Monthly Archives: January 2012

Faith or Provision

“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. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which to Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal'” (John 6:26-27, ESV).

This passage begins the “bread of life” discourse in John 6. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus had performed one of only two miracles that are reported in all four Gospels (His resurrection being the other one). He fed a crowd of 5000 men, plus women and children, with only five loaves (probably more like biscuits) and two small fish; despite the small amount of food, His disciples still gathered 12 baskets full of leftovers. The crowd followed Him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus would give a discourse relating His miraculous multiplication of a meal with His Father’s miraculous provision of manna to the Israelites who had crossed the Red Sea. He would identify Himself as the Bread of Life. By the end of the discourse, instead of gaining more disciples, Jesus would see many of His followers turn away.

This discourse is a hard lesson to swallow, because there is a lot to chew on. The lesson starts easily enough. If Jesus had been into numbers, like many ministries today, He would probably have ended the message quickly. Things start well.

I have preached several sermons on John 6 over the years. It is a great passage to return to. Here, I would like to focus on verses 26 and 27. Here, Jesus commends His listeners for getting off to a good start on the journey of faith.

“You are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Jesus often criticized His hearers for seeking signs. Twice in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah” (Matt. 16:4; see also Matt. 12:39). This crowd had gathered initially because of the signs He performed (John 6:2). However, something else drew them now.

“You ate your fill of the loaves.” Jesus had satisfied a need in their lives. It may have been a minor need. In the past, He had healed people of life-threatening illnesses. Hunger can lead to problems, but the greatest threat at this point was that they might faint on the way to buy food. Nevertheless, Jesus had met a need in their lives. It was not so much that He performed a miracle; He had given them something that they needed. He had proven that He could be their provider.

Yet, Jesus now calls them to something more. He exhorts them, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life.” The physical is good, but it is more important to seek the spiritual bread that He provides.

Far too often, we seek what Jesus can give us. Entire churches focus their preaching and ministry around what God can do for us. Sermons focus on a prosperity gospel or divine healing. People focus on what God can do for them; they treat Him like their galactic bell boy, not their Lord.

Before pointing at “those churches” (the ones that seem only slightly less wild than the snake-handling congregations we read about), we should take a close look at our own hearts. Much of what passes for Christianity today is little more than a “what have you done for me lately” theology. In the book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, authors Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, summarized an emerging worldview among American youths which they defined as moralistic therapeutic deism (MTD). Central to this worldview are the following ideas (I have copied this summary directly from the Wikipedia article about this topic):

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

While the authors describe this as a worldview that is very popular among today’s teenagers, it very accurately reflects the views of many American adults as well, including people who claim to be religious or spiritual. I hate to say it, but I occasionally even speak to professed born-again Christians who speak the language of MTD. It grows out of the ideologies of other recent generations: “If it feels good, do it” (as long as you don’t hurt anybody in the process); “follow your heart”; and so on.

Essentially, many Christians have chosen to follow Jesus for whatever benefit they can coax out of Him. Do you suffer from depression? Jesus will heal you. Is alcoholism destroying your life? Jesus is the Perfect Higher Power for your Twelve Step program of recovery. Is your marriage falling apart? Perhaps you and your spouse should come to church. These are all great blessings, and I have more respect for the Christian who is seeking such emotional and spiritual blessings from God than those who are naming and claiming a new car. But, they have stopped short of genuine faith in God. Yes, faith in God offers these emotional blessings. But, it also demands repentance and relationship with Him on His terms. MTD, along with its pseudo-Christian variants, focuses on what the believer wants from God, not what God wants to do in the believer’s life.

Jesus calls His hearers beyond seeking what He can give them in this world, to seeking the life He offers. Later, He says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). He calls us to relationship with Him, a relationship on His terms. Are we willing to follow Him, or use Him?

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Categories: Bible meditations | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Prayer, Fasting, and Spiritual Warfare

And He said to them, ‘Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting'” (Matthew 17:20-21, NASB).

“Our Lord here taught us that a life of faith requires both prayer and fasting. That is, prayer grasps the power of heaven, and fasting loosens the hold on earthly pleasure” [Andrew Murray, January 21 reading in Andrew Murray Devotional (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2006), p. 52].

The Supreme Court of the United States handed down one of its most historic and controversial ruling 39 years ago today in Roe v. Wade. This ruling forced legalized abortion on all 50 states in our country, without regard for the will of voters, a plain reading of the Constitution (see the Tenth Amendment, for example), or the revealed will of God.

While many people think we should just accept “a woman’s right to choose” as a fundamental human right according to the laws of the land, a true Christian cannot do that. Fifty million Americans have been killed in the womb since 1973; when one recognizes that life begins at conception, it becomes obvious that this is a Holocaust that far exceeds anything Adolf Hitler dreamed of. As we have done every year since 1973, hundreds of thousands of people will be in Washington, DC tomorrow for the March for Life, speaking out for those who are killed before they have a voice. I, along with a large contingent from my church, will be there.

Pro-Life, March For Life 2008 US Capitol, US S...

March for Life 2006. Image via Wikipedia

Many Christians from diverse denominations will agree that this is the great social cause of our generation. However, many of them will seek the “easy” way of battling abortion. They will vote for a candidate who claims to be “pro-life” (without actually checking his track record to see if his actions line up with his campaign promises), in hopes that he will become the savior of the preborn. Sadly, this has been a failed effort for nearly 40 years, as supposedly “pro-life” politicians have sold out after their elections, compromised their values, and left us hoping for better luck at the next election cycle.

Scripture tells us that many of our conflicts are actually manifestations of a spiritual battle. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that we are wrestling not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual rulers, powers, world forces of darkness, and spiritual forces of wickedness. As a result, we do not rely on natural weapons of warfare, but spiritual ones, while defended by the whole armor of God (2 Cor. 10:4; Eph. 6:13).

This is especially true when we see our society turning further from its Judeo-Christian heritage to a value system that disregards God, religious faith, and traditional morality. Paul wrote his admonitions in 2 Corinthians and Ephesians to Christians living in a hostile culture. While we have not been fed to lions lately, hostility against Christianity has been skyrocketing in recent years in our society.

The simple fact about abortion is this: We cannot trust the government to overturn Roe v. Wade. While some people may think we are only one or two Supreme Court justices away from overturning that ruling, I believe we need three more pro-life justices. Elected officials have failed us before, and they will continue to do so. Even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, that would simply move the abortion battle back to the states.

Until people’s hearts and minds are changed about abortion, it will remain the law of the land. This is where spiritual warfare comes in. We need to begin with the simple weapons of spiritual warfare: prayer, Scripture, proclamation of biblical truth, etc. (For any pro-choice advocates who are reading this, abortion clinic bombings and other forms of violence are NOT forms of spiritual warfare. One cannot be pro-life if he actively seeks to kill or maim his ideological opponents.)

So, I encourage my friends and fellow laborers in the pro-life movement to saturate their efforts with prayer. I believe God is calling us back to a spiritual emphasis in the battle to defend life, and away from a politically-oriented approach. We have spent nearly 40 years wandering in a wilderness of choice and the culture of death. That time period is significant throughout Scripture, and it may apply to America as well. If we are willing to seek spiritual revival in our nation, we can see the hearts of Americans turned back toward a culture of life. Then, political change will follow spiritual and social transformation.

This is, after all, a spiritual battle. Legalized abortion reigns in this land because we have cast aside God’s values for self-centered goals. We cherish comfort, material goods, and freedom of choice. We value individualism (“be your own man”; “follow your heart”) and have rejected the call to follow Jesus. Sadly, this is true within the Church as well as among those who acknowledge that they do not believe in Christ.

So, we need to pray that people’s hearts will be turned to Christ. We need to ask God to change people’s hearts and minds about human life and dignity. We need to take a stand spiritually against the lying demons who have deceived millions into believing that life begins at birth and not at conception.

As we pray, we should be prepared to fast for spiritual renewal. As Andrew Murray noted, “fasting loosens the hold on earthly pleasure.” Perhaps we have been too committed to the gods of our society that we are unable to have any impact on the resulting abortion holocaust. We are not fully devoted to Christ and His call to advance His Kingdom, because we are too tied to the things of this life.

As we draw to God in prayer and fasting, He will give us strength to do spiritual warfare. He will give us a spirit of perseverance, so that we will not lose heart and give up. He will give us direction, so that we will know how to stand steadfast. Finally, He will turn people’s hearts and minds to Him, that they may acknowledge His will, repent of their self-centered values, and follow His Son.

Categories: Bible meditations, Current events, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Stop Online Censorship

You may notice the “STOP CENSORSHIP” ribbon in the upper-right corner of this blog’s page. I urge all readers to click on that ribbon and take a stand for freedom of expression in America.

Normally, I would reserve more politically-oriented commentary for my other blog, but freedom of expression is important to me. (Actually, take a look at my other blog; I took more drastic action there!) I believe it is important for Christians to speak our minds, and I am grateful to live in a country where we have freedom of speech.

I have half-jokingly referred to the First Amendment as every American’s “right to be wrong” or “right to sound stupid.” In all honesty, though, it is really every American’s right to openly and publicly express ideas which may be radical, controversial, or unpopular. It allows us to oppose the status quo, to speak out when our government and society has gone awry. Whether it be evangelism or social activism, we need freedom of expression to make a better future for those who will come after us.

I urge anyone who reads this to do the following:

  • Go to http://wordpress.org/news/2012/01/help-stop-sopa-pipa/ to learn more about the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, both of which are racing through Congress.
  • Click on the “STOP CENSORSHIP” ribbon on this page and sign the online petition. If you care about your right to speak your mind in this country, let your congressional representatives know.

That ribbon will be on this blog until January 24 and “Mike’s Blog” will be blacked out until then as well. I pray that Congress does not pass drastic legislation which can be abused to shut down websites and rob ordinary people of their voice in society.

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Noah, Obedience, and Hearing the Call

English: Scene from the story aboat Noah, illu...

Image via Wikipedia

Over the last few days, the Book of Common Prayer’s Old Testament readings have focused on the story of Noah. While meditating on this passage, I was challenged to think about its lessons regarding the call of God and obedience.

It is a lengthy, but familiar story. It would not be a wise use of space to copy the entire account here, but readers may want to look up the passage (Genesis, chapters 6 through 9) here. There are many lessons in this passage, but I will list just a few of them here:

God calls us to obedience, even when it does not make sense. Some Bible scholars claim that it had never rained until Noah’s flood. I am not sure about that; this is mainly an “argument from silence” which assumes that all water was coming up as a mist from the ground (i.e., that conditions described in Genesis 2:5-6 lasted until the time of Noah).

To a certain degree, it does not matter whether it had never rained anywhere on Earth, or Noah lived in the desert. God’s call to build the ark seems ridiculous. The idea that God would send such an overwhelming flood that all life would be destroyed seems incomprehensible. To this day, many people (even some who believe the rest of the Bible) do not believe this story. We have a hard time figuring out where all that water went after the flood ended. Noah’s story can sound unbelievable to us. God’s instructions must have sounded even more unbelievable to him!

There will be times when God calls us to do something, and it does not seem to make any sense. We walk by faith, but we cannot see how God will make any sense out of the situation He is calling us into. When you find that God is calling you to do something, do it! You cannot see where He is leading you, but He sees the end from the beginning.

When God calls us to obedience, it is usually not an easy task. Again, Genesis 6 is not totally clear about how long it took Noah to build the ark. Some people think it took 100 to 120 years. It must have taken a long time: Noah and his three sons probably built it with little or no help, and possibly some resistance by their neighbors. And it was a huge boat, the size of some of our modern ocean liners. By the way, they had to cut down the trees themselves too.

I will not even go into the details about how difficult it had to be maintaining one’s sanity, spending almost a year on a boat surrounded by all those animals. The crowding, the smell, and so on must have tempted Noah to go for a swim!

If you can do it on your own, it may not be the call of God. However, we can be encouraged that He does not leave us to our own devices.

  1. He usually calls people to work together. Although Noah was called to build the ark, he did not work alone. Together with his three sons, he preserved a remnant on the Earth. Likewise, when Jesus was planning to ensure the future of His ministry, He called 12 men to be His apostles (Mark 3:13-18).
  2. When God calls you, He invites you first to fellowship. The first task of the disciples was to “be with Him.” Before we serve God or fulfill His calling in our lives, we need to spend time with Him. He wants us to pray, to study His Word, and to learn from Him. This is part of the reason why He calls us to work with others. We need to hear God together and to hold one another accountable. Many of the strangest cult leaders and heretics in church history were men who tried to serve God on their own.
  3. Finally, God equips us for His service. Noah must have obtained supernatural strength, energy, and perseverance to complete the ark. I bet he needed supernatural patience to stay on the ark and keep his family and all those animals with him! Likewise, when Jesus called His disciples, part of His goal was so that they may preach and cast out demons. Obviously, we do not cast out demons in our own strength. Many of us cannot preach relying on our own abilities. We need to receive ability from God (spiritual gifts) to carry out his purposes.

I look forward to a spiritual adventure in 2012. I am not certain what it will entail, but I believe God is going to call me to do greater works than I have in the past. It will not be something I can do on my own. I need to wait until He speaks (through His Word, during seasons of prayer, and through other men and women of God) and then follow Him in obedience.

This is probably true for you as well. Wait in God’s presence, praying and studying His Word. Seek His plan for your life. Listen to Godly men and women of wisdom who may speak His truth into your life. Seek to find the spiritual gifts God has already given you (see Ephesians 4:11-13, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, and Romans 12:6-8 for a few suggestions).

Categories: Bible meditations | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New Blog Site

I am in the process of transitioning to a new format for my blog, which will include a new name, site, design, and emphasis.

Darkened Glass Reflections made its debut this evening, at https://darkenedglassreflections.wordpress.com/. I expect to update this new site more frequently than I have in the past. It will mainly contain brief meditations or reflections growing out of my personal devotions. The first post discusses some thoughts about obedience and accepting the call of God, based on recent readings from the story of Noah.

Some readers may be curious about the blog’s title. It is inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV), which reads “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” God calls us to humble fellowship with Him, through faith in Jesus Christ. Today, we know in part; but we walk by faith knowing that someday we will know Him fully, even as He knows us.

If you currently subscribe to Mike’s Blog, I encourage you to subscribe to Darkened Glass Reflections.

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