With authority

They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.

Luke 4:32 (NIV)

At any given time, it is important for believers to send out a message with authority. This time of year, as Easter nears, it is even more important.

Across North America churches are popping up. They are hip and trendy. People from all walks of life flock to them because they are made to be comfortable no matter what their background. Pastors are superstars. Worship leaders become rock stars. They send a message, alright, but where is the authority?

These words in Luke were spoken of Jesus just after he’d been run out of his hometown of Nazareth. He’d spent forty days and nights in the desert being tempted by Satan. Upon his return, it was his turn to read from the book of Isaiah.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Luke 4:18-19 (Isaiah 61:1-2) (NIV)

Jesus then went on to proclaim that this scripture had been fulfilled in the hearing of all those present. The people were amazed, but it didn’t take long for them to get over their amazement and rush Jesus to the nearest cliff with every intent of throwing him over.

In his time on earth, Jesus was loved and he was hated. He spoke his message with authority wherever he went whether his words were accepted or not. Was he trendy? No. Did he make people comfortable? Obviously not. Was he one of the popular crowd? I don’t think so.

So why are we, the church, trying to be all of these things?

I believe that it was the power of the Holy Spirit on Jesus that allowed him to accomplish all that he did in his short ministry. And it is the same power that has been provided for us.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

We weren’t called to bring a comfortable, trendy message to the world. We are called to make disciples and teach them to obey Jesus. And I’m not certain that we can do both of these things together. Jesus certainly wasn’t comfortable when his own friends and family turned against him. And his entire message was counter to the culture of the time.

I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with churches using available resources and technology to bring people in, but when those things become a greater focus than delivering the message of Jesus with authority, we run a great risk of being disobedient ourselves.

What is the message you are sending? Do you send it with apology or with authority? Are you speaking it to be popular or to be obedient? We are all ministers of the Gospel, and as such, need to take these questions into account. But take courage. Just because a message isn’t popular doesn’t mean in can’t still be effective.

Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Mark 16:20 (NIV)

Read: Joshua 11-13, Luke 4:1-32

Lessons learned

There are many ways that people learn. Some learn in certain ways better than others or by a combination of methods. Some of these methods are:

  1. reading
  2. speaking
  3. hearing

I was homeschooled in my early years. Once I could read on my own, I could go off, read my lessons, and complete my assignments. I still love learning through reading.

Once I began public school, I learned that not everyone could be so easily self-taught. Some of my peers struggled through silent reading time. There were kids in my class who had to hear the lesson in order to retain the information. And there were students who had to repeat main points back to the teacher to ensure that they grasped the concept. And there were some still who used a combination of these things, as well as others, to learn.

In the days of Moses and Joshua, silent reading was almost unheard of. When the Book of the Law was read, it was read aloud.

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

Joshua 1:8 (NIV)

Do you know that only 19 percent of churchgoing Christians read the Bible daily? (A Christian is considered to be churchgoing by attending church just 3 of 8 weeks.) It is no wonder that the Word of God has so little power in our lives.

Consider this, if every professing Christian were to read a portion of the Bible every day, how would you expect the world to change? If we all read the scriptures out loud, would there be even greater change?

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17 (NIV)

If just over 7 percent of Christians read their Bibles daily, it is no wonder the church has lost its influence on society. It is no wonder we are perceived as weak hypocrites.

There is a reason why God was so emphatic about Joshua keeping the Book of the Law near him.

Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.

Joshua 1:7 (NIV)

Our success, both personally and as the body of Christ, I believe, is based entirely on our grasp of the Word of God. Most Christians have never seen a move of God. They don’t even know what it’s supposed to look like because they’ve never read or heard about it. The more I read about all that God has done, all the miracles Jesus performed, the power that came with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the more I crave those things. I yearn to see God move the way He did in the days of the early church.

Our mouths are required for a move of God. We need to open up our mouths and pray. We need to speak the Word of God with boldness and courage. We won’t see the Word come to pass until the Word passes our lips.

Read: Joshua 1-3, Luke 1:57-80

In season

Read: Deuteronomy 1-2, Mark 11:1-19

Did anyone else grow up thinking that the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree was a little harsh? I mean, the Bible even says that it wasn’t even fig season, and here’s Jesus all mad that there was no fruit behind those big, beautiful leaves. So he curses the tree and it withers up and dies. I’ve always felt bad for the tree.

Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

Mark 11:13-14 (NIV)

Now, I’ve seen fig trees in leaf without fruit. If you like figs, it’s a little disappointing when there’s nothing there to sample. But when you know it’s not the right season, you shrug and walk away and hope you can come back when there is fruit. Jesus just couldn’t shake it off, though.

Why is that? Paul explained it to Timothy.

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

1 Timothy 4:2 (NIV)

I don’t think Jesus’ disappointment was so much with the fig tree, but with the Jews. Here he was, the fulfillment of centuries of promise, standing in front of them and they were far more concerned with pretty leaves—religious tradition—than fruit—the spiritual enlightenment he brought.

Let’s break this down to a very simple, personal level. Let’s say that one of your best friends isn’t a believer. You know that, and your friend knows that you are a believer. You don’t hide your faith, but at their request, you don’t talk much about it. Then one day, your friend starts asking you deeper questions about your faith. But, since you didn’t really talk about it much, your friend doesn’t know that you haven’t been going to church much and your Bible is sitting dusty on a shelf. You’re not in a fruitful season. And because of that lack of fruit, you are unable to truly share with your friend even though they’re finally ready to hear the Gospel.

According to John 15:1, God is the gardener. If God is the gardener, then the local church sort of acts like a greenhouse. Since Roman times, gardeners have worked to coax fruit from plants even when the season isn’t right. Greenhouses bring light and heat where there otherwise would be cold and dark. These two elements help plants to grow out of their natural habitat and through what would normally be a dormant season.

Do you see what I’m getting at? The gathering of the saints, regular fellowship with other Christians, helps to keep us warm and full of light. As a result, we can be more fruitful in  more seasons. Just because we may be going through a rough time, doesn’t mean that we can’t still bear fruit. If a hothouse can grow tomatoes through a Canadian winter, surely the strength of a church community can both help you through your trial and even cause a little fruit to grow.

Looking pretty doesn’t matter. I’m sure Jesus would have rather seen a scraggly tree, heavy with ripened fruit than the leafy, fruitless wonder he did find.

The trick to staying in season? First, stay connected to the vine—Jesus. Second, stay connected with the gardener—God. And third, stay in the greenhouse—the church.

Give me a sign

Read: Numbers 24-27, Mark 8:11-38

Mark 8-11-12.jpg

It seems a little bit contradictory that Jesus would say this right after performing some of the most spectacular miracles of his ministry. This would be like asking an Olympic gold medalist to repeat their performance to prove they were good enough and have them refuse. The evidence for their athleticism already exists in the form of the gold hanging around their neck. For Jesus, the evidence of the wonders he had done was all around in the form of the thousands of people Jesus had healed, set free, and fed.

By refusing to perform a sign from heaven for the Pharisees on command, does this mean that Jesus didn’t want to do the miraculous anymore? Of course not! He knew that, if the evidence already available to these men wasn’t enough, one more miracle wasn’t going to do the trick.

He who is not convinced of the value of unseen things from a knowledge of the personality and spiritual message of Jesus will be unmoved by the most spectacular miracle.

J. Newton Davies, The Abingdon Commentary

I’m so confused! Do we want miracles or don’t we?

And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.

Mark 16:17-18 (NIV)

These were some of the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples before ascending into heaven. I think it’s safe to assume that this message was an important one.

But why are miracles for some people and not for others? Harper’s Bible Dictionary says this:

The miraculous healings and exorcisms, then, were unique personal experiences of the salvation brought by Jesus.

As much as miracles prove the existence of a loving God, they are not for unbelievers, but those who believe. Notice that when Jesus healed someone, he often told them that their faith had made them well. Jesus didn’t heal them to make them believe, he healed them because they believed.

It then begs the question: why isn’t the church as a whole seeing miracles?

Do we really believe?

The name game

Read: Numbers 18-20, Mark 7:1-13

What’s a name? Is it just something we call ourselves to differentiate us from others? Is it part of our identity? Is it our entire identity? Do our names make us who we are or do we define our names? We use names lightly and we take them seriously. They become associations and labels. They let others know who we are, what we do, and where we belong. Names can lift people up or tear them down. They can be forever or they can be for convenience.

Several groups in the Bible had some issues with their names. They assumed a name, but rejected the identity that went along with the name.

Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here?”

Numbers 20:2-4 (NIV)

In one sentence, the spokesperson for Israel both declares them to be a nation belonging to God and a nation who rejects God. They had just gone through the whole ordeal of having proven Moses and Aaron as leaders of the nation, yet the people still weren’t pleased. They liked to remember and point out their status as God’s children, but quickly forgot all He had done for them and all they had done in disobedience to Him.

Jesus also encountered a group of people who used their name for status and wealth.

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teaching are but rules taught by men.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”

Mark 7:6-8 (NIV)

For both the Israelites and the Pharisees, it suited them to be associated with God. It was helpful and beneficial to assume a relationship with the name of the Lord, but that’s all it was—a nominal association.

Sound familiar? Who hasn’t met a person who call themself a Christian, but like the Pharisees and teachers of the law, merely honours God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him?

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.

Being a Christian is far more than assuming a name. In the early days of the church, to bear the name of Christ meant a constant threat of painful death. Followers of The Way were all to aware of the consequences of those they associated with, yet they took the name anyway, giving themselves completely to the cause of Christ.

Few of us regularly consider why we even call ourselves Christians. We simply are. Do we take the time to meditate on what that really means? Or do we use the name because it is useful to us? We should all consider our purpose and reason for bearing the name of Christ. We must determine if our claim to Christ is one of convenience or commitment.

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.

Grunt before glory

Read: Exodus 39-40, Matthew 24:1-22

Who doesn’t want to see God’s glory? You’d have to be crazy not to. For many in the church, it is (or maybe should be) our primary pursuit.

Exodus 40-34

We all want the cloud to descend so we can bask in the presence of God. But, for as many of us who pursue the glory, nearly as many never see the fullness of it. Why?

Moses did everything just as the Lord commanded him.

Exodus 40:16 (NIV)

This verse is followed by seven more that state, as the Lord commanded him. Seven. the number of completion and perfection.

And so Moses finished the work.

Exodus 40:33b (NIV)

He did everything the Lord commanded him. Then he finished the work. And only then did the glory of the Lord fill the tabernacle.

Well, I’m just waiting on the Lord. It is to our detriment that we use the word wait. To wait on the Lord has absolutely nothing to do with sitting in silence and everything to do with getting off our blessed assurance and working toward the high calling that God has set before us.

WAIT: To attend to; to perform. To be ready to serve; to obey.

Moses waited on the Lord by doing exactly as he had been commanded. Not only did God give a long list of very specific instructions, but He also sent His Spirit to empower the craftsman to do their work.

We all want the glory, but very few want to do the grunt work required to prepare ourselves and the place for the Lord’s presence. Christianity is not the easy way out, but the narrow road in. We are called to live a life set apart and that life requires work. Lots of work. Hard work.

We have a whole book of commands that we carry around to make us feel good about ourselves, but carrying the book is the most work many are willing to do. If we would only put into practice all the instruction we’ve been given, perhaps we’d see a lot more of that glory we’ve been looking for. A little grunt may go a long way toward the glory.

Strength in numbers

Read: Exodus 9-10, Matthew 18:1-20

For some Christians, asking them to pray is akin to letting them know that you’ve booked them in for a five hour dentist appointment. When it comes time to commune with our Father and bring our needs as well as thanks to Him, these people are nowhere to be found. Perhaps they don’t like to pray in front of other people. Maybe they feel their prayers are better said in private. It could be that they don’t even like to pray at all (at which point I would begin to question their claim to salvation). No matter what their reason, these people are missing out. And, not only are they missing out on the benefit of corporate prayer, but they are robbing everyone else of their contribution.

Matthew 18:19-20

If one can put a thousand to flight and two can put ten thousand to flight, how much more could three or four or eighty-nine or three thousand accomplish? One person believing that their presence won’t be missed in prayer is sorely mistaken. Biblically speaking, numbers tend to expand exponentially. When you add one, you add nine thousand. So my question to those who withhold their agreement in prayer is this: why would you want to rob your brothers and sisters in Christ of the strength you can add to their prayers?

Everything Jesus taught was for the benefit of believers, to bring them together, to strengthen them. He didn’t give commands to flex his authority, but gave them for the benefit of all. When he told his disciples to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, it was for the benefit of all. When he commanded them to go heal people and cast out demons, it was for the benefit of all. When he said that it’s a good idea for two or three to stand in agreement together, it is for the benefit of all.

In the book of Acts, the more people that joined the church, the more people were drawn in. Like a magnet pulling in another then another, soon you have a stack of magnets that is far stronger than one or two on their own. The more we, as the active body of Christ, draw close to, work with, and pray in agreement with one another, the stronger we will be.

I believe that the more we can all come in agreement not only in prayer, but as a church body—a family, the greater our results will be. I think we should all be able to agree that our strength is in our numbers.

Irrevocable

Read: Genesis 29-30, Matthew 10:1-23

A story came out in the news this week about a pastor of a large church. He, like many of us, has a past. And, like many of us, he dealt with it and left it where it belonged. Until recently, he had been enjoying the success of marriage and family and ministering to his congregation.

Before I go further, let me clarify that the situation in question happened when he was a young man working in a church. The actions were of a sexual nature and involved a 17-year-old girl. By all accounts, he was immediately remorseful and admitted his transgression to those to whom he was accountable in the church. He apologized to all involved and was removed from his position. Nothing has been brought forward to say that such actions took place on any other occasion.

Now, with the #MeToo movement bringing all sorts of people out of the woodwork, this pastor is having to relive his shame. I in no way condone his actions, nor do I belittle what happened to the woman involved. There is no place in society for any sort of sexual misconduct. But, with all of the very public accusations and shaming, what seems to be missing is the greatest component of all: grace.

When Jesus began his public ministry, the people he brought alongside him were far from what society would call blameless. He called the blue collar workers. He called the tax collectors. He called the sinners. And then he walked with them. He ate with them. He taught them. Then he empowered them and sent them off into ministry.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

Matthew 10:8 (NIV)

Some scholars believe that Jesus’ instructions here did not only reference the physical needs of the people, but were also representative of their need to be healed and revived spiritually. The men Jesus called had all been healed and brought to life in one way or another. The greater their sin, the greater the grace they received. And who better to extend grace than the one who has already received it?

If we demand that this pastor, because of his past sin, is no longer fit for ministry, then we must throw away the entire Bible. We can no longer sing our worship songs. We must seclude ourselves for fear of being infected by the sin that runs rampant in our churches.

Paul’s sole purpose in life was to kill Christians. Matthew was a tax collector (the very worst kind of evil). David, the man after God’s own heart, was a sexual predator and a murderer. Yet all of these men, and more, made invaluable contributions to the Book that we hold so closely to our hearts.

Romans 11:29

Who are we to stand in judgement of someone who has asked for, and received, forgiveness? Who are we to say who is and is not fit for ministry? David was guilty of far worse than most of us and yet we still sing his songs in church every Sunday, thousands of years after they were written. Paul himself should have been put to death for his crimes against Christianity, yet he made some of the the greatest contributions to our faith.

If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.

John 8:7b (NIV)

Without grace, we are all guilty. None of us should be fit for ministry. But if we do as Jesus told the woman described in John 8 and leave our life of sin, there is no condemnation. But for the grace of God we should all be buried under a landslide of stones.

For I am the least of all the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

1 Corinthians 15:9-10 (NIV)

God has called us all. No one, not even He, can revoke that calling. And it is only through His grace that any of us are able to walk in the purpose He has set out before us. What I give should be only from that which God has given through me. Judgement is not a gift from God. Grace is.