Bread – Sojourning

March 28, 2014


Readings for Friday, March 28, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 47:1-26; 1 Cor. 9:16-27; Mark 6:47-56; Psalms 88,91,92,95

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Once in a while a word appears in a reading which is rare but meaningful. In today’s reading from Genesis today, that word is “sojourning.” “And Pharaoh said to Jacob, ‘How many are the days of the years of your life?’ And Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘the days of the years of my sojourning are….’” Gen. 47:8-9

Pharaoh asks Jacob how long he has lived, and Jacob answers that he has been sojourning.

The Hebrew word which is translated “sojourning” means living in a temporary abode or an inn, being on a pilgrimage, being a stranger or an alien. (from “Lexical Aids to the Old Testament,” Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (NASB), Ed. Zodhiates 1990)

If you think about it, “sojourning” is the perfect word for how a Christian leads his or her life. We live in a temporary body and in temporary places. We are on a pilgrimage as we come to faith and then grow in our walk with Jesus throughout our lives. And we are living as an alien in the world, as an ambassador of the kingdom of God.

It seems further that there are two ways we can answer a question about the number of days of our life. One is to say that we have been living in ourselves, in our moment, with our purposes and our objectives, tuned to ourselves. That is to say, we have been living in a stagnating condition, marking time until death. The thing about this answer is that, to the world, stagnation does not look bad because it is often accompanied by great wealth, position, and power, all those things which the world deems important and none of which we can carry with us in death. It is living for death.

The second way we can answer the question about the number of days of our lives is to recount not only that we have been on a journey, but that we are still on the journey. It is a journey through life, not around it, not over it, and not in spite of it. It is a journey through life alive. It is a pilgrimage where we know that every place we stay, whether it is a shack or a mansion; every meal we have, whether it is some thin soup or a sumptuous feast; every position we hold, whether as a janitor or as the president of a billion dollar company … we are sojourning. We are progressing through life going from strength to strength, maturing in wisdom, strengthening faith, embracing hope, accepting joy. It is living for life.

There is a final aspect of the concept of sojourning which strikes me as built into Jacob’s answer, but which is not obviously there. When we sojourn to a place, don’t we most often do it with a companion?

Who is our companion? If we are living for death, chances are it is the person who stares at us in the mirror. If we are living for life, chances are it is the person who stares at us from the cross.

How old are you? The years of my sojourning are …. Gives meaning to the answer, doesn’t it?

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© 2014 GBF

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Bread – Stand Up

March 24, 2014


Readings for Monday, March 24, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 44:18-34; 1 Cor. 7:25-31; Mark 5:21-43; Psalms 77,79,80

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There is an old song which stuck in my mind this morning which goes something like “Stand up, stand up for Jesus…”

We know what it means to “stand up” for something. Sometimes, just to make a point, we add something to it, like “stand up and be counted.” Of course, a person who stands up, stands for, stands against, stands in favor of, stands in opposition to, or just stands is always counted, because they then stand out from the crowd. So, another way we could say it is to say “stand up and stand out.”

Finally, the even have a name for people who admit their faults and do something about them. We call them “stand up guys.” Of course, there are “stand up gals” as well.

In today’s reading from Genesis, we have a lesson about a “stand up guy.” His name is Judah. When Joseph in Egypt says that he is going to keep Benjamin, Israel’s youngest son, Judah essentially says “no, please don’t, it will kill my father and I promised him that I would take Benjamin’s place. Please let him go and keep me.” Of all the brothers there in Egypt to get food, he was the one who stood up, stood out, and stood in place for his brother, Benjamin.

But what is not told in the reading today (because it was told earlier in Genesis) was that there was a time when Judah did not stand up. When Joseph was thrown away by his brothers out of jealousy, Judah stood around and encouraged them to sell Joseph to slavers. Instead of standing for his brother, he joined the crowd.

In the first case, with Joseph, Judah did not stand up for Joseph; he stood with the crowd, the mob, and encouraged them. He encouraged the wrong. The second time around, Judah stood up and offered himself in place of his brother; in this instance he stood against the crowd. The second time around he stood for the right.

What happened in between? Well, for one, he saw the grief of his father. But many of us see the grief of our loved ones all the time and do not turn from wickedness to righteousness. So what changed for Judah?

Maybe he just grew up. Maybe he matured from selfishness to selflessness. Maybe he tradeoff of short term pleasure against long term pain was not worth the cost. Maybe he did not want to return to Israel having failed to live up to his promise to protect Benjamin. Maybe he was ashamed from his prior treatment of Joseph. Maybe all kinds of things.

We know this – he repented of his sins, he turned, and he became a new person. His other brothers didn’t; he did.

Judah is us. We may come to the end of our rope in many ways – by making mistakes, by doing harm to others, by doing harm to ourselves, by giving in to the crushing desire for the things of this world, by selfishness, by seeing other people we love suffer, by causing people we love to suffer, by spending all we have on foolishness, by wallowing in our pride and our sin – but come to the end we will. And when we do, will we just meld into the crowd, like Judah’s brothers? Or will we repent, turn, and become new like Judah? Will we stand up only for ourselves, or will we stand up for others and take on their burdens? Will we stand up for Jesus?

How many Benjamins do we know? Will we stand up for them? How many Israels do we know? Will we stand up for them? How many Josephs do we know? Will we stand up for them?

Come, Holy Spirit, and help us to answer that question. Help us, O Lord, to be that person who stands up for You, who stands up for our neighbors, and who stands up and against the evil day. Amen.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Journeys

March 21, 2014


Readings for Friday, March 21, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 43:1-15; 1 Cor. 7:1-9; Mark 4:35-41; Psalms 69,73,95

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In today’s reading from Genesis, Israel’s children have returned from Egypt with the bread given to them by Joseph (unknown to them as the brother they threw away), but Israel and his sons and family have consumed what was returned. So, another trip to Egypt is in store. Israel tells them to go back to Israel, but the sons refuse unless they can take Benjamin, the youngest, with them, because Joseph told them to and they cannot go back and ask for bread without the youngest in tow. Judah, the oldest son, finally swears that he will take care of Benjamin or bear the shame of his failure forever. Israel relents because the famine was great and they needed food.

The brothers, including Benjamin, then set out on their journey to Joseph and Egypt with these words of Israel ringing in their ears – “…if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” Gen. 43:14b

I have probably read this history at least ten times in my life, and my memory of it was that Israel lamented his youngest going on the trip and cried. Instead, however, a closer reading (and a more correct reading) is that Israel was resigned to the fact that the journey might end with all of his children dead. “If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” If I lose everything, so be it.

Have you ever launched into a journey with the understanding that everything could be lost on the way? Knowing this, some people are frightened into never beginning the journey. Knowing this, some people spent enormous amounts of energy, money, and time preparing for all contingencies on the journey, so they take the journey all burdened down with stuff. Knowing this, some people are just fatalistic and go on the journey, with an “Oh well” mentality. But there is a fourth type of person, a person who takes the journey with their face steeled against the possibility that things will turn out poorly, but also believing in faith that it will not. Sometimes that faith is in themselves, which we know to be a weak foundation. If they are Christian, that faith is in Christ, in God, which we know to be a strong foundation.

Jesus in our reading today from Mark speaks of a journey, a journey across the sea in a small boat, tossed and turned by the waves, the wind, and the rain. Jesus appears and calms the storm, and then asks the disciples why they were afraid, why they had so little faith.

What is interesting about the disciples on the sea in the boat in the storm quieted by Jesus is that the journey for the disciples did not end. They were still in the boat in the middle of the sea. They still had to cross to the other side. Things could still turn out badly; they had a taste of that earlier. The difference was, however, that Jesus was in the boat and, knowing that, the disciples might, just might, have gained that measure of faith to see them to the end of their journey.

We are all on a journey. We may be on a journey to our next meeting, to lunch, to our next promotion, to our next job termination, to health or illness, to wealth or poverty, to gain or loss, to freedom or imprisonment, to life or death. We are on a journey through life.

The question is really, not whether we will be on the journey, but what our attitude will be about it. Will we be so afraid that we will not venture out to even take the first step? Will we be so worried that we will spend so much time in preparation that we never have any time to enjoy it? Will we be so trusting in ourselves that we will walk far out onto bridge across the water before we realize that the bridge we have built is weak and failing? Or will be so trusting in Christ that, when the waves come and the lightning strikes, we turn to Him with a smile on our face and say, ‘Thank you, Jesus, for this opportunity to trust You more, now please take care of it!’

We take many journeys, but can we truly say “If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved?” Can we truly say, “Come what may on my journey, I still have won?” In Christ, you can.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Soil

March 19, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, March 19, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 42:18-28; 1 Cor. 5:9-6:8; Mark 4:1-20; Psalms 72,119:73-96

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We recently re-did our yard. We mowed the yard closely to remove the dead grass and then spread chemicals to kill the worms which were eating the grass, to kill the fungus which was weakening the grass, and to feed the grass with nutrients so that it would grow when warmer weather comes. Our bushes were diseased, so we pulled them up. Our flower beds were hardened from a summer of sun-baking and no water, so we tilled them up. We added mulch and new soil to maximize the chance that our new plants would thrive and live, in spite of Texas summer and the lack of water.

In today’s reading from Mark, we have Jesus giving the parable of the sower and the soil to the people, and then explaining the meaning of the parable to the disciples. Even though this parable is called in most Bibles the “Parable of the Sower,” I really think this is a parable of the soil. What is the condition of the mind and the heart which claim to receive Christ (together with His people, the sower) and His Word (the seed)? Our hearts and minds are our soil. Are we hardened to hear anything, are we shallow, do we share our mind and heart with weeds, or are we well-tilled with good earth and nutrients, producing an abundance of harvest?

There is a tendency to believe that these four conditions of the soil (hard, shallow, mixed, good) are just who we are and that this parable then is a parable to explain why some people are saved and others are not, and why some people, once saved, are unfruitful in their daily walk with Christ.

But I would challenge this in part. Clearly, because we are dead in our sins, it must be God who prepares our soil for reception to His Word and Himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But what happens after, after the seed has been sown and received? What is our responsibility to till our own soil, turning it over so that it can breathe and grow good fruit, filling it with things good for its health, killing the insects which would weaken it, planting anew when the atrophy of selfishness has harmed the plants?

If we have received the seed of truth and our soil is shallow, so that the scorching sun of day causes our faith, life, and fruit to wither away, what is our responsibility to take that seed of faith we have and, mixing it with the Holy Spirit, dig that shallow ground so that our roots can grow deep? If we have received the seed of truth and our soil is mixed with weeds and thorns, what is our responsibility to take that seed of faith we have and, mixing it with the Holy Spirit, weed our soil, removing the doubts, the cares, the worldly thorns and replacing those things with good fruit? If we have received the seed of truth and our soil is good soil, what is our responsibility to refresh that good soil with good nutrients, being always vigilant for the insects, the fungus, and the inattention which will cause good soil to become poor?

One answer to this question is that we have no responsibility, because that is just the way we are. We sin because we are made that way. We doubt because we are made that way. We are hardened because the world has made us that way. We are bitter because of how other people have treated us. It is God’s fault, the world’s fault, other people’s fault.

If that is your answer, then you have forgotten that, when Jesus came and chose you in His mercy, He brought you from death to life, freed you from the prison of yourself, re-birthed you in the Holy Spirit, made you a new person, and proclaimed victory.

You have also forgotten that Jesus has given us the tools to improve our own soil. He has given us His Word, which is fertilizer to encourage growth. He has given us spiritual disciplines so that we can dig up our old, tired, hard soil and mix in fresh. He has given us medicine in His Word, the Holy Spirit, and the disciplines to kill the worms which would eat at our roots and the fungus which would weaken us. He has given us the saints who can help us keep our soil healthy.

Using the tools He has given us, we can work on our soil daily, and take pleasure in the fruit it bears for the Kingdom. However, we have to use them.

When was the last time you worked, really worked, on your soil using our God-given tools?

Well, it is Lent, so now is as good a time as any. Pick up the rake of truth, the hoe of the Spirit, and the living water given to us by Christ, and start tilling.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Demands

March 17, 2014


Readings for Monday, March 17, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 41:46-57; 1 Cor. 4:8-21; Mark 3:7-19a; Psalms 56,57,58,64,65

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What does God demand of us? Because this is Lent and a time for sober reflection on who we are and who God is, this question – what does God demand of us – is an important one.

I got an object lesson in this today while preparing this Bread.

If you will look at the listed reading from the Epistles today, you will see it says “1 Cor. 4:8-21,” which means the book of First Corinthians, Chapter 4, Verses 8 through 21. However, when I wrote it down at first, I wrote down “1 Cor. 4,8-21,” which means the book of First Corinthians, Chapters 4, 8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,and 21.” The first version (and the correct one) requires about a minute or so to read (a lot more to understand) and the second version would require at least a half an hour to read if not more.

So, because of how I wrote it down originally, when I went to look at it again to find it in the Bible, I did a double take and said to myself, “Surely this is a mistake because the reading cannot be that long.”

Think about the idiocy of that reaction by me, a declared Christian. God demands my obedience and if He wants me to read 15 chapters of His Word at a single sitting, why should I complain? Why should my immediate reaction be, “This must be a mistake because the reading cannot be that long?” Why couldn’t God require me to read His entire Word in one sitting? Why shouldn’t He?”

The fact is that God demands our obedience and our reaction is not, “Lord, yes,” but, “Yes, I will obey if it suits my temperament, schedule, agenda, timetable, attitude, to-do list, and what side of the bed I woke up on.”

God demands our obedience, and we say “maybe.”

Yes, I had an object lesson today about me and God. Do I really love Him so much that I will obey His will in what I do today, regardless of how much time it takes, regardless of how it makes me look to others, regardless of the consequences to me?

I think the answer to that question is, today, “No, I don’t love Him that much.” I say that because, if I really did, I would have looked at the instruction to read 15 chapters as an opportunity to engage with my Lord, and not a mistake to correct. I only had so much time and God’s demands did not fit within that allocation, so guess what happened? I did not bend the kneed and say “yes,” I went back to God and said to Him, “Surely you did not mean ….”

So, I failed the test.

But He did not.

Do I believe I am loved any less by God or saved any less by my selfish response to His demands? No. However, do I believe that I am diminished because I blew an opportunity to respond in gratitude, faith, and joy to my Lord? Absolutely yes. Although I gained some time to do my worldly affairs, I lost some time to be in communion with the Creator of the Universe.

How stupid is that! And yet we do it all the time.

The next time we are ready to say “no” or “maybe” to God’s demands on us, maybe we should ask the question, “What are we giving up if we don’t say ‘yes’?”

Lent is an opportunity for us to learn that, when we give up ourselves to obey the Lord’s commands, we gain much more than we give up. So let us not do to Lent what I did to 1 Corinthians today. If we are commanded to do something in Lent by God, then let’s quickly say “Yes, Sir.” And I have no doubt that the blessings we will reap will surprise us.

When God says “read 15 chapters of My Word,” it is a call to fellowship with Him. Will we answer it?

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Meanie

March 7, 2014


Readings for Friday, March 7, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ezek. 18:1-4,25-32; Phil. 4:1-9; John 17:9-19; Psalms 31,35,95

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A “meanie” is someone who is just mean, who just likes to see people suffer.

So, the question of the day is … Is God a meanie?

You may laugh, but how often do we blame God for our troubles, for the consequences of our sin, for our plight in life? How often do the God-bashers among us (and, really, ourselves) say something like, “How can God be a loving God when …?” or “Surely a loving God would not do …..” Of course, by doing that, we are placing ourselves in judgment over God, but that little absurdity never keeps us from doing it.

So, we are in the pits and we think God hates us. Or we pray and pray and pray for a particular outcome and God does not even seem to respond. Why would He do that? Is it because He is a meanie?

This question today does not come out of left field. In fact, it is the essence of our reading today from Ezekiel. The children of Israel are whining about their lot in life, saying that “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Essentially, Israel is saying that they are upset because God ate something which bothered Him (He is having a bad day so they are having a bad day too). God’s response is this:

“What do you mean by repeating this proverb … ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?’ As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel…Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is My way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? … Therefore, I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! … I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn and live.” Ezek. 18:1-3, 25-32.

God does not like to be called a meanie because that is an unjust accusation. It is us who sin, it is us who transgress, it is us who chose to live apart from God rather than in His presence, it is us who reject His gift of eternal life. It is us who are the meanies toward God because we die in our sins rather than accept the truth, we reject the new heart and new spirit he offers us through His Son, and In the process we do not give Him pleasure.

It would do well for us today to meditate upon this truth, that God is not mean toward us by giving us what we have earned. He is not unjust by giving us the penalty of our disobedience. He is not the one who has “eaten sour grapes” that our teeth should be set on edge; it is us who have eaten the sour grapes even though God has given us good grapes to eat. Our teeth are set on edge because of what we have done; not because of what God has done.

So if God has given us Himself in Jesus Christ, through whom we can receive our new heart and spirit, and we reject Him, who is the meanie?

Who indeed?

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Preparation

March 5, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, March 5, 2014 (Ash Wednesday), designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Amos 5:6-15; Heb. 12:1-14; Luke 18:9-14; Psalms 32,95,102,130,143

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In order to eat, we must prepare the meal. In order to build a house, we must prepare the plans and the materials. In order to obtain a college degree, we must prepare our foundations and prepare a course of study which we will follow. In order to run a race, we must prepare by study and practice.

In a sense, all of our readings today are about preparation to run the race of life, to run the race of salvation, to run the race of glory, to run the race of holiness.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the period of Lent, which looks forward to Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

A favorite phrase of modern management is “SWOT.” It is an acronym for how to plan, beginning with an analysis of “Strengths,” “Weaknesses,” “Opportunities” and “Threats.” The idea is that before good planning can take place for a good outcome, a major part of preparation is understanding where you are.

Let us apply a spiritual SWOT analysis to ourselves as we begin our preparation.

First, we begin with Scripture. In Amos, we are told that God knows “how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins…” Amos 5:12. Amos also tells us to “Seek the Lord and live…” Amos 5:6. Hebrews tells us we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” and that, therefore, we need to lay aside every weight and sin and “run with endurance the race that is set before us….It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you like sons.” Heb. 12:1,7. In Luke, Jesus reminds us that the haughty Pharisee, believing he is perfect, will be humbled and the bad, bad person who understands the depth of his sin and cries to God for mercy will be exalted. Lk. 18:9-14

So, from Scripture and applying our SWOT analysis, we know that our strengths are none, our weaknesses are transgressions and sin, our opportunities rest in God’s mercy shown to us in Christ’s death on the cross, and our threats are ourselves.

This is why we have Ash Wednesday. It is a time for preparation. It is a time for clear evaluation of our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It is a time for truth. It is a time for reality. It is a time for discipline. And it is a time for us to begin to realize that God has in fact been merciful in delivering us from our weaknesses and the threats against us into our opportunity for eternal life.

The only thing we need to worry about in our preparation is that we will mis-evaluate our strengths by thinking that we have some.

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© 2014 GBF

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