Bread – Now

December 31, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, December 31, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 26:1-9; 2 Cor. 5:16-6:2; John 8:12-19; Psalms 46, 48

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From today’s reading in 2 Corinthians, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation … Behold, now is the favorable time,; behold, now is the day of salvation.” 2 Cor. 5:17,6:2

And from our reading in John, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12

In the readings quoted above, now is the time to make a decision to either believe or not believe in Christ. The reason is simple – because “now is the favorable time.” There may not be a tomorrow; we may plan our future but our future is really in the hands of God. The past is over and, in and through Christ, forgiven. The present is now; now is the favorable time.

That answers the why now? But what about the why Jesus? He said it most simply Himself – “I am the light of the world.” We can get a lot more detailed than this, explaining how and why, but the essence is stated by Jesus in today’s reading. Why follow Jesus? Why accept Him as Lord and Savior? Because He and no one else is the light of the world.

Now the first half of this Bread is devoted to non-believers, urging them to have faith in Christ now. The second half (to follow) is devoted to believers.

In our readings from 2 Corinthians today, there is more – “All this is from God, who … gave us the message of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.” 2 Cor. 5:18-20

We are ambassadors of Christ in the world, carrying with us a message of reconciliation of God and man, begun in the Christmas season we just celebrated and marching toward the cross and the resurrection. Now, what have we done today in our role as ambassador. Have we acted like an ambassador? Have we reconciled ourselves to God, to our spouses, to our children, neighbors, co-workers, and folks we just meet on the street? Are we talking about the good news of salvation through Christ and Christ alone?

Tomorrow begins the New Year. Maybe we can resolve to live now, reconcile now, act now, think now, preach now, love now in this new year. Maybe we can daily wear our mantle as ambassadors of Christ, now. Now without regrets from the past, knowing that in Christ we are forgiven of our many sins; now without worry toward the future, knowing that our hope is in Christ. If we truly lived as Christians in the now, in the New Year, wouldn’t it indeed be a “new year.”

Behold, now is the favorable time. Yes, it is. The challenge is in what we are going to do with it … now.

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© 2014 GBF

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Bread – Visions

December 24, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, December 24, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 35:1-10, 59:15b-21; Rev. 22:12-17, 21; Phil. 2:5-11; Luke 1:67-80; Psalms 45,46,89:1-29

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In today’s readings, we swirl around a combination of images of existing reality and visions of future reality. Both convey the meaning of Christmas, the welcoming of Christ the King as incarnate among men as man, with an eye to His coming to earth in history and His coming to earth in the future — the “magic” of the season, grounded in past and present reality and future promise.

Rather than comment on Scripture on this day of expectation, let me let God through His Word speak Himself:

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad … They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.

Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy….

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness….the redeemed shall walk there.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads …” Isa. 35:1-10 (part)

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’Behold, I am coming soon, bringing My recompense with Me, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’…

‘I, Jesus, …am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.’

 

…And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires to take the water of life without price.”

He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’” Rev. 22:12,16-17, 20

Our reading from Revelation today ends a particular way and so, then, so do I: “Amen. Come Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” Rev. 22:20b-21

 

I would change this one little way and this is my prayer for us this Christmas: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with us all. Amen.”

Merry Christmas!

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Bread is sent to those people who have asked that it be sent to them, and maybe it has been forwarded to you by a friend. If you are not on my mailing list and wish to be, please e-mail me at flintg@verizon.net. I also know that many things fill your inbox and, if you would like to be taken off the list, please e-mail me and your request will be promptly honored. © 2014 GBF

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This and previous Breads may be read, critiqued and commented upon at the Bread blog: https://1bread.wordpress.com

Bread – Spirits

December 22, 2014


Readings for Monday, December 22, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 11:1-9; Rev. 20:1-10; John 5:30-47; Psalms 61,62,112,115

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Around this time of the year, we are inclined toward the consumption of many spirits. For example, there is eggnog laced with brandy. For football games, there is beer. For our Christian gatherings, there may be wine (for those of us so inclined).

We consume other spirits as well during this Holiday season. The biggest spirit is the spirit of panic as we see our shopping days diminish while the number of people on our gift list grows. But there is also the spirit of home and of family. For many, there is the spirit of loneliness and perhaps even sorrow. For others, there is the spirit of happiness and joy. Finally, there is the spirit of hopefulness.

But for Christians, the spirit which matters is the Holy Spirit and what He delivers to us. And what is this?

Part of the answer is in today’s reading from Isaiah, talking about what the Holy Spirit gives to the Savior, whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas. Isaiah says this: “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.” Isa. 11:2-3.

This sequence of descriptions about the Holy Spirit is both a description about the Holy Spirit Himself and also, to my thinking, about the spirits which He conveys to us to help us in our daily walk with Christ. The Holy Spirit Himself is wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord. The spirits which the Holy Spirit convey to those who trust in Jesus Christ are the spirits of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the Lord.

Imagine for the moment that our lives were filled with wisdom, understanding, right counsel, power and might, knowledge, and righteous fear of the Lord. How victorious would we live if we always knew what to do, when to do it, how to do it, relied upon good recommendations from people who knew what to do, had the power and fortitude to truly deliver on our “yes’s” and “no’s,” and did everything in respect to and under the authority of God?

And yet we can, every day. The spirits of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the Lord are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, who Himself is a gift of God to those who believe in Christ.

There is something magic in the air around Christmas. But it is not the spirit of magic or even the spirit of crafty advertising and gift promotion. Instead, it is the spirit of hope – hope for life, hope for man, hope for freedom, hope for joy. It is God come to earth as a baby. It is the hope sprung from Christ’s incarnation. It is the hope tied to the holiday we now celebrate – Christmas.

But instead of celebrating the holiday, let’s instead celebrate that, through Christ’s power and our faith in Him, we too can receive the Holy Spirit and His gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the Lord…and thereby be in position to give gifts to others – the real gifts of time, of attention, of the hope which is within us, of a reason for thanksgiving and joy, and, most of all, love.

Because at the end of the day, if we have a spirit of love, we are but reflecting the love we have first been given, exercising our relationship with the Holy Spirit to help us live life and it abundantly.

May your Christmas be blessed and full of the spirits of wisdom, wise counsel, power, knowledge, fear of the Lord, truth and … love. Amen.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Substitutes

December 17, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, December 17, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 9:8-17; 2 Peter 2:1-10a; Mark 1:1-8; Psalms 49,53,119:49-72

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From our reading in Isaiah today, the following: “…who say in pride and in arrogance of heart: ‘The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place.’” Isa. 9:9:b-10

Perhaps our lives are cut down by illness. We then say to ourselves, ‘Through hard exercise and a better diet I will improve my health and be even better than I was before.’ Perhaps we have lost our job or find ourselves paid or treated inappropriately. We then say to ourselves, ‘Through hard work and using my friends and family and broader network, I will improve my economics and life by finding me a better job.’ Perhaps we have suffered from some kind of addiction. We then say to ourselves, ‘I will raise myself from this muck by keeping to the straight and narrow, by following the plan, and by avoiding triggers and people and situations which are not good for me.’

Every one of these situations is a problem in life. And our responses are not bad – surely it is better to rise to the challenge rather than sulk in defeat!

But Isaiah warns us about something – does this self-improvement effort arise from “pride and arrogance of heart” or does it proceed from obedience to God’s commands and in reliance upon His grace, wisdom, power, and love? The actions may look the same to an outside observer, but the effort based upon self-will soon falters and withers because in our own power we are weak, but the effort based upon God’s direction and support in our lives will succeed (maybe not on our timetable or in the way we think is right, but will succeed nonetheless).

When we substitute our efforts and plans for God’s efforts and plans, we have chosen a poor substitute. If we have been commanded by God to build a house of bricks and we choose instead to build it out of dressed stones (a superior and prettier product, to be sure), we have chosen a poor substitute. When we substitute our goals for God’s goals for us, we have chosen a poor substitute.

Why do we pick a poor substitute over a better? We cannot hide behind the excuse that “we don’t know better,” because God through His Word has shown us better. Maybe it is because we really don’t trust God. Peter has something to say about that in today’s readings – “…the Lord knows how to rescue the Godly from trials.” 2 Pet. 2:9

Indeed He does. Indeed He has.

So when are we going to stop replacing the real thing with bad substitutes?

Let’s begin today!

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Workout

December 15, 2014


Readings for Monday, December 15, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 8:16-9:1; 2 Peter 1:1-11; Luke 22:39-53; Psalms 41,44,52

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I often ask myself the question, if God commands me to love others more than myself, then why do I have such a hard time doing it? One easy answer, of course, is that I, like everyone else, am selfish and sinful, and I am constantly placing myself above or at least equal to God. That is the easy answer and it is substantially accurate.

Another answer to this question may be that I just don’t have enough of the Holy Spirit, because we know that our power in life comes from God and not ourselves, and so if we are to act the way God intends for us to, we must have more power to do so. That is the easy answer and it is substantially accurate.

But an accurate answer does not necessarily mean a right answer. Maybe the reason I have a difficult time loving others is not because I am sinful, because Christ has rescued me from my sin, and not because I lack power, because God tells us that He is ever-present in time of need, but because I have not followed the steps toward love, because I in my Christian walk have not laid the necessary foundation to love well.

What is this foundation? It is something more than salvation and it is something more than supernatural power. It is the building of a firm foundation upon which love is the natural result.

This foundation I think is described in detail in our reading today from Peter’s second letter. The steps in building this foundation are:

1. A faith received from God by “the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Pet. 1:1

2. Add to faith, virtue; 2 Peter 1:5

3. Add to virtue, knowledge; 2 Peter 1:5

4. Add to knowledge, self-control; 2 Peter 1:6

5. Add to self-control, steadfastness; 2 Peter 1:6

6. Add to steadfastness, godliness; 2 Peter 1:6

7. Add to godliness, brotherly affection; 2 Peter 1:7

8. Add to brother affection, love; 2 Peter 1:7.

Faith plus virtue plus knowledge plus self-control plus steadfastness plus godliness plus brotherly affection, when put together in that order, creates the foundation upon which we can then add love.

Are we weak in love as Christians? Perhaps it is because we have not followed the plan of building our strength so that we can love. We would not run a mile without first building up to it, one little jog at a time. We would not run a marathon without first running the first mile. And yet we try to love others more than ourselves without adequate preparation, without taking the time to build the foundation, without going through the work-out, which is necessary for us to love well.

Are we weak in love as Christians? Which of the 8 steps above have we skipped, or never dealt with well? Have we worked on our virtue, our knowledge of God and His Word, our self-control, our perseverance and steadfastness, our godliness, or even our affection toward other Christians?

The old child’s counting scheme comes to mind – “One, two, skip a few, a hundred.” Just like you can’t get to a hundred for real without counting through 99 other numbers, you can’t run a marathon until you take the first step, then the next two steps, then the short jog, then the short run, then the quarter mile, then the mile, then ….

Why do we not love well? I suspect its because we have done the Christian version of “one, two, skip a few.” As Peter has pointed out, no, there is a process to get there. And that process really does take a lot of work.

But it is work to which we are commanded. We have been given faith and power to exercise that faith. We have been given power to live in victory. Our job is to use that power, work the plan, build the foundation upon the cornerstone which Jesus has laid, and then build the house of love which will be a beacon of truth, life, and hope to a dark world.

Let’s get started!

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Immanuel

December 12, 2014


Readings for Friday, December 12, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 7:10-25; 2 Thess. 2:13-3:5; Luke 22:14-30; Psalms 31,35

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From our reading in Isaiah – “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Isa. 7:14

“Immanuel” means “God is with us.”

I grew up reading this passage as a prophesy of the coming of Christ incarnate into the world, born of a virgin, at a time which we celebrate in a couple of weeks called “Christmas.” In the midst of our need for a Savior since we, who live in sin and are therefore spiritually dead, cannot save ourselves. God’s sovereign act in sending Himself to earth is truly Immanuel, God is with us. I always understood it this way, until I was presented with an alternate reading in this passage.

See, there are group of Biblical scholars who hold that Isaiah is not speaking to Christ’s coming in the far term, but to Isaiah’s listeners of events to come in the near term. They argue, based upon textual analysis, that fulfillment of this sign occurred in Isaiah’s day. From this perspective and to integrate Matthew’s description of the passage, these persons often adopt a “both” strategy – that the prophesy has a double fulfillment, once in Isaiah’s day and another with the birth of Christ. I think there are a number of problems with this analysis, but then again I am no Biblical scholar. However, I find good company in the gospel of Matthew, where Matthew quotes this Scripture and says “All this [the birth of Jesus] took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet [Isaiah]:…” Matt. 1:22. So, I am sticking with my belief that this statement by Isaiah of the coming of Immanuel points to Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

But so what? Immanuel (God is with us) occurred in history, at the birth of Jesus.

Now you may well say “Wait a minute!,” “Yes, Jesus died, but He rose again and is standing at the right hand of God, interceding for us.” But does this mean that God is with us or in heaven, at the right hand of God?

Most people reading this are becoming very uncomfortable right now, and you should. You should because I am getting very close to how we actually behave on a daily basis. Do we behave today like “God is with us” or that God is remote, that He was then (when He was born and died) or He is there (in heaven, beside the Father).

If Immanuel, God is with us, then He is not remote in time or space, He is present here and now.

If you believe that God is here and now, then why don’t you act like it?

If Immanuel, then our sin is an immediate affront to God, not something which is postponed to when He comes back to earth and not something which is delayed in the report until the angel can whisper it in His ear.

If Immanuel, our failure to pray, to talk to Him, and to be with Him is an immediate rejection of Him, not something which is OK because He is “over there.”

If Immanuel, our failure to step out in faith in the direction He leads is a present, immediate statement of lack of trust, of unbelief in Him.

You get the point. Immanuel is either true or it is not. Because if l God is with us, then He is not not with us. He is either one or the other. He is either present in time and space or He is remote in either or both. He is either an ever present help in time of trouble or He is sometimes, when He is in the area.

Our third reading today from Luke is Christ instituting Holy Communion (the bread and the wine, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”). Luke 22:14-20. Here, as we drink and eat in accordance with His command, we experience Immanuel.

But if Immanuel, then we don’t have to wait for Communion. Immanuel exists in our prayers, in our hope, in our trust, in our obedience, in our relationship with Christ and each other, in our love, in our life and in our death. It exists in our trouble and our victory. It exists in the morning, throughout the day, in the evening, and throughout the night. It exists 24x7x365.

If Immanuel, then it exists all the time, everywhere, in all circumstances.

So when we celebrate Christ’s birthday, we are not celebrating a one-time event of Immanuel. We are celebrating Immanuel every day of our lives when Christ has deemed to save us.

Every day is Immanuel when Christ is ours. Christmas may be special, but it is not the only day of Immanuel.

Come, Let us adore Him. Not just on Christmas, but always. Immanuel. Thank you, God.

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© 2014 GBF

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