Bread – Lazy

February 26, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, February 26, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Prov. 6:1-19; 1 Jn. 5:1-12; John 11:45-54; Psalms 119:145-176,128,129,130

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Everyone has favorite verses from the Bible. One of mine is today’s reading from Proverbs:

“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, and little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” Prov. 6:6-11

To paraphrase, “Get up and get out of bed! Stop being lazy! Stop waiting on someone else to tell you what to do! Work! Or you will regret it.”

I have called this Bread “Lazy” because that is what a sluggard is. He or she sits around, contemplating their life, rather than getting up and living life. They let things happen to them rather than cause things to happen.

One would think that the world would encourage work and diligence, like the ant, but I actually think it rewards laziness.

Think about it, we have comfortable beds, fluffy pillows, warm blankets, and cuddly sheets, all to keep us in bed as long as possible. We have televisions to passively feed minds which are doing little except wondering where the chips are. We have elevators to carry us up against gravity with little effort except finding the right button to push. We have escalators which take us to stores where we can find a variety of gadgets designed to “simplify” our lives and make them easier. There is talk of going to a shorter workweek, and who would not want a weekly dose of three-day weekends? We now can be fulfilled on public welfare, food stamps, government telephones, and “free” healthcare to further enable our indulgent lives. And we have robots coming down the line and 3-D printers, which we will one day be able to command to fix us dinner or fix our broken toy. We already have cars which judge the distance between you and the next car and stop the car for you; soon we will have cars that drive themselves. These cars will likely even have automatic connect chargers in your garage so that you won’t have to get out of the car in bad weather to manhandle uncooperative gasoline pumps. Literally, we are driving ourselves toward a place and time where we will never have to “lift a finger.”

But is any of this healthy?

God says “No.” A little sleep, a little slumber, a folding of the hands, and poverty will overtake us.

I think there is a reason that God says “No” to laziness and, although it may be because we are instructed to be stewards of our gifts, I think it is something else. I think the reason that God says “No” is and it because we cannot worship Him lazily and we cannot love our neighbors lazily. Worship of God requires an active mind studying His Word, an active soul communicating with Him, and an active body on our knees, singing, speaking the truth in love, listening to Him, and taking His communion meal. Love of our neighbors means actually talking to our neighbors, listening to them, going out of our way to do things for them.

We must be active to obey the commands of Christ. Period.

Are you feeling lazy today? Are you being passive today? This is Satan urging you to sleep, to slumber, to folding of the hands, to passivity, to loss, to poverty.

God speaks to us to consider the ant. We should, but only after considering Him. Given what He has done for us on the cross, do we really want to respond to Him by being lazy?

I doubt it. So, go do something about it.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Deeds

February 26, 2014


Readings for Monday, February 24, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Prov. 3:11-20; 1 Jn. 3:18-4:6; John 11:17-29; Psalm 106

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Today’s Bread is very simple and very hard. From our reading today in 1 John, we see “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth… And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us. Whoever keeps His commandments abides in God, and God in him.” 1 Jn. 3:18-19, 23

Real love, placing another’s interest above our interest, laying down our life for another, is accomplished in the doing, not the saying.

We say we love God, but what have we done to love Him? Have we read His Word, spoken with Him, worshiped Him, communed with Him? We say we love God but how many minutes have we spent and will we spend today in doing it? To be blunter, beginning with the time you read Bread today and looking backwards to the time you woke up, how much time have you invested in doing things today with God?

We say we love our spouse, but what have we done today to love her or him? How much have we done without telling them? Have we served them or ourselves? Have we talked to them (beyond mere exchange of information about schedules), have we walked with them, have we waited on them, have we lifted them up in prayer, have we voluntarily and with gladness of heart done their chores?

We say as Christians that we love our neighbors and then, of course, get into arguments about who our neighbors are. But let’s just keep the discussion to the people who live next door to us, our so-called “next-door neighbors.” What have we done for them today? Did we pick up their paper while we were picking up ours and put in on their porch? Did we weed their garden while weeding ours? Did we speak a word of blessing or even “good morning” to them? Do we even communicate enough with them to know if they are even home, if they are sick, or if they need something from the grocery store?

The fact is that, if we were to closely look at what we do, we would discover a great deal of love – for ourselves.

The problem not that we don’t love God or others, but that we love ourselves more. When we give away our money, it is “our” pot of gold which is being diminished. When we give away our time, it is “our” day which is being used up. When we give away our efforts, it is “our” energy which is being consumed.

How do we bridge that gap between words of love and a life of love? It is not enough for us to look to ourselves first, because we are empty of ability to love anyone but ourselves. And is not enough to look toward others, because they are as broken and incapable as we are. It is enough that we follow the command of God – “And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another…” 1 Jn. 3:23

How do we get from talking to doing? By first believing in the reality of Jesus Christ, in “His name.” Once that happens, we receive the Holy Spirit and gain not only the desire to love but the ability to love.

But, you say, I believe in Jesus Christ, have the Holy Spirit, and still only talk about love. Well, for those of my friends who like guns, you will understand this analogy. The Holy Spirit is like have a love gun in your gun safe. You can talk about your love gun all day long, but you actually have to practice using your gun to learn to shoot it. And, after you have practiced a while, you can hit what you are aiming at. If your love gun shoots love bullets, by practicing using the gun you will become adept at shooting those love bullets into the situations and people who need them.

To do love you have to practice doing love.

But, if you are Christian, you have the tools to do it. Just take them out of the tool bag, use them, and then let the Holy Spirit take care of the rest.

Do it!

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Peniel

February 21, 2014


Readings for Friday, February 21, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 32:22-33:17; 1 Jn. 3:1-10; John 10:31-42; Psalms 102,107:1-32

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“Peniel” means “the face of God” (ESV Study Notes). In our reading today from Genesis, it is the place named by Jacob (Israel) after he had wrestled with God, because he said “For I have seen God face to face and yet my life has been delivered.” Gen. 32:30

Have you seen the face of God at your Peniel? I’ll bet you have.

I am always fascinated by what the Anglican Church in its Book of Common Prayer daily readings chooses to leave out. Today, the lesson includes Psalm 107:1-32, but what about verses 33 through 43. There are not that many of them. So why leave them out?

I don’t know exactly, but I can guess because they are somewhat confusing, particularly if you consider God “warm and fuzzy.” In rearranged order, so that the context can be properly set, they say:

“Whoever is wise, …; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.” Ps. 107:43

“He [God] turns the rivers into a desert…a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the evil of its inhabitants.” Ps. 107:33-34

“…He raises up the needy out of affliction and makes their families like flocks. The upright see it and are glad, …” Ps. 107:41-42

The “steadfast love of the Lord” evidences itself in judgment and in mercy. Those who rely on themselves will ultimately find themselves being judged. Those who rely upon Christ’s work on the cross will find themselves being bathed in mercy. This is not meanness in action, it is love in action.

The fact is that we wrestle with God all the time. When we ignore Him, we fight against the proofs of His existence which surround us everywhere. When we embrace Him, we fight with Him to let us into the kingdom of God on our terms. When we are saved by Him, we fight with Him about what we will do today, and tomorrow. When we are told by Him what to do, we wrestle with Him on interpretation.

The truth is that we wrestle with God all the time. Our Peniel is our inner soul, our home, our job, our club, our political party, our country.

We confront the face of God all of the time and, quite frankly, we rise to the occasion by arguing rather than listening, by doing rather than by being, by being angry instead of being joyful.

Consider the steadfast love of the Lord, that He does not strike us down when we see His face and when we dare to wrestle with Him, that He takes our sinful nature and by His grace alone brings us from death to life.

Consider why, at your Peniel, when you confronted God face to face, He let you live. Consider the steadfast love of God toward us.

And be thankful.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Eyes

February 19, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, February 19, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 31:25-50; 1 Jn. 2:12-17; John 10:1-18; Psalms 101,109,119:121-144

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What do you have eyes for? Not, why do you have eyes but what do you like to look at? What do you have eyes for?

This question arose when I read today’s lesson from 1 John, as follows: “For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world.” 1 John 2:16

Although we have various senses (hearing, smell, taste, feel, sight), if you think about it, the eyes are the primary intake vehicle for what the world has to offer. “The desires of the flesh” begin with the seeing of something which we know will make us feel good. The “desires of the eyes” are obviously related to the eyes, because we see clearly the worldly idols which attract us – food, drink, sex, power, position, jewelry, gold and silver, bank account statements, etc. Even the final one, “pride of possessions,” exists because of our eyes – when we walk into our garage, we are prideful of our car; when we walk around our house, we are prideful of our artwork, our furniture, our backyard, our front yard, our flowers, our square footage, our street, our community, and our city. When we go to the bank to look inside our safe deposit box, our eyes are what look at our papers and things evidencing our possession. When we open our treasure chests, whether it be a gun safe or a jewelry box, we use our eyes to contemplate their value to us.

So our view into the world is through our eyes, and our eyes contemplate what the world has to offer and we are glad indeed.

Until we realize that our eyes have fooled us. Who has not watched very carefully the machinations of the magician who, with sleight of hand, produces the amazing card trick? We saw it but we did not see it. We are fascinated because we know we have been tricked but we don’t know how.

What the writer of 1 John is telling us bluntly is that Satan is that magician. We look and see, and covet what we see, and through the desires of the flesh, the desires of our eyes, and the pride of possession we are sucked into the mirage which is what the world has to offer. Because what we see is what we want as sinful people, we buy into the magician’s trick, believing that what we see is what there is. We may sense we have been tricked, we may know we have been tricked, but we don’t care that we have been tricked. Why don’t we care? Because the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and our pride of possessions has been satisfied.

This is a side effect of being dead in our sins. When we are dead in our sins, we cannot see anything of truth and we cannot see anything really of love. All we can see is the mirage.

This is why we need God to sovereignly reach out to us in mercy and open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts. This is why we need God to save us and why we cannot save ourselves. If our eyes are to see anything other than what the world has to offer, it is because God has given us a special set of glasses to see Satan through. We cannot buy these glasses and we cannot earn these glasses. God shows up when He is ready and when He wants to and gives them to us and, because we have no capacity in ourselves, puts them on us. Actually, He does more than that because He really gives us a new set of eyes, ones which can see spiritually, ones which can discern, ones which can see clearly, ones who look first to Him and then, through Him, to the world.

Which eyes do you want – the ones which see the real and the eternal, or the ones which see the fake and the temporal? Which lens do we want to peer through – the lens of ourselves or the lens of Jesus Christ?

Which lens are you seeing through today? How are you using your eyes? What do you have eyes for?

________________

© 2014 GBF

Bread – Practice

February 12, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, February 12, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 27:1-29; Rom. 12:1-8; John 8:12-20; Psalms 81,82,119:97-120

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When I was in the band and orchestra in high school, I had the same teacher-director. In fact, I had him all the way from seventh grade through my senior year. He had a saying which he repeated every day until I was sick of it, but I did remember it. It was – “Practice makes perfect, but only if it is perfect practice.”

When we are born anew by the power of God into His salvation, by the exercise of His grace in our lives, we are essentially re-born as spiritual babies. We go from drinking milk to eating meat by practicing. We grow in the Christian walk by practicing, but we are perfected in our walk only by practicing “perfectly.” How do we do that?

Well, today’s reading from Romans actually contains some of the secrets to practicing our walk with God perfectly.

In Romans 12, we read: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I way to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned….Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them …” Rom. 12:1-3,5

The elements of perfect practice are: (1) renew our mind so that we know the difference between what God wants and what the world wants (essentially by studying God’s revelation to us, His Scripture and Jesus), (2) practice what we know in real life (test God’s instructions by using them), (3) evaluate ourselves honestly, and (4) and use our gifts. To reorganize these into a time sequence of behavior, (1) know what to do, (2) do it, (3) using our gifts in faith, and (4) evaluate how we are doing.

In order to have “perfect” practice, we must first of all know what the standard is that we are trying to achieve and we must pick from the best practice materials to practice from. Our standards given to us by God is His Word in Scripture. Not only is this the source of standards, but Scripture is itself the best practice material (we often make a mistake in assuming that our best practice material is something like Bread, a writing about Scripture, but the best is always the source material itself). Once we have gone to the best source of practice materials, we must practice, which is a constant testing of the best, a constant trying to do the best. But we must be fair to ourselves; this testing, this doing, is done according to the faith we have been given, according literally to the talent God has given us. But we must use all of our God-given talent, our “gifts” of the Holy Spirit. And then, having actually used our gifts, applying the best practice materials we have to life, we then need to constantly ask ourselves soberly, how are we doing? This self-evaluation is done honestly and soberly, “not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought.” In other words, perfect practice has an edge to it. If we are truly the best, perfect practice will make us better. If we are truly the worse, perfect practice will make us better. Whether or not we are the best or the worse, the beginner or the professional, the untalented or the talented, perfect practice using God’s Word, His power, and His gifts, will make us all better.

Why practice at all, much less strive for perfect practice? One answer is that we have been told to and we are trying to be obedient, but that is not particularly motivating. Another answer is that we are merely being grateful for the gift of salvation we have been given – obedience not arising from duty but from gratitude. That is a better reason, perhaps, because it may for some be more motivating.

But what about this one – because it gives us pleasure?

Think about when you have had your greatest pleasure in life? Was it really when you closed the big business deal or bought a Cadillac or bought your first big house? Or was it when you came to Christ, when you love your spouse or your children, when you gave the last dollar in your wallet to someone who needed it more, when you walked for a few minutes with Jesus and He smiled upon you, when you watched while someone accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, when the person who had nothing and got something gave it away, when you were dog-tired at the end of a long day and went to bed knowing that someone was living better tomorrow because of what you did today.

We practice music because we want to participate in music. We practice sports because we want to participate in sports.

Do you want to participate in Christ? Practice, perfectly. Every day.

And you will get better.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Liked

February 10, 2014


Readings for Monday, February 10, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 25:19-34; Heb. 13:1-16; John 7:37-52; Psalms 77,79,80

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We all like to be liked. I like to be liked. When we are accepted by our peers and our peers are a “good” group, we feel better. If we are elevated by our peers to a position of authority or leadership or appreciation, we feel even better. It is a fair statement that, since we like to be liked, we really like to be really liked. It feeds our pride, our ego, are self-esteem, our sense of self-worth. And, if our peers like us enough, then we can become celebrities, mini-gods of mini-worlds.

Perhaps this is why this verse stuck out to me in today’s readings from Hebrews – “So Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through His own blood. Therefore let us go to Him outside the camp and bear the reproach He endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” Heb. 13:12-14

Therefore, let us go to Jesus outside the camp.

What is the camp? Where we are. Where our house is, our job is, our schools are, our family is, our “life” is. The camp is where the man-made lights are, where the warmth of the man-made fire is, where people gather around to eat and drink together, where there is safety from the marauding beasts in the forest.

We like the camp and the camp likes us. So what does Jesus do? He goes outside the camp to die for us, and then He tells us that, if we are to meet Him, love Him, and follow Him, we must leave the camp too.

And when we leave the camp, we will not be liked any more. We will hear the reproach of the people in the camp – “What, you don’t like us anymore? You don’t need us anymore? You are so foolish, chasing after will-o-the-wisps rather than stay close to the fire. You are stupid, chasing after a story, a fairy-tale, a myth, a lie. You are not being rational. You are not being scientific. What are you going to do with all of your stuff? What are you going to do about your family? What are you going to do about us, your friends? Come back now and we will forgive you, we will like you again. Hey, if you leave the camp to go where Jesus is, we are not going to like you anymore. You will not be liked and you will therefore lose your self-esteem. Why are you worshiping a king when you yourself are a king? Besides, we are all going to die anyway. Come back and be liked!”

The love of Jesus is foolishness to the world, to those who are perishing. Leaving the camp of the world to join Jesus outside the camp is to bear the reproach of our family, friends, and neighbors. It is be criticized by important people, people who we want to like us.

In fact, we want to be liked so badly, we are sorely tempted to leave Jesus outside the camp and come back into the camp, joining our fellow “likers” and “likees” in liking each other.

Why would you want to give up being liked? Maybe in order to be loved.

God is love. Jesus lives outside the camp. If we want real love, go to the source. Go outside the camp and find it.

Satan takes the realities of heaven and turns them into shadow copies on earth, so that we might be fooled into thinking that the counterfeit is the same thing as the real. Perhaps that is why so many people are content to be merely liked, when they could be loved.

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so….” So goes the children’s song. But if you want to find Him, you have to leave the camp and be ready for the reproach of the world. If you want to be loved unto salvation, leave the camp and go to Jesus.

Liked or loved. Two places. Two paths. Two choices.

_________________

© 2014 GBF

Bread – Temptation

February 5, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, February 5, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 22:1-18; Heb. 11:23-31; John 6:52-59; Psalms 72,119:73-96

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If you read our Scriptures today, nowhere will you find the word or even the concept of “temptation.” In fact, we see the opposite – the benefits of faith: the Lord provides (Genesis), being made strong in our weakness (Hebrews), and eternal life (John).

So why “temptation?”

From our reading today in Genesis: “After these things, God tested Abraham … He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering …’ When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.” Gen. 22:1-2, 9-10

We see in this piece of history the tension between testing and temptation. As a natural father, I would have been tempted to say “no,” tempted to debate with God the wisdom of killing my heir, tempted to reinterpret God’s command to something else more palatable, tempted to look around for an alternative, tempted just to say “no.” The test is God saying “Will you fear me? Will you love me more than anything or anyone else? Will you obey me? Will you trust me?” The temptation is our tendency to do things which please us, indulging in the notorious sins of the flesh or the not so notorious but equally sinful state of the elevation of ourselves either equal or superior to God.

The test is “will you be obedient?” The temptation is not to be obedient.

So, did God tempt Abraham by testing him? The answer is “no.” We say we trust God and God tests us by putting us into situations where that is exactly what we need to do, trust Him. Our temptation is to trust ourselves or to fall back on our bad ways, but at least ways we know, rather than step out in faith. But the temptation is not God’s, it is ours. God simply tests the truth of our statement that we love Him and worship Him and serve Him. God simply tests whether our affirmation that “Jesus is Lord” is really true. Our response is either evidence that what we say is true or evidence that we do not trust Him enough to walk away from our fundamental temptation to worship ourselves.

Is testing a time of temptation? Yes, but only because we make it so. God does not set up the test so that we are tempted; He sets up the test that He might be glorified by our obedience to His call, to His command, to His lordship over our lives, and that we might demonstrate our true belief in Him, in His promises, and in His love for us.

Why did Abraham respond the way he did, in faith and love toward God? God had promised him a son, and now God had commanded him to destroy the very thing which God promised him and gave him. What is the justice in that?

From our perspective, there is no justice. It is not until we put on the mind of God that we realize that there is great justice. What we have is a gift of God; why should we not be willing to give it back when asked? It wasn’t ours to begin with and it is not ours while we have possession of it. The injustice is our refusal to return what is not ours in the first place. The injustice is our belief that we are entitled to anything, that God owes us something, that we have somehow earned something.

Isaac was not Abraham’s son; he was a gift from God to Abraham for Abraham to raise up, nurture, teach, and encourage.

So, if today you are suffering from temptation, ask yourself why? Has God demanded something of you that you don’t like, that doesn’t fit in with your image of yourself as a mini-God? If so, who do you choose – yourself or God?

We are tempted all the time in many, many ways. Each time we are, we need to ask ourselves the question – who do we obey, ourselves or God?

Although we focus on the Isaac story because it is the “high point” of obedience and trust in God’s provision, the truth is that we live the testing every minute of every day. Will be trust and obey God, or will we trust and obey ourselves (or some other idol).

Who are you obeying today?

__________________

© 2014 GBF

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