If you have been paying close attention to the habits of people in our time, you know that most of us spend much more time conversing electronically than we do face to face. Whether you are from the generation that sits in front of the news and commentary shows on the TV, or you have learned the skill of not walking into poles while reading your phone and traversing the street, you know we are growing to expect our human contact to come primary through machines, and not directly with humans at all. In her book, “Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from one another,” Sherry Turkle offered some compelling and astute observations about modern life in “first world” settings. She wrote (p.279):
“In the fall of 1978, Michael Dertouzos, director of the Laboratory for Computer Science, held a two-day retreat at MIT’s Endicott House on the future of personal computers, at the time widely called “home computers.” It was clear that “everyday people” …would soon be able to have their own computers…But what could people DO with them? …Some of the most brilliant computer scientists in the world…were asked to brainstorm on the question…tax preparation…teaching children to program…a calendar….games [all were mentioned].
She continued: “Now we know that once computers connected us to each other, once we became tethered to the network, we didn’t need to keep computers busy. They keep US busy. It is as though we have become the killer app…”We don’t do our emails; our email does US. We talk about spending hours on email, but we, too, are being spent.”
For my students, I think that isn’t really true. The next generation doesn’t spend their time on email as my generation does. At the same time, the computer (or shall I say “cell phone” – which seems to be everything BUT an actual phone) has replaced much social conversation. Many of us complain that the simplicity of spending time together has been overtaken by a wave of unending, but commonly accepted interruptions. Anyone who knows me well, knows I HATE cell phones, because I prize uninterrupted conversation, and undisrupted time thinking. I cannot multitask, and being forced to try is honestly one of the things I find most annoying in modern life. Let’s soberly evaluate for a moment:
• We live with changed expectations of social etiquette: We don’t pull up in a “drive through” and expect a greeting from the server – because he or she is busy speaking to the person behind us who is just giving their order. We will get a hand out for the money, and a bag for the food – often with little or no human interaction apart from the almost indiscernible voice from the loud speaker when we ordered. If we don’t get the proper order, WE feel like we are blocking up the assembly line of food orders. The customer is often made to feel now they have become the servant of the food server.
• We create limits on communication with controls: Many prefer TEXTING over talking on the phone. If you ask them, they may not consciously understand why. For most, I dare say, they prefer to control the length and depth of the conversation – and avoid the time saving greetings and “niceties.” We can ask what we want, and get what we need – no extras. It serves the budget conscious communicator.
• We seem bored with whatever we do, like we are missing something: Did you ever sit with someone who shouldn’t have a remote control in his hand, because he can’t stop looking for something better to watch? Sitting at the airport you will notice people contacting others via computer, but often they are checking email or Facebook in the background while “conversing.”
• We learn how to build an image that isn’t whole: We construct avatars and selective profiles, and many wrestle with how to “say enough to be included in the conversation and judged an interesting person.” Many who respond aren’t the people we were intentionally addressing.
• We routinely give away privacy in favor of convenience: We have accepted that everything we watch, buy or show interest in can and is tracked – because we see the value of the convenience – even if the ads are numerous and distracting. At least they are tailored to our interests!
• We live with a false sense of urgency and importance: Vacations have become a change of location, because our instant connection goes with us. Technology speeds up expectations in our boss and our co-workers. Clients expect faster response time, and it is hard to maintain a true sense of what really matters – over what seems urgent right now.
• We set aside the need to plan well: We rush off to the grocery store, and then call our spouse to get an accurate list of what we went there to grab. Fewer and fewer people walk through a grocery store without a cell phone at their ear or the “ding” of a cell message.
The outcome of this lifestyle is that we are losing the ability to talk uninterrupted to the people in front of us, and always feel the need to be in touch with someone who may want to reach out to us. It is as though we favor the possible over the actual – the distant over the present.
In an effort to be more efficient and more productive, we may have lost something in the quality of daily life.
We search for what we want, and we don’t seem to be getting it in what we have. The unending blaring light of technology has fed constant adrenaline as a reaction to immediate boredom. We KNOW life isn’t supposed to run non-stop, but many of us feel “out of the loop” if it doesn’t.
We have become the most technologically advanced AND the most exhausted and easily bored generation of human beings ever on the planet.
I think that may affect believers who have been “fully marinated in American juices” when they attempt to meaningfully stop for an hour on Sunday morning at church and worship. We explore the Word and we seek truth, but some are fighting the urge to stay off their phone right now.
We feel the guilt of being bored with a time to reflect, pray and hopefully even think deeply about our lives and our Savior.
The tendency of our lifestyle leads even worship leaders to CRAM church meetings with sound, thought and challenge. We struggle to find new ways to keep people engaged. Constant hunger for connection has left a stress fracture. Constant stimulation has made us hunger for more constant stimulation. Technology is the new sugar.
Here is the heart of our problem – we were designed for CONSTANT CONNECTION – but not to our fellow man. We were designed to get the depth of fulfillment from our Creator.
His network is ALWAYS ON. In short, what we NEED isn’t what we think we WANT, and what we WANT isn’t what will WORK. We think we want ACTION and CONNECTION to EACH OTHER to feel important and affirmed… but that WILL NEVER SATISFY. Our problem isn’t material, social or moral. At its root, our problem is willingly walking separate from God.
Look at the beginning of John 6 and watch Jesus train His first followers in this powerful lesson…
Key Principle: Believers aren’t called to solve problems for Jesus, but to invite Jesus to become their solution.
The Background (6:1-3)
The passage begins…
John 6:1 After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias). 2 A large crowd followed Him, because they saw the signs which He was performing on those who were sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples.
Pay attention to the fact that Jesus LED the disciples to the place where a problem uncovered issues within them. They were in the place east of the Jordan River’s entrance, north of the Sea of Galilee, where no “kosher deli’s” could be found. The nearest cities were the Gentile holds of Julias and Gergesa – neither of which Jesus would ever visit. People there ate ham sandwiches and didn’t like Jews much. The bottom line is that Jesus took His followers to a place that was uncomfortable, and didn’t seem to have all they would need. Jesus knew what they needed, but they didn’t know, and this place would make evident the problem.
They needed to trust His power and sufficiency, especially in areas where they normally felt perfectly capable and sufficient. Inviting Jesus into what we think we have mastered and become “good at” is a necessary part of daily inviting the Savior to lead us.
Notice when the boys followed Jesus, they looked back and saw a big crowd coming after them. I don’t know what the men felt, but I will bet some of their hearts dropped a bit when the “private time with the Master” became another service for which they had to usher people, print bulletins and set mics up. Even those who love to serve get wrung out. Yet, I have found the times when Jesus speaks loudest to me are often when I am worn to the bone. It is often our weakness that summons the Savior’s strength!
The Set Up (6:4-9)
Go back to the story…
John 6:4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. 5 Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?”
Don’t gloss past verse four. If you were Jewish, you would know bread was on the minds of the people as Pesach (or Passover) approached. This is the time of removing “chametz” or yeast, leaven or dust bunnies from every part of one’s house. On the street in Jerusalem today, when Passover arises, people burn little piles of dust outside their house to mark the “spring cleaning” in preparation for Passover.
Exodus 12:15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.
Even today observant Jews spend nearly a month cleaning out their houses after Purim in Preparation for Pesach. They clean every room in the house and get ready to remove all chametz from the place. That was the time of this story. People were thinking about bread, for the time of matzah was drawing near.
Back to the text…
John 6:6 This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do.
This is a great verse, because it is an important reminder of how God works in us. If you go back to the very first test God ever gave man, it was in the Garden of Eden before sin came. It was even before Eve was created. The text of the story revealed that God KNEW man was alone, so He commanded him to name all the animals. Man concluded that he was alone AFTER the work God gave him. God’s command was also God’s test of Adam. Isn’t that often the case? The command offers us an opportunity to learn, not JUST in disobedience, but even in obedience.
Adam obeyed and God got his attention, gave him holy anesthesia, knocked him out and took out some bone to give him a companion called woman, because she was taken from man. God didn’t need Adam to name the animals or to take a test to know what he needed. All of God’s tests are designed to teach US; He never learns anything from the results.
Sometimes LACK is the device God gives us to test us, so He can fulfill that sense for us. Sometimes God has to make us hungry through a test so that we eat well from the provisions of His table! Listen in on the conversation as the boys answered:
John 6:7 Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.” 8 One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, 9 “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?”
The test was to see if the disciples could grasp that with Jesus, every need could be met. The bread wasn’t really lacking if the Savior’s power was present.
This is the sadness of living in a world of relative values presented by the teachers of “situational ethics.” They ask, “Is the man really wrong for stealing if he and his family are starving?” The problem with implying that wrong isn’t wrong in these circumstances is it leaves out the power of God! Ask George Mueller who prayed when his orphans were hungry, only to discover the bread truck that broke down outside and offered them plenty to eat.
The answer of the godless is to re-write the rules out of what seems like compassion but ends up licensing sin and normalizing wrong. It posits “an aloof” God that isn’t the One True Creator. It reduces the options to the ones WE can pull off. That is what is at the heart of the lesson for the disciples.
Philip saw the limited resources (purse) of the disciples and concluded it was not possible. Andrew saw the limited resources (lunch box) of the crowd and concluded it was not possible. Neither disciple factored in the power and presence of Jesus to fulfill the needs.
Jesus’ question included HIMSELF. He said, “Where are WE to buy bread?” It is incredibly easy for the disciples to set aside Jesus and NOT include Him – and we still do it all the time. Jesus cooperates with His disciples, but never leaves them fully responsible to care for needs without Him.
What the people needed wasn’t to eat bread to live, but to embrace the very “Bread of Life” and watch Him work!
The answer to their problem wasn’t in a lunch box, it was standing in a tunic beside them. HE was the answer. Yet, it was the tendency of the disciples to LEAVE HIM OUT, not His desire to be excluded. Without Him we can do nothing; through Him we can do all things.
The Example (6:10-15)
Watch Jesus make the lesson plain…
John 6:10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted. 12 When they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.
The first thing Jesus told the disciples was not to walk away and watch, but to participate with Him and organize the people to receive from Him. God loves working through us and with us. He could do it Himself, but relationship is at the heart of God (and participation is the key to relationship). He wants US to want HIM to work in and through us. Frankly, anyone who works in a church today will tell you a lot of rewarding ministry is just organizing the people and watching Jesus work through and around us.
Next, Jesus took the loaves the crowd gave to Him, and multiplied it to care for the need. I am certain He expanded the loaves as they were broken, but the first of what He used is what they handed Him. He started the miraculous with that which was willingly offered and humbly submitted for His use. Everyone who ministers in Jesus’ name knows what that is. We aren’t superstars for Jesus – we are carriers of God’s broken loaves of provision to those in need. We bring what was touched by our powerful Master’s hand. If someone said, “Thank you!” to Andrew as he passed them food, he probably felt like an idiot, since he knew the food came from Jesus – not him.
Jesus needed no plan from His disciples to do the Father’s work – only submission to His direction. When they DID exactly what He asked, He took what they had and made it more than they ever could!
Did you notice that Jesus gave sufficient to fill all that were gathered there? Even more, did you see that He even gave enough to care for the needs of the disciples! When they finished passing the baskets, Jesus made sure they got what they needed as well.
Yet, the Master wasn’t done. He taught His disciples through the reaction of the crowd in front of them – for the problem provided an opportunity to learn something!
John 6:14 Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.
Jesus wasn’t unaware the people really didn’t grasp Who stood before them. Later in the passage He said of the crowd:
John 6:26 … Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.
At the same time, John included this work of Jesus because it really helped underscore a lesson the earliest Jesus followers learned… The problem wasn’t a material lack – it was a spiritual one. It wasn’t BREAD; it was TRUST.
Sometimes we think our problem is a STUFF problem (don’t have enough, don’t have the right stuff). Sometimes we think our problem is a connection problem (we feel isolated and long for connection and affirmation).
Our real problem isn’t material, social or moral. At its root, our problem is to intentionally, willingly, openly invite Jesus to walk with us to solve life’s confounding issues.
The separation anxiety many believers feel is from God. It is easily masked by other symptoms, but that is the root. We aren’t called to solve problems for Jesus, but to invite Jesus to be the solution. It is our walk with Him that gets too little attention.
When Benjamin Franklin wished to interest the people of Philadelphia in street lighting, he didn’t try to persuade them by talking about it—instead, he hung a beautiful lantern on a long bracket before his own door. Then he kept the glass brightly polished, and carefully hung it at the approach of dusk. People wandering about on the dark street saw Franklin’s light a long way off and came under the influence of its friendly glow with grateful hearts. To each one it seemed to say, “Come along, my friend! Here is a safe place to walk. See that cobblestone sticking out? Don’t stumble over it! I shall be here to help you again tomorrow night, if you should come this way.” It wasn’t long before Franklin’s neighbors began placing lights in brackets before their homes and soon the entire city awoke to the value of street lighting and took up the matter with interest and enthusiasm. Example is always a strong motivation for doing the right thing in life. (Pastor Steven Sheppard, sermoncentral.com).
If you want people to trust Jesus as their Savior, perhaps hanging a lamp of your own trust is the best place to start.