Bread From Heaven

The story of the Israelites (Abraham’s family) and their Old Testament travels and happenings are full of epic stories waiting to be made into movies better than the old Charleton Heston movie about the “exodus,” even though I still think it’s a pretty great flick. During this season of lent, I have been reflecting on the deeper reality of our sustenance. The passage in Exodus 16, when God tells Moses that he will provide manna for them in the wilderness has always been a powerful story with imagery much deeper than one would see at first glance.

Building up to this passage, we must understand that it comes on the heels of the exodus. After the final and devastating 10th plague, the Israelites are set free and travel out of Egypt with Moses, a huge caravan! But freedom would now come with a price, since Egypt isn’t there to protect them anymore, rather they become enemies and the great Empire. Pharaoh’s army is sent after them again, but God has now placed a fire over the children of Abraham by night and a cloud over them by day (to remind them that he’s with them and to guide them). God holds back the waters from the large sea, and Abraham’s family walks across the sea on dry land, as God crushes the Empire’s army behind them as the walls of the sea come crashing down on the Egyptians.

The Dual-Personality of Israel

It is at this point once again, where we see the the “dual-personality of Israel.” After the great victory, they spend the day singing songs and writing poems and praising God for deliverance, then they move on in their journey and find some bitter water that they can’t drink and the mentality of the years of slavery sets in again; doubt and complaints set in. I have to say, I can’t blame them after generations of suffering and slavery, to transition to this kind of radical freedom would be culturally debilitating in more ways that I will never fully know. God then turns the bitter water into sugar water… as you will see, either God has a sweet tooth, or He knows Israel has one. I’m not making this stuff up (Ex. 15:25).

And it is about at this point that our text picks up the story in Exodus 16:

1 They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

It’s no new thing for the greatest kindnesses to be misinterpreted and represented as the greatest injuries. The worst of times are often brought upon us by the desires of our hearts. “We want to be free”, and now Israel experiences (in part) the cost of being free, and learning the hard lesson that the journey of freedom isn’t cheap nor immediate, and always comes at a great price.

Bread From Heaven 

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. For what are we, that you grumble against us?”

God hears their grumbling and his answer is bread from heaven. This bread though, is not the normal bread, it’s not Iron Kids or 100% Whole Wheat, this is the real deal, so much so that nobody knows what to call it. When the Israelites saw the manna on the ground that first morning, they asked, “What is it?” (Ex 16:15).

The word comes from two Hebrew words (2 pronouns: personal and interrogative) which form the phrase “What is it?; “man – hoo”, later referred to in Hebrew as “mawn”.

We learn a little bit about this manna if we were to read on in this text:

Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. (Ex. 16:31) So there it is, it’s the first brand of Honey Nut Cheerios! I knew I liked that cereal for some reason!

They were told to only gather what their household needed for the day, no more, no less. And on the day before the Sabbath, gather enough for two days. They were also told that they were not to save any for the next day, because it would spoil. And yes, some tried to gather bread flakes on the Sabbath and there was none, and some tried to save the bread for the next day (“Insurance man, you never know!”), but it had worms and stunk real bad.

I find it interesting that they were to only take what they needed for the day, and only what God gave them that day was useful (maybe echoes of the Lord’s Prayer: give us this day our “daily” bread…). For forty years Israel had Honey Nut Cheerios, lived in the desert, longing for the city to come, and God sustained them.

The Mission of Israel

If we were to follow this story to see it’s fruition, the rest of the story of Israel, we would see many shadows or echoes of this story, this bread from heaven and this longing for the city to come. You see, God was preparing His people to be a display people, a people who were sustained by God, who obeyed Him, and showed the whole world what it was like to submit to a king like God (the geographic location of Israel, once they were in the promised land, was a strategic location, one that would allow all the nations to travel through on their way to Africa or Europe, to see an alternative community).

In Exodus 19, just a few chapters later and just before we read for the first time about the 10 Commandments (probably around 2 months after the first appearance of Honey Nut Cheerios), we hear God speak to Moses and tells him the mission He has for Israel. Essentially, I am giving you bread from heaven to preserve you, so that… you will be my people.

The Lord called to him (Moses) out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings (think of the movie Hobbit and eagles!) and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Ex. 19:3-6).

The Fuller Meaning of Manna

Now, I don’t want to over do this bread from heaven thing, but it’s so significant, that we must see the parallels in Scripture. God gives Israel “What is it?” to eat for 40 years. This sustains and preserves them until they reach the promised land, and I imagine myself as an Israelite saying, “Okay, thanks for the manna God, now we can move on, grow our crops on this fertile land and have an occasion bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios with all the milk and honey you’ve given us. But for now, I’m thinking wild game, growing some frijoles, and having a real hearty meal.”

Well, after Israel reached the promised land, they no loner needed the manna, but they needed God more than they could ever imagine. He was the one who sustained them. God was the one who delivered Israel or allowed them to be defeated. Israel was unfaithful, seeing God as the “occassional” provider or the “bail out” provider, but not the source of provision. They seemed to think they would be fine with just a little bit of God, occasionally, you know, like only collecting manna some days, and trying to save some of him for the days they wanted to be lazy, not realizing they needed “daily bread”.

Enter the Christ

Fast forward this story to the New Testament. Jesus the Christ, arrives on the scene, and the Jews don’t say “What is it?”, but they do say, “Who is this?”. Jesus answers:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They (the Jews) said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:32-35)

And isn’t it ironic, that right after Jesus says this, the Jews grumble?

41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (John 6:41-42)

Jesus is teaching them Old Testament interpretation and they got mad at Him. He’s saying, “Hey guys, I AM what sustained you throughout the wilderness. You thought it was Honey Nut Cheerios, but indeed, they were pointing to me. After all, I’m sweeter than honey on your lips, remember the Psalms!”

Then Jesus goes on to say:

47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:47-51)

There you have it, bread from heaven, Jesus Himself. Ingest the bread from heaven, and ingest Jesus you will. And here we are today, living in the already… Christ has died for us, risen up from the grave, now lives in us by His Spirit, and we are living on the bread from heaven… but we are also living in the not yet… This is just the manna for this season, but we are awaiting the promised land, the heavenly city, longing for the fulfillment of the promise.

Living in the Tension

And although we are in the wilderness and struggling and living in the tension of Christ with us, but sin still enslaving us, we know we are going to make it because God has sent bread from heaven to not just preserve us, but prepare us to be presented before Him. And as we are being prepared, we are displayers of our great God, showing and telling the world what it’s like to live under the rule of the King who is better than Honey Nut Cheerios.

But of course, we are Israel (all the examples of Israel in the Old Testament are pointers to us as well). We were slaves, but God redeemed us, and when we get set free, we have the Egypt mentality, that always goes back to the comfort of slavery, forgetting that the bread from heaven is pointing to a freedom beyond our wildest dreams. We need to be reminded; we need to remember, that there’s more, that we are free, and that Egypt is an evil slave master and desires our destruction, and that the Empire is really our only means of protection.

We need to remember that Egypt represents success built on the backs of slaves and a hierarchy of power. The exodus narrative shows us that God radically opposes the Empire mentality of oppression, greed, and over-consumption at the cost of the weak. It also shows us that to leave the Empire means a costly road of true freedom that will be opposed by the Empire mentality lying to us and tricking us that there’s no other way than to return to business as usual in Egypt.

So for now, in the 21st century, the church is still sustained by manna, as we regularly gather around the table of the Lord, and feast on the flesh of Christ, our bread from heaven, as we fellowship with the divine, and the fathers who have gone before us, and share in the heavenly appetizer, of Christ and with Christ if you will. A meal with Jesus. How cool is that? Bread from heaven, bread being significant because it is essential to living. Bread and water are our bare essentials, we can’t live without them.

Christ has given Himself, so we can eat of His flesh, drink of His blood that washes us clean, and we can be filled, and offer the never ending leftovers to those whom God has put in our lives today. Be filled with Christ, the bread from heaven, the water of life, and share the abundant leftovers.

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God’s Not Dead

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Jesus is alive, therefore the church is alive! If Jesus is dead, then the church is dead. The Apostle Paul speaks to this in 1 Cor. 15:17, 19: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile (literally, incapable of producing any useful results) and you are still in your sins… If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

But Christ has risen!

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58)

Paul’s “therefore” comes on the heels of talking about the resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, the resurrection of the body, and the great mystery of our work here on earth not being in vain. If our work is not in vain, then it is actually accomplishing something for God’s kingdom.

When Jesus comes onto the scene at the beginning of Mark’s account of the gospel (MarK 1:14:15), He said “…the kingdom of God is at hand”, which basically means, “Good news, the King is here and so is peace!” Imagine for a moment with me, the reality of the Kingdom of God being at hand: shalom (peace with justice, new life, goodness, beauty, redemption, reconciliation, etc…). And then after this announcement, Jesus did justly among the poor and marginalize, he corrected the religious leader who thought they had the corner on doctrine, he healed and touched the untouchables and the dark horses, then he proceeded to move towards the cross to pay for (literally, to take on himself) our sins and the consequences we deserve for thinking we can play the role of God, so that God’s Kingdom could be realized (seen) in and through our lives.

But Jesus was not only satisfying the payment for sin… He was at that moment while dying on the cross, preparing and displaying for us a new way to be human. the weak become strong. The foolish confound the wise. The last become first. The powerless become powerful. And through the resurrection, Jesus began creating a new people who will be mediators of God’s redeeming power for other people, cultures, and creation itself. He’s building an army, not just laying out a plan of salvation.

“Atonement, redemption and salvation are what happen on the way (of God launching His kingdom, the cross) because engaging in this work demands that people themselves be rescued from the powers that enslave the world in order that they can in turn be rescuers.” N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 204.

Those who stop trusting in themselves and other futile things, and begin trusting in Jesus, they are being made into an army that fights not through force and persuasion, but through selflessness, death, weakness, and sacrifice.

We are redeemed not just to receive what God has for us (although we desire what He has for us), but so that others may as well be delivered from the clutches of Satan, sin and death. We, having been called into God’s kingdom, are now summoned to advance this public truth about God’s kingdom (Matt. 11:12), his good and gracious rule, and partake with Him in the gathering of His church (present and eternal).

So… therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58).

God is using His army of redeemed people, not only to display His kingdom, but also to create and build the new heaven and new earth, through every righteous deed done in the name of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, this is not our doing because we have died in Christ and live by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ Jesus, through the Spirit, has been working on the new heaven for over 2000 years through redeemed lives here on earth (us!), sowing seeds of righteousness that will produce a thousandfold return!

Oh how this has the ability to change our view of the resurrection and Christian mission. Every act of love, gratitude and kindness, proclamation of truth in love, every act of justice done in the name of Jesus, is us partnering with God in storing up treasures in heaven that will never pass away and will be for all of the redeemed to enjoy! This is our mission in light of the resurrection!

But here’s the sad part of this story. Many people say with their lips that God is not dead, but then live most of their lives as if He is dead. This is not the kind of witnessing army that Jesus dies to give life. The life God gives through faith in Christ is life that moves in rhythm with God’s kingdom: mercy, justice, forgiveness, confession of sin, standing up for dark horses, sharing, trusting, loving. We are called to live as if God is not dead. May we be a people who live as if God’s alive before we dare proclaim it.

We are called to plant “kingdom-signposts”, to display the beauty and worth of Jesus, to walk in freedom, love, humility, shalom, and in the grace of God’s good and coming kingdom. Demonstrate it. Embody it. Then announce it. Include the poor & marginalized. Pray. Embrace suffering. Rejoice in weakness. Gather together in community. And remember, that God’s kingdom comes by the Spirit of God moving in response to prayer!

Why World Vision Is Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages

Before you read on, read the original article here: Christianity Today News. Please read it before you point the finger, and understand that I am not endorsing same-sex marriages, but I am fighting for Christians to think beyond a single issue and think and live holistically according to the gospel.

Whether you agree with their decision or not, you can’t say their heart isn’t for the gospel to be known among the poor around the world. If you indeed read the whole article, and didn’t spot read it to try and prove why they’re wrong, you will hear World Vision clearly hold their convictions of being a Christian non-profit organization who is willing to partner with many people they disagree with for the sake of caring for the poor, and unity among the body of Christ. If World Vision’s stance makes us more angry than the Western church’s lack of financial generosity (American Christian giving adds up to around 2% of our incomes), then maybe we have been pointing fingers too long and have forgotten the weightier things of the Lord:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the LORD will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.” Isaiah 58:6–12

God, take away from among us the pointing of the finger; make us strong watered gardens as we rebuild ancient ruins and raise up generations who have been forgotten and neglected. To you oh Lord be the glory, and to the earth shalom (peace with justice), to the church courage, and to our cities hope!

A Quick Word on the Term ‘Missional’

When talking about Church lately, it has been popular to use the phrase “missional church”, and with that, there are probably thousands of meanings. Many people see a hipster church, with indie rock worship, a funny, cool looking, gospel-centered preacher, and then give that church the title, “missional”. Kineo has been labeled ‘missional’ because of that, but of course not because of the cool looking, gospel-centered preacher. This labeling of churches in this regard is terribly misguided.

At best, the word missional describes not a ‘specific activity’ of the Church, nor the style of apparel of it’s leaders wear, the trendy modern ambiance, or the type of music that is played by the worship band, but it describes ‘the very essence and identity’ of the church as it participates in God’s mission.

‘Mission’ (John 20:21) reminds us that the Church was created to be oriented to the world, existing for the sake of others. Cross-cultural missionaries of the past few centuries were sent with a task that was primarily not for themselves but for the sake of those to whom they were sent. Thus to describe the Church as ‘missional’ is to define the entire Christian community as a ‘BODY’ sent into the world, existing not for itself but to bring good news to the world. This is our identity.

THE BODY: In the book of Ephesians, the word body is sṓma in Gk which means: an organized whole, or a collective mass, made up of different and diverse parts and members, each having separate roles and functions to make the whole. In other words, the whole body of Christians collectively, of which Christ is the head. This word shows up all over Ephesians; (Eph. 1: 22-23; 2:15-16; 3:6; 4:4, 11-12, 16, 25; 5:23, 30) (see also Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:13, 27; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:15).

There is a very striking illustration in 1 Corinthians 6:15 regarding the body of Christ (the Church), where Paul says, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” If you are a disciple of Christ, then you are a ‘member’, joined as a part of the body of Christ, and the parts of your body are parts of Christ’s body.

We’re not Christians, we’re ‘family members’ joined by & with Christ, with a mission to make His beauty and worth known over every other earthly treasure.

Jesus Christ has a body here on earth. It is called the Church. She has legs to go to the places that Jesus would go. She has arms to do the work that Jesus would do. She has mouths to say the things that Jesus would say. She has backs to carry the burdens that Jesus would carry.

Paul said that his aim in life was that “the life of Jesus might be made known to others in his mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11). In other words, his aim is that “his body might make Christ’s body real to the world.”

So let’s be missional in the biblical way…as ambassadors of Christ, as though God were pleading through our bodies and lives. We all belong to one another, and mission happens better when we live like that (John 13:34-35). Defining missional based on Christ being displayed will endure the test of time much longer than being missional based on our trends being displayed.