Bread – Eyes

February 19, 2014


Readings for Wednesday, February 19, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Gen. 31:25-50; 1 Jn. 2:12-17; John 10:1-18; Psalms 101,109,119:121-144

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What do you have eyes for? Not, why do you have eyes but what do you like to look at? What do you have eyes for?

This question arose when I read today’s lesson from 1 John, as follows: “For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world.” 1 John 2:16

Although we have various senses (hearing, smell, taste, feel, sight), if you think about it, the eyes are the primary intake vehicle for what the world has to offer. “The desires of the flesh” begin with the seeing of something which we know will make us feel good. The “desires of the eyes” are obviously related to the eyes, because we see clearly the worldly idols which attract us – food, drink, sex, power, position, jewelry, gold and silver, bank account statements, etc. Even the final one, “pride of possessions,” exists because of our eyes – when we walk into our garage, we are prideful of our car; when we walk around our house, we are prideful of our artwork, our furniture, our backyard, our front yard, our flowers, our square footage, our street, our community, and our city. When we go to the bank to look inside our safe deposit box, our eyes are what look at our papers and things evidencing our possession. When we open our treasure chests, whether it be a gun safe or a jewelry box, we use our eyes to contemplate their value to us.

So our view into the world is through our eyes, and our eyes contemplate what the world has to offer and we are glad indeed.

Until we realize that our eyes have fooled us. Who has not watched very carefully the machinations of the magician who, with sleight of hand, produces the amazing card trick? We saw it but we did not see it. We are fascinated because we know we have been tricked but we don’t know how.

What the writer of 1 John is telling us bluntly is that Satan is that magician. We look and see, and covet what we see, and through the desires of the flesh, the desires of our eyes, and the pride of possession we are sucked into the mirage which is what the world has to offer. Because what we see is what we want as sinful people, we buy into the magician’s trick, believing that what we see is what there is. We may sense we have been tricked, we may know we have been tricked, but we don’t care that we have been tricked. Why don’t we care? Because the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and our pride of possessions has been satisfied.

This is a side effect of being dead in our sins. When we are dead in our sins, we cannot see anything of truth and we cannot see anything really of love. All we can see is the mirage.

This is why we need God to sovereignly reach out to us in mercy and open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts. This is why we need God to save us and why we cannot save ourselves. If our eyes are to see anything other than what the world has to offer, it is because God has given us a special set of glasses to see Satan through. We cannot buy these glasses and we cannot earn these glasses. God shows up when He is ready and when He wants to and gives them to us and, because we have no capacity in ourselves, puts them on us. Actually, He does more than that because He really gives us a new set of eyes, ones which can see spiritually, ones which can discern, ones which can see clearly, ones who look first to Him and then, through Him, to the world.

Which eyes do you want – the ones which see the real and the eternal, or the ones which see the fake and the temporal? Which lens do we want to peer through – the lens of ourselves or the lens of Jesus Christ?

Which lens are you seeing through today? How are you using your eyes? What do you have eyes for?

________________

© 2014 GBF

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Bread – Vanished

October 16, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, October 16, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Jer. 37:3-21; 1 Cor. 14:13-25; Matt. 10:24-33; Psalms 12,13,14,119:1-24

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Within the virtual space called “social media,” many, many opinions are given over everything. On one topic recently, the commentator was estimating millions of opinions were being generated within a day or two on the Internet.

Where is wisdom in this? Where is understanding? Although it is called the “social media,” it is more aptly described as the “anti-social media,” since it permits us to hide in our hidey-holes to engage people on our terms rather than force us to deal with people, life, and society in the raw.

Back in the days of King David, I wonder if the men and women of God didn’t have their own form of places to hide from society. In our reading today from Psalm 12, titled “The Faithful Have Vanished,” the Psalm begins this way: “Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished among the children of man.” Ps. 12:1

The faithful have vanished.

Have we, as Christians, vanished from the public discourse, from the public arena? Have we so weakened our proclamation of the gospel that we are indistinguishable from the background noise? Is our belief system so worldly that we are now blended into the background, one of the many, engaged in our version of opinion-giving, but without influence in a sea of opinion-givers?

In our reading from 1 Corinthians today, Paul attempts to distinguish the application of the two spiritual gifts of tongues and prophesy. Of note to the topic today, Paul says “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” 1 Cor. 14:24-25

The essential nature of prophesy is not only speaking the wisdom of what will happen, but what is happening. It is the piercing action of seeing clearly, speaking what is seen boldly, and also telling clearly what the solution is. Yes, it is a spiritual gift given to those whom God wishes, when He wishes, and for the purpose He wishes. But it is really no different than what businessmen do every day when they clearly observe something wrong in their business, speak boldly with wisdom about what that wrong is, and promote a solution. The difference of course is that the prophesy of a Christian who is in fact prophesizing is provided his insight, wisdom, and boldness by the Holy Spirit.

There is a problem with prophesy, however, and that is that the people who have to change their ways in response to it do not like it; in fact, they probably will hate it and take out their anger on you.

But Jesus says, “so what?” In our reading from Matthew today, He says: “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matt. 10:27-28

We all have spheres of influence, in our families, among our friends, in our churches, in our social organizations, in our business, in our industry, in our city, in our state, in our country, and in the world. Perhaps you are friends with only two people and you work alone and don’t participate in anything else. Well, you have a sphere of influence of two (or three if you include yourself). The question is, within your sphere of influence, have you, as one of the faithful, vanished? Do the other members of your sphere look to you as one of them or as a prophet, as a person with great wisdom and discernment, as a person who loves without condition, as a person who lives as a Christian? Are you at the forefront of their mind, challenging them to see clearly, to repent, to turn, to admit, to trust, and to claim Jesus, or have you merely faded into the background?

I know many Christians who will react with surprise at the challenge as whether they have “vanished,” because we are active in promoting our views of Judeo-Christian doctrine throughout law, politics, business, economics, and a variety of other “ics” and “isms.” However, is the proclamation of the benefits of free enterprise the proclamation of Jesus? Is the proclamation of a strong China policy the proclamation of Jesus? Is the proclamation of better health care the proclamation of Jesus?

See, the proclamation of some or many things may fail as the proclamation of who we are and whose we are. We may be fully present in the social debate, and totally vanished as one known as Christian.

There is a final thought in today’s readings. We may have vanished, but God has not. Psalm 12 also says this: “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.” Ps. 12:6. We may be blind, lame, lost, withdrawn, and gone, but the Word of the Lord stands forever. Thanks be to God!

__________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Leaven

August 5, 2013


Readings for Monday, August 5, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 7:1-17; Acts 18:1-11; Mark 8:11-21; Psalms 77,79,80

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In our reading today from Mark, Jesus tells the disciples “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Mk. 8:14 What is he talking about?

Leaven is that ingredient which causes bread to change chemically so that it rises. But, as far as we are concerned, it also makes bread tasty. Unleavened bread is bland.

One of the articles in this weekend’s newspaper was on the state of the baguette in France. Basically, the French have started using older, slower techniques of preparing their bread for baking so that it will taste better. Although they did not use the word “leaven” in the article, it was obvious that they were talking about a process of leavening, over a period of time, where a small amount of leaven would have the opportunity to change the big batch of dough so that it would make a proper tasty baguette.

Now, this writing is called “Bread” and we have just been discussing baguettes, so one might be inclined to think this “Bread” is about food. When Jesus talked about the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod to the disciples, the disciples thought He was talking about food too. Jesus responds with a “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” Mk. 8:18. So, obviously Jesus is not talking about food. But He is talking about things that change one’s life.

What is the leaven of the Pharisees? The Pharisees were the keepers of the law in the synagogue, in church. Follow their (God’s) rules and you would go to a good place when you die; fail to follow their rules and you would go to a bad place. The remarkable thing was they really believed that we, as humans, could follow God’s law in all things, in our hearts, minds, thoughts, behaviors, speech, action, and attitude. Really? Name me one perfect person (other than Jesus) and naming yourself does not count! And yet, the leaven of the Pharisees requires one to have good works if one is to achieve their right place with God. Less you think this attitude is gone from the modern church, why do you go to Bible studies, attend worship, read the Bible, fast, meditate on the Word, read Bread, or do anything religious? Is it because you believe your works will help save you, or is out of gratitude for the work done by Jesus for you on the cross? In the first one, you are building your tower of Babel to the heavens. In the second, you are living in the presence of God’s kingdom on earth.

What is the leaven of Herod? Herod represents the world in all of its power and pseudo-glory. In another sense, he also represents education and reason. In another sense, he represents the perversions of the world, the lusts of the flesh, etc. Herod represents our reason, our base desires, our old man. He actually is us without Christ.

A little leaven goes a long way toward ruining the dough (if you consider the dough to be OK as is). Of course, a little leaven also makes life “tasty,” or so Satan would have us think.

Isn’t this last point why we deliberately let leaven into our lives or deliberately add it. We dabble in corruption, lying, lust, almost pornographic movies, books on evil (zombies) or sex, which appeal to our inner desire for things tasty – adventure, danger, power, money, fancy houses and cars, the most advanced electronics, stuff. We think we do it just enough to get a taste out of life, but Jesus reminds us that a little leaven affects the entire loaf, and that little taste leads to severe loss of who we can be in Christ.

The leaven of the Pharisees and Herod affects the quality of the victorious life we can have in Christ. Jesus’ question strikes home at this place, this time, these circumstances we are in – when we reach for the leaven of the world, He asks – “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?”

And the short answer to this question is “No, we do not.” Most of the time we do not use our eyes to clearly see Christ; most of the time we do not use our ears to clearly hear Christ.

To do that, we need the help of the Holy Spirit minute-by-minute, day by day. It is not enough to say – “Don’t touch that hot stove, don’t touch that leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod.” Instead, we must say “Come Holy Spirit” and then use, really us, our eyes to see and our ears to hear.

“God, protect me from leaven, because I cannot protect myself.” A short prayer, but a necessary one. And He will because, by His sovereign will in our lives and through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, He already has.

___________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Position

May 24, 2013


Readings for Friday, May 24, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ruth 4:1-17; 1 Tim. 5:17-25; Luke 14:1-11; Psalms 16,17,22

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Getting ahead in the world. For most people, this is our daily call. To get ahead in the world, we acquire money, power, position, and possessions. For men, we may acquire a trophy wife. For women, we may acquire security. For all of us, getting ahead in the world means adding to our retirement accounts, our savings, our electronics and furniture, our home square footage, our title, our salary, the size and quality of our cars or trucks, our memberships, our dinner parties. We must get ahead in the world or we will get behind.

Don’t we all know that?

Then what does Jesus mean in our reading today from Luke – “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Lk. 14:11 Oh we know the old adage that pride goeth before a fall, but if we always stand at the end of the line, aren’t we behind all the time? How do we get ahead in the world if, at least once in a while, we don’t step to the head of the line?

There is a tendency among some Christians to focus on the “in the world” part of the question and say simply that, as Christians, if we follow Christ’s lead we cannot get ahead in the world. In other words, poverty and being beat upon is just part of the Christian life, so discipleship means poverty. And there are plenty of quotations from the Bible that you can find to support this position.

There is a tendency among other Christians to focus on the “exalted” part of Christ’s statement and say that, if we behave properly, we will be exalted and will win the game of life. Proponents of this “prosperity” gospel can also find plenty of quotations from the Bible to support this position.

So which one is right? Maybe neither. There is a third alternative, and that is that in Christ there is neither victory nor defeat “in the world” because, while we live in Christ, our position is in the kingdom of God. That kingdom is both in heaven and on earth. That kingdom is ruled by God and we are His subjects, not His equal. To the extent we are “in the world,” we are no more than ambassadors of the kingdom of God, taking up residence in a foreign place. As ambassadors, where we live is our home in the limited sense of our home is where we are, but in the more fundamental sense of home, where we live in the world is not our home because we are only ambassadors.

What is our position in the kingdom of God? As subjects, our position in a sense is based upon our obedience to the King. To the extent we take on Christ, learn from Him, obey Him, and follow Him, our position is enhanced. To the extent that we reject Christ, learn from others, obey ourselves or others, and follow our own desires or the desires of others, our position is diminished.

Then, as subjects of the kingdom of God, our position in the world is enhanced when God wants it to be enhanced, when it serves His purposes, and our position in the world is diminished when God wants it to be diminished for His purposes. Remember that an ambassador does not live in a house provided by the host country, he lives in the house in the host country provided by the kingdom he represents. If the king of the kingdom wants his ambassador to live in a poor house, then a poor house it is.

When I was growing up, I always used to love to think about the concept of parallel universes, and I still think the concept of a parallel universe explains where missing socks disappear to. In many respects the idea of a present kingdom of God among us, here on earth right now, is like this parallel universe. The difference, however, is that according to the rules of the parallel universe, you are either in one or the other. With Christians, you are physically in both at the same time. However, there is some parallel in the concepts because, in your heart, in your spirit, you can only be in one or the other. You are in Christ or you are not; you are either saved or you aren’t; you are either a citizen of the kingdom of God or you are not.

So, in Christ we Christians have two positions, one in the kingdom of God and the other here on earth. In the kingdom of God, humility results in blessing. In the world, humility may or may not result in blessing. So what? Our home is not in the world, it is in the present kingdom of God.

How do we get ahead in the world? We who are in Christ really don’t care about the answer to that question, because as ambassadors to the world we know that our position is temporary in the foreign land but permanent in the homeland.

How do we get ahead in the world? We don’t because as servants of the Most High we don’t have to. We are already citizens of the kingdom of God and how much better can it be?

___________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Lists

February 8, 2013


Readings for Friday, February 8, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 56:1-8; Gal. 5:16-24; Mk 9:2-13; Psalms 69,73

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There are many lists. One that most often comes to mind is the “to do” list. “To Do Lists” are the lists of things we must do to keep things in order or avoid other people’s censure. They include the mundane things such as taking out the trash and the thoughtful things such as preparing our goals for the next quarter or year. They all involve us “doing.”

Closely related to the “to do” list is the “checklist.” The check list is a list of the things we must do, often in the order listed, in order to be able properly complete the “to do” lists. If the checklist is big enough, we might turn it into a book or entries into a large computer system.

God today in Galatians speaks to us of “being” lists, lists of behaviors which will give us an indication of whether we are walking in the ways of the world or the ways of the kingdom of God; whether we are walking in the “works of the flesh” or the “Spirit,” to use the language of Galatians.

The meditation for today is for us to take these lists and ask ourselves honestly, on a scale from one to ten (where one is that I am not affected by this at all and ten is that this has totally overtaken me), where we are spiritually – are we walking in the Spirit or in the flesh?

Here goes. The works of the flesh are:

○ sexual immorality No. _____ (1-10)

○ impurity                    No. _____ (1-10)

○ sensuality                 No. _____ (1-10)

○ idolatry                      No. _____ (1-10)

○ sorcery                       No. _____ (1-10)

○ enmity                       No. _____ (1-10)

○ strife                          No. _____ (1-10)

○ jealousy                   No. _____ (1-10)

○ fits of anger            No. _____ (1-10)

○ rivalries                    No. _____ (1-10)

○ dissensions             No. _____ (1-10)

○ divisions                  No. _____ (1-10)

○ envy                          No. _____ (1-10)

○ drunkenness         No. _____ (1-10)

○ orgies                      No. _____ (1-10)

The works (fruit) of the [Holy] Spirit are:

○ love                         No. _____ (1-10)

○ joy                           No. _____ (1-10)

○ peace                     No. _____ (1-10)

○ patience               No. _____ (1-10)

○ kindness              No. _____ (1-10)

○ goodness            No. _____ (1-10)

○ faithfulness        No. _____ (1-10)

○ gentleness         No. _____ (1-10)

○ self-control       No. _____ (1-10)

I don’t think there is a person reading this who does not fervently want to live their life in the second list, realizing the works of the Spirit, but find themselves routinely living in the first list, realizing the works of the flesh, of the world, of man. If we are there, then why are we there.

Perhaps the answer lies in part in our reading today from Mark, where we join the disciples Peter, James, and John in witnessing what is called the Transfiguration. On the high mountain Jesus is revealed to man in His glory, joined by the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah). God the Father speaks on that high mountain, saying “This [Jesus] is My beloved Son; listen to Him.” Mk. 9:7

How is the answer locked up here? Because we tend to focus on Jesus the man, in part because we can relate to that and in part because we can make Jesus the man as our equal (so we can pretend that we are mini-Gods). But here, Jesus is revealed as God, someone to worship and, as the disciples reported, be “terrified” of. It is here that we receive our marching orders as Christ’s disciples – “Listen to Him.”

Do we take this command to heart? Do we really listen to Him and to the Holy Spirit, the counselor whom He has left behind to help us, instruct us, and empower us? Looking back now on our checklist above, I think the answer has to be, quite often if not most of the time, “No, I don’t listen to Him; I listen to myself or someone else.”

So, knowing these things, what are we going to do about it? If we are living in the wrong checklist, what are we going to do about it? The first step may well be this simple prayer – “Come Holy Spirit.”

___________________________

© 2013 GBF

Bread – Reward

September 21, 2012


Readings for Friday, September 21, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Esther 1:1-19; Acts 17:1-15; John 12:36b-43; Psalms 69,73

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“Unintended consequences” are those things which we don’t expect or predict will happen, generally because we don’t bother to think about the natural sequence of events of human decision-making. We will generally follow the path of our rewards. If we are being paid to clean ditches, then guess what gets cleaned? However, if we intended that the house be cleaned, we would say that the “cleaning of ditches” was an “unintended consequence.” However, two seconds of thought would have brought home the realization that, if we are paying people to clean ditches and being paid is perceived by those people as a great reward, then the cleaning of ditches (as opposed to houses) is a natural consequence of how the reward was created. It may be an “unintended consequence,” but it is certainly not an “unpredictable” consequence.

In today’s readings, we have two clear examples of unintended consequences at work, both operating from a misplaced reliance upon certain kinds of rewards and the source of those rewards. The first example is from Esther. In Esther, King Xerxes has thrown a feast for the nobles of Persia which has lasted six months. At the end of this period, he tells his wife, Queen Vashti, to make an appearance dressed her queenly regalia, so that he can show her off. She refuses, for essentially unknown reasons. Now refusing a command of the king is a bad idea, particularly when he is advised by other men who warn him that failing to do something will only lead to the exercise of independence by all of the women in the kingdom. Queen Vashti looked to herself for approval and no doubt received her reward from herself, patting herself on the back for her display of independence. The unintended consequence of her actions, however, was to be banished from the King’s sight forever and to ultimately lose her place to Esther. The reward of self-satisfaction followed by the penalty of disobedience. I daresay that Queen Vashti was not expecting the result she got. She probably thought she would be bribed by the King and instead she was banned. Here, the source of the reward was herself and the reward was self-satisfaction.

The second example is from the Gospel of John. From John 12:42, we read: “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in Him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” There were many people who believed that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, the Son of God, but they never confessed it because their reward was from man and not from God, and man’s approval was more important to them. Their reward was from others, and was the approval of others. The unintended consequence of this reward was eternal damnation. Certainly these authorities would not deliberately choose to die, but they did so choose because they did not confess that Jesus is Lord, and they did not confess with their mouths because the approval of man, the rewards from man, were more important to them than the approval of God.

There is a pattern here. Be yourself, be selfish, deny the call from your God to come to Him, believe in Him, and confess Him, receive your rewards from self-satisfaction and self-approval, and you will be banished, you will die, you will be judged and found wanting. This consequence of self-centeredness may be unintended, but it is entirely predictable. Or, bee beholden to what the world wants and thinks, be focused on approval from others, receive your reward from other people, deny Christ because that is what the world demands, and you will be banished from eternal life, you will die, you will be judged and found wanting. This consequence of loving the approval of man may be unintended, but it is entirely predictable.

There are three sources of rewards – ourselves, others, and God. If we focus on the rewards we receive from ourselves or others, there will be unintended consequences, and these unintended consequences will not be good. If we focus on the rewards we receive from God – joy, peace, charity, love, eternal life – if we consider the glory that comes from God greater than the glory that comes from ourselves or from other men, the consequences are sure and they are good.

Is your hope in yourself? There will be unintended consequences, one of which is death. Is your hope in others? There will be unintended consequences, one of which is death. Or is your hope in the One who is the Creator, the Sustainer, the Savior, the Redeemer, the source of all good gifts? There are consequences to that choice as well, one of which is life.

Death or life? Choose this day whom you will serve.

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© 2012 GBF

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