A Little Yeast

solve through love

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 147:1-11, Ecclesiastes 9:11-18, Galatians 5:1-15, Matthew 16:1-12


Paul fought diligently to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. He argued with Peter and James that there was no need for Gentiles to observe Jewish laws, since Christ had fulfilled the law and freed us of its chains. Imagine his dismay when certain members of the church at Galatia –which he founded! – began teaching circumcision was a requirement.

Paul’s response may be summed up as: “You were fine when I left you – what happened?! If you require this one law for justification, you will effectively bind yourself to all of them, and Jesus’s sacrifice becomes meaningless for you. Stop listening to these bad apples; they are spoiling the bunch!” More specifically: “A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough.”

Jesus also compared bad teachings to yeast.  To appreciate the analogy, we must remember that during Passover Jews ate only unleavened (yeast-free) bread to commemorate their flight from Egypt; even a tiny bit of yeast could rapidly grow to contaminate the whole batch and  make it unusable. At first Jesus was irritated because the disciples thought his words about yeast were a rebuke because they forgot to bring the bread, so he explained exactly what yeast – the contaminated teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees – they needed to be wary of.

What varieties of yeast threaten our faith communities today? What elements which start out tiny can – if left unaddressed – spread to ruin the whole batch? They are numerous and extend beyond bad doctrine. Bullies become more bold when we fail to address them. Cliques can form almost undetected until they are exclusive enough to be hurtful. Apathy toward justice issues saps the sense of mission. Political litmus tests (spoken and unspoken) may start to send messages about who the “real” Christians are. Left unchallenged, expressions of bigotry taint the character of the congregation.

Ignoring a problem when it’s small so we can “keep the peace” only allows it to fester and spread. Peace is not the absence of conflict. It is the ability to resolve conflict through love. Let’s diligently pursue true peace before it becomes impossible to do so: once the bread is baked, the yeast can’t be removed.

Comfort: Conflict does not have to lead to division.

Challenge: When unhealthy behaviors threaten your community, speak up but speak up with love.

Prayer: Loving God, grant me the wisdom to know which battles to fight for the good of your gathered people. Amen.

Discussion: Are you helping spread any yeast by ignoring it?

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Divide and Concur

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 135; 145, 2 Samuel 17:24-18:8, Acts 22:30-23:11, Mark 11:12-26


Paul was a shrewd man. When he was arrested and brought before the council in Jerusalem, he noticed some of them were Pharisees like himself, and others were Sadducees. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection, spirits, and angels but the Sadducees did not. This was an ongoing point of contention. By mentioning that he himself was a Pharisee on trial concerning the resurrection of the dead, Paul accomplished a couple things.

First, he managed to gain some sympathy from the Pharisees. Instead of outright condemning him, they began to wonder “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” Second, he moved the focus off himself and onto the ongoing theological quarrel between the two sects. Their dissension became so heated that the tribune, fearing for Paul’s life, had him removed to the barracks.

For such supposedly smart men, the council members were easily led into unnecessary conflict. Maybe that’s because we are so easily swayed by people who we believe to be part of our “tribe” and so suspicious of people who are not. We tend to assume friends and colleagues who agree with us on one controversial issue – abortion, for instance – will also agree with us other issues – such as same-sex marriage. When we discover they disagree, it may be difficult to reconcile. Conversely if someone disagrees with us on one topic we may presuppose they will disagree with us on others, and when they don’t we have to adjust our thinking about them. If we are unable or unwilling to make those adjustments, we can end up turning a blind eye to the faults of those we initially agree with, and an equally blind eye to the virtues of people we first disagree with.

The good news is, we aren’t required to pigeon-hole anyone.

We don’t have to divide into tribes, and we don’t have to agree on every point to be one body. Yitzhak Rabin said, “You don’t make peace with friends. You make it with very unsavory enemies.” If we are to be blessed as peacemakers, loving through disagreement is an absolute necessity.


Additional Reading:
For thoughts on today’s reading from Mark, see Faith and Figs.

Comfort: Agreement is not necessary for peace. 

Challenge: Watch, listen to, or read something from a point of view you generally disagree with, but listen for points where you might be able to agree.

Prayer: Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever. (Psalm 145:2)

Discussion: When is the last time you found yourself surprised to agree with a person or group?

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Fighting Fire with Marshmallows

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 63; 149, 1 Samuel 17:31-49, Acts 11:1-18, Mark 1:14-28


The outcome of the battle between David and Goliath is such a famous tale of victory for the plucky underdog that it doesn’t need retelling. What happened before, during David’s preparation for the battle, gets less press but has some good lessons for us.

When King Saul realized the young farm boy was determined to face off against the Philistine giant, he put David in his own armor and gave him his own sword to use. David, unused to the armor, couldn’t even walk in it, so he took it off to face Goliath with his staff, some stones, and a sling. To Goliath – and no doubt to seasoned warriors on both sides – this looked like foolishness.

David was smart. He knew he couldn’t survive by engaging on his opponent’s terms, and refused to be lured into them. Whether our battlefield is physical or intellectual, let’s be equally smart. For example, some segments of Christianity seem to be at war with science, and also seem to think the path to victory is to reinvent the the Bible as scientifically accurate. That’s not what it’s for, and trying to prove otherwise is a losing venture which only undermines its real value and purpose. There are no GMO fruits of the Spirit, so let’s trust what we grow is good enough.

David was also wise enough not to feel pressured into using the tactics of his allies when they didn’t fit the situation. It’s not that he wasn’t willing to listen; he did try on the armor before deciding it was a bad fit. He just knew from past experience what skills served him best. Sometimes people on our side of a divide think they need to employ the tactics of our adversaries to keep up or pay them back. That’s why fake news, name calling, and ridiculously broad generalizations are not the exclusive domain of any single political party … and why they result in so little progress.

Like our young shepherd-turned-hero, let’s trust in the strengths God has given us, the ones that come not from fear, but from faith.


Additional Reading:
For additional readings from today’s passage from Mark, see Fool Me or Evangelize vs. Evange-lies.
For more thoughts on today’s passage from Acts, see Astounding Gifts.

Comfort: With God’s help, no obstacle is too large.

Challenge: When you are engaged in conflict, especially if you have time to pre-plan, think about whether your responses lead to resolution or further conflict.

Prayer: Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17)

Discussion: When have you beat the odds?

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The Multiplication of Division

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 5; 145, Zephaniah 1:7-13, Revelation 14:1-13, Luke 12:49-59


Jesus is known as the Prince of Peace, so why would he have told his disciples: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided.” He says sons, fathers, daughter, mothers, and in-laws will be set against each other. Is this the picture of Christianity we try to embrace and promote?

Fortunately, we have the entire Gospel to help us understand the broader context and character of Christ. His vision of love, mercy, and forgiveness was uncompromising. To follow him meant (and often still means) taking a stand against social and religious norms. For many people, such a challenge is unacceptably threatening; truth and mercy don’t always trump the desire to maintain the status quo. In families struggling with dysfunctions of alcoholism or abuse, family members who seek to regain emotional health through counseling and treatment, which necessitate exposing the problem, are often vilified by other family members who believe they benefit from keeping the situation under wraps. Dysfunctional religion involves similar behavior, and people confronting problems are often accused of creating them.

When you stand for what you believe in, you will create enemies, even out of family members. But Jesus tells us to love our enemies and do good to them. He tells us to forgive as many times as we have to. And in the midst of it all we must remain humble, because despite our best efforts to follow Christ, some of the stands we take in good faith … will be mistaken.

Have you heard of “cheap grace?” There’s also “cheap peace.” It’s the kind of peace defined by an absence of conflict. Cheap asks us to compromise our principles and values to achieve an imaginary state. Divisions will always exist. Real peace, the kind we find in Christ, exists in our hearts and relationships despite passionate arguments and harsh disagreements. We must decide whether to address them by building bridges or walls.

Comfort: Christ brings peace to the most difficult places.

Challenge: Grow your faith not by appeasing your enemies, but by finding ways of doing good to them while holding firm to your values.

Prayer: God of peace and love, I will look for your peace in all situations. Amen.

Discussion: When have you been forced to cooperate on a project at work, home, or church with someone you disagreed with? How did it go?

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