Tuesday, December 11, 2018


Jesus replied, "I am the Bread of Life.  Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (Jn 6:35)

          I was studying Mathew 16:5-12 the other day and it started me thinking about the many references to bread in the bible.  First were the stories I had recently studied of Jesus feeding the 5000 and 4000 in Matthew 14 and 15.  This led to questions about the importance of bread in the culture, what was their bread like, symbolism related to bread, and what other types of references to bread there are in the bible.

          There are about 270 references to bread in the bible.  These references cover a number of ideas, here are a few: Bread as a meal, the Manna provided in the wilderness, showbread, and “our daily bread” (The Lord’s Prayer).  The ultimate reference was when Jesus referred to Himself as “The Bread of Life” in John 6:35.

          Bread was a very important part of ancient cultures, there are even some today in which bread plays an important role.  There are a number of reasons for this.  Accessibility of ingredients, ease in transporting bread or its ingredients, it is relatively easy to make, and most importantly it was a staple in their daily diet (for some it may have been their only source of food).  It was such an integral part of their diet that in some cultures to talk of “eating bread” or “eating a meal” were basically the same thing.  Being that having bread could literally mean the difference between life and death (and in some beliefs considered sacred), cutting of bread was considered wicked or akin to be cutting life itself.  From this arose the custom of breaking break prior to eating it, and lead to our use of the term “breaking bread” to reference gathering together with friends and family to share in a meal.

A number of grains were an important part of the ancient diet: wheat, oats, millet, rye, spelt, barley, and quinoa.  Of these wheat and barley were most commonly used by the ancient Hebrews for bread and are both commonly used in Israel today to make their most common types of bread.  There are a wide variety of breads made in Israel in modern times.  This variety comes from combination of various cultural traditions that have resided in the area over time and from the wide-ranging backgrounds of the immigrants that have arrived since founding of the nation of Israel in 1948.

          Bread for the ancient Hebrews was more limited in scope and fell into three main types. One was a larger loaf similar to what we think of today as bread, most likely it was more round than rectangular in shape and probably a bit weightier.  Another was a smaller loaf with a heavier, denser consistency more akin to what most of us might think of as a biscuit.  The third was a flat bread that was very thin and pliable which can be used for wrapping food or in the place of normal utensils.

  One bread that is most often associated with the ancient Hebrews or with Israel is unleavened bread (bread made without yeast) called Matzo or Matzah, sometimes called the Bread of Affliction.  Though matzo can be used in meals and celebrations throughout the year it is an integral element in Passover.  Matzo used in the Passover celebration is to only be made from flour and water.  Proper celebration of Passover also required all yeast be removed from the home.  Use of the matzo serves not only as a reminder of their delivery from Egypt, but also as a reminder to remain humble and to not forget their suffering as slaves.

  There are actually some differences between bread made by ancient cultures and bread today.  This is mainly due to the differences in grains used today than those used in ancient cultures, as well as, in the processing methods used today.  Modern grains have been significantly modified through breeding and hybridization or genetic manipulation (most of this happening in the last 100 years).  Between the changes in the grains and some modern farming techniques you can see that modern grains are very different from their ancient cousins.  Grains today are also processed much more heavily than they have been in the past.  Part of this processing removes two of the three components of the grain and is used for other purposes.  These two components, the bran and the germ, contain most of the fiber, vitamins, and minerals found in the grain leaving the endosperm, which is mostly starch.  Using primarily this starchy component makes most of today’s commercially available breads very different from ancient breads. 

On a personal note, my mother has a small counter-top grain mill and periodically grinds wheat herself to make fresh bread or rolls.  In a word, her fresh made bread is incredible! Much better than bread from the store, especially right out of the oven with a little butter.

          Manna, sometimes called the Bread of Heaven, was provided by God to the Israelites when they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years after leaving Egypt (Ex. 16).  It is described as, “white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey” (vs.31).  The word manna means “What is it?” in Hebrew.  In Number 11:8 we see one of the ways they used manna was to make bread with it.  Manna provides us a powerful symbol of God’s provision for the Ancient Hebrews after Moses had led them out of Egypt.  It also shows us God can provide for our needs as well.

          There is another lesson for us here which ties the symbol of the physical provision to our spiritual life.  In Deuteronomy Moses tells the people, “He humbled you, causing you to hunger then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3) We need to remember to keep our focus on seeking God for the betterment of our spiritual lives.  True life comes from seeking spiritual nourishment that only comes from God.

          Showbread, or Bread of the Presence, was 12 loaves of bread made with fine flour that were placed in two rows on the gold table in the temple.  The 12 loaves represented each of the 12 tribes of Israel and were made such that each was the same size.  This bread was to be replaced each Sabbath by the priests and could be consumed by them in the sanctuary.  Leviticus 24:5-9 gives us some of the information concerning preparation and placement of the bread.  Because leavening, or yeast, is often used in the bible to represent sin, it is likely that the Showbread was unleavened bread so as to not desecrate the Holy Place in the Temple. The table of showbread was a sign of God’s everlasting covenant and provision with the nation of Israel and also pointed forward to the future Messiah and the fulfillment of His covenant.

          When asked, Jesus gave us an example of how to pray (The Lord’s Prayer – Mt. 6:9-13).  Verse 11 says, “Give us this day, our daily bread.”  In this petition to God, Jesus was teaching us to come to God humbly, asking God to provide what we need in order to sustain us from day to day.  Not just one time, but coming back to God daily for His provision in our lives.  This can apply to our physical needs, but the bread also represents God’s Word, think of the Bible as spiritual food.  So, we can see that we don’t just need physical nourishment, but we need spiritual nourishment as well.  God will meet our needs if we trust in Him to provide for us in every way.  Some scholars also believe this is a reminder of the manna God provided in the wilderness.

          In John 6:25-40, Jesus has an interesting discussion with the crowd people following Him.  He starts by accusing them of following Him because they want a free meal rather than because of the signs He has been performing and telling them they need to focus more on the eternal than the temporary.  That they need to believe in the one whom God has sent.  The people ask for a sign, pointing out that their ancestors ate the manna while in the desert.  Jesus remind them that God provided the manna and tells them they need to ask for the true bread of heaven that brings life.

          When they ask Him for that bread Jesus responds, “I am the Bread of Life.  Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (Jn 6:35) This is huge!  In this statement, Jesus equates Himself with bread and therefore saying He is essential for life (remember what I mentioned before about how important bread was in that time?).  Just as Moses told the people in Deuteronomy 8:3, we need more than physical nourishment.  We need spiritual nourishment and by telling us He is the Bread of Life, Jesus is telling us that He is our spiritual nourishment.

How can we apply this to our lives?  

          Because Jesus is the Bread of Life, we need to treat Him with the same level of importance of actual food.  And I think one could argue He is actually more important when you look at it from an eternal perspective.  As such, we need to create a daily habit (“our daily bread”) of seeking Him.  A few ways this can be done is through prayer, reading the bible, praise and worship, a devotional, and listening for the Holy Spirit.  Whether you do one of these things, all of them, or some combination of them, the important thing is that we all need to do something to reach out and seek Him on a daily basis.  When we focus on seeking Him, we are nourishing our spirit and this helps us become all that we were meant to be.

          The next time you eat, take a minute to think about the parallels between physical and spiritual nourishment and how they work in your life.  Then thank God for how He provides for both our physical and spiritual well-being.  I do believe that He is doing so much more than we realize.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Great American Eclipse

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place.” Psalm 8:3

They are calling it “The Great American Eclipse.”  The people that count these things say there are approximately 12.25 million people that live in the path of the totality of the eclipse from Oregon to South Carolina.  An additional 220 million people live within about a one-day drive to an area in the path of the totality.  All 50 states, even Hawaii since it started out in the Pacific Ocean, and North America were able to see at least a partial eclipse.  They are estimating that upwards of 7 million people may have traveled to some point along the path of totality.  Based on what numbers I can find that does not include international travelers who visited the United States in order to watch the eclipse. 

In looking into it I found out that total solar eclipses happen about every one to three years.  Many of them happen in areas that are sparsely populated or there are no people around to watch like in the polar regions and the Pacific Ocean.  There is also a frequency in eclipses called Soros that allow scientists to predict eclipses with similar geometries.  I also found a number of scientific reasons dealing with orbital angles and irregularities as to why we don’t have an eclipse every month during the New Moon.

Between the people that just wanted to check out the eclipse and the scientists who want to study the eclipse, either total or partial, experts are saying this is the most observed eclipse in the history of civilization.  With potentially close to 20 million watching from the path of totality and over 500 million (based on the population of North America) being able to witness at least a partial eclipse, it would be hard to argue that point.

I did not make the trip to path of the totality but the area I live in Colorado reached about 90% coverage of the Sun.  The picture above is about what the eclipse looked like in my area at its maximum coverage.  My current job has me working outside so we had the chance to periodically check out the progress of the eclipse from start to finish.  This was not my first experience in a partial eclipse.  There was an eclipse in 1979 that I remember watching which only reached about 40% coverage of the Sun in the town where I grew up.  Ironically that town was in the path of the totality this time around. 

I don’t remember much about the eclipse when I was younger but watching the moon slowly pass in front of the Sun was truly amazing to watch.  It is hard to describe what I felt when I looked up at the sliver of the Sun at its maximum coverage for the area I am in but if I were to try and describe how I feel after watching it, I would have to say I find myself awe struck. 

It's incredible to think about how God set everything in motion at creation that allows us to witness events like this. And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.(Gen 1:14-19)
With all the people that were able to watch this eclipse, how many just saw a spectacular celestial event? And how many saw a something of the magnificence of God’s creation?  The next time you look up at the night sky what will you see?  I have always enjoyed looking at the night sky, I can honestly say I will not look at it the same way again.

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Psalm 19:1

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Spirituality In Work

“The works of His hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.”  (Ps 111:7)

“God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue helping him.” (Heb 6:10)

In today’s culture people have a tendency to separate work into differing levels of importance with some vocations being considered more acceptable than others.  Some even take a superior attitude and consider certain types of work to be beneath them.

These attitudes can carry over into the Christian worldview.  Some believe that a church pastor has a more spiritual vocation or is closer to God than say a missionary or a church administrative assistant.  An even wider gap can be seen between what is considered secular work verses work that is part of some type of ministry or is considered spiritual work.

A sense of higher purpose in a vocation has also been lost to most people.  This is true in both the secular world and at least to some extent in the Christian world.  Basically, the idea is that any sort of work, or at least certain types of work, have been reduced to a utilitarian function: a means of acquiring some sort of benefit from the world, whether it is material gain or a sense of self-fulfillment.  That one’s vocation no longer has any sort of transcendent purpose as a means of serving God, much less our fellow man. 

But is it true that there is no higher purpose in work?  And, is there a difference between secular work and a Christian vocation?

Here are a few things to consider:

Scripture tells us that God Himself has worked.  “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished.  And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all the work He had done” (Gen 2: 1-2).  Right from the beginning God sets an example in performing work.

After He finished the creation, one of the first things God does is put man in the Garden of Eden in order to “tend and keep it” (Gen 2:15).  We can see God places a level of importance to our work with that being one of the first things He instructs man to do.

Generally, there is not much said about this topic but, have you ever given much thought to the fact that Jesus had a vocation before His ministry?  That’s right, He was a carpenter!  In fact, when you think about it, He was a carpenter far longer than He spent in His ministry here on earth.

Let’s put this in perspective.  Formal school for Jewish boys in Jesus’ time started at about 5 years old.  This was a half day of school, usually 6 day a week.  When not in school, it was not uncommon for them to spend time learning a trade from their father.  Knowing this we can see that it is possible that Jesus started learning how to be a carpenter as early as 5 years old.

Even in today’s apprenticeships, a person will spend several months if not a few years just watching the teacher and learning basics before they are even allowed to do any work.  When they do start work they are usually closely monitored by their teacher until they show a certain level of proficiency in their work.  Allowing for a few years of this, Jesus could have started doing basic carpentry between 8 and 10 years old.  With Jesus starting His ministry at 30 years old, we can see that he was a carpenter for upwards of 20 years.  This example from the life of Jesus helps point to there being importance to the work we perform in this world.

Jesus gives us another example of work.  Specifically work that some might consider demeaning.  In John 13:1-17 we find the story of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet after the Passover Dinner.  The dusty and dirty conditions encountered while travelling necessitated the need for foot washing.  In those times the foot washing was normally performed by the lowliest of menial servants.  It was only in a very rare exception, and then as a mark of great love, that a peer would wash another’s feet.  In doing this, Jesus served as a model of Christian humility and taught us a lesson in selfless service.

We also find that the Holy Spirit has responsibilities as well.  Here are just a few examples: He teaches us and helps us remember what Jesus told us (Jn 14:26), He reveals truth to us (Jn 16: 13-14), convicts us of our sins (Jn 16:8), and He helps us when we don’t know how or what to pray, even interceding for us and praying for us (Rom 8:26-27).

There are many other examples and commands related to work in the bible but I wanted specifically mention some that are tied to each person of God.  Being as we are made in God’s image we are called to reflect His character in all we do.  This would include our work. 

Actually, the idea of a separation of work between the secular and the spiritual is nothing new.  The early church had to define a biblical view of work in contrast to the influence of the Greek culture which denigrated manual labor.  Paul also addressed the importance of work in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 and 1 Timothy 5:8.

During the Reformation, Martin Luther wrote, “When we carry out our vocation in obedience to God’s commands, then God Himself works through us to His purposes.”  In this he is referring to all legitimate work, not just spiritual vocations.  Luther specifically rejected the idea that the clergy were engaged in holier work than those not necessarily considered holy, such as tradesmen and farmers saying, “Seemingly secular works are a worship of God and an obedience well pleasing to God.”

Church pastor, corporate CEO, ditch digger, teacher, banker, theologian, farmer, administrative assistant, architect, homemaker, truck driver, missionary, auto mechanic, chef, volunteer, doctor, manager, soldier, butcher, journalist, coat room attendant, realtor, maid, dentist, social worker, engineer, flight attendant, evangelist, gardener, police officer, laboratory technician, payroll clerk, sailor, surgeon, computer programmer, tour guide, barber, used car salesman, nurse, counselor, mortician, fitness trainer, cashier, janitor, bus driver, coal miner, inspector, plumber.

I cannot say I have seen or heard anything that says God sees a difference in these various professions.  On the other hand, we see all sorts of differences between them (or the numerous others not listed).  Whether its salary, benefits, location, title, how it makes us feel, or we put some kind of label on the position, it is too easy to look at all the differences.  Not that some of these things are not important, sometimes it is even necessary to take them into consideration when we look at what we do for work, but we tend to put too much emphasis on these things.

This has recently all been brought into sharp reality for me.  A couple months ago, I lost my job due to a contract change.  As I have been looking for new work I have had to do the normal evaluations you need to do when looking for work: what I am qualified to do, what I might like to do, salary, location, position, etc., etc., etc.  Along the way, I have also found I need to put thought into how I look at jobs I may apply for.

When we break it down, whether we are answering a call in our life, or just trying to make end meet in our day-to-day struggles, it isn’t what we do that is the most important thing.  Nor is it important that the work is done in the Christian or secular arena.  It’s our attitude toward that work that is important.  Are we doing the best we can?  Are we setting a good example to those around us?  Are our actions bringing glory to God like they should? 

Examples of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit all performing work lends dignity to the work of their hands, no matter how lowly that work may seem to our eyes. 

This dignity should be reflected in the work of our hands as well.  

Monday, August 1, 2016

Splendor and Majesty

The Heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 
Psalm 19:1

The other day I was looking through some old notes and came across a question I had not thought about for some time.

‘What if the primary purpose of the universe is not to be a home for us, but to display the splendor and majesty of God?’

I like questions like this because they really make me think.

As I spent some time thinking about this question I found my thoughts drifting toward a number of online articles related to space I have stumbled across over the last several months: Near Earth Objects, Space X and Virgin Galactic, the Mars Rover, colonies on the Moon and Mars, and most recently the Juno spacecraft arriving at Jupiter.  I’ll admit I have always had some interest in space exploration.  This probably stems from my parents making me stay up to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon when I was two.

I even thought about mankind’s various attempts to explore and understand the universe out there beyond our little planet.  Early astronomers probing the night sky with their telescopes; the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs; the Voyager space probes and; the International Space Station to name a few.

My thoughts also turned to the story of creation.  Genesis 1:3 tells us, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”  He even distinguished a difference between day and night in verse 5.  The rest follows: the firmament on day 2 (vs.6-8); dry land and plants on day 3 (vs. 9-13); Sun, Moon and, stars on day 4 (vs. 14-19); sea creatures and birds on day 5 (vs. 20-23) and; animals, insects and, man on day 6 (vs. 24-31).

But wait, there was light on day 1, but plants came on day 3 and the Sun, Moon and, stars didn’t arrive until day 4.  If He was making plants before there was a Sun and day and night had already been established on day 1, why did we need the Sun, Moon and, stars?  Couldn’t God have just left us with day and night?

I have no doubt that He could have done exactly that.  But…  One of the things I have learned about God is that He always does a little bit more, sometimes a great deal more.  (I give some examples of God’s extravagance in a post in October of 2013.)  In thinking about His extravagance I do believe that is part of why He did not just stop with day and night, but that is only part of the story.  The bible also provides some insight.

Genesis 1:14 tells us, “…and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years.”  Signs I found include Jesus referring to the weather in Matthew 16:2-3; the wise men use a star as a sign and a guide in Matthew 2:1-2; Joel 2:30-31 speaks of judgement; and Jesus refers to the passage in Joel when telling the disciple about signs of His return in Matthew 24:29.  Seasons, days, and years most likely refer to the movement of the Earth in relation to the Sun and Moon which give us seasons and a calendar.

Now I don’t want it to look like I am trying to discount scripture or why God did what He did, but I still find myself asking why so much?  Why not just the Sun, Moon, and Earth?  Or just the solar system and some lights in the night sky for reference?  Maybe a bit of perspective on how big things are out there can help here.

Earlier I mentioned the Juno space probe recently arriving at Jupiter.  According to NASA, Juno traveled approximately 1.74 billion miles on its journey, ultimately reaching a speed of a little over 150,000 miles per hour!  (At that speed it would take just under ten minutes to circle the Earth at the Equator.) Even at that speed it still took about five years to complete its journey. And that is just to reach Jupiter. 

Close up shot of Jupiter from Juno

Now this was not a direct path, it followed what is called a heliocentric trajectory. (Heliocentric is a fancy word that describes a journey around the Sun.)  Definitely a long trip but even if you just look at the straight line distance from the Sun (Jupiter 483.6 million miles, Saturn 886.7 million miles, Uranus 1.784 billion miles, Neptune 2.794 billion miles, and Pluto 3.6745 billion miles) the numbers really become hard to wrap your head around, and they are seeing evidence of another planet or some kind of other stellar body even further out beyond Pluto.

But God did not stop there.  He created the entirety of the Universe, which according to scientists is about 46 billion light years (a light year is approximately 6 trillion miles long) across, what they call the ‘observable universe,’ and is filled with over 100 billion galaxies.  Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is only approximately 100,000 light years across with our solar system being just a small speck in our galaxy.  And that was all with the power of His spoken word! 

Not sure if that really helped much.  I don’t make any claim that I can comprehend how big it all is.  I am just trying to make the point that the universe is truly vast no matter how you look at it! 

Turning back to scripture, David tells us in Psalm 19:1, “The Heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”  Glory…  How about splendor and majesty?  “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend Your works to another, they will tell of Your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and I will meditate on Your wondrous works.” (Psalm 145:3-5)  Wow!  Kind of hard to top that.  It’s like extravagance on steroids.  Could there possibly be anything else?  When I think about all that God is I sincerely believe there is something more.

Very simply, because He loves us.  Not only does God show us His glory here on Earth (Habakkuk 2:14 is a good place to start), and in the heavens (PS 19:1 above), in creating the whole of the universe God shows us His splendor and majesty and in doing so I believe He shows us how much He loves us.  Paul talks about God’s love in his prayer for the Ephesians, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know that this love surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory.” (Eph. 3:17b-21a) 

The description, “wide and long and deep and high” refers to the vastness and completeness of God’s love.  Paul even tells us, “this love surpasses knowledge.”  Basically it is beyond us.  Luckily, God will reveal things to us when we truly seek Him, if for no other reason than because he loves us so much more than we can understand.  Add to that, “Him who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine.”  This is why I believe that another reason He created the universe the way He did is because of His love for us.  And that is just another truly amazing thing about God.

So, back to the original question: ‘What if the primary purpose of the universe is not to be a home for us, but to display the splendor and majesty of God?’

Splendor and majesty?  Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes!  How can I honestly answer anything other than that? But in true Godly fashion, He takes it to another level.  He doesn’t stop there.  He goes immeasurably beyond what we can imagine and shows us how much He loves us.

We don’t have to understand it all, in fact we can’t (Psalm 145:3 and Ephesians 3:19 above), we just need to take it in and let God’s love flow over us.  So the next time you are looking at the delicate complexity of a flower in bloom, the awesome power of a thunder storm rolling across a river valley, or just gazing at the night sky, take a minute.  It’s all there.  If you look you can see it all, not just His boundless love for us but also the splendor and majesty of who He is.  Our Almighty and All Powerful God.  

Sunday, January 10, 2016


“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ (Matthew 25: 44-45)

Recently, I came across some notes I made after returning from a trip to Sierra Leone, Africa.  After reading them I felt I needed to share a couple of excerpts.  I have made two trips there and these notes were written after my second trip.  The pictures are from my time there, the above pictures is of some of the children that attend a school we visited on my first trip.

Sierra Leone is on the west coast of Africa and is one of the poorest countries in the world with the average person trying to survive on less than $2.00 per day.  Sierra Leone is rich in diamond wealth but it only benefits a select few people in the country.  For most of the population, extreme poverty is the norm.  Though conditions are improving, very slowly, there is still so much work to do.
This was not my first trip to Sierra Leone.  My first trip was in June of 2010 as part of a team of 15.  I had no idea as to what to expect when we arrived in country, had never experienced this level of poverty.  We were in the city of Bo, the second largest city in Sierra Leone, Africa.  The population is estimated to be about 500,000 people.  Think of the population of El Paso County living in an area smaller than Colorado Springs, none of the side streets being paved; tear out most of the electrical grid and the water distribution systems.  Waste water and sewage is, at best, flowing in newly constructed gutters or older ditches next to the road, and running down the middle of the road on the side streets.  No buildings taller than about 3 stories and no basements.  This barely begins to describe the conditions that exist there. There is something that the camera misses when you try and take a picture to show people what the conditions are like over there and I still cannot find the words to describe it so that someone who has not been there can understand.

Footbridge we crossed on a hike out to a village 
outside of Bo on my first trip. (Above)

School children at the village we visited. (Below)

One of the guys on the trip (Mike) went back about a year later with his family in order to do some long term work.  I wanted to do what I could to help Mike out and so I went to Sierra Leone for a week so that I could provide some small amount of help for the short time I could be there, hoping to make a difference.

The first time I remember seeing him was while Mike was putting petrol (their version of gasoline) in his car. The young boy was carrying a tray of small plastic bundles a little bigger than a golf ball on his head.  Poor nutrition makes it a little harder to pin down his age but best guess would put him at 8-10 years old.  He approached my side of the car to see if I wanted to buy any of his peanuts (they call them soup nuts and use them to make Crushed Nut Soup) just as several other street vendors already had, hawking their various wares.  Being a Pumwee (white person) you are a magnet for anyone selling anything. After I politely declined he moved on to continue trying to sell his nuts.
After Mike had finished filling up the car we headed out, our first stop was a grocery store (more like a small country store you find in smaller Midwest towns) so we could pick up items needed in order to make lunches and dinner for a team of Mennonites from Virginia that were building a clinic.  When Mike realized that peanuts were on the list he commented that we should have bought some from the boy at the gas station (the stores don’t always carry the raw nuts needed for the soup that was going to be part of our lunch the next day). 
Knowing he couldn’t make it far on foot we headed back over to the area we had seen the boy and were able to track him down.  He was cautious but didn’t seem afraid at first.  Not until Mike picked up one of the bundles from the tray while they were discussing price.   I’m not sure if it was because he was afraid of the two Pumwee in the car or if he thought Mike was just going to take the bundle.  Mike assured him he was going to pay him and they settled on a price.
I don’t know this little boys name or any details of the circumstances of his life.  Is he an orphan?  Does he have a home or does he live on the street?  How much does he need to sell in order to afford to buy something to eat for dinner?  These are some of the questions that keep rolling through my mind as my thoughts keep returning to this little boy.
Apparently it is not uncommon for parents there to put their children to work as street vendors.  Some may even sell their children to the local chief for land or a building and the chief puts them to work to earn their keep.  You see them out there selling a wide variety of things; soda, bread, gum, nuts, and ice just to name a few.  I can’t fathom my 14 year old nephew having to spend all day in downtown Colorado Springs, regardless of the weather, selling things just to try and survive, much less either one of my 8 or 10 year old nieces.

Market in Bo during one of the trips Mike and I made into town.

Having been there before I did not expect the trip to have as much of an impact on my heart.  Much to my surprise, the time I spent there this time has touched me on a deeper level than my first trip.  The boy selling peanuts, a new clinic being built, witnessing the challenges Mike deals with on a daily basis as he is trying to make a difference, seeing how much has changed since my first trip, and how much hasn’t changed are just some of the things that keep coming to mind as I reflect on the trip.  I am very glad I took the time for the trip and wonder what I can do from here to continue helping and what my next trip will be like.

Hard to say if I will make it back to Sierra Leone, but I do know that I will be going on more trips.  My thoughts have centered around what I can do to have more of an impact for God.  If you ever get the opportunity to go on a trip like this I highly recommend it.  It will definitely change your heart.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Vineyard

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit;  (John 15:1-2,5a)

Most of us have some familiarity with these verses.  Talk of a vine, branches and fruit, along with the vinedresser who takes care of his vineyard.  How do we apply this to our lives?

Bruce Wilkinson, in his book Secrets of the Vine, does a fantastic job in delving deeper into this topic.  I highly recommend this book.  I am not going to try and recreate it here.  I just have a few ideas I would like to share.

If you are unfamiliar with these verses, here is a quick summary:
Here we find Jesus talking to His disciples, using the metaphor of a vineyard to describe our relationship with Him and God the Father.  In this relationship, Jesus is the vine which feeds the branches.  The vine is the trunk that grows up out of the ground and ends in a large gnarl from which the branches grow.

We are those branches which will produce fruit by our actions in serving Him.  The branches are fed from the vine and grow along a trellis. This is where the vinedresser focuses his efforts because that is where the fruit is produced. 

God plays the part of the vinedresser who tends to the vineyard.  The vinedresser lovingly tends to the branches so they will produce as much fruit as possible.  Basically the fruit represents our good works.  Thoughts, attitudes and/or actions in which God places value because they bring Him glory.  We bear this fruit when we allow God to work through us to bring Him glory.

So why do we need tending?  What keeps us from developing and bearing fruit?  The easy answer: Sin.  The sin in our lives makes us sick and dirty and therefore unable to bear fruit.  So we just need to stop sinning, right?  Now it isn't quite so easy.  If we are truly seeking God, we are striving to lead sin free lives; the problem here is that we are not perfect. 

Even with the best intentions we still fall short and find ourselves dealing with sin in our lives.  Yes, God understands we are not perfect and gives us grace.  But sometimes it is not so much the sin as it is some other underlying issue to the sin. 

Here are a few issues that may be standing in our way.  Disagreement with God in regards to something in our lives, this may manifest itself in many ways including: doubt, fear, worry, hate, anger, impatience, and lust just to name a few.  How about harboring unforgiveness in our heart?  Selfishness?  Resentment?  Maybe just something bad from our past we just don’t want to give up; some vice we try to convince ourselves is ok to have if the rest of my life is good.

Fortunately for us, God love us too much to just stand by and not do anything.  If we are truly striving to better ourselves, God will be there to pick us up, clean us off and support us.  This puts us in a better position to bear the fruit that brings Him glory.  This is where He may start the pruning process.  Think scissors, gently trimming away the bad stuff to help us grow.

It’s when we are not necessarily looking to Him that He may actually start taking steps to address the issues.  He may start with some gentle prodding but if necessary he will start taking drastic, sometimes painful measures to get our attention and move us toward repentance.  This is commonly referred to as discipline.  Think God starting up His spiritual weed whacker and diving in to remove the bad stuff from our lives.  This will continue until we stop doing whatever we are doing that is drawing the attention of God’s weed whacker.

Pruning is the cutting away of dead or dying material or even trimming back the branch in favor of increasing its health and vitality, thereby increasing its ability to produce fruit.  In our lives this is cutting away immature commitments and lesser priorities or removing the parts of our lives that drain precious time and energy.  This is all done for our benefit. 

Sometimes we invite the pruning into our lives.  Have you ever asked God to help in addressing a problem in your life and then suddenly you feel like your life is going all topsy-turvy.  Areas of your life that are not related to your prayer are upended.  Now we panic.  Our next prayer is, “God, my life is going from bad to worse, please make it stop.” 

The problem here is that God was in the process of answering our first prayer. And the what-the-heck-just-happened-to-my-life is God pruning.  We need to remember, God knows what we need, much better than we do.  So when this happens it is because He is trimming what we need trimmed, not necessarily what we expected, or maybe even wanted in the process of answering our prayer. 

The good news is the pruning does not last forever.  The pruning will last until God is done.  I’m not going to say that the pruning doesn't cause pain, in fact the closer to the core of who you are, the more intense the pain will be. 

I will admit there have been times it felt like there couldn't possibly be any more that could be trimmed away and I felt like I had been cut back to nothing more than a stick.  The key is how you respond to the pruning.  We can fight it or we can trust that God has our best interests in mind through the entire process and allow Him to work.

I like how Michael DiMarco put it in his book God Guy:  “You gotta understand the job of the vinedresser in order to really get the full impact.  His goal is not to stress out the vine or the branches.  He’s not grabbing the stuff in anger and just pruning willy-nilly, chopping haphazardly.  He’s not even cutting just to make things look better.  He’s working with a purpose, and each move he makes has one goal: to improve the production of the plant.”

In Philippians, Paul tells us God is going to work in our lives.  “Being confident in this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”  (Phil 1:6)  Don’t be afraid to allow God to work in your life.  This is another demonstration of how much He loves us.  He knows what he is doing.

He is tending His vineyard.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Going Beyond Everyday Service

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:58)

As Christians we are called to serve others.  We are called to serve God (1 Sam 12:24, Deut 13:4, Jn 12:26, Rom 12:11), our family (1 Tim 5:8), our neighbor (Mk 9:35), even our enemies (Lk 6:27-28).  Some find service comes naturally to them; others, and I think most of us fall into this category to some degree or another, have to work at it.

Service comes in as many shapes and sizes as there are people and places to serve in the world.  Here are a few ideas:
Volunteering at a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen
Long or short term mission trips
Walking a pet
Visiting the elderly or shut-ins
Helping out at your local church
Washing a car
Running errands for a friend
Shoveling snow or mowing grass
Auto repair
Teaching new skills to others

And this is just a scratch on the tip of the ice berg.  My point here is that there is no shortage of opportunity to serve and we all have skills and gifts can make us a great fit for something somewhere.

When to serve is as varied as how to serve.  There is not a set time or place in which to best serve.  In fact, some of the best experiences are when the opportunity arises with little to no warning.  Something amazing happens in our hearts when we are able to take our minds off of ourselves and step up and take action to help another person.  There is also something to be said if you can do something for someone where they don’t know and won’t know who did it for them.

The attitude we have while serving is important because it is not just an individual or group we are serving but first we are serving God.  Paul tells us, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col 2:23-24).

The other day while reading the devotional Reflecting the Glory by N.T. Wright, another concept in serving others jumped out at me from what he said concerning John 15:12-17.

John 15:13 reads, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.

It is not uncommon to here this verse referenced at the memorial service for a member of the military who died protecting his fellow soldiers or who gave his life in service to his country.  This strongly touches my heart because one of my grandfathers was killed in action over France in World War II.  You may have also heard this verse referenced in discussions of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us when He died on the cross for all of humanity. 

Take a look at the author’s take on this verse:

“Jesus is talking about the self-giving of an entire life, minute by minute, day by day, year by year.  It is easy for us to be cynical about genuine love, to imagine that people are acting merely from a desire for status, for good reputation.  What Jesus is describing goes deeper than any self-seeking, deeper than any self-serving.  It simply wants to do the utmost possible for the beloved, up to and including the point of giving its own life.”

Although this verse is talking about making the ultimate sacrifice for another, it also points us to another level of service.  I think this gives a new and higher meaning to putting others before yourself. 

As we continue in our journey in this life we never know if and when we may be called to make the ultimate sacrifice for another but until that time may come we can definitely serve others on a higher level.

Sunday, January 4, 2015


For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things.  To Him be the glory forever!  Amen. (Rom 11:36)

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.  “For as the Heavens are higher than the earth so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts are higher than your thoughts.” (Is. 55:8-9)

Are you expecting something from God?  Healing from some injury or disease, the salvation of a loved one, a new job, a mate, a restoration of a broken relationship?  There are so many things we look to God for and so many promises He has made.  Then why do we so often find ourselves waiting for an answer?

Let me start with the answer no one wants to hear.  Sometimes the answer is no or not yet.  I am not going to pretend to understand this myself, but this is one place that faith comes into play.  We need to believe that God wants the best for us and in His understanding He will come through in the proper time (Jer 29:11; Phil 1:6; Rom 8:28; Ecc 3:11). 

Remember, even Paul received a “No” in answer to prayer, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.  Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.   And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor 12:7-9).  

Some of the answers we are waiting for are the fulfillment of promises made by God.  Scripture contains thousands of promises which God has made to us.  We also receive promises God makes to each of us as we continue our journey with Him.  Abraham stands out as a great example of holding on to a promise made by God, regardless of how long it takes before the promise comes to pass.  To reflect the importance of the promise He made, God even changed his name from Abram to Abraham (Gen 17:5). 

God never breaks His promises (Ps 89:34), it just may take longer than we want to see for the promise fulfilled, we just need to believe what God has promised will come to pass.

When we seek answers from God, obviously we do this with expectations that God will come through with an answer.  The question here is; are we placing the expectation in the wrong place?  Are we placing too much expectation on how God answers rather than on just the expectation of an answer?

As you read through the bible you will see God has a knack for not always doing things the same way twice.  Moses was given two different sets of instruction on getting water from a rock when leading the nation of Israel (Ex 17:1-7; Num 20:1-10).  God did not have the nation of Israel use the same battle plan for each city they took when they entered the Promised Land (Joshua 1-11). 

Even Jesus followed this pattern in the miracles He performed during His ministry.  In healing the blind, He touched the eyes of two blind men (Mt 9:27-30), Jesus spit on the eyes of the blind man at Bethsaida (Mk 8:22-25), the man born blind was healed when he washed the mud Jesus made with His spit on the ground and rubbed on the man’s eyes (Jn 9:1-7).  And this is just one example.

Here is an example from my family:

In 1988, shortly after her 15th birthday, my sister was diagnosed with a type of seizure.  Needless to say this was a little distressing to the family.  Family and friends prayed for her and that she would be healed.  Different treatment options were tried and in the fall of 1991 she was scheduled for brain surgery.  The morning of the surgery, the surgery was cancelled due to results from a Wada test that brought up concerns on how the operation would affect her short term memory.  Definitely not the answer we were looking for.

I was in living in Washington at the time and through the treatment program she was part of my sister was able to transfer her treatment to a clinic in Seattle and come live with me in the spring of 1993.  The program she was in dealt with experimental medications so we didn’t have to pay for the treatment, but there were other challenges.  Adverse side effects which brought about trips to the Emergency Room and the seizures never stopped.  There were a few periods she went seizure free for a few weeks at a time but it got to the point she would experience a 2-3 seizures a day, two days in a row, every 5-7 days.

Early in 1997, her doctor started talking to her about the possibility of surgery.  After what had happened before she was not too excited by the prospect.  A few weeks later she experienced a grand mal type of seizure.  This freaked us both out and prompted her to discuss the surgery option with her doctor. She went in for a Wada test, the same test that canceled the first surgery; with changes in technology the results were more defining and positive, so the surgery was scheduled.

Through a slight change in schedule the date for the surgery was moved up from September to May 27th, the Tuesday after Memorial Day in 1997.  When she asked the surgeon when she would be able to go home, he told her the earliest anyone had gone home after a Tuesday surgery was Sunday night, normally it was on the following Monday.  She told the surgeon that she would be out of there Saturday, he didn’t commit to anything; he just said something to the effect of. “We’ll see.” She was in the Operating Room for about 8 hours and our parents and I were able to see her for a couple minutes in Intensive Care after the surgery.  She doesn’t remember this but she cracked a joke in the few minutes we talked to her, much to the amazement of the ICU nurse that was in the room.  The nurse said, “That never happens.”

What happened of the next few days was nothing short of amazing.  Every Day when we came in to visit she kept looking better and better, even when we would go to lunch and come back just a short time later we could see significant improvement.  The doctors and the nurses were all amazed at her progress.  Friday afternoon the surgeon came in with a small group of interns and he was all smiles, he could not have been happier by her progress and he told us she would be able to go home the next day.

Once she had agreed to the surgery my sister completely trusted that God was going to use the hands of this skilled surgeon to take care of the seizures and that she would have a rapid recovery.  And that is exactly what happened.  I discussed her recovery above and she has been seizure free since that time.  So we did see an answer to all the prayers, just not the way or in the time frame initially expected.

Whenever God answers a prayer, fulfills a promise, or preforms a miracle in our lives it is going to be done in a way that brings Him glory (Is 43:6-7; 1 Cor 10:31; Rom 11:36).  If we expect God to provide our answer the same way He did for another person, it robs Him of the glory to which He is due.  It is good for us to look to God with expectation of an answer from Him, just make sure you are not robbing God of glory because you expect it to be answers in a specific manner. 

We need to step out in faith and expect to see the wonder and majesty of the glory of God as it manifests itself in your life.  That is what my sister did and the results were amazing to see.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Humanity of Jesus

Because God’s children are human beings-made of flesh and blood-the Son also became flesh and blood.  For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could He break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.  (Heb 2:14 NLT)

Do you ever have trouble relating to God?  We all do at one time or another.  And why shouldn't we, He is after all the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe.  Although we are fearfully and wonderfully made, (see my earlier post Wonderfully Made, July 2013), there is still a gap between us and God.  So the question becomes, how do we overcome the gap?

Overcoming this gap takes time and effort on our part but God did provide us the means.  Scripture is one of these means, as is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Both of these are topics unto themselves but I want to look at this from another perspective.  That perspective is the humanity of Jesus.  Not a simple concept to be sure and one that has been argued, both for and against, since Jesus spent time here on Earth. 

There are a number of examples in scripture that point toward the humanity of Jesus:
·         Although His conception was unique, there is nothing in scripture that indicates His development in Mary’s womb was different than a normal baby.  Or that His birth was any different than a normal baby. (Matt 1 and Luke 2)
·         Jesus was circumcised. (Luke 2:21)
·         Jesus experienced the same physical limitations and had the same physiology as men:
o   Hunger (Matt 4:2)
o   Thirst (John 19:28)
o   Fatigue (John 4:6)
·         Jesus experienced normal human emotions:
o   Love (John 11:3;13:23)
o   Compassion (Matt 9:36; 14:14, 20:34)
o   Joy (John 15:11)
o   Anger (Mark 3:5)
o   Amazement (Luke 7:9)
o   Loss and sorrow at the loss of John the Baptist (Matt 14:13) and Lazarus (John 11: 33-35)

The humanity of Jesus is also on prominent display in the Garden of Gethsemane and in His crucifixion.  In the Garden we find that Jesus was deeply distressed about what was coming and earnestly praying.  He is asking, almost begging, that He might be able to avoid what was coming, more than once.  Through this He is in so much anguish about what is coming that “His sweat became like drops of blood.”  We also find Him troubled in that He has to repeatedly wake His friends who he had asked to pray with Him.  (Mark 14:34-41; Luke 22:41-46)

Aspects of His humanity found in the crucifixion include:  Pain and humiliation, as crucifixion was designed to embody.  Thirst. (John 19:28)  Abandonment and despair in His experiencing divine wrath. (Matt 27:46)  Concern for His mother. (John 19:26-27)  The ultimate expression of His humanity on the cross is His death. (Matt 27:50; Luke 23:46; John 19:30)  In showing that Jesus had actually died we see the blood and water issue forth when His side is pierced by the spear. (John 19:34)  This separation of blood and water is understood to represent death by modern medicine.

Additional we are warned against those who would claim that Jesus was not fully human.  That any who claim that He was not fully human are labeled as deceivers, they are even said to be in the spirit of the antichrist. (1 John 4:2-3 and 2 John 7)

As you can see there are plenty of examples to be found in scripture supporting the fact that Jesus was fully human and He fully embraced being human.  He embraced it so fully and completely that He was even able to complete one of the most important facets of His time on Earth, He was able to die.  God cannot die.  But Jesus did, for us. 

The death of Jesus is amazingly important because if Jesus didn't become fully human, He didn't die.  If Jesus didn't die, then we are not saved.  This point is addressed for us in Hebrews 2:14, “For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could He break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.

How does the humanity of Jesus make it easier to relate to God?  Simple, it is much easier to relate to another human than a being outside our realm of experience.  Well maybe not simple, but definitely true.  Jesus Himself claimed that any who had seen Him, had seen the Father.  (John 12:45 and 14:9)

In his book Beautiful Outlaw, John Eldredge puts it this way, “It will do your heart good to discover that Jesus shares in your humanity. He was, as the creeds insist, fully human. (Yes, yes – more than that to be sure. But never ever less than that.) I’m sure the chipmunks made him laugh. The Pharisees sure made him furious. He felt joy, weakness, sorrow. The more we can grasp his humanity, the more we will find him someone we can approach, know, love, trust, and adore.”

As you continue on your spiritual journey, look at the humanity of Jesus in the bible.  Embrace the fact that Jesus was fully human.  God wants us to seek Him out and to know Him.  Jesus shouted to the crowds, “If you trust Me, you are trusting not only Me, but also God who sent me.  For when you see Me, you are seeing the one who sent Me.” (John 12:44-45 NLT)  Use this as a stepping stone toward a better, closer relationship with both Jesus and with God.