It’s Not Going to Be Easy

Will it be worth the effort? Have you ever asked yourself that question before starting on a task? At our house in Arkansas, my wife and I decided to update our kitchen. It was a lengthy, incremental project that included stripping and painting cabinets, replacing countertops, installing a new sink and faucet, tiling a backsplash, installing new appliances and painting. We did most of the work ourselves in an attempt to save money. The whole process took YEARS. It was not years of daily work but just projects here and there. Somewhere in the midst of it all, we decided that starting the project might not have been a good idea, and we would hire someone if we ever wanted to do something like that again. We got to enjoy the completed kitchen for less than a month when we started packing everything up to move to Oregon. If we had known all that at the beginning, we probably would have done things much differently.
Jesus is very upfront with his disciples and the crowd in Mark 8, when he tells them that following him will not be easy. The idea of a person taking up his cross would have been all too familiar in their culture, and it would not be something that anyone would seek out. He wants them to understand the cost. He wants their commitment. He asks the same thing of us today. If we are living the lives that Jesus calls us to live, there is a cost. It requires our time. It requires using our talents. It requires our giving. It requires our hearts. It requires that we become living sacrifices. And is it worth the effort? Absolutely.
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mark 8:35-37)

Don’t Tell Anyone

Can you keep a secret? It is difficult sometimes, isn’t it? There is something exciting about knowing some piece of information that others do not know and being the one who shares that information. You get to see the their look of surprise. You are the one who knows. There are people who absolutely love moments like that. Usually they are the last people you want to confide in when you have a secret of your own.
What about when it is your experience that you want to share? When is the last time you could not wait to tell someone about the exciting thing that happened to you? You had a great first date. You received or gave an amazing gift. You found a great sale somewhere. You just returned from one of the best vacations ever. We love to share those experiences with others.
In Mark 7, Jesus encounters a man who is deaf and can barely talk. The man’s friends bring him to Jesus to be healed, and Jesus does not disappoint. When Jesus heals him, he is immediately able to hear and speak plainly. As the man and his friends left, Jesus made only one request of them: don’t tell anyone. But the text tells us, “The more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.” (Mark 7:36 NIV) They could not help themselves. It was the most incredible thing they had ever experienced. They had to tell others about it.
God loves us enough that He sent His Son here to the world to live a difficult life and die on our behalf, so that we could live with Him eternally. Don’t tell anyone? We cannot help ourselves. It’s the most incredible thing we have ever experienced. We have to tell others about it.

Sheep Without a Shepherd

In Mark 6, Jesus and his apostles get on a boat to escape the crowd and find a quiet place to rest. The crowd has other ideas and meets them on the shore when they arrive. Rather than get frustrated, Jesus “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” When I see those words, I am reminded of an article I read in 2005.
ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) — First one sheep jumped to its death. Then stunned Turkish shepherds, who had left the herd to graze while they had breakfast, watched as nearly 1,500 others followed, each leaping off the same cliff, Turkish media reported. In the end, 450 dead animals lay on top of one another in a billowy white pile, the Aksam newspaper said. Those who jumped later were saved as the pile got higher and the fall more cushioned, Aksam reported. “There’s nothing we can do. They’re all wasted,” Nevzat Bayhan, a member of one of 26 families whose sheep were grazing together in the herd, was quoted as saying by Aksam. The estimated loss to families in the town of Gevas, located in Van province in eastern Turkey, tops $100,000, a significant amount of money in a country where average GDP per head is around $2,700. “Every family had an average of 20 sheep,” Aksam quoted another villager, Abdullah Hazar as saying. “But now only a few families have sheep left. It’s going to be hard for us.” (USA Today, 7-8-05)
It’s a sad, yet almost comical story to think of one sheep after another walking off that cliff. It’s easy to step back and think of just how dumb those sheep must be. Don’t people do the same kind of thing every day though? How many times do we see people blindly following others into self-destructive actions? How many times do we continue to make the same mistakes and fall into the same sins? Too many times we are like sheep without a shepherd just like this crowd was. Jesus responds not with impatience, frustrations, or an I told you so. He has compassion, teaches and even feeds more than 5000 of them. In John 10:11, He goes even further and says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Let’s all step out of the line of sheep heading toward that cliff and follow the good shepherd who loves us enough to lay down His life for us.

Who Touched My Clothes?

When our family lived in Eugene, we attended two Oregon football games at Autzen Stadium. They were a lot of fun and incredibly loud, but there was one thing that had a big impact on the games and the experiences: the crowd. We learned quickly that although the stadium was built to seat over 50,000 people, it was difficult to get around when a lot of those people are trying to leave at the same time. It was even more difficult to try to keep a family of four together during that mass exodus.
In Mark 5, we encounter Jesus in the middle of a crowd on his way to help the dying daughter of Jairus. One woman within that crowd is sick and just wants to make physical contact with the edge of His clothes. She is so convinced of His power that she believes she can be healed through that contact. When she touches the edge of his cloak Jesus asked, “Who touched my clothes?” When I hear the question, I imagine myself back in the concourse of the stadium trying to wade through the flow of the crowd toward the exit. What if I had stopped and said, “Who touched my clothes?” What kind of responses would I get? I would expect sarcasm or laughter or something like the response given by the disciples. So why did He ask the question?
Jesus did not let the important teaching moments pass by unnoticed. Whether it’s a question with an obvious answer or drawing in the sand, Jesus has a way of making people pause and listen. He could have healed the woman without a word, or He could have ignored her and hurried on to His life saving task for the daughter of Jairus. He had just driven a demon out and was on his way to heal a sick girl. Clearly it was a very busy day, yet he stopped and shared this moment with the woman and the entire crowd. She had amazing faith. He had compassion, both on the woman through healing and on the crowd through sharing an unforgettable moment with them. And amazingly it all happens along the way between the two miracles that seem like the point of the story. The most amazing things often happen along the journey.

Planting the Seed

In a story about planting in Mark 4, we are introduced to a teaching technique that Jesus uses frequently throughout the gospels: parables. Since childhood, I’ve heard parables defined as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” For thousands of years people have told stories to illustrate points that might otherwise be too complex for most to understand. Jesus uses this same tool, and his illustrations often involve agriculture. Personally, I don’t know much about gardening and agriculture. What little I do know, I have learned from my wife’s family who have a farm in Nebraska.
From them I’ve learned that farming can be hard work. It involves long days. It necessitates intentional planning. It demands adaptation of techniques. Some things about it have been the same for centuries, and other things change over time. I saw a video once of a combine from the early 1900’s being pulled by a team of mules. My brother-in-law, Steve, doesn’t use one of those. He uses a combine that requires a ladder on the side to climb into, has a GPS built in and enough horsepower to thrill any muscle car enthusiast. But his goal is still the same as it was for the farmers driving those mules. His goal is a good crop.
The crop is always uncertain. Some years it’s amazing; some years it’s sparse. Some years it’s the best looking crop ever, and it’s taken out by a hail storm the evening before harvest is planned. There are some variables of the crop that are under the planter’s control, but there are many that are not. And Jesus tells us in Mark 4, that spreading the gospel works the same way. Our job is to plant. Not everyone will respond in the same way, but our job is to plant. Not everyone will grow at the same rate, but our job is to plant. And as with farming, it might require hard work, long days, intentional planning and using the new technology available to us today. Sometimes it is much simpler. It is just us telling people about how Jesus has changed our lives and can change theirs. How can you plant the seed this week? Who’s your one?


Last week we learned in the second chapter of Mark that Jesus has become well known. The crowds are great. There is a paralytic seeking healing, and his friends are determined enough to lower him through the roof of the house where Jesus is. Jesus takes note of their faith, tells the man his sins are forgiven then heals him. There are several things we can learn from this story, but I would like you draw your attention to two things specifically.
First, isn’t it a wonderful thing to have good friends? So many people would have seen the crowd surrounding the house where Jesus was and thought that it just would not be possible to reach Him. Many would have given up and gone back home. These friends were not content with that option. They wanted to get their friend to Jesus no matter what length (or height) they had to go to. I hope that we all have friends like that, and I hope even more that we can all BE friends like that.
Second, even though we tend to focus on our physical needs and wants, Jesus has a way of refocusing us on our spiritual needs. As we talked about last Sunday, this man was likely not thinking much about his sins as he was being carried to the roof and lowered down. He wanted to walk. Jesus was willing to fix that problem, but He also knew that the man had a greater need and gave him so much more. Jesus knew that sin was a greater barrier in the man’s life than the crowd, the roof or his paralysis. That same Jesus understands what we really need too. He knows we have a hard time seeing past medical, financial or relationship issues to spiritual ones, and he wants us to bring them all to Him.
On the surface this story is about healing, but it also has a lot to do with relationships. It is about this man’s relationship with his friends and about his relationship with God. We should see the importance of those same relationships in our own lives.


My friend, Kent Jobe, is a minister in El Dorado, Arkansas. Last week he shared his thoughts on Facebook about New Year’s resolutions. Kent writes, “I gave up resolutions several years ago. I had the same resolutions each year and never lasted more than a couple of weeks with any of them. Something that has worked better for me is to identify a word I want to direct me in the New Year. I do not pick this word lightly but spend a lot of time in thought and prayer to see where I am and where I want/need to be.” Choosing a word to serve as a theme or point of focus is something that my wife has done in recent years as well. This can be a helpful process for individuals, but it can also be a good way for us to remember and stay focused as a church family. Throughout the Bible, people and places are named to help followers of God remember what He has done and promised. Why not give 2021 a name?

This year we will focus on the word, “together.” Through the pandemic we have learned more than ever just how important being together can be. God designed the church, our families and friendships to give us ways to be together. In fact, the first thing in creation that God declared not to be good was that man was alone, so he created Eve to be together with Adam. (Genesis 1:18-22)

Although it is important for us to be together with each other, it is exponentially more important for us to be together with God. He wants us together with Him so much, that He sent Jesus to make it possible. What an amazing thought!



So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.  – Ephesians 2:19-22


Prayers of Trust

If you have been with us in person or online for the past five weeks, you know that we have asked a repeating question about the prayers of Jesus. Why did Jesus pray? My hope is that as we have answered that question by looking at His prayers in scripture, you might have considered a second question. Why do we pray? Like Jesus, our prayers need to be more than a list of needs, and they need to happen at times that are not only the last resort.
In his book, Dangerous Prayers: Because Following Jesus Was Never Supposed to Be Safe, Craig Groeschel details what he believes are the three most difficult-to-pray prayers and how those prayers are essential to grow in our walk with Christ.
  • Search me. Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24) We understand that God knows everything about us, but are we willing to lay our secrets and shortcomings before Him?
  • Break me. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-3) James teaches that brokenness leads to greater faith. Peter’s is broken eye to eye with Jesus after denying Him and rebuilt after the resurrection. We are quick to pray for protection, but would we invite God to break and rebuild us?
  • Send me. And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8) Christians are called to be light in darkness and to be witnesses of the story of Jesus. Are we willing to ask God to give each of us regular opportunities to do those things?
Obviously, there is a common thread through these dangerous prayers: ME. Are each of us willing to pray for God to use us as He sees fit? To do this, we will have to fully trust God in our prayers. That’s exactly what we see in the prayers of Jesus.
– Brian

Parables on Prayer

As we have considered the prayers of Jesus over the past few weeks, I hope you have been reminded about how important prayer was in His earthly life. The things He prayed about can be lessons to us on how to pray and about the God we pray to. In Luke 18, Jesus tells two parable about prayer. In these stories we see two things that should characterize our own prayers: persistence and humility.

The parable of the persistent widow teaches that we should be determined and committed in our prayers to God. He has made it clear that He wants us to communicate with Him. We must not be so discouraged when we do not receive the answers we want that we stop asking for His work in our lives and the lives of those we love.

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector teaches us to keep our worth in perspective. God values people in a very different way than the world does. He does not show favoritism based on wealth or status. When we come before Him, we must realize His desire to hear our prayer and the prayers of others, His power to take action and His will to decide justly.

The prayers of Jesus have been an example of these things. He prays persistently throughout the gospels, and He humbled Himself to be a sacrifice for us in obedience to His Father. Because of His sacrifice, we should be even more persistent in our prayers of thanksgiving.




Can We Really Know Jesus?

We have finally begun the final month of 2020. Even though we have faced challenges that we never imagined back in January, I have enjoyed focusing on the life of Jesus with you this year. Although we may take for granted that we can
learn from scripture about who Jesus is, there are many people who are skeptical. How long after these events happened were they recorded? Were the stories embellished?
Lee Strobel was that kind of skeptic. As a newspaper writer covering criminal trials, his life revolved around facts and evidence. He assumed the evidence for Jesus would not hold up to scrutiny. In his book, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, he details what many would assume to be a process of interviews and research that would prove skeptics right and Christianity wrong. By the end of his investigation he understood what we do: Jesus is exactly who He says He is. One of the early steps in this journey was the realization that the gospel accounts gave an accurate account of Jesus.
Strobel thought the gospels were unreliable because of the decades that passed between the events and their writing. In his investigation he learned that it is likely less than 30 years had passed between the events and the writing of the gospel of Mark. By comparison, the first biographies of Alexander the Great were written more than 400 years after his death, and their accuracy is not questioned because of that passage of time. In contrast in the gospels, we learn about Jesus from His contemporaries guided by the Holy Spirit. Because of that, we have been able to spend 2020 getting to know Jesus better. That has been a blessing!