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Friday, May 27, 2016

Reflections on Reading the Gospel of Mark in One Sitting

Sunday at Bethany Place I challenged those present to read the gospel of Mark from start to finish at one time. We talked about the frustration of longing for change and not experiencing it. We talked about the definition of insanity as to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. So the challenge went like this: Many of the books in the Bible were written to be read aloud all at once. Perhaps we could hear the call of God more clearly and be more impressed with the glory of Jesus by reading an entire book of the Bible at once, especially one of the gospels. I had done this before with some longer books and all of the shorter ones and knew something about the spiritual benefit of this practice.

Probably a couple dozen people said they planned to take the challenge. I’ve heard from several others later that had done the reading. Sunday night I took my own challenge. I was tired when I started. At about the halfway point I was getting sleepy. I changed positions twice to stay alert, but I stuck with it. It took me 55 minutes. I tell you how long it took me so you will not think that It’s like trying to jump over the moon. It’s very doable. It was not at my best nor doing my best reading. However, here is some of what I wrote Sunday night after reading: 
My soul is full. I am more at peace at this moment than I’ve been in some while, though I know sometimes reading like this would leave me troubled and deeply convicted. I’m reminded of this word of Jesus, in John 15:John 15:3 (ESV) Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.
This is primarily talking about how the word of God is active in accomplishing the initial work of God of salvation in us. But it’s a phrase I haven’t dwelt heavily on. I heard my friend Brian White once say, reading the Bible is like taking a spiritual bath. I know that my sins are covered and are remembered no more, but right now i am experiencing that in real time! Often on Sunday evenings I’m fighting off tremendous discouragement. It is just a thing that most pastors I know wrestle with. But now I’m full of joy and hope.
Would you try this? Think of the ways we squander time. What if God would do a new work in you simply through an extended time of reading his word! What if the breakthrough you’ve been longing for you or someone for whom you care deeply lies behind a new practice of extended reading time in the word of God?

I can’t promise that every time you do extended reading of the Bible that it will be a glorious experience. It certainly isn’t always for me. Don’t get discouraged. Rather, apply another famous word of Jesus:
Matthew 7:7–8 (ESV)7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
You’ve likely heard that the Greek verbs in these verses depict ongoing action meaning, “keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking,.” Persistent and extended reading of the Bible is a way this seeking and knocking happens. Perhaps a new crop of the fruit of the Holy Spirit within you awaits. How can we refuse such an opportunity? I’d love to hear how it goes.

Re-Engineering Faith Outline

Re-Engineering Faith
Mark 9:14-29
Re-Engineering Home

1. The danger of discouraging people 

Mark 9:14–18 (ESV)
14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”

2. The danger of frustrating Jesus 

Mark 9:19–24 (ESV)
19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

3. Fixing our faith

Mark 9:25–29 (ESV)
25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Prepared to Stand Alone

The longer we live in a habit of thinking, speaking, working, driving, or relating, the deeper the groove we dig and the harder it is to change that habit. Some of us are no longer stuck in a rut, or a valley, we are in a deep gorge and see no way of scaling the walls of difficulty the we have managed to build over time. 

Jesus once asked a man, “do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6) Perhaps we don’t change because deep down the circumstances we live in have become a part of who we are. Though where we are isn’t a lot of fun, it’s what we know, and the prospect of real change or the price of that change scares us, so we stay the same. We need to want to change, to want to get better.  

Something happened to Jesus’ original set of 12 apostles. They were once average guys, doing life, minding their own business, and looking out for themselves. For a long time after Jesus gathered them, they still argued about who would be the greatest and the like. But after a few years with Jesus, they lived with selfless boldness. They each had the courage to stand alone in the face of withering persecution and in the end, death. How did this happen?

It took time. It did not happen fast. But there were milestones along the way. They originally brought their own dreams to their relationship with Jesus. They were trying to work him into their plans. They saw his power and initially had visions of greatness, their own greatness, like a bunch of groupies following a professional athlete. But over time, their lives were transformed so that they joyfully sacrificed themselves for Jesus’ honor. 

Is it possible we have stopped believing this kind of change still happens? Have we despaired of change in ourselves or in those who are closest to us? God’s power and character have not changed. Our confidence in God and in his slow process of effecting change in us is what has changed.

In the next two Sunday mornings at Bethany Place, we will look at texts that show important milestones as to how this kind of change happened in the disciples and how it can happen in us. I plead with you to come (or attend your own church) with a fresh sense of hope. Our confidence must be in God to work through his word, his Holy Spirit making it come alive in us to bring long awaited change. And if our faith is shaken, perhaps we need to pray along with the dad we will meet next Sunday who cried out to Jesus, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” Here's the outline for this Sunday’s message, Prepared to Stand Alone.

I close with a quote from Martin Luther about the role preaching plays in how God brings change: 
No one desiring comfort should wait until the Holy Spirit presents Christ to him personally or speaks to him directly from heaven. He gives His testimony publicly, in the sermon. There you must seek Him and wait for Him until He touches your heart through the Word that you hear with your ears, and thus He also testifies of Christ inwardly through His working.

Prepared to Stand Alone Message Outline

Prepared to Stand Alone
Mark 8:34-9:13 
Part of the Series: Re-engineering Home

How do we develop in those closest to us the conviction and confidence to follow Jesus even when it means suffering?

Grasp a clear call

Mark 8:34–9:1 (ESV)
34 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. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

Capture a vision of Jesus’ power

Mark 9:2–8 (ESV)
2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.

Do Hard Things

Mark 9:9–13 (ESV)
9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. 11 And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 12 And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Re-engineering Home

Family oriented message series are not unusual around Mother's Day. But they concern me because they run the risk of appearing to leave out a significant portion of people. For instance, when I've preached a series on parenting in the past, I've had young single people express to me that they didn't see how such messages related to them since they didn't have any children. I knew one day they might, and some who have said such things to me now have children. But at the time, the person had such a narrow focus on the immediate present that they couldn't see how a series of messages on parenting had any relevance to their lives.

I was a weird teenager, but I liked it when my pastor would preach on such things, and I remember highlighting verses in my Bible when the pastor would talk about family oriented matters. I was young and idealistic and couldn't imagine that I wouldn't one day be married and have kids and so I was very interested. But when life doesn't go as we dreamed, It can be painful to listen to such preaching if it does not grasp the pain with which some
live

So as I preach these next few weeks I know that some of us want or have wanted to be married but it hasn't yet happened. Some of us wanted to have children and haven't. Some of  us through divorce, or separation, or death now feel very alone. Some of us are single parents running a crazy marathon with wild sprints interspersed where you are mom, dad, sole provider, coach, cook, financial manager, spiritual leader, tutor, chauffeur, and everything else in between. Maybe you've heard family oriented messages in the past that seem to ignore that many, if not a majority of people now live outside of the image of a house with a mom and a dad, a few children, and a dog. Let's not make that mistake. 

So another Mother's Day to Father's Day season is upon us and it's important for us to go there, but we will go beyond what is normally understood for such a message or a message series to be about. For the next few weeks at Bethany Place, I plan to preach a series of messages from Mark 8-9 called Re-engineering Home. We will apply Jesus teaching to what happens literally where you live, meaning where you sleep, whether you live alone or with a small army and a dog. Because it is at home, at the place where we are most ourselves, even if we feel we don't actually spend much time there, that the Christian faith must work and then work out from there. Following Jesus doesn't work from the outside in, but rather from the inside out. Applying the gospel there will provide leverage for following Christ across every part of life. You can see the outline for Sunday's message here.

Do Try This at Home Outline

Do Try This at Home
Mark 8:27–9:1 (ESV)
Re-Engineering Home: Part 1

1. Use the right dictionary

Mark 8:27–30 (ESV) 
27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. 

2. Practice some sentences

Mark 8:31–33 (ESV) 
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 

3. Defy orders

Mark 8:34–9:1 (ESV) 
34 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. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” 
9 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”