Pruning

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit…Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15: 1 – 2; 4 – 8).

I never used to be much of a gardener until we moved into the house we currently live in. The previous owners had created and lovingly maintained several beautiful gardens. They reminded me of English gardens, the kind you see on the cover of a novel – lots of colorful flowers, plenty of tall green grasses that turned golden in the late summer, and a white picket fence encircling it all. There is even a little stone walkway that curves between the two main sections of the garden.

The gardens are still here today, but we have changed them a bit, made them our own. We did this because we realized what a big job it is to care for and maintain a garden. So we took some plants out. We planted more perennials. And we continue to prune the gardens regularly.

Pruning is certainly one of the most time-consuming parts of gardening. (As is weeding…definitely weeding!) We do quite a bit of pruning throughout the year. Every few days during the growing season, I go outside and cut off any dead flowers from our plants. And, at the end of every autumn, my husband cuts back every plant until it stands just above the ground. This pruning – both mid-season and at the end of the season – allows the plant’s energy to be directed to feeding the good, healthy parts of the plant. Pruning also encourages the roots to grow deeper. The plant grows back full and strong the next spring.

John 15 opens with Jesus talking about how our lives as believers are to be entwined with his, and he uses a gardening image to help us to understand His words. He says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2).

Did you catch that? God removes the dead stuff completely – He takes it away – and He prunes the still-alive parts! He prunes “every branch that does bear fruit”. That means that He may choose to prune good things, beautiful things – because He knows that pruning results in even better things. Sometimes those better things are new versions of pruned branches, and sometimes they look nothing like what was pruned.

Without pruning, a garden begins to look faded. Its colors soften and become muted. Pruning eliminates the non-productive and encourages the healthy. Pruning restores the vibrancy of the garden’s colors. This weekend in Central Illinois, the temperature hit 60 degrees, which is rare for late November. My husband took advantage of the day to cut down the rest of our garden. Today, as I write this looking out the front window, the plants looked short and bare, almost shocked. But I know that deep underground, within the roots, lies the promise of new growth, and if I am patient, I will see sprouts of green come springtime. May it be so with us, too. May we not resist His pruning, and may what God prunes grow back even stronger and healthier.

Is God Enough?

Today’s reading is James 1 and Psalm 23 which are two of my favorites in the Bible.

Is God enough? I first heard this question asked a few years ago by a speaker who was giving her testimonial about hitting rock bottom when nothing seemed to be going her way. She was about to lose her job due to poor performance, she was already in a bad financial position, and she nearly died in a motorcycle accident. It was until she asked herself this question and finally decided God was all she really needed that her life began to turn around. When I read Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepard; I shall not want.” I can’t help but think of the question, “Is God enough?” This is a really hard one for me to say yes if I answer honestly. If I lost my family, health, home, money, possessions, and everything, could I honestly say, “I’m good..I’ve got Him, and He’s all I need.” (Psalm 23:4)

I find it very interesting James 1:2 says to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” The use of “when” instead of “if” is not a coincidence. This tells us we will face trials and the question is about how we will react. I don’t believe God causes these trials when you read Romans 8:28, “There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” However, I believe He is watching to see how we will react and if we will trust in Him, and by the way, so is everyone else who knows we are a Christian.

“Count it all joy..” Really?! God can remove our problems and pains at any time because He’s God. We can understandably be mad at Him for not removing them and tell Him He’s wrong for not doing so or we can remember verses like Isaiah 55:9. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We can ask ourselves, I wonder what God is doing in my life and heart right now to turn this into a positive. James 1:2-3 tells us the testing of our faith in Him produces perseverance. It also tells us that perseverance needs to have its maximum impact so we may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing. The question then comes, how do we become perfect and complete? If we look at James 1:5-8, I believe it’s by having faith, asking for wisdom, and TRULY believing He can do whatever you ask and need, but most importantly, I believe it is by the realization that He is in fact… enough. If we are real with ourselves, do we truly believe He can take our illness, financial hardship, broken relationships or whatever pain or problem we have away? If we believe that He can and that he’s enough, it does not mean that He will, but that’s what He’s looking for. That is how His perfect plan is complete, and we lack nothing. ..by trusting in Him fully. James 1:12 tells us that when we have persevered and truly tell Him that He’s enough and when He has all of our heart, we will receive the crown of life. He promises this to those who love Him.

Let’s end by going back to Psalm 23:6. It says, “goodness and mercy” will follow and that we will “dwell in His house forever.” Whatever pain and problem we are going through which seems really bad and is really bad and for however long it goes on which seems like a long time pales in comparison to the joy we will have in Heaven forever. And forever is a long time.

As we go forth today, let us pray and truly believe the following short and sweet prayer that is pleasing to God and shows we are complete and lacking nothing. “God, you are enough, and you will always be enough..no matter what happens in my life.”

By Faith

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Our reading for today, Hebrews 11, opens with this short definition of faith. Although this definition is not long, it is not necessarily simple. The concept of faith – believing in something we cannot see – is complicated, at least for me. The author of Hebrews knows that just giving us a definition won’t make the concept any more real to us. So, he gives us examples of people who have obeyed God by faith alone. The author of Hebrews names Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, the Israelites, and Rahab! As if these were not enough, the author tells us that he doesn’t even have time to tell us of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets!

Listen to what just a few of these people accomplished through faith: Noah obeyed God and built an ark – even though he had never seen rain. Abraham obeyed God and traveled with his people to an unknown land. The Israelites believed God and crossed the Red Sea – on dry land. The walls of Jericho fell after the people obeyed God’s instructions and faithfully marched around it seven times. “Through faith [they] conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight…received back their dead by resurrection.” (Hebrews 11:33-35)

What have you done in your life that you could not have done without your faith in God? In 1998, our family moved from upstate New York to Central Illinois – far away from our family and friends. We did not know a single person here in Bloomington / Normal when we arrived. Yet we knew that God was leading us here, and so we moved in faith. A few years later, in the summer of 2000, my husband and I decided to homeschool our children. At the time, we knew only two families who homeschooled; yet we knew that God was asking us to teach our kids at home. And so we obeyed, in faith.

Opposition often accompanies obedience. We read in Hebrews 11 that many “were tortured…suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment…were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword…went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated…wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves…” (Hebrews 11:35-38). In both of the situations I described above, we encountered opposition from friends and family who disagreed with our decisions (although certainly not to the magnitude that the author of Hebrews details!) I can only imagine the opposition that Noah faced when he began building a boat before the world had ever experienced rain. Yet Scripture tells us that Noah worked on that ark in “reverent fear” (Hebrews 11:7) God saved Noah and his family from the flood. When we moved our family to Bloomington, God brought people into our lives who taught us about Jesus. The blessings of obeying God and following Him in faith far outweigh any opposition we encounter.

What could you do, what dream could you accomplish, because you have faith in God? Today, listen to the stirrings in your heart. Begin to dream big. And remember that God is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think! (Ephesians 3:20).

Fight the Good Fight

Today, we begin reading the first chapter of 1 Timothy together. Paul wrote this letter to his young friend, Timothy, who Paul calls his son in the faith. This letter was written just prior to Paul’s final imprisonment in Rome, which explains the urgency that permeates it. Paul had a message to impart to Timothy and to the world, and he was eager to do so, quickly.
I was curious about what Paul would choose to lead off with in this letter, knowing the urgency behind it. I learned that He begins with truth and love. We see in verse 3 that Paul is still concerned about people teaching false doctrines in places like Ephesus: “…remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine…” (1 Timothy 1:3). Furthermore, Paul states that “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). We are to speak truth, and we are to love well.
Next, Paul shares his testimony. As we have seen throughout the New Testament, Paul never hesitates to do this! He knows full well how he was changed after his encounter with Christ and he wants to world to know Him for this reason. Paul says, “This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1: 15). Paul’s statement is bold, strong and simple. And in the next sentence, we again glimpse Paul’s deep humility. He explains that, “…I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16). Paul, a former persecutor of Christians, calls himself the foremost, the worst of sinners. I believe he does this to give us hope. Our family is currently praying for six people who we love to come to know Christ; some of these we have been praying for for years. Many years. And in this passage, Paul’s words encourage me to not despair, and to keep hoping and praying for the salvation of those I love.
At the end of this chapter, Paul reminds Timothy that the road he will travel will not be an easy one. Instead, it will be fraught with frustration and even danger. Paul exhorts Timothy to, “…fight the good fight, holding on to faith…” (1 Timothy 1:19, NIV). The imagery Paul uses would have been relatable to Timothy and his contemporaries; they were all too familiar with the concept of fighting, from the gladiator fights held in the arenas of Rome to war with neighboring countries. Likewise, we too can relate. So let us push forward, persevere, and fight for our faith. And then let us join Paul in praising our Lord: “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17)

Imitators

Today’s reading is 1 Thessalonians 1.

Our small group leader and Bible Journal writer, David LaFrance, is currently leading our group through the “Life As We Know It” booklet published by Spread Truth Ministries. The booklet is an exercise where each person writes about their beginning, obstacles, hope, and future. It’s really neat to hear each person’s story and how their story fits into God’s story. One of the things that stuck out to me in writing my personal story was the impact others have had on my life, especially my family and older mentors in the beginning stage.

A few years ago, I read The Resolution for Men which I really feel is a must read for all men (there is also a version for women). One topic the book discussed was that many of us many come from a background where our parents and family have a generational history of addiction, abuse, shunning God or other bad habits, but it just takes one person to be a “chain breaker” to set future generations on the right path to follow God and his will for our lives. Someone must step up. Paul discusses in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 how the Thessalonians became “imitators.” Who is a “chain breaker” or another mentor who’s impacted you that your should give thanks to God for as Paul does in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3?

As I reflect on this question, I’m extremely grateful for both of my grandfathers who were “chain breakers.” My grandfather on my mom’s side was one of six kids. His dad left him and his siblings at a young age and to our knowledge they did not attend church growing up. He became one of the kindest, gentlest men I’ve ever known and was an amazing father and husband. He established a foundation in his family rooted in faith and the Word who would attend church not once, but three times per week. As a side note, I’ve always wondered and would like to thank the person who invited him to church or asked him if he had a relationship with Jesus. My grandfather on my Dad’s side had a father who was only really present in the physical form. He was abusive and left my grandfather to work for even his basic needs as a young boy after my great grandmother passed, despite having the financial resources. My grandfather essentially raised himself, obtained his degree, and was a great husband and father who raised my dad and uncle in a Christian household. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention my grandmothers who deserve a lot of credit for not only helping them get on the right path, but who were also strong in faith and a spiritual rock for their spouses and my parents growing up. Behind every great man is a great woman.

Because of their choices to be great husbands, fathers, wives, and mothers rooted in a foundation of faith in God, my mom and dad chose to follow their example and do the same for my brother and me. For that, I’m extremely grateful to them and our parents. I pray that my niece and nephews and Shannon and my children will stay close to God and continue this relationship with Jesus in their lives and their kids’ lives impacting generations to come.

Let us only thank those who have helped us, but let us not forget that there will be “imitators” of us which Paul mentions in 1 Thessalonians 1:6. These “imitators” may not only be our family as I have discussed, but also could be neighbors, co-workers, or others we mentor by design or default. We must ask ourselves if we are being a good example in our daily lives, and are we inviting them to have a relationship with Jesus? It will not only impact their lives, but also the lives of their friends and family for generations to come!

“For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere…..” 1 Thessalonians 1:8

Colossians 2

Last night, I was cleaning out some old books and journals, and I came across a prayer journal that I had purchased but never really used. I had thought it would “work” for me – I even filled out a few pages – but it just didn’t. Nonetheless, I saved it, thinking that of course I would use it “someday”. Well, someday came and went, and I haven’t used it. But as I flipped through the pages last evening, I noticed a section I had missed before. For each month, the author had put together a list of daily prayer points. And for one month, the list was based on the book of Colossians. The list is titled “Seeing the Lord: Personal Prayers From Colossians”.* Several of the prayers are based on Colossians 2, our text for today.

I read through those prayers quietly, and I remembered all over again why Colossians is one of my favorite books in the Bible. I love how the Lord led me to hose prayers last night, as He knew that I would be writing this devotion today. The prayer that resonated with me the most on this list is based on Colossians 2:7. The prayer reads, “Cause me to be firmly established in You, with a heart of gratitude.” This seems to be a central verse in this chapter. Paul begins by stating that he desperately desires that the followers of Christ would be strengthened in their faith. He says “I want you to know how much I am struggling for you…” (Colossians 2:1). Paul continues, explaining why he wants their faith to be strong. He knows that when our faith is strong, our “hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love” with the “full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.” (Colossians 2:2-3) With the strengthening of faith comes encouragement, love, understanding and knowledge. What an amazing gift!

Paul also knows that our strengthened faith enables us to stand firm when we are faced with the temptations of the world. Clearly, worldly temptations existed when Paul lived, just as they do today, and Paul knew how difficult it can be to discern truth from falsehood. Paul says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition…and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8) When our faith is rooted firmly in Christ, we can discern God’s voice from among the other voices clamoring for our attention. When we are strong in our faith, we can stand strong in our world. We will stand firm for what Christ stands for.

My prayer for us this week is this: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

May we be both rooted and thankful today.

* “Personal Prayers From Colossians” by Terry Gooding

Justified by Faith ~ Freedom in Christ

Welcome to Galatia. Where life by many is lived by the law. Where your merit and what you do, means more than anything. This idea of, what do you do?; in contrast to, Who do you follow? Or the question of, what law or rules are you following? instead of,  Who do you have a relationship with?

The book of Galatians has been called the charter of Christian Freedom according to a couple study bibles.  Who better to write this letter than apostle Paul (formerly Saul). The story of Paul’s miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus is necessary story to the people in Galatia, it is necessary to us, it is necessary to me. Here’s a reminder. (Acts 26:5-23) As I reflect on this story, I think that when the Lord gives you an opportunity today write down or share your “Damascus Road” experience with someone who needs Christ will I? Will you

Paul wrote this letter to defend his apostleship and to defend the authority of the Gospel. To help the Galatians turn from legalism to faith in Jesus. This issue can still be present today where we try to earn God’s favor through doing so many things, following rituals, or obeying a set of rules.  I found a great reminder for myself in Our Daily Bread: Rhythms of Grace. It reminded me to take a second to pause and take inventory of your life: “If you find that Christianity exhausts you, draining you of your energy, then you are practicing religion rather than enjoying your relationship with Jesus. Your walk with the Lord will not make you weary; it will invigorate you, restore your strength, and energize your life” ( Matthew 11:28-29)

Paul gives a realistic picture of the challenges of transitioning from a religion based on rules to one based on a relationship with Jesus Christ. From a life based on entitlement, to one given through grace; to a life not lived out through our flesh, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.

So are we working for Him, or walking with Him? While you read through Galatians be reminded that we are justified by faith not just the law. ( Galatians 2:20 Galatians 3:10-11) That our list of do’s and don’ts doesn’t confine us, it is our relationship with the Lord. We have freedom in our faith in Christ alone.  He is all we need now and for eternity. (1 John 2:1-2)

Dear Jesus,

Thank you for your grace. I accept that I am just like everyone else and can’t do any of this life on my own.  We are imperfect in so many ways and prone to sin. There is nothing we can do that makes me better than anyone else.  You love us so much you gave yourself up on the cross for me. That’s a grace so amazing that I can’t wrap my head around it, I can only accept this free gift and know that I’m saved.  I pray for guidance and willingness to submit the rest of my life to you.  That as we walk together I grow my faith and serve you with continued joy.  As we read through Galatians keep your words through Paul in our hearts.

Amen

 

Faith, Righteousness and Glory

Are you a rule follower?  Have you ever thought about why?  Most of us were taught that we either follow the rules, or get punished.  If that is you, I have another question for you.  Who do you believe God to be?  The judge?  The wrathful prosecutor?  An angry father?   Do you fear his punishment and condemnation?  Believe it or not, our answers to those questions can help us understand our faith.  Or, maybe they highlight our lack of faith.  According to Paul in Romans 4, if we believe those things about God, we are living according to the law.  How can we tell?  Let’s first consider righteousness.

How could I ever consider myself righteous?  I am painfully aware of how short I fall from God’s expectations, which is to say that I am disobedient to him and his commands.  I am sinful. But, to say so, invites the condemnation and wrath that I fear.   Even worse, to believe it, is to ignore Jesus.  Truly, because of Jesus death and resurrection, I do NOT fall short of God’s expectations.  In fact, I fully satisfy them.  That is the message that Paul is preaching today in Romans 4.  In verse 25, Paul explains that Jesus was “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  So, does Jesus make us righteous?

Yes, Jesus can make us righteous.  In fact, the Bible elevates believers in Jesus to Priests and Saints, but there is a catch to reaching this mark.  We must believe. We must have faith.  Paul uses Abraham as an example.  Faith for Abraham was being “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:13).  Remember, Abraham was 100 years old, yet his faith in God’s promises enabled him to push through physical weakness (Romans 4:19).  Furthermore, “no unbelief made him waiver.”  Abraham’s unwavering posture points to mental toughness.  Faith in God, therefore, provided everything he needed to persevere and succeed.  That’s powerful!  So, the real question of righteousness looks less like living according to a strict set of rules and more like knowing, trusting and believing that God, through Jesus, has a plan for my life.

Finally, what is the evidence that our faith is full and real?  Glory.  Not to us, but glory to God.  Looking at verse 20, we see that Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.”  We can conclude that faith is fully manifested in us when we give God glory for everything in every way.  Ironically, living for God’s glory means that we cannot possibly entertain thoughts, or engage behaviors that are contrary to his nature.  To do so would negate our belief and therefore, his very existence.

It’s that simple.    Faith, righteousness and glory do not come from finding all the right things to do in the Bible.  Instead, our perfection now and eternally, comes through “the one whom the Bible reveals,” Jesus Christ.  Believe it!

Chambers, Oswald (2011-05-01). My Utmost for His Highest, Classic Edition (Kindle Locations 2064-2066). Discovery House. Kindle Edition.

Follow Me

Today’s reading is Luke 9. A few years ago our small group studied a series called Follow by Andy Stanley. He talks about how Jesus said, “Follow Me,” approximately 23 times in the Gospel. A mentor of mine would always say that “repetition is the mother of learning.” So, if Jesus says those words that many times, we should probably take note. Ever since we covered Andy Stanley’s study, it always jumps off the page when I read Jesus say it like He does in Luke 9:23-25 and Luke 9:57-62, and I underline it in my Bible.

I believe many keep their distance from Christianity because they believe it is just a bunch of rules to abide by. We live in a society today that tells everyone to just do whatever they feel like, so if they believe all Christ does is make you follow rules then they will not be drawn to Him.

Jesus does not say to do X, Y, and Z and then you can, “Follow me.” He doesn’t say learn the Scriptures, change these habits, get your life in order, and then, “Follow me.” He just says, “Follow me.” Jesus only wants to see our faith and trust in Him. That is what amazes me so much about the disciples. They just left their lives upon Jesus invitation. Jesus did not pick guys that were scholars and had their lives together. He picked regular people like you and me. Earlier this week in Luke 5:27-28 He asks Matthew who was a tax collector to, “Follow me.” Tax collectors were Jewish outcast because they were Jewish, but collected taxes for the Roman government. Andy says they could only hang out with other tax collectors because even the worst sinners wouldn’t hang out with them. Yet, Jesus still called Matthew to follow Him and then he even hangs out with Matthew and his tax collector buddies after. While the occupations of all 12 disciples are not known, it is believed that most were fishermen or tradesmen of some kind. They were not set apart already because of their occupations or previous works before Jesus asked them to come along for the ride.

You may be thinking to yourself because of my earlier comments that the Bible and Christianity does have “do’s and don’ts” so to speak. Yes, it does because God knows what is best for us, and He knows that often what feels good at the time will eventually cause us pain later at some point. Jesus doesn’t lead with this though because He knows that by following Him our hearts will be changed, and we will stop sinful habits (Luke 12:34).

Jesus also knows we are not perfect, and we will still sin and lose faith at times. I know daily God answers prayers that could have altered the course of my entire life if they were not answered. Prayers for safe travels for family, favorable news from an uncertain doctor’s appointment, that a big meeting goes well, and the list goes on. Yet days, hours, or even minutes later I’ve forgotten already, and I’m anxious or nervous about something else! The disciples were no different though, and they even saw Jesus’ direct acts firsthand. Not only did they leave their regular lives to follow Him, but in Luke 9:1-6 He instructs them to leave and take nothing with them as they go to tell others about the Kingdom of God and heal others which they did. Then, in Luke 9:13 right after that, He instructs them to give five thousand people something to eat, and they say they don’t have enough food wondering what they should do. They didn’t even say, “Jesus can you come up with some food like you’ve done before…please perform another miracle.” They just doubted. Yet again, He delivers. Not only does Jesus always satisfy…He even leaves us with leftovers (Luke 9:17).

As we go into this week and think about our own lives and hopefully look to share the Gospel with others, let us not just share the love of Jesus with others we think are ready. In Matthew 19:16-22, a rich young man asks what good deed he must do to have eternal life. Most in our society I believe are wondering the same or think if they do more right then wrong they will earn the favor of God. But, Jesus tells the man there is only One who is good. Let’s make sure they know that they must only do one thing to go to Heaven…follow Him. He gave them, and all of us, that open invitation to do so not only with His words, but with his arms wide open on the cross.

 

Abundance

I love the book of Mark.  At just over 11,000 words (overviewbible.com), it is far shorter than the other three gospels.   I’m a reader; I love long novels and rich memoirs.  So to find myself drawn to the shortest gospel surprised me.  I think it is Mark’s simplicity that appeals to me:  it seems like Mark pares down the life of Jesus to the essentials, letting His life and His actions speak for themselves.  Only a few verses into Mark 8, however, I realized that although Mark’s style might be characterized by brevity, Jesus’ actions are marked by overflow and abundance.

Mark 8 includes the story of Jesus feeding a large crowd of people with only seven loaves of bread and a few small fish.  Mark 8:9 tells us that in the crowd “there were about four thousand people.”  It is believed that these four thousand only included the men; women and children were not counted in the total.  In reality, though, four or five times that number could have been in that crowd.  So, with a very small amount of food (Mark 8:6-7) Jesus fed perhaps 15,000 – 20,000 people.

A few chapters earlier, in Mark 6, we learned that Jesus fed even more people –  5,000 – with five loaves of bread and two fish.  Again, the crowd probably numbered over 20,000 people.  And Jesus?  He doesn’t stop there, with simply satisfying their hunger that day.  Instead, after all of the people “ate and were satisfied” (Mark 8:8 and Mark 6:42) He instructed His disciples to gather the leftovers, the broken pieces of bread and fish.  After the 5,000 had been fed, Jesus’s disciples filled twelve baskets with the leftovers!  And after the 4,000 had eaten, the disciples gathered 7 baskets of leftover bread and fish!  Provision, and overflow.  Scarcity, and abundance.

The provision of food for the crowd clearly reminds us to have faith that God will provide for our needs.  The leftover food, though, speaks to the idea of abundance.  Not only will God provide, but He will do so in an abundant way. This thought is echoed in other places in Scripture as well.  In Ephesians 3:19-21, Paul references Jesus’ desire for us to live a full and abundant life in Him.  Paul prays that Jesus’ followers would be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19), and writes, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.”  (Ephesians 3:20-21).  When Jesus fed crowds of people with so little food, and fed them until they were satisfied, He reveals to them, and to us, that He loves to provide for his followers in ways that are more than we could ever imagine.  And in John 10:10, Jesus tells his disciples that He “came that they may have life and have it abundantly”.  The promise of an abundant life for His followers was Christ’s purpose in coming into the world.  My prayer for us today is that we rest in that assurance and embrace the abundant life that Jesus offers.