Do you believe?

I have a special corner of my house that I use almost exclusively for reading my Bible. There’s a comfy couch, pillows, and a blanket from Mexico. Surrounding said couch is books. Lots of books: Bibles in at least five translations and two languages, dictionaries, concordances, sermon references, and commentaries. I love reading through other’s thoughts on what I’ve read. Sometimes theses books confirm my own ideas. Sometimes they open up a new way of thinking. And sometimes, like today, they are downright disappointing and even disturbing.

I read this today in a popular commentary:

The signs authenticated the faith the early believers proclaimed, not the personal faith that any one of them exercised. In light of this and historical evidence it is reasonable to conclude that these authenticating signs were normative only for the apostolic era.

To what signs is the writer referring?

[Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 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 16:15-18 (NIV)

Nothing in Jesus’ commission to his disciples indicates that signs would only follow for a few decades. There is no time frame or limit in this passage. Jesus simply stated that signs will follow believers. Period.

So what happened? Why do we Westerners see so few signs, wonders, and miracles? Ask yourself this question:

Do you believe?

If a well-respected commentary can state that miracles were only for the early apostolic period, imagine what is being taught in our churches all over the world.

Allow me to break this down logically.

Jesus told the disciples to go into all the world and preach the good news. What good news was that? That Jesus had come to save them, to offer a new covenant through his blood rather than the blood of a sacrificial animal. This new covenant would bring eternal life to the spirit of any who accepted it.

Jesus told the disciples to baptize the new believers. Why? Baptism is an outward confirmation of an inward decision. You don’t need to be baptized to be saved, but it is a physical affirmation of a spiritual awakening.

Jesus told the disciples that miraculous signs would follow them.

Observe what power the apostles should be endued with, for confirming the doctrine they were to preach. These were miracles to confirm the truth of the gospel, and means of spreading the gospel among the nations that had not heard it.

Matthew Henry

Here’s my question: If signs and wonders aren’t for today, how is our message supposed to be confirmed? Why did Jesus go around healing people and teaching his disciples how to do the same if he didn’t mean for that practice to carry on? If miracles weren’t needed, why did Jesus bother at all? If the message is supposed to be enough, why is our message getting lost?

I believe in miracles. I have seen them firsthand. I have seen broken bones mend. I have seen stunted limbs grow. I have seen life when there should have been death. And I have seen people come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ because of those things. Miracles aren’t a sign for believers. They are a benefit to us because we believe, but they are a sign to the unbeliever that there is power in the blood that washes away our sins.

At the risk of reducing the Word to a new low, let me put it simply. You’re watching television late at night and a loud Australian appears on the screen with an incredible new product. He spends ten minutes yelling at you, touting the near-miraculous qualities of the product he’s trying to sell. You stay tuned because you’re moderately interested and oddly enthralled. Then he puts the product to use. You’re sold. You dial the 1-800 number before the five minutes runs out and, for just the added shipping and handling, you will receive a second item for free! It wasn’t his words that sold you, it was the product in action.

The Word of God draws people in. And for some, that’s all they need. But others need that extra confirmation. They need to see the product in action. They need to see what it can actually do. And if the world can’t see our “product” actually do anything, what are we really trying to sell?

God didn’t fill His Word with the miraculous only to stop once Jesus left the stage. His Word is filled with wonders because He is a God of wonders. We do Him (and ourselves) a great disservice by setting the miraculous aside when it was a miracle that brought us where we are in the first place.

So I will ask again, do you believe?

Read: Deuteronomy 29-30, Mark 16

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.

Hurry hard!

Read: Numbers 32-33, Mark 10:1-31

Up here, in the Great White North, we like curling. Not our hair. The sport. If you’re not familiar with it, here is a brief explanation. If you’re from a land of indoor or summer sports, curling is the winter version of shuffleboard or bocce ball. One addition is brooms. Yes, brooms. A large, and very heavy, polished stone is pushed down a sheet of ice. A sweeper (or two) then sweep a little (or a lot) depending on how the rock was thrown. More importantly from clearing any debris from the ice, the friction, and subsequent heat created by sweeping can actually change the speed and direction of the stone as it glides down the rink. A common command for more vigorous sweeping is, “Hurry hard!”

While I’m quite certain that curling did not exist in ancient Canaan, I am certain that God intended for His people to do a quick and clean sweep of the land ahead of them.

Speak to the Israelites and say to them: “When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places.

Numbers 33:51-52 (NIV)

You see, in order to fully possess the Promised Land and maintain said possession, Israel was commanded to sweep it clean. The quality of their sweep held the potential to change the direction of an entire nation of people. Like curling without sweeping isn’t really curling, possessing the Promised Land in any other manner than the one prescribed by God isn’t really possessing.

The same goes for our lives. When we give our lives over to God, He wants everything. Everything, everything. Even those little things that we say aren’t harming anyone. He wants us to do a clean sweep so that our lives can change direction.

And, He doesn’t want us to do it a little bit at a time. We need to hurry. Hard. Notice that God’s command said, “When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you.” God knew that if they waited to get rid of the pagan filth of the Canaanites, they would never get rid of it all—which is exactly what happened.

We cannot expect a different outcome than the Israelites. If God’s chosen people, those He had cut a covenant with, would not be spared just because of who they were, what makes us think we’d be any different? If we, like Israel, refuse to rid our lives of all sin, we cannot expect all of the victory, either.

But we don’t have to do it alone.

Mark 10-27.jpg

Jesus didn’t just throw out this statement as though God were a great magician, able to conjure up anything we wish. He was talking about salvation, being able to leave our old lives behind to walk on the new path before us.

Even though they gained their Promised Land, Israel didn’t fully succeed in the plan God had for them. They got lazy and complacent once they reached their final stop. Perhaps all they needed was a skip hollering from the other end of the rink. Like ripping off a bandage, the faster you accomplish the task, the better. It may hurt more in the moment, but it will only last a moment.

So when it’s time for you to sweep something out of your life, don’t wait. Hurry. Hurry hard.

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.

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.

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.


Read: Exodus 34-36, Matthew 23:1-22

Exodus 34:20

Rule number one of Bible reading: look at the context. You don’t only need to know what a verse is saying, but you need to know what else is being said in connection to it. In the Bible I use, this verse stands alone. It its own paragraph. The context is God giving instructions to Moses to give to Israel.

How often do we hear someone say that they have nothing to give? Apparently this argument mattered not to God. No one in Israel was to approach God with nothing. Even the poorest person had to come with something. If God demanded something of His people then, why should we believe that He would expect anything less from us now?

The truth is that, even if we have absolutely nothing, we still have something to give. So long as we breathe, we don’t have to approach God with empty hands. But we do. Too often we go to God with outstretched hands, begging Him to put something in them. But that’s not what He wants from us. Yes, He wants us on our knees, not as beggars, but humble servants.

So long as breath fills your lungs, you have something to offer God. You can offer Him your praise and thanks. You can offer Him your service. You can offer Him your life.

If we claim that we have nothing to give, what we’re really saying is that God isn’t quite enough. He didn’t do a good enough job creating us. He missed something.

Now, I don’t know about you, but my God is enough. He did enough. He didn’t miss anything. At the very least, I owe Him my life.

The next time you approach God, consider His instruction to Israel. Do you go to Him with open hands hoping for crumbs? Or do you go to him with hands outstretched offering the heart that pulses in your chest. Does He want your begging or your service?

What’s in your hands?