Bread – Prosperity

March 9, 2016


Psalm 10

“In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek Him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.”  His ways prosper at all times…He says in his heart ‘…throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.’”  Ps. 10:4-6

Isn’t it frustrating that it always seems like that wealth and prosperity gravitate to those who act as if there is no God, to those who excel at the ways of the world, sharp in business, strategic in their thinking, assertive in their acts.  Many, but not all, of these people have a “winner take all” mentality, taking advantage every legal (and, some, not so legal) way they can.  They seem to accumulate wealth easily and they seem to be able to keep it through all adversity and to preserve it for future generations.   If they do not live in leisure it is because there is always some mountain to climb, some competitor to crush, some business deal to win, some new amount of money or fame or position or thing to acquire.  They have many things and many houses and warehouses to store these things, and they have luxurious methods of transportation to visit their houses and warehouses, and they eat very well at the finest restaurants along the way.

When we sit over on the side and think of our own ways to obtain prosperity, particularly if we can get on top of the business deal or force those people we resent to “pay through the nose” (or, politically, “pay their fair share”) or cheat and scheme ourselves to fortune, aren’t we just like “them,” only not quite so good at playing the game of life?

And isn’t it interesting that we call it the “game of life?”

There is so much to be angry about in this passage.  If we are on the outside looking in, we get mad at the pride, the arrogance, the prosperity, and the apparent immunity from trouble which the people of the world have.  When we are on the inside looking out, we get mad that David would impugn our motives, that he would see our “being the best we can be” somehow a stick in the eye of God, that the naysayers would not look at us as good people doing good works (when we consider ourselves good people doing good works – after all, the insiders give to church, give to charities, give to those less fortunate, follow the rules of ethics in business, etcetera), that the people outside would not realize that we, the inside people, provide them prosperity as well through industry and jobs and payment of taxes, etcetera.

David is warning us that the game of life played this way, where we are not seeking Him as we build our prosperity, is really the game of death.

Now the Christian may note that salvation is the free gift of God into life after death and that Christians reap their rewards at their death, so why not play the game of life in between?  And, in fact, there are studies that show that a substantial majority of those who claim Christ as their savior play the game of life as if God does not exist in the present.

But doesn’t eternal life begin today, while we are still alive?

The entirety of Scripture says “Yes!”  Eternal life does begin today, if we slough off the old man and take on the new, if we raise up Christ in our lives rather than ourselves, if we following the pattern of good living established by God rather than the pattern of “good” living established by the world.

But it is up to us to let God rule in our lives, it is up to us to appropriate the power of the Holy Spirit to live lives worthy of our calling as disciples of Christ, it is up to us to immerse ourselves in God’s Word rather than the world’s wisdom.

See, the game of life has two different sets of rules.  One, the rules set by the world, lead to prosperity of things and poverty of the heart.  One, the rules set by God, lead to prosperity of the heart and, if the Lord wills it in our lives, poverty of things.

If it is I who wins, I always lose.  If it is God who wins, so do I.

Are you mad at those who prosper?  Why?  They came about their wealth in one of two ways, either they won the game of life according to the world’s rules or God gave it to them to hold and to use as God’s agents and ambassadors on earth.  If they won by the world’s rules and you are inclined to play by the world’s rules, don’t get mad, get even.  If they won by the world’s rules and you are inclined to play by God’s rules, love them and walk away.  Psalm 10 tells us their end.  If they follow God’s rules and have prosperity of things as gifts from God, then pray for them that they will have God’s wisdom about how best to represent God in the world and will have the courage and strength of the Holy Spirit to do what He commands.

Choose this day who you will serve.  If yourself, then read Psalm 10 again.  If God, then rejoice in your prosperity of life, whether or not you have things…and be grateful.

_________

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Bread – Sacrifice

February 1, 2016


Psalm 5

“Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning.

Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray.

O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice to You and watch.”  Ps. 5:1-3

What morning sacrifice is David preparing?

Because this is the Old Testament, one answer might well be a slain lamb or a grain offering.

However, isn’t this Psalm, this prayer, really the sacrifice?  Isn’t the time David is spending with the Lord his morning sacrifice?

Before we slough this off as too easy an answer, think about your own morning sacrifice to God.

When you are in bed and before you arise, are your first thoughts of God or of breakfast, a shower, and for men, a shave?  Before we get out of bed in the morning, are we saying to God “Give ear to my words, O Lord,” or are we making out our mental “to do” list for the day’s affairs?  Where do our priorities lie before we get up in the morning?

Now we have risen from bed.  We have turned off the alarm.  Do we fall on our knees in fear of the Lord, asking Him to intercede for us in the evil day … or do we go into the kitchen to turn on the coffee and either go outside to get the newspaper (for us older folks) or fire up our tablet to look at the news online?

Now we have gotten our newspaper and our coffee.  Do we drink our coffee while we read God’s Word and meditate on it, or do we go back into the bedroom and the bathroom to get ready for the day.

After we get ready for the day, what do we do next?  Do we spend a half hour with God in prayer in our chair or on our couch, or are we listening to talk radio in the car as we go to work?

What kind of sacrifice to we make to the Creator of the Universe on a regular daily morning?

But notice that David doesn’t just say that he “sacrifices” to God.  He says that he “prepares” a sacrifice.

The idea of preparing a sacrifice as opposed to just sacrificing suggests a higher level of intentionality, and a higher and more intent use of time.  To prepare for something, we have to think about it, we have to gather the ingredients, and we have to put the ingredients together.

What are the ingredients for preparation of a sacrifice?

Some people say that they can pray in bed in the morning.  I cannot.  In order for me to write Bread or pray or do anything else with a focus on God, I have to (a) decide to do it, (b) get out of bed, (c) walk to the room and the chair where I meet God, (d) sit down, (e) deliberately turn my thinking from “I don’t have time for this” to God, and (f) start.  And a lot of times, I start just like David does here … “Give ear to my words, O Lord.”  “And, Lord, if I have no words, then as David said ‘consider my groanings.’”

But is this the sacrifice?  Most people would say “yes” because time and effort is being sacrificed to God.  However, the answer is “no.”  The reason is that all this, including the prayer, is only preparation for the sacrifice.

Then what is the sacrifice?  “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”  Ps. 51:17

In our world, when we are in “control,” when we are the master of our ship, how will we ever appear before God, today, this morning, with a “contrite heart,” with an acceptable sacrifice, without preparation, without taking the time and making the effort to come to God and asking Him to love us, to listen to us, to forgive our trespasses, and to fill us with His Holy Spirit that we may in turn love others, listen to others, and forgive others?

When we begin our day thinking first of God and preparing for our sacrifice by meeting Him, listening to Him, talking to Him, and loving Him, then we will, with a good preparation, know by what grace, by what mercy, we are even given the right to do what we are doing.  And when that awe settles over us, well then the sacrifice of a contrite heart has begun.

Before the sacrifice is the preparation.  What have you done today to prepare?  What time have you set aside; what time have you spent in prayer, in communion with your Savior?  What morning preparation have you made to give to God your sacrifice of your heart?

__________

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

 

 

 

 

Bread – Save

January 22, 2016


Psalm 3

“Arise, O Lord!  Save me, O my God … Salvation belongs to the Lord; Your blessing be on Your people!”  Ps. 3:7-8

Before the first “Selah!” of Psalm 3, David (and we) were focused on our troubles, on our enemies, on our poor condition and place.  After that and before the second “Selah!,” we refocused our attention from ourselves and our situation to the Lord and His power to be our shield, our glory, and the lifter of our heads in times of trouble.

Now we arrive at the third part and it is a fitting way to end the week.  In this third part, David cries out to God “Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God…” and he ends with the familiar phrase “Salvation belongs to the Lord.”

The question of the day is what is God saving us from?  The phrase “Arise, O Lord!” is noted by the commentators as the familiar invocation of God to assist the Israelites in war.  In this context, and given David’s dire situation in the desert, running away from his treacherous son, the word “save” here could well mean that David is asking God to save him from his physical, present circumstances … to help him defeat his enemies, overcome his son, re-enter the palace, and take back his throne.

When we pray to God to rescue us, to save us, isn’t it often in this context?  We have found ourselves lost and we ask to be found.  We have found ourselves in a bad situation surrounded by enemies and we ask God to defeat the enemies and restore us to our place.  We lose our job and we pray to God that He rise up and find you a job.  We expose ourselves to sin over and over and, when we are reaping what we sow, we ask God to rescue us.  We become ill from a deadly disease and ask for healing, for saving from the disease.   David may well be doing the same thing.

But, immediately, David changes from a focus on rescue from a bad place in specific to eternal rescue, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.”  From “rescue me from this pit” to “rescue me for all time.”

And that is what we are inclined to do.  Know that Christ has saved us eternally and ask from time to time that God save us from a bad situation we find ourselves in.

From physical save to theological, eternal save in one easy step.

But the problem is, we have all asked God to save us from X, only to find out that the next morning X is still there.  Where is God?  Why hasn’t He arisen to save me?   And in that reality, in that truth that God does not always show up in the time, way, and effect which we want, we come up with any number of explanations, from “God doesn’t love me” to “I am unworthy” to “it wasn’t in God’s will” to “there is some unrepented of sin.”  And a thousand other explanations.

There have been many books written about how to deal with the unanswered prayer.

But I want us today to stand back and think a little further.  Isn’t there a third way that God saves us.  We are taught the eternal salvation.  We ask for the physical salvation.  But doesn’t God always, always, always save us from ourselves?  Doesn’t He always save us from our emotions when we let Him?

Maybe the third way God saves us is by rescuing us from our emotions.

When we ask God for healing from our illness and nothing physical changes … we are just as sick as we were, has anything changed?  I think if we look into our hearts when we have asked for something and not gotten it, we know that something has changed.  Our emotions have changed from fear and anxiety to peace and joy.  Our bitterness toward the person harming us has melted away into forgiveness.  Our self-righteous attitude that says we deserve everything has converted to a honest appraisal of ourselves that says we deserve nothing.  Our love of self transforms into a love of others.  Prosperity defined by money and power is recreated by God’s power into prosperity defined by relationships.

When David prays “Arise O Lord!  Save me, O my God,” is he praying, really, for physical deliverance or emotional deliverance?

When you are in trouble because your car won’t start and you cry out to the Lord to start your car and, presto, it still doesn’t start, has God shown up and saved you?  I think the answer to that is “yes,” not because He started the car but because He changed how you respond to the car not starting.  He has changed your emotional reaction to one of worry and hurry to one of, “Oh well, this too shall pass.”  He has changed your attitude toward the problem.  He has changed you.  He has saved you from yourself.

So when we pray to be saved from our affliction and our affliction remains, has God shown up?  If the answer is that hope has replaced despair, promise has replaced worry, life has replaced death, caring about others has replaced caring about yourself, and solutions have replaced problems, then, “yes” God has saved you.

We can and we will ask God to rescue us from our enemies.  And sometimes He will and sometimes He will appear not to have.  But the miracle is not that He rescues us from our enemies, but that He rescues us from ourselves, from captivity to our emotions and selfishness.  That is the miracle.

Arise, O Lord.  Save me, O my God!  Because You have, You are, and You will.  Thanks be to God!

__________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Payback

April 29, 2015


Readings for Wednesday, April 29, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: **; Col. 1:24-2:7; Luke 6:27-38; Psalms 49, 53, 119:49-72

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We get hurt, we get stepped on, we get insulted, we get harmed, we get laid low. What is our reaction to the person causing this hurt, injury, harm, suppression? Payback.

In a city called Baltimore this week, there have been riots causing destruction throughout the city. A person is possibly seriously injured or killed by the police or just circumstances, and his ethnic brothers throw rocks and bottles at the police and burn down buildings in their own neighborhood. Why? Payback. A fellow officer is injured by a rock and reacts by hitting someone or maybe shooting. Why? Payback.

You hurt me and I’ll hurt you back. Why? Payback.

Probably the hardest command in all of Christianity is contained in our reading from Luke today, where Jesus says essentially the Christian rule of love is this – you hurt me and I love you back. No payback. Why? Because I [Jesus/God] said so.

In case you doubt me, here is the reading: “But I say to you who hear, ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from the one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. … If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you?…And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you?…And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you?…But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:27-36

When we have been saved by God’s mercy alone in spite of our ingratitude, disobedience, and evil, it is only fair to ask us in return to love our neighbor the same way.

However, to be frank obedience to this command is almost impossible for me. If you pull a knife on me, I’ll pull out a gun. If you call me a name, I have a better one for you in my vocabulary. And you know what? I’m willing to be that if I say “If I pulled a knife on you, you would pull a gun on me” would not be far from the truth.

Why is this true? Do we really need what is stolen? Probably not. If our house is burned down, wouldn’t our life in Christ go on in a tent? If we are killed, are we not now with Christ?

So why do we fight fire with fire? Why do we seek payback? I think for the simple reason is that it feels good, to us. “Don’t tread on me” is our ultimate statement of self. It is the ultimate statement of “I am.”

But wait a minute, isn’t there only one “I am” and I am not He?

If you want to see the man reborn in Christ fight the same man with one foot still stuck in the grave of self, one has to look no further than our desire to win, our desire for payback, or desire for justification, our desire for respect. When we say “It is not all about you” what we are often saying is, “But it may be all about me.”

How can we balance what Christ says today in Luke with how we live our lives on a regular basis? We can’t.

And the reason we can’t is that we are either obedient to Christ’s command to love or we are not. And we are not. I am not.

But I am His and at least when I go after payback, there is a part of me which says “George, you know better.” And just this gleam of truth winnowing its way into my conscience sometimes has an effect – sometimes, instead of going after payback, I will sigh and say “Not today.” And in the Holy Spirit, our “not todays” will increase and paybacks will decrease. And when that happens, we know the fools of the world will scoff. But, maybe some will say, “There goes Christ’s ambassador.” And we know what He will say — “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Now that is a payback worth receiving.

__________

© 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 – Foundations

February 16, 2015


Readings for Monday, February 16, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 63:1-6; 1 Tim. 1:1-17; Mark 11:1-11; Psalm 89

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What is the foundation of our faith?

There is much more behind this question than necessarily meets the eye.

In today’s readings, we see at least six (6) different possibilities.

One foundation of our faith could be a desire to escape the wrath of God and the coming judgment. From our reading in Isaiah today comes this: “It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save … I have trodden the winepress alone…I trod them in My anger and trampled them in My wrath;…for the day of vengeance was in my heart…I trampled down the peoples in My anger; I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.” Isa. 63:1-6 Let us call this the “Avoidance Foundation.”

Another foundation of our faith could be our own works, our desire to obey God’s law, just as Paul did: “I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful…” 1 Tim. 1: 12 Let us call this the “Self Foundation.”

Another foundation of our faith could be that we were given mercy by God. Again from 1 Timothy: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God…But I received mercy…The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason…” 1 Tim. 1:1,13b-16. Let us call this the “Chosen Foundation.”

A fourth foundation of our faith could be our need to live in victory beneath a victorious king – “And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest.” Mk. 11:9-10 Let us call this the “Victory Foundation.”

A fifth foundation of our faith could be our understanding of Christ’s work on the cross, His payment for us which we could not make so that we could stand in the throne room of God cleansed of sin. Let us call this the “Sin Foundation.”

A sixth foundation of our faith (and there may be more) is contained in the last sentence of our reading today from Paul’s letter to Timothy: “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Tim. 1:17. Let us call this the “Sovereign Foundation.”

In summary, the six potential concepts of the foundation of our faith which are struggling for prime position are the “Avoidance Foundation,” the “Self Foundation,” the “Chosen Foundation,” the “Victory Foundation,” the “Sin Foundation,” and the “Sovereign Foundation.”

If we re-order these, we realize that three of these proceed from man – what man wants and what man would choose. These are the “Avoidance Foundation,” the “Self Foundation,” and the “Victory Foundation.” “I” can avoid God’s wrath by choosing Christ, “I” can achieve God’s pleasure by obedience to the rules and by good works, “I” can obtain victory in life by following the King, the Creator, and appropriating His powers on earth.

The other three foundations begin with God – the “Sin Foundation,” the Chosen Foundation,” and the “I Am Foundation.” “God” solves the sin problem by dying for us, “God” chooses us for salvation, choosing those upon whom He will have mercy, “God” is Himself, the only God, most high.

I have become convinced through my walk that, although at different times in my life I believed that each of the described foundations was in fact the foundation of my faith, the only true foundation which makes any sense is the Sovereign Foundation – He is God and I am not; He rules and I do not. All of the other foundations are laid on top of this one.

If God were not sovereign, then why would there be sin? If God were not sovereign, then why would it be necessary that the saved were chosen? If God were not sovereign, then why would we be afraid of His wrath? If God were not sovereign, then why would His rules be something that we would measure our lives against and why would there be standards for “good” works? If God were not sovereign, then where is the victory?

God’s sovereignty is the key – it is the foundation upon which we rest our faith.

To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Sameness

January 30, 2015


Readings for Friday, January 30, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 50:1-11; Gal. 3:15-22; Mark 6:47-56; Psalms 40,51,54

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The new tolerance standard would require all to be the same. In order to be acceptable, we must think alike, talk alike, behave alike, worship alike. Now to do this and maintain some level of distinctiveness, there is only one solution, and that is to deem all behaviors, all theories, all thoughts, all ideas to be of equal weight and merit. This is embodied in the concept of relativism – what is true for me is true for me and what is true for you is true for you, and the only way to peace is to be the same. And we can be the same when we all adopt the common baseline that we are independent unto ourselves but not unto society. Within society we must think and act the same, and the only way to accomplish this is to realize that everyone is the same, without distinction and without judgment or evaluation as to the rightness or wrongness of any particular position. The power of the state in the age of tolerance is therefore not to maintain right, but to maintain conformity with the standards of society. Since the standards of society are not based upon “right” as such (remembering that all “rights” and “wrongs” are equal, except the wrong of failing to be tolerant), the standards are necessarily based upon power. If I am in control, then my views may not be “right,” but they can certainly be “enforced” in order to bring order. And, besides, why shouldn’t my ideas be enforced; you should think of them at least as highly as you think of your own ideas. Right. And so societies built upon sameness are driven to despotism.

So what does this mean from our Scripture reading today in Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus?” Gal. 3:28.

Does this mean that we are the same?

Simple observation will tell us that this is not true. We are still male and female, although modern thought is trying to strip us of this “bias.” We are still born into families, tribes, cities, states, nations, although modern thought would try to deny this reality as well by defining a “we are the world.” I live in Plano and therefore am a Planoite. I live in the United States and am therefore an American. I was born in the family of Flint and am therefore a Flint. Likewise, we also understand that we are somewhat stratified by our training, degrees, and specialization. I may in fact be a slave. I may in fact be free. I may in fact be an engineer. I may in fact be a sanitation worker.

It is clear that we are not the same, although modern thought would try to drive us toward that conclusion.

There are two further points to make. First is that I have engaged in some proof texting. To put the quote in context, it is necessary to add the previous sentence: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Gal. 3:27 If the quote is to be understood completely, one must realize that it has something to do with the nature of Christ, of what happens when one “puts on Christ.” The second point is to focus on the word “all” (“for you are all one in Christ”). Casual readers of Scripture are prone to see the word “you…all” and translate it to mean everyone. However, Paul is not writing to everyone. He is writing to the churches in Galatia. He is writing to Christians. The proper interpretation of “all” is “all you Christians.”

Christians find their unity in Christ. “In Christ” they are the same – sinners saved by grace, redeemed by the sovereign act of God, made righteous by Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection, not by their own works so that there is nothing special about any of them. They are not the same in life – in life they are Greek, Roman, English, Nigerian, French, Spanish, Cuban, Mexican, Canadian, slave, free, smart, stupid, educated, uneducated, rich, poor, leaders and followers. In Christ, they are none of these things because all fall short of the glory of God, no one is righteous, no one has sufficient good works to bring themselves into heavenly relationship, they are all in the soup unless redeemed by the Redeemer.

So, the question is simply this, as Christians are we the same? Yes and no. We are not the same in our birth, our relationships, our standards of living, our education, our life. We are the same in spirit, in need, in hope, and in our future bound up in Christ.

So how can we be the same and not the same? Maybe by abandoning our concept of “sameness” and adopting a new concept, a Godly concept. We are different, bound to go in our own direction in selfish, sinful pursuit, unless and until we surrender and declare allegiance to the one true King, Jesus Christ. At that moment, we are still ourselves and therefore different from each other but at that same moment we have admitted our common fundamental weakness, sought our common and only solution, and become part of the one and true communion of the saints.

The world would have us suppress our differences and become one through choice to accept all. God would have us embrace our differences and become one through choice to accept One. The world would say that we can build our tower of Babel to the heavens and reach God upon the shoulders of our works. God would say that our towers are but filthy rags, have us touch the ground with our knees and on our face, and in the process enter the throne room of God.

The world would have us reject ourselves as individuals and gather together in sameness; God would have us accept ourselves as individuals and gather together with our differences in unity under one King.

The world would say that to be tolerant, our allegiance must be to each other and to each other’s own thoughts. God would say that, to be tolerant, our allegiance must be to Him and to His thoughts. The world’s perspective on sameness results in oppression and real disunity. Christ’s perspective on diversity results in freedom and real unity.

“United we stand; divided we fall.” When we are united we can stand, not because we are the same, but because we are different but united under the same King. Divided we fall, not because we are individuals who refuse to be tolerant, but because we refuse to surrender to Christ and follow Him as King.

Think about it.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Plenty

June 18, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, June 18, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Num. 11:24-35; Rom. 1:28-2:11; Matt. 18:1-9; Psalms 81,82,119:97-120

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There is an episode in Israel’s journey through the wilderness toward Canaan which is described in today’s readings from Numbers. With my translation of the measurements into English measures, the reading is, in part, as follows:

Then a wind came up, and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, around the camp, and about [six feet] high. And the people rose all that day and night and all the next day, [36 straight hours] and gathered the quail. Those who gathered at least gathered [60 bushels]….and the Lord struck down the people with a very great plague…” Num. 11:31-33

There is a tendency among us to horde, to gather up and store not only enough to be plentiful, but enough to be truly independent. And yet God tells us to ask Him for “our daily bread,” recognizing that we are truly dependent upon Him and not ourselves. Without this dependence, we make idols of our stuff, the means to obtain our stuff, or ourselves.

In Numbers today, God teaches us an object lesson. When God provides plenty, pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered.

What should the Israelites have done? How much quail can one person eat in a couple of days? Surely not 60 bushels. Then why pick them all up?

God overwhelms us with riches beyond our dreams. Do we take them all and put them in our storehouses? Or do we take what we need for the day, leaving it in God’s hands to provide for tomorrow?

This is not an e-mail urging you to not plan for tomorrow, because that would be dishonoring to God as well. What it does mean is that, if you have been blessed with plenty, remember Israel and the wilderness and don’t gather all 60 bushels of quail.

_______________

© 2014 GBF

Bread – Self-Esteem

June 13, 2014


Readings for Friday, June 13, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Gal. 5:25-6:10; Matt. 16:21-28; Psalms 69, 73

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Paul in his letter to the church in Galatia says this in our readings today: “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Gal. 6:3

What a put-down. What a self-esteem destroyer!

“Self-esteem” means what it says – that we esteem (think highly) of ourselves. It is not other-esteem (thinking highly of others) or God-esteem (thinking highly of God), but thinking highly numero uno, number one, me, myself, and I. The world worries constantly about whether we have enough self-esteem. It is the reason there are no winners in the modern age, because with winners there are losers and nobody can be a “loser.” They might lose their self-esteem!

But Paul is blunt, these people are self-deceivers – “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

Almost all secular “wisdom” focusses on building up the self, on strengthening our ethnic, social, religious, tribal, family, self-identify. If we can identify our heritage, we can build our self-esteem. If we can graduate from school, we can build our self-esteem (whether you know anything or not is, of course, irrelevant to this argument). If we can more closely identify with our community, our people-group, we can build our self-esteem.

And all the while, Paul would say that we are not building self-esteem, we are building a wall of deception which deceives only one person – me. The world’s efforts to build my self-esteem fool only one person – me.

In our reading today from Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples that He will be delivered into the hands of men to be killed, and that after three days He will be raised up. He then says “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” Matt. 16:24-26

What good is self-esteem if it brings you profit in the world and lose to eternal death?

These views are exclusive. One (the world) says that I am good and can be made better, thereby building my self-esteem. The other (God) says that I am sinful and and must sacrifice my self-esteem, my exalted view of myself, on the rocks of repentance, turning away from myself toward Christ, and accepting the mercy and forgiveness extended to me by Jesus’ sacrifice for my sins on the cruel cross and God’s sovereign will and work to bring me to faith.

The truth is that self-esteem is one of the worse things we can have, because it leads us to believe that we are king, that we are master, that we are God. It leads us to eternal death. On the other hand, less self-esteem leads us to recognition of our sin, our powerlessness, our hopelessness, and our desperate need for help – it leads us into the arms of Jesus.

And the wonderful thing about God’s miracle in our life at our lowest point, when we realize that we have nothing to give, is that we realize that we are in fact esteemed, not by our puny selves but by the Creator, by God, who so loved us that He died for us and saved us.

And that builds our self-esteem … but not on the deception of self and the world … but on the solid rock of faith in Jesus., on the knowledge that God so loved us, so thought us worthy, that He saved us from ourselves.

And that is self-esteem worth having.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Leftovers

May 21, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

How does this work in real life?

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

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

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

Why so?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Deeds

February 26, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To do love you have to practice doing love.

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

Do it!

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© 2014 GBF

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