“This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” 

(Jn. 11:4)

The decision of the ruling elite to have Jesus killed did not occur during the Passion week also known as Easter week. It actually occurred three months earlier. Of particular concern for Caiaphas, the chief Priest, and the ruling body, called the Sanhedrin, was Jesus raising a local man from the dead. This incident had caused many to cross over from just wondering about Jesus to believing he was their answer—perhaps the long-awaited Messiah.

While Jesus was on the eastern shore of the Jordan, two sisters, Martha and Mary, who lived in Bethany, faced a crisis. Their brother, Lazarus, had fallen ill and was on the brink of death. Martha and Mary were early believers in Jesus as the Messiah, particularly since Jesus had healed their father from the debilitating effects of leprosy. In gratitude, the sisters, along with Lazarus and their father, became devoted followers of Jesus. Due to their deep faith, Jesus developed a special bond with the family. Thus, when Lazarus became critically ill, they immediately sent word to Jesus, seeking his help.

When Jesus received word of Lazarus’s illness, he said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (Jn. 11:4). Remarkably, Jesus didn’t go to them immediately; he waited two days. Then, on the third day, he told the Twelve,

“Let’s go back to Judea.”

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”

Jesus replied, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.” (Jn. 11:7–10)
After this, Jesus told them Lazarus had only fallen asleep. But still fearful, the Twelve said, “Lord if he sleeps, he will get better” (Jn. [11:13]). But the Twelve still didn’t understand.

Then Jesus became franker and said, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake, I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him” (Jn. [11:14]–15). Jesus had a plan. While it included saving a close friend, it also included showing many others the glory of God.
The Twelve did not want to go anywhere near Jerusalem, knowing Jesus was despised by Caiaphas and the other leaders. Getting this close to Jerusalem threatened both Jesus’s life and their own, so they appealed to Jesus not to go.

However, the always loyal and pragmatic Thomas said to the other 11, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn. [11:16]). Thomas knew that by going to help Lazarus, the whole band of apostles might be killed. Despite the risk, he was driven by his strict loyalty to Jesus. Interestingly, Thomas, throughout the centuries, has been called the doubting Thomas, but here we find a loyal Thomas, willing to die with and for Jesus.

In contemporary times, many have mistaken Thomas’s pragmatism for doubt. As evidenced by his willingness to go with Jesus, we can see that nothing could be further from the truth. Though pragmatic, his loyalty to Jesus and his search for truth would become very evident during the following months.

As they approached Bethany, Martha met them and said to Jesus,

“If you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (Jn. [11:21]–27)

Martha’s faith in Jesus was very evident; her faith exceeded that of many, including the Twelve who had been traveling with Jesus.

Martha went back to Mary and told her Jesus was coming. Ecstatic, Mary and many friends immediately went to the outskirts of Bethany to meet Jesus. The many friends who were with Mary to comfort her because of her brother’s death followed her.”

As she approached Jesus, he could see she was crying. He also saw the many friends with her, and, in his full humanity, he became deeply moved and troubled. He said:
“Where have you laid him?”

The crowd replied, “Come and see, Lord.” (Jn. [11:33]; 34)
Jesus, seeing the outpouring of grief, in his humanness, began to weep as well.
Many in the crowd exclaimed, “See how he loved him.”
But some cynically asked, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (Jn. [11:36]-37).

Those who were cynical were referring to an earlier incident in which Jesus had healed a beggar who had been blind since birth. This event caused an uproar among the Pharisees because Jesus had healed the man on the Sabbath. Instead of being thankful or amazed that Jesus had performed this feat, they criticized him.
In turn, their uproar had only served to make the Pharisees look silly to those who had heard of or witnessed the miraculous event.

As he usually did, Jesus ignored the cynicism and doubters, continuing toward Lazarus’s burial tomb. Upon His arrival, Jesus asked that the stone be removed. Martha, worried about the potential bad odor after the body had lain there for several days, warned Jesus against removing the stone. However, Jesus looked at Martha and said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (Jn. [11:40]). Those near the tomb then removed the stone.

Looking around at the crowd, Jesus knew many in the crowd would become witnesses of his upcoming actions. Raising his head with his arms outstretched, he looked up to the sky and said,
Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I say this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me. (Jn. [11:41]–42)

After saying this, Jesus loudly commanded Lazarus to “come forth.” Lazarus emerged from the tomb, wrapped in strips of linen and cloth on his face. Jesus asked those nearby to unbind him and dress him.

Many of the crowd who had come to comfort Martha and Mary saw this and were amazed. Weeping, some even fell to their knees and looked up to the sky and thanked God. Most who were present now believed Jesus was more than a great healer; he was their Savior.

But some, hoping to gain favor, went to the leaders in Jerusalem and told them what had happened.
Upon hearing about this event, Caiaphas, the chief priest, quickly convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin to discuss the reports surrounding Jesus and the resurrection of Lazarus. Caiaphas requested a detailed account of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Those who had gathered information from the attendees relayed what they had learned. By and large, the accounts from these individuals were consistent with the testimonies of eyewitnesses.

The more Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin heard, the more alarmed they became.

Many who witnessed the event came to believe that Jesus was sent by God, a belief that deeply concerned Caiaphas and the other leaders. Distraught and fearful, some members of the Sanhedrin posed a question to Caiaphas, “What are we accomplishing? Here is this man performing many miracles. If we allow him to continue in this way, everyone will believe in him. The Romans will then intervene, seizing both our temple and our nation” (Jn. [11:47]–48).

The gravity of both scenarios was becoming increasingly evident. Undoubtedly, Jesus was presenting a novel way of life to the common people, one that wasn’t predicated on fear. The Romans recognized that the Sanhedrin and the priests held sway over the masses, which facilitated their governance. Jesus’s burgeoning influence among the locals jeopardized this delicate balance.

Caiaphas realized that it was time to address the threat of Jesus. He also understood the Sanhedrin’s needed to not act rashly. Jesus’ removal would have to be executed with care and tact to avoid inciting public unrest. It would be challenging but achievable with skillful action. They needed to remain calm as they moved against Jesus.

News of this meeting reached Jesus through those who had overheard the discussions and the subsequent decisions. Knowing it wasn’t yet his time to confront the leaders of Jerusalem, he withdrew from the public eye, retreating to the wilderness and the ancient tribal community of Ephraim.

“We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

– 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3


Once a year, I would go to my children’s school and pick them up to take them home. I just wanted to see what their daily life looked like. While I was standing there with a good friend, Rick, I noticed a large number of other parents waiting as well. Rick was a stay-at-home parent. When his children were born, he and his wife made the decision that he would stay home, and she would work. Rick had a Ph.D. in Chemistry, and this friendly and intelligent person certainly could have done well in his career but chose to be there for his children.

The crowd of parents was about 80% women, which is the national norm. I asked Rick why so many were here on this day. Rick, in his usual humor, explained that when the children get out, we all become bus drivers! From 3 pm until dinner time, children were dropped off at sports practices, music lessons, or maybe a doctor’s visit. Then there was always the effort to get dinner made and ensure homework was getting done.

Despite the busyness, questions were asked, like, “how was your day?” Or “how did you do on the latest test?” Questions designed to stay informed and also to measure how the children were doing in life.

Earlier in the day, there was breakfast, and then the normal tidying up of the house. Followed by visits to the cleaners, the supermarket, or other important errands. Perhaps the bills had to be paid or visits to the gym to stay fit.

The more I listened to Rick, the more impressed I became with his discipline and effort. A stay-at-home parent had to be self-directed and forever flexible. Their life isn’t a box of bonbons, rather an endless day of doing something for someone else. And each morning the day was filled.

In a world that often measures success by income or career status, the role of stay-at-home parents can sometimes be overlooked or undervalued. To parents with children, however, it is one of the most important and selfless roles anyone can take on.

The decision for a parent to stay at home is personal and depends on various factors, including financial stability, career aspirations, and personal preferences. It is important to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and each family must determine what works best for them. For some families, having both parents working outside the home is necessary to meet financial obligations. For others, it may be feasible and desirable for one parent to stay at home. I have a wife, brother-in-law, friends of both genders and a mother who performed this role.

I do not write this to say one parent should stay home. Rather, I think it is important to praise those who are sometimes overlooked for the many intangible benefits they bring to our society. When I first read today’s verse, it struck me that the verse so aptly supports our feelings toward these wonderful people of sacrifice – stay-at-home parents.

Honoring the dedication and hard work of stay-at-home parents is something we should do as a society. Perhaps we could have a Stay-at-Home Parents Day. Nationwide, close to 25% of households have stay-at-home parents, with 20% of those being dads. There are already 26 other family-related days. Certainly, we know about Mother’s and Father’s Day, but there are also days for brothers, cousins, daughters-in-law, mothers-in-law, etc. So, why not?

These parents are the family’s errand runners. They act like bus drivers, taking children to after-school events. They wait in long lines or on the phone to accomplish their daily tasks. They have little power other than a smile to get things done. Yet they do complete their to-do lists, which are often long and varied. No day for them is the same. They are self-motivated and driven by an intensity to perform at a high level without getting raises, promotions, or awards.

Perhaps, as the verse in Thessalonians says, “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ,” we can say this to the stay-at-home parents we know.

Today, let us show our appreciation for this important part of society with a simple ‘Thank You!’ These unselfish people would appreciate this recognition.

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

– Mark [11:24]


In 1883, a devastating tornado hit a small Minnesota town, causing numerous deaths and a significant number of injuries. The local doctor, aided by his two sons, worked round the clock to help the injured. Nearby, a convent of nuns, The Sisters of Saint Francis, also played a crucial role in providing nursing care to the victims. The collaboration between the doctor and the nuns was key to saving many lives.

Inspired by this experience, Mother Alfred Moes, the head of the Sisters, proposed building a hospital with the local physician and his sons providing the medical care. The doctor was initially hesitant because the town’s population seemed too small to support a hospital. Additionally, the estimated construction cost was $60,000, equivalent to nearly $1.5 million today. Understandably, he doubted that a small Midwest convent could raise such a large sum of money. However, he agreed to participate if the funds were secured.

Undaunted by the challenge, Mother Moes rallied the nuns to raise the necessary funds. They organized craft fairs, tutored students after school, sewed, and solicited cash donations. Impressively, it didn’t take the nuns long to accumulate the required funds. By using the funds they raised and mortgaging their convent, they amassed enough capital to construct the hospital. Four years after the tragic tornado, Saint Mary’s Hospital was established in Minnesota.

The physician and his sons became the inaugural doctors. The first patient required eye surgery, which was successfully conducted. The nuns, transitioning into nurses, assisted in the hospital’s operations.

During that era, hospital visits were frequently associated with dire outcomes. The germ theory of disease was not fully accepted, and proper sanitation practices were not universally adopted. Astonishingly, many surgeons of the time did not wash their hands post-surgery or after visiting patients, contributing to alarmingly high mortality rates.

However, St. Mary’s Hospital was an exception. The outcomes there were significantly better. The physician and his sons were early adopters of safe sanitation practices, adhering to the principles of antisepsis popularized by Joseph Lister in the 1860s and 1870s. As word of the superior care at St. Mary’s spread, people from neighboring towns and eventually from across the country sought treatment there.

The physician and his sons were also dedicated to staying current with the latest medical advancements. Each year, one of the sons would travel abroad to explore the newest developments in medical science, bringing back new medical procedures after each visit.

Unsurprisingly, as the outcomes for their patients far surpassed those of other hospitals, not only in the United States but globally, more physicians joined St. Mary’s, necessitating expansions to accommodate the increasing patient load.

As the hospital grew, the sons implemented innovative management practices. They salaried the other physicians and fostered a collaborative environment. Because the doctors were not paid based on services performed and were salaried, it wasn’t uncommon for a doctor to consult or transfer a patient to a more experienced doctor. This approach facilitated the exchange of insights among the doctors and contributed to the establishment of “Patient-Centric Care.”

As cancer treatments advanced, the sons installed pathology departments adjacent to the operating rooms, enabling physicians to make expedient treatment decisions and minimize the need for future surgeries. Today, many other hospitals send tissue samples out to laboratories, many times causing the patient to have to go through another surgical procedure. St. Mary’s method allowed the surgeon and the pathologist to discuss the results as the surgery was occurring.

What began as a vision of a group of nuns in 1883 evolved into the world’s most prestigious hospital. Even after the physician and his sons passed away, the hospital maintained its standing as the world’s best hospital, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report. The Hospital continues to look for new practices and its doctors, from some of the best universities in the world, are still on a salary.

Today, the hospital is known as the Mayo Clinic, named after the local doctor, W.W. Mayo, and his two sons, William and Charles. Although the Mayo’s were widely celebrated, it was Mother Moes and the nuns’ faith-filled prayers that catalyzed the creation of this extraordinary institution.

What appeared impossible to many was realized by the nuns through prayer, faith, and a steadfast commitment to fulfilling God’s work.

Photo By Carl A. Holland (U.S. copyright 1910) – eBay item 351186373495, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44973514

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, for the one who doubts, is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.”

– James 1:6


This summer, Connie and I set our sights on a grand adventure, hiking a significant stretch of the Appalachian Trail in the unique landscapes of New England, where ‘alpine’ signifies not just a change in elevation but a transformation of the soul. Here, trees yield to rocks and delicate flora, and most strikingly, to breathtaking, unobstructed views.

For some, these heights are exhilarating. For me, they’ve long been a source of paralyzing fear. The cliffs of New England, grand as they are, seemed to me like towering walls of dread.

Connie, ever the problem solver, suggested an unconventional aide: non-intoxicating CBD from cannabis. Skeptical, I decided to try prayer instead. The last scenario I wanted was to find myself petrified on a precarious ledge. Yet to fully experience New England’s trails, I needed to learn to face these fears.

Our proving ground: Mount Moosilauke in New Hampshire, a nearly 5,000-foot giant. Its summit, a stark and beautiful expanse of rock and resilient alpine plants promised the most stunning views in New England. As I lay restless the night before our climb, anxiety played a relentless loop in my mind.

Dawn brought both promise and trepidation. My research had prepared me for the four major cliffside exposures on the ascent, but knowing is quite different from seeing, and seeing is a universe away from the crossing.

The trail’s steep New England gradient was relentless, demanding a steadfast, rhythmic advance. In this repetitive motion, I found a meditative space to recall a verse from James: “…you must believe and not doubt…” Could faith be the key to calming my storm of anxiety?

I decided to trust—to pray with a conviction as solid as the mountain itself. It worked. My anxiety subsided, replaced by a tranquil certainty. And when doubt crept back in at the first daunting overlook, prayer was my steadying hand once more.

Each subsequent lookout became both a challenge and a testimony to the power of faith-fueled prayer. Anxiety would rise, prayer would counter, and peace would follow. Not a serene comfort, but a tranquil assurance that enabled me to continue onward.

Finally, breaking through the last of the low, wind-shaped trees, the grandeur of Mount Moosilauke’s summit lay before me—a panorama that felt like standing on top of the world. At nearly 5,000 feet, amidst the expansive White Mountains, my anxiety had transformed into awe.

I no longer needed to pray for the courage to continue; the final path to the summit, where fellow hikers rested and refueled, now called to me invitingly. As I stood, triumphant and grateful, next to the sign marking the peak of Mount Moosilauke, I marveled at the journey.

Days earlier, such a feat seemed beyond my reach. But here I was, a testament to the power of prayer—not as a hopeful wish, but as a profound, unwavering belief that carried me to the top of this mountain.

In that sacred moment, high above the tree line, I made a simple sign of the cross and offered my heartfelt thanks to the Lord.




In the vast landscape of religious and spiritual texts, certain passages stand out as beacons of wisdom that have captivated hearts and minds for centuries. One such passage is found in the New Testament of the Bible, in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verse 1. This verse marks the beginning of what is arguably one of the most renowned sermons ever delivered – The Sermon on the Mount. Let us delve into Matthew 5:1 and uncover the profound insights this powerful passage holds.

The Context of Matthew 5:1

Matthew 5:1 sets the stage for a transformative moment in the life of Jesus Christ, where He climbs a mountainside, followed by His disciples. In this setting, Jesus begins His Sermon on the Mount, which spans three chapters in the Gospel of Matthew, revealing the essence of His teachings and the foundational principles of Christianity.

The Blessings: The Beatitudes

Matthew 5:1-12 contains what is known as “The Beatitudes” – a series of blessings proclaimed by Jesus upon those who embody specific virtues and qualities. Each beatitude begins with the words “Blessed are…” and highlights the heavenly reward bestowed upon those who exhibit these qualities.

  1. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
  2. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
  3. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
  4. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
  5. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
  6. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
  7. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
  8. “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Each beatitude offers profound insights into the qualities that foster spiritual growth and a deeper connection with God. They encourage humility, compassion, integrity, and a longing for righteousness as pathways to finding spiritual peace and a path to Christian holiness.

The Salt and Light Metaphors

In the subsequent verses (Matthew [5:13]-16), Jesus uses two powerful metaphors – salt and light – to illustrate the impact that His followers should have on the world.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

This metaphor emphasizes the importance of being a positive influence in society, preserving goodness, and preventing moral decay. As salt adds flavor to food, followers of Christ are called to bring meaning, purpose, and grace into the lives of others.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”

Here, Jesus urges His disciples to let their light shine before others, meaning they should live their lives in a way that reflects God’s love and truth, impacting others positively and leading them toward the path of righteousness.


Matthew 5:1 marks the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, a pinnacle of Jesus’ teachings, and a roadmap for living a life of virtue, compassion, and spiritual fulfillment. The Beatitudes and the salt and light metaphors have continued to inspire countless individuals across centuries, transcending religious boundaries and serving as a universal call for ethical living and benevolent action.

In today’s fast-paced and often tumultuous world, the message conveyed in Matthew 5:1 remains as relevant as ever, encouraging us to seek the higher virtues of love, mercy, and righteousness, and to be beacons of light and agents of positive change in the lives of those around us. It serves as a reminder that, in our pursuit of spiritual growth, it is not just the destination that matters but also the transformative journey itself. Let us heed these timeless teachings and strive to embody the qualities that lead to a blessed and fulfilling life.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Mark [10:45]

The Healing Power of Serving

He is eighty-five and all alone. Each Sunday, he goes to church and looks for something to do. The woman in charge of the clothing ministry, Peggy, gave him clothes to fold that her posse could hand out. He sat down and folded the clothes. Then he started coming during the week. Every week he folded more clothes.

He had served in Vietnam and came home an unwanted vet. He raised a family and lived a good life. Then he retired, his wife died, and his kids moved away. He started to decline with no one to help raise, work for, or tend to. Sensing he had to move and do something, he decided to go to church. A small church but with an active congregation. Soon he was folding clothes and getting involved.

His days were no longer dull but meaningful. His health decline slowed, and he had new friends. Life was no long drudgery; he was back in the game.

The women who helped the man are called Peggy’s Posse. Like the Vietnam vet, they were also drifting a few years earlier. Peggy, the group leader, asked the minister to give them something to do. The minister told them about a clothing initiative he wanted to start. Peggy talked to her friends, and soon shut-in women were at the church organizing clothing and distributing it to people who needed them.

They quickly started clothing drives to help those with scarce resources. First, the group reached out to local schools, who promptly responded. Next, they opened the church to receive clothing that would otherwise be discarded. Soon they had racks to put clothing on. Finally, they used the church van to distribute the clothing throughout Atlantic City. In a short period, they had a well-run machine.

Others joined in, like the local police and other citizens from their community. But it was also a time of community for Peggy’s posse. On the days they worked throughout the church, they shared stories and were in communion. They had developed a purpose and were joyous.

So why is it that real joy is found in serving? We have all heard it is better to give than receive. Jesus gives us a clue in His own ministry.

Jesus had often told the twelve Apostles, For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark [10:45]) His purpose wasn’t to be waited on but to help others. Also, what’s interesting in this quote by Jesus is that he called himself the Son of Man. While Jesus is commonly called the Son of God, he never stated the same. Jesus always referred to himself as the Son of Man.

When Jesus visited Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he rode in on a young donkey, which was considered the lowest of all farm animals. When other kings rode into a city, they rode in on majestic horses to show their power. In Jesus’s case, he rode on a donkey to show his humbleness.

It is easy sometimes to want to be served, and it is often nice to have someone wait on you. But Jesus tells us it is far better to serve than be served. Jesus, who created us, created us in God’s image. Through Jesus, we can see serving is in the image of God.

Peggy, her posse, and the Vietnam veteran rekindled their lives not by receiving but by serving. They went from shut-ins to community organizers. By producing fruit in their lives, they found Joy. Despair was replaced with wondering how they were going to get things done.

When they handed out the clothing, they experienced a joy that created tears. Each of them will tell you of their thankfulness they could help. When they heard words of blessings from those they helped, it gave them a sense of purpose. The exact purpose Jesus instilled in them.

It might seem contradictory that working hard for others is actually receiving. For example, one of my favorite people, Mead, tells me his favorite time at work is when he has helped a customer. Or he will tell me about the unique sense of joy when he uses his days off doing something for someone else.

Jesus served and also instilled in us the desire to serve. By being made in the image of God, it is what we were made to do.

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”

John 14:1

In 155 AD, a Roman official told an eighty-six-year-old man to burn incense in honor of the emperor of Rome, who the Romans considered a God. The man, Polycarp, shook his head and said, “No!”

Now angry, the Roman official again told Polycarp, “Deny your loyalty to Jesus and burn the incense or be burned at the stake.”

Stoically, Polycarp refused and said, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong.”

The Roman official looked sternly at Polycarp and curtly uttered, “Burn him!”

Polycarp, in turn, bravely said, “I bless you, Father, for judging me worthy of this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ.”

Polycarp was led to a pile of wood with a  tall wooden stake in the center. He was strapped onto the stake with leather. Then the guards lit the dry wood. As the fire grew and began to grow around Polycarp, he said nothing. However, it soon became apparent not enough wood was placed to consume Polycarp. Finally, a guard stepped near Polycarp and pierced his side. After which, Polycarp died.

Polycarp was born in 69 AD and was the bishop of Smyrna at the time of his death. He was made the bishop of Smyrna by the Apostle John. Yes, the same John who walked with Jesus! Not only that, before being made a bishop, he had spent considerable time with John as a student. Amazingly, Polycarp, during his time with John, heard stories about Jesus from a first-person witness to Jesus!

I  had heard about Polycarp at Theological school and generally knew he was important as a first first-century scholar and historian. But at no time in seven years of attending theological school did I hear there were well-regarded writings about him being an eyewitness to the Apostle John. I knew most of the Apostles died as Martyrs well before early non-Biblical Christian writings occurred. However, John was the only Apostle not to die as a martyr. In fact, there is evidence he lived until 100 AD.

The Apostle John was the only Apostle not to die as a Martyr. He also died of old age and, during his lifetime, became known as the Son of Love. Throughout his later years, he had many students, of which Polycarp was one.

Perhaps I missed this in my education, but I immediately stopped when I recently read a story about Polycarp and found his association with John buried in the article. I asked myself, Wait a minute, we have a well-respected ancient scholar who knew John? This was big; we have a firm eyewitness audit trail to Jesus! Wow! And not only that, the connecting piece, Polycarp, is a well-respected and trusted scholar who is often quoted in scholarly articles. So to me, this was a big revelation, very big!

So some may say, “Is that really true?” Well, there is plenty of evidence to confirm Polycarp existed, was a student of John, and was martyred. Two well-regarded early Christian historians and contemporaries, Irenaeus and Tertullian, individually confirmed this connection in their respective writings. In his book On Illustrious Men, Jerome, another early Christian historian, and scholar, he has also confirmed his existence and relationship with John.

Plus, there is more to know! Polycarp was one of the three people called Apostolic Fathers, along with Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch. So what exactly are Apostolic Fathers? It seems these three were early historians and writers, considered leaders of the early church. In fact, Clement was the fourth Pope from 88-97 AD. But to be called an Apostolic Father, besides being influential, one had to have personally worked or studied with an Apostle.

Polycarp was an early scholar, historian, bishop, and a student of John’s. Clement knew Peter well. In fact, it is written that Peter consecrated Clement. Ignatius, a prolific early Christian writer, was also a student of John. Additionally, all three men, besides being prolific authors, developed many theologically important thoughts. These were the big three, after the Apostles had died off, that carried forward the message and lessons of Jesus.

Either I should have paid closer attention in Theological school, or more should have been made of their value to our faith by these three men. In fact, another little-known fact is that Clement is actually mentioned in Philippians 4:3.

In their day, they were famous, like our presidents or the king and queen of England. The amount written by them and about them by well-known scholars is impressive. Type Apostolic Fathers into your search engine and discover these three important men.

Here is the point. Recently, I received a rather harsh Twitter message stating Jesus didn’t exist and that I was following a fairy tale. Actually, the wording was far more offensive and unfit to print. But here is actual proof Jesus was real! While we all have faith, it is nice to know when our faith is attacked or when we may have doubt; there were documented witnesses to the people who walked with Jesus.

Especially a person who said, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong.”

So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Exodus 3:8

I was recently listening to an old sermon by Billy Graham. In the sermon, he mentioned his land of milk and honey was Heaven. This interesting statement made me curious about why he would make this bold statement. I thought the land of milk and honey was for the Israelites, given to them by God millenniums earlier. And today’s verse is the first of twenty bible verses spelling out this promise. So I started some research.

God indeed promised this land of Canaan to the Israelites. But interestingly, scholars think it only took eleven days to travel from Egypt to Canaan—a relatively short journey for them to make. But we are also told it took them forty years to get to Canaan. So which is true? It seems both are and let me explain.

The first group of Israelites likely made it to the Jordan River in eleven days. However, when the first group arrived, they refused to cross! Why wouldn’t they cross the Jordan River? It seems soon after they arrived, Moses sent a leader from each of the twelve tribes to investigate the land. Stunningly, even though they did find prosperous signs, ten of the twelve became fearful and gave adverse reports. Thus causing the Israelites to refuse to trust God and not cross over the River Jordan. While two, Joshua and Caleb, gave glowing reports.

Because of their obstinate refusal to trust God, God had the first group of Israelites wander in the desert for forty years. Only a few survived this journey, notably Moses, Joshua, and Caleb. Both Joshua and Caleb were two of the twelve who had initially investigated and given glowing reports about the land survived. Children were born during the forty years of wandering, creating a new generation of Israelites. Most of the original people who had been promised the land of milk and honey died. Leaving a new generation to enter the land of milk and honey. Led by Joshua, they crossed over to the land of milk and honey.

As a side note Moses while he was with the Israelites during the second arrival at the Jordan River, he was told by God he would not enter. So Moses died on top of Mount Nebo, overlooking the land promised by God.

It was Joshua who actually led the Israelites into the promised land of milk and honey. Those who refused to trust God’s promise died in the desert. As a side note, Israel means “One who contends with God.”

The first group didn’t have faith and trust in God. The second group had faith and trust in God.

So this doesn’t wholly explain why Billy Graham made this comment about Heaven being his promised land of milk and honey. However, it is important to explain the origin and history of the phrase.

Now Billy Graham was one of the most prolific and respected preachers of the last sixty years, and I believe he wouldn’t have made such a bold statement without support. So I started researching more about Heaven as the land of milk and honey.

It is definitely not a mainstream concept, but there are articles to support the idea. Knowing this, I asked myself, why would I believe this comment? First, you could reach this conclusion if you look at the Bible as containing metaphorical references.

Here is how. Let’s start with, as Christians; God makes us a promise through our faith in Jesus; we are saved and protected. Then if we assume Egypt metaphorically represents the world, and Jesus provides us with a safe refuge from the world through our faith. Then perhaps we can metaphorically think of the land of milk and honey as Heaven. Especially if we, as Christians, view our journey of faith ends in Heaven.

Now I do not believe that the only reason for declaring ourselves as Christians is to go to Heaven. Indeed, our faith in Jesus as our savior implies this is a result. However, I believe this is a very narrow and opportunistic view. There is far more to following Jesus, like loving God/Jesus and our neighbor. As well as believing Jesus is paramount in our lives and being obedient to the words of Jesus. Plus, things like reading the Bible regularly, attending church, being charitable, and graciously showing our faith.

As the Apostle Paul says, we all fail. But does this failure eliminate our chance to go to Heaven? No more than doing good works help us get to Heaven. Instead, it is our faith in Jesus that steers that course.

On another point, how can we be sure there is a heaven? I have found certainty through my father’s death. I still feel his presence and see oddities in my day. For instance, many times when I hike, I feel my father. Right after his death, as I sat wondering if he was safe, a strange bird came and sat unusually close to me in the early morning, which I took as a sign he was safe. I find coins deep in the woods and feel him near. Strange coincidences keep happening, and I am grateful.

If you talk to hospice workers, they will agree strange things happen just before and after a person’s death. Certainly, we have heard of people seeing Jesus through near-death experiences. Of course, some will say they aren’t true, but when you look at the odds, it is more likely they are true than not.

I also needed to research if others believed the same thing and if it is biblically sound to say Heaven is our place of milk and honey. Or am I being overly hopeful? So I called my brother-in-law, Kenny, a wonderful pastor. But also the most knowledgeable of all the Biblical scholars I know. At first, Kenny was a little concerned that I had stretched my Methodist roots too far because this thought is very Methodist! But, after Kenny’s deeply detailed explanation of the Israelites and their journey to the promised land, he confirmed that Billy Graham was possibly correct. So, while not ready to sign up for this unusual thought, he was not opposed.

So if we are on a journey of faith and Billy Graham made this bold statement, perhaps it is true. Others I have read also have made this same conclusion. So while it isn’t a mainstream thought, there is logic to Graham’s comment.

After doing all this research, I now believe Heaven is our land of milk and honey. Not just because I researched, but I feel it as well. But also, my goal isn’t just Heaven. Instead, it is also to serve Jesus with faith.

While I think Heaven is the end of our journey—a land of our milk and honey. I also feel ours is not to know when the journey ends, but our task is to be the best believers we can be and always to try to be better every day.

So I thank Billy Graham for this unusual statement!

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”

Hebrews 13:8

After my annual wellness checkup, my doctor told me to give up sweets! Wow, after a lifetime of being a fan of sweets and any sweets, this was a tough request. However, the doctor was very pointed about doing this. Her reasoning was as I approached seventy, I would undoubtedly get Diabetes. So with this warning, I gave up sweets.

In a matter of four weeks, I lost thirteen pounds. The doctor explained despite all my hiking and activity; I wouldn’t lose any weight. My family has a strong history of Diabetes; my grandmother, father, and two siblings have Diabetes. Her point was as I aged, so did my Pancreas, and it seemed inevitable it would happen to me as well.

The Pancreas is vital in processing sugar; any excess is immediately processed as fat. Not only that, as the Pancreas gets older, its ability to regulate insulin weakens. In my case, I produced too much insulin, which left me hungry after every meal. The excess insulin creates the need to eat more to eliminate the extra insulin.

So I gave up the sweets, and after two weeks, I no longer craved sweets. The late-night snacks disappeared, and the weight came off. At first, when I hiked, I got tired quickly. Then over time, my body adjusted, and  I would have small snacks, like nuts, for extra fuel. Then it appears I developed a minor nut allergy! So, I substituted other snacks, like oranges and whole-grain bread. That seemed to work.

Recently, I changed my hiking goals from ten miles to sixteen. To make sixteen, I needed to do twelve miles effortlessly to even think about sixteen. On the day, I was going to do the twelve-mile trail hike, I stopped at a local convivence store and bought a Snicker bar, just in case I needed it. Then, I got in my car and drove an hour and a half to a mountain called Siler Bald in southwest North Carolina.

After I arrived, I reviewed my backpack—three liters of zero-sugar Gatorade, one orange, and two small sandwiches. For six hours of hiking, that should be enough. At the last minute, I remembered the Snicker bar, and with a bit of guilt, I put it in the pack. I headed out on a beautiful early spring day and walked to the top of the first mountain. Then after a long descent, I was getting ready to hike up one and a half miles to the top of another mountain. To this point, I had hiked over nine miles. But I was feeling very fatigued.

I debated what to do. I was well hydrated, so that wasn’t causing the fatigue. I had eaten a  sandwich and an orange; I was well-fed. Then I thought perhaps the Snicker bar, my supposed enemy. Out of choices, I guiltily ate the Snicker bar. In the past, I had used Snicker bars for that last push of the day. My thinking was maybe this was the exception to no sugar.

Remarkably, after ten minutes, I was back to normal. And when I had finished the climb, I felt great. The trip back to the car was all downhill, another one and a half miles. When I finished, surprisingly, I was not tired or sore. It seemed my enemy, sugar, had helped.

As I drove home, I recalled the Snicker bar commercials where people were not themselves and then ate a Snicker Bar to revive themselves. A commercial whose claim really worked. Now, this didn’t mean I could go back to sugar during a regular day. But on long hiking days, I could still have my Snicker bar.

In a world where some things are good today and then change to being bad. We are often confused about what to believe. This was the case with the Snicker Bar; most times, for pre-diabetic people, the Snicker Bar is akin to poison. Yet other days, it is worthwhile.

We sometimes hear old math is bad and new math is good. Then later, we read the opposite. It seems life is filled with these see-saw thoughts. You watch the news on one channel, and you get a completely different view on another. Some people like a particular author, and others find them boring. Some people like Ford trucks, and others will tell you why the Ram truck is better.

Life is like that a lot. There doesn’t seem to be much that is consistent. For the individual, it seems what was up is now down. What was true is now false. The Snicker Bar is bad sometimes, and other times good. As I thought about all these mixed messages, I wondered, So what or whom can we always count on?

Later I remembered the verse in Hebrews, where it is written, “Jesus Christ was the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” I find this statement profound. In a world of many varied opinions, and what was good is now bad, and what was bad is now good, Jesus is always the same.

In times of stress, Jesus is always a refuge. His words spoken two thousand years ago have survived the test of time. His grace and mercy for the first-century citizen are the same for the twenty-first citizen. So in our lives, Jesus is always present and knocking on our door with the same message many centuries later.

So, I won’t have a Snicker Bar unless I am on a long hike. Then it is good, but at other times it is bad. But I have Jesus on both the easy hikes and long hikes. He is always just the same, good!

On my sixteen-mile hike, I will bring a Snickers bar.

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude;

– 1 Timothy 4:4

I parked my van at a large parking near the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee. As I usually did, I reviewed my backpack’s contents to ensure I had enough food and water for a five-hour hike. I had three liters of water or Gatorade, my Snickers bar, 2 BelVita cookie packages, and a well-filled peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Probably more than I needed, but more is better than not enough.

Then I ensured I had my emergency kit in case of an injury to myself or someone else. Next, I made sure I had my bear spray. Finally, I switched my phone to GPS mode to track where I was and the height of the climb in front of me. Switching to GPS mode also entails going to Airplane mode so the GPS doesn’t drain the battery.

Then I made my regular mental reminders. The first was to enjoy the hike and not treat it like a competition. This a helpful reminder to ensure I didn’t miss anything along the way, and this attitude also provides I drink and eat properly. There is always the tendency when you go too fast to give up the important water and snack breaks. Plus, you won’t take the time to experience the woods and views. For competitive people, it is important to remind ourselves it’s about the hike, not the speed.

My one last thing to do is say a prayer of thankfulness and protection. Usually, when Connie and I hiked, we did this just after we were on the trail. It always seems inappropriate to pray in the parking lot and feels much better when we are standing on the trail.

On this day, I crossed the street in front of the parking lot and spotted the three-by-six-inch white blaze on a tree that let me know I was on the Appalachian Trail. Up a few stairs by the blaze, and a quick right put me right on the trail. When I looked up after making the turn, I was suddenly hit with the sun shining precisely on the path of the trail. Almost as if the sun’s rays followed the path I was to take. Amazingly, the shadow of the trees outlined the path perfectly.

As I looked up, the sun was like a crown encasing the tops of the trees. At that moment, I knew where to say my prayer and to tell God I was thankful. There was a warmth to the sun, almost as if God was inviting me into God’s creation. But then, peace settled in, and while I knew the hike would be tough, I was thankful to be able to share in this place.

I stopped to take a picture to capture this unusual image. A photo I would later study many times. Not because I am a great photographer, I am not! But to see the miracle in my day. A perfectly outlined path. An unusual creation from God.

Later, a half-mile climb almost straight up had to be encountered. There were the cliffs, which required hand-over-hand climbing without hiking poles. There was the walk on an exposed path to a view of a valley some fifteen hundred feet below. There were rocks littering the tail and fallen trees to climb over. All reminders of what a normal hike on the Appalachian Trail looks like.

On my five-hour trek, I climbed two thousand feet. I had lunch at a wonderful picnic table far away from the road, making me wonder how it got there. As is usually the case met a few other hikers, whom you take the time to greet. We would talk about where we have been and where we are going. No formal script, just friendly reminders of how wonderful the hiking community can be. No judgment because everyone hikes their own hike.

On this day, the first step on the trail and into the sun, the warmth of God, was what I remember from this day. The grandeur of a simple scene of trees, a path, and golden sun. A reminder all that exists took billions of years to be just right for God to remind me to look and enjoy God’s world.

I am thankful!