Bread – Exodus

August 9, 2017


Psalm 77

You [God] led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”  Ps. 77:20

I normally start at the beginning of a Psalm and work forward, but this time I am starting at the end.  This Psalm begins in depression, works through memory, and then recalls who God really is.  The ending (the quoted) verse is a recollection of the exodus.

Wherever we are, whether it be in valley of despair or the mountaintop of joy, we need to remember that we have been brought out of slavery into freedom by the mighty hand of God.  We have been brought from death to life.  We are being brought into glory.  Our chains are gone in Christ and we have been set free.

It is God who led us out from slavery through the wilderness of testing into the promised land.  He may operate through men (in this case, historically, Moses and Aaron), but it not them who led but God.  It is God who created the circumstances of the exodus and God who brought it to conclusion.

That was the exodus of the Old Testament, but we can testify to our own exodus in the modern era from death unto life.  Yes, men and women were involved, agents of God, but it was God who decided and God who did.

I say all this because we too often are so wrapped up in our issue of the day that we often forget where we have been and where we are today by the grace, mercy, and power of God.

In fairy tales, the desolate maiden is locked into a high castle by a dark lord, only to be rescued by a glamorous knight in shining armor.  Who does not see that picture?  And we identify with either the damsel in distress or the knight come to save.  We recognize the dark lord for who he is and we celebrate that good has triumphed over evil.

But in this picture of human intervention to save us from human misery, what have we forgotten?

The knight in our fairy tale reports to someone.  That person is the king of the realm.  Who sent the knight?  Who empowered the knight?  Who stands behind and superintends the rescue?

We know who the king is in the fairy tale, although we may not see him and the story may not talk about him.

But do we know who the king is in our tale, our story, our exodus?

If we do, we need to remember Him, honor Him, worship Him … for He is indeed Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  He is Jesus the Christ.  He, with the Father and Holy Spirit, is (are) the author of our exodus.

Now that we remember our exodus and its Author, we are prepared to deal with both the lows of life and the highs as well.

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

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 – Seasons

June 30, 2015


Readings for Tuesday, June 30, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 11:1-15; Acts 8:1-13; Luke 22:63-71; Psalms 120-127

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I hesitated to write Bread today because (a) I did not know what Scriptures the Lord would provide today through the Book of Common Prayer and (b) I was afraid that I might have to write about the events of the last week, where five members of the United States Supreme Court elevated themselves over God to redefine what the word “marriage” means for society. Although they did not say (yet) that this definition applies to people of faith, it probably will because, although we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, we live in Rome.

The three readings today illustrate three responses to the actions of the world. Which one is right for today?

In the first reading, a group of Israelites is overrun by pagans and wants to give up, but when they hear the terms of surrender (gouge out their right eye), they ask for help from the rest of Israel. “And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled…Then the dread of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one man…And the next day … they [Saul and the Israelites] came into the midst of the camp [of the Ammorites, the pagans] … and struck down the Ammorites …” 1 Sam. 11:6-11. Here, the men of God were called to war against evil by the Spirit of God. There is a time and place historically for war with the weapons of war, but we need to remember that this is Old Testament teaching and Christ has advised us to forgive first and, when struck, to turn the other cheek. So holy war is probably not the appropriate response unless and until we as Christians hear the clarion call of the Holy Spirit. When (and if) that happens, it will not be subject to debate because “the dread of the Lord” will fall upon “the people” and it will be obvious.

In the second reading from Acts, Saul (another one, later to be renamed Paul), has authorized the killing of Stephen, a Christian. “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered … But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the Word.” Acts 8:1-4. Here we see that, notwithstanding exile and other bad consequences, Christians continued to live as Christians, “preaching the Word” where they ended up. Stephen’s death did not affect them, exile did not affect them, imprisonment did not affect them – their belief was solid and continued through adversity, and by their lives and proclamation of the Word they did not flinch from letting it be known who and whose they were. This is Christian living, citizens of the Kingdom of God living in Rome. It is unapologetic and unrelenting. During this time, while under direct and consistent attack, the Christian community gets stronger, not weaker, and the proclamation of Christ becomes bolder, not softer. Elsewhere in Scripture, this form of living is called “standing” (“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil…Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” Eph. 6:10-13).

The third reading is from Luke, where Jesus has been taken, held, ridiculed, set for trial and, as we know, destined for death on the cross. Lk. 22:63-71. As followers of Christ, should we expect better?

In the seasons of our life as a Christian, we may be called to fight, to stand, and/or to die. Which one will it be in this season of the exaltation of man’s thought over God’s Word?

I don’t know, but I do know this. In season or out of season, God is sovereign, His Word is the touchstone for how I and His people should live their lives, and Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and that there are no other ways to eternal life but with, in and through Him. And that is true whether we are in the season of war, of standing, or of imprisonment and death. And that is true whether Caesar, the Supreme Court, or the majority of the people agree or not.

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© 2015 GBF

Bread — Weak

June 9, 2015


Readings for Tuesday, June 9, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 30:11-20; 2 Cor. 11:1-21a; Luke 19:1-10; Psalms 61, 62, 68

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From our reading today in Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth: “For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!” 2 Cor. 11:19-21a.

When I was in school, we had many, many debates going late into the night about politics, various courses and professors, sports, and religion. Side by side with debates over whether we should be in Vietnam (today, that would be Iraq), we had debates over whether the “Virgin Mary” had to be a virgin when she bore Jesus.

We who were full of our education and full of ourselves readily argued like we knew what we were talking about. We were “wise” ourselves.

How much of that still goes on? Don’t we consider ourselves smart (wise, educated, knowledgeable) about science, literature, the nature of man, psychology, medicine, computers, technology, and, yes, religion? And because we are wise in the say the world is wise, we listen to other people who also sound wise to our ears. We listen to the great philosophers, the politicians, the experts, the professionals, the consultants, the salesmen, the people in authority, the people who speak authoritatively.

We listen to all of these people. We listen to fools.

And because we can rationalize, because we are on first, because we are pumped up with ourselves, we put up with the dictates of society – we let ourselves be enslaved (by television, by Apple, by government, by scientists, by the academy, by books, by music, by what other [more respected] people say); we put up with being consumed (devoured) by busyness and the commands of culture and business; we love to be around people who put on airs and we like to dress up for the occasion too, showing the world that we too have a suit or maybe even a tuxedo, wearing our fine clothes and finer jewelry; and we put up with people assaulting us with their advertising and their demands.

Why do we let these things happen? Paul’s answer is that it begins with us thinking ourselves as wise and therefore discerning and therefore capable of fighting the world on its terms.

What is the antidote to this misery? “I am too weak for that.” The strength we have from God is multiplied in our weakness and set aside when we are acting in our own strength.

The Bible is clear that when we are weak we are strong in Christ. We do not choose Christ, but He chose us (which when you think about it is the weakest thing we could ever say…that we had nothing to do with our salvation).

When we are weak we talk to God in prayer because we need Him for everything. When we are wise we get to ask the question “What is truth?” and miss the answer which is right before us but which we cannot see because at the very moment we are most wise in the world, we are most foolish for Godly things.

When we are weak we rest in the Almighty; when we are wise we rest in the newspaper, in our beds.

So we are beset on every side, worn down, beaten by the world. What is the solution? The world says be strong. Christ says be weak.

Who are you going to listen to?

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© 2015 GBF

Bread – Captured

August 23, 2013


Readings for Friday, August 23, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 19:24-43; Acts 24:24-25:12; Mark 12:35-44; Psalms 140,141,142,143

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A long time ago I was riding in our Chevrolet Suburban with my wife and children on a road trip coming north from Austin to Dallas, where outside of Waco I got stopped by the highway patrol for speeding. The stop was a worthy stop because I was driving sinfully. The officer walked up to my window, looked at my driver’s license, asked me to step out (leaving my young children and wife behind) and follow him to his car. He asked me to get in the front seat with him, asked me what I did for a living, and when I told him I was a lawyer he spent the next 20 minutes (while my wife and children are waiting in the stopped truck) telling me about his divorce and asking me questions about how he should do things. I engaged in a pleasant conversation with him in the hope (and expectation) that the ticket would be forgiven, but at the end he gave me the ticket anyway. I think the reason the conversation was over was because I suggested reconciliation rather than legal proceedings. I then walked back to my truck to the insistent questions about what was going on, free of capture.

I recall this event because in our reading today from Acts, the same thing happened to Paul. He is standing before Felix and Drusilla, both Jews, giving his defense against the accusations of the Jewish leaders. Paul spoke about faith in Jesus Christ, righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment. Acts 24:25. Upon hearing these things, Felix was disturbed and sent him back to prison. Off and on for two years, Felix would recall Paul from prison, listen to him for a little while, and then put him back in. Felix was succeeded by Festus who ultimately sent Paul to Rome on appeal to Caesar, a right which Paul exercised to avoid being sent back to Jerusalem.

Now the differences in our two stories are important, because I was charged rightfully but Paul was charged wrongfully, and I was released from captivity after a while and Paul was not released, but there are similarities. One, we were both captive for a while. Second, one of the reasons we were held captive was that the civil law enforcement was interested in what we had to say. Third, what we had to say challenged the pre-set thinking of our captors – me by suggesting reconciliation when he was more interested in techniques of fighting and Paul by suggesting that Felix and Drusilla would not survive the coming judgment by relying upon obedience to the law, but only by faith in Jesus Christ. Fourth, what Paul and I both had to say was the truth, delivered in kindness surely, but the truth nonetheless. Fifth, neither of us was thanked for our message – me the ticket, Paul continued imprisonment.

But in both situations, I have to ask the question – who was the real captive? Was it the person who appeared to be free, with the power to arrest and imprison, but who was captive to the thoughts of the world with no ability to grasp the path of destruction he was on? Or was it the person who appeared to be imprisoned, with no power to extricate himself until let loose, who was captive to the voice of God? Was it the slave to sin or the slave to Christ who was, and is, the real captive?

Yes, Paul ultimately died at the hands of the Roman authorities, imprisoned in life temporal and free in life eternal. Felix and Drusilla died too, because it is the common end of man. We don’t know how they died (from the Biblical texts), but die they did. If they kept on the way they were going after they met Paul, they rejected the truth because they were captive to the world, they were dead in their sins during life and died in their sins at death temporal, and are not free in life eternal, but are committed to the lake of fire. Felix and Drusilla were both imprisoned in life temporal by the world, dead for all eternity. Paul’s chains were obvious, but removed. Felix’ and Drusilla’s chains were not so obvious, but permanent.

The question is not whether we want to be captured or held captive, but who are we captured and held captive by? Are we captured by the truth or captured by lies? Are we captured by God or by Satan? Are we slaves of Christ or slaves of sin?

And in God’s remarkable economy, when we are captured by Christ we are free indeed. How does capture lead to freedom? With man, it is not possible. With God, it is sure.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – But

January 27, 2012


Readings for Friday, January 27, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 17:15-27; Heb. 10:11-25; John 6:1-15; Psalms 40, 51, 54

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“But, …” “But” is one of the most powerful words in the English language because it introduces reasons to think critically about what action is being proposed. “But” is also one of the weakest words in the English language because it brings in worry, distraction, diversion, and subtraction. “But” does not support; it negates. “But” is always our reason for not doing something or doing something only half-heartedly.

Where does the “but” come from? It comes from us, it comes from our knowledge and experience with the human condition and with life, it comes from our “education,” it comes from the world. “But” is human reason and wisdom run amuck. “But” is our contribution.

Trying to negotiate the “buts” of the world is what drives decision-making and achievement to mediocrity. It is because of the “buts” of the world that we become couch potatoes. It is because of the “buts” of the world that we retreat from engagement, we retreat from love, we retreat from truth, we retreat from conflict, we retreat from growth, and in the end we retreat from life. It is the ‘buts” of the world which ultimately imprison us in the “paralysis of analysis.”

Ask yourself, why do we not believe God? Why do we not believe in His promises? Why do we not believe He can and does deliver in small ways and large, every minute of every day, grace, love, power, purpose, strength, and life to us, through us, and into us? I daresay it is because, when we hear God’s promise, we are so ready to always add in our mind “but, ….”

Every one of today’s readings from Scripture has within it testimony about people who are diminishing God’s power in their lives by following each promise with a “but…”

In Psalm 40, David starts off with these strong words of faith – “I waited patiently for the Lord…He lifted me out of the slimy pit…” Ps. 40:1-2 In the middle of the Psalm, however, he says “For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see…Be pleased, O Lord, to save me; O Lord come quickly to help me…” Ps. 40:12-13. Translation – “You help me in times of trouble, but [not today? not always? not in my present circumstances? not in these really tough times?]” You are, but …

In Genesis, God promises Abram that Sarai (now Sarah) will be the mother of nations. Gen. 16:16 Abraham says essentially to himself, laughing under his breath, “That’s nice, but ‘will a son be born to a man a hundred years old?’” Gen. 16:17 God promises and man says, “Yes, but …”

In Hebrews, the writer exhorts his readers, Christians, to “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” Heb. 10:23 Why the need for this statement if we believe God? The need is obvious because then as now Christians are prone to insert their weaknesses into God’s promises, saying to themselves “I believe, but …” or “God’s promises are true, but …” or “I have hope, but …”

Finally, in John we have a tremendous illustration of “but” in operation. Christ is speaking to the crowd and it is late. Everyone needs dinner, so Jesus asks His disciples where can they get dinner. To us who are far off and have read the end of the story, the answer is obvious – “Well, you, O Lord can and do provide us everything we need. You give it to us.” However, to those people on the scene, who know Jesus personally and who have seen His miracles first hand – their immediate reaction is the same ours would have been – it is to say “but.” One disciple says, “but there is no money.” Another disciple says, a little more positive, says “well we have enough food here to feed a couple of folks but not so much to feed everyone” (asking “but how far will they go among so many?”) John 6:9 Jesus of course blesses what little there is, turns it into much, and feeds everyone there. What though do you think will happen the next time the disciples see the same situation? “Yeah, Jesus did it last time, but …”

We say we believe in an all-powerful God, but … We say we believe in miracles, but… We say we believe that God lives up to His promises, but … We say that Christ’s death on the cross was sufficient, but …. We say all kinds of things, but ….

In the statement, “I believe in X, but …,” which part of the statement comes closer to representing our true beliefs? Is it the statement which comes before the comma, “I believe in X,” or is it the statement which comes after the comma, “but …” I assert that it is the “but” part of the sentence which tells us what we really think, what we really believe.

Why do we have such weak faith? Why do Christians exhibit such weak love? Why are Christians almost indistinguishable in their habits from non-Christians? My suggestion is that it is partly, if not totally, because we live in the “but” part of the sentence and not in the “believe” part.

Want to begin recovering the strength of your faith, of your walk with Lord, of your growth in holiness and righteousness all of the days of your life? Stop the “but.” Cut it out of your vocabulary. Cut it out of your life. Kill the “but.”

And live in victory.

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Bread – Lost

August 12, 2011


Readings for Friday, August 12, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 15:19-37; Acts 21:37-22:16; Mark 10:46-52; Psalms 102, 107:1-32

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There are many ways of being lost, and our reading today from Psalm 107 talks about four of them.

The first way we can be lost is by wandering in desert wastelands. These are places of dryness, where there is nothing of value to eat or drink. This is a place where our natural reserves of fat and water are rapidly depleted and we can do little for ourselves except stumble around, trying to find food and water, hoping we can “luck” upon a place of refreshment. These are barren places, where we cannot see clearly because of the dust and the sand born in the air by fierce winds of opposition.

The second way we can be lost is finding ourselves imprisoned in darkness and in the “deepest gloom.” This may be darkness of the heart, where we see no life worth living ahead. This may be darkness of the mind, where we see no path whatsoever to victory, only defeat. This may be darkness of the soul, where we are best by the demons in our lives.

The third way we can be lost is by losing the best through our foolishness, through our disobedience to good instruction, to God’s law. From this disobedience comes affliction of all kinds, imposed by society, God, or ourselves, it does not matter – we are in the pit of despair. In this state we may hate the good, refuse instruction in the right, ignore knowledge and truth. Our way appears to become the best way and quickly turns into the hideous reality of no way.

The fourth way we can become lost is by launching into an adventure only to confront adversity which overwhelms us and leaves us with no options. In the Psalm today, this adventure is described as the “sea” and the “mighty waters” and the adversity is described as the “tempest that lifted the high waves.” In this peril there appears to be no hope, no solution, no peace, no way out.

Each of these places can be conquered, but not by us. In describing these places of lostness, the psalm writer also describes the way out.

In the first place of lostness, the desert, the person who was lost “cried out to the Lord” and was delivered from his or her distress. The Lord delivered them “by a straight way to a city where they could settle.”

In the second place of lostness, the dark place, the person who was lost “cried to the Lord” and was saved from his or her distress. The Lord saves them by bringing them out of this gloom and by breaking their chains, cutting through the iron bars which imprison them.

In the third place of lostness, steeped deep in sin through disobedience, the person who was lost “cried to the Lord” and was saved. The Lord saves them by sending to them His Word, by healing their sin, and by rescuing them from the grave.

In the fourth place of lostness, on the adventure of life, the person who was lost “cried out to the Lord” and the storm was still and they were guided to their safe haven.

In every place of lostness there is an out, but only one. We must “cry out to the Lord” and let Him do the heavy lifting, let Him set the path, calm the storm, break the chains, heal our soul, teach us through His Word, save us. We have no power over the desert, the tempest, the consequences of sin, the chains of our prisons – but God does and He can and does set us free.

“Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord.” Ps. 107:43

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