Saturday, October 18, 2014

Making Preparations

My friend and fellow alderman, Lynda Bramlett sent word to me today that she had some rubber plant cuttings, and wondered if I wanted some. Of course, I said yes and, after getting cleaned up from my attic work, headed over to her house.

Lynda has a huge greenhouse and her husband and brother-in-law were putting visqueen on the outside to get it ready for winter cold. She had already started moving the plants inside for protection and had more plants than she wanted to keep over the winter, so she was giving me cuttings to try to root. My trunk was full of plants when I left, headed for my own greenhouse. 

I was surprised at how early she was preparing. It seems like we have just started having autumn! Cold weather should be months away, shouldn't it? Checking the weather forecast revealed that we will have lows of 43 next week. That's a little closer to freezing than I'd expected, and I guess Lynda is right after all.  It's time to prepare. 

This afternoon, I began looking at my own plants, deciding what needs to be divided, what needs to be moved, what can survive the winter in place. I'm super excited that, for the first time, I can move them all to the safety of my new greenhouse rather than recreating a tropical forest in my living room. I, too, am getting prepared for cold weather.

There's been considerable talk about preparations of all kinds lately. There are personal protections suits, Ebola prevention kits, and bug-out bags for sale, and they are flying off the shelves. After an 18-day stretch without electricity and running water during the ice storm of 1994, I like to be well-prepared myself, but my stockpiling generally includes matches, water, rice, and dried beans. I don't want to forget seeds. No matter what happens, I always keep seeds for the next crop. My strategy is to have enough food to keep me alive until my seeds have time to grow more food. 

With all our preparations for disaster, it is easy to forget that there are more important preparations to make. Regardless of what comes our way in this lifetime, we will all face eternity and preparing for that is the most vital preparation we can make. None of our stockpiling here will make as much difference as storing up our treasures in heaven. Jesus had strong words for those with only earthly treasure and we would do well to take heed. 

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NASB)

How prepared are you? Make sure you are storing up treasure will last. All the preparation in this world will not matter a bit if you don't also prepare for the one to come. 

The Journey, part 29: The Blessing

Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people. (Luke 9:16 NASB)

In every instance of Jesus breaking bread, whether to feed a multitude or for a meal with his disciples, it was preceded by blessing the bread. The word translated as "blessed" is eulogeō, and literally means "to speak well of". In this instance, it is used to indicate words of consecration and request for God's blessing. This word can also be used to indicate the offering of praise for God's goodness and to indicate a desire for God's glory.  In essence, when Jesus looked up to heaven, holding the bread and fish in His holy hands, and "blessed" the food, He was consecrating it to God, asking for His blessing, and praying that the blessing would bring glory to God. When the disciples starting taking up those twelve baskets of leftovers, it was apparent that God had done just that. No one there that day had any doubt that the feeding of the multitude was a miracle of God. 

As the body of Christ, we commonly "ask blessings" for our food as well as for our plans and actions. I wonder, though, if our eulogeō might not sometimes become a eulogy of rote, just words without heart. Are we consecrating our food, plans, lives to God alone? Do we want God alone to be glorified? 

Lest we misunderstand this business of consecration, let's examine the word a bit. To consecrate something is to dedicate it to God or to sanctify it. To sanctify something is to purify it or free it from sin. Of course, only God can sanctify us. When we ask for God's blessing, we are asking Him to begin His work of blessing by purifying us and freeing us from the sin that so easily entangles us. If we want Him to be glorified, this purification, freeing us from sin, must be done. 

When Jesus, who never sinned, but remained pure and sanctified, asked God to bless and be glorified in the breaking of the bread, a miracle happened. Perhaps if we were more intent on being purified than on receiving blessings, we, too, would see the miraculous intervention of God in response to our prayers. 

Understanding this work of consecration and purification is a vital part of the journey of a disciple, and must be developed if we are to become all God intended us to be. As we bow our heads to ask God's blessing, may we ask first for His purification, for it is only in the purifying that we see all the blessing He intended to give. It is in that holy cleansing that the miraculous begins and our Lord is glorified. 

The Journey, part 28: The Breaking

Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people. (Luke 9:16 NASB)

After Jesus took the loaves and the fish, He blessed them. With the blessing of God freshly given, He immediately broke them. The distribution to come, the application of the blessing given to those present that day, was only possible because of the breaking that came first. We will look at the blessing in greater detail tomorrow, but for today, we focus on the breaking. 

"Breaking" is a process that is often frightening and uncomfortable for us. We neither like it nor enjoy it, but it cannot be avoided if we want to become what God intended. "Breaking" is a vital part of making us useful to the kingdom of God. Like a wild horse, whose power cannot be harnessed unless the will is changed, we, too, require a bending of our will to that of the Father. 

We call it "breaking" when applied to horses, but that is not really the best term. There are people who do "break" horses. They will apply force to the point that the horse learns what will cause painful force again and complies to avoid the pain. This technique can be dangerous for the horse and the trainer. 

There is another method of "breaking" horses that is based on the theory that distrust and fear drive most horses to be uncooperative and causes them to resist. In this method, ropes, blankets, saddles, bit and reins are introduced carefully, and the horse is drawn in to the trainer with gentle but persistent pressure, rather than harsh and painful application of a whip. It is very effective and results in a bending of the will in an attempt to please the trainer.   It is vastly different from the traditional breaking and gives a far greater result. 

Our Lord can certainly apply painful "breaking" methods, as Jonah can attest, but He masterfully uses more gentle processes when possible. The crowing of a rooster was incredibly effective in the breaking of Peter's pride. That breaking could not be avoided if Peter was to become the kind of leader God intended. The Damascus Road experience was not easy for Saul, nor was his temporary blindness, but it was not the application of painful circumstances that broke his will. It was the appearance of the Son of God, speaking directly to him, that opened his spiritual eyes. That gentle pressure resulted in the transformation of Saul to Paul and the birth of the worldwide missionary movement. The temporary blindness simply stopped him in his tracks and forced him to listen to the voice of God rather than to his own angry voice. That time of breaking changed Paul forever. 

What we often fail to realize is that breaking is not optional. The five loaves and two fish made a wonderful lunch for a boy, and there was nothing wrong about that lunch. When broken by the hand of the Son of God, however, those loaves and fish could feed thousands. Just as the bread and fish were not distributed until they were broken into pieces, we cannot be used of God effectively, with the greatest impact, until we are broken. Our own breaking will come. We need to understand that, and to welcome it. The amount of pressure involved will depend largely on the amount of resistance we give to our Lord, whose sole purpose in the breaking is to make us useful in the Kingdom of God. 

Have you experienced that time of breaking that bends your will to God's? Are you experiencing that breaking now? Rejoice in the breaking, for God will use it to overcome your distrust and fear, replace your anger with humility, and mold you into someone who can be used of God to change the world. 

Broken and useful. What a wonderful way to be! 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Night with Friends

Our Friday Night with Friends treat is a You Tube video of the Rocky Ford String Band playing at the Toyota Blue Springs education Garden and Park for Friday Night Jam. Great blue grass band!
Here's the link: Rocky Ford String Band

The Journey, part 27: Divine Mathmatics

Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people. And they all ate and were satisfied; and the broken pieces which they had left over were picked up, twelve baskets full. (Luke 9:16-17 NASB)

Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted. (John 6:11 NASB)

The account of the feeding of the five thousand is given in all four gospels. In my Bible, I have a notation at the verse in John that is listed above, and it is the mathematic signs for subtract, add, divide, and multiply. It was written as a reminder of the mathematics of faith. 

When we relinquish all we have to Jesus, here's what He does:
Subtraction: Jesus took the loaves
Addition: He gave thanks
Division: He broke the loaves 
Multiplication: He distributed the food to all that were seated, everyone had as much as they wanted, and there was food left over. 

In the economy of God, what He provides IS enough. That comes with a caveat, however. For what He gives to be "more than enough", we have to begin with divine subtraction. That which He gives to us must be given back to Him, to do with as He wills. No hoarding for ourselves allowed. 

The boy who gave his lunch had two options. He could give his lunch to Jesus, or he could eat the whole thing himself. He would likely have had his hunger satisfied either way. By giving it to Jesus, however, he not only had his hunger satisfied, but he also was allowed to be a participant in a miracle so big that we still speak of it more than two thousand years later. Because of the willing participation of a young boy in the demonstration of divine mathematics of God, thousands of people were satisfied, thousands personally experienced the miracle of Christ. 

This business of holding our resources with open hands is difficult for those of us with much. We want to continue to have much, and we fear risking our lifestyle by relinquishing control of those resources to God. We instinctively know that He wants it all. We also want it all. It is an epic struggle for surrender, and one we cannot win. Our resources were entrusted to us by God and were His initially. He has loaned them to us for a time. They are in much better hands when we return them to Him. 

This does not mean that we empty our bank accounts and put the money in an offering plate. It means that every expenditure is filtered through the will of God. It means that our desire for acquiring more is replaced by a desire to give more, to help more, to make a greater difference. Perhaps our desire to "modernize" our homes could be replaced by a desire to make the home of someone in need more secure. Perhaps we could do more for others if we did less for ourselves. 

What resources has God placed in your hands? How are you using them for the Kingdom of God? Do you hold your possessions with tightly clenched fists, hoping to keep control, or with open hands, allowing God full access to all He has placed there?

In God's economy, all He has given us is more than enough, but only when we relinquish control of His gifts and let Him have His way. Open your hands, friends. Open your hands. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The light of God

In the predawn morning, the walk back from the barn was dark. Stepping out of the tack room, I quickly turned on the flashlight. Looking up, the extravagant display of stars became apparent, as well as the light of the quarter-moon. Snapping off the flashlight, I stood still in the light of the moon and stars, in God's light, and realized it was all I needed. Passing under trees, the path was darker, but the light of God was enough to find the next step. 

The stillness was breathtaking. The light was gentle and lovely. For just a few moments, I was wrapped in the creation of God, secured by His provision of light and quiet, waiting from the beginning of time for just this walk on this particular early autumn morn. 

The light of God is always enough for the path He has given us, but is easily obscured by the artificial light of man's device. How easy it becomes to miss our way when we try to replace the gentle glow of the light of God with the harsh beam of our own devices. 

Are you seeking the way? Be still in the light of God and wait for your vision to adjust. Wait for the path to clear, and you will find that the light of God is all you need

The Journey, part 26: the blessing

Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people. And they all ate and were satisfied; and the broken pieces which they had left over were picked up, twelve baskets full. (Luke 9:16-17 NASB)

The people were seated in groups of fifty, and the available loaves and fish had been delivered to Jesus. The disciples stood by, waiting to see what Jesus would do next. What He did was the most natural, sensible thing He could have done. He took what they had, held it before heaven and looked to His Father for blessing. That divine blessing miraculously changed what was just enough for a young boy into what was more than enough for a multitude. 

Jesus began breaking the bread and fish into pieces and giving it to the disciples to distribute. He kept breaking the food into pieces and giving it to the disciples to distribute. The disciples kept distributing the food to the people. Every person there ate fish and bread that day, and everyone ate enough to be satisfied, every single one. In fact, there was plenty of food left over. With twelve baskets of food remaining, He had not only provided enough for everyone there. Jesus had also provided a basket of food apiece for every one of the disciples. There was enough for those who did the work of ministry as well as those who received that ministry. 

It was an incredible miracle that began in the most common way imaginable. A mother packed a lunch for her young son. She didn't expect to be a part of something divine that day. She was just providing for her son the way she always did. That boy likely didn't expect to be a part of a miracle that day, either. He had been taught to share and, when he heard Jesus was looking for food, he gave all he had. Jesus took the gifts from that little family and did something amazing, and we don't even know that mother's name. You can be sure God knows, though. 

As that mother found when her son returned home with the news of what Jesus had done with the lunch she had prepared, there is no telling what God can do with our simple acts of faithfulness, especially when they are offered as a gift to our Lord. Scripture tell us, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might;" (Ecclesiastes 9:10a NASB) The miracle of the multitude shows us once again how important that mighty working can be. 

What has God given you to do today? Give your best effort to the task. You never know when God will take your small effort and use it to create a miracle people with be retelling for generations to come. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Getting busy

November is going to be a super busy month, and not just because I hope to have a new book ready by then. Today, I registered for two very different events, both of which are happening in November. 

First of all, November is National Novel Writing Month, and there is a month-long competition to celebrate. In an insane marathon of writing, participants attempt to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in thirty days. There may be a prize, but I'm not sure. One thing is certain, writing a novel in thirty days, of any quality, is a remarkable feat. 

There's another thing that's certain. I've never written fiction before. I signed up anyway. Somehow, between now and November 1st, I have to at least think of a topic for my novel. I'm hoping to have an opening line. I never write with a plan, so if I can think of an opening line, I'll just see where the word processor takes me. Lest you forget, I have two other books I'm writing. It's a frivolous, unlikely project, but I plan to give it a serious try. 

I have another project that is not at all frivolous. For years, I've been concerned about the direction our nation is heading. The recent double-threat of ISIS and Ebola have only deepened my concern. When I received the email from CRI announcing their upcoming "Communities of Refuge" course, I seriously considered it. Today, I sent in my application. 

Here's the course objective:
"This week covers skills pertinent to helping communities prepare for mass scale disaster and preparing places of refuge practically. We bridge the gap between crisis response and long term community development. Topics are Water Purification, Sanitation, Community Development, Food Security, Preparing your Facility, and Rebuilding Cities."

The thought of a serious disaster in my town makes me heartsick, but mass scale disasters do sometimes happen, and the only way for a community to survive and thrive is for the local leaders to be prepared.  As an alderman, I'm one of those local leaders who need to be prepared. I have mixed feelings about the training. I don't want to need the information, but it would be worse to need the training and not have it, so I will go. 

This evening, I was praying about the mess we are in and the direction we are headed. "Lord, isn't there anything we can do?" As soon as I asked that question, I realized I already knew the answer. 

"If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14 NASB)

It is not the lost people, the unchurched people, who are the problem. It is God's people. We are the problem, but we are also the solution. If we do what God says, humbling ourselves, repenting, turning from our wickedness, praying, God will hear and heal our land. If there was ever a time when our land needed healing, it is now. Oh, dear people of God, we need to do what only we can do, repenting, turning, humbling, praying. 
It is the only hope in a dark and trying time. Let us consider our own role in recovery. Where should my repentance come, where my turning, my humbling, my praying? Time is short. Let's get started. 

The Journey, part 25: The Available Resources

And He said to them, "How many loaves do you have? Go look!" And when they found out, they said, "Five, and two fish." (Mark 6:38 NASB)

But He said to them, "You give them something to eat!" And they said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless perhaps we go and buy food for all these people." (Luke 9:13 NASB)

Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?" This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do. Philip answered Him, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little." One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Him, "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?" (John 6:5-9 NASB)

All four gospels include an account of the feeding of the 5,000. Each account tells the story from the author's perspective. Combining all the accounts, we get a rich picture of this event as one more training session on the journey of obedience. John makes it clear that Jesus knew what He was going to do before the discussion about the loaves and fish ever took place. Jesus knew about the available food. It was the disciples who did not. 

Mark's account tells us that He sent the disciples to survey the crowd and see what food was available. It turned out that what they already had on hand was more than enough to feed the multitude. It was more than enough, that is, once it was placed in the hands of Jesus. Once again, we see that the disciples already had exactly what they needed to complete the task Jesus had given them. 

John's account reveals that Andrew knew about the young boy's loaves and fishes and told Jesus. "What are these for so many?" he asked. Andrew could see what he had, but could not see what Jesus could do with it. Andrew played an important role in the miracle of God that day. It was not necessary for Andrew to have divine vision or understanding. He did not have to know what Jesus would do or how He would do it. Andrew's job was to find what was available and offer that to Jesus, and that is exactly what he did. 

An important principle is demonstrated here, and we do well to understand it. The disciples already had everything they needed to accomplish the task Jesus had given them, but they didn't know it. It was only when they looked at what they had with fresh eyes that they began to understand what Jesus could use. In our affluent society, our tendency is to buy new, acquire more, ignore the little in our hand in order to get what we think we need. Perhaps we would see a greater work of God if we were willing to offer to God that which is already in our hand. If God has called us to a task, He has given us what we need to accomplish it. Let us begin to use what He has given us instead of waiting to get more. 

To what task has Jesus called you? What has He already given you that could be used to accomplish that task?  Take a fresh look at the resources Our Lord has placed in your hands, then offer them to God. You may be surprised by the magnitude of what He does, even with what seems like just a little to you!  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Cleaning out the attic and getting stuck

A quarter of a century ago, my family helped me load yet another U-Haul with all my stuff and moved me to the farm. This has been a wonderful home for me and my family, and I have treasured every day. I recently climbed into the attic and it appears that I have treasured everything that has passed through my hands for the last twenty-five years and that it has all landed under the rafters. 

I can't believe I'm doing this, nor that I have waited this long, but I have started cleaning out the attic. I'm sure someone has a great technique that would make this an orderly process, but if you do, please don't tell me. I'm too far into it now, and it would just make me feel bad. What I've decided to do is haul as much as I can down the stairs until the guest room floor is completely covered, then climb down and start sorting. 

That worked pretty well with the baby clothes and all the stuffed animals that I found. It didn't work so well today, though. It appeared that someone (surely not me) had set boxes of assorted junk into the attic on the side that is not floored. Well "set" is not the right word. Perhaps flung or propelled might be better. The boxes and the junk that had fallen out along the path of the box-projectile went nearly to the end of the attic. The only way I could figure to get it out was to climb onto a 2x4 and scoot my bottom along it, straddling my feet on the rafters as I passed down the board. This process was neither graceful nor comfortable. Once I scooted to the end of the 2x4, I started pushing stuff back along the board to the attic opening.  I would pivot on the board, push it with my foot (holding on for dear life to the overhead rafters), then pivot back. That worked great until I was ready to get down. When I looked back at the attic opening, I realized that there was a mountain of mess between me and the stairs. Being somewhat precariously perched on the 2x4, I was in no position to rearrange things.  Frankly, I was trapped. 

Being trapped seemed somehow disgraceful, but it became increasingly apparent that I needed help. My housekeeper had come today, taken one look at my mess and said, "I'm cleaning the bathroom and coming back tomorrow!" I was kinda hoping she was gone, but even more hoping she wasn't. I yelled her name. No response. "Oh, dear," I thought. "I'm gonna have to call the mayor!" (She had just left after borrowing my bedside power strip). 

I was scrolling through contacts on my phone when I heard a blessed voice calling to me. "Did you call me?" the housekeeper said. I hated to admit it, but yes, I had been calling her. She hollered up to me, "Where are you?" I hollered back, "I'm stuck in the attic and I need some help getting down!" "STUCK??" she yelled back. "Yes! Stuck! I can't get out because I'm perched on a 2x4 and all this mess has me blocked in!" 

She actually climbed up the ladder with a straight face, managed to haul all the offending mess down the ladder, clear the path, and free me from my 2x4 prison. There was no way to recover my dignity, so I just climbed down and looked for something to rearrange, as if it was the most normal thing in the world to get stuck on a 2x4 in the attic. My housekeeper looked around and wisely decided to leave without a word. 

As I surveyed the mountain of boxes and jumbles of papers and other detritus, I thought, "He is a God of order and not of chaos, and I can't tell He's in this at all!" Then, I opened a box and found family pictures. There was my daddy, smiling and happy and as handsome as a movie star. Much to my surprise, he had a cowlick in the exact place my son Ryan and I do. 

Suddenly, not one bit of the disorder mattered a bit. Finding that box filled with pictures and memories made all the effort and all the trouble worthwhile. I found one other thing that made me laugh out loud. There was a telegram from my daddy in the army to his mama. "Please send $20. Broke again. Will be discharged next week." Tucked inside was a receipt where my grandmother had sent the money. It turns out there's been more than cowlicks inherited, and I'm still smiling about it. Thst one note made all the time in the attic worthwhile. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Gathering the Chicks

You can't really tell it from this picture, but there are five new baby chicks in the barn!  Last night, we went to the barn to see the new babies. I was the first one in the chicken house and there were no little chickies to be found. "Hey Ryan," I called back to my son, "What happened to the chicks?  I can't find them anywhere!"  

Ryan ambled in and looked around. "They're probably under their mama," he said, reaching down to move her over. Sure enough, there were five little chicks, safe and snug under their mama's wings. In an instant, those chicks started exploring and began to wander away. Mama Hen lost no time at all. Quick as a flash, she started turning around to gather those chicks back under her protective care. 

This morning, I stopped by to check on the chicks again. They are so cute and their little chirpy sound is so sweet!! Mama Hen was carefully supervising the babies as they ran around on the floor. As I walked in, the rooster looked up and headed my way. Of course, he had to walk past the babies to get to me, and Mama Hen went ballistic. She didn't know if he would hurt her babies or not, but was taking no chances. She jumped at that rooster faster than I could believe. He and I both started backing out of her way! 

Mama Hen was so protective of her babies that it made me see this verse from Matthew a little differently. 

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. (Matthew 23:37 NASB). 

The idea of gathering us together as a hen gathers her chicks has always spoken to me of God's desire to tenderly protect us and keep us safe. The ferocity of that hen today, though, has impressed me that this gathering of the chicks under the wing is not just a warm and fuzzy experience. It comes with a fierce desire on our Lord's part to protect us and a responsibility on our part to stay close so we can be safe.  This evening, As I remember that Mama Hen, snuggling her chicks and charging all threats, I can't help but think, "Yes, Lord! gather us close!  Gather us under Yoir wings!" 

The Journey, part 24: leaders and followers

(For there were about five thousand men.) And He said to His disciples, "Have them sit down to eat in groups of about fifty each." They did so, and had them all sit down. (Luke 9:14-15 NASB)

The crowd would never have been seated before Jesus, waiting in stillness, if the disciples had not first expectantly waited before Him for instructions, if they had not waited to move until He gave clear directions for the first step. In order to lead, as the disciples soon found, we must know where we are headed. As leaders in matters of faith, we must get that direction from our Lord. 

Where would He have us go? What would He have us do? How would He have us do it? The answers to those questions do not come from us. They come from our Lord and are readily available.  James tells us that, if we need wisdom, all we have to do is ask. 

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5 NASB

We all have those who look to us for leadership, be it in our family, at work, or in our communities. It is imperative that we lead in a manner and a direction that is pleasing to God, and that begins at the feet of Jesus, looking to Him for direction. Do you need wisdom? Direction? Just ask Jesus. He is willing to supply all you need, and do it "generously and without reproach".  Just ask. 

It is the job of leaders, as well as that of followers, to spend time with our Lord in order to receive strength, guidance, and help in time of need, so be still. Wait. Listen. Ask. 

The Journey, part 23: Making a Way

(For there were about five thousand men.) And He said to His disciples, "Have them sit down to eat in groups of about fifty each." (Luke 9:14 NASB)

If you've ever tried to deal with a huge crowd of people, you know how disorderly they can be. Even the most docile people can be slow to follow instructions, slow to move when asked, slow to obey if others are not. When that crowd is tired and hungry, it becomes more difficult. When the crowd includes tired, hungry children, tired, hungry mothers who are frazzled from dealing with the children yet trying to listen to Jesus, and tired, hungry husbands who are frazzled, too, the task of directing the crowd becomes nearly impossible. 

Jesus had instructed the disciples to feed a crowd of more than five thousand men, plus women and children. The twelve apostles were to get the group organized and food distributed. They may have looked at the crowd and thought, "Jesus, there is no way this is going to happen if you don't do something!"

Can't you just see it? Those twelve men glanced around them and, at least for a moment, were totally overwhelmed by the task Jesus had given them. Feed the crowd? How?  Where to start? They must have looked at Jesus with eyes full of questions and, seeing, He must have smiled. "Start by getting them seated in groups of fifty," He said. 

A benefit of seating the people in orderly groups is that it made it much easier for the disciples to minister to the crowd. Distributing food to a milling crowd of thousands would have been a nearly insurmountable task. Our Lord, who with the task will always make a way, instructed the twelve to organize the people in such a way that the job of ministry was changed from impossible to possible. 

A popular song from a few years back says "God will make a way where there seems to be no way," and that is exactly what Jesus did that day. He gave the disciples a starting point that made the work possible, and our Lord will do the same for us. Are you facing an impossible task? Is there a work of ministry to which He has called you that seems insurmountable? Perhaps what you need is not every step in the process; perhaps all you need is that first step that will make everything else possible. 

When you aren't sure what to do, look to Jesus. He has the answers you need. All you have to do is ask. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Pumpkin Party

My son Ryan and his girlfriend Hannah are here this weekend for fall break. They had bought a pumpkin on sale before they left Atlanta and wanted some savory pumpkin recipes. We searched a mountain of cookbooks for recipes, couldn't find a thing, and finally turned to the Internet. We found this great pumpkin soup recipe on Hannah liked it so well that she had pumpkin soup for every course of her dinner tonight. It was so good that I've decided to share it with you. I've rearranged it and modified it a little. It's super easy and worth trying. 

Creamy Pumpkin Soup

6 c chicken stock
1 large can pumpkin purée
1 c chopped onion
1/2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
5 whole black peppercorns 
1/2 c heavy cream
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Combine first six ingredients in a large pot, bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes. 
Purée one cup at a time in a blender or food processor.
Return to pot, bring back to a boil, then simmer another 30 minutes. 
Add heavy cream just before serving and garnish with parsley. (Hannah says the parsley doesn't taste as good as it looks, so just leave it off)

Here's the best part of the pumpkin soup. My only job was to get the pot out of the cabinet and harvest the fresh herbs! Ryan and Hannah did all the rest!

Here's Ryan and Hannah after enjoying the yummy pumpkin soup they made. 


The Journey, part 22: the stillness

(For there were about five thousand men.) And He said to His disciples, "Have them sit down to eat in groups of about fifty each." They did so, and had them all sit down. (Luke 9:14-15 NASB)

It had been a long day with Jesus. Both the crowd and the twelve were tired and hungry. The disciples suggested He send the people away and call it a day, but Jesus had other plans. "No," He said. "You feed them."  It was a teachable moment that may have surprised the apostles. "Well, we could go buy some food and distribute it, but we do have five loaves and two fish. It's not enough to go around though," they said as they offered their meager supply of food to Jesus. It turned out that, in the hands of Jesus, the little they had was more than enough. 

Before the blessing of the food or the distribution of the food, Jesus did an interesting thing. He accepted the food from the disciples and instructed them to get the crowd organized. The crowd included five thousand men, in addition to women and children. The disciples were to move through the crowd and get them seated in groups of fifty people each.  

Most commentaries suggest that Jesus organized the people in this manner to make it easier to count them. That may well be true, but it doesn't seem quite right to me. He who stilled the wind and the waves, made the blind to see, and raised the dead almost certainly already knew how many people were there. Perhaps our Lord, who knew well the tendencies of crowds, put the people in a seated position for something other than counting.  

It is the tendency of crowds to follow the most aggressive leader. A tired and hungry crowd, seeing a source of free food, would have a tendency to swarm the distribution point. The most aggressive would not only get their food first, but possibly get the most. In seating the people in an orderly fashion, our Lord who is a God of order and not chaos, was saying, "You don't have to stampede Me to get what you need. I know you are seeking Me. I will provide for all of you, both the greatest and the least, the most forceful and the most humble. You don't have to clamor for provision. I will provide all you need." 

By seating them, He placed the people in a position of submission, of waiting. They were completely dependent upon the provision of Jesus for the meal. Seating them in organized groups made those groups more homogeneous. A group of fifty is too large for a clique. When the disciples organized the groups, no one could exclude another because they were different. Before Christ, they were all equal. 

Just for a moment, think about that huge crowd. As the twelve moved through, telling the people, "Jesus wants you to sit down in groups of fifty," and the people obeyed, the crowd gradually got organized. As more groups formed and were seated, they probably began to get quiet, to get still. Before long, thousands of people were organized in groups, seated and still, quietly waiting before Jesus. 

Seated and still, waiting before the Lord.  What a wonderful place to be!  There are times of service, when we are called to plan or organize or distribute the work of God. There are other times when we are called to wait patiently before Him to see the great work of God that He has planned. Both are essential in the life of the disciple. It is in the still waiting, however, that we learn to trust the sweet, faithful provision of our Jehovah-Jireh. Seated before the Lord at His direction is the place we find that He can be trusted to meet every need and the place we are equipped to serve, as well. 

Are you in the place of waiting? Do you need an intervention of God? Perhaps what is needed is not more fretting or more planning but a time of utter stillness before Him. 

The psalmist wrote about this stillness. 

Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalms 46:10 KJV). 

It is in the stillness that we understand He is God and it is in our stillness that we exalt Him before all around us. Sit down for just a bit, be still, and get to know our God. He is all you need. 

I apologize to those who looked for the blog post last night. My son came home from college last night and we had such fun times that I opted to forgo writing to be with him. I will have something posted tonight, though. Thanks for your faithfulness.