Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Mark, Week 31 - The Want List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Mark, Week 30 - Prestige or Pruning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starting in verse 42 Jesus says, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Mark, Week 29 - Desperate Prayers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.