Ministry in a Desert?

And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.  So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves. – Mark 6:31-32 NKJV

The disciples, fresh off their successful ministry venture, have arrived in this quiet, isolated area, described twice as being a “deserted place.”  While we don’t know for sure (as the text doesn’t say), I tend to think they were excited and tired after their time of ministry. They’ve returned and now they were going to tell Jesus all about their time in service.

But the LORD had another thing in mind for them other than just relaxing.  He was going to show them something really beyond their understanding – and teach us a few things as well.

Here is the first lesson I see from this miracle. Ministry can and often occurs when we are in a deserted place.  Places where we don’t think ministry can (or will) take place, in locations where it seems we are not needed or we even may feel useless.

Whether it is after a traumatic event or a hugely successful event, we will often drift into a place of desert.  However, these are often the times when does mighty things through us.  And just like the disciples, Jesus often brings us into those places. Here is where He moves. Here is where we are in a position to better worship and serve Him. Here is where we are in a position to trust Him, as we have no other options.  Here is where we hear Him.

I am sure the disciples had no idea of what was going to occur in the next few hours – but Jesus did.  He knew all about their ministry time and He knew all about the sense of loss they had from the death of John The Baptist.  He also knew this time in the desert was going to change their lives and our times in the desert can do the same thing.

Don’t shy away from those desert times and places. There is a good chance He brought you there in anticipation for the next thing He is doing – and it might be better than you can even imagine.  Remember, ministry can and often will occur when we are in a deserted place.  Welcome and embrace those times. Look forward with anticipation for what God is going to do next.  You might not feed 5000 people, but God may do something dramatic and amazing in your life.

So, when you are in the desert, look around and see God work.

In His Service,

-jm

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An Introduction To The Feeding Of The 5000

In the four Gospels, only two of the miracles of Jesus are recorded in all four accounts.  His resurrection appears in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as does one other miracle of His; the Feeding of the 5000.  I am not suggesting that this miracle is more important than one listed in just one book. The raising of Lazarus from the dead for example only occurs in John’s account and other miracles occur in just one or two Gospels.  A number of miracles are listed in all three synoptic works of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  But clearly, there must be something of importance for us in the miracle of the Feeding of the 5000 since all four writers included the event.

The Feeding of the 5000 takes up 45 verses in the New Testament.  Each Gospel account fills in certain details and taking all four books together as a whole, we can gain a clear picture of what happened.

I think it is important to remember two significant events take place immediately prior to this miracle as both of these events shed some light on why the disciples acted as they did.   First, Herod has John the Baptist imprisoned and then beheaded.  Two disciples of Jesus were previously disciples of John (John 1:35-40) and no doubt the rest of them knew John and his ministry.  Jesus was a relative of John’s so there was a relationship between the two men and their ministries.  No doubt John’s sudden death was a traumatic event in the lives of these men.

A second major event which occurs previous to the miracle is the return of the twelve from their first solo missionary endeavor.  Jesus has sent them out and giving them specific instructions not to provide anything for themselves but to trust God to meet all their needs.  They are successful in their venture by healing many people, casting out demons and calling people to repentance.  It was a successful time and they all have returned to tell Him about their time out in the field.

I can only imagine the excitement they had as they returned.  Lives were changed, people were healed, those under oppression were released.  They probably were encouraged, thrilled and humbled, all at the same time knowing God worked through them.

It is in the wake of these two events, one quite traumatic and negative; and the other very exhilarating and positive, when they gather around Jesus to tell Him “all that they had done” (Luke 8:10).

Luke states Jesus “took them” to a deserted place while Marks says Jesus “said to them, ‘Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place.’”  Clearly, Jesus wanted them to be in this deserted or desolate place.  They of course assume that means their personal time of service is on hold while they have the LORD’s full attention.  They might be thinking this will be a time of rest and relaxation; a time to reflect back on what has just happened.  But Jesus of course is getting ready to teach them a series of big lessons.

While in no way exhaustive, over the next four blog posts I’ll highlight four lessons, or principles of ministry from this story.  Since Mark devotes the greatest amount of verses to the story (15 verses with 350 words as recorded in the NKJV), I’ll use his book as our main source material, letting Matthew, Luke and John add some individual details.

The Feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle of Jesus, besides His resurrection, recorded in all four Gospels.  There is something here for us.

In His Service,

-jm

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Standing For Truth

Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth? – Galatians 4:16 NKJV

Sometimes the truth hurts.

It might be easier to ignore a situation, but truth must be proclaimed.

Here in Galatians 4, Paul has come to the point of reminding his readers of how he had preached the gospel to them previously.  Yet, they began to drift away from his teaching of faith in Jesus solely as the way to salvation and reconciliation with God.  The people of the Galatian church had moved to a hybrid version of Christianity where Jewish believers were forcing certain aspects of the Law onto Gentile Christians.  In chapter 1, Paul makes it clear there is no other gospel and he uses strong language to convey his position.

By chapter 4, you can imagine Paul’s frustration as it seems even those in the Galatian church were considering him more of an enemy than a church leader!  Paul told them the truth and it seems, some people didn’t like hearing what Paul had to say.

Truth can do that.  Truth and the preaching of it, can lead to conflicts.  No one likes being told they are believing a lie.  But love demands, and truth requires, correction.  Just as parents must correct their children, so too are spiritual leaders to offer correction when truth is at stake.

While this correction needs to be done in a gentle way, as Peter explains in 1 Peter 5:1-4, we should not be surprised when the proclamation of truth to wayward and deceived believers is met with disdain.  Paul was now looked upon as an enemy by some of the Galatian church.

Paul sets the standard for us as to stand for truth.  Not arrogantly, but humbly proclaim truth.

Our evangelical world seems to rage in turmoil as standards are minimized, guardrails of Christian conduct are ignored and removed, and truth is often deemed irrelevant.  But like Paul had to address the 1st century Galatians, truth must be proclaimed.  The church needs people who will stand up for truth, even when they are perceived as the enemy.

Stand for truth, even when others waver.

Stand for truth, even if it would easier to go with the crowd.

Stand for truth, even when you are perceived to be the enemy.

Stand for truth, because the truth is worth standing up for.

— Jeff Millslagle

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I need some help! If you would please do me a favor, please “share” this on your personal Facebook page.  I’m not running a contest, nor do I think typing “Amen” in the comments gives you extra points with the Almighty, but you would be doing me a favor by getting my blog posts in front of more people.  Thank-you and I appreciate your support!

 

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Book Review – Overcoming Adversity

Overcoming Adversity- Life Lessons From The Book Of James

Dr. Carl Garrigus

Paperback, 55 pages


The New Testament book of James is often thought of as a rubber-meets-the-road epistle since James has such practical teaching which apply in our world.  In Dr. Carl Garrigus’ tome, Overcoming Adversity – Life Lessons From The Book Of James, he examines the apostles letter to 1st century Christians focusing on how James holds some lessons for us when facing life’s serious problems.

He begins with sharing some of his own personal struggle with his own health issues and how a fresh read of James, in particular the first four verses, changed his outlook on life.

The book is easy to read and Garrigus makes his points quickly.  The book is only 55 pages long and I wish he had at least doubled his work on these passages.  He covers every verse in James and therefore, due to the relatively few pages of his work, he tends to quickly move over some sections that need further teaching.

For example, he arrives at James 1, verse 4, just six pages into chapter 1 and only devotes one page on what might be the lynch pin of those opening passages.  Yet what Garrigus writes about the verse was wonderful;

“When we race ahead of God, which is very common in our very impatient world, stepping outside God’s will and seeking a different path leads to trouble” (page 6).

While I completely agree with his statement, I found myself wishing he would have explored this quite a bit more.  He needed to mention some examples “our impatient world,” citing a time when those actions lead to someone proceeding on “a different path” and what kind of trouble awaited them.

He ends each chapter with “Five Questions for Exploration” which are quite helpful for those wishing to take his ideas further.  Those questions might be handy to use in a small group setting studying the book of James.  Here too, I thought Garrigus needed to expand these ideas in his text.

Overall, I would recommend the book, yet know this is a very short read. You can get through these 55 pages pretty quickly.  The book is available at Amazon.

 In His Service

-jm

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 The publisher of Overcoming Adversity – Life Lessons From The Book Of James, provided me with a complimentary copy of the book for my review through BookCrash.

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Baby Dedications, More Important Than Announcements

About six months ago a young couple who are friends of ours, asked if I would do a baby dedication.  My wife and I have grown close to this family and while I had never performed a dedication before, I counted it an honor to be asked to lead such a solemn event.  I think we tend to dismiss baby/child dedications and treat them as an “add on” in services, rushing through the process and miss the opportunity to create a meaning moment for parents and family.  So when they asked for this to be a separate, stand-alone event, I welcomed the opportunity.  I think baby/child dedications can be meaningful and they can serve a bigger purpose than just a ceremonial event.  They can be used to encourage everyone who attends to see how important passing on the legacy of faith.

While I made it personal for the family, here I changed some names to pronouns, except for the little guy who was the main attraction – he has a great Bible name – Ezekiel.

The Word of God tells us that Jesus has a special place in His heart for little children.  Let me share with you from Mark 10:13-16…

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.  But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

When we dedicate children to the Lord, we are following a number of examples.  One of those is that of Joseph and Mary, when in Luke 2:22, they presented or dedicated Jesus to the LORD at the temple.

But maybe the most famous one is of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, who made a vow in 1 Samuel 1 verse 11 when she said:

O Lord of Hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your servant, and remember me and not forget Your servant, but will give to Your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life…

The Almighty answered her prayer, and after Samuel was miraculously born she said in verse 27 and 28:

 For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to Him.  Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is lent to the Lord.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word used for “dedication” is used in just a handful of places.  The word contains the idea of initiating, beginning, inaugurating, or starting something to serve God’s purposes. It is used in 1 Kings 8:63 when Solomon dedicated the newly constructed Temple.  And in Deuteronomy 20:5, we see how important this act of dedication was in the life of ancient Israel when a man was warned about going into battle, if he had not dedicated his home.

And of course there is the familiar passage in Proverbs 22:6 where we are told to “train up a child in the way that they should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” The word translated as “train” in Proverbs, is the same word used in those other passages.

Like the newly built Temple was solemnly dedicated to the Lord, so children are to be dedicated as a Temple of the Holy Spirit while they are young and teachable.

As I know you have done with your daughter, start training Ezekiel from his earliest age in the way of the Lord.  Tell him about his duties to God and man. Teach him all of the Bible, both the Old and the New Testament. Teach the Scriptures continually and diligently to him, and as Deuteronomy 6 instructs us, talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.  In other words, in every area and every time of life, make teaching Jesus a priority in your role as parents.

Pray for him to grow in his knowledge of God, and the Scriptures, and salvation and righteousness and holiness.

But it is not enough to encourage Ezekiel to follow the truths in God’s Word, you must model these truths yourself. He must see you obeying God’s commands and living righteously. This will count more than anything else in his training. You have honored your son with an awesome name.  Ezekiel means “God Strengthens.”

Do you promise to raise Ezekiel to know, love and obey the Lord?

To friends and members of the family, do you promise to encourage his parents to raise this little one in the fear of the Lord?  Ezekiel needs to see in your life the blessings of following God.

Children are a gift from God; the fruit of the womb is a reward He gives. As Psalm 127 says “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man and woman whose quiver is full of them!” May you rejoice in your son, as it is written in Proverbs 23:24-25

 The father of a righteous son will greatly rejoice, and he who fathers a wise son will delight in him. Let your father and your mother have joy, and let her who gave birth to you rejoice. 

Oh God, Ruler of Heaven and Earth, sustain this child for his father and mother. May Ezekiel, fulfill his name by being strong in the LORD.  May he do mighty things for Jesus and may he be a bulwark of commitment, dedication and service to the LORD.

Father in Your great mercy, give him a pure and holy heart to serve you all the days of his life. May his heart be open to understand Your Word, to learn, teach, keep, and practice it. May he enter into a life of service to You. May he enter into the New Covenant and the salvation found in Jesus Christ. May he grow up to be a faithful son who forever remains within Your house. May he be blessed in this life and be rewarded with eternal life in the world to come!  In Jesus’ holy Name, Amen.

Ezekiel, your parents present you this day to the Lord. Like Samuel before you, may you always be dedicated to Him.

May the Lord, bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace. May His grace, favor, and blessing from our Father and our King, rest upon this family all the days of their lives! Amen.

After the service we had a huge party/celebration.  It was a joyous time with lots of food, laughter and conversation.  As the day drew to a close I was so grateful that God allowed me to participate in this event.  And while Ezekiel will not remember the day, his parents and his family will.  I expect he will be reminded of his dedication to the LORD and how his spiritual life was started off strong with the blessing of his family.

I encourage pastors, church leaders and parents to make baby/child dedications a meaning, stand-alone event.  Don’t treat them with the same enthusiasm as the church announcements, but make this moment a special time.

Blessing My Friend!

-jm

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The Key Of Prayer From The Word.

I shot an arrow into the air,  It fell to earth, I knew not where. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Christians can be dismayed with prayer.  At times, it can seem obvious and overly simple – like the prayer of a child.  Then there are times when it can seem hollow or even futile.  They know it is a valuable exercise and would readily acknowledge its importance, yet it can still be a struggle.  Many approach prayer like the Longfellow poem.  But instead of an arrow, they think, “I shot a prayer, I have no idea where it went!”

Prayer, in its simplest form, is communication.  Whether it’s praise, petition, protection, thanksgiving or intercession, prayer is communication.  While within Scripture you can find examples of each of these different types of prayer, I am not going to use this chapter to explore and explain the differences of various prayers.   Rather, I wish to show from these verses of Psalm 119, eight simple requests every believer can incorporate into their prayer life.  These verses make up The Key Of Prayer From The Word.

We have the added benefit of looking at these verses through the lens of the New Testament.  Jesus’ teaching of The Lord’s Prayer in the Sermon On The Mount[1] and Paul’s various prayers in his writings[2] are powerful models of prayer.  James 5:16 gives us great insight about prayer when he states the “effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”   Obviously, the Bible has quite a bit to say about prayer.

Before you ever open up a text of Scripture, try this prayer;

Open my eyes, that I might see, wondrous things from Your Law.– Psalm 119:18

This needs to be our first request anytime we invest ourselves in His book.  This verse is just four simple phrases, but it holds a wealth of material for us.

First, the psalmist asks the LORD to “open my eyes.”  This means much more than just the physical opening of our eyes.  Otherwise how would blind people ever know and understand the Bible?  Clearly this has a deeper meaning as he asks God to open or bring the Scripture to him in a way in which he might gain insight.  It is asking God to help you be attentive to what you are reading in His Word.

Next he says “that I might see.”  Again, this must have a deeper meaning than just physically “seeing.”  The psalmist is moving beyond having his eyes opened to now “seeing” or applying things.  We might say it is moving from head knowledge to heart knowledge.    A thief might very well know the Ten Commandments, but he willingly violates the “Do not steal” commandment because he hasn’t applied it to himself.  Not only are we to know (have our eyes opened) His Word, but we need to apply it (see it) to ourselves.

Thirdly he says “wondrous things” or some versions use the word “marvelous” things.  Both terms convey the idea of “extra-ordinary” or something beyond normal expectations.  If I go into Bible reading/study with little expectation, there is a good chance I will not see anything beyond a record of history or a cute story with a moral lesson.  But God has “wondrous” or “marvelous” things in His Word and He wants to show them to us!

Finally, he indicates he would find these wondrous things in God’s law.  While I can gain knowledge from other books and I can acquire a degree of wisdom from some sources, it is through His Word (in this particular verse the word is “law”) that I truly find and learn wisdom.  His Word is above all other voices.


[1] Matthew 6:9-15.  One of the easiest to read, simple to understand, books on the Lord’s Prayer is J.I. Packer’s Praying The Lord’s Prayer 2007.

 [2] For 2 excellent books on the prayers of Paul, I recommend Discover The Power In The Prayers of Paul by David Barton 2005 and the 1992 work by D.A. Carson’s Call To Spiritual Reformation: Priorities From Paul And His Prayers.

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The Key of Discipline

I think one’s attitude concerning His Word is by far the major difference between those that are mere acquaintances of Christ and those that are truly His disciples. Our relationship with Christ all depends on our attitude concerning His Word.

Sin is a bad thing. One could claim the majority of the pages of the Bible are devoted to exposing the evil of sin, the prevalence of sin, the destruction of sin, and the way to combat sin. Sin is everywhere and it is a bad thing.

Jesus’ death and resurrection paved the way for our salvation. The Bible is clear on the fact that we cannot, on our own, resolve the sin issue. We are all sinful, weak, and guilty. But Jesus paid the price for us and while I am not necessarily presenting this work as a referendum on the Doctrine of Salvation, it is important to have this basic fact understood. His work (death and resurrection) has enabled me to be free from the bondage of sin. He didn’t save us because we deserved it. It was all on Him.

Jesus directed us to obey His Word and even claimed for one to love Him, one needs to obey His commandments (John 14:15). If we are to worship, know, love, and obey Him, we must know His Word.

Clearly, our life can be changed when we properly deal with sin. As a Christian we accept Jesus’ work as removing our sin, and it is by His grace we are saved. Yet we still may experience some lasting effects of sin. It can plague us and doggedly undermine our lives. We can easily lapse into cycles of defeat and discouragement when we don’t address sin and submit ourselves to His Word. We do this by incorporating The Key of Discipline By The Word.

Obedience To The Word

How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.
– Psalm 119:9

I don’t think I am over stating the fact that we must “take heed” or “keep” His Word (emphasis mine). His Word is the final authority. While many may claim the Bible is inspired, too often ways are found to discredit it, explain it away or ignore it. It is one thing for someone to say they obey the Bible when they personally agree with it. But when it becomes difficult or doesn’t fit our current social trends, there is a tendency to explain away the Scriptures.

When I accept the basic premise that the Bible is His Word, then my understanding of what He directs, through His Word, has a rock solid footing. If however, I come to Scripture with any other concept, I have then elevated my opinion above God’s. This of course means I have no real logical foundation upon which to build anything. Morality becomes an abstract concept based on current sociological trends.

In the opening pages of the Bible, we are treated to the famous encounter of Eve and the serpent. We should find it enlightening that Satan’s first words to Eve were to attack God’s Word.

“Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” – Genesis 3:1b

This has been the pattern from the beginning. Satan attacks God’s Word and gets us to doubt the truth of His Word. We question it, “Is this really true? Does it really apply now? Does the Bible really mean what it says?”

These questions need to be answered before we face off with the enemy. Before we are confronted with these questions, we need to have made the commitment, that yes, we do believe God means what He says in His Word. Once that situation is settled, then we can directly attack sin.


For more about the Key of Disciple By The Word, check out my book, Our Most Valuable Treasure: Psalm 119-The Key To Unlocking His Word

Blessings My Friend!

-jm

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