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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Mourning & Joy (Prayer Devotional for the week of January 10, 2016)

On our drive down to California over the winter break (while two boys flew to Texas to visit family for a few days), one of the younger ones commented out of the blue, “Mom, I bet you feel normal right now.” Confused, I asked what he meant. He said, “Well, you only have three kids instead of five!”

 

I guess he was kinda right; I suppose we did look a little more “normal” to outsiders than usual. The thing is, though – this chaotic, smelly, loud blend of testosterone, unbridled energy, and a grocery bill that would blow your mind – this is our “normal.” After my world turned upside-down, inside-out, and sideways in January 2009, I struggled for a long while to figure out what “normal” was supposed to look like. Well, this is it.

 

Mourning & joy are odd bedfellows, but they are a recurring theme in the Bible (check out Psalm 30:11, Isaiah 61:3, Jeremiah 31:13, John 16:20). God has a way of turning our darkest moments into opportunities for us to be a light of hope to others. Take this devotional, for example. Many of you have graciously commented to me over the years about different posts that have touched your heart in some way, and I cannot begin to tell you what that means to me. This devotional was born out of grief that was so painful, I had to write thoughts down to force myself to read my Bible consistently and to keep my sanity. My own healing process and spiritual growth have been poured out onto these pages, and you have walked alongside me through it. Thank you for that. To think that some of what I have experienced has also helped others with various trials in their lives is mind-blowing to me, and I’m grateful.

 

I’m not a fortune teller, and I don’t know what the new year holds for any of us. However, I can guarantee that there will be ups and downs along the way. Praise God; he is bigger than our problems! If you hold onto faith and trust in him, then he will light your way through the dark times. You’ll be able to look back days, months, or perhaps years later, and see that he never abandoned you. He even promised he wouldn’t (John 14:16, Hebrews 13:5)! He can help you find joy in the midst of mourning.

 

Salt of the Earth

I have heard lots of sermons about Matthew 5:13 over the years, and the messages I can remember focused on the useful benefits of salt – particularly, how it makes food taste better and serves as a preservative. One message that I vaguely recall from my college years even included an unappetizing and detailed explanation of how salt was used in ancient times to preserve meat, jerky-style. The point, I believe, was that since we are “the salt of the earth,” our lives should be appealing (tasteful) to help draw others to Christ.

 

While I don’t disagree with that perspective, two things dawned on me recently that caused me to see Matthew’s analogy from a new angle. First, I have been trying to get rid of weeds that invaded our property during the summer, and one recommendation was to make a concoction out of vinegar and salt to spray on the area. The salt not only kills the plants, but it hinders the soil from growing anything ever again.

 

Second, we are just a couple of months away from the first snow of the season, which means the snow plows will be driving through town in the wee morning hours to clear the roads. The maintenance workers always spread coarse sand on the streets, instead of salt. Why? Because salt is corrosive to the paint and undercarriage of vehicles.

 

This seems like a mixed message. Salt is tasty and has valuable preservative properties, but it also has the ability to destroy. So, I wonder if part of our calling to be “the salt of the earth” is not just advice to live an appealing kind of life to those around us, but to be willing to take a stand – alone, if necessary – to combat the corrosive things of this world? (See Romans 12:1-2)

 

When the enemy plants invasive weeds in our lives and tries to choke out our spiritual growth, we can be “salt” to rid ourselves of those negative influences and stand in faith. Or, when we allow sin to take the driver’s seat instead of relying on the Lord, our prayer partners and Life groups can be “salt” to help us realize that sin is corroding our lives. Let’s go out this week and be “the salt of the earth” to encourage each other and to hold ourselves accountable.