Gospel of John: Manna from Heaven

All through the night they spoke of Jesus, of how he had lifted the bread to heaven and prayed, “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth the bread from the earth.” How he had then seemed to break the bread into piece after piece, filling the lunch baskets of each of his disciples, countless times.

How he had lifted up two small fish, again praying, “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth the fruit of the sea,” and again breaking them into piece after piece after piece . . .

“Did not our hearts burn?” they said to each other, marveling at the miracle of being fed by the thousands by the one who spoke with such authority, as if from God Almighty.

“Lead us,” they had pleaded with him, “Almighty God is with you, you are the anointed one of David, the one prophesied to us who will redeem us.” But Jesus had shaken his head and nearly shoved his disciples into their boat, slipping and stumbling in the surf.

Then, in a voice that could not be denied, he had dispersed them. Much as they longed to stay near him, it was as though an invisible force compelled them to leave. Reluctantly, they had watched him walk back into the mountain’s wilderness, his form growing ever smaller as he traversed the narrow path zigzagging across its side.

Early the next day, those who had stayed the night on that side of the Galilee had gone looking for him, knowing he had not entered the boat with his disciples.

But he was not there. Search as they might, there was no trace of the prophet.

Meanwhile, other boats from Tiberias had come near to the place where they had feasted on barley buns and fish, blessed and made abundant by God. Many from the crowds ran into the water along the shore, shouting, hailing the sailors.

“Come! Give us passage to Capernaum!”

It was well-known Jesus and his disciples spent much of their time in the house of the fisherman, Peter. They would sail to Capernaum and search for their king there.

It had been so simple! Others had already begun to surround the Lord’s anointed. One man stepped forward and spoke for them all, “Rabbi, when did you get here?!” They really meant how had he gotten there? None had seen him enter a boat, nor walk the long road round the great lake.

When Jesus began his response with “Amen, amen, I say to you,” they all braced themselves. It was his signal that a deep teaching would come, or a hard truth.

“You all seek me not that you have perceived the signs, but rather that you all ate of the bread and were satisfied: Do not work for bread that perishes, but rather for bread that lasts into eternal life, which the Son of Humanity* will give you, for [on] this one the Father has set the seal of God.

Ears perked up at these words of wisdom. There was a work they could do to gain the bread of God! Bread that would last into eternity, the Bread of Heaven at last, to be gathered as their ancestors had done, with a work worthy of the bread.

No, they did not want to labor away for bread that perished. A whole day’s work might garner just enough grain to grind and bake into loaves that fed them for a day or two. Many lived at the subsistence level. Whatever work the prophet required, they would do it to feast as they had done yesterday by his power.

This time, their spokesman asked what they were all hoping to learn, “What would we do in order to earn-by-working the works of God?”

“This is the work of God,” Jesus answered, looking at each person standing there. His hand was raised, and he was holding up one finger. With his other hand, Jesus pointed to his one finger.

His meaning was clear.

There were no “works” of God. There was no elaborate array of oral laws, sayings, principles, tenets, nuances to the statutes of God, no rites, no special disciplines or keeping of Nazirite vows. There was only one work.

He had their attention!

To follow the Pharisees was to dedicate one’s life to mastering hundreds—if not a thousand—laws that affected every possible aspect of life. What one work would warrant everlasting bread?!

 “The intent is that you all would believe in this one God has sent.” Jesus slowly moved both hands with fingers still pointing until both fingers pointed to himself.

Were they not standing there before him?! Had they not begged him to be their king just yesterday?! Could it be more obvious they believed in him? What more did he require? A low hum grew among them as they questioned such teaching. Believe what, then? Some began to gesticulate, waving their hands to heaven, others to argue. Finally, someone called out,

“In that case, what sign do you bring forth that we may perceive and believe in you?”

“What are you producing?” Another voice rose above the crowd’s murmur.

Still a third chimed in, “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, just as is written, ‘Bread from heaven he gave to them to eat.’”

Many more now began to speak loudly, as the crowd roiled and surged around Jesus. In answer, his voice rang out with depth and potency, “Amen, Amen, I say to you,” and the people slowly quieted.

Moses did not give the bread from heaven to you, but rather my Father gives the true Bread from Heaven to you: for the Bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and which gives life to the world.” 

It was a new aspect of the bread that would not perish. Not only would the bread itself last into eternity, but all who ate of it would also last into eternity. It was as though the prophet were speaking of the very Tree of Life, in the Garden of Eden, the precious gift God had forbidden to all humanity after the great disaster of humankind’s rejection of God’s sovereignty.

For a heartbeat none spoke nor moved. All around them the wind had picked up, swirling the hems of robes and billowing head scarves as though they were sails. Blue tassels fluttered, prayer shawls buffeted and were caught, to be held closely lest they slip off. First one, and then another tried to speak, but their voices never came. The sound of the wind in the trees rustled and whooshed, and the heat of the sun was cut clean through by the force of the wind’s cool.

“Sir,” said their spokesman, at last. “Always give us this bread.” His voice was hoarse with emotion and his eyes held tears, as he opened both his hands out imploringly to Jesus.

Jesus watched them for a while, as they watched him. He read their hearts and discerned their souls. He would give them deeper revelation.

“I AM,” he paused, to let the full import and impact of his words sink in, “The Bread of Life”

Many gasped at his meaning. He was equating himself with God? With the Great I AM?! How could he be the revelation of the manna?

“The one who comes to me will certainly never hunger.” Jesus again spoke with strength and power, his voice carrying over the wind. But then, in his next breath, Jesus dropped his voice to a whisper that yet every single person there could hear as though he spoke from within their own inner being.

“The one who believes in me will certainly never thirst. Ever!”

The life stirring among them began to fade even as the lifting wind also abated, and Jesus’ voice now filled with the pathos of grief and sorrow.

“But rather, I said to you all, ‘You all perceived me.’” Some shook their heads in embarrassed confusion, others looked down.

“And you all do not believe.”

His voice was soft, his look gentle, and he raised both his arms, palms outward as though to invite them all into his embrace.

“Everyone the Father gives to me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will certainly never cast away,

“For I have come down from heaven not in order to do my will, but rather the will of the One Who sent me—and this is the will of the One Who sent me, so that everyone he has given to me I will not lose-by-utter-destruction [not even one], but rather I will raise that one up in the last day.

“For this is the will of my Father, in order that everyone who beholds the Son and who believes in him will have life eternal, and I will rise that one up, in the last day.”

The story and quotations come out of John 6:22-40, and include my own imagined portrayal of the scene.

* The traditional way to translate this phrase from the Greek “uion tou anthropou” is “Son of Man.” This is because “Man” connoted “humankind” for a few centuries in the English language. Interestingly, in Middle English, the female version of “man” was “wimman” or “wifman,” our modern-day “woman.” The male version of “man” was “werman.” This left the word “man” as truly neutral, referring to male and female alike as humans.

However, at some point the prefix “wer” fell away, so that “man” came to mean both male humans and humans in general.

Today, being more sensitive to the implications of using the male version of human as standing in for all humans, more and more people are making the intentional effort to use more accurate language when translating. In this case, “anthropos” in Greek is the neutral term denoting humankind (like “anthropology,” the study of people). If a male term is desired, the Greek uses “aner/andros.”

[Jesus blessing the bread | The LUMO Project, http://www.freebibleimages.org]

Psalm 19

Do you remember reading about Goldilocks and the three bears?

How could they tell someone had been in their house?

Was there a note?

Did a neighbor tell them?


Exactly! The three bears saw evidence of Goldilocks long before they met Goldilocks.

Now, they could have made up excuses. They could have said to each other, “Well, we just didn’t remember that we’d already eaten our porridge and sat in our chairs. We must have left things in a mess before we left, we just weren’t paying attention.” They could have ignored the truth the evidence in their house was pointing to.

Imagine how surprised they’d have been when Goldilocks walked downstairs while they were sitting around unaware!

In this talk, [originally delivered Sunday morning at New Hope Chapel, MD], we’re going to take a look at three pieces of evidence that point to God’s nature and reality:

I Revelation of God in Nature, Psalm 19:1-6

II Revelation of God in Scripture, Psalm 19:7-10

III Revelation of God in His People, Psalm 19:11-14

And through the poetry of Psalm 19, we’ll see the author convey this important truth: The revelation of God is available to everyone, everywhere, in every age and culture.

C.S. Lewis called Psalm 19 “the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”   And in reading it, you can see what he meant.

Grace and Peace, Joanne


Up and down my back, my spine, in my brain

It injures me, babe…

Anger, can make you old, yes it can

I said anger, can make you sick, children… oh Jesus

Anger destroys your soul

Rage, there’s no room for rage in there

Marvin Gaye Anger

With the office on half shifts, one person per cubicle, it was easy to feel completely alone in the middle of a workday. He had been taking callers at home and in the hospital, working up schedules, reviewing reports, putting out fires, and fielding emails while still in his sweats, chugging coffee and eating breakfast bars at all hours. The younger kids usually went to their mom, but often enough he had one climbing over his lap reaching for the t.v. remote and the other chasing the dog, with his partner shouting at the top of her lungs in the background.

Coming back to work was a relief, but it was obvious he was way behind, and not prepared for this afternoon’s Zoom meeting. God, he thought, I am not used to this quiet. And he was tired. Bone weary, in fact. Tired of working out of his briefcase, laptop balanced on his lap, while his partner used the table. Tired of the constant noise and mayhem in his home, and of the eerie otherness of the hospital where his eldest slowly recovered from the transplant. Tired of the weird hours and long drives. Tired of Zoom. 

“Hey Pete, you in here?” a workmate yelled from across the room, over the cubicle walls.

A burst of adrenaline shot through his body, spreading from his chest to his legs and head. He just about yelled in surprise, and was aggravated that his workmate’s call had startled him. He toyed with the idea of just hunkering down and keeping quiet. Last thing he wanted was another task, or any more time taken away from prepping for this meeting. The guy always needed something, and he didn’t have any more to give.

Finally, reluctantly, he called back, “Yeah, I’m here, whaddaya need?” Even he could hear the resignation in his voice. Don’t hear me, he thought. Just thinking about dealing with this guy made him irritated.

A head suddenly poked over his cubicle wall, causing another spurt of adrenaline to shoot through him. What the hell! I am gonna kill him, he thought.

“Oh yeah, here you are!” His workmate, overly loud in that forced cheerful way, nearly shouted. “I need you to look over this brief.” As he talked, he went round to the cubicle opening, and towards him. “It’s for this afternoon,” and he shoved his tablet under Pete’s nose. This time, he let rip a few choice words, and roughly pushed the iPad away from him.

“You gotta be kidding me!” his own voice was also loud, biting the last word short. “No way. You cannot expect me to deal with this!” He could feel his heart pounding like a jackhammer, his face was hot, sweat breaking out along his hairline. His hands had balled up into fists, and he was this close to taking a swing at him.

“Whoa! Cool your jets!” Laughter.

God, he hated it when that guy said stupid trite stuff like that! His teeth clamped so tight his jaws ached, and the anger arcing through him felt like a living animal. He got his finger ready to jab this guy in the chest as he made his point, don’t be loading your junk on me, it’s not my problem, when a flicker on his monitor screen caught his eye.

Another popup? only this one was so uncannily apt it instantly deflated him.

In big, glowing letters,

The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed,

“The Lord, the Lord,

a God merciful and gracious,

slow to anger,

and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

Exodus 34:6 (NRSV)

He recognized the passage. It was when Moses had asked God to reveal God’s glory to Moses. He had remembered thinking that God’s blinding glory was the visible splendor of God’s mercy, grace, steadfast love, and faithfulness.

And that God was patient, slow to anger…

It was then he realized this was his own doing. He’d loaded a number of passages into an app to keep his focus spiritually minded during his workday.

Turning to his workmate, he offered an apology in a low voice. “I’ll have it to you by noon.”

“Stress” | Wallpaper.flare.com

Minor Prophets: The Book of Jonah

Jonah is associated with the giant fish, a reluctant prophet of hope to the enemies of his people.

How sovereign is God? And how “free” is a person’s free will? What happens when God has expressed God’s sovereign will and humankind, or at least a person, has determined to oppose it?

Have you ever wondered about that?

What happens when God’s sovereign will, God’s plans and God’s purposes run up against the will of a man or a woman who will not cooperate? What does God do at that point? Does God give up? Change God’s mind? Or, does God accomplish God’s purposes some other way?

That is how the book of Jonah starts out: God commissioned Jonah and Jonah refused to heed God.

The name Jonah (Hebrew: Yonah) means “dove.” He was the son of Amittai, of the tribe of Zebulun, who all descended from the sixth and final son Leah had borne to Jacob.

In his final blessing and prophecy over his clan, Jacob had said of this son:

Zebulun shall settle at the shore of the sea;
    he shall be a haven for ships,
    and his border shall be at Sidon.

Jacob, in his deathbed prophecy, Genesis 49:13 (NRSV)

Indeed, according to the records kept during Joshua’s time, the Zebulun’s portion included twelve towns and their satellite villages tucked between Naphtali’s and Asher’s territories, which incorporated both the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea.

The boundary of its inheritance reached as far as Sarid;

then its boundary goes up westward, and on to Maralah, and touches Dabbesheth, then the wadi that is east of Jokneam;

from Sarid it goes in the other direction eastward toward the sunrise to the boundary of Chisloth-tabor;

from there it goes to Daberath, then up to Japhia;

from there it passes along on the east toward the sunrise to Gath-hepher, to Eth-kazin, and going on to Rimmon it bends toward Neah;

then on the north the boundary makes a turn to Hannathon, and it ends at the valley of Iphtah-el; and Kattath, Nahalal, Shimron, Idalah, and Bethlehem

Zebulun’s allotment, in Joshua 19:10-15 (NRSV)

No, not that Bethlehem, but another town in the region of Galilee also named “House of Bread.”

Jonah himself came from the city of Gath-Hepher.

Zebulon | Karl Spruner von Merz / Public domain

Most likely a member of the school of prophets, Jonah was a contemporary of the elderly prophet Elisha and was probably trained by him towards the end of Elisha’s ministry.

Jonah has a single mention in Israel’s history, where he is depicted as being a prophet of God during the reign of King Jeroboam II (793 753 BC). Jonah had evidently accurately predicted the wide extent of King Jeroboam’s conquests and the expansion of Israel’s territory under his leadership. As a result of his very favorable prophecies, which were fulfilled in a relatively short time, Jonah must have enjoyed ample regard as a true prophet.

We might properly say Jonah was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel—preaching God’s word during the same general time as the prophets Amos and Joel—yet, what he wrote about had little to do with Israel or Judah. Instead, Jonah took up for the Assyrians, a very unexpected position to find in the Bible, certainly.

In fact, many scholars not only do not attribute this book to historical Jonah, but also doubt it was written anywhere near Jonah’s time. Instead, it is largely thought the poem found in chapter 2 is the insertion of an ancient composition added to a significantly more modern manuscript dating to the postexilic period of Israel’s history, only a few centuries before Jesus’ time.

Many therefore treat the book of Jonah as allegory, an attempt to process the nature of God, God’s purposes for the whole earth, God’s plan for God’s people, and to grapple with living in the promised land under foreign control.

If understood in this light, the book ascribed to Jonah was really an anonymous work seeking to display God as the sovereign who does control history, not just for the sake of those who are seen as the chosen people, but for all peoples. God is characterized both by justice and righteousness as well as mercy and compassion.

In the spirit of narrative and experiential criticism, I will be treating the book as it presents itself: Jonah’s story.

With many thanks to a really wonderful resource on YouTube called “The Bible Project,” let’s begin our study of Jonah with this overview.

Overview of Jonah | The Bible Project

[Jonah in the Whale | Sargis Babayan / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

Gospel of John: Walk on Water

God’s goal for every believer is to increase the strength of our faith, and to conform our character to God’s own character.

That is not always your goal, or mine.

I think often enough we would just like to have a nice smooth life. And it is easy to have good character when things go smoothly.

But easiness does not build up faith.

We have the idea that God rewards us for our faith, and it may be so in the initial stages. But we do not earn anything through faith – faith brings us into a right relationship with God and gives [God God’s ] opportunity to work.

Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Three of the four components of faith are: Content, Consent, and Commitment. Here is the fourth element to faith:

  • Continued Active RelianceFaith is in the doing, not in the having. You and I cannot wait for faith to be in place before we act. We can only have faith if we actually use it.

Faith grows strong

  • By using it again and again. There are countless situations, large and small, where—if we are willing to admit it—we are not able to control outcomes.

We, in ourselves, are not equal to the task. We do not have the resources, both inner and outer, to bridge the gap between need and supply. When we trust God to bridge the gap, be the supply, settle the outcome, and determine to be content with what God does, we are exercising faith.

  • By consciously viewing circumstances through the framework of God’s love, power, goodness, purposes, and sovereignty.

All data is neutral until it is interpreted. How you and I interpret events will determine how we respond, what we will think and feel in the moment, and how we will process what we’ve learned, gained, or lost when all is said and done.

  • By acting upon the belief God has already made us able to do the right thing, and say the right thing, in every situation.

Think of how Jesus tested the faith of his disciples when he was going to feed thousands of people with one small meal. When our faith is tested by God, it is to reveal what God has already worked deep within us by the power of God’s Spirt, and the wisdom of God’s word, and to cooperate with what God is going to do through us.

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and [God] will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing [God] will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NRSV)

Then, when God provides the way out, by faith we take it. It is not really faith unless we are moved into action.

Into what situation has Jesus sent you that requires all your strength to endure?

The LUMO Project | http://www.freebibleimages.org

Well, when evening came, his disciples—who had gone down upon the sea [and] entered into a boat—started across the sea into Capernaum. Yet it had already become dark, and not only had Jesus not yet come to them, but a mighty wind that blew stirred up the sea.

John 6:16-18

The disciples had been expecting Jesus for a while, so had been trying to hug the shoreline, keeping in view the general area where Jesus had gone up the mountain. But finally, they had to put out to cross the lake, just in time to hit the storm. There was nothing they could do but keep rowing, keeping their boat pointed towards the waves so they would not capsize.

It had already been an incredibly long, hard day. They had not rested, but at least they had eaten, and it seems, that was just enough to keep them going.

Mark’s gospel says their hearts were hardened concerning the miracle of feeding the five thousand. What was it they still did not understand?

What were they thinking about as they struggled to get through that storm?

Well, what do you and I think about when we are in the middle of life’s storms?

For the ancient Hebrew, the sea represented raw, elemental, primal power, and they had a deep respect for it. When you read through Exodus, you see God revealing almighty power, again and again, over water—God

  • turned it to blood.
  • caused it to rain like hail from the sky.
  • parted the Red Sea for God’s people,
  • and caused it to crash down on Pharaoh’s army, killing them all.
  • changed bitter water to sweet.
  • caused water to spring up from a rock in the wilderness.
  • and in the Psalms, again and again, God is described as riding on the waves, and calming the storms.

The LUMO Project | http://www.freebibleimages.org

Some went down to the sea in ships,

    doing business on the mighty waters;

they saw the deeds of the Lord,

    [God’s] wondrous works in the deep.

For [the Lord] commanded and raised the stormy wind,

    which lifted up the waves of the sea.

They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths;

    their courage melted away in their calamity;

they reeled and staggered like drunkards,

    and were at their wits’ end.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,

    and [God] brought them out from their distress;

[The Lord] made the storm be still,

    and the waves of the sea were hushed.

Then they were glad because they had quiet,

    and [God] brought them to their desired haven.

Psalm 107:23-30 (NRSV)

As Judean fishermen, Jesus’ disciples had a deep and abiding respect for water.

The LUMO Project | http://www.freebibleimages.org

Thus, straining hard at their oars, [what amounts to three or four miles], they beheld Jesus walking upon the sea and being near the boat, and they were seized with terror-and-alarm.

But he said to them, “I AM. Do not be terrified.”

Jesus, in John 6:19-20

At the right moment, when they were frantically rowing, Jesus came out to them in the most unexpected way, terrifying the disciples.

The image of walking on the water is a symbol of divine triumph over all of creation.

Jesus portrays himself as the king who walks on his creation. He is the majestic sovereign who sits upon the clouds and walks upon the waters. When he spoke, Jesus’ voice carried through even the turbulence and clamor of the storm. Literally, Jesus’ words were “I AM,” YHWH’s holy and powerful name.

Are you in a situation right now where you really feel like you cannot win? There is no good solution. You are up against a wall, and besides that, you are tired, you are depleted. You keep plugging away, but this situation is really taking its toll on you.

  • Maybe you feel like you have been giving and giving and giving, and are wondering when there will be any time for you to rest?
  • Maybe you are in a situation that is pretty heavy, but you are making it. Just barely, but you are hanging in there, and you really do not want anybody to come in and help you because you do not want to owe anybody any favors.
  •  Or if they came in to help, they would see your mess, you would not want that.
  • “No, no, I’m fine.” “I can handle it.” “I don’t like to owe people favors.”

So often you and I think that nobody—but nobody—has been in a bad situation like this one that I am in right now. No one has had to endure suffering this intense or had to buck up under a weight this heavy.

But remember what Paul wrote to the beleaguered believers in Corinth: There is no storm that you and I are going to encounter in this life that is so uncommon, that nobody has ever faced it before.

In what unexpected way do you think Jesus might be waiting for you to notice him, to recognize him and invite him into your boat? Is it someone who has offered help? Is it a gift that seems too large to accept? Is it a chance to let someone in on what’s going on with you?

Jesus uses crises to reveal his availability and power to save

Though Jesus seems distant at times, he never really is distant. He can come to you and me in our need. He is not restricted by circumstances or distance. Often life is like a storm. Things can be disturbing and frightening in life, and there is nothing wrong with being afraid. The comfort is in knowing that in the storms of life, the One who can do something about it knows how you and I feel, and when Jesus is with us we will safely reach the shore.

In what circumstance do you need to stop being self-sufficient, and let Jesus into your boat? Jesus calmed the storm in his disciples’ hearts first, and then they received him into their boat. Immediately the boat arrived at their destination.

The LUMO Project | http://www.freebibleimages.org

Then they were wanting to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was upon the land to which they were going.

John 6:21

Jesus Walks on the Water | The LUMO Project | http://www.freebibleimages.org

Gospel of John: Refusing the Crown

Some have tried to explain away the miracle of feeding thousands of people with one boy’s lunch, by saying that when the gathered groups of people watched Jesus breaking that small, humble meal into pieces, they were all inspired to bring out their own food to share.

That sounds pretty plausible, does it not?

The “miracle” would have been the warming of all those thousands of people’s hearts toward each other. It turns Jesus’ symbolic sign of bread given by God into an object lesson on sharing and generosity.

But is that what really happened?

If it were, then this next verse would make no sense at all.

Therefore, the people having perceived [Jesus] created-and-produced a sign, they were declaring, “He is truly the prophet who is to come into the world.”

Therefore, Jesus, knowing they intended to come and seize him in order that they could make him king, departed again into the mountain, himself alone.

 John 6:14

The people who were there saw this meal as miraculous as the manna in the desert. They recognized Jesus was the very one Moses had prophesied. But instead of hanging onto Jesus’ teaching, which he had been giving them all day, they wanted to hang onto Jesus’ miraculous way of feeding them. They were looking for a new Moses-like leader to free them from Roman rule. They were looking for a new David-like king to re-establish Israel as a political and economic superpower, as it had been in the says of Solomon.

So they had a kind of belief in Jesus, but it was in the wrong things.

Biblical belief has four basic components: 

  1. Content: Belief is always going to be in something. There is a set of data to consider. Right now, during this pandemic, you can see how beliefs are formed, challenged, and even changed as new data is introduced.

Belief in biblical terms considers the data provided about God, and God’s intent to restore the cosmos and everything in it, God’s intent to save people from the consequences of our own wrong doing and wrong thinking.

Because belief affects our real lives, getting the content right is crucial. Is this the right medicine for my illness? What do I believe about the medicine, about my illness, about the doctor who is diagnosing and prescribing?

No matter how sincere a belief is, if it is founded in a false set of facts—or more pointedly, a false understanding of the facts—that belief is not going to save.

In biblical terms, only a faith based on God’s revealed truth is authentic saving faith. The crowd believed that if they could force Jesus to be their king, then he would have to feed them, and lead them in throwing off Roman rule, making Israel a great nation again.

They had placed their faith in the signs they had seen of Jesus healing, releasing from demonic bondage, and feeding. But they had falsely determined the signs were the main event.

They placed their faith in the miracles rather than in Jesus.

That is what they wanted to have, a steady stream of physical healings and miraculous meals.

But what Jesus intended to teach them about was spiritual, something unseen.

For though biblical faith is based on what is physically unseen, it is not blind.

Blind faith is believing something without any evidence or reason.

The kind of faith the Bible talks about is a “knowing” faith, based on

  • Solid evidence provided through Scripture, and in Jesus’ day, through his teaching.
  • The revelation of God through nature.
  • God’s interaction in our lives, God’s powerful response to prayer, God’s miraculous provision and intervention, God’s spiritual guidance, wisdom and discernment, God’s every day presence.
  • Reason, seeing events in their proper perspective, and understanding them

You and I can “see” it with spiritual illumination given by the Holy Spirit.

All of these elements were present throughout the day Jesus spent with this crowd. Yet sadly, though Jesus was teaching them about himself as the bread of life, the crowd believed only in the bread they could see and eat.

  1. Consent: With any belief, once we are convinced, we welcome the belief, we invest in it, it becomes more and more a part of who we are, and how we live. In biblical terms, the heart warms in a personal, loving response to God Who is a person and Who is the first to love. This warmth begins in saving faith and grows into obedient faith.

Unfortunately, the crowd’s response to Jesus was not love for their Savior, but desire for a king who would feed them.

  1. Commitment: Conviction becomes steady determination. In biblical terms, this commitment is not to a set of doctrines, or a catechism, or a formula or method. It is not a commitment to live a certain way, or by certain disciplines. It is not even a commitment to eschew the old life and cleave to the new. All these things may play a part, but they are not the focus of a Christian’s commitment.

In biblical terms, commitment means investing heart and soul, mind and strength, in Jesus.   

We have a hard enough time investing even half that in our relationships and projects! We like to keep something of ourselves back, retain some control, keep a backdoor exit ready, just in case.

This is what the crowd tried to do with Jesus.

They wanted to control his power, in a sense, by harnessing Jesus with the crown. Once he was their king, they would be his official responsibility, and he would have to feed them, take care of them, make things right for them.

So often, that is the attraction of many people to Christianity even today. “When I become a Christian,

  • God will fix my problems.”
  • God will bless me with all the things I have always hoped for.”
  • I will never be lonely again, or suffer anymore.”
  • God will want me to be happy, and to enjoy life, so God will make arrangements for me.”

When do you and I say, “Oh, God is so good”?

When things happen the way we like.

This is often the way Jesus is marketed in our culture.

Look at many Christian books today—How to Have a Happy Life, a Happy Marriage, a Good Career, Good Children, How to Have a Great Personality, How to Enjoy Your Blessings, Be All You Can Be. These are not bad things, but they are also not what Jesus is about.

Jesus is about entering into the powerful life, love, peace, and joy of eternal relationship with God.

In the other gospels we find out Jesus actually had to force the disciples to get into their boat and start heading to the other side of the lake again. Their unwillingness may have come from their excitement, with the crowd, that Jesus was finally going to come into his inheritance of the throne. As seasoned sailors, they may also have recognized the signs of a storm brewing offshore.

The LUMO Project | http://www.freebibleimages.org

But for whatever reason, they were reluctant to go, and leave Jesus there, though they eventually complied.

It is significant Jesus went to his Father. He was physically exhausted and hungry. He had been teaching and healing without a break, and had just finished feeding thousands of people. He’d had no time to grieve the death of John the Baptist and little time to fellowship with his disciples. He had spent the day he was supposed to rest and rejuvenate, teaching and training instead. He had sent his closest friends to head into a storm rather than risk something even worse, by being swept up into the wrong-headed ideas of the crowd.

Jesus might even have been struggling with the temptation of giving in to the crowd’s enthusiasm to be their king, to bypass the cross, as Satan had tempted him in the desert.

At this low point, emotionally and physically, Jesus went into prayer.

The crowd thought Jesus would be their ticket to health, prosperity and power for their country. What might you and I be trying to “make” God do for us right now, by insisting God solve a problem a certain way? How do you and I respond to the Lord when things are not going our way? When God has asked sacrifices of us on top of sacrifices?

Even as Jesus spent time alone with the Father, he was watching his disciples and interceding for them . . .

[Fourth component of faith tomorrow.]

[Jesus | The LUMO Project, http://www.freebibleimages.org]

Gospel of John: Loaves and Fish

Physically tired, hungry, emotionally weary, and still looking for the retreat Jesus had invited them to, the disciples (according to the other gospels) urged Jesus to send the people away. But Jesus’ compassion would not let him do that. Before him were a people hungry for spiritual things, hungry for teaching and shepherding, and a people who were simply hungry.

He could have asked Peter, Andrew, James, or John, who were all locals, but Jesus turned to Philip and asked him where they might find a place to buy bread to feed all these people. But Philip did the math and basically said it was utterly impossible to get dinner for this crowd, regardless of where they went to buy bread. They simply did not have the money.

So, Jesus told the disciples to go and find out how much food they had among them, and Andrew mentioned a boy who had a little lunch with him, the poorest kind of bread, barley bread, and two anchovies (that’s what they really were). It was the poorest of the poor kind of food. When Roman soldiers were punished, they were made to eat barley bread. And there was only one little lunch to go around to thousands of people.

Philip pointed to the enormity of the problem, Andrew to the meagerness of their resources and is that not where you and I end up too, so often, when we are faced with a crisis?

Jesus was testing their faith.

Would God come through for all these people, and would God come through for them, too? Jesus had a solution that was completely outside the box, but it would require the disciples’ willingness to trust Jesus and do what he proposed.

In the end, that is all faith is.

As much as the Bible talks about faith throughout the Hebrew Bible and the Christian testament, only one passage offers a definition, found in Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things we hope for, being the proof of things we do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].”

The English translation for the Greek word “pistis” is both “belief” and “faith.”  In fact, the Greek word pistis is referred to as polyvalent, meaning there are several meanings, genuinely different from each other, that are all embedded in the one word—poly, several, valent, values or meanings. Here is just a sampling taken from the Greek dictionary:

  1. persuasion of a thing, confidence, assurance.
  2. in a subjective sense, good faith, trustworthiness, honesty
  3. in terms of a thing, credence, credit, bona fide.
  4. In a commercial sense, position of trust or trusteeship.
  5. That which gives confidence, assurance, pledge of good faith, guarantee.

Faith is a confidence so secure it is a guarantee.

The kind of faith the Bible talks about is also a living faith.

Faith is an action word. It goes beyond simply intellectual acknowledgement of God, believing in God. Faith is an active trust in God that is lived out in real and practical ways.

Faith, then, does not reduce God to a religious concept, or a catechism, or a set of doctrines. Faith does not content itself with traditions and rites. Faith is not a sentiment that can be set aside.

Faith is a lived reality.

You and I can know what we truly believe by how we live our lives.  

We will know our priorities, what has meaning for us and value, what our goals in life are, as we watch what we do, listen to what we say, and observe what decisions we make, throughout our every days. When the chips are down, all facades and niceties stripped away, whatever is left—those motivations, those aims—represents what we actually believe, not just what we reassure ourselves (and others) we believe.

Jesus had the people sit down in groups, took the food and gave thanks to God for God’s provision, modeling faith in the Father, willingness and contentment to accept whatever the Father provides.

Jesus then gave the bread and fish fragments to his tired and hungry disciples to give out to the crowds.

Why did the Lord do it that way?

Just as with the manna in Moses’ day, God’s bread was to be gathered and served, it was a test of love. It must have taken a while, even at twelve men going back and forth from Jesus to the people, to get all those thousands of hungry people fed till they were full.

What feelings do you think the disciples might have been struggling with by this point?

  • Overworked, overextended, depleted.
  • Hungry, weary.
  • Perhaps a little resentful in being made to serve others when they had themselves been promised rest and refreshment in a retreat from the demands of others.
  • Unappreciated.

Jesus had given all to the crowd and had expected the disciples to just go along with it, even after they had already put in a long hard, unforeseen day of work, rowing across the Sea of Galilee, when their time of anticipated rest and intimate fellowship that Jesus had planned for them had been abruptly taken away.

Can you relate?

Finally, there came a point when the last group had been given their fill of barley loaves and soupçons of fish, surely hours later. Finally, the disciples saw they might get some relief, a little time to sit as the crowd ate their repast.

But even now, the ordeal was far from over.

Jesus told them to gather up all the morsels so that nothing would be wasted, which was a rabbinic principle of their day. Waste of any kind was considered a dishonor to God, Who had provided for them. The leftovers of a feast were always gathered for the obedient servers.

Perhaps dumbfounded, yet in exhausted agreement this was proper, as Jesus’ talmidim, each disciple reached for his lunchbox (the size of the baskets depicted in the story), and went back out into the crowd to gather up the leftovers.

When one by one they returned, they saw all their lunchboxes had been filled to capacity. God had provided for them, too.

However, the spiritual lesson Jesus taught them was far more important.

When Jesus broke the bread, lifted it up and thanked God for it, that is when the miracle began. No matter how often the disciples came back for more, there was always more to have. In the same way, when you and I surrender ourselves to God for God’s purposes, allowing God to break open our hearts, to be filled with God’s power, there will always be enough to do what God has given us to do.

Jesus fills the gap between what I have and what is needed by breaking and blessing me

In what ways might you be expecting God to reward you because you have been working hard and doing the right thing? Think of the reward as the privilege of being broken, blessed, and given out by God as God’s miracle to others who are hungry.

Biblical faith is belief in God and acting on that belief.

What little do you have that, if you were willing to give it to Jesus, could be multiplied to provide for others? What might the leftovers be, that could actually be the very source of nourishment and encouragement you have been hoping for from God?

When you and I are tempted to give circumstances more weight than God’s ability to meet those circumstances, we remember Jesus is our available resource in every situation.

Instead of giving in to the sense of being overwhelmed by the size of the situation, and our own lack of resources, faith encourages us to give all we have and trust God for the rest of what is needed.

Think of the little boy. He trustingly gave up his whole lunch, instead of saving a little some just in case there would not be enough for him, or hiding it altogether.

He had the excitement of being part of the miracle, going home to tell his mother that her five barley loaves and two anchovies fed over five thousand people that day, after being broken in the hands of the Lord himself.

Think how famous her oven became after that!

What is the next thing that God is showing you to do? Begin with where you are and what you have, and trust God to do something creative and wonderful with it.

Loaves and Fish | The LUMO Project, http://www.freebibleimages. org

Gospel of John: John Beheaded

After these things, Jesus departed through the Sea of Galilee, the Tiberius.

John 6:1

In one sentence, John telescoped through about two years, till he got to this one event, the only miracle recorded in all four gospels.

Heavy with symbolism, as well as being one of the more publicly powerful miracles Jesus performed, John realized, after a generation of preaching, this miracle required a deeper explanation than the other gospels offered.

There was only one year left before the cross.

The disciples had just returned from their first missionary trip, sent out two by two to spread the gospel in the local villages. They had been so involved with people that there had been no time to rest or even eat for days at a time.

They had all agreed to meet in Galilee upon their return, and two by two, here they came. They hailed each other as they drew nearer. Peter and John, who had gone together, waved to Andrew and James, their brothers, who had also gone together.

“You should have seen me,” Peter shouted to Andrew, “I merely called out the name of God, and the demons fled, shrieking and shuddering!”

James made a face, as though to register great admiration and surprise.

“It is true,” John laughed, “He did cast out many demons. It seemed as though there were demoniacs in every town. He cast them out with great authority.”

Nathaniel and Phillip had also traveled together, healing many, and preaching the good news with wisdom and fervor. Nathanael had given his testimony often, “He saw me under the fig tree! And I knew he was Messiah upon first meeting.”

The others jogged in to join the growing circle of excited talmidim, regaling each other with their successes in spreading the mantle of their rabbi. Soon, all twelve were waving their arms dramatically, each one talking a little louder than the last, speaking of healings, miracles, the gospel sweeping from town to town.

Jesus watched them with quiet warmth, and prayed for them, as soon their joy would turn to sorrow. Afar off, messengers were on their way, carrying heavy news. When he saw the messengers nearing, he interjected, saying, “Do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you,” Jesus waved his hands to get their attention. Peter turned and spluttered, “But, but—“ Jesus shook his head. John was already quiet, his eyes round with question.

Simon the Zealot, towards the back, jabbed his elbow into Matthew’s side. On opposite sides politically, they made odd friends, and often were at odds. One by one, each of the men stopped talking, and turned to look at Jesus. Once they were all quieted, Jesus spoke again, his voice grave, “But rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

They would soon understand his meaning. The sun, which had seemed dazzling white, now dimmed, and the air felt suddenly stifling with heat.

Jesus looked at each one, fully, reading their hearts. He had given them all authority, over every manner of physical and spiritual disease. Yet, there was still much for them to learn, and maturity for them to acquire.

As the stillness grew, the first messenger, panting and sweating, broke into the circle.

“News,” he said, in a rasping voice, his chest heaving from his run. Then, the other messenger trotted in beside the first, both covered in the dust of their travels, faces streaked with sweat.

“The Baptist, John, our prophet,” the second said, each word broken off as he pulled in a great draught of air.

“Beheaded,” said the first, and they both broke out in great sobs of mourning, panting with the effort.

The disciples, one by one, took up the weeping, and Andrew and John held each other broken in grief, for John had been their rabbi. From the dizzying heights of glory to the slough of abject despond, the disciples plunged from elation to heartache.

Jesus invited the messengers to join them for a meal, but they declined. There were many who needed to know what had happened to Israel’s last great prophet, and they would begin the next leg of their journey as soon as their wind returned. Thanking the Master for the drink he offered from his water bag, they took their leave.

“Come,” Jesus said, as he looked at the grieving men. “You need rest.” He motioned for them to walk down to the shore, towards James’ and Andrews’ boats. They would row across the sea, out of Herod’s territory, and into the tetrarch Philip’s region, for a time of retreat, while the great majority of locals went up to Jerusalem for the Passover. They would perhaps slip quietly into Jerusalem shortly before the sacrifices.

Broken-hearted, the memories already fading of their exciting missions experience, The men set their backs into rowing, pulling hard on their oars, the water softly splooshing with each dip, droplets flying with each rise. Seagulls called mournfully to each other above, and a few wispy clouds drifted across the graying sky.

They set their faces to the rising wind, thinking of the Baptist, and his now leaderless followers. It was a time for silence, for the rhythmic pull of their sculling, for the sound of the waves lapping, the occasional fish breaking the sea’s surface, the scent of the surf, the sight of their mountain retreat ahead, and the promise of rest.

They rowed four miles from Galilee to the other side, to the green rolling hills of Bethsaida, the home town of Peter, Andrew, James, John and Philip. But the crowds had seen the disciples head over to the Sea of Tiberias.

John explained that the people kept following Jesus because of the signs he performed, Now, since they already were on holiday for the Passover, the people—pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem, locals who had benefited from Jesus’ ministry with them, and others surely who had been affected by the disciples’ missions trip, took the time to follow Jesus, walking nine miles around the lake.

When the disciples saw all those people, what must they have been thinking? Instead of providing their hoped-for rest and retreat, it seemed God was going to ask even more of these physically exhausted and emotionally spent men.

For, Jesus had compassion on them. The Jewish religious authorities should have been shepherding these people, but Jesus saw them as sheep without a shepherd. The teachers of the law had been so zealously committed to understanding and obeying the law of God, they had left the people spiritually hungry for person of God, for the intimacy of true worship, for the communion God desired, and so did they.

So Jesus went with his disciples a little way up one of the many low mountains that surround Galilee,  and sat down to teach and heal the rest of that day.

Think of the effort it takes to care for other people when your own heart is heavy with sadness. The disciples, at least some of them, were grieving over the death of a beloved friend, as was Jesus. John the Baptist was one of the very few people who really understood Jesus.

Think of the effort it takes to care for other people when you are tired, hungry, no time to prepare yourself.

Think of the effort it takes to care for people who just presumed upon you. These people were not thinking about Jesus’ needs, or the disciples’ needs. Without wondering why Jesus and his disciples might be heading way from Jerusalem and towards open country, they simply saw that Jesus and his disciples, and went towards them.

By evening everyone was hungry, especially Jesus and the disciples.

How would God provide, under these conditions?

Sea of Galilee, also called Tiberius |Ulrich Berens, flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Yom Kippur

Ten days after the Feast of Trumpets came Yom Kippur, which was a time of self-examination and repentance and forgiveness.

It was the only day of the year the Jews were to fast, they were to deny themselves, and spend the day in worship. It was a yearly reminder that God’s presence among them was based on His grace, His mercy, His love for them, and not on their ability to earn favor with God. God loved His people and wanted them to know forgiveness for their sins.

This talk, originally delivered to New Hope Chapel during Sunday morning worship, reveals Jesus in the feast of Yom Kippur, both as the sacrifice, and as the high priest.

I Yom Kippur, Leviticus 16

Holy days help us remember what God has done for us, and what He will do

II Jesus in Yom Kippur, Hebrews 9:11-14, 10:14, 22-24

Being saved is complete and permanent

III Hebrews’ teaching on Yom Kippur, Hebrews 7:24-28 and chapter 8

If you’re tired of trying to be a good Christian, move under the new covenant

Grace and Peace, Joanne

[Shofar and Hebrew Bible | Provenance unknown


“How did it go?” he asked, not looking up. His face was half hidden leaning on his hand as he studied the screen. The luminescence seemed to give his hair and forehead a pallid glow.

You are the God who sees

My deepest hurt

My every need

Holland Davis, You Are the God Who Sees

She watched him from the doorway at first, then dropped her clipboard on the side table, and shut the door behind her. Another doctor was pouring coffee, and several others sat in a far corner, folding chairs pulled up close in a heated debate.

“No, you can’t do that,” one raised her voice. “A family member has to be involved.” The others turned to the speaker and seemed to reason in even quiet tones while she shook her head with such vigor it made her tied-back braids bounce.

She flinched at the argument, then registered inner surprise. Really? A technical debate was making her twitchy? But she laced her fingers together to still the tremble riding up her wrists and making her legs feel weak. She moved towards him and sat down to look at his screen together.

“Not that great,” she said in a low voice.

Now he looked over at her, his eyebrows up, and took his hand from the keyboard.

“What happened?”

“What always happens. The mother started to cry, the father asked me if there was anything more I could do.” So why had it affected her so badly? This was the ICU. She should be used to this by now. He shook his head and looked back at his screen.

“I don’t think mine’s going to make it much longer, either.”

She could feel the tremble become a shudder.

“Hey,” he said softly, “Easy,” and gave her shoulder a gentle pat. “This is the work. You signed up for this. We save everyone we can.”

She nodded, but clenched her teeth. The room seemed to grow dim, as though someone had lowered the lights and muffled the sounds. She needed to go—somewhere else, anywhere else—so she got back up and walked out the door.

But there was nowhere to go. She seemed to walk endless acres of shining linoleum, past green and white walls and the curtained rooms of patients. As she walked, a Code Blue sounded a hall away and again she flinched. Her throat was beginning to close. She was finding it hard to take a breath.

Breathe in, she said to herself. Okay, now breathe out. Slowly, through your lips . . . Her breath was getting more ragged. She pressed her hand against her chest as she walked, until she found the family restroom, single occupant. Fumbling for the handle, her hands now shaking badly, she managed to open it without someone calling out to her, then shut it as quietly as she could behind her.

She slumped down on the stool and closed her eyes, pressing the heels of her hands against them. When she could open them again, she wrapped her arms around herself in a tight embrace. Activate the parasympathetic nervous system, she thought. Under her arm she felt something in her pocket. What was that?

Feeling inside, she found the card the chaplain had given her days ago. She’d never opened it. She tore the envelope and looked for a long while at the depiction of Hagar, dark-skinned, weeping in the wilderness, then remembered. Yes, the chaplain had said something about this, about being overwhelmed and overcome. Inside it simply said, “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’” Genesis 16:13

She smiled. How about that, she thought, a Black woman saw God and gave God a name. She compared her dark hand with Hagar’s and said I see you, too. She didn’t really believe in God. But the chaplain had been right, this was a good story. She tucked it back in her coat, unlatched the door, mentally squared her shoulders, and walked out.

As she did the rest of her rounds, checked charts, modified prescriptions, consulted with the nurses on the progress of her patients, she gradually noticed a strange sensation. What was it? At one point her signature was needed, and as she lifted the pen dangling from its chain it was then she realized her hand was steady. And the phrase drifted into her mind at that moment, I am the God who sees you.

[Hands | Pickpik.com]

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