Monday, September 1, 2014

Causing To Stumble - Mark 9:42-50

Causing to Stumble
42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. [44] 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. [46]47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where

“‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.'
49 Everyone will be salted with fire.

50 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

Reflection:
Whereas Jesus offers many invitations to kingdom living, today he gives a pretty stern challenge for those who would block the kingdom from coming here on earth as it is in heaven. The basic meaning of the name "Satan" is obstructer, and we see this is Satan's main tactic is to thwart the coming kingdom. Since one day he will be destroyed, he is "hell bent" on bringing others with him. And, of course, those he would try to work on are the "little ones", who could mean literally young children, or more probably those young or immature in the faith. And to do this the primary tactic is "causing them to "stumble".

He gives a very stern warning to those who cause others to stumble. And then he turns to a more personal challenge by saying that if your hand, eye or foot causes you to stumble, it is better to cut it off or get rid of it, than be thrown into hell. We can see that these are all body parts and represent all aspects of our bodily desires. The lust of our eyes, the pride of our hands, and the tendency of our feet to rush into evil. And without being too literalistic, Jesus is using hyperbole to saying if there is anything in your life that causes you to stumble from pursuing life in the kingdom, it is better to extract it now than suffer eternal consequences.

The bottom line is that as we step out in kingdom living it will at sometimes seem like losing an appendage. Denying ourselves may will require discipline and reliance on God's grace and it's means. As my favorite philosopher/theologian. Dallas Willard explains in his two books "The Spirit of the Disciplines" and "Renovation of the Heart", the spiritual disciplines are the means for which God has given us to divinely enable us to live the life of a disciple. Our hearts are transformed by God's grace in the power of the Holy Spirit through them, and we are more able to resist temptation and stumbling blocks. They are the same disciplines Jesus used.

Today's teaching is hugely important for Christians in the 21st century, so we can be the salt and the light that the world so badly needs and Jesus so greatly desires for you and me.

Jesus help us to be so aligned with your will and life through abiding in you and your grace, that we will quickly recognize stumbling blocks and not be hindered by them. As we keep our eyes on you and use the means of grace you have given us, we can be your salt and light in the world. Amen.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Whoever is Not Against Us is For Us! Mark 9:38-41

Whoever Is Not Against Us Is for Us
38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” 39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.

Reflection:

This seems like a rather random story inserted in the ninth chapter of Mark. Nonetheless it has something to teach us in how the kingdom of God works. The disciples saw someone doing what Jesus had just done, driving out demons in His name. The disciples are concerned that because he had not been among them that they might need to intervene to stop his ministry. But rather than being concerned, Jesus says that anyone that does a miracle in his name should not be stopped. He goes even further to say that even those who will welcome them because they are Christians, will be rewarded.

It will be important to comment on what this is saying and what it is not saying. First what it is not saying:

1. By using Jesus name it gives you the right to do whatever you want.
2. Good works will justify us before God.
3. An apparent miracle that is done has to be of God.

What I think it is saying:

1. We shouldn't be so narrow minded as to think we are the only true believers in Jesus, in what ever group, tribe or denomination we associate with.

2. We need to be very careful as we judge what is from God and in His power and what is not. Some of what we think is from God might not be, and visa versa.

3. When someone is delivered from a demon in Jesus name there is no reason in itself to believe it is not from God. After all why would Satan try to defeat himself. Jesus uses this example in another parable when he says "a kingdom cannot be divided against itself".

4. If someone offers some help or hospitality to us because we are a believer there is a good chance they are from God.

The tendency in all of us is to think that God operates only under the paradigm in which we have experienced him, and we can tend to make this normative for others. The key principle is something done in Jesus name and that gives glory to God. Another way of saying this is God is bigger than the boxes we put Him in. It may surprise us someday to see the type of people God used to advance his kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. After all he uses you and me!

Jesus we long to see your kingdom coming and people to be delivered from whatever demons that bind them. We pray for all who minister to deliver people in your name whether we know them or not. Amen.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Jesus Predicts His Death a Second Time Mark 9:30-37

Jesus Predicts His Death a Second Time
30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. 33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. 35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” 36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Reflection:
As Jesus makes another run through Galilee, he decides to spend time with the disciples to further explain the purpose of his mission, which would lead him to be crucified by men and then be raised from the dead by God. Notice Jesus never mentions his death without reference to his subsequent resurrection. What man wanted for evil God uses for good. And hopefully this would give the disciples some consolation as well. But the disciples still don't understand what this meant and were afraid to ask about it. Perhaps they didn't want to know the answer, or were fearful that Jesus would rebuke them. Whatever the case this somehow led to a discussion about who would be the greatest. This leads us to believe they continued to misunderstand the nature of Christ's kingdom, which he had been teaching them all along.

So Jesus decides to clarify the nature of true greatness. According to Jesus true greatness is not related to pride, position, possessions or privileges. True greatness comes from character qualities such as humility, love, trust and a willingness to serve without regard for personal gain. This is a completely counter cultural teaching for the disciples in their day, as it is for us today. To further illustrate his point, as Jesus was fond of doing, he gave them an object lesson (preachers and teachers take note!). He picked up a child and said, "whoever welcomes this child welcomes me!" Jesus use a child who had virtually no power or rights and equated treating him well with welcoming him and the Father. In other passages Jesus uplifts child-like faith. A child has no pride of ambition, and he uplifts these virtues for his disciples to emulate. And, of course, Jesus exemplifies these qualities as one who came not to be served, but to give his life as a ransom for many.

We live in a culture where pastors and other Christian leaders are lifted up as celebrities. And some of them truly do have hearts to serve as Jesus did. But I just read of one mega church pastor who was asked to step down presumably because some of the qualities Jesus uplifted today were glaringly absent to those he was accountable to and led. I mention this not to judge this pastor, but it is a reminder that pride cometh before a fall. Some signs that we are moving into pride versus the servant leadership Jesus teaches and exemplifies are:

1. We start to get more concerned of our approval ratings rather than God's view of us.

2. We are extremely sensitive to criticism with thoughts of, "how dare they insult me!" Or worse yet, "don't they know who they are taking to?"

3. We seek more to be right than to understand other points of view.

4. We are quick to anger and slow to listen.

5. We are jealous of others and are glad when they fail, rather than praying for them and the success of their ministry. I.e. We are more interested in the God's kingdom rather than our kingdoms.

These are just a few, I'm sure you could add more of your own. These probably came easy for me as I have probably experienced all of them in my 20 years of ministry. In my finer moments I seek to serve, in my weaker moments I seek to be served. How about you? What areas of pridefulness could you add to the list? Let's pray that we might have the same attitude as Jesus, who did not consider equality with God as something to hold on to, but emptied himself and became a servant, even until his death on the cross.

Jesus, you have given us an example for true greatness. As we begin our day today, help us to die to selfish ambition and pride today, in whatever ways it presents itself. As we follow your example we know we invite you into our lives and welcome others as well. Amen.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Jesus Heals A Boy Possessed by an Impure Spirit.

Jesus Heals a Boy Possessed by an Impure Spirit
14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."

23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

29 He replied, “This kind can come out by prayer."

Reflection:
In this story we can learn three very important lessons.

1. The nature of demons. Some will say that demons are not real or that we spend too much time talking about them. But we see as Jesus advances the kingdom, there is certainly opposition from evil spirits that are in direct opposition to his ministry. In this case it says the boy is possessed by a demon. The demon has such a strong hold on the boy, he has become deaf and mute. It also throws the boy into the fire and the water to try and kill him. See too the demon notices Jesus and starts acting out realizing his time is short. Finally, we see the demon shrieks as Jesus exorcises him, and he leaves at Jesus' command. So we see the reality of evil spirits and how their main purpose is to steal, kill and destroy human life (John 10:10). But the other half of the verse is that Jesus came to give us abundant life.

2. We see the nature of faith to believe in Jesus. Jesus expresses his frustration at the lack of faith in this generation. Perhaps this was aimed at the scribes, who were arguing with the disciples. Or, more likely it is aimed at the disciples, who had been sent out before and even given power over demonic forces. Perhaps while he was up on the mountain with the three other disciples, the faith of the remaining disciples waned with Jesus being absent. Whatever the case, the important act of faith comes when the boy's dad says, "I believe help me with my unbelief!" This would suggest that at some level the man believed in Jesus, but he was also doubtful Jesus could heal his boy of such a horrible condition. Apparently Jesus shows him grace, as he heals the boy inspite of his unbelief. But the key learning here is that Jesus can do whatever he wants, but ultimately his goal is that people would have faith in him. He makes the incredible promise, "to him who believes all things are possible."

3. Finally, Jesus' last statement is of importance. He says, "This kind can only come out with prayer!" Other versions say, "fasting and prayer". But in essence they are the same, because we fast so we can be more fully concentrated in our prayers. As Paul says in Ephesians 6, "And pray in the Spirit on all with all kinds of prayers and request on all occasions." Our faith is expressed through prayer, through the Spirit praying with us, and they are powerful and effective in every situation we find ourselves in.

As we seek to advance God's kingdom, as ambassadors of Christ, we can be sure we will face spiritual opposition. But we need not fear. As we have faith in Christ and his power, greater is he that in us than he that is in the world. One day Satan and his demons will be condemned to hell for eternity, but for now we battle them in Jesus' name and power.

Jesus help us as we confront the darkness in our generation to have faith in you on all occasions, especially as we meet those afflicted by demons. Help us to pray on all occasions completely relying on your name and power through which all things are possible. Amen.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Transfiguration - Mark 9

Mark 9 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

The Transfiguration
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) 7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” 8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant. 11 And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” 12 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? 13 But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.”

Reflection:
As Jesus had given the disciples a taste of the suffering he would go through, he now gives a foretaste of his glory. He takes them on a high mountain, similar to the mountain Moses went up to when he received the direct revelation of the law. Importantly he takes three of his closest disciples to experience this with him. Though most of all of the disciples had experienced most of the miracles, only the inner three get see him transfigured. His clothes were dazzling white, whiter than any process on earth could whiten. Only God could have brought about the purity they saw before them, and we will experience when we meet Christ in His resurrected glory.

With him appear Moses and Elijah. Most feel this represents the Law and the Prophets,who paved the way for Jesus to come. The Law represented the perfect Law and righteousness, which we could never attain on our own. The prophets spoke into the solution God would provide in sending a Messiah, a suffering servant who would take on the sins of the world. Impetuous Peter is so overwhelmed by the moment, he wants to capture it. He proposes building a tabernacle, which was the ordinary place God would dwell on earth with men. But this was superseded by the heavenly cloud that overshadowed them. From this cloud God affirms Jesus' identity as His Son and re-affirms His love for him.

As they return down the mountain, Jesus explains the nature of what happened in terms of His resurrection when he would enter this glory permanently. But the disciples are confused and think that this prophecy related to Elijah the prophet's death. They still can't wrap their heads around the fact that Jesus was not going to be a political Messiah, but the one that would save the world from their sins and usher in God's kingdom. This is the sense of verse 1, when Jesus says some standing here will not see death until they see God's kingdom come in power.

So what could this mean for us? God knew the disciples needed certain experiences before they would be ready to carry on the ministry after he rose from the dead. And each one received different training. Each of these three men played key roles after Jesus died. James was one of the first martyrs. Peter was the chief preacher of the Gospel, which brought people to Christ. And John lived to an old age and received many more revelations of the end times and how Jesus would return. Jesus continues to reveal himself today through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Church as it gathers in His name. Jesus made a promise that as we carry out the Great Commission, He will be with us to the end of the age.

We also experience Jesus as we read His Word and the Holy Spirit continues to speak to us through it. When we read the Word, we also should be asking the question, "What is God saying to me, and what am I going to do about it?" What might God be saying to you today about your relationship with Him through what Jesus has done for us? Why don't we ask Him! God it is good for us to be here this morning with you. As we go back down the mountain today, help us to lead lives that point to you. May Your Holy Spirit guide us in everything we say and do. Amen.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Way of the Cross - Mark 8:34-37

The Way of the Cross
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”


Reflection:
Up to now Jesus has been inviting us to participate in His coming kingdom by his words and works. And despite the nobility of his words and works, there are some who are threatened by them and seek his demise. And we see that by his words and works he has attracted a crowd, who came to investigate whether or not Jesus was the real deal. But now Jesus lays down the challenge of what it means to follow him. He has gone from showing them how to do it, to equipping them to follow him. But first he challenges them to count the cost before they decide.

And what is the cost of following Jesus? Simply put, it is denying ourselves and taking up our cross and following him. It is being willing to lose our lives in the body, so we might save our souls. It is giving up the gain in the world, so we might reap eternal profits. True it is,” said Bishop Hooper, the night before he suffered martyrdom, “that life is sweet, and death is bitter, but eternal death is more bitter, and eternal life is more sweet.”

Jesus knew that there would be some who wanted to follow him, yet were not willing to lay down their lives to do it. Some would both want Jesus and the world. And as a follower of Christ for many years now, it is a constant battle to lose oneself for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. We fight the flesh everyday that wants to gratify itself every day. And every day we need to die to this desire for self gratification. Just like an alcoholic must daily surrender their desire to drink to God, so the sinner needs to daily surrender themselves to God.

Now this may sound pretty serious and sobering, but I have found that in surrendering myself to Jesus (even though I am not perfect yet), I have actually experienced a freedom the world can never did. One of my favorite verses in this regard is when Jesus says in John 10:10, "I have come to give you life and life abundantly!"

So the question for us to consider today is, have I surrendered my life to Jesus? Have I counted the cost of discipleship? It starts with today surrendering our life to God and saying you take over the steering wheel and let's go together. This not only leads us into the eternal kind of life, but also ushers us into the abundant life in Christ! Amen.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Jesus Predicts His Death - Mark 8:31-33

Jesus Predicts His Death
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Reflection: In explaining the nature of the kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven, Jesus has used many proofs. He has healed all types of diseases, delivered demons, calmed the tempest, and most recently fed thousands with a few loaves and fish on two occasions. But all of this was not for the effect of the miracles themselves, but to point to who He was, and that in believing we might have life in His name. And yesterday we saw that one disciple, Peter, got it right when he put forth the idea that Jesus was the "Christ", the Anointed One of God.

But this shows that the disciples had not yet understood the nature of his Messiahship. They were under the impression that He might bring in a temporal kingdom, which was a false pre-conceived notion. So Jesus begins to teach them the true nature of His mission, which would be one of triumph not in a military sense, but a victory over sin, death and the power of the devil. On the cross Jesus defeated all of our enemies as Colossians 2:15 says, "Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them triumphing over them on the cross."

The text says he spoke plainly about his, as if to imply it was matter of fact for him. But Peter did not see it that way. Perhaps out of affection for Jesus, or perhaps because connected to his confession of Jesus as Messiah, were false assumptions relating to national interests. Best possible construction was he was doing this out of love. Worst possible construction is his rebuke was motivated by a more selfish desire. Maybe it was a little of both. But we must remember that Peter and the disciples had been under the dominance of the Romans and were a people dispossessed of their homeland. So it is not surprising they were hoping for a reversal of fortune with the Messiah that they had hoped Jesus would be.

Jesus similarly rebukes Peter and even labels him as Satan. This might seem a little over the top, unless we understand the real meaning of the word "Satan". It means obstructer or block. So Jesus was rebuking the spirit in Peter that was trying be an obstacle to the cross. Notice too Jesus says this is having the concerns of the world over the concerns of God. By implication we can see that one of Satan's strategies is to get people so concerned about the things of the world they have little impact on God's kingdom coming on earth. Rather than dramatic schemes you can see how subtle this strategy is.

What can we learn from this? We could be blocking God's purposes unknowingly. We could be focused on something we think is furthering Jesus' interests when our concerns are really of man not of God. Matthew says to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness so that all the things we need may be added to us as well. So how can we know if we are focused on the things of God versus man? If we are seeking God's kingdom it will likely involve us dying to our own concerns and self aggrandizement. And as we study Jesus' life we have the prime example of what this looks like. That is why it is always good to spend time in the Gospels reading all 4 over and over. Each one has a particular emphasis that is helpful for us to learn from Jesus. The book of Acts is also helpful because we see an example of the early community doing many of the things Jesus did. This fulfills what Jesus said when he stated, "You will do even greater things than these."

So the question to ponder is: does our church and individual lives look anything like Jesus and the early church. If not, we will want to re-calibrate our mission, time and efforts. Today would be a good day to assess, "Am I more concerned about the things of man or of God". A good test would be where are my time, talents and treasures being invested? As we are guided and led by the Holy Spirit we can be assured of making a difference that will last for all eternity with our investments. Amen.