Archive for the ‘Lessons From Scripture’ Category

In Mark 10.32-45 we find a conversation that occurs between the disciples and Jesus. It begins with Jesus telling His disciples that He is going to be beaten, mocked, humiliated, murdered and that He will rise from the dead three days later.

As someone that is closely connected with several men that I consider to be mentors I cannot imagine having one of them tell me this. I would like to think that if one of mentors told me they were about to be tortured and murdered that I would try to do everything in my power to get more details and to stop such an atrocity. Yet in Mark 10 we find a different response.

Two of the men with Jesus respond in a manner that is downright puzzling. They do not cry out in horror but rather they start jockeying for a position in God’s kingdom. The first comments that are made after Jesus’ announcement is men asking to receive a place of honor in heaven. Teacher do whatever we ask…Make us influential in the kingdom…

Seriously! Can you imagine giving that self-centered response? While we might like to say we would not respond that way, we often do. Consider some of the messages we know Christ has given us. He told us to share His message of hope with the world. Yet we don’t as much as we should. Why? We are focused on us. We don’t want others to reject us. We don’t want others to look at us funny. We don’t want people to think we are Bible thumpers. Essentially we are proclaiming with our actions that our preservation is much more important than Christ’s expectation of us. We also declare with our actions that we are more important than the eternal destination of the those we do not share our faith with.

REASON #1 WE DON’T HEAR CHRIST BECAUSE WE ARE TOO FOCUSED ON OURSELVES.

Something else happens later in the passage. We find that the other ten disciples overhear the request that was made of Jesus. Scripture tells us that these guys got ticked off. They started a gripe fest right then and there. It does not tell us that they were upset about Jesus telling them He would die but that they were mad at James and John.

These men also missed Jesus message. Why? They were too busy be offended at other followers of Christ. Their focus was not on the message of Christ but rather on the failings of His followers.

At the moment the church I pastor is a target of God’s blessing. In the past three months we have seen people saved, had people join the church, have a group of people that desire to be baptized, have more people lining up to join the church and have seen a tremendous spike in attendance. Yet at some point this week, there is almost guaranteed to be some sort of phone call or email directed to me or the chairmen of our board declaring an offense. The person offended is bound to miss the fact that God is blessing our church because they are so upset that somebody did not live up to their standards. I do not mean to sound harsh but unfortunately that is a reality of church life.

Please don’t fail to rejoice over God’s blessing and faithfulness because you are so fixated on someone else’s shortcomings. If I am honest there are days when this is a struggle.

REASON #2 WE DON’T HEAR CHRIST BECAUSE WE ARE TOO FOCUSED ON OTHERS.

So how do we fix our focus problem? I believe if we are all honest we have to admit that all of us are a bit too hung up on ourselves and others. At the same time we are not focused enough on Christ. Christ gives the solution at the end of this chapter. He says that if you wish to fix your focus SERVE! It is hard to be hung up on me when I am seeking to bless someone else. It is hard to be hung up on others shortcomings when I am trying to bless them. It is hard to be hung up on me when I am seeking to bless the heart of God.

“Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant…”

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In Mark 5 we read a narrative that is perhaps one of the best stories in Scripture to tell right near Halloween.  It is about a man that is certifiably nuts.  This guy lives in a graveyard among the tombs and is completely out of control.

We are told that this man ran around screaming day and night.  In fact he was such a disturbance that the people from the village nearby sought to chain him up.  They were even successful at times.  They placed chains on him and with incredible strength this man just destroyed the chains.  He snapped them off and ran away.  Nobody could control him.  He was in a fact a lost cause.  I believe, after a while the people gave up on the man.  They realized that he could not be controlled.  He was violent, strong and scary.  They just left him alone.  He was destined to die alone in his home by the tombs.

Then Jesus showed up.  He saw this man not as a lost cause.  He saw this man who had real issues.  He saw this man as someone that had real concerns.  He saw this as a man that did not need to be chained up but needed to be released from his own personal bondage.  He saw a man that needed someone to look at him and recognize him as a person who had real value rather than someone that was just a bother.  He was not screaming just to annoy but was screaming out of a very real agony from internal torment that could not be seen.  Jesus saw the real story.  The story that others had failed to see.

We find a very odd thing occur when Jesus entered into conversation with this man.  The man was demon possessed and the demons had a conversation with Jesus.  They made a request of Jesus and Jesus agreed to their request.  These demons asked that Jesus upon casting them out of the crazy man, would allow them to go into a local herd of pigs.

Well, Jesus said, be my guest.  At that moment the demons that indwelt the man left.  They entered into the pigs.  Immediately a stampede occurred.  The pigs ran off the edge of a cliff and fell to their death.  We are told that the total number of pigs that fell of the cliff and died numbered 2,000.  This is often the part of the story that confuses me.  I understand Jesus freeing a man from demon possession but why follow requests from demons?  How does this glorify God?

Something happened after the pigs all died.  The man who was supposed to be watching the herd of pigs panics.  He ran as fast as he could to the nearby village and tells them what has occurred.  The villagers cannot believe their ears.  We are told the entire village showed up to the scene of this mass pig tragedy (no they didn’t bring a hambulance).  They showed up to see the pig carnage.  They showed up to see a calm man that was known for screaming and intense strength.  Even more importantly, they showed up to see Jesus; the man responsible.  So why did Jesus agree to the request of demons?  Well, I think that the demons may have viewed it as an opportunity to ruin the livelihood of some (the pig farmers).  Yet Jesus saw it as an opportunity for free press.  If the pigs had never died.  The entire village never would have showed up to to witness the power of Jesus.  Unbeknownst to him, the caretaker of the herd became a missionary.

While, I would love to say that the villagers encounter with Jesus led to a hillside revival, I cannot.  The people actually begged Jesus to leave.  Yet this was not until after some witnesses told them how Jesus had rescued the demon possessed man.

Well, once again, Jesus agreed.  He did not stay to preach.  He decided to leave.  Before he left the man he had freed begged Jesus to let him go with him.  Jesus told him no.  He wanted him to go back to the village and tell people how his life had been changed.

I imagine this must have been a frustrating moment for the man.  Jesus had freed him from internal chains and the people he had been told to go home to had put real chains on him.  They had viewed him as a man who had no value and had given up on him.  Yet Jesus said, that is your mission field.  Why?  Because a changed life demands attention!  This man had the opportunity to use his changed life as a platform to proclaim the grace of Christ!

Let us not forget, that man represents us.  We had nothing to offer but Christ freely extended His grace and changed our lives.  Now we have a story.  The power of a changed life is undeniable.  Yet as a believer my message is not to be, look how I changed but rather look what Christ did for me!

I will be covering two principles from Nehemiah today.  They are found in the third and fourth chapters.

Chapter 3 – A leader is concerned about the home front.  

In chapter three we find the walls being rebuilt.  Yet, Nehemiah did not go outside the city to hire workers to rebuild the walls.  Instead he instructed his people to work on their own parts of the walls.  They were to walk out of their front doors and go to the walls closest to them and get to work.  Work on the homefront!  Don’t worry about what needs to occur outside the city, work on what matters now.  Until the wall and gates were fixed, the Israelites were easy targets to all their enemies.

Chapter 4 – A leader is always prepared. (vs. 18)

With the threat of outside forces breathing down the neck of the Jewish workers a plan was needed to be put into to place.  Nehemiah’s workers were facing the possibility of an attack.  An attack that was meant to halt all progress on their disheveled city.  Instead of giving up and feeling sorry for himself Nehemiah did the job that God had tasked him to do and developed a plan for dealing with the possible attack.  He armed his workers.  In verse 18 we find that the workers are wearing swords and verse 13 we find people standing guard who are heavily armed.  You see a good leader is prepared for attacks.  He has a plan to deal with the enemy before he ever gets there.  For those who are not prepared, an enemy can wreak havoc.  Yet for those who resist, an enemy will often flee.

Are you concerned about the homefront?  You should be if you are not.  In fact in in 1 Timothy 3 one of the qualifications for a Pastor is that they manage their household well.  It then asks the rhetorical question “if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God.”

Are you prepared to fight for what is right?  Nehemiah’s people were.  You and your people should be as well.  Fleeing is not an option when the battle in on your home turf.  Resistance is the necessary course of action.   In James 4.7 we are told of the twofold process of dealing with an attack from the enemy.  1.  Submit to God. 2. Resist the Devil and then he will flee from you.  However, step one is submission not resistance.  To overcome the enemy we must first allow ourselves to be overcome by God.

 

In Nehemiah 1 we find Nehemiah ask a question of some fellow Jews.  He wants to know how his people are doing that are back in Jerusalem.  The answer he receives greatly distresses him.  He is told that they are in distress and reproach and that the walls of the city are broken down and the gates have been burned.  In other words, his people are exposed.  Exposed to the elements.  Exposed to enemies.  Exposed to wild animals.  They are both hopeless and helpless.  This drives Nehemiah to respond in three ways that all leaders need to embrace if they are going to lead well.

1. A leader has genuine concern for the people he or she leads. (vs. 2)

The first thing Jeremiah did when he saw his fellow Jews was inquire to the wellness of their people.  He did not throw a party and make small talk.  He got to root of the issue.  Why?  Because he cared!  Too many leaders are more concerned about themselves.  Failure to show concern for the people God has called you to lead is a good indicator you are not being the leader that God has called you to be.

2. A leader is emotionally invested in his followers.  It is not just a job, his heart is attached. (vs.4)

The response that Nehemiah had after he asked about his brothers in Jerusalem was one of a broken heart.  We are told that he sat down, mourned and wept for days.  Historically sitting is a posture of mourning.  In Job 1 and 2 we find Job mourning.  Each time he mourned he first sat down.  In Daniel 10 we find Danial mourning for 21 days.  What was he doing?  He was sitting.  In Psalm 137 we find a statement “we sat down and wept.”

Nehemiah allowed his heart to break for his people.  It killed him that his people were in pain.  Their pain was his pain.  A true leader is never doing just a job.  His heart is attached and intimately wound in and through not just his organization but through the lives of the people he serves with.  A leader who lacks love for his people will also lack effectiveness.  This is why we find Christ in the New Testament weeping over Jerusalem.  This is why we find so many statements about Jesus that say, when He saw them, He felt compassion.  It is easier for people to move for a leader who first allows his heart to be moved for them.

3. A leader recognizes the power of prayer, their own weakness and the greatness of God. (vs. 4-11)

The third thing we find out about Nehemiah and great leaders in general is that they yield themselves to a higher power.  Nehemiah knew a broken heart, a spirit of mourning and pain would not change the reality of a bad situation.  At that moment he did the only thing he could.  In his place of pain he cried out to the God of the universe.  He worshiped Him, he confessed to Him and implored God to intervene.  He looked for divine intervention!  A leader that does not pray is not a leader.  I know this is a bold statement but one cannot lead for God if he is not communicating with God.   A leader who fails to pray will sooner or later blur the lines between bringing God glory and serving to receive the glory himself.  After all, how can a man lead people to a God he himself is not communicating with?

As a leader….are you concerned about the people you lead???   ….are you emotionally invested in your followers???   ….are you regularly submitting yourself to the God you are called to serve???

The book of Nehemiah is a book that is jam packed with principles that spiritual leaders need to embrace.  In fact, out of the dozens of leadership books on my bookshelf, none measure up to this 13 chapter gem that is found in the Old Testament.

You see Nehemiah was not a theory or a manual that included “Top 10 Leadership Tips To Take Your Organization To The Next Level.”  He was man.  A man with a heart and a man with a mission.

My goal is to share with you 13 posts (14 if you include this one) on the book of Nehemiah.  There will be one for each of the chapters of Nehemiah.  I will be writing them from the leadership perspective but understand it is not limited to those who are in a position of leadership.  Biblical principles are for all to enjoy and benefit from.

One final thought before I throw this out in cyber world.  I will merely be referencing the book of Nehemiah.  For you fully receive the challenge and blessing that God desires for your life, you need to read the book of Nehemiah.  God’s Word is much more important than Jon Goodwin’s words so please do not read what I say and leave it at that.  Do some fact checking with your Bible!

Acceptance…

Posted: January 31, 2012 in Lessons From Scripture, Thoughts
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Pondering the word acceptance… I was hit with two questions:

1. Have you accepted the world as it is?

or

2. Have you accepted the fact that you are to be an agent of change?

You see either you make a difference or you don’t.  My prayer is that when people talk about me at my funeral that they don’t share how comfortable I was but rather how much positive change I made in the world.  My prayer is that I will leave this world a better place then when I got here.

~Jude 22 “And some have compassion, making a difference.”

In Job one we find Job losing his children, his employees and his wealth.  In Job two we find him losing his health along with the support of his wife.  All of these things were completely out of Jobs control.  His life was in a tailspin.  Yet it was a tailspin that Job did not need to take responsibility for.  He had not made dumb choices to cause these things.  These attacks on his life were not a result of God’s punishment because Job had chosen to live in sin.  They were part of a larger spiritual battle for Jobs heart.

God does not expect you to be held responsible for circumstances that are outside your control.  There are things in life that happen that just aren’t your fault.  Yet in dealing with these circumstances, God does expect to hold you responsible for your response.  Response to tragedy is often a good indicator of someone’s heart.  After all, it is easy to bless the name of God when life is going well.  Yet do we acknowledge God’s goodness when life isn’t?  The goodness of God does not change even when we don’t feel like we are experiencing.  God remains the same yesterday, today and forever.

In my house, we have a family photo and on it is printed the latter half of Joshua 24.15 which says, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  The first half of this verse is a challenge to the people to make a choice;  who is it that you are going to serve?  This verse is fitting because it does not provide a clause to not serve God when circumstances do not go our way or when we feel that God is not near.  It says, choose it and liveit.

My response to everything I encounter says alot about my heart for God.  The question is, when life and circumstances are not pleasing to me, is my life still pleasing to God?

Yesterday I remarked on Job.  I made some brief remarks on how obedience is not dependent upon understanding.  I would like to continue and share another observation that we can make from the life of Job.

As a father of three kids I have noticed that when my children do something wrong they are quick to point the finger at someone else.  If I am to say to Matthew, why did you push your sister it is quite possible he will tell me that his sister stuck out her tongue.  I then will ask his sister why she stuck out her tongue and she will respond with, because he called me a name.  You see blame shifting is normal part of humanity that we need to be aware of and respond to purposefully.

Back in garden of Eden, Adam blamed Eve who blamed the serpant.  It has been part of the process of mankind from the beginning.  Yet God did accept the excuse instead He punished all who were guilty.

In the case of Job, he was given the opportunity to sin.  In fact he was encouraged to by his wife.  Scripture tells us (Job 2.9) that Job was encouraged to throw his integrity out the window and to curse God and die.  Job could have done exactly what his hurting wife called him to do.  He could have lost his integrity.  He could have uttered curses against his God and ended his own life.  Yet he did not.

Job responded to his wife with “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks.  Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2.10)  Job recognized that all he had, had come from God and that God was still in control.  He realized that he could not follow his wife’s ill advice because regardless of how tough life was, it was still wrong.

How often do we hear lame excuses that are birthed out of the “he made me do it” syndrome?  God does not accept this and neither should we.  An obedient servant of the King is called to accept responsibility for his or her actions regardless of any other influences in their lives.  The question is, whose influence is stronger, God’s or man’s?  How we respond with actions and excuses will clearly answer that question.

 

This morning I did some reading on Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth.  I walked away from this narrative doing a lot of contemplation on an oft overlooked character in the story: Joseph.

What a confusing role this guy played in the whole story.  While I am not going to do an in depth explanation of Joe’s role in Scripture I am going to share what I was challenged with after reading Matthew 2.  It is this: Obedience is not contingent upon understanding.  Joseph had more than one dream where an angel appeared to him and he acted in obedience every time.  Consider the midnight dream telling Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt in the middle of the night.  Joseph did not consult his bank account, read the papers, check the weather or ask friends what to do.  In fact he did not even wait for morning to come.  He simply grabbed his belongings and family and left.  You can’t tell me he fully understood all the facts but you can tell me he fully obeyed.

I struggle with acting when I do not understand and I know I am not alone in this.  I research things I do not understand.  I have hundreds of books and spend hours researching and reading every week.  Yet sometimes God just wants me to listen and do what He is calling me to do.  I fear that to often I strive for understanding when God just wants me to strive for obedience.

So I shall say it again…Obedience is not contingent upon understanding.

Evangelical Christians appear to almost posses a fear when it comes to the word religion.  They use phrases when referencing their faith such as, “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.”  The phrase sounds great to most of us who speak Christianese but must be terribly annoying to those we proclaim that to.  Because to them we are a religion.

So here are two things to think on as you answer my pot stirring question:  1. That phrase I mentioned above is not in the Bible.  2.  James 1.26-27 is.  It says this, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.  Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

I am sure I will catch some flack from someone for this post.  I would encourage you to think about it and give your input.  Is it just a religion? Is is just a relationship? Is it both? Is it something else?