Sunday, September 16, 2018

Mark, Week 33 - Building Forts


Has anyone ever built a fort or a tree house? I’ve been a part of several attempts in my life. One was when I was in 5th grade. It wasn’t very good, just an overgrown tree that we cut some branches out in the middle so we would have enough space to sit. But what got me really wanting a fort, was in sixth grade when I went to a science camp with my school. There we had to build a quick shelter to simulate what it would be like if we got caught in the woods on our own. 
Three friends and I found a hollowed out tree. We put several large pieces of bark for the door, and right before we were going to close off the roof, the time was up. Now, your shelter had to be water proof, well from all four sides it was, but not the roof. To which the counselors poured a gallon of water on top of us. None of us got out of there dry.
Finally, my last attempt at a fort was in junior high, when I helped, and I use that word loosely, my friend build a tree house in his back yard. We got as far as the platform, and yes, it was as bad as you can imagine.
But in our minds, our forts where our castles. They looked like the great forts of the world. Where you could have battles, fight dragons, and storm the gates. Through our perception of what we had built, it was grand. The reality was a whole other story. The forts were ugly, hastily built, and couldn’t hold out a drip of water, let alone an attack.
And that’s where we jump into the Gospel of Mark today. A place where the view looks good to some, but the reality beneath the surface is all but good. So if you have your Bible, we’ll be in Mark chapter 11, starting in verse 12.

As we get into Mark 11:12, let’s catch up to where we’re at. Last week we talked about trusting God in the areas that he is moving us toward. We talked about how the disciples were trusting all that Jesus had done, and the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, but what they weren’t trusting in was Jesus’ words about how he was going to die and raise from the dead. They trusted, only so far as it worked out for them. Which we can do somethings too. We can trust God only so far, but when God starts calling us to places that hurt, it’s there that we can begin to falter. We can also falter when God calls us into places that don’t line up with our perceived plans.
And when we begin to falter in our trust of God, we can get to where we’re at in Mark chapter 11 verse 12. Let’s read.

12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” [26]

Now let’s break this passage into 3 segments: The first segment is Jesus’ first encounter with the fig tree. This part of the passage is extremely important because it gives us a bases for what is about to happen.
It seems kind of odd that Jesus would be looking for a fig from the tree when it is specifically stated in the passage that it wasn’t the season for figs. I mean, when do we expect to see pumpkins, is it in the cold of the winter, or the cool of the fall? So, if figs weren’t in season, why would Jesus expect to find a fig?
The answer is, it’s because of the leaves. I learned something new this week. A fig tree produces it’s fruit before it produces it’s leaves. I always thought trees produced leaves and then they’re fruit. Well apparently it’s backward with the fig tree. Jesus saw the leaves of the tree, and since the fruit came first he figured that there was also fruit.
So why is this important? Later on we’ll see that Jesus uses this to speak to Peter about faith, but for now, we see a tree that looked good on the outside, but the reality is that it was far from good.

Let’s move on to the second section of the passage, the clearing of the Temple. If you’ve heard this event spoken on before you might know that the people being driven out by Jesus were currency exchangers. Basically what was happening, was the exchangers were doing some shading things. People would come from long distances with their money, but had to exchange it for temple currency to purchase anything at the temple or give to the temple as an offering. So people would have to exchange their regular money for temple money. This was done at an unfair exchange rate. It would be like reversing the exchange rate of the US dollar with that of the Mexican peso. People were getting less for their money than what they should have been.
Now, I have always focused on this aspect of the situation. Jesus is mad because of this injustice. But something has never sat right with me, and we actually deal with this today. If Jesus was upset with the money exchangers in the temple, does that mean we shouldn’t take donations for donuts? Or sell raffle tickets? It’s been a question I’ve asked myself several times, and I’ve been asked by others as well.
But there’s a verse here, that I’ve been understanding wrong. It’s verse 16, “…and [Jesus] would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.” I’ve always understood this to mean that the people were exchanging their money, and selling animals for sacrifice. So Jesus wasn’t allowing them to stay. But there’s more to it.
First, there’s the people carrying merchandise through the temple courts. They’re not carrying merchandise to the courts, nor are they carrying merchandise from the courts. They’re carrying it through the temple courts. What’s happening is the temple courts had become a short cut for the outside market place. Instead of going around, people were simply walking through the area as a quick way to get from point A to point B.
Secondly, what courts were they walking through? It was the court area that was specifically designated to the Gentiles. To the non-Jewish people that had come to worship the God of Israel. This makes Jesus quoting of Isaiah 56:7 make more sense, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations…’”
So it’s not just that people were exchanging money at an unfair rate, it was that the area given to the Gentiles was being desecrated by the action of the Jews. The Jews had set up a racketeering operation in the Gentile area, making it harder for both Jew and Gentile to worship God, and then on top of that, people were using it, not as a holy site, but rather as a simple walkthrough. These exchangers and merchants were thinking they were good in doing what they were doing, but the reality it was far from good.

Let’s look at the third segment: The second encounter at the fig tree. Here Peter sees that the fig tree from a day earlier has begun to wither away. Peter draws Jesus’ attention to the withering tree, but Jesus’ words are kind of complexing here. He says, “Have faith in God…”
Now the verses following focus on faith, prayer, and forgiveness and a bit on how the three work together. Jesus talks about faith that can move a mountain and throw it into the sea. About asking anything in prayer and it will be given. And about forgiving those people that we hold things against.

Let’s put all this together, and see the flow of the passage. The fig tree had leaves but no fruit, the temple was corrupted and used as a pass through with hardly any room for the Gentiles, and now Peter is surprised at Jesus words having power over the fig tree. What does it all have in common?
Isn’t it that their is a false facade in each? The fig tree’s leaves were there, but there was no figs. The temple was there, but there was no reverence. Peter had seen so much, but there was no faith. Each of these segments shows us that there is something that is there, but on a closer examination it is not right. There’s a facade of good, but the reality that each segment is far from good, or where it should be.
The tree should have figs, the temple should have been revered, and Peter should have had the faith Jesus was talking about. Each one had an image of good on the outside, but once looked at more closely that image was seen to be false.

Just like the tree, the temple, and Peter we can have this false facade too. We can act like we have the fruit of God, we can act like we have reverence for him, and we can act like we have faith, but in reality, it’s just a facade.
The fruit of the Holy Spirit isn’t there, our reverence is just lip service, and our faith is only ankle deep. Now this might not be all the time, we might have times of breakthrough, but we can too easily slide into a life where we know the right things to say, and the right things to do. And then we just wear the facade.
But that’s not were God wants us. He wants the facade that we can easily put on to be ripped away. Jesus curses the tree, Jesus runs out the exchangers, and Jesus challenges Peter to tell a mountain to be thrown into the sea.

This gives us an action plan for our own lives.
First, we need our tree cursed. That means we need to call a problem a problem. Let’s stop beating around the bush and making excuse for our wrong actions and attitudes. Let’s be honest. I get angry, I spend too much money, I don’t give enough time to the things I should, and too much time to the things I shouldn’t. We need to be honest with the fruit not being there.
Second, we need to get it cleaned out, and not let it back in. We need to get with people to help us. We need to go deep into the Scriptures. We need to be more aggressive in our prayers.
Finally, we need to have our faith challenged. We need to stop distrusting God, and believe that he is not moving. We need to seek him deeper, and forgive more freely. Letting nothing hinder us from trusting him more.

This week my challenge for you is to walk in each of these steps. 
First, take an inventory of your life, and call out those things that are not of God. Jealously, lust, lies, un-forgiveness, anger, bitterness, hate, selfishness. Whatever it is, call it out and write it down. 
Then, dive into God’s Word. Look up the passages that contain the things that you are dealing with and read them, and then re-read them, and couple this with prayer, asking God to clear these things out of your life. Ask him to not allow you to hold back from him, but to have it cleared out like the temple. 
Finally, trust that he will do it. Trust that he will make good anything that is bad in you. Trust when we tells you to do something, that you do it. That you respond as the Scriptures would have you respond. 

God calls us out of our facades, out of our illusionary forts, to allow him in. So that we become the people he has called us and saved us to be.

May God give you the strength to call out sin, give it over to him, and trust that he will work all things for your good. Amen.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Mark, Week 32 - Bike Trusting God


Watching kids learn how to ride their bikes is a hilarious time. It can bring up memories of our own experiences either teaching, or being taught. Many of us can put ourselves into one or both places. Some of us have been the kid, getting the courage to get on that bike and learning a valuable lesson about being stable, until the inevitable crash happens. Some of us have been that parent who’s kid gets on that bike, and as we let go of them to ride on their own, that crash occurs. And, depending on your state of mind at the time, it’s either a hilarious moment, or a catastrophic one.
What gets me in these times of teaching, whether it be with riding a bike, or learning to drive a car, or when kids turn to their parents for life advice, what gets me is that there is a certain amount of trust children have towards their parents. They trust them to hold onto the bike. They trust them to teach them to drive. They trust them enough to ask for advice. This last one usually comes after years of trying it their own way first.
But trust is built between child and parent over time. I asked my oldest child, Elisa, this past week, what makes you trust someone. Her response was telling. She said that, she trusts because “like Mommy and Daddy, take care of me.”
Trust comes from experience. How has someone taken care of me in the past, is usually directly related to how I trust them now. How have they treated me? Have I relied on them before and they let me down? Have they said they would do something and didn’t? We tend to trust people in the now, because of what they have done in the past. If their trust track record is good, then it is easier to trust them with present and future things. But if they have not been trustworthy in the past, it will be harder for us to trust them in the future.

As we return to the Gospel of Mark this week, that’s where we find ourselves. We find ourselves in a situation of trusting God. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be picking back up in the book of Mark in chapter 11, verse 1.

As we we get back into Mark at the 11th chapter, I want us to focus on two big points that have happened in the book of Mark so far. See we have been studying the book of Mark for 31 weeks. We have gone through 10 chapters and 424 verses to get this point, and because of that there has been a lot we have covered. But moving forward for today, we need to focus on just two points.
First, we have seen Jesus perform many miracles. Anywhere from healing a man’s crippled hand, to feeding thousands of people, to walking on water, and raising a girl from the dead. What we need to take away from this, is that Jesus has shown the miraculous over, and over again in front of many, many people.
Secondly, Jesus has told his disciples, on five separate occasions, that when he gets to Jerusalem he will be killed, but rise again. Where the first point we talked about has dealt with things in the past up to this point, Jesus’ words of his death deal with things of the future. But the disciples weren’t  interested in these words. In fact they had, all five times, brushed off this line of talk from Jesus.

This is where we find ourselves in Mark chapter 11 verse 1. So let’s jump in and starting reading.

1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

This passage is the same passage we usually talk about on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. Jesus triumphantly rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. People are ecstatic because they believe Jesus has come to overthrow the Roman government. They believe Jesus has come to bring the Israelite people out of subjugation and put them in their rightful place as rulers over the nations.
Why are they doing this? Because Jesus has shown himself to be the Messiah, the Savior. Jesus’ many miracles point in that direction, and Peter confirms this with Jesus back in chapter 8. And with this deliberate choice on Jesus’ side of entering into Jerusalem on a donkey, solidifies both from Jesus himself and to the people around him that he is indeed the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
How do we know? When Matthew, one of Jesus’ other disciples, writes about this event, he says this, “4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
5 “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

Jesus purposefully fulfilled a prophecy from the prophet Zechariah made hundreds of years before, and the people understood this. 
So with this purposeful fulfillment of prophecy on Jesus’ part, and all his miracles, why were the disciples still not trusting in Jesus’ words that he would be killed and rise from the dead? 
If we read ahead, we know that the disciples were very proud of the temple. Yet, Jesus told them it would be destroyed. This was to move their thoughts away from the physical temple of God, and refocus them on his death and resurrection. 
We know that the disciples still didn’t take Jesus’ death seriously, when a women would eventually anoint Jesus’ feet, by putting perfumes on him. The disciples saw it as a waste of money, where Jesus saw it as a precursor to his death.
Even at his final meal with his disciples, they still were not taking seriously the words of Jesus about his death. And the question we should ask is why? Why were they not taking Jesus seriously when he talked about his death? I mean they saw the miracles. They saw the fulfillment of prophecy. They believed Jesus was the Messiah. So why not accept what he was saying about his death?
And the answer is simple, they’re trust of Jesus only went so far. They trusted Jesus only as far as they wanted to.  But when the trust required more of them, they stopped. When the trust required them to look at the pain that was ahead, their trust stopped. When the trust required that the good times of plenty where about to end, their trust stopped.
Now they didn’t stop trusting that Jesus was the Messiah. In fact, with Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the donkey, that trust was enforced. Where their trust stopped, was when Jesus started to talk about things that didn’t fit into their plans.
Jesus talking about his death was not what they wanted. They wanted the king. They wanted Israel to return to its former glory. They wanted to rule over nations. They didn’t want a dead Savior. And so their trust stopped, and eventually faltered when the time came. The time of Jesus betrayal, death, and even his resurrection. The trust wasn’t their.

We can do this exact same thing from time to time. We can trust Jesus in a lot of areas, but when that trust is asked to go to hard places, we can falter. We can stop trusting in that area, because it doesn’t fit within what our plans are. We don’t lose our trust in Jesus overall, just not in that one area he is asking us to trust him deep in.

And we can hear verses like “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord (Isaiah 55:8).”
Or, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).’”

And we go, Lord I trust that you know what is best for me. But the application of that trust is where we lose our step. It’s when our plans and our ways, come into conflict with God’s plans and his ways, that we stop trusting. Thinking that our way, our plan is the better way.

Yet God wants us to trust him. Like a child trusts their parent to teach them to ride a bike. Even when it can end in hurt. That child gets back on the bike and asks again for help. They continue to trust that their parent is wanting the best for them. But with the best, their might be hard times, their might be pain. 

So then, how do we trust? How can we get past our own plans and ways, to trust God in those areas where we are faltering? Well, we go back to the question I asked my daughter, how do you trust? And the answer is from experience. And this is three fold:
First, what has God said? How many of us have gone through the Bible specifically looking for the prophecies and promises of God? Did you know that there are around 1,800 prophecies in the Bible. May of them have been fulfilled. Things like the rise of the Greek and then the Roman Empire. Daniel’s first 69 weeks. And around 300 that were specifically about Jesus himself. On top of that, there are about 5,400 promises that God gives in the Bible. Some are general promises that apply to you and me. Some are specific to Abraham, and the nation of Israel. But God has a lot to say, have we listened so that we can better trust? What he has said in the past and has fulfilled, will help us trust him now in the present.
Second, what has God done? What has gone done in the lives of his people. Through the Scriptures, through history, and through our own lives? Have we ever made a list of all the things God has done for us? Have we made a list of all the things he has done for his people? Or a list of all the things he has done in the peoples’ lives found in Scripture? What we have seen him do again and again in the lives of others and our own life, will help us trust him now.
Finally, what is God telling you now? This is where the rubber meets the road. What is the circumstance that God has placed you? Are you in a hard place; financially, relationally, spiritually? Are you wondering what is next? Well, what is the direction do you want to go in? What do you want? Now, what has the first and second experience with God taught you? Once we look at that, then we can begin to ask God, what am I missing?
See the disciples had the first two parts of the experience locked down. They knew what God had said, and they knew what God had done. But what they were missing was listening to God at that moment. Applying their experience with Jesus to their current situation. And this is where we can falter the most. 
God does want good things in our life, but we might need to learn something first, so what is it? God wants us to trust him, but we might be so focused on what we want that we’re missing it, so we might need to step back and ask God to speak to us again. And we might need to ask him to strengthen our trust.

God desires us to trust him, I believe that we desire the same thing, that’s why we’re here right now. The problem comes when our trust is asked to do something we don’t want to do, or seems to hard to do. 

This week, my challenge for us is this, take one of the first two areas of trust that we talked about, what has God said or what has God done, and make a list for one of them. This might take a few days, but be as thorough as possible. Going through the Scriptures researching promises and prophecies. Going through the lives of God’s people and our own for what he has done.
Make that list of which ever of the two you pick to look into, or both for good measure.
Then go to the final area of trust and begin to ask God, where do I need to trust now? Where am I faltering in trust him now? Write down your situation, what you want out of it, and begin to ask God, what he wants in it.

Let us wholly in Jesus, as the kid trusting wholly in their parent as they are taught to ride a bike. When we do, we will be freer to trust Jesus has he has called us to trust.

Now may you trust in God as a child trusts their parent, so that his plans will be worked out in your life. Amen.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Standing Like a Daniel


I have a bunch of regrets through out my life, like most of us do. Those things that if you had an opportunity to go back to fix, you would do so in a heartbeat. One of those regrets I have was with a friend of mine our freshman year. When I say friend, I use that term extremely loosely, he was more of an acquaintance. Now, I had known him since kindergarten, but we had never really hung out at anytime other than at school. And even then, we never talked, but were in the same larger group of friends. He was a bit nerdy, a bit chunky for his age, and a bit too talkative for some people’s liking.
Now during my freshman year of high school, I never did anything extraordinary. I played half a football season, until my grades were too bad for me to continue. And that was pretty much it. Towards the end of the year, the group I hung out with became very big. It was mostly made up with those kids that didn’t fit in, with the other groups at school.
On one of the last days of the year, this acquaintance of mine got into a fight with another guy. Now this kid was not in anyway a fighter, but I never jumped in to aid him. The fight was over pretty quick, with the kid getting a black eye and a bloody noise.
My inaction in that circumstance really weighed on my mind. Since that time, I have never had a situation quite like that. I have had situations where I’ve had to step in to quail an argument, but never in a full blown fight. If I could, I would go back and fix that one moment, and help that kid out.

The opportunity to act, or not to act happens more often than we think. And the more the world moves away from the guidance of the God’s word, the more opportunities we as Christians will get to act, or not. 

Today I want us to look at three actions taken within the pages of Scripture, so we can see just what God is seeking from us. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be in the book of Daniel today; starting in chapter 1 verse 3. 
And as you are opening to the third verse of Daniel’s first chapter, you’ll notice that we’re taking a week off from the Gospel of Mark. The reason why we’re doing this is because we have come to a breathing point within the book. And now seems like a good time for us to step back for a moment and see where we are at in our own walks with Jesus.
See, we have been focusing on the disciples attitude towards Jesus for a while now, and we need to take a moment and ask ourselves what about my attitude towards Jesus.
So today, we’re going to look at four people, in three circumstances, and they’re attitudes toward God.

Let’s pick up in Daniel chapter 1 verse 3.

3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz (Ash-pen-z), chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.
6 Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.

The situation is simple. The Babylonians conquered the land of Israel and had brought a lot of the upper class and royalty back to their empire. Several ancient empires would do these things, to better control the newly conquered lands. With no royalty or educated people, the lower classes were more easily controlled.
Daniel, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego were all chosen because of their looks, stature, and intelligence. These four, along with others, were given the very best that the king had to offer, so that he could use them as servants.
So Daniel finds himself, a young man, with all that he could desire at his finger tips. And instead of indulging himself with the best, he ops to have a simple diet of vegetables and water. The three others go along with Daniel’s request, and the guard begrudgingly goes along with it too. 
Daniel does this, not because he is not aloud to eat meat, but rather because he has a sense that this is what God wants from him. 
And so, we find out later in verse 19 that the king is very impressed by these four and puts them in direct service to him.


The next situation is a little more complex. Let’s move over to chapter 3. Here we’re told in verse 1 that, “King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.”

We’re also told in verse 4 that, "4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, ‘Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: 5 As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.’”

Now in the first situation we saw that Daniel and the three guys did not eat, not because it was against God’s law or anything like that, but rather that they felt that God was leading that way. But now we have a situation in which the king creates an idol and was going to require people to bow down and worship it. This is would be a direct violation of God’s second command in the Exodus 20. So what happens? Well we’re told that the three don’t bow down.
Furious the king orders them in and commands them to bow down. This is their response in verse 16, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
In the first situation that we saw, the three friends were following Daniel’s lead. This time, it’s not Daniel who they follow, but rather God’s command to not bow down. The story goes on that they do indeed get thrown into a furnace. They don’t get burned, but rather come out unscathed.
The king’s response in verse 28 is amazing, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”

The final situation that we are going to look at comes in chapter 6. Now, unlike the three friend’s situation, we’re told that this one was specifically manufactured to get rid of Daniel. See over the years, Daniel became so prominent in the Babylonian Empire, that the king was going to make Daniel a ruler second only to the king himself.
In verse 4 we see that this didn’t sit right with the other officials. “4 At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. 5 Finally these men said, ‘We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.’”

The officials then came to the king and recommended that the next 30 days should be in reverence to the king himself. The Babylonians thought the king was a god, and so the people should only bow and worship him for the next month. The king agreed and the punishment for not bowing down and worshiping only the king, would be being eaten by lions.
The officials knew that Daniel would never follow this, and they were right. In verse 10 it says this, “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”

Daniel didn’t change his ways, but rather honored the first command in Exodus 20 to have no other gods before the God of Israel. Of course this led Daniel to being arrested, thrown into the lions den, and the king the next morning finding that the God of Daniel saved him. 
In response to Daniel being saved by God, the king wrote a decree to his whole kingdom in verse 26, “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. 27 He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”

In all three situations that we looked at today, all three of them had a common thread. To find this common thread, let’s turn over to 1st Peter chapter 3, verse 13, in the back of the New Testament. Because it’s in the writings of the disciple that was constantly getting his foot stuck in his mouth, that we see the biblical rule that was the common thread through each of these situations.

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

Within this passage, is verse 15, a common verse that is recited in the Church. "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”

We see within Daniel’s and the three friend’s situations people who revered, and honored God. We also see that they were prepared to give a reason why they were doing what they were doing, and we see that it was done with gentleness and respect.
In the first situation, the four were following where they sensed God was leading. The second situation was a challenge to the three friends to follow God’s command without their leader’s direction. The third situation was an evil plot to get Daniel killed. 
Yet in all three situations, these four honored God, gave an answer, and did both in gentleness and respect.

This is were God would have us be as well. Our actions in doing good and the reason why we do this walk hand-in-hand with each other. Good actions without the meaning behind them, doesn’t save anyone. That’s why Paul writes in Romans 10:14, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

But words without action do very little as well. This is why Jesus says in Mark 9:41, “Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.”

Action with words are necessary for the Gospel to go out and penetrate the hearts of people. And both need to be done with gentleness and respect.

On Sunday mornings, in our Sunday school class, we have going through an argument given by an Atheist named Sam Harris, on why Christianity does not have a good moral argument to make. As we have spent the last several weeks going through the 11 minute speech, we have talked about the attitude that Sam Harris has for Christians. He believes Christians to be narcissistic, psychopathic, and unintelligent people.
That can make someone get a little bent out of shape. But we need to respond as Peter directs us to, by living out the Gospel with action, speaking it when given the opportunity, and do so in gentleness and respect.

If we do this, then we are fulfilling what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

But how can we do this?
First, we need to be active in doing good. That means actively helping our neighbors when we can. Actively doing work that is above reproach. Actively finding ways to to good to the people around.
Second, we need to know why we are do these things. We need to look at our lives and see what God has done for us. We need to learn common arguments against God, and seek him for answers. 
Finally, we need to do this from a position of gentleness and respect. We cannot fall into the easy trap of looking down on people, or thinking we’re better than they are. I always liked the idea of thinking of myself as a beggar who found food, pointing other beggars to where I got it.
So we need to do good work, learn why we are doing it, and remember to be gentle and respectful as we do both.

So my challenge for you this week, is to do one good action for someone who is not a believer, that is completely out of the blue. It could be for a neighbor, a spouse, or a stranger. If then, God gives you an opportunity to share why you are doing it, tell them about what God has done for you, so you are passing it forward. And no matter how they receive it, do all this with gentleness and respect.

My favorite person in the Bible, next to Jesus, is Daniel, because he’s someone that I want to be. Someone who acts and who seems to have no regrets because he has honored God in all things. Let us all be the example that God has given us in Daniel, and go out having no regrets about honoring God, doing good, speaking of why, and doing so in gentleness and respect. 

Now may God bring you into circumstances where you can honor him, do good, speak his words, all the while being gentle and respectful. Amen.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Mark, Week 31 - The Want List


How many of us remember going through a catalog right before Christmas, circling all the things that you wanted. Or going and sitting on Santa’s lap and him asking, “What would you like for Christmas?” I grew up seeing things on TV, writing them down on a note pad, and then when I would get the Toys R Us catalog, I’d see which of the toys I wanted from the TV, were in the catalog, and then circle them. Never really liked sitting on Santa’s lap though, but I’d cover all the angles. 
I didn’t get a lot on my list, but I know got more than I deserved. And it was always exhilarating and disappointing on Christmas day when the presents were opened and you got to see what made it from the list to the tree, and more importantly what didn’t. Sock?! I didn’t write down socks. I didn’t write down toothpaste, or underwear. Where’s my Transformers action figure? Where’s my cool Batman airplane? Who mixed up my list with someone else's?
And disappointment led to several conversations between me and my Dad about being grateful for what you did get. 

The desire for things, whether they be Christmas presents, or jobs, or money, or family, or possessions, or even social status, it’s all lists we make that we want. And that want can come from a lot of different places. We might want job security, because we might know what it’s like to not have a job and go hungry. We might want a big family, because we might have never really known ours. We might want money, because how are we going to eat without it?
But over time, as we get what we want, our wants can get us into trouble. It is seared into my mind, walking through a mall in Stockton, California, by a K.B. Toy store. I remember my mom telling me that she was going in to get a present for a friend of mine. I started to throw a fit, because I wanted the present. I remember my Dad taking me to the side and telling me, that the present was for me, but now they were not going to get it at all. 
Our wants can easily get to a point where we can’t think straight about the implications of our desires. And that’s where we come to in the book of Mark today, two examples of wants and how they play themselves out.

So, if you have your Bibles we’re going to be in Mark chapter 10 starting in verse 32. And as we get into to Mark 10:32, let’s catch up from the last few weeks.

Today we’re coming to the end of a build up in the Gospel of Mark. For the last three weeks we have been seeing a flow of ideas. We started with the idea of questions. How we have a tendency to ask questions that focus more on us, than on God. We talked about how questions are good, and we’re encouraged to ask questions of God throughout Scripture. But as we ask questions, we need to make sure that our questions seek to know God better, rather than solely on the why of our situations.
The next week we moved to one of the reasons our questions focus more on us, rather than on God. And that’s because from time to time, we can loose the desperation of needing God for everything. When we loose are need for God to be are all-in-all at all times, are focus shifts from where it should be and solely rests on us.
Finally, last week we talked about the need to cut things out of our lives. We talked about how we can want the power and benefits that come with the prestige of this life. And how it comes from sin in our lives that needs to be cut out.
In these last three weeks we have been moving from the outside in, to get us to the root cause of all of this. Going from the outside in, we started with questions we asked, we moved to our prayer life of desperation, then we saw the need to cut things out, and today we come to the root of the matter.

Let’s pick this up in verse 32 of chapter 10 in the book of Mark. Where, just like last week, we have a lot of verses to cover, so we are going to focus on the ones that help us grasp the idea that the Holy Spirit is trying to convey.

32 They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33 “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”

Now this sets the stage for what is about to happen. We’re coming to the end of Mark where, from chapter 11 through 16, we’re going to get the last week of Jesus’ life on earth. This is the fifth time Jesus has spoken about his eventual death and resurrection. But now it’s more urgent, it’s happening soon. Like, in the next couple of days, soon. 
So you would think the attitude of the disciples would be subdued, mournful, or scared, but it’s not. Let’s look at verse 35.

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

Here are two disciples, both of which saw the dead girl rise from the dead, both of which saw Jesus transfigured in all his glory. Two disciples not focused on the death of their teacher and friend, but focused on their wants. In this case, their wants are to be in places of power and prestige. 
And this is where I step back from the Bible and say, really? That whole teaching on not being the first but being the last, did they not hear any of that? The several times Jesus taught on it?The physical children that Jesus use? The violent imagery Jesus spoke? Did none of it get into these guys heads?
Apparently not. But it wasn’t just these two disciples, in verse 41 we get this,

41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 

Why? Well if they’re anything like they were before, maybe it’s because they didn’t ask first. They had the attitude that James and John had, just not the willingness to express it.
So Jesus tells them again about how they are to serve. Not being like the non-Jewish people, the Gentiles, who sought prestige and power over people. They are to be like Jesus, servants to all.

But then Mark gives us one more example before we end this section of his Gospel. In verse 46 we get a change of location. Jesus is traveling south, and enters into Jericho. There we are introduced to a blind man named Bartimaeus (Bart-e-mus). Now encountering a blind beggar on the way to Jerusalem isn’t an uncommon sight, but what is uncommon, is Jesus walking down the path. 
And so Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus for healing. We’re told that people rebuke him, trying to silence him, but it doesn't’ work, and he shouts all the louder. This shooting gets Jesus’ attention, because he stops and calls for the blind beggar. And we get this interaction starting in verse 50,

50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

A simple healing from Jesus. Something that has become old hat by now within the book of Mark. I mean, a man being healed of blindness is nothing compared to a demon be exercised, or a little girl being raised from the dead, right?

But the reason we get this healing isn’t because of the healing, but rather because of the question that goes with it.

Look at verse 51 again, Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” In this case it’s the healing of eyes, but this same question has recently been asked by Jesus to his disciples.
Back in verse 36, Jesus asked his disciples this question when they asked him to do something for them. But the outcome was completely different for the two situations. The two disciples got reprimanded, their question caused more division in their group, and then the whole group got a reprimand. But the beggar got healed, told to go, and choose to follow Jesus instead.

So why are these two linked? Both these situations merge at the point of coming to Jesus for a request.  Both came to Jesus with a want. To which Jesus responds with the same question, “What do you want me to do for you?”
But this where the two situations diverge. The disciples wanted something that was self-focused. It was more about them, than about Jesus. Their minds were more focused on what they wanted to get, rather than on Jesus’ soon death.
Now the blind beggar also had a want. He wanted to be healed of blindness. But the difference in his self-focus and disciples was this: The disciples want ended with themselves. They wanted something from Jesus, not for his glory but for their own. They were spiritually blinded to everything else. The blindman’s want was directed at Jesus. His need for healing was directed and Jesus, and when he got his healing, his life turned to follow Jesus.

And this is the root of what we have been talking about for the last three weeks. Our wants have the tendency to become so self-focused that we loose sight of Jesus. God is trying to get our attention on what matters, yet we are so focused on what we want, that we can’t see what he’s doing no matter how many times we’re confronted by it.
This leads us to want power and prestige over people. This leads us to losing our desperation in our prayer life. And this leads us to having questions that focus more on ourselves than on how God wants to work in us. It all comes down to this four little word, want.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, God’s desire is that we want him. That our wants lineup with his wants. Because it’s when our wants and God’s wants are lineup, that we begin to experience the work of God in our lives. We begin to see him moving all around us. We begin to see the miracles that he performs right in front of us. We begin to feel the fulfillment of serving others. And we begin to experience God in new and deeper ways.

This is all done, because God has sent his Spirit to live in those who have accept Jesus as their Savior. Who have come alive, not just in the life to come, but now, today. 

My challenge for you this week is simple: make a want list of your life. Be honest, what do you want left in this life? Job, money, security, toys, family, friends? Write it down, then make a parallel list of all the things that you know, or think you know, that God wants in your life. Find where they line up, and fine were they disconnect. Then go to God seeking him to cut out those things that don’t line up, so that you can get closer to him.

As we end this section of Mark, let us look to God to be all we want, so that we can begin to experience him the way he desires us to. 

Today, may your wants align with God, so that you may grow ever closer to him. Amen.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Mark, Week 30 - Prestige or Pruning


In the last two houses that I’ve lived in here in in Quartzsite, both of them have had trees. When I lived off of Highway 95, there were several Palo Verde Trees, and one Iron Wood Tree. Living at the Parsonage now, there’s a couple of Palm Trees, one Palo Verde, and several I don’t know what they are.
Well, when it comes to trees, I’m a minimalist. I don’t like low hanging branches, and I don’t like a lot of density. So living at the house off 95, I made all of the Polo Verde Trees look like Acacia Trees, like you would find on the African Savana. But there was this one tree that would not cooperate. It was a tree that overhung one of the paths to the house. I would try to trim and prune that tree, but it never grew right. So one day, out of frustration, I hacked off all the limbs. One of our neighbors asked Marika, “What on earth did Jeremiah do to that tree?” 
It turned out ugly, that’s for sure. But one thing about those Palo Verdes, they grow surprisingly fast. And within a few months, it was back, except this time, it was cooperating.

And that’s where we find ourselves in the Gospel of Mark today. A place where Jesus is trying to get across to his disciples, the need to cut things out of their life, that are holding them back from becoming who God desires them to be. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be starting in chapter 9, verse 33. And as we jump back into Mark verse 33 of chapter 9, let’s get back up to speed with where we are in the the Gospel. 

In the last couple of weeks we have focused on two aspects of our relationship with God, that go hand-in-hand. Two weeks ago we saw that the disciples were asking questions that were focusing on them and their present thoughts, rather than on asking questions that would draw them closer to God. We talked about how we can do the same thing. We can ask questions of God, which is a good thing, but our questions tend to focus more on us, rather than on him. We talked about how we need to start asking questions that are more focused on how our present circumstance can help us draw closer to God, rather than on trying to get out of it.
Then last week we talked about having desperate prayers. From time to time, we can get into a funk in praying. We can get into a place where our lives, both spiritually and physically, feel like somethings missing and we can’t quite put our finger on the problem. We talked about how that can be because our prayer life has lost the desperate seeking of God that we need. That in our funk of prayer, where we are going through the motions, we are missing out on the work of God, because we have become numb to it, taking it for granted. And we need to recapture the desperation of needing God for everything.

This brings us to today. Now, in order for us to fully grasp what is going on in the passage, we have to cover almost a chapter and a half worth of verses.
Today we’re going to focus on chapter 9 starting in verse 33 and going all the way to chapter 10, verse 31. Now that seems like a lot, and it is, so we’re not going to read every word from the text, but instead focus on specific verses, and talking about others in general.
So first, let’s set the stage of where the Holy Spirit is leading Mark. Let’s read chapter 9, starting in verse 33. 

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

From last week we know that the disciples had questions about Jesus’ teaching, but were afraid to ask those questions of him. Now, while they’re on their way somewhere else, Jesus overhears an argument between his disciples. So once they arrive at their destination, Jesus asks them about the argument. Again, they were afraid, so they didn’t say anything. But Jesus knew what the argument was about. They were arguing about who was the greatest.
Now here’s a thought, why are they arguing about this? Could it be that three of them had been selected not once, but twice to witness a special miracle? Could it be that the disciples that were told not to say anything about the transfiguration were telling the others how they got to see Jesus in an amazing way? Could it be that they brought this up to show how much better they were to the others? 
I don’t know, but it would explain why they were arguing about who was the greatest. But Jesus squashes any idea that they might have about being great in his kingdom, with what Jesus does in verse 35,

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” 36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Now, here’s the thing, the disciples were acting like children, just not in the way that Jesus was talking about. The disciples were acting childish, trying to one up each other, and arguing over things, that were harming their relationships with both each other, and with God.
They wanted to be the greatest, they wanted to be the most important, but Jesus just struck that down, by saying that servanthood and looking out for those with less social standing than you was how you become great. 

But this seems to go over the disciple John’s head. And the first time we get something directly spoke from John, he shows how much like Peter the other disciples actually are. This is what John says in verse 38,

38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

In John’s words here, it’s almost like he’s saying, “Okay fine Jesus, but were better than that guy over there, who’s trying to do things in your name. So we shut him down.”
But again, Jesus strikes this line of thinking down, he tells the disciples,

39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us.

In the disciple’s minds, it’s their band of merry men that are the ones that get the power. They’re the ones that get to perform the miracles, and unless Jesus has called you to be one of the twelve, well, you’re just not good enough.
But this flies in the face of everything Jesus’ has been trying to get across to them. That he has come for everyone. That he has come for the forgiveness of sins. That he has come to baptist with the Holy Spirit. That he has come to suffer, die, and raise from the dead for all people. 
The disciple’s focus is me, me, me, and Jesus is trying to get their eyes off themselves and onto God and others. But Jesus doesn’t leave this line of thinking there, because he understands that this attitude of being the greatest stems from deeper issues.

Starting in verse 42 Jesus says, 

42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. [44] 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. [46] 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,

Jesus uses some harsh and violent metaphorical language here. A giant rock around the neck to drown someone. Cutting off hand and foot. Plucking out an eye. Jesus is using this violent imagery to get across to his disciples that the things that are causing them to be so self-focus need to be radically ripped out of their lives and thrown away.
Jesus is not literally telling them to kill themselves by drowning, or physically cutting off, or gouging out their eyes. But it puts in their heads the harsh imagery of getting rid of sin in one’s life. But it doesn’t stop there. Mark couples this situation with another where Jesus speaks to some Pharisees, those religious leaders that were very strict in how they approached and taught about God.
In this instance Jesus is asked about divorce. Notice what he says in verse 3 of chapter 10, 

3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.
4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied.

God’s standard was altered for humanity, because humanity couldn’t work within God’s frame work. They didn’t want to adhere to God’s standard, so Moses made it easier. They had a self-focused attitude that put themselves more important than the standard of God, wanting themselves greater than others, in this case their spouse and their commitment.

Now there’s a lot to say on the subject of divorce, but that’s not the focus through these verses. Instead, the focus keeps coming back to the attitude of the disciples, and that of humanity that wants to be placed first, with special standards and perks. But this attitude didn’t just start with the disciples, nor is is confined to them. Moses altering the standard of God for the people, shows that this same attitude of special treat from God and loop holes in his word, have been around for centuries, and we can see it today as well.

But it doesn’t stop there. Again in verse 14, Jesus points to children as being the attitude that God desires from his people. Jesus says, 

14 “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 

The attitude God desires from his people is that of children. Now children are notorious for throwing fits, and crying, and fighting, and being brats. But that’s not a child problem, that is a human problem. I haven’t seen much of a difference between children, teens, and adults in that category.
But what Jesus is trying to show through these children is that, children are seen as less in the community. In fact in some Middle Eastern cultures, children are not even seen as people until they reach a certain age. Children are truly the last in their societies, and so Jesus is comparing their status to where he wants his disciples to be.

Mark then gives us the story of a rich young man who comes to Jesus with the question of, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus takes the young man through five of the ten commandments, to which the young man says I’ve kept all of these. Jesus then tells the young man, that he should go and sell everything and then come and follow him. As a response to being told this by Jesus, we’re told the man left sad, “because he had great wealth.”

And you can feel the sadness in Jesus words that follow, but none as heartbreaking than in verse 31,

31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

When we first came to these verses today, Jesus told his disciples that to be the greatest, they would need to be the last. In these final words to the passage we’re looking at today, Jesus tells his disciples that those who are first will be last. 

Jesus was trying to get across to his disciples that they either become less on their own, or one day, God will make them last. If they make themselves last now for God’s kingdom, then he will lift them to first. But if God makes them last, that’s a last that no one wants to be placed in.

The disciples had and attitude of wanting the prestige, without getting ride of the sin in their lives. We can have this same attitude. Wanting to be seen by people, wanting them to notice our accomplishments. I know I do. I want people to see the work I do, to give me credit for all that I accomplish. But why? So that I can be first here. Yet, that isn’t what it’s about, and it stems from a place that needs to be cut out.

John records Jesus putting it this way in his book. In John chapter 15 verse 1 and 2, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

We tend to want the prestige of this life, but God wants us to experience the pruning that he has for us. God would rather see the things that cause us to want the lime light to be cut out, so that we can experience him the way he would have us, rather than holding onto those sins and being far from him in the end.

This why God gives us the Holy Spirit, this is why God gives us the circumstances we are in. So that we will take the opportunity of pruning and seek him to cut out everything that shouldn’t be in us. Asking the questions that focus on him and what he’s doing. Being desperate for him and his work in our lives. To desire to be last, placing others a head of us. So that in the end, we are the people God create us and saved us to be. And we won’t be placed last, but rather be lifted up to the place that God has for us.

My challenge for you this week is to return to these verses. Because we didn’t cover everything in them, there is a lot there to read. On the sermon notes there is a six day reading plan for these verses. My challenge for you, is to read them everyday. But before you begin and after you end, I would also challenge you to say this prayer: God prune what shouldn’t be in me, so I may be last.

Let us be people that seek the pruning of God, over the prestige of this world. And put ourselves last here, so that we might be where God wants us in his kingdom.

Now may God prune for the glory of his kingdom, so that you will be first in it. Amen.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Mark, Week 29 - Desperate Prayers


Have you ever had to get into between two people fighting? If could be an argument, or a drag out fist fight. Either way, it can be a scary thing trying to get between two clashing opinions, or striking fists. We’re seeing this in our country right now. Recently there was a rally by a group called Patriot Prayer, which was met by a counter protest by a group called Antifa. And it ended in violence, people getting arrested, and in the middle of it were the police. The ones that had to try and keep the peace. The ones that have to get in-between two forces clashing. 
Most of us have probably never been in such a position, but we all probably know the feeling of trying to get in the middle of something so that a situation can be reasonably worked out. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to step in between my children. There’s been a few times I’ve had to step in between teenagers.
But no matter what the situation is, it’s always fun, and I use the term very loosely, to get in between two people that are clashing.
Which is where we find ourselves in the book of Mark today. Two groups clashing in an argument. Luckily, they’re not coming to blows. So if you have your Bibles, we’e going to be in Mark chapter 9 verse 14. And as be open our Bibles to Mark 9:14, let’s catch up from where we left off last week.

Last week we saw the scene where three disciples, Peter, James and John, got to go up on a mountain and see Jesus in his glory. They saw Jesus as the God he truly is, rather than the man they had known. But in the experience, Peter didn’t know what to do, and his false perception of Jesus showed itself. Both in the way he addressed Jesus, and the the fact that as he and the others came down, their questions were focused in the wrong place. And we talked about how we tend to do the same thing. We tend to have our questions focus more on us, and what we’re going through, rather than on God, and how we can draw closer to him, through what we’re dealing with.

This brings us today, when Jesus and these three disciples come down off the mountain, and find themselves in a situation where Jesus’ disciples and some teacher’s of the law are in an argument. So let’s pick it up in Mark chapter 9, verse 14.

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

So Jesus comes down from the mountain with three of his disciples. These three just got a glimpse into the reality of who Jesus is. Do they focus on that, no, their focus is on other things. Then Jesus arrives where the rest of his disciples are, and these disciples are in an argument with some teachers of the law. Now, Mark never specifically tells us why these two groups are arguing, but it has something to do with the fact that the disciples haven’t been able to cast out the demon the boy is possessed by.
Maybe the teachers of the law were calling them charlatans. Who knows. But whatever the reason, the crowd then sees Jesus and it says they were, “overwhelmed with wonder.” Maybe because there was still some residual glory still around Jesus, like there was with Moses in Exodus 34:29, when he talked with God.

But then the focus moves away from the argument, and to the father of the boy. Jesus gets some information about the boys condition, and then the father says this, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

Let’s pause right there. Now you and I can read through Mark’s book. We’ve had nine and a half chapters that have told us about who Jesus is. You and I can read about the healings Jesus has performed. We can read, about the demons Jesus has cast out. We can read about the power that Jesus commands. This boy’s father doesn’t have that luxury. All he has is rumors, and hope that this Jesus can do for his son, as he has heard that Jesus has done for others. 
And so when the father says, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” We can feel the desperation in the father’s voice as he pleads with Jesus. But then, we get what seems like a flippant, almost uncaring response by Jesus, “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Now, this isn’t the first time we’ve read where Jesus seems like he comes off as uncaring. But we know that’s not the case, and in fact, it sets up, to me, one of the top five greatest responses in the Bible. “Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’”
The father’s exclamation here is seeping with desperation for his son, and his knowing that he doubts that this will even work. The father is as open and honest with his spiritual condition as any great person of faith in all of human history. “I do believe,” the father says. He believes that Jesus can do something. But will it work? Will Jesus find him worthy? These are question that can plague us, and we see that they plague this father too. So he must ask Jesus, “help me overcome my unbelief!”

Jesus then casts the demon out and the boy is restored. Later, after all is done for the day, and Jesus goes with his disciples inside, the disciples ask Jesus a question that had to be on their minds since before Jesus came down the mountain, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” I wonder if they asked this question, because nothing like this had ever happen before. I mean, when Jesus had sent them out before, they did amazing things. But now, now something has change, and they didn’t know what it was.
Jesus responds, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” Following this response, Mark tells us that Jesus’ next teaching to the disciples is again, about his death and resurrection. How he must suffer and die, and then be raised back to life on the third day. 
In the closing verse of this passage we get these finally words, “But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.”

The disciples tried to cast out the demon that was in the boy, but they failed. Their failure hung around them, until they got the opportunity to ask why they failed. And they find out from Jesus that they failed because of prayer. What’s amazing in this encounter here in Mark, is that we are given two approaches to life with God. 
The first is the disciples. They have walked with Jesus for about two and a half years. They have seen amazing miracles, that showed Jesus’ power over God’s word, the physical realm and the spiritual realm. They were even sent out by Jesus to perform those same types of miracles. And now, when they can’t cast out a demon, they realize somethings wrong. What have they lost? It’s not their proximity to Jesus; sure he was on a mountain when all this happened, but they were miles away from him before and it still worked. What has changed?
The answer Jesus gives is prayer, but it is rooted in the second approach we see in the passage. The approach of the father to Jesus. He is desperate for Jesus to heal his son. He knows that Jesus has the ability, yet he doubts the probability that Jesus will act on it. And when confronted about his unbelief, the father doesn’t try to hide it. Instead he asks for help in his unbelief.
Compared side-by-side, the disciples have all the boxes of spirituality marked off compared to the father. But they have missed a fundamental aspect of their relationship with Jesus. Desperate prayer. Prayer that focus’ on the need for God to work in every situation. Prayer that embraces our unbelief and asks God to break through it.
The disciples have begun to rely on themselves to perform the miracles, rather than on God who worked through them. The father might have had less spiritual boxes check, but he showed what desperate prayer looks like. Prayer that says one simple phrase, “You are God and I am not, help me.”
In my own life, this simple prayer has revolutionized my relationship with God, because it reminds me that no matter what I do, or how I perform, I need God every moment. Any good I do, comes from him, and not from me. “You are God and I am not, help me.”
But even at the end of the passage, the disciples still had not taken this to heart, because it says that they were afraid to ask Jesus. They understood that they did not get what Jesus was saying, yet instead of seeking for understanding, they simply kept quiet. Instead of being honest with their unbelief, they hid it.

And we can do the same thing. From time to time we can forget where the power to overcome this life comes from. Like we talked about last week, we can get so focused on us and the questions we want answered, that we forget that God’s desire is that we come closer to him. But we can also get so focused on ourselves, that we try to do things in our own strength, and then when it fails, we ask why didn’t it work? Don’t I go to church? Don’t I give money? Don’t I this? Don’t I that?
And the answer is, it didn’t work because we have lost desperate prayer in our lives. Prayer that says, “You are God and I am not, help me.”
But God wants us to fall constantly into prayer that is desperately seeking him. Prayer that keeps it’s focus on who God is and who we are in relationship to him. Because it’s in desperate prayer, that we truly find who we are, because we begin to understand who God truly is. He is the God, who loves us, who sent the Son, Jesus to die for us while we were in rebellion against him. And through Jesus’ death, and resurrection, we now have access to God. And it’s in that access that our desperate prayers are heard, and we can develop deep relationships with the God who loves us.

It’s so easy for us to be like the disciples, and wonder why things are not happening in our lives, when all it is, is our prayer life becoming too much about us, and not enough about seeking God. Too much self confidence, and not enough desperation for God.

My challenge to you this week is to have three prayers: one in the morning, one in during the day, and one at night. Now they need to be tailored to you, but here are some examples.. 
First in the morning prayer before you start your day to be something like, “God this is your day, empower me to meet it.”
Second one, praying throughout the day, and it is the one I shared with you earlier, “You are God and I am not, help me.” This one is for any situation throughout the day that takes your attention off of God, to bring that attention back to where it should be.
The third at night before you go to bed, “God thank you for this day, forgive me where I fail, draw me closer to you tomorrow.”

Just saying these, as flippant throw away words is easy, but to say them with the desire to desperately seek God is life changing.
Let us become people who are desperate in our prayers, so that we can meet God where he would have us meet him. 

Now may you enter into your prayer, with desperation. Seeking God, not out of tradition or mere habit, but out of a deep longing desire to grow closer to him. Amen.