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Christian Natural Health

Christian Natural Health is the podcast that teaches you about natural health from a biblical perspective. I'm Dr. Lauren Deville, a practicing naturopathic physician in Tucson, AZ. In this podcast, my guests and I will cover topics ranging from nutrition, sleep, hormone balancing and exercise, to specific health concerns like hair loss, anxiety, and hypothyroidism. Once a week, I'll include a bonus episode, meditating on a Bible verse or passage. I'll also interweave biblical principles as they apply throughout the podcast--because true health is body, mind, and spirit. Learn more about me at http://www.drlaurendeville.com/
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Now displaying: 2020
Dec 25, 2020
Today's podcast is a meditation on Luke 2:36-38, just after Jesus' birth. 
 
You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray
 
Intro
    We know very little about Anna: just three verses encompass her entire life. She was married seven years, and then widowed for eighty-four; probably the youngest she could have been married would have been fourteen, which would make her at least one hundred and five by the time she sees Jesus.
    The Old Testament makes provisions for widows. If they are widowed young, as Anna would have been, a kinsman redeemer is to marry her and provide for her. Perhaps she had none, or perhaps he refused.
    Anna may have had children who had grown by now; maybe she chose to live at the temple only after they had grown. But the verses seem to imply that she had lived at the temple from the time of her widowhood, for eighty-four years. This to me suggests that in seven years of marriage, she never had any children. So either she or her husband were likely barren (and in those days, the woman was usually blamed). Would that be why she never remarried, because she was assumed to be barren? There are promises for the faithful of Israel that none shall be barren or miscarry, though the Word must always be mixed with faith to receive it (Hebrews 4:2). It’s pure speculation to imagine what might have happened in Anna’s case.
    In my retelling, though, I imagine that her decision to remain a widow and live at the temple all her life started out as what she thought was her only choice. As a widow with presumably no family to care for her, she was dependent upon offerings to sustain her anyway (Deut 26:12-13), so it makes sense that she would live at the temple. But as she grew closer to the Lord and invested all her attention on pleasing Him rather than on pleasing a husband, she realized that this was actually better, as did the later Apostle Paul (1 Cor 7:32-40). The Lord is the husband to the widow (Isaiah 54:4-5) just as the Church is the Bride of Christ.
    What did she do during those long years, though? How do you fast and pray for eighty-four years?
    Paul writes that we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). This does not mean constantly petitioning the Lord for the same things like a broken record, though. Most prayer is not petition at all. Like Adam and Eve strolling with God in the cool of the day, it is simply being aware of Him, spending time with Him. Like David in the Psalms, it is praising Him for who He is, for His goodness, for what He has done. For us today (though not yet for Anna), it is the Holy Spirit showing us things to come and leading us into all truth (John 16), and praying the hidden mysteries of God in tongues (1 Cor 14) to build us up in our faith (Jude 1:20). It’s meditating on and renewing our minds with the Word (Romans 12:2). I imagine that Anna also had plenty of time to pour over the prophecies of the Messiah. She did not yet have the Holy Spirit upon the HS was probably upon her but not w/in her her (or maybe she did, since Simeon did, Luke 2:26, and He came upon Old Testament heroes from time to time!). Regardless, like God’s friends of old such as Abraham and Daniel, He must have revealed to Anna what he was about to do on the earth. That’s why she knew to come in to the temple “that instant,” when Mary and Joseph were presenting the sacrifices for Jesus according to the law. God probably wanted to share with those attuned to Him enough to listen, just like we want to share good news with the people closest to us. He wanted his friends to celebrate with Him!
 
Fictionalized Retelling
    I could have attempted to remarry when I was widowed at the young age of twenty-one. But it would not have been easy, for several reasons.
    First, my husband had no unmarried brothers. There were distant cousins to whom I could turn as kinsman-redeemers, but I knew they would not want me. In the seven years of our marriage, I had not produced a child, so it was to be assumed that I was barren.
    I had a brother and a kindly sister-in-law who would have taken me in, but this would have been a great burden upon them. They were poor, and had three children at the time to provide for already. Also, given my barrenness, it was unlikely that I would ever be taken off their hands.
    So it was clear that I should choose a life of pure devotion to the Lord. I was already predisposed to do so anyway, as I had learned to read at a young age, and during my husband’s long illness, I had poured over the scriptures for comfort.
    At first the stories of old were just stories to me. But in time I began to see the broken heart of God as the theme interwoven through them all: His deep love for His people who time and time again betrayed Him. His love for Israel was like the jealous love of a husband for his unfaithful bride, Israel. The first time I read through Hosea, I wept and wept for the Lord. I was only one woman, but I longed to make it up to Him on behalf of my people, to the best of my poor abilities. He would be my husband, and I would be his bride, spending every moment and every year and every last bit of my strength in loving and worshiping Him. In return, He filled me up with His love so completely that I often felt I could burst with the joy of it. No earthly wife was ever so satisfied as I was with my groom.
    I dwelt in the temple night and day, fasting and praying before the Lord. I slept in the Chamber of the Hearth. I joined in as those who came to the temple presented their little ones for dedication and sacrifice, thanking God for them with as much fervor as if they had been my own. Many times the Lord would give me a specific word for their lives, and I would lay hands on them and prophesy to their parents what they would become. He often led me to join with those who wept and mourned, and lend them the strength and comfort He had given me. I didn’t resent it or feel like I was just being used as an instrument to bless others—it was more like I was partnering with my Husband in His work. It made me feel closer to Him.
    I had been there for almost fifteen years, the first time the Lord let me see Him. Whether it was in the body or in the spirit, I do not know, the Lord knows. But for the first time, I understood what the prophet Ezekiel had described. His language of the Throne Room had been so fantastical that I could not grasp it until I saw it myself. Then I realized that our language falls pitifully short, and Ezekiel had done the best he could! The throne shone a vibrant, clear, shining blue—like a sapphire, though it was not a sapphire. The One who sat on the throne—oh! I have never before beheld anything so beautiful! He burned like fire, except he was not fire itself. It was his glory that shone, radiating an amber color from the waist up, like the vibrant orange of a flame; from the waist down, beholding Him was like looking at the sun, or a star. But the light He produced split into all its component colors, a shimmering rainbow so bright I could scarcely look at it. I, too, fell on my face before Him.
    “Stand, Daughter,” said the voice of the One on the throne, and though it sounded like many waters, in it was also infinite tenderness. “And approach. She who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”
    I recognized the passage as the first verse of Psalm 91. I had spent many years now meditating upon the meaning of the secret place. Here it was! The Lord granted me the desire of my heart—to behold it. To dwell in it! The only way to get into the shadow of the throne was to do as He bid me, to approach very close indeed. It was the one thing I wanted so badly I could hardly stand it, and yet I was so terrified that I dared not move without invitation.
    But He Himself had invited me! I rose, quivering. Somehow my legs obeyed me, and the next thing I knew, I was running to Him. He laughed, and the sound of His laughter filled the throne room with almost palpable joy. Then He stood up, opening His arms to receive me. I had intended to dive behind the throne and hide in its shadow, but to run past His waiting arms would be to reject Him—and that was the one thing in the world I could never, never do. Though I hardly knew how I dared, both terrified and yet bursting with His joy, I ran straight into them. And oh, the bliss of that moment—it is almost indecent to describe it!
    I have not left that embrace these almost seventy years since. Not once.
    As the years went on, the Lord took me more and more to the scriptures that prophesied the coming Messiah, from the prophecy of Eve’s Seed who would bruise the head of the serpent to the Rod of the stem of Jesse prophesied in Isaiah. This meant we would know His lineage, I realized. He would have to come as a baby, not as a conquerer from the ends of the earth! As I realized this, I had a vision of a child, ordinary looking in every way.
    Oh, how I longed for that Child, far more than I had ever desired a child of my own!
    Then one day, the priest named Zacharias emerged from his duties at the temple. There was a commotion around him. Curious, I joined the small crowd of onlookers as he emerged into the outer courts.
    “What took you so long, Zacharias?” the other priests pressed him. “You were in there for ages! We thought we would have to pull you out by the rope!” There was a smattering of laughter at this, but it died away quickly as Zacharias gestured at the Holy of Holies, then up at the ceiling and down, then with his fingers splayed out again and again.
    “What’s he saying?” a few murmured.
    Another said to him, “Can’t you speak?”
    “I think he’s seen a vision! Did you see a vision, Zacharias?” When the priest nodded vigorously, there was a ripple of shock. The questions came faster and all at once after that, but the priest pushed past them, apparently done trying to communicate. It was clear he was eager to leave. 
    He saw an angel, I realized. I swallowed, and asked the Lord, Does this have to do with the coming of the Christ?
    He did not answer me, but I felt that it did somehow. Yet why couldn’t the old priest speak about what he had seen? Why would the Lord reveal something to him in a vision if he could not communicate it to us? That must mean that the vision was just for him…
    Nine months later, I had my answer. I was not there when the elderly priest’s newborn son was circumcised, but the temple was abuzz with the stories.
    “His tongue was loosed as soon as he proclaimed the child’s name was John, and then he prophesied that he would be the forerunner of the Christ, the one Malachi spoke of!”
    My pulse quickened, and again, I had a flash of the baby: the Lord’s anointed. This John was not Him, but He would come soon, I realized. He would come to this very temple for His dedication and sacrifice. I would see Him!
    Will I see Him, Lord? I begged silently. Will I live that long? I was an old woman, over one hundred years old—but surely the Lord could let me live just a little longer. As I had remained in the Father’s embrace all these years, might I also hold Him with my natural arms, before I fell asleep for the last time?
    I petitioned the Lord for this honor daily for the next six months.
    Then one day, I saw devout old Simeon hurrying through the outer courts of the temple. He did not live in the temple as I did, but he was there very often. Usually he was friendly to me—but today, he was on a mission. I followed close behind him, my heart burning with anticipation. Then suddenly, he froze.
    A young couple stood before him. The girl mother held a small bundle, and her husband stood beside her. Both were simply dressed. My eyes fell to the babe in her arms even as I saw Simeon approach them, and my heart leapt to my throat. Simeon reached out for the babe, and the surprised mother yielded him to the old man’s arms.
    “Lord,” Simeon said, his voice loud and clear, yet trembling with emotion, “now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”
    The man and his wife exchanged a look of wonder. Still cradling the child, Simeon looked up at the girl and proclaimed, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against—yes, and a sword will pierce through your own soul also—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
    He then relinquished the child into the mother’s arms again, and turned to look at me with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. Trembling, I walked forward for my turn, and beseeched the girl with a question in my eyes. I hoped—oh, so desperately!—that she would offer to let me hold him too. I reached out my withered old hands, and then retracted them again, suddenly fearing that I might be too frail. What if I could not support Him? But just as I pulled away again, the girl gave me an encouraging nod and reached out, placing the bundle in my arms.
    My eyes swam with tears as I held my Lord, as He had held me my whole life long. I looked into the innocent little face. He looked back up at me with His wide dark eyes that seemed just like those of any other infant, and yet—did He know me? I fancied He did. Then He smiled, giggled and cooed. I giggled back like a schoolgirl, the tears running freely down my face. I dared not spare a hand to wipe them away while I held such precious cargo.  
    I thought my heart would burst. But if it did so now, if I died right here, that would be all right.
    “Thank you, Lord,” I managed, “for granting my petition, for granting that I might see and hold the redemption of Your people, here in the land of the living! This is the Child who was foretold in the beginning, the Seed of Eve, the root of Jesse, the Lion of Judah, and the Lamb of God!”
    I lifted up my eyes in thanksgiving, as the mother whispered, looking from me to where Simeon had been, “How do you both know this?”
    “The same way the shepherds knew,” her husband murmured to her. “Everyone close to the Lord seems to know…”
    “It’s an open secret,” I agreed, grinning at the man. “He’s only been talking about it since the dawn of time.”   
 
Dec 18, 2020

Michael Rubino, an innovative expert in mold contamination and remediation. Rubino and his company All American Restoration have been featured in USA Today, NJBiz, Reader’s Digest, New Jersey Monthly and Digital Trends. He was also selected as a speaker for the Spring 2020 Indoor Air Quality Association Meeting and Expo.

Rubino received a Bachelor of Science degree in 2008 and is a council-certified microbial remediator from the American Council for Accredited Certification, and a New York State Department of Labor Remediation Contractor. He has spent the past seven years involved in construction and remediating mold contamination.

Rubino’s focus is not just on removing cosmetic damage resulting from mold. It’s on removing all traces of mold, the spores they leave behind and the toxins produced by the mold. He’s discovered that a person suffering from hypersensitivity to mold needs all three types of decontamination to regain their health.

To educate those who are suffering, Rubino wrote the book Mold Medic. In detail, Rubino advises readers how to choose a mold remediation company and the exact processes that company should be using.

Get the book here: https://www.allamericanrestoration.com/

Email him at: michael@allamericanrestoration.com

Dec 11, 2020

Dr. Hal Bradley is a veteran and pastor with a PhD in pastoral counseling and a passion for helping the homeless and those in distress.  Before becoming a pastor, he was a drug lord, and at one time the largest cocaine trafficker in the Pacific Northwest. He served four years at the Springfield medical center for federal prisoners and one year in Leavenworth federal prison. He then worked as a contractor for the Department of Justice, where he helped to capture the drug kingpins.  He now lives a quiet life focused on working with the homeless, the afflicted, and people with broken souls with the hospice ministry over the past 17 years.

He is currently recovering from an attack, allegedly ordered by a drug cartel. But he faces life with joy in his heart, without hate or anger, and feels blessed that God has chosen a purpose for him and that he survived such horrible things. He carries love wherever he goes, and this extends to his work with the homeless and others whom many people choose to ignore.

To get a copy of Crisis Victory, go to crisisvictory.com

Dec 4, 2020

Joani Schultz is Group Publishing's Chief Creative Officer. She oversees the creation of Group's resources, training, and services for children’s ministry, youth ministry, adult ministry, and church leadership. She's the author of numerous books including "Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore," and "The 1 Thing." She leads the teams that create Group's Bible curriculum, vacation Bible school, books, magazines, conferences, music, and training.

Today I’m specifically interviewing her about Eyewitness: The Visual Experience Bible, by Jeff White.

Learn more at experienceeyewitness.com

Nov 27, 2020

Today's podcast comes from this blog post, How Nature Supports Mental Health.

The link for our sponsor is trylgc.com/cnh, and enter the coupon code CNH20 for 20% off your order.

Nov 20, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

Today's retelling comes from Genesis 2:21-3:24.

Intro: 

Ugh. How heartbreaking it must have been for God, though He knew that this moment would come from the very beginning. Every good gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights (James 1:17), and He had bestowed the best He had upon Adam and Eve, the crowning glory of His creation. But what He wanted was a real relationship with them, in which they chose to obey Him—not because they had no alternative, but out of love and respect. They had to have a choice in order to do this. So God placed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the “midst” of the garden—presumably, right in the middle. They would have passed by this tree more often than any other in the garden. The choice was always right there, in plain view. But when they were innocent, they did not even notice it. Why would they? Every need had already been met. They trusted God implicitly.

Enter Satan, who would not be so called anywhere in the book of Genesis. Perhaps it was he who took the form of the serpent, or perhaps he would just inspire the serpent to deceive Eve. In his cunning, he overlooked every blessing, every ‘yes’ God had given Eve, and focused entirely on the one ‘no.’ It’s also interesting that he approached Eve instead of Adam. God had never told Eve anything about the tree directly—He had told Adam that it was forbidden, and Adam had relayed this to Eve. Her knowledge of what God had said about the tree was secondhand. Because of this, just like playing “telephone,” she got it just slightly wrong. She thought they had been forbidden even to touch the fruit of the tree. God never said this, which may have been significant. Perhaps when Eve touched the fruit and nothing happened, it convinced her that the rest was false also.

Satan also convinced Eve to question God’s character. Temptation to sin always includes some element of this. If she had never wondered whether there was a blessing that God had withheld from her, she never would have eaten the fruit (2 Cor 11:3).
Why was their nakedness what they noticed first after the fall? Andrew Wommack’s theory is that they were previously so dominated by their spiritual “sight” that they simply did not notice the physical. I don’t think this is entirely true, since everything else in the garden was physical—but it is true that they died spiritually as soon as they disobeyed God. It was not until after Jesus’ resurrection that spiritual rebirth became possible. The challenge now is to renew our minds so that we can see into the spirit, where we have every spiritual blessing available (Eph 1:3), rather than walking by sight (2 Cor 5:7).

Immediately after the fall, Adam and Eve experienced fear for the first time (Gen 3:10). Fear does not come from God (2 Tim 1:7); it only comes when we do not understand and trust in God’s perfect love, which casts out fear (1 John 4:18). But if they had understood God’s perfect love, they never would have obeyed the serpent in the first place. Punishment did come, but it was not for punishment’s sake. The world was now corrupted, and it was God’s mercy that expelled them from the Garden so that they could not eat from the Tree of Life and live forever in that fallen state! God did not want that for them: to be always decaying but never dying, always separated from Him, always in their sin. He wanted us to have eternal life, but spiritually, not just physically.
Once they became aware of their nakedness, they needed to cover it—which required death. They died spiritually the moment they fell, but physical death would come, for them, centuries later. To “cover” them until then, God had to kill an animal—a symbol of Christ’s ultimate atonement for all sin (Hebrews 9:22). (I chose a lion in this retelling because Christ is referred to as both the Lion of Judah and also the Lamb of God, but I figured a single lamb probably wouldn’t produce enough skin to cover both Adam and Eve unless God wove its wool into clothing, and the scripture doesn’t say He did that.)

When God pronounced that the Seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head, this of course referred to Jesus. It’s interesting that part of Adam’s curse was that the ground would produce thorns, and Jesus wore a crown of thorns on the cross—a symbol of bearing the curse for us so that we could be redeemed from it (Gal 3:13). But Eve did not understand that the Savior would be many generations hence. When she gave birth to Cain, she said, “Behold, I have gotten a man, the Lord” (Gen 4:1, though some translations say, “I have gotten a man from the Lord.” The original Hebrew does not include the word “from”). She presumably thought this was the Messiah, come to redeem them already. Perhaps she hoped that through him, she and Adam would be able to return to Eden. Sadly, rather than becoming their redemption, Cain became the first murderer instead.

When Christ comes the second time, in the New Jerusalem, the Tree of Life will again be freely available to the redeemed (Rev 2:7), and its leaves will be for the healing of the nations (Rev 22:2). Then, restored to our original perfection, eternal life—body, soul, and spirit—will be ours once more.

Fictionalized Retelling

 I breathed in, and I was. The air filled every part of me with life.
This was the first thing I knew. Then I opened my eyes.
The Face I beheld was like light itself, though there was also light behind Him. I had no concept of anything until that moment, but that Face was the very definition of beauty. I gazed up at Him, rapturous. His eyes were like liquid love, bursting with color, their expression infinitely gentle.
“Hello, my dear,” said my Creator.
“Hello,” I murmured back in wonder, marveling at the sound of my own voice, at the feel of it vibrating in my throat. On instinct I reached for Him, but had not fully completed the action when I stopped, distracted by the wonder of my own limbs. I held them up before my face, wiggling my fingers and watching them obey me. My Creator chuckled, and the sound thrilled me with warmth. I shivered, every nerve humming with the sensation.
“We are Elohim,” the Creator told me. “You may call me God.”
“God,” I whispered, reaching again for His face. He did not repulse me, but let me caress Him, leaning in to my palm and covering it with His own. He grinned down at me, and I reflexively grinned back.
“Come. There is someone I want you to meet,” God said. He set me on my feet, and I marveled at the feeling of the spongy, dewy ground beneath my feet. As soon as I noticed the sensations, the words for them came to me. I marveled at that too: that I knew so many things I had never learned.
I looked up at God, and though before I had thought of Him as infinitely larger than I was, I found that he was only about a head taller. He held my hand in his. He shone like the orb overhead that bathed us all in its light. I turned my attention to it next, and then to all it illuminated. There was a canopy of green above us, the foliage of thick trees. I identified the sounds around us as flowing water and chirping birds. I turned to see the cheerful river behind us. Flowers of every color, shape, and size bloomed all around us, and living creatures hummed all around them: hummingbirds, butterflies, bees. Other creatures covered in fur or feathers roamed throughout the land too, each of them unique and lovely in its own way.
“What is this place?” I asked in wonder.
“Do you like it?” He asked, but the delight in his question made it clear He knew my answer already.
“Oh, yes!”
“I have called it Eden. I made it for you, Adam.”
I turned back, excited to hear my own name. “Am I called Adam, then?”
“You were taken from Adam, your husband. I have given him the task of naming all My other creatures, so I will give him that privilege with you as well. Until then, you too are Adam.” God gestured before us, under a palm tree. “This is your Adam. He is called a man.”
A new sensation stirred in me as I beheld the creature God indicated. The man had flesh instead of fur or feathers, like I did. My eyes traced the curve of his face. His strong jaw beneath his dark beard. My mouth fell open in awe. Like all the animals, he too was beautiful, but in a completely new way. His kind of beauty allured me in a way that none of the other animals had done. As I took all of this in, he sat up, as if waking from a deep sleep.
Then he saw me. His expression went slack, and I watched, gratified, as he drank me in as I had him. Slowly, he rose to his feet and took tentative steps toward me.
Beside us, God beamed, delighting in our admiration of each other as much as we were. He said, “Adam, meet your helper. I have fashioned her from one of your ribs. I trust you prefer to have it back in this form.”
Adam’s eyes filled with tears, as he turned to God, unable to speak, the gratitude obvious in his face. Then he looked back at me, and spoke. I could tell, even though I had never heard him speak before, that his voice was hoarse with emotion.
“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” When he got close enough, he reached for my face, in the same way that I had originally reached for God’s. I copied the motion, laying my hand on top of his when he touched my cheek.
“I will call her Eve, because she will be the mother of all the living.”
“Eve,” I repeated, trying the sound of my own name on my tongue. I liked it. I smiled at Adam and he smiled back at me. There was nothing more to say. 
“I will leave you two to get acquainted,” God murmured, and took His leave. For a second the thought that He was gone alarmed me, but then Adam slid his hand from my cheek to my hand, entwining his fingers with mine. When I turned back to him, the expression on his face was so full of tenderness that I felt answering tears prick in my eyes.
“You… are… exquisite,” Adam whispered to me. The words filled me up almost the way that first breath had done. I had not known I wanted to be exquisite until my husband said it—but suddenly, it was all I wanted.
“Aren’t you going to show me around?” I teased, though I was very pleased that he could not seem to look away from me.
“I will try, but I cannot promise I will be able to walk without tripping over my own feet,” he replied in the same tone. “I’ll be too busy looking at you.” I giggled, marveling at that instinct too and delighting at the feel of it. Somehow, I knew what laughter was.
Adam led me through the garden by the hand, calling the animals to him by name and then showing them to me. I reached out to caress them all, from the elephant to the lion to the mouse, and they nuzzled me affectionately in return. I gestured to the lion to open his mouth for me, marveling at how sharp his teeth were. He let me poke them with the tip of my finger, patiently waiting for me to extract my hand before he went about his business. I watched as he used those sharp claws to dig up root vegetables hidden in the earth, so hard that I would not have considered them food. But the lion’s incisors tore into the vegetables with no trouble at all.
My own stomach growled as I watched the lion eat. Adam explained, “You are hungry. Here.” He plucked a bunch of berries from a tree, handing them to me. Then from another, he plucked something very hard and brown. I frowned at it, unsure how it might turn out to be food like the berries, until Adam showed me how to remove the outer shell to reveal the soft meat inside. Nuts, he called them. When I tasted them both, my face lit up wth delight as the flavors exploded on my tongue: tart and sweet and savory, all at once.
“What about that one?” I pointed at a tree that bore round fruit that looked like burnished gold.
“You want one of those?” Adam grinned, trotting over to the tree and plucking two of the golden fruit. He returned and handed me one, taking a bite out of the other himself. “I think this one is my favorite too. God called it the Tree of Life.”
“So many different kinds of food!” I exclaimed, looking around the garden to see if I could distinguish all the fruits around me from the flowers.
“God gave us all of the green herbs and fruits with seeds for food,” Adam explained, “except for the one in the middle, the one that makes those sort of oddly shaped reddish brown fruits, see it?” He pointed at the tree next to the Tree of Life, and I nodded.
“Why not that one?” I asked.
“He said it is called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and He said that we shall not eat it, for the day that we eat of it, we shall surely die.”
For the briefest second, I felt an ominous shadow pass over my heart at these words. Die? What did die mean? But then it was gone. I shrugged. We had plenty of other trees to choose from. I saw no reason to bother about the one forbidden tree.
The day began to wane and the light changed from white to golden before we had finished our tour of Eden. I pointed up at the sky with a slight questioning frown, though I wasn’t concerned so much as confused.
“It is called sunset,” Adam explained. “Day and night lasts a total of twenty-four hours. It’s not precisely twelve and twelve hours of day and night, but close. God says the ratio between the two will change with the seasons.”
“What are seasons?” I asked, wide-eyed.
Adam shook his head. “I don’t exactly know, I haven’t seen them yet. But God says it’s when weather changes, and the sun and celestial bodies change their positions throughout the year.”
I thought about how I knew that twelve and twelve made twenty-four. This too delighted me. But I forgot all about addition when I watched as the colors changed across the sky, from golden light to pinks and golds and purples. I gasped, clapping with delight.
“God!” I called out to Him, suspecting He was not far away. “Good show!”
He emerged from the trees in the cool of the day, strolling unhurried, and beamed at us.
“Thank you, my dear,” He said, sitting down on the marshy grass beside us. We sat too, and I leaned into his gleaming white robe, nestling my head on one of His shoulders. God stroked my long dark hair away from my face. I sighed with contentment. Adam sat down on God’s other side, interlocking elbows and also leaning into Him. The three of us watched as the sun descended below the horizon, and then suddenly the darkness was not just darkness.
“What are those?” I exclaimed in wonder, pointing up at the tiny pinpricks of light in the dark sky. “And that?” I pointed at the large glowing orb spangled with shadows.
“The moon and the stars,” God explained. “The moon is to govern the night just as the sun governs the day. Stars are just like the sun, but much, much further away in outer space.”
“What is outer space?” I asked, wide-eyed.
“It is where the earth is hung, and there are other planets also, though not exactly like earth. Earth is very special,” He told me with a tender smile, touching the tip of my nose affectionately. Satisfied, I nestled back against Him, yawning.
“Why do I feel so tired?”
“Because it is time for you to sleep,” God whispered, lowering me down to the spongy ground beside my husband, who automatically wrapped an arm around me. “It restores your energy so that you will be fresh again tomorrow morning…”
I did not hear the last of God’s words before I drifted off.
The first rays of the sun filtered through my eyelids the following morning. They fluttered open and I sat up, mouth agape in wonder yet again as the same colors from sunset danced across the sky at sunrise as well. I glanced at Adam, who somehow managed to continue his slumber despite the light. A little family of squirrels slept on the ground near us, and beside me, a bear stretched its sharp claws, yawned, and took a swipe at the fruit on a nearby tree. I skipped over to him and stroked his fur in good morning. But then I jumped back—not from the bear, but from something living in the branches of the tree beside us that I had not seen before. It looked like one of the branches itself, but it seemed to slither. My eyes scanned until I found first its tiny legs, and then its face. The eyes sharpened upon me, and it opened its mouth.
“Good morning, Eve,” it hissed.
I had not heard any of the other animals in the garden speak besides Adam, myself, and God. But everything was new to me, so I thought nothing of it.
“Good morning, serpent,” I greeted it, remembering the name Adam had given the creature.
I was just reaching for the same fruit the bear had breakfasted on, when the serpent said, “You don’t want to eat from this tree. The fruit is very bitter.”
“Oh,” I hesitated. But then I shrugged, and turned to a vine nearby, bearing clusters of juicy-looking red grapes. But the serpent’s words stopped me again.
“You know which fruit tastes more delicious than all the others?” I looked at him, curious, and he gestured with his head toward the center of the garden. “That one.”
“The tree of life?” I asked, delighted. “Yes, Adam and I sampled it yesterday, and it was my favorite so far!”
“No, not that one, the one beside it,” the serpent hissed. “The one with the reddish brown fruit.”
I frowned. “The one from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?” The serpent nodded, and I said, “But… Adam said God forbade that one.”
“Is that right?” the serpent hissed, slithering its head closer to me. “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’”
I frowned, trying to puzzle out the meaning of this phrase. The negatives in it confused me. When I finally worked out its meaning, I said uncertainly, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’” I thought that was what Adam had told me. It had been something like that, anyway.
“Ah,” hissed the serpent, his fork-like tongue flicking out toward me as he spoke. “You shall not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
I blinked at the serpent, then turned to look at the tree. I tried to process the serpent’s words. He was saying… God… lied to us? That He was withholding a blessing from us out of… jealousy? The thoughts felt clunky and unfamiliar. They made no sense. God was perfection. Our only experience of Him was that He was good and kind and wonderful. He loved us.
I had paid almost no attention to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil before. Yet now that the serpent pointed it out to me, I noticed that the fruit, strange looking though it was, did look enticing. And the serpent said—even God had said—that the tree would make us wise, as God Himself was wise. And after all, if God had not wanted us to eat of it, why did he put that particular tree in the midst of the garden, I reasoned? I took a hesitant step toward the tree, and then another and another until I stood right in front of it. I reached out and touched one of the reddish brown fruits, cringing for half a second—but nothing happened. It was just like touching any of the other fruits in the garden. I laughed, exultant, and plucked the fruit from the branch, all hesitation now forgotten.
“What are you doing, Eve?” I turned to see Adam standing beside me, a note of alarm in his voice.
A new emotion of defiance rose up on the inside of me. I had just proven that what Adam told me God said about the tree had been false, hadn’t I? I had touched it and had not died! I plucked a second fruit from the tree and tossed it to Adam. Then, before he could stop me, I opened my mouth and took a bite.
“Eve, no—!” Adam shouted, reaching out as if to dash the fruit from my hand—but it was too late.
I chewed, savoring the delicious burst of sweetness across my tongue. For a brief second, I relished the thought that the serpent was right—the fruit was indeed the best I had yet tasted. But just as quickly, a bitter flavor overtook the sweetness. I made a face, dropping the remainder of the fruit to the ground and staring at it. I had a sudden urge to wash away the taste.
“You shall die,” Adam croaked. His expression cut me to the heart. Suddenly I felt another new emotion come over me: horror. What had I done?
“It was only one bite,” I whispered back. Suddenly the wind whipped around my body, and I looked down. A hot wave of shame passed over me as I realized—I was naked! I dropped to a crouch to cover myself, a sudden impulse from an instinct that I had not had before. How had I not noticed? How had Adam not noticed? He was naked too, yet he still stood unashamed, displaying himself before me and all of the creatures in view. We had been naked even before God Himself!
Adam’s focus was not on his body, though; it was on the fruit I had given him.
“If you must die, then I must die with you,” he murmured, raising sorrowful eyes to me. “I do not want to live without you.” Then he opened his mouth, and despite the look of disgust, also took a bite.
He chewed and swallowed, then dropped the remains of the fruit on the ground as I had done. He stared at it with sudden revulsion. Then he looked down at his body, and I saw his cheeks color as he realized what I had realized a second before. He moved both hands to cover his nudity.
“How did we not know?” he moaned. “Oh! How shameful!”
“All the animals have fur or feathers, but we—” I agreed, wincing. “What are we to do? We must at least cover ourselves somehow before God returns…”
Adam shrugged, biting his lip. He gestured with his chin to the leaves of the tree from which we had just eaten, unwilling to move his hands away from his genitals. “I’ll try to sew together some of the leaves,” he said, “but I’ll need to use my hands to do it, so you have to promise not to look.”
“You have to promise not to look at me, either!” I declared.
Adam gave me a sad smile. “But you are so beautiful.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, not in the mood. He sighed.
“All right, I promise. Turn around.”
I obeyed, but since we had promised not to look at each other anyway, I decided I might as well make myself useful, and approached the tree where I had seen the serpent. Both serpent and bear were gone now, so I began to pluck leaves from that tree, wondering how Adam intended to weave them into clothing. I collected a pile of leaves, and then stripped some of them to just the stalk that ran down the center of the leaves, thinking that would somehow serve as thread. I started to knot some of them together, and then poked holes in the remaining leafy part of the other leaves, so as to thread the knotted leaf stem through them. It was slow work, and many of the leaves tore before I could connect enough of them to do any good. I finally managed to make myself a little apron to at least cover my genitals, but it was a poor covering indeed, and hid very little. I realized I'd have to connect many more leaves to cover my breasts, and the sun was already past peak in the sky. I decided instead to try to find something sticky, so that they could adhere directly to my body. I tried clay, but that lasted all of two seconds. Then instead I used a bit of sap from a tree. This worked better, but it meant everything else I touched adhered to my hands—
“Eve!” Adam hissed, and I perked up my ears, at once understanding what he meant. We both heard the sound of footsteps, and knew they belonged to God. My poor leaf apron fluttered to the ground as I fled, hiding with Adam among the underbrush. The branches poked at us, but I hardly noticed, my heart pounding so hard with fear that we would be seen. Once in the bushes, I tried to wipe the remaining sap off of my hands on its leaves, but found that it would not go.
“Stop it, He’ll hear you!” Adam hissed, stilling my fidgeting hands.
Just then, we saw God enter the clearing from between the branches of our hiding place. I suddenly envied Him His gleaming white robe. When His face turned so that we could see it from our hiding place, I saw His puzzled, slightly concerned expression.
“Adam! Where are you?” God called out.
I looked at Adam, shaking my head sharply, but I saw that he intended to reply.
He opened his mouth and called back, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and hid myself.”
Now God turned and looked straight at the bush where we hid. Adam stood up only so high as to expose his chest, still kneeling to conceal the rest of him. God’s expression grew stern.
“Who told you that you were naked?” He demanded. “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”
Adam trembled, and then pointed at me, still fully crouched beside him. “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
My mouth fell open, indignant. But then I realized that I could not truly protest. His statement was quite true.
God turned to me. “What is this you have done?” He demanded.
It took me a moment to find my tongue. When I did, I blurted, “The serpent deceived me! And I ate.”
God waved His hand, and the serpent appeared from nowhere on the ground between Him and us. The sky grew dark, and God said in a terrible voice to the serpent, “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go—” and as He pronounced this, the serpent’s legs dissolved into nothingness, until he was all tail, “and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”
Even as God spoke it, I saw its fulfillment in my mind’s eye. My Seed would be my son. He would conquer the serpent. He would redeem Adam and me from what we had done. He would be the Lord Himself…
No sooner had God finished speaking, though, He turned to me. I was compelled to look at His face, and I saw at once mingled anger and heartbreak. It made me want to weep.
“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
I bowed my head, accepting God’s punishment. Since I got us into this mess, it was only fair that I should labor and travail to bring forth the Savior who would get us out of it. And Adam was right—it was my choice to disobey God, not his—at least not originally. If I had listened to my husband, none of this would have happened.
Then God turned to Adam, who trembled under God’s gaze.
“Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
Adam buried his face in his hands and wept. God’s expression sank into sorrow as well, all His anger now spent.
“Lion,” he called out, and summoned the creature I had met the morning before. The great cat bounded toward the Lord, frolicking around Him playfully and swishing its tail this way and that. The Lord caressed its mane tenderly. Then, with one swift jerk, a horrible crack sounded. I screamed, and the lion slumped, lifeless.
I could not stop screaming, even though Adam hushed me as best he could. Even God wept openly now.
“The wages of sin is death,” He said to us, a terrible grief in His voice as He removed the lion’s skin and knit it together into tunics to clothe us. When He had finished, he approached the bush where we both shied away from Him, and deposited both tunics upon the top of the bush, turning away from us. Adam shimmied into his first, standing up fully for the first time once he was covered. Then I did the same, standing beside him.
We heard Elohim say to Himself, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever—” He turned back to face us, tears still flowing freely. “You must leave the garden now,” He said, “and go out into the wilderness to make your way as best you can. To live forever in your current state would be a fate far worse than death.”
Fresh tears gushed on to my cheeks at this word. “But—you said my Seed would crush the head of the serpent!” I blubbered, hardly able to make myself understood. “He will redeem us, surely?”
“Yes, daughter, He will,” God assured me, “but not for what to you will seem a very long time.”
So Adam took my hand, and led me through our lush home for the last time. Beyond it lay nothing but desert. We would survive, of course—I must bring forth a man, so we must survive somehow. Death, it turned out, was not immediate. And yet, leaving the garden and leaving the Lord God behind us was a kind of death. For the lion, death had certainly been immediate, I thought with a pang of sorrow. And the poor lion had done nothing wrong. It died for our sin, to cover our nakedness.
I turned around to look back at the garden one last time. A ring of creatures that looked like the Lord in luminescence stood before the tree with the golden fruit, bearing swords that shone like the sun. Then I turned away again, looking out into the wilderness that was to be our new home.
“But we will still return one day,” I whispered to Adam as we walked out into the desert. “Right?”
“One day,” he whispered back, and squeezed my hand.

Nov 13, 2020

Esther Blum is an Integrative Dietitian and High Performance Coach. She has helped thousands of women permanently lose weight, eliminate the need for medication, lose stubborn belly fat, and reverse chronic illness.  Esther teaches her clients to cultivate a warrior mindset when it comes to healing their relationship with food and unconditionally loving their bodies. Esther is the bestselling author of Cavewomen Don’t Get Fat, Eat, Drink and Be Gorgeous, Secrets of Gorgeous, and The Eat, Drink, and Be Gorgeous Project. She currently maintains a busy virtual practice where she provides 360 degrees of healing with physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual support. Esther has appeared on Dr. Oz, the Today Show, and Fox News Live. 

Freebie: Crush Your Cravings at Estherblum.com/cravings

For a free 30 min call, go to estherblum.com/call

Nov 6, 2020

Today's podcast is a meditation on a concept found throughout scripture of walking by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7) but we jump around a LOT on this one. 

Oct 30, 2020

After 40 years on a diet, yo-yoing up and down the scale, Renée Jones had learned every diet – and every cheat – before finally stopping the comfort eating and self-sabotage to lose “those last 30 pounds” yet AGAIN in 2012 – and has not gained it back.  Then she dug a bit deeper and found more freedom from the baggage she’d dragged with her for decades.

Now she helps others do the same.   Renée has a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Counseling and a Clinical Residency to guide her international counseling and coaching practice of traditional and contemporary models as well as relaxation and horse-assisted methods.  Her book, What’s Really Eating You: Overcome the Triggers of Comfort Eating, is an Amazon best seller, and her TEDx talk helps her reach people around the world.

Her free gift for listeners: get The Compass here!

Oct 23, 2020

Today's podcast is a meditation on Psalm 37. God is still on the throne!

Background music courtesy of bensound.com

Oct 16, 2020

Today's podcast comes from this blog post, Melatonin for Pain.

Oct 9, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

Today's meditation is on Jesus cursing the fig tree, but the retelling covers Matthew 21:1-22, Mark 11:1-24, Luke 19:28-47, and John 12:1-19.

Introduction
 
The context of this event is very important: Jesus has just ridden into Jerusalem for the last time on the first Palm Sunday. The people have all heard about Lazarus’s resurrection and turn out in droves, crying “Hosanna in the highest!”, carpeting the road before him with their cloaks and with palm branches like they did for the kings of old—effectively declaring Him king and Messiah. How heartbreaking that must have been for Jesus: He so desperately wanted the love and allegiance of His people, and they appeared to be giving it to Him; yet He knew that not only would they turn on Him, many of them would even cry out for His blood in less than a week. 
 
His emotions are running high. Right after the initial encounter with the fig tree (by Mark’s depiction), Jesus enters the Temple of Jerusalem and finds it overrun with commerce, just as John’s gospel tells us it was at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. This fills Him with righteous indignation, and he turns over the tables just as he did the first time, driving out the sellers and money changers. The Temple supposed to be the place of prayer and worship to the Father, and yet His people have turned it into something mercenary. He knows His earthly ministry is coming to a close. He’s done all He can do, and here’s evidence that the Jews’ hearts are still hardened. 
 
The fig tree was a symbol of Israel (Hosea 9:10, Jeremiah 8:13 and chapter 24, Micah 4:4, Luke 13:6-9). In Jesus’ parable of the fig tree in Luke 13, after three years (the length of Jesus’ own ministry to the Jews), it is barren, not producing fruit (of repentance, of righteousness). The owner wants to chop it down, while the dresser of the vineyard pleads that it should be given special treatment for a bit longer. If it is still unfruitful, then it should be chopped down—as in fact happens when Jerusalem is sacked by the Roman army in 70 A.D. Meanwhile, the apostles spread the gospel to the Gentiles. 
 
So when Jesus sees the fig tree with leaves, which should mean that it is bearing fruit (the figs precede the leaves on a fig tree, at least on the variety that grow in Jerusalem), and then He finds that it is barren, he curses it. I’m sure that this was not just because He was hungry and frustrated in his attempt to eat; to Him it was probably another symbolic representation of the spiritual state of Israel. By and large, they still had not received Him.
 
Yet this event turned into one of Jesus’ clearest teachings to the disciples on the subject of faith. Matthew’s account indicates that the fig tree withered immediately, while Mark shows a delay: a day after Jesus curses it, they pass by the tree and find it withered. The two accounts can be harmonized with Jesus’ subsequent teaching in Mark 11:23-24: “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” 
 
Several important points here: first, Jesus says to speak directly to the mountain (or as he did: to the fig tree). Not to pray to God about your mountain. Second, he must believeand not doubt. If believing automatically excluded doubt, He would not have made this distinction—so it is possible to believe and to doubt at the same time (as was implied in the Parable of the Sower, Mark 4:3-20, and James 1:6-8). The doubt can negate the faith, working in the opposite direction for a net effect of zero. Third, he should believe he receiveswhen he prays, not when he sees the manifestation. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Fourth, the manifestation may not be instantaneous, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t already been done (Mark 4:28). In this case, Matthew said that the tree withered instantly while Mark said it was the next day. Both are true: the tree instantly died at the root, but it took a day for the results to manifest on the visible parts of the tree. Even though Jesus did not see instant manifestation of His words, He did not doubt that it was already done. When the disciples passed by the next day and saw that the tree was withered, Peter pointed it out to Jesus in amazement. Jesus was probably exasperated when he replied, “Have faith in God,” to this. Remember, this is the last few days of His earthly ministry. He’s passing the baton to these disciples, and for three years now He has tried to impart these same ideas to them… yet Peter’s amazement indicates that He still hasn’t gotten it. 
 
Fictionalized Retelling
 
The energy of the crowd was palpable, the dull roar of their excited chatter at a fever’s pitch. Jesus had stopped them between Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. His throat was thick with emotion as he instructed Matthew and Bartholomew, “Go into the village opposite you,” here he pointed to Bethphage, “and as soon as you have entered it you will find a donkey and a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose them and bring them. And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ’The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them here.”
 
The two disciples nodded and hastened to obey. Jesus waited for them now, standing aloof from the rest of his disciples, and from the crowd. 
 
How many of them knew that he was doing this in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9? he wondered. He had told his disciples over and over again that he was going to his death, but he knew they didn’t understand what he meant. They thought it was a euphemism for something else. Particularly now, when he was surrounded by adoring worshippers, all bubbling over with excitement that their king was about to enter Jerusalem. 
 
This was the culmination of his earthly ministry. The earth had been waiting for this moment, for the King of Kings to enter the Holy City in glory, since the fall of man in the Garden. There was almost a “charge" in the air, of the spirit converging upon the physical; the people could do nothing but worship. Yet these same people would turn on him and cry out for his blood in less than a week. 
 
He felt so very alone. 
 
Thank you, Father, he prayed silently, that You never leave me or forsake me. 
 
Normally people crowded Jesus everywhere he went, but something about His troubled expression today must have put them off. Many instead clustered around the exuberant Bartimaeus, whom Jesus had healed of blindness just a few hours earlier. He and his formerly blind friend had since cast off their beggar’s cloaks and joined his entourage. Of the two, Bartimaeus was by far the more gregarious, and he entertained the crowds. He seemed a born performer.
 
Matthew and Bartholomew returned, leading the colt and the donkey to Jesus by the reins. The people saw this, and immediately understood that they were about to head into the city now. They got busy, excitedly throwing their cloaks over the animals’ backs for Jesus to sit upon. Some of the people threw their cloaks in the road, an ancient Jewish practice for welcoming a conquering king. Others cried out, “Palm branches too!” This was a reference to a wider cultural practice of the same, and it met with great enthusiasm. The crowd scurried about, retrieving fallen palm branches and snapping or sawing off those that they could reach from nearby palm trees.
 
Jesus meanwhile mounted the colt. It meekly accepted his weight, despite the fact that it was unbroken. Matthew and Bartholomew raised their eyebrows and exchanged a look at this, impressed, but said nothing. Beside the colt which Jesus rode, John led the donkey by the reins like a groomsman. As his most empathic disciple, Jesus suspected that John sensed his mood and lingered nearby for emotional support. He felt a rush of affection for his friend. 
 
As Jesus began the journey, the people spread the branches they had collected on the ground before the colt along with their cloaks, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 
 
From oldest to youngest, they all picked up this refrain as Jesus began his last ride into Jerusalem. The people danced and sang, and once he’d passed over cloaks and palms, they picked them up again and ran forward, laying them on the road before him. Jesus’ chest constricted with conflicting emotions. The people who worshipped him now did so genuinely; and yet, their hearts were the stony ground of his parable. They were those who would immediately receive the word with gladness, but when tribulation or persecution arose, they would stumble and scatter. It would come all too soon. 
 
The commotion of Jesus’ entourage drew a crowd of onlookers from Bethany as they descended the Mount of Olives, whispering among themselves. Jesus knew what they were saying. Many asked who he was that drew such a response. Others, the scribes and Pharisees who joined the onlookers, murmured amongst themselves against him. Finally, one of them cried out, “Teacher, do you hear what these are saying? Rebuke your disciples!” 
 
Jesus looked at the one who had shouted and replied in as steady a tone as he could manage, “Yes, I hear. I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones themselves would cry out.” 
 
The Pharisee who heard him turned to his fellows with furious grumbling. Jesus turned away, and from his position on the slope of the Mount of Olives, he saw Jerusalem spread out before him in the distance. The tears that he had kept at bay until then sprung unbidden to his eyes, and spilled over his cheeks. Most of the people did not notice, but John did, and placed his free hand on Jesus’ shoulder in comfort. Jesus cast him a quick, sad smile, and then looked back at the city. 
 
“If you had known,” he whispered, “even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” He saw it all by the Spirit: the sacking of the city by the Romans in about forty years. It didn’t have to happen. After all of the Father’s promises to the Jewish nation under the Mosaic covenant, if they would obey… after he paid with his blood for a new Covenant that would not even require their physical obedience as such, only their love and worship… his stiff-necked people would still reject him. And with him, they would reject his blessing and protection, and would be scattered to the four corners of the earth. It broke his heart. 
 
The sun began its descent in the sky just as Jesus descended the mountain, the crowd still crying out behind and before him. The journey was only two miles, but with the entourage on foot, retrieving the branches and cloaks from behind and laying them again before him, it was a slow procession. 
 
Once they entered Jerusalem, though, more onlookers gathered and whispered. Jesus, now giving the donkey the opportunity to bear his weight, steered it toward the Temple at nightfall. He narrowed his eyes and gritted his teeth. Most of the customers had gone, and the merchants’ booths were closing up for the night. 
 
“We will come back here first thing tomorrow morning,” he growled to his disciples.
 
Peter and Andrew were nearest him when he said this, and nodded, understanding what he meant. They had been with him at the beginning of his ministry, when he had once before overturned tables of the money-changers and those who were buying and selling, and driven them out of the Temple. Now, three years later, they were back to all their old practices. They knew what was coming. 
 
“Lord, should we return to Lazarus’s home for the night?” John suggested, as he looked around. “Most of the crowd has dispersed, so I’m sure we could return a lot faster than we came.” 
 
Jesus sighed, troubled and weary. “Yes, let us go back. I do wish to be among friends tonight.” 
 
As they passed by Bethphage, Bartholomew and Matthew returned the colt and the donkey to their owners, with Jesus’ thanks. Mary pressed Jesus and his disciples to stay with them every night of their sojourn in Jerusalem, if they so chose. 
 
In the morning, the disciples rose before Lazarus and his sisters, mostly because Jesus did not wish for Martha particularly to feel obligated to feed all thirteen of them breakfast. So on their return journey to Jerusalem on foot the next morning, they were hungry. As they went, Jesus spied a curious sight: a fig tree in the distance already bore leaves, though it was not the season for figs. Fig trees typically bore figs before leaves, though, so this one seemed to promise a good breakfast for them all. Jesus veered off the path to the tree, and the others followed. But when he came to the tree, he found it barren: there was nothing but leaves.
 
He closed his eyes for a second as the symbolism of this hit him.
 
“I saw your fathers as the first fruits on the fig tree in its first season,” he quoted to himself in a whisper. “Yet now, ‘no grapes shall be on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things I have given them shall pass away from them.’” He opened his eyes again, envisioning what he knew he was about to encounter in the Temple and suddenly shaking with rage. He responded to the fig tree, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again!” 
 
Then he marched on inexorably toward the Temple, so fast that the disciples had no almost jog to keep up with him. No one said a word for the rest of the journey, partly because they dared not when Jesus was in such a mood, and partly because they had no extra breath for it. 
 
Jesus burst into the outer courts of the Temple without breaking his stride, and went straight to the nearest booth, in which merchant and customer were exchanging coins. The two of them looked up only when he was almost upon them, and had just time enough for their eyes to widen and to duck for cover as Jesus lifted the table and tossed it on its side, coins jingling to the ground all around them. 
 
“Out!” he shouted, seething with rage as all the people scattered away from him. He turned to the next nearest table, one selling doves for sacrifice. The doves’ wings beat in their cages in terror, and flew to the tops of them just in time, as Jesus lifted the booth and all its wares in a mighty heave, sending it all crashing to the ground. The squawking of the doves mingled with the angry shouts of the merchants, but Jesus was louder than them all. 
 
“You there!” he shouted, pointing at another merchant who had tried to pass unnoticed behind the onlooking crowds, his arms heavy with wares. “Out! Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves!’” 
 
The customers beat a path to the door, now congested with merchants also trying to escape. None of them dared to confront Jesus. The scribes and the Pharisees alone lingered in their wake, consulting one another in angry whispers. Jesus knew what they plotted against him. He further knew that in a matter of days, he would willingly submit to their schemes by the will of the Father; for a short while, they would believe they had succeeded. He turned to glare at them now, though, as if daring them to speak aloud what they only had the courage to whisper. 
 
Meanwhile, a young man ventured tentatively into the outer court of the Temple, leading a blind beggar by the hand. The beggar was one they all recognized. He had sat outside the Temple, begging for alms for many years. The pair hesitated, the young man looking anxiously at Jesus. 
 
Jesus turned away from the Pharisees and saw the young man and the beggar, his face instantly softening. He reached out an arm and beckoned them forward. The young man’s face flooded with hope.
 
“Is… is it all right?” asked the young man. “Would you heal him?” 
 
“The answer to that is always yes,” Jesus replied. “Come.” 
 
The disciples watched and marveled as the atmosphere in the outer courts changed in minutes. Word must have spread throughout Jerusalem that Jesus had come to the Temple, and that he was healing all those brought to him. Soon the crowds were so thick that they could barely move inside the outer courts, and they spilled outside onto the streets. As it was on most days of Jesus’ ministry, he healed everyone who came to him, for many hours. The blind saw. The lame walked. The children cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” 
 
The Pharisees gnashed their teeth as they heard this, and elbowed through the crowd just as Jesus laid hands on an invalid boy and he sat up again, grinning at Jesus. 
 
“Teacher! Do you hear what these are saying?” they demanded, indignant. 
 
Jesus, still grinning back at the boy as he gave him back to his mother, did not bother to even look at the Pharisee who had spoken to him. He responded, still smiling but his voice now hard, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants you have perfected praise’?” 
 
“That verse reads ‘strength,’ not praise,” the Pharisee muttered back.
 
“You do not realize that the two words are interchangeable,” Jesus replied. “Their strength is found in their praise of me.” 
 
When the hour was late and the people at last dispersed, Jesus and his disciples wearily made their way back to Bethany once more. They had inadvertently fasted all day, simply because they never had the opportunity to get away to eat. But Martha, bless her, would be expecting them for dinner, though they arrived well after nightfall. 
 
They made their way back into the city the next morning. On their way, Peter happened to glance at the fig tree that Jesus had cursed. He blinked at it, astonished. 
 
“Rabbi, look!” he pointed. “The fig tree which you cursed has withered away!” 
 
Jesus too looked astonished, but at Peter, not at the tree. He had been with them now for three years. He had less than a week left on earth. After all they had seen, did they yet not understand? 
 
I must be yet more explicit, Jesus thought, pausing to steady himself before he answered. “Have faith in God,” he said, very clearly. “For assuredly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain,” he pointed at the Mount of Olives behind them, “‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”
 
Jesus kept walking as the disciples hung back, puzzling among themselves what he meant by this. He knew what they were thinking. He couldn’t really have meant he could speak to the mountain and remove it. That was a figure of speech, surely. Did he really mean you should believe you have what you ask for the moment you ask? Even if things look exactly the same in the natural? No, he couldn’t have meant that… well if he didn’t mean that, why did he say that? What did he mean, then? I don’t know, why don’t you ask him? …Me? Why don’t YOU ask him?
 
Jesus sighed, and prayed to the Holy Spirit, When You come, You’ll remind them, of this, and of everything I’ve said and done. He prayed this mostly to encourage and remind himself. They don’t understand now, but they don’t have You living inside of them yet to help them. By themselves, they can do nothing. But when they have You, they will understand all these things. It will be enough. 
 
The Holy Spirit replied, Yes. It will be enough. They seem weak and confused now. Yet with these men, I will set the world on fire.
Oct 2, 2020

Today's podcast comes from this blog post, The Redox (Oxidation/Reduction) pathways

Sep 25, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

Today's podcast is a meditation/retelling of the first Passover, and Moses parting the Red Sea found in Exodus 11-14. 

Here's the transcript: 

It was evening. The people of Israel had just finished the meal as prescribed by the Lord, of roasted lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. I knew the meal was heavy with symbolism, but I didn’t understand what it symbolized—and quite frankly, I didn’t care. I was too nervous about what was to come for curiosity. 
 
Aaron and I wandered amongst the Israelites and supervised as they completed the last and most important portion of the Lord’s instructions: each family dipped bunches of hyssop in a basin containing the blood of the Passover lamb they had just slaughtered, and painted the blood across their doorposts. I wanted to make very sure that every single Israelite family did this, and did it thoroughly.  If there were over 3million people I wonder how Moses could have watched every house?
 
Beside me, Aaron chuckled darkly and smacked me on the arm. “Are you seeing all this plunder?” he murmured, and I followed where he pointed to a pair of Hebrew sisters, arms so laden with Egyptian family heirlooms of gold and silver that they could hardly walk. Then he called out to the sisters, “Did you leave anything in their house at all?” 
 
“Not much,” one sister grinned back. The other added, “I’ve served this family my whole life, and I’ve always admired their silver bowls and this golden diadem—so I asked for them, and they just-- gave it to me! They practically begged me to take all the rest!”
 
I offered the giddy sisters a distracted smile. “Have you painted your doorposts?” 
 
“Yes of course, we completed that first,” one replied, sobering up. I glanced down at their clothing: all the Israelites already wore the prescribed belt around their waists, sandals on their feet, and those who had a hand free carried their staffs as well. I glanced up at the darkening sky. 
 
“Everyone get inside!” I bellowed, and those outside scampered to obey. Aaron gave me a slight reproving look. 
 
“The Lord said midnight,” he murmured, “it’s barely dusk. No need to scare them.”
 
“You saw the last nine plagues,” I returned under my breath. “I am afraid of the Lord. Aren’t you?” 
 
It was a rhetorical question, and Aaron took it as such. We made our way back to the hut where my siblings Aaron and Miriam grew up, and I noted that Miriam had already painted our doorway with the blood of our Passover lamb. With one last look around to verify that the rest of the Israelites were safely shut inside their homes under their banners of blood, I ducked inside and closed the door. 
 
Aaron’s wife Elisheba and his four sons stood in the middle of the hut, staffs in hand. Elisheba watched me with wide eyes: anxious, but not quite frightened, which was how I felt. Miriam paced. 
 
“Should we try to get some sleep? A few hours at least?” Aaron suggested, putting an arm absently around his son Eleazar’s shoulders. 
 
We all looked at each other. None of us felt like sleeping. 
 
“I suppose we should try,” Miriam ventured. 
 
The hut was small for all of us. The boys, now in their late teen years, lay on the ground back to back. Aaron put his arm around Elisheba, and they leaned up against the wall and closed their eyes, staffs leaning upon the wall beside them. Miriam and I chose opposite walls and did the same. I stretched my legs out in front of me and closed my eyes. A few minutes later, I bent my knees. Then I leaned forward against my legs instead of against the wall. Then I folded my arms and tried to rest my head against them. Every few minutes for what felt like hours, I changed position—but it was no use. What time was it? I wished I could peer outside to tell. Was the Angel of Death passing over now? Were the firstborn children all over Egypt even now breathing their last? 
 
Then the wailing began. Someone had awoken in the night. One cry became several, and then a chorus. Miriam, Aaron and I looked at each other: it was a discordant choir. Surely every man, woman, and child in Israel had been awakened by the sound, and knew what it meant. 
 
Some time later, a fist pounded on the door of our hut. I was already on my feet, and answered mid-knock. One of Pharaoh’s officials stood at the threshold, his face ashen. He looked not at me, but at the blood painted upon the lintel. Then his haunted eyes met mine. He and I had never spoken before, as Aaron always spoke directly to Pharaoh on my behalf, but he had seen me in the throne room many times since the whole ordeal had begun. The official swallowed. 
 
“None… have perished… within this house,” he said, his voice quavering. “Have they?” 
 
“Of course not,” I replied, matter of fact. I held on to the outside of the door, waiting for what I knew he would say next. 
 
“Of course not,” he repeated in a whisper, eyes cast down to my feet. Then he swallowed again, and said, “I bring word from Pharaoh. He says, 'rise, go out from among my people, both you and the children of Israel. And go, serve the Lord as you have said. Also take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone; and... bless me also.’” The official ended his statement with a whispered plea, and then turned those haunted eyes back upon mine, as if begging for himself rather than for his sovereign. I placed a hand on the man’s shoulder, bowed my head, and prayed silently to the Lord for him. Then I turned to find my family already on their feet and ready to go, staffs in hand. Miriam and Elisheba had each bound up their kneading bowls under their cloaks, containing the unleavened bread, while the boys distributed their share of the plunder from their Egyptian neighbors among their things. 
 
The Israelites came out of their homes at the ready, as their neighbors either knocked or called. The nearby Egyptians heard the commotion and came out of their homes, every last face streaked with tears and horror. We assembled too slowly for them. 
 
“Go!” shrieked one grieving mother at our growing ranks. “Get out of here, go!” Another man added, “We shall all be dead if you linger a minute longer! Go!” 
 
I ignored their shouts, waiting until Aaron could verify for me that all the Israelites were alerted and assembled. I saw Miriam wiping tears from her cheeks in empathy for their Egyptian neighbors, but I could muster no sympathy for them. Had I not warned them? Had I not told them how to protect themselves from the Destroyer? After nine previous plagues, did they not think I meant what I said? In fact there were a few Egyptians who had heeded my warning, who had been circumcised, eaten the Passover meal with us and who had taken refuge inside our blood-painted homes with their families. Those few proselytes had seen and feared the power of the Lord and decided to join our ranks, to leave Egypt with us and go with us to the Promised Land. These grieving men and women could have done the same, had they chosen to do so. 
 
I looked up at the sky, estimating that it was perhaps an hour after midnight when we finally began our exodus out of Egypt. Just before we left, Aaron handed me my cargo wrapped in linen, and I tied it between my shoulders. While the others took treasures from their neighbors or their kneading bowls of unleavened bread, I carried the exhumed bones of the patriarch Joseph. He had exacted a promise at his death that his descendants would take his bones back to the Promised Land upon our exodus, which he knew would occur based upon the promise the Lord had made to his great grandfather, Abraham. 
 
“So…” Miriam whispered to me, “none of us have ever seen this Promised Land before, including you. How exactly do we know where to go?” 
 
I had just been wondering this myself, when Aaron nodded to me that the people were all accounted for: six hundred thousand men, plus women, children, flocks, and herds. We would not be moving quickly. Staff in hand, I turned back to begin our hike, and startled to see a pillar of fire hovering in midair, blazing and crackling just far enough ahead of me to keep the heat from becoming uncomfortable. My mouth fell open. When I’d recovered myself, I turned to Miriam, gesturing at the pillar.
 
“There’s your answer,” I told her. 
 
The Lord, as the pillar of fire, led us from Rameses to Succoth, some eight miles away. When dawn came, the pillar began to fade away, and I wondered if the Lord meant to lead us only by night. But in its place, a pillar of cloud appeared, guiding us on. It vanished in late morning, once we had reached Succoth. I took that as our cue to give the children and elderly a rest.  We were all exhausted, though, both emotionally and physically: few of us had slept at all before our journey began. But miraculously, of the millions of people in our group, there was not one feeble person among them. The women unwrapped their kneading bowls, heated coals, and baked unleavened cakes from the dough for the morning meal, while as many as were able napped or rested. 
 
Aaron sat beside me as we ate, looking out in the direction of the now fabled Promised Land, the land that the Lord had told us flowed with milk and honey.
 
“That way is Philistine country,” Aaron murmured unnecessarily. I nodded. 
 
“The Lord has already spoken to me that He will not lead them that way.” 
 
Aaron shrugged. “It is by far the shortest route…” 
 
“I know that, but the Lord is concerned that if we immediately lead the people into war, they will change their minds and retreat back to Egypt. He will take them to the wilderness and toward the Red Sea.” 
 
Aaron looked back over his shoulder at the mixed multitude, including many women, children, and elderly, and pursed his lips. “That’s true. Soldiers, these are not.” 
 
“It doesn’t matter if they are soldiers or not,” I retorted, perhaps a bit more harshly than I’d intended. “The Lord fights our battles for us, regardless. We do not even need weapons. But the people do not understand that yet. They have seen the Lord’s works, but they do not understand His ways, as we do. They do not know His character, and so they cannot predict what He will do next. They cannot trust Him, as we can.”
 
Aaron was a bit taken aback by this, catching my emphasis. “Yes, brother,” he repeated at last. “As we can.” 
 
When the people were refreshed enough to continue, the cloud reappeared. Aaron and I again took the lead, and the cloud took us from Succoth to Etham. At dusk, Aaron, Miriam and I watched in appreciative amazement as tendrils of flame licked through the cloud at dusk, transforming it to the pillar of fire before our eyes. The pillar stopped at Etham, where we camped that night at the edge of the wilderness. 
 
The next several days were much the same: walking through the wilderness at a very slow pace behind the pillar of alternate cloud and fire, stopping to rest and camp for the night. I did not need to know where I was going, so I was surprised when the Lord spoke to me on the third day. 
 
Speak to the children of Israel, that they turn and camp before Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, opposite Baal Zephon; you shall camp before it by the sea, He said. For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, ‘They are bewildered by the land; the wilderness has closed them in.’ Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord.
 
I pictured the land the Lord meant, puzzling over His instructions silently: mountains on two sides, and the Red Sea on a third, with Pharaoh’s army blocking our only route of escape. It must have shown on my face.
 
“What is it?” Aaron asked me. “You’re frowning.” I told him what the Lord had said, and my brother’s eyebrows shot up. “Pharaoh is going to… pursue?” he balked. 
 
“Shh!” I looked around this way and that, to make sure none of the Israelites had overheard. “Yes, apparently. Remember I originally asked him to let us journey three days into the wilderness only? Only a fool would expect us to return after all that has happened, but perhaps he still does. Clearly Pi Hahiroth is not on the way back to Egypt, and it will signal to Pharaoh that we’re not coming back… but it sounds like the Lord also wants to entice him to follow us by making us look like easy prey.” 
 
Aaron let out a puff of air through pursed lips, and dragged his hand across his face and beard. “Yes, but then what? We will be easy prey.”
 
“No,” I said fiercely, pinning him with my gaze. “We will not, because the Lord is on our side!” 
 
“So, what, you think He’s going to mow down Pharaoh’s army for us?” Aaron demanded. “You think he’s going to—what, part the sea so we can walk through it?” His tone of scoffing incensed me. 
 
“I do not know how He is going to deliver us, but yes, after the ten plagues, and the pillar of cloud and fire, and the willing plunder of our captors? I do believe He is going to deliver us. As should you!” 
 
Aaron blinked at me, looking at once skeptical and chagrined. He held up his hands. 
 
“We do as the Lord commands. Of course.” 
 
So I went and told the Israelites where we were going, but not why. No one asked. They blindly trusted that I knew best—until anything appeared to go wrong. Then they all turned on me, as I knew full well. I wasn’t looking forward to that part. 
 
When we arrived at Pi Hahiroth, and some of the men of Israel saw the tactical disadvantage of such a camp, I could feel their restless energy, and thought I overheard some of their rebellious grumbles. None had the courage to directly challenge me, though a few approached Aaron. I saw him speaking to them in low, earnest whispers. Still, they went away looking dissatisfied. Dusk fell, and the pillar of cloud became a pillar of fire. It hemmed us in against the sea. 
 
Then we heard the hoofbeats, and the rumble of chariot wheels. My heart beat faster. This was it.
 
At first, before the Israelites admitted to themselves what it was, they simply seemed to grow more agitated. But as it grew louder, and when at last they could see the Egyptian army beyond the pillar of fire, the wailing and the pandemonium began. 
 
“Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness?” they cried out, and “Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt?” and, “Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness!” Women cried out and tore their clothing. All around us the people wept and trembled and raged. I had never had a strong voice; that was why I had pleaded with the Lord to allow my brother to be my mouthpiece. Fortunately, he did so now.
 
“SILENCE!” Aaron thundered, his rich baritone suddenly amplified and echoing with such supernatural authority that the stunned people actually obeyed. In the brief lull that followed, Aaron turned to me, and gave me a small nod of his head. 
 
I cleared my throat, and raised my arms. Then, with more confidence than I had ever heard in my own voice before, I cried out, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace!” 
 
Then silently I added as I watched the army approaching, Okay, Lord. Now would be a good time. 
 
The Lord responded to my spirit, Why do you cry to Me?
 
I blinked, watching as the army drew closer. I should think that is obvious, I told Him.  
 
I gave you the rod, did I not? The Lord replied. My power is in your hand. Use it! Tell the children of Israel to go forward. But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. And I indeed will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them. So I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen. Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained honor for Myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.
 
So the Lord did indeed intend for us to go through the sea! I wondered if that had been His intention all along, or if He did that just because Aaron had mocked the idea. It otherwise certainly never would have occurred to me. 
 
The army halted before the pillar of fire that divided them from us. I had the impression that the Lord had hidden us from their sight, though fire should have illuminated us instead. 
 
“What are you doing?” Aaron hissed as I marched toward the Red Sea. 
 
“Exactly what you suggested,” I hissed back. 
 
“Which is what?” 
 
“Parting the Red Sea.” 
 
Aaron gave a short snort of laughter. Then he saw my face in profile, hard as stone. “You’re serious.” 
 
I held up the rod with a quick glance at my brother. “Watch me.” Then I stopped at the edge of the waters, and did as the Lord commanded: I stretched out my hand over the waters. 
 
Suddenly a howling gust of wind seemed to blow from my staff, straight down into the waters to the sea floor. The waters peeled back layer by layer, as if they had been cut with a knife, rising like pillars to the right and to the left. The land at the bottom of the sea appeared, filled with coral and seaweed and mud. An instant more, and the sea bed dried up completely. 
 
I stood there gaping for a moment, forgetting to breathe. What a sight! Was it real? Was it possible? 
 
Then I remembered I was far from alone. With a quick glance over my shoulder, I beckoned Aaron with a gesture of my head. He practically had to scrape his jaw off the ground, but he recovered himself, in turn beckoning the people to follow. 
 
I led the people through the sea, looking in amazement at the sight of the pillars of water on either side of us. A few unfortunate fish flopped on the dry ground at our feet. Miriam took pity on the ones she came across, and picked them up with her fingers, tossing them back into the walls of water. I overheard some of the delighted squeals of the children as they found starfish and lovely pieces of coral. The sound brought tears to my eyes, as I pictured those same children as adults, telling their own children, “Yes, this is a very special starfish! I found it on the dry seabed of the Red Sea, when the Lord led us through and delivered us from our enemies!” 
 
All night we crossed, as the wind continued to blow, whipping our hair and robes all around us. I glanced back behind us several times, and saw that at the far back of our company, the pillar of fire brought up the rear, hiding and guarding the people from Pharaoh still. Beyond that, I thought I saw that, incredibly, Pharaoh had pursued us. 
 
“They’re actually coming after us,” Miriam said to me under her breath. “Pharaoh and his army! He sees that the Lord parted the Red Sea for us, and he’s still pursuing! How stupid is he?” 
 
Behind me, I heard the people’s shrieks of terror. “They’re going to catch us!” women cried, and men shouted at me, “Should we go back and fight? Moses! Moses!” 
 
I gritted my teeth, ignoring them and staring straight ahead. The sea floor had already begun its sloping ascent to the shore, though I estimated that shore was probably another hour’s march ahead, given the speed and number of the Israelites. It was true: we were incredibly slow, and on foot. Pharaoh’s army rode chariots and horses. 
 
In the distance, behind the pillar that guarded us, I heard the whinnies and neighs of the horses, and the sounds of battle. I whirled around now in dread, and blinked at what I saw. The wheels of Pharaoh’s chariots had popped off! The army was in pandemonium. Many of the chariots were overturned, or piled up upon one another. Aaron let out a short laugh of glee. 
 
“Come on!” I shouted, picking up my pace to the shore. I suddenly knew what I had to do. 
 
For some time, I outstripped the people by a considerable margin. Aaron and Miriam hurried to catch up, along with Aaron’s family, who tried to bridge the gap and urge the rest of the Israelites to make haste. 
 
These people are insufferable, I thought in amazement, but did not say. 
 
The thought was not meant to be directed to the Lord, but the Lord answered me anyway. Oh. You don’t know the half of it yet. 
 
When I’d reached the shore and the last of the straggling Israelites climbed up beside me, I looked back over the Red Sea, waters still parted from shore to shore, with a pillar of fire standing between  us and the Egyptian army. The army had made no progress from the time the Lord began to trouble the wheels of their chariots. It looked like they were trying to flee back in the opposite direction, but they couldn’t seem to do that either. The first glimmer of dawn appeared on the horizon.
 
Stretch out your hand over the sea, the Lord said to me, that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians, on their chariots, and on their horsemen. 
 
Staff in hand, I did so. With a mighty thunderous crash, the walls of water collapsed, as if the invisible hands holding them in place had been removed. We heard not so much as a cry from our pursuers. They simply vanished before our eyes in the sea. 
 
For a long moment, I could hear nothing but the thunder of the waters. When the waves calmed, I heard the shouts of the people behind me. I closed my eyes, stinging with tears, a lump in my throat.
 
You did it, Lord, I told Him. You are… incredible! 
 
Tell the people, He replied. Lead them in a song of praise. Memorialize this moment, and mark every detail. For they will soon forget. 
 
How can any of us ever forget what wonders you have done for us this night? I thought. You are so good, so powerful, so righteous!
 
Tell the people, He said again. They will follow your lead. 
 
So I did. I was not much of a speaker, and even less a singer, but my skill did not matter. I turned around, let the people see my tear-streaked face, and raised my hands. Then I opened my mouth in song. It came to me fully formed, in perfect verse, and with a melody simple and catchy enough that the children picked it up at once. Miriam had brought her timbrel, so she danced among the people, encouraging all the young women to join her. The children did too, making up all their own steps as they went. Even the most stoic of the people clapped their hands and learned the words. We laughed, sang, danced, and rejoiced before the Lord with all our hearts. 
 
They will soon forget, the Lord had said. But for this moment—for this moment, they were thankful.   
 
Sep 18, 2020

Today's podcast comes from this blog post, Maintaining Your Peace

This is the handout on defeating anxiety and control. 

Sep 11, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

Today's retelling of Jesus healing the demon-possessed man from the Gadarenes comes from Matt 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, and Luke 8:26-39.

Introduction 

This story happens immediately after Jesus calms the storm at sea. Everywhere Jesus goes, he’s mobbed by people who want to hear him teach and to be healed. He could theoretically have stayed where he was, and ministered to thousands of people. Instead, he crosses the stormy see from Galilee to the wilderness of the Gadara—interesting for several reasons. First, it’s not part of the Jewish nation; this is one of the ten cities of the Decapolis, east of the Jordan river, and according to Josephus, it was inhabited mostly by Greeks. Jews would not have kept a herd of pigs, as they considered them to be unclean, so these were definitely Gentiles.


Second, the only thing Jesus does when he gets there is to heal this one demonized man. Immediately afterwards, the people are so terrified that they beg him to leave. It appears Jesus traveled all this way, through the storm, just for this one guy. To me, this seems like an illustration of Jesus’ three parables: of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost (or prodigal) son. One man is worth all of this time and effort on Jesus’ part!


We see a bit of the reason for this as soon as Jesus arrives. Despite the fact that he played host to a “legion” of demons (at least two thousand apparently!), the real man is still down there, wanting to be free. We know this because when he sees Jesus from afar, he runs toward him, falls at his feet, and worships him (Mark 5:6). All the dialogue listed appears to be between Jesus and the demons, so the man may not at that point have had use of his vocal cords. But he had enough control over his body that he could run toward the Messiah, which no doubt was exactly the opposite of what the demons wanted him to do. When he got there, the demons begged Jesus not to torment them. They knew they’d had it now.


How did the man know who Jesus was, anyway? He lived naked and alone among the tombs, and the other Gadarene people obviously kept far away from him. He wouldn’t have heard any rumors about Jesus from them. So presumably he knew who Jesus was because the demons knew. They recognized him in the spirit, and called him “Jesus, son of the Most High God”. No humans had even received this revelation yet! So perhaps the man “overheard” the demons discussing who Jesus was in his mind.
How would this produce faith in him to run to Jesus, though? Satan’s very name means "false accuser”; surely the demons would have told the man all the ways in which he was not worthy. They might have lied about Jesus’ character, and told the man that he would be tormented if he approached the Son of God. The only thing that makes sense to me is that the Father must have broken through the influence of that legion of demons, and given this man a revelation of who Jesus was (his character and his love, not just his title). Nothing else would have induced him run to Jesus and fall at his feet. That was the man’s act of faith. It was all he could do, but it was enough. Praise God that no matter how bad off we are, we are never outside the Father’s reach!


The subsequent interaction between Jesus and the demons peels back the veil between worlds, and gives a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of the spirit realm. Jesus commands the demons to leave, and instead of just doing it, they argue with him: “I adjure you by God that you torment me not.” The Greek word adjure (horkizo) means “to command under oath with a threat of penalty.” They think Jesus is breaking the rules, that God gave the demons authority until a set time which had not yet arrived (Matthew 8:29). When Adam obeyed Satan in the Garden, he made Satan the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4). From that point on, outside of God’s later covenant of protection which covered the Jewish people only, the fate of individuals legally was in Satan’s hands (Job 1:12). This man is not a Jew; he had no covenant to protect him. So the demons think that even if Jesus has the power to cast them out, as God, he should not have the authority to do so: the earth isn’t His anymore.


What they don’t understand is that the earth and everything in it was given to mankind to subdue in the Garden (Gen 1:28). It’s as though God owned the property, earth, but leased it to mankind. Men then “sub-let” the property to Satan, yes—but the official authority to act upon the earth still belonged to mankind. Jesus was now a man. He had not yet died and risen again to become the “last Adam,” redeeming us from the curse we brought upon ourselves (1 Cor 15:45), but as God wrapped in a human body, he did have legal authority on earth, in a way that God the Father did not. He was basically a Trojan horse. The demons didn’t get this: they thought God the Father was intervening before the “earth lease” had run out, and they cried foul.


But whether the demons understood the source of Jesus’ authority or not, they still had to obey his power. They didn’t want to go back to the abyss, or Sheol, and asked Jesus’ permission to go into the herd of pigs instead. Presumably they needed to inhabit physical bodies in order to remain on earth. Jesus granted this. But the demons’ new home didn’t last long, of course: once the pigs lost their minds, ran off a cliff and killed themselves, the demons presumably had to go back into the abyss anyway!
Whoever owned those two thousand pigs was no doubt very unhappy, as the herd would have represented a substantial investment. The scripture says the people were afraid because of the miracle Jesus had performed, though, so this was the primary reason that the Gadarenes begged him to leave their region, rather than because of the loss of the pigs. (Interesting that they weren’t afraid of the naked guy roaming around the tombs, cutting himself and wailing and unable to be bound by any chains. But once he’s clothed and in his right mind, now they’re terrified.)
The man begged to follow Jesus after he had been set free, but Jesus did not allow him to do so. Instead, he gave the man an assignment: to go back and tell his friends and family what God had done for him. Perhaps this was the reason Jesus did not allow the man to come with him—or perhaps it was because his primary ministry was still to the lost sheep of Israel. Bringing a Gentile with him might have been an impediment to this. Regardless, the man’s testimony was evidently effective, because the next time Jesus went to the Decapolis, crowds turned out to hear him and be healed (Mark 7:31-37, Matthew 15:30).

 

Fictionalized Retelling 
 
I watched longingly as Jesus climbed into one of the boats, and as the whole small company of his disciples set out across the lake, fading into the distance. I longed to be with them… but Jesus had given me an assignment.

I turned around to face the crowd of my townspeople that watched the boats sailing away at a distance, making sure that Jesus left. Then, deliberately, I thrust both fists in the air.
 
“I’m free!” I shouted. “That man called Jesus set me free!”
 
I climbed the hill where they stood watching warily. As soon as I reached them, I told them this story.

***

How to explain what it was like?

I can only find words in retrospect. At the time, there were none.
Imagine that there is a parasite living under your skin. You can see it slithering around, eating you alive from the inside. That is why I cut myself with stones: I was trying to expel the creatures who had taken over my body. Yet the action was worse than useless. I never got anywhere near the source of the problem. It was not even on the plane of the physical world. Some part of me knew this, yet I couldn’t stop. It was compulsive, as if the next slice might make the difference. In the same way, anything that bound or shackled me had to come off, because to me, it was a symbol of the creatures that had bound my soul. That was also why I ripped my clothes, and why I snapped any chains that bound me.

I lived among the tombs because, where else could I go? Living humans shunned me. I cried out in torment: I had no other power over my vocal cords. I could not speak. Crying out in anguish was my only relief, and poor relief it was.

Did I sleep? I don’t know. There were large gaps in my memory, but I did not know if this was when the beings inside me took over, or when I lost consciousness.

I ate living creatures, raw and wriggling. (I’m sorry if that offends you.)

If I could have killed myself, I would have. That is the other reason I slashed at my skin with stones. But had I succeeded, my death would have banished the creatures from my body—and of course, they could not permit that. They did not mind if I mutilated myself, so long as I continued to exist.

Then one day, when dawn came, instead of roaming about among the tombs and wailing as I had done for countless years, I instead got to my feet and made my way down to the Sea of Galilee. This was not a conscious choice, either of mine or of the creatures inhabiting my body. It was as if I were compelled by something stronger than any of us.

A long way off, I saw boats docking. Suddenly the creatures exploded in my mind.

That is Him! That is the Most High God! shrieked one. Flee! Flee! Do not let Him sense us!

It cannot be, God does not walk the earth! protested another.
Do you not sense the power radiating from Him, even from here? the first one demanded. Do you not recognize Him? Look!

I turned to look with the creatures, and gasped aloud. Suddenly the world appeared in gray instead of color, mere moving shapes and shadows—except for one point of bright, radiant light, like the sun. It stepped off the boat, pulsing and radiating with palpable glory, almost painful in its beauty.

“Jesus!” the demons formed the name on my tongue. I knew then that the name belonged to the man, and that the man was God Himself. In exactly that same moment, hope bloomed in my chest.

My feet began to move. If ever I had power over my own body, I exerted every last shred of it then, though I felt the demons inside of me seizing up my limbs to try to make me stop. I tripped and fell on my face. I tasted blood, but got back to my feet and kept running. The demons in my head screamed at me to stop, to turn around and go back to the tombs.

He will despise you! they cried, you are an abomination! He will destroy you, you filthy, unclean wretch!

Good, I thought back. Better to be destroyed by Him than to live a thousand years as I am. It was not just the relief of death that I sought. If the brightness of this man’s radiance incinerated me like a ball of flame, it would be all worth it, just for that split second beforehand when I would coexist in the sphere of His glory.

My vision returned to normal. I saw color again, and the glorious radiance that had surrounded Jesus faded until he looked like just an ordinary man. He moved deliberately in my direction, apart from the others who docked several of their little boats behind him. When I reached him, I threw myself at his feet.

Jesus opened his mouth and commanded, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!”

The demons took over my tongue to reply. The voice that rasped from my throat was not my own.

“What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure You by God that You do not torment me before the time!”

I looked up into the face of this man. He was surprisingly young, with a stern expression in his hard eyes. At the same moment, my memory overlaid the cloud of glory around him that I had seen in the spirit moments before. I raised my hands in worship; it was all I could do.

“What is your name?” Jesus demanded.

My own tongue rasped back, “My name is Legion; for we are many. Do not send us out of the country and back into the abyss!” I felt my head swivel to one side, and saw a herd of swine feeding near the cliffs overlooking the sea not far off. “Send us into the swine, that we may enter them.”

“Go!” Jesus commanded.

The sensation within me was like a rushing wind, as if I were caught up in a hurricane—and then, silence.

I collapsed, clutching the sand on the shore, gasping. I looked at my fingers in front of me in wonder. They were caked with dirt, the fingernails long and curled and filthy—but they were mine. I wiggled them in front of my face, marveling that I had no resistance.

“I can… speak,” I croaked in wonder, looking up at the face of my rescuer. Jesus smiled down at me.

“Yes, my son,” he said, his tone gentle now.

All the others who had arrived with Jesus began to gather around me, tending to my needs. Several brought basins of fresh water, sponging away the dried blood and dirt from my various swollen cuts. One trimmed my nails from my hands and feet. One draped a cloak over my shoulders. One tilted a mug of water to my parched lips. It all overwhelmed me.  I was used to people running from me and shunning me. I did not know how to respond to kindness. 

“Jesus, look!” one of them said, in the midst of these ministrations. The speaker pointed at the cliff where the pigs were. They scampered this way and that, squeaking and squawking in an utter chaos that seemed to me a perfect representation of the way my mind had felt for ever so long. The men who must have been tending the pigs were running the other way, down the mountain. Then, a few of the pigs ran off the cliff and into the sea. More of them seemed to notice this as a means of escape, and within moments, every single one of them flung themselves into the water. I knew exactly how they felt; anything was better than playing host to those demons.

Abruptly, the unearthly squeals of the pigs ceased.

“We do not have long now,” Jesus observed. “The people will hear the story from the swine herds shortly and will make their way here.”

“The owner won’t be happy,” muttered one of Jesus’ disciples, and Jesus shook his head in agreement.

“No, indeed,” he agreed.

The other disciples continued their ministrations to me, trimming my beard and combing my matted hair. One shared food with me: bread and cooked fish. It was the first normal food I had tasted in years.

As grateful as I was, though, I was significantly less concerned with my physical needs at the moment. All I wanted was to hear what Jesus was saying to the disciples nearest him. The man who trimmed my beard noticed that I was staring after Jesus longingly, straining to hear his words. He approached him for me, pointing in my direction, and Jesus walked over to me again. As much as I had wanted Jesus’ attention again, now that I had it, I trembled with shame. He looked ordinary now, but the sharp memory of his glory made me shrink back and drop my gaze.

Jesus must have understood. He placed a hand on my shoulder, and said gently, “Son, take heart. Your sins are forgiven.”

I dared to look up at him again, hopeful now, and whispered, “Do they all know who you are?” I pointed at all the other disciples around.

A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Sometimes they know, but they forget easily. Not all have seen what you have seen.”

I was about to reply, but Jesus looked beyond me to the crowds from the town. Evidently the swine herds’ story had already reached their ears, and they came to see who had caused such a commotion. I turned, and saw all of the townspeople glancing at Jesus, then fixating upon me. I knew by their expressions and whispers that they recognized me. I stood up, pulling the cloak around me, and tried to reassure them.

“It’s okay!” I called, and attempted a smile. It was probably more like a grimace, though, given how out of practice my facial muscles were. “I’m… me again! See?” I wiggled my fingers in the air, as if to demonstrate that they were under my control. “I won’t terrorize you anymore. You don’t have to be afraid!”

Unfortunately my words seemed to have the opposite effect. They all drew back, their whispers coming fast and furious now. Some of the other disciples with Jesus stepped forward to try to explain, too.

“Jesus cast an entire legion of demons from this man,” one said, and another added, “the demons asked to be sent into the pigs. Jesus just gave them permission.” Another added, “We’re… sorry about your herds…”

The expressions in the crowd all looked terrified. One man, whom I vaguely recognized as a magistrate or someone important, cleared his throat and stepped forward.

“Please, leave us now.” His voice was low and even. He looked mostly at Jesus, but at the other disciples as well. “We do not know what manner of power can do such a thing, but we do not want it here. Please go.”

I looked back at Jesus to see how he would take this. He met the man’s gaze squarely, and did not apologize, but he did incline his head in understanding.

“As you wish,” he said, and gestured to his disciples to get back into their boats.

I leapt to my feet at once.

“Wait!” I pleaded, running after them. “Take me with you! I—I want to be one of your disciples too!”

Jesus turned back to me, his expression full of compassion. I deflated as soon as I saw it, knowing what it meant.

“No, son,” he said, and gestured behind me to the townspeople with his eyes. “You go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.”

I absorbed this disappointment, but then stood up straighter.

“I will, Lord,” I promised. “I will tell them all every day, every chance I get, whether they want to hear it or not!”

Jesus grinned in spite of himself. “I believe you will,” he said. “We’ll be seeing you again, I’m sure.”

***

“And now you know all that I know,” I finished, speaking to the small crowd still gathered on the hill top. I beamed, and declared again, “I’m free! The Lord has set me free!”

They all marveled at my story. The town magistrate shook his head at me in wonder, looking off into the distance where the boats had long since disappeared.

“Well,” he murmured at last. “Now I rather regret running him off like that.”

“My sister is crippled,” said another woman. “I wonder if he could have healed her?”

“And I’ve had this pain in my back for ever so long…” murmured another.

“I haven’t slept properly in thirteen years!” cried a third.

“He’ll be back,” I said to them all with confidence. “He promised! And if he can set me free from two thousand demons, all of that stuff will be nothing for him!”

“Maybe he can,” muttered the magistrate. “But will he? After we asked him to leave?”

I shook my head. “You don’t understand, he’s not like you and me! He doesn’t hold grudges.” How I knew this when I’d barely spoken to him, I couldn’t have said. But I did know it, from that glory cloud alone. Tears pricked my eyes, and I added in a whisper, “He’s absolute perfection.”

 
Sep 4, 2020

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Aug 28, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

Today's meditation is on Jesus calming the windstorm in MT 8:18-27, MK 4:35-41, and LK 8:22-25.

Introduction
 
Jesus had been teaching the crowds, as well as the disciples, about the power of seeds to bear fruit all that day (Mark 4:35). He explicitly told the disciples that the seeds are His word (Mark 4:14), and then he urged them to take heed of what they heard and to value it (Mark 4:24-25), because those seeds that land on “good ground” would produce thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold. But those that land on the path, among stones, or among thorns will be stolen or choked: “even what he has will be taken away from him” (Mark 4:25).

Remember, Jesus’ word is the seed, containing the power in itself to bring the word to pass, just as the seed contains power within itself to germinate into life when placed in the right soil. His word concerning the lake was, “Let us cross over to the other side” (Mark 4:35). Not let’s go halfway and drown!

Because Jesus is confident that his word will come to pass, he goes to sleep—which itself is quite a feat. Have you ever been on a boat during a windstorm? Even without the sea spray, which may or may not have splashed Jesus as he slept (he was in the stern, but we don’t know if there was any sort of structure over him as he slept), I can’t imagine sleeping through that. Even if he wasn’t getting splashed by each wave, the boat was filling up, so it’s unlikely Jesus was totally dry. But he’d been teaching all day and presumably was exhausted—or, maybe he knew the windstorm was coming, and wanted to test the disciples to see if they had grasped what he’d been teaching all day. He knew his calling as Messiah was to die for our sins on a cross, not to drown in a boat. He knew they would be fine, whether there was a storm or not, and whether he rebuked that storm or not.

But the disciples were fishermen by trade. They would have had a lot of experience with storms, and this may have added to their unbelief. Presumably they knew the difference between a no-big-deal windstorm, and the kind that sinks boats like theirs. Jesus’ word may have, in their minds, paled in comparison to what they knew in their natural minds and from their past experiences. They were doing everything they knew to do to weather the storm, and they were still losing.

At last they woke up Jesus with the accusation, “Don’t you care that we perish?” The implication here seems to be, “You should be helping! You’re not pulling your weight!” Presumably they wanted him to help bail water, though, not to calm the storm with a word! If they had expected the latter, they would not have been so terrified when the wind and the waves do obey him (Mark 4:41).
I think the disciples were only thinking of the immediate danger when they asked this question. They probably were not thinking that Jesus would survive to carry on his mission, but they would die. I suspect in the throes of the storm, when they said “don’t you care that we perish,” they included Jesus in that “we.” Had they taken him at his word of “let us go to the other side,” and considered it as a statement of fact, perhaps they might have considered more possible nuances of the statement: “us” might mean all the boats crossing with theirs (as there were multiple: Mark 4:36), or it might mean just the boat Jesus was on, though the others might be lost… or it might mean Jesus plus a select few survivors who floated to shore on flotsam beside him. I’ve heard all of these as possible interpretations of the disciples’ question: sure, Jesus, maybe you’ll be fine, but what about the rest of us? Do we have any guarantees?!

I doubt the disciples meant any of this, though. In the adrenaline of the moment, I suspect they had forgotten Jesus said anything about their survival at all. Their natural unbelief had completely taken over, they were overwhelmed with trying to keep from sinking or capsizing, and they were furious that they had another crew member who wasn’t helping—who was sleeping, of all things! In a way, their indignation reminds me of Martha’s frustration with Mary when she sat at Jesus’ feet, rather than helping with the cooking. Not life-and-death, obviously, but it’s still the implication of, “I’m overwhelmed with work, and you’re just sitting there being lazy! How dare you!” In reality, of course, Mary’s choice placed higher value on what really mattered. Jesus’ peace even unto sleep was a physical manifestation of his faith. (He’d also been ministering all day, and would be again the next day, and he probably needed his rest—storm or no!)

When the disciples do finally rouse Jesus, he commands the sea in Greek to siopao and phimoo: to hush or be silent, and to muzzle or make speechless. From a poetical standpoint, it’s interesting to consider that the sea and the waves were speaking until this point. What were they saying? “You are perishing!” was their message to the disciples. They were flatly contradicting the earlier words of Jesus: “Let us cross over to the other side.” The disciples believed the words of the waves—the words of their natural circumstances—rather than the words of Jesus. That is the definition of unbelief.
It also appears that until the disciples woke him, Jesus had no intention of calming the storm. He was going to just sleep through it! Presumably he calms it for the sake of the disciples—and then he rebukes them. “Why are you so fearful?” he demands. “How is it that you have no faith?” Fear is the opposite of faith: in this case, it’s putting “faith” in the words of the circumstances, rather than in the words of Jesus. He was probably extra frustrated because he’d just spent all day talking about how words are seeds, and they contain in them the power of the kingdom of God to bring themselves to pass—if mixed with faith. Then he gave them a word that should have been all they needed to get through this storm. He expected them to weather the storm in faith, as he himself was doing.

He probably did not yet expect them to speak to the wind and the waves themselves, though, because even though they had already seen Jesus command nature a few times (when he turned water into wine, and when Peter caught massive amounts of fish the first time they met), he had not yet fed the 5000 or the 4000, placed the coin in the fish’s mouth, cursed the fig tree, or walked on water. He also had not yet given power to the disciples to heal sickness or cast out evil spirits (that was in Matthew 10:1). So even though Jesus later says that his followers will do greater things than he had done (John 14:12), he says this only just before he goes to the cross, and then he tells the disciples to tarry in Jerusalem until they receive the power of the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t want them to go out and try to do all these great works in their own strength.

All this suggests to me that Jesus is not frustrated with the disciples that they did not command the winds and the waves themselves. He’s frustrated that they did not rest in confidence that they would survive the storm, however tumultuous things looked in the moment—simply based on the power of his word.
Today, we as believers have the power to do both: to speak to any mountain that stands in the way of what God has promised or called us to do (Mark 11:23), but also to rest in the middle of the storm, knowing that “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Once the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they had to fight the giants, but ultimately God’s intention was for them to enter His rest. He still has that rest for us today (Hebrews 4:9-10), for all who mix God’s words with faith. 
 
Fictionalized Retelling (from Peter’s POV)

It was dusk. The crowds, who had hung on Jesus’ every word that day, reluctantly dispersed after he dismissed them. Then he turned to us, and indicated the sea at our backs.

“Let us cross over to the other side,” he said, with a heavy sigh. He looked exhausted, and it was no wonder: he’d been teaching for about twelve hours in the hot sun, and hardly pausing to eat or drink. I was exhausted, and I hadn’t done half of what he had done. I might have suggested we sleep in our boats on shore, except that I suspected the only reason the crowds had dispersed at all was because they thought Jesus was leaving. If we stayed where we were, I wouldn’t put it past them to mob us even in the night. We had no choice: we had to set sail.

The thirteen of us had come in four small vessels. Jesus climbed aboard mine, along with James and John, and we pushed off first. I tried not to notice the ominous stillness of the water as the other disciples set out from shore in our wake. I told myself I was being silly, until John joined me at the helm.

“It doesn’t look good, does it?” he murmured. I looked up sharply.
“I hoped it was just me!”

But John shook his head. “I’ve seen this enough times. So have you. I just hope it holds off long enough for us to get to shore.”

“Hey!” James called to us, as he put up the sails. “Little help here?”

John and I went to do as we were bid, but I looked around for Jesus. He had disappeared. I frowned, pointing at the stern, which was the only structure on board.

“Is he in there?”

James nodded. “He said he’s going to catch some shut-eye, as much as he can. No doubt he’ll be mobbed on the other shore in the morning too.”

“Assuming we get there,” I muttered under my breath, looking around with apprehension. Sure enough, the wind had started to pick up. I heard the high-pitched howl I so disliked, and within minutes, the water went from glass to pitching from side to side.

“Doesn’t look good, fellas,” called James, “man your posts!”

We did, as the wind rose higher and louder, and the waves pitched the little boat like it was a toy. We weren’t making any forward progress, and within about twenty minutes, we were soaked to the bone. More than once I reflexively glanced back at the stern. The door was still shut, though surely the deck inside was just as wet as we were out here. 

“How can he sleep through this?” John shouted at me.

I shook my head, intending to reply but spluttering instead as I inhaled seawater.

Water splashed into the boat once, twice, three times—then we lost count. It rose on the deck until it was up to our ankles, and then halfway to our knees. We hung on to keep from sliding into the water ourselves, all three of us bailing water when we were upright as hard as we could.

It was obvious to all of us that it was an exercise in futility, though. For every bucket we bailed, the sea returned ten more to us.

“We’re going to drown!” James shouted. “Where is Jesus? Why isn’t he helping?”

“Will it matter?” John cried.

“It might! Every extra pair of hands counts!” The wind cut off his next words, but I thought he said, “Peter, you’re closest, you go wake him up!”

I slipped on the deck as it pitched almost a full ninety degrees to one side—or at least that’s how it felt. The slap of the boat back down on the waves catapulted me forward so that I slammed into the structure in the stern. I managed to pry the door open, letting in a cascade of water with me. Then I couldn’t hold it, and slid all the way to the back of the stern, slamming my shins into the cot where Jesus slept.

He was still sleeping. Somehow his head had not even left his pillow, though the pillow was sopping wet. He looked completely at peace, like a child.

For a moment, indignation overwhelmed my fear. I reached out and shook him by the shoulders.

“Teacher!” I shouted, “do you not care that we are perishing?”

Jesus sucked in a breath, a sign that he had regained consciousness. He blinked at me blearily, and then took in our surroundings. What was the expression on his face? Was that… irritation?

Without responding to me directly, Jesus sloshed through the water to the door of the stern and threw it open, somehow keeping his balance perfectly. Then he bellowed, “Peace, be still!”

The howling ceased at once. The waves began to settle down too, expending the last of their momentum until they smoothed out into the same almost eerie stillness they had been when we set out. I followed him outside, to see with my eyes what I felt and heard. Sure enough, the water was now smooth as glass.

Then he turned to me, a stern look on his face.

“Why are you so fearful?” he demanded. He directed his next question at James and John, who stood stupefied on the still waterlogged deck. “How is it that you have no faith?”

Without waiting for a response, he turned and went back into the stern, shutting the door behind him—presumably to go back to sleep.

None of the three of us moved for what felt like a long time. At last, John whispered, his full voice suddenly sounding too loud in the great calm, “Who is this, that even the winds and the waves obey him?”

We all exchanged a terrified look, far more afraid now of the man in the stern than we had been of the storm a few moments before.
There could be only one answer.
Aug 21, 2020

Today's podcast comes from this blog post: Detoxing: Glucuronidation.

Aug 14, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

Today's podcast is a meditation on and retelling of the Woman with the Issue of Blood, from Luke 8:43-48, Mark 5:24-34, and Matt 9:20-22

It’s interesting that this woman is not named, even though three different gospel writers tell her story. This could have been for her protection: at the time that Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote their gospels, the woman was likely still alive, and she had clearly violated the Jewish law. A woman with an issue of blood was considered ceremonially unclean, and thus should not have been in public. Anyone she touched would likewise have become unclean.

Think about what this meant for this poor woman. If she was married, she could not have sex with her husband (Leviticus 15:19-30, Ezekiel 18:6). The extrabiblical Talmud laws are far more stringent: if she did have sex with her husband deliberately, her husband could be arrested and potentially killed. If it was accidental (perhaps if a woman did not realize she was starting her period), they would need to offer a sacrifice to atone for their sin. Chances were, therefore, that this woman was unmarried—either she had never married because of her condition, or her husband had left her. This would not have been difficult, as divorce could be had for the asking, regardless of the cause (Deut 24:1).

Even if she had a husband who stuck by her, she still would have been terribly lonely. She could not touch anyone or anything without consequence. She would have been barren at least for those twelve years, as well, which was especially hard for a woman in those days. We don’t know her age, but she was young enough to still have a period, yet old enough to have had it for at least twelve years. This puts her in her early 20s at the youngest. For the purposes of my story, I assumed she was unmarried and in her late 20s.

Throughout those twelve years, she had done all she knew to do. She had seen many doctors, which had cost her all she had—yet still she grew worse. No doubt she was heartsick (Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life”) as well as physically exhausted from severe iron deficiency. It’s a wonder she could even crawl through that crowd!
Despite all this, the woman had incredible faith. We can see this by what she says to herself about Jesus: “If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.” Not might be;
shall be. That is incredible for someone who had suffered for so long! How did she find such confidence?

The woman must have known that Jesus was the Messiah. She had likely heard the stories of his miraculous healing power, since she lived in Capernaum (Matthew 9:1, Mark 2:1) which was Jesus’ home base. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17)—so as she heard that Jesus had healed others, faith must have been born in her heart. Maybe she also knew what was written in Malachi 4:2: “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings and you shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.” The word wings here in Hebrew is the word
kanaph, which means wing, skirt, or corner of a garment. Another use of the same word appears in Numbers 15:38: “Speak unto the children of Israel and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders (kanaph) of their garments throughout their generations and that they put upon the fringe of the borders (kanaph) a ribband of blue.” So when Malachi uses the same word, speaking of the Messiah, he was prophesying that healing would be in the fringes of his prayer shawl.

Even so, especially in Capernaum, Jesus was always surrounded by a crowd. About 1500 people lived in Capernaum in Jesus’ day, and he usually drew crowds from the surrounding areas as well. This meant she, a ceremonially unclean woman, could not help but defile large numbers of people on her way to the Messiah, and potentially Jesus himself! Not only that, but if she lived in Capernaum, many of those people would likely recognize her. So she must have planned this in advance. She had been meditating beforehand on how she might touch Jesus’ garment without being seen—we know this by what she says to herself in her heart. Perhaps she heard when Jesus would next be in town. Perhaps she disguised herself so she would not be recognized. She had to really want her healing, and go to great trouble and risk to get it. Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” She gets exactly what she believes for! This is the only example in scripture of someone who receives their healing from Jesus without his awareness or involvement.

Jesus knows what happened, though—he can somehow feel the difference between a mere press of the crowd, and an intentional supernatural healing. Probably he’s impressed, and wants to see and commend the one who had such faith as to take their healing by force (Matthew 11:12).

But the woman is afraid to admit it was her. Is she afraid of the punishment of the Jewish law, or is she afraid of Jesus himself? She obviously knew that healing flowed even from his garments, but she might not have understood his heart—just as the Israelites knew God’s acts, but not His ways (Psalm 103:7).

If she was afraid of Jesus, though, she isn’t anymore after he speaks to her. He calls her “daughter,” the only woman addressed this way in scripture. Then he tells her that her faith has made her whole: the word for whole in Greek in
sozo, which means not just healed physically, but safe and sound, rescued from danger, healed, restored, and saved in the spiritual sense. The word made in Greek is perfect tense (meaning an action in the past that affects the future), active voice (her faith made it happen), and indicative mood (it’s progressive: she may not have 100% sozo right that second in her body and her life, but it’s promised, and it’s therefore as good as done). Then he tells her to go in peace. The verb go is in imperative mood, indicating a command—it is up to her to continue in peace. The word for peace here is eirene, which means prosperity, harmony, joy, and peace. She was potentially in danger for violation of laws, and yet Jesus is declaring her safety.

After twelve years of being an unclean, lonely outcast, Jesus says that she is a daughter who walks in peace and wholeness! But it’s up to her to walk in that knowledge, to maintain that new identity. It’s up to us to remember and walk in the knowledge of who we are in Christ, too.

The Retelling

How did I get here? I wondered despairingly as I lay in my bed, day after day, year after year.
My life had become a living nightmare. All my girlhood dreams of marriage and motherhood and laughter and purpose and come to this: at twenty-eight, I was already considered an old maid. No man would ever touch me; indeed, none could without risking severe punishment. I was unclean, and had been for the last twelve years, since I was sixteen years old.
I should have been married that year. I should have made a happy bride. I should have a brood of children by now.
Instead, I was a severe burden to my aging parents. My father had constructed a separate dwelling for me so that my uncleanness would not contaminate the rest of the household, and my mother brought me my meals, careful never to touch me nor to sit down on or handle anything I might have touched. They spent all they had to send me to the best doctors, some of whom I had to travel far to see. The worst of their useless treatments involved blood letting. I was already bleeding continuously, but these doctors thought that opening my veins and letting out yet more of my blood might cure me.
I was so weak by this point, I could hardly bathe or to feed myself. The majority of my energy was wasted upon my tears. Often I longed for death. I had no hope of anything in this life anymore.
But one day, when my mother brought me my tray for the midday meal and I looked up at her wearily, I saw a new sparkle in her eye. I could muster no curiosity about its cause, but she was determined to tell me anyway.
“Aila,” she said to me, breathless. “There is a prophet in Capernaum, a prophet who is said to possess the power to heal! There are those who say he must be the Messiah!” And she began to tell me about this man named Jesus. I wondered at all she told me: she had never mentioned him before, so I had the impression she had just heard the stories of his miracles that day, and had spent the morning gossiping to learn as much about the man as she could. She told me rumors of a wedding in Cana, in which the host ran out of wine and Jesus provided it by telling the servants to fill vessels with water, which became the finest wine when brought to the host to taste. She told of how he had all but announced himself as the Messiah in the Temple when he read from the scroll of Isaiah 61, and then declared to all those listening that “today this is fulfilled in your hearing.” She told me a story of a paralytic so eager to meet Jesus that his friends took the tiles off of a roof where Jesus was preaching to a great multitude, and lowered him down before Jesus’ feet. Jesus healed him, and the man took up his mat and walked out, to the amazement of all.
As my mother spoke, I saw the tears sparkling in her eyes. Answering tears stung my own, always so near the surface. I swallowed down the lump in my throat. Something intangible began to bubble and swell in my chest, something that I had not felt in many a year: hope.
“He lives in Capernaum? This man Jesus?” I pressed, and my mother nodded.
“He does, but he travels to all the surrounding regions of Israel, apparently drawing crowds everywhere he goes.” Her expression faltered. “That… is the problem. The crowds.”
My face fell too, and the bubble in my chest nearly burst. But before it could extinguish altogether, a scripture came to mind out of nowhere, one I had not even known I knew.
“But unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings…” I whispered, and my eyes met my mother’s. Understanding spread across her face too, mingled with doubt. “If he is who you say he is,” I told her, “I do not need his attention. I just need to get close enough to touch the hem of his garment.”
My mother let out a puff of breath, looking troubled as she shook her head. “Aila, you can barely stand, let alone walk. And there will be a crowd pressing all around! Will you make all of them unclean? Do you know what they will do to you if you are discovered? They could stone you!”
Suddenly my eyes flashed. “I don’t care!” I cried. “Death is better than the life I live now! If this man Jesus is my only hope, there is nothing I will not risk to get to him, nothing!” I looked away so I could not see my mother’s horrified expression, and set my jaw. Then I mused aloud, “I just need to know when he is expected back in Capernaum.”
She said in almost a whisper, “I already asked. The rumors are that he is on his way back today, and is expected by this time tomorrow.”
“Good,” I said, “less time to wait. I also need a disguise.” I had not been out in the city for quite some time, but surely there would still be those who remembered me and might recognize me. My mother was a talker; they would all know of my uncleanness if they knew who I was.
My mother hesitated, but said, “You may borrow my gray cloak. It will cover your face.”
I nodded, and gave her a glance of gratitude, knowing this was a gift and not a loan. Once I had touched it, and possibly bled on it, she could not take it back. It also occurred to me that I might not need to cover my face—if I managed to stand and walk, it would not be for long. When I envisioned the scene, I saw myself crawling on all fours toward Jesus, stretching all the time for the tassels of his prayer shawl. That was all I needed. I pictured my hand clasping the tassels, stealing my healing, and then standing up and quietly slipping away with no one the wiser. My heart, always a weak and pitiful flutter in my chest, beat faster for the first time in ages as I thought of it.
By this time tomorrow, I would be healed, or I would die trying. Either way, it would be better than this.
Normally I spent most of the day drowsing, but never truly sleeping deeply. I picked at my food all day long, and never ate a full meal. But for the rest of that day and into the next morning when my mother brought my breakfast, I felt a surge of strength born of my hope, even though I still trembled from weakness. With my breakfast, my mother brought me her promised gray cloak.
“He is here,” she whispered. “A great multitude has already abandoned their work for the day and has flocked to him. He is by the docks!”
“The docks!” I breathed with momentary despair.
“It is not far,” my mother murmured, correctly understanding my exclamation. “Perhaps a ten minute walk from here.”
“For you!” I shot back, but then got hold of myself, as resolve steeled my bones. “No. No. I can do this. I must do this.”
For the first time in years, I finished my entire breakfast, and donned my mother’s cloak. I gave her a brave smile, and she burst into tears, covering her face. I could not even touch her to comfort her. An ache bloomed in my chest at this thought. But then I said aloud, my words catching in my throat, “When I return, I will be clean! When I return, I can hug you again.”
This only made her cry harder. I left her standing in the middle of the room, opened the door, and made my way out into the streets—also for the first time in years. Today was a day of firsts.
I was surprised that my legs carried me at all, though I was winded within minutes. I had to slow down. I kept my head down so that the cloak covered my features, but could tell from my periphery that the crowds grew thicker and denser as I approached the docks. I managed to touch no one for most of the journey, but I could tell when I had arrived at my destination. The crowds were so densely oriented around one central figure that even though I could not see him, I knew Jesus must be at the center. I took a deep breath, and plunged into the crowd.
It went against every instinct I had to deliberately elbow my way through the men and women all eager to meet Jesus. I tried not to think about how many I contaminated along the way, or what they would do to me if they knew.
At last I saw the man dressed as a rabbi at the center. I did not get a good look at his face, but knew that he must be Jesus. I was almost there!
Suddenly a hush fell over the crowd, and one voice rose above the others.
“My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live!”
The rabbi nodded. “Take me to her,” he said.
The first speaker leapt to his feet and began to lead the way, and the crowd surged forward, following Jesus. Despair threatened to crush me as the people jostled me this way and that, and I even lost sight of Jesus for a moment. As I was momentarily off balance, the crowd shoved me from behind, and I fell to my hands and knees, exactly as I had seen in my vision.
Somehow, oddly enough, it was this that galvanized me. This was what I had pictured. It was easier to make my way through the crowd on all fours than it was standing upright. I was entirely focused on one thing: the edge of that prayer shawl. I did not see it yet, but I scanned the clothing of the people around me as I crawled, ignoring all else. People stepped on my hands and made me cry out in pain. People kneed me and kicked me on accident. I did not care. I kept going, until at last I saw what I was looking for: the fringes of that shawl.
If only I may touch his clothes, I shall be made well, I repeated in my mind over and over, like a mantra. If only I may touch his clothes, I shall be made well. If only…
I reached out, just as he moved away. I crawled faster, kicked and jostled but determined. I reached out again, grabbed on to the tassels, and—
Power at once surged through my body, a sensation I had never felt before. The trembling weakness was instantly gone, and the constant feeling of the flow of blood between my legs suddenly dried up! I released Jesus’ garment and sat gasping, as the crowd began to push on past me. But Jesus stopped walking, and turned around.
“Who touched my clothes?” he demanded.
A new terror seized me. I did not know what to do. I shrank back, hoping that the rest of the crowd would shield me from him. What would he do? Would he command the crowd to stone me anyway, for breaking the law?
One of the men beside him said, “You see the multitude thronging you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’”
Jesus shook his head and insisted, “Somebody touched me. I felt power go out from me.”
It was clear he did not plan to move on until I revealed myself, and the people beside me looked around to find the culprit as well. Several noticed me at last, and one shouted, “Hey! I think I found her!”
Jesus now looked at me. He was surprisingly young, not much older than I was. I was trembling now not from weakness, but from fear, bowing lower still to his feet. What could I do but tell the whole truth?
“Lord,” I choked out, “I have suffered a continuous flow of blood these twelve years.” What a shameful thing to confess in a crowd of mixed company, a crowd whom I had contaminated! “I have spent all I had on physicians and have only grown worse. But I heard about you, and I thought, I need not trouble you! If I could only touch your clothes, I would be made well. So I did, and so I have: the fountain of my blood dried up and I was healed at once. I know I have broken the law and I have no excuse for myself except my very great desperation. I can do nothing but beg for your mercy!”
When Jesus did not immediately reply to this, at last my curiosity overcame my fear, and I looked up into his face. The look of compassion and tenderness in his wide brown eyes took my breath away. Despite the similarity in our ages, his expression reminded me of the way a father might gaze at his newborn child. His next words confirmed this.
“Daughter,” he said, in a voice so low it felt only meant for me, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”
As he was saying this, the man who had begged for his help at the beginning tore his attention away from me. I sat there dazed, as Jesus moved on, and the crowd surged after him, passing around me like water around a stone in a stream.
He called me daughter, I thought in amazement. He didn’t rebuke me. He didn’t condemn me!
He is the Messiah, I realized as I continued to sit there, long after the crowd had moved on. I had known this before, or I would never have done what I did. But if he was the Messiah, he was the Lord’s anointed, and he called me daughter… he had compassion on me… then who was this angry God the Pharisees preached?
I closed my eyes and remembered the tender expression in Jesus’ wide brown ones, treasuring the words he had said to me almost as much as my healing. Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your affliction.
And so I would. I stood up, brushed myself off, and walked home with my head held high. I did not care who saw me now.
I had my whole life ahead of me.

Aug 7, 2020

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Jul 31, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

Today's meditation and retelling comes from Luke 5:4-10, John 21:3-8.

I guess I just didn’t know what to do with myself. Too much had happened—both the worst and the best. My Master’s horrific death, my own failure to stand by Him in His hour of need, and then—He rose again! He returned to us. He was the Messiah. We had been witness to the event that all of the Law and the Prophets, all of human history had been pointing to. 
 
Now what? 
 
The only clue Jesus gave to us of what to do next was to go into Galilee, and He would meet us there. He wasn’t with us all the time now, not since He rose again. Things were different, though He never told us what He was doing when He was not with us. 
 
I felt like my brain was always spinning since then, never arriving at its destination. I wanted something familiar, something I could do with my hands that would anchor me in the present. I was a fisherman by trade, though I hadn’t actually fished commercially in the last three and a half years since Jesus came into my life. We were here in Galilee now, but Jesus gave us no other specifics. We didn’t know when or where He would meet us, beyond somewhere in Galilee.  
 
“I’m going fishing,” I announced to James, John, Nathaniel, Thomas, Matthew, and Bartholomew who were with me. It was nighttime, but we always used to fish at night. That was when it was coolest. 
 
I was surprised at the suddenness of their reply: “We are going with you,” they all agreed. Evidently I wasn’t the only one who longed for some occupation to pass the time.  
 
As we prepared our nets and set out to the Sea of Galilee, I couldn’t help remembering the last time I had done this very thing. James and John were my partners then, and the three of us had fished all night in the Lake of Gennesaret, and caught nothing. We were exhausted, and washing our nets until the next time when a great multitude suddenly converged upon the shore. They all seemed to be centered upon one man, a young rabbi. I had never seen him before, but as soon as I saw him—his purposeful stride, the authority with which he carried himself—I couldn’t look away. I forgot all about my nets. I thought at the time that the crowds must all have seen what I saw, and that was why they followed him. 
 
But then I noticed that the man was looking at me, too. He strode right up to me, and gestured at one of our two boats on shore.
 
“Will you put out a bit from the land with me? You see how the crowd presses all around me.” 
 
“Yes!” I stammered, forgetting my fatigue. I rushed to obey, dragging my half-cleaned nets behind me and stuffing them into the boat. James and John remained on shore with the crowd, but did not leave. They too seemed to have forgotten their exhaustion in their eagerness to see whatever it was that the crowd expected to see. 
 
 It was just Jesus and me in the boat on the lake that day. He sat down and began to teach the crowds from the boat. I sat behind him, and with his every word, my soul burned within me. It was a sensation I had never experienced before, but I have many times since: that sense that I was hearing truth spoken in mysteries, falling from the lips of a man of exceeding greatness. I was a Jew, and I had always worshipped Jehovah in theory. But never before had I been stirred in such a way that worship was wrung from me as the only possible response, like water from a cloth. 
 
When the rabbi dismissed the crowds, and they reluctantly began to disperse, it was already in the heat of the day. He looked at me and said, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 
 
It was such an unexpected thing to say that I balked for a minute. Why? I wondered. What did that have to do with anything? 
 
“Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing,” I began, but then caught myself. I did not wish to argue with this man, of all people. If he wanted me to let down my net, I’d do it out of respect, even though it would mean extra work for me. “Nevertheless, at Your word I will let down the net,” I told him. I paddled a little way back out to the lake, though not to the deepest part. I had several nets, but I let down only the one—this was only a gesture, after all. I knew there were no fish to be had in the lake today—
 
“What is this?” I cried out in shock, as the net grew taut in my hands. I thought at first I had snagged it on something, but that could not be; the lake was much too deep. I managed to tug just enough for the shiny slippery silver bodies to break the surface of the water, wriggling and writhing all over each other. I gasped, and felt rather than heard the ripping of the rope down below the surface.
 
“James! John!” I shouted back to shore, and just glanced up to see that they were still there, awaiting my return. They had apparently seen enough of what was going on, and both of them jumped into the other boat and paddled out to where we were, along with two of our other partners. 
 
“Steady, steady!” called John, as he held the side of his boat against ours. He threw a rope across to climb into my boat, so that he could help me pull in the catch. It was all I could do to hold on to the edges of my net, but I certainly could not haul it onto the boat by myself. Finally I glanced at Jesus. He stood watching us, and I could swear he was silently laughing, his eyes crinkled with amusement. I glanced back down at the water. Before my very eyes, more fish jostled each other to swim into my net! I looked back at Jesus. Now he was laughing outright. 
 
“Ready, heave!” John cried to me, recalling my attention to the ever growing problem at hand. “The net is breaking!” 
 
“I know, that’s why I signaled you!” I returned. It was all we could do to lift the top of the catch out of the water and just let the fish spill onto the bottom of our boat in a great pile; I knew yet more had managed to escape underneath where the nets had ripped. Meanwhile, James and our other partners had taken the hint and let down their nets—plural this time—and were even now drawing their enormous catch on board.   
 
“We’re sinking!” John gasped to me as the fish continued to spill into the boat. 
 
“So are we!” James cried back from the other boat beside us. 
 
John and I watched as fish we hadn’t even caught in our nets jumped out of the water and into our boat. Our jaws dropped. I turned to Jesus, who had tears in his eyes now, he was laughing so hard. 
 
I released my end of the net entirely, and sank to my knees before Jesus’ feet as best I could, amid all the fish. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” I gasped. 
 
Jesus still grinned, but his expression softened as he looked down at me. I had the impression that he was pleased I had understood that this was his doing, even though it could not have been more obvious. “
 
“Do not be afraid,” he said to me. “From now on you will catch men.” 
 
When we got back to shore that day, salvaging our boats and some of our nets with the most enormous catch of fish we’d ever had before or since, James, John and I left everything and followed Jesus. We’d never looked back.
 
Three and a half years later, so much had changed that I scarcely remembered the man I was then. Tonight, as that first night before Jesus showed up, we had caught not a single fish. I watched as the sunrise streaked pink and red across the sky, and gritted my teeth against the ache in my chest. 
 
I missed him. 
 
He had risen, but He wasn’t here with us now. Everything had changed. He had risen, but now what? Where did we go from here? What did the rest of our lives look like? He had risen, but I had still denied Him when He needed me most. 
 
“Children!” called a voice from the shore. We all turned to see a stranger, hands cupped around his mouth to amplify the sound. “Have you any food?” 
 
“Children?” Bartholomew muttered. “That fellow can’t be any older than we are.” 
 
James answered for all of us. “No! We’ve fished all night but caught nothing.” 
 
The stranger shouted back, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” 
 
We all blinked at this strange instruction. Nathaniel grumbled, “As if that would make any difference.” Yet my heart burned within me. I didn’t consciously think of it at the time, but it was the same sensation I had had when on the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and the stranger. The same I had as I listened to Jesus preach that first time. 
 
“Do it,” James, John and I all said at once. We exchanged a look with one another and took over the net. That was when I realized that they, too, were remembering the same thing I was.
 
It was as if we were right back there, three and a half years ago: the moment we slipped the net on the right side of the boat, the rope grew taut, and fish fought each other to swim in. 
 
“Heave!” John cried, and we tried—but there were too many. We could not even lift the nets back into the boat between the three of us. John’s face split into a wide grin as he turned to look on the shore. The stranger had set a fire on the beach and was tending to it.
 
“It is the Lord!” he cried. 
 
Of course it was—I had known this already. But at John’s declaration, I couldn’t wait even to get the boat back to shore. I had removed my outer garment as we worked, so now I put it on again and jumped into the sea, swimming to Him as fast as my arms and legs could carry me. 
 
Behind me, the other disciples steered the ship to shore, dragging the net in the water behind them. I reached the land only moments before they did, for we had not been far out to sea. 
 
The stranger looked up, first at me, and then at the others, then at me again. I fell to my knees before Him, amazed once again that He looked so different now, though His features had not changed. 
 
“Lord,” I managed, dripping from head to toe. 
 
He smiled back at me, and I saw that He already had fish and bread cooking over the coals. He glanced over my shoulder, and I followed His eyes to the other disciples, who were now attempting to drag the catch of fish from the water to the shore. 
 
“Bring some of the fish which you have just caught,” Jesus said. 
 
I took the Lord’s hint and ran to help. Remarkably, this time the net was not broken. When we laid the fish out on the sand, Bartholomew, the quickest of us with numbers, informed us that we had caught one hundred and fifty three. 
 
“Come and eat breakfast,” Jesus called to us.
 
We took six of the fish, one for each of us plus the fish Jesus had already prepared. We cleaned and roasted them over the fire Jesus had set, largely in silence. I saw all of the other disciples sneaking surreptitious glances at Jesus as if to assure themselves that He was the Lord. He endured this patiently and without comment. When the fish had cooked, He took the bread, blessed and broke it, and did the same with the fish. We ate in silence as well: a silence that was not so much awkward as it was thick, at least for me. I so desperately wanted to make things right. 
 
When we finished breakfast, Jesus turned to me. “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?” 
 
A lump sprang to my throat. The word He used for love wasagape. Do I agape—perfectly, selflessly love—Him more than anything else, as I had once so boldly declared? More than anything I wanted to proclaim that I did, but my actions belied this. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” But I used the word phileoin place ofagape. The word meant familial affection. Far less lofty than agape. 
 
Jesus’ eyes bore into mine. “Feed my lambs,” He replied. Silence fell again. I tried to swallow down the lump in my throat. Jesus said again, “Simon, son of Jonah, do youagapeme?” 
 
I felt the other disciples shift around us uncomfortably, but I did not care that they were witnesses. This was between me and the Lord. I had to compose myself before I managed to answer again, “Yes, Lord, you know that Iphileoyou.” 
 
“Tend my sheep,” Jesus replied. Another stretch of silence. Then He ventured once more, “Simon, son of Jonah, do youphileome?” 
 
I bit my lip to keep the tears at bay. I flashed back to the night of His trial, to my three denials that I even knew the man who was dearest to me in the world. He asked me three times to affirm Him now, to erase those denials. But He’d downgraded the word love now fromagapetophileo, the word I insisted upon using. The Lord knew how badly I wanted to use the wordagape—the word that meant I would do anything for Him, even die for Him, as He had for me. But I had made that declaration once before, and broken it hours later. I knew better now. I knew my own weakness.
 
“Lord, you know all things,” I whispered. “You know that Iphileoyou.” 
 
Jesus did not speak for such a long moment that I finally looked up and met His eyes. He gazed at me so tenderly, like a father to his newborn child. No wonder He had called us children. “Feed my sheep,” He said. “Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” 
 
I swallowed, understanding what He meant. I would indeed die for Him one day. Had He given me such a prophecy at any other time, it would have seemed almost like a curse. But right now, it was the purest blessing He could have pronounced. He was telling me I would get another chance, and the next time, I would pass the test: the very thing I wanted most in the world. Briefly, I let the Lord's pure love, His agape, His acceptance wash over me, to cleanse and restore me. 
 
No sooner did I bask in this, though, it was marred by a stab of jealousy as I glanced at John, sitting very close to Jesus. I’d always been just a bit jealous of John’s closeness to the Lord. I think we all had. Before I could stop myself, I pointed at John and said, “But Lord, what about this man?” 
 
Jesus raised his eyebrows at me, and John looked taken aback. I immediately regretted that I’d said it out loud. 
 
“If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?” was Jesus’ gentle rebuke. “Youfollow me.” 
 
I bowed my head, and turned to look at the enormous catch of fish strewn on shore. He had performed the same miracle when I first met Him, and now again at the end—for I knew this was the end. His remaining time on earth was very short. The first time He had said, “From now on, you will catch men,” and I had left everything to follow Him. Now, after His resurrection, when all of us wondered what our purpose could possibly be, this side of the cross—His answer was the same. 
 
Tend my sheep. Feed my lambs. Go and catch men. 
 
I had fished all night with all my worldly equipment and skill and partners, and caught nothing. Yet everything changed when I went whereHedirected, and fished whereHe commanded, with the powerHeprovided. I could not fail. 
 
 
Jul 24, 2020

Today's podcast is an interview with the newest doctor to our care team at Nature Cure Family Health, Dr Laura Villa. To learn more about Dr Villa, click here. https://www.naturecurefamilyhealth.com/doctors/dr-laura-villa/

Jul 17, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

This week's meditation and retelling is from 1 Sam 14:1-23. 

This is such a crazy story, and to me, it so perfectly illustrates why Jonathan and David became such good friends. In boldness, they were pretty much the same person.   
 
Jonathan had taken down a garrison of Philistines once before (1 Sam 13:3) before this episode ever occurred, which may well have been what gave him the confidence to propose the idea of two of them attacking an entire garrison, with one sword between them. God never told him to do this—it was his own idea, but it was based upon Jonathan’s understanding that Israel had a covenant with God, and the Philistines didn’t (we know this by the fact that he referred to them as “uncircumcised,” the same way that David referred to Goliath). He did include a caveat, at least: if the Philistines said this, it meant God had given them into the hands of Israel. If they said that, it meant he hadn’t, and they should come back another day. But even that, he made up. He just assumed that God would honor the “fleece” he chose. And sure enough, God did!
 
Why was there only one sword between them, anyway? According to 1 Samuel 13:22, there were only two swords in all of Israel, belonging to the king (Saul) and the crown prince (Jonathan). The Philistines had so oppressed Israel that they had disarmed them, expecting that this would keep this in subjection. No wonder the rest of the Israelites were hiding in caves, even though there were hundreds of them. Not only were the Philistines in a better tactical position, but they had weapons and the Israelites did not. Only Jonathan did not see this as a problem. Like Caleb and Joshua when they saw the giants in the Promised Land, Jonathan was undeterred by what he saw in the natural. When Jonathan and his armor bearer (who didn’t even get a name) moved forward in faith, all they had to do was kill about twenty men. Then, just as in the case of Gideon and the Midianites, God sent fear among the Philistines and they destroyed themselves! Then the Israelites, seeing that their enemy was on the run, decided to join the fight. But it took the faith of Jonathan and his armor bearer to set the whole thing in motion.
 
"Why exactly are we hiding in this cave?” I wanted to know. I asked the question of my armor bearer, who had been with me since my earliest days as a soldier. He was my servant, but I considered him a dear friend too. Certainly, I respected him far more than I did the majority of my father’s soldiers, six hundred of whom just cowered here in the pomegranate cave at Migron, at my father King Saul's apparent direction. “The Philistines are right there. Why don’t we just go slaughter them?” 
    
My armor bearer shrugged, as mystified as I was. Yes, the Philistines were large—giants, some of them. It was also true that our men had no swords; the Philistines had gotten rid of all blacksmiths, and had required us to come to them to sharpen our tools for farming, so that they might keep us in submission. The only two swords in our company belonged to my father and myself. So what? The Philistines were uncircumcised! They had no covenant to protect them. We, on the other hand, had the Lord on our side. We literally could not lose. I’d proven this by defeating the garrison of Philistines at Geba, and all the Hebrews had heard of it. Had they already forgotten? 
 
I sighed, frustrated. I refused to sit here and do nothing for another moment. “I have one of the two swords, have I not?” I muttered aloud, and then gestured at my armor bearer. “Well. You do.” 
 
My armor bearer nodded as a slow smile of anticipation crept across his face. “I do indeed!” 
 
I snuck a surreptitious glance at my father, who was in council with several of his cowardly advisors, and did not notice us. Then I looked at my armor bearer and whispered, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, by many or by few.” 
 
The armor bearer grinned back at me, eyes bright. “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish, Behold, I am with you heart and soul!” 
 
I loved this guy. I nodded and whispered, “Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we all show ourselves to them. If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up, for the Lord has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us.” 
 
I added the caveat, just in case the Lord wanted to stop us for some reason. He hadn’t chosen the sign, it was true, but I knew He directed the steps of His faithful ones, and I knew the covenant promised victory to the Israelites. I only wanted to test whether or not this was the way in which He meant for it to occur. 
 
Together, we crept out of the cave, between two rocky crags named Bozez and Seneh. The Philistines spied us approaching from a distance, and we saw their attention turn to us. Once we were in shouting range, they taunted, “Look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves!” They beckoned us, and cried out, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing!” 
 
I turned to my armor bearer and we shared a fierce grin. That was exactly what I’d been hoping they’d say. “Come up after me, for the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel!” I declared.
 
I had to climb up using my hands and feet to where the Philistine garrison waited. My armor bearer came after me, sword in its hilt at his side. When I finally reached the top of the rocky crag, something (Someone?) knocked the men down before me as if they had been hit by a great gust of wind. My armor bearer did not waste it: as soon as he crested the hill, he slashed them down right and left, twenty men in all. As this happened, panic spread throughout the camp and the garrison. The men began to flee, and the stampede seemed to make the mountain itself quake. 
 
I turned around, and behind us I finally saw my father and his six hundred men emerge from their cave. But before they ever reached the scene of the battle, it was already half over: there was such confusion in the Philistine garrison that they struck and killed one another. Some of my fellow Israelites were among the Philistines, and they turned upon their fellows. Israelites who had been hiding in the hill country of Ephraim saw and came to join the fight. 
 
In the end, the Philistines fled beyond Beth-aven, and the Lord gave us victory. As I knew very well He would. He had promised He would, and He is not a man, that He should lie!
Jul 10, 2020

Today's podcast comes from this blog post, EMF and Mitochondrial Toxicity.

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