Bread – They

February 20, 2017


Psalm 53

The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’  They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good.”  Ps. 53:1

Who is “they?”  There is an inclination to say that it is those people who are “fools,” but the reference may in fact be to everyone.  Later, in the same Psalm, God looks down on the “children of man” and says, again, “there is none who does good, not even one.”

 

But even if we limit the reference of “they” to “fools,” the real question then is “who are the fools?” and “Am I a fool too?”

A “fool” in biblical terms is a person who says in his heart, “There is no God.”  Of course we, as Christians, would look at this and say that “we know there is a God; therefore, we are not a fool.”  But not so fast.

We can acknowledge there is a God with our mind and even have accepted Him as Lord and Savior in our hearts and souls, and yet think and act on a daily basis as if there is no God.  Do I do that?  Do we do that?  Have I acknowledged God with my lips and by baptism and by attendance at worship, and yet act throughout the entire day like He doesn’t exist?

Of course I do, and so I will bet do you.   Let me ask some simple questions.

Do I (we) see sin as it really is, as something that we do minute by minute as we disobey the commands of Christ to love each other and love our neighbors as ourselves?

Do I (we) see sin as it really is, in all of its forms, mild and strong, as an absolute affront to a holy God?

Do I (we) blow off sin in our lives as something which is minor, or inconsequential, or, worse, forgiven and therefore acceptable or necessary?

Do I (we) encourage sin in others, ignoring the consequences of bringing others into ruin?

Do I (we) consider sin a mere weakness in the circumstances or imperfection which can be worked out by better education, better food, a better environment, better schools, or just the best of what the world has to offer?

Do I (we) pay more attention to what is in front of us or beneath us rather than above us?

Do I (we) believe that television is important or the news or our bank account or the car we drive or the job we have or the college degrees on our wall?

Do I (we) spend more time pursuing excellence or the treasure at the end of the rainbow or more knowledge than building relationships with our neighbors, with our family, and with God?

There are more questions, but I think I (we) get the drift.  We may not be total fools because we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, but we may be fools nonetheless because, although we know who our Savior is, we often think and act like God does not exist.

Every time we minimize God in our lives by ignoring Him and His commands, we are saying in our heart, in that moment, that God does not exist.

The “they” is me and the “they” is us.  Even though we know the truth and have exclaimed the truth, we do not live in the truth.  But, thanks be to God, while we are weak, He is strong.  While we are the “fool,” He is the fool-redeemer.  While we forget Him, He does not forget us.  When we forget who He is and what He has done, He calls us to remember and to restoration to Him.

It is sort of funny that the world would call us believers “fools” for our belief.  They are right, but not in the way they think.  For we are all fools, fallen short of the glory of God.  For we are all fools, demonstrating this daily as we walk in the ways of the world rather than in the ways of God.  But, as the redeemed, we are a special kind of fool, one who has been transformed in our minds enough to know that sin is sin, that sin results in death, that we are sinners saved by God’s mercy and purchased by blood on the cross by Christ, and that every day, as we walk in faith into the opportunities which God creates, we are growing and maturing toward that day when we will be made perfect.

And that makes all the difference.

_________

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

 

 

 

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Bread – Meditation

January 25, 2017


Psalm 49

Hear this, all peoples!…My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.”  Ps. 49:1,3

In the introduction to Psalm 49, the herald calls out to the people and tells them that what is coming next out of his mouth is great wisdom.

What is interesting about this is the personal nature of the wisdom.  The wisdom is understanding, and that understanding comes from “meditation of my heart.”

Not the meditation of your heart or the meditation of his or her heart, but the meditation of “my” heart.

A common theme which runs through education is that we receive wisdom or understanding through external sources.  We receive them from books, from songs, from movies, and from the Internet.  When we need to understand something, most of us now reach for that great search engine in the sky, “Google™.”

We fail to separate information or data, which we do get from our surroundings, from wisdom or understanding, which is something which connects to us inside.  Of course, there are many “wisdoms” of the world which we can lock onto, but the wisdom of the Psalmist and the understanding of the Christian is the wisdom of God.

From whence do we get God’s wisdom?  Immediately Scripture comes to mind and some would say direct revelation, or God speaking to us directly.

I would suggest to you, however, that wisdom is not obtained that way.  Information about God (revelation of His character, His purposes, His glory and majesty) come from His Word and direct messages may help illuminate our next step in faith, but these are inputs.

What do we do with those inputs?  The Psalmist, in saying that understanding arises from the “meditation of my heart,” suggests that wisdom comes from thinking deeply about this information and appropriating it into our character (heart) and, therefore, behavior.

We cannot utter wisdom until we are wise; we cannot be wise without engaging in meditation of our hearts, and that is only effective when we are working with the raw material provided to us by God, seen through discerning eyes enabled by the Holy Spirit.

We must process our data to make sense of it, and we cannot guide others until we understand it.  That process does not take place in the head, but in the heart.  That process does not take place by merely thinking about it, but by deeply and carefully processing it.

Perhaps we are weak Christians because we fail to meditate in our hearts the things we have seen and heard, rather than just think in our heads about it.  For us as westerners, it is so easy to just take in the truth of Scripture and let it roll around in our head, analyzing it from every direction, putting it into our systems of thought so that we can intellectually comprehend it.  We call that wisdom and understanding, but it is not because the processing has taken place in the wrong location – it has taken place in the brain and not the heart.  Until we meditate in our hearts the truth we hear, we will not be transformed in our thinking and our acting.  Until we meditate in our hearts the truth that we hear, we will not have wisdom.

This process of meditation does not occur quickly because, being in the heart, it is driven by a different timetable and different processes.  Why pray?  In substantial part, the reason for prayer is to allow us to set time aside for the meditation of the heart, the opportunity for connecting at a base level, at the level of the soul, with our Creator and our Savior.  At that level, we may be unconscious (in our brain) of the changes which are occurring, but they are occurring for sure.

Why do our words have so little power?  Perhaps it is because they come from the knowledge of the brain instead of the meditation of the heart.  Perhaps because they arise from analysis and not wisdom.

Do you want the deeper wisdom this week from God?  Meditate on what God is saying.  Let Spirit (the Holy Spirit) speak to spirit (our spirit).  Let the Word of God dwell on our hearts, where it may penetrate deeply and empower mightily.

And then speak with wisdom into a world which desperately needs it.

_________

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

 

Bread – Drilling

April 20, 2016


Psalm 16

“Preserve me, O God, for in You I take refuge.  I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from You.”  Ps. 16:1-2

We often hear the word “drilling” in the context of mineral exploration, particularly of oil and gas.  It may, of course, also refer to the process of making a hole in a solid object.  The purpose of drilling seems to always be the process of breaking through a hard surface to get to the treasure underneath.  In the case of oil and gas drilling, it is piercing the earth to get to the oil.  In the case of drilling a hole, it is penetrating the wood or the metal or the plastic to get to the air underneath.

We lose so much in Scripture because we treat the translation as the hard surface, and read and rest there.  And yet, much of the power of Scripture lies beneath the hard surface, lies beneath the translation, and can only be extracted by the work of drilling through the hard surface to get to the real treasure.  But to do effective drilling, we have to be confident, have faith, that there is something beneath the surface of Scripture which is worth going after, worth drilling for.  And, quite frankly, that is a lot of work and, most of the time, I am too lazy to do it, if I even think about it.

For example, in today’s reading, on the hard surface of translated Scripture, I focused purely on the “refuge” and “no good apart” phrases and was ready to write about how, with belief in God, we have refuge and can overcome our sin nature to be able to demonstrate God’s goodness in the world, knowing that there is no good apart from Him.  And that would have been a good Bread, but I would have missed the whole point.

Fortunate for me, I also read a commentary, to give me a different perspective, and it was in that commentary that I learned something.

See, the English translation into our Bible of “God” and “Lord” fail to fully reflect the names of God actually being used in the Hebrew or Greek.

So, drilling through, I find that substituting the names of God into the translation results in this:  “Preserve me, O El, for in You I take refuge.  I say to Jehovah, ‘You are my Adonai; I have no good apart from You.’”

In the word for God “El,” there is the meaning of “strong one,” or what we might say “God Almighty.”  If God is all mighty, then He is the strong refuge, the strong sanctuary, where we may find peace, rest, and protection.  For in You, the Strong God, I take refuge makes all the sense in the world.  Furthermore, it refutes the idea of God as a disconnected, soft and “fluffy” God which dallies in the affairs of man but does not rule them.  God the Almighty rules and He is a strong fortress.  All this is discovered by drilling into the Word.

In the word for God “Jehovah,” there is a reference to the God of Moses, to the great “I Am.”  It is the I AM who made the covenant first, with the nation of Israel, and second with the Church, with us.  In a covenant relationship, we inherit the power, benefits, and blessings of the relationship.  The fact that, by the power and grace of God, we receive and can rely upon the promises of God.  The “apart from You” is an acknowledgment that we cannot survive without attachment to the True Vine, without being in relationship with Jesus Christ, without accepting the relationship which He offers to us.  God the great “I Am” has a relationship with us because of His doing and not ours, because of His power and not ours, because of the trueness of His promises and not ours.  Therefore, we have nothing of eternal worth “apart from You.”  All this is discovered by drilling into the Word.

In the word of God “Adonai,” there is the concept of God as my Master, as the Master.  Here there is the concept of God as King on earth as well as in heaven.  It is to the King, to Adonai, that we pledge our discipleship and our obedience because He is the Master of our lives.  All this is discovered by drilling into the Word.

So, let me paraphrase our reading today this way – “Preserve me, God Almighty, because in you I am saved.  I say to the great I AM, who has adopted me in a covenant which cannot be broken, ‘You are my Master and King; I have no good apart from what Your covenant relationship with me gives me.”

Isn’t that rich?  Isn’t that powerful?

And it is all laying just beneath the surface … but we need to be drilling into the Word to get to it.

There are three ways to read Scripture.  One is to read the highlights and, from that, you can discern the greatest story ever told, but the details are vague.  Another is to read the words (which takes a little longer), and from that you can learn what it means to be a disciple and many details about the story.  The details are sharp, the duty is clear, but there is something missing.  The third way is to drill into the Word, to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the richness beneath the surface (which takes a little longer), and from that you can begin to enjoy the relationship you have with God by virtue of His grace.  You might think of this as “top of mind” reading, “rational” mind reading, and deep heart reading.

Do you feel your relationship with God is weak, ineffective, and unsatisfying?  Perhaps it is because you need to drill more and scan less.

_________

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

 

 

Bread – Crowd

April 6, 2016


Psalm 14

“They [children of man] have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.  Have they no knowledge….”  Ps. 14:3-4

When I read the phrase “They have all,” it reminded me of two concepts.

The first goes back to my college days.  A group of friends and I were waiting to get into the cheap movie at the student center, and we had gotten there late and we were at the end of the line.  One of my friends said, “watch this,” and then proceeded to stand out from the line, walk brusquely to the front, and then started yelling at everyone that the line started where we were in the back.  Before even five minutes had gone by, the entire line of over a hundred people had shifted to behind us and, all of a sudden, we were now in the front of the line and got the primo seats.  This was my first real lesson in crowd-think, where someone with a strong enough voice and the air of authority could order people to change their entire lives and be happy about it.  And once the front of the line started moving, in response to my friend’s directions, the entire line moved out of the way.  The blind leading the blind from their position of prominence to their position of subservience.

How like Satan.  He and his minions come at us from all directions, shouting at us, and when the society begins to move, we do too.  When our friends start to run off the rails, most of the time we are not far behind.

When our leaders and friends and bosses and neighbors begin to reject God and His teachings, do we follow?  Much of the time, if we are honest with ourselves, the answer is “yes.”

The second concept which came to mind is actually quite new and it is called “crowd funding.”  If I have an idea which I want to promote and have people invest their money in, I can put it on a website and solicit contributions and, if lots of people send in $10 or $100, I am funded by the “crowd.”  Now, normally, if I want to raise money, I have to sell the idea to people who already have money and are quite capable of carefully analyzing my idea and deciding whether it is worthy.  However, the principle behind crowd funding is the crowd.  If you want to know what the latest and best ideas are, see who is attracting crowd funding.  After all, if 100 people agree that it is a good idea, it must be a good idea, right?  Whether the invention is sound, whether the financial plan is carefully thought out, whether the market is clearly defined – all that becomes irrelevant once the crowd likes you.

When I read the statement “They have all turned aside…[from the truth, from good behavior, from morality, from honesty, from hope … you name it],” how did that happen?  One simple answer could be that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God and, therefore, we all turn aside.  However, many of us claim to be saved and to be engaged in the transformation of our minds.  If that is the case, then how is it that we fall into the “they have all turned aside” category?

I think in each of my examples the answer to this question lays.  We go astray when we (a) do not take the time to understand what is going on, (b) we follow a strong leader who may or may not have our best interest at heart because he or she “sounds good,” and (c) we are afraid of the crowd and afraid to stand our ground when the crowd is going somewhere else.

Lack of understanding, following the wrong person, and fear of the crowd.  A trifecta leading to us turning aside, leading us to corruption and misery, leading us to no good.

If we fail as Christians in any of these three areas, it must be because we are not well-grounded in God’s Word.  The reason is that there is understanding aplenty in the Word, when illuminated by the Holy Spirit and built deep into our psyche and our lives by consuming it as the living water it is.  The reason is that God’s Word points to the right person, Jesus Christ, to follow, and gives us lots of examples of the wrong kind of people not to follow.  And, finally, the Word leads us to understand that, when we are saved, we need not fear death and, as a result, need not fear the opinion of others (the crowd).

You want an antidote to corruption, to falling away?  It is in the Word.

And what is interesting about the Word is that it is not a crowd thing.  Yes, it can be read at church in the congregation and it is.  And, yes, it can be read in small study groups and prayer groups, and it is.  But at the end of the day, it can only be grasped by a single person taking the time and the energy to be with God, to study God, and to learn from God.

“Have they no knowledge, the evildoers…?” Ps. 14:4.

No, they don’t.

Don’t you fall in the same trap.

_________

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

Bread – Challenges

March 20, 2015


Readings for Friday, March 20, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 23:1-8; Rom. 8:28-39; John 6:52-59; Psalms 95, 102, 107

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There are many difficulties in the Christian faith, many intellectual and emotional challenges. Our readings today seem to be an entire collection of them.

In Jeremiah, God pronounces woe to those shepherds who would scatter and destroy the sheep of His pasture. Jer. 23:1. And yet we know from other readings in Jeremiah that it was God Himself who caused the collapse of Judah and, earlier, Israel because of their sinfulness. So, in a sense the false shepherds may have been driven by Satan or their own selfish desires, but they may also have been placed on earth by God to mislead the people. So, God is to blame? The bad shepherds are to blame? Or are the people who follow the bad shepherds to blame for not understanding God and His Word so well that they recognize the bad shepherd and leave for more holy, more Godly pastures? God will dispose as He will, but we have responsibility for listening to and following the Word of God, once our minds are open to His truth. We would like to blame God and we would like to blame our leaders, but one of the great truths (and conflicts) of the faith is that we must begin in the mirror – it is us who obey the rules of the world rather than the rules of God, it is us who have faith in ourselves first rather than God first, it is us who sin and fall short. We are intellectually and emotionally challenged in the Christian faith to recognize that we are not number one, we are not over God or equal to Him, we have no right to judge Him, and He has every right to judge us.

In Romans, we are confronted with the Biblical truth that we did not choose Jesus but He chose us. Rom. 8:28-30. One of the great intellectual and emotional challenges we have as Christians is that we, ourselves, have and had nothing to do with our salvation because there is no work of man which meets God’s standards. We were chosen by God because He chose us. The challenge is to recognize that God is sovereign and that we are subject, that God is master and we are slave. The further challenge both intellectually and emotionally is to realize that, when we realize that it was God who saved us and not we ourselves, we are in fact free – that by becoming slave to God we become citizens of the kingdom of God, worthy to stand before God in His throne room, making intercession for others. There is true freedom in Christ, but we can only get there by realizing that while we were still dead to sin God reached down and lifted us from the pit. Our intellectual and emotional challenge as people is to realize that true freedom is gained by abandoning our slavery to the world and its systems and thought patterns and bowing our knee to the true King.

Also in Romans, we see the intellectual and emotional challenges which come from being beat down, being criticized, being sick, being tired and lonely, being weak. We say to ourselves, “We are Christians and saved by grace, why cannot we live with plenty and be well? And there are some shepherds who would pervert the message to say that, as Christians, we indeed may demand the first place in line and full prosperity. But our state as Christians is to be hated by the world – “For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” Rom. 8:36, citing Psalm 44:22. But because we have God on our side, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Rom. 8:37. As Christians we do not have joy because we have retirement accounts, we have joy because God is with us and our permanent retirement is assured for all eternity. Our intellectual and emotional challenge is to realize that we do not need worldly approval, position, or wealth to be free; we need Jesus.

And then we are confronted with our reading today from John, where Jesus says “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.,” John 6:53-54. Both our intellect and our emotions are severely challenged when we consider what Jesus is saying here. Great debates over the last two thousand years have occupied our minds and hearts over these words. Many claimed disciples abandoned Jesus over these words; will you? Again, however, we are confronted with our greatest challenge – to realize that we are not up to the challenge, that we cannot climb the hill without help, that we cannot save ourselves through works, that we cannot understand all things, that we cannot pierce some mysteries, that we are not God. If the net effect of the revelation we receive through Scripture, through Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is that we must radically depend upon Him daily for our daily blessing and power, then Jesus’ point has been made. If the net effect of this passage is to drive us away from Christ because “we” do not understand, or “we” are offended, or “we” reject God’s Word, we have missed the point. Our greatest intellectual and emotional challenge is to drive to the edge of understanding and proceed the rest of the way in faith. Faith, not in ourselves, but in the One who is, the “I am.”

Great challenges. All overcome on the cross. If we will but bow the knee, hand over the reins, have faith, follow Christ, and abide in Him.

Our greatest challenge is to figure out who is Lord. Jeremiah, Romans, and John tell you. But do you know?

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Spirits

December 22, 2014


Readings for Monday, December 22, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 11:1-9; Rev. 20:1-10; John 5:30-47; Psalms 61,62,112,115

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Around this time of the year, we are inclined toward the consumption of many spirits. For example, there is eggnog laced with brandy. For football games, there is beer. For our Christian gatherings, there may be wine (for those of us so inclined).

We consume other spirits as well during this Holiday season. The biggest spirit is the spirit of panic as we see our shopping days diminish while the number of people on our gift list grows. But there is also the spirit of home and of family. For many, there is the spirit of loneliness and perhaps even sorrow. For others, there is the spirit of happiness and joy. Finally, there is the spirit of hopefulness.

But for Christians, the spirit which matters is the Holy Spirit and what He delivers to us. And what is this?

Part of the answer is in today’s reading from Isaiah, talking about what the Holy Spirit gives to the Savior, whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas. Isaiah says this: “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.” Isa. 11:2-3.

This sequence of descriptions about the Holy Spirit is both a description about the Holy Spirit Himself and also, to my thinking, about the spirits which He conveys to us to help us in our daily walk with Christ. The Holy Spirit Himself is wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord. The spirits which the Holy Spirit convey to those who trust in Jesus Christ are the spirits of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the Lord.

Imagine for the moment that our lives were filled with wisdom, understanding, right counsel, power and might, knowledge, and righteous fear of the Lord. How victorious would we live if we always knew what to do, when to do it, how to do it, relied upon good recommendations from people who knew what to do, had the power and fortitude to truly deliver on our “yes’s” and “no’s,” and did everything in respect to and under the authority of God?

And yet we can, every day. The spirits of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the Lord are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, who Himself is a gift of God to those who believe in Christ.

There is something magic in the air around Christmas. But it is not the spirit of magic or even the spirit of crafty advertising and gift promotion. Instead, it is the spirit of hope – hope for life, hope for man, hope for freedom, hope for joy. It is God come to earth as a baby. It is the hope sprung from Christ’s incarnation. It is the hope tied to the holiday we now celebrate – Christmas.

But instead of celebrating the holiday, let’s instead celebrate that, through Christ’s power and our faith in Him, we too can receive the Holy Spirit and His gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the Lord…and thereby be in position to give gifts to others – the real gifts of time, of attention, of the hope which is within us, of a reason for thanksgiving and joy, and, most of all, love.

Because at the end of the day, if we have a spirit of love, we are but reflecting the love we have first been given, exercising our relationship with the Holy Spirit to help us live life and it abundantly.

May your Christmas be blessed and full of the spirits of wisdom, wise counsel, power, knowledge, fear of the Lord, truth and … love. Amen.

____________

© 2014 GBF

Bread – Sight

June 10, 2013


Readings for Monday, June 10, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 30:1-10; 2 Cor. 10:1-18; Luke 18:31-43; Psalms 56,57,58,64,65

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From our reading today in Luke: “[and Jesus said] ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ He [the blind beggar] said, ‘Lord, let me recover my sight.’” Lk. 18:41

What do we really, really see? Probably very little.

We know we see very little because of those who see much. For example, we know (from movies) that spies are taught to walk through a room, watching and comprehending everything in the room in a brief moment. This is important to them because they must quickly sort friend from foe, safety from danger, important from unimportant. The reason they need to see everything quickly is because their next steps are often based on what they see. Here, “see” has a broader connotation than just looking. “See” for a spy means observing, comprehending, and understanding. A good spy sees with all of his or her senses, not just the eyes. But the eyes are a good place to start.

Another group of people who see much are nurses. In a sense, they are the spies of the health care world. When they go into a room, they are trained to not only see the patient, but also to see the machines, the bathroom, the patient’s room, and the people in the room. They are observant of everything because the slightest thing out of order may be the clue to wellness or the predictor of a coming problem. They may write down what the machines are telling them, but their primary information source is everything else. When they “see” the patient, they are not only looking at the patient, but using every sense to test the patient’s emotional, spiritual, and physical state.

When we walk through our day today, what will be our primary defect? My hunch is that we will fail to see. We will ignore the person on the elevator who needs a kind word because we did not “see” them, wrapped up as we are with our own agenda. We will ignore the confusion of papers on someone’s desk (including ours) because we are so used to looking at them that they are just now a fixture in the office tapestry, blended into the background.

Have you noticed that there is a word which goes with “failure to see?” That word is “ignore.” I can ignore what I fail to see, and I fail to see what I ignore.

When the blind man asked for his sight from Jesus Christ, he was making a choice to no longer live in ignorance, but with his sight to look completely upon both the good and the bad in the world. We think that when the blind man’s sight was restored, he looked upon a world which was now full of color and movement, and that He looked upon Jesus, our Savior. But when his eyes were opened he also looked upon the same Jesus who earlier in our reading in Luke told the disciples that He would be delivered unto the Gentiles and “…after flogging, they will kill Him..” Lk. 18:32-33. He was not only looking at the Christ who was mighty but the Christ on the way to His own funeral. When the blind man’s eyes were open, he not only saw brilliant color and movement, the sun and the stars, but he also saw dust, poverty, loneliness, and misery.

As a blind man over in his corner, the beggar could focus on himself and his needs. At one who could see, he no longer had that luxury. With sight he had to step into the world, engage the world, and participate in what the world has to offer. But with sight he could also step into the presence of Jesus Christ, engage Him, and participate as a citizen in the kingdom of God.

When we realize that sight means the loss of ignorance, when sight means giving up our self-absorption and taking on engagement with our neighbors, is sight really worth having?

If you are inclined to say “yes, sight is worth it,” ask yourself why you haven’t prayed for it. Have you asked the Lord to let you see Him clearly, to let you see the path He has laid for you clearly, to see the hurt in others clearly, to see the misery of the world clearly? Oh we want our sight when we want to see the fireworks of July 4, but we really don’t want our sight when we are looking at the hovels where many people live. Oh we want our sight when we are looking at how we have been hurt, but we would rather not have it when we are looking in the mirror and asking ourselves how we have hurt others.

One of the great hymns of the Christian faith ends its first stanza like this: “I once was lost, but now I’m found. Twas blind, but now I see.”

This line comes from a heart of gratitude for the grace of God which not only saves but reveals.

But are you ready to see, really see?

Many people would say “no” to that question, because they fear what they would be called to do as disciples of Christ if they saw what was really going on around them. Called to bring reconciliation to a broken world, called to love the loveless, called to pronounce the kingdom of God to people who could care less, called to serve, called to become less so that He might be more. If we are thinking that way, fearful of sight, we might recall a reading from another lesson today, Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, where he says “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” 2 Cor. 10:3

When the Lord gives us sight, He also gives us strength. When He opens our eyes He arms us with divine weaponry to deal with what we now see.

Jesus Christ asked the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” He asks us the same question. What is our answer?

_________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Understanding

January 16, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bread – Understanding

September 14, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, September 14, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: 1 Kings 22:1-28; 1 Cor. 2:1-13; Matt. 4:18-25; Psalms 72, 119:73-96

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How do we understand what God is saying to us? How do we know that we are not listening to a lying spirit instead of God’s true message to us?

In a sense, that question is what all three of our lessons today are about.

The first lesson, from 1 Kings, has Ahab, the King of Israel, contemplating whether he should attack the King of Aram and take back Ramoth Gilead. He asks Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, whether he would help him in this quest, and Jehoshaphat wisely suggests that, before they embark on war, they should “seek the counsel of the Lord.” 1 Kings 22:5 So Ahab calls up his prophets (some 400 of them) and asks them to tell him what the Lord says, and they say with one voice “attack.” Jehoshaphat, however, has a concern about the validity of this prophecy, so he insists that Ahab call forth a prophet he does not like, because that prophet “never prophesies anything good about me.” 1 Kings 22:8. The prophet is called but, prior to making a statement, he is warned that the other prophets have predicted success. He gives into the crowd and says that Ahab will be successful. In a strange moment of clarity, Ahab gets mad at the prophet and says “How many times must I make you swear to tell me [the truth]?” 1 Kings 22:16 Then the prophet says something which strikes us as peculiar, because he says that the Lord permitted a lying spirit to seduce all of the prophets because He wanted Ahab to be enticed to go to his death. Then, the king gets mad (because the prophet never says anything good), sends him to jail, and goes to war (where he dies).

Although one focus of his passage is surely God’s control over kings and nations, what I want to focus on is King Ahab’s ambivalence. He knows in his heart that he may not be hearing the truth from the group of court prophets, so when the other prophet tells him the same thing Ahab warns him to tell him the truth, not what everyone else is saying. But after he is told the truth, Ahab ignores it and does what he wanted to do anyway.

How do we understand the voice of God? Maybe part of that answer lies in who is telling us and what are they telling us. Do we listen to the mob or to the “still small voice.” Do we listen to our friends on the golf course or to our accountability partner, whose job it is to pray for us, to listen to God for us, and to tell us the truth even when it hurts (“he never prophesies anything good about me”). Do we set our objective and then listen to only those voices which support our objective, or do we let God set our objective and then listen and observe carefully whether confirmation is coming from other sources (as opposed to our own thoughts and desires).

Another reading from today is from Matthew. It reads in part: “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew…’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said,….At once they left their nets and followed Him.” Matt. 4:18. From being gainfully employed to being itinerant followers of Christ in a single instant – How did Peter and Andrew know they were hearing the voice of God and not some lying spirit? How?

Why did Ahab tell the prophet to tell him the truth even though (a) what he was saying was what the king wanted to hear, and (b) he knew he did not like what the prophet normally said? Why did Peter and Andrew drop what they were doing immediately when Jesus said “Follow me?”

There is a standard of truth which sounds horrible in today’s scientific, rational environment where, if it cannot be tested, it is not real. To modern ears, this standard of truth rings hollow and somehow “fake.” And that standard of truth is “you know it when you see it.” The real McCoy is real because it is real.

Before you begin to squawk about irrationality, lack of standards, and the like … how is what I am saying any different than what Paul says in our readings today: “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Cor. 2:12-14 (italics emphasis added).

When the Spirit of God, operating through God’s written revelation to us (His Word), operating through other Godly people, operating through circumstance, and operating through direct contact with us, speaks truth to us, we know it. We know it because it is spiritually discerned and because, when tested against God’s Word, it is not inconsistent with that Word. We know it because, since it is not the wisdom of the world, it often does not match up with our own desires, our own nature, our own education, our own understanding of “how things work.” We know it when we see it.

Now the real question. If we know the truth when we see it, if we have the gift of God’s Spirit so that we may discern spiritual things, what is our response? Is it the response of Peter and Andrew, to drop what we are doing and follow Him, follow the call of Jesus on our lives, accepting the free gift of grace and salvation? Or is it the response of Ahab, to ignore the truth and go do what we were going to do anyway and die?

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Bread is sent to those people who have asked that it be sent to them, and maybe it has been forwarded to you by a friend. If you are not on my mailing list and wish to be, please e-mail me at flintg@verizon.net. I also know that many things fill your inbox and, if you would like to be taken off the list, please e-mail me and your request will be promptly honored.

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All Bible citations are to the New International Version (NIV), unless otherwise noted.

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This and previous Breads may be read, critiqued and commented upon at the Bread blog: https://1bread.wordpress.com

Bread–Understanding

November 1, 2010


Readings for Monday, November 1, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: *; Rev. 14:1-13; Luke 12:49-59; Psalms 56, 57, 58, 64, 65

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Do you ever get frustrated reading the Bible? I admit that sometimes I do, particularly when I read it without understanding a single thing I have read. For example, what are we to make of the following readings from Revelation today: “The I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads…No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women…They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they were blameless. …This calls for faithful endurance on the part of saints who obey God’s commandment and remain faithful to Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven say ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’’Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” Rev. 14:1-5, 12-13

Who are the 144,000? Why are they special (or are they special)? Even if we assume that they are those rescued from the nation Israel, how is it that “No lie was found in their mouths; they were blameless…” If they were under the Law, then to be blameless they must have followed all of the law all of the time in every way with the proper intent. Who can do that except Jesus Christ. Isn’t Jesus Christ the only One who is sinless and therefore blameless? Is 144,000 a “magic” or “code” number, standing for some kind of perfection or an actual count? Why are they the only ones who can learn the song of worship? There are over six hundred million declared Christians today; if only one percent of them are really Christians, that is still over 6,000,000. Are they included in the 144,000 or excluded? How were they purchased – was it through the death of Christ on the cross or some other way? If it was through the death of Christ on the cross, why aren’t I included (or am I)? It appears that the angels are speaking to saints on earth who are not part of the 144,000. Why are these people any better than “saints?” If there are saints still on earth but the 144,000 before the throne, why were the saints left on earth – to suffer? To test their faith?

These questions give me a headache. And they only scratch the surface of the questions that can be asked about this reading.

Someone may say to me that I may not have understanding because I have not read the complete Bible, because I am not coordinating this passage with other Bible passages (I am reading this passage out of context), because I have not studied enough interpretations of this reading, because I have not listened to enough tapes or gone to the right Sunday school classes – all of which may very well be true.

But is this the real reason I lack understanding? Maybe I have lack of understanding because I just do, because my mind is not God’s mind, because God is not ready to give me insight into this, because the time is not right for me to have understanding. Maybe my understanding lies beyond the horizon, at that point which I will never reach until I rest in the bosom of Abraham.

But lack of understanding hurts our pride. After all, we are educated, we are modern, we are intelligent, we are searching, we have books, and we have the Internet. So surely we must understand, or we have just not done enough – we have not prayed enough, we have not meditated enough, we have not read enough, we have not studied enough.

Or maybe I don’t understand because I am not God. Maybe I don’t understand because I can’t. Maybe I don’t understand because I am permanently defective, distorted and deformed by Adam’s sin and my own.

Maybe I will never understand, even in eternity.

Maybe that’s why God placed Revelation into our lap, to teach us this last truth – that maybe I will never understand.

Because when you don’t understand, you have to rely on something else, you have to rely on someone else. I may not understand how a car works, but I believe that it will work because it has worked and is working. And I know that there is someone else who does know how it works.

And when I find that I have no understanding I find, incredibly, the greatest understanding – that I do not need to know it myself, I need to know the One who knows. I need to know the One who understands. I need to know the One who created. I need to know the One who sacrificed it all for me on the cross. Jesus Christ understands how things really work, He understands who I really am, He understands everything.

And that means that I need to understand nothing except Christ, and Him crucified for me.

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