The Jesus Factor

On Sunday I listened to a sermon from my pastor that truly moved me. It is about a subject that is very near to my heart. For that reason I am posting a copy here without comments. Please take the time to read it. You will be enriched by its message. It is kind of long (most clergymen are long winded aren’t they?) but it is worth the read. 🙂  Thank you Pastor for allowing me to post it on this blog. Here it is:

 You can’t help but be awed at this gracious outpouring of compassion from the Lord. Conservatively, Jesus fed at least 10,000 men, women and children that day. The bread of life eternal supplied bread and fish for all; not just a tidbit for each, but he satiated the hunger pains and they were all filled. A vast crowd, yet not one is left unfed. What a symbol of the sufficiency of Divine provision for those in need. Superabundant provision, more than enough, twelve baskets left over. How royally and munificently the Lord of all provides for his dependant children!

Bbbring! The phone stirred me from a quiet meditation on God’s great mercy and goodness. After I said my hello the voice on the other end said “Uh, hi ,I’m calling all the churches. See, about seven weeks ago, I was injured on the job. I ruptured two discs in my back and am now unable to work. My five kids, wife and I are in dire straits. Our savings are gone, and for some reason, the company is refusing to pay disability. They won’t talk to me, so I have to hire a lawyer to get funds.”

“I called the local homeless shelter and they had seven, seven, individual diapers lying around, to give us. That will last about two hours with my little ones. Our cupboards are bare, and I mean bare, and we don’t know what to do. We’re good Christian people, and are just asking if you can help us at all.”

“Well,” I replied hesitantly, because I knew that he wasn’t going to like my response any more than I was, “we’re a small church and we don’t have any funds available to help, and I don’t know where else you can turn to for help,” I answered, almost apologetically.

“Do you have any members that you can call that they might be willing to give us something?” he asked. Ok, that raised my hackles a bit, that he would ask such a thing. “No, I don’t. I’m sorry. The best I can think of is to call the Crisis Pregnancy Center; they may be able to supply you some diapers.” I hung up and said a little prayer that the Lord would help them out.

Now, where was I? Oh yes. Back to contemplating the great goodness of the Lord. “How royally and munificently the Lord of all provides for his dependant children,” the commentary said about the feeding of the five thousand. Funny, somehow something’s changed, I realized. Before I was about to fall on my knees in humble adoration at the Lord’s bounty. After that phone call, though, I wanted to tear out the page and rip it up. Here was a family in need and where was the Lord’s abundant provision? In fact, every week, I hear such pleas for the Lord’s help. Where’s the Lord when loaves and fish need multiplying now?

And worse yet, I thought about my stuffed cupboards, my full pantry, my freezer stocked with meat. And felt guilty. Oh, is that the leftover baskets of food? Is that where that family’s needs are to be found?

And I also thought about the five dollars I had in my wallet, and the savings and checking account balances. I thought about how well I have it, never having to beg and wonder where the next meal is going to come from. I thought about the aisle after long aisle at the grocery stores in the area, all that food, and it was all out of reach.

Why me, and not them, Lord? Or better, why not me instead of them? I could have told that man, that man who had to swallow every ounce of pride left in him not only as a man and husband and loving father, but as a human being, I could have told him to come over and I’d give him what I had on hand. Wouldn’t have done much good, though.

And I also thought about the trash I had taken out last week. A trash bag that had leftover food in it, food from a plate full that I couldn’t eat all of, so I threw it away. Every time, literally, every time I turn on the faucet and wait for the water to turn hot, I think about people that are dying of thirst and watch all that water going down the drain. How they might salivate over such waste! How they would beg and plead and maybe even kiss my feet if I would let them have a drink of the water.

I know you’ve experienced similar. You walk out of the restaurant and there, on the corner, is a guy with a cardboard sign that says, “Need help. Anything will do. God bless.” Or you’re heading to the grocery store to add to the already overabundant stock pile of food you have and you see him standing there, torn clothes, scruffy beard, and a sign that says, “Vet in need of food.” And I know what you think, because it’s the same thoughts we all have. Am I supposed to help everyone? And how much are we to help? And if we don’t give to everyone, is that a sin? We quickly remember the parable of the sheep and goats and how Jesus says that whenever you feed or clothe or visit someone, you are doing it to Jesus and that just brings on tons more guilt.

There they are, all those people on that mountainside that day, more than live in the our two local adjoining towns combined. And there they are, the twelve, and there it is, the proverbial golden opportunity to help those in need, practically a set up if you ever saw one. Hmmm. Are those guys on the street corner and those phone calls the church receives the same kind of set-up? There seems to be some concern on the part of the disciples about the crowd’s well being, as they ask Jesus to send them away so they can eat. Just like us. You have to be a zombie not to feel some amount of compassion and concern. And as we pass them by, we whisper a prayer that the Lord will give send them away to find something to eat.

Jesus’ response must have floored them. They must have stood there with that dumbfounded, blank stare face. It’s the same thing we hear yelled at us from our guilty consciences when we see the homeless or destitute or hear about those who have lost jobs, homes, everything in recent times. The same words from the same Lord, “You give them something to eat.”

And how ironic that the disciples’ reply, which in some ways, sounded a lot like a snide remark, is so close to what we reply, may be not vocally, but we’re thinking it just the same when crowds of needy people invade our sight. “We can’t.” Why does Jesus expect them to feed the crowd? It makes no sense, because he has deliberately brought them to this place, to be by themselves and rest. Now, he expects them to do more?

But the question that really strikes at our sensibilities and bothers us to no end is: If God provides for all the needs of his children “royally and munificently,” then why are there so many in need? Is someone being selfish, hoarding more than they need? Or lots of someones? And the only conclusion we can come to when we see people in need is that we are the selfish. We feel extreme guilt because we have and they do not.

The disciples gave up what they had, the five loaves and two fish. And if we read from John’s Gospel, it wasn’t even theirs. A little boy had it. That meager supply may have been enough to feed the disciples for a meal, and to give that up was truly a sacrifice. Did they give it up grudgingly? Did Jesus have to practically yank it out of their hands, so tight was their grip of survival instinct?

Really, just what exactly is sacrificial giving? And so often, when we do give, the thought that crosses our minds is that it is not enough. Sure, I could have given that guy $20 for diapers, which would have lasted him a few days at most. But it would have done little to solve his long-term financial woes. Sadly, even if I could have given him more, he needed more than I could possibly give.

Sometimes, we don’t give because we don’t have anything to give, because we too are in need. Sometimes, we don’t give because we think it’s a scam. Is that guy on the street corner really out of a job or has he found a way to make a living feeding on others’ pity? At other times, we don’t give because we have been careless and wasted the blessings of God on foolish things and are in debt up to our eyeballs. Or we just use the same tired old excuses: I gave at the office. Or, here’s my church offering, that’s all I’ve got left. How much does God expect us to give anyway?

In order to find some satisfactory answers and fully understand this miraculous feeding, we need to look ahead a couple of chapters in Mark’s Gospel. Sometime after the second miraculous feeding Jesus does, for four thousand this time, the disciples are off in a boat and realize they don’t have much bread. You can just about imagine what they were thinking too. Maybe Jesus will make bread and fish appear for us again.

But Jesus uses the situation to warn them about the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod. As if that was even on their mind. Typical of their response, they think he’s upset because they don’t have enough bread. Bad stewards. Careless decisions. Oh that’s us alright.

But then, after they have discussed his comments among themselves, and surmise that yes indeed, Jesus is hungry and we don’t have a thing to give him, Jesus asked them, “Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?”

It’s not about bread, Jesus says. It’s not about feeding the hungry. It’s not about how much you give or don’t give. His final question, after reminding them of the finale of the miraculous feedings, the leftovers, was this: “Do you still not understand?” These two unique feedings are indicative of something far more serious, far more life-changing, of more eternal worth than just food.

Like a tired refrain, his unspoken answer is: It’s about Jesus. With the multiplication of bread and fish, everyone should have gotten the clear message Jesus was sending. He was in fact God in the flesh. For only God was able to give supernatural food and make a little go a long ways. Only Jesus is the true bread of life.

All we have is from the Lord’s generous hand. We know that. While we may want to claim some part in obtaining things we need, daily bread is not always a miracle, but always from God’s gracious economy. The ability to labor in the fields to gather the food is from the Lord. The seed is from God. The earth that receives the seed is from God’s creative hand. All that we are and all that we have is from the Lord. With thanksgiving and praise, we acknowledge with all humility that our whole lives depend on God’s goodness and mercy.

Your heavenly Father knows what you need even before you ask for it. But in the asking, we exercise faith that recognizes that our lives depend on God’s great goodness. Every gift calls us to look to the great Giver. With every gift, we acknowledge the creator of all good things, and for every gift we give our heartfelt thanks to God.

Will God refuse to give us who ask of him in faith? “He that did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also freely give us all things?” That’s where Jesus was leading the crowd and his disciples. That’s where He is leading us today. And it’s all about more than just food.

The real miracle of supply is found in the suffering and death of Jesus. One man’s blood was shed for all of humanity’s sin. One man’s death is the complete payment for your sin, and for my sin. It’s math God’s way. With that one sacrifice, God gave his best and the whole world was fed and completely satisfied. Our hungry souls are satiated with his righteousness. Our thirsty lives are filled to overflowing with living waters. The bread of life, the fountain of forgiveness, is the one source of all that we truly need.

And there’s really something else here. It’s what we might call “The Jesus factor.” Because of Jesus’ love shown to us, because the Spirit lives in us, we desire to help those in need. Sure, we sometimes fight our selfish sinful nature that wants to hoard all that we have. But to God’s credit, we overcome that inclination and give to those who are hungry, thirsty, naked or in prison, and in need.

And here’s where the Jesus factor comes in. Maybe you can only give a dollar or two. Maybe you can’t give money at all, but your energies in volunteering. Maybe you are strapped for time and all you can do is pray. That may not seem like much. You may think that one measly dollar is not going to help anyone, let alone save a life. You may say to yourself that your one hour at the food bank will not do anything to really help those starving and homeless.

But when all those dollars are gathered together, God does something truly miraculous. He adds in Jesus. And your one dollar or your one hour or your one prayer is magnified. Your baby bottle of change, maybe only half full, given in prayer and with thanksgiving for what God has blessed you with, is multiplied. Your one dollar becomes $1500 that goes to a place where lives are saved every day. Sure, a life is worth far more than a dollar. Oh, but look what God can do with even a dollar, when he adds in the Jesus factor.

Though five loaves and two fish would barely be sufficient to feed thirteen hungry men, Jesus still says, “Bring it to me.” At once it is given up, even though it appeared to be ridiculously insufficient to meet the great need of the crowd. Yet even that small gift, those puny loaves and few fish, a great sacrifice from others, was with the Lord’s blessing, made enough for all. More than enough. With leftovers.

While we might suppose that our one little gift, which may indeed be our sacrificial giving, is barely enough to make a dent, God can blast a huge hole. We might even be afraid that God might scoff at our small offering, as He knows what we really have. But God mocks no gift given in love and faith, no matter how small, how inconsequential.

Whether we give of our time, talents or treasures, whatever meager gift we bring, though it be inadequate for the world’s necessities and for those who cry out to us for help, Christ still invites us to “Bring it to him.” For God always uses what we give to him in praise and thanksgiving for the greatest good. And all because the Father adds in the Jesus factor.

You know it’s worked in your life. Every one of us as God’s dear children can attest to miraculous events in our own lives. Remember the gentle way the Father has led you through wildernesses of suffering, pain and setback. Remember the gracious revelations that God has given you through His Word that have increased your faith. Remember all the sins that our Father in heaven has forgiven you for Christ’s sake. Look and see how the Jesus factor has made an impact in your life.

The next time you give, remember the Jesus factor. Whatever we offer, let us it offer in faith and trust that God will use it and make it beneficial to as many as possible. Do not think that your offering is unimportant or not of use to the Lord. Do not think that God cannot use whatever you give for his glory and to help those in need. Always expect to behold how God can make one small gift turn into a great and glorious gift.

And above all else, consider each day how much the Lord has given to you. Consider what manner the Love the Father has lavished upon you. He has called you by his grace, he has bestowed upon you the inheritance of heaven, and he has brought you into his glorious light. And maybe that was all because of someone’s quarter dropped in the offering plate. What marvelous things God can do with such inconsequential offerings! Amen.

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