Readings for Monday, June 28th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Num. 22:1-21; Rom. 6:12-23; Matt. 21:12-22
    Psalms 106

In our arrogance we proclaim that we are masters.  We pretend we are the boss and attempt to enslave those who work for us.  We create dependencies of others upon us, raising ourselves up as superior.  Who we are is reflected in our government, where handouts are promised to the mob because surely the elite know best regarding what the slaves need.

As slaves we rebel against our masters, believing that if we can but overthrow them then we become the masters, all without realizing that when we become the masters we enslave others to our bidding.

I have put this in terms of human relationship, but in today’s reading from Romans, Paul puts this in terms of our bondage to sin:

"…Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey — whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?…You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness….Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness….But now you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."   Rom. 6:16, 18, 19b, 22-23

We are so pompous as to believe that being a master or a slave is a choice – we can choose to be slaves or "masters of our destiny."  Paul points out that we cannot choose between being a slave and being a master; all we can do is to choose who our master will be.  We will always be slaves with a choice – the question is not whether we will be a slave, but who will be our master.

We are slaves.  We are either slaves to the world and its opinions about right and wrong, good and evil, useful and useless, smart and stupid — or we are slaves to God, recognizing that Jesus Christ is Lord.  When we are slaves to the first, our wages are ultimately death and destruction.  When we are slaves to God, our wages are eternal life.

How easily as slaves we are tricked into thinking that the riches which the world offers are satisfying, real, and permanent.  How easily as adopted children of God our eyes are opened into realizing that the only true riches, the only real riches, the only permanent, eternal riches come from the one true master, God.

As you gird up for war today in the modern workplace, home, or school, you would like to ask the question – what or who can I master today?  Perhaps the better question is whose slave will you be today – the world’s or God’s?


Bread – Judgment

June 18, 2010

Readings for Friday, June 18th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Num. 13:1-3, 21-30; Rom. 2:25-3:8; Matt. 18:21-35
    Psalms 88, 91, 96

Psalm 96 describes God’s judgment upon us.  In it, David says "…[H]e will judge the peoples with equity…He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth."  Ps. 96:10b, 13b.

There are several points to note in this passage about the coming judgment.  The first is that it is God who judges us, not us who judge God or ourselves.  The second is that the judgment will be fair.  The third is that the judgment will be from the perspective of God’s holiness, of his absolute correctness.  The fourth is that the judgment will be according to "his" truth, not our truth, not the world’s truth, not truth according to the "laws of nature," but according to God’s truth.

We make a huge mistake when we look at this passage through our eyes and assess it according to our standards.  In our mind, being fair is giving the people who do good works, who speak kindly, who help the poor, and who do "right things" some kind of preference in judgment.  In our mind, we have the right over and over again to do the same thing Eve did in the Garden, listening to Satan ask "Did God really say…?" and, in fact, asking the questions ourselves "Did God really say?"  We think that God’s truth is our truth and when we perceive something awry, we rationalize it away by asking the question "Did God really say," by elevating ourselves to judgment over God.

In fact, we make a lot of mistakes in the "judgment department" because we ask ourselves the question "Could a loving God …." or "Could a fair God …." or "Could a just God ….," without realizing that in the question itself we have elevated ourselves over God to judge Him.

That’s not the way it works.  God judges us, not vice versa, and He judges us according to His fairness, His righteousness, and His truth.  We have nothing to say about it.

Pretty heavy stuff, particularly when you realize that we all fail the judgment test and, but for God’s mercy and grace, we are going to Hell.

In today’s reading from Romans, there is an interesting statement which seems oddly out of place but has incredible implications.  The quote is "Such a man’s [a man whose heart has been transformed, who is circumcised in the heart] praise is not from men, but from God."  Rom. 2:29b  We usually think of worship as something we do in response to what God has done for us.  The implication of this sentence is that we can’t even do that, offer praise and worship, but for God’s gift of praise to us.

Jesus speaks in Matthew (in today’s readings) of the mercy shown by master (God) to his rich servant and the lack of mercy shown by the rich servant to a poor man.  In part the parable is about unforgiveness and its effects to deprive us of the benefits of our forgiveness from God, but in perhaps a more powerful way it is about the mercy shown to the rich man by his master.

I look forward to judgment, not because I can survive it on my own, but because God has shown mercy to me by sending His Son to stand in my place as my Redeemer, God has given me grace by permitting my eyes to be opened and my ears to here and by enabling me to take the gift He offers, and because God has given me a shelter to hide in and hide behind on that day.

Psalm 91 from our readings today expresses this completely:

"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty…
‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges My name."
  Ps. 91:1, 14

There are a lot of reasons to thank God for today.  Perhaps one of the best is that, through God’s mercy, we can thank Him.

In the grace, strength, and love of God, let us live today in His shadow.


Bread – Resentment

June 16, 2010

Readings for Wednesday, June 16th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Num. 11:24-35; Rom. 1:28-2:11; Matt. 18:1-9
    Psalms 81, 82, 119:97-120

In Numbers today, Moses gathers seventy elders in front of the Tent of Meeting and God gives them the Holy Spirit and they prophesy.  Two of the elders, however, did not attend because they were either lazy or had something else to do.  However, God blesses them with the Holy Spirit as well, and they also prophesy.  This upsets the elders who showed up and followed directions.

In Romans today, Paul is lecturing people who pass judgment, noting that the judges are guilty of the very sins and trespasses of the law they accuse the wrongdoers of.  Both groups are equal wrongdoers.

In Matthew today, Jesus warns those who would cause His children, the children of God, to cater to their old selves, to sin.  He pronounces woe upon those who cause others to sin.

We have in today’s lessons examples of (1) complainers, (2) judges, and (3) little devils (I call them "little devils" because they hover around you, suggesting all kinds of ways of sinning – you know the type).

What do all these have in common?  I would suggest that the common factor in all three types of people is that they are full of resentment, they resent what the other person has.

How does this show itself?  Well, the complainer complains because he or she feels that someone has received a blessing from God they do not deserve.  These blessed people have not worked as hard as I have for what they get.  They just seem to show up (or don’t show up at all), and without any effort get all the blessings (money, honor, power, etc.).  They have all the talent.  They have the good looks.  They have the position (undeserved, of course).  They are promoted even though they are lazy, stupid, obnoxious (and so forth).  You know them and you hate them!

The judge judges (the condemner condemns) because he or she thinks that, in order for him or her to feel good, the other party needs to be brought down a peg or two (I am not talking about Godly discipline of errant believers; I am talking about condemnation of others for the very things we do on a regular basis).  We make ourselves feel better by making others feel worse. I know I must be a good person because that other person is so bad.  We compare ourselves to others and find that they come up short.  Our resentment of others can be "fixed" by making sure that they are condemned for their sins while we are honored for ours.  We are made greater by them being made lesser.  How can we resent these moral inferiors?  Of course we can’t resent them, we must pity them – so our resentment is calmed and our day is complete.

And we act as little devils, encouraging the weak or the less mature or the less knowledgeable to leave the path of good works or the path of virtue and join us in our embrace of the world and its values.  If they don’t drink with us, we encourage them to drink.  If they don’t eat as much as we do, we encourage them to "eat up."  If they don’t think stealing is OK, we encourage them to go ahead and take the company pen home, saying "It’s OK, they will never miss it."  If they want to go to church and worship, we resist, saying how much better it would be to "sleep in" on Sunday.  Why do we do this, because we resent the fact that they do these things and we don’t and we attribute to them a superior attitude, which we can knock off by just having them join us in our "fun."  Our actions as little devils are not much different than our actions as judges – both are designed to satisfy our jealousy and resentment by bringing people down to our level or, preferably, below our level.

Does this sound mean?  I challenge you to monitor your speech and actions today and just see how often you fall into one of these three roles.  The reason we can read the examples I have given and laugh about it (sort of) is that we know these examples are truth – they come from our own experience, our own lives.

So what is the cure?  I suggest we counter our natural jealousy, our natural envy, and our natural resentment with two heaping teaspoons of (a) gratitude and (b) love.  Gratitude because God has shown us mercy and grace in such measure that, whatever other people have, it pales to the value of what we have been given by Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, and by what we have been given by the Holy Spirit (belief, wisdom, self-control, discernment, strength, perseverance, etc.).  Love because we understand where people are because we are there too.  Love because we can, because God first loved us by giving us Himself in His revelation of word (Scripture), creation, relationship (Jesus Christ), and wisdom (Holy Spirit).

When we realize what we have been given, how can we be jealous of anyone else?  When we know how sinful we are, when we know how dead to life we were before God rescued us, how can we condemn others of their sin?  When we appreciate how easily we have been fooled by the world and Satan, how can we join in the delusion by encouraging others to sin?

As you walk through life today, being tempted in every way to complain, to condemn, and to tempt others, my prescription is to raise up a barrier of memory, memory of Calvary and memory of who you once were.

That memory will stop resentment dead in its tracks.  And instead of words of complaint, condemnation, or temptation will come words of thanksgiving and praise.


Bread – Faith

June 14, 2010

Readings for Monday, June 14th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Num. 9:15-23, 10:29-36; Rom. 1:1-15; Matt. 17:14-21
    Psalms 77, 79, 80

Today’s lessons are about faith.  In Numbers, the Israelites follow the presence of God without hesitation in faith.  If the cloud (the presence of God) moves, they move.  If it stays over the tabernacle, they stay.  If it moves in a hurry, they move in a hurry.  If it moves slowly, they move slowly.  Whatever direction God set, they follow.  Although the word "faith" is not used, it is clear that faith is in action.

In Romans, Paul is writing to Christians, those who have "come to the obedience that comes from faith."  Rom. 1:6. He is writing to the church in Rome, whose members have a "faith which is being reported all over the world."  Rom. 1:8.  Paul desires to be there so that they together might mutually encourage each other through their faith.

In Matthew, Jesus explains to the apostles that their difficulty with casting out a particular demon is "Because you have so little faith."  Matt. 17:20.  It is in this passage that Jesus says something difficult to understand (with our own understanding), because He says that "if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, … Nothing will be impossible for you."  Matt. 17:20.

So what is faith anyway?  The definition in Hebrews is "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."  Heb. 11:1.  I have heard it described as a "radical trust," the kind of trust which we put into our chair when we sit on it (we have a "radical trust" that it will not break under our weight).  The actual Greek word "pistis" and its variations are defined in "Lexical Aids to the New Testament" notes in the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (NASB, Ed. Zodhiates, 1990) as "being persuaded, faith, belief, in general it implies such a knowledge of, assent to, and confidence in certain divine truths, especially those of the Gospel, as produces good works."

These may sound like conflicting views, but they are not.  We are rational beings, with a mind to think given by God.  Faith results from thinking, contrary to popular anti-Christian "intellectual" theory which asserts that faith destroys thinking.  Faith is based upon a knowledge of divine truths, rational consent to those divine truths, resulting in confidence that those divine truths work, producing action based upon that confidence.

So, if faith is so rational, then how come we can’t argue someone into belief?  How come we can’t appeal to man’s mind and awaken him to the truth of Jesus Christ through persuasive speech?

Jesus actually gives us the answer in Matthew.  Nothing is impossible with even the smallest amount of faith.

Where does that smallest amount of faith come from?  Where is the starter?  Can I learn it from books?  Can I acquire it in the bazaar?  Can I pluck it from observation of my world?

The answer is simply "no."  And there is a good reason.  We are dead to our sins before we have faith, and dead men do not walk, they do not breathe, they do not talk, they do not listen, and they do not think.  It is impossible to obtain any "knowledge of" divine truth while we are dead.  So we can’t even begin the faith (belief, trust) process until we are jump-started by the Holy Spirit acting in our lives to wake us up and to give us that "mustard seed."

Our natural response to Jesus’ statement is to say that we must not have that "mustard seed" of faith, because it seems like sometimes, and maybe most or all of the time, that everything is impossible for us.  And yet, that is not true.  Prior to receiving the mustard seed of faith, it would have been impossible for us to enter into the presence of God, much less claim a family relationship.  Prior to receiving the mustard seed of faith, it would have been impossible for us to be reborn into new life.  Prior to receiving the mustard seed of faith, it would have been impossible for us to love God.  Prior to receiving the mustard seed of faith, it would have been impossible to love our very unlovable neighbor.  Prior to receiving the mustard seed of faith, it would have been impossible to discern where God is going, much less have the confidence in Him to pitch our tents and follow Him into the scary horizon of life.

When you think of it, in fact, there are a lot of impossible things we do every day because act with the spirit of hope, charity, integrity, love, and truth which we have because of our knowledge of , our assent to, and our confidence in the divine truths which have graciously been revealed to us by the sovereign action of God in our lives.

The final explanation of faith that I have heard I love.  It is analogous to the law of large numbers, which is that a very small number multiplied by a very large number is itself a very large number.  So, a very small and weak trust (the mustard seed) in a very strong object (God) is itself very strong and capable of achieving God’s purpose in our lives.

The lessons today are very instructive about what it means to have faith and do impossible things.  But without close looking, we miss the important middle step.  This is shown best in our reading in Numbers.  In Numbers, the nation of Israel had faith in God.  This did not result in an impossible task being accomplished by them.  Instead, this resulted in a daily obedience to God’s plan for them.  It involved them paying attention to what God was doing and then following God.  When they followed God, when they let their faith play out in radical obedience to His guidance and His plan, three impossible things occurred.  The first was that a nomad tribe of individual slaves was forged into a unified nation under God.  The second is they traveled through the desert, through a wasteland, and grew (and did not diminish) during that time.  And the third is that arrived at the land promised by God, at the place where God promised He would take them.  God is the one who did the impossible – Israel participated and received the benefits as a result of their obedience which came from faith.

With the mustard seed of faith, all things are possible because the outcome of faith is obedience (see our reading in Romans) and the outcome of obedience is that God does all the heavy lifting.

And God can do things that to us seem impossible.  And not only can He, but He does, every day.

All we have to do is tag along.


Readings for Friday, June 11th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Eccles. 11:9-12:14; Gal. 5:25-6:10; Matt. 16:21-28
    Psalms 69, 73

If there is such a thing in the Bible as important versus really important, today’s lesson from Ecclesiastes falls into the category of really important.  It is so important in fact that the writer begins Ecclesiastes 12:13 with a larger than normal Hebrew letter, emphasizing its importance.  The quote is:

"Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man.
For God will bring every deed into judgment …"
  Eccles.12:13-14 (NIV)

Solomon (the presumed writer of Ecclesiastes) has spent this entire book surveying man’s own perspective of his life and ends with the conclusion stated above.  So "all" about man has been "heard," and the conclusion is to fear God and keep His commandments, because ("for") He will bring our deeds into judgment.

If we have a duty (obligation) at work and we don’t do it, we get disciplined in some manner or perhaps do not share fully in the reward (raises, bonuses) which we might otherwise have received.

What is interesting in part in this passage is the NIV’s use of the brackets around "duty."  Normally, this suggests that the word may not be in the actual text, but is implied.  Personally, I like leaving it out, because to recognize that the fear of God and obedience to His commandments is the "whole of man" (it is all of man) takes it out of simple obedience or compliance (which we tend to do at work) and conveys a deeper meaning, that we do not achieve "wholeness" without (a) the fear of God (recognizing God comes first) and (b) from that fear or awe of God and the judgment to come, obedience to His commandments.  Unlike "Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs," (where man climbs the ladder of self-actualization), this truth dictates an acknowledgment that we are not God and a placement of ourselves under His instruction and under His commandments.

Our other readings today also reflect God’s revelation to us that we must put Him and His prescriptions for living (called commandments) above our own ideas about how to live.  Jesus says in Matthew, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." Matt. 16:24-25.  Wholeness is not achieved through works or simple obedience, but from a wholesale transformation of our life which comes when we realize that Jesus (God the Son) is the head, the boss, the truth, and the life.

Paul says the same thing when he essentially ends Galatians with this statement: "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation."  Gal. 6:15  Simple obedience is not good enough; it is obedience which comes from being a new creation, standing in proper relationship to God, which is fulfillment of the duty.

Simply offering God obedience to His commandments is not the fear of God, because if we truly have the fear (awe) of God, we would recognize that He is above and beyond us and we would bow down before Him as King.  If we had the fear of God, we would recognize that the judgment promised will occur.  The fear of God comes first, obedience comes from a heart which has the proper relationship to God, and then we are prepared for judgment.

The judgment to come, however, will be different for those who have rejected Jesus’ (God’s) offer of salvation and those who have accepted it.  To continue the work analogy, for those who have rejected Jesus’ offer of salvation, failure to do our duty will result in being fired by our boss and being thrown out of the office into a place where there is gnashing of teeth (Hell).  Those who have accepted Jesus will find that their judgment involves being denied a reward (like a raise or a bonus).

Three questions for today:

When you woke up this morning, did you begin your day fearing God?  If not, why not?

Are you so familiar with God’s Word (His commandments) that you know what your duty is?  Do you care what your duty is?

Knowing that you could die right now, are you ready for His judgment?


Bread – Suicide

June 8, 2010

Readings for Tuesday, June 8as
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Eccles. 8:14-9:10; Gal. 4:21-31; Matt. 15:29-39
    Psalms 61, 62, 68

Today is a tough day.  It has been made tougher by the reading this morning from Ecclesiastes 8:14:

"There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth; righteous men get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve.  This too, I say, is meaningless." (NIV)

When I read this passage this morning, I thought it would be impossible to deal with.  This may very well sum up the modern idea of relativism, that my truth is truth and your truth is truth, so why is anything different from anything else?  It certainly is used to support an argument for indulging in extreme addictions and sin.  You might be reading this and thinking, "if life is meaningless, then why bother?"  That is why this Bread is labeled "Suicide."  There are many ways to commit suicide and not all of them are immediate.  Bad diet, failure to exercise, drug addiction, overwork, and underwork all come to mind as possible long term suicide efforts.

And not once in this passage in Ecclesiastes is there a "but …"

But while I was being depressed, thinking about this passage from Ecclesiastes, I read another translation of the same thing:

"There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous.  I said that this also is vanity." (ESV)

In this translation, "meaningless" is converted to "vanity."  When you do this, your entire perspective changes because you realize that life is not "meaningless." It (life) just may appear to be meaningless to us in our vanity, insisting on our way, using our thoughts and ideas about what is right and wrong, substituting our judgment for God’s judgment about what is right and what is wrong, wallowing in our pride, self-interest, stubbornness, and sense of entitlement.

What is God’s perspective on whether life is "meaningless?"  I think the answer to that is built into two other readings today.  The first is from Psalm 61.  Listen to the cry of David as "his heart grows faint:”

"Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer.  From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe…you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.  Increase the days of the king’s life…"  Psalm 61:1-3, 5b-6a

David progresses from extreme depression and tiredness ("cry," "ends of the earth," "heart grows faint") to a request to God to give David God’s perspective ("rock that is higher than I") to a request that his days be extended ("increase the days..").  David knows that, on the rock which is higher than him (from God’s perspective), life is worth living and therefore asks that his days be extended, even though at the time of his request he may very well think that his life is meaningless.  He knows that this perception of how bad life is is his perception, born of vanity and his own mind.  In the midst of this depression, he asks God to extend his life, not end it.

The second reading is from Matthew 15 and is the familiar reading about Jesus miraculously feeding the 4,000 men, plus all the women and children with them, on seven loaves of bread and "as few small fish."

Sometimes lessons like this are so familiar that we fail to stop and take notice of them.  Stop and think about this for a minute.  Put yourself in the middle of where the men are.  They have just heard some wonderful teaching, but they are in the country, they have been with Jesus three days, and they have nothing to eat.  They have just seen great miracles, but they are hungry.  They were physically tired and they were hungry.  This is not the kind of "spiritual hunger" which we like to think about, but the kind of real hunger for real food which comes from an extended period of time without food (I think we can assume that, after three days, their picnic supplies were long gone).

Matthew reports that Jesus said "I have compassion for these people."  Jesus had compassion and He fed them.  This is after He healed many of them, "the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others."

So where does that bring us?  From our perspective, life may seem meaningless today.  We may very well see it that way because of our vanity.  We may very well see it that way because we have real needs, such as hunger.  We have two choices.  We can look through our own eyes and see a brick wall, or we can follow the model of David and ask God to take us to a higher place, to a rock upon which we can stand to see clearly the value of who we are in God’s eyes.  So valuable in fact that God sent Himself to earth to sacrifice Himself for us, that we might have life on earth and for eternity.  David, in response to God’s blessing in his life (in the midst of being "faint of heart"), asked God for more years on earth.  He saw what I pray you see, that in God’s eyes your life is meaningful.  Amen.


Bread – Vanity

June 4, 2010

Readings for Friday, June 4 as
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Eccles. 5:1-7; Gal. 3:15-22; Matt. 14:22-36
    Psalms 40, 51, 54

Have you ever thought about the appropriateness of the name which we call the table-mirror combination we stand or sit in front of every day – a "vanity?"  To be vain is "having or showing an excessively high regard of one’s self, looks, possessions, abilities, etc."  Webster’s New World Dictionary – Second College Edition (1976).  Surely every morning every one of us looks in the mirror and, in our most vain way, prepare ourselves for the day.

In our reading today from Ecclesiastes, there is a warning – "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.  Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools…Much dreaming and many words are meaningless.  Therefore stand in awe of God." (Eccles. 5:1, 7 [NIV])

Why do we use many words in our prayers and in our worship of God?  Do we really believe that we can argue God into submission?  Do we really believe that we are worthy to stand before God as equals, subjecting His revelation to the confines of our reason, our thoughts and desires?

Unfortunately, many of us do.  We go to prayer or go to worship and "offer the sacrifice of fools," using many meaningless words.  Solomon tells us to go before the Lord to listen.  But why would we listen when we know everything or at least know what God should do for us today?  Many times we don’t listen, we don’t stand in reverential fear before an awesome God – instead, we engage in a conversation of our choosing, using our wisdom and our words and our plans as the content and structure of the dialogue.  And, as a result, often there is no dialogue, no insight, no "spiritual blessing," no nothing.

In another translation of the Bible, there is a different wording of the same quote from Ecclesiastes.  This translation comes from the English Standard Version as follows:  "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.  To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools … For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear."  (Eccles. 5:1,7 [ESV]"

"When dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear."

There is one place on the throne, and it is either occupied by God or by me.  Of course, it can only be occupied by me in my dreams, because God is God and I am not.  But what vanity for me to believe I should occupy it, I am able to occupy it, or I am already occupying it!

Our vanity interferes with our worship of God.  It interferes with our communication with God.  It interferes with our ability to seize the benefits of the new life which Christ offers us.  It turns us into people who act from self-interest rather than love.  It turns us into people who would rather be thought of as nice than as truth-tellers.

There was a great Saturday Night Live skit where the comedian sat in front of the mirror and said something to the effect of "I’m smart, I’m good, I’m wonderful, and doggone it, people like me!"  We can stand in front of our vanity mirror in the morning and say the same thing, or we can say "Thank you Lord.  I’m ready to listen."

Which will it be for you today?


Bread – Opposition

June 2, 2010

Readings for Wednesday, June 2 as
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Eccles. 3:1-15; Gal. 2:11-21; Matt. 14:1-12
    Psalms 49, 53, 119:49-72

In today’s culture, "opposition" is being made a dirty word.  How dare you tell me how to live my life? (opposition to immorality, greed, dishonesty, etc.)  How dare you tell me that your truth is better than my truth? (opposition to falsehood, deception, etc.)  How dare you criticize my choices – if it is good enough for me it should be good enough for you? (opposition to stupidity, foolishness, error, etc.)

When we meet opposition, we generally have one of four reactions.  We retreat from it, we ignore it, we go around it, or we barrel over it.  Rarely, however, do we give it credibility.  Rarely do we engage it and wrestle with it.  Rarely do we consider the possibility that the opposition is justified and stop to think about how the opposing party may be right (a little).  This unwillingness to recognize even the glimmer of accuracy of criticism results in the attitude, prevalent throughout society today, that "I can’t be wrong; therefore, you must be."  We bemoan the polarization of sides and the incivility of public debate, but add little to the solution because "opposition" is a dirty word and, "How can I be wrong when I am so right?"

In today’s readings, we see opposition in many forms.  The first is Paul’s opposition to Peter and Peter’s injection into the salvation proclamation ("Salvation by faith alone in Christ alone") of a works requirement (obedience to the Law and the Jewish tradition).  Gal. 2:11-21.

The second is John the Baptist’s opposition to the sexual immorality displayed between Herod and Herodias, Herod’s brother’s wife.  Matt. 14:3-4.

The third is a list of oppositions we deal with in daily life set forth in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

The first example reflects necessary opposition within the church to the rise of bad doctrine.  The second reflects necessary opposition by Christians to the world and its standards, its ethics of behavior.  The third reflects the necessary opposition between extremes within our own lives, where we live in a constant tug-of-war between extremes of behavior, knowing that different times call for different behavior but also knowing that balance and appropriateness are desirable.

An interesting question to ask yourself is, what would you do if you were Peter and being opposed by Paul?  Would you insist upon your position as an apostle who knew Christ and therefore try to cram down your views on Paul?  Would you stomp off in a huff complaining that your "rights" were violated?  Would you accuse Paul of stupidity because it only "makes sense" that we should have to work for our salvation (after all, we have to work for everything else)?  Or would you consider what Paul has said and go to God in prayer, asking Him for wisdom and discernment of truth in the circumstances?  [read what actually happened in Acts 15]

What would you have done if you were Herod?  As it is, he ended up letting Herodias talk him into cutting off John’s head.  Would you have been so angry about John’s moralizing, about his interference in your private life, that you would have cut off his head?  You say that you are not that barbaric and, indeed, fear of the police might very well keep you from killing your opponent.  However, when you refuse to talk to a family member who has "interfered" with you or has "insulted" you, are you not engaged in a type of beheading?  Is our "cutting off" criticism different than Herod’s elimination of his opponent?

You will face much opposition today.  There will be people who will not listen to you because you are a Christian, because you are a woman, because you wear glasses, because you are in a wheelchair, because you are not of their ethnicity.  There will be people who will oppose you because you are wrong, because you are right, because you are you, and just because.

What will your reaction be?  The normal reactions would be to retreat, to ignore, to overrun, or to bypass.  But as Christians, we know we must engage, for we are commanded to proclaim the good news in and out of season and in the face of opposition and, after having done all, to stand.  Luckily, we do not have to do this by ourselves, but in the power of the Holy Spirit, with the wisdom, strength, love, and self-discipline God gives us in the circumstances.

Therefore our reaction to opposition?  Pray, stand, proclaim.  And let God take care of the results.


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