Gregory of Nyssa: Daily Bread

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Gregory of Nyssa: Daily Bread

Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. Proverbs 3:8-9

“Bread represents life, and bread is easy to get. Moreover, nature herself gives us something to put on it to make it more tasty. The best thing to eat with bread is the peace of a good conscience. Then the bread is eaten with gusto, because it is being eaten in holiness of life.

But if you want to experience the taste of bread otherwise than in symbolic description, in the physical sense in fact, you have hunger to eat it with. Therefore, first of all, don’t eat too much you will lose your appetite for a long time. And then, let your dinner be preceded by sweat. ‘In the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread,’ is the first commandment mentioned in the Scriptures [Gen. 3:19].

The Lord’s Prayer speaks of ‘daily’ bread. In saying that, let us remember that the life in which we ought to be interested is ‘daily’ life. We can, each of us, only call the present time our own. Why should we worry ourselves by thinking about the future?

Our Lord tells us to pray for today, and so he prevents us from tormenting ourselves about tomorrow. It is as if he were to say to us: ‘He who gives you this day will also give you what you need for this day. He it is who makes the sun to rise. He it is who scatters the darkness of night and reveals to you the rays of the sun.'”

Gregory of Nyssa in On the Lord’s Prayer (PG44, 1173) in Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World, ed. by Thomas Spidlik (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1994) 350.

In God’s providence, Pastor James Hoxworth, our pastor at the Bridge Church at Bear Creek, is turning our attention to the Lord’s prayer at the same time my Patristic (Early Fathers) devotional book took me there.

And I see the Lord’s Prayer on the wall daily. I pause often to pray it often when I got up and down the stairs going to and from my office. It’s on the wall at the landing part way up the stairs (see the new header photo above). I am particularly drawn to the request at the heart of the prayer for daily bread.

Today’s Scripture from the Old Testament reminds us that we are surrounded with lies which tempt us to focus on everything but depending on God for daily bread. These lies tempt us to seek after possessions, pleasure, or power, which is why the monastic traditions make vows of poverty, chastity, and humility. We are bombarded with these lies. They link to overeating, self-indulgence, underworking, oppression, injustice, and all manner of corrupted thinking linked to provision.

Consider some examples of the implications of being influenced by such thinking. It is impossible to be generous if we don’t trust God for our daily bread. We cannot be generous if we think the fruit of our work belongs to us. We will never experience the joy of generosity if we think we have to hold on to money to try to secure the future. All that thinking is falsehood and lies.

So, on this Lord’s day during COVID-19, give thanks for daily bread, and if you have more than you need, share generously with any neighbors you know who may be in need. Give generously with your local church, give to missionaries and ministries you support, and remember the poor, as is it is Jesus Himself in our midst.

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O. Palmer Robertson: Tablets

I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what He will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint. Then the Lord replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright — but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.” Habakkuk 2:1-4

“The specific instructions to inscribe the vision and make it plain on tablets underscores its significance not only for the crucial hour in which Habakkuk lived, but all for the generations to come…The significance of this vision finds further emphasis by the reason given for its clear inscription. Habakkuk is to make it plain on the tablets so that he who proclaims it may run. Rather than envisioning a placarded statement so large that a person running by might read it, the context of a prophetic vision inscribed on tablets for the ages to come suggests the “running” of a messenger “to proclaim” the vision…

Habakkuk must inscribe his vision plainly so that he who proclaims it may run. The abiding inscription of the vision suggests that the bearer of this message shall not be a single individual. Instead, many through the ages to come shall rush to declare this divine word… How can God fulfill His promises to His people when He is about to devastate them? The divine answer to His perplexity must be inscribed on tablets, and many proclaimers in the ages to come must run with the message that resolves this problem… It is not merely for the present generation. It is for the ages to come.”

O. Palmer Robertson in The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) 168-170.

If you want to read a message from God that will minister to your soul in this COVID-19 season, read Habakkuk. It’s a short little book. The GTP board and staff read this excerpt from it together at our GTP board meeting this week.

Habakkuk starts chapter one with lament. He cries out to God. This is part of God’s answer in chapter two. Then chapter three ends with a prayer and declaration of His confidence in God.

We are living in a time when we get to read what Habakkuk inscribed on those tablets because it was passed down for us. What does this have to do with generosity?

The one who follows God right design for life and living will be sustained by his faithfulness. In other words, God will shake those who don’t follow His ways but will sustain those who do.

These are not times for hoarding but for helping. And our help is not just for those around us for generations after us. Let us remind everyone to serve the living God with faithfulness.

Our generosity is giving perspective and living out the right posture in hard times. We’ve got this. God’s got us. I hope this was plain inspiration so you can run with it.

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Augustine of Hippo: The Poverty of Christ

Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Luke 9:58

“Lord, when I came into this world, I did not bring anything with me, and when I leave it, I shall not take anything out. So long as I have something to eat and clothes to wear, I am happy. Because if you want to become rich you fall into temptation, into foolish desires which carry one away and lead towards death. The root of all evil is covetousness. Many who have coveted riches have turned aside from the faith and encountered affliction.

But I will encounter You, You who are truly poor, because although You were rich, for my sake You became poor. Who could possibly have an accurate idea of Your riches? And who could have an accurate idea of Your poverty?

What poverty, the poverty of the Lord!

You were conceived in a virgin’s womb, You were enclosed in the body of Your mother. What poverty!

You were born in a narrow room, they wrapped You in swaddling clothes and laid You in a manger. And then the King of heaven and earth, Creator and Maker of all things visible and invisible, drinks, eats, cries, grows up, reveals His age, and hides His majesty. In the end He is arrested, flogged, mocked, spat upon, slapped in the face, crowned with thorns, fastened to the cross, transfixed by a lance.

What poverty!

Lord, when I meditate on Your poverty, whatever I may look at loses any attraction for me.”

Augustine of Hippo in Sermon 14 (PL38:115) in Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World, ed. by Thomas Spidlik (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1994) 307-308.

While at home on COVID-19 lockdown, we may say to ourselves, I need this, or I want that. Let’s shift our focus from ourselves and think about Jesus. Imagine leaving the glory of heaven and coming to earth in poverty and not complaining one bit. Jesus did not even have a place to lay His head.

The length of our crisis is unknown. It may only be getting started. I think God may be trying to teach us to embrace the poverty of Christ. We can do this by being generous with what we have and by entrusting our needs, cares, worries, and fears to the Father. We’ve got this. God’s got us.

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Philoxenus of Mabbug: The Time in Between

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Luke 16:27-28

“It may seem an extraordinary thing to do, to sell all you have and give the proceeds to the poor. Actually, however, it is a natural action. It is like going back to creation, to our own birth itself.

When Job had lost all his possessions he did not think what had happened to him was anything abnormal. He soothed the pain by saying: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return’ [Job 1:21]. As if to say: ‘All that has happened is that I find myself as I was when I was born.’

It is natural for human beings to be deprived of everything, to end up with nothing but their own bodies.

But it becomes much greater than something simply natural if someone does it voluntarily, for the love of God. It is like death. To die for the love of God is martyrdom.

When Adam and Eve were created they did not possess anything. Not only had they no wealth: they did not even have clothes. They were like a child which comes naked from its mothers womb. They were in the position Job describes. They were as Paul has said: ‘We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world’ [1 Tim. 6:7].

Let people look at their beginning and their end, and try to be like that also during the time in between.”

Philoxenus of Mabbug in Homily 9, 338ff. (SC44, p.301ff) in Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World, ed. by Thomas Spidlik (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1994) 306-307.

What will be said of “the time in between” your birth and death? Each of us is writing a story related to our living, giving, serving, and loving.

Will it be said that you traveled light through life and stored up much in heaven? You will have provisioned yourself prudently for endless enjoyment.

Or, will you follow the pattern of the world which is materialism with miserly giving? Such people will likely end up in eternal regret like the rich man in today’s Scripture.

It’s not that our handling of money in “the time in between” secures our eternal destiny. It’s actually bigger than that. It reveals the path we have chosen in our hearts.

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Basil of Caesarea: Choice and Blessedness

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21

“Poverty is not always praiseworthy, but only when it represents a free choice according to the Gospel commandment.

Many are poor in possessions and very miserly in spirit, and those people will not be saved through the poverty but damned by their attitude of mind.

Not every poor person therefore is worthy of praise but only those who of their own choice put the commandment of the Lord before all the treasures of the world.

Those people the Lord says are blessed when He proclaims: “Blessed are the power in Spirit” [Matthew 5:3]. He does not say the poor in possessions but those who have freely chosen poverty in spirit.

What is involuntary cannot merit blessedness. Every virtue, and poverty in spirit more than any other, must be a free choice. The same argument applies to Christ. In His own nature He is rich.

Everything that the Father has is His. But “For your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty, you might become rich” [2 Corinthians 8:9].

Moreover anything that can lead us to blessedness has been experienced by the Lord first. Reflect on the beatitudes, analyze them one by one, and you will realize that the theoretical teaching in them is drawn from practical experience.”

Basil of Caesarea in On Psalm 33 (PG31, 561) in Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World, ed. by Thomas Spidlik (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1994) 305-306.

What are you doing with the Gospel commandment?

Letting go of things is a choice. It’s not easy, but our Lord modeled the way for us that it can lead us to blessedness. Whatever we hold onto gets a hold onto us. So, the command is actually an invitation to the same blessedness that Christ experienced.

But why is it so hard for us and how does it relate to generosity?

Most of the time, we think of generosity in terms of sharing our surplus rather than making sacrifices and putting the needs of others ahead of our own. When we do it, however, we discover the blessing therein. God takes care of us as we take care of others.

It’s a choice that leads to blessedness.

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Clement of Alexandria: Full Again

“The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.” Isaiah 41:17-18

“We should possess only what we can carry with us on our journey: a light burden, therefore… Any who want to climb the hard path ought to have a good staff, namely the practical helping of the poor. Any who want to share the true rest should show themselves generous to the afflicted… Look at the well of spring water. We draw some off and the water returns to its previous level. It is the same with true generosity, where the spring is love for one’s neighbor. When generosity gives drink to the thirsty, it wells up again and is full again at once.”

Clement of Alexandria in Paedagogus [The Teacher] 3, 7 (PG8, 609) in Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World, ed. by Thomas Spidlik (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1994) 304-305.

Even as God makes a well full again once a cup of water is drawn out of it, God can supply what we need if we share generously from what we have with someone in need. He desires us to travel light on the journey of life and care generously with those in need around us.

This especially true in hard times. Notice in today’s Scripture can God can do this in barren heights and in parched ground. The question is whether or not we will experience it. I want to challenge you to give generously in these difficult days. He can make you full again.

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Gary V. Smith: Unfailing love and peace

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10

“God compares His rock-solid covenant commitment to His promises to the permanence of immovable parts of nature… The mountains and hills are as solid and unmovable as anything known on earth, but when a large earthquake hits, even the rock-solid mountains will shake and totter… Though this shaking may seem almost unimaginable, it is far more unimaginable for anything to cause God’s steadfast loving-kindness to depart, move… Equally firm is God’s absolute commitment to “my covenant of peace” which will not shake, totter… Peace and salvation will be two of the great characteristics of the kingdom of God prepared for His people. In the last line of v. 10, God assures this audience that God’s promise is based on the fact that He is the one who has compassion on you. In this passage God’s love and compassion are two of the prime motivations for His actions toward each person on the earth.”

Gary V. Smith in Isaiah 40-66 (NAC 15B; Nashville: B & H, 2009) 485-486.

My post today is in honor of my Filipino friend and brother in Christ, Kuya Anjji Gabriel, who is mourning the passing of his mother. She was mountain in his life, a rock-solid influence, and while God has removed her from his life, because God is so faithful, generous, and compassionate, He will not remove His unfailing love and peace from Anjji. God be with you, Anjji, and your whole family as you mourn. 

I echo today’s Scripture and this prayer for others whom I know or have heard in social media who have lost loved ones in this season of sickness. I mourn with you. God be with you all, surround you with unfailing love and peace. Though the whole world seems to be crumbling in unimaginable ways, may God’s faithfulness and generous compassion sustain and strengthen you with hope. 

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Warren Wiersbe: Object Lessons

Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Luke 5:23-25

“The healing was immediate and the people glorified God. But even more than receiving healing, the man experienced forgiveness and the start of a whole new life. Our Lord’s miracles not only demonstrated His deity and His compassion for needy people, but they also revealed important spiritual lessons about salvation. They were “object lessons” to teach spiritually blind people what God could do for them if only they would believe in His Son.”

Warren Wiersbe in Be Compassionate (Luke 1-13): Let The World Know That Jesus Cares (TBSC; Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010) 65.

When Jesus walked the earth and healed people, the healings had a purpose: “to teach spiritually blind people what God could do for them if only they would believe in His Son.” In that light they were “object lessons” filled with generosity and compassion.

Don’t you love teachers who use object lessons? They point to something you see and understand to instruct you regarding deeper spiritual realities you cannot fathom. Jesus used everything from birds and flowers to help people connect with important ideas. He taught with object lessons.

That’s what we are when we live generously during a plague. We are object lessons. What spiritual realities do people connect to your life? Is there anything missing that you want them to see? While many are sick or suffering for a variety of reasons, when we minister care and give generously we show what God has done for us who believe and how He too can transform their lives.

Father, fill us with your Spirit to exhibit your kindness and compassion, your generosity and grace to all those around us so they see you through our living, giving, serving, and loving. In your mercy, hear my prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Henri Nouwen: Prayer of Compassion and Generosity

The LORD is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made. Psalm 145:9

Dear Lord,

Help me keep my eyes on you. You are the incarnation of Divine Love, you are the expression of God’s infinite compassion, you are the visible manifestation of the Father’s holiness. You are beauty, goodness, gentleness, forgiveness, and mercy. In you all can be found. Outside of you, nothing can be found. Why should I look elsewhere or go elsewhere? You are the words of eternal life, you are the food and drink, you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. You are the light that shines in the darkness, the lamp on the lamp stand, the house on the hilltop. You are the perfect Icon of God. In and through you can see the Heavenly Father, and with you I can find my way to Him. O Holy One, Beautiful One, Glorious One, be my Lord, my Savior, my Redeemer, my Guide, my Consoler, my Comforter, my Hope, my Joy, and my Peace. To you I want to give all that I am. Let me be generous, not stingy or hesitant. Let me give you all — all that I have, think, do, and feel. It is yours, O Lord. Please accept it and make it fully your own.

Amen.

Henry Nouwen (1932-1996) in A Cry for Mercy, prayer for 31 March in You Are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living (New York: Convergent, 2017) 99.

I was exploring compassion in Nouwen’s writings and came across this prayer. When I read it, it touched me deeply.

Notice how it opens with a call for help. I could relate in the hard times in which we find ourselves, and help is what our compassionate Lord supplies.

We find in Him who is life and light, all the peace, hope, and joy we long for. Then notice that this is precisely what releases our generosity.

Only when we experience that we have everything we need in our relationship with our Lord, can we be generous. Our response is to give all we are and all we have.

Let us worship our Lord today by exhibiting compassionate generosity toward others. As He has touched us deeply, we get to bless others.

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Dallas Willard: Provision of Positive Goods

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12

“The love of which Jesus speaks addresses the provision of positive goods, not jut alleviation of painful conditions. This and the difference it makes are often missed by those who like to compare the teachings of Jesus to those of other religions. Our aim here is not to prove that Jesus is superior to other spiritual masters and traditions. But He really is different, and we should acknowledge it. Commonly, “Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you,” the Silver Rule, is equated with, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” the Golden Rule, but they are vastly different applications.

The positive formulation is directed toward helping others by doing what is good for them. The negative formulation is directed toward avoiding harm. It might be that some, in practice, would do the same things under either formulation, but many would not. The Silver Rule is not directed toward the good of the other the way the Golden Rule is. The mind and heart are in a different place for those who would follow one or the other. The Golden Rule is devoted to the good of the lives of those around us, and this reaches far beyond the mere absence of harm. The “love” of Jesus not only reaches indiscriminately toward those with whom we are actually in contact, but it aspires toward a remarkable richness in their lives, not simply in the alleviation of their suffering.”

Dallas Willard in Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (New York: Harper One, 2009) 88-89.

During COVID-19, many people have real needs. How we as followers of Christ meet those needs with the “Golden Rule” aim of “provision of positive goods” will set Christianity apart our faith from other religions.

While we can’t meet most of the needs around us, let’s each assess what we have, such as food, time, money, or other items. From there, let us ask God how we might show God’s love to others with what we have.

This is our golden moment to shine! And remember, our shining is only as reflectors. Our role is to reflect the matchless love and abundant grace we receive from our Lord Jesus Christ.

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