Living in the Present
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Why I read Exodus 16:9-36, the part on manna, was because of the experience that I told you we had just about three days ago when Irene [my wife] encouraged me to get rid of all the old sound and video equipment that we brought from Campus Church. I brought it because I thought the camera and the equipment was very expensive and cost us a lot of money. I thought, “Well, eventually, it’s still good enough to perhaps do the videos in Russia or the training videos that you have been doing for the road rep profession.” I always thought, “Oh well, we can use them for something.”
Then gradually, I began to realize myself that this little Sony microphone that we have, because of it’s advanced technology, is far more efficient and precise than most of the good mics we used there. In fact, I’ve held on to some of the mics — but the little video camera we have here is probably as good in resolution as the big expensive $60,000 camera that we originally bought for Campus Church.
So Irene said, “Let’s throw it away. Let’s get rid of it. Let’s not hold on to it.” It was at that moment that I realized that I still thought while we had that stuff, in a way, we were kind of carrying on some of the advantages that God had given us in Campus Church. I suppose I would have persuaded myself, “Well, we’re being faithful with money that loved ones gave to God’s work and we’re not throwing away money.” Yet, I can see that it is no longer worth that kind of money. In fact, the big camera, as elaborate as it is, requires a lot of adjustments by technicians two or three times a year to keep it working. It would actually cost us more to keep that operating than it is to run these little Sony video cams that we have.
The same story is true of the sound equipment and of most of the other things. Did we have an argument over getting rid of that stuff? We certainly had — and of course, I fought every step of the way. You can see in the garage I have still retained an odd bit that probably should be given to the Vietnam vets — I shouldn’t say thrown away – but given to the Vietnam vets because maybe some of them can use it or maybe some company that is producing little league videos can use it.
Well, I wasn’t happy with my own performance and wasn’t happy with Irene’s performance. I did what I try to do all the time, be honest before God. “Stale manna” came into my head very clearly – “stale manna”. You remember, the Israelites were told, “God will give you this manna. It will lay on the ground like hoarfrost, coriander seed. It will lay on the ground every morning that you are in the wilderness except on the Sabbath.” I suppose it would be their Saturday. “On the Sabbath there will be none, so gather enough on Friday” — or the day before the Sabbath. “Gather enough to do you that day and the Sabbath day and that will keep overnight. So what you gather on Friday will keep overnight for Saturday and you’ll be able to eat it on the Sabbath. But then each of the other days, just gather enough for that day, because if you try to keep it till the next day, it will grow stale, and foul, and there will be worms in it.” And that’s probably what Jesus is emphasizing when he taught us in the Lord’s prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” — just give us enough for today. If you gather some for tomorrow you’ll have stale manna on your hands. It will not keep.
I suddenly realized that the “equipment” wasn’t the stale manna but my hoping to carryover some of the advantages, or the gifts, or the money, or the equipment that God had given us for a PAST ministry. I was hoping to carry that over into the PRESENT ministry — and for what purpose? “Oh, to aid the present ministry — to make it more possible, to save us spending money that we didn’t
need to spend.” Of course, it came right to my heart, “I will give you manna for today. I will give you the manna that you need today — and indeed, that is the only manna that you’ll be able to use and that you’ll be able to be nourished by is the manna that I give you today.”
I think we have said it in past times, “Yesterday’s manna cannot be used for today.” We often say, “Yesterday’s experience of God will not do us today. Yesterday’s grace cannot be used today.” In fact, I saw that insofar as I was trying to preserve yesterday’s manna or to use it, I was in a sense taking over control of the operation myself and trying to ensure that we could do this bit — maybe without God’s provision — or maybe with what he provided years ago.
That comes home to me in our own experiences. It came very plainly to me that you cannot live off yesterday’s experience of Jesus. You cannot live off yesterday’s insights. You cannot live off the experience that you had years ago. You cannot live off the light that you had years ago. You have to move on. You have to move on if you’re going to receive today’s manna. If you’re going to be alive, spiritually fresh in Jesus, then you have to receive from him what he has to give you TODAY. What he gave you yesterday was not bad. What he gave you two weeks ago was not bad. What he gave you years ago was not bad — but it was right for that time.
Now just as a river is always moving on and you cannot step into the same river twice, so in our own experience with Jesus, you cannot live off what he showed you yesterday. Yesterday was baby food compared with the food that he has to give you today. Yesterday was for the little light that you had THEN. TODAY you have more light and he has more light to give you. If you live off yesterday’s light, you’ll begin to have staleness in your own life today. I saw that — probably in my own heart. It’s up to all of you what is in your hearts. I saw that the life with Jesus can get stale and dry if you’re not sinking your roots deeply into him. If you’re not sinking your roots deeply into Christ, your experience with him can get dry, run-of-the-mill, a bit of a burden — even to the point of uptightness and some frustration and great weariness and tiredness.
I don’t remember the details of artesian wells. We studied it a little in geology — but I believe an artesian well is underneath the surface of the ground — that’s what comes to my mind. Jesus has promised us living water. You remember, he says, “Out of the depths shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38) We know just from our experience these past two weeks that our well out there has to go down 270 feet before it hits a vein of water. Unless we sink our roots deeply into Christ himself, we will not get living water. We will end up living off the stale manna of yesterday.
I began to see myself, that it is so easy to try to live by “the letter of the law” — not just in the sense of, “We ought to do this if we’re going to be Christian. We ought to believe THIS if we’re going to be Christian” — not just that. Therefore, not just a life of law and a life of doing things that you ought to do if you want to be like Christ — but also, in the early stages of life with God, you can live a little bit preoccupied with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You can be preoccupied with, “Now this is what we should do if we’re going to live consistently in Christ.” “This is what we should believe when we come into this kind of situation.” “This is the way to deal with temptation when it comes about.” “This is the way to get guidance when you need it. So when you come into this situation you ought to do THAT. When you come into this situation you ought to do THAT.”
All of that is fair enough and true enough in its way. If you say to me, “Is it wrong to share that with another person?” Probably at times it might be helpful. At times it might clear up confusion. At times it might clarify things for a baby Christian, but it’s death to remain on that
level yourself because that level is strictly a level of knowledge of how to live close to Christ. It’s very easy to keep dealing with those “how’s” and if you then never do them or do them in a mental way. It’s a bit like me saying to Sandra, “If you want to have a good conversation with Irene, here are the things she’s interested in and you could talk this way. I should tell you she really is an enthusiastic republican in politics.” I can explain just how you do it — or I can explain to Colleen, “Now, Sandra is really interested in running, so if you want to have a good conversation with her, she’s interested in running — and remember she’s Polish – and, etc.” — then Sandra never having that conversation with Irene, or Colleen never having that conversation with Sandra.
In other words, it’s possible to be very clear in your mind, “How to live the Christian life”, but actually, never to touch the Savior, himself — never to sink your roots deeply into Christ and draw up living water and eat fresh sweet and energizing manna. I saw that yes, it’s easy to live off stale manna. It’s also easy to try to live off the insights and the truths that you saw for the first time two years ago. They’re really stale manna. What I saw was it’s very easy for so many of us in Christendom to be living off stale manna throughout our whole Christian life — that is, to be always preoccupied with, “Here’s the way to deal with temptation.” “Here’s the way to get guidance from Jesus.” “Here’s the way to love people and here’s the way …”
The Savior stands here and says, “Thou Father in me and I in them.” HE’s standing here saying, “Abide in me and I in you.” God is saying, “You are my workmanship created in Christ Jesus”– and all the time, we’re ignoring him, thinking only that we are ourselves and trying to work out how to do what would please him. We’re trying to work out what John Wesley did when he was used by God and trying to do the same thing – or we’re trying to work out what Frances Havergal did and trying to do the same thing. All the time Jesus is saying, “You search the scriptures, you search the books, you search your own mind — and it is those things that bear witness to me — but you will not come to ME that you may have life.”
I saw again that there’s a depth that can be found only in the Savior himself. If we do not sink our roots deeply into Jesus himself increasingly as the days go by, we will find ourselves eating stale manna and it will make us sick. We will be starving. We will be dry, thirsty and hungry and life will be rather a burden. I’d just remind us again of the verses that we’ve said repeatedly (I don’t think they bore you because they’re so true): Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” John 1:3, “Everything that has been made was life in Christ Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 12:27, “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
We are part of Jesus. He is us. “It is not I that live but Christ that lives within me.” (Galatians 2:20) All we need is Jesus himself. We need Jesus himself. If you all said to me, “Do you mean we don’t need Oswald Chambers? We don’t need Watchman Nee? We don’t need Hudson Taylor? We don’t need John Wesley? We don’t need John Calvin? We don’t need the good books on spiritual life?” That’s right — those we can do without. We can do without all those if we have to. We cannot do without Jesus. He said, you remember, “Abide in me and I in you and you will bear much fruit. But without me you can do nothing.” And it came home to me again you know, that that’s his promise, “Abide in me and I in you and you will bear fruit and by that my Father will be glorified.” (John 15)
It’s interesting that verse doesn’t run, “Go and preach the gospel to all nations and you’ll bear much fruit.” The verse doesn’t run, “Go and witness for me to others and you will bear much fruit.”
The verse doesn’t go, “Bring many into the kingdom and you will bear much fruit.” In fact, in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” So actually, it’s only God who can draw people. Yet, we still have the idea that bearing fruit is going out and doing something to bring people to Jesus — and that will be fruit. Jesus said it very simply. It’s in John 15, and you should look at it, “Abide in me and I in you and you will bear much fruit and by that my Father will be glorified for without me you can do nothing.”
Without Jesus himself we can do nothing. Maybe you should look at that — it’s John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him.” In our prayers, in our prayer life, sitting in the car — maybe it’s a little bit more difficult when we’re eating — but certainly when we’re sitting, thinking, or when we’re going to bed at night, “Savior, Lord Jesus, we need you. Lord, I need you. Lord Jesus, come. Lord Jesus, bring your heart into me now. Lord, what are you thinking in me? What are you feeling in me at this moment?” Abide in him and let him abide in us and then we will bear much fruit.
Him abiding in us is what we touched before. Speaking as he speaks, talking as he talks, speaking his word AFTER him, speaking his word WITH him — it’s both a prayerful thing and it’s an active thing. It’s living in Jesus. It’s letting him live in us. It’s not abiding by his principles. It’s not trying to think — as we used to say or at least I used to say — “If you’re ever uncertain what to do just think what would the Lord Jesus do?” It’s true in a way, but too easily it gets into, “Well, the Lord Jesus would do what Wesley did.” “The Lord Jesus would do what Paul did.” The Lord Jesus is in you. He is here — you can ask him himself. You can sink your roots deeply into him and he will express his words through you.
It’s what is, “Lord Jesus, this is your life — go, do, speak, act Lord. Here are my hands. Lord, do what you want with them.” It’s an active thing. Then in prayer, a quiet thing, a sinking your roots deeply into Jesus through your hungering and thirsting for him — aware that without him you can do nothing. If you say to me, “Well, what’s the heart of that — I mean, it sounds a bit mystical?” I think the heart of it is that the Father is involved all the time every day in getting us to turn from the world and to turn from each other, and to turn from every other source of strength. I think that’s what he’s about. I think that’s why we have a lot of our frustrations and a lot of our deep sadness and deep sense of futility at times. It’s the Father graciously showing us, “There is nothing there. There is nothing there. They are dear people. This is a dear organization. This is a dear operation. This is a dear world — there is much beauty in it, there is much kindness in it — but it’s dead. Without ME you can do nothing. The only thing that is good in all this that you see around you is ME. That’s what gives it life. If you ever look to the creature or the creation rather than the creator, you’ll find yourself dead, dry, starving and hungry. Sink your roots deeply into me.”
I suppose one of the benefits of praying either early in the morning or late at night, or even in the middle of the night, but certainly when you’re very much alone on your own in the darkness, is that somehow God is able to show you there is only one world. There IS only one world — in here, inside — you’ll forgive me as Jesus is beyond “man” or “woman” — inside Jesus’ womb. That’s the only real world — inside Jesus. HE is the only real world. Inside him — that’s the only real world. The rest he made and it has flavors of him in it — but it’s still fallen and therefore, it’s somewhat contorted, somewhat perverted and somewhat diluted. HERE, inside him, is all I need. “In him is all I need. In him is all I need.” [ a hymn refrain]
Stale manna tires you and wearies you. Eventually, life becomes utterly unbearable. God is in the business of exposing to us and giving us our fill of stale manna so that we will sink our roots deeply into Christ himself and live off HIM. You remember, he said the same thing in those verses, “Our fathers ate bread in the wilderness. They ate and died, but I am the bread of life and he that eats of me will never die.” (John 6:49) Don’t be cast down every time you discover that you’ve been eating stale manna. Rejoice in God’s goodness in showing us that — and turn to our beloved Savior who has waited so long for us to come into his arms and to embrace him every moment.