Bread of Life Radical Nourishment

Jesus is the bread of life.

Even though it doesn’t sound like it — this is a radical statement.

How can something seemly so mundane as bread be radical?

Let’s explore this together!

bread of life

cheeseslave [photo credit]

Bread of Life in John 6

As we’ve already seen, John 6 is an exciting and challenging passage!  Jesus revealed himself as a provider, as divine, and as a chaos calmer.  How awesome!

So how can we move from such grandiose topics to bread, a banal notion if there ever was one!?

Well, this is the jump that Jesus himself makes in John 6.

Jesus provides for 5000+ in a miraculous fashion.  Then Jesus retreats, only to return to his disciples as they are in trouble on the Sea of Galilee.  And Jesus reveals his divinity on that body of water by walking on the water and saying that he is the “I am.”

And when Jesus and his team finally make it back to their ministry “headquarters,” the city of Capernaum, they are discovered by the great crowd which Jesus had fed the day before.

Instead of reacting like so many of us might have, Jesus interacted with these folks.  And he does it in a truly rabbinical way, answering and asking questions.

And in the turning moment of the dialogue with the crowd Jesus says these words in John 6.35:

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

What’s so radical about this statement?

Well, for Jesus’ original audience it was revolutionary.  God had used Moses to provide bread (manna) for the Israelites in the desert as they escaped slavery in Egypt.  And that image was sacrosanct!  Infringing on it or claiming it as one’s own more or less amounted to blasphemy.

But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not Moses.

But the radical-ness goes deeper.  For John’s original readers this statement was radical too.  It was Rome who provided them bread (literally and figuratively as general provision and protection).  More specifically, it was the Emperor who was their provider and to say something otherwise was counter-cultural and even politically dangerous.

But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not the Emperor.

And all throughout time since Jesus spoke these words, they have remained radical.

Competitors for the Title of Bread of Life Today

Let’s think about this in our day and time.  Who provides our bread?  (I’ll speak from my context, namely the American Church.)  Two ideas instantly pop into my head:

  1. America claims to be our bread of life.  Think about it.  How many times have you heard people say, in one way or another, that out nation is our ultimate provider?  Here are a few ways I’ve heard it: We’re protected by our military, we are educated thanks to our government, many of us receive benefits from our state and federal governments (whether food stamps, health care, retirement benefits, etc.), and we’re given a system (capitalism) in which people can “make it.”  And don’t even get me started on the so-called “American Dream”!!  If any of us make claims otherwise we’re labeled as ungrateful, unpatriotic, and ultimately un-American.  But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not America.
  2. We claim to be our own bread of life.  On a more personal and intimate level, we hold tight to the idea that we provide for ourselves and our families.  Many of us have fought and clawed our ways to where we are through all kinds of difficulties, like systemic inequalities, racism, poverty, and just life and all of its complications.  So we feel entitled to the idea that we’ve got this.  We can take care of ourselves.  And anyone who claims otherwise is telling us that our efforts weren’t enough.  They are undermining what we’ve accomplished.  And they are hamstringing our attempts to be self-reliant!  But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not us.

Letting Jesus Be Our Bread of Life

So if Jesus’ radical statement that he is the bread of life is true (and it is!), then how can we allow him to be just that in our lives?  Here are a few ideas to get us started:

  • Stop allowing other things/people/entities to be our breads of life.  As we talked about above, America is not our bread of life and neither are we.  In fact, our families aren’t either.  Neither are our friends, our jobs, our investments, our passions, our pleasures, our pursuits, or our dreams.  Nothing but Jesus can serve as our bread of life.
  • Turn to Jesus first.  So that means that when we are seeking meaning and provision, the first place we should turn is to Jesus.  To be sure, this doesn’t mean that other things and people can help provide for us.  Of course they can!  But our first source of provision must be Jesus.
  • Allow others to help us. Like so many other things in life, seeking to allow Jesus to be our bread of life is hard.  In fact, it’s so hard that given enough time, all of us will fail at this miserably if we go at it alone.  So, instead, let’s do it together!  We need to find a few other Christians and ask them to hold us accountable as we seek to allow Jesus to be our bread of life!
  • Pray, pray, and pray some more.  But even community and accountability aren’t enough.  We need an infusion of divine aid!  We need the Holy Spirit to guide us as individuals and communities as we seek to make Jesus our bread of life.  So we must pray…maybe something like this: Father, help me/us turn to Jesus when I/we are in need.  By your indwelling Spirit, help me/us to quit putting my/our faith first in other things.  Amen.
  • Rest on God’s grace.  Even when we have accountability and even when we pray, we’ll still fail.  We are humans after all!  And when we mess up, when we allow other things and people to be our bread of life, let’s not beat ourselves up.  Instead, let’s remember that we’re recipients of the greatest gift of all, the grace of God as expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  And in that grace there’s unconditional love and unending do-overs.

So that’s it!  Jesus is our bread of life!

Now the hard part — let’s live like it!

 

What do you think?  What does it mean to you that Jesus is our bread of life?  What are we tempted to put in his place?  How can we more and more turn to Jesus first?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

Chaos + Jesus = ?? Jesus walking on water gives us a clue...

Chaos.

Many of us today claim that we live in the midst of it.  Some of us say that we thrive on it and others of us are petrified by it.

But in reality we’re all scared by chaos.  Why?  Because a chaotic situation can’t be defined easily and certainly can’t be predicted.

So in the face of chaos we might not be able to make informed decisions.  We might fall flat on our proverbial faces.

And no one wants that.

Others of us still face real chaos in our lives.  Our living situations are complicated, messy, and even dangerous.  Our ability to provide for ourselves and our loved ones is equally unpredictable.

So, for those of us who follow Jesus, how can we respond to chaos?  Better yet, how does Jesus respond to our chaos?

John 6 and Chaos

I think we begin to get an answer to how to deal with chaos (or how Jesus deals with it) in John 6.16-21.  Here it is:

When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

In order to understand the full force of this passage we need to know something about ancient views on large bodies of water.  Unlike most boat-going occasions today, in the ancient world one’s life was put in literal danger by entering a boat and setting off.  Why?  Because many, many people died in the ocean, in rivers, and on lakes.

Boats were not nearly what they are today and safety measures (like life preservers) were not invented and commonly used yet.  Thus, the weather turning bad and the waves getting big were truly life threatening!

Thus, for many ancient people large bodies of water represented chaos and they feared them greatly.  We can see this in the descriptions of heaven in the book of Revelation.  In the heavenly visions the sea is described as “crystal,” meaning that it was calm.  In other words, in heaven God causes all the chaos to subside.

With all of this in mind, this story from John 6 feels a bit more dire than at first glance.  The disciples are alone and they are on the Sea of Tiberias (aka the Sea of Galilee).  Already we know that they may be feeling the pressures of the moment (though maybe not for the fishermen among them).

But the weather turns bad, turning up the chaos meter to 10!  I can only imagine what they all must be thinking — Jesus left us after feeding all those people and now we’re going to die out here on this God-forsaken lake!

But they didn’t die that day.  The chaos didn’t win.

Jesus came to their aid by walking on the water!  Before they could respond to this crazy feat, Jesus identifies himself by saying “It is I” or, as translated as in Exodus 3.14, “I am.”  I’ve written about Jesus’ words here before, but it almost goes without saying that Jesus is making a bold claim about his deity here, both with his words (“I am”) and his actions (walking on water).

But I don’t want to hurry past what it meant for Jesus to walk on water.  By doing so Jesus was indicating that chaos had no control over him.  He could literally put it under his feet and walk all over it!  This must have spoken volumes to his disciples!

Then he continues his demonstration of mastery of chaos by speeding along their efforts to cross the lake.  John makes it sound like Jesus has performed another miracle by saying the “immediately the boat reached the shore,” as if walking on the water wasn’t miracle enough!

In other words, the disciples where facing extreme chaos in this life-threatening boating adventure but when Jesus showed up, everything was taken care of in short order.

Does Jesus Help Us with Our Chaos Today?

That’s all well and good that Jesus walked on water and helped out his disciples.  But can he do similar sorts of things for us when we face chaos today?

The short answer is this — Yes!  The longer answer is — Yes but in his way and with our participation.

Here are a few principles from this passage to consider:

  1. The chaos the disciples faced came as they were on mission with Jesus.  Don’t get me wrong…Jesus can and does help us when we’ve caused our own problems.  But there is a pretty consistent picture painted in the Gospels of Jesus extending help to his disciples when they were obeying him.  In this case the disciples had been on a preaching and healing tour with Jesus and were returning to their base of operations in Capernaum.  This chaos was not of their own making; it happened upon them as they were seeking to follow Jesus.  Where does our chaos originate from?  Does it come because we’ve carved our own paths or because we’re on mission with Jesus too?
  2. The chaos the disciples faced didn’t cause them to freeze up or panic.  Seeing that many of the pictures we have of the disciples in the Gospels are of them bumbling their way through life, this story is a bit different.  There’s a scary storm that is causing large waves.  And the disciples could have just stopped rowing and started whining and complaining.  But they didn’t do that.  They continued rowing.  Friends, chaos will come into our lives.  And many of us are tempted to sit on our hands when this happens, fearful to do anything.  But we have standing orders.  We are to love God, love others, and make disciples no matter what — chaos or otherwise.  Will we be willing to continue to do what we know we ought to, even when chaos seems to be reigning supreme in our lives?
  3. The chaos gave the disciples a unique opportunity to welcome Jesus.  There’s a small line that’s easy to miss in the story of Jesus walking on water.  Here it is: “…they were willing to take him into the boat…”  After Jesus identified himself (both as Jesus and as divine), the disciples made the smart choice of letting him board their boat!  And once he did, he helped them through their chaotic situation.  Will we accept Jesus as he comes walking on our chaos?  Or will we be too upset, distracted, and disheartened even to see him, much less welcome him?

To be clear, following Jesus is not a “get out of trouble free” card.  No.  Instead it’s a “walk with Jesus through the chaos” kind of thing!

Are we willing to turn to Jesus in the midst of our chaos?

 

What do you think?  How does Jesus help us in our chaotic moments?  Let me know in the comments below!

I Am – Jesus’ Bold Claim Jesus identifies who he really is

When Jesus said the words “I am” in John 6.20, nostalgia must have been triggered for his disciples.

And nostalgia is a strong force.  It can cause us to relive memories of times gone by.  However, the danger of nostalgia is that it can cause us to miss what is right in front of us.

On the flipside, it may well be that one of the great powers of nostalgia is to cause us to live more presently and to long more fervently for God’s promised future.

Here’s how Russell Moore, the president of the Baptist group called the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, puts it: “Our warm memories, of times we have known or of times we wish we’d known, point us to a deep longing within us for a world made right” [SOURCE].

Getting back to John 6 for a second, I’m convinced that Jesus saying “I am” served as a nostalgic moment for the disciples.  They could either bristle at Jesus for pulling a much-loved phrase from a bygone era into the present.  They could dwell wholeheartedly on the past meaning of what Jesus said.  Or they could allow this moment to propel them into being active participants in bringing about God’s will in the world, his will to make everything right.

Jesus Says “I Am”

To understand what Jesus was saying in this passage, we need to unpack a few things.

First, these words are embedded in the “walking on water” incident in John 6, which we will talk more about soon.  But suffice it to say here that Jesus said “I am” while he was literally walking on water.

Second, Jesus said these words between two significant episodes in his life, the feeding of the 5000+ (John 6.1-14) and his teaching on the “bread of life” which caused many of his followers to desert him (John 6.25-71).  In other words, these words are surrounded by bread and knowing this might inform how we understand Jesus’ words.

Third, in Greek Jesus said ego eimi, which is the exact same way that the Hebrew that God spoke to Moses in Exodus 3.14 is translated in the ancient translation called the Septuagint, which we very popular in Jesus’ day.

And fourth, he paired the words “I am” with “don’t be afraid.”  The latter set of words is most commonly associated with angels in the Bible.  Whenever they appear in a situation in the Bible, they almost always say “don’t be afraid.”

So what might all of this have meant for the disciples in the boat?  I think that the words “I am” would have served as a hyperlink to the story of God telling Moses his name in Exodus 3.14.  Furthermore, when paired with “don’t be afraid,” they would have understood that Jesus must be more than a mere man since those words are almost always reserved for extra-human beings in the Bible.  Furthermore, Jesus was actively demonstrating that he was more than just a man since he was walking on water as he spoke!

And how might the original audience have made sense of all of this?  If they were Jewish, and some surely were, then they too would have been made to feel nostalgic about Moses and God in Exodus 3.14 and they would have also understood the words “do not be afraid” in the same way.  They too would have caught onto the miraculous nature of Jesus walking on the water.

In addition, the original audience would be able to interpret this story in light of the one coming before it and the one after it, both of which are, at least in part, about bread.  And it seems to me that bread in both cases points to God’s provision, hearkening back to the provision of manna (divine bread) during the wilderness wanderings of the ancient Israelites after they were set free from Egypt.

In other words, the fact that this “I am” saying is sandwiched between two stories about bread (both of which point to divine provision) shows that John (the author of this Gospel) was also trying to communicate that Jesus was extra-human through this literary technique.

So, to recap, by saying the words “I am” in this context (both in the original scene and in the Gospel of John), it seems clear that Jesus is identifying himself with God.  This story points with a great deal of clarity at Jesus being divine!

Jesus Said “I Am” — Now What?

What does it matter that Jesus claimed to be divine?  Who cares?  What kind of impact might it have on us?

First, I find the reaction of the disciples in the boat interesting.  After seeing Jesus walk on water and hearing him claim a divine title as his own, “then they were willing to take him into the boat…” (John 6.21a).

Jesus didn’t say “I am” to rub his divinity in anyone’s face.  And he didn’t say it just for the sake of revealing himself.

He said it so that the disciple would further welcome him in.  He said it to build intimacy with them.

He said it so that he could have a greater impact in the present so that he could train his disciples up for their future work.

Friends, Jesus still makes the same claim — he’s still the great “I am”!  And we have the same set of choices to make as the disciples did.

We can deny that Jesus was telling the truth when he identified with God by saying “I am,” bristling at the very notion.

We can love that Jesus claimed to be divine, but only let thinking about it make us feel fondly about this story in the Bible and the times we thought about it in the past.

Or we can invite Jesus in our “boats” like the disciples did, giving Jesus the proximity needed to change us into the people we need to be to fulfill his mission for us in this world.

In other words, Jesus doesn’t reveal himself in the Bible to be divine just for the heck of it.  No!  Instead he desires for us to be changed by who he is so that we can best serve him in his mission to make all things right.

 

What do you think?  What did Jesus mean when he said “I am”?  And how should it impact us today?  Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

Expectations and Reality Letting Jesus be Jesus

Expectations are a force to be reckoned with!  All of us can attest to this.

In relationships when expectations aren’t communicated and/or met, that’s when things get dicey.

At our places of employment we don’t always manage our expectations well.

When setting goals we don’t always adjust our expectations appropriately so as to account for our foibles and scheduling snafus of various sorts.

In other words, our expectations can really impact our lives.

I think, however, that there’s a mostly unexplored arena when it comes to expectations — namely this: We often have very specific expectations of Jesus that he simply is not going to meet because they run counter to who he has been revealed to be in the Scriptures and in our lives.

Jesus and Expectations

After Jesus fed 5000+ people, he immediately had to deal with their misplaced expectations.  Look at John 6.14-15:

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

Do you see it?  Jesus performed an amazing miracle in the midst of lots and lots of people…and those same people then began to think very highly about him.  They wisely identified Jesus as a prophet, which is surely true (at least in part).  But Jesus discerned what they were thinking, specifically that they wanted him to be their king whether he wanted to or not.

And while Jesus will be the ruling king of kings some day, that day had not come then (and has not come yet either).  Jesus had different plans, plans that didn’t line up well with the expectations of the people.

So what did Jesus do?  He withdrew to a solitary place.  He not only did not meet the expectations that were hoisted upon him, but he executed a full-on retreat.

What is behind all of this?  There must be more to this story.

There is!  The vast majority of the people whom Jesus interacted with during his earthly ministry were Jews living in Palestine.  They had for quite some time been ruled by Rome, with a long list of rulers who pre-dated the Romans.  Many of the Jews of Palestine were sick and tired of being dominated by others, being taxed by foreign authorities, and having their religious freedom impinged upon with the introduction of gods from other lands.

In other words, many Jews who lived in Palestine during the first century were ready for a political change.  And one of the most common and popular conceptions of the messiah, God’s promised deliverer, was that he would come as a military conqueror, setting the Jewish people free from their oppression.

Jesus, however, didn’t have military conquest as part of his messianic blueprint (at least not yet).  And he refused to be boxed into doing something just to fulfill the expectations of the people.

As a quick aside, we can really learn a lot from Jesus right here!  How often do we get sucked into the vortex of people-pleasing?  How often do we let the expectations of our families, friends, spouses, churches, societies, cultures, etc. impact our decision-making?  It’s not bad to consider the opinions of others when making decisions, but it seems silly and ultimately dangerous to follow the whims of others no matter what!

Our Expectations Today

All of this talk about some of the Jewish expectations of the first century has me thinking about the expectations that we demand Jesus fulfill today.  What are they?  What are some of the things we want Jesus to do for us, our way right away?

Here are a few that come to mind immediately:

  • We expect health and wealth when we have faith in Jesus.  This expectation is nefariously stoked by prosperity gospel preachers and leaders who claim that if we “seed” their ministry with our offerings, then we will be guaranteed a large return on our spiritual (but very financial) investments.  But those of us who don’t fall for those shenanigans still fight the constant pull toward thinking that God somehow owes us health and wealth anyway.
  • We expect inner peace and freedom from large external anxieties when we follow Jesus.  We think that if we are “in the center of God’s will” that everything will be hunky-dory for us and we will feel right and good on the inside.
  • We expect that things will be easy for us when we believe in Jesus.  We’ve been told that God won’t give us anything that we can’t handle, so we assume that we will never be thrown another curve ball after committing ourselves to Jesus.
  • We expect that God will vindicate our thoughts, opinions, and political leanings as a result of our faith in Jesus.  We think that since we follow Jesus, then what we think is not only right but that it’s the only way of thinking about things.  Thus, God will step in an prove us correct, right?
  • We expect that God will ensure that our kids will turn out “right,” that our friends will never leave us, that our parents will learn to respect us as adults, and that our spouses will always put our interests before their own.
  • We expect that if we follow Jesus, that he’ll help us get rid of all temptation from our lives.  We’ll no longer have to struggle with lust, over-eating, gossip, materialism, and the like again!

And, friends, the list could go on.  We want to “make Jesus king by force” too, though what we want his kingly power to accomplish in our lives may be a bit different than what many first-century Jews wanted.

Here’s the truth: We want to use Jesus’ kingly power to do what we want, to fulfill our desires, to make our expectations come into reality.

But that’s just not how it works.  Jesus is king.  And Jesus does what Jesus wants to do.

Luckily for us we catch a really strong glimpse of what’s central to Jesus in the Bible.  In 2 Corinthians 5.19 Paul tells us what Jesus wants to use his kingly power for — to reconcile all things to himself and to commit to us this same task.

So instead of pushing for Jesus to accomplish what we want, why don’t we instead accomplish what he wants!?  Why don’t we join him in his will to make all things right!

 

What do you think?  How do our expectations play out in our relationships with Jesus?  Let me know in the comments below!

Jesus Always Provides But always in his way and in his time

Jesus provides.  Always.  But not always how we want.  Can we trust him?  Can we be patient?  Can we be okay with loose ends?  And will we let his provision impact the way that we provide for others?

Jesus Provides for People

In John 6 we see that Jesus had become really popular.  People were following him around.  Lots of people.  And on one particular day Jesus took his disciples up on a mountainside.  The crowd of people followed him up there too.

And when Jesus looked out over them, he knew that the people were hungry.  They must have been far enough away from somewhere for folks to eat, so Jesus asks one of his followers, Philip a question.  He asked, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6.5).

Immediately after this question, Philip and then Andrew seemed a bit confused about who Jesus was and what he was capable of doing by how they answered his question.  But Jesus took a little boy’s lunch and he miraculously turned his lunch into enough food for 5000+ people with leftovers remaining.

But the really cool thing, at least to me, is that Jesus had the people sit down and he served them until everyone had enough.  Jesus’ provision was total.  His miracle didn’t provide a bite or two for everyone.  Nope!  Instead, it provided enough for everyone with plenty remaining.

Friends, Jesus still provides this way today too.  Despite us being like Philip (focused on strategy and not what Jesus can do) and/or Andrew (trusting Jesus but also had a bit of doubt), Jesus finds ways to provide for us.  His provision doesn’t come in ways that we expect.

We think that we need to use our own strategies and resources.  We think that maybe Jesus can do it but then we hedge our bets when push comes to shove.

But he provides.  Always.

But Matt, how do you know?

Well, let me tell you where I’m coming from:

  1. The Bible is full of tons of stories of how God provides for his people.  And since God’s modus operandi never changes, he’s still in the business of providing today too.
  2. As I have read Christian history and seen the thousands of stories of how Jesus provides for all sorts of people (pioneer missionaries, pastors, families, academics, peasants, royalty, and normal people), my faith in Jesus’ provision only grows.
  3. I’ve witnessed how Jesus provides in my life and in the life of my family.  In fact, in the last two years I’ve been on the receiving end of Jesus’ provision a ton – with moving to our current neighborhood, with our son’s adoption, and with being commissioned as an urban missionary.  Jesus provides and I have seen it in our lives over and over and over!
  4. And I’ve seen how God provides for the churches I’ve been a part of and I’ve seen how he provides for my friends and family.  I’ve heard the stories.  I’ve seen the tears of joy.  I’ve listened to the testimonies.  I’ve been there to witness the evidence firsthand.

Jesus Provides But Do We?

When we see a group of people in need, how do we respond?

Well, if we’re honest, we don’t always respond well.  Better, I don’t always respond well.

Sometimes I think things like this: do they deserve to be provided for?can’t someone else use their resources to provide for them?,  I already have done so much; it’s someone else’s turn, etc.

I operate as if I live in a economy of scarcity, even though the God of the universe is the one who provides for me and calls me to provide for others.  I, and we, don’t have to worry about giving  from our stack.  Sure, it might go down for a bit, but Jesus provides, like he always does.

But when Jesus provides, he expects us to provide or others in return.  Will we?

Will we provide for those in need?

Will we take whatever we have access to, give thanks to God for it, and ask him to multiply it for his purposes?

Will we step out in faith, freely giving whatever we have since it’s not ours to begin with?

Will we be greedy or generous with what Jesus has provided?

Will we respond to the way Jesus provides by imitating him or bowing to our selfish desires?

Friends, let’s band together, starting today.  Let’s be radically generous.  Let’s sacrifice our time, our resources, and our talents for the benefit of others.

Let’s respond to God’s blessing by blessing others!

Are you ready for this challenge!?

Let’s do it!

 

What do you think?  Does Jesus always provide?  And how are we to provide for others in response? Let me know in the comments below.

Absurd Trust Jesus Inspires Impractical Faith

At the bottom, faith in Jesus is utterly absurd.  Those of us who have followed Jesus for a long time take completely for granted things that are impossible to understand, much less trust.

Let’s just run through a few things that we believe that are hard to wrap our minds around:

  • God created everything seen and unseen out of absolutely nothing.
  • This all-powerful God of the entire universe cares about each of us.
  • God has always existed as Father, Son, and Spirit — three persons, yet one essence.
  • The second person of the Trinity, Jesus, became fully human while remaining fully God.
  • And Jesus did this because he loves humans, though none of us deserve his love.
  • Jesus, who was fully human, never sinned.
  • Jesus was killed as a rebel but was raised from the dead by the power of God.
  • Subsequent to Jesus’ death, the Spirit was sent to live within all who follow Jesus.
  • The God of the universe empowers his broken followers to live out his divine mission.
  • God calls together a community of diverse people who can love one another more closely than family.
  • And at the end Jesus will return to earth in power to serve as ultimate Judge.

And that’s just a few things!  Any item from that list could be examined on it’s own and could be labeled as patently absurd!

What we believe can really seem bonkers, which is easy to forget when we’re inundated with it all the time.

But there’s another aspect of following Jesus that’s absurd as well, namely, that Jesus can do great things with very little starting material.

We see this very plainly in John 6, which I’ll focus on for the rest of this post.

What’s Absurd in John 6?

Let’s look at John 6.5-9:

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.  Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”  Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

It’s pretty easy to see what’s absurd in this passage.  Andrew brings a boy’s small lunch to Jesus in response to a massive and hungry crowd of people.  What did he think Jesus was going to do with such a small amount of food?  Even in offering it us, Andrew waffled a bit when he said “but how far will [it] go among so many?”

Isn’t Philip’s response to Jesus’ question a bit more reasonable?  I mean, doesn’t it make more sense to take in the whole situation, do a quick quantitative analysis, and then present the facts?  Philip was right in what he said.  He was reasonable.  It would take a fortune for everyone to just have a little.

But when Philip was doing his calculations in his head, he forgot about the one huge wildcard, the one factor that makes the absurd possible.  That wildcard, that factor is Jesus.

And, if we remember rightly, Andrew, Philip, and all the rest already know that Jesus deals in the absurd all the time.  He turned a huge amount of water into really fine wine (John 2).  He healed a man who had been disabled for more than most people lived at the time (John 5).  And now a huge group of people were following him around because he had healed the sick (John 6.2).

They should have and could have known better.  And they perhaps would have known better had either of them been given three days to think things through.

But right there in the moment Andrew leaned on being realistic and strategic.  And even though Philip’s response could be seen as hopeful or even faithful, he ultimately hedged his bets by casting doubt on the situation.

We know the end of this story, Jesus causes the absurd once more.  He turns this little boy’s lunch into enough food to feed 5000+ people to fullness, with a bunch of leftovers remaining.

Jesus didn’t just use this as an opportunity to feed some people who would get hungry again.  No!  Instead, for Jesus this became a prime opportunity to engage in some leadership development.  Jesus knew that for his followers to begin truly to have absurd faith, they would have to be walked through the process carefully.  And he was willing and patient enough to take on this task.

Absurd Faith Today

What about now? Is Jesus still walking us through opportunities to trust him, no matter how crazy the scenarios we face might be?

Is he still teaching us to be curious and faithful?

The answers, of course, are “yes.”

Think abut this: Jesus came to accomplish a major rescue and restoration project on all of humanity.  He got the ball rolling (to put it lightly!) and then he entrusted this mission to us.

Us.  Broken, sinful, untrusting us.  How utterly ridiculous!

How does he expect us to do this?  How does Jesus expect us to help him fulfill this mission?

Here are a few initial thoughts:

  1. Seek divine guidance. The first thing that we must do in order to build absurd trust in God into our lives is by reaching out to him.  We need to pray and ask God to help us trust him more and more.  And when we face crazy situations in life, and we will!, that’s when we need to pray for his guidance…and then do whatever he leads us to do!  And it will help us to peruse the Scriptures seeking to learn how God taught others to have this kind of trust in him and then attempt to make ourselves open to the same kind of divine assistance too.  And, very importantly, we will be best served to seek this divine guidance within community so that we can hold each other accountable and encourage one another.
  2. Submit to the Spirit. “Submit” is a pretty dirty word these days but it’s vital if we want to trust God more and more.  Why?  Because we are tempted to submit to all sorts of other things and people…and we often give in!  What are some of those things that compete for our submission?  Our selfish desires, our friends and family, our bosses, out cultural standards, money, power, possessions, comfort, etc., etc.  Instead of submitting to all of those things, let’s submit to the Spirit, who will most assuredly lead us into deeper faith.
  3. Hold to our strategies loosely. Philip wasn’t wrong to think things through.   But perhaps he was wrong in that he held to his strategy too tightly; so much so that he couldn’t see past it.  So as we seek to be closer to Jesus, become more missional, lead better, be better spouses, friends, parents, etc., let’s not let our versions of what will work get in the way of God’s version of what actually will work!
  4. Give to Jesus what we have access to. I’m being a little bit tongue-in-cheek here because Jesus already owns all that we have and all that we can potentially get.  It’s all his.  But when we pretend that we can selfishly hold stuff for ourselves, we miss out on opportunities to see what God might do with whatever we have to offer, even if it’s just some bread and fish.  So, our job is to turn all that we steward back to God (not just 10%)!  In so doing we will witness him do great things with what we have given him, thus making us more likely to trust him the next time!
  5. Be consistent in our efforts. It is hard to have absurd faith that God can do anything.  But as we make a habit of doing it more and more, it will become a more regular occurrence in our lives.  It will never be easy because we all still have to deal with the gravitational pull of our selfishness.  But with consistency we can build habits that in turn will grow into deeply-rooted patterns of behavior.  And that’s the zone that we all want to be in!
  6. Allow our trust to grow with evidence. But the Enemy and our old way of doing things won’t quit easily!  When we exhibit this kind of faith in God and he comes through like he so often does (though in surprising ways that don’t always match our expectations), we might be tempted to explain away how God moved.  Maybe it was a fluke.  Maybe it was really our efforts and skill.  Maybe this, maybe that.  But if we give God the credit he deserves, then our trust in him can grow so that the next time we’ll be a bit more likely to lean on him no matter what.

 

What do you think about absurd faith?  What’s difficult about it?  How can we make it a larger part of our lives?  Let me know in the comments below!