Crickets, roaches and obnoxious saviors.

Mark 9:33-37

“…he asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?'” v. 33

Somebody should write a book entitled, “Great Awkward moments in Biblical History.” The Bible, like life, is stuffed to the hilt with them. We’ve all had those moments when, in the heat of some delightfully heated gripe session concerning the job, the class, or the church meeting. We’re telling our safe group of co-laborers in critique all the things we’re too afraid to say to the people who could actually do something about it, for fear of reprisal-or something worse, like being proven wrong. Just when our gleeful gripefest is at a fever pitch, the person in question walks in the room and says, “What are you all talking about?” We’re listening now to the song of crickets in the awkward forest. With polite smiles and nervous laughter we take out our political mops and try to clean up the mess as best we can. “Uh well, uhm…” Nothing is more irritating than to have your dance in the dark ruined by somebody turning on the lights, just when things were getting good. The roaches run for cover and we all shield our eyes and try to adjust without going blind. Speaking of awkward moments in Biblical history, I’ve got a juicy one for you today.

One day the disciples were walking along, and as often happens on long trips, a debate emerged among them. They must not have been following too closely to Jesus, because they were quite sure he would not approve of the content of this conversation. It’s always a good idea to distance yourself from the Lord when you want to talk about things like, how great you are and how you compare with others. The disciples were ranking themselves in order of greatness. Like I said, any time you want to promote yourself and groom your ego, it’s advisable to make sure you aren’t walking very close to Jesus. It’s kinda hard to focus on him and yourself at the same time. But in the midst of their discussion, just when they were sure they had every disciple ranked and categorized in order of importance. Just when they had finally figured out who would be Israel’s next top Apostle. Jesus stops his steady march to the cross, turns around and waits patiently for his sanctified celebrities to catch up with him. I can hear them as they draw closer to him on the road. “Shut up! He can hear us! Quick! Change the subject.” Just as they finish sweetly singing the last verse of  “Heart of worship” they finally catch up to Jesus. Wiping their moist eyes, with hands lifted high while they sway arm in arm to the beat, signing, “It’s all about you Jesus….” Then asks the question, “So, guys what were you talking about back there?” When the music fades all you can hear is the roar of crickets in the awkward forest.

I hate it when the Lord asks me a question that I he already knows the answer to. Once, many years ago, I was driving along in my car listening to my Christian music like a nice preacher. I may have been humming, “It’s all about you, Jesus…” when I noticed a sign out in front of a church as I drove by. I don’t remember what it said, but the message caused me to say something bitterly critical about it. In all my superior dignity I uttered my cutting words of indignant disapproval. Almost immediately I heard the Lord speak to me, as clear as crystal. “Mark, why do you have to do that?” Can you hear the crickets chirping in my soul? I hate it when he does that. He asked me a question, but he knew the answer. I have to criticize and compare myself to others so I can win the prize on “America’s next top Christian”

I’m not secure in myself, or in the love God has for me, so I have to tell myself I’m more spiritual, more correct and more godly than the next person. If I don’t find a way to put myself in a better light than someone else I have to settle for living in the grace of a God who loves me in my brokenness. That’s too hard. It’s much easier for me to keep telling myself the lie that God only loves me when I’m better than you. So I find it soothing to criticize the church sign, the preacher who is too liberal or too conservative, the song with poor theology, and the sinner who’s apparently more broken than me. But I find the only way I can indulge my need to compare and criticize, is to maintain a safe distance from Jesus. While he moves toward the cross on my behalf I’ll just slow down my pace and linger in my delusions of relative sanctification a little longer. It’s safer back here than up there where my savior is leading me. But you and I both know what’s going to happen don’t we? He’s gonna slow down at some point, wait for me to catch up then ask that awkward question, “What are you talking/thinking about?” He loves me too much to be anything less than obnoxious about such things. He can’t leave well enough alone and abandon me to myself. He knows when to burst in at the worst possible moment flip on the light and send the roaches running back to hell where we all know they belong. I’m just glad he’s not sending me there instead. His love has redeemed and is redeeming my broken soul. So, while these awkward moments of truth can be pretty disarming and honestly a bit frustrating to my sense of “betterthanyouness”‘, I’d rather have him stopping me on the road, flipping on the light and chasing away the roaches, than leaving me behind.

 

 

 

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.”

Your homey or your king?

Mark 6:1-6

“and they took offense at him.” v. 3

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It’s hard to imagine the Son of God being amazed at anything. But here we see one thing that made him stop and just shake his head in wonder. It’s one thing when people don’t believe. That’s bad enough. But what really got Jesus here was the unbelief of those who seemingly knew him best. Jesus had come to his hometown with his disciples. Apparently his fame had arrived before him. They said, “Where did this man get these things?…How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses….?” And they were offended by him. Here’s the amazing thing to me. They didn’t deny his mighty works or his wisdom. But their familiarity with him caused them to be offended. One would think, they would be proud of this small town boy becoming so great and wise. But instead, they were offended…at what? His fame? His power? The very thing that had masses streaming to his doorstep in other places, caused his hometown to reject him. They say familiarity breeds contempt, perhaps it also creates blindness. Perhaps they were offended that this small town boy from Nazareth didn’t stay small. Sometimes that happens. I love small towns. I’ve lived in them all my life. But sometimes small town living creates small thinking. Everything is small and safe. Everybody is in their place. Life is predictable. Jesus would have been fine if he had just stayed home and run the family business. But his calling led him beyond the boundaries of Nazareth. He broke out of the constraints of normalcy and became bigger than life. He busted the curve, shattered the status quo. Suddenly this good ole boy from Nazareth was challenging everyone’s limited expectations and forcing them to look beyond the borders of their comfortable lives. They were offended, not at his power and teachings, but at what he had become. In response, Jesus summed up the matter pretty well. “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” It’s sad when we become so familiar with Jesus today that we no longer believe. We’re often like the people of Nazareth. We’ve read the stories of Jesus, spent our lives in church forming our doctrinal expectations of him and telling ourselves what he will and will not do. By the time we reach adulthood, many believers no longer believe their beliefs. We have become so familiar with Jesus that, like the people of Nazareth, we no longer know him. We get used to our small town Jesus who goes with us to Sunday school. But when he starts calling us beyond ourselves we become offended. “Isn’t this the Jesus who sat with me in Sunday school? What is all this talk of self-sacrifice and walking in the Spirit? Isn’t he that guy the preacher talks about, who loves us like we are and wants us happy? who is this guy claiming to be our king?” and we are offended at him. While the masses are seeking him in hospital rooms and hotel rooms, his church going family is refusing to believe. We want a nice safe, small town Jesus, who keeps his place while we live however we want. As in Nazareth, he can do no mighty work there, and he marvels at our unbelief. Have you and I become too familiar with the Nazarene? Have our religious expectations caused us to be offended by him? Or will we seek to rediscover this Jesus and embrace him for the savior and king he really is?

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.

Jesus gospel- Part Three: “You can do it.” and other delusions.

Mark 1:15c

“…and believe in the gospel.”

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The heart of the gospel is believing. The world is filled with messages about the power of believing; “Believe in yourself.” , “Believe in your dreams.” , “Believe you can do anything.” These are familiar mantras for a secular world. The only problem is they are all centered on the almighty self. In a world that has relegated God to the outer edges of life, at best, and into oblivion, at worst, everything centers on you. You become fully responsible for your destiny. You must chart your own course, follow your own road, they say. You can become whatever you want. You can find true happiness by simply believing in yourself, they say. One glance at the addiction rate among the self-made in society should cure that delusion. But Jesus calls us in a completely different direction. He bids us forsake the almighty self with all its self-exalting, self gratifying hype, and place our trust in someone and something infinitely greater. He calls us to “repent and believe in the gospel.”

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One of the most common arguments I hear from those who resist salvation is, “I don’t think I can do it.” likewise, one of the most delusional responses I have heard from those who preach salvation is, “Yes you can.” Jesus does not call us to believe we can make ourselves fit for his kingdom. The gospel, i.e. the good news, is that God has done for you what you could never accomplish for yourself. You cannot come to Christ believing in yourself or in your ability to make it work. As long as there is one stitch of self-reliance involved you will never really come to Jesus Christ. The very nature of faith is that you place all your trust in Christ, and Him alone. If there was anything you could do to make yourself good enough for God, then He certainly would never have allowed His Son to die in your place on the cross. The cross is where your salvation was won forever. Your sins were paid for in full. Your diseases were healed. Your life was reconciled to God. Your power to live the new life rests in Christ, not in you. If you are still trying to make it to heaven you have not yet begun the journey. Every other religion on the earth feeds into the worship of the almighty self. They all feed into the “You can do it.” delusion. Only the gospel of Jesus has the nerve to go against the self-promotion of this world. Only Jesus says you must believe beyond yourself. You must believe entirely in what Christ has done for you on the cross. Anything less is just religion: Trying to appease a deity with human tricks. Jesus calls you out of your religious tricks and into a life of faith, working through love. If you think you cannot make it to heaven, then you are in a perfect place to receive salvation. Repent of your self reliance, your self- determination, your self- indulgence, and your self-pity. Trust in Christ alone to save you. Then watch your world begin to change.

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.