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02/20/18 - Mark 8

Feb 20, 2018 – Mark 8

Jesus asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ." Mark 8:29

What we believe about Jesus directly affects what we believe about ourselves.

Identity is at the core of most of our beliefs, and leads to most of our behaviors.

I had a friend who thought he was a good musician.  He played an instrument, and knew technically how to play, but struggled with timing and the feeling of the music.  In his head, he believed he was a musician, and so he devoted time to it.  He practiced, and played, and performed – but even though he thought he could play the instrument, he was not musically gifted enough to do it well.

That’s not just true for musicians.  Many aspire to be athletes, or artists, or leaders, or even speakers (and preachers), but even though they want to identify with the belief in their mind, their body and soul don’t match.   Trying to be something you are not just doesn’t work.  You may do all the right things, but it’s not who you were made to be.

On the other hand, when we figure out exactly who we were designed to be, it can open doors to incredible results.  Just look at some of the greatest athletes, artists, preachers, business leaders, parents, … you name it.  When we discover and live out our identity, it can be an incredibly productive life.  Maybe not what we wished for or imagine in our dreams, but far greater than anyone else can do in that role. 

So how do you find out who you really are?  That’s the big question!  If we can discover our identity, then we can live it out and be at our best.

Jesus asked Peter the question of identity – but not who Peter was.  He asked who Peter thought Jesus was!  Jesus’ question to Peter did two things in helping Peter discover his identity.

1)      By recognizing who Jesus is, we realize who we are NOT!  If Jesus is a great leader, or teacher, or prophet, or other good role model, then we can be as good as Jesus in something.  By reducing Jesus to something other than the Son of God – it lets us pursue false identities.  But if Jesus truly IS the Christ – then He is Lord over our lives and our identity is defined by Him.

2)      By elevating Jesus above ourselves, we are able to discover who we ARE!  Once the pride is gone from trying to be something we are not, we can quickly discover who God designed us to be.  Let’s face it – people want to ‘Be Like Mike’ because of pride.  We want for ourselves what Michael Jordan (or any other role model), achieved and gained for themselves.  But when we humbly come before the Christ, our pride is gone, and whatever He decides is a great blessing!

Right after Peter makes that declaration, Jesus tells Peter his true identity.  He’s not a fisherman any longer.  He’s the leader of the coming church movement.  But more than that, Peter is a child of the Most High God, and a friend of the Christ Himself!  Peter’s identity is no longer tied to his pride, it’s tied to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Now Peter is released to be the best Peter possible – bringing thousands into salvation, and launching the church that saves millions for generations to come.

That’s an identity worth having, and it comes from who we think Jesus is – so what’s your answer?
02/19/18 - Mark 7

Feb 19, 2018 – Mark 7

Jesus said: “What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.'  For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts & behaviors…” - Mark 7:20

Rules don't fix hearts, only God can do that.

I grew up in a house that had many rules.  Not too many (I don’t think), and not actually wrong rules, but expectations of behavior nonetheless.  One of them involved words we were not allowed to say.  You can probably guess some of them, as my parents did not like foul language or cursing.  But one that annoyed me was the rule against the “f” word.  NO – I’m not talking about TODAY’S language!   The “f” word in my house was ‘fart’.  J  There were many other ways we could say something about that body release of air – but ‘fart’ wasn’t permitted.  So we were wise enough not to use the word in our house, but I had no problem using it with friends in other environments.  Of course, that was until one time I was not paying attention and accidently slipped saying it while laughing at my brother, only to discover my mom was right behind me.  Needless to say – that didn’t turn out so good!!!

My mom was right, there are better words to use for some things, but the rule didn’t really change my heart on it.  In fact, the rule just highlighted my attention to it!  I needed the rule to learn how to behave properly, but the rule also kept me focused on wanting to use the word as well.  The purpose of the rule was to help me keep a clean mouth, but ended up exposing how easy it is to develop a dirty mouth of hot air (no pun intended!).

We need rules, but they don’t change hearts.  I support them because they help us define proper behavior so we can live together well.  But thinking that we will be able to change people through rules or laws has already been proven ineffective.  The only fix to the heart is from the Spirit of God, not from behavioral rules.  What we need is a personal relationship inside our heart with the Holy God who loves us, that changes our beliefs, so that we are excited pursuing behavior He requests. 

In our day, we see culture trying to go the other direction.  Since rules are not fixing behavior, just throw out the rules.  While that may be a logical argument (maybe?), it lacks effectiveness as well.  If the heart was unclean before knowing the standard, it will be downright evil without one.  We still need a standard – and praise God we have one in Jesus!  He is both our Standard AND our Spirit!  He can fix the heart as our Savior, and direct the behavior as our Lord.  But the only way that happens is by starting with Jesus in our hearts.

That’s why trying to teach people who don’t know Jesus how to behave is rather pointless.  They may buy the logic for some things, but the next generation will question the rules, just like I did with my mom’s rules on proper language.  What every generation needs is to meet and know Jesus first, THEN discover the behavioral expectations He has for us.  We must first be baptized into Christ before learning how to behave like Christ.  Belief drives our behavior.

So be cautious with the rules of your home.  They are necessary, but what is more needed is a relationship with the Standard & the Spirit in Jesus.  Grow that relationship in your home, and the rules will take care of themselves.
02/16/18 - Mark 6

Feb 16, 2018 – Mark 6

He said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." Mark 6:31

The answer to busy-ness is not often sleep, but a quiet time of restoration with Jesus.

The disciples had been on a high-speed whirlwind tour around the district of Galilee.  After traveling the towns setting up Jesus for His arrival, and supporting Jesus in the miracles & crowds, they were already tired.  Then news came of the death of John the Baptist, and grief & sadness added to their exhaustion.  Jesus was overwhelmed too, and recognized their exhaustion, so He gave them the advice ALL of us have heard or said in our lifetime – “you need some rest”.  That usually means: “get some sleep, lay down, plop on the couch, watch some TV and snack on some chips”, all things to let the body physically rest.  But that’s NOT what the disciples ended up doing.  Instead, they had to row their boat and travel to find a solitary place.  And if that wasn’t enough, thousands show up and Jesus ends up teaching all day, then asks the disciples to feed this large crowd.  I thought the idea was to relax and lay under a tree – not do more work!

We say Rest and mean Sleep – but Rest is short for Restoration.  Sleep can restore our physical bodies with some energy, but often it doesn’t help give relief to our minds or souls.  Often what restores our minds is not sleep, but effective play or activity.  And what restores our souls can be sleep, but more often it involves comfort & encouragement by life-giving people.  If we’re looking for restoration, it may not be found in a bed or couch.  It may rather be found on a playground, or with a friend in a coffee shop. 

Yet busy people often complain that they need more rest – and keep growing more tired & exhausted no matter how much sleep they get.  That’s why the person who’s mind is exhausted doesn’t sleep well, because what they really need is a walk in the park or time on the fishing boat.  That’s why the person grieving is often looking for something mindless to DO, like cleaning a room or washing dishes (which is what we keep trying to TAKE AWAY FROM THEM in an effort to be helpful).

What Restoration do you need these days?  Are you exhausted physically, or is it weariness from something in your soul or mind?  What activities restore you – it may not be sleep!  Yes, physically you need rest by sleep, but emotionally & intellectually you need restoration in other ways.

All of these had one thing in common for the disciples – Jesus was there, and He knew what they needed.  Restoration came in rowing a boat, and in listening to Truth, and in feeding 1000s of people.  And following that, the disciples got to see Jesus walk on water!  I doubt they were thinking about sleeping during those miracles … but their spirits were certainly not grieving the same as before.  They discovered something … with Jesus around, you will find restoration that’s far better than just sleep.
02/15/18 - Mark 5

Feb 15, 2018 – Mark 5

Ignoring what they said, Jesus told him, "Don't be afraid; just believe." Mark 5:36

Trust the word of an eternal God over the opinion of limited men.

There’s a difference between ignorance & ignoring, but sometimes people try to hide behind one to escape the consequences of the other.

Ignorance is action without knowledge.  It’s when we make a decision based on the information we have, but the information is incomplete.  Ignorance is when we believe a reporter without checking the facts.  Ignorance is when we follow our friend’s prescription without confirming the results.  Ignorance can have consequences, but the fault lies not in the action, but in the information.

But Ignoring is action in spite of knowledge.  Ignoring has heard the information, but chooses to believe differently and take a different course of action.  Ignoring is when we hear the reporter and choose to believe a different story.  Ignoring is when we listen to our friend’s prescription and follow a different course of action.  Ignoring can also have consequences, but the fault likes in our decision, not the information.

Jesus CONSTANTLY ignored, but was never ignorant.  He rejected the world’s standard of popularity and pursued His Father.  He ignored the pressure of the Pharisees and spent time with the common people.  Jesus never let the opinions of others get in the way of God’s Truth.  That doesn’t mean Jesus ignored people, He simply ignored their opinions when it contradicted God’s direction.  Jesus was far from ignorant, but He carefully ignored many other things.

Unfortunately, the world likes to lump Christians into the “ignorance” category.  Their argument is that believers of Jesus have no clue about the truth, and lack the knowledge they have.  Much like Jesus, believers can find themselves being condemned as ignorant and uneducated. 

But that’s not who we are.  Ignorance is not the description of a committed believer, but Ignoring sure is.  If we choose to follow Jesus, we must also choose to ignore all of the arguments and expectations of the world around us when it practices behaviors that contradict God’s ways.  And YES, that includes things like accepting sexual immorality, homosexuality, abortion, drunkenness, smoking pot, cussing, going into debt, no-fault divorce, and everything else contrary to Scripture.  That doesn’t make the Christian ignorant, just ignoring.

Listen to Jesus’ words to the Jarius.  The world said his daughter was dead, but Jesus ignored them and told Jarius: “Don’t be afraid, just believe.”  The secret to overcoming worldly arguments is to push out the fear instead of pushing out obedience.  Don’t ever let the opinions of men trump your belief in the Word of God!!!  Ignore their limited opinions, and trust in the Eternal.  That’s not ignorance, it’s ignoring.
02/14/18 - Mark 4

Feb 14, 2018 – Mark 4

Others hear the word; but the worries of life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for things choke the word, making it unfruitful. Mark 4:18-19

Don't let temporary desires steal your blessing from His eternal Word.

Valentine’s Day is an annual holiday centered on love.  It’s a day in the year when many people take time to express loving sentiments to each other, often in the form of cards, gifts, flowers, a meal, or other forms of kindness.  Yet it often ends up being more about fulfilling our desires than sharing our love.  The truth is that love is less about kind expressions and more about unseen actions.  Love is not about flowers, but about brightening up a room.  It is not about chocolates, but offering sweet words when poor attitudes are present.  Love gives gifts, but not with the anticipation of response.  Love is more often seen in making a person’s lunch than buying a person dinner.  Long after Valentine’s Day is over, love will still be going strong, while the flowers will have wilted and chocolates rotted.

The Bible is a Valentine’s Day love letter to all of us from God Himself.  Every chapter is filled with God’s story to show us His love and desire for our best.  Yet so often, people hear the words and ignore them, preferring the chocolates and flowers that this world offers.  The deception of sentimentality can draw our ears and hearts away from true love toward the temporary substitute. 

That deception is our greatest challenge in America these days.  We are drawn to the chocolates & flowers of life, and ignoring the true love letter from God.   The worries and wealth are rotting God’s seed, and leaving behind a whole lot of empty lives.  Sure, it smelled & tasted great when we received them, but the flowers & chocolates are not love.  What we need is a new perspective.  What we need is true love.

I hope you enjoy Valentine’s Day this year – not because you feel loved and cherished by the gifts or experience, but because you KNOW you are loved by God Himself.  I hope you celebrate that love by offering true love to your family – the love that comes from sacrifice and service that honors God.  And if you’re married, I hope you do enjoy Valentine’s Day as a reminder of this special gift that God gave us when He created Eve for Adam.  But don’t let that be one day wrapped in sentimentality.  Let Valentine’s Day remind you to turn back to the true love that only comes from God.  Let it be a day you start a fresh longing for His Love Letter to you.  Let it be a day you rededicate yourself to the one who loves you forever.

May you be filled with the fruit of love from His Word.