Bread – Pursuit

January 23, 2017


Psalm 49

Hear this, all peoples!…Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.”  Ps. 49:1,20

What will we pursue or chase after this week.  Will we be engaged in the pursuit of fame, of fortune, of happiness, of self-satisfaction, of beauty, of honor, of position, of power, of things, of others, of our family, of friendship?  There are many pursuits which can occupy our attention and our time, and most of these are emphasized by the world as necessary if we are to lead a “full life.”  We must pursue quiet time for ourselves, adequate money for retirement, housing, transportation, education.  We must pursue the “good life,” which our advertising media has taught us is a large house in pleasant surroundings, a dog and a cat, two well-dressed and well-behaved children, a good job, two new cars, and a kitchen which looks like the ones in the cook books.

On top of all that, we are told that we should be engaged in the “pursuit of excellence.”

The writer of this psalm suggests instead that we should be in the pursuit of wisdom, which begins with the understanding that we end our lives with nothing.  And yet, although we “know” this intellectually, we behave as if we can take it with us and as if, in any event, we will live forever.  Death, however, is imminent.

Maybe we should be pursuing excellence in all things as if unto the Lord, but excellence in what?  In doing or in being?  In amassing wealth in many storehouses or in depositing treasurers in heaven?  In worry about tomorrow or engagement in love with the world around us as ambassadors of Christ today?

Perhaps as we begin this Monday, it is an entirely appropriate question about what we will be pursuing today and this week.

The nature of pursuit is that we eye what we want and we go after it.  We do other things along the way, but those things are not the main things.  The only main things are those which enable us in our pursuit.  For example, if we pursue wealth, then we may eat dinner, but preferably we will do it with someone who can increase our wealth or, failing that, we will eat with our digital assistant in our laps checking e-mails less we fail to push the next business deal along as fast as it should go.  If we pursue other people, if we pursue interpersonal relations, we may still prefer dinner with someone who can make us wealthy, but we will turn off the digital assistant and carefully listen to the conversation so that we may build up those interpersonal bonds we are pursuing.

Who or what is our eye on today and this week?  Who or what are we in pursuit of?

The Psalmist suggests that what we ought to be in pursuit of is eternal life and the God who can give it.  Do you agree?  Are you pursuing it?

_________

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

 

 

 

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Bread – Prosperity

March 9, 2016


Psalm 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________

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

 

 

 

 

 

Bread – Atheists

March 7, 2016


Psalm 10

“Why, O Lord, do You stand far away?…In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor…In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek Him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’  His ways prosper at all times…He says in his heart, ‘I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.’  His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;…he lurks that he may seize the poor;…He says in his heart, ‘God has forgotten, He has hidden His face, he will never see it.”  Ps. 10:1-2,4-7,9,11

Am I an atheist?  Are you?

You ask, how could I be an atheist?  I believe in God, I have been baptized, I have had the laying on of hands, I have read Scripture and studied some of it, I attend church from time to time, I participate in Bible studies, I even write this “Bread.”  How could I be an atheist when I have all these “marks” of a Christian?  And you are probably the same – you have a Bible (or several), you have read it (or probably substantial parts of it), you go to Sunday School and may even teach it, you give to the church and to various charities, you have said words of repentance and asked God into your heart, and you pray to Him.  How could you be an atheist when you have all these “marks” of a Christian?

This Psalm may very well be the most important Psalm you will ever read because it describes who an atheist really is.  It describes an atheist, not as a person who rejects God with his lips, but a person who rejects God with his actions.

There are five characteristics of a “doing” atheist presented in this Psalm.  These characteristics are (1) arrogance (boastfulness; pride), (2) prosperity, (3) apparent security, (4) abusive speech, and (5) aggression (violence).  The acting atheist may say there is a God by his lips, but he denies there is a God by his acts or he believes that God is absent from the world and therefore his life.

Before we are too quick to reject these as not applying to us, please take a moment and test each of these traits of an atheist against how we behave?

Do we boast in our position, our power, our wealth, where we live, how much education we have, what we know, who our family is, what we have achieved, how often we can play golf or go to the movies or the theater, what we drive?  Of course we do, and we do it every day to somebody.  We camouflage our arrogance by saying, instead, things like “the early bird gets the worm,” and “winning is not everything, but losing is nothing,” and “my business is successful because I built it,” and “I …..”  We camouflage our arrogance by saying that “the only way to win is to be sharp,” “be aggressive,” “be assertive,” “don’t let the other side get the upper hand,” “fight to the finish” “I am the best.”  Recognize these concepts?  I use them every day and so do you.  We justify it because we see it as necessary to get ahead in the world.  We see that getting ahead in the world requires us to adopt the ways and rules of the world, which is to ignore God.

Are we prosperous?  As individuals, the answer is “yes.”  As a group of people in the city, the answer is “yes.”  As a nation, the answer is “yes.”  We like to say that the reason we are wealthy is because God has blessed us, but if that is truly the case, then why hasn’t He blessed everyone?  Because I am special?  Because I have special favor in God’s eyes?  Does this sound prideful, boastful, or arrogant?  It should.  The people who are more wealthy than me have gotten there in substantial part because they have inherited it (see verse 6 – “…in all generations I shall not meet adversity”) or they have “earned” it… and for the most part they have earned it by being “better” at the game of life than other people.   In other words, we have figured out how to “win” and win we do with retirement accounts, land, one or more houses, beautiful furniture and accessories, clothes fit for king or queen, cars and trucks rivaling the most luxurious forms of transportation ever.

Do we have apparent security?  The answer is “yes,” in part because (a) we are prosperous and (b) we know how to play the game (here comes pride again).    In fact, much of our life is spent is doing things that guarantee our security, hence our pre-occupation with the stock market and the extensive use of financial planners (and, yes, lawyers like me too).

Is our speech abusive?  In the simplest form, abusive speech is a bunch of curse words (so-called four letter words), and many of us manage to stifle our urge to speak these, at least among people we don’t know.  However, isn’t abusive speech also slander against another person, a putdown of the other person, a slur about or against another person, and what we might call a “mental beating or beat down?”   When we are brought a request from our boss to recommend someone for a promotion, don’t we elevate the speech about the person we want to receive the promotion and use speech about the others which makes them less attractive for the promotion?  How much of that is true and how much of it is your “spin” on the situation to reach the ends you have in mind?  Have you ever thought of the “spin” you put on things as abusive speech?  Psalm 10, verse 7, describes abusive speech this way – “His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.”   How much of our daily speech is filled with “deceit,” “mischief,” “iniquity,” and “oppression?”  Probably a lot more than we care to admit.

Our final trait of a practicing atheist is violence or aggression.  Now, you say, this is where we show that we are not atheists but Christians because we are not violent or “overly” aggressive.  And perhaps many of us are not this way.  But I daresay most of us are.  As an attorney, I wait (lurk) in the shadows waiting for a fellow attorney to screw up so that I can take advantage for my client (we call this being a good lawyer).  As a supervisor or just a co-worker, you may wait (lurk) in the shadows waiting for someone at your same level to make a mistake so that you can promote yourself into the next higher position or get that raise or get rid of the guy you don’t like anyway (we call this corporate politics).  In politics, we have turned lurking in the shadows to take advantage an art form.  Isn’t the classic “gotcha” just another form of violence or aggression?

But you say, “we must be aggressive to get ahead.”  Bingo!  But you say, “we must lay up our stores of money so that we can retire in safety and have enough money until we are 100.”  Bingo!  But we say that “only poor people fail to plan, fail to act, fail to get educated, fail to win, fail to live well…and we do not want to be poor.”  Bingo!

God is a God of judgment but we act every day like He is not.  God is a God of presence, but we act every day like He isn’t.  God is a God of promises, but we act every day like He won’t deliver.

We may not say that there is no God but we act like there is no God.

If we want to see the living proof of the “paradigm,” of the “perfect image” of the daily atheist, one who says he believes in God but behaves as if he doesn’t, one has to go no further than many of our Presidential candidates.  One stands out in particular – he brags about how important and wealthy he is (he oozes arrogance), he brags about how much money he has, he brags about how secure he is in himself and his situation, his entire method of speaking is aggressive and abusive, and, if you are weak, he would be glad to step on you to do the deal.  He is the classic practicing atheist.  Why is he popular – because we see in him what we want to be.

We say we want to be like Christ but who we really want to be like is the winner, the arrogant, the wealthy, the secure, one with so much power that we can say what we want when we want to whom we want in any way we want about any topic we want – and get away with it.

Why are we weak at a church body?  Why is Christ not proclaimed from every rooftop, in our homes and businesses, and throughout our neighborhoods, our country, and the world?  Why do Christians have so little effect on how we behave in society?  Because in our daily working-out of our faith we have no fear of the Lord, we really don’t think He cares and if He does, we really don’t think He will do anything about it, and we really think He created the world and now is sitting back watching it operate.

We need to change.  How?  We can’t but God can.  And so we pray, “Come Holy Spirit and transform my life by the renewing of my mind, by your ever-present power.  Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.  Help me to fear God more than I fear man, and help me to persevere in the evil day.  And we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

_________

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

 

 

 

Bread – Poverty

June 19, 2015


Readings for Thursday, June 18, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 2:27-36; Acts 2:22-36; Luke 20:41-21:4; Psalms 34, 85, 86

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There was a boy, about seven or eight years old, who had nothing. He received a cookie as a gift and immediately proceeded to break it apart and give the pieces to other children around him who also had nothing until he had one small piece left for himself. Seeing me sitting on a rock close by, he came toward me, broke his little piece even further in half, and gave me the piece and smiled.

That, my friends and readers, is a true story and it happened to me on a mission trip in Peru. In that one instant I saw our Lord’s instruction regarding the widow and her gift to the Lord contained in our reading today from Luke in its full reality. Out of his poverty the boy gave generously to me, a person who has everything. In that place in Peru, my wealth, which is average in the United States, would be staggering … and I was proud to give chump change to God’s work in Peru.

In another reading which was in Bread earlier this year, Jesus says of people like me, with many possessions, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” Mk. 10:23. In response to Jesus’ description of the almost impossibility of such, the disciples as Him “Then who can be saved?” And Jesus answers “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Mk. 10:27

As I meditated on this today, it struck me that those who have wealth can certainly drive themselves to poverty, but is that what Jesus is really saying in today’s reading and from the reading in Mark? I don’t think so, but the widow giving out of poverty is more important to God than giving out of wealth.

So where does that leave us? Well, there is more than one kind of wealth and more than one kind of poverty. When Jesus talks about “poor in spirit,” isn’t he really talking about a poverty in spirit? And don’t we have wealth in spirit, called “self,” “selfish,” “self-reliant” and the like?

And we can achieve poverty in spirit. How? By recognizing that everything we have is from God, that all of our works which proceed from sin are filthy rags before God, that we have no power to save ourselves by choice or otherwise. Maybe driving us to poverty in spirit is what is meant in part by “repentance.”

And once we have reached the bottom of our spirit, when we have realized that strength in self is an illusion, at that point we can throw ourselves in the offering plate and say “Jesus, take me, poor though I am.” And at that point He will, because He honors the widow’s mite, He honors the poor in spirit who offer themselves as a living sacrifice.

How do we get to this point? With man it is impossible, but not with God – for all things are possible with God.

Come Holy Spirit and fill us with a spirit of poverty so that we may be ready and willing to receive the gifts of love, of power, of self-control, of life which You have ready for us when we are ready.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Affluence

February 23, 2015


Readings for Monday, February 23, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 8:11-20; Heb.2:11-18; John 2:1-12; Psalms 41,44,52

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Affluence, wealth, stuff. I have heard a saying that anyone born in the United States has won the worldwide lottery. And to a great extent the saying is probably true. Even the poorest among us generally have drinkable water, regularly operating electricity, a place to stay, clothes, transportation and roads to drive on, telephones, television and food. There are many places in the world where many of these things either don’t exist on any regular basis or where they are reserved to the wealthiest of society.

We are wealthy and, because we are wealthy, there is a new argument which is coming up in criminal cases – the “affluenza” argument. This appeared in our own backdoor in Fort Worth this last year, when a teenager argued that he should not receive jail time for killing four people while he was driving when drunk because, to paraphrase the defense team, “he was brought up in an environment of considerable wealth and privilege, in which his parents did not place limits on his behavior, and he therefore did not know that his actions had consequences.” Using this argument, he avoided jail time.

Where are we when we can say with a straight face – “It is OK to be immoral because we are so wealthy that we no longer know what the word “immoral” means.” “It is OK to live by the base standards of our sinful nature, as a sacrifice of self on the altar of self, because we are so wealthy we don’t know any better.”

And, yet, before we react by saying, “No, we don’t think or act like this,” look around.

We have a warning in Scripture today about the disease of wealth, its corroding nature. The writer of Deuteronomy says:

“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God…, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart will be lifted up, and you forget the Lord you God, who brought you out of the…house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness…who fed you in the wilderness…Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth…” Deut. 8:11-18

Beware the wiles of wealth! Beware the pride which comes from looking around at nice cars, big houses, running water, air conditioning and heat, plentiful food, money in banks and safes. Beware, beware, beware!

In this season of Lent, it is appropriate I think that our meditation begin with this question – “Lord, how has my wealth blinded me to You and yours? How has my wealth kept me from loving You? How has my wealth kept me from loving my neighbor?” And then we need to meditate on this question – If the Lord reveals the nature of the impediment and how it is negatively affecting your walk with Christ and your fruit in the world, what are you willing to do to remove that impediment?

Can we who are wealthy really ever say that we will follow Jesus regardless of the cost? I know some people who have … but I also know many whose wealth is a snare and a heavy burden they willingly lift up upon their shoulders every day.

In Deuteronomy, does the Lord tell them to get rid of the wealth which the Lord Himself has bestowed upon them, the wealth which God has given them the power to obtain? No, He doesn’t. However, He does say that the great tendency of wealth is to cause us to forget what God has done for us, to forget that He is the source of all and is to be honored above all, and to follow after other idols of our choosing – generally idols designed to bring us more wealth.

Has affluenza so overcome us that we forget Who we were saved by and Who gives us the life and blessings we so enjoy?

A worthy question this Monday morning. Has affluenza overcome me and, if so, what damage has been done? Fortunately for us, there is no damage done which God cannot repair and He is mighty to save. The only real damage is the damage which is not recognized because we believe that we are blinded by our wealth and forget our God.

How has my wealth blinded me?

Let us begin with this simple test…At the very beginning of this Bread, there is a listing of Scripture from the Book of Common Prayer assigned to this day. Before you read Bread, did you read these Scriptures? Did you pull your hard copy or electronic Bible off its virtual wall and read what God has to say before you read what I have to say? If not, why not? Is it because you don’t have enough time … because you need to get to work so that you can make more wealth?

How has my wealth blinded me? My hunch is that the answer to the preceding simple test has already exposed the answer.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Enrich

September 4, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, September 4, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Kings 9:24-10:13; James 3:1-12; Mark 15:1-11; Psalms 38,119:25-48

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Who do we enrich? If we were to take an inventory of who we benefit from our actions, I bet it would look something like this, in order: (1) Me (75%), (2) My Family (24%), (3) Others (1%), (4) God (whatever is left over).

Now I am probably being a bit harsh, so please change the order and the percentages if these do not apply to you. Somehow, though, I doubt that the order will change and I think that the percentages are closer than we would like to admit.

Who ought we to enrich? Well, if you consider bringing glory to God an enrichment of Him, both the order and the percentages probably should invert as follows: (1) God (50%), (2) Others (25%), (3) My Family (25%), (4) Me (whatever is left over). But since God returns in great measure, well pressed down, the end result of a God-centered life probably distributes the enrichment evenly across Me, My Family, and Others (33% each).

Why this question today? Well, it is raised in our reading from 1 Kings, where the Queen of Sheba comes to admire Solomon and to question him so that she can test his wisdom. Among the grand pomp and circumstances contained in this event are these words from the Queen: “Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!” 1 Kings 10:8

It is obvious to the Queen that Solomon’s great wisdom, wealth, and power are enriching someone, but who? Obviously Solomon but also, to the Queen, Solomon’s servants, in other words the people who work and live close to him. Who is missing from this? The people of Israel. Me (75%), My Family (24%), everyone else (?).

God gives us blessings and gifts, just like He gave Solomon. Today we live in the splendor of stuff, just like Solomon did. Today we live in the midst of great knowledge (maybe not wisdom, but that is for a different Bread), just like Solomon. And who do we bless with our blessings? Who is enriched through us using the gifts that God has given us?

We as gods know how to enrich ourselves and we do it every day. We as servants of the only God need to learn how to enrich others, those close to us and those far away. Servants enrich others; masters enrich themselves.

When we talk about being masters of ourselves, masters of our ship, masters of our destiny, masters of the universe, is it any wonder that we are selfish, that we enrich ourselves and our own? Is it any wonder that we act like Solomon rather than Jesus?

If we are going to begin to enrich others, there is not only a heart change required but a vocabulary change. How do we change our vocabulary from words of mastery to words of servanthood? I think it begins by recognizing the we had nothing to do with our salvation; our salvation is all Christ’s. Because, if we cannot save ourselves by our works or by uttering the right formulas, then we are masters of nothing and servant of the One who saves. And from that beginning, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we begin to shift the percentages of enrichment away from us and toward those who we, now, can love.

____________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Self-Denial

August 7, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, August 7, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 9:1-13; Acts 19:1-10; Mark 8:34-9:1; Psalms 81,82,119:97-120

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In our reading today from Mark, Jesus tells the disciples “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” Mk. 8:34

What does it mean to “deny himself?” What does it mean to engage in “self-denial?”

The way this is often described in sermons is to engage in ascetic behavior, taking a vow of poverty, giving away your stuff, and other similar behaviors, even to the point of harming oneself physically.

Does “deny himself” mean you have to give up your stuff? I don’t think so.

I think denial of self goes much deeper than giving up your stuff. One can give up everything, torture the body, live in absolute squalor, and still have a hardened heart toward God, his neighbor, and even himself. Pride can exist throughout poverty and wealth, at all stages of life and in all circumstances. Covetousness can exist throughout poverty and wealth, at all stages of life and in all circumstances. Hatred of neighbor can exist throughout poverty and wealth, at all stages of life and in all circumstances.

Furthermore I think denial of self goes much deeper than saying “Jesus is first” and “I am second.” Denial of self does include, in part, a recognition that God is God and I am not He, but I may still realize this and yet still have hardness of heart, still have hatred of neighbor, still have a desire for more wealth, more power, more of everything. In fact, I may go so far as to try to enlist God on my side to achieve that wealth, power, everything. So, in and of itself, recognition that God is on first is not self-denial.

I think denial of self means giving up the right to stuff. It means giving up the right to have it our way, even partially. It means giving up the right to be free. It means giving ourselves over to Christ. Living in Christ means that we have recognized that there is no part of us which is adequate before a Holy God. It means giving up those rights, first to God and second to our neighbor. It means that we demand nothing because we are not important; Christ is important.

When we give up our rights, we acknowledge that who we are, what we are, and what we have does not belong to us. Oh, we might possess and enjoy all these things, but we hold them loosely because we know that they are not ours.

In our reading from Samuel today, we have the history of David and Mephibosheth, the lame son of Jonathan, son of Saul, who David defeated to become king. David restores all of the lands and property of Saul to Mephibosheth, meaning that Mephibosheth had great wealth. David tells Mephibosheth that he will always eat at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. The story ends with Mephibosheth eating always at the king’s table, even though he could have easily lived on the fat of his own property.

Did Mephibosheth deny himself and his rights to eat at the king’s table? In a real sense, “yes,” because he ignored his great wealth in order to eat at the king’s table. Although he owned his lands, the fact is that David the king gave him those lands and could easily take them away. But did Mephibosheth live a good life? Of course he did; he ate at the king’s table.

In order to eat at King Jesus’ table we have to deny ourselves. We have to be like Mephibosheth. We have to deny our “rights” and instead accept the gift of grace offered by God to us in His sovereign will.

But Jesus says we must also “take up [a] cross.” We normally think of taking something on, but I think it is just the other half of the coin of self-denial. The reason it is the other half of the coin is this – how easy is it to give up our rights and to trust Jesus completely, unwaveringly, without hesitation or doubt? Not easy at all.

The most interesting part of this is how God works. Like Jesus said, “whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mk. 8:35.

Denial of self is, in God’s economy, acceptance of our true self, as adopted sons of the Father through the finished work of Jesus Christ on His cross. And isn’t that just wonderful!

___________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – First

April 23, 2013


Readings for Tuesday, April 23, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; Col. 1:15-23; Luke 6:12-26; Psalms 45,47,48

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We love to be first. When we play games, we play to win (or at least I do). When we run the race, there is pleasure in having run at all, but there is great satisfaction in being first and winning the big trophy or the blue ribbon. When we make something for entry into a contest (quilts come to mind), our product, our creation is judged against others, and we have a celebratory feast (or a toast to ourselves) when we compare well. Someone has summarized the love of first this way – “Being first is not all there is, but being second is nothing.” (I remember this being attributed to Vince Lombardi, but a quick Internet search shows that the exact quote is from Bill Shankly: “First is everything. Second is nothing.”)

So we understand naturally when Paul says in Colossians about Jesus that “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.” Col. 1:15-18

In other words, He is first. Since Jesus is first, we must be second. Since Jesus is everything, we must be nothing….?

There is something missing about this logic, isn’t there? Does it seem right that we are nothing? We know we are something, right? I mean, look around, we have our houses or apartments and our cars and our food and our clothes – and we made all those things, right? Therefore we must be something.

And if we are something, then maybe, just maybe, we are first. Right?

This brain freeze lends to three outcomes. One outcome is that we reject Jesus as holding first place. One way to do this is to say that Jesus doesn’t exist at all or that He is a figment of our imagination, created because we need Him. Another way to do this is to say that Jesus is just one of many gods, many ways to heaven (there are many firsts among the gods).

Another outcome is to say that Jesus and we share first place (this is the modern way of thinking, that says that my thoughts are equal in quality and importance to Jesus’ thoughts). This position exists when we “wake up” to our importance.

A third outcome is that we accept that, because of our sin, our defects, we in fact are dead spiritually and are nothing.

This third outcome is of course the correct conclusion, because Jesus is first and we are not, He is holy and we are not, He is sinless and we are not, He is alive and we are dead.

But we need only hold this conclusion, this realization for a brief nano-second, because there is a greater realization, and a greater truth.

That truth is that Jesus Christ, first and pre-eminent above all things and all people, stepped out of His rightful place and came to earth as man to take upon Himself our sins so that through faith in Him we might be declared righteous before God. Jesus Christ stepped down from first and became an object of ridicule, suffering death on an instrument of torture, so that we might be elevated from our position of nothing to a position of something. Even in our state of death, God so loved us that He came to us, lowering Himself to our place, so that He could take us to His place.

And Jesus tells us as His followers, as His saved ones, as His disciples, to do likewise, to willingly abandon our position as head of the pack to be servant of others, to willingly become less so that others may become more.

So here is the miracle of Christianity and one of its deepest truths. In order for us to be first, we must recognize that we are second, but once we realize that we are nothing, we are dead in our sins, God snatches us from our position of second and makes us first. And once we are first in Jesus Christ, we now have the power of choice to leave first and go back to second, so that we can help a dying world to live. Once we know we are poor, God comes and makes us rich so that then we can choose in His name and with His power to become poor.

And in first recognizing our need, having then that need satisfied, and then receiving the power to recognize the need of the world, of others, we are able to read our reading from Luke today and understand it:

“[and Jesus said] Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and whey exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man.” Lk. 6:20b-22

Blessed are you when you know you are not first, because the One who is first shall lift you up to where He is.

Do you want to be first? Recognize that you aren’t, but He is.

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© 2013 GBF

*The Book of Common Prayer reading marked by the asterisk today is from Wisdom, which is a book of the Apocrypha. Since not all Christians recognize this collection of books as appropriate Scriptural reading, it is omitted.

Bread – Gold

September 15, 2012


Readings for Friday, September 14, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Job 29:1, 31:24-40; Acts 15:12-21; John 11:30-44; Psalms 40,51,54

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Gold has stood as the symbol of wealth for generations, if not for all known history. The radio ads pronounce that in gold there is safety from economic turmoil and that no person’s life is complete without a mini-horde of gold in the closet. We know this to be true at one, surface, level, and totally false at another, deeper level.

In the reading from Job today, he says: “If I have made gold my trust or called fine gold my confidence, if I have rejoiced because my wealth was abundant or because my hand had found much, if … my mouth has kissed my hand, … I would have been false to God above.” Job 31:24-25, 27-28

There is so much in these lines. If we trace what Job has to say and how we behave similarly, we will come to the same conclusion, that we have been false to our God.

Job makes what he is saying conditional or theoretical … “if.” I recommend that for us, who deal with our wealth as Americans every day in every way, we make it unconditional and actual – “when.” If we do this, if we acknowledge our sin, then we would say “When I have made gold my trust … I have been false to God above.” But if you think you don’t behave this way, then go ahead and use the “if.” The lesson is the same.

I have a little prayer book I obtained a long time ago, called the “Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book,” which I keep primarily because of it contains several pages of “self-examination” if we are in the mood to meditate on all the sins we have to repent of. It begins with “Pride,” which it defines as “…putting self in the place of God as the center and objective of our life, or of some department thereof. It is the refusal to recognize our status as creatures, dependent on God for our existence, and placed by Him in a specific relationship to the rest of His creation.” (pg. 113) It then goes on to list the many ways in which Pride shows itself – irreverence, sentimentality, presumption, distrust, disobedience, impenitence, vanity, arrogance and snobbery. Within each of these words are many other ways in which Pride is demonstrated on a regular basis. In fact, there are four pages of these. Pride infects everything we do.

In fact, pride is what Job demonstrates when he uses the conditional or the theoretical “if.” How could a righteous man make gold his trust? Job thought of himself as righteous, as naturally good because he conformed to the law, and so to him sin was “if,” not “when.”

Our readings from the gospel of John end with Jesus saying to Lazarus as he walked from the tomb “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:44.

This miracle is performed by Jesus every day. He found us and He finds others. He took us when we were dead in our sins and He brought us from the tomb where we lay. His Word to us as we leave is to be “unbound.” Unbound from what? Unbound from the clothes of death. Unbound from our death to sin. Unbound from sin itself. “Let him go.” Jesus command was to the world and to the world’s evil overseer, Satan. Jesus commanded the world to unbind Lazarus and “let him go.”

And now we see the power in Job’s words, when applied to himself after he has been freed of the tomb by Christ. Because we stand in Christ’s righteousness, when can claim the conditional, the “if.” We know we are fallen and often we have to use the word “when we sin,” but we know that because of what Christ has done for us and because we can live in His righteousness (not ours), we can use the word “if we sin.” We may not be able yet in our growth toward glory to be able to say “if” with truth, but we know it is a real possibility. It is a real possibility because the One who lives in us is greater than the one who lives in the world. Through Him who took our place on the cross we can live the “if” life, victorious in our progress toward eternal life, no matter how often we have to say “when I sin.”

We fight the sin fight daily. We may be prideful like Job, confident in our gold, confident that we are so righteous and so good that we can talk like “if.” We can talk like that and we will be wrong, because we will still be laying in the tomb, bound by our funeral clothes, imprisoned. Or we can believe in Christ, recognizing that without Him we are dead and that with Him we are released from the tomb, unbound, and set free. Yes, free to exercise our pride (quite often, I might add), so that we have to acknowledge our sin and say “when.” But also free to stand outside ourselves, to stand with and in Christ, and to laugh at ourselves for our presumption in the face of a mighty God. Mighty enough to save, mighty enough to forgive, mighty enough to change the prideful “if” to the repentant “when,” and to change the repentant “when” to the hopeful “if.”

Actually, the radio ads are right, if you understand what “gold” really is. Our true security is found in gold. But it is not in the false gold of the world but the true gold of Jesus Christ. After all, He made the gold and He made us. And He forgives those who follow Him, and He saves. But the ads are also wrong, because you don’t have to buy this gold (and in fact you can’t), all you have to do is ask for Him. Do you want to hear the words “Unbind him, let him go?” Ask for gold, the real gold, Jesus Christ. “Ask, and …” Matt. 7:7. Ask Him.

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Safety

August 26, 2011


Readings for Friday, August 26, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: 1 Kings 11:26-43; James 4:13-5:6; Mark 15:22-32; Psalms 31, 35

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In the reading from 1 Kings today, we find the prophet Ahijah walking with Solomon’s official Jeroboam, at which time Ahijah tells Jeroboam that God is taking ten out of the twelve tribes of Israel from Solomon and giving them to Jeroboam as a new kingdom. Thereafter, we have the division of Israel into Israel and Judah.

The reason that Ahijah gives to Jeroboam for this work of God is in God’s own words – “I will do this because they [Solomon and his people] have forsaken Me and worshiped Ashtoreth…., and have not walked in My ways, nor done what is right in My eyes, nor kept My statutes…” 1 Kings 11:33

Now Solomon is often referred to as the wisest man who ever lived. Two days ago I wrote about the verses where the Queen of Sheba worshiped God because she observed the wisdom which God had given Solomon and recognized that Solomon represented the God worthy of praise.

What happened?

Maybe the better question is, what corrupted Solomon’s wisdom where at one time the wisdom he demonstrated showed the power of God in his life and at another time it caused him to follow false gods, causing him to lose most of his worldly wealth? What indeed.

In reflecting on this question, I realized something. Solomon’s wisdom was not something he read, but something he thought. His wisdom was not bounded by God’s revelation, by His commandments, or by his statutes, but was bounded by what came to him about which was right.

One can imagine this progression – (a) wisdom from God’s law, to (b) wisdom from Solomon’s interpretation of God’s revelation to him, to (c) wisdom from man’s reason. Solomon lost his kingdom, he lost his gift from God, because he became full of himself rather than full of God.

Man’s reason, his wisdom, justifies many gods – the gods of work, the gods of wealth, the gods of leisure, the gods of family, the gods of power. God’s reason, His wisdom, pronounces that He is God and there are no others. God’s reason, His wisdom, establishes the boundaries of wisdom.

What happened to Solomon? The same thing that happens to us. Perhaps at some point we hear the Word spoken, respond in faith, and study God’s written revelation of His wisdom to us – His Scriptures. At that point, we are filled with wisdom of the type that invites the Shebas of the world to acknowledge and to praise God. We then get smart and begin to analyze, interpreting God’s Word from God’s Word. We then get smarter and begin to interpret God’s Word in light of our own understanding. We then get smarter and begin to impose upon God’s Word our worldly wisdom. At some point, we yield our allegiance from God to gods of our making, and our walk with God is seriously harmed.

How are we to resist this natural progression from God’s wisdom to man’s wisdom to serious damage? God said it through Ahijah – “they have not walked in My ways, nor done what is right in My eyes, nor kept My statutes…” If we want to resist, if we want to preserve the power of our relationship with God made possible by Christ’s death on the cross, we must walk in His ways, we must do right in His eyes [and what is right to Him is stated in His Word], and we must keep His statutes.”

The place of safety is not in our logic, in our reason, in our wisdom – the place of safety is in God’s Word.

Let us flee to it and cling to it. Then we will have wisdom worth something.

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