Bread – Restrained

July 31, 2015


Readings for Thursday, July 30, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 4:1-12; Acts 16:25-40; Mark 7:1-23; Psalms 70,71,74

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In today’s reading from Acts, we are treated to the conversion of the jailer following Paul’s and Silas’ imprisonment and God breaking their chains through an earthquake. Every lesson I have ever heard taught on this passage emphasizes the miracle of the breaking of the chains, the jailer’s conversion, the conversion of the jailer’s household, and Paul’s insistence to the magistrates that he be treated properly, as a Roman citizen, with an apology.

Escaping my attention entirely was a minor miracle, which in today’s world would be a major miracle. Read along with me – “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying … and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake … and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer … was about to kill himself, supposing tht the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, ‘Do no harm yourself, for we are all here.” Acts 16:25-28

“We are all here.” Who is we? It is just not Paul and Silas, but all of the prisoners who “were listening to them.” When the prisoners were set free by the earthquake, they all stayed behind!

It is understandable that Paul and Silas stayed behind because they had a point to make. But everyone else?

Now it could be that a very little amount of time passed so that the prisoners had no time to escape, but the implication of the factual recitation is that some time passed (It does not say that the jailer woke immediately; instead, the word “immediately” is reserved to the opening of the doors and the releasing of the shackles [bonds]).

So I think that some time passed between the release and the jailer’s discovery.

Why did the prisoners not leave immediately? In the normal course of human behavior, would not at least some of the prisoners have run out the door as soon as they got a chance? Yet not one left. Why?

Maybe there was a miracle. Maybe God supernaturally restrained them. Or, better yet, maybe they heard the prayers and hymns of Paul and Silas and were converted, waiting therefore in obedience to be told what to do. In any event, their human, automatic dash for freedom was restrained. And that strikes me as a miracle.

How often are we in position where God has created a situation where we are allowed, if we take it, to beat a hasty exit? Perhaps it is a difficult conversation and the telephone rings. Perhaps it is at an event and we need (want) to leave. Circumstances come into play where we can breach a contract and get away with it?

Do we ever ask God, “should we?” Should we take the opportunity to exit stage left, or are we obeying our instincts for survival as opposed to leaning into God’s command of love?

Perhaps today, perhaps some time in the future, we will have the opportunity to act in our self-interest. Perhaps at that time, if prompted by the Holy Spirit, we should just restrain ourselves and remain in the difficult situation where we are. For us to disobey our natural instincts and to obey a higher calling is itself a miracle and a major one at that. But also, perhaps, God wants to do a little miracle in our lives so that we will be in position to participate in the even greater miracle He has planned.

Restraint is a hard thing for us with so many opinions and options.

But think about it … if the other prisoners had not restrained themselves and abandoned self-preservation for Godly obedience, where would the jailer and his family be today?

Were the prisoners the minor players in today’s drama … or were they the main players? What happened to them afterwards? We don’t know because history and Scripture do not tell us.

But what we do know is this. God worked a miracle in their lives that day and He works the same miracle in ours. And sometimes that miracle is to help us restrain ourselves. Sometimes that miracle is to help us deal with where we are rather than run out the exit door.

Sometimes that miracle is to help us wait for Him.

One more observation. Assuming that the prisoners stayed in jail and their physical imprisonment remained, who was their jailer? Do you think their life was better or worse after?

God may tell us to wait, to restrain ourselves, to let go the perceived opportunity because what He has in mind is a greater blessing than we can imagine. The problem is, from inside the jail cell, we can’t see it. That is why they call it faith. Faith to wait, faith to act, faith to say “no” and faith to say “yes.” All when called upon by God.

And the fact that we can do that and, through the Holy Spirit, discern when we should restrain and when we should act … is a miracle.

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© 2015 GBF

Bread – Intrigue

July 28, 2015


Readings for Tuesday, July 28, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 3:6-21; Acts 16:6-15; Mark 6:30-46; Psalms 61,62,68

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Today in Samuel we are introduced to palace intrigue. Abner is a strong man for Saul, who is in the fight for Israel with David. Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, accuses Abner with having an affair with one of Saul’s concubines. Abner gets mad and runs off to help David. David, however, wants Abner to steal Michal, Saul’s daughter and the woman David had worked and paid for, from her current husband, Paltiel, and bring her to David, which he does. Abner gets the tribal leaders in Israel to line up with David and reports that to him. David throws Abner a feast and sends him on his way to gather up the clans in allegiance to David. Joab, David’s key strong man, comes back after Abner has left and accuses Abner of coming only to deceive David. In tomorrow’s readings, Joab kills Abner.

Sex, power, thrones, feasts, victory and defeat, slyness, and deceit. What more could want in our little tale of intrigue.

Contrast this to the simple telling of how Paul got to Philippi in our reading from Acts today. There is no intrigue here, no guile, no attempt to control power, no sex. Paul tries to go to one place and the Holy Spirit tells him no. Paul tries to go to another place and the Holy Spirit tells him no again. In a vision, Paul sees a man from Macedonia and knows that is the Holy Spirit telling him what to do next. He goes to Philippi in Macedonia and does the Lord’s work.

In these two history lessons we can clearly see some of the characteristics of worldly affairs and Christ’s affairs.

Worldly affairs are awash in intrigue, in intricate relationships where everyone is jockeying for position, money, sex, or power. Worldly affairs are complex, creating twists and turns that it takes entire novels to follow.

Christ’s affairs are awash in simplicity. We feed a poor family who needs food. Where is the intrigue there? We listen to what God tells us through Scripture and we obey. Where is the intrigue there? We talk to people about Christ. Where is the intrigue there? We love others. Where is the intrigue? We stand in the evil day. Where is the intrigue? We build our houses on sold rock. Where is the intrigue?

In our reading today from Mark, Jesus takes the loaves and fishes and multiplies them to feed five thousand men and an untold number of women and children. With the clear eye of faith empowered by the Holy Spirit, in this simple act we can see God and His dominion over creation. With the clouded eye of worldly knowledge and education, we contemplate the mystery of magic and wonder what spell He put over the people, what lies are told in Scripture, what exaggeration occurs in the retelling, what deal Christ must have cut with Satan. Through the world’s eyes, when we see a miracle we see intrigue – with the eyes of faith we just see another miracle.

Are you engaged today in the dance of intrigue, of making mountains out of molehills, of angling for the best deals, of creating strategic alliances? Is this Christ’s work or someone else?

Life lived unto the Lord is actually pretty simple and free of intrigue. Intrigue leads to entanglements and imprisonment of mind and soul, and perhaps even body. Simplicity leads to what? Health and freedom.

Are we engaged in the grand schemes of intrigue in our business, family, church, or other situations? Now what would any disciple of Christ do?

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© 2015 GBF

Bread – Unapproachable

July 21, 2015


Readings for Tuesday, July 21, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 25:1-22; Acts 14:1-18; Mark 4:21-34; Psalms 45,47,48

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In our reading today from Samuel, David has reached out to a wealthy man called Nabal and asked for a festival gift to David and his men because David and his men have kept Nabal’s men safe and Nabal’s assets protected. Sort of a “I’ve been nice to you, even though I didn’t have to be, so why don’t you be nice to me.” Nabal responds by saying “No” in a very offensive way, stating that he does not know David and, besides, “there are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters,” suggesting that David is nothing but a scoundrel.

David’s reaction is to “mount up” with 400 men and swords and teach Nabal (which, by the way, means “foolish”) a lesson in manners.

But in this story, what stands out to me is what Nabal’s servant says to Nabal’s wife about these events. He says “… for harm is determined against our master [Nabal] and against all his house, and he [Nabal] is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.” 1 Sam. 25:17

“He [Nabal] is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.”

Nabal is a man with wealth, many possessions, many servants, and the pride to go with it. He is a snob of the first order. And his staff have absolutely no respect for him because “one cannot speak to him.”

And the fact that Nabal cannot be informed or corrected by others makes him “worthless” in the circumstances. Even though he has a position of wealth, power, influence, and leadership, he is worthless in the circumstances because he will not listen to anyone except himself.

In our daily grind, how often are we so full of our anger, our purposes, our pride, our selfishness, our own goals and objectives, our own self-righteousness that we will not listen to anyone, that we cannot be informed of the truth, be imparted wisdom, or be helped in any manner. This attitude makes us worthless. It makes us worthless to God’s purpose for us, it makes us worthless to the people who rely upon us, it makes us worthless to being able to effectively engage the situation, and it essentially makes us worthless to ourselves, because all we have is an echo chamber for our ideas, where what I say bounces back to me as good advice. Notice that this overarching pride does not make me worth nothing, it just makes me worth less.

What do we do which makes us unapproachable, unteachable, uncommunicative, and ultimately unable? We feed our pride.

When we admit we could be wrong so that we are ready, willing, and able to listen and hear, are we any less right? When we never admit we are wrong and have no ear for disagreeable information or advice, does that make us any less wrong?

What Nabal did to David we do to God all the time. When God has a word of revelation for us through His Holy Spirit which we do not want to hear, we raise up the wall of unapproachability, content to surround ourselves with the walls of self-delusion. When God wants to speak to us in prayer, we make ourselves unavailable by just not praying. When God asks us for something which we do not want to give, we pretend we don’t hear Him or, even worse, deny that we even know who He is.

But as Christians there is one thing we know, and that is that while we were unapproachable, steeped in sin, God approached us and saved us. While we insulted God, God forgave us.

But other people are not God, and we have the ability to make ourselves unapproachable as far as they are concerned. In so doing, we make ourselves worthless.

When we have Jesus there is no need for the wall of self-preservation. When we have been preserved for all eternity by God’s sovereign act, what wall of protection from the world do we need?

Are we unapproachable? If so, what are we afraid of and why?

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© 2015 GBF

Bread – Peacocks

July 9, 2015


Readings for Thursday, July 9, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 16:14-17:11; Acts 10:17-33; Luke 24:36-53; Psalm 18

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I have always been fascinated by peacocks, not only because of their beauty but because of their offensive and defensive weapons. What are these weapons? The span of feathers which spread out when they are alarmed or want to make their point, displaying a broad variety of colors, many “eyes,” and a “huge” appearance, showing dominance in the situation. Of course, this display of color is also used for mating.

Many of us act like peacocks, strutting around in our finery asking the world to look at us and, then, when challenged or when we want to make an impressions, displaying a vision of ourselves much bigger than the reality. When we are told to think soberly about ourselves as we ought to, I translate this to “Don’t think of yourself as a peacock and don’t act like one either.” Our sin envelops us like filthy rags and not brilliant feathers, and our fear of what other people (the world) thinks of us lays waste to our self-image that we are bigger and better than life.

In today’s readings, we are introduced to a male peacock by the name of Goliath. When Goliath appears on the field of war, he stands nine feet tall, has on a coat of bronze mail which weighs, by itself, 125 pounds. The tip of his spear was an iron point weighing 15 pounds. He was one impressive dude – a peacock in full display. And yet we know from the history lesson (finished in tomorrow’s readings) that this titan of war was brought down by God through a boy without armor, a slingshot, and a stone small enough to fit in the slingshot. But before we get there, our lesson today ends with this – “When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine (Goliath) [“I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.”], they were dismayed and greatly afraid.” 1 Sam. 17:11

The world attacks Christians with peacocks. These enemies of Christ and the Word of God look big, they are well dressed and well-armed, they speak words which cast fear into the hearts and minds of the hearers, and they cause Christians to be “dismayed and greatly afraid.” Our recent pronouncement from the United States Supreme Court redefining marriage away from God’s definition have made Christians who attempt to teach God’s Word and His commands as the standard for life are dismayed and fear that society will marginalize them and turn them into refugees in the country which they built.

God reminds us in our reading today from Samuel that these fearful things the world throws at us are merely peacocks, ready to be brought down using God’s people using His tools in His time. There is nothing to fear from peacocks; there is something to fear in our reaction to them, because by so reacting we deny the power the God in the circumstances.

Peacocks cannot only be animals and people, but they can be concepts and ideas as well. Peter, as a Jew, was prohibited from dealing with unclean things and people. When he is invited in our reading from Acts to visit Cornelius, a Gentile Roman official, he reminds Cornelius “You [Cornelius] yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation…” Acts 10:28. Whether from tradition or otherwise, Peter was taught that he should not interact with Gentiles and, whenever he would approach, the peacock of an idea would spread its wings, saying “don’t come here, don’t pass by, or I’ll bite you or something worse!”

But there is a remainder to the sentence which I did not quote. Peter visited Cornelius because God added a “but,” “….but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.” Acts. 10:28

As our society devolves, the world (and the church) may throw up more and more peacocks to block our way, to convince us that we are going in the wrong direction. But God says to us that we don not have to become like them to engage them. We do not need the finery of the world to show that plain dress is worthy. We do not need the permission of the world to engage the world. We do not need to hide in the shelter of the sanctuary when the field is ready for harvest. We do not need the world to tell us what love is when we know who it is.

When we see whatever Goliath the world sends our way, we should not react with “dismay” and “great fear.” Instead, we should step into the field of battle, knowing that God has won and that we, in and through Him, get to participate in the victory. For this battle is not ours, but the Lord’s. And He is mighty to save.

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© 2015 GBF

Bread – Lament

July 7, 2015


Readings for Tuesday, July 7, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 15:24-35; Acts 9:32-43; Luke 23:56b-24:11; Psalms 5,6,10,11

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While there is celebration in the streets rejoicing over the triumph of man’s law over God’s, there is lament by many, including me, about how we as a society have come to reject God’s law as triumphant and substituted instead the sand of man’s whims and desires.

Our readings today speak powerfully to this.

From Psalm 11, “Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, ‘You will not call me to account?’” Ps. 11:13

When man rejects God and His Word, His standards for life, isn’t he like the wicked, believing that there will be no accounting for his sin?

Well, there is an accounting. In our reading today from 1 Samuel, Saul admits to Samuel that “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” 1 Sam. 15:24. In refusing to following thousands of years of history and the dictates of the Old and New Testaments, our United States Supreme Court feared the people more than God and obeyed the voice of the mob rather than the voice of God. So, Saul did what we have done, and this is what follows – Saul then says to Samuel, “’Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me…’ And Samuel said to Saul, ‘I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” 1 Sam. 15:25-26. Is this what will now happen to us in this country? There is a day of being called to account. Whether that day is today, as it was for Saul, is up to God and we certainly pray that He defers His judgment, but He knows what He will do.

So, returning to the Psalm, we read this lament – “if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? The Lord is in His holy temple…” Ps. 11:3-4

When the foundations are destroyed, what can we do indeed? The Psalmist answers this question by skipping the answer and going straight to the solution – God. Our answer to the question of what do we do when the foundations are destroyed is to remind ourselves that God reigns, not us.

And so what are the righteous to do in the evil day, in the day of destruction of foundation?

Our answer is found in our reading today from Luke – Jesus has been crucified. “The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how His body was laid….On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” Lk. 23:55-56 Jesus has been murdered and put in a borrowed tomb. His body has not been properly prepared with funeral spices, so there is action to be taken by the righteous. But wait! No action is taken because it is now the Sabbath and God has commanded His people to rest. Even though there is something to do, God’s people wait because it is God’s command to wait.

And while they wait in obedience to God’s Word and His commandments, God works. When the women returned, the stone had been rolled away because Jesus had been resurrected.

We can and should lament the situation in which we as people of faith find ourselves. But before we take matters into our own hands, we would do well to reflect on the Psalms, on Saul, and on the righteous women. God is in His Holy temple; God is in control. Yielding to passion rather than God’s law and His love results in bad things. Obedience to God’s will in our lives matters, because while we obey, God works His miracles.

The foundations crumble; what are we to do? God. Christ is crucified; what are we to do? God. We are appointed to a position of influence; what are we to do? God.

There is an eternal pattern here. So let’s follow it.

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© 2015 GBF

Bread – Yield

July 2, 2015


Readings for Thursday, July 2, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 13:5-18; Acts 8:26-40; Luke 23:13-25; Psalms 131-135

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There are remarkable parallels between the United States Supreme Court’s five to four ruling redefining marriage as something other than the Biblical definition and today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel.

Luke describes the decision by Pilate to release Jesus to the people for crucifixion. Here is what happened. “Pilate … said to them ‘..behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against Him [Jesus]. Neither did Herod…’…But they all cried out together, ‘Away with this man…’…Pilate addressed them once more…but they kept shouting ‘Crucify, crucify Him!’ A third time he [Pilate] said to them, ‘Why, what evil has He done? I have found in Him no guilt deserving death…’… But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that He should be crucified. And their voices prevailed.” Lk. 23:14-23

“And their voices prevailed.”

How often do people raise their loud voice against something which is wrong? Whether we call them lynch mobs or left-wing activists, aren’t they the same? They have a single objective and drown out all rational debate and conversation. Ultimately, they are so loud and so persistent that people of good will find it easier to give up than to resist. Pilate was one of those people. He had a heart for justice but just not the stomach to say “no,” afraid for something – maybe afraid for order in the streets, afraid of becoming entangled in religious debate, afraid of the mob, afraid of himself being tested and perhaps destroyed by the yellers.

Similarly, our United States Supreme Court has gone out of its way to give in to the yellers, to the mob, to the cries for “justice” to crucify God’s definition of marriage on the altar of “compassion,” giving up even that word by giving the loud voices what they want rather what was right.

Not only is there a parallel between the circumstances of the mob, the independent judiciary failing at their task, and the death of God’s Word (in Luke, the Word incarnate and with respect to the definition of marriage, the Word written), but there is also another parallel even more important.

And that parallel is that God let it happen. God’s sovereignty took Jesus to the cross – not the mob, not the words of the judiciary (in Pilate), not the actions of the soldiers driving the nails. Oh they had their part, but the play was written by God for His purposes and His glory. God not only let it happen, God caused it to happen.

The truth is that the Supreme Court would not have spit on God’s Word but for the fact that God caused it to happen.

Why, we don’t know.

But before we are so ready to take things into our own hands, in the hubris of self-centered thinking, maybe we should contemplate another of our readings today, the one from 1 Samuel. In 1 Samuel, Saul, the king, is confronted by the Philistines. Saul had started with three thousand men and by the time we get to the end of the lesson, he has about six hundred. That is an 80% attrition rate; 80% of the people abandoned Saul. The enemy, the Philistines, on the other hand had 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen and troops. Overwhelming odds against Israel and Saul. On top of that, Samuel the prophet had not shown up even though he said he would. Because Saul was getting nervous, God had apparently not shown up yet (through Samuel), Saul decided that he would take matters into his own hands and offer a sacrifice to God to get His good favor. Samuel immediately shows up and condemns Saul for disobeying the Lord and then tells Saul that he has lost his kingdom by failing to obey, even during the dark times just prior to the battle. 1 Sam. 13:5-18.

This Bread is called “Yield” for a reason. When we have yield sign on the road, it tells us to let the other car pass first. Sometimes that requires us to wait. When we jump ahead because we are in a hurry, there is an accident hiding right around the corner.

Jesus yielded to His Father’s desire that He go to the cross to atone for our sins. Saul did not yield to God and took the response into his own hands.

These two lessons teach us one thing. When we yield to God’s purpose and His will, good things happen although they may seem bad at the time. When we don’t yield to God’s purpose and His will, bad things happen although they may seem good at the time.

My suggestion to the marriage issue and, in fact, to all of life is this – why don’t we fall on our knees, ask for wisdom, yield our will to His, and then follow Him where He goes. We know from Scripture that when we do this, though the way seem rough and uneven, the results are grand because they are the Lord’s.

Let’s not be the mob which yields to their feelings at the moment or the secular society which increasingly yields to the mob, but let’s instead yield to God, listen for His Word and seek His good pleasure, be obedient to what God has given us in His Word, and follow where He leads after suiting up in His full armor.

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© 2015 GBF

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