Be very careful

We know love is more than a feeling. And that’s not only because of the song by Boston.

Feelings are temporary and subjective. They are not what you want to base a relationship upon or rely on in your walk with God.

Since we know love is more than feeling loving, many have said that love is an action. If you love someone, you do something. Like I always say, for God so loved the world he did something.

But we can go even further.

Of course, today we’re focusing on our faith in God. If you talk about love between people, the conversation can be different. Science will tell you there are certain areas of the brain that instigate and control love. Our love of God, though, is not a feeling. It involves action, but, more than anything, it seems to be a choice.

I mean that in two ways.

Yes, you chose to follow God. You could live life on your own terms or follow any other model of living. But you chose to believe what you heard about Jesus. His call to “follow me” is less a directive to do what I say and more a choice to live like me.

So, you chose to follow Jesus. Now what? Well, you have to continue to choose to do so.

You don’t learn everything about grace and faith the moment you choose to believe. There’s a lifetime of learning ahead of you. As you learn, you’ll have to keep choosing to believe. What if you learn something that is too hard to follow? Remember when an entire group of people told Jesus his teachings were too much? They left him.

When you’re challenged by grace, your next choice is obedience. You may remember Joshua giving that great line of faith. He said, “choose this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

He said something as striking in the chapter before that. At this point, Joshua is “old and well advanced in years.” He’s passing on final bits of wisdom, instruction and direction. In Joshua 23:11, he says, “Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.”

This carefulness connects to the choice the people are going to need to make every day. It’s the same for us, too. 

Every day is a choice to follow Christ. How are you going to respond to that person that speaks unfavorably to you? What are you going to fill your day with? How will you use your time and resources today?

These are only a few choices that come with choosing to follow Christ. It can be a lot. It can seem like a cross you have to bear. As Joshua said, be very careful, therefore, to love (or choose) the Lord your God.

Stay blessed…john

Sore no more

Anger abounds in Exodus 32. First, God is angry with the people. God says they have become corrupt. This is when Moses went up the mountain to be with God. The people got uncomfortable with his absence. So, they convinced Aaron to make the golden calf. Fashioning an idol means they are now giving glory to other gods for their salvation. God wanted to let his anger burn against the people and destroy them.

After Moses convinced God to relent, he went down to see for himself what the people were doing. The same anger that burned within God now “burned hot” within Moses. Imagine everything Moses went through, all he did to lead the people out of slavery. At every point, he directed them to the power of God. To see them drunk and giving praise to other gods probably would have angered you, too.

Ask a regular churchgoer what their congregation’s golden calf is. They’ll know what you’re talking about. They’ll know they have something they hold on to that isn’t all that much about God’s glory. Now, when I point those things out, please know I’m not criticizing you or your faith. I’m trying to strengthen ours.

At some point, preaching to and leading a congregation means you see things others do not. In those moments I’m called to address who we are or what we’ve become. I’ve noticed a lot of people don’t always appreciate that. And I understand why. It feels like you’re being criticized. I recall early on rehashing things people said to me. These were words offered as constructive criticism, but I took them to be something else.

I had to learn to not be so sore. It takes a lot for someone to be willing to tell you what you need to hear. If they could muster the courage to tell me, I could be courageous enough to listen. Slowly, I realized what they saw and what it could mean for me if I reflected on their wisdom.

That said, we understand why Moses destroyed the golden calf. Why would we want to keep that around? But why do you think he destroyed the tablets containing the commandments?

Remember, his anger burned.

So, was it a sudden act of anger? Was it justifiable anger? John Wesley said of this text that, “Those are angry and sin not, that are angry at sin only.”

Do you agree?

Before Moses destroyed the golden calf, he destroyed the tablets. Even in his anger, I take his act to be symbolic. The people had lost their blessing, God’s word, because of their idol worship. They had to realize that first before it made sense to get rid of the idol.

As we reflect on this dramatic scene in Exodus 32, consider a few questions. What’s your church’s golden calf? What’s yours? Is it just one calf? And what blessings do we lose because we aren’t willing to let them go?

Stay blessed…john

Fishes and loaves mindset

I’ll give the disciples the benefit of the doubt.

Mark 6:34 says that a “great crowd” had rushed in from all over to listen to Jesus. The day went on and Jesus was still teaching and preaching. People were surely getting hungry. This is where the disciples stepped up. They suggested it was time for Jesus to send everyone away so they could go find something to eat.

Again, thinking the best of them, it looks like they wanted to make sure all those people were fed. I’ll remind you that Mark also told us the disciples hadn’t eaten yet either.

In response to their idea, Jesus told them there was no need to send the people away. It’s one of my favorite lines from Jesus. “You give them something to eat,” he said. I like to imagine the disciples’ expressions.

Do you think they had the two hundred denarii, half a year’s salary, that they spoke of to Jesus? Or was that them being dramatic?

From here, there are so many other details I have questions about. Many more than we have time to get into fully here. Take some time for yourself to reflect on a few things. First, Jesus told them to take inventory of their bread. Why did they come back with fish, too? What do the numbers five and two bring to mind?

They could’ve sat anywhere; many of them probably already were. Why did they have to sit on the “green grass”? Why did some sit in groups of fifty and others hundreds?

Mark gives us clear Eucharistic images as we envision Jesus looking to heaven blessing and breaking the bread before giving it to everyone.

It’s what happened next that intrigues me today. Remember that everyone had enough to eat and there were leftovers! Some five thousand people, at the least, ate that night. What did the disciples do with the leftovers? They put them in baskets. Twelve baskets to be exact, which is another detail.

I was reading and learned there’s a word for this particular kind of basket. They were hampers; the Latin word is cophinus. Jews used them to carry food and other items. It’s said they would carry hay in the baskets to use for pillows on their journeys so they wouldn’t have to ask for help from Gentiles and run the risk of being made unclean.

Now, who took the baskets? Did they belong to the disciples? Did some of them belong to other people? Who knows? But someone had to walk back with them. Who would they meet along the way? And would they be willing to share what God gave to them if need be? Would there be any reservations about offering food to anyone in need? No matter who they were?

That’s the real question that matters most to the Church.

Are we willing to give of what God has given to us? We’ve been blessed with so much. How can we not? Having a loaves and fishes mindset helps us see that we will have all we need; God is faithful. We don’t need to be stingy or selfish. We don’t give our blessings away. We share them.

Stay blessed…john