Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Messy, Inconvenient, Self-sacrificing Ministry of Loving People

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. 

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
Mark 3:13-15, 20-21

Sometimes being in youth ministry is painful. Oh, I don't mean the kind of pain that I feel the day after I try to keep up with a bunch of fifteen year olds playing basketball. No, I mean a much more selfish kind of pain. What I am talking about is the pain that I feel when that one teenager talks my ear off after Wednesday night church. He doesn't realize that Wednesday is my longest day of the week or that I'm tired and just want to go home. All he knows is someone is finally listening to him, loving him, and showing him the attention he so desperately craves. So he soaks it up as long as he possibly can. While I, selfishly, stand there wishing he would catch a hint and let me go home. This is the problem with people though. They don't fit neatly on my "To Do" list, and they don't stay within my schedule preferences. Yep...investing in people, really ministering to them (which we all do whether we are pastors or not), is messy and self-sacrificial. It requires putting their needs above our own and acknowledging that our agenda really has no place. We follow God's agenda to help that individual move farther down the maturity path that God has prepared for them. 

I find it amazing that Jesus chose to do ministry exactly this way. Think about it! He could have come to earth in the 20th century and used the internet and air travel to communicate His message to the whole world, but He didn't. In fact, even by the standards of His own day, He didn't travel that far or preach to that many people. Paul very likely took the gospel to more people than Jesus did and definitely traveled a lot farther. Jesus chose a different strategy. He chose to invest in people. We see this in two ways in this passage.

First, He chooses twelve disciples to pour His life into. These twelve men lived with Jesus and were given greater access to Him and His teaching. These disciples are Jesus' grand outreach plan. Jesus Himself will not take the good news of the kingdom to the nations. Rather, He will sacrificially invest in the lives of these twelve men, and they will take the gospel to the nations. How interesting that God chose this way of all ways to spread His message. How could anyone share the message better than Jesus!? But God knew best. These twelve ordinary men received a most precious and rare gift. Jesus dedicated His short life on earth investing in them. What a privilege!

But Jesus didn't shut everyone else out. This passage also reveals that Jesus gave of Himself sacrificially to the crowds even to the point that He didn't have time to eat. His family said He was out of His mind! They thought Jesus was taking it too far. But Jesus knew He would one day take it even farther than this. He knew that one day, one of those twelve men He had poured so much into would betray Him and He would give His all for the people He so loved. 

In what ways do you need to make time in your schedule to invest in people? Do you need to make time for your children? For your spouse? That annoying co-worker who clearly needs love and a listening ear, but no one really wants to listen to? This week choose to invest in people. Choose to invest in the messy, inconvenient, self-sacrificing ministry of loving people.

For further reading...
  • Matthew 26:14-50- How hurtful must this have been for Jesus?!
  • Acts 1:1-8- Jesus' outreach plan in action. It wasn't until after He had returned to Heaven, that they would be sent out in power.
  • Philippians 2:1-11- (See especially verses three and four.) Follow Jesus' example by considering others above yourselves.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Withered Hand Enters into Sabbath Rest

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
Mark 3:1-6
It is clear from verses three to five that Jesus knew healing this man on the Sabbath would displease the Pharisees. Indeed, in the full council of Scripture it appears that their frustration with Jesus’ breach of their understanding of Sabbath rest was one of the major contributing factors to his crucifixion. The pragmatist might say “Jesus should wait a day. He can still heal the man tomorrow without causing dissension.” But Jesus does not wait. Jesus does the right thing even when he knows it will be unpopular. This is hard to do. The Book of Proverbs says, "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act" (Proverbs 3:27). So too with us, when we know what the right thing to do is, we ought to do it immediately. For Scripture also says, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17).
Look at the faith of the man who is to be healed. Jesus calls him up in front of the whole synagogue and asks him to stretch out his hand. Scripture records no hesitation. The man extended in full view of all those present that most loathsome part of himself which he probably worked hard to keep hidden his whole life. What faith! This man must have had faith that Jesus had good things in store him…that his weakness would not be exposed for no reason. So too with us, it takes faith to expose our sin before God and others. It takes faith to acknowledge that we need salvation, but there is no other path to healing or salvation than this reaching out in faith.
How fitting it is that this man’s hand should be healed on the Sabbath. This man’s hand had been bound by the marring effects of sin for we do not know how many years. What better day than the Sabbath for his hand to enter into the Sabbath rest of God. Are you bound by sin? Turn to the Lord for salvation today. Jesus is still setting captives free no matter what day it is. Scripture says, “Today is the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2). But even Christians continue to struggle to live out the freedom we have received in Christ. If you have allowed some part of your life to slip back under the crippling control of sin, do not hesitate. Extend that part of your life to Jesus even now for healing. Jesus may not solve all your problems. (Surely, this man’s only trouble in life wasn’t his hand!) Yet, in His goodness He may give you a little taste of the kingdom of God (that is heaven). For this man that meant a restored hand. For you it may mean a restored marriage or relationship with your child. It could mean a restored desire to know Him. Reach out in faith today. Extend those parts of yourself that are bound up by sin to Him and receive healing. And remember that His grace is always sufficient to help us bear those burdens which He does not take away. (II Corinthians 12:1-10).
For further reading…
  • II Corinthians 12:1-10- In His sovereignty, the Lord doesn't always tell us why He chooses to leave us with some burdens, but we choose to trust Him.
  • Ephesians 5:21-33- A little help for Christian marriages. Remember your marriage and your happiness aren't the end goals. Marriage is a training ground for glory. It is a symbol or picture of our relationship with God in Christ.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Rules, Rules, Rules

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need. In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Mark 2:23-28

The Pharisees were supposed to be experts in the law. They were one of the prominent and powerful religious groups in Jerusalem during Jesus' lifetime on earth. They not only "clarified" the law but also added their own traditions to it as a hedge around it. In my estimation they had started to see God's law as both a tool to gain power for themselves and as a weapon to attack other people. Here they try to use the law against Christ*, but it backfires.  Unfortunately, sometime Christians do this to. That's not what we are called to do. All of this reminds me of something Jesus said to the scribes (a separate but related religious group), "Woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them" (Luke 11:46). 

Jesus points out in verse 28 that the Pharisees (the experts in the law) don't rightly understand the law at all. Jesus says in essence, "God didn't create humans so He would have somebody to keep all these rules that He loved. No! He created humans and loved them, so He gave them the law as a blessing to help them." The law isn't intended to be a burden, though sometimes the devil tricks us into seeing it that way. God's commands show us how to live a blessed life... how to pursue joy and peace while we are here on earth. So God's law isn't a burden, it's a blessing. 

Moreover, since Jesus is the Son of Man (the one representative man from all of humanity who is our Lord and our representative before God), He is also Lord over this gift that God has given mankind. He has the wisdom and the insight to rightly understand the law and even to add to or take away from it. The Pharisees did not have that right and neither do we.

In a lot of ways I am very much like the Pharisees. It is easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking about God's law like it's a burden. Many in our day think this way. We think God gave us all these rules to keep us from having fun and living a full life. And for that reason many of us try to live life our own way and we pay dearly for it. We plant seeds in our lives that we think will bring us happiness, pleasure, and success, but we end up reaping a harvest of pain and frustration. That isn't the worst of it though. So many of us keep planting the same seeds over and over again, living life our way, somehow thinking that we will get a different result. We just can't bring ourselves to believe that God's way of living could possibly be fulfilling. So we do the same things over and over again expecting a different outcome. Albert Einstein has been quoted as saying, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Over time, little by little, I have become less insane. I now believe that living according to God's commands, living for Him and not for myself, is the blessed life. This is the kind of life that brings true joy both now and in eternity. If you are tired of getting the same results over and over again in life, maybe it's time to try something different. 

For further reading...
  • Psalm 119- I know it's the longest chapter in the Bible, but it is a love poem written about how wonderful God's law is. The psalmist loved the law so much and took such delight in it that he created an acrostic poem to show his love for it. (It has a stanza for every letter in the Hebrew alphabet [sin and shin share a stanza.])
  • Psalm 1:1-3- The righteous man delights in the law.
  • Romans 7:21-25- I want to do good, but evil is right there with me.

*It is important to note that Jesus wasn't actually breaking God's law. He was breaking their man-made tradition. As the ESV study Bible points out "Deuteronomy 23:25 implies that, in the case of hunger, it was permissible to eat heads of grain from any field one might pass by. Work, however, was not permitted on the Sabbath (Ex. 34:21). Pharisaic interpretation sought to guard against work on the Sabbath by prohibiting even the minimal 'work' involved in thus satisfying one's hunger." (ESV Study Bible footnote on Mark 2:23-24). 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Father's Discipline

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord...Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you...He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you.
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 5, 16

When we suffer we must remember that God is a loving Father who disciplines us for our good. Sometimes this discipline is in response to our sin, a punishment. Other times it is discipline in a different sense of the word like a father teaching his son the discipline he needs to work hard and hold down a job. Sometimes God "disciplines" us in preparation for the good future He has in store for us. So it was with the people of Israel. As they walked through the dessert and hungered for food it wasn't discipline for some sin they had committed, rather it was preparation for the future. God was teaching them to look to him alone to supply their needs. God did this "so that it might go well with them" in their future. He knew that if they were to fight for the Promised Land and drive out the nations who were much stronger than they were, then they would need to have perfected the skill of trusting Him and looking to Him to supply their needs. 

It is the same with us. It is very easy to get frustrated with God when difficulty comes into our life, but the truth is that these challenges often cause us to grow in new ways. These challenges actually end up providing an opportunity for us to build up the endurance, strength and wisdom we will need in the future. We must remember that God is preparing us for a bright future just like He was the Israelites. Not only does He have plans for each of us here on earth (Ephesians 2:10), but He is also leading us to a "Promised Land" of our own - Heaven. Until the time that we receive this promise in full, He is working in us to conform us more and more into the image of His Son. He is purifying us from sin and teaching us to find our joy in nothing other than Him. But we can rest easy knowing that all the tests that He allows in our life were put there so that "in the end it might go well" with us (Romans 8:28). 

When was the last time you thanked God for difficulty in your life? Today take a moment to praise God for his Fatherly discipline in your life? 

For further reading...
  • Romans 8:18-30- Predestined to be conformed into Christ's image.
  • Genesis 50:19-20- See what Joseph said about all the suffering he had to endure in life.
  • Matthew 4:1-11- See how Jesus used this passage to encourage Himself when He was experiencing a difficult time of His own.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Jesus Always Lives to Pray for You

Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Hebrews 7:23-25

When we find ourselves at a truly low point in life- perhaps at death's door or losing someone we can't bear to lose- we often turn to others for prayer. When our own strength fails, we want as many people praying for us as is possible. However we all know certain people whom we sense are nearer to God. We want these people praying for us most of all during our time of need. We somehow feel that if God will hear anyone's prayer, He will hear theirs. Knowing that they are lifting our needs up to the Lord gives us extra strength to press on. Who could this be truer of than Jesus Himself!?

Hebrews 7:23-25 presents the precious truth that Jesus is interceding for all those who have come to God through Him. How encouraging it is to know that if you are a believer then right now Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God the Father in heaven praying for you! Jesus is pulling for you! Jesus Himself is pleading with God on your behalf! Now intercede is one of those churchy words that we use a lot, but many people don’t really know what it means. To intercede for someone is to plead or advocate on their behalf. It is usually used in reference to prayer (as it is here). We intercede for someone when we lift up their requests to God on their behalf. So this passage tells us that Jesus is always praying for you and pleading for you to God. What a blessing. What a privilege. What an encouragement.
Not only is this true, but Jesus lives forever. He isn’t going to get tired and fall asleep while He’s praying for you. He isn’t going to give up. He isn’t going to die and leave you trying to convince someone else to plead your case to God. “He always lives to intercede for” you.
I believe that Jesus is pleading with God for both your ultimate salvation- that you would persevere in the faith and be proven to be one of the true children of God in the end- and that God would provide you with all you need to beat the power of sin in your life and become more and more like Christ.

What could make this better? Only one thing: if this Jesus who prays for you could actually understand the human weakness, the flesh that you have to battle against, the temptation that you face, then He could better plead for you. Good news! Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”
He has walked in your shoes. He understands. He didn’t fall into sin, but He battled temptation Himself. And He sits at the right hand of God the Father in Heaven living forever to lift up your requests and your needs to the Father on your behalf! Praise God. So lift up your requests to God in Jesus’ name today and trust that He is praying for you and that the Father surely hears His prayers.
For further reading...
  • John 17:6-26- This passage probably gives us a pretty good idea of what Jesus is praying for us, because it is the prayer He prayed for us before He was crucified.
  • Hebrews 4:14-16- Check out Hebrews 4:15 in context.