Author Archives: Brian

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star…

“And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand?  For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.  If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”  And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.  For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”   Mark 4:21-25 

Living in Chicago means that it’s never totally dark at night.  Even at midnight when you should be able to gaze upon the constellations and think about how small you really are, the lights of the city create a mild hue that almost looks like twilight.  Most of the lights you see in the sky aren’t stars at all but are instead airplanes coming in for a landing or taking off for a new destination.  Every once in a while when I do have the chance to be out of the city at night I’m amazed at all the stars that are really there.

In this parable, Jesus reminds us that a lamp is not meant to be hidden, but instead is to be put on a stand so as to maximize its light.  And of course, in this parable the light is none other than Jesus himself, shining through the lives of those who follow him in faith every day.

There are some important things to notice here.

First, Jesus in your life is meant to be noticed.  He’s not happy being a hidden feature in your life.

Genuine faith means realizing that your life is dark, real dark, without him.  In fact, in this parable he is suggesting that he is the only light that exists.

That’s important to understand, for we live in  a world that claims many lights:  Buddha, Gandhi, MLK, and the like.  And that’s not to take anything away from the social contributions that many have had.  But again, Jesus speaks with exclusivity here–he’s not one of many lamps at your disposal.  If you want the true light of God in your life, it’s found only in him.

Second, there’s an element of reciprocation here that’s important to understand.  Jesus states that the attitude or disposition you have towards him will have a direct correlation on the blessings of God upon your life.

Sure, there are many people who have lots of “blessings” that have nothing to do with Christ (and don’t seem to care).  We see those people everyday and sometimes even find ourselves jealously gazing at their prosperity.

But true blessings from God are those that enrich your life by strengthening your focus on Christ and flowing out from that as the center.  All other blessings can quickly turn in to false idols that distract us from seeking the Lord, and thus are not really blessings in the grand scheme of eternity.  They may be nice things now, but in light of eternity they are (a) gone and (b) used to show that you were more concerned and satiated by them than the presence of Christ (and his light) in your life.

So where is Jesus leading you with this parable?

First, realize that the truest blessings of God are centered on and in him.  They flow from his hand.

Second, remember that your attitude towards Christ matters.  It has ramifications for your life now and in eternity.  This is why there will be degrees of reward in heaven based on how you live now, and why there will be degrees of punishment in hell based on how often (and to what measure) people rejected the light of God in Christ in this life.  Be careful how you hear!

Application Questions:

1.  On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate yourself when it comes to letting the light of Jesus shine through you? to your friends? to your coworkers? to complete strangers?

2.  Obviously not everyone around us will celebrate the light of Christ.  How do we balance common sense with outreach?  Which side  do you err on?

3. Think of all the ‘lights’ that our world celebrates.  How does Jesus fit in with this crowd? Or does he fit in at all?

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When Storms Threaten to Sink You

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”  And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.  And other boats were with him.  And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.  And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace!  Be still!”  And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  He said to them, “Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”    Mark 4:35-41

There’s a false idea floating around in the world today that can sink your faith in God.  It goes something like this:  If you really follow God, then your life will be great.  And not just average great–but really great!  No pain, no stress, no difficult circumstances, no storms.  The catch?  You just gotta believe (and if you do that well enough, then you achieve a spiritual state of nirvana in your life today).

Yes, we need faith.  Yes, we gotta believe.  But look at this passage and cut yourself some slack.

The disciples were following Jesus by faith.  They had already left their family businesses and careers behind.  While they certainly didn’t have everything figured out, they were doing their best to follow Jesus.  While they struggled to trust in God’s care for them, they at least took steps of faith where others wouldn’t.

You will face storms in life.  And some of these storms will rattle your faith to the core.  You’ll wonder if you are really a child of God.  You feel as if all is lost and you’re on a hopeless journey.  Life will threaten to drown you–and leave no trace of your existence.

But this story reminds us that Jesus will be with us during those moments.

Sure, storms can be needed practice for learning how to trust him more.  And yes, we will handle most of these in a clumsy way, looking back with a hindsight that will feel more like a kick in the pants than a pat on the shoulder.

But look again–this story reminds you that Jesus is with you no matter where you go.  No matter how high the waves or how much your boat is filling with water, Jesus cares.  You can rest, because you can say to your heart and your mind:  Jesus is here.

In this story, that one factor made all the difference in the world.  And in your story, that one factor will make the same difference too.  Will you surrender your life today to Christ?  Will you invite him to be the Captain of your ship?

Application Questions:

1.  Are you in a storm right now?  How does this story give you encouragement?

2.  Do you think Jesus was sleeping in order to challenge or grow the faith of the disciples?  Why or why not?

3.  How did this episode increase the faith of the disciples from this point on?  How do your trials and difficult circumstances strengthen your faith in God?


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Do You Have Mustard Seed DNA?

And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?  It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it.  He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.   Mark 4:30-33

Do you ever struggle with feelings of insignificance?  To be honest, we all do.

There’s something inside of us that yearns to make a lasting impact upon the world.  This is why people who donate money to churches, universities, and other public places like to have their names on display.  It’s a way for them to have some kind of lasting legacy that outlives them and goes on.  I often wonder how many people would give these kinds of larger donations if their names were NOT made known.

Ray Bradbury in his epic novel, Fahrenheit 451, writes:  “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies . . . Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die . . . It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”

In this passage of Scripture, Jesus speaks to our desire for significance.  He recognizes that each of us has this inner desire to ‘make our mark’ on the world around us.  And surprising us all, he speaks to this hard-wiring in each of us from an upside-down perspective.

Jesus reminds us of God’s all-pervasive kingdom which touches upon every area of life.  But it’s an upside-down kingdom.  It starts off as something small–something apparently insignificant.  It’s tiny–like a mustard seed (the smallest of known seeds in Bible times).

But this little seed packs a powerful punch.  It grows and grows and grows, until finally it provides a huge presence and provision for other things as well.  In other words, it becomes exponentially useful compared to its original size and appearance.

This is exactly what God wants to do with your life.

As you surrender your life to Christ, God wants to use you in exponential ways.  He desires to multiply His kingdom life through you to others.  No one is meant to live an insignificant life in God’s eyes.  For the true follower of Christ, this is simply not possible.

How is a plant healthy?  First, it has a good root system.  Then it draws nourishment from the soil.  The sunlight gives it daily strength and energy to continue its growth.  It produces flowers and finally fruit.

An unhealthy plant is disconnected and in the dark.  It withers and dies.  It never reaches its potential.

In God’s garden of life, which are you?

Are you someone whose roots go deep in Christ and his Word, the Scriptures?  Does prayer, Bible study, and worship play key roles in your spiritual life?  Or are you disconnected from God, with no roots in His Word, and no sunshine of worship shining in and through you?

Application Questions:

1.  A healthy plant grows.  Are you growing in your relationship with God?  How do you know for sure?

2.  A healthy plant bears fruit.  What kind of fruit are you bearing from your relationship with Christ?  Are you leading others to him?

3.  Where do the roots of true significance grow?  In the world around us which is based upon power politics, military muscle, and outward beauty?  Or in God’s economy where random acts of kindness are opportunities to glorify God and in which true sacrifice is the divine currency?

To Grow or Not to Grow, That is the Question!

“And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.  The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”   Mark 4:26-29

If you could have anything, what would you want?  A new car?  A better job?  Better looks? 

To be honest, we’ve all got a list of things that we’d love to have.  And most of these things probably won’t matter in the long run?  You doubt that?  Go to the nearest cemetery, and find out who looked the best at prom?  Who had the most money?  Or drove the nicest car?  Or had the biggest house? 

See what I mean.  That’s how most of the things we chase after in life really are–like sand in your hand.  You’ve got it for a few moments, and then one day it’s all gone.

Jesus knows we struggle with these kinds of desires.  After all, he lived long enough in our world to see how people really are.  He’s no stranger to desire–but his desires are of a different caliber than most of ours. 

In this parable, Jesus is challenging you to want something very specific.  It’s not something money can buy, nor is it something that will likely make you more popular.  But it is something that is of lasting value.

What is it?  He describes the Kingdom of God as a living growth or pursuit.  It’s a pursuit to bear fruit–to multiply.  To be what you were designed by God to be.

Did you catch that?  Your destiny in Christ is to pursue a heart that grows in your relationship with God!  That’s what you’re made to do!  Nothing else will come close to satisfying you.  Not piles of money, Vegas-style pleasures or winning lottery tickets.  Instead, you’re made to have a heart that pursues God.

This pursuit is just as sure as the growth that the farmer sees in his fields.  It’s not up for speculation, hesitation, or debate.  In modern language, it’s a no brainer.

But why do we forget this?  Why do we live as if we were made for things–instead of this one thing?

It’s because we are fallen, broken, and sinful people.  We are spring-loaded to pursue things for our own glory instead of God’s.  We are hard-wired to build idols as soon as we can grasp with our tiny, newborn hands.  Only by the grace of God working by the Holy Spirit within us can we live with a different pursuit that takes us outside of ourselves to live on a completely different plane of existence (like Jesus).  Some might call this sensational fanaticism.  Jesus calls it living for and in the Kingdom of God.  Would others say this describes you?

Application Questions:

1.  If you died today, would the people at your funeral be in agreement that you lived with a heart that pursued God? Or with a heart that chased after other things?

2.  What’s the biggest thing standing in your way of really living in pursuit of God?  Or is it just an excuse that you keep using (like a drug) to do your own thing?

3.  How do you know if your heart is growing in your relationship with God?  Would your family and friends (those closest to you) agree that it is?  Or are you just fooling yourself?

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Is Faith Really Just a Private Matter?

“And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand?  For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.  If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”   And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.  For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”   Mark 4:21-25

It’s been said that when sharing a meal with friends, there are two subjects that are taboo and should be avoided at all costs:  Politics and Religion.  And so we end up confining most of the dinner table conversations to shallow chit-chat that misses what’s at the heart of people’s lives:  a thirst for how things should be (Politics) and a hunger to know how we should be (Religion).  And so we somehow share a meal without ever really sharing the questions and inner workings of what’s in our hearts–the sharing of our lives.

But Jesus wants to change all that.  He wants to free us from the confines of our own bashfulness by providing us with the inner light of His love and presence that cannot be hidden.  To hide the light–to hide his glorious presence in our lives–is to forget who we truly are.  It’s like a Republican wearing an Obama pin or a Democrat speaking at a Tea Party rally.

In this passage, Jesus remind his followers that being true to him is being true to themselves.  He is the Light that should shine through our lives.  Anything else is to be less than who we were made to be–and dare I say, less human?  Yes, it may be more ‘politically correct’ to police our own conversations, but Jesus didn’t try to win polls–and neither should we.

Think of your life:  are you letting the light of Christ shine?  In your daily friendships and interactions would people see a glimmer of your faith in Christ?  In our text above, Jesus is reminding us that as we pursue a life after him (and a life with him at the same time), to hold back is like holding your breath in order to lose weight–it just doesn’t make sense AND it has disastrous results.  Beloved, let your Savior shine through you and become more of the man or woman God made you to be!

Application Questions:

1.  Think of the last 72 hours.  In all of the many social interactions you’ve had, how did Christ shine through you?

2.  If a light is meant to shine–then it is also meant to be seen.  How do people see Christ alive in you and through you?

3.  The last few verses in this passage seem to indicate negative consequences of hiding the light of Christ in your life.  How do these play out in our modern world today?

Are you inside or outside?

“And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables.  And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that:  “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.” 

And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable?  How then will you understand all the parables?  The sower sows the word.  And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.  And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy.  And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.  And others are the ones sown among thorns.  They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.  But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”   Mark 4:10-20

If you have ever wondered about the role God has in the hearts of those who respond, Jesus clears up any doubts about His supremacy in all things–including our own understanding.  Jesus identifies the spiritual “goods” that people seek:  seeing things as they really are, hearing the voice of God in their lives, having the ability to rightfully act within the eternal joys of forgiveness.  Unfortunately, these things are not found by those on the “outside”.

But what about other religions, you might ask?  What about the sincerity of the Jew?  or the devotion of the Muslim?  or the spirituality of the Mystic?  Keep in mind the audience Jesus taught.  They were Jewish.  And the devotion of the Pharisees of his day would make most modern Muslims blush.  Even the overall spiritual climate included a fair number of mystics who sought after God apart from society in the desert regions of Qumran.

So how does this relate to you and me?

There’s a part of you that finds your identity in being sincere and authentic.  But apart from Christ, you’re still outside of his good graces of forgiveness and eternal life.

There’s another side of you that relishes being religious.  It’s the side of you that leans toward ritual and tradition.  But even that part of you stands outside the smile of God’s favor.  The Pharisees, in all of their ritual and religion, still missed the Son of God in their midst.

Finally, there is a part of you that enjoys the mystery involved in pursuing a God you cannot see.  Your heart enjoys the journey of looking for a God who is there in a sort of cat-and-mouse game.  But the problem is simple:  you are looking for Him on your own terms.  This passage of Scripture reminds us that you cannot find God when you look for Him on your own terms.  Instead, you must receive the truth as revealed in Jesus.

For many people–perhaps most–this is too hard to take.  The idea that they must pursue God on His terms instead of their own is as foreign to them as me coming into their living room and changing the TV channel during their favorite show.  But this is exactly what Jesus does to each of us who truly want to follow him–on his terms.

May you rediscover the richness of surrendering to Jesus and come in from the cold.  He’s waiting for you right now.

Application Questions:

1.  Do you agree that seeking God must be done on His terms only?  To what degree do you believe this to be true?

2.  Are you still outside–trying to enter into true fellowship with Jesus on your own ability and sincerity?  How’s that working for you?

3.  Jesus doesn’t seem to leave any wiggle-room in this passage.  To follow him, we must do so on his terms only.  What do you think of that?

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You–a Diamond in the Rough?

“Again he began to teach beside the sea.  And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land.  And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:  “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.  Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil.  And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.  Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.  And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”  And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”   Mark 4:1-9

This is one of Jesus’ most popular parables.  It’s easy to remember and so simple that a child can understand it.  But it’s much deeper than you think.  Like a diamond with multiple sides, this parable strikes at the multiple dimensions of the human heart–of your heart.  Jesus challenges us to have ears to hear–so let’s think of some of the things we need to listen to from this passage:

1.  There are different types of soils–different types of heart conditions…

This is how this passage is mostly preached–that there are different soils out there–different human hearts with various degrees of openness to the Gospel.  This is true.  This challenges us to ask ourselves, “What kind of soil am I?”

2.  Jesus is giving a throwback to Genesis 1…

In the opening verses of the Bible, we see God’s Spirit hovering over the initial mass of creation, bringing form, function, and beauty.  This speaks to the teleios aspect of God’s handiwork–leading everything towards a divinely orchestrated purpose.  And so now, God is doing a new creation in forming the new people of God centered upon the life, ministry, and purpose (teleios) of Jesus Christ.  This begs the question:  Has Jesus begun a reconstruction project in your life?

3.  Jesus is referring to God as the Sower–and now people are coming out of exile through his ministry…

God is the Divine Sower of His people–and now He is delivering them from exile.  The days of living under the indictment of the Law can be fulfilled and thus replaced by a new day of Grace–a new Kingdom.  This Kingdom is of course, set upon the life and ministry of Jesus–who is the Sower Par Excellence (God).  This makes us ask, “Am I living as free in God’s Kingdom–or am I still in the bondage of sin and the corrupt values of a fallen world system?”

4.  The four types of soil are really in each of us–so stay humble and repentant…

We would be arrogant to think that we are always only one type of soil.  Even if we are the “good soil”–there are moments and blocks of time in which we find ourselves more aptly described by the other types of soil.  This should humble us, and help us to remember that we are in a chronic state of need before Jesus.  Now we can ask in honest inventory of our own lives, “In what ways am I like each of these soils?”

5.  When it comes to evangelism, look for people who will reproduce…

Let’s face it, not everyone is open to the message of Jesus.  It seems that few today really want his message of exclusive salvation and hope found in him to be their life’s defining mark.  So we are challenged to look for “good soil” people–those who are receptive to his message of life and eternal hope.  This reminds us to ask, “Am I actively sharing the Gospel with others, in hopes of finding those who will reproduce this message?”

6.  Perhaps the seed should challenge us to be faithful to wherever God sows us…no matter what happens…we are the Gospel seed in the world today…

I’m not saying we are the Gospel.  I’m saying that as children of God in Christ, we are the Gospel-seed that reproduces this message of hope with ripple effects in all we say and do.  And in so doing, we cannot always be choosey about where we do this.  In other words, the seed in this story was utterly consistent with its unique purpose and identity to do one thing:  to die in order to reproduce.  In the same way, are you doing the same thing?  God has planted you where you are — will you die to your frustration over the lack of fruit or unfavorable circumstances that seem endless?

May these perspectives remind you of the immense treasure that God’s Word is to us–to you, as you grapple with a life of meaning and purpose in Christ.  Surrender to him in a way that is real and unique to you as you seek to give all of yourself to him in order to have all of him to you.


Would Jesus Call You His Brother, Sister or Mother?

“And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him.  And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.”  And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”   Mark 3:31-35

Chicago, like so many big cities, is home to many different gangs.  Gang maps of the city show that in almost every area there is some kind of gang presence.  What is at the root of this?  It’s really simple:  the deep down desire of all humans to belong.  We want to plug into some group of people who will love us, give us a sense of appreciation, and provide some type of refuge from the the pressures and storms of life.

Many homes in the United States are termed “broken” or dysfunctional due to divorce and relational problems.  But this sad reality should welcome this passage of Scripture in which Jesus declares the roots of a new family system that begins (and ends) with him.

Think of all the things that separate people today.  You have differing socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicity, and even religious heritage.  Think of all the “-isms” that come between people:  racism, classism, intellectualism, anti-semitism, sexism, etc…  So what is the answer to everything that divides us?  Of course, the only solution is found in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Notice what Jesus says.  He is the link for all kinds of people.  He is the common ground.  He is the glue.

It doesn’t matter what race you are–what background you come from–or what your heritage is (or isn’t).  True well-being is not being on the right side of an issue in the pages of history.  In fact, each of us–including you–is on the WRONG side of history.  It was your sins and my sins that put Jesus on the cross.  It was your guilt and my guilt that hung him there.  It was for me and you that he died.  Do you believe this?

This means that your heritage–your background–your roots–are not the key to any kind of self-satisfaction or right standing with God.  Jesus makes that clear in this passage.  Instead, those who comprise the family of God are those in right standing with Him. Period.

This is what it means to live a Jesus-centered life.  This is what it means to follow him.  This is what it means to be a Christian.  You cannot hold tightly onto Jesus while also holding on to something else to “qualify” you or give you some kind of “leg up” on others around you.  You must make a choice.  Will you hold only onto Christ today?  Your true identity depends on it.

Application Questions:

1.  Think of your heritage.  What does that mean for you?  Are you holding on to it while trying to follow Christ?

2.  Following Jesus means that he is the most important center of our lives.  Everything else is a distant second.  What things are competing in your life to take his place?

3.  When it comes to be on the right side of history regarding an issue, we are all equal opportunity sinners.  The cross of Christ declares to all that you are on the wrong side of history because your sins put Jesus on the cross.  Do you really believe this?

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When You Can’t Play By Their Rules Anymore.

“And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”  And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.  And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.  But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man.  Then indeed he may plunder his house.  Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”   Mark 3:22-30

Jesus is in full stride.  He’s changing countless lives and becoming a source of contention for the religious elite.  He does not honor their false power structures–nor does he bow to their authority.  Instead, he establishes a new authority that is centered upon his own life and ministry.

To put this in modern terms, it would be like you going to Wall Street and changing the rules (something the Occupy Wall Street protestors have tried to do without much success).  Or it would be like you going to the Pentagon and changing the policies regarding foreign engagement by US troops.  Or it would be like you going to the NFL and changing the rules by adding a fifth down to the current four down structure.

In other words, the change in authority and power was causing the ‘powers that be’ of the day to seek to disarm and discredit Jesus.  He had officially turned from being a new threat to now being an unwelcome phenomenon that must be eliminated at all costs.

The lesson for us in this passage is very simple.  If Jesus faced this kind of opposition and resistance–then we can expect no less as we follow in the steps of our Master.  At some point we will be misunderstood by others and perhaps even falsely accused.  In other words, there is a price to pay in following Christ–and at some point you will have to pay.

There’s a quote that gives me comfort during times like this.  It goes like this:  Ministry that costs nothing accomplishes nothing (John Henry Jowett).  Some have even contended that ministry that costs nothing is not true ministry at all.

But there’s one more thing that is easy to miss in this passage that I want you to notice.  It’s important that you see this.

Let Jesus answer your critics.  And I’m not just talking about the critics out there–I’m also talking about the ones inside your own head.  The doubts and fears and self-condemnation that drags you down as you seek to live for Christ.  Let Jesus handle those voices too.

In this passage the disciples didn’t have to say a word–Jesus did all the talking.  In the same way, he defends us before the Father because in him we are now forgiven and declared righteous in God’s eyes.  There is no condemnation coming your way from Heaven–only from the direction of Hell.  And you don’t have to answer those critics–just ask Jesus to and he will silence them.

Application Questions:

1.  How do you think Jesus felt hearing the criticism of the religious elite?  Does he still feel those same pains when people dismiss him today?

2.  Do you think Jesus was too nice to the critics?  Or was he too sharp?

3.  How do people commit the unforgivable sin today?  Do you ever worry that you have done so?


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Is God Calling You?

“And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.  And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.  He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.  Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat.  And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”   Mark 3:13-21

There’s a story about King Henry III of Bavaria (1017-1056).  Evidently he grew tired of being a king, so he went to a monastery to dedicate his life in a subservient role to others.  The Prior said to him, “Your Majesty, do you understand that the pledge here is one of obedience?  That will be hard because you have been a king.”

Henry replied that he understood and was willing to be obedient in any role that the Prior gave him.

Then the Prior said to him, “Then I will tell you what to do.  Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.”  And so he returned to his kingdom, confessing that he learned to rule by first being obedient.

This is the spirit in which Jesus calls his disciples.  They are no longer to live for themselves but for his purposes and for his kingdom.  And God calls us to the same level of commitment.  In responding to God’s call upon our lives, it is helpful to keep in mind three things that we see in this passage:

First, notice that Jesus is in the business of calling people to himself.  Out of the many he calls the few.  It doesn’t mean that the crowd was less important to him, it just means that in this instance he selectively called these twelve people in a special way.  And they were available too.  They surrendered their wants and needs to his wants and needs.  They could’ve refused–but instead they said yes.

As you read this, Jesus is calling you.  I don’t know what he is saying to you, but he is calling you.  Will you come?

Second, Jesus knew each of them by name.  In some instances he even renamed them.  But each one was personal to him and of special importance.  The same holds true for you.  Jesus is calling you (it’s no cosmic accident that you are reading this right now), and he knows your name.

In Bible times, to know someone’s name showed a level of personal endearment.  It meant that you and the other person were intimately close.  In the same way, Jesus wants to be intimately close to you.

Finally, when we surrender to this kind of life in Jesus, some may think you’ve lost your mind or fallen off the deep end.  They may think you’ve taken religion too seriously.  They may even write you off and no longer want to be associated with you.

Painful as that can be, it’s a good reminder that in the end, we cannot follow the world and Jesus at the same time.  There must be an alliance that defines us–and it must be to Jesus.

Notice some interesting particulars about this passage:  Jesus had nicknames for some of his crew.  If he gave you a nickname, what would it be?  Also, the text says he “went home” which seems to indicate that he actually owned or rented a house (at least at this time in his life and ministry).  Who knows, perhaps later he would sell it to fund their ministry together and show the disciples the importance of selling everything for the sake of the call.  Or maybe it’s a subtle message to us that “home” is wherever Jesus leads us to be–completely immersed in his will for our lives.

As you go about the rest of your day and week, may you and I both be more like King Henry III of Bavaria who learned to rule out of humble submission and obedience.  That’s what Jesus is looking for–may he find those qualities in us today.

Application Questions:

1.  Have you felt the call of Jesus upon you and your life?  What does that look like for you?

2.  Do you think the call of Jesus is different in terms of commitment or degree of sacrifice?  Why or why not?

3.  Jesus knows your name.  Let that sink in for a moment.  How does that bring the warmth of his love to your heart and mind?

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