What Faith Requires – Focus

Introduction
We live in a world that is defined by being distracted. We do not even relax and watch television anymore. A study by the Mobile Marketing Association found that “88% Of U.S. Consumers Use Mobile As Second Screen While Watching TV”. Clive Thompson, New York Times Magazine, “Information is no longer a scarce resource — attention is.” We are all experienced at being distracted and interrupted in life.

There are many efforts to help us deal with this. Justine Haupt invented a new kind of cell phone. She wrote: In a finicky, annoying, touchscreen world of hyperconnected people using phones they have no control over or understanding of, I wanted something that would be entirely mine, personal, and absolutely tactile, while also giving me an excuse for not texting.

Inventor Rama Poola “Many of us have some level of dependency on our phones, whether we’d like to admit it or not.I believe that the more intentional time we spend being present with ourselves and engaged with the world around us, the more content we will be and the more capable we can become.”

When we talk about faith, I believe we are talking about something that deserves our focus, but also needs our focus – our attention – our intentional purpose. Faith is not an one-time experience, but a life-time journey. Faith requires that we believe God and we Persist through the challenges we face. Faith requires FOCUS. In our text today, Jesus redirects the attention of religious leaders and disciples of his day, and ours. I want to ask you five questions about the focus of faith that I hope you will consider – if I can get your attention!

Does Faith Focus on Tradition or Scripture? (Mark 7:1-5)

The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him. 2 They observed that some of his disciples were eating bread with unclean—that is, unwashed—hands. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, keeping the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they have washed. And there are many other customs they have received and keep, like the washing of cups, pitchers, kettles, and dining couches.) 5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders, instead of eating bread with ceremonially unclean hands?”

Mark 7:1-7, CSB

The trouble with traditions is that my tradition is your dogma (and vice versa).

Tradition can be a distraction from Scripture – drawing us away from the teaching of the Bible to comparing ourselves with others and what they do or do not do.

Tradition is not evil – and can be good – but it cannot condemn others or draw us away from Christ.

Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elements of the world, rather than Christ.

Colossians 2:8, CSB

Does Faith Focus on Judgment or Grace?

If we condemn others for not keeping our traditions, we are living in judgment and not grace.

You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 2:1 , CSB

This is grace that teaches us how to to live with God. This is grace that teaches us how to live with others.

Does Faith Focus on Outward Acts or Heartfelt Worship? (Mark 7:6-8)

He answered them, “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines human commands. Abandoning the command of God, you hold on to human tradition.”

Mark 7:6-8 , CSB

God has always desired our heartfelt worship – much more important to him than our outward acts.

Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:13

We may think our acts of religious duty are more important than our hearts, but God does not! God desires our hearts, not just our actions.

Does Faith Focus on Arrogance or Confessions? (Mark 7:9-13)

He also said to them, “You have a fine way of invalidating God’s command in order to set up[e] your tradition! 10 For Moses said: Honor your father and your mother; and Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must be put to death. 11 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or mother: Whatever benefit you might have received from me is corban’” (that is, an offering devoted to God), 12 “you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. 13 You nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many other similar things.”

Mark 7:9-13 , CSB

Jesus zeroes in on the real issue: the hypocrisy of demanding of others what you will not live yourself. Arrogance seeks to justify self, dragging down others, and failing to see yourself as you are. Confession waters down arrogance by recognizing our great need before God and our lack of status among others. We are all sinners – and we all need Jesus – so none of us can afford the price of arrogance.

Does Faith Focus on Self or Jesus? (Mark 7:20-23)

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, 22 adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, self-indulgence, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a person.”

Mark 7:20-23, CSB

This section ends with a description of the human heart. I have two reactions to this list: *I can see now that Jesus knows the real ME. *I can see now that Jesus loves the real ME and died for me BECAUSE he knows and loves me.

“The gospel declares that no matter how dutiful or prayerful we are, we can’t save ourselves. What Jesus did was sufficient.” ― Brennan Manning

The focus of faith is always to be on Jesus.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look Full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

– in the light of His glory and grace.

Conclusion

In a world of distractions, we can easily find ourselves focused on tradition, judging others, empty religious practices, and a failure to recognize our own sin.

Faith focuses on Scripture, Grace, Worship, the Real ME: Faith Focuses on Jesus.

We can have a faith focused on Jesus when we…
-Love people the way Jesus loved them
-Serve others from the heart.
-Worship God – not just attend worship.
-Recognize who we are inside, and thus how much we need the Lord in our daily life.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth[e] of everything I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-13, CSB

We Focus on Faith As we Pray the Tax Collector’s prayer: ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’

Faith is Focused on Jesus.

Resources
The Truth About Distraction and How You Can Fix It – Jonah Malin

Rotary Cell Phone – Justine Haupt

Using the Brick Method on My Phone Has Made Me a Better CEO by Rama Poola

An Elder Is A Man

Spending time each week with our elders is a treasured blessing for me. As I reflected on this today I recalled an article written by the late Burton Coffman entitled An Elder is a Man. I am glad I had a copy of this in my files. I wanted to share it. Below that is an article I wrote for our church bulletin abut elders being Shepherds. JED

An Elder is A Man by Burton Coffman

An elder is a man, subject to errors of judgment. Yet he must go ahead with courage to make decisions, knowing he could be wrong. It is not possible to know 100% of all things before reaching a decision.

An elder is a man, enjoying the approval of those he leads. Yet, he must have the courage to made decisions based upon his spiritual and intellectual judgment, knowing it may cost him the favor of the church.

An elder is a husband, aware of the frailty of the human family. Yet, he must proceed with courage in leadership knowing his family will, by association, fall heir to some criticisms directed at him.

An elder is a man, a student of mankind and time. Yet, he cannot remain simply a student; he must be a teacher, knowing that the ultimate direction of the church and its growth in the future depends upon his reactions today.

An elder is a man conscious of his responsibility. Yet, he must have the courage to trust others with responsibility – knowing they may fumble, they may quit, or they may ignore the assignment.

An elder is a man, awed by the power of God. Yet, his love for the souls of men causes him to accept the office of bishop, knowing that one day he will stand in Gods presence and give account of his own dealins with those he was to lead.

It is likely that no man on earth would accept the above challenge of leading as an elder, if God had not promised wisdom from above and inner strength of character that come from his eternal presence.

SHEPHERDS FOR GOD’S FLOCK      John Dobbs

I BELIEVE IN AN ELDER-LED CHURCH because this is the leadership plan we read about in the Bible. While every person in a church has opinions about the best practices and paths forward, we have entrusted a group of men to serve as our Shepherds. We selected these men based upon qualities we admired in their character. God has given the elders direction in shepherding the flock, and also He has given the flock direction in being led. When there is harmony in this relationship of shepherd / flock, then the church has the best opportunity to fulfill it’s mission. 

ELDERS ARE SHEPHERDS. As shepherds of God’s flock (Acts 20:28) elders have been given the charge to oversee the church in a godly manner. Four duties of shepherding include the duty to feed (teach) the church, protect the church from false teachers, leading the church (as opposed to just being caretakers), and caring for practical needs. 

AN ELDER IS A MAN. Since all humans are imperfect, we know that our elders are not perfect. When they ask for input and our thoughts, we share what we think so that they can make the best decisions possible for our church. Elders are to be appreciated, loved, honored, protected from slander, and obeyed (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1 Timothy 5:17-19; Hebrews 13:17). Also, godly elders are to view their position of leadership with humility and with an eye to God’s will and not personal gain nor personal preferences (1 Peter 5:1-2). It’s quite a challenge.

ELDERS ARE A PLURALITY. In the Bible, elders are always presented as a plurality. The church belongs to no individual human, it belongs to Christ. Elders are pastors in the New Testament. Although today that term is often used for the preacher, that is a misuse of the biblical term. 

ELDERS ARE A BLESSING. Our church is blessed to have godly men serving as our shepherds. We trust them. We love them. We follow them. We dialogue with them and clarify thoughts and feelings. Even in times when we question them, we consider how to faithfully honor God’s plan for church leadership, unity, and humility. 

RESOURCE: Alexander Strauch has an excellent book called BIBLICAL ELDERSHIP. His thoughts helped me with today’s article, as well as his article HERE.

Narrative Lectionary February 16

The Narrative Lectionary points us this week to Mark 7:1-23 and Psalm 51:1-3, 6-7.  I am preaching a series called What Faith Requires and will be talking about this passage and how it relates to our faith.

The Mark text is a fascinating look at how our religious traditions can become so important that they cause us to look down upon anyone who doesn’t practice them. In our text the Pharisees practice a ceremonial washing of the hands – identified as a “tradition of the elders” (vs 3). Mark tells us that “there are man other customs they have received and keep” and he identifies a few of them. Their eyes are on Jesus and his disciples and they naturally want to know why they do not keep the traditions that should be recognized. Jesus’ disciples are Jews and would know about these traditions. But perhaps Jesus isn’t keeping the traditions either and the disciples are just following suit. The question, though, is about the disciples.

Jesus, knowing what was in the heart, identifies their hypocrisy. They do keep the traditions well, but this seems to be a substitute for really putting their heart into the matter (vs 6). He gives them a strong message that upends their confidence in tradition keeping that has replaced heartfelt devotion to the Father. He points out that they even have the despicable practice of failing to support their parents because their tradition allows them to allocate all their funds to the Lord (and nothing left for aging parents who no doubt were dependent upon family for support). That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Jesus lets them know that he is aware that they “do many other similar things” (vs 13).

Jesus calls a crowd together. I do not have any doubt that this crowd of people have suffered under the judgmental eye of the Pharisees and scribes. He lets them know that failing to keep these outward traditions is not causing any defilement or religious uncleanness. It’s what’s going on inside a person that matters most. As followers of Jesus we are used to hearing this kind of message but the disciples ask him about it in private.

The struggle is not with our outward acts of piety. The real struggle is what is going on in our hearts.

For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, self-indulgence, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a person.”

Mark 7:21-23, CSB

If anyone was present that day hoping that Jesus would notice how nice they were and be oblivious to the evil junk going on in their hearts, they are now thoroughly disabused of that illusion.

There is much here for the preacher to think about this Sunday. Every religion is rife with religious tradition – and it is often elevated into dogma. This is a danger zone for Christians and it causes much division and argumentation in the Christian world. My list of “traditions” might be your list of “essentials”. Surely everyone knows that old saw about the lady who cut off both ends of the ham when she cooked it. When her husband inquired as to why, she said her mother did it and she supposed that was the right way to do it. When mother was asked, she explained that she never had a pot big enough to cook the ham in and had to cut off the ends for it to fit. This is the way religious traditions develop – sometimes out of necessity, sometimes out of reverence, and even sometimes out of conviction. And that’s the trouble with traditions. MY traditions are God’s will, YOUR traditions are expendable.

In connection with traditions but developing further, God is mostly concerned with our hearts. When we feel like we have enacted all the traditions we feel like we did good. But if we did not have our heart in what we were doing, then it was just vain worship.

In vain (fruitlessly and without profit) do they worship Me, ordering and teaching [to be obeyed] as doctrines the commandments and precepts of men.

Mark 7:7, AMPC

Our worship only means something to God if He has our hearts. This teaching is expressed both in Old and New Testaments. That relates to Jesus’ further elaboration. If our hearts are not in it when we worship God, then we might rely on the props of our traditions for outward evidence of religious devotion – even if it is insincere. We can easily criticize those who do not participate in our traditions. It makes us look bad if they aren’t doing the same things we are. It’s just a web of deceit.

Jesus assesses the situation and reminds his followers that all these outward religious props are just a distraction. Instead, look into your hearts. That’s where the real issue is. It would have been nice if Jesus had spent time here talking about how dear we were, how devoted, how sweet. But instead he unearths the wickedness that’s rotting away in our hearts and pronounces those things as of vital importance. Those things tend to come out and do harm to others.

Christians can spend a lot of time pointing out the religious practices of others, why they’re wrong (and sometimes why they will miss heaven!), and how they should do it like us. After all, nearly 2,000 years later we’re the ones who have it all figured out, right? But a passage like this calls us to look at what’s happening in our own hearts. I think that truth calls us to be drawn to our Savior. I don’t like that list in vs 20-23. It hits too close to home.

On the other hand, I love that Jesus exposes that list. He knows the real ME. The secrets are out, I can hide nothing from Him! More, He still loves the real ME. Even more, He is saving the real ME. That’s news about which I can rejoice!

But, please do wash your hands before you eat. Really.

You’re invited to join my Facebook Group Narrative Lectionarians where I post resources for the text each week as well as entertain discussions relative to the text.

What Faith Requires: Persist

Introduction

Faith is not a one-time experience – it is a life-long journey. All of us have a Faith Story – the journey of faith in our own lives is a part of our unique experience. One thing we all know – The life of Faith is not easy. Through the questions, doubts, disappointments, and brokenness in our own lives we seek to continue on the journey of faith. Faith requires persistence. We persist in the strength and presence of Christ. We persist through the trials and struggles. We persist because our experience does not diminish our faith. 

And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11:6

No one has ever lived out that journey like Jesus. Even though Jesus was the Son of God, perfect and holy, we know that he endured much pain and sorrow in his quest to save us from our sin. Mark 6 tells us of a time in Jesus’ life when he had to persist through some really personal struggles in order to live the life of faith.  If Jesus had to face challenges – we can be strengthened in our own challenges. 

He left there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. “Where did this man get these things?” they said. “What is this wisdom that has been given to him, and how are these miracles performed by his hands? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t his sisters here with us?” So they were offended by him. 4Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his household.” 5 He was not able to do a miracle there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief. He was going around the villages teaching.

Mark 6:1-6

JESUS: An Example of Persistent Faith

Jesus is in his hometown – the people who should have been his  biggest supporters.  They are amazed – but not in a faith-filled way. They had heard about the many miracles he was doing and were hearing his teaching. Instead of being filled with faith they were offended.  They watched him grow up, knew his family, he was just an ordinary man to them. This had an impact on Jesus. He did not do many miracles there – only a few. “He was amazed at their unbelief.” He left his hometown of Nazareth and to our knowledge never returned home. Jesus was rejected and ridiculed in his home town, but he had a greater mission and did not let that take him down. How can we have the kind of faith that persists in spite of challenges – even really personal struggles?  Here are some things to remember when our faith is under fire

POWER TO PERSIST WHEN FAITH FEELS WEAK

Never Give Up.

Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.

Galatians 6:9   

Charles Wesley said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Philippians 3:14 NLT

Always determine to “press on” to reach the promises of God. Faith calls us to persist – Never Give Up!

Remember the Outcome

Though you have not seen him, you love him; though not seeing him now, you believe in him, and you rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:8-9

Faith finds it’s roots in loving Jesus, believing in Jesus, Rejoicing  in Jesus.  The goal of our faith is the salvation of our souls. Without that promise we have nothing.  When our faith is running low, we should focus on the goal – and thank God for His assurance. 

Prepare For Turbulence.

We experience turbulence in our faith – like a flight through storm. Faith starts small, grows, ebbs, flows – but God is constant! We have to know this going in! We prepare ahead of time by growing our spiritual life daily.

“The reason why many fail in battle is because they wait until  the hour of battle. The reason why others succeed is because  they have gained their victory on their knees long before the  battle came. Anticipate your battles; fight them on your knees before temptation comes, and you will always have victory. – R.A. Torrey

 Mark 9:24   A father who needed Jesus to heal his son exclaimed:  “I do believe; help my unbelief!” This will be our cry very often – as we hang on to Jesus through the turbulent times in life. 

Faith Defeats Schemes of Satan!

In every situation take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

Ephesians 6:16

Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong.

1 Corinthians 15:16

We are alert to the work of Satan in our lives.We stand firm in faith – never giving up our trust in Jesus. We are courageous – when fear calls us to give up.. We are strong in Jesus, not in our own strength. 

Fight for your faith

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of eternal life to which you were called and about which you have made a good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:12

It is a “good fight”. We are living in an imperfect and broken world. We live among an imperfect and broken people. We are imperfect and broken ourselves! Remember your confession: Jesus is Lord!

Turn to the Scriptures

You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.

2 Timothy 3:15-16 NLT

We cannot starve our souls and be full of strong faith. 

You’re Not Alone: Jesus Knows

“I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things.”

Revelation 2:19 NLT

We never walk alone in this journey of faith – He always knows he sees every tear – he is aware of every battle – and He never  leaves us alone. 

Your Faith Energizes the Faith of Others

We recall, in the presence of our God and Father, your work produced by faith, your labor motivated by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 1:3

Conclusion

Jesus faced significant challenges to his faith – but he gave us the perfect example of continuing the journey of faith no matter what. Jesus is the source of faith and it is to Him that we give our lives.  When we feel our faith growing weak and being challenged maintain a persistent faith:

Never give Up! 

Remember the Outcome! 

Prepare for Turbulence! 

Defeat Schemes of Satan! 

Fight for Your Faith!

Turn to the Scriptures!

You’re not alone: Jesus Knows

Your faith energizes others

Our faith is all about Jesus – put your faith in him today.

for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ

Galatians 3:26-27

Narrative Lectionary February 9

This week the Lectionary keeps us on track with Mark 6:1-29. The Psalm is 122 and another Gospel text is Matthew 14:13. The story of Jesus has been filled with amazement and wonders up to this point. There have been healings, teachings, and a resurrection from the dead. The way of Jesus is not all about fame and success. His journey to the cross is going to have to be characterized by faithfulness and persistence.

Mark 6 begins with Jesus in his hometown. Hometown heroes are often loved the most. Occasionally one my travel through a small town with a billboard at it’s border advertising that it is the hometown of some celebrity or person of notoriety. But not all hometown celebrities are exalted. Mark has told us that people were ‘amazed’ and ‘astounded’ at Jesus. And that was even true in his hometown, as Mark notes that “many who heard him were amazed” (Mark 6:2). But not all. Some were curious. What’s up with this Jesus kid we watched grow up? Perhaps they suspect he is a charlatan because “they took offence at him” (Mark 6:3). Jesus is, understandably, affected by their rejection and he says so. Interestingly, Mark 6:5 informs us that, “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few people who were ill and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.” It must take a lot to amaze the Son of God! He just did a few miracles there because of their lack of faith. That is so interesting to me.

As disheartening as his hometown visit was, the mission must not be delayed. Jesus sends out the Twelve to carry out His mission in pairs. He prepared them that even though they would be able to have authority over demons and exhibit the gift of healing, there would also be some rejection.

Word about Jesus and His miraculous ministry reaches the ears of King Herod. Even though everyone in his hometown knew who he was, that wasn’t true in the surrounding cities and countryside. Some were saying that he was a resurrected John the Baptist or Elijah! Herod thinks to himself, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” This is when Mark tells the dramatic and bloody tale of John the Bapists’ message that offended Herodias. Herod was afraid of John and protected him from the death penalty that Herodias requested. Herod even liked to listen to John (Mark 6:20). Herod’s birthday party featured a seductive dance by his wife’s daughter that resulted in the king making a foolish promise to give her whatever she asks. Herodias finds opportunity to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herod could not find it within himself to deny this wish, and so he had John beheaded as she desired.

It is a poignant statement that ends our text. Mark notes that “John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb” (Mark 6:29). The preacher has three sections to work with here. It seems to me that an undercurrent in this section is that following Jesus is not going to be all about healings and great teachings. There is an element of danger that comes along with following Jesus. There is also an encouragement in the stories of danger. Keep following Him no matter what. The end of the story empowers the journey.

Here are some resources for further study.

Working Preacher Commentary by Robert Beck.

Working Preacher Commentary by Micah D. Kiel

Working Preacher Commentary by Raquel S. Lettsome

Working Preacher Commentary by Emerson Powery

Forming Faith Blog by Gregory Rawn

Eco/Logian on Mark 6

Living the Lectionary Mark 6:1-13

Living the Lectionary Mark 6:14-29

Truth and Consequences – Barbara Lundblad

Commentary Mark 6:1-13 – Richard Neill Donovan

Commentary Mark 6:14-29 – Richard Neill Donovan

Toward a Sane Faith: John the Baptist Beheaded

Pulpit Fiction

Text Week

Hometown Rejection and Missional Action – John Mark Hicks

A Martyr for the Kingdom of God – John Mark Hicks