Give us this day our daily bread… Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? [Matthew 6:11,26 (RSV)]

A pastor friend told me about returning from a service project with some of his SK8 church youth including Brian, a young man new to the faith. When they stopped for lunch at a taco stand, a street person asked Brian for money. Trying to do what Jesus would want done, the new Christian offered to buy the hard-up man a burrito. It was when Brian ordered two bean burritos that his dining guest loudly complained, “I ain’t eatin’ no $%2#!* bean burrito—I want a steak one!” Brian had little money to spare but, since the man was getting vociferous, he ordered the steak burrito for his guest and a bean one for himself. Apparently, the vagrant wasn’t familiar with the proverbs about beggars not being choosers, half a loaf being better than none, and not looking a gift horse in the mouth!

When I came across a cartoon done by Mark Lynch about Jesus feeding the multitude, I remembered my pastor friend’s story. In Lynch’s cartoon, Jesus is standing in front of a large group. Behind Him are piles of loaves and fish. With the caption “IF IT HAD BEEN TODAY,” the various speech balloons show members of the crowd asking if the fish contains mercury and if there’s a vegan option. Others want to know if the bread is gluten-free, baked locally, or has nuts. Another one complains, “I’m lactose intolerant.” While it is just a comic, I think Lynch isn’t far off. Human nature being what it is, the day Jesus fed a multitude of hungry people, I suspect there were some who grumbled about the lack of things like honey, olives, grapes or figs. Perhaps others asked, “Is this the best He can do?”

Shortly after teaching us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” Jesus reassured us that, since God cares for the birds, He surely will care for us. His miracle of feeding the multitude shows us that God cares for His people. God, however, isn’t like Burger King and never promised us, “Have it your way!” He certainly never told us (as the hamburger chain now does), “You Rule.”

God is concerned about meeting our necessities but, like the homeless man and the comic’s multitude, our vision of a necessity often differs from His. Our daily bread probably isn’t brioche, a gluten-free all-natural blueberry muffin, a $10 loaf of artisanal sourdough from the farmer’s market, or even that $3.79 orange scone from Panera. It definitely isn’t the Gold Leaf Bread from Algatocin, Spain, that’s made with 250 mg of gold dust! It may not even be a whole loaf and it probably won’t include extras like Nutella, honey, fruit preserves, pate or avocado spread. Daily bread is what’s necessary and nothing more—anything else is like frosting on a cake or peanut butter on toast!

“We are beggars; this is true,” was written on a scrap of paper found in Martin Luther’s pocket when he died. How easily we forget that. In truth, we are not that different from the panhandler at the taco stand or Lynch’s multitude gathered on a hillside—more often than not we are unappreciative of the gifts we’re given. Perhaps, after asking God for our daily bread, we might want to add another prayer: “Help me recognize my needs and appreciate your provision.” With thanksgiving, let us reach out and gladly accept God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, Holy Spirit, and daily provision on His terms, not ours. Let us remember that beggars can’t be choosers.

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:19 (RSV)]

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ASSISTED LIFTING (Rephidim – Part 2)

When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he asked, “What are you really accomplishing here? Why are you trying to do all this alone while everyone stands around you from morning till evening?” [Exodus 18:14 (NLT)]

Back when I did weight training, I’d often find myself struggling with my last few reps. When I thought I couldn’t get the dumbbell up another inch and was about to give up, my trainer often gave me a little help so I could finish the rep. Disappointed that I couldn’t do it on my own, he’d remind me, “There’s nothing wrong with a little assisted lifting!”

Earlier this week, when writing about Israel’s victory against the army of Amalek at Rephidim, I didn’t tell the whole story. While Joshua and his men fought in the valley, Moses, Aaron, and Hur observed from a hilltop. Standing tall, Moses raised his arms and extended his staff for all to see. That staff was Israel’s banner and, as long as Moses kept the staff raised high in the air, the Israelites advanced. But, as the day wore on, the eighty-year-old began to tire. His arms grew heavy and, most likely, his back began aching and his legs started cramping. Whenever Moses’ fatigued arms started to fall, the Amalekites began to succeed. As the battle ebbed and flowed, its outcome seemed to depend as much on Moses and that raised staff as it did on the men’s skill with swords. Aaron and Hur, however, found a rock on which Moses could sit. Then the two men stood beside Moses and did some “assisted lifting” of their own by holding up his arms until Israel claimed victory at sunset.

Later, while still camped at Rephidim, Moses got another lesson in assisted lifting. From sunrise to sunset, he dealt with both the spiritual and interpersonal concerns of Israel. Scripture tells us there were 600,000 Israelite men. When we add women, children, and the “mixed multitude” that joined them in their escape from Egypt, more than two million people were traveling together. With those many people (described by Moses as “stiff-necked”), imagine the number of questions, concerns, grievances, and quarrels that came to his attention every day. When Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) visited the Israelite camp, he observed his son-in-law’s demanding routine. Seeing how overwhelmed Moses was by his enormous responsibilities while others did nothing, Jethro warned Moses that working that way was unsustainable. He sagely advised him to delegate some of his duties among Israel’s leaders.

Jethro suggested that Moses continue to act as the people’s representative before God and as God’s voice to the people. As an intermediary between God and Israel, Moses would intercede for Israel and pass along God’s words to them. But, when it came to mediating people’s everyday (often petty) disputes with one another, Jethro suggested that Moses chose qualified men and subdivide the work of judging among them. Only the most difficult cases would come to Moses. After getting divine approval, Moses heeded his father-in-law’s advice and got some much-needed assisted lifting!

God doesn’t expect us to bear every burden alone. Moses couldn’t do it all by himself and, even though we often think we can, neither can we. Although God will provide assistance, his provision often comes in the advice and help we receive from others. Whether we take that help, however, is entirely up to us. Fortunately, Moses didn’t think himself too strong to be helped with his staff, too wise to be counseled by his father-in-law, or too indispensable to delegate work to others!

Rather than a barbell or even a shepherd’s staff, the heavy weight we’re asked to lift consists of the responsibilities, complications, predicaments, and challenges of life. At some time or another, like Moses, we all will need some assisted lifting. May we never be too proud to accept it.

Thank you, Lord, for the many ways you provide us with the assisted lifting that gives us the strength and ability to succeed.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. [Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NLT)]

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JEHOVAH-NISSI (Rephidim – Part 1)

But you have raised a banner for those who fear you—a rallying point in the face of attack. Now rescue your beloved people. Answer and save us by your power. [Psalm 60:4-5 (NLT)]

May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God. [Psalm 20:4-5 (NLT)]

The Amalekites were a warlike nomadic tribe who frequently raided settlements to carry off plundered goods. About six weeks into the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, these marauders made an unprovoked attack on the weary refugees while they camped at Rephidim. Moses commissioned Joshua to lead an army against their enemies the following morning. Joshua’s army, however, wasn’t made up of soldiers! Facing the veteran warriors of Amalek were men who less than two months earlier had been enslaved brick makers and field laborers! Worse, this unseasoned army was led by a general as inexperienced as were they. Nevertheless, Israel’s men set out to battle while Moses, his brother Aaron, and a man named Hur (who Jewish tradition believes was married to Miriam and brother-in-law to Moses) climbed to the top of a nearby hill to watch. As Israel fought their powerful foes, Moses extended his arms and held out his staff for all to see.

When going into battle, opposing armies would carry banners or standards that served as rallying points before battle, encouraged the warriors as they fought, and announced when the battle was won. Representing their tribe or leader, the banners usually depicted animals, birds, or pagan gods. Made of fabric, wood, or metal, they were fastened onto a long pole or staff so they could be seen from a distance. Marauders like the Amalekites probably had such a banner. The Israelites, however, weren’t an experienced army and had no flag or standard under which to rally.

Moses’ staff was the closest thing Israel had to a banner. Although it looked like an ordinary shepherd’s tool, to the Israelites it symbolized God’s intervention. Through God’s power, it had transformed into a snake, turned water into blood, produced hail, and infested Egypt with frogs, gnats, flies, and locusts. When Moses raised it over the Red Sea, the waters parted and, when Moses struck a rock with it, water gushed out. That staff, associated with God’s miracles, became Israel’s banner. As long it remained in sight, Israel’s novice army believed God was with them and victory was possible. That symbol of God’s faithfulness, presence, and power remained in the men’s sight on the hilltop until Israel was victorious over the army of Amalek.

After their victory, Moses built a memorial altar and called it Yahweh-Nissi (Jehovah-Nissi), which meant “The Lord is Our Banner.” By not calling it “The Staff is Our Banner” or “Our Banner Brought Us Victory,” it was clear that Moses knew it wasn’t the staff, Joshua’s battle strategy, or Israel’s military might that defeated the Amalekites. The name Yahweh-Nissi acknowledged that it was God’s presence and power that gave them their triumph. God, and God alone, was the author of their victory.

Indeed, the Lord is our banner. Unlike the Israelites, we’re not being attacked by an army of marauding warriors but, like them, the enemy attacks us every day with desire, discontent, despair, anger, and guilt. We face our battles under God’s banner—one of encouragement, courage, hope, love, faith, power, and might. If we keep our eyes focused on the Lord, victory is ours. Because of Yahweh-Nissi, we don’t have to fight our battles on our own strength – we have His!

In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place. [Isaiah 11:10 (NLT)]

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… AND GOING (Part 2)

Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.” [Isaiah 6:8 (NLT)]

I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry
All who dwell in dark and sin My hand will save.
I, who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.
[Dan Schutte]

elephantLast week, after singing we’d come in the opening hymn, we promised to go in the closing one: I the Lord of Sea and Sky. Originally written for a Roman Catholic ordination mass in 1981, it has found its way into many Protestant hymnals. As I sang the refrain, “Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?” I thought of Samuel and Isaiah, both of whom were called by God and both of whom responded by saying, “Here I am.” I wonder if I would have responded as positively as did they. Like Moses, would I have protested or, like Jeremiah, say my age disqualified me? Would I simply have run away as did Jonah? Although Moses, Jeremiah, and even Jonah eventually answered God’s call, I’m not so sure I would have (although three days in the belly of a fish might have convinced me)!

Being a prophet was a little like being God’s press secretary. Acting as His spokesperson, the prophet conveyed God’s words and message to the people. Unlike a press conference, however, negative news didn’t get a positive spin and there was no quibbling about the meaning of words. Prophets didn’t speak off-the-record, dissemble, beat around the bush, or use alternative facts and half-truths. With no need to be re-elected, God never worried about approval ratings and His prophets spoke only the unadulterated and often unpopular truth.

While a bearer of glad tidings is popular and welcome, indicting people for their sins  or bringing a message of judgment and destruction was no way to win a popularity contest in Judah, Israel, and the surrounding nations. As the frequent bearers of reproach, dire warnings, and sad tidings, prophets often were ignored and persecuted. Nevertheless, Isaiah and the others reported for duty and took on a task that few would want.

God’s prophets answered His call because they trusted and loved Him. They knew He didn’t bring the Israelites to the edge of the Red Sea only to have them drown in the waters or be captured by the Egyptian soldiers nor did He send them through the wilderness only to have them die from starvation or lack of water before arriving in Canaan. God didn’t put Noah and the animals on that Ark without bringing them to dry land, He didn’t have Joshua march around Jericho without giving him victory, and He didn’t send David out to meet Goliath without those five smooth stones for his sling! Confident that God would provide all they needed, those prophets answered His call.

The pastor’s choice of opening and closing hymns had us both coming and going that day. The hymns were a vivid reminder that it’s not enough just to come to Jesus; He also expects us to go out into the world for Him. He calls us to service—to be His messengers and spread His word, light, and love to the world around us. When He calls, do we answer or do we pretend we don’t hear? Do we trust God to provide whatever we need or do we doubt and reject Him? Even though God warned his prophets that most people wouldn’t listen to them, let alone heed their words, they heeded His call by saying, “Here I am. Send me.”  Will we do the same?

We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer]

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. [Acts 1:8 (NLT)]

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COMING … (Part 1)

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” [Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)]

Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidd’st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

elephantAs we came together in worship, each of us bringing the Lord our own private sins, sorrows, doubts, and fears, the hymn’s words, “Just as I am… I come, I come,” seemed a fitting way to start the service. Because its heartfelt words are so relatable, Just as I Am is one of my favorite hymns. Curious about its origin, I learned that its words were written by a Victorian hymn writer named Charlotte Elliott. The daughter of an evangelist, she suffered a serious illness at the age of 32 that left her an invalid for the rest of her life. Angry about what she perceived as uselessness because of her disability, Elliott became severely depressed and spiritually lost. After a visiting minister counseled her to come to Jesus, she asked how she could come to Him when all she had was her anger, sadness, questions, and broken body. The clergyman’s response was simple: “Come to Him just as you are.” Although she gave her life to Christ at that time, she continued to be plagued by depression.

After a sleepless night filled with doubts and feelings of uselessness, the distressed woman “gathered up in her soul the grand certainties, not of her emotions, but of her salvation: her Lord, His power, His promise.” [Lutheran Hymnal Handbook] Remembering the words said to her twelve years earlier, “Come to Him just as you are,” Charlotte Elliott wrote the hymn we know as Just as I Am. By the grace of God, this woman who came to Jesus just as she was (with broken body and troubled heart) ended up writing about 150 hymns, many of which as still in use today!

Not a one of us comes to the Lord without sin, doubts, pain, scars, weaknesses, and a whole lot of troubling history. John and James had big egos and short-tempers, the Pharisee Saul/Paul hated Gentiles and persecuted Christians, and Mary Magdalene had been possessed by seven demons! For twelve years, the woman with the bleeding disorder was considered unclean and the leper who knelt before Jesus literally was untouchable. Nicodemus was so afraid that he came with his questions in the dark of night. The woman at the well lived with a man not her husband and had been used and discarded by several men before that! The blind men who came to Jesus were nothing but beggars and Zacchaeus and Matthew came to Him as corrupt collaborators. We don’t know the sins of the man hanging on the cross beside Jesus and we can only imagine the baggage carried by the prostitute who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Yet, they all came to Jesus just as they were and He welcomed them all!

It’s never been a question of whether or not we’re good enough to come to Jesus—none of us are worthy to stand in His presence. Nevertheless, “Come as you are!” is how He invites us to come to Him. In spite of our flaws, sins, doubts, anger, depression, limitations, illness, regrets, or checkered pasts, Jesus loves us as we are and welcomes us with open arms. But, while He welcomes us as sinners, He doesn’t welcome our sins. Our Lord expects us to leave them behind with all the other worldly baggage that weighs us down. It is when we humbly and repentantly come to Jesus just as we are that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, He will make of us what we should be!

Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
[Charlotte Elliott (1835)]

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. … I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” John 6:35, 8:12 (NLT)]

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Uzziah sought God during the days of Zechariah, who taught him to fear God. And as long as the king sought guidance from the Lord, God gave him success. … But when he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. [2 Chronicles 26:5,16 (NLT)]

peacockWhen writing about pride earlier this week, I remembered the Bible’s stories of proud men who got their comeuppance. 2 Chronicles 26 tells of Uzziah who, as long as he “sought guidance from the Lord, God gave him success.” His mighty army defeated the Philistines, Arabians, and Meunites (who then paid him an annual tribute) and, under his rule, Jerusalem’s walls were fortified, wilderness forts were established, water cisterns were dug, and something like catapults were erected on the walls to defend the city. With Uzziah as king, Judah prospered and the powerful king’s fame spread “far and wide.” Sadly, along with prosperity, power, and fame came pride. Believing he was above the law, the proud king entered the sanctuary and usurped the high priest’s role by offering incense. When priests warned him about his sacrilege, the proud king raged at them and immediately was stricken with leprosy—a disease that meant the “unclean” man lived the rest of his life in isolation and never again could enter the Temple. All the blessings, accomplishments, and prosperity of his reign were overshadowed by Uzziah’s one act of pride, insolence, and arrogance.

It is in the book of Daniel that we meet the proud Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. He was so full of pride that he erected a 90-foot golden statue of himself and then demanded that people fall down and worship it as a sign of loyalty to him. When the king had a disturbing dream about a tree that grew tall and then was cut down, he called upon Daniel to interpret its meaning. Daniel explained that Nebuchadnezzar was the tree and would be cut down by losing his kingdom. He then would live like an animal until he repented of his pride and learned that Heaven, not man, rules. Although Daniel advised the king to acknowledge God’s rule and govern with justice, his words fell on deaf ears.

About a year later, as Nebuchadnezzar looked down from his rooftop at the majestic splendors of Babylon, he proudly congratulated himself on his mighty power that accomplished such great things. Before the words were even out of his mouth, a voice from heaven pronounced judgment upon him and the king developed what is known as boanthropy, a psychological disorder in which one becomes delusional and thinks they’re a cow. The high and mighty king was driven from society and lived and ate like an animal for the next seven years. It was not until the once proud (but now repentant) king raised his eyes to heaven and acknowledged that God is the ruler over mankind that his sanity returned and his kingdom was restored.

For forty days and nights, the Philistine giant Goliath had proudly sauntered out to taunt the Israelite troops. Dressed in his bronze helmet, coat of mail, and leg armor while armed with spear, javelin, and sword, he challenged them to fight. Calling himself the Philistine champion and Israel’s army mere servants of Saul, the arrogant warrior thought himself invincible. What the Philistine didn’t know (but David did) was that, in taunting Israel, the braggart had insulted the God of Israel. When the nine-foot Goliath saw David walk toward him, he was filled with disdain for the apparently weaponless youth. In his smugness and conceit, he never considered the possibility that the boy was armed with sling, stones, and the power of Jehovah. When David ran toward him, the giant never saw what hit him. What a humiliating end for the warrior! He was felled by a single stone and beheaded by a shepherd boy wielding the giant’s own sword! Goliath’s demise is a perfect example of the old saying that “pride comes before a fall!”

Pride leads us down a dangerous path and, as we’ve seen from Scripture, pride inevitably leads to humiliation. It’s not just kings and giants who are proud rather than humble and fail to acknowledge from whom their gifts come and to whom they should submit. All that we possess in the way of power, strength, riches, intelligence, possessions, ability, talent, and even health are gifts from God—and He can take them away as easily as He gives them! Let us be humble.

No matter how dear you are to God, if pride is harbored in your spirit, He will whip it out of you. They that go up in their own estimation must come down again by His discipline. [Charles Spurgeon]

The Lord detests the proud; they will surely be punished. … Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. First pride, then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall. Better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud. [Proverbs 16:5,18-19 (NLT)]

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