“Tell everyone to sit down,” Jesus said. So they all sat down on the grassy slopes. (The men alone numbered about 5,000.) Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate as much as they wanted. After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, “Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.” So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves. [John 6:10-13 (NLT)]

fresh breadIn all probability, you’re not having more than 5,000 guests for dinner today and, rather than sitting on the ground, they’ll probably all be seated at a table. Nevertheless, other than that, these words sound a bit like dinner today at any number of homes throughout our nation—there will be lots of people, more than enough to eat, and plenty of leftovers.

While some people will take a stroll around the block in an effort to make room for the next round of food, many will settle into comfortable chairs and probably snooze while watching football. Although “I can’t eat another bite!” will be repeated at tables far and wide, sooner or later, people again will wander into the kitchen for another morsel of turkey or piece of pie. We’ll get hungry again and overeat once more, if not today then tomorrow or the next day. No matter how much we eat this afternoon, today’s meal won’t satisfy tomorrow’s hunger.

Jesus, however, offers us a meal that is more than satisfying; one that will erase the hunger in our souls forever. We won’t ever feel stuffed or need to unbutton our pants to enjoy it. Totally calorie-free, we have no reason to worry about fats, gluten or carbohydrates. As you pass the basket of rolls today, be sure to remember that Jesus is the true Bread of Life!

Farmers everywhere provide bread for all humanity, but it is Christ alone who is the bread of life…Even if all the physical hunger of the world were satisfied, even if everyone who is hungry were fed by his or her own labor or by the generosity of others, the deepest hunger of man would still exist…Therefore, I say, Come, all of you, to Christ. He is the bread of life. Come to Christ and you will never be hungry again. [Pope John Paul II]

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 tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. Yes, I am the bread of life! Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. [John 6:35, 47-50 (NLT)]

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Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. [Psalm 107:1 (NLT)]

wild turkeyWhen I was a girl (back in the days of pen, paper and postage stamps), my mother insisted that I write a thank you note for any gifts I received. Whether birthday or Christmas, I was not allowed to enjoy my gifts until the necessary notes had been written. Moreover, each note had to be personal. I couldn’t just write a generic, “Thank you for the nice present.” I had to say something specific about the gift and, if it was money, I had to say how I planned on using it. Even if the present was something I really didn’t like or want (and we’ve all had those kinds of gifts), I had to express gratitude. My mother reminded me that, while I might not value the gift, someone else’s time, thought, love and money had gone into getting it for me. Therefore, I should take the time to properly acknowledge and show my appreciation for the giver’s generosity. The thank you note rule also applied whenever someone did something special for me. If a family took me to an event or I’d spent the night at a friend’s house, a note of thanks had to be written.

Eventually, once I was old enough to buy the gifts, do the good turns, and host the guests, I appreciated the time, energy, money, thought, and love that goes into those things. My mind set changed from “I have to write a note” to “I want to write a note.” Rather than an obligation, thanking someone became a privilege.

Whenever I get a note of thanks, I relish it, especially when it’s from a grand. Misspellings and poor penmanship don’t matter to me; I love knowing that they (and their parents) appreciate the gift and the love that came with it. Unfortunately, nowadays, people rarely write thank you notes or even thank you emails. We seem to take people, their gifts and kindness to us, quite for granted.

As rare as hand-written notes are today, how much rarer is it for us to remember to send our thanks regularly to our Father in Heaven? What if we couldn’t play with our toys, enjoy our health, use our talents, spend our money, live in our homes, hug our family, eat our food, use our intellect or accept God’s grace until we had properly thanked him? Thanksgiving is our national day of thanks but every day should be a day of thanksgiving. That means seriously thinking about our many blessings, specifying the gifts for which we are grateful, and then actually giving God our thanks and praise.

Tomorrow, when you take that walk in a vain attempt to work off those extra 2,000 or more calories, try listing your blessings and offering your thanks as you walk. You just might find you’re still thanking God for his gifts by the time you return home.

It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do. [Tim Keller] 

Silent gratitude isn’t very much use to anyone. [Gertrude Stein]

Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation. [Psalm 100:4-5 (NLT)]

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So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. … Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person. [Genesis 1:27,2:7 (NLT)]

SK8 Church Steamboat COOur family business makes products used in skateboards and many boarders are familiar with our name. After skiing one day, as my husband got on the bus, he was greeted by a boarder who spotted our company logo on his cap. “Yo, dude!” he called. Pointing to the cap, he asked, “You know those people?” When my husband replied he was “those people,” the fellow responded as if he’d met a celebrity and excitedly introduced my spouse to his pals. Soon they all were in an animated discussion of trucks, decks, wheels, and grip tape. The woman next to me, curious about the commotion in the back of the bus and not wanting to miss a celebrity sighting asked, “Is that someone famous? Is he important?” I replied, “He’s no one,” adding, “It’s just a skateboard thing.”

Later, I realized I’d given the wrong answer and not just because my husband is incredibly important to me. The better answer would have been, “He’s not famous but he is important.” Then, I should have added that she and I were just as important, as was everyone else on that bus, because we’re all important to God! I could have told her that real importance and value have nothing to do with fame, wealth, possessions or power. It has nothing to do with how we look, what we’ve done, where we work, what others think of us, or even what we think of ourselves.

Whether or not we were planned by our parents, we’re not accidents; God knew us all before we were born! Made in His image, we are God’s handiwork and precious in His sight. It was his breath that filled our lungs with life and His spirit that lives within us. Our names are etched on the palm of His hand, He’s promised to strengthen and help us, and He knows everything about us, including the number of hairs on our heads. If God carried an iPhone, our pictures would be on it and our numbers would be listed in His “favorites.” We are so loved by God that He sacrificed His only Son for us! As Christians, Jesus counts us among His friends and we’ve been adopted by God. As His children, we are recipients of a priceless inheritance. As followers of Christ, the God of the Universe has taken up residence in our hearts. Now that’s what I call important!

God does not love us because we are valuable. We are valuable because God loves us. [Fulton J. Sheen]

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me! [Psalm 139:13-18 (NLT)]

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In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. [Daniel 7:13-14 (NIV)]

Church of our Lady - Netherlands

As we left the church, my friend asked “What do the letters INRI above the cross mean?” Unable to say it in Latin, I replied that it was an abbreviation of the words, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” In Latin, these words would be Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum. When someone was crucified, it was usual to affix a sign to the cross declaring the cause of execution. Since the official charge against Jesus seemed to be that he’d challenged Roman rule by proclaiming himself the king of the Jews, Pilate had those words written in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. As Pilate phrased it, however, the words seem more of a title rather than an accusation. When the high priests asked that the sign be changed to read “He said, I am the King of the Jews,” Pilate refused.

Other than that dark day when He was crucified and the title “king of the Jews” was used with scorn and mockery by the soldiers and crowd, Jesus was referred to as “king of the Jews” only one other time: at the visit of the Magi when they asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” [Matthew 2:2] While most of Jesus’s countrymen didn’t acknowledge His identity, it was foreigners who recognized his sovereignty at His birth and a Roman governor who acknowledged His kingship at death.

Was Jesus the king of the Jews? A king’s supremacy is limited to his domain. The ruler of a nation, a king’s power is limited by his lifetime and the borders of his kingdom. He must defend his government from enemy nations and his regime from revolution. A king of the Jews would reign only over Judah’s territory and the children of Israel. When asked if He was king of the Jews, Jesus told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world. Indeed, Jesus’s kingdom wasn’t limited to Judah and the Jews. Unlike earthly kingships, His reign is absolute, unbreakable, sacred, and everlasting. When God raised Jesus from the dead, He was given power over all of creation and all people on earth, not just the Jews of Judah. Pilate’s sign was wrong. Jesus wasn’t the “king of the Jews;” He was and still is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers. [Revelation 17:14 (NIV)]

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See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! [1 John 3:1 (NLT)]

When just a child, I associated God the Father with the stern dogmatic man who ruled our house. My fear of the Lord was more like the fear I had of disappointing or angering my father, a man not given to laughter, tenderness, mercy or affection. I couldn’t have been more than seven when I decided to run away. After packing a small bag, I left a note telling my parents I was leaving. I’m not sure what caused me to take such drastic action; perhaps I’d angered my father. I just know I felt invisible and unappreciated. After gathering up my savings of a handful of quarters, I trudged several blocks to the city bus stop. While waiting for the bus, I sat on the cement in the shelter of a storefront and cried. With nowhere to go, I just wanted to belong somewhere I felt loved.

My note must have mentioned the bus stop because my pity party was interrupted when my father rode around the corner on my small bike. He came over, wiped my tears, picked me up, sat me on the handle-bars and then rode me home. We must have been quite a sight as this six-foot man balanced me on the front of a child’s bike and peddled me down the street. Perhaps that’s all my running away had been—a simple test to see if my father cared enough to come after me. Although the details are vague, I clearly remember my joy at being pursued and welcomed back home. Sometimes God seems as distant as my father, but like him, God loves us and will pursue us. Think of that one lost sheep in Jesus’ parable. The good shepherd does not want to lose even one of His flock.

As an adult who now understands the challenges of parenthood and appreciates the circumstances that made my father the man he was, I realize he loved me but didn’t know how to show it. Like most fathers, however, he did the very best he could. Nevertheless, I spent much of my youth trying to earn his love and mistakenly thinking that I’d failed. Fortunately, we don’t have to earn God’s love with accomplishments or good behavior; mankind’s abysmal history makes it abundantly clear that is impossible. From the time of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, we’ve disappointed God with everything from golden calves and idol worship to hypocrisy, immorality, rebellion and wickedness. Yet, in spite of our selfishness, greed, defiance, failures, complaints, stubbornness, and assorted other transgressions, God still loves us—even when we behave like pouty sulking children. We have a Father in Heaven who continually offers forgiveness, loves us unconditionally, pursues us when we’re lost, and welcomes us home when we return.

When Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think “I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.” No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us – denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him – and, in the greatest act of love in history, he stayed. He said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. [Timothy Keller]

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever. [Psalm 23:6 (NLT)]

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. [Romans 8:14-16 (NLT)]

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Moraine Hills State ParkWell, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you. [1 Corinthians 14:26 (NLT)]

If you’re like us, when you visit a new church, you tend to sit toward the back so you can view the rest of the congregation and see when people stand, sit or kneel. If communion is served, you probably anxiously look around to see how it is done in that church. After all, we  want to worship “correctly.”

While there often appears to be a certain way to worship in a particular parish or a specific denomination, there is no one right way for us in our personal worship of God. At a church we recently visited, a young woman spontaneously stepped into the aisle and did a beautiful dance during a rousing praise song. The dance was her worship gift to God (and a blessing for the rest of us). While I pray silently when the pastor offers a prayer, I often hear people around me quietly adding their own petitions during his prayers. Recently, while the rest of the congregation sat, a woman stood and clapped her hands in praise during one of the songs. Some people shout a loud “Amen!” or applaud during the sermon when they heartily agree with the pastor while others quietly nod their heads. At our northern church, one woman’s “Amen!” at the end of every prayer can be distinctly heard above the rest of the congregation. At our Florida church, some people kneel and pray at the altar rail following communion while others quietly return to their seats for prayer. Kneeling in prayer, making the sign of the cross, genuflecting before entering a pew, or raising our arms during a praise song are all ways various people worship but not the way all people do. Nevertheless, if those actions come from the heart, they all are the correct way!

One size does not fit all in clothing and certainly not when it comes to either private or communal worship. Worship is an intensely personal act; we each bring our own unique worship style with us wherever we go. Some of us are staid and reserved while others are ebullient and demonstrative. The joy of the more expressive worshippers often enriches the worship experience for all and I imagine God prefers an enthusiastic “Amen” to a half-hearted one any day! Whether alone or with others, the important thing is to come before our Lord with love, passion, praise and thanksgiving.

In spite of my words, I’ll continue to play it safe and sit in the back when visiting a new church. After all, no one wants to be the person in the front row left standing when everyone else is seated! Then again, God doesn’t mind so why should we?

Worship is an inward feeling and outward action that reflects the worth of God. [John Piper]

Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of your presence, Lord. They rejoice all day long in your wonderful reputation. They exult in your righteousness. [Psalm 89:15-16 (NLT)]

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