Bandwagon

Every season, no matter what sport, the teams that make the playoffs always have an influx of fans. We call this jumping on the bandwagon. They may not watch the sport all season long, but if a certain team ends up in the postseason, suddenly, they’re superfans. The excitement draws all sorts of people out of the woodwork who act as though they’ve been fans all year long. The true test of these “fans” is the next season. Through the off-season, many of those who jumped on the postseason bandwagon will quietly slide right off, never to be seen again until the next time the team makes the playoffs. But there are a few who will continue to follow the team through their down time. When the season starts up again, those jerseys they bought at the end of the previous year get aired out, ready to be worn again through the year.

When Jesus began his ministry, he knew he would draw the bandwagoners right along with the truly faithful. Some followed because of what Jesus could do, but they never stuck around long. Others followed because of who Jesus was. Those people he discipled.

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.

John 2:23-25 (NIV)

Jesus is no dummy. He can tell his true followers from those who are just along for the ride. Just like wearing a team jersey doesn’t necessarily make a person a true fan, showing up at church on Sunday doesn’t necessarily make you a true believer. God looks at what is inside of us, not what we show everyone on the outside. Not only does God look, but we should be inviting Him to do so.

Test me, O Lord, and try me,
examine my heart and my mind.

Psalm 26:2 (NIV)

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10 (NIV)

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

Psalm 139:23 (NIV)

We cannot hide who or what we are from God. He sees through every façade, every fake smile, every insincere word. But even if we are a bandwagon Christian, only showing up when things get exciting, it doesn’t mean that we can’t become true worshipers. The Psalms are filled with lyrics of insufficiency and defeat, treachery and deceit. Yet, if we turn our hearts fully toward God, He will be faithful to draw us in and to help us (not make us) become true believers, worshipers, followers.

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.

John 4:24 (NIV)

Read: 1 Kings 19-20, John 2

There is a cloud

On a cold winter night in 1933, a boy was born. It was Christmas Eve. The boy’s parents were poor. Dirt poor. To add to his trials, the boy’s parents were not married when he had been conceived. Soon, siblings followed and they all learned to work on the family farm. But that boy, born on Christmas Eve, had bigger plans for himself.

When the boy got a hold of a catalogue, he would eagerly flip to the menswear section and stare intently at the men dressed in sharp suits. The boy wasn’t destined to keep working on the farm. His imagination was bigger than that. Someday, he would get to wear a suit and tie to work every day.

The boy grew and continued to work on the farm. Circumstances led him to drop out of school before graduation. But he worked. He met a lovely young woman and, after a time of long-distance correspondence, he convinced the girl to marry him. Soon, they welcomed a baby girl into their family. The first of three. They were poor. Dirt poor. But that boy born on Christmas Eve still had bigger plans for himself and his growing family. He still wanted to wear a suit and tie to work every day.

The boy, now a man, had his sights on a certain company, but that company was not hiring. The boy, now a man, didn’t think that should stop him from working for them. So every day, he got up, got dressed and went to work. He earned nothing but the respect of those he helped on the loading docks each day. It wasn’t long before the company decided to start paying the man who wanted to work so badly, he’d do it for nothing. Surely he’d work even harder if he knew he’d be earning a paycheque.

The man born on Christmas Eve worked his way up in the company. Then another company, and then another. By the time he retired, he’d been wearing a suit and tie to work every day for decades. All those days of looking at catalogues daydreaming of the future had finally come to fruition.

In addition to becoming a very influential businessman, the man born on a cold Christmas Eve to poor parents who hadn’t been married when he was conceived, the man who never finished high school, also pastored a church. And then another church and another after that. When the man finally went home to be with Jesus, the building where his own church met was not large enough to contain all of the people whose lives he had touched.

Nothing in the way his life began indicated that a boy born on a farm to poor parents would have had the capacity to affect so many lives in both business and ministry. But that is exactly what my grandfather did. Even when it was no longer fashionable, he still wore a suit and tie to work every day and to preach at church every Sunday.

“Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.

“There is nothing there,” he said.

Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”

So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'”

1 Kings 18:43-44 (NIV)

Like a cloud on the horizon the size of a man’s hand, where and how we start has little consequence on how we finish. That small cloud saved a nation from drought and famine. That boy born on Christmas Eve brought countless lives into the kingdom of God through the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and his legacy lives on in every life he touched and every life those lives touch. Even if you are told, there is nothing there, look again. And again. And again. Surely there is a cloud. Maybe you just can’t see it yet.

Read: i Kings 16-18, John 1:29-51

The profession of Christianity

Let us try not to join the profession of Christianity, with seeking after worldly advantages.

Matthew Henry

“You’ll never have to worry about anything again!”

“God wants you to be rich!”

“This is the best life ever!”

“Everything is good!”

All of these claims have been touted by Christians, preachers, and televangelists. They have brought untold millions to their knees to pray a prayer that they’ve been conned into reciting. While they all contain a partial truth, they are not indicative of the Christian life.

Jesus had some choice words for some who wished to take care of business before taking up the business of following him.

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my Father.”

Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:57-62 (NIV)

In order to “close the deal” when it comes to leading someone to salvation, we are often apt to spout the benefits while making light of the cost. The truth is, there are many, many benefits to giving your life to Christ, but there is also a great cost—one that cannot be ignored.

Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

Luke 9:23 (NIV)

The benefits come as a result of us doing the right thing for the right reasons.

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:33 (NIV)

It is a difficult road to walk, this life in pursuit of God. On one side, we can be easily distracted by the thought of a reward and, on the other side, we can be so focused on our call that we deny the existence of any reward at all.

Our purpose in serving God should be just that—to serve Him and Him alone. If the reward is all we seek, our hearts are in the wrong place. But that does not mean that we should not be prepared to receive a reward or blessing.

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Luke 11:13 (NIV)

If is with a pure heart and pure motives that we must seek after God. Yet, as His children, we must not deny Him the joy of blessing us.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10 (NIV)

Read: Judges 12-14, Luke 9:37-62

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.

Square peg

Read: Number 14-15, Mark 6:1-32

You may have heard the term, like fitting a square peg into a round hole. No matter how hard you try, those corners are not going to magically round off so that the square peg can fit into a circle. Sometimes, the way we minister is the square peg and those we’re ministering to are the round hole. No matter what you say or how you say it, the message isn’t going to get through. Jesus had some advice for his disciples for such a time as this.

And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.

Mark 6:11 (NIV)

As I’ve been turning this verse over in my mind throughout the day, I’ve come to several conclusions.

  1. This is not an excuse to leave when things get difficult. There is a difference between difficult and not being received altogether. Sometimes ministry—our Christian lives—is hard. A lot of the time it’s hard. But that doesn’t mean we’re just supposed to give up. Welcome and comfort are not always equal. My pastor said this morning that complacency is the greatest stifler of the church. When we get all cozy, we do nothing.
  2. Leaving someone or some place that doesn’t welcome you is not giving up. Notice that Jesus didn’t tell his disciples that they had to stay in one place until everyone accepted the Good News. He didn’t expect them to stay in an unwelcome place. He wanted them to be where the Gospel would be received.
  3. The Gospel spreads faster where it is welcome. Our Great Commission as believers is to share the Gospel with every nation. That doesn’t mean we have to start with the hardest ones first. I think Jesus actually wanted his disciples to start with the easy ones. Do you want to know why? More people get saved in the easy ones and the more people who are saved, the more people will get saved. I believe that some of those cities who scoffed at the disciples, after hearing of the miracles that followed them wished they’d have been more welcoming.

Mark 6-12-13.jpg

The disciples went where they were welcome, where they were made to fit. They didn’t stick around as square pegs in a round hole trying to make something work.

If God has told you to be where you are, stay. I don’t want to tell someone that, because something is hard, they should leave. Sometimes God asks us to stick around through very difficult situations and I believe that He can and will work through them.

And I’m also not saying that the path of least resistance is the one we should all be taking. The Bible is full of seemingly contradictory teaching and it is up to us to read through it carefully and depend on the Holy Spirit to help us discern what is right for each of us.

Sometimes that peg will never fit. Sometimes the peg needs to be whittled down to fit. Sometimes the hole need to be chiseled to accommodate. And sometimes, we just need to light it all on fire with the power of the Gospel.

One thing at a time

Read: Numbers 7, Mark 4:21-41

It’s winter where I live. Usually, living on the southwest coast of Canada, we don’t get much for winter but buckets of rain. Today, the temperature is below freezing and there is a thin layer of crunchy snow on the ground. Though some bulbs have managed to push their shoots through the cold ground, no seeds will be planted for months yet.

Many of us Christians, myself included, act as though we are in a perpetual spiritual winter. We withhold the seed in our hands claiming the soil isn’t ready. Or maybe it is, but we either don’t know how or just plain refuse to scatter it.

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.”

Mark 4:26 (NIV)

Who is the man in this story? I am. You are. What is the seed? The Word of God. What are we supposed to do with the seed? Scatter it. Then what?

Mark 4-27.jpg

Too many of us hold on to our seeds unsure of what we’re supposed to do once we scatter. Sometimes it’s nothing at all. But what if it doesn’t grow? What if it does?

When you go out and plant seeds in the soil, aside from a bit of water, there is very little you can do to ensure your plant comes up. You can’t dig down and check on it. You have to wait and trust that the seed you planted was a good seed and that it will sprout at the right time.

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

1 Corinthians 3:6-7 (NIV)

You have a seed to plant. We all have seeds that can be planted. And we all have water to help those seeds to grow. And still, we all have the tools to harvest those plants once they’re mature. It is rare that one person will plant, water, and harvest the same seed.

The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

1 Corinthians 3:8-9 (NIV)

Instead of worrying about a whole field, focus on one thing at a time. Plant the seed that’s in your hand right now. Share the Word of God. Keep planting. You may find you encounter someone who’s already received a seed. Water it. Keep sharing the Word of God. Keep watering. You may come across a person who’s received a seed and had it watered. That’s your harvest. Keep harvesting.

This is not just the job of pastors and teachers and church leaders. It’s your job. Ephesians 4:12 says that all of those people were given to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we reach unity in the faith. We are all to do works of service.

One person doing their work may be able to change their circle of influence. But if we all do our work—just one thing at a time, we will change the world.

That loud crowd

Read: Leviticus 15-17, Matthew 27:1-31

A crowd is contagious. At the moment, much of the world is currently wrapped up in the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. Once every four years, I watch winter sports. In the past few days, I have been wrapped up in snowboarding hearing terms like chicken salad, 1440, goofy-footed, McTwist, amplitude, and pretzels. I can talk about the sport like I actually know something about it—which I don’t. But I’m part of the crowd, cheering on anyone wearing a maple leaf whether I’ve heard of them or not. I have jumped on the Olympic bandwagon just like I do every other year.

A couple of thousand years ago, there was another crowd of bandwagoners. Whether they shared the opinion or not, a group of people gathered to shout and, eventually condemn an innocent man to death.

“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked.

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

Matthew 27:22-23 (NIV)

I don’t know if the crowd just happened to be there, or if they awaited the annual customary release of a prisoner, or if they’d been paid to be there by members of the Sanhedrin. But they were there. They were loud. And none of them could answer Pilate’s question—at least not loud enough to be heard. They shouted for the sake of making noise and, because they were so loud, anyone who could have been able to speak against them was either drowned out or too afraid to speak out.

Still today, there are a lot of people out there making noise for no other reason than to make noise. They like the sound someone is making, so they join in the cacophony. If asked why they make noise, they just get louder.

When Jesus was brought before Pilate, where were all the people who had welcomed him into the city just days before? Where were all the people who had been healed and set free? Jesus was not to ineffective in his ministry that there would not have been enough people to speak up for him.

But Jesus was passive. He was quiet. We should emulate him.

Yes, we should be like Jesus. As much as possible, we should strive to be just like him. But this moment, during and after his arrest, was the only time when Jesus was quiet. He knew what he had to do and he had resigned himself to it without putting up a fight. At no other point in his ministry did Jesus ever sit down and keep to himself in the face of lies.

If you know the truth that could set someone free, why not shout it out? Even if the crowd is loud, we should be louder because we know why we shout. The Book that we hold in our hands is not mere platitudes, but it is life. If you would only step out of the shadows and speak up, perhaps another person would find the courage to do the same. And then another. And another. And soon, the crowd proclaiming the truth will be louder than the crowd making noise.

Church, we should never, ever let that loud crowd shame or bully us into keeping quiet.

All of my life in ev’ry season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship

Brooke Ligertwood, Desert Song