Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Mark, Week 41 - What Do We Do With Jesus?

For some of you history buffs out there, the name Hiroo Onoda might ring a bell to you. If the name doesn’t spark in your mind, then his story might. Hiroo was a Japanese man who died in 2014 at the age of 91. In World War 2 he was a young intelligence lieutenant stationed on Lubang Island near in the Philippines.
He was given one order, to conduct guerrilla warfare and not to die. So for twenty-nine years, Hiroo carried out his orders. With three other soldiers by his side, Hiroo conducted attacks on the local population killing about 30 people. Attempts by search parties and leaflet drops were made to stop Hiroo, but he chalked them up to America ploys.
Finally in 1974, Hiroo’s former commanding officer was flown in to rescind his original orders.
Hiroo was a man who fought with everything he had. For almost three decades he followed his orders. Even when all the world had moved on, even trying to bring Hiroo along with them, he still did what he signed up for.
Hiroo believed he was still in a war, and for almost 30 years, nothing could change his mind.

That’s where we come to the last chapter of the Gospel of Mark today, a place where what we believe is called into question.

Now, this is the last chapter. There’s no more from the hand of Mark as he listens to Peter speak about Jesus. And to understand everything so far, let’s take a step back and get a snapshot of what we are supposed to walk away with.

From chapters one thru four, Mark focused heavily on who Jesus was. He was a person who held authority over God’s Word, and both the physical and spiritual realms. Again and again, through these chapters, we see that Jesus is no mere man, but God come who entered our world.
Then in chapters four through eight, we saw Jesus’ focus shift from teaching to great crowds, to purposefully building up his disciples to take over from him. Culminating in Jesus’ question to Peter, “Who do you say I am?” When Peter answers, “The Messiah,” Jesus’ agains shifts his focus, this time to the cross.
And from chapters eight through fourteen, Jesus works with his disciples and their lack of understanding and faith. It’s a two steps forward, one step back type of situation. 
Finally, at the end of chapter fourteen and into fifteen, Jesus is arrested, tried, and crucified.
Mark’s Gospel is a journey for us to take, to see what we will do with Jesus. We start out with Jesus, learning about him as the disciples did. We experience their victories, but as soon as we do, we begin to see their defeats. And with every moment of movement closer to understanding Jesus, there’s a new revelation about him, that challenges the way we think. We are to walk this journey with the disciples as they discover who Jesus is. And we are challenge, just as the disciples were, to be prepared for a time when our faith will be rocked. Jesus tells us to be on our guard. Then the moment of trial comes, and we are faced with the question, do we still believe? When Jesus is ripped away from us, do we still believe? Or have we become like the disciples who left Jesus?

It’s at this point we come to Mark’s final chapter. Let’s read starting in verse 1.

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.
12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.
14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.
15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Now, in most Bibles you’ll see that there is a break between verse 8 and 9. It’s says something like this, “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.”
That means that as we discover older and older manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark, the older manuscripts don’t have verses 9-20. Now, if the earliest manuscripts didn’t have verses 9-20, then why do we keep them in? 
Are they unbiblical? Well, no, we see similar words and actions by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, and the book of Acts.
Should we cut them out? Well, they have been a part of translations of thousands of years, and are consistent with biblical teaching, so we don’t. But we are made aware by the translators that it could be that the Gospel of Mark ends at verse 8.

Here’s my thoughts, if God desired that these words not be put in, it would have been a simple process for him to keep them out. So we’re going to approach this by including all 20 verses. But, no matter if we stop at verse 8 or at verse 20, the point of Mark is the same.

In verses 1-8, we pick up from Jesus being laid in the tomb. Mark doesn’t give us the details about the guards, or the conspiracies that surrounded Jesus’ missing body that are talked about in the other Gospels. Instead, all we’re told is that a handful of woman showed up to perform the proper Jewish burial rituals, but find that Jesus is gone.
Instead of Jesus, the women find a man, an angel, in a white robe, and he tells them that Jesus has gone to Galilee. The man also tells them to tell all the disciples, singling out Peter, that Jesus is on his way.
And what do the women do? What any sane person would. They run off and they keep their mouths shut.
Now if we end here, there’s some interesting things: First, we get no final dialogue from Jesus, no final words to close on from him. We just end with the angel’s words that the women need to tell the other disciples that Jesus has risen. Secondly, Peter is specifically called out for restoration. The angel’s words are meant to let all the disciples know that Jesus is desiring to meet with them. With Peter being assured that Jesus wants to meet with him as well.  The thirds interesting things, is that the Gospel would then end on a choice. What do the women do next? Mark is sharing, do there as to be more to the story about what happens after the close of the Gospel.
If we end here, we could come away with the question looming over our heads, “What would you do if Jesus rose from the dead? Would you keep quiet, or would you go tell?”

A good cliff hanger to end on. This type of ending brings us back to the question that Mark has been trying to have us answer. The question that Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” With Mark’s cliffhanger, we’re asked the same question in a slightly different way. The question becomes more of, “What are you going to do with Jesus?”
Are you going to follow Jesus, or are you going to reject him?

Yet, we know there’s more to the story. And whether we just haven’t found the older manuscript with this ending, or it was a way for the early Church to remind people that Jesus sent his disciples to spread the Gospel, it gives us a little more insight into what that more is.

From these we see that the women eventually did share with the disciples that Jesus had raised from the dead, but, in what has become their regular routine, the eleven disciples didn’t believe. 
If fact, we’re told twice that they didn’t believe. And when Jesus eventually does show up, he rebukes them. Chastising them for not believing. But really, what else did Jesus expect? They haven’t really been believing Jesus since they had their spiritual high back at the end of chapter five. Their still living in past victories.
This passage ends with Jesus sending the disciples out, in his authority, and them actually doing it.

So, with this ending we get a more happy ending, and who doesn’t like a happy ending? The women believe, the disciples believe, and everyone’s out there fighting the good fight.

So, as we finish up the Gospel of Mark after forty-one weeks, and around a 100,000 words said, what do we walk away from this whole experience with? Well, I wish I could be a better preacher, a better teacher, a better expositor of God’s Word, but you know what, I only get one thing.
And that’s, it’s hard to believe. No matter if we end at verse 8, or verse 20, I see the same people struggling to believe. The women struggled to believe that Jesus had risen. The eleven struggled to believe that Jesus had risen. And if I’m honest with myself, there have been times when I find myself just like these disciples.

Now that’s probably not something that you want to hear. A pastor struggles with Jesus’ resurrection? And the reality is yes, there have been times when I have. 
Even though I know the arguments, even though I know the evidence, there’s that voice that says, “Did he really?’

And it’s easy to not believe, because people don’t seem to raise from the dead that often. In fact, I’ve done a few funerals, and not one of those people has came back to life yet.

But Mark leaves us on that idea, it’s easy to not believe. What’s hard is to trust and follow Jesus. After 16 chapters, we end with this, it’s easy to not believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and it’s hard to trust and follow him.
Yet, that’s what God calls us to do. To believe, to trust, to accept his word on the subject, and to move forward. To go out and be a part of his work. To share with others, what Jesus has done. To draw ever closer to him when the good and the bad happen.

There are some amazing things Mark tells us about Jesus. Things that, even in our day, people don’t do. I’ve seen a magician try to walk on water, to with he did, but as he said, with the help of about a dozen people. I have seen great people speak and open Gods’ Word to me in new and different ways, but they always point me back to Jesus, who was greater at it.
And we are called to believe this Jesus, who we have never met in the flesh, like these disciples did, and it can be hard to believe it.
When are physical things of this life, poverty, stock market crashes, being laid off from work, people dying. With all those things, we are called to believe this Jesus. Mark is calling us to believe this Jesus, and even those who were with him have trouble doing it, just like me. It’s easy to not believe. 
And when I do step out in trust of Jesus, I find that it is hard. It is hard to trust, when I see people suffer. It is hard to trust, when I see the struggles. It’s hard to trust, when everything around me says don’t.
But it’s when I trust, when I move past my unbelief that I find it all makes sense. And the closer I cling to God, the more clear the picture becomes. And everything Mark is asking me to believe in, falls into place.

So the natural question then is, where are you? Where are you in your relationship with Jesus? Have you started? Have you accept Jesus’ work on your behalf? Have you recognized your sin, and your need for God to save you? Each of us has to come to a place where we recognize that we are fall short of God’s goodness, because it’s only at that place that we are ready to believe what Jesus has done for us to bring us into God’s goodness. Not by anything we have done, but because of everything he has done for us. If you haven’t accepted Jesus as your Savior, now is the time to take inventory of what you have done, the perfection that God requires, and the work of Jesus on your behalf. Then all that is needed to receive God’s gift of salvation is to accept it and to follow.
If you have accepted Jesus as you Savior where are you now? Are you doubting? Are you disbelieving? Are you at a high point, or a low point in your relationship? Are you active with God in his work? Or are you taking a break?
At the end of Mark we are all challenged to evaluate our relationship with Jesus. To ask, am I moving closer to him, or further away?

My challenge for you this week is to answer this question, “Where am I in my relationship with God?” And be honest. If you have no relationship, I challenge you to seek the truth. Learn the arguments for and against God. Challenge your thinking of who he is.
If you have accepted Jesus, then where are you now? Is he just a roommate in your life, or is he the Lord of it? Are you working for him, or trying to get him to work for you.

Let us be honest with where we are, because if we’re not, how can we move on from Mark, when we’re not willing to answer it’s most important question, “Who do we say Jesus is?” 
Now may the Father who sent the Son to die for us, empower you by the Spirit to move ever closer to him in relationship. Amen.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Thanksgiving Through the Words of the Presidents.

 "As we have grown and prospered in material things, so also should we progress in moral and spiritual things. We are a God-fearing people who should set ourselves against evil and strive for righteousness in living, and observing the Golden Rule we should from our abundance help and serve those less fortunately placed. We should bow in gratitude to God for His many favors.”

President Calvin Coolidge said these words in 1925. 

In the proceeding year, President Coolidge was the first president to have his inauguration broadcast over the radio. 

In that  year, the first public demonstration of what would become TV happened.
Famous people like the baseball player Yogi Berra, civil rights activist Malcom X, and first lady Barbara Bush were born. 

The world had come out of the war to end all wars only a few years prior.

The world was changing, the pace of life was hurrying along at speeds no one could imagine.

Companies like the Chrysler Cooperation were founded.

And the first weekly broadcast of the Grand Old Opry began.

So many things were looking up for America when Coolidge gave his Thanksgiving proclamation. 

Yet, in only a few years the stock market crashed, proceeding the Great Depression. 
From there, another Word War engulfed our nation.

Did Coolidge’s words about bowing in gratitude to God for his many favors no longer ring true? Because the United States was in a time of desperation, was it then that we retract our giving thanks?

Two Presidents later, then sitting president FDR said this in 1942:
  "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord." Across the uncertain ways of space and time our hearts echo those words, for the days are with us again when, at the gathering of the harvest, we solemnly express our dependence upon Almighty God.
The final months of this year, now almost spent, find our Republic and the Nations joined with it waging a battle on many fronts for the preservation of liberty.
In giving thanks for the greatest harvest in the history of our Nation, we who plant and reap can well resolve that in the year to come we will do all in our power to pass that milestone; for by our labors in the fields we can share some part of the sacrifice with our brothers and sons who wear the uniform of the United States.
It is fitting that we recall now the reverent words of George Washington, "Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy Protection," and that every American in his own way lift his voice to heaven."

Tomorrow is a very America holiday. Not because it’s a feast, other countries and people’s have feasts. No, Thanksgiving has always rested, not on the best of times, but understanding the best we have even in the worst of times. 

From the pilgrims who almost lost their lives, making a home in a new land. To President Lincoln, at the hight of the civil war declaring a national day of Thanksgiving.

It’s recognizing that there is a God in heaven who cares for his creation. So much so, that even when his creation rebels against him, he still desires the best for them. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of the strife, pain and sorrow in this world comes from our own actions. Our own actions that put us at the center, and so, cause a lot of problems. We want things our way, we are doing, what God calls sin. And because of that sin, we are separated from God and the blessing of a full relationship with him. Not just in this life, but also in the life to come. A separation that isn’t merely by location, but in full knowledge that all the peace, the joy, the acceptance, and love we ever felt will be gone. And we will be living a second death. But God loves and cares for us too much to leave us to that fate, so he sends Jesus to die on a cross. That death was to pay for the consequence of our sin. Jesus died for our rebellion. And when he was raised to new life, everlasting life was now available to anyone who would accept his offer. And when we accept what Jesus has done for us, we can return to the blessings he has for us. Which start now and go into eternity.

If you have never accepted Jesus’ work on your behalf, to bring you out of sin’s death and into eternal life, don’t let another Thanksgiving meal pass you by without Jesus. Tonight, if you haven't accepted Jesus as your Savior, I want to talk with you after our time here, about what that means. 

Thanksgiving can too easily focus on what we have done, but the heart of it is what God has done for us. 

If we can recapture this understanding of Thanksgiving, the storms of life will never topple us, because we will not be found in our own strength, but in the strength of the God who loves us.

Before we pray, I want to leave you with these words, from the great philosopher and theologian Charlie Brown, “What if, today, we were grateful for everything?”

Let’s pray the words of Thomas Jefferson,

“Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people, the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those whom in Thy name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Mark, Week 40 - Kids Will Be Kids

My son is all boy. He loves being outside playing in the dirt. He has designed and redesigned our backyard several times. He loves working along side anyone who is building anything. He loves to cut down tree limbs, go shooting, and run around. He can get pretty crazy at times, bouncing off the walls as if he was Tigger from the Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. 
At one point my wife asked my mom, “Was Jeremiah like this?” “Oh yes,” she said. “Probably worse.” 
Apparently, when I was younger, I was a terror. I remember doing some pretty bad things, that if I did them today, would’ve made me an internet sensation, or haunted me ’til my grave. I remember climbing trees, building forts, riding my bike all day long, getting muddy, and never thinking should I slow down? I never asked the philosophical question, is this who I am?
I just remember being a boy. And when kids do something, that’s what we say right, “Kids will be kids.” When a child sticks something in their mouth, when a baby vomits on your new shirt, or when a kid breaks their arm for the fifth time, we just say, “kids will be kids.”
We recognize that it’s a part of who a kid is, to have all that energy and run around until they crash. 
So, we take our kids to the play ground and tell them to run; run until they can’t run anymore. And then as they sleep in the car, we very quietly unbuckle them and take them to their rooms.
Because that’s what kids do, they run until they can’t and then you have to move them, or else they’ll just sleep in the car. And apparently, my wife informed me, you just can’t leave them over night, by themselves in a car. Go figure. 
But with the fun side of kids being kids, there’s also those times when we have to correct them. Disciplining them to correct some unwanted attitude, action, or disposition that is not acceptable. Who hasn’t had to deal with a look, a word, or an action from a child that wasn’t acceptable and had to be corrected? Whether through a verbal correction, a time out, or a swift swat on the butt. But that too is a kid being a kid. They learn, they grow, and they need to be molded in a way that glorifies God.

And it’s with this understanding that “kids will be kids” that we come to Mark chapter 15 verse 16. A place where we must understand that the idea of “kids will be kids,” is a rule that can be applied in other places of life.

As we get into verse 16 of Mark chapter 15, let’s take a look at what we talked about last week. Last week we saw the turmoil in Jesus’ judges’ life. We saw how the world around Pilate played into his decision to crucify Jesus. With his protection from the Emperor being taken away, he had to tread a little more carefully when dealing with the Jewish people. And we talked about how we too can easily do the same thing. We can allow the world around us to influence us greater than God. When we allow the circumstances, media, investments, and relationships to dictate what we think or do, we can lose sight of the work of God right in front of our faces. Yet it’s only when we are shaped by God that we see the work of God in greater ways. It’s only when we allow him to transform our minds, that we experience him the way he intends us to.

That brings us to where we’re at in the book of Mark today. Jesus has been sentenced to crucifixion, and now we’ll see that play itself out. Let’s pick up this event in verse 16 of chapter 15 in the book of Mark.

16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium {Pre-u-tor-e-um}) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

This is the first of three sections we’re going to cover today. We’re coving these three sections, because since we started the book of Mark, we’ve been trying to see how the book flows together. 

Here we see the soldiers who, like Pilate, don’t really like the Jews that much, and who take great pleasure in their duties of mutilating and humiliating Jesus. Even though Mark doesn’t get into the gory details, we know from the other gospel accounts, that these soldiers used a whip with nine strands of leather that had at it’s ends, glass, pottery, and other sharp objects.
But Mark doesn’t give us those details, because as he is writing down Peter’s words, we are meant to focus on the person of Jesus, and the mocking of the soldiers.
The soldiers mockingly place royal status symbols onto Jesus. A robe with purple dye was extremely rare and expensive. That’s why only royalty or nobility would wear it. In fact, it was the color of the Roman Emperor himself. And so the soldiers cover Jesus in the robe, mocking his kingship.
The soldiers add to the robe, the crown of thorns. The crown again representing the mockery of the kingship of Jesus, but this time a painful mockery being dug into his head. The thorns that came up from the ground because of Adam’s sin, now mockingly crown creation’s Maker.
The mock praise from the soldiers, and the physical assault follow. All this mocking, just the pre-show to what happens next. Let’s pick up the text starting in verse 21.

21 A certain man from Cyrene (Ci-ri-nay), Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.
25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews.
27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. [28] 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

In this section, we see the mocking move from the Gentile, non-Jewish soldiers, to a group of Jewish people, and their religious leaders.
They mocked Jesus’ words from chapter 13, where Jesus’ disciples looked at the grandness of what the Jewish nation had built, but Jesus told them to not look at the grandness of this world, but be on guard for the work of God, because all of it will fall. 
They mocked Jesus’ words of forgiveness that he spoke in chapter 2, when he told a man that he was forgiven of sin, and the religious leaders balked at him, because only God can forgive sins. But they didn’t realize that God was in their midsts.
They mocked the revelation that Peter said about Jesus; that Jesus was the Messiah, the prophesied Savior of the world. Jesus told Peter that the revelation of Jesus being the Messiah did not come from human understanding, but came from a revealing by God himself.
They mocked Jesus’ miracles, requiring just one more from him, before they would believe. The paralyzed man, the 5,000+ fed, the walking on water, the demon’s cast out, the little girl raised from the dead, none of it mattered to them. They wanted one more, before they would believe.

The mock praise of the Jewish community continues into verse 33.

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

More mocking, this time at Jesus’ distress. As the sins of humanity weighed on him, the words from the crowd twisted Jesus’ cry, and they mocked him for it.
Then, with Jesus’ last painful cry, the mocking stopped. The need for a separation between God and humanity stopped, hence the torn curtain in the temple.
And there stood one man, a Gentile, who recognized just who it was that was crucified before him. The Son of God, ridiculed and mocked, lifeless on the Roman’s greatest symbol of disgrace.

Jesus’ death and this man’s revelation leads us into our final section.

42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

Jesus’ scorn didn’t stop at the cross. Being that it was so close to the Sabbath, there wasn’t enough time to prepare a proper burial for Jesus. So he was quickly wrapped in linens and buried. We find out later that the women we have been reading about came after the Sabbath to properly anoint Jesus’ body.
But for now, the Messiah was laid in a tomb not purposefully prepared for him by his family. Laid in a tomb without any of the proper preparation for the deceased.

Through these verses, again and again we see the mockery and scorn shown to Jesus. First by the people we would expect it from. The Roman soldiers have no love for the Jews. This Jesus is just another Jew, being prepared for the slaughter. Who was he to them? Nothing. And so, he was treated with no respect, no dignity.
Then, Jesus was mocked by his own people. Those people that he once told a Gentile woman, were children, compared to the dogs which were the Gentiles. Who was Jesus to the Jews? Just another failed Messianic figure. 
Then, Jesus was scorned even in death. Not given the proper burial for a Jew, though Jospeh tried to give him something.

This mocking usually enrages me. How could the people mock Jesus? Look at all he had done. All the miracles. All the revolutionary teachings. All the lives changed. Yet, he is mocked.
Even today. Look at what Jesus has given to this world. A greater sense of morality. A sense of freedom, and equality. It’s because of Jesus, that we have the United States, with it’s concept of divine rights, and equality of humanity. Yet, Jesus is mocked even now. And it usually enrages me.
But as I read these passages, I realized something, it’s par for the course. The mocking of God is the M.O. of humanity. We have mocked and scorned God from the garden, to the ark, to Egypt, to David’s kingdom, to the Exile, to the cross, and to today. Humanity mocks God no matter what he does.
And I am not immune to it. I have mocked God in the past as well. Through my thoughts, through my words, I have been a part of humanity’s mocking.

But why does it enrage me? Why am I surprised when the world around me mocks the God who created it? Really, it shouldn’t surprise me that the world mocks Jesus. It shouldn’t surprise me that the world mocks God. I mean, Paul wrote about it in his letter to the Roman Church, “29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy (1:29-31).” 

No, the mocking of Jesus shouldn’t surprise me, kids will be kids after all, and the los twill be the lost. What should surprise me is my enragement towards it. I mean, Jesus didn’t get enraged by the mocking. In fact, we read in another Gospel account, he actually says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).”
This world mocks Jesus, because they are lost. They mock Jesus, because they have no love for him. They mock Jesus, because they need just one more miracle to believe. And in my enragement I succumb to my own mocking of Jesus. Not by overt words, or actions, but because I am not following my Lord in the way he has called me. I am not loving those that are lost. I am not looking for the one sheep that’s not with the flock. Instead, I am mad at people living in darkness, when they know no other way.
I mock Jesus, by not being the light I am called to be. By not being the salt I am called to be. By not being the one who loves my fellow believers, so that this world may know that Jesus wasn’t just a blip on history’s radar, but he is the God of Creation.

When people mock God, we too easily fall into the trap of getting upset. But God calls us to a greater place. A place of graceful love, of love that sees past the mockery, and to the lostness of humanity. But this can only happen through our reliance of the Holy Spirit to work through us.
What we need to remember is, just like kids will be kids, the lost will be the lost. It’s no excuse, but it’s the reality. Kids are kids, because they don’t know any other way. The lost are in the same situation. They do, because they do not know what else to do. So we can be enraged, but how far will that get us with children? Wouldn’t that cause a divide between us and our kids?
How far will that get us with those who are lost? Wouldn’t it cause the same divide? Let us not be enraged by the lost when they act lost, mocking God, but rather, let us remember that children act the way they do, because they do not know any better, and so do those who don’t know God.

This brings us to our challenge this week. I’m sure there will be someone in the coming days in the media, or a neighbor, or a family member that will mock God. My challenge to you this week, is to pray for them. Turn away from rage, and realize they are lost, and they don’t know what they are doing. Use the mockery, as an opportunity to go to God in prayer for that person, that God would not hold their mockery against them, but rather would work in their lives to bring them to repentance.
Then, if given the opportunity and without being in rage against them, press into God for the words to say, that would bring that person to eternal life. Out of their lostness and mockery, and to God. 

Let us not fall into the trap of mocking Jesus ourselves, by becoming enraged by those who are lost in their mockery, but rather, let us be people who’s hearts break for their eternal destination. 

May God give you the strength to speak as Jesus speaks, so the people around you may know God and be with him in eternity. Amen

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Presence of God (Answering Three Questions Series)

We have covered two topics that came out of the question I ask several weeks ago, “Why do or do you not accept Jesus as your Savior?” The first topic we covered was, God is unrealistic and contradictory. We tackled this topic by exploring astronomy and the evidence that the universe has for being created, and not just randomly occurring. We also looked at the Bible and the contradictory passages; seeing that, in reality, the passages are not contradictory, but rather we just don’t understand the literary style in which they were written.
Then last week we talked about the question, why do bad things happen? And we focused on the heart of the issue, us. Too often we looked to God and blame him for the bad things, but in reality, bad things happen because of the evil that we create for ourselves, and in turn, create in other people’s lives. And if we would actually follow God, that evil would decrease.

This week we’re going to now focus on the last topic that was brought up: God doesn’t seem to be there.

Now, I’m going to give you the reason why, we don’t feel the presence of God from two Christians. And then, I want to share with you the reason you might not be experiencing the presence of God.

In the Screwtape letters that we listened to a few weeks ago, C.S. Lewis used Screwtape to answer the statement, God doesn't’ seem to be there, this way: “Now it may surprise you to learn that in his efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, he relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of his special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. the reason is this. to us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the enemy demands of men is quite a different thing. one must face the fact that all the talk about his love for men, and his service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. he really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of himself — creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like his own, not because he has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to his. We want cattle who can finally become food; he wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, he wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; he is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which our father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the enemy wants a world full of beings united to him but still distinct. and that is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the enemy does not make more use of his power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree he chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the irresistible and the indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of his scheme for- bids him to use. Merely to override a human will (as his felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For his ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little over-riding at the beginning. he will set them off with communications of his presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But he never allows this state of affairs to last long. sooner or later he withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. he leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs — to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature he wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away his hand; and if only the will to walk is really there he is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys (Screwtape Letters, Letter 8).”

In C.S. Lewis’ explanation, there are times when we can’t feel God’s presence, because God himself has taken it away from us, so that we would continue to rely on him. That means that even though I might not feel the presence of God, God wants me to still trust that he is there. Which in turn strengthens my relationship with him, which pleases God all the more.

The second answer, I want to share with you, is from the book Why does God Allow Evil, written by Clay Jones, Pastor Jeff’s brother. In his book, Professor Jones writes, “If God wants us to be significantly free (know the king of freedom we possess now), then God can’t make His presence too apparent; He can’t make His presence too “saturated.” His presence in the world is not smothering, like an overbearing parent. He is not an ever-present “helicopter God” (philosophers call this epistemic distance or divine hiddenness). This is sos because if God’s existence were at every moment absolutely unmistakable, then many people would abstain from desires that they might otherwise indulge…In other words, if Christianity were unmistakably true, then people would have less free will and they would be compelled to feign loyalty (page 111-112).”

That means that God would be like a cop that hung around all the time. When people drive down the road and see a police car, they automatically slow down, so as to not get pulled over. We don’t do bad things when we could get in trouble. Not because we don’t want to do those bad things, but rather, because we don’t want the punishment. So God does not make his presence fully realized to us. Because if he idd, they there’s a good possibility that we would follow him just so we wouldn’t get in trouble, not because we truly wanted to.

Now those are two theological reasons why we don’t experience the presence of God. But do you know the real reason we don’t experience him? It’s because most of us, don’t really want the presence of God in our lives. To be in the presence of God means to hurt, like you never have hurt before. Because it means loving people that hate and hurt you. It means being put into positions where you will experience the pain that we inflict on God. It means that your life might experience a call to literally die for God. And in the suffering know who God is, because his presence is found not in the ease of life, but in the pain. And not just the fleeting pain of a moment, but the pain of looking past our our struggles and into the lives of the struggles of the people around us.

What we want when we talk about experiencing God’s presences, is an emotional high from singing some songs. Or we want the loud voice and big movements of God. But in reality, the greatest experience of God, is when all around us is pain, and we have given fully into the work of God, and it’s there that we find him. Because that is where he is, that is where he calls us into; moving beyond what we need and speaking God’s word into the pain and suffering of others.

Why did the prophet Daniel experience God? Because he went into the lions den. Why did the prophet Jeremiah experience God? Because he saw the destruction of Jerusalem. Why did Peter experience God? Because he was beaten for speaking about Jesus. We may get hints of the presence of God, but to really experience him, means to move beyond ourselves, immersing ourselves in his word, and his work.
But we don’t want that, because that is hard. It takes time, effort, and giving up what we want for what he wants. And so, if we’re not ready to move beyond ourselves, then we’re not ready to experience the presence of God, and we’ll always say, “God doesn’t seem to be there.” And the reason is because we’re too focused on ourselves to see him.

See the Psalmist got it write when he wrote, “7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, 'Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you (Psalm 139:7-12).”

God is not there, not because he really isn’t there. No, it’s because we’re not really wanting it. We’re not willing to give up ourselves to him, and therefore not willing to experiencing his presence, even though it is all around us.

So how do we get to that point? How do we get to the point of Moses at the burning bush? We dive into God’s Word. We have God change our minds from what we believe, to what he says. We stop focusing on ourselves and begin to focus on him. And we start to love, like he loves, and not like we are right now. That means we have to forgive the unforgivable, and be taken into places where the pain will be deeper than we have ever experienced before.

My question to you tonight is simple, do you really want the presence of God. If the answer is yes, be prepared to lose everything you think you know, for a greater understanding of yourself and the world around you. If the answer is no, then I will say one simple thing to you: you’ll never know yourself or this world in the way you were created to and that means you’ll always be searching for something more.

What is you answer?

Mark, Week 39 - Being Shaped

Anyone know what sound a frog makes? Yes, ribbit. Did you know that word ribbit was made popular through the TV show Gilligan's’ Island? Anyone ever use the phrase, “sorry about that”? Did you know it became a popular phrase because of the TV show Get Smart? Anyone know where the phrase Cowabunga comes from? It’s from the show, Howdy Doody, as a faux Indian language.
It’s a strange realization of just how much we incorporate TV, movies, and social media  into our lives. You know it really doesn’t matter anymore if you live in Los Angles, or rural Oklahoma, with media, you can be influenced to talk the same, act the same, even think the same.
I don’t know about you, but growing up I had a few times when I would say something and one of my parents would look at me and say, “When’d you start saying that?” To which I would just shrug my shoulders, “I don’t know.”
TV, movies, and now social media can shape us in ways, that we don’t even realize when it’s doing it.

That’s where we come to the Gospel of Mark chapter 15 verse 1 today. A place where we can see how the world around a person can effect who that person is.

As we jump into Mark chapter 15 verse 1, we need to know only one thing. Jesus had upset enough religious leaders, that they decided to arrest and kill him.
For the roughly three years of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus had a lot of encounters with the Jewish religious leadership. In all the cases that we have, Jesus responded in a way that challenge and, sometimes, even humiliated those leaders. Not only did Jesus challenge their authority and knowledge of the Scriptures, he also challenged their whole way of viewing God. Claiming to be God himself, Jesus forced them into a situation where the leaders either had to take drastic action to kill him, or submit to him as their God.
Which brings us to where we are in the text. Jesus has forced the religious leaders into a corner, and now they’re making their choice. And as we read last week, they’ve arrested Jesus and are now putting him through illegitimate trials.

Let’s begin reading in verse 1 of chapter 15, in the Gospel of Mark.

1 Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.
2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”
5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.
6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.
9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
13 “Crucify him!” they shouted.
14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

In the other Gospels accounts of the trial process, we also see the trials that the Jewish leadership puts Jesus through. We see the back and forth of Pilate and Herod, as they decide who has jurisdiction over Jesus. But as Mark is writing from Peter’s perspective, we get right into the final trial of Jesus.
And it’s in this trial that we meet Pilate. Now he is a man that is of interest.
From historical notes, what we know of Pilate is very little. What we do know is that, he was an equestrian knight from the clan of Samnite; an Italian group that fought against and with the Romans for centuries, and who lived in the souther mountainous area of Italy. On behalf of the Prefect of the Roman Emperor’s house, Pilate was made Perfect and Governor over the Judaea area.
Yet, Pilate had disdain for the Jews, provoking them on several occasions that ended in riots. Pilate would send images of the Emperor into the cities as an act of worship. He would mint coins that had pagan images, so as to offend the Jews. And when uprisings occurred because of his actions, he swiftly squashed it.

But then something happened that was out of the control of Pilate. In about 31AD, the man that got Pilate his post, was arrested and executed for treason against the Emperor. For years, Pilate was able to do as he sought fit, because he had someone at the side of the Emperor easing any problems that the ruler might have with his governor. But now, that security was taken from Pilate, and his position had become vulnerable.
So when Jesus was brought to Pilate, the governor now had a problem on his hands. In the past, Pilate probably wouldn’t have batted an eye at the religious leader’s request. He would have let Jesus go and be done with it. But now, Pilate had to tread more lightly.
In fact,  we can see this inner turmoil in Pilate’s decision making process through the Gospels. In Luke’s account we see the back and forth of Pilate sending Jesus to Herod, and by doing so, ducking the responsibility (Luke 23:7).
In Matthew’s account we see that Pilate’s wife adds to the turmoil by telling her husband to have nothing to do with Jesus (Matthew 27:19).
But it’s in John’s Gospel that the internal turmoil is voiced by Pilate. Listen to this exchange between the two men (John 18:33-38a).

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate…

As Pilate struggles with the decision, trying to find a way out of this situation, he falls back into his philosophical teachings. The Greek philosopher Plato once asked the question, “What is truth.” And now in the midst of the turmoil of what to do, Pilate asks the same question of Jesus.
Here’s a man caught in a situation and doesn’t know what to do. The world around him has shaped him. He was brought through the ranks by his military knowledge. He was appointed to his position because of friend in the Emperor’s court. Pilate had himself provoked the Jews on many occasions. But then his ace in the hole, his protection against the Emperor’s disdain, was no longer there, and Pilate’s very life was now in jeopardy. And the Jews knew it, so they bring Pilate a situation that sends Pilate into a crisis. And he’s struggling with what to do, even asking a deep philosophical question, what is the truth?
Yet through it all, truth is standing right in front of him. Jesus, the truth that the world needs, stand before Pilate, but Pilate cannot see it, because the crisis and circumstances around him are too great. 
So what does Pilate do? He releases a murder, and sends an innocent man to his death. 

There are several things we can take away from Pilate’s situation, but the one that I believe God is leading us towards today, is this: We, just like Pilate, too often allow the world around us to dictate what we should do.
Pilate allowed his job, his position, his self preservation to dictate what he needed up doing. Even though Pilate knew he was sending an innocent man to his death, what was that to Pilate’s own self-preservation? What was Jesus’ life, compared to the position that Pilate held? Sure, this innocent man Jesus would die, but Pilate would go on as governor, as the judge over other people. Maybe Pilate was able to justify it to himself. “Sure one innocent man may die, but I’ll be able to save many more.”
But the turmoil remained, “What is the truth?” And then the decision carried out, the innocent to death, while the convicted go free.

Yes, this was the plan of God, that the Son would be sent to earth, to live a perfect life, die an unjustified death, and then raise to new life, so that anyone who puts their trust in Jesus as their Savior would be brought out of death’s and sins clutches to be with God forever.

But the fact remains, that Pilate allowed the world to dictate his actions for him, and we too often do the same. We allow are family to be more of an influence that Jesus. We take the advice of TV personalities, and politicians over that of God’s word. We invest our time and money for the betterment of lives in this world, rather than for souls in eternity. Our language, our habits, our thoughts, and the list goes on, are all being affected by the world around us, and yet God is calling us to truth. He is calling us to his truth, that we would be people of his Word. Having it cut into us, that we would be transformed by it.
Transformed in how we respond to our family, neighbors and friends. Transformed in how we take advice, seeking out godly people to direct us. Transformed in how we use the resources God has given us, whether that be time, possessions, or finances. The easy way is to allow the world to dictate how we think and act; yet God has called us to his path. The harder, yet more rewarding way.
And even though we may mess up, as Pilate did, as we continue to seek God and his glory, the Holy Spirit works everything for the good. 

This brings us to our challenge for the week. What in our lives is being dictated by the world and not by God? Are we harboring anger and un-forgiveness because of something a friend, co-worker, family member, or neighbor did to us? The world wants us to continue in un-forgiveness, because it’s the easy way, but God calls us to forgiveness, his way.
Are we seeking the advice of astrological charts, TV personalities, self-help books? The world wants us to continue seeking advice from these sources because it takes us from the truth the Creator has set down, and God wants us to seek him in these things.
Are we seeking to create for ourselves a legacy in this world, through our time, possessions, and finances? Even though God says it will all be wiped away? God wants us to use our resources to further his kingdom, and leave a legacy of harvested souls.

The challenge is to seek God in one area of your life that is currently being influenced by the world, and to ask him to transform it. To have the Holy Spirit take, what the world wants to use for it’s glory, and to transform for God’s glory.

So that we can be the people God called us and saved us to be. A people that does not let the world shape us, but through us, God will shape the world. And we can answer Pilate’s questions of “What is truth?” with Jesus. 

Now may we be shaped as God sees fit, and not by the world. Amen

Monday, November 5, 2018

Our Role in the Bad Things That Happen (Answering Three Questions Series)

The Pursuit of Happiness Movie Clip:

If you haven’t seen the the movie Pursuit of Happiness you really should. In it, Will Smith plays a struggling husband and father, trying to sell those machines. At this point in the movie, he has been evicted from his apartment, his wife has left him with his 5 year old son, he has $22 to his name, and he’s sleeping in the bathroom of a train station. It’s a heartbreaking story of one thing spiraling out of control and leaving a man broken. And the crazy thing, it’s true. This movie is based on the life of Chris Gardner, and what happen to him in the early 1980s. 

Several weeks ago I asked the teens this question,“Why do you or why do you not believe that Jesus is Savior?” For those that said they didn’t believe Jesus was the Savior, they fell into one of three categories: Bad things happen, he’s unrealistic and contradictory, and he doesn’t seem to be there. 

In the last week of September, we tackled the unrealistic and contradictory reason for not believing in Jesus as Savior. Giving evidence for the realism of God from astronomy, and evidence that what we have in the Bible is authentic and trustworthy. We also tackled contradictions, we gave two examples of seemingly contradictions in the Bible, and we explored what is called textual criticism to realize, that these are seemingly contradictions because we are bringing our 21st century American mindset to a ancient Hebrew book. Therefore what seems like a contradiction, is really a misunderstanding of how another future writes.

In the next two weeks, we’re going to tackle the last two reasons to not believe in Jesus. Today we’ll look at the question, “Why do bad things happen?”

Chris Gardner tried as hard as he could to supply for his family. He invested everything he had in those machines and worked on selling them to doctors. But bills pilled up, taxes came due, parking tickets accumulated, and money was scarce, then his wife thru in the towel and left him with his son. Everything spiraled out of control, and he was left to spend the night in a San Francisco bathroom.

If we don’t ask the question, “Why do bad things happen,” somethings wrong with us. We should ask, why do we have over 20,000 kids in foster care? We should ask, why do we have mass shootings. We should ask, why is there so much abuse? And we should ask, why should a father have to huddle his son in a bathroom?
If we’re not asking these types of questions, are we really taking seriously the idea of God. Because if God is real, then these question have to be asked. If God is good, then we have to ask whey then is there bad? 

But in asking our question of why is there bad, we must realize something: we too often turn the question outward, when we should be turning it inward. But if we did that, then we might not like what we find, and so it’s easier to push the question on to someone else.

See, if we follow the story of the Bible, then we see in the opening chapters that God created this world good. He created it with purpose, with laws to keep in perfect and good. But it wasn’t God who caused it to become bad, it was humanity. Humanity caused the brokenness of relationships. Humanity caused the ground to become hard. Humanity caused death and disease to take over their lives. And it all came from humanity rebelling against God’s rules that were placed there to keep the world good.

Now we might say, well why didn’t God just keep the humans good? Isn’t he all-powerful? Couldn’t he have made the humans do what was right?
The short answer is yes, but the answer to life’s greatest questions are hardly every short. See it was love that drove God to give humans the choice to follow him or not. If we make someone love us, that’s not love, that’s rape. If God forced the humans to not rebel, he wouldn’t be a God who loves, and instead, he would be a God who enslaves. And so, God let’s us have our way, destroying what he worked to make good.

It is easy to ask God why do bad things happen, it’s harder to ask why do we? Listen to what one of God’s followers says about why do we let bad things happen.

1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (James 4:1-3).

Our own desires are what causes bad things to happen. Our desire to satisfy our sexual urges causes us to treat people as sexual objects, and relationships as toys to play with. Our desire to be greater than others, causes us to become greedy, vengeful, and we work to tear down others. Our desire for making sure we don’t get hurt, causes us to hurt others, and to lie.
Bad things happen, not because of God, but because of us. And God let’s us do it, because he is the only one that is seeking good. And that good is to not impose his will on another being, but we do it all the time.

We can ask why do bad things happen? Why did Chris have to be in that bathroom stall, clutching his boy, tears pouring down his face, barricade the door? The reality is, he invested all his money into a product that was hard to sell. And because he invested all his money, into those machines, he didn’t have any for his rent, or his car. Chris’ actions led to him being in that bathroom stall.
But did God leave him there? No, God had given him the intellect to turn his situation around, and he eventually became a stock broker and created a multimillion dollar business. God used, Chris’ bad moves, and made greatness out of them.
This is why Paul says in his writings, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).”
We create bad things, yet God can work them out for good. What bad thing is happening in your life right now? You might not see how God is going to work it out for good, but I have a promise of God that says, if you love him and follow his purpose for you life, he will work all this bad for your good.
The question isn’t why do bad things happen, the question is, am I going to follow God and not myself?

I want to challenge you write down a bad thing that is going on in your life. Then, if you want God to bring good out of it, cross it out and write I will follow God.

God desires that when the bad things we don’t hide from him, but that we would let him embrace us.

Mark, Week 38 - Wake for Breakfast

I’ve never been much of a morning person. Growing up, I’d rather sleep in and stay up late, than to get up and enjoy the day. Even on a Saturday morning when cartoons came on, I would miss some of my favorites for just a few more minutes of sleep. I’m the black sheep of my family when it comes to this. My family is very much, get up early and tackle the day. Maybe this is why I’m not a very big breakfast eater. Again, I’m the black sheep in this regard. In fact, the only time I really eat breakfast is when I visit my family.
It’s my Dad’s favorite meal, and my Mom makes huge breakfast banquets, whenever we visit. In fact, one of the most rude things I ever did to my parents, happened because of my desire to sleep in, and make dislike of breakfast.
When I was in about seventh grade, I had two friends spend the night. We stayed up extremely late. In the morning, my parents thought it would be nice to take my two friends and myself out to breakfast. I didn’t want to go of course, in fact, I didn’t even get out of my bed. Undeterred, my parents took my two friends out to breakfast and I fell back asleep. When I woke up, no one was in the house. I proceeded to search for food, and it was then that I realized why they went out to eat. There was no food in the house. By the time they came back I was starving. My friends said it was the best breakfast they’d ever had, and I spent the next several hours feeling my stomach eating away at itself, before my parents took my friends home and we went grocery shopping.
I learned a valuable lesson that day, if you don’t want to miss out on something, you better be awake for it.

And that’s where we come to the Gospel of Mark today. A place where the disciples missed out on the work of God, because they were busy sleeping. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be in the Gospel of Mark chapter 14, starting in verse 18.

Now as we open up to Mark 14:18, we need to bring ourselves up to speed with what’s going on with the disciples.

There’s a couple of points about the disciples and what was happening in their lives, we need to know from the Gospel of Mark up to catch ourselves up. First, the disciples had been training with Jesus for roughly two years at this point. They had watched Jesus, they had listened to Jesus, they even had performed miracles in Jesus’ name. They were the closest to Jesus that anyone could be at that point.
Second, even though the disciples were the closest to Jesus, they consistently missed what Jesus was getting at. He would explain something, and they wouldn’t get it. Jesus would tell them about his death and they wouldn’t believe him. Again and again, they kept missing the points that Jesus was trying to make.
Which brings us to the final point: the disciples’ understanding of Jesus was very different than Jesus’. The disciples saw Jesus as a conquer, who would make them kings over the Romans. So whenever Jesus spoke otherwise, they chastised him for saying something that would go against their idea. It’s because of this that they missed what Jesus was trying to get across, even though they were the closest to him.
With the understanding that the disciples were the closest to Jesus, they constantly missed what he was saying, all due to their own ideas of what was about to happen, we can now jump into Mark chapter 14, verse 18.

Now we’re going to cover about 61 verses today, and the reason we’re coving so much is because as we have gone through the Gospel of Mark, our goal has been to see how the writing flows together. How the Holy Spirit is directing us to understand how the passages are linked together as an overarching message. So as we read today, we’re going to touch on different points in the passage to help us understand the flow of this section of Scripture. So let’s pick up in verse 18.

18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”
19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?”
20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

Jesus and the twelve disciples are participating in the Passover of celebration, where the Jews remembered the work of God, when the angel of death passed over the people of Israel while they were in Egypt and Moses was sent to bring them out of slavery.
As they’re eating Jesus reveals to the disciples that one of them would betray him. Of course, all of them denied it. Each one responding with a question that sounds as if they are hurt, “Surely you don’t mean me?”

From there, the group’s location changes to a mountain just outside the city, and Jesus continues with these words in verse 27, “‘You will all fall away,’ Jesus told them, ‘for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”’”

Peter, as is his normal response, speaks of things he doesn’t understand. “Even if all fall away, I will not.”
Jesus responds, “‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.’ 31 But Peter insisted emphatically, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And all the others said the same.”

From there, the group moves again, this time to a garden. Jesus says, this in verse 34, “‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’”
After Jesus goes off by himself for a while, he returns and finds the disciples, that he told to keep watch, fast asleep. Saying this to them in verse 37, “‘Simon,’ he said to Peter, ‘are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’”

This happens two more times, with the third prompting Jesus to say, “‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’”

As Judas comes to betray Jesus, it says in verse 50, “Then everyone deserted him and fled. 51 A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, 52 he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.”

Finally, after the sham trial of the religious leaders, we come to the final verse in chapter 14, verse 72. “Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.”

This whole section is the climax to all that has been happening with the twelve disciples in the Gospel of Mark. We have seen them be brought in by Jesus to be his closest disciples. People Jesus poured his life into. Who learned deeper truths from God himself. Who went out and performed miracles. We have seen them deny Jesus’ teachings, because they had their own ideas about who he was. 
And when confronted by Jesus about betrayal, all of them stood firm that they would not be the one who betrays Jesus.
Again and again we see Jesus telling the disciples that there would be someone that betrays him. Again, and again they deny it. And when it’s revealed that it’s Judas, we find out, it wasn’t just one disciple that betrayed Jesus, it was all of them. All of them deserted, even though all of them said they wouldn’t. 
They left the one that they had proclaimed was the Messiah. They left the one whom they followed for the past two and a half years. They left the one that they said they would never leave.
Verse 52 gives us an image of a man running away naked into the night, and it gives us a picture of just who the disciples were at that moment. Men, who had lost their facade of belief, and were now naked in their betrayal of Jesus. Judas betrayed Jesus, and the other disciples joined him by fleeing.

How did that happen? How’d it come to this? Jesus had been talking to his disciples about being on their guard for several days. He told them this when talking about looking for the end times. Jesus brought it up again in the garden in verse 34. They were not on guard when they physically fell asleep, but more importantly, they were not on their guard for the treachery in their own lives, and they all fell victim to betraying Jesus.

In my opinion, Peter’s tears are the greatest action he takes in the whole of the Gospels. Peter is one of those people that puts their foot in their mouths constantly. He speaks when he should be silent, and is silent when he should speak. This is the guy that had the audacity to tell Jesus he was wrong, when Jesus told the disciples that he was going to die.
But I believe this moment was the turning in point in Peter’s life. 
At that moment, Peter’s realization of his betrayal of Jesus drowns him. Remember, Mark is writing his Gospel from the words of Peter himself. At the point when Mark pens this book, Peter has become a man who is honest with his defeat and betrayal of Jesus. Peter is honest with the fact that Jesus had told him again and again to be on his guard, but he wasn’t. Is it no surprise then, that Peter writes in his first letter to the churches, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).”?
Peter was devoured by the devil in the moment be ran from Jesus’ side, and denied him to those who asked if he knew Jesus. Peter knows what it means to not be on our guard; to be so infatuated by what we desire, that we lose sight of Jesus. Peter was there. He felt the betrayal and the pain of it. He experienced the nakedness that it brought to him. He had been living a lie, and now that lie was stripped away from him, and he was exposed for the betrayer he was.

Peter was asleep. Asleep to the work of God and to his own deceptive heart. Just hours before Peter had proclaimed, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”
But he did.

It’s so easy for us to do the same thing. We can proclaim so loudly that we will follow Jesus! We will not fall asleep. But do we? Do we follow him when our anger gets the best of us? Do we follow when that person hurt us, and so we won’t forgive? Are we asleep, when the devil comes around? Are we asleep to our own desires that pull us away from God?

Peter eventually faced his betrayal; he realized he had been asleep, not just physically, but spiritually as well. And years later, he wrote to his fellow believers, that they need to be ready, because the devil is a lion waiting to devour those who’s guards are down, who are asleep.

But this is not what God wants for us. God does not send the Son to die on a cross, and raise from the dead, for us to fall into betrayal, for us to fall asleep, nor for us to have our guard down. God instead gives us the Holy Spirit so that when the enemy comes, we are ready. We are given the strength to rely on God, so that we may stand watch through the tiring night.

But how, how do we do this? How do we keep ourselves on guard, and awake to what God is doing around us, and in our own lives? And how do we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to be our strength when the lion is ready to pounce?

We do what none of the disciples were willing to do at that moment, we become honest with ourselves. All of the disciples proclaimed, I will not betray. We must come to the honest answer, I am prone to betray God, I am prone to wander from him. The hymn writer Robert Robinson captures this honesty when we wrote, “O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be! Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above (Come Thou Fount).”

The Apostle John, who was one of the disciples that left Jesus, says in his first letter, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).”

Honesty about ourselves is what will keeps us on guard and awake. As we look to God and are truthful with what we are dealing with, when those times of attack happen, we will not scatter, and we will not be found naked. And we won’t miss out on the breakfast that God has prepared for us.
Because we are no longer leaning on our own strength to stay awake, we are relying on God’s. We have come to place where we know we cannot not face the night alone, so we push harder into relying on God to get us through it. We realize our own lack of ability, and understand that is only by the Holy Spirit we can stand. Our bravado, our bluster, our boasting is stripped away, and all we are left with is a reliance on God.

This leads us into the challenge for this week, which is simple. Read through this section of Scripture on your own, asking God to reveal those things in your life that are lulling you to sleep, and to be off your guard. Be honest with God, letting nothing be too insignificant to hide. And then ask God to show you and give you the strength to overcome those things that would take you away from him. We need to have our confidence, not in our ability to stand, but in God’s ability to keep us standing, to keep us awake.

Let us be an awake people, ready for the work of God both around us, and in us. So that we may bring glory to him. Amen.