Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Deceivers Will Come! - Mark 13:1-6

The Deceivers Will Come! - Mark 13:1-6
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 26, 2010 AM

Mark 13 is sometimes called the eschatological discourse, the prophetic discourse, the Olivet discourse, or the Little Apocalypse. It depends on whether you see within these verses Jesus teaching about the culmination of events, future events, if you are concerned about where it occurred, or if you believe that Mark wanted us to read about the end of the world. However, we do not find the usual visionary and cryptic language that most apocalyptic literature contains. Rather, we read more of a practical and ethical discourse and warning by Jesus to his followers. He wanted them to be aware that deceivers will come and what they needed to do about it when it occurred.

Whether one believes in the biblical narrative of the end times or not we live in a day and age where folks love to speculate about the end of the world as we know it. From movies that cater to pagan Aztec calendars predicting it or a French apothecary’s prophetic meanderings, folks love to read or watch how the world might end. This is nothing new. In this section of Mark’s gospel we find the disciples walking with Jesus and in the process of their conversation we find some enigmatic references that might refer to this subject. Jesus was concerned about his followers remaining true to the gospel. Deceivers would come to try and steer them away. Let’s find out what deceivers will come and perhaps by knowing, we can be aware of it for our own lives as well…

READ: Mark 13:1-6

Within Jesus' comments in answering his disciple’s questions, Jesus related some of his last instructions for his followers. They are to be aware of those things in the world that might pull them away from doing the task he is about to leave them with. Preaching that the kingdom of God had come would be vital after Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. His warning concerns those of who would come after as well. Therefore, we need to understand that…

I. Christians can be deceived by material things! (Vv. 1-2)

1. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things! (Colossians 3:2 NIV) It is so easy for us to focus on the here and now and forget that eternity awaits all of us. Jesus began very early on teaching his disciples the basic truth to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33 NIV) The disciples were looking at the things of man, the temple “stones and buildings.” For the Hebrews the temple was everything. And, even though Herod, a half-blooded usurper, built it – it was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Jesus, however, pulls them back to reality. He responds by letting them know that even the huge stones of Herod’s temple will not last. “You see these great buildings?” he asks them, “Not a single stone here will be left in its place; every one of them will be thrown down.” They had been excited about being in the temple, watching the people prepare for Passover, and their exuberance spilled over. Perhaps they saw in Jesus a different attitude, because he had been more confrontational in these last days and he had let them know on several occasions that his ministry was coming to some kind of climax. Yet, Jesus does not want them to lose their focus on what will matter in the long term. Temples will be destroyed and "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." (Matthew 24:35 NIV) Jesus was pointing to a time when Jerusalem, the temple, and all of Israel would shortly lay in ruins. In 66 AD the Jews rebelled against Rome. In response, Nero dispatched an army under Vespasian. By 68 AD resistance in the north had been eradicated and the Romans turned to Jerusalem. Nero committed suicide, creating a power vacuum in Rome. Vespasian was declared Emperor and returned to the Imperial City. Titus, his son, lead the remaining army in the assault on Jerusalem. They surrounded the city and lay siege to the Jewish stronghold. In 70 AD the attackers breached Jerusalem's outer walls and ransacked the city. The Temple and its magnificent stones were destroyed. What we put our trust in today soon rusts, decays, or is destroyed by men. We would do well to not be deceived by material things!

EXAMPLE: No one person and no one thing lasts forever. Not temples or people. No matter how big the building or famous the person, we would do well to remind ourselves that the edifices we place our names on today will be so much rubble later. The Lady Gagas of the world will soon be the weird old lady has-beens. I found it interesting that Ozzy Osbourne recently spoke out about Lady Gaga in an interview with Us Magazine, saying he believes the pop star needed to tone it down a bit. Yes, Ozzie Osbourne. He related, “I do think Lady Gaga should take a break for a little while. She’s getting to be too much, and she doesn’t watch the exposure of her clothes. She’s just too overexposed. She could be the next Madonna if she played her cards right.” He added, “I like her, but I’m getting a bit sick of her.” Who will remember Lady Gaga once her clothes are rags and her makeup is washed away? Where the temple of the Jews once sat, now stands a pagan mosque. Only the gospel of the stone the builders rejected has lasted. Do not be deceived by material things.

It cracks me up when I watch preachers pontificating with amazing multimedia presentations concerning the end times. The fact remains, no matter what kind of large banner you use or what computer graphics blaze across your sanctuary screen know one knows when Jesus will return. In fact, in this area Christians can be guilty of focusing so much on the end of days they forget about the nowadays. Here in Mark we are warned that…

II. Christians can be deceived by wanting to know too much! (Vv. 3-4)

1. In fact, people who think they know so much don't know anything at all! (1 Corinthians 8:2 CEV) Later, as “Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, across from the Temple” we find that “Peter, James, John, and Andrew came to him in private.” Why would these men, where some seemed to be at every important moment during Jesus’ ministry, come to him privately? I believe it was because they wanted additional knowledge concerning what Jesus had spoken about earlier. They were on the Mount of Olives, 2,700 feet above sea level, and about 100 feet higher than Jerusalem. West of them was the panorama of the temple and the entire city. It must have seemed as if they were on top of the world, being near Jerusalem and Herod’s temple. Having heard Jesus’ words, perhaps he was about to declare himself as Messiah? After all, they also knew what Zechariah the prophet had stated concerning the Messiah. That “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem… The LORD will be king over the whole earth!” (Zechariah 14:4, 9) Were the things Jesus spoke about and Zechariah’s words coming true? The disciples ask Jesus two questions. “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” (Mark 13:4 NIV) They actually thought these things were going to happen right then and there and they wanted Jesus to let them in on it. They were being deceived, seduced, and did not even know it. What if the disciples continued in the direction they wanted to go instead of that which Jesus had chosen? Remember Judas also tries to force Jesus’ hand and betrays him. There are those in our day who want to force Jesus’ hand by trying to figure out when he will return. We do not need to know. Jesus would warn, “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” (Mark 13:33 NIV) Being concerned about Jesus’ return is not as important as being about Jesus’ ministry! We can become distracted. When we are distracted over such things, we are allowing ourselves to be deceived into thinking this is more important than serving the Lord. Christians can be deceived by wanting to know too much!

EXAMPLE: There are literally thousands of books written about the end times. From those who predicted the date to those who think they have figured out the antichrist. Millions of dollars have been spent and made in making movies and documentaries on the same subject. It amazes me that intelligent people would actually think that ancient pagans living one-step removed from the Stone Age, who never developed past a cultic savage bloody sacrificial slave infested society could possibly know when the world would end. And sadly, it is all based on a faulty set of assumptions. Their calendar ends on the year it does simply because they did not make one that went past that date. And there is a myriad of credible conflicting theories as to exactly what date, when, and why. Jesus was trying to warn his disciples to pay attention to what he has already told them and to understand the gospel and to be able to share it after his death, burial, and resurrection. Satan loves it when we focus on things that do not matter. Christians can be deceived by wanting to know too much.

Deception can happen when believers willingly allow it to occur. We often want to think that we are tricked, fooled, or are simply hoodwinked into falling for ungodly things, people, or doctrines. Yet this is simply not the case for the most part. Far too often we know we should not allow ourselves to go and do the things we go and do or allow ourselves to believe. The disciples had Jesus right there and they were being deceived! This is why here in Mark’s gospel Jesus warns that…

III. Christians can be deceived by false relationships! (Vv. 5-6)

1. Let no one deceive you, my children! Whoever does what is right is righteous, just as Christ is righteous! (1 John 3:7 GNB) Some believe that Jesus ignores the disciple’s first question and begins to answer the second. I believe he is ignoring both and answering what he thinks they need to know for the near future. Why would I say that? Notice Jesus immediately tells them, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” Literally they could be seduced if they were not aware of who was trying to trick them and why they were trying to do so. In fact, “Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.” Jesus tells them. He knew the early church would face many detractors. The impact of Jesus’ warning was not lost on the apostle John who would later write, “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.” (2 John 1:7 NIV) Very early on the new church would face those who would try to dissuade Christians from following Jesus’ gospel message. They would even try to use Jesus’ name and say he had given them the authority to do so! Peter would say that, “These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them.” (2 Peter 2:17 NIV) We live in a day and age where far too many Christians look for the wrong relationship concerning their faith. They want what pleases them for the moment, from self-centered worship, service, or ministry to seeking after someone who can scratch their itch with fine sounding words. The apostle Paul would warn his friend Timothy, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3 NIV) We can also be deceived by false relationships of those who claim Christ but are only saying what we want to hear at the time so they can gain what they desire. We are warned, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14 NIV) Christians can be deceived by false relationships!

EXAMPLE: We are to watch out that no one deceives us. Recently the Barna Group released a study that relates six mega themes concerning today’s Christianity. He found that: 1) The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate creating weak faith and a reliance on motivation instead. 2) Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented focusing on ourselves. 3) Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life. If it does not focus on our problems, we are not interested. 4) Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating, but it is not producing long-term involvement. When the initial thrill is gone, so is the believer. 5) The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church. Homosexuality and sexual relationships outside of marriage are not seen as sinful. Situational ethics seem to rule the lives of believers rather than biblical morality. And finally, 6) the influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible. We are no longer the salt and light of the world. The church today has allowed itself to be deceived by false relationships.

Conclusion:
The deceivers will come. Christians can be deceived by material things! Christians can be deceived by wanting to know too much! And, Christians can be deceived by false relationships! What are you deceived by?
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Your Giving Reflects Your Heart - Mark 12:41-44

Your Giving Reflects Your Heart - Mark 12:41-44
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 12, 2010 AM

The human heart is an amazing organ that pumps literally hundreds of thousands of gallons of blood through miles of blood vessels night and day for decades. Yet it can be stopped by the smallest of obstructions. The spiritual heart can be an amazing thing as well. When it is truly given to the Lord it can produce a wealth of goodness, greatness, and joy. However, it too can be hampered by the smallest of obstructions. Obstructions of greed, selfishness, an unforgiving spirit, or narrow-mindedness can stop the beating of the spiritual heart. There is a cure though and it is found in a life of sacrifice. A heart that reflects Jesus is strong in him.

Here in Mark’s gospel we find Jesus and his disciples back in the temple, specifically in the Court of the Women. As they sit there they notice those who come and go as they give to the care of the temple. In these few verses we discover a wonderful truth that a person’s giving reflects their heart. Let’s discover how…

READ: Mark 12:41-44


CPR is done in emergency situations on those who need to keep their heart pumping. Sometimes, Christians need spiritual CPR done to their hearts as well -- especially where giving is concerned. Sadly, it often needs to be applied during this time of the year. We can get so focused on the giving and getting of presents, we forget what real giving is all about. Here in Mark’s gospel a poor widow teaches us that…

I. Actions reflect our heart’s intention! (Vv. 41-42)

1. An offering is not an offering unless it is freely given! Mark records Jesus as a people watcher. He loved to see what people did and he saw their intent which was frequently reflected in their actions. We find Jesus sitting “opposite the place where the offerings were put and [he] watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.” Individuals were coming and going. They were focused on placing their offerings into the “horns” which were placed in the Court of the Women. Barnes relates, “In that court there were fixed a number of places or coffers, made with a large open mouth in the shape of a trumpet, for the purpose of receiving the offerings of the people; and the money thus contributed was devoted to the service of the temple - to incense, sacrifices, etc.” As Jesus watched “Many rich people threw in large amounts.” These rich folks were the same ones who loved “to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.” (Matthew 6:5) And these were the same rich folks, who loved “to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’” (Matthew 23:7) Jesus would relate, “I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” The old adage that actions speak louder than words rings true here. These hypocrites manifested the same spirit about giving as they did about their prayer; it was done in public places for public accolades. It was done for public praise! In contrast, Jesus also watches as “a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.” We call this a “mite”, from the French, miete, which signifies a crumb, or very small morsel. The Greek word is lepton, which was the smallest coin minted at that time, worth about 1/64 of a day’s wage. It reminds us of the woman who told Jesus that, “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Only a morsel could she give and only a morsel did she expect in return, but her action speaks volumes. We live in a day and age where people actually think that their words of compassion carry the same weight as someone else’s acts of faith. There are those who measure their giving by their intent and billionaires who give a pittance compared to their amassed wealth. Far too often, however, Christians are the ones guilty of giving, like Dickens' Scrooge, mere morsels to Jesus and expecting a banquet in return. We should never forget that our actions reflect our heart’s intention.

EXAMPLE: Visible reminders are good for our lives. I keep pictures of those I love near my computer. I often reach out and touch them as I work and pray for them. These are not some good luck charm or talisman, but rather a way for me to be reminded of those who mean a lot to me. Believers should be the visible reminders of Jesus to the world around them. We should be visible reminders of his compassion, his sacrifice, his grace, his forgiveness, and his charity. Are you willing to serve, to give as you should, to witness, and to be a visible reminder to others of Christ in you? What are your visible reminders of Jesus? Open the moth-ridden coin purse of your life, unwrap your generosity this year and give of your time, talent, and treasure. Jesus would remind us that our giving reflects our heart. It is a visible reminder of who we believe in and trust with our lives.

This elderly widow taught more with her actions that day in the temple than all of the teachers of the law, the scribes, Pharisees, or Sadducees. In that moment in time one anonymous grey-haired widow woman became a teacher for millions of believers for thousands of years. I know that this never even entered her mind when she came to give her two small coins to honor God. What she did teaches all of us this morning that our giving does indeed reflect our heart. We also discover that…

II. Real wealth is reflected in a rich heart! (Vv. 43-44)

1. What we consider to be of value in life might well be worthless in the kingdom of God! There were those in Jesus’ day who thought that by the shear amount of time they gave in following the letter of the law or the volume of cash they spent would reflect well for them in eternity. Interestingly, this concept has not changed much. There are still those who think that by doing more good works or by occasionally giving large amounts of money to their favorite charity, gains brownie points for eternity. As Jesus and his disciples sat there in the Court of the Women, he watched those who came and went giving money. After noticing what the widow did, Jesus calls his disciples to him. He realizes it is a teachable moment. He tells them, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” I betcha they immediately thought, “What! She only placed two tiny tin coins in the horns.” The others made a display of their giving and you could hear their money clanging together as it went down the tubes, but her two pathetic coins probably did not even make a tinkle as they went in. This little widow did not necessarily give more in volume, but she gave more in self-sacrifice, self-denial, and sincerity of soul. Jesus puts her giving into perspective by telling his listeners, “They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Jesus isn’t telling his listeners to give everything they own to the temple, nor is he asking them to give him all they have, rather, he is relating a deep spiritual truth. A person’s real wealth is reflected in a rich heart toward God. She gave not to prove her devotion; her devotion was proven by her heart’s attitude as she gave. She trusted God to take care of her needs. Paul would tell the Corinthian church, “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” (2 Corinthians 8:12) This widow woman had a rich and deep abiding faith in God and a devotion to his temple. It did not matter to her what others gave, all that mattered is what she gave. And guess what, it also mattered to God! God does not despise the humblest offering, if made in sincerity. He loves a cheerful giver. Real wealth is reflected in a rich heart!

EXAMPLE: Dave Branon of RBC Ministries asks, “Got Botox? A lot of people do. Some take Botox treatments for health matters, but many take them because they want to look young again. Appearance is so important to some Botox users that they allow themselves to be injected with botulinum toxin type A so that their wrinkles will disappear for a while. Later, the treatment must be administered again. Botox is expensive, and it comes with possible negative side effects. But that doesn’t stop people from giving it a try so they can look better. Of course, looking good is not a bad thing, but a more important consideration is how we look on the inside. How much are we willing to sacrifice to have beautiful character?” I would ask, “Are we willing to take some ‘Botox for the soul’— to inject ourselves with sacrificial giving? Like the widow?" We may find that few practice self-denial in their giving. Most give out of their abundance, what they can spare without feeling it pinch, kind of like simply throwing it away. Among all those who give, how few actually deny themselves one comfort, even the smallest thing, that they may advance the kingdom of Christ instead! I pray you are counted among those who are wealthy in their giving! Never forget, real wealth is reflected in a rich heart!

Conclusion:

Actions reflect our heart’s intention and real wealth is reflected in a rich heart! What does your giving reflect about your heart?
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

What do you value in life? - Mark 12:35-40

What do you value in life? - Mark 12:35-40
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 5, 2010 AM

In the gangland movie, “The Untouchables,” Elliot Ness, played by Kevin Costner, moans, “I want to get Capone! I don’t know how to do it.” Malone a tough hardnosed Irish-American cop, played by Sean Connery, tells him, “You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital; you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way! And that’s how you get Capone. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that? I’m offering you a deal. Do you want this deal?” The movie is about how Elliot Ness takes on the notorious gangster Al Capone during Prohibition. Ness faced a huge challenge in trying to bring down Capone because of a corrupt Chicago police department. It was a time of greed and ungodliness fueled by people’s addiction to booze. Interestingly, before they agree to work together, Malone tells Ness, “The Lord hates cowards.”

Here in Mark’s gospel we find Jesus facing the same kind of tactics. Jesus has been challenged again and again by consecutive questioners. Each time he has deflected and met their assaults, not with knives, guns, or by sending someone to the morgue, but with wit, wisdom, and Messianic insight. In today’s passage in Mark we find Jesus kind of turning the tables on his questioners and the crowd loves it. Now he is the one asking the tough questions, yet he is getting no good replies.

READ: Mark 12:35-40


Why is it that Christians become embarrassed when folks find out they follow Jesus? Far too many of us allow the world to dictate how we are to live our lives or respond. We have falsely been led to think that turning the other cheek means being silent, self-conscious, and humiliated. Yet, if we truly think that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the father but by him, then we would do well to reevaluate what we value in life as Christians. Mark’s gospel teaches us anew to realize that…


I. In life there is value in knowing Jesus! (Vv. 35-37)

1. If Jesus is the life, then why live any other way? For us, Jesus’ comments sound enigmatic at best and make little sense. However, Jesus was offhandedly making a point concerning himself as the Messiah. Jesus being the Messiah does not have the impact today as it did then. The Messiah for the Hebrews was a promise from God. He would be an avenging king who would restore Israel and establish David’s throne. David was the real beginning of Israel being a nation. God promised David that from his lineage would come the future Messiah and the security of his monarchy, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:16) God, through the Prophet Amos, told Israel “‘in that day I will restore David's fallen tent. I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be.” (Amos 9:11) This is why when the angel Gabriel told Mary that her baby boy would “be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,” they rejoiced at the news! (Luke 1:32) So, when Jesus related that King David called the Messiah “Lord,” why would a king do that? How could the Messiah be both his “son” and “Lord”? Jesus’ rhetorical question pointed His listeners to the only answer: the Messiah is David’s Son, as a future heir, and David’s Lord at the same time. The Messiah is both God and man! This truth was not lost on Jesus’ listeners. And, this truth should not be lost on us either. Jesus entering into the world as the Messiah, points to his rightful place as our Savior and Lord. Believers enter into his kingdom through their faith and trust in who he is. Peter reminds us that Christians “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) Christians are King’s kids. John tells us that, “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God!” (John 1:12) Paul related, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:16-17a) What those who listened to Jesus’ words failed to completely comprehend we now fully know! In life there is value in knowing Jesus!

EXAMPLE: We live in a day and age where Jesus has been reduced to a “buddy,” a means to an end, or a way to feel good about oneself. Jesus is our redeemer, prophet, priest, king, and Messiah. We forget he is God in human flesh and instead focus on Jesus being a Hallmark Hall of Fame moment. Jesus is more than a mushy sound bite for our lives. The Hebrews had reduced God’s Messiah to an avenger who would make them the center of the world and restore them to their rightful place. John gives us a glimpse of what Jesus’ Messiahship truly means for all who believe in him when he wrote, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.’” (Revelation 21:3-7) In life there is value in knowing Jesus!

The crowd liked Jesus getting the better of their overly pious religious leaders. I would also like to think that the crowd may have comprehended more than we realize. Not only did they see this popular itinerate rabbi out foxing his enemies, they liked what he said and did. Far from being similar to the religious phonies they were used to, they saw Jesus for who he was and they like what they saw and heard. In this we learn that…

II. In life we should value sincerity! (Vv. 38-40)

1. There is no substitute for sincerity in life! In concluding his public ministry, Jesus deliberately confronts the hypocrisy of the Jewish religious leaders. It signals Jesus’ final break with these authorities. He begins a process of intimate teaching with his disciples. It is as if he desires that they finally realize his actual mission and where it would lead. Yet, as we pause for a moment, we discover something about Jesus that has always been appealing from the first moment he went to the wedding at Cana, to his trial before Pilate. Jesus was completely honest and straightforward. Contrary to those who tried to entrap him, Jesus wasn’t a hypocrite. He was sincere and in his sincerity we discover we are attracted to his teaching. The crowd that day was as well. Notice he bluntly tells them, “Watch out for the teachers of the law.” The idea here was that they were to continually watch out for these hypocrites and their false piety. Jesus tells the crowd to not be fooled because, “They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.” Like the TBN cultist of today, these men were only interested in power and greed. So much so that they would “devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.” They wanted to wring out every ounce of money from unsuspecting widows. These vile men were in love with themselves. Jesus warned, “Such men will be punished most severely.” In Matthew’s gospel Jesus called them “blind guides” and that they were “like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.” He went on to call them “snakes” and “vipers.” (Matthew 23:23-26) Jesus told them plainly, “Look, your house is left to you desolate!” (Matthew 23:39), and all of Israel would suffer because of their ungodly behavior. The contrast between Jesus’ sincerity and their hypocrisy could not be plainer. Jesus would warn, “But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” (Luke 22:26) Paul would remind believers that, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9) In life we should value sincerity!

EXAMPLE: What the world truly longs for is genuineness in the lives of others. We live in a world full of fake starlets and phony politicians. Sadly, many religious leaders are not much better. I believe this is why folks are attracted to individuals like Sarah Palin. It infuriates some people that George Bush is still well liked and is gaining new respect. This is nothing new. The down-home appeal found in the likes of Will Rogers, Billy Graham, Andy Griffith, or today’s Bristol Palin, attract the attention of people who desire a sincerity they do not find in the world. It is also why many are angered at the current Administration in Washington DC. While millions are out of work, losing their homes, and cannot feed their families our Government secretly gave trillions of our tax dollars away at zero or near-zero interest rates to many of our largest corporations -- including GE, McDonalds and Verizon! They secretly lent billions to foreign banks, including Germany's Deutsche Bank Securities, London-based Barclay's, France's BNP Paribas Securities, Switzerland's UBS Securities LLC and Daiwa Securities one of Japan's largest brokerage houses! Politicians do not pay their taxes and get slapped on the wrist, the President flies all over the world with an entourage of folks, a flotilla of ships, vacationing and golfing at every opportunity and spending millions in the process while folks wonder where their next paycheck is coming from. Is it any wonder then in life we should value sincerity?

Conclusion:

In life there is value in knowing Jesus and we should value sincerity in life.
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Whom Do You Love? - Mark 12:28-34

Whom Do You Love? - Mark 12:28-34
By Pastor Lee Hemen
November 28, 2010

This past Thanksgiving I heard people exclaim that they loved pie, sweet potatoes, dressing, turkey, and just about any other food that was placed in front of them. We use the word love for defining a lot of things in our lives. Sadly, the word love is often used in the wrong way concerning relationships in our lives. Perhaps no better definition for our day concerning love is better expressed than in the song Barney the Dinosaur sings: “I love you, you love me; we’re a happy family! With a great big hug, and a kiss from me to you; won’t you say you love me too?” Love has been reduced to an emotion we feel, rather than an expression.

Here in Mark’s gospel we find Jesus answering his questioners concerning what the greatest commandment of God is. Contrary to what some may think, the love of God is conveyed throughout the commands of God. Jesus remarked to his disciples, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15) and here he defines exactly what that means. When we look at Jesus’ answer it helps us to focus not simply on what loves is, but on whom we are to love. In fact, Jesus’ makes each of us answer the ultimate question, “Whom do you love?” Let’s find out how we can honestly answer…

READ: Mark 12:28-34

The time of confrontation by questioners was over with this last incident. Jesus meets someone who stands back and listens while he goes toe-to-toe with everyone who is willing to challenge him both intellectually and spiritually. Jesus amazingly meets all comers with wonderful answers. He is amused and steps forward to ask his one question. It is a question that plagued those who sought to know God through strict adherence to his law. He was not concerned about whom he loved, he had…

I. A question concerning the commandments! (V. 28)

1. Righteousness comes by faith! Evidently, one of the teachers of the law had heard and seen what was going on between Jesus and the Sadducee. He “came and heard them debating.” He was more than likely a Pharisee, and it is not evident that he had any hidden agenda or motive. We see that he was impressed by Jesus’ answers. Traditionally the scribes spoke of 613 individual commandments of the Mosaic Law — 365 negative ones and 248 positive ones. While they believed all were binding, they assumed a distinction between weightier and lighter statutes and often attempted to sum up the whole Law in one single unifying command. It was kind of a “holy grail” for them. Interestingly this man asks Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Literally, he is asking Jesus, “What kind of commandment is the first among all the commandments?” He wanted to know which commandment was primary and therefore the most important to follow. If Jesus could answer this question, then he and his teaching could be respected. However, he was asking a question that concentrated on the wrong thing. This man was thinking about what he had to do to be made righteous, rather than whom he should follow. Too many do that when it comes to their faith. Paul would state that, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference…” Why? Because Paul knew that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:22--24) Following the commands of God will never bring one closer to God relationally. It isn’t a question of knowing the foremost command of God, it is found in following His one and only son! It is a question concerning the commandments that is answered by faith!

EXAMPLE: Legalists love to follow the letter of the law as they see it. Sadly, following the law becomes more important for them than knowing the personal God who gave them the law in the first place. They can point to their adherence of worshipping on a particular day, eating only certain foods, and keeping themselves pure from the sinful world but they are devoid of true faith. Faith comes from trust and not adherence. Trust comes from love. Recently at my grandson’s play day, a little girl had gone swimming with her mother beforehand. I heard them talking about it. The girl was only about three or four. Her mother said, “And you trusted mommy didn’t you when we were learning to float, didn’t you?” “Yes, momma, that’s because you love me and I love you!” She had faith and trust in her mother because she knew he mother loved her. Legalism fails where love succeeds. If you are like this teacher of the law looking for one thing that you can do that will save you, you will not find it. He had a question concerning the commandments, do you?

Those who follow the letter of the law, often fail to see the love involved in the law. They desire that God love them, but they are unwilling to allow God’s love flow into the lives of others. God did not give his people the law so they would become mind-numbed robots marching in lockstep to the beat of an incessant almighty drummer. In fact, we discover that…

II. The answer is to love God completely and others wholeheartedly! (Vv. 29-31)

1. We love because he first loved us! Jesus goes beyond the question to the heart of the issue. He answers his questioner by telling him, “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Jesus begins with the Shema, which was recited twice daily by devout Jews during their prayer times. Most Hebrews stopped there in their recitation, but Jesus adds the following admonition from Deuteronomy to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) By doing so, Jesus is saying that the One God desires that his followers love him with all that they are. It is a total trust that results in a life given completely over to the Lord. It is a matter of believing what you say. Words are just words until you put faith behind them. Saying there is only “one God” is great, however if you truly believe that, then you will “love God” with all that you are! All your actions and attitudes are to display that love of God; therefore, the second part of Jesus’ answer teaches his listener exactly what this means. Jesus goes on to apply the Shema by saying the “second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” These are the “first” and primary commands of God. They are personal, comprehensive, and wholehearted. In fact, “There is no commandment greater than these.” A person cannot say they “love God” without displaying that love every day of their lives to those around them! The Hebrews had a hard time with this concept. They hated the Samaritans; they hated the Romans; why they even hated one another if you were not part of their select group! Sadly, the same can be said far too often of believers. We are quick to say we love God, but hold grudges, remember slights, will not forgive, and demand that everyone else understand and love us! John would remind us that, “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:19-21) the answer is to love God completely and others wholeheartedly!

EXAMPLE: One thing I have learned in ministry is that you cannot control what other people do no matter how much you want to do so. Folks have to be willing to do the right thing because they want to and not because you have manipulated them. I used to hate it when my mother used guilt to get me to do things. I was wonderfully surprised to learn that God does not work that way. He desires that his people follow him out of love and devotion. If you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, you will willingly do whatever he asks you to do because you love him. Your service is not dependent upon how you or others feel; it is squarely established in his love for you and your love for God. This motivates the believer to love others no matter what. Again, as John writes, “We love because he first loved us.” The answer is to love God completely and others wholeheartedly!

The questioner never thought he would be the one confounded by his own question! Yet this is exactly what Jesus does to this teacher of the law. The world today needs to hear Jesus’ answer from Christians! Perhaps in understanding how Jesus answers this individual we need to ask ourselves…

III. How would I answer the question? (Vv. 32-34)

1. Pride does indeed come before the fall! Oh how close can someone be to the truth and yet deny it for themselves! A pastor told me “it can be just a prideful pout away!” Here, we find this to be the case with this teacher of the law. He willingly tells Jesus, “Well said, teacher!” and acknowledges that Jesus is “right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.” But he continues his response by editing the Scripture. He goes on to admit, “To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” He uses the term “understanding” and omits the usage of “God” and inserts the generic term “him” in his reply (v. 33). Understanding for this man was found in his intellect. He thought that if he just studied about God and his law, acknowledged God with his mind, followed his commands intently, and felt sympathy for his fellow neighbors it was enough. He was so close and yet so far away. Why would I say that? Didn’t Jesus realize that he had “answered wisely”? Yes, and there is the key. He answered wisely, but not in faith. Jesus tells him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” But he was not quite there yet. Pride was in his way. This man was open to hear the law of God and he was willing to be taught the nuances of following the law of God, but he would not commit himself to faith in Jesus! He would not take that final step. As Maxwell Smart from the old TV show “Get Smart” would say, “He missed by that much!” Paul wrote his friend Timothy to tell him that there would be prideful people who are “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7) As the Proverbist would state, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18) Far too many have entered eternity separated from God because of their pride. How will you answer the question?

EXAMPLE: Have you ever heard of the man who prided himself on being an expert archer? He never missed! The secret to his success was that after he shot his arrow at the side of his barn, he painted a bull’s-eye around the arrow. We can do that with our lives as well. Joe Stowell writes, “It’s easy to live our lives doing what we want and thinking that our ways and instincts are right on target when in reality our ‘bull’s-eye’ shots at life are not on target at all.” Pride has caused more people to slam the gates of hell behind themselves than anything else. As long as I live I will never forget how after witnessing to a young man, he related, “I know what I need to do, I understand what you are telling me, but I just do not want to change my life.” I would love to tell you that he later gave his life to Christ, but as far as I know, he has not done so. A good man who is not a godly man because he never trusted Jesus, God’s one and only Son. Far too many have entered eternity separated from God because of their pride. How will you answer the question?

Conclusion:
In knowing the answer to “Whom do you love?” isn’t about following the commandments of God, it is found in loving God completely and others wholeheartedly. Now, let me ask you, “How will you answer the question?”
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A New Relationship - Mark 12:18-27

A New Relationship - Mark 12:18-27
By Pastor Lee Hemen
November 21, 2010 AM

A few years ago I was in a grocery store when a young mother with her little preschooler came walking down the aisle. The little girl kept asking for different things and the mother would patiently respond, “No, you cannot have that, stop asking.” When the little girl had evidently had enough of the answer she did not like, she lay down in the middle of the aisle and begin to throw one spectacular fit. The mother did not flinch; she just kept shopping, and related to her daughter, “When you are done, I will be in the next aisle over.” She then calmly put the item she had been looking at in her cart and walked around the corner.

When some folks do not get the answer they want, they can act just like a little immature preschooler. Evidently the religious ruling class did not get the answer they wanted out of Jesus, so they send in another group to try and entrap him with a bizarre question concerning wives, widows, and the resurrection. What these ignoramuses failed to understand is that Jesus was teaching about a whole new relationship, a new relationship that would change everything forever. Let’s find out what happens…

READ: Mark 12:18-27

When we place our faith in Christ, we enter into a whole new relationship with God. But some continually want to dispute this fact. Why is it that some folks love arguing simply for the sake of arguing? Then there are those who love to twist tails by setting up a straw man argument. The Straw Man argument is committed when a person simply ignores a person's actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. The Sadducees do this by…

I. Using a hypothetically impossible situation!

1. The resurrection makes our new relationship with God possible! The Sadducees, unlike the Pharisees, did not believe in resurrection. It was something not taught in the Law of Moses and the Sadducees only viewed the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, as authoritative. Sadducees saw the here and now as being where a righteous person is blessed or cursed. There was no afterlife. They also understood that their rivals the Pharisees agreed with many of Jesus’ teachings, including the resurrection, the kingdom of God, angels, and eternal life, so they were trying to show that the doctrine of resurrection was incompatible with the law by suggesting an off the wall situation. “‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?’” (Mark 12:19-23) WOW! Sounds like one of those new reality TV shows! The law did address the care of a widow by a man’s brother, but it is highly unlikely that anything even remotely approaching the circumstances they describe would ever occur. Jesus is in Jerusalem again and the pressure is on to find something they can entrap him. Were they truly concerned about the resurrection? Let’s review what Jesus taught. Jesus had told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” And then he asks her, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) This is what drove the Sadducees crazy toward Jesus and his teaching. Luke related in his answer to this question the Sadducees put to Jesus, that he responded by telling them that “those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead… they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:35-36) The Sadducees had used a hypothetically impossible situation. Jesus knew however that the resurrection makes our new relationship with God possible.

EXAMPLE: If I asked the question, “Where’s Waldo?” you might recall those popular children’s picture books from the 1980s. That little guy in the red-and-white-striped shirt and hat loved to hide in the pages amid a busy blur of images that made it nearly impossible to find him. Why do some folks treat God like “Where’s Waldo?”? Here’s what I mean: Some think that God camouflages himself and we have to “discover” where he is hiding. Or that God gives us crossword clues and we have to figure out his secret code in order to discover what he desires. Some ask silly enigmatic questions concerning faith. One such question I have been asked was, “If God revealed himself to you as a Smurf, would you still worship him?” The answer is that he already has revealed himself to us, and not as a Smurf. The Sadducees deliberately asked a hypothetically impossible question in order to justify themselves before their fellow Jews. Jesus was unfazed. He knew that the resurrection makes our new relationship with God possible.

The entire imaginary situation solely exists in the warped minds of those who wanted to entrap Jesus. Again, he isn’t fooled. Jesus knew that the resurrection would come and change everything. In fact, our faith changes our eternal situation! Therefore, Jesus answers truthfully in a manner that supports who he is and his mission. He gives them…

II. An authentic answer!

1. Our new relationship changes everything! Jesus gives several responses that his questioners did not expect. The first answer he gives denies that there is any problem because the believer’s resurrection existence is completely different from their earthly life. Jesus bluntly tells them that they are in “error” and rhetorically accuses them of not knowing “the Scriptures or the power of God!” Things like marriage simply do not exist as we understand them in heaven. In fact relationships will be similar but changed in a whole new wonderful way! Jesus explains that “When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” Angels are created beings, but they have no need of marriage because there is no need for their sexual reproduction. They are neither male nor female, they are simply God’s messengers and each has specific duties. Mankind was created by God, but unlike angels, we were given the command to subdue the earth and to be fruitful and multiply. (Genesis 1:28) In the coming kingdom there will be no need to “subdue and multiply.” Jesus’ next answer, while sounding awkward, actually is designed to teach that resurrection does indeed happen. Jesus emphatically responds by saying, “When the dead rise” and “about the dead rising.” It was a fact. The resurrection was going to happen whether the Sadducees believed in it or not! The same is true for our day and age as well! Jesus’ questioners were being hypocritical because they did not actually believe what they were asking! Jesus turns their own argument back on them by asking them, “have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?” Of course they had. They believed in the Patriarchs. However, if God said he was the God of these men found in the Pentateuch, it meant that God was continually their God from the time he spoke to Moses from the burning bush until then! Therefore, God “is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” Jesus tells them, “You are badly mistaken!” Not only was their questioning of Jesus concerning the resurrection skewed, but their impossible question was ill founded! The Sadducees used a weak argument that had sounded convincing to them, and Jesus gives them an authentic answer! Our new relationship changes everything!

EXAMPLE: I have discovered that getting to the heart of the question is what truly matters. This is especially true when it concerns answering people’s questions about faith in Christ. I have found that if you simply allow folks to read the Scripture for themselves and ask them what they think it means, it allows them the freedom to express what they are learning about God. I am not telling what them to think nor am I “judging” them. This works in counseling as well. In fact, there have been times when I have shared with very angry folks and after I have allowed them to vent, they eventually tell me the real problem. One person asked me, “Why do you always ask me what I think? Why don’t you tell me what to think?” I smiled and asked, “Why would you say that?” We both ended up laughing over this, but they were able to relate how they felt and found their own answer to their predicament. Jesus does this with the Sadducees. They were not really asking for an answer, but they needed one anyway and Jesus helps them to find it for themselves. They do not like it, but in doing so, Jesus gives them an authentic answer.

Conclusion:

We learned a couple of things this morning concerning our new relationship with Jesus. The Sadducees used a hypothetically impossible situation but Jesus gives them an authentic answer concerning our new relationship.
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Render Rightly - Mark 12:13-17

Render Rightly - Mark 12:13-17
By Pastor Lee Hemen
November 14, 2010 AM

When I was younger we used to set small snares that would safely trap small animals like mice, chipmunks, rabbits and squirrels. In fact, my brother Ed and I spent one whole summer trapping chipmunks, letting them go, and trying to tame them. While the taming never worked, they bit and clawed in a terror-stricken frenzy, the trapping went well. There are folks who spend their whole time trying to catch innocent people saying or doing things. They are called the press. Then there are the vultures known as the “Paparazzi.” It is an Italian term used to refer to photojournalists who specialize in candid photography of celebrities, politicians, and other prominent people. Then there are those who try to trap people with the words they use. These are called lawyers.

In our lives we learn to render our words correctly from the time we are little and into adulthood. Like little politicians, children learn very quickly how to turn a phrase to confuse their questioner or benefit themselves. When believers do this with their lives in Christ, it is truly pathetic. Christians can be guilty of obfuscating, when they deliberately make their answers confusing or difficult concerning their walk with the Lord. Far too many Christians enjoy dancing around the gospel truth rather than living it. This is ungodly. In today’s passage we find Jesus being confronted by those religious leaders who loved arguing about spiritual truth. All they desired was to entrap Jesus with his own words. He tells them to begin to render rightly. Let’s find out how…

READ: Mark 12:13-17

Debating is a skillful art if done correctly. Do not think that by simply having an “I gotcha” moment declares the winner. This is simply not true. Often it is though logical progression, factual accuracy and a degree of emotional appeal to the audience that are important. In debating, one side often prevails over the other side by presenting a far more subtle yet clear argument. Children learn these tactics right before Christmas, especially, if they want a Red Rider BB Gun! However, a good debate always begins with a question or an argument. Here, in Mark’s gospel we discover…

I. The argument! (Vv. 13-15a)

1. It is better to be thought a fool, then to open your mouth and remove all doubt! Luke tells us what actually motivated this incident: “Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor.” (Luke 20:20) When these men come to Jesus with their question, they think they can fool him. They begin by buttering Jesus up with flattery. “Teacher,” they purr, “we know you are a man of integrity. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” They did not care! The truth was standing before them and they refused to recognize Jesus for who he was – the Messiah! These slimy chariot chasing lawyers are trying to ensnare Jesus. If Jesus saw himself as a rabbi, prophet, or the Messiah he could not publicly state he supported paying taxes to Rome! So they ask, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn't we?” It is an “I gotcha” moment for the Pharisees and Herodians. The Pharisees prided themselves in knowing all the nuances of the law. They sought a religious answer. The Herodians supported the Herods. They sought a political answer. There is good evidence that they were possibly linked with the Essenes. These folks lived communal lives dedicated to asceticism, voluntary poverty, daily baptisms, and abstinence from worldly pleasures, including marriage. Herod was fascinated by them and protected them, even though they claimed a Messianic king would come to overthrow the corrupt Herodian government, the chief priests, and the Romans. It was the issue of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. Some believe this is why Herod was curious concerning John the Baptist. Their argument sought to put Jesus on the spot but displayed their foolishness instead. We discover that it is often better to be thought foolish, than to open our mouths and remove all doubt! What is your argument with Jesus?

EXAMPLE: Here’s what I mean: Believers can begin to have arguments or rather discussions with Jesus. Arguments they already know the answer to, but they persist anyway. When the Pharisees and Herodians came to ask Jesus a question, they already knew the answer they wanted. They sought to corner Jesus and thereby entrap him by his answer. Christians do the very same thing when they come to Jesus with an argument they already know the answer to. Arguments concerning sin they want Jesus to excuse. Some Christians have swallowed their own convoluted reasoning and actually think that a good God would not hold them accountable for their continued sin. Jesus told his disciples, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:36) I learned a long time ago that in a debate never start arguments you already know the answer to, especially if the person you are arguing with knows it as well. Perhaps we would do well to honestly ask ourselves, “What is my argument with Jesus?”

Arguing for arguments sake is not true debating, it is simply irritating, and can result in swift punishment. My father often tried to tell my brother the fact concerning this, but he was a tough nut to crack. Ed had to learn through physical trial and error. Like Jacob in the Old Testament, I learned to take a negative response and turn it into a positive outcome. A good debater knows how to find his opponent’s weakness in their argument and turn it to their own favor. We discover that Jesus does this as we look at…

II. The answer! (Vv. 15b-17)

1. If you ask the question, you may get an answer you did not want! Jesus isn’t fooled and immediately suspects and exposes their hypocrisy. He openly confronts their attempt to ensnare him by bluntly asking, “Why are you trying to trap me?” then he does something they never expected, he demands they bring him a denarius to look at! Jesus boldly confronts the issue. The common Roman denarius was a small silver coin. It was the only coin acceptable for imperial tax payments. Everyone carried them, but interestingly Jesus does not. I believe it is because it is consistent with who Jesus was and why he came. Jesus did not come to overthrow the established government, nor did he come to tear down the ruling class, instead he came to “seek and save the lost.” What follows is an in-your-face answer to the deceptive argument of the Pharisees and Herodians. They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. With Jesus’ simple question, he has already disarmed their argument. He deliberately confronts them with actual problem! The coin was probably one of Tiberius’. He was the Roman emperor during Jesus’ time. On one side of the coin the inscription read in Latin: “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus” and on the reverse side: “Chief Priest.” This inscription originated in the imperial cult of emperor worship and was a claim to divinity, which was particularly repulsive to the Jews. Jesus therefore answers in a magnificent way by stating, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God’s.” Both groups were amazed at Jesus’ answer. Actually, they were literally beside themselves. With one quick response Jesus disarms their argument. Jesus actually gives them a twofold answer. He was not only tacitly telling them to pay Rome’s false god his earthly due, but to also honor the real God with all they had. What is your answer when you are confronted by those in the world? What is your answer when you are confronted by Jesus concerning sin? Do not be surprised when after asking the question, you get an answer you did not want!

EXAMPLE: I had a professor that related that little quip I just mentioned: “If you ask a question, you may get an answer you did not want!” He was speaking to an entire class of frightened seminary students. He was known for his ability to slice and dice an unsuspecting student who did not think before asking their question. My father had a different kind of attitude and he often related, “There are no stupid questions. If you want to know something, ask!” I believe God has the same kind of attitude towards those who are sincerely seeking answers. After all, he told Jeremiah, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) God always desires to give us the answer we seek concerning him; we need only to seek him with our whole heart, unlike the Herodians and Pharisees of Jesus’ day.

Conclusion:
We learned about the argument and the answer! Perhaps we would do well to honestly ask ourselves, “What is my argument with Jesus?” God always desires to give us the answer we seek concerning him; we need only to seek him with our whole heart, unlike the Herodians and Pharisees of Jesus’ day. We need to stop debating and seek Jesus!
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Are You Just A “Tenant”? - Mark 12:1-12

Are You Just A “Tenant”? - Mark 12:1-12
By Pastor Lee Hemen
November 07, 2010 AM

We like being in control. However, the Psalmist tells us to “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalms 2:12) Many have deliberately forgotten this Scriptural truth because the convoluted reasoning goes: “If I can ignore God in my life, then I can do whatever I want whenever I want, even if it concerns ungodliness.” This was true for Israel. Yet time after time God had tried to bring them back to himself. Rather than being the people of God they should have been, they became mere tenants, renters of God’s truth, despising God and desperately trying to control their lives without acknowledging Him.

Harvest time, before the advent of modern computerized corporate farms, was a time of great community celebration. A good harvest could mean survival through the winter and being able to plant new crops in the spring. A bumper crop could mean extra seed, perhaps a profit, and being able to expand your farm. Jesus however uses the example of a harvest, and its owner who comes to collect his crop as a means to teach his listeners that they had blown it. What Jesus shares angers his listeners and it should give Christians today pause in its implications for our time as well. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “Are we just being a tenant in our Christianity?” Let’s find out…

READ: Mark 12:1-12

As we listen to Jesus’ example, we discover…

I. A mere tenant disrespects the rightful owner!

1. “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” (1 Timothy 6:7) Notice Jesus begins to speak to his audience “in parables.” It literally meant, “to cast alongside of,” and so it meant a teaching that is placed within a story that people could relate to from their daily lives. Jesus uses the common tale of a landowner who plants his fields and goes on a trip. He leaves others in charge of his holdings. He does all the hard work, he makes all the investments to improve the land, and he uses his own resources. In Jesus’ day this was a common practice. The owner then rents his land to some farmers to take care of it while he is away. They would get paid for their work, and if they did a good job, they usually would earn a share of the profit from the harvest. But we discover that those left in charge did not honor their contract. Sadly, resentment can build between those who begin to think they deserve what does not belong to them. Here, it was the harvest. Tenants can forget that they are renters and not the owners. Christians can become just like the Jews of Jesus’ day. They had been entrusted with the sacred things of God, but they began to think their personal interpretation was far more important. They actually thought they were the owners! Believers can begin to think that what they feel about their faith or think about Jesus is far more important than what they have been entrusted. Christians can arrogantly begin to think they own the gospel and determine who hears it or not! It is a sign of disrespect. The harvest belongs to God alone. It cannot be prepackaged or commercialized because when it is, it begins to be cheapened and disrespected. Remember, Jesus had just cleansed the temple for a reason. The Jews had begun to disrespect the temple and thereby the message of God. A mere tenant disrespects the rightful owner!

EXAMPLE: I can remember when my parents rented out our basement they never demanded any kind of deposit. Most owners did no because renters knew that the property was not theirs, and they took care of it. They prided themselves in leaving it in better shape than when they first moved in. Nowadays there are security deposits, with first and last month’s rental fees. There are key deposits, cleaning deposits, and pet fees as well. The reason is because renters disrespect owners and feel they have a right to leave places in poor shape or skip out entirely on paying the rent they owe! The realization that this is true for many Christians is startling. Bonheoffer called it “cheap grace.” Oz Guinness believes Christianity has been “dining with the Devil” by cheapening the message of the cross. Some Churches have become corporations with a message to sell. The gospel has been reduced to a concept for living life rather than a life-changing message! Believers disrespect the message. A mere tenant disrespects the rightful owner!

We also discover that…

II. A mere tenant resents those who are sent by the owner!

1. “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” (Proverbs 14:10) It is not only the owner who suffers from the convoluted view of a disrespectful tenant, but even those who represent him suffer as well. Jesus related the misguided view of the tenants. He also mentions how they became violent to those the owner sent to represent his interests. One after another, the landlord sends his representatives. They beat one, strike one on the head and treat him shamefully, they continue to beat or kill others he sends! Finally, the owner, who seems to be far more patient than I would have been, decides to send his own son. He incorrectly surmises, “They will respect my son.” True to form, they don’t. Instead, they actually plot among themselves to kill the young man sent to them. And in their convoluted thinking, they take his body and throw it in the owner’s vineyard! Jesus rhetorically asks his listeners, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” Jesus’ listeners were not dense; they knew he meant that the story was actually about Israel. They had killed the prophets God sent them and now they were going to kill his Son as well! Israel was “the builders” who had “rejected” the “capstone” Jesus! There is within Christianity today those who have rejected the capstone just as the Hebrews had. They reject Jesus through their inaction. They are silent as a world dies in its sin. They refuse to be part of a local church, making weak excuses as to why. They greedily keep God’s tithe to spend on themselves. They disdain their responsibilities; resent his church and its leadership. When asked to serve or give, they leave. I wonder what they will do when the owner of the vineyard suddenly returns and demands payment. A mere tenant resents those who are sent by the owner!

EXAMPLE: A mere tenant resents the owner because deep inside they think they should be in charge or that they are owed because of their perceived sacrifice. What they fail to realize is that they are tenants and not the owner. I can remember working at Continental Can and some of those who worked there would justify their stealing tools from the company as their “right.” These were union workers who had good incomes, great hours, fantastic vacation packages, and they enjoyed the best medical benefits and retirements. Yet, they had become resentful of “the man” and those who actually liked working for the company. They had not invested their money, bought any of the equipment, paid for their training, or invented any of the processes involved. Many drank while on the job, cheated by taking long breaks and lunches, and sought to steal anything they could from the company. Can Christians be guilty of some of the same things? Far too many Christians enjoy the grace of God, salvation through his Son, the prayers and fellowship of his church all the while contributing very little in return. Some even get resentful when they are asked to do so! Christians steal their time, talent, and treasure from the Lord, thinking that he owes them for their unfaithful attitudes. Perhaps it is time that Christians “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment.” Remember, that a mere tenant resents those who are sent by the owner!

Conclusion:

A mere tenant disrespects the rightful owner! A mere tenant resents those who are sent by the owner!
Are you just a “tenant”?
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Authority! – Mark 11:27-33

Authority! – Mark 11:27-33
By Pastor Lee Hemen
October 31, 2010 AM

From the time we are born, until the time we leave this earth, some of us will go kicking and screaming. The reason is we have a problem with authority. We think either we are in control or that we should be in control, when in fact neither is true. Perhaps this is why some of us need to be smacked right away on our bottoms when we are born! There are those who will spend their entire lives trying to be in authority. I have met college professors who thought that simply because they had earned a PhD they were to be respected and thought of as an authority. Sadly, these professors were usually the most detrimental in their teaching and garnered the least amount of respect.

The question concerning authority, who has it and who does not have it, has been around since the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve decided they were in control. And here is the truth of the matter: We decide who or what is going to be the spiritual authority in our lives. We chose and no one else decides for us. Questioning God’s authority is nothing new, as I stated earlier, even Jesus faced those who questioned his authority to do some of the things he did. Let’s look this morning at the issue of authority and discover what it means for our lives in Christ.

READ: Mark 11:27-33

Rebellion has its roots in questioning authority. In fact, we need to understand that…

I. Those in sin always question authority! (27-28)

1. “They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. ‘By what authority are you doing these things?’ they asked. ‘And who gave you authority to do this?’” (Mark 11:27-28) These religious rulers were more concerned for the continued wealth that was garnered from the payments the temple and its minions received from the buying and selling of sacrificial animals, than the spiritual health of the nation. They had grown rich from the exchange of money into the temple coinage. Jesus had the audacity to confront them publicly. He had exposed their hypocrisy and thereby embarrassed them in front of the dutiful dimwitted crowds that had gotten used to doing things their way. People who have become compliant spiritual sheep will always allow ungodliness to corrupt the things of God. These teachers of the law knew that nowhere in the laws that God had given Moses were they supposed to buy and sell in the temple. Nowhere did God say they could grow rich by adding taxes or fees for the exchange. These ungodly policies during Jesus’ day were inventions of sinful men who were more interested in worldly gain than keeping the temple a place devoted to the worship of God. Like spoiled children who are confronted, these flawed phonies got mad instead of repenting. “Who died and made you boss?” is their basic complaint. Those in sin always question authority.

EXAMPLE: Personal security comes from intrinsically knowing who is in control and why. Ask any child. They immediately want to know who is in charge. When children are confused about the authority in their lives, they begin to act out of insecurity. Whether it is a nation, a business or a family there has to be someone who is in charge. This is why God made husbands the head of the household, why children are to obey their parents, why pastors are to be subject to the church under Christ, and why Christians are to be servants of the Lord. When we question the authority God has placed on our lives, we show our insecurity. In fact, we show our rebellion and rebellion comes from spiritual insecurity. Spiritual strength, peace, and comfort come from giving God control of our lives. Sin comes when we try to wrest from God his rightful place of authority. Those in sin always question authority!

Confidence comes from knowing how little or how much authority you have. In fact, we need to remember that…

II. Those who are in authority know it! (29-30)

1. “Jesus replied, ‘I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John's baptism--was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!’” (Mark 11:29-30) And people dispute that Jesus was never sarcastic. Jesus knew exactly by whose authority he did the things he did – his own! God had given it to him. His counter argument is a quintessential rabbinic argument. He answers by demanding they answer him instead! At first, his question to them sounds like he is trying to throw them off target and get them angry with John instead of himself. This is not the case. Jesus’ question concerning John’s baptizing in the region of the Jordan River goes to the heart of the issue. John called people to repentance. He desired that the Jews prepare themselves for the coming Messiah. John had received his ministry and mission from God. The implication of Jesus’ question is that if John’s ministry came from God, then so does his. How these ungodly examples of faith falter in answering Jesus, further exposes what they truly believed about him. Jesus knew exactly where his authority came from. Mark wrote that, “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1:22) Jesus was completely confident in his answer because he knew where his authority came from. Those who are in authority know it!

EXAMPLE: Christians are not to be weak willies. When Jesus related that the “meek shall inherit the earth,” he didn’t mean the butterflies and baby deer, nor did he mean those who acquiesced their God-given authority in him. Christians are to be bold about their faith, strong in what they believe, and never take a backseat to heresy or ungodliness! Can you imagine Jesus going to the temple, banging a tambourine, and then crying out, “People! People, let’s come to a consensus here, shall we? You give a little and I will give a little and we can meet one another in the middle, okay?” Perhaps if Jesus had dialogued with the Sanhedrin or Pilate, then they could have all got together and sang, “Kumbaya!” There is no way Jesus would nor could have done such a thing. He did what he did because he knew who he was! Sadly, too many folks who call themselves “Christian” have no idea what it means, nor who Jesus is! Paul would remind us, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” (Colossians 2:9-10) Christians have the “fullness of Christ” in every way. Paul would relate that our salvation “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age… eager to do what is good… Encourage and rebuke with all authority.” (Titus 2:11-15) Why? Because those who are in authority know it!

The problem the world faces is one of authority. In fact, folks have forgotten that…

III. God has the authority! (31-33)

1. “They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” he will ask, “Then why didn’t you believe him?” But if we say, “From men”...’ (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, ‘We don't know.’ Jesus said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’” (Mark 11:31-33) I love Jesus’ answer here! These scheming little miscreants knew they were wrong! They knew their questioning of Jesus was baseless and thereby totally ungodly. They had only wanted to justify their own immoral behavior and perhaps trap Jesus so they could find a way to discredit or kill him. Sadly, unbeknown to them, they had really told the truth: They didn’t know where John’s baptism was from! How could they? They were completely unrepentant and thought they were justified in blinking the people of their money through ill-gotten means. Spiritual ignorance is no excuse! And justified spiritual ignorance is worse! They should have known the answer, they should have never asked the question, and they should have known who Jesus was and recognized him as the Messiah! Jesus would later remind his followers “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18) Earlier in Jesus’ ministry when they had asked him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24) Jesus would bluntly reply, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:25-30) Those who follow Jesus know God has the authority for their lives. Jesus is God and he knew that God has the authority!

EXAMPLE: There in a nutshell is the problem many have in accepting Jesus as their Savior and Lord – they have to give up their perceived “authority.” They actually think they control their lives! Nothing could be further from the truth! When I was in the Naval Reserves undergoing training to abandon ship during a fire drill, one guy constantly trashed around in the water. Consequently, he sank. The drill instructors would yell at him to relax, but to no avail. Finally, they threw him a life preserver. He then had to choose to put it on, relax, and allow it to float him safely in the water. The same applies to our lives in Christ. We have to choose to accept Jesus as our authority, put him on, and daily float or rather walk in him. We either sink or swim concerning Jesus’ authority in our lives. During the last Passover Jesus celebrated with his followers, he washed their feet. Peter objected. Jesus bluntly tells Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (John 13:8) It was a question of authority. Ask yourself, “Who has authority in my life?” We would do well to remember that God has the authority and not us.

Conclusion:
We learned several important truths concerning authority today: 1) those in sin always question authority, 2) those who are in authority know it, and 3) God has the authority! How do you view God’s authority this morning?
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Have Faith in God - Mark 11:22-26

Have Faith in God - Mark 11:22-26
By Pastor Lee Hemen
October 24, 2010 AM

We find that what many people believe about their spirituality is often influenced in unorthodox ways. Sadly, in the movie “Hereafter”, we find one such view concerning life, death, and the afterlife. It centers on three people touched by death: a reluctant physic who supposedly communicates with dead people, a woman who has a near death experience with a tsunami, and a London schoolboy who loses his twin brother in a freak accident. People often wonder what happens to them after they die it is one of life’s ultimate questions. People also long to communicate in some way with deceased loved ones. While mourning is different for each person, and thinking we can communicate with the dead can help some folks cope with loss, these misconceptions often allow folks to consider anything as valid. It has also created a lot of false teaching concerning faith. Christians have allowed the world to define faith for them. So much so in fact, that there is a sense that anything goes when it comes to defining faith. Christianity needs to take back defining what true faith means.

The disciples, just as we are, were products of their culture. There was a lot of misconception in Jesus’ day concerning faith. A lot of superstitions had crept into Hebraic thought and the religious of Jesus’ day were satisfied with keeping evil at bay by displaying their good works. Faith became more of custom for some and in so doing it became mundane and a requirement of life instead of what it should have been. Faith in God was replaced with ritual. Then Jesus came along and shook everything up concerning faith. Here in this passage of Mark we find Jesus teaching his disciples what it meant to have faith in God. Let’s look at what he told them…

READ: Mark 11:22-26

Far too often Christians live a weak shallow faith. They meekly come to God pleading that he might -- if it be his will -- hear their prayer. And then we are disappointed when our halfhearted mutterings are not brought to fruition. What is the problem? I believe it is a faith issue and evidently so did Jesus. We discover that…

I. Faith in God is mountain moving! (Vv. 22-23)

1. Motivation packaged in a person’s faith in Christ can do anything! Paul said it best when he reiterated this Scriptural truth by telling the Philippians “I can do everything through him (Jesus) who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) When Israel began to put more faith in human reasoning, education, or financial gain – they lost their ability to see the miracles that faith can produce and achieve. We may be guilty of doing the same. There are many who want to claim verse 23 without first realizing the important role that verse 22 plays. Jesus succinctly states, “Have faith in God.” You can live a good life, you can say you are a Christian, but until you “Have faith in God,” you are just bluffing. When Jesus proclaimed this truth, he meant having faith in Who God is what God could and can do, and his eternal purpose. This is why prophetically the fig tree and thereby Israel itself had withered. It is the faith that completely heals a person. A woman had been bleeding for 12 years and she fearfully reaches out to touch Jesus’ hem when he passes by her. He turns, finds her, and tells her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5:34) Her faith moved the mountain of doubt and fear in her life. This is why Jesus tells the disciples, “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.” Fears, pain, addiction, and sins can be moved and drowned in the sea with faith. “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27) Faith in God is mountain moving!

EXAMPLE: The little church had suffered from poor stewardship, inconsistent prayer, and faulty doctrine. They hardly knew what they believed or why. The new pastor was inexperienced but spent time in prayer believing that God desired to do more with the church than anyone could imagine. He encouraged his small flock to pray in faith, knowing that God desired to do a miracle. Early one morning he was woke up by a phone call from a larger church from down South. They desired to come to the Northwest and do a ministry and missions trip. Did his small church need any remodeling? As the pastor began to realize this call was real, he shared they needed the church painted. “No,” was the reply. “We are not interested in just painting a building, we want to come and remodel, we will send two men your way by the end of this week, can you pick them up from the airport?” Later in the week, as the pastor and the two men walked around the church, they began to discuss with him that their church would come, bring a complete building team, buy all the materials needed for the remodel, bring an outreach team and a worship team. They would do Backyard Bible Clubs, go door-to-door, work on the building and do a revival in the evenings. The tiny church received all new lighting in every room, two new bathrooms, new walls for their preschool, and reached new people for Christ. Within a month, they received a grant for new children and preschool furniture, new fellowship tables, chairs, and they painted the outside and inside of their building. Do you think mountains were moved?

It is time for “mountain moving faith” to be displayed in Christian churches again! But if you think, it is found through motivational 20-minute sermons, Holy Ghost aerobics, or three easy steps you are continually going to be disappointed. Looking for another spiritual high or an easy fix is not the answer. Faith that moves mountains is found through deliberate intimate prayer. Faith in God is always begins with prayer. Jesus teaches us that…

II. Faith in God is based in prayer! (V. 24)

1. One comes to Christ in prayer and one continues in Christ in prayer! A praying faith is not found in a repetitious mantra or in losing oneself through self-induced introspection. A Christian’s faith is found in a person not a concept. There are not three easy steps to faith through prayer. Prayer is not wishful thinking, persistent pleading, or repetitive spiritual resuscitation. Rather, prayer is the intentional conversation the servant has with his Lord. It is the deliberate trust one has in the power of God through his Son to accomplish what is humanly impossible. In an intimate faith walk the Christian is supposed to develop with his Master, you intrinsically believe that “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” How is this possible? It begins with your complete trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord. Paul would write, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) Paul had come to realize for himself that “it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:10) It is the complete trust of the individual willing to come to God in prayer knowing that whatever they ask for will be done. They know it because they have already had an intimate relationship with Jesus. With your mouth, you show your trust through prayer. This is why Jesus told his disciples, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” (John 15:7) Faith in God is based in prayer!

EXAMPLE: You hear people say, “Prayer changes things.” But is it prayer or God that changes things? I believe it is God. We forget that prayer is not our source of power, but rather God is. When we have faith in God, we can say to a mountain “be uprooted” and it will. The problem is that too many Christians have forgotten where their true source of power is. He was known at the time as a “stoner,” the contemptuous tag given to those who lived in a constant haze of marijuana and drugs. He lived each waking moment for his next toke. Then one afternoon while sitting waiting for the county bus he found someone had left a small Bible. A marker had been placed in the third chapter of the gospel of John. Having nothing better to read or do until his bus came, he began to read. Unaware that his bus had stopped waited for him, but left when he did not move to get on. His heart was broken by the words he read: “I tell you the truth; no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3) He sat there, looked around, bowed his head and prayed. He had not prayed since he was a little child, but now the words flowed freely as his tears. He gave his life to Christ. From that moment on, he was changed. A “stoner” came to the stone the builders rejected. He never looked back and now serves the Lord. Later, he learned that several of his friends had been in prayer for him at the very moment he had bowed his head in prayer. He would openly confess to you that faith in God is based in prayer!

Faith that is based on works is no faith at all. In fact, it will result in the individual always wondering if they have done enough good things. God does not work that way. We have read it and heard it from the first pages of Scripture to the last pages: the truth that God is love. If God is love then we also know that in his love he forgives. His forgiveness was and is expressed in Jesus. Faith finds its expression in forgiveness. This is why…

III. Faith in God is found in forgiveness! (Vv. 25-26)

1. Love, acceptance, and forgiveness are the three foundational truths of Christian faith! Contrast these to a world where the focus has shifted to Islamic fanaticism, hatred, and anger. More than ever, Christians need to turn the world’s attention back to the basic precept of Christ: forgiveness. No other major world religion has this as one of its core principles. The practice of prayer is simply reduced to the mutterings of the insecure unless your prayers are sincere. Prayer can only be sincere as it is filtered through the heart that is given over to Jesus Christ. The “heart” being what makes up the entire person. Forgiveness goes hand in hand with prayer, but the catalyst is found in faith. When a person dares come before the throne of grace to ask the King of Glory to hear his intense whispers, he had better be right. Many a prayer never gets passed the roof unless you have a forgiving heart toward others. This is why Jesus tells his followers that “when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” How can the Lord of Heaven forgive you when you ask if you are unwilling to forgive others? Brokenness is where a person first meets the Lord and it is in brokenness where we discover the power of prayer. Forgiveness comes from brokenness. Verse 26 is not found in most manuscripts, especially the earliest ones. In fact, it was probably placed there by those who originally did the KJV. However, it does reinforce Jesus’ words. “Divine forgiveness toward a believer and a believer’s forgiveness toward others are inseparably linked because a bond has been established between the divine Forgiver and the forgiven believer.” We would do well to remember that when the Lord returns, we may be asked, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (Matthew 18:33) This is why Paul reminds believers to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) Faith in God is found in forgiveness!

EXAMPLE: She was mad because she felt others within the church judged her because of the poor choices she had continually made in her life. The deacons were frustrated because they felt like the pastor was too old and not doing his job. The pastor was torn about whether he should stay or leave thinking that the congregation could do better. The youth had lost sight of reaching their peers for Christ. The church was in complete disarray. No one had walked the isle to receive Christ or join the church in years. Then a young couple came, looking to be used of God. The very day they arrived one of the church’s own, while in the midst of going through a sticky divorce, was brutally shot to death that afternoon by her Christian husband. The new couple found themselves in the midst of a crisis, but began to pray with and encourage the hurting congregation. Shocked into realizing that they had not taken the time to forgive one another, many began to do so that evening. Prayer groups were formed. People wept for their loss and forgave one another. A spirit of brokenness was evident. Within weeks several young people gave themselves to Christ, the church began to grow, and the church strongly supported the pastor. A church of a few dozen grew to over 75 within several months. They discovered that faith in God is found in forgiveness!

Conclusion:
Each of the examples I gave this morning happened here or in churches, I have served. Jesus taught his disciples that day that 1) Faith in God is mountain moving! 2) Faith in God is based in prayer! And 3) Faith in God is found in forgiveness! Do you have faith in God?
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.