Solving Problems

Wrecked car

My poor car – half the fender was torn off after hitting a large tire tread on the interstate.

Problems.  We all have them.  Some are bigger than others, but they are a part of life.  The problems that have loomed over me recently are a tree that was leaning over and going to hit my neighbor’s garage when it fell if we didn’t take care of it and my car being in the body shop after hitting an unavoidable tire tread on I-95 two weeks ago.  Problems.

Jesus and the disciples had a problem.

They had gone to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to try to get away for some rest, but they arrived instead to find a huge crowd of people who were all following Jesus because of the signs He had been performing on the sick.  5,000 men actually – and more if you assume that there were also women and children there.

Jesus, of course, has compassion on them.  He teaches them and heals the sick and then, as it is getting late, He addresses the issue of feeding them.  The “problem” is that there are so many people in a “desolate place” (Mark 6:35) and not enough food for them.  So Jesus poses the question to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?” (John 6:5)  Of course, being omniscient and all-powerful, Jesus already knew what He was going to do.  But John lets us know that Jesus asked Philip this question to “test him” (John 6:6).

Philip’s response?  “Two hundred denarii (day’s wages) worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little” (John 6:7).  Then Andrew volunteers that a boy has five loaves and two fish even though it’s not sufficient for such a large crowd.  And then Jesus takes what they have and feeds everyone with leftovers to spare.

My friends brought me this mug back from a trip to Israel.  It's a replica of a mosaic representing the loaves and fishes story.

My friends brought me this mug back from a trip to Israel. It’s a replica of a mosaic representing the loaves and fishes story.

I know this story well.  I even have the coffee mug.  But I had never stopped to notice how Jesus approaches Philip in John’s version of it and how Philip responds until my pastor preached on it recently.  What struck me is Philip’s answer.  Jesus is standing right there – the guy who turned water into wine not long before this.  Philip was probably there for that.  But his default response is to run the numbers and think of how this problem can be solved practically.  It’s not to turn it around and ask Jesus to do something.

King Asa was another man who faced problems.  One was when an army of a million Ethiopians was coming against them and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were overwhelmingly outmanned.  Asa’s solution to the problem?  God.  That was it.  It was all he had.  “Then Asa called out to the Lord his God, and said, ‘Lord, there is no one besides Thee to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O Lord our God, for we trust in Thee, and in Thy name have come against this multitude.’”  (2 Chronicles 14:11)  And the Lord responded by routing the Ethiopians.

Later Asa faced another problem.  This time it came from the king of Israel who was fortifying a city on the border of the two nations in order to keep anyone from coming in and going out from Asa.  How did Asa solve his problem this time?  By bribing the king of Aram with all the gold and silver in the house of the Lord and in his own treasuries to come fight against Israel so they would leave him alone.  And it worked.  But there was a cost.  A seer from God came to him to rebuke him for his sin of not relying on God and to tell him that from now on he would have wars. (See 2 Chronicles 16:1-10.)

I happened to read all of these stories just a few days apart and the message for me was obvious – what is my default when I have to solve problems?  I can relate so much to Philip.  I just start thinking and planning and figuring it all out.  And sometimes I end up like he did – with no good answer that just leads to pessimism or hopelessness.  Other times I come up with answers that are just done in my flesh – in my own strength and resources.  This can be my default when I’m really stressed.  Much as it makes me cringe to admit it, at those times I’m more like Asa choosing to resort to my own devices rather than relying on God at all.

I wish instead my default was to pray, to ask God to work.  Instead of figuring out my own solutions, will I remember that Jesus is right here and can do “exceeding abundantly beyond all that I ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20)? Of course, there is my part to do at times and God gave me a mind to use and hands to work.  But He still wants all of that done in dependence on Him and the Holy Spirit who lives in me and in prayer.

The story of the feeding of the five thousand is in all four gospels and all of them end by mentioning that the disciples picked up the leftover fragments and that there were twelve basketfuls of them.  I assume that’s one per disciple.  It was pointed out at church that since He is omniscient, Jesus knew exactly how much bread to make.  And yet He chose to have all of these leftover fragments.  So interesting.  We don’t really know why He did that, but I think it may have been to show His power, how great He is, and how He can do far more than we trust Him to do.

When reading about King Asa, I think the saddest part is how he ended.  2 Chronicles 16:12 says, “And in the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa became diseased in his feet.  His disease was severe, yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord but the physicians.”  His heart had become hard and so he only sought earthly solutions to his problems and wouldn’t seek the Lord at all.  How I pray I don’t end up like that!  Lord, give me a soft and teachable heart that runs to You with my problems and trusts You to lead, to provide, and to strengthen me in the process.

Seeing Through My Sunglasses

I never spend a lot of money on sunglasses.  The last expensive pair I got was some Ray Ban Aviators in the late ‘80’s that I still have.  Since then it’s been cheap pairs, including several $8 Ray Ban copies I got in China.

But, I’ll confess, I like nice things.  I care about brands.  Maybe I shouldn’t, but I have ever since I got my first Alligator and Polo shirts in high school.  (Yes – alligator shirts.  Now known as LaCoste.  They were a lot cheaper in the ‘80’s.)  My dad is the same way – maybe I got it from him.  For the last few years one of the expensive things I’ve really wanted but couldn’t bring myself to buy was a pair of nice sunglasses.

When my birthday came around last year, I decided to go for it.  My present was a budget from my husband and a trip to the outlet mall so I decided to splurge and get some nice sunglasses.  They were still from an outlet and they were Michael Kors (not the Ray Bans I wanted but still couldn’t bring myself to buy), but they were the most expensive sunglasses I’d ever bought.  And I loved them.  When I put them on, I couldn’t believe how much better they really were – how much easier it was to see through them!  It was like my awakening after a Sephora makeover that expensive makeup really is better.

Rece Davis

Rockin’ my MK sunglasses with Rece Davis from ESPN right before I lost them.

One way I rationalized my expense was that I never lose anything.  Or at least very rarely.  When I was in college, the running joke with my roommate was that I could always find what she had lost.  So I figured since I was responsible, it was OK to splurge.  And that went fine until March.

One day I couldn’t find my nice MK sunglasses.  Not anywhere.  I retraced my steps in my head and realized that they had to be in a certain area of the yard.  I usually wore the Chinese Ray Bans when I did yard work, but that day I wore the MK ones.  I vaguely remembered taking them off and sticking them in the neck of my shirt.  I figured they must have dropped out when I bent over.

So I went to that part of the yard.  Now our yard is a little crazy – kind of out-of-control around the edges.  And this was one of those parts.  I anxiously walked around, looking down, looking everywhere.  I kept thinking, “I love those sunglasses.”  And then what came to mind was the story of the widow looking everywhere for her lost coin.  I was looking furiously for something that was important to me.  And then the thought came to me – “Do I look this hard for lost people?  Do I look for them and think of how I love them like I am these sunglasses?”  It was convicting to say the least.  That was the first thing I saw through my sunglasses.

Fast forward a few weeks.  I kept looking around that area when I could but still no sunglasses.  Then one day I was out there with my electric chainsaw cutting limbs off the tree/bush thing that was growing there.  It had completely gotten out of control and now was in the cable line and part of it was even touching the power line.  So I was doing what I could to get it under control.

My next door neighbor was driving by and stopped.  “Do you want all of that stuff out of there?” she asked.  “Yes,” I replied, “All of it.”  She then said that her husband had some free time and would do it for me.  Of course, I will take any help I can get with the yard so I said, “Sure.”  And, lo and behold, he did.  That day he chainsawed all of it down.  Every bit.  And for weeks he just kept working on it.  I am still amazed at how God provided for me to get something done that I thought would take a lot of time and expense.

Of course, this whole time that we have been working out there, I kept thinking about my sunglasses.  I’d look down and look around.  But I figured that even if they were found, they had to be stepped on and broken by now with all the work we had been doing.  So for my birthday this year, it was another budget and another outlet mall and another pair of sunglasses although not as nice and half the cost of the lost ones.

Fast forward two weeks later to Mother’s Day.  We had gone to graduation at UNC, but my husband came home before I did.  When I got home that afternoon, my husband asked me if I had seen what was on the kitchen counter for me.  My neighbor had been working in my yard (again!!) and found my sunglasses in the mud!!!  I couldn’t believe it!  I looked at them in amazement.  They were muddy and one side was slightly bent, but they weren’t cracked or broken and there was barely one scratch on one lens.  Unbelievable.

My mind immediately went back to the woman looking for the lost coin and my conviction.  And the guilt that came with it.  But then the Holy Spirit asked me why I had to associate those glasses with something bad.  Why didn’t I look at them and associate them with something good?  And the something good that I saw was the goodness of God.  Sunglasses are really inconsequential in the long run, and you may have already thought by now that I was kind of crazy to love them so much.  But God cared.  And He not only provided a neighbor to clear out part of my yard, He also provided my sunglasses.  And that is the second thing I saw through my sunglasses – the goodness and grace and kindness and provision of God.