Bread – Night

July 19, 2017


Psalm 74

“You [God] split open springs and brooks; You dried up ever-flowing streams.  Yours is the day, Yours also the night;…”  Ps. 74:15-16

In every book I have ever read and every television show I have ever watched, it is the night when bad things typically happen.  The bats, the secretive people, the trolls, and such ilk always show up at night.  We even have the idea of vampires, where the slightest touch of the sun causes them to melt away.  Night dwellers, night crawlers – when we add the word “night” in front of a word, it automatically casts a sinister shadow.

Our general operating philosophy is that God rules the day and Satan (or evil) rules the night.  We think like that and we act like that.  We are wrong.

In this Psalm, God is missing but He is remembered.  Asaph, the acknowledged Psalmist, acknowledges that God is Creator and that He owns and controls both the day and the night, having invented them both.

It may very well be the hardest reality to swallow as a Christian – that God is God over everything, good and bad, day and night.  It is hard for us to swallow because we want to offer an escape hatch for God, feeling like He needs to be defended by us.  If the night belongs to Satan, then we can understand why God has not stopped evil at night.  But if the night belongs to God, we are left with the question “why is God [apparently] missing?”  It is hard for us to swallow because we know that God is good, but we see what we perceive to be bad things happening and are then left with the question, “if God is good, then why ….?”

Whether we are trying to find an escape hatch for God or attempting to assess God’s purpose according to our own standards, we are engaged in the same sport.  We are either acting as God’s judge (“You, Sir, are doing wrong.  Straighten up!”) or as His partner and coach (“Hey, God, this is not what we agreed to,” or “Hey God, if You did it this way, we would be better off.”)  In both instances, we have either elevated ourselves to be equal to God (His partner, friend, coach) or above Him (His judge).

The end of logic is this – if God is sovereign over all, then He is sovereign over both day and night, good and bad, ups and downs.

But this is also the end of faith – If God is sovereign over all, and I do not understand why He has or has not acted the way He has, then I must stand down and trust in Him.  He is God and I am not.

We may very well be in the night of our lives, where nothing is clear and everything is a threat.  God is in control.  We know this logically because He is sovereign king over all, which includes the night, and we know this by faith because we trust in Him.

When we are in the night and we acknowledge the presence of God, worshiping Him in all circumstances, it would not surprise me for someone to ask the question – who turned on the light?

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

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Conflicts

November 30, 2016


Psalm 43

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause …For You are the God in whom I take refuge; why have You rejected me?”  Ps. 43:1-2

We hate conflict and most of us avoid it whenever possible.  In just these two short versus, the Psalmist discloses that he is suffering through three conflicts at the same time.

The first conflict is with other persons.  The Psalmist is asking God to defend his cause.  Elsewhere in the same verse, the Psalmist describe this type of opponent who creates conflict as “the deceitful and unjust man.”  These types of people create nothing but conflict because instead of loving someone and doing their best for them, they use that someone and do their worse for them.  But one thing the Psalmist forgets to ask is whether he himself is one of those “deceitful and unjust” men.  The character he throws on his enemy may well apply to himself.  But, in any event, he is involved in an outward struggle with people who he considers to be bad, and he is asking God to go show them who’s boss.

The second conflict is internal and is self to self.  This is a little subtle, but I see it in the Psalmist’s reference to “For You are the God …”  In the times of the Psalmist, as today, there are many philosophies, people, religions, and contenders for “God.”  So, here, the Psalmist is a little irritated and maybe in conflict with his choice.  After all, he (the Psalmist) picked God out of the lineup to be his (the Psalmist’s) choice, and now he is saying to God … I picked You – now, where are you?  You should be more grateful that I picked you, God!  This internal conflict will always come to pass if we have picked God as “the God” out of many for reasons known to us.  Perhaps we claim to have picked God because He is generous to us, or because we want eternal life, or because we are medically sick and want to become well, or because our best friend did and we want to please our friend.  Perhaps we picked God because we just wanted to get the preacher-man off our back.  We are bound to have a conflict over this sooner or later because we will be sitting in a corner one day and the God whom we picked just won’t “bother” to show up.  And we will begin to doubt our choice – perhaps God is ineffective or perhaps He doesn’t care or perhaps He just wound up the world and is letting us go like wound-up dolls or perhaps He doesn’t know what to do or perhaps He is busy.  This subtle but real conflict arises because, by asserting that we have chosen God (for our respective reasons), we have set ourselves either over God (we will tell Him what He should do because He should be grateful we picked Him) or at least beside Him as His best buddy.

The third conflict is directly with God Himself.  I (the Psalmist) called and You (God) did not answer.  I prayed and nothing happened (that I could see or appreciate).  I asked you to go strike dead my enemy and he seems to be doing quite fine, thank you very much.

The first kind of conflict is terrible because it only exists when the self (you, me) cares about winning according to the rules of the world.  That kind of conflict will never end until the rules of the Kingdom of God are the ones being followed and not the rules of the world.

The second kind of conflict is terrible because our doubts about what to do and how to act will freeze us into inaction.

The third kind of conflict can be good because it shows that we have a real relationship with our Father.  After all, what child when he does not get what he wants from his earthly father will not first ask again, then ask his mother, then whine and pout, then stomp off in a fit, and then wander off, think about it, and either accept it or come back for rounds two, three, etc.  As long as they are talking, even if in conflict, good things ultimately happen.

The conflict with others is unnecessary, the conflict within ourselves is debilitating, the conflict with God ultimately strengthens our obedience, our wisdom, our perseverance, and our love for Him.

I can almost guarantee that you have had your conflicts with others and with yourself today already.

But have you had your conflict with God?  Isn’t it time?

_________

© 2016 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 


Readings for Friday, May 8, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: **; Rom. 14:13-23; Luke 8:40-56; Psalm 106

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I hate Romans (the book written by Paul, not the people). Whenever I hit a wall of failing to understand, it is generally somehow related to Romans. Romans makes me think and forces me to dig deeper into Scripture and my own preconceptions. In other words, I read something with my interpretation of plain meaning and, rather than being able to disappear in the sunset with my own wonderful thoughts, I then confront something in Romans which is jarringly different, which causes me to test my preconceptions. It causes me to think and that is work and time consuming. What a pain Romans is.

Today there is a sentence in our reading from Romans which made no sense to me initially: “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Rom. 14:23b. As soon as I read this, I flipped it mentally and then reached this conclusion – “For whatever proceeds from faith is not sin.” And then I thought to myself, surely Paul is not saying that if we believe in something strong enough, then what we do with that belief is not sin? For example, my faith in God is so complete that I am pleased to kill another person for God. Is Paul saying that murder is not a s in when it proceeds from faith?

Now I know that can’t be right because elsewhere in Scripture, asserted faith in God to cover deliberate sin is condemned. The sin is in the action forbidden by God. The worship of idols is sinful whether I am worshiping them out of denial of God or faith in God.

So, anyway, when I read this sentence I hit the proverbial intellectual brick wall, where Paul is saying something in Scripture which flat has to be wrong.

I have found that, where my interpretation hits a wall against God’s truth, it is time to test my interpretation and not God’s truth. Our tendency is to say that Paul was just wrong, or that his words were not written down correctly, or that this is a proof text for continuing to sin after you have faith in Christ. This is a tendency at best to be lazy and at worse to place our judgment above God’s Word, to raise ourselves as judges of the truthfulness of God or His revealed Word.

So, maybe Paul is not wrong. What?

There are two things going on here, one is context and the other is assumption. First, in context Paul is talking about the practice of Christianity as opposed to Judaism and discussing whether the Mosaic law pertaining to foods has to be followed by Christians. Today, that may seem to be trivial, but back then it wasn’t. So the context is not talking about how Christians should treat everyone, but how they should treat each other. That matters because no one would argue that Paul here is talking about murder; instead, he is talking about the social commandments, not the moral commandments.

But even more important, I think, is that the second thing going on is assumption (on my part). Paul says “For whatever proceeds from faith is not sin.” I assumed that “whatever” means “whatever,” from the lesser (food) to the greater (murder). Why should I assume that? If the context is food, why not just leave it there – what is so important that I extend it to murder, except to put myself in judgment over God’s Word.

But there is a second assumption going on, a more critical one. This is the assumption I made about the nature of faith. What is “faith” in the context of what Paul is talking about. It is not a trivial belief in the benefits of non-kosher hotdogs; it is the transformative faith of total reliance upon Jesus Christ as our Lord. Who, in their transformed heart, would deliberately act to offend God? Paul is essentially saying that, if your brother is bought by Christ, who are we to deliberately offend our brother?

I think too often I (and here I am joined by many people) trivialize saving faith. Part of that trivialization is our emphasis on saying magic words to come to Christ. Part of it is our de-emphasis of sin. Part of it is in the failure to adequately contemplate Christ’s horrible death on the cross for me (and you). It is the faith of which Paul talks which results in a transformed life, full of good works, in full relationship with God, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Who has that faith who also deliberately sins? No, what proceeds from the faith Paul has in mind is good works pleasing to God, not insults to God. Part of these good works is kindness to our brothers.

if one side of coin is true then the other side of the coin must also be true (the inverse), but why? What gives me the rights to take what Paul says and reverse it and then call my reversal truth? If Paul had also wanted to call the inverse of what he said the truth, he could have done so like this – For whatever proceeds from faith is not sin and for whatever proceeds

And sure enough, when I look “faith” up in my Greek dictionary, I find this meaning of faith listed first: “Being persuaded, faith, belief in general; it implies such a knowledge of, assent to, and confidence in certain divine truths, especially those of the Gospels, as produces good works.”

Oh, the kind of faith Paul is talking about is the kind of faith which can only produce good works. That is why he can say with confidence that what proceeds from faith is not sin.

And that is why I need to be very careful not to jump to conclusions, and to read from God’s Word and not into it. The only interpretation worth hearing is the one which God gives us and not the one we give God.

__________

© 2015 GBF

**The Book of Common Prayer lesson omitted today is from the book of Wisdom, which is from a group of writings which some churches do not consider valid at all and others consider useful for teaching but not for doctrine. Because these books are disputed by many in the church, I choose not to include them in Bread.

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.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Images

April 12, 2013


Readings for Friday, April 12, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Dan. 3:1-18; 1 John 3:1-10; Luke 3:15-22; Psalms 16,17,134,135

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Images are powerful things. Particularly powerful is not the image in front of us, but the image captured in the imagination, in our mind. Our minds, our imaginations, conjure up images and it is those images, not the image of reality, which we use to interpret the world. One might say that the “rose colored glasses” we wear to filter reality are there because the real image is filtered through the imagined image to enter our mind. Why can’t we see what is in front of our eyes. In part it is because our internal images distort the real image so that the real image appears to be us what we imagine it to be.

Our readings today present us several different images of God. Whichever image is locked into our mind is the filter through which our service to others is affected, our strength in our walk with Christ is affected, our ability to love our neighbor is affected, our worship style is affected, our view of God’s Word is affected, everything is affected.

Our first image of God in our readings today is that He is who we make Him to be, nothing more and nothing less. Nebuchadnezzar has set up a huge gold statue and told everyone to worship and bow down to that when they hear music being played. The gold statue is what Christians might call an idol, but it is really just one person’s invention of God, the fashioning of a gold statue which the person (in this case Nebuchadnezzar) creates and imagines in his mind has great powers. This God is a creation of man, pure and simple. We might call this image the ultimate triumph of man over God, where man is God. When we judge the truth of Scripture, we are acting through an invented image of God that says that God is who we make Him to be. When we subject Scripture to our opinion, we are saying that we have set up our own gold statute and want everyone, including God, to bow down to that creation of the imagination.

Our second image of God in our readings today also comes from Nebuchadnezzar. This image is captured in this statement: “But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” Dan. 3:15b This statement actually contains several different images. One again is that God is who I make him to be, and since I am in control, what god “will deliver you out of my hands?” A second image is that there is a “God,” but He is just one out of many, more or less equal, gods. If we have this image of God, our worship of Him is merely a motion, acknowledging that we might as well worship someone somewhere (so maybe we can get free cookies and coffee at the reception between services, or maybe we can meet someone nice), something that we do because we have always done it. With this image of God as one among many, more or less equal in whatever powers they have, there is merely outward demonstration of allegiance. The final image inherent in this statement comes from the other two – God is relative, not permanent. If God is who we say He is or God is just one of many more or less equal gods, then God can be reinvented on the fly to adjust to our relativistic view of the present. We need a god who saves, poof, we have a god who saves. We need a god of peace, poof, we have a peaceful god. We need a god of war, poof, we have an angry god with lots of chariots and stuff. How this translates into the present is easy to see. We need a job or we need some more money from the lottery, poof, we have a god of prosperity. See how easy that was?

Our third image of God in our readings today comes from the people who are going to be burned up. When confronted with the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered: “If this [the furnace] be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us…But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Dan. 3:17-18 .

This last image of God which these three people hold in their mind is that they worship a God who is personal (“our God”), who is powerful above all other gods and man (“able to deliver”), and who is sovereign above all things and not subject to our commands or images (“but if not” – if He does not rescue us). A God to whom we are subject, whether we want to be or not and whether we believe in Him or not.

When you show up in church or wherever, which image of God does your imagination produce? Is it the delusional one where God and everything else is of our creation? Is the rational one where He is but one of many possible gods? Or is the faithful one where He is in fact God, pre-existent, all powerful, all present, all wise, all loving, all creative, all personal and yet all holy?

If our image of God is the last one, why wouldn’t we bow down and humble ourselves before our Lord, grateful that He has exercised His sovereign power to rescue us from the fiery furnace? If our image of our god is one of the first two, why bother?

____________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Cursed

March 27, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, March 27, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 17:5-10,14-17; Phil. 4:1-13; John 12:27-36; Psalms 55,74

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From Jeremiah in today’s readings – “…Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord…Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.” Jer. 17:5,7

What does “cursed” mean. Well, in my mind it means that bad things are going to happen all the time, but it turns out that this is one of those English words which we think has a unitary meaning when back in Old Testament days it took six different Hebrew words to describe “curse” or “cursed.” The Hebrew word used in today’s passage [Strong’s 779] is generally interpreted to mean “to bind (with a spell), to hem in with obstacles, to render powerless to resist.”* Paraphrased then, today’s passage from Jeremiah means that, if you trust in man and man’s ways, you are going to be limited, hemmed in, confronted with obstacles to fully living life, powerless to resist temptation and evil, locked into a prison of your making from which there is no escape.

Think about this for a minute. What man says he wants more than anything is free will, to be free to decide and to live. This is what society pushes and we think of as the high life. And, yet, if we trust in man and man’s ways, our will is in fact circumscribed. By striving to do it our way, we make sure that we can never have it our way. The very thing we do in our own strength and the strength of others does not free us, it binds us and imprisons us. What looks good to us is in fact bad for us.

In other words, when we rely on ourselves and others, we are cursed – bounded and limited by the mirage of doing it our way.

But, if we surrender to Christ, if we trust in the Lord, if we give up our “rights,” we are set free to live fully, productively, excellently, and completely.

What does the blessing from trust in Christ, what does this freedom look like? In today’s reading from Paul’s letter to Philippi we have a taste. “Rejoice … Let your reasonableness be known…do not be anxious about anything … And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:4-7

What keeps us from acting in love toward our fellow man? Is it because we are anxious – if we give our money away, we won’t have any for tomorrow; if we share our food we will have less; if we give up our time, we won’t get things done which need to get done; if we love freely, we will get hurt? There are many negatives to see from man’s perspective, and they hem us in and render us powerless. Is it because we cannot be reasonable, because if we are reasonable, then people will think that we are weak-willed or weak-kneed or of weak conviction or too willing to surrender the truth? Isn’t being unreasonable, to prove our strength, actually proving our weakness and putting us into a prison of our making, hemming ourselves in with our own obstacles?

The truth is that Christians are often hemmed in by anxiety, by unreasonableness, by fear, by turmoil and strife, by selfishness, and by the world. Why?

As we believe, so we think. As we think, so we act. Jesus has said to us that He has chosen us and has saved us and that His promises to us are trustworthy. Satan has murmured to us, “No, you are still cursed.” Are your actions reflections of being cursed or being blessed? Whom do you believe? “Cursed is the man who trusts in man … Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.” Jer. 17:5,7. And just to make sure you get the point, this quotation from Jeremiah begins with “Thus says the Lord:…” Jer. 17:5.

As a nation, our money says “In God We Trust.” Today it might well say “In Man We Trust.” Is it any wonder that we feel hemmed in, powerless to resist the inevitable forces which seem to surround us, anxious, cursed?

What’s your motto, “In God I Trust” or “In Man I Trust?” And whichever it is, do you live it?

_____________________

© 2013 GBF.  *The quotation is taken from “Lexical Aids to the Old Testament” in the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, N.A.S.B. (Ed. Zodhiates, AMG Publishers 1990).

Bread – Red Herrings

February 20, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, February 20, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 63:15-64:9; 1 Tim. 3; Mk 11:27-12:12; Psalms 101,109,119:121-144

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A “red herring” is a statement, objection, question, or some other kind of verbal or written engagement which is designed to cause the other person to go down a “rabbit trail,” and to derail that person from the main argument. Red herrings are used for distraction, but they are also used to create a kind of self-destruction, where a person who is making a good point is now sidelined into trivial matters. Typically, a person who poses a red herring could care less about the answer; he or she is only trying to get a reaction.

Why do red herrings work? Because somehow we feel like we have to respond to every objection, answer every question, address every concern, discuss every possibility, and defend all attacks. Since the idea of “all” does not allow for major and minor issues, questions, or concerns, it is possible to set up a red herring and then let the person answering the question go chase it.

Jesus dealt with a red herring in today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark. The temple big dogs have confronted Jesus and asked Him “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them [miracles, etc.].” Mk. 11:28 Jesus answers them by giving them a red herring – “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” Mk. 11:30 Inherent in both questions is the issue of the skeptic – will you believe the answer even if it is true, but unverifiable in man’s reasoning of what is and is not verifiable? Since the big dogs could not conclude that John’s baptism was from heaven, in spite of evidence in front of them, Jesus knew that it did not matter what He answered them regarding His authority, they would not believe the answer. Their world view was so fixed against the possibility of someone like Jesus, His presence in front of them, His miracles, and His fulfillment of ancient prophecy, could all be ignored. The purpose of the question about authority was not to determine whether or not He did have authority or verify that it really was from God the Father, it was to bog Him down in endless proofs (which they would ignore anyway), endless “rabbit trails” of logic and reason, and endless defenses, leading (so they hoped) to some kind of logic error which they could then pounce upon to bring Jesus down. So Jesus called it the way it was – “Folks, your question is a red herring and I am going to ignore it and move on.” (actually, what He said was “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Mk. 11:33)

If we are confronted with red herrings as we present Jesus Christ to the world, we have two choices. One is to try to respond and to thereby get lost in the weeds of debate. One example recently given to me was this – “If Jesus really existed and we have all these books written about him, then why isn’t there more reports in secular history books, hard evidence, etc.?” This is a red herring because all of the very things that that person cited to show lack of proof are actually the items, to the person wearing the lens of faith, which show great proof. Oh, I could have argued the rational basis for believing that it really happened – the eyewitness testimony, the lack of “contrary” proof that it did not happen given the desire of the Pharisees and others at the time to disprove it, the miracles, the appearances, the fact that the Bible is not only God’s revelation but also a very good history book which often reports the good, bad, and the ugly, etc. Some people might think that that is the way I should have gone, making a stand-up defense of the faith. But I sensed that this was not question arising from earnest search for Christ, but a red herring to prompt hours of essentially fruitless conversation. I therefore reversed it by answering the question this way – “for a person who has not been given the gift of faith by the mercy of God, there would not be enough proof of Jesus Christ even if I had a video tape of His death and resurrection.”

So the second thing we can do when confronted with a red herring is to drop it, is to let it go. We will never intellectualize a person into the Kingdom; we will never argue a person into faith. All we can do is to fully live the life in Christ He has appointed us to, speak plainly and boldly of the truth we know of God’s mercy and salvation, avoid endless arguments over genealogies (red herrings), and let God handle the rest.

But that is so hard. That red herring is so tempting to deal with because we know the answer. But we need to avoid the temptation and persevere. God help us to do that!

__________________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread –Excuses

October 22, 2012


Readings for Monday, October 22, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Rev. 7:1-8; Luke 9:51-62; Psalms 9,15,25

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Jesus says “Follow Me” and what is your response? In today’s reading from Luke, we see a bunch of excuses for delay in responding to this call, making one wonder if the people whom Jesus calls will ever in fact respond.

In Luke 9:57, someone tells Jesus boldly that he will follow Jesus “wherever you go.” Jesus responds that He has nowhere to lay his head. Here, Jesus has not even said “Follow Me,” but the person is volunteering to do it. Essentially, Jesus’ response to that offer suggests that the person has not counted the cost of following Him, of really following Him. Are we really ready to follow Jesus when we offer to do so? Have we thought about what that means about setting aside our agenda, our needs, our pride, our timing, our results, and even, perhaps, our comfy bed? How is this example an excuse for failing to follow Jesus? I think it is an excuse because we use our failure to recognize how hard something is as our reason to quit doing it. In other words, we set ourselves up for the necessity to make excuses by failing to count the cost of discipleship in the first place. When we say that we have no time to pray because we have a meeting, what we are also saying is that we have no time to pray because we did not realize the load it would place on our schedule and our agenda, and now that we have figured that out we are not willing to pay the price. When we say that a particular person is unlovable, what we are also saying is that we did not realize that loving was such a difficult endeavor, that we said “we can do it” without realizing that we cannot do it (without help). “Well I didn’t know before I said …” Jesus says, “I am telling you so that you will know.”

In Luke 9:59, Jesus says “Follow Me” to a man, who then says essentially that he will once he has buried his father. Now burying your father is an important matter, as well as earning a livelihood, paying the bills, making that critical meeting, closing that new sale to a new customer, making that phone call you have been putting off, etc. Life presents us with a barrage of doings, all of which are important or which will become important if we ignore them. Our world is filled with busyness, which of course gives us our usual excuse for not following Jesus when He calls – “Mr. Jesus, I will, but I first need to do ….” This excuse is useful for avoiding the key question of salvation, of whether you believe and trust in Jesus, the risen Lord, enough that you will confess your sins, turn toward Him, ask Him for more help, and accept His gift of forgiveness and everlasting life. This excuse is also useful for avoiding Jesus’ calls to follow Him into prayer and relationship with Him; to follow Him into establishing loving relationships with family, friends, and strangers; to follow Him into worship; to follow Him into obedience, growth, and production of good fruit. The excuse of “I have something else I also need to do first” is useful for all kinds of things, none of which are a positive response to Jesus’ call to follow Him.

In Luke 9:61, we see the same excuse played out in a different context, this time focusing on maintaining over relationships over the relationship with Jesus. Here, the person who says he will follow Jesus says, however, that he must first say “Goodbye” to his friends and family. If Luke 9:59 represents the excuses of things over Jesus (I have to go to this meeting first; then we can have prayer time), then Luke 9:61 represents the excuses of people over Jesus (let me first say “Goodbye”). This set of excuses from following Jesus shows itself in a variety of ways, but perhaps the most insidious one is “If I do ____________, what will people think?” For example, “I can’t follow Jesus by talking about him right now to my pagan friend, because he will think that I am being pushy” is no different than saying to Jesus, “I will follow you after I tell my family goodbye.” It is putting the sensitivities of others above God.

Three types of excuses. “God, I can’t follow You today because I didn’t realize that Your demand on my life would cost me my new car.” (the excuse of “I didn’t know what I was getting into”). “God, I can’t follow You today because I have something else I have do first.” (the excuse of “I have something more important to me to do right now”). “God, I can’t follow You today, because following You might disturb a personal relationship I have with someone else.” (the excuse of “my relationship with others is more important than my relationship with You.”).

Jesus will call you today to something. Maybe it will be to belief and salvation. Maybe it will be to closer relationship with Him. Maybe it will be to participate in a miracle. Maybe it will be to enjoyment of life. Maybe it will be to forgiveness. Maybe it will be to love of neighbor. Maybe it will be to peace.

Will you respond in faith, or will you find an excuse?

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*Today’s readings designate Ecclesiasticus, sometimes called the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach. This is not a book contained In the canonical Old Testament, but instead belongs to that body of work called the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical Books. These books are accepted by some Christian denominations as useful, but are rejected by other denominations. I have not included this reading today because of these controversies. However, if you want to read it, the reference for today is Ecclus. 4:20-5:7.

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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 – Understanding

January 16, 2012


Readings for Monday, January 16, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 8:6-22; Heb. 4:14-5:6; John 2:23-3:15; Psalms 9, 15, 25

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How do we gain understanding? In our account of the Flood from Genesis, we see that understanding comes both supernaturally and naturally. Supernaturally when we receive instructions from God, whether from direct speaking of the Holy Spirit into our mind and soul, whether directly through hearing the Word spoken by Godly preachers, or whether directly through our reading of God’s Holy Scripture. Naturally when we respond in obedience to the revelation we have received, naturally when we scientifically test our environment to assess its nature, naturally when we logically think. God speaks to man; in God’s power we listen and respond. The net effect of the transaction is understanding of the type that says “I know.”

God speaks to Noah supernaturally in direct revelation and says “build an ark according to my directions.” Noah obeys and I am sure there is little rational understanding immediately as this big boat arises in an empty field far from water. God speaks to Noah further and says to load the ark up with every animal on earth. Perhaps Noah’s understanding increased as he obeyed and was able to identify and capture male and female pairs of every living creature. He may not have fully understood the Lord’s words that destruction by flood was coming, but he certainly understood the Lord was involved as the animals were gathered, captured, sorted, and loaded.

Our focus today, however, is not the beginning of the flood but its end. How did Noah come to an understanding that the calamity had ended? First, there was a physical event – the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat (it stopped floating; Noah probably felt a bump). Gen. 8:4. Second, looking straight out of the window, after a while, Noah could observe the tops of mountains (use of sight). Gen. 8:5. Third, after a while longer, Noah began scientific testing, first by sending out a raven and second by sending out a dove. Gen. 8:6-12. Since Noah could not see the ground, he had to rely upon his science project to tell him when the ground was dry. Once the dove did not return, Noah took off the top of the ark so he could see with his own eyes. Sure enough, the ground was dry.

However, at the point of observation, that the ground was dry, was Noah’s understanding complete? Did he know enough to act? To the man of science, the answer would be clearly “yes.” However, to the man of faith, to the man who relies upon God in the good times (before the Flood) and during calamity and bad times (during the Flood, while on the water), why would that man of faith abandon his faith to jump off the boat when the science, when the rational understanding said it was “OK?” Noah did not abandon his faith. Instead, he waited until he had received his marching orders from God – “Then God said to Noah, ‘Come out of the ark…” Gen. 8:15

Where is man’s reason in all of this? It is everywhere (Noah used his knowledge of tools and construction to build the ark; he used his knowledge of management to manage the animals during the trip; he used his knowledge of the world to test his environment to see if it was safe). And it is nowhere (Noah radically relied upon God in building the ark in the first place; Noah radically relied upon God’s promise that the calamity would end by not despairing in his circumstances; Noah radically relied upon God in waiting to exit the ark until he was permitted by God to do so).

As we deal with the week ahead, how will we understand what is going on? Will we rely upon our own devices, our own thoughts, our own senses, our own science experiments, our own knowledge, our own reason? Or will we rely upon God’s revelation to us of Himself, upon His instructions, upon His promises, upon His timing, upon His toolbox. Or will we rely upon both? Noah relied upon both, but he did it in the right way. The order of events was Noah listened to God, he obeyed God, he worked, he observed, he tested, he applied his mind to his circumstances, he listened to God, he obeyed God.

Noah had complete understanding in his circumstances because he began and ended with God. Perhaps our understanding would improve with such support at the beginning, in the middle, and the end.

Do you lack understanding this week? Check out where you are in the order of events. Maybe you started by listening to the wrong person.

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