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:

3.3.15

  • 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?

 

Dodgeballs and Slinkies

Growing up church sanctuaries were hallowed, untouchable places. From the stained glass to the pews to the chandeliers, the furniture makeup was unchangeable. I could never quite find the Bible verse that said that the church sanctuary had to look like that, but I always assumed it was somewhere in the book of 2 Opinions. In contrast the meeting rooms for kids and youth were always spartan in comparison. Cinderblock walls, a few posters or bean bags if we were lucky. It was apparent quickly where ministries lined up on the organizational hierarchy. Those were the churches I grew up in. But that’s not the church I’m a part of now.

3.2.15

Over the past two weekends we’ve had two major outreach events, one for youth and one for children. The youth had a blacklight dodgeball tournament and the children had KidZone Live. In both instances an untold number of volunteers came together and contributed hundreds of hours to pull off an amazing event. In both instances we had more teenagers and more children than we’ve ever had before at our church.

The reason we were able to have these amazing events? Because we broke through the taboo of a sanctuary as an untouchable space and made it a functional environment. Every Sunday morning our Fellowship Center is a worship venue for The Gathering. But two Friday nights ago that large space was turned into blacklight dodgeball heaven, with 300 teenagers crammed in there to spend their Friday night. Every Sunday morning our Worship Center hosts two worship services, but last night it was transformed into a kids paradise as 300 kids and parents filled the room for KidZone Live.

In both instances the worship venues were filled with something you normally wouldn’t see in a church sanctuary: dodgeballs and slinkies. Growing up this never would have happened. Children’s and Youth ministries were important, but we couldn’t touch the sanctuary. So why do it now? Because Christianity is always one generation away from extinction. Because there’s nothing more important than reaching the next generation for Christ. Because a church that fails to reach kids and teenagers is a church that actively digs its own grave. That trumps traditional taboos about what’s respectable in a church sanctuary. That’s why we let our teenagers tear the place up with a bunch of dodgeballs. That’s why I preached yesterday with hundreds of slinkies hanging down over my head from the ceiling. I did it for the kids. Reaching the next generation trumps my personal preferences. From my perspective, our ‘sanctuaries’ were more hallowed when filled with hundreds and hundreds of young people than when ordained with the finest stained glass and chandeliers. People are God’s treasure. The rest is just furniture.

Hope Story: Convicts and Lesbians

Last Thursday was a great reminder for me of what the gospel is supposed to be about. It’s not just for the well-manicured families we typically think of when we think of church. It’s for everyone (at least it’s supposed to be). It’s for the high and mighty and the down and out. Last Thursday I was reminded of that.

The day started with a text from one of our church members saying she recently had a conversation with a member of another church about a new co-worker who happens to be lesbian. Our church member said she was planning on inviting her to church, to which the member of the other church replied, “Yeah, she would probably be comfortable there.” I took that conversation as a compliment, meaning we’ve created a welcoming environment where our members feel comfortable inviting those with lifestyles that you typically wouldn’t see inside a church in the South.

letter

Later on that morning I wrote a letter to a convict who had written me the previous week. He grew up in our community and has a reputation for wild living. He attended church as a kid but it never stuck. His second trip to the pen got his attention and he gave his life to Christ a few months ago. He’s 2-3 months from being released and is looking for a church home once he gets home. He heard that Mt Vernon might be a place where he would be accepted. I wrote him back and assured him that he has a family waiting here for him, with some great guys ready to mentor him and disciple him.

That was my Thursday. Convicts and lesbians. I was reminded of the truth from Scripture, “God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) I guess ‘everyone’ means everyone, not just the ones we’re comfortable with.

Or as Jesus famously recounted in his parable: we’re to go to the highways and hedges to invite people to the Great Banquet.

21 ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. Luke 14:21-23

I think convicts and lesbians count as ‘highways and hedges.’ I’m so glad they have a place here at Mt Vernon!

To Whom Do Perfect Parents Compare Their Kids?

Sunday in our message on the Comparison Trap we looked at the most common way Jesus described God to humanity: our Heavenly Father. God wants to interact with us as a loving, perfect, heavenly father. Galatians 4:4 says that because of the Holy Spirit inside of us, we can even refer to God as our “Daddy,” our “Abba Father.”

2.18.15

If we can ever truly embrace this relationship with God as our perfect Heavenly Father, our Daddy, it will help us get out and stay out of the comparison trap for good. Here’s why:

  • To whom do perfect parents compare their kids? No one. A perfect father loves his child simply for who they are. When parents do compare their kids, that doesn’t show that something’s wrong with the kids. It shows that there’s something wrong with the parents.
  • So as a perfect, loving, Heavenly Father, to whom does God compare you? To whom does your Abba Daddy compare you? No one. Before God formed you in the womb He knew you (Jeremiah 1:5). You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). God made you exactly how He wanted to.
  • So whose estimation of you should you embrace? Yours, or your Heavenly Daddy’s? Your Heavenly Father’s. Comparison to others should never be a trap for you, because you’re made in the beautiful image of your Heavenly Daddy.

If you’re a parent, you do this all the time with your own kids. If they doubt themselves or don’t think they’re worthwhile because that boy doesn’t like her or he didn’t make that team, what do you tell them? “If you could just see yourself through my eyes! Don’t listen to everyone else. If you could just see you how I see you, you’d realize how incredibly smart, and funny, and kind, and beautiful you really are. If you could just see yourself through my eyes!”

That is what our Heavenly Daddy is trying to get us to do: if we could just see ourselves through His eyes! If we would just stop listening the world, stop comparing ourselves to our friends, stop trying to find validation and worth in how much we own or how successful we are, if we could just see ourselves through His eyes, we’d know. We would know that we never have to do anything, or accomplish anything, or be smarter or prettier or richer than anyone to earn God’s love for us. He loves us simply because we’re His. When you’re tempted to look to the right or to the left to tell you that you’re okay, look up. Look up at your Heavenly Daddy, and here’s what you’ll hear Him saying: You’re fine because you’re mine.

The Only Time I’ve Apologized to Someone After Baptizing Them

This past Sunday I had a pretty good idea of what it would feel like to baptize in a river during winter. The water heater for our baptistry didn’t work properly, which I discovered fifteen seconds before I baptized Nikki. It was cold. And I mean cold. My legs started feeling okay after a minute, but that was simply because they had gone numb and I had lost all feeling.

And I was staying above water! I felt horrible for Nikki, who was about to get a baptism she would never ever forget. Here’s my reaction to the temperature. Thankfully Nikki was a great sport and didn’t let the cold ruin her incredible experience (I’ll show her baptism video Friday as our Hope Story). After she’s out of the water, you hear me mumbling something to her. That’s the only time I’ve ever apologized to someone immediately after baptizing her.

Tim Tebow Stole* My Idea

Okay, so he didn’t really steal from me. He probably stole the idea from the same people I stole from. Back in 2006 I was sitting in a room with other youth pastors brainstorming when one stood up and shared how his church hosted a special needs prom every year. They called it Joy Prom. In that instant, about a dozen other youth pastors (including me) vowed to start one in our own city. As I continued to minister over the years I helped start Joy Proms in Jackson MS, Shreveport LA, and now Columbus MS. It’s always one of the highlights of the year as our high school students throw a prom for the special needs community.

tim tebow

So I was surprised, then shocked, then ecstatic to hear in the news recently that Tim Tebow’s foundation is coordinating 45 simultaneous proms in different cities this weekend for the special needs community. Tim was inspired by seeing a special needs prom at a local church last year. Who knows? It could have been one of the dozen whose genesis started in that room back in 2006.

Either way, I applaud Tebow for leveraging the platform given to him to shine a spotlight on others and bring honor and dignity to a very special group of people. I also look forward to Mt Vernon’s annual Joy Prom taking place April 25. If you don’t have something like the Joy Prom in your community, consider starting one. It’s a ton of work, but more than worth it!

Here’s a typical letter we get in response to the Joy Prom. Here are the lives we get to touch:

I just wanted to thank you all for the work you did on the Joy Prom. My stepson Phillip was a participant Saturday night. His mother and I were with him and were amazed at all the work, effort, love and sacrifice you made for Phillip and the other special adults to whom you ministered through this special event. A very special thanks to Lauren, Phillip’s date, and the other amazing young people who chose to be compassionate rather than “cool” and took an awesome “image risk” Thank you for all you do and God bless you.

Why We Boarded Up the Baptistry in Our Church

Does your church still baptize people?” That was a well meaning question that came from someone in our community. This might seem like an odd question, but the truth of the matter is we boarded up our baptistry three years ago. Walled it up and replaced it with a gigantic screen. And we’ve been baptizing people ever since.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We made the decision to board up our baptistry and go with a portable baptistry for several reasons:

1). We want to bring baptism to the people. Our traditional baptistry was located high and too far removed from the congregation, tucked away into a wall for convenience. Our portable baptistry (when set up) is right at the foot of the stage. In fact we refer to the first three rows as the “splash zone.” Just the difference in location changes the entire atmosphere. Baptism now takes place in the midst of the congregation, creating a much more communal feel.

2). We can now baptize during five services at two locations. On Sundays and Wednesdays we have multiple services that meet in our Worship Center and Fellowship Center. With a portable baptistry we can set up and tear down depending on where the person prefers to be baptized. We make baptism videos that we show in all services so that everyone can celebrate together, but the flexibility has been huge for us.

3). We can better utilize technology to reach the next generation. We boarded up our old baptistry and replaced it with a gigantic screen that is the centerpoint for our visual worship strategy. Much like stained glass windows hundreds of years ago, utilizing technology better helps us capture the attention of those that come through our doors. The screen is a big step in helping people worship with all five senses.

So yes, we boarded up the baptistry in our church, and we’ve been baptizing people ever since.