Manna or meat?

In John 6 Jesus makes the comparison between Himself and manna. The topic of bread is relevant because He had fed 5000 men (plus women and children) from just a few loaves and fish the previous day. Due to this miracle, the people followed Him.

In verse 27, Jesus redirects their thinking from “What can I get?” to “Who can I get?”.

But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.” (John 6:27)

As the conversation continues, the thick-headed crowd (you know, like you and me) asks for yet another sign. They remind Jesus (oh, the irony) about the bread from Heaven, manna, provided to their ancestors in the desert. Jesus responds that the true bread of God is available to them right now.

34“Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.”

35Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. (John 6:34-35)

Jesus teaches them that belief in Him is the only answer to their unceasing appetite. He offers the peace and joy and salvation that they (we) so desperately seek.

To gain some context for the manna reference, let’s return to the Israelites’ journey out of bondage in Egypt to freedom in Canaan. Because they needed to learn to trust God (you know, like you and me), this journey took 40 years rather than the couple of weeks it should have. [I think that 40 years was no accident. This represents a generation, a lifetime. I’m a middle-aged man still learning to trust.]

Let’s pick up the story of their passage through the desert in Numbers 11. They are not a happy group.

Soon the people began to complain about their hardship, and the LORD heard everything they said. (Numbers 11:1)

This verse caused me to pause. When did they complain? Soon. Who heard? God. How much? Everything. Lesson: be careful with your dissatisfaction. It’s probably not as bad as you think and the One who blessed you with what you do have hears your rant.

Onward. The grumbling continues in verse 4.

And the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. 5“We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. 6But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6)

Manna appeared daily and the people collected what they needed for that day each morning. No more. No less. Do you see how this taught them to trust God? They did not provide. They collected. Daily. When Jesus called Himself the bread of life, He was teaching us to rely on Him in the same way. Daily. Your true needs are met through daily relationship and reliance on Him.

So what about the meat?

God was not pleased by their complaining and request for more. (How often do we request more? We exist in a culture defined by more.) Here’s how He answered. He gave them more meat than they could possibly eat, miles of quail stacked three feet deep (verse 11:31).

How did the people respond? They collected far more quail than they needed. The smallest amount collected was 50 bushels (verse 11:32)! This is a ridiculous amount of quail. To give you a comparison, a bushel is eight gallons. A bushel of tomatoes weighs 56 pounds [1].

What can we learn? If we put our focus on getting more of the things of this life (meat), it will never satisfy and will never be enough. If we instead put our energy into relationship with Jesus (manna), we will never hunger. We will be sustained and satisfied. Paul summarized this perfectly.

12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)

Gather today’s manna, friend, and leave the meat. Bread for life!

1. https://www.thebalance.com/how-much-is-a-bushel-1389308

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m sick

Have you ever been really sick? I’m not talking about a cold or the flu, I’m talking about “there is something seriously wrong with me.” The sick that sends you to the doctor ready to do anything to get back to good health. It can be a desperate time.

In 1999, I lost 50 pounds in six months. It wasn’t a crash diet or change in lifestyle. I was already fit. My resting heart rate was about 120 beats per minute. I was anxious, all the time. I barely slept and, when I did, I had sleep apnea. My hair was falling out. I was sick, friend. It took too long to figure out that I had Graves’ disease. In the end, it was a simple fix. A swallow of iodine-131 and a lifetime of Synthroid.

In the mean time, though, I was acutely aware that I was sick. In John 5, we learn about Jesus healing a man who had been sick for 38 years. 38 years! Jesus asked him a logical, but important question.

When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” (John 5:6)

Without receiving the simple “yes” that you might expect (He got an excuse instead), Jesus healed him anyway. Jesus heals. Because this occurred on the Sabbath, the religious leaders threw a tantrum, but that’s another conversation.

What struck me about this story is what Jesus told him later. Listen:

14 But afterward Jesus found him in the Temple and told him, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14)

Catch this. Sick for 38 years, but something worse is on the way if he continues in sin. The same is true for us, by the way. Here’s how Jesus’ half brother, James, puts it.

14Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15)

Jesus was warning us that “the wages of sin is death” as Paul penned later (Romans 6:23). Here’s the tricky part. When you are seriously ill, you know it. Things don’t work as they are supposed to work. You know, unequivocally, that something is terribly wrong.

With sin, on the other hand, you can rationalize. You enjoy it! At least for a while. The problem is that there is only one destination. Death. Destruction. Separation from God.

When you’re truly sick, you go to the doctor. You want, more than anything, to get well. I have some unwelcome news, the proverbial bad report: you have sinned, you are not immune. You are deathly ill. So am I.

I also have good news. The reason Jesus came and gave His life on the cross was to pay the penalty for your sin, my sin. It’s done. All you need do is admit your sin and accept His salvation.

Be well, friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I AM

 

“What’s your name?”

This is typically the first question we ask someone upon meeting them. Further, forgetting a person’s name is often perceived as an admission that you find them unimportant or, at least, unmemorable. It’s embarrassing to offer, “It’s nice to meet you,” and receive the awkward response, “We met at…” Ugh.

I had two semesters of college Spanish and don’t remember much, but I do know the first two phrases I learned were:

Me llamo ______.

¿Cómo te llamas?

Stating a name holds more significance than a few spoken syllables. Try mispronouncing a person’s name and see if you aren’t corrected.

The U.S. military enlistment oath is:

“I, (state name of enlistee), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

Names, names, names.

One of my favorite “name” conversations from the Bible occurs at an unlikely location, a burning bush that is not consumed.

13 But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”

14 God replied to Moses, “I am who I am. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:13-14)

God chooses to identify Himself as I AM. Creator. Father. Sovereign God. Yahweh. I AM.

Did you know that Jesus named Himself in the same way? I was thrilled to find I AM from Jesus as well. You probably know the story.

In John 6 Jesus has just fed the 5000 (that’s 5000 men plus women and children). Another well-known miracle follows.

16 That evening Jesus’ disciples went down to the shore to wait for him. 17 But as darkness fell and Jesus still hadn’t come back, they got into the boat and headed across the lake toward Capernaum. 18 Soon a gale swept down upon them, and the sea grew very rough. 19 They had rowed three or four miles when suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat. They were terrified, 20 but he called out to them, “Don’t be afraid. I am here!” 21 Then they were eager to let him in the boat, and immediately they arrived at their destination! (John 6:16-21)

In the original Greek, verse 20’s “I am here” reads “The I AM is here.”

God announced himself I AM to Moses in preparation for leading His people out of bondage in Egypt. Jesus proclaimed the same identity when rescuing His disciples from a raging storm*. God is also calling out to you; He’s calling your name. Whatever you are facing, take courage. The I AM is with you. Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you (James 4:8).

Oh, by the way, me llamo Tony. It’s so nice to talk with you.

*See also John 8:23, 8:28, and 8:58 (NLT).

 

 

 

 

 

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Leave your jar

John 4 tells the story of Jesus’ unlikely conversation with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. It was an unusual interaction because: 1) she was a Samaritan and Jews did not talk to Samaritans; and 2) she was a woman and Jewish men certainly did not associate with Samaritan women.

Jesus reveals Himself to be the long anticipated Messiah through the metaphor of water. The woman had come to the well in the middle of the day, presumably to avoid interactions like these, to draw water. She was flawed, you see, like you and me. She’d had five husbands and was currently living with yet another man. Jesus’ response was to offer her a new life, not condemnation.

13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

Although I’ve studied this chapter before, the woman’s response struck me this time. In fact, it chastised me. When she realized that Jesus truly offered living water, that He was indeed the Messiah, here’s what she did:

The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone. (John 4:28)

She left behind the container for the water that could not sustain her and RAN to share the good news. The Messiah has arrived! Come and see!

I was disappointed in myself because I also know the Gospel, but I do very little running and sharing. More sitting and, well, sitting… If you also struggle with sharing the good news of our salvation through belief in Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection, do this:

Ask God for one person with whom you can share your story.

You don’t need to be a Bible scholar to spread the Gospel, you just need to share your own experience. “I used to be… and then I met Jesus.”

Leave your jar. Tell your story. You won’t regret it. Happy 2018!

 

 

 

 

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Benjamin Button redux

F. Scott Fitzgerald published the short story entitled The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in 1922. It tells the tale of a man who ages backwards.

This case of backwards (adult to infant) contrasting the forward that we know (infant to adult) stimulates a comparison between Jesus’ life and our growing relationship with God. Jesus left his rightful place in Heaven to be born in a dirty stable. His homeless journey of rejection by the religious leadership concluded with torture and death on a cross.

We, on the other hand, begin far from Heaven, separated from God by sin. Through belief in Jesus as Savior, though, we embark on a path that leads us progressively closer to our God where we find peace and hope. Our transformed lives deliver us ultimately to Heaven and God’s presence.

“Thank you Jesus” seems immeasurably insufficient…

3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” (John 3:3-4)

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I am a stone jar

I am a stone jar. I look like this.

Day after day I am filled with tepid water and then emptied. Full, empty, full, empty. The people appear to be washing, but I’m not sure why. They usually don’t look that dirty. Maybe I just can’t see what they are trying to remove.

That used to be my life. Then there was a wedding. I wasn’t even being used. I was set to the side and had the night off. Or so I thought. At the command of a stranger, I was filled with water, but this time was different. When the water was dipped out, it wasn’t water. It was no longer colorless and odorless. It was crimson and aromatic. It had… life. Life to be tasted.

I am no longer used for washing. I am noticed and known. I am now considered clean and valuable and hold a place of honor in the master’s house.

The wedding at Cana

John 2 tells the story of Jesus’ first miraculous sign of His true identity. Immanuel: God with us. In short, He was at a wedding feast and the wine ran out. He instructed the servants to fill six stone jars with water, jars made to contain ceremonial washing water, and then He transformed it into exquisite wine.

This is more than a demonstration of Jesus’ deity. It paints a picture of Jesus entering your life and transforming your thoughts, desires, ambition. He replaces those limited capacity idols we pursue that inevitably fail us (water) with a joy and peace and fulfillment that has no end and we are then able to share (wine). He renews your heart. Inside (tasted), not outside (fruitless washing).

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)

Invite Him in, friend. Be filled.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
(Psalm 34:8)

 

 

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Breakfast of Champions

I just finished reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. I’ll tell you a secret. When I’m reading an author with a distinctive voice, like Vonnegut or Hemingway or Fitzgerald, I begin speaking like him (or her) in my own internal dialogue. My thoughts are, therefore, currently short and choppy, but elaborate and descriptive. Perhaps I’ve said too much…

Breakfast of Champions is not a comfortable read. Vonnegut questions America, its history, its motivation, its essence. Actually, he doesn’t question it so much as indict it. Read BoC for yourself.

I don’t agree with everything he says, but he did make me question what I take for granted. He made me question what I consider normal, obvious, the-way-it-is stuff of life.

Listen: 1 John 4:8 says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” I believe this; I’ve witnessed it firsthand in my ever-growing relationship with my Creator. He gave me a football coach and, later, friend who taught me about love between friends. [Incidentally, I thought my now best friend was a lunatic as a coach. Ironically, I adopted the same intense style in my own coaching career and there are undoubtedly many young men who think I’m clinically insane.] God gave me a wife who daily exhibits mercy and grace and the love that can exist between a man and woman. He gave me children so I could learn how He loves me by how I love them. Relentlessly.

I know that if you do not love, then you do not know God. I know that God is love. I wonder, however, if the converse is true. Here’s the converse.

If you do not know God, then you do not love.

I don’t think this is necessarily so. Here’s why. We were made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). If we were made in the image of Love, then I think love is inherent to us. It is natural for us to love. I think there are many who reject God, but still experience love in their lives.

God is so gracious.

He let’s us decide whether to love Him or not. Not only that, but He also gives us the freedom to love in His absence. Incredible.

Here’s what I know. God loves you. He wants an intimate, lifelong, encompassing relationship with you. If you doubt this, find a quiet place and say this to Him.

God, I’m not sure that you love me. I do know that I want love, though. Will you reveal yourself to me? Will you show me that you are, indeed, love? I’m inviting you into my life and offer my imperfect self to your perfect will.

See what happens. I can’t wait!

 

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