Bread – Grumble

April 30, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, April 30, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 15:22-16:10; 1 Pet. 2:1-10; John 15:1-11; Psalms 12,13,14,119:1-24

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There are some words which sound like what they mean. “Grumble” and “grumbler” are two of those words. When you say the word “grumble,” you can just hear yourself muttering anger and frustration at whatever your object of grumbling is. If we are children, we grumble against our parents. If we are adults, we grumble against our bosses, our lives, the federal government, or just the world in general. If we find ourselves in church, we grumble against God. Shoot, we may grumble against God all the time and forget our parents, lives, politics, or our work. God is a convenient target to grumble against, and if we are honest with ourselves, we probably do it a lot.

In our lesson today, we find the Israelites thirsty and hungry. Their reaction is not to find water or food, or even to fall on their knees in supplication and prayer to the great God who has delivered them from slavery. No, their reaction is to grumble against their leaders, Moses and Aaron. But as Moses says in today’s reading, “…He has heard your grumbling against the Lord. For what are we, that you grumble against us?…Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.” Exod. 16:7b-8

There is a great truth behind what Moses has just said. When we complain about our circumstances, about our job, about our living conditions, about our family, about our government, about each other – who are we really complaining about? The truth is that when we grumble about our circumstances, we are really accusing the Lord of treating us unfairly. When we grumble, we grumble against the Lord.

There is a great sign which contains the circle with the line through it (the international symbol for “No”) superimposed over a baby crying, with the words above or below it saying “No Whining!”

Does Scripture have a “No Whining” sign in it?

In a very real sense, the answer is “No.” In today’s reading from Exodus, Israel grumbles against the Lord because they have no water and no food. God responds by sending them both, the water through the instrument of His person Moses and the bread and meat through His sovereign direct action.

Many people would say that the answer is “Yes, there is ‘no grumbling’ sign.” However, I think that this is a projection of the truth that we have been so blessed in our lives, first by our salvation by grace and the second by God’s preservation of us in the evil day, that we “should not” grumble. The Israelites had just been delivered from their prison into freedom by God’s multiple miracles. They had absolutely no reason to grumble because they were the chosen people of God, under His protection and providence, but grumble they did. And God heard their grumbling and responded to their need. He did not hit them over the head with a “No Whining” sign, but He did remind them that blessing occurs when they are obedient.

Grumbling is not banned by God and, quite frankly, it should not be discouraged by us.

The reason is quite simple. When we grumble to God, we are acknowledging that He is God. Yes, we only complain to the people who we think can do something about it. We complain about our parents to our grandparents because we think our grandparents can do something about it. We complain to a co-worker about our job, thinking that that co-worker has some kind of special “in” with the boss whereby your complaint can be taken care of. We grumble about the government because we think that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and we want “our share.” Because we complain only to those who we think “can make it better,” the fact is that when we grumble to God we not only acknowledge His deity, but we then have to acknowledge only Him when the cause of our grumbling is over.

See, the people of Israel grumbled to Moses because they were more inclined to give power, trust, and recognition to their human leaders than they were to the God who appointed those leaders. Moses, a man of God, would not accept the grumbling directed at Him because he wanted his people to honor God by grumbling to Him. It was not Moses who turned the water sweet (see Exod. 15:25), but God through His agent Moses who did so. It is not man who reigns, but God.

We all grumble, complain, whine. Who we grumble to tells a lot about who we believe is in control.

Who have you grumbled to or about today?

________________

© 2014 GBF

Bread – Seeing

April 28, 2014


Readings for Monday, April 28, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 14:21-31; 1 Pet. 1:1-12; John 14:1-17; Psalms 1,2,3,4,7

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We have a saying, “seeing is believing,” but is that really true? Isn’t the bigger truth that we often see things with our own eyes and yet do not believe them? Before you say anything, think of our reaction to magic tricks. We see the card disappear from a person’s hand and reappear out of someone else’s ear, but do we really believe that the card came from the ear? Or that the card even really disappeared? We know the card left our sight and in that sense “disappeared,” but we also think skeptically that the card went into the magician’s sleeve or into his or her pocket. We are amazed by this magic trick, but we do not believe in magic as a result, but only in the magician’s skill at deception.

In today’s lessons from Scripture, we have three examples of “seeing is believing.” The first example is one where there is a great miracle which is actually seen, and belief flows from that seeing. The second example is where there is seeing but a barrier to belief and, therefore, no belief. The third is where there is no seeing, but belief anyway.

It is instructive for our understanding how sight and belief relate that we digest these three Scriptures.

The first lesson is from Exodus. God has brought a wind which blows the waters of the sea apart, so that a path on dry land is created so that Israel can escape the angry Egyptians. Israel walks across the sea on the dry land blown into being by God, and then God collapses the waters onto the attacking Egyptians, so that all are drowned or otherwise killed. The reading ends with this statement: “Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses.” Exod. 14:31

Here the Israelites saw a great miracle and from that sight came belief? But why? According to our modern scientists, the reason why they believe is that they just didn’t know better and didn’t know that they were just watching, and had participated in, an explainable natural event. According to those people, the people of Israel believed because they were ignorant and were therefore superstitious. These people would explain all miracles away in this fashion. “The sea parted, but it was a trick which we will one day understand once our science catches up.” Against such skepticism, how can any miracle result in belief?

But there was something more, here, than a great event. First, there was fulfillment of promise. God had promised Israel safe delivery, and in that sense the miracle was predicted. Second, there was the fullness of performance. God did not kill one Egyptian or save one Israelite; He saved all the Israelites and killed all the Egyptians. A natural phenomenon would probably not have divided the peoples quite so carefully. Third, there was indeed a touch of impossibility. I have seen a wind blow away water before and create a dry path, but blowing long enough and consistently enough and strong enough to part enough of the waters so that the entirety of a nation could cross on dry land? No natural phenomenon would have had that level of strength, consistency, and time of operation under almost any stretch of the imagination. The consistency alone is proof of its having been a miracle. Having seen the miracle and having experienced it, the people were properly fearful and what more was there to do than to believe the Father and His representative.

The second lesson is from John. Jesus is talking about the Father, and about how He is “the way, the truth, and the life” to the Father. Philip, one of the disciples (apostles), then says to Jesus “Lord, show us the Father and it is enough for us.” John 14:8. Let me see, and I will believe what my own eyes tell me. Jesus essentially rebukes Philip, saying to him “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know Me, Philip? Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?…Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” John 14:9-11. It does not matter what Philips sees with his own eyes. He can see Jesus, and he wants more proof. He can see the miracles, and he wants more proof. How much proof is enough? Jesus is saying that you can either see what is in front of you, trust it enough to believe in it, or don’t trust it and don’t believe.

The third example is from our reading from Peter, where the people receiving the letter are being commended for believing without seeing – “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory…” 1 Pet. 1:8-9

How can we reconcile these with the saying “seeing is believing.” We cannot. In Exodus, the people saw a great miracle and believed. In John, the people closest to Jesus saw Him, but did not believe Him. Jesus showed them the great works of God and showed them Himself, explaining His deity to them. But, even though they saw, they wanted more in order to believe. In Peter, people did not see Jesus but they believe Him anyway.

The only conclusion one can make from this is that seeing is not believing and that belief comes from some place other than seeing. This is why our best explanation of the faith, your strongest working of healing in Jesus’ name, our speaking in the tongues of love, or our evangel of the truth, will never succeed in bringing people to saving faith. We can have the best teaching in the world, the most obvious miracles in the world, and the greatest explanations in the world, and our belief will still be suspended in that twilight zone of “I saw the card disappear but I know it really didn’t.”

Unless God first opens our minds and our hearts, opens our eyes and unstops our ears, we will never see or hear enough to believe. Never.

Isn’t this one of the great proofs of God’s love for us, that when we do not hear and cannot see, God brings belief in Him to us?

The miracle in Exodus was not the parting of the Red Sea, it was the belief of the Israelites in Him which followed. The miracle in our lives is not that Jesus died on the cross but that God so loved us that He opened our eyes to see the cross in the first place. The miracle in our lives is not the proofs of God’s existence – we live with those surrounding us all the time. The miracle in our lives is that God chose us in His mercy and grace and power and glory to belief in Him. The miracle in our lives is that we are saved by belief in Christ, not by our own works that we might boast of our powers of observation or deduction, but by the sovereign power of God – giving us eyes to see Jesus, ears to hear His voice, hearts to feel His love, and minds to respond to His call.

Thank you, Lord.

________________

© 2014 GBF

Bread – Guest

April 7, 2014


Readings for Monday, April 7, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 4:10-31; 1 Cor. 14:1-9; Mark 9:30-41 ; Psalms 31,35

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When you invite someone over to your house and they come and you welcome them inside, who is the guest?

This sounds like a strange question and would have to me until I read our lesson today from Mark: “And He took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them ‘Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.’” Mk. 9:36-37

It is an interesting concept and somewhat strange to our ways of thinking. If we receive someone in our house as a guest, we generally stop in our thinking right there. The person we are looking at is the person we are looking at. Jesus, however, reminds us that, if that person is an ambassador of someone (be it Christ, Satan, the United Way, whatever), we are inviting the person who sent him in as well. When we invite that single guest into the house, we have potentially invited a whole slew of people – that person’s family, that person’s boss, that person’s God, that person’s friends.

In another context, we might say that we carry around with us the baggage of our past, our parents, our teachers, our religion, our politics, and our own biases and prejudices. When we walk in to someone’s house, we carry all that baggage with us.

As a Christian, when we walk into someone’s house we need to aware of the fact that we carry Christ and, through Christ, the Father with us. We not only represent them, but they are there with us. The person who invites us in has four guests, us, the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit.

Now the truth is, when is the last time you invited a Christian over to your house and realized that you had also invited Christ and the Father? I dare say for many people the answer is “never.”

Why is that? Well, one could blame the host and say that he or she is just insensitive and blind. There is some grounds to that, because Jesus talks about receiving the guest “in My (Jesus’) name.” If you receive the guest in the name of the guest or in your own name, then maybe Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit just don’t show up.

But maybe the real blame is with the guest. When you go to someone’s house for dinner, do you take Christ and the Father with you or do just leave them at home, waiting until the next opportunity for a ten-second prayer time? As the guest, do you make it obvious that you are an ambassador of another kingdom? As the guest, do you bring glory to the Father by bringing blessing to the host?

Who am I inviting into my house?

With that question, maybe just the guest.

Who am I inviting into God’s house?

With that question, maybe the guest, Jesus, and the Father.

Who would you rather have over for dinner?

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Skeptic

April 4, 2014


Readings for Friday, April 4, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 2:1-22; 1 Cor. 12:27-13:3; Mark 9:2-13; Psalms 95,102,107

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In our lesson today from Mark, we read:

 “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them, and His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus….and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.’ And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, He charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.” Mark 9:1-10

How crazy is this? The inner circle of apostles, Peter, James and John, see Jesus transformed, visiting with the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah), hears God speak, and then hear Jesus talk about being silent until He “has risen from the dead.” And then they immediately go into skeptic mode, asking “what this rising from the dead might mean.”

Actually, this question might be more complex than first meets the eye. The question of “what this rising from the dead might mean” might be a question about how someone could rise from the dead. If so, then the apostles are skeptical of the power of God, even though they have just witnesses His power in the event known as the Transfiguration. This kind of skepticism denies the power of the supernatural, denies the holiness and awesomeness of God, denies the existence of anything which cannot be duplicated by man.

But the question of “what this rising from the dead might mean” may also be a question about the significance of the resurrection – what does Jesus death and resurrection mean to me, a sinner? If so, the apostles have taken as truth that Jesus can be raised from the dead; their question then becomes “so what?” This is a different form of skepticism, one which rejects Scripture and the Church’s teaching regarding the importance of the cross and the resurrection.

We are in the time of Lent, a time of contemplation as we march toward Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. To get there, of course, we have to march to and through His death on the cross, contemplating the sin, my sin, which required Him to die so that God’s justice could be met and His mercy extended to those who believe.

If you are not a Christian, which form of skeptic are you? Are you the kind who denies God and His power, His supernatural acts, His miracles? Or are you the kind who accepts the concept of a “higher power” and miracles, things that happen outside ourselves, but deny that Christ’s death and resurrection have any significance for you? Are you then then kind of skeptic who believes that Christ is irrelevant to a modern world?

If you are doubting, ask yourself if it is because you don’t believe in miracles or just don’t believe that Christ’s miraculous resurrection after His horrible death on the cross has any application to you and for you.

Whether you reject Christ because you don’t believe in the power of God (or even His existence) or you don’t believe that the Christ’s resurrection applies to you, you are a skeptic unto death.

“Skeptic unto death.” Has a hollow ring to it, doesn’t it? Has a certain hopelessness to it, doesn’t it?

If you find yourself in this category, you may want to reflect further on Easter. If you still don’t understand, ask for help from the Holy Spirit.

A “skeptic unto death” can always become a “believer unto life.” At least they can, until they die, then it is too late.

But there is still time. Act on it.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Exoskeleton

April 2, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, April 2, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 50:15-26; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; Mark 8:11-26; Psalms 101,109,119:121-144

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Most people will look at the “Bread” word “exoskeleton,” and say “what?” I don’t blame them.

An exoskeleton is a strong suit, typically a type of armor, which is worn outside the body. When you watch a science fiction movie and the little person is inside the giant machine making it do things, that could be considered an exoskeleton. Batman’s suit is a form of an exoskeleton.

If an exoskeleton is tied to robotic technology, it can enhance your actions. For example, instead of lifting 100 lbs regularly, an exoskeleton might enable you to life 2,000 lbs (at least in science fiction movies). Instead of jumping three feet, an exoskeleton might enable you to jump 300 feet. Instead of holding a rock in your hand, an exoskeleton will enable you to crush that rock.

Can’t squeeze water out of a rock? Put on an exoskeleton.

In today’s reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul is describing the Holy Spirit and His gift to us of various spiritual gifts. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills.” 1 Cor. 12:7-11.

When I read this, I thought of how we, as mere mortals, are given Holy Spirit powers as He wills for the common good. And then I thought of exoskeletons and how we are essentially given a suit of armor, comprised of our Holy Spirit-given gifts, which we can wear and use. Through our mustard seed of faith, strengthened in the exoskeleton of Holy Spirit faith, we can face death as a martyr by beheading, burning, or drowning. Through our limited desire to help one another, strengthened in the exoskeleton of Holy Spirit healing, we can boldly pray for healing, confident that God hears us and will act in accordance with His will for the object of our prayer. In the necessity of making choices in life, we can take our limited knowledge and wisdom and, putting on the exoskeleton of Holy Spirit wisdom and knowledge, make wise choices which honor God and bless us. What little bit we can do as people is enhanced thousands-fold when we put on the Holy Spirit exoskeleton made by the Holy Spirit for us, which contains the Holy Spirit gifts provided to us for the common good.

In Ephesians, Paul talks about us having to put on the armor of God, which could be the same thing as putting on our exoskeleton.

There is a difference, though, between armor and an exoskeleton. Armor has to be put on and never becomes part of you. An exoskeleton, if worn enough, eventually does become part of you.

If you are a Christian, there is a power suit which has been made for you by the Holy Spirit. Put it on and keep it on. Then, when you wake up every day, you can say “Hey, Holy Spirit, let’s You and I go do some serious work for the kingdom today!” And the wonderful thing is that there isn’t even a power button you have to hit. The power is already on.

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© 2014 GBF

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