January 31, 2010

God is a Giver, Not a Taker - Jan 31, 2010

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Across the street from the house where I grew up there was a volunteer fire department. As a kid I thought this was great. Not because I liked fire trucks or felt safe living there. I thought living by the fire department was great because they had a pop machine outside their door.

But, this pop machine was picky. No Canadian coins. Dollar bills had to be fed face up. And if your dollar was crinkled or worn in the wrong spot, you just weren’t getting a can of pop.

Some people see God as the “divine pop machine”. If you want something from Him, you better come prepared to give.

But in today’s Gospel reading, Mark describes God in a very different way. Mark describes God as a giver, not a taker.

This Epiphany we’ve been reading from Mark’s Gospel. With each story we’ve seen a new snapshot of Jesus. In addition to seeing Jesus we’ve also tried to see where we fit in each of these photos from Mark.

Today’s snapshot of Jesus comes from…

Mark 6:30-44 (NIV)

30The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
32So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
35By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
37But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
They said to him, “That would take eight months of a man’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
38“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
39Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42They all ate and were satisfied, 43and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

The disciples were excited to get back to Jesus. He had sent them out in groups of two to teach His message in the villages. Along with His message Jesus had also given them His power. They had been able to exercise demons and heal diseases, something they had never done before.

But when they got back to Capernaum, the crowds around Jesus were just as thick as ever. Sick people wanting to be healed. Students asking for a lesson. Gawkers just waiting see what Jesus would do next.

And in the middle of all this commotion the twelve learned that John the baptizer had been beheaded by King Herod. This came as a hard blow to the disciples. Some of them had been John’s disciples first. They had followed after Jesus because of John’s advice.
With all that was going on, perhaps it would be best just to get a little food and wait for things to cool down around the Master. Ah, but who were they kidding. That wasn’t going to happen here. There were to many people who needed something. Food was postponed. Then put off. Then abandoned altogether.

But Jesus was not blind to the needs of His disciples. He knew their limitations. That they needed rest.

And so He sought to give them rest for their bodies. Time alone to sort things out. Some time with the Master, away from the crowds, where He could speak more intimately. Where they could actually eat when it was time to eat!

Jesus said…

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31 NIV).

In many ways, God IS very different than us. He is a spirit not bound by time and space. He is invisible. Because of these differences we may think of God as being far away. Out of touch with us and our daily troubles. But this is far from the truth.

The Bible says that God surrounds us. In Him we live and move and have our being. He knows our physical limitations. Our need for down time. Our spiritual confusion.

In Hebrews 4, verse 15 we are told that Jesus knows exactly what it is like to be human, because He IS human.

“15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16 NIV).

Jesus understands when we have to step away for a moment. And He invites us to step away WITH HIM. In silent prayer and quiet reading. In simple communion with the Master, away from the world. He wants to give US rest, just like He tried to give the disciples.

I say “tried” because the disciples didn’t get the rest they were looking forward to. When their boats hit the beach near Bethsaida, they found a huge crowd of people waiting for them. Five thousand men, not to mention all the women and children.

How would you feel if after a twelve hour work-day you stumbled into your home to find your boss and your co-workers, with their work stations arranged throughout your living room and kitchen. “We’ve got a few more things we need to get ready for tomorrow. Is it alright if I sit in this chair? And sorry about the kitchen, we had a little accident with the coffee machine. It’s different than the one at the office.”

How would YOU react to that?

It would be easy to see Jesus rebuke the crowd. Couldn’t we see Him just say, “Hey, people, My disciples need to rest. I’m sorry, but the office is closed. The doctor is out. They need rest, I need rest. You’re just going to have to wait a few days and try again.”

But that’s not the snapshot of Jesus that we see. Instead we see a compassionate giver. One who put the needs of others first, considering them more important than Himself.

Jesus once described His life’s work by saying…

“…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NIV).

God is a giver, not a taker.

This concept is hugely important. Manmade religions often see God as a far away entity that must be appeased. A monster who wants something from us in exchange for a good crop or a fruitful business venture.

People coming to Christianity often carry this mistaken idea along with them. They think that it’s all what WE DO FOR GOD. We gotta believe He exists and then do good things. Live good lives. THEN GOD WILL REWARD US.

But this isn’t what Christianity is all about! At its CORE Christianity ISN’T ABOUT WHAT WE DO FOR GOD. At its core, Christianity is all about WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR US!

We’ve failed. We’d committed every shade of sin. Our souls are stained with every color of shame. These stains should have disqualified us from ever knowing God or coming anywhere near Him.

But God the Father GAVE His Son to save us. Jesus took the blame for our sin, suffered the wrath of God in our place, and through Jesus’ cross our stains have been washed clean. Bleached whiter than white. Sins forgiven in the eyes of the Almighty.

God is a giver, not a taker.

This concept has another important application. Toward the end of our reading Jesus’ disciples ask Him to send the people away. It was getting late, and these people needed to go get food.

But Jesus told His disciples that THEY should feed the people.

This must have seemed absolutely ridiculous. Even if they had their whole life savings in their back pocket they wouldn’t have been able to do this. Where would they buy this food? How would carry it back? To the disciples Jesus was asking the impossible.

But let me say it again: God is a giver, not a taker.

And because this is true, God DOESN’T ASK US TO DO THE IMPOSSIBLE. When it seems like God is asking us to do the impossible, He’s probably just inviting us to be part of HIS MIRACLE.

That’s what He was did with the disciples. Jesus knew they needed rest. He knew they needed time alone. But Jesus knew what they needed most: TO TRUST HIM ABOVE ALL. He asked them to feed the 5,000 so that they would learn to rely on Him.

God doesn’t ask us to do the impossible. He invites us to be part of His miracle.

God told Noah, I’m going drown the evil world. Make a boat big enough to preserve the animals who can’t swim.

Okay God.

God told Abraham that through his son Isaac his family would become huge. Then God told Abraham to sacrifice him on a mountain.

Okay God.

God told Moses, Hey sheep herder, go down to Egypt and take my people away from the King.

Okay God.

God told Joshua, You know that city with the impenetrable walls? Yeah, Jericho. I want to you and the people to walk around it a bunch of times. Then blow your trumpets and yell. That should do the trick.

Okay God.

The Son of God told His disciples, You saw me crucified to death. Now I stand before you alive. Through me your sins have been forgiven. Go take this message to everyone in the world.

Okay God.

God tells us, I have always loved you. I gave my perfect, precious Son to rescue you from Hell. Stop trying to earn my love and forgiveness, in Christ you have it.

Okay God.

You remember that picky pop machine outside the fire department? Well, one summer something inside it got stuck. At first it would spit out two pops for the price of one. Then it just decided change wasn’t necessary at all. Suddenly pop was free.

Well, nothing broke inside God to make Him the way He is. He’s is who He is. A giver. A Savior. Our pocket change isn’t necessary at all. God’s love and forgiveness is free because Jesus bought it for us when He GAVE His life on the cross.


The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

January 24, 2010

God, Don't You Care? - Jan 24, 2010

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For the last couple Sundays we’ve been reading from the Gospel of Mark. In each reading Mark has given us a snapshot of Jesus. He’s been showing us something about who Jesus is, by describing something that He did.

As Mark has shown us these snapshots we’ve been able to see Jesus, and then we’ve also tried to see ourselves also. We ask, if this is Jesus, where am I in this picture.

Today our snapshot of Jesus comes from…

Mark 4:35-41 (NIV)

35That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Jesus was teaching the people along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The crowd that had gathered was so large, that He had decided to preach to them from a boat. So, He got into a boat and pushed off into the shallow waters. From there Jesus preached to them, all day long. When evening came, and Jesus was done teaching, He said goodbye to the people and headed for the other side of the lake.

The Sea of Galilee is nowhere near the size of Michigan’s Great Lakes, but it isn’t exactly small either. It’s a roundish lake. At it’s widest point it’s eight miles across, east to west. That’s further across than most places on the Puget Sound.

After a whole day of projecting His voice to crowds on the beach, Jesus was tired. It’s not surprising that He fell asleep as His disciples rowed across the lake.

Maybe this was the first snapshot of Jesus that His disciples saw on this particular day day. They looked back in the boat and saw the dedicated teacher, taking some well deserved rest. But it wasn’t long before this perception of Jesus changed in the disciples minds.

As they rowed, a nasty wind came barreling through the hills and roared across the lake unexpectedly. And the little fleet of boats was overtaken. Shaken. Battered by rough seas.

Now, these men weren’t vacationing tourists in rented paddleboats. Some of them were experienced fishermen. And we can assume that those who weren’t were at least familiar with travelling on the lake. But this storm was violent enough to shake their courage. In fact, Luke’s Gospel tells us point blank that they were in real danger.

Some bailed water as fast as they could. Some yelled directions against the howl of the wind. Some pulled on the oars with all the force their tired muscles would allow.

And then their eyes fell on Jesus. There He was, still in the back of the boat, sleeping on a cushion. This detail tells us a lot. Mark could have just said Jesus was sleeping. But he adds the detail of the cushion.

This was appalling. Here they were fighting for their lives, and Jesus was taking a nap, as if they were back in Capernaum in someone’s living room. So, in the voice of the disciples we hear contempt. Listen again to their words found in verse 38.

“…Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 3:38 NIV)

In this question there is an accusation. Maybe an accusation of laziness? Perhaps. But there is definitely a worse accusation here: that Jesus didn’t care.

This accusation has fallen on God throughout the course of human history, and still falls on God today: God don’t you care?

God, don’t you care about the hungry?
The homeless?
Don’t you care that I’ve lost my job?
That I have cancer? That my child has died?
That my friend has left the church?
Don’t you care about all the suffering people in Haiti?
Can’t you see what’s happening on this planet God?
Don’t you care?

The underlying implication is this: If God really cared, He’d listen to us and solve our problems, when and how we think they ought to be solved. Most of the time that means, “Right now God. If you really care about me you’re going to do this now. Now listen up I’ll tell you what you need to do.”

Obviously disciples weren’t thinking about all these things. But with their words they were expressing their doubt of God. Their doubt that He was watching over them, guarding them from danger.

And so Jesus did something.

Their questions was, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” His answer is in verse 39.

“39He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:38-40 NIV).

Jesus didn’t JUST still the storm in order to save these men from drowning. The danger from the storm was real, but so was the God who held their lives in the palm of His hand. Jesus stilled the storm so that He could SPEAK TO THEM, and address the greater problem that faced them out there on the lake. They were already drowning, in doubt and fear.

Now fear is an emotion. So, in one sense we can say that fear is unavoidable. We don’t consent to our emotions, they just are. People say things or do things that make us sad, angry, happy, frustrated, fearful. Pick an emotion. We can’t help it.

This is especially true for those who suffer from depression or anxiety stemming from a chemical imbalance in their body. Ever since sin entered the world, things don’t work the way God intended them to work. Our emotions included. We may feel something completely inappropriate, or illogical, and have no explanation for why we feel that way.

But, even though we can’t control whether we feel fear, we can learn to control our reaction to it. I’m not saying that we can learn to never flinch or feel afraid. I’m just saying we can learn to react better to fear. God can help.

As God’s followers our first response to fear is prayer. God instructs us to respond to fear with prayer in Psalm 50, verse 15.

“…call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:15 NIV).

This may seem like quite an obvious thing for a Christian to do, but in the middle of tragedy we may forget. Rushing to do what we can with our own hands, we easily forget to tag God with a prayer, saying, “Lord, I need some help here!”

That’s why God tells us to cultivate a constant prayer habit. He wants us to continually depend on Him through prayer. Philippians 4, verse 6 says…

“6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV).

When a problem is drawn out over a longer period of time, there is another thing we can do. We can review God’s past record to calm our fears.

When we look at how God has dealt with His people’s problems in the past, we see a pattern. There’s the initial problem. Then there’s time in which a person either doubts or trusts God. Then there’s the end of the matter when God comes to the rescue.

Think of Joseph in the Old Testament. He was sold into slavery by his own brothers. For years he remained a slave in one form or another. Then Joseph was made second in command over all Egypt and brought his whole family to live there in the rich region of Goshen. Problem, time in between, God comes to the rescue.

Think of Job. His children died. His possessions were taken away. His health went downhill in a serious way. There was a time where he questioned God’s wisdom in these things. Then God restored Job, gave Him more children, greater possessions and health once more. He lived to be an old, old man. Problem, time in between, God comes to the rescue.

Think of Adam and Eve. You thought you’ve messed things up before. They screwed up EVERYTHING. They brought sin and death into the perfect world God had made for them. They cursed every one of their descendants because of their foolishness. But, God promised to save them through one of Eve’s children. Thousands of years went by, but finally, the Savior arrived, set the sins of the whole human race on His back and took them away through dying on the cross. Problem, time in between, God come to the rescue.

When we’re in the middle of our problems and fear is biting at our hearts, we need to recall that we are just in that middle time. The God who says He loves us is NOT GOING TO FORGET ABOUT US! Maybe that sound cliché to say, the He’s not going to forget about us, but that’s His promise. He says, “Trust in me, I will not let you down.” In Romans 10, verse 9 it says…

“9That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame”” (Romans 10:9-11 NIV).

I find it pretty amazing that Jesus didn’t respond to the disciples’ question in the boat more sharply. They said,

“…Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 3:38 NIV)

YES HE CARED ABOUT THEM! That’s why He was there! That’s why God the Son had been born into the human race! That’s why He was preaching the message of salvation through the countryside in Galilee! He was on his way to Jerusalem where He would suffer for them, die for them, and take away the greatest threat to their souls, their own guilt and sin. And they asked DON’T YOU CARE?

Here is the snapshot of Jesus that I see here. I see a Polaroid picture labeled, “Exhibit A”. Here Jesus is the EVIDENCE that God does care. Jesus stilling the storm says: God is with us. He cares. He is to be trusted.

King David knew God would come through. He expressed his trust in the Psalm we read together earlier this morning. In Psalm 27, verse 1 David wrote…

“1 The LORD is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1 NIV).

And at the end of this Psalm, after David has talked about all the enemies and problems and fears that existed in his life then he says…

“13 I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD” (Psalm 27:13-14 NIV).

I heard someone once say, “Jesus is not going to come and solve our problems for us.” I’m here to tell you the opposite. All the problems we face in life ARE solved by Jesus. He either resolves them right here and now in life, or He supports us through them by His Holy Spirit until He takes us away from all problems and fears, into Heaven.

At the end of Mark’s reading the disciples whispered to one another, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” We know the answer to that question. He is our mighty God before whom even our greatest anxieties and our most sticky problems must eventually fall away.

Jesus is with you now, just as much as He was with those disciples. He before He ascended to the Father’s side He told them,

“…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”” (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV).

Wait for the LORD, dear Christians, be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. We’ve got problems now. We’re in that waiting time in between. But eventually He will come again, visibly. And He will come to rescue us. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

January 17, 2010

It's Not About Them, It's About Him - Jan 17, 2010

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May God’s love for you rest on your hearts. And may the undeserved mercy of Christ fill you with peace. Amen.

It’s probably been a while since you last played dodge-ball. But I’m sure you remember how teams are picked on the playground. First you pick two team captains. Then you line everybody up and take turns picking who you want.

The older, bigger and faster kids usually get picked first because captains like to win. Captains generally pick players because of what they can do.

But in our reading for today, Jesus picks His team with a different guiding principle. He doesn’t pick people because of who they are, but because of who He is. It’s not about them. It’s about Him.

Mark 3:13-19 (NIV)

13Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15and to have authority to drive out demons. 16These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); 18Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

We are currently in the part of the church called “Epiphany”. The word “Epiphany” means “manifestation” or “appearance”. During Epiphany we see how Jesus was revealed to be the Son of God during His ministry.

This year we’re reading from the Gospel of Mark. With each reading Mark is showing us a “snapshot” of Jesus. Once we can Jesus, then we want to look for ourselves in the picture. This is Jesus. This is me.

The “snapshot of Jesus” that I see in today’s reading is “Jesus the Chooser”, the “Selector”, “Jesus the Team Captain”.

Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus had been on the mountain all night long, praying. While we aren’t told exactly what He was praying about, it’s safe to assume some of His prayers concerned the men He was about to select as His twelve apostles.

Jesus wanted these men to remember that HE CHOSE THEM, not the other way around. Not only did He make a big deal of selecting the twelve and designating them apostles. Years later He specifically reminded them of this fact.

Turn to John 14, verse 16. This is Jesus speaking to His apostles the night before His death. He says…

“16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last…” (John 15:16 NIV).

Jesus wants Christians today to remember that same truth. We did not choose Jesus, He chose us.

Many churches make a big deal out of making a “choice for Christ”. They present the message of sins forgiven through Christ, but then suggest that faith is a choice. As if faith were a switch that we could turn on and off at will.

Faith is NOT a choice that you make. Faith is not created through saying “I believe”. You cannot create faith or jump start it with a prayer. Faith is created by God through His Word and by His Holy Spirit.
God called out to our hearts through the history of His life and death. The Holy Spirit worked through this recorded history and convinced us of its truth. This is how we came to faith.

First Peter 1, verse 23 says…

“…you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23 NIV).

Coming to faith is like being born. Last time I checked babies don’t choose to be born.

Ephesians 2, verse 4 says…

“…God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5 NIV).

When Lazarus lay dead in His tomb he didn’t hear Jesus outside and think, “Hmmm, I choose life!”

The fact that Jesus chooses us, and not the other way around leads to two important realizations. First, our salvation is completely God’s Work. Not even on little bit is because of our doing. Secondly, if Jesus is the one who chose us, He’s team captain. He calls the shots. He is both our Savior and our Master.

Okay. Back to the twelve apostles. One question that arises when we see a list of all these guys is, “Why them?” Why did Jesus choose THESE twelve men?

Well, I can assure you it wasn’t because they were a specially pure group of fellas.

Simon Peter was impulsive, but also violent. Remember how he struck out and cut off another man’s ear when Jesus was arrested? Well did you ever think of what he was TRYING to do? He wasn’t aiming at his ear! He was trying to KILL THE MAN by sword-ing him in the head!

Or how about James and John. Jesus knick-named these two brothers the “Sons of Thunder”. They probably liked the knick-name, but I’m guessing it was a sarcastic rebuke from Jesus. These were bold men who once asked Jesus whether they should call down FIRE on a village that didn’t welcome Jesus. He told them “No.”

Or how about Matthew the tax-collector? The Jews considered him to be both a traitor to Israel (since he was collecting taxes for the Roman government) and a thief (since tax-collectors were known for becoming rich by overcharging people).

And then on the other end of the spectrum was Simon the Zealot. All we know about the guy was that he was once a “Zealot”. That was a sect of Jews who refused to pay taxes to Rome for religious reasons. Eventually their sect degraded into a band of outlaws named for the type of dagger that they used.

Then there’s good old doubting Thomas. Known for stubbornly refusing to believe Jesus had come back from the dead until Jesus appeared right in front of Him.

And who can forget Judas the betrayer. Before he sold Jesus out for 30 silver pieces, he acted as treasurer for the twelve. The Bible says he was a thief, freely helping himself to the money he was entrusted with.

Clearly these men were not chosen for their purity. Throughout Jesus’ ministry it became painfully clear that they hadn’t been chosen for their spiritual insight either. Repeatedly we hear them asking Jesus, “So, what did that parable mean again?”

They had no particular talents that were indispensible. They weren’t even educated men? I like how the King James puts it in Acts 4:13…

“13Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were UNLEARNED and IGNORANT men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 KJV).

They were uneducated idiots, but they had been with Jesus.

Jesus first chose the twelve to save them, and so that He might save others through them. For the apostles it was, “Ask not what you can do for Jesus, but what He can do for you.”

And it’s the same for Christians today. He chose us, to save us. He saved us, to save others through us. It’s as simple as that.

Let me draw your attention back to verse 14-15. Here we are told exactly what Jesus wanted these twelve apostles to do.

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

They were unlearned and ignorant men, but they were being selected to be with Jesus. To learn from Him. To go out with His authority. These men couldn’t preach Jesus’ message correctly without first being connected to Jesus in order to learn that message. Really, they had to believe it in order to preach it with power.

These men had no magical abilities. They couldn’t cast out demons or heal sicknesses without Jesus GIVING THEM the power to do those things. They had to be connected to Jesus.

I’ve got a book that lists Bible readings for every Sunday of the Church year. It also describes what each season is about. Let me read what it says about Epiphany…

“[Epiphany] and its season…show forth the glory of Him who has come, born a babe in Bethlehem, and how this glory must shine also through the members of His kingdom so that men may see their good works and glorify their Father in heaven” (Biblical Texts, by Nesper).

Through their connection to Jesus, Jesus would shine through the apostles to the world. They were “selected to be connected”. And they were connected to shine out His glory. His glory and Creator, as Savior, as caring Friend.

Christians, we to have been selected to be connected – to Jesus. Through that faith connection we receive forgiveness for every sin we commit. Through that connection to Jesus we are continually protected from evil. Through that connection to the Son of God we receive power. We can speak His message in a world that wants us to shut up. We can shake off our guilt in the shadow of His cross and the light of His empty tomb.

It’s not about us, it’s about Him. He is the Chooser, we the Chosen.

Most team captains choose players in order to win. Our Captain picked us in order to share His victory with us. And now, even though we are not designated “apostles”, we have also been sent out. That’s what apostle means by the way. One sent out. One sent out with a message to carry and share.

Let’s get sharing. May the light of Christ shine, through our connection to Him.


The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

January 10, 2010

Snapshots of Jesus in Capernaum - Jan 10, 2010

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Good morning. This past Wednesday was the first day of the Epiphany season. Epiphany means “manifestation” or “appearance”. When Jesus began His ministry at the age of 30, few knew who He was. As Jesus interacted with the people, teaching, preaching and performing miracles, many came to know Him as the Savior sent from God. The one who would take their sins away.

This year our Epiphany messages come from Mark’s gospel. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It has been described as a collection of “snapshots” of Jesus. Jesus the healer. Jesus the teacher. Jesus the miracle worker, and so on.

We’re going to use this idea of “Mark’s Snapshots” to help focus our minds to see Jesus. This is what I want you to do. As you listen to our readings from Mark, imagine that Mark is actually sitting beside you in the pew. He’s got a shoebox full of old photographs, and with each one he shows you he says, “This is Jesus.”

Once you can see that reading’s “Snapshot of Jesus” in your mind, take the visualization one step further. Find yourself in the picture. If this is Jesus, where am I?


In Jesus’ day, when the Jews couldn’t get to the Temple in Jerusalem, they worshipped in local worship halls called “synagogues”.

The ancient synagogue was remarkably like our church building. It had a main open space where people could gather. It had windows. Opposite the entrance of the synagogue there was an indentation in the wall where there was a box, which looked somewhat like this altar. In this box the scrolls of the Old Testament were stored. There was even a raised platform and podium, much like our pulpit, where these scrolls could be laid out and read to the people.

The worship that took place in the ancient synagogue was also similar to our worship. In fact, you could say that our worship has descended from the synagogue. Synagogue worship had three basic parts. There were prayers spoken back and forth by the congregation and the synagogue leader. There were readings from the Bible. There was a message meant to help everyone understand God’s Word.

In our first snapshot from Mark’s gospel, Jesus steps up to the podium at the synagogue in Capernaum.

Mark 1:21-22

21They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

When Jesus stepped down from the podium in the synagogue of Capernaum, the people were stunned. This Jesus, who had grown up some 20 miles away in Nazareth, had just knocked their socks off. It says very simply,

“The people were AMAZED at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had AUTHORITY, not as the teachers of the law” (Mark 1:22 NIV).

There are two parts of a good teacher. First, a teacher has to know what he’s talking about. Second, he has to be able to communicate that knowledge effectively. In other words, he has to have the truth to speak, and the words to speak it so it can be understood.

The problem with the scribes (called “the teachers of the law” here) was that they didn’t know the truth. They had God’s Word, but they didn’t understand it.

The Savior from sin was not part of THEIR message. They twisted the promised Savior of the Old Testament into some political figure.

The intimidating Law of God was also not part of their message. They had dumbed down God’s standards so that it was possible for them to believe they had lived lives worthy of heaven. In their storm of manmade doctrines, the true meaning of God’s Word was lost to these teachers.

This is why jaws dropped when Jesus spoke. It wasn’t just because He was a brilliant communicator. The congregation at Capernaum was stunned because Jesus spoke something that the scribes had lost. He spoke the simple truth of God’s Word. And this truth RANG TRUE in the ears of the people.

This is the snapshot of Jesus that I see. I see Jesus, standing with one hand on the open scroll of some Old Testament book. His other hand raised in the air gesturing His point home. On His face is an expression that is both intense and joyful at the same time. He is teaching them the Father’s truth, with the Father’s own words (John 14:24). He speaks of damning sin and salvation through faith in the Christ.

This is Jesus. A brilliant teacher to be sure. But a teacher whose authority came from the fact that His message was God’s message.

So, what about me? Where am I in this picture? Well, let me tell you a story. The other day I was discussing the way we worship with an organist (neither of ours), and the conversation fell on the sermon. I expressed that while the sermon may not be the jewel of the worship service around which everything else is built, but it’s still pretty important (spoken like a true pastor, right?). And my friend said to me, “You know, I’ve always cherished the confession and absolution more than the sermon. I’m a terrible sinner. And to know that my God has taken my sins away, well, I NEED that. As for the sermon, it’s often tainted by one sinful man’s opinion.”


In first Peter it says…

“If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God…” (1 Peter 4:11 NIV).

This is what I want to do when I speak to you, God’s people. I want to speak the words of God, not one sinful man’s opinion.

So, if Mark’s snapshot shows Jesus the brilliant teacher, I want to be the student sitting at His feet. Reaching out every word and concept. Listening diligently so that I may know HIS MESSAGE accurately, so that I too may speak with the Father’s authority.

Mark gives us another snapshot of Jesus here. Verse 23.


Mark 1:23-28 (NIV)

23Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
25“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
27The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.”

First they were amazed by Jesus’ teaching. Then by His command over demons.

There are a number of occurrences of demon possession throughout the ministry of Jesus. It appears that demon possession was more common at that time.

The reliable information we have about demon possession comes from Biblical accounts. First of all, we know that the evil spirits were once good angels, created to serve God. They chose to rebel against God with Satan as their leader. Though we are unsure about the full extent of their abilities, we know these fallen angels are far more powerful than any manmade weapon.

We know that sometimes one or more demons enter into the body of a human being and seized control. The demon possessed person may then begin to act crazy, becoming dangerously strong and violent. Their habits become strange and inhuman. One group of demons that Jesus drove out of a man had caused that man to stop wearing clothes, and to live in burial caves among moldering corpses. There he passed the time by purposefully injuring himself in painful ways.

The presence of a demon may cause the possessed person to lose physical abilities like speaking, hearing or seeing. When the demon is driven out, these senses are restored. Understand that this wasn’t some silly superstition cooked up by simple people to explain illnesses that they didn’t understand. The Biblical accounts draw a distinct line between people who were sick and diseased and those who had physical problems BECAUSE of demon possession.

It appears that demons were not easily driven out once they had taken control of a person. But at the command of Jesus, demons had to obey.

Jesus was teaching the Word of God in the synagogue of Capernaum. Boldly a demon raised his stolen voice to yell angrily at Jesus. This demon knew very well what those around him have yet to comprehend. This Jesus was the Holy One of God. The Savior. He had come to destroy the Devil’s work. He had come to set sinners free from sin and hell by His selfless sacrifice.

Jesus responds to the Demon’s angry voice with a stern face and imposing tone. He simply commands that the Demon do two things. Shut up and get out. And this ancient fallen angels, this powerful spirit of darkness is gone. No Hollywood fight scene. No magical incantation. A simple word of command from Jesus.

This is the snapshot of Jesus that I see. Jesus stands as a warrior. A gunslinger. A soldier. He stands as the enemy of all darkness. But His power doesn’t come from muscle, or lead or atomic bomb. His power is in the Word He speaks. And this first mighty miracle in Capernaum testified also, saying, Pay attention. This warrior speaks God’s truth, and God’s power is with Him also.

So, what about us? Where are we in this picture? Well, we’re like the man who yelled out at Jesus. We were held captive by sin. We were faithless and hopeless. There was no way we could remove the darkness that lived in us. But the Word of Jesus has set us free. He tells us that we deserve hell because of our sins, but He also tells us that He suffered that hell in our place. On the cross. Our sentence has been served. And like the Demon who had to listen to Jesus’ voice, our hearts have heard this Good News with relief.

Now you might have noticed that I didn’t read the last verse yet. Verse 28.

What Capernaum Didn’t See

Mark 1:28 (NIV)

28News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

The people of Capernaum were surprised and amazed at the way Jesus taught. They were astonished when they witnessed the power His Word had over an evil spirit. The word spread quickly across the countryside about what Jesus had done in Capernaum. But the snapshot that remained in the minds of the people had a hole where Jesus was.

They remembered His powerful speaking, but not His message. They remembered His command of demons, but not what that fact pointed to. They were amazed by Him, but they did not believe in Him. They did trust their Savior.

Later in His ministry, Jesus had harsh words for Capernaum. Matthew 11, verse 23.

“23And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:23-24 NIV).

When you see Jesus, don’t just see the powerful teacher. Don’t just see the enemy of demons. See the Savior who died in your place to erase your sins forever. See the Savior who reaches out His hand to take yours. To begin and continue a conversation with your heart. To begin and continue a friendship with you. This is Jesus.


The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

January 3, 2010

The Father Cares for the Christ Child - Jan 3, 2010

To LISTEN to this week's sermon online click here. To DOWNLOAD an MP3, first right click here then choose "save link as" or "save target as".


May the Father’s love for you rest on your hearts. And may the undeserved mercy of His Son fill you with peace. Amen.

John 3:16 is probably the most widely known Bible passage. I’d bet that most of us could say it by heart. In fact, let’s try that right now. It doesn’t matter if your translation is slightly different, try to say it out-loud with me now.

John 3:16.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 NKJV).

In that verse Jesus is called the “only begotten Son” of God. The Bible refers to angels as “sons of God” because they are His mighty servants. The Bible calls God’s followers “sons and daughters of God” because they have become part of His family through faith in Jesus. But Jesus is the Son of God in a way that no one else is. He alone is the “only begotten Son” of the Father.

God the Father loves God the Son with the same love that a human father has for his children. Only God the Father’s love is perfect, completely pure, intense and never wavering.

In today’s reading we’ll see God the Father caring for the Christ Child. We’ll see Him leading, protecting and providing for His little Boy.

Matthew 2 (NIV)

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”
7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
13When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
16When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
19After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
21So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

If there’s any idea that stands out in this part of Matthew, it’s the idea of “LEADING”. God is leading all sorts of people in this chapter.

Even before this chapter God led Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. On the surface the trip seemed like one more annoyance imposed by the Roman government. Caesar calls a census and so we’ve got to walk 75 miles to Bethlehem. But in reality, it was God who was leading Mary and Joseph to that city. Because God’s prophet had foretold that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem.

Last Sunday we heard how Mary and Joseph didn’t leave Bethlehem right away after Jesus’ birth. They remained for a month or so. Luke’s Gospel tells us they had to present Jesus to the LORD at the Temple because He was Mary’s first-born. And Mary herself had to wait a month before she could offer certain sacrifices of cleansing.

The next big event Luke reports in the life of Jesus’ family is their return to Nazareth. But Matthew tells us the rest of the story. Matthew fills in the gap and informs us what happened BEFORE they returned to Nazareth.

Apparently, Mary and Joseph stayed in Bethlehem for longer than a month. It appears that they stayed in Bethlehem for a year, maybe as long as two.

Verse 16 tells us that when Herod got angry with the Magi, he…

“…gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi” (Matthew 2:16 NIV).

We assume Herod padded the age of the child to make sure he got Him, putting the age of the Christ Child between 1-2 years.

Now we might ask, Why did Mary and Joseph remain in Bethlehem that long? Who knows. Perhaps Mary needed more time to recover from her labor before making the 75 mile hike back to Nazareth. Maybe Joseph found a good job in Bethlehem or nearby Jerusalem.

We don’t know ALL the details that kept them in Bethlehem for months after Jesus’ birth. But we do know this: the Magi were coming.

When Jesus was born a special star had appeared. And these mysterious people, these Magi from the east somehow knew that this new star meant that the King of the Jews had been born.

This King of the Jews was significant to them because He was the Savior. That the Magi understood this is shown by their actions. They came to King Herod looking for “King of the Jews”. They knew Herod was the reigning king in Judea. They knew Caesar was the greater king ruling over much of the world. But they weren’t looking for these rulers. They were searching for a Ruler of much greater significance. They had put their lives on hold, and had started off on the long journey to Bethlehem to see this King.

Now, they didn’t know they were headed for Bethlehem at the start. At first they just headed to Israel. Perhaps the star which had appeared was already leading them. But either the star wasn’t leading them at first, or it disappeared for a time, because when they got to Jerusalem they had to ask for directions.

And because they had to ask for directions, more people turned their eyes to the Christ. Herod was concerned, and all of Jerusalem was also. What was going on here? Had the Christ really been born?!

Since God the Father was purposefully drawing all this attention to His Son, He also made sure to protect Him. Do doubt Satan did not want this Child to live long. And any who Satan could use to murder the Christ, he would use.

One candidate for this job was Herod the Great. He was a crazy man and a murderer. He murdered family members that he considered threats to his throne. Brother in law. Uncle. Wife. He even gave orders to his henchmen to execute important Jewish leaders and their families upon his own death. Why? So that there would be true mourning in Jerusalem on the day of his death. Herod was nuts.

We might think, God why would you have the Magi go anywhere near Herod? I can think of two reasons. First of all, the Savior has been born to save ALL PEOPLE. God even offered salvation to a bloodthirsty and paranoid man like Herod. Secondly, the Father was demonstrating His ability to protect. Though often in the spotlight and hated by many, God’s Son would remain safe until the right time came for His perfect sacrifice to be offered to wipe our record of sin off the board forever.

After the Magi saw the Christ Child and offered their gifts, the Father sent His angel to tell them not to go back to Herod. He was protecting His faithful followers.

God then also dispatched an angel to tell Joseph, to get his family out of town. Obviously God was protecting His Son. But here we also see God PROVIDING for His Son, for the Magi brought gifts.

What we know about the Magi is pretty much from this chapter. We don’t actually know how many there were. We guess three because there were three kinds of gifts. We don’t actually know if they were kings or not. They must have had some money to be able to put their lives on pause to take this trip, and to offer expensive gifts like they did.

We guess they had come to know about the Savior from faithful Jews who had been captive in Babylon. The ancient sage-priests who were called the Magi were known to have existed in Babylon. But we don’t know for sure where they came from, except that they were from the east.

Their gifts to Baby Jesus were Gold, incense and myrrh. Some have suggested that they gave the Christ Child gold because He was king, incense because He was God (incense was commonly offered to gods), and myrrh because He was truly man (myrrh was used in burial practices).

While it is true that the Christ Child was king, God and man, it is more likely that these gifts were simply the best they had to offer. And that’s where we see the hand of the Father providing for His Son. Pretty quick Jesus’ guardians were going to have to make a trip to Egypt, and with no time to save up the money needed to do so.

Right on cue come the Magi, bearing gifts that could be sold to pave the way to Egypt. The Father leads, protects and He provides.

Now, the Father did all these things for His Son Jesus, but He also did these things for you and me. The whole reason that God’s Son was born into the human race was to save sinful people from hell. To do this He had to live a sinless human life so that He could die a pure and sacrificial death. In this way He traded His perfect life for our life of sin and failure.

Every time that God protects His Son in this account, He’s also protecting our salvation.

Having just started a new year, this is a perfect time to be reminded how God the Father leads, protects and provides. He does this for His sons and daughters, and also for those who do not yet know Him.

Turn to Acts 17, verse 24. Here Paul is sharing the Good News of sins forgiven through Jesus with the philosophers of Athens. He says to them…

“24“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:24-27 NIV).

God has lead people into our lives so that we can tell them about Jesus. He had lead us here to listen to His Word grow in faith. God will continue to lead, protect and provide for us in this coming year.

We have an amazing promise from God. The promise of forgiveness through His Only-Begotten Son. So, let’s do what Joseph did. Each time God’s messenger appears to Joseph in a dream he doesn’t question it, he just does it. When we hear God’s voice, let’s not question Him, let’s just do it.

Let’s also be like the Magi, frequently putting our day to day lives on hold so that we can go to Jesus, presenting Him with our greatest gifts: our hearts, our lives, our dedication, our thoughts, our dependence, our trust.

We can do all these things with confidence and a feeling of peace. Because, at the end of the day, whether we’ve failed or succeeded in what we’ve laid our hand to, we have Christ. At the end of every day we can look to Jesus and know: He was born, to die, and to rise, so that I might be forgiven and live forever with His Father.

Happy New Year, Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.