Archive for August, 2017
“We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands’” (Mark 14:58).
While we understand Jesus’ statement regarding the temple as a reference to himself and the coming resurrection, his opponents would twist the words and use them against him. Such is the nature of the religious establishment, who seek to “box up” the work of God and their own pietistic performance to a comfortable, predictable, physical structure. Faith on the other hand, is more imaginative, having no desire to place limitations upon the One who said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).
Just as a river without banks becomes a swamp, mankind needs the Law to provide boundaries for human decency and civility. To eliminate the prideful self-satisfaction that can arise for not having done certain things, Jesus extends our understanding beyond the letter of the Law to the spirit of the Law. Six times, in the verses that follow (v. 21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43), he says, “You have heard it said…but I say to you.” These serve as descriptive examples of the attitudes that should be applied to the entirety of the Law. Thus, instead of an unredeemable pride and self-satisfaction that characterizes those who are religious, for those seeking to follow Christ, it raises the bar for what we should aspire to each day.
“Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).
The distinction between religion and faith becomes evident in one’s preoccupation. Religion is fascinated with procedures, processes, protocols, rules, regulations, and haughty displays of piety. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Law of Moses, which evolved from the Ten Commandments into an oral tradition of 248 sub-commandments and 365 prohibitions. Religion forever needs more rules to clarify all the other rules. In contrast to these muddied waters, faith emerges from a relationship with the resurrected Christ, who desires to bear his spiritual fruit through you (See Galatians 5:22).
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come’” (Matthew 3:7)?
Dull and insipid religion is always threatened by the presence of an exciting and vibrant faith. Such faith is unsettling to those long satisfied by religious expressions done for the purpose of impressing others, maintaining one’s image, and meeting cultural expectations. Religion is the toxin that decays the soul and makes it unreceptive to the transforming power of the gospel.
“But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened” (Acts 16: 25-26).
The earthquaking experiences of life that inevitably come can leave us shaken to our very foundations. While these experiences would seek to imprison us to an existence of fear, worry, and dread, they may, on the other hand, be the means by which God works to unfasten us from chains of unrealized potential. The pain of your present moment eventually gives way to God’s providence and new possibilities.
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
Discipleship is the costliest of pursuits. Unfortunately, the language of the cross has lost its challenge. Its rugged and weighty symbolism has been smoothed over and made it into something light and easy to bear. Instead of symbolizing an abiding faith, it has become a fashionable accessory. Denying, taking up, and following is a death wish—but in these, you find life.
“It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12).
The nature of the gospel is that it introduces into life not what we necessarily want, but it is the very thing we desperately need. The gospel isn’t a pandering messenger who gives people what they want; that they might be won over for the moment. It is more akin to the true friend you value forever because they breathed into your life what you most needed. What the gospel seeks to accomplish in our lives is the task of a life-time. Thus, we need friends of the gospel to journey the course with us.
“But the greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11).
The irony of self-discovery is that it does not lie within oneself. Only by losing ourselves in selfless service to others do we find ourselves. To search for meaning through inward reflection is just another vain-filled pursuit. Outward expressions of selfless living, alone, bring lasting fulfillment.
“Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12).
A more appropriate understanding of eternal life isn’t a detached preoccupation with the sweet bye and bye. It is a life to be fought for in the ugly here and now. Taking hold of eternal life is to choose one’s battles wisely. Will my energies be used to fight for man-made structures that segregate and categorize or will I fight for that which draws all people in the light of God’s grace? Fighting against something is to focus on the things you fear and hate. In contrast, fighting for faith lovingly focuses on the One who called us to love.
“For each one will bear his own load” (Galatians 6:5).
The mirror is an indicting piece of glass. Gazing into it, the blemishes and imperfections seen belong to no one else. Imagine taking that perspective with you each day; where no one else is to blame for all the wrongs you perceive; where the other person wasn’t rude, it was just your sensitivity; where the broker didn’t cost you thousands, but your risk was too great. The blame game is a never ending saga of excuse-making. The only reversal is to begin, one day at a time, taking ownership of your life. It is the only way to “grow” forward. The buck is going to stop with you, so it may as well start with you. Go ahead, take a long look in the mirror. It’s you, and no one else.