Provisions for the day

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Pill containers

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. – Phil 4:19

Give us today our daily bread. – Luke 11:3  (Keep us alive with three square meals – The Message paraphrase)

I’m getting ready to take students to Québec for a French class ‘field trip’.  Planning ahead for the 6 day absence, I bought this pill container so I can leave Mike’s vitamins and meds for him clearly marked and safe from the cats.

Each color-coded plastic mini box will supply what he needs for a specific period of time. The clear markings and different colors broadcast sufficiency and timeliness. It would not make sense nor be healthy for my husband to take from other than the scheduled provision.

God provides the same way, by giving us enough grace (strength, wisdom, money, work, SLEEP, knowledge, whatever we need) for the moment. If I worry about ‘later’, I’m actually stealing from future stockpiled grace.  (Our cousin calls it – ‘stepping out of the circle of God’s grace.’) Just like I will set out pills for Mike before I depart, so God has furnished supplies for our future needs.  The verb to pro-vide, if you break it into component parts, means:

  • in advance
  • seeing

God sees what will sustain us, minute by minute, our entire life, that is –  in advance of NOW. And we know that our God is loving, good and personal.  So it’s not like He is going to peer into the future, observe our needs and then shrug, “Hope they can handle THAT event. Good luck to them!”

Here’s the point.  Just like Mike is going to trust me that I’ve pre-positioned the requisite pills he requires for the appropriate segment of the day, so too we Christians should trust our Father in heaven to do the same. In the 35 years of our marriage, Mike has learned to place his confidence in me, assured that I will do him good and not harm.  Can’t we at least trust God THAT much?

During the past 2 months of ‘health issues’ (2 unexceptional little words that pack a punch), we’ve seen God come through time and time again.  My daily mantra has become:  ‘Manna for the day; Grace for this moment’ and I’ve clung to Psalm 84:11 – ‘No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.’ 

I’m ashamed to admit, that for me, it is STILL a fight, to trust God in those scary moments when I SEE no provision.  It’s then, more than at any other time, that I have to speak Words of Truth to me!  So I recite out loud as many of His promises as I can, those assurances that He IS in fact caring for me and supplying what I need. I think it was Martin Luther who taught that we must daily preach the good news, the Gospel, first and foremost to ourselves!

As Jeremiah himself learned and then turned and comforted the exiled –

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”  Jeremiah 3:22-24

 

Rotting manna

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“Mother, you’ve gathered too much!  You know what Father instructed us to do, ” seven-year old Adina exclaimed with astonishment.

The determined woman was quickly stashing extra manna in her robe’s folds.  “Hush, Daughter.  You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Carmela commanded, moving the sack already filled with the day’s flakey white substance.

The two had left the tent since daybreak and numbered among the many, quickly collecting what would be their only foodstuff until the evening quail God promised.  Moses had commanded the men, her husband Zibeon included, on how much and when to harvest the strange-looking and utterly unappealing white scraps.  They were then to mix and shape the flakes together with some water, baking it on a flat, iron pan-like board over the family’s fire.  Surprisingly, the result yesterday had been tasty and satisfying.

manna

More important than HOW to bake this new food, was the injunction JUST to take from the ground what would be sufficient for the number of people in each family.  Yesterday Zibeon had been with his wife and daughter and Carmela had been afraid to pick up more than necessary.

But today Zibeon, confident that his wife knew what to do, had sought out some of his tribe’s men with whom to confer about other matters.   Consequently only little Adina accompanied her mother.

The child did not pursue the topic of conversation.  Hebrew children knew better than to argue with their parents.  But she pondered what Father would say or do if he knew.  Her mother did not leave that possibility to chance. Upon entering the tent, she strictly warned Adina not to report anything to Zibeon.  “Your father has enough on his mind, Adina. Besides, Mother knows what she is doing.”

The day sped quickly as Adina helped her mother with household desert chores and played with her cousins.  Forgetting the morning’s incident, Adina with her tummy comfortably filled with this new wilderness food that God had provided, fell asleep shortly after sundown.

But the next morning, the conversation rushed back as she awoke to her father exasperatedly demanding, “Where did all these maggots come from?”  He and Carmela were examining a clay container where Mother had stashed the extra, forbidden manna.  Carmela sheepishly confessed her role in inviting creatures drawn to the rotting flakes. Having learned her lesson, she decided instead to trust the living God, Yahweh, who had promised the Hebrew people that He would provide food each day.

**

This fictionalized figment of my imagination is based on the account in Exodus, chapter 16, starting with verse 13b:

“….in the morning the desert all around the camp was wet with dew; 14 and when the dew disappeared later in the morning it left thin white flakes that covered the ground like frost. 15 When the people of Israel saw it they asked each other, “What is it?”

And Moses told them, “It is the food Jehovah has given you. 16 Jehovah has said for everyone to gather as much as is needed for his household—about two quarts[a] for each person.”

17 So the people of Israel went out and gathered it—some getting more and some less before it melted on the ground, 18 and there was just enough for everyone. Those who gathered more had nothing left over and those who gathered little had no lack! Each home had just enough.

19 And Moses told them, “Don’t leave it overnight.”

20 But of course some of them wouldn’t listen, and left it until morning; and when they looked, it was full of maggots and had a terrible odor; and Moses was very angry with them. 21 So they gathered the food morning by morning, each home according to its need; and when the sun became hot upon the ground, the food melted and disappeared. 22 On the sixth day there was twice as much as usual on the ground—four quarts instead of two; the leaders of the people came and asked Moses why this had happened.”

And the application to us, in the 21st century is two-fold.  First, no matter which economic stratum describes us today, what we need comes from God.  We are to depend on Him for all our needs during this present 24-hour period. The ‘Daily Bread’ Jesus teaches us to ask Him for is broad enough to include all our necessities.

But for those who are not dirt-poor, the rotting manna lesson is just as crucial and freeing.  When we gather and stash away more than we need for this day, the extra spoils and is good for no one.

God cares more about developing in us the UNNATURAL and learned reflex of trusting Him to provide for tomorrow.  If we allocate extra resources that we keep just for ourselves, why WOULD we or SHOULD we put ourselves in the uncomfortable position of dependence?  Oh, just for a mere reason or several:

  • God commands it. – “And he (John the Baptist) answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’ “ Luke 3:11
  • Giving away our surplus, ‘our bread for tomorrow’ brings joy“Now, friends, I want to report on the surprising and generous ways in which God is working in the churches in Macedonia province. Fierce troubles came down on the people of those churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colors: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor. The pressure triggered something totally unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts. I was there and saw it for myself. They gave offerings of whatever they could—far more than they could afford!—pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians.” 2 Cor 8: 1-4
  • Relying on God humbles us and brings glory to God in the eyes of the world AS He meets our needs –“I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” Isaiah 43:20-21 
  • Realizing that all we have belongs to God who is our provider frees us from being tied down to stuff.  John Wesley, reacting to news that his house had burned down, nonchalantly responded with something like, ‘It belonged to God anyway; one less responsibility for me!’ 
  • Finally, HAVING to depend on God is apparently what God, our good father thinks is best for us.  When Paul describes the trials that he and his fellow missionaries underwent he adds: For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” 2 Cor 1:8b-9

So what is going on in my life that has caused this reflection?  Just the trials from the past 2 months and my return to desperate praying of both the Lord’s prayer and Psalm 23.  I’ve sought renewed assurance that He will provide. And along with banking all on those rich promises and practices I’ve been confronted with my need not only to TRUST GOD and abandon anxiety and fear but actively to practice DEPENDING ON HIM through voluntary generosity of time, talent and money.   What helps is remembering that the EXCESS, what I hoard and hold back, will rot just like the manna. And then what good will it be?

 

 

Food and the Kingdom of God

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Gluten-free, slow foods, farm-to-table, organic, paleo, real food, vegan – who knows HOW or WHAT to eat anymore!

The Table Comes First

I just finished reading a compelling book The Table Comes First.  Adam Gopnik explores the history and philosophy of meals and restaurants.   At the end, however, he reveals that he belongs to that segment of the population who doesn’t worship God.  Therefore, in lieu of the salvation paradigm of Christianity, he makes the assertion that the elevation of the pleasures of dining and sharing a meal can provide meaning, purpose, depth and a sort of rescue to otherwise unmoored humans.

If I look at my own idolizing of ways of eating, I also plead guilty to seeking ‘salvation’ through food.  But with Gopnik’s bold claim, I was struck by how unnecessary it is to place food and Christianity into opposite camps.

Consider the following tangible examples:

  1. Human history originates in a garden with an abundance of fruitful trees for the sustenance and pleasure of God’s image-bearers.  The other bookend of the Bible and the human story are set as a heavenly feast with the host of the Party Himself!
  2. The resurrected Jesus asked for a piece of broiled fish to eat. (Luke 24: 41-42)
  3. A fair number of Jesus’ signs and miracles produced, transformed or multiplied food and drink.  Think of the wedding at Cana and the fine wine.  And the two accounts of the feeding of the 5000.  And manna and quail for the wandering Jews in the desert, accompanied by water from a rock.
  4. Honey revived King Saul’s son Jonathan after a long battle. (1 Sam 14:27)
  5. Gleaning in the barley fields led to Ruth’s marriage, the great-great grandma of King David from whose line Jesus came.
  6. Jesus dined with women and the marginalized segments of society, to the shock of the elite and rule-following average Hebrew.
  7. And let’s not forget the setting for the inaugural New Covenant of Grace, a Passover meal.

And if the above are examples of material food and drink, then there are all the image passages that point beyond food qua food:

  1. We are commanded to, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Ps 34:8)
  2. Jesus likened himself to the staff of life. “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35)
  3. Paul himself chose covenantal wine to symbolize his final days when writing to encourage Timothy – “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” (2 Tim 4:6)

What good news that we don’t have to choose either secular society’s view of food and drink or an ascetic version of Christianity!

My husband reminded me last night of one of CS Lewis’ main teachings about human desires.  These ‘hungers’ are NOT ends in themselves, but signposts to something greater that can only be satisfied in a better and deeper way.  So if we find that we are hungry for earthly food, then we were created for a more satisfying food that will be provided us upon receipt of our inheritance.  The desires ARE real and they WILL BE fulfilled, but in ways that we cannot begin to imagine.

My take away in thinking this through is to be BETTER prepared when describing true Christianity the way it really is to a world jaded and blasé about life.  This world doesn’t satisfy.  And it never was MEANT to.

Recall the excitement you might once have lived when you were very little and Mom and Dad treated you to one of your first outings for lunch or an ice-cream.  Or think back to one of your initial dining experiences as a young adult on a date in a fancy restaurant. The way they thrilled you can never be quite the same.

But Christians don’t have to be wearied with this present world.  The best truly IS yet to be.  We won’t miss out by being a Christian.  We get it all with Christ.

Bon appétit!

Bon appétit

The pain of thinking wrongly

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My mom used to say that most of what we fear never comes to pass.  I can look at her worries and attest to the truth of her reasoning.

German Bread

My mom loved to travel to Europe ‘just to eat the bread’, she would often claim.  She was an extravert and also cherished rubbing shoulders with strangers, whether on those long plane rides to Zürich or in shops along the lakeshore of Lugano.  She would quickly encourage their stories as they happily opened up their hearts to her.

But the time leading up to the travel itself was the source of much worry and anxiety.

Travel Anxiety

Even local ordinary activities caused her anxiety.  Crossing the drawbridge grillwork of the James River Bridge near her house in order to get to the commissary on Ft Monroe was a big deal to her.  I’m not sure what she thought might happen – just maybe that the car would plunge over the side, into the river below.

When she died, it was probably not the way she had pictured or feared.  She collapsed one Thursday afternoon, walking on their property along the James River.  I was at the gym talking to a friend who had just attended a funeral that day. Funny the details you remember.  And my dad, who had meticulously planned HIS departure before his wife’s, was equally caught off guard by her sudden death.

Like my mom I, too, subject myself to needless pain, running scenarios through my head and praying that God would NOT bring my deepest fears to pass.  So I was startled, pleasantly, when I read a column by Andrée Seu Peterson about our fears in the latest issue of World Magazine.  She mentioned in passing how much help CS Lewis had been in this realm with his conclusion chronicled in A Grief Observed (his wife Joy had died from cancer).

This is important.  One never meets just Cancer, or War, or Unhappiness (or Happiness).  One only meets each hour or moment that comes.  All manner of ups and downs.  Many bad spots in our best times, many good ones in our worst”  (from A Grief Observed)

That is powerful.  It dissolves the size of all the things we dread, because it reduces them to a succession of moments. I know what pain in the moment is. When I am on my 27th pushup or hustling up that last stretch of 13 % incline gravel road leading to our house, I am in pain.

Old Cabin from below

But as soon as exertion is over, the pain is forgotten.  Most important, though, is how the pain comes to us – measured out like sand running through an hourglass, grain-by-grain, moment-by-moment.

So here it is Sunday and work looms tomorrow, especially noticeable after 5 days of relaxation over Thanksgiving week.   But when I launch out into the dark new day, taking on the Cove walk challenge and commuting to Asheville and having to grapple with an annoying 7th grade boy and come up with creative lesson plans, it will be moment by moment, not monolithically as I have been imagining my tomorrows.

 

Hourglass

Is it this way with you, too?  I want God to remove unpleasant things from my life, but He promises more – Himself:

  • Be content!
  • Do not covet what I haven’t given you!
  • Be free!
  • Rejoice, for I will be with you each of these moments of dreaded events or humdrum circumstances or even celebratory crazy-good times!

For, listen up! This is what really matters (says God)…… I am bigger than any of those instants, good or bad.  My transcendent but real presence dwarfs each and every blink-of-the-eye unit of time that comes to you.  What is the next grain of sand of pain or joy, compared to me?  I will give you exactly what you need for the grain-sized moment that comes. Fear not, relax and rest in my provision – my manna for the moment.

Manna for the day

Now THAT thought settles my restless mind.

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