On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. Matthew 2:11
There is an old Amish proverb that goes something like this: There are two kinds of leaders: those who are interested in the flock, and those who are interested in the fleece. In the first part of I Peter 5 there is an admonition given to pastors but it is applicable to all those who hold leadership roles anywhere. Leaders are to lead by example. They are not to be dictators with an accompanying attitude but rather directors who are always directing people in the case of pastors toward Christ, and for other leaders directing people toward the greater vision with a humble attitude.
Peter encourages us and the early believers to honor one another and treat each other respectfully. Have you ever been around someone who frequently ‘tooted their own horn’? How annoying is that? Does it make you want to follow that person’s lead or make you like that person very much? Think about social media posts you have seen like this, or maybe even posted yourself. One Christian leader appropriately called out some posts as the ‘humble brag’ and targeted how annoying and self-serving they are. As Christian brothers and sisters no one should toot their own horn but rather let others give them any due recognition. Peter reminds us in verse 5 that God hates pride but appreciates true humility.
In serving God with a humble attitude and living a righteous life we can expect to have some opposition. Opposition can have two effects: either failure, or strength and growth. In the end of the chapter Peter points out that our adversary the devil would like to see us fail, and is just waiting to help us to our demise – but by staying the course God will give us victory. The admonition for us is to stand firm in our faith and righteousness so that we may glorify God in this life and thus overcome the evil one.
I am a dad and as such enjoy the occasional (or perhaps not so occasional) dad joke. I also like to see the look on someone’s face as they decipher the unexpected oxymoron. Some of these are so common that we don’t even realize when we say them. Others take a moment to realize what has been said.
Here are some examples:
I am clearly confused by all of these oxymorons.
James, although known to be quite practical in his writing starts out using a couple of oxymorons.
The first he uses is in the second verse, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” I am usually not saying, “Thank you for this traffic jam” or, “I am so glad I just stubbed my toe.” James is not saying that we will or should enjoy pain or difficulties. He is saying that as our faith is tested it becomes stronger, just like we do when we go to the gym.
Next he writes of Humble Pride. James 1:9-10 says,
9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.
How can one in humble circumstances glory in his high position? The trick is we are not boasting or glorifying ourselves, but we are glorifying our God. Jesus tells us in Luke 10:42-45 that the one who wishes to become great must become least. As we serve others, we show that we are not focused on the desires of our flesh but instead we are caring for others. This shows true humility. After telling us that we are to be doing the word of God and not just hearing it James ends this chapter by telling us that pure and undefiled religion is to serve widows and orphans while keeping yourself unstained.
Sometimes when you do the right thing it may just confuse someone enough to cause them to ask why you did it. Let’s live in a way that inspires others to seek God and His Kingdom!
There is that word again. I liked it before but not so much now. The word is “confidence”. We read it before in Hebrews 10:22 where we discovered that we could confidently enter into the very presence of God because of Jesus, where we could get close to God and be His child. I like the idea of being a child, having child-like faith. That sounds safe and secure. That feels comfortable and peaceful. But now Paul is using that word “confidence” again, but this time it does not sound at all safe or smart.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11: 1
Faith is confidence in what we hope will happen, and assurance about what we can’t even see? Hoping something will happen and believing it will happen even if we can’t see anything? Really?? Quite frankly, this sounds a little crazy and unnerving. It sounds a lot like stumbling around in the dark, not seeing where we are going, not knowing where the light switch is, not knowing when the big, bad boogie man is going to jump out at us.
“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” Hebrews 11:3
As I keep reading this chapter, things seem to get worse. We are told that the whole universe which we can see with our eyes, was not made out of stuff that we can see. Quite frankly, that does not make any sense. How can you make something out of nothing? Who would believe such a thing?
The answer to my question is that Abel did. Enoch did. Noah did. Abraham and Sara did. Isaac did. Jacob did. Joseph did. Moses did. The walls of Jericho did. Rahab did. Women did, and a whole lot of other people did.
None of these people saw the end result of their faith. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises…” Hebrews 11:13. They simply lived their faith. They were confident that if they lived their faith, that God would be faithful. “and were persuaded of them (the promises) and embraced them” Hebrews. 11:13. They believed that they were making something out of something even though they could not see it.
This chapter of Hebrews is full of action words. Abel offered, Enoch pleased, Noah moved, Abraham obeyed, Sara received strength, Jacob worshipped, Joseph gave instructions about his bones, Moses endured, the walls of Jericho fell, Rahab perished not, women received their dead back to life, and others were tortured. They were all confident that they were making something out of something that the world thought was nothing. That something that the world thought was nothing was God’s promises.
All these people mentioned were giants in the faith. They all judged God faithful simply because He promised. They endured hardships, were stoned, sawn asunder, tempted, slain with the sword, tormented, afflicted, and wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. The world was not worthy of them. (Hebrews 11:37-38).
Now that I have read to the end of this chapter, all of this still does not make any sense to me, but for a different reason. Even though you and I will probably not experience the hardships that these giants endured, yet we will be right there with them when God fulfills His promise of the Kingdom. That does not make sense. We are so not worthy of them.
“God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”
Hebrews 5:12 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.
As parents, my wife and I have the exciting opportunity to watch our daughter grow. We made a growth chart where we can visibly see how much she has grown over the years. It is exciting for her and us to watch the marks get higher and higher.
But can you imagine how shocked and concerned we would be if, instead of growing up our daughter had shrunk! We would schedule an immediate doctor’s appointment to find out what was wrong. Growth is normal and causes joy – shrinkage would be crazy and cause for alarm.
Many of the Hebrews that this letter is written to have been backsliding in their faith. They are shrinking – the author notices this and raises the alarms. He states that they are back needing the milk instead of solid food. Imagine if a teenager or adult gave up solid food for formula and pureed fruits and veggies. For some reason this seems silly but for some reason long time Christians acting like new believers does not get the same reaction.
Instead of helping others with their faith – these believers still need someone to teach them the basics again. The author wants to go deeper but fears it will go over their heads. So before he dives in to that subject, he issues a strong warning – saying, “GROW UP! You have probably been in a situation where an adult was acting like a child. You want to shout, “act your age” or “grow up.” And essentially that is what the author of Hebrews does with these Hebrew Christians.
In vs. 11 he calls them spiritually dull and they don’t seem to listen. But they didn’t used to be this way. The language used here indicates that there was a drop off – as if they were sick and lacking energy or possibly it is a spiritual laziness. We notice an opportunity to get into God’s word but instead flip on the tv or have a free Sunday morning to go to church but instead decide to sleep in.
Have you ever thought about how imperfect the disciples, that Jesus himself chose to follow him, were? They have already seen Jesus feed the 5,000 (back in chapter 6). Here there are about 4,000 hungry folks and compassionate Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “We can’t let them leave here hungry, can we?” Immediately the disciples say, “We can’t feed all these people.” And the excuses come out… “There are too many.” “We are out in the middle of nowhere.” “We only have 7 loaves.” The reality of the situation has them seriously doubting that they can do anything.
Now let’s think about ourselves in the church. Are we full of compassion and faith or do we also look at the reality in front of us and let doubt convince us that we are unable to do what seems too hard for us? I know the excuses I can find myself making. “Someone else can do a better job.” “I have a lot on my plate already. I can’t take on anything else.” “I can’t do this. I have no experience with it.” Excuses can even come with negative attitudes… “Why doesn’t someone else do it?” “I’m not good enough.” “I’m not smart enough.” Or even, “I just don’t want to.” Where did the compassion and faith go?
Jesus makes a good point later on in Mark 8:34-35. He says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
So it turns out that it wasn’t about the disciples and what they thought they were capable of. Just like it’s not about me and what I want my life to be like or even what I think it is already. Let’s not overanalyze things, but let compassion and faith move us.
(There is a short book by Thom Rainer called I am a Church Member. I recommend it. It changed my attitude on things about church that I was a little grumpy about.)
By now we have gone a complete week since Fuel has ended. Some of us maybe have gone back to our old ways, but others may be trying to make their habits (here we go) DIFFERENT!
This week I have been reading through Mark 7! While I was reading, there were two verses that stuck out to me like a sore thumb. Mark 7:6 &7 say, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” Jesus was quoting Isaiah. Jesus said this because the Pharisees saw the disciples of Jesus eating with unclean hands. It was against tradition for the Pharisees and the Jews to eat without clean hands. Jesus challenges the Pharisee’s teachings with what it really means to honor God.
Reading that first part of verse 7 stood out because it really got me thinking of myself. “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” When we all leave FUEL and other church camps we all sometimes go back to our old ways and just forget what camps like FUEL are actually for – bettering our faith and love for God with the fellowship of our COG family.
We can all show our love for God freely around people we know at places like FUEL but when we come back to modern day society some of us feel like we shouldn’t/can’t show it as much. When you come back to your normal life you have to feel conviction in your heart that you’re going to continue to show God’s love even outside of FUEL. Even though some of us don’t do this, back to what Jesus said to the Pharisees, some of us might honor him with what we say but not really in our hearts. Although our hearts may be unclean, God still loves us and gives us many ways to honor him!
There is no one way to honor God. We all have unique ways to show our love. Some of us might be amazing speakers, some might be fantastic writers, and some like myself love to honor him with music. Just because we have different ways of showing our love for him, doesn’t mean we should hide it. It’s gifts from him to show that He loves us no matter what; and that we should embrace it.
Wow! It’s now been a full week since Fuel ended, and I’m sure that many of you who attended are, like me, missing your friends, your classes, the sessions, and the overall atmosphere. But hopefully, we have been able to take what we learned that week and apply it to the way we live our everyday lives. How to be (drum roll, please)…DIFFERENT! We can see many examples of how to be different and serve the way Jesus served in Mark chapter 6. I think of this chapter as a sort of series of steps telling us how we are meant to serve.
So Jesus starts this chapter off with saying, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.” (Mark 6:4) The King James version actually says, “in his own country.” So in essence, he’s telling us, “Hey, I know you like your friends, your family, your home, and it’s easy to feel comfortable there, but I need you to GO OUT and share the truth with the world.” It is not God’s will for us to stay confined to our own little nook of the world. We have to go love everybody, everywhere. Don’t be afraid to venture outside your comfort zone, and love people there.
The next main point Jesus gets to is that when you stop in a town to share the truth with people, they might not accept it; they may simply say “no”. In that case, our job is to “shake the dust off our feet” (Mark 6:11), and move on. Because what happens when we stay in one place, working on bringing the same person to the truth for too long? We miss out on bringing so many other people to the truth! If someone is not willing to accept the truth and live for God, we have to know that it’s time to move on and find people who are. Because our mission is to get as many people into the Kingdom as possible.
After the sad and brutal story of the death of John the Baptist, Jesus told the disciples to “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.” (Mark 6:31) In order to help other people build a relationship with God, we need to keep ours strong. Luke 5:16, one of the memory verses from last week, says “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” So one important step we have to take in our lives is to take the time to go somewhere by ourselves and focus on our own spiritual health, so that we may be better equipped to go out and make disciples.
In verses 33-44, we read about how Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. It says in verse 34 that Jesus saw them and felt compassion for them. But he didn’t just push the feeling away and continue on; he acted on his compassion. He did something. It may seem impossible to do what Jesus did, but God provides you with the means to do what you are called to do. And it’s not impossible by the way – if God thinks that you should feed five thousand people with a couple of tacos and a strawberry shake, you will feed five thousand people with a couple of tacos and a strawberry shake.
Next we come to Jesus walking on the water. His disciples were astonished when he climbed in the boat all nonchalant after walking out to the middle of the sea to calm the winds for them. Why were they so flabbergasted? I mean, they just witnessed him feed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish! Well, in verse 52 we read that they “had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.” Don’t let your heart be hardened. Open your eyes to the things God is doing all around you, and let it affect you. Let it change your mindset, your behavior, the very way you live your life. Because that’s why God let Jesus do these crazy things, so that we could see His power and have faith in Him. Later on, in verses 53-56, we see how the people of Gennesaret recognize Jesus and flock to him, assuming that he can heal them, because they know he has before. Flock to Jesus. Know his Father’s power. Trust in Him. Let Him make you different.