Archive for August, 2018

Calculated Risks

August 30, 2018

Every Thursday night now, for the past month, we’ve started taking calculated risks.

We don’t think of it this way, but that’s certainly part of it.  What we think of is just inviting people into our home for time and dinner, and this in itself isn’t too unusual.  Practically every night of the week we have one or more people outside our immediate family breaking bread with us.

But our Thursday guests each week are a little different – we try not to think of them that way, though others might.  They come from a local rehabilitation program, clients of a one-year residential treatment program for women suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.  We’ve had a dozen of these women to our home in the last month, in groups of three.  These women span the cultural, ethnic, and socio-economic spectrum.  They come from all over the country, from backgrounds either urban or bucolic, nightmarish or right off the set of Leave It to Beaver.  Yet each one for various reasons has found herself in the grips of serious addiction.

That grip pervades all of a person’s life, eventually.  What becomes optional, then manageable, then functional, finally becomes out of control.  Jobs can’t be held.  Families can’t be held together.  Jail and even prison are not unusual locations either short or long-term for some of these ladies.  Working in the recovery community as  I have for roughly the last seven years, I know these things.

We opened our home to these ladies to give them a taste of something they aren’t able to access very easily or often – home.  A place where they aren’t defined by their addictions of  the past or their recovery at the present or the uncertainty of their futures, but where they’re just friends invited to join us around the dinner table, or to play video or card games with our kids.  Where they’re free to just laugh and be.  No expectations.  No duties (other than helping with dishes a little bit!).  Last night the kids  led us all in making homemade spaghetti noodles for dinner.  It was a lot of work and didn’t go entirely as planned – at least initially.  But everyone had fun and enjoyed themselves.

There are risks with being open with people.  A friend of my wife’s – a fellow home-school mom – pointed that out to her the other afternoon.  She was concerned that we might be allowing people with criminal records into our home.  She was concerned for us, of course, and I appreciate that.  Nobody wants anyone else to get hurt, after all.

But life is full of calculated risks.  The challenge is that everyone uses slightly different variables in their calculations.  We don’t find the risk unbearable to have these ladies in our home.  Someone else would.  My wife and I have discussed the need to talk with our kids about being careful with people (not these people, specifically, but people in general) as they more and more find themselves in the world and negotiating the world on their own.  Not everyone can or should be trusted.  Not everyone is safe.  There are people out there who will hurt you and take advantage of you.

But in addition to teaching them how to be safe, we have to demonstrate to them how to make sure that the quest for safety doesn’t replace the very necessary calculation of risks with the goal of being as open as possible.  The goal should be openness as much as we can.  I think Scripture calls us to this.  It’s a means by which we love our neighbors.  But if we let it, our fear of being hurt can overwhelm our calling to love and serve one another.  We can quit bothering to really calculate the risks and simply opt for a very insulated life.  Ultimately this not only isolates us, it fosters attitudes towards others that aren’t just uncharitable, they’re unChristian.

What’s your risk calculation?  At what point do you draw the line?  We all draw lines – we all have to as sinful people in a sinful world.  Lines aren’t in and of themselves wrong, and I don’t fault people if they draw a line closer in than I do, and I try not to feel guilty when someone else has a line much further out than mine.  But how do I pray and work to extend those lines out as far as possible?  How do you strive to share yourselves with others?  These are important questions for people of faith to ask themselves in a media climate the fosters only fear and distrust.

Our answers to these questions can make huge differences, both in our own lives and the lives of those around us.

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Curious Community

August 26, 2018

Saturday night we were blessed to pass perhaps the most singularly curious evening my wife and I can remember in some time.  Given the number of people in and out of our lives in any given week, this is no small statement.

On the tail end of a vacation we spent a night in a place described as a Euro-mansion.  It was massive – 7+ bedrooms in the main building.  Library, bar, music room, formal dining room, entry hallway, massive kitchen, full basement – not  to mention a separate cottage rented out to two people.  Built nearly 100 years ago by an apparently eccentric person, this home was unique not only  architecturally and historically and decoratively, but first and foremost for the people there.

We arrived and entered through the main gates to find a band warming up and people wandering around the grounds.  We though these were  other AirBnB guests but it turned out they were there for an impromptu fundraising event that showed up for the afternoon and evening.  We eventually met the owner and her late-teen/early 20’s son and daughter, along with at least five of the other people who live  more  or less full  time on the premises.  The connections are some family, some professional,  some simply coincidence of time of life and other matters.

Most of them seemed pretty quiet and introverted, with the exception of one obviously extroverted woman.  After perusing the truly stunning bar they had, I offered to put together a small cocktail tasting after we returned from dinner.  The offer was eagerly accepted.  I put together small tastings of three different drinks – my Almond Tequila mainstay, a poor variation of a Manhattan using questionably ancient vermouth and equally questionable vanilla-flavored bourbon, and a simplified version of a Melon Ball (Midori, orange juice, vodka) that omits the vodka.

We sat together for over  an hour, sipping the drinks, sharing stories and a bit of background.  We learned a lot about these people that we never would have had there not been a pretext to sit down together.  There’s a tentative offer for me to return to provide bartending services to a private movie screening in the near future, which of course means an opportunity to meet more people, hopefully have  more  conversations, and ultimately hope to build more relationships where I can be shown how to love my neighbor and show them Christ’s love.

I’m still processing the evening and all of the nuances and dynamics.  But I pray there will be further opportunity for to build relationships with these curious community of friends and family.

 

Book Review – Brave New World

August 25, 2018

Brave New World by Alduous Huxley

The above link is to an edition that includes Brave New World Revisited, which I’ll mention here.  It’s basically a set of essays written by Huxley 25 years or so after Brave New World was published, commenting on elements of the book and offering warnings about the direction of Western culture that could lead – much sooner than he had ever anticipated – to a world similar to his novel’s dystopian setting.

It was only mildly ironic that I read the majority of Brave New World while on a cruise ship.  Perhaps it is the perfect setting to see some of the concepts Huxley foresaw played out.  Soma is replaced by the ubiquitous encouragement to drink alcohol.  The emphasis is very much on the right now, and creating memories for a future completely detached from the present, which of course has no relationship at all to the past.  The descriptive blurb for a daily meet up for singles 40 and older suggested Looking for a soul mate, or just a ship mate?  What happens on the cruise ship stays on the cruise ship, right?  We’re all supposed to be very pneumatic, right?  Whatever that means.

As Neil Postman observed in his fantastic book Amusing Ourselves to Death, we’re much closer to Huxley’s dystopian dictatorship than we are to George Orwell’s 1984 version.  Most of us were force-fed 1984 as a form of vaccine against the wiles of communism and socialism, while Brave New World was relegated to the optional reading list.  Something good and certainly college-oriented, but nothing to stress about.  I read both in high school, and we certainly have slipped dangerously down the road to Huxley’s future.

Rereading it now, it’s not a great book.  Stylistically or even from a story standpoint.  Characters are rather flat, and Huxley is obviously more interested in playing with ideas rather than characters or plot.  The back-and-forth movement between scenes and characters early in the book is a good foreshadowing of Pulp Fiction and other modern efforts to shake up the linear narrative.

It’s not a great book to read, but it’s a necessary book to help us think about our current society and culture.  There are a lot of ways of dissecting where we are and how we might change course, such as this curious piece (warning, some unpleasant language there).  And I would of course argue that our predicament is far more theological than anything else.  But Huxley helps us to see that what we take for granted is dangerous simply in that we take it for granted.  That we are increasingly ill-equipped to think critically about ourselves or the things we are asked to do or buy, and that this is to the very real benefit of a select group of people capable of doing these things.  The fact that our newspapers don’t see it of great value to inform us – every single day – of the political doings in our state and national capital is a good indicator that a free press is not necessarily a helpful one.

Huxley’s reviews of his own work in a set of topical essays bundled together as Brave New World Revisited is obviously dated, but offers a few good reminders that we haven’t arrived at our current situation completely unawares.  There have been keen minds all along the way warning us of the consequences of media, advertising, eugenics, and other areas of inquiry and exploration and application.  Whether we can change direction or not on a societal scale remains to be seen, but it’s important and necessary first of all that individuals be equipped to do so in their own lives and families.  Towards that end, Brave New World should be just as mandatory reading as 1984.  It’s a lot closer than we think.

 

 

Reading Ramblings – August 19, 2018

August 12, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date:Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 19, 2018

Texts: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:12-22; Ephesians 5:6-21; John 6:51-69

Context: Holding fast to God’s wisdom may put us at odds with prevailing opinions, ideas, and concepts of truth. The verses for this week call God’s people to be wise in what and who they place their trust and faith in. There is only one source of truth, and whatever contradicts this truth cannot, logically, be true. It’s nice to think that this truth will always be self-evident in our world and culture, but that is not always the case. In those times we are called upon to rely upon our faith in God rather than side with the fashions or ideas of the day that contradict him.

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 – The world offers us choices in where to place our faith and trust. There is no shortage of idols and vanities vying for our affections, attention, and faith. Inasmuch as these various options all contradict one another, it can’t possibly be right or healthy to presume that all of them could be true dependent on one’s subjective point of view. They might all be wrong, or one of them might be correct, but to pretend that all are equally valid is unreasonable and foolish, particularly if we are trusting our lives and futures by placing our faith in something or someone. The Israelites also were presented with myriad choices for who to worship and trust. Would they trust the Egyptian gods they once had worshiped? The gods of the peoples they were now in the midst of? Or would they cling to the God who had saved them from slavery and genocide and sustained them through decades of difficult life in the wilderness? Who we trust with our lives is based not simply on the circumstances of the moment, but how we understand and interpret our past, and the Israelites recognize this.

Psalm 34:12-22 – We recognize the truth in these words. Isn’t life better and simpler when we are honest and truthful? When we are guided by the precepts God didn’t simply create at Mt. Sinai but wove into the very fabric of creation and human nature? This is not to say that good people don’t suffer or that bad people don’t prosper. But in general, truthfulness and living life according to God’s design offers more peace and joy than alternatives. This is even more true as we consider the way we live now as shaping us at a fundamental level, preparing us either for eternal life with God or for a deep-seated rebellion against him that we will never let go of. Our behavior cannot be fully separated from our beliefs, and to claim we believe one thing while consistently and pervasively acting to the contrary demonstrates a rift in our being, a rift that we will either end up on one side of or the other. Our long term hope and faith and therefore words and actions and thoughts can only find joy, peace and security in God and his Word.

Ephesians 5:6-21 – We can be deceived. Who we trust is of critical importance, and on what basis we trust them is worthy of constant attention and examination. If we insist on rejecting God’s truth in favor of empty words with no substance or basis, we place ourselves under the wrath of God. So we must carefully guard who we trust. In Christ we are new creations, and we are not capable of simply continuing in the patterns of thoughts, words, and deeds that defined us before Christ – not because God cannot or will not forgive us, but because we can’t long remain between opposites. We will eventually move to one or the other. Rather, we should see to understand and ground ourselves in who we know God has designed us to be. This requires wisdom and vigilance because we are surrounded by thoughts and ideas that are empty and deadly. We ought to focus our attentions on building ourselves and one another up in actions that are pleasing to God rather than actions that tear down ourselves and others. We must constantly seek to see ourselves and those around us as creations of God who are owned by him, and who ought to be obedient to what He calls us to. Refusal to do this is always destructive, and there is no arena in which this is not true. Paul will begin to apply these ideas in practical ways in the following sections of Ephesians, providing practical guidance to various relationships in terms of how we seek God’s way rather than our own way or the way our culture calls us to.

John 6:51-69 – It can’t seem more illogical and downright offensive. Jesus insists that only by partaking of his body can people have eternal life. How often we fail to hear this today! But how strange it will sound to anyone unfamiliar with the Bible or the Church! How offensive, how ridiculous, how stupid. How can eternal life come from eating the flesh of another human being? And moreover, how can we expect 2000 years later to be eating that same body and drinking that same blood after Jesus’ bodily ascension? It makes no sense. After all, as materialists we understand that Jesus couldn’t possibly have enough flesh and blood for the billions of followers who join in Holy Communion. And of course a quick look under a microscope would prove that there is no human flesh in the bread or blood in the wine. A simple enough matter to prove that Jesus wasn’t serious. Couldn’t have been serious.

But we are called by faith to take Jesus’ words seriously. What may not seem possible or even likely, we are called in faith to trust as true. Jesus doesn’t mince words, seemingly intent on thinning out the crowds pursuing him, and testing even his disciples’ faith. His words remain just as stark and unblinking today. Our salvation must lie totally and completely in him, and only in him. Not in our good behavior. Not in our good efforts. Not in anything in us, but only in him. And not in some esoteric or theoretical way, but only by receiving him fully and completely as He promises to be present in the bread and wine. If we are offended by his words, if they disgust us, if they offend our sense of rationality and logic, we are free to choose our rationality and logic over Jesus’ words, but we must consider whether we are making a god out of our logic and rationality. Not being able to fully comprehend something doesn’t make it true or right. Does a microscope make Jesus a liar? Does it overrule eyewitness reports of the crucified man who claimed to be the Son of God appearing alive again to hundreds of witnesses? Do you trust that his words can’t be true, or do you trust that they are, even if they don’t seem to make sense? What wisdom will you make your own, and what wisdom will you use to guide your life?

Well Said

August 11, 2018

A good reminder of just one of the differences between God-as-a-djinni, who basically just wants to be rid of us and left alone and so gives us what we want (or what we think we want, or not really what we want but what we say we want, etc.), and God-as-God, who is committed to our perfection in Christ.  Thanks for the pointer, Janelle!

 

Sharing Ourselves

August 9, 2018

Last week my family and I launched a new ministry outreach.  Weekly I teach at a women’s residential addiction recovery facility.  I spend an hour a week with ladies in the midst of recovery.  Some of them are still detoxing from their latest binge.  Others are nearly finished with the program, obsessed with finding work or lining up schooling.  Women of all ages and from all walks of life.  We have wonderful times together laughing, talking about God’s Word and work.

But then they graduate from the program and it’s rare that I ever see them again.  I’m part of their program of recovery, and once graduated, they don’t see a purpose in continuing the relationship that was formed (my assumption).  Yet these women are the most vulnerable of the recovery community – especially those with children.  They need every resource they can find, but all too often church and pastors are presumed to be part of the past rather than an integral part of their present and future.

So to try and develop the relationships beyond the one-hour a week classroom environment, we started opening our home up.  Every week, 3-4 of these women sign up (voluntarily, not required) to come to our home Thursday evening for three hours.  There isn’t a program or a plan.  They aren’t required to do or be anything.  They can just come and be themselves.  Not as guests of honor, not as representatives of the recovery center, but just as women coming to a family home for dinner.  They pitch in to prepare, enjoy, and clean up from the meal while interacting not just with me but with my wife and children.

The hope is that relationships will form, and that some of these women will want to come back, and will recognize that recovery is more than a program, but a matter of relationship.  Likewise, the love of Christ is expressed through the Word (and Sacraments) of God delivered by friends, neighbors, people we have relationships with.

Tonight three different women are signed up to come.  It’s impossible to predict personalities and all the issues that a time together could bring, but it continues to show us that opening ourselves to others makes a difference in people’s lives.  Not necessarily immediately or dramatically.  Sometimes slow and subtly.  But relationships are created through these experiences, and only God knows how those relationships will develop and what He will do in and through them.  I believe He will do much more than deliver someone from addiction, but rather will deliver them from sin and death and hopelessness and despair.  And if He can do that through sharing a meal, opening our home, having our kids play Just Dance on the xBox with them or letting them pet our dogs, what a beautiful testimony not to our eloquence or skills but his creativity and power and goodness.

 

Just Teach

August 8, 2018

God is good.

There are times I’m tempted to presume someone isn’t really interested in his Word.  Really can’t relate to it.  Really can’t deal with serious teaching about Scripture.  There are times when I hold back from going deeper for fear of boring people to death or leaving them more confused than when we began.

Lord knows there are more than enough times when I study his Word and feel like I have less understanding after than before.

But God is good.  And I’m grateful for his loving reminders to just teach his Word.  As well as I’m able.  As deeply as possible.  Trusting that it’s his Holy Spirit that is really doing all the hard work, regardless of how much work I’ve put in to preparing.  And that the Holy Spirit will open the way for whatever is going to happen through that teaching, regardless of who is listening or not listening.  What a glorious blessing it is to be proven wrong by and with and through the Word that at once condemns my folly (or arrogance?  or condescension?) and then pronounces forgiveness.

To God alone be all the glory.

Book Review: Who Broke My Church?

August 7, 2018

Who Broke My Church? 7 Proven Strategies for Renewal and Revival

by Kent R. Hunter

I don’t know where I got this book.  I’m sure that it’s a good book for someone, but not for me.  In fact, I went through and purged my Amazon wish-list of any books I’ve put on there over the last fifteen years that propose to help you transform your church from icky to successful.  It’s not that this isn’t a good desire (depending on how you define terms), but the reality is that none of these books seem to accomplish what they claim to.  Either that means that millions of people are reading them and then ignoring everything they say (which is completely possible!) or that what they say isn’t ultimately as guaranteed (“proven”) as they think it is.

This is an encouraging book in some ways.  The language is peppy, sprinkled liberally with quotable slogans and catch-phrases, and with ongoing references to other current writers on the Church or leadership or any number of other topics.  Perhaps it’s encouraging to people to read books like this, and perhaps there are people who have seen substantive change in their congregations as a result.  I just don’t know any of them personally.

Some of his insights are helpful, such as differentiating between being a servant or a volunteer.  Other things were less helpful, such as insisting that no church can survive or thrive unless they update everything to match what people in the larger culture expect.  Suggesting that Jesus came to model a new way of doing ministry is more than a stretch.  And  if you’re going to make that stretch, why is it that nobody ever advocates for a itinerant ministry model, since that’s how Jesus did it?

Read the Bible, and if you read it well enough and long enough the strategies that this author (or most any other author, frankly) advocates will be obvious enough.  Or they won’t be.  One thing I find interesting with reading the early Church Fathers is how little – as in not at all – they talk about growth strategies or evangelism programs.  They talk about unity, about believers committing themselves to one another.  But not about how to improve worship attendance.

Hmmmm….

Book Review: The Benedict Option

August 6, 2018

The Benedict Option:  A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation

by Rod Dreher

I was directed to this book by a respected writer, teacher, and theologian,  Gene Veith.

I agree with Veith that this is an important book.  I wish that it was more important than it is, but it is important at the very least.  Dreher asserts that Christians have lost the cultural war and therefore will lose the struggle to legislate Christian morality.  These losses have already occurred cannot be undone (likely for several generations) and should be acknowledged as such.  While there is a place and necessity for Christians to continue to voice their beliefs in the public and political realm those voices will be increasingly marginalized and perhaps even criminalized.

What are Christians to do, then?

Dreher argues far more eloquently than I have that Christians need to acknowledge this, quit moaning about it, and get on with planning how to ensure that Christianity is passed down to our children and grandchildren, so that it survives this new Dark Ages and is ready to re-emerge into a changed political and cultural landscape an indeterminate number of years, decades, or perhaps centuries down the road.

The metaphor Dreher chooses for this is St. Benedict of Nursia, who in the sixth century created a rule for monastic life still in use today, which Dreher sees as informative not for a new wave of monks and nuns but rather ordinary Christians seeking to preserve their faith in an increasingly hostile and intolerant culture.

This sounds fascinating to a Lutheran like me who views monastic life as impractical at best.  Unfortunately, Dreher only references Benedict’s Rule in passing and without much specific quoting.  I’d rather thought I’d find a copy of the Rule in the book itself, but it isn’t there.  Dreher seems more to see in St. Benedict a prescient figure for his time, which is certainly what Christians seem to need now.  Dreher is not advocating monasticism in the traditional sense, or a withdrawal of Christians from culture and society, but rather that Christians need to take steps to intentionally preserve the Christian faith in their families and communities, steps that most people will likely find extreme to say the least.

Communal living (whether under one roof or in a network of like-minded homes in a neighborhood or town) is a major aspect.  Reconsidering our devotion to the public schooling system (as well as private schools) at all levels, and considering home schooling utilizing the classical educational model is another strong recommendation of Dreher’s.  Strategizing as to what career options will likely remain open to Christians in an era where corporations are increasingly mandating employee adherence and support of codes of conduct that may violate their Christian beliefs is another major issue.

Dreher recognizes what we all sort of know in our gut – that the changes of the last 40 years have been nothing short of monumental, tectonic even.  Everything has changed and is going to continue to change and not in a way convenient or even permissive of traditional Christian teachings and ways of living our lives.

Dreher intends to sound the alarm to rouse Christians to radically reconsider the assumptions they have accepted about how life ought to be lived and how the life of faith should be lived out.  I know Dreher intentionally avoids many specific recommendations as he understands that Benedict Communities are going to come in all shapes and sizes and he doesn’t want to curtail holy imagination towards that end.  But a bit more in the specifics arena would likely be helpful to folks who are otherwise bewildered by the picture he paints of the future.

Read this book.  Read it as a family.  Read it as church communities.  And begin to look for folks who understand just how different the coming generations of Christians are going to need to live in America.  There is no returning to the halcyon days of mid-20th century America as a Christian nation (if that was indeed accurate).  We need to prepare for a future even more difficult than the present.  God is good.  The Holy Spirit is with us.  The Church will never be eradicated, but individual Christians and corporate Christian entities are going to have an increasingly difficult road ahead.

Let’s work together to figure out how to keep moving down it and through it.

Reading Ramblings – August 12, 2018

August 5, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 12, 2018

Texts: 1 Kings 19:1-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:17-5:2; John 6:35-51

Context: For reasons I’m unsure of, this is the second of three weeks where the Gospel comes from John rather than Mark. I’m sure there’s some reason for this other than the brevity of Mark’s Gospel! The reading in John continues on from the feeding of the 5000, with Jesus growing increasingly confrontational with those who have followed him from the previous days’ meal in hopes of making him their king. He has come for more than to hand out free meals. God sustains us daily with the bounty of the earth, but our full stomachs are not his primary concern. Rather, He seeks our eternal welfare through the bread of life, his Son.

1 Kings 19:1-8 – Despite a stunning victory over the priests of Baal in chapter 18, Elijah runs in fear from the death threat of Queen Jezebel, a formidable opponent to be sure. He flees into the wilderness away from everyone, and while the wilderness in Scripture is someplace where God can mold and shape us, Elijah seeks only death. But God does not abandon his servant or grant his request for death. Instead, God provides miraculously for Elijah so that he can continue his journey with divinely-granted strength for another forty days and forty nights until he reaches Horeb, the mountain where God revealed himself to Moses and the Israelites after freeing them from slavery in Egypt. God provides for our needs and sometimes provides more than we need. God who creates and sustains creation is not limited by the same rules and laws we are used to abiding by.

Psalm 134:1-8 – This is the final psalm of ascent – one of the psalms traditionally recited en route to Jerusalem and perhaps upon entry into the city. We are unsure of the introductory note – Abimelech is mentioned in 2 Samuel 11 by way of reference to Judges 9, which tells of Abimelech who was made king and came to a bad end by way of a mill-stone thrown by an old woman during his attempt to conquer the city of Thebez. This would have been well before David’s time, so it must reference a different Abimelech that we have no record of. The psalm is one of confidence and trust and rejoicing in the Lord’s provision, which includes some form of deliverance (vs. 4, 6). David leads his people to praise God who can be trusted to sustain and deliver them in their times of distress, much as God delivered Elijah from his distress.

Ephesians 4:17-5:2 – Having exhorted the Ephesians to unity through their shared faith in Christ, Paul exhorts them individually to set aside the lives they lived prior to coming to faith. The Christian thinks and acts fundamentally different than someone who does not believe in Jesus. The behavior may look similar on the surface, but the rationale is completely different. The Christian expects their minds to be renewed as they learn better and more thoroughly what the will of God is for them and how it differs from a culture bent solely on self-gratification. Having died to their sinful nature in Christ, the Christian is free to live as a new person. Such a new life will be characterized by honesty, as well as in tangible differences in how we work out problems between one another. Unity remains the goal, so that we are not entitled to dwell on our anger overnight, but should seek out the other party to make peace. Failure to do so provides an opportunity for Satan to work in our hearts and minds, leading us towards thoughts, words, and actions that contradict our new identity in Christ. Honesty is to include a turning away from theft, as well as a change in how we talk. What we do and say matter, both as a means of demonstrating our gratitude to God as well as a matter of how we love one another. Failure to allow the Holy Spirit to begin making these changes in our lives is a source of grief to the Holy Spirit, working against him rather than with him. Instead, we should cooperate so that we gain better control over our emotions, our words, and our actions. Rather than seeking only our own benefit and advancement we should earnestly seek to love and care for one another. We do so not necessarily because the other party deserves it, but rather because God has forgiven us. All of these things make us imitators of God, drawing us more closely into alignment with how He intends us to live, and how Jesus modeled life for us. Even if this means self-sacrifice, we do so willingly and gladly knowing that God has given us all things in Christ, and will vindicate us against our enemies on the day of judgment.

John 6:35-51 – Jesus directs the hearts and minds of the crowd to his true nature and work. He is offering himself on their behalf as real food, as real as the bread He miraculously provided the day before. Only in receiving the gift of Jesus in himself can anyone hope to escape from the constant clamoring simply for physical sustenance. Jesus offers nothing less than eternal life, something far beyond the hopes of a populace that sees him as a potential king to throw off Roman control. This of course is a cause of offense, particularly to those who think they understand who Jesus is and where He has come from. From their perspective, Jesus comes from Nazareth, from Mary and Joseph, not from heaven. Jesus continues unswayed, equating himself with God the Father by saying that He has seen God the Father. What Jesus has to offer is far greater than what Moses, one of the heroes of the faith, offered the Israelites in the wilderness. Moses was not the source of the manna, but still, that food was intended only to sustain God’s people physically for the normal course of their lifetime. What Jesus offers in himself is nothing less than eternal life, demonstrating his radical superiority to the religious and ethnic heroes of the people. The people want Jesus to be king, but a crown He will need to gain by force of war is far beneath him and what He offers. God is not content that we should simply live out our mortal lives, and He desires that we look for more than this from him as well. We should see him as the source of eternal life as well as the provider of what we need to live here and now. Only by keeping these things distinct and in proper proportion can we hope to receive the eternal life made possible by Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection.