Bread – Motions

February 9, 2015


Readings for Monday, February 9, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 58:1-12; Gal. 6:11-18; Mark 9:30-41; Psalms 77,79,80

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We have a saying, “He is going through the motions.” We know what that means. Who “he” is, he is merely following a pattern of life laid out for him; he is not trying, he is not committed to either the task or the end of the task. He is living life shallowly. He likes like he is doing right, but he is not doing right. His heart is not in what he is doing. He is acting to please whoever he feels like needs pleasing. The show is there, but none of the substance.

In our religious activities, there is much which passes for true commitment but which is only show. There are many religious motions we go through, but our heart is not in them. We make much of prayer but we do not pray. We make much of worship and attendance at worship but we do not worship. We make much of trust and faith, but we have little of either.

In today’s readings, we see a lot about going through the motions and discover that God is not impressed. For example, in Isaiah God addresses fasting. “Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure…Fasting like yours will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? … Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house…?” Isa. 58:3b-7 We can deny ourselves by going through the motions of not eating, hoarding our food until the fast is broken and we can feast. Or we can fast for real, giving away our food so that there is no feast of food, but poverty of food. In the first instance, we have set the conditions for poverty of the spirit because all we have done is delay gratification, not denied it. In the second, although there may be poverty of food there is richness of soul, because we have given away that which we have in reliance upon God’s replenishment. The motions look like the real thing but they are not the real thing. The real thing may not look like much but it has high payoffs.

Similarly, in Mark the disciples are going through the motions of being disciples but are not engaged in the reality of being disciples. The disciples are hanging out around Jesus but they are not engaged with Him. For example, Jesus tells them plainly that He will be killed and will rise again on the third day. However, Mark reports that the disciples “did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask Him.” If the disciples were engaged with Jesus and struggling against their own limits to be with Him, talk with Him, and love Him, they why did they not ask Him what He meant? They did plenty of other times. What about this mystery caused them to go through the motions of discipleship but not the reality? Maybe it was because of the topic – not kingship but death, not the presence of the kingdom but an end to a kingdom, not things that “tickled the ears” but things which were agonizing. We go through the motions when we are not interested in being engaged, either because we are afraid of the outcome or because we are bored or because we just don’t care. Perhaps all this talk about death and resurrection was just too boorish for the disciples, particularly as they selfishly discussed their places in the kingdom and jealously considered others who were preaching in Jesus’ name but who were not listed in their little band of brothers.

As we go through this week, we will have many opportunities to display our Christianity, either in our silent prayer or study, our participation in group discussion, or our opportunity to just talk about church. Perhaps we will even have the opportunity to go to church for some reason during the week. When we do these things, will we just be going through the motions or will we be engaged, enlivened and empowered by our walk with God.

Too often we are going through the motions. Why? To please ourselves? – we typically do not like exercise and we typically do not engage the spiritual disciplines of prayer, study, fasting, meditation, or worship with any particularly zeal. To please others? – do we really find it necessary to act “Christian” to please our friends or family, or do we just think we do? To please God? – God is not pleased with fake prayers, study, fasting, meditation, or worship.

So why go through the motions at all? One might be inclined to say at this point “we don’t” and then quit. However, there is an answer. As we go through the motions in prayer, if we are trying to reach out to God about ourselves, our world, our needs, our hopes, and each other, is the “motion” truly empty? As we take the time to go through a fast, even when we hoard our bread for ourselves, and we are doing the fast because God calls us to lay aside our wealth every so often to focus on Him, is the “motion” truly empty? As we attend church because we “ought to” and not because we “want to,” is the tiniest little piece of worship which ekes through our self-centeredness wasted?

God has redeemed us unto salvation by His sovereign grace? Do we really think He cannot redeem our motions toward Him, no matter how weak or self-centered? Is His hand so short that He cannot take the mustard seed of faith and turn it into a tree of blessing in time?

See, there is a reality to all this which transcends our human understanding. We never should just “go through the motions” but we should also never stop going through the motions.

Perhaps the difference between the two statements is the word “just.” If we are just going through the motions, we are not reaching out to God. But if we intend to reach out to God, then our feeble motions are an offering and a fragrant one at that.

So why are we going through the motions? To please others? To please ourselves? Or to please God? The motions look the same to the observer, but not to God.

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© 2015 GBF

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Bread – Jumble

July 25, 2014


Readings for Friday, July 25, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Joshua 9:22-10:15; Rom. 15:14-24; Matt. 27:1-10; Psalms 40,51,54

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Today’s readings are a collection of events. In Joshua, the Gibeonites have surrendered to Israel, Amorite kings band together to attack Gibeon, Gibeon appeals to Israel for protection, and Israel smashes the Amorite kings in battle led by the Lord. In Romans, Paul discusses his pride in Christ Jesus in doing God’s work among the Gentiles, telling the Romans that he will visit them on his way to Spain. In Matthew, Jesus is delivered to Pilate, Judas tries to give back the money he was paid for his betrayal, and the priests buy the potter’s field with the thirty pieces of silver.

One of the things I try to do in Bread is to integrate the daily readings into some message. But, today, the three readings to me look like a jumble. Each verse is important, of course, but what do the readings have in common?

Isn’t this the picture of the Christian walk so many times? We read Scripture and of a number of jumbled images and instructions, which to us at first glance appear to be incoherent. We ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit and get a mess of different inputs. We ask fellow Christians for counsel and get a variety of responses. We reach into our own minds and resources and come up with a jumbled mess.

So what are we to make of all this jumble? What are we to make of Scripture, answers to prayer, worship, thoughts, and feelings which make no coherent sense?

The answer is really quite simple … wait upon the Lord. Throughout Scripture, God says that He gives wisdom to those who ask. Ask, and then wait for clarity. It will come, perhaps not on our timetable, but it will come.

And today is an object lesson in that. I read our Scripture lessons for today and concluded that there was nothing to tie them together; nothing to write about. I then realized that the jumble of Scripture was in fact an example of the jumble of life, and I have written on that.

But I went to the Lord in frustration, saying that there was nothing in these to write about … and the Lord said, “not so fast.” And then I realized that each Scripture reading today is a picture into each believer’s life as they live into what God has called them to. In Joshua, God has called Israel to take the land He has prepared for them. The story today is but a byway in that path to His purpose, reminding us that there will be opposition, allies, enemies, and battles … but that He will help and His will be done. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, God has called Paul to preach to the Gentiles and to be His ambassador in the world. Sometimes this means that Paul gets to go where he wants to go; other times it means that he gets to go where God wants him to go. Regardless of where he goes and who he sees, there is opportunity for him to fulfill God’s purpose for him, reminding us that we may not get to do what we think is important, but in the midst of our confusion, God’s purpose in our life is being worked out. In Matthew, God the Father has called God the Son to the cross to sacrifice Himself for our sins. While on this journey to fulfill God’s purpose, Jesus is betrayed by a close friend, a disciple of His. This is a picture of us, that as we pursue God’s purpose in our life, we may well be betrayed and hurt by those closest to us.

Whether pitched in battle against those who would defeat us if they could (Joshua), whether engaged with traitors and enemies (Jesus), or whether just sitting in a chair in a room which feels empty (Paul), all three readings today do have a common theme – God is present, God is fighting for us, God is leading us, God’s will in our lives and in the world will be fulfilled. We may be confused as to what to do next, injured in battle, or hurt by the betrayal of friends … but as Christians we have and will overcome.

Funny how, if we let Him, God takes the jumble in our lives and turns it into a clear statement of who He is. We may not see it at the time, but God does. And we will too, if we continue to walk with Him, talk with Him, grow with Him, love Him, and live in Him.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Purpose

August 14, 2012


Readings for Tuesday, August 14 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Judges 13:1-15; Acts 5:27-42; John 3:22-36; Psalms 94, 95, 97, 99, 100

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Seeing the readings from Psalms today go from 94 through 100, skipping Psalms 96 and 98, it reminded me of this childish saying – “One, two, skip a few, one hundred.” It is a faster way of counting. It is also indicative of how we live our lives in Christ, impatiently. If we have some glimpse of our purpose from God, we want to run with it, skipping as it were to the end. However, God only asks us to show up for what He has for us today, our purpose for the moment. If we are to be used mightily, we cannot presume upon our purpose by jumping to conclusions, but must obey in the moment and let God take care of the destination.

This is brought home today in our reading from Judges. Manoah’s wife was barren and they had no children. An angel appears to her and tells her that she will have a child, a son, saying to her “Therefore, be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean…for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” Judges 13:4-5. She tells her husband, who of course wants to hear it for himself. The angel reappears and Manoah says to the angel “Now when your words become true, what is to be the child’s manner of life and what is his mission?” Judges 13:12.

Notice that Manoah does what we are prone to do. He accepts the words of the angel as true (“Now when your words become true”) and therefore knows that his wife will bear him a son. He knows his son will have a purpose, but he doesn’t know exactly what it is. Therefore, he asks this question – “what is to be the child’s manner of life and what is his mission?” Knowing the present is not good enough; Manoah wants to know the future too. After all, he is the father and, if he knows what the “end game” is, well then he can “help” achieve it.

The angel’s response to Manoah is instructive. Manoah asks how the child should live and what the child’s mission is, and the angel responds “Of all that I said to the woman let her be careful…All that I commanded her let her observe.” Judges 13:13-14. Manoah asks about the future. The angel responds – obey in the present.

In Acts today, Peter and the disciples are again brought before the Jewish council and the high priest and told to shut up about Jesus. Peter responds simply that he must obey God and not them, and then proceeds to present to them the gospel. At that moment, they were facing death. Instead, they ended up being scourged (flogged), and left “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Jesus].” Acts 5:41.

Did Peter know what was going to happen in front of the council? No. He was simply obedient to God in the moment. His purpose was to be obedient in the then and now, and let God take care of the rest. Of course Peter knew the end game – eternity with God; however, he did not know what the immediate future held, only the immediate present and the ultimate destiny. Firm in the ultimate destiny, Peter knew his purpose in the moment and lived his purpose to the fullest.

What does tomorrow bring? I don’t know. Today brings the opportunity for relationship, for hope, for joy, for participation in the miracle of life, for worship, for obedience to the tasks which God sets before me. “One, two, skip a few, a hundred?” No, God would have us count “One, two, three …” knowing that He has the dots, He has the future.

And knowing that God has the dots, the future, frees us to do and to be in the present. Let’s go obey!

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Purpose

April 11, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, April 11, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Exod. 12:40-51; 1 Cor. 15:29-41; Matt. 28:1-16; Psalms 97, 99, 115

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There is an interesting factoid in today’s readings. “The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years.” Exod. 12:40 430 years; that is a long time, longer than the United States has been around. The entirety of Israel was a slave workforce for Egypt for 430 years. And the entirety of Israel was a bunch of people – “…about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.” Exod. 12:37.

Imagine a million and a half people walking across Texas to get to New Mexico. When we talk about the Exodus, we tend to think small, like “some” manna, “some” water, “some” quail, “some” people, but these numbers are massive and almost unimaginable. God did do a mighty work.

Why did they leave? The knee-jerk reaction is to answer this question from our experience – “to escape slavery,” “to escape the cruel hand of bondage,” “to follow their charismatic leader,” “to go to a better place, the promised land.” Another reaction might be that they left because Pharaoh got tired of the plagues and threw them out.

But they really left for a different purpose. Moses said to Pharaoh, “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, ‘Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness.” Exod. 7:16. When Pharaoh released the Israelites and cast them out of Egypt, Pharaoh said “…go, serve the Lord, as you have said.” Exod. 12:31.

Why did they leave? To serve the Lord.

When discussing the “whys” of something, we often look toward cause and effect (Egypt got tired of the plagues; therefore, Israel was tossed out) or we look to the end “results” or, in the case of Israel, the blessings from God as they wandered the wilderness and possessed the promised land. When focusing on these things, our answer to “Why did they leave” focuses on either the pragmatic sequence of events, the cause and effect, or upon the blessings.

However, standing behind these “reasons” is a reality. Israel was chosen by God and released from Egypt “to serve Me,” to serve Him, to serve God.

What are your reasons for doing what you are doing today? Are they to manipulate or avoid cause and effect, the practical side of life. Are they to reap the blessings? Or is your reason, your purpose, for doing what you are doing to serve God?

Had Israel locked onto its real purpose, one wonders whether there would have been a golden calf. One wonders if there would have been doubt cast by the spies who entered into Canaan in advance of Israel and came back with a message of defeat. One wonders if there would have been forty years of cleansing in the wilderness.

If you lock onto your real purpose today, what difficulties might you avoid today and what blessings might you reap? You might not be able to answer that question, but God can. Serve Him and see.

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Bread – Politics

August 19, 2011


Readings for Friday, August 19, designated by the 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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The Bible reflects unvarnished reality, and in our reading today from Acts there is the unvarnished reality of politics.

In Acts, we find Paul imprisoned in Caesarea. There, he is under the control of Felix, the governor. Felix, although a Gentile and probably a pagan, was married to a Jewess. It is stated that Felix was “well acquainted with the Way [Jesus Christ].” Acts 24:22 (Parenthetically, isn’t it interesting how we can be well acquainted with something which does not penetrate our brain, our heart, or our soul.) Felix had Paul speak to him on many things, including “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.” Acts 24:25. This made Felix afraid, but he did not believe.

Now the Jews had levied charges against Paul of stirring up riots, blasphemy, etc. In verse 24:22, Felix says “I will try your case.” However, politics gets in the way and that never happens. Paul is left in prison for two years (with intermittent religious discussions with Felix) “because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews.” Acts 24:27 Here was a man of God, an innocent man, a man whom Felix, the governor of Caesarea, liked, who remained in prison because some powerful Jews wanted him to be in prison because Felix wanted to curry their favor.

After Paul was in prison two years, Felix was succeeded by Festus. Festus is an interesting person because he resists the Jews’ attempts to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, promptly convenes Paul’s court hearing as soon as he gets to Caesarea, and then, after listening to the charges and Paul’s defense, himself succumbs to politics. Festus, “wishing to do the Jews a favor,” then tried to get Paul to agree to go to Jerusalem for trial. Acts 25:9. Sensing the trap, Paul (himself a Roman citizen) insists upon being tried in a Roman court and then, realizing that Festus might well agree to hand Paul over to the Jews, “appeals to Caesar.” Acts 25:11.

In a full demonstration of the effect of politics upon honest decision-making, instead of making the decision that the Jews had not proven their case and that Paul was innocent, Festus punts the ball down the field into Caesar’s court, saying to Paul “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go.” Acts 25:12

Politics perverts justice, it perverts people’s lives (Paul was held in prison for over two years), and it perverts the decision-making process. The Jews had power and they exercised it, the Romans were concerned about it enough to let it affect their legal process, and the net effect was harm to an innocent person.

However, politics has no effect upon God and His purpose. In this vignette of history we see the ugliness of man’s manipulation on the surface and the wonder of God’s working in history below the surface. Just two chapters in Acts before, God said this to Paul – “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” Acts 23:11. Where is Caesar’s court? Rome.

God’s will be done.  Amen.

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Bread – Resolve

October 18, 2010


Readings for Monday, October 18; designated by the Book of Common Prayer:

*; Rev. 7:1-8; Luke 9:51-62; Psalms 9, 15, 25

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In Revelation today, we are presented with the sealing of the 144,000 from the tribes of Israel. This whole excerpt from Revelation may very well be one of the great focal points of controversy in the modern church, where people who believe that “Israel” and the “tribes” refer literally to living Jews at the time of the Tribulation (when during the Tribulation is another great focal point of controversy) and therefore to “physical” Israel, are opposite those equally well-meaning Christians who believe that the reference to Israel means the entire believing Church and that the reference to 144,000 and the tribes merely means the “complete and total number” “from all the corners of the earth.” One might find oneself forever mired in one or the other of these positions, totally resolved to prove one’s point. These controversies show two types of resoluteness. The first type is a resoluteness to the authority of God’s revelation to us, Scripture, and a sincere desire to honor God through thorough and proper study of His revelation. The second type is a resoluteness to ourselves, our positions, our arguments, our theories – in other words, a resoluteness to win the day, win the argument.

In Luke, Jesus talks about the kind of resolve we need in order to be His true disciples. It is a resolve which turns our back to the past and sets our face to the future. It is the kind of resolve where we follow regardless of our physical comfort (Luke 9:57-58), regardless of social conventions (not stopping to bury your father; Luke 9:59-60), and regardless of past relationships (Luke 9:61-62). The resolve necessary to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is the kind of resolve which Jesus commends.

Jesus not only commends this kind of resolve, He practices it. At the beginning of our reading today in Luke, Luke reports “As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. …the people there [Samaritan village] did not welcome Him, because He was heading for Jerusalem…” Luke 9:51-56 Knowing the outcome (death on a cross, separation from God, bearing the horror of man’s sins) He went anyway, “resolute” in His direction, His purpose, and His efforts toward that end. Once He resolutely set His face to His destination, He did not look back, He did not say good-bye, He did not participate in social customs. He just did it.

The connection between Revelation and Jesus’ resolute action is that He did not get bogged down in controversies either. Remember that He was denied access to a Samaritan village on the way to Jerusalem, probably because of long-standing argument and theological and political conflict between the Samaritans and the Jews. He did not care, because He knew where He was going and why He was going there. Not only did He bypass the village, but He refused to engage in any kind of verbal or physical confrontation with them. His mission was too important to get side-tracked.

If you claim to be a Christian, are you resolute in that purpose? Is your face set toward your final destination for eternity, in glory, with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the celestial city? Or do you look back, eager to become “acceptable” to the world and perhaps even your family again? Or, maybe, instead of looking back, do you find yourself looking sideways, being caught up in the debate of the moment?

The other day I saw a great tee-shirt. On it was a fisherman, a bear, and a fish. The fish was hooked on the fisherman’s line and was also being held in the bear’s paw. The fisherman looked like he was getting ready to pull on the pole, thereby yanking the fish from the bear, which looked like he was in the process of bringing the fish to his mouth for a bit of lunch. The caption on the tee-shirt (talking about the fisherman, of course) was “Determination – that thought you get just before you do something incredibly stupid.”

And, of course, we recognize that yanking a fish out of bear’s paw is probably not a good idea.

And yet does not this picture of a fisherman, a bear, and a fish caught in the middle truly symbolize our readings today. “As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Why? Because it was there that Jesus snatched the fish (us) from Satan (the bear) and to do that He had to be resolute, He had to be determined. He had to be resolute because He was getting ready to do something incredibly stupid from the world’s perspective – He was getting ready to sacrifice Himself for the fish … and in so doing save the fish for all eternity.

It is that kind of resoluteness which Jesus calls us to. He calls us to confront the bear daily and to do things which the world finds incredibly stupid. He says to us to love the fish (other people) so much that we will, resolutely, preach the gospel in all circumstances and love even those who hate us. He says to daily run the risk of being killed by the bear.

The tee-shirt could have said something else for Christians, with the same picture. It could have said “Determination – that thought you have just before you obey God’s commands, that thought you have just before you confront the bear.”

Resolve today to set your face toward Jesus. Resolve today to turn your back on the past. Resolve today to embrace the Kingdom. Resolve today to obey. Resolve today to give thanks. And if by your resolve you find yourself seriously injured or killed by the bear, resolve to enter eternity with Christ with joy because you know, follow, and obey the King of Resolve, Jesus Christ.

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*The Book of Common Prayer this morning lists Ecclesiasticus 1:1-10, 18-27 as the Old Testament reading. Ecclesiasticus is not a canonical book of the Old Testament, but is one of those books which is “almost” canonical, and as a result is normally included in a section of the Bible called the “Apocrypha,” which many Bibles do not contain because of the significant disputes over the validity of these additional books. Because these disputes exist and because this book is not normally listed as an Old Testament Book (and in fact is not even included in most Bibles), I am not including it in my readings for Bread

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