Mount of Olives Jerusalem

A Seat at the Table

Easter

I loved this holiday growing up. We’d always have an Easter basket with candy, a couple of toys and that colorful Easter grass. Our parents would also hide hard-boiled eggs we had decorated around the house. There was more than one occasion where we couldn’t find all the eggs. And of course mom and dad couldn’t remember where they hid them. Only after a few months did we find them… Not because anyone found them because we saw them. No… we eventually found them by following the foul odor of a rotten egg.

As fun as Easter was growing up. It’s so much more than just eggs, toys, Easter grass and cute little bunnies. Check this out:

Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Mark 2:15-17

Easter. Jesus didn’t go the the cross for “good” people. God didn’t send His Son to die for “perfect” people. The Messiah didn’t rise from the dead for people who don’t have a “past” a “history” or a “current reality.” You see, it was the “perfect” people… the “good” people… the teachers of the religious law… the pharisees who were looking from the outside in at the table of Jesus. It was the people who were hated… people who were despised, people who had terrible reputations… in the words of the “good” people, it was the scum of the earth who had a seat at the dinner table of Jesus.

In other words… it was me. It was you. This isn’t a one-time deal with Jesus. He was known to spend time with people like this during His life. And, just before He was to be betrayed, He held one more meal where He invited His friends to eat with Him. The people who spent the most time with Him during His ministry were invited to the table… His disciples. The very people who traveled with Him. And…

The one who would betray Him.

And Jesus knew this. He knew that Judas would, the very next night, hand Him over to be murdered. But that’s the very heart of Jesus. To give His life… even for the very ones who we think don’t deserve His love and grace.

After He was betrayed and taken for trial, He stood before Pilate and next to a man named Barabbas. Now Barabbas was in prison for a reason… he was involved in an insurrection and had committed murder during the uprising. Pilate, not wanting to make what he knew to be the right decision, asked the crowd whom they wanted released… Jesus or Barabbas. Like any mob, there were bad actors who stirred up the crowd… the chief priests… who called for Barabbas to be released. There was one huge problem with this though. You see, just before the Lord was going to take the Israelites into the promised land way back before Jesus came, God wanted to remind the Israelites of the priorities of God. One of the legal requirements for the Israelites to follow was directly related to Barabbas. Check this out:

Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death. Numbers 35:31

The chief priests hated Jesus because He didn’t follow their laws. They wanted to kill Him because He was/is the fulfillment of the law. And now, they wanted to break a law that the Lord had spoken to them through Moses. A law that they knew the Lord had spoken. But they didn’t care. Their hate had overcome their minds and hearts. Talk about hypocrisy!

Jesus knew all these laws as well. But He kept silent. He could have spoken up and defended Himself. But He didn’t say a word. It was God’s purpose… It was Jesus’ purpose to go to the cross for the chief priests, the pharisees and Barabbas too. And so Jesus willingly went to the cross, hung between two criminals and died what some call a death without dignity. Execution from crucifixion was the cruelest form and was usually only for the worst criminals. Death from asphyxiation usually took many hours to possibly days. For Jesus to willingly die by crucifixion is not a death without dignity… No… it is the most dignified death… because He willingly died for you and me and Barabbas and the pharisees… for the best of us and the worst of us.

And then, three days later, what we now celebrate as Easter, He rose from the sentence of death… From the grave.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the  Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” Mark 16:6-7

You see, Jesus willingly died a horrible criminal’s death. Beaten beyond recognition before being nailed to a cross. Was laid in a tomb. And rose three days later. When Jesus invited the tax collectors and “sinners” to His dinner table He knew He’d be sacrificed and killed. And when He hung on the cross, He knew that He was dying for those same people... and for me and you.

It’s because of Jesus’ death and resurrection that we too now have a seat at His table. This Easter, right now, in the midst of our past and our current reality, Jesus calls to each of us to come and take a seat with Him. It’s my prayer that you’ll accept His invitation to…

Have a a seat at the table… the table of Jesus.

Happy Easter


The wilderness in Israel

It's Not Normal

Man.

To say that these last ten months have been anything but normal would be an understatement. It’s easy to look back to see what “could have been” and get frustrated. It’s easy to look back and think about how “things should have been” and get angry.

Why. Can’t. Things. Just. Be. NORMAL!!!

Do you ever find yourself there? In that place? Screaming at the world. Yelling at God. It wasn’t supposed to be like this! None of this makes sense!

Why God!?

I don’t know if you’ve been here… in this place. But I have. Looking back, there may have been another person who found himself in the same spot as well. Check this out:

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. - Matthew 1:18, 19

Can you imagine the thoughts that Joseph had? To be in that very situation? I wonder what he was thinking. What he was feeling. He and Mary’s situation wasn’t normal. It was far from normal. It wasn’t typically like this.

A baby? He hadn’t even touched her yet. They were married, but by Jewish custom, they hadn’t made it to the consummation part of their marriage. Did he scream at the world? Did he yell at God, “It’s not supposed to be like this!” Did he scream,

“Why. Can’t. Things. Just. Be. NORMAL!!!”

The Bible doesn’t say that. But because Joseph was a righteous man, he did consider divorcing Mary because he knew that the Jewish law placed her in a bad spot should the religious leaders think she had broken their law.

“Why. Can’t. Things. Just. Be. NORMAL!!!”

Because Jesus came into our world to break away from normal.

There was nothing normal about the way Jesus came into this world. A virgin birth? That’s not normal. It can only happen with the help of the Divine… from God Himself. And I think that’s what Jesus wants us to see this Christmas… to realize that He came into this world to break away from the normal…

I don’t know what your life was like 12 months ago. But as our world gains some clearance from this nonsense, Jami and I don’t want to go back to normal. We don’t want what was normal… to let ourselves get caught up in our busy schedules, running mindlessly around trying to make each appointment. Focusing on schedules and task lists.

Sure, our kids will go back to their activities. And that’s a good thing. Business will get busier. And that’s a good thing. But Jami and I don’t want what was normal. We valued our schedules and tasks way too much. If the last ten months has taught us anything it’s this…

The most important things in our lives is Jesus and each other. If everything goes away but we have Jesus and each other, then that is enough.

So as we head into the next year, our family is focused on being Jesus to each other and bringing Jesus to others. Jesus broke away from the normal in this one little birth between two human beings. And Jami and I want to follow in his example by bringing Jesus to the lives of others by breaking away from what we knew was normal.

Jesus came to break away from normal…

Will you? If so, comment how you’ll do this in this upcoming year.


Water and Ocean in Florida

What's In The Water

What's in the water?

We always find ourselves gravitating toward the beach slash water. Doesn’t matter where we’re at really. Michigan, Charleston, Folly Beach, Florida, California… We almost always end up near water.

It wasn’t always like that for me. I didn’t grow up with a pool or going swimming all of the time. I never even learned how to swim until after my 8th grade year in school. And that was only because I had nearly drown at one of my friend’s 8th grade graduation party.

Like kids do when they’re at a pool party, they began pushing others in. I didn’t even see it coming. I was standing near the edge of the pool talking one moment, and the next I found myself at the bottom of the deep end trying to frantically get back to the top and stay there. Had I not fallen in the pool near another kid, I may not be here today.

Needless to say, I made it a point to learn how to swim so I could feel safe and enjoy the time around any type of water, from a pool to a lake to an ocean.

In what I used to fear, I now seek out on a regular basis. Jami and I gravitate towards the water wherever we find ourselves. There’s just something that overcomes our souls as we soak in the water… whether it’s an ocean, Lake Michigan, the Sea of Galilee, Jordan River or in the mangroves on a paddle board.

Water played a huge role in the Bible. It’s mentioned a total of 722 times. It’s mentioned more than faith, hope, prayer and worship. Water was used to heal people. It was turned into wine. And it also turned into a meeting place of sorts…

Check this out:

Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a]) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” - John 4:4-14

There’s a lot going on in these passages of scripture. So to break it down quickly, Jesus was on His way back to Galilee. In order to get to Galilee, he had to travel through Samaria. This wasn’t a simple five mile journey. It was about a journey of 125 miles on foot. So it makes sense that He would need to stop to rest, get some food and water.

Now, while at this well, He met a Samaritan woman who was stopping at the well to get some water. In those days, the Samaritans and Jews weren’t on speaking terms. To say they didn’t like each other would be an understatement. But Jesus, knowing this, still asked this woman for a drink of water.

It’s interesting to me that, even though Jesus was probably thirsty, He had an ulterior motive for asking this question. He was more interested in this woman’s well being than His thirst. As they are talking about water, Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks of this water (meaning the water from the well) will get thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.”

It’s not lost on me that, while this lady (who was poor and struggling), came to the well to get her physical needs met, she left having so much more of her life changed… in her everyday life.

I can’t tell you how many times this very thing has happened to me. In my conversations. In my job. In my everyday life. I’m just going about living and Jesus reaches out, speaks to me and changes my heart and my mind.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to meet my physical needs - searching to fill my mental and physical spaces only to be left feeling empty and thirsty again - continuing to fill those spaces time after time after time after time. And it’s in these spaces where Jesus meets me and offers His living waters - grace and mercy, love and acceptance that fills every space from heaven.

And just like this woman at the well - just like He’s done with me time and time again - He will meet you in your everyday life, probably unexpectedly and will offer His living water for you… to you.

This is why Jami and I gravitate towards water so much. It soothes and refreshes. It washes and cleans. But most importantly, Jesus used it to bring others closer to Him and to God the Father.

So, what’s in the water? Salvation. Grace. Mercy. Acceptance… to put it another way…

Jesus


Photo of Garden of Gethsemane in Israel. The Long Walk

It's About the Walk

Growing up...

Me and my family… my mom, dad and two younger brothers… would routinely go places. Cubs games. South Bend Silver Hawks games. Vacation. Church… Anywhere really…

Each time we went somewhere, as soon as we got out of the car, my dad would walk in what felt like a dead sprint. As I got older I could keep up. But inevitably he’d walk so fast ahead that he’d leave my mom and the other brothers in the dust.

You’d routinely be able to hear my mom exclaim…

Jim, slow down.

He’d pause for a moment, look back, and say with a waive of his hand, “Come on,” and proceed to walk ahead.

Like many things a father passes down to his son, this is one trait that I inherited. Whether it’s going to a Cubs game, walking downtown Chicago, anywhere on vacation… or even on a neighborhood walk, you’ll be able to hear Jami and/or the kids say, “Why are you walking so fast?”

It’s not something that I even mean to do. It’s just how I’m wired. Whether it’s walking or playing softball or soccer… or really anything in my life… I just go all out. I don’t know how to do anything any other way.

Just ask Jami when I get on a health kick. I don’t just cut back on what I eat and drink at night. No, I buy brown rice, broccoli and whatever health food I think I need. It’s all out. It’s fast. Not slowing down because we’ve got things to do… things to see… places to go… tasks to accomplish.

But I read something that really convicted me this week… I’ve read it many times before. But for some reason, it really hit me… maybe it’s because of the times we find ourselves in… but this is what I read…

Walk in love.

Let me write that again…

Walk. In. Love.

It’s actually found in Ephesians chapter five…

And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. - Ephesians 5:2

Other translations say, “Live a life of love…”

I actually like the picture that I get when I read, “Walk in love…” because when you slow your pace to a walk, it slows your focus. At least that’s what it does for me. I’m such a hard charger and move at such a fast pace that it’s easy for me to either forget about people, or worse yet, value my goals and objectives and agenda higher than the people around me. I make everything about me and what I want to accomplish.

And, while it’s good to have goals and objectives, it’s never good when you either forget about the people around you, or worse yet, treat others poorly as you move towards your mission. But God doesn’t call us to love our goals and objectives… to love our “party.” He calls us to love others. It’s actually so important to God that it’s only second to loving God Himself.

And so God calls us… each and every one of us to…

Walk in love.

It seems like a great idea. We all “know” that we should love others. We should certainly love people… duh. But knowing that we should love others and actually walking in love are two very different things.

So what does it mean to walk in love? What does it look like?

When I go on a walk with Jami and/or the kids, when we’re walking with each other, we’re spending time together. We’re talking to each other. Getting to know each other a little better. We’re listening to each others’ thoughts… our frustrations… our hurts. Our focus has slowed so that we can simply be with each other.

When God tells us that the second commandment is to love others, He doesn’t give a specific definition to who the “others” are. He doesn’t define “others” as your siblings or immediate family. He doesn’t define “others” as those people who are your friends or who hold the same views as you do.

God tells us to simply love others… in other words, He wants us to walk in love with everyone. Those whom you agree with. And those whom you disagree with. Those who treat you well. And those who treat you poorly. Republicans. Democrats. Even family members that you don’t see eye to eye with. And He wants you to love others even when you find yourself stressed and busy. Even when we get annoyed or angry, God still tells us to love others… even in those times.

God calls each and every one of us to…

Walk. In. Love.

…Just as Christ has loved us. You see, the photo for this post is taken at the Garden of Gethsemane… the place where Jesus went to pray just after the last supper. the Bible tells us that he prayed so hard that sweat dropped from his face like drops of blood. He knew what was ahead of him. But he loved us so much that He prayed for God’s will to be done. In other words… Jesus walked in love. And like Jesus, God calls each one of us to…

Walk. In. Love.

And when we do, it’s a sweet smell. It’s a living sacrifice that we can offer to God. It’s actually an offering to God that He loves.

So…

Walk. In. Love.

One step at a time. One person at a time. There’s no question as to what God desires… the only question is…

Who does God want you to walk with?

Go and…

Walk. In. Love.


What Do You See?

What do you see?

People? A stone floor? A giant stone wall? Backpacks? Shoes? Cameras?

I’ve seen this place on the news… on tv many times.

The Wailing Wall. Some call it the Western Wall.

What do you see?

The first time I saw it in person was at night with a small group of people. Everything all lit up, the giant stone wall climbing to the pitch black night sky. It was a sight I will never forget. Amazing and awe inspiring doesn’t come close to describing it.

The next day we came back with the whole group. There’s actually two areas to approach the wall. One area for the guys and one area for the women. Regardless of what you believe or feel about that, it’s the way it is.

For guys, you can’t approach the wall without your head being covered. If you don’t have a hat, there are yarmulkes that you can grab and place on your head. I had a hat, but I took one to wear anyway… I may or may not have given it back like you were supposed to. I know I know… I’m a horrible person. I still have it somewhere around my house.

Like many places in Jerusalem and Israel, the place that I was standing, the Wailing Wall, was and is holy ground. It’s not like Disney World where kids are running around and people are laughing. There is a weight and sense of reverence for this place that is within the walls of Old Jerusalem.

The ground that I was standing on was and is considered holy.

As I walked into the area that you can see in the photo, it was clear that this place was 100% different than the area just 15 feet behind me. Towards the back there were Jews who were studying the Torah… sitting at a desk, memorizing and literally taking in the Word of God.

As I walked closer to the wall, I could see people praying silently. Some were placing paper into the cracks of the wall. That was something I was prepared for. I remembered seeing that on the news as I was growing up. We were also prepped beforehand so that we could write a prayer to God and place it in the wall. As I stood at the wall, and placed my paper prayer in the crack, I could see the Orthodox Jews out of the corner of my eye.

The Orthodox Jews don’t just stand in silence to pray at the wall. The guys that I saw were rocking back and forth and were physically and audibly crying out to God. As I stood there and watched, it was clear that they so desperately wanted the presence of God and wanted God to hear their prayer.

As I looked to my right, there were others, non Jews, tears streaming down their faces as they cried out to God and stuck their paper prayers into the wall.

Jews. Non Jews. People from all over the world. Standing at the Wailing Wall (Western Wall) crying out to God. Asking for God to hear them. Desiring God to move.

As I stood there, I no longer simply saw stones and walls. I not only felt the presence of God, but I saw it there in the holy place and in the very people I was standing next to.

It’s now been over a year since we’ve visited Israel. But the lessons of that trip, the lessons of specific areas keep seeping into my life… into my mind.

This place, the Wailing Wall, has not been more applicable to me than right here and right now.

When you look at 2020 what do you see?

When you look out into our country, what do you see?

When you look at those that sit on the opposite party as you, what do you see?

These are questions we all need to ask ourselves. And it’s a question that we all must answer.

As I was beginning to write this post, I could hear my kids arguing and fighting upstairs (my office is in the basement.) The words that came out of their mouths toward each other broke my heart. After talking with them, I took Lola on a walk to clear my head.

As I was walking the dog, two things happened… each song that I listened to was centered around the presence of God. This wasn’t a 10 minute walk. This walk took 40 minutes. It’s not an accident that each artist sang about the presence of God. Secondly, God placed this question in my mind… “What do you see?” And then it hit me and I started to wonder… What do my kids see when they are arguing with each other?

As I thought about it those 40 minutes, it became clearer and clearer that my kids only see whatever it is that they are arguing about. This morning it was cold brew coffee. It was all about what they perceived to be “theirs.” They didn’t see each other as a brother or sister. They didn’t see each other as human beings. They didn’t look at each other and see the very presence of God in each of them… that they are made in the image of God. They didn’t see any of that… They simply saw each other as the enemy to what they wanted.

Guys… People… It’s the same thing with our country. It’s the same with those who are on the right and the left. Those who are red. Those who are blue. It’s the same for me and for you. Ohhhhhhhhh. That rhymed… totally didn’t mean to do that, but I’ll keep it.

What do you see?

When you look out at our country… When you look at those who are on the opposite aisle… when you look at those who have wronged you and those whom you disagree with… when you look at those people, do you only see the issues? Do you only see red? Do you only see blue? Do you only see the perceived wrongs? Or do you see the presence of God in their souls. Do you see the image of God that they have been created?

What do you see?

You see, when all we see are the issues…. When all we see is red or blue. When all we see are the perceived wrongs and disagreements… It’s easy to hate the other side. It’s easy to be enraged with anger towards them and sling hateful words. It’s easy to look at them with disdain.

But when we begin to see the presence of God in others… When we begin to see the image of God within their very being… we will begin to treat them with love and kindness. We begin to see the intrinsic value they have... not because of who they are, but because of who's they are... because they are God's creation.

But how can we begin to possibly see differently?

Check this out…

“I asked them about the conditions among the Jews there who had survived the exile, and about Jerusalem. They told me, 'The exile survivors who are left there in the province are in bad shape. Conditions are appalling. The wall of Jerusalem is still rubble; the city gates are still cinders.' When I heard this, I sat down and wept. I mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God-of-Heaven. I said, 'God, God-of-Heaven, the great and awesome God, loyal to his covenant and faithful to those who love him and obey his commands: Look at me, listen to me. Pay attention to this prayer of your servant that I’m praying day and night in intercession for your servants, the People of Israel, confessing the sins of the People of Israel. And I’m including myself, I and my ancestors, among those who have sinned against you.” - Nehemiah 1:2-6

It’s hard to argue where our country is at. It’s hard to argue that it doesn’t resemble what Jerusalem looked like back when Nehemiah walked the earth.

But what Nehemiah saw and what we ultimately see is defined by what our heart sees… It ultimately is determined by where our heart is… When Nehemiah received a verbal picture of Jerusalem, it didn’t enrage him… he didn’t lash out and attack the people responsible… No.

It broke his heart… when he received the verbal picture of Jerusalem, the Bible tells us that he sat down and wept… that he mourned for days… and that he fasted and prayed before the God-of-Heaven.

You see, it’s hard to hate people when your heart breaks for them. It’s hard to hate people when you fast and pray to the God-of-Heaven for them.

Nehemiah also knew something else… He also knew that he himself had sins to atone for… He knew that he also had a hand in the problems of Jerusalem…And he took responsibility for his sins and confessed them to the God-of-Heaven.

So… What do you see?

Do you only see the issues… The colors… The disagreements… The hurts… which enrages you.

Or,

Do you see what Nehemiah sees? Do you see the very presence of God in people. Do you see the image of God in those you may have differences with?

Nehemiah’s heart broke for the people of Jerusalem. If we want to see people how Nehemiah saw people, it starts in our heart. It starts with seeing ourselves for who we are and praying and confessing our sins to the God-of-Heaven. It starts with our hearts breaking for the wrongs that we have committed… Taking responsibility and calling on God to ask for forgiveness.

Then, and only then, will we see like Nehemiah saw and have our hearts break for others… to weep for our nation.

It’s hard to hate people when your heart breaks for them. It’s hard to hate people when you fast and pray to the God-of-Heaven for them.

So the question remains…

What do you see?


Horshoe Bend

The Great Divide

The Grand Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.

It was one of the best spring break trips we've ever taken. Honestly, growing up and reading about it in school books, I never thought I'd get to see it in person. So, when we arrived there, I was in awe with how majestic and vast the entire canyon really is. Then, after five minutes of wooooooow, I went into explore mode.

Soon Daryl and I and the kids were climbing anywhere and everywhere. Down the mountainside. Onto rocks. Jumping over gaps. And climbing up to the very edge to get a better view... and to frankly have more fun.

Was it risky? Sure, some of it. At one point, as Jami stayed back and watched us, a group with a guide walked up near where she was standing. As the guide was talking, Jami overheard what he was saying...

"You see that group of guys with their kids... you're gonna read about them on the news tonight because someone fell off the mountain."

As Jami was listening, she quickly realized that the guide was talking about me and our kids. When we got back, she told us what the guide said. To which I replied, "Well, if someone would have fallen, he would have been right. There was an 800 foot fall off of that edge we were walking."

Fear.

It's an interesting thing. In one circumstance, like in the Grand Canyon, it will keep people from experiencing and seeing something more beautiful by venturing out and exploring a bit... it's a motivating factor for them. For me and my kids (and our friends), we don't let fear keep us back. Rather, the rewards of the process of exploration motivates us to push farther.

Today, while we aren't at the Grand Canyon, fear is still a motivating factor for many people. And the media, politicians and regular folk know it. Just watch tv for five minutes, jump on social media, listen to the radio or even talk to a few folks face to face, and you will see that the end of the world is near if you vote for "so-and-so." I have never in my life listened to so many speeches that are written to take advantage of people's fears.

The message is clear... You need to fear Covid. You need to fear Donald Trump. You need to fear Joe Biden. You need to fear... and the answer to your fear is provided by whomever is speaking.

Fear.

Fear keeps us from living life how it's meant to be lived. It divides us. If we allow it to take root in our lives, it keeps us from seeing life as something more beautiful and we see others as our enemies. Jesus knew this and instead of preaching fear, He said something completely different. Check it out...

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

It's interesting to me that Jesus talks about living in peace and not being afraid in chapter 14. Then, in the very next chapter, He talks about love, and tells people to love one another. Even though I went to seminary, I'm not a bible scholar. But it's not lost on me that, at least in the book of John, loving others comes after living in peace and not in fear.

One of the MANY lessons that 2020 has taught me has been this...

It's hard to love people when you're living in fear.

I've witnessed it on the news. I've seen it on social media. And I've experienced it myself in my own life and mental head space. What I've noticed is this... When you live in fear, when I live in fear, we are focusing on our circumstances and what we need to do to control our circumstances at any cost. This is why it's hard to love people when you live in fear... fear makes things to be about YOU and YOUR circumstances. Fear is the great divide between you and others. But when you live in a spirit of love, it's NEVER about you. And love is able to bridge the divide.

But fear is a powerful emotion. It can sprint into your life and take a hold quickly. We see this with Peter when, in the middle of a storm in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, he asks Jesus to call him out onto the water with him. And when Peter got out of the boat, He took his eyes off of Jesus and was concerned about the wind and waves and began to be afraid. In other words, he started to focus on his circumstances.

It's the same thing for us... and there are a lot of circumstances we can be focused on right now. Covid. Politics. Riots. Lies. Job security. Money problems. The election. Government mandates. Social injustice. While we aren't on a boat on the Sea of Galilee, if feels like we're in the middle of ONE BIG STORM. And Jesus still says the same thing He said to Peter...

"Come."

It's a simple word. Four letters. But it's also a powerful word. In the middle of our storm, in the middle of our fear, Jesus calls to us and says, "Come." Because He knows that we can't overcome our fear and love others without His help. Only when we answer the call of Jesus on our life, trust Him as our Savior, and live in the Holy Spirit can we truly overcome fear, live in peace and love others genuinely.

Fear is the great divide between loving others. But Jesus... Jesus is the bridge to fill the gap because Jesus is love. And He's calling to each of us...

"Come."


Sea of Galilee

Play Dough Faith

Play Dough

I used to love playing with play dough. It was great. I mean, first off, the smell of play dough was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. Secondly, it felt good to play with because it was so soft… unless you left the lid off the play dough, then it became hard as a rock… and, well, that wasn’t good.

Thirdly, you could make almost anything out of play dough… and with the right colors, you could make food like eggs look legit… well, to a six year old.

When I was growing up, we had a play dough set that, with the right colors, you could make what looked like fried eggs. So one day, as I was playing with the play dough set, the neighbor boy came over to see what I was playing with and told me he was hungry. I told him that I was making eggs and that he should try one.

After a bit of selling him on the idea that these were in fact real eggs, he tried them… he took a bite, started to chew and then spit the bite of play dough right out of his mouth. He obviously hated the fake eggs that he ate.

Yes. I fed the neighbor boy play dough eggs. I don’t know why he actually took a bite, maybe his vision was blurry.

The next day, when I told him I could make him bacon and pancakes, he simply walked away without saying a word.

I didn’t have compassion on this kid at all. It was about me.

There’s another feeding that took place. This one, much bigger than the feeding of the play dough eggs… check it out:

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. - Matthew 14:13-21

You see, Jesus had just lost his cousin… his friend, John the Baptist, because King Herod had just given the order to kill him. Yet, even though Jesus left to be alone, once he saw the crowds the Bible tells us that he had compassion on them. He originally went across the sea to get away, to be alone. Instead, He had compassion on the people and healed their sick.

Hours later, in the evening as it was getting late, the disciples wanted to send these people away to have them find their own supper. But Jesus says something they weren’t expecting…

“They don’t need to go away, you give them something to eat.”

The disciple’s responded by telling Jesus that they only had five loaves of bread and two fish. So Jesus told the disciples to bring them to Him. It’s like the disciples were saying, we can’t get this to work Jesus.

As a parent, when our kids couldn't get something to work, my response was... "Here, give it to me. Let me take a look." And immediately I got it to work and gave it back to them because the father knows what he's doing.

Jesus, then takes the loaves and the two fish, looked to heaven and gave thanks. Jesus knew that His father knew what He was doing and made those five loaves and two fish work.

This act of feeding these more than 5,000 hungry people was another display of compassion. It would have been easy to dismiss these people to find food on their own. But Jesus was filled with compassion.

When Jesus told the disciples to feed the people, he in essence was saying, “have compassion” on them. Don’t send them away hungry. Feed them.

Compassion. It’s an interesting word. It was also part of Jesus’ character. The origin of the word helps us grasp the true breadth and significance of compassion. In Latin, “compati” means to suffer with. Compassion means that someone else’s heartbreak becomes your heartbreak. Someone else’s suffering becomes your suffering. Another’s hunger becomes your hunger.

The Bible tells us over and over to be compassionate.

Ephesians 4:32 - Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.

1 Peter 3:8 - Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.

Zechariah - This is what the Lord Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another…

True compassion changes the way you live. It’s not a once-in-a-while event. It’s a lifestyle. Having true compassion means having true faith in a true God… it’s not play dough faith. It was part of who Jesus was and is. And with the help of Jesus Himself, the Father and Holy Spirit, it can be a part of our character as well.

So the question is, how, in our own life, can we be compassionate with others? How can we show compassion and to whom do we need to show compassion to? God will give us opportunities, it’s up to us to be in a place to be able to see those opportunities and act.