Is there more to the story?

How many times I’ve read Luke’s version of the feeding of the five-thousand (Luke 9:10-17). It is a great story, isn’t it? Imagine feeding five-thousand men–more when we consider the women and children who were likely present, too–with only five loaves and two fish! It’s a BIG miracle, for sure!

And that’s what catches our attention, isn’t it? The magnitude of that miracle. We are prone to look for the big stuff, the flashy show of power, the grandiosity of the moment. This story doesn’t disappoint, either–an incredible feat to feed thousands of people with what would barely feed a family.

But there is more, much more, waiting to be discovered in this story…

Consider this: How did Jesus make himself heard? He spoke to them about the kingdom of God. In other words, he preached…to over 5000 people, more than likely outdoors. How could all those people hear him without a sound system? Did he walk among them as he spoke? Or did he stand still and those closest to him turned to the ones behind them, repeating Jesus’ words to create a sort of echo?

And then there’s the healing… Did Jesus individually heal those in need, one by one? That alone would have taken more than a day! Or did he simply speak a word and all were healed at once? Certainly that would be more efficient, but isn’t the personal attention from Jesus a significant aspect of healing? Did the disciples, having just returned from their own ministry adventure, jump in and help with the healing to expedite the process?

How in the world did the Twelve feed all those people? If we simply consider the 5000 that Luke mentions, sitting in groups of fifty would have meant that there were 100 groups. That’s approximately eight and one-third groups per disciple, or 416 individuals for each disciple to serve. I occasionally help serve a meal to the homeless at a local non-profit. It takes about thirty minutes for eight of us to serve 100 people seated around tables. I can’t imagine serving 416 by myself!

In all, this would have taken hours and hours…teaching, healing, feeding, collecting leftovers. So, did time simply stand still for a while?

Can you see the potential for all sorts of miracles in these seven verses? When we slow down and engage our imagination, we can glimpse all sorts of wonders in these familiar stories, little treasures that we have previously overlooked. And doing so trains us to look for life’s little treasures available to us each day, the ones we might otherwise overlook in our quest for the big stuff.

 

What kind of miracle do you need today?

     Are you hungry for spiritual food?

          Do you long to hear Jesus over the noise in and around you?

               Are you in need of healing? Or is Jesus inviting you to be an agent of his healing?

                    Are you feeling overwhelmed by the needs or tasks before you today?

                         Do you need time to stand still for a bit, that you might have a personal encounter with Jesus today?

Ask…seek…knock…your Savior longs to answer. Just remember that the answer may not come in the big stuff, but in the small treasures awaiting you today.

What love is this?

Church-going folks talk a lot about the love of Christ. But, really…What love is this? Is it like when we really “love” a book, movie, or a new pair of shoes? Or is it like how I (most of the time) love my family and close friends?

The love of Christ far exceeds our temporal infatuations. It certainly surpasses our capacity to love those closest to us. Left to our ourselves, we are incapable of the kind of love Jesus offers…

  • Love that sacrifices. Ephesians 5:2 says that Christ loved us, and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice for God.
  • Love that heals. Matthew 9:35 speaks of Jesus traveling through all the cities and villages, healing every disease and every affliction.
  • Love that renews. Christ himself was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father so that we, too, might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
  • Love that beckons. John writes in the tenth chapter of his gospel about Jesus as the Shepherd who calls his sheep and leads them out.

It is truly amazing–a miracle!–that the love of Christ dwells in us who believe, and nothing can separate us from that love. We have Christ’s capacity to sacrifice, to heal, to renew, and to beckon…just as Christ did. Left to ourselves, we are incapable of that kind of love. But, thanks be to God, he did not leave us to ourselves!

Simply put, when we allow Christ to have his way in us, we sacrifice for one another. We truly see each other’s pain and heartache. We take the time and make the effort to pray regularly for one another, watching to see the healing come because we are agents of that healing. And a holy transformation takes place as we are renewed day by day, as we grow into the beautiful body of Christ.

That beauty, that Christlikeness, that unbelievable love of Christ that shines through us as we are transformed into his likeness is a light that attracts like no other. It beckons people to come and taste and see that the Lord is good, and that his incomparable love can dwell in them, too. They, too, can be healed and transformed as they join a family whose love isn’t fickle or shallow.

I encourage you to push the pause button on your day and engage in a little reflection. Where are you allowing the love of Christ to have its way in you? Love that sacrifices brings healing and renewal, and beckons others to do the same.

my-lord-what-love-is-this-2008

(This is the third of three related posts. You can read the first post here, and the second here. I invite you to share your thoughts and experiences!)

A new perspective

I am a lapsed blogger. Yes, it’s sad, but true. There was once a time when I wrote a blogpost every week. Over time, I slipped to one every other week. Now I do well to write one a month. I keep telling myself that it’s OK…I’m certainly not alone! But the renewal notice for my domain name popped into my mailbox last week. To renew or not to renew? That is the question.

To be honest, I have struggled to find a voice lately. For years I have written about equipping, aka volunteer ministry. I’m definitely for it, and have had lots of thoughts and ideas to share about it. But over the past year or so I’ve wondered if I have said all I have to say on the subject. Nothing new or particularly interesting has come to mind. I still equip volunteer ministers in my church, and I still work with church leaders to help them develop their volunteer ministry. But when it comes to writing…well, I just don’t have anything new to say. It’s easier to point to the stuff I’ve already written.

I was blessed to lead a retreat recently, speaking with women about the deeper journey of living from the Christ-self. Not my usual presentation material. But preparing for the WP_20160520_018retreat helped me understand why I feel I’ve lost my voice for equipping ministry. God has been changing my perspective.

I’m a second-half-of-life person. I’ve turned a corner, so to speak, and am finding that the old me and my old way of doing things is something less than satisfactory now. I recently prayed with a woman who is also in the second half of her life. She had been experiencing health problems that sidelined her from ministry she loves. As we talked, the Spirit showed me that she was fearful, prompting me to ask her if she was afraid that God was taking away her ministry permanently. She wept, confessing that she was indeed afraid. “I know this is the ministry I’m called to do because I am so excited about it,” she cried. “It’s what I live for. It’s who I am.”

For several years I’ve asked the question, “What excites you?” during ministry discovery conversations with people. I think it’s a valid question for people in the first half of life. But once we turn that corner into the second half, we begin to see that excitement isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

A few years ago, God decided he had something new for me to do. I didn’t like that idea, but my arms are too short to box with God. No amount of protestation would change his mind, so I reluctantly submitted. These days I have fewer opportunities for gifts discovery conversations with people, and many more opportunities for offering healing prayer. Which brings me back to the woman I was praying with.

God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.                          2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT)

As we spoke, I was able to share my experience of God calling me to a different path and a new ministry. I was a bit surprised to tell her that I don’t get as “excited” about healing prayer ministry as I do about discovery conversations. And yet this new ministry is equally as fulfilling and life-giving as the former. As it turns out, excitement is not the litmus test I once thought it was. There’s a lot to be said for obedience.
I guess it’s OK that I don’t have anything new to say about equipping. God is revealing some new things, giving me a fresh perspective in this season of life. Hmmm…Maybe I should renew that domain registration after all, just in case I find a new voice!

 

Don’t forget the blueberries!

In his book The Healing Reawakening, Francis MacNutt notes that people rarely come asking for the fruit of the Spirit. Rather, they come asking for the gifts of the Spirit. He writes–

…many people ask for us to pray for them to receive the charismatic gifts, such as, “Please pray for me to receive the gift of healing.” Relatively few ask for the fruits of the Spirit, saying something like, “I have trouble loving other people. Would you pray that I receive the gift of loving and caring?”

Francis MacNutt wrote about me. I have often asked for God to give me a particular spiritual gift. I rarely have intentionally asked for the fruit of the Spirit. In fact, I have joked for years about not asking for patience because the lessons to learn it are painful!

I am all about doing. I have long prided myself on keeping busy. I certainly identify with Martha in the biblical story of Mary and Martha found in Luke 10. I’ve read countless books and heard countless talks about the importance of being over doing, only to think to myself that if it weren’t for those of us who do, nothing would ever get done. (Seriously, there’s a certain amount of truth in that, right?!)

The point is not to separate the doing from the being. The point is that the gifts without the fruit lead to pride and self-aggrandizement. Asking for the gifts of the Spirit and not for the fruit of the Spirit is rooted in selfishness, even when it is born out of misunderstanding.

When I ask for the fruit of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control–I’m asking God to form in me particular qualities of character. That means it’s who I am all the time. When I ask for Spiritual gifts, I’m asking for something I can use, something I can do when and if I choose.

I often teach that ministry is not just what we do, but it is who we are. That’s only true when we pray for the fruit of the Spirit in conjunction with the gifts of the Spirit. When I have the character of Christ, the spiritual gifts become tools which I selflessly use to bless others. The fruit of the Spirit informs me how to use the gifts of the Spirit for God’s glory rather than my own.

No doubt about it, I need more fruit.

summer-fruit-bowl-02So, God, may I please have some raspberries…and strawberries…and peaches? Maybe a banana and some kiwi? And please don’t forget the blueberries. I need them all!

Is God fickle?

You are just toodling along doing your ministry thing and–BAM!–suddenly God is Paths-to-success-shutterstock_88995475-500x290calling you down another path. Really? What’s up with that? Did God suddenly become fickle? Did the unchangeable God change?

Does any of this sound familiar? You invest time discovering your unique design for ministry, identify a serving role that energizes you, engage in equipping through reading or training, and now you are joyfully and faithfully serving in a ministry you love. It all fits together perfectly. But then God throws a monkey wrench into the whole thing through this niggling thought that just won’t go away, “I want you to do something else.” You read scripture and you hear the whisper. You have a conversation with a friend and there’s the whisper again. And then someone actually voices what you really don’t want to hear: “Have you ever considered serving in this ministry? I think you would be perfect for it!”

Did God change his mind? Well, I can’t really answer that for you, but I can share with you my experience with change and where it has led me.

During the summer of 2013, I began to suspect that God was up to something. I had been on a path of conviction about prayer ministry for several months. God had been bringing to mind past training in prayer ministry, as well as my own experiences of both emotional and physical healing. Over coffee with a friend, he mentioned a local healing prayer ministry that he thought I might be interested in. Before I got home from the cafe, my friend had connected me via email with the director of that prayer ministry! Out of curiosity, I met with Jeff and, as he described his prayer ministry, I sensed God nudging me towards healing prayer. My response was a flat “no way.” I had spent 20 years in equipping ministry. I loved helping people discover their God-given design and identify where/how God was calling them to serve. (Still do!) I had a significant investment in this ministry, even coming alongside other church leaders to help them develop healthy equipping practices in their churches. God surely couldn’t be calling me to something else. I wasn’t tired of doing this yet!

That same afternoon, my pastor told me that he believed God was calling me to establish a healing prayer ministry in our church, and offered to release me from any other ministry that would impede me answering that call. I was completely confused. And yet, I knew in my spirit that God was calling me to something new.

In 2014 I began offering prayer ministry during Holy Communion each week. Since that time there has been only one Sunday when no one came for prayer. I am developing a team of prayer ministers and equipping them through books, seminars, and conferences. Last year we began exploring moving our church from a suburban location where we rented space from another church to a downtown location where we would rent space from a faith-based non-profit ministry seeking to meet the needs of the poor and marginalized. We had our first worship service downtown on January 3 of this year. Since then, two more people have expressed interest in serving on the prayer team, and our new host is very excited at the possibility of having a church meet there who will actually pray with people who need any and all sorts of healing! In hindsight, it’s obvious that God has been redirecting me, as well as our church.

But here’s my biggest “ah-ha”: When dealing with people who were hesitant to serve, I would become frustrated. God is showing me that often the underlying reason for that hesitation lies in a need for healing. When one experiences the deep healing power of the love of Christ, the desire to serve the One who heals will soon follow.

one pathDid God change his mind about my ministry? Not really. He has simply opened yet another avenue for equipping ministry. He has provided a way through my former frustration into a wide open space where I can better serve his people as I pray for their healing and then help them find the ministry that God is calling them into.

Is God fickle? I don’t think so. Scripture says he is not. We just need to yield to his plan as he unfolds it, trusting that he knows what he’s doing!

 

Motivation to Serve

What compels people to serve? It’s a question every ministry coordinator asks when trying to attract volunteers. Some people serve because it makes them feel good. Others serve because they believe in the “cause,” whatever it may be. Some serve out of a sense of obligation. A few serve because they don’t have anything better to do. Figuring out how to motivate people to serve is like trying to hit a moving target!

But there is one common denominator for every Christian, one thing that should motivate every one of us to serve: Gratitude. Lavish gratitude for the countless ways Jesus has served us should be what compels each and every Christian to serve. Stop and think: When has Jesus served you?

Remember the story of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law? Mark says that Jesus, along with James and John, heads to the home of Andrew and (Simon) Peter following a time of teaching and casting out demons in the synagogue. There they find Peter’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever. Now, it’s helpful to know that back in Mark’s day, fever wasn’t understood to be a symptom of some disease–it was just considered a disease in and of itself. So it’s a safe bet to say that this woman was very sick with some disease that brought on a high fever. So Jesus does what Jesus does: he heals her. Immediately Peter’s mother-in-law gets up from her sickbed and fixes the evening meal for Jesus and his companions.

If you’ve ever had a high fever, you know that when it breaks, you are spent. No way do you feel like getting up and fixing a meal! Yet this is what Peter’s mother-in-law does! Jesus has not only healed her, but he has strengthened her as well. No residual lethargy, no lengthy recuperative period. She’s fit as a fiddle and good to go! I’m guessing that she was so grateful healing vesselthat she couldn’t wait to serve Jesus! Her response to the lavish love of Jesus was to allow that love to flow through her and out of her as she prepared the meal and met Jesus’ need for nourishment.

If you are a ministry coordinator looking to motivate people to serve, here are three questions to ask of them:

  1. When has Jesus served you personally? (I’m not talking about Jesus going to the cross and saving us from our sins. I’m talking about something more uniquely personal: being spared a near disaster, something needed that was miraculously provided, an instance of physical or emotional healing, etc.)
  2. How do you feel about that?
  3. What is your response?

The lavish love of Jesus compels lavish gratitude, and an appropriate response to lavish gratitude is following the example of Jesus and serving others as He has served us.

How much do we care?

There are two kinds of, “I’m sorry.”

The first kind is the apology of responsibility, of blame and of litigation. It is the four-year old saying to his brother, “I’m sorry I hit you in the face.” … The other kind of sorry is an expression of humanity. It says, “I see you and I see your pain.” This is the sorry we utter at a funeral, or when we hear that someone has stumbled.

You don’t have to be in charge to say you’re sorry. You don’t even have to be responsible. All you need to do is care.                                                                                                            -Seth Godin (read the entire post here)

I just returned from a healing prayer ministry conference. For two days I experienced people who cared. They cared enough to say, “I’m so sorry you have had to endure that.” They carecaringd enough to pray for me and every other participant. They cared enough to speak words of blessing and encouragement over us, corporately and individually. They cared enough to labor on our behalf to plan and execute the conference that brought healing of body and spirit to so many.

How many people do I pass by each day who are wounded and hurting, who just need someone to truly see them and offer them a respite from their pain. Perhaps it’s a smile or a kind word they need. Maybe they just want someone to literally look them in the eye rather than a passing glance. A prayer may be the lifeline they desperately need.

“Pray for–bless–everything that moves, and leave the results to God!” the conference leader exhorted us. Amen!

As a Christian, I can offer the love of Christ to those in need, a healing balm like none other. What’s more, I am called and empowered to do so! And isn’t the body of Christ as a whole called to do the same? Christ himself is the great Healer! The Church is the hands and feet and mouthpiece of Christ, bringing healing and truth, freedom from sin’s chains.

[Jesus said] “And so I am giving a new commandment to you now—love each other just as much as I love you.  Your strong love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  -John 13:34-35

How are we doing, Church? How much do we really care?