Thursday, September 26, 2013

Are you sure you want to follow...

Mark 8:31- 9:1
Jesus starts to talk about the cross.
Up to this point, Jesus had some guys following him around.  He’d showed them lots of the power of the kingdom.  He’d taught them in riddles and parables that they often didn’t understand, but knew there was something different about what he was teaching.  He gained a reputation for what he did and said so that people came from everywhere because they’d heard he could heal them.  He’d given the disciples the power and authority to do the same things he’d been doing (even though they didn’t have anything figured out, their lives weren’t perfect, and they weren’t quite sure what they’d signed up for yet).  Peter was even starting get revelations direct from God about who Jesus really was.

Then Jesus drops this bomb on them.  Get ready, here’s what is coming next.  No parables here, no cute stories, no allegory, no cryptic statements.  “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priest and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” He laid out the plan, what it actually meant for him to be the Messiah.  Peter had just confessed public in front of all the guys, “you are the Messiah, the son of God” and Jesus confirmed it and said his father in heaven had revealed that to him; had given him the faith to know it, believe it and say it out loud.  Jesus had shared with them that believing that was true meant they would get full access to heaven and that they would be an unstoppable force to bring that good news and reality to others.

Now Jesus starts to tell them how it’s all going to go down.  I wish I could see the looks on their faces.  “What the what” is going to happen.  These were young guys who’d been raised with a cultural and religious history of exile, defeat, rejection, and failure but were promised something different.  As messed up as the religion was, they held to the promise that someone was going to rescue them and restore. They mostly saw this restoration as being about power and prestige in the world.  That’s what they were expecting, that’s what they were looking for in Jesus.  When Peter got his glimpse that Jesus was in fact the Messiah, his mind almost certainly went to something like, “I’m going to get to be a governor somewhere” or maybe I’ll be get to be a General, maybe I’ll get one of those palaces in Rome.”  I say that because that’s what I would have thought, it’s what you would have thought too.  And because Peter and Jesus have a very interesting exchange in this passage.

Peter hears what Jesus is saying, he sees the terrified and bewildered look on the faces of his friends.  Pete being a leader and a little older than most of the guys takes Jesus aside and says what are you doing Jesus, you’re freaking the boys out, How the heck are we going to take over the world if you’re humiliated, and you let these sell out religious leaders and these Roman goons kill you.  Dead leaders don’t get much done. 
Jesus looks at the boys, looks back at Peter, and says “get behind me Satan! You are seeing things merely from a human point of view.”  Ouch.  That’s got to sting a little, especially after Jesus had just given Pete his sweet new nick name, “the Rock.”  How could Peter see things so clearly earlier, but suddenly, his vision is clouded.  Because he hadn’t received the Holy Spirit yet, his mind had not been renewed, he’d only seen a glimpse of what the kingdom actually was.  The same is true for us.  If we’ve not be made new by the Holy Spirit, we don’t yet have the mind of Christ that is promised in scripture.  Everything we see and hear is tainted by the falleness of the world.  We can’t understand things from God’s perspective.

Then Jesus lays it out for them, what it’s going to mean if they want to keep following him.  They’ll have to put their own ambitions aside, put their own selfish ideals down, give up everything, even their life to follow him.  Jesus brings it back to the idea he tried to teach them after the feast with the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod.  Jesus says what if you gain the whole world (Herod) but you lose your soul.  The yeast example didn’t get through, they were fishermen not bakers after all, but I think this hooked them.  Now, Jesus wasn’t just talking about earthy temporal things, like what are we going to eat, or what are we going to gain from this.  Now he’s getting, spiritual, now he’s getting eternal.  There’s something bigger than your bellies, there’s something bigger than you career, there’s something bigger than your position or the social circles you’re connected with.  We’re talking about your life, what’s really important.  If you try to keep it for yourself you’ll lose it.  If you put yourself first you’ll lose it.  But if you make Jesus first, you’ll find true life.
Well what does that mean; if I sacrifice lots, if I serve him lots, if I follow all the rules really well, if I know all the right answers, if I read my bible, if I… become a Pharisee.  What are you going to have to give, what are you going to have to do to gain your soul?  What’s the price, what the measurement?

Jesus says there’s one measurement:  are you ashamed of me and my message.  Have you ever been with a friend and they do something really dumb, like reeeally dumb, and you just want to pretend you don’t know them, pretend you never met, just turn and walk away slowly. s And then when someone is like hey do you know that guy, did you see that… and you’re like…. Ahhh no, never seen that that dude before.  Anyone have that crazy uncle Bob who drives his lawnmower to the liquor store because he lost his license.  You don’t want to admit it, it’s ok.  Lots of people react to Jesus the same way.  Jesus was in a crowd when he said this and without a doubt, some of them turned and walked away for whatever reasons.  Some thought it would be too hard to go against the world and the religion they’d been brought up in, some were sure the good things of the world would make them happy.  Some had too much pride, they thought they could earn their way.  Even though they’d seen some of the power of the Kingdom, it seemed too good to be true that they could be part of it.  Some thought they simply weren’t worthy.  Some thought it wasn’t worth it, they’d looked in so many places for real life and this was probably just another dead end.  Some thought Jesus was a crack pot, how’s he going to lead us when he’s dead. 

Jesus’ promise was clear and to the point, some of you, the ones who decided to follow me, the ones who decided to let me rescue them, the ones who decide to acknowledge me, will get to see the kingdom of God arrive in great power.  And they did, and we do, and some of you have.  We have a choice when it comes to following Jesus.  In Luke’s account of this story, he reports Jesus saying “take up you cross daily”.  This sounds like a lot of hard work that you couldn’t possibly bear on your own – and you’d be right.  Every day, we get up and we have a choice, am I going to listen to Jesus today, see if he has some way for me to share the gospel, and then respond and do it or am I going to make today about me.  The second choice we can do all on our own and lots of days we do.  The disciple did too, in fact when it came time for the cross, they all split, even the Rock.  Here’s the difference for you and me, those keys to heaven that Jesus promised – The Holy Spirit – is now ours.  He’s given us the Holy Spirit in his physical absence so we can get up in the morning and take up our cross, so we can hear his voice, so we can have the power and strength and wisdom and patience and joy and hope and… everything else we need in order to follow him; even to the point that we’d be able to give our own lives, maybe even literally if he calls us to that, for the sake of him and the Gospel.  I know you may not feel like it right now, but it’s the promise.  It’s a promise equal to all the other promises; he will give us what we need in order to follow him and do what he calls us too.
Here’s the amazing part, even though we often get up daily and are ashamed of him, we turn our back on him, we chose the world instead of him, we run away when the weight comes down, we deny knowing him when people ask about him (just like the disciples did), he’s not like us.  Once we’ve committed to him, once we’ve called on him to rescue us, he’s forgiven us completely, even for the screw ups we haven’t screwed up yet.  Whenever we do decide, today I’m ready to take up my cross today, he’s right there to carry it for us.  He so full of mercy that he never gives up on us, even if we give up on him from time to time, even when we give up on ourselves. 

Near the end of his life Peter wrote a letter to encourage the churches in Asia Minor.  He’d lived a life of daily taking up his cross, through great struggle and persecution, through so many test and trials.  I’m sure there were days he wondered if it was all worth it.  But in the midst of it, he experienced the Kingdom of Heaven and each time he chose to hear Jesus and follow him, his faith was refined in the fires.  He wrote this to encourage us that Jesus will do the same for us,
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.
So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (1 Peter 1:3-7 NLT).

The promises are good, the cross was complete and the kingdom is wide open to us.  Jesus has given us everything we need to take up our cross and follow him and it is so worth it.  You were worth it to Him, to give up his life in exchange for your soul.  If you give up your life for him, he’ll fill you with so much more than the world or religion could ever offer, “I assure you that some of you standing here right now will not die before you see the Kindgom of God arrive in great power!” (Mark 9:1)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

How's your vision...

Mark 8:22
Some people brought a blind man to Jesus…
Jesus reputation had spread among the people.  Common folks – fishermen, wine makers, carpenters – were bring their friends who had been born blind, sick, afflicted, to Jesus so they could be made whole.  The religion of the day had told them, they were not worthy, they were sinners and God was punishing them.  Jesus was revealing the kingdom of heaven everywhere he went, and people were begging him for more.  These people had brought their blind friend and wanted desperately for Jesus to help him, and of course he does, but in a very strange way.
He leads the man out of the village…
Bethsaida was one of the places Jesus did many miracles; it’s also one of the places that rejected Jesus and his disciples.  They had the Kingdom of Heaven presented to them and most of them still chose the world.  Jesus leads the man away from the people who had brought him.  They would not get to see the Kingdom in action this time.  Then Jesus ups the strange; he spits in the man’s eye.  Spitting in someone’s eye is a universal insult.  Nowhere in any culture, ever, has that not lead to someone getting punched it mouth.  Jesus lays hands on the man (probably had to hold him down).  And says “can you see anything now?”
People like trees…
The man begins to get his vision restored.  It seems from his statement that he wasn’t always blind, he knows what tree’s look like, and that they don’t normally walk around.  Jesus hadn’t failed to heal this man.  Jesus is perfect.  Jesus shows us two things here, sometimes healing takes time, he doesn’t always heal everything on the spot.  Jesus also doesn’t just heal physical things, sometime the spiritual and mental damage done by the brokenness of sin takes time.  Sometimes it’s a process, and that’s ok. I think in this case he’d had actually given this man improved vision; spiritual vision.  Jesus talked a lot about trees in his parables; he used them as illustrations for the kingdom of heaven all the time.  He talked about people being like branches of the true vine and the ones who didn’t produce good fruit being cut down and thrown into the fire.  He talked about faith being like a tiny mustard seed that produced a great tree that birds came to find shelter in.  But here the man see’s people like trees walking around.  They’re not doing what trees do.  Trees stand and soak up life from the ground and soak in life from the sun.  These trees are shaking all the fruit off as they move around.  They’re scaring all the birds away.
… he saw everything clearly.
Jesus touches the man again and his sight is restored and he see’s everything clearly. (at a distance and clearly).  He saw that the world was different than he remembered it.  He saw things with a Kingdom of Heaven view.  He saw things in light of grace and mercy.  Spit no longer represented an insult but a expression of mercy.  Jesus sent him on his way with kingdom of heaven outlook.
Who do people say I am?
Jesus heads out with the boys.  While walking along, he puts this question to them.  The rumor mill is turning and everyone is throwing opinions and confused.  So many people don’t know what to make of Jesus.  Some have mistaken him JTB or Elijah or some other prophet.  Then he gets a little personal, “who do you say I am.”  Huge question!
Huge Response!  Peter says, you’re the messiah. Christ, Christos, the anointed one. 
Peter really has no idea what he’s saying yet, He doesn’t know how things are going to go down.  He doesn’t really know what “Son of God” means.  But he knows enough to know that Jesus is the real deal.  How could he know this?  Of course he’s been with Jesus a lot, he’s seen the miracles, he’s heard the teaching, and he’s watched Jesus confound the religious leaders.  But so had lots of the people in Bethsaida, so had lots of people everywhere Jesus went.  Why was Simon son of Jonah so convinced? 
In Matthew’s record of this little chat we get the answer.  The same thing that had happened to the blind man in Bethsaida had already happened to Peter to a degree.  Jesus tells Peter, you’re blessed because my Father in Heaven has revealed this to you.  God had opened something up in Simon so he could perceive what was happening around him as the Kingdom of Heaven come to earth in Jesus.  It wasn’t what he’d learned in school or church or even the things that he’d seen.  It was that he’d encountered Jesus, the kingdom of heaven, he experienced and God revealed to him what was actually happening.  He didn’t know about the cross yet, he didn’t know about the resurrection, he didn’t know about the promised Holy Spirit.  He had a totally different idea of what the Messiah was supposed to do.  He wasn’t an expert in the Law.  He was a normal young guy, a fisherman.
The Rock…
Jesus says he will build his church on this rock.  Not on Peter’s strength or wisdom or faith or ideas, which is what some people have come to believe, but on the revelation of God to Peter about who Jesus is.  God revealed the truth about Jesus to Peter and God reveals the truth about Jesus to us, and when a bunch of us get together who have seen the reality, even if it’s only a small bit of the reality of who Jesus is, then that church, that group of called out people, are an unstoppable force against the gate of hell. 
Here’s the keys…
Jesus offers his disciples the keys to heaven and puts them in charge of what comes to earth from heaven.  You’re in charge.  Well, in the way that you’re now able to hear what God’s plans are, be lead by the Holy Spirit and have the power to do what he wants you to.  Jesus has given you the Holy Spirit, he is the key to knowing and experiencing and living out the Kingdom of Heaven in your life.  And the best part is, it’s unstoppable.  We can walk into the kingdom of darkness, empowered by the Holy Spirit and introduce them to Jesus so he can rescue them.  All the false religion, all the worldly temptations, all the resistance the enemy can muster, will not prevail against the revelation of Jesus.  He wins.
So, who do you say Jesus is, he asks the question to all of us.  If he’s healed your vision so you see the world from a kingdom of heaven perspective, what are you going to do with the keys to heaven? 

Do what you did the first time your parents gave you the keys to the car, go for a drive, see what it feels like, be a little bit adventurous, go tell you friends you’ve got the car, drive slightly dangerously because you don’t really know what you’re doing yet.  Turn the radio up and sing as loud as you can.  Stop and get some fuel, and some food, you’ll need it for the road trip. If you bump into someone and put some scratches on it, you’ve got good grace based insurance, it’ll get fixed (maybe your dad would be upset by the dent, but you’re Father in Heaven won’t mind a bit).  Buckle up, it’s a crazy ride!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"Jesus Makes Fishwich Feast, Leaves 'em Satified"

Mark 8 
Jesus feeds 4000…
About that time a vast crowd gathered…
In Mark we see a man, an individual, healed, made whole, rescued from the deafness that he’d been afflicted with because sin brought brokenness into the world.  The news spread and crowd gathers.  In Matthew’s account of this story, we see the crowd is made of people whose bodies were broken by sin, the lame, the mute, the deaf, the outcasts.  Not by their mistakes or choices, but the brokenness we all start out with.  Matthew says Jesus healed them all. The crowd is so amazed by what’s going on, they stay for 3 days and run out of food.  This is the second time a huge “revival” crowd had gathered.  The first time, they didn’t bring food, so Jesus did a miracle and fed them.  This time, they came prepared; they packed their lunch and brought it with them.  But after 3 days of miracles they’re out of food again.  This time the stakes are a little higher it seems.  Last time the disciples suggested sending them into the towns and villages to get food, but Jesus says you feed them.  This time Jesus is concerned if he sends them away, they’ll faint on the walk home.  Clearly they are out in the back country, people have followed him into the wilderness to see the King of the Kingdom in action. 
 And Jesus has “compassion.” 
Jesus doesn’t feel sorry for them.  He feels their pain, he feels their suffering.  So much so that it makes him sick to his stomach that people are so desperate to be loved, to experience healing, acceptance, the love of God, life, that they would stay out in the wilderness for three days without enough food to get them home.  He has compassion on them.  He felt the rejection of his home town, of his brothers and sister, of the people who were waiting for him to come but didn’t recognize him when he got here.  He’d been taken out into the wilderness and tested and tempted and made hungry, not for 3 days but 40. But he knew people needed not only bread, not only something to let them survive, but they needed God to really live.  He knew that God wanted to meet every need, spiritual, emotional and physical.  So he did.  He healed their bodies, he revealed the kingdom and filled them with the joy of the kingdom so they worshiped the God of Israel and then he fed them lunch. 
Jesus knows how you feel, he knows what it’s like to be rejected, he knows what it’s like to be tempted, he knows what it’s like to be separated from God, he knows what the wrath of God feels like because of sin, he knows what it’s like to have your friends let you down and abandon you, he knows what it’s like to be afraid, he knows what it’s like to be beaten, he knows what it’s like to be ridiculed.
“How are we supposed to find enough food for them here in the wilderness?”  Once again, Jesus disciple at a loss for what to do and  Jesus says, ‘show me what you’ve got and watch this.’  A feast of fish sandwiches ensues.  Imagine this headline in the Cape Breton Post “7 Biscuits and a Few Smelts Feeds 4000+”  People at the Tim’s in Bras D’Or would be talking it up then wouldn’t they.  The disciples it seems, much like you and me, never know what to do.  They’re often thinking in purely physical worldly terms, even though they are seeing the kingdom of Heaven in action all around them.  They’ve been so trained by their flesh, by their religion, by their culture, that they have a hard time opening themselves to kingdom of heaven thinking.  They were just faced with this exact scenario last month, but they go to their default human reaction; ‘now what are we going to do?’  Well they do exactly what we should always do, let Jesus provide and then give out what he’s given us.  Jesus broke the bread and gave it to the disciples to give out.  He gave them what they needed to complete the task in front of them.  He’ll do the same for you.  If he tells you to do something, he’ll give you what you need to do it.  Not only did he provide what the disciples needed, it says everyone ate until they were satisfied.  Their needs were fully met, they were full.  And there was an abundance left over to share.  Not just food, there were stories to tell.  People went home talking about the encounter they had with Jesus.  People left seeing the reality of the kingdom of heaven; broken bodies made whole, filled with joy and lunch and leftovers.
“Show us a miraculous sign”
The Pharisees never seemed to be looking in the right place.  These Pharisees who were supposed to be the leaders, the ones who cared for the peoples souls because they knew God so well, were always thinking about themselves.  They were probably furious that Jesus had revealed the power of the kingdom to all these common folks, to all these infirm outcasts who had clearly done something very wrong and were being punished for their mistakes.  Show US a sign, we’re the important ones, we’re the ones that God should be sharing his kingdom with.  They had failed to see the signs all around them; people being healed, food being multiplied, people being raised from the dead.  They were totally blind to the kingdom in action and fully concerned, not with God, but with themselves; their own righteousness, their own wisdom, their own kingdoms.  Jesus said I will not give this generation any such sign.  They weren’t interested in the reality of the kingdom and they wouldn’t have seen it anyway.  If it didn’t fit inside their box of who God is and how he works they couldn’t accept it.  So Jesus, troubled in his spirit because he knew they would never change, because he knew most of them would never see the thing they most desperately needed, namely Him, turns and walks away and leaving them to their own will.  He leaves them to continue following their own understanding. 
“Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod”. 
The disciples forgot to bring the leftovers, someone grabbed one loaf of bread thankfully, but in typical young man fashion, no one is responsible, no one thought ahead, no one brought lunch.  Still thinking entirely worldly (and apparently forgetting the ridiculous gigantic miracle they just saw…for the second time) they get in an argument.  ‘Dude, you were supposed to bring the baskets… Jesus is going to be T.O. again.’  In very cryptic hyper metaphorical terms Jesus says, “Beware the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod”.  Of course the disciples are thinking, great he found out we forgot the bread and Jesus goes reality check on them.  ‘are you kidding me, are you still talking about food?  What is wrong with you guys, forget the fact that I just turned 7 biscuits into 20,000 biscuits, don’t you see that I’m trying to teach you something bigger than your bellies for once.’  The kingdom of heaven is here and the regular rules of religion and society aren’t going to cut it anymore.  If you want to be satisfied you have to live as citizens of the kingdom, totally dependent on Jesus for everything.  The Pharisees (religion) will teach you it’s about rules and sacrifice and ceremony and measuring up and knowing the answers and gaining the praise of others and looking righteous on the outside and being moral and nice and good.  Herod (culture) will teach that it’s about education and style and money and things and fame and success and power and control and winning and being right and being independent. 
The Pharisees represent religion and Herod represents the world, and they are both empty and void of any real life.  They’ll both leave you hungry and unsatisfied.  And when they start to creep in they affect everything, they start to grow and expand and take over.  Instead of going back to Jesus when we’re hungry we look to religion to fill the gaps.  Maybe if we go to church more I’ll feel closer to God, maybe if I read my bible more I feel closer to God, maybe if I sacrifice more… maybe if I give more… maybe if I serve more…maybe if I try to follow the rules more…maybe if I try to be more like… I’ll be satisfied, I’ll be happy, I’ll be alive.  Maybe if I get a better job… maybe if get a better house… maybe if I live in a better neighborhood… maybe some new clothes… maybe if I read this book… once we’re settled in I’m sure it’ll smooth out… maybe I’m supposed to be with someone else… then I’ll feel loved, I’ll be successful, I’ll be alive.
Jesus says the same thing to us as he says to the disciples, “Don’t you understand anything yet?” He is where we find what satisfies us, he is where we find what sustains us and gives us more than we need to go on the journey home.  He promised us his Holy Spirit, He is completely satisfactory for everything.  We’ll never find what we’re looking for from the Pharisees, what they offer is empty of real life.  We’ll never find what we’re looking for from Herod, what he offers is empty and leads to death.  But the Spirit gives us life.  We live by the spirit.
2 Peter 3-4 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”

Only Jesus has what you need, whether you’re waiting around in a desert or with no food or sitting high on the hog.  He will give you what you need to satisfy you.