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

Worth your salt

Read: Numbers 30-31, Mark 9:30-50

Little Manitou Lake in Saskatchewan has a mineral density three-times that of the oceans. Who cares? Well, what this means is that, unless you intentionally put your head under water and breathe in, you can’t drown. The water is so dense, a human being can float with no effort at all. The high mineral—salt—concentration in the lake (and spa where the lake water is piped in) has disinfectant and healing properties. It is only one of three inland bodies of water on the planet that has such properties (the Dead Sea being another). It’s rare. It’s special. It’s worth taking note.

Mark 9-50.jpg

Many of us might read through this little verse and just assume that Jesus wants us to be flavourful, add a little spice to the world around us. That’s what salt is for, after all. And that little part about being at peace with each other, just a nice little add-on. The complexity and weight of this verse is completely lost on us if we don’t understand the cultural connotations of salt at the time Jesus said these words.

  1. Salt was valuable. When you start a new job you settle on what? A salary. Ever wonder where that word originated from? You’d better be worth your salt or you won’t be keeping that job. Some speculate that, because of it’s high value in the Roman empire, that soldiers were often paid in salt. Roads were built because of salt. Trades were made because of salt. Lives were made or lost because of salt.
  2. Salt healed. Like patrons of Little Lake Manitou, the Romans were also aware of the healing properties of salt. Drinking a saltwater solution could reset the digestive system. Soaking an open wound in saline could help prevent swelling and infection.
  3. Salt preserved. While the term pickled didn’t arrive on the scene for centuries, the concept of preserving food with salt was not lost on the Roman empire. Salty olives were as much a part of the Mediterranean diet then as they are now.
  4. Salt was considered holy. Since Leviticus 2:13, salt was a part of Jewish sacrificial offerings. No sacrifice was to be made without it.
  5. Salt declared covenant. In both Jewish and Roman cultures, sharing salt at a table was indicative of covenant or servitude. For the Romans, to eat salt from the table of another put you in their service. For the Jews, to share bread with salt was a sign of covenant between those who share the meal.

When we take into account the historical significance of salt, this verse is so much more than a little platitude for us to remember. Whether in food or water, the presence of salt is undeniable. Imagine a society without salt. Imagine your life without salt? It’s impossible. As trivial as those little granules may seem, they are an essential part of our lives.

Now take that idea and apply it to believers.

Everything that salt was to society when Jesus walked this planet, we should still be to our culture today. Believers should add value, no matter where we are. We should bring healing. We should preserve those things that are good and helpful and nourishing to every life. We should be set apart as holy. And we should share a covenant not only with God, but with each other. Our lives should be set apart for service to the Father and to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Suddenly this verse isn’t so little and that last bit about being at peace with each other means a little more.

Are you worth your salt?

My way

Read: Leviticus 20-21, Matthew 28:1-20

In 1969, Frank Sinatra made a hit out of the song My Way and still holds the record for most consecutive weeks on the UK Top 40. Since then, numerous singers and bands have covered the tune. It is the song most frequently played at funeral services in the UK. The lyrics belt out how, even when life got rough, I did it my way. For many, it has become their anthem, a song that carries them through every aspect of their life. Even faith. Or so they believe.

I love Frank Sinatra. He had one of the easiest voices to listen to and the prettiest blue eyes to match. But he was wrong. Doing things your way may be able to get you through a lot of things in life, but it can’t get you through all of life. Your way may not be the best way. It may not be any way at all.

Leviticus 20:8

Humanity strives to find meaning. We push ahead to be—or at least be seen—as more than we are. Many want to be something they are not and try to become so on their own terms. But there are some things we just can’t do on our own. We cannot save ourselves. Only Jesus can save us. We cannot make ourselves holy. Only God can make us holy.

All paths lead to God is a phrase I’ve heard from celebrities, new agers, mystics, and even Christians. Many have been made to believe that, no matter how they want to live their life, so long as they believe that they will get to God, that’s just fine. Nothing needs to change. Yet they forget where holiness comes from. They forget that there is only one way to salvation and it isn’t through themselves.

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)

In Leviticus 10, Aaron’s sons decided to try things their own way. It didn’t end well for them.

So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.

Leviticus 10:2 (NIV)

We have all sinned. We have all fallen short. And none of us can fix that on our own. God knows that. It’s why He sent Jesus to make a way where there was no way. When Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his disciples to go and make more disciples and to teach them to obey all that he had commanded them (Matthew 28:19-20).

If you want to do your own thing in life, that’s great! We need original people who aren’t afraid to put in some hard work to be successful. But in our search for success, we cannot forget that there are some things that are not up to us. When it comes to salvation and our approach to God, there is no my way. There is only The Way.

Distinguish

Read: Leviticus 10-12, Matthew 26:1-19

Let’s face it, once we’ve read through the incredible story of creation, the flood, Joseph and the exodus from Egypt, the Bible can get a little boring. It feels as though we’re in the doldrums and may never get out. But just because we don’t live under the old covenant doesn’t mean that the ideas and reasoning behind all those commands no longer apply to us.

But all of that was for the priests, wasn’t it? Yup, it sure was.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)

Now that we’ve established that we are priests, we can look at some of this in a different light.

Leviticus 10:10

Before we start trying to make any distinctions, let’s find out what we’re trying to distinguish.*

HOLY: Properly, whole, entire or perfect, in a moral sense. Hence, pure in heart, temper or dispositions; free from sin and sinful affections.

COMMON: Usual; ordinary. Of no rank or superior excellence.

UNCLEAN: Not clean; foul; dirty; filthy. In the Jewish law, ceremonially impure, not cleansed by ritual practices.

CLEAN: Free from extraneous matter, or whatever is injurious or offensive. Free from dirt or other foul matter. Free from moral impurity; innocent.

There are some that believe God pulled some of His instructions out of a hat simply to see if Israel would obey. But since God had purpose in everything else He’d accomplished up to that point, I find it difficult to believe He’d throw in a few random instructions just to watch His people squirm.

In some cases, the instructions were for health reasons and, in other cases, the instructions were for cultural reasons. In everything God required of His people, the end result was that they were set apart. They were not like the other nations in the way they lived or worshipped. All of the parameters set before them set them on a straight and clear path to God Himself.

If we look at these instructions in that light, they certainly do apply to us.

God wants us to be set apart. Pure in heart. Free from sin and sinful affections. Why would we even want to be ordinary? God wants us to be free from extraneous matter. Why would we even want to foul up our lives with dirt or anything that is injurious or offensive? Just as these things applied to the priests under the old covenant, they apply to us all today.

Being set apart doesn’t mean we’re a weird cult with special Kool Aid. It simply means that we’ve been called to live a different life, free from distractions that would separate us from God. Everything we choose to keep in our lives that doesn’t make us clean or holy is a roadblock or pothole in our path to God. It hinders our relationship with Him.

God is not a backyard bully trying to make us do tricks to be mean. All He wants is a clear path between He and us. Jesus’ blood left the door open, but it’s up to us to distinguish that which either clears or clutters our path.

*As usual, my definitions are coming from Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language.

The seventh day

Read: Exodus 31-33, Matthew 22:23-46

When you think of something as being holy, what comes to mind? A certain place? The empty tomb. Jerusalem. A church or temple. A specific thing? The Bible. Communion elements—bread and wine. The ark of the covenant. Things that are holy usually generate a picture in our minds. But the very first thing that God set aside as holy was neither a place nor a thing.

And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Genesis 2:3 (NIV)

According to our religious way of thinking, once God had completed creation, we would expect that He would create a dwelling for Himself, a holy sanctuary where He could reside. But He didn’t. No such thing was made.

Things are only temporary. Out of sight, out of mind. Had God set aside a place or a thing, it could (and probably would) be easily forgotten. Instead, He set aside time, a regular occurrence at which point humanity was to set aside all else so that our focus could be on our Creator alone.

Exodus 31:13

We can set aside places and things to be considered holy, but unless we actually take time, God will not be glorified or worshiped. Even though western Christian tradition sets aside Sunday—the first day of the week—as the Sabbath. I don’t believe God is so concerned with which day or time we set aside as He is with the fact that we actually take the time to turn our focus off of everything but Him.

Our holiness is entirely dependent on God’s holiness. And we cannot be made holy if we do not know the One who makes us holy. Whether you take the first day, the seventh day, or the fourth day, take a day. Consider it holy. Don’t just abstain from work, but use that time to pursue God. Let it continue to stand as a reminder for the generations to come that He is the Lord, who makes us holy.

Still advancing

Read: Genesis 15-17, Matthew 5:27-48

Matthew 5:48

Jesus, more than anyone, knows that no one is perfect (except himself, of course), yet here he is, telling us to be perfect. It’s a bit of an impossible task, if you ask me. But perfection, as most of us would view it, is not what Jesus is calling us to.

Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

1 Peter 1:15-16 (NIV)

In the Hebrew and in Greek, “holy” implies connection with God or the divine. Thus, God is holy and people, things, and actions may be holy by association with God.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

Jesus is not calling us to be something that we can never be, but rather, he is calling us to be close to that which he wants us to be. Perfection this side of Heaven is impossible. Our humanity makes it so. But, J. Newton Davies said that the perfect man was the man who had set his feet on the true path and was still advancing. 

In a very small nutshell, the sermon Jesus is preaching in Matthew 5 is all about how, if we are followers of God, we should act like it and the world should know it. Not committing adultery isn’t good enough, you shouldn’t even think about it. You shouldn’t have to swear an oath because your word should be good enough. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and let him hit the other side. Love your neighbours and love your enemies, too. Being holy means being and acting different than those around us.

The perfection is not sinlessness, but a complete control by God’s Spirit.

The International Bible Commentary

The closer we walk with God, the more our actions will reflect it. If you want to be perfect, you have to hang around with someone who is perfect. If you want to be holy, you have to spend time someone who is holy. And the closer you get to that person, the more like them you will become.

The path to perfection is not a solo journey. There is only one path and it can only be travelled side-by-side with the One who is perfect. You may never achieve perfection in this life, but that doesn’t mean you can be still advancing toward it.

The wait

Do you ever wonder what this world would be like if Adam had never sinned? If no one had ever fallen prey to the enemy’s lies? Would we even have four seasons? Would leaves ever fall off trees? Would fruit ever spoil? And what about us? Would we still be wandering in paradise blissfully unaware of our nakedness? Taking strolls through the forest with God?

I wonder, like humanity, how much the rest of creation is aware of its fallen state. Romans 8:19 says that all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. It’s not only humans who wait for Jesus’ glorious return, but all of creation. Against its will, everything on earth was subjected to God’s curse. All creation anticipates the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay (Romans 8:20-21).

In Revelation 5, we see a progression of praise. First it’s just the elders around the throne. Then they are joined by thousands and millions of angels. And, finally, the rest of the chorus joins in a culmination of the entirety of God’s creation.

And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They also sang:

“Blessing and honor and glory and power
belong to the one sitting on the throne
and to the Lamb forever and ever”

Revelation 5:13 (NLT)

I love the sound of a large choir, but can you imaging the entire universe singing God’s praise? For millennia, creation has been waiting, anticipating the time when we can all sing out. Like a bubble waiting to burst or a bud waiting to bloom, but only infinitely more powerful, beautiful, and wonderful. All of creation—animate and inanimate—longs for the day when we can all bow before the throne and join with the elders and the angels to sing:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty—
the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.

Revelation 4:8b (NLT)

Just the thought of that kind of praise and worship stirs my heart. An eternal, universally worship service will surely be worth the wait.

Daily Bible reading: Amos 1-3, Revelation 5

One bad apple

Yesterday, after being out for most of the day, I was anxious to get home. I like being at home. I pulled into the driveway, grabbed all my stuff from the car and stomped up the front steps. Unlocking the door, I expected to be greeted by warm comfort. Instead, an overwhelming stench assaulted my senses. Dropping my things, it then became a bit of a wild goose chasing trying to find where the smell was coming from and what was causing it. While all of our organic waste is supposed to be kept separate, something landed in my garbage bin and stayed there for a while—long enough to stink up the entire house. The bin barely had anything in it.

I’m sure you’ve heard the term one bad apple spoils the whole bunch. When it comes to produce, once something starts to spoil, it doesn’t take long for it to spread to the good fruit. Back in Ezekiel, God was busy giving the prophet some very specific instructions regarding the temple. One thing among many stood out.

Take careful note of who may be admitted to the Temple and who is to be excluded from it.

Ezekiel 44:5b (NLT)

Only certain priests from a certain lineage were permitted to enter certain places in the Temple. To have anyone else enter would mean that it, and any utensils they came in contact with, would no longer be holy. A long process would then have to take place in order to re-sanctify that place and those things.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will bring ruin upon anyone who ruins this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you Christians are that temple.

2 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NLT)

Now, we no longer live under the Old Covenant and we don’t need to go to a physical temple to make sacrifices in order to atone for our sin. Jesus was the sacrifice that made eternal atonement for us. And we are now the temple—that holy place where the Spirit of God resides. And, just like the priests of old, we should be very aware of who and what we allow into the temple.

Like a little bit of garbage can stink up an entire house, one wrong person in our lives can ruin the temple. We all have different social circles and levels of relationships in our lives. Our inner circle should be reserved for a very select few people. How do we know who to let in? Here are a few questions we can ask ourselves:

  • Does this person share my faith?
  • Do they lead me toward Jesus or draw me away from him?
  • Am I challenged to become better and stronger with this person in my life?
  • Can I depend on this person in the bad times as much as I can in the good?

The list could go on, but I think you get the point. The inner circle, like the holy of holies, is sacred. It should be protected so that it—we—can remain holy. We may even have to distance ourselves from certain people in order to preserve that sanctity. Don’t let that bad apple in.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 43-44, 2 Peter 2

Uncommon and holy

You may have heard of a message of grace. Not just grace to cover sin when you first approach God in repentance, but a message of a grace that means you can live however you like and God will have to forgive you no matter what. Some may call it hyper-grace.

The conclusion of hyper-grace teaching is that we are not bound by Jesus’ teaching, even as we are not under the Law; that believers are not responsible for their sin; and that anyone who disagrees is a pharisaical legalist.

(Source)

To live a life under hyper-grace, means that, while one may accept salvation through Christ, they do not accept his teachings nor do they experience any real change in their life because of Jesus.

It’s a sad truth that there are many who profess Christianity live in what they believe to be grace, but it’s nothing more than self-condemnation. They devalue the sacrifice and blood of Jesus by expecting that God must forgive them no matter what—without ever having to come to Him in repentance.

Anyone who refused to obey the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Think how much more terrible the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God and have treated the blood of the covenant as if it were common and unholy. Such people have insulted and enraged the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to his people.

Hebrews 10:28-29 (NLT)

Imagine a kid who comes home after having found a mud pit. The child approaches his parents with remorse because he knows that he cannot go into the house in his current state. Since his parents hadn’t yet addressed the repercussions of playing in the mud, they clean him off, put him in new clothes and bring him into the house. The next time they send him out to play, he is reminded to stay away from the mud. But that’s exactly where he goes. Once more, Mom and Dad clean him off, give him clean clothes and bring him inside. But once this happens a few more times, Mom and Dad aren’t so forgiving. Yet the kid only sees that he’s going to get cleaned up no matter what. Soon, he feels no remorse over his disobedience and simply expects that Mom and Dad will clean him up and dress him so that he can go inside. As the parents, how long will you allow this behavior? I doubt it wouldn’t be more than two or three muddy returns before the child is punished. Yet we should expect that God simply smile, shake His head, and immediately forgive us of far worse over and over and over again?

Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we received a full knowledge of the truth, there is no other sacrifice that will cover these sins.

Hebrews 10:26 (NLT)

Do we slip and fall and get ourselves dirty? Yes, of course we do. And God is faithful to help us up and dust us off. But to keep on deliberately sinning is ignorant and insulting to all that He has done for us. God has called us out of the muck (Psalm 40:2). He has called us to live pure, clean lives. It is to our benefit as well as those around us.

Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.

Hebrews 10:23-24 (NLT)

Grace is not a Get Out of Jail Free card to be played whenever we get ourselves in trouble, but rather a gift that should be treated with awe and reverence. We should be doing all that we can to remain under the cover of grace and to pull others into its shelter.

Grace is not common and unholy, but rather uncommon and holy.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 7-9, Hebrews 10:24-39

Walking contradiction

The life of a Christian is full of contradictions. To the world, it would make no sense at all, but to the born again believer, it makes perfect sense. Die so you can live. Bind yourself so you can be free. Fear God so you fear nothing else.

The Lord said to me in the strongest terms: “Do not think like everyone else does. Do not be afraid that some plan conceived behind close doors will be the end of you. Do not fear anything except the Lord Almighty. He alone is the Holy one. If you fear him, you need fear nothing else.

Isaiah 8:11-13 (NLT)

When we have a proper, holy fear of God, there is no room for any other fear. In fact, the fear of God rejects all other fear completely.

FEAR: holy awe or reverence of God and his laws, which springs from a just view and real love of the divine character, leading the subjects of it to hate and shun everything that can offend such a holy being, and inclining them to aim at perfect obedience

Paul, like God, spoke to the church in Galatia in strong terms.

Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things.

Galatians 4:12a (NLT)

What things? The things of the law. Paul pleaded with the church to let go of the law that holds us back from the freedom that can only be found through a personal relationship with Christ. But we must wholly bind ourselves to that relationship. And that’s what faith truly is.

FAITH: to persuade, to draw towards any thing; to conciliate (to draw or bring together, to unite, to call; the primary sense of the root is to strain, to stretch, drive or draw); to believe, to obey.

Our faith in Christ draws us to him and to the Father. True faith stretches and strains toward the Truth, leaving all else behind—shunning everything that can offend God. Our fear—respect and reverence—for God leads us away from all other fear and through faith, calls us toward and unites us with perfect love which, we know, casts out all fear.

To try to understand all this through our human nature is futile. It can only be learned as we grow in our relationship with God and through divine revelation as as result of that relationship. So don’t worry if it doesn’t all make sense right away. The important thing is to keep at it.

Don’t copy the behaviors and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.

Romans 12:2a (NLT)

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 7-9, Galatians 4