Bread – Summary

July 30, 2012


Readings for Monday, July 30 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Joshua 24:16-33; Rom. 16:1-16; Matt. 27:24-31; Psalms 56, 57, 58, 64, 65

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Psalm 56 today ends in this: “I must perform my vows to You, O God; I will render thank offerings to You. For You have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.” Ps. 56:12-13

The reason this Bread is called “Summary” is because in just two verses, God through David has summarized what He has done for us and what, in response, we “must” do in response to that. In two verses we see what it means to be a Christian, boiled down to essentials.

While this summary should begin with God, in fact it begins with man. What is man’s behavior and why does he or she behave that way? What is the primary motivator which causes a person to respond in a particular way? In this Psalm, David has been seized by the Philistines – “my enemies trample on me all day long.” Ps. 56:2 He is not in a good place. He is in danger of falling into fear and despair. He writes this Psalm in part as praise and thanksgiving, but also to remind himself in these difficult circumstances of whose he is (God’s) and, given that, how he should behave in bad circumstances (“In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” Ps. 56:4) (“I must perform my vows to you, O God.” Ps. 56:12). The summary begins with man because it is always we who are in trouble, we who doubt, we who wander off the path. The summary begins with man because it is man who is lost, or having been saved by God, is constantly wandering off.

So the summary begins with man because we are who we are – it is always about us, about our hurts, about our ills, about our difficulties, about our successes and failures, about our life. At least that is our perspective and it was David’s perspective.

So the summary today begins with David choosing to behave in a particular way – by being obedient to God’s desires in his life (“I must perform my vows to You, O God”) and by being thankful (“I will render thank offerings to You.”). The process of coming to Christ is a choice to obey – it is a choice to repent, it is a choice to proclaim that Christ is Lord and that He is risen from the dead, it is a choice to submit to the waters of baptism, it is a choice to join the family of God on earth and in heaven. The process of growth in Christ is a choice to obey His word, His standards, His purpose, His ways. “I must.” “I must” not because I am a slave in chains, ordered to do, but because I am free and by choice am sold out to the One who has made me free.

What is the reason that David (and we) “must?” It is “for [because] You [God] have delivered my soul from death… that I may walk before God in the light of life.” Ps. 56:13.

“You [God] have delivered my soul from death.” Because the focus of so much, including this Psalm, is on “me,” there may be a tendency to emphasize “my doing,” “my choice,” “my obedience,” “my response.” And is so doing we really miss this “because” phrase. “I must” because “You have.” “I can” because “You did.” The statement is “For You have delivered my soul from death.” I did not help You do this. I did not initiate the action of delivery by making a promise or by doing some act of religion. You, God, in Your sovereignty and as a result of the exercise of Your will for Your purposes took my soul, everything that I am, and You brought me from death unto life. What choice did I make in this process? I did not choose God but He chose me. In death, I had no ability to choose anything. In death there was no art or ability in me to bring me to life. Had it not been for God’s sovereign act of mercy to save me, I would still be dead.

Knowing that, “for” that reason, because of that, “I must.” Though I be surrounded by misery, death, imprisonment, discomfort, loss, disaster, difficulty, adversity, “I must perform my vows … I will render thank offerings…”

In today’s reading from Matthew, we are in the middle of the Passion. Pilate declares that he is innocent of the death of Jesus, but puts the State’s imprimatur on the proceedings anyway. In a self-curse, the people say “His [Jesus’] blood be on us and on our children.” Matt. 27:25. But what man intended for evil God intended for good, and so as a result we acknowledge today that His blood is on us. His blood covers us. “For You [Jesus] have delivered my soul from death…that I may walk before God in the light of life.”

Do I produce this “light of life?” No. God does so that I might walk in it. While I was still dead, Jesus took my soul, covered it in His blood, and raised me into the light of life. Therefore, I must.

That is the Christian story. David stuck to it. What about you?

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© 2012 GBF

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Bread – Mysteries

July 27, 2012


Readings for Friday, July 27 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Joshua 9:22-10:15; Rom. 15:14-24; Matt. 27:1-10; Psalms 40, 51, 54

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In today’s reading from Romans, Paul writes that he wants to visit the Roman church on his way to Spain, saying “I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped in my journey there for you…” Rom. 15:24

Nowhere in the New Testament is it recorded that Paul ever went to Spain. Nowhere in the New Testament is it recorded that he did not go to Spain or that the Holy Spirit told him not to go to Spain. Nothing is recorded about Spain. Nothing.

In my ESV Study Bible, there is s footnote that says “There is some historical evidence after the NT suggesting that Paul did preach in Spain, but it falls short of clear proof.” In other words, it is myth, story, oral tradition, with a few indirect scraps of writing, all of which makes for good theorizing but poor concluding.

So, in a spurt of curiosity, I went to that great engine of research, the Internet, where I found even more “connections” – to the founding of the Church in England, to Joseph of Arimathea, to the first Bishop of Rome, etcetera.

Now this is a mystery! And apparently, for some reason unknown to us, God has decided to leave it a mystery. And what are we to conclude from this? I think what we are to conclude is that there are some mysteries we will never get to the bottom of. We will not get there because they are mysteries. We will not get there because, at least for the time being, God has chosen for those things to remain in the twilight of knowledge. Close enough to titillate, far enough away to be a mystery.

Compare this to what is well-documented; what is historical. The birth of Jesus Christ; His death on the cross; His resurrection. His life, His death. Documents, places, times, circumstances, first hand witnesses. There is more evidence about Jesus Christ than most ancient history. With Jesus Christ we have the grist for great concluding and poor theorizing. It is hard to build a theory when the facts are there, when there is no mystery.

And yet, do you notice that we tend to make Jesus the mystery and make things like Paul’s trip to Spain the fact? We like to confuse and confound the truth so that it becomes the mystery, and then raise up our random musings about traces in the snow as the truth. We would rather grip tight to the notion that we can change iron into gold than engage the truth that the real gold came to earth as man, died for us, and is raised up so that we might dwell with Him in eternity.

Isn’t that the real mystery? The real mystery is not whether Paul went to Spain, England, Antarctica, or Timbuktu. The real mystery is why we ignore the truth, why we throw it away in exchange for the lie. The real mystery is why we buy what Satan and the world have to sell, why we buy fool’s gold when real gold is right there for the accepting. The real mystery is why we despise our birthright in Christ and sell it daily for a bowl of soup.

In today’s reading from Matthew, Jesus has been betrayed by Judas. Judas despised his birthright for thirty pieces of silver.

How many times today will we do the same thing? Why? That is the mystery.

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Deference

July 25, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, July 25 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Joshua 8:30-35; Rom. 14:13-23; Matt. 26:57-68; Psalms 49, 53, 119:49-72

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In Paul’s letter to the Roman church today, God through Paul says “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” Rom. 14:14-15

Earlier this week, I told someone that we always made great mistakes in planning for the lowest common denominator. By that, I meant that it was my opinion that we should always plan for excellence, not mediocrity, and we should not let the worse situation among us from dragging us down to their level.

And today I read this from Paul. Although admittedly Paul is making reference to a particular problem, what to do with food which had been sacrificed to idols (the “strong” in faith said “eat it;” the “weak” in faith said “don’t”), doesn’t his statement really have broader applicability? Isn’t Paul really saying that we should always behave in our Christian walk so that those who are “weak” in faith are not offended? Isn’t he really saying that we should adjust our behavior to the lowest common denominator?

So, like so much in life, what I think about something and what God thinks about it don’t quite line up. If only God would get it right!

Now I could (and many will) limit what Paul says to its circumstances (food sacrificed to idols), and by so limiting it neatly set Paul’s point into a tight corner which has little effect on my life. However, I know better and you know better. Paul is telling us not to exercise our freedom in Christ in ways which hurt those who do not have the same faith. He is telling us to defer to the weakest of our fellow Christian. He is telling us to love the weakest among us.

If we could analogize this to music, Paul is saying that those people who are excellent at music should slow down when someone is around who loves music, but who is not very good at it. Paul is saying that we should find such identity with those people who love music that we who are professionals should adjust our behavior to encourage those who are rank amateurs. The best professional in the room should adjust his focus and behavior to the most unaccomplished person, so that they are encouraged to increase their technique, their ability to produce good music and grow in love of it.

Now substitute the word “Jesus” for music. As Christians, if one of our brothers is convinced that worship only occurs on Sunday and we are of the understanding that worship occurs any day at any time, we should not cause offense to our brother by insisting that he go to church with us on Tuesday and forgo going to church on Sunday. Instead, we should encourage him to go to church on Sunday, every Sunday. We should do this not because we are wrong (or he is right), but because we love first the Lord and, because of that, our brother. We should defer to our brother or sister who needs deference. We should not be so ready to push our own agenda that we cause offense to our brother, who is struggling in the same direction toward the same Lord.

Elsewhere in Scripture Paul says to Timothy that the spirit of the Lord is reflected in power, self-control, and love. Isn’t the greatest power that which never has to be used, which is tamed? Isn’t the greatest form of self-control self-denial? Isn’t the greatest form of love the exercise of power and self-control to benefit another and not ourselves?

And isn’t doing what Paul says really the highest form of excellence? When we have the strength of conviction, the power of the Holy Spirit, the self-control from obedience to God, and the love which comes from Jesus who first loved us, when we are “excellent” in the faith, what better way to demonstrate it than to set it aside so that we do not “grieve” our brother or sister in Christ?

Is this so different from what Jesus has done for us? Did He not defer to our weakness, our bondage in sin, by coming to earth and taking upon Himself our burdens so that we might be free to love Him throughout eternity?

Am I right, that we should never sacrifice excellence for mediocrity in order to meet the needs of the lowest common denominator? Yes. But I am also wrong. Because we should never, ever forget to avoid actions which cause our brothers and sisters to stumble. If our brother invites us to church on Sunday because, for him, it is the only day to worship, we should gladly go knowing in our own mind that we can always go on Tuesday. It is the least we can do. Actually, given what Christ has done for us, it really is the very least we can do.

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Sequence

July 18, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, July 18 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Joshua 3:1-13; Rom. 11:25-36; Matt. 25:31-46; Psalms 38, 119:25-48

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From our reading in Joshua today: “…they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan…and they lodged there before they passed over.” Josh. 3:1

In this phrase there are three places mentioned. The first is where the people of Israel were, where they came from – Shittim. This was a place of great sexual immorality (Num. 25:1-3) and is a place where rampant disobedience to God occurred. The second is the place where they prepared for their journey – the bank of the Jordan River. The third is the place where the people were going, their destination – the Promised Land. This last place is not explicitly stated in this quote; it is implied from the words “passed over.”

The sequence here is important. In order to get to where the people wanted to go (the Promised Land), they had to move from where they were (the bad place, Shittim) and move temporarily to a new, neutral, location, where they could properly prepare for their journey into their destination. The movement was deliberate, from a bad place (Shittim) to a neutral place (a place of preparation) to a good place (the Promised Land). Israel did not immediately move from Shittim into the Promised Land; instead, they located an interim place where they could get ready.

So often, we want to leap immediately from our bad place into our destination, our good place, without realizing that effective movement from the bad place to the good place requires movement from the bad place to some other, middle, place first. As much as we want, we cannot move directly into our desired outcome without first leaving the bad place and moving to a middle ground, where we can shed the limitations of the old and prepare, get ready, for the new.

So, if a person is to move from the couch to a good job, they must first move from the couch to a place of preparation (like a training program) and, once prepared, can move from the place of preparation to the destination (a good job). If a person is to move from addiction to freedom, they must first move from the bad place (addiction) to the neutral place (where they can learn how to avoid falling into the trap of addiction) and, after a time of preparation, can “cross over” into living. If a person is to move from a bad relationship to a good relationship, they must first move away from the bad relationship to a place of neutrality, of “time out,” to regain their strength and to gain the skills necessary to nurture good relationships. Once prepared, they can then move from the place of preparation to the destination.

If you have moved from a bad place to what you thought would be a good place, but it has not worked out to be as good as you thought, perhaps it is because you have not followed the path of the Israelites – you forgot to stop off in the middle, for a time of preparation.

The Christian walk is one of movement and sequence. Where we are is not where we have been, and where we are is not where we will be. We have left Shittim and are camped out on the bank of the Jordan, preparing ourselves so that when God leads, we will follow into glory. We have left Shittim but we are not yet in the Promised Land.

But we are getting there.

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Bestrong

July 13, 2012


Readings for Friday, July 13 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 31:7-13, 24-32:4; Rom. 10:1-13; Matt. 24:15-31; Psalms 16, 17, 22

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Today I have coined a new word – “Bestrong.” I might have used the word “Livestrong,” but unfortunately that word is already trademarked.

Actually, it may not be unfortunate, because we cannot live properly until we “are” properly. We cannot “livestrong” until we “bestrong.”

Less you think I just invent this stuff, I am just quoting Moses. From our reading today in Deuteronomy: “…Be strong and courageous, …It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deut. 31:7b-8.

Moses is speaking to Joshua, who must now lead Israel into the Promised Land. Moses is reminding him that he can “bestrong,” not because of who he is, but because of who God is. “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Now, how can we begin the process to “bestrong?” The first is to recognize that there is a God and the second is to recognize that I am not Him. The second is to recognize who we are – not God, broken, lost, ineffective, sinful. The third is contained in our reading today from Paul in Romans: “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Rom. 10:9-10. God the Son went before us to do what we could not do, to die on the cross so that we could “bestrong,” to bring us to Him so that we can believe in our heart and confess with our mouth and therefore “bestrong,” so that we can receive the Holy Spirit and in the power of God the Holy Spirit “bestrong.” Joshua was a mighty warrior, skilled in the ways of the world. What he needed, however, to “bestrong” was the knowledge that it was not him who leads, but Him (the Lord) who leads.

But why a new word “Bestrong,” when the old words work just fine. One reason is to refocus us on who and what we must be in the evil day. There is a third reading today, Jesus speaking in Matthew these words: “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those …For then there will be great tribulation But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short…” Matt. 24:15-22.

As a side note, let us just stop to reflect on the miracle of the Word before us. Our readings today were organized a long time ago, maybe as long as 500 years ago. Today is Friday the 13th in a year of three Friday the 13ths which are 13 weeks apart. And yet today God’s sovereign Word, His present revelation to us, tells us what to do (be strong), how to do it (belief and confession in Jesus Christ), and for what purpose (to stand in the evil day, ready for His return). Amazing.

In the power of God who goes before us and is always with us, let us today bestrong.

In the power of God who has died for us and who has saved us, let us today bestrong.

In the power of God who has created us and all the earth, let us today bestrong.

In the power of God who, in His time, will return in glory, let us today bestrong.

In the power of God, bestrong. There is no other way.

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Identity

July 11, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, July 11 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 1:1-18; Rom. 9:1-18; Matt. 23:27-39; Psalms 12, 13, 14, 119:1-24

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What is your identity? How do you identify yourself?

Most people respond to these questions by talking about their immediate family history (I am the son of so-and-so) or, if they appreciate genealogy, maybe their older family history. They would also talk about their education, perhaps listing their degrees. They might talk about what they do for a living. They might talk about where they live or what country they originated from. They would also identify themselves by what groups they belong to, like churches (I am a Baptist) or unions (I am a Teamster) or social organizations (I am a Rotarian). Perhaps if we are particularly into our uniqueness, we would say something catchy like “I am me” or “I’m a Tigger and I’m the only one!”

By describing ourselves this way, we fall into the same error the people did who are mentioned into today’s Scripture excerpts. In Romans, Paul states unequivocally that “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” Rom. 9:6b In other words, although a person may be a Jew by birth, he or she may so reject the faith of Israel that they have no identity as Jews.

This is not to say that they are no longer affiliated as Jews; what it is to say is that by relying upon the birth relationship rather than the faith relationship, they have moved from identity (through faith) to affiliation (through birth).

In trying to answer the question of why we as Christians do not stand out of the pack, this distinction may offer some perspective. So many of us are members of a church with which we are affiliated, but we are not so transformed in our minds and our actions to be identified with Christ. We are content with the statement that “I am a Methodist,” without ever realizing that a declaration of affiliation has nothing to do with identity. Payment of the dues lets you put the affiliation on your résumé but does not reach the core of who you are. “Mental assent” creates the affiliation – “Heart assent” creates the identity.

Jesus speaks to this today in Matthew, where he says this to the scribes and Pharisees: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” Matt. 23:27. His audience are people who have not only declared their affiliation, but obtained their official certifications and titles (scribes and Pharisees). These are not ignorant people; they are well-educated in the best schools and are leaders of the people. Jesus points out, however, that their identity is false because they have equated their identity (who they really are) with their affiliations (who they appear to be). These are the people who had the right titles, the right degrees, the right family lineage, the right economic circumstances, the right positions, and the right opinions. But they were also the people who had a false identity, because it was built upon affiliations for show, and not faith for life. It was built upon the brain rather than the heart. It was built upon the wisdom of man rather than the wisdom of God.

So who are you? A doctor, a teacher, a Harvard graduate, a Lutheran? Or a sinner shown mercy by God, saved, grateful, transformed and being transformed? Before you retort that this is not an “either-or” choice but a “both-and,” think about this. Which has priority? The Pharisees believed that what they did and which family they were born into dictated who they were. Jesus says that who you are is, in reality, something different. Who do you think is right?

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Resist

July 6, 2012


Readings for Friday, July 6 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Num. 24:1-13; Rom. 8:12-17; Matt. 22:15-22; Psalms 140, 141, 142, 143

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The word “resist” means, in essence, to refrain from yielding to something. If someone is trying to push you over the edge of chasm and you resist that attempt, you are refraining from giving up to the force which would destroy you.

It seems like every minute of every day we are resisting something. Our spouse says something to make us angry. Do we yield to our natural instinct to strike back or do we resist our “old man” nature and instead love him or her? Our teacher says something which is immoral or amoral, or perhaps expresses a view of life or politics which we do not also share. Do we yield to the pressure of the classroom or do we resist by studying broader and harder so we can stand for something else? It is Sunday morning and time for church. Do we yield to the bed monsters or do we resist our natural laziness and go worship our Lord?

In our Scripture readings today, three forces are described which require the participants to either yield or resist. In each case, the man of God resists and does not yield. How they do it, though, suggests that resisting does not necessarily reflect itself in meanness and adversity; however, it always reflects itself in a refusal to yield to temptation.

In Numbers, we are still reading about Balaam, the prophet hired by the King of Moab to curse Israel and who does nothing of the kind. Instead, in the reading today, Balaam has now blessed Israel for the third time. Moab’s king, Balak, is now angry because he has paid Balaam for the curses, he has shown him hospitality, he has not yet killed him, and so he now “reasonably” expects Balaam to yield and to do what he has been paid to do. However, Balaam resists the demands of his boss by reminding his boss that, when Balak hired him, he told Balak’s representatives that he (Balaam) would never go against God [“Did I not tell your messengers whom you sent to me, ‘If Balak should give me his house full of silver and gold, I would not be able to go beyond the word of the Lord…?’” Num. 24:13]. Balak wanted Balaam to yield to Balak’s power; however, Balaam did not yield to Balak because Balaam had already yielded to a greater power. Here the resistance to power by Balaam began by speaking the truth from the beginning about what he (Balaam) would and would not do, and the resistance continued by continuing to say “no,” continuing to do what was right, and continuing to remind the tempter (Balak) what he (Balaam) had consistently and continuously said. Our resistance is aided by our consistency, from beginning to end. The tempters may still be mad at us, they may still make fun of us, but at the end of the day they cannot say they did not know.

In Romans, we don’t have a specific instance of resistance, but we do have a general commentary on it. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Rom. 8:13. If you yield to what you want to do, relying upon your lusts and desires, your end will not be pleasant; on the other hand, if you resist temptation in the power of the Holy Spirit given to you by God, you will live. From Balaam we learn to resist consistently; from Paul (Romans), we learn to resist using God’s power and not ours.

Finally, in Matthew, the Pharisees ask Jesus whether they should pay taxes to Caesar. The Pharisees were giving Jesus essentially two options to choose from – declare that Caesar is owed taxes and therefore yield to the government over God, or declare that Caesar is not owed taxes and therefore yield to God over Caesar. Jesus, recognizing the trap which has been laid, resists this false choice and declares a third option – if Caesar owns it, give it to him; if God owns it, give it to God. Effective resistance often requires us to reject the false choices which society gives us and to map, with God’s help, another way. If Balaam teaches us to resist consistently and if Paul teaches us to resist with God’s power and not ours, then Jesus teaches us to be wise in our resistance and to not be anxious to accept the world’s choices as the only choices.

Resist consistently. Resist wisely. Resist with the power of the Holy Spirit.

What is consistent about these? The necessity to resist. The necessity to stand in the evil day. The necessity to say “no” to the world and “yes” to Jesus. The necessity to “Stand up, stand up, for Jesus….”

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Contrary

July 4, 2012


Readings for Wednesday, July 4 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Num. 22:41-23:12; Rom. 7:13-25; Matt. 21:33-46; Psalms 119:145-176, 128, 129, 130

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Do we act contrary to God? Probably in more ways than we can imagine. The focus today however is a particular point of contrariness, where we attempt to curse what God has blessed.

For example, God has blessed marriage between a man and a woman. And yet we curse marriage all the time. Inside of marriage we curse it when we want out. Outside of marriage we curse it when we help marriages break up. As a society we curse it when we make it easier and easier to break up what God has blessed. As a culture we curse it when we say there is a better, more inclusive way – civil unions or the redefinition of marriage as a union between two people, whether or not the couple is a man and a woman.

As another example, it is clear that God has blessed this country. Yet we curse the blessing every day in the way we treat each other, the way we ignore our obligations as citizens, the way we refuse to learn the underpinnings of economy and liberty, when we don’t vote, when we take from others what we could earn ourselves, when we pass off our duty of love to the government, where there is no love, so that we don’t have to personally mess with it.

Why bring this up today? Part of it is because this is July 4th, where we supposedly celebrate the blessing. But the big reason is because this topic is raised by our Scripture readings today.

In Numbers, Balaam has now been induced by the king of Moab to come and curse Israel. Balaam makes a big show and then goes off to a quiet place to listen to the Lord. After he returns, he blesses Israel instead. What he says applies to our discussion – “How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?” Num. 23:8. Here we have an example of contrariness to the world based upon trust in God. Balaam has been paid by Moab’s king to do a job, he has come to do that job, and he is surrounded by Moab soldiers and citizens. This is not a good place (in worldly eyes) to say “No.” But that is just what Balaam does. He stands with the Lord’s instructions, with His truth, and with His blessing. He refuses to curse what God has blessed. In so doing he has acted contrary to the world and in line with God. He will not oppose what God has blessed.

In Matthew, Jesus speaks of the vineyard and the tenants. The father owns the vineyard and lets the tenants occupy it in exchange for the tenants using the blessing and returning a portion of the blessing to God. The tenants decide to keep it themselves, despising the blessing and in the process cursing both the blessing and God. God sends them prophets and righteous people who represent Him, and the tenants kill them all. Finally, God sends His Son, thinking that the people will honor such a great blessing. The tenants in turn kill the Son, believing that by getting rid of this person that the curse on the blessing will be complete and they will inherit the vineyard. Instead, of course, God takes their contrariness, their rebellion, for what it is and destroys them.

Supporting who and what God has blessed may be dangerous in the circumstances, because society does not want the things of God and you may be surrounded by people who hate Who you stand for and What you stand for. Being contrary to Satan is not fun, but being contrary to God is worse. The contrarians who held the vineyard against God, who despised the blessing which God has given them and cursed it instead, ended up being themselves cursed by God and put to a “miserable death.” Matt. 21:41

We are always contrary to something. If we choose the good we are contrary to the bad. If we choose life we are contrary to death. If we choose the ways of the world we are contrary to the ways of God. If we are contrary to the blessing then we are cursing the blessing.

There is no neutrality. So, who and what are you contrary to? Answering that question will also tell you whether you are cursing what God has blessed.

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© 2012 GBF

Bread – Mistakes

July 2, 2012


Readings for Monday, July 2 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Num. 22:1-21; Rom. 6:12-23; Matt. 21:12-22; Psalm 106

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There is a saying that goes something like this – “How do you avoid mistakes? From experience. How do you get experience? From mistakes.”

This seems to work from a casual perspective, but it does not work if our fundamental world view, how fundamental answers about how life works, about our purpose, about who we are, is mistaken. The reason is that from mistaken assumptions come mistaken conclusions, and often the assumptions are so intertwined with our fabric of living that we cannot see clearly the assumptions from which we operate. Mistakes made as to which worldview we adopt have catastrophic consequences. And we are warned that we may not see these consequences until we die, at which time it is too late.

Our readings today from God’s revelation to us in His Word speak volumes about the results of mistaken world view.

In Numbers, Israel has camped outside of Moab. The Moab king, Balak, has an answer – he will go get Balaam, a famous divine, to come and curse them. The problem is that Balak has a world view which is mistaken, and from that world view he makes erroneous conclusions. This mistake is seen in this quote: “And Moab was in great dread of the people [Israel], because they were many.” Num. 22:3. Notice the error. Moab never recognizes that Israel did not receive its strength from numbers, but from God. It was God which Moab and its king, Balak, should dread, not their numbers. Balak had what we might call a scientific world view. From his stance he could see lots of people. From his education and experience, he could understand being overwhelmed militarily by numbers. He had no basis from which to understand Israel’s source of true power, and he had no desire to figure it out either. Even when Balaam says the first time he is asked that he will not come to curse Israel because God has told him that Israel is blessed, Balak doubles down on his worldview and just figures that Balaam wants more money. Balak doubled down in error because his worldview was in error.

In Romans, Paul is still talking about obedience caused by the requirements of the Law as opposed to obedience which arises from appreciation of God’s free gift to us in Jesus Christ. Paul states quite clearly that we are always obedient to something or someone. We are obedient to external force (the Law), we are obedient to ourselves (selfishness or the lusts of the flesh), or we are obedient because Jesus Christ rules in our lives. To whomever or whatever we are obedient, we are slaves. If obedient to sin, we are slaves to sin. If obedient to socialism, we are slaves to socialism. If obedient to rules, we are slaves to law. If obedient to Jesus Christ, we are slaves to Him. The difference among these, of course, is that Jesus’ burden is light, whereas the burden of the others is heavy. In the others we are truly slaves; with Jesus Christ we are obedient by choice, out of love and gratitude for the person who has saved us and rescued us and sustains us. Paul’s point is that we are obedient unto something, and we can make some dreadful mistakes in who or what we are obedient to. You might say that Paul is distinguishing between a religious world view and a Christian world view. The religious world view assumes that we only get to heaven by obedience to the rules of the religion; a Christian world view knows that we only get to heaven by relationship with God established through Jesus Christ. A religious world view holds that you can make it to heaven on your own, through good works; a Christian world view holds that you can never get to heaven on your own, no matter what you do. From the religious world view, mistakes are made in the assumptions and dreadful mistakes are made in the conclusions.

In Matthew, Jesus has just taken on the money-changers in the Temple. One might think of the money-changers as representing the economic world view – wealth comes from hard work, investment over time, and shrewd dealing (buy low, sell high). The economic world view corrupts the Christian worldview by substituting money for wealth, by substituting activity for relationship, and by substituting possessions for love. The economic world view was polluting the Temple, and Jesus rightly casts it out, saying that the Temple was a place of prayer, a place of relationship, a place of love. The economic world view says “First, seek a good job.” The Christian worldview says, “First, seek the kingdom of God.” The assumption that the purpose of life is wealth acquisition is a mistake; and the conclusions from that fundamental error are themselves great errors.

Which worldview do you hold? A scientific world view, where nothing can be believed unless seen and the only wisdom is in the university? A religious world view, where obedience to the rules of the congregation are of utmost importance and the arbiter of life is the Church? An economic worldview where acquisition is what it is about, and the person who dies with the most toys wins?

If we were honest with ourselves, we probably reflect elements of all three worldviews – scientific, religious, and economic. And we make terrible mistakes in doing so.

What would life be like if we truly lived in the Christian worldview? Would we begin every day in relationship with our parents, our spouse, our family, our friends, our God? Would we work on those throughout the day? Would we end our day with them? Would we see miracles, every day, both in “circumstances,” and in people? Would we live a life of wonder and gratitude? Would we live a life of obedience, honor, and integrity, not because we can or because we have to but because we have the power of God to do so and want to glorify our Lord in what we do and say? Would we find rest?

If this last set of questions attracts you but you are not experiencing them, then maybe you can use your experiences to test whether you have made mistakes, and from the knowledge of those mistakes choose wisely. Because there is a choice.

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