“Of Goats And Emerods (With Apologies To John Steinbeck Fans)”

One of my favorite summertime novels were those of John Steinbeck. For quite a few years, I would read a different one each summer. So the title and some of the wording today is just a fond reflection of those summers. I’ve always appreciated the way a good novel can capture what it means to experience life.

When you sort through all of the gobbledegook and gibberish that has been cobbled together by Flamethrower Mommy, you’re really left with just a lot of what it means to experience death. So I’m not going to touch any of that! (In other words, I’m avoiding all of that like I would avoid a plague. Not even a cartload of golden mice and golden emerods would get me started down that path!)

What I would like to focus on instead is how Flamethrower Mommy uses words that are filled with death. Many of us may be carrying around similar messages. “This must have happened to me because I did something wrong” is one that seems very common. Along with that is “There must be something wrong with me. I’m a goat, not a sheep” is also another one that sneaks into our minds and disrupts our peace. (Instead of “goat,” substitute any negative label or stereotype.) Statements like this put the focus on self, not Jesus.

I also have a feeling that the best way to make changes in my life is to focus on Jesus, not on myself! As backwards as that sounds, it just might be right, especially when I realize that most days I don’t know what to change or how to change!

The question that began this comic strip is a simple one which comes from John’s Gospel. “Do you believe that Jesus is who he says he is?” It is very similar a question that appears in the other three Gospels. “Who do you say that I am?”

But I think the slightly different wording to the question in John’s Gospel works well with the miracle that follows.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26 (NASB)

And then Lazarus comes out of the tomb! He is raised from the dead! In other words, it is very important that you also believe what Jesus says about himself. Believing what He says about Himself brings life, not death!

Just as there are seven titles for Jesus in John Chapter One, throughout John’s Gospel, there are also seven “I Am” statements like this one. Each one is Jesus saying who He is. Each one brings life, not death. More on that list in a separate post!

In the meantime, focus on life. Focus on who Jesus says He is, not on what other people think you are or say you are.

“Three Simple Words?”

Who do you say Jesus is? That’s one of “The BIG Questions” I think we all have to answer. But do we answer just with words? I think that’s the point of this comic strip. Does what we say matter? Do words count? Do words make things happen?

Maybe you’ve been caught in a situation like this before where everyone else is saying or doing something, but it doesn’t feel quite right to you yet would make others happy or at least cause less conflict. Maybe you felt like God would know you weren’t completely sincere. After all, He knows your heart. Yet you still have that nagging inner voice that just won’t leave you alone saying, “It’s SIMPLE so why don’t you just do it?”

To be honest, these are words that I sometimes have a difficult time saying even when I’ve confessed all my sins and am feeling totally right with God. For me, it’s because I know that there are still temptations that could cause me to turn my back on Jesus. Maybe you’ve felt like that too.

And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. Matthew 16:16-17 (KJV)

…and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:3 (KJV)

What these verses let us know, and what I think our main character is trying to say, is that there are no “magic words” when it comes to “Who do you say Jesus is?” We know who Jesus is because Our Heavenly Father has revealed Jesus to us (Matthew 16:17) and the Holy Spirit proclaims who Jesus is to us through our words and our actions. (1Corinthians 12:3) It’s from your spirit. That’s what counts the most.

But in this life there is always something new to learn about Jesus, some new area in which He is to be Lord. (We may never get to 100 percent in this life.) This may be some of what Peter had in mind when he closed a letter with these words.

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. 2 Peter 3:18 (KJV)

(By the way, you do know that the “Memory Verse” is not really a memory verse, right? Just a reminder that sometimes we can get a very wrong message stuck in our minds.)

“How Shameful To Have No Shame!”

This is the kind of comic strip that prompts questions like, “Are you serious?!? It’s shameful to have no shame?!? Shame make you a better Christian?!? Do you believe this junk?!?” But really that’s sort of the purpose of this kind of comic strip. It says the exact opposite of what I believe…and in an extreme way…helps me examine myself. It’s sort of like asking myself, “If you think this is so ridiculously false, why are you acting like it’s true? Why are you hoarding away shameful secrets from God?”

Shame can cause a barrier that keeps a person from reaching out towards God even though shame never keeps God from reaching out towards a person. Shame finds a great deal of power in secrets. Shame haunts us with the question “What will other people say?”

Shame can come from wrong decisions we’ve made but it can also be imposed upon us through no decision of our own. (For example, the pregnancy in this comic strip might have come about because of teenage love, but it could have also been the result of rape. We don’t know. We only know what Margie, “Flamethrower Mommy,” assumes. Don’t you really just want to tell her to mind her own business?!?)

This is one of the things I most dislike about shame. It can make us feel like there is something for which we need to repent when actually we didn’t do anything wrong. Something wrong was done to us. But we still feel shame. We don’t know what to do or what to pray. 

I had a tough time choosing a Bible verse for today for that very reason. Sometimes we can feel a huge amount of guilt and shame when the truth is that we did nothing wrong.

Finally, my heart settled on this verse. It is a promise that doesn’t come to mind very often because it hinges on “if we ask any thing according to his will.” I’m not always sure of what His will for me is, but I know for a fact His will is for all of us to live our lives free from shame, so it’s a promise to hold fast in our hearts.

And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. 1 John 5:14-15 (KJV)

When we find our voice and speak to Our Heavenly Father about the shame that we are feeling, His Holy Spirit will direct our prayers. Finding your voice, talking to God, letting His Holy Spirit guide you is, I believe, the best way to deal with either type of shame, and it prevents hoarding away secrets!

“This Is What Self-Delusional Looks Like”

Well, I have to say that being locked up in jail like the Apostle Paul would have given this a very interesting plot twist! (And I think the whole concept of “jail” can be very fascinating to children. There is an abstract quality about it, much like “death.”) 

So what do you think? Are there certain characteristics that a person has, characteristics that God gives to a person as a gift, maybe beyond just what comes naturally? Do we have a choice then of how those characteristics are used to build people up or tear people down? Is it possible to get so wrapped up in the characteristic and the gift that we don’t stop to think about how it is being used?

What actually prompted this comic strip was a verse that I read last week.

Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction. 2 Corinthians 13:10 (KJV)

What Paul said about his own characteristic of sharpness was interesting to me. It really stood out to me. His sharpness was a power…maybe somewhat like a gift since it came from God…and it can be used for either edification or for destruction. For me, that has been a great deal to consider.

It made me wonder about other things that really carried power which we possess, perhaps unknowingly. It made me wonder about how these powers could be used. Most often we may think of power as being something that people in politics or big business possess, but which most of us don’t possess. Yet it seems that “sharpness” is a “power tool” found in Paul’s “invisible toolbox”! Hmm…something to search out in my own life! What do I possess? Am I using it to tear people down or build people up?

“Do Not Pass ‘GO’ – Do Not Collect $200”

Well Flamethrower Mommy is back with a vengeance! After only a few weeks, her Mother’s Day honors of being “The BEST Christian Mother Of The Year” were taken from her. Although we are unsure why, we do know that she has totally missed the message behind today’s announced sermon: “The Importance Of Understanding Life’s Transient Rewards.” Well, perhaps she does understand them…just incorrectly!

I think it’s fair to say that Margie will not be storing up any treasures in Heaven anytime soon! (Matthew 6:19-21) But this comic strip isn’t about the real Bible message Margie is not learning; it’s about the unreal Bible message Caleb Joseph is learning.

So what do you think? Have you ever had a difficult time figuring out the rules? Does it ever seem like the rules just don’t seem to fit together into a cohesive whole?

Keep your handkerchief clean at all times, but don’t wipe your nose on your shirt sleeve. Act like a boy, but don’t make a lot of noise. Care about other people, but don’t let them take advantage of you. Think independently using good decision-making skills but consult your supervisor before making any changes. Set a good example for others to follow, but allow people to be who they are. I could go on and on. This gets so confusing to me, maybe to you too?

I love Jesus, and here’s one simple reason why. He gives me two rules to summarize the Bible’s commandments, and they fit together perfectly. There is no contradiction…at least not that I’m able to find!

He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40 (NRSV)

I know we have heard and proclaimed these verses as truth so many times, and I am concerned that people will just yawn and move on. But really, I am unable to find a way in which following Christ would cause a contradiction in these two rules: love God with all you have and love your neighbor as yourself.

But there are some who try to alter these into being contradictory…and sometimes even within our Christian faith.

Some teach that to love God, you must kill those who do not believe as you do. So you love God by killing your neighbor.

Some teach that to love your neighbor, you must treat all beliefs and faith traditions as valid. So you love your neighbor by killing God.

Don’t you love the simple brilliance found in the words of Christ? Love God with all you have and love your neighbor as yourself. You can’t have one without the other. (Wait…I know there’s a song in there somewhere…but what is it?!?)

Thanks everyone!



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