Staying Mission Focused, Mark 3:7-12

November 23, 2010

Mark 3:7-12

It is very difficult to stay on mission. When the number of people who rely on you increases, so does the difficulty to stay on mission. The more leadership and responsibility I gain, the more difficult it is to accomplish the mission. I think back when I was young and had limited responsibilities, how easy it was to accomplish the mission. As we grow in responsibility, how do we stay focused on the mission?

Jesus was excellent in staying on mission. Jesus’ mission was to bring the kingdom of God to man. To do this, He must die on the cross to pay the ransom for the sins of men and women so they may enter that kingdom, and He must train disciples who would continue to establish His kingdom on the earth after He returned to heaven.

Jesus’ mission was not grasped by many. They had their own agenda to what they thought Jesus’ mission should be. The Jewish leaders rejected who He claimed to be, so they would never accept His mission. The disciples and the crowds still sought after Jesus, but they had their own agendas. The crowds wanted to be healed and see miracles. The disciples wanted to be great political rulers with Jesus and lead a nation that would rule all other nations.

Before Jesus would head to Jerusalem to be crucified, buried, and raise from the dead, He must train the disciples to continue the mission – to make disciples of all nations, teaching men and women to obey all that He commanded them. Jesus would often attempt to withdraw with His disciples to teach them, only to be followed by great crowds who sought healing and miracles. Jesus would often stay with the crowd for awhile, healing and teaching, but He would always again withdraw so that He could spend time training His disciples.

Jesus would often withdraw to be alone and pray to the Father. I believe this was the secret to Jesus staying focused on the mission. His time with the Father would bring Him back to mission focus.

How do we stay focused on the mission? We too must get alone with God to re-center ourselves on who God is, who we are, and what we are to be doing. We must then make the hard decisions to withdraw from good things in order to accomplish the mission that God has given us.

Father, You are God, Jesus is your Son, and the Spirit guides me. I am your child, saved by your grace to me, called to be a reflection of Your love to the world. Help me to deflect distractions and absorb your will for me today.

Seeking for Help Can Hurt Us, Mark 3:1-6

September 22, 2010

Mark 3:1-6

Have you ever felt like you needed help, but the system is against you? If you speak out that you need counseling, it will hurt your career. Even if that career has caused the reason you need counseling.  Have you ever felt like you need spiritual help, but if you go to the church or Christians you know, they will only judge you or embarrass you? Imagine if you needed help, and the one place you would not find it would be in church on Sunday morning. Jesus could heal people. He also taught the scriptures frequently in the synagogues on the Sabbath. However, the Pharisees had designed a man-made system of laws that forbid a man from healing another on the Sabbath. In fact, they would use that system to trap Jesus and accuse Him of being a sinner.

This was a sting operation. The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into proving His authority did not come from God. Here is what we know so far:

  1. Jesus healed people and forgave sins.
  2. The Pharisees did not believe His power and authority came from God.
  3. The Pharisees took the commandments of God given to them and added many man-made laws to them. This made them the authority, not the scriptures.
  4. Jesus challenged those man-made commandments as contrary to the original intent of the commandments from God.
  5. Jesus claimed to be God and to have authority over all the commandments.

Now we have a scene from the O.K. Corral. It was a showdown. Jesus was in the synagogue on the Sabbath as was His custom. The Pharisees planted a man with a withered hand in the crowd. If Jesus healed him that would prove to them that Jesus’ authority was not from God because He would be healing on the Sabbath, which according to their man-made commandments, would be unlawful. And if Jesus were from God, He would not do what was unlawful. They could trap Him in public doing unlawful things.

How would Jesus respond to the setup?

  1. He would clarify the intent of the Sabbath. He has already stated that the Sabbath was made for man’s benefit. So He would ask again, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?”
  2. He would grieve over the Pharisees unbelief. Jesus had come to be their Messiah. They had all the promises about Him, yet they would reject Him.
  3. He would heal the man.

The Pharisees would then go out and conspire with the Herodians (their political enemy) as to how they would destroy Jesus.

If there is a system that keeps Jesus from doing good to you, it is wrong. The only thing we have seen in Mark that keeps Jesus from doing good is a lack of faith. There is nothing that stands between you and God’s love. It is accessible at anytime, anywhere. You can do directly to Jesus despite where you are or who or what is standing against you and ask for help. Jesus can handle the opposition, and He can handle your problems.

There are also many people who have experienced this love from Jesus who desire to help others with that same love and help. Ask God to show you where those people are. If you have experienced that restoring love of Jesus, help others experience it also. Seek them out.

Jesus, You have restored me, use me to restore others.

Breaking the Hold of False Religion, Mark 2:23-28

September 15, 2010

I remember the day like it was yesterday, my best friend at age 7 at my door ratting me out to my dad. I was standing behind my friend as he stood at my door and told my dad I just said the word *&%! I do not know why he wanted to rat me out, but I thought I was going to be in big trouble. I remember my dad getting a slightly angry demeanor about him, but he turned his scorn to my friend. Can’t remember the exact words, but it was something like, “Don’t you come here and rat on my son, get off my porch!”

I remember learning something about my dad that day. He had my back. He also took the importance of cuss words as a really bad thing and nullified it as a standard for how my dad viewed me. I knew that cuss words could not put a dent in the love he felt for me.

In this section of Mark, the highly respected religious leaders came to Jesus and accused His disciples of breaking the law by picking grain on the Sabbath. “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” Maybe the disciples felt busted, like they had been caught. Would Jesus scold them?

Jesus actually turns His scold to the Pharisees. He asks them if they have ever read about what David did in the Old Testament. That is like asking a preacher if he has ever read the Bible. He pointed to the time when the High Priest of Israel gave David and his men consecrated bread that was only lawful for them to eat. If they could do it and it was fine, why not them. The problem the Pharisees had was not with the act, but with Jesus Himself. In the previous sections they had made it clear they did not believe He was one of them, they did not approve of whom he associated with, and His followers were not spiritual enough.  So, they are going to use the law of the Sabbath as the final grounds for accusation. They could point to the fact that they had broken the law. If Jesus did not scold them, then He was definitely not from God.

The Sabbath had been established as a benefit to mankind. After Adam and Eve sinned and God punished mankind by causing their labor and work to be accompanied by hardship (Genesis 3:17-19), He also provided the Sabbath so that man could rest. On that day they were not to have to struggle. The Pharisees took that day of rest and added all sorts of conditions to it so that it became a burden, an actual punishment. People could not do good deeds for themselves or others on the Sabbath because they called those acts “work.” So when the disciples of Jesus picked heads of grain for food, they called that work. When Jesus will heal a man on the Sabbath, they accuse Him of working.

Jesus makes it clear what the purpose of the Sabbath was from the beginning. “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”

Jesus also makes it clear who He is. The Pharisees acted as though they were the keepers of the Sabbath. Jesus made it clear that He was the Lord of the Sabbath.

Sometimes we hold on to religious standards and measures that are not based on God’s intentions. They have a grip on us. The best way to tell if a false view of religion has a grasp on you is that you find yourself more trying to please man, even religious men, over God. No man should have the grip on you that is reserved for God. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”

Jesus, let me be free from the grasp of men so that I may be gripped by your love.

Religion that is Inappropriate and Incompatible with God

September 9, 2010

Mark 2:18-22

I remember the day I got my Corps Brass at Texas A&M. It represented being recognized as a well-trained cadet. Even though it came with the biggest physical dogging we had ever had, my classmates and I were excited and full of joy. Most physical doggings required us to be remorseful for all the things we had done wrong. But this was a different circumstance that required a different attitude. We had arrived. We were recognized!

When John’s disciples and the Pharisees asked Jesus why His disciples were not fasting, they were asking why they were not practicing the religious act of mourning. Jesus responded by comparing the current time to a wedding. Attendants do not show up at a wedding fasting with mourning. That would be inappropriate. When the bridegroom is gone, they can return to fasting, but the wedding is a celebration of joy.

The disciples did not fast because Jesus was with them. It was a time to celebrate. Jesus takes it further by communicating that He had come to bring a new way of doing things. He came to do away with the old law and rituals and make all things new in our relationship with Him. Our relationship with God would now be solely based on our relationship to Jesus, not the law.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.  2 Corinthians 5:17

He uses two illustrations to teach this:

  1. Don’t sew new cloth onto old garments. It will tear and make it worse. It is incompatible. Jesus comes with new cloth, throw away the old garments and make new clothes.
  2. Don’t put new wine into old wineskins. It will tear and break. It is incompatible. Jesus comes with new wine to be put into new wineskins.

Jesus comes with a new covenant relationship with us. We are to put that new relationship into a new way, not try to force it into the old way. We are to disregard the old and embrace the new.

You probably did not grow up under first century pharisaic laws and practices. But you may have grown up in a system that communicated to you that you must observe or abstain from certain practices in order to be in a relationship with Christ. Christ says all you need is Him.

Picture yourself in a room by yourself with Jesus. The only question He will ask you is, “Do you believe in Me? Do you love Me?” If your answer is yes, then you are perfectly right with Him. Now from that place, go out the door with Him and love others.

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ “The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”  Mark 12:28-31

Embrace the way of Jesus. The study of Mark will help you understand His ways. In fact, that is the purpose of the book of Mark, to show what it looks like to follow Jesus and His ways.

Jesus, teach me to walk in Your Ways.

Who Will Heal Us? Mark 2:14-17

September 6, 2010

When I was young, no matter what trouble I found myself in, I knew I could go to my parents for help. Even if it involved punishment, their goal would be to get me out of trouble and on the right path. I could do this because I knew that they were great parents who cared for me. I remember the day I brought home that dreaded report card. Let’s just say the only good mark was in Basketball. When my slothfulness was revealed, my parents were not pleased, but they worked with me to help me get my grades up.

When we think of a physician, we think of someone who will help us recover from our injuries or sickness, no matter what lifestyle may have produced the ailment. Can you imagine walking into a doctor’s office to get help for an injury, and the doctor and nurses not allowing you in because you are wounded? Can you imagine doctors who only dealt with healthy people?

This is what the sinners of the time of Jesus found in the religious leaders. The ones who could help them recover from their sins shunned them. Those who could restore them back into a relationship with God would not associate themselves with those who needed spiritual healing.

Jesus, however, seemed to attract sinners. He even pursued them. One day He saw Levi, a Jewish man who went to work for the man, Rome, and was collecting taxes for them from his very own people. Jesus actually called him to follow Him as one of His twelve disciples. That day he actually went to Levi’s house to eat with him, and all of Levi’s friends joined him. Of course, being a tax collector for the Romans isolated him from fellowship among the good Jews, so his associates were sinners and tax collectors. And they were following Jesus. Mark tells us, “for there were many of them, and they were following Him.”

When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”   Mark 2:16,17

In Jesus response to the Pharisees, He was communicating two things:

  1. The Pharisees were not good spiritual physicians. They should be helping spiritually weak people get better. They should take the calling of God on their lives to do what He intended them to do, heal people spiritually.
  2. Jesus is a great spiritual physician. How do we know that? All sinners and tax collectors were following Him.

Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. All of us can come to Him, no matter what we have done or what our associations are. “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”  John 6:37

We can come to Jesus because of who He is.

  1. Jesus loves you.
  2. Jesus has the desire power to heal us spiritually.
  3. Jesus has the desire and power to keep us healthy for eternity.
  4. Jesus is a caring physician.

Jesus the Physician, thank you that you pursue and welcome me, a wounded spiritual person.

Which is Greater – Forgiveness or Healing?

August 24, 2010

Mark 2:1-13

When men and women come back from war, we can see if they are physically wounded. What we do not see is their emotional, relational, and spiritual wounds. Their family and friends see it, but most of us are unaware.  Sometimes we see physically wounded warriors return to loving relationships as emotionally and spiritually healthy and go on to live with joy and purpose, while those who return physically whole, struggle relationally, emotionally, and spiritually, resulting in isolation, pain, and sometimes suicide.

When the paralytics four friends lowered him through the roof so he could be near Jesus, we would expect Jesus to heal the most pressing need in His life. And He did. Jesus, seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

When we have physically pressing issues, our greatest desire is for physical healing. Last year, our son became very sick and was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that caused much internal destruction. My wife and I grieved more than we ever had for his physical ailment. As I prayed for his healing, God continued to remind me that his physical healing was not the greatest thing that He wished to do in my son’s life. The greater issue was my son’s relationship with Jesus. That Jesus could bring spiritual wholeness to my son.

If we could get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, our passions would change. If we could get a glimpse of how God brings eternal healing, we to would seek first a healthy relationship with Jesus (forgiveness) as our driving passion in all circumstances.

Why did the scribes have such a problem with Jesus’ words? This passage introduces us to a section in Mark that goes through 3:6. In this section, Jesus associates with sinners and, according to the Jewish leaders, performs many unlawful acts. The section ends with the Jewish leaders seeking to destroy Jesus.

This man was a paralytic because he was a sinner. He did not deserve to be forgiven. Who was Jesus to offer forgiveness to such a sinner? Jesus could not be from God if He was so reckless with His forgiveness to the unworthy. But Jesus proves that His authority comes from God, validating His view that God desires to forgive even the greatest of sinners. Jesus proves that He has the power to forgive sins by healing the man physically.

Last year, not only did my son wrestle with Crohn’s disease, but also my sister died after a 2-year battle with cancer at age 45. God’s power to forgive and heal us spiritually was evident over her two-year battle. My sister, my parents, and I all rested in the fact that Jesus had already healed my sister spiritually because she put her faith in Jesus as her Savior. Jesus had already provided eternal healing that would last forever. Even at the end of her struggle when she was paralyzed and homebound, we had some great times together. All of us spiritually healthy, eternally secure, loved, and forgiven by Jesus.

When the paralytic was healed and was having dinner that night with the four friends who took him to Jesus, I wonder what they rejoiced about? Surely that he could walk, but how much more did they rejoice in the fact that they were forgiven.

Father, I am forgiven. Thank you.

The Purpose Needs Messengers, Mark 1:40-45

August 22, 2010

In communication, you need a message, a messenger, and a receiver. In this story, Jesus had a message for the Jewish Priests, and He would use a healed leper as a messenger. But the message never got there. The military wins battles based on good communication. When that communication fails, so does the mission.

When the leper approached Jesus and said, “If you are willing, You can make me clean”, Jesus was moved with compassion and said, “I am willing, be cleansed.” I imagine at that point Jesus was thinking of His people Israel. How He loved them and wished to cleanse them and redeem them. How He wished they would come to Him and ask Him to heal them of their ways.

Jesus decided to send them this message, that He was willing to cleanse them. He would send this leper to the priests as a testimony of what He desired to do for them. So He sternly told the leper, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” However, the messenger did not go to the priests. Instead, he told everyone freely; to such an extent that Jesus could no longer enter cities, but had to stay in unpopulated areas.

In this story, the messenger failed to deliver the message. In the next section, we will see how the receivers, the Jewish religious leaders, would reject the message.

Jesus has a message for you. He loves you, He desires to redeem you from your sinful ways and restore you to your place in His kingdom. Sometimes messengers sabotage that message. People have hurt us, church has let us down, and bad things have happened to us. All these things might have given us a false picture of who Jesus is and distorted His message to us.

Sometimes we need to shoot the messenger. The messenger has messed up the message. Don’t let a bad messenger keep you from experiencing the compassion of Jesus toward you.

Jesus has a message for you. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus shares this message. Here is one instance…

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

Father, thank you for Your message of love to me.

Teaching with Distractions, Mark 1:29-39

August 20, 2010

Mark 1:29-39

Have you ever tried to communicate a very important truth only to encounter so many various distractions that the truth was never grasped? Those distractions can come in the form of rumors, side issues, prejudices, self-centered people, power struggles, and other truth killers.

In the military, these distractions can cost lives. People do not grasps the mission or they operate from false assumptions and information. As a parent and spouse, I often grieve over the effects of miscommunication and false assumptions and there effects on our family.

Jesus dealt with these issues constantly. Jesus came with a message to share. That message was that He was the Son of God who came to die as a ransom for many, in order to redeem them back to God and usher in His Kingdom.

“Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” Mark 1:38

The night before, Jesus had healed many people and cast out many demons. The next morning the crowds were looking for Him. But Jesus departed to nearby towns so that He could continue to teach the message He came to share. In this section, He faced three distractions.

  1. The disciples urging Him to return to the crowd.
  2. The crowds wanting him to stay and continue to heal.
  3. The demons speaking out and telling who He was.

These things were not bad things. In fact, Jesus often did these things. But He was making it clear this is not why He came. His main purpose was to teach the message to everyone. Jesus remained focused on the mission. He was to share the message of redemption and the Kingdom, culminating in His act of redemption on the cross and His resurrection that would begin His Kingdom in the hearts of man.

The redemption of man and the Kingdom of God is our mission too. Yet, we are so easily distracted. We must constantly weed out things we can do for the things we must do. It is always amazing to me how much I love to study God’s word, yet how easily I can let it fall into a bucket of miscellaneous items.

We are disciples of Jesus. A disciple is a learner and doer of the ways of Jesus. We are to do everything we can to stay on mission. We must move from being Distracted Disciples to being Determined Disciples.

“Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  Matthew 6:31,33

Father, give us razor sharp focus to stay on mission.

Jesus as Teacher

August 19, 2010

George Patton said, “All down the immortal line of mighty warriors…[they] were deeply imbued with the whole knowledge of war as practiced at their several epochs. But also, and mark this, so were many of their defeated opponents, for…the secret of victory lies not wholly in knowledge, It lurks invisible in that vitalizing spark, intangible. Yet as evident as the lightning – the warrior soul.” War and Leadership p. 117.

“They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”  Mark 1:22

Jesus called the early disciples to follow Him. The word disciple literally means, “learner.” A disciple of Jesus is to follow Him and learn from Him. Jesus is the teacher. The marines have a saying, every marine a scholar and every marine a teacher. The military teaches men and women to be mighty warriors, as Patton puts it. The military through training, transforms a civilian into a professional warrior. Jesus takes an ordinary man or woman and teaches them to be a disciple.

Jesus teaching was different than the religious leaders of the time. “He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” His teaching came with authority and power. It comes from God. Have you ever wanted to solve a personal problem and sought the advise of others? What if you could hear from God himself? That advice would be right on. But sometimes the right teaching can’t fix problems. If you have a bad relationship with your spouse, good advise many times does not help. You need a change of heart.

When the man with an unclean spirit approached Jesus, He spoke the words, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” (Mark 1:25). The spirit came out of him and he was a new man. Jesus teaching has truth and power.

Be a learner of Jesus. Let Him teach you through His Word that has truth and power to change lives and transform you into a disciple. The book of Mark is filled with the journeys of the disciples who lives were changed as they followed Jesus as their Teacher.

Become a teacher. Jesus developed the disciples into teachers who would teach others the things that Jesus taught them. They would teach others the same truths that have the power to change lives.

Every follower of Jesus a scholar.
Every follower of Jesus a teacher.

Teacher, teach me your ways.

The Way of Jesus

July 14, 2010

Sometimes we learn a whole new way of looking at things and it is like seeing everything new. The first chapter of Mark introduces a whole new way of seeing things. The book of Mark is written to Roman believers to show them how to live as a disciple (follower) of Jesus. In chapter 1, Mark has been sharing stories that announce who Jesus is, and the proclamation from Jesus about the Kingdom of God being here and now. This is a different kingdom from that of men.

In Mark 1:2-3, Mark quotes Old Testament prophecies about John the Baptist “preparing” or “making ready” the WAY OF THE LORD. This is a new way. This is a Kingdom of God way. This is a different Way. Everything changes. Mark wants us to know and understand the new Way, the Kingdom Way… Jesus’ Way.

The world asks the questions, “Who am I? What am I here for?” When they come to a belief about the answers to those questions, they live that way. These are the same questions that Mark is answering. He is saying that Jesus came to show us the Way of the Kingdom of God. In his gospel, he answers the questions about who we are and what we are here for. So as we study the book, we should always keep those questions in front us.

Mark also knows the key to fully understanding our identity and purpose is that we understand the King of the Kingdom. In Mark 1:4-8, many were coming out to be baptized by John. These people were seeking new identity and purpose. But John made it clear that one was coming Who was mightier than him. And as soon as He came, they should follow Him.

If we are to understand our Kingdom of God identity and purpose, we must understand the King of that Kingdom, Jesus. Here are the questions we should be asking as we study Mark.

Who is Jesus?
What is His purpose?
Where is He going?
What is He doing?
How is He living?

In light of the Way of Jesus…

Who am I?
What is my purpose?
Where am I going?
What am I doing?
How am I living?

There is a great contrast and conflict in Mark between the way of man and the Way of Jesus. What way will we follow?

Father, help me to know who I am in you and how I am to live.