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Yes, 5,000 were fed, but…

While it is true that Jesus did feed 5,000+ people on one occasion and 4,000+ people on another, both of the historical accounts indicate Jesus was NOT teaching about physical food or feeding the homeless and those who may be less fortunate. Rather, Jesus was teaching about spiritual nourishment and revealing He is the Bread of Life.

Don't take my word for it, instead, receive His. In the following video I explore and explain what Jesus is teaching.

What and in whom do you believe?

People believe all kinds of things. Believing, however, does not mean people embrace and exemplify that which – and in whom – they say they believe. Similarly, could it be that statements of faith declare things that are inconsistent with what churches really believe, preach, and teach?

If you believe something and then discover your beliefs are contrary
to the Scriptures and Jesus’ teachings, are you going to stick with
what you believe, or embrace and proclaim the Word of God? 

For example, do you believe the following statement: “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) If YES, how does that truth influence and inspire the ministry activities and efforts within your church?

Oswald Chambers may have been spot-on when he said, “Today we [presumably referring to the American church] have substituted doctrinal belief for personal belief, and that is why so many people are devoted to causes and so few are devoted to Jesus Christ.”

Sadly, it seems many people are unaware of or unfamiliar with the Gospel message and basic biblical truth. Others, though they have been exposed to the truth and have some degree of understanding, are actively or passively rejecting the truth, and rebellious. I don’t say that to disparage anyone or come across as judgmental; rather, I do so to make a point. Many people who self-identify as ‘Christian,’ don’t know that they don’t know what it means to know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Plus, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)

If we love, we care. The two are inseparable. And, if we care about people, we disciple.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who [truly] believes.” (Romans 1:16)

-- Charles Puchta 

Creatures of Habit

The lens through which we see and have come to understand caring ministry is significant as our beliefs sway our values, which shape our attitudes, and support our behaviors. The story below points out that as creatures of habit, we often do the things we do for no other reason than, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

     As Betty was in the kitchen preparing the Easter ham, her husband asked, “Why do you always cut off the ends of the ham?”
     Betty paused for a moment and then responded, “That’s a good question. I’ve always cut off the ends of the ham because that’s the way my mother did it.” With her curiosity peeked, Betty called her mother and asked why. Her mother replied with a similar sense of intrigue, “That’s the way my mother always did it.”
     Betty then called her grandmother, mentioned cutting off the ends of the ham and being perplexed as to why. Her grandmother broke out into laughter. Once she gained her composure, she answered, "Because the pan was too small.”

lens

Rather than perpetuating the past for the sake of continuity and simplicity, we encourage you to examine the Scriptures and ensure that your caring efforts closely align with Jesus’ commands. When the narrative that informs us is based on human ideas and opinions rather than God’s Word, it calls into question whose agenda we are advancing.

The first four lessons of our Faith Fundamentals Training series share Bible stories and foundational principles that help church leaders and churchgoers reimagine and reframe caring based on a biblical narrative. As the saying goes, what we see is what we get. Therefore, if we overlook the purpose of troubles and confuse what caring entails and love requires, we miss the basic tenets of the Christian life.

Lessons 5-7 of the series help to retool how we interact with and love people. What we know is what we do. Therefore, until we understand and exemplify what Jesus teaches about presence, listening, and asking reflective questions, despite good intentions, we naturally do and say things that are inept and which come across as insensitive.

Lessons 8-10 of the help to reinforce disciplines that are fundamental to Christianity – knowing God’s Word, prayer, and discipling. Since what we believe is ultimately how we care, starting with a solid theological construct, and developing key capabilities and confidence are critical to our success and the achievement of unity and maturity.

What You See is What You Get!

Whether passing by people or engaging in conversation, what we see is what we get. Despite how good people may seem or say they are, the appearance of physical health and material wellness is not to suggest that our lives are free from trials, trouble, and temptation. The point is that many people are carrying burdens, feeling crushed, and facing fears beyond what we fathom. Seriously, we have no idea what many people are dealing with.

Damaged Box_400

The truism “what you see is what you get” also applies to Scripture. Take the following Bible verses for example:

  • “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken” (Psalm 55:22).
  • “My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2).
  • “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
  • “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:6-8).
  • “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
  • “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

As the church and the body of Christ, do we truly believe that God is greater than all our troubles and concerns? And, if so, do we truly reflect that in the ways we love and care for others?

While the frequency, variety, and severity of our struggles and strongholds vary, if we truly believe the verses above, might it make sense to emphasize, and to equip people to provide emotional support and spiritual encouragement?

“God never said that the journey would be easy, but He did say that the arrival would be worthwhile.” - Max Lucado

Pain in our lives is not to suggest that God doesn’t care, rather it establishes our need for Jesus! Instead of being who we turn to when all else fails and our strength is gone, Jesus wants to be our Lord and Savior. Despite good intentions, as Christians, we miss the point and do little to help when we fail to provide the type of sustenance and support that offers true life and lasting hope.

Humanitarian efforts: Are they enough?

From raging floods and forest fires to senseless acts such as 9/11 and the recent riots, no one is immune from trouble. Regardless of the specific instances and our individual differences, when tragedy strikes, it is certainly nice to see people coming together and rallying around those in need. While kindness and generosity are core tenets of citizenship and humanity, as the church we must ask ourselves, are they enough?

Humanitarian efforts play a vital role in meeting basic needs and sustaining lives. However, as our Kingdom Care framework indicates, Jesus expects more than good deeds and temporary relief. Moreover, while the lives impacted and the path of destruction are undeniable when the storms are catastrophic, let’s be careful not to overlook those among us who are facing less apparent storms of life.

Many people are suffering in silence with no help in sight. Regardless of their situations and our intentions, we lead others astray when we fail to provide the type of sustenance and support that offers true life and lasting hope. Moreover, a kindred spirit is no substitute for experiencing the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Things that Really Matter

I’m sorry, friend, I let you down
I always thought we’d get around
to talkin’ ‘bout the things that really matter.

I had this plan to take it slow––
give you a change to get to know
the messenger before you heard the message.

It seems like every chance you had
to serve me well and make me glad,
you did just that and more to me and others.

An open door, your friendly smile,
a free dessert, and all the while
I waited for a chance to share my Jesus.

So many times I meant to say,
friend, you are His, He is the way
to know just why you’re here and where you’re going.

But now I’m left with deep regret
that I let fear and logic get
the best of me, and so my tongue fell silent.

Today your life slipped from your grasp––
I’ll never have the chance to ask
If you were His and He was your…forever.

But thanks to you I’m not the same––
I pray the next time, I will name
the One who knows the things that really matter.

By Tim Dommer - Used with permission.

The bait or the Bible?

Could it be that church leaders and Christians in general are overlooking, wrongly interpreting, or unaware of what the Scriptures have to say about caring (a.k.a., comforting) for one another?

Throughout The Screwtape Letters, author C.S. Lewis writes that whether in the troughs or peaks of life, the Devil is all about perpetuating lies, anxiety, complacency, and despondency. Moreover, the evil one is doing everything in his power to keep us focused on ourselves so that we turn our attention away from God and one another. The Devil’s plan is simple (and arguable effective):

  • Keep people from “the serious intention of praying altogether.” (p.15)
  • Fix people’s attention inward and so they concentrate on their circumstances and not on God.
  • Do whatever it takes so the people maintain a lukewarm spiritual state.
  • Keep non-Christians and people who are less rooted in their faith away from “experienced Christians” so as to avoid appropriate and encouraging scripture passages from being shared.
  • Cause people to focus on the past and the uncertain future, instead of the eternal and the present.
  • Foster aggravation, confusion, and division so as to keep people away from church and disrupt Christian friendships.
trap

At Care Ministry, we advocate a biblically-based discipling model of care that is Christ-centered and thwarts the Devil’s plan. Our resources and training help churches provide care in ways that ​align with the mission of their church, deepen personal relationships, foster spiritual growth, and build a sense of community.

Why Ask Why?

I vividly remember the evening when one of my daughters told me they played the “Why?” game at CRU. Not being familiar with the game, I asked her to explain. In the Why game, once a question is asked (e.g., "How was your day?") and someone answers, the next question is automatically he next question is “Why” (e.g., “Why was your day great?"). She went on to say that to foster genuine relationships, we have to get past the veneer. It made me stop and think about how often we accept what people say at face value without ever delving deeper.

Based on the Laws of Conservation, Momentum, and Energy, certain things are predictable. As Newton’s Pendulum demonstrates, no matter how many times we pull back one steel ball and let it go, the same thing is going to happen over and over again.

Isn't it sad that our human nature is to ask the same question (e.g., "How are you?") and accept the typically response (e.g., "Fine") even though we know that most people are struggling with something?

Newton Pendulum

So, here's a question... Specific to the second part of The Great Commandment – love [care for] people, what are you doing at your church and WHY? Is caring ministry a set of programs, something that has become as “pastoral” responsibility, or are genuine caring relationships part of the DNA at your church?

What's interesting is that in business, what we do and why we do it is based on plans and processes that have been established in order to achieve the desired results. In healthcare, what we do and why we do it is based on best-practices and protocols in order to achieve desired outcomes. The point is that to “succeed,” we must first know what it is that we wish to accomplish and then determine how we are going to achieve our goal.

Whether playing the Why game or caring for people, we have to be deliberate to get past superficial conversations and contrived responses. The resources and support we provide guides church leaders through a systematic process to draw attention to key aspects of caring God’s way and to address care in a way that reflects the aspirations and unique needs of their local church. We welcome the opportunity to discuss your "Why?" and help you take caring to the next level.

Optimal Conditions for Growth

If you asked people within your congregation about the times when they experienced their most spiritual growth, what do you think they would say? Regardless of their specific situations and struggles, people regularly indicate difficult life circumstances are what sparked and ignited their faith.

A beautiful example of coming alive resulted from a storm that hit Death Valley in California. Considered by many to be the hottest and driest place in America, due to an El Niño storm in the winter of 2004/05, Death Valley received an unprecedented seven inches of rain. Then, in the spring, when flowers began appearing, it became apparent that an area which had been considered dead was only dormant.

The Word of God frequently takes root in people’s hearts and begins to blossom when there is heighten awareness of our need for God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Even though difficult situations and struggles are seldom pleasant, they are often optimal times for discipling people and experiencing spiritual growth.

death-valley-before-copy

Death Valley before (top) and after the storm (bottom).

death-valley-after-copy

Caring for one another is vital as people facing life’s storms often feel anxious, discouraged, and depleted. While the relationship that we have with the Lord is a personal responsibility (Philippians 2:12), our circumstances and challenges are often more than we alone can handle. Without the spiritual encouragement and emotional support, many lack the response-ability to quiet their minds, pray earnestly, discern the voice of God, and experience the love and power of Jesus.

At Care Ministry, we advocate a biblically-based discipling model of care that is grounded in Scripture and advances core biblical principles. Give us a call at 513-377-7965 to learn more.

Scripture Advocates Sympathy, Not Empathy

It’s mind-boggling how Scripture addresses everything we could imagine, and then some. My most recent “Aha Moment” was when I came to appreciate why Scripture references sympathy, as opposed to the worldly approach – empathy. Though the words are considered to be synonyms, the differences are significant. Before making the distinction and mentioning implications to caring ministry, let’s look at their definitions.

SYMPATHY

  • “The feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else's trouble, grief, misfortune, etc.: a sympathetic feeling” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
  • “Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune” (Oxford Dictionary).

EMPATHY

  • “The feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else's feelings” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
  • “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another” (Oxford Dictionary).

A particularly noteworthy distinction is that empathy originates from the head and focuses on the problem, whereas sympathy comes from the heart and focuses on people. In the Bible, four prominent references to sympathy are in Job 2:11, 42:11, Philippians 2:1, and 1 Peter 3:8. The Hebrew word “nud” translates to console, grieve, mourn, and wander. The Greek words “oiktirmos” and “sumpathés” refer to compassion and to being mutually commiserative.

A particularly noteworthy distinction is that empathy originates from the head and focuses on the problem, whereas sympathy comes from the heart and focuses on people. In the Bible, four prominent references to sympathy are in Job 2:11, 42:11, Philippians 2:1, and 1 Peter 3:8. The Hebrew word “nud” translates to console, grieve, mourn, and wander. The Greek words “oiktirmos” and “sumpathés” refer to compassion and to being mutually commiserative.

The natural human instinct to seek understanding, give advice, and try to “fix it” is inconsistent with biblical teachings (see, for example, Proverbs 3:5, Isaiah 43:11, Luke 9:62, 2 Corinthians 5:17-18, and Philippians 3:13-14, 4:7). A biblical example that demonstrates the difference between sympathy and empathy is the story of Job. When Job’s three friends learned of his plight, they came “to show him sympathy and comfort him” (v2:11). However, after a while, they shifted from expressing sympathy to empathy. At that point, we discover that the friends did more to hurt Job than to help him. Their failed attempts to understand and make it better reflected assumptions, accusations, and allegations, none of which were correct. In verse 16:2 (NIV), Job even referred to his friends as “miserable comforters!”

Recently, God graciously presented me with an experiential learning opportunity and painted a picture that made this distinction apparent. Upon arriving home from school last week, one of my daughters came to me in tears. She told me that her best friend would soon be moving to Texas. While that may seem like no big deal, this was the third time in four years that she had learned that a best friend would be moving away. She was crushed and confused. At that moment, it clear that there was nothing to understand, figure out, or fix. What she desperately needed was to be consoled and comforted. I gave her a big hug, told her how sorry I was, and we prayed.

As for the picture painted in my mind, it was that of a relief effort following a storm. I was struck by the similarities between providing relief and extending care. As I prayed and reflected, many things came to light including:

  • Those who respond are often affiliated with Christian organizations.
  • To be helpful, we first have to show up.
  • There’s no way to prepare for what we might encounter upon arrival as every situation is different.
  • It not about understanding the situation, it’s about loving the people.
  • Many people have a need to share their story, and the best thing we can do is listen.
  • People don’t expect us to fix it and we know that we can't.
  • People find great comfort in the simple things like a hug, words of encouragement, and prayer.
  • Often the greatest relief comes from satisfying people’s hunger and thirst.
  • Healing and rebuilding take time, and the process can’t be circumvented.

As the body of Christ, let's resolve to show up and be sympathetic. Also, let's make sure to offer spiritual encouragement and prayer in an effort to nourish souls, offer hope, and make a lasting difference.