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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Hunger Games Message Preview

There is no end in sight to the amount of information we take in:  Needs from around the world come at us from all forms of media. That's not to mention things to do, things to read, phone calls to make, toilets to fix, closets to clean out, cars to wash, and calories to burn.

It’s no wonder then, that because of the sheer volume of things coming at us that we want to run into our houses at night, close the door quickly, close the blinds, and allow the sights and sounds of the TV to wash over us as we sit numb in a recliner. That’s certainly what I feel like doing at times.

I’ve studied an incident this week where Jesus was with a large crowd. Using my imagination, I can’t help but think that as Jesus says to his disciples, “I have compassion on this crowd,” that I can almost hear them saying, “Jesus we’ve noticed that when you have compassion on a crowd, that seems to end up being a lot of work for us. “

They didn’t have the same capacity Jesus did so their response to the awareness of a new need was to get defensive. “What can we do? Nobody has the resources, nobody has the money, there’s no store around that could help us feed so many people; how can you think that it is our responsibility to do something about this?”

There are too many times when I hear about a new need somewhere deep in my heart, I say, ““That can’t be my responsibly.” Too many times I've followed that inclination, went home and ate ice cream. But by God's grace there have been other times when I've moved toward the need and came away knowing I'm doing God's bidding.

The truth is we do need healthy boundaries. There are people who will take advantage of us. And Jesus said, "Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest.” Still we must not have a knee jerk negative reaction to every new nee. Because it could be an instance of Jesus saying to us, “I have compassion on the crowd.” “I have compassion on your neighbor, your brother, your sister, your co-worker, your spouse, and here’s the need. And yes, I am prompting you, I am bringing this to your mind, I am enabling you to see this need right now because I plan to use you to do something about it."

So we can’t be in the default mode of  saying, “I’m done. I’m not paying attention to any new needs. Don’t tell me about anything else. Don't put anything else on my plate”

Rather, we need to have an open heart when we are made aware of a new need and ask Jesus, “Is this something that you are bringing to my mind and if so, what do you want me to do.”

If he is doing that, he already has a plan in mind for how he plans to use you and that you don’t want to miss.

Tomorrow at Bethany Place I will focus on a different aspect of the passage in a message I’m calling, Hunger Games.


Hunger Games Message Outline

Hunger Games
Get Out of the Box: How Following Jesus Destroys Your Comfort Zone

Spiritual hunger grows when pride and hardness die.

1.    Cultivate hunger

Mark 8:1–10 (ESV)
8 In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, 2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3 And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” 4 And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” 5 And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. 7 And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. 8 And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10 And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

2.    Cut off pride

Mark 8:11–13 (ESV)
11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.

3.    Confront hardness

Mark 8:14–21 (ESV)
14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” 16 And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. 17 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

Questions for reflection and conversation?
·      How would you define spiritual hunger? What is the level of your spiritual hunger?
·      How often do you neglect your physical hunger to satisfy your spiritual hunger?
·      How does pride affect our ability to learn?
·      What is the role of repetition in learning and how does that relate to our approach to the scripture?
·      How does pride affect faith?
·      What makes Jesus sigh?
·      How do we become the kind of people with the right level of humility, inquisitiveness, and knowledge to be able to be in either teaching and or learning mode all the time?
·      For what kind of thinking do you need to be watching out? To what extent do you understand the worldview behind the things to which you watch, read, and listen? Do you understand what you are learning from these sources? Why is this important?
·      How can you know if your heart is hardened to being able to see what God wants to teach you? If this happened to the disciples don’t you think it could happen to us?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

How Can I Change?

Resolutions don’t often work well. But most of us would love to change. There are habits we’d like to quit and other habits we want to develop. Only an arrogant person would claim they don’t need to change. But we won’t if we don’t do something differently this year than last.

As I write this on New Years Eve, NFL teams that made the playoffs are studying game film of their opponents and film of their own performance. They do this so they can plan to face determined opposition this weekend. They do it to win football games and there is plenty at stake in terms of international attention, individual careers, and bragging rights. Surely our lives are worth a similar effort at evaluation and planning. Not so many people will notice and probably there isn’t as much money involved, but there is plenty at stake. No wants wants to show up at the end of his or her life and realize the ladder they’ve been climbing is leaning against the wrong wall. 

As usual, I’m evaluating how I faired on my goals for last year and am working on a new set for 2015. I’m more hopeful this year because I’ve discovered a way to pray through my goals in just a couple of minutes each morning as part of my morning prayer and Bible reading time. I have them all typed out in an application called Evernote, alongside other prayer concerns and lists of people I pray for daily and weekly. I hear that paper and pen still work also. It’s important that you write goals down. If you don’t write them down you’ll have no way of reviewing them. If you don’t review them you won’t make much progress on them. Positive change doesn’t happen by accident any more than my garage gets better organized by itself.

There’s a life goal God places in the heart of every Christ follower when they are born again. He places inside us a desire to be like Jesus. You may ignore it or suppress it but it’s there. That transformation doesn’t happen by accident either. We are dependent on God to be transformed. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing for us to do. Part of what we can do it to look at Jesus carefully so that our brain detects the gap between who he is and who we are. If you look at Jesus and don’t see a discrepancy between your life and his, you are either not being honest or not paying attention.

It’s for this purpose that I spend some time in at least one of the gospels in my preaching each year. Sunday I’m beginning a new series called Get out of the Box: How Following Jesus Destroys your Comfort Zone. The first message comes from Mark 7:24-30 and is called How Can I Change?

How Can I Change? (Sermon Outline)

How Can I Change?
Mark 7:24-37
Get Out of the Box: How Following Jesus Destroys Your Comfort Zone: Part 1

Look at Jesus closely so that you feel the difference between who you are and who he intends you to be.

1. Go where you will encounter people different than you

Mark 7:24–26 (ESV) 24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

2. Talk about real issues with compassion

Mark 7:27–28 (ESV) 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

3. Look for spiritual hunger 

Mark 7:29–30 (ESV) 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

Questions for reflection and conversation:

  • What enables people to change? 
  • How does studying Jesus provoke change? How is it possible to study Jesus without it provoking change?
  • How often do you have real conversations with people from other religions, no religion or was raised in a different cultural setting than your own?
  • How would you explain this passage to someone who is offended by the language in it? 
  • Why is it important that this woman had both confidence in Jesus’ ability to heal and terrific concern for the problem? What happens if you are missing one or the other of these qualities? 
  • What specifically do you think impressed Jesus about the woman’s response? 
  • To what extent do you assume people have no interest in Jesus whether you know much about them or not?