“Becoming Great”

Mark 10:41-43  Now when the other ten disciples heard about this, they became angry with James and John. Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the ones who are considered the rulers by the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant.

There have been may times that something I have said has made another person, or even a group of people, angry or upset. I have gotten upset over words from another person (hearing a voice or via written message). We can easily allow what people say to upset us and let our emotions determine how we act.

This is how I imagine the disciples mindset at this point in time. I cannot blame them for feeling the way do at this point. It is easy to understand what might be going through their minds at this point. If they would have taken time to talk with James and John, would they have gotten angry? Would they be able to understand the brothers’ background and meet them where they were? Did the other ten disciples want to have the same position of greatness and were angry because they did not ask first?

I wonder if James and John understood why the other disciples were angry.

Jesus teaches his disciples about true greatness. He tells them that earthly position and authority are fragile. We should not strive to gain earthly recognition, but to strive for the glory of God.

To live for the glory of God means we live our life for something bigger than we are. When we do this, we become more humble. Becoming more humble means we begin to be a servant rather than a master. It seems backwards. Becoming a servant to become great. I think this makes good sense when we think about it. We cannot just jump to becoming an owner, we have to work for it. We have to be able to do the lowliest tasks in order to become ready for the bigger tasks.

“Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant.”

Unjoining Union

Mark 10:2-8 “Some Pharisees came and, trying to test him, they asked, “Does the Law allow a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus answered, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a divorce certificate and to divorce his wife.” Jesus said to them, “He wrote this commandment for you because of your unyielding hearts. At the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. Because of this, a man should leave his father and mother and be joined together with his wife, and the two will be one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh.”

Today, we look at a passage that can be a place of argument and division among people. There may be things I say people may not agree with, and that’s okay.

What is happening in this passage? The Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus by getting him to say anything contrary to the Law that was passed down by Moses. In one way, I think, they were trying to show their own superiority based upon their knowledge and were trying to show how “ignorant” or “uninformed” Jesus was. As we already know, Jesus proves the contrary.

The Pharisees were asking about a Law that was given by Moses. Right away, we can see they were elevating Moses to the position of God by saying his law had more authority. Jesus listened to their question, and answered their question directly. Not really going into further details or explanation except what had been written down in the Scriptures. The Pharisees were looking at this life from the point of view of man. Jesus was looking at life from the point of view of God the Father.

So, where does this leave us? I believe there is something in Jesus’ words that we can take out and help guide us today. What was He talking about? Division. Separation. Consequences of doing our own things.

The line that strikes me more than any of the others is “Because of your hardness of hearts…” The people were given what they wanted, a chance to break union “because of their hard hearts;” because of the human rebellious spirit. Now, to be clear on something, I don’t see Jesus here saying that every divorce is because of a person’s rebellious spirit, just wanting to get what ever they want. Commentators point out that Jesus was simply answering the question of the Pharisees. He wasn’t, here, giving regulations or stipulations that are acceptable for divorce.

I do think that Jesus is bringing the human condition to light. We simply want things our way, and will try in whatever manner to get it. Instead of leaving this statement alone and walking away, Jesus points all the way back to the beginning…God. He stressed the basis and purpose of God’s creation of humans, to be in relationship with one another. Then He talks about the two becoming one.

Glue is fun to use. I like to glue objects together to try and fix the brokenness. What happens when I try to take apart something that has been joined together by glue? A mess, the two piece are never the same. There has been an unjoining of the union. The two are no longer part of the one, they are separated. If this were done on people, we would feel a lot of pain.

I believe one of our purposes is to be in relationship with other people. Our relationship with people should be based upon our relationship with God. But our hard, rebellious hearts cause us to not look to God. But, we can go back and see God’s original purpose. At points like this, we can see grace because God has not left us.

God is Near

James 4:7-10 “Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. Cry out in sorrow, mourn, and weep! Let your laughter become mourning and your joy become sadness. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Do you ever have those days where the scripture seems to beat you down? We can personalize scripture and, if we’re not careful, we’ll make it all about us and feel like it’s telling us what a bad person we are. Even throughout the Old Testament, I read grace. Specifically grace from God.

There is always hope. God has not abandoned. Jesus will not forsake. The Holy Spirit is with us and guiding us. This is where we are today with the passage. All week long, there have been times in the scripture (James 3:13-4:6) where it can seem like we have to have our lives perfect. Arrogance, pride, jealousy, selfish ambition, etc have all been talked about and discussed. I pray this is not where you are left, dwelling on any negative aspect you may view about yourself.

Today, we see something amazing. God is saying, “come near.” This doesn’t mean that God is far off and He is wanting us to go up to Him to be in His presence. God is already near to us. There are times when we feel like we are distant from God or that God is distant from us. God’s proximity to us is always the same. Our proximity to God is always the same. We will still feel distant because of a number of reasons: we know we sinned, how much sleep we got, how hungry we are, having a rough day or a rough week.

These are all reasons we feel distant from God, and I’m sure there are more. God says “come near.” When we realize He is already present among us, all we have to do is acknowledge His presence.

I invite you right now to pause, close your eyes, and thank God for His presence with you at this moment.

It is through these times when we realize we can still come close to God, even though we messed up, even though we feel low, that we can experience and live into the grace He gives. We have this opportunity to confess, repent, and allow God to purify us.

God will “lift you up.” I don’t take this to mean that He will automatically make everything better, or that He will wipe away consequences from our actions. He does make His presence known, and somehow gives us the strength and the power to endure the situation and allow Him to shine through us.

Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” What an incredible verse in scripture! The Apostle Paul is showing that he can handle and still live joyfully in every situation. He wasn’t saying that he can do anything he wants because Jesus said he could. Paul is saying that because of the power of Jesus Christ working through him, he is able to handle what comes his way.

I believe God does the same for you and for me. So, draw near to God, confess, repent, purify, humble yourself and see how God is working in you and through you.

We all need the power of Jesus Christ in our lives. It is through grace that we are able to be lifted up and brought to a place of knowing who and whose we are.

Lord God, you are close to us. Help us see you and experience your presence. We confess the ways We have gone against you….We pray for the strength to handle the situations in life and for your power and grace to shine through us. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

Recognizing Christ

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John 6:1-15 After this Jesus went across the Galilee Sea (that is, the Tiberias Sea). A large crowd followed him, because they had seen the miraculous signs he had done among the sick. Jesus went up a mountain and sat there with his disciples. It was nearly time for Passover, the Jewish festival. Jesus looked up and saw the large crowd coming toward him. He asked Philip,“Where will we buy food to feed these people?” Jesus said this to test him, for he already knew what he was going to do. Philip replied, “More than a half year’s salary worth of food wouldn’t be enough for each person to have even a little bit.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, “A youth here has five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that for a crowd like this?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass there. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread. When he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, each getting as much as they wanted. When they had plenty to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather up the leftover pieces, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves that had been left over by those who had eaten. When the people saw that he had done a miraculous sign, they said, “This is truly the prophet who is coming into the world.” Jesus understood that they were about to come and force him to be their king, so he took refuge again, alone on a mountain. 

This is a passage we read a lot and think we hear the same message each time. Today, I invite us to look at this passage in a different light.

(These notes were presented in a sermon on Sunday, July 26, 2015)

Where do you see God in your life? What motivates us to see God in our everyday lives? Do we simply go when we’re hungry or need something? Do we only praise God when things are going right and forget about him when things go “wrong”? Or do we see and praise God in all aspects of our lives, recognizing he is part of every part, including the seemingly ordinary parts?

There are people sitting down, reading this, and need to be reminded that Jesus is with you. He is not turning you away. We can go to be with Jesus any time, and he will care for us. Jesus is with you and cares for you, even in the ordinary parts of the day, like meal times. All it takes is for us to see and notice his presence.

So, as we look at this passage, I invite you to consider the question, “What motivates you to go to be with Jesus?” We all have our reasons. Some person reading this may need to feel justified. Another valued. Another loved. Another seeking a friend. Someone may have hit rock bottom and are searching for a reason to continue living. Whatever our motive, we are still moving toward the presence of Christ.

The people followed Jesus up the mountain because they had seen him do miraculous signs of healing and they wanted to see more. The people seemed to be following Jesus as an entertainment venue. We can see throughout scripture how the people “missed it” and did not see what was really going on. It is easy to look back at events and see what happened, after all hindsight is 20×20! But if we think about it, we do the same thing today. We go to God and ask, plead for miracles. Do we stay and still praise him even when what we want doesn’t happen? It is challenging to want to be in the presence of Christ and not expect to be entertained or expect him to do something for us.

A point that we should not miss is that it doesn’t matter why the people were following Jesus up the mountain. Verse 5 says, “Jesus looked up and saw.” That is great news for us! Jesus took the time to, not only look at the people and notice they were there, he took the time to assess the situation and “see” what the people needed. The people wanted to see signs of a great prophet or magician, and Jesus knew they needed nourishment. He saw this need in all of the people present.

He saw the hurting. He saw the hungry. He saw the “religious.” He saw the hypocrites. He saw those hungry for God. He saw those hurting and seeking God. He saw the religious studying God. He saw people wanting to leave their hypocritical lives behind. He saw everyone! He sees you too.

So, Jesus asks a question. He asks Philip where they could get food to feed the people. Philip answered by saying there is not enough money. Jesus was asking WHERE (meaning we are going to feed these people) and Philip answered with a HOW (meaning I don’t see how we can do this task). Isn’t it amazing that the ones who were with Jesus daily and saw all the things he could do, still didn’t understand the power of God through Jesus? We all miss seeing and recognizing what Jesus can do in our lives and the world.

How is our response when we feel a nudging from the Holy Spirit to do some task? How do we respond when we sense a nudging to help someone? If we’re honest, we respond like I do a lot of the time. We’ll look at our limited resources and forget to keep the possibilities in mind. We can ask ourselves this to help keep things in perspective, “If we allowed God in the situation, how would it be different?” We could be so focused on the issue or problem at hand that we have tunnel vision and do not pay attention to the little opportunity right in front of us that could be a solution that God wants us to use.

It is in times like this we should recognize God and see he is still there and still working to take care of the needs of the people. When we allow God to come into the situation, we can see that we actually do have enough (and sometimes God somehow multiplies resources) to take care of the needs and situation. The amazing thing is that everyone is taking care of! He even provides for his people.

God is in all aspects of our lives, and his presence never changes. He is the same God from the beginning of time until the present day. He is the same when life is easy and when it is challenging and difficult (almost impossible). How do we know this? Jesus.

I love the book of John because there is always an underlying message in the book. Jesus is showing he can take care of the physical needs of the people; but he is really showing that he takes care of the spiritual needs (spiritual nourishing). Jesus is the Word made flesh. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1-2) Jesus was right there in the beginning. God has been the same. We can see this by what Jesus has the disciples do. He asks them to collect the left over bread and fish in baskets and there was enough to fill 12 baskets. The bread (12 loaves for each tribe of Israel) within the Holy of Holies, in the Temple, was taken by baskets. Jesus was showing the God of the Old Testament is still the same today.

This is one of those miracles that can leave us with many questions. How did he actually multiply the bread and fish? Was it in a cave hidden already? Did people just share the food they brought? I’m not sure how it happened. I do believe Christ has the power to multiply food. His purpose was not to just feed the people some bread and fish. His purpose was to show the people he will feed with food that matters and will not leave us or go bad.

We can recognize that Jesus is more than we realize at times. How do you want Jesus in your life? As a “magic man”? Or as the Source of your life who can sustain you and provide you with everything you need?

The challenge for us is to recognize who Jesus is and see him as he really is.

Cookie Cutters?

Romans 12:4 “We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if all of us had the same function, same mindset, same gifts and talents as each other? Wouldn’t that make life easier? I know we say (and hopefully tease), “If only [insert name or group] would think (or act) just like me, then everything would be right.” After all, I am the one that is always right, correct?

Sometimes I believe we slip into the mindset and attitudes that it would be so much better if everyone else acted and thought just like we do. One of the beauties of the creativeness of God is how much diversity is out there for us to enjoy. Let’s be honest, we like diversity and can get a little bored of the same thing over and over. We like to make choices.

We are not all “cut out of the same mold.” We are all created individually with specific gifts, talents, interests, preferences, etc. This is one of the beautiful parts of our world – how much diversity there is. Yes, we all have differing gifts and talents. Yes, we live in different communities and countries. But I believe this shows the creativity of God.

What this tells me is that we are all part of the same “body.” I also think of this as community of faith or universal church. The body of Christ is the church here on earth. Each part of the body has different functions, and this is what makes the body work.

The challenge I think we have today is to think about the diversity there is around us and how we are really all (hopefully) working toward the same goal. There are people we do not agree with; but this is an opportunity to be thankful and praise God for their gifts and talents being used to build the Kingdom of God here on earth. You and I have a great part to play, even though we may have different functions.

God should be praised daily for the diversity.

New Attitude and Thinking

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Colossians 3:5-11 So put to death the parts of your life that belong to the earth, such as sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). The wrath of God is coming upon disobedient people because of these things. You used to live this way, when you were alive to these things. But now set aside these things, such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language. Don’t lie to each other. Take off the old human nature with its practices and put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it. In this image there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all things and in all people. 

Click here for Colossians 3 in context

This is a point that Paul is trying to make in all of his letters to the different churches. I find it interesting that he has to remind the people over and over again to put aside things of the world and live the life of Jesus Christ. It almost seems as though the people would remember they are new creations because of Christ. It seems like we should remember this as well.

How easy it is to fall back into the old temptations and old ways of living. The pull of physical satisfaction is great and we can forget that we are new creations, that we have a new mind because we have died with Christ. The actions and attitudes that Paul describes “sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)…anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language” are things that we should not allow to control us or define our lives.

The world around us says differently though. The world around us says it is the most important thing in life to make sure the physical desires and wants are satisfied and taken care of. But, if we have died with Christ, these actions and attitudes should not be part of our lives. The reason? Sin does not do really anything except tear down. We are called to build people up and help them live as Christ is desiring them (and us) to live. The other reason I can see is that these actions and attitudes listed really come from selfishness. We are called to the body of Christ which means that we all have a part to play and each person is important. We look for ways to love people, even when it hurts or is difficult.

Paul reminds the readers, and us, that in Christ we are all one. There is no distinction between groups. Christ is in all things and situations. Christ is in all people. He gets the glory and we can praise Him even when people do not do what we ant them do to. We can love those who do not act lovable. We can do all of this because Christ brings us together. Many parts, one body.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist

Higher Thinking

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Colossians 3:1-4 Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right side. Think about the things above and not things on earth. You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

When I read this passage that Paul wrote to the people of Colossae, I think about this quote from C.S. Lewis, “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither.” It is a good reminder to know where we should keep our perspective.

We can easily look at the situations and events that are happening here on earth. If we have “died with Christ,” then we have a higher purpose for doing work in the world. It is so easy to try and fix the situation by forcing people to act a certain way, or even to try and degrade people for not doing what should be done and treating people the way they deserve to be treated. I do not believe anyone deserves to be treated unfairly. I do believe we should always look to the heart of the matter whenever we step in to try and help.

In 1 Samuel 16:7b says, “God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.” We often only try to fix what we can “see.” What we can’t see are the motivating factors behind the actions of people. This is where we should begin. To “think about things above and not things on earth,” to me, means that we should look at the world through the eyes of Christ. We look to see how we can lead people to faith in Christ. Then we continue to walk alongside them as they are being transformed into the new creations. Then, because of their faith in Christ, and walking with Christ, the love of Christ can be poured out through them.

“Thinking about things above” gives us a greater appreciation and respect for how God views the world. We then will be able to get to the heart of the matter (the human heart) and work with God on the heart, then the human condition can be improved. If we just try to fix the actions without looking at the motives, we could miss the point.

Go to the heart of the matter and see how Christ works in and through you. Give Christ the glory today for how He is changing you and I to be instruments of change in this world.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist