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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.

    Thursday
    Aug162012

    The Stew

    One day Jacob was cooking a stew. Esau came in from the field, starved. Esau said to Jacob, "Give me some of that red stew—I'm starved!" That's how he came to be called Edom (Red).

    Jacob said, "Make me a trade: my stew for your rights as the firstborn."
    -Genesis 25:29-31 (The Message)

    When is the last time someone offered you a stew?

    There are certain, face value applications to this text I could list, all of which would be trite. How many of us have sold our birthright for a stew? How many of us, out of some compulsion or minor need, have resorted to a brash or unwise action, giving up something of immense worth? Each of us are capable of doing the math, without having someone walk us through the steps. Sit, meditate, think. Repent, if you need to. What have you been willing to trade, what small thing, or what large thing, for something of much greater consequence?

    It would be better to sit with this text, rather than reduce it to a quick moralism. Jacob's shrewdness, and his lack of compassion for his brother, are counterexamples. Esau's lack of wisdom, his impulsivity due to an empty stomach, is also instructive. But we are all Esau. We are all Jacob. We've offered stews and accepted them; we've been unjust and unwise.

    But God has something more for you, a feast that has been prepared. That feast is named Jesus, who called himself the bread of life, and gave us a meal to remember and commune with him by. Once that meal has been partaken, it allows you to recognize, to see the lack in every false stew, reshaping your moral vision to where you are enabled to refuse such offers, as well as to cease making them.

    Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."

    The stew loses its appeal when we have discovered a greater, more satisfying meal. That meal has been offered. Take and eat.

    Jesus Christ, it is in your body and blood, and the bread and wine that we remember your sacrifice by, that we find the resources to resist the temptation of the stew, both as the one who offers, and the one who is tempted to trade. Make new our vision, our way of seeing, so that we might live holy lives as your disciples. Help us to see that your meal is greater. In your name, Amen.

    Wednesday
    Aug152012

    What Grabs Us?

    I had barely finished offering this prayer, when Rebekah arrived, her jug on her shoulder. She went to the spring and drew water and I said, 'Please, can I have a drink?' She didn't hesitate. She held out her jug and said, 'Drink; and when you're finished I'll also water your camels.' I drank, and she watered the camels. I asked her, 'Whose daughter are you?' She said, 'The daughter of Bethuel whose parents were Nahor and Milcah.' I gave her a ring for her nose, bracelets for her arms, and bowed in worship to God. I praised God, the God of my master Abraham who had led me straight to the door of my master's family to get a wife for his son.
    -Genesis 24:45-48 (The Message)

    When we tell stories of our heroes, it is not their beliefs or convictions that we first name, but their actions. We tell of what was done or left undone. Then we explore the reasons, the ideas, the framework from which that person operates. It is the doing that grabs us.

    In Genesis 24, Abraham sends forth a servant to the land of his forefathers to find a wife for his son, Isaac. The servant, unsure of how to proceed, offers a prayer to God upon his arrival outside the city of Nahor, in the land of Aram Naharaim. He says, "God, let the woman who consents to give me a drink, and offers to water my camels, be the one fit for Isaac." Rebekah, a young woman of great beauty, does this. The servant is then invited in to her father's household, where he is extended lodging and rich hospitality.

    Oftentimes, this story is used to teach God answers prayer. "Look!", we say, "God responds when we ask!" But the first readers of this story would assume the hearing and answering of prayer as fact. What is more remarkable is Rebekah; her hospitality and her graciousness in receiving a stranger. It is the doing that grabs the servant, and how God, in the midst of the doing, reveals this is a God-doing.

    Bob Goff, in his book Love Does, tells of a fellowship he holds with a small group of friends. At one time, these friends gathered for a Bible study--they would read and reflect and dig in to the text. But one day, they decided that study wasn't enough, so they changed the name of their meeting--each week, these friends would gather for a Bible doing. They would reflect on a given text, and ask, "how then are we to live?"

    And while I believe there is an ineradicable link between the knowing and the doing, the beliefs and the actions, the point here is not lost. It is most often the doing that grabs us, that invites us in to a new world of thinking or seeing or believing. It is the witness, it is the life.

    Today, be like Rebekah. Put your character on display. And let that character be God-rich, an evidence of substance, of eternality, of something that lasts, of someone doing something, in you, that transcends your own doing.

    God Most High, let me make you known today with my life, but let my actions be illumined and narrated by stories like Rebekah's, who extended hospitality to a stranger, and thus found herself caught up in an occasion where God was at work. Let my life be a God-doing. Amen.

    Tuesday
    Aug142012

    After All This

    After all this, God tested Abraham. God said, "Abraham!" "Yes?" answered Abraham. "I'm listening."
    -Genesis 22:1 (The Message)

    The testing of Abraham is not a story that should be romanticized or sentimentalized: God commanded Abraham to take his son Isaac to a place on Mount Moriah and prepare him for sacrifice. At this point in the narrative, Abraham's knowledge of the character of God is defined by the experiences we have read thus far in Genesis, other unrecorded experiences, and the prevailing beliefs of peoples and cultures surrounding Abraham at the time.

    Child sacrafice was not unheard of, neither was the fickleness of the gods. Abraham knew God, and knew that God had brought him thus far. But the test was still a test, a grueling, stressful, painful path that Abraham was called to walk. Abraham still had something new to learn about God, "after all this."

    Abraham's faith was truly tested. He was open to the test.

    Are you open to a test?

    The biblical narrative captures the beautiful and the ugly seasons of life, assuming complexity. We often expect God to bring about the beautiful. But we distance ourselves from the possibility that God remains sovereign over our trials, our seasons of darkness. Some hardships arise as fallout from our existence in a fallen world. But it is possible that others come about so that God can walk through the darkness with us, refining our character and strengthening our faith, being our light. This was true for Abraham. It is true for us.

    But before the moment God called Abraham's name, and Abraham responded by listening, we are told this occurred "after all this." Abraham had a history, a story with God. So do we. And even if our experiences with God are limited, we have the experiences of others, like Abraham. When we enter a trial, we have a larger narrative about God upon which we can depend. This narrative can sustain us, lighting our way.

    When trials come, don't dismiss God's presence outright. Instead, look for the test, and trust. Assume a larger story. Remember Abraham. God is with you.

    God of Abraham, you can be trusted. The trials I face, like Abraham's, are not easy. Help me to face my challenges and assume you are present, working, active, and desirous of my ultimate good. Amen.

    Sunday
    Aug122012

    Sabbath (3)

    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. 

    Saturday
    Aug112012

    Pivot Points

    When Abram was ninety-nine years old, God showed up and said to him, "I am The Strong God, live entirely before me, live to the hilt! I'll make a covenant between us and I'll give you a huge family."
    -Genesis 17:1-2 (The Message)

    A warning to modern, Western, individualistic readers of Scripture: the work of God began long before you arrived on the scene. God didn't send Jesus Christ only to save you, but to fulfill promises made long ago, to be faithful to a story that has been under development for ages. Though God in Christ is doing a new thing, you are caught up in something that is, in fact, very old, an ancient story that continues to echo forth in to the future, a story that is shaping, molding, and directing our imaginations.

    God's work among human beings has a long narrative arc, with pivot points along the way. In the book of Genesis we find the formational encounters that Israel reflects upon, reminding them of their collective identity, and how that should then shape the present demands of faithfulness. God's promise first given in Genesis 12, ratified in Genesis 15, and reassured in Genesis 17 are critical for those who call themselves Christians. In Galatians 3, Paul reaches back to these narratives in order to fully describe how God has written the Gentile people in to the Abraham story, in light of Christ.

    Your story, too, has a long narrative arc, with twists and turns and new developments. God has been at work in your life, long before you dare to even imagine, in numerous ways you have yet to perceive. But there God has been, shaping, molding, and directing your imagination, nudging and pushing and comforting and challenging. And then a moment comes--a pivot point--when your small story gets caught up in the narrative arc of a larger story, a story that includes God conversing with a man named Abram, when he was ninety-nine years old. You read the promises, and you consider what they might mean, both for Abram, and for people later, like Jesus, and Paul. And you want to be part of that story. Your own story pivots. It changes. It is new.

    Like Abraham, God has called you, "live entirely before me, live to the hilt!" God has invited you to receive the blessings of the covenant--yes, even you! Stepping in to that story, claiming it, living it, leaves you forever changed, forever different, with the resources of a larger past, and the hope of a blessed and more robust future.

    Turn and pivot. Live a new story, with a trusted Author, Jesus Christ.

    Strong God, I have heard and understood the story of Abraham, who was called to enter in to a covenantal relationship to God, to live entirely before you as a servant. His life changed, it turned on a pivot, from the time you first spoke to him to his last day. May my story, too, have a pivot, wherein my life becomes caught up in your life, where I live before you, to the hilt! Give me the wisdom to live according to your story, to remain faithful to your covenant you have given in Jesus Christ. Amen.