The Miracle in a Lunchable…

Someone asked me recently what is it about being at the beach that draws me in, and I answered that it was a spiritual experience to sit along the shore, especially at night, and listen to the waves crashing against the shore beholding the vastness of the universe above. Not only is it a spiritual experience, but it is humbling, too.

Actually, life is filled with humbling experiences. I pat myself on the back for being a regular at the Monroe Athletic Center, working out, doing cardio, trying to stay healthy. That’s great, and I feel real good about myself until I turn on the TV and the Bowflex guy comes on the commercial with his six-pack abs (yes, those abs he got in only twenty minutes three times a week on the Bowflex), then I look at mine and I’m humbled (and embarrassed!).

Life can be humbling. That’s the context in which we have to view John’s account of the story of the loaves and fishes. That’s okay because it is in the humility of life that we discover the stuff of miracles.

This story, the feeding of the five thousand, is the only miracle Jesus preformed that is recorded in all four Gospels. John’s version of the story of the feeding of the five thousand (or the loaves and fishes, however you chose to reference the encounter) is distinctive in that John’s is the only account that tells us about the little boy. Can we identify with that little boy? Think with me for a moment what it feels like to be a child in a large crowd. It’s intimidating. It’s scary. It’s challenging. It might even be humbling. Here’s this little boy in the middle of a crowd of Pharisees, Sadducees, big burly fishermen, rich people, poor people—5,000 men, John tells us and that doesn’t include the women. Heck, this little boy is not even significant enough to be counted. He is insignificant…almost as if he doesn’t even exist. Is that a humbling experience?

lunchableHe’s not just a little boy, but he’s poor, too. John tells us the loaves were barley loaves. Barley was the grain of the poor because it was the cheapest grain. And, the fish, well, they were sardines. Two little fish and a few slices of pita bread. This was the little boy’s Lunchable. This is what his mother had packed for him when he left home. He is a poor little boy with the worst sort of bread and a couple of sardines. When we understand this, we begin to see the power of the miracle.

The little boy was probably from a nearby village. He might have been out working in the fields or playing with friends when Jesus came by with this large crowd following him. Jesus comes along and the little boy gets caught up in the crowd. It gets late in the day and the crowd starts to stir. Some man (Andrew) comes along and asks for his lunch, “Jesus needs your lunch!” At first, he’s scared, but fear soon turns to pride—this teacher is asking for my lunch. Then, the pride turns to embarrassment as he says, “All I’ve got is my Lunchable—barley loaves and sardines.” It didn’t matter. Jesus took the barley loaves and fish and feed the crowd—maybe ten thousand people in all—and had plenty to spare.

I wonder why John makes mention of the little boy? I’m not sure why he mentions him, but I know the little boy teaches us that even the most insignificant among us possess the stuff of miracles. It was out of what the little boy had that Jesus found the building blocks of a miracle. Jesus desires to use whatever we bring. How many miracles in the world are denied because we won’t offer what we have to Jesus? We have time. We have skills. We have financial resources. We have expertise. We have so much to offer no matter how insignificant we believe ourselves to be.

Offering her little, a lady named Rosa made a difference. The story takes place in hell—Hell’s Kitchen, that is. Hell’s Kitchen is the most dangerous part of New York City. After her conversion, a Puerto Rican woman named Rosa wanted to serve. She didn’t speak a word of English. Through an interpreter, she pleaded with her pastor, Bill Wilson, “I want to do something for God, please!”

“I don’t know what you can do,” he said.

“Please just let me do something for God,” Rosa persisted.

“Okay,” Pastor Wilson said, “I’ll put you on a bus. Ride a different bus every week and just love the kids!”

That’s exactly what Rosa did. That’s how she offered to God the little she had in her own way, and as she had opportunity. In all, she rode 50 different church busses. She would find the saddest looking kid on the bus, sit down, put him or her on her knee, and whisper the only words she knew in English: “I love you, and Jesus loves you!”

After several months, she became particularly attached to one little boy. Because of him, she decided to ride just that one bus so she could be with him on the way to and from Sunday School. The little boy went every week with his sister, but he never said a word. All the way there, Rosa whispered over and over again, “I love you and Jesus loves you!”

The little boy never responded. One day, the bus stopped to let the little boy off at his stop. Before he got off, to Rosa’s amazement, he hugged her and stammered, “I, I, I love you, too!”

That was 2:30 PM. At 6:30 PM that same day, the little boy’s body was found stuffed into a garbage bag and placed under a fire escape ladder. His mother had beaten him to death. The story is unbearably tragic except in knowing that some of the last words he heard was the stuff of miracles. If he knew nothing else, he knew for sure he was loved by at least two people: Jesus and Rosa! Rosa offered her little bit of English, and what do we know that it made an eternal difference in that little boy’s tragic life.

We’re tempted to believe we can’t make a difference in the world. We’re tempted to believe that in the grand scheme of things, we’re just insignificant. We have nothing to offer. We’re not heroes. We don’t draw crowds. We don’t get press. But, here, too, God uses the insignificant, the overlooked, the little.

Jesus points out in the story, “not enough” is never the final answer. Because, when placed in the hands of Jesus, our human weakness becomes more than enough! Do we believe this? An African proverb says, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try spending the night in a closed room with a mosquito.”

It is truly miraculous, when we allow God to work through us. We should never get in the way of God’s work, by trying to take things into our own hands and saying, “There is not enough to go around!”

What do you have to bring to Christ today? You may feel like you don’t have anything significant, or that you’re not significant. You may be like the little boy who only had his Lunchable, but Christ will take that Lunchable and transform it into an all-you-can-eat buffet. When I bring my meager fare, and you bring yours, God through the Holy Spirit does the work, and it is truly miraculous!

Until next time, keep looking up…

Thanking Who?

Happy Thanksgiving! That’s simply enough said, and no, we haven’t slipped right past Thanksgiving and gone to Christmas (the store merchandising notwithstanding). I’ve noticed many instances on TV and radio reminding us to be thankful. And, we need reminding. What I’ve also noticed is that we need to be reminded who it is we’re really supposed to thank.

Thanksgiving-ImageI was watching Dancing with the Stars earlier this week (don’t you dare judge me), and there was a segment in the program where the finalists were giving thanks, but only Sadie Robertson gave thanks to God. The entire segment was a “thank you” to America, to the fans and viewers. Now, it’s appropriate for them to thank the viewers and fans. After all, without the viewers and fans, there would be no Dancing with the Stars, but thanking other people doesn’t capture the nature or intent of Thanksgiving.

Soon after watching DWTS, I saw a commercial advertising a holiday special hosted by reporter Robin Roberts entitled “Thank You, America!” According to the promo, this will be a special night shining “a light on the American spirit of gratitude,” and an evening that “recognizes ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their communities.” I’m certain it will be a nice, feel-good program for this Thanksgiving Thursday that will tug at our heart strings, and it’s appropriate to give thanks to others, and celebrate the good things they’ve done. But, again, I’m kinda’ thinking the program won’t capture the nature or intent of Thanksgiving.

I’m a little uncertain about what Thanksgiving is becoming, but may I offer a reminder about what Thanksgiving originally was? For us in the good ole’ U. S. of A., Thanksgiving goes all the way back to 1621, and the pilgrims giving thanks to Almighty God for a great harvest, and for the preservation of their lives. George Washington, in 1789, made a public proclamation saying “it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor?” He recommended and assigned Thursday, the 26th day of November 1789 to be a day of Thanksgiving. And, may we never forget President Lincoln’s proclamation of October 1863, when in the midst of Civil War he proclaimed:

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”

 In every instance, the call was to remember God—to stop, to think, to give thanks TO God. It’s easy for us to think about family. Most of us will be going to be with family, or family will be coming to be with us, and we’ll be appropriately grateful. It’s also easy for us to think about food because most of our tables will be filled with turkey and dressing and all the trimmings, and pumpkin pie and sweet potato pie and pecan pie, and fresh baked rolls, and we’ll be  appropriately thankful. It’ll be easy for us to think about football, waiting anxiously for the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys to play their respective games, because they, too, have become Thanksgiving traditions, and we’ll be appropriately grateful that we can enjoy a lazy day of family, food and football. These are things we have, and the focus is appropriate. But our greatest focus today should be on God.

Psalm 100 is on my mind early this morning:

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
    Worship the Lord with gladness.
    Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
    He made us, and we are his.[a]
    We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
    go into his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
    His unfailing love continues forever,
    and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

The Psalms (the Hebrew song book) are filled with songs of thanksgiving. No less than 15 psalms have “thanksgiving” in the title, and a full 24 of the psalms give specific command to “give thanks.” Psalm 100 is one that includes both. Why did the ancient Israelites have so many songs about thanksgiving? The songs were reminders. So often throughout the early books of the Old Testament, God was always reminding the people that when they made it to the promised land, got settled there, got comfortable, were warm and well-fed, not to forget Him. God would say, “Don’t forget the reason you’re where you are. Don’t forget to ‘give thanks’.”

Psalm 100 is one of the songs the people would sing as they were going into the Temple. It served to set the attitude of the people’s heart as they went into worship. It was a reminder that when you come to worship, bring this attitude…have this attitude within you. It certainly gives the indication that gratitude was a matter of choice. Gratitude is a decision of the will, and if a decision of the will, the choice resides squarely with us. Psalm 100 is a reminder that God is good, God is merciful, God is faithful; that when we are in the ease and comfort of life, when it becomes so easy to forget, remember that we have God, and more importantly, God has us. I do believe that was the nature and intent of any of the early Thanksgiving holidays.

I kinda’ sound a little ungrateful, don’t I? I think I may even come across as a little whiny about the continuing secularization of our culture. I’m sorry if I do, but it just seems to me that someone ought to say something, and if someone ought to say something, it might as well be me. So, HAPPY THANKSGIVING, but please remember that our first thanks is to God.

Until next time, keep looking up…