Bread – Slavery

June 30, 2014


Readings for Monday, June 30, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Num. 22:1-21; Rom. 6:12-23; Matt. 21:12-22; Psalm 106

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When we speak of slavery in our civic discourse, it is with negativity, because we have seen what man’s oppression of man through slavery does. In this context, slavery is involuntary servitude, where I am forced by another of greater power (police power, economic power, caste power, etc.) to serve them against my will.

But there is another form of slavery. This is slavery by choice, a place where I willingly subject myself to the objectives of another.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans in our readings today, he reminds us that we are always in some form of bondage, some form of slavery, to someone or something. If we crave alcohol, we are slaves to drink. If we need men’s approval for our self-esteem, we are slave to those people whose approval we desire. If we submit ourselves to pornography, we are slaves to the producers of filth.

Paul puts it this way: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions…Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness…But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom. 6:12,16-18, 22-23

In simple translation, we are slaves to something or someone. If we are slaves to the world, to sin, we will die. If we are slaves to God (evidenced by obedience to righteousness), we will live. In either event we are slaves; however, the outcome of our slavery is different depending upon who or what we yoke ourselves to.

In our modern culture of individualism, liberty, and free choice, the idea that we are slaves does not sit well. In fact, it is an obnoxious concept.

And yet, think about it. If the most important people in our lives are our family, we are slave to our family. If our boss is the most important person in the world to us because he or she holds our paycheck, we are slave to our boss or to the work or both. If we indulge our sexual passions or eat to an extreme, we are slaves to those desires. If we are an actor and receive our positive feedback from the crowds, we are slave to the crowds, forever doing what pleases them. If we believe in Allah, we are slave to him. If we believe in Christ, we are slave to Him.

Recognizing this, the question is never “will we be a slave?” but “who or what will we be a slave to?”

This is the decision put before us by Paul. Will you be a slave to sin or to God? Will you obey your passions or God’s commandments? Will you look to the mirror or to our significant others for approval, or will we seek approval from God?

Why does the question matter? Well, Paul summarizes the answer in the end of our reading from Romans today. Slavery to sin leads to death; slavery to Jesus Christ leads to life.

To whom or to what are you slave?

The answer matters.

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© 2014 GBF

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Bread – Position

June 23, 2014


Readings for Monday, June 23, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Num. 16:1-19; Rom. 3:21-31; Matt. 19:13-22; Psalm 89

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In our reading today from Numbers, Moses is confronted with a rebellion. However, it is not a rebellion arising from poverty and low estate, it is a rebellion of those persons who had it best in Israel – the Levites themselves. They are angry because Moses and Aaron have “better” positions than they do; they are jealous and resentful.

Moses asks them this question: “Hear now , you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them…?” Num. 16:8-9

Apparently it was too small a thing. Moses and Aaron were priests and, therefore, in the first religious position. The Levites were in the second position and didn’t like it. Rather than wait, however, to be appointed by God to the higher task, they decided to revolt and attain the top position by might.

Don’t we do much the same thing? We are chosen by God for salvation and then placed by Him into positions. There is the position of husband and wife, there is the position of student and teacher, there is the position of master and disciple, there is the position of boss and employee. There are many positions with many titles.

And we always want the title or the position we don’t have. Why? Is not the Lord’s choice for us good enough? In Moses words, “Is it too small a thing that the God of Israel has separated you and made you a teacher … a musician … a president …. a dishwasher?”

Why does God place us into the positions He provides? In the quote from Numbers is the answer, “to bring you near to Himself.”

We “jockey for position” all the time. Why? Is God’s choice for us not good enough? Can we do nothing in our current position to let God bring us closer to Him?

The truth is that we do not seek higher position to honor God; we seek it to honor ourselves. The attainment of position becomes the objective, rather than the attainment of relationship with God.

Think about how our lives would be different if we waited for God to open the door rather than kicking the door open ourselves? Would we be poorer or richer in the things that matter? Would we have more or less peace? Would we be braver or more cowardly?

This last question has some punch. We think that the Levites in this story were brave, to confront Moses and Aaron. However, I think the braver person is the one who, in total dependence upon God, accepts their position and awaits God’s action. There is no bravery in us walking through the door which we have kicked open; but there is much bravery in walking through the door which God has opened for us and told us to walk through in faith. When we walk on the path we have created, there is little unknown because we are controlling it. When we walk on the path which God has created, it is a high wire act because we walk by faith and not by sight. We walk through God’s door into an unknown, relying upon the Holy Spirit and God’s truths to help us, protect us, and encourage us.

The Levites did not trust God even though He had put them into a special place in relationship to Him.

Are we going to be that way? Do we not trust Him even though He has saved us for eternity?

Embrace your current position, using it as a springboard for better relationship with God and your neighbor. And see what happens. You may not be able to put “Vice-President” on your door, but you can put “Christian” on your heart. And which position is better?

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Plenty

June 18, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, June 18, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Num. 11:24-35; Rom. 1:28-2:11; Matt. 18:1-9; Psalms 81,82,119:97-120

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There is an episode in Israel’s journey through the wilderness toward Canaan which is described in today’s readings from Numbers. With my translation of the measurements into English measures, the reading is, in part, as follows:

Then a wind came up, and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, around the camp, and about [six feet] high. And the people rose all that day and night and all the next day, [36 straight hours] and gathered the quail. Those who gathered at least gathered [60 bushels]….and the Lord struck down the people with a very great plague…” Num. 11:31-33

There is a tendency among us to horde, to gather up and store not only enough to be plentiful, but enough to be truly independent. And yet God tells us to ask Him for “our daily bread,” recognizing that we are truly dependent upon Him and not ourselves. Without this dependence, we make idols of our stuff, the means to obtain our stuff, or ourselves.

In Numbers today, God teaches us an object lesson. When God provides plenty, pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered.

What should the Israelites have done? How much quail can one person eat in a couple of days? Surely not 60 bushels. Then why pick them all up?

God overwhelms us with riches beyond our dreams. Do we take them all and put them in our storehouses? Or do we take what we need for the day, leaving it in God’s hands to provide for tomorrow?

This is not an e-mail urging you to not plan for tomorrow, because that would be dishonoring to God as well. What it does mean is that, if you have been blessed with plenty, remember Israel and the wilderness and don’t gather all 60 bushels of quail.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Self-Esteem

June 13, 2014


Readings for Friday, June 13, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Gal. 5:25-6:10; Matt. 16:21-28; Psalms 69, 73

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Paul in his letter to the church in Galatia says this in our readings today: “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Gal. 6:3

What a put-down. What a self-esteem destroyer!

“Self-esteem” means what it says – that we esteem (think highly) of ourselves. It is not other-esteem (thinking highly of others) or God-esteem (thinking highly of God), but thinking highly numero uno, number one, me, myself, and I. The world worries constantly about whether we have enough self-esteem. It is the reason there are no winners in the modern age, because with winners there are losers and nobody can be a “loser.” They might lose their self-esteem!

But Paul is blunt, these people are self-deceivers – “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

Almost all secular “wisdom” focusses on building up the self, on strengthening our ethnic, social, religious, tribal, family, self-identify. If we can identify our heritage, we can build our self-esteem. If we can graduate from school, we can build our self-esteem (whether you know anything or not is, of course, irrelevant to this argument). If we can more closely identify with our community, our people-group, we can build our self-esteem.

And all the while, Paul would say that we are not building self-esteem, we are building a wall of deception which deceives only one person – me. The world’s efforts to build my self-esteem fool only one person – me.

In our reading today from Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples that He will be delivered into the hands of men to be killed, and that after three days He will be raised up. He then says “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” Matt. 16:24-26

What good is self-esteem if it brings you profit in the world and lose to eternal death?

These views are exclusive. One (the world) says that I am good and can be made better, thereby building my self-esteem. The other (God) says that I am sinful and and must sacrifice my self-esteem, my exalted view of myself, on the rocks of repentance, turning away from myself toward Christ, and accepting the mercy and forgiveness extended to me by Jesus’ sacrifice for my sins on the cruel cross and God’s sovereign will and work to bring me to faith.

The truth is that self-esteem is one of the worse things we can have, because it leads us to believe that we are king, that we are master, that we are God. It leads us to eternal death. On the other hand, less self-esteem leads us to recognition of our sin, our powerlessness, our hopelessness, and our desperate need for help – it leads us into the arms of Jesus.

And the wonderful thing about God’s miracle in our life at our lowest point, when we realize that we have nothing to give, is that we realize that we are in fact esteemed, not by our puny selves but by the Creator, by God, who so loved us that He died for us and saved us.

And that builds our self-esteem … but not on the deception of self and the world … but on the solid rock of faith in Jesus., on the knowledge that God so loved us, so thought us worthy, that He saved us from ourselves.

And that is self-esteem worth having.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Leaven

June 11, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, June 11, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Gal. 5:1-15; Matt. 16:1-12; Psalms 72,119:73-96

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In our readings today, the word “leaven” has prominence. Paul says to the church in Galatia “Your were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” Gal. 5:7-8 Jesus says to His disciples “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Matt. 16:11b

Leaven is essentially the yeast which causes bread to rise. It is a foreign object which, when introduced into the dough, winnows its way into and throughout the dough, changing its characteristics irrevocably. Once leaven is introduced, it cannot be “unintroduced.” If you intend for your dough to remain unleavened and yeast is introduced, your intent becomes irrelevant and you are stuck with leavened dough.

The leaven of the Pharisees was works – one must earn his or her way into heaven. The leaven of the Sadducees was facts – there is no such thing as resurrection, spirit, heaven. In today’s world, the Pharisees are the lawyers, the enforcers of the great world orders and religions (except Christianity). The Sadducees are our secular scientist

Why worry about introducing leaven into our lives, into our Christianity? Because, simply, at the end of the day leaven robs us of hope. If we are only acceptable to God through works, then there is no hope because there are no works which we can do which are not tainted by sin, which are not “filthy rags” before God. We cannot ever be good enough in ourselves for a holy God. If it does not matter if we are acceptable to God or not because there is no resurrection, no eternity beyond the grave, no realm of heaven, what hope is there except the grave?

We are warned off of introducing leaven into our faith because the net effect is to take away our joy in living in the freedom of Christ, to cause us to be frozen in doubt, to lose our confidence in the promises of Christ, and to lose our hope in the future.

Leaven might affect us but it does not affect Christ and, since our salvation rests in Him and not us, the effect of leaven is not to deprive us of salvation, but to deprive us of temporal victory.

So leaven is to be avoided. But how? It exists in the books we read, the radio we listen to, the television we see, the friends we have, the philosophies of this world and its institutions – government, schools, businesses, and even churches. We cannot avoid it no matter what we do and there is constant temptation to let it be absorbed into our system of belief, thought, and action.

So how do we avoid it? I don’t think we can. So how do we keep from absorbing it? I don’t think we can.

We can’t, but the Holy Spirit can. The Holy Spirit can protect us from the leaven of the world. The Holy Spirit can illuminate our minds to be aware of the leaven around us, so that we can become effective partners in resisting its absorption.

But, most importantly, although we cannot remove leaven from our system once introduced, the Holy Spirit can. While we can’t, He can. He can re-teach us the truths of God in Scripture, He can reveal the unadulterated Jesus, He can keep us connected to the one true vine, He can return us to green pastures. And He does, all the time.

The leaven of the world is why it is critical that we remain connected to Christ, why we remain in communion with the Helper He has sent us. It is the reason why we need to begin every day with this simple prayer – Come Holy Spirit.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Domains

June 2, 2014


Readings for Monday, June 2, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Lev. 25:35-55; Col. 1:9-14; Matt. 13:1-16; Psalms 77,79,80

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The word “domain” has both an old meaning and a newer application, which takes the old meaning and updates it. Historically, a domain is a geographical place over which a person of temporal power (emperor, king, prince, earl, duke, etc.) ruled. It could also mean a sphere of influence, where it could be said that someone occupies the domain of internal medicine. More recently, it has come to mean an area of cyberspace over which I rule. That domain has a name, called a domain name and, if I am the administrator of that domain, then I rule it.

We have gone from domains of substance (England) to domains of expertise to domains of virtual reality. In the field of domains, we have slid from domains of “real” property to domains of “personal” property to domains of imaginary property.

In today’s reading from Colossians, Paul makes this statement – “He [the Father] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Col. 1:13

Aside from our previous discussion of domains, now we have two new ones – the domains of darkness and light. The kingdom (domain) of Jesus Christ is one of light, by implication, because it is not the domain of darkness. The domain (kingdom) of darkness is one ruled by Satan or, possibly man, by implication because it is not ruled by Jesus Christ.

Just like a physical domain, you cannot be in both at the same time, unless you like straddling the fence.

It is the Father (and not us) who delivers us from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of light. He actually “transfers” us, suggesting not only a physical placement from one to the other, but a placement of citizenship as well.

One of the things you can say about domains is that they have rules. For example, if you don’t create your domain name just the right way and it is not approved by the people who keep track of domain names, you can’t do it. If you are in the king’s forest and he says not to kill a deer but you do anyway, you become someone who has disobeyed the laws of the domain.

So what are the rules of the domain of light?

There are two questions hidden in this question. The first hidden question is, “Do I even know what the rules of the light domain are?” The second hidden question is, if I know what the rules of the kingdom of light are, do I know when I have broken them?”

These are actually much harder questions to answer than appear at first light. How many of us actually feel and believe that we are doing “all right” in that department (knowledge and obedience)? We may know that we are not living up to Christ’s standards, but we are fundamentally content with our relationships, our efforts, our attitudes, and our character.

Earlier, I made reference to the fact that the domain of darkness could be ruled by Satan or, possibly, us. There is a reason for that. God’s ways are not our ways. Our natural inclination is always for our way.

That being the case, in which domain will we always be most comfortable? The answer is the one of our making, the domain of darkness.

So, when you meditate on how well you know the laws of the kingdom of light and how well you are doing in obedience to them, if you conclude you are doing “OK,” ask yourself which kingdom you are really operating in, which domain are you located in?

Since our natural domain is the domain of darkness, our unnatural domain is the kingdom of light. So, if we are living in the domain of light, it should feel unnatural because it is unnatural. The rules don’t make sense according to our ways of thinking and our obedience to the rules we even know about are sketchy at best.

Since we cannot rely on our natural instincts, knowledge, and abilities in the kingdom of light, on whose will we rely? When the natural does not work, it is the supernatural which does. God brought us into this kingdom of light by His supernatural power, He will teach us His commands by His supernatural Word, and He will sustain us in His domain during our feeble attempts at obedience by His supernatural power.

Man rules over the domain of darkness; God rules over the domain of light?

To which king do you bow? In which domain do you think you live? In which domain do you really live?

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© 2014 GBF

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