Saturday, June 16, 2018

Manuscript Mark, Week 25 - Breakthrough

Have you ever felt the exhilaration and excitement you get from another person’s accomplishment? One of the reasons I love coaching is when breakthroughs happen. I love to spend days, weeks, months, even years working on something with someone, and then to see them breakthrough a barrier and get it. 
So I told you a few weeks ago that I got to go on a gun camp trip with my Dad. It was a four day, eight plus hours a day in the Nevada sun training on how to use a handgun. There were all types of people there, at all levels of experience. You had the guys that could hit the wings off a fly from the fifteen yard mark, and the guys that it was their first time ever holding a handgun. If fact there was a family of four with three of these types of shooters. The dad seemed to know his way around a gun good enough, but the mom and the two boys didn’t. And I have to tell you, after the first day I thought two things: One, I’m surprised none of them shot anyone, and two, they’re going to need a lot longer than four days.
But by the end of the four day course, every single one of them became proficient in handling the firearm. With decent groupings, and decent control over the weapon. On top of that, on the last day, they had a little fun tournament of hitting three targets. One with a hostage about seven yards away, and two targets fifteen yards away. Both the boys made it to the second round. I was disqualified, because I grazed the hostage. But after the whole thing was said and done, even though I didn’t know this family, I was excited that of the breakthroughs they accomplished that day. Because it’s those breakthrough moments that seem to make all the hard times seem to be worth it.

That’s kind of the situation we find today as we come to the book of Mark today. So if you have your Bibles, we’ll be in the Gospel of Mark chapter 7, starting in verse 24.

Now before we get into Mark chapter 7 verse 24, our focus has been on the disciples for the last few weeks. But as we start today, we actually need to go back a little further. All the way back to when we talked about Herod. Some of you might remember how we talked about Herod and how that particular passage seemed a little out of place. But, then we talked about how it fit perfectly, because it showed us that even though people had heard about Jesus, they were still missing the point of who Jesus was. Then right after the story about Herod missing the point, we saw the disciple’s return from being sent out by Jesus. To which Jesus wanted to take them away to get them refreshed. But that didn’t end well, because they were so focused on getting to a place of refreshment, that they missed the mini-refreshment on the boat.
Then when they got to the place they were headed, they ran into a group of people, and Jesus started teaching them. Which didn’t exactly sit right with the disciples who wanted them to leave. But that’s when Jesus challenged them to feed the people. The disciples refused, and ended up missing out on a huge miracle.
Then, after the baskets full of food came back, and the people were tallied, Jesus sent the displaces off right away, in a little bot of embarrassment, and he went off by himself to be refreshed. That’s when the disciples began fighting with both their inner struggle and the physical wind of the sea, Jesus say this and proceeded to walk out on the water, but meaning to pass them by. At that point they called out to Jesus, and he immediately gets into the boat. Then they arrived right where they were supposed to be. 
Fantastic. But then to cause a little trouble the Pharisees arrive to question Jesus about his disciples. This ends up giving Jesus a chance to show that we tend to convolute God’s commands so we can find a way to both break them and make ourselves feel good in the process. To which Jesus called out both the Pharisees and us when we do that.

All that brings us to where we are today. That’s a lot, but in order to understand what we’re going to talk about today, we need to remember what has happened since Jesus first sent the disciples out.

Now let’s jump into Mark chapter 7, verse 24.

24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

So this is one of my favorite passages of Scripture, because it’s both confusing, and enlightening all at the same time. Let’s walk through the passage.
Mark starts off letting us know that Jesus left where he had his run in with the Pharisees 
and making his way to an area around the city of Tyre. That’s really important and we’ll come back to it.
Once in the area of Tyre everything becomes secret. Jesus finds a house and doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s there. Another thing that’s important and we’ll come back to.
That’s when the, I don’t know what you want to call it, confrontation, interaction, the conversation happens. A Greek born women, a Gentile, or non-Jewish person, somehow finds out Jesus is at this particular house and comes to him. Now, do you notice how she comes to him? She comes begging Jesus to drive out a demon from her daughter.
So let’s take an inventory of what we know so far. Jesus is in Tyre, and he wants to keep it secret, both things that are important, and both things we’ll come back to. Then a Gentile woman finds out where Jesus is, and comes begging for him to cast out a demon. Are we all on the same page? Good. Then what happens?
Jesus responds with these words, “First let the children eat all they want…for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

Ouch that’s got to hurt right? Did you see what Jesus called her? He called her a dog. An animal less important than the children. And who are the children? The Jews. Jesus is calling this woman who is begging for her child’s freedom from a demon, a dog. You know last chapter when there were 5,000 hungry people it said Jesus had compassion on them. But from then ’til now, with Jesus meaning to pass by his disciples, and now he is meaning to call a begging mom a dog, what happened?
Where’s the Jesus from a few pages back? Because this Jesus right here, doesn’t seem to be the same one from back then. That’s important to notice, so we’ll come back to it.

The mom replies, “Lord…even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Did you notice what she did? Jesus called her a dog, and she owned it. She recognized her place in comparison to Jesus and the Jews. She recognized her place in the unfolding of God’s salvation plan, and she owned it. But she also recognized that the work of Jesus was not only for the Jews. The work of Jesus, even though it was focused in on the Jews, was the precursor for so much more.

And I love how Matthew writes this event, because it brings out the desperation of the mother, and the seemingly callousness response of Jesus.

22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Three things are login on here: we hear the desperation in the mother’s voice, the disciples again wanting someone sent away, and the seemingly callous response of Jesus. The mother’s and the disciple’s responses make sense. It’s keeping with the characters of both. But why is Jesus acting so out of character?

Let’s rewind a bit. Remember the return of the disciples? And how Jesus was taking them to a solitary place, but then things started to get in the way? You know, the people and Jesus feeding the 5,000. And the unwillingness of the disciples, which led to the disciples inner struggle and being sent away. Then after that Jesus had that encounter with the Pharisees.
For that last chapter and a half we have been focusing on the disciples, but haven’t really looked at what was going on with Jesus. Let’s take a moment and think about this whole thing from Jesus’ point of view. And to see that we have to rewind a whole year in Jesus’ ministry. 
Because before Jesus sent off his disciples, he was working hard on training them, then he sent them off. We found out through the story of Herod, people were hearing the message of Jesus, but not responding to it correctly. Then when the disciples return, Jesus wants to hear about their travels. But, then there was the 5,000. I bet Jesus was excited to see what the disciples learned and how they could put it into action, but then they were unwilling. So Jesus fed the people himself. Then he had to send the disciples off, why? Couldn’t they had come with him to the mountain? No, because they were not in the right place to join him. Really, they were in the same place as Herod. Herod missed the point, and the disciples were missing the point too. Then Jesus had to deal with the Pharisees, teacher’s of God’s law, that were helping other people circumvent God’s commands, instead of dealing with their inner struggles. Again, people who were missing the point.
So what does Jesus do? He grabs his disciples, and takes them to the Gentile area of Tyre. He takes them away to do some one-on-twelve intensive training, in a place where where people will most likely leave a Jewish man alone. Jesus wants to keep this time secret, so that he can focus on getting these disciples up to snuff. But nope. Here comes someone needing help. Another person seeking something from Jesus. Another person, who probably doesn’t get why Jesus is there.

So he tells it to her straight. He is there for the Jewish people. He has come to bring them back. Sure, Jesus knows that he will die. Sure, he knows that the Gospel will go out, and the Gentiles will be brought into the people of God, but he needs time to train these guys. And apparently it’s going to take a more time, because it ain’t gettin’ through their skulls.

But her response changes everything. Jesus is straight to the point, the children need the word right now, not the dogs. But she, unlike the king, unlike the teacher’s of the law, unlike the twelve guys Jesus has been working on for over a year, gets it. “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

And he responds to with, ““For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

Matthew puts it this way, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”

I can just imagine Jesus turning to his disciples after the women left and saying “Did you guys just see that Gentile woman? She gets it why can’t you?!”

This women had a breakthrough!

I think there’s a lot of times in our lives when we miss what God is doing. We might have been with him for years, Learning, studying, working, but there’s something missing. We still struggle with the same things we’ve been struggling with for years, and we wonder why haven’t we overcome this one thing? But God wants us to have breakthroughs.

I love this passage, because here’s a woman, who’s situation has cleared up everything for her to understand the work of God through Jesus. She understands that Jesus is there for the Jews. She understands that she is not worth Jesus’ time, because his focus isn’t in her direction. But unlike Herod, the Pharisees and the disciples who had been with Jesus for years, she understood the scope of God’s grace. The scope of the unearned love of God has for all creation. And she understood that the only place to experience the unearnable love, was at the feet of Jesus.
And because she understood this, Jesus didn’t even have to be in the room with the little girl, when he sent the demon out with just his words. As it says, “She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.”

Too often we’re like Herod, we’re like the Pharisees, we’re like the disciples, completely missing the point. Too self-focused, and unwilling to deal with our own inner struggle that we miss the work of God right in front of us. But God wants us to call him into the boat, stop circumventing his commands, and just fall at his feet realizing our need, and that it’s only from him can we get ourselves right.
This week I want to challenge you with a simple question. What are you missing? What, in your life, are you missing? Have you been struggling with a specific sin? That one thing that has just fueled your inner struggle and you can’t seem to overcome it? Or have you been struggling why you can’t hear God, or experience him like you used to? Or maybe you are at a plateau in your relationship with him, and you’re feeling like a dog, with no scraps.

This week, I want us as a church to go before God and ask him, “What am I missing?” What am I missing to overcome my sin? What am I missing to experience him? What am I missing in feeling like a dog, and not feeling the unearned love of God? What am I missing? And then write it down on a piece of paper with no name on. Because next week I’m going to have a cork bored and when you come in, my challenge is for you to put what you’re missing on the board, so we as a church can pray for each other. 
Because I see in Jesus’ life, a desire for us to get it, to have a breakthroughs and a willingness to work with us to see them for ourselves. So what are we missing, and what breakthroughs await us this week. 
        Now may the God of breakthroughs, breakthrough what you are missing this week, so that you can share in his victory. Amen

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Manuscript Mark, Week 24 -Simplify the Commands of God

You know what some of the best movies are? Movies made for kids. And some of the best story telling that’s out there, movie wise, right now, is from Pixar studios. Their the ones with movies like Toy Story, the Incredibles, Wall-E, Monster’s Inc., Cars, and a whole lot of others. The reason these stories are so good, is because they work on multiple levels. Kids love them because they are fast paced, have funny dialogue, and some great visuals.
Adults can love them too, because they have great life humor that you can relate to, they deal with deep personal real life circumstances, and they keep the kids busy. What’s not to love.
I mean think about this. The movie the Incredibles is about superheroes. What kid doesn’t like superheroes? The Incredibles has the strong guy that can beat up anyone, kids can relate to wanting to be that guy. It has the two kid superheroes, as a kid, who didn’t dream of having superpowers. And they use them, just like a kid would. Then you have the action, and everything that goes with it.
Now I can watch that same movie as an adult and not only enjoy what the kids are enjoying, I can also enjoy the flirtatious banter between a husband and wife. I can relate to the father who is dealing with the stress of work. I can laugh at the joke between a wife and husband about her being the greatest good he’ll ever have.
A kid can watch a Pixar movie and take away a fun time. An adult can watch a Pixar movie and take away a fun time, and the deeper meaning of the film.

Today, we’re going to look at something similar from the Gospel of Mark. The childish way of looking at God’s work in our lives, and the adult way. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be in the Gospel of Mark chapter 7, starting in verse 1. And as you open your Bibles to Mark 7:1, let’s recap where we are in the Gospel.

When we got back into the Gospel of Mark three weeks ago, we talked about the disciple’s return to Jesus. When they got back, Jesus went off into a boat with them to get them refreshed. But when they arrived at where they were going, people wouldn’t leave them alone. And when the disciples pressed Jesus to send those people away, using the excuse that they needed food, Jesus challenged them to provide the food. They protested, and Jesus multiple five loaves and two fish to satisfy the hunger of over 5,000 people. 
Throughout the whole thing, we saw how the disciples missed their time of refreshment in the boat, which led them to not being prepared to respond to Jesus’ challenge. And we talked about how we need to take advantage of the mini-refreshments that come our way in our relationships with God.
Then last week, we picked up right with their failure and embarrassment as Jesus sent them off on the boat alone, while he went away to be refreshed. While they were on the boat, they began to fight against the wind. Jesus saw this from the shore and walked out onto the water, with the intention to pass them by. But as soon as they called out to him, he immediately got into the boat. We saw in this event, that the disciple’s inner struggles were keeping them from performing everyday tasks. Something that we allow to happen as well. We can also allow the inner turmoil that we feel in our spiritual lives, to keep us from calling out to Jesus and getting things back on track.

This brings us to chapter 7, starting in verse 1. Now this passage comes in two parts. Let’s look at the first part.

1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” 

This first part deals with the Pharisees, those teachers of God’s law that were very strict in their following the rules. One of those rules was a tradition that started hundreds of years before and was past down orally from teacher to student. It was a ceremonial washing where water was poured over the hands and the person would make a fist with one hand to rub into the other to clean every nook and cranny of the palm.
Since the disciples were not doing this, the Pharisees were upset that they were not following the tradition. Did it matter that it was not directly given by God through his word? No, to them it was an accepted practice that kept the people from following other gods, and therefore just as important as the Word of God.
Because here’s the thing, the Pharisees get a bad rap overall. We look at them as the opponents of Jesus, which they are, but there’s a reason why they were that way. Thanks to the Babylonia exile, and later Alexander the Great’s influence, there were a lot of Jews becoming more and more like the other nations. So the Pharisees as a religious group arose to keep the people on the straight and narrow. Adding additional rules to keep the people from becoming like the other nations. Maybe the thought was this, “our people didn’t do very good with just the Torah, let’s enhance the commands already there.”
So these additional rules were meant to keep people from straying from God. But Jesus takes issue with this idea of “enhancing” God’s word. To him, when you add anything to what God has said, you dilute both the message, and the application. We see this in Jesus’ bringing up a quote from Isaiah 29:13. When you add to God’s word, thus diluting both the message and application, what ends up happening, is that you set up a system of incoherent and contradictory rules for people to follow. And by doing that, you create a system by which the rules that govern the outside actions of a person, become more important than the God who you worship.
Jesus gives an example of this. God’s command of honor your father and mother, is simple and straight forward. I need to respect my parents, even when they do things I disagree with, or even if they hurt me. But the tradition circumvents this simple command. There was no social security, or retirement plans in the ancient world, so you had lots of kids so that they could take of you. But the tradition that was passed down in order to get people to focus on God, actually took God’s commands and threw them out the door. By the tradition, you could actually get around honoring your parents. 
Say you felt like the parent didn’t treat you well enough, well the command of God said that you had to honor them anyway. So guess what? When they got old, you had to take care of them, and do so with respect. There was no wiggle room there.
But now thanks to the tradition, you could actually circumvent the command of God, by giving, what you should have used to take care of that parent that you didn’t like, to God’s work. And you could feel perfectly good about it, because hey, God needs money.
But what happens to that straight forward command of God? It’s diluted to the point where a person can break it, thus breaking their worship of God, yet feel like they are doing the right thing.
This is where we pick up the second part of this passage, with Mark transitioning from this encounter with the Pharisees to a teaching Jesus gives to a group of common people. By doing this is, Jesus is taking the falseness of the tradition and exposing it to the population. Let’s pick up in verse 14.

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
If the tradition of the elders is circumventing the commands of God, how do you fix it? Jesus gives that answer. You come to realize that doing this stuff on the outside, so that it makes you feel good, is not what God wants from you. Because it’s what’s found inside of us that’s the real problem. 
Jesus gives a list of things that defile a person: “sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” All these things have physical consequences, but all of these things have a root within the heart and the mind of the person. And that’s where God’s commands focus on. To honor your father and mother, has an outward application, yes, but it forces you to deal with those inner feelings of hurt you might be experiencing. Have you been hurt? Are you dealing with unforgiveness? Guess what? You have to confront those hurts and feelings, because you have to show respect to those that have hurt you.
But the tradition of the elders allows a person to continue in those feelings, to continue in those hurts, and then let you do something physical to make it seem like everything was alright. When in actuality, everything was wrong. The heart is still in the wrong place, the mind is still in the wrong place, and the actions are still in the wrong place.
It is so easy to do something that allows us to push aside our inner struggle, so that we can numb it down, by making ourselves feel better. That’s what alcohol can do, that’s what drugs can do, that’s what cutting can do, and that’s what traditions can do. They can give us a way out of dealing with our inner struggle. But that’s a temporary fix.
But God is in this for the long haul. He wants to deal with that hard stuff, the stuff in our hearts and minds that take a long time to heal.

And this what we need to wake up to: We can’t get a inner fix, by masking it with a physical patch.
It would be so nice if we were like Stuart Smalley from that Saturday Night Live Sketch, that if we could just say, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” It would be nice if I could just change a habit and then everything would work out. That my life would change, that my relationships would be fixed, that everything would work out. I wish I can say, here are five or even twelve steps to your spiritual fix, but the reality is this: until we stop adding things to God’s word, and instead start implement it into our lives what his simple commands are, our inner struggle is never going to be fixed. Because all we’re doing is putting a physical patch on a spiritual problem.

So how do we do that? How do we start the process of keeping God’s commands simple, and allowing them to work on our inner struggles? Well, here’s the challenge for this week. I challenge you to take an inventory of your life. Take the 10 commandments from the book of Exodus chapter 20. The plain clear and concise commands of God, then, going through them one by one, ask yourself this simple question: have I added anything to this command? Am I circumventing it, by trying to add more to it, to make myself feel better? Am I following it’s simplicity, or am I making it more complex so that I can find loop hole that I can exploit so I don’t have to deal with the simple nature of it? Take that question before God and ask him, what needs to be fixed, and how is he going to fix it?

Because I have to tell you, the commands of God are so simple, that it makes this harder, because my inner struggle, wants to find a loop hole. It wants to say, here’s a way that I don’t have to have an inner fix. If I can just side step the command by a slight deviation from it.
But all that leads to is more hurt on the outside, and more turmoil on the inside.
Yet if we follow the simple commands of God, inner struggle will be overcome and physical victory will occur.
        May God bring you to a point of simplification of his Word, so that in his simplicity, you can face your struggle, and he can overcome it. Amen

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Mark, Week 23 - Get Jesus in the Boat

One of the things that drives me crazy is when I fail at something. Especially if it’s an embarrassing failure. Let me tell you about one of those times. So when I was growing up I didn’t attend a lot of church. Barely any really.  But I did attend two different Christian schools for the last three years of my high school career.
Then when I graduated from high school, I decided to attend a Christian college. Now when I entered into college it was for two reasons: First, and the most important, was to play baseball. The second was to become a teacher.
It hadn’t even crossed my mind that I would leave the college looking to go into ministry.
In the fall of my freshman year, I started attending conditioning for the spring baseball season. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary from what I was used to, except for one thing. We began and ended our practices with prayer. Now, I was used to hearing a prayer, but usually it was from the coach. Not these. Instead of the coach starting and ending the practices with prayer, one of the players would do it.
Now, even though I had been a Christian for almost two years, I had never prayed out loud. And every time someone was asked on that baseball field to pray, I sighed relief when someone stepped up and volunteered. You know why? Because I had no idea what I would say. How do you pray out loud? What do you say? How long does it have to be?
I didn’t know, because I never did it. Then it happened, one fateful day, when seniors asked for a volunteer, one of my teammates spoke up and said, “Hey Jeremiah hasn’t done it yet, why don’t we have him do it?”
A more colorful word than shoot went through my mind as all eyes turned towards me. And with a squeaky, “ok”, I began my prayer.
And it was the most amazing strung together of slogans and whatever came to my mind at the moment. I was using things from Nike, from pastors I had heard before, from anything my mind to grabbed on to as the words just swirled in my head. And to top it all off, I threw in a “be all we can be” from the army commercials.
And with my “amen” my teammates started to bust up laughing. It was the first time I had ever prayed out loud and I was embarrassed beyond anything I had ever done in my life.

And it’s an embarrassing situation that we find the disciples in as we come to the book of Mark today. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be in Mark chapter 6 starting in verse 45. But as we open up, let’s talk about where we are this week.

Last week we talked about how the disciples returned from being sent out by Jesus. They had come back in excitement wanting to tell Jesus all that had happen to them. And Jesus was excited too, so they set off to get away from the work of ministry, and have some time of refreshment. But when they got where they were going, the work was waiting for them. Hungry, tired, and fed up with the people that always seemed to need something else from Jesus, the disciples missed the opportunity to be the ones that performed a huge miracle. Over 5,000 people needed to be fed, and Jesus challenged the disciples to do it. But they couldn’t because they had missed an opportunity to be refreshed by Jesus. They were so focused on getting to a destination for refreshment, that they missed a mini-refreshment on the way. 
Which is what we talked about last week, and how we need to take the times of mini-refreshment as they come along.

But it’s at the end of Jesus performing the miracle that the disciples were challenge to do but failed, that we come to verse 45 in chapter 6, of the Gospel of Mark. Let’s read.

45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

Right at the end of verse 43 and 44, from last week, we were told two pieces of information: how much food returned and how many people were there. Then the passage makes a transition by saying, “Immediately.” That’s an important word. It means right away. So Jesus feeds the people, the disciples get to see how they missed out on the miracle, and everyone gets to see just how amazing it all was, because there’s still left overs.
And then what happens? We don’t see Jesus chastise the disciples We don’t see Jesus giving a teaching to the disciples. Instead, he just tells them to get into the boat. And if you have ever made your parent so mad that they can’t say anything except “Get in the car,” then you we might be able to know how the disciples were feeling right now.
Jesus puts them into the boat, and sends them off. How would you feel?
I’m thinking they they’re angry and embarrassed. Angry at themselves that they missed out on doing this huge miracle. Angry at Jesus for not sending the people away in the first place. And angry at the people for being there in the first place. And you know why I think they’re angry? Because of what verse 52 says, “…their hearts were hardened.”
But all this anger seems to be from a place of embarrassment. They failed, and they failed right in front of everyone. I’ve never failed that big. My biggest failure was in front of about twelve guys. The disciples failed at what Jesus called them to do in front of 5,000 plus people.
And because they were in this state of hard heartedness, they were about to miss everything that came next.

So Jesus puts these angry and embarrassed guys into a boat and sends them off. Then Jesus sends off the people, just like the disciples wanted. And then Jesus takes sometime to be refreshed. I think Jesus needed some alone time. Maybe Jesus was getting frustrated with the disciples. Not to the point of sinning, but more in the line of, “They just don’t get it.” He might be frustrated that they started to get it, but allowed the interruptions that come in God’s work, to get them angry.
But Jesus gets his alone time to be refreshed by God the Father. And I love what it says, in verse 47, and 48, “ Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.”

Now couple that with what it says at the end of verse 48, “He was about to pass by them…”
From the shore, Jesus saw where they were on the lake. He saw that they were struggling with the wind. And when he went out there, every reading of the passage from multiple versions gives the same Idea: Jesus meant to pass them by. Do you realize what Mark is saying? Jesus meant to leave the disciples in their predicament. To leave them struggling against the wind.
Now I have been reading and re-reading this, and asking the question, why? Why would Jesus do this. I mean, right before this it said that Jesus had compassion on the people that were hungry. But now, it looks like Jesus is done with the disciples. It’s almost like Jesus is going to leave them in their embarrassment. Leave them in their struggle. But is that what Jesus is doing.

Overtime I have heard a lot of sermons on this passage. Sermons that focus on the storms of this life. Sermons that pick up the gospel of Matthew’s version, where Peter walks out to Jesus, takes his eyes off of his Savior, and begins to sink in the waves. And reading Mark’s account of this situation, I have to ask why isn’t the part about Peter in it? I mean, Mark is writing his Gospel based on Peter’s first hand account. Even if Peter didn’t want people to know that he began to sink under the waves, if it was me, I would still be telling people, “At least I walked on water with Jesus.”
But Peter walking on water isn’t in Mark’s account, and I have to ask the question why? 
And after a lot of time meditating on this passage, going back to God and asking why, here’s my conclusion: I think the reason Jesus meant to walk by the disciples, and the reason Mark does not include Peter’s experience, is because in the flow that we are seeing in the Gospel of Mark flows this way:  What we’re seeing is how the inner struggle of anger and embarrassment that the disciples are dealign with is making it hard to deal with the physical storms that come our way. 

Everything inside of the disciples has been building. They went from excited, to ticked off  at being interrupted, to missing out on a huge miracle, and then being sent away in embarrassment. All that is building in them. Some of these disciples are seasoned mariners, yet they continue to struggle against a storm. Is it because the storm is too much for them, or is it that they are trying to struggle with both outside and inner storms at the same time?

But unlike the disciples who were not dealing with their inner struggle, Jesus did. Jesus took the time to rest and recuperate. To deal with the stress and the frustration that can come with it. Jesus didn’t allow the storm to form in his life, but his disciples did.
So Jesus meant to pass them by. But he didn’t mean to leave them there. Jesus gave them the option to call out to him. The option to meet with him as he met with God the Father. Why else would he walk so close to them? Why else would we have to understand that he saw them? Mark’s giving us insight into Jesus’ mind. That he is mindful of them. He sees them in their struggle. He knows what’s going on with them. And so, he passes by, and if they would call out to him he would enter the boat. If not, he would continue into the work he was called to do.

We can act just like the disciples some times. We can let embarrassment over what we have done, cause us to not be able to deal with the physical storms of this life. When we sin, and are to embarrassed to come back to God and confess it, we can allow the storms to get bigger and seem to have more power than they actually do.
We can let embarrassment over not doing what we know God wants from us, get in the way of talking with him. We didn’t say that one word, or act that one way, and because of that embarrassment, our communication with God is stifled. Then storms happen, and no matter how small they are, all of a sudden they seem enormous to us. And we keep fighting them in our own power and we just struggle.
But what happened when they called out to Jesus, even though they were scared that it might be a ghost? It reads like this, “Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down.”
All that struggle went away, when they overcame their embarrassment to let Jesus in. They returned their focus on their teacher. Were they completely back to where they when they first got back on that spiritual mountain top experience? No, they still had that hard heartedness, but they were on their way back to where Jesus wanted them. In the John’s Gospel account of this, it reads, “They were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading (John 6:21).”

We can allow our embarrassment to immediately take us out of the work God has for us. But when we allow God to come back in, he immediately takes us back and immediately puts us back on the his path.
And that’s what God wants from us, not to allow our mistakes to take us way from him, but rather to call out to him in instead of continuing in them. 

Jesus walks alongside us to let us know, that at anytime, we can call out, and he can get in the boat.

So today, as a challenge, I want you to write one embarrassment, one sin, one mistake that is causing or might cause you to fall back into fighting storms on your own. Something that you are struggling with, and that is keeping you from getting Jesus in the boat. Write in down, then call out to God to get in your boat. Then take that paper and throw it away. And walk away with the understanding that Jesus is walking next to you, and all you have to do is call out to him, and he will get in your boat.

Because if we read the final verses of chapter 6, we find out that the work of God awaited the disciples. And the work that God has for you is waiting for you. But remember, you can only get their by getting Jesus in the boat.

Now may God richly bless you as he brings you to where he wants you, as you ride together in the boat. Amen

Monday, May 28, 2018

Mark, Week 22 - Refreshed to Be Used

The winter time is extremely hectic. A million things need to be done, and all of them need to be done yesterday. When I was working solely with the youth, a lot of people assumed that my busiest time was during the winter. Which there was a lot to do during the winter, don’t get me wrong, but the busiest time, was actually during the summer. All of winter is to gear up for our summer activities. 1/2 Nighters, week long trips, making time to hang out with teens. At the height of our summer schedule, I usually spent about 110 hours with teens in one week. And that one week is stressful, and at the end of it, I don’t want to see another teen. And then the next day, I see them at church.
By the time August rolls around, I’m tired. That’s why we usually take our vacation afterwards. Which is a whole ‘nother type of stress.

So there are those stressful times, but then there are those wonderful replenishing times. You finally get to get away for the weekend, or you finally get sometime to yourself. You finally get to work on that hobby you’ve been waiting for. The pastor finally preaches a good sermon. And you feel like you can take on anything after that time of refreshment.

Personally, one of the best getaways should have been the most stressful for me. I had to finish up my ordination back in November, which meant a two hour plus interview. If I failed the interview, I wouldn’t have taken it well. But I passed, the kids were great, and the whole thing turned into a spiritual mountain top for me. I was replenished and came back full of energy.

That’s where we’re at in the Gospel of Mark today. We’re coming to a spiritual mountain top for the disciples. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to pick up from last week in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 6, starting in verse 30. 
And as you open your Bibles up, let’s recap from last week. Up to this point in the Gospel of Mark, we have seen Jesus’ first two phases of ministry. The first phase was Jesus displaying his authority. He spoke in a way that showed he had authority over the word of God. He healed people and calmed storms to show his authority over the physical realm. He cast out and silenced demons to show his authority over the the spiritual realm. All that to prove that he was God come to earth.
The second phase was preparing his disciples to go out in his authority and do the things he did. To preach, to teach, to heal, and to cast out demons. And then he sent them out. That’s Mark chapter 1 thru chapter 6 verse 13. 
Then last week we talked about the odd section of verses, that seemed to come out of nowhere. We went from Jesus and his disciples, to this king named Herod killing a prophet named John. And we discovered how the passage wasn't’ so out of place, but rather it was the Holy Spirit speaking through the writer Mark, to show us that there were people around Jesus’ time who were completely missing the point. And we asked the question are we missing the point today? Are we, like Herod, missing the person and the work of Jesus in our own lives? And I challenged you to go before God, and ask a simple question, what am I missing. I also gave you three areas that your could ask about: locally, nationally, and internationally. 

But this brings us to today and the return of the disciples to Jesus. Let’s pick this up in verse 30 of Mark chapter 6.

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 

Now I love this. The disciples come back to Jesus and they’re excited. They’re sharing with Jesus all that they have done. And Jesus’ reaction shows that he wants to hear all about it. He tells them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
And I can just picture this whole interaction.
“Jesus, Jesus we have all these things to tell you. John said this, and Peter healed that person, and Andrew, and Matthew and, and, and…”
And Jesus responds, “That’s great guys, let’s get out of this place, and you can tell me all about it.”

So they go off on a boat, headed for a place to just get away. But a nice quiet solitary place wasn’t a head of them. Let’s pick up in verse 33.

33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

Here’s the change of plans. Jesus wanted a little get away with his excited disciples, but that wasn’t to be. And I want us to recognize something here. Even though Jesus’ intention was to get away, the fact that those plans changed, did not interfere with his compassion towards the people. Something I haven’t mastered. And apparently at this point, neither had the disciples. They still wanted to tell Jesus about their trip. They wanted to tell him about all the amazing things that were done. They wanted some alone time with Jesus, without having the stress of dealing with the crowds.
And when their opportunity came to finally send the people away, they took it. And then Jesus turn the tables on them. He says this in verses 37,

37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

And here’s what would be going through my mind. “Us? Weren’t we supposed to take a little retreat? Weren’t we supposed to have a guys weekend? And now we’re just letting anyone come along?” And you can tell the frustration they have with Jesus, because this is how they respond.

They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

Oh no, did you see what just happened? Did you see what Jesus challenged them with, and how they responded? Did you see the connection with Herod in these two sentences? Listen to that again, “37 But he answered, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?’

For the past almost two years, Jesus had been showing the disciples miracle after miracle. In the last year, he had specifically called these twelve to be taught deeper things, so that they would go out in Jesus’ authority and do as he had done. They came back full of excitement about all that they had experienced. But when the stress of the work of God interfered with what they had planned. All of what they should have discovered was out the door. 
People need food, Jesus said you feed them. That’s a challenge. It’s almost like Jesus was saying, “Take what you learned and apply it here.” At that moment, all their spiritual victories evaporated. And their response was, “we’re not spending our money on these people.”

But this is us right? We have the tendency to do the same thing. We can have these spiritual mountain top experiences, where everything is possible, and then when we get back to our lives, things all of a sudden become too hard. It’s too hard to hear God, it’s to hard to know what he wants, I don’t have the resources, or the resources I do have, I don’t want to use.

But why? Why do we so easily fall into this mind set of not being able to respond as Jesus desires us to respond? 

Could it be that the disciples were so focused on spending time with Jesus, that they missed out on spending time with Jesus? Think about this. They got on the boat and spent at least a few hours crossing the lake with Jesus. Then they got out and God’s work called. So Jesus started to do what he came to do. But what about the disciples? They’re focus was on getting rid of the people. Why? So they could spend alone time with Jesus?

Now we might say, well they do need to spend time with Jesus. They need to be refreshed. And we might even say, Jeremiah, wasn’t it you who back in Mark chapter 1 verses 35-39, talked about how we need to have time alone with God.
And to that I say, yes, but the disciples did have time with God. They had time with Jesus in the boat. Did they want more? Yes! Did Jesus want more? Yes! Should we want more? Yes!But we need to learn something that the disciple missed. We need to learn to take the opportunities alone with Jesus both purposely and when they come along. Because God has work that needs to be done.
And this is how we can know if we are are not taking time to have these mini-refreshments with God: Jesus responded with compassion, while the disciples responded with contempt. Jesus ministered to the people, while the disciples looked to get rid of them.

And the result of the disciples inability to be refreshed by that small amount of time with Jesus, was that they missed an opportunity to participate in his work. And that can happen to us too. When we miss the mini-refreshment with Jesus, we miss the opportunity to participate in the work he is doing. When we get upset that our quiet time is disturbed are we upset that we missed out, or are we upset because we were interrupted? I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re more upset that we were interrupted.

This whole interaction ends like this starting in verse 38.
38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

God calls us to have solitary time with him. Why? So that we may be refreshed. But here’s the thing, sometimes God’s work comes calling and we have to be ready for it. How do we get ready? We take advantage of the mini-refreshments that come along. Why do we think that in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul says, “Pray continually.”?
We need to get to a point in our spiritual lives where we have both the intentional solitary time with God, where we can enjoy him without interruption, and be able to take advantage of the mini-refreshments that come along. Because if we make our uninterrupted time rigid, then when it does get interrupted by God’s work, we will miss out.

This is my challenge for you this week: Write down three places that have potential to be mini-refreshments. Driving in the car, taking a shower, right before a phone call. Whatever is in your life that has the potential to be a mini-refreshment. Then the next time you come to that potential, take it. 
Have this attitude: I want to be ready for the work God has for me today. Because who knows, God might call on you right after you read this, or when you leave your house, or when you go out to lunch. But you must be ready. Take advantage of the mini-refreshments that God brings into your life. And let’s start now. 

May God lead you into times of refreshment through out your day, so that you can be used for the work he has for you. Amen. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Mark, Week 21: “Well Actually…”

I don’t know if you have ever had this happen to you when you were raising kids, but this happened to me this past week. I got home around 6 or so on Thursday night. Around 7 is when our kids usually get ready for bed. You know, they brush their teeth, put on their pajamas, that sort of thing. Then they listen to a story, and around 7:30 it’s off to bed. During this time, if Marika is home and not to tired, she does the routine with them. This was one of those nights. So on those type of nights, I usually do something until she’s done and then we watch a movie,  or play a game, or something until we’re ready for bed.
Well on this night I was un-seaming some patches on a costume for our VBC this coming summer. So I’m working away and from the opposite side of the house, where everyone is getting ready I hear, “Well actually…” And it was in the sassy tone of a nine year old. So my ears perk up. The sentence I heard was, “Well actually I was cleaning my room.”
Now, when I’m doing mindless work, like ripping out a seam out, I can focus on more than one thing. And the conversation that proceeded this “well actually…” statement was this,
“I was in here first,” said the little blonde. “I need to go potty.”
“Elisabeth,” said the beautiful mother. “She was in there first, why are you going in there when she is trying to go to the bathroom?”
And it’s at this point where I heard, “Well actually…”
Now, if you have ever dealt with kids you know they’ll fight for no reason at all. Literally, they’ll have no idea why they themselves did what they did to start the fight, they simply just act.
But what was so interesting to me was the fact that my daughter defended her being in the bathroom, when she wasn’t supposed to be, with the reality that she was cleaning her room. What did cleaning her room have to do with being in the bathroom? Nothing. One had nothing to do with the other. Yet, for her, when confronted with the why, her focus changed from the situation at hand, to something more important for her.
See, from her perspective, she was cleaning her room, which her younger sister should have been doing as well. And since the older one did what she was supposed to do, she deserved the bathroom first. 
But for the adults in the conversation, her reason wasn’t expressed that way. Instead it came off as seeming to have nothing to do with the question that was proposed to her. “Why are you going in there,” was the question. “Because I was cleaning my room was the answer.” One did not seem to go with the other.

And this is where we come to our passage today, to an un-seemingly out of place story about Herod and John the Baptist. So if you have your Bibles, were going to be in the Gospel of Mark chapter 6 starting in verse 14. But before we get into Mark chapter 6 verse 14, let’s bring ourselves up to speed.

So we’re returning to our Gospel of Mark where we left off from last summer. Because this will become our summer routine. Every summer will go through a book of the Bible. When the winter starts, will go back to topical preaching, and when summer comes around, we’ll return to the book again, until we finish. Once we finish a book, we’ll start a new one.
We have already worked through 5 chapters in the book of Mark, and the first 13 verses of the 6th chapter. At this rate it will take us three to four summers to finish.

But as we return to the book of Mark chapter 6 verse 14, let’s bring us up to speed. From what we have gone through already, Mark gives us two phases of Jesus’ ministry in these first several chapters. The first phase was Jesus establishing himself as an itinerant preacher. Going from town to town preaching and teaching about the Kingdom of God coming. But not only was he preaching, he was gathering specific disciples to follow him. As a teacher, Jesus had confronted the established religious leaders of his day, the Pharisees, speaking with an authority that none of the people had ever heard. But Jesus didn’t only have authority over the words he spoke, but he was healing people from everyday diseases, to things such as paralysis and leprosy. This Jesus had authority of the physical realm. And it didn’t stop there; on top of these physical healings, Jesus was casting out demons that had possessed people’s bodies. This Jesus was unlike anyone the people had seem. His words had authority, his authority extended to the physical world, and not only to the physical realm, but his authority was also over the the spiritual realm as well.

Then, in Jesus’ second phase, He began to focus more on the training of his disciples. Preparing them to go out and share his message, the message that the kingdom of God was at hand. Then, for about a year, Jesus prepared them. Then, about six months into their training, it began to click. The disciples were beginning anticipating their teacher’s actions. And it was at that point that Jesus sent them out. He sent them out with nothing, so they would learn to trust God, just as Jesus had showed them to do.

And that’s were we come to our passage today. To this breather within the text, in Mark chapter 6 starting in verse 14, let’s read.

14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”
And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”
16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”
17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.
21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.
The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”
24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”
“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.
25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Now, does that have anything to do with what we have talked about? If you read from beginning to end of Mark, out of all the chapters, and verses that you read, these 16 verses are the most out of place of any of the other verses in the entire book. Because the next set of verses pick up with the return of the disciples. So these 16 verses between the sending of the 12 and the return of the 12, just seem to come out of nowhere.
When I first read this, my thought was, well maybe Mark is taking a breather? Maybe Mark wanted to let us know about John the Baptist, who was at the beginning of the story? Maybe Mark thought we would be interested in knowing how John died? Maybe Mark had a little bit of ADD, and rabbit trailed a bit?

And for the last fews months as I have read, and re-read this passage, I kept coming to the same question, “Why is this in here?” Because I don’t believe that God just allowed random thoughts or stories into his word. There has to be a purpose.
Well this week I returned to it again, and as I was working with the interns I read this passage and something hit me. It was from the first five words of verse 14, “King Herod heard about this…”

What did he hear about? Well everything that Jesus was doing. Herod heard about the authority Jesus had in his speaking. How Jesus stood up against the Pharisees. Herod heard about how Jesus was healing all these diseases and handicaps. Herod heard how Jesus was casting out demons from people. Herod heard it all.
But how did Herod respond?  Oh no, John’s back from the dead! John’s come back for me! John’s come to get his vengeance on me for killing him!
Herod’s response to the work of Jesus, was to completely miss the point. Instead of seeking out Jesus, Herod coward back. Instead of seeking the forgiveness for all the wickedness he had done, he dove deeper into it. Instead of seeking the one person he should have sought, Herod’s focus was on himself.

It is almost as if the Holy Spirit through Mark, was saying this: Jesus sent the twelve with his message, now, how are you going to respond? This is how Herod responded, are you going to do the same?
There’s a question here that Jesus himself will ask his disciples later on in chapter 8, and all of Mark is building to that question, so that we may be able to answer it. But here in chapter 6 Mark gives us the first answers to the question, Who do you say Jesus is?
In the second part of verse 14 it reads, “Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead…”
Verse 15 says, “Others said, “He is Elijah.”And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”
Verse 16 says, “But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”
Herod answered the question, “It’s John come back to get me!” And we can look at Herod and say, “What are you thinking! How can you get that it’s John, the guy’s name is Jesus! He’s been preaching since John was out in the wilderness.”
But Herod’s own sin and guilt blinded him to the truth. This is Jesus the healer. This is Jesus who has authority over the physical and spiritual realm. This is Jesus who has authority greater than the religious leaders. This isn’t John.
But Herod couldn’t see that.

And it’s almost as if God placed this right here in the Gospel of Mark for us to take an look at ourselves, and ask ourselves are we responding to who Jesus is, or are we so engrossed in our own sin, that we cannot distinguish him from someone else?
And this is what we tend to do right? We tend to focus on ourselves, and what we’re dealing with, rather than on Jesus and what he is doing.
We can do this in a lot of ways. We can focus on our sin, on alcohol, drugs, gossip, selfishness, pride, lust. We can focus on our job, our retirement, finances, homes, family. The list goes on and on. But when we focus more on those things, we can easily miss the work of God all around us. And miss answering the question of who is Jesus?
It’s that work of God, that we are supposed to focus on. It’s Jesus’ work that he calls us to. Whether it be accepting him as our Savior, because he died for our sins. He died to bring us out of guilt and shame. He died to give us a new and fulfilling life. Or whether it be for us who have already accepted him as our Savior, so that we would see what he is doing here in our town, or to the ends of the earth. God wants us to look up from our own self-focus, and start looking for who he is and where he is at work.

How can we do that? I can tell you what’s happening in our church. Physically we’d like to build a play structure for our kids. Spiritually, there are about 3,000 people in our town that do not attend any church. So they have either been hurt by a church in the past and don’t want anything to do with them now, or they don’t know Jesus. Either way, there needs to be a work of God through his people for healing, and salvation.
I can tell you about God’s work in our nation. There’s a church over in Watts, California that we have worked with. They have the opportunity to buy their building, but it’s over a million dollars, and they don’t have the money. But they’re the only church doing life changing work in that community, and if they lose their building, the community loses a light of God’s people.
I can tell you about the work of God going on all around the world. But none of what I say matters, if we are not listening to God and saying to him, how can I respond to you Father? How can I walk in the foot steps of Jesus? How can I be lead by the Holy Spirit?

It’s so easy to focus on ourselves, and let the work of God just pass us by. But that’s not what we have been called to. That’s not what we have been saved to. Jesus did not die, so that we could focus on ourselves. He died that we might be his workers, to be a part of the work he is doing.

This week my challenge to you is this. First, answer this question have you recognized who Jesus is? He’s he your Savior or not? If he is not, seek God in his word, come have a conversation with me, come and understand who Jesus is. If he is your Savior, seek God in three areas of his work: Local, that’s in our town. National, somewhere in our country. And international, that’s everywhere else. Seek God in all three, and ask him what he would have you do to be a part of his work. Maybe he wants you to become a prayer partner. Maybe he wants you to go and help out in the ministry. O maybe he wants you to help out financially. Ask God what he would have you do.

Let us not be like Herod, and at the hearing of the work of Jesus, turn to self-focus. But rather, let’s join God in his work, so that he receives the glory that he is deserving. 

Now may God bring you to him, that you may know his work, and glorify him in it. Amen.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Mark, Week 20: Be Prepared to Trust

The best thing about vacation is that for a few days, or weeks, all of the troubles of everyday life seem to melt away. At least that’s what we want right? We want to be able to not worry about the things back home, because we just want to relax. We want to just enjoy not having responsibilities, or people needing something from us. But there can be those nagging thoughts in our minds about forgetting to do something. And we get these questions that can fill our mind, and we don’t relax the way we should. You know those thoughts: did I leave the iron on. Did I lock all the doors? Is there enough food for the animals? And the list and questions go on and on and on in our mind.

I don’t know about you, but that’s why when we leave for a vacation, or leave for over night trips, that we painstakingly prepare. We go through lists of what needs to be done. And we rack our minds to make sure everything that needs to be done is done. And when you’re fully prepared, the weight of worry seems to be lifted from your shoulders, and the trip does what it is supposed to do, relax you. And that feeling is wonderful.

But here’s the thing, that’s not how God necessarily works, and we’re going to see that today. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be in Mark chapter 6 starting in verse 7.

Now we’re coming to a stopping point in the book of Mark. All summer we have been working through Mark. In fact this is our 20th week. And now because Mark takes a bit of a break in it’s progression, it’s the perfect time for us to do it as well. Instead, starting the first Sunday of December, we will begin our walk towards Christmas. And then after that we’ll be jumping fully into the last aspect the vision that God has given us here at the Alliance Church. The life aspect.

But as we get into Mark chapter 6 verse 7, we’re coming to the end of the second phase of Jesus’ ministry. The first phase was Jesus teaching and showing who he was to the general public. The second phase was Jesus starting the preparation of his disciples to participate in his ministry. And that’s where we are, Jesus is about to send his twelve closest disciples off on their own for the first time. Jesus has taught them to be good soil, and they have seen what it means to be hard packed against God, what it means to be shallow in your faith, and what it means to be choked by the things of this world.
They have seen Jesus’ power in healing people, and how he has dealt with demons. They have seen that in order for them to grow in their faith, they have to take this next step of sharing. They have seen Jesus do small things, and enormous things.

Now they have to take everything that Jesus has taught them and put it into practice. No longer are they to be in the background, it’s time for them to do as Jesus does.

So let’s pick up with Jesus’ final command to them before he releases them to the work of the Kingdom. 

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Now, because we’re not going to have our sermon discussion tonight, I want to break this passage down a little more than we normally would.

Let’s paint the picture of what’s going on. In the middle of Jesus’ teaching ministry, he calls the twelve closest disciples and pairs them off with each other. Who went with who, we don’t know and it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that they went two by two. But why doe Jesus do this? Well, Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves…” So Jesus sends them off two-by-two for protection and support. Simple as that.

The text goes on to say that Jesus, “gave them authority over impure spirits.” Jesus is extending his authority to this disciples. This same authority that caused the spirits to be in fear of Jesus, is now extended to his disciples in their work. 

Next Jesus gives them pretty specific instructions. And if you want to see a more detailed account of these instructions, they can also be found in Matthew 10, and Luke 9. But these instructions are important because of the context of Mark. Now think about this, everything we are about to see here, all comes out of what Mark is trying to help us understand about Jesus. About how Jesus interacts with humanity and how we are to respond to God. We are to be good soil, we are to be sharers of God’s word, we are to be reliant on God to grow his word in people. All this is proceeding Jesus’ instructions here. If we fail to see the connecting tissue, we will not grasp the whole of where Jesus is coming from in his direction here.

Starting in verse 8 Jesus gives a list of things to bring and things not to bring on the disciple’s journey. Let’s list them and them analyze them. The first thing Jesus says is to bring a staff. These were usually a self-defense tool. Kind of like today, we carry knives, or conceal carry a firearm. The staff was to fight off bandits and help you hike over difficult ground. This staff goes back to the two by two, that we just talked about. The disciples were to protect each other on this journey. 
But then Jesus lists three things not to bring. No bread, no bag, no money. So what do each of these mean? The bread, the bag, and money are all closely related. The bag was a traveler’s bag, which held provisions for trips. It’s where the bread was stored. If Jesus were to say, don’t bring bread, the disciples might have thought this was a fasting trip. But Jesus couples the bread with the traveler’s bag and with money. Meaning that Jesus wanted them to rely on God for their provision. They were going out with no food, the bread; no supplies, the bag; and no way to get these things on their own, the money. This wasn’t a fasting trip, but a faith trip. They had to rely on God for their provision.

So Jesus is telling his disciples to protect and support each other, but do this by trusting in God. You might have to defend yourselves on the road, but God is the supplier of everything you need. It’s almost as if Jesus is giving them a little comfort by having human support in the way of another person and a staff, but the goal is that they would learn to rely on God for everything. 

Jesus goes on in verse 9 to add one more thing to what not bring, and one more thing to the bring. Jesus says to wear sandals, but to not bring an extra shirt.

Now the shirt is easy. Most travels took an extra shirt when they journeyed, so if they couldn’t find an place to stay for the night, they wouldn’t freeze to death sleeping outside. So Jesus is telling them to again trust God for provision. In this case the provision of housing for the night.
But what about the sandals? And I have to say, I probably spent more time asking this question than I probably needed too. But it seemed so out of the the blue. I mean, take a stick for protection, okay got it. Don’t take certain things to rely on God, okay, got it. But then Jesus says, take sandals. And my question is, wouldn’t that be apparent? Wouldn’t wearing sandals be an obvious thing?

So I began questioning this command of Jesus. And I have to tell you, there isn’t much on the footwear of the common Jewish person circa first century Israel. Out of the four pieces of information that I did find, only one seems to fit within the context of Jesus’ command to wear sandals. At least two times in Scripture footwear is connected with captivity or being a fugitive. David fleeing from his son Absalom in 2 Samuel 15:30, tell us he did so barefoot. In Isaiah 20:2, Isaiah is commanded by God to walk barefoot, as a symbol of the Assyrian’s eminent capture of Israel.

So is Jesus making the point that they are free? That they are not captives to this world and not to worry, because God is taking care of them? Or am I reading to much into it, and Jesus is just stating the obvious, and saying, don’t forget your shoes, like a parent reminds their child?

See, way to much thought on this small part.

But Jesus goes on to tell them how to treat the the town and houses they will come to. If a house accepts them, they are to stay there. If a town rejects their message, then they are to leave there, shaking off the dust from their feet as a sign that the town has chosen to reject the gospel and God.

And then Mark tells us that the disciples went out, and did what Jesus had shown them to do. They preached that people should repent. They cast out demons, with the authority that Jesus had extend to them, and they healed many people.

This was all done, because they did as Jesus commanded them. They followed his instructions. They took what they were supposed to, and left behind the things they were not. And they trusted God for everything.

And here is where it comes to us. Preparation is key to victory. Jesus prepared his disciples for a year. Day in and day out Jesus taught them what they needed to know. Jesus showed them what they needed to see. The disciples saw how Jesus’ teaching worked in the lives of the people he encountered. And when it came time for them to go out on their own, they trusted Jesus’ commands on what to bring and what not to bring. And they were successful.

But here’s the thing, all the preparation that Jesus did with his disciples, all hinged on one thing in the end, trust. Did the disciples trust Jesus? Sure the message was good, and the ability to do amazing works of casting out demons and healing people was miraculous. But none of it was possible, without their trust in Jesus.

The disciples could have easily went out and took bread, the supply bag, and money. They could have take another shirt with them just in case. But they didn’t. All that they had experienced with Jesus: the calming of the storm, the healing of the demon possessed man, the healing of the woman, and bringing the little girl back to life, all of it taught them that the greatest teaching of Christ that they needed to implement in their lives was that they could trust Jesus.
It wasn’t the casting out demons, the preaching, and the healing of people, they needed to learn. It was simply trusting that Jesus wasn’t leading them the wrong way.

And that’s the same for us today. The greatest obstacle that we face in our lives, is not demonic forces, social upheaval, or the unknown of the future, it is simply do we trust Jesus or not?

Do I trust Jesus with my soul? Do I trust Jesus with this nation? Do I trust Jesus with my children, spouse, parents, job and the list goes on and on. Or do I not. Because it’s trust in Jesus that will take us through the hardships that are to come. It is trust in Jesus that will be needed as we look for the provisions we need in our lives.

So the question today is can you trust Jesus or not? It’s our tendency to worry about what is out there and we try to prepare for every problem that might come up. Just like we worry about making everything perfect before we leave on a trip.

Now, we should have the preparation, Jesus prepared his disciples, but in the end, what are we trusting in? It is the preparation, or the God who has prepared us?

My challenge for you this week is simple, I want to invite you to take something. Go and grab an old sandal. And then write on it this verse from Isaiah 52:12, “But you don’t have to be in a hurry. You’re not running from anybody! God is leading you out of here, and the God of Israel is also your rear guard.”

My challenge is to take that sandal, put it up somewhere you see as you leave your home, and every time you see it, ask God to help you trust him as you face the day that is before you. Let us be the people who are prepared to meet the day, but who are also God’s people who trust solely in him.
Now may God help you to trust in him for all that you are in need of, so that he becomes everything you need. Amen.