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.

That is the way to know

I believe that there’s more wisdom in Disney movies than we give credit for. In the 2007 movie, Enchanted, the displaced Giselle breaks out into song and dance with That’s How You Know—a song all about how you can tell if a man truly loves a woman. In the end (and after a lot of lyrics), the gist of the number is that he’ll find a way to show the girl.

You’ve got to show her you need her
Don’t treat her like a mind reader
Each day do something to lead her
To believe you love her

Imagine that. The way to make sure that someone knows that you love them and that you belong to them is to do things for them—to show them.

And how can we be sure that we belong to him? By obeying his commandments. If someone says, “I belong to God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and does not live in the truth. But those who obey God’s word really do love him. That is the way to know whether or not we live in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Christ did.

1 John 2:3-6 (NLT)

As Christians, we should never have to go around telling people who and what we are. Our actions, our obedience to the Word of God, should give us away. While God knows your every thought, He shouldn’t have to read your mind to assure Himself that you belong to Him. Your words and actions should tell the world.

What words? What actions?

Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment, for it is an old one you have always had, right from the beginning. This commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before.

1 John 2:7 (NLT)

There is no excuse a believer can make for living a life outside of love. For if God—who is love—lives within us, there is no room for hate. And if we hate while claiming to love, we are liars because both darkness and light cannot exist in the same space.

You either love or you don’t. You either belong to God or you don’t. There is no place in between. No grey area. You’re one or the other and that is the way to know whether or not we live in him.

Daily Bible reading: Daniel 1-2, 1 John 2

It’s tough

In 1992, four and a half year old Jordy became the youngest person ever to make it on to Billboard’s Hot 100 with his dance hit, Dur dur d’être bébé. Loosely translated, It’s tough to be a baby, the song described the trials of being a toddler. Don’t touch this. Don’t touch that. Get your finger out of your nose. Sit still.

We all know that being a baby isn’t as rough as Jordy described. All a baby has to do is cry a bit and Mommy or Daddy come running to change their clothes, feed them, bathe them, cuddle them. While there are a lot of rules to learn as a child grows up, never again in their life will they have so much done for them.

Sometimes, we can be like a baby trying to convince the world how tough it is to be us. But you just don’t know what I’m going through. I feel like I’m the only one! While I don’t want to belittle anyone’s pain or suffering, you’re not the only one.

Take a firm stand against [the Devil], and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.

1 Peter 5:9 (NLT)

There are times when we can get so caught up in our own pain and search for sympathy that we completely ignore the fact that we have family members that are going through the very same thing. They could use some of that comfort we’re trying so hard to find. And when we, like an infant, cry out for satisfaction, those same people look on and shake their heads. We are never alone in our pain and we are not the only ones deserving of compassion. Not only that, but God has already poured out on us all that we need.

In his kindness, God called you to his eternal glory by means of Jesus Christ. After you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.

1 Peter 5:10 (NLT)

When we look at our suffering—no matter what it is—in the light of what Jesus already endured, it pales in comparison. None of us are ever alone in our suffering. All over the world there are Christians who also endure hurt, pain, suffering, and persecution. Instead of seeking out sympathy, perhaps we would be better off giving it and sharing in each other’s suffering, helping each other through our trials until such a time as God restores, supports, and strengthen us.

It doesn’t have to be tough.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 40, 1 Peter 5

Be happy

Be happy if you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God will come upon you.

1 Peter 4:14 (NLT)

Happy probably isn’t the first, or even second, or third, word I’d use to describe how I feel when I’m insulted.

HAPPY: Lucky; fortunate; successful.

It may seem more than a little counterintuitive, but in order to be counted as a successful Christian, you will have to be insulted for it.

It’s not that we should go looking for persecution, but if you are living the life God has called all of His children to, it will find you. If you’ve never been insulted or persecuted because of your faith you either live in a very small bubble, or you’re not really living your faith to the extent you should be.

There is something about Christianity that rubs the rest of the world the wrong way—and they usually aren’t afraid to let you know about it. And when those those insults come flying your way, they are nothing to shy away from. We should be boldly facing them head on.

But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his wonderful name!

1 Peter 4:16 (NLT)

It is to our benefit to be called out for our faith. If we endure, we become stronger for it. And though the world would try to bring us shame, they only bring us further glory through our association with God the Father.

So even in the trials and the insults, be happy. Put the world behind you and focus on God before you.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 38-39, 1 Peter 4

The walking dead

There is far more to the Christian life than a simple confession. If you’ve been reading along, by now you know that. But not all those who call themselves Christians do. Churches around the world are filled with the walking dead—those who profess faith, but display no proof of it at all.

So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all—it is dead and useless.

James 2:17 (NLT)

How do you know someone is alive? This seems like a pretty stupid question, but go along with me for a minute. You know someone is alive because something is happening. A heart is beating. Lungs are drawing in breath. The brain is active. There are indicators of life—all of which are measureable.

I recently spent a day in the emergency room with my younger sister. Her doctor’s office called her in a near panic because some measurements in her blood were alarmingly low. All day long, hospital staff were coming and going taking measurement after measurement of an assortment of different things. Temperature. Blood pressure. And, before we could leave, they had to draw blood (which seemed a little counterintuitive since we were there because she needed blood) so that more measurements could be taken. All of the things that prove whether a person is healthy or unfit, alive or dead can be measured.

How can your faith be measured?

[Abraham’s] faith was made complete by what he did—by his actions.

James 2:22b (NLT)

Because Abraham did what God told him to do, when He told him to do it, and how he was told, God declared Abraham to be righteous. He was even called a friend of God (verse 23).

Life, in any form is tangible. It can be measured in various ways—faith included.

Dear brothers and sisters, what’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can’t save anyone.

James 2:14 (NLT)

We can be the walking dead—saying we have faith, but doing nothing to prove it. Or we can have living faith—proving it by our actions and obedience.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 22-23, James 2

Carried away

As we humans grow from infancy to adulthood, there is little we can do to stop or alter the process. We get carried away on this journey called maturity. As we age, our bodies mature. All we have to do is ensure that we do what we can to sustain ourselves—proper food, activity, rest, and those things change as we age.

We cannot prevent our bodies from maturing, but why do we stop our spirits from going through the same process?

So let us stop going over the basics of Christianity again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start all over again with the importance of turning away from evil deeds and placing our faith in God.

Hebrews 6:1 (NLT)

The term go on here is not so much a call to action, but a call to let go.

…the thought [would not be] primarily of personal effort, but of personal surrender to an active influence. The power is working; we have only to yield ourselves to it.

The International Bible Commentary

No one wants to see a 40-year-old man still acting like the high school football jock. It’s embarrassing. So why is it okay when it comes to our Christianity? Why do we allow ourselves to remain in spiritual infancy when we’ve been called to maturity? By continually going over the basics of Christianity, we essentially anchor ourselves to spiritual infancy. We become malnourished because, while we should be growing, we’re only feeding ourselves the bare necessities required to keep us alive.

Solid food is for those who are mature, who have trained themselves to recognize the difference between right and wrong and then do what is right.

Hebrews 5:14 (NLT)

Like giving solid food to a baby for the first time, the experience may not be the easiest, but it must be done if that baby is going to grow into an adult. Little by little, new foods are introduced that help a child grow and mature. Our faith works exactly the same. We’re not expected to go from milk to steak, but we do need to go through the difficult process of introducing new truths from the Word of God if we ever expect ourselves to grow.

We don’t have to make ourselves grow and mature, we just need to be sure we’re doing what we can to properly sustain ourselves through the process.

So, go ahead, let yourself get carried away. Just don’t forget to back your lunch.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 51-52, Hebrews 6

What’s in a name?

There are a lot of people in this world who will tell you they’re a Christian. Maybe they were baptized as a kid or they go to church on Christmas and Easter. But is that what makes you a Christian—just calling yourself one? Noah Webster didn’t think so.

CHRISTIAN: A real disciple of Christ; one who believes in the truth of the Christian religion, and studies to follow the example, and obey the precepts, of Christ; a believer in Christ who is characterized by real piety.

There are many who believe that a simple profession of faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God is what makes you a Christian. I believe that profession is what makes you a believer. It’s everything that you do afterward that makes you a Christian.

By definition, being a Christian means that you should be ever striving to act like Christ. It’s right there in the name. Paul wrote an entire letter to Titus discussing how Christians should conduct themselves.

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with self-control, right conduct, and devotion to God, while we look forward to that wonderful event when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing what is right.

Titus 2:11-14 (NLT)

Christians, true Christians, should turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should talk different. We should act different. And people should notice. If you claim the name of Christ, truly claim it. Live it. Act like him.

Imagine what this world would look like if every single person who claimed the name of Jesus Christ really acted like him. If, instead of churches full of nominal Christians, we went out on the street and actually lived the life we claim to have chosen when we first called on Jesus.

Salvation is free. It’s a gift for all people. But the name of Christ should be reserved for those who follow his example, those who are totally committed to doing what is right.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 31-32, Titus 2