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.

Mark, Week 28 - Learning to Ask Questions that Need Answering

A few weeks back my family went up to participate in the first big family reunion that I’ve ever been a part of. I saw cousins I hadn’t seen since I was about seven and I met several family members that I had never met before. And got to spend a good amount of time with my immediate family as well. The whole get together was for my great Aunt who I met for the first time, when I picked her up in L.A. to take her up to my parent’s house. 
All-in-all it was a good time, and when there was a little family drama, I wasn’t around. But that’s the big stigma that family reunions have, right? When you get a bunch of people together, there’s bound to be some hurt feelings that come up. Some words that are shared that bring up pain and sores that haven’t been healed. But, from what I hear, that is common for some families and I was happy to not have to deal with it in my own family.
But there are a lot of reasons why that type of conflict happens, not just in our family lives, but in our work lives, in our down time, and any time we have contact with other human beings.  Abuse, neglect, hurt feelings of having your sibling treated better than you were. But a lot of conflict comes from miscommunication that happens in our lives, because two people viewing a situation, view it in two different ways.
Two people come to a situation where they both see something and interpret it through the lens of their current understanding. Sometimes both people have an equal conclusion that can be made, and sometimes one person is right and one person is wrong. And the quicker we’re able to work through this miscommunication, the quicker we become wiser for future moments when communication falters.
That’s where we find ourselves today in the book of Mark. A moment where communication fails, because the parties involved are looking at a situation from two different points of view. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be in the book of Mark, chapter 9, starting in verse 2.
Now, as we jump into Make 9 verse 2, let’s catch ourselves back up to where we are currently. Because I’ve been off for a month and have forgot things, so I know we need a refresher.

All we really need to be reminded of, is what happened in the several verses prior to where we’re at today. In theses previous verses, Jesus proposed a question to his disciples, “Who do you say I am.” We talked about how this question had three ramifications when we answer, as the disciples did, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior: The first was that people have to come to answer this question on their own. We can’t make people answer this question the way we want them to. We share who God is and what he has done for them, and we live it out in our own lives, but we can’t make them answer that question the way we would want them to. The second ramification was that God’s answer to a question might be different than our own. This ramification is one that we need to remember for today, because we’ll see how this is at the heart of what happens next. Finally, the last ramification was that everything we have or own is Jesus’. When we accept Jesus as Savior, every aspect of our lives become his, and we will spend the rest of our lives, giving him what he already owns of us.

Now in the last passage that we covered in chapter 8, where Jesus asked this question of his disciples, and Peter answered it correctly, we also saw something that Peter did that wasn’t right. When Jesus began to teach them about the suffering and death that he would have to go through, Peter rebuked him. That means that Peter told Jesus that Jesus' idea of Savior was wrong. Peter did that because he had it in his head that Jesus was there to overthrow the Roman government and set himself up as king. Which in turn gave us that second and third ramification. And Jesus’ counter rebuke of Peter, because God’s ideas are usually different than ours and everything we have is his. And Jesus was pointing this out to Peter. 
So as we move into today’s passage, we will see that a bit of Peter’s idea of Jesus being a Savior that would overthrow the Romans is still in his head, even when he has this fantastic experience.

Let’s dive into chapter 9 of the book of Mark, starting in verse 2.

2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.
11 And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”
12 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? 13 But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.”

Within this passage there are several things that we have seen before, the three men Jesus took with him to experience this event is one. We saw Jesus previously take these three men with him when he raised the little girl from the dead. Then there’s the voice from heaven, speaking in a similar way as we saw in Jesus’ baptism, way back at the beginning of Mark. But something has changed in the last two plus years that Peter has been with Jesus and we see how one event has led to another.
We begin this passage about a week after Peter makes his confession about Jesus being the Savior. Peter has had a week to process the ramifications, his rebuke of Jesus and the counter rebuke that Jesus had for him. As Peter is processing all of this, he is asked to go up a mountain with Jesus. Mountains are notorious places to encounter God, in fact the two men that meet with Jesus, Elijah and Moses, both had encounters with God on mountains.
Now, as their on the mountain top, something amazing happens. Jesus is transfigured, meaning a transformation, or a metamorphosis occurred. The idea behind this word is not simply that Jesus’ clothes were changed, but that his very nature had changed, or in reality, it had been revealed. We can look back and see that what Peter and the other disciples were seeing, was in fact who Jesus truly was. God come down to earth. They were seeing Jesus as Jesus truly was.
Then as this transfiguration was occurring, two more people of great note within Jewish history arrive, and in some way, which we’er not told, their names are revealed. Just the fact that these two are speaking directly to God, in and of itself, shows us who God is. And the relationship he has with his people. But then we get an interruption in verse 5, where Peter says this, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
I can just see Peter dictating this story to Mark, and Mark responding with, why would you say that to Jesus? And Peter telling him, I didn’t know what else to say. Hence the reason why we get the little commentary by Mark in verse 6, “(He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)”

Now, there are several things that we can see from what Peter says that give us a clue into Peter’s mindset about Jesus. See, even though Jesus had taught Peter that he would have to suffer and die and even though Jesus had to rebuke Peter because of Peter’s focus on Jesus having to build an earthly kingdom. We see that Peter still has yet to grasp who Jesus is really is.
Look at the title Peter addresses Jesus with, Rabbi. Lord would be a more fitting title in the circumstance since Peter is see Jesus in his divine glory. And we know that Lord would take the place of Rabbi, in Peter’s mind, after Jesus’ rose from the grace. Then look at the action Peter wants to take, putting up three shelters. These three shelters are three monuments to the three people that he is seeing. As the Hebrew people had done throughout their history to honor people. But by  wanting to make three shelters, Peter was putting Jesus on the same level of Elijah and Moses, even though Jesus has clearly shown he is greater than both. 
The mindset that we see from Peter here, is the same mindset he had back when he rebuked Jesus. Even though Peter correctly answered Jesus’ question about who he is, the idea of Savior Peter had, was not the correct one. But instead of Jesus rebuking Peter for a second time, we’re told that a voice came from a cloud speaks.
Now the first time we read of a voice like this speaking, it was way back in chapter 1 at Jesus’ baptism. The voice had spoken directly to Jesus, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” 
Now we have that same voice speaking, but this time it’s not directed towards Jesus, but the disciples. Here’s what it says, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
In that one sentence the disciples get revelation. It is revealed to them that this truly is the Son of God. No more room for doubting that. And then they get both a command and a rebuke wrapped up in one, “Listen to him!”
In response to Peter trying to make Jesus into who he thinks he should be, his line of thinking is rebuked. “Listen to him!” In other words, don’t trust your own ideas about God, listen and apply what God himself says.

I like how after this, “Listen to him!”, rebuke and command, they are left with only themselves and Jesus. As if to say, you only need Jesus and nothing else.
But, does this sink into the disciple’s head? Apparently not, because instead of asking Jesus about the transfiguration of himself and pursuing deeper things about who Jesus is, they ask about Elijah. Now, I don’t want to give them to much gruff for this, but really, they didn’t have a better question?

But notice something in Jesus’ response to the question about Elijah. “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?

Jesus is still trying to refocus on the more pressing matter. The matter of Jesus’ suffering and death. Why? Because they still haven’t accepted that Jesus is that Savior. They still, even after a week of reflection and then after the whole transfigure event, still are not asking the right questions to get to the deeper things of God.

And we have this same tendency as well. We have our own idea of God, or a pressing situation in our life, and we tend to look to God to answer the question we have. The question that is weighing on our mind. And instead of getting to the deeper things of God, we get stuck spinning our wheels in the same trenches, and wondering why we’re not feeling, or hearing from God. And the reason is simple, we’re asking the wrong questions, and focusing in the wrong areas.
Whereas God wants us to ask the questions that get us closer to him. God wants us to pursue him in a way that reveals his transforming work in our lives.
What’s interesting about the term transfiguration here in Mark and the other Gospels that have this event, is the fact that the same word is used in 2 Corinthians 3:18 where Paul writes, “18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

In order for us to experience the continual transforming work of Jesus in our own lives, we must begin to seek the things that God wants us to seek after. To ask the questions that God desires us to us.
What does that look like? Instead of asking, “Why am I going through this suffering?”, we can ask, “God, how can I show people who you are through suffering?” Instead of asking God to give me more money, we can ask, “How can I trust God more as I wait for his provision?”

We tend to seek after God by focusing on our own situation, and looking for answers to the questions we have. But what if, what if instead started looking for the questions that God wants to answer in our lives, the answers that will not only be more beneficial for us in the long run, but will also bring him more glory, so that others may know him?

This week my challenge to you is simple, what question are you asking of God right now that focus’ more on you, than on bringing him glory? Are you asking God for some physical need? What if your asking turns from taking you away from it, to allowing God to use it? 
One question, that’s what I am asking of you to seek God for. One question that moves your eyes off of yourself, and onto him.

And when we begin to do this, we will see greater transformation in our lives, and we will stand on the mountain with God having a conversation about the deeper things of him.

Now may God lead you into the questions that draw you closer to him. Amen.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Mark, Week 27 - Who Do You Say I am

Questions are some of the most common ways we learn, right? That’s why teacher’s say, there’s never a stupid question. I like to add to that, just stupid people that don’t ask their questions. But we use questions all the time to get information from people. We ask kids, what do you want to be when you grow up? Men tend to ask the person they want to marry, would you marry me? When we don’t know what to say in a conversation, we ask, how about this weather?
Questions are a great way to not only get general information, but to discover new insights about people. Why do people feel the way they do? What makes a person tick? How did they come to that conclusion? Who has influenced their life? Where are they going? And I would say that asking a question of someone is just as important as someone simply giving a monologue about who they are. In a monologue, there’s a lot of questions answered, but there’s no back and forth, no, dialogue, no spontaneity. But with people asking question of each other, two people can have the opportunity to discover new things, not just about someone else, but about themselves as well.

And that’s where we come to the Gospel of Mark today, to a place of questions. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be in the Gospel of Mark chapter 8, starting in verse 27.

And as we jump into Mark 8:27, let’s take a review of what we’ve talked about so far. And in this review, we have to tackle the entire seven and a half chapters that we’ve gone through since the beginning of this Mark series.
In the first six chapters, we saw two phases of Jesus’ ministry. The first phase was Jesus revealing his authority. This authority was shown in three ways: through Jesus’ command over the Word of God, his command over the physical realm by stopping storms and  healing people, and finally his command over the spiritual realm when he would cast out demons and forgive sins. This entire first phase shows us that Jesus is God come down to earth.
In Jesus’ second phase of ministry, we see him begin to focus on the preparation of his disciples for the ministry. We see Jesus become more intentional about making sure his disciples know deeper things about his teachings. He gets them to start actively participating in his work, and when they start to anticipate his actions, he sends them off on their first short term ministry journey. 
Then, we move into a third phase, which begins with the story of Herod. In this third phase, we see three groups of people who miss the point of Jesus. This is what we talked about last week. Herod missed the point of Jesus because he was focused on his sin. The Pharisees missed Jesus because they were focused on convoluting the commands of God. And the disciples were missing Jesus, because they got a taste of what he offered, but were stuck in that same spot. 
And through all of this, Mark has been preparing us for what happens in the passage today. So let’s get into Mark chapter 8 starting in verse 27.

8:27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
9:1 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

Jesus poses two questions to the disciples, “Who do people say I am,” and “…what about you?”
From the questions Jesus proposes, there are three ramifications that we see in the following verses.

The first question is actually where we started back into Mark at the beginning of this summer. In fact, the answer that the disciples give to Jesus, parallels the responses we heard back in chapter 6 with Herod. When Jesus sent out the disciples earlier, people were saying that  Jesus was either John back from the dead, Elijah returned from heaven, or a new prophet from God. And for the last few weeks since their return, these same identities for Jesus had continued.
That’s when Jesus moved from the general public, to specifically who the disciples thought he was. I find this really interesting that it takes Jesus over two years for him to ask the disciples this question. That means that in all this time, Jesus had let the disciples watch, and listen and come to their own conclusion about who Jesus is. Jesus never told them point blank who he was, but rather allowed them to discover that truth on their own.
This is the first ramification from this question. And a huge point with how people come to know Jesus as their Savior. People have to come to an understanding of who Jesus is on their own. On their own in the sense that we never convince anyone that Jesus is the Savior. We present the evidence and they have to make a decision based on that evidence. Even Jesus didn’t make any of his disciples believe, instead he had them watch and listen, and come to the conclusion that he was the Savior, on their own.

But it doesn’t stop there. When Peter makes this proclamation that Jesus is the Savior, Jesus moves on to start telling the disciples that he will have to suffer and die. Now, up to this point, Jesus hasn’t explicitly stated that he was going to suffer and die. He has given allusion to it, like he did in the parable of the Bridegroom back in chapter 2. But this is the first time that he has outright stated that he will have to suffer and die.
But Peter doesn’t like that Jesus is saying he will die. Now there might be a lot of reasons why Peter is so upset. It could be that Peter does care for Jesus and doesn’t want to see him die. It could be that Peter doesn’t want to see the last few years of his life wasted. But I think it’s actually for another reason. And that reason comes from Jesus’ follow up.
Jesus responds to Peter by saying,“You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

But Jesus isn’t just responding to Peter’s rebuke, he’s responding to all of the disciples. It says, “But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter.”

Peter was the spokesman for the group, but the whole group had the same mind set. And this is the second ramification of Jesus’ question: God’s purpose for an event, might be different than our understanding.
It’s really easy for us to come to an understanding about God, but is it the full understanding of what God intended? The disciple’s understanding of Jesus as Savior, was very different than Jesus’. The disciples viewed Jesus as a conquering king, that would overthrow the Roman government, and restore Israel to a great and powerful nation. But they had missed something. They had missed God’s plan, which was first the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. They had an idea in their head of what God meant, but that’s not what he intended.
So, when Jesus started giving them God’s plan, they rebuffed him. They denied the actual work of God, for their idea. But we must conform to God’s plan, and not try to change it to our own.

Now we come to the final ramification from Jesus’ question. Jesus calls the crowd and his disciples together and begins to let them know what it really means for someone to believe that Jesus is Savior. Jesus tells them that if a person wants to follow him, they must deny their life. They must lose their life to Jesus. They must give up everything to follow him. Nothing is off the table when it comes to what Jesus requires of us. And we must realize it, if we want to call him Savior.
Our friends, family, relationships, money, time, future, assets; all of it is given up to Jesus. And all of it must be lost to gain our lives. This is the final ramification from Jesus’ question: Everything we have is Jesus’, when we say he is Savior. It’s a tall order, and a huge command from Jesus. To call him Savior, means he gets everything. 
But this is what it comes down to, we tend to think that our insights into God are complete. But the reality is there’s alway something we can learn. From Jesus’ one question, who do you say I am? The disciples learned that they had to come to the understanding that Jesus is Savior on their own. That their understanding of Jesus as Savior wasn’t his, and that everything they had was to be given up for Jesus.

We must realize the same things. That there’s more to God than what we know. That he is more complex, and desires more from us. But at the same time, God brings us along having us watch and learn from him, just like Jesus dealt with his disciples. 

This is why God’s word is so important for us. We have an unprecedented privilege of having God’s Word for personal use. We are in a position that almost no other period in history had. And it’s within his word that we can discover new and deeper things about him. Things that should challenge us to move beyond where we are. To think beyond our own thoughts, and to give up more of ourselves, so that we can gain more of God.

This week, as we’re coming to the end of the first half of Mark and to another breathing point within the text, I challenge you to take six common passages that you might have read several, if not hundreds of times. These are: Genesis 1-2, Exodus 3, 1 Samuel 17, John 15, Hebrews 11, and Revelation 22. Take these six passages, one every day for the next week, and ask God to do three things in your life.
First, to bring you into a new understanding of him.
Second, to change an old understanding and make it richer.
Third, to help you give up more of yourself, for more of him.

Because this is what it means to call Jesus Savior, it means to move beyond ourselves and into deeper relationship with him. 

I pray that God will discloses new and wonderful things to you, as you encounter the ramifications of what it means to respond to Jesus’ question, by calling him Savior. Amen.

Mark, Week 26 - The Second Encounter

I love this story I heard about seven or eight years ago. There was this guy named Zane who was a snowboarded, surfer type dude, who went through a lot of terrible things, and eventually realized his need for Jesus and accepted him as his Savior. Later on, Zane started to work in a ministry with kids. One little boy took Zane’s skateboard one day, and flipped it over so the wheels were pointing up. The little boy sat down in the middle of the skateboard and started spinning the wheels. The kid loved it, laughing hysterically at how he could make the wheels spin faster and faster. Zane laugh at the sight, and then asked the little boy, “Hey, do you want to see what that board’s meant to do?” The little boy gave an excited yes. So Zane flipped the board back onto the wheels, put the little boy on top, and began to pull him around. The boy loved it, laughing harder than he had before. The boy’s first encounter with the skateboard, was an amazing experience, but when he got to see the full potential of the skateboard, it was an even better experience. 

And that’s the type of situation we’re coming to today in the Gospel of Mark chapter 7, starting in verse 31. A place where the first encounter is great, but the second is better. So if you have your Bibles you can open two Mark chapter 7 verse 31. And as you open your Bibles up, let’s do a quick recap, of the last several weeks in a very simple way. We have seen three groups of Jewish people who have all missed the point of who Jesus is. There was Herod the king who was so focused on his own sin, he missed Jesus completely. There was the disciples, who were struggling with inner problems, and that led them to miss out on being refreshed by Jesus. And then there was the Pharisees, the teacher’s of God’s commands, who they themselves, missed the wonderful simplicity of those commands.
Then last week we came to a woman, who wasn’t a Jew, but who had a breakthrough. This was a person who, unlike the other three groups, shouldn’t have recognized who Jesus was, but she did. She recognized his power, his love, and why he was there. And because of that, we saw a breakthrough that Mark had been keeping back, as we trudged through the unbelief of a king, the disciples, and the teachers.

Now as we come to today’s passage, I want to prepare you; we are going to cover four stories, over the course of 33 verses. Now, we won’t have time to read every verse, so I encourage you to go home and read through these stories on your own. But the reason that we’re going to approach this section like this, is because I have been struggling with the point of these passages in the overarching movement of the Gospel of Mark.
See, one of the things that I mentioned at the beginning of this series last summer, was the fact that we were going to follow the flow of the Gospel. To see how each part interacts with the next to create a picture of who Jesus is.
Because of this, these stories that we’ll see today have bookends, with the point of the section in the middle. So instead of reading through the passages like we usually do, I am going to read to you a couple of verses from each section. Then we’ll talk briefly about each, and then we’ll see how they flow together at the end.

Starting in chapter 7, let’s drop down to verse 32, “There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.
33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, ‘Ephphatha!(A-fa-th-a)’ (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.”

Here’s a simple story about a group of people that had a deaf and mute man among them, so they bring him to Jesus to have him healed. Jesus heals him, and then he tells him not to tell anyone. A pretty standard story in the book of Mark up to this point.

Let’s move on to verse 1 of chapter 8, “During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, 2 ‘I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. 3 If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.’”

This is the second of two mass feedings we see in the Gospel of Mark, which plays out similarly to the first. A couple of exceptions are, the number of people, the first had 5,00, this one has 4,000, and the amount of food gathered up. Another exception is what happens at the end, instead of sending the disciples away, the Pharisees come to challenge Jesus to give them a miraculous sign.

Let’s skip down to after Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees, which picks up in verse 15 of chapter 8, “‘Be careful,’ Jesus warned them. ‘Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.’
16 They discussed this with one another and said, ‘It is because we have no bread.’
17 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?’”

Here, Jesus gives his disciples a warning about becoming like the Pharisees or like king Herod. But they don’t understand, and Jesus makes a point of that.

Finally let’s look at verse 23, “23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?’
24 He looked up and said, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around.’
25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”

So, how does it all fit together? Let’s begin grabbing each puzzle piece and showing the connections. Since we started back up in the book of Mark several weeks ago, we have seen three groups of people who missed the point of Jesus. King Herod missed who Jesus was because of he was to focused on himself after the murder he committed against John the Baptist. Then the disciples missed a time of refreshment with Jesus, because they were to focused on a specific destination, and allowed the little interruptions of this life to take their refreshment. Finally, the Pharisees missed the point of Jesus, because they were so focused on convoluting the commands of God, that they missed the God who gave the commands. We have reiterated these points again and again over the last several weeks, because it’s all building on each other.

All this comes after the disciples were sent out by Jesus to do everything that Jesus had been doing. And as we look at the overarching story of Mark, we can see from the excerpts we just read, these three groups are brought up again. In verse 8 it reads, “‘Be careful,’ Jesus warned them. ‘Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.’”

Right there we have Herod, the disciples, and the Pharisees. All three addressed in a single sentence, in which Jesus is warning his disciples to not be like the other two. In the interaction we see the disciples miss the point of what Jesus is saying, and instead begin to talk about how they have no bread. To which Jesus responds with, “‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?’”

Think about some of the questions Jesus has just proposed to his disciples: “Do you still not see or understand?…Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?”

And these are the question that the Holy Spirit is trying to make through Mark’s writing to us. This entire first half of Mark’s Gospel has introduced us to Jesus. We’re introduced early on to the fact that Jesus has authority over the physical and spiritual realms. That Jesus is not just a man, but is God come down to earth. We are introduced to his disciples; twelve men that he is investing the future of the Gospel message to. And when that message goes out, we see some of the results. Herod and the Pharisees miss it completely, while the disciples are missing the next step. 

And now we get to this point where Jesus asks the disciples if they have eyes why can’t they see? If they ears, why can’t they hear? And these question are nestled in-between two healings that deal with these very ideas of lacking the ability to hear, and the ability to see.

In verses 32-35 of chapter 7 we saw Jesus touching a man’s tongue and ears so that his hearing and speech would be restored. Then at the other end, in chapter 8 verses 23-25, we see Jesus touching the man’s eyes to give him sight. In both cases there’s two parts to the healing: Jesus touches the tongue, and the ears, one two; Jesus touches the eyes twice. 

We should ask the question why? Why are these particular stories arranged this way, is there a point to it? Because we have seen Jesus heal with out needing a physical presence to do so, so why does he touch every part of these men that need healing? Why does he touch the tongue, the ears, and the eyes twice?

Could it be for this reason: Each of us needs a touch from Jesus. We first need a spiritual revolution in us so that we may receive salvation. We are lost to Jesus because of our sin, those rebellious acts that we do, when we want things our way, and not God’s. Those things we do, that causes destruction, rather than life. Those things that we do that break the commands of God.

So each of us needs a touch by Jesus, but a lot of the time, we stop with our first encounter with him. We can be like Herod, hearing about Jesus, but not understanding him at all. And we walk away from Jesus still stuck in our sin, not knowing anything further. Or we can be like the Pharisees, stuck in our misunderstanding of trying to be good enough for God. Making his commands more complicated than they should be, and missing meeting the God who gave the commands. Or we can be like disciples, who are stuck in the first step with Jesus. We have said the prayer, we have moved ourselves to safe box, where we get to go to heaven, and where we’re saved from hell. 

In all three cases, we are missing the next step, the full touch of God, so that we can have ears that hear, mouths that speak, and eyes that see. We position ourselves in our first encounter with Jesus, and feel comfortable in it, but that’s not where Jesus wants us. 
Do we think that the man that couldn’t speak would be happy with being partially able to talk? Do we think that he would have been happy with being partially able to hear? Do we think the man who couldn’t see, would be happy being partially able to see? Yes they would have been happy. But would it be the fullness of those things? No. So why are we happy just taking the first step with Jesus? Why are we satisfied with where we are?
God desires us to be in the fullness of who we are through being in the fullness of who he is. Only when we come into the fullness of Jesus’ healing, can we realize what we have been missing.

See, we tend to be satisfied with the our first encounter with Jesus, whether that means we want nothing to do with him, turn him into who we think he should be, or we just like the knowledge that we’re safe from hell. We tend to have this encounter and be satisfied with that. But that’s because we have a lack experience, and anything is better than nothing. We’re like that little boy on the upside down skateboard. Just happy with what we have, but it’s because we don’t realize what we could have with Jesus. But there is so much more; so much more that God has for us. The question is, do we desire the next step? Do we desire to enter into the fullness of God, or are we going to be satisfied with just a first encounter? Just spinning our wheels?

This week my challenge for you is this, read the entirety of the passages we touched on today. And do so with this prayer in your mind: God I want your fullness. I want the full encounter with you. Bring me into your fullness.
Read these passages every day, and every day, make this your prayer. God wants each of us to move beyond where we are. Beyond just spinning our wheels, and into the second encounter. 

        Now may God bless you as you seek the next step in your relationship with him. Amen

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