By Colonel Dennis Strissel
(A series of eight installments)
Number one – Jesus should have served fish & chips
That thought went through my mind as I stared down at a generous portion of golden brown, breaded cod and a fist-full of french-fries. This would have tasted a whole lot better than some dried-salted fish accompanied by an equally dried hunk of bread.
Don’t get me wrong; I love fish of any sort, prepared any way but most of all… I love fish & chips. Secretly, I rate the quality of fish & chips I have eaten all over the world. I guess you could call me a fish & chip critic of sorts. I have my favorites…like landing at a pub on a cool day riding in the Yorkshire Dales in northern England. The table, along with our quartet of fish & chip eaters, was seated squarely in front of a warm hearth as they served the tasteful treats. But my best F&C experience has to be from Hout Bay near Cape Town South Africa. It was a family excursion to the beach with lunch thrown in. There was just something special about those greasy, newspaper-bound, lookin-out-on-the-Atlantic Ocean, fish & chips! Perhaps, for me, it’s more about the taste connected to the current terra firma.
Its John’s version of the story that informs us that the two fish and five loaves was really a boy’s lunch (John 6:9) contributed as a result of Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to do something about the personal need of the thousands attending his impromptu hillside meeting. Its importance is measured by its inclusion in each of the Gospel’s, (Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9 and John 6). Since this is opinion base, then let me share one…I think too many speakers spend time expounding on the peripherals, failing to get to the point of the narrative. One could argue that the peripherals actually enhance the point but why waste the precious time you have, fifteen to twenty minutes on a Sunday morning, with waffling about the wilderness and never getting to the promise land? Here are the promise land lessons for me…
1) This is about servanthood – Jesus’s challenge was first to his disciples; “Jesus replied, you give them something to eat.” (Matt 14:16), and this is echoed specifically through Mark and Luke (Mk. 6:37, Lk. 9:13) and in John it is implied in Jn. 6:5-6. Those of you who are spiritual leaders…the Spirit is speaking to you right now; “you give them something to eat.”
Jesus’ first words about the need of the people were to the heirs of the kingdom, his disciples. Here he is pointing them to the importance of spiritual responsibility, and the challenge of every heir-apparent, to discern and meet the need of the people. In this case it was for food to sustain them while they listened and learned. One of the roles of a leader is to identify the legitimate needs of the people he/she is leading and then to meet that need. Jesus tried to do this with his disciples and in the process gets the normal reaction; “let them go in the villages and fend for themselves” or “it would take eight months of wages to feed all these people.”
In his book, Jesus on Leadership, C. Gene Wilkes gives us a clue as to what Jesus was attempting with his chosen; “You will never become a servant leader until you first become a servant to the leader.” If the excuses sound familiar to you, it just might be because you have used the same excuses to excuse yourself from personal responsibility just like the disciples did. How are you doing in the area of servanthood? Look for ways you can meet the need of your people.
2) This is about satisfaction – “They all ate and were satisfied” Mark 6:42, (Matt. 14:20, Lk. 9:17, Jn. 6:12). For me, this may be the most critical need of every human being…the longing to be satisfied, fulfilled, to have a purpose to live for. Oh I know the context here…it was all about food you say? Nonsense! This is far deeper than a basket of bread…this is ultimately about the bread of life – Jesus and the search of the soul to live in relationship, finding its purpose.
Richard Parrott shares a portion of a message given by an extraordinary Methodist preacher named Albert Edward Day in his book, My Soul Purpose;
“But God is present in reality no matter what unreality our practices and our ponderings imply. He is forever trying to establish communication; forever aware of the wrong directions we are taking and wishing to warn us; forever offering solutions for the problems that baffle us; forever standing at the door of our loneliness, eager to bring us such comradeship as the most intelligent living mortal could not supply; forever clinging to our indifference in the hope that someday our needs, or at least our tragedies, will waken us to respond to his advances. The Real Presence is just that, real and life-transforming”
That day on the hill-side as thousands filled their hungry stomachs with bread that does not sustain forever, the Gospel writer John links this experience in the same chapter with the words of Jesus as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in the Message; “I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now: Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life. I am the Bread of Life. Your ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert and died. But now here is Bread that truly comes down out of heaven. Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever. I am the Bread — living Bread! — who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live — and forever! The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.” (John 6:47-51). This is the bread will satisfy the longing soul for purpose and fulfillment. I hope you are sharing this bread frequently and faithfully with your people.
3) This is about making something out of nothing – Jesus specialized in the impossible. How is it possible that two fish and five barely loaves could feed over five thousand people and still have more than enough left over? I wish I knew. Here’s what I do know; God can make something out of nothing! Now make it personal…that’s right…it’s for you too. He can take your humblest offering, transforming it into a gift fit for a king, making it pleasing in his sight. By the way, your humblest offering is you! That’s right…he wants you first, foremost and entirely. He wants to stretch you. Yes, it can be uncomfortable and may become difficult at times but it is also rewarding and fulfilling. Through this wonderful, life-changing relationship, he will accomplish things never thought possible. Remember, he specializes in making something out of nothing. He can make new, something that was old; clean, something that was dirty; alive, something that was dead. Nothing is impossible with him. That’s not good news…that’s great news!
Well that’s my take on it anyhow. I am certain you can work out other lessons the Spirit reveals as important to your walk…but I still think fish & chips sound a whole lot better than fish & bread. And well….at least that’s my opinion!
Dennis L.R. Strissel
Parrott, R.L. (2009). My soul purpose. Nashville, TN: The Woodland Press.
Wilkes, C.G. (1998). Jesus on leadership. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers Inc.