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.

Inside out

Read: Exodus 37-38, Matthew 23:23-39

These days, most everyone has a camera within reach. And many, instead of aiming it at the beauty around them, aim it at themselves. With a bit of makeup and a photo filter or two, anyone can be a model. We count friends, likes, and followers like a game score. Like it really matters.

Jesus referred to people like this as blind guides, hypocrites, wicked, snakes, vipers, and worse.

Exodus 23:25b-26

The Pharisees were excellent showmen. They dressed the part and played it perfectly.  Phineas T. Barnum said in The Greatest Showman, “People come to my shows for the pleasure of being hoodwinked.” People generally don’t want to have to admit that something is wrong. They’d rather cover it up and act as though everything is better than fine.

But here’s the thing, like whitewashed tombs, the more paint that goes on, the more obvious it is to everyone how dirty the truth really is. No amount of paint can cover the stench of death. The whole point in whitewashing graves was so that they could be avoided. Even unintentional contact with a burial mound would result in ceremonial uncleanliness.

The more time we spend trying to cover up the ugliness on the inside, the less time we have to actually deal with it. As difficult as it may be to start, one can achieve far better results by taking care of the inside first. Because by taking care of the inside, the outside will take care of itself.

If you don’t want your inside to show outside, maybe it’s time to clean house. Inside out should be easy, not avoided.

Pardon me once

When my eldest niece was young and she wanted to be excused, she’d asked to be pardoned. Twice. “Pardon me. Pardon me.” Someone told her that she only needed to say pardon me once. Then next time she needed to be excused, she put into practice what she’d been told. “Pardon me once. Pardon me once.”

If you’re the one in the wrong who needs to be pardoned, you only need to ask God’s forgiveness once. We almost always look at forgiveness as something that God does strictly for our benefit. We know that God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die as a sacrifice in our place. But as much as forgiveness is for our sake, it’s for God’s sake as well.

I—yes, I alone—am the one who blots out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.

Isaiah 43:25 (NLT)

When someone commits a wrong against you, you have two options: you can forgive or you can hold a grudge. The only benefit to the latter is that you can feel self-righteous by holding this fault over the person who committed it against you. But by refusing forgiveness, you are effectually cutting off that relationship from the root and preventing it from ever being able to grow.

Harbouring unforgiveness keeps that offense in front of you and, when allowed to fester, it will make you bitter. Like a weed in a garden left unchecked, it will propagate to other areas and choke out anything good. Unforgiveness forces us to look at a person and see their faults first. Everything they say or do—good or bad—goes through the filter of their sin. No relationship can ever grow or even move forward unless there is forgiveness and acceptance of it.

More than it affects the person at fault, unforgiveness, if left unchecked, can ruin the one holding on to it.

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins. He cancelled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross. In this way, God disarmed the evil rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross of Christ.

Colossians 2:13-15 (NLT)

So when God forgives us, for His own sake as much as ours, He forgets what ever happened. He has to. If He were to remember and keep record of all our wrongdoings, forgiveness in the future would be impossible to offer. In order to remain the God who forgives, God has to blot out our sins, destroy every record that it ever happened.

When we forgive others, three things happen: we release ourselves from being bound by unforgiveness, we release the offender from their punishment, and we take away the ability from anyone else to convict that person of their sin.

This is the example God has put before us. We only have to ask to be pardoned once. For His sake, God cannot withhold forgiveness, nor can He keep any record of our wrongdoing. That is to our benefit. And, if God has done all of this for us, what right do we have to withhold forgiveness from anyone who asks it of us?

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 43-44, Colossians 2

Evaporate

I know of only one way that can take pure water from soil—evaporation. You can try to strain it, but without an elaborate filtration system, the effort would be futile.

All of us die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. That is why God tries to bring us back when we have been separated from him. He does not sweep away the lives of those he cares about—and neither should you!

2 Samuel 14:14 (NLT)

If you’re chilling outside with a large glass of water sitting on the ground next to you and someone comes and kicks it over, you’re not going to try to salvage that water from the ground. You’re going to go refill your glass from the tap or a bottle. Once that water has been separated from the glass and become one with the earth, you have no use for it. It’s done for. You may even move your chair to cover the spot so you don’t soil your feet by stepping in it. It’s a mess.

At some point we all were (or maybe still are) a mess. We are that water spilled on the ground—impossible to put back where it came from. Only God can draw us out of the muck. We can try to scoop it all into a container. Maybe the dirt will settle and clear water will sit on top, but a little agitation will make it murky again. We can try to filter it through a strainer, but the fine bits of dirt and dust follow the water through and nothing will make that water clear again.

Or we can let God draw us out. He can gently lift us from the dirt like water evaporating in the warm air. We are pulled to Him in our purest form. All the dirt is left behind and we become clean again.

Let the clouds serve as a reminder of God’s grace and ability to draw you to Him. When He brings you out of the muck, all the dirt is left behind and you’ve been made pure.

Daily Bible reading: 2 Samuel 13-14, Luke 20:1-26

Filter

Do you read through a different filter every time you pick up your Bible? If you’re going through a personal situation, do different verses stand out? If you know someone who may be off track, do you read through a filter that would appropriate certain scriptures for that person? Do you watch media and then read into nearly everything? Today, I’m guilty of the last one.

If you live in North America—or just about anywhere in the world with access to media—and are not a hermit, you’re news feeds are probably full of things like #MuslimBan or #StopPresidentBannon. This is what I was faced with as soon as I turned on my computer this morning. I saw angry posts from friends who are very obviously not Trump supporters and I saw sad posts from friends who have ties to Muslim majority countries.

Then I sat down to read my Bible. Now, I probably should have sat down with my Bible first, but that’s not how things went today. Everything I read went through a certain filter. With angry rants in my head with a few grains of truth sprinkled in, I read this:

As Jesus and the disciples left the city of Jericho, a huge crowd followed behind. Two blind men were sitting beside the road. When they heard that Jesus was coming that way, they began shouting, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” The crowd told them to be quiet, but they only shouted louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

Jesus stopped in the road and called, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord,” they said, “we want to see!” Jesus felt sorry for them and touched their eyes. Instantly they could see! Then they followed him.

Matthew 20:29-34 (NLT)

So what did I see in this passage after it went through today’s filter?

I saw two men who were truly in need. They sought Jesus, but the noisy crowds around Jesus tried to shut them down. The well-meaning people—many of whom had seen Jesus perform miracle after miracle—tried to shut these men up.

The blind men could have easily given up and resigned themselves to lives of blind begging. But they didn’t. They shouted louder. They let their voices be heard beyond the noise.

Today, how much noise is between you and Jesus? Who or what is the noisy crowd trying to drown you out and prevent you from receiving your miracle? These are distractions and we, too often, get caught up in them. We end up joining the noisy crowd rather than making our voices heard above it. We allow ourselves to get caught up in the masses and forget that we were on a mission to receive a miracle.

Today, don’t let the crowd drown out your voice. If you need Jesus, cry out. If you are truly seeking Him, no crowd will be able to overcome the sound of your plea.

Daily Bible reading: Exodus 22-24, Matthew 20:17-34