Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar. Lent is a season of reflection, repentance and remembering our own weaknesses. It is a season designed to soften the Christian heart, remind us of our dependance upon God and give us compassion for those who we meet in our daily lives.

Traditionally, Lent is a season of fasting which helps to humble us before God and reveal to us just how fragile we are. I am a huge supporter of fasting because of the impact it has on our spirits. I realize that Lent has become, in many areas, a season of dieting and fish fries, but this was not the intended purpose. Abstaining from food to lose weight is not the same thing as fasting to encounter more of God’s Presence.

I don’t know if you observe the Lenten fast, but I would encourage you to. Fasting can take most any form, though it usually deals with food. In essence, fasting is “exchanging” a legitimate pleasure (food, television, Facebook) for a greater devotional life (prayer, reading the Word). Fasting is a wonderful way to discover just how much we prop ourselves up with various things that aren’t God. We use food to manage our emotions rather than prayer, we “check out” by watching television rather than dealing with things more directly and effectively, etc. For the business people of the world, I offer this recommendation – take your lunch break and pray and read your bible rather than going out to eat. Then, when you get those little hunger pains in the afternoon, use them to remember who you interceded for and pray for them again. You shouldn’t have any problems eating a normal supper.

Fasting is totally optional, of course. And if you decide to give up food, or certain foods (like “meats and sweets” also called a “Daniel Fast”) I would recommend taking it easy the first couple of days. If you have certain medical conditions (diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc.) please consult your doctor before giving fasting a try.

Lastly, there should always be a worthy goal when fasting. You remember this goal when things are tough and it sees you through. My goal is, almost always, greater intimacy with Jesus and a release of the power of the Holy Spirit in my life and ministry. It might be different for you, but a solid and biblically sound goal is essential to see you through the difficult times.

That’s it! Once again, I encourage you to embrace this discipline of fasting. In this day and age, we have to be very intentional about restraining ourselves because food is so abundant. But it is a useful discipline AND the Lord receives it as an act of love. May the Lord give you grace for these next 40 days.

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Following the Leader

Credit belongs to: fancysomedisneymagic.tumblr.com

Peter Pan is one of the favorite movies in the Dau household, I think mostly because Peter and Amy have a similar taste in hair styles. One of my favorite parts of the movie is when the Lost Boys are marching to fight some Indians and sing “Following the Leader.” This song came to mind today as I was reading my friend Marty’s blog post on leadership. You can follow his series here. Marty has been exploring the lack of leadership references in the Bible and that is something especially striking to me. We are rarely exhorted to “lead” in the Bible and frequently asked to “follow.” This got my thinking about my role as a pastor and the Lord led me to 1 Corinthians 11:1 where Paul says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 

We live in a leadership obsessed culture. The quality of a pastor is determined by his ability to vision cast, move people from being the “community” to the “core” and generally act like a CEO of a religious goods and services company. But we don’t see that precedent anywhere in the Scriptures. Paul says “follow my example,” sure. But he follows it up with “as I follow the example of Christ.” Paul, one of the premier apostles, evangelists, teachers and prophets and pastors of the New Testament, doesn’t describe himself as a leader, but as a follower. He doesn’t say that he has it all figured out and that people should follow him, rather he says, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me,” Philippians 3:12. Paul hadn’t attained perfection when he wrote this, but was vigorously following Jesus’ lead.

Jesus is our Leader. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. We follow Him. This thing we call “leadership” in the Church is really followership. As I write that last word, little red squiggles come up under it. “Followership” is evidently not a word. We have created a word “leadership” and given it a state of being and definition, but have not given the same attention to the importance of following. But we are called to be followers, not leaders. “Leaders” in the Church are really those who have been following for a longer period of time, or with greater zeal and intensity. They are further down the road of Christian Discipleship, so it looks like they are blazing new trails, but really they are following the path that the Good Shepherd marked out for them.

It is not false modesty to say that I am not a strong leader. But I am giving it my all to be a good follower. I am doing the best I can to listen to Jesus and walk in lock-step with the Spirit. It is my prayer that you will join me in doing the same.

Mark 1:1 Part 2

“The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Marks opens by telling us that this is the beginning of the good news of King Jesus. He lets us know, right at the start, that he can back up his claim, that this man, Jesus, truly is the Son of God and rightful heir to the title King of kings and Lord of lords. Marks lets us know that everything that follows is his declaration of why Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. Mark highlights these points because he is speaking to Gentiles, non-Jews, who have otherwise been ardent supporters of the Roman Empire. If Mark is going to disturb the status quo, he had better have a pretty compelling argument.

This is part of the reason why Mark dives in to the Jesus story so quickly. Mark doesn’t have time for lengthy explanations of Jesus’ birth, nor is he trying to convince Jewish scholars of Jesus’ ancestral claim to the throne of David – Mark is speaking to people like you and me,  people busy enough with the living of life and who don’t really want to be bothered unless it is vitally important. To Mark, nothing is of greater importance than telling people about the Kingdom of God.

What is the “Kingdom” you may ask?

The Kingdom of God can be a rather complex subject, but I will try to simplify the best I can. When I speak of “the Kingdom of God,” I am speaking of an inward and outward reality. The Kingdom Inward is the ruling and reigning of God in the life of every believer. Our bodies are sovereign pieces of soil, governed by us, the enemy or God. As we submit ourselves to God’s will through faith in Christ, we find ourselves renewed and transformed. Inwardly we begin to live as citizens of Heaven, the place where God’s will is perfectly done in affectionate and reverent submission. But the Kingdom is also an outward, physical and tangible Reality. The Kingdom is not fully expressed until it has its fullness here on the earth. This will one day culminate in the Millennial Kingdom (described in Revelation 20), but we see bits and pieces of it breaking in to our world today. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that the Kingdom is wherever the King is and where people are obedient to Him.

I think it goes without saying that the Kingdom of God is nothing like the kingdoms of this world. For starters, God is the King and He rules with holiness, righteousness, kindness and mercy. His Kingdom is a place of life, love and peace where death, sin, pain and violence are no more. God’s Kingdom is a place where justice reigns, truth prevails, wrong things are made right and there is no fear. It is the place where things are as they were meant to be and we live in restored relationship with God, creation and each other. Far from being a pipe dream, this is the Kingdom that Jesus brought with Him and the Kingdom to which Mark testifies.

Mark 1:1

Having finished up a mini-series on the Great Commandments, we are now going to be turning our attention to the Gospel of Mark. I love this simplicity and potency of this Gospel. These reflections are meant to keep us continually immersed in God’s Word, so we can let His words transform our minds and conform our characters to the image of Jesus our King.

The Bible is fantastically understated. Due to its written nature, it is possible to read the words of the Bible in monotone – something like Ben Stein narrating the life of Christ. Also, due to the costly nature of writing materials in the ancient world, the Bible’s brevity causes us to overlook important truths. Finally, we are so far removed from the historical context that the words of the Bible are no longer a slap in the face like they were intended to be and we are immune to the cultural critique they offer. These reasons are the motive behind these reflections. I want to draw us into God’s story, I want us to come alive to the Word of God in a fresh way. I want the Gospel to be just as scandalous, just as beautiful, just as risky for us today as it was in the day in which it was written. So, from time to time I will take a portion of Scripture, reflect on it, teach about it and re-write it for our modern ears. Lord, bless me in this endeavor! Amen.

“The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” Mark 1:1

This is one of my favorite passages to teach on in all of Scripture. There is so much packaged into these twelve words that I can hardly stand it! Entire books can (and have) been written about this Truth. Forgive me if I wax poetic, but this verse is one of the premier Truths that the Church should be highlighting in this hour. Let me explain…

Mark says that this is the beginning of the gospel, the good news, about the Son of God. The thing is, at the time this was written, there was already a gospel, good news, written about the son of God. His name was Caesar.

So you see, Mark is not making some abstract theological statement. Mark is inciting revolution. Mark is declaring mutiny against the Roman Empire – he is an official enemy of the State. To make such a statement was treason, punishable by death. For Mark is declaring that Jesus is the Son of God, not Caesar. Jesus is Lord, not Nero.

Mark is not shy about his anti-Roman sentiments. Yet he is not being unpatriotic. He is a follower of Jesus, Christ is his King and heaven his home. Mark was born by water and Spirit into a new family and into a new Kingdom. So Mark speaks boldly about this new King and Kingdom. He fervently declares that Caesar is a fraud and that there is a new Kingdom forming in secret, infiltrating this present age like yeast working its way through a batch of dough. The Kingdom may be small, it may not be easily seen, but it will have a profound transformative effect given enough time.

Mark is a revolutionary and this Gospel is nothing short of a political/religious manifesto. Later pastoral letters were written to the Church to counsel them on how to live peaceably within the Roman Empire, but Mark has unquenched spiritual fervor and his passionate narrative proving that Jesus is indeed the Anointed One, sent by God to inaugurate a new Kingdom, is infectious.

I will have to leave it at that for today, but I look forward to exploring this verse with you further tomorrow.