Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Focusing on the Food that Doesn’t Perish
(My message at church last Sunday)

God loves to turn our attention to what truly matters, to what will truly satisfy us.

During this thanksgiving week maybe you thought, “I am rich. I have what I need.

I have a place to live. I have an education. I have a job.

I am not a low class person. I am from a leading nation in the world, and I am living better than most people in the world.

I have need of nothing today. And honestly, I don’t need to hear another message. I am fine.”

Sadly, I sometimes feel this way myself.

Or on the other hand, maybe recently you feel as if everything around you is going poorly.

You cannot see why God would let certain things to happen that have happened.

A few weeks ago I was reading in the book of Revelation.

Jesus is speaking to the church in Laodicea in chapter 3.

In many ways this church was very similar to the churches in America and Japan.

They were rich and powerful and their focus was on their worldly circumstances.

For the most part things were going very well for them.

But they were the only church of seven that Jesus addresses in Revelation in which he finds nothing at all to commend.

The reason is that they were no longer passionate for God.

They had been lulled asleep spiritually by their focus on small physical comforts.

They no longer sought for much spiritually, because they had become so focused and consumed with this world and the comfort it brings instead.

As I read, I was feeling more and more like Jesus was using this to speak to me and my own issues, and then I read the next line.

Jesus says, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16)

Jesus goes on to the root in v. 17, “For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

I was cut to the heart and really felt that Jesus was really trying to wake me up to my own lukewarm heart.

I was putting my focus on my temporary physical comforts and therefore, not on God and real and deep comfort and joy.

I believe in either a shocking way, or in a gentle way, God wants to turn us all away from our focus on outward circumstances and comforts and turn us to His amazing goodness in Christ today.

He wants us to see that we will never be fully satisfied if we focus our lives and hearts on any other than God.

And although we may feel just fine and content and rich, in reality we are poor, blind, naked and destitute.

We, who pity the materially poor of the world, often do not realize that we are in fact the truly impoverished ones.

The problem is that this world- the things in it and the people in it - have turned our heart’s attention away from what is truly great and significant in life.

Let’s turn our attention to God’s Word in John 6 today.

Lately I have been studying the gospel of John in our small-group Bible study.

Over and over we keep seeing that Jesus has to wake people up to the reality that there is much much more than just the physical world.

One day a large crowd was following Jesus because he was healing sick people.

Far away from any markets, with everyone worrying what to do about food, Jesus receives one boy’s lunch, thanks God for it and miraculously feeds more than five thousand people from it.

Note this: Jesus is able to care for every physical and outward need we have.

John 6:14 says, “When people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet (the one prophesied about in Deuteronomy 18) who is to come into the world!”

“Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (v.15)

The Jews were looking for a physical ruler Christ or Messiah, but Jesus is not interested in simply providing food and health and ruling a physical kingdom.

As Jesus retreats into the mountains, Jesus’ twelve disciples get into a boat and start back to Capernaum across the sea, but again they run into another physical problem: a dangerous storm.

Miraculously, with no boats left, Jesus walks out onto the water in the dark to the boat the disciples are in and they cross together safely to the other side.

Again and again Jesus meets the needs of those who follow Him.

The next day, “When they (the crowd he fed the day before) found him on the other side of the sea they said to him, ‘Teacher, when did you come here?’ 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 the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (v.25-27)

In essence Jesus is saying, “Yes, I can meet your physical needs, but do not build your life around physical and material prosperity.”

Getting physical necessities is not the goal of life.

Jesus is saying, “Don’t you see from the miracles that I can do so much more than just give you food and safety?”

“I can give you deep spiritual food for your souls that will satisfy you deeply and fully and forever! Focus and work for that food!”

“Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works of God? Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God is this: to believe in him whom he sent.’

We need to work for regular food, but Jesus, the food that gives eternal life, God gives for free, to all who would simply trust and receive as their all satisfying food.

So they said to him, ‘Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work will you perform? Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’’ (John 6:28-31)

They had just seen two amazing signs and now they want still another.

I can imagine Jesus either sighing or laughing here. When will they get it?

But these people are very similar to us aren’t they?

We see miracles all around us everyday in every graceful butterfly and lily, in every beautiful sunset sky or glimmering star, in every facet of creation all around us at any given moment, and yet we still want and even demand that God give us still another sign that He even exists!

God is certainly an amazingly merciful God.

Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is ‘he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’” (John 6:32-33)

When Israel was rescued from slavery in Egypt through the miraculous opening of the Red Sea, they found themselves in the desert.

At that time, instead of looking to the God who had just brought them through the Red Sea on dry ground, they could only look at their present circumstances.

“We have nothing to eat! We have no food or water! Did God bring us out here to die?”

They wanted to leave their leader, Moses, and find a new leader that would lead them back into slavery just so that they could eat the food they were used to eating!

I imagine that today that in many churches there are some people who are wondering whether or not to leave the church and go back to life as a non-Christian.

If you feel this way at all, I encourage you to listen carefully to God’s Word this morning.

The Bible says that God miraculously provided for the Israelites in the desert.

“The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a handmill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot and made it into cakes. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna came down also.” (Numbers 11:7-9)

Despite their complaining, God sent “manna” or bread that fed them everyday.

And not for just a few days, but every day for forty years!

And God will feed us in every situation so that we can follow Him.

Still these Israelites did not rest in and trust God, but continued to look to their negative circumstances alone and continued to complain.

And sadly some of us still do this today.

We give little or no thanks for life and the ability to think and work.

We give no thanks for little things like air and water and food and a million other things that we freely receive and enjoy everyday.

But yet when even a little bit is taken away, we start to accuse God, as if we sit as judges over him.

In both America and Japan we often read or hear people say, “Surely God does not exist if he would let things like these happen.”

All the while we are forgetting how much we ourselves have ignored God and His amazing daily blessings.

And just as the generation of doubting Israelites were punished and not able to go into the land God promised to them, we will not be able to go into the promised land of heaven because we have rejected God.

But God is a God of mercy.

We all complain at times and our focus slips to our circumstances, but Jesus says that all we need to do is simply rest in Him and receive Him as our food.

Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he sent.” (6:29)

We need food to live, but more than physical food our souls need Jesus, we need to rest in and feed off God Himself in every circumstance.

Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

Jesus is the only lasting satisfier of our souls. And Jesus is the true bread and the true life-giving water for our souls’ thirsts.

Not a church, not a pastor, not a new house, not good health, not a high paying job.

None of these things will ever give us fullness of joy and life forever.

Jesus says, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever.” (v. 49-51)

Jesus gave his own body, his own body and shed His own blood to provide eternal forgiveness for the sins of all who would simply believe and receive Him.

Now that He has risen from the dead, if we take His resurrection life as our life, if we eat this bread, if we live off Jesus Christ in God for our heart needs,

We will not only live life to the fullest, we will live with God in heaven forever.

And the good news is that you don’t have to be rich to get it,

You don’t have to have everything figured out,

You don’t even have to go to the perfect church,

No, the gift of fullness of life in Christ forever is free, independent of our outward circumstances – to all who repent of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.

That is the good news – that is the gospel.

If you know the story of Anpan-man you have the idea.

Jesus says, “Eat me – take from me, live from me.

Let my life be your life and you will live – and have life to the fullest.”

Jesus says in v. 40 - “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (say 2x)

In John 10:10 Jesus says, “…I have come that they might have life and life to the full.”

Now, how can we begin to focus our appetites more on God and less on this world?

To start with, we need to admit that without Christ we are all completely blind and dead spiritually already.

We cannot focus on God more than the world, unless God performs a miracle in us.

In v. 44 Jesus knows that we are so weak and helpless that he says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

Only by God’s power can we taste God's goodness, believe in Him through Jesus Christ and be saved from our addiction to this world.

Let us plead with God that by His power He will wake us up and give us spiritual eyes to see and taste buds to taste His amazing goodness.

Second, we need to ask Him to help us focus our lives and heart on God in all things, because we all naturally tend to focus too much on our outward circumstances.

The apostle Paul need to remind the church at Corinth that we are to consciously, “we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:8

Instead of putting fast food into our souls every day, we have to get away and take time to focus and enjoy slow-cooked dishes like Isaiah 55:1-2, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in rich food. Incline your ear and come to me; hear that your soul may live;”

We have to slow down enough to spiritually taste and see verses like Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season, and its leaf does not wither. In all he does he prospers.”

And we need to be reminded of the only other option: “The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. 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.”

Either we are hot or cold for God, lukewarm is not an option.

Either we are filling ourselves with life-giving bread and water, or drying up like chaff.

Romans 12:2 says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that may test and approve what is the will of God; his good pleasing and perfect will.”

Therefore our work as Christians is to not focus on the food that perishes, but to believe and focus on the bread of life, Jesus Christ, who will satisfy every need we have and transform us into joy-filled followers of God.

Psalm 1 says that either we are those who delight in the bread of God’s word and are filled with life by His goodness and are flourishing like a tree planted besides streams of water,

or we are slowly drying up and dying like chaff that the wind will drive away.

Either we are eating and enjoying God through His Word and are growing, or we are slowing dying inside.

We cannot stay in the same place.

Of course being a Christian doesn’t mean you will never choose the wrong way.

But it does mean that we will have it in our hearts, by God’s grace, to seek God’s goodness, even if we lose focus again and again.

Paul the apostle said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own because Jesus Christ has made me his own.” – Phil. 3:12

Jesus takes hold of us, and even when we let go and sin at times, he hangs on and will lead us back to holding onto Him.

Therefore, it is not by our willpower that we continue as Christians, but by His Spirit we are given faith to enjoy God and continue the race.

Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh (human effort) is of no avail. This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:63, 65)

I believe Jesus is saying the same words he said to us that he said to the church at Laodicea so long ago – “be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me.” (Rev. 3:19-20)

Jesus is speaking to us today through His Word.

Jesus wants not only to be our food and our life,

He wants to fellowship personally with us and be our closest friend

And He wants to be our Father God, our leader and provider in all the hunger and storms of life.

He wants us not only to eat from His goodness, but He wants to live life with us.

He wants to be our greatest joy, and our focus in all circumstances, good or bad.

The question is, will we open the door and let Him live with us daily?

Will we open the door to Him daily for fellowship and for life-giving nourishment?

Jesus wants to be our comfort and our joy.

If you want that then Jesus is saying to you, “be no longer lethargic and spiritually blind, be zealous and repent.”

Set a time when you can quietly spend time with Him in the Bible and in prayer each day. A time when you can reset your focus on what truly matters in life.

In Psalm 63:3 David says, “The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life.”

Desire the true riches of knowing God and the true spiritual food of being with Jesus in His Word more than the temporary things of this world.

It will not be easy, but Jesus promises this:

“The one who overcomes, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” - Rev. 3:21-22

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