Why do Christians pray before eating?

A regular part of family gatherings used to include the family sitting around the table to enjoy a meal together. Once everyone was seated, the family would pause to pray before the meal began. Many Christian families still make this a habit at every meal. Why do people pray before eating?

Whether you call it “blessing the food” or “giving of thanks,” the prayer before a meal is a reminder that every good thing comes from God. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father.” Christians pray before meals to remind themselves every good thing we have comes from God.

“Saying the blessing” is an act of giving thanks to God for giving us our daily bread. In the Lord’s prayer Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” If you have been praying for God to meet your daily needs, then the meal you are about to enjoy is a specific answer of God to that specific prayer request. The wise Christian seated before a plate of Divine provision will stop to give God thanks for answering his prayer.

Some may not realize the Bible specifically teaches about giving thanks to God for food. In 1 Timothy 4:5 Paul warned about false teachers. Their wrong teachings included forbidding marriage and forbidding the eating of meat. Paul rebuked these errors and said, “Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused.” The restrictions of the Old Testament law have been done away with by Jesus. Now, the Christian may eat any animal he desires. This means the Christian can eat snails, raw fish, lutefisk, livermush or any other unpalatable dish he desires. Give thanks for the freedom to eat that we have in Christ.

In 1 Corinthians the apostle Paul had to correct problems the church in Corinth was having with food. Christians were divided over whether they could eat things that had been offered to idols. Paul taught the church to not eat with selfishness, but to eat with concern for how their dining affected the spiritual well-being of others. Paul’s instructions are summed up with these words. “Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) Prayer before meals reminds the Christian that even when eating we are to bring glory to God.

The sanctifying act of prayer sets the food and the person apart as offerings to the Lord. Praying before a meal confesses that the food is not to be consumed merely as fuel for the achievement of the individuals personal desires. Prayer recognizes the meal is a gift given by God enabling the believer to live for the Him.

Is it a sin to miss church?

Widespread restrictions against large gatherings have forced the closure of many churches and have made church attendance nearly impossible at this time. The government requests that churches not hold services have also generated much discussion about whether or not it is sinful for a Christian to miss church. On one side of the conversation are those who say it is always wrong to miss a church service and they refuse to cancel services no matter what. On the other side of the conversation are those who think church attendance is entirely optional and rarely, if ever, attend.

The first question to answer is if the Bible commands Christians to attend church. Yes it does, in the clearest possible terms. The words of Hebrews 10:25 carry the force of a command, “Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another.” This verse is a command to Christians to regularly attend church. The New Testament is also full of instructions that are dependent on faithful church attendance. Fundamentally, the New Testament word for church means an assembly. If Christians do not assemble together they are not a church.

Can Christians assemble online together? Hebrews 10:25 says Christians assemble together to exhort one another. Christians go to church to interact with other Christians. While online interaction can serve a useful role, it cannot replace the relationship that can only be developed face to face. Christians need the kind of relationship that sits across the table from you, shares a meal with you, looks you in the eye, holds your hand or gives you a hug.

Virtual church may supplement church attendance, or serve as a temporary substitute when circumstances make church attendance impossible. But listening to a sermon online, singing hymns with your family or watching a church service on television can never replace face to face church attendance. Only gathering with other believers as the body of Christ is “the assembling of yourselves together.

However, the Bible does not command perfect church attendance. The command of Hebrews 10:25 is that believers “not forsake” the assembling. Christians are not to be deserters from the assembly. When the church assembles Christians should be there, but missing a church service or two is not necessarily forsaking the assembling. The Christian’s desire and priority should be to gather with other believers. The Christian who disregards church attendance, only attends when it is convenient or always has an excuse for why they cannot attend this Sunday is breaking the command to not forsake the assembly. If you go to church and the regulars greet you with surprise, or someone hands you a visitors card, that is a pretty good hint you might be forsaking the assembly.

The Christian who misses a service because of illness or weather is not sinning. The church that cancels Sunday services for a week or two because of factors outside their control is not sinning. The church is God’s great gift to the Christian. It is a wonderful gathering of the members of the body of Christ who are joined together in Jesus to worship their Savior, to serve one another, to be encouraged in Christlikeness and to be equipped to take the hope of Jesus to the unsaved. Why would you not want to be a regular part of that?

Does the Bible address the coronavirus?

Sunday morning, March 22, at 9:30 AM on 92.7 FM the Pastor’s Roundtable will be discussing the Coronavirus.  Many people are tired of hearing about it, but no one can deny the impact of this disease on the world today. All are being forced to confront the changes in society being imposed as a result of this infection. As everyone try to make sense of the situation, we can’t help but wonder, does the Bible say anything helpful about the Coronavirus?

The Bible does not, and would not, mention this particular virus by name. However, the Bible warns that as the return of Jesus approaches there will be wars, famines, earthquakes and widespread disease. In a sense, then, this virus is addressed by the Bible. The coronavirus is not addressed in any specific way, but it is part of what can be expected as things in the world get worse and worse in preparation for the return of Jesus.

The same passage in Matthew 24 that warns of increasing trouble also teaches Christians to not be troubled by the great difficulties that will come upon the world. Because of Jesus, the troubles of this world should hold little terror for the children of God. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The most important thing the Bible says about disease, plagues, pestilence and other widespread affliction is that God is in absolute control of every single catastrophe in the world. Whether it be a virus or the economic problems which come as a result of widespread quarantines, God is in absolute control of all things. Do not treat this declaration as a trite, religious saying that offers only hollow comfort to those who need an emotional crutch. This is bedrock truth more substantial than granite. This truth was Joseph’s comfort when he was sold into slavery by His brothers. “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good”. (Genesis 50:20) This truth runs throughout the Bible and assures people of every age in any trouble that God is still in control.

God’s control over all things is comforting because God is good and wise. He is working out all things according to His perfect plan. Nothing is random, accidental or contrary to God’s good purposes. Those who trust God know this infection will ultimately bring about the glory of God and the good of His children. God is working through the Coronavirus to bring people to salvation (Acts 17:26-27). God is using this sickness to remind humanity we are living in a world cursed by sin.

This virus also shows the powerlessness of the things worshiped in the modern world. When fear and panic is spreading around the globe, then it becomes obvious all the things we depend on for happiness and security are completely unable to secure those things for us. If coronavirus shuts down the sports we love so much, then maybe sports are not powerful enough to give the security and satisfaction we crave. If coronavirus shuts down the movies we anticipate every weekend, then maybe entertainment is not powerful enough to give us lasting joy and peace. Though the coronavirus is far less severe than the plagues that afflicted Egypt, it illustrates the same principle. The gods of this world are powerless. The Bible shows that only the God of heaven rules. He is not dismayed or embarrassed by this infection. He is orchestrating its spread to accomplish His loving purposes. Those who trust God realize this virus is not an interruption in His plans. The coronavirus not hindering what God is trying to do. The coronavirus is completely under the control of God. Through it He is accomplishing His perfect plans for this world.

What should a person look for in a church?

People have many different reasons for searching out a new church to attend. Moving into a new area, returning to church after many years of not going or dissatisfaction with the current church all lead people to look for a new church home. The things people desire in a church are even more varied than the reasons they search in the first place. Every one has a different opinion about what is important in a church. Some look for a good kids ministry, others for a music program they like. Some look for vibrant ministries for singles, others for an active seniors group. Some look for a place to serve, others for a place to blend in. Some look for a dynamic preacher, others for friends. The list could go on and on.

The Bible teaches several things that are essential to a healthy church. These are the kinds of things Christians should make most important in their search criteria. The following things are in no particular order, but each are essential for a Biblical church.

Look for a church that holds to true, Biblical doctrine. The Bible places a high priority on proper doctrine. From the very beginning of the church the believers continued in “the apostles doctrine.” (Acts 2:42) Many of the letters in the New Testament were written to correct doctrinal errors in churches. The pastor of the church in Ephesus, Timothy, was instructed to give careful attention to doctrine. A church that teaches contrary to the Bible, especially about salvation, should never be a Christian’s church home.

Jesus gave two rituals to the church: baptism and communion. These two things are not optional. The timing or frequency of the Lord’s Supper is never addressed in the Bible. Jesus commanded “this do in remembrance of Me.” Jesus commissioned His disciples to “teach all nations, baptizing them.” A church which never has communion or does not practice baptism is not being obedient to the clear commands of Jesus.

The church that continued in the apostles doctrine also continued in prayer. Prayer is a major theme running throughout the Bible. Prayer was modeled, taught and commanded by Jesus. Nearly every book in the New Testament addresses prayer. Prayer is commanded for the individual and for the church body. A church that will not pray together is unhealthy and as substantial as a movie set.

God has also given clear guidelines regarding the character of those who will lead in the church. The Christian must look for a church whose pastors reflect the Biblical character, morals and doctrine described in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The Christian must look for a church whose deacons are the kind of men described in 1 Timothy 3 and Acts 6. While no leader will be perfect, the leadership of the church should meet the New Testament qualifications for leaders.

A church that does not teach the Word is not a church. The New Testament church placed a priority on preaching. Believers gathered together to hear the preaching of the Word. The pastor is required to have the ability to teach and preach. Pastors are commanded to preach the Word when it is well received and to preach the Word when it is rejected. New Testament preaching is not motivational speaking, political campaigning, opinionated tirades or how-to speeches. The New Testament defines Biblical preaching as reading Scripture, explaining Scripture and applying Scripture to life (1 Timothy 4:13). Believers ought to seek for a church which preaches the Word.

Singing is also a necessary part of the gathering of the church. Though music style is a concern and of great importance to many, the style of music is not most important. What is most important is that the music ministry function in a way that praises God (Ephesians 5:19) and that teaches and encourages believers (Colossians 3:16). Congregational singing can never replace preaching, but when the church gathers it must teach itself through song. Christians ought to look for a church that sings together, that sings praises to God and that sings songs which teach Biblical truth.

The fellowship of the church is essential for a healthy church and for healthy Christians. This fellowship goes deeper than mere friendliness, though it seems hard to imagine how an unfriendly church can have genuine fellowship. Fellowship among believers is a joining together in harmony and humility for the purpose of promoting individual and corporate growth in Christlikeness. Christians ought to look for a church which will help them be more like Jesus (Ephesians 4:15).

The Great Commission commands every believer, including church leaders, to teach the gospel to the unsaved. The New Testament reveals that the preaching of the gospel was a regular part of the gathering of the church. A church that refuses to give the gospel can not legitimately claim to be a church. Christians must be part of a church which teaches the gospel, preaches the gospel and challenges every believer to proclaim the gospel to others.

Additional, important prioriteis could be mentioned, but what these criteria have in common is submission to the authority of the Bible. More than anything else, Christians must be a part of a church that submits to the Bible as the sole authority for its teaching, its practice, and its thinking. Christians need to seek a church that is clearly built on the Word of God.

Many other personal preferences weigh on people’s minds when they are evaluating a church. Many things seem important at the time, but care must be taken to ensure the Biblical things remain most important. A church can survive with a weak children’s ministry, but it is no church if it is not obedient to the Bible. Christians can be edified with a less than exciting music ministry, but a Christian will be malnourished if he attends a church which does not teach and follow the Bible.

What is church discipline (or excommunication)?

Several years ago a large church in Texas was sued by a former member because they disciplined her out of the church. The church claimed it was following Scripture and their own by-laws. She claimed they were slandering her and treating her unfairly. This instance is far from the only example of a church being sued for libel, slander or defamation of character after removing a member from the church. The practice of punishing a church member by removing them from the membership is known by different names. Many call it excommunication (but this is not to be confused with the form of excommunication practiced by the Catholic church), a lot of churches call it church discipline and some down South refer to it as being “churched.”

Church discipline is a difficult and painful subject. Many people, Christian and non-Christian alike, see church discipline as judgmental and cruel. Far too many church goers can tell stories of church discipline gone wrong. Pastors or other church leaders have wielded church discipline as a means to consolidate or maintain power. Churches have disciplined members because they were an embarrassment to the congregation. Discipline has been accompanied by personal attacks, gossip or slander. Opposite from abusive church discipline is the equally serious problem of no discipline at all.

Despite the challenges accompanying church discipline, the Bible repeatedly commands it to be practiced by the church. Jesus Himself was the first to describe the formal process of church discipline. The process is described in Matthew 18 and begins with a private conversation between two people that is based upon a deep understanding of how much Jesus loves His children. When one Christian falls into sin another is to lovingly step in to help bring the sinning Christian back to obedience. If the sinning Christian refuses to turn from his sin the other then brings two or three from the church into the conversation. This is small group goes to intervene in the life of the sinning Christian and call him back to obedience to Christ. The task of the group is to help maintain Biblical compassion and integrity throughout the conversation. If the sinning Christian refuses to repent, the small group is to bring the matter to the church body. All the church members are then to go to the sinning believer and implore him to repent of his sin. If he refuses to repent after the call of the church then the membership is to formally remove the sinning believer from the church.

Jesus’ instructions emphasize that Church discipline is not an unkind act on the part of the church. The church discipline defined in the Bible is an act of love that seeks to bring the wandering sheep back into the fold. A key element of church discipline are the words of Jesus, “if he shall hear thee; thou hast gained thy brother.” The purpose of church discipline is to restore a sinning brother to a right relationship with God and his fellow Christians.

Church discipline never threatens the salvation of the person. The church has no authority to revoke someone’s salvation. Nor is church discipline Intended to shame the person into compliance with the desires of the church. Biblical church discipline is not the same as shunning. The relationship between the church and the sinning believer changes, but Christians do not avoid the unrepentant. Though they can no longer interact together as brothers and sisters in Christ, CHristians still lovingly seek to win the person back to obedience to Christ. Though fellowship is now hindered by the sin that has come between them, conversation is not cut off by the church. Instead, Christians will compassionately call their sinning brethren to repentance and restoration.

Because sin always destroys the believers relationship with God and men, those who truly love one another will “pursue holiness with all men.” Loving Christians will consider each other to “rovoke one another to love and good works. Sometimes the church body must engage in the painful process of amputating a sinning member, but it always does so that the sinner’s “soul may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 5:5)

Are the Locust Swarms in Africa a Fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy?

Reports out of north Africa tell of a massive swarm of locusts that has been plaguing the region since December. Some news agencies have connected the swarm of locusts with Biblical prophecies of the return of Jesus. Thousands of acres of crop land in east Africa, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, have been destroyed. Reports are now saying the swarm has reached the borders of China. This epic swarm is destroying crops and threatening the well-being of millions. It is an international catastrophe. Some preachers have said this swarm fulfills Biblical prophecy of tragic plagues that will hit the earth shortly before Jesus returns. Does it?

Locusts and plagues of locusts are a familiar theme in the Bible. A plague of locusts was one of the ten judgments of God upon Egypt when He brought the Israelites out of slavery. Locust swarms were a familiar sight to the Israelites during the entire Old Testament period. God warned Israel in the book of Deuteronomy that if they did not obey Him, their land flowing with milk and honey would be laid waste by droughts, disease, swarms of locusts and other pestilence. In Joel the totality of God’s judgment on Israel was prophesied to be like crop lands stripped bare by a swarm of locusts. The Bible also speaks of locusts to depict huge armies or other large groups of people. In the book of Nahum the Assyrian empire was compared to locusts. The prophet decreed that even if the Assyrians multiply themselves like locusts, they would all be destroyed.

The book of Revelation refers to locusts in its description of the series of judgments that will come on the earth during the Tribulation. A scene described in Revelation 9 is very dramatic. An angel sounds a trumpet and the bottomless pit was opened. Like a volcanic eruption, smoke filled the skies and blotted out the stars. A massive swarm like locusts came out of the smoke. However, the locusts described in Revelation 9 are not normal locusts. These are not crop eating insects. These are horrible beasts with the ability to sting men and cause terrible, prolonged pain.

The swarms of locusts in Africa and the Middle East are causing great harm, but they are not a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. The Bible never says plagues of crop eating insects will be a sign or precursor of the return of Jesus. The Bible teaches that the normal troubles of this world will continue and increase until the return of Jesus. In the final years before His Second Coming the entire earth will be shaken with terrible catastrophes unlike anything the world has seen since the flood of Noah. Droughts, earthquakes, forest fires, pandemics and insect swarms are terrible, but they are nothing compared to the truly terrifying calamities that will ravage the earth in the days to come. When God pours out His judgments on the earth, none will confuse them with natural disasters. In the meantime, we must live soberly, righteously and godly, looking for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:12-13)

What does the Bible say about angels?

The Bible says much about angels, but does not give many particulars about them. The Bible says there are many angels, but does not say how many. At times the Bible describes specific angels, but the descriptions vary from angel to angel. Some angels are described as living creatures with multiple faces and multiple wings. Lucifer is described as once being covered in precious stones. Other angels are described as appearing like men. Unfortunately, the Biblical teaching about angels leaves us with more questions than answers.

The Bible mentions three angels by name- Lucifer, Gabriel and Michael. Michael is an archangel, a general over the angelic hosts. (Jude 1:9) Gabriel is a special messenger of God sent directly from His throne to declare God’s messages to men. (Daniel 8:16) Lucifer was a covering cherub who served at the throne of God. He rebelled against God, was cast out of his position and is now known as Satan. When Lucifer fell many other angels rebelled with him. Angels can now be divided into two categories- righteous angels and evil spirits, or, angels and demons. The Bible mentions two other groups of angels- cherubim and seraphim. The Bible does not give a job description of cherubim and seraphim but cherubim seem to be those who minister directly to God. (Psalm 18:9-10) Seraphim seem to serve in the heavenly throne room and are engaged entirely in the worship of God. (Isaiah 6:2-3)

Angels are messengers of God. An angel told Mary and Joseph of the birth of Jesus. An angel explained to Daniel God’s plan for the coming of the Messiah. During the Great Tribulation angels will preach the gospel to the world. The Bible also says angels were involved in the giving of the Mosaic Law (Galatians 3:19), they announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds (Matthew 4:11), they told Cornelius to send a messenger to Joppa (Acts 10:3), they told Philip to go to the desert to speak with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26), and they told the disciples of Jesus’ second coming. (Acts 1:11)

Angels minister to the children of God and serve as protectors. The Bible does not teach that every person has a guardian angel, but it does teach that angels guard the people of God.(Hebrews 1:14)

Angels are spiritual creatures that do not possess a physical body. At times they appear in human form, but they also appear in other forms. Ezekiel 1 describes certain cherubim as living creatures who had four faces, four wings and glowed like fire. Angels are powerful spiritual creatures.

Most importantly, angels are God’s servants. They go at His bidding, and even Satan and the other rebel angels can only do that which God permits them to do. (Job 1:12; 1 Kings 22:22). The righteous angels praise and worship God. They rejoice in His works (Job 38:7) and marvel at His salvation of men. (1 Peter 1:12) Perhaps the best description of angels is found in Psalm 103:20-21. “Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.” Angels are mighty, obedient to the commands of God and the righteous angels willingly serve to do all His will.

What was the Ark of the Covenant?

The Ark of the Covenant was recently in the news with reports of a claim the Ark is being kept by Ethiopian priests in a church in Africa. This claim has not been proven, but it does cause many to wonder what it would be like if the actual Ark of the Covenant was found. Many people know of the Ark because of the Ark to the Indiana Jones movies. In “Raiders of the Lost Ark” Indiana discovers the Ark in a long lost Egyptian city and then rescues the Ark from Nazis who were attempting to tap into its power to gain a military advantage during the second World War. The movie climaxes when a German officer opens the Ark and brings destruction upon everyone present (except the hero and heroine). The movie ends with the Ark being encased in a crate and stored away in a massive warehouse somewhere in Washington, D.C. While the movie is obviously fictional, the Ark of the Covenant was a real thing that remained at the center of Jewish worship for nearly one thousand years.

The ark of the covenant was built at the command of God. Through Moses God instructed the Israelites to build a tabernacle where He would be worshiped. His instructions included furniture for the tabernacle: altars, tables, candlesticks and the ark of the covenant. God gave precise instructions about to Israel about the tabernacle and all its furnishings.

The Ark was a simple wooden box about 4 feet long and 2 feet wide. The wood was overlaid inside and out with gold. A gold moulding went around the top of the Ark and a gold ring was set in each corner. Golden staffs were made to fit inside the rings and were to be used by the Levites to carry the Ark. The lid of the Ark of the Covenant was also covered in gold and at each end of the lid was placed a statue of an angel. The angels faced one another and their outstretched wings covered the top of the Ark. This lid was known as the mercy seat, and it was the place where the presence of God dwelled. God instructed Israel to place three things inside the Ark: the copy of the law written on Mt. Sinai, a pot of manna and the staff of Aaron. (Hebrews 9:4) These three items served as reminders of the covenant God had made with Israel and evidences of His fulfillment of that covenant.

The Ark of the Covenant with the mercy seat was placed in the Holy of Holies where they remained unseen by any but the High Priest of Israel. When King Solomon built the temple, the Ark of the Covenant was transferred into the temple where it remained for the next several hundred years. When the temple was destroyed by the armies of Babylon all the furniture was taken out and shipped to Babylon. The Bible says nothing about the ark after the destruction of Jerusalem.

The Ark of the Covenant was not a supernatural box and it did not give supernatural power to armies carrying it. In fact, the Israelites came to believe the Ark would save them from defeat in battle. They carried it into conflict with the Philistines, lost the battle and the Philistines captured the Ark. No ghosts flew out of the Ark and soldiers did not melt. After the Philistines captured the Ark many Philistines died and others suffered unpleasant diseases. When the Ark was sent back to Israel, a group of Israelites looked inside it. God killed thousands of men in that town because they opened the Ark of the Covenant. However, the Bible never describes the Ark as having supernatural powers, or as striking down armies of men. God punished those who violated the holiness of the Ark of the Covenant, but most of these punishments were not dramatic or obviously supernatural. The ark of the covenant was never a magic box. It was a constant reminder of the covenant of God with Israel and the seat of God’s presence in the midst of His people.