1116) Bread From Heaven (b)

     (…continued)  In John 6:5 the situation is not as desperate.  The people are hungry, but they are not in the desert.  They could walk back to their homes for dinner.  But here too, a miracle is provided, and 5,000 people are fed with five small barley loaves and two fish.  However, Jesus was not pleased with the crowd’s response.  This is a bit puzzling because the response of these people seems far more positive than the response in the Old Testament story.  In Exodus 16 they respond with still more grumbling, but in John 6 they respond by enthusiastically following Jesus, pursuing him all the way to the other side of the lake.

     But Jesus calls into question their reason for seeking him out.  In verse 26 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”  The fact that Jesus had performed a miracle pointed to who he was, but that was not what the people were interested in.  All they cared about was the free lunch, but that was nothing compared to being with Jesus.  Jesus was there primarily to speak to their eternal, spiritual needs, and he was disappointed that all they cared about was that their bellies were full.  So Jesus in verse 27 Jesus said to them, “Do not work so hard only for the food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which I am here to give you.”  Yes, we do need to eat, but don’t follow Jesus only for what you can get out of him in the here and now.  Jesus said that God pours out his blessings on the good and the wicked in this life.  Rather, we follow Jesus because of who He is and what he means to us for all eternity.

     This applies not only to what we get from Jesus, but also to what we do not get from Jesus in this life.  It oftentimes happens that someone will cease to believe in Jesus after praying and not getting what they desperately needed right now.  That happens all the time and in the most terrible circumstances, and I don’t know why some people have to endure so much suffering.  All we can do is what the Bible itself does, calling us back to God, who has all eternity in which to make things right.

     A dozen miracles weren’t enough for the people of Israel being led by Moses.  When the earthly blessings came to an end (or were delayed), the complaining would begin again.  Jesus pointed to a deeper hope and promise than the hope and promise of getting the next meal (John 6:35): “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”  “This,” he had said in verse 32, “is the true bread from heaven.”  From heaven, he said, not from the grocery store.  Jesus was talking about another place and an entirely different kind of hope.  Keep your eyes on this eternal promise, follow Jesus for this hope, and you will be able to endure even life’s worst tragedies and biggest disappointments.

     Jesus used bread as a symbol of our most basic spiritual need, the need for Jesus himself.  “I am the bread of life, eternal life,” he said.  Several months later, on the evening before his death, Jesus would take bread and say “Take and eat, this is my body, given for you.”  This bread does not perish, but lasts unto life everlasting.  One may lack daily bread and even starve to death, and still possess Jesus, the bread of heaven.

     The question implied in the story of the feeding of the 5,000 is “What do you want from Jesus?”  If all you want is earthly blessings, security, and well-being, there is no need to even bother believing in Jesus.  Anyone with two eyes can see that everyone, believers and unbelievers alike, get a mixed bag of blessings and troubles in this life.  And Christians do not necessarily get the best mixture.  If this life is all you are concerned about, there is no need to look to Jesus.  But Jesus came to bring that bread which endures to eternal life.  Look to him and you will be all right, now and forever— food or no food, health or no health, in life and in death.

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John 6:35  —   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.”

I Corinthians 15:19  —  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

John 6:27a  —  (Jesus said), “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

Romans 14:8-9  —  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord.  So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

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We thank Thee for our daily bread,
Let also, Lord, our souls be fed.
O Bread of life, from day to day,
Sustain us on our homeward way. Amen.

1115) Bread From Heaven (a)

     I can recall only once that I have been without food.  Like everyone else I have fasted in preparation for tests at the doctor.  I have been ill and have not felt much like eating for a day or two.  And I have cut back on food when I would have liked to have more in order to lose a few pounds.  But only once have I been really hungry because I had no food available, and even that time was somewhat by choice.

     In the summer after my second year of college, some friends and I took a trip deep into the Montana mountains.  One of the friends was from Montana, and he knew where to go to really get away from it all.  We were going to a remote mountain lake which was not only beautiful, but (our friend assured us), also full of fish.  We would park the car, backpack in, and stay a few days, spending our time fishing and hiking.  Our friend had been there before and knew how to catch the fish, so we packed a bit of food, but had figured into the menu plan several meals of lake trout.

     My friend was right.  The lake was full of fish.  They were jumping up out of the water all over the place.  But for some reason, they were not biting on our hooks, and the four of us were able to catch a grand total of one fish.

     We were in no danger of starving to death.  All we had to do was walk a half a day back to the car and drive 75 miles to the nearest store.  But we did not want to do that.  It had taken a while to get there, it was a beautiful spot, and our camp was set up.  We were having a great time, and once we left, we weren’t coming back.  We had other places to go.  Besides, we were sure the fish would bite the next day, and then, maybe, the day after that.  So we stayed.  But the fish never did bite and we did end up leaving early, and we did get hungry.

     I don’t remember whether or not I prayed to catch some fish on that camping trip.  I would imagine I did, because our stomachs were growling.  But even so, I don’t remember being disappointed in God for not answering my prayer.  After all, we were never in any danger.

     But what if I had prayed and then immediately got the answer I wanted?  What if we caught no fish until a quick prayer, and then, started catching fish as fast as we could bait the hook?  Would that have been solid proof of God’s existence once and for all?  There are a couple Bible stories in which that is exactly what happened to the disciples while fishing.  Jesus comes on the scene, tells them to fish out of the other side of boat (as if that should make any difference), and immediately the nets are full.  

      And there are other stories, not necessarily about fishing, but about food and how God feeds us.

     In Exodus 16 the Hebrews are in the wilderness, they are hungry, and unlike my friends and me in the mountains, they are desperate.  They are in a desert, and there are no grocery stores or restaurants.  But they had seen God’s miraculous care and protection time and again already, and they should have been trusting that God would come through for them.   However, even the parting of the Red Sea was not enough to instill in them lasting faith and trust, and in no time at all they were complaining again.  So in verse 12 the Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the people; tell them that at twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread.  Then, you will know that I am the Lord your God.”  In other words, that would be proof of God’s action, and then they would know.  And if the fish would have started biting for us in the mountains right after a quick prayer, then I would have known that God is real.  Right?

     That evening, the Hebrews’ camp was full of quail to be caught and cooked, and the next morning the ground was covered with manna, a substance like bread, bread from heaven.  There had been a bit of grumbling (not even a prayer), and immediately, the people had all they wanted to eat.  That same provision continued every morning and every evening, and the people had all they needed from then on until they reached the promised land.  Did they then know that the Lord was their God and would provide always for them?  Did that daily miracle resolve all their doubts, calm all their fears, and answer all their questions from then on?  Not at all.  In the very next chapter they were complaining again, this time about the lack of water.  Whenever God delayed for even five minutes on something they wanted, they would forget about all the hardships of slavery, and forget all about all of God’s many previous miracles, and they would be wishing they were back in Egypt under the lash of the slave drivers.  What an incredible lack of gratitude and trust!

     If the fish would have started biting for us right after a quick prayer we would have all been impressed– for a while.  But eventually the thought would have arisen that it might have been a coincidence.  (continued…)

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Exodus 16:11-12  —  The Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites.  Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

Psalm 145:15-17  —  The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.  You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.  The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does.

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Give us Lord, a bit o’ sun,
A bit o’ work and a bit o’ fun;
Give us all in the struggle and sputter
Our daily bread and a bit o’ butter.
–On the wall of an old inn, Lancaster, England

1114) Ignorality

Michael Perry

Don’t bother looking for ‘ignorality’ in the dictionary.  It’s not in there yet, and probably won’t ever be.  It is a word Michael Perry made up to use in his book Population: 485:  Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time (2002).  It appears to be a combination of two words, ‘ignorance’ and ‘mortality;’ as in “ignorance of our mortality” (see below).

Michael Perry grew up in New Auburn, Wisconsin (population 485), and then moved away to go to school and attempt a writing career in the big city.  Ten years later he moved back to his little home town, joined the local volunteer fire department and ambulance service, and continued to write.  This book is one of the results of that journey.  You can read more about Perry and his work at his website http://www.sneezingcow.com (as in Don’t Stand Behind a Sneezing Cow, another one of his books).

In Population: 485 Perry writes a little bit about going back to his small home town, and quite a bit about what it means to be on the fire department and ambulance crew.  He describes in the book his experiences, and, his ponderings on those experiences, as in these paragraphs taken from his chapter on “The Call.”  What he says here makes me grateful to God for the gift of each day, reminds me to be prepared for the end of my days, and it gives me an appreciation for the people who respond to the call when you dial 911.

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     The calls blindside you, always.  You will prepare and prepare, and you will never be prepared.  We are never ready, and our patients are never ready.  Over the years, I have developed a visceral reaction to families and victims expressing surprise at tragedy.  Why are we surprised?  Why do we forget we are mortal?  Bad, bad things happen everywhere, every day.  Humans, for better or worse, harbor this feeling that we— individually— are special.  A patch of ice or a pea-sized blood clot makes a mockery of that illusion in a heartbeat.  We are not special at all…

     My brother John made a call, he came busting in the kitchen, and the first thing that hit him was a palpable wave of cigarette smoke and bacon grease.  A man was spilled backward on the floor, his chair upended.  His plate was mounded with half-finished eggs and sausage links.  His cigarettes had slipped from his shirt pocket.  His white belly protruded like risen dough.  And his wife looked at my brother, and she said,”I don’t understand… he’s never been sick a day in his life.”

     And John says he remembers his first thought was, Well, he’s sick now.  (pages 150-1)

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     What a profound thing it is to call for help.  How astounding, the number of people fate allows to float through this life never once confronting their own mortality.  One of the benefits of the fire and rescue business is a near-constant sense of vulnerability.  A recognition that at the cellular level, or the speeding freight train level, we are but a particle removed from chaos.  I have carried my kit in to find tattooed tavern-clearing monsters weeping in bed, hairless from radiation, leaking soupy feces from a colostomy, skin like mottled pate, and on the walls beer mirrors and bellicose biker trinkets, and I think, how do we ever forget this sort of possibility?  How do we lapse into what you might call ‘ignorality?’  In part, I guess, because you simply can’t function if you are always feeling the scythe pressed to your neck.  I have knelt beside a wrecked car, seen a burly forty-year-old shaking with pain and fear, and realized the last time I saw him he was steaming under the bright lights of the hometown football field, running his body like a weapon.  I super-impose the image in my head over the image before me, and try to keep the new one from displacing the old one, so that later I can ponder the contrast and see what it might teach me.  The lesson never concludes, but I’m getting parts of it.  I understand that what you’re doing when you dial 911 is announcing to strangers that you are losing the battle.  I no longer have the strength, I no longer have the answer, the trouble is winning, and won’t you please come help?   (pages 153-4)

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     The pager is on my hip right now, even as I type.  It will go off, perhaps in the next five minutes, perhaps next Tuesday when I am in the bathroom.  My heart will jump.  If I’m getting something from under the sink, I may crack my head on the grease trap.  I’ll listen for the details, find out where, begin forming a half-baked picture in my head.  I’ll run across the backyard, headed for the hall.  Whoever’s out there needing help, they’re getting me, for better or worse.  Me, and a handful of my neighbors.  We’ll do what we can.

     There was this old man, we used to get called to his apartment almost on a weekly basis.  He had a heartbeat like a broke-down roller coaster, and every once in a while he’d just check out, and his wife would dial 911.  He was usually mildly dazed but smiling and conscious by the time we got there.  We answered call after call until finally his old heart cashed in.  But I remember walking in his bedroom at two a.m. toward the end there, and seeing this little man looking up at us with such trust, and I thought one day I will be the little old man on the bed.  And I hope my neighbors come when I call.   (page 160)

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     Back home, when I step through the door and toss my keys on the chair beside the door, I notice the house has an echo and a chill to it.  The call came in at 2:45 a.m., and now it is after five a.m., and I have friends coming to visit at nine a.m.  I want to get what sleep I can.   All the way up the stairs and into my bedroom, even as I shuck my clothes and roll into the sheets, I keep seeing the figure in the granary (of a man who committed suicide).  It’s a healthy and natural part of the accommodation process, I imagine, this constant reviewing of the image.  But it just kept presenting itself, and I found myself reacting the way I always have after one of these calls:  pondering the irrevocable nature of death, and fighting the desire to call loved ones, wake them up and ask them, Do you realize how thin the thread is?  That maybe tomorrow we don’t wake up?…  I wasn’t terror-stricken or freaked out, just unsettled.   (page 180)

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Job 21:13  —  They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave.

James 4:14  — You do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Isaiah 55:6  —  Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.

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Teach us to number our days, O Lord, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

–Psalm 90:12

1113) Your Name is Written Down

     Jesus once told his disciples to “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  If you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, this promise is for you also; and, these are the most important words you will ever hear anywhere, from anyone.  Almost all of the words we hear and say have to do with this brief little life on this temporary little planet.  Only the words of Jesus speak of another place and another time and another life.  So, “Rejoice,” Jesus says, “that your names are written in heaven.”

     We will soon be in the tornado season in the Midwest.  Every year, tornadoes hit someone, somewhere.  Many people will hear the warnings and head for the safety of the basement.  For most, the storms will pass and everyone will breath a sigh of relief.  But every year there are those who, while they are huddled together downstairs, have their home destroyed above them.  Losing your home is a life-changer.  It takes a long time for those who suffer that kind of loss to put the pieces of their lives back together again.  But this is a short term problem.  They will eventually rebuild and life will go on.

     A teenage boy is in a car accident.  His back is broken, his spine is severed, and he will never walk again.  This is an even bigger life-changing event.  That boy will have to make all kinds of adjustments in everything– from his future career plans to the way he goes to the bathroom.  Everything will be more difficult and more complicated.  But this too is a short term problem.  His paralysis will last only as long as he lives.

     A doctor comes back with the report that the discomfort that a young wife and mother has been feeling is cancer, it is terminal, and she has only weeks to live.  This news will not only change her life, it will end it.  But even this is only a short term problem.

     It is not insensitive to call such huge tragedies short term problems.  It is simply a fact that life itself has only short term prospects.  No matter what we are blessed with, or, what is taken from us, it is all, only for the time being.  Most of what we talk about, most of what we deal with, most of what we look forward to or dread, will all one day soon come to an end.  It might seem odd to talk about an entire lifetime in a wheelchair as a short term problem.  But ask any 90-year old and she will tell you.  Life itself speeds by in a very short time.

     These words of Jesus, however, speak of something else.  “Rejoice,” he said, “because your names are written in heaven.”  Heaven– another time and place, a time and place without end.

     “Your names are written down,” said Jesus.  If you travel away from home, you better plan on your name being written down in a few places along the way.  In fact, you better make some arrangements ahead of time to make sure your name is written down.  First of all, you will go to the airport ticket counter to get your boarding pass.  You hope they can find your name written down somewhere in their computer, or you aren’t going anywhere.

     When you get to your destination and the cab takes you and your luggage to the hotel, you hope that your name is written down there, especially if you have already charged it to your credit card and all the other hotels in the city are full.  If for some reason your name isn’t written down, you have a problem.

     Then if you’ve made any reservations for tours or shows or whatever it is you are planning to do, you again have to hope that nobody made a mistake, and your name is written down where it is supposed to be written down.

     You may or may not be a traveler, but the time comes when everyone takes a journey– the same journey— from this life and this world, on to whatever it is that comes next.  There are those who believe there is no next place, and the journey is only to a hole in the ground (No thanks).  There are those that believe the journey that begins in death is a round-trip ticket, and when you die your spirit goes out of you, only to come back into some other being.  (Again, no thanks; I’m not interested– besides, this belief in reincarnation never made any sense to me, because I have never seen even a shred of evidence of it in myself.  What part of ‘me’ has come back if I don’t even have a single memory of any of my many previous lives?)  And there are those who say that when we die we go on to join the mysterious life force from which we came, and we will live on in the breezes and the gleam of the sunset and the sparkle on the new-fallen snow.  (But what good is that?  I don’t want to be a ‘gleam’ or a ‘sparkle,’ I want to be a person again.)

      What Jesus offers is far better.  He offers us the opportunity to prepare for this journey by making sure our names are written down.   The Bible was written, says I John, “so that you may know you have eternal life.”  And Jesus said, “Rejoice, that your names are written in heaven.”  That sounds good to me, and far better than any of the other options that have been proposed and believed.

      This cannot, of course, be only a matter of personal preference.  This belief must be based on reality and truth, or it is not worth bothering with.  And as Christians we believe that Jesus not only talked about the possibility of life after death, but proved it in his own resurrection from the dead.  It was meeting the living Jesus, back from the dead, that drove the disciples out into the world with the seemingly impossible task of proclaiming that even though we die, we can live again.

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John 11:25  —  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

I Corinthians 15:19-20  —  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Luke 10:20b  —  (Jesus said), “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

I John 5:13  —  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

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Support us, Lord, all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work done; then Lord, in your mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest and peace at the last. Amen.

–1928 Book of Common Prayer

1112) More ‘News’

Another ‘news’ item from the satirical Christian news website The Babylon Bee.  (For more on that website, see previous meditation #1111)

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After 12 Years Of Quarterly Church Attendance, Parents Shocked By Daughter’s Lack Of Faith

Fullerton, CA—Local father Trevor Michelson, 48, and his wife Kerri, 45, are reeling after discovering that after 12 years of steadily taking their daughter Janie to church every Sunday they didn’t have a more pressing sporting commitment— which was at least once every three months— she no longer demonstrates the strong quarterly commitment to the faith they raised her with, now that she is college-aged.

Trevor Michelson was simply stunned at the revelation.  “I just don’t understand it.  Almost every single time there was a rained-out game, or a break between school and club team seasons, we had Janie in church.  It was at least four times a year.  And aside from the one tournament in 2011, we never missed an Easter.  It was obviously a priority in our family— I just don’t get where her spiritual apathy is coming from.”

“I can’t tell you how often we prayed the prayer of Jabez on the way to a game,” added Janie’s mother.

“You know, the more I think about it, the more this illustrates how the church just keeps failing this generation,” lamented Trevor, citing a recently googled study by Barna or someone.

The Michelsons further noted plans to have a chat with the pastor of their church after their younger son Robert’s soccer season calms down a bit.

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Exodus 20:8  —  Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7  —   These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.

Psalm 34:11  — Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.

Ephesians 6:4  —  Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

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The prayer of Jabez (referred to above) is a good Biblical prayer, but raising children in the faith may require more than just praying it every once in a while on the way to a game.

1111) Fake News That is Good for the Soul

“WHAT HAS GOD EVER DONE FOR ME?” ASKS MAN BREATHING AIR

LYNNWOOD, WA—Sources confirmed Tuesday that local freethinker Jared Olson called into question the “absurd” idea that God had ever done anything for him, all while inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide in a complex process well beyond his mind’s capability of understanding in its entirety.

“The idea of ‘god’ is really just holding us back,” Olson opined, addressing the other members of the philosophy club at Edmonds Community College, as the membrane across his larynx vibrated to modulate the flow of air from his lungs, making his speech audible to the people listening, whose intricate ear structures then instantly transformed the invisible sound waves into abstract thought in their brain’s nervous tissue.

Olson went on to pursue the line of reasoning even further, claiming that mankind has science, medicine, and mathematics to thank for its continued existence rather than any sort of all-powerful creator, for which there is “absolutely no evidence.”  According to eyewitnesses, he made these claims as the surface his feet rested on continued to spin around the earth’s core without any input from him, all while the only known habitable planet on which he stood rocketed around the center of the galaxy in perfect formation at the unfathomable rate of 490,000 miles per hour.

At one point during his expertly-crafted speech, Olson reportedly glanced around the room to observe the nods of approval from his peers, his eyes’ hundreds of millions of cone and rod cells responding to stimuli in an unimaginably sophisticated procedure.  As these elaborate structures continued to capture and process an unbelievable volume of input per second, Olson reported he was all the more confident from the looks of those around him that he had proved his case.

According to Olson, he plans to detail religion’s negative influence on society at next week’s meeting, which is being held in the annex adjacent to both a Christian homeless shelter and Catholic hospital.

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This ‘news’ item is from The Babylon Bee, a new website featuring Christian news satire.  Editor Adam Ford writes:  “Satire is a powerful, effective, and biblical tool for conveying ideas– and one that belongs almost exclusively to the anti-religious world view.  The Bee aims to change that.”  One review of the website said that while the news stories at The Bee are always fake, they often express ideas that are true.  Check it out for yourself at:

http://www.thebabylonbee.com

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One more ‘news’ item:

GRIDLOCK REACHED AS TWO MEN BOTH CERTAIN GOD TOLD THEM TO DATE SAME GIRL

NEW YORK, NY—Stressing the precariousness of the situation, inside sources confirmed Monday that a gridlock has been reached in the social lives of David Gall, 23, and Mark Cormier, 26, as both men are absolutely, 100% certain that God has personally instructed them to date local 22-year-old Stephanie Fair.

“I sought God’s will and He told me to date Stephanie,” Gall confidently declared to sources. “I know He did—there’s not a doubt in my mind.”

“God definitely told me to date Stephanie,” Cormier similarly asserted. “The signs He gave me were crystal-clear. What am I supposed to do, disobey God?”

Three discussion attempts between the two men have reportedly made no headway and have simply reinforced each man’s belief that the other lacks godliness and is possibly being influenced by demonic forces.

At publishing time, a fourth discussion was underway, and while neither man was open to the slightest possibility that perhaps God did not tell them to date Miss Fair, they seemed to be making a bit of progress as they collectively considered reexamining the Bible’s teachings on polygamy.

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Adam Ford’s first website features his web-comics and can be viewed at:

http://www.adam4d.com

Here is a sample:

A god who is not ME is simply not a god I find plausible, OK?

A god who is not ME is simply not a god I find plausible, OK?

A god who is not ME is simply not a god I find plausible, OK?

A god who is not ME is simply not a god I find plausible, OK?

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Psalm 115:3  —  Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.

Romans 9:20  —  But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?  Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?”

Psalm 14:1a  —  The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

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Almighty God, give us a measure of true religion and thereby set us free from vain and disappointing hopes, from lawless and excessive appetites, from frothy and empty joys, from anxious, self-devouring cares, from a dull and black melancholy, from an eating envy and swelling pride, and from rigid sourness and severity of spirit, so that we may possess that peace which passeth all understanding, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Benjamin Whichcote (1609-1683), English philosopher

1110) $13 Million Dollars? No Thanks.

THE PECULIAR STORY OF ADAM LAROCHE

By John Stonestreet, at http://www.breakpoint.com, April 22, 201

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What would cause a superb Major League Baseball player to walk away from the game—and a big pile of money?  God only knows.

     In March, Major League Baseball player Adam LaRoche shocked the sports world.  LaRoche, a 12-year veteran who averaged more than 20 home runs a year and won many awards for his defensive skills at first base, unexpectedly retired.

     By doing so, he walked away from $13 million— the amount left on the final year of a two-year contract with the Chicago White Sox.

     Even more shocking than leaving $13 million on the table was the reason he did so:  The White Sox had informed LaRoche that his 14-year-old son, Drake, could no longer accompany him in the club house every day.

     If you can’t imagine walking away from that kind of money for that kind of reason, you’re not alone.

     But then again, a lot of what LaRoche does is peculiar, and I mean that in the best possible way.

     It’s fair to say that most of those who commented on his decision, which in the age of social media means practically everyone with access to the Internet, were critical of LaRoche’s decision to put his ideas about being a good father ahead of his team and his teammates.

     Not that it matters to LaRoche.  He told ABC news that “I have zero regrets.”  While he admitted to being angry with the White Sox at first, he added that their actions made his decision to retire easier.  As he put it, “I don’t want to be defined by this game.  I know there’s a lot more to life.”

     Well, this understanding that there’s a lot more to life is why Tim Keown of ESPN wrote in his profile of LaRoche, “You need to forget everything you think you know about professional athletes.  Adam LaRoche is different.”

     Part of the difference, as LaRoche’s comments suggest, is that he’s not consumed by the sport, despite being the son of one major leaguer and the brother of another.  He has other interests, chief among them his Christian faith and his family.  It’s why Drake, who attends regular school in the off-season and is home-schooled in the spring quarter, accompanied his dad to the ballpark every day.

     It’s why, when LaRoche played for the Washington Nationals and the Chicago White Sox, he and other teammates sponsored “Faith Days” in 2014 and 2015.

     And most of all, it’s why LaRoche and Milwaukee Brewers’ pitcher Blaine Boyer spent ten days last November working undercover in Southeast Asian brothels trying to rescue underage sex slaves.

     Yes, you heard me right.  LaRoche and Boyer, working with a group called Exodus Road and at great personal risk, used a hidden camera to identify trafficked girls— known only by a number pinned to their bikinis— and also their bosses.

     As Boyer told Keown, “Something huge happened there for us…  Adam and I truly believe God brought us there and said, ‘This is what I have for you boys.’”  On the flight home LaRoche turned to Boyer and said, “What are we doing?  We’re going back to play a game for the next eight months?”

     Upon his return from Asia, LaRoche was haunted by what he had seen and by the fact that it was going on while he lay safely in his bed.

     Keown writes of LaRoche’s “nearly cinematic level of nonconformity” to people’s expectations of what an athlete should be.  But a better description would be “peculiar.”  Peculiar in the Biblical sense of being “a peculiar people.”  The Greek word translated “peculiar” means “costly” and “treasured,” but because our treasure is found in different places than the rest of the world, Christian are to be “peculiar” in the more typical sense of being “different,” maybe even considered “weird.”

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“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”  –Jesus Christ, John 8:31-33

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”  —  Flannery O’Connor, Collected Works

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For more on Adam LaRoche see:

Exclusive: Why Adam LaRoche Has ‘Zero Regrets’ Walking Away From $13M Chicago White Sox Salary
Suzanne Yeo and Jim Vojtech | abcnews.go.com | April 19, 2016

Adam LaRoche goes deep on his decision to walk
Tim Keown | espn.go.com | April 13, 2016

Exodus Road
Website

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I Peter 2:9  (KJV)  —  But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Romans 12:2a  —  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Matthew 6:33  —  (Jesus said), “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

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O Bountiful Father and Merciful Guide!  Increase in me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest.  Strengthen my resolutions to perform what that wisdom dictates.  Accept my kindnesses to thy other children as the only return in my power for thy continual favors to me.

–Ben Franklin  (1706-1790)

1109) Lamb of God (b)

The Lamb of God, by Francisco de Zurbaran, 1635

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      (…continued)  Sin is a powerful force in the world, and a lamb is not the first image that would come to mind if you were to do something about it.  What can a lamb do to even defend itself, let alone take on anyone or anything else?  Lambs have no claws.  They have no sharp teeth.  They can’t even run fast.  When attacked, there is not much for a lamb to do but to receive the blows and just take whatever is coming at it.  We might have expected that John the Baptist would have said of Jesus, “Behold, the LION of God, here to come and track down and devour the sinners of the world.”  But no, Jesus is a lamb, John said.  And that is a very good thing, because we are all sinners who would be devoured if a lion was sent to get rid of all the sin in the world.  But God comes to us as a lamb.

     Throughout the Bible, lambs are associated with gentleness, with innocence, and with dependence.  In Isaiah 40, God is the shepherd who gathers the lambs because they are helpless.  In Nathan’s parable to illustrate David’s great sinfulness, the lamb stands for helpless innocents, killed by the wicked who are in power.  The prophet Jeremiah, speaks of the helplessness of a lamb being led to the slaughter, and when Isaiah spoke of the suffering servant of God, he spoke of him being killed without making a sound– just like a little lamb.  In the New Testament, Jesus picks up on the same image when he said that the disciples were being sent out like lambs among wolves.

     And when describing how Jesus came to take away the sin of the world, the New Testament says that Jesus will be like a lamb.  So when God’s Word speaks of Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God,’ it describes the surprisingly gentle way God deals with our sin.  Our sin deserves fierce rebuke, judgment, condemnation, and punishment.  Yet, in the face of our horrible sin, we get an innocent lamb.  There is in the Bible the wrath and terrible judgment of God, and that will one day come.  But that is not where God starts, or how God wants to be primarily known by us.  God comes with gentleness.

     What happened when Jesus, this gentle lamb of God, came into this dangerous world?  You know what happened– he got slaughtered.  That is what happens to lambs.  And all those Old Testament verses about a lamb being led to the slaughter are then applied to Jesus.  The words about the lamb which is silent before its killers become a fulfilled prophecy, as Jesus is, for the most part, silent before his accusers.  Just as the Passover lambs in the Old Testament were killed as a sacrifice for sin, Jesus was himself killed on the Passover weekend, becoming the ultimate sacrifice for every sin ever committed.

    What does this mean and how does that work?  A full understanding of that is beyond our comprehension, and the New Testament itself uses several different images to describe it.  But the heart of the message is unmistakably clear– Jesus, on the cross ‘took away the sin of the world,’ just like John the Baptist said he would.  Jesus did not yet end all sin.  Sin is still all around us and within us.  But Jesus took away sin as a barrier between us and God, allowing us to return to the Father, and now able to look forward to that time when all sin would be completely taken away and gone forever.

     This lamb of God also left for the world an example of how to deal with the sin all around us.  Jesus said we are not to deal with the sin in others by revenge, and not by an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and not by angry retribution; but by forgiveness and by gentleness.  It was with that sort of example that Jesus inspired his disciples, and that example has been inspiring and changing people ever since.

     Now there is a difference between how an individual responds to sin, and, how the government and its representatives respond to sin.  The words of Jesus on forgiveness is to individuals in their relationships with each other, but it is the government’s job to restrict sin, to apprehend the dangerous sinner, and to punish sin.  This is something different.  We do not tell the Christian judge to forgive everyone who comes before him.  On the bench he does not represent himself but the government, and it is the government’s job to restrain sin, not forgive it.  Romans 13 says God has given the government that job so that the citizens may be protected, by police officers and courts and armies; and governments are under the command of God to be just and fair. 

     But to individuals, Jesus, the lamb of God, shows us how to live in the midst of sin, and we also are to model such forgiveness and love.  One of the most powerful examples of this was Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement in the 1950’s and 60’s.  Even though his followers were being beaten and jailed and sometimes even killed, King would allow only one weapon to be used in retaliation.  That was what he called the ‘weapon of love.’  He said to his oppressors, “We will counter your violent physical force with soul force and we will match your ability to hate with our ability to love.’  The movement did not always follow that advice, but it was the peaceful and non-violent and forgiving spirit of the civil rights movement that began to change the hearts of an entire nation.

     It was that spirit in the ministry of Jesus that inspired his disciples to leave everything and follow him.  It is in that same spirit of gentleness and forgiveness that we have the assurance of God’s grace, given to us not because of what we have done, but because of the love and sacrifice of the Lamb of God.

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Isaiah 53:6-7  —  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

Acts 16:31  —  Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…

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Psalm 25:16-18:

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart
    and free me from my anguish.
Look on my affliction and my distress
    and take away all my sins.

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Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; have mercy upon us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; have mercy upon us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; grant us your peace.  Amen.

The Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), used in Christian worship since the 7th century

1108) The Lamb of God (a)

Indonesia after 2004 tsunami

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     On a Sunday morning, the day after Christmas in 2004, the earth’s crust shifted under the Indian Ocean, just west of Indonesia.  That earthquake sent outwards, in every direction, some of the largest tsunamis ever recorded.  When those massive waves hit shore they brought horrific, unimaginable devastation.  You probably remember the images of the destruction.  Trains tipped over like toys, cars washed down the streets like leaves after a rain, whole cities with thousands of people deluged, and then swept out to sea.  The loss of human life was staggering.  An exact count could not be determined, but the death toll of that day and its aftermath was over 280,000.  It was the worst natural disaster in recent memory, and one of the deadliest in human history.

     Such disasters do make one think about God, each in his or her own way.  Some will turn to God in prayer, certainly for help for themselves and others, some perhaps in repentance.  Others will wonder about God’s love or even his existence.  Some will respond by a raising fist upwards in anger and scorn to a God they may not even believe in.  At those times, we see much of this spiritual questioning in the media.  Some news people are very matter-of-fact in their reporting, while others display their mocking unbelief.  One magazine had an editorial on ‘religious faith after the tsunami,’ and the concluding line stated that the greatest miracle after something like this is that anyone can believe in anything anymore.

     But if sadness and tragedy in the world are reasons enough to give up on trusting God, one need not wait for a tsunami to lose their faith.  Every day provides reason enough for that, either on a large scale, or, in each individual life.  But those who do believe in God believe not only in spite of the tragedies, but for the very reason that in times of suffering and grief, there is no place else to turn but to God.  Why, in times of tragic loss, would one want to turn away from the only source of hope that is left?  

     Why God allows such things to happen is a valid question for a person of faith.  But that person will not just ask the question and then turn away.  Rather, they will want to look into God’s Word to see if they can find some responses to their questions.  Even then, complete understanding is not to be had in this life.  What is offered is hope even in the midst of the deepest darkness.

     A response by one Christian at the time was, “After a tragedy like this people wonder why a loving God could not provide an escape from the grave.  Well, he has.”  That is the simple, but true answer.  God, in Christ Jesus, provides a hope even greater than death.  Life remains a struggle, and it is our Christian calling to respond by helping those who desperately need that help– just as Christians and Christian relief organizations all over the world do after every disaster.  But our deepest hope is that eternal hope for which Christ was born, and what he brought into this dangerous world.

     The dangers do not come only from natural disasters.  All the very worst tragedies in human history have been man-made, and are the result of sin.  In Syria alone, an ongoing civil war has already resulted in almost twice as many deaths as in the 2004 tsunami.  In the early 1990’s, 800,000 Rwandans were killed by fellow Rwandans in just a few weeks.  Hitler had 6 million Jews killed, not the mention the many more millions of people from all over Europe and America that died in the war he started.  In a series of purges, Joseph Stalin killed 20 million of his fellow Russians.  That is 70 times the number that died in the tsunami.  This is to mention only a few from just the past century.  There was also Albania, Cambodia, the trenches of the first World War, and so many more.  Recent news has been full of the deadly violence in Iraq, Iran, Israel, Palestine and terrorist attacks around the world.  A natural disaster raises questions about the goodness of God.  But these man-made holocausts raise questions about the human heart.

     A priest in Rwanda survived an attack in which many of his parishioners were killed.  He was asked if the massacre had shaken his faith in God.  “Absolutely not,” he said, “but what has happened in this country has destroyed my faith in humanity forever.”

     And one does not need to watch the news to see the sadness of life and the troubles caused by human sin.  Every community and every family contains its own sad stories, as every individual is the cause of and the recipient of such troubles on a much smaller scale.  All of our daily mean or selfish acts, large or small, our failures to show compassion or to get along, and our misunderstandings and irritations, all contribute to this sorrowful life in this troubled world.  

     Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn once said that the only difference between Joseph Stalin and an ordinary person is that Stalin had an army.  The more power one has, the more damage one can do, and many ordinary folks do plenty of damage in their own little sphere of influence.  We all make our own contributions to this trouble, or, as the Bible says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  That sin is the source of most of our misery.

     In John 1:29 John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, there is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” The world is full of sin, and so is our own heart. What does it mean that this Lamb of God is able to take away the sin of the world?  What can a lamb do?  (continued…)

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John 1:29  —  The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

I John 1:8  —  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

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Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.

–Peter, John 6:68

1107) Trusting in Another

     The Lutheran preacher and poet Gerhard Frost once illustrated what it means to trust God by telling a story about a friend’s family.  The friend was married and the father of four children.  He was planning a three week family vacation to Europe.  He spent many hours with maps, itineraries, and other travel information, all of which he had spread out on a large table ahead of him.  A few days before they were to leave, the youngest child, a preschooler, came into the room where her father was working on the trip plans.  She peered over his shoulders at the many maps and brochures.  She watched for a while as he went from one stack of papers to another, taking notes, and adding to the growing lists he was making.  Finally, she climbed up on his lap and said contentedly, “Daddy, I’m so glad that all I have to do is go along.”

     That is what it is like to be a trusting child. There is the willingness and the ability to trust mommy and daddy and feel secure in their hands.  This child was about to leave her secure home and go to faraway places she had never been before.  She had no idea where she was going or what she was going to do or where they would stay or what they would eat.  Her future was very uncertain.  But she had someone she could trust, someone who was getting everything ready for her.  She was going with her parents, and so she was confident that she would be all right.  

     A child of God can also have this kind of trust.  With faith in God, we also can have a willingness to go into an uncertain future, committing ourselves to the certainty of God’s care.

     If you saw four small children seated in the family car, dressed and ready to go on vacation, you would not ask them, “Where will you be going?  Which highways will you be taking?  How long will you drive today?  Have you thought yet about where you will be sleeping tonight and all the other nights?  How are you going to pay for all of this?”  The children would probably not know any of those things, and the questions would only trouble them.  It would be better to ask, “Who are you going with?” and then they would all answer cheerfully and with great confidence, “With Mommy and Daddy.”  That is good enough for them.  The children will trust their parents for a good vacation, leaving everything in their hands.

     Adults have much more to do and be concerned about in their lives than children on a family vacation.  They are not just along for the ride any more.  Every day they have responsibilities to tend to, choices to make, and decisions to ponder.  God has given them strengths, talents, abilities, and the freedom to use what they have been given to do the work they must do.

     But beyond those few things we are able to control in our lives are those many things we can do nothing about.  There is much in day to day life that is out of our hands, and there is a future that we cannot predict or determine.  In so many ways we must be willing to admit our total dependence on our Heavenly Father.  

     We are in many ways similar to the children in the family car, ready for vacation.  We also are not real sure where we are going, or how long we’ll be traveling, or what is in store for us along the way.  But the Bible says we can be confident, we can be content, we can trust God, and we can depend on him to get us through.  And this can be a cheerful dependence, like it was for the children in the story.  We can be secure and confident in the fact that we are in God’s hands and that we can just ‘go along,’ knowing that He will get us to the right destination.  The way may be rough and full of danger, but God has assured us that we will reach his home, that heavenly destination he has promised us.  Like children on a long journey, we will be quite ignorant of the details, but we can know who we are going with, and that makes all the difference.

     And since we are ignorant of so many of the details, we may have many questions along the way, also like children on a vacation.  Children on a long car ride will ask things like, “Are we there yet?  Can we stop now?  When do we eat?” and so on.  And on our journey through life we will have many questions such as, “Why is this happening to me?  What did I do to deserve this?  Why is faith so difficult?  Why are you and your ways so hard to understand Lord?  Are you even there?”  Trusting God does not mean we will never ask questions.  We can ask all the questions we want, but faith understands that we might have to wait a long time for the answers.  Until then, we can ask and trust at the same time.  Children in the back seat of the car keep asking, “Are we there yet; why can’t we stop now?”  They aren’t getting their way and they aren’t liking it, but they aren’t afraid.  They are not doubting that their parents will get them to their destination safely.  They are just tired and do not understand.  And we also will get tired and we also will not always understand, but we can continue to trust in God’s loving care.

     In the novel Diary of a Country Priest George Bernanos wrote: “Why does our earliest childhood seem so soft and full of light?  A kid’s got plenty of troubles, like everybody else, and he’s really so very helpless, quite unarmed against pain and illness.  But that very sense of powerlessness is the mainspring of a child’s joy.   He just leaves it all to his mother, you see.”

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Matthew 18:3 — Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Isaiah 12:2 — Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.  The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.

Psalm 9:9-10 — The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

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Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.    

Book of Common Prayer