Bread – Recall

December 5, 2016


Psalm 44

O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us, what deeds You performed in their days … You with You own hand drove out the nations, but them You planted…”  Ps. 44:1-2

This will be an interesting week because this Psalm begins one way and quickly turns to another.  A calamity has fallen on the people of Israel and they lament to God why?  But before the Psalmist writes about the calamity, he writes about God’s exercise of His power in the past to help Israel and its people.

There is a saying that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.  However, when it comes to God, those who forget history forget who God is.

Recall of God’s blessings upon our nation, our families, and each of us personally is critical to anchoring us in knowing God, in knowing His faithfulness through all generations.  It is not enough in our tumultuous lives that our anchor to God be set in emotions, in the high of the moment, or in mountaintops, but in the deep past, in the valleys of despair, in the memory of rescue, of salvation, of gifts, of blessings, of hope, and of love.

In order for our ship to be stable on the stormy waters of life, our anchor must be placed firmly in God.  And even though God is here today and will be here tomorrow, it is in the past where His glory, power, and authority has been exercised over and over again for our benefit, laid in stone of history, there for the viewing if we but recall.

We celebrate Christmas this year, recalling the advent of the Christ-child in history.  We will celebrate Easter this year, recalling Christ’s death on the cross in history.  The Psalmist recalls God’s great deeds, the blessing of Sarah with children, the exodus from Egypt, the burning bush, the fall of the walls of Jericho, and many more large and small, written down in the past.

So, as we begin this week, let us recall our history as God’s people, both the ups and the downs, the weaknesses and the strengths, the times of obedience and disobedience, the power and the grace and the blessings and, yes, the flood and forgiveness and the cross and the resurrection, and, yes, the birth of hope for the world in the birth of Jesus.  Let us recall not only the great history God’s people but our own history as God’s son or daughter.

Let us place these recollections firmly in our memory and anchor ourselves in them.

Why, because we will need these recollections to anchor us in the coming storm, to remind us that, when God seems absent and uncaring, He is neither.  And to remind us that, even in defeat, in Christ there is victory.

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

 

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Bread – Power

September 2, 2016


Psalm 33

The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.  The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its might it cannot rescue.  Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love, that He may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.  Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.”  Ps. 33:16-20

Where is power located?  Where can it be found?

When I was getting my Masters of Business Administration, I took a course in power (of course, it wasn’t called that – it was called leadership).  We talked about a lot of things and looked at a number of psychological studies.  These showed things like how to arrange furniture to project power, where to stand, how to talk, etc.  We talked about technical power which comes from knowledge – engineers who know what they are doing have technical power because people absolutely rely on them to do things well so that bridges do not fall down, generators work, etc.  We talked about positional power, where a person’s power comes from the position they occupy, like a president has more positional power than does the bookkeeper; however, we learned that positional power is tricky, because the assistant who controls access to the president may have more positional power than even the president in some organizations.  Then we talked about situational power, where power is essentially derived from the group of people you are working with (where they voluntarily surrender power to you).  And we also talked about personal power, which arises from force of personality, drive, vision, charisma, and the such like.  I am sure new names have been attached to these and other similar concepts, but you get the drift.

But, in that entire course, we never talked about what David is talking about, the source of real power, God.

When we are in trouble, what do we fall back on?  Do we fall back on our great wealth, our family, our friends, our position, our intelligence, our native abilities, our talents, our knowledge?  To the extent we fall back on these things, and all of us do, we are demonstrating that we believe that real power comes from us or our surroundings or others somehow.  If only we could tap into the power source of self-awareness, self-assurance, or self-reliance, then we can dig our way out.  Of course, the operative word here is “self.”  When we fall back on ourselves or others, we have fallen into the arms of the world to give us the power we need to be saved, to survive the famine.

But David says that “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men … don’t hold a candle to the living God.” (or something like that)

The king is not saved by the king’s power nor his kingdom’s power; He is saved by the strong arm of the Lord and His kingdom’s power.

Where do you truly believe real power comes from?  Does it come from the sources we have been taught, or does it come from the Source which has been revealed to us by the Word written and the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ?

No doubt about it, there is a battle afoot.  There is a war.  It is the battle for ideas, the battle for resources, the battle for territory, the battle for position, the battle for truth, the battle for our families, the battle for our country, and the actual wars which grow out of these battles.  We cannot escape them.  They are here and we are players.

The question is, what kind of players are we?  Are we the players who plot and scheme and lead the charge (or follow the leader), who rely on ourselves and our fellow man and their resources, or are we players who are citizens of a different world, who know where real power lays, who rest in the knowledge that Jesus Christ, Father, and Holy Spirit are “our help and our shield?”

The time for testing is coming.  In whose army shall we fight?

_________

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

Bread – Peace

August 5, 2016


Psalm 29

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.  May the Lord give strength to His people!  May the Lord bless His people with peace!

This week, it may seem like that Noah’s flood, the end of the world, has overwhelmed you and sunk you and drowned you in a sea from which there is no escape.  God reigns over the flood and He is mighty to save His people from the consequences of their sin.

This week, it may seem like that weakness of heart or spirit or mind or body has overwhelmed you, driving you into the pit of depression, worry, and misery.  God provides strength to persevere in the hard times and strength to stand fast in the good times; when we are weak, He is strong for us.  He is the source of our strength and our salvation.

This week, it may seem like we have no peace.  There is the war of making a daily living in the midst of circumstances and people who seem to want to make sure that you can’t.  There is the war of words and ideas which flood every means of communication.  There is the war of the mind where we, every day, have to decide who we serve.  There is the war of the heart where we, every day, have to decide to love or to hate.  There is fighting with word and sword – death and defeat surround us.  God is a place of refuge, of sanctuary, during these times.  He is the source of peace, if we but want to drink of the water which flows from Him.

What is peace?  Is it the absence of war?  Most people think so and think that war is evidence of the lack of peace.  But how is it that we can have peace from war (and there have been times, although rare, where that is true), and yet have no peace in our lives.  To live is to contest the elements, the opposition, the thoughts of other people who decide just not to be cooperative that day.  Life is a contest and, as a result, there is no peace.

In fact, the Lord commands us to speak the truth in love to people who do not want to hear it and who oppose the truth.  Jesus warns us of persecutions.  He died on the cross.  Martyrs of the church through the ages have died by fire, by evisceration, by acid, by beheading, by torture, by sword and by the thousand cuts of scorn heaped upon them by the scoffers of the world.

Did these martyrs have peace?  Not by a worldly definition, not by a long shot.  But did they have peace?  We know they did.  Then what is peace?

Imagine for a moment being in the eye of the storm.  All around you is swirling fury and destruction, and yet you stand observing, watching, considering, thinking, loving – and unaffected.  In the storm there is no room for conversation, no place for reflection or thought, no opportunity for rest.  In the center of the storm, in its eye, one can speak calmly and openly, one can listen, and one can lay down and rest.

Maybe the Psalm should say “May the Lord bless His people by placing them in the eye of the storm.”  And, if you think about it, indeed he does.  When our soul is in Christ, it is He who leads us by still waters in the eye of the storm, it is He who speaks to us comforting words while we are surrounded by the swirling noise of the world, it is He who prepare a table for us in the midst of our enemies.

“May the Lord bless His people with peace.”  He has and His name is Christ Jesus, Son of God, Savior, Redeemer, King, Lord of Lords, Emmanuel – yes, Emmanuel, God is with us.  And when He is with us we stand in the middle of the storm in peace, not by our power but by His.

Want peace?  It is free at the foot of the cross.  It is free for the asking.  But you have to ask.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Blameless

May 6, 2016


Psalm 18

“For who is God, but the Lord?  And who is a rock, except our God? – the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless.”  Ps. 18:31-32

When I began preparing this Bread, I thought that there may be some merit in looking at the words translated “God” and “Lord” in these verses, but in the process of doing that I noticed a notation in front of the word “blameless” and the notation was that the word “blameless” has multiple meanings, including the words “complete” and “having integrity.”

And, like most aspects of Scripture, when you dig deeper into God’s Word, the Holy Spirit operates to expand self-understanding, self-analysis, and self-application.

Now think about this:  “the God who … made my way blameless;” “the God who … made my way complete;” and “the God who … made my way so that I have integrity.”

We normally think of the word “blameless” as being “without sin,” and we then proceed to the immediate conclusion that, yes, God does make our way blameless but only because He sees us through His Son, Jesus Christ, who stands between us and God the Father so that all the Father sees is the blamelessness of Christ.  To use more “theological” words, God sees me as blameless because Jesus’ blamelessness is “imputed” to me.  Wonderful, but I am still sinning (less, maybe, but sinning nonetheless), even though I have been saved by grace (mercy).

But what if I substitute the words “complete” and “with integrity” for “blameless.”  Now what?

Well, it is not so easy now to shove off responsibility for my behavior upon Christ, saying that I am a sinner no matter what.  The reason is that I can, when I have the strength and the perseverance, complete a task.  And I can, with strength of character and resolve, operate “with integrity.”  So I have no excuses.  I cannot lay this off on Jesus Christ as my stand-in because I have experiences in my own life where I completed the task or I acted with integrity.

So, if I am not complete, if I have not completed the task, perhaps it is because I do not have a radical reliance upon God to “make my way complete.”  So, if I do not walk with integrity, perhaps it is because I do not have a radical reliance upon God to “make my way with integrity.”

See, there are really only two choices.  I can walk the walk or I can lean on God and let Him make my way straight, make my way complete.  I can strive to live a life of integrity or I can lean on God to make my way one of integrity.

And how can I do either?  How can I both do it and rely radically upon God to do it for me?  The answer is in the first part of the verse: “the God who equipped me with strength…”

Do I walk with integrity, complete the tasks laid before me, and am blameless?  There is a way I can, but it is not the way of man or the world; it is the way of Jesus Christ.

Do I wake up in the morning saying “My will, my way, in my strength” or do I wake up in the morning saying “Your will, Your way, in Your strength.”

The first is weak and will soon result in loss of integrity, incomplete results, and many reasons to blame ourselves and others.  The second is strong and will result in a blameless way, complete and full of integrity.

How do you wake up in the morning?  Whose will do you follow?  Whose way do you use?  In whose strength do you act?

_________

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

 

Bread – Foundation

March 16, 2016


Psalm 11

“…if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”  Ps. 11:3

This verse is quoted a lot among my political friends, because they (and I) see the crumbling of the society arising from the increasing secularization of our culture, the redefinition of language, the rise of selfishness over selflessness, the increasing dominance of government in our lives, the loss of liberty to security, and the removal of God from the public square.

When the universities no longer teach but propagandize, when the churches no longer proclaim but entertain, when government no longer protects but burdens … when the foundations are destroyed, what can we, the righteous, do?

Our inclination is to become even more involved in civic affairs, from attending organizing meetings to listening to speakers about topics of interest, reading more books, showing up to vote, and discussing the state of affairs with our friends.  Our inclination is to run to the rescue, to try to shore up the foundation with various designs to give it strength and stability, to patch the cracked foundation to keep it from cracking further, and to enlist our friends in the rebuilding effort.

And for many of us, we respond to the clarion call to fix the foundation by saying, “we can do it.”

But, of course, we can’t.  If the foundations are destroyed because sin runs rampant, the solution is to turn to the Lord and let Him solve the problem, if He will.  If the foundations are destroyed because people are becoming more selfish, the solution is to turn to the Lord and let Him solve the problem, if He will.  If the foundations are destroyed because we see our society, our life, running off the cliff, the solution is to turn to the Lord and let Him solve the problem, if He will.

The righteous can do  what they are called by God to do.  They can proclaim Jesus Christ, they can live lives which gives honor to Him, they can teach others, they can pray and they can love their neighbors.

That’s it.  That’s what the righteous can do.  And, oh, one more thing.  The righteous can stand on the one foundation which can never be destroyed, Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.

In a sense, this is a trick question because the one foundation which matters is the one which can never fail, and the many foundations built by man are temporal, weak, and capable of being destroyed.  And the question is not “if” the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do.  The question is “When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

The foundations will be destroyed; the Foundation will not.  Therefore, in season and out of season, the righteous need to do the same thing – praise God, glorify Him, grow toward Him, and proclaim Him … and God has promised that He will take care of the rest of the foundations.

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

 

 

Bread — Weak

June 9, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are you going to listen to?

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Edges

April 17, 2015


Readings for Friday, April 17, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Dan. 3:1-18; 1 John 3:1-10; Luke 3:15-22; Psalms 16, 17, 134-35

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In today’s reading from Daniel, we have the history of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being thrown by Nebuchadnezzar into the fiery furnace to die for failing to bow down to his idol-god, only to be rescued by God. I always love this re-telling and so I read the entire adventure.

However, that is not today’s reading from Daniel. Today’s reading from Daniel begins with Nebuchadnezzar’s creation of his golden idol-god which everyone is instructed to worship but it ends at the edge of the unknown. It ends this way: “Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego answered and said to the king … ‘If this be so [if they are cast into the fiery furnace], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image you have set up.’” Dan. 3:16-18

The edge has been reached. Everything is on the line. The king, the governmental powers, has drawn the line with a terrible death to follow from disobedience. The three guys have said, “No,” we serve God and not your golden idol. The point of decision.

How did these three young men get to the point that they did not fear a painful death? How did they get to the point that they were willing to step out beyond the edge in faith, rather than step back from the edge in fear? Maybe because they did not see the alternative before them as death, but as life … either life continuing because God saved them in the present or life eternal because God brought them to Himself.

There are many edges in life which we reach and then have to make a decision. Do we go forward in faith or step back in fear? In such circumstances, everything we are taught, everything that is in us from physical birth, and everything in the world screams at us to step back, to avoid the risk, to protect ourselves, to live for another day, to engage in “strategic” retreat. But at that edge our call from God is to step out in faith that God is true, that His promises will be fulfilled, that His hand is mighty.

But people would say that faith like this is a foolish faith and that we should temper our decisions with wisdom. Well, like so many arguments it is both correct and incorrect. If your faith is in a God which is the “Cosmic Bellhop,” ready to fulfill your every desire and whim, then you have a foolish faith because you reject God’s sovereignty. The three guys in our history lesson above knew that God was sovereign and that He might choose to save them in one way and He might not. The three young men did not create the edge they found themselves on, but the edge found them because they were faithful to God. This is where wisdom comes in, but it is not man’s wisdom but God’s. Man’s wisdom would say walk away from the edge and bow down before the golden idol; God’s wisdom would be to worship Him and Him alone and trust Him. So the better warning is not what people say but this – “Faith should not presume upon God but rely upon Him, and we should temper our decisions with Godly wisdom.

In our reading today, there is the worship edge (do we love the world, ourselves, or God), but we also hear about the love edge.

In our reading from 1 John, the apostle says “…whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” 1 John 3:10

To me, this is the real edge of life – the point at which we choose to either love our brother or not. And this edge occurs all the time. You are busy and are interrupted by another person —

do we turn away to our important business or do we listen and love our brother? You are wondering if you can make the house payment, you only have three days of groceries in the kitchen, and a beggar comes to your door, do you close the door before or after you give your brother some food? You look across the street at your neighbor’s house and realize that the grass is growing too high, do you shake your head and leave for work or do you smile at the opportunity and love your neighbor by getting the grass cut?

When life is seen as presenting one opportunity after another to live in Christ or live in oneself, we realize that we live on the edge all the time, deciding either to retreat to self or step across the edge in faith. Why do we not love all the time? Because we are well-practiced in retreat and fearful of going beyond the edge, of taking the next step in faith.

Do we have this strength ourselves? Of course not. If we can say “no” to the world and ourselves and “yes” to God, if we can ever step beyond the edge, if we can love our brothers and sisters, it is only because we have the power from God to do so.

If we really want to obey God and not man, if we really want to love mightily, if we really want to step across the edge onto solid ground, then we have one prayer – Come Holy Spirit. Amen.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Strength

January 5, 2015


Readings for Monday, January 5, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Joshua 1:1-9; Heb. 11:32-12:2; John 15:1-16; Psalms 2,110:1-7

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Many people have made New Year’s resolutions, begun implementing them, and in the back of their mind know that by February much of the effort will be on the rocks, foundering from lack of attention, lack of time, lack of energy, commitment to other goals, and just simply messing it up.

Perhaps some of us have undertaken religious resolutions, from more time in prayer to more consistent worship to engaging in deeper Bible study. I myself have undertaken the resolution to write Bread more consistently.

What will happen to these resolutions? Will we have the strength to persevere to completion in spite of the headwinds against us from our friends, our bosses, our families, our innate sinfulness, our laziness? Will we have the strength to persevere?

Maybe yes and maybe no. No if we are relying upon ourselves, our plans, our efforts, our training, our education, our resources, our world. Yes, if we are relying upon God.

In today’s lessons, God tells us three ways to rely upon Him in order for there to be success in the New Year, in order to obtain and retain the strength to persevere.

The first way is for us to abide in Jesus Christ and not ourselves. Jesus said “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5 For those of us who do not know Jesus, the way to have the strength to persevere is to find Him. For those of us who do not know Jesus, the way to have strength to persevere is to abide in Him, hang on Him, take up residence in the mind and the soul with Him, love and adore Him.

The second way is for us to trust Him, have faith in Him. “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets – who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire; escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness…” Heb. 11:32-34. Many people find Jesus in their minds, studying Him and His Word from morning to night, but do not find Jesus in their heart, where faith resides. It is not enough to know Him to have strength to persevere; it is necessary that we trust Him, have faith in Him in all circumstances. Through faith we can abide; without faith we will soon substitute ourselves for Him, relying upon ourselves first and foremost, substituting ourselves for God, making ourselves our own god.

The third way is for us to obey Him. As God said to Joshua, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. … Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or the left hand, that you may have good success wherever you go…For then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success….Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:5b-8 God’s commandments and His prescriptions for living are not just there to fill volumes of the Old Testament, but to give us guidelines for living life which will give us “good success.” If we are to have the strength to persevere, we must not weaken ourselves by going into byways and dark alleys of our own imagining, but be obedient to God’s ways, His prescriptions, and His will so that we may walk in the path of light and protection.

Want a real chance to transform resolution into reality? Have faith in, abide in, and obey Jesus. And there will be strength to persevere in the evil day, strength to receive all of the blessings which God has in mind for us, and strength to love.

____________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Stand Up

March 24, 2014


Readings for Monday, March 24, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 44:18-34; 1 Cor. 7:25-31; Mark 5:21-43; Psalms 77,79,80

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There is an old song which stuck in my mind this morning which goes something like “Stand up, stand up for Jesus…”

We know what it means to “stand up” for something. Sometimes, just to make a point, we add something to it, like “stand up and be counted.” Of course, a person who stands up, stands for, stands against, stands in favor of, stands in opposition to, or just stands is always counted, because they then stand out from the crowd. So, another way we could say it is to say “stand up and stand out.”

Finally, the even have a name for people who admit their faults and do something about them. We call them “stand up guys.” Of course, there are “stand up gals” as well.

In today’s reading from Genesis, we have a lesson about a “stand up guy.” His name is Judah. When Joseph in Egypt says that he is going to keep Benjamin, Israel’s youngest son, Judah essentially says “no, please don’t, it will kill my father and I promised him that I would take Benjamin’s place. Please let him go and keep me.” Of all the brothers there in Egypt to get food, he was the one who stood up, stood out, and stood in place for his brother, Benjamin.

But what is not told in the reading today (because it was told earlier in Genesis) was that there was a time when Judah did not stand up. When Joseph was thrown away by his brothers out of jealousy, Judah stood around and encouraged them to sell Joseph to slavers. Instead of standing for his brother, he joined the crowd.

In the first case, with Joseph, Judah did not stand up for Joseph; he stood with the crowd, the mob, and encouraged them. He encouraged the wrong. The second time around, Judah stood up and offered himself in place of his brother; in this instance he stood against the crowd. The second time around he stood for the right.

What happened in between? Well, for one, he saw the grief of his father. But many of us see the grief of our loved ones all the time and do not turn from wickedness to righteousness. So what changed for Judah?

Maybe he just grew up. Maybe he matured from selfishness to selflessness. Maybe he tradeoff of short term pleasure against long term pain was not worth the cost. Maybe he did not want to return to Israel having failed to live up to his promise to protect Benjamin. Maybe he was ashamed from his prior treatment of Joseph. Maybe all kinds of things.

We know this – he repented of his sins, he turned, and he became a new person. His other brothers didn’t; he did.

Judah is us. We may come to the end of our rope in many ways – by making mistakes, by doing harm to others, by doing harm to ourselves, by giving in to the crushing desire for the things of this world, by selfishness, by seeing other people we love suffer, by causing people we love to suffer, by spending all we have on foolishness, by wallowing in our pride and our sin – but come to the end we will. And when we do, will we just meld into the crowd, like Judah’s brothers? Or will we repent, turn, and become new like Judah? Will we stand up only for ourselves, or will we stand up for others and take on their burdens? Will we stand up for Jesus?

How many Benjamins do we know? Will we stand up for them? How many Israels do we know? Will we stand up for them? How many Josephs do we know? Will we stand up for them?

Come, Holy Spirit, and help us to answer that question. Help us, O Lord, to be that person who stands up for You, who stands up for our neighbors, and who stands up and against the evil day. Amen.

_______________

© 2014 GBF

Bread – Preparation

March 5, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, March 5, 2014 (Ash Wednesday), designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Amos 5:6-15; Heb. 12:1-14; Luke 18:9-14; Psalms 32,95,102,130,143

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In order to eat, we must prepare the meal. In order to build a house, we must prepare the plans and the materials. In order to obtain a college degree, we must prepare our foundations and prepare a course of study which we will follow. In order to run a race, we must prepare by study and practice.

In a sense, all of our readings today are about preparation to run the race of life, to run the race of salvation, to run the race of glory, to run the race of holiness.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the period of Lent, which looks forward to Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

A favorite phrase of modern management is “SWOT.” It is an acronym for how to plan, beginning with an analysis of “Strengths,” “Weaknesses,” “Opportunities” and “Threats.” The idea is that before good planning can take place for a good outcome, a major part of preparation is understanding where you are.

Let us apply a spiritual SWOT analysis to ourselves as we begin our preparation.

First, we begin with Scripture. In Amos, we are told that God knows “how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins…” Amos 5:12. Amos also tells us to “Seek the Lord and live…” Amos 5:6. Hebrews tells us we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” and that, therefore, we need to lay aside every weight and sin and “run with endurance the race that is set before us….It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you like sons.” Heb. 12:1,7. In Luke, Jesus reminds us that the haughty Pharisee, believing he is perfect, will be humbled and the bad, bad person who understands the depth of his sin and cries to God for mercy will be exalted. Lk. 18:9-14

So, from Scripture and applying our SWOT analysis, we know that our strengths are none, our weaknesses are transgressions and sin, our opportunities rest in God’s mercy shown to us in Christ’s death on the cross, and our threats are ourselves.

This is why we have Ash Wednesday. It is a time for preparation. It is a time for clear evaluation of our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It is a time for truth. It is a time for reality. It is a time for discipline. And it is a time for us to begin to realize that God has in fact been merciful in delivering us from our weaknesses and the threats against us into our opportunity for eternal life.

The only thing we need to worry about in our preparation is that we will mis-evaluate our strengths by thinking that we have some.

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© 2014 GBF

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