Blessing Your Gifts: Matthew 15:32-39

Focus Passage: Matthew 15:32-39 (NLT)

32 Then Jesus called his disciples and told them, “I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry, or they will faint along the way.”

33 The disciples replied, “Where would we get enough food here in the wilderness for such a huge crowd?”

34 Jesus asked, “How much bread do you have?”

   They replied, “Seven loaves, and a few small fish.”

35 So Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to the disciples, who distributed the food to the crowd.

37 They all ate as much as they wanted. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. 38 There were 4,000 men who were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children. 39 Then Jesus sent the people home, and he got into a boat and crossed over to the region of Magadan.

Read Matthew 15:32-39 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

While reading this miracle event, I happened to notice a parallel concept that I had never seen before, and in this miracle that involved food, we see this parallel much more directly than the other “feeding the crowd” miracle that Matthew includes in his gospel.

For this miracle, Jesus takes seven loaves of bread and a “few” (read insignificant amount) small fish, and He turns it into a meal that had more than enough for everyone present – and it resulted in seven large baskets of leftovers.

The connection I saw is that there is one basket of leftovers for each original loaf that was donated.

This makes me think about God’s incredible level of generosity and blessing. When we are willing to give Him “a loaf” (i.e. our time, talent, or treasure), He can take it, satisfy all our needs, and give us a large overflowing basket that we can then use to bless others.

The trap we often fall into is thinking that God’s blessing is for only our own benefit. If we take what God has blessed us with and hoard (i.e. “save”) it all away for the future, we are actually showing a lack of trust in God. If God can take what little we have today and use it for something great, why couldn’t/wouldn’t He do it again in the future?

This then means that the blessings He shares are given so that we can bless others. Jesus didn’t multiply the disciples snack into a huge meal for only the disciples. Instead, He did it to feed not only the disciples, but the whole crowd present.

With this insight, I don’t believe that saving is bad, but instead that saving without sharing is the problem. If we share some, save some, and then use what is left for us, I believe this is a better representation of God’s character.

Our natural tendency is to hoard our blessings and/or use it only for ourselves, but God has given an example of extravagant generosity: when we give Him the little we have, He can multiply it into so much that there are baskets full of leftovers. One loaf in God’s hands became one basket of leftovers at the end of a giant, satisfying meal.

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Facing Conflict as a Believer: Matthew 18:15-35

Focus Passage: Matthew 18:15-35 (NCV)

    15 “If your fellow believer sins against you, go and tell him in private what he did wrong. If he listens to you, you have helped that person to be your brother or sister again. 16 But if he refuses to listen, go to him again and take one or two other people with you. ‘Every case may be proved by two or three witnesses.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, then treat him like a person who does not believe in God or like a tax collector.

    18 “I tell you the truth, the things you don’t allow on earth will be the things God does not allow. And the things you allow on earth will be the things that God allows.

    19 “Also, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about something and pray for it, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 This is true because if two or three people come together in my name, I am there with them.”

    21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, when my fellow believer sins against me, how many times must I forgive him? Should I forgive him as many as seven times?”

    22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, you must forgive him more than seven times. You must forgive him even if he wrongs you seventy times seven.

    23 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who decided to collect the money his servants owed him. 24 When the king began to collect his money, a servant who owed him several million dollars was brought to him. 25 But the servant did not have enough money to pay his master, the king. So the master ordered that everything the servant owned should be sold, even the servant’s wife and children. Then the money would be used to pay the king what the servant owed.

    26 “But the servant fell on his knees and begged, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything I owe.’ 27 The master felt sorry for his servant and told him he did not have to pay it back. Then he let the servant go free.

    28 “Later, that same servant found another servant who owed him a few dollars. The servant grabbed him around the neck and said, ‘Pay me the money you owe me!’

    29 “The other servant fell on his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything I owe.’

    30 “But the first servant refused to be patient. He threw the other servant into prison until he could pay everything he owed. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were very sorry. So they went and told their master all that had happened.

    32 “Then the master called his servant in and said, ‘You evil servant! Because you begged me to forget what you owed, I told you that you did not have to pay anything. 33 You should have showed mercy to that other servant, just as I showed mercy to you.’ 34 The master was very angry and put the servant in prison to be punished until he could pay everything he owed.

    35 “This king did what my heavenly Father will do to you if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Read Matthew 18:15-35 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Nearing the end of Jesus’ ministry, He shares a strategy about how His followers should deal with conflict between each other. This strategy contains the various stages conflict should move through for it to be dealt with in a healthy fashion. However, at the conclusion of this process, Jesus gives an instruction that could be understood in two different ways – both of which are correct.

Matthew’s gospel includes Jesus’ teaching on this point and Matthew tells us Jesus said: “If your fellow believer sins against you, go and tell him in private what he did wrong. If he listens to you, you have helped that person to be your brother or sister again. But if he refuses to listen, go to him again and take one or two other people with you. ‘Every case may be proved by two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, then treat him like a person who does not believe in God or like a tax collector.” (v. 15-17)

In each progressive stage of a conflict, more people are brought into the situation, but the real mastery of this strategy is that in each conflict, resolution is attempted at each stage with the fewest possible people. The first stage of conflict tries to resolve the conflict with only two people involved. If this doesn’t work, then one or two others are brought into the discussion. If the small group cannot come to a resolution, then the matter is brought before the church, and if the issue cannot be solved at this level, then we are to treat that person as one who does not believe in God or like a tax collector.

The challenge if you are the one who has felt wronged is that as soon as others are brought into the picture, they might side with other party. This has happened to me, and it is no fun. If the issue is brought before the church, it’s possible that the church will side with the other party. Again, this has happened to me and it is not pleasant either. While I will say that I was not kicked out of a church for having a conflict that was brought before the church, I no longer attend the church where that conflict took place.

However, the twist in Jesus’ instructions comes at the end. When the church cannot help solve a disagreement, then the instruction is to treat the person who has done wrong like they are someone who doesn’t believe in God, or like a tax collector.

On the surface, this sounds like Jesus basically says to kick them out of the church, but treating someone like they don’t believe in God doesn’t mean that they really don’t believe. Treating someone like a tax collector might simply mean exercising caution when around them, but it does not mean disassociating yourself from them. Jesus invited a former tax collector to be a part of His group of disciples, and He praises Zacchaeus, another tax collector.

In some ways, church is designed for those who are deciding whether to believe in God or not, so simply not believing in God does not immediately disqualify someone from being a part of a church. This might mean that if a conflict of this sort happens, then it would be good to exercise caution if the person in question holds a leadership position. If the conflict cannot be resolved, it might make sense to invite the individual to step down from their place of leadership – but that is a far cry from asking them to leave a church.

There are times when a person should part ways with a church, but in almost every case, it should be the person’s decision unless the person is putting the church in physical or legal danger.

I see Jesus’ instructions conclude with a call to treat those who a resolution cannot be reached as someone who is brand new to the idea of believing in God/Jesus. Practically speaking, this involves being friendly, listening, socializing together, and intentionally building a community of friends around the person. These actions should have nothing to do with the issue at hand, but should instead simply be shown as a way to love someone who may be feeling burned by others (and perhaps even God). If the person doesn’t want the church’s love, then the person is free to leave – but then it becomes that person’s issue.

Jesus does not call anyone to hate or push others away. Instead, He calls us into community, and everything about His method for dealing with conflict helps support relationships and build a stronger community with other followers. When we deal with conflict like Jesus, we will ultimately grow closer even if not every issue is solved.

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The Arrogant, Self-Centered, Offensive Promise: John 14:1-14

Focus Passage: John 14:1-14 (CEV)

Jesus said to his disciples, “Don’t be worried! Have faith in God and have faith in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this, unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you. After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together. You know the way to where I am going.”

Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t even know where you are going! How can we know the way?”

“I am the way, the truth, and the life!” Jesus answered. “Without me, no one can go to the Father. If you had known me, you would have known the Father. But from now on, you do know him, and you have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father. That is all we need.”

Jesus replied:

Philip, I have been with you for a long time. Don’t you know who I am? If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. How can you ask me to show you the Father? 10 Don’t you believe that I am one with the Father and that the Father is one with me? What I say isn’t said on my own. The Father who lives in me does these things.

11 Have faith in me when I say that the Father is one with me and that I am one with the Father. Or else have faith in me simply because of the things I do. 12 I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things that I am doing. You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father. 13 Ask me, and I will do whatever you ask. This way the Son will bring honor to the Father. 14 I will do whatever you ask me to do.

Read John 14:1-14 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

On the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested, He makes one of the least politically correct statements, and it is a claim that may have turned some people off of Christianity when discovering it. The gospel of John tells us that while promising His followers He will be preparing a place for them in Heaven before returning to bring them home, the conversation Jesus has with His disciples went like this: Jesus finishes one sentence by saying, “You know the way to where I am going.” (v. 4)

Then Thomas jumps in with a question: “Lord, we don’t even know where you are going! How can we know the way?” (v. 5)

Jesus then responds with His politically incorrect and culturally insensitive response: “I am the way, the truth, and the life! Without me, no one can go to the Father.” (v. 6)

On the surface, these two sentences run completely counter to Jesus’ character. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He seemed to downplay His role and His significance in favor of pointing people back to God. Jesus didn’t want glory or fame; He wanted people to repent and return to the Father.

These two sentences, while technically pointing to the Father, place Jesus in the spotlight, and while Jesus had plenty of occasions to be the center of attention, very rarely is Jesus responsible for drawing attention onto Himself without pointing the glory to the Father.

So because these two statements seem un-Christ-like, does that mean we can safely ignore them?

In my own mind, it would be unwise to do so. In verse 10, Jesus describes how everything He says comes from the Father. This gives weight and context to Jesus’ earlier statements. If God told Jesus to say something that placed Him in the spotlight, it would be no different from empowering Jesus with the ability to miraculously heal a disabled person which would also place Him in the spotlight.

Because of this, we can trust the statement Jesus makes as a promise for us, however offensive it may sound to someone looking in with a critical attitude.

Also, it is worth challenging ourselves with the following thought: If God the Father directed Jesus to say that Jesus is the only way to Him, perhaps God the Father is the one responsible for making Jesus the only way to reach Him. If God the Father chose Jesus to be the only way to Him, then it would be complete foolishness for us to discount Jesus because it sounded like Jesus made an arrogant, exclusive statement about Himself. If God the Father is responsible for this, then rejecting Jesus is equal to rejecting God Himself, and rejecting God never leads to anywhere good long-term.

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Helping For Fame: Mark 8:22-26

Focus Passage: Mark 8:22-26 (GNT)

22 They came to Bethsaida, where some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch him. 23 Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. After spitting on the man’s eyes, Jesus placed his hands on him and asked him,
         Can you see anything?

24 The man looked up and said,
         Yes, I can see people, but they look like trees walking around.

25 Jesus again placed his hands on the man’s eyes. This time the man looked intently, his eyesight returned, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Jesus then sent him home with the order,
         Don’t go back into the village.

Read Mark 8:22-26 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

While reading our passage for this journal entry, a thought entered my mind related to how Jesus managed His popularity/fame. Often times, we see people coming to Jesus to be healed while there is a crowd present, but in this passage, it seems as though the “crowd” brought the man to be healed.

In other places in the gospels, when other people (i.e. the Pharisees or other religious leaders) bring someone to Jesus, it is usually a setup or a trap. While nothing in this passage indicates that this was similar to the traps of the Pharisees, Jesus does seem to be extra cautious about it. Not only does He take the blind man out of the village and away from the crowd who brought him, He also tells the man once he has been healed to not go back into the village.

With how Jesus acts in this passage regarding healing the blind man, it really appears as though there is a trap present – and if we look a little closer, we can see it.

Verse 22 ends by saying, “Some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged Him to touch him.” This trap is a popularity trap, and had Jesus performed the miracle with the crowd present, He would have sent the message that He was doing it for the crowd and not for the sake of healing a sick person. The trap would draw the focus away from God and onto Himself.

The crowd begged Jesus to heal this man. This places Jesus in an interesting dilemma. Does He help a hurting person but potentially send the wrong message about God, or does He not help for fear of drawing the focus onto Himself?

Like other places in the gospel, whenever Jesus is given an either/or choice, He chooses a third, different option: separate the blind man from the crowd, so that He can show love towards the man while not sending the wrong message about who He is.

Jesus did not come to bring glory to Himself. This is clearly seen in the details of this event when we look closer at it. Instead, Jesus came to show us who the Father is, what He is like, and to heal the divide that sin caused in our relationship with God.

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