Bread of Life (Prayer Devotional for the week of March 6, 2016)

I had a friend in high school who was extraordinarily smart; she earned top grades and went on to receive a full scholarship at a great university. I tried sharing my faith with her once, and I still remember the argument that she used to shoot down my attempt at witnessing. She said that Christians are no better than cannibals, because through communion, we symbolically eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood.

 

I didn’t know how to respond to her rebuttal, and that conversation flop has been on my heart for all these years. I knew deep down that Jesus wasn’t condoning cannibalism, but I didn’t have the words to explain it to her. Well, I recently heard a fresh perspective about communion that helped me better understand how to interpret this important symbolism.

 

It’s important to note that my friend’s question was not unique; some of the people listening to Jesus’ teaching had the same confusion! John 6:47-58 tells the story about Jesus describing himself as the bread of life, and that those who eat of that bread will live forever. In verse 52, John records the arguments that arose among the Jews in attendance about eating a man’s flesh. What kind of weirdo rabbi was this Jesus person, talking about eating his body and drinking his blood?!?

 

Let’s start with this question: What is the purpose of eating food? Food is fuel for our bodies, and when we eat, our digestive system consumes the nutrients we need. Consider this: when we “consume” Jesus through faith – his teachings, his miracles, his prophetic fulfillment – we ingest that truth, and it becomes part of us. Our faith then fuels us, spiritually.

 

Jesus used the illustration of Old Testament sacrifice to explain the new covenant that he was establishing through his own sacrifice on the cross. Of course he wasn’t advocating cannibalism; he was using himself as a symbol of faith for us to recognize our need. We need the nutrition from food, just as we need spiritual nutrition. We need our sins to be cleansed, like the Old Testament story of the Passover lamb.

 

Bible scholars much more knowledgeable than me will surely have more to say on the matter, but what it boils down to for me is this: Eat the bread of life! Consume God’s word, and in turn, let the Holy Spirit nourish your spiritual life as you grow in faith.

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Forced Rest (Prayer Devotional for the week of May 17, 2015)

The latter part of Daniel 9 introduces us to a fascinating end-times prophecy, but I’d like to draw your attention to the beginning of the chapter. As foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, the people of Israel had been in exile for nearly 70 years because of their disobedience to the Lord. (Daniel experienced the exile first-hand, as he was one of the young Israelite men selected to be trained in Babylon for service to the king.)

 

In keeping with God’s example of creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh, the people of Israel had very specific regulations about their work ethic, including honoring the Sabbath day each week and letting the land rest every seventh year. As we read time and time again in the Old Testament (as well as modern day, if we’re honest about ourselves), the people had veered away from following God. Jeremiah tried to warn them to get back on track, but they didn’t listen.

 

God has a way of bringing his will to pass, even when we are stubborn and don’t follow it, in the first place. I think it’s interesting how the people of Israel neglected the Lord’s instructions to let the land rest every so often, yet the land went fallow for decades while they were in exile. It reminds me of how we go-go-go through life, and then – wham! – you get sick and have to stay in bed for a few days, smack in the middle of a busy schedule. Our bodies need rest, even if we have to be forced to do it.

 

Daniel realized through his own studying of Jeremiah that the period of exile was coming to a close, so he prayed to the Lord in humility to ask for God’s forgiveness and mercy. I think this is interesting, as well. God said that the people would be in exile for 70 years, but instead of just waiting out the time, Daniel approached the Lord submissively and asked for forgiveness for his people. Daniel was a young man when he was exiled; he could hardly be blamed for the decisions of his forefathers, yet he bore the burden and interceded on their behalf. May we, too, stand in the gap for our communities in prayer.

Breaking the Lineage of Pride (Prayer Devotional for the week of December 21, 2014)

I conscientiously avoid activities that make me feel inferior, dumb, or inept – like crossword puzzles, swimsuit shopping, and contact sports. Instead, I tend to stick with things that make me feel comfortable with myself and my abilities. The problem is that when we get too comfortable, pride can creep in.

 

The book of Obadiah is only a chapter long, merely 21 verses. It is tucked between Amos and Jonah in the Old Testament. Scholars believe the text was written around 845 B.C. or 586 B.C., but the groups mentioned in the book (Edom and Judah) fought a lot in those days, so it’s difficult to determine an exact date. At any rate, Obadiah was a prophet with a somber message for the people of Edom, and the root of their problems could be traced back to pride. In fact, that lineage of pride could be traced all the way back to the founding father of the Edomites, Esau. You might remember Esau from stories in Genesis 25 and following; he’s the one who haphazardly traded his birthright to his slightly younger twin brother, Jacob, for a bowl of stew & bread (v. 34). Apparently, his descendants inherited his cocky attitude.

 

The Edomites had gotten pretty cozy with their hill country vista, which was also advantageously located along the main caravan route from Egypt to Babylon. They had begun to feel pompous and invincible, so Obadiah warned them about the message he received from the Lord (v. 3-4):

“The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” declares the Lord.

Obadiah’s prophecy went on to say that the house of Esau would be ransacked, and their snazzy cliff dwellings would be reduced to rubble. Something tells me their property values were about to take a nosedive.

 

We can avoid putting ourselves into the Edomites’ perilous situation in a couple of ways: first, we need to remember Colossians 3:23 and focus our talents on serving the Lord, rather than bringing undue attention to ourselves. Second, we could step out of our comfort zones every now & then and get involved in service and ministry that may not be tops on our to-do list. After all, it’s not about us. Pride may make us feel powerful in the short run, but as Proverbs 16:18 and Psalm 149:4 remind us, humility is the victor over pride.