Waiting room

Sometimes life, for all it’s hurry, seems like a long stint in a waiting room. When you’re a kid, you wait to grow up. When you grow up, you wait to find the right person to spend the rest of your life with. When you’ve found that person, you wait to start a family. And those are just the big things. We wait for bedtime. We wait for the alarm clock to ring. We wait to start work and we wait to finish work. We wait at lights and stop signs, checkouts and check-ins. And in all that waiting, what are we really doing?

Israel had waited a long time to obtain their promise. When God sent Moses to get them out of Egypt, it should have just been a few weeks at most before their arrival in the land of milk and honey. Instead, it was over forty years. And that was just to get across the river! There was a lot more waiting involved once they crossed over. By this time Joshua, a young man when he was first sent to scout out the land, was old. He’d seen a lot in his day. He’d led Israel into their promise and fought with them to take hold of it. And after all that waiting, Israel still waited.

So Joshua said to the Israelites: “How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?”

Joshua 18:3 (NIV)

Here Israel stood, in their promise. And they stood around waiting to take hold of it. They got exactly what God told them He would give them and still they waited.

This week, Major League Baseball begins a new season. My team is the Toronto Blue Jays. I’ve followed the team all through the off season and have watched as many spring training games as have been aired on television. I know that there were some pretty major trades since the fall. I know some players got healthy, while others will begin the season on the disabled list. I also know that, through the spring, the coaches and trainers have worked with all of the players to make sure that they’re in the best shape they can be, that they know their roles on the team, and know the plan for the team in the season ahead. They’re prepared.

Let’s say that opening day arrives and the Blue Jays take the field at Rogers Centre. Pitcher J. Happ takes the mound and the first Yankee in the lineup steps up to the plate. The Jays stand in the middle of the field as though they have no idea what’s going on.

Joshua must have felt like the manager of such a team. All that time, preparation, and waiting led them to where they were and then they waited while all that time, they could have been taking possession of a fruitful land!

I bet God feels that way with us sometimes. He’s given us everything we need to succeed. We have what we need to see His many promises come to pass. But most of us sit waiting for something to magically happen.

I understand that some people may be waiting for a word from the Lord regarding a specific situation, but that’s no excuse to put everything else on hold. The Bible is our rulebook, playbook, and instruction manual all in one. It has guidelines on how we should live, methods on how we can do it, and practical examples of how others were able to accomplish it.

We can add to all of the waiting we must already endure or we can take Jesus’ lead and go out and take hold of God’s promises for us. The Blue Jays are going to do everything they can to win the World Series this year. They’re not going to wait for it to come to them, because it won’t. It takes hard work, endurance, and determination. The same went for Israel as they took the Promised Land. And the same goes for us if we want to see God move on our behalf.

Read: Joshua 116-18, Luke 5:1-16

Treasured

Has anyone ever said something so complimentary or encouraging to you that you took those words and filed them away in your mind so that you could remember them when things weren’t going so well? For some, a simple word of encouragement said in passing could become a lifeline later on.

Still recovering from childbirth, the shepherds—who had heard about a savior from a heavenly host—came to praise and glorify God in the presence of the baby Jesus.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Luke 2:19 (NIV)

Later, when Jesus was a boy, Mary and Joseph realised he’d been left behind in Jerusalem. When they finally found him, the boy Jesus didn’t seem at all concerned.

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Luke 2:49 (NIV)

Jesus obediently returned to Nazareth with his mother, Mary and her husband Joseph.

But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.

Luke 2:51b (NIV)

I imagine that, as Jesus grew, that there were more instances like these where Mary was reminded that Jesus wasn’t like her other children. He was more. And, as she treasured up these moments, I doubt she knew how greatly she would need them in the years to come.

When her son was arrested, beaten, hung on a cross, and laid to rest, I am sure that many of these words would have come rushing back to her. Though her baby boy was gone, she knew that there was purpose in his life, death, and eventual resurrection.

Most of us will never have to go through anything like what Mary went through as a mother, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t treasure up things in our hearts.

I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11 (NIV)

If words from family, friends, or peers can serve to comfort us in difficulty, how much more will the Word of God bring to us? Not only is the Word comforting, it is Life. The more we treasure in our hearts, the greater access we have to it when we need it most.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:21 (NIV)

Read: Joshua 7-8, Luke 2:25-52

Lessons learned

There are many ways that people learn. Some learn in certain ways better than others or by a combination of methods. Some of these methods are:

  1. reading
  2. speaking
  3. hearing

I was homeschooled in my early years. Once I could read on my own, I could go off, read my lessons, and complete my assignments. I still love learning through reading.

Once I began public school, I learned that not everyone could be so easily self-taught. Some of my peers struggled through silent reading time. There were kids in my class who had to hear the lesson in order to retain the information. And there were students who had to repeat main points back to the teacher to ensure that they grasped the concept. And there were some still who used a combination of these things, as well as others, to learn.

In the days of Moses and Joshua, silent reading was almost unheard of. When the Book of the Law was read, it was read aloud.

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

Joshua 1:8 (NIV)

Do you know that only 19 percent of churchgoing Christians read the Bible daily? (A Christian is considered to be churchgoing by attending church just 3 of 8 weeks.) It is no wonder that the Word of God has so little power in our lives.

Consider this, if every professing Christian were to read a portion of the Bible every day, how would you expect the world to change? If we all read the scriptures out loud, would there be even greater change?

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17 (NIV)

If just over 7 percent of Christians read their Bibles daily, it is no wonder the church has lost its influence on society. It is no wonder we are perceived as weak hypocrites.

There is a reason why God was so emphatic about Joshua keeping the Book of the Law near him.

Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.

Joshua 1:7 (NIV)

Our success, both personally and as the body of Christ, I believe, is based entirely on our grasp of the Word of God. Most Christians have never seen a move of God. They don’t even know what it’s supposed to look like because they’ve never read or heard about it. The more I read about all that God has done, all the miracles Jesus performed, the power that came with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the more I crave those things. I yearn to see God move the way He did in the days of the early church.

Our mouths are required for a move of God. We need to open up our mouths and pray. We need to speak the Word of God with boldness and courage. We won’t see the Word come to pass until the Word passes our lips.

Read: Joshua 1-3, Luke 1:57-80

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

Infinity and beyond

Read: Deuteronomy 14-16, Mark 13:14-37

When was the last time you had something repaired? Maybe it was your car. Perhaps a computer or an appliance. It was probably a big-ticket item, whatever it was. Once upon a time, people would repair just about everything. Socks were darned. Jeans were patched. Dresses were refit to a different shape and size. Phones lasted decades. Books for centuries.

Mark 13-31

When we read about Jesus’ words enduring forever, we really don’t have a frame of reference. After all, nothing lasts forever, right?

Wrong.

We need to get our minds out of our world of temporary and easily replaceable. We need to get our brains fixed on the fixed. We need to look beyond today and into eternity. Into infinity and beyond.

Jesus, the Word, was there in the beginning. He will be there long after all we know ends. And he has invited us to share eternity with him. We’d be crazy not to take him up on that offer.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

John 1:1-2 (NIV)

It is this assurance that we can hold on to. Outside of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, there is nothing that endures. If we desire meaning and anything that lasts, it can only be found through Christ. It is this knowledge that will keep us going when everything else we know is gone. This life may be temporary, but the next one isn’t.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NIV)

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.

They are blind

Read: Genesis 49-50, Matthew 15:1-20

No one enjoys being called out on their wrong-doings. Generally, if we’ve sinned, we’d rather deal with it quietly rather than have it made public. But when it came to the Pharisees, Jesus almost seemed to enjoy bringing their failures to light. And I’m willing to bet that, when his disciples pointed out how upset the Pharisees were, he already knew they were offended.

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

Matthew 15:12 (NIV)

This being the fact that the Pharisees were trying to call out Jesus and his disciples as unclean because they hadn’t washed their hands before eating while the Pharisees blatantly refused to honour their fathers and mothers claiming whatever help [they] might otherwise have received from [us] is a gift devoted to God (Matthew 15:5). They used their religion as an excuse to disregard the command to honour their parents. Their words made them more unclean than eating with unwashed hands and, when Jesus pointed out this fact, they were offended. He beat the Pharisees at their own game and they didn’t like it.

If you, like the Pharisees, find yourself offended when truth is brought to light, chances are that you are the one who may need to make some changes. Often our own initial response is the best gage for the veracity of a statement.

On the giving end, it is our duty as followers of Christ to proclaim the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). On the receiving end, it is our duty to verify the truth according to the Word of God and make any adjustments necessary to bring ourselves into line with that truth.

We may not be able to control how others see the truth.

Matthew 15:13

… whoever is offended by a plain, seasonable declaration of truth, we should not be troubled at it.

Matthew Henry

But we can control how we receive it ourselves.