From the Well - 8/16/2018

 Meal time in Cuba

Meal time in Cuba

John 6:51-58 (NRSV) 
51 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." 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" 53 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. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This 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."

There were no grocery stores in Cuba when I first started taking building teams to the island in the mid-nineties. All Cubans survived on a small monthly ration. There were only a few tightly controlled markets where extra food could be purchased. Knowing this, I was surprised when the Cuban church provided us with bread at every meal since bread was also rationed and available in only a limited supply.

When I asked my friend and Cuban pastor Pedro Mayor how we were able to have bread at our meals when it was so difficult for Cubans to obtain even a daily ration of bread, he told me that he used our American dollars to purchase extra flour for the baker so that we could have bread at every meal. He also told me that every member of the church gave up a part of their bread ration so that we could have it at our meals. I was immediately overwhelmed by the hospitality and sacrifice of our Christian brothers and sisters in Cuba. The sacrifice of the Cuban Christians was bread from heaven that to this day leaves me filled with the love of God.

Our hunger is satisfied by following Jesus. We are blessed beyond imagination when we follow Jesus, not for temporary reward, but for a reward that lasts forever. Think about it.

Matthew

From the Well - 8/9/2018

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Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (NRSV) 
25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 

After seeing Marie Kondo on CBS Sunday morning, I decided to order her book entitled, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese art of decluttering and organizing. I've even tried some of her techniques and I'll have to say they work. Instead of folding my t-shirts and laying them flat in the drawer, I decided to try Marie Kondo's method (See the picture above).

The advantage to her way of folding clothes is obvious. You can see every shirt and pair of pants. After going through all my drawers and folding and organizing using Kondo's method, I ended up with an empty drawer. Besides helping me to move beyond always choosing the shirt that is on top of the pile (because I can see all of them clearly now) it saves space.

Kondo's method is about getting rid of those things that you never use and keeping only those things you love. One of her clients ended up with 48 large garbage bags of things she didn't need after going through her house. I suspect most of us would end up with that many bags or more.

Some of the things Kondo says in her book sound like spiritual lessons:

  • "A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming."
  • "My clients always sound so happy, and the results show that tidying has changed their way of thinking and their approach to life. In fact, it has changed their future . . . when you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order too."
  • When people declutter and organize, "They are surrounded only by the things they love . . . "Order," she says, "is dependent on the extremely personal values of what a person wants to live with . . . When you've finished putting your house in order, your life will change dramatically."

I hear the writer of Ephesians saying that I need to purge myself of all unnecessary things that don't reflect a life of love, peace, grace, and forgiveness. I think I have some housecleaning to do when it comes to being a follower of Jesus Christ. I suspect we all do. Think about it.

Matthew

From the Well - 8/2/2018

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John 6:24-35 (NRSV) 
24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" 26 Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal." 28 Then they said to him, "What must we do to perform the works of God?" 29 Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." 30 So they said to him, "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" 32 Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." 34 They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." 35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

The crowds followed Jesus because He fed them. He satisfied their physical hunger and they wanted more. Getting enough food was a daily struggle for most people in Jesus' day. Here was a fellow who could perform miracles. They would never go hungry again, so they thought, as long as they stayed close to Jesus.

Most of us don't have any concept of what it is like to struggle for food or to experience food insecurity on a daily basis. We do hunger, though. We hunger to be satisfied. It begins in childhood. I'll explain with an illustration.

When I was the pastor of Central United Methodist Church in Canton, North Carolina, I would often stop on the walkway that crossed over the pre-school play area. Sometimes I would linger and watch the children playing. I could also watch our daughter, Taylor, from a positon where she could not see me. I remember observing two boys at play. Watching those boys gave me a glimpse into the life long struggle we all have to be satisfied.

One of the boys was riding a tricycle and another boy wanted a turn. The boys begin to argue and almost came to blows. Fortunately a teacher intervened and told the boy on the tricycle that he needed to share and give the other boy a turn. The boy reluctantly gave up the tricycle and the other boy rode off with a look of smug triumph on his face. What I noticed, though, was as soon as the first boy wondered off to play with another toy, the boy on the tricycle lost interest. He wasn't on the tricycle two minutes before he was on to something else. The boy got what he wanted but quickly discovered that once he got it, that he wasn't interested anymore.

I would suggest that this is the underlying life-pattern of many adults who pursue and struggle, work and connive to get what they think they want only to discover that they don't want what they get after they have it. Intent on achievement and fulfillment we spend our days going after things. But, then, in the middle years, after we have reached the goal of our striving, we relax, slow down a bit, take time to think, watch the children leave home and realize that despite all our efforts and sacrifices, we are not satisfied or fulfilled deep within.

Remember what Jesus told the people who pursued him around the lake?

You've come looking for me NOT because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs-and for free. Don't waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for good that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. (John 6:26-27, The Message)

Think about it.

Matthew

From the Well - 7/26/2018

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John 6:1-21 (NRSV) 

1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, 9 "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" 10Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world." 15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

Most of you are probably familiar with the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books. In volume 2 of the original series, Ben Burton tells of a childhood experience that haunts him years later. Andy Drake is a 5th grade classmate that everyone teases and harasses. They taunt Andy with:

Andy Drake don’t eat cake,

And his sister don’t eat pie.

If it wasn’t for their welfare dole

All the Drakes would die.

Andy tolerated the ugliness because he didn’t want to risk being completely ignored. Andy’s father was in prison. His mother took in washing and men. Andy often came to school without a bath and his clothes were hand-me-downs and donated items from the Salvation Army.

One weekend the boys in his class planned a camp-out. Some of the mothers fixed an extra pack of food for Andy Drake. As they waited for everyone to arrive for the camping trip, one of the boys said, “Andy’s different, don’t you think? We don’t really want him to go with us, do we?” It was left to Ben to tell Andy. Ben writes:

I can still see Andy as he came toward us down the long, dark tunnel of trees-Andy was on his rusty one-of-a-kind bike-a girl’s model with garden hose wired to the rims for tires. He appeared excited and happier than I had ever seen him, this frail little guy who had had to be an adult all of his life. I knew he was savoring the acceptance of our group, the first chance to belong, to have “boy fun,” to do “boy things.”

Andy waved to me as I stood in the camp clearing awaiting him. I ignored his happy greeting. He vaulted off the funny old bike and trotted over to me, full of joy and conversation. Why won’t he get serious? Can’t he see that I am not reciprocating his feelings? Can’t he see that I am not responding to his babblings?

Then suddenly he did see! His innocent countenance opened even more, leaving him totally vulnerable. His whole demeanor said silently, “It’s going to be very bad, isn’t it, Ben? Let’s have it.” Undoubtedly well-practiced in facing disappointment, he didn’t even brace for the blow.

Incredulously, I heard myself say, “Andy, we don’t want you.”

Hauntingly vivid still is the stunning quickness with which two big tears sprung to Andy’s eyes and stayed there. Vivid, because of a million maddening re-runs of that scene in my mind. The way Andy looked at me-frozen for an eternal moment. Finally, a fleet little tremor broke across Andy’s lips and he turned without appeal, or even a question, to make the long, lonely trip home in the dark.

It was days later before Ben Burton worked through his shame and decided to apologize to Andy Drake. But Andy had moved. Ben never saw him again.[1]

The disciples came to Jesus as the day was drawing to a close and complained that there was not enough food to feed all of the people who had come out to hear Jesus speak. They wanted to send the people away. It was a large crowd made up mostly of the am haretz or people of the land--the poor, the religious outcasts, the rejects, the curious, the political opportunists, the wishful, and those who wanted a miracle. The disciples, who were operating from a scarcity mindset, thought there wasn’t enough food to feed them all nor was there enough compassion, love and grace in their hearts to understand the many needs within the crowd.

How many Andy Drakes have we sent away because of a scarcity mindset? How many times have we selfishly held on to what we have and failed to share with others? How often have we thought that there might not be enough and have held onto or grabbed what we thought was ours without considering the needs of others? When have we withheld grace, compassion, and love because the “other” was not like us?

Think about it.

Matthew

[1]From Chicken Soup for the Soul, 2 as told by Donald Shelby in “Bring Us Together,” A sermon preached on July 26, 1997.

From the Well - 7/19/2018

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Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 (NRSV) 
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

We were at LaGuardia airport recently waiting to catch a plane home after our daughter, Taylor’s, wedding. We arrived early, got through airport security, and decided to bide our time in the food court. I finally tired of reading and checking my email and decided to take a stroll. As a walked past the stores and overpriced vendors, I suddenly saw someone whose face was familiar. I knew it was a TV personality or movie star. Then I realized it was the chef Robert Irvine who often appears on the Food Network and other cooking shows. He was walking at a fast pace as if to send the message, “Don’t bother me. I’m in a hurry.” I could tell that other people recognized him but no one approached him or asked for a selfie.

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People like Robert Irvine and even I don’t like to be interrupted or stopped when we are on a mission or focused on the task at hand. And, yet, we need to realize that life sometimes happens when we’ve made other plans. Someone has suggested that interruptions can be encounters with love. Jesus and His disciple’s planned day off was interrupted by the crowd waiting on them as they exited their boat. Jesus realizing that they were sheep without a shepherd went right to work. Too often we resent life’s interruptions. Unfortunately we may also fail to see God at work in them.

It’s like the little girl who went to her mother one day and said, “Tell me about Jesus.”The mother gulped and said, “Go ask your father.” The little girl found her father who was reading the newspaper. “Daddy, tell me about Jesus.” The father did not put the newspaper down as he replied, “Go ask your Sunday school teacher.” The little girl went to her Sunday school teacher the next morning who was busy preparing for the class and asked, “Can you tell me about Jesus?” The Sunday school teacher hastily suggested--since she had not prepared properly over the weekend for Sunday school and was in a panic trying to get ready--that the little girl “Go ask the preacher.”

So the little girl stopped by the pastor’s office but the door was closed. She asked the lady sitting at the receptionist’s desk if she could ask the pastor about Jesus and the receptionist replied that the pastor was busy talking to Jesus before the first worship service. Finally, exasperated, the little girl asked, “can’t he stop talking to Jesus long enough to talk to me about Jesus?”

Jesus understood that He could not spend his entire life and ministry talking to God. He had to tell others about God through his words, ministry, healing and example. Maybe we need to remember that all time is God’s time, even the interruptions. Think about it.

Matthew