, when we say “Merry Christmas,” we really mean it.

Come, let us adore Him!

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©2013 GBF

Bread – Famine

December 11, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, December 11, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Amos 8:1-14; Rev. 1:17-2:7; Matt. 23:1-12; Psalms 38,119:25-48

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When we think of “famine,” we think of lack of food leading to weakness, loss of strength, and ultimately, death. This idea of famine may be somewhat foreign to Americans, since we are used to supermarkets overflowing with food of every origin, variation, quality, and quantity, but it really exists in much of the world among many of its peoples.

In our reading from Amos today, we are presented with a totally different type of “famine.” Amon prophesies “’Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I will send a famine on the land – not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.’” Amos 8:11-12

The more I thought about the type of famine where the word of the Lord was gone, where there was none to be had, the more worried I became. What would happen if the word of God was just … gone?

In no particular order, these are the things I can think of which would happen if there was a famine of God’s words in Plano, Texas, where I live. First, there would be no prayer. Oh I could toss up my wants of the day, but there would be dead silence in return. There would be no “No,” no “Yes,” or no “Trust Me.” Second, there would be no personal relationship to God. God would be theory, something to contemplate. But he would not be someone with whom I could talk. He would not be someone who walked with me. He would not be someone who was with me at the heights of my life or in the valleys; He would not be someone who was with me at death. Oh, He might be there, but without His words, how would I know it? Third, there would be no guidance for living. There are only two sources of rules for my life … those that I receive from God and those that I receive from other people. Without God’s words ringing in my ears, my only rules would be from others, giving them absolute power over me. Some might say that I could impose my own rules, but that is a joke, because sinful man imposes no rules on himself; anarchy is just a step away from exaltation of the self (my rules) over everyone else’s rules. Fourth, charity would disappear. In my sinful self, why would I care about my brother unless to get something from him or her? Fifth, civility and civilization itself would disappear, unless imposed by a dictator, meaning that freedom would also disappear. Hope would also evaporate.

You can probably add to this list, but you may not want to.

On the other hand, it is useful to contemplate the absence of God’s word because it reminds of us of how much we have to grateful for, and to whom we should be grateful.

God’s word incarnate is Jesus Christ. If there is a famine of God’s words, there is no Jesus Christ.

No hope, no salvation, no rescue, no life. Just death. That is the reality of a famine of God’s words.

Now, perhaps, one significance of the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus Christ, can be better appreciated. When Jesus was born, it was like God built a supermarket, filling it with good food, and declaring that there is no longer any famine of God’s words in the world.

And then we are reminded of Jesus’ command to us to “Take, eat” and “Take, drink.” Take and eat of Him, for His body is life. Taken and drink of Him, for His blood is the blood of sacrifice for you and me.

To God be the glory! Come, let us adore Him!

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Plumb

December 9, 2013


Readings for Monday, December 9, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Amos 7:1-9; Rev. 1:1-8; Matt. 22:23-33; Psalms 9,15,25

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Once in a while, I will recover one of my old Breads written from the same readings. This Bread is from December 10, 2007:

Sometimes what we read from the Bible just "fits," whether we are following an Bible study outline prepared by others or ourselves, or whether we are just reading. Today is such a day, because the readings from Amos, Revelation, and Matthew fit together like a glove. Each reading presents a view of the end, and although each message is unique, they are complementary of each other.

In Amos, we read that God has prepared locusts in judgment of Israel (Jacob), but relents because of Amos’ plea for God to forgive. We then read that God was calling forth fire upon Israel (Jacob) in judgment, but relents because Amos asked Him to. Then the Lord sets forth the plumb line among Israel, and states "I will spare them no more." The plumb line is used in building to make walls and lines straight, and it implies a standard of performance. This standard of performance is missing from the prior to discussions of locusts and fire, suggesting that once God has set the standard, no one can argue with the appropriateness of His judgment when measured against the standard. We might presume that this standard is the Law, but it might also mean Jesus Christ. In another book, Isaiah, the prophet also uses the "plumb line" example (Isaiah 28:17), in the context of Messianic prophecy, implying that the plumb line is Jesus Christ. Whether the law or the fulfillment of the law, Jesus Christ, the plumb line is the standard by which God will judge for all eternity.

In Revelation 1:5.b., we see a description of Christ by John – "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood…" – and we see a description of Christ by Christ – "I am the Alpha and Omega … who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty." In other words, the plumb line.

Finally, in Matthew 22:23-33, we see Jesus addressing an issue of the end times – who will we be married to? Although He answers that question, he also addresses the resurrection of the dead – stating that "He (God) is not the God of the dead but of the living." Although put into a resurrection, end-times context, this statement has additional significant meaning. If we are dead to our sins because of Adam’s disobedience and our lack of faith in Jesus Christ who has freed us from these sins, we are truly spiritually dead, condemned for all eternity, and God is not our God. If we have been reborn into new life through faith in Jesus Christ, we are living creatures, destined for eternal life, and God is our God.

There will be a time of reckoning, when God compares us against the plumb line He has established. We will be found wanting in our own works. We will not be found wanting when Jesus Christ stands for us as our Advocate. God the Father will look at Jesus and in Him see a life which is plumb, which meets His standards. And in that day of reckoning, God will say about us who are saved through Christ, “the life looks plumb to me.”

In my earliest Breads, I ended with a prayer, like this:

Thank you, Lord, for sending your Son to save me, a sinner. Thank you Lord for the mind and the strength to hold onto Jesus. I know that if I had to hold onto Him in my own strength, I would soon slip away, and so I thank you Lord that you strengthen me to hold on. Thank you Lord for being my plumb line and for satisfying God’s standards when I cannot.

Come, let us adore Him!

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© 2007, 2013 GBF

Bread – Oriented

December 4, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, December 4, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Amos 3:12-4:5; 2 Pet. 3:1-10; Matt. 21:23-32; Psalms 12,13,14,119:1-24

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For those of you who follow along with the readings above from the Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer, you will note that we have shifted from Year One to Year Two and gone from the back to the front. This is simply because the church calendar does not begin on January 1; it begins four weeks before Christmas, which we call Advent. Therefore, the readings are from the Week of 1 Advent, Year Two, for Wednesday.

Enough for orientation.

Except for the fact that our readings today are about orientation, setting our feet in the correct direction. In Amos, the people believed that their prosperity was a gift from God, when in fact it was built on oppression. Amos reminds Israel to not be oriented to wealth and prosperity but to the day of the Lord, when each person, pagan and Christian, will be judged. In Peter, the theme of the day of the Lord is picked up when he reminds the Christians of his age to ignore the scoffers who are asking, “where is God?,” and instead be oriented toward the promise of God that He will return, reminding them that God’s time and His timing is not ours. In Matthew, Jesus reminds us to be oriented toward action, dealing with ourselves and God honestly, recognizing the difference between acts and statements. The readings from Psalms orient us toward obedience to the commands of God, rather than adherence to the world’s requirements.

And all this orientation, when placed within the season of Advent, points us like a laser toward the Christ in Christmas, when God began construction of the bridge back to Him by sending His Son to be born among us as man.

In Amos, we are called to repentance because we are oriented toward outside circumstances rather than inside reality. When we re-orient toward our inward reality, we see our sin, which will be judged. In Matthew, Christ orients us away from pious words symbolizing nothing to action arising from our obedience to our calling as Christ’s saved. In Peter, we orient away from complaining about the present to anticipation of the future reality of His second coming.

I knew a kid once who was really proud of his ability to orient himself properly to the compass directions and, therefore, to a map. In fact, he won several contests because he was so good at it.

The map is only as good as your proper relationship, your proper orientation to it. Hold a map upside down and following it will lead you to lost city instead of found city. We have a map laid out for us in Scripture, by our Lord. But to read it, we must be in proper relationship to it. Are you one of the people in Amos who are so focused on your success that you fail to see your sin? Are you one of the people in Matthew who are so tied up in religiosity that you fail to realize that there is no good fruit? Are you one of the people in Peter who are so concerned about the present that there is no meaning in the future? If so, you need to re-orient yourself toward Christmas, not the holiday but the first coming of Christ – His arrival on earth to save you. Then the map will become much easier to read.

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© 2013 GBF

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