by Linda Rex
Lately I’ve been starting out my day reading a chapter from the Old Testament and a chapter from the New Testament. Today I was reading Chapter 27 in the book of Deuteronomy. Here Moses instructed the people about something they were to do when they entered the Promised Land. They were to divide the people up, with six tribes standing on Mount Gerizim and six tribes standing on Mount Ebal. Then the Levites were to recite curses and all the people were to respond with “Amen” to each curse.
Something occurred to me as I was reading this. It was something I never played close attention to when I read it before. And it really bugged me—enough that I had to stop and think seriously about it for a while.
If I were to ask you what many traditional and fundamentalist Christians have posted in their house or office somewhere, what would you say? I was in someone’s office the other day, and there it was, in bold print, so everyone who came in couldn’t miss it. Many Christians insist that the Ten Commandments are the trademark measurement of goodness and badness and what matters most to God in our relationship with him. So they post them where they and others can see them.
That being the case, I was stunned to see that nowhere in this list of sins these curses were for, were the Ten Commandments specifically listed. There wasn’t mention of a single commandment in relation to God and how the people were to relate to him. The others were related to some of the other six commandments, but they didn’t at all appear in the form you would see in Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5 where the Ten Commandments are listed.
If the Ten Commandments were so important for the people to be keeping, why weren’t they listed with the curses? And I found that it is interesting in the same respect that each of these things listed had to do with proper relationships between people, both in the family and in the community. The last one in the list was a summary statement pronouncing a curse on anyone who did not uphold the words of the law.
Then a blessing is pronounced in Chapter 28 and it has everything to do with Israel’s relationship with God and how they participated in their covenant of love with him. The blessings and cursings described in Chapter 28 are related to the way Israel behaved in their relationship with God and whether or not they lived in communion with him as the law instructed them to. The blessings and curses had to do with whether or not Israel as a nation trusted in God alone and was faithful to their covenant relationship with him.
In both of these cases, the Ten Commandments was supplanted to some extent, or shall I say, surpassed by, the greater law of covenant love. Our relationships with God and with each other are what really matter in the end. The consequence of living for ourselves and not living in communion and godly love with one another and God is well described in this listing of curses. And the blessings that come with living in the communion of the Holy Spirit with one another is clear to see as well. It explains why Jesus, when asked, said the most important commandment is to love God with one’s whole heart, soul, mind and being, and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Instead of seeing the law as a list of do’s and don’t’s that separate good people from bad people, we can see the law as an expression of what it looks like to live in loving relationship with God and each other. The simplicity of this is expressed in the NASB when it says that the people were to confirm the words of the law by the way in which they lived. We confirm our love relationship with God and each other by the way we treat God and each other, and by what goes on in our hearts and minds in each moment of each day as we interact with the world around us.
Going on beyond this, we are told by the Apostle Paul that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us…” (Gal. 3:13) So even our shortcomings in living out a relationship of love with God and each other are covered by our Savior. The prophetic word of Isaiah to Israel was that God would author a new covenant in which he said he would “put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jer. 31:33). This is reflected on by the author of Hebrews, who explains the gift of God is the internal eternal Law of God, Jesus Christ, who has joined himself with humanity and who stands in our place as both the Lawgiver and the Lawkeeper.
Now I’m not against people posting the Ten Commandments places as a reminder of how to treat God and each other. That can be a good thing. But it is easy to hold to this external expression of goodness and badness by which we judge one another and to totally miss the mystery of godliness—Christ in us, the hope of glory. It is Christ who defines us, who lives his life in us and through us by his Holy Spirit. It is God who plants within us the heart, soul and mind to love him and each other from the core of our being with his own very own love, planted within us through Jesus Christ in the Spirit.
How often I have encountered people who are very busy with the externals of Christianity, but who are also vindictive, hateful, spiteful and even cruel—because the law has become to them a dividing point between goodness and badness between them and other people, and they have missed the One who gives Life and offers us an intimate relationship with himself through Christ in the communion of the Holy Spirit.
They are eating of the tree of good and evil and have missed entirely the tree of life offered us in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. This seems to me to be the worst possible thing that could happen to anyone. And all these curses described in Deuteronomy cannot begin to describe what it’s like to live out one’s life in rejection of the One who is our life, our love, our obedience, our peace. That seems to me to describe in many ways what a personal hell looks like.
Dearest God, Thank you for giving us your Son so that we can live in loving relationship with you and each other. Thank you for your precious Spirit who opens our eyes and minds and hearts to see Jesus Christ living within, and who makes us receptive to the Truth and Life he is. Grant us the grace to seek Life in Jesus Christ instead of seeking to be our own gods and to live independently of you and each other. We trust you will finish your work in our hearts, minds and lives, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
“’Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” Deut. 27:26 NASB
“Jesus answered, ‘The foremost is, “HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.” The second is this, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’” Mark 12:29–31 NASB
by Linda Rex
I was sitting by the pool one day chatting with a colleague about kids and life when the conversation drifted, as it often does in such cases, into the topic of childrearing. I often feel like I have an unpopular view on this topic since I prefer to approach childrearing through the portal of grace. Because when grace comes into play, things can get really messy, and most people are uncomfortable with the chaos that comes with the mess.
Personally I think we tend to forget that our human condition is, at its base, pretty messy. Humanity, with its laws and governments and programs and institutions, is constantly trying to cope with and fight the chaos that comes with our proclivity to sin, corruption and selfishness. Allowing people the freedom to do whatever they wish whenever they wish however they wish creates anarchy and ultimately, self-destruction. Or does it?
Often parents and adults alike can be more concerned with having order and control than they are with allowing children to be free to be creative and to learn by failing. It’s embarrassing when a child is less than perfect in public, especially when the expectations are high and we want to impress everyone with the glory and goodness of our children and our family. When our child starts screaming in the supermarket and everyone turns to look, the question we can ask at that moment is: Am I embarrassed for myself and worried about everyone’s opinions, or am I concerned about the well-being of my child? For our response at that moment is crucial.
When children are first born, we invest ourselves in them, I hope, by pouring into them love, affection, and attention. We have our own ways of dealing with their need for diaper changes, bedtime stories, and play time. We have a profound influence on their personality, attitudes and approach to life and to freedom, for this is the time we begin to set appropriate boundaries for them. And we begin to give them the freedom they need to learn and to be creative within those boundaries.
If we never give our little children boundaries such as a bedtime or respect for elders, then they can begin to assume that they are free to be the lord of their little universe—a false belief that isn’t healthy. That’s because there is only one Lord of the universe, and he doesn’t share that title with anyone. He is the only Being who is truly free, and even his freedom is freely expressed within the boundaries of his perfect love, a love that is one and the same as his Being. All of us as human beings need to understand that our freedom only exists within the confines of God’s freedom, and our freedom is always and ever meant to be lived out within the confines of God’s love and lordship.
Then there also comes a time when a child outgrows his or her boundaries and begins to chafe at the limits. At this point a parent can begin to tighten their control and suffocate their child by restricting them even more, or they can begin to free their child from restrictions so they can develop greater maturity and self-control. Whether or not a parent can easily do this often depends on their ability to influence their children, which is often determined by the depth and quality of the relationship they’ve built with them over the years. And it depends on the parents’ ability to cope with chaos and mess. And how they handle that has a lot to do with how well they understand and have themselves experienced grace.
Grace is essential to any human development because it provides the freedom to mess up and to be less than perfect. A child falls a lot before he ever comes to understand how to walk. A child has many messy faces and bibs before she learns to get the spoon of food into her mouth without spreading it all over herself and everything else first. This is all a part of our existence as human beings. We all go through the process of growing up and experience the mess that goes with it.
But when a child is free to mess up, that means that they can also be embarrassing to parents, or irritating, or even infuriating. They can create havoc in relationships by telling the wrong story at the wrong time. They can isolate us from neighbors by climbing fences to steal apples off of trees. At what point do we draw the line? And that’s where I have to say—it depends on who is the parent and who is the child. Each person and family is unique. That’s the way God made us. And we each, in relationship with God and with each other, grow up in Christ to the full maturity of Christ in our own way. There is no specific formula, ritual or program that works best in every situation.
Because just as kids grow up by messing up, learning from their messes, and developing maturity over time, the same is true of each of us as adults. Some of us are still trying to learn the basics we were never taught by our parents about the simple boundaries of love and respect. Others of us are learning that the apples on the other side of the fence aren’t really worth the trouble of stealing. And others of us are still tripping over our feet and falling, because we haven’t learned how to walk by faith rather than by sight. It’s all of grace.
I’m personally thankful that God is not a strict, controlling parent who is unforgiving of our faults and failures. He does what he can through our human institutions and governments to try to give us boundaries when we need them (and often we don’t need the boundaries we tend to create). But he gives us great freedom as well. I’m grateful he gives us room to grow, and even allows us to spit in his face on occasion without slapping us down. And most of all, he gives us Jesus, to share our humanity and to, by the Spirit, live his life within us and to transform us into his nature and way of being. He offers us Christ’s perfected humanity in our place. And that’s true grace and love.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, for being the perfect parent, and for parenting us with such grace and love. Thank you for nurturing us and mothering us as we grow up in Christ. May we each be as gracious with one another and with our children as you are with us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning. Pay close attention, friend, to what your father tells you; never forget what you learned at your mother’s knee. Wear their counsel like flowers in your hair, like rings on your fingers.” Proverbs 1:7–9 MSG
by Linda Rex
Last night I was at a sub shop exploring the pages of Karl Barth’s “Church Dogmatics” and I overheard a young lady in the booth behind me informing a couple new employees of company policy. Having performed that routine myself in my previous employment as a human resources director, I found it amusing to inadvertently hear her slam the company’s policy against profanity. Apparently the opinion of the two young women she was instructing was more important to her than the preferences of the owner of the business.
At that particular point I had been reading what Barth had to say about spiritual gifts and service within and without the church. Barth emphasized that the new life God has given us in Christ includes all of life, not just the going-to-church parts of life. When we recognize who we are in Christ, it impacts how we think, live, talk, and relate to others. Having Christ and therefore the Father living within via the Holy Spirit means that all of our human existence is taken up and made sacred, holy, and should be committed to God’s purposes. This includes telling a new employee what the company’s expectations are.
Some of us focus on learning what our gifts are and strive to be putting them to use in God’s service. Others of us are still struggling to figure out if we even have any gifts to offer in this way. But what God is helping me to see is that just finding and offering my gifts is not all that God has in mind for me. Indeed, he is looking for something a little deeper.
Truly, to seek to know God not only as Father, but as the indwelling Christ, is a lifelong process. It takes time and experience to come to know and recognize the voice of God in the Spirit, and to obey Jesus as he leads us in a real and personal way moment by moment. This being led by and filled with the Spirit is a challenging process, to say the least.
And it’s all of grace. For I realize again and again that God speaks and too often I am preoccupied with my own concerns, or too busy, or I miss the cues he is giving in showing me where to go and what to do. I don’t always see with his eyes, even though he gives me the eyes of the Spirit. I don’t always hear with his ears even though so often the Father is speaking—through other people, through events in my life, through the book I’m reading or the movie I’m watching. If I were alert to all the ways God is interacting with me moment by moment, I think I would be overwhelmed. I am so very grateful that God is gracious and kind!
So the result of that little episode in the sub shop was that I once again saw that I need to take some time for silence and solitude to hear the Word of God to me. What gifts, abilities, and skills has God placed within me and how does he want me to use them in this season and situation in my life? But more than that, I need to quit apologizing for who he has created me to be and start fully using what God has poured out on me. I need to quit caring so much about the opinions of others and place as first priority the will and sovereignty of God and the full expression of the Christ within by the Holy Spirit.
And that’s tough. Not only does it involve a letting go, but it also involves a grabbing hold of life and making full investment of all that I am as a human being in the things that really matter. I can’t afford to be a part-time, half-hearted Christian any longer. I can’t let other people decide for me what I am to do with my time, energy and efforts. That’s what Christ meant when he said “Follow me.” It’s his call, not theirs or mine.
Jesus told the man who wanted to go home to bury his father “Let the dead bury the dead.” Christ is calling us into a priority relationship that involves giving all of life to him, even if that means giving him preferential treatment in comparison to our relationships with those near and dear to us. To give one’s life as a “living sacrifice” means that there is a laying down of all that matters most to us so that, in Christ, we can receive it all back in a new way in his kingdom life.
Who we are in Christ is enough. We don’t have to reach any other standard. Christ is the standard we are to meet and he has met this standard for us in taking on our humanity in the incarnation through his life, death, resurrection and ascension. In the gift of the Spirit, he invests himself in us. And so, we are enough, in him, for whatever we may face in our lives.
But let’s you and me be a full expression of Christ, not just a brief glimpse. Let’s respond fully to the Spirit and let him transform us—transfigure us—conform us to the image of Christ. Because this is what God wants for you and for me.
Lord, thank you that you have given us yourself by the Spirit so that we can be a full expression of you in your life and love. Thank you for your grace through which we are able to grow up in you and become all that you have in mind for us. For it is only through you, by you and in you that this is possible. In your name, we pray. Amen.
“I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him….So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.” Romans 12:3, 6 MSG
by Linda Rex
One of the blessings of being camp chaplain is the opportunity I have to share life with people and children of all ages. Camp ministry is an intense experience to say the least. And even though my body complains about all the unaccustomed activity, I love being able to help out in this way.
Last week at The Rock summer camp, I was able to participate with Stephen Webb, the camp director, and my co-chaplain (and next year’s camp director) Dennis Elliott in presenting a series of chapel messages based on the theme “Truth Is!” This curriculum was designed to address the post-Christian culture’s view of truth being relative—something we create and adjust according to our situation and circumstance.
Our first chapel “What is Truth?” was presented by Pastor Webb and emphasized that in our search for truth and meaning in this life, we need to go to the right source. When Jesus stood before Pilate the governor and was asked by him, “What is truth?” Pilate had no idea that he was standing before the one who was the personification of truth. For truth is not just a concept or idea. Truth is a Person.
Dennis took this concept farther in Monday’s chapel message as he began to talk about “Truth is God”. Truth is not just a philosophical concept or idea. When we define truth, the basis for all that we know and believe as truth finds its source in God. This gives us a solid foundation on which to build our lives and make our decisions.
On Tuesday the topic for chapel was “Truth is a Man.” In this message I sought to show that truth is not something we create, though we have attempted to do so since the beginning of time. Truth is the Word of God in human flesh, the Person Jesus Christ, who is the exact representation of the One who is truth. Jesus lived, died and rose again as a human being, having experienced everything in life that we do. When he ascended, he sent the Holy Spirit to live in human hearts. Through the Spirit in us, we have truth in our inner beings, a truth that is understanding of and able to adjust to every situation. We don’t have to figure out what is truth and what is not truth because we have God living in us and through us as Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.
Wednesday Pastor Dennis encouraged everyone with his message “Truth is Unchanging.” We can live with assurance in relationship with God moment by moment because God isn’t transient or fickle. God is trustworthy and faithful and loves us completely and fully.
Thursday’s chapel began with worship, which was interrupted by the lights going out. A spotlight came on, and the campers saw three presentations of tragedies that people face in life: a doctor announcing the death of a loved one, a single mom who can’t take it any more, and an abusive husband and father. Then Pastor Steve asked the question “Where is Truth When the Lights Go Out?” He explained how Christians throughout the centuries often had to worship God and serve him without the luxury of bibles and music and all the normal trappings of church. The campers broke up into separate groups and participated in a group worship like the early Christians.
Friday I had the opportunity of introducing the chapel time “Truth is Worth Sharing.” Using the story of the Samaritan woman who Jesus met at Jacob’s well, I talked about the importance of sharing the truth. We encounter truth in Jesus Christ, for he is where God’s story and our story meet. When we are fully known by God and fully loved, we naturally want to share this story with others. After my chapel message, many campers came forward and told their stories. It was wonderful to see all the ways in which God had been working in their lives.
What was really inspiring about our camp experience was all the ways in which the theme of truth ended up being woven into many of our fireside chats and LifeTalk lunches. Each day after chapel, the campers participated in several activities including an open activity time during which they could visit the camp store and spend time with campers they would not otherwise see. Activities during the week included arts and crafts, paintball, archery, zipline, low ropes, field activities, swimming, and dancing, and a talent show.
One of the highlights of the evening activities was the “Night of the Spear.” The men and boys made their way through muddy trenches under barbed wire, climbed a wall together, swam across the lake and made their way to a forge. There they worked together to create a spearhead. The women and girls gathered together and had snacks and talked. The older women and I shared our stories, telling how God met us in the truth of who and what we were, and what it means to be a woman and the shaft that balances the spearhead. Earlier in the week the girls had drawn designs on quilt squares and these were all tied together into a banner. At our last chapel on Saturday, we saw the completed spear with its banner hanging over the stage where the worship band was performing.
Our final banquet and dance was another highlight of the evening activities. The boy dorms escorted the girl dorms to the gym where the tables were set beautifully and dinner was waiting. The staff served the campers, who had an opportunity to practice the etiquette skills they had been taught earlier in the day. After dinner, the floor was cleared and the campers and staff enjoyed dancing to music emceed by Bill Winn.
I am very grateful that I could participate with God in his ministry to the children and staff at The Rock. It seems that I come away having learned more and grown more than I ever expected. Sharing life and truth with others is a privilege and I am grateful to all of those who shared with me last week. You each were such a blessing to me!
by Linda Rex
It struck me this morning that God has this thing about creating leftovers. He doesn’t just provide in times of need. He often does it in such a way that there are plenty of leftovers for another day.
I think this must be his way of reminding us that he’s got it all under control and that we don’t need to fear that we’re going to run out somehow. I think, at least from my personal experience, that we tend to think God only gives just enough for what we need each day. He does that at times, it’s true. But many times he overflows us with plenty just as an outpouring of his love for us.
This morning I was reading about Jesus feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. I was reminded that this wasn’t the first time God fed a crowd with a very small amount of food. And to top it all off, there were plenty of leftovers both times.
In the Old Testament we find the story of Elisha the prophet, who along with a large crowd of disciples was dealing with the reality of a famine in his land. Typically a prophet or a teacher like Jesus did not have the means to feed or support his disciples. It was more appropriate that the disciples provide for the one who was instructing them in spiritual matters.
So a man came to Elisha and gave him what the Torah commanded—firstfruits—a precious gift in that time of famine. Twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain—but for a hundred people? And yet God blessed and multiplied that gift and there was plenty left over. From one man’s obedience, another man’s faith, and the power and blessing of God Almighty, came an abundance for many with plenty leftover for the future.
I wonder if the disciples of Jesus’ day gave any consideration to this story when Jesus suggested that they feed the multitude. Since it wasn’t the teacher’s role to feed his disciples, Jesus was showing a hospitality that was unexpected. The disciples’ incredulity was evident. I can almost hear them say, “Are you kidding, Jesus?”
I imagine Jesus must have really enjoyed the experience of providing for a hungry crowd, watching with amusement and pleasure as their hearts and eyes filled with wonder at the miracle occurring before them. How tickled he must have been as the disciples who were so worried about tomorrow’s meal found in the end that there was a full basket for each of them to carry. What joy Jesus must have taking in providing, not just for their daily needs, but also an abundance for their future needs.
How much more so, does the God whom Jesus most perfectly reflects, want to do the same for you and me? Sure, there are times when we just have to depend on him daily and grow in our faith, trusting him to provide moment by moment. But aren’t there also many times in our lives, if we would just stop long enough to see and to be grateful, that God just rains down the blessings? When he pours out more than we can really take in?
Perhaps you are standing there today with a single loaf and a piece of fish and wondering how you are going to feed your family. You’re stressing out because you are behind on your bills and new problems keep stealing what funds you do have. Well, that’s where Jesus comes in.
It’s helpful to see Jesus as being the same today as he was in that secluded place with the multitudes. He still has a heart of compassion and an ability to provide so abundantly that there are plenty of leftovers. He just asks us to have a seat, to be still, and to trust him to multiply our loaf and fish so that our need will be more than met.
It’s also helpful to realize that Jesus didn’t do this all the time. We only have a couple of episodes recorded for us when he actually fed a crowd. But it seems that his disciples were always fed and cared for, the bills were paid, the taxes turned in on time (even though it took a little fishing first to come up with the required coin, Matt 17:27). When we walk with Jesus day by day, he takes care of us, and many times more abundantly than we could ever ask or imagine. (Eph. 3:20) God provides and he also doesn’t seem to mind leaving behind some leftovers.
Generous Father and Gracious Jesus, thank you for all you provide by your Spirit day by day and moment by moment. Thank you that you give freely and with such love that we are at times overwhelmed by your goodness. Fill us with the faith we need to trust you in times of scarcity and want. And grant us the grace to just as freely and in faith offer all that we have to others, trusting you to make up the difference and to provide the leftovers. In Jesus name. Amen.
“Now a man came from Baal-shalishah, and brought the man of God bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And he said, ‘Give them to the people that they may eat.’ His attendant said, ‘What, will I set this before a hundred men?’ But he said, ‘Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, “They shall eat and have some left over.”’ So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the LORD.” 2 Kings 4:42–44 NASB
“Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets.” Matthew 14:19–20 NASB
by Linda Rex
Jesus had this way of taking the most everyday tasks and events and turning them into a deeply spiritual concept, especially when he started talking about the kingdom of God. One of those unique parables of Jesus was brought to my attention in a new way this week as I prepared for Sunday’s sermon.
Previously, I hadn’t given much focused thought on the idea that Jesus described God as a baker. And not just a baker, but a woman who baked bread. And she wasn’t a wimpy woman at that—she was able to handle a large amount of dough at once. Three pecks of flour is the equivalent of 16 five-pound bags—enough with about 42 cups of water to make about 101 pounds of dough. That’s a lot of dough!(1)
So, here I see pictured a woman who is doing an everyday task—making bread, and she is physically strong and capable. I like that. How often we women are called on to be physically strong and capable!
I think sometimes that we assume that the Bible and Jesus portray God as being male since most of the language used in relation to him is masculine. But there is a significant difference between human gender and the gender of human language. We have to keep that in mind when we begin to think seriously about the nature of God.
I know that many men are good bakers. In fact, I remember my dad being fond of making unleavened bread. It was something he took up doing late in life that I never expected to find him doing. I tasted some of his products and they were pretty good. But perhaps the culture in Jesus’ day expected a baker to be female—so here God is pictured as a woman.
Breadmaking is something I enjoy doing. In fact, at one point in my life, I started making all our bread by hand because the motion of kneading the dough helped me to heal from an injury to my wrist. It became a therapy that prevented me from having to have surgery. And it worked. And it’s a creative process. I love being creative—I take after the Creator in that way.
But, back to the Breadmaker. The woman with all that flour hides leaven in the flour and it all becomes leavened. One of the simplest recipes I’ve used is for making pizza dough, and it probably resembles pretty closely how bread was made centuries ago. And it got me to thinking about how hiding leaven in flour is related to the kingdom of God.
Most all of the recipes that I can think of for bread start with yeast and water (or milk), a touch of salt and oil. All of that comes first. It is possible that what is meant by leaven in this parable was sourdough starter, which is a small batch of dough that is full of active yeast cultures. Either way, the ingredients that we start bread with—oil, salt, water—along with the yeast, are often used in the Word to describe God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This is worth giving meditative thought to.
In fact, I go back to the beginning of the world and find there hovering over the deep waters, the Spirit of God, who when the Word spoke the will of the Father, brought about our existence. God breathed the Breath of life into all that lives and breathes. All the animals and humans breathe oxygen in and carbon dioxide out. It is carbon dioxide that is created when the yeast in bread begins the fermentation process. And this is what causes the dough to rise. Thought-provoking.
Once these leavening ingredients are blended with the flour, there is no separating of them. The leavening process begins to fill the whole wad of dough, especially when the strong, capable baker begins to knead the dough. I’m not even sure she could stop the process once she started. The leaven is an intimate part of the dough, and this becomes evident as the dough begins to rise, and when it is baked into bread.
The kingdom of God is not something that just appeared when Jesus came to earth. For he was in the person of the Word, present in the beginning with the Father and the Spirit when all was made. The purposes and plans of God have not been derailed, but are gradually being kneaded into the dough. In time the heat of the fire will reveal an awesome loaf of bread.
In the meantime though, we find that the dough isn’t always compliant and responsive to the baker. As she pushes the dough down with her hands, the dough pushes back. The working of the dough and its response both positive and negative are a part of the bread-making process.
We tend to think God’s goal right now is to get rid of everything bad in the world. Just slay all these dragons, Lord! But the thing is that God is allowing the evil here for the moment—though he hates what it does to his children—so that he can accomplish the kingdom work he’s trying to do. He’s allowing us to resist him—though it’s foolish to do so—because he knows that it is a part of the free will and growing up process. He’s big enough, clever enough, perfect enough to deal with evil summarily and completely in his own time and way. But he doesn’t always do it right this minute when we think he should.
The baker decides what the end loaf is going to look like. Dough can be used for many things. In fact it can be divided up and used as individual little loafs we call dinner rolls. It can be used as a base for pizza. It can be broiled, boiled and baked as bagels. It can be fried as fritters or sweetened and spiced as cinnamon rolls. Or it can just be made into a plain, old loaf of bread. That’s the baker’s call.
We don’t know what the kingdom of God is going to look like in the end. We’re not really sure what the divine Baker is doing right now or why he is doing it. But one thing is sure—the leaven is filling the whole loaf. And all that God has created shares his Breath of life and participates in his kingdom life. And God’s not going to quit until he has a perfect loaf of bread. I can’t wait to see how it turns out and what it tastes like. I have a feeling it might taste a lot like the bread on Sunday morning’s communion plate.
Holy God, our Heavenly Baker, we are so thankful that you know what you are doing. We’re grateful that we can trust you to do everything necessary to complete the breadmaking process and to bring to pass the fullness of your kingdom. We trust you to finish what you have begun, and we look forward to sharing the bread of heaven with you in eternal communion. In the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.
”He spoke another parable to them, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.’” Matt 13:33 NASB
(1) Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002. Pg. 100.
by Linda Rex
What do you do when everything that matters to you in your life shatters and falls into pieces at your feet?
Sometimes I think that until we have this experience in our lives, we are only playing at living. Because it is in these situations that we find out who we really are in the core of our beings and what it is we really believe about ourselves, God and each other. Marshall Shelley in his book writes:
“It’s doubtful that God can use any man greatly until he’s hurt him deeply,” said A. W. Tozer. In weakness, God’s strength can be revealed. Joseph was jailed, David driven into hiding, Paul imprisoned, and Christ crucified, but even in defeat, God’s servants are not destroyed. Part of the miracle of grace is that broken vessels can be made whole, with even more capacity than before.
In my life I went through a personal experience where someone I believed in and trusted completely betrayed me and rejected me. It was shattering. Here is a poem I wrote that expresses the reality of how I felt as a result of this experience:
The bloody aftermath of choices–
Broken hearts and broken dreams,
Cascading through the pages of our lives
You wander on,
Oblivious to the bodies of the crushed
How can you be so cold,
Oh, for the light!
Spit in the face
Of the grace that was given!
Ravage the hearts
Of those left behind!
One day you will pay
The cost of the pain.
Grace or no grace,
Truth will descend
And justice, justice will stand!
© Linda A. Rex, 2002
Published in “The Best Poems & Poets of 2002”, Watermark Press
Is it possible that God’s grace and justice are one and the same? When we are wounded in this way, we want God to make things right. We want justice. We want the one who has hurt us to pay in some way. We want everything to be fixed and put back together again. Or at least have the pain taken away and be able to live a normal life. It’s not fair, we think, that we have to go through this—whether or not we deserve it.
I have come to see that our perception of our loss and suffering can drive how we respond to it. Since the beginning of time, we as humans have focused on trying to resolve the problem of discerning between what is good and what is evil rather than simply eating the fruit of God’s life. We did and still do this by creating rules and laws, and by punishing misbehavior and exacting penance for sin. But the one thing we’ve never been able to swallow it seems is the bitter pill of God’s sovereignty.
We don’t seem to realize that what we really need in every circumstance is what God has offered us from the beginning—his grace. God’s love is the basis for all of his dealings with us. If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll have to admit that God has dished out a whole lot more grace or undeserved pardon, generosity and goodness than any of us deserve.
And we as humans handed God in Jesus everything but grace—we poured out on him every consequence, deserved or undeserved, in his crucifixion. We exacted full “justice” on Jesus. Yet God took it on the chin and responded by using or shall we say, intended from the beginning to use, Jesus’ life, suffering, crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension as the means of our salvation and transformation. And through Jesus God connected all of humanity with himself forever.
In reflection, I can now say that as painful and devastating as my experience was, and in spite of the years and effort—blood, sweat and tears—it took to recover, I am deeply grateful for the experience. For God used it to transform me and to change my life. He began to do something incredible and new in my life—some things I never could have ever imagined even happening. But only because I did not run away from him, but rather ran towards him in the midst of my pain and struggle.
Even though at the time, my desire may have been that justice be done, now I see that God’s way of handling it was much better. His grace was exactly what was needed in the situation. In Jesus, justice is and will be done—God’s going to make everything right in the end. In the meantime, though, it is his grace that has carried me through and used these circumstances, the pain and suffering, to accomplish something beautiful and life-giving. And my efforts to express and participate in God’s grace in the midst of it all have been rewarded as well.
So, strange as it may seem, justice and grace are odd companions, but they are well suited for one another when they meet in the person and work of God in Jesus Christ. And via the Holy Spirit, they can and do meet together in us as we surrender to the sovereignty of God in the midst of difficult and painful circumstances. And they produce beautiful, life-giving fruit—spiritual fruit that will last for all eternity. And that’s what really matters in the end.
Holy God, it is in difficult and painful times that we have a hard time understanding why things are so unjust. We don’t understand why you allow what you allow and why you do the things you do. Thank you for your grace and love—grant that we may have the grace to trust you and to surrender to your sovereign will in everything. We can only do this through Jesus our Lord and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.” 2 Co 4:7–11