February 21, 2012

The Life of Jesus: Discipleship

As a kid...I loved those Kung Fu and Karate movies. I watched all the Enter the Dragon type movies and the ninja movies and Chuck Norris putting the hurt on some bad guys!

The classic storyline is the show Kung Fu starring David Carradine. As he enters the monastery to study Kung Fu, the master tells the young student he will be ready to leave when He can snatch the pebble from his hand. After years of learning and Kung Fu preparations, the Young Grasshopper snatches the pebble from his masters hand and sets out into the world.

I always wondered what it would be like if the student never got the pebble from the master’s hand...thankfully, Jim Carrey helps us out a bit...take a look...

As corny as these movies are...they teach us the definition of discipleship. In every Kung Fu movie there is a master teacher, who is not just teaching a martial art, they are teaching a way of life. A young student is dissatisfied with their previous way of life so they leave everything behind them, and dedicate themselves to following and learning how to be like the master.

And that is how Mark describes being a disciple of Jesus Christ...someone who follows and learns to do life like Jesus. Check out these passages from Mark 1 and Mark 2

Mark 1:16-20
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.”
Mark 2:14
“As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.”
These two passages of Scripture lead us to our first point...Being a disciple means we follow.
We are called to follow Jesus. There is a lot wrapped up in that one little word, “follow.” And part of the problem with being able to grasp this idea is our use of the word follow.

For some, following simply means, “I like what Jesus says...most of the time.” They like the idea of Jesus, they quote some of His teaching...especially on love and forgiveness, they really like that quote attributed to Gandhi about liking your Jesus but not your Christians...but they have not, like a Kung Fu student, taken on his teaching and example as the pattern by which they live their lives. They have taken bits and pieces to heart and tried to learn from them, but their lives as a whole are really unchanged. They may even identify themselves as Christians...but their lives do not demonstrate that they are disciples.

For some, following means, “I said a prayer and asked for forgiveness.” This really is a great starting place for all of us...recognizing we have sinned and need his forgiveness. The problem with this is that many are content to leave things at this level. They ask for forgiveness not because they have decided to follow Jesus, but because they want to go to heaven when they die or they don’t want to go to hell...they really just want insurance for the after-life. So being a “follower” of Jesus is really just an extension of their sin-selfishness. They want to make sure they are happy and safe so they say the prayer, and believe they are good to go.

For some being a follower is taking up the Christian culture. They listen to the right music, go to the right places, speak the Christianese, and have all the right beliefs and politics expected of a Christian. They go to church every time the doors are open. They bought the big Bible with all the notes at the bottom. And yet this isn’t real discipleship to Jesus Christ either.

And this is where the biblical idea of disciple is so different from many ways we understand it. A disciple wants to be like the teacher...a disciple wants to do what the teacher does. A disciple or follower of Jesus has taken His teaching and example and made it the pattern by which they live their lives. They are actively following.

If we look at our Scriptures a little more closely we see some similarities across the stories...
1. Jesus approaches the men in the midst of their everyday lives.
Peter, James, John, and Andrew are working in their boats or on the shore after a long night of fishing. Levi is sitting at the tax collector’s booth. There is no hype. There is nothing really spectacular about all of this. But in the midst of their everyday world Jesus makes an appearance and calls them to be His disciples.

2. Jesus simply asks them to follow.
Just as the situation isn’t all that spectacular...neither are Jesus’ words. He simply says, “Follow me!” Rabbis were revered and honored, and it was a special thing to be invited to be a rabbi’s student. So they knew that they were either going to stay put and be fishermen or a tax collector the rest of their lives...or they were going to get up and follow. They didn’t know where it would lead, but that didn’t matter. And that leads to our last observation.

3. They left everything behind.
Following for them meant their lives would never be the same. They were going to take all the teaching and examples of this rabbi and make them their own. Peter and Andrew left their nets, their income, their security, and followed. James and John left their father in the boat and followed. Levi left his tax collecting booth and followed Jesus. Their old lives were now gone. The longer they were with Jesus, the more their thinking was challenged. Everything they learned as children about faith and God and religious practice was challenged and often shattered by Jesus. Their old ways of thinking were now gone.

They left everything because that is what it meant to follow.

Jesus does very much the same things with us. He comes to us in some very common ways...a church service...a simple thought in the back of our minds...the words of a friend...a still small voice...and He simply invites us to follow. We don’t know, at that time, what “following” him means or even where it will lead, but we somehow know that this is the most important decision of our lives.

But while being a disciple begins with following...

Being a disciple doesn’t mean we have everything figured out.
As we read the book of Mark we see a growing, learning group of disciples...that still needs a good bit of work even after 3 years of being with Jesus. They get things wrong on a regular basis. They misunderstand what Jesus is teaching. They constantly ask Him to explain what He just said. One minute they are preaching and healing like Jesus, and the next they are stumped by a child with a demon because they fail to pray. They watch as Jesus feeds the 5,000, then the 4,000, and then believe Jesus is concerned because they only brought along one loaf of bread on the boat. One minute Peter is proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God...and the next minute Jesus says to him, “Get behind me Satan!” because Peter doesn’t understand what Jesus’ real purpose is.

They get it wrong all the time...which I, personally, find as a big relief. Because if you are here looking for the pastor who is going to get it right all the time...you are in the wrong place. There will be times when I say the wrong thing and come off as insensitive or stupid or uncaring...and I won’t even know it. There will be times when I fail and will have to apologize. I am following, but I am able to recognize that I have not arrived at my final destination. There is a lot of work God has to do in my life.

This is what so many outside the church fail to hear from us inside the church. They hear us talk about the main goal and all the moral standards, but they never hear us say we don’t have everything figured out. We aren’t talking from a point of superiority or completeness. We are still a work in progress heading toward the goal that Jesus Christ has laid before us...we don’t have everything figured out.

As a church we have to say, “Come as you are you will be loved” because we come as we are...but at the same time we can’t wallow around in our sinfulness.

Sometimes when people hear that a church takes grace and forgiveness seriously and accepts people where they are...they want to accuse them of being soft on sin. When we say “Come as you are...” this isn’t to say we have no morals, no direction, or we allow anything to go...no we have a goal. We have a standard laid ahead of us by which we are called to press toward, and that is Jesus. Being a disciple means we follow...and in order to follow...someone has to be in the lead. For us that lead is Jesus. He is the one against which we ask...How does my life compare to His?

And Jesus ultimately leads us to a cross.

Being a disciple leads to a life of sacrifice.

Listen to Jesus words in Mark 8:34-38
“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’”
What started off as a simple call to follow...is now recast within the shadow of the cross. What does it mean to follow Jesus? It means living a sacrificial life. Notice Jesus calls his disciples to three things...deny self...take up a cross...and follow me.

In asking people to deny self, Jesus isn’t calling us to self-hatred. He points out the value of human beings by reminding us that someone can gain the whole world and lose self, and that losing self is a costly mistake. He is calling us to lay down our lives in service of others for a redemptive purpose.

For Mark, to be a disciple means we follow Jesus as represented by the cross. A life that is sacrificial. A life given up for others. And he reminds us in what seems like the most paradoxical of statements...”For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

That statement is why much that goes for salvation today is not salvation. Being “saved” isn’t about making me better. It isn’t about being a good citizen. It isn’t about getting into heaven. It isn’t about Not going to hell. Being saved is about following Jesus...learning to pattern our lives and thoughts and actions after who Jesus is and what He wants accomplished in our world.

Salvation is about being a disciple not making a decision.

No where in the Bible is salvation a one time prayer and then someone going on with their lives...no in every instance the person’s life is radically changed from the inside out. Some like Peter, James, John, Andrew, and Paul are called to completely change their vocation and become leaders in the church. Others don’t leave their vocation, but become examples of Jesus’ sacrificial life in that role.

You remain a business owner...but you do business differently. You are an employee...but you serve your employer differently. You are a soldier, a housewife, a husband, a child...it doesn’t matter...you now fulfill those roles in a sacrificial way that imitates the life of Jesus Christ.

We are followers.

In 1896 Rev. Charles Sheldon wanted the people in his church to pattern their lives after Jesus. He wanted to find a way to make it easy and memorable for them, and help them learn to follow Jesus better...so he created a very simple question, “What would Jesus do?”

In the 1990’s it was reduced to a trite phrase on wrist bands and bumper stickers, but the heart of what he envisioned should not be forgotten. When Rev. Sheldon asked himself this question he began treating Jews, Catholics, African Americans and women as equals. He worked to allow women to vote, African Americans to worship wherever they wanted, and worked for equality in the workplace. None of which were easy stances to take in Topeka, Kansas in the late 1800’s because while these seem normal for us today...many on the conservative side saw them as part of the politically liberal agenda.. Rev. Sheldon simply saw them as the way Jesus would treat others around him.

I remember as child being frightened to death of going to hell. I went to a turn-or-burn type of church, and knew that I was going to burn for my sins. Heaven sounded so wonderful, and all I had to do was say that simple little prayer. So I did, and nothing in my life changed.

It wasn’t until many years later, when I realized that God loves me and wants me to follow him, not out of fear, but out of love, not because of what I could get from him, but inspired by the life He was calling me to...that I was able to really give myself to the Christian faith. I realized that I was called to follow Jesus not to earn salvation or a place in heaven or to keep from going to hell...I got to be part of God’s plan to redeem the world...starting with me.

This morning, maybe you are new to this whole church thing...we want to give you room to really be able to follow Jesus. Not because we have falsely produced guilt about something you have done or not done, but because Jesus is calling you to follow Him, you hear him calling, and you know it is time to follow.

Maybe some of you needed to hear this because you are under the false impression that salvation is like a contract or purchased ticket between you and God. You did your part, and now you are waiting for Him to do His. Being a disciple is a relationship...it is us following. It is not a contract or a ticket. If we stop follow, there comes a point where we are not following any more and we have chosen something else. I challenge you to start following...

The challenge that lays ahead for all of us is this: are we willing to pattern our lives, our thoughts, our beliefs, and our actions after Jesus Christ...

February 6, 2012

Life of Jesus: Seeing the Miracles in the Midst of Our Pain Mark 5:21-43

Joshua Bell is one of the most talented violin players alive today. He regularly plays at events where the tickets are $100 for the cheap seats. He is very gifted. In January of 2007, Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post got Joshua to help him with an experiment. He want to see how people’s perception played into their ability to see and hear beauty.

Weingarten arranged for this world class violinist to dress in everyday clothes and play the violin in a busy Washington D.C. metro station to see if anyone noticed. Joshua played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes,one of them being the most intricate violin pieces ever written, with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. So Joshua played in L’Enfant Plaza Station for 45 minutes where thousands of commuters passed by...most of whom never once paid attention to the virtuoso in front of them.

I want you to watch this time lapsed video of his performance.

In 45 minutes, while thousands passed by, there were only about 6 people who stopped and listened for any length of time. About 20 people gave him money; most without even slowing down. He made about $32 overall. Only 1 person in all those people recognized who it was playing for them.

When he finished playing...no one had really noticed.

The people of Washington D.C. had just received a gift and failed to recognize it. A world-class musician had played for them, and they could not get past their perception that this was probably a homeless street musician wanting to make a few bucks for booze. It didn’t matter how well he played...they missed something amazing. They missed what others would almost kill for...because they were busy, or in a hurry, or preoccupied.

But the people of Washington D.C. are certainly not unique...how many things do we miss because of our busyness, or preoccupation, or simply because we are so wrapped up in our own stuff that we can’t see what is happening around us?

It happens all the time. We can’t possibly catch everything. But if the people of Washington D.C. missed a virtuoso violinist playing in their subway imagine what we miss in everyday miracles. We miss some of the beautiful things going on around us because of our stuff. And if we miss the everyday stuff because of our pain, our baggage, and our preoccupation with other things, I wonder if we are not also blinded to the bigger miraculous work of God in the world around us...I wonder how much of what God is doing we actually do miss.

Last week I quickly mentioned how hard it is to read or hear a familiar story in a new way...and that is what we are going to attempt this morning. We are going to read a very familiar story where Jesus, on his way to heal Jairus’ sick daughter, is touched by someone in the crowd and is healed. I hope we are able to take away something new from the story this morning. Let’s read it.

Mark 5:21-43
21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

 30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

 31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

 32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

 35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

 36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

 37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.

   After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Here we have this amazing story of two miraculous healings. And because we are an outside observer, reading this story from beginning to end in about 2 minutes, we can fail to see and feel what is going on in the story. The core of this message came as I asked myself, “What would I feel in I were Jairus and watched all of this unfold in front of me?”

Imagine your child is dying. It wasn’t uncommon in this day and age, but she is still dying...she is still your child...you love her. Then you hear about this man who is healing people from some serious illnesses. They are actually getting well. So beyond all hope and belief you set out to find this man and plead with him to come and heal your daughter.

When you get there a large crowd of people blocks your path, but you are determined to see him. Somehow you make it to the front, and you get to speak with Jesus. You might expect a “No, I’m busy. Look at all these people.” Instead, Jesus says, “Yes!”

I can’t imagine the joy Jairus must have been feeling in that moment. One minute...no hope. The next minute...lots of hope. One minute he is certain his daughter is going to die, and the next minute he has hope for her future.

But now, you have to fight your way back through the crowd of people to get Jesus back to your home in time to save your daughter’s life. Jairus is no doubt pushing his way through the crowd...hurrying Jesus and his disciples...

Have you ever noticed that when you are in a hurry or stressed that everyone seems to be moving much slower than you want them to move? You are late for work, and this is the day the person in front of you decides to go the speed limit!

I’m sure Jairus is frustrated. People won’t move out of the way. In fact, the crowd is pressing in on him and Jesus slowing their progress to almost a standstill. And then the unthinkable happens...Jesus stops and starts looking around. Come on! Keep moving! But Jesus starts what seems like the most impossible...and time consuming...search for someone in the midst of this crowd who touched him!

If I am Jairus...I’m about to lose it. Really. It is the disciples who speak up, putting into words what Jairus is most likely thinking, “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” Why is Jesus wasting his time searching for a needle in a haystack when there is a young girl dying?

Finally, after what must have seemed like days, this woman comes forward with this amazing story of her healing just by touching the edge of Jesus’ clothes and believing that Jesus could heal her...and Jairus is like come on already...I have a daughter who is about to die.

I tend to believe that Jairus missed the power of the miraculous work of God in this woman’s life because of his own pressing and legitimate need. His daughter was dying. His mind was elsewhere. I’m sure in a different setting Jairus would have been happy for this woman and the healing she received...but in the midst of that was going on...he had other things going on.

The challenge for us, like it was for Jairus, is to see God’s miraculous work in the world around us...in the midst of our stuff. It is so easy to get wrapped up in our own lives...our baggage...our own needs...that we miss the needs of others standing right next to us...and we miss celebrating the wonderful, miraculous things God is doing in our world.

Like Jairus...

We are blinded by pain...

Verse 22-23 says, “...when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. [Jairus] pleaded earnestly with [Jesus], ‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’”

Jairus was in such pain because of his daughter...that he was blinded. And we are certainly not trying to minimize the urgency of this situation or even Jairus’ pain...but sometimes we get so wrapped up in our pain and what is going on in our lives that we miss what God is doing.

Sometimes we don’t not just miss God’s work, we become angry at it. It is so easy, when we are hurting, to look at others and, instead of being glad, become jealous of what God is doing for them. “Oh, sure, God is willing to help them! Why not me?”

We have to learn to experience our pain, trust God to continue working in our behalf, but praise God for what He is doing in the lives of those around us.

No one said being a disciple of Jesus was easy did they? And I find it incredibly difficult to step out of my pain and enjoy the work of God in others when I’m hurting. But in Romans 12, Paul is talking about what it means to put our love into action with those in our community, and he says in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” This means in the midst of our pain...the Gospel asks us to find ways to celebrate what God is doing in other’s lives.

So we are blinded by pain, but also

We are blinded by impatience...

I can imagine how impatient Jairus must have felt as he watched Jesus search for this mysterious person who had touched him in this crowd of thousands. Even after the disciples pointed out the futility of the search, verse 32 says, “But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.”

Jairus believed Jesus could heal. He didn’t realize Jesus could raise the dead. Jairus was impatient because He didn’t realize what all Jesus could do. Or he didn’t believe it.

How many times do we get impatient with God because we want Him to act and respond in the way we want Him to react and respond? As if we know best what we want and need...

During one particular dark time in my life, I pleaded with God to lift it...to change the situation...to get me out of the situation...to just do something. In my impatience I started looking for other ways of dealing with it apart from God. Do you know what I was missing during this whole time? Do you know what my impatience almost cost me?

It almost cost me one of the most profound growth and developmental times in my relationship with God. I wanted the pain to stop. God wanted to use it to draw me closer to Him...to learn to trust Him more...to see that it wasn’t about me...and to transform some character things for me.

So often God uses these extended times of “unanswered prayer” to test our character...to develop character within us...to get rid of all the things we think we want or need in order to really grow us up in our faith...and that means fighting through our impatience to see what He is doing.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In the midst of all the things we are going through...we must trust in the love and concern God has for us as His children. We have to trust and be patient because one day...either in this life or in the resurrected one...God will bring about the promises He has made. And we can’t let our impatience disqualify from seeing what God is doing!

So we pain and impatience can blind us, but also

We are blinded by doubt...

Verse 35-36 says, “While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. ‘Your daughter is dead,’ they said. ‘Why bother the teacher anymore?’ Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” and then in verse 38-40 it says, “When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.’ But they laughed at him.”

In that moment, every bad thought that had run through Jairus’ mind came true. This message from home simply confirmed he was right to be impatient... he was right to use his pain to ignore all else around him...because if Jesus had just done what he said...his daughter would still be alive.

That woman had been bleeding for 12 years! That’s a long time...and we can see that she had not doubted. She believed that if only she could touch the edge of Jesus’ cloak that everything would be alright.

The cloud of doubt must have started to creep across Jairus’ face for Jesus to say what he said. In the midst of all that Jairus was able to hear Jesus say, “Hold on! Don’t be afraid. I’ve got this one.” He was able to grab on to that and believe Jesus could do more than he could ever imagine.

If we are not careful our pain and impatience will lead to doubt. I’m not just talking about the fleeting moments of doubt we all have. I’m talking about a deep doubt sets in and can lead us away from trusting God. We stop believing that God loves and cares for us...that He will work everything out...we stop believing that He can wants to help us.

So many times we think we know the reality of a situation. We believe we have everything figured out; that we know all the possible options. And in the midst of that doubt we fail to leave room for God to work the miraculous.

If Jairus had given up in that moment...I’m pretty sure the story would not have turned out as it did. If Jairus had given in to the pain, the impatience, the doubt...he would have missed the miracle God had in store for Him.


Jairus’ daughter was about to die...that is a pretty extreme example of a common occurrence that happens to all of us...we get so wrapped up in our own lives we fail to see the pain and hurt in others. And the Gospel of Jesus Christ addresses that in our lives. That is why Jesus says in the Great Commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

It is not a call to minimize our lives, but rather to see God’s work in the lives of others in the midst of our pain and hurt and struggles. We must resist the urge of our pain, impatience, and doubt to overshadow or blind us to what God is doing in the world around us...because when it does...we miss the miraculous. We are like the metro riders who walk past the beautiful music of a world class violinist; completely unaware of what we have just missed.

Some of us struggle to make the mortgage payment each month. Others have health issues that keep cropping up requiring costly medical visits. Some of us know the pain of death or the impending death of a loved one. Some of us have family struggles that keep a steady stream of pain coming into our lives. There are a millions pains and hurts that come into our lives all the time, and that is not to mention all the everyday things both good and bad that serve as distractions. The challenge is for us to allow the Grace of God to overcome all those preoccupations so we can see God’s miraculous move in the world around us...and see his miraculous move in our own lives.

This morning, I don’t know what it is that causes you pain and doubt and creates impatience in you...wanting God to move on your behalf...but hold on. In the midst of your pain...in the midst of the everyday run of life...in the midst of your joys...cultivate a desire to see the miraculous work of God around you.