Observations of a Pilgrim in His Own World – Taking the Burden Out of 1 Peter

I’ve worked at my job full-time for 25 years. When I was hired, my employers explained among other things, the pay schedule—which changed over the years from monthly to bi-monthly, to every other week. They delivered faithfully. Never once did it cross my mind that if could be any other way.

In Matt. 5: 19-34 Jesus talks about God supplying what we need from food to clothing. He builds the argument with pictures: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them;” and, “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you…?”

I naturally tend to worry about this or that. (Hate change to begin with.) As a result I have understood “Do not worry” to be just another commandment to be burdened with. In fact most sermons on the subject treat it as such—justifying Jesus’ discourse with his closing reasoning, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Any good psychologist could have told me that).

But the thrust of Jesus’ argument is, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

So like my paycheck, “Do not worry,” is about God’s faithful provision, and a conclusion—not a commandment.

And Jesus wasn’t talking about worry. He was talking about trust.

Peter uses the same tact in his first letter. Though it seems he is talking about marriage and employment behavior, he’s really talking about trust. Removing the apparent commandments to “do this,” or “be that” from the context in chapters 1-4 (the, “do not worry” phrases), it reads as an inspiring epistle of encouragement.

And his advice on servants, husbands and wives are applications of two thoughts: When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2: 23); and Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God 1 Peter 4: 1,2).

Like seeking first the kingdom of God, we “entrust” ourselves to God. to make any judgments. Not our job.

Observations of a Pilgrim in His Own World – Unexpected Perseverence

“The Boatman” – Winslow Homer

“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” – Job 42:5

James called it the “perseverance of faith” (Jas. 1:3). We often get the phrase wrong thinking we need to gut it out first. But perseverance begins with faith, not the other way around—then faith proves itself out.

Speaking frankly, I hate this wonderful world that God has made. It has let me down (see Ecclesiastes)—and continues to. But God never said there would be anything satisfying about it. In fact, all he promised is trouble (John 16:33).

Having realized that a few years back, I asked him, “Why?” Passionately (Matt. 5:8). And finally he got my full attention (Job 42:5}. That’s all he wanted. And that was all I needed.

Funny how this works: my feelings about the world haven’t changed, so I keep asking God the same question as I go about my business (Prov. 3: 5.6). I find there’s no theology, belief system or anything else to learn. And only him to know (Rom. 1:20, John 17:3). Oddly I think, how can it get any better?

For me there’s nothing to wait for. I have it all right now (Phil. 3:7, 8).

James was right.

Observations of a Pilgrim in His Own World – The Bread and Cup

“Last Supper” Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret (1852–1929)

“Then He took the cup, gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you.’” – Luke 26:27

Been thinking on food and how complete the imagery is of bread and wine.

Adam and his wife originally ate from trees (Gen 2:16). They reached up and picked fruit. After the “revelation” (Not a fall like Satan – Luke 10:18, their eyes were opened – Gen. 3:7), Adam was sentenced to eat from the “cursed” ground. He reaches down, now (Gen 3:17). The ground (the world) would be worked by him and is where he came from and would return. The world is the interaction and cycling of good and evil—compliments of: light/dark, hard/soft, beginnings/endings, wet/dry, etc. I like to call it “the marketplace of judgment.”

Some of the early field crops were grains from which was made bread. Flour is mixed with water and oil, ferments and bloats (yeasts in the grains trigger this), then baked. Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees (Matt. 16:6). This yeast is dead and just air pockets after baking.

But the bread Jesus identified with, is unleavened (Luke 22: 19). Christ is the “bread of life” (John 6:35), not of emptiness. This bread is also made from wheat, grown from the cursed ground..

But this flesh is broken and dies (Luke 22:19).

This is followed by wine from grapes. Grapes also have yeast—the grapes ferment and produce the drink. But this yeast is living in the wine as it ages, and is drunk, becoming a picture of the Spirit of God in the flesh (Matt. 13:13). The wine pictures Christ’s blood—and his life, not his death (Lev. 17:14).

Grapes are also a field crop with fruit picked from below. But in nature, the vines climb trees and the fruit is picked from above. The perfect image of the union of heaven and earth, Christ.

Well chosen imagery. Or like marriage (Genesis 2: 18/Ephesians. 5:22), were they made to tell the story?

(BTW clothing tells a similar story in imagery from fig leaves and skins to a wedding dress made of linen, a by-product of the threshing floor.)

Observations of a Pilgrim in His Own World – A Royal Allegory

Saul and David *oil on canvas *130 x 164.5 cm *circa 1651 - 1654 and circa 1655 - 1658
Saul and David – Rembrandt
(oil on canvas, 130 x 164.5 cm, circa 1651 – 1658)

“Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” – 1 Samuel 8:7

(You’ll need to read the stories of Saul, David and Solomon to fully appreciate the following conclusions.)

In Israel’s first three kings I’m seeing this pattern of justice/mercy/faithfulness—where the latter is weightier than the former. (Jesus spells it out in Matt. 23:23.)

Saul was, at best, double-minded (James 1:8). On the receiving end of justice’s “live by the sword, die by the sword” (Matt. 26:52), he refused the grace of God that was repeatedly offered.

David, a “man after God’s own heart” was conflicted. He was a warrior of justice who was torn by the mercy he wanted to extend (Saul and Absalom). He was also the willing recipient of the mercy of God (Bathsheba and the census) that indeed triumphed over the judgment that was due (James 2:13).

Solomon rested in the faithfulness of God. The personification of James’ “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God,” he also basked in the excesses of the world. His kingdom, however, was destined to fall apart (1 Kings 11). And everything he did proved to be, “vanity” (see Ecclesiastes).

“What’s the point?” we might then ask—accomplish all things and it’s like spices losing their savor—I might as well have failed to begin with!

But satisfaction won’t be found in this world—the best we can do is break even (“For God will bring every deed into judgment – Ecc. 12:14).

So I tend to think of Solomon’s Song of Songs” as the allegorical answer to the futility of Ecclesiastes.  The yoking of the biblical bride and bridegroom.

This world isn’t about accomplishment or failure. It’s about knowing God (John 17:3). A hard lesson because it wrenches us away from the familiar. But only God has meaning as it turns out (only he is good – Matt. 19:17).

So Paul concludes at one point, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).

This isn’t piety. It’s just the truth.

That Judgment Thing 14 – The Kingdom of Heaven is Like a Do-Wop Song

Keyboard sepia

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” – Matt. 23:23

 

A posting about “aggressive, challenger/defender” personalities caught my attention—we know them/are them, but what’s really going on—and what to do?

A Season 2, Episode 2 of a Dr Blake mysteries inspired this blog entry. Start at minute 34:52 for the piano/parlor scene for a little rock and roll tutorial from 1959.

Think about it. Aren’t the challenger/defender personalities like the judgments of this world beating to a rhythm?

Do-wop music comes to mind.

Except in my example, the persistent beat of the piano percussion is interwoven with melody and harmonized with the poor man’s instruments, the “do-wop” vocals. Composed, each element remains distinctive, but they blend to create something pleasing.

Like the biblical weaving of justice, mercy and faith, for something pleasing to result, the latter two are the weightier considerations.

 

That Judgment Thing 13 – Making the World Right

Moses and the Ten Commandments. Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674)
Moses and the Ten Commandments. Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674)

“‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.'” (Matt. 23;23)

What is it about us that upon receiving the mercy of God, we Christians want to right the world? And in doing so, we retreat back to the law to do the work. But wasn’t it the law that led us to mercy to begin with?

(I suppose as long as we realize what we’re doing…)

More than once, Jesus reprimanded the teachers of the law about righting the world. Referring to the accounting of spices given in tithes, he said don’t give up balancing the books. But, there are weightier matters—he named three: justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23). Of course tithing is a matter of justice—they were good at managing that, and to a fault (i.e. hypocrisy). But mercy and faithfulness, not so much.

“You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former,” Jesus told them.

Notice that mercy and acknowledgment of God take precedent over justice. Not the other way around.

Then were these law-keepers to “practice” the mercy of the God? And was God the one tasked to make the world right?

This would take some faith.

‘But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ (Matt. 9:13)

That Judgment Thing 12 – Of Thorns and Grace

Saint Paul at his Writing Desk - Rembrandt
Saint Paul at his Writing Desk – Rembrandt

“I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” (2 Cor. 12: 8, 9)

According to Freud, the driving principles of mankind are in two words, pain and pleasure. And religion means prohibition.

But I say our single most important need is to be right. And our single most powerful drive is justice. Justice will trump anything. And true religion means liberty. “Be fruitful and multiply,” God said.

But too much of the church preaches Freudian principles looking for silver linings and praying for things to go well or get better, rather than “Your will be done.”

“Your will…”  seems so fatalistic. And thorns aren’t from God – they’re bad, right?

Listening this morning to the reaction of another mass shooting, a pastor prayed for protection by the blood of Christ. The “blood of Christ” I’ve heard used has always been to placate an angry god, not give life to the dead. So the church continually needs to assure herself of God’s mercy.

They say the man with the gun was “deranged” Sure he was! He was looking for satisfaction of the flesh like the rest of us. Do we (the church) not have anything else to offer?

Pleasure is a fleeting thing. And thorns are only bad when God’s grace isn’t sufficient.

In the above quote from 2 Corinthians, a tormented Paul wasn’t talking to himself. And while he might not have heard a voice, the words rang as clear as a bell as he rested in the arms of his Lord.

Been there. So may anyone.

That Judgment Thing 11 – What Is Sin?

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned”  (Rom. 5: 12)

If the legalists had it all wrong and Jesus was explaining things, the definition of sin is, “unbelief” in him (John 16: 8-11).

Plugging the word into place into Rom. 5: 12 reads then, “Therefore, just as unbelief entered the world through one man, and death through unbelief, and in this way death came to all people, because all have not believed.”

It takes the mysticism out of the word, “sin,” and changes the discussion.

Then, what was the sin (unbelief) in the garden? Was it the disobedience? Or was it eating the fruit?

It takes belief to disobey.

But it takes unbelief to weigh whether something is good or evil (judge). And we just won’t leave that fruit alone.

A Tale of Two Trees VIII – The Trail Between

After he drove the man out, he (God) placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”  Gen. 3: 23, 24

I started watching a Netflix original suspense series. I forget the title, but it opens to a modern Roman orgy of writhing naked bodies (not what I expected). I backed out of it, but the shock value made me think, Jesus came into a polarized society of acceptable fleshly indulgences like this (Roman culture) vs his own custom-designed, orderly and proper Jews.

It was the Roman-type society that produced the wickedness which resulted in the flood (Gen. 8)—and God wasn’t going to let that happen again (Gen. 9: 11). But Jesus didn’t come to the immoral. Counter-intuitively, he came to the moral ones—and proceeded to chastise the most righteous among them (Matt. 5:20) despite their noble intentions.

But Jesus aim wasn’t just for the Jews, it was especially for the immoral Roman-types. “For God so loved the world…”

I love deliberate misdirection.

People like to short-circuit the Gospel, jumping right to “love one another.”  But the Gospel is more like John 3: 16. And you have to literally follow Jesus to understand where he’s going.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16