Don’t drive past the signs!

Mark 8:11-21

“Having eyes do you not see….?” v. 18.

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I think I have a gift for missing signs. A few years ago I was driving along the interstate with my beautiful wife. As is typical, we were in deep conversation, about what, I can’t recall. At one point it seemed the interstate was becoming longer and the signs unfamiliar. You guessed it. We had been so into our conversation that we passed the exit leading home and were headed to parts unknown. The sign was there, we just didn’t see it. This makes me think of the Pharisees, who came to Jesus, after he had healed a deaf man, cast a demon out of a child, without even being in the same place, walked on water, and miraculously feed four thousand people. They came to him demanding a sign from heaven. I can hear it now, “okay Jesus, that whole bread and fish thing was cool, but come on, show us a sign from heaven!” No doubt they had at least heard of the things he was doing, and likely had seen a miracle or two. But they were so wrapped up in their pride and fear that they drove right past what he was doing. It’s funny, today I hear so many people say things like, “I wish God would do some miracles today, like the Bible talks about. I would believe then.” But whenever I tell the same people about the day my mother was healed of Multiple Sclerosis, or one of my deacons was healed of a brain tumor on the way to the hospital, they react the way…well, the way you are possibly reacting right now. They say, “yeah right! probably some coincidence, or blah blah blah.” Let me be blunt. The reason you don’t get the sign you think you want is the same reason Jesus told the Pharisees, “No sign will be given…” to them.  He knows you wouldn’t believe it anyway. You would rationalize that it was some unexplainable psychological phenomena, or that the person wasn’t really sick, or that it was some random evolutionary accident that just happened to occur at the time of prayer. Seriously? Why is it that people who demand signs are usually the last to believe them? Make sure that in your commitment to unbelief you don’t drive right past the signs.

On another occasion I was driving a group of Boy Scouts to a ski resort. We arrived late at night, and the fog was so thick, I literally could not see past the bumper of my car. This is no exaggeration. As I crept along I was looking for a sign for the resort, but I couldn’t see it in the darkness and the fog. At one point I knew, according to my directions, I had to be near the entrance. I spent about half an hour going back and forth, in great frustration, trying to find the place. I kept passing this really big sign, but thought it was for something else. I didn’t really pay attention to it because I kept assuming it was not our place. My youngest son kept telling me, “Dad I think that’s the place.” But I kept saying, “No it can’t be.” Guess what. After repeated passes in the late night fog, I finally slowed down and looked a little closer. I apologized to my son and kicked myself down the road. I had spent half an hour angry and frustrated while passing the sign over and over. If I had just slowed down, listened, and paid attention I would have seen the sign much earlier. The disciples must have felt the same way. When Jesus warned them, “watch out, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees…” They thought he was asking for bread. Jesus reminded them of the last two miraculous bread giveaways. “Guys, don’t you get it?” He said. They had been in the midst of great miracles, even holding the evidence in their hands, as they passed the food to the people. But so much like me, they weren’t paying attention enough to see who Jesus was. They loved him and served him, but still didn’t get him. They needed to slow down, listen and look a little more closely to see the signs. Like a weary man driving in the late night fog of West Virginia, they were missing his voice and driving past the signs of his glory. Are you looking for a sign from heaven? Are you still waiting for God to float down and tap dance on your kitchen table before you believe? Or are you just waiting for a feeling before you step out in faith? Perhaps it would be more productive if you opened up to God and said, “Lord, I want to see you on your terms, not mine. Open my blind eyes to see what you’ve already done in my life and my world. Help me open up, slow down, listen carefully, and pay attention to you. Most of all, help me believe.”

Are you living the nightmare instead of the dream?

Mark 5:1-13

“and he replied, ‘Legion, for we are many'” v. 9

Satan hates you and has a terrible plan for your life. Unfortunately, our world tends to glamorize darkness and make it look appealing. And frankly, on the surface it can look appealing. A life lived in sin and darkness is made to look fun and free, because we only see enough, at first, to appeal to the senses. We even glamorize horror in our movies by making vampires and werewolves look like someone you may want to date. The world attempts to make evil look good and exciting, and righteousness look dull and boring, so you will blindly buy in without looking past the cover until you’re in. Drug addicts never start out hoping to become addicted. They start out looking for a thrill or an escape, Then over time they find themselves living in their own personal hell. The same happens to all of us on some level, whether we’re drugging, sexing, or just self-righteous gossiping. It’s all the same. Sin is sold to us with a slick brochure offering freedom and fun, but when we buy in we find we’ve been taken for a ride we don’t want to continue. But in the story of the demoniac we see the end result of a life lived in darkness. We see a man who, at least until now, is the embodiment of hell on earth. You might say the demoniac is a walking preview of Hell. When Jesus climbed out of his boat he was approached by a man who had spent  much of his life possessed by demons. Now people under demonic oppression don’t just wake up possessed one day. They become inhabited by demons through some participation in witchcraft, occult, who knows what, then at some point open the door to the demonic. At some point this man had opened himself up to darkness and ended up with more than he had bargained for. This is how sin works , on any level. Now we see some time later, that this man was living the nightmare, instead of the dream. Let’s take a look at where sin ultimately leads us in this life, and potentially into eternity.

V.3- Isolation- “He lived among the tombs…” This man eventually had to leave his home and family, and spend his days alone among dead people. The first thing that sin does is isolate you. Sin will send you places you never wanted to go.

V.4- Desperation – “He had often been bound with chains…” Many well-meaning people had tried to chain him up and get him under control, but he kept breaking the chains. Eventually his loved ones stopped trying. He was in an apparently incurable situation. Sin will make you think there’s no way out.

V.5- Self-harm- “He was always crying out and cutting himself…” This needs no explanation. The man began to attack himself. You know you’re in trouble when your sin is causing you to harm yourself and the people around you. Sin will make you do things to yourself you never imagined.

V.6-7- Confusion- “What have you to do with me?” The man ran to Jesus for help, but cried out against Jesus  at the same time. It was like he knew he needed help, but was scared to death of the helper at the same time. Sin will make you so confused you can’t distinguish right from wrong, good from evil, light from dark.

V.9- – Multiple problems- “Legion, for we are many” When Jesus asked the demon it’s name it said, “Legion, for we are many.” He started out with one, which led to another, and another, until he was overrun with evil spirits. Sin will multiply itself into various other forms until you are overrun.

V.12-13 – Destruction – “and were drowned in the sea.” These demons were cast out into a herd of pigs, which they drowned into the sea. If this man had not been delivered, I wonder how long it would have been before they drove him into the sea instead. They were, and are, bent on destruction. Friend, put away your images of Satan as some kind of cool party guy, who just wants to give you a good time. What he wants is to destroy you. If he could get you into hell today he would do it. The very sight of you makes him sick, because you are “Imageo dei”- the image of God.

The good news is, that for all the hell this man was living in, one word from Jesus was all it took to set him free. In one afternoon that man went from being a preview of Hell to a preview of Heaven. Which preview are you living? He went from living the nightmare to living the dream, God’s dream. Are you living the nightmare, or the dream?

Jesus Gospel- Part two: The call to change. You are not okay.

Mark 1:15b “repent…” One of the great delusions, in our understanding of Jesus Christ, is the notion that our savior is completely happy for you and me to stay like we are as long as we believe. This lie, I fear, sends more people to Hell than any other. It’s one of those lies that is almost true, but not really. This lie is the soil out of which the false gospel of tolerance is born. This false gospel, which our culture loves, is summed up in this statement: “Jesus accepts you just like you are, so just be yourself and love everyone. Live any way that works for you and don’t judge anybody.” But the fact is, this is not the gospel Jesus preached. Yes he loves you as you are. Yes he wants you to love everyone. And yes he warns against self-righteous judgment that ignores one’s own sin. But you never hear Jesus saying we don’t need to change. You never hear Him giving us permission to continue in sin. When talking to the woman at the well, for example, when she admitted she was living with a man, who was not her husband, after five divorces, He didn’t affirm her lifestyle. He didn’t say to her-“Well I’m glad you have a relationship that is fulfilling and I hope you are happy with your lover.” He called her out of it. We love to tell the story of the woman caught in adultery. We love to say, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” in order to defend ourselves from those who call us out on our sins. But we forget that Jesus didn’t endorse her lifestyle of adultery. He didn’t start a church that celebrates extra-marital relationships. He didn’t start a support group for Christians who are having affairs. He told her, “Go and sin no more.” One fresh look at all the places where Jesus calls us to turn from sin, should make it evident that the Jesus who just wants us to believe, with no call to change, is purely mythological. Jesus gospel, begins with a call to repent. Repent means simply to turn around. Change perspective, then change direction. You cannot go your way and His way at the same time. You must forsake your self-directed life and follow Him. The call to repent means: I have to change- Our sin is the only thing separating us from God. We cannot bring it along with us. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” He says. (Luke 13:1-5) I need to change- Sin is slavery, not freedom. You cannot experience the freedom of faith while giving yourself to the bondage of sin. (John 8:34-36) I can change- Jesus died to free us from the power of sin. You don’t have to stay in the same destructive patterns that have held you down. He has come to set you free. The great news of the gospel is that freedom is possible in Him. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Let Him free you today.

The Launching point

Mark 1: 9-11

“and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” v. 11

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 This is, for Mary and me, a bittersweet time to be parents. Our oldest is living in her own place, the next oldest is about to finish college, our third goes off to begin college in the fall, and our youngest is just two years away from launching out. It seems like just yesterday we were watching them play in the front yard. I remember I used to be able to carry them, one child on each leg, and one in each arm at the same time. Now they could carry me. I could fill many pages just telling how each of them have filled our lives with joy. As home-school parents we’ve enjoyed watching up close as they have learned and grown. We’ve taught them how to read and write, learn their numbers, explore the sciences and the arts, history and languages. I’ve taught three of them to drive and will soon start teaching the fourth one. We’ve watched them grow physically, mentally, and spiritually into wonderful godly men and women who are beginning to impact the lives of many others around them. Now we’re at the launching point. Like I said it’s bittersweet, to stand on the porch and wave as your young adult children drive into the future we have worked and prayed to prepare them for. We love our kids, and just seeing who they are, and who they are becoming, gives us great pleasure. At risk of sounding trite I wonder if God the father had any of those feelings as he hovered over his only begotten son at his baptism.

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The Jesus stood, in the Jordan river, drenched in the Spirit, and soaked in surrender. All of history had led to the events that would unfold over the next three years. This was God’s only begotten Son. He was the only one that had ever been or ever would be. In that moment I wonder of the father looked back over the past at all the events leading up to this day. Perhaps he chuckled looking back at Jesus childhood-the messes he undoubtedly made, the games he played, and the silly child songs he sang to his mom. I can’t even imagine what was happening in the heart of the father looking at his only begotten, at the launching point. I think it’s no accident that the scripture says, “Immediately he saw the heavens torn open…the Spirit descending, and a voice from heaven, saying I love you Son! (author’s paraphrase).” When I see one of my kids stepping out into grown up living I sometimes want to tear open the universe, send them a gift, and scream out how much I love them. Call me a heretic but I just can’t help but feel something like that was going on in the heavenlies as the father prepared to launch Jesus into his mission. Jesus had done no miracles, yet his father was pleased with him simply because of who he was, and because he was stepping obediently into his calling. Let me take this a little farther. The father feels the same way about you. The same love the father had for his only begotten Son, He has for his adopted Sons and Daughters.

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Whenever you stand in the waters of surrender, preparing to launch out into his call He hovers over you with great love and joy. You see, everything in your life that has happened now, even those things God didn’t will to come upon you, have been used to prepare you for the future you are about to step into today. Today is your launching point. It may seem like an ordinary day, but it’s part of God’s plan for His glory and your good. Whenever you stand in the waters of surrender, and choose to live by obedient faith, as Jesus did, God the father tears open curtains of heaven, pours out his Spirit on you and screams out, “I love you and I’m pleased with you!”

Today as you go out in faith, know that he is proud of you for simply trusting him and living in surrender like Jesus did. You don’t have to do any back flips to get his attention. You just have to live by faith.

 

Don’t let the silence mess with your head.

Niger Day 7 Sand Dunes (3 of 19)

Mark 1:1-8

” A voice of one crying in the wilderness…” v.3

They say one sign of a good friendship is when you can be comfortable spending time with someone without ever having to say a word. Sometimes I believe that. But on the other hand, sometimes silence can mess with my head. For example, say my wife and I are in the car for several hours. We can ride for an hour without ever speaking. Most of the time it’s fine. We are great friends and don’t always feel the need to fill the time with noise. It’s good just being together on the journey. But sometimes it bugs me. I find myself thinking the craziest things. I interpret her silence as some sign that there’s trouble. I start thinking of all the ways I have messed up or fallen short in the past. Then a small sinister voice from the darkness whispers into my consciousness, ” She’s unhappy with you.” If I let it go on it spreads to my kids sitting in the back seat. “Yeah, they’re plugged into their music because they don’t want to talk to you. You have failed them. You loser.” Eventually, light breaks into the darkness dispelling the lies. I’m brought back to reality by a voice calling out, “Hey dad, are we there yet?” Even the most mundane breaks in the silence reassure me in those moments.

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I find the same happening in my relationship with God. Sometimes His silence is okay. We ride along through life like two friends on a long journey. No one feels particularly compelled to speak. We’re just enjoying being together. Whether riding in a car, working in the yard, or sitting on the deck watching the clouds play tag with the sunset, I enjoy being with my heavenly father. But in other times the silence messes with my head. That same dark voice sows fear and doubt into my heart. I imagine that God is silent because I have failed him. Frantically, I search my memory files for ways that I may have offended Him. I comb over every relationship to make sure I am at peace with everyone. On a really bad day I begin to question, my ministry, my calling, my salvation, and yes, even the existence of God. It can get really bad. Any of this sound familiar?

I wonder what it was like for the people of Israel. At the time of John the Baptists appearing there had been about four hundred years of silence between God and Israel. There had been no prophet, no deliverer, no miraculous epiphany. Nothing. All they had was the law, the prophetic writings, and a promise that one day a messiah would come. Can you imagine four hundred years of silence? I wonder what they thought. Has God forgotten us? Have we gone too far? Is there something we’re doing wrong? Or was this God real in the first place?

Then suddenly the silence is shattered by a voice in the wilderness. John appears announcing the coming of one who would baptize them with the very presence of God. He wasn’t angry. He hadn’t forgotten them. He hadn’t given up on them. He was just using the silence to prepare them for the greatest revelation the world has ever seen. He was preparing history for the coming of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.

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Are things quiet between you and God right now? Has it been awhile since you heard from him? Is the silence beginning to mess with your head? Are you hearing that dark voice whisper lies into your consciousness? Maybe things aren’t as bad as you’ve imagined. Maybe this silence is the prelude to the next powerful chapter in your life. So what do you do? Take John’s advice. Prepare the way by clearing out anything that may be keeping you from what God has for you. Repent of your sins, be specific, and return to the basics of simply following what you know of God right now. Finally, enjoy the fact that you have a friend in heaven who sometimes just wants to enjoy the ride with you without having to say a word.

More to life than living.

A couple of days ago I went on a date with my oldest daughter. We drove out to the Elk Viewing station a few miles down from my house. It’s a beautiful spot where you can sit on a hillside and look out for miles at the most beautiful place on earth- I’m not biased. It’s true.- and feel the breeze as it tries to knock you off the ground. Armed with a cup of coffee (standard father-daughter date fare) and sliced turkey and cheese “sammiches” we spent a couple of hours talking about everything from relationships to leading worship at camp. A lot of the time we just sat there, just being, which is kinda cool too. Katie asked me an interesting question. It went something like this; “Dad do you ever find yourself in the middle of doing something , even if its not anything major, when suddenly God kinda stops you and says, ‘pay attention to this moment.’ ?”

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She was talking about those times when you are stopped in your tracks by the Spirit and told, “Hey this moment is important. Live in it!” Then we talked about how easy it is to fly through life so focused on either the past or the future that we miss the present. The Lord stops us and reminds us to drink in the moment we’re in right now. It may seem mundane at the time but one day you will look back and remember it. When she asked me that question I wanted to tell her, “uh yeah, I have. In fact I’m having one right now.” But I decided to just enjoy it.

 

I thought about that yesterday when I was co-leading a baptism service in the River. Three baptismal candidates, two preachers, from two different traditions, a mission team signing, and a host of teary eyed glowing saints from all over. It was an awesome time of worship, and fellowship. The other pastor and I had to coordinate the service since we were blending two traditions; Baptists, who dip one time backwards, and Brethren who dip three times forward. Being a sort of pseudo-bapticostalite, I have never done a baptism the brethren way. So I got to help with that for one candidate, then I “dunked” the other two in my usual way. Then we brought the candidates up and had the congregation circle each of them and pray for them. It was a picture of heaven where we were all just one family of God. Our traditions didn’t get in the way. In fact blending them just made things even better. At one point I just stood there in awe and soaked in the moment (no pun intended).

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Another one happened a few days ago at camp. Last week was one of the most powerful camp weeks I’ve seen in twelve years. A full week of people being saved, healed, and encouraged all came to a final moment of worship and celebration. After a late night of counseling I walked up on the porch of our new chapel and saw another glimpse of heaven. The whole camp (almost 70 teens) was dancing, singing and playing music in drums and guitars. You would have thought we were already in glory. Katie and John were playing music, Grace and Jack were singing and celebrating along with the others. It was a great moment. My mind went back to the week where I saw Katie leading worship in a powerful way, I watched my sons praying at the altar for other campers,laying healing hands on those with physical and emotional pain and Grace was capturing it all with her camera (she’s really good at that), and my wonderful wife was nursing wounds in body and soul. I stopped and let all the weeks wonder just wash over me. Moments like that can be very powerful in shaping you. But you have to pay attention. Life is chock full of these moments. These are times when heaven attempts to break through our routine and remind us there’s more to life than living. How sad it must be for those who say life is just about survival until you die. If they could just slow down, put away the charts and graphs, take a deep breath and pay attention they would find eternity alive and well in their midst. Life is all around you. Don’t miss it. Pay Attention.

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The Doctor is in and He will see you now.

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Imagine walking into a doctor’s office for help with a terrible illness. Imagine that you sit there reading outdated magazines for hours waiting for those life giving words, “the doctor will see you now.” but after hours of waiting no one comes. Imagine that you walk up to the receptionist and ask if the doctor is in. Now imagine the feeling as she explains, “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you knew. The doctor stopped practicing medicine years ago. This office is a place to think about what the doctor used to do. People don’t come here to get well, but only to remember the days when He used to practice medicine. In fact the good doctor has written a book about his career if you’d like to read it. The memoirs of his past medical feats are truly inspirational! We have study groups once a week where we read his stories and memorize his prescriptions for inspiration. I’m sorry you thought he was still in practice. Can I sign you up for a study group?” My suspicion is that you would be angry, disappointed, and frustrated to say the least. Perhaps the reason so many are angry, disappointed and frustrated in church today is that we have handed them the same experience on Sunday morning. We come together like some kind of historic society and reminisce about “Bible times” and all that God used to do, but we dare anyone to actually believe he still does them.I’m glad today to say that the great physician is still in the healing business. The healer from Nazareth does not need our permission to be who he is. He is still in practice. I’m glad today that the Doctor will see you now. Right now.

Seeing God extend his hand to heal is a powerful faith builder. I know, my faith doesn’t live or die by miracles. God is who he is with or without them, but what a joy to see pain stop, vision restored, and freedom regained. As this ministry goes on I’m beginning to see what I’ve always suspected. There’s more to healing than the “wow” factor of seeing God touch broken people miraculously. When I see a man come forward for healing of Chronic pain, and I look down and see his precious young daughter holding him tightly while we pray I feel like I’m getting healed too. Something in my heart is brought to life. A little of the old hardness softens. When a woman comes seeking healing because she’s afraid she may not have children, and I almost can’t pray through my own tears, and I feel the joy of hope for her rising up, I experience healing in my own soul. When teenager tormented by dark thoughts and deep grief finds peace and freedom, I feel like I’m the being set free. Whenever Jesus healed a person he always pointed them to the greater healing, the healing of the soul. I think one of the reasons he allows us to participate in his ministry, whether it be healing, preaching, befriending, feeding or whatever expression we are given to share, is that he wants us to experience his healing in our own lives, and restoration for our own souls. Whatever your calling, my fellow life speaker, know that God is not only working through you, He is working in you and for you. he has begun a great work of redemption in you and has gifted you in a way that not only ministers through you, but to you. The Doctor is truly in and He will see you now.