Bread – Obedience

July 30, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, July 30, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Judges 3:12-30; Acts 1:1-14; Matt. 27:45-54; Psalms 72,119:73-96

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I often write in Bread about obedience and today is no different. It is not because it is a topic I enjoy. Instead, it is because Scripture is full of references to it, sometimes directly so (the reading from Judges today) and sometimes something built into the narrative (our readings from both Acts and Matthew). All these have a message – obedience to God’s commands is necessary to fully receive the blessings of God. If our faith is weak because our experience with God is shallow, maybe the reason is lack of obedience. If we do not live in joy because of the burdens we carry, maybe it is because we are lacking in our obedience. Obedience is not the result of a negotiation between us and God; it is the result of our understanding we are the created and He is the creator, that we are servant and He is master, that our love is flawed and His is perfect.

In Judges, we find that Israel “again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” and, as a result, was denied the benefits of being God’s chosen. We do not know in what area Israel was disobedient, but it is not hard to figure out – probably in everything, the key failure being the desire (we all have) to exalt themselves over God, to worship themselves, to listen to themselves, and to walk according to the paths they created. But fear not, Israel repented and the Lord brought them “a deliverer, Ehud.”

In Matthew, we find Christ on the cross at the height of His agony, where the fellowship of God the Father was removed from Him for a moment. The obedience here to God is implicit in the events. Jesus knew why He came to earth and was incarnated, He asked God the Father to take away His purpose in coming to earth (to remove the cup), and when God the Father said “No, finish your mission,” Christ was obedient unto not just common death, but spiritual death, detachment from God the Father with whom Jesus had dwelt in union since the beginning of time and prior. His obedience was absolute and the blessing which flowed from His obedience benefits today all those who call upon His name.

In Acts, Jesus has come back to the disciples after His death and resurrection and instructs them to wait until they receive “the promise of the Father.” They waited in the upper room in Jerusalem and, in obedience, received the blessing, power from the Holy Spirit.

Knowing these things, knowing that we are called to obedience and that blessings follow obedience, why are we disobedient?

I wish I had an answer to this for myself, but I don’t. We (I) would rather follow the path which I lay and suffer the consequences than follow the path which Christ lays and be blessed.

Aren’t we fortunate that our salvation does not rely upon our obedience, but on Christ’s obedience? In Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, my disobedience cannot be ignored by me, but at least I can rest at night knowing that it is forgiven. Forgiven not because of my obedience, but His. Forgiven not because I earned it, but because God gave it.

What should my response be to such a rich gift? Obedience.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Jumble

July 25, 2014


Readings for Friday, July 25, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Joshua 9:22-10:15; Rom. 15:14-24; Matt. 27:1-10; Psalms 40,51,54

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Today’s readings are a collection of events. In Joshua, the Gibeonites have surrendered to Israel, Amorite kings band together to attack Gibeon, Gibeon appeals to Israel for protection, and Israel smashes the Amorite kings in battle led by the Lord. In Romans, Paul discusses his pride in Christ Jesus in doing God’s work among the Gentiles, telling the Romans that he will visit them on his way to Spain. In Matthew, Jesus is delivered to Pilate, Judas tries to give back the money he was paid for his betrayal, and the priests buy the potter’s field with the thirty pieces of silver.

One of the things I try to do in Bread is to integrate the daily readings into some message. But, today, the three readings to me look like a jumble. Each verse is important, of course, but what do the readings have in common?

Isn’t this the picture of the Christian walk so many times? We read Scripture and of a number of jumbled images and instructions, which to us at first glance appear to be incoherent. We ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit and get a mess of different inputs. We ask fellow Christians for counsel and get a variety of responses. We reach into our own minds and resources and come up with a jumbled mess.

So what are we to make of all this jumble? What are we to make of Scripture, answers to prayer, worship, thoughts, and feelings which make no coherent sense?

The answer is really quite simple … wait upon the Lord. Throughout Scripture, God says that He gives wisdom to those who ask. Ask, and then wait for clarity. It will come, perhaps not on our timetable, but it will come.

And today is an object lesson in that. I read our Scripture lessons for today and concluded that there was nothing to tie them together; nothing to write about. I then realized that the jumble of Scripture was in fact an example of the jumble of life, and I have written on that.

But I went to the Lord in frustration, saying that there was nothing in these to write about … and the Lord said, “not so fast.” And then I realized that each Scripture reading today is a picture into each believer’s life as they live into what God has called them to. In Joshua, God has called Israel to take the land He has prepared for them. The story today is but a byway in that path to His purpose, reminding us that there will be opposition, allies, enemies, and battles … but that He will help and His will be done. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, God has called Paul to preach to the Gentiles and to be His ambassador in the world. Sometimes this means that Paul gets to go where he wants to go; other times it means that he gets to go where God wants him to go. Regardless of where he goes and who he sees, there is opportunity for him to fulfill God’s purpose for him, reminding us that we may not get to do what we think is important, but in the midst of our confusion, God’s purpose in our life is being worked out. In Matthew, God the Father has called God the Son to the cross to sacrifice Himself for our sins. While on this journey to fulfill God’s purpose, Jesus is betrayed by a close friend, a disciple of His. This is a picture of us, that as we pursue God’s purpose in our life, we may well be betrayed and hurt by those closest to us.

Whether pitched in battle against those who would defeat us if they could (Joshua), whether engaged with traitors and enemies (Jesus), or whether just sitting in a chair in a room which feels empty (Paul), all three readings today do have a common theme – God is present, God is fighting for us, God is leading us, God’s will in our lives and in the world will be fulfilled. We may be confused as to what to do next, injured in battle, or hurt by the betrayal of friends … but as Christians we have and will overcome.

Funny how, if we let Him, God takes the jumble in our lives and turns it into a clear statement of who He is. We may not see it at the time, but God does. And we will too, if we continue to walk with Him, talk with Him, grow with Him, love Him, and live in Him.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Unsafe

July 23, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, July 23, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Joshua 8:30-35; Rom. 14:13-23; Matt. 26:57-68; Psalms 49,53,119:49-72

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In today’s reading from Joshua, there is the historical recounting of a covenant renewal ceremony between Israel and God, where Israel set up an altar, wrote the Law on the altar, and then had the Book of the Law read to them by Joshua. This occurred with the entirety of Israel (a very large number of people, “half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal.” Joshua 8:33. Considering that the mountains are twenty miles apart, this shows how many people we are talking about.

In and of itself, the description is impressive but conveyed no apparent great theological message (to me)…until I read the ESV study notes which commented “…the curious fact that Israel is able to hold a covenant renewal in Shechem, apparently without having to capture it first.” The place where this great event occurred was not under Israel’s control and was in fact potentially hostile territory. The place they were exercising their obedience to God was in an unsafe place. Even though they were in an unsafe place, they obeyed and worshiped.

As a bookend to this reading, we see Jesus in Matthew before the Sanhedrin, being accused. Peter is watching, sitting with the guards where he can be identified with the crowd rather than his Lord. Although not in today’s reading, we know the very next episode, where Peter is accosted and denies Jesus three times. Peter is in an unsafe place and acts like it; he hides among the unbelievers rather than be identified as Jesus’ follower.

The simple fact is that we, as Christians, live every day in an unsafe place, in the world. When we demonstrate our obedience to Christ, depending upon where we are we may be subject to strange stares, outright questioning and ridicule, loss of promotion at work or loss of the actual job itself, shunning by family and friends, imprisonment (in many places) and injury or death (Iraq and Nigeria come to immediate mind).

So what do we do as Christians when we find ourselves in an unsafe place? Are we bold in our proclamation of who we are in Christ and whose we are? Or are we timid, treating others as more important than we treat God Himself?

If I am honest with this answer, I have to truly say that I am timid more often than bold. Perhaps you find yourself in the same boat.

Why is this? Do we not believe that God is God and has control over the unsafe places as well as the safe? Do we not believe that God can, if He will, save us from the fires of adversity? Do we not believe the promise of eternal salvation, whether we are impoverished, ridiculed, imprisoned, hurt, or murdered?,

The answer is that we, as fallen people saved by grace, do and don’t believe. We are often double-minded, unsure, doubtful.

How do we overcome this? Part of the answer is to understand what Israel was doing between the mountains. They were hearing God’s Word to them, Scripture. We have that opportunity every day to read, study, digest, eat, and understand the reality of God’s involvement in the entirety of history and in our lives. Through this, we can grow in our reliance upon Him and can slowly release our reliance on ourselves and others.

But a major part of the answer is to realize that we had nothing to do with our salvation; God chose us for salvation and He saved us when we could not save ourselves.

I think that when I doubt Christ in an unsafe place, it is because I know myself and I doubt myself … and I know that if my eternity is somehow based upon me, then it rests on a weak foundation. However, when I remember that God saved me in His sovereign will, then there truly is no unsafe place. Why should I be afraid of circumstances or others when I realize that the only person with power in the room is God, and He has already declared me to be His adopted child through Christ?

Now this is truly easy to say and hard to do in specific, unsafe circumstances.

But isn’t it amazing that Christians in many countries will die by the sword rather than renounce Christ? How do they get such strength?

They get such strength because they realize they have none but for what God gives them.

When will we stop being timid in unsafe places? When we stop resting in ourselves and, instead, rest in God. When we stop asking ourselves how we will respond and instead ask ourselves how He will respond. When we take away the words “we” and “I” and substitute the word “Him.”

You will find yourself in an unsafe place today. Will you be timid or bold?

You know, the wonderful truth of the gospel is that, whether we are timid or bold today, God has still saved us. Because He first loved us, we can grow in love of Him. Because He sends us His Holy Spirit, we can stand in the evil day. Because He sends us His Word, we can learn to lean on Him, rest in Him, believe His promises, and grow in strength and maturity.

The fact that we may be timid is no proof that we are not a Christian; it just means that we are learning to walk and talk as a Christian. We are toddlers in the faith. But with the good food of Scripture, relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit strengthened through prayer, and the training of the Holy Spirit, we will grow into the understanding that there are no unsafe places anywhere, anymore.

In Christ, there are no unsafe places, anywhere, anymore. Think about it. And then live like it.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Bred

July 21, 2014


Readings for Monday, July 21, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Joshua 7:1-13; Rom. 13:8-14; Matt. 26:36-46; Psalms 41.44.52

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This morning, when I went to type the subject line, I mistyped “Bread” and instead typed “Bred.” After reading today’s Scripture, I realized that “bred” is indeed the word to summarize today’s message.

In Joshua, Israel has again sinned against the Lord, stealing and hiding some holy things and then lying about it. As a result of this disobedience, Israel is unable to defeat the men of Ai in battle. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he warns against the sins of the flesh – borrowing, owing, adultery, murder, coveting, orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality and sensuality, quarreling, and jealousy, telling us to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Rom. 13:12b. In Matthew, Jesus is praying to the Father in Gethsemane, asking some of His disciples to stay awake with Him while He prays. Of course, they do not stay awake.

The concept of being “bred” for something includes both nature and nurture, good genes and careful, effective upbringing and training. A thoroughbred is a horse who has been birthed from thoroughbred parents and who is trained and raised under the watchful eye of topnotch trainers. A thoroughbred is bred to win the race.

When we are born of man and woman, and when we receive the education which our parents, our school systems, our communities, and our society give us, we are being bred, but not to win the race of life. If this is our genealogy and our training, we are bred unto failure and death.

However, when we are born again by the grace of God, we receive the ticket to the race; however, at that point have we been well-trained? The answer is obviously “no,” because at that point we are simply trained in the ways of the world. If we are to be well-trained to win the crowns in eternity, we must submit to God’s training program. We must become obedient to His will and, through the reading and study of Scripture, active prayer, and worship be transformed by the renewing of our mind and by the softening of our heart into God’s thoroughbred

What race are you bred for? The race of death or the race of life?

Paul says that, for those of us who have been saved by grace, we should “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Rom. 13:14. In other words, you have the right genes – now train up in righteousness.

Are you living in accordance with your breeding? If not, you know what to do.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Vistas

July 11, 2014


Readings for Friday, July 11, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 31:7-13,24-32:4; Rom. 10:1-13; Matt. 24:15-31; Psalms 16,17,22

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A great word typically only used in travel magazines is “vistas.” A vista is a majestic view, describing a broad geography, generally involving many colors and textures. It is an amazing sight.

One of the great vistas I love to both see and imagine is a great mountain chain, where one mountain is larger than the first, even if it more distant. We know that things which are farther away from us are smaller; therefore, when the thing farther away is bigger than the thing which is closer, we know that it is really big. When we see the mountain close, with the mountain middle rising above and behind it, with the mountain farthest rising above the previous two, shrouded in mists, we know we are looking at a major mountain.

Christianity has vistas too. In today’s readings, we see the big mountain of God’s saving grace freeing the Israelites from their Egyptian imprisonment, the bigger mountain of God giving Israel the law (Deuteronomy), the very big mountain of Christ’s sacrifice for us and His satisfaction of God’s required sacrifice for atonement of our sin so that by belief in Him we might be saved (Romans), and the biggest mountain of the end times, where the abomination of desolation appears, ushering in the tribulation which “for the sake of the elect will be cut short.” (Matthew) Unspoken in these passages but dominant throughout Scripture is the biggest, biggest vista of them all, eternity with God for those who believe in Jesus.

For those of us who have climbed mountains, we know something about vistas. One is that to really see them, one has to step back and look up. We cannot see the grandeur of vistas without stopping our daily grind and looking up from our feet toward heaven. The second is that, to get to the largest mountain (the one in the far back, shrouded in mist), we have to begin with the first mountain and go through and over it to get to the next one, etc.

And really, isn’t that what the Christian life is? It begins with even realizing that the vista is there, which is the sovereign work of God in our lives. It begins with our recognition that we are imprisoned and that we need someone with the key. It continues with our following God into the wilderness of life. It continues by our taking God’s standards for our lives (the law) and slowly but surely realizing that there is no way we can work our way into heaven, because all fail to perfectly follow the law, all are sinful, all fall short. The law and our inability to obey it so that God is pleased drives us again to contemplate our sin and the need of someone to save us. We then, with the grace of God and in His sovereign will for our lives, are confronted with Jesus and place our trust in Him, believing in Him with our hearts and confessing Him with our mouths. We then vaguely see the end times, recognizing God’s coming judgment upon us and the world. Finally, we hope in the eternal life with God, which is so wonderful that no English words can express it.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Ps. 121:1-2

Great way to end the week, isn’t it?

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Sovereign

July 9, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, July 9, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 1:1-18; Rom. 9:1-18; Matt. 23:27-39; Psalms 12,13,14,119:1-24

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Who or what is sovereign in your life? Who is the sovereign to whom you owe allegiance, who has power over you?

A liberal might answer the question by saying that the central authority, the government, is king. A royalist might say that the sovereign is the king or queen. A conservative might say that the sovereign is the individual. Idols can also reign sovereign in our lives. Money can be the thing with authority. Others (say our family) might be the sovereign. Our boss might be our sovereign, with our whole purpose in life being devoted to pleasing him or her. Even our house can be our sovereign if it is what dictates to us what we do and how we do it.

For Christians, the knee jerk reaction is to say that God is sovereign. Other religions might say the same thing, with different emphases on the nature of God.

But is that really true?

Today in our reading from Romans, Paul says some things which are totally consistent with the sovereignty of God but which run counter to many theological notions about our role (our individual sovereignty) in the process:

“This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring….though they were not yet born and done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls – she was told, ‘The older [Esau] shall serve the younger [Jacob].’…What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, Who has mercy…So then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.” Rom. 9:8-18

In summary, God is sovereign and we are not. God chooses whom He will, not who earns his or way into His good graces.

There are huge implications to this understanding. For example, can one lose his or her salvation if chosen by God for salvation? Our tendency is to say “yes,” but then who is sovereign, God or us? And if we cannot lose our salvation because God is sovereign, then how did we gain our salvation except by sovereign work of God? Our tendency again is to say that “Well, we chose God,” but if that is the case, who is sovereign, us or God?

The truth is that we do have a role as sovereigns. God gives us kingship over fish, birds, and over “every living thing,” as well as earth (Gen. 1:28). But does our role as sovereign over the earth and animals extend to a role as sovereign over God? Are we equal to God where it is “our will be done?”

Who is sovereign over our life? Who is sovereign over my life? Who is sovereign over your life? Do we answer one thing and behave another?

I think there are five choices of who is king. The first choice is ourselves. I am king. The second choice is the state, the collective, the “community.” We together are king. The third choice is other people. She is king or they are king. The fourth choice is things. It is king. And the fifth choice is God. Yahweh – “I am.”

We are tempted to say “all of the above” depending upon the circumstances. But there can only be one king in the room at a time.

Who is that?

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© 2014 GBF

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