Side effects

As much as possible, I avoid the use of prescription medication. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I’m one of those people that experience side effects more often and more acutely than most. I can use nearly any list of side effects as a checklist should my health require the use of prescriptions. In most cases, the initial symptom is easier to endure than the side effects of the drug. As a result, I deal with chronic allergies instead of the nosebleeds, cough, fever, headache, muscle aches, sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, trouble breathing, and fatigue that come with over-the-counter nasal spray.

Now, I’m a more extreme case than the majority of the population, but most of us, in one way or another, have resigned ourselves to side effects and recovery time. A common cold may last just a few days, but the recovery of it can last a week or more. The same goes for the flu. A couple of days of being sick and medicated can lead to a week or two of recovery. We’re used to the idea. We expect it. And, whether we realise it or not, I think it’s had a dramatic effect on our faith.

“Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

Luke 4:35 (NIV)

So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.

Luke 4:49 (NIV)

These are just two accounts of many where Jesus performed a miracle. The miracles are incredible, but for now, look at what happened afterward. The demon-possessed man was freed without injury. Simon’s mother-in-law got up and started serving guests. When was the last time you were up and around doing housework the moment your fever broke? Probably never.

Here’s the thing about Jesus. Not only did he heal people, not only did he free them from demons, he did so without side effects. I cannot think of a single miracle in the Bible that required a time of recovery. Even Lazarus, dead for days, simply walked out of his tomb as though nothing had happened.

Our resignation to side effects and recovery time has stifled our faith. We pray just to get better and that’s good enough. But what Jesus has in mind for us is far better than good enough. It’s more than enough.

I think the possessed man would have been glad for a few scrapes and scratches, even a broken bone just to be free. Simon’s mother-in-law probably would have been content just to have a few degrees relief from her burning fever. Jesus didn’t just heal them, he made them whole.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10 (NIV)

There are no side effects in Christ. There is no recovery time. When Jesus does something, he gets the job done the first time. That is where our faith should be. You may have heard it said that good enough is the enemy of great. It’s true. We’ve adopted an Eeyore mentality, convincing ourselves that just enough is okay. But it’s not.

The Jesus we follow is the same Jesus who called Simon to cast his nets so they could be brought back up so full they nearly sunk two boats. The Jesus we follow is the same Jesus who first forgave the paralytic, then told him to get up and walk. The Jesus we follow is the same Jesus who not only rose from the grave, but conquered death itself.

So why are we settling for just enough when we serve the God of more than enough?

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17b-19 (NIV)

Read: Joshua 14-15, Luke 4:33-44 

Honey

Read: Deuteronomy 26-27, Mark 15:1-26

Find a controversial news article—any one about politics this days will do—and scroll through the comments. You’ll find several things:

  1. The Lemming: This is a person who agrees wholeheartedly with whatever is set before them. They tend to be ignorant of actual facts, but fully prepared to jump on any bandwagon that passes by.
  2. The Tyrant: This person is angry at everything. It doesn’t matter if they agree with the issue or not, they’re mad about it and they will tell you about it.
  3. The Prayer Warrior: Responding only with phrases like, “Dear Sweet Jesus, come and heal our land,” this person garners distaste from believers and heathens alike. A great prayer, but relatively useless as a comment.
  4. The Peacekeeper: While neither agreeing or disagreeing with the matter at hand this person generally keeps a calm demeanor while attempting to rationally debate the issue.
  5. The Schmuck: This person doesn’t really care about much of anything but the number of responses they can attract. They argue for the sake of the argument, nothing more.
  6. The Minister: Like the Prayer Warrior, this person speaks fluent Christianese, but rather than “praying”, they quote scripture, speak of hellfire and brimstone, and then try to make converts of the Schmucks and Tyrants all while taking scripture out of context.

I’ve actually had to stop myself from reading through comments on stories I read. It gets me riled up and I could find myself in any one of these camps. But I don’t want to be associated with any of them. I don’t want to be a blind follower. I don’t want to be the person who is angry all the time. I don’t want to be the person that is so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. Keeping the peace is all fine and good, but I don’t think anyone has ever accomplished that online. I don’t want to be a schmuck (even the name sounds gross), and internet ministry has yet to start any revival that I know of.

This is not an article about being an internet missionary. This is a call to all Christians to take a look at the idea of how we are perceived by the unbelieving public. Even as a Christian, when I read comments from other well-meaning Christians, I often find myself scoffing—either at the fluff they spout or the anger they incite. A lot of what we say and do as Christians doesn’t translate well in text only. It’s not what we were called to do. And, even if the internet was around in Jesus’ day, I doubt very much that he would have set up all of his disciples with iPads at the bar top in a local Starbucks where they could troll news sites and reply to comments.

Lately, in response to some of the big issues that go against the core beliefs of Christianity, I have heard a great call to arms. A battle cry. But the problem with Christians who believe they are called to fight in the front lines is that they are, plain and simply, wrong.

A Bible school teacher of mine said this, “The greatest fight to faith is learning not to fight.”

Our fight is not against our fellow man, but against our spiritual enemy. Fighting against someone who disagrees with you will never win them to the faith. But if you fight that battle on your knees ahead of time and then go in peace, the results could be very different.

As you read through the Gospels, count how many times Jesus led a battle charge. I’ll give you a hint—none. (I don’t count the overturning-the-tables-in-the-temple because he was simply cleaning his house.) Jesus wasn’t interested in fighting. His ministry was one of love.

Even as he stood before Pilate accused of treason, he made no argument for himself.

But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

Mark 15:5 (NIV)

Jesus didn’t argue. He didn’t have three points with which he would overturn Pilate’s rule. Jesus didn’t make converts of those in power. Instead, he created a counterculture with the very lowliest of the low. He met the basic needs of the people. He touched the untouchable and loved the unlovable.

It was in concerning himself with the masses that Jesus became a concern to the leaders. He didn’t fight those in charge, but became a friend to those who weren’t.

If a Christian is someone who emulates Christ, the Church as a whole isn’t doing a very good job. When our focus shifts to fighting, we’ve lost our purpose and mission. If we Christians were known more for our love than for our arguments, perhaps more people would like to become one of us.

As the saying goes, you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.

The second crow

Read: Deuteronomy 23-25, Mark 14:51-72

On one of my missionary trips to Peru, there was a young man who preferred to sleep past dawn. Most people prefer it, really. But it was not to be. We were on a boat on a tributary of the Amazon River on our way to a pastoral conference. At that conference, we would be providing much of the food, including the meat. The best way to keep meat fresh on the Amazon is to keep it alive until you’re ready to eat it. So there was a rooster on the boat. Every morning, just as the sun began to peek over the horizon, that rooster would let us all know what time it was. The day we had chicken for dinner, the aforementioned young man celebrated. We would no longer be wakened by said rooster.

When the conference ended and we had all boarded the boat to return to the city, one last crate needed to be loaded. A thank you gift. A rooster. Even once we were back in the city, we had nature’s alarm clock. A reminder of dawn.

Back in the Gospel of Mark, another rooster served as a reminder. By the time it had crowed twice, Peter had denied Jesus three times.

Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Mark 14:72 (NIV)

Most people would hear this story and shake their heads at Peter’s betrayal. I look at it as a story of a new beginning.

Peter knew in the moment, that to associate himself with Jesus would likely put him in a similar position—imprisoned. So, in the presence of his enemies, Peter denied his teacher, his leader, his friend.

But it is in the presence of our enemies that God makes provision.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.

Psalm 23:5a (NIV)

Before Jesus had even been arrested, he knew exactly what Peter would do and say. He even told Peter so. Yet Jesus never cast Peter aside. He never scolded him or scorned him. He simply made the statement. Jesus knew that Peter would deny him, yet offered him the bread and the cup of covenant anyway.

Jesus didn’t accept the cross for the righteous, but for those like Peter, who in the moment would either, in faith, step out of the boat on to the waves or, in fear, deny he ever knew Jesus. Jesus went to the cross for those of us who struggle with our faith, going from the mountaintop to the valley and everything in between.

I think that Peter’s denial of Jesus only strengthened his resolve to follow. Imagine how he felt when that second rooster crowed and he realised what he had done. When he remembered what Jesus had told him. I suspect that, once the heat of shame subsided, he was filled with wonder and gratitude at the magnitude of Jesus’ actions.

In both stories here, the second rooster was a gift. For Peter, had he never heard that second crow, he would have stood by his denial. But instead, it was a reminder of the grace Jesus had extended to him, to the table already prepared for him in the presence of his enemies. Again, Peter found grace in the midst of a storm.

Yea or nay

Read: Deuteronomy 17-19, Mark 14:1-25

I have a nephew starting tenth grade next year. He’s already had to select his courses for the fall. He has options. Lots of options. In a course guide of over seventy pages, he is already expected to know what he wants to do with the rest of his life so that he can choose the right classes that will properly set him on his life path. But choices are good. It means that he has opportunity. He can get ahead in life. He’s smart. He can take university level classes before he’s even out of high school, gain early admission, and apply for just about any scholarship he wants.

In secondary education, choices are great. Lots of options means nearly limitless career paths. Choices are also great when it comes to things like electronic devices, insurance, clothing, and a plethora of other things in life where we want something that suits us as individuals.

But this becomes an issue when we expect to have the same infinite choices in our faith.

While they were eating, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.

Mark 14:22-24 (NIV)

Jesus made one offer. He held the cup before his disciples and gave them the choice to drink it or leave it.

The word [covenant] refers not to an agreement between to equals but rather to an arrangement established by one party, in this case God. The other party—man—cannot alter it; he can only accept it or reject it.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary

Like checking out the list of options stuck to the window of a new car, we want to look at Christianity and pick the path that ticks most or all of the boxes on our list. But there is no list. Just two boxes. Yea or nay. Take it or leave it.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6 (NIV)

Whereas my nephew struggled to choose which options he would take to set him on the right path, we have no such struggle. It is simply a matter of yes or no. Will we accept the cup Jesus has offered and walk the path to the Father with him? Or will we deny the cup and stray from the path altogether?

When God set Israel on the path to the Promised Land, He set before them life and death, blessings and curses. Then he told them to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19). How simple is that? God offers us two choices and then he tells us which one to choose—the one that leads to life.

On trial

Read: Deuteronomy 11-13, Mark 13:1-13

I’ve never been on trial. I’ve never been to a trial. The closest I’ve been to trial is walking past the courthouse with my groceries. What I know of court and the process involved in a trial mostly comes from television. I take it all with a grain of salt because I assume that much of it is made to be much more dramatic than real life for the sake of cramming an entire case into forty-two minutes.

But one thing I do know is that, when a witness is to take the stand, a lawyer will prepare that witness. They will go over any and all questions that may be asked of them and refine responses in order to support a certain narrative and press a desired outcome.

Jesus has a discussion with his disciples about standing trial.

Mark 13-11

Notice he doesn’t say, “If you are arrested and brought to trial.” He says, “Whenever.” It’s a sure thing. This life we’ve been called to will most certainly earn us our day in front of a judge.

Right now, our judge is the rest of the world. Christians all around are being put on trial—both in the courtroom and out of it. We are being challenged on our faith and the very core of our beliefs. And the sad part is, in many instances, we’re losing our case.

Why? Because we’re not listening to our lawyer. He’s there prompting us, telling us what to say. Some of us ignore him or block him out. Others don’t even know he’s there, wanting to help.

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 14:16-17 (NIV)

Counselor is another term for a lawyer, specifically a trial lawyer. So it makes sense that, if Jesus expected us to be on trial, he’d also provide the lawyer. Like anyone on trial, if we want to win, first we need to accept the help of our lawyer. Then we need to take our lawyer’s advice. He’s the expert. We’re not. In the case of our Counselor, the Holy Spirit, he actually speaks through us. If we let him.

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.

John 14:26 (NIV)

Accepting Jesus is the first part of our Christian walk. Accepting the Holy Spirit ensures that we are able to continue that walk and stand firm.

Faith and forgiveness

Read: Deuteronomy 3-4, Mark 11:20-33

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins.

Mark 11:22-26 (NIV)

In Mark 11, we can’t wait to get to the good part about telling a mountain to throw itself into the sea, and then we quickly skip over that uncomfortable part about forgiveness and move on to the next parable.

Who doesn’t want to see a miracle? We should long to see the miraculous. Signs and wonders should be following every believer. But what if the miracle God wants to perform has to do with you forgiving your brother? What if the sign He wants to show someone has you asking for forgiveness from your neighbour?

Not every miracle, sign or wonder has to do with healing or provision. Sometimes they seem so insignificant to us that we wouldn’t even deem to call the event worthwhile. But to the person who’s been forgiven, it can be life-changing.

If grace does not produce joyful obedience it has been abused. Forgiving is the very essence of grace.

The Weston Study Bible

Forgiveness isn’t something we should look at that we need to get out of the way so we can see the mountain move. Forgiveness may be the mountain itself.

When Jesus took the time to explain to his disciples how they should pray, he didn’t include the miraculous, but he did include forgiveness.

This, then, is how you should pray,

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name;
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'”

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)

Jesus then went on to say that when we forgive those who sin against us, God will forgive us, but if we withhold our forgiveness, God will not forgive us.

It would seem to me, then, that as much as it is impossible to please God without faith, it is also impossible to please him without forgiveness.

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.