We Forgot to Bring Bread

In Mark 8:1-10 Jesus performs his second feeding miracle.  Here he is moved by compassion for the crowd and feeds them with a few loaves of bread and some fish.  Like before, he blesses the food and breaks it and his disciples distribute it.  There are several things that can be taken from this narrative, but I want to focus on one simple truth that I was confronted with today.

Having twice seen Jesus feed the multitudes with a few loaves and fish you would think the disciples would never again worry about food.  Yet in verse 13 we see them loading a boat for a trip to Bethsaida.  They forgot to bring bread and only had one loaf to feed them all on the trip (vs. 14).  They become concerned about this lack of bread and Jesus overhears them discussing it among themselves (vs.16).  Here is how Jesus responds:

“Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” Mark 8:17-21 (ESV)

When I read this I found myself irritated with the disciples.  How could they be worried about food when they had seen Jesus miraculously feed thousands of people twice? Certainly Jesus could feed twelve men!  As I thought this, the Spirit of God gently reminded me that I don’t understand either.

For 10 years I have seen the Lord provide for my family and for Living Bread Ministries in ways that I could not imagine.  More specifically we just witnessed the Lord provide over $60,000 of the $150,000 we need to operate and expand in 2014.  Yet like the disciples, who were focused on the one loaf they had rather than how Jesus had provided before, I often focus on my current circumstances rather than a long history of deliverance and provision.  Too often, I just do not understand!

Service: The Way of Thriving in the Kingdom

In Mark 10:35-45 Jesus explains to His disciples how His kingdom is different from the World.  He calls His followers to lives of service because of and empowered by His service on their behalf.

 

The Mission of the Church – Luke 9:1-6

This is a message I recently shared on Luke 9:1-6.  In this passage Jesus is giving the new humanity, the Church, their creation mandate just as God commissioned Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:26-28.  For this reason this passage has significant implications on missiology.

 

Why Worry? Luke 12:22-34

In a culture paralyzed by fear and worry the idea that we can live a life free from the bondage of worry is a foreign concept.  Yet, Jesus says we have no need to worry because our Father desires to give us the kingdom.

Why Worry? – Luke 12:22-34

(Due to a technical error the audio for the first few minutes is low so you will need to turn up the volume.)

Portrait of a Christian

What does a Christian look like?  This is a question all of us must answer as we seek to follow Christ.  The short answer of course is we are to look like Jesus.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29).  In Jesus, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us ( John 1:14).  He manifested himself to us and revealed his image, thus showing us what our lives as Christians should look like.

He made himself our model (John 13:34-35, 20:21).  However, it is often hard to translate the life of Christ into our context.  Recently I was reading a biography on John Wesley, who is one of my heroes in the faith.  While I disagree with him on some secondary issues of theology I greatly respect him as a practical theologian.  As such, he was very much concerned with living out what we believe.

In light of this, the book I was reading dedicated the entire first chapter to a tract that Wesley had written in the mid 1700s which I have found to be exceedingly relevant today.  It is entitled The Character of a Methodist.  The term Methodist was given to the group Wesley founded as a derogatory name mocking the methodical way in which they approached life and Bible study.  Thus Wesley is not writing a denominational statement, but is simply making it clear that a Methodist, indeed all Christians should look like Jesus.

I encourage you to read this tract and meditate on what it really means to be conformed to the image of Christ.

Why must I join a local church?

When we come to know Christ as Lord and Savior we become a child of God.  As such we are members of the body of Christ, part of the temple of the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s bride (Rom 12:4-5, 1 Cor 12:12-13, 27, Eph 3:6, 4:4-6, 11-16, Col 1:18, 1 Peter 2:4-5, Rev 21:9).  Each of these descriptions of the Church describe it in its global corporate sense.  In truth there is only one church of Christ.  Every true believer is a member of the Church and therefore is united to Christ and to one another.  As members of the body (the Church) we each have a function which contributes to the whole; just as each member of the human body contributes to its proper functioning.  We have been gifted by the Holy Spirit to fulfill our function within the body of Christ and thus contribute to the work of the whole.  So, if we are members of the Church and function within it, why must we join a church?

Many people have this mindset.  They love Christ and even the global Church, but they have marginalized the local church.  Likewise many have exalted their local church and seemingly divorced it from the global Church.  Both of these practices are unbiblical.  There is only one church, but there are many local expressions of it.  Just as each individual believer is one contributing member of the body of Christ, likewise each local expression of the church is contributing to the work of the whole.

The local church is the expression of the body of Christ in a given community.  It does not replace the global church nor become more significant than the global church, but it is how the global church is expressed and represented in that community.  We cannot function in the body of Christ and willfully bypass the local church anymore than the foot can function in the human body and bypass the leg.  If the local church is the local expression of the body of Christ, then our membership in the body necessitates membership in its local expression.

In our present state it is impossible for the global church to gather together for worship, yet the writer of Hebrews says its essential for the stirring up of love and good works both of which the Church is called to (Heb 10:25).  One day the Church (the full body of Christ) will gather together to worship Christ (Rev 19:6-8); however, until that day we each gather in our local churches to worship Christ and encourage one another to love and good works.  More than simply gathering to worship and encouraging one another we must be members of a local church.

Membership involves commitment and accountability.  Culturally we are individualistic and value our privacy.  Thus, we want to avoid the commitment and vulnerability that biblical church membership requires.  We like the idea of being part of a global entity that is distant with no perceived tangible involvement in our lives.  A local expression that requires things from us and holds us accountable is undesirable for many of us.  However, our role as members in the body of Christ cannot properly be fulfilled apart from the local expression of the body, that is the local church.

Serving God by Serving Man

I am a very self-centered person.  I desire my own comfort and happiness.  Quite often I will go to any length to accomplish something that I want for myself.  I will endure hardship and overcome great obstacles when it benefits me.  I am always willing to serve myself.  Yet, when it comes to helping someone else, I am not always willing to work as hard to be inconvenienced.  We all have a self problem.

This may shock you, but when we serve self we are actually serving Satan.  There is a cosmic battle underway between almighty God and his enemy, Satan.  In the Scriptures we see two adversarial kingdoms.  We can either align ourselves with Christ and his Kingdom, or Satan and the World.  Satan is indeed the ruler of the kingdom of the world as seen in Eph 2:2 where, in reference to the world system he is referred to as the “prince of the power of the air.”

When we love the world and thus it’s ruler we are in opposition to God and his kingdom and therefore, make ourselves enemies of God.

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

If loving the world makes us an enemy of God then it is important that we understand what loving the world is.  Look at how the Apostle John describes love of the world.

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

John describes love of the world as simply the love of self and it is a testimony to the fact that the love of God and his kingdom are absent in a person’s life.

Our self-love reveals that we reject the Lord’s kingdom and have aligned ourselves with the rule of his enemy.  Just a few examples from scripture are needed to make this point.  Jesus says:

23 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23-25)

Jesus makes it clear that an unwillingness to deny self is synonymous with man’s desire to cling to the kingdom of the world.  This is futile because the one who seeks to preserve his life in the world, will ultimately lose it when Christ establishes his kingdom in its fullness.  The one who loves himself loves the world, but the one who denies himself loves the Lord and his kingdom.

Earlier I mentioned Ephesians 2.  In this passage Paul likewise equates love of self with love of the world.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph 2:1-3)

Prior to being reconciled to God each of us were actively following the course of the world in submission to its ruler.  We lived in and pursed the kingdom of the world with the result that we lived in the passions of our flesh carrying out the desires of the body and mind.  We were lovers of self!  As a result we were children of wrath; enemies of God.

In Romans 12, Paul urges followers of Christ to no longer be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

What does this non-conformity to the world look like?  It’s simply the denial of self as an act of worship to God.  By deduction we conclude that the love of self is the result of conformity with the world.  Loving self communicates alignment with the world, while the act of self-denial communicates that the believer has been transformed and changed his allegiance to the kingdom of God.

It is clear that when we practice the love of self we are aligning ourselves with the kingdom of the world and serving Satan.  It is equally true that when we deny self and love others we are aligning ourselves with the kingdom of God and serving God.  This can also be illustrated with a few examples from scripture.

In Mark 10 Jesus gives a very clear example of serving God by serving man.  While the disciples were fighting for prominent positions in the kingdom of God, Jesus pointed to his own humble service to man as the model of kingdom life.

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”… 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-37, 41-45)

Having just heard Jesus foretell his death, James and John could only ask the Lord to guarantee them the most prominent spots in his coming kingdom.  The other ten disciples are infuriated by this not because John and James asked, but because they asked first!

In rebuke, Jesus points out how the kingdom of the world operates; it’s rulers lord over those they lead.  This is not the case in the kingdom of God.  To the contrary the leaders in Christ’s kingdom humbly serve those they lead.  They become their slaves.  This principle is illustrated in that the incarnate Son of God came not to be served but to serve and his service is defined by the cross.

By serving man Christ was also serving God.  His atoning death on the cross was service to man in that it allowed us to be reconciled to God.  However, it was also service to God because it was the Father’s will for Christ to die in our place as a ransom.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;…. (Isaiah 53:10)

This is a great kingdom principle.  Christ’s service to man in obedience to the will of God demonstrated his love for the Father.  He served the Father by serving man.

Love of God and love of neighbor are so interconnected that they cannot be separated.  When asked what was the greatest single commandment in the Law Jesus refused to give only one.  Instead he forever connected service to man and service to God.

37 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:37-40)

The Law and Prophets were summed up in love for God and love for neighbor.  You simply cannot love God without loving your neighbor; nor can you serve God without serving your neighbor.

The Apostle John likewise connects love for neighbor with love for God.  This is seen in his First Epistle.

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. (1 John 5:2)

In other words we love our neighbor when we love God.  Like Jesus, John joins love of God and love of neighbor together in such a way that they cannot be separated and he defines love by the self-denial of the cross.

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

The motivation of our self-denying love for one another is that Jesus denied himself and laid down his life for us.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:9-11)

Likewise, the Father sacrificially demonstrated his love for us by sending his son to die for our sins.  Again, the self-denying love of God seen in the gospel is our motivation to love God and our neighbor.

It is clear that for Jesus and John the love of God is directly connected to our love for our neighbor.  It is equally true that love is defined as the sacrificial denial of self.  Thus, for the Christian, we serve God when we align ourselves with his kingdom by denying self and sacrificially serving our neighbor in obedience to the commands of God.

This is of course a problem for all of us, because as we have already seen, we have a self problem.  Paul described every one of us when he was writing to Timothy.

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power… (2 Timothy 3:2-5)

Paul could easily have been referring to me in this passage.  I am guilty as charged, we all are!  What’s the answer?  Work harder?  Be nicer?  We can’t do that; we love ourselves too much!  The solution has already been discussed.

It’s the self-denying love of Christ that transforms us from serving self and Satan to serving others and God.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Romans 6:3-8)

In the gospel, when we repent of our sin and place our faith in Christ we identify with his death.  Our old self is crucified with Christ and a new self is raised with him to walk in a new way; a way that is transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Our new life, like the life of Christ, is marked by self-denial and service to God that is fleshed out in humble service to man.