The story of Jesus feeding the five thousand appears in all four of the gospel renditions. It had to be an event that all four authors wanted to empathize. No doubt it was a miracle of epic proportions.
In giving the people physical bread, Jesus showed that he was the compassionate provider that his people needed. By doing such a miraculous feet, Jesus showed that nothing was too big for Him to provide. Through this miracle, Jesus fulfilled more than physical needs, he demonstrated the expectation of those looking forward to a new prophet after Moses. Thinking back to the journey from Egypt to promised land, while Moses was their prophet-leader, the Israelites received manna from heaven. Jesus’ provision of bread here parallels the miracle that the Israelites experienced under Moses. The major contrast: Jesus Himself provides the bread.
Jesus can tell us to ask for our daily bread to be provided, because He is the source. And this is much more than an application to our physical needs. Jesus said that “man shall not live on bread alone but by every word that comes from the word of God. (Matt 4:4).” Not only is Jesus referred to as the bread of life (John 6:48), but he is also called the word of God become flesh (John 1:1-14). As the Bread and as the Word, Jesus is all we need for life itself both physically and spiritually.
In reading Matthew 6:25-34 Jesus reminds us that God’s care for His creation is steadfast. Flowers are arrayed in beauty and birds and fed. His desire is for us to have all we need as well. He knows how to provide for us. We just need to open up our eyes and hearts to receive it. Not only can Jesus multiply anything to provide for our needs, He may just ask for our basket of bread and fish to multiply for the needs of others.
Have you ever thought that life is a struggle no matter what stage you’re in? And it seems to be a struggle for the same thing. Think about it. No matter if you’re a toddler or teenager, 39 or 93, freedom is always something we strive for. Granted, that struggle looks different depending on our age and circumstances. However, freedom seems to be at the core of it all.
When we are small, we rely on our parents for everything. As we grow, we seek ways to be released from the constraints that come along with being a child. We want to make more of our own decisions. We want to try new things, oftentimes even if it goes against our parent’s guidance.
When we move into adulthood, we gain freedom in a much larger measure. What comes with that is a much larger degree of responsibility. Balancing those responsibilities with our new found freedoms can be a real challenge. New obstacles lay in the way. Jobs, bills, opportunities or the lack thereof, Our struggle is not so much to gain freedom, as when we were a child, but to secure it. This freedom also looks different. We don’t exactly have parents telling us what we can and can’t do, we have other obstacles doing that. We get busy making sure the electricity stays on, there’s a roof over our heads, there are clothes on our kid’s backs and food in their tummies. If we aren’t careful, we begin to see these as burdens and get bogged down.
Late in life (granted I am not there yet and this is purely from observation), it seems to be a battle to hold on to that freedom. Again, this freedom looks different and the struggle does too. We try to hold on to that freedom of mobility. Our diet becomes more constrained. Our activities slowly become more limited. Our bodies don’t heal like they used to. Freedom seems to slowly fade away.
The good news is that our lives don’t have to be this way. Not to say that there won’t be challenges. Because there certainly will be. We will be constrained. We won’t be able to do all that we plan or hope for. But, we will be free in the best possible way. And even in our limitations, we can find freedom. You see, all the freedoms I listed above are merely physical ones. But in the struggle for those freedoms, we end up imprisoned emotionally and mentally. Which, in the long run, will strip us of physical freedoms as well.
The path to freedom has already been laid out for us. We don’t need to pave the way for ourselves. Freedom can be experienced regardless of circumstances. Sure, we may not have all the money we would like. We may not be able to go on the trips we want to. But we can be free from the big things. Like worry, stress, fear, and sin. Those things cripple even the wealthy. It doesn’t matter how privileged someone is, or even if they are their own boss, you’re not free if you’re burdened with stress and sin. Humanity has a tendency to put the shackles on themselves. We put ourselves in cells of fear. In our struggle for freedom, we end up with far less.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:10 NIV
Jesus came into this world to provide the most important form of freedom…from ourselves. We strive and we strive but it was never meant to be that way. The life we seek is the life Jesus wants to give us. The problem is we do some much to run after an opposite life. Our comfort becomes the priority. Our goals become paramount. The liberty to choose what is good for us is as age-old as the garden in which the enemy of our souls first lured Adam and Eve away from God’s plan. But freedom is not found in the struggle, but in the surrender. Instead of trying to dictate so much of our lives, we need to be lead by Him. Plus our souls are free in Christ. All else are fringe benefits.
The life of the Christian is one that seeks the freedom, not of oneself, but of others. The best way is ultimately through a relationship with Jesus. We can look less to our 401k and more to the homeless man on the street. We can put less thought into that new (you fill in the blank) and more time praying for those in desparate need. We can allow ourselves to get uncomfortable in order to bring comfort to others. Freedom is found, not in viewing ourselves as the center of the universe, but as a part of it meant to bring a piece of God’s kingdom closer to home for anyone we can. Bring on the constraints. We go forward to make Him known. Come what may, the Lord will be our guide and our provider. Therein lies freedom.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.
This post is inspired by a recent story I read from the Voice of the Martyrs. As usual, I read it at an opportune time. God ordained moments. I hope that this story inspires you as well.
We pick in Romania, many years ago, during an era of extreme persecution towards Christians. A man by the name of Florea had been arrested simply for his faith in Christ. As a follower of Jesus, it was important for him to honor the Sabbath. However, that was problematic, for prisoners did not get a day of rest. They were required to work, every day. Florea stood his ground on his convictions and refused to work. I would love to say that the prison guards honored his faith and passion and made an exception for him. But communism makes no room for Jesus or his followers. So a stand for Jesus meant extreme repercussions.
The Romanian prisoners were forced to labor every day, but each Sabbath Florea refused. For his refusal, the guards routinely beat him so bad he lost the use of his arms and legs. He could only move his head. Because he could no longer labor, Florea was forced to sit in his cell all day long. He had to rely on other prisoners to feed him. In spite of his situation, Florea was not downcast. When other prisoners would complain about their situation, Florea would encourage them. “If the outlook is bad,” he would say, “try the ‘uplook.’ When Stephen was stoned, he looked up and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. This comforted Stephen’s heart, and it will comfort yours too.” He encouraged his fellow prisoners not to “look out” to their circumstances but to “look up” at Jesus. One of Florea’s fellow prisoners was Richard Wurmbrand, who was released from the prison and found Florea’s nine-year-old son. He told him what a blessing his father had been in prison. The boy smiled and replied, “I would like to become a sufferer and encourager for Christ as my father has been.”
Voice of the Martyrs
There are no guarantees of circumstances, even for the Christian. We are not promised a nice home, a perfect family, good health, or a living wage. Instead, a Christian is a person with a certain attitude toward any and all circumstances. A person’s attitude makes the difference, regardless of circumstances. A heavenly attitude focuses on God’s presence amid trials. Fixating on our hardships distracts us from a heavenly outlook. We feel burdened. Depressed. Hopeless. Fearful. In contrast, a godly outlook on our troubles brings confidence that God is at work. We relax in God’s presence, waiting to see how he will work out our concerns. Are you undergoing a trial right now? Are you focused on the waves crashing around you or Jesus walking on the water towards you? Let’s stop focusing on the outlook and give the uplook a try.
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord… Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.”
Genesis 6:5-9 (NKJV)
In part two of the series, we are taking a look at the person of Noah. The story is one usually thought of as an act of judgement, but it is also one that shows God’s extreme love for mankind. I have heard many people view this story as one of God’s wrath and leave it at that. But when we look closely at this story we see redemption.
Imagine the pure evil and absolute corruption of man at the time of Noah and then ask yourself, “how much love does God have that He still wanted to redeem humanity after their complete abandonment of Him?” Honestly, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see a world that is so broken and corrupt and full of sin. We live in a world very much like that today. How could God still want humanity to find redemption? The answer is simple. His love is not human love but divine love. A love that is always trying to reconcile our hearts to His. A love that looks at an earth filled with total decay and depravity and does not give up. A love that would preserve a piece of His creation even when the creation wanted nothing to do with Him.
Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: “And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you… Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
Genesis 9:8-11 (NKJV)
Noah and his family were not perfect. It wouldn’t take long for them to be impacted by the mark of sin that we all carry. But God still called them out. He still saved them. We too are imperfect and broken and should find encouragement in this story. God is calling us out of the fallen world to be a part of His new beginnings. We just have to get on the boat.
“Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.”
Genesis 3:21 (NKJV)
This is a new series that will highlight examples of God’s acts of redemption from the Old Testament. Many struggle with the view that God somehow changed once the New Testament period began. But as we know, this isn’t true. God has had a heart of compassion and love and a desire to redeem and save what is lost from the very beginning. Jesus is the greatest example of that. But the Bible is full of instances where God reached out to His creation in an act of grace. To begin, we start at the beginning.
The first recorded sacrifice for sin was made by God Himself. Once Adam and Even ate of the tree, once they had sinned and had become ashamed, once they had hidden themselves from God, The Lord intervened on their behalf. God made a sacrifice to cover their shame. They certainly didn’t deserve that, but neither do we.
From the moment of the first sinful act of mankind, God has been writing a story of redemption. God sees our sin, knows our brokenness, but seeks our hearts none the less. When we fall short, He comes through to save us. From the very beginning the Lord could’ve abandoned His fallen creation or left them to be ruled by darkness, but His love is too great for that. This marks only the beginning of God’s redemptive love. Even in our moments of our failure, God is intervening for us. Even when we attempt to hide ourselves or sin, God is seeking us out.
Peace in Christ brothers and sisters, and His great love for us.
What makes a person strong? What makes you feel strong? How do we even gauge strength? Is there only physical strength? How about emotional strength? Maybe even spiritual strength? I used to measure strength by bench-press numbers and will power. But as time goes on, I realize there are much more accurate ways of understanding the strength of a person.
The book of Nehemiah details the return of Jewish exiles to Israel. It is a story of a struggle. A temple is rebuilt and a wall has been reconstructed around Jerusalem. But there is a lot remaining before life can possibly resemble normal. In this midst of the rebuilding process, the scriptures are rediscovered. A man by the name of Ezra will stand before the people and read from it. As he comes to a conclusion he sends the people out with this message:
Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Nehemiah 8:10 ESV
There it is. The answer. Our strength can be found in the joy that comes from the LORD. He is our strength. Being His, makes us strong. Being reminded of His goodness and favor throughout our lives makes us strong. We gain strength by knowing we aren’t abandoned, that we’re unconditionally loved, that we’re accepted and belong to a bigger story. Our strength comes in the joy we have in being free and cherished…always.
Uncertain times can’t shake us. Illness won’t destroy us. Financial struggles can’t break us. Discrimination won’t define us. The culture won’t alter us. We are His. There is no greater joy found in this life. And in that joy, we are strong to face the world. Are you walking in the joy of His salvation? Are you feeling strong today?
It’s easy to be hasty. Especially in today’s climate. We see uneasiness, suspicion and tensions on the rise, not only here in the United States, but around the world. Inflation of prices and shortages of many day-to-day items can be a huge area of concern and we have all felt the effects. Godlessness is rampant and society continues to try and skew the lines between good and bad, and right and wrong. It is in this climate that God speaks. It can be in our weakest and most helpless times that the Lord shows his strength the most. And to all my brothers and sisters out there, I say to take heart. Don’t be quick to be responsive. Don’t act out of fear or worry. Look to the Lord, whose presence is very real and who has not left you even for a moment. Have courage and remember that for those who are of God the happiest of endings await.
“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
“And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain at Jerusalem.”
Isaiah 27:13 ESV
There is a day coming, where all of God’s children will be gathered together. Even those who have been lost. Rosh Hashanah is a beautiful promise, for all believers, that victory is at hand. The Messiah will return, to gather His sheep, and destroy the ravaging wolf.
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
1 Corinthians 15:51-52 ESV
Not only will we be gathered, we will be made like Him. The greatest of all victories achieved. Death is overcome. Evil will experience the full weight of justice. And our corrupted physical natures will be replaced with glorious ones. Hallelujah!
In the spring, Passover marks the moment Jesus paid our ransom. The feast of Trumpets marks the day He returns for that which He so preciously bought. Come Lord Jesus! Your people are await your glorious return. We long for our eternal home. Until then, we will praise you. May the hearts of your people sing a joyful song.
Peace in Christ my brothers and sisters. He will return!
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain…
1 Corinthians 15:10 (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul was addressing the church at Corinth expressing his unworthiness to even be considered an apostle, considering all he had done to the Church of God prior to his salvation. In applying this to my own life, I have long considered myself unworthy to be a servant of Christ. In the words of John the Baptist (an amazing man of faith) I am not even worthy to stoop over and loose the straps of Christ’s sandals (Mark 1:7). The fact is, I’m not worthy, and none of us are. This makes Christ’s sacrifice and God’s grace so much more amazing. There is no one righteous (Romans 3:10, Ecclesiastes 7:20) and God chooses to save us anyway. I say that’s an amazing Savior.
He is a great and awesome God Who saves us and invites us into His work which He has prepared ahead of time for us (Ephesians 2:10). As Paul stated, God’s grace in his life will not be for vain but he will labor all the more, even more than the other apostles. Even though grace is not based on works, it is given so that we may abound in this life and love people more, forgive more quickly, serve more wholeheartedly, and persevere with patient expectations that our God will come through. God has created me and His grace is molding me into the man I am today and will one day be. I don’t want to waste His grace.
Peace in the grace of Christ brothers and sisters.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13 (NKJV)
Hope is one of those words that when you say it, it rolls of your tongue and immediately brings a glimmer of light to your heart. Hope is something to cherish and be thankful for. It serves as a platform of strength in those moments that seem perilous or without end. It is something that every single person needs. We can’t do life without it. As the verse above says, hope is accompanied with joy and peace. But only when that hope is in something real and constant.
I’ve heard people say to have hope in hope. To hold on to the “idea” that there is a “possibility” that things can get better. This is mere optimism. I happen to be an optimistic person myself. I like to look on the Brightside and believe that things will be ok. But my optimism is based on Someone, not just an idea or a desire to have good feelings. Hope that is not founded on reality is delusion.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:23 (NKJV)
The Someone I have hope in is an unwavering and eternally faithful God. In our darkest moments we can rest assured in the hope that is brought to us by Jesus. He has a proven track record. He’s never failed. He’s shown His love and devotion to humanity regardless of the fact that we don’t deserve any of it. I don’t have hope because I believe things will get better in life. I have hope because Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. I have hope because I’m never abandoned by the One who made me. I have hope because He’s been beyond faithful in my life even when I’ve waivered in my faith. My hope is founded on Him, not my circumstances, past, present, or future.
Hope is that light at the end of every tunnel whether we think we see it or not. If you’ve been grasping for just a glimpse of that light, yet feel lost in an endless dark tunnel, look no further than the cross. Look to the Son hanging for our transgressions, touch the scares of His nail-driven hands, and absorb the love that it represents. In times when life is the most difficult, stop and pray. Realize that Christ faced all the hardships that this world can dish out and He has overcome the world. And more importantly, He did it for you. So that you will always have a hope so solid that it can never be broken. Let us not waver but be forever hopeful in the promises God has given us. Let us seek Him out and be renewed in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Let us not give up on Him, for He never gives up on us.
Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the LORD.