Bread – Reflections

May 31, 2017


Psalm 67

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us, that Your way may be known on earth…” Ps. 67:1-2

As I think about God’s face shining on me, the image of Moses coming down the mountain comes to mind.  “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai…[he] did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.”  Ex. 34:29

In that event, the people knew that Moses had been with God because his face reflected it.

Does my face reflect God’s shining upon me?  Does my face reflect His graciousness, His love, His blessings in my life?

When the sun shines upon us, we will reflect either a suntan or a burn, but it will be obvious to everyone that we have been in the presence of the sun.  When the Son shines upon us, what do we reflect?  Do we reflect hope, charity, love, peace, or any other virtue?

One of the things we learned in school was that there were some surfaces which reflect light and others that absorb it.  For example, a plain stone absorbs light.  Polished granite, however,  reflects it.

Evil absorbs.  Good projects and reflects.

Anger absorbs.  Love reflects.

Worry absorbs.  Hope reflects.

Does my face reflect the hope that is in me, or does it merely absorb God’s light in a feeble attempt to recharge my internal batteries?  Am I outward focused (reflecting and projecting) or inward focused (absorbing and retaining)?

Another way of asking the same question is to ask whether it is my problems which I focus on (inward, absorbing) or the problems of my neighbor which I focus on (outward, reflecting)?

If God’s face has truly shined upon us, how can we not show it in our countenance (to use an old-fashioned word)?  How can we not show it in our faces, in our lives?

The truth is that we are very adept at receiving God’s blessings, of having God’s face shine on our lives, and then keeping it for ourselves.

If our skin reflects when we have been in the presence of the sun, then how much more should our face reflect when we have been in the presence of the Creator of the sun?

What blessing will we reflect today … that His way may be known upon the earth?

________

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

 

 

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Bread – Leftovers

May 21, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, May 21, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Lev. 19:1-18; 1 Thess. 5:12-28; Matt. 6:19-24; Psalms 72,119:73-96

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This morning, as I looked down at the bathroom counter, I observed a pile of change. Seeing that pile, I swept it up so that nothing was lost, and in this case put it all in my pants pocket. Sometimes, though, I will put all the change in a jar to collect dust until it accumulates to the point that it can be converted to “folding green” (paper money). I probably duplicate almost every person in the world in doing so.

We are surrounded by commands and actions of completeness – “Eat everything on your plate!” “Finish the task!” “Leave nothing to chance.” “Sweep clean!”

But in today’s reading from Leviticus, God tells us to leave leftovers. Specifically, what He says is “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare; neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” Lev. 19:9-10

We are not to take it all, but to leave some for others who do not have what we have.

How does this work in real life?

As a mediator, I often see people enter negotiations with a zero-sum game mentality; meaning that I must win and you must therefore lose – if there are 10 chips on the table, then I must have all 10 and you must have nothing. Part of then what I need to do is to have the person begin to look at themselves and their motivations and needs more closely and ask themselves the question of whether them winning really means the other losing. When people get off their “all or nothing” mentality and start looking at what is really needed or start looking at the range of favorable and unfavorable outcomes, they often find that “winning” may be taking a majority of the chips (leaving some for the other) or actually only taking one chip (leaving most for the other).

Why do we want it all? Part of it is our “competitive spirit.” But another, more Satan-ish, part may be our greed, anger, idol-self, pride, bitterness, or just plain meanness.

The passage we are reading from in Leviticus is actually God reminding us that He is holy and calling us, as His disciples, to join Him in holiness. Leaving leftovers is part of being holy. Leaving things for others which are “rightfully” ours is a sign of holiness.

Why so?

To be holy is to be set aside for God’s purposes, not ours. And what does God command – that we worship Him first and that we “love [our] neighbor as [ourselves]” Lev. 19:18. There is no “love of I” in that prescription.

Leaving leftovers from our wealth for others is a sign of our holiness. It is a sign that we put God first and are therefore obedient to His commands, not out of duty but out of love and devotion. It is a sign that we put our neighbor first, because we do not insist that our rights be totally respected – we leave something of ourselves out of love for our neighbor.

When we leave something for others out of our wealth, it is not because we are giving up our rights … it is because we acknowledge our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. It is because we acknowledge that we are not first. It is because we are set apart for God’s service, because we are holy.

So, have you spent everything you have on things so that nothing is left for others? Have you paid your employees only what you can get away with or the absolute minimum required or have you given them something of what otherwise would have gone into your pocket? Have you taken all your time for your priorities, or have you given of your time to others?

By these measures, how holy are we? I think the only fair answer, at least for me, is not as holy as we should be. On good days, maybe a little holy; most of the time, not so much.

Let us today commit to leaving behind for others some of our time, talent, and treasure. Let us strive to follow God; let us strive to be holy as God is holy. And in so doing, we will preach the good news of salvation in Christ alone by our actions, by our character, by our love, and by our leftovers.

______________

© 2014 GBF

Bread – Deeds

February 26, 2014


Readings for Monday, February 24, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Prov. 3:11-20; 1 Jn. 3:18-4:6; John 11:17-29; Psalm 106

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Today’s Bread is very simple and very hard. From our reading today in 1 John, we see “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth… And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us. Whoever keeps His commandments abides in God, and God in him.” 1 Jn. 3:18-19, 23

Real love, placing another’s interest above our interest, laying down our life for another, is accomplished in the doing, not the saying.

We say we love God, but what have we done to love Him? Have we read His Word, spoken with Him, worshiped Him, communed with Him? We say we love God but how many minutes have we spent and will we spend today in doing it? To be blunter, beginning with the time you read Bread today and looking backwards to the time you woke up, how much time have you invested in doing things today with God?

We say we love our spouse, but what have we done today to love her or him? How much have we done without telling them? Have we served them or ourselves? Have we talked to them (beyond mere exchange of information about schedules), have we walked with them, have we waited on them, have we lifted them up in prayer, have we voluntarily and with gladness of heart done their chores?

We say as Christians that we love our neighbors and then, of course, get into arguments about who our neighbors are. But let’s just keep the discussion to the people who live next door to us, our so-called “next-door neighbors.” What have we done for them today? Did we pick up their paper while we were picking up ours and put in on their porch? Did we weed their garden while weeding ours? Did we speak a word of blessing or even “good morning” to them? Do we even communicate enough with them to know if they are even home, if they are sick, or if they need something from the grocery store?

The fact is that, if we were to closely look at what we do, we would discover a great deal of love – for ourselves.

The problem not that we don’t love God or others, but that we love ourselves more. When we give away our money, it is “our” pot of gold which is being diminished. When we give away our time, it is “our” day which is being used up. When we give away our efforts, it is “our” energy which is being consumed.

How do we bridge that gap between words of love and a life of love? It is not enough for us to look to ourselves first, because we are empty of ability to love anyone but ourselves. And is not enough to look toward others, because they are as broken and incapable as we are. It is enough that we follow the command of God – “And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another…” 1 Jn. 3:23

How do we get from talking to doing? By first believing in the reality of Jesus Christ, in “His name.” Once that happens, we receive the Holy Spirit and gain not only the desire to love but the ability to love.

But, you say, I believe in Jesus Christ, have the Holy Spirit, and still only talk about love. Well, for those of my friends who like guns, you will understand this analogy. The Holy Spirit is like have a love gun in your gun safe. You can talk about your love gun all day long, but you actually have to practice using your gun to learn to shoot it. And, after you have practiced a while, you can hit what you are aiming at. If your love gun shoots love bullets, by practicing using the gun you will become adept at shooting those love bullets into the situations and people who need them.

To do love you have to practice doing love.

But, if you are Christian, you have the tools to do it. Just take them out of the tool bag, use them, and then let the Holy Spirit take care of the rest.

Do it!

________________

© 2014 GBF

Bread – Appeasement

August 14, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, August 14, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 14:21-33; Acts 21:15-26; Mark 10:17-31; Psalms 101,109,119:121-144

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How many of us, in our desire to obtain peace in our conversation and relationship, will agree with those with whom we disagree fundamentally? We blame politicians for this all the time, but don’t we do the same thing? We think that by holding onto our belief secretly, that somehow in appeasing the other side we have not compromised ourselves. However, that is not true. When we know the truth and choose not to speak the truth in appeasement to other people’s thinking, we deny the truth. We actually set ourselves in an inferior position, because we believe that we must be quiet in the face of opposition, even though the people in opposition are not quiet themselves. Whether we label this “tolerance” or an ability to get along with others, in our search to avoid being a bully we let ourselves be bullied. In our efforts to reach Jesus’ standard of turning the other cheek, we reject Jesus’ standard of speaking the truth in all circumstances, understanding that persecution is a likely outcome. We don’t understand the difference between a personal insult (to which we should turn the other cheek, as the only violation is against us) and a statement hostile to the kingdom of God (to which we should never turn the other cheek, as the violation is against God and we are His ambassadors on earth).

In today’s reading from Acts, we actually see the Church, represented by the Jerusalem Council, in full appeasement mode. Paul is before the Council explaining to them the mighty work which God has accomplished among the Gentiles. The response of the Council is to say: “You see, brother, how may thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach the all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses….” Acts 21:20. To translate, “We have a bunch of our fellow Jews who are greatly concerned that the Jews you are teaching are not zealous for the law, like they (and we) are.” The Council then notes, however, that they have given an exception to the Gentiles, telling them that they do not need to obey the law of Moses except by abstaining from what has been sacrificed to idols, from blood and what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. The Council then asks Paul to purify himself in accordance with the law of Moses, so “all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.” Acts 21:24

What the Church in Jerusalem is about doing is appeasing two factions, one (the Jews) with requiring Paul to strictly observe the law while in Jerusalem and the other (the Gentiles) with a “law lite” set of requirements. This appeasement does bring a temporary peace to the conversation, but does it result in bringing wholeness or reconciliation to anything? This appeasement does what all appeasements do – it kicks the can down the road. And much of the letters written by Paul afterwards constitute instructions about how to deal with those who would add works to grace (adding the law to grace links works to salvation). And this controversy has never left the Church.

Of course, those people on the spot, who had to deal with the conflict, would say that appeasement to the different groups was necessary to buy time, to reduce tensions, to defuse anger, to permit opportunity for “more dialogue” among the competing factions, to properly manage a volatile situation. And, from a worldly point of view, they are right. But are they right from a kingdom point of view?

Everyone knows that today, from the secular media to my own children, the Church is indistinguishable from the world by most measures, such as divorce rate, sexual promiscuity, etc. As part of the generalized appeasement going around to achieve an appearance of “tolerance,” there is a growing wave of belief that there are many routes to heaven and Jesus’ claim to exclusivity is, well, just a claim which has no real effect on “enlightened” people such as ourselves (after all, we have that source of all wisdom – the Internet [I say tongue in cheek]).

But appeasement is fake. When I withhold the truth from my neighbor in order to avoid conflict, I do neither my neighbor nor myself any favor. Is it “tolerance” when my neighbor lives in his house thinking his thoughts and I live in my house thinking my thoughts, and neither of us believes enough in what we believe to engage each other, and neither of us has enough trust in the other to expose ourselves to critique, thinking that any and all critique is “intolerance?”

No, the greater “tolerance” is when I respect my neighbor and I love him even when he is “wrong,” when I engage him in decent debate about our respective understandings, when I am always careful to first check out the log in my eye instead of the speck in his. Real tolerance exists when appeasement does not exist, and yet the two warring parties sit down to dinner together, knowing that at the end they are neighbors, they are people, they all fall short, and that none of us is righteous or better in our own merit.

There is no need of appeasement when we know that God handles the outcome, and our only job is to speak the truth in love and to exercise the gifts we have been given, taking the great idol of ourselves out of the picture.

So who are we going to appease today? Andy why?

___________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread — When

September 19, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, September 19, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Job 42:1-17; Acts 16:16-24; John 12:20-26; Psalms 72,119:73-96

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Bread today is taken from our reading from Job: “And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends.” Job 42:10. The order of events presented by this translation (ESV) is that Job recognizes his proper relationship to God, seeing Him and repenting in “dust and ashes.” He then prays for his friends, taking the mercy shown to him by God and extending it to his neighbors. Once that happens, Job’s fortunes are restored. The NIV translation is even blunter regarding the order of events, saying “After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again …” Job 42.10 (NIV). The commentary from the ESV Study Bible confirms this conclusion, saying “It is of utmost significance to note that Job’s restoration occurs only at this point, when he has capitulated to God and he has been reconciled with his friends – still in his broken and bereaved state. Precisely at this point, community is reestablished and Job himself restored.” ESV Study Bible, Note on Job 42:10-17.

Perhaps enough said and the lesson is complete, and perhaps not. I often make the “mistake” of looking things up, which is what I did this morning. It turns out that the Hebrew word for “after” (NIV) and “when” (ESV) has no equivalent Strong’s number, but does have a G/K number of H928. (G/K is a compendium of words like Strong’s). When I ran a search for H928 in the Old Testament, I got 9,283 hits. The word is used a lot and in a lot of different ways. Some examples are:

“In [H928] the beginning, God created heaven and earth.” Gen. 1:1 (NIV)

“And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse between [H928] the waters to separate water from water.’” Gen. 1:6 (NIV)

“And God set them in [H928] the expanse of sky to give light on the earth.” Gen. 1:17 (NIV)

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in [H928] our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over [H928] the fish of the sea…’” Gen. 1:26 (NIV)

“By [H928] the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on [H928] the seventh day God rested …” Gen. 2:2 (NIV)

“To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with [H928] pain you will give birth…” Gen. 3:16 (NIV)

“To Adam He said….’Cursed is the ground because [H928] of you; through [H928] painful toil…’” Gen. 3:17

So the word for “when” or “after” is the same word for “in” (to set time), “in” (to set place or circumstances), “between,” “over,” ‘by,” “on,” “with,” “because” and “through.”

So, the headache begins. What does this word mean? Is it evidence of causation, or mere placement in sequence of time. Does it convey action or mere passive result. Or does it mean merely what the translator wants it to mean, at the time?

In thinking about this, something struck me. What is it that every instance of the use of this word has in common? It is that it is in the context of God’s action and something to do with man. Sometimes it is used in the context of man’s action after God has acted; sometimes it is used in the context of God’s action after man has acted, and sometimes you can’t tell.

And what great truths are built into this single, evasive word! Because God acts both in time and out of time. Because God actions are first causes – we act because God has first acted. In fact, we can only act because God has acted, not because of ourselves. Wherever this word appears, God appears. It is not the word for God, but it’s appearance is certainly evidence of God. And more than evidence of God Himself, but of God’s action within the universe of our understanding, in our history, in our lives, in our abilities, in our salvation, in our science and revelation, and in our hope.

And isn’t this the beauty of the reality of God, of Christ? When was Job restored? Was it when he recognized God for who He was, when he reached out in love to his neighbors, or when his fortunes were brought back to him? Or was it all of the above?

We are reminded in all this that our mind is not God’s mind and our ways are not His ways. From our perspective, Job first repented, then reached out to his neighbor in love, and then was restored. This is an important lesson because, knowing who we are and who God is, it is important that we reach out from our poor circumstances, no matter how dire, to those who need our love, and that we do this without expectation of anything because we deserve nothing. But it may not be the most important lesson today.

No, the most important lesson today may be that God operates in the past, present, and future, inside of time and outside of time, to work His purpose. And that purpose is that we should be restored to Him and to each other. And that purpose is demonstrated in the “whens” of the world, the “ins” of the world, the “betweens” of the world, the “becauses” of the world, and the “throughs” of the world. It is demonstrated at all times and in all places, in poverty and in plenty, in danger and in safety, in and out of our particular circumstances.

This word which appears when Job is restored also appears as the first word of the Bible, “In the beginning…” God is first, God creates, God saves, God restores. God, God, God … not Job, Job, Job … and not me, me, me. When we get that right, everything else falls out into its right order. We can love others because He first loved us; we can restore others because He first restored us; and we can live victoriously because He died for us, rose from the grave, and lives forever.

God lives in the smallest words and the largest places. Does He live in you?

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Leftovers

May 9, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, May 9, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Lev. 19:1-18; 1 Thess. 5:12-28; Matt. 6:19-24; Psalms 72, 119:73-96

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“Leave something on the table.” As a negotiator, that is my counsel to my clients. Never be so greedy for everything that nothing is left for the other person, because at the end of the day those people who want everything often end up with nothing but misery. Some people might call this “compromise” and give it a bad name. I prefer to think of it as gracious.

Today from our readings, I now know that it is something more than gracious – it is a Biblical command.

In Leviticus, we read today “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” Lev. 19:9-10

There are a couple of things to note about this passage. First is that the land is “your” land. God is not claiming it in this passage (although we know that all things are God’s), and as the owner of private property, you would have the right to the complete harvest, from edge to edge, gleanings included. God is saying not to take everything which is rightfully yours, but to obey Him.

The second thing to notice is the last sentence. What separates the “You shall leave them for the poor…” and “I am the Lord your God” is not a period or semicolon, as if these were parallel but independent parts, and it is not a comma, as if an afterthought, but it is a colon (:). The thought here is that we leave something on the table because or for the reason that God is our Lord.

What is the intent behind this rule? Is it to teach us charity? Maybe, but I think not. I think it has to do with who is on first, God or us, God or things. Indeed, this is brought home today in our reading from Matthew, where Jesus points out that we should lay up our treasures in heaven and not on earth, concluding “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matt. 6:24.

But, some might be inclined to say that you are quoting from Leviticus and these laws were superseded by the New Testament. That might be true if this were simply a rule, but it is in fact a particularization of a larger command, a command which Jesus Himself stated. The reading from Leviticus today ends with this statement – “…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Lev. 19:18. This command is repeated and extended by Jesus to enemies – “You have heard that it was said ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matt. 5:43-44.

As we go through life today collecting what is “owed” us, let us recall the command that we deliberately leave “leftovers” for others. Maybe in so doing we will be reminded about the colon (:)** – We do what we do because He is the Lord. He is first and we are not. And we may not even be second, or third, or fourth. And that is OK, because at the end of the day it is us who are the poor and the sojourners; it is us who feast on what God gives us from His bounty, from His fields, and from His storehouses.

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** An observation. Every time I typed a colon (:), I got this Smile. Isn’t it amazing that God has so worked into our culture the translation of the colon into the happy face, reminding us, perhaps, that those of us whose “because” is the Lord are indeed happy and blessed. …”but you shall love your neighbor as yourselfSmileI am the Lord.” Makes you smile, doesn’t it.

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