Giving What You Have

What do you do when you’re faced with over 5,000 hungry people miles away from any town? If Jesus’ response is any indication, the answer is to ask politely for a small child’s lunchbox and then proceed to hand it out enough to where multiple Bi-Lo sacks are left over.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re thinking: this is where we call in the Dinner: Impossible guy and have him yell at us for several hours until we can cater this thing correctly. But then, again, that kind of misses the point, really.

In the story, the disciples are faced with the monumental, seemingly impossible task of, “You feed them,” from Jesus. Completely flummoxed, the disciples stare at him in disbelief until he asks the question, “What do you have?” There’s the key. Jesus doesn’t point out the disciples’ inability to handle the situation, he asks what resources they do have. Once they hand the meager offering, Jesus breaks it, blesses it, and gives it back for them to share.

NT Wright pointed out something cool here. When we are faced with some nearly impossible task, Jesus invites us to go through this process ourselves. Instead of pointing out our weakness and lack, Jesus asks, “What do you have?” Then, when we hand over our meager talents, abilities, and resources, he breaks them, blesses them, and gives them back for us to use.

It takes humility to hand over what little we have as far as our abilities go, but it takes much more to receive back something broken and seemingly less. Think about it, each disciple probably didn’t receive 5 loaves and 2 fish worth to start off with. Each one would have received 1/12 or less of the starting quantity. Let that sink in for a second. Jesus says, “All right, Thomas, you’ve got that section there near that tree, and Philip, you’ve got the section near that rock pile,” and you’re sitting there staring at your small handful of food thinking, “It’s official, he’s lost his mind.”

But think of the renewed spirit when that meager bit of food begins to seem like more and more as you give away more and more. You could say our abilities and talents are similar – they may seem small, but the more we give away in Jesus’ name, the more we seem to have to give.

In my weakness, he is strong. His grace is sufficient for me. No matter what you face, hand it over to God. It may not come back in the same shape,but it will come back blessed, and ready to do more than you could ever have thought possible.

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Meals

I like food. Most people who spend any amount of time around me know I like food. I like making food, eating food, sometimes sharing food (if people ask first or I offer.) Food is one of those great things that can bring people together in a way most other events or things can’t.

So I guess it’s no surprise just how much eating is in the Bible. Many of the big key moments of the biblical narrative happen at a meal or around food of some sort. Just to name a few:

* Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
* God announcing Isaac’s birth to Sarah
* The Exodus beginning with the Passover meal
* David beginning his flight from Saul, eating the bread of the presence
* David welcoming Ish-Bosheth
* Esther saving her people from treachery happened at a banquet
* Daniel and his friends choosing veggies over unclean foods in Babylon
* A majority of Jesus’ ministry (parties and feasts – no really, go check)
* Jesus’ final Passover meal before his crucifixion

I guess I like having people over because I figure something big’s gonna happen during the meal. There’s plenty of precedence, after all.

But seriously, two meals stood out to me when I was reading up on the Easter story (yes, it’s early, but I plan ahead) for a lesson this April. I was reading the story of the Road to Emmaus. This story centers on two followers of Jesus who are heading to Emmaus, presumably their home, after the Passover week. They are distressed and discussing what had happened to Jesus when Jesus himself starts walking alongside them. They don’t recognize him, of course, but Jesus begins asking questions and ends up explaining about himself starting with Moses and the prophets and how he had to die to fulfill what was written. The followers were impressed at his knowledge and invited them to their house, and Jesus broke the bread and blessed it. Suddenly, the two travelers recognized Jesus and he vanished. They ran back to Jerusalem and told the Eleven apostles what had happened.

One phrase I left out makes a world of difference, along with a detail I had never considered. One of the commentaries I read suggested that Cleopas’s (one traveler’s name) companion might have been his wife. Which would make sense if they were headed home after Passover. The phrase is: “and their eyes were opened.” We see this several times in the Bible as a way to say someone has received understanding. Here, the two travelers received understanding that their companion was Jesus, in the flesh!

There’s another couple who receives this phrase in their story: Adam and Eve. When they eat from the tree, Genesis says, “their eyes were opened.” Suddenly, they understood disobedience and shame. They wanted to cover themselves and hide. Their understanding was pain itself.

But now fast forward to this passage in Luke: a couple has their eyes opened to the new life Jesus talked about. They see Jesus and recognize him as the Messiah, the Savior, the King. They recognize that the fear, shame, pain, and death that came from that first meal has completely changed. At a table so far separated by time, a new recognition dawns and this couple understands Jesus’ mission and victory!

So when people like me say that meals are important for the family, the biblical narrative seems to support that. Big things happen during meals. Understanding between members is fostered, and knowledge and wisdom pass from generation to generation. Laughter is shared, pain is shared. A regular family meal is something that should not be ignored, no matter how fast life moves.

May your family meals be impactful, fun, and a place of love.

Popping the Bubble for Good

If you haven’t read some of my past blogs, I have been reading through the Mark and Luke the past 6 months or so. If you haven’t read them recently, I’d recommend it.

So I’m in chapter 8 and felt some deja vu today as the story was a retelling of one in Luke: Jairus’ daughter and the woman with bleeding issues.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, a man in charge of the town synagogue comes and finds Jesus because his daughter is sick. (Quick Sidenote: for the leader of the synagogue to consult a revolutionary teacher like Jesus could have been seen as him signing on with Jesus which could put him in a bad spot with the government and religious leaders.) Jesus agrees to help and is walking among a huge crowd towards Jairus’ house when a woman who was destitute and internally bleeding (and had been for years) touches the tassel on Jesus’ cloak and is healed. Jesus stops (the tension mounts as the daughter is still sick and dying) and finds out who touched him because power had gone out of him. The woman admits, and Jesus sends her on her way as her faith had healed her. The news comes that the daughter has died, but Jesus reassures the father and heads to the house where he raises the little girl, lifting her up.

Ok, so, purity laws were a huge deal in the ancient world, mostly for health reasons. Someone seems sick, don’t touch them, so you don’t get sick. Or, wash your hands or your body, wait over night and then you can head out back into town. Dead bodies often carried disease, too, which comes as no surprise due to the Ebola situation in Africa. Notice, though, that Jesus is touched by or touches two different women here. In a way, he might have been considered “unclean” by doing this. Instead of being polluted, Jesus’ nature purifies the problem, making it disappear.

I wonder if this is how we as the church should be acting. Christians have insulated themselves, in a way, by creating their own culture and leaving the secular world to itself. We have our own music, movies, fiction novels, etc. And we look out from our bubble and wonder why things seems chaotic. The church has taken the mandate to keep itself pure to extreme levels.

But I see Jesus doing the opposite. I see Jesus facing the sickness, death, and pain of the world and working in it to create new life. Jesus’ mission, and therefore ours, is to spread this new life into the world. It’s a reverse infection. Instead of infecting people with a biological virus that causes damage, our infection is life, new life, and improved life.

I wonder what would happen if we stepped out of the bubble and began facing the culture around us with a mindset of healing, love, and compassion. What would it look like to see the local church begin to interact with the community around it?

(Disclaimers – I have nothing against Christian [insert art form here], and being Christian doesn’t make life’s challenges go away, it simply gives us a new way to approach them.)

I Am Willing

Going through the gospel books is something I have started in the last few months. I made it through Mark and have started on Luke. (I took a detour through 1 Corinthians, but that’s neither here nor there.) Today I read Luke 5:12-16 – the story about healing a leper.

I was always struck with Jesus’ gesture, that he would reach out and touch the man with such an infectious disease. I can only imagine what the people around Jesus must have thought. Would Jesus become a leper? Would all of them end up with a disease? It must have been a tense moment for those who were well.

But I think about the man who was touched – who may have not had much human contact in months or even years. Who knows when he had last seen his family, his friends. Despite this, he took a chance, had some faith and met Jesus. I’m sure Jesus could sense what this man needed, and it was more than a healing.

I hope we can all pray for those who go out into the world in order to bring healing to others. There is a serious situation over in Africa, and hundreds are volunteering to make the journey in order to help those in need.

But what about here at home? In our churches, there are adults and kids who may not receive affection at home. On our streets are people who need a meal and someone to talk to. In our homes, there may be children who need more time that’s not tied up in some scheduled activity or another.

These individuals are each saying what the leper said, “If you are willing, you can make me well.” The answer is up to you.

Are your kids back in Jerusalem?

This may sound like an odd question, but it came up today. I was reading Luke 2:41-52, which tells a short story about Mary, Joseph, and Jesus taking a trip to Jerusalem for the Passover. On the way home, a day into the trip, Mary and Joseph realize that there is a disturbance in the force and Jesus is nowhere in their traveling party. Being good parents, they immediately panic and rush back to Jerusalem, scouring the city for three days, finally finding him in the Temple sitting calmly and learning with the Rabbis.

So why do I ask where your kids are? Well, it’s like this: life can get busy and you may develop goals for your family. Do you ever stop to check along the way to see if your family is following? You want the best for your family and children, that’s natural. But in striving so hard to provide the best [insert experience, object, or training here] are you moving forward as a family, or are your kids back in Jerusalem?

Discipleship is challenging, especially discipleship at home. It means as parents, you are “on” 24/7 leading your children by example. (And even when you think you aren’t, every choice you make is forming how your child thinks and will behave.) Be encouraged, though, Jesus had twelve grown men to disciple, and they didn’t even get it until way later.

Discipleship is real-life follow the leader. But the really encouraging part? You’re not the leader – Jesus is. So if you’re following Him, so are your kids, because they’re following you.

Ask yourself one simple question: “Where am I leading my kids?” In some of the other blog posts I’ve shared on my Facebook page, the question is phrased, “Where do I want my kid to be in five years?”