Wednesday, September 30, 2009

In your face, apostate!

broken stained glass Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

Jude 3

The faith is worth defending. In an age when secularism defines social agendas, does Christianity stand a chance of presenting an acceptable worldview? I say, YES! But it will take lots of work. And it MUST start in the church.

The faith (the body of teachings beginning and rooted in the gospel that comes from the work of the apostles themselves) has been in decline for over a century. Liberal theology and its neo-liberal proponents among emergent thinkers have emasculated most of the power of the gospel in mainline Protestant denominations. People may accidentally come to faith in these groups, but it is usually because they were affected outside the dead liberalism of their church. Apostasy is winning the day in Christian circles.

From outside the church, naturalism and total secularism have seen the universe itself as the shaping force for human evolution. God is no longer necessary for most philosophical considerations in 21st century Western thinking. We have now the most secularized culture ever, and in America, we seem to have embraced the most secularized administration of government and education ever in our history. Evangelicalism is on the decline, at least in terms of popular thinking. And many futurists see it declining even as militant Islam, New Age paganism, and Eastern religions are on the rise worldwide. The time has come to contend for the faith. Too long we have been content in a lobotomized form of it.

It is time for Christians to be discerning and dedicated to defending the gospel. I am NOT for reviving the old fighting fundamentalism of my youth. That militant Christianity was a form of apostasy itself. No, I believe we should preach and defend the gospel. We should teach and defend the doctrines of essential Christianity. We should develop and defend a robust Christian worldview. And we don’t have to mock others to do it. We do have to understand the opposition and gently and vividly instruct, yes…even confront, those deceived by false teaching. Without these commitments, Christianity will not stand another generation.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


empty tomb

And he said to them, "Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.”

Mark 16:6

Look into the empty tomb

tell me what you see.

The Crucified One is now risen;

what could this really mean?

Suffering Savior sent to die.

Scattered sheep return; nothing remains

but an open tomb and grave clothes.

He is risen just as He said!

Resurrection changes it all

and no more is death the final foe.

I died with Him there, baptism buried,

new life awaits me as I rise also.

The tomb is empty

but my life is full.

Filled with Christ now

as in His life now I go.

Monday, September 28, 2009

a mockery

crown cross hammer

And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself.”

Mark 15:29-31

When I read the crucifixion accounts, this is the part of the story that tears at me the most. Human nature resorts to cruel treatment of others as a matter of course. But to have the very Son of God treated with such contempt. scorn, and mockery is the ultimate human insult to God.

I am by nature a selfish person. And when that meets my sarcastic sense of humor, watch out. I can say some pretty mean stuff. I suppose that is why reading this part of the story impacts me. Outside the grace of God, I would probably react similarly. I am a wicked man in need of the salvation that Jesus brings at the cross. In a sense, many objectors to the Christian faith do the same kind of mocking today. Jesus is mocked by secularists, the faith is maligned as anemic and a psychological crutch by the intellectual guardians of our humanist culture. The mocking continues at every level when Christians themselves are maligned for the sake of the gospel.

The real power of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ death is that Jesus was taking upon Himself the guilt of the very mockery that was happening to Him at the moment. He was dying for the sarcastic ridicule heaped upon Him. He was suffering in order to offer forgiveness for the very acts they were doing as He way dying. No wonder we call it “amazing grace”! This is why He could graciously pray, “Father, forgive them…”

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Inconsistent faith.

your-failures-do-not-define-you And Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away, for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'”

Mark 14:27

Jesus spoke these words to the twelve people who had invested their entire lives to be with Him. He knew that after His arrest, trial, and crucifixion, not one of them would stand by Him. They would all run and hide in fear. He knew this. He told them this ahead of time, despite their insistence that they would be His followers. Peter is told specifically about his denial and he denies that he will deny! (Mark 14:31). These men have strong words but weak hearts (Mark 14:40-42). Jesus understood this about them.

Following Jesus always has this element of battle against my own desires. The result is that I don’t always follow Him like I should. I don’t love Him like I should. I don’t obey Him like I should. I am thus a lot like these men. I talk a good talk. But my feet don’t always match up with my statements.

I am sure that Jesus was disappointed with the inconsistency of these men. But He let them know that He would restore the relationship they had run from. They might run away, but He would go in front of them to Galilee, and there make His post-resurrection appearances in the strongest ways. These men would remember their failures, but only in the light of Jesus’ remarkable work and victory. And they would never be the same men again. Inconsistent faith is challenged by God. Our failures are forgiven when we return to Him. He knows us and He loves us and He reaches us despite ourselves. Leaning on God’s grace gives us the resources to know that it is all up to Him. We simply believe and follow… even after we fail.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Eschatology really matters.

clouds of glory

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.
And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

Mark 13:24-27

The longest discourse from Jesus in the book of Mark is found in chapter 13 as Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It consists of Jesus giving His own prophecy of the destruction of the beautiful temple built by Herod in Jerusalem. (Mark 13:2)  Then Peter, James and John come to Him wanting to know just when that event would occur (Mark 13:4), because they know full well that nothing short of full-blown war could result in the temple’s destruction. Jesus warns them that they would suffer for proclaiming the gospel in the context of many false Messiahs also rising up in opposition, but that the gospel would advance to the world. (Mark 13:5-13).

Then Jesus goes on to reference an Old Testament prophecy that plays heavily in His teaching on the end times. He talks about the abomination of desolation. (See Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). Any Jew who had studied the prophets (quite a common practice in Jesus’ day) would understand the reference. And Jesus talks about a time period he refers to as “tribulation” unlike any time on earth that has ever happened or will ever happen. This is more than just a skirmish in the Middle East. And I have preterist friends who see Titus’ sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD as the focus of these words. But Jesus’ description would be full of hyperbole and not prophecy if this is the case. For Jesus, the tribulation time has worldwide and even universal effect. It is after this tribulation that the Son of Man returns with accompanying celestial signs.

Ultimately, Jesus does not give His disciples the kind of answer they were looking for. Instead, He hints that they would face some of it (Mark 13:30), but will not know exactly when He will return. The final word from Jesus on these things is to watch for Him and live expecting His return (Mark 13:37). Personally, I find this compelling and extremely motivating to find out more of what He meant by this.

It is very popular today among theologians young and old to have no settled opinion on eschatology. Some might think “It does not really matter.” “It is just too confusing.” But it meant enough to Jesus to spend this long sermon on the subject. It might do us well to delve into it, to compare scripture to scripture, to take up His suggestion to understand what Daniel is saying about future events, and live expecting His return as He commanded His disciples.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How to deal with a corrupt government.

But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, "Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it." And they brought one. And he said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said to himdenarius, "Caesar's." Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they marveled at him.

Mark 12:15-17

The question that Jesus was dealing with was a politically loaded one for all the Jews: “Should we pay taxes to the pagan king of Rome?” Resistance to Roman rule was starting to swell up in Judea. And Jesus knew this. But he refused to seek or to be just a political solution. Within a generation after Jesus’ crucifixion administered by a Roman death squad, Jerusalem would be totally sacked by Caesar’s legions. Why? Because Jewish revolt did not listen to these words.

Jesus made it clear that there are indeed degrees of allegiance. As far as He was concerned, no one deserved God’s level of allegiance. But when it came to paying a tax to Rome, He saw it as legitimate to hand Roman coins over to Roman authorities when required… as long as God was getting His correct allegiance and worship. I am quite sure that Jesus would have had nothing to do with emperor worship, since that was God’s domain. But He would donate a denarius when called upon by the tax man.dollar

Today’s evangelicals should take a lesson from Jesus regarding the current administration and rising secularism in culture and government worldwide. I am worried for all those who have now gone totally “Glenn Beck” in their approach. I am not necessarily happy with the increase in socialistic practice in America. And our debt will effectively bankrupt generations at this point. But I do not believe that government is the answer. I’ll give to Caesar everything but my ultimate trust! That is God’s domain. He is the God who led Christians into the arena in Rome and was faithful to the martyr. And Christianity flowered and flourished under such a government. God is greater than government.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Commerce & Religion

bible bar

And he was teaching them and saying to them, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers." And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.

Mark 11:17-18

One clear sign of a degenerative religion is commercial activity in its practice. Jesus would not let the profiteering continue in the temple when He saw it. He took swift and decisive and controversial action. He drove out those who were making obscene profits from exchanging foreign funds at the temple. He chased away those who were taking advantage of the poor through the forced sale of sacrificial animals.

The practices that made Jesus so indignant were twofold: 1) The money changers charged way too high an exchange price for those coming in from foreign places to worship during the Passover. The temple tax was to be paid in Jewish currency, and the money changers made healthy, even outrageous profits, from the practice. 2) Those selling sacrificial animals also took advantage of those making a long journey to the temple. They would raise the price of a sacrificial animal to extremes. They also would insist that any animal brought for sacrifice would have to be traded (along with a chunk of cash) for a more acceptable animal. They would then more than likely sell the “trade-in” to the next unsuspecting customer. It was quite a racket.

Jesus had the authority to do this because this was after all His Father’s house! And no one could do anything about it at the moment. The chief priests and scribes saw that the crowd adored what Jesus had done. They had been oppressed by this evil practice for quite some time. So the leaders just decided to bide their time. The crowds were astonished at His teaching (again) because this time He physically demonstrated His authority over the very practices done in the temple courts.

I wonder what Jesus would think of our modern evangelical culture. I am all for resources and reading. I suppose there is a place for being able to purchase them at a reasonable price. I know that I could not take a royalty on a Christian resource in good conscience. I am not so sure that retailing the gospel for sheer profit is such a good idea, either. We can get bumper stickers, necklaces, candy bars, sweat shirts, rap CD’s, and nowadays, even Christian cologne in the name of the Man who cleansed the temple of its salesmen. Could something be not quite right?

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Friday, September 18, 2009

the man who couldn’t stop following

jesus_healing_blind And Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your faith has made you well." And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

Mark 10:52

The story of Bartimaeus is a story of persistence. He was a blind man who knew Jesus could heal him. And he begged for Jesus to do so, even as the crowd kept him from Jesus. And Jesus heard his cries. Jesus heard him above the din of the crowd and called the blind man to himself. Bartimaeus quickly sprang to his feet from his beggar’s corner of the road. He came to Jesus and made his request face to face. Jesus answers him right to the point of the need this man had. And Jesus gave him the freedom to do what he wanted with his new gift of sight. He chose to stay with Jesus.

What I find in this passage is a spiritual persistence. I think that if I was suddenly blinded, I’d be desperate to have my sight back. I would pursue all options. I’d give all my energies to receiving healing. Persistence would be driven by physical need. But Bartimaeus had a spiritual persistence. Even after Jesus gave him what he so desperately wanted, he returned to follow Jesus. This time it wasn’t about sight or healing. It was about relationship with the man who had given him sight. He would not stop following.

Persistence is vital to Christian growth, so I find encouragement from good ol’ blind Bart. Many times I want to follow Jesus when I get something good from Him. But after the fact… well, it is easy to go my own way. But real faith makes following Jesus the way I want to go at all times. It is enough to know and follow Him. He is all I need.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Into His Arms

And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me."

Mark 9:36-37

Jesus_and_Child_hug This warm teaching moment came after an embarrassing argument among the disciples. They had been fighting amongst themselves over who was the greatest among them (Mark 9:33-34). They had yet to learn humble service. While Jesus was transfigured, nine of the disciples had been in a power struggle with a young man possessed by a demon. (Mark 9:14-29) All they physical symptoms of epilepsy marked this young man except for the weird spiritual feature of having seizures at dangerous moments (thrown into fire or water according to his father’s report to Jesus). The demon was destroying this young man. The disciples were powerless to deal with this spiritual issue, even though they had been commissioned by Jesus to do His work, including dealing with demons, and had seen success in the past (Mark 6:13). They were not as strong as they thought they were.

Jesus settles there “greatness” argument with two lines of careful thought. First, he appeals to servanthood. They must be the servants of all, including each other. They had failed to cast out the demon earlier because they had failed to humbly pray. They had missed His message, which led to His second personal lesson for them. They must see no person as too small, ignoring no one. He took up a small child to illustrate this point, and I smile as I read it. Seeing Jesus hug a child to Him tells me the kind of man He was. Children respond to warm and loving people. And Jesus was this and more. He embraced people and loved them because God loves all people that He has made. The disciples were going to learn that lesson.

The other part of the object lesson had to do with the consequences of loving people. When we really do so, we are like Jesus and we receive Him, because His love is right there with that person that we have chosen to see and treat as loved by God. And to receive that person is to receive Jesus. To receive Jesus is to receive the Father. We grow closer to God by serving others. That is the point. When I take a person into my arms, I am taken into the arms of Jesus.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Disciple’s Commitment & Passion

cross white And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?”

Mark 8:34-47

Jesus made the case for all to enter into a discipleship relationship with Him. And He clearly made known what this meant. He invited the crowd to bump up the commitment. He explained the details of the relationship by redesigning the relationship of rabbi and disciple.

In Jesus’ day, if a person wanted to become a follower of a rabbi or a certain rabbinical tradition, generally the parents of the young man would seek out the rabbi and make admission to have him accepted as a disciple. There would be requirements. They had to first seek the teacher, then be approved, then follow. But Jesus changed the procedure. He went after disciples. He invited them to come and to follow Him. He initiated the relationship.

And His call to the crowds here is to let those who wanted to change their level of commitment to do so. He invited each one to “come after me… take up his cross and follow me.” This was an appeal for discipleship. It was a concept that Jesus took hold of and re-engineered for the purposes of setting the standards for the lives of His followers. And Christians have been challenged by Jesus with these statements ever since.

What makes it challenging? These statements get to our heart, our passions, and our deepest desires. We are called to self-denial for the sake of Jesus. I do not commit to following Christ for the advancement of my own agenda, but for saving and life-changing commitment to the King. We are called to public humbling by “taking up” a cross. Jesus uses the spectacle of public execution to let His disciples in on the results of discipleship. It is not just self-denial. It is an attitude of self-death. And of course we are to follow after Jesus. The end result of the self-denial and self-death is a new relationship where Jesus sets the agenda for the course of our lives. I no longer dictate the direction or the deeds of my life… Jesus does.

And life and death hang in the balance. We are told that salvation is worth the sacrifice… that our souls are of more value than all the world. That giving up our own agenda for His will be more valuable than we can possibly imagine. And millions of believers have come to know this as true, even as they waited for eternity to bear fruit in their lives by this commitment.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Diagnosis of the heart.


“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

Mark 7:21-23

Jesus knows where the big battles are fought. And they aren’t so much a matter of legislation or public debate. They are at the individual level at the most difficult place on the planet: the human heart. The Pharisees placed all their emphasis on external rules and regulations. Jesus wryly and correctly pointed out that this legalism produced hearts of sin. They found ways of circumventing the real needs and the real appeal to the heart by leaving the commandment of God for the tradition of men (Mark 7:8).

The result of merely external religion is two-fold. 1) It rejects God’s Word for human tradition. This is what the Pharisees had done when questioning why the disciples did not wash their hands in the “traditional” way. When higher value is placed on an application or a tradition than the scripture itself, something is wrong. Human pride has replaced God’s revelation at that point. But there is more. 2) Legalism eventually voids God’s Word by human manipulation (Mark 7:13). When we really on our own power, we rob God’s truth and authority of His power (at least at an effective level) and show ourselves to be selfish and in no need of God. It takes humility of the heart to bend to the authority of scripture. The Pharisees would really have none of that.

Jesus taught that the human heart operates at a natural deficit. It cannot do what is right without God’s intervention. Even in the practice of religion, it will promote a sinful, selfish agenda. That is what Jesus was driving at. It was not an external conformance issue that would determine a person’s righteousness before God. It was going to be what sprang from the heart. And because the heart is naturally ruined by sin, out of it will come what is unholy. That is what Jesus has come to change. And that is why salvation is a change from within.

When that occurs through the new birth, and a new nature is given, with the Holy Spirit’s residence now established within, and the Word of God providing new direction, the human heart has a chance to establish real righteousness in Christ. And from within a new nature comes the life that can please God: Life in Christ. Our physical heart gives life to our body. From it pumps the life blood that sustains us day to day. From within the spiritual heart we have life. And Jesus is that life. He gives life to us now (Romans 8:11) and will be our life forever when we see Him face to face (Colossians 3:4).

The only hope for change I have is that God has changed me. The only chance at being right is that I have the righteousness of God in Christ. I was dead in sin, but now I am alive in Christ. My heart was filled with all the deceit of sin. but is made new in Christ. And I do nothing without it coming from the heart. Jesus knows this, and did everything to let me know it and change it in me.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Comfort takes a back seat.

rocket-recliner-5423 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.
Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

Mark 6:32-34

I live in a culture where comfort is king. Last year, while shopping for furniture for our family room, I was amazed at the wide variety of easy chairs that are available. It isn’t about a simple recliner any more. Now you can purchase them large enough to sleep in. No joke. And you can get a matched set built together as a sofa or loveseat. And in the ultimate coach potato experience, there are electric recliners (you push a button to recline or sit up, even raise yourself out of the chair) that are equipped with drink holders AND a mini-fridge. We Americans like to take our ease.

Now there is nothing wrong with taking a break. Jesus models that for us in this passage where He encourages His disciples to come with him on a boat to get away from the press of ministry. But the idea did not last. As soon as they got in the boat, the crowds figured out the plan and ran around the lake to greet them at their destination. They wanted a short vacation. They got a boat ride. This seemed unfair, like booking a Caribbean cruise and only getting to the airport.

I find Jesus’ response to this situation interesting. I know if someone had blown my vacation plans, I’d be upset. I’d be tempted to unload on them like a celebrity at a papparazzi photographer! But Jesus responded with compassion. He saw their spiritual need and immediately responded to it. Comfort was a secondary concern, and somehow, just getting the boat ride was going to be enough.

I find this instructive. I had a busy week last week between pastoral ministry and teaching at Calvary Seminary. And this coming week has a full ministry slate as well. For a two week period I will be working on my days off. And by the time the calendar shows me a break it will be three weeks until one full day off arrives. I will need a few boat rides with Jesus to get me through! And I know He will provide them.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Following from afar.

jesus gadarene As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, "Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

Mark 5:18-20

This account of the healing of the man in the tombs is really the first description of a new kind of disciple… one with whom we can readily identify. I have often entertained the fantasy of being a First Century follower. After all, what Christian would not trade sandals with one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples? It would be a dream come true to literally walk with Jesus.

The dramatic story of this suffering demoniac draws us in. He went from being a man whose demons begged Jesus to leave them alone to being a man whom Jesus set in his right mind. In this healed condition he now begged to become one of Jesus’ inner band, to travel with this Rabbi and learn from Him. He obviously believed in Jesus. But Jesus had other plans for this man. He wanted him to follow… from a distance.

This disciple was commissioned to do something very specific: “Go home and tell your friends.” And he was given a powerful message to proclaim: “….tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” He was also living testimony to a powerful fact about God: “…and how He has had mercy on you.” This disciple was given a relationship with Jesus much like the one we have today. He was to proclaim his testimony to the saving work of Christ to all those around him, even as Jesus was not physically present.

The results were blessed by God. Jesus knew what He was doing when He commissioned this man. All over the ten city region of the Decapolis (a Galilean region primarily Gentile in its ethnic composition) this man preached the gospel and impressed people by what Jesus had done for him. If this man could do this, we can do the same… I can do the same.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Searchable Truth

sprout With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

Mark 4:33-34

By teaching in parables. Jesus made truth searchable and knowable by anyone interested in honest investigation of His claims. That was the purpose of the parables (see Mark 4:10-12). And Jesus was a master at teaching in this way. He taught with many parables on many occasions. I believe it is entirely possible that much of what He told in parables is not recorded in the gospels. But we have all the important ones that explain the mission of salvation and the person of Jesus.

The interesting factor in this was the attitude of the crowd. This text says that Jesus taught in parables “as they were able to hear it”. This indicates that some may have been in attendance in the crowd, but may have not gotten to the point of the parables. The parables, however, provided two important things that made Jesus’ teaching “stick” in the minds of His hearers. First, as stories, they became memorable. Since we are not an aural society, we don’t appreciate this fact as much. But those who heard the stories in a society of story-tellers, remembered them. It is why we have them now. The second benefit of teaching the parables was that it created a follow-up opportunity. Anyone who wanted to ask for further clarification could do so. Those who investigated were the ones who “heard it”. They could take it further. That was Jesus’ intention all along.

Christian truth is knowable. It is not based on hunches or feelings or pragmatic mysticism. It is real knowledge and truth. Just like I can investigate and understand the periodic table of the elements in chemistry, I can investigate and explore the teachings and person of Jesus. And I can rest assured that the body of knowledge about Him is spiritual truth that is as real as any other body of knowledge. His own words, in His own parables, to His own disciples show me the way to such conviction.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Family Ties

family ties

And he answered them, "Who are my mother and my brothers?"
And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother."

Mark 3:33-35

The family of Jesus did not fully identify with His message and purposes. We know that they already held the view that He had gone a little nuts (Mark 3:21). Now, as they track down Jesus to speak with Him, He knows what they want, and uses the opportunity to talk about those who really are closest to Him… those who will follow Him.

I have to think that any disciple of any age gains comfort and courage from this statement from Jesus. Many of us have followed at the cost of family ties. It is routine for me as a pastor to offer guidance and counsel to those whose family members think their new commitment to Jesus is some sort of weird involvement in a religious cult meant to steal them away from all that is good. Following Jesus is a bit radical in that regard, and for those still caught up in Satan’s snare, seems really strange. Jesus said love for Him trumps all other earthly commitments to the point where our love for Him looks like non-love for our family by comparison.

I have seen what this does in foreign environments not as sympathetic to faith as my own. Muslim families in West Africa will disown a newly baptized family member. For that new believer, the church does become family in a very real way. For a new believer in secularized Europe, scorn and intellectual snobbishness my meet any public profession of their knowledge of Christ. Jesus’ words still hold true.

I believe that more and more, Christianity is marginalized by secularized America as well. Faith is seen as an irrational, unknowable, personal belief. Christianity is lumped in the same category as crystal healings, alien abductions, and conspiracy theorists. We are disparaged for lacking evidential knowledge. Nothing could be further from the truth, and living faith must stand up and reason with the family that scorns us. We do so lovingly, carefully, respectfully, and prayerfully that they too may come to repentance.

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Monday, September 7, 2009

A Remarkable Faith

And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

Mark 2:5


I often wonder when I read this account whether Jesus would even begin to take notice of my kind of faith. The friends of the paralytic were a group of guys who would not let barriers keep their friend from Jesus. They literally broke through the roof of a house to get their friend to Jesus.

Modern skepticism and scientific rationalism flavor my view of faith, unknowingly. I tend to still want a faith that I can mix with a few chemicals and shake down in a test tube. But that is not what the Bible shows us. It isn’t that spiritual truth is unknowable, it obviously is. These guys were CONVINCED that Jesus would heal their paralyzed friend and they took things in their own hands quite literally to act on what they knew about Jesus. It is the lengths to which such belief (aka knowledge) would take them that is remarkable.

Americans tend to want an easy faith. I know. I have lived my entire 45 years in the heart of American evangelical culture. I was educated in Christian schools, always in church, a graduate of a Bible College and an evangelical seminary, and have pastored in churches over 20 years. And we want it easy, which is the appeal of televangelism and “word of faith” theology. But real faith lives with painful realities. This man had been paralyzed for life. His friends could not get through the crowd to see Jesus. It lives with these realities and beyond them. It does hard work. It does the unthinkable, the unacceptable at times, and the counter-cultural. Which is why they were willing to drop their friend through a roof they purposefully destroyed.

Persistence and unwavering commitment are the hallmarks of a remarkable faith. Neither of those come easy. They develop over time in the conviction of irrefutable knowledge of the truth. And they take us closer to the Lord. This was the faith that God the attention of Jesus. I believe it still does.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Disciples Follow.

fishing boat galilee Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.
And Jesus said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men." And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Mark 1:16-18

A couple of thoughts strike me from this simple account of the first disciples. First of all, Jesus issued the call to discipleship. He asked them to come and follow. He pursued the men He wanted to be His followers. He issued the compelling call. This was different from any other rabbi of His day. Normally, in order to be accepted by a rabbi, a young man’s family might ask if their son might follow, and after an arduous examination, the rabbi might accept the young man into his band of followers. This was not the way Jesus worked. It was unheard of for a rabbi to pursue a disciple. The disciple was to prove himself first to the rabbi. But Jesus took the opposite approach. He made the call. He asked the disciple to come and follow Him. And His call was compelling.

The second simple truth is that disciples follow at personal cost. Peter and Andrew left their occupation of fisherman at the intriguing prospect of becoming “fishers of men”. James and John left a prosperous family fishing business with their father behind in order to follow Jesus. Levi left a tax booth. Simon Zealotes left a political party. All of them were willing to abandon what was familiar for the chance to be with Jesus. Following Jesus has its costs, a fact that Jesus made clear in His own teaching. These men were the first to experience it with their own lives. Discipleship is a life commitment to a following lifestyle.

The gospel of Mark stresses the quick response of these men to Jesus. In one day, they left a profession behind them to become disciples. That is the heart of discipleship. Disciples follow. They respond to the invitation of their Master. They see the value of learning from Him. They make the commitment, with any accompanying sacrifice, for the vast reward of knowing Jesus and becoming what He wants to make of them.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Obedience in worship.


This Moses did; according to all that the LORD commanded him, so he did. In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was erected.

Exodus 40:16-17

The bane of twenty-first century worship is the consumeristic self. We tend to approach a worship service with what we want to get out of it. “I want a challenging, short, and pithy message by an entertaining communicator.” “I want the kind of music I like.” “I want drama.” “I want video.” “I want to dance.” “I want free donuts and really good coffee.” “I want the service to address everybody at once, from 9 to 90 with perfect applications and family challenges.” “I want all of that in less than an hour.”

But we ought to be worshiping God. And that means that maybe, just maybe, we ought to approach worship with what He wants and not what we want. This is the lesson we learn from Moses and the children of Israel as they built the tabernacle. God made it very clear what the tent of worship was to look like. And He asked for Israel to obey. And they did. The call was to obedience, not personal preference. And that was the heart of worship. I believe it still is.

The result of the worship of God in obedience for Israel was profound: God visibly made His presence known in the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35). In fact, God was so powerfully known that no one, not even Moses, was able to enter the tabernacle for a while because God’s glory was so pervasive. Think about that. Moses had communed with God on the mountain to get the Law. He had asked God to show him His glory, and God let him glimpse the backside of His glory while covering Moses with His hand. Yet when the work of Israel’s hands was complete and the tabernacle was set up, God brought so much glory to that obedience that Moses dared not enter!

God blesses obedience in our worship. If we really want to see our worship services blessed by God, it will not come by a new musician, by better lighting, by moodier music, by really well roasted coffee and donuts or by a more dynamic speaker. It will come by our obedience to what God asks us to do in His word.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Finishing to blessing.

According to all that the LORD had commanded Moses, so the people of Israel had done all the work. And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the LORD had commanded, so had they done it. Then Moses blessed them.

Exodus 39:42-43sledgehammer

There is a modern proverb: “Hard work is its own reward”. That is not necessarily the case. Many people work hard throughout the world with nothing but pain to show for it. I watched a report on 60 Minutes Sunday night that showed the hardships “recyclers” pay in China. They live in filthy slums on the recycling plant. Harsh toxic chemicals from the computer CRT screens that get sent there to be recycled pollute their homes and drinking and bathing water. They are covered in sores from chemical burns received at the plant as they breakdown TV monitors and computer equipment. They work hard. Their children suffer in the slums they live in. And they receive enough pay to buy a little rice and that’s about it. The US and European companies that send the technology to China to recycle taut it as saving the planet. It is killing people. So much for green jobs.

But hard work for the glory of God is a different matter. It is blessed by God. In this passage Moses saw all the detailed final product of the work to build the tabernacle and its furnishing. And Israel obeyed God to the last detail of the construction. It was pleasing to God. It was hard work, but it was blessed. They obeyed and God was pleased through their leader.

Blessing in ministry is important. Many times churches ask people to work hard behind the scenes. It takes a lot of that kind of work to make the kingdom of God what it is in this world. The metaphor of the New Testament is that the church is God’s building built of many stones. Some are elaborate pillars readily seen. Others are foundation stones buried under the floor that hold it up. But every stone is needed, and is to be celebrated because we are “living stones”. I am so thankful for the scores of people who serve the Lord in my church! They make the ministry such a joy and blessing. May God bless His Church through all the efforts each of us makes in service to the kingdom. One day we will all stand before Him in the glory of His presence. And we want to finish well. We want the joy of His simple blessing to us: “Well done, my good and faithful servants.”

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