Monday, May 22, 2017

Walking in Darkness

"So He (Jesus) took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town."
Mark 8:23a

Have you ever been in darkness so thick that you weren't able to see your hand in front of your face? If so, you know that's not a fun place to be. When I first started traveling, I had one of those experiences. I was in revival at a church that had formerly been a masonic lodge. I'm not exactly sure how it worked out that way . . . But, the church had converted the lodge into a place of worship. There were few windows and I was roomed in a quarters in the basement of the old lodge, new church. 

If you've ever stayed overnight or been alone in a church, you know how freaky it can be. (Don't get me wrong. I want the Holy Ghost. I just don't want to meet Him in the dark!) After service one night a storm blew in. It was fierce! So fierce that the whole area lost power. And, you can guess how that went for me. I was in the basement of an old masonic lodge, new church with no windows, no electricity, and no flashlight. It was dark. Let me reiterate: IT. WAS. DARK. This is the stuff of which horror movies are made. You can imagine all the noises that invaded my space as the hours dragged on. 

Life can be like this.

Let's be completely honest:
Life isn't easy.
It isn't even always fun.

We can find ourselves in dark places. Many times, if we're honest, it happens because of our own choices. But, then there are other times that a storm seems to blow in and we end up powerless. 

I'd like to use this week's post to encourage those who are currently in a dark place.

You'll remember the scene from Mark 8 that we looked at last week. (If not, scroll down and read/reread "Don't Go Back to that Place!". A blind man was being brought out of a blind city. He was being led by men who were concerned about his physical eyesight. This is obvious. There is the temptation to spiritualize this moment, but these men weren't concerned about his heart. They simply wanted Jesus to meet his physical need. The news of this Miracle Worker had been spreading. Jesus had been revealing Himself to the people of Bethsaida (out of which these men were coming) and they had rejected the message of the Kingdom. So, really you could say this is an illustration of the blind leading the blind.

We looked last week at an overlooked aspect of the story: Jesus led him out of the environment of darkness that he had been dwelling in so that He could do a deeper work in his life. The exclamation point was added when Jesus commanded him, after fully sighted, to not go back to the city.

Think about this:
Jesus took the man by the hand.
Jesus led him out of the town.

If you know me, you know that I am analytical. There are many times that vague statements can drive me nuts. This is one of those statements which I wish I had a little more detail: 

          How far did they walk?
                    Was it a few blocks?
                              Or, maybe a mile?
                                        What was the conversation?
                                                  Or, did they even talk at all?

I really would love to know the answers to those questions.

Why?
There was no physical healing that occurred up to this point in his life.
He was still completely blind. 
He was being led through the darkness.
Jesus had him by the hand.
And, he simply went where Jesus was leading.

Can you see the beauty in this?
Jesus had him by the hand.
The blind man simply went to where Jesus was leading, trusting His leadership.
Jesus was taking him to a place where He would do a deeper work.

Perhaps, I'm making too much of this. But, I can't get away from that image today.

You're on my mind. 

I've come to realize over the last few years that I really don't know the people to which I'm blessed to preach. I may know some on a surface level. Maybe a few on a deeper level. But, I really don't know you. 

Maybe you find yourself in a dark place. Perhaps, you don't understand what's going on or even how it's gonna work out. Can I encourage you in this . . . Don't let go of Jesus' hand. He's leading you to a place where He is about to do a deeper work in your life. Oh, it may not turn out exactly how you think, but He will move/is moving. 

Trust Him. 
Hold on to His hand.
He will never let go of you. 
He's leading you into the full light of His Kingdom!





Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Don't Go Back To That Place

Mark 8:22-26

The Nature of the Kingdom (8:22-10:52) section of Mark's Gospel begins with the strangest miracle that Jesus ever performed. It is, at least, the only miracle where we see Jesus touching an individual more than once to accomplish the intended outcome. And, it is filled with great truth that should impact on our lives tremendously.

In my last post (quite some time ago), I offered a broad outline of Mark's story of Jesus. The first section, The Kingdom Revealed, comes to a close with Jesus confronting His inner circle with a series of questions (8:17-21):

                         Do you not yet understand?
                                   Is your heart still hardened?
                                             Having eyes, do you not see?
                                                        Having ears, do you not hear?

In other words: They simply weren't getting it.

Suddenly, we're in Bethsaida. You'll remember Bethsaida . . . This is one of the cities that Jesus pronounced woes upon in Matthew 11 and Luke 10. Your subheading may call it an impenitent city. In other words, they were unwilling to be sorrowful over the Godless lives they had been living. Jesus had been amongst them revealing His Father's kingdom. His message was very clear: "The Kingdom of God has come! Repent and believe." (Mark 1:15). Yet, they refused. Bethsaida was a blind city. They had refused to receive the light that Jesus came to offer.

Isn't it interesting that this is the backdrop of our narrative? 

We may be tempted to believe that this is simply a story about a man's physical blindness. But, the whole Nature of the Kingdom section is backdropped with blindness. It begins with Jesus' question, moves to this physically blind man, and ends in chapter 10 with a blind man named Bartimaeus. 

I'm convinced that it reveals the desire of this Kingdom:
  • The King comes to us in our state of total blindness
  • He refuses to leave us there
  • He desires to lead us into the full light of the Kingdom here and now: The Kingdom has come!

Think about this:

                              The King has come so we can see fully.
                                         We don't have to remain in our blindness.
                                                   Here's the question: Do we really want to see?


I want us to notice something about the story we might read over. 

The first thing Jesus does, when they bring the blind man to him, is to take him by the hand to lead him "out of the town" (23). Before there is any physical sight restored, Jesus takes him by the hand and leads him out of Bethsaida to a place where He will do a great work in his life.

Don't miss it . . .

He (Jesus) leads him out of the town (Bethsaida, the blind city) in order to do a deep work in this man's life. This was the environment of darkness he had been living in and now, Jesus wants to lead him out. Before He does anything else--even before physical sight is restored--He wants to lead him out of the darkness he'd been living in for so long.

May I speak plainly? 

I'm captured by this scene. 
In it's simplicity, I really am. 

I have come to realize that many will never experience the deeper work of Jesus in our lives. Why? Because we'd rather remain in the environment of darkness that we've lived in for so long. He comes and longs to lead us out and we just keep going back to those dark places.

What is that He is leading you away from in order to do a deeper work?
Are you willing to leave that environment of darkness that only serves to keep you blind?
Would you trust Him enough to lead you out?
Do you really want to see?

Our story begins with Jesus leading a blind man away from a blind city. 
It ends with Jesus speaking a command to this fully sighted man:
"Don't go back to that place!"

Will you allow Jesus to lead you from your environment of blindness?

Then, heed His command: Don't go back to that place!  



   


Monday, February 8, 2016

The Nature of the Kingdom

Mark 8:22 - 10:52

The Gospel According to Mark is often referred to as the Gospel of Action. That's really a great description. Mark has a story to tell and he won't waste any time in its telling. Scene after scene, with breakneck speed, he introduces us to Jesus. 

Over the years I have divided Mark's gospel in different ways. However, for the purposes of our next few studies I want to offer a simple outline:


  • Mark 1:1 - 8:22: The Kingdom Revealed (The Jesus of Galilee)
  • Mark 8:22 - 10:52: The Kingdom Requirement (The Nature of the Kingdom)
  • Mark 11 - 16:20: The Kingdom Fulfilled (The Jesus of Jerusalem)

In the first section, The Kingdom Revealed: The Jesus of Galilee, we are introduced to the One who is the Source of Authority. . .

                    . . .Over mankind
                         . . .Over the realm of Truth
                              . . .Over the spiritual realm
                                   . . .Over the physical realm
                                        . . .Over every realm - even over sin and death!

It's in this section that we see what the Kingdom is all about. The Kingdom of God has come near and it stands in stark contrast to the kingdom that had been established by the religious leadership of the day.

It doesn't take long for us to see that the Jesus of Galilee is very attractive. It's evidenced by the crowds that are constantly gathering. That's what happens when lame people dance, lepers are restored, evil is driven out of lives, and bellies are filled. People flock to this Jesus. Mark has a way of revealing that the hysteria of the crowd always hinders what Jesus has come to do: To present His Father's Kingdom. Instead, they get caught up in the spectacle, the show, the miracles. In their excitement over these things they simply miss Him.

In the last section, The Kingdom Fulfilled: The Jesus of Jerusalem, we see how this Kingdom is realized. In our earthly minds we are tempted to see palaces and thrones, but this is a Kingdom that is established on a cross. The one place Jesus should have avoided He willingly enters. This entrance is not in the spirit of conquest as the crowds would recognize or even prefer. Rather, it seems He enters with a willingness to be conquered. 

The Jesus of Jerusalem is not very attractive. Yet, it's through this that the Kingdom is fulfilled! The cross does not puncture the hopes of mankind. . .  It opens the door to the Kingdom and invites every man to walk through and take their place in this Kingdom!

So, how does Mark transition from the Jesus of Galilee to the Jesus of Jerusalem? 

How is it possible to be part of this movement, this Kingdom? 

The evangelist transitions us with a section that could possibly be described as the heart of the story, The Kingdom Requirement: The Nature of the Kingdom. Positioned between the revelation of the Kingdom and it's realization, sandwiched by stories of blindness, the nature of this Kingdom is revealed.

It's an exciting journey that I want to invite you to walk with me. It will begin and end with movement from backdrops of blindness to sight.

I want to see fully.

Will you join me?



     
     

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Accusation

"Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?"
Job 1:9


God brought him up.
He asked the question.
In that question He reveals the confidence He has in one man: A man named Job.

Job was no ordinary man. Well, he was ordinary in many ways:
     He had normal feelings.
     He dealt with the same emotions as anyone else.
     He experienced the same longings, felt the same joy, was familiar with pain.

Yet, Job was no ordinary man. You see, he had been extraordinarily blessed:
     He was the father of seven sons and three daughters.
     Seven thousand sheep pastured his fields while three thousand camels roamed his hillside.
     He was the owner of five hundred yoke of oxen. . .
                                              . . . five hundred female donkeys. . .
                                                     . . . had a very large household. . .
     The list could go on and on.
     Extraordinarily blessed.

Job was the Donald Trump or, perhaps, the Bill Gates of his time. He had wealth beyond measure. Certainly he was a man of means. So much so that Scripture says that Job was the greatest of all the people of the East. Pretty impressive. No ordinary man.

And, God brought him up.
He asked the question:
"Have you [Satan] considered my servant Job?"

Not only does He ask the question but in the asking He reveals the character of Job that results in the confidence He feels toward this man. Listen to the descriptors that He uses to describe Job:
     Blameless and upright. . .
          One who fears God. . .
               [One who] shuns evil. . .
                    There's none like him on earth.

Did you catch that? God said there's none like Job. It's an incredible statement about Job's character. 
It also makes a startling reality: Every other man, every other woman was not blameless or upright. That there were no others that truly feared or served God. In fact, the whole of humanity seems to be caught up in evil. The enemy was winning, he seemed to have their hearts. But, not Job.

So, God brought him up.
He asked the question:
"Have you [Satan] considered my servant Job?"

And, Satan had considered him.
He had been watching, waiting, wanting.
So, now he responds: "Doth Job fear God for nought?"

Did you catch it?
Could you hear the sarcasm in his voice?
Can't you just feel the assertions of the accuser as he presents the charge?
     Why wouldn't he serve you?
          Of course he fears you. . .
               You've blessed him beyond measure.
               You've placed a hedge of protection around him and all he has.
          He's the wealthiest man in all the East. . .
     Why wouldn't he serve you?!? 

BUT:

     IF You removed Your hand of mercy. . .
          IF he were to lose all that he had. . .
               IF Your hedge of protection would be removed from his house. . .
                     He'd curse You to Your face!

What an accusation!

Read it again, slowly, and think about what he is saying.
Listen closely to what he asserts.

With his crooked, bony finger pointing in the face of God he snarls his lip and speaks:
     IF You removed Your hand of mercy. . .
          IF he were to lose all that he had. . .
               IF Your hedge of protection would be removed from his house. . .
                     He'd curse You to Your face!

You can almost smell the stench of sulphur as he shrieks: "You're not worthy of Job's love, devotion. He only loves You because of what You do for him!"

It's a dramatic scene that should cause me to examine my life. Why do I serve Him? Because of what He does? Because of what I get? Or, because of who He is?

Just a thought.
Now, back to the story:

God's on trial.
He's been charged.

The trial begins. . .

Monday, August 11, 2014

God On Trial

"Have you considered my servant Job?"
Job 1:8

I've never really spent much time with Job.

Sure, over the years I've heard countless sermons about him and his trials: The trials of Job. These sermons have focused on his losses, his wife's attitude, his friends, and his responses to the entire ordeal. It's a painful story that has the ability to speak to us on deep, deep levels. But frankly, I've chosen to spend my bible study times in other places.

Lately, Job has been on my mind.

          Not because of all the things he went through.
          But, rather why he went through them.

Have you ever noticed that it all started because of a question that God asks?  Think about that for a minute. . .

          Satan does not have an omniscient point of view.
          He doesn't mention Job.
          God does.

The question is pretty intriguing: "Have you considered my servant Job?"

I think the question reveals a reality that if we're not careful we might read right past. It has changed my thinking and approach to this entire book. Too often I've focused on Satan in this story. But, I'm beginning to think I've had the wrong idea.

Have you (Satan) considered...

         Why would God ask this question?
          Obviously, He (God) had considered Job.

This is the starting point for the entire drama that unfolds in the book which bears his name. It all begins with God revealing His confidence in one man. So much confidence, in fact, that He invests His character in the character of this man.

So, as we enter into the drama that starts to unfold in Job 1, I think I need to adjust my thinking. I've always thought that Job was on trial. After all we refer to the book as the "trials" of Job. But. . .

          Could it be that Job isn't on trial here?
          God is.

Satan has already failed at trying to ascend to the heights of God. So now, based upon a question that God Himself asks, he will try to bring God down to His level. If Job fails then obviously God didn't know him like He claimed: God wouldn't have an omniscient point of view.

The challenge is presented with a question God asks.

Intriguing it all starts here. . .