Dying of Thirst

When Spanish ships first started sailing to the Americas, there were many new challenges associated with the long voyage. One particularly challenging ordeal was an area known as the doldrums. The area, about 30 degrees on each side of the equator, is one of the most still areas in the Atlantic Ocean. A ship could hit this spot and go days, even weeks, without a breeze. Ships that did this were in real danger of exhausting their food and water supply. There is a record of one such ship being so depleted of water after a month in the doldrums that by the time they approached the Americas many of the shipmates were dying of thirst. They didn’t know their latitude so they had no idea how much longer their journey would last until they happened on a Peruvian boat. When the Peruvians saw their sickly condition, they called out, “Can we help you?”

“Water!”, they called out, “We need water!”

“Lower your buckets!”, the Peruvians replied.

Every good sailor knew not to drink sea water. The salt is dangerous and can kill you. “No!”, they called back, “We need fresh water!”

Again, the Peruvians called out, “Lower your buckets”

Unbeknownst to the Spanish sailors, for the last week of their journey they had been sailing where the mouth of the Amazon river empties into the Atlantic Ocean. This is the source of 20% of earth’s runoff water. It flows into the ocean with such force that for hundreds of miles in every direction, the water is fresh. The sailors had been dying of thirst in a sea of drinkable water.

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water,” Jesus tells the Samaritan woman in the 4th chapter of John. Jesus compares himself to “living water.” A lot of times we miss what he’s telling her because we’ve spiritualized the term “living water.” Living water was an idiom used to describe spring water or river water as opposed to pool water or well water. Living water is continuously flowing and so is an inexhaustible supply. Living water does not have to be stored or rationed. It flows freely. As disciples we are anchored at the foot of an inexhaustible supply of fresh life giving water. We have no excuse to be dying of thirst.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

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The Child’s Drawing

There was a kindergarten teacher who made a habit of giving her class free time to draw. She felt this encouraged her students to use their imaginations. She made a practice of going around the room and asking the kids about what they were working on. On this particular day, one of her students had a very serious expression on her face as she drew. The teacher could tell she was drawing something that meant a lot to her. When she came around to the little girl's table, she asked her what she was drawing.

The little girl looked up, smiling, and said, “I'm drawing God!”

The teacher was a little surprised. “No one knows what God looks like…”, she reminded the little girl.

The girl, not looking up from her intense art session, replied, “That's because I'm not finished yet.”

Of course God is unseen. He is bigger than our human categories. How do we present a picture of this God to others? For Jesus, the answer had to do with the way we live our lives. Christ lived his life in such a way that the character and nature of God was unmistakable and he challenged his disciples to do the same. “Be therefore perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect…” Being made in God's image gives us the responsibility of bearing that image to others. As disciples, we are called to live in such a way that people come to see God in us that through the power of the Spirit we are conformed more and more into the likeness of Christ each day. You may think that impossible but I, for one, am not finished yet.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

There is nothing to be afraid of…

Solomon Rosenberg tells this story from his time in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. He, his wife, his two sons, and his mother were all arrested and relocated to a labor camp. The rules were simple: As long as you can do your work, you are permitted to live. When you become too weak to do your work, then you will be exterminated. The conditions were harsh and inhumane. The prisoners were given little to eat and the weak among them would begin to waste away until the inevitable day they could no longer work and they were taken to the gas chambers.

Rosenberg watched his mother and father being marched off to their deaths when they became too weak. He knew that his youngest son, David, would be next because David had always been a frail child. Every evening when Rosenberg came back into the barracks after his hours of labor, he would search for the faces of his family. When he found them, they would huddle together, embrace one another, and thank God for another day of life. But each day, David looked just a little bit more frail and Solomon always feared the next day would be the day he was taken away.

One day Rosenberg came back and couldn’t find his family. He stormed through the barracks in a panic until he finally discovered his oldest son, Joshua, in a corner, huddled, weeping. He said, “Josh, tell me it’s not true.” Joshua turned and said, “It is true, Poppa. Today David was not strong enough to do his work, so they came for him.”

“But where is your mother?” asked Mr. Rosenberg, “She is still strong enough to work!”

“Oh Poppa,” he exclaimed. “When they came for David, he was afraid and he was crying. Momma said, ‘There is nothing to be afraid of, David,’ and she pulled him close and held him. Then she took his hand and went with him so he wouldn’t have to be alone.”

This true story from one of the most horrific times in history is a powerful parable about the meaning of compassion. Compassion, literally translated, means “to suffer with”. This portrait of a mother’s willingness to suffer with her son, on this Good Friday, can’t help but remind me of God’s willingness to suffer with humanity. Jesus was not exempted from the ugly side of humanity. He saw, first hand, what barbarity unthinking mobs were capable of. He saw, first hand, what cruelty an oppressive state could perpetrate against those they saw as less than human. He knew forced labor and the dread of death. And he felt the pain of a man losing everything, resorting to a little bit of psalm he learned as a child to express what he alone could not express: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He did it all so we wouldn’t have to be alone.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Monk and the Scorpion

There was once a monk meditating beside a stream. He was finishing his prayers when he noticed a scorpion trapped on a rock in the middle of the stream as the waters were steadily rising, threatening to drown the creature. Moved with compassion, the monk waded into the stream and tried to rescue the scorpion. Each time he picked up the scorpion, it stung the monk and he dropped it back in the rock. Another monk, passing by, witnessed the exchange and called out to him, “you fool! Do you not know it is the scorpion's nature to sting?”

“Yes!”, replied the monk, “but it is my nature to save!”

This Buddhist parable has a profoundly Christian message. In Christ we have been shown God's nature is to save. He will keep picking us up and picking us up no matter how many times we sting Him. God does not walk away from His creation. As disciples, we are called to take on the nature of Christ, loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, giving to anyone who asks of us, forgiving 7 times 7 times, and taking up our cross. Like the monk, we can become weary of being stung. Consider the two inevitable endings of this parable… Eventually the waters rise and the scorpions last sting results in its being drowned, as it falls into the flowing waters where his rock used to be. The monk walks away satisfied that it did everything in its power to save a creature who simply would not be saved… OR… maybe the seventh time, the scorpion overcomes its nature and allows itself to be rescued. This hope is what makes the nature of the monk stronger than the nature of the scorpion.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

The Transfusion

An eight-year-old boy had a younger sister who was dying of leukemia, and he was told that without a blood transfusion she would die. His parents explained to him that his blood was probably compatible with hers, and if so, he could be the blood donor. They asked him if they could test his blood. He said sure. So they did and it was a good match. Then they asked if he would give his sister a pint of blood, that it could be her only chance of living. He said he would have to think about it overnight.

The next day he went to his parents and said he was willing to donate the blood. So they took him to the hospital where he was put on a gurney beside his six-year-old sister. Both of them were hooked up to IVs. A nurse withdrew a pint of blood from the boy, which was then put in the girl's IV. The boy lay on his gurney in silence while the blood dripped into his sister, until the doctor came over to see how he was doing. Then the boy opened his eyes and asked, “How soon until I start to die?”

This story, copied from Anne LaMott's wonderful book on writing, “Bird by Bird”, is a wonderful parable of love and sacrifice. The boy in the story thought he was going to die in the process of giving his blood to his sister and was willing to do it anyway. 1 John 3:16 tells us “this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” This kind of self sacrificial love is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

Karl’s Answer

The Swiss theologian Karl Barth was one of the most highly respected theological writers of his generation and has gone on to be considered the greatest protestant thinker of the 20th century. He wrote volumes upon volumes of important exegesis and biblical commentary and influenced countless schools of thought with his systematic approach to the Bible. Upon his retirement, he was asked by a reporter to tell the most profound and important thing he had learned in all his years of study. His answer was simple: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”

Sometimes we Christians can make things really complicated. Doctrine is important. Praxis is important. But neither are the main thing. The love of Jesus and the love of God revealed in Jesus is the main thing. That’s the thing that transforms peoples lives and gives them hope. That’s what the whole Christian enterprize is all about. The rest is just window trimmings. 

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Ant and the Dove

One day the ant was thirsty and travelled to a nearby stream to drink some water. The current of the stream was so strong that it pulled him in and soon he had been whisked along toward certain peril. Several yards ahead, on a branch, overlooking the stream, sat the dove. Noticing the distressed ant coming his way, the dove kindly dropped a leaf. So well timed was the leaf that the ant was able to climb on it and ride to safety. Some minutes later, a hunter was silently creeping up on the dove from some distance away. The ant saw the hunter with his bow drawn to strike the bird that had just rescued him and he bit the hunter on his toe so hard that he let out a yelp. The startled bird then took wing.

How we care for the least among us is a central concern for Christians. This parable, pulled from Aesop’s fables is a reminder that it is always good to help those that you might think could never pay you back. Like the dove, we are unable to see what benefit may come from our small acts of mercy, but that is all the more reason to do them. Whoever is an ant to you, whoever is weak and seemingly unable to repay your kindness, that is precisely who Jesus is talking about when he says, “Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for me.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Hermit and the Samurai

imageTheir lived on a distant mountain an old hermit who spent day and night meditating. He was famous for his deep insight and wisdom. It was said that he would answer any question for a truly honorable traveler seeking spiritual guidance. One day, a noble Samurai approached him as he was in a state of deep contemplation. The Samurai had travelled for weeks, making the arduous trek up the top of the mountain to seek the hermit’s wisdom.

Not looking up at him, the hermit asked, “What is your question?”

The Samurai replied, “I have come, O wise one, to ask you the difference between heaven and hell.”

The hermit, still not looking up at the Samurai, began to berate him, saying, “Why should I answer your idiotic questions, you dishonorable pig? You come to me with hands stained with the blood of the innocent and expect to attain wisdom? Away from me, you foolish butcher!”

Overcome with rage, the Samurai lifted his sword to strike the old hermit dead!

Suddenly, looking up at the Samurai with a serene gaze, the hermit told him, “That is Hell.”

Realizing what had happened the Samurai dropped his sword, sank to his knees, and, through his tears, begged the hermit’s forgiveness.

“This”, whispered the Hermit, “is Heaven.”

The difference between Heaven and Hell is found in the human heart. In the Sermon on the amount, Jesus teaches, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:22-23) Jesus makes it clear that when we let our anger rule us, we are playing with fire!

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

Check out this parable’s original source here.

 

The Great Blondin

In the middle of the 1800s, the most famous tightrope walker in the world was a man called “The Great Blondin!” Blondin was famous for crossing Niagra Falls on tightrope and people came from all over the world to watch him perform the feat.

On one such occasion Blondin, known for his showmanship, called out to the crowd, “I am The Great Blondin! Who believes I can cross over Niagra Falls on this tightrope?”

The crowd was excited and called out to him, “We believe, Blondin, we believe!”

Next, Blondin pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket, tied it around his head and called out: “I am The Great Blondin! Who believes I can cross over Niagra Falls on this tightrope, while blindfolded?”

The crowd, more jazzed up than before, called out, “We believe, Blondin, we believe!”

Then Blondin whisked away a sheet and revealed a wheelbarrow standing behind him. He called out once more to the ecstatic crowd, “I am The Great Blondin! Who believes I can cross over Niagra Falls on this tightrope, blindfolded, while pushing this wheelbarrow?”

The crowd was practically roaring now! “We believe, Blondin, we believe!”

Finally, Blondin, summoned the crowd to silence and spoke once more, “I am The Great Blondin! ….. Now, who wants to get in the wheelbarrow?”

This parable, based on a true event, reminds us that it is far easier to trust God in word than to trust Him in deed. We can say we believe from the safety of the crowd but it is a completely different thing to ride in the wheelbarrow. In the gospels, Jesus says, “Whoever would be my disciple must, deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Discipleship is a risky proposition. Our safety is not guaranteed. God offers only this assurance: if we surrender ourselves and put our trust in Him, He will never let go!

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

The Missionary and the Cannibals

A story is told about a missionary preaching to a tribe of cannibals. Things were going fine for the first couple of weeks. They had accepted him into their camp and he felt like he was really starting to make some headway. Then one day it all changed! The missionary wasn’t really sure exactly what happened. Perhaps he had committed some social taboo or made a grave error in translation, but at any rate, he had angered the whole tribe and things took a quick turn for the worst. That night as he lay in his tent, he heard the sound of war drums and off in the distance he saw torches. So he did what any of us would do! He ran! His speed unfortunately was no match for theirs and he tripped over a vine and found himself surrounded by the angry tribe of cannibals who quickly bound him and placed him in a large pot of water over a roaring fire. Not knowing what else to do, the missionary looked up to the heavens and beseeched The Lord to intervene!

“Lord,” He prayed, “If it be your will, I pray you would make good Christians of all this heathen tribe of cannibals!”

Suddenly, in the night sky, the clouds parted, and a great shaft of light fell on each cannibal assembled there. One could hear the faint strum of angel hearts as, one by one, each cannibal knelt in the earth and made the sign of the cross. Then, each lifting their eyes to the heavens, they began praying in unison:

“Bless, O Lord, this food which we are about to eat…”

A more pc version of this humorous parable can be told with a preacher and a bear but the truth remains. Real faith in Jesus Christ fundamentally changes our nature. As scripture reminds us: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (1 Corinthians 5:17) Becoming a Christian means a radical change in our behavior and thinking. Jesus criticized religious leaders who were pious on the outside but inwardly were “ravenous wolves”. He called them “white washed tombs” and criticized their practice of washing the outside of the cup and leaving the inside full of grime. As people of faith we must constantly be challenged by these words. We are called to be more than simply cannibals who pray before we devour one another!

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…