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What Smokey Says to Churches

What’s the worst thing about church?  Ask ten people that question and the chances are most of them will say something about hypocrisy.  Too many church people robe themselves in the look and sound of Christian-eze, while on the inside they struggle like all the rest of us.  Sound familiar?  

If so, you may be intrigued to know how Jesus taught his boys to act when they began to attract great adoring crowds of followers.  He did not tell them how to greet people with spiritual sounding phrases.  He did not tell them to raise their hands during the praise choruses, or to look pious during prayer time.  He taught them to watch out for trying to act all holier than thou just because they were His disciples.  

In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.  (Luke 12:1-3)

Boys, He said in effect, it’s so easy to put on airs when you see how many people have showed up, to start acting like you are better.  Watch out!  Be real.  Don’t be hypocrites!

Of course, in our day, the same caution applies to the folks who show up at church, not just to the leaders.  There is an awful lot of pretending that goes on in the lobby.  Words and expressions that don’t match what we really think and feel.  True, that stuff frequently goes on in many other places – not just at church.  But Jesus knew hypocrisy is cancer in a church.  Because, if people feel judged, they will never get to know the One Who did not come to judge them but to save them.

And the way to fix it begins with you.  Like what Smokey the Bear says: “Only you can prevent…”

Finished

It’s no fun stepping on a nail.  It was just a small nail, but it hurt like crazy.  The pain of the Crucifixion must have been unimaginably horrible.  No wonder so much has been written and sung about the agony Jesus endured on the cross.  And yet, consider this surprising thing He said as He waited for that terrible day to come:

I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!   (Luke 12:50)

Jesus was not looking forward to being crucified.  His prayers in Gethsemane bear witness to how awful He knew His next day would be.  But the distress He felt as He waited was the distress of yearning for His work on the cross to be accomplished.  Because it was not until the price for sin was fully paid that God’s Spirit could be given to people like me, by God’s love, grace and perfect justice.  And without that life-giving Spirit, we all were doomed.  When Jesus looked around, everyone He saw was headed for Hell.  It distressed Him; He could hardly wait until He made eternal life possible for everyone who would receive Him by faith.

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins.”  (John 8:24)

“…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  (John 10:10b)

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.”  (John 6:63a)

Even though He knew how badly it would hurt to make God’s Spirit available, He loved me more.  And you, too.

That’s why, with His last breath, 

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  (John 19:30)

Sort of finished.  His part was finished.  But it’s not completely finished until you accept it.

A Tribute

“Grab ’em by the throat, slam them up against the wall, and hang on until you are done.”  That was the advice of the greatest professor of preaching this world has seen in recent years.  Haddon Robinson, who died yesterday, left his indelible mark on countless congregations by carefully and passionately equipping preachers.  I am one of those in his debt.  He used to say, “It is a sin to be bore people in the pulpit because it gives the idea that God is boring.  And God is not boring!”  

Haddon Robinson insisted preachers speak from the heart, after deep and careful study of the Word, without notes.  In class, even marking your bible was cause for a failing grade.  Which is why I was so surprised to see a page of notes in his bible just before he rose to preach.  It was at Gordon Conwell Seminary, at an event to honor him and to name their school of preaching for him.  But when he placed the bible on the pulpit, a sudden puff of air blew those notes off his bible and wafted it away, to fall in the first row.  He shrugged his shoulders and then proceeded to deliver one of the most powerful sermons I’ve ever heard – with no notes.  I mentioned it to him a couple of years later and he laughed and said, “There is a God…”

He wass right about that; there is a God, and Haddon knew Him well.  Countless others will come to know Him well too, as a consequence of his instruction.  Well done, Haddon.  You have served Him well.  

Ruins are Ruined

These are the ruins of the synagogue that was built in Capernaum sometime three or four hundred years after the time of Jesus. It was the most magnificent building in town.  Rightly so, because it was the place where people came to try to draw close to God.  The idea was that the greater and more magnificent the building, the closer one could get to God.  That concept is still practiced today.  That synagogue  was probably built on the original foundation of an earlier synagogue that had fallen down, likely the one in which Jesus spoke the following words:

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.”  (John 6:51)

This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”.  Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.  ​(John 6:58 — 59)

The bread he was referring to was Himself.  When you visit the synagogue you stand among dilapidated ruins.  You also can visit enormous, ornate, modern houses of worship and sometimes be standing among ruins.  Ruins, because in some of those places it is very tough to draw close to God in a lasting and meaningful way.  But when you come to Jesus by faith, you are filled with God’s presence in a continuing way, with His Fresh Bread of Life.

The Opportunity in Failure

If God knew His plan couldn’t work, why did He bother?  He chose Israel as a demonstration of how wonderful it is when people live in close fellowship with God, enjoying His protection, provision and guidance.  He gave them every advantage – a land “flowing with milk and honey,” success in battle, and a written book of instructions.  All they had to do was stay faithful to Him as their God.  But even with all of God’s special protection and instruction the people of Israel couldn’t pull it off.  They ignorned repeated warnings, ruined everything and were hauled off into exile.  And God knew it in advance.  Before they were even settled in the Promised Land,

The Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them.  (Deuteronomy 31:16)
So why do it if He knew it would fail?  God knew humans would never accept His help until they had utterly failed so often they were ready to give up on trying to help themselves.  

People have not changed.  Perhaps, no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to find satisfaction.  There’s always something that “ain’t right.”  There’s a restless emptiness inside.  If so,  it’s time to quit trying.  Facing  your failure brings a perfect opportunity to surrender and receive what really does work – God’s perfect plan.  There’s a reason they call it “salvation.”  God’s plan succeeds because He installs His Holy Spirit in our souls, to comfort us, guide us and empower us.  His Spirit is what has been missing.  

Those who stop trying, who humbly accept Jesus’ offer of help, receive His Spirit and cross over into a new and satisfying kind of full life.  Jesus described the difference as a spring of cool, fresh water.  He said,

“… whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  (John 4:14)

Change?

You know the joke: How many Christians does it take to change a lightbulb?  Answer: Change?

For a variety of reasons, change is coming to Fresh Bread of Life.  Instead of continuing the Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule, I’ll be posting from time to time with no set schedule.  I’ve got some camping to do and have discovered it is tough to get WiFi in the woods.   Your readership has been a great blessing and encouragement.  Over the last 4 years, you and others from 80 countries have read this blog over 40,000 times.  I’m grateful for your interest and occasional comments.

If you would like to be notified by email when the new posts are up, simply subscribe below.  Of course, you can still explore the 600 or so posts by theme or simply by scrolling.  Also, the audio sermons on John are still available for streaming or download.  Look under the Menu tab for those.

Happy Trails, and God bless you a bunch!