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Part of the FBCS 2010 Read Through the Bible Project: Enter the Story. Join the Song.

Archive for March, 2010

As If . . .

“Keep awake therefore . . .” (Matthew 24:42). “Be ready” (v.44). “Blessed is that servant whom the  master will find at work when he arrives”  (v.46). Daily offerings, sabbath offerings, special offerings, scheduled convocations . . . “you shall take care to offer to me at its appointed time” (Numbers 28:2). And “Set me as a seal upon your heart” (Songs 8:6). The readings for this day call us to attentiveness, preparedness, vigilance, and moment-by-moment mindfulness . . . They speak to us of “As If” living.

As if . . . “about that day and hour no one knows” (Matthew 24:36) . . . “you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (v.42) . . . “the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (v.44) . . . So you must be ready! That is not to say: be about the business of prognosticating and predicting and setting dates. Rather, the word is: Be about the business of living each day as if this is the very day on which our Lord and master will return.

“Make haste, my beloved” (Songs 8:14). Daily offerings and sacrifices serve to focus the giver’s mind and heart on God. A weekly sabbath provides space to return, refocus, rest and renew. Special celebrations of God’s amazing work of love (such as Easter and Thanksgiving and Christmas) canserve to guide us back to mindfulness. And engaging faithfully in the work of ministry keeps us in the story. In other words, living “as if” fans the flame of loving expectation . . .

Are we living “as if?” Are we making the necessary effort to be mindful of who God is and who we are in relation to God? Are we awake to our purpose for living and ready for our Lord to return? Are we about the business of the kingdom? Or are we sleepwalking through this time of training? It is so very easy to take our eyes off the prize . . . It is for this reason that God calls us to live each and every day “as if” this is the day of the Lord’s return. May it be so. Amen.

“Blessed is that servant whom the master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions.”
     — Matthew 24:46,47

Enduring Love

I find endurance and love linking today’s texts. After enduring 40 years in the wilderness, Moses prepares the people for transition of leadership and entry into the promised land (Numbers 25-27). And, as Jesus journeys into his passion, he speaks of challenges and changes, declaring:  “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). And in the middle of it all? Love songs expressing deep longing between two who can barely endure the anticipation of being together. . .

Endurance . . . How does Moses endure to the end, despite the knowledge that he will not enter the promised land? (Numbers 27:12-14). How does Jesus endure his passion?  And how do we, his followers, endure to the end, come what may? (Matthew 24). Love. Deep, passionate love — for God, love for God’s people, and for God’s promises.

“I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me” (Songs 7:10). Enduring Love. Love that doesn’t “grow cold” (Matthew 2412). A love so deep that just the vision of the promise is sufficient to inspire endurance (Numbers 27:12). A love so focused on the beloved, that nothing will be allowed to stand between . . . It is this love that we are invited to cultivate; it is this love that God offers to us in Jesus, who will return for us in power and glory. And love.

May we, this day, renew our love for God, God’s people, and God’s promises. Amen.

Truth Telling . . .

Then Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam, and he struck his hands together”  (Numbers 24:10). After three oracles of blessing rather than the cursing for which Balaam was hired, the king was fit to be tied. “Be off with you! Go home!” And you can forget the money! And yet, Balaam wasn’t finished. Defying the king, he proceeded to speak a fourth blessing . . . Whoa! Brave man!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites” (Matthew 23:13). Seven times  “Woe!”  You’ve got it wrong and you are misleading others! The result? You are keeping them — and yourselves — out of God’s kingdom! Blind guides . . . nitpickers . . . posers . . .  Truth — unpleasant truth — spoken by Jesus to “the powers that be.”  Whoa! Brave man!

How are we when it comes to speaking — and hearing — truth? Do we avoid it? Ignore it? Or are we simply blind — and deaf — to it? Truth telling is a tough task, to be sure. And (truth), hearing the truth about ourselves is even tougher. . . S0, though we might like to cast ourselves in the role of Balaam or Jesus in today’s texts, it is far more likely that we are the Balaks, scribes, and Pharisees in the narratives. . .  And, while brave is the one who speaks truth, braver still are those who hear it, receive it, and are transformed by it!  We all need to receive the freeing, life-giving truth that Jesus brings (John 8:31,32; 14:6). And that’s the truth.

May we, this day, hear truth, examine ourselves, and welcome personal transformation.  Amen.

“But speaking the truth in love,
we must grow up in every way into him
who is the head, into Christ . . .”
     — Ephesians 4:15

A Learning Process

“Whatever the Lord says, that I must do”  (Numbers 23:26). The words of Balaam, responding to the king of Moab. If there is one “life-lesson” to be gleaned from the story of Balaam and Balak, it is this: Obedience is a learning process. And the lesson includes humility and service. Balaam does, in time, learn to obey God. The scribes and the Pharisees, in contrast, do not  (Matthew 23). As for the crowds and disciples of Jesus? The process continues . . .

“Do not do as they do” (Matthew 23:2). The words of Jesus, referring to the scribes and the Pharisees. At the heart of it, the obedience revolves around control. Am I in control of the process? Or is God? Balak hired Balaam with the expectation that this diviner would impose control over a situation that was frighteningly out of hand (from Balak’s perspective, see Numbers 22:1-6). As the story develops, however, Balaam slowly learns that neither he nor the king are in control. God is. The scribes and the Pharisees, however, when given the opportunity to learn this lesson from Jesus, do not. They see themselves as in control and they like it that way . . .

Balaam and the Pharisees illustrate two distinct approaches to the learning process called discipleship. With which model do we most closely identify? Honestly. Where am I in these stories? Where are you? If Jesus were to speak of us, would he say “do as they do” or “do not?” Today’s texts offer a means of evaluating ourselves. It is the measure of Balaam’s word: “Whatever the Lord says, that I must do.” May we examine our hearts in light of this statement; and may we continue the process of learning obedience, humility, and service. Amen.   

“The greatest among you will be your servant.
All who exalt themselves will be humbled,
and all who humble themselves
will be exalted.”
     — Matthew 23:11,12 

Loving God

“My beloved is mine and I am his” (Songs 2:16). The words of are those of someone in love. This is the poetry of passion; of relationship; of love between a man and woman . . . And, on another level, of love between God and God’s people . . .

The Song of love is a song we are all invited to join. “My beloved is mine and I am his. . .  I sought him whom my soul loves (Songs 2:16 – 3:5) . . . Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind”  (Matthew 22:37). Love God. Love neighbor. The whole of God’s word and will hangs on these commands (Matthew 22:40) . . . And yet, there is always present the temptation to reduce the relationship of love to the level of transaction (Numbers 22:7). Relationship reduced to manipulation: I will purchase, and therefore control, the power of God. . . But Balaam’s story reminds us that it isn’t so easy. God resists the reduction. God refuses to be manipulated. Apart from loving relationship, it is difficult to know with any certainty what God is saying and doing; it is virtually impossible to see God at work (Numbers 22). . .

Loving God is our first and greatest occupation. It is that clear. Only in giving our all to God in relational love do we enter the story and join the song. All other approaches are just plain silly (see Balaam and his donkey). May you seek — and find — the One whom your soul loves! Amen.

“You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind.”
This is the greatest and first commandment.
And a second is like it:
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
On these two commandments hang
all the law and the prophets.

     — Matthew 22:37-40

Of Patience and Wisdom

“The people became impatient along the way” (Numbers 21:4). I am thinking today of the connections between patience and wisdom . . . and the trouble we can get ourselves into when we choose to be impatient. “The people became impatient along the way.” And in their impatience they spoke against God and Moses. Again. And complained. Again. And were they ever sorry! Again. And, once again, it fell upon Moses to intervene on their behalf . . . It is a familiar part of the story by now: impatience leads to trouble.

Have you ever become impatient along the way? I certainly have. Oh, yes. And the complaining I can do in my impatience! My, my . . . “Why, Lord, have you led me here? This is no place I want to be! I was happy with things the way they were! I’ve had enough. Fix it. Now!” Impatience. With God and everybody. . .  And does anything  good ever come of it?  You know the answer . . .

And then I observe Jesus along the way. In Jerusalem. Facing Good Friday. And dealing with the Pharisees. Again. Notice: Jesus is “aware of their malice” (Matthew 22:18), and still he answers their question with patient wisdom. Again. And again. And, in doing so, he “amazed” them (v.22). Time and time again. Patience and wisdom. With folks who, honestly, “deserved” neither. . .

Patience and Wisdom. They dance together. Always. Hear it in the voice of  the poet, as well: “Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready” (Songs 2:7). Even when it comes to love, patience is wisdom. . . How does this speak to you where you are today? Do you find yourself in a place you do not want to be? Perhaps you are young and impatient, wanting to be grown up now . . . or old, and impatient with the quickening pace of unwelcome changes. . . In any case, wherever you and I are along the way, we will do well to remember that impatience only leads to trouble. . .

Jesus, you who are patient and wise, guide us along the way today, that we might always look to you, follow your example, and live. Amen.

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
     — John 3:14,15 

Tenants All . . .

Today’s texts speak essential truth concerning life and death: Physical life is temporary and marked by transitions; we are all tenants on this earth; and this is a time of training in trust and obedience to God.

Life is temporary. Miriam and Aaron died. A whole generation passed away in the wilderness. Moses will not enter the promised land. (Numbers 19 and 20). Jesus tells the Pharisees that “the kingdom of God will be taken away” from them (Matthew 21:43). . .  There is no denying it: “All must go to their eternal home . . . the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:5,7).  And, yet, we work so hard at denying this . . . How, I wonder, might the living of our days be different if we accepted death as part of life?

We are tenants. Migrant workers in the vineyard of God (Matthew 21:33ff).  We do not, honestly, own anything. And we are not in control. Even Moses was a temporary tenant . . . And yet, do we not see ourselves in Jesus’ parable of the vineyard . . . grasping and disrespectful; failing to honor God and produce the fruit we are expected to produce? It gives me pause. How might my relationships — with others, to the earth, with “my” possessions, and with God — be altered if I saw myself as the temporary tenant that I am? 

This life is all about training in trust and obedience. “Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12). Lip service is not sufficient; action is required (Matthew 21:28ff). Fruit must be produced (Matthew 21:43). . . Do I realize that Jesus is speaking not only about “them,” but about me? (Matthew 21:45). . .

We are tenants all. Young and old, rich and poor, great and small.  And, in the words of my maternal grandmother, we best not be getting “too big for our britches.” We are tenants. We are here for training in trust and obedience; preparing for life eternal. And we are all temporarily here. Let us, then, be about the business of producing “the fruits of the kingdom” (Matthew 21:43). Amen. 

“The end of the matter; all has been heard.
Fear God, and keep his commandments;
for that is the whole duty of everyone.”
     — Ecclesiastes 12:13.

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