Bread – Payback

April 29, 2015


Readings for Wednesday, April 29, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: **; Col. 1:24-2:7; Luke 6:27-38; Psalms 49, 53, 119:49-72

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We get hurt, we get stepped on, we get insulted, we get harmed, we get laid low. What is our reaction to the person causing this hurt, injury, harm, suppression? Payback.

In a city called Baltimore this week, there have been riots causing destruction throughout the city. A person is possibly seriously injured or killed by the police or just circumstances, and his ethnic brothers throw rocks and bottles at the police and burn down buildings in their own neighborhood. Why? Payback. A fellow officer is injured by a rock and reacts by hitting someone or maybe shooting. Why? Payback.

You hurt me and I’ll hurt you back. Why? Payback.

Probably the hardest command in all of Christianity is contained in our reading from Luke today, where Jesus says essentially the Christian rule of love is this – you hurt me and I love you back. No payback. Why? Because I [Jesus/God] said so.

In case you doubt me, here is the reading: “But I say to you who hear, ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from the one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. … If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you?…And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you?…And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you?…But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:27-36

When we have been saved by God’s mercy alone in spite of our ingratitude, disobedience, and evil, it is only fair to ask us in return to love our neighbor the same way.

However, to be frank obedience to this command is almost impossible for me. If you pull a knife on me, I’ll pull out a gun. If you call me a name, I have a better one for you in my vocabulary. And you know what? I’m willing to be that if I say “If I pulled a knife on you, you would pull a gun on me” would not be far from the truth.

Why is this true? Do we really need what is stolen? Probably not. If our house is burned down, wouldn’t our life in Christ go on in a tent? If we are killed, are we not now with Christ?

So why do we fight fire with fire? Why do we seek payback? I think for the simple reason is that it feels good, to us. “Don’t tread on me” is our ultimate statement of self. It is the ultimate statement of “I am.”

But wait a minute, isn’t there only one “I am” and I am not He?

If you want to see the man reborn in Christ fight the same man with one foot still stuck in the grave of self, one has to look no further than our desire to win, our desire for payback, or desire for justification, our desire for respect. When we say “It is not all about you” what we are often saying is, “But it may be all about me.”

How can we balance what Christ says today in Luke with how we live our lives on a regular basis? We can’t.

And the reason we can’t is that we are either obedient to Christ’s command to love or we are not. And we are not. I am not.

But I am His and at least when I go after payback, there is a part of me which says “George, you know better.” And just this gleam of truth winnowing its way into my conscience sometimes has an effect – sometimes, instead of going after payback, I will sigh and say “Not today.” And in the Holy Spirit, our “not todays” will increase and paybacks will decrease. And when that happens, we know the fools of the world will scoff. But, maybe some will say, “There goes Christ’s ambassador.” And we know what He will say — “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Now that is a payback worth receiving.

__________

© 2015 GBF

**The Book of Common Prayer lesson omitted today is from the book of Wisdom, which is from a group of writings which some churches do not consider valid at all and others consider useful for teaching but not for doctrine. Because these books are disputed by many in the church, I choose not to include them in Bread.

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Bread – Decision

April 22, 2015


Readings for Wednesday, April 22, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Dan. 5:1-12; 1 John 5:1-12; Luke 4:38-44; Psalms 38, 119:25-48

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In our reading from Daniel today, Belshazzar, the son of Nebuchadnezzar, has taken over rule of Babylon. In the preceding verses, Nebuchadnezzar is prideful and is brought low by God, only to be restored to his kingship by God after Nebuchadnezzar “lifted my eyes to heaven … and praised and honored Him who lives forever…” Dan. 5:34

Now King Belshazzar knows this history, but behaves sinfully anyway. He has a party for 1,000 men and takes out the gold and silver “vessels” which had removed from the Temple in Jerusalem by his father. He then drank wine from what had been consecrated to God and he and his fellow revelers “praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone.” Dan. 5:4 In other words, King Belshazzar and his friends worshiped everything that the world offered and not God. We end today’s reading with the hand of God writing Belshazzar’s future on the wall.

In another reading from today’s lessons, Jesus in Luke is reported as follows: “Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to Him, and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them.” Luke 4:40

What do these verses have in common. Each involves an individual, a single person, making a decision for himself or herself. Belshazzar could not rely upon the faith of his father Nebuchadnezzar, but had to learn history for himself and make his own, individual, decision about whether he would worship idols of his making or God. Likewise, each person who came to Jesus for healing made an individual decision to come; he or she may have been helped by their friends, but there is nothing in the passage to suggest that these friends brought the sick to Jesus against their will. The sick came voluntarily to Jesus for healing.

In the study notes in the ESV Bible I am using, it is noted that Jesus could have healed everyone at one blow with a single word, but that He did not. Instead, even though the sun was going down and time was running out (electricity was still to be invented), Jesus “laid His hands on every one of them [individually].”

We make our decision to worship our idols or God individually. No one makes us make that decision. History may point the way to a good decision, but it does not dictate the decision. We make the decision to acknowledge God as an individual, detached from our history and, quite frankly, our future. Our decision to follow God rather than the world is an individual decision made, in one sense, once for life and, in another sense, daily as we choose to walk in obedience or not.

Likewise, our understanding that we are sick is our understanding, not someone’s understanding for us. As a parent, we may teach our children, we may show our children, we may pray for our children, and we may even coerce our children – but the decision to realize that I am sick with sin resides with me alone. The decision to go to Christ for healing is an individual’s decision, not a group decision.

And isn’t it amazing that our Savior takes the time to heal us individually, that His decision for us is not as a group but as an “I.”

We like to hide our decision-making in groups and committees. There is safety in group decisions because the individual cannot be wrong.

But the decision to follow God, to admit sin, to accept forgiveness and mercy is not a group decision and never will be. I cannot choose for you. You must choose for yourself.

So, we can try to hide behind our family, our community, our friends, our co-laborers at the workplace, in committees, groups, and clubs – but the decisions that matter our each individual’s decision. You may be helped by friends, but they do not and cannot make the decision for you.

So, as we sit here in the middle of the week, what is your decision today? Don’t look around…just look in the mirror. And answer the questions. Who or what do you worship today? Are you pumped up in pride today or sober in assessment? Will I seek to be healed or just talk about it? Are you ready for Jesus to touch you?

What can you do today? Anything you want. What should you do today? Follow Jesus. What will you do today? It is your decision, so only you know.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Stones

April 20, 2015


Readings for Monday, April 20, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Dan. 4:19-27; 1 John 3:19-4:6; Luke 4:14-30; Psalms 9, 15, 25

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In our reading from Luke today, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue of Nazareth and stood up to read from Isaiah. After He was finished, He sat down and said “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:21. This statement is accepted positively (amazingly enough), but when Jesus points out that God sent Elijah to only one widow even though there were many and sent Elisha to only one leper to heal him even though there were many lepers, the crowd gets furious at Jesus and attempted to throw Him over the cliff, in a different version of stoning.

How upside down is this? Jesus claims that He is the anointed one, the messianic servant, referenced in Isaiah, only to be congratulated. But when He points out that God chooses who He will save and who He will send His prophets to, they get angry and decide to stone Him.

Which is the greater offense – claiming heavenly authority or reminding people of their history? Apparently, reminding them of their history.

When you think about it, don’t we behave the same way? People can make the most outrageous assertions about who they are [not that Jesus’ statement about Himself was outrageous] and that is OK to us, but bring up the truth of our past, remind us of our sinful disobedient state? The knives come out.

Another way of thinking about this is that, in Jesus’ earlier ministry, it was OK to claim that He was anointed as long as He didn’t act like it.

We are in the same boat. Many people claim that they are Christian because that is the thing to do. No one will judge us harshly and throw stones at us just because we say we are Christian. However, behave like a Christian and that is a different story. Judge within the church (not outside) and you are intolerant. Talk about our original sin and our absolute need for a Savior, and we are not being positive. Tell people that Christ is the only way to eternal life and we are non-inclusive. Talk about sins in the particular and we are _____aphobic. Fall on our knees in worship and we are unscientific. Try to save babies from death and we are mean.

No one likes to have stones thrown at them. In fact, we duck and run away from the bullies. But what if the stones are meant to punish us for who we are, whose we are? Are we to run away?

In our reading from 1 John today, he says “They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us.” 1 John 4:5-6.

Are we having stone thrown at us this week? If so, our question is normally, why? If not, we normally would not question anything. But the response ought to be the opposite. If we are not having stones thrown at us this week, we really should ask the question “why not?” And if we are having stones thrown at us, there should be no question at all as to why.

Do we want stones thrown at us? Of course not. I am sure that Jesus did not want stones thrown at Him, but they were. Why were stones thrown at Jesus – because He acted like Jesus, exposing the sin so that He could reveal the grace.

We say we want to be like Jesus. If so, prepare for the rocks … and the victory.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Edges

April 17, 2015


Readings for Friday, April 17, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Dan. 3:1-18; 1 John 3:1-10; Luke 3:15-22; Psalms 16, 17, 134-35

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In today’s reading from Daniel, we have the history of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being thrown by Nebuchadnezzar into the fiery furnace to die for failing to bow down to his idol-god, only to be rescued by God. I always love this re-telling and so I read the entire adventure.

However, that is not today’s reading from Daniel. Today’s reading from Daniel begins with Nebuchadnezzar’s creation of his golden idol-god which everyone is instructed to worship but it ends at the edge of the unknown. It ends this way: “Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego answered and said to the king … ‘If this be so [if they are cast into the fiery furnace], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image you have set up.’” Dan. 3:16-18

The edge has been reached. Everything is on the line. The king, the governmental powers, has drawn the line with a terrible death to follow from disobedience. The three guys have said, “No,” we serve God and not your golden idol. The point of decision.

How did these three young men get to the point that they did not fear a painful death? How did they get to the point that they were willing to step out beyond the edge in faith, rather than step back from the edge in fear? Maybe because they did not see the alternative before them as death, but as life … either life continuing because God saved them in the present or life eternal because God brought them to Himself.

There are many edges in life which we reach and then have to make a decision. Do we go forward in faith or step back in fear? In such circumstances, everything we are taught, everything that is in us from physical birth, and everything in the world screams at us to step back, to avoid the risk, to protect ourselves, to live for another day, to engage in “strategic” retreat. But at that edge our call from God is to step out in faith that God is true, that His promises will be fulfilled, that His hand is mighty.

But people would say that faith like this is a foolish faith and that we should temper our decisions with wisdom. Well, like so many arguments it is both correct and incorrect. If your faith is in a God which is the “Cosmic Bellhop,” ready to fulfill your every desire and whim, then you have a foolish faith because you reject God’s sovereignty. The three guys in our history lesson above knew that God was sovereign and that He might choose to save them in one way and He might not. The three young men did not create the edge they found themselves on, but the edge found them because they were faithful to God. This is where wisdom comes in, but it is not man’s wisdom but God’s. Man’s wisdom would say walk away from the edge and bow down before the golden idol; God’s wisdom would be to worship Him and Him alone and trust Him. So the better warning is not what people say but this – “Faith should not presume upon God but rely upon Him, and we should temper our decisions with Godly wisdom.

In our reading today, there is the worship edge (do we love the world, ourselves, or God), but we also hear about the love edge.

In our reading from 1 John, the apostle says “…whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” 1 John 3:10

To me, this is the real edge of life – the point at which we choose to either love our brother or not. And this edge occurs all the time. You are busy and are interrupted by another person —

do we turn away to our important business or do we listen and love our brother? You are wondering if you can make the house payment, you only have three days of groceries in the kitchen, and a beggar comes to your door, do you close the door before or after you give your brother some food? You look across the street at your neighbor’s house and realize that the grass is growing too high, do you shake your head and leave for work or do you smile at the opportunity and love your neighbor by getting the grass cut?

When life is seen as presenting one opportunity after another to live in Christ or live in oneself, we realize that we live on the edge all the time, deciding either to retreat to self or step across the edge in faith. Why do we not love all the time? Because we are well-practiced in retreat and fearful of going beyond the edge, of taking the next step in faith.

Do we have this strength ourselves? Of course not. If we can say “no” to the world and ourselves and “yes” to God, if we can ever step beyond the edge, if we can love our brothers and sisters, it is only because we have the power from God to do so.

If we really want to obey God and not man, if we really want to love mightily, if we really want to step across the edge onto solid ground, then we have one prayer – Come Holy Spirit. Amen.

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© 2015 GBF

Bread – Dark

April 13, 2015


Readings for Monday, April 13, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Dan. 1:1-21; 1 John 1:1-10; John 17:1-11; Psalms 1-4, 7

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Young children can really be our eyes into greater reality. My grandson stayed with us Friday night. To get to the room where he sleeps and his toys are kept, he has to pass down a hallway which is somewhat dark. He has a name for this – “Da…ark…” It is the word “dark” said with special emphasis that only a child full of wonder can make. To pass through this dark hallway, he comes and grabs my finger and says “Papa come.” Then he drags me through the hallway into the toy room, all the while saying “dark,” nodding his head in agreement, and looking back at me to make sure I am there.

In our reading today from 1 John, the apostle says “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5

We know in our hearts that God is light, which is I think one of the reasons we reach out to Him in prayer when we find ourselves in a dark place. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.” This darkness can be physical, but it can also be darkness of soul, of heart, of mind, and of emotion. When we ask for revelation, it is to dispel the darkness of our mind. When we ask for peace, it is to dispel the darkness of our soul. When we ask for hope, it is to dispel the darkness of our heart.

God is a God of light and not darkness. When light enters the room, darkness flees. When darkness enters the room full of light … wait a minute, it can’t do that. Light pre-empts the dark, not vice versa.

Think about this for a minute. The only way it can be dark is to turn the light out.

Now, back to the adventure down the dark hall. I could turn on the light but I choose not to do that. Why? Well, partly it is because I want my grandson to slowly learn that he can overcome darkness and the fear which comes with it. But the other reason is more personal … to my grandson, when he is holding my hand he is carrying his light with him. I can tell him the truth about the dark, I can vanquish the things which hide in dark corners, I can comfort, I can love, I can support, and I can help him persevere and overcome. This gives me great pleasure.

When we find ourselves in our own darkness, instead of telling God what we want to do, why don’t we just pray to Him “Papa come?”

We don’t even need to say, “and bring the light,” because He is light.

There is not a day which goes by that something in the paper or on television or on radio reminds us that we live in a dark world and that, as the light leaves, it is becoming darker.

Maybe the antidote to this is much simpler than we think. Maybe the antidote to darkness and fear is for us to, in boldness, say to the author of creation, “Papa come.” After all, it works for my grandson. Why wouldn’t it work for us?

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© 2015 GBF

Bread – Concrete

April 6, 2015


Readings for Monday, April 6, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Jonah 2:1-9; Acts 2:14, 22-32; John 14:1-14; Psalms 66,93,98

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Our God is not a god of theory but of fact. His promises are concrete promises; His actions are concrete actions. They have been touched and experienced by people like us. These concrete actions and promises have been reported to us as history because they are in fact historical; they happened in the past.

For those people who would reject the Bible as made up old stories, like fairy tales, designed to instruct in life lessons but bearing little truth except that which is common to all mankind’s experiences, I would ask – what is it about the people of old which strikes you as unobservant, unable to accurately report, unable to hear or see, unable to think, unable to separate reality from imagination, unable to accurately assess the truthfulness of what they have seen, tasted, touched, or heard? To say that the Bible is inaccurate or unhistorical or untruthful is to reject the many, many people who were observers, participants, and writers about the events chronicled.

But… today’s readings contain fantastic statements about reality; therefore, it must be that they are not real? Just because something is uncommon does not make it untrue or unreal. Just because I have no experience with something does not make it ethereal smoke. The concrete event which has occurred has occurred whether I am there or not to witness it, and it has occurred whether I understand why or how it occurred.

The three fantastic history lessons today begin with Jonah. Chapter 2 begins with “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, …’I called out to the Lord, out of my distress….’” Jonah 2:1-2 How could Jonah be in the belly of a fish? Who knows anyone who has been in the belly of a fish? Well, let’s think concretely for a minute. Are there fish large enough to hold a person? I think the answer to that is “yes” (particularly if you consider a whale a fish). Is it possible for God to sustain life in the middle of the water? Well, we all have heard of people in cars who survive being submerged because of the existence of an air pocket. Is being in a car under ten feet of water any different than being in a large fish under ten feet of water? Do we know someone who has been in a fish before and who has lived to tell about it? The answer is actually “yes.” We know Jonah.

The second fantastic history lesson today is in Acts. We read in Acts the beginning of Peter’s speech to those gathered. A simple fisherman, basically uneducated, denies Christ … gives a sermon which results in three thousand men being baptized. This is a fantastic event, but maybe less fantastic because we all know people who have surprised us, who have risen to the occasion and done something remarkable, which we did not believe they had the capacity for. But built into his sermon is this: “…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men…This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” Acts 2:23, 32

Jesus died and was raised up, resurrected. “Of that we are all witnesses.” For people who deny the concreteness of Jesus’ death and resurrection as too fantastic, they must reject Peter and all of the other witnesses as liars or fools. Peter says “I saw that.” Either he did or he didn’t. But Peter also says “And everyone up here with me on the podium did too.” Which is more fantastic and unbelievable, that Peter spoke so ably, for the first time apparently ever, that 3,000 men heard and believed, or that Christ died and rose again? These are concrete moments in the history of the world and to reject them as such is to reject the truthfulness of all of the witnesses.

In today’s final reading from John, Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” John 14:6-7. In one fell swoop, Jesus makes the concrete claims that He is identical with the Father (that He is God) and that He is the only way to God. These are fantastic statements about reality. There is nothing in the these statements to “believe” in. They are either statements of fact or statements of fiction. They are either concrete in meaning or are someone’s made-up dream.

I certainly have the power to say that a blue sky is not blue, but red. But does my saying it is red make the sky any less blue?

Just like the sky is blue, we can say that Jonah prayed from the belly of a fish; that an uneducated fisherman, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, delivered a sermon responded to by 3,000 men; that Jesus died and was resurrected, verified by many people with their own eyes and ears; and that when we see Jesus we see the Father. I can say it wasn’t a fish, that the speaker wasn’t Peter, that Jesus didn’t say “I am the way,” and that Jesus didn’t really die and He wasn’t really resurrected, but my saying it does not make it true. The concrete truth is not what I say it is … it is what is. History is history. Facts are facts. Witnesses are witnesses.

Our choice is really to see the concrete for what it is and embrace it, whether we “like” it or not, or reject the concrete for a story of our own making, a fantasy of self and the idols we create to reflect ourselves.

We can either play in the world of God, of reality, or in the world of ourselves, of fantasy.

Where this week do you want to play?

__________

© 2015 GBF

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