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.

Oh, there you are, Peter!

Read: Leviticus 14, Matthew 26:55-75

If you’ve never seen the movie Hook, watch it some day. Most everyone is familiar with the story of Peter Pan. In Hook, Peter is all grown up and has forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. He’s lost his happy thoughts. In utter disbelief that Peter Pan would have the nerve to grow up and have kids, the lost boys struggle to believe that Peter really has returned to Neverland. One boy, in an effort to find Peter, approaches the man and begins to pull and stretch his face until he sees something he recognizes. Eyes wide with wonder, he announces, “Oh, there you are, Peter!”

Peter had lost himself over the years, having completely forgotten his time in Neverland. But in the end, he was finally able to recall who he really was. He was Peter Pan. He could crow. He could fly. He could save Neverland from the evil Captain Hook.

A long time ago, another Peter forgot who he was. And on multiple occasions. The apostle Simon Peter was as passionate (and sometimes as foolhardy) as Peter Pan. No flying was involved, but there was some walking on water and crowing certainly had something to do with it.

But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Matthew 26:70 (NIV)

Peter did exactly what he told Jesus he would never do. Many would immediately disqualify Peter from ministry for his denial. But this wasn’t even close to being his first blunder. This man was rebuked and nearly drown. He assaulted a soldier and denied ever knowing or associating with Jesus. He, more than anyone, knew his own shortcomings. But what he didn’t know was that Jesus had already prepared for all of that.

But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.

Luke 22:32 (NIV)

Peter went on to be an effective missionary. Echoes of his work are still seen throughout the world today. He could have let his mistakes define him, but instead chose to believe what Jesus believed of him – that he would be able to strengthen others. Through his mistakes, he became stronger and, because he always turned back, he was able to strengthen others.

Like Peter Pan returning to Neverland to save the day, the disciple Peter returned to the faith he had been called to so that he could lead others to salvation.

Little faith. Big things.

Read: Exodus 7-8, Matthew 17

Have you ever tried to teach a child something that seems so simple, but they just can’t seem to grasp the concept? It’s frustrating, isn’t it? I think Jesus felt that way sometimes with his disciples. They listened to him teach. Walked with him. Talked with him. Watched him perform miracle after miracle. Yet when it came to simple things, they just couldn’t seem to get it.

“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.”

Matthew 17:17 (NIV)

In my mind, Jesus sounds like an exasperated parent. Will I never be able to leave you alone to take care of yourself? Left on their own, the disciples couldn’t even cast out a lowly demon. Jesus calls them out on their little faith. And this isn’t even the first time Jesus has accused the disciples of having little faith. It must have been really small.

Matthew 17:20

I don’t think that Jesus was necessarily speaking to the size of their faith—we have all been given a measure of faith, but rather the potential of it that they failed to realise. If faith the size of a mustard seed has the potential to move a mountain, just how small was their faith?

While Jesus walked with them, the disciples had their issues, but once Jesus had ascended into heaven, suddenly things changed.

Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.

Acts 2:43 (NIV)

They couldn’t perform a miracle when Jesus was right there, but once he was gone, no problem! So what changed?

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…

Acts 1:8 (NIV)

I believe that the Holy Spirit within us reveals the potential of our faith. It is the partnership of knowing who we are in Christ and what he has made us capable of along with the help of the Holy Spirit that allows us to use our little faith to do big things.

 

You of little faith

Read: Genesis 46-48, Matthew 14:22-36

Most of us know or have at least heard the account of Jesus walking on the water. He’d had a busy day. Lost his cousin to beheading. Healed a bunch of people. Fed a bunch of people. He needed some time alone. So he sent his disciples ahead of him across the lake in a boat. By evening, the boat was way ahead of him and a storm had blown in. So he does what any sensible person would do and walks to the boat. On the water. Eventually the men in the boat see him and, after deciding that he isn’t a ghost, Peter calls out to Jesus over the sound of the wind and waves.

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “Tell me to come to you on the water.”

Matthew 14:28 (NIV)

Jesus does and Peter does. Of the twelve, only one decides it’s worth it to get out of the boat. He does okay for a while, but soon realises where he is, takes into account the storm around him, and begins to sink.

Matthew 14:31

We can have one of two responses to this story:

  1. Discouragement. Peter did exactly what Jesus told him to do—step out of the boat and on to the water—yet he still began to sink. This point of view would likely prevent any one or all of us from ever pursuing the miraculous. If all we’re going to do is fail, why bother, right?
  2. Encouragement. Peter did exactly what Jesus told him to do—step out of the boat and on to the water—and he did! I don’t know if Peter was brave or stupid, but whatever he was, we could use more of that in our Christian circles.

What I find most encouraging about this account is that Jesus told Peter that he had little faith. Most of us would see that as an insult, but I would take it as a compliment. If a little faith is all it took to get out of the boat to stand on the waves, I’ll start with that. Oh, that we would all have the little bit of faith Peter had. His only mistake was to take his eyes off of Jesus.

Jesus hasn’t told me to do anything like that. Oh, but he has!

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 14:12-14 (NIV)

Every miracle Jesus performed while he walked the earth is an example for us. Through our faith in him, we should be doing what what he did and even greater. Even if your faith is only enough to get you out of the boat, it’s a start. And once you start, don’t take your eyes off of the One who called out.

It’s okay to be of little faith—to begin with. Don’t let one failure stop you from getting out of the boat again and again. Keep your eyes on Jesus and soon, you’ll be living on the water.

Can you keep a secret?

Read: Genesis 18-19, Matthew 6

SECRET: Separate, hid, concealed from the notice or knowledge of all persons except the individual or individuals concerned.

Some things in life should be public. Our faith being one of those things. No one should ever doubt your salvation or your Christian walk. The way you behave in public should set you apart. But some parts of that walk should remain secret. Jesus addresses three such portions: giving, praying, and fasting.

In Jesus’ day, there were those in the temple who went to great efforts to make sure that everyone knew what they were up to. They needed the world to know that they were righteous and holy because of what they were doing. Let the trumpets sound and the heralds declare!

To what end? What was the purpose in making public their “holy” acts? If it was for acknowledgement then their entire purpose for giving, praying, or fasting was made void for all of those things should be done to glorify God. And if we are seeking our own glorification for doing those things, then how can God get any glory?

Jesus tells us these things should be done in secret. For if we do it when no one is watching, then we can know that our heart is in the right place and our reasons for doing these things are indeed for the glory of God. The reward we look for should not be immediate gratification, but eternal glory. In each instance, we see that there is a reward for keeping our holy acts between ourselves and the Lord.

…so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:4 (NIV)

Matthew 6:6

…so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:18 (NIV)

You see, when we turn our focus on to God rather than on ourselves, not only is the glory given to whom it belongs, but we also receive the reward our actions deserve. A reward is not warranted if our sole purpose for giving is public accolade. But when we give for the purpose of being generous, even in secret, God sees and He stores up for us a heavenly reward that is far greater than anything we could receive here on earth.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:33 (NIV)

God’s kingdom should always be first and foremost. It is first for His benefit that we give, pray, and fast. Those things will then benefit others and ourselves last. Matthew Henry said that what we do must be done from an inward principle, that we may be approved of God, not that we may be praised of men.

Not all secrets are shady. There is nothing dubious or nefarious in giving, fasting, or praying. Jesus encourages us to do all of these things. And it is not only that we do them that matters, but how we go about doing them.

The last and the first

At the close of a year especially, we tend to view the world around us with endings and beginnings. With the turn of the second hand, one year is behind us and a new is upon us. We put the previous year behind us and make resolutions for the new. Even though the clock passes midnight every day, we view 11:59pm on December 31 as somehow different.

In Revelation, Jesus declares himself to be both the beginning and the end.

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

Revelation 22:13 (NLT)

But what does that mean? Is Jesus like December 31 and January 1? Sort of, but he is so much more than that.

I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne.

Revelation 22:16b (NLT)

Jesus was with God at creation. He is in all of creation. And he will exist long after creation as we know it passes away. He is the source of life and that which sustains life. He may be the Beginning and the End, but he is also everything in between. When the end comes, he is there and at every new beginning, he is there.

Unlike a number on the calendar that will never come around again, Jesus will come again. And not only will he come again, but he is already here. It all sounds like a grand paradox. Our mindset of starts and finishes cannot comprehend how all-encompassing Jesus really is, but we can try. As one day ends and another begins, we can look to him as the author and the finisher of our faith—the one who started it and the one who will complete it.

He who is the faithful witness to all these things say, “Yes, I am coming soon!”
Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all.

Revelation 22:20-21 (NLT)

Daily Bible reading: Malachai 1-4, Revelation 22

Stuck in the middle

There are two sides to every coin. Two sides to every story. Two sides of the fence. There are two sides to many things and we use a lot of them as analogies and, more often than not, the truth is somewhere in the middle—neither one side nor the other.

There are some that would say building the Kingdom of God is nothing but hard work. Work. Work. Work. And then more work. Others may say that we just have to wait on God. He’ll to it all for us. Like the coin, the story, and the fence, the truth is stuck somewhere in the middle.

Building the Kingdom of God using brute strength alone will only build something that can crumble. Nothing man makes on his own will ever be eternal.

It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit says the Lord Almighty.

Zechariah 4:6b (NLT)

Yet, we cannot just sit on our rear ends and do nothing, expecting the Holy Spirit to do it all for us.

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.

Zechariah 4:10a (NLT)

God cannot work through us unless there is work to work through. He needs our hands and our feet to accomplish His will on this earth. Sometimes that means getting dirty and maybe even sweaty. But we don’t have to do it all on our own.

And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.

Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

It is not within God’s nature to start a job and leave it unfinished. If He has called you to a work, He will be with you, helping you, until the work is finished.

What comes from the grace of God, may, in faith, be committed to the grace of God, for he will not forsake the work of his own hands.

Matthew Henry

So, don’t get stuck on one side or the other. Find that middle ground between work and the Spirit. There is no better place to be than stuck in the middle with God.

Daily Bible reading: Zechariah 4-6, Revelation 18