Sunday, June 30, 2013

You Have What It Takes

For the past few days, I have been reading about one of Jesus' many miracles - the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. It is interesting to note that this miracle is perhaps one of the most popular ones in Jesus' days. Little wonder all the four gospels documented it. Apart from this, it was perhaps one of his miracles that affected the most number of people - five thousand men, apart from women and children. If the data comparing the ratio of men to women in "spiritual" gathering is anything to go by, then we would be counting > 10,000 people present at this meeting.

Let's take a closer look at what happened here, and lessons to learn from it, especially in these times.

The disciples had just returned from a very successful evangelistic outreach. The master gave them power before the task, and they exercised this successfully - healing the sick and preaching the good news. Jesus took them aside into a solitary place when they returned back. However, the crowd got wind of this, and followed them. In fact, one of the gospels said that the crowd went ahead of them to the other side. But this wasn't the problem. They had an exhausted and a hungry crowd, who needed food, and needed it fast. The 1st problem they had was that they were in the desert, a solitary place - in the middle of nowhere. No shelter. No kiosks. No supermarkets. No hotels. Just in the middle of nowhere. Add this to the fact that it was already getting dark. It was already late evening, and they didn't have much time to come up with a very detailed and well thought out plan or solution. You can guess they were running out of time and of ideas too. The disciples were very concerned. How would they handle such a crowd? How much would they have to spend to feed them? I can imagine Peter asking the accountant how much was left in the purse. Hear Philip already advising "two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them all to have just a bite". Andrew, perhaps with the optimism that was as a result of the successful evangelistic outreach then opined "there is a little boy here with five barley loaves and two fishes, but that's a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this". In one sentence, he gave an idea and seems to kill the same idea he gave. This was the situation before Jesus stepped in, performed His most popular miracle, and left us with great lessons to glean from. May I share some of these with you?

1. The easiest way out is not always the best way out

After all the initial permutations and analysis, the disciples came up with a verdict - send the people away, to nearby villages and towns, where they can get something to eat, and places to sleep. It seemed a pretty good idea, didn't it? "Let's not take responsibility for them". “We don't have what it takes to solve their problem". Let's just take the easy way out - send them away. After all, they won't blame us if we do. They would know we care for their safety and for their belly. Jesus however would not have that. He was not one to shy away from a challenge. He would never send anyone away empty handed. “You give them something to eat", he instructed His disciples. The easy way out of a problem is not always the best solution. Imagine if the crowd had been dismissed, we would have missed the record of this miracle and the lessons from it. What challenges are you facing at the moment? May I encourage you not to just take the easy way out? Don't give up on yourself and on your dreams because of the prevailing obstacles. Don't run away from a problem, thinking that would solve it. Face it head on, and trust God to give you the wisdom to address it. Don't compromise on your integrity just to get that job! You don't have to secure that contract by doing what everyone else is doing. You don't have to sleep with a guy just to prove that you love him, and get him to marry you. Hold yourself to high standards. Don't take the easy way out - it is often the loser’s way.

2. Break it down

Jesus taught another very powerful principle here - break it down to small chunks. He told his disciples “Make them sit down in groups of fifties". Why would he say this? Couldn't He go ahead and feed the > 5,000 people all at once? I am sure he could have. Here, he was showing us how to break down our “big" problems into smaller chunks. He was confirming the saying that the easiest way to eat an elephant is one piece at a time. I believe that whatever Jesus asked the disciples to do in this story, he wanted them to test it with a group of 50 first, learn what works and what doesn't work, and improve as they go to another set of 50.

Recently, I was leading a discussion in a large group. In order to make it participative, we broke down the group into 4, and each group had to rotate through different booths to learn different things. I must confess that the 1st group we handled was very clumsy and almost a disaster. We had planned how the session would go to the finest detail. However, we were just testing all my plans with this group. It didn't go that well, even in our own estimation. By the time the 2nd group came, we had removed all the things that didn't work with the 1st group and came up with a refined way of passing the message. By the time we were handling the 4th group, it was a blast and it became a discussion point for the rest of the meeting. I believe this was what Jesus was trying to teach here. Break it down. Attack your problems in phases. Don't be overwhelmed by the sheer weight and size of your issue. If you break it down to simpler bits then, your "big" problem would be easier to solve. If you see that ladder as individual rungs, climbing won't be that tough.

I would share 2 more lessons I learnt in my next post. Until then, stay fit in Him!

Friday, June 21, 2013

God's Hall Of Fame II

I mentioned something that I hope you didn't miss in my last post. It is very common to hear comments about church services, bible studies and prayer meetings. " service was awesome today", " we really felt God's presence", and all these are common phrases used by Christians to qualify what they felt. My question was (and still is), when last did God said "that was good" after your worship? When last did he derive so much pleasure from your worship that He wished it would never end?May I suggest to you that God's favorite services are not the same as ours? Too many times, we come to God's presence only to get something from Him, and not to minster to Him. Psalm 103:1 still reads " Bless the Lord, O my soul" - but we often practice, " O my Lord, bless my soul". I believe this was what happened to Enoch in the Old testament. "And Enoch walked with God and he was not". Awesome isn't it? God so much enjoyed fellowship with this individual and they "gisted" so much until Enoch practically walked into heaven! May I tell you that God is still in search of such intimacy today?

When last did God said "that was good" after your worship?
 What qualifies people for God's hall of fame is not riches. It is not affluence. It has nothing to do with how many spiritual titles you bear or carry. It has nothing to do with how many years you have been serving the Lord. It is simply a heart of worship - a heart that is ready to pour itself out on the master with reckless abandon. It is a heart that is more interested in anointing the master, rather than looking for his anointing. I remember how much I sought for "the anointing" when I was growing up as a young Christian - several days of fasting and prayer, of waiting in God's presence and all that. There is nothing wrong with that by all means. However, little did I realize that God is also interested in anointers. He is interested in "being anointed". He is looking for those who will anoint Him in worship. This is what Mary Madgalene did that won her a place in God's hall of fame.

In Marks gospel, Chapter 14 and starting from verse 6, we are again introduced to the story of a true worshiper. She had earlier anointed the feet of Jesus in Simon's house (read the 1st part in my previous note), and was back to anoint Jesus shortly before His death. In this account, we were told she poured all the oil on the masters head. I don't want to get into the theology of whether the 2 accounts are one and the same or not. The point here is this - while others were with the Master for what they could get, a true worshiper was with Him for what she could give. We see Mary again, breaking her alabaster box and pouring out all it's content on the master. Interestingly enough, she got a lot of knocks for what she did from everyone present, including the disciples, except from someone - the master Himself, who was enjoying Her worship and taking pleasure in it. Their reaction to Mary's worship is worthy of mention - they were furious, indignant, and very angry. I do not know why. Isn't it the same today as it was then? True worshipers are labeled as wasters! In this busy and fast paced world, who wants to "waste time" worshiping, when you can use the time to be a blessing to the poor and minister to the needs of others? Wouldn't you rather minister to the masters needs? Think about that. The Masters reaction was quite different. He said " Why are you giving this woman a hard time? She has just done something wonderfully significant for me.........You can be sure that wherever in the world this message is preached , what she has just done is going to be remembered and admired." Need I say anything more?

The point here is this - while others were with the Master for what they could get, a true worshiper was with Him for what she could give.
 Even when the master was already dead and buried in the tomb, the story of a worshiper still continues! Mary still longed to anoint Jesus's body after he was long gone. This proves to us that she wasn't really after what she would get from this. The master couldn't do anything again now. All the others had long gone back to their homes and back to their work. But not a worshiper. Oh, the love of an anointer. I believe Jesus was really touched by this that He had to stop one more time to address this worshiper. He came so close to Mary that he had to warn her not to touch Him. The anointer was the last to leave Calvary and the 1st to arrive at the tomb. Again, when last did you have such an encounter with God? When last did you leave his presence, and God would be looking forward to you returning again for more?

Can we stop chasing shadows and focus on our true reason for existing - for He created us to worship Him. Are you a worshiper?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

God's Hall Of Fame

What qualifies people to enter the hall of fame? The answer to this question lies on who is giving the answer.

To enter into the world's hall of fame, the answer seems pretty obvious - wealth, beauty, royalty, a good name, prestige and many more such things. With God, the yardstick is very different! God's definition of a hero is way different from ours. The hall-of-fame in God's kingdom has nothing to do with all I have mentioned above. It rather has everything to do with touching God's heart. In God's hall of fame, you would see the uncommon and "unworthy names" like that of Mary Magdalene, the street girl, who touched His heart.

Now I assure you that wherever this gospel is preached all over the world, what she has done would be told in memory of her.  Matthew 26: 13
 Isn't that quite interesting? I have been reading the story of this woman from the different books of the Bible, and from 2 other Christian literatures in the last couple of days, and with each passing day, I am realizing how much there is to learn from her. There were 3 different accounts of her either anointing the Lord Jesus or attempting to do so (after His death and burial ). In all the accounts, one thing is certain - this was a woman who didn't give a hoot about what others thought about her. All she cared about was her worship to the master. She stooped low, gave her all - her worship, and in the process commanded heavens attention. In the midst of all the Pharisees ( the religious leaders of her days) and the 12 disciples ( the Deacons, the Pastors and Bishops), her worship of the master came up for special mention, so much so that she entered into heavens hall of fame, while the others watched on!

In Luke 7, Apostle Luke detailed the 1st account of this woman. She must have gate crashed this party. She was definitely not invited, and for sure, not welcome. A certain Pharisee, Simon, had invited Jesus over to his house for dinner and Jesus obliged. Everyone in town knew Simon. He was a good man, religious, and upwardly mobile. Everyone also knew Mary- the popular street girl, the prostitute. No one certainly expected her at such an event. Somehow she got in, and gave us the opportunity to learn a very big lesson.

I have been wondering how Simon, being a Pharisee who pays a lot of attention to outward appearance, missed washing Jesus's feet. If not for Jesus' sake, I thought he would have done that out of religious courtesy, or out of a need to keep his rugs and carpets clean! Somehow he didn't and no one seemed to care. No one, except Mary. I am sure there would have been at least 12 other persons there (if all the disciples were present), but no one cared. There were carried away by other matters. I suppose that Simon got a little worried on sighting Mary. " How on earth did this woman get in here? Who allowed her in?" he must have been asking.

Mary came to the party with a box, an alabaster box. It was probably her most priced possession. She decided to do what Simon didn't do. She washed the masters feet with her tears, dried them with her hair (which is her glory) and anointed it with her most priced possession. In simple terms, she emptied herself on Him. She gave Him real worship. She poured herself on the master, not minding who was watching or who wasn't.

Make no mistake, it took humility and brokenness for Mary to wipe the Lord's feet with her hair. If you understand that in Jesus' time, open sandals were commonly used, and most travelers in Israel shared the same roads with Camels, Horses and Donkeys, then, you will begin the appreciate her gesture more. What a picture of humble worship Mary provides.

When last have you worshipped the master with reckless abandon - without being all together and politically correct? When last has your worship brought the master so much satisfaction? When last has God said " that was good" after your worship? Little wonder why the master dismissed Mary, forgiving her of her many sins, and saying " Your faith has saved you ; go in peace " .