I've had bread on my mind this week. Following Christmas, we were traveling from Hamilton, AL where my sister and her family live. We had been to a conference at the church where they are on staff, called The Ramp. God moved in such a mighty way and I'm so thankful for the way He filled our spiritual bellies in a much-needed season of hunger. As we were traveling we decided to stop at a certain counter service restaurant that majors on the grain family of the food pyramid. My kids always beg to eat there because they love the soup and bread but honestly, we rarely go there because it cost our family no less than $50 to eat a meal there and I while I also love their menu, it's hard for this mom of four to justify $50 for such a light meal. Our friends had given us a gift card for Christmas and the kids were thrilled to have the chance to eat there. I was thankful for it as well, having eaten so much fast food on the road over the last week.
We walked in, through the very cold temperatures, anticipating the warmth and comfort foods that would follow. As we approached the kiosk and began ordering, it seemed that every menu item we chose-- bread bowls, baguettes, whole wheat rolls came up as "unavailable". Uhhh, what was happening? Suddenly the excitement began to dwindle as little mouths realized bread was our of the question tonight and they were going to have to settle for apples. Ugh. Love an apple on any other day but when you come in from the cold, wet, winter wind anticipating steaming hot baguettes and chicken soup, an apple just isn't going to do it for ya. We decided to just be thankful for the soups and white bread that was available for the sandwiches (my husband had also been denied his flatbread sandwich).
In the rush of getting our order and redirecting snide comments from our older children toward gratefulness, I looked my husband and said with a half grin, "There's no bread in the house of bread!"
When we got back to town, I immediately had to run to the store the next day to stock our pantry. We had been traveling for over a week and basically had nothing to eat in the house. With the anticipation of a snow storm headed our way I knew I better get to the store or there may be nothing left to choose from. As soon as I walked into the grocery store I saw the bread shelves. Nothing. Only Hawaiian rolls and bagels. No loaves of bread to speak of. I guess I would have to make our own. I grabbed an extra bag of flour and yeast and settled in on that plan.
No bread in the house of bread. It's a cliche sermony phrase but I couldn't get the idea out of my head.
The phrase comes from a reference to the book of Ruth. The great irony in the setting of that story is that we find Naomi and her family having to leave Bethlehem because there is a severe famine. So, in case you don't get the irony, here's the thing: The name "Bethlehem" literally means "House of Bread" and there was no bread in the "House of Bread".
My reflection led me to think about the church. Not just my church, but THE CHURCH. I've had this burning in my soul over the last 9 months or so-- a deep hunger for God to do something bigger. I've seen God do some amazing things in my lifetime but it's not really enough because I've read stories, mostly in the Bible, of Him doing crazier, even more amazing things. I've reached a spiritually-selfish place in my walk with God where I'm not satisfied with just our measure of expectation in the church. I know we can do better. I know we can find the hunger for more. We've settled, haven't we? Rather than expecting the visions and wonders that we read about in the prophets and in the stories of Jesus and His miracles, we've settled on a kind of mediocre spiritual existence. Perhaps even a less-than-mediocre.
I know what's happening. We've trained ourselves to find the evidence of God in people. While it's a cool thing to be able to see God working in the lives of those around us, or see Him in the beauty of the sunset or the smile of a child, I don't think this is the standard of measure God intended us to exist in. I think there is...I KNOW there is, so much more! He longs for and He radically pursues a direct, face-to-face, intimate relationship with us but He wants us to find Him too.
See, He knows that if He just showed up in all His glory, right there at the foot of our bed one night, well, we would most likely die, but at the very least we would just be so overcome with His glory that we would involuntarily submit to it. Forced relationship, not really the way God likes to operate. But, if we choose surrender ourselves, reciprocating the pursuit and chase after Him with all that we are, oh, He really loves that and desires it. Such love, such romance, such passion!
So, back to the bread thing-- when I think about the status of most of our churches and our meetings, I'm so disappointed at the lack of passion and devotion. We hold, within ourselves, the key to all of God's goodness and mercy unfolding in the lives of those who are suffering and hurting, and we act as though it's no big deal. Like His forgiveness and healing and redemption in our own lives-- we could take it or leave it. Meh. But we could, you know, create such an atmosphere of praise and invitation in our Sunday morning gatherings that the presence of God is drawn to our auditoriums and rests there-- so powerful, so wondrous, so thick with love, that anyone who walks through the back doors of our churches, regardless of what chaos and darkness they're living in, could find complete and total redemption and freedom in Christ. And that's a REALLY BIG DEAL!
Instead, I feel, we advertise on our sign as having bread for them, as being a "house of bread", a place of redemption, forgiveness, wholeness, peace, strength, a refuge, a place where spiritually-empty bellies can be fed, BUT instead we present a half-hearted effort. We dredge through a few songs while the worship leader begs for our participation, singing softly under our breath, lyrics we agree are powerful but not really worth shouting. We slouch through a sermon or testimony or two, maybe following along in our Bibles, maybe not, passing our Sunday morning in the obligatory American Christian way, on our way to more exciting weekend activities. We advertise bread but instead offer lukewarm soggy leftovers that, if we're honest, aren't really enough of anything to satisfy even one hungry desperate family that might walk through the doors.
Heart-wrenching when you really consider it, isn't it?
I still believe we can do this though. I still believe we can rise to the challenge and I'm confident that it starts in our individual prayer lives. I'm confident that if we will begin to repent for our half-hearted concern for a dying world, and really ask God to reveal the true living, breathing message of Jesus to our own hearts. If we dare to use the phrase "whatever it looks like, Lord" in our worship and our sacrifice. If we decide now to do those things, we will no doubt be met by a God who is very much alive and ready to burn with Holy Fire in our communities, relentless until all have experienced Him. He's ready and willing.