Not by Bread Alone: A 31-Day series

Day thirty-one: What I’ve learned

Well, here we are.

Day thirty-one.

I hope you have enjoyed our study of what the Bible says about food as much as I have. Although, I have to be honest, what we discovered surprised me a little.

I think I was secretly hoping to stumble upon some verse I’d overlooked until now, something that told me specifically what I could and could not eat, something along the lines of “Thou shalt eat chicken, bone-in skin-on three nights a week, takeout Chinese for Sunday lunch, and pizza on Fridays nights. Thou shalt uphold Oatmeal Thursdays, and if you do not neglect to finish your salad, thou shalt have as many cookies as you like once a month.”

But try as I might, I never found that verse in the Bible.

What I discovered instead was that like so many things in our lives, food is just a tool. Something that can be used to glorify God, or to turn our backs on his ways and trust in ourselves.

It’s about the food. But it’s not about the food.

Over the course of these last thirty-one days, I began to notice a few themes that appeared over and over in Scripture when food was involved. If you asked me to hit the high points of what I learned over the course of this month, here is what I would tell you:

1. God is always, always, always able to meet our need for food.
He made us. He knows that we get hungry. He tells us not to worry about where our food comes from.
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” Matthew 6:31-32.
And he proves over and over again that is able to meet that need no matter how impossible our situation seems. The God to whom I pray to provide for my family is the same God who rained down food on his children in the desert. Who commanded the ravens to bring meat to Elijah. Who broke one little boy’s lunch into pieces and fed thousands with it. So when my pantry is a little bare, I can trust him.

2. Our need for God is more important than our need for food.
Sometimes we lose sight of this. After all, filling our bellies often feels more urgent than filling our minds with God’s word and our hearts with his presence. But when we trust that feeling we believe a lite. That’s why God gave us fasting. Because sometimes we need to hungry for food to find what it is that we truly desire.

3. The way we treat other people is more important than what is on the plate.
You can follow dietary rules all day long, but if you don’t love other people while you are doing it, it means nothing. In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul spent a long time discussing whether or not it was sinful to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. His conclusion was that even if it is okay for a single individual, those decisions must be viewed within the context of the body of Christ, and how what you do affects those around you.
“Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin,” he says “I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” (1 Corinthians 8:13)

So that’s what I learned in October. Thanks for hanging out with me these last thirty-one days!

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This post is part of a 31-day series. A list of all the other posts in this series can be found here.

Not by Bread Alone: A 31-Day series

Day thirty: Food & forever

“Then the angel said to me, ‘Write: “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!”’” Revelation 19:9

We are so close to the end, friends.

The end of our 31 days chatting about food together. The end of the Scripture narrative. The end times.

Can you feel it? Do you sense the ways that God is preparing his world for his return? Romans 8:22 says that the earth groans with birth pains as it waits for the deliverance that only its creator can bring. I remember what birth pains were like. They get worse and longer and closer together, until finally the baby comes. (Or in my case, the anesthesiologist with the large epidural needle comes and you get to rest for 45 minutes before pushing your baby into the world.)

The point is that things on this planet are going to get worse before they get better. But with every pain, every disaster, every hardship, we get that much closer to the beautiful thing that all this pain is pointing to, the day when “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

The crazy thing about having a baby is that many of us ladies, even after we know how painful it is, will chose to do it a second time. Why? Because we know that the end result is worth it.

Jesus described it to his disciples like this: “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” John 16:21-22

Now is our time of grief.

We hurt and we wrestle. We worry over what we put into our mouths. We feel the weight of feeding our families. We live in a world full of sin, and as long as we do there will be some part of us that is affected by these issues.

But we will see Jesus one day soon.

He will invite us to the head table at his wedding feast, and we will take our place beside him as his bride. For the first time since his death, our Savior will partake in the bread & wine with his followers. We will share in the wedding supper of the lamb, the ultimate Passover sacrifice.

And no one will take away our joy.

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This post is part of a 31-day series. A list of all the other posts in this series can be found here.

Not by Bread Alone: A 31-Day series

Day twenty-nine: Love feasts

“When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk.” 1 Corinthians 11:20-21

Do you think people would mind if I started calling our church’s potluck gatherings “love feasts”?

Some people would probably get the wrong idea about what that means, but “love feast” can’t be any worse than “afterglow” or “linger-longer,” right? Maybe I should just stick to potluck. But I love the idea that you would call a gathering of church people eating together a “love feast” like Jude does in verse 12 of his epistle. A gathering of believers should always be a feast of the love that we have received from Christ and freely give to one another.

Simply changing the name of a get-together doesn’t guarantee that the right attitudes will follow, however. 

In the church at Corinth, people were being anything but loving towards each other. The wealthy members of the church were eating all the communion elements before those who had less were able to partake. Paul had some harsh criticism for them.

“Do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” he says. “What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!” (1 Corinthians 11:22)

At our church, we never have this problem when we take communion, because we hand out pre-portioned individual serving cups of grape juice with a wafer in the lid. But don’t think that exempts us from this criticism. The attitudes that were present in this first-century church are still prevalent in churches today.

Do you, despite the countless ways that God has blessed you, come to church to receive, to be served? In all your plenty, do you still expect the body of Christ to give you more? Do you get drunk off the good feelings that come from hearing your favorite worship song, or a sermon that you like? Do you allow others around you, who are desperate for a touch from God to go hungry for the ministry God’s gifts in you enable you to give? Do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?

Or do you come to a gathering of believers seeking to serve others?

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This post is part of a 31-day series. A list of all the other posts in this series can be found here.

Not by Bread Alone: A 31-Day series

Day twenty-eight: Meat with blood in it

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.” Acts 15:28-29

When I was a kid, I always ate my beef well-done.

If there was any pink, I wasn’t interested. I think my aversion to rare beef had something to do with a warning I had seen, at Fudrucker’s of all places, about the dangers of consuming undercooked meat products.

I must not have seen any similar warning about raw eggs, because I ate cookie dough by the spoonful. But raw beef? No thank you. It was not for me. At least that’s what I thought until my senior year of high school.

Drury, the university I would eventually attend, hosted a catered dinner for the applicants of a competitive full-ride scholarship they offered at the time. When the entrée came, the servers set in front of me large, medium-rare steak. I was seated with staff, faculty, and current Drury students, and the last thing I wanted was to make scene. So I ate the steak.

It was a revelation.

So tender!

So juicy!

Why had no one ever told me what I was missing?

From that day forward, I was a changed person, at least when it came to my meat. I never ordered a well-done steak or hamburger again.

Nowadays, even pretty rare meat doesn’t usually bother me, as long as it’s hot all the way through. At least not on a dietary level. Most of the time, though, when I cut into a rarer steak, and it bleeds onto my plate, my thoughts drift back to this passage in Acts.

What exactly does it mean to abstain from blood? Was I disregarding a scriptural mandate simply because I liked the way this sirloin tasted?

When I was planning this blog series, Acts 15 was one of the passages I was most anxious and most nervous to study. This is really the only place in the New Testament that gives specific guidelines about the what of eating, and I wanted to be sure to get it right.

But what in the world does any of this mean?

Acts 15:29 comes in the context of a letter that was going to be carried to the new churches that had been birthed as a result of Paul and Barnabas’s ministry. In some of these churches, Gentile believers (that’s you and me, friends) were being taught that they must adhere to the entire Law of Moses (including circumcision, fellas!) to receive salvation.

They were wrong, praise God.

The law was a weight that not even the most righteous Jew could bear. Jesus’ sacrifice, according to Galatians 3:13, “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.”

So the primary tone of this letter is gracious, embracing the freedom that we have in Christ.

So instead of the vast Old Testament law, they required four things from Gentiles turning to the one true God: no food sacrificed to idols, no blood, no meat of strangled animals, no sexual immorality.

Three of those things involve food.

So what does that mean for us today, and the things we eat?

At first glance, none of these things seem to have much relevance in a modern Western context. While I am a firm believer that idolatry is possible whether or not you have physical, statue-type idol, no one I know presents food offerings to their money or hobbies or careers.

The admonition against blood, did not, as I previously worried, have anything to do with how long a cut of muscle tissue was cooked, but rather, whether or not the blood was drained from the animal’s body when it was butchered. (This was also the reasoning for avoiding the meat of strangled animals.) To the best of my understanding, most meat-packing plants do this because it speeds up the amount of time in which they can process a cow. If you were still concerned, though, certified kosher meat is widely available. Moreover, the pagan practice of drinking blood, which was widespread in Christ’s time, is now associated with fringe, cultic practices.

So then can we ignore this whole passage as something that is no longer culturally relevant?

I don’t think so.

Most of the commentaries I read suggested a two-fold purpose for the elders of the early church choosing these things, specifically, to ask of the non-Jewish believers. The first was to protect their witness to those within the Jewish community who had not yet believed in Jesus as Messiah. The second was to allow Jews and Gentiles who had received salvation to gather around a common table and share meals together.

“The rules’ specifics and their rationale (Acts 15:21) show they are given to promote table fellowship between uncircumcised Gentile converts and Jewish Christians who observe the dietary laws,” says the IVP New Testament Commentary.

It goes on to say:
“The decree’s prohibitions still come into play today, either universally in the case of sexual practices or particularly in the case of dietary regulations–wherever Gentile Christians encounter Jewish Christians who are keeping a kosher table. By extension these rules guide all Christians to use their freedom to abstain from practices that would offend the cultural sensitivities of another. What interethnic and intergenerational harmony the church could know if all rushed to give up their ‘rights’ to please the others!”

I want to be a part of that kind of church. Don’t you?

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This post is part of a 31-day series. A list of all the other posts in this series can be found here.

Not by Bread Alone: A 31-Day series

Day twenty-seven: A verse for your Sunday

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.” Revelation 2:7

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This post is part of a 31-day series. A list of all the other posts in this series can be found here.

Not by Bread Alone: A 31-Day series

Day twenty-six: What God has made

“Then a voice told him ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ ‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.'” Acts 10:13-15

When Caleb was about seven months old, a relative gave him part of a cinnamon roll. 

It was Christmas brunch at my parents house, and we were happily drinking coffee around their big table. Caleb was a few seats down from me, and so it escaped my notice that he was eating. As a new mother, I was horrified. I had been carefully introducing one pureed vegetable at a time, several days apart, just like all the books said to do. At this point in his life, the only things he’d tasted other than his mama’s milk were sweet potatoes, carrots, and squash. And here he was wolfing down on a gooey, sugary pastry whose ingredient list was probably as long as my arm.

It took all my self-control to gently suggest that he had probably had enough, and could I please have him back?

Looking back, I can see that it was over-exaggeration to the situation at hand. Sure, it probably would have been better if he hadn’t had it, but no one in my immediate family or Jason’s has food allergies, and no one is sensitive to gluten. There was little risk involved in letting him have those few bites, and it didn’t hurt him at all in the long run. These days, Caleb happily eats plenty of fruit and veggies, and any sweet tooth he has acquired is more likely due to my propensity to eat cookies in the kitchen when I think he’s not looking than that one taste on Christmas morning almost three years ago.

But I still remember how I felt at the time, and I know I’m not alone. Almost every other mother with whom I’ve shared this story (especially those with young children like mine) has her own vivid memory of a time someone fed her child a food she deemed it too soon for them to have against her wishes. Most of them are as upset by that memory as they would be if they were telling about a time that someone had intentionally harmed their child.

What is it about food that we take these issues so personally?

It all goes back to the garden.

Adam and Eve broke the one rule they were given, one that was about food, and ever since then we have been trying to make up for their mistake by making up our own rules about what we should and shouldn’t eat, and then following them to prove our own self-righteousness.

This is something I have become more and more aware of as I have been striving, over the last several years, to minimize processed foods in my family’s diet, and consume more wholesome, natural, and organic foods. It started with little things when Jason and I were first married. We bought more expensive sliced cheese for our sandwiches, mostly because neither of us liked American “cheese” as much as cheddar or jack cheese, and we were both working, so we could afford it. Then I quit my job to stay home with Caleb, and I started making a lot of things from scratch both out of necessity, to save money, and as a new hobby to keep my long days at home busy with something other than diaper changes and talk shows. The more I learned how to make things, and the more I read online about the chemicals and processes it takes to make a lot of the food items available in grocery stores, the less I wanted to eat those things as a steady diet.

But I also noticed that this growing awareness, and the healthier choices I was making fostered a false sense of pride in my heart.

I would look at the items on the conveyor belt ahead of mine, and without knowing anything else about her, I felt superior the mom in front of me who was spending her money on soda and snack cakes, while I was buying fresh fruit and whole oats.

“I would never feed my children that garbage,” I would think smugly to myself.

I was full of my own rule-following, just like Peter. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean,” he says to the Lord.

But my small, egotistic, puffed-up pleasure was fragile, as all flavors of self-righteousness are. The second I was in the presence of someone who was making even healthier choices than I was, I felt deflated. Inferior. Like a failure. I just couldn’t measure up. So I’d start talking about the healthy things I was doing, hoping desperately my friends wouldn’t  find out that I hated baking with whole wheat flour or that my kids ate boxed mac & cheese for lunch the day before.

I would do well in those moments to remember what God told Peter.

“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

The food isn’t what God was really talking about here. 

It was you.

It was me.

Almost immediately after Peter had this vision, he was summoned to the house of a Gentile, a place a devout Jew would never enter because it would make him unclean. Following the guidance of the spirit of God, Peter went anyway, and preached the gospel to a gathering of non-Jews. They believed the word of the Lord, and were baptized in the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that God would pour out his spirit on “all people” (Joel 2:28).

This is why we, people who are not of Jewish decent, are afforded with the gracious gift of being grafted in among God’s people.

Take a moment and let that sink in.

Romans 11 describes the nation of Israel as an olive tree, and Gentiles as wild shoots. But God saw us anyway and grafted us onto his cultivated plant, his chosen descents of Abraham.

It’s only by God’s grace that you’ve been called clean. Not by any of your own efforts.

We have to remember this as we grow in the Lord. We have to remember it as we buy our groceries or eat in each other’s homes. We have to remember it as we regard each other’s choices about food.

I said it three weeks ago, and I’ll say it again, even if only for my own benefit: no matter what diet we choose, we cannot eat our way back into the garden. 

So if you’re a crunchy mama who always makes her own fruit snacks with organic sugar and eats edamame like it’s candy, let’s be friends.

And if you eat fast food five nights a week, and buy junk food like it’s going out of style, let’s be friends.

I think most of us are somewhere in the middle, but no matter what you eat or feed your family, I don’t want to be guilty of calling anything impure that God has made clean.

And that’s you.

God has made you clean.

Who am I to say otherwise?

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This post is part of a 31-day series. A list of all the other posts in this series can be found here.

Not by Bread Alone: A 31-Day series

Day twenty-five: We’re in this together

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” Acts 2:48

There are a lot of days that I eat in my home with a glad and sincere heart, friends and family gathered around my table.

Today was not one of those days.

I wasn’t home for breakfast – we had an early morning staff meeting at the library.

The boys refused to eat lunch, although they managed to get barbecue sauce everywhere anyway.

And by dinnertime, after dealing with an unplanned service call, internet connection issues, and the beginning of a migraine, we just decided to go out. (If you live in Ozark, kids eat free every day at Chappy’s!)

So tonight, I’m going to lean on the words of some great people who also have something to say about what it means to gather around the table together as followers of Christ.

Joy has been blogging all month about missional meals and what that means.

Sandy regularly shares about hospitality and things like overcoming your reluctance and inviting people into your home.

I loved the Nester‘s post about saying yes to guests even when your house is far from perfect.

And if you’re looking for something a little more substantial to read, I highly recommend Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist, and the accompanying book study on (in)courage.

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This post is part of a 31-day series. A list of all the other posts in this series can be found here.