Bold Christianity is Not What You Think

I have a fear for new believers or younger Christians who have experienced the saving work of Christ on their lives and are now looking for models of how to behave as a Christian. These new Christians are sincere and dedicated and they want a behavior to match their bold belief and enthusiasm. 

The problem is that the most outspoken and in your face believers they probably see in their churches, on TV, or on Social Media are highly into politics, or are pushy and legalistic when it comes to “Christian” cultural touchstones like homeschooling, parenting, and the latest theological debate. 

So, these new believers, in a quest to be bold and to show off their new found excitement, join these bold examples not knowing that this is “fool’s bold.” The boldness demonstrated by the most vocal Christian on your Facebook feed or the most celebrated family in your church does not often match the boldness talked about in scripture or the most important characteristics of a community of believers in the early church.

Just a simple search for the words bold, boldness, or boldly in the New Testament comes up with references to speaking and declaring the Good News and the Kingdom of God. The apostles were bold in their declaration of Christ and his saving work. They talked of Jesus and what he has done and what he is still doing and what he will do. That was the model of boldness among the early believers – their making known the message of the Gospel.

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Also instructive is to look at the prayers that Paul has for the churches he is writing to. He does not pray for their political voice, their dedication to causes, or their correctness in apologetics. Instead, he prays like this:

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,[e] 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[f] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1:9-14

In another letter, Paul praises a church because of their imitation of the Lord Jesus and for being messengers of the faith to the point that they were listed as “models for all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.”

A bold church and bold Christians are those that are full of people Growing Up, discovering new things about God, practicing thankfulness and joy, serving others, demonstrating patience, celebrating God’s mercy, and making Christ (not a poor substitute for the Good News) known.

If you are longing for a deeper commitment and feel compelled to take on a more intense version of your Christianity, take heart, you do not have to fit some characterized and stereotyped version of an American Christian who is full of false righteousness, loud mouthed political takes, and Christian cultural fads that are more hype than substance. You can simply and humbly dedicate yourself to imitating Christ, loving him, serving him, generating the Fruits of the Spirit, and gently telling others of what Christ has done for you.

This is biblical boldness. The kind of boldness that may not get you much attention or followers but will honor God and spread his Kingdom.

The First Job of A Christian

The word glory and glorify is used over and over in scripture but do we know what it means to glorify?

I don’t think I could have given you a definition until yesterday. In the Reservoir devotional that our staff has been going through we read this definition, “to glorify means to cause the worth of something to become visible and acknowledged.”

As a Christian, it is my job to glorify Jesus Christ and not myself, my virtue, or even my church and its accomplishments. How do we do this?

First, we have to understand the worth of Jesus so that we can recognize why he should be glorified.

Jesus is God’s Son who humbled himself to take on flesh and live among the sinful, selfish, ignorant, and foolish human race. He healed, loved, taught, served, and sacrificed for these humans that didn’t appreciate it half the time and often tried to attack him for it. He lived a perfect life and took that perfect life and gave it up to death as a perfect sacrifice for all of those humans who loved him and even the ones who hated him.

That death was an atonement for all of the sin and the propensity to screw things up that should have brought punishment and death for us humans. After entering death in our place, Jesus defeated that death and rose from the grave to demonstrate the power of Christ to overcome all that this evil world could possibly do to destroy us. Jesus now dwells in those that have committed their life to him and is directing his kingdom to have done what needs to be done in the name of God and for the blessing of the human race.

Now that we know the worth of Christ, we then make that worth known to others. We tell his story, we point people to him, we praise his name, we sing about him, we study him, we pray to him, we listen to him, we confess to him, we place him at the center of our existence, and we humble ourselves in relation to his greatness.

I like the simplicity of the word “acknowledged” in the definition. Acknowledge is a surrender to the truth. When we glorify God, we surrender to the truth of who Jesus is and we direct others to discover that truth as well. I surrender that I am lacking and powerless to change myself and those around me without the might and power of the resurrected Christ. I am humbled and through my words and actions, Christ is seen as the only hope and truth for a dying world. Then Christ’s name gets glorified even more.

As Christians, we try to replace our one job of glorifying Christ with countless other things, some good and noble and some just frivolous and detrimental. If Christ is your savior then glorify him today in all that you do. Make the glorified Christ known and acknowledged. Humanity is starving for the hope that only Christ can bring.

Glorify him.

How To Make A Neighbor

There is a character in the Bible that is never named but he is labeled by Bible scholars and readers throughout history. He is known as the Good Samaritan. What strikes me as funny about that the Good Samaritan name is that it has taken on a life of its own. Like the man who received this label is some kind of super hero. “There he, the GOOD SAMARITAN. He travels dangerous stretches of Israel saving the weak and those that are crying for help, he is…The GOOD SAMARITAN.”

The words “good Samaritan” does not appear in the story. In fact, for the people that Jesus was telling this story to the mention of the name Samaritan evoked hatred and prejudice. In there racist and biased view, there was no such thing as a Samaritan who is good. For these people, Samaritans were half breeds, betrayers of the one true God, defilers of the covenant, lacking in blessing, and backward and ignorant. By the time Jesus comes along the Samaritans were so despised that “good” Jews of Jesus’ day wouldn’t even step foot in Samaria even though this often forced them to add miles and miles to their travels north and south in Israel.

Image result for good samaritan creative commons
Watts, Manchester Art Gallery

As Jesus completes the lesson he asked the religious leaders who are so proud of their own piety and righteousness who is the neighbor in the story? The answer is obvious to everyone but the person who is questioning Jesus cannot even breathe the word Samaritan and instead spins the answer so he doesn’t have to say the name.

In Jesus’ provocative telling, he uses one of the most despised groups of people in his culture and makes a hero out of one them. The point being that race, politics, country of origin, economic status, and religious respectability is not what makes a person good. A clear sign of a good person is their ability to love others. If Jesus was telling this story to the run of the mill Evangelical church, he might choose different groups to draw his hero of the story – the Good Muslim, the Good Democrat, the Good Homosexual, the Good African American. Also, if he was telling the story in other contexts he might use the Good Evangelical, the Good Republican, or the Good White Person.

Jesus point is two fold. We make ourselves a neighbor by our love for others AND we make others a neighbor by our willingness to love them. I wake up today willing to be a neighbor because of my love for others and those that receive my love are my neighbor because they deserve love from me. As Dallas Willard says, “In God’s order nothing can substitute for loving people.”

As our society tries to determine its future in terms of race, justice, and equality may we take our cue from the Good Samaritan and step out of our prepackaged labels and love those around us so that we will be known for nothing else but our love and the source of that love, Jesus Christ.

*This post was inspired by a section out of Dallas Willard’s book The Divine Conspiracy.

Being Honest With God

As a lifelong Church goer, I am fully aware of the patterns of behavior and ways of thinking that I can sink into that present me as a respectable and good “Christian.” I have been conditioned to look good based on the expectation of the church even though it is all very safe and does not prosper Growing Up or spark much inspiration.

One area where this is obvious is prayer. A lifelong church goer becomes conditioned to pray in the style and manner that they hear in public prayer within the church and among church members. These church goers find a raw and stripped down style of praying to be alien and unlike what they are accustomed to. So, when they go to pray, even privately, their initial tendency is to stick to the safe and staid patterns of prayer that they usually hear in church.

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Through circumstance or need they have not been in a situation where crying out to God in a gut-level way is a viable option. Thank goodness that the Psalms demonstrate to us that prayer can be whining, prayer can be pleading, prayer can be lament, prayer can be stripped to the bone honesty.

Psalm 13 says, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?”

If this kind of honesty disturbs us or the use of raw language feels unsettling to us then this is probably a point of growth. The thing is, we can use the Psalms as our prayer book. This is how they have been used for thousands of years and we can use them in this way now. We can actually speak these words as our own words and start to flex our honest and sincere prayer muscles so that we can begin to talk to God with the enthusiasm of our highest highs and the brokenness of our lowest lows. This is what God wants us to do, he knows our hearts, he knows what we are truly dealing with so we might as well start there and leave the pretense and sanitized language behind.

I need this help too. In addition to praying the Psalms, maybe we should write our own prayers as an exercise in speaking honestly with God. Perhaps something like this:

“Father, I am so tired of this disease that has disrupted my life. I can’t bear the uncertainty it has caused any more. And I am not even suffering from the disease itself. The isolation, loneliness, and helplessness that it has caused good people, innocent people is awful beyond account. Make it stop. End this. I know you have the power to heal and to change this. When will you?”

Stop sugar coating your prayers and lay your heart in front of God. Break that need for refinement and emotional control when approaching God. He is not impressed by you playing a part. Be the real you. For it is in prayer that the Psalmists show us we need to be the most real.

What Matters Most

Three years ago today, my dad died of lung cancer. I want to honor his memory here by sharing what I wrote for the memorial service. The pain of his loss is still present and surfaces at strange times and in strange ways.

Reading these words again reminds me that Growing Up doesn’t have to be complicated and it reminds me that I still have some ways to go to take the lessons he taught me and implement them for my own life.

From July 2017

My dad was a simple man. I say that in the best possible way.

He knew the power of a handshake and taught me such power. Just a few days before he died, he still gave me one of his patented handshakes.

He taught me that life wasn’t about comparison but an opportunity to get the most out of your ability. To this day, I tell our girls each day as they go to school to, “do your best.” I learned that from my dad.

He taught me that little things can make a big difference. My parent’s neighborhood is set up like a circle. Everyday, when he was able, my dad would carry each neighbor’s newspaper from the driveway to the porch. On trash days, he would roll the big trash cans from the curb to the house so that the neighbors wouldn’t have to do it. This sounds like a small thing, but just about every neighbor I talked to after his death mentioned his kindness to do this day after day.

I mentioned that my dad was a simple man. A good way of thinking about simplicity, as it relates to a person, is they know what matters most. My dad knew what mattered most.

Before he retired, his job sent him to schools in small towns around the area where my parents lived. Instead of cranking up his favorite song or listening to talk radio, my dad would turn everything off and pray and meditate and sit in silence. What a simple yet profound thing to do in our day and age.

One Easter growing up, I noticed something strange at the dinner table. The rest of us were enjoying our meal but dad was just drinking orange juice. He wasn’t broadcasting it but he was fasting in response to the sacred event. I had never been exposed to this before and this action really had an impact on me. My dad took his faith serious enough to sacrifice something.  What was I willing to sacrifice?

Not too long ago, my dad and I were on a long trip out of town. He took the opportunity to tell me, “If there is anything I have done or said that hurt you, I am sorry.” Here was a man in his sixties asking for forgiveness. He was at the age where most men don’t think they owe anybody anything. You are supposed to be set in your ways by then. It takes a real man to go first in a situation like that. Unfortunately, I wasn’t man enough to return the favor and tell him that if there was anything that I did that disappointed him or hurt him, I was sorry.

What mattered to my dad was consistency, integrity, love of Jesus, family, connections with close friends, and kindness to others. These are the things that should matter the most to all of us.

May we all practice this kind of simplicity.

My Turning 45 List of Advice, Lessons, and Observations

On June 27th, I turned 45 years old. After being inspired by this list by Kevin Kelley and this from David Perell, I decided to write my own list of advice, observations, and lessons learned. So here is my list, one for each year of my life.

  1. No effort to be a disciple of Jesus goes wasted. I have been transformed and saved by all of these efforts. God has used them to transform me in order to rescue me from grief, loss, heartbreak, self inflicted wounds, trial after trial, betrayal, mistakes, missteps, and disappointment.
  2. Tell the person you are firing the bad news first. It just makes the terrible process go smoother and allows you to be direct and clear.
  3. Having more than one kid brings you more of everything – joy, fun, irritation, hassle, love, meaning, and exhaustion.
  4. I don’t have to be Jesus, just the Jesus that he would be if he were me.*
  5. Prayer is more than worry with wings. Call on God and make your requests known.
  6. Include listening in your prayer time.
  7. It is okay to read the Bible’s greatest hits if that keeps you in the scriptures.
  8. I can’t listen to music with lyrics while doing office work.
  9. Unfriending or unfollowing people on social media that trigger my anger decreases my level of irritation and frustration.
  10. Write the first draft without editing. It lets you get into a flow without beating yourself up for your mistakes and poor execution.
  11. God is the most joyous being in the Universe.*
  12. God’s kingdom is a perfectly safe place for me to be.*
  13. Share a meal with a homeless person. The story and the connection will leave an indelible mark.
  14. Be generous to those in need. If they make poor decisions with your gift, that is between them and God. You are called to be faithful to the Lord’s prompting to give.
  15. Don’t read more than two books at a time.
  16. Name three things you are thankful for each day. Get your kids to do the same.
  17. Never question someone else’s grief.
  18. Fasting is not about your health or spiritual achievement. It is about reliance on God.
  19. I am more likely to fall asleep during an action movie than a drama. I know how the action movie will turn out and who will win, I don’t always know the outcomes of dramas or comedies.
  20. Finding new music that you like is harder when you get older.
  21. Running at least 30 minutes several times a week is therapeutic to me.
  22. The best rock band names are a two word phrase – Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Imagine Dragons. Easy to remember yet open to creativity.
  23. Never use colors or numbers in your band name. Avoid animal names unless they are fictional.
  24. What you think about God is the most important thing about you.#
  25. There is nothing you can do that will make God love you more or love you less.**
  26. Whenever I have put myself at the center of my universe it has been a disaster. That place is reserved for Christ.
  27. My goal in life is to mature in Christ.
  28. Evangelical churches have neglected introverts, singles, and women.
  29. The more Christ’s followers develop a likeness to him the more effective their church will be.
  30. Bible instruction must have an appeal to the heart or it is just an academic exercise.
  31. Classic Country music sounds better on a record player.
  32. How many people like my latest post should not dictate what my next post will be.
  33. Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, Eugene Peterson, and Brennan Manning are all dead. Frederick Buechner may soon follow. Who will be the next ones to inspire a generation willing to be vulnerable, spiritual and broken before Christ?
  34. I write as much for myself as I do for others.
  35. Kick your phone out of the bedroom.
  36. Being a Christian leader is not pushing management solutions with a Christian stamp of approval. It is actually living out the Sermon on the Mount in the context of an organization.
  37. Listening to the Bible counts as reading the Bible.
  38. Embracing silence and solitude for designated moments is a clear path to Growing Up.
  39. Having a personality or a type is how God made you but it also points out areas of growth.
  40. It takes work to stay engaged with your teenagers but it is absolutely essential.
  41. Growing Up as a Christian means finding the best method to experience God and learn from Jesus. That might look different for different people.
  42. The only hope that any family relationship has is the ruthless ability to forgive.
  43. The people who succeed are the ones that can find enthusiasm in the middle not just the beginning or the end.
  44. Look at the sky at least once a day.
  45. I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights and I live in the strong and unshakable kingdom of God.^

*From Dallas Willard

#From A.W Tozer

**From Brennan Manning

^From James Bryan Smith

How To Listen To God Using The Samuel Prayer

I am fond of sentence prayers that are easy to memorize and can be said in a pinch. 

When my mind can come up with nothing to pray about, I simply go to one of my sentence prayers. Sometimes I say the Shema and sometimes I say the Jesus Prayer. Lately, I have been using another prayer, what Adam McHugh calls the Samuel Prayer.

The Samuel Prayer is simply saying the following, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” 

This prayer comes from a charming story in scripture where a young Samuel, who was learning under a haggard priest named Eli, kept hearing God speak to him but thought it was Eli calling him instead. Finally, Eli instructs Samuel to listen for the voice again and when he hears it to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

What I like about this prayer is that it helps me flex my spiritual listening muscles. Did you know that prayer is also about listening? 

For some reason, I always approach prayer like I am pulling up to a drive thru window. I want to get all of my requests out and the less I have to hear back from the voice behind the speaker the better for everyone. But that is not all there is to prayer. McHugh says, “prayer without listening is not truly prayer.” He says that listening prayer is the only way we can adhere to Paul’s directive of “praying without ceasing.”

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I also like the language used in the prayer. The use of the word “Lord” is an important reminder as is the word “servant.” My best approach to God is as a servant and that means I need to be listening and investing time into hearing what God may be saying to me.

What has been the result for me saying the Samuel Prayer? What have I heard God saying to me? 

Sometimes nothing but many times I have been directed, been spoken to, and been reminded of great truths. What I hear is not always the most important thing. The simple act of listening is a way of cultivating my relationship to God. 

Any good relationship includes a healthy amount of speaking and listening. If I am doing all of the talking in a relationship then I am guilty of selfishness, greed, and gluttony but if I seek to listen as much as I can then I have a better understanding of the heart of the person I am in relationship with.

Take the Samuel Prayer and use it throughout the day or take a few moments at a designated time and use the Samuel Prayer to help you listen for God. I can’t tell you the skies will open up or you will have a legendary life with God like Samuel experienced but I can tell you that you will possess a posture of listening and you will see the importance of not just talking to God but also listening. God will be delighted that you are listening to him and will give you rich moments with him.

Let This Moment Be Your Moment of Greatest Growth

“Never let a crisis go to waste.”

As we settle into what Tony Evans says are multiple pandemics, it is a perfect time for disciples of Jesus Christ to start assessing their spiritual life and determining areas of growth.

I would hate to come out of these pandemics and not have done some serious soul searching and asked God who I am becoming in the midst of all of this and what he needs me to do and be.

One means of assessment is to ask if I am resembling what scripture says about a Grown Up Christian? 

A Grown Up Christian will have the power of the Holy Spirit and that power will begin to produce characteristics such as love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self control. If you are not cultivating these fruits of the Spirit then what are you waiting for? The next pandemic?

A Grown Up Christisan should pursue and possess wisdom. The fools despise wisdom and instruction but the wise listen and add to their learning and get guidance because they fear the Lord and seek to be obedient to him. Dallas Willard says, “In fact, if we are to use our minds rightly, we must live in an attitude of constant openness and learning.” 

Have you learned anything over the last three months? Are you listening to disparate voices? To God? And are you learning and gaining insight on how to live and behave as a Christ-like person? If not, why not?

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Another thing that marks a Grown Up Christian is the reality of not having all of the answers. Paul, who knew so much about Christ and talked confidently about our life in Christ, states that we know in part and we prophesy in part and that we see through a darkened glass. If Paul, this great shaper of Christian thought and practice, accepts that there is only so much we can understand this side of heaven then why must we, as tiny and insignificant believers, think that we can describe with perfect clarity the purpose behind a pandemic, all the right answers for racial injustice, and the will of God for our government? 

So, if a Grown Up Christian is cultivating the Fruits of the Spirit, gaining in wisdom, but understands that pure certainty is not the end goal and is unrealistic in our limited human state, then they can begin to find a humbled, relaxed existence that trusts that God knows what he is doing and that they live in the strong and unshakable Kingdom of God and that is a perfectly safe place to be. 

Then, this crisis would not have gone to waste.

The World Needs You To Be Jesus Too

Here are some of the things I have heard Christians say, especially recently:

“What we need is Jesus.” “There will be no hope until there is a spiritual awakening in this country.” “Pray that God will move on our nation.” “We all need a savior.”

Even one of my heroes, Dallas Willard, says something similar, “There are no human solutions to human problems.” I support these sentiments whole heartedly but I think they send the wrong message, particularly to Christians.

What Willard would no doubt point out and what needs to happen is not Christians in their steepled tower looking down on the wayward world who need a good spiritual slap in the face and come to Jesus moment but Christians who are willing to Grow Up to the point of actually serving as Jesus’ proxy here on earth so that people will see their good works and glorify the Father in heaven.

One of the last things that Jesus told his disciples is that they will do the same things that he has done himself and even greater things than that. What Jesus means is that individual Grown Up Christians in the community of other Grown Up Christians and with the power of the Holy Spirit and the redeeming and resurrected power of Christ inside of them can unleash miracle upon miracle on the world.

When Jesus came, he was just one man that was able to love and just serve who was in front of him. But, his followers, operating out of their new life in Christ, could impact thousands upon thousands of people and work miracles by the sheer act of taking Christ’s love wherever they go and whoever they are with.

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I don’t fully understand why Jesus would bother with us limited and tainted people but he has chosen to entrust us to do his work here on earth. What is that work? To love one another, to set the captives free, to visit the prisoners, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, and to serve with humility and sacrifice, as he demonstrated. 

The Jesus the world needs may be myself living with humility or you living without pride or your fellow church member dropping the need to judge others. The world needs you to Grow Up. 

The whole world needs to know the saving power of Christ but not just in a revivalistic, “get right with Jesus” way but you and me actually Growing Up to be more like our Savior for the benefit of our own soul and the good of our families, our community, and our country. 

There are no human solutions to human problems and that is why all of our human problems need individuals who have found the divine solution and that solution, Christ, has revolutionized their own character and life and shaped them so that they can help bring the divine solution to a world that desperately needs it.

Jesus has taught you and instructed you on how to Grow Up. Jesus is transforming you to be Grown Up not just for our own purposes but for his purposes in the world. Stop telling others that they just need Jesus if you are not willing to be Jesus to them. The Jesus they need might just be you. 

The Spiritual Side of Your Response To Racial Crisis

What should a spiritual response be to the horrific racial nature of the deaths of George Floyd and Armaud Arbrey?

Envision Heaven: I believe that many Christians will be surprised when they get to heaven. Instead of the best version of their favorite homogenized church service that they were expecting they will see every race known to humanity, languages and dialects that are foreign to them, and cultural tendencies that doesn’t fit the narrative of a white-centric heaven. Maybe, we won’t see the need to categorize and label the way we do this side of heaven but I believe that our differences will still be apparent. If we can’t support, love, and worship with our Black brothers and sisters now then heaven is going to take some getting used to. I would like to be preparing myself for heaven now. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…”

Examine Your Heart: I possess bias, even prejudice in my own heart. You do too. Have you dismissed some areas of your town or region because of the color that is represented in that community? Do you always seem to make a point to list race when you are telling a story, especially a negative one? Is there a tinge of fear when you encounter a group of people from a different race from your own? Do you assume certain people you talk to on the phone or encounter at a business lack intelligence or skill to provide you what you need?

Our hearts can be radically evil and ruined and that is often our default mode until it is transformed by Christ (which is a lifelong process). Before we dismiss racism and prejudice as an affliction that someone else has, we need to examine our own hearts to see the renovation that needs to go on there. Ask God to help you see his people in the way that he sees his people. Ask for humility to acknowledge where we may be complicit in the society and institutional racism that exists. As long as we think it is someone else’s hang up and not our own, we won’t be compelled to do anything different.

Lament and Grieve: Please realize that what happened to George Floyd and the aftermath of protests that erupted after his death is not the “News Media Crisis of the Week.” The same issues that the Black community is facing today they will be facing two months from now and next year when Social Media and the internet has moved on to a new crisis. 

In order for us to avoid the crisis news cycle, we need to lament and grieve what has happened to George Floyd, Atatiana Jefferson, Sandra Bland, Armaud Arbrery, and the list goes on and on. Their senseless deaths at the hands of prejudice and racially motivated violence is at the height of evil and tragedy and requires Christians to lament these lives that were lost and to cry out to God for justice and reconciliation for our country and our communities. 

Blackout your social media feed if you feel led but don’t skip over the hard and unpleasant process of heartbreak and loss that triggers healing. I plan on reading and praying the Psalms of lament to help me embrace this tragedy with a deeper perspective.

Have Dinner: The amount of ministry performed by Jesus over meals is astounding. Dinners and food metaphors are some of Jesus’ favorite devices and teaching symbols. His miracles often centered around providing food and drink for people who needed it no matter their position in life, gender, or worthiness. 

I have been struck recently by hearing about the Racial Reconciliation Dinners that have sprung up around the South. There is something so pure and basic, in the best sense of the word, about sitting across from someone that you wouldn’t normally socially interact with. Opinions, preferences, and barriers just fall away when you can look someone in the eye and have a conversation over a quality meal served with hospitality and love. Start your own reconciliation dinners.