Here We Go Again

In those days, when there was again a large crowd and they had nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples and said to them, “I feel compassion for the people because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come from a great distance.” And His disciples answered Him, “Where will anyone be able to find enough bread here in this desolate place to satisfy these people?” And He was asking them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven.” And He directed the people to sit down on the ground; and taking the seven loaves, He gave thanks and broke them, and started giving them to His disciples to serve to them, and they served them to the people. They also had a few small fish; and after He had blessed them, He ordered these to be served as well. And they ate and were satisfied; and they picked up seven large baskets full of what was left over of the broken pieces. About four thousand were there; and He sent them away. Mark 8:1-9

Life has a way of repeating itself. When you’ve gone through tough times or rough patches, you’re well aware of the preliminary signs of the same kind of problem coming on again. It’s like dark skies on the horizon or an aching tooth. Where I live this only means pummeling rain punctuated by simultaneously occurring flashes of lightning and violent claps of thunder. In my mouth it only means a root canal is in my immediate future.

There’s some talk about whether this “feeding of the 4,000” is a restatement of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000, but Mark says “there was again,” and later Jesus himself mentions two separate feedings (Mark 8:19-20). And, by the way, the facts are different.

As an aside, I don’t know why we have to question everything sometimes ad nauseam, but if by scrupulously contemplating scripture we can be assured and confident of what it says, that’s only a good thing.

Since history repeats itself, we can fully expect to be hungry again, as were the followers of Jesus! It’s a good way to test if we learned anything the first time, to be again placed in a position of need. Evidently the disciples needed more practice when it came to what to do with a limited supply of bread! Read on in Mark 8:16.

If we’re honest, we’re just as feeble-minded as they were with the challenges of life. I think of myself and my constant worries about finances or looming deadlines. When will I learn to just watch and pray?

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God. Psalm 43:5

It’s good to know our Lord is conscious of our faithfulness. Here he says, “they’ve remained with me.” There’s a loyalty credit with him. The Lord was also conscious of the people’s needs and the dangers which lay before them. Often we’re in desolate places in our lives, literally and spiritually, and we desperately need the Lord to tell us to “sit down!

When we’ve got hunger pains and no food in the pantry and little money in our pockets, he’ll take what we have and make it go a long way.  From this account, the Lord uses what they have, seven loaves, and what they don’t think they have, some fishes. On the delivery of the seven loaves to him, I’m sure he responded “perfect!”

In the end, in all the vicissitudes of life, His provisions are abundant. More than necessary actually. Just in case you don’t know this verse, out of obligation I must mention it here!

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us. Ephesians 3:20

When it comes to us learning that God is faithful, we’re likely going to have to do some remedial work.

On the box in the instructions, I think I remember reading, “Repeat if necessary.”

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Doesn’t Hurt to Ask

Jesus got up and went away from there to the region of Tyre. And when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it; yet He could not escape notice. But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And He was saying to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.” And He said to her, “Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” And going back to her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left. Mark 7:24-30

I work every Monday night with a group of people who’ve lost their jobs. We try to see this dire predicament in the best light possible; that they’re “in-between jobs.”

There are technical things we talk about, like preparing a good résumé and active networking which can help them regain employment. But we also stress that there’s an almighty God behind all this who can pull strings. The key is putting one’s self “out there,” armed with the confidence that only faith can produce.

I came upon this account of the Syrophoenician women, a Gentile, who made an audacious request of Jesus, who, in his humanity, was desperately seeking some rest. Here we see how persistence and directness in our negotiations with God can work.

She had no right to be there before the Lord, and as we hear in his response, she was not his first priority.  The Jews were. Undaunted she “kept asking” him to take the demon from her daughter. Her logic was impeccable. She argued that even people like her were certainly, at the very least, due the crumbs a pet dog might find under the table from those same children. “Because of this answer” the Lord granted her request.

This tells us a lot about the power of scriptural prayer. There are hundreds upon hundreds of truisms in the Word that can be used as your case in point.

As my mom used to tell me, “It doesn’t hurt to ask.”

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High Crimes and Misdemeanors

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. Mark 7:21-22

It’s easy to slip by biblical lists of sins apparently unscathed. Am I a murderer? No. I’m I an adulterer? No. I’m I a thief? No.

Then you skip the sexual sins because you want to avoid splitting hairs with Jesus, for example concepts like “lust in the heart.”

Then come the misdemeanors. By this time your attention has waned and you’re looking ahead to something that’s useful.

It’s about time we rewind the tape and camp out at “envy, slander, pride and foolishness,” and notice too that all these sins usher forth from the list-leader “evil thoughts.”

Here are some synonyms that amplify their meanings: begrudging, defaming, scornful and insensitive, respectively.

According to Jesus, perhaps with a little commentary by Mark, such sins festering in one’s heart, with or without any outward manifestation, have the same defiling effect as the high crimes. Know this, that eventually, inevitably and invariably they’ll see the light of day!

It’s high time we expunge (remove) these insidious (gradual, subtle) and pernicious (gradually and subtly harmful) evils and let the Lord’s cleansing blood course through us freely.

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Inside Out

This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. Mark 7:6

As with many of Jesus’ teachings, say, “if you have lust in your heart,” (Matthew 5:28) and here, dealing with heartless worship, it’s impossible to hide from his penetrating eyes.

We all dread the various procedures doctors use to “scope out” firsthand the condition of our bodies. There’s no hiding what they see. Woe to us if Jesus spots a heart that’s at odds with our religious words and deeds. And he sees all.

We need to live our lives inside out. I remember what Joseph said in closed quarters to Potiphar’s wife when propositioned, “How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9)

The only lust in his heart was for God.

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Chasing Jesus

They ran about that whole country and began to carry here and there on their pallets those who were sick, to the place they heard He was. Mark 6:55

This passage paints quite a picture. More appropriately a moving one. These days we can well relate to the clammer of fans reacting to politicians, sports phenoms, performers and movie stars.

I admire the faith and persistence of those caring for the sick. In turn, Jesus lowered the bar for them, to a touch of the tassels of his outer cloak for relief. One would hope that bodily healing reached deep into their hearts.

We want to be well physically, but do we expend such an effort to be whole spiritually? Do we chase Jesus for a touch of his mercy and grace?

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Permission to Come Aboard

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd away.  After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray. When it was evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. Seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them. But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.” Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened. Mark 6:45-52

I look at this account and tend to want to criticize the disciples for lack of faith and understanding right off the feeding of the 5,000. Then I think of myself, how I’ve watched the Lord work “miracles” in my life, and then soon thereafter, I’m quaking in my boots the very next time the same issue pops up.

I happen to think their heads were spinning from all that they were witnessing. They were probably fine when they were with Jesus, as he certainly kept them engaged. But now he’s putting them on a boat by themselves and instructing them to go to the other side of the lake. The last time they got into a boat he was at the stern, albeit asleep.

Halfway through, as could be anticipated, they encountered a strong harassing headwind and were straining at the oars. The encouraging thing to all of us was that the Lord saw their predicament and set out “on foot” to help them. Not by land but by sea.

That’s life by the way. On our own. Middle of something. Rowing against a strong wind.

The passage says he intended to “pass by them,” but he ended up coming alongside the boat. The experts are split on if the text says he wanted to pass them by or come alongside. Relying on the context, you’d want to think he set out to help rather than to beat them to the other shore. The “coming alongside” interpretation also allows for some corollaries to the Spirit-led life.

For teaching purposes, in reality, life requires us to face tough obstacles. For those trained by many trials, it should be enough to know Jesus is in the general vicinity. But here I don’t think these men were ready for a solo flight. After all, they thought he was a ghost.

I wonder if anyone among these men expected to see Jesus. The practical lesson for us is this: when in the midst of a tough row, expect Jesus to show up!

You can read Matthew 8:27 and following and see that Jesus couldn’t get a straight answer from them on who he was, except from Peter, who then followed his bold declarative with a lecture to Jesus to stop talk of his impending death.

Jesus’ assessment of the condition of the disciples’ hearts as he reined in the winds was incisive. Their hearts were calloused, not subtle as they should be. Here, they just witnessed him feeding over 5,000 people through them!

All this just tells me the essential value of the presence of the Holy Spirit to give me the mind of God. I simply can’t appraise my circumstances without it. The disciples required Christ’s physical presence. We’ve got him on board.

As new creatures our struggles are reminders to us that the Spirit is our helper who comes alongside for a pep talk and assistance. You’ll certainly hear the Lord say, “I’ve got this, don’t worry,” for the umpteenth million time, and all anxiety subsides.

One last point. The wind does not subside until Jesus’ climbs in. Don’t deny him permission to come aboard!

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A Lot from a Little

And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all.  Mark 6:41

If she can get the family together on a rare occasion, on short notice my wife can whip up a banquet meal in no time. It may take a quick trip to the grocery store down the street, but she can make a quickly devised plan happen. I think of Peter’s mother-in-law as a prime example, who came off her sickbed to serve Jesus and his disciples (Mark 1:31).

Rarely though does all this get done without her Herculean effort, as she shoulders most if not all the load. In time, the torch will be passed to those whose menial assigned tasks now are to ready the table and the high chairs. In this particular case, more is caught than taught.

One thing Jesus was doing with this impromptu picnic on the grounds (Mark 6:33-44) was teaching his men that God can miraculously provide a lot from a very little, or perhaps out of thin air. All you need is a plan and a prayer. He provides the provisions.

We read in John’s account (John 6:1-14) that initially Jesus was contemplating a run into the city to pick up a few things (but he knew full well that wasn’t going to work out! John 6:6). But Philip postulated that even 200 days of wages wouldn’t feed a little to a crowd this big. Always one on the team seeing the bright side of things! What Philip didn’t know was that even if they drained their meager treasury in town, what little they brought back would have done the trick! It’s ironic that Jesus ended up using five loaves and two fishes, a little boy’s packed lunch, for starters.

The important thing to note in this account is that Jesus let his men do the work. This was his chance to teach them not only to be fishers of men, but feeders as well. Not lost in this story is Jesus’ compassion for the people and his prayer to his Father to bless the meal.

In the end, 5,000 men plus women and children were fed, with twelve full baskets of food leftover, one for each disciple.

In a few short years these same men would be called on to do the same thing, with thousands added daily to the church (Acts 2:47), and widows going hungry (Acts 6:1).

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