Scripture: Mark 6:30-44
Adam’s friend at work asks for him to pray, it is a seemingly little task. Adam is almost annoyed at the proposition. His friend is not asking for something important, it is not life or death at least. He asks him to pray that his wife would let him go to the game with the guys. Seriously is this really something the almighty creator of the Universe should get involved in? It is like the teams praying for a win before the first pitch or the pitchers praying for a perfect game. Almost as if by clockwork another one of Adam’s friends grabs his attention over the top of the cubical and asks him if he is busy? What now is all Adam can think.
There is a reason for these interruptions to Adam’s workday. Everyone in the office knows that Adam is a religious person; many of these colleagues poke fun at his devotion to his God. Yet often these same people quickly run to him with every problem or situation they face. He has heard all about the marital struggles of both the men and women, sometimes he even hears both sides since like most offices there are the occasional couple. He has heard about the problems with the kids, and the unplanned pregnancy scares. He has had the managers and even the CEO ask him consider them in his prayers when they received a bad cholesterol test. Then there are the others at the office. The ones that are almost militant at the even thought of Adam praying for them or their family. These friends have gone as far as threatening harassment charges if he so much as suggested prayer. Although many of these people have also found their way to his cubicle asking for the mention of a problem the possibility of a divine being.
This story is one that we have often heard; many of us have found ourselves in this story in one degree or another. Sometimes we are Adam while other times we are one of the friends. We may even at some point have been the ones threatening poor Adam with his job. There is a reason that people gravitate as well as shun the religious.
Jesus’ disciples were sent out into the villages surrounding the Sea of Galilee and given the authority over evil spirits, and various diseases. They were able to free people from the bondage of evil and disease. If you can imagine these things happening all around you, remember the stories we hear from various areas of the world our missionaries have visited. Places like Nepal and Africa. Those who attend this year’s Ministry conference in Wichita will hear about some of these exciting adventures from Bob Adhikary who serves in one of these areas. The things these men and women have seen shock and amaze us. They want to tell the stories as much as we like to hear them. They travel around the world witness God working great wonders among people we only read about in National Geographic. That is how Jesus’ disciples felt and those that they spoke to. They followed them. The twelve quickly met with Jesus to tell him about the experience that they had. I’m sure they were talking all over each other trying to let Jesus know everything that happened while they were out.
Imagine the grin on Jesus’ face hearing these stories of how lives were changing all round them. You would think that the time was ripe for them to just quickly run back out to continue the ministry. They had the momentum, and the kingdom of God was being established all around them. Jesus does not send them out. He instead says to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” He brings his closest friends into the intimacy and rest he enjoys with a disciplined life of prayer. He says rest for a while. This is not just taking a nap but Sabbath. Stopping the work just to commune and enjoy the sitting in the presence of God. There is a beauty in this lifestyle one that is almost beyond words. To work as hard as you possibly can and then to just let go and rest in the presence of God. It is a cycle, one that takes discipline to develop but it is often used in many various spiritual practices. Many of us have heard of the martial art form of Yoga, this was a meditative exercise used to challenge the body so that it could then enter into a state of pure rest. In my studies of Spiritual Direction I read once that many director would encourage their clients to engage in weight lifting for a period of time prior to their spiritual exercises. Which again is a cycle of work and rest. These small cycles daily are good but there comes a time where we must rest for an even longer time.
Jesus said to his challengers that the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath. Meaning that God commands us to rest not because he needs us to stop what we are doing to focus on Him to somehow keep Him alive like the sacrifices to the idols in Greece. He commands us to rest because we need that time to relax and reflect so that we can reengage in the ministry we are called into. Resting in Christ is a discipline; it is truly difficult to rest. To actually let all our worries and problems settle. Sure we may take a day off but how often are those days filled with small tasks that we have been too busy to accomplish throughout the week? Tasks like the laundry, mowing the grass, or writing the checks to pay the bills. We may rest from our careers but we struggle in the area of true rest. Our minds are still engaged in the hundreds of issues we are going to face in the next few days or trying to overcome the difficulties that were left for us from the prior week. We struggle to just let our mind go out of our own control and into the realm of God.
Jesus took them out into a deserted place to do this, away from the distractions of the world around them so that they could develop the rhythm of devotion, or the dance of life with God. The deserted place is the sanctuary, a place of peace. You can almost sense the excitement of Jesus as he draws them to this place. It is an adventure, an adventure that may revive your heart, challenge your thoughts, and change your direction. It is a place Friends call open worship, Holy Expectancy, silence worship, or the Meeting For Worship. It is a call to prayer and communion with God, a call to Come Away from the world of stress and rest.
Do you know what happens when we learn to dance with God in these deserted places? Our lives change, we are met with love and grace by the Holy Spirit and are gradually formed into something new, something stronger in the face of a trial something that is slow to anger and merciful to those that do them wrong. People begin to look at us differently, and they try to figure out what it is that separates us from them. These people begin to watch us and eventually they start to move in closer to get a better view, eventually they challenge us with little things like asking us to pray for them, or asking our advice. They will sometimes mock us to see how we respond, or they will challenge our faith in some way to see if we buckle over.
The disciples went with Jesus to pray and rest in that deserted place but those that were watching followed, they even run ahead to meet you where they have observed you go. They are lost. They need direction and do not always know where to go. The crowd gathered and the time was getting late the disciple sat there on their boat seeing the crowd continue to grow and then they began to worry about what they should do? I grew up a mile from the middle of nowhere and I have experienced deserted places. The needs there are the most basic. There is a hierarchy of needs at the base is nourishment, and contrary to the news the top or least important are the luxuries like phones, cars, and even health care. Food and water in a deserted place is really all you think about without these basic needs the best car and most advance gadget means nothing. And in this desolate place before the disciples there was an abundance of food. They went to the easiest answer send them away, get rid of them so we don’t have to worry about the problem. But Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.”
You give them something to eat. We pray for various things in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Just this week we were met with tragedy in the news of a gunman entering a theatre with murder on the mind. Almost as soon as I heard the news I knew what the quick responses were going to be. The most common was getting rid of gun and we would not have the problem. As some of you know I am an opinionated and I made a few comments myself, my comments were just as empty as everyone else’s comments, because the quick solution is rarely the right solution. Getting rid of guns does not stop someone from becoming violent. It only removes a tool. The core problem remains that that individual does not know how to handle the stress in their lives. I thought about this and it was as if Jesus was saying, “you give them something to eat.” What is another option?
Our prayers sometimes seem to be empty word. We see the great needs and we are overwhelmed by the vastness of the problems, it is like a multitude of people crowed on a hillside in the middle of nowhere without food. The next step is probably just as bad as the first. We first try to get rid of the problem, and then we try to fix it totally. “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread?” People are hungry lets go buy them bread, spend what we don’t have to fix the problem. Jesus again corrected them. By asking them how many loaves they did have. They started spouting off answers without even knowing what the true options were. They looked around and reported back that they had five loaves and two fish. Jesus then took those loaves looked up to heaven and blessed and broke the loaves, giving the pieces to the disciples to pass around. In the end there were twelve baskets of uneaten bread and fish.
People have tried to explain away this miracle saying that as one person shared others also began to share the lunches they too brought and soon they realized that they had plenty. I actually like this explanation but it does not explain it all. It tells us that sometimes the answer to our prayers have always been right there before us, we were just too distracted to see. We are distracted because we are worried. We are trying to control a situation, and we cannot seem to see outside the box we are stuck in. Paul speaks of this the best when he says, “the things that I want to do I don’t do and the things that I don’t want to do I do. Who will save me?” We get in cycle of despair. We want out but for the life of us we cannot seem to find the way.
Jesus calls us to, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Our minds are filled with hungry people, homeless people, people in financial trouble, violence, drought, abuse, and constant arguing. Jesus says come away rest a while. We try to save the world, but we often get pulled into our own complaints because we do not rest. Come away and rest awhile. We push the problems away letting other deal with it; we are distracted by the great burdens so we are stuck in inactivity. Jesus knows our struggle and says come rest a while. In that time of resting and prayer in the deserted place, the place where the worries of the world are left behind, we can open up to God being true before Him and He can say to us what do you have, Bless it and provide for the needs He calls us to fill.
Let us now Come away with Christ and rest in Him in this time of open worship. Let us let God direct our minds and missions and let us see ourselves and our abilities in the Light of truth. Let us allow him to bless what we have and become the living expression of His love to the world.
Scripture: Mark 6:14-29
There is a term that is used in our language. This term has a very morbid heritage that stretches back into the dark days of European history. The term is to stick your neck out. The term is used in cases of risk. To stick your neck out you would go out on your own, beyond what is commonly held as practical or wise, to push for change. In the darker areas of history people that stuck their neck out usually ended up a head shorter than the rest.
I say that this term comes from the dark days of European history that may not be the entire truth because people that oppose those in power usually came to the same or a similar end. It is common knowledge that you do not oppose those in power. Our nation is one that defies most of the commonly held beliefs, we believe that we have a right to speak freely, to worship freely and openly however we want, a right to oppose those in power without facing a penalty of death. This does not however mean we will not face consequences.
Such a morbid passage to reflect on today but one that is very important. There are always consequences to the words we use and say. Once they leave our lips or are published in any way, they cannot be retracted but they are forever lodged in the hearts and minds of those that listen to or read them. The first lesson to learn is thinking of what you are saying and how you say them.
There are many things that can be said about the Herod family. Moral is probably not one that would be used often. The day that Herod the Great died he arranged for the mass murder of many of the key leaders of the Jewish people, he arranged the death of his wife, and even some of his children. Those that remained threatened to cause a civil war within the region so Rome chose to remove most of the power from the family. The region of Palestine was spit among all of the remaining children but the rule over the capital Jerusalem was given to a Roman Governor. This insured that the leadership and control of the Hebrew people was ultimately in the hands of Rome. This, however, does not mean that the Herodian dynasty is without control. They had authority and were the voice of the Emperor. So back on point, this Herod came from a pretty bad family, he may have even had some issues with his dad, but we’ll leave those questions to someone else. This passage also clearly states that he stole his own brother’s wife.
Historical record states that this little affair sparked a war. Herod’s previous wife was the princess of Arabia. The Arab king just a bit upset at this and to show his objection he nearly conquered the entire Herodian army. With that being said, Herod’s brother was not too happy either. The issue was not only one of bad taste but legality, the Herod family were converts to the Hebrew religion, we do not think of converts to Judaism but there are times throughout history where there were great evangelical activities among those that were not hereditary Jews. That was the main point of the Pharisees; they sought to clean the land by converting the Gentiles to the true faith. Herod the Great was a convert to the religion; his children were born into the faith. So there are several laws broken in this relationship. Things like do not covet your neighbor’s wife and do not commit adultery pop into the mind. There are also a few other laws that were slightly overlooked about the relationship; both Herod and Philip married their niece, which is slightly creepy even in ancient times.
John the Baptizer was not afraid to call Herod out on the unrighteous affairs in his life. Herodias the wife is a bit upset and builds a grudge against the baptizer. This grudge grew from a simple dislike to murderous intent, even to the point of putting her own child at risk to obtain what she desired.
The interesting thing is that this man crying from the wilderness intrigued Herod. This brings us to the next point; the world wants to hear the message. Herod protected John, because there was something about the message. He knew that John did not particularly care for his choices in life, but John never changed the message he delivered. He imprisoned the man yet John still continued to preach the message of repentance. This unnerved Herod, he knew that John was a holy man and at the same time he drove him nuts.
Well eventually Herodias’ grudge won. She set her own daughter up to perform a sensual show for her stepfather and his friends. He was so impress that he offered her anything that she wanted. Asking for John’s head was the prize,
So we learn that the world wants and needs to hear the message yet to preach it is like sticking your neck out. I mentioned this has been a problem throughout history. Challenging the commonly held beliefs can be dangerous to your health. So we must proceed with caution. John is still an intriguing figure. He is often compared to one of the most popular people in Hebrew history, Elijah. The comparison is shocking to be honest. Elijah was a prophet in ancient Israel during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel. Many would compare the three figures in this passage to these three figures of history. The biggest difference is that John was not carried off into the Heavens in a fiery chariot. Elijah preached powerful messages and performed amazing feats through the power of God; he had a relationship with God beyond any other man yet he lived in constant fear for his life. John made a habit of saying highly controversial things among groups that participated in the devious acts. To the soldiers he told them to be content with their wages, meaning stop pillaging. To the tax collectors he demanded them to collect only what was necessary, this continues on and on and to end this message he said Repent. Turn around and be baptized as a sign of the repentance.
There are two options for people that hear this message. They are either enraged or they are inspired. They become enraged because you are revealing the areas that they miss the mark of righteousness. They say, “Who are you to judge me.” Let me remind you that it is the Spirit that is convicting not us. Although there are ways to present the gospel that does lighten the blow, John held nothing back; Jesus held nothing back they both called things as they saw them they called people snakes if they were. Others used different methods. Many of the prophet used symbolism and parables, Jesus also engaged in this method. The parable is delivering the same message but the hearer must engage the presenter with their own minds. They consider the words, slowly the message seeps into their consciousness, like a time-release capsule. At first it is an inspiring story, but it lingers in the mind, they begin to look through the layers and the Spirit begins to convict them that their life should change.
Parable or blatant message, vinegar or honey they both attract attention and both have their place. The message John gave struck fear into the hearts of the hearers. Where the parable brought people by grace. Think about your words how we speak and act. Our words can enrage or they can inspire. Our words can be filled with the grace and love of God or they can be filled with wrath. We live in a time where the Gospel is needed more than ever but the ears of many are tuning out because they have heard the message expressed using a mechanism that is not well received. The preachers of old have gone from the fire and brimstone messages of “sinners in the hands of an angry God” to the “love wins” yet even still people continue to walk away from God into the abyss. How do we speak to those around us? How do we present the message? We speak through our actions and experience.
I was engaged in a conversation with a friend about the idea of cohabitation before marriage. In this particular conversation I spoke boldly saying that it is harmful to most people because it does not require a leave of commitment needed for that sort of relationship, harming more often than not women. Later that same day the same person asked another question about the existence of Hell. Grace was needed in this case because I knew they were probably wounded from the boldness of the previous conversation. My answer was to speak about a relationship, someone that you desired to grow closer to yet they just did not want to engage no matter how hard you tried. I asked the question if the relationship would be healthy if they were forced to engage? Oddly enough that person still talks to me when I basically told them that their lifestyle was rejecting God’s ways and was leading them to hell.
Ministry is dangerous; we often stick our necks out just waiting for a sword to slice. We can speak in boldness or in grace but either way we are mere instruments of the Spirit who are working in the lives of those around us. If we act and respond to
Scripture: Ephesians 1:3-14
Do you understand everything that is going on around you? Do you understand how you got to work this morning, not the route but how you got there the inner workings of the vehicle transporting you and the civil engineering feats that created the roadways, rails, and pathways that the transportation device traversed? I am guessing that there is something mysterious going on beyond your understanding. There are basically two aspects to humanity the curious side and the side that just goes.
Children are driven by the curious mode. If you have ever hung out with a child you probably answered the question “why” around 100 times a day. A child uses aspect of themind that many of us have let go dormant. The child is on a quest of knowledge, and where they do not know they imagine. They observe and reflect, they act out and they write different stories to put themselves in. A child engages the mystories of life, no wonder Jesus says that to enter the Kingdom you must approach it lik a child.
The other side of humanity is more common in adults. The aspect of life that just goes, blindly along the way. Some might say it is living by faith, but let’s be honest it is a life of disengagement. It is a life where we stop pursuing the unknown and get comfortable in the areas we know. Now there are many adults that still live in the aspect of life as a child, they usually annoy those that have “grown up”. These adults are researchers, authors, artists, and even some businessmen and women.
God wants us to live engaged with life. Engage in the mystery of life, the mystery of God. It bring pleasure to seek out the mystery. I married an artist, with that being said things can get pretty intresting. I remember one of my son’s birthdays where she devised a treasure hunt for his gifts. My son ran all around the house seeking the mystery, each time he found a clue it sparked his desire to find even more. With each find was another clue. He went all over only to find his gift right where he started. The funny thing is that this was several years ago and he still keeps his most prized posessions in the shoe box covered in paper and decorated to resemble a wooden chest.
The mystery inspired my son to find his gifts, the mystery and the joy of the find drove my wife to create the story, and in that mystery we have one of the greatest family memories. Yet most of the time we do not engage the mystories, rarely do we engage in a quest to find the mysteries of God. Yet that is what he created us to do. He preordained this in our lives. Which is one of the mysteries, what does being chosen before the foundations of the world mean? I look at it like the quest my wife and I took my son on. We had the gifts and we already chosen to give him the gift, but the joy of receiving the gift came not in the gift but in the find.
Do we engage in the mystery of God or are we just “blindly” living a disengaged life? How many of us read scripture with anticipation of finding something amazing? Do we pray hoping to have some new aspect of God shown to us? Salvation is predestioned in Christ, meaning before the foundation of the world Jesus was preordained to provide redemption. That’s great and all but there the joy is not in the knowledge but the relationship and in the quest to know Christ. To find out who He is and who you are in Him.
Today I encourage you to stop just living, and start a quest to find God. Along the way you may find may other things, mainly yourself. Have fun!