Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Lesson in Ministry

Mile log: 565

Location: Mark 6

So Jesus sent the twelve disciples out on their first "mission trip," equipped with only the sandals on their feet... which sends a clear message: "Prepare for a lot of walking!" They were to stay in one house for each town they visited, possibly to learn that ministry is not solely about the events you do or the programs you set up, but the people you serve. They preached the good news of Jesus, cast out demons, anointed and healed. And they must have had a pretty powerful ministry, because word of it got back to King Herod, who could only conclude that it was the ghost of John the Baptist - maybe the only man he'd ever known with that kind of influence on the world. Little did he know that the power he witnessed came from a source much higher than mere man.

How long were the disciples on the road? By the time they regrouped to debrief with Jesus, they must have had a ton of stories to tell. I can hear them laughing and talking very animatedly, probably interrupting each other and chattering all at once because it was all too exciting and awesome to hold back. And I bet Jesus' smile was huge and his eyes sparkled... sure, he knew already what had happened, but hearing it all told and seeing the enthusiasm of his friends must have thrilled his heart.

But as most missionaries can affirm, the ministry did not stop when they came home. In fact, things were so busy, they didn't have time to eat. But I bet they were still running on so much of the adrenaline of their field experiences at this point that they didn't realize how much they needed some chill time with Jesus. Fortunately, Jesus knew. So he called them away - to physically move away from the craziness to a quiet and restful place with him... and keep in mind, their rest required his presence. They weren't just going to go sleep or sunbathe or "vege out" in front of the computer; they were going to be renewed by spending time just with Jesus.

I don't know how much "alone time" they got together... maybe it was just the boat ride. But sooner than they probably wanted, they were bombarded again. They got to the shore and people were already there waiting for them. That is one of the most wearying things to me: to go away and seek out solitude and quiet, and find more work waiting for me even there. But Jesus didn't moan and roll his eyes like I would... his compassion influenced his perspective and he rolled up his sleeves once more.

And then he taught them many things. I wonder what the disciples were doing... I hope and kind of suspect that they were sitting at Jesus' feet, listening to him speak. When you've been doing a lot of preaching, it is so refreshing to be able to hear someone else preach - to pour into you - for a little bit. But remember that they haven't eaten in a while... I bet as they sat still and just breathed, their adrenaline crashed and they became highly aware of the callouses on their feet, the tension in their necks, the scratchiness of their throats, and the loud rumbling of their stomachs. The magic and the fun is gone and they just want their personal time and space back... just send everyone home to eat so we can take a break, already.

But Jesus still had something very important to teach those disciples. "You feed them." I'm sure the disciples felt like that was too much... you've gotta be kidding! We don't have that kind of money! But Jesus is not easily discouraged by the obvious obstacles. "Who needs money? There are 5,000 people here! Go find out how much bread they have to share." The report of 5 loaves and 2 fish was probably given in a tone that mixed "I told you so," with "Better luck next time." This is the most hilarious part to me: Jesus didn't blink or scratch his head - he systematically organized the crowd, took the insignificant resources he had, thanked God for it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples to start passing out. Reminds me of the reckless generosity of so many of my refugee friends who have so little, yet never hesitate to pile high a plate of food for us.

I figured out the math: there were 5,000 accounted for, and 12 disciples. If the crowd was split up into 40 groups of 100 and 20 groups of 50, then each disciple would tend to 5 groups. Those of us in youth ministry cringe at the thought of one leader in charge of 5 kids, much less 400 people. I wonder when and how the bread and fish multiplied... but I'm sure the disciples thought they were going crazy as people ate their fill and left crumbs all over the green lawn. Clean up time, and each disciple had a basket to gather the leftovers, and each disciple came back together with a full basket. Probably way more bread and fish than they cared to see again. They might have thought, "If we had just sent everyone home, we would never have experienced this... never realized this sort of thing was even possible. We would have missed out on a miracle. We would have lost a chance to see the glory and power of God in our lives."

I wonder if Jesus ever said it out-right, or if his life just shouted it out all the time... but I think that evening, as the disciples stared in wonder at their full baskets, they probably got the message: "When you follow me, your life becomes a ministry. It doesn't matter if you have official business on the clock, if you are at home, or if you are on vacation. This is who you become when you stick with me. Be open, flexible, and ready. Sometimes things just happen, and if you are paying attention you can be a part of it. Allow your plans to be changed on a moment's notice, be willing to set aside your agenda for Mine. And see what marvelous things come of it."

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