At This Point, Do You Walk Away?

In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus miraculously provided food for over five thousand people. Wow! So far, so good. At this point, Jesus is cool and life is good. It’s sort of like today, is it not? Jesus is cool and all is good if He is dishing out blessings, grace, encouragement, and forgiveness.

When Jesus and His disciples departed from the area and crossed the sea, we are told that the next morning many of the people also crossed the sea and sought after Jesus. Again, so far, so good. They are seeking after Christ. Like today, it is good when people are seeking after Him. 

When they found Him, Jesus confronts them with their motives. They were not seeking after Him, but for His blessings. They did not desire Him; rather, they simply wanted their needs met (see vs. 25-27). This is still like today. Many people do not truly desire Jesus, but the luxurious life televangelists promise, or peace of mind of going to heaven, or a healing, or warm fuzzies during a church service.

Beginning in verse 35, Jesus states that He is the bread of life, and He will provide life to those who come to Him. Furthermore, those who believe in Him He will resurrect in the last day. Here, the people began to grumble. Driving home the point of dependence on Him, Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (vs. 53). Ah, this demand and this exclusivity is too much, but Jesus does not budge from His position. We then read:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. ~ John 6:66 

Today, talk about Jesus’ deity and exclusivity; talk about the cross, repentance and renouncing of sin, holy living, and sound theology. Furthermore, take out the lights, the programs, and excitement, and watch the masses turn away. Mind you, this does not necessarily mean people will stop attending church. We are forewarned,

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. ~ 2 Timothy 4:3-4

When the Gospel message begins calling you to turn from sin, to deny yourself, and to surrender unto Christ wholeheartedly, do you continue to follow and pursue Christ or do you, at this point, turn back and no longer walk with Him?

“Liking” Jesus but Not the Church

There is a book entitled, They Like Jesus but Not the Church, (note: I do not endorse the author or the movement he is part of). Certainly the church is not perfect—far from! However, is the author correct? Jesus is not at all concerned with whether people like him or not. We are told in the Gospels:

But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. ~ John 2:24-25 (ESV)

People are fickle. They can like a person one day and betray him the next. Or they can be infatuated for a season only to have the infatuation replaced by the coldness of winter.

What does Jesus say about people’s thoughts about Him and His people? He tells His disciples (men who struggled with ambition, pride, anger, prejudice, fear, etc.),

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. ~ John 15:18

Elsewhere, He explains:

The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. ~ John 7:7

A common complaint is churches are “filled with hypocrites.” As opposed to what? Politics? Hollywood? Realms where people are applauded and idolized—in spite of blatant hypocrisy! Furthermore, while hypocrites exist in many churches, there are also many wonderful, godly, honest, humble, and compassionate persons (but no one wants to give any credit to these). Yet, it is these that are just as much irritants to those who supposedly “like” Jesus. Notice what Jesus said, the world hated Him before it ever hated His people. And why does it hate Him? Because He testifies about it and its evil practices.

The apostle John declares,

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. ~ 1 John 4:19-21

And Jesus says plainly,

If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me…. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. ~ John 14:23-24; 15:12

Jesus’ call has never been to follow His followers. Rather, He bids each of us to pick up our cross and follow Him. For someone to say he “likes Jesus but not the church” is merely a smokescreen concealing rebellion against the very One he claims to “like.”

A Score Is Being Kept

Politics and major businesses are filled with corruption and all kinds of wickedness. So much evil is applauded, justified, and covered up—all for the love of money and power. Nevertheless, the people of God are told:

Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. ~ Psalm 37:1-2 (ESV)

Furthermore, we are told to:

  • Trust in the Lord, and do good (vs.3);
  • Delight in Him (vs. 4);
  • Commit our way to Him (vs. 5);
  • Be still before Him and wait patiently for Him (vs.7).

Although the wicked see themselves  as invincible and untouchable, and they boast, “There is no God” (Ps. 14:1), and “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not see” (Ps. 94:7), the Lord is keeping score. He is keeping track of their lies, bribes, coercion, thefts, extortion, and murders. He is preparing judgment for their persecution of the righteous and silencing the cries of the innocent.

Like pins standing proudly at the end of a lane, God’s wrath is going to charge down:

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. ~ Psalm 1:5-6

Dear ones, the days might become difficult, but let us keep our eyes on the Lord and our faith anchored on Him. Trust in, delight in, commit your way to, be still before, and wait patiently for Him. In the end, God will preserve His own, and the wicked will face the horror of the consequences of their gross rebellion against Him.

Remembering His Cross in Our Pain

Pain is a part of living in a sinful, fallen world, and no one is completely immune. No doubt, some people suffer more than others, but some forms of pain are nearly universal. Who has not felt the wounds of rejection, betrayal, loneliness, and heartache? At some point, anyone who loves will experience the emotional pain of grief. Or who has not felt the pangs of anxiety and fear?

During times of pain it can appear as though our mind and feelings conspire against us, to leave is for dead in despair, but first torturing is with doubts about God’s love, care, and empathy.

I wrote the following song sometime during a severe bout with depression. I have written about this previously, but I felt as though I was in a dark, inescapable pit. I felt like a failure in every sense of the word, and God seemed light years away from me. However, God—in the person of Jesus—experienced much of the pain we feel and questions we ask, while He was rejected, tortured, then killed. 

He Is Still Worthy of Praise

Even when storms rob us of sunshine, And our laughter turns to cries; Even when our nights are the darkest, And there are no stars in our skies…

Bridge:
We look to Christ,
The Holy One who cares;
In brokenness,
We worship Him through tears…

Chorus 1:
(For) He is still worthy of praise;
He is still worthy of honor;
He is still worthy of worship;
He is still worthy of all!

(Repeat)

Even when our minds are afflicted, And questions scream with rage;
And our hearts are so deeply wounded, Feeling forsaken in some cage…

Bridge:
We look to Christ,
And bend our knees in dust.
In spite of pain,
We sing to Him with trust…

(Chorus 1)

Through loneliness and friendlessness, Through deep darkness and through sickness;
Through failure and tears, through raging fears;
Through broken dreams, and angry screams …

Through temptations, and frustrations; Through broken-hearts, and worlds torn apart;
Through death of loved ones, when grief overcomes –
Through all the loss, we remember His Cross!

Even when we face disappointments, When dreams are smashed on rocks, And we watch them sink under waters, As our hearts are crushed on the docks.

Bridge:
We bow our souls,
And cannot even speak.
We want to run,
We want to die,
Yet to our God we cry … and we seek …

(Chorus 1)

Chorus 2:

God You are worthy of praise;
You are still worthy of honor;
You are still worthy of worship;
Jesus, You’re worthy of all!
You are still worthy of praise;
You are still worthy of honor;
You are still worthy of worship;
Jesus, You’re worthy of all!
… Through all the loss, we remember Your Cross …  [1]

Jesus, You’re worthy of praise.

(Words and music by G.P)

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. ~ Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)

__________

[1] Geno Pyse, To Worship Is to Obey: Songs of Worship & Devotion (Rochester: GP&P, 2020), 27-29.

BEWARE of Wolves!

Jesus warns of false prophets who will “come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Externally they will have the appearance of being persons of God, but internally they are enemies of God. Jesus goes on to say, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” That is, we can recognize them by their actions and teachings.

Jesus later warns that in the latter days “many will fall away” [from the faith], and “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matt. 24:10-11). Similarly, the apostle Paul warns, “evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). Paul, Peter, Jude, and John each warn of false teachers.

Again, the people of God are not left defenseless. Jesus tells his disciples, just prior to His crucifixion, that they would receive the “Spirit of truth” and He “will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:17, 26). And He “will guide you into all the truth….He will glorify me” (16:13-14). Note, Jesus declares Himself as the truth, and God’s word is truth (see John 14:6; 17:17).

What’s the big deal? Jesus says,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” ~ Matthew 7:21-23 

It is vital that we understand mere outward appearances and professions of being a “Christian” can be dangerously misleading. Jesus says false prophets/teachers are ravenous wolves disguised as sheep of His pasture. Do not miss the serious implications of Jesus’ warning. He is emphasizing the real nature of false prophets—vicious, strategic, and deadly!

We are living in dangerous times in which many assume a person must be a Christian if they say they are or if something is labeled as “Christian.” Many feel they are “judging” if they question if someone is a Christian; however, there is a vast difference between judging and discerning. In fact, John (one of Jesus’ closest disciples) writes,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. ~ 1 John 4:1

How are we to “test” others? What “fruits” do we watch or listen for to detect false teachers? Well this list is not exhaustive, most false teachings stem from one or more of the following:

  • Empty religion (works and activities void of God’s grace and inner workings)
  • Rejecting the authority and trustworthiness of the Scriptures
  • The condoning of behaviors God condemns (antinomianism)
  • Adding works to grace (legalism)
  • “Prostituting” the Gospel
  • Denying the Person and/or atoning work of Jesus Christ
  • Messages void of the necessity of the Cross
  • Salvation by any means other than Christ alone [1]

In our Western church culture people tend to focus on Jesus’ message of love and grace, but may we not dismiss His and the apostles’ warnings of the ever immenent danger of false prophets and their literally damnable teachings.

__________

[1]  Geno Pyse, BEWARE of False Prophets: Taking Seriously the Warnings of Jesus, the Prophets, & the Apostles (Rochester: GP&P, 2020), 71.

Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles each warn of false prophets and false teachers. In fact, Jesus and the apostles warn that these will go “from bad to worse” prior to Jesus’ return. Furthermore, the apostle Paul says there will be a great falling away (apostasy) from the faith. This book discusses some of the common teachings and/or practices of false teachers, and seeks to help persons to become better equipped to discern between truth and error. Study questions for group or personal study included. (184 pages)

Pain Accompanies Spiritual Growth

“Lord, use me for Your glory!” Have you ever prayed this? If so, this is an invitation for pruning, and pruning hurts. Furthermore, if you are sincere about such a prayer, the Lord will answer your prayer. Strangely, the way we tend to envision the answer is not at all the way it comes.

A. W. Tozer once penned, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” Whenever God uses a man or woman for his kingdom purposes, He will cut away pride, selfishness, hatred, and self-sufficiency.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. ~ John 15:1-5 (ESV)

Jesus states several crucial elements concerning our spiritual health, growth, and fruitfulness. First, the Father is the One who brings about growth and fruit. Neither of these are by our own doing.

Second, part of our growth comes through pain. The Father “cuts away” what is either dead or “diseased” (i.e., injurious).

Third, if we truly desire to grow, bear fruit, and be useful to God in His kingdom, then we must abide (dwell in, remain) in Christ and His teachings. This does require a measure of self-discipline on our part.

And finally, Jesus says that apart from Him we can do nothing, which explains why much of the church is impotent. This is not a criticism but simply a statement. Too often we set our plans into motion, lift a small prayer for blessing, then watch the results fade away like smoke. Hence the reason for pruning—dependence solely on Him.

As mentioned, pruning hurts; yet, this is necessary for spiritual health and bearing fruit. Sometimes when pruning (various trials) comes, persons often think it is because they have done something wrong, as though God is upset with them. But notice what Jesus says: “Every tree that does not bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

“Lord, use me for Your glory!” If you truly desire this, then there will be times of pruning, but do not be disheartened. Just as the Father disciplines those that He loves (see Heb. 12:5-8), so He also prunes the fruit bearing ones who glorify Him. Indeed, pruning hurts, but it is necessary for healthy growth.

Are You Following Ahab’s Bad Example?

Truth is not always pleasant, it does not always seem kind. However, truth is good and beneficial—like medicine—if we will not resist or reject it. Sadly there are many people who would rather perish feeling good than feel the sting of truth and actually become good and healthy.

In the Old Testament, we are told of the account of Ahab, one of the wicked kings of Israel. Preparing to go into battle, he requested that Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, to be his ally. Jehoshaphat agreed and came to help Ahab. Ahab called for false prophets to ask if he would have victory. They replied that the Lord would give him success. 

Jehoshaphat, a godly king, must have sensed something wrong, because he asked, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?” (1 Kings 22:7). Ahab’s response is astounding:

And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” And Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.” ~ 1 Kings 22:8

Micaiah, a true prophet of God, was summoned. When he arrived, Ahab  asked if he should go into battle. Micaiah must have had a mockingly tone as he answered, “Go up and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king” (vs. 15). We are then told,

But the king said to him, “How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” ~ vs. 16

Did you catch that? “Nothing but the truth,” Ahab demanded. So, Micaiah prophesied that Ahab’s army would be scattered in defeat. Ahab then looks over at Jehoshaphat and asks, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?” (vs. 18).

Micaiah proceeded to tell Ahab that he would die in battle. Zedakiah, a false prophet, struck Micaiah, asking scornfully, “How did the Spirit of the LORD go from me to speak to you?” (vs. 24).

What was Micaiah’s reward for speaking the truth? Imprisonment. Yet, what he spoke would prove to be true: the army was scattered and Ahab was killed.

How do you respond to truth? How do you react when you are confronted with your faults and sins? How do you respond when a person of God shares from the Bible of something being wrong, but society says it is okay? Do not follow Ahab’s example. Truth is not always pleasant, but it can rescue you from many perils if you will yield to it. 

How Have We Become So Mean and Nasty?

The political climate and polarization of our country have become extremely toxic, releasing the poisons of hypocrisy and hatred. Strangely, while different sides are spewing out derogatory and accusative terms (racists, Hitler/Nazis, fascists, snowflakes, cry babies, —phobics, etc.), and labeling others as evil, each reveal—from both the Left and the Right—the murder in their own hearts. Social media has only confounded the issue more, as people remove nearly all filters, including common decency and respect. No one is safe or immune from the abusive language. 

Are we on the brink of becoming a nation of savages? Aside from the obvious violence and riots in various cities, just consider the things people say on Facebook, Twitter, etc. We often see the quotes on Twitter coming from celebrities, journalists, and politicians exploding with nastiness and profanities directed at another. On Facebook average Joes belittle one another relentlessly and viciously because of differing views. There is rarely actual conversing, but accusations laced with profanities.

Of our own president some have portrayed him being beheaded, and some have posted they hope he dies from Covid. Similar things are said about other politicians. Many make fun of another political that appears to be facing early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s. From where does such nastiness come, and what does it reveal? While hatred and derision are vomited out of our mouths or pounded on our buttons, Jesus reveals to us the ugly truth from where our words come—and worse, what they reveal.

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. ~ Luke 6:45 (ESV)

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. ~ Matthew 12:34

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. ~ Matthew 5:21-22

Did you catch these? Our words come from our hearts, which are either like refreshing fountains or repulsive cesspools. Furthermore, our nasty, malicious words reveal the evil of murder in our hearts.

The apostle Paul, referencing Old Testament passages, writes,

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” ~ Romans 3:12-18

Just as lust-filled glances reveal the immorality in a man’s heart, Jesus says our mean-spirited words reveal the malice and murder in our own hearts. This stinging truth is just as true for the Right as it is for the left; for liberals and conservatives; for Republicans and Democrats; and irregardless of color or nationality.

While degrading others and trying to take the specks out of others’ eyes, Jesus blasts us by confronting us with our own hypocrisy:

How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. ~ Matthew 7:4-5

How have we become so mean and nasty? How can we expect others to be decent while we ourselves are not behaving decently? According to Jesus, we are to look to Him in faith, and for forgiveness, and He will help clean us up from the inside out. From there, we are to be kind, loving, and just regardless how others behave. How can our cities and nation be rid of the violence if we refuse to confess and repent of the violence raging in our own hearts? Our hypocrisies serve only as fuel on the fires.

When God Is Silent

There, perhaps, is no other indescribable anguish of the heart and spirit than the silence of God—especially for those who have experienced His love, witnessed His power, and can recount times of closeness and answered prayer.

Extended periods of God’s silence and inactivity can truly test one’s faith. Emotions can seem like a turbulent sea, with questions tormenting the mind like seemingly endless waves pounding on the shore. Dark storm clouds block out the light of the sun—and nights are ever darker still.

Such experiences are not uncommon for the people of God. The psalmist writes, 

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? ~ Psalm 13:1 (ESV)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. ~ 22:1-2

The prophet Habakkuk cries out,

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? ~ Habakkuk 1:2

The prophet Jeremiah pleads to the Lord,

Be not a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster. ~ Jeremiah 17:17

In the New Testament, although it was clearly confirmed to John the Baptist that Jesus is the Messiah, after being imprisoned he sent disciples to ask Jesus,

Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? ~ Matthew 11:3

Times of divine silence, especially extended periods, causes common questions to arise:

  • What has happened?
  • What did I do?
  • Is God angry with me?
  • Will God speak again?
  • Has God abandoned me?
  • Is God trustworthy?
  • Why?

The reasons for God’s silence varies. Sometimes it is to humble us, and to remind us of our dependence on Him. If we are not careful, we can become conceited and think we are quite “spiritual”. Such pride usually lacks love.

Sometimes God’s silence is due to willful and persistent sin.

But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. ~ Isaiah 59:2

Still, sometimes God is silent to stretch and grow our faith. We live in an age in which feelings are exalted. Too often we lean, depend, and even put trust in our ever-changing feelings. However, our faith is to be anchored on God, His character, and His promises.

When experiencing God’s silence, what are we to do? First, we should examine ourselves. Are we refusing to confess and repent of sin (e.g., immorality, unkind words, unforgiveness, idolatry, prayerlessness, etc.)? Second, we need to remember God’s faithfulness in the past. God is unchanging. He remains faithful. Third, and this is the most difficult, we are to continue to trust in spite of our feelings and doubts.

The prophet Micah shared in such experiences, too. He writes,

My enemies, don’t be glad because of my troubles! I may have fallen, but I will get up; I may be sitting in the dark, but the Lord is my light. I have sinned against the Lord. And so I must endure his anger, until he comes to my defense. But I know that I will see him making things right for me and leading me to the light. ~ Micah 7:8-9 (CEV)

Fixate On the Eternal

Here, in the West, we focus so much on the “here and now” with all its passing pleasures and empty vanity. We desire wealth and people’s praise. We live as though this is all there is. The Western church is just as guilty. Yet, to those who truly belong to Christ, the apostle Paul writes,

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. ~ Colossians 3:2-10

Paul gives us three reasons to set our minds on (eternal) things that are above. First, those who are truly born-again have died in Christ; therefore, they have also died to sin. Being in Christ, they are united with him in his resurrection (see Rom. 6:1-14). To put it another way, they are given a new identity.

Second, it is the genuine believers responsibility to set his/her mind on things above. In part, this serves as an act of spiritual worship (see Rom. 12:1-2).

Third, Paul warns us the wrath of God is coming on account of unbelievers and false believers.

Along these lines the apostle John writes,

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. ~ 1 John 2:16-17

Consider who you are and whose you are. Do you belong to Christ? If so, you have a new and honorable identity. In Christ, you are a part of a holy and royal priesthood (see 2 Peter 2:5, 9). In Christ, you are a prince/princess of the Great, Eternal King. This world is not your home, you are just passing through. So why focus so intently on what is passing? Set your mind—fixate—on what is eternal.

• What are your thoughts? Start a conversation.