Here is an explanation of Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation for the nation “to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” As the President mentions, the country was embroiled in the Civil War, yet he recognized the blessings that were being experienced at the same time! May we be able to see God’s blessing in our own lives in 2015 and offer him thanks and praise.
When you read Lincoln’s proclamation, what stands out to you?
Have a grateful Thanksgiving!
Jesus was different. He wasn’t an establishment-person. He did not maintain the status quo. He did not approve just any and everything that makes people feel good about themselves. He came into a world of acceptable behavior, comfortable traditions and established cultural values – just like our age. He started taking the system apart. Ripped at its foundation. Turned its values upside down and inside out. Jesus was the most countercultural character who walked planet. He followed an alternative lifestyle. On the edge. Beyond imagination. Shocking and offensive.
Here’s the real shock – he expects us to live his way. In fact, we’re not living unless we do. We’re not being fully human unless we follow Jesus’ alternative lifestyle. He loves so much that he calls us to live the only way that frees us to be what God created us to be.
Mark 9:30-31. Jesus was teaching his followers some alternatives to the lifestyle they and we usually follow. From here to the end of chapter, he challenges to adopt four alternatives.
People prefer to keep safe. Stay in our comfort zones, taking care of ourselves. Not Jesus. Mark 9:31-32.
Jesus’ alternative to safety is risk. He put himself on the line. He knew it would cost his life. Someone would turn against him and he would die. But he would gain the final victory – resurrection.
Jesus didn’t stay in the comfort zone of Heaven or even religion. He chose the alternative – death on a cross. The reason for that was to ransom many (Mark 10:45). He took the risk of suffering and death to pay for the spiritual freedom of guilty sinners. Yours. Mine. Everyone’s. Jesus did not play it safe – he gave up his life so we can be free.
His disciples didn’t understand and were afraid to ask him to explain. Why were they afraid? Probably they figured out what his betrayal and killing meant for them. He was their Leader – if he dies, their lives are at risk. Better not ask, maybe it will go away. They sensed he was leading them out of safety. Of course, he was, and still does. He leads us out of comfort zones. He calls us to this alternative lifestyle: putting ourselves on the line instead of staying safe.
The other alternatives show ways that’s put into practice.
Mark 9: 33-37. The status quo lifestyle is competition. Those disciples were masters of it. “I’m a good disciple.” “Maybe so but I’m the best.” “Nuh-uh! My discipling is way better!” Later Jesus asked about their conversation. They played dumb. We do, too. “Me – think I’m better? No way.” Come on, get real. Sure we compete. Don’t you think your opinion is closer to being right than anyone else’s? We compete in a thousand ways. It’s what made America great!
Jesus’ alternative to competition is service. Not being first – not getting attention, not getting my way, not being taken care of. Instead – being last, being a servant, a servant to everyone. Jesus drove it in deep – be a servant to children, the smallest and least powerful – the ones who can’t do anything for you.
Another way the system works is with cliques, clubs, loops, networks, denominations, elitism, races. If you are like me, then I like you, and we can hang out. If you’re not like me, please go away.
Jesus’ alternative to this rejection is acceptance. Mark 9:38-41.
The establishment way of living is to stay with your own kind, your own group and reject everyone else. Here’s a major flaw in the American church system – we require people who come in to become like us, and if they don’t, we can’t have fellowship and unity and peace with them. Jesus shattered that value system. Give a cup of water to people who are different – make a way to accept each other. He brings all of us together in himself.
Now, all traditional lifestyles are built on one common premise. Whether it’s living as a homosexual or neo-nazi or democrat or republican or red-neck or city-slicker or goth or geek or cowgirl or conservative or liberal, whatever, the systems people live by look worlds apart, but they’re built on the same principle. Self-indulgence. Whatever feels right and good to me, that’s what I’m going to indulge. Here’s Jesus’ alternative to that: Mark 9:42-49.
Okay, start slicing and dicing. No, he’s not telling us to eliminate people or mutilate our bodies. He’s telling us to stop accommodating whatever causes us to get it wrong. Stop indulging our sinful impulses. His alternative to self-indulgence is brokenness. Instead of embracing then excusing our self-centeredness, our rebellion against God, we need to admit it’s wrong and remove it.
The status-quo says be yourself, follow whatever feelings and thoughts you have, celebrate your inner drives. Jesus’ alternative says weep, mourn, wail because there is something wrong with me. Go to whatever extent is necessary to change. Whatever is in me that has no part in my relationship with God and new life in Christ must be removed. “Everyone will be salted by fire.” God will put everyone through a refining process, so we will see the wrong that’s in us and come to a brokenness over it and get rid of it.
Jesus finished his talk about this alternative lifestyle in Mark 9:50.
Having salt in you means having a unique, special character. You will agree with Jesus to live by risk instead of safety, by service instead of competition, by acceptance instead of rejection, by brokenness instead of self-indulgence – the most unique way of living, for sure. And it means you can “be at peace with each other.” You can have a life that’s new and that brings loving fellowship with others – the most alternative lifestyle of all.
By the time Jesus had finished living and teaching his alternative lifestyle, his disciples had not gotten it. The night before he was arrested and executed they argued, again, about which one was the best disciple (Luke 22:24). They didn’t get it. Didn’t live it. Then something happened. Jesus was betrayed and killed. He did rise from the dead. Eleven of those men and several others committed themselves to him and his way of life. Then the Spirit of God entered their lives and changed them. Jesus’ alternative lifestyle became theirs. It takes inside change. We will be establishment, status-quo, world-system dominated until we allow Christ to actually change us inside by his Spirit. And at the end of that long process, we will be what God created us to be.
True story. Name changed.
45-year-old Joe was hunting in the mountains of California. He climbed to a ledge on the slope of a rocky gorge and raised himself to look onto the ledge above. He caught a movement to the right. It was a rattlesnake. The snake struck and just missed Joe’s right ear. However the rattler’s fangs snagged in the neck of his sweater. The force of the strike caused the snake to land on his shoulder and coil around his neck. Joe grabbed it several inches behind its head. He felt the hot venom running onto his skin. The rattler was buzzing furiously. Joe fell backwards and landed among some rocks with his legs extending uphill. He could barely move, wedged between the rocks. He was able to reach his rifle and used it to disengage the snake’s fangs from his sweater. But it had enough leverage to strike. Joe turned his face away as the rattler made about eight attempts to bite, its nose hitting his face four times. Joe had to choke the snake to death.
Does that sound anything like your life – wrestling rattlesnakes? It does for a lot of people. Real life full is full of rattlesnakes. Evil, corruption, destructiveness. And there’s pain, suffering, and hurt.
Jesus lived in real world. He wrestled with the rattlesnakes. Still does.
Read these excerpts from the Gospel of Mark (hover your cursor over the texts):
It’s clear what Jesus did with the evil and pain he found. He met them head on. He grabbed them by the throat and choked the life out of them. Jesus brought God’s Kingdom into the world with the power to confront and defeat evil.
He drove out evil spirits. He broke Satan’s hold on people and got rid of the corruption, the wickedness, the destruction.
Still does. There is a river in Africa that was called “Satan’s River” because sacrifices to the devil were made in it. Several years ago, a team of Christians showed the film “Jesus” in that area. The next day many people started destroying idols and places of Satan worship. Witch doctors tried stop it but they literally fell to the ground. The new believers wanted to be baptized like they had seen Jesus baptized in the movie. They went to the river dedicated to Satan. In fear, others watched and waited for Satan to attack. Nothing happened. They renamed the river “Jordan.”
Jesus drives out evil. He exerts his power against addictions, against racism, against false religion. He sets people free from immorality, from materialism, from selfishness. Stops abuse and violence and uncaring. Jesus takes evil by the throat and chokes the life out of it.
Jesus healed people. He brought relief and comfort and strength for the pains of life.
Still does. The car a man named Rick Jones was driving was broadsided by a truck going more than 80mph. He suffered multiple fractures including a broken neck. Doctors doubted he would live through the night and when he did they said he would never walk and be institutionalized the rest of his life. Nine days after extensive surgery he walked out of the hospital and went home. He had to have many more surgeries, and he went through a bout with cancer which left him with diabetes. Never pain free, he is alive, serving God, and enjoying life with his family. Rick said, “Christ can give us the strength and determination to literally walk through pain every day. His power is perfected in our weakness and by adding the eternal gift of hope, you have the ability to walk through anything.”
With grace and power, Jesus deals with our pains. His ability gets you through suffering and heartache. At times he heals injuries and diseases. Other times he gives hope and strength for endurance. He ministers to the other pains of life, too. The ones in your heart and soul. The emotional and mental suffering that come about in the broken and tangled, dangerous and damaging world. Just as he touched and healed fever and leprosy, Jesus heals the pain of real life.
When Jesus began dealing with the evil and pain in real life, it electrified the area. Like an earthquake tremor, news about him spread throughout Galilee. People who were trapped by evil or suffering in pain flocked to him. “They were coming to him from everywhere.” (verse 45) People went to Jesus in droves because he helped them with the real evil and pain of their lives.
When you look at our real world you see people wrestling with rattlesnakes everywhere – trapped by evil or suffering in pain. Many struggle with horrible evil in their lives. Many hurt severely with physical or emotional or spiritual pains. It is so bad for some that they use pain to deal with the evil. Some harm themselves, cause themselves physical pain to try to make the deeper pain go away. A girl I knew put her experience in a poem she titled “Don’t Run”:
Don’t run daddy, don’t be afraid
it’s only a bloody razor blade
Don’t run daddy, just come back here
don’t run daddy, there’s nothing to fear
This blade was here more than you
This blade is what helped me get through
When you didn’t want to tuck me in at night
My blade was there to make it all right
Don’t take away my friend that kept me alive
Don’t hate my friend that helped me survive
It’s sad enough that the object that should have hurt me bad
Did not hurt me as much as my own dad
The real world is a matrix of evil and pain.
Jesus brought his Kingdom so there can be something different. He cares and wants to help. People will come to him if they know he will help. Somehow his Kingdom must spread through the layers of society; his power must get to people, into the real world. It happens same way now as it did in Galilee. Only different.
Jesus used a physical body to take his power into Galilee. He became a flesh and blood human and went into the world of evil and pain to help. Today he uses a flesh and blood body, called “church.” That’s not a building or even an organization. It’s people who have committed their lives to Jesus, living in his Kingdom, joining together to know and follow the King. Depending on the Holy Spirit for power, we are to be finding ways to choke the life out of evil and pain in the real world.
That doesn’t happen like this.
It happens like this – Luke 6:27-28. And this – Hebrews 13:16. And this – Colossians 4:5-6. And this – Romans 12:21. And this.
The widow of the man who killed those Amish children, Marie Monville, shares this:
Hours after learning about what Charles Roberts had done, a contingent of the grieving Amish came to visit her. Monville recalled that she was standing in her parents’ kitchen, and she could see a group of the Amish walking towards her parents’ home. Her father offered to go outside and talk to them.
“And I couldn’t hear the words they were saying, but I could see the exchange that was happening. I could see their arms extending. And the way they laid their hands on my dad’s shoulder. I could feel it,” she said. “I could feel the emotion of the moment. You know, it said everything,” she said, adding that her father said they had forgiven her husband. “They were concerned about me and concerned about the kids, and wanted us to know that they supported our family.”
It didn’t end there. When her family was besieged by media en route to bury Charles Roberts, the Amish stepped in again. Even though they don’t like to have their pictures taken, members of the community placed themselves directly in front of news cameras to shield her family, Monville said.
“They turned their backs to the cameras so the only pictures that could be taken were of them and not of our family. And it was amazing to me that they would choose to do that for us,” she said. “It was amazing. It was one of those moments during the week where my breath was taken away, but not because of the evil. But because of the love.” (ABC News)
Jesus has not abandoned the world of evil and pain. His Kingdom is here. He is here. He has his people here to do his work. We get to be partners with the King releasing his love and power into people’s lives, choking the life out of evil and pain.
(Please read part 1 below) What was God going to do with them? The detective investigated, examined evidence and clues, consulted experts, theorized, followed leads – but he was stumped. He couldn’t solve the mystery. So, finally, he just watched. He set up a stake out and watched. He watched what God did. God […]