Thursday, September 24, 2020

Mark 4

 Key verse: Mark 4:12

Big idea: The Son of God opens our eyes.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus often spoke in parables: small stories that were simple enough for anyone to hear and remember but so profound that their true import often went unnoticed. Like a seed thrown on the ground, it might sit dormant for a period, but under the right conditions it could explode with life. In the case of a seed, the seed waits for the right soil moisture and temperature. In the case of the gospel message, the Word may stay in our hearts until the Son of God sends the Holy Spirit to convict us. When the Spirit convicts us, we are faced with the decision to respond and bear fruit or not, but we cannot get ahead of God's work in our spirits. 

In the parable of the sower, there were three hearts where the seed did not take root. One was the hard heart, where Satan plucked the seed away without any semblance of life. Another was the shallow heart, which seemed to be alive for a moment but died away when the heat came. The third was the crowded heart, where the weeds and thorns of life choked out the seed of the good news. These three enemies of the Christian (the Devil, the flesh, and the world) can keep a believer from bearing the fruit which God calls us to. They are those who see without perceiving, and hear without understanding: their interaction with God's Word is superficial and fleeting. But even a seed in good soil will not bear fruit until the right time. The seeds are planted and watered but only God can make them grow.

Discussion idea: Who is someone you have been waiting on to respond to the gospel? What does it mean that their response is in God's timing? How does that affect our style of evangelism?


Prayer focus: Ask God to draw the specific person from the discussion to Himself. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Mark 3

 Key verse: Mark 3:29

Big idea: The Son of God operates by the Spirit of God. 

Jesus lived a perfect life, free of sin and complete in obedience. How? He was tempted in every way that we are, yet never faltered. Did He, as fully God, access some resources which are beyond our capacity? Amazingly, the biblical picture seems to be that Jesus lived His life in the same power that we have as believers. He resisted sin and walked in righteousness by the power of the Holy Spirit. He had the ability to perform miracles as God Himself but in His humility as a man, He prayed to the Father and was empowered by the Spirit to act. 

So when the enemies of Christ claimed that He was casting out demons by the power of demons, they were challenging the role of the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Father and the Son could be forgiven, Jesus explained, but not the Spirit. Why was this? Because the same Holy Spirit that empowered Jesus to perform His miracles is the Holy Spirit that convicts us of our sin. If we reject the Holy Spirit, there is no plan B for other forgiveness. This is how the Son of God acts in our lives, via His Spirit. If we do not have the Spirit, we do not have the Son. 

Discussion idea; How does the Holy Spirit's role in the life of Jesus motivate us to live like Him?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you live in the power of His Spirit?

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Mark 2

 Key verse: Mark 2:1

Big idea: The Son of God is in the house. 

The beginning of Mark 2 includes one of the most exciting stories in the entire Bible. A man is paralyzed and four of his friends found out that Jesus was in town. How did they know? Everyone was talking about it! "It was noised that he was in the house." They try to bring their friend to Jesus on a stretcher but the crowd is just too heavy to get through. But they knew who was in the house and they were determined to get him there. So they went to the roof and started digging. When the Son of God is in the house, you have to tell! 

The religious leaders were seated inside (they had been on time in their bodies and missed the boat in their hearts) and could not believe what they were hearing when Jesus said that the paralyzed man's sins were forgiven. Who was this Man, who claimed to forgive sins? Only God can do that! They were right of course. So Jesus, reading their thoughts (something else only God can do), gave them a demonstration. He healed the paralyzed man with a word, so that everyone who was willing to see could know that the Son of God was in the house. 

If we really believed that when our church assembles, the Son of God is in the house, how passionately would we work to bring people in? What "holes in the ceiling" would we ignore as irrelevant compared to the prize? Even in our own lives, if God has told us that we are His house when we are saved, do people look at us and say "The Son of God is in that house"? He has shown who He is, the one who forgives sin and changes lives. If we know Him, we should show Him.

Discussion idea: Why do you think we are less faithful to spread the news that the Son of God has come than they were when He was in Capernaum?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to show the world that you are here. Help me to accept any inconvenience or discomfort, as long as I can bring people to You. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Mark 1

 Key verse: Mark 1:38

Big idea: The Son of God came to preach the good news.

In November of 1913, it took about twelve hours to assemble a car. Switching between tasks, finding the right tools, and working on things that you were less effective at all piled on the time it took to finish the vehicle (and therefore the cost). But in December, Henry Ford launched a brilliant new innovation: the assembly line. The process of building a car was broken into 84 different steps and the worker did the same one all day. They became experts at that one task by focus and dedication and the time to produce a car dropped to two and a half hours.[1] Modern cars take much longer because of their complexity and would be basically impossible without modern assembly line methods.[2]

We could say a lot about the pros and cons of workers doing the same repetitive task day in and day out, but there is no denying that it allows them to become skilled and efficient at their work. Focus matters. Jesus knew why He had come and He focused on that goal. When the people were pressing for Him, He said that it was time to go on to the next towns to preach the gospel there too because that is why He had come. He did not stick around where the Kingdom has already been announced, even though it might have been more comfortable. He kept pushing on - He had a mission and He was going to accomplish it. 

Our mission is the same. Whether it is at school, work, home, or church, we need to be laser-focused on why God has deployed us: to preach the gospel. Sometimes it is telling your friend about Jesus. Soemtimes it is listening to your parents read the Bible to you so you can learn the things you can share. Sometimes it is holding your tongue when a comment will be a barrier to a relationship. But remember why we are here.

Discussion idea: What are some ways you can preach the gospel? What are some distractions?

Prayer focus: Ask God for divine tunnel vision, so you only see the things that really matter!

[1] https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/fords-assembly-line-starts-rolling 

[2] https://www.motortrend.com/news/toyota-chrysler-have-north-americas-most-efficient-plants-1859/ 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Philemon

 Key verse: Philemon 9

Big idea: Love changes everything. 

Philemon is one of the most unique letters in the New Testament. Paul wrote to a slave owner about his runaway slave who had been converted under Paul's ministry and was now returning. The apostle explained that, as an apostle, he had the authority to simply command him to release Onesimus and free him to aid Paul but he preferred to let Philemon choose to do the right thing out of love instead. This is a radical approach and emblematic of the way the New Testament completely undermines the institution of slavery, although it did not call for its immediate total abolition. Rather, it pushed on a basic contradiction between the biblical worldview and the idea of one human being owning another: is he worth more to you as a slave for a lifetime or as a brother for eternity? Paul put his money where his mouth was, offering to pay whatever was necessary to reconcile their relationship. 

Maturity often means that we are not given specific answers to every dilemma we face. While a toddler might have very specific rules for every scenario, an adult is going to operate on broad principles which apply in complex ways in the moment. Voting in an election when neither party is perfectly biblical, choosing a spouse or a college, changing jobs or moving are all complex decisions for which there can be no simple proof-text. But when we combine the boundaries the Bible does place on us with the overarching theme of love, we can find the path God wants us to take. When we love, massive social institutions are transformed, not by rallies or gunfire (although those things have been used in history for good), but by the subtle influence of one relationship at a time. When we love, we no longer steal, kill or cheat. When we love, we do not look to be served. When we love, the thought of owning another person, whether through literal slavery or softer forms of power, is repugnant. There is only the desire to give others a small portion of what Jesus has already done for us. Love changes everything.

Discussion idea: Why did Paul not simply call for the immediate abolition of slavery? It is worth noting that slavery in biblical times was usually for a set time as a debt was paid off (like what we would call indentured servitude) rather than the race based chattel slavery which was not invented until the modern era.

Prayer focus: God, transform my heart to live in love. Remove the barriers that divide me from others and help me to see that if I have genuinely been loved and transformed by a holy God, that nothing between me and another human being could ever compare. 


NOTE: Tomorrow is our second (and final) catch-up day this year. so there will be no devotion Have a great weekend! Next week, we will pick up Mark, then 1-2 PEter, then John, 1-3 John and Revelation to close out the year. We are almost there!


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Titus 3

 Key verse: Titus 3:10

Big idea: Division is the church killer. 

There are a lot of challenges churches have faced through history. Hostile governments, financial crises, plagues and social pressure have all opposed the churches of the Lord. Yet they have never been ale to effectively stop what God was doing. In fact, it seems that greater opposition often motivated Christians to accomplish more so that what was intended for evil was used by god for good. So what really puts a church in danger? As we have seen over and over again, it is the internal problems which threaten the survival of a church. Division, bickering, and factions will do from the inside what no emperor could ever do from the outside. When God has broken the barriers between us and made us into a family, it is profound blasphemy to reform the divisions that the blood of Jesus dissolved. 

Paul warns Timothy about the kinds of factitious people that would enter the church. The King James Version uses the work "heretick" here, but the meaning of heresy has changed since 1611. At the time, the word meant those who caused schism within a body, although now we only use it to refer to those who cause division by false teaching. That idea is certainly included here, but there are many other ways to divide a church and all of them are deadly. Foolish questions for the sake of stirring up conflict and endless studies into genealogies that miss the essence of the faith threaten the effectiveness of the church by robbing her of her focus and fellowship. Those who cause this division show their own wicked hearts and should be removed from the fellowship of the church after two warnings like cancer. 

Division is dangerous. Factions in families or workplaces are almost as harmful as it is in churches, where instead of collaborating together for a common purpose, vanity plays and undermining one another become the priority. God has called us to something better. He has given us a new kind of life through the death of Jesus that makes all of our old divisions and barriers irrelevant. Isn't it high time we acted like it?

Discussion idea: Why are churches so quick to fall into "teams"? 

Prayer focus: Pray that God would help you to be a peacemaker, so you can be called a "son of God."  (Matthew 5:9)

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Titus 2

 Key verse: Titus 2:14

Big idea: God redeemed us to unite us. 

"Hi-Yo Silver, away!"[1] Many Christians seem to want to emulate the Lone Ranger. They find a mission and ride off to face it alone. The problem is that, like the Lone Ranger, an individual Christian rarely sees their situation change from week to week. The status quo is reset and the same basic problems are faced over and over again. God did not intend for our lives to be like that. Although we are saved alone, by our personal faith in Christ, we are not saved to be alone. God intends to purify for Himself a people - a new nation, not defined by ancestry, language, or culture but by zeal for good works. 

We live in a sinful world and are called in that world to live for God, rejecting sin and choosing righteousness. But even as we live in that world, we are not of that world. Our human nation is not our primary allegiance. We are looking forward to the appearance of our Savior, our blessed hope. When He appears, the nation that will matter is the special one (KJV: peculiar) that He purified for His own good works. That new allegiance breaks down all of our old barriers and creates a new humanity, one where we can encourage one another, challenge one another and serve alongside each other.

As lone ranger Christians, we will never make much progress. We will not grow personally without the aid of others and the work God has called us too is far too great for us to accomplish it alone. God has not saved us to be by ourselves, but to be united together as His family and in His churches. 

Discussion idea: Why are we tempted to individualism? How can we do more for God together than alone?
Prayer focus: Pray for a heart that is ready to be joined to others in service. 

[1] I always thought it was "Hi-Ho Silver," but the Smithsonian says it is "Hi-Yo" and they have his mask.