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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Yeast--Good or Bad?

English: Egg, rye and multigrain bread loaves.
Image via Wikipedia
Have you ever sat amazed and hungry when the odor of bread baking filled your house?  It smells better than the grandest feast--and it's just bread.  The smell of yeast is  almost beyond description--penetrating, consuming, tantalizing.  Could anything be better?  Then why does the Bible make such a big deal about yeast?  In Exodus 12:15 Moses instructions from God about the preparations for the Passover included the prohibition against yeast.  For seven days they were not to eat bread made with yeast.  And it's so good!  Why?  The Israelites were to clean their houses and make sure that they were free of any trace of yeast.

Is yeast poisonous?  Is it toxic?  Not usually, but it is, by God's standards, a contaminant.  Unleavened bread is made without yeast, and that is what God required in the Passover meal and for sacrifices at the Temple.  In Leviticus 6 the grain and meal offerings were made with fine flour and oil but without yeast.  

In the offering, God required purity.  He calls us to be pure, too.  He calls Christians to be righteous.  Jesus restated the Ten Commandments and made reference to our service as being more righteous than that of the Pharisees because he expected it to come from the heart and address the meaning of the Law not just the letter.  There is an obscure indication that God knew that in the Old Testament too.  In Leviticus 7:13 he gave instructions about the fellowship offering.

 Along with his fellowship offering of thanksgiving he is to present an offering with cakes of bread made with yeast.

God never changes his standards, but he accepts our imperfections knowing that Christ's Blood is the remedy.  No amount of sacrifice or unleavened bread or blood of goats and sheep will suffice.  Only Jesus can make us acceptable and he knows that.  He wants us to know that we can't do it without him, and he never wants us to hesitate to come to him because of our sin or failure.  

He loves us even in our natural state, and he accepts offerings of bread made with yeast.   
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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

An Invitation: Abide in Me

Words have a power all their own
Image by waɪ.tiː via Flickr

In John 1:39 Jesus invited potential disciples to come see where he lived.  In Matthew 4:18 he invited the first disciples to come follow him.  He continued to issue the invitation to follow, but some people had excuses and distractions.  Some he sent on missions of their own.  

Now Jesus gives them a more urgent call:  Abide in me.(KJV)  In John 15 beginning in verse 4 he describes the invitation as more consuming.  The NIV uses the word remain.  The invitation is also reciprocal: verse 4 says "If you remain(abide) in me, I will remain (abide) in you..."  This is not just checking things out or even just following and observing.  It goes beyond fellowship.  My Websters New World Collegiate Dictionary gives these meanings for the first choice of abide:  stand fast, remain, go on being.  

The second meaning is labeled archaic:  stay, reside.  The King James Version may well be called archaic, however, with explanation, I believe it is justified.  Remain fits comfortably in that definition, especially when you read verse 5.  It is because the branch is attached to, resides in, abides in, remains in the vine that it has life and produces fruit.

Metaphors and analogies break down when you get too specific, and this one does too.  The branch has little choice about where it lives or abides.  We, on the other hand, have that choice.  We have to yield to the vine to have communion with Christ and to read the Word.  Our place in the vine is by choice.  After we choose to be believers, we are under obligation to be obedient.  

It's a little like joining the army.  You may be a volunteer to get in, but after that you do as you are told.  You may resign, but there are no half-way measures:  I'll march in a line, but I won't wash dishes.  
It's like that with Christ, too.  I'll sing in the choir, but I won't serve in obscurity.  When you are a servant of Christ, you don't get to make those choices.  Abiding in him, remaining in him means you go where he goes and do what he does.  

It's a tough invitation not for sightseers or casual dabblers.  Jesus only issued it when he was preparing to die.  It provides a way to carry on his work and message.  Have you heard that invitation?  Are you sure you want to?

Click here to read An Invitation: Come and See
Click here to read An Invitation: Come Follow Me
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Monday, January 16, 2012

Give Thanks, Quench Not

Paul wrote two letters to the Thessalonians whom he had ministered to and loved during his missionary journeys.  These letters reveal his confidence in their faith and his hope for their ultimate salvation.

Toward the end of 1 Thessalonians 5 there are several verses that seem like last minute reminders I used to give my kids:  Be careful, don't forget your coat, get home at a decent hour.

Paul's reminders go like this: 14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
 16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
 19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil. (NIV)  

Tucked away in the middle of this voluminous collection of last minute reminders is a verse that bares closer examination.  Verse 18 is more than just the injunction to give thanks.  It also gives the reason:  this is God's will for you.  More than that, it is God's will in Christ Jesus for you.

Try it from another translation:  ...in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.(KJV)  This is counter-intuitive if not absolutely absurd.  In the myriad painful and evil events that befall us, we are supposed to give thanks?  Be real.  I'm not happy about some of this stuff!  

That's O.K.  Paul doesn't say you have to be happy about the event, but still you must give thanks to God when it happens.  I found I could give thanks when James wasn't killed when the tractor ran over him.  He wasn't even hurt.  I could give thanks Nicki was tough and determined when her leg was broken.  I could give thanks when my niece was killed and we could support her father.  Life plays hardball, and we must be up for the game.

Once I was reading that verse, verse 19 was bold on the page.  It quivered and I thought my mind and my eyes were playing tricks.  I read it again.  It said:  Quench not the Spirit. (KJV)  I was giving thanks in some disaster through clenched teeth, and it made me mad.  But then the light shone.  It was the yielded and obedient giving of thanks that released the Spirit to bring about comfort and resolution in my difficulty.  Giving thanks and looking to the Lord were not denying the very real difficulty.  Realizing the power of the Holy Spirit to act on my behalf and ridding myself of  bitterness and fear gave God entry into my situation.  Then the thanks flowed like water and I was refreshed in it.

I pursued this line of thought and found that all the reminders could be paired with these two verses. Try it yourself.

Give thanks and quench not--reminders to live by.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

An Invitation: Come Follow Me

Jesus came to prominence after he was baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.  He had apparently been ignored in the town of Nazareth where he grew up, but after his baptism by John the Holy Spirit influenced him in such a way that he could no longer remain silent.  The Spirit sent him, or led him into the desert where he was tested by Satan, and when he returned, he began to preach and assemble disciples he would teach in a more intense manner.  He first wanted to see who listened to him preach.  John the Baptist had disciples, too, and he told John, the son of Zebedee, and Andrew that Jesus was the one they should be looking for.  

Andrew and John went home with Jesus and visited and listened for a whole afternoon.  Later Jesus was preaching by the seashore, and he called these four to come and follow him:  John and his brother James, Andrew and his brother Peter.  Jesus said to them and to Nathaniel, and Philip, "Come follow me."  He also called Matthew who was a tax collector with the same message.

This was a more intense call.  It was no longer just an invitation to see where he lived or what he ate, but an invitation of involvement:  Come see what I preach, and who I touch, and where I go.  Now it became "Come do what I do."

That is the invitation he wanted those disciples to accept, and it is still the invitation he extends to his listeners today.  To those who hear his call, the invitation is not just one of investigation or casual interest, but participation in the mission of spreading the word and love of God.

Read Matthew 4, Mark 1, John 1, and Luke 4 and 5 for a fuller explanation of the call of the disciples.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Jesus Called Disciples

Jesus called the men who became his disciples very deliberately.  It is true that when he was preaching, the call was given to all, but the invitation to follow closely came face to face.  Some came to him and asked to follow that he sent home.  He reminded one man that he did not have a place to live.  He told one to go home to take care of his father and the family.  Matthew 8:18-22 lists some of the costs of discipleship.  

Everyone was called, but some were called to stay home.  They had heard the teaching and received the blessing, and that was enough.  Read the passages again.  Not everyone was called to follow, but all were called to believe.

Mark 5:1-20 tells the story of a man who was tormented by demons and lived isolated among the tombs in the land of the Gadarenes.  Jesus delivered him of the demons, and he regained his senses.  He was grateful and asked Jesus if he could follow him, but the Lord sent him as a messenger to his friends and family in the country of Decapolis.  He was a disciple who did not follow, but was sent.

John 4 tells how Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well whose obedience became an example for us in telling people about him. She went to people who knew her history and her sins.  She proclaimed him to them even though they might discount her testimony.  After they met Jesus and heard him speak, they were convinced by his words that he was the savior they sought.  Then they testified to the woman that they indeed believed her witness.

Some are called to preach or teach God’s Word, and some are called to drive a bus or sell fruit, but all are called to live his Gospel in the world and share his love in righteousness daily.