Trying to catch the sun in a Mason jar.

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Mark 12:18-27

“…because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God…” v. 24

Trying to comprehend God with intellect alone is like trying to catch the sun in a mason jar. It’s a mistake to assume that human reason alone can grasp the things of God. How can the finite (us) ever grasp the infinite (God)? We think we are so clever in our search for ultimate truth. This is why many , so called, intellectuals cannot find God. There is a type of intelligence that is not intelligent at all. It is pride based on a tremendous delusion. The delusion is that I can reason my way into the divine presence. The premise this operates on is simple, “If it doesn’t make sense to me, then it cannot be true.” or “If I cannot reason it out intellectually then it cannot exist.” The sheer arrogance of this is laughable. There was a time when human beings were able to accept a reality larger than themselves, beyond full comprehension. But today we are so puffed  up with ourselves, that we live in constant fulfillment of Paul’s words in Romans 1 “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of an immortal God for images…”  We think we are gods because we invented Iphones. It is this attitude that keeps us from God. I don’t ask you to throw your brain out in the search. There is a place for reason in the search, but if we are going to search for God we must go beyond that. This is the part that becomes uncomfortable for us. Reason equals control. We want control. Faith surrenders control and finds God. In our text today we see an example of the failure of human reason to fully embrace God, and we see the missing elements that can aid us in our search.

A group of Sadducees approach Jesus with a riddle. They want to show how belief in the afterlife is irrational. They give him a scenario in which a woman, who has been widowed seven times in this life, dies. They ask, logically, “in heaven, whose wife will she be?” The Sadducees, are like many today, who believe in religion, but not in the supernatural. They see faith as something that only helps in this life, because they do not believe in an afterlife. They come, like many with their riddles of human logic, hoping to trip Jesus up intellectually. Today’s culture would have loved them. Jesus, once again, instructs his critics. He does so, not with angry accusation-a lesson in itself for all the angry Christians out there-but by pushing them beyond the realm of human reason. He says to them, “You are mistaken, because you do not know the scriptures nor the power of God.” In other words, the finite cannot reason with the infinite without a little help from beyond the borders of our own concocted brilliance. We cannot know God without faith in his word and in his power. We need both to help us answer our questions. I cannot go with one to the exclusion of the other. To read the Bible without relying on God’s power will produce nothing but a head full of ancient facts and a lot of confusion. To pray for the power of God in my life, without submitting to the direction of God’s word will make me a superstitious train wreck, flitting from one spiritual experience to another until I burn myself out. God knows we cannot figure him out intellectually. He wants us to bring our intellect to the table. But he has given us great help in his word and in the experience of his power to lead us where we cannot take ourselves. The great news is that his word and his power are most clearly seen and known in the living word. “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus Christ is the word and power of God in human form. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Are you looking for God? Are you frustrated with all the unanswered questions? Is your brain tired from trying to figure out who made God? or Why does evil exist? or What is the purpose of life? I’m not saying you should stop asking the questions. I’m just inviting to admit that God is larger than your intellect and you cannot grasp his existence without the help of faith. I’m inviting you to look deeply into his word and ask for his power to help you find him. Don’t demand proof. Don’t put God on trial. You will get nowhere fast that way. Humble yourself and he will lift you up. Look to Jesus Christ. Seek him in the pages of scripture, and pray for him to reveal himself to you. Here’s an experiment. Read the gospel of John. Only read one chapter a day. As you read ask God to show you two things; 1. What does this say about God? 2. What does this say about me? Don’t look for hidden codes or silly trivia. Look for God. If you do this it will take 21 days. As you seek God’s word and power you just may find there’s more to your life than you imagined. It just may be the greatest three weeks of your life.

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Check your pockets first!

Mark 12:13-17

“But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius, and let me look at it.'” v. 15

If you’re going to criticize God’s people you’d better check your pockets first. Before you presume to speak with any kind of authority against God and his work you’d better clear out the idols in your own life, or your efforts to fix everyone else will not end well. If you are one of those people who feel called to call out the church and point out its flaws, listen up. Our story today tells about how your ideological ancestors went after Jesus only to find themselves looking like idiots, because they forgot to check their pockets first. Here’s a summary.

One day Jesus was set up by a mixture of Pharisees and Herodians. By the way, these two groups generally despised each other, but somehow managed to find unity in their disdain for Jesus. They begin by trying to flatter Jesus, with all sorts of buttery smooth, disingenuous prattle, “We know you are true and blah blah blah.” (watch out when critics suddenly start talking nice.) Then they throw the trap, “Jesus is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” I can see Jesus rolling his eyes the whole time and saying to himself, “Really? How stupid do you think I am?” You see, he can either be arrested for treason or rejected as an enemy of Israel, depending on how he answers the question. Of course Jesus doesn’t fall for such games. You know the kind of pseudo intellectual games played by people who want to trip you up, so they don’t have to actually think about faith? You know the type. Anyway, Jesus says, “Bring me a denarius, and let me look at it.” So they did. The argument was over at this point, even though Jesus went on to say, “Give unto Caesar, what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Why was it over? Because of the fact that these religious and political experts were carrying idols in their pockets. You see, a Denarius with Caesars inscription, was considered an idol. The Pharisees were not allowed to touch such things without having to go through a whole process of cleansing. So here come the critics, hoping to catch Jesus in his words, when all the while they are standing there with pockets full of idols. Jesus wins the day by simply exposing the idols in their pockets. Boom! Slam dunk! Jesus -10  Critics -Zero. Don’t let this happen to you. If you are one of those people who is given to the need to criticize God, his work, or his people, take note here. If you are a self appointed fruit inspector, or part time prophet, who is always pointing out what is wrong with everyone else, make sure your pockets are clean. Make sure that you have searched your own heart for secret sin like  pride, self-righteousness, jealousy, envy, and greed. Make sure that your criticism of the rest of us isn’t just a smoke screen to hide your own sin. God may call you to be a prophet, and send you to correct the church when she needs it. But if he does, keep in mind that the prophets preached out of broken hearted love, not sadistic glee. And they spent long nights in prayer, and weeping for the people they confronted. They also were willing to die to see them saved. And finally, as we’ve already said, they searched their own pockets first. Does that describe you? Are you broken hearted over sin? Are you filled with love? Are you praying into the night for us? Are you willing to lay down your life on our behalf? If so, you are ready to speak out. Until then, a little humility may be in order. Check your pockets. Today let us do all we can to build each other up, and present each other complete in Christ. Let’s put away the critical games and really try to help each other be all we can be for Christ. And should the time come when you need to confront, make sure you check your heart and your pockets. Then you will be used of God to restore and rebuild. After all, that is your goal, isn’t it?

                    

Jesus Christ is coming today!

Mark 12:1-12

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…” v. 11

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Jesus Christ is coming today! This is no joke. I’m sure of it. He will come today. He may arrive in the next few moments, or later in the day, or as the sun goes down, but he will come today…just like he came yesterday and the day before. He showed up when you least expected it. Did you recognize him or did you send him away ? When he comes today will you see him? Or will you turn away because you thought he was someone else? It happens all the time.

In the parable of the tenants, Jesus tells the religious leaders that they are like evil tenants of a vineyard, who rejected the owner, hoping to have the vineyard for themselves. He was telling them that the messiah they had been praying for was standing among them, but in their fear and greed, and ignorance they would soon reject him. He then quoted a prophetic Psalm, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:22-3)  Jesus showed up and they rejected him. They rejected him for at least a couple of reasons. First, they rejected him because of fear and pride. Jesus was a threat to their sense of power and security. They wanted a messiah who would let them stay in control and rule beside them, not over them. Second, they rejected him out of ignorance. They were so blinded by their own expectations of what a messiah should be that they missed him. If we aren’t careful we can miss the Lord today when he comes for the same reasons. Now let me clarify, I have no idea when Jesus will return in glory end the age. But He will come today in small ways to speak to you, or show you a bit of himself. He comes like that every day. We don’t have a savior who sits around on a throne watching to see how we will perform. He comes along side us and walks us through life. The problem is that sometimes, in order to make us more attentive, he comes in disguise.IMG_19800105_194442

This way we only find him if we are seeking him. When Jesus comes today he may come as the slow cashier, the hurt spouse, the obnoxious co worker or maybe the guy with a cardboard sign. When he comes, he will be looking to see if you will reject him or make him the cornerstone. Then one day, when he comes in glory, he will remind you of all the times he showed up, and he will say, “Whenever you did/didn’t do it to the least of these, you did/didn’t do it to me.” (Matthew 25)  Remember today that how we treat others is how we treat him. So be on the lookout today, for he will surely come, when you least expect it and in the most surprising ways.

May the F.A.R.C.E. not be with you.

Mark 11: 27-33

“So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.'” v. 33 

“Uh Jesus, we’d like a word with you!”

“Sure, how can I help you?” (He says that a lot doesn’t he?)

“Yes. Well, we’re the Faith Activity Regulation Council Executive (F.A.R.C.E.) Committee. Our job is to ensure that no unauthorized spiritual activity takes place. You can understand how important this is.”

“Uh yeah, I totally understand. So how can I help you?”

“Well, Jesus, we have been monitoring your activity for the past three years, especially over the last 24 hours, and we are very concerned about your, uh, well….Okay look, you’ve been doing some things that, quite frankly, have upset some very important people and we simply cannot ignore it any longer.”   

“I see. What exactly is the problem?”

“The problem is sir, in addition to frequent Sabbath violations, failure to observe basic purity regulations, and questionable social interactions, you messed up a legitimate fund raising program in the temple yesterday. We’re still cleaning up the mess from your little tirade in the temple courts! As soon as you left the temple our F.A.R.C.E. team was asked to do some checking. We have a simple question.”

“Yes?”

“Who authorized you to just come in here and interfere with our program? What gives you the right to just go around disregarding centuries of tradition, and trying to start some kind of radical movement that is sure to get us all in trouble? We need to see your identification, your pedigree, and your official certificate of authenticity right now.”

“Oh I see. So you want to know who gave me permission to do what I’ve been doing.”

“Exactly! And don’t give us any trouble, or we’ll, uh we’ll be really mad.”

” No problem, guys, and by the way, I think you look really powerful in that flashy turban.”

“Oh… well, thanks, It’s the new trend in clergy wear…Hey! Don’t change the subject! Just the facts! Who authorized you to do all those…those..those….”

“Miracles, signs and wonders?”

“Uh…well…unapproved spiritual activities you mean!”    

” I think I can solve this problem for you gentlemen. May I just ask you a question?”

“What is it!”

“Uhm, You remember my cousin John?”

“Oh yeah, how can we forget that trouble maker. We had to cite him for offensive preaching, and unauthorized baptisms. Thought we’d never shut him up.”

“Yes. Well, who would you say gave him his authority?”

“Jesus, can you excuse us for a moment. We need to have an executive committee meeting to discuss your question.”

“Sure, take all the time you need.”    

“Okay guys, we’re in a bit of a pickle here. If we say John was authorized by God, we’re sunk. But if we say he was just going on his own, we’re gonna go way down in the polls…and I mean way down. Suggestions?”

“I have an idea, sir. I saw this in a political campaign once. Just say, ‘we don’t know.’    

“Bubba, you’re a genius! Any time you need to get around something like this, just play ignorant. That shouldn’t be too hard for us anyway. uh, I mean…oh never mind.”

“Yes, when faced with inconvenient facts, just pretend you don’t know the answer. I have the feeling this strategy is gonna be big in a few centuries.”

“Okay, Jesus, our official response is, “We don’t know where John’s authority came from.”     

“In that case you’ll just have to not know where mine came from either. Later.”

     Jesus walks away leaving the F.A.R.C.E. Team in a daze.

Lesson: When you have true spiritual authority, you don’t have to defend it or promote it. Just walk in it.                                                 

Whoever, Whatever, Whenever

Mark 11:20-25

“and Jesus answered them, ‘have faith in God.'” v. 22

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Jesus cannot be justly accused of being stingy toward us in his call to prayer. If you are interested, go through his teachings and take note the number of times he uses the words, whoever, whatever, and whenever in regard to prayer. Today we see all three of the used in the same moment.

Whoever (v. 23) “Whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea’, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” Jesus offers the opportunity to move mountains to “Whoever”. This means that the invitation to faith is open to any who will step out by faith and start moving mountains. Don’t get hung up on geography and landscaping. He’s not asking you to rearrange the Himalayas for fun. He’s pointing us to the mountains in our lives and in the lives of others. He’s pointing us to seemingly impossible situations and inviting us to have faith to see them changed. The use of the word, “Whoever” is important for those of us who think God only answers the prayers of an elite group who have attained a certain level of goodness. The Roman Centurion was outside the fold of Israel, but his faith made him great in the Lord’s eyes, “I have not seen such faith in all Israel.” Cornelius, another Roman Centurion, didn’t even know who Jesus was, but his faith got Heaven’s attention (Acts 10) and the first Gentile church began in his home when he was converted to Christ. Faith is the great qualifier. “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand…” (Romans 5:2) If you have a pulse and you have faith in Christ, you have an open door into his presence.

Whatever (24) “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Jesus tells us that nothing is outside the sphere of God’s power and ability to act. The only limits are the limits of our faith. Again he tells us that faith is the key to answered prayer. This is an outrageous statement and it raises all sorts of questions. Is unanswered prayer always due to our lack of faith? No. Sometimes God will say “No” or “wait” for the sake of his glory and /or our good. Sometimes prayer goes unanswered because our motives are all wrong. Sometimes our disobedience hinders our prayers. I find the most common experience with unanswered prayer is simply that we give up too soon. But it is never because of a lack of power or concern on God’s part. If I go out on a cold morning to crank up my car and it doesn’t start, I don’t immediately conclude that cars don’t work. I check to see if there is a problem. You prayed and your “whatever” didn’t happen. Don’t give up on prayer. Seek the Lord on it. Press into his presence and ask for his counsel.

 

Whenever (25) “and whenever you stand praying forgive, if you have anything against anyone…”

Now Jesus turns our self indulgence in prayer on its ear. He tells us that whenever we pray we must forgive, or we simply will not be forgiven. Until now it seemed that prayer was all about us getting something from God. But now we see a little deeper into this thing called prayer. It’s not made just to give us what we want, but to transform us into what God wants. God wants a people who will trust him and walk by faith, even in our pain. It takes faith to forgive. When we are in pain, because we have been unjustly treated, we naturally want to administer justice, or revenge. But prayer calls us out of what is natural into the supernatural. Forgiveness is supernatural. Only the Spirit of God can enable us to forgive. Prayer in faith enables us to free ourselves from the bitterness of someone else’s sin against us. We become free when we forgive.

Today the Lord is inviting you to live by faith. Whoever you are, whatever you face, and whenever you are hurting, come and believe. I challenge you to get out your Bible today and look up the times Jesus used the words, “Whoever”, “Whatever” and “Whenever”. Then begin to live in light of what he said.

                                                                            

Is your church robbing you blind?

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Mark 11:15-19

 

“A house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of robbers.” v. 17

Is your church robbing people? Is your pastor a thief? Am I, as pastor of my church, stealing the power and presence of God from people for the sake of worldly gain? Let me be blunt. In too many cases the answer to these questions is a resounding, yes. Too many churches have become places guilty of larceny of the highest order. Just like the temple Jesus cleared, we have taken a place intended for prayer and turned it into a place of entertainment and self promotion. We have lured people in promising them a connection with God through our clever activities, but have robbed them of prayer. When Solomon first built the Temple, he dedicated it to God as a place of prayer (1 Kings 8). Centuries later, Jesus comes into his father’s house of prayer, to find the outer court, designated for prayer, filled with cages and coins. The desire for money had squeezed out the place of prayer. Our Lord’s judgment was clear; They had turned the house of prayer into a place of robbery. Oh friends, let us not water this down by debating the issue of bake sales in the church. This totally misses the point. The problem here is much deeper. Can we not see what a great crime has been committed here? The place of prayer was gone. This was the primary purpose of the temple, and yet the leaders, in a desire for other things, had stolen this precious access to God from the people! Have we not done the same?

In the book of Acts we see that prayer was the very lifeline of the church. It was central to everything. Christ had died to give us access to God by faith (Romans 5:2). If ever there was a generation blessed with the privilege of prayer it is the church. Yet we have made prayer the unwanted step child of the church today! We have stolen prayer from the people and given them finance meetings instead. Tell your church there will be a prayer meeting this Wednesday night. The following Wednesday tell them you’re having a seminar on Christian finance. See which one is most widely attended! Yet we pastors must not rail against our church for this, because we have created the monster, by not teaching our flock the value of prayer. We may be preaching it, but are we modeling it?  Pastor do your people see you as a leader in prayer or as a CEO of a corporation? When our members are lying sick and facing their final hours, it will be prayer, not programs, that usher them into the peace of God. When you step into the pulpit are you armed with power points or power to make the points? The latter comes from prayer. No amount of preaching tips and tricks can change a heart. Only the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and that comes from the prayer closet, not the web site. Prayerless preaching is also a form of robbery. Your people came this Sunday looking for a word from God. They also came looking for his power and presence. Prayerless preaching is a con job. True gospel preaching is born in prayer. Get back into the delivery room preacher and stop robbing your people.

Church we have taught the world to devalue prayer, as a silly waste of time, because we have failed to demonstrate the awesome power of God’s people in prayer. Every great work of God from Genesis to Revelation was born in prayer. Have you counted the number of promises regarding prayer made by Jesus alone in the gospels? Take a look. Our sanctuaries should be places of prayer, but too often they are used for lesser things. Oh friends, I write this convicted of my own larceny. We are criminals of the highest order if we give everything to the world except a true connection with God. Even if we preach the gospel, we rob them of the ability to access it and experience it through prayer. If your church is too busy to pray, then it’s time for repentance. It’s time to clean house. Imagine the Apostles saying to Jesus, “sorry we have a widow ministry to run! No time to pray!” Then we have no time to be Christian, for prayer is the very heart of Christian living. In Acts 6 the Apostles refused to give up prayer and the word of God in order to wait tables for widows, as worthy a ministry as that was. They said, “we will devote ourselves to prayer and ministry of the word.” They turned the world upside down, by first turning their schedules upside down and devoting themselves to prayer. Can we not do the same? We’d better, lest we stand before God and find ourselves charged with theft by distraction. God help us cleanse our own temples. Help us to cleanse the casinos of religious activity and return to the throne room of grace.

                                                                              

Slow Down and Think!

This is a good word from a fellow life speaker. Check out his blog.

The Life Project

Bill was the oldest of four children who grew up in a well-to-do family in the suburbs.  As the children grew up and began to marry, Bill and his Father started a tradition in the family.  Shortly before each of the marriages of the three younger children, Bill and his Dad would get together and buy a car for the new couple as a wedding gift.  Bill would secretly find out what kind of car they really wanted, he and his father would go and pick out just the right one, and Dad would buy it…

When the time finally came for Bill to be married, he received not a car from his Dad, but a Bible.  Bill was outraged.  Thinking that he had been snubbed, he tossed the Bible back at his father and stormed out of the room.  He and his bride then moved away and Bill never saw…

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