IS YOUR GOD HOMELESS?

“My house remains a ruin” (Haggai 1:9)Screen shot 2013-03-05 at 9.23.08 PM

After the children of Israel returned to their homeland from Babylonian captivity, they faced stiff opposition from their neighbors and decided not to continue re-building the temple of God (read about it in Ezra chapter 4).  It was easier for them to build beautiful houses for their families. Their religious neighbors would not give them a hard time for taking care of their families just as long as they didn’t promote the house of God. It’s not that Israel determined to permanently ignore God’s honor and place, It’s just that re-building the temple was very controversial. A lot of folks were opposed to it. Conventional wisdom said it would be better to not be too public about their faith until things cooled down. God would just have to wait. He would be homeless for now.

In 520 BC it fell to the prophet Haggai to call upon the people to get their priorities straight. Through the prophet God asked: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” (Haggai 1:4).

In actuality, they were hurting themselves by neglecting their God. They worked from sun up to sun down but had very little to show for all their hard work. God was not blessing them; He would not bless them as long as there was no place for God to dwell. He said: “You have planted much but have harvested little. You eat but never have enough.  You drink but never have your fill.  You put on clothes but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it” (Haggai 1:5-6).

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Life can be unfulfilled and frustrating when other things take first place while God is forced to take last place, or to have no dwelling place at all.

Today there are many opportunities to make life easy for ourselves and our families.  As Americans we have the freedom and resources to meet our needs and more than our needs. Materialism rules the day. Greed, ambition, selfishness, finery, convenience, entertainment, eating out and credit cards have become the priority  for many Christians. We are doing pretty well for ourselves, aren’t we? Most of us have comfortable houses. But what about God’s house? Does not the scripture tell us the church is the “temple of God,” that God’s Spirit lives in us (1 Corinthians 3:16)? If the church is the household of God, “the pillar and foundation of the truth,” is there anything in all the world more sacred, more important, more worthy of our affection, more deserving of our personal sacrifice (1 Timothy 3:15)? Is the work of the kingdom on the “front burner” of our concerns? Or, have we been overwhelmed by the materialistic focus and by our actions, paid only lip service to a homeless God?

The Lord said to His people: “Give careful thought to your ways” (Haggai 1:7). “Careful thought” is not the same as a “passing thought”. Passing thoughts lead to momentary regrets of spiritual negligence. What God demands is deliberate, reflective, personal consideration about His place in our lives! He wants us to really think about things. There are changes we need to make. There are adjustments in our priorities we need to make. What God expects is nothing short of putting Him first in our lives.  He said, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). He wants the kingdom to be “within” us (Luke 17:21) — individually and collectively. He wants to make His home in our hearts (Ephesians 3:17). He wants to live “with” us and “in” us (John 14:18), to make His “home” with all who love and obey Him (John 14:23). He expects us to make sacrifices (financially and otherwise) to advance the cause of God in our neighborhoods, our nation and throughout the world.  He will not settle for superficial religiosity. He wants us to bring Him the honor He deserves.  Anything less than this will result in hurting ourselves as we invest time. energy and money in purses with holes. God is not content to be a homeless Savior.

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Posted in God, God's House, Haggai, Purses With Holes, Putting God First, Sacrifice, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

HOW DO WE COPE WITH BAD ‘NEWS’?

Screen shot 2013-02-27 at 12.46.46 PMEvery morning the radio wakes us up to the latest News –– international news, national news, local news. Whether it is ABC, CBS, Fox News or NBC, most of the News is bad.  Innocent people have been shot; earthquakes have claimed many victims; parents have been arrested for abusing their children; the economy of another European nation has collapsed; teenagers have died in an alcohol-related head-on collision; a celebrity has been charged with murdering his spouse; children have died of drug overdoses. On and on it goes with one tragic story after another!  To be honest, I am becoming increasingly frustrated by the affairs on earth; it cannot be good for human beings to wake up to such depressing stories day after day! By the time the News is over I am “down in the dumps.”

It occurred to me that Habakkuk endured a lot of bad news in his day.  Perhaps you have not read of this seventh century BC prophet of God who wrote one of the shorter books in the Old Testament. The book bears his name. Habakkuk struggled with the realization that he lived in a world of crime, physical and mental abuse, addiction, promiscuity, bloodshed, stealing, escalating hostilities on an international scale, deadly diseases and universal injustice. His short book sounds very much like the News on today’s radio or the evening News on television.  Habakkuk just could not reconcile how God could be loving and the whole world filled with evil. He decided he did not like the way God was running things; he went to God to complain.

“How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but You do not listen? Or cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ but You do not save? Why do You make me look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2-4).

He complained about the miseries of life that weighed so heavily upon him. The eternal and all-powerful God could not possibly be uninformed about what is happening on earth! Surely God could see the heart-aches!  But why would He let it go on and on? Habakkuk wanted to know: “Why do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are You silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves” (Habakkuk 1:13)?

God’s response to Habakkuk’s pitiful cry was to tell him that God was still active in the world, that He was going to do something that even the prophet himself would not believe (Habakkuk 1:5), something so startling and surprising that (as we say today) “you wouldn’t read about it in a book!” God had a plan. He was getting ready to raise up the Babylonian nation to punish wicked men of other nations for their terrible and cruel behavior toward their fellowman. Then, He was going to deal with Babylon for its cruelty and sins, as well. God knew about the bad news on the local level, the national level and the international level, and he was about to make sure that evil people did not get away with evil. In contrast to powerless and impotent gods (idols which though covered with gold and silver have no breath and cannot speak) the Lord God is very concerned about what’s happening, has the power to do something about it and is about to act!

Even though Habakkuk was unable to see all the providencial workings of the Eternal God; even though he could not see solutions to the problems, or how justice would eventually prevail on the earth, he trusted that God was powerful enough and concerned enough to guarantee that right would prevail in the end. His faith in the love of God would bring him through one more day. He would rise above despair because he believed in the God who had the answers.

images-1The ancient prophet could be encouraged about his future. No matter how bad things might get before they got better (the Babylonians were still coming and there were hardships yet to be faced!) he knew he was on the Lord’s side and the Lord’s side is the winning side! The Lord had assured Habakkuk that “the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). No matter what, the Lord was still on His throne, His good will would be accomplished. He wrote: “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him” (Habakkuk 2:20). When a person knows the Lord in his heart, believes in His power, trusts in His care and leans upon His strength he can  have peace in his heart regardless of the tragic circumstances that surround him. Faith will chase away his fears! By faith he can stand upon the promises of God one day at a time.

By the time Habakkuk had finished his book, he had decided he did not need to complain about how God was running things; he would rest in the peace of God’s loving and providencial care:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.  The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

May we do the same when we wake up to the bad News tomorrow morning!

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Posted in Contentment, Depression, Despair, Faith, Frustration, God's Providence, Habakkuk, Hope, Patience, Peace, Sadness, The Holy Bible | Tagged | 2 Comments

MOTIVATION FOR GOING TO CHURCH

People usually go to worship because they want to, and by the same token, people usually avoid going to church because they choose not to go. Apparently more people are deciding not to go to Sunday worship services today.  At the same time, churches are encouraging people to come. So, why the disconnect between what churches want to accomplish and what many people are willing to participate in? A number of answers to this question are being offered by well-intentioned church leaders.

There are some who say the basic mission of the church is to attract new members, to “grow.” One preacher recently wrote that we are living in a “left-brained” generation, where people are looking for an emotional experience in religion. According to this idea, people are no longer interested in sermons that carefully exegete and expound upon  the Biblical text. “Everyone is sick of people arguing about who is right,” he says. A case in point: the preacher for a mega church in Houston no longer preaches on sin. The thousands who throng to his church prefer emotional excitement with lots of music and motivational sermons that avoid “guilt trips” about sin. They want to “feel good” about being there.

In another Bible-belt city a preacher gives the following formula for growing a church today:

1. Use video throughout, especially videos with instrumental music in the background. (“Its the least that we can do to be culturally relevant,” he says.)

2. Use a three projectors screen set up.  (“If you really want to create an experience, then add additional screens on the sides.”)

3. Dim the lights in the audience and brighten the stage. (“This creates the experience atmosphere.”)

4. Use testimonials

5. Make preaching biblical, culturally relevant and applicable. (“People are not going to be wowed by our exegesis,” he writes. “They will be wowed by a person who can tell them how to live this biblical truth out in their daily lives at work, in their homes, with their family.”)

6. Use “pre-worship” music and “post-worship” music.

7. Engage the body, mind, and heart in worship. (“Be joyful. Clap. Shout for joy. Have a praise team…and give people permission to really engage their whole being in worship for God.”)

8. Emphasize community, by “sharing stories of God’s work amongst his people and by displaying Twitter feeds with a church’s hashtag.”

When asked “whatever happened to biblical preaching” that identifies the nature of God’s church, convicts of sin and calls sinners to repentance?” the answer many are ready to give is, “People are not interested in doctrinal preaching today.” Preaching doctrine requires listeners to listen, to evaluate, to make judgment calls, to recognize false teaching and to expose the darkness of the world by the light of the gospel.

I, for one, am not ready to abandon the biblical mission of the church of Christ for the sake of “church growth.”  If the Bible is right, the primary work of the church is not to make people “feel good” or have a “religious experience,” or even to “draw a crowd” but to uphold the truths of God’s word.  In spite of what some people believe, God’s church is still the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). What is needed today is not dumbing-down the preaching of great Bible doctrines, but stepping up to the plate to “proclaim the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). What we need is not less Bible knowledge, but more.  What sinners need is not a “feel good experience” but  conviction of sin, a call to repentance and an urgent plea to obey the gospel of Christ. If the ancient people of God were destroyed “from lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6) why is it any different today?

The truth of the matter is that many people are not looking for churches that put their beliefs and convictions on the “back burner,” or remove doctrinal messages from the pulpit and restrict them to the Sunday School hour. They are looking for churches which courageously and clearly define themselves by what they preach, how they worship to God, and what they expect of their members seven days a week.

The Gallup Organization discovered the following 13 top reasons why unchurched people chose a church,:

1. 90% – Pastor/Preaching

2. 88% – Doctrines

3. 49% – Friendliness of Members

4. 42% – Other Issues

5. 41% – Someone at Church Witnessed to Me

6. 38% – Family Member

7. 37% – Sensed God’s Presence/Atmosphere of Church

8. 25%  – Relationship Other than Family Member

9. 25% – Sunday School Class

10. 25% – Children’s/Youth Ministry

11. 12% – Other Groups/Ministries

12. 11% – Worship Style/Music

13. 7% – Location

http://churchrelevance.com/qa-to-reasons-for-church-attendance/

Research conducted by Thom Ranier.

The Gallup Poll showed that preaching and doctrine are the most significant factors leading to church growth. People are still interested in solid, decisive Bible preaching!

In the long run, what really matters is not how many people are attracted to a church, but whether that church is faithfully proclaming the full-gospel of Jesus Christ. If you are shopping around for a church, look for one that lovingly and courageously teaches what the Bible teaches without addition or subtraction. Look for one which honors the Bible as God’s final message for mankind, and respects a “this is what the Lord says.”   Look for one whose members are loving and humble, who live what they profess. Look for one whose minister is “a good minister of Jesus Christ, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching” you read about in your very own Bible (1 Timothy 4:6). Look for one which challenges you to see sin for what it really is, calls you to change the way you live and points you to loving faith-obedience response to Jesus Christ who gave His life so you could be forgiven of your sins and go to heaven in the end.

The New Milford, Connecticut Church of Christ is a church just like that!

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WAKE UP! WAKE UP, YOU SLEEPY-HEAD!

In the middle of winter most of us look forward to the arrival of Spring and the return of the robins. Harry M. Woods penned the words of his famous song, “When the Red, Red Robin” in 1926. It was an instant hit. It became the signature song for singer and actress Lillian Roth; it was recorded by Doris Day, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby. It is still being sung today. It was the song that inspired the original owner of the Red Robin Restaurant chain.

When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along, along

There’ll be no more sobbin’ when he starts throbbin’ his old sweet song

“Wake up, Wake up, you sleepy-head,

Get up, get out of bed

Cheer up, cheer up the sun is red;

Live, love, laugh and be happy.”

The words remind us that the long, dark days of winter are followed by the bright, clear and cheerful days of Spring.

images-3 The Scriptures speak of waking up from a life of spiritual darkness and sleepiness, stupor, fuzzy-headedness and sadness brought on by sin. In Romans 13:11-14 we read:

“The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (New International Version, 1983).

Three types of sin are particularly on the mind of the apostle Paul as he discusses the darkness and sleepiness of sin:

1. Sins of Drinking and Partying  (“Not in orgies and drunkenness”).  Much shame and embarassment often follow over-indulgence in alcohol. Wild parties may be the accepted thing in some circles but for Christians self-control and sobriety are the standards of decency. We need to keep our heads clear at all times so we can make careful decisions about matters of right and wrong. We need to be in control of our faculties to make those decisions. When one is drunk he cannot make good choices, he cannot guard his tongue, he loses control of his inhibitions.  One who has had too much to drink cannot be a godly person. One who joins in the atmosphere of loud music and ungodly conversations that lead to lust and immorality cannot be a godly person. That is why the Bible puts drunknness and orgies among those sins which will prevent one from entering the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:20).

2. Sins of Illicit Sex  (“Not in sexual immorality and debauchery”). The world around us is gender-confused, marriages are wrecked by adultery; couples co-habit in casual sex without commitment of matrimony. Well known university campuses, such as Yale, Harvard, Brown, Duke and Northwestern (among others) celebrate “Sex Week” and offer courses on pornography, promiscuity and sleaze –– all in the name of “academic freedom”.  We need to “wake up! ” to remember that God’s plan for sexual intimacy is between a man and a woman within the bounds of marriage. Outside those bonds, sexual relationships are sinful. Let us recall the warning of 1 Corinthians 5:11––6:20: “Now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater, or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler….Flee from sexual immorality….Do you  not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

3.  Sins of Disrupted Relationships  (“Not in dissension and jealousy”) God’s will is that we live in peace with others. Peace in our families; peace in the church; peace on the job; peace in the neighborhood. Attitudes of anger, a lack of forgiveness, self-centeredness and pride will show up in hostility, bitter words and broken relationships. We are especially vulnerable to sinful behavior when we are angry. That is why the Scripture tells us: “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27).  Anger is like a retractable knife: used correctly it can be helpful, but used recklessly it can work all kinds of havoc in a home, a congregation, or society. The best advise is to keep the blade retracted until its purpose is to accomplish something good; then put it back in its sheath as quickly as possible before you or others get hurt by it. The devil is ready to pounce into the heart of anyone who stays mad, who holds grudges and refuses to forgive.

images-4In contrast with these three types of sin which are the “deeds of darkness,” the apostle Paul says: “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).  He speaks of “putting on” the character of Christ as one puts on clothes before leaving for work or school in the morning. How many of us plan ahead to decide what we are going to wear in the morning? If it’s important to dress properly before leaving the house, it is even more important to dress spiritually as well! One initially puts Christ on when he is baptized (immersed) into Christ and receives the forgiveness of all his past sins (Galatians 3:26-27).  On a daily basis, however,  we need to begin each day by putting on Christ in prayer, reading God’s word and re-commiting our lives to Him. And what are some of those characteristics of Jesus Christ we need to wear in order to properly face the world? Love, Kindness, Humility, Service, Forgiveness, Faith in God, and a Desire to say “no” to sinful temptations and “yes” to Obeying what God has commanded.

Herein lies the keys to happiness and the good life. A life that is even better than the life Henry M. Woods sang about : “Cheer up, cheer up, the sun is red; live, love, laugh and be happy.” For the Christian, cheerfulness is knowing that “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11) images-5

Posted in Anger, Debauchery, Deeds of Darkness, Dissension, Drunkenness, Holiness, Illicit Sex, Immorality, Jealousy, Partying, Romans 13:11-14 | Leave a comment

WHAT THE LORD HAS SAID TO THE BROKEN HEARTED

In the sixth century BC God’s people were led into Babylonian captivity after much devastation had come upon them. The losses they suffered were almost unbearable. Freedom had been replaced with slavery; prosperity with impoverishment; family togetherness had been shattered by the deaths of little children. Looking back on the heart-ache of the people the prophet Jeremiah lamented: “This what the Lord says: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15). We do not need to be reminded that whether one child or twenty children are taken from us there is no greater sorrow to bear.  Ask any funeral director; he will tell us the death of a child is the most difficult funeral to prepare for, the hardest to go through, the saddest to endure. Parents in Jeremiah’s day wept with “great weeping.”  Their children were no more.

Hundreds of years later an evil and jealous king decided to massacre innocent children in Bethlehem. King Herod’s decision to put them to death was the face of evil at its ugliest. There was no way to justify what he did; there was no way to excuse his dastardly deeds. He did not act out of mental illness or insanity. His was a cold-blooded calculated murder. His decision was based on lust for power. How many little ones in Bethlehem and its vicinity died we may never know, but without a doubt parents, grandparents and friends refused to be comforted because all boy children two years of age and under had been murdered by the king’s sword.  Matthew thought about the passage in Jeremiah and deemed it appropriate to apply it to the awful tragedy of his day:  “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Matthew 2:18).

Now we grieve over the killing of innocent first-graders in Newtown, Connecticut. Our spirits are in shock that such a tragedy could happen; our hearts are broken; our eyes are red with weeping. The sorrow extends beyond one community and one state –– it is felt all over the nation, indeed all across the globe. One does not need to know someone personally who lost a child to feel the pain of what has happened; we pray for those we have never met. Our nightly rest is disrupted by the horrors described by those in the midst of grief. It will be a long time until we come to terms with this terrible tragedy.

What we need is a word from the Lord. He is the Almighty God whose wisdom understands what we cannot fathom and whose power is able to sustain us. It would help us to read Jeremiah 31:15 in its context and to learn three timeless lessons.

GOD WILL LOVE US.  The ancient Israelites needed to know that in spite of all their troubles and heart-aches, there is a God in heaven who knew what they are going through and loved them deeply. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness” (Jeremiah 31:2). Although we live in a very imperfect world where the power of evil is present at every turn, there is nothing hidden from the eyes of God. Evil men will go from bad to worse, but the sustaining power of God’s love is constant and true. We are not beyond His love. In the words of the poet, Frank Graeff: “Does Jesus care when my heart is pained too deeply for mirth and song? As the burdens press, and the cares distress, and the way grows weary and long?  O yes, He cares; I know He cares, His heart is touched with my grief; When the days are weary, the long-nights dreary, I know my Savior cares.”

GOD WILL PROVIDE FOR US.  As the returning captives made their way back to their homeland in Palestine God promised to lead them “beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble” (Jeremiah 31:9). We, too, can draw strength from the daily providence of God who takes care of us.  God does not always see fit to preserve us from tragedy, but He always sees fit to comfort His people as we walk the road less travelled, along paths we have not walked before.

GOD WILL REWARD US. Listen to these encouraging words from God:  “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow….’Your work will be rewarded,’ declares the Lord….’So there is hope for your future’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:13-17). When we must lose our innocent children, God has promised to reward the work we have done, even if we only had a few years with them. Little children pass from this life to the presence of God. He welcomes them into His everlasting kingdom. Jesus said: “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). They are safe there.  No one will harm them by day or by night (there is no night there!). They will forever be spared the struggles with sin and evil we must face here on earth. They will never have to know the heart-aches that hurt us so much. God Himself embraces them and protects them. He will love them for all eternity.

May we seek the life of innocence and purity our little children have shown us, so that when the time comes for us to leave this world, we too will know the never-ending love, peace and holiness of a heavenly reward for our work here on earth. Truly, there is hope for our future.

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John 6:53-54 Is More Than The Eucharist

feeding5000After feeding the 5,000 with loaves and fishes Jesus delivered one of His most pointed and powerful sermons on “the food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27). It is in this sermon that Jesus stated: “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in you.  Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:53-54). Could there be a statement more important than this? It separates those who have eternal life from those who do not; it divides the saved from the lost.  Unfortunately, many have limited the application of our Lord’s discourse in John chapter six to the celebration of the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper). There is so much more involved! Let’s take a closer look at John 6:53.

NOT A LITERAL EATING AND DRINKING

Some of the argumentative religious leaders (“the Jews”) thought Jesus was suggesting Christian cannabilism (verse 52). They came away with the wrong idea. He did not offer His literal flesh to those who heard Him that day. What Jesus was talking about was much more profound; it had a deeper meaning.

There is a parallel passage to John 6:54 (“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day”) in John 6:40: “Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Both verses speak of gaining eternal life; both focus on Jesus raising us up at the last day. One verse speaks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood; the other of looking to the Son and believing in Him.  These phrases are parallel because the subject is the same. “Eating” Christ’s flesh and “drinking” His blood is accomplished by “looking to the Son” and “believing in HIm.” It is a spiritual “eating” to which Jesus refers.

NOT A LITERAL FLESH AND BLOOD

i_am_the_bread_of_life1Earlier in this very same discourse, Jesus said: “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35).  In contrast with literal food which brings no lasting satisfaction, one who eats of the Bread of life will never go hungry again; he will never be thirsty again (John 6:35). Spiritually, one who eats of his Bread “will not die,” but will “live forever” (John 6:50, 58). Jesus is the “living Bread” (John 6:51). He is not speaking of literal bread. His words will make the difference in where we spend eternity. His words are “spirit and they are life” (John 6:63).  The disciples of Jesus must allow Him to come into their hearts by listening to His teachings, receiving His words and obeying His commands. In the words of Simon Peter, “Lord … you have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Everyone is invited to this spiritual banquet. Everyone is invited to let Jesus come into his heart, to receive Him and His words, to commit his life to doing His will.  This is the food we must eat, the commitment we must make, if we would receive eternal life. No mediocre, half-hearted relationship with Jesus will do!

NO TRANSUBSTANTIATION

The Roman Catholic doctrine of “transubstantiation” took many centuries to develop.  According to Wikipedia, “The earliest known use of the term “transubstantiation” to describe the change from bread and wine to body and blood of Christ was by Hildebert de LavardinArchbishop of Tours (died 1133), in about 1079. (Sermones xciii; PL CLXXI, 776).”

Regardless of the controversial development of the man-made doctrine of transubstantiation, we need to recognize that in John 6:53-54 Jesus is not discussing the subject of Communion. The “eating,” the “bread” and “blood” in this passage are spiritual, not physical.

Early Christians did not believe something magical or mystical happened to the bread and wine of Communion when it was blessed in prayer. They bought into no superstition that if one spilled the wine, drops of the blood of Christ hit the floor. (Church leaders in the 14th century were so concerned about this possibility that they enacted a decree which forbade common people from taking the Communion wine.) They created no ecclesiastical rules for how to mash or chew the bread as if they were actually eating His real flesh.  To the early Christians the Lord’s Supper was a memorial feast, symbolizing the crucified body and blood of the One who died for their sins.

Just as we understand that when Jesus said: “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7), or “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11) or “I am the vine” (John 15:5) He did not mean that He was literally a gate or a shepherd or a vine, but that each of these represented the spiritual role of Christ in our salvation, so when He said: “This is my body” (Matthew 26:26) He meant that this feast represents His body and blood.  We are absolutely without Biblical justification for thinking the bread and wine literally change its substance into the physical flesh and blood of Christ.

As we partake of the Lord’s Supper each and every Sunday our minds need to go back to the cross where the Lamb of God shed His blood for our salvation. We need to remember His agony, His words of sweet forgiveness, His atonement to make sinners right with God. Each time we partake of Communion, we “proclaim the Lord’s death” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The Lord’s Supper symbolizes the most important day in human history. We partake “in memory” of Him who loved us so much (1 Corinthians 11:24), but the bread and wine remain bread and wine.

THE CONTEXT: ITS ALL ABOUT PRIORITIES

HomeWhat then, is the primary lesson to be learned from John chapter six? Surely it is that our Lord expects us to be committed to Him without reservation and with no strings attached.  The only religion that matters is one in which Jesus comes first. His words bring life which is life indeed. His words make the difference where each of us spends eternity. His words endure to eternal life. As a physical body depends on proper nourishment for health and survival, so our spiritual selves depend on taking Christ into our hearts for life which is life indeed. Nothing short of whole hearted surrender to Him will do. He deserves to determine our leisure, our family priorities, our goals, our ambitions. In the words of the poet: “Higher than the highest mountain, deeper than the deepest sea, Lord at last Thy love has conquered, “None of self and all of Thee!”

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A SHOCKING THING HAS HAPPENED (AGAIN)

When something takes us by surprise we describe our reaction as being “shocked.” Our whole body is affected when we are “shocked”: our eyes open wider, our jaw drops, our muscles tighten. Things that shock us are etched on our brains and remembered for a long time. Some of life’s most important lessons come as a result of being “shocked” by things that happen around us. Such was the case with Jeremiah, the seventh century prophet whose very famous book with timeless lessons occupies a major portion of the Old Testament.  Listen to his words:

“A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way” (Jeremiah 5:20-21).

LYING PROPHETS

Jeremiah as depicted by Michelangelo from the Sistine Chapel ceiling

Prophets were supposed to speak for God. They claimed to do so. They said their messages were inspired –– that they came from the very mouth of the Lord. People ought to be able to trust the prophets to tell them the truth; they should be able to look to the prophets to guide them. But if the prophets misstated the facts, if they taught things that God did not tell them to say, if they had their own agenda and for reasons of power and money cared more about protecting their positions than they cared about teaching the word of God accurately, they would mislead the people. That was what had happened.  Jeremiah said the prophets of his day “prophesy lies.” Deceptive religious leaders should still shock us. We cannot afford to be naive about such matters. The more we learn from Scripture the more disturbing it is to realize that not everyone who claims to represent God is telling the truth. Is it any wonder that the apostle John warned us: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Do yourself a favor and compare every spiritual message you hear with what you read in the word of God.  Unfortunately, there are false prophets today with agendas of their own.

PRESUMPTUOUS PRIESTS

Ancient priests were regarded as holy mediators of worship and teachers of the law. They were more numerous than prophets, more visible, more easily recognized by priestly garments, more in touch with the common people. While not everyone could say: “I know a prophet,” everyone knew the local priests. The priests stood between the people and their God; offered the worship, the incense and prayers on behalf of the people. They had an awesome responsibility! People had high regard for their priests and naturally entrusted their souls to their spiritual guidance. It would be alarming to discover that those who were supposed to be faithful to the Lord, to lead worship the way the Lord wanted it to be led, to teach the commandments of God without adding or taking away from them, were abandoning their sacred duty. Even now it is shocking to see those regarded as holy men of God ignoring the plain teachings of scripture, opting instead to “rule by their own authority.”  When sincere seekers for truth approach such leaders with questions concerning right and wrong, sin and holiness, they are sometimes met with ridicule or rebuke for even raising the questions!  Is it possible that some leaders don’t want their words or practices to be questioned?  It ought to shock us that anyone who stands between the people and God would do anything other than faithfully declare “this is what God says in His holy word,” then back that up with a “book, chapter and verse” of Scripture.

MISGUIDED PEOPLE

Jeremiah was absolutely baffled that the people would choose to be led by lying prophets and presumptuous priests. He was shocked to see that the “people loved to have it this way.”  The people loved freedom from God’s restrictions. They loved to worship in their own way, to believe what made them feel good. Why would people want a religion that was based on deception? Did they not understand that only by staying close to the Lord, walking in His paths and being obedient to His directions could they prepare for what was coming?

THE ULTIMATE QUESTION

Jeremiah asked: “But what will you do in the end?”  To ask such a question implies that each hearer, each follower, each individual person is responsible for the destiny of his own soul. It’s a question each of us needs to ask ourselves.  When we stand before the Lord for the final judgment we will stand on our own two feet. In the words of the apostle Paul, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). How do you stand with God today? How will you stand before God at the judgment? Where will you spend eternity?

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