Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Good News for Hard Times Week 3: Jesus Feeds 5,000

The other day I was keeping my granddaughter Olivia.  Livie is 1 1/2 and she is chattering away these days.  Last week her favorite word was "bus" but on this day, she keep jabbering to me, "slibdobydbowzidazzd...cups."  I was doing the dishes and she was playing in her stand-up station thingy and she would say, "dkshvocidncbyd..cups!"

At lunch, Livie was sitting in her Bumbo eating cheese and she kept pointing towards the pantry and asking, "cbobodywoeibyzzz cups?"  And I would say, "Yes, we have cups."  And I would bring her a cup from the pantry.

When her mother picked her up, I said, "What's the deal with cups?" and Arley said, "Oh, she was saying 'grapes'!"

Great.  All day Livie was asking, "Do you have any grapes?" and I was answering "Yes, we have cups!"

Later I thought about when Jesus said:

If your child asks you for bread, do you give him a stone?  
If he asks for fish, do you give him a snake?  
If you know how to give good things to your children, 
don't you think your heavenly Father can do even better?

I think many times I am busy blabbering to God about grapes and I'm a little astounded when he gives me cups.

Like one time, when we were first married, and we lived far from home, we were running really tight on money.  And I was worried about having groceries.  And I kept going around our little duplex blabbering to God that we needed more money.

There was a knock at the door, and it was our neighbors, standing there with grocery sacks.

"Hey, we're going out of town," they said.  "And we had to clean out our fridge.  Could you use these?"

I had spent all day blabbering, "!" when God knew that what I needed was food.

This week's Bible story is about God providing food.  In an astounding display of power to provide, Jesus feeds over 5,000 men, plus their women and children, with only five loaves and two fish to work with.

This is one of the only stories told in all four gospels.  Apparently all four of them thought it told us something that we must know about Jesus.

If I was telling you this story in our Wednesday Bible study, I would ask you:  What does this story tell you about Jesus?

There is a conversation in this story that I never knew existed until I began learning to tell it this week:

Now it was evening, and they were a long way off from any village.
Jesus asked Philip, "Where shall we get food to feed these people?"
He said this to stretch Philip's faith.  He already knew what he was going to do.

He already knew what he was going to do.  He wasn't worried about how much money they had or fish or bread or where the nearest store was.  He already knew what he was going to do.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurable more
than we could dare to ask or imagine
according to his power at work -
to him be glory!
-Ephesians 2:20-21

Later in the story, Jesus has a conversation with the people about this miracle, in which he says, "You come to me because you want your stomachs filled: bread.  But I can give you life forever: Bread."

"Your heavenly Father knows what you need," Jesus had told the people.

It is so much more than we know to ask for.

Click here to listen to the story and learn it.  

Who will you tell this story to?

Some notes for further study:

1.  What do my listeners not know about Jesus?
All four gospel writers tell this story, but not in the same way.  Each gospel writer had a different audience, or "people group", to whom they were telling the good news of Jesus.  When we tell a story, we must look at the people we are telling the story to.  What do they believe about the world?  About how life works?  About God?  What are their needs and challenges?  What are their greatest values?  And then we ask ourselves, What do they not know about God that this story tells them?  That's how we decide what details are important to include.  All the gospel writers got the main thing about Jesus consistent in this story.

2.  What are barriers in this story?
In John's account of this story, John says that Jesus asked Philip, "How will we get food for all these people?"  John says he asked Philip this to stretch Philip's faith, because Jesus already knew what he was going to do.  Your translation might say, "He said this to test Philip."  My Wednesday group didn't like this;  they didn't like the word "test."  For our demographic, a test is something you must get right.  you either pass or you fail.  Why would Jesus do that to Philip?  That's not consistent with Jesus' character.  So we look at what the word means and we read a lot of translations.  The Message translation, I feel, captures best the intent of the moment:  Jesus asked this to stretch Philip's faith - to see if he would use his faith in Jesus to think outside the box of what Philip could do and instead think of what he knew by now that Jesus could do.

When you tell a story, you have to consider words that might be barriers, that give people problems that really aren't in the story.  We never change the meaning of what is said.  But we try to avoid words that are cultural triggers for our listeners.

3.  What are bridges in this story?
The main thing, which every gospel writer told us, is that Jesus has compassion.  And he cares that we have physical needs met.  And he is able to provide—abundantly—for our physical needs!  The bridge to the gospel in this story is that everyone has needs.  They worry about not having enough.  They live out of a scarcity mentality and they worry because they think it's up to them to provide well.  Yes, even wealthy people in Williamson County worry about this.

Think about these things as you're learning and telling the story this week.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Good News for Hard Times Week 2: Worried about many things

Last week in Wednesday Bible study, we learned a story about being caught in a storm that comes from without. It was a story about being afraid.  This week, we learned a story about a storm that comes from within - the storm called "worry."

In this week's story, Jesus is at the home of Mary and Martha.  Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, but Martha is having a hard time with that because she is "distracted by the many preparations."  Finally she bursts out, "Lord! Don't you care? My sister has left me to do all the work! Tell her to help me!"

Martha's cry is so much like the cry of the disciples in the boat from last week's story:  "Lord!  Don't you care?"

But there's a big difference.  The disciples plead, "Save us!" Martha tells Jesus what to do.

In his letter to the believers at Philippi, Paul writes about the storm of worries:

Do not be anxious about anything, 
but in everything, by prayer & petition with thanksgiving,
present your requests to the Lord.
-Philippians 4:6

Paul doesn't say, "Present your instructions to the Lord."  He says, "Present your requests."

How does Jesus respond to taking instructions?

He says, "Martha, Martha, you are distracted and upset about many things.  But only one thing is essential, and Mary has chosen it."

Your version of the Bible might say, "You are worried about many things."  That word translated "worry" in English means divided or distracted.

Where is the "hard time" in this story?  It's the storm within Martha.  It's the tumult of being pulled in a thousand different directions, of not being able to quiet your heart or your mind, not being able to focus.  Sometimes it is the big storm of circumstances that swamps you, like in last week's story.  But more often, it is the storm of lots of little worries that consumes you and causes just as much anxiety.

I speak as an expert on this.  I am a black belt worrier.  The inside of my head is a big string ball of anxieties.  

You may ask, how can a person who studies the Bible and teaches it and writes about faith and seems for all the world to be a Mary be such a Martha?

The answer is that you have to remember the Big Story that this little story and every story fits into:  God vs. Satan.  If God created you and me for a relationship with him, the last thing his enemy wants us to do is enjoy that relationship.  And one of his chief tactics is to distract us.  With worries.  So he can tempt us with that same old question: "Don't you care?"

If he can get us off on our hamster wheel, churning over our worries, instead of talking to God - or better yet listening to God - then he has succeeded.  For now.

This isn't a story about whether hospitality is less important than discipleship.  It isn't even a story about hostessing.  Or women.  It's a good story for business people, for college students, for anybody with a To Do List that has taken over their life.

Paul goes on in Philippians to say this about the divided mind:

It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together, 
will come and settle you down.
- Philippians 4:7 The Message

Everybody worries.  Just today at lunch, after Bible study, our waitress was in tears because she was worried about something personal.  And we told her the story we had just learned about Martha.  She is a believer, but just like us, she'd gotten focused on the worries and not on Jesus.  Right before our eyes, we saw him settle her down. And it was wonderful.  I'm so thankful I was there to see it.  

I'm so thankful Luke preserved this little story for all of us worriers!  Today as we practiced telling it, some of us pretended to be Mary and some of us pretended to be Martha.  But the truth is, all of us are Marthas when it comes to being distracted by many things.

Click here to listen to this week's story and learn it.  You can read it in Luke 10:38-42.  

Who will you tell this story to?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Good News for Hard Times Week 1: Jesus Calms the Storm

I'm so happy that Wednesday Bible study is back this week.  This spring we are learning to tell six Bible stories about people going through hard times.

Sometimes when I find myself in a conversation with someone going through a really hard thing, I don't know what to say.  (I do NOT have the spiritual gift of mercy.)  I really want to fix their hard thing for them, but of course I can't.  So I just find myself saying, "I'm sorry."  "Gosh, I'm really sorry."  "I'm soooo sorry."

When I'm going through a hard thing, I really hate it when people tell me platitudes like, "You'll be stronger for it" or "God never gives us any more than we can handle."  That one's particularly not true.  Everything is more than we can handle.  I think that's kind of the point of the Bible, and why we need Jesus.

When I'm going through a hard thing, though, it does help to know that others have been through something hard.  It helps to know that they, too, were chickens or complainers or wondered if God cared at all about them, or if he was just busy with Africa right now.

This is one reason I love Bible storytelling.  I don't have to tell you how to feel or think.  I can just say, "Wow, that's like the time when this happened and God did that."  The most important thing I can tell you during a hard time is that you're not alone, and that this is what God is like and can do.

When we process a story together in our group, we think about these questions together:

  • What did you like about this story?
  • What bothered you or left you with questions?
  • What does this story tell you about God?
  • What does this story tell you about people?
  • What does this story tell you about how life with God works?
  • If this story is true, what do you need to do in response?
These are good questions to think about together, even if you and I are just having a conversation about your hard time or my hard time.

This week's story is about a hard time that comes up suddenly.  You know, those things that take you by complete surprise, you didn't see them coming?  There's something about being afraid suddenly that causes you to lose your bearings and forget everything you thought you knew and counted on. A huge wave of emotions.  A harsh wind of change.  A storm of circumstances.

In this week's story, Jesus calms the storm.  I've heard this story told since I was a little girl in Sunday School.  I heard this story told just a few weeks ago on a boat on the Sea of Galilee, where it happened.  I learned that the ancient people believed that gods and demons were behind the natural elements.  So it's no coincidence that the gospel writers put this story smack in the middle of a lot of other stories about demons.  Jesus speaks to the storm the same way he spoke to demons.  The same way he rebuked Peter when he said, "Get behind me, Satan!"

What does that tell you about Jesus?

Then he turns to the disciples and asks, "Why do you keep on being afraid?"

What does that tell you about people?

What does this story tell you about life with God?  

Click here to listen to the story and learn it.  

You can read it in Mark 4:35-42, Matthew 8:23-27 and Luke 8:22-25.

Here's the most important question we ask every week:
  • Who will you tell this story to?