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?

Mark 4-27.jpg

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.

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.

Mark 2-14.jpg

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?

Let the well alone

Read: Genesis 25-26, Matthew 9:1-17

Every year on Christmas Eve, my mother and I watch White Christmas. We’ve seen it so many times that we can pretty much quote the entire movie and sing along to every musical number, which is why today’s reading reminded me of a song from this classic film.

I know of a doctor

Sad to say, one day he fell
Right into a great big well

He should have attended to the sick
And let the well alone

The Minstrel Show

Like the song, it’s sad to say, but many Christians have unknowingly found themselves at the bottom of a deep pit. Instead of attending to the sick, they stayed too close to the well.

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:12-13 (NIV)

In 2005, John Burke published a book called No Perfect People Allowed. Since then, many churches, including my own, have adopted and promoted this phrase. In no way are we discounting that, though Jesus’ sacrifice, we are being made perfect, but we are tending to the spiritually sick by letting them know that they are welcome as they are. For too long, the church in general has acted like a quarantine for the spiritually “healthy”. And, in doing so, we have become just like the Pharisees who scorned Jesus for breaking bread with the tax collectors and sinners.

C.T. Studd

If we want to avoid the bottom of the well, we need to stay away from it. Though we need the fellowship of other believers, we are not called to close our ranks, but rather to go out and find those who most need what we have. Like Jesus, we are the doctors and nurses who need to go out onto the battlefield and pull in those who are sick and dying. It’s time for us to attend to the sick and let the well alone to do the same.

Everyone else was doing it

Who never used the excuse that “everyone else was doing it” when you were a kid? It was a pretty simple go-to reason for why you did something your parents explicitly told you not to to. But did it ever work? If you tried it, you may have received “if they all went and jumped off a bridge, would you jump off, too?” as a response. Of course you wouldn’t. You’re smarter than that. Yet you did do something for which your only reason for doing it was because everyone else was.

John warns against following evil influence. The influence he’s talking about has far greater repercussions than getting your bicycle taken away or being grounded from the internet for a week. It’s your eternal soul at stake.

Dear friend, don’t let this bad example influence you. Follow only what is good. Remember that those who do good prove that they are God’s children, and those who do evil prove that they do not know God.

3 John 1:11 (NLT)

The evil influence John is talking about here is that a man, Diotrephes, is going around telling the church that they don’t need to welcome or care for travelling ministers—a teaching that is completely contrary to the example Jesus set. But we can take this word of advice and apply it to far more than just travelling ministers. It is advice for life.

Influence comes at us from all directions—all day, every day. It’s unavoidable. It comes from Christians as well as unbelievers. It is up to us as individuals to determine how we let it affect us. In this passage, John gives us a pretty simple answer—know God. When we know and love God, good deeds will be the visible byproduct. If we don’t know God, evil deeds will be the byproduct. And we cannot assume that everyone who calls himself a Christian knows God (John’s warning here was against someone in the church).

It’s all so confusing! How am I supposed to know what’s what?

It’s a good thing that God doesn’t expect us to know it all. And it’s a good thing that He does know it all. And it’s an even better thing that He gave us His Holy Spirit to guide us in that regard. The closer we are to God, the more in tune we will be with His Spirit and can allow ourselves to be influenced by Him rather than those around us. And the stronger God’s influence is in our lives, the more of a good influence we will be on those around us.

If you need an influence to follow, Jesus is your prime example. Get to know him. Don’t do something just because everyone else is doing it (even Christians), do it because Jesus did it.

Daily Bible reading: Daniel 11-12, 3 John 1

That was easy

Our world gets more complicated by the hour. Whether it’s in science or computing, arts or politics, few things are truly simple anymore. And, the more complicated something is, the more reward and respect a person can get for accomplishing it. We seek out the complicated. We make easy things more complicated—even to our own detriment.

When we, as Christians, present the Gospel as anything but simple, we do not help our cause. If we argue that the way to Christ is wrought with long, arduous tasks and much emotional distress, we do not help the Kingdom. There is nothing more simple in this world than salvation through Christ and the victory that it brings.

Loving God means keeping his commandments, and really, that isn’t difficult. For every child of God defeats this evil world by trusting Christ to give the victory. And the ones who win this battle against the world are the ones who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

1 John 5:3-5 (NLT)

Salvation is easy. Repentance is easy. Victory is easy. Obedience is easy. All of these things are simple not because of what we are or can do, but because of who God is and what He’s already done. And if we trust Jesus with one thing, we can trust him with everything.

John tells us that the battle is not won because we Christians fight hard and strong. It is won because we simply believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

When we let go of all our methods to obtain victory, we can settle on the truth that it is not a difficult or complicated process. God didn’t make it that way on purpose. He wants salvation and victory to be available and accessible to everything. We have to trust Christ for the victory. We have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. That’s it.

It’s not difficult. It’s easy.

Daily Bible reading: Daniel 7-8, 1 John 5

Blameless

Then the other administrators and princes began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling his affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize. He was faithful and honest and always responsible. So they concluded, “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the requirements of his religion.”

Daniel 6:4-5 (NLT)

Here is a man with wisdom and knowledge. This wisdom and knowledge has gained him great influence. Because of his influence, the other leaders become jealous and seek to find a way to destroy the man. Yet they cannot seem to find a way because the man in blameless. With no other options, they manufacture a way to catch him and have him arrested and killed.

Are we still talking about Daniel here?

A very similar story is repeated in the Gospels with the account leading up to Jesus’ arrest. Daniel’s story sounds a lot like the one that would play out centuries later.

So what’s the deal with these leaders who can’t stand to have a blameless person in their midst? The answer is right there—blameless. Daniel was able to accomplish more than all of the other advisors and princes were able to—without cheating or lying. He put them to shame because of his integrity. A worldly way of thinking just can’t handle the way of the blameless.

Read the news. Christians are still experiencing similar persecution. When the world doesn’t understand the way we live, they feel as though they must quash it. I believe it is because of their own shame that they do so. When Christians stand firm in their faith, it sends a message to a world that stands for nothing. And, to those who stand for nothing, it renders their existence meaningless. Can you imagine living a life void of meaning?

As Christians, our lives are full of meaning and purpose and we should do all that we can to live both of those to their fullest potential.

If is for the glory of God, when those who profess religion, conduct themselves so that their most watchful enemies may find no occasion for blaming them, save only in the matters of their God, in which they walk according to their consciences.

Matthew Henry

Paul tells us to find joy in trials of every kind because they make us stronger and build our faith. Daniel, after enduring a night with the lions was given even greater power than he had before. While I cannot guarantee that you’ll end up the third most powerful person in the country, I can guarantee that, when you stand before the Lord having held firm in your faith, you will hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Daily Bible reading: Daniel 5-6, 1 John 4

Eternally entwined

Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions. It is by our actions that we know we are living in the truth, so that we will be confident when we stand before the Lord.

1 John 3:18-19 (NLT)

While our spoken words are living things, they are cheap when compared to our actions. We all know that actions speak far louder than words.

But it should be noted that it is a record of actual deeds of self-sacrifice done out of unfeigned love which constitutes this sign of indwelling divine life, and not simply the feeling of adoration toward the infinite, which so easily passes for ‘love of God’.

International Bible Commentary

Our belief and confession thereof is what sets us on the path of righteousness, but that’s just the beginning of our walk of faith. It’s what puts us in the race. Now, a runner can stand at the starting line and tell everyone that he’s the winner, but until he gets into the proper stance and prepares himself, he’s nothing but a man standing on the starting line. He’s not a runner until he runs.

In the same way, we are not Christians until we act like Christ. Loving God is the start. It is our love for God that should lead us toward loving others. And it is in showing our love for others that we also show our love for God. The two are eternally entwined and cannot be separated. John calls us liars if we say we love God and do not love others.

It is in displaying our love for our brothers and sisters that we build the confidence to approach God because it is our actions toward others that prove our love for God and our faith in Him.

Dear friends, if our conscience is clear, we can come to God with bold confidence. And we will receive whatever we request because we obey him and do the things that please him.

1 John 3:21-22 (NLT)

Because of our love for each other, we can go to God expecting a response. Jesus said that, when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too (Mark 11:25). It would seem that love and answered prayer are a package deal. So let’s stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions.

Daily Bible reading: Daniel 3-4, 1 John 3