Tag Archives: Bread of Life

Think About a Verse

Open BibleAll Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The New Living Translation makes these verses sound more like daily conversation:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16 NLT)

When Paul wrote to Timothy, he had already written a letter to the church at Ephesus, in which he said, “We are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10 ESV).

  • In the letter to the Ephesians, what did Paul say was the purpose for which God recreated us in Christ Jesus?
  • Paul sent Timothy to the church at Ephesus, and he wrote 2 Timothy as guidance for Timothy’s work there. What did he tell Timothy was the necessary way to learn how to live out God’s purpose?
  • If Scripture is inspired by God, what part of it can we safely ignore?
  • If God has inspired Scripture to help every Christian, why would he want to make it hard to understand? In other words, when you are reading Scripture, is it safe for you follow the plain meaning, or do you need a code book to understand it?
  • What did Paul say Scripture does for us?
  • Jesus said that our natural food is every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Read Matthew 4:4) How often do you need to eat? How often do you need to nourish yourself from the Word of God?

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com. Watch for the release of Thrive! Live Christian in a Hostile World, planned for release in the winter of 2016.

Image: Open Bible
Source:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AOpen_Bible.jpg
By Wnorbutas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0

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Prayer and Bible Study are as Essential as Food

Open BibleMost Christians are very familiar with the story of the temptations of Jesus.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God'”  (Matthew 4:1-4 ESV)

We often marvel at the very idea that someone could fast for forty days. Whether you think it is a literal forty days or just a long, long time, most of us have trouble fasting between breakfast and lunch, let alone one day. Forget forty days. One of the largest segments of the food industry is devoted exclusively to snacks. Our culture expects people to eat meals three times a day, but we also expect refreshments after worship, during seminars and just about any time two or more people gather anywhere.

Anyone in the USA who fasts for any reason knows that it is hard to get by without food, even if you don’t really need any.

Yet Christians regularly try to get by without the food Jesus said we need more than anything—the Bread of Life.

We all need the words that come from the mouth of God, and the best place to obtain those words is the Bible. The Bible is God’s revelation of himself, and he gave it to us as a guide for faith and life. Jesus’s statement that God’s words are food just like bread was not the outcome of quick thinking. The words were written down centuries before by Moses who told the children of Israel the same thing:

[God] humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, . . . that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Deuteronomy 8:3 ESV).

God’s words are the most important food we can eat, yet many of us would resemble the prisoners held in Auschwitz if our spiritual bodies were photographed, because we do not eat the Bread of Life that we need so very much.

If we lived in a country like Uzbekistan, where people can be arrested simply for possessing a Bible, let alone reading one, we might have some excuse. In Uzbekistan, there is a Bible that is legal, but it must be the Bible approved by the government. Printing Bibles is not a priority with the government’s approved publisher, so there are not nearly enough legal Bibles. It might be understandable if you were not reading the Bible in Uzbekistan.

In the US, there is no such excuse. Bibles are available everywhere. There is no law against possession of a Bible. There is no law specifying only one legal translation. You don’t even need to buy a Bible, because there are numerous groups and churches that will give you a Bible if you ask. Some may even accost you on the street and ask if you want one.

The truth? You probably have more than one Bible on a shelf or in a drawer or on your nightstand. If you attend church, there is undoubtedly one in a pew rack in front of you. You might even have taken one with you to church last Sunday. You could easily find a Bible to read if you wanted to.

You aren’t missing any meals. Why are you missing out on the Bread of Life?

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Image: Open Bible
Source:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AOpen_Bible.jpg
By Wnorbutas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0

The Web We Weave With Words

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Mileshttp://www.freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles
http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Recently I happened upon a fund-raising site for a person who wants to make a mission trip. She described some of the things she expects to do if she can make the trip, and then she said, “Even though I will be there for only a short time, I want to make a difference.”

This person used a phrase we hear every day, because the phrase has achieved some prominence in common usage as a way to express a charitable commitment. People are often invited to participate in a charity project in order to “make a difference.” Young people asked what they want to do when they grow up will respond by saying, “I want to make a difference.” I don’t know who said this phrase first, but it has attained great popularity.

That doesn’t make it the right way to describe the work of a Christian on a mission for Christ.

I am certain that the person who used this phrase in her fund-raising effort did not mean what she actually said. Her other statements belie the message of this phrase. She said that she wanted to share Christ with people and show them what he is like. That is not the message of this phrase. She said that she wanted to touch people with Christ’s love. That is not the message of this phrase. She said that she wanted to push back spiritual darkness and physical pain. That is not the message of this phrase.

The message of the phrase, “make a difference” is, “Look at me. See what I do. Take notice of me, because what I do changes things.” The implication of the phrase is that the “difference” she makes will be a good thing for the people who experience it, and the phrase therefore invites praise of the person who “makes” that difference.

This is not the work of a Christian on a mission for Christ, and I know that the person who  used the phrase used it because it is so common in our culture, not because she thought about the meaning of it. She really wanted to say that she hopes to serve the people by pointing them to Christ and inviting them to praise him for what he will do in their lives. She really wants to open people’s hearts and minds to the Christ who will make a real and eternal difference in their lives.

Common usage of this phrase supports deliberately secular work and secular goals. Feeding the hungry is something Christ teaches us to do, and that work makes a difference until the hunger recurs, but if feeding the hungry is nothing more than putting food in people’s mouths, it does not achieve the kind of change Christ has in mind.

When Jesus fed five thousand people, they were agog. What a man! The next morning, after Jesus and the disciples had slipped away, the crowd chased Jesus down near Capernaum and asked, “How did you wind up over here?” Jesus knew that they were not concerned for his well-being or his means to pay for transportation. He replied, “Look, I know you aren’t concerned for my health. You followed me all the way over here, because I gave you food. That food was just a temporary fix. It didn’t do you any eternal good. It didn’t change you. That is not the sort of food to give your energy for. You need the food that endures for eternal life.” (See John 6:22-40) In other words, Christ used the feeding of hungry mouths to open empty hearts to his truth.

This is what the young woman wanted to say when she was trying to raise funds for her mission trip. She didn’t want to ask people to be impressed by her self-sacrifice in going on the mission trip. She doesn’t hope to come home to a parade and a certificate of award for helping sick and hungry people in a third-world country. She wants to touch empty, sick hearts with the love of Christ and give people something that will satisfy their eternal hunger. She doesn’t want people to remember her. She wants people to remember that she gave them Christ.

There is no “sin” in the word this woman used. I am not trying to suggest that. I am, rather, saying that when we speak of the work we want to do, we must speak with the same commitment to Christ that we will apply in the work itself. Our words and our deeds are the testimony everyone sees and hears. People who hear that we are Christians will start judging what Christianity is by what they hear and what they see us do. If all they see are charitable acts, and all they hear are secular phrases, then they are not introduced to Christ and his claim on our lives. It isn’t wicked; it is a lost opportunity to testify.

We miss a lot of such opportunities. The condition of the world witnesses to a deep heart-hunger of people for that eternal food Christ offered to the people after he had fed them temporary bread. We don’t want people to waste time being impressed by us. We want them to see Christ and receive what only he can give. It would be a shame to “make a difference” in time and space while failing utterly to show people the Christ who will change them eternally.

Living in the Intersection

The Readings: 

1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2;John :35, 41-51

 

In John 6:38, Jesus said, “I have come down from heaven.” The Jews murmured about this statement. When you read this verse, you can almost hear the susurration flowing through the crowd. “He came down from heaven?” “What does he mean, from heaven?” “Who does he think he is?” “Did you hear that? How could he have come from heaven?” “We know where he came from!” The whispers spread, but nobody actually wanted to confront Jesus after he had said “the name.” Jesus, the son of Mary and the carpenter, said, “I AM the bread of life,” and that was scary. Then Jesus said that he came from heaven. What gave him that idea? Yet nobody could quite explain how a carpenter’s son had fed five thousand people, either.

The Jews muttering about Jesus were exactly like contemporary secular thinkers who reject Christ on the ground that the notions of deity and heaven are myths. The Jews would never have gone so far as to say that God did not exist, but their faith that God existed did not extend far enough to wrap itself around a flesh and blood man who claimed that he came down from heaven.

The culture in the USA, bewildered over the question of whether Islam is or isn’t a violent religion, puzzled by the notion that a Christian could be spiritual and not religious, confused by celebrity writers and talk show stars who claim that every person is actually his own god, cannot wrap its communal mind around the idea that the universe of time and space actually is not all there is. There are a lot of religions and plenty more spiritual practices. They can’t all be right. Maybe they are all just a lot of wishful thinking expressed by good story-tellers. The culture is tired of trying to sort through all the myths. Pure reason says that if we can’t measure it, then it does not exist. There is nothing particularly wrong if people want to believe in the easter bunny or the tooth fairy or any sort of god or God Almighty, but the culture finds such ideas not particularly useful. The culture wants those ideas gathered up and swept out of the public forum. Put those fanciful ideas in little boxes, buildings, and let those who enjoy the fantasies go into the buildings and play their games all they want without bothering the rest of us.

The Jews were beginning to believe that Jesus was a good storyteller with great sleight of hand tricks who needed to be brought under control before he upset the Romans and made the government mad at the Jews for creating a public nuisance. That is the secular culture’s vision of Christianity, too – a public nuisance.

The Jews, of course, did have faith in God. They claimed faith in the God who, according to Jesus, had sent him down from heaven to earth. The Jews had a history with God, and one of the most important details of that history concerned the manna that saved their ancestors from starvation in the wilderness. They looked back to those days, remembered how Moses had taught the Israelites to eat the manna, and asked Jesus if he could show them something that miraculous.

Christ’s answer to the Jews was to point out that despite eating manna, all those ancestors were dead. Their wonderful story was wonderful as a time-space survival story, but even though the people who ate manna lived longer than they would have lived without it, they, nevertheless, eventually died. The miracle of manna was no different from the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. The people who ate manna, and the people who ate the miraculously-multiplied loaves and fish, were still destined to die. Ancient manna, Galilean bread – they were the foods of time and space.

Christ responded to the Jews the way he responds today to secular thinkers. He asked what becomes of the people who limit themselves to this world. The answer is that nobody gets out of here alive. Human beings limited to this world of time and space are limited to a world in which evil runs free and death is final.

Jesus closes with a reference to the bread in the Eucharist. He foreshadows his own crucifixion and the institution of the Lord’s Supper when he says, “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” When the communion server says to me, “The body of Christ, given for you,” I am reminded that Jesus died in the flesh for me, but he did not stay dead. He rose again. He lives. When I eat the bread, I am reminded that Jesus said, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” The flesh of the living Christ is in, with, and under the bread I eat, and it nourishes my life eternal.

The lesson here is a reminder to all Christians that we live constantly at the intersection of time and eternity. We don’t live simply in the present. Our words and deeds have meaning in both time and eternity. Our lives, our testimonies to Christ, are both temporal and eternal. We cannot live in the eternal framework only when we are inside a church building. We cannot leave that eternal connection behind when we exit the building. Wherever a Christian goes, his location is always the same: the intersection of time and eternity. Our culture and secular thinkers in our government may think there can be a separation, but Christ teaches us that we are not discrete religious and non-religious persons. Each one of us lives eternally at the same time we live in time and space.

Christ’s interaction with the murmuring Jews should remind Christians of two things:

  • If the Jews who knew God and were, at least in theory, waiting for the Messiah could not accept him when they saw him, we have good reason to show compassion and love for the people in our culture who also do not recognize the Christ, in us or in the Bible. 
  • Our loving and faithful testimony will not always stir up a loving response. We can expect scorn and opposition, no matter how loving and faithful our behavior is.

This Sunday, when the server hands you bread and says, “The body of Christ, given for you,” listen intently for the voice of Christ in your heart, reminding you, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” When you leave the sanctuary and step out into the street, remember that no matter where you are, you are at the intersection of time and eternity. May all your words and deeds invite others, no matter how incredulous or scornful they may be, to join you in that blessed intersection.

Who Am I?

Little children often play games where they describe a character or act out something and then ask, “Who am I?” They do this in the belief that every individual has traits that distinguish him from all other individuals. They can say, “The farmer caught me in the garden. I tried to run, but my jacket got caught in a net, and I barely wriggled out of it in time to escape. Who am I?” Most of the children would know it was Peter Rabbit.

Jesus didn’t play games with his disciples, but one day he did ask them some “Who am I?” questions. One day he asked them who everybody else thought he was. He had been wandering from town to town, teaching in synagogues, healing sick people, giving sight to the blind, and so forth. Jesus asked his disciples how people interpreted these things. The disciples responded by telling him that people thought maybe John the Baptist had come back to life, or maybe Elijah. Jewish people all knew that Elijah had not really died, and they knew there was a prophecy that he would return, so this idea was common. There were various other interpretations.

Then Jesus asked “Who am I?” He actually said, “Who do you say that I am?” but the real question to the disciples was more piercing. He wanted them to answer from their hearts. Simon Peter spoke right up. “You are the Messiah,” he said.

Jesus needed to be sure that his disciples understood who he really was, because otherwise, they would misunderstand everything he did. People in general misunderstood him for a lot of reasons, but it was important that the disciples get it right. They did not know what was coming, but Jesus knew, and he knew that if they did not understand that he was God come down among them, then they would never be able to do the work of telling the good news to the whole world.

After the feeding of the five thousand, people gathered around Jesus with questions that made it clear that they did not recognize who Jesus really was. They actually pursued him all the way across the Sea of Galilee from the remote location where five thousand had been fed. When they found him, they asked him to explain himself. First they wanted to know how Jesus got to Capernaum. He responded by piercing the façade that hid their real desire to know how he had managed to feed all those people. He answered the real question, where did all that bread come from? Jesus knew, because he always knew what was going on inside people,  that each person who asked was actually trying to figure out how to get in the bread line again. The moocher society did not sprout full-blown for the first time in the twenty-first century. Even in Jesus’ day, there were plenty of people who wanted benefits, not jobs.

Jesus said they needed to work, not for daily bread, but for the food of eternal life. Eugene Peterson captures the response of the crowd well when he says that they “waffled.” Of course they waffled. We all do. We want to ask God for what we want, and we want to receive what we want. We don’t want God to tell us to get to work, and we certainly don’t want to be expected to work for things we can’t see. Peterson’s translation/paraphrase records that they responded saying, “Why don’t you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what’s going on? When we see what’s up, we’ll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do.” (John 6:30-31) In other words, prove yourself to us.

I encounter people all the time who say the same thing. They consider faith in Christ to be akin to belief in a four-leaf clover. Or the tooth fairy. The culture of the US today is growing daily more cynical about the existence of God, and doubt of his existence leads to doubts about his right to expect anything of human beings. At this very moment, a lawsuit is in process in a US federal district court in which the ultimate question is whether a person ought to obey God or live according to human reason. That is not the way the question is worded, because it is about contemporary law and political administration and a businessman who believes he should live according to his faith principles, even in his business. But the real question is the same question the disciples had to answer over and over after Pentecost: Must Christians obey government, namely human beings, when government expects Christians to disobey or deny God? The government, like the people who chased Jesus down in Capernaum looking for free bread, challenges the very existence of God by challenging God’s authority in people’s lives and daily work.

The people questioning Jesus made their case by asking Jesus to prove himself to them again, as if the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fish had been merely a sideshow. They pointed out that in the wilderness, their ancestors at manna, the bread of heaven, a miracle they attributed to Moses. Presumably, since the manna had been provided for nearly forty years, they hoped to see Jesus provide bread for a similar period of time. Jesus refuted their premise by pointing out that Moses was not the source of manna; God provided the manna. Then he said that God’s bread comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. The people liked the sound of that. Bread from the sky, bread they could eat and live and never worry about being hungry any more. They wanted this bread.

This is the moment when Jesus named himself. Jesus, God in the flesh, named his name just as God had done at the burning bush when Moses asked “Who are you?” Well, not in those words, but anyone can see that he was tap-dancing when he said that the Israelites would ask for the name of the god who had sent Moses. If Moses had already acknowledged in his own heart that he was talking to God, he would not have asked God to explain himself. To Moses at the burning bush, and to people seeking bread for life, God said, “I AM.” Jesus said, “I AM the bread of life.”

A long discourse follows this moment, and there is no record that Jesus (God) was interrupted. Up to this moment, people had been engaged in conversation with Jesus, asking impertinent questions, expressing their snickering skepticism, but when Jesus said “I AM” it set them back. They said nothing for a long time, and when we next read that they did speak, they werenot speaking with Jesus, but rather, they werearguing among themselves. When Jesus claimed to be God, claimed that he himself was the bread of life, they were afraid to argue with him. They believed and trembled, like the demons of whom James wrote (James 2:19), but they didn’t believe and follow, at least not at that moment. Unlike Simon Peter who clearly saw that Christ was the promised Messiah for which Israel had been waiting, the people who had eaten their daily bread at the hand of God were not ready to commit themselves to the One who offered himself as their eternal bread, the bread of life.

Are we that different? Do we love and serve Jesus for the eternal and infinite blessings of his kingdom, or do we pray with skepticism, asking God to prove himself by giving us what we want, doubting his loving sovereignty when things don’t go our way? Do we respond to our daily challenges by asking “How could God let this happen?” or do we respond like Job, praying, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Jesus identified himself as God, and that means that his every word is the nourishment that sustains us. He himself is our bread of life, a truth we celebrate every time we celebrate Holy Communion. Each time we receive that bread, we ought to remember Jesus’ real question to us every moment of our lives, in every choice we make: Who am I?