Picking Up the Pieces

I’ve done my share of telling people to pick up.

Pick up your shoes.
Pick up your room.
Pick up your sweaty, smelly  jersey.
Pick up your cereal bowl with the milk that has curdled
and stinks to high heaven.

During all those years of raising four kids, I didn’t realize how spiritual I was sounding. (Neither did the kids, I’m sure.)

This week my reading was on the miraculous picnic in the pasture.
One little boy + 2 small fish + 5 barley buns + 5,000 men =
one little boy + 2 small fish + 5 barley buns + 5,000 men + Jesus =


When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples,
“Gather the pieces that are left over.
Let nothing be wasted.”
John 6:12

This is what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus.
There’s lots of picking up involved.

Picking up the toys in the church nursery.
Picking up the marshmallow sticks the youth group left in the fit pit.
Picking up the coffee cups and bulletins in the pews on Monday mornings.
Picking up the elderly neighbor and giving him a ride to church.
Picking up the soup for the Lent soup suppers.
Picking up the child who fell and scraped her knee.
Picking up the burdens of a friend who is grieving a loss.
Picking up the pen to write a check to someone in need.
Picking up the garbage on the side of the road.
Picking up the phone to speak words of encouragement.
Picking up the Word to keep the soul restored.

None of it is a waste.
All of it is abundance in the hand of the Master.

So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets
with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
John 6:13


This week’s reading: John 6 (deeper study on 6:35-44)
Next week’s reading: John 7 (deeper study on 7:37-46)


It’s February in Wisconsin.
I’m not gonna lie — sitting poolside somewhere warm and balmy
sounds pretty darn good right now.
However, sitting by a pool for thirty-eight years, hoping for a miracle
probably was pretty darn depressing.

“Do you want to get well?”  John 5:6

get well

Jesus directed this question to a man
who had been an invalid for 38 years.

That would be like talking to someone today
who has been in a wheelchair since 1982.

Remember 1982?  That was back when Michael Jackson released “Thriller” and thrilled us with the moonwalk. We listened to MJ on newfangled little records called CDs. Ronald Reagan was President and we all went to the movie theaters to see “E.T.” phone home. That was a long time ago.

In 1982, I watched the Brewers play in the World Series while waiting for my first child to arrive. In 38 years, PB and I have had four babies which led to four weddings, and eleven grand babies — a whole new generation. Thirty-eight years is a long time.

Maybe the crippled man didn’t hear the question.  It was a “Yes/No” question but he didn’t give Jesus a straight answer. Instead, he wanted to talk about his past 38 miserable years. He had good excuses — no one would help him get into the healing waters, all the other cripples were faster than he was, it was hard lying by the pool every day.

But Jesus didn’t want to hear it.
He told the man to get up, clean up, and go home.

“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!” John 5:8


Sometimes Jesus heals people, whether they want it or not.

This week’s reading: John 5 (deeper study on 5:5-15)
Next week’s reading: John 6 (deeper study on 6:5-15)


“He told me everything I ever did.” John 4:39

Suppose you have to walk to the edge of town to draw water from the well. A man is sitting there but that doesn’t phase you. You know how to handle men. At least at high noon you’re avoiding the other women who look at you on the sly and whisper.


Then suppose the stranger starts some friendly small talk about water.  He even asks you for a drink. Before you know it, the chit-chat turns into something deeper — deeper than the well you’re standing beside. He seems to know about every one of your relationship failures, all the insecurities raging inside you, and even your confusion about religion.

This person confronts you with all your crap.

Suddenly, you feel exposed. Try as you might to change the subject, the stranger brings it back around to the uncomfortable truth. He calls you out. How do you respond?

Are you offended?
Do you defensively tell him to mind his own business?
Do you take your bucket and hightail it out of there?


Or do you hustle back to town and run through the streets yelling,
“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did!
Could this be the Messiah?”
John 4:29

Lord, when You call me out, help me to be unoffendable.

This week’s reading: John 4 (deeper study on 4:1-10)
Next week’s reading: John 5 (deeper study on 5:5-15)

Second Fiddle

He must become greater; I must become less.
John 3:30

A few years ago, PB and I went to a James Taylor concert. It was magic. Thousands of us (most of us in our fifties) sang along with JT to the soundtrack of our teenage years. We were all best friends by the end of the show.

Taylor is 72 years old and hitting the concert circuit again this summer. Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt are traveling with him as his opening acts. I’m sure both artists put on a good show in their own right, but when you buy a ticket to a James Taylor concert, there’s only one person you want to hear: James Taylor. The warm-up act is supposed to be good, but shouldn’t outshine the headliner. Its primary job is to let people know they should get to their seats because the main attraction is coming.


J the B (John the Baptist) was the opening warm-up act, not the headliner. He came to tip everyone off that the real star of the show was coming. His role was crucial in getting the crowd ready for the main event, but he understood that his time in the spotlight was limited. When his set-list was done, his job was to get backstage, and stay there.

I’ve always felt a little sorry for John. He didn’t get to be a disciple. He wasn’t asked to come over and hang out at Jesus’ place. He missed out on all the miracles. Then he got involved in politics and was beheaded.

Yet, J the B was full of joy because he knew two things:
who he was
who Jesus was.


Keeping those two things straight kept him on track.
It does the same for us.

So in all things Jesus has first place.
Colossians 1:18

Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
Romans 12:10

This week’s reading: John 3 (deeper study on 3:27-35)
Next week’s reading: John 4 (deeper study on 4:1-10)


Nobody likes to get ripped-off. I’d like to think I’m savvy enough to walk away from price gouging schemes when I see them. For instance, I’m not in the market for a diamond studded puppy bathtub — for only $39,000. A set of dominoes for $147,000 sounds exorbitant, even if they are solid gold. Or how about a 2.5 million dollar 18-karat gold toilet?

An installation view of Maurizio Cattelan's

Rip-offs come in smaller versions as well. I admit to being swindled by bottled water, movie theater popcorn, and pre-cut produce. It’s hard to refuse a hotdog at a major league baseball game, even if it is $7 (an 80% markup!).


Rip-offs are nothing new. Back in first century Jerusalem, money-changers set up shop in the temple to take advantage of pilgrims coming to worship. They were required to trade their currency for “temple” coins — at an exorbitant rate of exchange. Lambs the travelers brought for sacrifice were deemed “imperfect” and they were forced to buy the high priced animals approved by the chief priests. This shady business done on temple grounds desecrated the holy site, not to mention all the sheep and cattle poop.

“Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area…’How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market.'” John 2:13-16

Want to know what ticks Jesus off?
Religion that doesn’t care about people.
Using a form of worship for financial gain.
Taking advantage of poor, underprivileged folks.
Man-made rules that make it harder to draw near to God.
Turning the house of prayer into a commercialized shopping mall.

Jesus made a whip.
He poured the coins out.
He overturned the tables.
He set free the sacrificial lambs.
He drove them all out of the temple.


Jesus took the lashes from a Roman whip.
He poured out His blood to pay for our sin.
He overturned the religion of salvation by works.
He set us free from condemnation by becoming the Lamb.
He drove out the power of hell, death and Satan.

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?”
1 Cor. 6:19-20

Dear Lord, where have I sold out to the world?
Come into my heart.
Drive out all that is cheapening my worship.
Overturn all that distracts me from pure devotion.
Whip me into shape.
Cleanse this temple.


This week’s reading: John 2 (deeper study on 2:13-22)
Next week’s reading: John 3 (deeper study on 3:27-35)



Lalapalooza: an extraordinary or unusual thing; an exceptional example.

In 1883, Henry Bridgeman started a dairy business in Duluth, Minnesota, carting milk from home to home by horse drawn wagon. Fifty-three years later, Henry’s sons, Chester and Roy, decided to strike out on their own and opened the original Bridgeman’s Ice Cream Shoppe. Ever since, Bridgeman’s brand has been known for high quality ice cream in crowd pleasing flavors like Caramelicious, Coconut Commotion and Raspberry Fudge Torte.

They are also renowned for the La La Palooza.

This over-the-top dessert is a sundae made up of eight scoops of ice-cream (two each of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and butter brittle) drenched in decadent caramel, pineapple and strawberry toppings, with handfuls of chopped walnuts, cherries, and sliced bananas and crowned with a mountain of whipped cream.

Anyone who eats a whole Lalapalooza in their restaurant receives a certificate commemorating the feat. Finish off two Lalapaloozas at one sitting and you get both desserts free. Along with a bellyache. And a possible life-long aversion to ice cream.

Grace is God’s great Lalapalooza.

Grace is eight scoops when two would do.
Grace is rich sauce generously poured on top.
Grace is toasted nuts and sweet cherries in syrup.
Grace is bananas at that just-right stage of full flavor.
Grace is a mountain of genuine cream whipped to perfect peaks.

Jesus came to earth full of grace
and poured out His favor on us undeserving rebels.

“From His fullness we all have received grace upon grace.”
John 1:16

Jesus piles on grace
and then more grace.
Grace served
on top of grace.
Grace running over.
Grace dripping down.
He dishes out grace in
lalapalooza style.

Minus the bellyache.


This week’s reading: John 1:35-51 (deeper study on John 1:14-18)
Next week’s reading: John 2 (deeper study on John 2:13-22)



Imagine you are the matriarch (or patriarch) of a large extended family. You know every person intimately and remember the joy you felt welcoming each new life. The generations make a plan to join together for a family reunion. You look forward to seeing everyone again.

But when you walk in, no one recognizes you. Certainly age could have altered your appearance – a few more wrinkles, a bit stooped over – but the family resemblance is undeniably striking.

They turn to look at you with bewildered faces.
When you say, “It’s me,” they shake their heads and say,
“Who are you? We don’t know you.”

Then all your own people turn their backs on you.
You are not received.
They say, “You are not welcome here.”

You say, “None of you would even be here if it weren’t for me.”
“We don’t believe you,” they laugh.


Just imagine.

He was in the world
and though the world was made through him,
the world did not recognize him.
He came to that which was his own,
but his own did not receive him.
John 1:10-11

This week’s reading: John 1:19-34 (deeper study on John 1:6-13)
Next week’s reading: John 1:35-51 (deeper study on John 1:14-18)

Something to think about: If Jesus came to your door, would you recognize Him? Would you invite Him in?