March 27, 2012

The Life of Jesus: Changing How the World Sees the Church Mark 12:28-34

Irrelevant. Antiquated. Judgmental. Narrow minded. Holier-than-thou. Self-righteous. Homophobic. Hypocritical. Bigoted.

These are common words people outside the church use to describe the church, and they are used to describe you and me simply because we are part of the Church.

People have the tendency to speak in broad generalities. Applying to a whole group of people what they have experienced at the hands of a few. So most of the people around us who have these feeling generally keep them to themselves. Because they know and like you, and you are not like THOSE people.

But sometimes they will hurl the insults directly at you. There is the co-worker who sits across the lunch table from you, and, discovering you go to church, says, “Those places are full of hypocrites!” There is the family member who considers you narrow-minded because you dare to believe Jesus is the only way to have a relationship with God. Maybe it is the Gay or Lesbian friend who knows your church must hate them.

These words and descriptions are really just a criticism of what they have seen and experienced at the hands of other “christians”, and when faced with criticism there are two ways to respond.

1. You can get upset and blast them. They are wrong, and you know it. Only you really understand. You are in the right, and it doesn’t matter anyway because they are stupid!

2. You can look for the truth in what they are saying. Not everything every critics says is right, but there will often be some truth in what the person is saying. We miss it because we are too close to the situation or we just haven’t seen things from a different perspective.

We are Christians, but it is easy to react in some not so Christian ways when we hear things like this. But if we approach it with a willingness to hear and learn, it should forces us to ask ourselves a very simple and necessary question, “What message should the world see when they look at us as Disciples of Jesus Christ and the People of God?”

So today, we are looking at a classic passage of Scripture that boils down the entirety of God’s message and gives us the foundation upon which we are meant to function as Disciples of Jesus Christ and people of this things called the Kingdom of God.

Mark 12:28-34
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

This passage marks the end of section that begins with Mark 11 and the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and ends here in Mark 12. It contains a series of stories that describe a people who have gotten God’s message completely wrong. The people of Israel were the People of God...they were given the responsibility of living in a way that God was glorified and people were drawn to Him...and they had failed miserably.

As we take a quick glance over Mark 10-11 we see story after story where Jesus points out the failures of Israel as the People of God.

Mark 11:12-19 we see how they have used their authority to rob God’s people in order to turn a profit. They have so clogged up the temple with money-making opportunities that the hustle and bustle keeps people from being able to pray.

Mark 11:20-25 we Jesus’ judgment on Israel in the form of a fig tree that has all the appearance of being fruitful...but has no fruit.

Mark 11:27-33 the Pharisees have seen all that Jesus has said and done...they know the testimony of the Scriptures describing what the Messiah would be like...and yet they refuse to accept Jesus’ authority as being from God because he doesn’t fit their mold.

Mark 12:1-12 Jesus gives a parable about some tenants entrusted with a vineyard who kill everyone sent by the owner because they want to keep all the profits and glory for themselves. They want to define what the vineyard will be like.

Mark 12:13-27 we see them trying to trap him with questions about government and specific theological doctrines...but completely miss the point of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus is looking at the people who should have gotten it...they should have seen his coming as a great thing...they should have been living to bring glory to God, and they weren’t. They had hijacked the message of God and were using it for their benefit.

In order to find the core of a Rabbi’s teaching, the leaders and people often asked him to sum up all of his teaching in one or two boil it down to it’s core. This gave them a starting point out of which all other teaching could be understood. Jesus’ answer to this question comes in this short passage.

Everything about Jesus’ expectation of the Christian life and Discipleship...what it means to be the People of God is summed up in these verses. Jesus is right here answering the question about what message we should be sending to the world around around us.

The first thing we see is...

1. We should be sending a message of love for God.
For Jesus, the first commandment that has to start this whole thing off is “Love the Lord your God...”

There are so many things upon which people attempt to build a relationship with God, and a lot of it is negative or selfish. For some it is fear. We are taught to fear punishment, fear hell, fear retribution. For others it is what God will give us. He will bless me, save me, protect me. None of these result in love.

One scholar writers, Loving God is a grateful response to God’s love for us. In order to fully obey and follow God...we have to love Him. And our love for Him comes as a response to His great love for us.

What the world needs most is to see a people who truly love God. Not because we are afraid of Him, but because we have been forgiven and freed from our sin. A people who are able to experience true life because they serve a God whom they love and they know loves them.

A few weeks ago, we did a bit of a thought experiment. I asked you to finish this sentence...My life would be meaningless if I ever lost...By finishing that statment we reveal our truest and deepest love, and we ultimately reveal our god.

Notice the statement is not...My life would be filled with pain if I ever, we are human. There are valuable things that would fill our lives with unimaginable pain if we lost them. What we are aiming at is the true essence upon which we build our lives.

Only when we start with love is the second half of that verse able to be a reality. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” Love for God requires the totality of our being. It will not take second place in our lives. The 10 Commandments have as its foundation that we are to have no other gods before God...and that is only demonstrated through our actions.

1 John 3:18 says, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth”

John understood it, and deep down we understand it too...that words are meaningless unless they are backed up by action. Our words, if they are authentic produce action.

So we love God by surrendering our lives to His will. We love God through our obedience to His commands. We love God by serving and using our strength to expand His Kingdom. We love God by using our minds to seek out Truth. We love God with the entirety of our being.

Our goal as Disciples of Jesus is to will one “Love the Lord [o]ur God with all [o]ur heart and with all [o]ur soul and with all [o]ur mind and with all [o]ur strength.” with the entirety of our being.

And once we build on this foundation, then...

2. We should be sending a message of love for others.
Our passage says, “The second [command] is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

It is very important to get this order right. Before we can love others, we must start with a completely devoted love for God. If we start with a love for our neighbor, over a love for God, we are like the parent who gives their child whatever he wants because it makes him happy...then they get a little demon child a few years down the road.

Our calling is not to love for the sake of is to love with God’s love. It must start with having God’s ideals and priorities in mind, and God’s Kingdom front and center in our thinking because loving others really means seeking God’s best for them.

The command to love our neighbor has always been a challenge. When telling this story, Luke includes an additional teaching about the Good Samaritan...challenging the Israelite to accept love and help from the most despicable person they can think of...a Samaritan.

The power of this command lies in one small addition at the end of it...“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Things change when we love others as ourselves. We give ourselves a lot of leeway. We are very understanding of ourselves when we make a mistake. We comfort didn’t mean it that way.

What would it mean to make allowance for other’s mistakes in the same way we give ourselves a pass when we mess up. What would it mean for us to give time to others in the same way we would like others to give us of their time. What would it mean to be tolerant of others in the same way we want them to be tolerant of us.

And let’s remember that love is not seen in our words or is seen in our actions.

We love others when we serve in them in ways we would want to be served...when we care for them in ways we would want to be cared for...When we root our love for others in the love of God and then demonstrate that love in our actions toward transforms everything about how we react and changes the very character of our love for them. It is no longer based on preference, or hindered by prejudice.

Just think of how this kind of love would change the way we love the person gossiping about us? How it would change the way we forgive? And How we respond to other’s mistakes.

Just this week the Huffingtonpost, tells the story of Patrick Greene, an atheist in Texas, who filed a lawsuit to have the Nativity removed from public property. In the midst of his battle, he was informed he was going blind due to a detached retina. This forced him to drop the lawsuit and to retire from His job. But in the process created a great deal of financial difficulty for he and his wife.

Some might say this is God’s judgment. Some Christians might celebrate the difficulties that caused him to drop his lawsuit. But one group of Christians saw it as an opportunity to love their neighbor as they would want to be loved. Greene said the group raised money to help he and his family. Greene states, "They said they wanted to do what real Christians are supposed to do – love you – and they wanted to help.”

I don’t know what the end result will be for Patrick Greene, but I do know that a group of Christians acting like the Kingdom of God described in today’s passage has definitely made a difference in the world.

We started out by asking ourselves the question, “What message should the world see when they look at us as Disciples of Jesus Christ and the People of God?” And if we apply this passage to answer that...the world should see us loving God and loving others through our actions and with every aspect of our being.

This passage ends in a rather strange way. It leaves things unresolved. The Scribe is impressed with Jesus’ answer and tells him he agrees with everything Jesus said. Jesus responds, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God...”

The story just ends there. We don’t know if, like Bartimaeus, the Scribe casts aside everything and followed Jesus or he continues on as before. The writer does that to indicate that He is really asking us...challenging us to move from being “not far from the Kingdom of God” to being IN the Kingdom of God?

You see it isn’t enough for us to agree with Jesus that we are to love God and love our neighbor. This isn’t just some good idea we get to nod in agreement, this is a challenge to live out a life of love for God and be the People of God where others have failed. This is a challenge to center our lives around loving God and loving our neighbor in such a way that we change the world...and it starts with one practical act of love followed by another...spend time worshipping God...refuse to gossip about your co-worker...learn to be in God’s presence through prayer...stopping to help the person stranded on the road even though it will make you late...removing that sinful activity from your life...taking the extra time to mow your elderly neighbor’s yard. Love your neighbor.

There are times when our message is sent out clearly and is well understood and a person just doesn’t like it. There will be times when our message and our life as Disciples of Jesus will be rejected...and we have done nothing wrong.

There are times when our message is simply misunderstood. We think we are living and speaking clearly, but our words and actions are misunderstood by the other person. Somewhere along the way a wrong perception short circuits everything.

But hopefully we can avoid the times...when our expression of the message of Jesus...when our life of discipleship is completely off kilter with the Truth of Jesus Christ. May there never be a time when we respond with anything but the grace and love and forgiveness of Christ. But when we do...may we quickly return to the grace and forgiveness of God.

March 19, 2012

Life of Jesus: Finding Healing Mark 10:46-52

We only have three weeks left in this message series on the Life of Jesus. We finish up on Easter, and then start a new series I’m calling Step Up. We are going to be looking at some people throughout the Scripture who stepped up when God called. But these are not the normal people you think of...I’m not talking about Abraham, Moses, Noah, David...none of the “normal” people. I’m going to be talking about people who are mentioned only once, maybe in just a single verse, and sometimes without the Bible even mentioning their name.

Sometimes as we study the Bible we hear about these great men and women, and think “That’s great, but I know...I’m no Moses, or King David, or Paul.” While the  men and women we will be looking at are mentioned only once that doesn’t negate what they did for the Kingdom of God. They stepped up when God called and proved that there is no such thing as a small task in the Kingdom of God.

The guy we are talking about today could have been one of those guys. As we will talk about in a minute, Bartimaeus is a little known, often overlooked character in the Bible, but he stepped up when Jesus called.

It is easy to overlook people like Bartimaeus. We overlook people all the time. We live in a time that is “connected” more than ever before, and yet people feel more and more alone...and disconnected. But Bartimaeus refused to be overlooked and it changed the course of His life.

Jesus is travelling with his disciples on the way to Jerusalem where He will be beaten and crucified, and this story is the final story before Jesus enters Jerusalem.

Mark as a writer does something very interesting. From Mark 8:22-10:52 Jesus is talking about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, and what His Kingdom will look like. Mark only tells the story of two men receiving sight from their blindness, and those stories serves as bookends to this section on discipleship.

He opens this section in Mark 8:22 with a story of a blind man receiving his sight...but not completely at first. Jesus spits in some mud and rubs it on the man’s eyes, but when Jesus asks if he can see...the man only sees shadows and blurry figures walking around. So Jesus puts his on the man’s eyes, and his sight is restored.

Then we have this section where Jesus repeatedly explains and demonstrates what it means to be his disciple, but just like the blind man in Mark 8:22 Jesus’ disciples are blinded by their expectations of who Jesus is and what He is supposed to be. They only seem to be able to catch true discipleship in though it is just blurry images wandering around in front of them.

And then we come to this story where a blind man is completely healed. While all those with Jesus miss it... Bartimaeus, a blind outsider, seems to understand what is going on, and follows Jesus straight into Jerusalem.

Let’s look at Mark 10:46-52,
46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

If Jesus’ disciples don’t understand the full meaning of what it means to follow Him...if they don’t yet understand who Jesus is and what He is about to do...they will. And this passage teaches us some important things about following Jesus...even when it leads us straight into Jerusalem where we know He is going to be beaten and killed.

Bartimaeus serves as an example of true discipleship in the Gospel of Mark.

The first thing we see is in Bartimaeus is that...

1. We have to overcome our problem.
Mark 10:46 says that as Jesus entered Jericho, “...a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging.”

Here is a man who has been blind his entire life. In that culture and time, begging was his only way to earn money because there was no affirmative action. There were no laws against discriminating against the handicapped. So he is sitting by the main road where hundreds of travellers would pass during this time of year on their way to Jerusalem for Passover begging for anything they could he could eat.

And we can see right away that Bartimaeus faces an uphill climb not just with his blindness. The name given here, Bartimaeus, is not a real name. Literally translated it means Son of Timaeus. No one takes the time to learn this man’s name...everyone simply called him the blind son of Timeaus. In their eyes he was nothing more than a blind beggar...not worthy for them to even learn his name.

Bartimaeus wanted what Jesus had so badly he was not going to stay in the box society had created for him. He was not going to be defined by his problem.

There are so many times, though, where we allow our problems to define us. So many people fail to live up to God’s call on their life because they won’t push past their handicap. They are content to let their “ailment” define them.

“I could never do that in public...”
“God could never use me like that...”
“I would never feel comfortable doing that...”
“I’m too shy...I’m too afraid...What would others think of me...”

Jesus healed many people throughout his ministry, but he always required one thing. He required them to take the first step. We have to be willing to step out. Jesus never forces us to accept what He is offering. He never forces us to take the first step. But he also never gives the blessings and rewards to those who are unwilling to step out in faith and receive them from His hands.

So just like Bartimaeus

2. We have to push through the resistance.
This blind man has no doubt heard of the miracles Jesus has been doing. Healing the sick and raising the dead, and even healing a blind man. People everywhere are talking about it.

So Bartimaeus calls at the top of his lungs, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He calls out over and over and over. Some people glare at him with that, “How annoying can you be look” that I get from Lori all the time. Others were bold enough to tell him to shut up. Jesus is an important man, and doesn’t want anything to do with the likes of you.

So Bartimaeus is faced with two pretty tough problems. He not only has to overcome his own problem which is really a struggle inside himself, but then he has to push past the resistance of the people around him.

There is this psychological phenomenon that takes place when a person steps out of the mold others have for them...they exert social, verbal, financial pressure on them to keep them in that mold.

Family members say, “So you think you are better than us because you got that college degree.” Friends will say, “So you got religion? You think you are better than us now?” This is why the family members of addicts need counseling...when the person is no longer an addict the family membes respond, often unknowingly, in ways that push the person back into addiction because the status quo has been dysfunctional as it was.

When you and I seek after God and pursue his plan for us...there will be resistance. There will be resistance in the physical world from friends, family, employers, and there will be resistance in the spiritual world.

There are two things I have seen over and over that serve as examples...

A. There is something about the adventure and challenge of planting a church that really gets the spiritual juices going for a guy. He may have been uninvolved and even resistant in his old church, but now he is challenged, and wants to be a part of what God is doing...but then He talks to his wife. While strengthening and challenging the spiritual growth of the man...this decision requires sacrifice from the wife. She would rather attend the church where she feels comfortable.

What she can unknowingly do is resist the work of God in her husband’s life, and rather than see what a spiritually alive husband and father would mean for the family she resists. So she either comes along, but makes his life miserable for “ruining the family” or he relents because of what is “best for the family” and sits back in the pew and goes into a spiritual coma.

B. The other things I see is how every time someone takes a step of faith...moves out toward what God wants to do with them with the local church...Satan brings temptation. But not temptation in the way you would think. We often think of temptation as Satan challenging us to do something bad or sinful, but Satan’s greatest tool of temptation is to present us with something good in place of something great.

A person steps up in leadership or feels God calling them to something deeper in their local church...and then there is that church or that ministry or this great opportunity in which everyone is growing closer to God...and just imagine what it would do for them if they were there. So rather than stick with the hard work of discipleship as God has laid out for them, they try to short cut it or they move on before God has a chance to really start working in them.

And the way we really reach our true discipleship potential is to push through the resistance and

3. Toss aside anything that hinders.
When Jesus stopped and called for Bartimaeus, he throws his cloak aside, jumps to his feet, and runs to Jesus. He throws that cloak aside because he doesn’t want anything tripping him up.

What an amazing response! I want to be able to respond to the work of God like that. Believing and trusting in the goodness of God so much that I jump to my feet and run when He calls.

But what usually happens is that we hold on to this or that “cloak” that really trips us up. The young man wanted to hold on to his wealth...the disciples wanted to hold on to their struggle for power...Nothing detours and destroys our discipleship more than holding on to stuff that hinders. We have stuff we want to hold on to, but it will only trip us up and keep us from reaching what we really need and want from Jesus.

Like I said last week...our stuff can keep us from God. Bartimaeus was smart enough to toss his aside. And not only does he toss it aside...he runs right up to Jesus and

4. Asks boldly for what he wants.
Mark 10:51 says, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

He wasn’t shy...he wasn’t holding back. He wanted to see. He didn’t just want to overcome his problems...he wanted healing...and Bartimaeus boldly asked Jesus for the freedom he needed.

We would do well to lean boldness. To be direct with God. There are sins and things we struggle with simply because we are not bold enough to ask Jesus for freedom. It can be like someone who continually pushes their tongue into the sore spot on their cheek. Or touches the place on their hand that is hurting. They don’t like the pain...but they kind of like the pain.

We must realize how destructive sin is, and seek to be free from it. Our ailments and blindness and sin keep us from pursuing God and being all that He wants for us...they keep us from taking our rightful spot in fulfilling the Kingdom of God.

I believe that God has a special role for each person to play in building His Kingdom. You have something you can do that will extend God’s Kingdom. You just have to ask. I just have to ask.

There have been times in my life where I have had no clue what God wanted from me or where he was leading...or what was holding me back. So my first act was to boldly ask where he was leading.

But when I did, I like Bartimaeus was able to

5. Follow Jesus
Once Bartimaeus is healed, Jesus says, “Go, your faith has healed you.” But rather than go...Bartimaeus follows. Bartimaeus uses his freedom to follow Jesus right into Jerusalem.

When you and I face the internal challenges of our problems...push through the resistance...toss aside anything that hinders...and then boldly ask God for healing...then, with the clarity of someone healed from blindness we are able to follow Jesus.

Our healings, blessings, wealth, talents  are given not to use on ourselves. Jesus gives us these things so we can follow Him whole-heartedly.

The ultimate purpose of all God gives us is to expand the Kingdom of God. Imagine what our church would look like if each of us overcame our internal problems...pushed through the resistance...flung aside all that hindered us and boldly asked God to release us into service for His Kingdom.

What if we used our gifts and talents to serve...what if we gave of our wealth for others...what if we prayed for our community like we believed there was a hell...God places each of us here not just so we can grow spiritually, but so we can grow spiritually for the benefit of our world and His Kingdom.

March 14, 2012

The Life of Jesus: One Thing You Lack Mark 10:17-27

The last few weeks we have been looking at the topic of Discipleship. Our key question in all of this has been, “What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?” The way many of us have learned to ask the question is this way, “What does it mean to be saved?

Sometimes, by the way we present things, it can seem like a person can be saved but not really a disciple of Jesus. All you have to do is say a prayer, and you are in! You can’t earn your own salvation so it doesn’t really matter what you do from here on out because you have said this prayer.

But the Bible takes a rather different approach. It talks about is in terms of relationship and journey. It talks about following Jesus and making His life the pattern by which we live ours. That is something completely different than how I grew up understanding salvation. I thought once I said the prayer that I was in...Jesus talks about relationship and that things like spiritual growth and obedience are a necessity to our faith.

We could really say that over the past few weeks we have been looking at things that hinder our ability to be true disciples of Jesus Christ.

A couple weeks ago we looked at how ritual can hinder our ability to have a real relationship with Jesus. Last week as we looked at leadership, Jesus pointed out how grabbing for power and authority over others hinders our ability to be a disciple as well.

These were common in Jesus’ time and they are common now.

Today, we are going to look at one more thing that can hinder our ability to follow Jesus. We are going to talk about money. Yeah, I know. We are all excited. A church talking about money.

But if you have been here any length of time, I hope you know that when we talk about money, we do so because it has to do with our relationship with God and not some cloaked guilt trip about giving more to the church.

People get uptight when the idea of money is brought up in church. And I want you to be able to relax in the sense that we do not beg for money. I think those who follow God and take part in the life of this church should tithe, but it is not my place to play the role of the Holy Spirit. I fully believe the words of the great missionary Hudson Taylor, “God's work, done God's way, will never lack God's supply.”

Let’s read today’s passage and dive in shall we?

Mark 10:17-27
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

The last few passages of Scripture we have looked at are grouped in a section of teaching on discipleship, and throughout this section Jesus is interweaving predictions about his upcoming crucifixion. So as Jesus is teaching about what it means to be His disciple, He is purposely talking about it in relationship to His sacrifice, and this passage is no different. When this passage opens with the statement, “As Jesus was on his way...” it is talking about on His way to the crucifixion.

So as Jesus begins this journey that ultimately leads to a cross, this rich man comes to Jesus asking a question that everyone on a spiritual journey must ask, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And despite our modern understanding of this phrase, the man is not asking about life after death. He is asking Jesus what it means to have a life God blesses.

He has obeyed all the commandments, and yet there is still a sense of lacking. This man, we discover, has great wealth, and yet something is missing. And as Jesus is always able to do, He goes right to the heart of the issue... “One thing you lack,” Jesus says.

One thing...this man had not realized that despite all the things he did right and all the things he owned...there was just one thing keeping him from entering, and this man’s “one thing” serves as a reminder to us that...

Our stuff can keep us from the Kingdom of God.
This young man comes to Jesus, he has been obedient to the Law, but his stuff, his wealth gets in the way. In the entire Gospel of Mark, this is the only place where someone seeking to be a disciple of Jesus turns his back and walks away.

Jesus looks at him, and with 5 very sharp commands says, “Go, Sell, Give, Come, and Follow.” “One thing you lack,” Jesus said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” This one statement cuts right to the heart of the problem for this young man, because our passage says that he owns a lot of property.

In the 1st Century, as it is in many places today, wealth was seen as a sign of God’s blessing! The startling thing for Jesus’ disciples is that Jesus saw that wealth could be a hindrance to true discipleship. When Jesus says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples are amazed. Riches and property were a sure sign that you were loved and blessed by God...but here is a man, loved by Jesus, but just “one thing” shy of being part of the Kingdom of God.

Every time this passage is brought up, people ask, “Are we really supposed to sell everything we own and give it to the poor?” It is tempting to soften or explain away this story. It’s easy to do that. But just like power and authority are discipleship issues, so too are wealth and poverty.

I don’t know if you’re supposed to sell every thing you have and give to the poor. Wealth is one of those things that can stand in the way of a person being part of the Kingdom of God, and not when people have can be those who do not have money. Wealth has a way of creating a dividing line that makes the wealthy want to keep it at all costs and the poor want to get it at all costs, and neither of these two approaches can coexist with those who want to be part of the Kingdom of God.

What is really at stake as we read this passage is not just money. For the rich man it was his wealth, but just a few verses was Peter’s prideful humility and poverty that stood in the way when he said, “We have left everything to follow you!”

We have stuff that can stand in the way of our entering the Kingdom of God. For some it might be wealth. For others their poverty. For some it might be a wrong belief about how something should or should not be. For James and John it was their desire for power and authority over others...

Here is really what is at stake in this passage...

Being part of the Kingdom of God requires us to rid ourselves all false Gods.
Stacey Elizabeth Simpson, The Christian Century, 2000. Religion Online, says, “What must we do to inherit eternal life? We must let go of all that we have and all that we do that gets in the way of seeing we can do nothing to save ourselves."

There are so many false Gods we use to gain salvation or verify that God loves us, and they attempt to replace God...wealth, church attendance, leadership positions in the church, our own comfort, recognition for the good we have done, the amount we have sacrificed for God, how blessed we are, and the reverse of that...if things aren’t going well we assume we have sinned or God is doing this to teach us a lesson. We allow so many things to get in the way of single-minded devotion to God...things that derail our relationship with God.

I know I do. It is so easy to get distracted by the bills that must be paid, the next message that has to be prepared, the appointments, the worries, the name it. Pretty soon I am acting like those are the most important things in life. And Jesus constantly challenges those other gods that would take over control of my life, and distract me.

This passage causes so much discussion and anger and resistance precisely because money is such a big issue for those us us living in America. We are the wealthiest country in the world. Even the poorest among us are extremely wealthy by world standards. We live in a country that either has money, wants money, or wants to live like they have money.

And we know, deep down, that this desire and striving for more is contrary to what Jesus is teaching. Jesus is not against having money or property or wealth, but against making it our god.

For this young man his false god was his wealth. Jesus told him he lacked one thing, and to go, sell, give, and then come and follow. For some of us, though, money isn’t the issue. If Jesus told us to sell everything and give it to the poor, some of us would have no problem...but Jesus isn’t just concerned with money. More deeply than money He asks us to name our false gods, draw them out into the light of day, and get rid of them.

It pushes us toward an uncomfortable question, what if Jesus were to look at us...what is the “one thing missing” he would see in you and me? What would we have to go, sell, and give in order to really come and follow Him unhindered?

There is a prayer that I pray on very rare occasions. I pray it rarely because, honestly, I’m a little afraid of what I’m going to hear. It is a dangerous prayer, I believe. Do you want to hear it? That’s rhetorical, I’m going to tell you whether you want to or not.

Here is the prayer: “Lord, is there anything in me that stands in the way of my being all you want me to be?”

You see wrestling with this passage and Jesus’ ability to regularly point out my “one thing,” which seems to be a lot of things, I realize that...

Entrance into the Kingdom of God is difficult.
I was always told that getting saved was easy, free, simple, and then like a salesman’s bait and switch, only after you said the prayer did they start adding all these do’s and don’t’s and attendance requirements and the list seemed to go on forever.

And in a sense they were right, it is simple and easy in the fact that Jesus has done all that needs to be done for my salvation, but that is really the end of easy because what He asks is that I destroy all the other things that rival His leadership in my life. And that is difficult.

Jesus says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” and the disciples are amazed at his words. But Jesus goes on to say, “How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

The disciples are even more amazed, and say, “Who then can be saved?”

So Jesus looks at them and says, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Do you see what Jesus does there? He goes from talking about how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God to how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God period. It isn’t just difficult for the is difficult for all of us.

The Kingdom of God requires my very best obedience and all that I have, but even then all I can do is still not enough to achieve eternal life. It is a tension that we live in...God’s standard is set so high that I must offer my best obedience and my full-commitment to Him, but that is not what saves is only God’s grace that saves us.

There is that wonderful statement Jesus makes, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Things are not hopeless...difficult maybe...but not impossible because God makes it possible.

You see we can look at the life God is calling us to live and say, “That is just too hard. I can’t do it. I can’t get rid of the gods in my life.” But God promises that we are not alone...we don’t have to do it on our own. We have to offer up our best obedience, but it is his wonderful love and grace that comes along side and helps us make it.

You see God loves us so much that He does not want to sit back and watch us waste our lives on worthless gods. Gods that promise satisfaction and fulfillment, but ultimately leave us empty. That is the Gospel. The Gospel is not the presentation of salvation. The Gospel is the belief that Jesus’ death and resurrection has made it possible for us to live as God asks us to live. That God in His grace makes it possible for you and I to follow Jesus.

At the end of this passage Jesus once again brings up the principle that the first shall be last, but right after that He does what no one expects, especially of the Messiah...He predicts a horrific beating and death on a cross to pay the price for our sins.

Here is what no one else has done. Jesus says pay any price to be obedient to God...and then He led the way. Philippians 2:8 says that Jesus, “ humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!”

We have a leader that walked the walk before us. He doesn’t ask us to do anything He hasn’t been willing to do, and He doesn’t ask us to do anything He isn’t willing to help us do either.

As we close, I want to return the question I asked earlier, what if Jesus were to look at us...what is the “one thing missing” he would see in you and me that he would want us to go, sell, give, and then come and follow?

March 5, 2012

The Life of Jesus: Kingdom Leadership Mark 9:33-37, 10:35-45

Over the past few weeks we have looked at what it means to follow Jesus and what it means to replace ritual with a relationship...and really what we are talking about is the meaning of discipleship. Being a disciple means we follow...we don’t have everything together, but our goal is to follow and live according to the pattern Jesus has set for us.

Last week, Josh talked about the role of ritual. It isn’t that ritual is bad, or useless, or unimportant...rituals have a place in our lives. When we get married or buried...we have a ritual for that. When we get up in the morning...we generally have a ritual we go through. We have a human need for ritual. But when it comes to our faith, ritual cannot replace relationship with God.

The key verse for me last week is Jesus’ quote from Isaiah, ““These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” It is the difference between taking communion because that is just something you always do vs. recognizing that God is present and working as we take communion.

Today we are going to look at another aspect of Discipleship...Jesus’ vision of leadership.

Some may ask why is leadership a discipleship issue...

Well there are two reason:
1. Have you ever seen a group of people try to function without a leader? It is horrible. They wander around doing this or that, but not really getting anything done. Watch one episode of Survivor. People are trying not to get voted off so no one takes leadership. Shelters are shoddy. Fires are non-existent. Without leadership, the tribe ends up in worse shape than if someone had just stepped up and led. So leadership is important if something is going to move forward, have purpose and meaning, and accomplish what it is meant to accomplish.

But that also reminds us that leadership is an important issue because...

2. Have you ever worked for a bad boss? Worked or served under a bad leader? Have you ever worked for someone was more concerned for their career or the authority than for people? If the church is going to move forward it requires leaders, but it requires leaders who care more for the Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God and for the people than for authority and power and their own concerns.

As we look at Scripture we see Jesus calling people to follow him and be his disciples...out of that he calls 12 men to be Apostles...out of that 12 he calls 3 men, Peter, James, and John...and in Acts we see that Peter steps up and takes the lead. Leadership is important. But as we learn to live in this new way of the Kingdom, we are called to have a different understanding of leadership than the world around us.

This morning we are going to look at two different passages that will help us. Our first passage is

Mark 9:33-37
33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Welcoming a Child

In our first story, the disciples argue about who is the greatest. They want to know the pecking order...who gets to tell who what to respected and valuable am I. Most of us, if we think about it, know where we stand in our organizations. Maybe at work you are somewhere in the middle, and at home you are at the top. Maybe you are at the top in both places. Or you are at the bottom in both places. I have been at the top and I have been at the bottom.

Notice, though, when Jesus asks them what they were discussing...they just know something is wrong with what they were doing. They have been with Jesus long enough to know He isn’t running things the same way as everyone else around them. He keeps talking about this Kingdom of God and how it is different...and they know their maneuvering for position is out of touch with Jesus’ vision.

Jesus says, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” And that doesn’t sound like any leadership advice they have ever heard.

Then Jesus does something no one expected. He brings a small child into the center of the group and says, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” He takes an individual from society, a child, who has no rights, no standing, nothing...someone who is at the bottom of everything, and makes this little child the standard for leadership.

While the disciples jockey for position and respect and control...Jesus says the person willing to welcome those on the bottom of society not only welcomes Him, but also welcomes God the Father. True leadership in the Kingdom rests in serving others and welcoming those whom no one else cares about.

Let’s read our second passage:

Mark 10:35-45
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

39 “We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Servant of All

Our second story is similar to our first...except this time James and John go secretly to Jesus to jockey for position. Jesus didn’t give a good enough answer. In fact, He didn’t give an answer at all about who was in charge so there is an opening.

They ask Jesus to let them sit at His right and at His left hand when He establishes His kingdom. These were positions of power. Have you ever heard someone called a “right-hand man”? That comes from a day when the King would have someone sitting on his right who wielded the power of Kingdom. When they spoke it was as though the King himself spoke. Sitting on the right and the left is like being number 2 and 3 in command.

They have visions of grandeur and power. They get to be Jesus’ right and left and put others in their place. But Jesus knows leadership always costs something. There is a price to pay. Leadership is difficult. For Jesus, it means sacrificing His life on a cross. James and John have their eyes on the authority and respect a leader receives, but true leadership requires the leader to sacrifice.

The other Disciples are furious when they discover what James and John have done. But Jesus has a teaching moment with them. His Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, has a different set of values. The leaders of this world love power and control and authority, and they lord it over those under them. But those who lead in the Kingdom of God do not seek the position of authority, but the position of a slave. The true leader is a servant. Greatness is determined by who serves, not who dominates and overpowers.

A Different Kind of Leadership
Jesus is doing something completely different from what we see in the world around us. His expectations for leadership are based on serving and loving rather than domination and power.

That is the vision Jesus has laid out for us, and while the church is meant to be the example of Jesus’ style of leadership, it has often reverted to authority, power, domination, and control. Rather than serve our way into people’s hearts, we have sought political office and power. Rather than preach the example and holiness of Christ, we create rules. Rather than wait for the Holy Spirit, we use guilt.

Our world sees too much of the wrong kind of leadership, and it is time they see Jesus’ kind. We are part of a new Kingdom, a new way of functioning in our world. We are called to be an example of the Kingdom of example of Heaven and earth meeting and functioning as God designed. That is why Paul says, “your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit...” The temple was the residence of God on earth. It was the place where the heavenly realm and the earthly realm touched, and because of the cross the place where heaven and earth meet is is me.

So when Jesus starts applying this to us and to our leadership He means something very different from what the world around us means when it speaks of leadership.

So what does it mean for us to be leaders?

1. Leadership is about serving not position or title.
It took me a long time to realize this. True leadership doesn’t need a position or title to support it. I foolishly believed that having the title of pastor meant people would follow and I would receive their support and love...and was I wrong. They will love you when you are leading in a direction they like...but try to do something they don’t agree with and you lose some skin.

Having a position and title are very different from leading people. They can overlap, but they are not the same thing. We all know the person who believes their title or position makes them a leader. I have worked for bosses who rather than lead depended on their title to boss people around. I did what they said, but they did not lead me.

We have seen people who assume their role of leadership at the church makes them better or more important somehow...rather than seeing it as a responsibility of service. So they sit on a church board and assert their position to keep an entire church from participating in the vision of the Kingdom of God.

When we look at history the greatest leaders were not leaders because of a title, they were leaders because they served and loved and cared and were working toward an important vision. There is a difference between the leadership of a Hitler or Stalin and the leadership of Ghandi and Nelson Mandela.

Long before he received the title of President, Nelson Mandela was a leader. He was imprisoned for 27 years because he believed white and black South Africans should work together. He envisioned a day when South Africa could be a place free from apartheid and ruled by democracy. He worked hard to fight poverty and inequality...and most of the time he did this without title or position from prison.

For Nelson Mandela, for Jesus, and so also for us...true leadership begins with a vision for something better that leads us to serve...for Jesus and for us that vision is the Kingdom of God. In order for us to make that shift in our thinking from ordinary disciple to leader we must recognize the power of the vision laid before us.

Imagine a world where forgiveness and love and real justice and mercy rule! Where God’s presence is active and working in people’s lives. Where people pursue God’s holiness not because of rules, but because of love.

What could our world look like if the Kingdom of God were present and functioning? What would our world look like if we really prayed, believed, and lived out the line from the Lord’s Prayer, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven...”?

When we have that vision in mind...when we are captured by its cup or baptism is too much to bear in order to see it realized in our world.

That is the vision that inspires me to plant this church...believing that as a church we can do our part to extend the Kingdom of God into our community. To love and forgive and serve as Jesus did. That we can be a place where thousands of people come to know Jesus and learn to live out the Kingdom of God in their everyday lives. And we get there not with power and authority and position...but by serving and loving and caring for people.

2. Leadership is about sacrificing for the Kingdom of God.
I mentioned it briefly a minute ago, but this truth is an important part of leadership. When we have been captured by the vision the Kingdom of cup or baptism is too much to bear in order to see it realized in our world. You can tell those who are captured by the vision and willing to lead because they are willing to sacrifice and put up with a lot of tough things in order to see the vision accomplished.

Andrew Carnegie once said, “Anything worth having is worth working for.” We could rephrase that to say, “Any vision worth accomplishing is worth sacrificing for.” If something is really important to us...we will go after it no matter the cost.

Athletes and business owners know this. It is no fun to show up day after day and workout in a gym or on the track. It is no fun to risk your entire life savings and work 16 hours a day. But when you are captured by a vision you are willing to assume some risks and endure some pain to achieve it.

God has a vision far greater than a gold medal or the next big business idea...He calls us to experience the Kingdom of God and then witness its power to others. We are asked to live in such a way that others recognize the Kingdom of God at work in us. We help change the eternal destiny of people. That is something worth sacrificing for. We are here not because we want recognition or power over people, but because we want to see lives changed.

We are starting a church because people need Jesus. They need the power of God’s Kingdom at work in their lives. Marriages need saved. Reconciliation needs to take place. Forgiveness needs to happen. Hurts need healed. People need Jesus’ salvation. That is worth sacrificing for.

3. Everyone is a Leader Somewhere.
I don’t want to water down the idea of leadership so it becomes a meaningless term. Even in the Early Church there were positions and titles. The Apostle Paul recognized leadership as a spiritual gift given to some, and he appointed elders and deacon and bishops.

But rather than diminish the idea of leadership this reminds us that we are all given a place of leadership. When we remove the ideas of position and title as the mark of leadership...we see that everyone of us is a leader somewhere. We have a responsibility to lead through our service where God has called us to lead.

For some of us that position is more visible and outfront...for others more behind the scenes. Some of us will lead as pastors and teachers and elders in the church. Others will lead as ministry directors and others as people who set up the chairs and equipment. Others of us will lead as Business owners and teachers in our communities. We will lead as husbands and fathers and wives and mothers. We will lead as employees. But everyone of us will lead somewhere.

And, as disciples, we are given the responsibility of leading those around us closer to the Kingdom of God.

It is tempting to think that a leader who serves is a weak leader or a pushover. Servants are seen as being at the whim of those they serve. But I would argue that being a Servant Leader requires strong leadership because while we serve others...ultimately we serve God first. Jesus was not a weak leader. He was able to serve and hold people to account.

Leadership at any place on the spectrum requires courage. It takes courage to see a vision and do what needs done in the face of hardship and resistance. People will resist and fight against you. They will support your leadership and then disappoint and betray. But that is why leadership is about pursuit of a vision and not the consensus of the people.

Jesus calls us to serve and love and forgive...and to extend those even to our enemies. I don’t know if you have heard how others think we should treat our enemies, political opponents, and people who have hurt us...but they don’t reflect the vision that Jesus has laid out for us. A vision of love and forgiveness extended even to those who have hurt us and disagree with us.

So it takes courage, in the face of opposition, to extend the Kingdom of God.

People have been fired from their jobs, imprisioned, called names, lost their standing in the community, rejected, and even killed...all because they believed the vision laid out by Jesus was worth pursuing...and that takes courage.

For us as a church, I see some great things ahead as we pursue the Kingdom of God here in Huber Heights. I see thousands of people being saved and becoming part of our church, marriages healed, forgiveness and reconciliation taking place...but I also see resistance and push back from people inside the church who want church as normal and don’t want to change and push back from people outside the church who think that a church should stay in its place and pushback from people in other churches who think we don’t preach the Gospel because we believe in the radical ideas of grace and forgiveness and acceptance.

But just as you and I need courage to lead in our everyday lives...we, as a church, will face these challenges with courage...believing that what God thinks of us is more important than what anyone else thinks of us.