Lent reading: Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-10

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages[a]! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”

Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

Mark 6:30-44

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied.

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand were present. After he had sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.

Mark 8:1-10

from Lent at Home 2021 / Mennonite USA

descending into the abyss

You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.

But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. The text for this is,

He climbed the high mountain,
He captured the enemy and seized the plunder,
He handed it all out in gifts to the people.

Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

Ephesians 4:4-13; MSG

Abyss carries with it the idea of bottomless, like there’s no end to the evil and danger present. Christ is said to have descended to the lowest depths, afterwards ascending to the highest heights, this especially clear in Philippians 2:1-11, And so Christ lived and lives by the Spirit where we live, and gives us the gift and gifts to enable us to live in the same depths in which he lived. Though of course never to the same extent, since Jesus took upon himself the full brunt of evil in order to release the full flow of God’s goodness, someday to be experienced completely in the new heaven and new earth when God makes all things new.

This is an encouragement to me, because sometimes I feel overwhelmed with all the trouble, and all that can go wrong and sometimes does. But God is present with us in Jesus, and gives us all we need to not only weather the storm, but glorify God in it. And that together, not just the gift he gives each one of us, though that indeed is important. But the gifts given to all for the benefit of all.

God will help us weary worn ones through this weary, worn world, as we are intent in following Christ come what may. God will see each and everyone of us through, together. In and through Jesus.

needed rest

A David Psalm

God, my shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.

Psalm 23; MSG

This well known, treasured psalm refers to the gamut of life, all of it. I would like to consider one part of it: Our need for rest.

You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.

Away from the pressures of all the responsibilities of life, not to mention all the drama and trauma which inevitably impacts our world along with the world at large, we need those escapes, even getaways, but I’m especially thinking of simple rest in whatever form that takes for us. We need it daily, but it’s good to have a special time of rest set apart once a week, as in the Sabbath Day of old. And it’s good to have seasons and times when we simply rest.

The portrayal of the Lord’s shepherding of us here includes this so that we can say it’s a necessary element of life. All too often we continue on day after day, and even through weekends in a more or less frazzled state, not catching our breath, but rather gasping for breath. That is not the life God intends for us.

Instead we need to accept the good shepherd’s shepherding of us, his sheep. Together as his flock, as well as what that means for us as his individual sheep. After that we’ll be ready for what lies ahead until the next needed rest comes.

True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

In and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 2:28-3:10

And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.

If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

1 John 2:28-3:10

And now, children, stay with Christ. Live deeply in Christ. Then we’ll be ready for him when he appears, ready to receive him with open arms, with no cause for red-faced guilt or lame excuses when he arrives.

Once you’re convinced that he is right and righteous, you’ll recognize that all who practice righteousness are God’s true children.

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to.

But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.

All who indulge in a sinful life are dangerously lawless, for sin is a major disruption of God’s order. Surely you know that Christ showed up in order to get rid of sin. There is no sin in him, and sin is not part of his program. No one who lives deeply in Christ makes a practice of sin. None of those who do practice sin have taken a good look at Christ. They’ve got him all backward.

So, my dear children, don’t let anyone divert you from the truth. It’s the person who acts right who is right, just as we see it lived out in our righteous Messiah. Those who make a practice of sin are straight from the Devil, the pioneer in the practice of sin. The Son of God entered the scene to abolish the Devil’s ways.

People conceived and brought into life by God don’t make a practice of sin. How could they? God’s seed is deep within them, making them who they are. It’s not in the nature of the God-born to practice and parade sin. Here’s how you tell the difference between God’s children and the Devil’s children: The one who won’t practice righteous ways isn’t from God, nor is the one who won’t love brother or sister. A simple test.

1 John 2:28-3:10; MSG

If the elder and beloved apostle John were here today, reading this passage, he might suggest that what is happening is nothing less than an identity crisis. And what follows from that is not good.

If we’re God’s children and followers of Christ, that will make a night and day difference. My guess is that John would talk about living deeply in Christ. How that our lives, our very thoughts and actions are to be shaped out of that. And how we can do that, indeed are called to do that no matter what we’re facing or what’s going on in the world. And how that we never have an excuse to do what Christ has commanded us not to do, flying in the face of what Christ did, how he lived.

We in Christ are God’s children, part of God’s family. Do we bear the family resemblance? Are we like our elder Brother Christ? Do we look up to him? If not, then we need to ask ourselves if indeed we are in Christ. Or are our lives more in line with the devil? Is what we’re about, and what we’re doing more in line with that? If we don’t love other brothers and sisters in Christ no matter what, that’s a sure sign we’re off track.

does God really love us, really love me?

We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. [God] loved us first.

1 John 4:19; MSG

There is a Love out there, a never tiring, never dying love which we humans are oblivious to. God’s love, the God who is love. We might by and by come to accept that as a possibility, even as truth. But do we believe it could possibly apply to us? That God might love even me?

This is far more important than we realize. That no matter what we’re experiencing, how we feel about it, and even what we’ve done, there’s a God who loves us far beyond what we could possibly imagine.

This is evident in God fully becoming one of us in Jesus, and in the death of the cross. God took all the wrong, all the hate we could dish out, then turns it around for our forgiveness and the new life, who we really are, and are meant to be. That is really so far beyond us. We have to accept it by simple faith, yes, what we can’t grasp or understand, by simple faith.

I think we have to let this sit to soak into us over time. It’s not just something we’ll jump into which can change us overnight. But over time, actually the rest of our lives, we can accept this never changing, never diminished love. And begin to live out that love to others, the same love which has embraced us. The love of God in Jesus by the Spirit. In and through Jesus.

no more drippy sentimentality

God, God . . . my God!
Why did you dump me
miles from nowhere?
Doubled up with pain, I call to God
all the day long. No answer. Nothing.
I keep at it all night, tossing and turning.

Psalm 22:1-2; MSG

On a human level I like the Bible because it’s real, not flinching from life as it is, not providing some way of escape or denial. But facing it, and being honest and truthful about it.

So much of pop culture, even Christian popular culture, and specifically the evangelical tradition of it which I lived in many years is full of sentimentality. By sentimental, what I mean is feeling good, close, warm, and that everything is alright or will work out. Maybe we can add the power of positive thinking into the mix.

We do need faith in the midst of all the trouble and trauma of life. And that’s exactly what we see, even in the opening lines of Psalm 22 as rendered by Eugene Peterson. The psalmist echoed by Jesus on the cross did not hide their pain or true thoughts. And actually, when you think about it, this was a part of their faith.

We need to read the entire psalm to see that there is indeed a good ending. That God lifts up the one in pain, those in pain as well, all who look to him, all who put their hope in God indeed right in the midst of their pain and trouble.

Honesty before God first, and before others where appropriate is important. We do no one any favors by sugarcoating what is bitter. Scripture doesn’t do that. Jesus didn’t. We who are his followers should not, either. We’re in this together in Jesus, but in real life, not just the good, presentable part, but all of it. In and through Jesus.

Thoughts inspired by Tim Gombis’s helpful podcast: Faith Improvised: Sovereignty, Suffering, Sports, Etc.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 2:18-27

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.[g] I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—eternal life.

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

1 John 2:18-27

Children, time is just about up. You heard that Antichrist is coming. Well, they’re all over the place, antichrists everywhere you look. That’s how we know that we’re close to the end.

They left us, but they were never really with us. If they had been, they would have stuck it out with us, loyal to the end. In leaving, they showed their true colors, showed they never did belong.

But you belong. The Holy One anointed you, and you all know it. I haven’t been writing this to tell you something you don’t know, but to confirm the truth you do know, and to remind you that the truth doesn’t breed lies.

So who is lying here? It’s the person who denies that Jesus is the Divine Christ, that’s who. This is what makes an antichrist: denying the Father, denying the Son. No one who denies the Son has any part with the Father, but affirming the Son is an embrace of the Father as well.

Stay with what you heard from the beginning, the original message. Let it sink into your life. If what you heard from the beginning lives deeply in you, you will live deeply in both Son and Father. This is exactly what Christ promised: eternal life, real life!

I’ve written to warn you about those who are trying to deceive you. But they’re no match for what is embedded deeply within you—Christ’s anointing, no less! You don’t need any of their so-called teaching. Christ’s anointing teaches you the truth on everything you need to know about yourself and him, uncontaminated by a single lie. Live deeply in what you were taught.

1 John 2:18-27; MSG

If John were standing in our midst today, reading this first of his letters, and making some application for our times, I think he would point to professing Christians  seeing anything at all as “truth” in the same category as Christ himself. And he would call any addition of such alleged truth as antichristian, from antichrists and the spirit of the antichrist.

There are plenty of examples of that today, though some seem especially prominent. I’m not sure John would name them, because I’m not sure he would want to get swept up into the political mess. What John would want to affirm is the Messianic status of Jesus as the Son of God, the God-human. And how that’s the one truth professing Christians, followers of Christ are to live by, and if necessary, die for.

John would tell us that any deviance from that is a departure from Christ himself, and from the truth that is known by believers through the Spirit. And an outright contradiction of not only who Christ is, but who we are in him. And that if we really live deeply in Christ, we’ll be able to discern what is true and what is not. Not only ourselves, but especially together, in community with others in him. In and through Jesus.

Lent reading: Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:22-33

from Lent at Home 2021 / Mennonite USA

returning to our first love

Write this to Ephesus, to the Angel of the church. The One with Seven Stars in his right-fist grip, striding through the golden seven-lights’ circle, speaks:

“I see what you’ve done, your hard, hard work, your refusal to quit. I know you can’t stomach evil, that you weed out apostolic pretenders. I know your persistence, your courage in my cause, that you never wear out.

“But you walked away from your first love—why? What’s going on with you, anyway? Do you have any idea how far you’ve fallen? A Lucifer fall!

“Turn back! Recover your dear early love. No time to waste, for I’m well on my way to removing your light from the golden circle.

“You do have this to your credit: You hate the Nicolaitan business. I hate it, too.

“Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. I’m about to call each conqueror to dinner. I’m spreading a banquet of Tree-of-Life fruit, a supper plucked from God’s orchard.”

Revelation 2:1-7; MSG

To really get a good overall picture, and just how we might fit into the scheme, or what God might be saying to us, we surely need to read each of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3. The first letter here as rendered by Eugene Peterson, or in any translation, for that matter, is striking and noteworthy. This church is as zealous as it gets, but their zeal while at least largely based on head knowledge, has left its/her first love, or the love this church had at first. And thus we might say it was bereft of heart knowledge, or a knowledge driven by love. Love for Christ, and the love which follows from that.

It’s a burden to try to apply these letters to us as individuals, and it’s important to see that they’re actually written to churches. But individuals make up churches, so we all have to ask how they might apply to us, what we might be contributing to the situation. Notice that the blessing at the end is applied to individuals who overcome. I would like to think that I fit, or would prefer to be part of a church like Philadelphia, having little strength, but faithful, and simply being told to hold on to what they have until Christ returns. But we need to prayerfully read and consider all these letters.

How do we fall from the first love we had? And Jesus makes no bones about it, they either have to repent as a church, or he’ll put their light out, so that they’ll be a church in name, only. No church was more active, but that’s doesn’t mean they were okay. Far from it, though Jesus does give them the nod of approval for their hatred of the works of the Nicolaitans, which he too hated.

I’m not sure. I think it can become more about what we’re doing than anything else. Maybe we need to stop in our tracks, shut our mouths, quit doing what we’re doing, maybe something like a silent retreat. Then maybe we’ll be able to hear what the Lord is saying to us. It’s a work of the Spirit, quite beyond us. It’s not like sitting in a schoolroom where we might possibly figure it out with the help of the teacher. No.

I will offer this from my own life and experience. I think the more we realize life is all about love, that God is love, and that Christ’s love for us is as great, deep and true as love can get, then that can help us. But it’s so easy to substitute doing, doing and more doing for the real thing. Let’s find that love, enter into it, live it out with each other, and out into the world. And keep doing that. Then what we do will matter. And Jesus’s life and love will continue among us as a light for us and for the world. In and through Jesus.

where do we want to be?

Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

Psalm 84:10

I find it all too easily to be in places where really I would rather not be. Or is that really the case? If it were so, wouldn’t I leave and go there and stay? 

If you check out Psalm 84, you’ll find that God’s courts at least for us is likely metaphorical for where our heart is through all of life, whatever we’re going through. But that also includes regular special times to be with God, even as Jesus used to break away from his disciples at odd hours, usually early morning, to be in prayer to the Father. And really seeking to remain there best we can throughout the day.

It’s all too easy to remain too long in what is actually relative junk. The kind of thing which even in itself might be good and a blessing from God, but overindulged in becomes just the opposite. The good thing about that though is that, like the psalmist here, we’ll then experience a longing for God’s Presence- for God.

Where do I want to be? Yes, where Jesus would be in the hardest, most difficult places. But even in that, where God is. In and through Jesus.