Bread – Prey

August 2, 2017


Psalm 76

Glorious are You, more majestic than the mountains of prey.”  Ps. 76:4

What are the “mountains of prey?”  In my Bible, there is a cross-reference to Nahum, a “minor” prophet whose book I admit I have never read.  Like a dictionary, this cross-reference is not much help, being a reference to Nineveh (Assyria) and this statement – “Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions.  I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard.”  Na. 2:13

In our way of thinking, the word “prey” is something or someone who is attacked by a predator.  So between the murderer and the victim, the victim is prey and the murderer is predator.

So, since nothing in my Christian library helps me understand what “mountain of prey” is, I translate it roughly as a “mountain of things I chase after, I hunt for, I run down to the ground.”

And what are those things?  What do we chase after, hunt for, and run down to the ground?  What about the idols of this world?  Don’t we hunt for prestige, for honor, for glory, for a “special place,” for money, for wealth, for power, for position, for influence, for respect, for love?

And, indeed, all those things we search for on a regular basis, ready to capture them and put them into our storehouses, create a mountain to climb every day.  If we are not more cunning, our opportunity will be lost to someone more aggressive.  If we are not more assertive, our desired position will go to someone else.  If I don’t save my money, I won’t have enough to withstand those who would take it away from me (through selling me things I don’t need, etc.).

We chase our mountain of prey every day; we attempt to climb the mountain of what we want out of life.

There was (maybe is) an old video game called “Super Mario” where this guy, who looked like a worker, ran, jumped, twirled, and walked, a lot uphill, through all kinds of obstacles and dangers, to get his “prizes,” which included “gold coins.”  It wasn’t until I was thinking about a mountain of prey this morning that I realized that is what Mario was doing in that game, chasing his prey up the mountain … and that is what we do.

But God is more majestic, more glorious, than that mountain of junk, of idols, we chase after.

And of course He is.  This “mountain of prey” is nothing more than a “mountain of ….. dashed dreams, broken promises, faulty gods(idols), selfish ambition, spent time on things  which will pass away.”

We will spend hours today chasing our prey and climbing the mountain of prey.  But how many minutes will we spend chasing the One who is “more majestic?”

________

© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

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Bread – Cycles

October 7, 2013


Readings for Monday, October 7, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Kings 21:1-18; 1 Cor. 10:14-11:1; Matt. 8:28-34; Psalm 106

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We understand cycles. For example, according to Peter, Paul, and Mary (the three singers), there is the cycle of flowers to young girls to young men to war to graves to flowers. There are the life cycles of people, of business, of economies, and of nations.

In today’s readings from Scripture, the cycle of God’s relief of man from his circumstances, man’s promise to obey, man’s disobedience, man’s chasing idols, God’s waiting, God’s action to punish, man’s saying “I’m sorry” and “I promise,” God’s action to forgive, God’s relief of man from his circumstances, etc. is apparent.

There is a tendency on our part to believe that cycles are inevitable. In other words, we tend to believe that no matter what we do, the valley will be followed by the mountain which will be followed by the valley which will be followed by the mountain, etc. We apply this to our walk with God, thinking that our promise to obey is always followed by our disobedience which is always followed by God’s punishment which is always followed by our repentance which is always followed by God’s restoration which then begins the new cycle. In this model, God will consistently behave and so will we, following some kind of cycle of life.

What we forget is that cycles can and often are broken and a new trajectory is set. The cycle of poverty is broken by education and opportunity. The cycle of death is broken by the cross of Jesus Christ.

The thing is, when a new trajectory is set, do we climb on to the new adventure or do we fall back into the old ways.

When Christ introduces Himself into our lives and leads and strengthens us into belief and discipleship, our old cycle is broken and we are set out on a new trajectory, a path into increasing joy, increasing love, increasing strength, increasing wisdom, increasing obedience, toward eternal life with God. How many of us, though, find more comfort in the old, familiar cycles of death than the new rocket of life?

Do we want to break the destructive cycle we find ourselves in? Grab hold of Jesus for the ride of your life. And in the process, discover that the obedience of duty, which leads to disobedience and the cycle we left behind, can be replaced by the obedience of gratitude, which never ends.

And discover that your cycle has, can, and will be broken by the One who has broken the chains of death, by Jesus.

___________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Enrich

September 4, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, September 4, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Kings 9:24-10:13; James 3:1-12; Mark 15:1-11; Psalms 38,119:25-48

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Who do we enrich? If we were to take an inventory of who we benefit from our actions, I bet it would look something like this, in order: (1) Me (75%), (2) My Family (24%), (3) Others (1%), (4) God (whatever is left over).

Now I am probably being a bit harsh, so please change the order and the percentages if these do not apply to you. Somehow, though, I doubt that the order will change and I think that the percentages are closer than we would like to admit.

Who ought we to enrich? Well, if you consider bringing glory to God an enrichment of Him, both the order and the percentages probably should invert as follows: (1) God (50%), (2) Others (25%), (3) My Family (25%), (4) Me (whatever is left over). But since God returns in great measure, well pressed down, the end result of a God-centered life probably distributes the enrichment evenly across Me, My Family, and Others (33% each).

Why this question today? Well, it is raised in our reading from 1 Kings, where the Queen of Sheba comes to admire Solomon and to question him so that she can test his wisdom. Among the grand pomp and circumstances contained in this event are these words from the Queen: “Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!” 1 Kings 10:8

It is obvious to the Queen that Solomon’s great wisdom, wealth, and power are enriching someone, but who? Obviously Solomon but also, to the Queen, Solomon’s servants, in other words the people who work and live close to him. Who is missing from this? The people of Israel. Me (75%), My Family (24%), everyone else (?).

God gives us blessings and gifts, just like He gave Solomon. Today we live in the splendor of stuff, just like Solomon did. Today we live in the midst of great knowledge (maybe not wisdom, but that is for a different Bread), just like Solomon. And who do we bless with our blessings? Who is enriched through us using the gifts that God has given us?

We as gods know how to enrich ourselves and we do it every day. We as servants of the only God need to learn how to enrich others, those close to us and those far away. Servants enrich others; masters enrich themselves.

When we talk about being masters of ourselves, masters of our ship, masters of our destiny, masters of the universe, is it any wonder that we are selfish, that we enrich ourselves and our own? Is it any wonder that we act like Solomon rather than Jesus?

If we are going to begin to enrich others, there is not only a heart change required but a vocabulary change. How do we change our vocabulary from words of mastery to words of servanthood? I think it begins by recognizing the we had nothing to do with our salvation; our salvation is all Christ’s. Because, if we cannot save ourselves by our works or by uttering the right formulas, then we are masters of nothing and servant of the One who saves. And from that beginning, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we begin to shift the percentages of enrichment away from us and toward those who we, now, can love.

____________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Obedience

July 8, 2013


Readings for Monday, July 8, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 15:1-3,7-23; Acts 9:19b-31; Luke 23:44-56a; Psalms 1,2,3,4,7

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What Christian among us would, if the Lord commanded him or her to give away everything they owned, their house, their cars, their cash, their incentive stock options, their mutual funds, their furniture, their annuities, their cash value in their life insurance, their retirement funds, would immediately and without hesitation do so? I wouldn’t. I would like to say that I would, but I would be likely to hold back something (probably, most) for a “rainy day.” Surely if we received such a command from God, we would (and He would) understand that what He really meant was to give up those things that really cause us to sin, like sugar, coffee, chocolate, and maybe that extra house that we spend all of our time and attention on. And the reason He really meant that was that our witness to the world would be compromised if we could not buy plane tickets to go on mission, had to accept charity from others who needed it more, did not invest our talents wisely (at least deposit them at interest – isn’t that what Jesus said?), and couldn’t show others that the prosperity gospel works.

You are probably smiling now because in my list of rationalizations, I probably hit on at least one you yourself have used to justify some response of quasi-obedience.

Our motives are not bad. In fact, they may well be good because it is true that we are more able to give generously from wealth than from poverty, at least according to our definition of “generously.” But good motives from our perspective do not lead to obedience to God’s commands. And half obedience may be some obedience but it is not the sold-out obedience which Christ asks of His disciples. Our obedience is not of the quality or quantity desired by God. Mine isn’t, and I’ll let you speak for yours.

This is the unmistakable lesson from the prophet Samuel today in our readings. God has told Saul, the king whom God has appointed over Israel, to battle the Amalekites and destroy (devote to God for destruction) every one of them and everything they own, including all of their animals.

And Saul did this, sort of. What he did was to kill everything which was “despised and worthless.” But he kept the good stuff. He kept the king and the “best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fatted calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them.” 1 Sam. 15:8-9. And he did all this so that he and Israel would have the good stuff to sacrifice to God. He did such a good job that he built himself a monument. 1 Sam. 15:12b In his mind, he had completely and totally obeyed God’s command to him, saying to Samuel at the end “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” 1 Sam. 15:13b When confronted by Samuel, Saul was confused and again repeated what he knew was true, that he had obeyed God – “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the kind of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” 1 Sam. 15:20-21. It was clear to Saul that he had obeyed the Lord’s command as He surely intended it, and that he (Saul) had good intentions and desires. It was clear to Saul that what he had done in response to God’s commands was good and was what the Lord wanted.

But not true. God Himself said to Samuel “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not performed My commandments.” `1 Sam. 15:10-11a In response to Saul’s protest that he had obeyed God, Samuel repeated God’s actual command (not the one Saul heard). In response to Saul’s argument that he had reserved the good things from destruction so that they could be sacrificed to God, Samuel said – “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” 1 Sam. 15:22

God said to do one thing. That thing which God commanded did not sit well with Saul’s modern sensibilities. Saul heard what he wanted to hear. Saul went out and obeyed the parts of the command which he understood should be obeyed and rejected the rest. Saul developed a rationale, which made sense to him and probably to others as well, as to why he had obeyed and why it was better in the end. Samuel reminded Saul that what Saul thought about God’s commands was irrelevant and his arguments so much smoke and mirrors to disguise his disobedience to God and his obedience to the way he thought he should go and his obedience to the way the world thought he should go.

We are no different from Saul. God has made us king over something – our house, our family, ourselves, our job, our money, our food, our education. He has commanded us in great detail about how we should act as king. But what we don’t like or what society tells us we should not like, we do not do. We rationalize why, of course, using our great powers of reason and persuasion, but the only person we persuade is ourselves. God is not persuaded and He is not fooled, and He is not happy.

“Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.”

The next line is not in our readings today, but is important – “For … presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.” 1 Sam. 15:23a. When we change God’s commands to our liking, we presume that we know best. We take our role as king and elevate it to a role as God. And presumption is as bad as every sin there is, because our elevation of ourselves to the place of God, our disobedience, is why we are such poor kings.

Maybe today I can be obedient in one little thing. And then tomorrow, maybe one more little thing. Maybe I can, in the power of the Holy Spirit. But that is the only way. Come Holy Spirit.

_______________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Dagon

June 24, 2013


Readings for Monday, June 24, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 5:1-12; Acts 5:12-26; Luke 21:29-36; Psalm 89

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“Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold Dagon had fallen face down on the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, …the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him…they [men of Ashdod] said “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for his hand is hard against us and against Dagon our god.’” 1 Sam. 5:2-7

The ark of God has been stolen and removed to a place where God, the god of Israel, and Dagon, the god of the Philistines, sat across from each other. And Dagon loses the fight.

Now, you would think that the Philistines, seeing this, would have taken Dagon out of the temple, admitted that their “god” was totally inferior to the “God,” and begun to worship the true God. However, faced with a choice, the Philistines chose a more comfortable path. They got rid of God and kept Dagon, “their” god.

Every time I think about Dagon I think about evolution and science. I might also now think of global warming and science. Once science has locked onto a theory that is “true,” it is amazing the way that theory becomes their Dagon, their “god,” which they will hold onto through thick and thin no matter what the evidence is before them. Their religion is science, their temple is the university, and their god of the day is whatever theory they want to promote. The facts are irrelevant, the results are irrelevant, the thinking process is irrelevant. Given enough structure and time around their Dagon (evolution, global warming), they will always choose their Dagon over the truth.

But before we become critical of the evolution or global warming believers, don’t we set up and hold onto our own Dagons? Is the behavior of the Philistines any different from our behavior?

We go to church and bring back home God’s ark, His Word in Scripture melded into our heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. We set this ark of God up in the same room in our mind as our favorite addiction. The next morning we wake up, and our Dagon, our desire to have a drink let’s say, is on the ground prostrate before the Word which says in today’s readings “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life…” Lk. 21:34. We then dust off our Dagon and set him back up again and maybe that afternoon have a drink with our friends at “happy” hour. We then wake up the next morning and our Dagon is smashed by the Word of God, leaving only a piece of him. Isn’t it true that our reaction is the same as the Philistines most of the time, if not all of the time – “They [the men of Ashdod] said ‘The ark of God must not remain with us, for his hand is against us and against Dagon our god.’“ Rather than get rid of our worthless idol, we get rid of the truth, we get rid of God.

God’s truth is a battering ram which destroys all strongholds and all false gods. If we are intent on holding onto our Dagons, then we cannot let God’s Word reside in the same place for very long or, if we see what God does to our false gods, we must get Him out of our hair as fast as possible.

Why do we do this? Why did the men of Ashdod not bow down before the superior force, God in His ark? Why did they not reject their idol and chase after truth?

I think the answer to this question dwells in the phrase “Dagon our god.” And actually, not in the phrase but in a word – “our.” I cannot release Dagon because he is mine. I invented him, I built him, I have paid attention to him for a long time, and I like him. This other god, this true god, the one God, now He is not my creation; instead I am His creation. This other god, this true God, now He is not the one who I am comfortable with; instead, He is the one who makes me uncomfortable, who calls me out into a place beyond myself, where I have to love others and believe in Him.

We have willingly invited the ark of God into our heart and mind, but we have not willingly let alone His work in our lives. His work is to destroy our Dagons. But those idols are hard to part with, so we are constantly trying to put them back together. His work is to bring life into our lives; our work is to try to figure out how we can bring death back in.

So what do we do about this? I think a little prayer is in order – “God, when I see you destroying my Dagons, let me walk away and do nothing except thank you for doing something I cannot do and keeping from doing something I should not do. Let me suffer the brief loss of my close friend Dagon, the false god, so that I might spend more time with you, the true God.”

O God, help me to say of my broken Dagon, “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

_______________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Man-Made

January 28, 2013


Readings for Monday, January 28, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 48:1-11; Gal. 1:1-17; Mk 5:21-43; Psalms 41,44,52

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The first commandment (of the ten) is to love God, placing no other “gods” before Him. Deut. 5:7. The second commandment prohibits the construction and use of idols, things that substitute for God. Deut. 5:8-10.

Obviously, to God our relationship to and with Him is paramount, and He is saying that that relationship should be paramount to us.

But sadly, it is not. Our biggest idol stares at us in the mirror in the morning. A friend of mine calls it the “unholy trinity” – me, myself, and I. We are our biggest idols, or we raise up idols which are the products of our thinking or our doing. The problem with Christianity is not in its lack of proofs (there are many) or the lack of history which accompanies Christ’s death and resurrection (the more we learn about our past, the more the Bible is proven); the problem with Christianity is that we did not invent it. It does not come from “us;” therefore, we view it with skepticism.

God knows that we are inclined to corrupt His work so that we can turn it into our own and then claim that we created it, that we earned it, that we figured it out. And so God does things that we cannot explain, to remind us that it is not us in the mirror who are gods, but Him and Him alone who is God. Our reading from Isaiah today drives this home:

“The former things I declared of old; they went out from My mouth, and I announced them; then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass.

I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’

From this time forth I announce to you new things, hidden things that you have not known. They are created now, not long ago; before today you have not heard of them, lest you should say, ‘Behold I knew them.’” Isa. 48:3,5,6b-7 (emphasis added)

God utters prophesies and says and does things which to our mind are incomprehensible so that we cannot take credit for them, because we will take credit for it if we can even though we had nothing to do with it.

Don’t we try to re-make everything in our image? Aren’t we always trying to make the things of God our things, our inventions, our imaginations?

We add works to grace because we understand works but we do not understand the kind of mercy which results in the death of a man for our sins. Works make more sense to us because we can invent them (create the standards), we can do them, we can control them, we can test them, and we can judge them. In other words, works is a natural religion for man because we can then be god. A religion based on mercy, on relationship, on God is not a natural religion for man, because man does not naturally make a religion where there is something beyond his grasp. Christianity makes the wise foolish because the wise would not invent Christianity because grace cannot be boxed up, it cannot be fathomed, it cannot be boxed in, it cannot be measured, and it cannot be judged. Our relationship with God exists because God acts to make it exist, not because we have done anything to merit it. We can enjoy it, but we cannot earn it.

Today, look at your actions and your thoughts, taking everything captive. What is your basic view of the world, of your position and your wealth, of your relationships? Are they man-made or God-made? Who or what do you honor? Who or what do you thank? Who or what do you worship?

Our knee-jerk reaction is to say God because instinctively we know that is the “right” answer. But is it the “true” answer? I think if we are honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge the same tendencies which God states that we have in Isaiah. Our tendency, our orientation is to say that I did it, we did it, our idols did it – when the truth is that God did it. We take the things of God and we profane them, calling them ours.

Two thoughts, two paths, two belief systems, two world views – man is supreme or God is supreme. How choose you?

____________________________

© 2013 GBF

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