Our Daily Bread

“Give us this day our daily bread…” (Matt 6:11)

Flat Breads
When I was a kid, I could tell when my mom was baking from halfway down the block. Even today, the smell of goodies fresh from the oven evokes a certain sense of comfort, abundance, blessing and love. There’s just something about bread that speaks to the human psyche. It’s something we share with each other in the spirit of fellowship, something for which many people around the world will stand in line for hours hoping to get, and something we long for in our daily lives.

Sometimes, we are forgetful about how lucky we are to have “daily bread” in our lives and how thoroughly God provides for us. I’m reminded of Exodus 16, which tells the story of the manna, and how the Israelites, who had been liberated from their oppression for just a little over 2 months, began grumbling and complaining. All they could think about was food, not how they had been miraculously saved from oppression, but how hungry they were, even telling themselves how much better it was in Egypt, because there, at least, they had their “daily bread.”

The Israelites were indeed hungry, and in a way that went far beyond their physical need for food, they just didn’t know it. Daily bread is more than mere sustenance. It’s a yearning to recover what was lost at the fall of Eden, an unconscious desire to hear the voice of God. In Matthew 4, after he had fasted for forty days, Christ was confronted by the “tempter,” who said, “If you are the son of God, order these stones to become bread.” Jesus replies by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, stating, “it is written, that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Today, we’re not so unlike the Israelites of Moses’ day. We, too, are hungry, to the point of starving. We pine for our youth, for that time when every word from the mouth of God seemed far simpler to believe, and far less complicated to hear. We search for it in churches that seem to be more like social clubs, than sacred spaces to “tabernacle” with the Lord. We listen to preachers who are more interested in teaching us “political correctness” rather than God’s righteousness. When we pray for daily bread, we’re asking God to provide us with more than a marble rye to fill our bellies, or a good story with some anecdotal truth attached, we’re asking Him to fill us with the everlasting bread of His holy spirit, His presence in our daily lives so that we may be counted among the blessed.

How blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness! For they will be filled. (Matt 5:6)

~SLM

Let There Be Light

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was unformed and void, darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and God divided the light from the darkness. (Gen 1:1-4)

We are called to walk a path of light, to “be a city on a hill” that we may shine brightly before men, as a beacon, and that means to step away from the darkness, to leave its ways behind, to live in the light. In the beginning, God pulled the light from the darkness as a means of setting it apart, separating it, sanctifying it, making it a foil for the darkness. 1 John 1:5-6 tells us that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” We cannot live in the light while we relish the acts of darkness. They are mutually exclusive groups, sharing nothing in common, and are therefore incompatible.

What, then, is God’s light? How do we define it? Is it not but a contrast between two opposing elements, between black and white, between all that is good, right, and true with that which is not? In Ephesians 5:8-9, Paul says, “For you used to be in darkness; but now, united with the Lord you are light. Live like children of light, for the fruit of the light is in every kind of goodness, rightness and truth.” Truth is what gives contrast to darkness, what exposes all that we thought to be hidden. But more than this, contrast is also what brings to light all that lurks in shadow, because sometimes, “darkness” is more subtle than mere blackness. It can also be like filtered light that’s been misdirected and distorted until its purpose is obscured, no longer providing sharp relief, and no longer serving as a beacon. Paul continues in Ephesians 5:11-14 saying that we should “have nothing to do with the deeds produced by darkness, but instead expose them…everything exposed to the light is revealed clearly for what it is, since anything revealed is a light.”

Every instance of “light” in our world is just a reflection of God’s ultimate goodness. If you trace the light back to the source, it’s God! And, that’s why Paul tells us in Romans 13:12, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” The light of God is not only our protection, but also our calling as His chosen people, His children. Every day we are in active battle with a world of darkness, and that’s why we’re told to “put our light on a stand, and not under a basket” and this means we must place it in the most advantageous spot for all to see, that we may provide a sharp contrast to the darkness. Think of a time when you were in a dark place, and the light brought you out of it. What form did light take in that moment? And looking back, can you see how it was strategically placed in your life to show you the way, to deliver you from evil and to bring you into God’s light?

The color black appears as it does, because it actually absorbs all visible light reflecting nothing back to the eye – it takes. Likewise, the color white is simply the reflection of visible light – it gives. What we learn from these opposing properties is this: When we choose not to be reflections of God’s light, only taking in, we not only live in darkness, but we also create darkness in our hearts. And in contrast to this, when we are reflections of God’s light, casting everything back, we become co-creators with him through Christ.

A Prayer:

Help me to remember, Lord, who I am and what I am supposed to be. If I am to be your light in this world, that means I am to be a reflection of who you are. Help me, Lord, to be a positive reflection, to remember that everything I do and say must reflect rightly upon you, that I may not take your name in vain, but bring honor and glory to you in thought, word and deed. ~Amen

 

~SLM

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Christ Jesus his son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:7)

Blindness: The Best Medicine

​In my Monday night group, we’re studying the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul, and we were asked why we thought God would strike Paul blind to get His point across. Was it to simply humble him, or did God have something else in mind on that fateful day on the road to Damascus?

Among the possible reasons we came up with were: 1) When one sense is taken away, we compensate through one or more of our other senses, so maybe blindness obliged Paul to listen; and 2) Sometimes, drastic measures are called for so that we may “see” what God is saying.

Listening is, by far, the one thing humankind struggles with the most. We have been given eyes to “see” and ears to “hear,” but we can’t seem to coordinate their use. When we see, we seldomly listen, and listening is paramount to recognizing the voice of Wisdom, the voice of God.

Like Paul, we can become so convinced of our own wisdom that we can’t even see what is right in front of our faces. We think we know, and we’re passionate about it, even when what we “know” is completely wrong. We tend to live life in a bubble of our own making, and when we look for validity, we tend to only see those things that confirm our correctness, our righteousness, giving us a false sense truth. That’s why we are told that we shouldn’t worry about the speck in our neighbor’s eye, when we have a board in our own. It’s because we look at the world with impaired vision, and reality is more vast than our limited scope can comprehend, and perhaps, being struck blind is what we need, when we can’t see any other point of view but our own, when our prejudice gets in the way of our ability to see the truth.

Often times, it does, indeed, take something drastic to stop us in our tracks. A bolt from the blue is exactly what is needed, a shock to our senses meant to get our attention, to help us reevaluate what we think we know, to make us see things in a new way. Paul’s whole life changed after that fateful day. His blindness gave him the chance to listen, to evaluate in a new light, God’s light, all he had learned and studied up to that point in his life. Sometimes blindness the best medicine to show us how we’ve been blind, to humble us with the light of truth, and to send us down a whole new road.

~SLM

What Love is: A Litmus Test

It seems that the world is upside down right now, that everything is wrong side out and backwards. We want the madness to stop, but we’re at a loss as to how. We say we want to get along, that we want peace and love, but from the virulence and frequency of the bombastic and self-righteous screeds that are posted every day to facebook, twitter and any number of “social” forums, it is clear that most of us have no idea of what we’re doing or why. We want desperately for things to go differently, to head in a new direction, the direction of unity, but it seems we’ve lost our way. We don’t know anything about kindness, tolerance and love, or if we had ever learned, we’ve forgotten, developed a collective case of CRS (can’t remember shit), as if modern life has divorced us from knowing, understanding exactly what it means to love.

So how do we know what love is? It sounds like a simplistic question, but is it really? We think we know what it is; we think love is about the sentiments reflected in a popular song, quotes by the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa, a warm and fuzzy feeling about our friends and family, or a heart shaped emoji we use to react to our friend’s posts. But, love is so much more than these, greater than our trivialities. It is the one thing that never fails, and is perhaps the most challenging feet we could attempt in our lives. And, we do know what it looks like, because we’ve been given a litmus test for love, a laundry list by which to check our actions. The test goes like this:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.  1 Corinthians 13:4-8

We must test everything against this standard, continually asking ourselves; is it patience or is it pride, is it kindness or cattiness, is it truth or rumor parading as truth, does it persistently hope for the best or is it flip and conceited, is if faith-filled or self-filled? If the words we speak (or type) cannot pass this test, if they are unkind, conceited, ill-mannered, selfish, proud, a diatribe of what’s wrong, we are not speaking from a place of love.

Here’s what else we’ve been told about love:

Forget about the wrong things people do to you, and do not try to get even. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Leviticus 19:18

But I say to you, love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you. If you do this, you will be true children of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:44-45

If we are jealous, act impatiently, are brutish, or delight in situations that prompt us to say “ain’t karma a bitch,” we do not know love. If we take it upon ourselves to “get even” with those who would do us harm, we are not coming from a place of love, but of darkness and hate. What then, do we do with hate? There is no reasoning with it, any brute force or mighty action that can stop it, because hate is not the cure for itself. There is only one antidote to hate, only one power mighty enough to stop it in its tracks: Love.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

If we love one another, we don’t give up on each other. We aren’t gleeful or smug when evil things happen to others, even when they are our enemies. We continue to hope for the very best with all the patience in the universe, because that is what we have been called to do, what we’ve been commanded to do,  and the example we are expected to set as a follower of Christ.

~SLM

I heard this on the radio this morning and thought it appropriate for this post – thank you Danny Gokey for this beautiful song!

Do as I Say…

Funny how this seeking for a higher meaning works, just when you think you’ve got something figured out, your turn your perspective a fraction of a degree, and suddenly it’s a whole new landscape.  There are certain verses that seem to return again and again, to show you that what you thought you knew was, in reality, only a small sampling of a greater truth, a greater equation, and that’s why I’ve landed back on Isaiah 29:13, which states, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,”  It’s not just about being estranged from God, but also about duplicity; about our persistent habit of commingling words and actions, our false logic of substitution in which we assume our words and actions are interchangeable, and our expectation that others do what we cannot ourselves do.

We can say all the right things in flowery prose and elegant verse. We can talk our fool heads off about what is right, what is fair, what we think others should do, or be willing to do. We can be as socially acceptable and politically correct as the best little soldier out there, but the true test of where we live is in the heart, and while we can say anything, and oft times we actually do, our actions are the reflection of our thoughts and beliefs. The heart is where action resides. If we say we are against bullying, but bully others in order to prove they are bullies, then we become what we call, we use our lips to prove our “rightness” while showing what lives in our hearts: a bully. We can talk of peace and cooperation, we can take others to task for what they say or don’t say, but if our actions don’t back up our lips, we are nothing but liars, hypocrites.  We can talk a big game, but when it comes right down to it, our hearts reveal our true intent, our true thoughts and feelings, our true core beliefs, and how we act speaks to what is in our hearts.

Words and actions are not the same; they do not bear the same weight. While words can be illuminating, clarifying, and insightful, they can also be deceiving, misguided and false. Actions on the other hand, are like a mirror; they merely reveal and reflect who we are in our heart of hearts.

“Do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.” (Matthew 6:5)

~SLM

Sticks and Stones: The Wisdom of Minding Your Mouth

Sticks and stones may break my bones…but do we really believe names can’t hurt us? Our words, the things we say, can affect our lives in ways we can never imagine. Regardless of what the old adage claims, broken bones, though they be painful, eventually heal. But, careless or misplaced words, whether single syllabled or compound, are another story altogether. They can leave deep and life-long wounds, and as we are reminded in James 3:5-6 (MSG), “A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything – or destroy it. It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire.” Once the [word] genie is out, there’s no going back, you can’t recall it like a bad tweet, once it hits the air, the damage is done. Words are powerful tools that can open doors or lock them, unite nations or divide them, build up and encourage or tear down and destroy. “By our speech, we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke, and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell,” James continues.

Minding your mouth is a pretty big thing, when it comes to living a wisdom-filled life. In fact, shooting off our mouths is one of the biggest failings of humanity. We’re in love with idle talk and especially our own opinions. We prattle on and on without much thought about what we say, as if our words have no real meaning, and are only background noise that is easily dismissed.  We fail to see that the freeness with which we spew our every random thought, with which we are so righteous about having the “right” to say, is not always right. Instead, we throw it out there without consideration, getting so caught up in our “right to free speech” that we forget our words are alive, they have impact, force.

The unguarded tongue is more dangerous than any suicide bomber could ever be. While he may cause us physical pain, loss and suffering, an explosion of words can do far worse damage, it can break our spirit, can set us on a downward spiral of degradation and despair that only God can help and heal. “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips,” says the Psalmist in Psalm 141:3, and rightly so, since it’s what we say that saves or convicts us, that matters most. “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:37

~SLM

The Poor in Spirit

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ begins his discourse by saying, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for they will see the kingdom of heaven.” So what does it mean to be poor in spirit? Does it denote those who are below the poverty level or, those who are pitiful, helpless or weak?

Perhaps it could be better understood, if it read humble of spirit – Happy are those who are not full of themselves, who are humble and least in their own eyes. When we are full of ourselves, it’s hard to see beyond the 2-foot sphere of our own personal space, our own point of view.  We are inwardly focused, looking at everything through the narrow scope of me-ness. We can’t see how our actions affect the lives of others, as if the wake we leave behind us in our passing is some mysterious phenomenon that is happening to us rather than being created by us, making us “stiff necked” and “hard-hearted.” When in our conceit, we think we know the answer; there is no room for maturation, no room for toleration, no room for truth. We become egotistic, unresponsive and dismissive, being so convinced of what we “know” that we miss what we need to know. We are in short, arrogant of Spirit.

Yet, if we are humble of Spirit, modest, unpretentious, respectful and obliging, the beauty of life opens up to us. When we realize how little we understand, grasping that our lives affect others in ways we could not begin to imagine, our outlook on life becomes more conscious, more courteous, more reverential. We become receptive of God’s will for us, we see through the eyes of Sprit and become teachable; we see what is important. And this is what is truly important: to keep our eyes fixed on Him who created all things, loving Him with our whole heart, our whole being, seeking His counsel, His way.

It really is an all or nothing proposition. As we are told in Luke 16:13, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” We serve either ourselves or God.

~SLM