Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

Power: Winds & Waves, 20 August 2017

Power: Winds & Waves
Series— Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 4:35-41


Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!
 
Big Idea: Jesus has command over all things—natural and supernatural.
  
As we continue our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel or “good news” of Mark, we’ve seen Jesus’ popularity—and opposition—growing. The crowds love Jesus because he teaches them, heals them, and loves them. The religious people hate him because he’s more popular than they are…and he seems to have a great comeback for all of their questions and criticisms. In a word, they are envious. Mark records several of Jesus’ parables but one lingering question remains…who is Jesus?
 
As I often say, this may be the most important question for any human to answer. Who is God and who are you? If you ask people today, “Who is Jesus?” you are likely to get a variety of responses: a good teacher, a prophet, a famous figure in history…
 
In today’s text it’s obvious those closest to Jesus don’t truly realize Jesus is God, Jesus is the Messiah.
  
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. (Mark 4:35-36)
 
Why did Jesus cross the lake? To get to the other side, of course! But seriously, the crowds followed him everywhere and he likely wanted a break, among other things. The departure seems sudden. Perhaps Jesus said, “Let’s get out of here…now!” Jesus is fully human. He is tired. He also has confidence in God that allows him to fall asleep.
 
A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:37-38)
 
This body of water is beautiful, surrounded by mountains which make it susceptible to sudden storms. This wasn’t just a common thunderstorm, though, but rather a furious squall.
 
Have you ever been in boat in a storm? It can be pretty scary.
 
The most violent storm I’ve ever experienced on water was on a cruise ship. I know, poor me! We were in the Caribbean with my extended family and this huge ship was really rocking. I found it relaxing, but then again I was inside, safe, and immune to any seasickness so I was not terribly worried.
 
I have, however, been in the middle of some serious turbulence on airplanes. Even though I know the odds of a plane crashing due to weather are almost zero, I still find myself scared sometimes when I feel like I’m on a roller coaster…with no track!
 
These squalls came suddenly so even veteran fishermen could be surprised by them, and there were at least four seasoned fishermen in the group, which makes this story even more significant. They understood the difference between rough weather and deadly storms.
 
Jesus is exhausted, sleeping on the cushion that was usually placed under the steersman’s seat. It’s a great image Mark includes in his biography. He must’ve really been tired to sleep through this squall. No cushion could be that comfortable in such conditions!
 
I find the reaction of the disciples to be startling. They wake up their exhausted leader and ask, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Did they think he would teach his way out of the situation? They probably wanted him to help bail water out of the boat before it sank. They certainly had no idea he would respond as he did.
 
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mark 4:39)
 
He uses the same words he spoke to silence the demons. The original Greek might best be translated, “Put the muzzle on and keep it on!”
 
In Jewish thought the ocean represented chaos, the unpredictable place where evil originates. In fact, Genesis 1:2 is commonly translated, “Now the earth was formless and empty” but has also been translated, “The earth was chaos.” Only God had authority over chaos. He seized it and created our beautiful world from it. The disciples likely knew only God could control the sea, the chaos, the storm.
 
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)
 
“How can you be such cowards? Don’t you have any faith?”
 
And then what? For all we know, Jesus went back to sleep!
 
They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41) 
 
Who is this? Who is Jesus? The answer is obvious: Jesus is the Son of God. He is the Messiah. No magician could do this. It wasn’t the result of a knowledgeable teacher. It certainly wasn’t a coincidence. There is no other explanation: they are in the presence of God!
 
You may recall Mark began his book with these words:
 
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1)
 
Jesus did things only God can do. I doubt they thought it at the time, but as they reflected upon this miracle, perhaps Psalm 107:29-30 came to mind:
 
He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. (Psalm 107:29-30)
 
Note: other examples of God’s dominion over the waters can be found in Job 26:12-14, Nahum 1:34, Psalm 65:5-7; 74:12-14; 89:8-9; 93:4; 104:5-9.
 
They knew Jesus had power, but they never imagined this type of power could exist.
 
Yet their faith remained weak.
 
You would think it would be enough to see demons exorcised.
You would think it would be enough to see the sick healed.
You would think it would be enough to see storms stopped.
 
People often say, “I would believe in Jesus if I could see him,” but they’re wrong. So many people saw Jesus and witnessed miracles and still dismissed him…or worse.
 
They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41) 
 
Who is this? Who is Jesus? I’ve met him, friends! The great song, “My Redeemer Lives,” has this wonderful line which says, “I spoke with him this morning.” Yes! I did. You can. Our faith is not built upon rules and checklists but rather upon a person, a living person, Jesus Christ, fully human and fully God. Through the Holy Spirit he is alive and well on this planet, living inside every one of his followers.
 
Some have ignored the literal nature of this story, finding the miracle too…supernatural! There were, however, many eyewitnesses to this and Jesus’ other miraculous activities. Mark records various details such as “there were other boats with him” (verse 36) which would be unnecessary if he was simply telling a myth or allegory.
 
So What?
 
The most common command in the Bible is…fear not. Fear not. Don’t worry. God is sovereign—he is in control of the supernatural world. He’s also in control of the natural world.
 
I know, if he can control things why doesn’t he wipe out every evil leader, every bad guy, every hater? I can’t say I always understand, other than the simple fact he is in control but gives us freedom. We’re not angels on assignment, but rather people given choice. He allows us to cherish our blessings or waste them away, pursue him or pursue money, sex and power, to be filled with hate or love, to support life or death. We can even choose to be afraid and worry, but Jesus says it’s a waste of time and energy because he has given us power, authority, and his presence. He is with us. The only one we should fear—and ultimately revere—is Him.
 
What storms are in your life today?
 
A stormy marriage? Physical health issues? Depression? You’re not alone.
 
Struggles with addictions to alcohol, porn, or drugs? You’re not alone.
 
Same-sex attraction and gender struggles, greed, envy, pride? You’re not alone.
 
Financial chaos? Job challenges? Broken relationships? You’re not alone.
 
Grief and loss? Uncertainty about the future? Learning disabilities? You’re not alone.
 
I say you’re not alone for two reasons. First, you’re not alone in this room. There are people here in the midst of every storm I mentioned. This is why we have been given the gift of family, the opportunity to do life together, to weep when one weeps and to rejoice when one rejoices. We weren’t made to do this thing called life alone.
 
Second, if you are a follower of Jesus, he is with you. The Holy Spirit is living inside of you and you need only to empty yourself, surrender, confess your sins, and welcome the Spirit to take control of your life. Let go and let God. It may not be an instant cure-all, but raising the white flag is the first step toward truly experiencing the presence and power of God in your life.
 
In Jesus’ famous Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel, he sends out his followers to make disciples. But he doesn’t end there. He concludes by saying
 
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
 
He is with us. He can calm the storm. He’s got this…even if his timing may be slower than our timetable.
 
To quote composer Scott Krippayne, “Sometimes he calms the storm and other times he calms his child.”
 
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mark 4:39)
 
Jesus may need to say to your storm, “Quiet! Be still!”
 
Jesus may need to say to you, “Quiet! Be still!”
 
Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Investment: Lamps & Seeds, 13 August 2017

Investment: Lamps & Seeds
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 4:21-34

Series Big Idea:
The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: Jesus blesses those who listen to his stories…and pursue him.

Introduction

Stories. We all love stories. We read them, we watch them on television and at the movies, we listen to them on podcasts, we tell them every day. Some are true, some are imaginary, and some are outright lies. Stories can inform, educate, warn, or entertain. They can be as simple as recounting what you ate for breakfast for as complicated as the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

As we continue our series on Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus, we have seen Jesus’ early ministry, his rise in popularity among the common people, and the growing envy and hostility toward him among the religious leaders.

This week we will continue to see Mark turn his attention from Jesus’ actions to his teachings, specifically special stories called parables. The original Greek word, parabole, means “putting things side by side.” Jesus is constantly teaching about one thing these people knew nothing about…another world…far, far away…called the kingdom of God. The central message of Jesus’ teachings was the kingdom of God, and he used parables to help his audience understand this new reality, this exciting world about to be born. We’ll look at two stories today, the parables of lamps and seeds.

Before we look at today’s text, it is important to understand the purpose of parables. First, there is always a context. I believe much of the problems people have with the Bible stem from ignoring context.

Jesus is a Jew. His people were oppressed under Roman rule. Israel as a nation had experienced tremendous victories and agonizing defeats. Jesus the storyteller has an important message, but it’s a dangerous message. It is not politically correct. He could—and would—get in so much trouble a contract would be out on his life! Rather than just speak plainly about things, he chooses parables as a literary device to code his teachings.

Imagine, for example, a political cartoon featuring a donkey and an elephant. If you lived in Africa, you might just think of survival of the fittest, the zoo, or even mascots of sports teams without deciphering the message of conflict between Democrats and Republicans.

Likewise, it’s easy for us to miss those messages, the context and symbols Jesus used two thousand years ago. Fortunately, Jesus often explains his stories to those who seek. But not all of the parables are clear to us. Sixteen commentators on a passage may yield sixteen different interpretations—which is not to say the Bible itself is unclear. Much of it needs no explanation—don’t murder, love your neighbor—but Jesus’ parables are deliberately for those who have “ears to hear.” I pray we do!

He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:21-23)

In the previous verses, Jesus described the kingdom of God. He is continuing here, saying again, “If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.” We might say, “Listen up! Pay attention!”

The original Greek text asks, “Does the lamp come for the purpose of being placed under the measure? Does it not come for the purpose of being placed on the lampstand?” It’s as if the lamp is a person…which most believe it is! King David was the lamp of Israel (2 Samuel 21:17; 1 Kings 15:4). Jesus may have been speaking of himself, in which case he’s talking about how his presence is a secret. Since the word “bed” may be a couch, one writer suggest maybe Jesus is saying, “The Messiah has come but he’s been shoved under the couch…until after his death and resurrection when he will be ‘brought out into the open.’”

“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Mark 4:24-25)

Here again he begins by saying, “Pay attention.”

Back in the day, you couldn’t go to the grocery store and buy a pound of flour off the shelf. You would go to the market and ask the merchant for two measures of flour…or four or however many you wanted. He seems to be telling them to pursue God, and that if they seek, they will find. Again, his audience is mixed. There are critics, curious onlookers, and genuine God-seekers. He’s separating the fair-weather fans from the truly serious.

Our faith is not based upon a to-do list, but rather a person, the person of Jesus Christ, God who came to earth in the flesh. We can’t study people like we study rocks or flowers. People are complex. They can be mysterious. I’ve known my wife for almost 32 years and I’m still pursuing her, getting to know her, dating her, and making discoveries about her. God is even more fascinating. The title of A.W. Tozer’s classic book
The Pursuit of God says it all.

What about you? Are you chasing after God? Do you, like the psalmist, long after God like a deer panting for streams of water? Do you truly want Jesus to be LORD of your life…or is he just an interesting person to study for an hour on Sunday?

He also said,
“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)

Again Jesus announces the subject of his metaphors: the kingdom of God. Of the four gospels, only Mark records this parable. What is most provocative is the phrase “all by itself.” The Greek word is “automatos,” the source of our word automatic. We know from last week the seed is the word of God. The sickle most likely refers to judgment day.

If you recall from last week, the Jews are waiting for the Messiah to come and overthrow the Rome, but Jesus is in no hurry. He’s saying the kingdom will emerge slowly. We must be patient. Yes, we long for the return of Jesus and even say, “Maranatha! Come quickly LORD Jesus!” but rushing the kingdom of God is like digging up crops hoping to harvest before they are grown. We are to sow the seed, the word, and trust God’s timing for the harvest.


Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32)

The kingdom of God begins small…like a tiny seed. A mustard seed looks like a grain of sand. It’s so small! But it will grow! Many mustard bushes are twelve feet tall!

Similarly, from Jesus to a ragamuffin dozen to billions around the world, the kingdom of God has been growing and advancing. Even in 2017 when we hear bad news about the decline of Christianity in the west, it is exploding in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Hallelujah! It’s also advancing here in the Midwest.

With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything. (Mark 4:33-34)
 
Years ago, I wrote for a Christian music magazine doing album reviews and feature articles. One of the perks was getting backstage passes, meeting musicians, and seeing how they really behaved out of the limelight. The disciples must’ve felt special to get time alone with Jesus—and they were! Not only did they get to be with him, they were able to hear the explanations for the parables.

The aforementioned A.W. Tozer said:
To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul's paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily-satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart…Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God. They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrestled and sought for Him day and night, in season and out, and when they had found Him the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking.
Jesus spoke in parables not to keep people from understanding the kingdom of God, but rather to see who really wanted truth, who really wanted to know God.

Do you? Are you a God-seeker? If you pursue God, you will find him.

Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

Sower: Soils & Spoils, 6 August 2017

Sower: Soils & Spoils
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 4:1-20

Series Big Idea:
The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: Not everyone is ready to enter the kingdom of God…are you?

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. (Mark 4:1)

Jesus is so popular he can’t even just stand up and speak. The crowds will mob him so he does his teaching from a boat.

He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. (Mark 4:2-3)

One hundred years ago the most common occupation in the United States was farmer. Today, of course, it is rare to meet a full-time farmer, but everyone in Jesus’ audience knew about farming. If they wanted to eat, they needed to farm—or live near someone who did! Jesus begins by commanding them to listen. Not everyone would. Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. Unlike today’s sophisticated farms, the ordinary Jewish farmer had a small plot of land, used every inch, scattered seed everywhere and then plowed it under along with the thorns, weeds, and anything else on the ground.

As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. (Mark 4:4)

Those stinkin’ birds! Okay, some birds are wonderful, but others are annoying. If you scatter seed without caring for it, they will disappear!

Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. (Mark 4:5-6)

This is common, too. Plants start to grow but die without strong roots.

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. (Mark 4:7)

Here we see another crop killer…thorns.

Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” (Mark 4:8)

Obviously this is what is supposed to happen, though Jesus surprised the crowd with these numbers since an average harvest was only seven or eight times the amount of seed sown and a good harvest would be about ten times.

Then Jesus said,
“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:9)

He says again, listen! He knows not everyone will hear. Parables reveal the truth to some while concealing it from the rebellious.

Jesus is not giving instructions on agriculture. There’s a much deeper message, but it wasn’t obvious. In fact…

When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, 

 
“ ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” (Mark 4:10-12)

They missed it! Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10.

In revelation, God’s people are trained about the requirements of the kingdom.
In concealment, those who oppose God never understand the kingdom.

Much of Jesus’ teachings was about the kingdom of God, a radical contrast to the kingdoms of this world. Jesus was a revolutionary declaring an alternative reality, a different society, casting visions for a counter-cultural life.

His enemies rejected his teaching.
The crowds were interested in his miracles but not his teaching.

Parables allowed those who hungered and thirsted after righteousness would be filled. It separated the curious from the true seekers. Seek and you will find.

By the way, I love how Jesus explained the parable not only to the Twelve but also the others who stuck around to hear the exposition. The only thing that seems to separate those on the inside of Jesus’ explanation and those on the outside is their pursuit of God.

However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him—

these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. 

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to lead us, teach us, and guide us.

Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? (Mark 4:13)

I wish I could hear his tone of voice! He was, of course, intentional about how he coded his message but maybe did too good of a job since his closest friends were clueless!

The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. (Mark 4:14-15)

Israel has been in exile and this is a picture of Go sowing Israel again in her own land, restoring their fortunes, making the family farm fruitful again. They expected the Messiah to come and rescue Israel in an explosive way, not slowly like farming.
This is about the word of God, the inauguration of the kingdom. It is coming, but it won’t be as they expect it. It won’t happen instantly, but it will eventually become a reality…and we are in the midst of that today, heaven kissing earth, God’s kingdom coming and his will being done here as it is in heaven. It is not done with power like a military coup, but rather humbly, unobtrusive, and coexisting with evil, an unpopular message with patriotic Jewish seeking revolt.

Satan loves to steal. He is a deceiver. His goal is to keep us from God.

Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy.
But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. (Mark 4:16-17)

Easy come, easy go. I love God until life gets hard and then I blame him for my trials and walk away. This is so tragically common today as it was then.

Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Mark 4:18-19)

Can you relate? I can’t imagine anyone in our culture tempted by wealth or worries! Ha! The world can be very attractive, yet never truly satisfying. Money will make you happy…for a while. But only following Jesus the Messiah will bring true satisfaction, peace, hope, and joy.

Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
(Mark 4:20)

That’s where I want to sow…into the good soil.
That’s what I want my life to be…good soil.


So What?

First, we must be intentional when we sow. We need to work smart, not just hard. A few weeks ago I mentioned six words to define our mission:

Love God.
Love Others.
Make Disciples.

Making disciples means following Jesus and helping others follow Jesus, passing the baton of faith, mentoring and investing in the lives of others.

If you recall I mentioned how Jesus spent time praying before choosing his twelve disciples. Similarly, we are not to just randomly scatter seed. We are to love everyone, but we are not supposed to invest equally in the lives of everyone we meet. Some people are FAT: faithful, available, and teachable. They are good soil. They will pass the baton of faith to others (2 Timothy 2:2) and reproduce. Other people have no interest in following Jesus. They’re too busy, too selfish, too prideful, too distracted. Two weeks ago I challenged you to ask, “God, who do You want me to disciple?”

Obviously not everyone you devote time and energy to will yield the same results. Some people, like Judas, will not produce good fruit. Others, however, will yield a great harvest.

Second, we must be patient and persevere when we sow. You can’t scatter seed today and expect a harvest tomorrow. Jesus warns the soil must receive attention. Even today farmers water, weed, fertilize, and pray for adequate sunshine in order for the seeds to form deep roots and abundant fruit.

Many of you served at this summer’s Sports & Arts Camp and I want to say our work is not done. It’s just beginning! We sowed seed, but we need to water it, weed it, fertilize it, and persevere until it produces a harvest.

Finally, we must give attention to our own soil. How is your heart? Are the investments of others into you paying off? Are you a good disciple? Are you pursuing God, studying the Bible, devoted to prayer, sharing your faith, serving the poor, living a generous life, and discipling others? Or are you distracted with screens, busy with hobbies, and growing a personal garden of weeds?

It is my prayer for you, myself, and all of us at First Alliance that we would know, share, and experience the kingdom of God and that God would produce a great harvest in and through us in Toledo and beyond for His glory.

The Lord’s Prayer

Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Identity: Family & Foes, 30 July 2017

Identity: Family & Foes
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 3:20-35

Series Big Idea:
The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: Jesus’ followers are his true family…and you are welcome to join it!

Earlier this year we did a series entitled Ideal Family. Throughout the series I said there are two unfortunate things I’ve discovered about families. First, they are all messed up! That’s ultimately the result of sin, our disobedience toward God. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, we have struggled to get along. Pride divides. Greed corrupts. Selfishness hoards. Anger disturbs. Hatred destroys. Misunderstanding confuses.

The second unfortunate thing about families is the mistaken belief everyone else’s family is okay. Listen to me carefully…all families are messed up! This includes biblical families.


As we continue our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel or “good news” of Mark, we are told Jesus’ popularity—and opposition—is growing. The crowds love Jesus because he teaches them, heals them, and loves them. The religious people hate him because he’s more popular than they are…and he seems to have a great comeback for all of their questions and criticisms. In a word, they are envious.

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20-21)

As I said, all of our families are messed up. All of them. If you don’t think yours is messed up, yours is REALLY messed up! Jesus is trying to eat, a huge crowd mobs him, and his family think he’s crazy. They want to get him in line! “Make Jesus stop,” they say! Jesus’ family wants Jesus to stop his ministry because they don’t understand what he’s doing.

On the other hand the religious people know what he’s doing…and they’re hostile.

And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” (Mark 3:22)

This must be one of the dumbest statements in the Bible! I’m not saying the Bible is stupid, of course, but the religious leaders accuse Jesus of being demonic…and driving out demons. Huh?

So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables:
“How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. (Mark 3:23-26)

This is just common sense…but Jesus obviously needed to say it. A divided kingdom or house cannot stand. You may have noticed our nation is a bit divided these days. It’s scary to think what could happen if we remain this way. It seems like the options are to be overtaken by another country or find ourselves in civil war…because a house divided cannot stand. This is why unity is one of my top four prayers for First Alliance Church. United we stand, divided we fall (a phrase possibly used first by Aesop in his fable of “The Four Oxen and the Lion”). When we rally around a common mission, vision, strategy, and LORD, there is no limit to our potential. If we experience division, the ballgame is over. And we see this all the time…well-intended Christians arguing over things that often lead to awful results, including church splits and even people losing their faith in God altogether.

Satan knows this. He knows if he can divide us, he can conquer. And again I say we need to always be praying for unity. I pray for direction, protection, passion, and unity. I know unity is a God-honoring prayer because it is Jesus’ prayer for us…right now. In John chapter 17, he says

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21)

Jesus is praying that we would be one…so that the world may believe!

As if Jesus has not already made his point about division and unity clear, he adds these words:

In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. (Mark 3:27)

It’s easy to miss his message. Satan is like a strong man. Jesus is a stronger man! Jewish listeners may have been reminded of this passage in Isaiah:

Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives be rescued from the fierce?

But this is what the LORD says: 

“Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. (Isaiah 49:24-25)

Jesus also may have been thinking about this text:

After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, 
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:11-12)

The Messiah is right before their eyes, yet they are unable to see.

Returning to the verse…


In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.
(Mark 3:27)

We have a real enemy, brothers and sisters. He is a liar, a thief, an accuser, a big fat jerk! He is powerful and destructive…but our God is greater!!! Be encouraged. There are battles, but we will win. Love prevails. Truth reigns. Peace conquers. Jesus rules!

I want to add one more thing about unity…Dave Ramsey’s five enemies of unity. These five destroyers are true in the marketplace, but they can be found in churches and even homes, too.

1. Poor communication
2. Lack of shared purpose/mission/goals
3. Gossip (Ramsey’s employees are warned once and fired if it occurs again)
4. Unresolved disagreements
5. Sanctioned incompetence (John Maxwell), keeping poor performers on the team

That was just for fun! Back to Jesus…

Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter,
but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” (Mark 3:28-29)

Throughout my life I’ve heard people talk about these verses. Did I commit the unforgivable sin? If you have to ask, the answer is a resounding no.

Nobody disputed Jesus’ miracles. They were real. The healings were real. The exorcisms were real. The resurrection was real. Since the religious leaders couldn’t deny Jesus’ power, the only way they could discredit him was to attack the source of his power, claiming it is satanic. They knew better, but they were obviously desperate.

Jesus presents a paradox, a self-contradictory statement. He says all sins and blasphemies can be forgiven and then says the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. Which is it?

Forgiveness of sins comes only from God. If you claim God is evil, who can forgive your sins?

If you choose to deny God, it’s impossible to receive his forgiveness.

Jesus doesn’t even say these religious leaders have committed the unforgiveable sin, but it’s a stern warning.

He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.” (Mark 3:30)

Now we see Jesus’ family again.

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” (Mark 3:31-32)

When is the last time someone said, “Where have you been? We’ve been looking all over for you!”? Mary and the boys are outside, unable to get to their popular son and brother. Then Jesus asks a simple question.

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. (Mark 3:33)

No wonder they thought Jesus lost his mind! He couldn’t even identify his mom and siblings?

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:34-35)

Wow! That’s radical! Jesus is starting a new family, a holy people. He’s willing to sacrifice his biological family for a new tribe, club, group. This is shocking!

Growing up in a “good, Christian home,” I always felt close to my sister and parents, my grandparents, and even my aunts, uncles, and cousins. If we were visiting family out of town, we would always attend church with them on Sundays, reinforcing our Christian heritage and bond in Jesus. I married into a family that was…different. Church was generally reserved for Christmas and Easter.

So imagine my surprise at my life in 2017. Two weddings last year led to major division among my Christian family members, while many members of Heather’s family are closer to me than my own flesh and blood. I keep reminding myself all families are messed up…including mine!

I’m beginning to better understand Jesus’ words about family. Perhaps what matters most isn’t your blood but your relationships. I’m certainly not saying family doesn’t matter. Quite the opposite. Family is incredibly important, but to Jesus’ point, relationships matter more than family. Jesus did not abandon his mom and brothers. He merely extended his family to include all God seekers, or more accurately all God followers.

So What?

Are you a part of Jesus’ family? I didn’t ask if you attend this church or believe in God or were born in the USA. I’m asking if you are part of Jesus’ family. Do you do God’s will? Do you obey God? Are you truly a follower of Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection, and his teachings. I’m not talking about religion, but rather righteousness and relationship.

Jesus invites you and me to join his family. We are welcome to become sons and daughters of the Most High God, thus becoming the brothers and sisters of Jesus. In fact, if we follow Jesus today, we are closer kin to Jesus than even his mother and brothers! That’s incredible! No matter your family of origin, you can be born again, become a new creation, receive the gift of eternal life…and an abundant life now. I’m so glad I’m a part of God’s family…not because of anything I have done, but rather because of what Jesus did in inviting us to follow him.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)

Credits:
some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

The First Followers, 23 July 2017

The First Followers
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 3:7-19

Series Big Idea:
The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: The Messiah invites us to follow him…in making disciples.

Introduction

Today’s text contains two paragraphs…two stories. They begin similarly. If you recall last week we looked at the Sabbath, a day of rest, a day to play. Did you have a play day in the past week? Did you rest? There’s so much that can—and will—be said about Sabbath, even from science. It seems like every year I read another major report stating the benefits of sleep, breaks, vacation, recreation…and the danger of working too many hours.

I found it timely that while working on today’s sermon, my daughter, Rachel, wrote a blog post entitled, “Time Out.” She begins

I used to hate it when my parents put me in "time out" as a kid. Sitting and doing nothing felt like torture when all I wanted to do was play. Now, I dream of sitting and doing nothing, even for just a few minutes.

She then talked about the Sabbath she spent with her husband, Mark, driving three hours to a Lake Michigan beach for the day despite plenty of work to be done at home.

Jesus rested. He withdrew. He took time outs. He said…

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

We’re continuing our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel—or “good news”—of Mark. In chapter 3, Jesus is criticized by the religious leaders who then begin to plot how they might kill him (3:6). Needless to say, Jesus flees the religious leaders and verse seven says…

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. (Mark 3:7)

If you think you’re busy, imagine what it would be like to be Jesus!

I’ve been to this lake. It is beautiful! It’s often called the Sea of Galilee but today’s it’s known as
Kinneret, Lake of Gennesaret, or Lake Tiberias. It’s about 13 miles long, 8 miles wide, and about 700 feet below sea level, the lowest freshwater lake on Earth.

When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. (Mark 3:8)

The crowds were from the entire area. He was in danger not only from the religious leaders but the mob. He needed bodyguards!

Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. (Mark 3:9)

This was their exit strategy, their safety plan!

For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. (Mark 3:10)

Everyone likes free medical care!

Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him. (Mark 3:11-12)

I love these verses! The demons recognized Jesus. They called him the Son of God. But Jesus didn’t want his true identity to be revealed just yet.

Who is Jesus? The demons know. Earlier God the Father declared Jesus to be his son, in whom He is well pleased (Mark 1:11). We’ll see even nature knows. But the people were clueless, the religious leaders were in denial, and even after a death, resurrection, and a global movement of billions of people there are still billions who have never heard of Jesus or deny he is the Messiah.

Why does Jesus tell the impure spirits to keep quiet about his identity? There are many theories, not the least of which is he is obviously a wanted man. The religious are plotting to kill him…and we’re only in chapter 3!

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. Mark 3:13

Jesus retreats again. He withdraws. He must’ve been exhausted after having the crowds not only mobbing him but asking for healing. The mountainside site is significant. It figures prominently in the accounts of Noah, Abraham, and Moses, and Mark will tell us about several important events on a mountain.

Then he chooses his disciples. John recorded these words of Jesus to the twelve:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16)

Jesus called and they followed. The book of Luke tells us before Jesus selected the twelve he “went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12). You don’t randomly pick your team if you want to change the world. You pray diligently for wisdom. God often chooses the most unlikely people to serve Him.

He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. (Mark 3:14-15)

Why twelve? There were twelve tribes of Israel, even though it had been more than 700 years since those tribes had been visible due to Jewish exile. Everything Jesus did was giving off clues he was the Messiah. And notice what the twelve were called to do: be with him. Yes, they were sent out to preach and drive out demons, but discipleship is caught more than it is taught. Everything the disciples would do began with being with Jesus. John 15 tells us if we abide—if we spend time with Jesus—we will bear fruit. We are human beings, not human doings, so it makes sense Jesus wanted them to be with him.

Here’s his motley crew!

These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Mark 3:16-19)

Jesus did not call the qualified, but qualified the called. His team was not exactly the most impressive group of men voted most likely to succeed in high school. There were four fishermen, a hated tax collector, a member of a radical and violent political party…no formal leader, scholar, or doctor in the bunch!

The same is true today. God works through FAT people: faithful, available, teachable. He’s looking for a few good men, women and children today that will follow, surrender, and serve. It seems like he rarely calls the rich, famous and powerful, but rather the meek, ordinary, and humble.

As I was reflecting on Jesus’ appointed I was reminded of The Alliance General Council four years ago. John Stumbo was nominated for president along with another man. Both gave brief speeches. If memory serves correct, John was wearing a polo shirt, spoke with his usual raspy voice, offered no grand vision or strategy but rather a story about God prompting him to accept the nomination after years of health issues, trials, and struggle. The other man was very impressive, wore a fine suit, had an extensive resume…yet when I was handed a ballot I had no doubt God was calling John Stumbo to the role and he received my vote…and nearly 100% of the vote.

Jesus prayerfully chose his disciples, men who would follow him and disciple others.

So What?

This week I attended my first
Truth at Work meeting. These monthly gatherings bring Christian leaders together for a morning of fellowship, presentations, training, and accountability. It was a great experience. Being the new guy in a room of about a dozen business owners and non-profit directors I was asked to complete a New Member Introduction Form. One of the blanks to fill was “Company Mission Statement.” Since First Alliance does not presently have a formal mission statement, I wrote, “Love God. Love Others. Make Disciples.” I borrowed those six words from Jesus!

Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Then Jesus came to them and said,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Love God.
Love Others.
Make Disciples.

We refer to those words as the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. That’s why we’re here…this church…us…on this planet.

How are we doing? Our “success” as a church hinges on those three statements.

How are you doing? I’ve met many Christians who truly love God. They pray, read the Bible, and attend church gatherings, uh, religiously (sorry for the pun!). If Jesus walked in the room, they would give him a huge hug. They love God.

I’ve met Christians who love others. Like me, they find some people easier to love than others. They are devoted to their friends. They occasionally volunteer to serve the poor. They may even give money to help those in need, forgive those who have wronged them, and pray blessings on their enemies.

But then we come to making disciples. I can hear it now. “That’s the pastor’s job.” Except that nowhere in the Bible does it speak of discipleship being exclusively for clergy, for professional Christians. Jesus said to his followers, “Go and make disciples.” Hundreds—maybe thousands—of people followed Jesus around. We know of at least one group of 72 who Jesus sent out (Luke 10). In today’s text we see the list of the dozen disciples Jesus appointed. He concentrated most of his time and energy on three—Peter, James and John.

So who are your disciples? Who are you investing your life into? Do they know it?! Parents, this is an easy one! You are leading…influencing…mentoring…discipling your children every day. They listen to your words…and watch your actions.

Who are your disciples? Each of us has been blessed with skills, experiences, talents, and gifts. Maybe you are not able to teach the Greek New Testament but you know how to visit someone in the hospital. Perhaps you can’t play a musical instrument but you can invite someone to your home for a meal. You don’t have to be a perfect example, just a living example.

I’ve heard of churches structured in such a way that every person has a mentor and a protégé, someone discipling them and someone they are discipling.

One of the great joys I had in Africa was training youth and pastors about leadership. Most people believe a leader is someone with a title, a position, yet my favorite definition of leadership is influence. I remember attending my first elders meeting here at First Alliance thinking to myself, “I’ve got the title, but I’m not the most influential person in the room.”

Who are you influencing? Who are you investing in? Who are you loving…intentionally?

I love our church. It’s such an honor and privilege to serve you. But sometimes I fear people put me on a pedestal thinking I’m the minister and they’re just the attendees, the parishioners, the congregation. Brothers and sisters, we’re all called to make disciples. We’re all called to love God and others. Making disciples accomplishes both commands!

I want to challenge you with one simple prayer:
God, who do You want me to disciple?

Maybe you’re in high school. Great! Find an elementary or middle school student to serve. Be a big brother or big sister to them.

You might be a new believer in Christ. That’s ok, there are plenty of non-Christians in our city who need to hear your story, feel your love, experience your joy.

Jesus chose twelve but focused on three. What if you just pick one. One person. Ask God for a name. It might be a co-worker, a neighbor, someone sitting next to you right now, or someone you’ll see in the lobby in a few minutes. Pray for them. Take them to Claro this week for coffee. Invite them to your small group or Sunday School class. Send them an encouraging text.

Love God.
Love Others.
Make Disciples.

Jesus did it. He invites us to follow him.

Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

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