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Impossibility Thinking

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" Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Feast was near. When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself." (John 6:1-15, NIV) [1]

Sometimes preachers wrestle with “impossibility thinking even prior to preaching their sermons.

Ultimate Preaching Rules

1.  According to your congregation, there are bad sermons and short sermons but there are no bad short sermons.

2.  A life saver mint will last 22 minutes exactly if left laying between the cheek and gum during the normal course of talking.  This is a helpful hint to time your sermon.  Just don't make the mistake of putting a button in your mouth instead of a life saver before you get up to preach.

3.  It never fails that when an "Awesome Sermon" is preached, members of the congregation cannot remember the scripture citations or what the sermon was about when the service is over.

4.  The number of faithful tithers in a congregation, and the amount in the offering plate is in direct inverse proportion to the number of sermons the pastor delivers on stewardship and tithing.

5. The likelihood that someone will walk the isle drops by a value of 10 percent for each minute the sermon goes into overtime.

6.  The louder the congregation sings the longer the preacher should preach.

7.  It is a well kept secret among Music Ministers that the offering total goes up 5 percent each time the third verse of a hymn is skipped (so, that's why they do that).

8.   The purpose of a great sermon is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  The latter is preferable to the former.

9.   No matter how hard you have studied and prayed, some sermons seem to barely get out of your mouth before they drop on the floor in front of the first pew.

10.  When the congregation starts to lose interest and doze off you can awaken them by saying loudly, "And Finally" or "In Conclusion." This will only work about four times per sermon.

11. Murphy must have been a preacher, but at least he was an optimist.

The Christian manner of thinking is a challenge for most of us.

"Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight— we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. " (2 Corinthians 5:6-9, NASB95) [2]

We like to refer to  ourselves as “faith-walkers”.  We trust God to care for us in the next world – we really have no choice but to trust but trusting Him in this world is another issue by times.

Ø      Ever spent a sleepless night in worry over things that never happened?  Ever spent a sleepless night in worry trading today for tomorrow, regarding things that did happen?

Ø      Ever take revenge on someone because in practical terms you weren’t content with the idea that God will settle the score of injustice in your own life?

Ø      Ever short change God in your giving habits because you cared for your own needs and wants first?

Ø      Ever fail to give a clear witness to a friend?

Ø      Ever fail to extend help to the needy because of far that they might want something more than you had in your mind to give?

Ø      Ever modify your behavior based upon your company?

If you have, don’t feel condemned, be challenged to ask yourself whether there is room in your life for God to transform you in this practical area.  Peter was the only disciple to get out of the boat.  He tried and failed but for a moment he knew exactly what it was like to step on the water and feel it hold beneath his feet.  Even though he went for a swim, he was the only human being ever to join Jesus in a stroll on the waters.  John Ortberg has written a wonderful book entitled, “If You Want To Walk On The Water, You’ve Got To Get Out Of The Boat,”  It’s simple truth in a profound title.  A person can be content in the boat, an unchallenged “water-walker” – we can be walkers or talkers.  I’d rather be a wet walker than a dry talker.  And so I’d like to look into this story with you today, Christ feeding the multitude on the hillside and ask you if you are an “Impossibility Thinker”.  Are you missing opportunities that you may never have again because in the face of God’s

1.   The task is to big.

Look at Philip’s response:

7 Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages a would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” [3]

Can’t you just hear the “impossible tone” in his response.  We can’t do this!  You want us to put on a dinner for over 5000 people now???

That is the immediate response that many people have to things that they see to be “beyond them”.  We can’t do it so forget it.

And when we get this way we want to beat the retreat back to a manageable place in our lives.  How do we get back to that safe place that we used to know? 

Going back is never an option.  God leads his dear children.

In shady, green pastures, so rich and so sweet,
God leads His dear children along;
Where the water’s cool flow bathes the weary one’s feet,
God leads His dear children along.

Some through the waters, some through the flood,
Some through the fire, but all through the blood;
Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song,
In the night season and all the day long.

Sometimes on the mount where the sun shines so bright,
God leads His dear children along;
Sometimes in the valley, in darkest of night,
God leads His dear children along.

Though sorrows befall us and evils oppose,
God leads His dear children along;
Through grace we can conquer, defeat all our foes,
God leads His dear children along.

Away from the mire, and away from the clay,
God leads His dear children along;
Away up in glory, eternity’s day,
God leads His dear children along.

The problem with being overwhelmed is that it stifles creative thought.  That first panicked thought when you are in over your head and you can’t touch the bottom.  Survival is the primary thought that you have and there’s no left over mental energy to do anything else but to keep your head above water.

There is always a way in God’s economy – always – always – always.  In the heart of a God who takes anything and turns it to a profit is there anything that can come to our lives that is too difficult for God?

"Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ “Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Sarah denied it however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh.” " (Genesis 18:12-15, NASB95) [4]

"‘You have said to me, O Lord God, “Buy for yourself the field with money and call in witnesses”—although the city is given into the hand of the Chaldeans.’ ” Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” " (Jeremiah 32:25-27, NASB95) [5]

Philip was doing the computations and the answer was undeniable to him – this was an impossible thing to accomplish.

We are like Philip so many times – it doesn’t matter what God wants us to do, we get out the slide rule and determine that it can’t be done.

Ø      I can’t go in the ministry.  I have an established life and a set of obligations to meet.

Ø      I can’t tithe

Ø      I shouldn’t have to be the one to take the first step toward reconciliation.

Ø      I’m the wrong personality type to share my faith with others

Ø      I could never go on a short-term missions trip

Ø      I don’t have time to teach that Sunday School class

2.   I need something that I don’t have.

Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Philip thought of money.  Jesus asked him where they could buy bread.  Bread was the need that Jesus identified.  Money was the problem that Philip saw.  In order for them to feed the multitude they needed something that they didn’t have or perhaps the price was too high. 

The impossibility thinker looks to what he/she does not have as a measure of the feasibility of the task.  The possibility thinker begins with what he/she has and offers it to God. 

Anyway we have all felt like Philip at times – we think that in order to execute the will of God in our lives, it requires something that we do not have. 

Philip had absolutely no inclination to take inventory.  He was thinking in a different direction.  The idea that they might already have what was needed never crossed his troubled mind.  So many times the answer is in the inventory when we think we need to go shopping.  I would suggest to you that whatever direction God takes you as an individual, the answer is in the inventory.  He wouldn’t ask you to do something if there were no provision.  There are times when we could see ourselves acting upon God’s direction if . . .  If this happened.  If my debt load were lower.

Impossibility thinkers are convinced that something else is required before we can engage ourselves in the task to which God has called us.

3.   Money will solve all my problems. 

"Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”" (John 6:7, NIV) [6]

It is a resource problem – we need more money.  Money is the answer.  Money is a human means of meeting need.  It’s easy and quick by comparison.  We just spend money and we can fix that.  Feed a man a fish . . . (Ill. From seminar – Erwin McManus)

Our minds run quickly in this direction.  Just think of what we might do if we had an unlimited supply of money.  If we could spend freely without worry.  We could assemble an army of mercenaries.  We could just pay people to do everything.

We’d probably pray a lot less if we were blessed with these kinds of resources and God knows that most already pray much less than we should.  You know what the problem with that would be?  We would be strangers to God.  Disconnected from His divine purpose.  That whole process of God in the space of a lifetime through blessing and adversity, demonstrating His loving nature and character would be largely missed.

We’d probably know people less as well.  It seems that the more that we have, the more independent we become from one another.  We don’t need others.  And money can become the magnet that brings you many friends.  Like the prodigal son in the far off country.

We wouldn’t need our widows and their “mitey” contributions.  We could just tell the needy that they could keep what little they had.  And we’d rob them of the greatest blessing that there is, to give in worship to God.  The need to give is something that we have as individuals.  That constant discipline that reminds us that life is not about us – if we plan to enjoy “kingdom-living”.  It’s about God’s kingdom and His presence within us.

4.   What I have is not sufficient.

"“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”" (John 6:9, NIV) [7]

There are many times that people back away from God given tasks and visions because they think that their contribution would not even make a dent in the solution of the problem.

In the face of need the response that God looks for is the offering of what we have at our disposal – this is the raw material of miracles.  When we give to God what we have in the face of the impossible this is a nuclear reaction.  It is a “faith-stopper” when all that we can tell Christ is what we lack.

Most of us underestimate the value of offering what we have to God.  It might never go far enough in our hands but in God’s hands it will go the distance.  “How far will it go among so many?”

I have struggled with this perspective at times in my life as a pastor.  In a world where people face such real and complex problems, I feel very much inadequate in myself to offer help or comfort or direction.  We have people in our congregation who are extremely well trained and capable and because of that they are very busy in their own right and often hard to access.

I tell people that I am a pastor and the counsel that I offer is pastoral, biblical in nature.  I do not have specialized knowledge as a psychologist or a psychiatrist but God has reminded me that there is a wonderful place for such counsel.  Often there is freedom to be found in a supernatural way to the problems that seem to thwart our living.  And so when I offer my loaves and fishes, I pray for the blessing of God to turn my insufficiency into abundance.

You know what, all of us play a role in God’s kingdom.  There are people that we can all come along side of and offer our hand in support and belief.

“I have been captured by the idea that God has placed extraordinary resources within us that have the power to heal us and our relationships.  If released they could do a lot of good that we now think only trained specialists can accomplish.  I believe that under the direction of the Holy Spirit, these resources can do whatever needs to be done to move people toward maturity.  I have what it takes, not as a psychologist but as a Christian husband, to help my wife become deeply whole.  I can influence my kids, help my friends, and be an instrument of soul healing in the lives of a few.  The core requirement is that I be godly.  It is easier to get educated.” (Larry Crabb, “Connecting” p. xiv – intro)

Who have you connected with of late?  Have you found that “someone” to believe in that others have cast aside?  I believe that everyone of us should have someone that we believe in where no on else does.  What an improvement it would be if everyone had someone who believed in them.

5.   Since it’s not enough I’ll just keep it. 

It needs to change hands.

"Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish." (John 6:11, NIV) [8]

It’s a pretty understandable reaction when you think about it.  We are convinced that what we have to offer would make no difference so we just keep it to ourselves.  It might be presented to God but never offered.  In order for it to be offered, ownership must be relinquished.  The things that we give to God are no longer ours.  They are His property.  Until our contribution changes hands it will remain as it is and as we estimate it – insufficient and negligible.  However when what small blessing God gives us is poured out in His hands it is dynamic.  It is infused with a spiritual presence and scope that defies our imagination.  The hymn writer wrote:

In the harvest field now ripened,

there's a work for all to do.

Hark! The voice of God is calling,

to the harvest calling you.

Does the place you're called to labor

seem too small and little known?

It is great if God is in it,

and He'll not forget His own.

Are you laid aside from service,

body worn from toil and care?

You can still be in the battle,

in the sacred place of prayer.

When the conflict here is ended

and our race on earth is run,

He will say, if we are faithful,

"Welcome home, my child-well done!"
Little is much when God is in it.

Labor not for wealth and fame.

There's a crown and you can win it,

if you go in Jesus' name!

Have you allowed God to take your offering from you?  Don’t belittle it – just offer it and watch what He can do.

6.   Rationing: “I’ll make do with what I’ve got.” 

"Jesus … distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish." (John 6:11, NIV) [9]

When we try to do it ourselves this is what happens.  We ration and people receive sparingly.  Look at the scriptures.  Jesus wasn’t looking at the bottom of the bread basket and holding back so that everyone had something.  He gave each one as much as he/she wanted.  The scriptures here seem to tell us that Jesus was the distributor – not the disciples.  They gathered the left-overs.  I somehow think that if they had been giving the food out they would have held back.  God gives without reserve and we must be the same.

We have what Steven Covey refers to as a “scarcity mentality”.

We fear that we will run out and so we hold back on people.  We are unable to rejoice in their successes because we feel that somehow they are taking something away from us.

If there is one thing that we have in the church of Christ it is abundance.  You can afford to be lavish in your grace giving to others because you have been lavished with the grace of God yourself.  There is no end to God’s love and forgiveness and so we should allow that inexhaustible supply to come from us and through us to others.

7.   Asking God to do the two-step with us.

Then what God?  Most of us want God to tell us “what then?”.  We know what he wants us to do next but are not willing to move until we determine what comes after that.

"Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them." (John 6:10, NIV) [10]

People who are cursed with “impossibility thinking” are people who insist that they see several steps ahead and like it or not there are times when we can see nothing more than the “next step”.  We are not sure how things are going to unfold but we know what God wants us to do next.

Did Philip pass the test?  What was Jesus looking for?  Tests are generally given to people who are in the process of learning.  A test is the way that a teacher measures his success with a given student.  One could say that it is a measurement of a student’s ability or his grasp of material.  I suppose it is that as well but a teacher is stimulated by the growth of his/her students.  Obviously at least it would have told Jesus where Philip was in his process and it would have indicated to Christ what further steps he needed to take with Philip.  Also the process of Philip answering the question would have opened his eyes to what Christ was about to do.  Philip stated the human impossibility of meeting the need of the multitude and then in the face of that admission Jesus did just that.  I remember the Moncton days when the possibility of a new building project was proposed.  It was clearly beyond their reach and remains that to this day.  If it ever appears it will be clearly the hand of God.  (The hand of blessing or the hand of permission.)

What is the greatest resource lacking in the life of the church?  Most of the time we would identify “money” as the greatest commodity.  I believe that active spiritual leadership is perhaps the greatest deficiency that the church knows.  We can be lead by God to do great things for him or we can be subject to small manageable whims that we create and orchestrate.  It might create a stir here and there from time to time but by comparison is almost embarrassing to hold before the world as the handiwork of God.  There was no doubt that God was at work in Jesus day.  People followed him because it was undeniable that He was different than the rest.  It will take people who see the God-given possibilities who actively participate in the process as we try to stay in step with a God who wants to build his church out of changed individuals.

Subject: Memo from God

I know you're mad at me right now. That's all right. People have been mad at me before and will be again. Being mad is part of being human.  My son got mad, too. It's right to be mad: at injustice, for example, or at the lack of charity. You probably think that I am unjust and uncharitable when an airplane goes down like that. All those people lost. The children, gone. It doesn't seem right; it can't be loving.  You ask, "Where was God? Why would He allow that to happen?"

I allow it to happen because I allow you freedom. I could have kept you on a string and made you dance all day without getting tired. I could have moved your mouth for you and made you sing all night without growing hoarse. I could have pulled a wire that would have let you soar skyward and never fall. I could have but I didn't because I love you too much. I want you to be free to decide when to dance and sing. Free to determine when you will come to me in faith and hope. Because you are free, some of you choose not to dance or sing. Some of you select hatred over love, revenge over forgiveness, bombs over a helping hand. As you choose, I watch. I do not disappear. I listen for both the songs and the bombs. And I remember.

"Where was God?" you wonder. I was there. I whispered in the ear of a little girl, "Don't be afraid, I am with you." I held the hand of a businesswoman as tightly as she clutched mine. I cradled a pilot against my shoulder as if he were a baby again. Amid the paralyzing fear I was there, as I was with my son in the garden. Amid the unbearable pain, I was there, as I was with him when he was whipped.  Amid the terrible realization that life was ending too soon, I was there, as I was when he was hung on the cross and asked, like you, "My God, why have you forsaken me?"

I had not forsaken him. I did not forsake those on the plane. I was there as they fell - and as they arose to eternal joy. I listened to their anger, answered their questions and showed them why they had been created. Not to end that way, but to live forever with me. In an instant, they came into existence. As you did. In an instant, they left this world. As you will. But beyond that last instant, I kept my promise: a little girl dances... a businesswoman sings... and a pilot keeps his wings. Forever.

  Love always,


For all the negative things we have to say to ourselves,

God has a  positive answer for it.

You say: "It's impossible"

God says: All things are possible (Luke 18:27)

You say: "I'm too tired"

God says: I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28-30)

You say: "Nobody really loves me"

God says: I love you (John 3:16 & John 13:34)

You say: "I can't go on"

God says: My grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9 & Psalm 91:15)

You say: "I can't figure things out"

God says: I will direct your steps (Proverbs 3:5-6)

You say: "I can't do it"

God says: You can do all things (Philippians 4:13)

You say: "I'm not able"

God says: I am able (2 Corinthians 9:8)

You say: "It's not worth it"

God says: It will be worth it (Romans 8:28)

You say: "I can't forgive myself"

God says: I FORGIVE YOU (1 John 1:9 & Romans 8:1)

this one's my favorite! :)

You say: "I can't manage"

God says: I will supply all your needs (Philippians 4:19)

You say: "I'm afraid"

God says: I have not given you a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7)

You say: "I'm always worried and frustrated"

God says: Cast all your cares on ME (1 Peter 5:7)

You say: "I don't have enough faith"

God says: I've given everyone a measure of faith (Romans 12:3)

You say: "I'm not smart enough"

God says: I give you wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30)

You say: "I feel all alone"

God says: I will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5)


[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

 a Greek two hundred denarii

[3]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Jn 6:7). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[4] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[5] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[6] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[7] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[8] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[9] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[10] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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