Don’t Swallow A Camel (Matthew 15:3-9, NIV) by Carley Evans

Jesus outlines seven woes against the teachers of the law and in the process displays greater anger than at any time other than when he clears the temple of merchants who are trying to use God for profit. Rather than worshipping the Lord and tending to their fellow human beings, these persons are interested in using religion to make money. Jesus doesn’t mince words; He outright condemns these persons.
With the teachers of the law, He tells them to stop straining out gnats and warns them that they are likely to swallow a camel while doing so. He warns them to stop worrying about appearances — about looking holy — and rather focus on “justice, mercy and faithfulness” which they’ve neglected while being only concerned about religious traditions such as the tithe.
Jesus condemns those who would refuse to care for their financially strapped parents because of tithing, saying this nullifies the Word of God, i.e. the commandment to “honor your mother and father.”
We seem to believe that God is as concerned with appearances as we are. Nothing could be farther from the truth of God’s own Word. He calls on us to focus on justice, mercy and faithfulness over the outside of the cup. He is concerned about our insides, about freeing us from “hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:28). If we are a little dirty on the outside, God isn’t worried as long as we are merciful and loving to others, for how can we love God whom we cannot see and touch if we are incapable of loving people whom we are able to see and touch and help?
Therefore, be merciful as God is merciful; and don’t swallow a camel.

Can We Save Ourselves? (Galatians 5:4, NIV) by Carley Evans

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Even now, many Christians believe that by doing this or not doing that, they can please God enough to get into Heaven. And therefore, many obviously believe the opposite — that by not doing this or by doing that, they can displease God enough to get into Hell.
This attitude, it seems to me, voids the whole of God’s pattern by which we are actually saved. Our salvation is not of ourselves, says Paul, lest any one of us should boast. We are saved by God’s grace, made into new creatures, adopted into God’s own family, called brothers and sisters of Jesus Himself because God the Holy Spirit dwells within us.
If we are able to save ourselves, then Christ died in vain. If His blood was not sufficient to wash away sins, literally nailing all of them to the Cross, then Jesus suffered and died for no purpose whatsoever.
Here Paul warns us that if we attempt to keep the law and fail to uphold every letter of that law, we will alienate ourselves from Christ. We will fall away from grace.

Be Long-suffering as One Chosen by God (Colossians 3:12 New Matthew Bible (NMB) by Carley Evans

12 Now therefore, as chosen by God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, and long-suffering,
I love the positive aspects of the Christian way of living. These positives include: mercy, love, peace, kindness, humility, meekness, patience. We are called to be ‘long-suffering’ (patient) in our approach to others because God has chosen us, and called us ‘holy’, marking us as his beloved. Our model of patience, of course, is Jesus. Jesus lost His patience rarely and always with those who put man’s religious traditions above God’s purposes. Jesus turned over the tables in the temple because men were using God’s holy place to make money rather than to serve others and Him. He scolded the religious leaders of His day because they made their followers even more fit for Hell than they were before being touched by religion.
Otherwise, Jesus showed incredible patience with those who followed Him imperfectly, with those who mocked Him, with those who knew who He was, but refused to worship Him as God, and with those who plotted and ultimately tortured and murdered Him on the Cross. Jesus, if He was an angry man, did not show this ire. Rather, He extended His love to others at all times. He showed mercy to sinners. He fed the hungry. He healed the sick. He cried for those who suffered loss and injustice. He prayed for His followers. He raised the dead.
We are to love one another, for certain; but we must extend this same love to those who are lost in the world, who do not know this kind of long-suffering, this level of mercy, this incredible compassion. When we are patient with others, we show them the face of our God.

Mercy Triumphs (James 2:10-13, NIV) by Carley Evans

10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
What do we say in light of James’ statement about judgment and mercy? What do we say about salvation? Is salvation truly the making of a new creation? When we are rescued from death, is this not a permanent rescue? Are we not changed most fundamentally from one who was destined for destruction to one who is destined for glory?
Some Biblical scholars say that no, faith must prove itself in obedience day after day after day in order to be efficacious for salvation. But, if I correctly read the words of James above, these words say if I fail to uphold even one portion of the law, then I am guilty of having broken the entire law. How is salvation possible, then, for a lawbreaker? With humankind, says Jesus, it is impossible. But, with God, all things are possible.
No one is able to guarantee an absence of sin while living on this earth, but everyone can trust that God does not count our sins against us for He laid them all on the body of His Son who willingly died for us that we might live for Him. In living for Him, we ought not live in fear but in gratitude. Our gratitude should express itself — yes — in obedience but also in a willingness to recognize our failings and ask for forgiveness and God’s own strength to help us keep going forward.
We ought always to “go further in” as C.S. Lewis was fond of reminding us in his Chronicles of Narnia. We who are called to become Christians are brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus. What great brother rejects his siblings even as they fail him? Jesus is greater than any other human brother. He will hold us, and see us safely through even as we stumble. Let us only not deny Him nor His power to save us, even from ourselves.

Wondering What Had Happened (Luke 24:12, NIV) by Carley Evans

12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
Peter stood over the empty tomb where Jesus’ body was laid out just as Lazarus’ was once wrapped in linen strips and laid in a different grave. Peter examined the strips of linen, and even with the words of the women in his mind, wondered to himself what had happened.
How extraordinary that after all he saw and heard from Jesus, Peter didn’t know what the empty tomb meant.
Perhaps in shock, he forgot that Jesus foretold His death and missed that Jesus also foretold His return to the living. Jesus even rebuked Peter as “Satan” when Peter suggested that Jesus must not die. “You are thinking like men, not like God,” Jesus warned. Perhaps Peter pushed this confrontation from the forefront of his mind, still ashamed that he denied Jesus three times before the crow of the morning cock.
So now, Peter wondered what the empty tomb meant. A completely logical conclusion may have occurred to him — the body of the Lord Jesus must be stolen!
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” an angel asked Mary, the mother of James, Joanna, and Mary Magdalene who came to the tomb earlier with spices for the Lord’s body. The angel opened the women’s eyes and hearts to the truth, even asking if they remembered Jesus’ own words regarding the prophesies of the older covenant with God.
When the women returned to the Eleven to tell the truth of the Resurrection, no one believed them. The women’s words seemed like nonsense. But Peter ran to the tomb to see for himself.
Like Peter, each one of us must see the empty tomb, wonder and remember what it means.

Go Above & Beyond (Mark 4:8, NIV) by Carley Evans

Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Jesus implies all Christians are not the same; that not everyone who is deemed ‘good soil’ will produce the same amount or same quality of crop. Each individual who blooms in God’s good garden carries the seed of faith. Where we go, who we meet, how we behave towards one another and towards others — these determine whether we produce any crop at all and what kind of crop we produce from our seed of faith.

With our faith in God, do we then sow doubt, fear, self-hatred, bigotry? Or do use our faith to sow understanding, peace, love, forgiveness, tolerance? Do we use the Word of God to browbeat those we consider ‘unbelievers’ or do we use the Word to accept them for who and where they are? Do we love those who mistreat us? Do we pray for those who try to kill us?

These are hard questions to answer honestly.

Some Christians wish to build walls between neighbors, perhaps after the adage, “Good fences makes good neighbors.” Others want to arm themselves in an effort to protect life and oftentimes property.

I see Jesus shaking His head, perhaps with a wry smile, maybe with tears. Walls and guns do not match the Lord I serve. Rather, the Jesus I know rips down barriers between people, and commands me to turn the other cheek, to go two miles when forced to go one, to give my coat when my shirt is stolen, to love my enemies and do good to those who mistreat me. I believe in modern times, it’s termed, “To go above and beyond…”

Woe to Hypocrites (Matthew 23: 23-27, NIV) by Carley Evans

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

The appearance of morality makes some people believe they are actually moral. Some people convince themselves that by avoiding this or avoiding that, promoting this or promoting that, believing this or believing that, performing this or performing that — that these acts somehow make them holy; not only holy, but holier than someone else who hasn’t bothered to clean the outside of the cup and dish.

Cleaning the inside of the cup and dish is much trickier than we care to admit. And much harder than doing a quick spiff-up of the outside.

How do you rid yourself of lust, greed, self-hatred, hatred of others, anger, deceit, mean-spiritedness, and yes, hypocrisy?

Jesus says to clean the inside of yourself and then the outside will automatically be clean. He warns us not to put on a disguise but to become genuine from the inside out.

He tells us how to do this, too. He does not ask us to avoid this or that, do this or that — after all, He picked wheat on the Sabbath! Instead, He promises to reside inside us. By being inside us, He makes us clean — akin to having an automatic dishwasher inside our hearts!

This automatic dishwasher is God, the Holy Spirit. He gently but persistently reminds us that the most important matters of the Law — the Law Christ fulfilled by His Life and Death and Resurrection — are “justice, mercy, and faithfulness.”

I love how Jesus Christ links the three, making them one in Him.