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

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Bread – Appearances

September 26, 2014


Readings for Friday, September 26, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Esther 8:1-8,15-17; Acts 19:21-41; Luke 4:31-37; Psalms 88,91,92

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“Appearances can be deceiving.” Who has not heard that truism and in fact probably uttered it on more than one occasion?

In today’s readings we have three examples of different types of appearances. Two appear to be one thing when they are of another (deceiving appearances) and the the third is real. The real question is how to tell them apart.

In Esther, Esther has overcome her fears and gone to the king to protect Mordecai and the rest of the Jews. She is successful. Mordecai is given great honor and is permitted by the king to speak for him and to seal his messages with the king’s ring. Mordecai uses this power to send an order throughout the empire that, not only are the Jews not to be touched, but they now have the power to protect themselves and, on one day, to take “take vengeance on their enemies.” Esther 8:13. Our focus is not so much on this, however, as it is the last sentence – “And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them.” Esther 8:17b

These people said they were Jews because it was the safe, the easy thing to do. They appeared to be Jews but they were not Jews. How many so-called Christians fall into the same camp today? It is an easy life, to say that “Jesus is my king and savior,” and yet have no meaning behind it. You get to participate in Christian things, show up in the assembly with your trappings of Christian affiliation, dine with people of like mind, and yet still have the appearance without the reality, just like the Assyrians claimed to be Jews when they were not.

In Acts, Paul has brought the gospel to Ephesus. Ephesus was the center of the worship of Artemis, one of the Greek and Roman pantheon of gods, and the people of the city made quite a living off the tourists who came to see the great god of silver. These craftsmen made a good living off of selling little silver Artemis-gods and they complained that Paul was teaching “gods made with hands are not gods.” The context of this statement is that their little gods were made with hands and therefore not gods, but the broader application is that Artemis himself was no god either because man had invented him and crafted his image as their idol. Artemis had the appearance of deity without the reality of deity; he had the appearance of power without the reality of power.

In Luke, Christ preaches with authority in the synagogue on the Sabbath. The people were astonished at His teaching, because it was with great authority. A demon proclaims that He is the “Holy One of God” and Christ commands the demon to leave and he does so. The people are astonished and ask themselves “What is this word? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out!” Luke 4:36. Jesus has both the appearance and reality of being God.

What is the difference between the first two, where the appearance is deceiving, and the third, where the appearance represents reality? I think the answer is actually pretty simple – if the actions of the person are consistent with the person’s appearance, the appearance is likely reflecting reality; whereas, if the actions are inconsistent with the appearance, the appearance is likely deceptive. In Esther, the self-proclaimed Jews likely only made a stab at compliance with God’s Word and His instructions for life; they likely said they believed in God without actually believing in God. In Acts, there were no actions taken by Artemis consistent with his appearance as a god; the actions were all by people on Artemis’ behalf. With Jesus, however, the actions and the appearance were synchronized. He was God and He acted like God would act. He interpreted Scripture with authority because He superintended the writing of Scripture. He commanded the demon to leave because as God He is sovereign.

Today, you may appear to be a Christian … you may attend Bible studies, engage in your daily moment of prayer, attend services at a the church of your choice, and chip in a few bucks toward the cause. But is your appearance deceiving? Are your actions consistent with your appearance? Are you poor in heart and humble in spirit, giving generously from what God has given you, living in gratitude for your blessings, renewing your mind on the anvil of the Word, working on your relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, loving your neighbor as yourself, setting self aside, obeying King Jesus, growing in maturity in Christ?

We like to put on the suit, read the script, live in the right neighborhood, join the right organizations, have the right friends … and make a good appearance.

It is between each of us and God as to whether that appearance matches reality, of whether our works are reflective of our appearance. If we claim to be Christian, this question, this testing must occur … or we deceive no one except ourselves.

____________

© 2014 GBF

Bread – Who

June 19, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, June 19, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 2:12-26; Acts 2:1-21; Luke 20:27-40; Psalms 81,82,119:97-120

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In our reading today from 1 Samuel we are introduced to the priest’s Eli’s bad, bad children. Setting the scene, the writer says: “Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord….the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt…how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting … I [Eli] hear of your [the sons’] evil dealings from all the people.” 1 Sam. 2:12,17,22-23

These sons, these heirs of a potential high place (as priests) among the people, threw their inheritance in their father’s face, in God’s face, and in the people’s face. They used their protected position for evil. They did not use their wealth and power for good, but for evil. All they knew was the world’s ways and not the Father’s.

Know people like that? Does one of those people stare at you from the mirror every morning?

All this is to point to the question which Eli asks of his wayward sons: “If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” 1 Sam. 2:25

If I sin against the Lord (really, the question should not be “if” but “when”), who can intercede for me? Who indeed. That is the question.

You have to remember that it was Eli asking this question. He is the priest at the time. It was his job to go into the Holy of Holies and, applying right sacrifice, intercede for the wayward of Israel. Essentially his question is an admission that he is inadequate to the task. Since he is the only person with “authority” to intercede, he has essentially admitted by this question that, when we sin against God, there is no one (at that time) who could intercede.

Various religions answer the “who” question in various ways. All of them except one (to my knowledge) answer the “who” with the word “man.” Man is the “who” in the question. We can intercede for ourselves by offering right sacrifice, by our good works, by our adherence to the rules of a particular book or a particular holy man, spirit guide, shaman, or leader, by our following the proper steps in the proper order. The “who” answer for these religions is “me.” I am the great “who” who can intercede on behalf of myself before God, assuming that I have done those works required of me by Buddha, Mohammed, Ron Hubbard, the local head of my group, or whoever.

Christianity answers the “who” by saying God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the “who” who can intercede for me before God for my many sins against Him.

And not only does Jesus have the power (the “can”), He has the desire and purpose (the “will”). He can and He will for those people who are His.

Since this is true, how is it so hard for the world to understand?

Very simply, if the “who” is Jesus then then “who” is not me. If the “who” is someone else, then I am dependent upon that person, I am needy, I am in want, I am lowly, I am a sinner, I am no better than Eli’s sons. And why would I, the successful, independent, thinking, educated, hard-working, intelligent, good-looking, important, self-righteous, proper person want to claim such need?

The barrier to Christ is not Satan, it is us, it is me. Satan may play upon ourselves, but all he does is point us in the direction of our own tendencies, our own inclinations, our own desires.

Then how do I bridge the place where I am to the place where He is, so that I may enlist Him in my aid before God? I never, never can. I can’t.

I will never know the true “who” until I recognize the false “who” for who he is – me. I will never know the true “who” until I am truly aware of my pitiful estate. And at that point, at the point of least “self,” I may, with God’s grace and in His power, be allowed to see a bridge which I might go over to meet the true “who.” But it is a bridge not of my imagination, my planning, or my doing – it is a bridge built by God it is a bridge made out of the timbers of the cross, bonded together by Christ’s blood; it is a bridge built for me. And as a result of God’s purpose and mercy, in God’s grace and with the power of His Holy Spirit, once having seen the bridge I might then be lifted up in His strong arms and carried across.

See, the “who” can never be me, it can only be Christ. That is why I need not worry when I am in the throne room of God, because the “who” is not me, not even one little bit.

_______________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Summary

July 30, 2012


Readings for Monday, July 30 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Joshua 24:16-33; Rom. 16:1-16; Matt. 27:24-31; Psalms 56, 57, 58, 64, 65

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Psalm 56 today ends in this: “I must perform my vows to You, O God; I will render thank offerings to You. For You have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.” Ps. 56:12-13

The reason this Bread is called “Summary” is because in just two verses, God through David has summarized what He has done for us and what, in response, we “must” do in response to that. In two verses we see what it means to be a Christian, boiled down to essentials.

While this summary should begin with God, in fact it begins with man. What is man’s behavior and why does he or she behave that way? What is the primary motivator which causes a person to respond in a particular way? In this Psalm, David has been seized by the Philistines – “my enemies trample on me all day long.” Ps. 56:2 He is not in a good place. He is in danger of falling into fear and despair. He writes this Psalm in part as praise and thanksgiving, but also to remind himself in these difficult circumstances of whose he is (God’s) and, given that, how he should behave in bad circumstances (“In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” Ps. 56:4) (“I must perform my vows to you, O God.” Ps. 56:12). The summary begins with man because it is always we who are in trouble, we who doubt, we who wander off the path. The summary begins with man because it is man who is lost, or having been saved by God, is constantly wandering off.

So the summary begins with man because we are who we are – it is always about us, about our hurts, about our ills, about our difficulties, about our successes and failures, about our life. At least that is our perspective and it was David’s perspective.

So the summary today begins with David choosing to behave in a particular way – by being obedient to God’s desires in his life (“I must perform my vows to You, O God”) and by being thankful (“I will render thank offerings to You.”). The process of coming to Christ is a choice to obey – it is a choice to repent, it is a choice to proclaim that Christ is Lord and that He is risen from the dead, it is a choice to submit to the waters of baptism, it is a choice to join the family of God on earth and in heaven. The process of growth in Christ is a choice to obey His word, His standards, His purpose, His ways. “I must.” “I must” not because I am a slave in chains, ordered to do, but because I am free and by choice am sold out to the One who has made me free.

What is the reason that David (and we) “must?” It is “for [because] You [God] have delivered my soul from death… that I may walk before God in the light of life.” Ps. 56:13.

“You [God] have delivered my soul from death.” Because the focus of so much, including this Psalm, is on “me,” there may be a tendency to emphasize “my doing,” “my choice,” “my obedience,” “my response.” And is so doing we really miss this “because” phrase. “I must” because “You have.” “I can” because “You did.” The statement is “For You have delivered my soul from death.” I did not help You do this. I did not initiate the action of delivery by making a promise or by doing some act of religion. You, God, in Your sovereignty and as a result of the exercise of Your will for Your purposes took my soul, everything that I am, and You brought me from death unto life. What choice did I make in this process? I did not choose God but He chose me. In death, I had no ability to choose anything. In death there was no art or ability in me to bring me to life. Had it not been for God’s sovereign act of mercy to save me, I would still be dead.

Knowing that, “for” that reason, because of that, “I must.” Though I be surrounded by misery, death, imprisonment, discomfort, loss, disaster, difficulty, adversity, “I must perform my vows … I will render thank offerings…”

In today’s reading from Matthew, we are in the middle of the Passion. Pilate declares that he is innocent of the death of Jesus, but puts the State’s imprimatur on the proceedings anyway. In a self-curse, the people say “His [Jesus’] blood be on us and on our children.” Matt. 27:25. But what man intended for evil God intended for good, and so as a result we acknowledge today that His blood is on us. His blood covers us. “For You [Jesus] have delivered my soul from death…that I may walk before God in the light of life.”

Do I produce this “light of life?” No. God does so that I might walk in it. While I was still dead, Jesus took my soul, covered it in His blood, and raised me into the light of life. Therefore, I must.

That is the Christian story. David stuck to it. What about you?

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Sabbath

November 4, 2009


Readings for Wednesday, November 4 as
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Neh. 13:4-22; Rev. 12:1-12; Matt. 13:53-58
    Psalms 72, 119:73-96
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"Remember the Sabbath day [the seventh day, the day of rest], to keep it holy [set apart for honoring God]."  Ex. 20:8 (NASB).

This is the third commandment of God, the first one being to place God first and the second not to mistreat His Name.  If the Ten Commandments have any ranking in their order, then the command to keep the Sabbath day holy is pretty important.

Wow, have we screwed this one up.  Who among us does not disobey this command by doing work on Sunday (or Saturday, if you consider that day to the Sabbath day), by going grocery shopping, planting flowers, buying new electronics and installing them, cutting the grass, taking advantage of that sale at the department store, or cleaning up the car?

I guess familiarity breeds contempt.  We are so used to God’s miracle of the week that one day to us is like every other day.  "Oh – that demand by God to honor Him by setting aside a day a week for Him (and us), well it was for another era when people had nothing to do and lived in an agrarian society where people worked with their hands and back all week long and needed a day of rest and, well, today we have machines and the Internet to make our life easier.  And, in any event, it is the only day when I can run all my errands."  This last statement should hit home.  I have used it myself.

Or maybe you like the excuse that runs along the lines of "Well, that is Old Testament and we have freedom in Christ."  We have the freedom in Christ to honor and glorify Him, which brings us back to the point that, if you believe Jesus is God, then God Himself told us to honor Him by making the Sabbath a holy day.

Well, in today’s lesson in Nehemiah, believe it or not he had exactly the same problem.  He leaves Jerusalem for a while to go report to the Persian king and then returns to Jerusalem to find that … people are doing things on the Sabbath:

"In those days I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs, and all other kinds of loads.  And they were bringing them into Jerusalem on the Sabbath…Men from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people Judah." Neh. 13:15-16.  [except for the winepress and the donkeys, sounds a little bit like Wal-Mart]

Nehemiah immediately rebuked the people of Jerusalem by saying "What is this wicked thing you are doing — desecrating the Sabbath day?  Didn’t your forefathers do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity upon us and upon this city?  Now your are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath."  Neh. 13:17b-18.  Later, Nehemiah threatens to beat up the foreigners who were trying to sell merchandise on the Sabbath to the Jews, and so they stopped selling their merchandise.

Notice that desecration of the Sabbath by buying and selling goods and by doing work is not just a problem today, it was a problem back then and, even before then.  In fact, Nehemiah describes desecration of the Sabbath as one of the reasons God destroyed Jerusalem and scattered the Jews during the Babylonian captivity.

Now I am not suggesting that you go out and beat up the clerks at Wal-Mart so they will stop selling stuff to you on Sunday, and I am not suggesting that God is so mad at you for desecrating the Sabbath that He is going to blow you up tomorrow.  But, stop and think for a moment, would doing nothing one day a week hurt or would it help?  Would a day spent reading a good book (one suggestion – the Bible) hurt or help?  Would a day a week spent talking to your spouse, your neighbors, and God hurt or help?

Ask yourself – am I leading the kind of joyful and peaceful life which Christ promised for all those who follow Him?  If not, think about whether part of the reason may be that you are desecrating the Sabbath.  Just think about it … pray about it … and listen to what God tells you.  And I suspect He will tell you to obey Him.

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Lord, help us to wisely answer the question, "Will you really lay down your life for Me?"  Lord, help us to love your Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ and written in Scripture, and to rely solely upon them as our source of information about how we should live.  Help us Lord to come to You, and once having come to You to become closer to You and to preach the Gospel to all people in all circumstances, in and out of season, as You have commanded.  Help us know that You are God and we are not.  Assist us Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to be willing and obedient servants, and to keep your Sabbath holy as You have commanded.  It is only through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ that we are empowered to even make this prayer.  And so we thank You and praise You!  Amen.
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