Tuesday, August 27, 2013

To know Him is to follow Him

Mark 8:27-38

Jesus' disciples reported the popular rumors that were circulating about his identity. Then he asked, “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:29)

Peter saw Jesus as “Messiah,” the “Anointed One” chosen to be king. He witnessed the miracles and saw Jesus' authority in answering the religious establishment. For centuries, Jews had expected a great political, military leader. They never forgot that they were God’s chosen people. They dreamed of a day when there would arise another king David who would, once again, make them great in righteousness and in power.

Peter and the others had not quite grasped the concept of Jesus as the “Suffering Servant.” Their shallow understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus led to Judas' betrayal & Peter's denial. Jesus warned them not to tell others (Mark 8:30). Jesus had to teach them what being Messiah really meant,

Peter is reprimanded for cutting Jesus off as he is speaking of the suffering and death that await him is Jerusalem. The disciples had their own ideas of what Jesus' role was to be. There was no room for suffering. They thought they had hitched their future to a rising star.

Many people have head knowledge about Jesus but not heart knowledge. They want Jesus on their own terms but following Christ calls for self sacrifice. Jesus’ first description of what it means to follow him is, “Deny yourself.”

Self-denial means that you find fulfillment and joy through dedication to Jesus Christ. That means we can’t always do what we want to do, follow our natural tendencies. Tough, life-changing decisions need to be made in the shadow of the cross, and not the desires of the heart. Denial of self is placing yourself in the hands of God at all times, no matter where his hands might lead you.

Jesus also said, “Take up your cross.” Cross-bearing is not something thrust upon you. Bearing the cross is a voluntary form of sacrificial obedience that identifies us completely with Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Can dogs go to heaven?

Jesus response to a desperate woman with a demon-possessed child seems so mean, “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (Mark 7:27)

He didn't just refuse her. He called her a dog! That’s not the response she (or we) expected. The woman was not Jewish. The Jews considered all Gentiles (non-Jews) to be unclean, contaminated by paganism and impurity. Jesus' response is as much for the audience of supporters and enemies as it is for the woman. He is saying that he should finish his ministry in Israel before branching out.

Paul would later write, "I am not ashamed of the good news because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believers: first for the Jew and then for the Gentile." (Romans 1:16)

The woman's rebuttal is amazing. She uses Jesus imagery to make her case saying that even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table. She needed a miracle for her child that only Jesus could provide. She did not need much, merely a crumb.

This woman shows insight into the teachings of Jesus that his closest followers lacked. Her response is both humble and bold at the same time.

Jesus was impressed with her undivided heart, her persistent faith, and her willingness to settle for crumbs. He says, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” (Mark 7:29)

Through this gesture, Jesus tells us that everybody is welcome to God's party. He is reminding us that God called Abraham to be a blessing for all nations. No matter who you are or where you come from, you are welcome to the party.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Salvation is an inside job

Mark 7:1-23

Sometimes a used car salesman will clean up the outside of a car to distract potential buyers from engine problems. Likewise, the religious establishment of Jesus' day thought their rituals made them acceptable to God. Jesus told them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight." (Luke 16:15)

Religious groups can fixate on surface issues the Bible says nothing about: playing cards, dancing, movies, etc. They confuse keeping rules with holiness and godliness.

Surface issues reflect a reliance on culture over Christ. Some churches battles begin because of cultural bias rather than spiritual conviction. They continue from each person's desire to be right. They involve music styles, proper use of space, which Bible to use, etc.

Jesus teaches us to understand spirituality as an internal rather than an external matter. We are not saved from the outside in. It is not money, politics, the right diet, nor dressing a certain way. We must look to the “heart” as the source of righteousness not how well we follow man-made rules. He said, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” (Mark 7:15)

Jesus lists the evil intentions that flow from the human heart. It’s a catalog of evil: sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, slander, arrogance and folly. Jesus is saying that every human heart is a fertile breeding ground for evil.

Even if pornography weren’t a $10 billion a year industry there would be sexual immorality. Pornography isn't the cause, it’s a symptom of what’s inside the human heart. Even without violent video games, people would still be drawn to acts of hatred and violence.

Sometimes Christians believe that programs & laws are the answer but Jesus is saying that sin isn't created by our environment. It hides within each human heart. The prophet Jeremiah said, "The heart is deceitful and sick beyond cure; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)

We must take an inside-out approach to sin. Unless the human heart undergoes a radical transformation, all the outward efforts and legislation won’t be enough. The human heart is where the change needs to begin and only Jesus Christ can transform the human heart.

Turn away from culture, politics, power plays, games, personal vendettas & feuds turn to Jesus who said “I am the truth and the life, NO ONE comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Monday, August 05, 2013

A little is a lot in God's hands

When Jesus is confronted with a crowd of 5000 hungry people he reacts with action-oriented compassion. He recognized both their spiritual and physical needs, seeing them as sheep without a shepherd.” (v.34)

The disciples are shocked when Jesus tells them to feed the people themselves. They said, “That would take eight months wages! Are we going to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” (v. 37)

A God-sized vision like this is impossible for us to carry out on our own strength. Some will turn away from needy and hurting people with the excuse that the need is too great and our resources are too small. However, when God asks us to do the impossible, it is not up to us to point out the cost to him. There are always plenty of resources to God's work. Pioneer missionary, William Carey challenges us to “Attempt great things for God and expect great things from God.”

When Jesus asked, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” (v. 38)

It's hard to believe that, out of 5000 people, the disciples were only able to round up five loaves and two fish. It's probably all anyone would share. Jesus focused on what was faithfully offered and was thankful for it. He blessed it and changed the crisis of scarcity into a bountiful blessing. There were 12 baskets filled with leftovers.

In God's hands a little is more than enough. Over the past 4 years Baptist Temple has done so much more than we thought we could because God’s call is always bigger than our resources. You may think that you have little to give for the building of God’s Kingdom but, if we put ourselves--all we are and all we have--into the hands of Jesus, he can and will do great things with us and through us!

Jesus knew what would happen but the disciples acted out of faith. All they had to do was obey. When we act out of faith we release the power of the Holy Spirit. Imagine if no one had contributed the bread and fish.

What if the disciples said no? There are stories of people who said no to Jesus including the rich young ruler and Judas. The gospel continued without them – they lost out on the blessing.

What are you holding back? What resources do you have to offer? What opportunity has God put before you? Don't be surprised by the power of God to multiply our resources and magnify our efforts.