Blessings of Manna

bread panerabread dot com

From panerabread.com

A little while back, I was guest preaching at a church. As was their custom, the elders met with the guest preacher before the worship service to pray. Which is always nice. It’s good to start off with prayer. As one of the elders was praying for the service, he prayed for blessings of manna to come down. That struck me as interesting. Blessings of manna. What exactly did that mean.

I’ve been pondering that for the last little while. What does it mean to pray for the blessings of manna?

First of all, what in the world is manna? That takes us to the Old Testament of the Bible. Back in the book of Exodus, Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt. God led them by His mighty hand, parted the Red Sea and had them travel to the Promised Land. While they were in the wilderness, God fed them each day with bread. The bread would appear each morning like dew on the grass. And the people would collect just enough of this manna each morning for the rest of the day (Save for the day before the Sabbath. They were allowed to collect enough for two days). Manna itself literally means “What is this stuff falling from the sky that tastes like bread, I mean seriously, what is it?” Well, that’s a bit much, but you get the gist.

When the people of Israel refused to enter into the Promised Land, God punished them for not trusting in Him. They wandered the wilderness for 40 years. During those 40 years, God provided them with manna each morning to have enough for that day. God blessed them with their daily bread.

This gets me to thinking about the New Testament. Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray by asking for their daily bread (Matthew 6:11). In other words, pray for the daily blessings of manna. But it’s a bit more than that. The Heidelberg Catechism says that we’re to come to God for each and every need that we have when we come to Him for our daily bread.

God’s provision. The blessing of manna. Daily bread. It all comes together. But Jesus takes it one step further in the Gospel of John. Jesus tells the disciples and the huge ginormous crowd following him:

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” John 6:48-51

Not only does Jesus tell us to pray to God our Father for our daily bread, our daily manna, Jesus Himself is that daily bread. Jesus is the blessing of manna that came down so that we might live each day.

Manna. Daily bread. Jesus is the bread of life. It all fits together. It all comes together. Jesus himself is the one who came for us so that we might have life.

But how about receiving the blessing of manna. To bless, said Dallas Willard to John Ortberg in the book Soul Keeping, is to give life, life itself, to someone else. To bless is to offer the whole of oneself to someone else.

Too often we demand blessings from God and don’t understand the very nature of what it means to bless. We sometimes say we’re too blessed to complain. Yet even that isn’t true. In truth, we desperately need to be blessed. To be blessed by God. That he keeps us, that he looks upon us, that he turns towards us and gives us peace.

Blessing of manna.

God gives life through the daily bread of Jesus. And we receive it. Not passively like some want to, just sitting back and letting God do the work. But to actively receive it, to move forward and collect it as it appears on the ground. But what is it? What exactly is this stuff? That’s the same question the people of Israel asked about manna. That’s why they called it that.

What exactly is this blessing of manna? God give us life. True life. Eternal life. A life full of richness (note not riches but richness) a life full of love and completeness even when it doesn’t feel that way. But we must move forward in this divine/human partnership and collect the blessing of manna. Live for Jesus, actually live for him, don’t be passive but move forward in living for Him. He is the bread of life. He is the manna. He is the blessing of Manna that gives us a fullness and richness of life for ever and ever, world without end.

 

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Bearing the Fruit of Love

grapes frank fenema photography dot com

From frankfenemaphotography.com

Alright, already the title can be misconstrued. I want to be straight forward here. When I’m talking about Fruit, I’m talking about the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23:

The Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (NIV 1984)

Notice that the Fruit of the Spirit IS these things. A pet peeve of mine is when people call it the “Fruits of the Spirit” as if they could have one piece of this and not the others. As if they’re allowed to have love but not self-control or goodness. Instead, the Fruit of the Spirit is like an orange. It’s one piece of fruit with many wedges. As a follower of Jesus, we are to bear this fruit in our lives. How often do we bear this fruit though?

The first wedge in the Fruit of the Spirit is love. And as a follower of Jesus, I am supposed to bear the fruit of love. To be honest, this can be tough to do too. To bear the fruit of love means I have to actually put myself out there and be willing to show love to others. Not just the pop-culture kinda love that we have out today. The just love one another and we’ll all be good type of love. That’s not the love that’s mentioned here. It’s not the type of love that I’m supposed to have. It’s a different kinda love. It’s a hard love to have but it makes all the difference as a follower of Jesus.

Jesus tells His disciples:

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8

Then just a bit later Jesus says:

This is my command: Love each other.” John 15:17

Jesus tells his disciples that the fruit that they are to bear is a fruit that will last (John 15:16). This fruit is the Fruit of the Spirit and part of this fruit is the aspect of love. This love is beyond what we think of love. As John and Paul said (The Beatles, not the apostles) “All you need is love.” That’s the fuzzy feeling love. The love that we’re talking about here is called agape (uh-gah-pay) love.

What is agape love? This is an all inclusive love that is like family love but greater. It’s the love of God for His people despite themselves. It’s the love that only a mother warthog can have for her ugly little kid and see the beauty in its face. That’s agape love. And this is the love that we as followers of Jesus are to show to prove to the world that we are followers of Jesus.

But this love can be hard. It can be taxing. It’s easier to like things. To like people. It’s easier sometimes to tolerate someone and call it love. To tolerate something is to put up with it even though you don’t like it. To love, to truly agape love, is to love someone despite themselves. It isn’t putting up with something, it’s looking past that something and loving them regardless of what irritates you.

As Christians, we fail at this type of agape love a lot. We fail to love as Jesus loved us. And we’ve paid the price. Our name has been smeared. The messengers have tainted the message. We’ve become evangelical gerbils (okay, that’s an old post you can check out here). Instead of going forth into the world in the agape love, loving our neighbor as ourselves, we’ve retreated into subgroups and attack those who aren’t like us. That isn’t showing agape love. That’s creating an us vs them mentality.

Church has become a club instead of a mission way station to help the hurting and the poor. Church has become a place where we come to be fed like toddlers who don’t like broccoli rather than learning how to feed ourselves in God’s word. We still require spiritual milk rather than the true substance of what God wants us to have and to be. All because we struggle with agape love.

Bearing the fruit of agape love is hard to do, but as a follower of Jesus (when we trust in Him by the Holy Spirit), we can overcome the obstacles and truly love that agape love.

But how? It begins with the conscious effort to love your neighbor, to agape love your neighbor as yourself. To love them as God loves them. And from there slowly move forward. It begins with acts of kindness, but that’s for a ‘nother post. But when we do, we will show the world that we belong to Jesus, when we love others with the agape love of Jesus.

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Being Poor and Needy

depressed theodysseyonline dot com

From theodyesseyonline.com

This morning as I was doing my devotions through the book of Psalms, I came across Psalm 86. The opening verse struck me.

Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.” Psalm 86:1

How often do we admit that we’re poor and needy. I’m not talking about financially poor. Nor am I talking about someone being all needy that drama follows them wherever they go. Poor and needy is a spiritual state here. A state that is created when one is completely sapped dry spiritually and has no more left to give. A state that where one is spiritually dry and in need to be filled with the Living Water. That kind of poor and needy.

And this is where David’s at.

He says later

Hear my prayer, Lord; listen to my cry for mercy.” Psalm 86:6

Now there’s something about Hebrew poetry in the Bible that’s interesting. It’s called parallelism. That’s where two sections parallel one another with different ways of saying the same thing. What I’m getting at here is that prayer and cry for mercy are parallel here.

I don’t think we always get that. I don’t think we always associate prayer with a cry for mercy. Many times we associate prayer with a time of bringing a laundry list before God telling him what we want. That’s not prayer. Prayer is giving your full heart out to God and begging him to listen to you and then waiting to hear from him. Prayer here is a a cry for mercy. A crying out to God for him to listen and hear what is being said.

David says

Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name.” Psalm 86:11

How many times do we have a divided heart? How many times does our heart get pulled in different directions? When we let God teach us his ways we learn to rely on His faithfulness. When we allow God to teach us His ways, we begin to have an undivided heart and have a deep respect for who He is.

But who is He? Who is this God that David’s crying out to, to whom David pleads for mercy and prays? He is God almighty.

David confesses who God is when he says

You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” Psalm 86:14

This is a confession, a refrain, found throughout the Old Testament. From the book of Exodus where Moses gets all up in God’s face and tells Him these exact words, to the prophets getting all up in the faces of the kings telling them of these words. These are words describing who God is. The God to whom we cry out to mercy for. A God who gives mercy, compassion, and is faithful to those who are poor and needy in spirit.

Jesus says in what is called The Sermon on the Mount

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Matthew 5:3

Blessed.

Too often we get blessed mixed up with being happy. I’ve heard sermons and Bible studies that talk about how blessed means to be happy. That’s not how it goes at all. It isn’t happy are the poor in spirit. It’s not that at all.

Blessed here has the idea of being envied. That you are given so much of something that others envy you for having it. Envied are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

When you know that you are poor and needy in spirit, you know that there’s only one way you can be filled—Jesus. When you’re poor and needy in spirit, there’s only one place you can go to be filled–in the presence of God through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Are you poor and needy in spirit? Are you so dry right now that you don’t know which way to go? Cry out to God in mercy, He is slow to anger, abounding in love, compassionate and faithful. He hears your cries when you are poor and needy and He answers them.

Cry out to Jesus, cry out in your poorness and neediness and you will be filled.

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What if We Were Meant to Soar

soaring eagle

from clipartfest.com

Tom Petty has a song called Learning to Fly. Simple song but so much in it. The chorus is “I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings/Coming down is the hardest thing/Well the good ol’ days may not return/And the rocks might melt and the sea may burn” It makes me wonder (okay, that’s from Stairway, but I’m not doing anything on Led Zeppelin).  It makes me think (that’s better). We’re all learning to fly at times. But we just don’t have wings. It’s hard to fly when you don’t have wings. We’re constantly moving forward and there’ll be a day when things aren’t what they once were. Mainly because time keeps on slipping into the future (Steve Miller Band, I know). There will be a day when we’re tired, we’ve fallen, and all just doesn’t seem right.

That’s life at times. It’s life where all things just don’t seem right. It’s life when things seem so out of joint that it just doesn’t make sense. We’re tired of it all. We can get sick and tired of being sick and tired. There are times where it just doesn’t make sense that all things aren’t going well. It can come to a point where we just don’t know what’s going on.

And that’s where we get to the falling. The falling down is the hardest part (Well, the quick stop on the ground hurts pretty badly too). If we fly without wings then we will eventually fall.

We’re just not meant to fly.

But what if we were meant to soar?

We get tired and weary. We get frustrated and hurt. But there’s a promise of soaring. There’s a promise of soaring like being on eagle’s wings.

It’s in the prophet Isiah:

[God] gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 41:29-31

Even in the trying times, even in the hardest times, there is a promise that if we just place our trust, our hope, our dreams, all that we are into God’s hands, then we will soar like eagles.

Now, before y’all start nit picking a few things here, it’s important to place this in context. This is a promise to the people of Israel who were in exile in Babylon, miles away from their home town of Jerusalem and country of Judah. There is the promise that they’ll return and God will restore all things to not just how they were but how they will be when God makes all things new again. There’s a promise of restoration, not just of their town and country but of the whole world.

Why? How?

Because:

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” Isaiah 41:28-29

God’s in control. It’s hard to hear when things are going every which way but loose. It’s hard to hear when you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. It’s hard to hear when things just are all out of joint. It’s hard to do when you’re learning to fly but you just don’t have wings.

But what if we were meant to soar?

Paul writes in his second letter to the church in Corinth

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:20

The promise to soar which was given to the people in exile in Babylon is a promise given to you as well. A promise that is “Yes” in Jesus. A promise that can be obtained in trusting in Jesus in all things.

It can be hard. It can be tough. We want to fly on our own accord but we just ain’t got wings. On the other hand, soaring doesn’t require our own effort, it requires leaning on the wind and letting it take us where we need to be. When we trust in God through Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can soar.

Where might you be trying to learn to fly, but you just ain’t got wings? When you do, coming down is the hardest part. Now in all of this, what if you choose to soar instead?

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Learning to Play the Blues

blues 1

youtube screen shot

To be honest, there’s been a lot going on lately. Hence why this is my first blog post in about a month or so. Stuff’s been going on that isn’t worth airing on social media or blogging. So I’ll just leave it  like that. (I’ll let you imaginations run wild with me being abducted by aliens who torture you by making you do complex math word problems). One thing I will say is that as I’ve been playing guitar, I’ve learned a therapeutic lean in learning to play the blues.

I’ve let my guitar teacher know a bit about the struggles and he suggested the blues. Just some basic blues licks and notes. I’ve been amazed how helpful basic minor notes can be. I’ve listened to the blues from time to time over the years (I have a blues playlist with John Lee Hooker, Lead Belly, BB King, and others on my phone). I’m not a blues expert, but I do know that the blues is the foundation for our rock n roll today. Blues has influenced so much in our culture and music. Blues is music that grew out of the Jim Crow era of the segregated south. It’s filled with pain, suffering, struggles, and reflections about the world, relationships, and life itself.

As I sit with guitar and strum those blues licks, I’ve begun to identify with those minor notes. Those minor notes sing to me in a way that I can’t fully explain. They fill the grief and pain that I’ve felt with a feeling of accompaniment. They accompany what’s been going on by filling what can’t be said with a minor note that does. Those blues licks speak when I can’t.

And then I begin to think about Scripture. I begin to think about what it means to pray when we don’t know how to pray. That’s what I feel at times. I just don’t know what to pray for.

Paul writes about this in Romans

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Romans 8:26

The Holy Spirit strikes the minor notes when we don’t know how to sing. The Holy Spirit fills the gap with groans of prayers to God when our hearts just don’t know how to pray. And I’ve felt that way lately. Those groans, those minor notes, speak when I can’t.

And so I learn to play the blues some more. The blues licks and notes fill the room playing out my emotions and struggles. I struggle with my fingering and rhythm. But that’s okay. Those notes ring out as do the wordless groans of the Holy Spirit. The music speaks when I can’t, the Holy Spirit prays for me when I can’t.

The thing is, is that you can’t stay in the blues forever. The song has to end sometime. As one wise person told me, you have to play a major chord or note eventually. There will be a time where the notes have to have an upward resonance.

blues 2

youtube screen shot

In Israel’s history, there was a time when the blues needed to be played. The people had been in exile, returning to their homeland 70 years later. The play was in ruins. And they began to rebuild Jerusalem and the city walls. When the city walls had been rebuilt, the people heard the word of God read by Ezra the priest. And then the people cried. They grieved. They were convicted by God’s word and knew they had done wrong in life. They saw where they had messed up. They also saw where they were in pain, struggling, hurting, and in the suckiness of life.

And then the governor Nehemiah said to them

Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

The blues was played but then they had to strike a major note. Minor notes are important but they must lead to a major note eventually.

My wife and I had a discussion about the 7th in chords. That is like a G7, a C7, D7, etc. The 7th is a lower sounding chord that is played. It’s off a bit from the major. But the thing is, is that it anticipates a major chord. In fact, it needs a major chord to complete it. Without a major chord it’s incomplete.

In the blues, in our grieving, in our praying through the Holy Spirit, we need to anticipate Jesus. He is the one it all leads up to. He’s the one who wept by the graveside of a dear friend he was about the raise from the dead. He’s the one who stood comforting parents grieving the death of a daughter that he was going to raise from the dead. Jesus lived the blues but he brought the major notes to the completion.

And so when I play the blues, I know that my struggles ring out with the minor notes. But I also know that I have a promise of the major chords. The promise that there will be something good down the road. And playing the major chords remind me of that even when I play the blues.

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Harmful Humility

web-hand-farmer-soil-humility-soo-hee-kimshutterstock

From mileswelch.com

Good humility is something that is respected in our world today. When one is humble, they are seen as being down to earth. People who are humble tend to be less materialistic and focus on the things that they have. It’s not wanting to have more in life but wanting to enjoy what they have in life more. They tend to think of others more and themselves less. And in this, good humility is something that is to be honored and striven (or is it strived…is that a word?) for.

Then there’s harmful humility. Harmful humility is where one thinks of others not because they truly care but because it’s been hammered into them that they shouldn’t think of themselves at all. It’s been hammered in that to think of yourself as anything good is a bad thing. Not just that, but if you even toot your own horn just a little bit, that’s being prideful and thinking of yourself more than you ought to.

And there’s the rub. Harmful humility is usually backed up by the Bible, especially from Romans

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” Romans 12:3

Well, it’s biblical then, right? So why is it harmful?

It’s harmful because it’s misused and misinterpreted. It’s one of those passages that gets tossed around at people out of context and in doing so harms others. It creates a life time of beating oneself up for the very purpose of trying to be humble when in reality all you’re doing is hurting yourself and not enjoying what you’ve been given.

Here’s the thing–when we think of ourselves as lowly, we then act lowly. When we think of ourselves as bad if we toot our own horn once in a while  then we lack respect for ourselves and our accomplishments. Not just that, but then you begin to think that if you even talk about something good you’ve done, then others will think you’re being all high and mighty and “I’m better than thou”ish and might try to knock you down a peg. Seriously. I’ve seen it. It’s true. This is harmful humility.

The problem is, is that Romans 12:3 and onward isn’t about being humble per se. It’s about serving the church through your gifts.

The full passage is this:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” Romans 12:3

Paul then goes on to talk about spiritual gifts and how they are used in the church. For those who call on the name of Jesus Christ, we are all one body and are given gifts to help serve one another and to serve in the church. We serve God through our gifts. It’s not about being lowly and beating yourself up for things you did or didn’t do. It’s about serving in gratitude through what God has already given you.

Paul says that we each have our own functions in the church. We each play a part in the church. And we should do so in gratitude for what Jesus has done. It’s about the diversity in the church itself not about being a lowly person with a bad self image.

Too many times we think humility is having a lower self image. It’s as if we might think of ourselves as lesser people not deserving of things then we might be more humble. Nope. Not it at all.

Paul further says that this must be done out of love. When we love sincerely with the love of Christ, we serve humbling in love. When we put ourselves down in order to make someone else look good or think that if we act in a certain way people might try to knock us down a peg or two, then we’re not living a sincere love. We serve humbly by loving others. We serve humbly by loving our neighbor as ourselves.

And harmful humility forces us to not love ourselves as God loves us in Christ. How can we truly serve with sincere love if we don’t love ourselves in that way. It leads to harmful service as much as harmful humility.

Instead find ways to love graciously and sincerely. Find ways to live out the gifts that God has given you. Then true humility will find its way into your every day living. True humility will be lived through true sincere loving service to others using what God has given you to do so. Serve others in love and humility will be a produced by the Holy Spirit working through you.

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Cheesed Off Character Building

cheese

From eatwisconsincheese.com

“Don’t you know? You’re building character.” This was an oft statement given to me during a rough patch in my life some years back. It cheesed me off. It was about 10 years ago when things were going to pot. Things were in the crapper like you wouldn’t believe. Nothing was going right. All was wrong. My life just plain sucked. And well meaning people would tell me that I was building character. After over two years of hearing that, I was downright tired of building character. It cheesed me off to say the least.

What’s worse is that people who said this to me actually thought they were quoting the Bible when they told me it was building character. The Bible said that? Not the Bible I wanted to read nor read.

The Bible is filled with talking about suffering. The Psalms have more laments in them than anything else. A lament is a cry out to God for help, asking Him to remember His unfailing love (see Psalm 13, etc). These laments are filled with crying out to God in the midst of suffering, asking Him why bad things are happening when they’ve tried all they could to live a life following God’s Word. They are filled with people crying out to God wanting to know why they are suffering. Psalm 88 is the darkest of all these psalms. It’s a tough read for sure.

But never in the Psalms does a person cry out “God, thank you for building character in me.” Not once do words of assurance in the psalms say “Blessed is the one who suffers for they will build character.” No where does it say that. In fact, Jesus tells his disciples to rejoice when suffering and being persecuted for Him. James writes that we should count it all joy that we suffer. No where doe they mention building character.

So where does this come from.

It’s a misinterpretation of Romans 5:3-4

We also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4

People kept stopping at character after perseverance and never started at glorying in suffering. Now, this isn’t saying to be masochistic in suffering. Instead, the suffering is to suffer on account of Jesus and the gospel. There will be suffering. We all will go through suffering at one point in time or another if you are a follower of Jesus.

But building character?

Character today is almost synonymous with integrity. We say that someone has good character. That means they’re a good person. But if they’re a bad character, they are a bad person.

This idea of character in Romans is more along the lines of having proof that something is genuine. In other words, that the perseverance is genuine and proof that the hope we have in Jesus is genuine because of the present sufferings we go through for Jesus. It has nothing to do with being a good person and having a better character as we see it today. In fact, its more about what happens after someone goes through a trial. It’s about how one is after being through the wringer.

Building character is about building hope in Jesus Christ. It’s about having hope in who Jesus is and the promises of God that are yes in Jesus Christ. It’s not about being a good person but about being a follower of Jesus and clinging to His promises in hard times and suffering.

So, yeah, maybe I got cheesed off for no good reason. Maybe what I just said counteracts things a little bit (but hey, it’s a short blog post, what do you expect?).

When things are going rough for someone, don’t point them to building character, point them to the hope that is in Jesus. A hope that leads to a blessed assurance that Jesus is with us through all life’s hard demands. A hope that leads to an assurance that leads to a peace that passes all understanding that guards our hearts and minds. A peace that is more than just character but an ability to be sustained through the tough times in life.

In other words, platitudes suck especially when quoting the Bible in the wrong way. Point towards the hope that can help in the midst of trouble.

 

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