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    bread. is a devotional resource curated by Benjamin A. Simpson. Follow bread. on Twitter: @bread_devo. If you would like to write for bread., send an inquiry here for submission guidelines.

    Monday
    Sep032012

    Simple Words

    God, who gets invited to dinner at your place? How do we get on your guest list? 

    "Walk straight, act right, tell the truth. 

    "Don't hurt your friend, don't blame your neighbor; despise the despicable. 

    "Keep your word even when it costs you, make an honest living, never take a bribe.

    "You'll never get blacklisted if you live like this."
    -Psalm 15 (The Message)

    Regarding the shape of poetry, Robert Frost once wrote, "It begins in delight and ends in wisdom."

    So too, this Psalm.

    Once the reality of God is accepted, there is a desire to know how one can come to know this God, to dwell in his presence. How do we get "invited to dinner?" How do we join the feast?

    The Psalmist offers simple words, words about friendship, neighborliness, justice, and honesty. They are words that delight us, because who among us does not wish for everyone else around us to live like this? But in the same vein, it could be said, those words simultaneously terrify us. We ask ourselves, "How am I to live like that?"

    The Scriptures, read as whole, answer that question. "You can't," they say, "but, in communion with God, you can." That is wisdom.

    The fellowship we experience with God through Jesus Christ brings about the assurance that we have been invited to dinner. We're on the guest list. By grace, through faith, we're in.

    And because we are in, then the fruits of our life should reveal that we have been redeemed. Our friendships, our actions as neighbor, our commitment to justice and honesty, should all show up. We have not been invited because we are virtuous, we are virtuous because we have been invited.

    The invitation has come. Now live as a guest.

    God Almighty, help me today to pray the prayer of the psalmist. May I commit this short passage to memory. May I know that I am invited to your banquet, and you have bestowed upon me the grace to live as your guest. Today I commit myself to honesty, to justice, to neighborliness, to integrity, and to friendship. Today I commit myself to you. Amen.

    Saturday
    Sep012012

    God Sent Me Ahead

    "Come closer to me," Joseph said to his brothers. They came closer. "I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt. But don't feel badly, don't blame yourselves for selling me. God was behind it. God sent me here ahead of you to save lives. There has been a famine in the land now for two years; the famine will continue for five more years—neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me on ahead to pave the way and make sure there was a remnant in the land, to save your lives in an amazing act of deliverance. So you see, it wasn't you who sent me here but God. He set me in place as a father to Pharaoh, put me in charge of his personal affairs, and made me ruler of all Egypt.
    -Genesis 45:4-8 (The Message)

    Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, once remarked, "A soldier is trained by battles, and a mariner by storms. . . To sail against wind and tide would be more notable than to drift with gale and current."

    Joseph had faced his share of "wind and tide", and had learned how to sail. Sold in to slavery by his brothers, imprisoned after being wrongfully accused by Potiphar's wife, and forgotten in Pharaoh's dungeon despite a promise of assistance from the cupbearer to the king, Joseph underwent trial.

    We are not told how Joseph regarded his travails as they arose, whether he was cheerful in disposition or dark in mood. But we do know that once he was called in to service by Pharaoh himself, and was established as the highest official in all of Egypt, he gave credit to God for his power to interpret dreams, and saw the Lord as source of his wisdom. We also know that he considered his life as subject to the will of God, a person through whom God would accomplish a work. His sufferings are not diminished, but they are contextualized. God is providential. God reigns.

    We live during a time where people are slow to acknowledge a God who "works all things together for the good" when we are unable to perceive what that good might be. But the God testified to in Scripture is just such a God. This does not mean that we may not question, or struggle, or ask difficult questions. The Bible also testifies to people who did just that. It appears the God of the Bible may be more good, and more complex, than we have presupposed.

    I confess, having such as faith is not easy. But as Maltie D. Babcock wrote:

    Back of the loaf is the snowy flour,
    And back of the flour the mill,
    And back of the mill is the wheat and the shower,
    And the sun and the Father's will.

    I trust that God is indeed good. Whatever good deeds may come at the hand of the good God, as Spurgeon observed, are to be engaged as the work God has prepared (Eph. 2:10). Whatever trials might come, also, must be welcomed as a mariner traversing a difficult sea, and as with Joseph, the glory goes to the God who sees beyond what I can see, who sees beyond the wind and tide battering my ship, guiding me to the harbor or grace resting over the horizon.

    God in heaven, may I have a faith like Joseph. Help me to trust, despite trials. Give me the strength to persevere through my hardships, and to prepare me for the days ahead, so that I might become a more able Son or Daughter, a more well-equipped citizen of your kingdom. In Jesus' name, amen.

    Friday
    Aug312012

    Hidden Identities

    Joseph was running the country; he was the one who gave out rations to all the people. When Joseph's brothers arrived, they treated him with honor, bowing to him. Joseph recognized them immediately, but treated them as strangers and spoke roughly to them. 
    He said, "Where do you come from?" 
    "From Canaan," they said. "We've come to buy food."

    Joseph knew who they were, but they didn't know who he was.
    -Genesis 42:6-8 (The Message)

    In George R. R. Martin's series of novels, A Game of Thrones, each house is represented by a sigil. House Stark is known by the direwolf. The Lannisters display a lion. House Targaryen is represented by the dragon. There is the Flayed Man, the Krakken, the Stag, and more. By their sigils all can see who they are, and unless challengers display their banners, upon sight they may remain unknown.

    Once identities are unveiled, however, the grounds of engagement shift.

    In the story of Joseph and his brothers, there is a concealed identity, and a tension results that appears elsewhere in literature, and in life. Joseph, encountering the brothers who sold him to slavers and deceived his father in to thinking him dead, recognizes his family, though they do not recognize him. They have bowed before him, an instance his boyhood dreams revealed would take place, and now he must decide how he will rule over them: with cruelty, or kindness?

    "Joseph knew who they were, but they didn't know who he was."

    But are we not faced with a similar scenario, each day?

    Every day Christians go forth in the world, they can know they are beloved children of God (Eph. 1:15-23). Christians also know something about all they look upon; they are fellow image-bearers (Gen. 1:27), fellow sons and daughters of the King (Gal. 3:26-29), and, for persons who do not believe, are those whom God patiently awaits repentance and belief (2 Tim 3:8-9). Every day there is a seeing, and a knowing, of yourself and your neighbor, a neighbor who, as we see in the story of Joseph, may also have at one time been an enemy.

    What we know concerning ourselves, and those around us, is of critical importance for how we choose to live our lives. The truths we hold dear about God, of course, are determinative for our actions, as it was for Joseph. At the moment he recognized his brothers, Joseph could have revealed himself and had his brothers crushed. He did not. Instead, as the story unfolds, Joseph reveals to his brothers the understanding he has come to possess of God through his trials, and an assurance that his hardships were not without a divine, greater purpose.

    How does the God we have come to know in Jesus, and throughout the Scriptures, teach us to engage with those who do not know who we are?

    Think deeply on this, for the answer should be a list of the virtues. We should receive others with love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control, yet even so, we know this is not of ourselves, but it is the gift of the Spirit in us. In these our sanctification, and the source of our salvation, are revealed. It is through such a life that we introduce others to the God who has already, and who continues, to save us.

    Lord, help me to look upon others this day as persons created in your image, whom you call me to receive with love, patience, and hospitality. Help me to act in a way that reveals not only my character, but yours, that I may give you glory. When others do not know who I am, may they come to discover a person in whom God has been at work. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

    Monday
    Aug202012

    Fill the Air

     Be kind to me, God; I've been kicked around long enough. Once you've pulled me back from the gates of death, I'll write the book on Hallelujahs; on the corner of Main and First I'll hold a street meeting; I'll be the song leader; we'll fill the air with salvation songs. 
    -Psalm 9:13-14 (The Message)

    Don't these words sound familiar?

    "God, deliver me. Life has been hard, tougher than I deserve. Remove my worries from me, take my enemies out of the picture, and I'll serve you. I'll lift my voice. I'll shout for joy. I'll tell the world! With a witness like me, everyone will hear of your loving-kindness, your goodness, your mercy. You'll see."

    Ever feel guilty for praying a prayer like that?

    I have.

    But there it is, on the pages of Scripture. Just when we've convinced ourselves that we are chumps for talking to God that way, there we find David, ushering us along a well-worn path.

    Life gets tough, challenges come our way, we find ourselves on the receiving end of attacks and enmity, not just as a result of circumstance, but the direct action of other people. David is honest enough to ask God to intervene. And he shares with us his planned response: a passionate, fervent advocacy for the God who is the Deliverer.

    Like David, we proclaim that God alone is judge, the one who "holds the high center, he sees and sets the world's mess right"(v.7). We would even go so far as to say that God is the one who "gives people their just deserts"(v.8). There is even a desire that God would reveal to our enemies "how silly they look!"(v.20).

    But David appears to know something we do not. How does Psalm 9 begin? With this declaration: "I'm thanking you, God, from a full heart, I'm writing the book on your wonders. I'm whistling, laughing, and jumping for joy; I'm singing your song, High God."(v.1-2)

    Before David names his troubles, he affirms this deeply held truth: God is good. And he knows God will act in his own time. Read in isolation, we might hear David's words as permission to offer bribes to God, as we have in the past, saying, "God, do this for me, and I'll do great things for you." But David avoids that trap, by first naming the goodness of God, making his petitions and desires clear, and trusting that the goodness of God will ultimately show through.

    When it does, David will be ready to celebrate, to share, to name it, and to demonstrate it. Justice for all, dignity for the poor, an uplifted chin for the head-hangers. Can't you see? In verses 17-20: "The wicked bought a one-way ticket to hell. No longer will the poor be nameless—no more humiliation for the humble. Up, God! Aren't you fed up with their empty strutting? Expose these grand pretensions! Shake them up, God! Show them how silly they look."

    Trouble may be dogging your steps. But God is good. Declare your desires for justice, act when responsible, and keep your eyes open for the movement of God. And when it occurs, lift your voice. Sing the songs. Fill the air. Salvation has come.

    High God, may the words of my mouth honor you. You are good, and I trust you. But where trouble has come my way, I ask you for justice. Where the wicked thrive, I ask that they may be brought low. I pray that you would act, even if that action comes through me. Open my eyes to see you at work, open my ears to hear your call, put your words on my tongue, that I may speak truth. And when your salvation comes, when your rescue plan unfolds, let me sing your praises with joy. Amen.

    Sunday
    Aug192012

    Sabbath (4)

    By the seventh day 
          God had finished his work. 
       On the seventh day 
          he rested from all his work. 
       God blessed the seventh day. 
          He made it a Holy Day 
       Because on that day he rested from his work, 
          all the creating God had done.
    -Genesis 2:2-4 (The Message)

    Today is the Christian Sabbath, designated so by the early church as a rememberance and a witness to all that on this day, Jesus rose from the grave, death was surely defeated, and victory had been won. Because of this, we can rest.

    So rest.

    Reflect.

    Remember.

    And wonder anew.

    It is to be part of the rhythm of a life lived with God.