Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lesson of the Loaves {from the Archives}

    The apostles  gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest a while." For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they went away in the boat by themselves to a remote place, but many saw them leaving and recognized them. People ran there by land from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.  So as He stepped ashore, He saw a huge crowd and had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then He began to teach them many things.
    When it was already late, His disciples approached Him and said, "This place is a wilderness, and it is already late! Send them away, so they can go into the surrounding countryside and villages to buy themselves something to eat."
    "You give them something to eat," He responded.
    They said to Him, "Should we go and buy 200 denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?"
    And He asked them, "How many loaves do you have? Go look."
    When they found out they said, "Five, and two fish."
    Then He instructed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in ranks of hundreds and fifties. Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke the loaves. He kept giving them to His disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. Everyone ate and was filled. Then they picked up 12 baskets full of pieces of bread and fish. Now those who ate the loaves were 5,000 men (Mark 6:30-44, HCSB).

Near the end of the last century, I sat in my first class, 601 Spiritual Life, of my first full-time semester of seminary.  Dr. Bill Lawrence, with abundant energy and clear enthusiasm for his subject and students, was a good way to begin. He told us over and over, "Repetition is the key to learning," and perhaps he was right.  Again today, as I read the account of the feeding of the 5,000, I heard his voice reminding us of what he called "the lesson of the loaves."

The first clause of the lesson describes the problem in the passage: more than 5,000 (if women and children were also present) hungry people in a remote wilderness, late in the day.  What does Jesus say?  He tells the apostles to feed this impossible multitude with five small loaves and two tiny fish.  My pastor at that time compares the quantity of bread and fish of the original Greek to "granola bars and sardines." In other words, Mark isn't talking about 5 loaves of sandwich bread and 2 whole salmon but an even greater degree of impossibility. In Dr. Lawrence's words, "You must do what you cannot do with what you do not have."

How many of us feel that way on an almost daily basis?  Whether the "must do" involves mothering, a difficult job, the lack of a job with financial pressures that will not let up, health problems, or just the ordinary pressures of life, most of us understand this feeling of overwhelming demands and inadequate resources.  I certainly do. In the Scripture passage, though, it is Jesus who places the demand on the apostles, so in that instance, at least the impossibility was His will.

Thanks be to God that the lesson doesn't stop there!

The second clause from Dr. Lawrence provides the solution: "BUT He will do what He can do with what He does have."  Jesus takes His followers' inadequate resources, blesses them, breaks them, and gives them to the disciples to distribute.  In His hands, they become not only a start, not only enough, but too much.  The great crowd eats until satisfied, and still 12 baskets of leftovers remain. "He will do what He can do with what He does have."  Jesus' resources are adequate for the overwhelming demands of following Him and seeking to serve those He brings us.

This morning I was feeling like those disciples: the list of responsibilities, projects, paperwork, and prayer requests longer than the day ahead and far greater than the strength in hand.  Reading Luke's account of this event in my daily portion reminded me of my teacher's words, and I found courage to bring the needs to Christ and take His strength, one basketful at a time.  It only felt right to pass the basket on to you.

That doesn't mean the needs will feel any less overwhelming or more possible. Feelings may or may not change. If the Lord is the one putting the needs on our plate, however, He will not fail to give grace enough to match them, one crumb at a time, as we keep going back to Him for more.

Dear Crumbles, whatever your overwhelming need today, take heart:

"You must do
what you cannot do 
with what you do not have,
He will do through you
what He can do
with what He does have."

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11b-13, ESV).

Monday, March 20, 2017

Dandelion Grace

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.... Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word (Acts 8:1,4, ESV).

"The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church" (Tertullian).

Gusts of affliction
Scatter grace
Like dandelion seeds.

As we pray for our brothers and sisters who are suffering, whether from persecution, displacement, or other trials, let us not forget to pray for God's glory and kingdom through believers' suffering. Let us (me!) not forget that the Lord intends to use our own suffering for His glory. Your pain is not wasted, Crumble. God has a plan and means it for your good, the church's gain, and His glory. May you find hope in that!

Thursday, March 16, 2017


“It doesn’t matter, really, how great the pressure is,” [Hudson Taylor] used to say; “it only matters where the pressure lies. See that it never comes between you and the Lord - then, the greater the pressure, the more it presses you to His breast.”
from Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret, p. 139

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Tenderness of Our Shepherd

Ewe and lamb, Dall sheep, Denali National Park, Alaska
"O trembling heart, look away, and look up! Your sorrows have been multiplied indeed, by looking at difficulties and second causes. Now cease from all this. Talk no more about the walled cities and giants; about the rugged paths and dark valleys; about lions and robbers. But think of the love, the might, and the wisdom, of the Shepherd. Love that spared not its blood! Might that made the worlds! Wisdom that named the stars! Your salvation does not depend on what you are, but on what He is. For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ. Cease using the first pronoun, and substitute for it the third....
"He has a shepherd’s tenderness; no lamb so tiny that He will not carry it; no saint so weak that He will not gently lead; no soul so faint that He will not give it rest. He pities as a father. He comforts as a mother. His gentleness makes great. He covers us with His feathers, soft and warm and downy; and under His wings do we trust" (F.B. Meyer, The Shepherd Psalm).

Friday, March 10, 2017

Strength in Weakness

Yellow-rumped warbler (female, we believe)

One might fairly substitute "brokenness" or "meekness" for "weakness" in the following quote:
“…It is amazing how strong we can become when we begin to understand what weaklings we are! It is in weakness that we can admit our mistakes and correct ourselves while confessing them. It is in weakness that our minds are open to enlightenment from others. It is in weakness that we are authoritative in nothing, and say the most clear-cut things with simplicity and consideration for others. In weakness we do not object to being criticized and we easily submit to censure. At the same time, we criticize no one without absolute necessity. We give advice only to those who desire it, and even then we speak with love and without being dogmatic. We speak from a desire to help rather than for a desire to create a reputation for wisdom” (Fenelon, Let Go, Letter 29).
Reading these words this morning, on a day when I am aware of my weakness with every step I take, reminded me of how far I have to grow in realizing its intended fruit. Amore and I welcome your prayers for the Lord to heal my painful joints and provide His restored strength. The last four weeks have brought new difficulties in that regard, and we have yet to discover the medical explanations for them. If the Lord prompts you to pray for us, please also pray that weakness, hardships, and "calamities" (to our limited sight) would do their good, gracious, refining work in us.

We are so very grateful for your friendship and prayers over the last six-and-counting years!

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV) 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Sufficient Grace

...a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:7b-9, ESV)

"God’s grace is illustrated and magnified in the poverty and trials of believers. Saints bear up under every discouragement, believing that all things work together for their good, and that out of apparent evils a real blessing shall ultimately spring—that their God will either work a deliverance for them speedily, or most assuredly support them in the trouble, as long as he is pleased to keep them in it. This patience of the saints proves the power of divine grace.... He who would glorify his God must set his account upon meeting with many trials. No man can be illustrious before the Lord unless his conflicts be many. If then, yours be a much-tried path, rejoice in it, because you will the better show forth the all-sufficient grace of God. As for his failing you, never dream of it—hate the thought. The God who has been sufficient until now, should be trusted to the end" (Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Morning of March 4).

See also: The Gift of Thorns

Friday, February 24, 2017

"Day by Day"

Snuggle time

Although or because it's a difficult pain day here with anxiety over this afternoon's medical appointment tapping at my heart's door, the Lord brought this hymn to mind early this morning. It challenges and invites me to entrust myself and my loved ones day by day, moment by moment, to Him. I associate it with my maternal grandmother, so it may also have been one of the hymns she used to play.

Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day the Lord Himself is near me,
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,
He whose name is Counsellor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then, in every tribulation,
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till with Christ the Lord I stand.

~Carolina Sandell Berg (1832-1903), trans. A. L. Skoog

Lest the reader think Mrs. Berg knew nothing of real suffering to have written such words, such is not the case. Her father fell overboard and drowned before her eyes when she was 26. By God's grace, after that tragedy hymns overflowed from her heart and pen. Her name is largely unfamiliar to American believers, but she is as beloved in Sweden as Fanny Crosby is in the States.

Even in the hard, crumbles, our Father is good and loves His children. Especially in the hard, perhaps. May the Lord give us, also, songs in the dark nights of our souls.