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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.

    Tuesday
    Jul312012

    Enter the Fray

    But against all illusion and fantasy and empty talk 
       There's always this rock foundation: Fear God!
    -Ecclesiastes 5:7 (The Message)

    The writer of Ecclesiastes, traditionally identified as Solomon, but within the text as "Qoheleth" or "the Teacher", has examined all of life. He has looked carefully into what makes for happiness and meaning. His verdict: all is vanity, all is inane, all is but a chasing after the wind. The tone is not exactly optimistic. But a common thread runs throughout the text: fear God, keep the commandments, pursue wisdom rather than foolishness.

    Many read the Bible for inspiration, for encouragement, for uplift. Ecclesiastes does not quite fill the bill. But we should be thankful that the Bible contains this book, full of grit and realism and resonance with the hardships that come with life. Who of us has not looked at the way of the world, and wondered if it is not all an empty pursuit, filled with toil and hurt and pitfalls? Who of us has not looked at the way of the world, and wondered, "what does it all mean?"

    Wisdom, according to the Ecclesiastes, is this: keep asking the questions, but reverence God. Raise the mysteries; embrace the divine mystery. In doing so, we become humble in light of our own humanity, we recognize that the final answers do not rest with us, we embrace the fact that the life of the faithful is not all uplift and ease. Because of this, we serve our neighbor as a sojourner on this broken earth; we empathize with the stranger. And we offer this: there is a God in whose hands we rest.

    "Fear God!", the same God with whom Jacob wrestled.

    Faith is a tussle. Enter the fray.

    God of all mysteries, may I return to the foundation of the life of faith: fear and reverence of you. Help me to raise the questions, but to explore them humbly, and in the process come to know you more deeply, more fully, to stand confident in you. Amen.

    Monday
    Jul302012

    Dispensing Treasure

    The wise accumulate knowledge—a true treasure; 
       know-it-alls talk too much—a sheer waste.
    -Proverbs 10:14 (The Message)

    The Proverbs--a masterful collection of wisdom sayings, true-to-life utterances, helpful words, and ponderous thoughts--are meant to instruct. Throughout, the way of the wise and the way of the fool are made plain. Pithy analogies are utilized; short illustrations drive home life lessons.

    In this reading, the contrast is simple: we have the wise and the "know-it-all." Both accumulate knowledge. What is the difference?

    In the case of one, knowledge accumulated amounts to "a true treasure." In the case of the other, knowledge is used to impress others, to fill dead-air, to kill silence. Knowledge is used as a bludgeon, and relationships suffer. "Know-it-alls" who possess knowledge, who talk continuously, offer knowledge, but it only amounts to waste. Wasted words, wasted time, wasted relationships, wasted community. The knowledge here does not build up, doesn't enrich, doesn't add value.

    Seek knowledge. That is wise. But accumulate and steward that knowledge as a treasure, and dispense it generously, with humility. Don't be like the know-it-all. Don't annoy and abuse others by what you know, but build others up. Dispense treasure, not waste.

    Lord, help me to seek knowledge, and to be wise. May my words of wisdom build others up. May I be slow to speak, and judicious in what I choose to share. Amen.

    Sunday
    Jul292012

    Sabbath (1)

    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
    Jul282012

    Sharing the Sufferings and the Glory

    I have a special concern for you church leaders. I know what it's like to be a leader, in on Christ's sufferings as well as the coming glory. Here's my concern: that you care for God's flock with all the diligence of a shepherd. Not because you have to, but because you want to please God. Not calculating what you can get out of it, but acting spontaneously. Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way.
    -1 Peter 5:1-3 (The Message)

    If you are passionate about education, you will have a special concern for teachers. If you are passionate about your country, you will have a special concern for politicians, and the political process. If you are passionate about a business, you will have a special concern for the board and top executives within that particular industry.

    If you are passionate about the church, you will have a special concern for church leaders.

    Our leaders do not have an easy calling. "In on Christ's sufferings," Peter writes, "as well as the coming glory."

    For every joy and jamboree, every birth, baptism, wedding, confession, act of repentence and reconciliation, every compassionate word spoken and loving good deed done, there are wounds inflicted, invective spewed, relationships shattered, discord sown, aspirations abandoned. The life of the congregation reflects the highs and lows of life. The church leader who is truly like Jesus rejoices atop the mountain and mourns with those in the valley, offering a quiet assurance that simply says, "I'm here with you, and so is the Lord."

    If you are a church leader, take comfort in Peter's words--he expressed concern for you long before you realized God's call upon your life. Do what you do out of a desire to please God. Care for the people. Do nothing for selfish gain. Lead through service, rather than brute strength. Share the sufferings. Anticipate the glory.

    If you are not a church leader, think of those who are. Offer a word of encouragement. Say thanks. Share in carrying the burdens. Don't know how? Ask. Pray. Build up, don't tear down. Join in the mission. Live the life, don't just talk about it. Ask Jesus to lead the way.

    Precious Savior, you are my perfect shepherd, my rescuer and my strength. Give me the grace I need for today, to do the work I am called to do, to fill the role I am called to fill, to be the presence of Christ for others. May I rejoice where others rejoice, and mourn where others mourn, and all the while, point to and embody your very real presence among us. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

    Friday
    Jul272012

    A Fair Ruling

    He summons heaven and earth as a jury, 
          he's taking his people to court: 
       "Round up my saints who swore 
          on the Bible their loyalty to me." 

    The whole cosmos attests to the fairness of this court, 
          that here God is judge. 
    -Psalm 50:4-6 (The Message)

    Christians are commonly accused of judging those outside of their tribe. Psalm 50 is a good reminder that God's judgment begins with his people. God's people would be wise to remember this. The judgements we offer are subject to judgment. God's the judge, and God's fair.

    This Psalm, gloriously penetrating in scope, tours us from sunrise to sunset, field to forest, creatures wild and domestic, sacrifice to sacrilege, and saint to sinner. Read it. God looks upon it all, saying, "It's all mine." The chief among possessions, however, are his people, all called to account.

    God notes the shortcomings of Israel and the failings of the wicked, and says to the faithful and the rebellious, "you're mine." The warning to both is the same, "I'm the judge. I'm the creator. You're not. Heed my decrees. Come to me. I'll redeem you. I'll save you. I've done it. And I know all about your weaknesses, your failings, your filth. Live a 'praising life,' not empty religion. Faithful ones, your sacrifices don't add anything to my love of you, so don't count them as your righteousness. Don't you know that your acts of worship are themselves a gift of the covenant, not a way to twist my arm? As for the unfaithful, live a 'praising life,' not fruitless rebellion. Don't act as though we're tight, when we're not. We both know it. You're not doing justice to your neighbor, your family. We both know it. I've seen it, quietly but no less certainly, like a loving parent who hopes you'll realize your mistakes and turn over a new leaf. I'll be quiet no longer. Cut it out. Come to me."

    Are you among the faithful or the unfaithful? It's likely you're a mix of both. Either way, God's the judge, and God's fair. God's love for you preceded anything you have done on God's behalf; don't forget it. God's love remained for you even though you've spurned that love; remember it. Move forward in righteousness, grounded in the love of God.

    Almighty God, you are the judge, the ruler of all the earth. I'm yours. I placed my hand on the Bible and swore allegiance. You divine my heart, plumb its depths, know its contents. You know where I am faithful and where I am false. Today, fix me where I'm broken, restore me where I'm worn, make me new. Give fresh energy to my commitments, propel me forward, inspire my faith. Help me to rest in your love, and as a result of that rest, find the strength to put my life to the work that you have prepared for me to do. Amen.