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Sarah’s Story

Sarah-Mc-2Small groups have been a great experience for me, not only to study and grow in my faith but to get to know new people and make friends.

I’m kind of a quiet person so it is hard for me to just walk up to people at church, introduce myself, and start talking.

Small groups give me an opportunity to meet new people in a small setting and provides an environment to develop friendships over many weeks of study.

This past semester I had to move back home to Perryville to complete my field work for school half way through the small group course. The hour and a half drive was too much for a Monday night every week, but the group Skyped me into the meetings. This allowed me to participate in the discussions and still feel like I was a part of the group even though I couldn’t physically be there.

“My heart is comforted because I know that no matter where life takes me, I will always have friends and a community to which I belong”

Being able to still connect with friends and be involved was incredibly special. I struggled with moving back home because I have few friends still living in this area, which made me feel incredibly lonely. However, being able to still connect with the ladies in my small group one night a week made me feel a lot less alone. I always looked forward to being included in both the discussions about our study and the random chit chat that is inevitable when ladies get together.

Small groups have not only provided an opportunity to make new friends but have provided a solid support system on which I can fully rely. My heart is comforted because I know that no matter where life takes me, I will always have friends and a community to which I belong.

For The World To See

I suspect that many of us have heard the story of Peter denying Jesus three times and probably thought, “I can’t believe he did that!” Have you ever had that thought? I know I have.

I mean really, how could you deny Jesus? Weenie!

In Matthew 10, Jesus says, “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.” (v.32-33).

It is pretty simple the way Jesus explains it. If you acknowledge me, then I will acknowledge you. If you deny me, then I will deny you.

I remember the Christian band DC Talk had this lyric in one of their songs that said, “you acknowledge me with your lips, then deny me with your life.”

We have all probably done just that. We say we know Jesus and then do whatever we want.

I think this statement by Jesus is pretty sobering. He expects us to live out our faith, not in secret, but publicly. He wants the world to hear and see his followers. This seems like a reasonable request for someone who died so that we might be reconciled back to God. Don’t you think?

I honestly can say that I don’t want Jesus to deny me before His Father, so my only proper response is to acknowledge Jesus in everything I say and do.

Pretty simple, right?

Consider:

We acknowledge Jesus when…

  • We aren’t afraid to SHARE our faith with others.
  • We lead our family in morning or evening devotionals.
  • We start a lunch time Bible study at work.
  • We won’t cheat at work or at home.
  • We vote our principles.
  • We love and help people.
  • We refuse to compromise our sexual purity with anyone.
  • We STAND UP any time there is an injustice.
  • We won’t allow the government to take away our FREEDOM.

-Pastor Daniel

Jesus Isn’t A Pansy!

Often times in our culture (even in the church) Jesus is emasculated to the point that he no longer is a strong man. He ends up being a weak-bunny loving-pseudo-man, who could never be “mean” to anyone.

I am exaggerating a little to make a point, but I do believe that often in the church we have created Jesus into a soft version of a man who happens to have superpowers.

I believe this is an inaccurate picture of my Jesus, or should I say the Jesus of the Bible (if I could be so bold). I am not sure what this says about me, but one of my favorite stories in Mark is when Jesus kicks some tail in the Temple.

Perhaps you have heard the story. Jesus has arrived back in Jerusalem and enters the Temple. He began “to drive out the people” who were buying and selling things, and then he started to knock “over the tables of money changers” who were selling animals.

He stopped the people from using the Temple as a marketplace. Jesus declares, “My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have turned it into a den of thieves” (Mark 11:17).

He wasn’t happy and he acted in righteous anger. Perhaps this picture of Jesus makes you uncomfortable. Good! I hope it challenges all of us to think differently about our Lord.

He is strong, courageous, awesome, and was probably able to grow a really great beard–even better than any of the guys on Duck Dynasty!

Consider:

  • What ideas about Jesus do you have that aren’t Biblical?
  • Do you struggle with seeing Jesus as a tough guy? If so, why?
  • Do you think Jesus has been emasculated by our culture or perhaps even the church?
  • Continue reading the four gospels and write down all the things you notice about Jesus that might help you rightly describe him.

-Pastor Daniel

Mark 8 + 9

I remember playing strange and even dangerous games when I was younger. I had a friend, who would always play these dangerous games with me.

On this particular day, we were playing a nice game of Spears.

The object of the game was to find spears made of wood and throw them at each other. (cool game, huh?)

Back and forth we would hurl these spears at each other, seeing if we might hit the other person. I guess we never thought it could go really bad.

We were wrong!

I hurled a spear at my friend, and as it traveled through the air, it headed right for my friend’s head.

Have you ever had one of those moments when you wish you could take something back? In your mind, you are thinking “Oh….crap!” This was one of those moments.

The spear found it’s target…my friend’s eye.

I was mortified. I had just thrown a spear into my “former best friend’s” eye.

There was blood everywhere.

In Mark 9:43-47, Jesus tells his disciples to do something strange and very dangerous:

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell…”   

Let the chopping and gouging begin!

If we followed this teaching literally, I suspect there would be a lot of people walking around with no hands, feet, or eyes.

I don’t think Jesus was being literal, but I absolutely believe he was being deadly serious. There is nothing in this teaching from Jesus that is intended to be watered down and soft on sinful behavior. If it cause you to sin, get rid of it. Period!

THREE BODY PARTS

HAND

Our hands are very important and help us do many things. Without them, we cannot function at our highest capacity.

Our hands also help us do many things that aren’t necessarily good for us.

Perhaps you use your hand to drink too much, eat too much, flip someone “the bird,” hit someone across the face, shoot someone with a gun, etc. The list could go on and on.

Perhaps you even throw spears at your friends (Okay…maybe that is just me!). You are getting the point I’m sure. What are you using your hands to do that is clearly sinful? Jesus says, “CUT IT OFF!”

FEET

We need our feet as well. However, what is true of our hand is also true of our feet. Perhaps you use your feet to carry you places that you shouldn’t go: to the strip club; to the person’s home you are committing adultery with; to the store to spend money you don’t have.

What are you using your feet to do that is clearly sinful? Jesus says, “CUT IT OFF!”

EYE

I don’t have very good vision. I take my contacts out and I can’t hardly see anything at a distance. I wish I could, but I can’t. My eyes are very important to me.

I’m sure they are to you as well. We need them.

Once again, what is true of our hands and feet, is true of our eyes.

We live in a culture and everywhere you look, someone is trying to sell you something through visually appealing images and objects. Our eyes can be easily led into all kinds of sinful behavior.

Perhaps you use your eyes to lust after women, men, food, or even material things; or maybe your eyes are used to view pornographic material, violent images, or one too many Go Daddy commercials.

Whatever it is, Jesus calls us to use our eyes for good. Our eyes are a doorway into our heart and mind. Allowing unholy, impure, or sinful things into our lives isn’t living according to Jesus’ standard.

What are you using your eyes to do that is clearly sinful? Jesus says, “CUT IT OFF!”

This is a tough teaching, but don’t get discouraged.

God wants better for you. God wants to take you higher today!

If it feels overwhelming, just take a deep breath and ask Jesus to help you conquer your hurt, habit, or hang up. Take one step at a time, one day at a time, and allow Jesus to transform you into the person he wants you to be.

You aren’t alone and if you need help, please email me at prayer@elevationSTL.com.

-Pastor Daniel

Mark 6 + 7

It is important t0 point out a few recurring themes in Mark’s gospel up to this point in the story:

Mark is constantly locating Jesus by a lake, in a boat, or on a lake. It seems that the lake is one of the safe places for Jesus to get away from the crowds of people. A place of silence and solitude.

The crowd is ever growing and continuously pressing against Jesus. I think noticing how he handles this is important to any leader or follower of Christ.

There is an increasing tension between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day.

Jesus is constantly telling the people who get healed to keep the event on the down low…none of them do.

The heart is a significant metaphor being used by Jesus to explain the kingdom of God and what a worshiper of God really look like.

Allow these observations to help you as you continue reading through the gospel of Mark.

I wanted to land on something I found interesting in Mark 6. Mark tells us that Jesus isn’t being accepted in his hometown. People are treating him without honor. Mark also tells us that Jesus was “unable to do miracles among them” because of their “unbelief.” (Mark 6:5-6) Jesus even says, “he was amazed at their unbelief.”

Jesus does go ahead and heal a few sick people, but no miracles were done. I guess healing sick people is more like an everyday thing for Jesus. Apparently, miracles were different and required faith. I know this is getting sticky for some.

Someone might ask, “Daniel, are you saying ‘people don’t receive miracles because they lack faith?’” I am not really saying anything at this point. I am simply making an observation from the text. Actually, Jesus is saying that miracles didn’t happen in Nazareth because of their unbelief.

SOOO…what do we do with do that?

I absolutely think that there is an argument to be made that there are times when miracles don’t happen because of lack of faith. This isn’t the first time this happens in the Bible. It even happened to the Disciples when they tried to cast out a demon from a little boy and Jesus tells them they were unable to do it because they lacked faith. Do we then extrapolate that every miracle that doesn’t happen is somehow our fault?

Lord, I hope not. If miracles only depended on you and me, the world would be in BIG trouble.

However, I do think there is something to be said for the relationship between miracles happening and faith. We are told to have faith in our God, who is able to do miracles. He tells us to pray for healing and for our world. If there was no point, then why would he tell us to do it? There is a point to putting our faith in a God who can do miracles.

I believe that miracles happen when followers of Jesus pray in-line with God’s heart and God determines that the situation being prayed about is going to draw people to worship Him.

A little explanation is necessary. Miracles are intended by God to bring Him glory and worship. They are designed to draw people to the overwhelming power of God and cause them to repent, to worship, and surrender, to pray, to focus themselves again on their all-powerful, healing, and loving God.

BELIEVING FOR A MIRACLE

1). BELIEVE

We are called to believe and put our faith in a God, who can and does do miracles. I feel as if too often we doubt God can do anything. I know we say all the right things and pray all the right prayers, but do we really believe that God can do something about the impossible situation we are facing. Do YOU really believe? REALLY?

2). TRUST   

You aren’t God. I know this comes as a shock to many of us, but it is true. All we can do is pray. We can’t determine the outcome. God is still in control and still on the throne. He invites us into the story, but ultimately he is the one who decided. (I realize this gets into did God do this to me, or why didn’t God answer by prayers–all are great questions; however, I can’t deal with them here. Perhaps you can check out my message series called “Life’s Toughest Questions” for some insight into these difficult questions). We must trust Him even when we don’t understand Him. We must trust that he knows best, even though that is extremely hard to do. Trust is essential to faith and vice versa.

Lastly, never apologize for asking God for a miracle. He is gracious and loving and hears our prayers. Where do you need a miracle today? Pray and believe in faith for this to happen. I’ll believe with you.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, I need a miracle today! I need You to show up in this situation. I need You to show up in this relationship. I need You to show up at my job. I need You to show up [insert need]. I put my faith and trust in You. I submit my desires to You, so that they are in-line with Your desires. I relax and trust in You. When I doubt, Lord, draw me close to see Your heart for me. Help me to see it how You see it. Give me faith. I believe for a miracle today! In Christ strong name. Amen!

-Pastor Daniel

Mark 3 – 5

I love it when the Bible gives us a glimmer into the emotions of Jesus.

Mark tells us that Jesus “looked around at them [the religious leaders] angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts.” (Mark 3:5)

It hurt the heart of Jesus that the religious leaders didn’t understand that healing a man’s hand (or doing good) was not in conflict with the Sabbath. The regular rhythm of the Sabbath was intended to encourage good deeds and life-giving actions. However, the ritual had become a dead and lifeless routine that didn’t lead people to the right outcomes.

This was very upsetting to Jesus. So what does Jesus do about it? He heals the man right in front of their eyes, just to make his point. You might think that the religious leaders would respond in worship to this miracle. This is not the case. Instead, they begin “to plot how to kill Jesus.”

Why?

Jesus already told us. Their hearts had become hard to the things of God. They had allowed their religiosity to cloud their vision. They were unable to see the miracles happening right in front of them.

How’s your heart?

I know this to be true: a soft [pure] heart before God is essential to recognizing the activity of God.

We are told to “guard our heart” because our heart is the wellspring of life. In other words, if our heart isn’t pure, “death” is just around the corner. There should be a river of life-giving “spiritual water” flowing through our hearts, so that we might be soft and pure before our holy God able to recognize his voice and act accordingly.

2 WAYS TO AVOID A HARD HEART

1). Honor the Sabbath.

Jesus isn’t doing away with the Sabbath. On the contrary, he’s helping to properly define it for the reader. It is designed to create regular space in our lives to allow God to speak, affirm, or even correct our behavior through a dedicated time of reflection and worship. This is essential to maintaining a soft heart before God. Do you have a regular Sabbath? If not, the Bible is very clear that you are living in sin before God. This is probably your first step to getting back on track.

2). Help people.

Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath. Why? I believe he did it to help us all see that doing good unto others is always the right thing to do. Withholding goodness from people only puts a lid on the possibilities of God to release his power in our life or the lives of those around us. Helping people will keep us soft before God. Jesus modeled this for us. When we get the focus off of ourselves, we give the Lord space work in our heart.

I could say much more on keeping your heart soft before God, but let’s start with these two.

If you are looking for a way to help people, SERVE 2013 is happening this Saturday. Why don’t you come out and help some folks!

If you are looking for ways to honor the Sabbath, start by attending worship this weekend and then taking some time during the day to get alone with God and ask a few questions:

  • Lord, how did I honor you this week?
  • Lord, how did I dishonor you this week?
  • Who do I need to make amends with, or seek forgiveness from, for my behavior this week?
  • What can I do this week to love God and love people?

-Pastor Daniel

Mark 1 + 2

I love how Mark just gets right down to it. He doesn’t waste any time getting to the point. He jumps right into the story of good news. The only context he gives is found in Isaiah 40:3, “Look I am sending a messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way. He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!”

John the Baptist has the honor of preparing the way for the Son of Man. He is the forerunner to the Messiah. His job was to announce that there is a guy coming, who is GREATER than he. John is saying, “I am not the guy, but I know the guy and he is coming. I can’t hold a candle to this guy. He is the stuff.” What a great job!

Mark does spend any time on how Jesus got here, he simply lets the reader know he is here. The ministry of Jesus has begun and it doesn’t take long before he is surrounded by large crowds of people, even though he asked people to keep quiet about the miracles he has done.

So many things are happening in chapters 1 and 2: Jesus is baptized, He is tempted by Satan in the wilderness, He gathers his first disciples, He casts out some evil spirits, He heals Peter’s mother, He preaches, He heals a man with leprosy, He heals a man who is paralyzed, He dines with sinners, He stands against the religious leaders by challenging their understanding of fasting and the Sabbath. Whew! All in a days work, right!?

Jesus is on the job and he is wasting no time advancing the kingdom and proclaiming the gospel. Mark tells us that Jesus proclaimed to the people, “The time promised by God has come at last! The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15) NLT.

The Kingdom of God is near and Jesus tells us to do 2 things:

1). REPENT OF YOUR SINS

Literally, repent means to turn from, to do an about face, a 180 degree turn from sin and walk in a different direction. It also has the sense of having a different thought.

2). BELIEVE THE GOOD NEWS

Literally, have faith in the good news. Many times we assume, wrongly, that this simply means to ascend to a certain idea or ideal. It is much more than that. It is truly a belief that leads to action. Perhaps a better way to understand this idea is not just faith in the Good News, but FAITHFUL to the Good News.

Consider:

Are there sins you need to repent of today and seek God’s forgiveness?

Perhaps you BELIEVE the Good News, but have not remained faithful to it. If this is the case, REPENT and ask God to help you live out the Good News today.

Jesus got started working for the Kingdom right away.

How about you? Are you serving? Are you helping? Are you funding? Are you supporting?

If not, why not? If you need help finding a way to get involved, check this out: Fuel For Your Faith brochure.

-Pastor Daniel

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