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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

2012-02-05 Healing Words - Serve - Mk 01 29-34 Healing of Peter's Mother In-law

From Evernote:

2012-02-05 Healing Words - Serve - Mk 01 29-34 Healing of Peter's Mother In-law

Healing Words
February 5, 2012
Mark 1: 29-31

Jesus' words can bring amazing power into our lives - power to teach, power to guide, even power to heal. In this series of three messages, we'll uncover the healing of the body, mind and spirit which Jesus brought and brings even now.

Mark 1:29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.


February is a short month, and so we're doing a mini-series of messages called, "Healing Words."

As we heard from the scripture today, Jesus almost always started with worship. Whenever he'd arrive in a new town, he'd go to the synagogue on the Sabbath, which, because he was Jewish, was Saturday, and he'd worship. In the act of worship, he'd speak, he'd teach, probably something like a sermon. Ironically, we don't have much record of what he said in the house of worship. Almost all of what we know about what Jesus said comes from OUTSIDE the sanctuary. Jesus' ministry, Jesus' teaching, always started in the house of worship, but then really quickly spread out - into the streets, into the homes, onto the waterfronts, and hillsides, and mountaintops. Which is not to devalue what happens in worship, and what Jesus may have said there. But what it DOES say is that Jesus can't be confined to a building. Jesus TAUGHT about his ministry in the house of worship. Jesus TAUGHT the scriptures in the house of worship. But Jesus DID ministry in the streets, the homes, the waterfronts, the hillsides, the mountaintops - and all places in between.

I want to give a huge, huge, huge shout-out to all you teachers out there, whether you do it professionally, or on Sunday mornings, or in Children's Church. Teaching was crucial to what Jesus did. But as important as teaching was in Jesus' ministry, HEALING was every bit as important, if not more. Jesus was a teacher AND a doctor. Whenever Jesus went to a town, he TAUGHT first, but then, immediately after, he started HEALING.

So, we're looking at scriptures in the Gospel According to Mark where, parallel to his ministry of teaching, Jesus did a ministry of healing. We're calling this, "Healing Words." And the word for the day is, "Serve."


There's a rule in the school system that you're not supposed to send your kid back to school for 24 hours after he or she has had a fever. I'm sure it cuts down on the spread of germs in the classroom. It's a good rule. But on the other hand, it can play havoc on a parent's schedule, especially working parents, or single parents, who then, themselves, have to stay home and tend to a kid who's really not that sick anymore. Of course for the kid, it rocks. You get to stay home, while your brothers or sisters have to go to school. So sad for them. And you're technically sick, so you have to relax, like, on the couch, or in the bed. And if you're still coughing occasionally, or if you just generically, "don't feel so good," your mom, or your dad, or your British nanny will bring you tea, and chicken noodle soup and crackers, or jello. Or - best of all - if you've had, say, a tonsillectomy or strep throat you get - say it with me - ice cream. Usually your favorite flavor of ice cream. Because ice cream has amazing healing powers. Every kid knows that. And you get to watch whatever you want on the Disney Channel, or those two guys who blow up stuff - what is that show - MythBusters - you get to watch a MythBusters marathon. You get to wear your PJs and a bathrobe all day, just like Hugh Hefner. Nobody wants to be sick, but when you're pretty much over it, but you're still getting waited on, especially by the people who usually tell you to turn off the TV and not to eat so much ice cream... it's a sweet deal.

When you're home sick, and when it's something not so terrible, like a fever, you get waited on. You get service. Service and sickness. And healing. That's what the Bible is talking about today.


As we were saying, almost always, when Jesus came to a new city, he went first to the synagogue and taught. That's where today's scripture picks up. Verse 29 says, "As soon as they left the synagogue...." So we know Jesus is new to the city. And we know he has been teaching.

"As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John." Now, at this point in Mark's version of the Gospel, Simon and Andrew, and James and John were all the disciples Jesus had. Nowhere near the final twelve. This was still a ministry start-up. Jesus had four disciples who only days before were fishermen. So, they leave the synagogue and head over to Simon and Andrew's house. Actually, the Bible says, "...the house of Simon and Andrew." It may have been a single-family dwelling, but the idea of "the house of" implies the whole family, the extended family. The two brothers, Simon and Andrew, shared the home. And because it was the "house of Simon and Andrew," they were likely the two oldest brothers, the heads of the household. We can also assume Simon was married, because he has a mother in-law who's living with them. We can also assume Simon's father in-law had died and that the father in-law had no brothers, or at least no brothers who could afford to take in their deceased brother's wife, because the mother in-law was now living in the house of her daughter's husband. Which then means, Simon and Andrew were fairly compassionate people, even though they were probably pretty poor, as fishermen tended to be. Simon and Andrew opened their home to at least one relative who had nowhere else to go and who was a drain on their already meager fishermen's income.

Verse 30 says, "Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once." A fever in those days was not something that just kept you home from school for 24 hours. Advanced medicine like aspirin was still more than 1000 years away. Sure, you could chew up tree bark. But with no antibiotics, no saline drips a fever could turn deadly real fast. So this was serious. Which is probably why Mark says, "...they told him about her at once." They told him about her with urgency. And with compassion.

Verse 31 says, "He [Jesus] came and took her [Simon's mother in-law] by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her...." Jesus' healing technique is a lot like his preaching in the synagogue: we know he did it, but we have no idea how it worked. We just know it did. Mark doesn't explain the miracle of healing; he just says "the fever left her." And so, if Mark didn't get into the scientific method, then we probably shouldn't overthink it either.

OK. Now finally. Here at the end of the story, we get to the crucial word, the Healing Word of the day. And we also get to the part of the verse that a lot of people seize on. Mark says, "He [Jesus] came and took her [Simon's mother in-law] by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her... and she began to serve them." She began to serve them.

Alright. To people looking for examples of the Bible's gender inequality, that line, "...and she began to serve them" sticks out like Gloria Allred's lipstick. And yes, if that were all you were reading of the story, and if that's all you knew of scripture, it does kind of sound like Jesus healed Simon's mother in-law so she could "serve" them supper. Here's my thought on that.

Oh, come on. This is the guy who can turn water into wine. This is the guy who can feed 5000 men, plus their wives and children on five loaves of bread and two fish. This is the guy who after he was resurrected, cooked a grilled fish breakfast for his disciples. Do you really think he needed Mrs. Peter's-wife's-mom to cook for him? Seriously? If you're looking for examples of the Bible's gender discrimination, there are a hundred better examples. If that's all "...and she began to serve them" means, I think you might be missing the point.

So what is the point? Why even include that phrase? Why use the word, "serve" at all?

The Greek word for "serve" that Mark uses is pronounced, "diaconai." We get the church word, deacon, from it. Deacons are, from the earliest times of the church, the leaders, the elders, often the preachers in the church. In a lot of churches these days, Deacons are the ones who both minister to the sick, and who take care of the building, an interesting combination of duties. But that's another sermon. In contrast to "supper-server," or "waitress," Mark uses the word for "deacon" which implies two things. First, it means Peter's mother in-law was instantly promoted to a leader in the infant church. Score one for women's equality in the Bible. I think Mark snuck that one in on the guys. Good for him. The phrase some people read as evidence of inequality is really Biblical affirmative action.

The other thing it means when mark says, "serve," is that Peter's mother in-law began to minister to, to take care of, to heal, to serve... the very disciples who were trying to heal her. In her being healed, the people around her were healed, too. The patient changes, the patient is healed, and so, in a sense, is the doctor.


Doctors will tell you that your body can teach you things. If you will only listen. Doctors: am I right? If you get winded going up a couple of steps, your body may be telling you something. If you suddenly lose your appetite for food, in general, your body may be trying to say something. If you get stabbing pains when you do something that shouldn't hurt, it may be your body saying, "Hey! Look over here!" "I'm your heart, speaking." "It's your gall bladder, here." "Call coming in from your large intestine." (Wouldn't it be great if it were so obvious?) Remember, Peter's mother in-law had a fever. And back then a fever was a pretty scary warning sign that something really bad could be coming. Life expectancy was not long. So this was kind of Peter's mother in-law's wake-up call. Luckily, there was someone around to help her listen.

I don't know anyone who... and a lot of you here can personally testify to this... I don't know anyone who has gotten through some sort of serious illness, or injury, or accident, that hasn't changed. And I'm not just talking physically. That stands to reason. Of course there's physical change when you have a serious health problem. But I don't know anyone who's overcome a serious illness who hasn't changed, somehow, in their spirit, changed in their thinking, changed in their way of seeing the world. A lot of times it's a wake-up call. It's a red flag to say, "Heart here. If you don't stop it with the red meat I'm giving up." But what really changes... and again, I've heard a lot of you testify to this... what really changes, isn't just your habits. What really changes is your perspective. Your outlook. Your way of thinking about yourself. Your way of thinking about your life. Your way of thinking about the things or the people you used to take for granted. You change physically, sure. But more than that, you change spiritually.

And that, I think, is what that little word, "Serve" means in the story of Peter's mother in-law. "...and she began to serve them." Them - these four disciples and their master. Them, the ones who stepped out of the boat, who stepped out of the water, and followed Jesus up the other side. Them - the ones who taught and who healed, who healed and then taught, teaching and healing, healing and teaching, sometimes one after the other, but really, actually, I think, at the same time. Because when you are healed, you see things differently. Your body has taught you some things. If you are wise, you have listened to it. And if you are blessed, you have learned.

The other side of this is that, according to Mark, when Peter's mother in-law was healed, she became a teacher. She became a doctor, a deacon, to other people's souls. I mean, think about how many people have read her story in the Bible. Don't you think someone has been inspired by her story? Isn't that kind of what the Bible is supposed to do - inspire us?

Think about a person whose story of healing has inspired you. They might be big-name celebrities who've become spokespersons for health awareness, public figures who are advocates for a cure. Or, they might be someone you know. Someone sitting in this room. They might be teaching, not by their words or their actions, but teaching just by showing up. Teaching by not giving up. Teaching by taking Jesus' hand and standing up. Standing up in faith, and in hope, and in compassion. Raising us up by their presence.


Whether we're men or women or kids, whether we're moms or dads, or grandparents, or mothers in-law... we've all got so much to be thankful for. A lot of the time (too much of the time) it takes a threat to our health to make us realize how very, very much we have.

But once you have that wake-up call, once you have that awareness, that gratitude, that healing, the question then becomes, what next? Now that you have that feeling, what are you going to do? Now that you have that blessing, what are you going to do with it? The answer from the Bible, the answer from Peter's mother in-law is, serve. Serve. Take whatever healing of mind, or of body, or of spirit you have been given, and serve. Serve it back to others. Serve it back to God. Become a disciple, a deacon, a follower of Jesus Christ, all over again. Begin again, to serve.

2012-01-29 Restart, Part 4: Express

From Evernote:

2012-01-29 Restart, Part 4: Express

Week 4: Express

Mark 1:14-15 (New Revised Standard)

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

Week 4: Express

Today we're at the final week of our series, "Restart."

It's a new year, a new chance for us all to get restarted. Whether you make resolutions or not. Survey says: about 42.5% of Americans make resolutions, so I'm thinking, allowing for the choir, about one-third of the middle pews over to the Pettway section is a representative sample size. Let's say, you're our resolution-makers.

According to the expert at proactivechange.com, Serge Prengel, and I have no reason to doubt Serge's expertise, by July, 46% of *you* people will have broken your resolutions. This brings the sample size down to about, let's say half of the first group. But here's something else Serge says at proactivechange.com: People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times (10 times!) more likely to attain their goals than those who don't. [Repeat that.]

So. In the new year, if you're looking to lose weight, or reduce your debt, or learn to skydive, tell someone. Don't try it alone. Write it down, find an instructor. Don't just open the door on your flight to Atlanta. The new year gives us, gives you, gives us all a chance to do a restart.

We've been looking at how Jesus did his restart, because it's well documented in scripture. We've been looking at the Gospel According to Mark, which you remember, is the shortest gospel and gets straight to the point, unlike many preachers since.

We've expressed the movements in the story of Jesus' restart in three stages.

#1. Confess - he went down to the River Jordan with all the other people and was baptized by John in the baptism for the repentence of sin,

#2. Bless - when Jesus emerged from the waters of confession, they became the waters of blessing. God said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

#3. Possess - IMMEDIATELY after Jesus received God's blessing, he was hurled into the wilderness where he encountered the Tempter, the Adversary, (the Artist Formerly Known as Satan), and where he was ministered to by angels among the creatures of God's kingdom.

Those are the movements so far in Jesus' restart. Confess, Bless, and Possess, and we've talked about how what Jesus in doing these things has blazed a trail, Jesus has drawn out a path, for all of us to follow when we realize we need to resolve to make a change in our lives.

But this is more than a new year's resolution. This is more than losing 20 pounds, this is more than cutting up your credit cards. This isn't changing something you DO. This is changing something you ARE. This is lasting, converting, saving, transforming change. And when you're ready to do that, this is what you have to do. And Jesus didn't just TELL us in a sermon, he LIVED it in his life. When you're ready to follow Jesus, or to re-follow Jesus, when you're ready to tell God you're ready to BE someone else, when you're ready to restart, these steps are what you have to do, what you WILL do, because this is how it works for everyone, even Jesus.

First, we all have to CONFESS that whatever our normal is, isn't going to cut it anymore.

Second, we all have to, or we all get to, hear the BLESS, the blessing of God telling us what God already knows, and that we can't hear until we purge out all the junk in our lives: God says, "You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, you are my blessed child."

And then IMMEDIATELY fourth, the confessing and the blessing gets tested by the (quote) real world (unquote) which by its very nature, aligns itself against the heavenly nature of God. IMMEDIATELY after we have our awakenings, IMMEDIATELY after we have our experience of the living God, the world tempts us to go back to our old ways. The world tempts us to go back and break our own resolve. So, after we do the Confess, after we do the Bless, we are challenged to Possess.

Bless, Confess, Possess.

So, this week, we move on to the last part of the process, where the scripture ends up: Express. God isn't finished with you until you get to Express.


Have you ever taken one of those tests where it tells you what kind of person you are? Most women's magazines have them every couple of months. Not that I read those kind of magazines. I subscribe to two magazines, Wired and Presbyterian Outlook. Based on my reading choices, alone, I already know what kind of person I am. Church-Nerd. They make you take those personality tests when you're in seminary to make sure you're only crazy enough to be a preacher, and not, say, the Unabomber. I usually came out pretty strong on the Introverted side. And I know that's odd for being a minister. If it weren't for Kristen and the grace of God, I probably would have ended up in one of those monasteries where they take a vow of silence and build websites for African orphans. Don't get me wrong. I love talking about God, and faith, and church, but it just takes a lot of energy. Like the Apostle Paul, I'm better writing than I am for extended periods of verbal spontaneity. That's why God sent us people like Scott, who can literally speak for hours without taking a breath. Just ask his kids.

Some of you test out as introverts. Some of you test out as extraverts. Studies show more people are extraverts. You know why? We introverts take the tests; we just don't tell anyone how we did.

When it comes to faith, though, all of us - introverts, extraverts, extra-extraverts - when it comes to faith the results poll a little differently. It's one thing to talk about the weather, or about school, or about your spouse - openly, and freely, with therapists, bartenders and total strangers. It's something else totally to talk about your faith.

Another study tells a different story. This is one done by the United Methodists in America a few years ago, and replicated more recently by the united churches in Australia.


Now, you have to assume we are somewhat like Methodists and/or Australians for this to work. The near-worldwide uniformity of the findings, combined with the common-sense knowledge that a person's a person no matter how methodical or crikey they may be... these strongly suggest a degree of accuracy even among people such as ourselves. (OK. I think I've got the legal disclaimer out of the way.)

The survey found this about people who go to church. Among people who go to church, a little more than half of us are comfortable talking about faith. This means, if you took from the middle of the center section over, including the choir, you people are comfortable talking about your faith. But -- and this is a big but -- the survey more precisely said, you are comfortable talking about your faith, and you DO talk about your faith... WHEN THE SUBJECT COMES UP. That puts a wrinkle on it. You're comfortable talking about your faith (dot, dot, dot), when someone else brings up the subject. You're just fine with it. You like it. You enjoy talking about your faith, talking your church, talking about your religion... when someone else asks you about it. When the subject comes up, you're ready to go.

Now. Would you care to guess what percentage of church-goers are comfortable INITIATING conversations about faith? Would you care to guess what percentage SEEK OUT opportunities to talk about their faith? Not the rest of us in the sanctuary. Not even the other one-third of us. Only about one-fourth of people who go to church and take these kind of surveys say they're comfortable talking about faith. Only about one-fourth of church-goers SEEK OUT opportunities to talk about their faith. Does that surprise you? Does that sound accurate? Actually, among Presbyterians, who aren't Australian, I'd think one-fourth would be pretty generous.

So, using our congregation as a graphic example, that would be about the other half of the middle section. These are the people who seek out opportunities to tell others about The Lord. These are the people who make the rest of us a little nervous. These are the people who want to make sure you've not only HEARD the good news, but that you've also confessed, you've been blessed, and you are now possessed.

Why? Because they EXPRESS.

Thank you. We need you. Couldn't do it without you. You, expressers.


I think that whether you're an introvert or an extrovert, or some hybrid mutation of the two, I'm going to take a wildly non-scientific leap and say that no matter what personality "type" you are, talking about your faith takes energy. Talking about your faith takes energy. And it takes some courage, too.

A lot of us don't talk about faith because we think we're not smart enough. We don't want to be wrong.

Now, think about that one for a minute. We don't talk about faith because we're afraid we're not smart enough or because we're going to be wrong. Think about that one.

How many of us talk about the weather? How many of us make our own predictions about the weather? Do we know what the weather's going to be, really? Even those who have Doppler Radar mounted on the roof, how many times do those folks get it wrong?

I was sitting in the waiting room at the doctor's office a couple of months ago. I was taking a personality survey in a women's magazine. The lady next to me is telling the lady next to her, very loudly, "Spiders are building high this year. Spiders are building high. You know what that means, don't 'cha? Snow. Lots of snow. The spiders. They know. They're building high."

There must be a lot of high spiders this winter. Even the spiders are wrong about the weather. And yet they still make their wrong predictions. Those high spiders express their beliefs. Freely. And openly. At least, they do about the weather.

I have yet to hear a spider say one word about faith. (And my doctor says that's a good thing.)

When it comes to when it's going to rain, when it comes to the temperature on the plateau, we're happy to make predictions. When it comes to whether Newt or Mitt or Barak is going to be the next president... (and really, would our Founding Fathers have ever predicted the election could come down to three men with names like, Newt, Mitt, and Barak? Only in America.) When it comes to politics, we'll gladly make our predictions.

When it comes to what color's going to be the new black... when it comes to what features the new iPhone's going to have... when it comes to who's going to win the Super Bowl... we talk openly, we talk freely, we make predictions, as if we are deeply studied, certified experts. A lack of factual knowledge doesn't stop us. The absence of expertise doesn't even slow us down. If we think it, we'll say it. And often, we'll say it just to beat the other person to the punch. The spiders are building high. My knowledge. My nugget. My sign of the unknown. Beat 'cha.

So why is talking about faith so scary?

Who knows? Maybe it was scary for Jesus, too.


The fourth stage of a restart begins with a frightening statement. Now remember, Jesus has just emerged from the time of temptation, the time he was challenged internally (in an introverted kind-of way) to possess the blessing that comes from confessing. That was internally challenging, but what happens next begins with these frightening, external words. Verse 14 begins...

"Now after John was arrested...."

Think about that. John was arrested. John was arrested for doing what we've been talking about these past three weeks. John was arrested for preaching, and teaching, and baptizing people in the journey to restart. Think about that.

I worry that if my sermons aren't good, people will fall asleep. John's sermons were great, and he got arrested. In John and in Jesus' world, the harder you tried to extrovertedly express your faith, the better you were at expressing your faith, the higher the chance your head would end up on a platter, literally.

So, yes, EXPRESS begins on a scary note. But I think John the Baptist, sitting in his prison cell, awaiting decapitation, would probably urge us to maintain some perspective.

The thing about faith, though, is that it's intensely personal. Talking about faith - talking ABOUT faith, talking about faith in general - is one thing. Expressing your personal, inmost faith... Expressing your personal lack of faith, or questions of faith, takes effort. It takes courage. The Bible knows that. It's OK to be scared.

I think most of the three-fourths of church-goers who don't talk about faith don't talk about it because they're worried that they're going to sound dumb. I think we don't talk about faith because we're worried we're going to mess up and say something wrong.

Honestly - more true confession from your pastor - I worry about that, myself. I worry that I'm going to say something dumb, or something wrong. Because I'm a religious professional. I worry that I'll go to some clergy luncheon and they'll seat me between John the Baptist and Bob the Baptist and they'll say something like, "You know, that's just like what Rabshakeh said to Hezekiah in Second Kings," and they'll bust out laughing. (You can't imagine the pressure.)

But here's a secret Bible experts don't often reveal to civilians. When Jesus began his expressing of faith, he didn't say anything witty, or creative, or new. Verse 14 picks up after "Now after John was arrested," and says,

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

Jesus came to Galilee, saying, "Repent, and believe in the good news." You know how different that was from John's expression? About two words. John said, "Repent!" Jesus said, "Repent!" John said to repent because the time of God is ABOUT TO come; Jesus said to repent because the time of God is FULFILLED. ABOUT TO come; HAS come. So repent.

When Jesus entered the EXPRESS stage, he expressed what had already been said. He expressed what he already knew. He told the people to restart. And he showed them the way. Keep that in mind, too. He didn't only tell them the way. He showed them the way. And the way may have been something they already knew how to do. But he expressed the faith all the same.


We've been talking for four weeks now about the steps in doing a life restart. They're presented in the Bible in a particular order, and I believe the Bible presents things the way it does for a good reason. If you don't clear the decks with a CONFESS, you aren't ready to accept the BLESS. If you haven't experienced the BLESS, you aren't ready for the wilderness challenge to POSSESS. And if you haven't been tested to claim what you believe, you're not going to be comfortable to EXPRESS what that means for you.

I think what I'm about to say is so important. I think it's so important, and I also think it isn't said nearly enough in church. And it is this.

I think some of you have been taught, or you've inherited, or you've just assumed, is that if you're not out there EXPRESSING your faith, you're doing something wrong. I think a lot of you have been told or taught that if you're not out there, knocking on doors, if you're not out there evangelizing, if you're not out there sharing your faith, verbally and articulately, that you're doing something wrong. That you're not good enough. That you're not as good a Christian as other people.

And that is just plain wrong.

It's not wrong because I'm saying it's wrong. It's wrong because the Bible says it's wrong. It's wrong because that's not the way the Bible teaches faith.

I think the word, "Evangelism," has been corrupted by the church. And by that I mean the church, in general, from America to Australia, and back. I think the idea of evangelism has been misused by the church to create the false idea that building up church membership and increasing budgets and Sunday attendance is the point of EXPRESSING your faith. Talking openly about your faith, even when you haven't been asked, is not a church growth tool. EXPRESSING your faith is no more and no less important a step in the life of faith than CONFESSING, BLESSING, and POSSESSING. No matter where you place yourself in that process, you have just as much faith, your faith is just as strong and just as weak as anyone else along that journey. Just as some of us are introverts and some of us are extroverts, some of us are at the point of EXPRESSING our faith, and some of us are at the point of CONFESSING that we've got a lot of junk to clean out before we can go any farther.

You might be the kind of person who would rather die than stand behind a pulpit and talk about faith. Good. There's nothing more annoying than a whole room full of preachers. (Trust me.) I think it's so revealing that the Bible doesn't describe the steps of faith in mechanical, outline form, kind of the way I've done, bless and forgive me. The Bible teaches the steps, the stages of faith by telling a story, the story of Jesus's steps of faith.

So, maybe you're more like the Bible, in that regard. Maybe you'd rather not talk openly about your faith. Maybe you'd rather let your life tell the story. Or let your actions tell the story. Maybe your faith is expressed in the nails you hammer on a mission trip. Maybe your faith is expressed in the casseroles you cook for someone coming home from the hospital. Maybe your faith is brilliantly expressed in a card that just says, "Good job," or "I'm praying for you," in tiny, tiny handwriting, like Betty Kirkland sent to so many people she barely even knew. Good. Good for you. Well done, good and faithful servant. You are God's son. You are God's daughter. And God takes pride in you. No matter where you are in the path of faith.


We're starting a new year of life together. We're restarting a new year of faith together as a church. Our challenge is NOT -

is not, is not, is not, is not, is not,

to try to get everyone on the same page. Our challenge is NOT to try to get everyone expressing faith in the same way, at the same time, at the same spiritual place. Those are institutional goals, not Bible goals. The Bible goal is to live the steps of faith, whether we're just starting out and not so sure where this Jesus person is leading, or whether we're proclaiming Christ from the mountaintop. The Bible goal is to live the steps of faith, to live IN the steps of faith. And, the Bible goal is to live WITH the steps of faith, with the people who are taking their own steps. Confessing, blessing, possessing, and expressing just as Jesus did.

So, here's my 2012 challenge to you. It's my challenge to you as a church, and it's my challenge to you as an individual. It's this. And I want to say this in a picture story, kind of like the Bible does.

Imagine how it looked at the River Jordan. Imagine how it looked with the people on the shore. Imagine them, sitting on the shore, maybe in prayer. Maybe eating a picnic lunch. Maybe hiding behind a tree. Imagine seeing John waist deep in the water. Imagine seeing someone with him, being baptized. Imagine seeing the person emerging from the waters of confession to the splashing waters of blessing. Imagine the people crossing over to the other side. Imagine them walking up the hill on that other side. Imagine them talking to their friends, maybe their families, about what just happened. Imagine them walking on, maybe a little scared, maybe a little excited, maybe both.

Now, imagine yourself in that picture. Where would you be? Would you be watching from far away? Would you be waiting in line, working out your confession? Would you be with John, taking a deep breath, or jumping for joy in the splash? Would you be on your way to a new side of the river? Would you be trying to say or trying to practice or trying to teach what you've experienced?

My challenge to you, my challenge to us, is to really, really consider, to really prayerfully consider where we are in that journey to and from the river. Consider where you are in that journey to and from the river, and really, really be there well. Don't worry about what the other people are doing. Don't worry about what other churches are doing. Don't worry that you're going to be left behind because you're not moving fast enough. We won't let that happen. God won't let that happen. Jesus won't let that happen.

My challenge, then, is that you appreciate the steps in the journey. Maybe you can enjoy your current step. Maybe it's not fun at all. Whether you enjoy it or not, appreciate it for what it is.

And it is this, no more and no less. It is a step in the restart that is faith. And it is yours. And it is God's step with you.

Believe that good news. Repent of whatever keeps you from believing it. For the kingdom of God is at hand. And it's closer than you will ever believe.

2012-01-22 Restart, Part 3: Possess

From Evernote:

2012-01-22 Restart, Part 3: Possess

How do you make a clean start? Can we really be better in the new year? What does the Bible say about breaking old habits and beginning a new way? Jesus started his ministry by following the path of "restart" taught by John the baptizer. Together, John and Jesus give us the tools for crafting a new beginning in God's Spirit. In this series, we'll explore their steps in the first chapter of the Gospel According to Mark. We'll see what it takes to restart in 2012. – James

Week 3: Possess

Mark 1:12-13 (New Revised Standard)
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

So, this week, we're in Part 3 of a four-part series of messages called, "Restart." It's the new year. 2012. Woohoo. The last year in the Mayan calendar. Thankfully, we're not Mayans. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Mayans don't even follow the Mayan calendar anymore. They're into iPhones and the new season of The Bachelor just as much as we are. So, we're greeting 2012 with a heartfelt, "Hey," and taking careful steps into a new year that we're cautiously optimistic won't be the world's last.

We began week one of a Restart with Confess. It's the idea that all of us think we're normal. And we are all normal. For us. John the Baptist called everybody from the city and the countryside to come to the river and confess that "normal" just wouldn't cut it anymore, that they had some true confession to do, and that they needed to get ready for Jesus. So we did the Confess.

Last week, we moved from Confess to Bless. (If you're new here, you'll find that many of my subpoints rhyme. That's not because I'm poetic. I just have a bad memory. Hey, it works for Dr. Seuss and Jay-Z.) At Bless, the waters of confession turned into the waters of blessing. Jesus rose up from the waters of Baptism and the blessing of God came upon him. We talked about listening carefully for God's blessing as it rushes in to fill the empty space after confessing all the junk that makes us normal. We talked about how that blessing comes to you. We did the bless.

This week, we're talking about what comes after the confess, after the bless.

Here's what I want to talk about today, the main point.

If you've realized that there's something wrong, something missing, something overly normal in your life...

and if you've reached the point when you say, "OK, Lord," or "OK, wife," or, "OK, husband," or, "OK, Mom & Dad," or "OK, kids," or, OK anyone else...

if you've reached the point when you say, "OK, here it is... I'm tired of just being OK with things the way they are, because you know what? Things aren't what they should be. I'm not what I should be. I'M not WHO I should be..."

if you've reached that point and spilled your guts in the River Jordan, or the therapist's chair, or the pastor's study, or the dinner table...

if you've reached that point and you have emptied yourself so that finally, finally, finally you can receive God's blessing...

and if you do receive that moment of blessing, that precious note of forgiveness, that brilliant moment when you know somewhere God is smiling and saying, "Well done. THIS is my beloved son, my beloved daughter, my beloved child. THIS is who I knew was in there..."

if you've done that confession, and if you've received that blessing...

what next?

How do you hold onto that wonderful, mystical, miraculous feeling of peace? And still go on living in the real world? How do you hold on to that? How do you possess the blessing and carry it with you? How do you possess?


Maybe your brain works the same way mine does. Hopefully not, because you're "normal." But when I think about a scripture where Jesus goes into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, and I hear the word, "Possess," I start thinking about all the movies about being "possessed" by the devil. Not that I've seen that many of them. I'd rather see movies by Pixar. So far, they've not gone that route. But when I hear the word, Possess, and think of Jesus being tempted, I think of the devil. I think about movies, pictures, and paintings. I think of possession. Is that normal? I think about heads spinning and green pea soup. I think about the guy in the red suit with the horns and the pitchfork. Do you do that? When I hear, "He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan," I don't think of the wilderness, I think of Satan. Maybe you don't because you're much more evolved than I am. I am not surprised.

OK. Here's what I have to say about all that red, cloven-hoofed Devil-guy. If focusing yourself on scary images like that helps you be a better follower of Jesus, go for it. If living in mortal fear of Satan's legions helps you be a better Christian, helps you be more kind, helps you be more loving, helps you be more compassionate, helps you be more patient, helps you be more peaceful... If living in battle with that guy helps you do these things, fine. I may not understand your method, but I know where it comes from. If you are more kind, more loving, more compassionate, more patient, and more peaceful because you're afraid of the flames of hell, good for you. Whatever works.

I don't want to mess up your game, but - you might already know this, you might not - this is not just my opinion, this is documentably true - those images of the devil - the pea soup and the horns and the red suit - they don't come from the Bible. They come more from Hollywood and Dante and those scary booklets that magically appear in bathrooms. This might be shocking; maybe not. But here's the kicker. This is the really scary part. Those images don't even come close to the real thing. In the Bible, the devil is much, much more devilish. Those images are caricatures of the devil of the Bible. In the Bible, the words used to describe the devil or Satan are literally translated, "adversary," or, "tempter." And that's much, much more demonic. That ought to be much scarier than the guy with the pitchfork. Why? Because if you're in the mall, and you see a guy in a red suit with horns, carrying a pitchfork, walking toward you, you're going to get out of the way. Probably. You might laugh at him. You might say, "Hey, Halloween's in October, dude." If the devil were that obvious, you'd see him coming and your Devil-dar would tell you to get out of the way.

The devil or satan in the Bible is much scarier. If the right words are "adversary," and "tempter," it's much, much scarier. Why? Because anyone can be your adversary. Anyone can be your tempter. Anyone or anything can be adverse to your life. Anyone or anything can turn into a temptation, and any temptation can turn into a compulsion, and any compulsion can turn into a train wreck. You thought trouble wore an easily identifiable red suit? You wish. Trouble comes dressed all sorts of ways, and if you've been to the mall lately, you might have seen some of these ways. If you've turned on the TV or been to the movies you've seen the adverse, you've seen the tempting. Even The Muppet movie shows how good things can turn bad without attention, and care, and devotion.

But let's go back. Let's assume for a minute that you are taking the opportunity of a new year to really, truly make a change in your life. Maybe it's not just a resolution, maybe you've been to the river of confession and you're ready. You're ready to step out in faith. You're ready to step out of the comforting, cleansing, refreshing waters of repentance and step forth into a new year, ripe with blessing.

You know health clubs absolutely LOVE January. Because after all the overeating and all the parties of December, we're all ready to say, "I'm gonna lose those pounds. This year. I've been working on them for ten years, but I'm going to lose them all this year. Maybe this month." And you go online and you sign up real fast because the first month is always free. Health clubs love this, because... yep. You know it. Most people go once. Maybe they go one month. And then, they go right back to the ways, the habits, the health of last year. Temptation wins. The adversary wins.

And it's the same, whether you're trying to regain your health, or regain your wealth, or regain your good habits that you used to have before you had children and could blame everything on them. Before you got your Xbox 360 and used to actually read. Before your doctor put you on medication that messes you up. The moment you step away from the glory of revelation, the second you put your foot on the dry land of reality - whatever that is for you - that instant you emerge from the safety of the waters of grace and peace, the nanosecond you get back to normal, you are a walking target for temptation. You are a Welcome Sign for an adversary. You don't need a guy in a red suit; you've got friends. You've got TV. You've got chocolate. The world does not like change, and it will align its forces against you the very instant you emerge from your blissful moment of faithful decision.

Now. If you tend toward paranoia, please take that last statement with a grain of salt. The universe is not really aligning against you, personally. But on the other hand, there are always temptations and there are always adversities that will do everything in their power to drag you back to how you were, and where you were, before you made your fateful choice in faith, in hope, and in devotion. And it is always, always, always, always MUCH easier to lose your faith, hope and devotion than it is to keep them.

And this is exactly the same place we find Jesus today.


Mark, chapter 1, verses 12 and 13 pick up right after Jesus emerges from the waters of baptism and hears the blessing of God upon him. The instant, Mark says, the instant after that happened, Mark says,

...the Spirit immediately drove him (Jesus) out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

If you're familiar with the Bible, you're probably more used to hearing about the Temptation of Christ from the Gospel According to Matthew or According to Luke. That's when the Tempter - that's actually what Matthew and Luke call him - the Tempter comes to Jesus with a series of three great temptations. I don't even want to get into them, because that's a different set of sermons. We're working with the Gospel According to Mark. In Mark, the whole temptation is just two verses, which, I'm discovering, is about as much as I can handle at one time. A lot of people think Mark was the first gospel written, and they think that mainly because it's the shortest. You know how preachers are. By the time Matthew and Luke get hold of the two verses in Mark, they've grown. Well, the disciples were fishermen, after all, the classic expanders of stories. Which is not to say that Mark's more accurate. He's just a short preacher. Yea for short preachers.

"...the Spirit immediately drove him (Jesus) out into the wilderness."

Hold on. I thought he was in the wilderness. I thought he was away from the city, away from the countryside, down by the River Jordan. So either there's a different wilderness into which Jesus is driven, or "wilderness" means something else. Hold that thought.

"He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him."

A lot of people have interpreted that one verse a lot of different ways. "Wilderness" can mean a lot of different things. You can think of it literally, with literal beasts and literal angels, and a literal guy called Satan. Or you can get all practical, like Jesus was on a religious fast, kind of an Outward Bound experience. Some kind of initiation journey, like when Dennis takes the Boy Scouts to Canada and they start hallucinating about giant, beastly mosquitoes. Oh, wait, I'm being told those mosquitoes are real. Or you can take it as a metaphor for what happens to everyone after they emerge from a massive religious experience. It metaphorically "takes you to another place." That's the beauty of Mark's short gospel version. He gives us just enough that we can apply it to our own religious journeys through the wilderness, whatever that means.

Here's what I take home from this verse. And this is just me. You may have a different take on this verse, and if so, good.

First, Jesus did go immediately from the confess to the bless to the wilderness. This much we know. The challenge was to POSSESS the blessing of God, to hang onto the blessing of God, no matter what temptations and no matter what adverse situations came his way. To hold onto that blessing, that spirit of God. In that regard, Jesus shows us the classic path of any spiritual journey. Jesus shows us the way. Jesus shows us the steps. And if we think we can skip a step - if we think we can detour around the temptation of our wilderness, we are wrong. Jesus is showing us the way things are. And that is, if you have a spiritual awakening, if you have a change of heart, a change of spirit, a change of plan, you will IMMEDIATELY find yourself challenged to hold onto it, to possess it.

Second, Jesus did go into the wilderness, possessing the blessing that comes through confessing. He was
DRIVEN into the wilderness, the Bible says. But... (and this is the second thing) he wasn't driven into the wilderness alone. He was there with wild beasts, and he was there with angels. He was not in the wilderness by himself.

Maybe this is a man-thing. Maybe this is residual gunk from the manly-man image a lot of us grew up with, or are still growing up with. Maybe it's part of being American, where we're fiercely independent, where we feel like anything less than pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps is sissy. But here it is. A lot of people - and maybe this is more true for men - think and act as though we're supposed to face all our trials, all our temptations, all our adversaries on our own. I know I tend that direction.

("Honey, why are you being so quiet?" "Shhh. I'm battling the forces of Satan." "Well could you pick up some milk on your way back from the war?")

This is so much easier to say than it is to do, but it is the truth, and it's what this verse teaches us. Jesus confronted the forces of Satan. But he didn't do it alone. Jesus confronted the forces of Satan, but he didn't do it alone. That's undeniable, straight from scripture.
So why, when we're confronting temptations,
why, when we're confronting tempters,
why, when we're confronting adverse situations,
why, when we're confronting adversaries...
are we so ARROGANT that we think we have to do it alone?
Jesus didn't. Are we saying we're smarter than Jesus?
Jesus may have been driven into the wilderness, whatever you take wilderness to mean, but he wasn't alone. The verse says, "and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him." That's verbatim. That's truth. That's in the Bible. So why, do we think when we get in dangerous situations, that we have to handle it all by ourselves? Now, a lot of manly men go this way, but a lot of women do, too. I don't want to be sexist. Women can, and do refuse help of people who would be angels to them, just as much as men do. Not even Jesus refused help. Not even Jesus refused company. Heck, he might have even had a dog with him. Or a cat. We don't know. What we do know is that even though he was driven into the wilderness, he wasn't there alone. He had help. Somebody, or something, cared for him, and sat with him in that wilderness time.

So, this is the second thing I get from this verse. The first thing is, if you have an awakening, blessing experience, you will IMMEDIATELY be challenged to possess it. The second thing is this.
Even though you will find yourself in the wilderness,
even though you will find yourself seeing temptations and adversaries as temptations and adversaries,
even though you will feel as though you are fighting the forces of Satan...
you don't have to do it alone.

And more than that, you shouldn't try to fight these battles alone. Jesus didn't. Why should you?

If you're trying to hang onto, if you're trying to POSSESS a new way of life, a new way of thinking, a new way of believing... tell somebody. If you're trying to change, if you're trying to start new habits, if you're trying to begin a new year with a new life... ask for help. Again, this is so much easier to say than it is to do. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. How many times have you said that to someone, to your kids, to your friends, to your spouse? So why is it so hard to take unto yourself? If you've finally, finally, finally, got a handle on a better way, don't refuse the help of the angels around you. Don't refuse the company of the wild beasts. Even if they're not that wild anymore. Don't try to possess the spirit of God all by yourself. Not even Jesus pretended to be stronger than he was.

So, if you are following the path of Jesus Christ, and that's what we're all trying to do, you know two things for sure from this scripture. First, your determination to hold onto the the blessed assurance will be tested. And second, you don't have to stand the test alone.


I am certain you know somebody who is trying to start out this new year on a positive note. And you don't have to be a musician to know how hard it is to maintain a positive note. (We've been watching the preliminary rounds of American Idol. It's really hard for a lot of people to maintain a positive note.) We get "pitchy" real fast.

I am certain you know somebody who could stand some help getting and maintaining the love and grace of Jesus Christ. I am certain you know somebody who's fighting temptation, who's fighting a tempter, who's up against some sort of adversary, who could use your help. Whether it's encouragement, or prayer, or a phone call, or a casserole, or more drastic kinds of intervention... be an angel for them. Don't let them lose their sense of blessing. Help them hang on and possess what God has already given them.

And if you're in your own wilderness, and if you're struggling to hang onto the blessing of God in your life... tell somebody about it. Don't hide from the angels. You've got a church full of them.


It's always a struggle to take into your heart, and to hold in your mind, the blessing of Jesus Christ. It's always going to be a struggle. But the struggle is not the end. That's what we're going to talk about next Sunday. So don't leave today going, "Sigh. Off to another week of battle with the forces of evil." Give your superpowers a rest. Instead, take your steps into the wilderness knowing that there are angels out there, maybe even a beast, who can, and who will, care for you. Do you see them?