O Ye of Little Bread

Scarcity. Shortly before I was born, my parents experienced it at the gas pump as the Middle East oil supply plummeted.  Long lines of cars circled gas stations as drivers hoped to get a few gallons before the tanks ran dry.

Growing up, the only scarcity I recall was the lack of milk and bread on the shelves in an Alabama grocery store the day before a snow storm.

Now, the closest I get to scarcity is when the last homemade pumpkin chocolate chip muffin disappears from the freezer.  My children whine and ask me to make more as if we have no other viable breakfast options.  Meanwhile, I pour them a bowl of cereal or pop a slice of bread in the toaster.

Economic scarcity has been, well, scarce in my life.  And yet, I recently realized that I have been operating with a scarcity mindset for the past six years.  It took a familiar story in a children’s Bible to help me see the truth and reframe my situation.

Seeing Scarcity

After a long day of teaching a crowd, Jesus saw that the people were hungry.  The disciples asked Jesus to send the people elsewhere to find a meal, but Jesus instead asked the disciples to give them something to eat.  It would cost too much, the disciples complained.

Jesus then asked them to inventory the amount of food among the crowd.  The God’s Story for Me Bible Storybook tells what happened next:

…Andrew brought a little boy to Jesus.  He said, “Jesus, this little boy has five loaves of bread.  He has two little fishes.  How can such a little lunch feed so MANY hungry people?”

Andrew saw five loaves and two fish and calculated impossibility.

Scarcity is an economic term describing the situation in which the demand for a resource, good, or service outpaces the supply.  In this familiar Bible story, the demand for food was high;  the supply was too low.  Five loaves and two fish would never be enough to feed 5,000 people.  Scarcity.

Experiencing Abundance

Where Andrew saw scarcity, Jesus saw more than enough.  The story continues,

The little boy gave Jesus his lunch.  Jesus smiled and said, “Thank you!”

Then Jesus said, “Have everyone sit on the grass.” He thanked God for the little lunch.

And then Jesus broke the bread and the fish and gave the pieces to the disciples who, in turn, gave them to the people.  John’s Gospel records that the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of leftovers (John 13:37). Out of five loaves and two fish–a little lunch–, Jesus provided more than enough. Abundance.

From Scarcity Mindset

This familiar story told in simple words revealed my scarcity mindset.  Instead of five loaves and two fish, I had fifteen hours.  Instead of 5,000 people, I had curriculum to develop, classes to teach, research to analyze, proposals to write, papers to finish, workshops to lead, books to read, social media posts to schedule, articles to create.  How could I do so much in so little time?

Since my first son was born, I have set aside about twelve to fifteen hours per week for professional work.  That time is a gift, but it is also a precious resource. I complain when I lose my work time.  I feel defeated by the amount of work I have and want to do.  Under a scarcity mindset, I tend to clutch my time tightly instead of offering it to Jesus as the little boy generously offered his little lunch.

To Abundance Mindset

This familiar story told in simple words reminded me that we serve a God of abundance, or super-abundance as scholar Walter Brueggemann would say.  When we offer Jesus our little, he has the power to create much.

The children’s Bible helps us imagine Jesus’ response to the little boy who offered Jesus his little lunch.  Neither Matthew or John describe their interaction.  But I think the idea of Jesus delighting in a child offering him all that he has is consistent with the picture of Jesus we see in Scripture.

I imagine Jesus saying to me, “O ye of little bread, bring your little lunch to me and watch what I will do.”

So this week, I am trying to offer my time to Jesus.  In a prayer of few words, I offer up my plans, my dreams, and my fifteen hours and ask him to make the impossible possible.  For he is the one who is able to do immeasurably more, abundantly more, than all we ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).

Master Craft: Building Walls

Intention #4: Break Down the Walls

When it comes to building walls, I am a master.  But don’t hand me a nail gun and a two-by-four.  That’s not my sort of wall. No, I am an expert at building invisible walls.

About a decade ago, I built a rebar-reinforced concrete wall between a Children’s Pastor and myself.  I had been tasked with aligning the Vacation Bible School curriculum our church had purchased with the church’s philosophy of ministry and theology.  In my recent-seminary-grad-zeal, I may have gone a bit overboard in my changes and found myself drowning in the amount of work and responsibility I had assumed.

The night before VBS started, I discovered a tremendous amount of work had gone undone because I had assumed a certain team had responsibility for it.  I had no idea that another team existed for that task.  I was furious that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I blamed the Children’s Pastor for poor leadership and lack of communication.

And out of my frustration, I built a wall between the two of us.  I didn’t want to work with her ever again.  I wasn’t eager to learn about my missteps in handling the project.  I didn’t want to hear about my failures and opportunities for growth.  Instead, I labeled her as a problem and threat and constructed a wall to keep her out.

Wall Builder

I carefully craft my invisible walls to minimize injury and maximize self-preservation.  Who wants to go through the pain of conflict resolution?  Who wants to go through the stress of poor project planning and execution again?  Not me!

Unfortunately, I tend to build my walls on the shoddy foundations of fear and frustration.  And these walls, instead of keeping me safe, actually begin to wear me down because I have never dealt with the underlying problems–whether they be my problems or our problems.

Lately, I have been studying the Sermon on the Mount.  I’ve noticed a glaring omission.  Jesus forgot to say, “Build walls between one another so that you can live a peaceful life.”

The human race in general, and Christians, in particular, can be quite skilled at creating walls between themselves and others.

I disagree with you.  WALL. 
I don’t like your kind of people.  WALL. 
You annoy me.  WALL. 
You betrayed my trust.  WALL.

Wall Breaker

This year, I intend to be a wall breaker.  Here are three steps I’m taking to break down walls:

1.  Notice the Walls – I can build invisible walls so quickly that sometimes I fail to notice them.  Noticing the walls I’ve built requires reflection on my relationships.  Is something keeping from giving my whole self to someone and serving them?  If so, perhaps I’ve built a wall.

2.  Chisel Away – Breaking down walls can be labor intensive, especially when they’re made of rebar-reinforced concrete as opposed to two-by-fours and drywall.  First, I recall that the person on the other side of my wall bears God’s image and can show me more of who God is.  Then, I chisel away by inviting the other person to share their story, listening well, and doing tangible acts of kindness.

3.  Stop Building – I need to develop a habit of laying down my hammer.  Instead of being an instant wall-builder, I need to choose first to give others the benefit of the doubt.  I need to choose first to show empathy and love.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus highlights the importance of being peacemakers and reconcilers.  He even calls us to love our enemies.  Our invisible walls have no place in the Kingdom of God.

A Tool to Use or a Gift to Steward?

Intention #3: Write Often

Discipline.  I’m not a fan.  And yet discipline is a crucial aspect of my third intention: write often.

I doubt anyone would describe me as a disciplined person.

For the twelve years I studied piano, I never practiced on a consistent schedule.  Scales?  Pass. Instead, I crammed the few days before a recital or competition with hours of ruthless practice.

I’ve never really had a “daily quiet time.”  During my freshman year of college, my routine looked like this: leave Spanish class, buy a Coke and a muffin, head back to my dorm room, listen to an Elizabeth Elliot message, read the Bible for seven minutes, journaled for seven minutes, and pray for seven minutes.  But when my schedule changed, so did my quiet time rhythms.

Discipline Brings Freedom
Older and wiser, I now know that discipline can bring freedom.  The jazz pianist who practiced the scales, the cadences, and the rhythms can improvise with ease.  The person who read the Bible and prayed consistently knows God deeper and reflects his character effortlessly.

Discipline begins at a young age.  Our parents and caretakers discipline us to train our character.  Our teachers discipline us to train our hands to write and our brains to spell and add.

In many ways, discipline makes some practices and habits second-nature so that we have freedom for other endeavors—freedom to turn words into poems, numbers into lunar orbits, and notes into smooth sax solos. In other words, discipline pays off in the long-run.

I write often because I hope that the discipline will pay off.  Perhaps the Perhaps it will pay off in a book deal, or a life changed by something I write.  Perhaps the payoff will be smaller—better word choice, stronger verbs, or less clutter.

Discipline is Stewardship
Why writing though?  Why not concentrate my efforts on being disciplined at something else?  Why not running or playing the guitar or cooking the perfect white sauce?  I chose writing because I felt called to write more.

I didn’t discover this calling at the end of 2017; rather it had been bubbling up to the surface every now-and-then for years.  Don’t get me wrong.  I had been writing.  Writing had been part of my curriculum development, consulting, and teaching work, but I approached writing as a tool to use rather than a gift to steward.

Thinking about writing as a gift to steward means I need to invest in it—I need to commit time, energy, and resources to develop my writing.  Here are a few of the investments I’ve made already in 2018:

  • Started reading and applying concepts from On Writing Well
  • Attended a writing conference
  • Put my writing “out there” on my blog and in other publications
  • Practiced storytelling through #StoryTweeting
  • Bought new software, apps, and tech tools to increase my productivity

We invest because we hope for a return.  Again, we’re back to the idea that discipline can pay off. But when?

Honestly, I have not seen much payoff yet.  It’s only May.  I bet, however, that the payoff will come.  When I write often, I relentlessly push the flywheel, hoping for a breakthrough.

Discipline Leads to Development
When I think about giftedness, I think about all of the inventories and lists created to help us identify our gifts.  Few, however, direct us in ways to develop our gifts.  (StrengthsFinder 2.0 is one exception.)  Our gifts need nurture and care so that they can grow.  We need to learn how to use them well so that God can use our gifts for the benefit of others.

What are some of your gifts?  What have others affirmed in you?  When have they noticed aptitude and potential?  Do you treat those gifts more like a tool to use than a gift to steward? What might happen if you applied a little bit of discipline and development to that area of giftedness?