Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” –John 6:35 (NIV)

I am willing to go out on a limb and bet that every human being has been thirsty at some point in his or her life. In fact, every cat, dog, plant–every living thing–has been thirsty at some point. I’ll wager we’ve all been hungry before too. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need restaurants at rest stops or quick snacks like, my favorite, Slim Jims. In fact, many go hungry every day right here in the bountiful harvest that is the United States. In other parts of the world, dying from hunger is a sad, sick reality.

So it follows, then, that none of us who have been thirsty could possible believe in Jesus, and all of those dead from hunger were without faith. None of us believe this is true. So how do we explain Jesus’ declarations like this scattered throughout the Bible. Some question the faith of all those who have problems. But don’t we all have problems? Some believe those who are not healed through faith healing are to blame for their own lack of faith. But we know anyone playing that game is somewhere between a fraud and a crook.

This is a good time to point out the metaphorical, figurative nature of Jesus’ teachings. This is a man that declared that he would only teach in parables. Jesus is deep, deeper than our souls could ever even imagine, so taking anything he says at face value is a dangerous mistake. When Jesus says he’ll rebuild the temple in three days, he’s talking about his body, not a building. When Jesus says they will fish for people, they throw down their poles and follow him. They do not grab larger poles to go on a human hunt.

Like the Constitution, much debate and some violence is based on arguing what Jesus meant by different teachings. Does “Live by the sword, die by the sword” call for gun control? Then why does Jesus tell his disciples to arm themselves when they set off without him? Any fight could go quote for quote. The Bible is seemingly impossible to navigate with so many seeming contradictions. Why do we even bother? Why not stop fighting over what He meant, since we could never possibly know for sure, and change the way we think of reading The Bible.

What if true Bible study isn’t about just memorizing passages and interpreting stories? What if true Bible study is about getting to know the “character” of Jesus so well that you can just feel what would make Jesus happy with you? Put yourself in his time, in his situations. Really picture it after you get to know Him. Would Jesus be on the side of taking hard-working “foreigners” and sending them back to poverty, oppression, and war in the name of Nationalism? Would Jesus be upset by the Romans giving free health care to impoverished Jews? Would Jesus be disgusted by poor people receiving food rations for free paid for by taxes for the more well-off members of his society?

Of course not. Jesus would welcome the stranger and provide for him to save him from war and starvation. Jesus would bless the actions of the government providing free health care for its citizens. Jesus would actually call for the rich in society to feed the poor, whether required by the government or voluntary. The Jesus I have gotten to know would call social programs progress toward His father’s Kingdom where we all share everything in common.

Aside from the political implications, I’m writing this more about our daily lives–my daily life. Study the Bible well enough to know what would make Jesus proud and what would make Him cry, and you can’t really go wrong. Don’t worry about what Jesus would do–you’re never going to be Jesus. Worry about what Jesus would think. WWJT?

I’ve certainly made Him cry quite a bit throughout my life, but the marvel of grace is that it doesn’t have to end there. You’re not done once you’ve done wrong, no matter how many times you go astray. Sure, we might make Jesus cry, but the next day and the next we can make new choices and He, like a proud papa, will continue to love us and hold us tight. You can still have a chance to make Him proud. And I intend to do just that. Sure we’ll mess up again, but God is like GPS–he’ll just recalculate if you go off course and set you straight again.

If only we let Him.

God bless!

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Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” –Matthew 22: 37-39 (NIV)

Sometimes the beauty of the Bible is when you get a comment from the mouth of our Lord that on the face seems simple and as set in stone as the Commandments themselves, but when you dig a little deeper, it leaves you with more questions than answers. Questions that once asked lead you to a deeper understanding than if you took everything at face value.

My question for my Lord and Savior is this: What about those of us that struggle mightily with loving thyselves?

I have to believe Jesus meant this both ways, being all-knowing and all that. There are some of us who have no trouble loving their neighbors, giving openly of their hearts, minds, and souls, but because of whatever scars they’ve accumulated cannot simply love their own hearts, minds, or souls. We go to work and offer smiles and help and kind words, we donate to causes and help the homeless, we see a friend in need and give them a little pick-me-up letter or email or drawing. A comment here, a random act of kindness there, so much love to give outwardly, but such a dark pit of self-reproach inwardly.

I think Jesus, in this way, has presented us with a philosophical conundrum. Maybe even a paradox. If one loves one’s self fully, then it is a great teaching to instruct one to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. However, if one does not love one’s self, or even if one hates one’s self, then it is a poor teaching. Many follow the poor teaching. How many people do you know who hate themselves so deeply that they lash out at the rest of the world spewing hate outwardly that flows just as rapidly inward?

So I attest that in order to follow Jesus’ teaching here, and the Commandment He quotes, one has to love one’s self unconditionally with acts, not just words and emotions, in order to perform those deeds Jesus envisions. In order for loving my neighbor like myself to be of any value, I first have to perfect loving myself. This is my epiphany this morning as I read this scripture in a new way for the first time.

I think about the Pastor that regularly participates in prison ministry. A man or woman who enters the walls of a penitentiary filled with people society, at least the way we do it in this country, has given up on. People so damaged and broken we throw them away, deeming them only fitting to rot in a cell for a prescribed amount of time until we let them loose to cause more pain and sorrow. And the Pastor loves these unlovable people–like Jesus did with the tax-collectors and sinners–seeing them as valuable human lives, victims of harsh childhoods or addictions or both, people who, too, deserve redemption. The Pastor realizes they are not what they do and loves them as beautiful children of God.

How many of those prisoners are able to see themselves that way? The answer may tell you just how many will not return once their sentences are over. Perhaps the problem of the prisoner is not loving his or herself enough.

How many of us can see ourselves that way?

God Bless!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. –Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)

Have you ever been just lying in bed dreading the thought of getting up? Getting dressed and going to work? Or cleaning the house or bringing the kids to this activity or that? Has bed ever seemed like the better alternative?

This sounds like me on most weekdays. We teachers, and many other professionals, have to get out of bed pretty early in the morning, not to mention students. And when that alarm goes off, and it’s still black as night outside, and everyone else in the house is sound asleep, the thought of actually getting up and putting my best foot forward has often been a daunting task. Just climbing out from under the safety of the blanket can seem like a harrowing experience on some mornings.

But times, they are a-changin’. This morning I faced as daunting a weekend day as possible. I have to completely rebuild the family room and the kids’ bedrooms, which they, partly through parental negligence, have basically destroyed. I’d attach a picture if it weren’t for the shame. I had to face the scale, as I do every Saturday to see how I’m doing on that New Year’s Resolution, and my wife and daughter are away at a dance competition, so I am alone with the little one–no sign of help in sight.

And yet for some reason, today I couldn’t wait to get out of bed. The thought of that room being put together the right way and being clean again excited me. The idea for this blog post got my creative juices flowing. Where before I worried what the scale would say, today I was intrigued by the possibility it would actually be good news. I had this great idea for what I could do with the kids this summer, and most of all, I was excited about talking to a close friend. This is how mornings should be. Always.

I know some of you reading this must have days ahead of you far more scary than mine. There are some out there not reading this who have far more daunting tasks ahead of them. The soldier in the line of fire, the abused wife or child, the homeless, the truly impoverished, the inner city youth faced with gang violence, even the NASCAR drivers preparing for the first big race of the year. How do they get through their day without fear when I struggle to rise out of my nightly tomb just to face some high school juniors or a messy house?

Well, as today’s scripture tells us, His power is at work within us. This is the power that freed the Jews by parting a sea, fed thousands, delivered them to the promised land, gave David the strength to slay Goliath, healed the sick and cured the blind, raised the dead, and ultimately triumphed over human hatred and greed and death itself on the cross high above Jerusalem. Yes, that power is in all of us. You may not always feel it, but it is there. And you can see it at work in so many different things and people.

So don’t fear the daunting tasks of the day. Greet the blessings of the day each morning with an open heart. I can count maybe four daunting tasks for today, but the blessing cannot be counted. We’ll start with that close friend and that little boy I get to take care of all by myself today (not have to).

Or even those clean rooms.

God bless!

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. -1 Peter 1: 8-9 (NIV)

Did you ever do something really horrible? Did you ever hurt the person you love most in the world? Maybe you didn’t even know you were doing it, but once you realized it, deep down inside you began tearing yourself apart. Have you ever felt like you were a monster? How could you? What were you thinking? What kind of human being does such things? How can one person be so blind? So ignorant? How can you let down the most important person to you on God’s green Earth?

Every life is sprinkled with little dabs of guilt. Some of us are littered with infinite wads of guilt, cluttering every corner of our hearts. What then? How does one live with one’s self after causing so much pain and suffering to another human being? Is it the end of the line?

Psychologists believe that telling children they are a “good girl” or a “bad girl” can be very damaging to the child. Once she hears what “brand” of child she is, she becomes resigned to the fact. Rather, we should talk about the behaviors as good or bad, or decisions as poor or excellent. It’s not the child that is good or bad. In fact, it’s not even healthy to tell a child she is smart or creative. Talk about individual behaviors. If a child thinks she is “the smart one,” she won’t realize that success comes from hard work and perseverance–just simply being smart. Compliment how hard she worked. Compliment the amount of thought she put into the task. A child needs to learn that things she can control can lead to success, not simply inborn intelligence.

Are we much more than children? No matter how old we are, we still need everything that a child needs. We are still easily persuaded that we are the good boy or the bad boy, the smart one or the dumb. If you’ve not done just right, if you’ve screwed up, if you’ve hurt someone you love or taken more than you’ve given, it is easy to convince yourself that you are bad. That you are not “good enough.” It’s easy to punish yourself. Some do it for a lifetime.

Yet we go to church and hear our Pastors tell us that there is a little bit of God in us. God created us, and every time someone creates something, a little bit of that person is deposited in the creation. A painter’s painting contains a little bit of him or her. A writer’s story contains a lot a bit of him or her. The same with an architect, a dancer, a poet, or an actor. Even your own children that you created are speckled with little bits of you–physically, intellectually, and emotionally. So if God created YOU, there is some of God in YOU!

Hard to believe when you’ve just hurt the most important person in your life, isn’t it? Hard to believe it when you’ve made mistakes that ruin the best part of your life, isn’t it? Hard to believe it when you’ve failed, isn’t it? How can something as beautiful as God live in a broken vessel as ugly as you feel.

Well, that is faith. Whether you’re reading this in a sad state of guilt, in a place of darkness, even if you’re reading this in prison for a crime you regret, you too have a little piece of God in you. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. There is good in you. There is light. And it can shine again.

A very wise person, one who I care a great deal about, often reminds me “There is a way to be good again.” And there is. Because you are a living, breathing, imperfect but redeemable vessel of God. He’s in there. He’s part of you. You are partly divine. Today’s scripture, on the surface, might seem to be telling you simply that you should believe God exists even if you can’t see Him. But it’s also telling us that God exists every where whether you see him there or not.

Even in you. Even when you haven’t done just right.

I think Jars of Clay put it best in the song “Boys (Lesson One)”:

Not to undermine the consequence
But you are not what you do
And when you need it most
I have a hundred reasons why I love you.

No matter what you’ve done, God is still in you. He sent His Son to die on the cross to redeem even you. He still loves you. And no matter what you’ve done, I love you too.

And, yes, I am talking to myself.

Good bless!

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. -1 Corinthians 1:27

Afghanistan. The principal of an all-girl’s school, one of the newly opened all-girl’s schools fighting to stay open in a region of the world where education used to be reserved just for men, drinks water from a hose before her students arrive to make sure it is not poisoned. By our standards, the school is impoverished. There’s not much technology if any. There’s no homecoming game or even a football team. They don’t even have cheerleaders. But, despite hatred from the public and attempts to shut them down–politically or by force–young girls march into school, risking bombings, poisonings, and any other number of attacks to get their education, to simply take advantage of the glorious opportunities that education can open for us if we truly value it. Read more here.

Torino, Italy. A group of men in hockey jerseys and helmets embrace in the middle of an ice rink, sticks in hand, basking in the roar of the crowd. This is the South Korean team celebrating after their victory in a qualifying tournament has sent them to the big show. Only these hockey players seem to be sitting on the ice, legs extended before them. Below each leg is a large, makeshift skate running the entire length of it. Some have two, others only have one. This is the International Paralympic Qualifying Tournament. This victory has sent them on to the Paralympics, and boy are they excited. These are amputees, paraplegics, and men with assorted other handicaps still enjoying the game they love, still working hard and striving in international competition. Read more here.

Detroit, Michigan. A product design college student wanders into a harsh homeless shelter in one of the worst neighborhoods in Michigan. Hoping the homeless folks in the building could help her with a project for school, creating a product to address a specific need, she had no idea what she would see or where her project would go. At first she angered some residents there simply by bothering them with something as trivial as a college girl project while they were suffering. But today, “the crazy coat lady,” as she is called, is the CEO of an organization that hires homeless people to sew coats to donate to the homeless in need of a little warmth–of body and heart. The inspiration for something great not coming from inside her cozy college classroom, but instead from the cold streets of despair in the shelter known simply as “hell” to locals. Read more here.

Now take a moment and do some math for me. Do some counting.

How many years have you gotten to safely go to free public school? Is it 12? Is it 11? Is it 10? Is it one? That’s one more than many in the world.

How many working limbs do you have? Is it four? How about three? Is it only one? Are you seeing the point?

How many roofs are going to be over your head tonight? How many beds beneath you? How many coats do you own? It only takes one to give you dignity, shelter, and a sense of place. So how many is it?

Do the math. Add it all up. How many blessings do you have? How many do you not even realize you have? Let the ignorant teach you how educated you are. Let the weak teach you how strong you are. Let the poor teach you how rich you are.

Then do your best to help them up to your level of blessings.

God bless!

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? –Romans 8:32 (NIV)

I love the mystery of Christianity. There’s so much I long to know, so much curiosity, but there’s no way of knowing until I meet my maker in Heaven. The biggest question for me–why God would sacrifice His only Son for us failures–is the most mysterious of all.

I have a son. I don’t know that I would sacrifice him for anything. If God came to me and asked me to sacrifice him, cast him away to death in order to save the entire world from total destruction, I don’t know if I could do it. Could you?

Yet God sacrificed His Son, not to prevent the destruction of our flesh and bones, but to prevent the destruction of our souls. How did this come about? At what point did He come to this decision? The Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament, but why did God make us wait until that particular moment in time to send forth Jesus if He was planning it all along? More over, once He arrived and began healing and preaching, why take Him from us when He did? Why not let Jesus do more good works and save the Resurrection for Jesus’ old age? The truth is, just like we may never know who killed JFK, what the government is hiding at Area 51, and what Joan Rivers’ face is made of, we can’t know the will of God.

When people say “The Lord works in mysterious ways,” we often think of it as if God is playing some sort of game with us. As if God looks down at us pitiful humans and answers or doesn’t answer our prayers in the strangest ways he can just to mess with us. I think His mysterious ways are only mysterious because we think ourselves so wise that if problems aren’t solved the ways we think of, we think it must be the other who is somehow strange.

We don’t solve problems by letting our only sons die. We don’t look for heroes and leaders in lowly towns doing lowly jobs. We don’t chose our biggest persecutors to be our greatest spokesmen. But it all works out just perfectly when God does these exact mysterious things. Maybe there’s no mystery at all, though. Maybe we’re just not as wise as we think we are. Maybe we’re just as blind as Saul.

Don’t worry, though. God himself will find a way to open our eyes. God will find a way to make us blind Sauls into seeing Pauls. And maybe once our eyes are wide open, maybe once we finally see past all judgments, maybe then we’ll be the spokesmen God has been looking for. Maybe then we’ll finally see all the gifts he has bestowed upon us, how he graciously gives us all things.

And maybe then the mystery will make perfect sense.

God bless!

…that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. –2 Corinthians 5:19-20 (NIV)

Did you ever hear some news that’s just too good to be true? A free vacation? Your email has been selected as the Australian Lotto winner? Your new girlfriend actually likes football?

Good news that’s too good is everywhere, and most of the time in the human world we can recognize it pretty easily. We ask, “what’s the catch?” We understand it’s a lie designed to scam us. Most of us aren’t gullible enough to fall for these. We’ve learned that good news like this is most likely another attempt by some thug to separate us from our precious stuff.

I’m guessing Paul faced the same reactions as he traveled around spreading the Good News about Jesus. It must have sounded too good to be true. After ages of either feeling terribly guilty about not living up to the Old Testament’s version of righteousness or simply ignoring it and taking the express train straight to Hell, Paul was telling them all they had to do was believe in God’s Son and His Resurrection and God would forgive everything they had ever done.

What’s the catch?

Paul’s writings near the end of the Bible give us glimpses into the troubles of the ancient world, and most of them we are still dealing with today. The religious questions Paul attempts to answer sound a lot like the religious questions people are asking today, most in an attempt to prove to believers that there is no God, and all falling under the category of “What’s the catch?”

We still haven’t figured it out. Look at the stereotypes of a Christian. Sure, stereotypes are wrong and usually false, but to some degree they came from some place close to the truth. Christians are judgmental. Most people who don’t go to church, don’t believe, or even hate Christians will name this as the fundamental flaw of Christians. They are judgmental. Furthermore, since they have trouble following their own Biblical rules, they are hypocrites. If there were to be a question on Family Feud asking “What group of people are the biggest hypocrites?” number one would surely be Christians. (Two and three would probably be teachers and parents.)

But Jesus commands us not to judge. He makes great shows of being not judgmental. He tells us that God forgives everyone, the biggest sinners. He goes out of his way to show everyone that they are not able to cast the first stone. The entire point of the entire New Testament is not to judge, to forgive, to love every single one of your neighbors–yes, even that one–and that we can all be forgiven and saved by God through Jesus Christ.

“What’s the catch?” you ask. There isn’t one. We still haven’t gotten it. Two thousand years later, we still can’t believe it. We still think there must be some judgment. We still think we are doing God’s work when we judge. Turn on the television, the computer, or–if you still live in biblical times–read the newspaper. Tons of stories of Christians being judgmental. Tons of stories showing just how exclusionary, racist, homophobic, sexist, and downright judgmental Christians are. We still haven’t gotten it. We’re still asking “What’s the catch?”

You may have accepted Jesus as your savior, but have you accepted His Word as Truth? Or are you still asking “What’s the catch?” Until you fully accept the Good News as true, until you stop doubting that we are all sinners, that we should forgive and love all, and that we can all be saved no matter how black our sins, maybe you aren’t the best ambassador of Christ. Maybe you shouldn’t be on television, the computer, or in the newspapers speaking on behalf of God.

Paul risked death to bring the Word of God to the people of Corinth and spent his whole life helping them learn through his teaching and his letters. While we don’t have Paul’s physical body here to guide us, we still have his spirit and his letters. They make up a large chunk of the New Testament. The least you could do is read it. Really read it. Then maybe you can stop asking, “What’s the catch?” and start living a judgment free life.

The truth will set you free.

God bless!

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