20160129

The Theology of Food :: Weekend Reading List

Scripture’s focus on every facet of the tabernacle and temple is remarkable—God’s dwelling place, and the materials used to create it, were selected and prepared with the fastidious care. The New Testament confesses that the bodies of the faithful are the new temple of God’s Spirit.

To build this theology the authors of Scripture first caution against vanity. The care given to the temple was not to make it beautiful for its own sake, but to display the glory of God. At the same time, they challenge the early Christians to see how their decisions in the physical world affect their bodies.

In a recent article Bethany Jenkins, our founder at The Park Forum, asked, Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From? It’s a wonderful question that expands the discussion of faith and food beyond healthy eating to exploring how Christians can cultivate human flourishing through the food we consume.
Where did we get the idea that our food should be as cheap as possible? Do we not know that, when food is cheap to us, it is costly to someone else? Regular baking cocoa is cheaper than its fair trade equivalent, at least in part, because only a tiny portion of its profits goes to its growers.
It was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration that, following the Great Depression, worked aggressively to lower the percentage of the average American salary that went to food and rent. In our world today, the loss of this easy-to-access and inexpensive food creates what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls a “food desert.”

Journalists Phillip Lucas And Mike Schneider explain the ripple effects of a food desert created by the closure of a neighborhood’s Wal-Mart:
In Wichita (Kansas), the Wal-Mart that opened four years ago became a community hub in a shopping plaza that previously had been a haven for prostitution and gang shootings, said Pastor Kevass Harding, whose Dellrose United Methodist Church is right by the store.

“We had a place that used to be an eyesore, but then we had a first-class shopping center in this urban neighborhood,” Harding said. “So last week we get the news, my heart just broke. I was disgusted that it’s about money. It’s not about the people.”
The reality that cheap food has become about profit cannot be understated—just ten companies now manufacture almost everything Americans eat. The public’s awareness of the modern industrial food complex has opened up an opportunity for a host of local, organic, and hand-crafted food start-ups. Yet the price mark up on these foods causes pause. This is where Jenkins asks, “If we commit ourselves to ethical food sourcing, will the higher prices we pay be worth it?”

The answer, at least in part, is found in knowing where our food comes from—and maintaining a healthy skepticism toward the narrative crafted around it. Last year the Mast Brothers, who sell “artisanal chocolate” for $10 a bar, were accused of remelting high-cacao-butter chocolate from the French chocolate manufacturer Valrhona to create what they claimed were their own “bean to bar” chocolates. This unleashed what can only be described as chocolate kerfuffle.

In The Way Forward for Hipster Food Dana Goodyear explains the lesson for those trying to make informed purchasing decisions around food:
Old-fashioned food: let’s examine its appeal for a moment. So much of the artisanal movement is about a return to pre-industrial aesthetics and flavors, a celebration of the home- and handmade… But the Victorian era the movement makes loving reference to was not a wonderful time to be a consumer.

In the moment that the Masts’ aesthetic conjures, food was an anxious proposition, unregulated and rife with chicanery—lead in the red candy, chalk in the milk. Deep in our memories, along with the nostalgia for mustache wax, lies the awareness that stories about food are not always true, and that buying into them can be dangerous.
The main question for people of faith is not about recovering a lost aesthetic, but about the value of spending more money on food that is ethically sourced, humanely raised, and environmentally conscious. “UNICEF estimates that 200,000 children are working in the cocoa fields of the Ivory Coast,” Jenkins writes, “and up to 12,000 of them may be victims of trafficking or slavery.”

It’s up to us as consumers to raise our awareness of laborers in the food industry. As stewards of this world we cannot turn our eyes away from the effects of industrial food production on the environment or the horrific treatment of animals by the poultrybeef, and dairy industries. Our decisions in the physical world affect God’s dwelling place and, through that, our world.

Thoughtfulness around this matters for Christians because, as the leaders of the Lausanne Movement write,
The earth is created, sustained and redeemed by Christ. We cannot claim to love God while abusing what belongs to Christ by right of creation, redemption and inheritance. We care for the earth and responsibly use its abundant resources, not according to the rationale of the secular world, but for the Lord’s sake.

If Jesus is Lord of all the earth, we cannot separate our relationship to Christ from how we act in relation to the earth. For to proclaim the gospel that says ‘Jesus is Lord’ is to proclaim the gospel that includes the earth, since Christ’s Lordship is over all creation. Creation care is thus a gospel issue within the Lordship of Christ.

Today’s Reading
Esther 6 (Listen – 2:40)
Romans 1 (Listen – 5:02)

This Weekend’s Readings
Esther 7 (Listen – 2:08)  Romans 2 (Listen – 4:13)
Esther 8 (Listen – 3:41)  Romans 3 (Listen – 4:30)

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20160128

The Honor of Faith :: Throwback Thursday

By George Whitefield
Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the servants of the king. — Esther 5.11
I suppose you would all think it a very high honor to be admitted into an earthly prince’s private council—to be trusted with his secrets, and to have his ear at all times and at all seasons. It seems Haman thought it so when he boasted.

Alas, what is this honor in comparison of that which the meekest of those enjoy: to walk with God! Do you think it a small thing to have the secret of the Lord of lords with you and to be called the friends of God? All God’s saints have this honor!

The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” David was so sensitive to the honor of walking with God that he declares, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”

As it is an honorable, so it is a pleasing thing, to walk with God. The wisest of men has told us that wisdom’s “ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.”

Has not one day in the Lord’s courts been better to you than a thousand? In keeping God’s commandments, have you not found a present, and very great reward? Has not his word been sweeter to you than the honey or the honeycomb?

What have you felt when, like Jacob, you have been wrestling with your God? Has not Jesus often met you when meditating in the fields, and been made known to you over and over again in breaking of bread? Has not the Holy Ghost frequently shed the divine love abroad in your hearts abundantly and filled you with joy unspeakable, even joy that is full of glory?

I know you will answer all these questions in the affirmative and realize the yoke of Christ is easy and his burden light—His service is perfect freedom. And what need we then any further motive to excite us to walk with God?

*Abridged and languages updates from George Whitefield’s sermon, Walking With God.

Today’s Reading
Esther 5 (Listen – 2:42)
Acts 28 (Listen – 4:56)

20160127

One Reason to Stop Praying

[Esther replied,] “I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” — Esther 4.16
We hold prayer to be one of the most sacred and powerful acts of faith. “It is the insight into the mystery of reality, the sense of the ineffable, that enables us to pray,” remarks Abraham Joshua Heschel. Remarkable things blossom when the prayers of the saints join in the work of the Spirit.

It is almost shocking not to see prayer in this part of Esther’s story. She is told she must risk her life and approach the king—that her people will be murdered if she isn’t successful. Her reply is bold and decisive; she responds without pause for prayer, “I will go to the king… if I perish, I perish.” It’s at this point that Charles Swindoll, in his book Esther: A Woman of Strength and Dignity, remarks:
Is that a great answer or what? Is this a great woman? She’s had only a few moments to consider what Mordecai had told her, a brief slice of time to weigh his counsel. It was all she needed. She is determined to make a difference, no matter what the consequences to her personally:

‘If I perish, I perish. If a guard drives a sword through my body, I die doing the right thing.’ She has changed from fear to abandonment and faith, from hesitation to confidence and determination, from concern for her own safety to concern for her people’s survival. She has reached her own personal hour of decision and has not been found wanting.
Esther calls her people to fast—not so she can discern what is proper to do, but so God would sway the heart of the king. She knew what must be done—her prayers weren’t spent on discernment, but upon building faith and trust for the result.

It was in the middle of another miraculous rescue, as the Egyptians were closing in on Israel after their exodus, that God asked Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.” Moses needed
confidence like Esther. Prayer for what action to take wasn’t needed—the time had come for courageous faith.

Esther didn’t pray to discern what action to take. We find her seeking God, calling her people to fast, as she realizes her actions alone will be insufficient in meeting the deepest needs of her people.

Today’s Reading
Esther 4 (Listen – 2:53)
Acts 27 (Listen – 6:09)

20160126

Finding Blessings In Chaos

And the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion. — Esther 3.15
The word tragedy is used to describe the chance-events which permanently reshape normal life. From a costly professional error, the death of a loved one, or the horrors of terrorism, tragedy leaves its scars on both soul and culture.

The story of Esther chronicles Haman’s attempt to exterminate the Jewish people exiled in Persia during the fourth century B.C.E. Haman believed he was divining the will of Persian gods when he set the date of the massacre by casting lots. The very thought of genocide occurring by such happenstance sent Susa, the town where many exiled Jewish families lived, into chaos.

The Hebrew word translated as confusion is also used for wandering—the state of Israel’s lostness in the wilderness. The similarities between the stories of Exodus and Esther are remarkable. In both stories Israel is held captive in a pagan land, an adopted child with a concealed identity is empowered by God, and the enemy is slaughtered as Israel is redeemed. Esther is the story of a new exodus, Exodus a story of a new creation.

The overt lesson of the creation account in Genesis 1 is that God enters chaos and makes beauty. God’s creative act is generative—formlessness is structured under his will, void is filled by his grace, darkness driven out by light, and the depths of evil brought into submission by his Spirit.

Faithfulness in Esther’s story might be understood as providence (Esther and Mordecai both rose in power); but we cannot miss that Israel’s deepest longing—to return home—went unmet. Remarkably, this reality did not shake their faith. God’s presence with them in suffering became something cherished.

For thousands of years Jews have celebrated Purim, a holiday which is named after the Hebrew word for “lots.” It is a reminder of God’s faithfulness when the lots of the world fall against his people. Even when things seem haphazard, when the world looks like it is likely to be overcome by evil, when the innocent suffer, God is faithful.

God’s faithfulness didn’t result in an attitude of escapism among his people. When the Babylonian exiles cried out to God he instructed them to invest where they were—for though their pain was immense and their longings unmet, the eternal weight of glory awaited.

Today’s Reading
Esther 3 (Listen – 3:12)
Acts 26 (Listen – 5:17)

20160125

Overcoming Self-Rejection

In the evening Esther would go in, and in the morning she would return to the second harem… She would not go in to the king again, unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name. — Esther 2.14

The ache of self-rejection resides in the depths of the human heart—somewhere beyond the reach of other people’s affection. It grows through the pain inflicted by others, but most rapidly through personal failure. Remarkably, even the misplaced compliment of others can deepen the wounds of self-rejection.

Given the course of Esther’s life, it’s far more likely the book bearing her name should chronicle the story of a broken woman than the hero God chose to save his people. Even today some commentators stammer as they write of her story, noting her “unspiritual lifestyle,” and “unfaithfulness” to the law (it is recorded that she ate unclean food, had intercourse with a man who was not her husband, and married a pagan). The judgment upon her would have been even greater in her day.

The role of an ancient harem was to exist in perpetual beauty—ready for a king who might summon any of the women at any moment. After a preparation period in a harem for virgins, the woman would be summoned to the king’s chambers for one night. Following this she would go to a second harem, to be called again only if she performed well the first time.

Esther must have wept often—staying alive under the rule of a brutal pagan king required she repeatedly compromise her faith. Though diplomatic acumen becomes the highlight of her story, she is judged primarily by her body and taken in as a sex slave.

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection.” writes Henri Nouwen. He continues:

When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection.

As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am nobody.”

And yet Esther’s story does not stop here—she is redeemed and empowered by her God. She is celebrated because her faith endured in brokenness. Her victory obtained not by her ability to overcome, but by God’s ability to restore her wasted years. It cannot be missed, as Nouwen concludes, that:

Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.

Today’s Reading
Esther 2 (Listen – 4:31)
Acts 25 (Listen – 4:40)