In God We Trust

 

Every current U.S. coin and every denomination of paper currency bears the inscription “In God We Trust”.  Anyone born after the mid-20th century is likely unaware that this was not always the case.  The first coin to bear this inscription was the 2-cent piece minted in 1864.  However, it was not until 1956 that Congress passed a bill requiring this phrase to be inscribed on all forms of U.S. currency.  The intent of the phrase is to affirm our nation’s dependence upon Almighty God.  Some may find it ironic that this declaration appears on our money.  This irony stems from the fact that many in our country place more trust in the “almighty dollar” than they do in the Almighty God.

The concept of expressing one’s trust in God may have come late to American society, but it has a long and rich history.  It is, in fact, the foundation of God’s relationship with His creation.  From the beginning of time God has urged mankind to trust in Him, rather than trusting in themselves or in any man-made deity.  When His people have truly trusted in Him, they have been blessed.  When they have placed their trust elsewhere, they have suffered for it.

The Old Testament abounds with exhortations to trust in God.  The psalms, in particular, pay tribute to the benefits of trusting in God.  One of the most powerful of these is Psa. 56:4.  In this psalm David said, “In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid.  What can mere man do to me?”  In v. 11 he added, “In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid.  What can man do to me?”  David’s confidence is underscored by the writer of Hebrews, who quoted this statement in Heb. 13:6 as one of his final exhortations to faithful service.

Saying that one trusts in God is easy.  Living up to that profession is more challenging.  Every day Americans exchange currency that declares their trust in God.  They do so for goods and services of all sorts, many of which belie the words emblazoned upon that currency.  They do so without giving thought to the true meaning of this inscription.  We don’t expect unbelievers to think about this irony, but even Christians can be guilty of it.

This is because trusting in God is more than a motto.  It is a way of life that is characterized by humble obedience to His word, and complete dependence upon Him for everything one needs.  This truth is demonstrated in the history of God’s people during the Old Testament era.  When the kings and people of Israel obeyed God, their trust in Him was rewarded with His blessings and deliverance from their enemies.  When they disobeyed God, their lack of trust resulted in calamity.  In Isa. 31:1 the prophet chastised Israel saying, “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong; but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord!”

Our Savior put trust in a context that is particularly apropos to our time.  In the Sermon on the Mount He urged his audience not to worry about their daily sustenance, but to instead rely on God.  In Mt. 6:33 He said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  This is the key to trusting in God.  If we put Him first, which means to obey Him in everything we do, then our trust will be rewarded.  If we trust in God, we will be faithful to Him and we need not worry, because He is our helper.  If we live a life of trust in God, our life will be better here on earth, and we will have a place in God’s house forever.

Dry Bones

 

The quintessential imagery of arid conditions is dry bones.  The skeleton of a long-dead animal lying in the desert speaks of the harshness of the climate and of the lack of life-giving water.  The contrast is the imagery of a tree surrounded by lush grass.  This picture declares an abundance of water, either from rain, or from a river or stream.  Both images are found in the scriptures and they teach a valuable and timeless lesson.

In Ezk. 37:1-14 God brought the prophet to a valley that was full of bones.  In v. 3 the scripture says that the bones were very dry.  These bones were from a great army that had long ago perished on the field of battle.  The bodies of the dead had been left exposed and over time had become nothing but bones.  They had been there so long that it was not possible for them to live again.  God, however, demonstrated His power to the prophet by bringing them back to life to symbolize that He would one day restore Israel to the promised land.

The contrasting imagery is in Psa. 1:1-4.  Here the unknown author said, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!  But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.”

Both of these images are timeless in their application.  Our sins separate us from God (Isa. 59:2), and, being dead in sin, we are like the valley of dry bones.  We have no hope of life by our own power.  We are dead and will remain so until God brings us back to life by our obedience to the gospel.  When we are baptized into Christ we become alive again by the power of God to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).

At the moment of our obedience we become like a tree firmly planted by streams of water (Psa. 1:3).  So long as we delight in the law of the Lord and meditate upon it day and night, we will be alive and fruitful in the Lord’s service.  So long as we give first place to God and to His word, God will provide all we need (Mt. 6:33).  So long as we continue in the word of the Lord, we will never be in spiritual want (cf. Jn. 8:31-32).  This is the promise of Psa. 1.

The common factor in both of these examples is the power of God.  The dry bones that Ezekiel saw had no life within themselves.  Until God acted upon them, they would remain dead, dry, and lifeless.  Only when God commanded them did they return to life.  In a similar way, the tree firmly planted by streams of water is only there because of the power of God’s word.  The psalmist correctly declared that dependence on God’s law is what turns one into such a tree.

This is the timeless lesson from these two images.  If we seek to go it alone, devoid of God’s word, or in contradiction to it, we will be like the dry bones Ezekiel saw.  We will lie, parched and dry, and lifeless, with no hope in this life or in eternity.  If, on the other hand, we take delight in God’s word, and avail ourselves of it day and night, we will indeed be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water.  We will be spiritually nourished and need not fear anything life may cast in our path.  When we acknowledge the futility of our striving, and turn in humble submission to God, then we truly begin to live.  Our life on earth will be blessed in ways the lost cannot imagine, and our hope for eternity will be secure.

A Big Picture Perspective

 

 

An essential element in leadership, whatever the context of that leadership may be, is the ability to see “the big picture”.  An individual soldier sees little more than the battlefield immediately before him.  He knows little, and perhaps cares less, about the strategic importance of the action in which he is engaged.  The generals, however, must not only be aware of that specific action, but also consider how it affects the overall plan for winning the war.  Good generals take the big picture into account as they make decisions about the many smaller aspects of the conflict.

Having a “big picture” perspective is especially important in spiritual matters.  In fact, it is commanded by the inspired apostle Paul.  In Phil. 2:5-8 he said, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

This command is intended for all Christians, of course, but it is even more important for those who are our spiritual leaders.  A good spiritual leader, like a good general, always keeps the overall good of the church in mind as he considers the decisions he is called on to make.  Sometimes, the best decision for the good of the whole will not be in his own best interest.  A humble and godly man will see this and put his own preferences aside, so he can contribute to the good of the body.

Having this kind of attitude requires a humility of heart that is not common in the world.  It requires one to think of others’ interests before his own, as Paul said.  It requires a magnanimity that allows a man to bow to the preferences of others rather than insisting on having his own way.  As long as those preferences do not violate God’s word, nothing is lost in doing so.

The perfect example of this attitude is our Lord.  Paul said that the Lord, “existed in the form of God”, but He set that aside to accomplish the overall purpose of God the Father.  The Lord’s impassioned prayer in the garden of Gethsemane suggests that He would have preferred not to go to the cross (Mt. 26:36-46).  Even so, He set aside His interests in favor of the interests of all the souls who might be saved by His sacrifice.  He put our interests above HIs own and we have hope because He did.  Surely, if the one and only Son of God could be so humble and gracious about dying on the cross, we can be humble and gracious with each other about the good of the church.

If spiritual leaders act selfishly or conceitedly, the church will suffer because of it.  If spiritual leaders insist on putting their own interests above the interests of the church, it will suffer because of it.  If spiritual leaders refuse to be humble, the church will be hobbled in accomplishing its purpose.  If spiritual leaders neglect the “big picture”, the church will struggle to fulfill its mission.  Therefore, let us each prayerfully consider Paul’s command.  Let us set aside selfishness, conceit, and pride, and “with humility of mind regard one another as more important than ourselves.”  Let’s see the “big picture” of God’s great plan and do our best to fulfill it.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

 

In 2000 a movie entitled, O Brother, Where Art Thou? hit theaters nationwide.  It was purportedly based loosely on Homer’s Odyssey, but it came off as nothing more than a farcical account of three lovable rogues who escaped from a chain gang in Depression-era Mississippi.  If there was some sort of message behind the movie, it was likely lost on most moviegoers.

The title, however, raises a significant spiritual issue that is worth considering.  In Eph. 4:11-16, Paul spoke to the church in Ephesus about how God had ordered His church.  He said that God had placed workers of various sorts within it to do the many things necessary to grow and sustain it.  The goal, Paul said, was for the body to be built up by the combined talents and efforts of every part of the body.  Christ is the source by which the body grows, but as Paul said in v. 16, “the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”  This exhortation to a first century church with whom Paul was intimately acquainted shows us the danger that can overcome even the best church.

The key to the tremendous growth of the first century church was not because there were apostles in it.  It was not because there were eloquent preachers in it, like Apollos.  It occurred because ordinary Christian men and women “went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). The powerful miracles and preaching of the apostles were complemented by the daily testimony of the godly lives of Christians all over the Roman Empire.  Indeed, it is likely that many more disciples were made, and more congregations established, by ordinary Christians taking their faith with them as they moved about, than by the work of the apostles.

We may wonder why the church does not grow as it did in the first century, or why it does not grow as it did in the early 20th century.  The answer to these questions may itself be the question, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”  Somehow through the years many in the church have concluded that the work of the church is actually the work of the preacher, and perhaps the elders.  This very statement reveals the subtle change in attitude that has taken place.  The work of the church is “their” work, as though the individual members of the church are not in any way responsible for it.  The church is “them”, so individual members may or may not get involved.

Many years ago, when schools still taught typing classes, one of the exercises students practiced in order to learn touch typing (i.e., typing without looking at the keys) was to type this statement: “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party.”  This exercise helped students learn the positions of the key letters used in most words as it increased their typing speed and accuracy.

As we consider the needs of the church today, it is time to revive and revise this statement to: “Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their church.”  The church, after all, is not “them”, but “us”.  If the church is going to grow, it will do so only when each of us does what he or she is capable of doing in the Lord’s service.  Too many, it seems, are content to sit on the sidelines, either unwilling to change their lifestyle to be qualified to serve in an official capacity, or just unwilling to serve at all.  Then these spectators complain about the lack of growth in the church.  This is not what the Lord intended, and it simply will not do.  So then, the question remains, “O Brother, O Sister, Where Art Thou?”

Where Do We Go From Here?

 

Someone once said that there are three kinds of people in the world.  There are those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened.  The truth of this assessment is irrefutable.  Some people are proactive in life, while most of us simply react to it.  The rest seem to wake up in a new world each day, blissfully unaware of what is going on around them.

As true as this is, even the most proactive among us sometimes face a situation and wonder where they will go from that point.  This happens because life rarely goes as we have planned it.  Sometimes, in spite of our plans and preparations, and in spite of our best efforts, life throws us a curveball.  When this occurs, we can let the unforeseen or unexpected derail us, or we can take whatever actions are necessary to resume control of our own destiny.  We can wallow in self-pity and bemoan our sad circumstances, or we can take the lemons of life and turn them into lemonade.  It’s our choice.

This is certainly true in the temporal affairs of life, but is even more true in spiritual matters.  None of the heroes of faith became so by having a “woe-is-me” attitude.  Instead, they rose from where life struck them down and got back to the business of serving the Lord.  Two examples show us the alternatives before us.

In Mt. 26:14-16 Judas made his bargain with the chief priests to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.  When the Lord had been condemned by the rulers of the Jews, Judas regretted his actions.  At that moment he had to have wondered, “Where do I go from here?”  In Mt. 27:1-4 we learn the answer.  Judas returned the money and in the depths of remorse went out and hanged himself.  He came to a place he did not expect to find himself in, and he reacted poorly.

Concurrent with Judas’ actions, the second example occurred.  In Mt. 26:69-75 the scripture says that Peter denied the Lord three times as he stood among the crowd watching the Lord’s trial before the leaders of the Jews.  In v. 74 Matthew says Peter even cursed and swore to make his denials all the more emphatic.  When Peter heard the rooster crowing, he remembered what the Lord had said.  V. 75 tells us that he then went out and wept bitterly.  He, like Judas, must have wondered where he would go from there.  The answer is, he went back to the other apostles and resumed his place among them.

Peter chose wisely and was restored to his place among the Lord’s chosen men and was among the first to learn that the Lord had been raised three days later.  On the first Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection, he was there as the gospel was proclaimed for the first time (Acts 2:14-36).  Peter’s remorse over his situation led him to renewed vigor in serving the Lord.  For this reason he is called a pillar of the church (Gal. 2:9).

The lesson for each of us is that life will not always go the way we expect it to.  Judas likely did not expect to see Jesus condemned.  Peter certainly did not expect to deny the Lord.  Yet both found themselves in an unwanted position.  Their choices made the difference in their respective destinies.  So it is for us, as individuals or as a congregation of God’s people.  When the unforeseen or unexpected happens, we can overcome it by not giving up.  If we continue to trust in the Lord, and if we are willing to do whatever is necessary to glorify Him, then no obstacle is unsurmountable.  If we fix our eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:2), and if we each do our part for the good of the church (Eph. 4:16), then we will make the right choices, and we will always know where we are going.

Godly Fathers

Too often on Father’s Day the focus is on all the ways in which fathers need to improve in order to be what God expects them to be.  Lost in such an exercise is that a man need not be perfect to be a godly father.  The scriptures are full of men who are worthy of our praise and respect.  Yet none of these men was perfect.  However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work on improving ourselves.  On the contrary, we must strive to become godlier every day.  The point is that godly fathers do not get as much credit as they should for the good influence they exert.

One of the most revered men in all of scripture, David, was not the best example as a father.  Not only did he have problems with his son Absalom, but he also had issues with his son Adonijah, who appointed himself king when David was old.  The difficulties with both of these sons no doubt stemmed from what is said about David’s attitude toward Adonijah.  In 1 Kgs. 1:6 the scripture says, “His father had never crossed him at any time by asking, ‘Why have you done so?'”  In other words, David did not properly discharge his duties as a father in this regard.

Even so, all the kings who ruled Israel and Judah thereafter were judged on how they measured up to David.  The evil kings were said to have walked in the footsteps of their “father” Jeroboam, son of Nebat.  The good kings were said to have reigned as their “father” David had done (2 Kgs. 18:3).  So David became the standard of what a good king should be and he was a “father” to all the good kings who followed him.

This is where and how we should praise our own fathers.  None of them is perfect.  Neither are we.  Still, a man may be a godly father if he seeks the Lord with all his heart, like David.  When he does so, his imperfections and failures will be overcome by the Lord, so he may instill the attitudes in his children which will help them become what they ought to be before God.

Godly fathers take seriously the charge of Paul in Eph. 6:4, where he said, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  This is the only way their children will have the opportunity to know the Lord and to be saved.  They will not do so perfectly, but if their heart is in the right place, the Lord will reward them with success.

Godly fathers will also model their faith in word and in deed, so their children have an example worthy of imitation.  Paul said, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1) . Godly fathers may say the same thing if they follow the Lord.  It doesn’t take perfection.  It just takes dedication and humility.

Most fathers generally do a far better job than we give them credit for, and we need to praise them for the good that they do.  Therefore, fathers, for all that you do, and for all you have done, to lead your children to the Lord, we say, “Thank You” and “God bless you.”

Persevere

The Legendary Runner of the Battle of Marathon

To persevere is defined as, “to continue doing something in spite of difficulty, opposition, etc.”  In the christian faith some have distorted this term to stand for the man-made doctrine of “once saved, always saved”.  John Calvin, the father of this idea, called this the perseverance of the saints.  The scriptures neither teach nor imply such an idea, but rather warn that a Christian may sin in such a way as to forfeit eternal life (Heb. 10:26-31; Gal. 5:4).

In its correct meaning, however, perseverance is an essential part of our faith.  In Heb. 12:1 the writer said, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance, the race that is set before us.”  The image of the Christian life as a race coveys the idea of perseverance, especially since the inspired writer said we must run “with endurance”.  This term suggests to us that our race is a marathon, not a sprint, and the difference is significant.

In a sprint, the runner sees the goal from the starting blocks.  He knows that he need only exert himself for a short time to finish his race.  He works very hard over that distance, of course, and he uses a tremendous amount of energy as he does so, but he only needs to work over the short term to achieve his goal.  On the other hand, in a marathon the runner cannot see the finish line from the starting point.  In fact, he cannot even see the entire course he will run.  He will not run as fast as the sprinter, but he will expend more energy over the long haul.  This imagery best fits the Christian life.  Our race lasts a lifetime.  There are no rewards for a quick start followed by a rapid burnout.

Paul spoke of this principle in his own life.  In 2 Tim. 4:7-8 he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”  Paul’s confidence about his eternal reward was because he knew he had persevered to the goal.  He had indeed “finished the course”.

It is the same for each of us.  Paul promised that we can receive the same reward he expected to receive.  To receive it we each must fight the good fight, finish the course, and keep the faith, just as Paul did.  This means that we must not give up the struggle to live for the Lord until our life ends.  Each day we will face challenges to our faith.  Some will involve temptation to sin.  Some will involve facing ridicule or persecution from unbelievers.  Some will involve conflict with brothers or sisters in Christ.  Whatever the challenges, however, we must persevere in our faith and obedience until we reach the goal.  There is no other way to receive our eternal reward.

In Rev. 2:10 the Lord told the church in Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.  Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” We will not be tested as sorely as the Christians in Smyrna were, but if we persevere in our faith we will receive the same reward that was promised to them.  Nothing in life can compare to this reward.  Therefore, let us persevere to the goal.

Trust

 

A story is told of a man who lost his footing while climbing a mountain trail.  He slid over the side of a steep precipice and would have certainly fallen to his death had he not caught hold of a tree root protruding from the side of the cliff.  Hanging there, he was literally suspended between heaven and earth.  He could not climb up to safety, and there was nothing beneath his feet but open air.  He began calling for help and suddenly a voice spoke to him from above.  The voice said, “I am God and I have heard your cries for help.  Do you trust in Me?”  The man replied, “Yes!”, to which God said, “Then let go of the tree root.”  At this point the man shouted, “Is there anyone else up there?”

Obviously, this story is hyperbole, but it illustrates the truth about trust.  We passionately affirm our trust in God, but our actions frequently belie our affirmation.  We read and quote Mt. 6:33, where the Lord told His disciples not to worry about their daily needs, but to “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  Then we forsake the assembly of the saints while working day and night to provide for our family’s needs.  Like the man in the story, we’re not willing to demonstrate our trust in God.

One man who did not have this issue was King David of Israel.  His life is an example of trust in God, even in the times when he sinned against God.  In Psa. 25:1-3 David put his trust into the words of a song.  He said, “To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.  O my God, in You I trust, do not let me be ashamed; do not let my enemies exult over me.  Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed; those who deal treacherously without cause will be ashamed.”

When David took a census of the people in 2 Sam. 24, God sent the prophet Gad to David to declare His displeasure.  God offered David a choice from three alternatives as punishment for his sin.  These were: seven years of famine, three months of defeat at the hands of his enemies, or three days of pestilence from God (2 Sam. 24:11-13).  David demonstrated his trust in the Lord by choosing to fall into the hands of God.  He said, “I am in great distress.  Let us now fall into the hands of the Lord for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”  David’s trust in God was rewarded when God stayed the angel’s hand as he was about to strike the city of Jerusalem (vs. 15-16).

David’s actions, as well as his psalm, demonstrated that he fully trusted in God.  He knew that if he waited for the Lord; that is, if he put God first, then God would bless him.  This is the crux of the matter regarding trust.  It must be shown.  Verbal affirmations mean nothing unless they are backed up by actions that prove their truth.  Anyone whose actions prove his trust will not be ashamed.  Those whose actions belie their affirmations will not be blessed.  This is a timeless message that sometimes gets lost when things are going well.

The real demonstration of our trust in God is our obedience.  Those who truly trust in God will turn to Him first, instead of as a last resort.  Having turned to Him, they will do all He commands of them without hesitation or reservation.  Trust begins with obedience to the gospel and continues with our ongoing obedience to “all that I commanded you” (Mt. 28:20).  It means putting God first in every aspect of our lives, so we need not worry about tomorrow (Mt. 6:34).  And sometimes, it means letting go of the tree root to which we are clinging, even though we cannot see how doing so will help us.  Do you trust God?  Then show it by obeying Him.

Memorial Day

 

The last Monday in the month of May has been designated by Congress as Memorial Day.  It is a day set aside to remember those throughout our nation’s history who paid the ultimate price in its defense.  Including the Revolutionary War and continuing to the present, more than 1.3 million Americans have lost their lives in the wars our nation has fought.  Compared to the losses suffered by other nations these numbers are small, but to the families and loved ones of those who perished, each life lost is a painful reminder of the cost of liberty.

The purpose of Memorial Day is for the living to remember and commemorate the sacrifice the dead made on their behalf.  Sadly, there are many today who apparently have no idea of this purpose.  For them this is just another opportunity for a three-day weekend, or a day off from work or school.  Others mistakenly view this day as a time to honor all who have served in our nation’s armed forces.  (Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, is the holiday for that purpose.)  The root of the misconceptions about Memorial Day is that we have generally failed to instruct each generation of its intended purpose.  Without proper instruction in this regard the observance of this day becomes distorted from its original intent and is thus profaned.

It is this point that has significance with respect to our faith as Christians.  The idea of a memorial is not a recent invention.  It has roots as far back as the call of Moses.  In Ex. 3:15, as God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He told Moses His name.  Then He said, “This is My memorial-name to all generations.”  In other words, this was how the people of Israel were to remember Him and all that He would do for them.  On another occasion God commanded Joshua to have Israel construct an altar of twelve stones taken from the Jordan river.  In Josh. 4:7 God said that this altar would be a memorial to the sons of Israel forever” to remind them that God had brought them safely across the Jordan river and into the promised land.  These memorials were intended to keep Israel from forgetting what God had done for them.

Those who are under the covenant of Christ also have a divinely-commanded memorial.  This memorial is the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord Himself instituted it on the night of His betrayal (Mt. 26:26-30).  The purpose of this memorial is for us to remember that the one and only Son of God sacrificed His life on the cross to pay the debt for our sins.  As we break the bread and drink the cup each Lord’s Day we are proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26).  We are remembering that He died to set us free from the bondage of sin.

Unfortunately, some have forgotten, or have chosen to ignore, the simple purpose of this memorial.  The setting in which the Lord instituted this rite was a somber occasion because He would go to the cross within hours of the time He gave it to His apostles.  However, some today seek to turn the Lord’s Supper into a celebration, instead of a memorial service, as it was intended.  Some trivialize it by taking it on different days of the week, or at special occasions, like weddings or funerals.  Others trivialize it by only observing it on special religious holidays, like Easter or Christmas, or by combining it with a common meal.  All these actions profane the purpose of the Lord’s Supper.

Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 11:23-34) remind us that this is a solemn memorial that demands our utmost reverence.  If we mourn soldiers who die in defense of our country, we should also shed a tear for our Lord whose death on the cross set us free from sin.  We should do so even as we rejoice in the freedom we enjoy because of it.

Cafeteria Religion

 

At one time cafeterias were a popular dining option in the United States.  Large chains operated sites in many major cities from coast to coast.  The appeal of these restaurants was in the speed of service, and in the variety of choices afforded the customer.  Patrons passed along a serving counter and selected the components of their meal from multiple options.  Those items they did not prefer could be omitted from their meal.  Each person could construct his or her meal according to personal taste and never have to eat anything he didn’t want to eat.  The formal cafeterias of the 1940s and 1950s have mostly gone the way of the Dodo, primarily because of the fast-food boom of the 1960s.  Their closest descendant is the modern all-you-can-eat buffet, which carries on the time-honored tradition of picking one’s favorites from a large variety of offerings.

Although the cafeteria isn’t as prominent as it once was, the principle behind it continues to live, especially in religion.  Many people look at the scriptures in the same way they might peruse the food line of their favorite eatery.  Grace sounds good, so they take a double helping of it.  Justice, however, isn’t as palatable, so they leave it on the counter.  Faith is appealing, but obedience is too much like spiritual brussels sprouts.  Love, on the other hand, is like the dessert counter.  They heap it up on their spiritual tray because it tastes so sweet.  However, like physical desserts that are loaded with extra calories, they try to ignore the tough things biblical love requires of them.  Perhaps without even thinking about it some treat God’s word like a cafeteria, picking and choosing the things they like, while ignoring the things they don’t like.

As popular as this mentality might be, it is completely foreign to the scriptures.  From beginning to end the scriptures declare that we must conform to everything God has revealed in His word.  On multiple occasions Moses warned Israel to keep all of God’s commandments and not to turn aside from them to the right or to the left (Deut. 5:32; 28:14, et al).  When Paul spoke for the final time to the elders from Ephesus, he reminded them that he had not failed to declare to them “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).  Paul withheld nothing from them because God expects His people to obey all His commands, not just the ones they like.

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he encouraged the young preacher to continue to teach what he called “sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6).  The Greek word that is translated “sound” literally means “healthy”.  In other words, for a Christian to be spiritual healthy, he must be fed everything that God has revealed in His word.  Our souls are just like our physical bodies in this respect.  If we only eat the “sweets” we will be unhealthy.  If, however, we feed on all of God’s word, we will grow and mature in the faith, and we will become the servants God expects us to be.

This is exactly what God requires of us.  The writer of Hebrews chastised his readers because they had failed in this regard.  In Heb. 5:13-14 he said, “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.  But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”  He also said, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11).  Therefore, if our goal is to please God, we must abandon cafeteria-style religion.  Instead, we must take delight in all of God’s word and, like the psalmist, meditate upon it day and night (Psa. 1:2).  By eating all of God’s word we will become spiritually healthy, and we will be faithful to Him in all we do.