MORE ABOUT JESUS PART 9 — READING FOR RELATIONSHIP
by Pastor Mike Fortune
May 2, 2007
I love bread! I enjoy it toasted, grilled, hot, cold, buttered, honeyed, jammed, sandwiched, and especially fresh. Don’t you? There’s nothing better than fresh bread hot out of the oven. My favorite kind of bread for toast is rye. With butter on it. My favorite kind of bread for sandwiches is wheat. A nice soft wheat bread from a bakery or if it must be purchased from the grocery store, Brownberry wheat bread. It’s a little more expensive. But it fills me up. Otherwise, I have to eat 4 pieces of the cheaper bread before I’m full. But I like all kinds of bread too. Banana bread is very tasty. Pumpkin bread is nice. My sister-in-law Carla makes a mouth watering Apple Bread. Even bread on a stick with goat’s cheese roasted over a fire is good!
I didn’t know that was true until I visited my mom’s family in Norway when I was 7 years old. They have a very primitive vacation home south of Oslo, on a tiny island called Flekkefjord, in the North Sea. In the late 80's, it finally got electricity. Today, they still take showers in the freezing cold waterfall a short walk away from the house! Anyway, I didn’t realize how tiny everything really was there until I returned for a visit in 1994 during Spring Break while attending Newbold College in England.
Anyway, back when I was 7, I think I have a couple pictures on the screen to show you, in the summertime, Uncle Rolf and Aunt Solfrid (that’s her daughter, my cousin, in the teeny bikini) took us to the beach for the day and there’s no sand at that beach. Just a bunch of rocks sticking up out of the ocean. So we went swimming and when we climbed back out, Uncle Rolf had a fire going with some long green sticks sticking out of the fire he was holding onto. And on those bark free sticks was dough that he was cooking. He was literally making bread sticks! When they were finished, warm and toasty, he took the stick out and jammed goat’s cheese where the stick had been. I remember thinking, “There is no way I’m going to eat goat’s cheese!” It smelled awful. But I was hungry and it tasted good. I don’t know how many of those goat cheese bread sticks I put away that day. It had to be a record for a 7 year old. And maybe that’s where I got this strange custom of mine of putting cheese on my jellied toast. Scandinavians do that over there all the time. If you haven’t tried that, you should. That’s pretty good too. And you don’t have to use goat’s cheese. Colby works fine. And it smells much better too.
Anyway, this probably seems like a crummy way to introduce today’s topic on reading the Bible for relationship with Jesus so I hope you don’t toast me for it. Because all my other ideas seemed half baked. I knew we kneaded something to increase our appetite and this was fresh out of the oven. So crusty as it may seem, I’m going to serve it anyway. Hoping you will listen and eat your fill. There may be a reason why Jesus compared Himself to bread. It’s hard to imagine a meal without it. Especially with some cheese on top.
Jesus is the Bread of Life
In John 6:35 (NKJV), Jesus compared Himself to Manna. “And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.’” Jesus compared Himself to bread. When Jesus said that He was the bread of life come down from heaven, He was making a comparison. In John 6, He was comparing Himself to Manna. In John 6:32 (NKJV), referring to the Manna, Jesus said, “‘Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give 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.’” Jesus was talking about Himself and comparing Himself to Manna. And there are some interesting things we can discover when we read more about the Manna and how it was given and some of the things that went along with it in the 16 th chapter of Exodus.
Spend time with Him when your day begins
Exodus 16:21 says, “So they gathered it every morning, every man according to his need. And when the sun became hot, it melted.” Did you catch the time of day? They gathered the Manna every morning. So, the question is: When should we read the Bible for relationship? Proverbs 8:17 (KJV) says, “I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.” Have you noticed if you wait until later in the day that there is already so many distractions that your mind just doesn’t want to settle down and focus? That’s been my experience. And so the morning seems like the best time to begin your day with Jesus. The children of Israel gathered the Manna every morning and when the sun became hot, what did the Manna do? It melted. Manna melts away. Golden opportunity to spend time with Jesus melt away if they’re not put above all.
Significantly, God sent the Manna to give the people daily strength. So when do you need daily strength? At the end of your day? After you’ve eaten supper? Worked all day? And you’re ready to watch some TV and pass out? Or as you begin your day? Nutritionists and doctors tell us that if you’re going to skip meals, probably the meal you shouldn’t skip is what? Breakfast. If you get a good breakfast, even if you miss other meals in the day, you’ll be all right. One of the secrets of starting or rekindling a meaningful relationship with Jesus is to schedule time for Him earlier than those last few moments of the day when you’re exhausted and drained and ready to pass out. There’s something about putting Jesus first at the beginning of your day that just works.
“Well, Pastor Mike, that’s all fine for you. You’re probably a morning person. You like getting up early to spend time with Jesus.” Which is simply not true. I’m not a morning person. With the hours my wife and I work. We’re praying that God will deliver a day shift to Jackie so our home can become easier to live in, but that’s not our reality right now. I love spending time with Jesus, but it’s not always early morning. And I read that’s the reality for many Americans too. USA Today had an article in it that said something like 50% of Americans do not work 9 to 5. So think about it, if you’re working 3 rd shift, nights, or some other arrangement, early morning for you may mean you’re just getting home from work. So understand, I’m not saying you can’t read your Bible for relationship at noon or some other time. All I’m saying is, whenever your day begins, you should start it with Jesus in your cup, know what I mean? “They gathered it every morning.”
The next part of Exodus 16:21 (NKJV) says the children of Israel gathered the Manna, “Every man according to his need.” So, when we begin our day with special and specific reading for relationship in our Bibles, how much time should we spend there? Ellen White suggests in Desire of Ages that we should spend a “thoughtful hour” each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. Especially the closing scenes. I do not think it accidental that 1/3 of all four Gospels detail the closing moments of Jesus’ life on the cross. Maybe a 1/3 of our time should be spent each day thinking about Calvary. Would we ever doubt our infinite value and worth if we did? Would we ever question God’s relentless love? Or underestimate the sinfulness of sin, of being separated from God? I don’t think so.
But Exodus 16:16 (NKJV) says, “‘Let every man gather it according to each one's need, one omer for each person, according to the number of persons; let every man take for those who are in his tent.’” This implies that no one can eat for anyone else. Sure, it says “Let every man take for those who are in his tent.” But that doesn’t mean he was going to eat their share too. It simply means he was bringing it to them. Husbands, according to Ephesians 5, should be the spiritual leaders of their homes. They have a God given responsibility to pursue and introduce heavenly things into the home. Not so they can eat more. But so that everyone can be full. Why? Because no one can eat for anyone else. Once that baby comes out of the womb, the umbilical cord is cut. Sure it depends on it’s mothers milk for a while. But not forever. Sooner or later, they grow up. Same thing with Christianity. You can’t depend on mom or dad forever. Sooner or later, you have to grow up. You must read the Bible for relationship yourself. No one can eat for you. Let every man gather according to his own need.
Just do it. . .
There’s something else just as important from Exodus 16:16. Appetites will vary. What might be good for one may not be good for another. Which may be why there is such a market still for those morning devotional books the Adventist Book Center keeps churning out every new year. You know the kind I’m talking about? The kind where there is a text, a story, followed by a prayer at the bottom of the page? Some have nature nuggets. Others are compilations from the writings of Ellen White. Some are authored by famous preachers. These books are all fine and good. I suppose they serve some kind of purpose. Perhaps for children or for those who find more than a minute of Bible reading to be overwhelming. But honestly, nobody can grow healthy and mature living on snack food. Not even healthy snack foods like trail mix and granola bars! At some point, we need to teach the emerging generations how to read their own Bibles on their own. And according to Jesus in John 5:39, it can be done! You’re aware that our church was started by a bunch of teenagers reading their Bibles? The Bible is all about Jesus. But if those devotional books are the only way you can start, go for it. And keep it up. But let’s not limit it to that. Pretending a minute with Jesus a day over a bowl of granola with your back pack over your shoulder on your way out the door is not going to cut it. Let’s spend special and specific time at the beginning of our day, whenever that may be, getting to know Jesus. Each, according to their need. So let’s not compare or judge each other’s devotional lives or swap them like trading cards. Cookie cutter Christianity is not what God had in mind. Unity is never uniformity. What the single mother of three with two jobs does in her time with Jesus will be dramatically different than what the bachelor itinerant preacher of twelve does in his time. Each, according to their need, implies that quality is more significant than quantity. Everybody has to start somewhere. How long you spend is not as important as if you spend any time at all. Does that make sense? What you do isn’t nearly as important, from God’s perspective, as if you do it.
Reading your Bible for relationship is just like working out. Last year, when I started exercising again, I didn’t begin by running for 30 minutes a day on the treadmill. I started off walking. Then walking and jogging a little bit. Then a little more. And more. And after a few months of that, I found that it got easier and easier. And since it got easier and easier, it became more rewarding and fun. And I started looking forward to working out. I wasn’t as sore. As tired. I felt energetic. And happy. Over time, you will increase. How do the sheep hear the Shepherd’s voice? By spending time with the Shepherd. How do we start or rekindle a relationship with Jesus? By spending time with the Good Shepherd. A little bit at first. Then a little more. Then a little more. Until before you know it, you’re reading for relationship and not just research. The Holy Spirit will increase our appetite for the Bread of Life. If we will only look to live, giving God permission to wake us up. All 10 bridesmaids slept in the parable Jesus told in Matthew 25. So they all needed to wake up. But for different reasons. Whatever your reason is, the point is God can wake you up. For Jesus even raises to life those who were once dead. Without a flicker of spirituality in them. For nothing is impossible with God.
. . . each day to have a relationship with Jesus
And how often do we eat the Bread of Life? Every day. Exodus 16:19 (NKJV) says, “And Moses said, ‘Let no one leave any of it till morning.’” If you try to keep today’s Manna supply until tomorrow, what’s going to happen to it? Do you remember? It rotted. The KJV says it bread worms and stank. If you try to live for today based on yesterday’s relationship with Jesus, it doesn’t work. It just stinks. You must have a fresh and daily experience with Jesus.
But some of us say we’re too busy. Amy was one of those kinds of people. She was a student. With tons of homework. Extra curricular activities. And friends. And she had been up late studying. And slept through her alarm. She woke up in a rush. With minutes to spare before 1 st period started. So she threw her clothes on and rushed to the bathroom. And as she was brushing her teeth, she started having a silent conversation with her reflection in the mirror. Her reflection asked her, “What are you doing?” And she responded, “I’m brushing my teeth.” And then she asked herself, “Why are you brushing your teeth?” And she said, “Because I’d hate to go out in public with bad breath!” “So there are some things that are so important that you wouldn’t even think about going off doing them but spending specific and special time with Jesus for the sole purpose of getting to know Him better isn’t one of them?” So she finished brushing her teeth. And told God right then and there, “Lord, if I flunk the test, I will spend time with you rather than rush off without you.” So she went back into her room, opened her Bible, and spent time with Jesus. When she finished telling Jesus all about it, she walked to class only to find out that the teacher had called in sick and there was no test that day.
Jesus is the Bread of Life come down from heaven. This means that, just as we eat food every day, we need to spend some time each day reading, thinking, and talking to Jesus if we want our relationship with Him to grow. But what if, for some reason, we don’t? Are you saying, Pastor Mike, if you miss a day of reading your Bible for a relationship with Jesus you’re lost? No, because the Bible is only one of many ways God communicates with us. Remember? We are not saved by the good things we do. And we not lost by the bad things we do. Jesus says in Matthew 7 and 25 that those who are saved are saved because they know Him and those who are lost do not. Spending daily time with Jesus, according to Jesus, is simply the best way to get to know Him better. Which is why Ellen White says in Steps to Christ pages 57-58. “The character is revealed, not by occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts.”
So the question is: Do you want to get to know Him better? I know I do. Let’s think and talk and listen and read and sing More About Jesus.