Bread – Gospel

March 28, 2018


Psalm 100

Today is Wednesday in Holy Week, the day fixed between our secular joy in welcoming our King Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, singing “Hosanna in the Highest,” and our Christian joy in His resurrection on Easter day.  Between the secular joy of recognizing our need for a good earthly king and the religious joy arising from our recognizing our need for an eternal King, a Savior, are betrayal and death.  What is so amazing about this is that it is we who participated in the betrayal and it is we who killed Him.  It is our sins which required a sacrifice of blood.  And it is God Himself who offered Himself as that sacrifice on the cross, dying once for all who are called to Him and believe in Him, restoring us into relationship with God and unto eternal life.

Since it is a day in the middle, it seems appropriate that we are met with Psalm 100, labeled as “His Steadfast Love Endures Forever,” and “A Psalm for Giving Thanks,” in its entirety as follows:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!  Serve the Lord with gladness!  Come into His presence with singing!

 Know that the Lord, He is God!  It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.

 Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise!  Give thanks to Him; bless His name!

 For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever; and His faithfulness to all generations.”  Ps. 100:1-5

My prayer for myself and all who read these words in this season of our lives is that we know that the Lord is God, that we are His creation, that we are His people, that He is good, that His steadfast love toward us has endured from creation through His death on the cross through the resurrection and ascension, for all eternity, forever, and that His faithfulness and mercy toward us, His people and the sheep of His pasture, endures through thick and thin, in and out of our seasons, in and beyond time … and that for this, all of this, we are grateful.

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© 2018 GBF    All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

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Bread – Joy

December 12, 2017


Psalm 92

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,…”  Ps. 92:1

The context of this Psalm is contained in its title, “A Song for the Sabbath.”  Therefore, the first line of the first verse could almost be phrased “On the Sabbath, it is good to give thanks to the Lord…”

For most Christians, Sabbath translates to Sunday, so another way of saying this is “On Sunday, it is good to give thanks to the Lord….”

Of course, it is good to always give thanks to the Lord, but for this Psalm and this Bread, let’s just focus on Sunday church.

Why is this Bread called “Joy” when the focus of this verse seems to be “good” and “thanks.”  One might well ask why giving thanks on Sunday is “good.”  Good for what?

Well, there are a lot of answers in “good for what.”  Good to restore our souls, good to bring rest, good to increase our awareness of God’s presence and His benevolence toward us, good to bring together God’s community so that we can better know how to love and be good neighbors, good for uplifting music, good for hearing informed preaching, etc.

But I wonder if that is what the real good is.  I wonder if the real good in giving thanks to the Lord on Sunday is that it brings us joy.

But, you say, “my Sunday does not bring me joy.”  I have to get up out my cozy bed; I have to get the kids fed and dressed; I have to hear everyone’s whining about “why do we have to go to Sunday School;”  I have to be nice to people when I get there; I have to pretend like I’m listening to the sermon; I have to put up with the restless child next to me, wondering why his or her parents didn’t put them in solitary; I have to try to sing even though my singing is best described as a resounding gong; and I have to look at my watch wondering if I will have time to cut the yard, play golf, watch the football game, drink with my buddies, work on the car, fix the light which just went out that morning.  What joy exists in those things?

We are in the middle of Advent, during a time of waiting for Christmas, at which time we will sing “Joy to the World.”  Who is this joy and what is this joy when the Sunday is not fun; it is work.

What our Psalm reminds us of is that each Sunday can be, if we will but open our hearts and minds, a mini-Christmas.  It can be celebration of our life in Christ and His community on earth.  It can be time of rest and renewal.  It can bring gladness, renew hope, fill us up with courage, outfit us with the clothing of the Holy Spirit, remind us of our eternal salvation by and through God’s grace, having nothing to do with our works.  In other words, it is good for us to give thanks to the Lord because it will bring us joy.

There is joy at Christmas because of the anticipation, because we see the target, because of Advent, because of the time before the event to get ready.

Let me make a suggestion.  Today and every day this week, let’s think about Sunday in anticipation of the truth it will bring, the love which will be felt and given, the communion which will shared, the opportunity to give thanks to the Lord, the hope it will instill, and the power of God which will be present and which infill us anew.

Instead of looking at the coming Sunday with dread, let us look at the coming Sunday with expectation of something exciting coming our way.

It is good on Sunday to give thanks to the Lord.  Why?  Because we will have a great blessing – joy.    Why?  Because Christ will be born anew in our hearts.  And we will worship.  And we will be blessed.  And that is very good indeed.

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

 

 

Bread – Particularize

April 30, 2016


Psalm 17

“He is like a lion eager to tear, as a young lion lurking in ambush.  Arise, O Lord!  Confront him, subdue him!”  Ps. 17:12-13

In our prayer life, we are so often ready to generalize, to talk about “evil” in the abstract, to talk about “evil people” in the collective, to talk about “them” or “us.”

But the truth is that rarely do we deal with the collective or the abstract – most often we are dealing with a particular situation or a particular person.  The person we are dealing with may be part of a greater whole or may well represent that greater whole or the idea, but the contest before us is between “me” and the other person, not the other philosophy or the other abstraction.  Situations are concrete and people are concrete.  We may think abstractly, but we deal concretely.

We must deal with the person and the situation before us.

David was confronted with a particular person in this Psalm.  This particular person was out to get him; he (David’s adversary) was “lurking” around trying to catch David unawares, pounce on him, and, most likely, kill him.

So, in a moment of clarity, David stops praying to God about the wicked people (“They close their heart to pity”) and speaks directly and personally about the wicked person (“Confront him!”)

Sure David might pray to God to deal with the entire category of lions and to soften their anger and bring to their mind a friendship with man, but there came a moment when David realized that God had to deal with a particular lion, one who was going to kill David if God didn’t intervene against that single, solitary man-lion.

Do we personalize our prayers like this?  Do we pray to an abstract God, one which resides in our minds as an idea, or to a personal God, one who resides in our hearts as our Savior?  Do we pray to God about things in general, or about situations in particular?  Do we pray to God about fixing the problems of a nation, or do we pray to Him about the particular guy or gal who is giving us fits?

We love to read the Psalms because of their overarching majesty in representing the prayer and song life of those who wrote them, in reflecting the great struggles between understanding a God who is sovereign, holy, loving, and faithful and His dealing (or, from our perspective, not dealing) with our particular needs and the needs of others.

However, which portion of David’s prayer of Psalm 17 was closest to David’s heart and, therefore, God’s desires for him … “keep me from them” or “keep me from him, the lion?”

There was an old pastor-priest friend of mine, now deceased, who told me one time that, as he drove down the street to get to a meeting with a parishioner, he always prayed as he reached each stoplight that God would turn it green so that he could drive unimpeded.  I told him that wouldn’t it make more sense for him to pray that God just get him to the appointment on time, and he said, “no,” because God was quite capable of taking care of each stoplight and the accumulation of each stoplight would result in him getting to where he needed to go in the time appointed for him to get there.

In reading this Psalm today and hearing David ask God to “stop that man,” I am reminded that each event, each person, each situation, each minute by minute occurrence in our life, is an opportunity for us to ask God for help and for Him to show up with a little demonstration of His power.  We so much want the light show that we don’t realize the opportunity for prayer when we turn on the light and hope the light bulb turns on.

Can you imagine the power by which we would lead our lives if we could personalize and particularize everything as an opportunity to speak to God about our need, right then?

And if we particularized our prayers down to the specific before us, wouldn’t we also then live our lives in constant gratitude for the things fulfilled?

When we pray to God for a good journey, we get to thank Him at the end of that good journey.  When my friend prayed to God for a green stoplight, he got to thank God for that green stoplight when it occurred.  But what we forget is that he also got to thank God for the red stoplight as well because it gave him an opportunity to think about why God might not have turned it to green – was it to protect him?  Give thanks.  Was it to give him an opportunity to make that phone call he needed to make and had forgotten?  Give thanks.  Was it to give him an opportunity for rest from a frustrating drive?  Give thanks.

If we want to witness God in every moment of our lives, if we want to live our lives in power, if we want to have an attitude of gratitude, maybe we need to particularize our prayers more, realizing that every moment in life is both an opportunity to pray and, regardless of the outcome, an opportunity to give thanks.

Then, instead of praying and giving thanks once or twice a day, we would be doing it thousands of times a day.

And, maybe then, we would truly walk with Him, talk with Him, be with Him, and do His will.

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

 

Bread – Seasons

November 24, 2014


Readings for Monday, November 24, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Zech. 10:1-12; Gal. 6:1-10; Luke 18:15-30; Psalm 106

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Although it is just before Thanksgiving, many people are acting as if it is just before Christmas. But the truth is that, for Christians, there are many opportunities throughout the entire year to give thanks for what God has done and is doing for us, so in that sense there are no seasons. However, we recognize the various seasons of the year, expressed in quarters (spring, summer, etc.) and expressed in holidays (for Christians – Christmas, Easter, Pentecost; for others – others).

Our readings today talk about seasons. In Zechariah, our reading today begins with “Ask rain from the Lord in the season of the spring rain, …” Zech. 10:1. We know the effect of rain – it is necessary to life, to help plants and people grow and thrive. In a sense this verse is saying “Ask for growth in the season of growth.” To many people, this seems strange, because why would you ask for something you are getting anyway because it is the season for it. After all, the season for rain has rain in it; we wouldn’t call it the season for rain unless it rained pretty often during that time. For these people, we ask for what we don’t have when we don’t have it, not when we do have it. What is the use of asking for a job when we have a job; for asking for happiness when we are happy; for asking for health when we are healthy; for asking for wisdom when we already know what to do? The problem with this attitude is that it is an attitude of self – I will not reach toward God in prayer (“ask rain from the Lord”) unless I need something. However, when we are God-focused we realize that all things come from Him. The job we have today is a gift from God. The health we have today is gift of God. Any wisdom we might have today is a gift of God. Knowing that, it is actually more important to ask for rain in the season of rain because it is an acknowledgement that, in good times or bad, all things come from the Lord and on Him are we radically dependent.

We need to ask God for rain in the season of rain because we need to constantly remind ourselves that everything we have and everything we are is by the grace, power, and love of God. We need to ask God for rain in the season of rain because we need Him, all the time, not just in the time of need but also in the time of plenty.

In Galatians, we read this about seasons – “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Gal. 6:9 Season are not only now, they are in the future. But some seasons are dependent upon other seasons. Jesus Christ does not die (season of Easter) unless He is first born (season of Christmas). A season of reaping of a harvest does not occur unless there is first a season of sowing, of planting of the seed which will blossom later. While we are in one season of life, by our actions we are helping to determine what our future seasons will look like. Financial advisors will tell you this. If you are 17 today and save $100 a month in a reasonable investment, you can retire on a substantial income in your season of retirement. But it is hard for us to realize that, to realize that by the season of study in Scripture today we are laying the foundation of a season of effective Christian love tomorrow.

There is a richness to each season, but only if we have taken the time and the energy in the season before to plant the seed for the next season.

It is the season of rain, of thanksgiving for what we have been given. Let is therefore ask the Lord for thanksgiving, a spirit of gratefulness for Him and His. During this time, in the hustle and bustle of life, let us “not grow weary of doing good.” What we have abundantly from the Lord let us share in love with our neighbors, the stranger and the friend.

In one week the season of Advent begins. This is a season of doing good, to others and to yourself. What good can you do yourself? Read God’s Word. Think about Him and his coming to earth shortly as a defenseless human, to take on our low estate so that we may be brought up to His high estate. Communicate with Him through prayer. Be still before the Lord and listen to Him. Do not become weary of doing good for in due season we will reap.

What is this “due season?” It is Christmas. If we continue today to do good to others and ourselves (by strengthening our walk with the Lord and our obedience to His will) , in “due season,” at Christmas, we will indeed celebrate with joy, love, fellowship, and hope.

Otherwise, we will be tired and miss the season entirely.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Friday

June 14, 2013


Readings for Friday, June 14, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; 2 Cor. 12:11-21; Luke 19:41-48; Psalms 69,73

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TGIF – the acronym for “Thank God It’s Friday.” What is interesting is that many of the very people who use this phrase wouldn’t know God if He appeared before them. Others of us use this phrase as a throw-away, without realizing that if it is not truly from a heart of gratitude, the “Thank God” might well be an epithet and, as a result, a blasphemy against the God who saved us and provides for us.

Another interesting thing about this phrase is that we are apparently thanking God for getting us through the week to Friday. Why? Was our week not praiseworthy that we should be anxious for the next day? Of course, I ask the question tongue-in-cheek because we all suffer from the ups, downs, and sideways of daily life, and we are grateful to get to that portal to imagined rest called Friday. I say “imagined” because for many people, the weekend is no better than the work week.

In Psalm 69 from today’s reading, we have a look into what it means to have gratitude towards God at all times and in all circumstances. What is interesting in this Psalm is that David has many problems and he is asking God, “Why haven’t you done anything? Where are you?” But asking that, he basically tells God that he, David, is going to “buck up” and handle it. He then assumes the role of victim and blames other people for his misery, cursing them before God. I think his thinking is that, if God won’t help him, maybe God will punish someone whose hurting him. The Psalm ends with, apparently, no change in either David’s or his enemy’s condition, but with a change in David’s heart from self-pity to self-reliance to anger at others to praise for God’s provision and love.

Here it is (in part):

“Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.” [Ps. 69:1-3]

“Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me. Hide not your face from your servant; for I am in distress,; make haste to answer me.” [Ps. 69:16-17]

“I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none.” [Ps. 69:20b]

“Let their own before them become a snare; … Add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from you. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.” [Ps. 69:22a,27-28]

“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving…Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them.” [Ps. 30,34]

Did God show up for David in this Psalm?

The obvious answer is “no,” because David was left in the waters, sinking in deep mire, with his enemies surrounding him. There is no evidence that his curses were granted by God. There is no evidence that God showed His face to David.

The less obvious answer is “yes.” Oh David was left in swamp of his life, all right, and his enemies kept on their terrible ways. Nothing appeared changed, except for one thing – David’s heart. His heart was changed from self-pity, to “help me,” to anger, to praise and thanksgiving. Who can make such a change in such circumstances?

“According to Your abundant mercy, turn to me.” Not according to my desires, demands, wishes, and prayers, but according to “Your” mercy, God’s mercy.

What is God’s mercy in our dire circumstances? Some people might believe that God’s mercy is delivering us from the week to Friday, which is why they say TGIF. However, isn’t God’s mercy a delivery “to” and not a delivery “from.” God in His mercy does not rescue us from daily life, but He equips us to handle it, He equips us to love in spite of the loveless, to praise in spite of misery, to live victoriously in the face of the worse circumstances.

For those who think God delivers from, then TGIF makes all the sense in the world. To those who find in their change of heart, their change of perspective, their change from self to Him and others, the delivery of God’s mercy into our life, then every day is a “Thank God” day.

So, is your motto “TGIF.” Or is it “TGFT,” “Thank God for Today?”

_______________

*The Old Testament reading assigned for today is from the Apocrypha, and it is therefore omitted.

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Debt

November 19, 2012


Readings for Monday, November 19, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Hab. 2:1-4,9-20; James 2:14-26; Luke 16:19-31; Psalm 89

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There is much discussion in political and social circles about the amount of debt being carried by the nations of the world, including the United States. Although everyone “knows” that debt is generally bad, it seems like we are in a stupor about the debt itself.

Well, the prophet Habakkuk is not in a stupor about debt; he knows exactly how bad it is. From our reading today, Habakkuk says: “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own – for how long? – and loads himself with pledges! Will not your [creditors]* suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble? Then you will be spoil for them. Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you…” Hab. 2:6b-8a.

If your wealth is built on borrowed money, it is fleeting wealth because the creditor will come one day and claim the debt, taking your assets as payment.

There are reasons other than avoiding the negative which we have for having surplus instead of debt. Our reading in James today reminds us that faith without works is dead. Among the works identified is charity toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. James asks, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James 2:15-17

Where are the resources to come from to so bless our brothers and sisters? In our secular, government mind-set, it comes from borrowing from others, either by actually borrowing the money or by taking it from people through taxation. In our Christian walk, we are to do good works from the blessings God has given us, not those blessings He has given to others. As Christians, we clothe and feed our brothers and sisters in Christ, not the wealth of others, but from the riches God has given us.

This week is Thanksgiving. Let us rejoice in the love that God has shown us by exercising our faith in good works; let us rejoice in the love that God has shown us through His people by accepting and taking graciously those gifts of clothing, of food, of housing, of caring, of attention, of love, which His people bestow upon us. But let us do it the right way, from God through the people of God to the people of God, using the resources which God has given us and not the resources which God has given others. In so doing, we honor God. In so doing, we act like the people of God. In so doing, we exercise our faith. In so doing, we love.

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*The ESV actually translates this “debtors,” but this appears to be improper in context. The NASB and NKJ translates this “creditors.” The NIV indicates that it could be either. Since it is your creditors to whom you owe money, it seems that in context the word “creditors” is better translated here.

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Silence

October 24, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, October 24, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Rev. 8:1-13; Luke 10:17-24; Psalms 38,119:25-48

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In Revelation today, the following is reported: “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour….” Rev. 8:1

There are really only two times when we stand silent. The first is when we are overwhelmed with awe at what just happened, and we are silent. In such circumstances, we say that we are speechless or dumbfounded. The second time we stand silent is when we choose to shut our mouths, when we choose to live with our own thoughts and to listen. This second time is almost so rare that we don’t even have a name for it. We can’t say that we are speechless, because we have our speech, we just choose not to use it. Perhaps if we are in school, church, or someplace where we are “supposed” to be quiet, we might call that “enforced silence,” but otherwise when we just choose to be silent, we don’t have a good name for that. Well, I am going to coin the phrase “expectation silence” because, often, we choose to be silent when we are expecting something to happen, to hear words of wisdom, to encounter God in prayer, to hear the deer approach in the forest, that kind of thing.

In our reading, what kind of silence is happening in heaven? Is it the speechless, awe-filled kind? Or the enforced silence type? Or is it the expectation silence? Maybe in these circumstances it is all three. The angels and saints are speechless because of the majesty they are witnessing. The angels and saints are staying silent out of respect for the holiness of God. The angels and saints are expecting to hear something wonderful, and they are silent. Any and all of these explanations work, I think.

They were silent for thirty minutes. Have you ever tried not to say anything for thirty minutes? It is almost impossible, because we love to hear ourselves talk, even if it is only to ourselves.

What if we were silent before God today for just thirty minutes? What kind of wonders would we see for the first time? What kind of truth would we hear from Him or even from those He has placed among us to love and to hear from?

If we don’t shut up, we may never hear that quiet voice, that still voice, that wind of the Holy Spirit which blows around and through us. If we don’t shut up, we may never see the miracle which is happening before our eyes.

See, what happens when we are silent is that our mind begins to become uncluttered from our own agenda and our own reasoning, and begins to seek input through the eyes and the ears. And what do the eyes see and the ears hear – God, God’s presence through nature, and other people.

See, what happens when we are silent is that we are really setting aside our importance, our thoughts, our agendas, our focus on ourselves, and turning that focus upon our world, our God, and our neighbors.

And when we are quiet, we can really listen, maybe for the first time. We can listen to Scripture, we can listen to the Holy Spirit, we can listen to our spouse and our children, we can listen to the sounds of the world, and we can listen to ourselves, our heart, our aches, our needs, our anger, our sins, our joys, our sufferings.

It is the last point, that of shutting up so we can listen to ourselves, which drives many people to hate silence. But think of this, in our silence, as each concern, loss, sin, and negative thought arises, we can grab it and hand it over to Jesus. We can confess in the silence, because we can see and hear clearly what we need to confess. But there is more. In the silence we can also hear our joys, our happiness, our loves, our Savior who lives in us and us in Him. And while are in silence, listening to ourselves and these wonderful gifts we have been given, we can give thanks to the same Jesus who has taken our burdens.

This is the middle of the week and will be filled with busyness, talk and bustle. Take a moment, take thirty minutes. Don’t say anything during this period. Just listen, and as the things which need confession bubble to surface, let them go, release them to the One who says that He will carry your burdens; and as the things which need celebration also bubble to the surface, give thanks (silently) to the One who has given them to you. And in so doing, with all the angels and saints, stand in the presence of God – in silence, in expectation silence. And see what happens.

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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. 7:4-14.

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© 2012 GBF

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