I Want to Know Christ (Resurrection Sunday message, April 1, 2018)

I Want to Know Christ

Today, I want to ask you a question:

“Do we know Jesus?”

Before the service officially opened today, we showed a video that asked the question,“Do you know Him?”

I ask us, today:

 “Do we know Him? 

Is He REALLY knowable?

Because of His Death on the Cross, He is worth knowing, and because of his RESURRECTION from the dead,

Jesus IS knowable!.

We may have walked with Him for days or decades,

but do we know Him?

Or do we just know about Jesus?

…merely acquainted?

If just acquainted, then this can be tragic.

Do we know the change that comes from knowing Jesus?

Knowing Jesus means we can know peace.

It means we can know a different lifestyle than the world offers us.

Knowing Jesus makes us different, and if we are not different, then we may need to repent.

In the early days of the Church, believers were attacked and blocked because we were new and foreign.

In the movie currently in theaters, “Paul, the Apostle,” early church persecution under Nero is vividly displayed, just as Pastor Ernie described a few weeks ago in his message.

Today, missionaries are often rejected because we are new, foreign or different.

Yesterday, two brothers helped me to do some good in Lakeside.

We gave out packages of Peeps with a card on it that red “Jesus is for all peeps.”

I don’t know if we were ever flat out rejected because we are believers.

But if we had tried to engage people in the discussion of Christ, then we would have had objection.

This is because from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry through the present time, the message of Jesus is about change…restoration…healing…

From sinfulness to righteousness

From sickness to healthiness

From death to resurrection.

In 2011, we established a church in Istanbul, Turkey.

Jesus’ led us to do this just four years after two Turkish pastors and a German missionary had been savagely killed by some young men who said that they were interested in knowing Jesus.

“We want to know Jesus,” they claimed.

Five young men who didn’t know Christ, murdered three who did.

They had been directed to kill by a particular political group in Turkey, that doesn’t want churches there.

So, we had to really know Christin order to know if He were truly calling  us to step into such a potentially dangerous place.

We had to count the cost of this calling.

While we served in Turkey, two other pastors were almost assassinated by groups like this, but the government learned about the plans and arrested the conspirators.

They didn’t want more bad press.

Knowing that pastors were targets for assassination didn’t sit well with me.

But, we knew that God called us there, and we needed to trust God with our future.

Honestly, I feel safer as long as I know where God wants me to be.

The safest place on earth is in the center of His plan, in the safety and sufficiency of his perfect will.

How do we know God’s will?

We have to get to know, Jesus.

I want to know Christ.

Jesus said that if we know Him we will know God the Father, too.

As we know Jesus, we’re able to stand firmly wherever we are.

And sometimes it’s harder to stand firmly in the Land of Opportunity, than in the land of insecurity and danger.

What helps us is KNOWING CHRIST.

Today, is Resurrection Sunday, and  I want us to look at a statement made by the Apostle Paul about the resurrection and about knowing Christ.

Paul wrote to the Philippians about the importance of believing in and following Christ.

He reiterated that he was not saved

  • by his works
  • or his education,

but by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

Let’s look at Philippians 3:7-11:

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:7-11

The title of my message today is

I Want to Know Christ

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your message to us through the Apostle Paul’s letter. Help us, too, to better  know Your Son, Jesus Christ! 

  1. All Is Lost

Now, I’m usually very upbeat and positive, but as I look at these words today, I am reminded that all is lost.

All are lost.

Many of us know John 3:16, but we must not forget what the next two verses state:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

John 3:16-17

Those who believe in Jesus have a hopeful future, and those who don’t are condemned, in fact we are all condemned if we don’t know Jesus.

These are Jesus’ own words.

He was NOT politically correct.

The Bible has rarely been politically correct.

While some people like to blame the Bible for Slavery,

those who actually read the Bible

see that Slaves are FREED and elevated above their bondage.

People have used the Bible to oppress the position of wives and women through the ages, and yet,

the Bible ACTUALLY elevates women, because the Bible teaches that God blessed both male and female.

God loves husbands and wives, equally, and while God’s Word to wives may seem hard

(that they must submit to their husbands),

this Word protects women from other men…and is easier than the Word God gave to husbands

which is to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself…

How?

Christ was

  • betrayed,
  • beaten,
  • mocked,
  • tortured,
  • humiliated,
  • crucified
  • pierced
  • and buried for the church.

So, women, the Bible is ON YOUR SIDE,

and if you want your husbands to love you and be the best that they can be,

THEY NEED TO KNOW CHRIST!

We ALL need to know Christ, because without Him, we are lost.

Nothing we do can save us.

The Scriptures teach that

…all have sinned and [all] have fallen short of the glory of God.

Romans 3:23

All are lost without Christ.

And while those who know Christ are still imperfect,

 we now know the One who IS perfect…Jesus.

Jesus calls us to let go of everything that blocks us from walking with Him.

  • Pride & Accomplishment
  • Insecurity & fear
  • Wastefulness & abuse
  • Lust & Greed
  • Self-centeredness & theft
  • Gossip & Immorality
  • Hetero-sexual sin and
  • Homo-sexual sin.
  • Witchcraft
  • Drunkenness

All these will cause us to lose our way,

but if we follow Jesus and know Him,

we will find ourselves in HIM.

Paul calls his accomplishments Rubbish, garbage.

Since I want to Know Christ, I must therefore, let go of all competitors to knowing Christ.

Knowing Jesus, is the greatest of treasure.

  1. Life Is Found in Christ

I’ve been a believer and follower of Jesus for 44 years, and I will not tell you that it is easy.

I will nottell you that I’ve had an easy life.

I will not tell you that I’ve had no problems.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have had my fair share of problems.

And my heart goes out to people when they are suffering.

So, if my life on earth is not absolutely perfect as a Christian, then why do I continue to follow Christ?

Why do I continue to get to know Jesus?

Why not just take care of myself, ALONE and forget everything else?

Is it because I want to have a great afterlife?

Some people treat the grace of God like an insurance policy.

They accept it, and forget about it except when they come close to death, and then they try to make certain that their premiums are paid in full.

But, following Christ is to know Him

  • in my struggles,
  • in my pain,
  • in my uncertainty,
  • in my weakness,
  • in my loss,

as well as knowing Him

  • in my success,
  • my times of physical blessings,
  • my times of plenty,
  • and my times of comfort.

Life is found in Christ, so to know Christ is to know life.

35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for [Jesus] and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?                 Mark 8:35-37

I want to know Christ.

  • He is the giver of life.
  • the Way, and the Truth and the Life.
  • the Resurrection and the Life.
  • the Creator
  • the Redeemer.
  • The Sustainer

He looks at each one of us and says, come to me, and I will give you life.

Jesus gives me the ability to understand life, better.

He helps me to live according to His rhythms and tempo, so that I am able to truly be at peace.

And as a church, I encourage us at to draw closer to Christ, and let us get to know Him, better, together.

In my stresses, I find restoration to be ONLY in Christ.

I want to know Christ…how about you?

  1. Power in His Presence

But what good is it to Know Christ?

How will this help me pay my bills?

How will this restore my marriage?

The answer is that to know Christ is to know the powerful presence of the RESURRECTED CHRIST with us.

Jesus is also known as Immanuel, which means “God with us.”

You remember what I said earlier about living in Turkey, and counting the cost of serving Jesus where I was potentially a target for assassination or terrorism?

How could Clover and I serve there and live there in such a potentially stressful place?

It was because we knew the power of Christ’s presence.

When Christ walked the earth, He limited Himself to wherever His body could be,

but after He died and then was RESURRECTED, Jesus’ Spirit, surrounds those who follow Him.

And the Holy Spirit of Jesus enables us to live and succeed.

In fact, Jesus promises to be with us whereever we go.

He is standing with me right now, and His Spirit strengthens my spirit and body.

There is power in his presence.

[God] gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

Isaiah 40:29

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
    my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
    and with my song I praise him.

The Lord is the strength of his people,
    a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.

Psalm 28:7, 8

The Lord is my strength.

He is all I need,

and He sustains,

empowers

and enables me to stand in the most difficult of places because in His presence I find His power.

Back in Turkey, there were a few times when I was worried.

Once, after a worship service in our church, we looked out our 5thfloor window, and there was a demonstration on the streetsoutside our church from the same political groupthat was behind the murders of the two Turkish pastors and the German missionary.

In front of our door was a group of young men standing together.

We were not sure what they were doing.

I’m so glad that I want to know Christ, and that I am getting to know Him.

Because, His presence sustained me.

And, yes, because I know Christ I was in danger, but the truth is, all of mankind is in danger from each other, from the world and from the devil, himself.

So, if by walking with Jesus, I find myself in danger, then that danger is worth it.

The Apostle Paul, also, had been part of a political and religious group that killed Christians. And God changed Him.

When I saw that group of young men in front of our doors, and the crowds on the street just 30 yards from us, I was concerned for my congregation.

We numbered about 100, ranging in ages from 0-60, and about 12 different ethnic groups.

I decided we needed to all leave at the same time,

and leave as a group.

So I gathered everyone together and explained what I could see outside our window.

Then instructed that we needed to all leave as one group and instead of walking to the left, toward the demonstrators, we needed to walk to the right, away from the crowd.

We prayed, and then most walked as a group down the stairs, while groups of 5-6 took turns with the elevator.

Everyone was safe, and the young men did not accost us, but they were somewhat intimidating…

AND they filmed us coming out of the church.

Sending the church down the stairs was stressful for me, but I committed them to Jesus and the power of His presence.

Walking past young men of the same age and from the same group that had savagely killed my fellow ministers a few years before,

I asked Jesus to bless them, and protect our people, and He did.

You see, I wasn’t afraid to die, but as life goes on, I see people losing hope.

Do you know why April 1 is called April Fool’s Day?

Because at one time in the Western world, April 1 was New Year’s day.

When the calendar was changed, and January became the first day of the New Year, not everyone heard about the change.

Those who continued to celebrate the New Year on April 1 were considered to be “fools.”

They were misinformed.

When Jesus went to the cross, Satan thought he had won an epic war.

But three days later, Jesus rose from the tomb.

APRIL FOOLS, SATAN!

The body that had been killed on a cross was now alive and bore the scars of crucifixion.

Jesus died, but when He was resurrected, He cannot die again.

He is the first of those who will be resurrected.

Some will be resurrected to eternal life with Jesus in the kingdom of God, while others will be resurrected to the judgment of hell.

The difference is knowing Christ.

That is why we lived and served in Kazakhstan and Turkey, because we believe that people need Christ. Those countries contain millions who have been blocked from hearing the gospel, and blocked from knowing Jesus.

And sadly, there are those in this country who have decided that knowing Christ is not as important as knowing comfort, or gaining possessions.

They even claim that their riches are signs of God’s blessing.

The truth is, we live in a region that has freedom to follow Christ,

  • but have put idols of politics,
  • idols of stuff,
  • idols of opinion above the place of God.

People give up and stop wanting to know Christ.

I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering.

My destination is the kingdom of heaven because of the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus,

but my present state is ALSOthe kingdom of heaven,

because He, my King, Jesus, surrounds me with the power of His resurrection and His presence.

Oh, I want to Know Christ, today. I want to continue to know Him, tomorrow.

And I want all of us to know Him and all of us to live according to that relationship that we can have with Christ.

So that we can be stand with each other against the pain that life throws at us.

Here at the River, we are dedicated to serving our community, and we do this because Jesus is our example.

He served man, so we will too.

I want to ask you to stand and I want to give you an opportunity to respond to the message today.

We need to draw closer to Jesus trust Him even more.

The older we get, life becomes harder, and we need to get to Know Jesus, even better.

 

 

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Walking in the Kingdom

Today is Palm Sunday!

It was the day when Jesus came to Jerusalem, just prior to his crucifixion and resurrection.

He arrived, and people shouted praises to God and words that honored Jesus.

We don’t have palm branches here, today, but we do have coats.

People took their coats off and laid them on the road for Jesus to ride a donkey over.

That was a huge sign of respect.

The road was dirty, and the donkey would be dirty, if you know what I mean.

I have a Palm story to share.

In our house, currently three small house plants. One was given to us about a year ago.

Strangely, it IS still alive J

We used to have green plants in our home a lot. Often they would become brown, but they’re still, considered house plants.  J

We used to have a small palm in a large pot. It was nice, and made us feel good back when we lived in Kazakhstan and had winters that lasted for 5-7 months (actually, we seem to be having longer than usual Winters here, now).

Once we looked in the pot with the palm tree and found a new plant that had grown up with it.

This provoked several questions:

  • What happened?
  • What was it?
  • How did it get there?

Plants come from seeds or from the roots of other plants.

A few weeks ago we looked at the parable of the sower.

Today, we have three more parables to consider.

Let’s look at Mark 4:21-34.

21 [Jesus] said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? 22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”

24 “Consider carefully what you hear,” [Jesus]  continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 25 Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

26 [Jesus]  also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

30 Again [Jesus]  said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.         Mark 4:21-34

PRAY

We thank You for Your Word, O Lord, and we ask You to speak it to us, today, in Jesus’ Name, amen.

  1. The Kingdom Revealed

There may have people in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday who didn’t know about Jesus.

People who would have wondered,

“Where did this guy come from?”

And yet, suddenly, it was as though the Kingdom of God had arrived.

It was so exciting, with people taking off their coats and waving palm branches, shouting “hosanna!” which means “The Lord Saves!”

But, as exciting as that day was it was nothing like what the actual Kingdom of God truly is.

Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is

  • like a sower sowing seed.
  • It is like a lamp that is lit and must be put in an unobstructed location in order to be seen, properly.
  • It is like a seed that grows under the ground.
  • And, it is like a mustard seed: small, yet compact, powerful and full of potential that is hidden from view.

Where did Jesus come from?

He came from the beginning, in fact He existed from before the beginning.

And He came to earth in order to help us to understand the Kingdom from which He came.

The Kingdom that he represented on that first Palm Sunday,

and the Kingdom that He described through parables.

What are the principles that we see in today’s parables:

  • A lamp is not meant to be lit and then hidden.
  • It is meant to be lit for the purpose of giving light.
  • It is meant to be revealed.

Matthew records this parable, also, and gives an additional teaching by Jesus:

let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven 

    Matthew 5:16

I envision River of Life being a congregation that is

  • full of people
  • who like lamps
  • illuminate this community and beyond.

ILLUSTRATION

In 2008 we began to help at a Special Needs Orphanage in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

It was our son who, first, encouraged us to serve there.

He was, also, recruiting kids from the school to join him.

Suddenly, there were a dozen high school kids from around the world going to this orphanage to make friends.

I became a de facto leader, cause I drove the kids,

And, as such, I began to meet with the orphanage director, the head nurse and others.

At first we were only playing with the children on the playground, and it was fun.

But then the Muslim month of fasting, called Ramadan, started that year, something changed.

When multinational group of teens arrived, we saw no kids on the playground.

I enquired and learned that an Imam (a Muslim pastor) had come to the orphanage, and all of the able-bodied children were taken to the auditorium to pray with him.

I asked the director,

“How often will he do this?”

“Every day,” was the response.

“But you can visit with the children who are bed-bound.”

Now. Not everyone can reach out to special needs children in an orphanage, but meeting them on the playground was the easiest way.

I remember how the kids would hug with a full body hug, and they would grab us by the hands and take us around.

We were welcomed like Jesus.  It was like Palm Sunday.

But now, we were not allowed to be with those kids, but told to go and be with the kids who could not move.

Honestly, they were so pitiful, and not all of our teens could do this.

You know, when we first heard about Kazakhstan, it was called the forgotten mission field.

Now we found ourselves among the forgotten children of the forgotten field.

Though we had not asked God to send us to these kids, we recognized that He had sent us.

We sat with children. Some of whom would die within a few months due to the severity of their needs.

But 3-4 days a week we went to see these kids.

Each time the able-bodied ones were in the auditorium with the Imam, while we went to the bedridden children.

The smells were awful.

I hurt for these children, and knew that all I was able to do was sit with them.

After about a month I called to a meeting with the director and her assistant.

They began to ask why we were coming, and what did we hope to accomplish.

In my typical way, I shared about how much we loved Jesus and that we were there because we know He loves those children.

“Are you trying to save yourself by helping the kids?” They asked.

“No,” I responded, “but because of Jesus, I am saved, therefore I want to help these kids.”

Before I knew it, the time had gotten away from us. It was time to go home. I said my “good-byes” and then stepped into the hallway.

There was the Imam. He was a man in his 60’s and a very happy man.

He was a jolly as Santa Claus and a nice fellow, really.

He saw me and did something that I did not expect. He said to all of the staff,

“Look, this is Our American Kazakh, who loves our children. May Allah be praised!”

“Praise God!” many of the staff said in response.

I had no idea that I would get an endorsement from an Imam.

But the first thought to come to mind was what Jesus said about shining our lights so that men would praise God.

And from that point on, we had an open invitation to work in that orphanage.

Jesus said that the Kingdom of God would be revealed.

As well, He said it would expand.

  1. The Kingdom, Expanded

By expand, I refer to the parable of the mustard seed and the growing seed.

What starts as a seed, becomes something more. So much more.

A mustard seed is a small seed, yet it can become a huge plant like a tree.

Jesus said to pray, “Your Kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

And I could see that Jesus’ kingdom had come to that orphanage in a special way.

I had known about the orphanage for about 12 years before serving there.

The power of God’s kingdom was wrapped up inside of us ready to come forth.

For the next few years we brought in hundreds of volunteers to serve those kids and the workers, too. We were given many opportunities to share the Word of God with them, too.

Our church grew when we began to minister at the orphanage.

None of the orphanage workers or the kids even came to our church, but the community began to see how we were working together to bless these kids, and our church grew.

Other churches became involved as well, and in fact they still reach out to the orphanage.

You remember that palm tree in our home? I mentioned that there was a second plant that looked different than the palm and I wondered where it had come from?

While we were talking about it, our son began to laugh and then he said,

“I did it.”

“You did what?” we asked.

“I planted a bean to see if anything would happen and look, it grew.”

As hard as life is, Jesus wanted people to know that the Kingdom was coming and is already here.

In fact, no matter what difficulty we may face, God wants us to remember that His kingdom is here, all of the time.

It might be hidden, like inside a seed, but it will be revealed like a lamp, and it will expand like a seed and be fruitful, too.

  1. Eyes Open to the Kingdom

What is sad is that all around Jesus were those who also rejected his kingdom.

They rejected Him, too.

To some it was obvious that Jesus had come from God, and yet to even more, it seemed, there were those who rejected Him.

This rejection is found in the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim worlds as well as among atheists.

In the book of 2 Kings chapter 6, there is the story of Elisha and his servant. One day the Arameans had surrounded Elisha and his servant. The servant was afraid, but Elisha said this:

16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:16, 17

God’s kingdom is not visible to the naked eye, and we don’t need to see it in order to believe it.

I have a friend who works in the Muslim world.

He told a story, recently, and I want to share it briefly.

A Muslim background Christian traveled to another Muslim country for a Christian conference. After the conference, he hoped that God would send him somewhere in the city to reach out to somebody.

He walked and prayed, but didn’t find anyone. So he went into a mosque to pray (praying as a Christian), and after few minutes he wanted to leave. But as he tried to stand, some invisible force kept him down. So he sat and waited.

After several minutes a muslim man from this man’s home country tapped him on the shoulder, and asked him to meet with him and his wife. The force seemed gone, so he stood and walked over to meet the man’s wife.

Then the couple began to tell the Christian man that they had had fled as refugees with a strong dislike for Islam. Together, they had a vision in which they saw him (the Christian) in this particular mosque. In the vision, light came from the ceiling toward the man and then shone out his back.

So, every day, my wife comes to this mosque to look for you. And when she saw you, today, you were about to stand and leave, so she prayed, “God, keep him from leaving,” and then you stayed on the floor.

“Can you tell us what this means?” they asked the visitor

And from 6 pm that day to 6 am the next day, the Christian man told them all about Jesus and eternal life, beginning with the prophets and going through the beginning of the Church.

This is the Kingdom of Jesus in the Muslim world. Muslims have an incomplete understanding of Jesus, and they don’t believe that He is God’s Son, nor that he died on the cross, thus they don’t believe that He was resurrected.

Let us be people who set our eyes upon the Kingdom of God that will be revealed and is already expanding.

Let us set our eyes upon Jesus.

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

 Hebrews 12:1-3

Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom, and He invites us to be part of His Kingdom.

If you do not know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then today is the day to do it.

I want to ask you to bow your heads and close your eyes.

I want to ask if there is anyone who does not know Jesus as Your Lord and Savior, would you raise your hand. I want to pray with you.

Let’s stand, and continue to worship.

If you prayed with me, or if you have another need, I invite you to come to the front and we will pray with you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Walking (with Jesus) Among Three Enemies

When we read through the Gospel of Mark, we learn many details about Jesus’ ministry.

He doesn’t tell us everything at once, but we pick up details and apply them as we go.

For example, today we will learn that Jesus always taught in parables.

His Parables are well known and famous.

Today’s reading is often called the “Parable of the Sower,” though it is more about the “soils” than the “sower.”

This parable, and the ones that follow it, deal with the Kingdom of God, which is the theme of Jesus’ teaching and preaching.

So, let’s read, Mark 4:1-20

He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land.And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. 

Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”10 As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables.

11 And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, 12 so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.”13 And He *said to them, “Do you not understand this parable?

How will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. 16 In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places,

who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy;17 and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, 19 but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 20 And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”

Mark 4:1-20

The title of my message is

“Walking (with Jesus) Among Three Enemies.”

Let’s pray.

PRAY

Father, we thank you for your wonderful Word, and for Jesus!

We ask you to teach us to walk with Jesus among the three enemies in a successful manner that will bring honor and glory to You, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

In 1999, I was sowing seed.

I was sharing the Gospel in a Almaty, Kazakhstan, a city that was just learning about Jesus after 70 years of communism.

God gave us many opportunities to meet with artists.

Artists can sometimes be weird, but when they are used by God for His glory, they are wonderful instruments in His hand.

Several people came to the Lord, and so I had a discipleship class that met during the week in the office of an art promoter.

So often we were not able to continue the theme of our class, because the new believers kept inviting their friends to come. One day, there were four non-believers in the class, so I explained what the class was about, and two of them left.

One of them stayed and gave me the “stink eye” while I was speaking.

The other, however, kept interrupting me.

She wanted to know the gospel, and in a unique experience, she directed the conversation and pulled herself into the Kingdom of God.

Before I knew it, she was speaking words of repentance, crying and calling on Jesus for salvation.

Even as I typed up this story, I found myself in tears, remembering that moment.

Her name is Nelly, and she put her faith in Jesus.

Soon after this, I saw some of her paintings on display.

They were dark and sad.

A few months later, she invited us to an art exhibit of her new paintings, which were bright and cheery.

She truly had repented, in fact, on the day she repented, she went home and kicked out the man who had been living with her, saying, “I’m a follower of Jesus, now, and I cannot continue in this life of sin.”

About a year later, she painted 30 paintings that represented Jesus’ 40 parables. Here is her painting of the parable we read today.

Often when this passage is discussed, we consider the four types of soil, but today I feel led to look at the three enemies listed by Jesus.

Let’s now, consider these enemies as they enter the parable:

  1. The Devil

Let’s consider how the Devil has been shown so far in the Gospel of Mark:

  • He tempted Jesus
    • turn stones into bread,
    • jump from the temple and be caught by angels,
    • bow down and worship him as a “short cut” to fulfill His mission.
  • AS WELL, Jesus drove the Devil from those he was possessing.
  • Jesus’ enemies began to attribute Jesus’ power to that of the Devil.
  • And NOW, The devil steals the word that is sown, like a bird stealing seed from a pathway

ILLUSTRATION:

I have seen this happen on many occasions, and one of the earliest was when I was a corrections counselor for youth, and I was working in a half-way house just about 3 miles from here.

One of my students was raised by his elderly grandmother, and she asked if I were a follower of Jesus.  When I told her, “yes,”  she asked me to share Jesus with her grandson.

So I did, and he listened and seemed to really believe me.

Then I was interrupted, and had to go to another part of the building. I returned about 5 minutes later to find another student telling my student,

“Don’t listen to Mr. Harris.”

Satan not only wants to take our seed away from us, but he wants to harden our hearts so God’s Word won’t take root.

Before Mark was written, many New Testament letters had been written. Perhaps the first was the letter of James, the brother of Jesus.

During Jesus’ ministry, James did not believe in him, but later he did, and became the head of the Jerusalem church.

Regarding the devil, he wrote:

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 

James 4:7

Resisting the devil without first submitting to God is unproductive,

thus, Jesus even illustrated this by being baptized, and then fasting, at the end of which, he successfully resisted Satan.

The first enemy is Satan, and he works with…

  1. The Flesh

The rocky ground is like flesh, which may be ready to receive Jesus,

just as it is ready to try anything,

and yet, once it realizes the nature of HOLINESS, that Jesus does not invite us to sin, but to life,

then it has not developed a deep enough root system, and it gets scorched (BY outside influences) and withers (BECAUSE OF A lack of internal resources).

That rocky ground must be broken up, WHICH requires repentance,

and let’s be careful not to add rocky ground to our souls.

We EVEN need to uproot rocks within OUR  hearts so that God’s Word will take root and flourish.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus said,

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

Luke 9:23

Denying oneself is the beginning,

but we must continue to have HEARTS LIKE SOFT SOIL so that God’s Word will continually thrive THERE.

So, there’s Satan, and our flesh, and these work in concert with…

  1. The World

Jesus came to an obscure part of the world, politically.

This little group of people, the Jews, should have been destroyed over and over, and yet, they clung to this narrow strip of land connecting Africa from Asia.

The World had tried to destroy Israel.

It continues to try even now.

And the World challenges, us, too, the CHURCH, because it is against our walk with Jesus.

Have you noticed that Jesus is on the lips of many who don’t even believe in Him.

They curse with Jesus’ Name, not realizing that they are under a curse, themselves, until they repent and believe.

The world has its own set of plans, priorities and morals which they try to impose upon us.

The world is the thorns. They choke the Word out of us.

We must be careful not to be DEFILED, made  UNHOLY, by the world.

We must reject effect that worries and riches have on our souls.

Jesus said,

33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:33, 34

We may think we are seeking God’s kingdom, first, but we MUST STOP seeking the world.

John wrote in his first letter:

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

I John 2:15-17

CONCLUSION

The answer is to follow Jesus’ first words of ministry:

Repent and Believe

Repent means we must decisively take action against sin.

Just as soil cannot do this alone,  we need outside help:

Prayer

Scriptures

Church

These allow the Holy Spirit to break up the hardness and the rocks in our hearts so that God’s Word can take deep root.

These allow the Holy Spirit to overcome the thorns of the world that want to choke us.

Paul wrote, also, in Ephesians 2 how the world, the flesh and the devil come against us, but God

  • Makes us alive with Christ
  • and Saves Us by His grace.

Therefore, we become His masterpiece,

just like the field that produces 30, 60, 100 fold,

so, in Christ, we are

  • no longer a pathway,
  • rocky ground
  • or full of thorns,

but as we walk with Jesus, we produce for God’s sake:

 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Ephesians 2:4-10

As we walk with Jesus,

let us walk as people who recognize that even though we represent good soil, we are still in need of His Grace.

It is not that His Grace made us to be good soil in the first place, but that by His grace, we who were dead in our transgressions have become good soil.

Let’s pray.

Posted in Gospel of Mark: Walking With Jesus Series, Sermons | Leave a comment

Walking in God’s Will

Mark 3:20-35

“That son of yours is crazy. Even the Teachers of the Law think so.” James was calm as he spoke with his mother, Mary.

 Then Jude added,  “Jesus is beside himself!”

 “Now, boys,” Mary responded, “He’s not crazy, he’s working hard on his mission from God.”

 “Oh, mamma, don’t start with your virgin-birth story, again. Your son is out of control,” added Joseph, another brother.

Another brother, Simon, then said, “Mama, he’s so busy that he’s not even taking time to eat.”

 “My son must be ill, let’s go and take care of him,” Mary said.

This dialogue is my own conjecture from the story we are about to read, and my idea of how the story started.

Jesus’ mother, Mary, had other sons, too. In Mark 3, we see Jesus’ mother and his brothers have decided that Jesus is in need of some control and rest, so they decide to take control of Him.

Let’s look at the story from Mark 3:20-35

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

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”                Mark 3:20-35

The title of my message, today, is “Walking in God’s Will.” Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father,

We love You and praise Your Holy Name.

We thank You for Your Word. Jesus IS the Word of God and He lived among us to teach us and to save us.

He proclaimed your Kingdom Come and Your Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

He proclaimed this during times of intense opposition, even from his family.

We thank You that You are greater than all challenges we have in our lives, and we thank You for being with us in these challenges.

We pray this in Jesus’ Name,

Amen

REVIEW

Let’s review the Gospel of Mark, so far:

  • John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus
  • Jesus was baptized, God audibly declared He is God’s Son, and then Satan tempted Him
  • Jesus preached that people should repent and believe in the Kingdom of God
  • Jesus healed many, and crowds began to swarm around Him
  • Jesus offended the religious leaders because of his
    • popularity,
    • His declaration of the forgiveness of sin, and
    • His refusal to follow nit-picky laws of the Sabbath, etc.
  • The Pharisees joined ranks with the Herodians to plot to kill Jesus
  • As His ministry grew, He began to appoint apostles, who would support Him and carry on His ministry

Now, we come to this passage:

  • Jesus’ busyness worried his family
  • Jesus’ Critics increased their criticism (demonizing the one whom they are plotting to kill…to justify their actions)
  • Jesus’ logic-driven rebuke against the Critics
  • Instruction about the devil
  • God’s Will trumps Family’s will
  1. Walking in God’s Will

Walking in the Will of God is challenging because we are not always ready to do so.

When all is well, we can easily walk in His will, or at least, what we think to be God’s will, but when we are under great challenges, it is hard to do this.

Two weeks ago, we looked at Psalm 1, which speaks about the blessings that come with walking in God’s will.

Walk and Life are often synonymous in Scripture relating to how we walk, now, as his disciples.

John says it well in his first letter:

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.But if anyone obeys his word, love for God[a] is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live [walk] as Jesus did.

1 John 2:3-6

If we walk like Jesus, then we will walk in God’s will.

How do we know what is God’s Will?

How do we know how to walk like Jesus?

There are three gifts to help us in this:

  1. Prayer (connection with the Holy Spirit, individually)
  2. Scripture (connection with the Holy Spirit in writing)
  3. Church (connection with the Holy Spirit as He works through His people)

Mark has already shown us that Jesus liked to get away from the crowds to have time to pray, and that must not have been easy.

We have our crowded schedules and diversions, while and somehow cannot take enough time for prayer, but look at Jesus’ situation: He had people crowding around him, and yet he still took time to pray.

He taught his disciples to pray,

“Your kingdom come

Your will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.”

Matthew 6:10

And in the rest of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray to our Father for our

  • daily needs,
  • for forgiveness and
  • for help in temptation.

So, simply said, a life that surrounds itself with Jesus, His Word, His Spirit and His People will learn to walk with Jesus.

  1. Clarifying the Walk in God’s Will

But, how do we really know if we are walking with Jesus according to God’s will?

It takes some practice. Just as a child practices walking before they can actually walk on their own, so we must practice walking with Jesus, and learn to hear His voice.

Last Tuesday, my son and I took a dog sled ride.

The musher did not have to raise his voice, but could just say, “wo” or “stop” and the dogs’ ears were trained to hear his voice and they listened. And they were only 12-18 months old!

So how can we expect to hear God’s will when the teachers of the law in Jesus’ day missed it, and even his family missed it?

Yes, we, too, can miss the Will of God at key moments.

But even when we miss His will for a moment, He continues to wait for us to check in with Him.

One of the important aspects of the Written Word of God is that it freezes in time stories in which God’s Will was made clear.

But to the people who were living at that time, they didn’t always recognize immediately God’s Will.

I have on many occasions made a decision based upon how I felt and recognized a situation as it immediately unfolded before me, and then heard God’s gentle rebuke.

I recall once when I was meeting with an Associate pastor of mine in Kazakhstan, and we were discussing something. But, five minutes after the discussion, I was able to hear from the Lord that my decision was not the right decision, and so I went to my associate and said,

“My decision was incorrect, so I need to make a different decision.”

Sometimes God speaks in dreams, other times in thoughts, and other times, through other people…even through unbelievers.

I recall once when I was in seminary, we had work groups in our missions classes, and we were randomly placed into those groups. Part of our grade was to be able to get along with people random people, because that often happens to us on the mission field.

Every group I was in was a challenge, but we met those challenges most of the time, very well.

In one of these groups, I felt very insecure. We had an actual missionary in our group, and so I recognized that she knew more than all of us, and I was also one of the youngest in the group.

We had to write a policy document for how missions would be practiced in the local church. We used an actual church, called “Christian Chapel,” and it’s funny that the current pastor of this church is a coach for our church, now.

Christian Chapel was about the size of River of Life at that time, and we were supposed to write a complicated policy and plan. Each of us took different items, and wrote the policy for those items. Then we gathered and discussed what we had written. When we were finished, the missionary volunteered to type the paper, because she was the only person with a computer.

Before it was submitted to the professor, one of our team members gathered us together and said,

“I know we are all in agreement about how to write this paper, but, oddly, I had a dream last night, and it contradicted one part of our paper. I think we ought to write that part, differently.”

The team members had gotten to know each other, and so there was some trust. As well, there was something that seemed to fit better for us because of the dream. So, we agreed and it was put into the paper. We believed we had a good paper.

I tell this story because in Jesus’ day, the Teachers of the Law should have recognized that Jesus was from God.

Some did, Nicodemus had said to Jesus,

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”                       John 3:2

The signs Jesus performed convinced Nicodemus, and so he came to Jesus…incidentally, he came at night, which was not a typical time to meet with a stranger. Perhaps it was so no one would see him.

People should have recognized who Jesus was, but instead they focused on who he wasn’t…He wasn’t on board with their plans.

As followers of Jesus, are we following, or are we going our own way, and calling it Jesus’ way?

Do we do what we want and then ask God to fix it?

I remember a friend of mine said that when he was getting married he asked God,

“If this isn’t Your will, then mess it up.”

I don’t really think that was a mature way of determining God’s will, because how much had to be messed up in order for him to know it was “messed up.”

When we were raising our support to go on the mission field as a family in 1996, we received a very disturbing letter from a Christian. She accused Clover and me of being selfish, and said we were sacrificing our children by going on the field.

What made this harder for us was that this was a woman whom we had had a friendship for about 12 years. We loved this woman and her family, and still do. But, this person basically cut off relationship with us because we went on the mission field.

There are consequences to following God’s will:

  • People will judge us
  • We have to live with our decisions (thus, we need to count the cost of following Jesus)
  • We may suffer in ways that ordinary people don’t, like not having what we want or need like we want: choosing to live honestly and morally.

Jesus had challenges coming from all sides:

  • His family
  • His rivals
  • His fans
  1. Evaluating the Walk in God’s Will

Hindsight is 20/20, meaning that after a decision is made, and some time passes, we can see clearer whether or not our decision was the correct one.

When we made the decision to leave the foreign field, there were those who were disappointed in us for making that decision, but I have no regrets and given circumstances in my life right now, know that I am in God’s will.

Though we lost a friendship back in 1996, we have no regrets, though we would have loved to have kept that relationship, but we were at peace.  And now, 22 years later, we know we made the right decision and that it was the WILL of God.

When we wrote that paper in missions class, 31 years ago, we were commended for writing so good a paper, and that particular point that was changed because of a dream was specified as a very important part of that paper.

The decision that I discussed with my associate pastor in Kazakhstan was well received, and even better than I could have imagined, and there was immediate recognition that we had made the right decision.

Even my friend who prayed for God to mess up his wedding plans if they were not God’s Will, he’s been married over 40 years J

The Teachers of the Law were just plain wrong. They were demonizing Jesus in order to justify their plot to kill him.

Jesus’ family was wrong, too, and Jesus made a distinction between blood relation and will relation. He said,

Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.

Mark 3:35

 

There are times when our family’s will is not God’s will, and we need to follow God’s will, not our own, not our family’s not our bosses.

 

We need to learn His will through prayer, Scriptures and fellowship with His people, and we need to practice walking in his will.

 

And we need to encourage each other to follow God’s will, daily.

 

Conclusion

 

Sometimes we can be wrong, still. There were many Christians who were wrong about slavery. There were many who were wrong about civil rights.

 

And now, we as the church, today, need to assess, are we following God’s will or not.

 

One group that is challenging the church at large in America are the millennial Christians.

 

They want to see more action demonstrating love and less politics in the name of religion.

 

They want to be heard and listened to, and we need to pray that God will grow our church with people of all generations, including millennials.

 

For who is my mother and my brothers? He who walks in God’s will is our mother, father, sister and brother, son and daughter.

 

Let’s pray.

 

 

 

Posted in Gospel of Mark: Walking With Jesus Series, Sermons | Leave a comment

Something so simple as offering my reading glasses….

Something so simple as offering my reading glasses touched a life, yesterday. I was meeting with a Haitian man, and we were reading something together. He said he had the wrong pair of glasses and was having trouble reading. So I offered him my reading glasses (which I so often forget, but as God’s providence would have it, I pulled them out of my pocket). I noticed that they were dirty, so I wiped them, and then handed them to him. After he used them, I put them on my face, too.

It was a very simple action that I didn’t even think about. He said today that it was a very special action that he had not experienced before in the US.

He told how he was working with an American who needed to borrow his key, but would not take it in his hand. So, he used a tissue to carry the key as if it were unsanitary.

Honestly, I cannot think of any of my friends treating someone like that, either, but on the contrary consider that my action was what most if not all of my own friends would also do.

So, I had no idea how a very simple act was speaking love, but am so glad when love pours out even in the simplest of ways.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good (Romans 12:9).”

 

Posted in Be the Welcome, Cross-Cultural | Leave a comment

Walking Like Jesus (from Gospel of Mark series: Walking With Jesus)

How are you liking our study of the Gospel of Mark?

We are “WALKING WITH JESUS” and that is what we need to learn to do more and more. I like looking in depth into the “Greatest Story Ever Told.” And, truly, it was told for 30 years before written in the form of the Gospel of Mark.

The written Gospel would have been seen as an innovation at that time.

Most of Paul’s letters had been written at this point, and they were even in circulation. As well, people relied upon oral preaching, but now, people could read the story of Jesus, too. While some welcomed Mark, others may have said,

“Oh, I don’t need that new book by Mark, just give me the old oral tradition.”

Some don’t like change and innovation. You (River of Life), on the other hand, do receive change and innovation.

Jesus’ message was also an innovation…a new teaching, as people called it. Yet he was fulfilling the Old Testament.

Jesus viewed the law differently, seeing it through eyes of GRACE. His view of the Sabbath was not religious, and this challenged the establishment.

Just as we discussed last week, Jesus elevated people. One of the ways He did that was to put things in their proper place.

In today’s reading, we’ll see how Jesus gave a proper perspective to the Sabbath.

It’s something we take for granted, today, but in Jesus’ day, keeping the Sabbath had evolved into LEGALISM.

God’s law instructs us in our need for a savior, but in Jesus’ day, it was used to control people.

Today’s reading traverses chapters 2 and 3.

The first few verses discuss “work” on the Sabbath, and Jesus’ subsequent explanation.

The second part, we will read later, tells the story of a man being healed on the Sabbath.

Here is the first passage (Mark 2:23-28):

23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

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

The title of my message is,

Walking Like Jesus

Let’s pray.

Father, thank you for Your Word, today, and help us to walk with Your Son, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

  1. Walking and Working

The disciples were walking with Jesus, and the Pharisees saw something wrong with their “walk” and their “ways.”

They accused them of working, and they accused them of not fasting.

The Pharisees couldn’t understand Jesus and his disciples.

  • First, why did he eat with sinners?
  • Then, why didn’t Jesus’ disciples fast like others?
  • Now, why are they working on the Sabbath in order to eat?

These have centered around eating and fasting.

And these have to do with the Law.

  • First, not to associate with sinners;
  • Second, to maintain certain disciplines;
  • Third, to strictly follow the law

I had invited our church to fast last week. I didn’t want us to be legalistic about it, but to fast as we could.

  • For some, this meant reducing diets to only fruits and veggies.
  • To others, it meant fasting one meal, daily.
  • For some others it meant not eating at all.

Not all of us have the same abilities.

Fasting is not the masterbut it is a tool for our spiritual growth, and by fasting, we find ourselves, often, able to focus upon God better.

All of God’s law points us to our need for Him. It was shows our need to serve Him.

Yet, when we serve the tool rather than the Lord, it becomes idolatrous.

The traditions of Jesus’ day had also become the master over people, blocking them from the True Lord.

Consider Psalm 1, which talks about how we walk:

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.  
Psalm 1:1, 2

WHAT WAS THE MATTER IN THIS STORY?

The Pharisees considered themselves to be the righteous ones who walked according to God’s Law. They so obscured the purpose of the Law that when they saw people walking with Jesus, differently than how they walked, they were bothered.

The Pharisees didn’t want people working on the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is actually Saturday.

So, we are in violation of the Sabbath laws, too?

The disciples simply picked grain and prepared it to eat, and the Pharisees accused them of working.

It was a minimal amount of work, and the Pharisees were trying hard to present Jesus as a lawbreaker.

They were threatened by Jesus’ popularity and his lack of submission to them. This became for them not only a religious matter, but a nationalistic concern, too.

In His defense, Jesus appealed to the Law, itself, referring to a story in which David ate bread that was only for the priests. Not only did David eat it, but he gave some to his men who were walking with him. Then, Jesus made an important statement:

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”                 Mark 2:27

The Sabbath was to give man rest. But what kind of rest is there if the man is hungry and not able to take care of himself?

Jesus saw religion is a tool to lead people to God, but not to block them from God.

The Pharisees not only boxed God in, but tried to box in everyone else.

And, Jesus, also, sets Himself up as Lord, saying He is “Lord of the Sabbath.”

To the Pharisees, this was unacceptable.

But, it is the Simple Gospel.

“Rules must be followed, they thought. And Who Is Jesus, really? If He were a righteous man, he would

  • not spend time with sinners,
  • would follow our laws, perfectly,
  • would submit to us.
  • Yet, he calls himself, ‘Lord,’ and forgives people of their sins. This is blasphemy,
  • and besides, he’s gathering such popularity that we will lose our position if we don’t stop him.”

[to the Congregation]

I need to ask you, today, what is this building?

It’s a church building.

It’s a tool.

It has a new roof, Praise God, but our ministry is not made by this building. We could meet anywhere and still be the church.

What about meeting, on Sundays?

We don’t have to meet, Sunday, but we do.

Are we in danger because we don’t meet on Saturday?

No. And if we say otherwise, then we have misunderstood the Gospel.

In some settings, a church cannot meet on Sundays and chooses to meet on Fridays or Saturdays. That’s ok.

ILLUSTRATION WITH NATIONS CHURCH, ISTANBUL

The church we started in Turkey met on Sundays.

While we were on furlough, two years ago, the church was able to move locations.

They moved to a neighborhood that is traditionally conservative and very Islamic.

In the Fall of 2016 just before I transitioned as pastor here, Clover and I visited this church in its new setting.

On our last of three Sundays, a Muslim teacher walked in, and unrelated, a local couple walked in, too.

The teacher was gentle and calm and he and I sat and talked. My Turkish wasn’t very good, but good enough to understand him.

The couple, however, was angry. Through an interpreter, she said,

“Who gives you the right to open a church in our neighborhood? How would you like it if I opened a mosque in your American neighborhood?

I smiled and said,

“there are two mosques in my neighborhood.”

(I’ve since learned that there are four mosques within 3.5 miles of our church).

The Muslims in that community wanted to get rid of the church.

So they made a petition, but legally, that didn’t work (Yes, there are laws in other countries that work in our favor).

So, the community pressured the owner of the building to close the building on Sundays. That would stop this church, they thought.

And yes, due to people’s work schedules, it cut church attendance in half, but they began to meet on Saturdays.

The community was surprised and asked,

“How can you meet on Saturdays?”

“We can meet on any day, according to Jesus,” was the answer.

It is interesting that some Muslims are like the Pharisees that opposed Jesus.

And some Christians, too, who are blinded by a religious spirit and even by nationalism.

We must follow the Simple Gospel in a way that welcomes others, even those different from us. We must WALK LIKE JESUS.

We must submit to the Lord through the Gospel and follow Him. Recognizing that He Is Working for Our good.

Let’s look at the next part of our reading:

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

Mark 3:1-6

  1. Walking and Talking

Our mouths can get us in trouble.

As well, our silence.

Jesus was not politically correct in His day, and He might have been tempted to keep quiet.

Being politically correct is not measured in secular society, only, but in the Church, too.

Some people are so afraid of Muslims that they consider me a heretic to reach out to them.

It’s funny, when we lived overseas, people used to say,

“you could do a lot of good here in America,”

and now that I’m here, people say,

“this is America, not the mission field.”

I am vocal about reaching internationals, but not political, yet some Christians would rather I not speak about reaching the Muslim.

In some cases because they believe the lie that all religions are the same (if that were so, then why did Jesus go to the cross?);

Or they believe that others are cursed and beyond help and hope.

Or they want to preserve American Christianity that is sometimes seen as “white.”

In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had no power, except what they made for themselves as authorities in society, but Jesus left His throne in order to give us hope.

And Jesus has REAL HEALING POWER.

The handicapped man had a great need, and no one could help him.

Instead of bringing the man to Jesus, they refused and waited to see if Jesus would heal, which would be “work.”

Their desire for power meant that they would rather show Jesus as a lawbreaker than to invite the handicapped man to be restored.

Jesus healed the man, but instead of rejoicing (which the crowds did), they complained and joined with their enemies, the Herodians (a secular and political party aligned with Herod and the Romans) in order to make a plan to kill Jesus.

The spirit of the Pharisees and Herodians is still alive today.

When a person, in the Name of Jesus, does good, but people are either jealous, fearful or angry, they criticize the person.

We must be careful.

Instead of assassinating a person’s character, we need to go to the person with whom we have a disagreement and sort it out.

As well, we need to be careful with WHOM we ally ourselves.

Are we walking LIKE Jesus?

The Pharisees were stubborn and not willing to change.

Some did, like Nicodemus and later even Paul who had persecuted the Church.

How could they change?

They could not add a patch of the Gospel, but they needed a New Life in Christ.

[Illustration of Nations Church, continued]

Remember the story of the church in Istanbul?

Since the church began to meet on Saturdays, the conservative community became even more upset, and they threatened the church’s landlord, saying,

“If you don’t evict this church, we will beat you up, and we will beat up the people in the church, too.”

People in our community have treated Muslims in similar ways, too.

But we are a more open society, especially, today.

Had this been the 1950’s, I think we would have seen much worse actions.

All have sinned, and some have added the spirit of the Pharisees to our sins.

Let Jesus be our example

We need to WALK LIKE JESUS.

We need to welcome those who are different.

And that begins in our hearts.

We need to ask God to break prejudice and love as Christ loved.

He healed a man, even though he knew the religious leaders would become angry and even plot his death.

Our church in Istanbul moved to another neighborhood, that was more Secular, and they have been ok, ever since.

They still are near the conservative neighborhood, and they are able to minister to people from there, but they are not in harm’s way anymore.

I met with a new friend, Chris, on Thursday, and we took a brief tour of multi-ethnic Richmond.

We stopped at a few places and engaged Muslims from India, Bangladesh, Iraq, and Palestine.

One of them gave us a free snack for lunch, while he told us of some persecution he has received.

When we meet people who are different from us, let’s do the following:

  • pray for them in our hearts
  • if possible, ask them where they are from
  • lovingly contact them (handshake or POSSIBLY even a hug…of course, male to male and female to female)
  • If they need English assistance, tell them about our ESL café and beginner class (take some cards with you). Maybe their family needs help.
  • If you are able to converse with them, learn their name, where they are from, and pray for them (even with them).

We are not only interested in reaching the growing international community, but the whole community.

Let’s pray and ask God to guide us before we go out of our homes to be ready to reach out to anyone who needs our help and assistance.

Local children aged 6-12 could become part of K4C on Wednesdays, and their parents could come to Bible Study.

Earlier, we looked at Psalm 1, verses 1 and 2, now let’s look at them, again, but with the addition of verse 3:

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

Psalm 1:1-3

What does it mean to prosper?

The answer could come in many forms.

But for us and our vision here at River of Life, it is that we grow, and become the best church we can be for this community.

Let’s learn the art of conversation, and talk with people.

Let’s learn the art of listening and hear the needs that are around us.

Let’s share the gospel with Everyone…well that is an enormous task…Let’s share the gospel with Someone, this week.

Let’s walk with Jesus!

Let’s Pray.

 

 

 

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New Life in Christ (Mark 2:13-22)

We are continuing in our focus upon the Gospel of Mark: Walking with Jesus, today.

Remember that the Gospel is Good NEWS, and it was very New when Jesus began to proclaim it.

Remember how the people were amazed in chapter 1:

27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. Mark 1:27, 28

Jesus was and still IS good news.

Jesus established the Church to spread this Good News, and we’re not here for any other reason than to declare God’s goodness, love and praise.

Whatever we do, Let’s be connecting our changing community with the unchanging Gospel:

The world is changing around us, and they would like us to change our message to fit their plans and feelings, but the truth is the world needs the UNCHANGING GOSPEL!

The Gospel was Good News in Jesus’ day becauser there had been about 400 years of prophetic silence.

During which time,

  • the Scriptures were read and taught
  • Holy Days remembered, and
  • Tradition followed

…And Israel focused upon God during this silent time.

Sadly, however, the religious leaders didn’t recognize Jesus nor did they welcome Him.

As Jesus’ reputation grew, they were challenged.

QUESTIONS

  • Do we follow Jesus or not?” They must have thought.
  • What would they lose?
  • What about their status?

Up to that point, God’s Faith community was exclusively among the Jews.

Yet God’s heart is for ALL Nations.

The Old Testament had been translated into Greek, so many non-Jews began to learn of God.

The Teachers of the Law partially welcomed these “Gentiles,” only allowing them space in the outer courts of the Temple.

If the teachers of the law were to accept Jesus, then who else would they have to accept?

They followed the law and traditions, but Jesus claimed to fulfill said law, BUT yet He was so different from the other religious leaders.

Consider the original readers of Mark:

They were Middle-Eastern, Greek speaking Gentiles, who were familiar with the Old Testament and with the oral proclamation of the Gospel from the Apostles.

They were new creations because of Jesus, but would have remained pagans were it not for Jesus.

As they read about Jesus calling people, they could reflect on their own calling as well.

Let’s read Mark 2:13-22:

13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 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.

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

19 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

Mark 2:13-22

Today, I want to talk about:

New Life in Christ

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father we thank you for Your Word and the Lessons that it teaches us.

We submit to You, today, Our Heavenly Father, and we want You to change us and make us new in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

  1. The Unchanging Gospel

Ordinary people loved Jesus’ new teaching, but the religious leaders didn’t.

When Jesus proclaimed the Gospel, it was for all, from the educated to the outcasts.

But the religious leaders couldn’t see themselves on the same level as tax collectors and prostitutes.

Yet, everyone needs a Savior and the compassion of God.

God’s good news welcomes the imperfect, and forgives the penitent.

For several months we’ve been looking at our Mission:

The Mission of the River is

to connect our changing community with the unchanging Gospel.

I want to flesh this out a bit more, and show what we value at the River:

Core Values of the River:

  1. Biblical Authority
  2. Love & Truth
  3. Outreach
  4. Multigenerational/ Multicultural Community
  5. Worship
  6. Innovation

These are more than wishes, but based upon how we are actually operating.

  1. Our Changing Community

We must realize that our changing community IS the continuation of change since the beginning of time.

Change was the norm in Jesus’ Day, too.

Jesus came to a changing world and instituted great change.

He valued people, and elevated sinners, as well as women and children.

Jesus was visionary. To Him, tradition is good as long as it doesn’t block someone from God.

He called…

the upper class and the working class, the criminal, and the lesser class.

Jesus instituted societal change.

While this was NOT His main goal, it was a tangible result of His Gospel.

And because of his changes, he was seen as a

  • threat,
  • accused of being a drunkard and
  • even demon-possessed.

Jesus changed the community in order to share with them the unchanging gospel of change:

  • from death to life,
  • from selfishness to selflessness,
  • from nationalism to the family of God.

The Church saw everyone as equal, and Paul wrote the Ephesians that we are to submit to each other unto the Lord, and James, wrote that there must be no favoritism toward the rich over the poor.

Jesus’ Gospel was understood by Paul as meaning

11 Here there is

 no Gentile or Jew, 

circumcised or uncircumcised, 

barbarian, Scythian,

slave or free, 

but Christ is all, and is in all.

 Colossians 3:11

Mark’s audience was different from Jesus’ audience, but they are we are the fulfillment of Jesus’ mission to reach the world.

Through Jesus we have new life and join God’s family.

This message flourished in an immoral age (worse than today).

The Church thrived under intense persecution, growing even though Christians were being burned to death by Rome.

What did the early Church have?

  • The Holy Spirit
  • Old Testament and early letters of the New Testament
  • Closer fellowship with the Church than with the world.
  • Dedication to believe even to the point of suffering.

As Jesus said that fasting would take place when Jesus would not be among them, the readers of Mark then, and even today, are people who need to fast.

Thus, we will be fasting as a church over the next few days because we have great need.

As Christ’s Church grew, God raised up reformers to call the Church back to repentance, just as Jesus and John the Baptist did.

Martin Luther did this 500 years ago, and started the Protestant Reformation in which the Church began to see the power of the Scriptures, again, and the priesthood of all believers.

The Church had forgotten to elevate people, and instead, elevated the Church and her leaders.

Had it not been for the Reformation, the United States would probably not exist, because the Reformation led to tremendous change in Western society.

Many of the changes we see in society today were started by Jesus. He gave dignity to women, children, and all who had been excluded. He commissioned his followers to do the same in all nations.

Even the inclusion that we see today in politics is an indirect result of the inclusion that Jesus started, but whereas liberal politicians want us to include all of society, they do not offer them change or salvation.

Jesus said to the adulterer, go and sin no more.

Jesus offers a NEW LIFE.

  1. New Life in Christ

Jesus met with a religious leader named Nicodemus, and immediately told him that man must be

  • born again,

In today’s reading, we see that we must change. We cannot simply add the gospel to our lives, but we must be transformed by the Gospel.

We cannot simply add the Gospel to our old ways, like we cannot patch old clothing with new material…nor can we store new wine in old skins.

What we need is NEW LIFE.

Though Jesus fulfilled the law of the Jews, the gospel could not thrive in Jewish society without change.

Jesus welcomed Levi (aka Matthew), but not like those who say, “it’s ok if you are a sinner, to each his own.”

Jesus said to Levi,

“I see you, and I am calling you out of your sin and into a new life.”

Levi left his old life and began a new one, and right away, he invited his friends to meet Jesus.

  1. Does God call Americans today?
  2. Yes, but He calls us to leave our sinfulness, selfishness and pride.
  3. Q. Does God call Muslims today?
  4. Yes, but He calls them to acknowledge His Son, Jesus.
  5. Q. Does God call adulterers, pornographers, embezzlers, homosexuals, murderers, gossipers, transgender people, liars, thieves, slanderers today?
  6. Yes, and He calls all of us to repent and to follow Him, and He makes us new.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

2 Corinthians 5:17

God doesn’t call us to be old creations with patches of the New.

He wants to make us new, so He can fill us with His Holy Spirit.

He wants to draw more into a relationship with Him through Jesus.

  1. Application

As we approach the communion table, today, we must remember that this table is not only for Jews, but for non-Jews, too. It is not only for men, but for women. It is not only for the educated, but for the uneducated, too.

It is for the sinner who says, “Lord, I am sorry for my sin, and I don’t want sin to be my lord and master, I declare that You Are My Lord!

Let’s prepare our hearts for communion, today.

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Gospel of Mark New Life in Christ Mark 2-13-22

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