Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Problem of HUNGER - (part1)

Satan used the thought of food as the first temptation that he tried on Jesus to try and make Jesus listen to him.

“Prove that you are the Son of God and turn these stones into bread,” the devil said to Jesus.

Jesus had just spent forty days of fasting in the wilderness and undoubtedly would have loved to have a sandwich, but it would not be under those conditions. He would not do it merely out of response to a suggestion by Satan. He instead used the situation to teach an important truth.

Jesus responded, “It is written:  ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). 

This is the first of several lessons that Jesus had for us on the subject of food, although it is not the first in Scripture.

When Jesus said, “it is written,” he was quoting a passage from the Old Testament where God was laying some groundwork in the thinking of the early Israelites before they were to enter the Promised Land. It was their leader Moses who brought to them the words of God: 

Remember that these forty years the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness, so that He might humble you and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commandments.

He humbled you, and in your hunger He gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had known, so that you might understand that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:2-4 BSB) 

Thinking About Food

The subject of food appears very often in Scripture and has more to do with our spiritual lives than we perhaps have realized. It is surprising to me that at this point in my life I think more about food than ever before in my entire life. That says a lot, since when I was a teenager, food rated pretty high in my thoughts. I have thrown away many calendars since those years. It was long ago. These days, my stomach does not control so much of my thought life as it did back then.

But it is not my own appetite that is causing so many of my thoughts to turn to food. Rather, it is the hunger of forty-two Kenyan children whom God has given me.

“You feed them,” Jesus said to me after he had put me in a position where I had already been involved a little in the work at that place. I was involved, but it was from the other side of the world and it was in a non-financial sense.

Frankly, I was not keen to do this, and so began my education by God in this calling on my life. The education involved several aspects of spiritual life, and the place of hunger and food was one of them.

Why does God allow some people to be hungry? Why is there even such a thing as hunger? 

Educating Me about Food

The first part of my education came from Matthew, chapter fourteen. The chapter begins telling of a distressing event that happened in the life of Jesus that caused him to want to have some time alone. His friend and forerunner, John the Baptist, had just been executed by King Herod.

When Jesus learned of this, the text tells us that he “withdrew to a solitary place.” He wanted to get away for a while—just to have a time of rest and reflection, and to mourn for his friend.

Nothing tragic had happened in my life as it had for Jesus, but I was also at a point in my life where I wanted to withdraw. After twenty years of dealing with the spiritual and physical lives of people in many parts of the world, I was ready to withdraw. I was ready to go back to our little farm in the northwoods, get a few cows, plant an orchard, and retire. After all, the very meaning of the word retire is to withdraw.

In Jesus’ case, his attempt to withdraw to a solitary place was unsuccessful. A great crowd of people discovered where he was and followed him there.

I do not want to compare myself with Jesus, except that I learn by his experience. My attempt to retire was also unsuccessful in its own way. No one followed me to my farm, except I suppose that you could say that in this electronic age, they came to me by way of the internet.

For quite a few years, I had posted some of the things that I have written on a blog site that I maintained. At first unknown to me, among my readers were three pastors from the town of Kisii in Kenya who had begun a church in the remote area of Sengera. After a time, one of the pastors began to correspond with me (in English), telling me that they were benefiting from some of the writings.

Of course I was glad to hear this. It is the very reason I have the blog site. It is my hope that my thoughts can enrich someone else. In the case of the pastors of Kisii, it was not until several months later that I learned that they had taken in orphans in this new church.

The pastor who wrote to me and told me, “The Apostle James writes that we are to care for orphans and widows in their distress. Since it is the orphans who have the greatest need in our area, we decided to begin with the children.”

That was the beginning. From that point on, God began to speak to me about helping with this task. As I said, I at first did not want to get involved. For almost an entire year, I fought against this call of God and refused to be involved in that way. I was glad to keep things at a correspondence level. But God had other ideas.

He used a teaching about food to convince me.

In the case of Jesus and the crowds that I cited above, when the people who had come to listen to Jesus became hungry, the disciples approached Jesus with this suggestion: “Send the people away so that they can find something to eat, for this is a desolate place.”

The disciples, it seems, were happy to have the people listen to the teachings of Jesus, but when it came to feeding them, they said, “Send them away.”

I realized that my attitude was the same as that of the disciples. I was glad to have the church in Kenya read the teachings that I had written, but when it came to feeding them in their own desolate place, I was saying to God, “Send them away.”

The response of Jesus was direct, both to the disciples as it was to me: “You feed them.”

Thus began what has now been my two-year period of thinking about food and about hunger. What does the Bible say about these subjects? 

Spiritual Food and Physical Food

First of all, as Jesus intimated in his response to Satan and as Moses told his own people, there is a relationship between literal physical food and our own spiritual and eternal lives. We are not wrong in making these comparisons. Jesus intended for us to think of it in this way.

After Jesus had fed the crowd, on the following day (just the next morning), the people again were hungry and came looking for him to see if he would give them something to eat.

Jesus said to them, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27).

He then went on to instruct them on this subject, again harkening back to the days of the wilderness wanderings: “It was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world… I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never hunger” (John 6:32-33, 35 BSB).

Of course Jesus was speaking in a spiritual sense, but I think that his words have more to do also with physical hunger than we may at first realize. I will not say that there is an exact correlation between literal food and spiritual food, but in very many ways, what applies to one applies also to the other. 

Give Us this Day Our Daily Bread

Perhaps the most fundamental thing that we can learn about food is that to avoid hunger, we need to eat every day. Surely we can exist without eating for a few days, but we begin to become very hungry. Our bodies need daily food to sustain themselves.

What Jesus wants us to know is that we also need daily spiritual food to sustain our lives. It seems obvious that it should be so. Why is it that we can see this so clearly in our physical lives, but we think that it does not apply to our spiritual lives? We think that if we go to church once a week and listen to someone else talk about God and the Bible, we are doing pretty well.

Here is a challenge for us: Do not eat anything during the entire week. Then on Sunday, go to a restaurant and watch someone else eat, and hope that he or she will share a bit of the meal with you. Do that for just one week and see if that will sustain you.

That is the first thing that we must learn and the most basic thing. It is a very simple lesson, but one which probably the majority of Christians do not realize. Our daily need for physical food must teach us that we also have a daily need for spiritual food. 

Voluntary and Involuntary Fasting

This comparison may bring to your mind the act of fasting—that is, going through a period of time when we do not eat. The topic of fasting is a subject all unto itself, but let me just say that the purpose of fasting is not to demonstrate how holy we are. Jesus says this is what hypocrites do (Matthew 6:16-18). They want others to know how righteous they are, so they make the fact that they are fasting very public.

The purpose for fasting is not to demonstrate our holiness, but it is instead to help ourselves remember how needy we are. Fasting provides a time for us to rearrange our priorities from the physical to the spiritual, to remind us that it is our relationship with God that must be sustained even above our physical lives.

This type of fasting is voluntary. We do it for the good of our own spiritual lives. But there is another kind of fasting is that not voluntary. It is an involuntary or imposed type of fasting brought on by lack of food. This is fasting in famine. 

Fasting in Famine

Why does fasting in famine happen, especially to those like my children in Kenya who have been born into that situation? Of course you must know that there is no answer of fairness that will satisfy us. It is an unfair situation. It unfair that they should be born in that situation of extreme need and that we should be born in comparative wealth and luxury.

We do not know why it is this way. Certainly some of the fault lies with us as humans, for enough food is presently produced in the world to feed everyone. However, some in this world have abundance and others have none.

I do not wish to accept this situation as the way that it is and that it cannot be changed. It is for this reason that I am involved with the children in Kisii. Nevertheless, Jesus himself said that the poor will always be among us. In this present age, there will always be hunger.

Why has God done this? If he loves his creation, it would seem that he would supply every living creature with enough to sustain themselves. 

What God Intends for Us

Certainly we must know that hunger is not God’s original intention for his creation. What we read concerning the first man and woman was that God planted a garden for them, a garden in which grew “every tree that is pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Genesis 2:9).

Nor in the coming age will hunger be present. Just as everything in the original Garden of Eden seemed to be bursting with energy and with life, everything about the new heaven and the new earth seems equally to be filled with life.
We read of even the Tree of Life which was in the Garden of Eden and which will again grow in the New Earth. The tree bears twelve crops of fruit and perhaps even twelve different kinds of fruit. Twelve crops—one for each month of the year. Also, it is said that the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2).

God says of the residents of the new heaven and the new earth, “Never again will they hunger, and never will they thirst; nor will the sun beat down upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd. He will lead them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:16-17 BSB). 

What Changed?

So what has happened in this present period in between those two fruitful utopias? Why is it that we are living in a world filled with suffering and with hunger?

The answer to that question comes in the form of a curse. Adam and Eve, the first humans, committed and act of insurrection (which interestingly, also involved the eating of food), effectively rebelling against God’s authority. Because God had delegated the responsibility of the entire creation to them, all of nature and creation itself was affected by this curse.

God told Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it will yield for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread, until you return to the ground” (Genesis 3:17-19 BSB).

Then to Adam’s son Cain the curse was intensified. Cain exacerbated the estrangement between God and man when he murdered his brother Abel.

Because of Cain’s horrible deed, God told him, “Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield its produce to you” (Genesis 4:11-12 BSB). 

The Natural Condition of Man

From that very first day when Adam sinned, humans began to experience hunger. Hunger is the natural condition of living creatures who are estranged from God.
We often do not think of hunger in this way. We think that hunger is an unnatural condition that is not normal. But it is not this way at all, and understanding this is the first step in understanding the relationship between physical hunger and spiritual hunger.

It is important that we understand this distinction. We may not easily see it because most of us have never been truly hungry. Oh, we may think that we have been hungry—but not really. I will venture to say that none of us have ever been at the edge of starvation.

Hunger is not something that comes to us. Hunger is always resident within us, and is only held in check by our daily nourishment. Once the nourishment stops, the hunger arises. It is almost like having a disease organism that is living within your body and that is being held in check by your immune system. If your immune system is strong, the disease lies dormant within you. But should your immunity weaken, the disease rises to overcome you.

So it is with hunger. Hunger is the natural condition of all living creatures who are estranged from God. It is only kept in check by daily nourishment. Should the nourishment stop, the hunger rises up to overcome us.

This is true physically, and it is true spiritually.

This is why Jesus tells us, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger” (John 6:35).
Jesus is speaking of the spiritual bread that will keep our spiritual lives nourished. 

Oblivious to Hunger

But there is another aspect to spiritual hunger, as there is with physical hunger. A person who has begun the stages of starvation may not even any longer feel hungry. That is because the perception of hunger in our bodies is controlled by the amount of food in our stomachs. If our stomach is empty, we feel hungry. If it is full, we do not.

However, if we go long enough with little or no food, our stomachs begin to become atrophied, shrinking its size. Thus, this smaller stomach weakens the perception of hunger. This might be ok if you are on a diet and are trying to lose weight, but it is not ok if you are starving.

Conversely, you may have seen pictures of children with huge, bulging stomachs who were said to be starving. It is actually unclear why this happens, but it is thought that it has to do with the diets of the children where they are eating some carbohydrates (like maize), but have no protein.

In both of these cases, the children may be actually starving, but are beyond the point of recognizing it.

This can also happen in our spiritual lives. 

Checking Your Karidagram

It is not our stomachs that give us a perception of spiritual hunger, but it is what the Bible calls the heart. The New Testament Greek word for this is kardia (spelled with a K). This word may sound familiar to you if you have ever had to have any reason to visit the cardiologist (with a C). The word means heart.

This word kardia is mentioned over 800 times in the Bible, but never in relation to the organ in our bodies which pumps blood. It is used only figuratively, speaking of our most inner thoughts, our wills, and our emotions. It is what gives us a perception of spiritual hunger. It is our heart that tells us that we must seek God in our lives.

That is why Jesus tells us, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5.8).

I am going to write more of physical hunger and spiritual hunger next week, but allow me to close this portion by asking you this question:

How is your heart? I don’t mean your cardio with a C, but your kardia with a K—the heart that gives you the sensation of spiritual hunger.

Does it give you the sensation that you want spiritual food, or has your heart atrophied within you so that you do not even have the perception that your spirit is starving?

The Bible speaks of hearts that have grown cold, hearts that have become calloused, and hearts that have turned to stone. We will continue these thoughts on spiritual hunger next week.

For this week, give yourself a Kardiagram to find out the condition of your spiritual heart.

If you would like to help these children of the Log Church Orphanage of Kisii, Kenya, you may make your check out to "The Log Church" and write "Orphans" on the memo line.
Send it to:
The Log Church
PO Box 68
Tripoli, Wisconsin 54564
Every nickel given in this way will be used for only aid for the orphans. It will be used for purchasing food, clothing, schooling, and other necessities of living. Nothing is held back or diverted for any other purpose

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