One thing at a time

Read: Numbers 7, Mark 4:21-41

It’s winter where I live. Usually, living on the southwest coast of Canada, we don’t get much for winter but buckets of rain. Today, the temperature is below freezing and there is a thin layer of crunchy snow on the ground. Though some bulbs have managed to push their shoots through the cold ground, no seeds will be planted for months yet.

Many of us Christians, myself included, act as though we are in a perpetual spiritual winter. We withhold the seed in our hands claiming the soil isn’t ready. Or maybe it is, but we either don’t know how or just plain refuse to scatter it.

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.”

Mark 4:26 (NIV)

Who is the man in this story? I am. You are. What is the seed? The Word of God. What are we supposed to do with the seed? Scatter it. Then what?

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Too many of us hold on to our seeds unsure of what we’re supposed to do once we scatter. Sometimes it’s nothing at all. But what if it doesn’t grow? What if it does?

When you go out and plant seeds in the soil, aside from a bit of water, there is very little you can do to ensure your plant comes up. You can’t dig down and check on it. You have to wait and trust that the seed you planted was a good seed and that it will sprout at the right time.

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

1 Corinthians 3:6-7 (NIV)

You have a seed to plant. We all have seeds that can be planted. And we all have water to help those seeds to grow. And still, we all have the tools to harvest those plants once they’re mature. It is rare that one person will plant, water, and harvest the same seed.

The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

1 Corinthians 3:8-9 (NIV)

Instead of worrying about a whole field, focus on one thing at a time. Plant the seed that’s in your hand right now. Share the Word of God. Keep planting. You may find you encounter someone who’s already received a seed. Water it. Keep sharing the Word of God. Keep watering. You may come across a person who’s received a seed and had it watered. That’s your harvest. Keep harvesting.

This is not just the job of pastors and teachers and church leaders. It’s your job. Ephesians 4:12 says that all of those people were given to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we reach unity in the faith. We are all to do works of service.

One person doing their work may be able to change their circle of influence. But if we all do our work—just one thing at a time, we will change the world.

Weed the worry

Read: Numbers 5-6, Mark 4:1-20

Most of us have heard or read the parable of the sower more times than we can count. From Sunday school through to Sunday sermons, if you grew up in church, you’ve been aware of this story of Jesus’ for most of you life. If we had to place ourselves in a portion of the story, the majority of us would be tempted to claim the good ground. But if we’re telling the truth, we’ve probably all had more experience in the other kinds of soil than we’d like to publicly admit. Today, let’s talk about the thorns.

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First, what is worry?

WORRY: To tease; to trouble; to harass with importunity (pressing solicitation; urgent request, application for a claim or favor, which is urged with troublesome frequency or pertinacity), or with care and anxiety.

Whom of us can claim that we have never worried and will never worry again? None. Zip. Zilch. Nada. If we’re alive, we’re bound to worry about something. Parents worry about their children. Some worry about how to pay the bills or where to find the next meal. Some worry about succeeding, others failure. Some worry about grades. Others still, worry about being alone while some worry about staying together.

We may not be able to stop the worry altogether, but we do have the ability to control it when it comes.

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

Luke 12:25-26 (NIV)

Jesus compared worry to thorns. Weeds. Unwanted growth.

Say you plant a garden. You pick a spot with plenty of sun. It is close to a water source, yet it drains well. You’ve added soil and done all that you can to ensure a fruitful garden. You pick your seeds and plan your plots. Once the seeds are in the ground, you are careful to water, but not too much. You shoo away birds that would snatch the seeds or cats that would disturb your neat rows. Before too long, your little seeds start to sprout. Row by row little bright green leaves peek through the dark soil. But wait! That one isn’t in line! It doesn’t look like a cucumber or carrot. It’s a weed. What are you going to do about it?

Most of us accept worry as a part of life. It just is. It can’t be helped. But if it can’t be helped, why would Jesus tell us not to do it?

Like your carefully planned garden, worry, like a weed, can be uprooted. It can be removed and tossed away to die. No one wanting the largest harvest possible will stand for weeds sucking up all the nutrients from the soil and choking out the productive plants. Those weeds need to go. So does worry.

Even the best-prepared soil can sprout weeds. But the diligent gardener will remove them before any damage is done.

Don’t entertain worry. There is no benefit in it. Worry takes our focus away from those things which have already been promised to us. And not only that, but it implies that our trust in God is not implicit.

Worry generally stems from a fear of lack, not having enough or not being enough. So when that little thorny sprout shows up, you remind it who’s the boss. Pull it up and cast it away with this promise:

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

An eternal sin

Read: Numbers 3-4, Mark 3:22-35

Mark 3:28

It’s a nice thought, knowing that all of our sins and blasphemies will be forgiven us. On this verse alone, we could hinge our very existence. Jesus said it, after all. But that’s not all he said.

But whoever blasphemes against he Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.

Mark 3:39 (NIV)

Yikes! We tend to believe that nothing we could ever say or do is beyond forgiveness, but apparently there’s this one thing that would earn us eternal damnation. Why? Why is this one sin so much worse than anything else we could possibly do? Once we understand who the Holy Spirit is and what his purpose is in our lives, the answer becomes very clear. Let’s start with what Jesus had to say about the Spirit.

If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

John 14:15-17 (NIV)

In Jesus’ own words, he describes a Helper that will come to live with and in us. So we have a Counselor, a Helper. Great. Why is it such a big deal to speak against the Holy Spirit?

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

Jon 14:26 (NIV)

Oh! Are you starting to get the picture? Without Jesus, in phyical form right in front of us, we need something or someone to give us a nudge in the right direction and remind us the right path we need to take. But there’s more!

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (NIV)

Not only does the Holy Spirit help us, but he comes bearing gifts. Good gifts. No, not just good, great. Great gifts. The Spirit gives us gifts of wisdom and knowledge, faith, healing and miracles. Gifts of prophecy, discernment, tongues, and interpretation. Without the Spirit none of these things exist. And, without the gifts of the Spirit, how can the body be edified?

For we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

1 Corinthians 12:13 (NIV)

And there’s the verse that wraps it all together. Why is speaking against the Holy Spirit so unforgivable?

  1. The Holy Spirit was sent to help us when Jesus’ time on earth was complete. Just as John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, Jesus prepared the way for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is there to help us, to guide us, and to remind us of all Jesus taught and commanded us.
  2. The Holy Spirit is here for our edification. He gives us these incredible gifts so that we can communicate better with God and do His amazing works on His behalf.
  3. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, the Holy Spirit is what holds us all together as one body. To blaspheme the Spirit is to speak against God, against Jesus, and against the entire body of Christ.

God has given us all that we need to succeed in the path He has set out for us, the Holy Spirit being our guide and Jesus, the Word, being the lamp that lights the way. Let us not fall into sin by reaching for one gift and not another, but let us take every advantage available to us so that we can live the full life intended for us.

Jesus at the Center

Read: Numbers 1-2, Mark 3:1-21

As much at it irks me to spell centre the American way (in a title, no less), I fear that today I must since it is a title. It’s the title of a great song that begins like this:

Jesus at the center of it all
Jesus at the center of it all
From beginning to the end
It will always be it’s always been You Jesus Jesus

As we start our journey in to the book of Numbers, we read about how God organised His people. First he started the draft. Every able-bodied man aged twenty and over was conscripted into military duty. Then He laid out the map for the camp. Suddenly Israel was no longer a group of former slaves, but they were an army.

In those days, a military camp would have looked similar to a pond after a stone had been dropped in it. The very centre, where the stone fell, would have been the person of highest rank—usually a king. In every subsequent ring would be those of lesser and lesser priority. Should an enemy come to attack the camp, they would have to plow through the entire army before finally getting to the king.

In Israel, things were a little different. There was a tent at the centre of camp. And it did house a king, but not in the expected sense. Central in the Israelite camp was the Tent of Meeting. The Tabernacle. The Holy of Holies. God’s dwelling place. He placed Himself at the very centre of all Israel and then, very deliberately, set His people around Him.

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If this is how God insisted Israel organise themselves, it begs the question, where have we placed God in our own lives? Is He at the very centre? Does everything else revolve around Him? Or is He more on the outskirts, more susceptible to being forgotten about or left out of everything altogether?

The song we started with goes on:

And nothing else matters
Nothing in this world will do
Jesus You’re the center
Ev’rything revolves around You Jesus You

We know that God doesn’t change. He wanted to be the centre of everything with Israel and He wants to be at the centre of everything with us. But do we give Him room to be just that? Is He the stone that caused the ripple or is He just something the ripple washes over?

Jesus at the Center © 2011 Integrity Worship Music, Adam Ranney | Israel Houghton | Micah Massey

WWJB?

Read: Leviticus 26-27, Mark 2

Some years ago, the big question was what would Jesus do? The acronym WWDJ appeared everywhere. Christians proudly wore the letters wrapped around their wrists and proclaimed that, before taking any action, they would ask themselves what Jesus would have done in the very same situation.

Today, I want to ask a different question. Who would Jesus be? For centuries, artists have tried to depict Christ. In film, no one can seem to agree on how he would have appeared. Was he a model with perfectly coiffed hair? Was he lean with olive skin? Was he comely or was he ugly? There are very few traits, if any, that can be agreed upon.

Here’s what I think:

I don’t think his hair was perfectly styled. Blow driers didn’t exist during his walk on earth. That’s one problem solved. I don’t think he was a model—also didn’t exist. But I do think he was well-muscled. As the (step-) son of a carpenter, he likely would have learned his father’s trade which, at the time, involved a lot of hard physical labour. Jesus would have been in great shape in the prime of his life. Based on where he was born, we can assume that he wasn’t white. Nor was he black, but somewhere in between.

But far more important than his physical features was his composure.

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Levi, also called Matthew, was the fifth man in two chapters who immediately left what he was doing when Jesus called to him. When was the last time you dropped everything when someone told you to follow?

Our culture has placed great value on followers. We count them up and search for more. We refine how and what we present to attract more followers for no other reason than we want more than the next person. We strive to attract humanity to us without much care as to how we accomplish it.

And there goes Jesus. “Follow me,” he says. And people followed.

We’re supposed to be like Jesus. We shouldn’t have to go out looking for followers. They should see something in us that appeals to them far more than what they have. When Jesus called to Peter and Andrew, James and John, and Matthew, none of those men were thrilled with their lives. Archaeology suggests that the area was over-fished in Jesus’ time. Those first four that he called had little hope with nets in hand. And Matthew was a tax collector—the worst of the worst of society. But as bad as their lives were, there had to have been something spectacular about Jesus for them to be drawn to him so immediately.

When was the last time any of us were able to draw a crowd like Jesus? He often told people to leave him alone and not talk about him. He was prone to walks of solitude. Yet the multitudes fawned over him. They were drawn to him.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

John 6:44 (NIV)

Are we allowing God to draw people through us? I think that, in order for Jesus to have been so magnetic, he completely pushed his flesh aside. There was so little of his humanity showing that God was able to shine through. Imagine what we believers could accomplish if we would only set ourselves aside to make room for God. Let us not only ask who would Jesus be, but let us ask who could we become?

Eat your fill

Read: Leviticus 24-25, Mark 1:23-45

Who doesn’t want to have their cake and eat it too? In a culture where consumption of nearly every kind is at an all-time high, we want what we want, and we want it now! When we live our lives like that every day, it’s hard not to let that same attitude seep into our relationship with God. We use Him like a genie in a bottle, only rubbing away when we want something and then getting upset when we don’t get it right away. We forget that there were some stipulations or precursors placed on our getting.

Leviticus 25:18-19

If Israel wanted the prosperous land God had promised to them back in Egypt, a few things were required of them. Okay, maybe it was more than a few since the entire book of Leviticus is an instruction manual, but you get the picture. If Israel wanted the land to prosper like they’d been promised, they had to abide by the laws God had laid out for them.

Now, before you get all but-that-was-the-Old-Testament-under-the-law on me, Jesus said something rather similar in nature.

And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after such things and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Luke 12:29-31 (NIV)

When Israel entered the Promised Land, God had promised them so much that they would only harvest six of every seven years. That seventh year, they’d reap only what grew in the unplanted fields, and that would be enough to sustain them through the year. In the 49th year, they wouldn’t reap at all, but the previous year’s harvest would be three year’s worth! All of this, if they followed God’s decrees and kept His laws.

God knows we need stuff. We need food. We need clothing. We need shelter. We need. We need. We need. We know that. He knows that. Us telling Him we need that stuff probably won’t make that big of a difference. But what I believe will make a difference is how (and how often) we approach God. Do we go to Him because we need something or do we go to Him because we need Him? Do we go to Him because we want something or do we go to Him because we want Him?

Jesus said that if we sought after the kingdom of God first, everything else would fall into place. This wasn’t a new principle he was announcing to the world. He was only reiterating what his Father had said centuries ago. Obey. Seek God. You’ll be fine.

If you want to eat your fill, you have to first do His will.

The only way

Read: Leviticus 22-23, Mark 1:1-22

Yesterday we talked about how faith can’t be done our way. There is only one my way when it comes to faith in Christ and it’s not ours. It literally is my way (Jesus’ narrow way that leads to eternal life) or the highway (the broad way that leads to nowhere good). But what does Jesus’ way look like?

Before we get into anything more, I want to set the stage.

We all live our lives through filters. It’s a fact. No two people will experience the same event in the same way. Previous experience will change our future experience. Other things like what we hope or long for, our values and beliefs, what we read or watch will all affect how we perceive a certain situation or event.

Yesterday I began reading The Way Back: How Christians Blew Our Credibility and How We Get It Back by Phil Cooke and Jonathan Bock (a book I would highly recommend to anyone claiming to be a believer). It is through the filter of the first few chapters of that book that I read today’s scripture.

In The Way Back, the authors began to approach the trouble with church these days from the perspective of marketing. Since the western church as a whole has been in a massive free fall over the last half-century or so, surely the problem must be with how we are presenting the Gospel. As it turns out, it’s not nearly so much an issue with the marketing as it is with the product. Not Jesus. There is nothing wrong with Jesus. Maybe product placement is a better term. The saying goes that, for most, the only Jesus they will ever see is the Church—you. Well, Church, we’ve done a bang-up job of marketing. We’ve made ourselves so appealing that we now look so much like the world that they can’t even find Jesus!

In an effort to appeal to the masses, the church has become a part of the masses, now barely distinguishable from many secular gatherings. This is not the church or the life Jesus presented to us.

Mark 1:17-18

Jesus called. Simon and Andrew dropped what they were doing and followed. James and John did the same a couple of verses later (Mark 1:20). We’ve been going about this Christian thing backwards trying to fit Jesus into our neatly defined lives rather than allowing our relationship with him to redefine our lives.

When asked how they would describe Christians, unbelievers used terms like: hypocritical, judgmental, harsh, power-hungry, phony, insensitive, bigoted, reactionary, and exclusive. But those aren’t the descriptors we were given.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)

If you must, read through the Gospels again. You’ll find that Jesus never did anything to appease the current culture. He pretty much did everything completely counter to it. When pressed to take a stronger leadership role, he’d disappear. When he performed a great miracle, he didn’t take a selfie with the freshly-raised to life and post it to social media; he told that person not to tell anyone.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)

If we have truly made the decision to follow Christ and, as his disciples, become fishers of men, what does that look like? Does it mean we go about our daily lives and hope someone notices a minute change in our character? Or do we leave the old life and all its trappings on the shore to do things his way. The Only Way.