Monday, September 28, 2015

STUMBLING BLOCKS - PART 3

(Please scroll down to first read parts 1 and 2, or click on the titles on the right side of your screen)
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How to Crucify Your Flesh

Referring to something else that Paul said, this is how he put it. ”Take off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires. Instead, be renewed in the spirit of your minds. Then put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and in holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Paul spoke of the old manner of living almost as it if were a garment that we can take off ourselves. When you think about it, this is more than simply an analogy, since we accept that these bodies of ours are not what constitute our true beings. Our true selves are our inner selves, our spirits. Our spirits are clothed in our bodies.

Paul tells us to take off that old self. He does not mean, of course, that our entire physical body will change so that we have a different physical body, but spiritually speaking, that is exactly what he means. “Take off that old body,” he tells us, “so that you can put on your new self that is created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

This is to be complete change over. We do not change the pants but not the shirt. It is to be a complete transformation into the person that God has created you to be. There is to be no corruption that comes from the world. “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me,” Paul said.

This means that when we see something about our former manner of life that has come from the corruption of the world, we are to take it off like an old, ragged garment. We are to cast it away. These things are the stumbling blocks that will cause not only ourselves to stumble, but will also trip up others in their walk with the Lord.

When we cast away these old garments, we are to replace them with new garments. “Put away falsehood,” Paul says, “and learn to speak the truth.”

“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up…that it may give grace to those who hear.”

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (from Ephesians 4:22-32 ESV)

Let’s Get Personal

What we do, the way that we act does not only affect ourselves, but also has an influence on those around us and for those who know us. The words that come from our mouths can cut deep wounds into the lives of others. Our actions can ruin the lives of others.

“Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks.”

This especially seems to be true in regard to our influence on young lives. After Jesus told his disciples that, rather than to cause a little child who believes in Christ to stumble, it would be better to have a heavy millstone hung arounds ones neck and be cast into the sea, he again brings up the subject of children.

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones,” he told them. “For I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”

Is there something about your life that you know is not consistent with the way that God intended you to be? Cast it away. It is a stumbling block. Replace it instead with something that is good.

Many struggle with something in their lives for their entire lives, never being able to overcome it. There may be many reasons for this and I know that it is sometimes a complicated issue, but one of the reasons may be that we often only consider the harm that this thing or this manner of living is doing to ourselves. If we were to understand that these things are also stumbling blocks to others who are walking through life, it may give us the incentive to cast it away.

Do not despise these little ones. Let them go to Jesus, for such is the kingdom of God.
Do not let stumbling blocks be part of your life.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

STUMBLING BLOCKS - PART 2

Please scroll down to first read part 1
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Dealing with Stumbling Blocks

“Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks!” Jesus said. “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” (Matthew 18:7).

As we can see, this is central issue for Jesus. Being a stumbling block is not something that we can just brush off as being our own personal affair. Whenever Jesus pronounced “woe” on someone or something, the expression carried with it very serious consequences – eternal consequences. This issue of stumbling blocks is an issue that we cannot brush aside and pretend does not matter. We see this even more clearly as we continue to read what Jesus said.

“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell” (Matthew 18:8-9).

Those are some strong words. This is one of those instances where I do not think Jesus is speaking literally. I do not think that he is saying that we actually should cut off our hand if we continually do something wrong with it. I suppose some people might teach that Jesus does mean this literally. If you hear someone saying that, the first thing that I would do is to check to see if they still have both of their hands and both of their eyes.

However, neither do I want to compromise or water down the words of Jesus. He spoke in such strong terms because he wanted to show us that this is an extremely important matter. It is a matter that will have eternal consequences, and woe to us if we do not heed these words.

Beyond Dismemberment

So if Jesus does not mean for us to literally cut off our hand or gouge out our eye, then what does he mean?

What it meant to the Apostle Paul was even more extreme than what Jesus had said. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Paul did not stop at cutting off his hand or gouging out his eye. He crucified his entire body!

This did not mean that Paul literally and physically rigged up a cross and had someone nail him to it. However, spiritually speaking, this is exactly what he did do. He considered his life apart from Christ to have no value.

No… more than that, he considered his life apart from Christ to be dead!

He continues, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20 NAS).

Paul did not physically die in the flesh on that day that he gave himself up for Christ, but spiritually speaking, his flesh did die. From that moment on, he worked on living for Christ in all and every area of his life.

If we are sincere about our own lives with Christ, this is also what we must do. However, even knowing this, it still may leave us wondering about what Jesus said about stumbling blocks. How do we remove these things from our lives?
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The conclusion in a couple of days

Thursday, September 24, 2015

STUMBLING BLOCKS - PART 1


It is an interesting term – stumbling block. I seriously doubt if anyone ever set out to purposefully make an actual stumbling block, and I am quite certain that none of us have ever seen an object that we would recognize as a stumbling block. We have never walked through a museum looking at historic artifacts, and seen a display of a block of some sort with a little identifying placard that said “Stumbling Block.”

Nevertheless, despite this lack of experience, none of us have any difficulty knowing what is meant by the term. It is not difficult for us because all of us have stumbled over something or another at some time in our lives. We know what a stumbling block is.

Stumbling Blocks in the Bible

I believe that the expression stumbling block is strictly a Biblical term, and to be technical about it, the word block has been added by the translators in an attempt to clarify the meaning for us. I do not know of any other literature that uses this idiom. The meaning, of course, is quite clear. It first appears in the book of Leviticus (19:14) where there is a prohibition of putting a stumbling block in the path of a blind man in order to trip him.

By the time the phrase appears in the New Testament, this “tripping someone up” came to mean anything that would lead someone else to fall into sin. In Matthew 13, for instance, it is put into the context of the Kingdom of God as being the evil tires (or weeds) that had been planted among the good wheat, causing harm to the wheat crop.

We can often see these sorts of stumbling blocks in churches today. These are the people who truthfully do not have any interest in knowing the way of the Lord, but instead consider the church as just another organization to belong to. In doing things and making decisions in the church, they do not consider the Word of God, but rely only upon their own opinions or the present culture of the day.

Or, these people have certain things about their lifestyle that is in direct conflict with the teachings of the Bible. This causes confusion to those who are sincerely trying to learn how to walk with Jesus. The people who mislead these Christians are the stumbling blocks to the true believers.

In this story about the wheat and the tares, Jesus talks about “the end of the age” when he will send his angels to gather all of these stumbling blocks to cast them into that place that place of punishment where there will be endless weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is the fate of those who live their lives as stumbling blocks.

A Special Consideration for Children

In Matthew 18, Jesus again brings up the subject of stumbling blocks, this time in the context of our influence upon children. He told the disciples, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).”

We can see that Jesus took this issue of being a stumbling block seriously indeed. This is especially so, it seems, when it comes to our influence upon children. Children naturally look to adults as role models. They look to their parents in particular, but they also look to all of us.

It is understandable why they should do this. They know that they will one day be adults, so to whom else should they look? It is the adults in their lives that give them a guide as to what they should be like.

To many adults, this is a frightening thought. It is frightening because they know that they themselves have certain things in their lives that should not be there. In order to ease our conscience about this, we often will say to ourselves, “This is my personal affair and it is not the business of anyone else.” We tell ourselves, “There are many adults that do this same thing, so why should it bother me?”

Well… that may work for us for a while, were it not for one thing. That thing is the Holy Spirit. If there is something in our lives that is not according to the way that God wants us to live, the Holy Spirit has a way of letting us know. He points these things out to us and he does not let us rest.

The Holy Spirit Confronts the Stumbling Blocks

The truth be told, there are many things in all of our lives that are not as they should be, but the Holy Spirit does not simply say we are evil people, list all of our faults, and then tell us to change. It may be that this is how it is before we become believers in Jesus. We saw our lives as heading in an entirely wrong direction and understood that we need to change everything about it. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and convinces us that we need to turn to God in our lives.

This is the way that we become Christians after having lived only for the world and for ourselves. However, after we are believers, the Holy Spirit deals with us in a different way. It is not that our entire lives are heading in a wrong direction any more, but there are still things about our lives that are not right.

These the Holy Spirit points out to us one at a time. He convicts us on one area of our life that we need to bring before Jesus, confess it to him, and ask him to help us in it. When we have victory in that area, the Holy Spirit shows us something else about our lives that we need to deal with.

Does that sound like a lot of work? Well, it is…sort of. But more than work, it is freedom; it is growth. Freedom is sometimes difficult to obtain. Growth inevitably comes slowly, but it is worth the effort. It is worth the time.
 
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Continued in a few days

Monday, September 7, 2015

THE DAY THAT CORA DIED


WARNING: This is a very sad story. If you cried when Ol’ Yeller died, you will cry with this one. You might ask me why I would write such a sad story, and the answer is, “I don’t know.” Most of the things that I write about farm life are happy things, because farming is a happy life for me. However, we have had a couple of sad things also happen this summer. Unfortunately, this is also part of farm life.

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It had been a hard year for our old cow Cora. I do not actually know how old she was. I bought her only about four years ago, but she was obviously very old even then. The shoulders of her front legs stuck out unnaturally, and had the look of being affected by a type of bovine arthritis. But it was not arthritis, and her ungainly look did not seem to give her any pain. It certainly did not inhibit her movement in any way.

Some of the pastures of our farm are on very steep hillsides, and when I would call the cows to follow me as I opened up a new paddock, Cora would come running down the hill like an adolescent, often being the first one at the gate. I used to warn her after watching her run down a steep slope, “Be careful old girl, you’re going to end up falling and breaking something.”

Despite being my oldest cow and despite her awkward appearance, I thought that she was the most beautiful cow that I had. She had long graceful horns that grew out of a forehead that was covered with long, light red, kind of frizzy hair. In the winter, the hair falling in front of her face fairly covered her eyes. I sometimes wondered how she could see. But see she did, and looking into a field of wind-driven snow never seemed to bother her.

She was old, yes, but it was not her health this year that had been the difficult thing for her. To tell you about what I think led to her eventual death, I need to go back to the month of July. It was in July that her last calf was born. This is very late in the year to have a calf, but Cora was at the stage of life that breeding was perhaps getting a little unpredictable. But in July, at a time when all the other calves on our farm had been running and skipping around the fields for some time, Cora gave birth to a little heifer.

I was extremely happy to see this little heifer, whom we
immediately called “Corabelle.”  Up until Corabelle was born, I had only gotten bull calves from Cora. Ever since I had bought her, I had been hoping for a heifer so that I could keep her line going. I don’t know why. I just liked Cora. We were all happy to see little Corabelle.

Then, about a week and a half after Corabelle was born, disaster struck. The disaster came one night in the form of several coyotes that attacked and killed the little calf as it lie sleeping. As you might imagine, this event pained me considerably, but even more so Cora (this is a separate story. You can read it at http://www.donaldrhody.com/2015/07/corabelles-death-in-wild.html ).

It is a difficult thing to read grief on the face of a cow. Sometimes I thought that I must be reading my own regrets into the mind of Cora, but I would occasionally see Cora on the hill, seemingly looking at the other calves running around. “What must she be thinking?” I thought to myself. “Surely she must remember.”

Earlier this spring, I was not sure of my plans for Cora for later in the autumn. I knew she was very old, but I did want that little heifer from her. One of the things that I was thinking was that if she were to have a heifer this year, I may ship her to market later in the fall. I think that is what a good herdsman would have done. There could be no profit left in Cora in the future.

However, when she did have little Corabelle, my plans changed. I told my wife Vivian, “I think I am going to just let Cora live out her days here on the farm and allow her to die a natural death. I cannot think of sending her to market.”

I’m afraid that the longer that I am in this business, the less of a herdsman I am becoming.

Then Corabelle was killed. But despite what I thought might be Cora’s sorrow, after the loss of her calf, Cora seemed to be doing pretty well physically. As a matter of fact, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I looked at how she had filled out. She looked sleek and fit. At one time during the summer I wondered if she would be able to make it through another one of our harsh, Wisconsin winters, but after looking at her that day, I thought that she would have no trouble.

But in the end, it was not the cold that got her, it was the heat.

This early September, we have been having unusually hot weather for this time of year. Temperatures in the high 80’s with humidity that exceeded even that. Our cows have already begun to grow their winter hair, and it has been very hard on them. Four or five days ago, I watched as the cows climbed the hill after getting a drink at the pond. They were moving pretty slowly. Then I noticed that Cora was not among them.

A little concerned, I went to look for her. I finally found her standing in the shade in the valley, but panting rather hard. I actually was not bothered about it much at the time. Cora always panted in the summer. Vivian and I used to joke about it. As soon as the thermometer reached 70, Cora would start to pant. “It’s too hot for Cora,” we would laugh.

When I saw her standing in the shade on the day I went to look for her, I gave Cora a rub on her hairy forehead and left her there. I fully expected that she would join the rest of the cows soon.

The next day, there was still no Cora. Now I was concerned. Again, I went to look for her. She was not where I last left her, or nowhere in that area. I looked all over our little farm. I at first could not find her anywhere. Finally, I came upon her lying under some balsams in furthest point that she could find to be alone.

She looked fine, but I knew that this was not a good sign. I had never watched a cow die before. Growing up on the farm, we never had a cow die of old age. We would always ship them before they got to that stage. That is what herdsmen do. But I already commented about my learning curve in being a herdsman.

However, when I saw her lying at that place on our farm, I was worried. It was as if she had gone off to die. She rose to her feet when I came near, but she had the look about her that she was not interested in coming back up the hill to be with the others. I had brought a little feed in a bucket for her. She sniffed it and licked at it a little, but she was not interested. This was not like Cora.

The day was hot and muggy. I had even replaced my standard-wear bib overalls with shorts that day, and just the act of walking around the farm soaked me and all my clothes with sweat. I walked back to the pond and got a pail of water for her, and she drank a little, but not much. Inside, I knew that Cora was dying.



For three days I went down to check on her, although I did

This is the last time I saw Cora when

she was still able to hold her head up

not really have hope that Cora would pull through. She knew that it was her time to die. I knew it too. Nevertheless, I kept tempting her with goodies. I walked back up to the farm and got her a nice bit of hay, just in case she should decide to eat a little. There was an apple tree in the woods near to where she lay, and I picked a couple of apples for her. She always loved apples and would gobble them down so fast I used to be afraid that she would choke on one; and I did not know how to do the heimlich maneuver on a cow. However, when I brought the apples to her this time, I held one up to her snout. She first took it in her mouth, but her appetite was gone. She let it drop to the ground.
 

One night, after dark, I heard coyotes yipping in the direction where Cora lie. They were not near where she was lying, but I was afraid they might find her during the night. She would have no strength to fight them off. I took my revolver and walked carefully in the dark down the hill and through the balsams. There, a couple hundred feet from Cora, I aimed at nothing and emptied the cylinder of bullets into the tops of the trees. I hoped it would be warning enough for the coyotes to stay away. I don’t know if my shooting did anything, but at least they did not come that night.

For three days Cora lie there. She sometimes drank a little water, but I don’t think she ate anything at all, or if she did, it was very little. But she seemed comfortable and always perked up a little when I came to see her. If it had seemed like she was suffering, I would perhaps have put her out of her misery. But she mostly seemed peaceful – just waiting for death to come. It was difficult for me, but I had wanted to let her die naturally, so that is what I did.

This afternoon when I last went to check on her, I knew that she had died even before I got there. The last time that I saw her, I knew that death was very near. When I arrived at the spot, she lie still, flat on the ground. She was peaceful now. It is sad for me, but honestly, I don’t think it would be so sad except for the fact that she had to see her last calf killed by predators. I wanted to let Cora die a natural death, and that is what she did. My regret is that I did not want it to be this soon.

Vivian said that if the calf would not have been killed, Cora would not have died this year. Her little calf would have kept her alive. I think that she is right.

I will miss Cora. Most mornings I look out on the fields to see the cows. Quite often, when the light was still dim and the cows were still lying on the ground from sleeping during the night, all that I was able to make out was Cora’s graceful horns sticking out of the fog.

I do not know how Cora’s life was in the many years before she came to our farm, but I can say that she had a nice life here. All of our animals do, and despite the occasional heartache, that is one of the joys of our farm.

 

Monday, August 24, 2015

EAT HIS FLESH, DRINK HIS BLOOD (PART 3)

(This is the conclusion of the two posts previous to this one. To read those first, please scroll down or click on the titles on the right side of your screen)
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The Woman Understood What the Disciples Did Not

The conversation that Jesus had with this woman was so similar to the one that he was now having with the people looking for bread, that I think that as he was talking to these people, the situation must have brought to his mind his recent talk with the Samaritan woman at the well.

However, in the case of the people looking for bread, the outcome was not to be quite so positive. These people instead began to grumble about the fact that Jesus had referred to himself as “The bread that came out of heaven.”

As Jesus did with the woman, he tried to explain to the people what he meant. Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate bread in the wilderness, and they died. I am the bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:48-49, 51 NAS).

Unlike the woman at the well, the people looking for bread did not understand the depths of what Jesus was saying. They thought that he meant that they should literally eat his flesh! If they had been willing to hear Jesus out, they would have known that he was not saying that.

Interestingly, this was not the case with the woman at the well of Samaria. Even though this woman had not seen previous miraculous signs by Jesus, and even though she was known as living a life that was shameful, she was patient and listened intently to what Jesus was telling her. Gradually, she came to understand what Jesus meant by his words. Once the woman began to understand that Jesus was not talking about the water in the well but about spiritual water, Jesus told her, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

Here also, with the people next to the Sea of Galilee, after Jesus said to the people that to have true life, they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, he explained to them that he was speaking in a spiritual sense. He said to them, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (John 6:63 NAS).

However, unlike the woman at the well, they had not been willing to hear Jesus to the end of his explanation. These people were not interested in spiritual bread. It was their stomachs that were hungry, not their inner hearts – not their spirits. They just wanted something to eat now!

Those Who Believe and Those Who Withdraw

When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well of Samaria, the result of their conversation was that she came to believe that he was the Savior who had come to them. She ran back into the city and told others whom she had met. Based on the words of the woman, many from that city also came to believe in Jesus.

Then, when they convinced Jesus to stay in the city for a few days, they told the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One indeed is the Savior of the world” (John 4:42 NAS).

The results with the crowd on the shores of the Sea of Galilee were much different. Because the people were not willing to learn what they needed to hear from Jesus, many of them who formerly considered themselves disciples of Jesus now withdrew from him and no longer walked with him.

Perhaps it is possible to see why they did this. After all, Jesus had said some very difficult things. It seems like his words were almost designed to separate those who truly were willing to put their trust in him from those who merely were looking for something to eat, and from those who followed him only to see the sideshow.

True Disciples

However, despite the difficult words, not everyone left. Jesus next turned to speak to his twelve closest disciples. They had witnessed all that had gone on. They had also heard these words. I don’t think that they quite understood all that Jesus was saying. These words were also difficult for them.

Jesus asked them, “You do not want to go away also, do you?”

If it is possible to feel sorry for Jesus, I almost do here. Jesus did not assume that even the twelve would stay with him. He asked them a question. It was even a poignant question. He had come to the world to redeem the people and it is heartbreaking when they turn away from him, rejecting his offer. It is like offering someone you love deeply a great gift that has cost you dearly, and they throw it in your face.

“You do not want to go away also, do you?” he asked the twelve.

I am so glad Peter answered. These words of Jesus had also been difficult for them to hear, yet Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have come to know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69 NAS).

That was Peter’s confession. What is yours? What is mine? Many of the teachings of Jesus have lately come under attack, and because some of the teachings of the Bible do not square with what we are seeing in society, many today have withdrawn from Jesus, and no longer walk with him.

My own confession is that there are many things contained in the Scripture that I do not yet understand, but like Peter, I have come to know that Jesus Christ is the Holy One of God. He alone provides the words of eternal life.

There is no one else who speaks these eternal words. Where else would I go?

I have given him everything.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

EAT HIS FLESH, DRINK HIS BLOOD (PART 2)

PART 2 of 3
(This post is Part 2. To read Part 1, please scroll down or click on the title on the right side of your screen)
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With the previous post, we left the people with Jesus on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. “Rabbi, when did you get here?” they asked him. They could not work out in their minds how he could have gotten to that side.

 Jesus was quite short with his answer to them. “You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate bread and were filled.”

We Came To Get Some More Bread

Again in the text, we have the subject of signs. The feeding of the five thousand, like the other miracles that Jesus performed, was meant not only to alleviate a difficult situation (in that case the hunger of the people), but also to demonstrate that Jesus was the prophesied and expected Messiah.

I think that at this point, Jesus was a little frustrated with these people. They were following him because they liked seeing his miracles, but they refused to see that these were truly signs – actions to demonstrate to them and to give them evidence that he was the Messiah. These were attesting miracles, meant to attest to the fact that he was the Christ.

These people did not see this. They only were happy that Jesus fed them, and now their stomachs were hungry again. They were ready for the next miracle.

Because of this, Jesus continued: “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you, for on Him the Father , even God, has set His mark” (John 6:27 NAS).

This statement of Jesus’ at least got them to think a little. “What should we do that we may work the work of God?” they asked.

Jesus answered, “This is the work that you should do – believe in him whom God has sent.”

By this time, the people at least knew that Jesus was referring to himself when he spoke of the person that God had sent. So they asked Jesus, “What are you going to do for a sign, to demonstrate to us that you are the Messiah. What work will you perform?”


The Gathering of Manna, Bernardino Luini, c 1520, Detail

The people continued, “Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness and it is written in the Scriptures, ‘He gave them bread to eat that came out of heaven’.”

We Need More Proof

Let’s stop and think about this a little. For some considerable time, the people had been following Jesus wherever he went. They followed him because they saw the signs – the attesting miracles. They had seen him heal the sick and even raise a boy who was at the point of death. Just the evening before, Jesus had fed a crowd of more than five thousand people with a handful of food.

Now, these same people are asking Jesus what sign he will perform so that they could believe in him. Added to that, they quoted Scripture to Jesus telling of the bread that came out of heaven to feed the Israelites in the wilderness hundreds of years before. This, to them, represented the kind of sign that they were looking for.

Do you see why I think that Jesus was becoming a little exasperated with them? He had just yesterday fed them with miraculous bread and even gave them some fish with their meal, and yet they had the cheekiness to ask for a sign like a provision of bread so that they could be convinced that he was the Christ. This on top of all of the other signs that they had already seen.

Bread For the Hungry, and Water For the Thirsty

With great patience, Jesus continues to teach them. “Moses may have given you bread from heaven,” he told them, “but it is my father who gives the true bread from heaven. The bread that comes from God is that which will gives life to the world.”

This at least got them interested. “Sir, give us this bread always,” they responded.

Jesus went on to explain to them what he meant. “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst…for I have come down from heaven.”

It is interesting that in this statement of Jesus, he mentions not only bread from heaven, but also that he quenches all thirst. Thirst was not a topic in this conversation, but it brings to mind another talk that Jesus had had with someone else – perhaps not many days earlier. That conversation centered around the fact that Jesus was the source of “water of life.”
 
The Woman at the Well

This talk took place at a well outside of the city of Samaria. As Jesus sat alone in the shade next to the well, a woman from the city came to draw water. The conversation between Jesus and this woman began with the woman coming to the well for water, and Jesus asking her for a drink.

The woman inquired who Jesus was. He told her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water. Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give shall never thirst; but…shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:10, 14 NAS).

The woman was interested in this. She thought that Jesus was talking about literal, liquid water. She thought that if she had this “living water,” she would never have to come to the well to draw water again.

Of course, Jesus was not talking about literal water, but about the life that he gives. As this conversation continued, he spoke of this to the woman, who gradually came to understand what he was saying. Not only did she come to understand, she also came to believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.

(Conclusion in a couple of days)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

EAT HIS FLESH, DRINK HIS BLOOD (PART 1)

PART 1 of 3
 
Many of the disciples of Jesus, hearing what Jesus had just told them, responded, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?”

It was not the twelve primary disciples who said this, but some others who had been following Jesus. By asking the question, “Who can listen to it?” they actually meant, “Who can accept it?” So offended were they by what Jesus said, that they left Jesus and no longer followed him in his teachings.

What was it that Jesus said that caused so much offense to his listeners? Let’s read his words and see if we also will be offended.

Jesus said this: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves” (John 6:53 NAS).

We must admit, this is an astonishing statement. It was almost as if Jesus was going for the shock effect. What was it that could have made him make such a statement? Besides that, what did he mean by it?

This is one of those instances where it is not good to just take this statement alone and create a teaching out of it. Jesus did not say these words without a previous context. We need to go back in the story to see what was happening.

Jesus Christ – Superstar

At this time in the ministry of Jesus, he was extremely popular. Wherever he went, large crowds followed him. This was also the case when he spoke these words. In the second verse of John 6, it says a “great multitude” was following Jesus.

As you might suspect, the level of commitment of the people in this crowd varied a great deal. Some of them were merely curious about what was going on, while others where more devoted to the teachings of Jesus. Some of these were even devoted enough to be called disciples of Jesus. Of course, Jesus had his twelve inner circle of disciples, but many others in this crowd were known as disciples as well.

On the day before Jesus spoke the words that offended many of these disciples, he was at the Sea of Galilee. We are told that the multitude was following him because they were seeing the signs that he was performing on those who were sick. In other words, Jesus had been healing the ill and the infirm. It is understandable why this would attract a great crowd.

John calls these healings “signs.” The reason for this was because Jesus did the healings not only because he loved the people and felt pity for them, but also so that the people would realize that he was the long awaited Messiah, the Savior who was to come. His actions were the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy that indicated this. In other places, they are called “attesting miracles,” testifying to the fact that he was the Christ.

However, even though the miracles of Jesus were signs, to many of the people, they were merely amazing feats – nothing more than that. Jesus healed them, and they were glad of that. They also liked seeing him heal others.

With this great multitude following, Jesus went up on a mountain that was beside the Sea of Galilee. There he sat down. As he turned around and looked over the scene below, he saw all of these people who had been following him.

He asked Philip, one of his twelve disciples, “Where are we going to buy bread that these may eat?”
Mosaic at possible site of the feeding of the 5000

I will not go into the details of this story, but this is the account of the feeding of the five thousand. In a manner never before seen, Jesus used the lunch of a small boy, multiplied his five barley loaves and two fish, and fed this great multitude. The people got not only a bit of food to stave off their hunger, but they were able to eat as much as they wanted.

Crossing the Sea of Galilee

That night, the twelve disciples got into their boat to cross the sea, which even though it is called a sea, is really just a large lake. This is also the same account where during the night, Jesus came walking to them on the water when they were about four miles from land.

The multitude, whom Jesus had fed, had not seen Jesus leave. The next morning (I suppose that it was about breakfast time), they went looking for him. They knew that Jesus had not left with the twelve disciples on the night before, but they did not know what happened to him. They at last decided that Jesus must have found a way to cross the lake, so they got into other boats to go and look for him. They found him in a town called Capernaum.

“Rabbi, when did you get here?” they asked him. They could not work out in their minds how he could have gotten to that side.

 Jesus was quite short with his answer to them. “You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate bread and were filled.”

(To be continued in a couple of days)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

CORABELLE'S DEATH IN THE WILD

THE AWAKENING OF A SHEPHERD’S HEART

The predator expert who came out to look at my dead calf told me it was a coyote kill, not a wolf. He showed me the bare leg bones and the ribs, not ripped apart or crushed.

“A wolf breaks these joints in his jaws when he feeds,” the man told me as he held up a leg bone. “And the rib cage he also just takes in his mouth and crushes it completely.”
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A couple of Sundays ago, part of my sermon in our church dealt with the shepherd boy David as he told King Saul how he had saved his lambs from bears and also from lions. He told the king that when the lion rose up to kill his lamb, he “grabbed the lion by the beard and smote him until he died.”

I commented in my sermon that had I been in a similar situation, I probably would have let the lion have just that one lamb. I realize now that I may have been wrong in that self-assessment. I do not claim a sudden extraordinary bravery, but I spoke at that time more as a disinterested observer. With the death of my calf, I have come to understand that David acted with the heart of a shepherd.

The Death of Corabelle
My little calf Corabelle had been a long-awaited calf. Not only did we wait so long for her to be born this year, but I have been waiting for three years. I bought her mother Cora three years ago when I started buying cows for my herd. Cora was already old when I bought her, but she was such a nice animal, and although no longer possessing the body of a youthful cow, she had a regal air about her. As she walks, she holds her head up high, as if she were an age-ed queen, walking before her subjects.

In the three years that I have had her, Cora has given birth to three calves. Every year I hoped for a heifer, but for two years she had given me bulls. Royalty in human institutions have historically wanted boy children to carry on the royal line, but I wanted a girl. I wanted a heifer to carry on Cora’s line. This year she finally arrived – less than one week ago. Vivian named her Corabelle. 

This morning as I walked out to see my cows, Corabelle was not with her mother. This is not altogether unusual, since the mother cows sometimes leave their calves sleeping while they graze. But that was not all that I noticed. Cora’s udder was very full and it looked like her calf had not nursed for some time. I became worried.

I went down into the woods that comprises part of the pasture where the cows had been, inwardly knowing what I would find. Somehow, I walked right to the site without searching around. There on the ground was the head of my Corabelle, with the bloody spine and leg bones attached. Everything else was gone.

Suddenly, I realized another dimension to having a shepherd’s heart, or in this case, a herdsman’s heart. My thoughts were not on financial loss, they were not how this impacted my plans. Much to my astonishment at my own actions, I just began wailing for this little life that had been lost. “My little Corabelle!” I cried over and over again.

The Awakening of the Shepherd's Heart
There are a couple of things that I must say here. The first is that I know that there are other tragedies that are exponentially more heart breaking that this one. “After all,” we could say, “It is only a farm animal and not a person.”

I know that this is true. I am not trying to compare the two. I only wish to say that this incident taught me something about a shepherd’s heart. When I was a boy, growing up on the farm, an unexpected or tragic death of an animal was something that happened from time to time. That is the reality of farming. This has always made me a bit sad, but never do I remember being as painful of heart as I did with the death of my calf this morning. It brought something out in me that I did not even know about myself.

It also helped me to understand how David could grab a lion by the beard and smite him until he died. There was no calculation on the part of David in doing this, no weighing the consequences. David was responsible for the sheep, and he would protect them and save them.
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One winter day many years ago, when two of our sons were very small, Vivian came out to the woods where I was logging to see me. She was pulling a sled with the two boys in it, one of them about two years old, and the other only six months. Suddenly, she came upon a wolf, standing off to the side of the logging road. The wolf looked at her, and she at the wolf. Both Vivian and the wolf stared into the eyes of the other for a tense moment or two. Finally, the wolf put his head down, turned around and trotted off into the forest.

Vivian told me later, “If that wolf would have attacked my boys, I would have killed it with my bare hands.”

I believe she would have. Apparently, so did the wolf.

This is the heart of a mother, not a shepherd or a herdsman, but the need to protect those for whom you are responsible draws its energy from the same source. That is why, when there is a loss, the heartbreak is so severe. As I said, exponentially more severe is the loss of a child, but even with my calf, I was astounded to feel such grief. 

The Good Shepherd
Here is something else that this incident has taught me: I better understand what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”

What I understand better today than I did yesterday is that we have no idea the lengths to which Jesus will go to save us. Indeed, he did lay down his life to save us, but in a certain way, that same protective heart of the shepherd continues to go to any lengths to bring us to safety. He loves us more than we can ever comprehend.

Another thing that I understand better today than I did yesterday is that we also have no idea the grief that Jesus feels when one of us is lost, snatched up in the jaws of Satan. I was astonished at myself, how I wailed almost uncontrollably for this little lost calf. I cannot imagine the pain of our good shepherd when one of his is lost. 

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11-15 ESV)