Friday, October 30, 2015

The Ultimate Ghostbuster ...

In a season of Halloween, Americans like to get caught up in costume parties, spooky decorations, and making sure there is enough candy to hand out to the children who will come knocking at night.  This like many other holidays in our modern culture tends to be a Christianized alteration of an older pagan tradition.  The Celtic festival of Samhain was about wearing costumes to ward off ghosts or spirits at the end of summer.  The original Christian alteration was to use this time to remember the saints and martyrs of the past, perhaps lighting a candle in memory of them, and eating a vegetarian diet on the All Hallows Eve.  Other cultures have made further variations on the theme of honoring the dead, in Mexico the colors and festivities are particularly lively.  Often, it is the unknown that frightens us.  Since no living person has any frame of reference to discuss matters beyond the grave, the idea that a departed one might somehow find his/her way back to the land of the living inspires fear before anything else.  Hollywood has done much to capitalize on this notion as nearly every horror film is based on the idea of some supernatural being (generally immune to a real death) wreaking havoc on “normal” people.
And again, as throughout history since the ascension of Christ, Christians tend to take a pagan concept or tradition and alter it for their own purposes.  The popular Christian belief, that hell continues to exist in our present day, and is a destination for those souls who refuse the gospel, immediately upon death makes the idea of ghosts quite reasonable.  A departed soul coming back from heaven to give guidance to the living, becomes a less-scary proposition to those who believe that “good people” go immediately to heaven in spirit form upon death.  The idea that our souls are immortal supports the argument Satan used with Eve in the garden based upon his lie that eating the fruit would NOT result in death.  If Adam and Eve, and every departed soul since, continues to live on in spirit form, then the serpent was not lying and in fact God was.  But every Christian should know this not to be true.  Yet since it’s first telling in Eden, the idea that some sort of existence is possible beyond the grave has persisted in every pagan culture from Eden to America. 
Under this thinking, it is perhaps logical that should a ghost appear, it is likely motivated by an attempt to escape hell, rather than be dragged out of paradise.  So perhaps Hollywood has a point in portraying any supernatural being (immune to the idea of a real death), as being menacing rather than saintly.  And when you consider that the author of this original lie was Satan, any evidence he could manufacture to support this notion would ultimately be based in a desire to inflict as much damage on the objects of God’s love as possible.  It further stands to reason that havoc would follow any supernatural display.  The mission of demons impersonating the dead would be far from anything resembling salvation, or restoration to loving others like Christ loves them.  Instead, the imposters would be bent on giving advice designed to lead mankind in exactly the opposite direction.  If a person is open to the idea of life in spirit form beyond the grave, then they should be susceptible to the ideas of demons who closely resemble the form of departed loved ones purporting to be angels of light, when in fact they are anything but.
The other interesting phenomenon that accompanies Hollywood’s depiction of ghosts, spirits, and beings immune to death … is the notion they are always combated by human strength.  In the war against the supernatural, it is always mankind standing alone, against the powers of darkness.  In some cases, a less evil version of the supernatural, works alongside mankind, against the much darker powers.  But in nearly no cases, does mankind ever rely upon the power of our God to combat evil supernatural beings on our behalf in the Hollywood movies.  Often when priests call on God, they are immediately killed by the much “stronger” evil beings for daring to make such a prayer.  The idea that mankind must battle the supernatural forces of evil alone (without God), is one that only one side of the great conflict would benefit from (that of Satan).  How interesting that Satan is only leveraging the same idea he inserts into most Christian churches of the day as it relates to your own salvation – namely that you alone must fight and conquer your desire to sin to be saved.
But if Hollywood were to make a movie where the true power of Jesus Christ were put against the demons in the darkness, it would have to contend with the scriptural account of what happened EVERY time this conflict came about … Jesus wins instantly.  That does not make for a hit movie.  Instead that makes for a “boring” plot, where evil has no chance of winning, mankind does not have to fight at all, and there is really no danger from supernatural beings because Jesus rules the supernatural world beyond our sight, as much as he rules the one we can see.  Instead of Bill Murray, or Dan Aykroyd busting ghosts based on scientific acumen and a jovial nature; Jesus Christ busts ghosts, and spirits, and even the idea that such things exist 100% of the time.  For in reality, it is the power of Christ that sends demons running, and the doctrine of Christ, that shatters the ignorance that allows a ghost or spirit to exist in our minds in the first place.
Peter recalled to John Mark, an account where just such fear and ignorance were busted by Christ.  In Mark’s Gospel chapter six he began transcribing the story beginning in verse 45 saying … “And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people. [verse 46] And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray.”  Like any good ghost story, this one begins at the end of the day as nightfall is approaching.  The disciples are very tired as they were exhausted from the drain of the people before this day had begun, and during it, there was no rest, only the miraculous imparting of strength from Jesus to meet the needs of the people.  5,000 men and all their families had been fed in the late afternoon, and disciples had witnessed 12 baskets of extra food be gathered when everyone was full.  All of this came from only 5 loaves of bread and 2 small fishes, but replicated in the hands of Jesus, there was more than enough.  At the conclusion of these supernatural events is when our ghost story begins.  The disciples are tired once again, spent from the day’s activities.  So Jesus does, what Jesus ALWAYS does, He puts the needs of His disciples ahead of His own, and commissions them to go across the lake to get some rest.
You will note the disciples, despite their exhaustion did not want to leave Him unattended, or without transportation.  Peter uses the words “he constrained his disciples” meaning He put them in this boat with the target destination over their objections and desire to stay with Him.  Jesus knew these men would need the rest.  He knew if they stayed with Him, they would prevent Him from getting the rest He needed in the intimate communication of prayer He was intending to conduct with His Father.  So Jesus puts His very tired disciples into the boat, and He Himself departs into the stone stadium to pray.  Whether he spent the time hiking up the mountain, or was transported there in an instant (to avoid the desire of the crowd to crown Him our earthly king) is less important.  What was most important to Christ was to get precious time alone with His Father to talk through the mechanism of prayer.
Jesus had to be beyond tired.  The story of the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000+ families does not pause to record where Jesus Himself got some food or rest.  Instead He was spending His time, serving and creating the food for all these people to eat.  This followed a long day of preaching and teaching.  Jesus had to be hungry, and tired, perhaps thirsty as this was conducted in a stone stadium, in a desert meant for isolation not a social gathering.  But Jesus does not look for the closest Olive Garden restaurant (pardon the pun) to eat and revive Himself with breadsticks and salad.  Instead He longs for only one thing, a close communion with His Father.  A close proximity with the Author of Life, has the side benefit of meeting every physical need we think we have.  It was so then, it is so now.  And after His prayers are concluded for the evening, Jesus is ready to rejoin His tired crew.
Peter continues in verse 47 saying … “And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land. [verse 48] And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them.”  As Jesus reaches the sea shore, He sees that His disciples have not reached the other side of the Sea of Galilee yet.  The winds are blowing against their boat, so exhausted as they are, they have to row, instead of sail to reach the other side.  After the renewing time He spent with His Father, Christ decides not to bother His disciples to come back for Him and pick Him up.  Instead He decides to walk across the Sea, enjoy the head wind on his skin, and simply meet them on the other side when they arrive.  Perhaps He elected to walk across this Sea tonight, just because He enjoyed the breeze.  On many other occasions (mostly when the crowds were trying to crown Him our earthly king) He would teleport Himself away to the destination of His choice.  But on this occasion, He elected to walk instead.
Perhaps the moon was full, perhaps it was just a very clear night, and the stars were providing an unusual bright light against the water, but His walk did not go unnoticed.  John Mark continues transcribing in verse 49 saying … “But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out:”  The disciples completely without the influence of Hollywood horror films in any way, began screaming when they saw Him walking across the water.  Their first impulse when encountering something supernatural was that it must be a demon, or a ghost, or a spirit.  But demons they had recently been casting out, so it is less likely they would have feared one of them.  Spirits or ghosts on the other hand would have presented a different problem for them.  If the disciples had adopted a tradition that our souls continue to exist after death, then what presents itself on the water may not be a demon susceptible to being cast away.  Instead it may be a dead person in spirit form (immune from their commands to leave them alone).  Yet despite the 50/50 chance that this departed spirit may be a saint, instead of a demon, the reaction is not one of curiosity or engagement, it is one of fear.  It is in our nature to fear what instinctively we know will not be a positive encounter.  It was the ignorance of the disciples that allowed them to believe that a spirit could exist.  And so their ignorance gave rise to their fear, and logic was abandoned.
John Mark continues in verse 50 saying … “For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.”  And so the ultimate Ghostbuster does what no other can do, Jesus destroys their fear.  They were all troubled, for they all saw Him walking on water.  They were all afraid.  But they were all comforted directly by Christ.  The first thing Jesus does in this situation is alleviate their fear.  He does not begin preaching, or teaching, or scolding them for their ignorance.  He does not use logic to help them understand how foolish their assumption was.  He does not chastise them for STILL thinking in the limiting terms their humanity has conditioned them to think in, even though each of them have been healing people, casting out demons, and performing miracles that defy explanation.  They just left a scene where they helped feed 5,000 families with food that did not exist.  Yet hours or minutes later, they immediately jump to the most negative assumption possible.  But Jesus busts myths, fears, and ignorance, as only He can do.  He does not scold them, He comforts them.
Jesus follows His warm greeting as John Mark records in verse 51 saying … “And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. [verse 52] For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.”  These men were going through Israel teaching others that the Messiah had arrived.  They had no other doctrine to relay.  They were not reading scriptures, but preaching the witness they had seen as to the identity of the very Son of God.  Yet, when confronted with another miracle, they were still “sore amazed”.  The impact of this event was “beyond measure”.  And it caused them to wonder.  If the account had ended there, this would be a happy ghost story, where Jesus busted the myth, killed the fear, and saved the day once again.  But the story does not end in verse 51, it continues in verse 52.
The disciples forgot the miracle of service they had participated in, in the feeding of the 5,000 families.  Instead, greed hardened their hearts, and they began to think only of what position each of them might have in the new kingdom Christ was sure to establish here on earth.  How like us.  Our God conducts a miracle in our lives, ending pain we could not end, providing healing to diseases we do not even know we had.  And our first response is to turn His gifts inward.  He ends our fears, and instead of using the freedom He provides to love others, we use it to love only ourselves.  No longer in fear of hell, we do not choose to deepen our love to others, instead we use it to excuse our own self-love.  We need not fear the sleep of death, where we will know not anything.  We need not fear the idea of ghosts, or spirits, for there are none immune to the idea of real death.  Even Satan and his demonic hoards will one day face the death of non-existence.  But our freedom from the fear of punishment, is not meant to be used as an excuse to deepen in our own sins.  It is meant to free us from them.
Because Jesus can defeat demons, obliterate the idea of ghosts, and intends to recreate us both physically and mentally is meant to break the chains of our fear.  Jesus has busted every ghost.  Jesus has defeated every demon.  We are not to suffer from the fears of ignorance.  But we are not meant to use our freedom from fear to embrace an even deeper level of self-love.  Rather we should do, what our disciples forefathers forgot to do, we should remember the priority remains on serving others.  This was not supposed to be a change in direction, of focusing on self, instead of focusing on others.  Jesus was not attempting to show His power, for self-glorification.  He intended only to meet His disciples on the other side of the Sea, not requiring them to come pick Him up and work harder to reach the destination.  He was showing concern for their needs ahead of His own, like always.  But the disciples see His power, and think only what it can for them personally.  Let it not be so with us.  Let us see His love and power, and think only how we can reflect it others both now and forever.  Let us not use our freedom from fear to escape service but to embrace it.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Stone Stadiums ...

Popular speakers, singers, and performers have an uncanny ability to fill a stadium to sold-out capacity for people who want to see and hear them in person.  Logically this makes little sense, as for all but a few extraordinarily rich and privileged individuals, the seats typically preclude actually getting a good personal view of the celebrity.  To overcome this obvious dilemma, large stadiums install even larger monitors that hang from the ceiling in a central location and use television cameras to capture more close up images and display them so that everyone is at least able to see better what is actually happening on stage.  But this more close up, captured view, is generally the same one produced on DVD and BluRays that could have been consumed and enjoyed in the comfort of our own homes.  Logically, one would think live presentations should be going the way of the dinosaur, but somehow in spite of all these facts, they persist and thrive.  So what is it about seeing a “live” event that we still crave to be a part of?
But what if the conditions to attend an event made the participation even more difficult?  What if, instead of stadium surround sound, and projection TV, with padded seats, there were none of these things present.  Only the crowds remained, outdoors, in the blistering desert heat … would any celebrity be worth contending with those conditions?  What if there were no bathrooms, or even nearby access to water.  What if it was hard to hear, nearly impossible to see, and getting close just like in our events today, was precluded simply by the size of the crowd.  Under these conditions, would you attempt to attend such a live event, to catch a glimpse of the celebrity?  In a make-shift stadium made of jagged stones, rocks, and dirt, such an event was to take place nearly 2,000 years ago … to a sold out crowd that rivals the crowds of today.  Peter was there.  He recalled what took place to John Mark in his gospel in chapter six.
Beginning in verse 30 Mark transcribes … “And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught.”  The disciples had recently reached a good breaking point in their respective outreach to the surrounding areas, regarding the revelation of the identity of Jesus Christ.  They had been publicizing the arrival of the Messiah, the arrival of the very Son of God.  Adding power to their words, were acts of miraculous love that Jesus had endowed them with.  In His name, they were casting out demons, and healing the sick, just like their Lord was doing.  The audience might have easily ignored the ravings of mad-men, or the ramblings of disaffected disciples of yet another wanna-be Messiah.  But when those men performed the same miraculous deeds as their Master, in the name of their Master … this was something that could not be ignored.  The audience responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and to the power of the words He inspired in the mouths of the servants of Christ.  Hearts were turned in Israel.
The disciples had returned to Jesus in order to bring Him up to speed on the success they were seeing in their partner-team ministries.  They likely did not realize, that the recounting of their experiences, had the side effect of boosting their own faith (as Jesus already knew each event in detail before they recalled it).  It is similar in our prayer life.  We ask God for things, that He already knows we need.  We thank Him for things, that He already knew we would express our gratitude for.  Our prayers are not meant to be a news service, or an information brokerage.  They are meant to be a method for us to bring to our own minds, how much our God loves us, and proactively interacts with us, meeting our needs, and comforting us through events we were not meant to experience, but were made so by the evil of sin in this world.  The reaction of Jesus to these recollections is worth a special note.
Mark continues in verse 31 saying … “And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. [verse 32] And they departed into a desert place by ship privately.”  As always, the FIRST concern of Jesus, is not for Himself, or in this case, even for the ministry and the harvest that was being reaped in Israel.  His First concern, was for those who He loved, and for the needs of His own disciples.  People respond to love.  The inherent need in people to be loved is great, and when it finds an outlet, it will latch on.  When the needy realize there is someone to love them, they cling tightly to this person, looking to share their needs, and unload the stories of their lives.  This emotional need of the seeker, can quickly translate to an emotional burden of the minister, and it can drain the limits of human patience, care, and empathy.  Our very humanity, our human nature, needs time to rest and recover between great acts of service and love.  We are weak vessels after all.  And our imperfection sometimes makes us less effective in sharing love with others, than the perfect patience of our Master would have otherwise given witness to.
Jesus sees the effects of stress on His disciples, and immediately offers a plan for their recovery and renewal.  Both then and now, Jesus is keenly aware of your physical and emotional condition.  He knows what you need.  Sometimes we ask to push on, and the answer given is to pause, take time away and refresh ourselves in order to be ready to push on when the time comes.  Rest, is not a sin.  Rest, is instead the cornerstone of the Sabbath, and time away with Christ.  The success of your personal ministry and personal testimony of what Jesus Christ has done in your own life, and the sins He has freed you from, is not measured in your activity level.  We do not need to run from site to site, or from witness to witness, in order that the greatest number of people can be reached.  Instead our success can be measured in how deeply we are led to love others.  It is not our words the world needs, it is our passion to really love someone who has never known the depths of what being loved means.  This may preclude us from loving millions and leave us only loving a few.  But to love those few so deeply as to make a tangible difference in their lives in the name of Christ, is to share true success in His ministry, and offer a true revelation of His identity.  Loving this deeply is draining.  Because in our world, our imperfections taint both our ability to selflessly love another, and their response to this love.  Rest then, becomes a key part of the ministry cycle.
To get away from the crowds, one must go where people do not typically want to go.  In this case, the desert offered solace from the crowds in Israel, because it is hot, dry, arid, and not conducive to social events or interactions.  It is an isolated place, because conditions for life are difficult there, so while you make choose to visit, few choose to attempt living there.  As such getting away from the crowds, by going to a place they do not typically ever want to go made sense.  So the disciples and Christ got into a boat and sailed over the Sea of Galilee looking for a good spot of desert isolation.  But what happened next, perhaps reveals to us, how great a need there is in the world around us, to simply be loved.  Peter recalls it to John Mark in verse 33 saying … “And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him.”  The people saw Jesus setting sail with His disciples.  They guessed at their destination as a preference of isolation.  And they ran.
People ran home, to gather their families and friends.  They ignored the heat.  They ignored the pebbles that would invariably get in to their sandals.  They did not think about food or comfort.  The lame had spent too many days on the ground unable to move, they were made whole now, they were up, and longing to run.  The blind had spent too many days in darkness.  They were eager to see the light of the sun, and the Son of God.  The deaf had spent too many days in silence.  They now enjoyed the sound of waves along the shore, and craved the words of the Master who had broken through the darkness, the silence, and the chains that bound them to the ground.  In every town, every village, the word went out that Jesus was near.  And people gathered in numbers to rival an army.
Perhaps it was the lame who sprinted at full speed to outrun the boat Christ was on.  Perhaps it was the blind who pointed the way to those who could not move as fast.  Perhaps it was the deaf who shouted directions to those lagging behind, the mission was to meet Jesus where we He would land.  Those who had been bound to evil spirits, infecting them and insidiously controlling their actions, and corrupting their minds, were bound no longer.  They longed to sit again at the feet of the Son of God.  They were made free to love others.  They were restored and renewed.  No desert sun, no lack of water, no lack of food, even entered their minds … all that consumed their thoughts was to reach Jesus, even if it is only one last time to spend precious moments hearing the Word of the Lord, from the Lord Himself.  The voice of God had freed them.  That voice must be heard again.  So they ran, ignoring any human pain or limits.
Mark continues in verse 34 saying … “And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.”  The intent of this trip was not to preach or teach, but to allow His disciples to rest.  But on landing on shore, the great needs of those who had run themselves ragged for just a glimpse of His love was so great, it could not be ignored.  Jesus would have to impart His strength miraculously into His disciples to renew them for this event.  Just like He does today.  When the limits of our humanity have far been exceeded, it is not up to us to find more strength to go on.  It is up to us to allow God to renew us, and give us strength we have long run out of.  And so it occurred.  The disciples were miraculously made ready for the work of love, the crowds were in such desperate need of.  And Jesus begins to teach and preach in the jagged stone stadium that was originally meant to be a place of isolation and escape.
His powerful voice begins to echo in canyons of stone.  With another miracle, the crowds can hear every word.  The sky is crystal clear, and the sun should be melting the crowds in heat normally hot enough to melt stone; but while no one can explain it, it does not.  Today is just like in the days of the exodus of the children of Israel, when for forty years not even a single sandal wore out in the desert heat.  Every day in their sojourn back then the weather was kept mild in the camp of Israel, both day and night.  Scorpions, snakes, spiders, and all manner of dangerous and indigenous desert creatures were made to stay in their homes, and not a single snake bite occurs.  On this day, with this many people clamoring to get a good seat, to get comfortable looking for shade and rocks to sit on, snakes would have surely been in abundance, normally that is.  Yet not a single bite occurs.  Nature bends its will to the voice of its Creator.  The curse of sin, is made moot, by the only feet that can transform dirt into Holy Ground.  It is not Sinai that is Holy today, it is the stone stadiums along the shore of Galilee that are, because the Creator of Heaven and Earth is teaching there.  It is His feet transforming the earth they walk across, and dirt is transformed into Holy Ground.
In what seems like the blink of an eye, the hours of the day have been spent.  Mark continues in verse 35 saying … “And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: [verse 36] Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat.”  Notice the effects of being close to Christ.  The disciples now find themselves concerned not for their own welfare, but for the needs of the people.  Jesus made His first concern, for their well-being.  Now the disciples are making their own concern for the well-being of the people.  When we love others like Christ loves others, we begin to truly understand who He is.  When we love others like Christ loves others, we begin to see that the entirety of scripture and of our salvation has always been about that love.
The disciples are thinking about the needs of humanity, but limited in their scope of solutions to the limits of humanity.  This error in their thinking needs to be addressed.  We should not limit ourselves to the solutions only humanity is capable of, for we do not serve a man, but a God who has no limits.  Peter recalls the response of Jesus in His loving words in verse 37 saying … “He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat?”  The story might have ended differently if the directions of Christ had been followed when they were given.  How like us.  Instead of doing what God commands, we pause to question Him, and His logic (or lack thereof) from our perspective.  Jesus had said to feed the people.  The disciples still looked at this idea in the context of human limitations.  They now made the more fatal mistake of introducing funding as a further limitation.  They point out to Christ, that 200 pennyworth does not buy what is required for this ministry.
How often have we looked our God square in the eye (metaphorically) and “informed” Him that we simply do not have enough money to perform the ministry He has asked of us?  If He wanted this ministry done, He should have provided more money to see it accomplished.  So after all, it is really His fault, that nothing gets done.  Or perhaps is it our total lack of faith the size of a grain of mustard seed that actually allows a financial discussion to even come up in the context of ministry.  How dare we introduce money as any kind of limiter to the love of God.  How dare we, like our disciple forefathers, explain that 200 pennyworth is simply not enough.  Jesus did not ask the disciples to buy bread, or for that matter to charge money for healing and the freedom from demons.  Money, was nowhere a part of the ministry of Christ.  Freely, they were given gifts, freely they were to impart them.  The request of Jesus never mentioned money, or purchasing, or financial transactions.  It was to feed the people.  Does He ask anything different from us today?  Why is our first response always couched in the financial terms that will invariably limit our responsive actions to His commands?
Instead Jesus has other ideas as Mark transcribes in verse 38 saying … “He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes.”  You will note that Jesus asks them to examine their inventory of food, not money.  You will note that people do not eat money, they eat food; which if the disciples had truly wanted to discuss the limits of feeding this crowd, they would have assessed prior to their first response.  Jesus continues in verse 39 saying … “And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass. [verse 40] And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties.”  Hey wait a minute … why is this not game over?  The inventory had come back as 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, the picnic lunch of a caring mother for her son in all likelihood.  That was far too few resources to accomplish so great a ministry, yet Christ does not deter moving forward for even an instant.  He does not “explain” why too little resources have been provided, and He is “sorry” that everyone will just have to be disappointed.  In short, He does not do what we always do when confronted with the same set of facts.  Instead He organizes for what is about to occur.
Then Peter recalls what a lack of limits can accomplish beginning in verse 41 as John Mark transcribes … “And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. [verse 42] And they did all eat, and were filled. [verse 43] And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes. [verse 44] And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men.”  Dead fish do not breed.  Nor does wheat spring forth, get milled, baked, and reach perfection within the confines of a picnic basket.  What happened was not a gathering and preparation of food for the crowds.  It was not the impracticality of even assuming that local merchants would be capable or prepared to feed so many.  Instead food and scare resources were replicated in the hands of Christ to meet the needs of the people there.
This could have been done by the disciples directly, if they had responded differently to the original command of Christ.  How like us.  We delay, drag, and attempt to reason with God, as to why His demands are impractical and impossible, instead of just doing them.  We introduce money as the constraint from which there is no escape.  And we limit ourselves to the point of failing in ministry altogether.  But Jesus patiently does for us, what He asked us to do.  Still willing to have us participate in what was to be His mission and His ministry in the first place, despite our initial failures.  He blows away our limitations and through the blessing of our participation in ministry with Christ, we again find our faith re-affirmed and His goals accomplished.  Christ did not create money and disperse it to the crowds.  It was not money they needed, and perhaps would have been tempted to hoard, or steal from one another.  It was not temporal wealth Christ was looking to create.  For wealth is nothing more than a burden.  Instead He met the needs that they had in that moment alone.  The excess food would be carried back to the towns and villages and given to the poor who were unable or unwilling to make the desert journey. 
You will note that there were 12 baskets of excess gathered up in the stone stadium.  One for each tribe of Israel perhaps, or more likely, one for each disciple to remind them that their imposed limitations are not really limitations at all.  Perhaps this was Jesus subtly reminding the disciples they were going to need to think differently where it comes to participating in ministry with Christ.  Then to consider the magnitude of what took place here this fine evening.  Dinner was served to the entire crowd.  The number 5,000 was only the men in the crowd, in addition would have been their wives and children.  Figuring a mostly married crowd, and 2-3 children on average (without the benefit of birth control), this total crowd size could have easily been two to three times the 5,000 number.  Yet every child was filled, every adult has more than enough.  Not a single person with need goes hungry.  That is mission success.  To meet the need of every single person, not just most of them, or some of them, but all of them.  Every person there had tangible evidence of the love of Christ for them, of His tender concern for their hunger.  You will note there is no mention of Christ taking a break from His teaching, preaching and loving others throughout the day, in order for Him to eat.  Instead He works tirelessly depending on the strength of His Father, in order to meet the needs of ALL in attendance.
Stone stadiums in a desert venue have never been so transformed as they were that day and night.  Desert temperatures, and native inhabitants never so mild as on that day.  Perhaps 12 to 20 thousand people were reached and fed.  To be at this live event, was perhaps the envy of history.  No modern equivalent has ever been offered or sustained.  And no modern celebrity could ever come close to offering what Jesus offered.  This was not dinner and a show.  This was a spiritual feast, listening to the words of God, from the mouth of God.  This was a living interaction with a God who clearly loves you.  This was a meal offered out of nothing, with enough for everyone, and excess for the poor, as a tangible demonstration that every single person there was loved.  And so were those who were not even there.  Sharing the excess with the poor upon their return offered even more chance to participate with Christ in ministry that continued long after the original event was concluded.
If stadiums of stone could be transformed by the power of Christ, into a cathedral that has never had an equal, how then can we not find the blessing of ministry in far more comfortable conditions?  To offer the deep and passionate love of Christ through you to someone in need, can occur in any office, in any home, in any venue.  And the stone that once composed your own heart can be broken and become flesh.  And the stone that once greeted you in response can be melted in the blinding heat of His love reflected through you.  We need not fear a lack of food or water, or resources of any kind, for the only resource that ever mattered was love.  Love is what it is all about.  His love transforms.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Ghosts of Pride and Ignorance ...

Word of mouth, or a good recommendation from someone you know, might be the best publicity out there.  No matter how it comes to you, the opinion of someone you know and perhaps trust, will outweigh what billboards, or advertising, or any other paid medium can offer.  When we connect with someone, understand where they are coming from, have memories of shared experiences, it gives us a much better context for something they like when they recommend it to us.  This is a basic human phenomenon that has existed long before mobility gave us pictures, and 140 characters to disseminate data to our collection of friends.  In the time of Christ, it was the only vehicle for spreading the good news.  The fame of Jesus was spreading widely already, but instituting His followers and sending them out 2-by-2 had exponentially increased the word of mouth regarding the Messiah.  Instead of only Jesus performing miracles on a grand scale, now 12 other followers were doing it too.  At this rate, there would hardly be a demon-possession or sick person left in all of Israel.  The nation itself was moving from weakness to strength in so short a time, every disciple was certain the Messiah was soon to fulfill the mission they all believed He came for … to become our earthly King.
But there was already a king of the Jews, or at least a tetrarch.  Herod Antipas, was still formally in charge of Israel (or this part of Galilee).  The Romans had dispatched a governor to maintain military discipline, but continued to honor their original agreement with Herod the Great, dividing his kingdom into three parts at his death and letting his sons rule in each section of the greater Palestine area.  Herod Antipas in our section had no great military ambition, and was more focused on insuring a relative peace, in order to maintain his rule, than to see it given over to one of his brothers Archelaus or Phillip, or another Roman puppet altogether.  He spent the majority of his life attempting to maintain what he had been given.  But this Herod Antipas had grown up in Israel, he had learned from his father who was familiar with Jewish scripture.  Herod remembered the act of his father murdering the baby boys up to 2 years old in Bethlehem to prevent the coming Messiah and deny scripture its fulfillment.  Herod’s son Antipas developed an intelligence network to keep an “eye” on goings on that may indicate the Messiah had come anyway.  And this intelligence network yielded its first real person of interest in the form of John the Baptist.
The scribes, priests, Rabbi’s, Pharisees and Sadducees; basically the entire ruling class, was easy enough for Herod Antipas to deal with.  They were greedy and power hungry themselves, so their motives were easy to read, and their actions followed their hearts.  They may have spoken about religion and tradition, but their focus had nothing to do with the changing of hearts or minds, only of maintaining the flow of offerings to the Temple (and themselves by proxy).  The laws of Moses were generally restrictive in nature, and where Moses had left off, the Temple traditions had added a whole host of further restrictions required in order to achieve piety.  These additional man-made restrictions also greatly increased the profitability of the Temple (and its servants).  So this very corrupted religious institution was well known to Herod, and he never paid it that much credence.  When his brother Phillip’s wife caught his eye; when she clearly made it known, she wanted Antipas, not her husband Phillip, Herod decided too many restrictions prevent happiness and he took her home with him.  In the eyes of Herod Antipas, taking a woman who wants to be taken is hard to call a sin, particularly if he was willing to marry her as well, and treat her like a wife.  After all, Herod was not establishing a multi-wife situation, he was only stealing one.
Herodias however, came with Phillip’s daughter Salome.  She had baggage, but the apple did fall far from the tree and Salome had a reputation for excellence at exotic dancing.  Herod Antipas was now quite comfortable.  He the wife of his choosing, despite some regrettable acquisition details.  He had the clergy under his thumb.  He had the people relatively calm.  Then came John the Baptist.  John was unlike the hypocrites Herod was familiar with.  John was real.  He lived in humility and preached it.  He had no monetary ambitions, and Herod’s spies quickly figured out that John was not looking to become king of anything, so he was no threat; at least no military threat.  John however, was endowed with the Holy Spirit and his preaching was powerful and convicting.  In fact, Herod secretly went to hear John preach, and despite John’s call for repentance, Herod “heard him gladly”.  Herod liked John.  He liked his authenticity.  He liked the power in his message.  He did not even mind when John called him out on it not being lawful to have his brother Phillip’s wife as his own.  Herod knew John was right, and because of his admiration for John, he was OK with it.  He was not ready to give her up, but he knew John was right, Herod was sinning against his brother Phillip.
Herodias however, was NOT OK with it.  She wanted John dead, and would have gotten it right away, but her husband had zero intention of putting innocent blood on his own hands, particularly of someone he admired.  But that is exactly what happened because of pride, and of ignorance.  After being sent out 2-by-2 the disciples uncovered this story.  Peter recalls to John Mark in his gospel in chapter six beginning in verse 14 saying … “And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.”  Herod’s first response reflected both fear, and hope.  He imagined that the great miracles going on in Israel, the idea that the disciples were also healing and casting out demons, might mean that John the Baptist had risen from the dead and was responsible for all of this.  Perhaps John would forgive Herod for his death.  After all, both Andrew and John the beloved, were both originally disciples of John the Baptist.  And 2 other disciples were their brothers including Peter.  So at least 4 disciples had direct connections to John the Baptist, and it was through the Baptist that they had met Christ.  To Herod this idea made good sense.
But despite wishful thinking on Herod’s part, it was not a risen John the Baptist, nor any ghost version of him that was behind the miraculous transformation of Israel from extreme weakness to extreme strength.  Herod’s intelligence network and the people at large had other ideas.  John Mark continues in verse 15 saying … “Others said, That it is Elias. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets.”  The coming of Elias (or Elijah) had also been prophesied, and perhaps he or one of his other contemporaries had arisen in Israel.  The question raised was the most key issue then and now.  Who exactly is Jesus Christ?  If Jesus is only a prophet, then His divinity is moot, and our salvation along with it.  If Jesus is only a good teacher, an upright man, then His life is no more meaningful than any other good soul who has ever lived.  But if Jesus is the only Son of God, then there can be no salvation from our desire to sins, outside of coming to Him in surrender.  This has been, and always will be the key question every man must answer for himself, who is Jesus Christ.  Herod remained unconvinced of these other theories.
John Mark continues in verse 16 saying … “But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead.”  This was Herod’s greatest wish.  He wanted John back from the dead.  He wanted to be forgiven for making John a headless corpse.  He, like Saul of old, wanted to hear a word from the Lord from the mouth of His prophet.  But Herod had made himself blind to the fact that he could have word directly with the Lord who truly was responsible for the miracles everyone was reporting.  This set of scripture begins with Herod’s recognition of the name of Jesus Christ being reported to him.  But Herod twisted the identity of Jesus, transforming Him into a risen John instead; because that idea made Herod happier.  If Jesus was not John, then John remained dead, and Herod figured he could never be forgiven.  How like us.  We attempt to transform God into the image we want, in order to gain acceptance for the sins we commit, instead of seeking forgiveness and transformation from them altogether.
Peter then recalls the story of John the Baptist that he and the other disciples had uncovered in their mission of ministry.  Mark transcribes it beginning in verse 17 saying … “For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her. [verse 18] For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife.”  No whore likes being called that.  John the Baptist had out’d Herodias as being an adulteress.  John had made it known to Herod, it was a sin to keep her.  And Herodias had no intention of being sent back to Phillip, or kicked out on the street.  John posed a threat, and she wanted him dead.  So after nagging Herod to death, likely withholding sex, and making his life miserable, Herod finally agreed to put John in prison, where at least he could not publicly call her a whore anymore.  Even though Herod would still regularly visit John there.  Mark continues in verse 19 saying … “Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: [verse 20] For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.”
Herod “did many things” based on the preaching and message of John the Baptist.  Herodias perceived the threat as being even greater to her, now that John was in prison where Herod could see him regularly.  In fact scripture says that Herod “heard him gladly”.  Herod embraced the true message of repentance John was preaching.  He did not make him shut up, instead he wanted more.  He began to reform his actions because of it.  Herodias rightly reasoned, that if this kept up, she would be back in Phillips home, or out on the street in no time at all.  Something had to be done.  Mark continues in verse 21 saying … “And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; [verse 22] And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. [verse 23] And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.”
So there are a few things to consider in this sequence of events.  First, it is highly likely Herod was not getting any with Herodias because she still wanted John dead.  So as a gesture to put Herodias in her place, Herod asks her talented daughter to dance at his party for him.  This was meant to further un-nerve Herodias, and it worked at first.  But Ghosts are created by pride, and exist in ignorance.  Herod had made his birthday celebration a public one with only the ruling class of important attendees.  Where better to show off his niece’s dancing skills, and the wealth and privilege he had amassed.  Word of mouth was important, perhaps more so in his own day.  And the word of a king had to be trusted and absolute, or the monarchy would degenerate into chaos.  But parties then and now, are opportunities for people to let their hair down, and have a good time.  Herod would not be driving so why not take in a little wine, and add drunkenness to the enjoyment of the day.  Drunkenness was another one of those restrictions the Rabbi’s were always making too much of anyway.  But in this condition, it seemed reasonable to offer the dancer anything she wanted.  It would be another slight to her mother for not being willing to keep Herod entertained.  Herod’s lack of clarity of mind, clouded his judgment, and he over-promised, not thinking what she might ask for.
John Mark records what happened next in verse 24 saying … “And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. [verse 25] And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist.”  Salome was no innocent, she was the daughter of a whore, and appeared to have taken up the family profession.  She had succeeded in arousing the passion of the king, who was thinking to buy her intimacies later this evening for his birthday.  But Salome would ultimately share the fate of her mother.  If her mother were sent back to Phillip or cast out on the street, she would follow.  John the Baptist did not tolerate partial sins, he was looking to free his audience from all of them.  Herod could not marry his niece any more than he could lawfully steal her mother.  So if the threat of John persisted, she would be cast out as well.  She did not argue with mom, or even suggest an alternative, rather she embellished her demands by wanting John’s head in a basket for her to toy with.  She returned to the king “straightway with haste”.  Not tempted by immediate rewards like jewels or wealth or land, she would rather play the long game and terminate the threat of John, so ultimately she could inherit it all.
Mark records the outcome in verse 26 saying … “And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. [verse 27] And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, [verse 28] And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother.”  Ghosts are created by pride.  The king had sworn an oath.  He could have argued with her.  He could have simply refused her, and had her executed herself from making such a request.  If he was worried about maintaining his power, that would have sent a strong message to those in attendance.  But Herod was weak in sexual matters.  This is how Herodias gained entrance into his home in the first place.  It was now, his weakness that would submit to his pride, and end the life of the only holy man he knew, and admired. 
Herod was “exceeding sorry”.  The repentance John had been preaching was now fully in the heart of Herod, but alas his pride remained greater.  The daughter of the whore, took the head to her mother, and despite his weakness, Herod would not want to be seduced any further on this birthday, he had already lost too much.   It was in this context, that Herod so desperately wanted to believe that Jesus was a risen John.  He wanted a second chance.  He wanted to undo the consequences of his sins.  But Herodias and Salome had remained in his home, and in his heart, and in his weakness.  So while Herod preferred a better Ghost story, he had denied himself access to the only person who had the power to free him from his sinful and addictive desires.  By denying the identity of Jesus Christ, Herod had cut himself off from his only cure.  When later Herod would be given power over the fate of Christ, his only interest would be in seeing a miracle for himself.  By then the corrupting influence of the whores in his life, would have sapped all the repentance he had ever felt when listening to John.
Peter contacted Andrew and John to collect the remains as Mark writes in verse 29 … “And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.”  Herod released the body to the disciples of John the Baptist, but never bothered to know who it was they served now.  His interest in Jesus would only be if it could confirm what he wanted Jesus to be.  Finding out directly from the disciples that his theories of God were incorrect was not something he wanted to hear.  Are we any different?  When we concoct our images of who God is, do we craft Him in our image instead of the other way around?  Do we attempt to rationalize or minimize the effects and consequences of our sins, instead of seeking a freedom from them in the first place?  It would have been hard for Herod to let go the love of his life, and the seductress of his bedroom.  It was harder still for Solomon of old, to let go 600 wives, 900 concubines, and nearly 4000 of his own children and keep only one… but that is what he did when his conversion finally took hold.  It was hard for Abraham to lose Sarah.  But life goes on.  And Herod could have trusted in God to find him a helpmate that was good for him not only sexually, but spiritually. 
If Herod had been willing to trust his sexuality in the hands of His God, the outcome of his life might have been an order of magnitude better.  To experience real love is far cry better than lust that masquerades as love.  To know intimacy not only with a woman, but a woman who is equally intimate with God, allows God a level of access into our family units that is how it was intended to be.  Herodias and her daughter were not fans of God, they were his enemy.  They used their feminine powers of seduction to get what they wanted, but were incapable of intimacy with God or man, because they had cut themselves off from the source of love and intimacy.  We are quick to criticize Herod for his pride, lack of judgment, and willingness to sin for sex.  But we are slow to look into the mirror, and lay the love of our lives on the same altar of our God.  We are slow to pledge to God ahead of our own sexual interests.  Instead like Herod, we want both.  We want a religion and set of restrictions than is not too tight for us to enjoy what we have, instead of being open to so much more that God might have in mind for us.  Our sin limits us, it does not free us.  Our sins enslave us, and keep us bound to pain and mediocrity, instead of allowing our God to offer us His boundless treasures that no one can take away.
Perhaps the only real winner in this tragedy is Phillip.  Phillip was rid of the whore who masqueraded as his wife.  While he lost his daughter as well, perhaps Phillip feared she too was beyond the desire for redemption.  Perhaps were Antipas would not accept the identity of Christ, Phillip might be better inclined to listen.  At least he would be free of the corrupting influence of a woman who knows the boundaries of lust, but has yet to discover the bliss of love.  If we are to live differently than Herod, and see another outcome in our lives, we must begin to trust God with our MOST cherished possessions, the core of who we are.  We need the Lord in our homes, in our hearts, in our bedrooms, and at the core of our marriages.  If we shut God out of these things, we deny ourselves the potential for bliss He so longs to give us.  Better the bliss of God, than the counterfeit his enemy offers that brings only pain and regret.  Let us make no Ghosts from pride, and let none exist from our willful ignorance.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Opportunity Knocks ...

In our modern age, door-to-door sales teams have all but disappeared.  Gone are the days of milk man deliveries and vacuum cleaner salesmen.  What remains are the occasional missionaries, and student laborers attempting to “earn money for their schools” and themselves.  It always was a difficult job, and with so many families requiring the income from 2 wage earners just to survive, there are few people at home even able to take in a sales call, let alone willing to listen.  In the age of social media, we prefer less physical contact, and more electronic.  Mobility allows us to communicate at our leisure, no longer tethered to long spiraling phone cords attached to handsets of touch tone phones.  We are free to interact with significantly more people, across significantly higher distances, for significantly less time.  Personal relationships now occur mostly at home with our families, and at work where physical proximity is still something that cannot be escaped.  So in this climate, how does Christ appear at the door of our hearts and knock?  How do we introduce to others what we have learned, as His disciples were commissioned to do so long ago?
Like any good sales pitch, it all begins in what it is you are trying to sell.  What is it you have to offer?  Would you buy what you’re selling?  Why?  A product based on distant fears, avoiding some future calamity that no one can prove is even real seems like it would have a very low target audience.  Likewise, a product based on the promise of some utopian rewards that no one has ever seen, or can ever prove even exists seems like yet another slim market share to seek out.  Yet this is how traditional evangelism has presented the gospel … but wait … there’s more.   In addition to either an insurance policy against tragedy, or a swamp land deal for the Brooklyn Bridge; you cannot have either UNLESS you are willing to follow the fine print of a specific denomination of Christians doing the presentation.  Even the slightest deviation, from the presenter’s specific set of rules (i.e. doctrines) will result in complete forfeiture of the rewards offered, and immediate adoption of all punishments listed.  AND now that you have taken the time to listen to this sales pitch, you have formally been educated on the “truth”, therefore any rejection or delay in accepting this limited time offer will afford you no excuses when it is time to experience the punishment you will get for not having accepted the offer when you had the chance.  Welcome to the gospel.  Not.
Our ideas of evangelism and ministry have degenerated a long way from the original model Christ Himself set up.  If we are ever to see real success in ourselves, and in our ministry, perhaps we should return and examine what we have lost.  Peter took the time to discuss “the first church”, as he recalled the plans of Jesus for John Mark to record.  Mark recorded these ideas and plans in his gospel in chapter six beginning in verse 7 saying … “And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;”  In this initial description is buried a whole host of truths that have traditionally escaped our grasp.  First, consider who was chosen to begin to share in the ministry of Christ, the twelve earliest followers.  This event is happening VERY early in the ministry of Christ.  It is NOT happening AFTER the ascension, or even the crucifixion.  At this point in His ministry (and we are only 6 chapters into the book), the disciples have only ONE doctrine they are fairly certain about … the identity of Jesus Christ.
Think about it.  These first 12 followers are decidedly NOT scriptural scholars, and in point of fact, are not being called to go out and read scripture to those who would listen.  There are not a set of standard doctrines to go share, not even about the mission of the Messiah, as nearly ALL of the disciples are still WRONG about what they think that mission is.  These men are NOT perfect.  They are still sinners, not freed from every wrong doing as yet.  These events are occurring before the day of Pentecost, and language may still be a barrier.  In point of fact, if this is the first great commission for mission into the fields, a formal set of doctrines seems to be completely absent … as is a solid scriptural explanation and interpretation for what they are doing.  The only thing they are fairly certain about is the identity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
Second, consider that despite their deep spiritual misunderstandings of the true mission of the Messiah, and their continued interest (greed), in being the “number two” in His Kingdom, they are STILL given power by Jesus Christ over “unclean spirits”.  The enemy of souls, the true enemy of redemption and salvation for the children of God, are NOT the Children themselves, they are the devil and his compatriots.  The power granted to the 12, is not the power to condemn mankind, but to free mankind from the influence of its true enemy.  Mankind is the target audience.  Mankind’s redemption through Jesus Christ the only Son of God is the product.  You cannot condemn the audience of this message, and expect it to see the wisdom and love in salvation.  The power over unclean spirits, was meant to free the bondage of mankind to demonic influences and addiction to sin.  Our enemy was and remains Satan.  Our enemy was and remains self.  The first power offered in the ministry and service of Christ, was to free mankind from the undue influence of the supernatural.
Third, consider the method in which the 12 were to be sent out to the surrounding world.  To cover the broadest area and reach the most people possible, they should have been sent out alone in 12 different directions.  Instead, Christ cuts down the opportunity by half, in order to pair disciples 2-by-2 and send them out.  Why?.  Could it be, that our picture of the identity of Christ is incomplete when we view Him only through our own eyes?  Could it be, that to truly present a better truth about Jesus, we need more than our own opinion, we need to see Him through the eyes of another?  Perhaps the only way to avoid the temptation of ego, even when serving Christ, is to have a partner with whom we must share the credit.  Perhaps the only way to make an enlightened decision of where to go next, and what to do next, is to value the opinions and prayers of someone other than ourselves.  When 2 form a consensus, and in unity reach out, miracles occur.  When we attempt to go solo … we often fail.  Protection from non-believers was not the primary consideration for pairing disciples, for God alone can take care of our security and other needs, as Peter was about to recall.
John Mark continues transcribing in verse 8 saying … “And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse: [verse 9] But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.”  This “command” is a departure from everything we know.  It lacks all common sense, and reveals a complete lack of sensible preparation.  The disciples were to carry literally nothing with them that could help their efforts except the single set of clothes that they were wearing, a pair of sandals, and a staff.  They could not even take an extra coat in case it got cold.  No money at all.  No sack lunch or canteen.  Why on earth, would Jesus effectively disarm the disciples to the point where it is impossible to sustain themselves and then ask them to go out and do ministry works?  Parents, even today, insure their children have lunch in school before they send them out the door.  We put coats on our children if we suspect rain or snow is coming.  And when going on a trip ourselves, we “pack” everything we think we are going to need, or want, in order to enjoy where we are going.  Not so, with Jesus, and the first church.  They were to take nothing … but the power Christ had put within them, and the knowledge of His true identity.
Sending disciples into a hostile world with nothing that could help them sustain themselves … has the direct impact of focusing your need.  It brings into acute focus that you MUST depend upon God in order to be sustained, because you have no other choice.  The biggest danger within the gospel ministry is the idea that we can somehow sustain ourselves.  The biggest danger to our redemption and reclamation is the idea that we can somehow take care of ourselves and our sins.  The cancer-of-thought that allows us to believe we bring something of our own of value into the ministry, is the corrosive corruption of self entering into the gospel, and disabling it.  We bring nothing of value.  We have nothing of value to offer except the power Christ imparts, and our certainty about His identity.  The Disciples of Christ will by necessity demonstrate a dependence on God that none around them have to do.  The people they will encounter are workers, providing for themselves and their families.  Those people think they are sustaining themselves, but the living example of the disciples runs counter to that notion.  The disciples have nothing but their faith in the identity of Jesus Christ, and His assurance He will take care of them, because He loves them.  They need nothing else.
So many Adventists, and Christians of other faiths, believe they must prepare for the end of the world, by purchasing homes in the country, and burying food in the caves.  These believers have mistaken the ideas of preparedness (like an intimate proximity to Christ), with instead a hoarder philosophy to empty the supermarket.  In short, they deny God the opportunity to provide for their needs, presuming they can take care of these needs themselves.  They further presume they can predict where they will be when the end comes, and will have access to the food, shelter, and supplies they have prepared for just this occasion.  What they omit, is that the mission of ministry is to save that which is lost, not to run and hide from it.  A deep abiding love for others, such as Christ has, does not forsake that which is in need, in order to preserve self.  Instead self is sacrificed in order to spread love to those who need it most.  Our efforts to prepare and hoard, do not testify of our dependence upon God, they blaspheme it.
The admonition from Christ continues in verse 10 saying … “And he said unto them, In what place soever ye enter into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place.”  The disciples were to be humble above all things.  The disciples would have to swallow all notions of pride and accept the charity of anyone willing to house them, and feed them during their time of ministry, wherever they found themselves.  This would accomplish two goals.  It would serve to constantly remind the disciples of their dependence upon God, while at the same time, showing them (and us) that the love of God is reflected in our world through the love of one family to another.  Manna did not descend from heaven to feed the disciples, instead the charity of working families filled that role.  The love of God for His servants was to be found in those who barely knew His name.  The family who provided this charity, would in turn find the blessings of our God upon them.  It is in giving we come to know God.  It is in providing for those in need that we begin to see who Jesus Christ truly is.  This charity was not demanded of the audience, it was an opportunity to be blessed by those who offered it.
But in the world of sin, where Satan is bent on our destruction, there is not always a family willing to listen and love.  Sometimes, no matter the power over unclean spirits, the hearts of man remain stone, and refuse to even want to be something different.  Christ offers council on what to do if that occurs as John Mark continues His admonitions in verse 11 saying … “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.”  You will notice the disciples are not to curse those who will not listen, or in fact, say ANYTHING that would be insulting, condemning, or judgmental.  The issue is not one of proving you are right.  The issue is not one of being empowered to condemn and seal the fate of those who would refuse to listen.  The issue is one to make a statement in the silent actions of shaking the dust off of your feet.  The disciples were to symbolically distance themselves from those who “refuse to hear”.
This symbolic action was NOT reserved for those with different doctrines.  It was not meant as a gesture between one Christian and another over disputes over matters of faith.  It was meant for those who will not accept the identity of Jesus Christ.  NONE of the disciples had their doctrines straight yet anyway, it would be pointless to argue them with each other.  They were unified in only the matter of the identity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.  Even the symbolic gesture of distancing one’s self from those who refuse to accept the identity of Jesus was meant to be a “warning” against them, not a final declaration that they had no hope.  If they repented, or if they changed their mind, they could still find the same redemption you and I do.  But we should be equally on guard.  It is a warning to us, that other religions that espouse “spiritualty” and “good works for others” but do so absent Jesus Christ, are a danger to us as well.  It is not the doctrines of Christianity that are absolute, or all supreme, it is the savior found in Jesus Christ that is.  There is only one Son of God, not many.  There is only one path to God, not many.  The warning functions in two ways.
Finally, John Mark records what the results of listening to Jesus Christ were in these first evangelistic efforts beginning in verse 12 saying … “And they went out, and preached that men should repent. [verse 13] And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.”  The disciples went out preaching a message of repentance.  They asked their listeners to repent of self-styled salvation, and have faith in the name of Jesus Christ to save them.  In the name and power of Jesus Christ, they anointed the sick and healed them, just like their Savior.  This was not an extension of the temple services.  This was not the Jewish faith experiencing some sort of Renaissance and revival, where general Rabbi’s started performing miraculous works based on their deep understanding of scriptures and the Torah.  It was instead, 12 simple laborers, who through espousing the name of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, were performing the same acts of love that Christ did.
12 imperfect followers, who did not understand scriptures well, and did not have doctrinal perfection, preached only repentance, humility, and belief in Jesus Christ as the Messiah … and that was more than enough for success.  They could not provide for themselves, because Christ specifically commanded that they should not even attempt to do so.  They were wholly reliant on the charity of others.  They were not professional speakers, or teachers.  They were simple men.  They had only one sure fact, the identity of the Savior of our world.  But fully dependent on God, they were successful in emulating the deeds of their Lord and Master through His Name and His power.  If we are to experience the opportunity Christ offers to share in His ministry, perhaps we should rethink entirely what our message is, and how we should deliver it.  Perhaps we should rethink where our sustenance comes from, and how wholly dependent we truly are, rather than falsely assume it comes from our own efforts.  Perhaps we should engage in ministry in partnerships with another person, in order to better present the picture of Christ, the world is in need to see.  Could that person be our spouse, or our children, or our co-worker?
Opportunity can knock again at the door of the world, in the hearts of those who have not heard, or do not understand.  But the sales team, needs to re-examine how it will attempt to present these ideas, and focus on the singular most important one … the identity of Jesus Christ as the only Son of God.  We are not in need of human intercessors, Papal Pontiffs, or a reliance on the clergy for spiritual enlightenment.  We are simply in need of repentance, humility, dependence, and charity.  If we can offer these things to the world, perhaps we can find a new era of opportunity that can penetrate social media boundaries, overcome electronic distances, and enter straight into the hearts of those who need it the most.