Flesh and Blood


Flesh and Blood

John 6:52–59 (NRSV)

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

The Jews in the days of Jesus probably choked when He told them they would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood, and rightly so. Eating other people, and their blood in particular was just about the epitome of what it meant to be unclean according to the OT Law. If you take a close look at most of the OT food laws in particular, they forbid the eating of any animal that is either (a) a predator that eats raw flesh or (b) a scavenger that eats dead things. 1 It is forbidden to cook anything with the blood still in it. I believe, along with Jacob Milgrom that this was related to a abhorrence for all things related to death. When you set the food laws alongside the laws regarding funeral practices (i.e. disposal of dead human bodies) a theme begins to arise that to be clean is to be fully alive, while to be unclean is to be tainted by the presence of death in one form or another. Blood, illness, infection, all made a person unclean until they were healed.

Yes, the Jews had plenty of reasons to be freaked out by this comment by Jesus.

But I don’t think we do as Christians today.

I don’t know of a single religious person or group who has ever taken this passage literally. Even the most fundamentalist and literal readers of scripture have to deal with the fact that the body of Jesus is gone to heaven now, meaning, we cannot eat of it here. It is literally impossible to follow this teaching. Everyone starts from a place of symbolism.

Our struggle with this teaching is not about the flesh and blood, as Paul eludes. Instead we struggle with the spiritual implications. I thought Christianity was either learning about, or learning from Jesus! What is this business about eating Him?

I think there are two levels that act in concert with one another, albeit in somewhat disturbing ways. The first is just the idea of the intimacy of eating. I don’t know if the Jews had a scientific notion about how digestion actually worked, particularly to the point of understanding that we are what we eat. I’m confident though that they understood we get our strength from what we eat. What Jesus was proposing was a kind of intimacy – literally giving himself for our strength and sustenance that was unheard of then and is not much more understood today.

The second level goes back to the laws again. Along with avoiding death – especially human death, one of the most forbidden things was human sacrifice. Yet that is exactly what Jesus was. He did not offer anyone else up, He offered Himself up. How can it be ok for Jesus to do it, but not ourselves? Maybe because He was without sin. Maybe He did ask us to follow His example, laying our lives down for the sake of others. I don’t understand all of it. I just know Jesus offered up His all for me and for you, and we cannot live without Him.

What is the most intimate you have ever felt with Jesus?

Where do you need Him most today?

  1. Fish are a possible exception to this rule. 

Bread of Life


Bread of Life

John 6:41–51 (NRSV)

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Thousands of years before the gluten-free diets, bread was seen as perhaps the most basic of food groups. Simple. Common. Nearly universal across all cultures. Where there is ground to grow vegetation, and water enough to support grain, there bread can be found.

Bread was also one of the smallest offerings acceptable to God. In this, there is an important distinction. The grain allowed as offerings was to be baked, but not with leaven. It was to be untainted, flat bread cakes, sometimes mixed with spices or incense, but never the taller, sweeter, risen loaves to which many of us are more accustomed.

Jesus is our bread of life and unlike many of the other things we live for – calories and carbs, praise and power, dollars and dopamine… unlike each of these things, Jesus is untainted and will only bring us life. Everything else that pretends to be bread carries the yeast of death within it, giving us a sense of life, yet cannot truly bestow it. At best, they can only by us time.

Like the heavenly manna, Jesus came from heaven as a gift from God, and not just any gift, but one that brought provision for life as a symbol of God’s faithfulness. Jesus did not come to make bread, but to be bread Himself. This bread, as He explained, was His flesh. (There is another huge question right there!)

Bypassing the whole notion of eating flesh for the moment, consider this: Jesus doesn’t hold back. If you need it, He is offering it to you. If He has it, it is your’s. You need a new arm or a new leg? Have one of Jesus’s. Do you need restored eyes or lungs? Jesus has some to offer. This isn’t Frankenstein here, it is God showing us how much He is willing to give to love, redeem, and provide for us. This bread from heaven is not just any old flesh – it is God Himself, so we can rest assured that if we get our new body from God, it will be built to last.

Stay tuned for more…

Where are you seeking your provision from today?

Which would be hardest to live without: money, your relationships, position and power?

Which of those areas in your life is Jesus least present in, and how can you invite Him to be more present in them?

2 Eyes and 1 Mouth


2 Eyes and 1 Mouth

Matthew 9:27-34

Jesus Heals Two Blind Men

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you.” And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, “See that no one knows of this.” But they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district.

Jesus Heals One Who Was Mute

After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.”

Most of the time Jesus touched people, they were changed. We often focus on the healing and restoration and in doing so, we sometimes miss the way people change into something new. Two blind men cry out for help and Jesus gives them sight. He only asks one thing of them.

Don’t tell anyone about this.

It reminds me of the very beginning of this wild story called life, when Adam and Eve were given a wonderful gift and only asked one thing in return.

Do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

We do not have a very good track record of following God’s wishes, even after being blessed by Him first. Something in us tells us that we know better than God.

This passage does not tell us why Jesus wanted to keep these healing miracles a secret, and the only speculation I can offer is that perhaps the kind of popular attention this would bring was more than Jesus wanted to deal with at the time. Perhaps, as in Nazareth, the whole town would have gathered and then become incredibly upset when Jesus did not offer the same miracles for everyone to see. At some point, I’m sure it moved even beyond the restoration of life into pure spectacle. Can you imagine people going so far as to wound themselves just to show everyone how awesome the healing power of Jesus was? There are no such accounts in the scriptures, but I can imagine people doing things like that… charging admission for healing and making sure everyone gets a good show. The very fact that Jesus did not heal everyone He came across may have prevented that from ever occurring.

But Jesus may have had other reasons for asking them to keep quiet… things beyond my ability to grasp. Everyone He touched had a new story to tell though, and in that way, the compassion of Jesus to help others was the enemy of His anonymity in our world. The one thing Jesus couldn’t do was just be a nobody and fade into the crowd. People believed He was either God or the devil, and there was nothing in-between. His very presence changed lives around Him.

We may find ourselves at fault though, if we use this as an excuse to shout out everything that we hear from God. It has been said that God gave us two ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we should speak. He gave us two eyes to watch as well. As a preacher, I have learned that some lessons are just for me, and as much as I would like to make a sermon about them, God would much rather people see the change in my actions rather than through my words. Indeed, I think it takes longer for those lessons to sink into our behavior than it does for us to articulate something catchy related to them. It is easy to speak out against issues like abortion or immigration in the name of Jesus. It takes a little more effort to adopt at risk babies and to house immigrants in your own home.

I don’t believe it is just about time though. I think that God’s word, like a seed, needs time to take root in us, sprout and bloom, so that it can bear fruit as we share it then with others. Seeds without good soil, water, and sunshine, are typically not long for this world. I believe Jesus told a story about that.

What is God speaking to you today?

Are you living it enough to share it with others?

Gruesome and Glorious


Gruesome and Glorious

Romans 7:13–25 (NRSV)

Did what is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.

For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.

I have been a part of conversations, often held in hospital rooms, where doctors do their best to convince people that they will live longer and better without their legs, arms, or other body parts that have become so infected that they are poisoning everything near them. We often see death as an end in itself, but the scriptures testify that death is not an end – it is a sickness of the spirit that eats away at our flesh because of sin. Death takes hold like gangrene in our lives and destroys us piece by piece. Shame tells us that we need to hide it away from the light of day. Wisdom however, tells us that we need to cut ourselves free of it. ]

That important shift in perspective can make all the difference. When I claim that sickness as our own, I feel like I am losing a significant part of me in the separation. But if I can come to an understanding that this tumor (though it be in me) is not of me. While it may share space and experiences with me, it is not who I am. I am right handed… but if I were to lose my right hand, I would not cease to be Tony. There would be plenty that would change, but I am not valued for what I do or for specific parts of me. I am valued because God made me.

Augustine struggled with this idea that we are creatures of earthly desires that pull us downward, but are given a gift from God that draws us heavenward. He writes:

“My weight is my love; by it am I borne whithersoever I am borne. By Thy Gift we are inflamed, and are borne upwards; we wax hot inwardly, and go forwards. We ascend Thy ways that be in our heart,5 and sing a song of degrees; we glow inwardly with Thy fire, with Thy good fire, and we go, because we go upwards to the peace of Jerusalem; for glad was I when they said unto me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” There hath Thy good pleasure placed us, that we may desire no other thing than to dwell there for ever.”1

King David wrote that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Gruesome and Gloriously caught in the tension between Heaven and Earth, Life and Death, Sickness and Redemption. Christ lifts us up and we can soar if only we are willing to let go of the weight that holds us down.

Where are you today? Flying or Falling?

What do you need to let go of in order to fly closer to God?

  1. Augustine of Hippo. (1886). The Confessions of St. Augustin. In P. Schaff (Ed.), J. G. Pilkington (Trans.), The Confessions and Letters of St. Augustin with a Sketch of His Life and Work (Vol. 1, p. 193). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. 

Why have you forsaken me?


Why have you forsaken me?

Jeremiah 16:10–21 (NRSV)

And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, “Why has the LORD pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the LORD our God?” then you shall say to them: It is because your ancestors have forsaken me, says the LORD, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law; and because you have behaved worse than your ancestors, for here you are, every one of you, following your stubborn evil will, refusing to listen to me. Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your ancestors have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.

Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, “As the LORD lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” but “As the LORD lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.” For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their ancestors.

I am now sending for many fishermen, says the LORD, and they shall catch them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. For my eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from my presence, nor is their iniquity concealed from my sight. And I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations.

O LORD, my strength and my stronghold, 
my refuge in the day of trouble, 
to you shall the nations come 
from the ends of the earth and say: 
Our ancestors have inherited nothing but lies, 
worthless things in which there is no profit. 
Can mortals make for themselves gods? 
Such are no gods! 

“Therefore I am surely going to teach them, this time I am going to teach them my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the LORD.”

Would you have believed 20 years ago that one of, if not the biggest political issue facing our nation today in 2017 would be insurance? I don’t think I would have. Between shootings, bombings, human trafficking, abortion, education, and a host of other issues out there, I would not have imagined that insurance would be foremost on the minds of our leaders. To be fair, it is not just any insurance, it is health insurance – which does hit home for many of us. We are a mess though, and it looks like we will be for awhile longer.

We struggle, as did Israel before us, with placing our faith first and foremost in God. It seems more sensible to get insurance, take vitamins, eat healthy, exercise regularly, visit the doctor, get a second opinion, and then, if that fails, take up yoga and meditation to promote healing in our bodies. It is only when every other resource is exhausted that we turn to God and ask for help. That is completely backwards and is really downright sinful when it comes to our relationship with God.

I’m not opposed to any of the above methods of finding healing. What is wrong is when we do not go to God first. He may lead us to skip some or all of those methods. He may want to walk us through all of them and more.

Israel did not deal with health insurance thankfully, but they had a lot of struggles with foreign relations and their own economy. They felt they would make better friends and have better trade, if they welcomed other spiritual practices into their camps. God expressly forbade this and the little indiscretions sowed the seeds for greater catastrophe later on in the life of that nation. Finally, during the time of Jeremiah, God decided to judge Judah (Southern Israel) according to the same measure that He judged the other nations around them, and lo and behold, Judah, was no better than any of their neighbors. If anything, they were worse because they, unlike Babylon and Assyria, had the Law of Moses and knew better. They were supposed to be the leader, influencing others for good and not the follower, doing worse things to impress their friends.

So here God promises not only to forsake them and leave them to their own ends… He promises to come and punish them himself. He will remove them from their Promised Land, starting with their hunters and fishermen, the source of food and wealth for many of these communities.

There are times in life where we feel abandoned by God. Sometimes we blame Him. Other times we may feel like we are being justly punished for our own wrongdoing. Whatever our situation, Jeremiah reminds us that those things we are tempted to trust are not gods. They cannot save us. But God can and will if we make Him our strength and stronghold, our refuge in time of trouble. We cannot rely on our ancestors to have faith for us, we have to claim it and live it for ourselves. To that end, it does not matter what our nation or our world chooses to do, so much as it matters what you and I choose to do today.

Remember that the story did not end with the deportation of the Jews and the fall of Jerusalem. Several centuries later, even after it was rebuilt, albeit not the most faithfully, God came seeking fishermen again. This time, is was not to send them away in punishment, but rather to send them away in mission. Their faithfulness, in spite of the persecution they faced, changed the world, and helped shape who we are today.

Where do you feel abandoned by God?

Where have you trusted in others before seeking God?

Can you see ways that God is working even in the midst of your suffering?

Step into the Light


Step into the Light

John 9:1–41 (NRSV)

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

Don’t shoot the Angels


Editorial Preview

Don’t shoot the Angels

Hebrews 2:5–10 (NRSV)

Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere,

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor, subjecting all things under their feet.”

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

Angels have always been a unique topic. Most Christians believe in angels and view them as distant but helpful spirits. However, many of those same people avoid even talking about spirit entities outside of God. It takes us too close to idolatry, which is not just a modern problem, but as John shows us, was a problem for himself1: and the early church as well.

Here is a biblical definition of the word translated “angels”:

“In many languages a term for ‘angels’ is borrowed from another dominant language, but in other instances a somewhat descriptive phrase may be employed. The most common expressions for the ‘angels of God’ are ‘messengers’ and ‘messengers from heaven.’ Sometimes these angels are called ‘spirit messengers’ and even ‘flying messengers.’ In some instances they have been called ‘the holy servants of God,’ but an expression such as ‘servants of God’ or even ‘messengers of God’ tends to overlap in meaning with expressions used to characterize the role and function of the prophets who were sent as messengers from God. In some languages a term for ‘angels’ is contrasted with that for ‘prophets’ by calling angels ‘messengers from heaven’ and prophets ‘messengers from God.’ The ‘angels of the Devil’ are often called ‘the Devil’s servants.’”2

Spirit messengers, in shorthand.

Look at the passage from Hebrews again. This is a passage that points out the connection between vulnerability and authority. Angels, who do not suffer, serve in God’s presence. Yet it is human beings, who were “made a little lower” than the angels, to whom authority over the world was given. It is not strength, but vulnerability… or perhaps the ability to suffer, that is rewarded with authority in God’s Kingdom.

This passage is not primarily about you and I. It is about Jesus. Jesus supersedes our own authority not because of His power, but because of His ability to suffer. This may be why He resisted the devil’s temptation in the wilderness. Without suffering, there is no authority rewarded.

Why is that? I don’t know for sure. But Jesus speaks about His own authority like this:

John 10:1-18

““Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care 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. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” ”

Jesus ties together willingness to suffer for… responsibility, with authority. He has “bought” us and gained authority over us through His suffering for us. He took the bullet the angels never would.

Who do you suffer for?

Are you willing and able to suffer for those God has put you in charge of?