The church of Ephesus described in Revelation 2 had lost the presence of Christ in their midst. I see a parallel in the world today. Some of the hardest people I’ve known are those who’ve worked for welfare departments and social agencies. These were sincere, dedicated workers but the suffering they witnessed daily became just too painful for them to face. The same thing can happen to Christians. Ministers and lay servants alike see so much pain and sin in the people they minister to, they can grow hard. That’s just what Jesus was saying to this pastor at Ephesus: “You once were so tender with others. You had such a love for people, and you listened to them. But now you turn a deaf ear. You sit with them, but you’ve hardened yourself to their cries. You’re doing ministry on a treadmill, with no life. I have no choice but to remove My presence from you.”
Spiritually hungry people won’t stay where Jesus’ presence is not evident. They’re desperate to know His nearness and when they don’t experience it, they go somewhere else to find it. I receive many letters with the same complaint: “I can’t find a church that’s alive with the Lord’s presence.”
I’ve witnessed the tragic backsliding of many Christians who’ve felt this way. They never find a church so they end up sitting at home and watching preachers on TV. They never get any meat in their spiritual diet and over time, a coldness sets in. Soon they’ve abandoned church altogether. They neglect the assembling of the brethren, which Hebrews warns against (see Hebrews 10:25) and they become totally indifferent to Christ and His presence.
I tell you, God won’t hear any excuses from such people. Jesus can be your all-in-all if you continue your personal communion with Him. No matter what condition your church is in, you are to be diligent in giving Him precious time. You must drink deeply of His presence if you want His Word to come alive to you.
In light of Revelation 1-3, every believer must ask himself: “Have my good works—my Bible studies and my service—robbed me of time with Jesus? Do I still hunger for Him as I once did? Or have I lost something?”
Perhaps right now you’re suffering an excruciating trial. Yet, you know the reason behind it isn’t that God is dealing with sin in your life. So you wonder why the Lord is allowing you to endure such awful pain.
It could be that the furnace of your affliction is meant to bring you into a life-changing revelation. This is exactly what happened with Job. In the midst of his suffering, Job made an incredible discovery: Despite his pure knowledge of God, he didn’t truly know the Lord. He confessed, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).
At the time Job experienced this trial, he was at least seventy years old; he had known about God all his life. At some point, Job had erected an altar to the Lord, where he spent many reverent hours praising and worshiping God. For years, God had taught him about His ways and mysteries. Job had been taught about the Lord’s consolations, His holiness, His character, His nature, His wrath, and he had learned about the majesty of God’s power and wisdom.
Yet, when Job’s mind-boggling crisis came upon him, he wasn’t able to see the Lord at all. Instead, God became to him nothing more than a vague theological term. The Lord who had been so much a part of his everyday life now seemed absent from everything Job was going through. Suddenly, God seemed like only a series of sermons, a dead word, a knowledge without any power or life behind it.
I believe this is what the Lord wanted to bring to the surface in Job’s life all along. You see, our loving Father wants His children to know Him more deeply than we can merely through worship services, Bible study or prayer meetings. He wants us to know Him intimately, in every aspect of our lives—and that includes during our deepest trials and sufferings. Our Lord longs to be more than a God of some dead-letter theology; He wants us to know Him as a Father who is all-knowing, ever near to us, holding everything in total control, in the very hollow of His hand.
Our present sufferings produce one of two things in us: either hard-heartedness and a spirit of unbelief, or a glorious vision of God’s control over everything concerning us.
John 6 contains one of the hardest passages for me in all of Scripture because it speaks of followers who end up rejecting Christ and turning away. It is a scene in which people literally left Jesus in droves (see John 6:66).
Jesus had just miraculously fed a crowd of thousands. The people were amazed and thrilled by what He had done, ready to follow this wonder-working Messiah. But when He challenged them about what they were really after, they scoffed and left by the masses.
Underlying this passage is a question for anyone who would follow Christ: “Who is in charge of your life, you or Jesus?” Do we allow God to have total direction of our lives? Or do we try to determine for ourselves what God wants of us?
Every Christian faces this question early in his or her walk with the Lord. From the outset, a battle takes place in us, a clash of two warring cultures. First, there is the outer culture of the world, which constantly urges, “How can you benefit from this?” Then there is the culture of God’s kingdom, which asks, “How can you serve the Lord and your neighbor?”
Jesus had already preached that the kingdom of God was at work in the world: “The kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1:15, NLT). In other words: “The kingdom of God is present among you.” Most of Christ’s listeners that day had the world’s mindset. They were driven mainly by what they could gain for themselves. When Jesus came along offering blessings, they flocked to Him, saying, “Sure, if You’re going to provide me with everything, I’ll follow you. If You’ll heal my sick family members and answer my prayers, yes, absolutely, I’ll be Your disciple.”
But what happens to our faith commitment if these things don’t come to pass for us? How committed to Jesus are we when we realize He’s not just our “assistant” in life? The same people in this scene who were quick to follow Christ were just as quick to reject Him. Disappointed, they left, giving up on Him.
Jesus knew this would happen. That’s why on the heels of performing a great miracle for those multitudes, He confronted them: “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs” (John 6:26, NLT). Is the same true of us today? Do we follow Jesus mainly because of His blessings or because He is Lord?
The Bible clearly paints a picture, infinitely tender and personal, reminding us that God always “hears our weeping” (Psalm 6:8). Some translations from the Hebrew text render it, “He counts or will receive or know each one of our tears.”
This altar of faith that we are called to build, as winds of uncertainty, anger, fear, anguish and doubt roar their threats at us from all sides, is sometimes one of the hardest altars to build. It is a single mom looking at her son today, scary, distant and angry, while it seems that only yesterday he was so loving and affectionate. She lies on her bed at night asking herself, “Who is this monster, so arrogant and mean, wearing my son’s clothes? Why? How can I raise a son without a dad in our home?”
It is you and me, struck down by illness, hearing the doctor speaking dreadful words of cancer that turn into a blur of fear and panic. It is a single person, surrounded by her married friends and their children, drowning in loneliness, asking, “When, Lord? Why?” It is the businessman who gave it everything he had for years, his best, his all, now facing bankruptcy. He feels lost, useless, so powerless and a total failure.
This faith that walks in the valley of the shadow of death pushes forward and treads on paths “tourists at the cross” don’t dare to walk on. No, at this very place, you will find true Christians. A passionate pastor who dies a thousand deaths as he sees his church sinking into an ugly division. A man or woman of faith abandoned and cheated on, cut to the bone by a divorce that will not be repaired. The fracture of soul is so violent that this person truly feels as if she will limp for the rest of her life.
There is a faith that can and will rebuild, restore and even resurrect. Abraham lost his altar (see Genesis 12). There was a famine in the land, and the words of Scripture lift a truthful, yet painful, veil from covering what truly happened to him.
Dear reader, the Bible is an implacable mirror of truth and its purpose and vision is to save your life (see James 1:23-25).
“This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live forever. These things he said in the synagogue . . . Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?” (John 6:58-61).
Note that Christ was speaking to believers here. What was the hard saying they reacted to? It was, “You must eat My flesh and drink My blood, or else you have no life in you. My flesh is meat, and My blood is drink. And eternal life comes only through consuming them.”
Jesus saw that the people were shocked by His words. So He asked them, in essence, “Did I offend you? Are you bothered by My truth-telling?” Then He states, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). He made it crystal clear: “The very thing you’re offended by is what brings life.” How did His followers respond? “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:66).
What is Jesus saying about His gospel here? Simply put, He is stating that the message of His blood and His cross is offensive. Even though it is the only gospel that leads to eternal life, some are not going to accept it. “But there are some of you that believe not” (John 6:64).
Jesus’ words here are being borne out in many churches today. Incredibly, some congregations have removed every reference to Christ’s blood from their worship services. Pastors don’t mention it in their sermons, and hymns about the blood have been removed from the church. It’s all considered too offensive.
But Jesus warns, “It doesn’t matter how offensive My words may seem to you. You can’t change them. My words produce life and you have to consume them as you would food and drink, to make them the very fiber of your being. Therefore, you’re not to soften what I’ve said. If you remove the blood and the cross from your preaching, you’re cutting off seekers from their only hope for eternal life.”