Bacon Obedience—18 February 2020

Deuteronomy 6:4–9, Deuteronomy 11:13–21, Numbers 15:37–41 (read online ⧉)

According to some people, bacon deserves its own food group. There is a somewhat true adage, cook bacon and the men will come. Sad, but true. A mercifully short culinary path was bacon everything: bacon mints, bacon gum, bacon ice cream, bacon shaped bandages, bacon jelly beans. Pretty much the bacon theme was done. And some of it was just disgusting. In Israelite (and subsequent Jewish) culture/religion, pigs were unclean animals. They weren’t to be eaten. There is a lot of speculation as to why pigs were prohibited. One of the theories revolves around a particular parisite that was common in pigs (and is still an issue today to a far lesser degree). Another theory is that pigs are, effectively, scavengers. They eat pretty much anything. That has its own health issues. Scavengers and bottom feeders (think shellfish) were also prohibited food. A slightly off-the-beaten-path theory is that pigs are so easy to raise for food, that sheep (and other clean animals) were a physical manifestation of God’s blessings of the Israelites.

The Shema Yisrael (this collection of today’s passages) isn’t about bacon or pork, or even food. It is about a relationship with God. The tassels (Numbers 15:27) were another physical manifestation of a person declaring their loyalty to God. By their food (or lack of particular kinds) and clothing, they displayed that they were in relationship and fellowship with God. We focus a lot on the “rules” in the Old Testament. Yet, the rules were never the point. The rules were actually the sign that the Israelites loved God more than other gods, cultures, nations, or tribes. They were to show that God was more important to them than anything or anyone else.

The Christian world is a mixed bag when it comes to obeying the food laws of the Old Testament. Certain traditions hold to some of them. Some hold to a “Garden of Eden” level. Most of the Christian world, however, does not view the Old Testament dietary laws as binding. Of course, while perhaps not viewing them as binding, they look at them as guidelines and will try to follow them to some degree. So, no bacon for you.

If you don’t like bacon, that’s easy for you. However, it isn’t about the bacon. It’s about the relationship. In the Christian circle, even among those the food adherents, that is the recognized reality. Even in the Roman Catholic church (often being accused about being more about law than grace) acknowledges and teaches that relationship is primary. It’s not as if rules and practices are bad, quite the contrary. It is the reason between the practices and rules that is important: love of God.

1) How do rules affect and influence relationships between people?

2) If, through prayer, God revealed that you had to never eat your favorite food again (even bacon), what would you do? Why? Would you struggle?

3) Bacon can also provide an allegory to our spiritual life. Something that God forbade one, may have not forbidden another. How do you interact with people whose forbidden thing (alcohol, pot, smoking, pork, movies, etc.) is different than yours? What is your forbidding thing or things?

Long Road of Obedience —17 February 2020

James 1:2–8, 1 Peter 1:3–9 (read online ⧉)

“No pain; no gain.” It’s highly likely that you heard this phrase at some point in your life. Often the phrase was/is used in weight-lifting/-training. The understanding is that the resistance (lifting the weight for repetition) will hurt (especially the next day). The result is muscles that are better capable the next time to repeat the effort. When a muscle is “gained” this way, it is torn. We don’t think of improving our clothing by tearing it (yes, there is a fashion “sense” that does this, but it isn’t an improvement, per se).

Sometimes it isn’t physical pain that grows us. Mental pain improves us (think schooling). Emotional pain makes us resilient. Pain still isn’t any fun.

Spiritually, often the greatest growth is due to the greatest pain. Some have called it a time of being in a spiritual desert. Some have called it the long night of the soul. Some have called it being empty. Contrary to our usual emotional and intellectual response, this is when we need to lean most heavily upon God. This is also often when we don’t. We avoid God. We avoid talking to God. We avoid reading of God. We avoid all things about God. Then we wonder where God went, failing (or choosing not) to recognize that it is not God who left us, but we who left God.

On the other hand, if we instead develop practices that continue in prayer, reading, and worship, our foundation becomes firm. Often it is obedience to those practices during the dry time that produces the deepest growth as we exit the desert. The obedience learned in the desert prepare each of our steps so that we can see the Father’s love in the steps we take, follow Jesus’ path, and live by the Holy Spirit.

1) When was the last spiritual desert you experienced? What was the result? How did you make it through?

2) People often view spiritual things and practices as if they ought to be different than everything else. Why do you think that is?

3) “Going through the motions” often seems false, yet that is often when we are most deeply trained. Why is that? What spiritual practices are so ingrained that you cannot imagine not doing them?

Blowing Smoke Into Our Own Eyes — 16 February 2020

Isaiah 30:8–13 (read online ⧉)

Hearing the truth about ourselves is often uncomfortable. We like to hear good stuff, but do our best to avoid that feels bad, or might cause us to look at ourselves badly. We are not alone. When Isaiah is sent to confront the Israelites with a bad report, you can imagine how well it was received.

Who wants to be called a rebellious child, except for those who take pride in being rebelling. Rare is the person who wants to be called deceptive. Yet rebellion and deception can often be attributed to ourselves. It never feels good to confront it. The reality is that rebellion and deception often go hand-in-hand. Where we can lose a little bit of the meaning is that sometimes the deceiving is of ourselves, leading us into a life or choice of rebellion. That’s where the words in Isaiah go. People didn’t want to hear the truth. They want to be lied to rather than having to deal with the truth.

In the current separated world that is the “United” States of America, there are many prophetic voices speaking out with the heart of Jesus Christ. However, even they have become blind. Whole swaths of people are challenged for a single point of politics or policy, while their own politics or policy have their own parts that are not in line with Jesus Christ. In many respects, the Israelites had it easy.

Christians are called to love, starting with one another. Yet, what is love? How is loved lived out? In fact, our understanding of love may very well affect the love of Jesus Christ that comes from us. That is potentially the biggest problem of all. People can disagree on the right (and Christian) way to help a person get out of poverty (for example). Their perspectives may be very different. That doesn’t mean that one is right and one is wrong. Our world is very much playing the zero-sum game. In other words, somebody loses. All too often, Jesus Christ gets lost in the mix and noise.
The church and its people must begin to focus on Jesus Christ. That’s obvious, you may say, but it really isn’t. If you love Jesus Christ, you can’t support (some person). That’s the way things are currently going. We no longer show grace and love to those of different politics. We’ve lost our first love.

1) Think of your least favorite politician. Can you say, I love you (their name)? Do you think Jesus can?

2) Redemption and love flow through the Scriptures. How should that affect our view of ourselves? How should that affect our views of others?

3) Why is it important that politics can play a useful role in expanding the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth? What is the (ongoing) danger with that same thing?