Bread – Seasons

June 30, 2015


Readings for Tuesday, June 30, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 11:1-15; Acts 8:1-13; Luke 22:63-71; Psalms 120-127

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I hesitated to write Bread today because (a) I did not know what Scriptures the Lord would provide today through the Book of Common Prayer and (b) I was afraid that I might have to write about the events of the last week, where five members of the United States Supreme Court elevated themselves over God to redefine what the word “marriage” means for society. Although they did not say (yet) that this definition applies to people of faith, it probably will because, although we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, we live in Rome.

The three readings today illustrate three responses to the actions of the world. Which one is right for today?

In the first reading, a group of Israelites is overrun by pagans and wants to give up, but when they hear the terms of surrender (gouge out their right eye), they ask for help from the rest of Israel. “And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled…Then the dread of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one man…And the next day … they [Saul and the Israelites] came into the midst of the camp [of the Ammorites, the pagans] … and struck down the Ammorites …” 1 Sam. 11:6-11. Here, the men of God were called to war against evil by the Spirit of God. There is a time and place historically for war with the weapons of war, but we need to remember that this is Old Testament teaching and Christ has advised us to forgive first and, when struck, to turn the other cheek. So holy war is probably not the appropriate response unless and until we as Christians hear the clarion call of the Holy Spirit. When (and if) that happens, it will not be subject to debate because “the dread of the Lord” will fall upon “the people” and it will be obvious.

In the second reading from Acts, Saul (another one, later to be renamed Paul), has authorized the killing of Stephen, a Christian. “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered … But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the Word.” Acts 8:1-4. Here we see that, notwithstanding exile and other bad consequences, Christians continued to live as Christians, “preaching the Word” where they ended up. Stephen’s death did not affect them, exile did not affect them, imprisonment did not affect them – their belief was solid and continued through adversity, and by their lives and proclamation of the Word they did not flinch from letting it be known who and whose they were. This is Christian living, citizens of the Kingdom of God living in Rome. It is unapologetic and unrelenting. During this time, while under direct and consistent attack, the Christian community gets stronger, not weaker, and the proclamation of Christ becomes bolder, not softer. Elsewhere in Scripture, this form of living is called “standing” (“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil…Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” Eph. 6:10-13).

The third reading is from Luke, where Jesus has been taken, held, ridiculed, set for trial and, as we know, destined for death on the cross. Lk. 22:63-71. As followers of Christ, should we expect better?

In the seasons of our life as a Christian, we may be called to fight, to stand, and/or to die. Which one will it be in this season of the exaltation of man’s thought over God’s Word?

I don’t know, but I do know this. In season or out of season, God is sovereign, His Word is the touchstone for how I and His people should live their lives, and Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and that there are no other ways to eternal life but with, in and through Him. And that is true whether we are in the season of war, of standing, or of imprisonment and death. And that is true whether Caesar, the Supreme Court, or the majority of the people agree or not.

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© 2015 GBF

Bread — Fear

June 23, 2015


Readings for Tuesday, June 23, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 6:1-16; Acts 5:27-42; Luke 21:37-22:13; Psalms 94, 95, 97, 99, 100

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Who do you fear?

This is actually a more profound question than may first appear. In fact, it is the topic of all three of our readings today.

In Samuel, the infidel Philistines feared God and so did what was right before God, even though their religious system did not recognize Him, and they returned the stolen ark to Israel, along with a “guilt offering” for their trespass.

In Acts, Gamaliel, “a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people,” sort of fears God and so he counsels the Jewish council to release the apostles from capture because “if this [the apostles’/Jesus’] plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” Acts 5:34,38-39. Gamaliel knew God well enough and feared Him enough that he knew that God was in control of the outcome and to avoid being opposed to God’s work. Here, Gamaliel did not necessarily “help” God by returning the ark (the apostles) but feared God enough to not oppose Him by keeping the apostles either.

And then, finally, there is our reading from Luke where “the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put Him [Jesus] to death, for they feared the people.” Lk. 22:2. The people were following Jesus rather than them, they feared “the people” and their loss of power and position, and they struck back against God to protect themselves.

In these three readings we are confronted with a certain reality. Those of us who claim Christ, may attend church from time to time, may participate in a “Bible study” as much for its social benefit as its revelation of the Word, and believe that “fundamentalism” is dead or dying because the church needs to “change” to reflect “reality,” really do take Him for granted. Those of us in that category are more afraid of what people may think of us than what God thinks of us; we are more afraid of disgrace, condemnation, death and imprisonment at the hands of man rather than eternal damnation at the hand of God.

Do we, so-called Christians, really fear God. How is it that the unbeliever (the Philistines) and the works-believer (Gamaliel) fear our God more than we do, we who claim to know Him and worship Him and love Him?

We don’t like to use the word “fear” because it is a negative word. If we fear God, the thinking goes, then we will want to run away from Him and not run toward Him. I suggest that the opposite is true. When we truly fear God, what is brought home is the grace-mercy by which we have been saved. When we truly fear God, the enormity of what God did for us on the cross is brought home. When we truly fear God, we have faith in our future because we know that a fearsome God fights for us and will deliver us. A so-so God may not keep His promise; a strong, fearsome God will always keep His promise because it is His nature. The very things which make God fearsome are those things which make Him Lord, Savior, and Redeemer.

So, who do we fear? Man or God.

Choose wisely.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Poverty

June 19, 2015


Readings for Thursday, June 18, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 2:27-36; Acts 2:22-36; Luke 20:41-21:4; Psalms 34, 85, 86

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There was a boy, about seven or eight years old, who had nothing. He received a cookie as a gift and immediately proceeded to break it apart and give the pieces to other children around him who also had nothing until he had one small piece left for himself. Seeing me sitting on a rock close by, he came toward me, broke his little piece even further in half, and gave me the piece and smiled.

That, my friends and readers, is a true story and it happened to me on a mission trip in Peru. In that one instant I saw our Lord’s instruction regarding the widow and her gift to the Lord contained in our reading today from Luke in its full reality. Out of his poverty the boy gave generously to me, a person who has everything. In that place in Peru, my wealth, which is average in the United States, would be staggering … and I was proud to give chump change to God’s work in Peru.

In another reading which was in Bread earlier this year, Jesus says of people like me, with many possessions, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” Mk. 10:23. In response to Jesus’ description of the almost impossibility of such, the disciples as Him “Then who can be saved?” And Jesus answers “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Mk. 10:27

As I meditated on this today, it struck me that those who have wealth can certainly drive themselves to poverty, but is that what Jesus is really saying in today’s reading and from the reading in Mark? I don’t think so, but the widow giving out of poverty is more important to God than giving out of wealth.

So where does that leave us? Well, there is more than one kind of wealth and more than one kind of poverty. When Jesus talks about “poor in spirit,” isn’t he really talking about a poverty in spirit? And don’t we have wealth in spirit, called “self,” “selfish,” “self-reliant” and the like?

And we can achieve poverty in spirit. How? By recognizing that everything we have is from God, that all of our works which proceed from sin are filthy rags before God, that we have no power to save ourselves by choice or otherwise. Maybe driving us to poverty in spirit is what is meant in part by “repentance.”

And once we have reached the bottom of our spirit, when we have realized that strength in self is an illusion, at that point we can throw ourselves in the offering plate and say “Jesus, take me, poor though I am.” And at that point He will, because He honors the widow’s mite, He honors the poor in spirit who offer themselves as a living sacrifice.

How do we get to this point? With man it is impossible, but not with God – for all things are possible with God.

Come Holy Spirit and fill us with a spirit of poverty so that we may be ready and willing to receive the gifts of love, of power, of self-control, of life which You have ready for us when we are ready.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Lent

June 16, 2015


Readings for Tuesday, June 16, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Sam. 1:21-2:11; Acts 1:15-26; Luke 20:19-26; Psalm 78

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In today’s reading from 1 Samuel, we find Hannah with the child Samuel who has not yet been weaned. Hannah was barren, but the Lord heard her prayer and brought her Samuel. “Samuel” means “I have asked for him from the Lord.” 1 Sam. 1:20

This is where our reading begins. Hannah is breast-feeding her baby and tells her husband that she will to up to the house of the Lord (then at Shiloh) once he is weaned.

At Shiloh, she (with baby Samuel) go to the chief priest Eli and says “For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to Him. Therefore, I have lent him (Samuel) to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” 1 Sam. 1:27-28

Before we move on, let’s think for a minute about what happened. There is a tendency with these shorter narratives to burn right through them. In literally a few sentences, Hannah went from barren to bearing a male child, her first, to letting him breast feed from her (firmly establishing the mother-son relationship if it wasn’t before), and then “lending” him to the Lord. We know that Samuel stayed with Eli and became a prophet of God; therefore, the “loan” has more elements of permanency than a “loan” would typically imply.

What a tremendous sacrifice! How heartbroken must she have been to give up her just weaned son for the Lord! Most people would have been broken, but she was not. Immediately following her “loan” she begins a prayer with this – “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord …” 1 Sam. 2:1

Now I started this Bread off with the word “sacrifice” but changed it to “lent” for a reason. I was impressed by how sacrificial her gift was compared to my meager, self-centered, leftover offerings to God, and I was ready to talk about that, but something bothered me about the word “lent.” I could have sworn that that was not the word I had seen in earlier readings. So I looked at an NASB Bible, and sure enough the word used was “dedicate,” which is what I remembered and is what made sense to me. “Dedication” has a more permanent air to it than “lent” and therefore “fits” the passage better. However, the word “dedicate” was footnoted in my NASB and the footnote said “Literally, ‘lent’.” So the direct and best translation is “lent” and not “dedicate.”

This got me more curious so I looked up the Hebrew definition. The Hebrew word in its primary sense means “To inquire, to ask, to entreat, to beg, to borrow, to ask for oneself, to consult.” (OT word definition 7592 as referenced in Hebrew-Greek Study Bible, NASB, Ed. Zodhiates (AMG 1990)).

So the “lending” of Samuel to the Lord by Hannah is a form of inquiry prayer, of asking God for help or wisdom or knowledge.

How the Word ties together! We cannot effectively pray until we are ready to sacrifice ourselves by “lending” ourselves to God’s will and His work. We cannot effectively worship until we have first “lent” ourselves to God. In order to receive answer to prayer, we need to be ready to give up those things which bind us – wealth, power, position, self.

When we are ready to give up what we most want, we are ready to receive what we most need.

Hannah did that. Will we?

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Sinewave

June 12, 2015


Readings for Thursday, June 11, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: *; 2 Cor. 12:1-10; Luke 19:28-40; Psalms 70, 71, 74

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I don’t know if “sine” and “wave” can be combined to form a single word, “sinewave,” but I did it anyway for today’s Bread.

When I was first introduced to sine waves in college, I always thought they were neat. There is the curve which goes up to the top, beginning slowly and then speeding up at first and then slower, followed by the crash to the bottom, slow at first and then faster – only to reach the bottom and repeat the process. There was always a middle point, a line, around which the sinewave would go up and down.

In our readings today from both Luke and 2 Corinthians, both Paul and Luke report the existence of lives lived around the cycle of ups and downs, where the ups are really high and the downs are really low.

In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he describes the height of being caught up in the third heaven, into paradise, where he experience things and heard things which were too wonderful and powerful to be repeated. He then goes on to describe the valley which followed, where he was given a “thorn .. in the flesh,” which was so bad that he prayed three times to be relieved from it, only to hear from God …”No.”

In Luke’s gospel, Luke recounts Jesus’ grand entry into Jerusalem where he was given a king’s reception by the crowd, throwing their cloaks on the road and proclaiming “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” Lk. 19:38. Of course we know that from this high point on the sine wave of life, Jesus crashes to the lowest point on the cross, abandoned by all after having been praised by all.

There are some who believe that the Christian life involves the leveling out of the sinewave of experience, putting us into a warm soup of friendship, joy, hope, blessing, and love. Instead the exact opposite is true. The Christian life accentuates the sinewave, taking us to unimaginable heights of revelation and glory and bringing us back to the crassness of our own sin and the sorrowful state of the world around us. The Christian whom God has freed from death to live now lives on the edge because, in his or her ability to love mightily, he or she has the opportunity to ascend to greatest heights and to descend to the greatest depths.

But as I mentioned before, the sinewave operates around a center point, a line. If that line is Christ, the highs may be higher and the lows may be lower, but the sinewave itself is stable because it is rotating around a stable center, a sure promise. In fact, if one were to stand off from our lives in Christ and look at them in time, one would realize that the line around which the highs and lows of life operates is actually ascending. From beginning to end that line runs toward that place of the saints, from dust to eternal life. The lows of the valleys may be low, but they are never quite as low as they were before Christ. The elevator so to speak is going up, so that maybe all we can see is that particular place on the sinewave we are (going up either slow or fast or going down either slow or fast), but what we cannot see but sense is that the center line is rising.

On the other hand, if we do not have Christ as our center line, we are still rotating around a center, but our highs are lower and our lows are lower still until we hit bottom – judgment and eternal death.

We may want to level out the highs and the lows because both are scary places to be for different reasons, but the fact is that God the Father even today in His Word shows us that neither Paul, His apostle, nor Jesus, His Son, were spared the sinewave of life. So our life will have its ups and downs no matter what.

The question is not whether we will have highs and lows. The question is the direction of the line around which the sinewave moves. Is it going up, down, or nowhere?

In our reading from Psalm 70 today, the psalmist says “Make haste, O God, to deliver me! O Lord, make haste to help me!” Ps. 70:1 How often have we said that when we are so high up on the top of the sinewave that we are fearful of crashing? How often have we said that when we are so low at the bottom of the sinewave that we despair of ever returning to normal?

At that time, at the time of crying out to the Lord “Make haste,” is the center line going up, down, or nowhere? The subjective evidence is that it is going down or nowhere.

The objective evidence is that it is going up. Why? Look who you are praying to; look who you are relying upon.

Our feelings about whether we are going up or down in life are merely based upon where on the particular sine wave we are today and are therefore untrustworthy measures of our real direction.

The only real measure of our real direction is who we are asking to “make haste” to help us.

I can say “O Lord, make haste to help me!” because I am on the up escalator cycling up or down depending upon where on the sinewave of my life I am, but pressing forward to the top floor from whence cometh my help.

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© 2015 GBF

Bread — Weak

June 9, 2015


Readings for Tuesday, June 9, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 30:11-20; 2 Cor. 11:1-21a; Luke 19:1-10; Psalms 61, 62, 68

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From our reading today in Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth: “For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!” 2 Cor. 11:19-21a.

When I was in school, we had many, many debates going late into the night about politics, various courses and professors, sports, and religion. Side by side with debates over whether we should be in Vietnam (today, that would be Iraq), we had debates over whether the “Virgin Mary” had to be a virgin when she bore Jesus.

We who were full of our education and full of ourselves readily argued like we knew what we were talking about. We were “wise” ourselves.

How much of that still goes on? Don’t we consider ourselves smart (wise, educated, knowledgeable) about science, literature, the nature of man, psychology, medicine, computers, technology, and, yes, religion? And because we are wise in the say the world is wise, we listen to other people who also sound wise to our ears. We listen to the great philosophers, the politicians, the experts, the professionals, the consultants, the salesmen, the people in authority, the people who speak authoritatively.

We listen to all of these people. We listen to fools.

And because we can rationalize, because we are on first, because we are pumped up with ourselves, we put up with the dictates of society – we let ourselves be enslaved (by television, by Apple, by government, by scientists, by the academy, by books, by music, by what other [more respected] people say); we put up with being consumed (devoured) by busyness and the commands of culture and business; we love to be around people who put on airs and we like to dress up for the occasion too, showing the world that we too have a suit or maybe even a tuxedo, wearing our fine clothes and finer jewelry; and we put up with people assaulting us with their advertising and their demands.

Why do we let these things happen? Paul’s answer is that it begins with us thinking ourselves as wise and therefore discerning and therefore capable of fighting the world on its terms.

What is the antidote to this misery? “I am too weak for that.” The strength we have from God is multiplied in our weakness and set aside when we are acting in our own strength.

The Bible is clear that when we are weak we are strong in Christ. We do not choose Christ, but He chose us (which when you think about it is the weakest thing we could ever say…that we had nothing to do with our salvation).

When we are weak we talk to God in prayer because we need Him for everything. When we are wise we get to ask the question “What is truth?” and miss the answer which is right before us but which we cannot see because at the very moment we are most wise in the world, we are most foolish for Godly things.

When we are weak we rest in the Almighty; when we are wise we rest in the newspaper, in our beds.

So we are beset on every side, worn down, beaten by the world. What is the solution? The world says be strong. Christ says be weak.

Who are you going to listen to?

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Lord

June 5, 2015


Readings for Friday, June 5, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 26:1-11; 2 Cor. 8:16-24; Luke 18:9-14; Psalms 40, 51, 54

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Recently I have been confronted with taking the Bible translation (in my case today, the ESV), reading it in its plain meaning, adopting the meaning of the word used which I understand the meaning today to be in present English (or in my assumptions), thinking that I know what I am talking about, and then researching the word in its Greek or Hebrew form and realizing that I was losing much of the meaning because I thought I understood what the English word meant.

Something like that happened today in our reading from 2 Corinthians. In this reading, Paul writes “…for we aim for what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man” [ESV translation] and “…for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. “ [NASB translation].

Now, reading this, I was going to write on the fact that honorable behavior can be seen as such by both the Lord and by man and that when we behave in a way which is honorable to the Lord it is likely also to be considered honorable by man (remembering that just because behavior is considered honorable by man does not mean that it is appreciated or recognized by man; you can be honorable and still in jail because as a Christian you are adverse to the purveyors of lies).

So in preparation for that I started looking words up which were underlined in my study bible and which were in this phrase, and lo and behold I found out that the word translated “Lord” is not what I thought it was.

When I see the word “Lord,” I think of position and not character; I think of Lord as Jesus Christ and not standing for a particular aspect of Jesus’ character. And yet in the use of the underlying Greek word translated to “Lord,” there is an implicit recognition of a particular character which is good for us to remember in our walk with Christ.

See, the word translated “Lord” in our reading today is the Greek word “Kurlos” which means the “lord” wielding power and authority for good. The direct opposite in the Greek is “Despotēs” which means a lord [despot] wielding authority over slaves. The word used for “Lord” in today’s reading conveys so much about our relationship with Christ and who He is. We obey Him because we want to, not because we have to. We follow His path because we believe in His promise that it is the right path, not because we are whipped mercilessly if we disobey. When our Lord corrects us, it is for our good end; when the despot correct his slaves, it is for his good end. Our Lord gives His power to us for daily living; the despot takes power from us to use in his daily living. Our Lord gives us talents and tells us to work the fields because the harvest is ripe; the despot takes our talents and forces us to work the fields. In Christ and beneath Christ and through Christ, we are to live freely and with hope. Beneath a despot, we live as slaves with no hope. Beneath Christ as our Lord, as our “Kurlos,” we will live forever. Under the despot Satan, as our “Despotēs,” we will die.

All this from one word.

What treasures await us in God’s Word if we will but stop from time to time on a single word, in a single phrase, and ask ourselves simply “What does this really mean.”

What does the word “Lord” really mean?

To many, it would seem that bowing the knee to God in submission is a step toward slavery. Because Christ is “Kurlos,” it actually means a step toward goodness and freedom. Knowing that, why would anyone choose to be slave to the despot?

I think it is because the despot speaks to our mind, saying “Why subject yourself to the Lord who wields power for good when you are good yourself?”

But as Jesus reminds us in today’s reading, “No one is good except God alone.” Lk. 18:19

Now, just stop for a minute and marvel at the unity of God’s Word. In the translation, “good” is mentioned only In today’s reading from Luke, when Christ reminds us that only God is good. In the middle of literally nowhere in Corinthians, when Paul is talking about honesty with handling money, the translated word “Lord” really means a Lord who wields authority power for good. Only God is good. The Lord who wields power for good can do so because He is God. Christ is God.

And, now, based upon just a few minutes of investigation into God’s Word, I now see that, everywhere I see the word “Lord” in a translation, I need to think “Lord wielding power for good.”

Leaves you with a good feeling for this weekend, doesn’t it?

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Says

June 1, 2015


Readings for Monday, June 1, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 11:13-19; 2 Cor. 5:11-6:2; Luke 17:1-10; Psalms 41.44,52

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In today’s reading from Luke, Christ says “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:3b-4

This is a familiar saying and so when I read it, I almost moved on, but then my eyes caught the word “saying.” To paraphrase, it appears that if my brothers says “I repent,” then I am commanded to forgive him (“you must forgive him”).

My grandson the other day tried to hit me in the head with a hard toy. His mother said to my grandson, “tell him [me] you are sorry.” He came over and gave me a big hug, but he would not say that he was sorry. At the second instruction from his mother to tell me that he was sorry for trying to hit me with a toy, he came over, gave me a big hug, and kissed me, but he still did not say he was sorry. On the third instruction, he came up to me and muttered ‘Sorry,’ quickly spun around, and ran off.

Now he said he was ‘sorry,’ but did he mean it? He hugged me because he loved me and he kissed me for the same reason. But he deliberately through the hard toy at my head to see if he could hit me and he was not in the least sorry that he had thrown it, although I suspect he was sorry he had missed. Did he “repent” of his “sin?” No, but he said “Sorry” (in religious terms he said “I repent”) and, because he said it (and not because he actually was sorry), I am commanded by Christ to forgive him.

We say things all the time we don’t mean. We say “I’m sorry” when we are not sorry. We say “I’m fine” when we are not fine at all. We smile at someone while saying the nicest things, while thinking the exact opposite.

Just because we say we repent of our offense does not mean that we have repented, intend to repent, or ever will repent. We know this and we can see it in actual tone of voice, body position, and by what is done later by the same person. When a person says “I repent” of doing a bad thing and then repeats that bad thing ten minutes later, it is probably fair to say that they have not repented (acknowledged sin and turned away from that sin) but have only said so.

But even if they are just “saying” “I repent,” we are commanded to forgive them. Jesus in this passage does not say to judge the truthfulness of the statement or inspect the fruit of repentance to see if the deeds line up with the statement. If he (or she) simply says “I repent,” we are to forgive him.

Why? One answer might be that we are not to judge the motives or reality of what is said, but merely to take it at face value. This objection against judging is the world speaking, but maybe God is saying that we should just take the truth of what we are told at face value. Another answer might be along the same lines, which is that we should leave judging the heart to God and, therefore, take everything at face value. In the first explanation, if a person says “I repent,” but does not, that is on him and not us – we are to forgive and forget because we are not to judge. In the second explanation, if a person says “I repent,” but does not, that is on him and not us – we are to forgive and forget because God is the judge. The first alternative absolves us of all responsibility for judging; the second alternative passes that responsibility to God.

But there is a third answer to the question which is contained in the passage quoted. Jesus begins this way – “If your brother sins, rebuke him …” Wait a minutes! Isn’t that judging? Yes, it is, but it is a particular kind of judging. It is not the kind of judging that judges and sits but the kind that judges and does. It is the kind of judging which requires engagement by us. We cannot just say “that is a bad person” and stop, but we must (a) identify what exact action or statement, behavior or character, that was “sinful” and (b) physically go to that person, talk to them, “rebuke” them (pointing out the sin and why it is a sin), and call them up into repentance.

The pattern which Jesus lays before us is one of constant engagement with others, where we are rebuking them and then accepting them immediately upon their mere statement of repentance. In this form of engagement, there is no room for hiding because in rebuking you for your sin I might well find myself rebuking myself for mine; there is no room for bitterness or anger because we are confronted immediately with the consequence of our rebuke (whether or not there is repentance); there is no room for loss of relationship because I am commanded to forgive immediately upon a statement of repentance. The pattern which Jesus lays out before us maximizes honesty in relationship, maximizes healthy relationships, maximizes healthy self-examination, and maximizes freedom from bondage to what each other think or what we think they may think.

We have another name for this kind of engagement – it is called “love.”

And we have an adjective for this kind of engagement – “rare.”

Why is it so rare? Maybe it is because we are afraid. We are afraid of what people will think of us when we confront, speak the truth in love, and rebuke. And we are afraid of what we will think of ourselves when we just accept people’s “I’m sorry” at face value, when we forgive them automatically upon their “saying” of repentance. Both of these are forms of hurt, and what Jesus tells us to do we will not do because we are afraid of getting hurt.

But there is really more here than just the avoidance of hurt. Why would we not confront people of their sin and rebuke them if we loved them – after all, isn’t it better for them they hear the truth when stated by someone with no agenda except the highest and best good for the hearer? Why would we not forgive someone automatically who has said that they are sorry – after all, isn’t it a true act of love that we say to them that we believe them, that we trust them, and that we accept them?

When we say that we do not judge what we are really saying is that we do not want to be engaged. When we say that we do not accept the “I’m sorry” at face value without accompanying deeds, what we are really saying is that we do not want to be exposed.

And yet Jesus commands us to be both engaged and exposed. So who will we rebuke and whose statement of repentance will we accept by forgiveness? Let’s begin with the guy or gal in the mirror and see where else it leads!

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© 2015 GBF

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