The Jesus I See in the Book of Mark

As part of our new sermon series The Jesus I Never Knew Sunday I challenged Mt Vernon to read the book of Mark in one sitting and share their thoughts. It took me about 45 minutes this morning to read through the book of Mark. Here’s what struck me:

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  • The crowds were quick to materialize. The poorest of the poor, it must have been a region and people desperate for any good news. I think Jesus would have had a tougher time gathering a crowd if he came today and had to compete with football, movie premieres, and ball practices.
  • It seems like Jesus intentionally ticked off the religious leaders. Or at least that’s how Mark records it. Every chapter seems to have something else Jesus did to make them mad. Jesus grew up in that society and he well knew the rules. He just chose to break them.
  • It’s amazing how quickly the religious leaders saw Jesus as a threat. Even from the opening pages they were figuring out ways to get rid of him, a threat to their way of life.
  • The story of Jesus commanding the waves to be still has always been an odd one to me. How could he have stayed asleep if the waves were engulfing the boat? What’s odder to me is the disciples reaction when Jesus calms the waves. They were afraid. They’d seen him do miracles before, but something about this one was different.
  • I’m always amazed at the death of John the Baptist. Here he was, God’s messenger, devoted to God since birth, and this is how he dies? Beheaded by the whim of a girl? It’s proof that God’s kingdom is not of this earth. If John’s end was this lowly, who are we to demand any better?
  • Jesus seems to turn a corner in Mark 7 and starts laying into the religious leaders. He’s no longer just breaking their traditions, now he’s dressing them down publicly and rebuking them. There’s no way they would stand for this.
  • I don’t know what was a stronger motive for the religious leaders to kill Jesus: the fact that they were threatened by Jesus’ teaching, or the fact that they were insanely jealous of Jesus’ following. The crowds loved him in a way they never loved the religious leaders.
  • How hard must it have been to include Mark 8 and 14? The writer of this gospel is Mark, who was not one of the twelve apostles. But scholars believe that he got all his information from Peter. This is Peter’s telling. And yet he chose to include those two chapters, where Jesus calls Peter Satan and Peter denies Jesus. It takes a strong man to include those low points.
  • It always seems to me like Jesus is a little harsh to the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10). This guy just wants to follow Jesus, and Jesus makes him sell all his possessions first? My selfish self wants it to be okay to pursue Jesus and money at the same time, but Jesus would not allow that.
  • I’m always astonished by the crowds. Jesus had the crowds. But he never sought the crowds. He was focused on his disciples and his mission. What does that mean for churches that simply seek the crowds?
  • Jesus doesn’t give his disciples a sunny picture to look forward to. They will be persecuted, tried, and killed for their faith. What keeps them devoted? They cannot deny that Jesus is from God. What will you give up for God?
  • Mark 15 doesn’t make sense from a human perspective. Jesus has shown miraculous powers now for fourteen chapters. Nature, the human body, the spirit world, all under his command. And yet he allows himself to be tortured and executed without fighting back?

That’s what stands out to me. What stands out to you?

 

The Critical First Misstep Into the Comparison Trap

Comparison is a cancer that will steal your joy and rob you of the peace God has for you. As the Bible says, “A heart at peace gives life to the bones, but envy rots the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30)

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If we traced the cancer of comparison all the way back to its roots, we’d find that the first critical misstep is when we move our eyes. Hebrews 12:2 gives us a clear command, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” That makes sense. As followers of Jesus we’re called to keep our eyes on the one whom we’re following.

If you look at the Old Testament relationship between King Saul and David (told in the book of 1 Samuel), you would see a textbook case of the downward spiral that the comparison trap can cause. Saul tried to kill David several times out of jealousy (1 Sam. 18-19). Because of his inability to get out of the comparison trap, Saul ruined his relationship with his own children (1 Sam. 20), his closest followers (1 Sam. 21-22), his people (1 Sam. 23), and God (1 Sam. 28). But what was that first misstep? When Saul moved his eyes. Go back to the beginning of their relationship, after David had killed Goliath and become a household name in Israel.

6 When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres. 7 As they danced, they sang:

“Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”

8 Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” 9 And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David. 1 Samuel 18:6-9

We’ll miss the prize if we move our eyes. The Comparison Trap begins when we take our eyes off of Jesus and begin to find our worth, our happiness, our contentment by looking to the right and to the left. Don’t fall into the Comparison Trap!

Why the Bible Still Applies 2000 Years Later

1.12.15If you’ve grown up going to church, adhering to the Bible seems natural. To the rest of humanity, it’s an oddity. The Bible was written thousands of years ago. It’s not just one book, but a collection of books, written by dozens of authors over a period of 1500 years. There’s narrative, history, poetry, letters and prophecy. And it’s all ancient. It was written before automobiles, electricity, the Industrial Revolution, the discovery of the Americas, and about any other relevant thing you can think of. Humanity has progressed lightyears in the areas of science, medicine, the arts, you name it. We have cats that can play the piano on YouTube. We’re about as advanced as you can imagine.

So how can we make the claim that these ancient letters and books that make up the Bible still apply to us today? Simple: Because human nature doesn’t change. Solomon tells us, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). The names of the problems will change, but the nature of the problems never change. Love, greed, sexual immorality, forgiveness, justice, mercy. These are all universal elements in the human story. As long as humans have existed, we’ve struggled with greed, fallen into temptation, aspired to goodness, coveted what we didn’t have.

The Bible isn’t merely a guide for the 21st century. It’s a revelation of the God who doesn’t change to humans whose nature is essentially the same as it’s been since the Fall. The truths the Bible reveals are universal, standing the test of time, far weightier than the light and momentary wisps of modernity. It’s a bedrock from which to build a life and a legacy that will last far after are moment in the sun has gone. That’s why the Bible will apply as long as Christ tarries from this earth.

“Jesus Can Do Anything!” (The Pivotal Difference When Teaching Children the Bible)

Jesus can do anything!” Those absolutely precious words were the sum total of what my 5-year-old told me he learned in church Sunday. And I loved it!

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Walking out to the car Sunday after church, I asked my son Shepherd the typical questions a parent asks, “How was church?” “What did you learn?” “Did you play with your friends?” As most parents know, some weeks you’ll only elicit monosyllabic responses. But this past Sunday, Shepherd was a motor mouth. He went on and on about how Jesus healed a blind man (John 9:1-12). In true 5-year-old-boy fashion, his favorite part was the part where Jesus spit in the ground and made mud to put in the man’s eyes. Mud? Spit? You just told the coolest story ever to a 5-year-old boy.

I was happy when Shepherd told me the story. But I was ecstatic with what he told me next, “Jesus can do anything!” That was the takeaway. That was the one phrase I know that the DiscoveryZone leaders drilled into my son so that he would remember after the lesson was over. It was the one big idea they wanted him to walk away with. And he did.

Here’s the pivotal difference when teaching children the Bible: It’s one thing to teach children a Bible story. It’s good. It’s positive. It’s truth. But it’s quite another thing to teach children what those Bible stories mean. That’s the pivotal difference. I don’t just want Shepherd to know a collection of true stories. I want him to know what they mean, the biblical principles, the timeless truths, the practical application. We don’t do our children the greatest service possible when we simply tell them Bible stories but not what they mean.

The anchor that I want planted deep inside my son from his earliest memories is not just mud and spit, not just a collection of stories. I want him to know timeless truths. I want him to know that “Jesus can do anything!” Don’t just teach children Bible stories. Teach them what those stories mean.

 

Growing a Church Isn’t as Mysterious as You Think

As a professional church leader, growing a church is one the things I (am supposed to) do for a living. The whole idea of why one church grows while another doesn’t can seem mysterious and mystical. I would argue that the answer is a lot simpler than we’d imagine. Watch this short video clip to get my take:

3 Bad Ways to Face the Problems of the World

As we start out 2015, we can look around us and quickly see that our world is full of problems:

  • Some of you have been keeping up with that airline that crashed into the sea in Asia.
  • There’s a cyberwar going on with North Korea that’s a bit surreal.
  • Our military is in harm’s way in global hotspots such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • If you go back a few months everyone was freaked out by the Ebola virus possibly spreading in America.
  • Here in America, you watch the news and see people being shot by police officers, people rioting and now killing police officers. Racial tensions are on a knife’s edge.

Crossing out problems and writing solutions on a blackboard.

But the problems are much more than just issues out there. They’re problems affecting us personally: Sickness and health for your family. The tough economy and trying to get by month to month. Some of you had a tough Christmas with the holidays reminding you of what you don’t have or who you’ve lost. We all have family members and friends that are going through hard times, far from God, making a mess of their lives.

So life is tough. The world is full of problems. Our lives are full of problems. The question for us to wrestle with is: How do we respond? How will we respond? As you encounter problems, here are three bad ways we can face them:

  1. Condone: Will we throw our hands up and give up? Life’s too tough? Or maybe we just don’t fight back? We go along to get along?
  2. Condemn: Do we look at all the problems and get angry and condemn all the sin and sinners in the world?
  3. Run Away: Or do we run away and huddle inside our home or a church building and pretend like the world and its problems don’t exist?

Those are three options that many have taken. Many that we know have taken one of those options. Maybe you’ve taken one of those options in the past. When we look at how Jesus addressed the problems in first century Israel, he chose a fourth option. He chose to be part of the solution. Here’s the Old Testament prophecy Jesus used to announce to the world that he was the promised Messiah:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

Jesus chose to be part of the solution. As his followers, will we do the same?

And Then She Told Me She Was a Lesbian . . . (Repost 2014 Favorites)

5.27.14Recently I got a chance to practice what I preach in the most unusual and uncomfortable fashion. One of the great privileges I have is working with a group of ladies at an in-treatment facility center in Columbus who are dealing with a host of addiction issues. One of the things I try and do is help the ladies dig deeper underneath their addiction to discover what’s really driving it. We’ve talked through traumatic events, bad-guy boyfriends, abortions, abusive homes, you name it.

One of the ladies at the facility for the past few months (we’ll call her “Leslie”) has been a tough nut to crack. She shows no emotion. She doesn’t talk. The most I’ve been able to get out of her is that she doesn’t go to church. She seems to be still deciding whether recovery is for her. Recently I was leading the ladies through the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman in John 8:1-11. It’s a classic story of grace and forgiveness, perfect for a group of ladies who are dealing with guilt and shame.

During a question and answer time afterwards, Leslie spoke up unsolicited for the first time in two months (believe me I’d tried my hardest to get her to engage). She put the core truths of that story to the test. She said, “Is it true that you can’t be forgiven if you don’t want to change because that’s what my friends told me because I’m a lesbian.” And . . . things . . . got . . . weird.

Maybe it was just me. There’s no reason why it should have gotten weird. We had literally been discussing abortion, self-mutilation and crack cocaine in the previous ten minutes. If there’s an issue out there, these girls have lived through it. But homosexuality, that’s the ‘unforgivable’ sin for evangelicals today. Adultery is frowned upon, alcoholism is scoffed at, but homosexuality is, well, just read the newspapers. Watch the culture war being raged between the church and society over tolerance and acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle.

Leslie’s quiet, but she knew what she was doing. She dropped that bomb on me to see how the preacher would react. If God forgave the adulterous woman, what about her? Did John 8 apply to her, or is homosexuality the ‘unforgivable’ sin? After Leslie threw that grenade into the middle of the room, the entire dynamic of the conversation shifted. They didn’t want to know about dinosaurs anymore (yes, that was a previous question), they wanted to know why the Bible was so out of touch with modern culture and why it condemned a lifestyle that everyone else seems to accept. If Jesus was so ‘loving’ and ‘forgiving’ (as they put it), why would he be so hateful to condemn the homosexual lifestyle? Especially if it’s something that you’re ‘born with’?

My response was . . . what I’m going to write about tomorrow. Stay tuned!!!

 originally posted May 27, 2014. You can read part 2 here.