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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.


    Beyond Birth

    It is a good thing to be ardent in doing good, but not just when I am in your presence. Can't you continue the same concern for both my person and my message when I am away from you that you had when I was with you? Do you know how I feel right now, and will feel until Christ's life becomes visible in your lives? Like a mother in the pain of childbirth. Oh, I keep wishing that I was with you. Then I wouldn't be reduced to this blunt, letter-writing language out of sheer frustration.
    -Galatians 4:18-20 (The Message)

    After night had a fallen, a man named Nicodemus came to Jesus. He offered words of flattery, "Oh Rabbi, you are so wonderful. We know you have come from God, since you perform so many signs." Jesus cuts right through the fluff: "Unless a person is born from above, it's not possible to see what I'm pointing to--to God's kingdom."

    In our reading above, we find Paul strumming a familiar chord. There is something about a birth that is vital to life with God, to life in Jesus, to knowing his kingdom and what it is like. A birth, new life, a new world. A transition from one realm to another.

    Paul likens himself to a mother, in the pains of childbirth, bringing those to whom he proclaimed the gospel into the kingdom world. The birth is a difficult one. It isn't instanteous, but rather lengthy. Discipleship and formation and new life cannot be rushed. Paul wants them to grow in grace "beyond birth". He wants them to grow and be mature. He wants them to realize the life that can be theirs in Jesus. He wants them to see that the good news about Jesus is grace all the way down.

    We are likewise called: a new birth, a new life, new hope, new possibilities! Kingdom, kingdom, kingdom come, with a king who is just and wise and good. Along the way, we meet heralds, like Paul, announcing this kingdom, inviting us to believe that Christ died and Christ has risen. And the life of Christ is likewise being formed in you.

    Grow beyond the birth. Look past the one who introduced you to Jesus to Jesus himself, and live according to the call, "ardent for doing good", at all times, and in all places, and in all ways, to God's glory.

    Lord Jesus, help me to live faithfully as your follower. Thank you for making possible a new beginning, a new birth, a new life. Now, help me live fully in accordance with what you have already attained. Bring me in to the fullness of your righteousness. Bring me to maturity. Bring me in to the life that you have modeled, the life you have desired to put in to me. Amen. 


    Hope Peeks Over the Horizon

    When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don't ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. Don't run from trouble. Take it full-face. The "worst" is never the worst.
    -Lamentations 3:28-30 (The Message)

    When life takes a turn for the worse, we are tempted to speak, to explain, to make meaning, to balm wounds. But sometimes it is best to close one's mouth, enter the hurt, and wait.

    The prophet Jeremiah acknowledges that the pain and hurt and hopelessness that befalls humankind is real. It is not an illusion. Our world suffers from a fundamental lack; all is not as it should be. Our moral intuitions acknowledge this. Jeremiah confirms it, having every reason to mourn, both for himself and on behalf of his people, Israel.

    The counsel he offers is manifold.

    Stay silent.


    Don't question, at least for the moment. There will be time for that later.

    Keep an eye out for hope. And remain firm in the belief that "the worst" is not the last.

    From whence does Jeremiah's confidence come? The character of God. The covenant promises. A personal faith. A deep knowledge of the story of God. As Jeremiah affirms in verses 31-32 "[T]he Master won't ever walk out and fail to return. If he works severely, he also works tenderly. His stockpiles of loyal love are immense."

    Jeremiah believes this, he is confident that God is with him, even in the midst of suffering. You can possess that same confidence. If the words of Jeremiah are not enough, look to the cross of Jesus Christ, and there you will find suffering at its most intense.

    But on the third day, resurrection.

    Lord, let me remain confident in you, patiently awaiting signs of hope that will soon peek over the horizon. Amen.


    Grace Paves the Way

    Set up signposts to mark your trip home. 
       Get a good map.
    Study the road conditions. 
       The road out is the road back.
    Come back, dear virgin Israel, 
       come back to your hometowns.
    -Jeremiah 31:21 (The Message) 

    These words, spoken to an exiled people, are words that offer hope to all with ears to hear. Why? Israel, at this moment in her history, experienced the judgment that comes with unfaithfulness. Viewing history through their storied theological lens, Jeremiah and other prophets concluded that the unfaithfulness of the nation to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had resulted in displacement; removal from the land of promise and a planting in Babylon. What God had given, God had taken away.

    Israel, though exiled, is not without hope. Though the people of Israel had indeed sinned against God and received punishment, their God is one who remains faithful to the promises of the covenant. God had told Moses that he did not rescue this band of people from the desert to lead them to their death, but instead declared, "I will be your God, and you will be my people." And despite the fact that the people of Israel had gone whoring after other gods and abandoned the exclusivity of worship that is demanded by the covenant, God beckons to his people as "dear virgin Israel." New life. Restoration. Renewal. Hope. The groom calls to his bride, despite her waywardness. His love creates new beginnings.

    Do you hear the call?

    The God of Israel has issued forth a new covenant in the person and work of Jesus Christ, in the Word of God a new declaration has been made. The law, given to Israel, reveals that there are none righteous--no one perfectly keeps the law. Therefore, all sin. All have trod their own way, leaving destruction in our wake. But the road out is the road back. The God we have abandoned has not abandoned us. And he beckons us back and makes us new creatures fit for a new home.

    Set your face in a new direction, which is truly an old direction. Stop straying, follow the signs. Renew your faith in God. Leave sin behind in the ditch. Lay down your burdens. You will need them no longer.

    And God's grace has, and will, pave the way.

    God, who is faithful to the promises of old, help me to turn and return to you. I repent of my sin. I lay down my burdens. New beginnings are found in you. Make me whole; restore me where I have been broken. And may I travel your paths my whole life long. Amen.


    Confidence in Troubles

    Jesus answered them, "Do you finally believe? In fact, you're about to make a run for it—saving your own skins and abandoning me. But I'm not abandoned. The Father is with me. I've told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I've conquered the world."
    -John 16:31-33 (The Message)


    I have had no shortage of difficulties in my life. But that does not make the pain less, that of loneliness or hearthbreak or the rending of relationships. And we all have them.

    And here is Jesus, speaking of troubles, persecutions, difficulties. "Take heart!", he says.

    But what does Jesus know? More than we do. He is on the eve of his death. And his disciples are deeply troubled. They know he will soon depart. And they are afraid that when he does, they will be left alone.

    Our troubles leave us feeling likewise. "God has abandoned me!", we say. But Jesus does not believe he has been abandoned. He assures his disciples: "Neither are you abandoned. Don't run. Stay with me like I'm staying with the Father."

    The consolation Jesus offers: first, God abides with us in our darkest hour. And second, he reminds them that his departure, his crucifixion and death, is a precurosor to the sending of the Holy Spirit to those "in him", who trust in him, resulting in an unshakable, assured abiding peace. The reason for this confidence is profound: the disciples will soon witness Jesus' conquest, his victory, over the world.

    At first, I found this statement to be a toe-hold, a small cleft in an enormous rockface, just enough to support my weight and prevent me from falling. But the more I have come to realize the enormity of Jesus' claims, and the magnitude of what he believed he was doing on Calvary, the more I have come to see that, yes, I can take heart. I can have confidence. I can remain unshakeable and assured, not because Jesus is only a cheerleader, saying, "Yes, I know it's tough, but keep going!", but because I trust that Jesus is my rescuer. He has won over sin, evil, death, and suffering.

    You can have such confidence. It is there, offered freely. Jesus not only exhorts you to face your sufferings, to remain strong in spite of them. He assures you that ultimately, the victory is his, and that through him, you can have peace.

    Lord, help me to trust in you. Help me to have an abiding and strong confidence that my momentary sufferings are fleeting and will soon pass. Help me to see that you are not only my support, but my rescuer. Give me your peace, this day. Amen.


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    Wheat in golden Evening Light

    The title says it all.

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