Bread – Reliance

May 29, 2015


Readings for Friday, May 29, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 5:1-22; 2 Cor. 4:1-12; Luke 16:10-18; Psalms 31,35

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In the last two weeks, I have seen a friend find out that he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer when he went to the doctor because he was just not feeling well. Another friend has lost his job for no good reason except for a change of management. Bread has not come out for the last two weeks in substantial part because my e-mail “broke,” and when it became “unbroken” two months of e-mails had disappeared. Another friend has, in the last three days, had four major appliance-systems in his house fail. A client has been flooded from the rains.

All these disasters have given me pause to think about how much I rely on – my health, my wealth, the Internet, the weather, and, finally, my gadgets.

And when those things fail I find that my reliance on them rests upon a crumbling foundation. I cannot rely on my health when it has failed; I cannot rely on my wealth when it has disappeared; I cannot rely on good weather when it turns bad; I cannot rely on my gadgets when they don’t work; and, finally, I cannot rely on the Internet or my e-mail or any other kind of technology. It all disappoints, falters, and finally fails.

And yet isn’t it sort of a sad statement on me and everyone else for that matter that we rely on what fails all the time, as if it won’t fail. I know they will fail but I rely on them anyway – doesn’t that seem like some form of foolishness?

The truth is that I probably, if I admit it, rely more on my dishwasher than I do on God. The dishwasher fails and God does not, but I rely on the dishwasher more often and more consistently more than I do God.

Our money says “In God We Trust.” Really? Isn’t it true that we trust first in ourselves, in our thoughts and ideas, our inventions, our tower of Babel than we trust in God?

What will carry us through this storm of failures – failure of health, wealth, weather, friends, ourselves, our gadgets, our technology, our education, our science?

The answer is nothing will carry us through the deadly tornados of life except for Jesus. I would say “that’s it” but that would be an untrue statement, because Jesus is not a “that,” He is not a philosophy or an idea or a man-made invention; He is He. So what I should really say is “that’s Him.”

Our reading today from Corinthians says it all – “We have this treasure [Jesus Christ, the Lord] in jars of clay…We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair …” 2 Cor. 4:7-8.

I have to admit that when I was afflicted with the loss of my e-mail, my first tendency was to be driven to despair as I spent hours trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together. It was only when I focused on Him and not me that I realized my reliance had been misplaced.

It’s Friday and all week long I (and I’ll bet you as well) have been relying on our health, our wealth, our education, our talents, our friends, the Internet, and our gadgets … and what has it gotten us except to the end of the week, barely, maybe. Maybe, reflecting on that, I (and we) can begin relying more regularly and completely on the One who can and does bring us through adversity into life, here and forever tomorrow.

There was a good friend of mine, now dead, who always prayed before he started his car that it would start and prayed before he hit the garage door button that the garage door would open. Now, me, I’ll just go start the car and hit the garage door button, in total reliance that they will work. But I think my friend got it right – why rely on what will fail and instead rely on who does not?

A thought for the day as I go and start my car. Will I rely on the car to start or Him? I don’t know. Old habits are hard to break. Thank God He is patient and that He does not fail, even though I do.

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© 2015 GBF

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Bread – Mysteries

May 13, 2015


Readings for Wednesday, May 13, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; James 5:13-18; Luke 12:22-31; Psalm 119:97-120

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There is a difference between our mysteries and God’s. In our typical mystery, there are characters acting in a plot, typically trying to solve why something happened or why something is the way it is. It can be a murder mystery or a science mystery, but the setup is the same – something has happened which is, on the surface, unexplainable; trained, intelligent, and curious people undertake a detailed investigation of all of the facts leading up to and surrounding the mystery; and the ending is appropriate – the great Holmes solves the murder or the great

Einstein solves the equation … and we are done. Man’s reason and worldly wisdom has solved the mystery, proving that man is in control.

In God’s typical mystery, there is an unexplainable event in which both man and God play some kind of part. Man is instructed by God what to do and what to say, how to behave, and God acts in His sovereign way of decision. Man does his part and sometimes the result is good and sometimes it is not, sometimes it is effective and sometimes it is not, sometimes God shows up and sometimes He does not. The mystery is this – we have done what God has told us to do and yet, there is the sovereign work of God in the mix. This sovereign work is in one sense predictable (fulfillment of God’s promise) and in another sense it is not predictable (God’s sovereign will in the circumstances does not necessarily align with ours). The mystery surrounding why this is, the explanation sought in man’s mysteries, is and cannot be solved by man. The solution lies just out of reach. Man’s mind and his efforts cannot reach it; God’s mysteries are and remain mysterious. To a rational man full of worldly education and wisdom, this is nuts. To his thinking, everything can be explained if but we knew all the facts and knew how things logically work together. To a faithful man full of heavenly wisdom, the mystery lays as it should … at the feet of God.

God’s mysteries abound through the Bible. We are responsible for our sin (because it comes from our disobedience) and yet is the sovereign work of God who saves us from death to sin. In God’s economy, 90% (what we have left after the tithe) is worth more than 100%. We are commanded to preach the Gospel in the world and work in the fields where the harvest is great, but it is God who delivers saved lives.

Today our readings deliver to us two such mysteries. The first, in James, is the instruction to Christians regarding sickness. “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” James 5:14-15 Now, we know from personal experience that when the elders of the church pray over a sick person, sometimes they get well and sometimes they don’t. That is the mystery. However, our instructions are clear – We need to pray for those who are sick in full expectation (faith) that they will be healed. That is our job … We are to pray in faith. But it is not our prayer of faith which delivers the result, it is God in His sovereignty deciding how and when this Christian will be healed. Whether the sickness is healed in life or in death, it will be healed – that is the prayer of faith. But delivery of the results – that is the action of God. The mystery is how these two interact (the prayer of faith and the sovereignty of God). This mystery cannot be solved because God cannot be compelled to obey our prayers; but we are to pray in faith in full expectation that He will listen and that He will act. Can this be explained by human wisdom? No. We have reached the edge of rationality and stepped into faith and obedience – obedience to do what God through James has commanded, and faith that God will act upon those prayers.

The second mystery is in Luke. Jesus says in Luke today not to be anxious, knowing that God will deliver you what you need when you need it. Instead of worrying, Jesus says “…seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” Luke 12:31. The reason this is a mystery is that we are commanded elsewhere to work, to invest and use our talents unto the Lord, and to share our wealth with those in need. To do this in today’s world, we cannot sit back on our couches in reliance upon other people to feed and clothe us, and we cannot leave our wealth to winning the lottery. On the other hand, God says not to worry, because God will fulfill our needs. So isn’t that a mystery? We are supposed to work hard as unto the Lord and yet, it is not our labor that produces wealth for us, it is God’s grace, mercy, and benevolence toward us. If we make a fortune in business, it is us who made it or God who gave it to us? The mystery is wrapped up in the answer to that question, which is “yes.” “Yes” we made it and “no” we didn’t. Somehow, our industriousness and God’s blessing combine to provide us what we need. The illusion of the world is that we produce our own wealth; the mystery of God is that it comes from God, but we cannot sit in the corner and anticipate those blessings. The mystery is that we do not work for our blessings but somehow the blessings are tied to our obedience to the Lord, which means we work. If we work alone without God, we work in vain even though we may have wealth by worldly standards. The cost of our work in this case is worry and anxiety, because if it depends on us, then we are in big trouble. However, if we sit over in the corner doing nothing, we are not obedient to God and the cost of our laziness is presumption toward God, resulting in little if any blessing. Are work and blessing connected? No, but the mystery is that, in some way, they are connected. We need not worry because God will give us what we need; we need to be obedient and work because we have been commanded to do so. Somehow, in combination with our work and God’s gifts, we become wealthy in spirit and maybe in goods and possessions as well. This mystery is unexplainable and must be embraced, not with our mind, but with our heart of faith.

Mysteries. There are many, many, many of these we will run across in our walk as Christians with Jesus our Lord. Will we run around trying to solve them or will we just accept them in faith and keep on trucking down God’s path for our life.

It is a waste of time for us to try to solve God’s mysteries because we are not God. It is not a waste of time to accept these mysteries, these miracles, in faith and to resolutely set our face toward God and walk in the path laid out for us. And while we are at it, we can contemplate the greatest mystery of all – why God bothered to come in flesh to save us, to die for us on the cross, and to give us mercy when we deserve none. And be thankful.

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© 2015 GBF

Bread – Crosses

May 11, 2015


Readings for Monday, May 11, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 8:1-10; James 1:1-15; Luke 9:18-27; Psalms 77, 79, 80

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It is Monday and everything in our reading today points toward the crosses we must bear this week. The question is not whether we will bear them, but how. Will we bear them in pain, suffering, and anger toward God or will we bear them in joy, love, and gratitude to God?

Deuteronomy points out that God may save us from our particular prison but He may also let us wander in the wilderness for a long time before we see the promised land. He will be there, but the road will be hot and dusty, and we will be driven to our knees in radical dependence upon the bread (manna) and water which God provides. During this wilderness time, what we receive from God will never be what we want, but it will be what we need. In these circumstances, we should be full of joy, love, and gratitude because the Lord has told us why: “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what is in your heart, whether you will keep His commandments or not….that He might make you know that man does live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord… For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land…And you shall eat and be full…” Deut. 8:2-3,7,10

And James reminds us that we shall meet trials and, because we have faith in Jesus, we are to meet these trials with joy. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness…Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation…Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life…” James 1:2-3,9,12

And, finally, from Jesus Himself we hear these words: “And He said to all, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoevere would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

From Scripture today we see there are three ways crosses can come. God can cause us to go through them (Deut.), we may face them from the world simply because we are Christian (James), and we may choose to take it up on our own, because we are in fact followers of Christ.

But regardless of how we get it, a cross is a cross. It is heavy, tiring, difficult to handle, rough to the touch, and an instrument of torture and death. And, in fact, when we are carrying our particular crosses in dealing with our own sin, in dealing with our families, in dealing with the workplace, and in dealing with each other, we may in fact feel tortured, put upon, roughed up, and weighed down.

How will you choose today and this week to carry your cross(es). In joy, steadfastness, and hope, or in misery. The choice is ours. Come, Holy Spirit, and help us choose wisely.

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© 2015 GBF


Readings for Friday, May 8, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: **; Rom. 14:13-23; Luke 8:40-56; Psalm 106

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I hate Romans (the book written by Paul, not the people). Whenever I hit a wall of failing to understand, it is generally somehow related to Romans. Romans makes me think and forces me to dig deeper into Scripture and my own preconceptions. In other words, I read something with my interpretation of plain meaning and, rather than being able to disappear in the sunset with my own wonderful thoughts, I then confront something in Romans which is jarringly different, which causes me to test my preconceptions. It causes me to think and that is work and time consuming. What a pain Romans is.

Today there is a sentence in our reading from Romans which made no sense to me initially: “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Rom. 14:23b. As soon as I read this, I flipped it mentally and then reached this conclusion – “For whatever proceeds from faith is not sin.” And then I thought to myself, surely Paul is not saying that if we believe in something strong enough, then what we do with that belief is not sin? For example, my faith in God is so complete that I am pleased to kill another person for God. Is Paul saying that murder is not a s in when it proceeds from faith?

Now I know that can’t be right because elsewhere in Scripture, asserted faith in God to cover deliberate sin is condemned. The sin is in the action forbidden by God. The worship of idols is sinful whether I am worshiping them out of denial of God or faith in God.

So, anyway, when I read this sentence I hit the proverbial intellectual brick wall, where Paul is saying something in Scripture which flat has to be wrong.

I have found that, where my interpretation hits a wall against God’s truth, it is time to test my interpretation and not God’s truth. Our tendency is to say that Paul was just wrong, or that his words were not written down correctly, or that this is a proof text for continuing to sin after you have faith in Christ. This is a tendency at best to be lazy and at worse to place our judgment above God’s Word, to raise ourselves as judges of the truthfulness of God or His revealed Word.

So, maybe Paul is not wrong. What?

There are two things going on here, one is context and the other is assumption. First, in context Paul is talking about the practice of Christianity as opposed to Judaism and discussing whether the Mosaic law pertaining to foods has to be followed by Christians. Today, that may seem to be trivial, but back then it wasn’t. So the context is not talking about how Christians should treat everyone, but how they should treat each other. That matters because no one would argue that Paul here is talking about murder; instead, he is talking about the social commandments, not the moral commandments.

But even more important, I think, is that the second thing going on is assumption (on my part). Paul says “For whatever proceeds from faith is not sin.” I assumed that “whatever” means “whatever,” from the lesser (food) to the greater (murder). Why should I assume that? If the context is food, why not just leave it there – what is so important that I extend it to murder, except to put myself in judgment over God’s Word.

But there is a second assumption going on, a more critical one. This is the assumption I made about the nature of faith. What is “faith” in the context of what Paul is talking about. It is not a trivial belief in the benefits of non-kosher hotdogs; it is the transformative faith of total reliance upon Jesus Christ as our Lord. Who, in their transformed heart, would deliberately act to offend God? Paul is essentially saying that, if your brother is bought by Christ, who are we to deliberately offend our brother?

I think too often I (and here I am joined by many people) trivialize saving faith. Part of that trivialization is our emphasis on saying magic words to come to Christ. Part of it is our de-emphasis of sin. Part of it is in the failure to adequately contemplate Christ’s horrible death on the cross for me (and you). It is the faith of which Paul talks which results in a transformed life, full of good works, in full relationship with God, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Who has that faith who also deliberately sins? No, what proceeds from the faith Paul has in mind is good works pleasing to God, not insults to God. Part of these good works is kindness to our brothers.

if one side of coin is true then the other side of the coin must also be true (the inverse), but why? What gives me the rights to take what Paul says and reverse it and then call my reversal truth? If Paul had also wanted to call the inverse of what he said the truth, he could have done so like this – For whatever proceeds from faith is not sin and for whatever proceeds

And sure enough, when I look “faith” up in my Greek dictionary, I find this meaning of faith listed first: “Being persuaded, faith, belief in general; it implies such a knowledge of, assent to, and confidence in certain divine truths, especially those of the Gospels, as produces good works.”

Oh, the kind of faith Paul is talking about is the kind of faith which can only produce good works. That is why he can say with confidence that what proceeds from faith is not sin.

And that is why I need to be very careful not to jump to conclusions, and to read from God’s Word and not into it. The only interpretation worth hearing is the one which God gives us and not the one we give God.

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© 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.

Bread – Many

May 4, 2015


Readings for Monday, May 4, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: **; Col. 3:18-4:18; Luke 7:36-50; Psalms 56, 57, 58, 64, 65

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When I prepare this Bread, I first edit the top line, putting in the verses for the day from the Book of Common Prayer. Sometimes while I do this, I get an image. Today, I have to admit, it was a negative image. When I was writing down the list of Psalms to read for today, my thought was – “This is a lot, this is too many.”

Too many for what? Too many to read because I am busy? Too many to list because I am running out of room? Too many to think about because I can have only one thought at a time? How ridiculous! And yet that is what I thought, “Why so many…”

To tell you the truth, isn’t this one of the questions we ask ourselves every day? Why so many problems? Why so many burdens? Why so many telephone calls? Why so many angry people? Why so many bills? Why so many things? Why so many “To Do’s”? Why so many …?

Do we ever ask the question, “Why so many blessings?”

In today’s reading from Luke, we witness the woman with the alabaster flask of nard, who pours it out on and over Jesus’ feet. The Pharisee host asks Jesus why He was permitting a sinner to do this for Him. Jesus asks the Pharisee a question regarding who would love Jesus more, the person who was forgiven few debts or the person who was forgiven many debts. After the Pharisee responded that it would be the person who was forgiven many debts and Jesus points out all of the ways that the sinful woman had expressed love for Him, He said to the Pharisee “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven….” Luke 7:47

How many sins do you have? How many of those sins have been forgiven by Jesus’ finished work on the cross? How many sins remain unforgiven? Hopefully, you answered “Many,” “All,” and “None.”

There are two lenses through which Christians can look at the world. One lens emphasizes the many forgiven sins and the many blessings we receive now and in eternity. The other lens emphasizes the many burdens, sorrows, and injuries which we suffer from every day.

Our job as Christians is to proclaim the gospel, to reap the harvest which God has planted. What lens of many would be most effective at doing this? The lens of many blessings or the lens of many curses?

What lens of many do we see the world through? Are five Psalms really too many given the many blessings poured out upon us daily?

I fell into our natural trap of saying, “Yes, five Psalms are too many.” But God rescued me from that trap by bringing to my mind how many sins I committed this morning which have already been forgiven.

And I realized that my many whinings should be turned into many thanksgivings. And my heart of selfishness turned into a heart of gratitude. And so a day begun with many aggravations turned into a day going forward with many hopes, all because God has done for me what I could not do for myself. Now, all I have to do is to offer many prayers at many moments during the many minutes of today.

From our reading in Colossians – “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving … Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each person.” Col. 4:5-6

God, help us to set aside our many hurts so that we can realize Your many blessings and graciously speak to many people about You. Amen.

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© 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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