Looking for Loaves in All the Wrong Places

nutritional content

Today’s readings (click below to open in a new tab/window):
Psalms 122; 149, Genesis 18:1-16, Hebrews 10:26-39, John 6:16-27


Carbs are the enemy of faith.

After miraculously feeding five thousand people with only five barley loaves and two fish, Jesus and his disciples waited until evening and moved across the Sea of Galilee from Tiberias to Capernaum. By morning the crowds had found them. Jesus declared to them: “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” The people craved the bread, yet didn’t understand the root of their hunger.

If we have poor eating habits, we often aren’t able to distinguish between cravings and hunger. We know we want something and turn to sugary, fatty foods for a quick fix. They are tasty and relieve our immediate needs, but only for a short time. The more we try to satisfy our hunger with carbs and fat, the more we crave, and in the long run we feel worse. Dieting often fails because instead of making a true lifestyle change as nutritionists advise, we turn to short-term solutions which focus on weight instead of health. When our goals are met, we drop our vigilance and unhealthy habits creep back in. It’s not entirely unlike a cycle where we berate ourselves for our sinfulness and try to overcome it through own strength rather than Christ’s, only to find ourselves in the same place when we can’t resist the cravings.

What’s the nutritional content of our faith? The prosperity gospel teaches us if we say the right prayers or tithe the right amount, we will be rewarded with material goods. Some churches are all about the entertainment value of a worship service because they value high attendance over deep experience. Designed for high volume and low quality, these are more business model than ministry – fifty million served, but not called to serve. Christ calls us to a lifestyle change. He doesn’t tell us what we want to hear or what makes us feel good; he tells us about the food of eternal life. Jesus’s lean meats and broccoli may not sound as much fun as hot fudge Sundays, but he’s saving our lives.

Comfort: The more faithfully we follow Christ, the less we crave the things that don’t feed our spirits.

Challenge: Clean your spiritual cupboard; meditate on discarding teachings that prey on your cravings and filling yourself with those that satisfy eternally.

Prayer: Lord, I will rely on your strength rather than my own. Amen.

Discussion: What do you crave that you know isn’t good for you?

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Unlocked

Old Key

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 135; 145, Isaiah 63:1-6, 1 Timothy 1:1-17, Mark 11:1-11


Paul had many words of advice for his young colleague Timothy, a budding evangelist carrying on Paul’s mission to spread the Gospel to the Gentiles. He warned Timothy to speak out against the heresies that were gaining popularity among the church at Ephesus.  One of these heresies was Gnosticism, or the belief that a few special people were privileged to learn secret knowledge about the true nature of God and Christ. Some people also obsessed over genealogies and myths because they believed these contained hidden messages and information.

We don’t really have Gnostic cults today, but there are still those who insist the Bible somehow contains secret knowledge that waits to be unlocked. We can read about alleged “Bible codes” which reveal ambiguous messages that can be found in any sufficiently long text, or special prayers that are cobbled together like magic spells to achieve specific results. Some churches even have levels of access that are supposedly revealed with spiritual maturity but seem directly related to the size of one’s donations.

These distractions from the true Gospel message have one thing in common: the illusion of control. For some people, knowing the secret codes gives them a sense of power over their own lives or the lives of others. In some cases, it even gives them a sense of  power over God, like having the PIN to a divine ATM.

One of the beauties of the Gospel is that it is free and accessible to all who would accept it. There is no monetary price of admission and no inner circle to penetrate. It is worth our lifelong study, and it is certainly to our benefit to seek wisdom from others who have studied it, but true bearers of the Gospel know it demands to be shared indiscriminately.

Some people – from conspiracy theorists to serious theologians – get so caught up in controlling the Gospel message that they forget to surrender to it. Of course we want to understand the Bible, but Jesus didn’t invite us to become Bible trivia experts; he invited us to follow him in loving one another.

Comfort: Jesus is eager to be revealed to you, not hiding in code.

Challenge: Don’t be seduced by the fads of faith.

Prayer: Thank you God for revealing yourself to us through Christ. Amen.

Discussion: What things do you try to control?

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Money for Nothing

saint benjamin

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 15; 147:1-11, Judges 18:16-31, Acts 8:14-25, John 6:1-15


The “prosperity gospel” teaches that if we give our resources (usually money) to God, God will reward us several times over in kind. Some preachers sell this idea through a basic list of proof texts, usually neglecting the proper context. Worse, they reduce faith to a transaction or formula ($1 x God = $10), and when people who faithfully put up money don’t realize a material return, their faith is called into question. Think about it: with all the spiritual difficulties Jesus assures us attend wealth, wouldn’t bestowing wealth almost be a punishment? Fortunately, Acts and John teach us some real truths about the nature of giving and resources in God’s kingdom.

When Simon, a magician-turned-convert, saw the apostles’ power to impart the spirit by laying on hands, he offered them money for the same power. Peter’s reaction is unequivocal: “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money!” Maybe Simon mistook the disciples’ practice of pooling resources for a membership fee, but his understanding of the relationship between faith and giving was seriously flawed. No one can buy grace or power. We do not give because we expect a return of wealth or status; we give because a relationship with God prompts generosity.

The miracle of the loaves and fishes is told in all four gospels. Beyond a sign of Christ’s power, this event teaches us no resource is too small in God’s kingdom. Like Andrew – who asked “But what are they among so many people?” – our expectations of God can be surprisingly low. Faith is not about outcomes, but trust. We should first have faith that when we act in God’s name, our resources will be abundant. This differs from the prosperity gospel because we believe God will use resources given in good faith to increase the kingdom, not our personal bank accounts.

“Believe and receive” is a misleading simplification of our faith in a God who provides for our needs. We are not called to a faith that bribes God to action, but to actions confident in a faith God has already provided.

Comfort: Our generosity is a grateful response to God’s generosity.

Challenge: Meditate on whether your giving fully reflects your gratitude.

Prayer: God of renewal, I offer generosity in thanks for your many gifts.. Amen.

Discussion: Money isn’t the only way people try to by favor. What other ways have you seen?

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