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.

16x

Read: Leviticus 18-19, Matthew 27:32-66

Some days, I have the memory of an elephant. I remember minute details about things that happened over a decade ago that never really mattered, even while they were happening. Other days, my memory has the lifespan of a gnat. I think that, for the most part, the Israelites fell into this latter category.

Through much of the Pentateuch, Israel gets reminder after reminder. Sometimes I read a passage and have to go look back because I am positive I’ve read it already. Today is no different.

Leviticus 19:2

After this verse, the words the Lord your God are repeated fifteen more times within the chapter. Sixteen times within thirty-seven verses, Israel is reminded that the Lord is their God. If repeating something three times is important, how important is sixteen?

The number sixteen in the Bible is often associate with love. In the Old Testament, sixteen of the various names and titles for God specifically signify His constant, never-ending love for the children of Israel. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul lists sixteen distinct qualities of love.

When questioned about the most important commandment, Jesus wraps it all up.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Mark 12:30 (NIV)

I find it interesting that, for as many qualities as Paul uses to describe love, God reminds His people that He is their Lord. Far more than God wanted Israel to follow a strict set of rules, He wanted them to love Him. From a pure love, obedience flows. God wants the very same for us.

Even as I write this study, I wonder for myself how much would change in my life if I were to intentionally remind myself daily of God’s lordship in my life. The Lord is my God. He is my Lord. I believe that this is what God was doing with Israel. He was working to renew their minds to His way of thinking.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 (NIV)

Our love for God should be, like Jesus stated, with our whole being. But it all starts in our spirit, followed by our mind. If the mind does not conform to the spirit, our strength cannot follow suit. Our spirits know and love God, but it is the daily reminder of His lordship in our lives that will cause everything else to conform.

So remind yourself that God is your God. He is your Lord. Do it sixteen times if you have to.

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.

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.

From your heart

Read: Exodus 11-12, Matthew 18:21-35

Have you ever had to ask forgiveness? Wait. That’s a silly question. We all have. And if you haven’t, I guarantee that you probably should. We’ve all done things to offend someone. We will all do things that will offend someone. When that happens, we all want to be forgiven. No one wants the weight of wrongdoing hanging over their heads—at least I hope not.

Not only do we all need forgiveness, but we’ve already received forgiveness. In the moment that we receive Jesus into our lives as Lord and Saviour, God forgives us. But what does that really mean?

FORGIVE: To pardon; to remit, as an offense or debt; to overlook an offense, and treat the offender as not guilty. The original and proper phrase is to forgive the offense, to send it away, to reject it, that is not to impute it, [put it to] the offender.

It is our sin that separates us from God, but when we ask Him to forgive us, He separates our sin from us. It is no longer ours. It has been sent away. Rejected. And because of that, we are expected to do the same for others. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a story to help us understand how this works.

A king wanted to settle accounts with his servants. There was a man who owed him a great deal of money and was not able to pay. When the man begged to be permitted to leave, the king forgave the man his debt and sent him on his way.

When that same man who had begged forgiveness was approached by another man who owed him, rather than extend a small amount of the mercy he had been granted, he had the man thrown into prison until the debt could be paid.

When the king heard this, the man was brought before him, called wicked, and was turned over to the jailers to be tortured until his original debt was paid in full.

Matthew 18:35

Words are cheap and easy. Anyone can say that they forgive someone. The hard part is acting like it, but that’s where the forgiveness really is. The best place to start to learn to forgive is to learn to act like you’ve been forgiven.

The wicked servant in Jesus’ story never took to heart the gravity of what he’d been given. If he had, it would have been easy to offer just a small portion of that to another person. When we learn to truly accept just how much we been forgiven of, we can learn to take that grace and extend it to others.

It is not until both your words and your actions line up that you can truly learn to forgive from your heart.

More than enough

Read: Exodus 4-6, Matthew 16

My great-grandfather was a gentle man. He loved his wife and his family. He worked hard to provide for them. He loved God. He stuttered. His speech impediment often prevented him from sharing what God had done in his life. That is, until he died. At the age of 80—when most would say he’d already lived a full life—he had a heart attack and was pronounced dead. But that wasn’t the end. In that moment of death, he had an experience with God that would shape the rest of his life. Yes, the rest of his life. After his death experience, God brought him back to his family to live another 13 years. His mission: share his story. No stutter would stop him from telling anyone who would listen the story of what God had done for him.

Gramps reminded me of Moses—not that he lead a great people out of slavery or that he held out his staff and split a river, but God knew what He was doing when He created both men, speech impediments and all.

Moses said to the Lord, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.

Exodus 4:10 (NIV)

If I were to tell you that you’ve insulted God, you may be insulted by my statement. But if we were to be honest with ourselves, we’ve probably all made that same grave mistake. Moses did it and angered the Lord and all he did was make a truthful statement. God wasn’t impressed with Moses’ excuse of not being eloquent.

Exodus 4:11

Let’s say that you’ve been asked to work out a solution for a particular problem. You work hard and come up with a design that you know is absolutely perfect for the situation at hand. Then someone comes along and tells you that it isn’t good enough.

How do you think God feels when we tell Him that we aren’t enough for what He wants us to do? He made you. He made me. He knows exactly who we are and what we are capable of. Don’t you think He’s already taken into account what we can and cannot do? Do you really think He would ask someone to do something if He didn’t already know that person could do it?

As far as we know, Moses never got over his lack of eloquence. His brother, Aaron, was his mouthpiece. Yet Moses was still able to lead his people out of Egyptian servitude. He led them across the river and right to the border of the Promised Land.

How ignorant we can be in thinking that God left us lacking in any way. Where we are not enough, He is more than enough. Where there are gaps, He fills them.

“Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

Exodus 4:12 (NIV)

Superstition

In the practical sense, I am not at all a superstitious person. I have a broken mirror in my hallway. I don’t care about black cats. And I walk under ladders all the time. So what? Superstition goes beyond the obvious.

Superstition, i.e. a way of live divorced from God and his guidance, is the parent of restlessness and instability and reduces men to the level of shepherdless sheep.

J.E. McFayden, The Abingdon Bible Commentary.

Zechariah opens chapter 10 telling Israel to ask the Lord for rain in the spring and then follows that up discussing sheep without a shepherd. At a glance, these two topics have nothing to do with each other. But a deeper look says that they have everything to do with each other.

Let’s say that a church has experienced great revival. The leaders prayed for it and, when it came, they couldn’t quite put their finger on what started it, but they refuse to change a thing so that it won’t stop. God’s Spirit moves. People get healed. People get saved. The church grows by leaps and bounds. But, after a while—like nearly every time of refreshing, things start to slow down. The leaders start to pick apart everything they’ve done. What changed? Who picked that song? Why did that greeter wear that jacket? Why did the colours on the screen change? Who folded the bulletin backward? We need to start right at 10:28, not 10:31!

What started out as an incredible move of God has been reduced to a method—specific natural steps taken in order to preserve something that began supernaturally. The supernatural becomes superstition and, soon enough, God is no longer in the method. It is merely human hands trying to replicate something they have no hope of repeating. And, instead of heading back to the prayer room, many people keep testing theories and methods in hopes of trying to spark something again. They are sheep following superstition rather than a shepherd.

Ask the Lord for rain in the spring and he will give it. It is the Lord who makes storm clouds that drop showers of rain so that every field becomes a lush pasture.

Zechariah 10:1 (NLT)

If God sends the rain in the first place, why would we ever look elsewhere when things start to look dry? Even Christians can become superstitious when a certain process works better than another. But the prosperity has nothing to do with the process and everything to do with the prayer that went into it. So ask the Lord for rain. And when it starts to get dry, ask Him again. And again. And again.

Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Psalm 100:3 (NLT)

Daily Bible reading: Zechariah 10-12, Revelation 20