I usually share my personal spiritual thoughts with God, my husband and daughter, or in my journals, workbooks, Bible pages and face-to-face with people. However, I have some things I'd like to share here this morning.
I believe my greatest thorn in my life is my insatiable hunger for more (although God uses this for His ultimate glory.) I know that if physical things were allowed by God to completely satisfy us, we would forget our God and turn away from Him in pride. I am thankful for His provision in this in my life.
However, I still struggle with this thorny pain of always being hungry. I am hungry for more of Christ Jesus in my life. I am hungry for more of Christ Jesus in others' lives. I am hungry for more of God's Word in my life. I am hungry for community. I am hungry for beauty. I am hungry for strength. I am hungry for others coming into the fullness of their identities and callings in Christ Jesus. I am also hungry for lesser earthly things like good organic local food, fair trade, things made from nature, handmade items, anything that inspires creativity in God's people in healthy dynamics, things that do not destroy or take advantage but rather take care of God's creation; I speak of the purity of earth-living that comes from the purity of God-living.
I desire more from relationships at all times. I am never content with less than more. I have the strength and weakness (strength when I walk with Christ's Spirit in this, and weakness when I depend on my flesh) of never letting myself and others settle for less in relationships with Christ and others.
This, at times, makes people uncomfortable...but I will continue to say, I am not asking anything from anyone that God doesn't hold me greatly accountable to already. He gives me more grace to extend to myself when my heart would condemn me, and also the wisdom and love to extend His grace to others.
When I say "hungry", I do not mean only physical hunger, although I can attest to this. Physical hunger will be the subject of this particular blog.
I have to chew every bite of my food thoroughly or I have MAJOR digestive problems in every sense of the word, sparing all details from public reading for your comfort and mine. I have to eat mostly real food (organic/all-natural/local) or I get very sick almost immediately.
Both of these I have found through trial and error of many years--working out my own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Before I knew the answer, I used to ask myself questions like, "Why do I always get sick when I eat cow's milk products, and how can I change this?" Becoming deathly ill on a number of occasions, and these times affecting my life in unhealthy proportions, and this all purposed by God to bring me back to fill myself with what is REAL AND TRUE, finally drove me to the truth of eating according to His Will for my life. This is true not only for physical food, but also to spiritual food--eating of His Word according to His Will for my life (spiritual hunger will be the subject of another blog.)
Now please read that carefully, lest you believe I am telling you and everyone else that everyone should do what I am choosing to do with food. I have been delivered from that legalism, although I am certainly not exempt from sinning in that area since it was once an area of bondage. You have the freedom to call me out on that, and I deeply desire that if God has told you to exhort me in this, please do.
I am now a "communitarian," a term that I use to apply not only to eating food in community, but extend to all aspects of life. What I mean is that I live out my identity in Christ Jesus rooted and established in Him, doing and saying what He calls me to, and then I keep God's people--true Christian community--in mind as I balance the two.
Below are some references from God's Word that offer an alternative to the legalism.
God's Word says: "[We] are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols...[we] will do well to avoid these things." (Acts 15:29) I believe that we are not to eat food that would cause us or another to stumble (for this is idolatry.) Only the Spirit and God's Word can show us this ultimately, although others in community surely help and are essential as we walk by faith and not by sight.
I believe that we are not to eat food in community when doing so could, in our own hearts, be considered to be idolatrous (once again, the Spirit, God's Word, and those in community with us show us this truth.) I do not mean that we should we go the extreme of proclaiming that if someone is not in Christ, or is sinning in some way (for then we could not even eat with ourselves, because 1 John 1:8 says that if we claim to be without sin, then we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us) we are not to eat with them. We are to be as Christ was, who ate with sinners although He was sinless. However, we are to carefully consider what God calls each of us to in relationship to eating in community.
For example, if I said, "I should go take my neighbors some organic food because they're eating food that is unhealthy for them," then my heart is idolatrous because I am assuming God's role in their lives. But if we invite our neighbors over for a grill-out and offer them the organic food that we ourselves eat, then we are eating healthily in community. There is no pretense there, just being who we're called to be in Christ Jesus.
I also believe that "everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial." (1 Corinthians 10:23) Everything is permissible for us in Christ Jesus--we have complete freedom in Him. However, not everything builds us up or is helpful to us in our walks with Him. When I eat certain foods at certain times, I can actually cause myself or another person to stumble. I'll share an example of my experience with this. This is a daily, moment-by-moment battle with my flesh. The example below indicates both an example of how I can cause myself and others to stumble unless I live and keep in step with the Spirit.
I was at a house party to celebrate with friends a while back. The food was homemade and very delicious (but not organic--I share this only because of the subject at hand.) As referenced above, I ate as a communitarian that evening (i.e., I don't "bring in" my own food, or really even mention the way I eat differently unless God tells me to or someone asks.)
After the meal, I had a short conversation with God about the dessert table. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a sugar weakness (which is largely why I do not keep any type of sugar in our home unless necessary for living in community, for it is too great a temptation for me otherwise. Raw honey works for me.)
This conversation went something like this: "Should I eat dessert? I don't want to be legalistic, and it looks yummy. There's lots of chocolate and I love chocolate. Would I cause others to stumble once they see the dessert I get because they [these particular people] know I eat healthily and organically? Could I potentially be filling my mind and body more with these tasty treats rather than filling myself with Your Spirit the way You've called me to tonight? Will I easily fall back into the flesh of avoiding relationship out of fear and not share the real me in Christ? Will I isolate myself even the tiniest bit by eating this and thus allowing my body to be stimulated by the caffeine high? Will I fall back into legalism and act more highly than I ought because I believe I'm able to withstand temptation on my own power?"
And finally, "Will I be acting in Your Spirit to eat the dessert, or by not eating the dessert?"
God's answer: "This is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence: if our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts and He knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him. And this is His command: to believe in the Name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us" (1 John 3:19-23.)
God gave me the go-ahead that night because I did not believe I was condemned. I was completely open to His Spirit that even such a thing as eating chocolate that night (dear children, we are to keep ourselves from idols; 1 John 5:21) could cause myself or another to stumble, so I was ready to act according to His Will out of love for my first love, Jesus Christ. I chose to walk in love--walking in obedience to His commands, which I can only do because He gives me grace each moment to obey. I can only obey by His Spirit in me: "for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose"; Philippians 2:13.)
I saw God in action soon after I sat down with my dessert plate. I am so thankful He gave me the grace to obey that evening.
My friend (who has also expressed to me a struggle with food-things) said to me, "Oh, I'm so glad that you got dessert; I was feeling guilty about wanting some. I even talked to [another friend] about it and we decided to get dessert anyway because it looked so good. Is that okay?"
I said (which I know was inspired by the Holy Spirit because I cannot remember everything I said, so much had He taken over at this point, and what I said even surprised me in its love and truth) something like, "Yes, you are free! We are given freedom in Christ. He desires for you to be loved tonight. But you are free in Him to say 'no' as much as to say 'yes.' We are not to be held captive but to stay in the freedom of His truth. Do you feel loved by God tonight since you believe He gave you the freedom to eat the dessert?"
"Yes! I KNOW He loves me because He knows what a fanatic I am about chocolate! He is so good to me!" she responded.
See, we are called to "save others by snatching them from the fire [of hell.] To others, show mercy with fear, hating even the clothes stained by their sinful lives" (Jude 1:23.) My friend in Christ was on the 'mercy with fear' side. She needed to hear the truth in love but be able to have her own freedom in Christ for where she is with Him. It seems that God spoke different words over each of us about our freedom in Christ, but we ended up in the same place: eating dessert and not living in condemnation, but walking in love next to one another, toward the same goal: Christ Jesus. This is one way we can be in loving community with one another--interdependency--yet still retain our identities in Christ.
It is my role in my friend's life to tell her what God's Word says, to speak the truth in love. However, I am not to assume the role of God over her life. I speak His Word; it is God's Spirit who works in us:
"So let's keep focused on [Jesus], those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision--you'll see it yet! Now that we're on the right track, let's stay on it...easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites. But there's far more to life for us. We're citizens of high heaven! We're waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly bodies into glorious bodies like His own. He'll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which He is putting everything as it should be, under and around Him" (Philippians 3:15-21.)
"Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth" (1 John 3:18.)
It wasn't that long ago that I, too, was in a similar mindset on a regular basis, and I could have easily gone back to that mindset as a stronghold if I had judged her:
"Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God--or rather are known by God--how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again...have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?" (Galatians 4:8-9, 16)
"You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things" (Romans 2:1.)
Since that was a long example of "everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial," I thought I'd recap:
*We are free in Christ.
*We are not to judge others in Christ.
*We can walk in love by keeping in step with the Spirit both in our own God-given identity and in community with God's people.
That is what I would like to share this morning--not my word, but His Word.
I will close with the highly appropriate 2 Corinthians 13:14, "May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."