The Real Thing

In 1971 Coca Cola adapted a song from a pop group called The New Seekers.  It was entitled I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing in Perfect Harmony.  The lyrics were as follows:
I’d like to build the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow white turtle doves
I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I’d like to hold it in my arms
And keep it company
I’d like to see the world for once
All standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills
For peace through out the land
(That’s the song I hear)
I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony.
Is it naïve to think Paul’s counsel in Romans 12:20 is still relevant?  “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Paul also wrote in chapter 15, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.”
It is so easy to respond to adversity with our basic selfishness.  It just pops to the surface with little thought. To turn the other cheek is not natural.  The more we study the life of our Jesus the more we see how radical He was.  He was a revolutionary with a message so new and so different He divided history into two.
If He could bring us into His likeness and be our Prince of Peace by teaching us to stand hand in hand and sing in perfect harmony by buying us a Coca Cola, I truly believe He would.  He’s the REAL THING.

The Gift

About thirty years ago a group of youth pastors in Northern California invited me to accompany them on a trip up Mount Shasta.  As a forty something I was the old man among all these twenty somethings.  At over 14,100 feet it is the fifth highest in California and is still a potentially active volcano.  The top is embraced by a heavy scent of sulfur.  On the second day as we neared the summit it slowly dawned on me that I was doing very well for an older guy.  The young men started lagging.  One of them did become ill from the strain in the thinner air.  About noon I passed the last two and found myself standing alone on the top.  I was feeling very studly as I sat and watched the others arrive.
On the way down I noticed myself being at the end of the line and working to keep up.  How could this be?  How could I be so comparatively strong going up and not so strong on the way down?  Then it dawned on me. (I can be mentally slow.)  It was a set up.  Those guys had colluded.  During the last two thousand feet they deliberately fell back allowing me to summit.  They never said a word about it in my hearing range.
I have come to think that Jesus does this for me on a daily basis.  He grants me little victories to encourage me on. At the end (or as I should say, “The real beginning.”) He will give me a crown of righteousness. I might be tempted to think that I did it.  But when seriously contemplating I will realize how improbable that is.  It is a gift as was my summiting Shasta.

New Food – New Flavors

I thought it must be boring for my dog to eat the same thing every day so this afternoon I bought her a new kind of dog food.  It is 50 pounds of Pedigree for adult dogs with roasted chicken, rice and vegetables flavorings.  It must smell pretty good because I found her sitting in front of the bag staring and salivating.  I broke down and gave her a sample.  I’m not sure that was a good idea because now she keeps following me around bumping me with her nose and chomping her jaws. 
Eating something new and fresh can be a pleasure not just for dogs but for us bipeds.  Reading a new or different translation of Scripture can be just as exciting and pleasurable.  Like so many of us I grew up struggling to understand the King James Version.  Then I discovered the RSV and then the NIV and then J. B. Phillips paraphrase and the Message paraphrase.  It is like eating new food and yet it is the same message.  The different vocabulary, the different phrasing gives the old favorite verses new flavor.  And I might add they often make some verses easier to understand.
We are so blessed to live in a time when we have not only our own Bible, we can have Bibles.  There was a time when Bibles were so rare and so expensive to produce they were chained to the walls of churches for security.  They really are the Bread of Life nourishing our souls and enhancing our relationship with our Heavenly Father.  When I get a new version I am like my dog.  Well, not exactly.  Fortunately I don’t salivate on it, but I get very anxious to start feasting on the Word.

Our Personal Jesus

I am fascinated by the bread aisle in supermarkets.  Someday I’m going to count how many different varieties are available.  There is Wonder Bread that keeps our bodies healthy in twelve ways.  There is Wonder Bread lo-cal that obviously doesn’t keep us healthy in any way because they don’t mention any.  There is raisin bread, rye bread, cinnamon bread, sourdough bread, whole wheat and on and on.  I am fascinated that just prior to a huge snow storm people rush to the store and buy up all the bread as if we are going to be buried for weeks.  (We never are!)  Jesus loved metaphors and “I am the bread of life” is one of His best.  John 6
In 2002 Johnny Cash recorded Depeche Mode’s Your Personal Jesus, which was ranked in 2004 by Rolling Stone Magazine as number 368 of the 500 Most Outstanding Songs of All Time.  Some of its lyrics are,

“Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who’s there
Feeling unknown
And you’re all alone
Flesh and bone
By the telephone
Lift up the receiver
I’ll make you a believer.”
When I stare at all the kinds of bread in my supermarket I often think of the idea of how many kinds of Jesus the world needs.  Each of us needs our own personal Jesus.  Each of us has different needs because of our uniquenesses.  One of the wonders of Jesus is His love for variety.  (Check out how many kinds of birds He created.)  Becoming a Christian does not demand we all dress alike, act alike or think alike.  The love that grows in us is as special as the DNA that comprises us.

Aggressive Forgiveness

On occasion I hear people talking about how very sinful and rotten the world is becoming.  Since I took a ton of history classes for my undergrad degree I’m afraid I have to disagree.  The world has always been a rotten place.   People didn’t live in walled cities just because they liked the architecture.  It is true the 20th century was the bloodiest on record but that is because the population of the world had grown so there were more people to kill.   The rate of killing was the same as before.
I point this out not to defend the state of the world.  It’s bad.  And I don’t point this out because I want to paint a dismal picture.   I’m talking about this because I want to herald the glory of Romans 5 where Paul says, “. . . where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”   It’s a wonderful promise about the wonder of wonder-filled grace.  In the paraphrase of the New Testament, The Message, grace in this passage is called “aggressive forgiveness.” 
I love the imagery that floods my brain.  I see Jesus, via the Holy Spirit, wooing us, chasing us, and almost begging us to accept His grace.  Like a lover hunting down his passion Jesus is in hot pursuit of sinners.   According to Paul, the more we sin, the more opportunity for Jesus to extend grace.  In chapter 6 Paul than asks the hypothetical question, “Should we then sin more so God can have more joy in forgiving us.”   Paul points out how nonsensical that is because when forgiven we live in a new state of delight and we would never want to go back.

Ultimate Love

There is a poignant passage at the beginning of Romans 9.  Paul was thinking of his friends, his family and all his people.  The prospect of them being lost and not sharing in the joy of salvation and the freedom from the burden of the law spurred him to write, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race. . .” 
The more we become like Jesus the more our capacity for love grows.  Love is not stagnant.  It is a living vibrant part of us that cares for and reaches out to those about us.  It is possible, as it was with Paul, that when we consider the prospect of not having our children and grandchildren with us in heaven, our love for them would mirror Paul’s feelings in Romans 9.   The more we love the more we would be willing to give up heaven for the surety that our loved ones would have it.
The good news is not only is this impossible but also not necessary.  First of all, it is an indication of how much we value Jesus and our loved ones.  The very fact that we feel this way indicates our growth into His likeness. Jesus could not bear not having such persons with Him.  The more we love the more we become like Him and the more we become like Him the more we love.  It is a marvelously upward spiral.  Secondly, Jesus loves our loved ones even more than we and He is already doing everything possible to woo them into joining us.
Blessed is the person who has such love and has people they love that much.

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs

It’s a dark day for my vegetarian friends and colleagues.  You have not been as meatless as you perhaps thought.  I clearly remember the day I was riding my motorcycle and had some kind of bug go straight through my mouth into my esophagus and down it went.  I had no chance to spit it out.  Alas.  Well, according to the February issue of National Geographic the U.S. Food and Drug Administration permits 60 aphids in 100 grams of broccoli and 550 insect fragments per average box of pasta.  So much for spaghetti with a salad.   Until 2012 Starbucks colored their strawberry smoothies with a compound of pulverized insects.  They got to call it “natural.”
The truth is we are created to be amazingly tolerant of all manner of food.  Eating certain things is often more difficult to get something past our brain than our lips. 
I am so thankful for Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”   Healthful living and a nutritious diet is very important.  Our bodies according to I Corinthians 6 are temples of the Holy Spirit and we should treat them accordingly. But we should never fall into the heresy of believing our diet contributes toward our salvation.  It does not even to the extent of one iota.  Our salvation is a gift of God made possible by Jesus’ death on Calvary. 
So please, enjoy a good plate of spaghetti and be filled with righteousness, peace and joy.  Eternal life starts now.  Enjoy being a citizen of God’s kingdom.  I actually like broccoli.  Wow, I can’t believe I just said that!


While sitting in a hospital waiting room I watched an elderly couple come in for an appointment.  He was in a wheel chair and was looking very frail.  When a nurse came and wheeled him down a long corridor and he was out of sight, his wife broke down in tears.  Almost instantly the lady sitting beside me hurried to her side and softly spoke to her asking if she could pray with her.  After the prayer, while they were holding hands, the lady revealed that she and her husband had been married for over 65 years.  Then she looked at the lady who prayed with her and asked, “Are you a Catholic?  I am.”  The prayer lady put her arm around the elderly lady and said, “No. But that really doesn’t matter right now.  We both love Jesus.”
Paul wrote, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  I don’t think Paul would mind if I paraphrased his masterpiece and say, “And now these three exist: doctrine, church membership and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”
Truly living life to its fullest is understanding the necessities of priorities.  Doctrine can be important.  Church affiliation might be important. But love puts them in the shade because love shines.   Love brightens life.  Love tears away our manmade barriers.  The moments we love are the moments the light of heaven surrounds us with real truth.
I found myself wishing I was the one who had taken the initiative to reach out to the old lady.  I wasn’t.  But thank God there was someone in the room who did.  We must never be too shy to love.

He Didn’t Know

I watched a little boy about 8 years old walk over to his little sister about 6 years old and push her down and then walk away.  What happened next was fascinating.  His dad grabbed him and said, “Why did you do that?”  And of course he said, “I don’t know.”  To which his father responded, “Yes, you do.  Now tell me.”  And all the boy could do was shrug his shoulders.
I found myself being sympathetic with the little boy because I believed him.  I really don’t think he knew why he had done it.  Humans are amazingly complex beings and we react to a multitude of causes.  He probably pushed her down because of a host of reasons, none of which he understood.  He just did it.  Perhaps the best reason was because he was human. 
We are sinners – all of us.  So why do we allow our selfishness to overrule our reason?   Paul struggled with this.  He wrote in Romans 7, “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”  Most of us have most likely at some time or other parroted Paul by exclaiming, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
I am so happy Paul did have an answer to that question.  “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”   I don’t know why I do some of the things I do.  But Jesus covers me.  Praise God for Romans 8:1 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”   Awesome! 

My Snow Blower

When we think of the names of Bible writers we rarely mention King Lemuel.  But he was responsible for one of the more famous chapters in Scripture.  Proverbs 31 describes the perfect wife.  She does everything and she does it well.  I have one of those wives.  My snow blower broke and we have a storm moving in tonight.  The next thing I know is she walks in from the garage and says, “If you will loosen those two bolts and reposition that part, it will be fine.”  Really?!  So I went out and loosened the designated bolts, repositioned the part and presto.  It works just the way it is supposed to. 
Someone might ask, “Doesn’t that threaten your masculinity?”  And my response is, “Are you kidding?  It’s wonderful.  Now I don’t have to walk across the street to my engineer neighbor and ask him for help.  That threatens my masculinity.” 
So I am a happy man with my cup running over with blessings.  I realize very few men have wives that can diagnosis a broken snow blower.  And she even makes me Cream of Wheat for breakfast.  You can’t beat that!

Riches come in many forms.  One cannot and should not equate wealth with numbers in an investment account.  Riches are so much broader than that.  And of course the thing that makes us extremely rich is Jesus.  Because of Jesus, God has adopted us into His family making us princes and princesses of the Most High.  Ephesians 2 says, “He has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”   Now that is rich!