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.

All of it

Read: Genesis 42-43, Matthew 13:33-58

When asked if she was aware that Jesus loves her, my four-year-old niece matter-of-factly responded, “Yes, I know that,” as though it were a silly question that didn’t even need to be asked in the first place.

The love of God toward His children—us—is something we should be reminded of every day. But there are many other things from the Word of God that we, like my niece, scoff at. Of course we know that. Do we really have to go over it again?

Matthew 13:52

We often make the mistake of throwing out the old in favour of the new. We do it with almost everything we have. When something is of no use to us, it gets tossed rather than repaired or renewed. Many Christians have done the same with what we may view as old ideas. We accept Jesus’ teaching, but nothing else. Yet, Jesus himself told his disciples that the old is just as important as the new. Maybe even more so since the old is the foundation on which the new has been built.

An argument may be made that Jesus came to free us from the law. He did. He came to free us from the bondage of it. There was no way that any human being could fulfill every letter of the law. Another way had to be made to access God.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Matthew 5:17 (NIV)

If we view the Old Testament—the Law and the Prophets—as obsolete, how then can we fully understand Jesus who is the fulfillment of it?

Matthew Henry said that, old experiences and new observations all have their use. Our place is at Christ’s feet, and we must daily learn old lessons over again, and new ones also.

I have never met a person who reads through their Bible over and over again and says that they discovered nothing new. If God’s mercies are new every morning, surely there is revelation to follow. And we should seek it with all that we are. God wants to reveal Himself to us through His Word—all of it.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask of God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James 1:5 (NIV)

The overflow

Read: Genesis 38-40, Matthew 12:22-50

Whether it’s intentional or not, things are going in and out of us all day every day. I’m not talking about food here. Or maybe I am. But it’s the spiritual sort. We read an article. We drive past a billboard. We watch a TV show. We have a conversation with a friend. We pass by a stranger. It’s all stimulation and it’s all being absorbed one way or another. And what goes in is what will come out.

Matthew 12:34

Since there are a lot of things that go in that we have no control over, the situation may seem hopeless. But, as we discussed yesterday, there is always hope. Just because we can’t control all of the bad things doesn’t mean we have no control whatsoever over the good things. We just have to make sure that the good stuff outweighs the bad. It may be as simple as changing the radio station in the car on the commute to work, or putting down one book in exchange for another. In some cases, it may take a little more effort.

For me, it’s getting up earlier than my schedule requires so that I know I will have time first thing every day to spend in the Word of God. I can carry that with me all day.

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

Psalm 119:11 (NIV)

Jesus said that a tree—that’s us—is recognized by its fruit. A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. Every once in a while, it does us good to take a look at the kind of fruit we bear. We cannot assume that it’s always good. And, once we’ve determined our produce, we may need to take a look at what we’ve been feeding it. Even if you believe you have pretty decent fruit, keep in mind it can always be better, and the better it is, the less chance there is of it turning on you. Your fruit affects those around you even more than it affects you.

So, what’s your overflow?

Watchman

We all have to follow rules in life. As kids, we must obey the rules our parents set out for us or risk a slap on the hand or being grounded for a week. As students, we must obey our teachers or risk failure or detention. As adults, we must obey our employers or risk being fired. For the most part, because we are not willing to risk the punishment, we’re okay with being obedient. We want to be obedient because it means that our lives will be better for it.

So why don’t we respond to God with the same attitude toward obedience?

“Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, pass it on to the people immediately. If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible, demanding your blood for theirs. If you warn them and they keep on sinning and refuse to repent, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved your life because you did what you were told to do.”

Ezekiel 3:17-19 (NLT)

When God called Ezekiel to minister to the Israelite exiles in Babylon, He demanded obedience. If the prophet relayed God’s words to the people when they were given as they were given, Ezekiel would not be held responsible for the actions of the people. But if he failed to present the word, he’d be punished right along with the Israelites.

To us, when most Christians treat obedience to God as optional, the guidelines God set out for Ezekiel may come across as rather harsh. But are they? If we claim to be followers of God, should we not also be obedient to His Word? If we are so willing to submit to those in authority over us, how much more should we be willing to submit to God?

When we profess Jesus as Lord, we become accountable not only to what we do, but also to what we don’t do. If God has called us to do or say something and we refuse, we are as guilty as Ezekiel would have been, withholding the truth from those who needed it. As God’s hands and feet, as His ambassadors on Earth, it behooves us to live our lives in obedience to His Word and His call on our lives.

Like Ezekiel, we are watchmen and should be waiting for every opportunity to practice obedience to our Father.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 1-3, Hebrews 9