Bread – Leftovers

May 21, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, May 21, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Lev. 19:1-18; 1 Thess. 5:12-28; Matt. 6:19-24; Psalms 72,119:73-96

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This morning, as I looked down at the bathroom counter, I observed a pile of change. Seeing that pile, I swept it up so that nothing was lost, and in this case put it all in my pants pocket. Sometimes, though, I will put all the change in a jar to collect dust until it accumulates to the point that it can be converted to “folding green” (paper money). I probably duplicate almost every person in the world in doing so.

We are surrounded by commands and actions of completeness – “Eat everything on your plate!” “Finish the task!” “Leave nothing to chance.” “Sweep clean!”

But in today’s reading from Leviticus, God tells us to leave leftovers. Specifically, what He says is “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare; neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” Lev. 19:9-10

We are not to take it all, but to leave some for others who do not have what we have.

How does this work in real life?

As a mediator, I often see people enter negotiations with a zero-sum game mentality; meaning that I must win and you must therefore lose – if there are 10 chips on the table, then I must have all 10 and you must have nothing. Part of then what I need to do is to have the person begin to look at themselves and their motivations and needs more closely and ask themselves the question of whether them winning really means the other losing. When people get off their “all or nothing” mentality and start looking at what is really needed or start looking at the range of favorable and unfavorable outcomes, they often find that “winning” may be taking a majority of the chips (leaving some for the other) or actually only taking one chip (leaving most for the other).

Why do we want it all? Part of it is our “competitive spirit.” But another, more Satan-ish, part may be our greed, anger, idol-self, pride, bitterness, or just plain meanness.

The passage we are reading from in Leviticus is actually God reminding us that He is holy and calling us, as His disciples, to join Him in holiness. Leaving leftovers is part of being holy. Leaving things for others which are “rightfully” ours is a sign of holiness.

Why so?

To be holy is to be set aside for God’s purposes, not ours. And what does God command – that we worship Him first and that we “love [our] neighbor as [ourselves]” Lev. 19:18. There is no “love of I” in that prescription.

Leaving leftovers from our wealth for others is a sign of our holiness. It is a sign that we put God first and are therefore obedient to His commands, not out of duty but out of love and devotion. It is a sign that we put our neighbor first, because we do not insist that our rights be totally respected – we leave something of ourselves out of love for our neighbor.

When we leave something for others out of our wealth, it is not because we are giving up our rights … it is because we acknowledge our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. It is because we acknowledge that we are not first. It is because we are set apart for God’s service, because we are holy.

So, have you spent everything you have on things so that nothing is left for others? Have you paid your employees only what you can get away with or the absolute minimum required or have you given them something of what otherwise would have gone into your pocket? Have you taken all your time for your priorities, or have you given of your time to others?

By these measures, how holy are we? I think the only fair answer, at least for me, is not as holy as we should be. On good days, maybe a little holy; most of the time, not so much.

Let us today commit to leaving behind for others some of our time, talent, and treasure. Let us strive to follow God; let us strive to be holy as God is holy. And in so doing, we will preach the good news of salvation in Christ alone by our actions, by our character, by our love, and by our leftovers.

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© 2014 GBF

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Bread – Handshakes

May 16, 2014


Readings for Friday, May 16, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 34:18-35; 1 Thess. 3:1-13; Matt. 5:27-37; Psalms 40,51,54

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Back in 1980, when I first became an attorney, people lamented to me the necessity of written contracts, saying that in Texas a “person’s word was his bond” and “we used to do things with just a handshake; it is a shame no one does that anymore.” In 2014, I hear the same thing, so I guess nothing has changed. We still remember the “good old days.” We still know people whose “word is as good as their bond” and we still know deals of major proportion which are sealed by a handshake.

In today’s reading from Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples not to swear oaths of promise or truthfulness, but instructs them this way – “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” Matt. 5:37

All the oaths and contracts in the world do little good if the person giving them is insincere, is a liar, or is always trying to work an angle. All the oaths and contracts in the world are unnecessary if the people giving them are of good character, are people of integrity, are people whose “Yes” means “yes” and “No” means “no.” For people whose handshake means something, a contract is nothing more than a reference source, a reminder of what was agreed upon when, with the passage of time or circumstances, our memory fails. For people whose handshake is but a prelude to picking your pocket, a contract is nothing more than a document to pour over for loopholes.

One of the questions which Bread attempts to address is to make us look in the mirror and ask ourselves how deeply the character of Christ has penetrated our philosophies, our beliefs, our thoughts, our actions, and our character. In this light, why don’t we ask ourselves these some questions – Will people we know accept our handshake as something they can bank on? Would we accept our own handshake as a solemn “yes” which means “yes” in all circumstances? When we say “yes,” do we mean it? When we say “no,” do we mean it?

Would anyone doubt the handshake of Christ?

Then why do they doubt ours?

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Mirage

May 9, 2014


Readings for Friday, May 9, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 24:1-18; Col. 2:8-23; Matt. 4:12-17; Psalm 105

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In our childhood readings, we get introduced to the concept of mirages, fake images of an oases which appear while we are in the desert, craving water. At the times of our greatest need, we tend to see what we want to see, the image, the mirage, rather than what is real. We know that the image of the oasis is not the oasis itself, and that in grasping the smoke and mirrors of our mind’s invention, we grasp at despair. Pitiful is the person who is in the desert, alone, without water, with the image of hope ahead but without the reality.

Isn’t much of life figuring out whether what we are chasing is merely a mirage or is the real McCoy? How can we tell the difference, until we reach the end and discover that the place we are chasing contains nothing but sand or refreshing water?

So-called scientists among us would say that we of faith are chasing a mere mirage of faith, a necessary creation of our own minds while we are in the desert of life, something to chase after, only to be disappointed in the end. These people say that the reality is that we are in a hot, desert, wasteland with nothing to drink … and that is the way we will die. Nothing but the grave and dust, but at least they can “see clearly” and they are not fooled by mirages.

People of faith, on the other hand, some with and others without logic point to all of the evidences of God and say that people who perceive in all these proofs the absence of God are chasing their own mirage, their own will-o-the-wisps. For people of faith, the claim that man is god (or that there is no god, which is the same thing) is the ultimate mirage. The ultimate mirage is that we are in control, that we can cheat death.

What is worse is that we will warp reality to fit our mirage. For example, a man of faith might ignore good medicine because his god will answer all of his prayers, not realizing that he has slipped into the mirage of self, that our desires trump God’s sovereignty. On the other hand, the man of “science” might very well reject the real water which will give him life because he just “knows” that he is in a desert with no way out.

Another way of asking how we know if we are just seeing a mirage is to ask how we know what is real. Some people would say that the only reality is what we can see, touch, feel, hear, or smell. This is a closed box approach to life. To these people, there is no “outside the room.” Then there are people who realize that there is much evidence of there being something outside the room, which is not us (we are inside the room). How do figure out who is outside the room?

Luckily, we have a message from that person, called the Bible (or Scripture). In that big message, there is a small message about mirages today. It says “They [human precepts and teachings] have the appearance of wisdom … but they are of no value…” Col. 2:23 [speaking more precisely about man-made religious practices].

So, are you following a mirage or reality? I would say that only you can, but that is not true, at least for those who follow the man-mirage. The reason is really simple – “If you believe there is no God because you follow the mirage of man as god, then how will you ever not-know that?”

We are all in the desert, thirsty for water. While we are marching toward the mirage of our invention, how will we ever see the reality of the living water offered to us by the Creator, Jesus Christ? We can’t unless we are given eyes to see and ears to hear. We can’t unless God in His sovereign power mercifully gives us that ability. We can’t unless the God of the Universe snatches us.

How do I know there is someone on the other side of the wall? Because, by His grace, I have seen Him.

As Jesus said in today’s reading, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Indeed it is. Indeed it is.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Help

May 5, 2014


Readings for Monday, May 5, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 18:13-27; 1 Pet. 5:1-14; Matt. 1:1-17, 3:1-6; Psalms 9,15,25

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We all need help, but how often are we willing to ask for it or, even if we have asked for it, take it? Somehow there is an element among us which whispers in our ear, “If you ask for help or take it, you are not a man…you are not competent…you are not strong enough…you are not a leader…you don’t know what you are doing.” You get the drift.

Not wanting to appear less a man, not wanting to appear incompetent, not wanting to appear weak, not wanting to show that we are not a leader, not wanting to show failure, we therefore not only reject the help which is offered, we never look for help or cultivate it in the first place. There is a name for this condition – pride. And there is a saying about how pride relates to success – “Pride goeth before a fall.”

In our reading from Exodus today, Moses has been made the chief go-to guy by God and so, as a result, he is sitting listening to all the people’s problems and disputes, judging between them. He is, to himself, merely doing what he has been told to do – answer inquiries about God, judge disputes (bring peace), and make known the statutes and commands of God. Moses’ father-in-law, however, tells him “What you are doing is not good” because he and the people will get worn out, and then Moses will be worthless. Moses is told the truth – he needs help. But not just any kind of help; he needs help from “able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe…” Exod. 18:21.

Moses needed help, but he needed it from the right kind of people. However, they all had common traits. They were people from all walks of life and representing “all” the people, and not just some particular tribe. In other words, they were people of diversity, from different backgrounds, training, education, and skills. They understood that there was a God and that they were not that God; in other words, they had a correct connection to the universe. They were all competent; what they did they did well, as an excellent offering unto the Lord. They were people who could be trusted – they could be expected to maintain confidences, not gossip; they could be expected to do what they said they would do. Finally, they were people of integrity – they could not be bought with money or with promises of special relationships or treatment.

We all need help. Our question for Monday is not whether you have surrounded yourself with help, because if you haven’t then you know you are getting worn out. The question is what kind of help have you surrounded yourself with? Have you surrounded yourself with people who fear God, or people who fear you? Have you surrounded yourself with people of integrity, who will say “no” to bribes of all kinds, including those from you, or have you surrounded yourselves with “yes,” people, who are guaranteed to reinforce your idyllic and idolic picture of yourself? Have you surrounded yourself with “able” people from diverse backgrounds, or does everyone look like you or have less skill than you?

What kind of help have you surrounded yourself with?

We have focused today on the advice which the father-in-law gave Moses, but not on the source of that advice. Did the advice really come from the father-in-law from nothing, or did it come through the father-in-law from God?

The truth is that our real helper in all times – need, plenty, failure, success – is God Himself, the Holy Spirit.

And the neat thing is that Holy Spirit-provided wisdom is but an “ask” away!

So ask for help, first from the One who provides all and second from those who the One points out to us to ask.

And the week will go a lot, lot, lot better.

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© 2014 GBF

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