Give us all a break, and take one!

Mark 2:23-28

“So the Son of man is lord even of the Sabbath.” v. 28

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We’re a tired generation. I don’t have any science to back this up, but believe if you took a poll you would find that a majority of people spend most of their time in some state of weariness. I say this because nine times out of ten, when I ask people, “How ya doin’?” , especially when I ask teens, the answer is, “tired”. I watch them walk around with huge backpacks dragging behind them and try to imagine what other burdens are weighing them down. Sometimes religious people are the worst. They fight tooth and nail against the thing they need the most…rest. We see that happening in our story today. It’s, to me one of the more ironic stories in the New Testament. Here’s the short version:

Jesus and his disciples are taking a leisurely walk through a grain field one fine Sabbath day. They were at rest in God’s creation. Warmed by the sun, talking together, while the breeze caressed them. I think hanging out with Jesus on a Sunday afternoon would be pretty cool. But here’s where the irony comes in. The disciples make a religious blunder. They do what any country boy/girl would do in a grain field. They reach out and snap off a piece of grain to chomp on. How awesome it is that God made it so easy to snack on is creation. But then something happens! From out of nowhere, the “god squad” shows up – they must have been hiding in the grain waiting to catch this infraction, which I find quite humorous- then with all the fervor they can muster, begin to recite religious Sabbath regulations, “Alright, pull over. Let me see your proof of insurance and registration. You are in violation of Sabbath code 321-c, which clearly states, ‘plucking grain on the Sabbath is work.’ Why aren’t you resting… like us? you’re in big trouble with God!”

The irony here is that in the name of rest they were ruining a restful day. The religious leaders of the day had taken a simple command: “Honor the Sabbath” – so you can rest after a long week. And turned it into the most fearful and stressful day of the week! It’s ironic that in their efforts to defend the day of rest, they were out on patrol. Why weren’t they at home taking a nap? It must have taken a lot of work to go around on the Sabbath and make sure everyone is resting–kind of like being a day care worker at nap time. These glorified nannies of the faith were so busy trying to make everyone rest, that no one was able to rest, for fear of doing something . You couldn’t take a walk through a grain field, enjoy a group of friends, and feel the grain of God’s good creation pass through your fingers. What a bummer.

Religion can do that. In the name of rest it can steal your rest. Why is it that we tend to fight so hard against the things we want and need the most? We’re so busy trying to be God’s favorite and impress Him with our religious zeal and activity that we have stressed ourselves, and everyone around us, to the limits, with our own self made demands and expectations.

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I remember once learning this lesson as a college freshman. I came into college with a great deal of zeal for the lord. I truly wanted to serve him with all I had. One week in particular I had reached my limit. The combination of class work and campus ministry activity had worn me out. I felt my energy running low and mistook my fatigue for some spiritual problem. I just didn’t want to do anything. In my immaturity I assumed I must be losing my love for God. I went up to the campus prayer room and sat in the floor. I prayed, “Lord I need something from you….” two hours later I was shocked to wake up from a long nap. I had fallen asleep in prayer! Oh! I was so ashamed! “How could I do something so unspiritual, as to fall asleep in prayer?!” I soon confessed my great transgression to my campus minister. I was surprised when she chuckled warmly. “Sounds like God answered your prayer.” she said. Then she said something I will never forget. She said, “Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.”

I love how Jesus responded to the self – appointed guardians of holy nap time. Those religious experts, who are so busy talking about what you can’t do on the Lord’s day, that they ruin the rest for all of us. He said, “The Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath.” I love that! The one who said, “come to me all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”, said to these stressed out rest killers, “I’m the Lord of the rest.” If you are exhausted from serving the Lord, maybe you should go walk through a grain field, chomp on a few heads of grain, hang out with the Lord for awhile, and maybe even take a nap. Some say, with great spiritual pride, “I’d rather burn out than rust out.” But Jesus didn’t do either, and He doesn’t expect you to . Why not do what he did? Walk in step with the Spirit, move when he moves, stop when he stops. Let God set the pace for your life and let Him be Lord of the rest. You’ll be a lot better off that way, and quite honestly, so will the people who have to live and work with you. So give us all a break and take one.

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All religions really are the same.

Mark 2:18-22

“Why do John’s disciples fast, and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”

I’m always amused when someone says to me something like this: “You know I have a Buddhist/Muslim/Jewish/Hindu/Atheist friend who is more devoted to his religion than any Christian is to theirs. This is intended to suggest that our religion must be less than, or the same as theirs. And I would agree on one level. All region is the same. It is all powerless to save. Let me just go ahead and offend everyone altogether. You cannot be saved by being a good Muslim. You cannot be saved by being a good Buddhist. You cannot be saved by being a good Jew. You cannot be saved by being a good Hindu. You cannot be saved by being an atheist or agnostic . Have I left anyone out? If I forgot your religion, go ahead and write it in the blank. “You cannot be saved by being a good______________. Oh I forgot one! You cannot be saved by being a good Christian. Now that should just about cover it. If I missed you somehow, feel free to offend yourself on my behalf. You see, the great fallacy is that heaven waits for those who are good enough to make it. This is why the world cannot understand why followers of Jesus don’t pursue religion the way they think we should. They are asking the same question that the people asked Jesus original disciples in our scripture today. “Why aren’t you guys pursuing God like we do?” Go back and read the story yourself and see how Jesus responded.

Those outside of Christ will always find it strange when we don’t approach God as they think we should. The world has a warped view of salvation. It goes against the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Every religion on earth tells you to come to “god” by some effort of virtue on your part. They tell you to fast right, pray right, eat right, and act right in order to get to whatever “heaven” they aim for. Every religion has a system for “making it”. Every religion has a Holy book full of rules. Every religion says, basically, “here’s the book, here’s the rules, now go for it. At the end of your life, if you were a good____________(insert religious preference here) you will go to ______________(insert destination here.)” Unfortunately many Christians approach their faith in the same way. They have bought into the false gospel of probation. They are trying to work off their past sins with good deeds and hope in the end they will have earned enough points to get to heaven. This is not better than any other religion. It will not save you.

This is why Jesus said, “New wine must be put in new wineskins (containers).” You can’t approach him like man’s religion requires. You must come by repentance and faith. You must deny all attempts to make it to heaven by your religious efforts (even if your religion is atheism…oh yes it is.) You must be made new in Christ.

Following Jesus is nothing at all like following religion. Yes we have a book. Yes we have traditions and rules. Yes we have heaven as our home. So what makes us different? We are the only faith on earth that says these two things: 1.You cannot get to God , so he has come to you. and 2. You don’t have to walk alone. God is not sitting in heaven watching to see if you make it. When you receive Christ, he comes to live with you and in you through the Holy Spirit. He is God with us. He walks the road with you, giving you his presence and power daily. This is not religion. This is relationship.  While religion is still trying to reach God, the believer in Christ is already living in God.

In Christ all the futility of manmade religion was shown to be a farce. There is a reason we Christ followers are so narrow minded about this. We can afford to be, because we’re right. If you spend your life hoping your goodness or the goodness of your religion will make you right with God, even if calling yourself a Christian, you will perish in Hell. I care not how many good deeds you do, or long prayers you pray, or what you eat or don’t eat. You can be more noble than all the others in the world. You can be more prayerful than the Christians, and more devoted to your religion than we, but in the end without Christ’s payment for your sins you have no hope. Here it is in short form: You can spend your life doing one of three things; You can dismiss God altogether, as many do; You can try to work your way into his presence–any religion will do for that; or you can receive God’s gift of life by faith and live in freedom by turning from your sins and trusting what Jesus did for you when he died on the cross. On the cross your sin and your religion was killed so you could live in Him.

Who needs a doctor when you can have donuts?

Mark 2:13-17 

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” v.17

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A man recently moved into a new community. At one point he decided to look around for a clinic and a family doctor in case he ever needed medical attention. He was told there were three clinics in the town, so he visited each one to see which would best meet his needs.

The first clinic he came to had a quite impressive facility and appeared to have a highly trained staff. Upon entering he was surprised at the number of people in the waiting room. Talk about standing room only! The place was packed. At first he thought, “This must be an excellent clinic.” But as he observed the waiting room he began to feel a little uneasy. People kept coming up to him and telling him how glad they were to see him, offering him coffee and donuts, and inviting him to become a lifetime member. It seemed the patients were having a great time together, playing games, discussing medical insurance plans, and watching medical shows on the lobby television. Nurses and doctors were running to and fro trying to make sure everyone felt welcome. It was actually a fun place to be, but as he wandered around he noticed something. Nobody was being treated. They were just being entertained. So he decided to look elsewhere.

The next clinic was also impressive, in a different way. As the man drove into the parking lot he was blown away by the sheer beauty of the grounds. Deep green, manicured grass and trees lined the immaculate parking area. Even the white parking space lines seemed to have been painted with care. Walking inside he found the clinic was spotless. The staff walked around in masks, gloves, and head coverings. Janitors frantically sprayed disinfectant to prevent germs from growing. The walls were spotted with warnings against spreading germs. “Don’t touch”, “Cover your mouth and nose while inside building.” , “Please no shaking hands without gloves.” This clinic was obviously concerned for preventing illness. But then as he approached the receptionist he realized he was very much alone. The receptionist stared at him nervously, almost shocked that he was there. “Are-are you s-s-sick?” She whispered from behind her hand. She breathed a sigh of relief when the man assured her he was just visiting. She asked him to come again but please, “Next time, wear your gloves and mask.”  After spraying the desk in front of him with disinfectant, she smile nervously and hurried back to work on her computer. The man decided this place was probably a bit too clean for sick people, which was why he noticed there were plenty of staff , but no patients. So he moved on.

Coming to a third clinic, he felt a little more at ease than in the previous two. This one had a nice facility, though it wasn’t too impressive. The staff seemed capable and well-trained. Like the first one, it had quite a few patients in the lobby and they all seemed quite happy, smiling and laughing through their coughs and sneezes. People were friendly enough so he thought this would be a good choice. He walked up to the receptionist and asked to see the doctor. She and a few nurses standing with her chuckled politely and said, “Doctor? What doctor?” The man looked very confused and asked, “So you have no doctor?” The receptionist, in a slightly condescending tone explained; “Sir, we used to have a doctor back in the day, but he has retired and no longer practices medicine. ” Puzzled the man asked, “So why do you have a clinic?” Obviously surprised at this seemingly absurd question the receptionist answered,  “We’ve always had a clinic here. Listen, there may have been a time in the past when people came to clinics to get healed of some, ‘disease’ but we have moved beyond such notions. These people aren’t sick. They have simply chosen an alternative type of health. Just because they cough and sneeze, and even pass out occasionally, does not mean we should be all ‘healthy joe’ and try to change them. Here we believe the good doctor would have us simply embrace them and tell them they are healthy just the way they are. Besides all that medical stuff was for a former time. We just don’t do that anymore. But if you’d like to join one of our discussion groups I can sign you up.” “Discussion groups?” He asked? “Yes, we meet three times a week to discuss ancient medical practices, and to embrace our alternative health conditions.” –“Uh no thanks”, the man replied. Leaving the clinic, he felt pretty discouraged. Driving home he decided to give up looking for a clinic and just hope for the best. Marking that search off his to-do list he decided to look for a church. I wonder what he found.

Don’t choke on your holy highlighter! Love outside the lines.

 Mark 2:1-12

“Why does this man speak like that?….” v. 7

Once again Jesus finds himself speaking to a packed house. Some looking for help, some looking for hope, some just looking. In addition to the standard crowd some new guests have arrived. Some of the scholars of the day, having heard strange things about this teacher, came to check him out, and hear what he had to say. They were the scribes, the authorities on matters of the law. They had to make sure that this miracle working preacher was dotting the I’s correctly. Armed with scrolls and holy highlighters, they were checking Jesus out, to make sure he was doctrinally sound. After all, you can’t have people going around making unauthorized statements about God. They were there to protect and defend the truth. Suddenly, a short while into Jesus teaching, a loud pop from above broke everyone’s attention. A shaft of sunlight and dust poured into the center of the house. People screamed, thinking raiders were breaking in or something. Eventually, after tearing an opening large enough, the panic turned to uneasy laughter. Eyes darted everywhere, some to the owner of the house, with jaw dangling in disbelief, others to Jesus, who was unusually calm, in fact he seemed a little amused-delighted even, then others, to a stretcher being lowered by four sweaty, and slightly nervous men. When the dust settled, all eyes were set on a paralyzed man lying on the stretcher, who just looked relieved that nobody had dropped him. “Thanks guys.”

Jesus looked at the man and his friends. The scripture says, “when he saw their faith, he said to  the paralytic, ‘son, your sins are forgiven.’ ” Up until now we haven’t heard much from the scribes. They had been pretty quiet up to this point. But when they heard Jesus use the “F” word (forgiven) the heresy alarm sounded deep within them. “What!” they thought to themselves, “Who has the right to forgive people, except God?” On the outside they maintained their composure, smiling nicely to keep up appearances, but underneath the surface, they were seething. “You can’t just go around forgiving people!” Turning mentally through the protocol for sacrifice and forgiveness according to Levitical teaching, they found no scriptural basis for Jesus to make such a statement. Then Jesus really blows everyone’s  mind by showing that he has authority on earth not only to forgive, but to heal and deliver. He says to the man, “Get up and walk.” and he did. Sometimes I think Jesus got a kick out of ticking off religious experts by healing and forgiving outside the lines. That seems to be his way. While the rest of us are sitting around with our holy highlighters and big Bibles making sure everyone jumps through our doctrinal hoops, before we give them love, Jesus is looking for faith, and forgiving outside the lines.

Most of us live outside the lines don’t we? We try to live by faith, and obedience to God, but quite honestly, we all find ourselves falling short and messing things up. Sometimes we get so far from God we have to tear a hole in the roof and fall down paralyzed, before him (hopefully we have friends who hold the ropes for us from time to time.) and hope for his help. We come to Jesus outside the lines where we need him the most. And he is there, seeing what faith we have, chuckling lovingly at the hole we made in the roof, and offering forgiveness and healing outside the lines. Have you fallen outside the lines today? Feel like you’ve made an irreparable mess of things…again? Feeling helpless and everyone’s mercy? Don’t let the experts with their holy highlighters keep you down. Just come by faith, trust in his forgiveness, then get up and walk.

Some side effects may occur!

Mark 1:40-45

“I will; be clean” (v.41)

Recently I saw a television commercial that made me laugh. The ad was about a medical product. What made me laugh was the long list of warnings that followed. They spent about a minute telling about how this product could help you get better, then another two minutes warning about the possible side effects. So, I concluded that if I were in need of this particular product it could help me…but I could also get a host of problems along with it, like depression, suicidal thoughts, liver problems and so on. Perhaps you’ve seen these ads. I’m not being critical, just amused. I realize the importance of giving such warnings, and actually appreciate knowing this information. But it makes me think about the gospel. What if, in our preaching of the gospel, we warned of the possible side effects of following Jesus? What if, instead of trying to dress up the good news with a bunch of feel good, look good, hype and leaving people with a pseudo gospel of happy thoughts and fake prosperity, that lacks the power to sustain anybody beyond the door of the church building, we tried listing possible side effects so we at least have the same integrity as the pharmaceutical industry has in their commercials. For example, in the story of Jesus healing the Leper we see some side effects of following Jesus.

  1. Social disorientation: “and a Leper came to him….”(v.40)

You may find yourself running into broken people with lots of issues. Broken people, like the leper, often came to Jesus looking for help. This caused many of the popular, well-adjusted people to avoid Jesus as his associations with “the losers” made them uncomfortable. If you follow Jesus this can very easily  happen to you. Your social circles will be impacted.

  1. Emotional trauma. “moved with pity he stretched out his hand and touched him.”(v.41)

If you follow Jesus there is a very real possibility that you will be moved with deep concern for someone other than yourself and your close friends. Following Jesus usually results in severe bouts of compassion for those in pain or in need. Prepare to find yourself weeping with those who weep and even being mocked for it. There may even be mission trips in your future. If that happens you are hooked.

  1. Unexplainable supernatural experiences. “Immediately the leprosy left him.” (v.42)

Following Jesus often leads to experiences in the supernatural. Sick people are healed, the broken are restored, and other unexplainable events may take place in you and even through you. You may find yourself having to explain why certain “coincidences” keep happening in your life and the lives of people around you, unless you have been immunized by the false notion that miracles no longer happen. In that case don’t expect this to occur.

 

  1. Moments of Apathy. “Jesus sternly warned him…see that you say nothing to anyone…” (v. 44)

Often people involved with Jesus find themselves apathetic about getting credit for things. Jesus was more concerned with the glory of God than with getting attention for himself. His followers are often found not caring about who gets the credit as long as God gets the glory.

  1. Frequent changes in activity. “But he went and began to talk freely about it…so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town…and people were coming to him from every quarter.” (v. 45)

Jesus schedule of activity was often changed because of people coming to him for help. He couldn’t go into town because everyone was coming to him. This is a common side effect for those who follow Jesus. They get sidetracked from important things like social media, dating drama, and such, because people see something of Jesus in them and seek them out for help, often in the most unusual places.

So please be advised. If you are considering becoming a follower of Jesus, be on the lookout for these side effects. If you experience them please consult your great physician and thank him for giving you the abundant life. If you never experience these symptoms, then chances are you have not yet gotten involved with Him. If these side effects are too disturbing for you, but you like the positive feelings associated with Jesus, then you can do what many have chosen to do. Get the generic religion product without any personal commitment, and you can avoid the side effects all together. Just remember that the generic brand has no long term benefits. It only works in this life. The real Jesus product may have side effects, but is much more potent and lasts forever.

Why did you come out?

Mark 1:35-39

“…that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”

Niger Unreached Village Ministry Day 2 (12 of 14)

Jesus missed the opportunity of a life time! It was right there in his hands and he just let it slip away. How could he have missed it? It was so simple. Everything was so ripe and he missed it. How could Jesus have lost such a great opportunity? You and I would never pass up something like this, but he let it slip right through his hands. Why didn’t he see it? Take a look at this passage in your Bible and ask yourself if you would have allowed such a golden opportunity to pass you by, had you been in his shoes.

We see here that Jesus has become pretty popular with the masses. Talk about the Midas touch! Everyone and everything he touched seemed to turn to a miracle. People were coming from everywhere just to be near this small town boy turned holy rock star. He was the golden child for sure. His mama must have been proud. He was drawing crowds everywhere he went with his powerful messages and amazing supernatural feats of power. In today’s part of the story Jesus gets up early and prays. While he’s praying, his disciples are searching for him. When they find him Simon Peter, his marketing advisor, says to Jesus, “Everyone is looking for you!” In a sense he was saying, “Hey master, this is your moment, no time to wander off and pray, you’ve got things to do, people to see, places to go. People are looking for you. You have rocked this town and they all want you to extend the show for another week.” Peter may have been trying to get Jesus to see the opportunity that was before Him. Just think, with all this popularity Jesus could have started a cool ministry, based in Galilee. He could have stayed in that town and established himself as the greatest teacher/healer/ motivational speaker of all time. He could have started a church with a building that would put the temple in Jerusalem to shame. There was such support for him locally that if he had stayed right there he could have become a legend in the religious world, and who knows maybe even gotten into politics. But Jesus missed it. He looked right past the opportunity to establish his career, and said to Peter, very plainly: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” You know, I think what messed him up was that early morning prayer time he had just finished. In that early prayer time he may have been reminded why he came out into the world in the first place. He saw past the golden glitter of human popularity into the heart of his purpose in life. It kept him from letting “opportunities” divert him from his mission. He missed opportunities to dine at the table of worldly applause because he knew why he had come out. He came out to preach teach and heal, and ultimately to die for you and me. I wonder how many times our Lord was confronted with “opportunities” to promote himself, or to take a short cut to glory. How many times did Jesus hear the enemy of his soul whisper to him, “Hey Jesus, you could have anything you want from this crowd; money, sex, power, you name it. You could have it all.” How many times did Jesus have to look beyond the moment and remember, “That would be easy, but that isn’t why I came out.”

We live in a world that makes heroes out of those who “come out of the closet” in celebration of self. But Jesus came out of the throne room of eternity to sacrifice himself for a blind and self-absorbed race. He took on human form and came out of the virgins womb to give new birth to all who would believe. You know it helps all of us to take a hard look at our lives and ask ourselves, “Why did you come out?” Before you were born you were a dream in the heart of God. He had a purpose for you, to know him and to glorify him. That is why you “came out” into this world. You were not created to worship yourself, promote your own empire, and create your own destiny. Your life, regardless of what you believe, is bound up in the purpose of God. If you are saved, you “came out” of your old life of sin, not simply to go to heaven some day, but to follow your savior who came out to save you. As a Christian you have come out to save others. Are you remembering that today? Whatever decisions you will be faced with, whatever choices are set before you, just settle them by asking this question, “Is this why I came out?”

Do they know you in Hell?

Mark 1:29-34

“and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” v. 34

Most of us have a warped idea of Satan and his demons. We imagine the devil sitting on a dark throne commanding his terrible forces of evil, and laughing with sadistic glee at the poor little saints on earth. We imagine him taunting the timid little angels while his powerful demons march around fearlessly. But the New Testament gives a different idea. Instead of a throne of power, imagine Satan hiding in a bunker, shell shocked by the advance of God’s kingdom. Imagine a bulletin board with a picture on it. It’s a picture of Jesus. Written at the bottom is a warning: “Beware! Armed and extremely dangerous.” Imagine the dimly lit bunker shaking violently, lights flickering on and off, dust flying with every crash of divine fury. The foundation is rocked by this man from Nazareth. One minute he’s casting out demons in the synagogue, then he’s healing the whole city on his door step. The demons knew who this man was and they were powerless against him. One whisper of His name sends panic into every demon in Hell. According to our verse today, the demons couldn’t even speak without Jesus permission. He would not allow them to speak, because they would tell who He was before it was time for Him to be fully revealed. They knew who Jesus was. They were terrified. Satan is not operating out of a position of power, but of panic. Yes, He has power and without Jesus we have no defense against him. But Jesus is well known and feared in Hell. His face is in the center of Satans bulletin board. Elsewhere on that board you could imagine some other pictures; saints, prophets, evangelists, intercessors, faithful believers, unknown to the world, but infamous in Hell. Beneath each photo you could find a similar warning: “Avoid this person. They are deeply involved with the Nazarene. They know who they are. Also armed and dangerous.”

Now theologically speaking I doubt such a bulletin board actually exists. But if it did, would your picture be on it? Is your Christianity a threat to the darkness? There is nothing more dangerous to the forces of Hell than a true believer who is walking in the power and love of Christ. Hell fears only those saints who know who Christ is in them and who they are in Christ. There is nothing more insignificant to the devil and useless to God than the “pretty good” lukewarm, people pleasing church goer who makes no impact on the world except filling a seat in church. Listen, my friend, the devil cares nothing  about a person becoming a Christian. He doesn’t mind if you are well-behaved, clean cut, and you smile in restaurants. If being nice is the extent of your Christian expression, Hell has nothing to fear from you. But when you clothe yourself in Christ’s spiritual armor and start calling others to healing, salvation, and freedom-as Jesus commanded you to- then your name goes up on the board. Satan is not bothered by your devotions, but he panics at your devotion. He cares not when you recite daily prayers, but goes into depression when you get on your knees and start pleading before the throne of God with all your heart. Read your Bible all you want, as long as you don’t do what it says. Friends, if we would be true followers of Jesus, we must go where he goes and do what he does. We must give up our nice neat religion of people pleasing and take up our cross and follow Jesus into the battle for a lost world. We must become offensive to every expression of darkness, so that every morning when you wake up, alarms go off in hell: “Oh no! she’s awake!” “Uh oh, here he comes again.”