While we endured the various quarantine recommendations over the past year, many churches have had to examine how we do things. Willow Creek Friends is no different.
We are currently Meeting for Worship on Sunday mornings, and we have started our Sunday morning Bible studies as well. But we have not reopened our mid-week studies.
There is a reason for this. The number one reason is kind of selfish. I as a pastor was enjoying the extra time with my family and when the various mandates were lifted, I was not quick to start the mid-week Meeting until after the school’s summer break was completed.
The second reason is because how will we meet and what will we do? We have the unique opportunity to relaunch our discipleship offerings. I encourage anyone that is reading this post to click on the rightnow media page and sign up for that service. I have been in conversation with this organization and anyone that participates with Willow Creek ministry has permission to get access to this service.
Why do I say get access, because we can now use the rightnow media platform to do virtual groups studies. Meaning when we meet during the week, here in Kansas City, you can meet with us. This is not the same as meeting together for Worship and fellowship, but it is still good. And gives the readers of this blog an opportunity to meet and study with the people of the Meeting (church).
If you are interested in participating, go ahead and get the log in for the rightnow media site. And send me an email (email@example.com) so I can send you the link for the study. Which I hope will begin in September.
If you happen to live in outside the United States, you should still be able to participate! Let me know if you are interested and hopefully we can set up a virtual group that will work in your time zone.
Thank you all for reading my post over the past few years. And I am excited for where God might lead us in the future.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
August 8, 2021
John 6:35, 41–51 (ESV)
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.
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’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 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.”
Today I want to invite you on an adventure, because that is what real bible study is. When we study anything, when we deepen our knowledge on any subject, we are exploring, and exploration is an adventure. It opens our eyes and our minds to mysteries yet to be known. When we explore those mysteries, we learn something. We learn that there is always more to know.
If you have ever spent any time with a toddler, you will quickly find that they tend to be information sponges. They seek out knowledge and they are processing the information so quickly that adults will force them to take a nap. We have some toddlers in our Meeting, and I am sure the parents have answered thousands of questions over the course of this week, they may have had close to a thousand just this morning. If there was a motto for a toddler in pretty much every cultural context, that motto would be a single word, “Why?”
Have we ever wondered why that question is so important? Why do children constantly ask that question? Why?
It deals with their development. They are attempting to find who they are in relation to everything else around them. When we as parents, as grandparents, as friends of the family take the time to explore with these children, we are given the privilege to watch their personalities grow.
We were born with this curiosity. We were born with this desire to know, be known, and to find where we fit in the world around us. Every child asks why? And our answer to that question can have deep and lasting impacts on who they will become.
The most interesting thing is as we grow, we still ask those questions. We still seek answers. We are still searching for our place in the world around us. This never really stops, but at times we silence that desire. At times we tell ourselves to shut up and know our place. We develop this over the course of time as well. We have asked too many questions and annoyed our parents, so we stop asking because we do not want to get into trouble. Our teachers have become annoyed with the questions, so we stop asking. Maybe our peers who have been silence in their own homes as children, are threatened by your continued pursuit of knowledge so they bully and seek to silence the curiosity within you. We are silenced because those around us have stopped, they have had their curiosity quelched. But that desire is still deep in our souls. We still want to know. We still wonder. We get little glimpses of this when an unexpected package comes in the mail.
Imagine a large yellow envelope with the special bubble cushioning inside. We look at the address and we see the name. We place it on the table and we look at it. What is the first thing that comes to your mind? What is inside? What did I order? What did my spouse order? We have these questions going through our mind as we look at the package? This is that sense of curiosity in our nature. What do we want to do? Open it!
And once you open it, well we probably are not as excited because we quickly remember what we ordered. But occasionally the anticipation is met with even more excitement. On May 4th, I received one of these mysterious yellow envelopes and it had my name on it. I did not order anything. I did not know why the return address was from my insurance agent. What could I possibly be receiving from this guy that would require this type of envelope? I looked at that envelope wondering what could possibly be inside, so I opened it. Every year my insurance agent sends a cookie to his clients, I did not know this at the time, so when I opened that package, I was excited when my curiosity was greeted with a cookie.
That is a tasty example of the rewards of curiosity. I must admit that the path of curiosity does not always end so well. When we explore the mysteries around us, we do gain something, knowledge, and wisdom. God told Solomon that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. I have always found that statement curious. And have decided that when we pursue wisdom and knowledge, while staying focused on God it will deepen our faith as well as our understanding of the world God created.
Today I want us to go on an adventure. I want us to be curious about scripture. I want us to ask questions and seek answers. I want us to become like a toddler trying to understand the world around us, because that is what we are when it comes to our understand in relation to the wisdom of God. I have degrees, pieces of paper, that basically tell me all I am a child with a lot of questions.
Today we begin with the verse we ended with last week. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Jesus said these words to a group of people that had recently experienced one of the most remarkable things recorded in scripture. Jesus had taught a multitude of individuals late into the day. It was recorded that there were five thousand men. They did not even count the number of women and children included in the group but it is estimated that there could have been over ten thousand people present. And Jesus told the disciples to feed them. We have heard the story many times, the disciples did not even know where to begin, but they found a young boy with a basket of five loaves and two fish. Jesus took the loaves and thanked God for the food and had the disciples distribute the pieces that he broke off. We are told that everyone ate their fill, meaning their hunger was completely satisfied, and the disciples gathered twelve baskets of left-over food.
This crowd of people were amazed and rightfully so. Jesus had satisfied their hunger. They had eaten their fill and they did not have to labor for it. This raised questions in their mind, because it reminded them of the stories they had heard since their childhood. Their ancestors while wondering in the wilderness were given manna from heaven to satisfy their hunger. I love the word manna, it literally means “What is it?”. How many of us have asked that question when we have come to the table? It is a question I often asked when I ate at my grandma’s house because she had this habit of putting things like zucchini in everything. The tribes of Israel wondered through the desert eating “What is it”. And somehow whatever it was kept them going.
What is it? The people of Israel took whatever it was and they made it into bread. We still do not know exactly what it is, but its properties resemble the properties of grain flour. Whatever it was, they knew how to prepare it because bread has been a staple of human diets from the dawn of civilization. Bread is the word used for the most basic form of solid food in several ancient languages. Even words like meat, fish and cow in some ancient languages are derived from the word for bread. Bread is that substance that allows for and maintains life.
The importance of bread to ancient middle eastern cultures is deep. Wages were often paid in bread instead of currency so having an abundance of bread, or not having to worry about what you would eat became sign of wealth. If someone had an abundance of bread, they could then trade bread for other goods or services, which means bread became the foundation of economics. This economy of bread then became a symbol of life and blessing, and the lack of bread became a symbol of divine displeasure. The connection of life, blessing and the attention of the deities lead to many religious practices to develop around bread. This is even present in the practices of ancient Israel.
Jesus said to those people that followed him across the sea, that they sought after him because they ate the bread, not because they had faith. All this cultic devotion to bread and Jesus said they are only there because they ate, not because they believed. They followed what gave them temporary satisfaction, with the hope that more could follow. They were not seeking God but easing the pangs of hunger. Once hunger was no longer part of the equation, they then turn their attention to other things. Just as the children of Israel did in the wilderness.
They grumbled. They grumbled because they perceived an injustice. Every day God provided the nation with manna from heaven, yet they grumbled. They would not starve, but they perceived that God was not good enough because they only had manna and not meat. This grumbling grew and became so intense that they threatened the life of Moses and began to yearn for a life of bondage again in Egypt, where they had meat on occasion. Their basic needs were given to them, but they grumbled because of the perception of having more elsewhere. This discontent is deeply rooting in our human condition. Our perceptions can be skewed and we begin to become envious of others. They saw that Egypt had more so in the minds of the grumbling Israelites the Egyptian gods were more powerful. They were being led away from God by the desires of their hearts, or in this case their stomachs. The Hebrew people grumbled when talking to Jesus as well. If he can feed us, he should, Moses did.
The people of Israel continued to follow Moses, after God saved his life. But there was a cost to this grumbling. The generation that grumbled, the generation that was distracted with the envy of other were not allowed into the land of promise. The only ones that entered that land were the ones that knew only the goodness of God. That generation began looking at the food that they had received as being something more than just bread. The bread they were given was life. It was the symbolic representation of God’s word and wisdom. Manna moved from what is it, to logos or the word. Bread to the children of the promise became something that connected them with God and to eat it became an act of worship. This line of thinking moved on into the land and remained with bread even after the manna was no longer falling from the skies.
What is bread? It is that substance that sustains life, but it is more. Bread is the conduit of God’s wisdom and blessing. It is God that provides the necessities of life and the Hebrew people acknowledged this by beginning the meal by thanking God for the bread. Even Jesus participated in this practice by thanking God while he broke the bread that would eventually feed a multitude. This thanksgiving and blessing move the purpose of bread away from just sustaining life, to a conversation. That which sustains life should also enrich life and be shared with others.
It is this conduit of God’s wisdom that we should focus on today. This is what the people were grumbling about when Jesus said that he is the Bread come down for Heaven. He is telling him that he is the manna, he is the embodiment or incarnation of God’s holy wisdom. He is God. He is calling us to himself. He is offering to us that substance that sustains life and provides the means to move forward, wisdom. Like Nicodemus and the concept of being born from above, or again, the people do not understand and wonder how can this be? We know Jesus’s father and mother, how can he come down from heaven? How can he offer this wisdom? How can he?
The mysteries of God are great. We will never know them fully. But that limitation should not cause us to stop exploring. I have spent hours studying something I thought I knew. I grew up on a farm. I was raised understanding where the food we eat comes from. I participated in that first step of the process. I planted the seeds, that became the grain, that became the flour, that ultimately became the bread that is shared. But even a dirt farmer can learn more about bread.
I read about different cultures and processes. I learned about the economics of bread and why certain breads were common in certain areas and not others. I learned about bread. Then I looked at the offerings at the temple. There was bread offered on the altar and bread that was place on a table that stood before the veil. Bread is involved in worship. Then I continued to look deeper. I began to read about the various sacrifices and offerings that took place at the temple, and came to a sacrifice called the peace offering, in Leviticus 7:11-18. This is a special offering because in this type of offering the one bringing the offering participates in it. Most offering are either burnt on the altar, or consumed by the priests, but the peace offering is shared with God and the worshiper. This offering begins with loaves of bread, one of which is offered to God. Then a perfect animal from the herd is ritualistically slaughtered. The blood and fat of this animal is thrown on the altar with the bread. And then the remaining bread and meat is to be consumed. The remaining meat and bread are given back to the worshiper to be eaten in whatever manner they wish to eat it. This offering of peace is to be shared, eaten not wasted. And if you cannot finish the meat that day, you can continue to eat it on the second day, but on the third day what remains is to be burned.
Jesus says, “I am the bread that has come down from heaven.” I am the substance that sustains life as well as the wisdom to move life forward. But he is more, he is the flesh offered as a sacrifice, he shares life with us even unto death and on the third day raises to life from the grave. He is the peace offering, the conduit through which God and mankind is again joined. And that is an offering that should, no must be shared. It is a joyous communion restoring that relationship that was once lost and giving us a glimpse of what will be. God with us.
The problem is we have reduced bread. We no longer regard it in the right context. Bread is just bread. It is merely the vehicle we use to eat a hamburger without getting our fingers messy. And in our low carb and gluten free culture, bread is not even considered the staple of life. But bread is so much more. It is the peace offering that God offers to us. It is God calling us back to him. It is a meal to be shared to deepen and to make friendships. Every meal we eat is an opportunity to celebrate life together, and a to testify to the power of Christ who overcame death to restore life. Every meal we eat should be eaten with others so that through the shared bread of peace, the kingdom of God can be fulfilled on earth as it is in heaven.
I want us to go on a journey today. I want us to discover and rediscover the things that bring meaning to our lives. I want us to see that of God in ourselves, so that we can encourage that in others. I want us to experience the fullness and wonders of God’s mercy and grace that has been given to us through Christ. Which is available to us if we entrust all we have and believe that he truly is the giver and preserver of life.
If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
August 1, 2021
John 6:24–35 (ESV)
24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” 32 Jesus then said to them, “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 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.
It is good to be back from our 2021 EFC-MAYM Ministry Conference. I hope we enjoyed the live stream from Wichita last week, and I hope we are looking forward to the year to come. I do want to mention a couple of things from the conference that I feel are important. The first is that next year I hope all of us can attend because it will be the closing of the 150th year of our Yearly Meeting. We will be celebrating that momentous occasion by meeting in the city where our Yearly Meeting was first formed, Lawrence, Kansas. To celebrate our Yearly Meeting hopes to start the next 150 years by revitalizing and expanding our churches, both in currently established meetings and planting new locations to meet for worship. This dream comes with some cooperation on our part, to do this the yearly meeting hopes to raise $150,000 of support.
This sounds like a huge number, but I think it is something we can achieve. We are already starting the process, in our own area we have three new Friends’ ministry points: Friends of Lawrence, the Hispanic Friends of Emporia, and the Friends Church in Raymore. And the newest Friends Meeting to reach full church status, St. Paul Friends Church in St. Paul Minnesota, is in our area. Our little area of small churches is right in the middle. We are right where we need to be. I am excited to see what will happen next.
This great work is going on all around us. But often we do not see it. This happens often among people of faith. We get excited for a bit. Then we fall back into a state of indifference. We have, what many call, mountain top experiences, and then we have what the mistics of old would call dark nights of the soul or we get engulfed in clouds of unknowing.
We love those mountain top times. We can feel God moving among us, we can sense the Spirit of God working. We try to capture those mountaintop experiences and make them last. That is not the point of faith or worship. When George Fox first began his ministry one of the statements, he made was that he knew God experimentally. That statement seems odd today, it sounds cold and clinical. Fox lived near the beginning of the age of reason in Western Civilization. During this age our ancestors began to systematically move away from superstitious ideas and began trying to explain things using the scientific method. Fox said that he knew God experimentally, he sensed God’s Spirit working and moving, and he could see the results. Some may translate the use of experimentally into experientially but it was more than that. Fox did not build his faith on experiences, but observation. When he was in one of his darkest moments, he was seeking God hoping to find answers to build his life upon, but as he sought those answer, he met only platitudes. In despair he took his book of scripture into a field and sat there alone, and in the silence, He heard a voice that spoke to him, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to your condition.” From that point on George began to develop a lifestyle around stillness where he would hear the voice, and then respond in ministry. He would gather people together to meet in the stillness and then out of those meetings people would find their calling in life and begin to minister as they were lead. From the outside it might seem as if these people are being led by experiences, and at times it is true that they were often emotionally based, but there is more to it. There was advice and counsel, speaking to those that sensed a calling, there were meetings of clearness where people would gather to discuss personal or corporate decisions. These meetings were a mix of pray, study, and constructive criticism.
The Society of Friends has been around since the 1650’s. We have been involved in some of the greatest moments in history yet often remain as a footnote. We have worked to provide humane treatment to those in prisons, we were instrumental in the formation of what would become the United States, we promoted the abolition of slavery and equal rights for all humanity, and we have been a firm voice in equal access to education. All these monumental works, and if you were to go to any history class in school if Friends are mentioned at all they are referred to as extinct. No longer in existence. I find that interesting, distressing, as well as refreshing.
Today, in the passage of scripture, we see Jesus once again with a crowd. Since I did not bring a message last week, we missed part of the story, the feeding of the multitude. The crowds that came to Jesus were great in number, they were in a desolate place, and it was getting late. The disciples urged Jesus to send the crowds home, but instead Jesus told the disciples to feed the people. If you have ever had to obtain food for a large gathering you are aware that it is no small feat. Even today with the modern conveniences it takes a great amount of logistics to get the right amount of food at the right time. We have industrial ovens and vehicles that can travel great distances in a short amount of time. They had stone ovens, heated with a flame, and the majority traveled by foot. To get enough food for a multitude of 5000 men plus women and children, would have needed weeks of planning and a caravan to transport it. Yet, Jesus, straight faced looked at them and said you feed them.
I want us to just imagine the mission that Jesus set them on. To call it overwhelming is to be charitable. It was not possible. Not only were they in the middle of nowhere, but even if they were in an urban setting with enough money, there was not enough time to accomplish the task. The average loaf of bread requires approximately thirty minutes to bake. Even if the average oven could hold ten loaves of bread it would take 500 hours to bake one loaf for the estimated amount of people that were likely at the gathering. They are in an isolated place, meaning there would not be that many ovens around and many of these rural communities would have had a shared oven among an extended family group. There might have been around twenty ovens available to bake bread, which would mean it would take the disciples twenty-five hours to provide the needed loaf.
This was not an easy task; it was not even a possible task to accomplish at that moment. Yet when Jesus made that statement, he was showing them what their ministry would be. There will always be too many mouths to feed and not enough resources to accomplish the task.
Jesus does not leave the disciples in that place of despair. He tells them to feed the people, they inform Jesus its impossible. Jesus then asks what do we have? They ask around and bring to Jesus something insignificant, a boy’s lunch of five loaves and a couple of fish. And miraculously everyone ate their fill on that meager ration. We do not know exactly how this happened, some will say that the boy’s offering inspired everyone else to share and others will say that Jesus literally multiplied the food. That does not matter. God was able to do something remarkable with something so inadequate.
After this amazing feat, the disciples are told to set sail to the other side of the sea, and Jesus remained behind. The crowds knew that Jesus remained behind and when morning came Jesus was not where the crowd expected him to be. They then began to search for Jesus. They got into boats and began looking for Jesus in places they anticipated him to be. They looked in the area they ate the bread, they looked in Capernaum, but did not find him. The then went across the sea to the other side. These people were frantically searching for Jesus.
I do not know if we fully grasp the intensity of this search. They did not want to lose Jesus; they would do whatever it took to say near his camp. They would follow him wherever he went even if it meant going to the other side of the sea, into the part of that region shrouded in the darkness of the Gentiles. When they finally found Jesus they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” John told us that Jesus walked across the sea, and it is a story that John remembered well because it caused grown men to cry out in fear. But those that were not part of the group of disciples we unaware of this event. To them Jesus just disappeared.
We might look at this passage and think that it is a great sign of devotion of these people, but that is not the response that Jesus gives. Jesus tells them that they are there not because of the signs but because they ate their fill of loaves. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
They had followed Jesus across the sea, they had entered the valley of the shadow of death and yet Jesus tells them that they are only there because they ate their fill of loaves. They are only there for selfish material reasons. They are there for perishable food not the nourishment that endures to eternal life. The crowd takes offense to what Jesus had just said. What more do they have to do to prove their worth?
Jesus answers simply. The only work is to believe in him.
I want us to stop right here. This seems ridiculous on the surface. They had just crossed the sea they believed that Jesus could give them what they needed. They would not be on that opposite shore if they did not believe. And this is the problem. We have different levels of belief in our language, but what Jesus is speaking about is a type of belief that goes beyond knowledge, or even assurance. He is speaking of what I call entrusting faith. This is a level of belief or trust that is obedient even if it does not make sense. It is to continue to endure even if the food does not come.
They listen to those words that Jesus says and they respond, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?” They are turning this belief around on Jesus and revealing exactly what Jesus had said to begin with. The only reason they are there is to get more food. They do not want to have to work, they do not want to have to struggle. They want to go back to the good old days, where God just gave them everything they needed and they did not have to worry about anything.
They are looking at their history with rosy glasses. God did provide manna from heaven every morning. He did provide quail while they traversed the desert. In their minds the people of Israel were trusting God during that time and they received the food because of that trust. That was not trust. That was survival. Every day they had to gather the bread, and if they gathered too much and tried to save some for later it would spoil. They were bound to God because their lives depended on it. Eventually they entered the promised land, and the bread stopped coming. God was no longer providing the bread in the same way. They trusted that God would provide, but once they were in the land they had to move to a different level of trust or belief. They had to live that trust out and believe that God would in some way provide for their daily bread.
In the desert their faith was given to them. When they entered the land, they had to live their faith. They had to entrust themselves to God even when it did not make sense. This is what Fox meant by Experimentally. He listened to the voice of God that he sensed in his life, and when he entrusted everything in obedience to the Word, he observed that through the times of plenty and famine God still provided. The people that followed Jesus after eating their fill did not want to entrust their lives to God. They did not want to have to do anything themselves. They wanted it done for them.
There is a fine line between signs and faith. Between looking for a reason to believe, and just looking for our personal needs to be met. I struggle with this as much as anyone else. I want to fully believe and I hesitate because I have needs. I have a folder on my computer that has documents about the dreams that I have had as to the future of the ministry of Friends in this community. I have not fully expressed those dreams in public and I wonder why.
Friends have historically been very active at the beginnings of many great reforms in culture since our inception. But that comes with a cost. We love to speak about the work of Levi Coffin and the underground railroad, but we do not like to mention that his Meeting threw him out when he first began to push them to reform. We like to mention that we have always been supportive of equality for all people but in the year 2021 we still have inequality language in our faith and practice. Thankfully we are in the process of revising that. We like to think we are doing great things, but are we? Are we willing to entrust our lives to God like Fox, and others? Are we willing to walk in obediently? We like those people of Israel like things done for us, that is why we often have the polarizing political cycles in our nation. We want things and we think this or that person will give us what we need. That is not the faith God wants us to have. We are not supposed to live enslaved to the whims of mankind, but we are to entrust our lives to the King of kings and Lord of Lords. And we know that we can do this because he did give us a sign: he went to the cross, carrying our shame with him and died on that tree. He was buried in the ground enduring separation from life in death. And he came out of that grave restored to life on the third day and now sits at the right hand of God in paradise. We have the signs recorded in scripture. We also have them experimentally in the lives of those around us. Each of us can testify to God’s goodness, and grace even through the struggles we endure in life. We will all struggle, we will all wonder where our daily bread will come from at some point. Maybe within our business, or maybe in our personal life. But are we willing to entrust what we have to God and for his glory? Are we willing to believe in him whom he has sent? Will we seek more signs or live by faith?
If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online: