Sunday, March 30, 2008

Easter... The Rest of the Story (Mark 16:1-8)

easter celtic cross Easter was not over last Sunday. According to church liturgy, there are seven Sundays in the Easter season, not just one. So what's the rest of the Easter story? Mark's Gospel gives the shortest account of that first Easter Sunday morning, but it gives an important clue to the rest of the story, and it's not what one might expect!

Mark 16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?"
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 "Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.' "
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

That's it! That is actually how the Gospel of Mark ends! In fear and failure. No triumphant resurrection story here. No restoration of the eleven and multitude of disciples who abandoned Jesus in his darkest hours. Nothing like that, just a few fearful women hearing the resurrection announcement, but failing to tell anyone.

But you say, wait, my Bible has more verses; it doesn't end there! It’s true, most Bibles, for example the NIV, have another 12 verses which definitely give the gospel a smoother ending, more like we find in Matthew and Luke. However, just as the NIV points out, “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20,” so it is that we know conclusively that Mark did not pen this ending. His writing so far as we know today ends at verse 8, as quoted above. Verses 9-20 represent an early attempt to finish the story, to give Mark an ending just like Matthew and Luke. And we know these verses are truthful, but still we also know they are not authentically written by Mark. What can we make of the authentic ending of Mark's Gospel (16:1-8)?

Isn't it ironic? Don't you think? “They said nothing to anyone.” All through Mark's gospel, people are told by Jesus not to tell anyone about what he has just done, but they immediately disobey and go tell everyone! For example, Jesus heals a man: Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: "See that you don't tell this to anyone." .... Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. (Mark 1:43b, 44a, 45a)

We may question why Jesus frequently gave this command, why he didn't want too many people discovering who he was, why he didn't want a frenzied mob constantly pursuing him. We do know that in chapter 9, Jesus tells his disciples not to tell anyone until he had been raised from the dead. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus which makes sense of everything else Jesus did. And now, in chapter 16, that time has come! Jesus has been resurrected, but the women are silent. Jesus' repeated command “Say nothing to anyone” is almost exactly what Mark says of the women, “they said nothing to anyone.” It's Mark's final irony.

Yes, we know that they did get over their fear, and they did tell the other disciples, and they were so effective at telling the disciples that over 500 of them gathered together 40 days later and saw Jesus ascend into heaven just after giving his final words to go and tell everyone. Why didn’t Mark tell the rest of the story like Matthew and Luke?

Why end the story unresolved as Mark does? In what I think is an incredibly great book on reading this gospel, Mark As Story, the authors say this about the ending:

It cries out for a resolution, cries out for the hope that someone will proclaim the good news. And who is left at the end of the story to do this? Not Jesus. Not the disciples. Not the women who fled the grave. Only the readers are left to complete the story! (pg. 143)

The rest of the story depends on us, not them. Mark 1:1 claimed that this gospel was the beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah. The rest of the story is up to you and me. Just as it did not end with the fear and failure of the women, so it does not end even with our fear and failure. Jesus does not give up on us when we fail him. That’s just the beginning of the gospel, there’s more to be told! He's not finished with any of us. This great news of life in Christ will continue to change people’s lives forever as we share it with them, in spite of our fears and failures.

I was reminded of this unending Easter story the other day in 050215_EX_TheWayISeeItStarbucks when I read my cup’s “The Way I See It”:

There is no end to a story—it goes on indefinitely into eternity. Every time a story is read, it’s alive and it’s different because the reader is different.
—Alice Hoffman

Related Sermon

The Rest of the Story
The ironic ending of Mark's Gospel (16:1-9) invites us to continue the story where Jesus’ first disciples left off. The gospel of Jesus Christ continues to transform lives as it is told.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

"Kristen": Another Young Girl Losing Her Soul in Pursuit of Celebrity

One amazing thing about New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s stunning fall from grace is how the prostitute he hired for $4000 is so quickly becoming a celebrity! "Kristen" was identified by the NY Times as Ashley Alexandra Dupre and interviewed just three or four days after the story broke, the same day the Governor resigned from office.

Why be interviewed? Why acknowledge being on hire with Governor Spitzer? Why not remain the anonymous "Kristen" from the Emperor's VIP Club?

The answer? Why miss this extraordinary chance to become a celebrity! What reason did she give the NY Times for doing the interview? “I just don't want to be thought of as a monster.” And her proud mother chimed in too, “She is a very bright girl who can handle someone like the governor.” Already Penthouse and Hustler are making competing offers to photograph her. Her ten seconds of fame have begun!

Let's have a reality check. "Kristen" was/is a prostitute. She's made some pretty desperate choices to end up where she is now. She aspires to be a singer, but that takes money. She left “a broken family” at age 17, having been abused, and has used drugs, “been broke and homeless.” She says she's “learned what it was like to have everything and lose it, again and again.” These quotes are taken from "Kristen's" interview and her webpage. A little odd how she doesn't mention how she became a high-priced hooker to pay for the life she was trying to live and the career as a singer she was trying to launch.

Sorry, but I just don't buy the Pretty Woman glamorized version of prostitution. It's a desperate life. Last night, Good Friday, 20/20 aired a two-hour special on “Prostitution in America.” Only one girl out of the hundreds of interviews even remotely claimed to be happy with what she was doing. One of the working girls interviewed actually suggested that she was "jealous" of "Kristen" because now she's found a way out. I doubt it. It's only liable to make her life worse, especially if she sells herself to the porn industry. Anyhow, after two years of research and interviewing working girls, Diane Sawyer concludes: “Be it glamorized prostitution with high-end escorts, poverty stricken street hookers or legal working women in the sex trade, these women all share some things in common. Sexual abuse at a young age, broken homes and addictions to drugs and alcohol all lead women to pursue lives that aid them in getting money any way they can.” They desperately try to find some way to make it in the world, but end up losing their souls.

It was very sad to hear all these girls from all walks of life being interviewed. They had been damaged and in desperation were trying to make money to make a better life for themselves. Jesus said, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matthew 16:26) Almost 100% of those interviewed agreed that the personal toll of becoming a prostitute was too high a cost. Likewise, I say to "Kristen," the cost of celebrity, if it involves losing your own soul, is too high.

And the men who hire these women, are they not also forfeiting their souls for a little pleasure? I don't know, but to me it seems like you would have to be pretty obsessed with the prostitute to pay $4000! "Kristen" represents a fatal attraction for Eliot Spitzer. Do you remember who shot J.R.? Yep, Kristin (Shepherd), his wife's scheming sister and his mistress. Why'd she shoot him? Because she was mad at J.R., being pregnant with his child but tossed aside. She was a near-fatal attraction for J.R. What's gone wrong when men so obsess over a woman to the point of committing acts which jeopardize their lives? Acts which are costing them their souls? Why run the risk of being publicly exposed and ruined? Personally, I suspect it's sexual addiction as marked by the incredible inability to stop. Surely Governor Spitzer would've stopped, if he could have, since he himself was the motivating force behind the investigation of prostitution rings in New York state. Anyhow, I digress—see my earlier post "Stunning Fall From Grace."

To conclude, a fitting thought for Good Friday or Dark Saturday: pleasures and pursuits in this life which cost you your soul cannot be worth it. You not only have to live with the choices you make but you must live with the person you become. Then there's the consequence in the life to come.... Celebrity isn't worth it. I've been too close to becoming a "soul-less" man myself, so it is in sympathy and understanding that I say how sad it is to see "Kristen" on the front page of the NY Times (and Toronto Star!), another young girl losing her soul in pursuit of fame.

Related Sermons

Fatal Attraction
2 Samuel 13 is a very telling account of sexuality gone wrong. King David's son Amnon can not stop obsessing over his own sister, Tamar, not until he crosses the line. What can we learn from this passage of Scripture to help us face a world in which perversion is no longer something not talked about, but rather one of the biggest, fastest growing markets on the Internet? What's gone wrong with sexuality? Why can't some men stop, even when the attraction is fatal?

Monday, March 17, 2008

A New (Testament) Perspective on Giving

Have you seen these new TV ads and billboards for Shreddies, the new Diamond Shreddies? The billboards have really caught my attention; I drive past four of them every morning. This is a brilliant ad campaign which is all about changing perspective.

A change in perspective is what is needed in many of our evangelical churches especially the perspective on giving. I can remember growing up and hearing sermons on tithing. In my teens I really thought the main idea of Malachi's prophetic writing was the blessing God promises to those who tithe (but since then I've discovered Malachi really does have so much more to say to us. I even remember Pastor Jack giving people a money-back guarantee: trying tithing for six months and if you find that you are not being blessed, we'll give you your money back. I know that many churches do many desperate things when revenue is running low and staff members and bills are not going to be paid. Here's where I really do think we need a new perspective, and maybe a little change, but mostly perspective.

The old approach to improve giving in the church involved preaching about tithing, obligation, threat of losing pastoral staff, and guilt for disobedience. It was a heavy approach and usually reactive to the church's financial situation. It produced results, but in a diminishing way each time it was repeated.

The new (exciting!) approach to increase congregational giving involves preaching the principles of giving and generosity, sharing an opportunity to grow in grace, casting a vision for what God can do and an encouragement to discover how good it is to be generous. This approach is best done proactively. The results will tend to be both immediate and more long term. We all need to be encouraged to become more generous people for our Lord is always more generous than we are. His grace and love have been poured on us with extravagance.

So is it just a change in perspective? Mostly. It's still an appeal for people to give and it's still about meeting the financial demands of running a local church. But it is more than a 45-degree turn too! For it also involves moving from a misunderstood Malachi to embracing a generous Jesus who gives above and beyond what can be expected.

Related Sermon

The Refreshing Power of Generosity
The Proverbs have a lot to say about money, wealth and generosity. This message looks at several Proverbs aiming to get at the wisdom they have for us. After examing Proverbs 11:24-25, 3:9-10, 11:28 and 21:27, we'll examine how the teaching on giving found in 1 Corinthians is built on the wisdom of these Proverbs.

Related Seminar (for Church Leadership Teams, Financial/Stewardship Committees)

10 to 15 Ways to Increase Congregational Giving by
10 to 15%

World Vision is doing great things around our globe. Their presentations are done with quality. And they never hesitate to ask for financial support. We can learn from them. When your cause is just, there's no reason to hesitate from asking people to give. But how do we do this effectively and biblically?

Quite often churches do one or two things very well in the area of offerings, financial communication and teaching on giving, but why stop at one or two? There are great ideas out there which can be utilized in your church to help, sometimes drastically, improve your congregation's giving. Communication is key, but how many different ways can we communicate important truths? Why do we just keep doing it the same way when it fails to produce the same results?

In this afternoon or evening seminar, I'll map out 10 to 15 ways you can immediately begin to work on in order to realize a 10 to 15% increase in giving at your church. I'll be happy to tailor this presentation to your church's current situation.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Stunning Fall From Grace

"A moment comes for every addict when the consequences are so great or the pain is so bad that the addict admits life is out of control because of his or her sexual behavior. Some are news-making moments...." Dr. Patrick Carnes goes on to say: "Millions read the steamy news accounts and, despite their own prurience, make severe judgments about people who... visit prostitutes, who commit homosexual acts in public toilets, or even who have affairs." Dr. Carnes then shares this insight: "A small audience - but larger than most imagine - read each line fearing that the same public exposure could happen to them...." (Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, page 1)

Having experienced my own fall from grace, I know the moment Dr. Carnes is describing, a moment which I re-live today upon reading the newspaper and NY Governor Eliot Spitzer's statement of remorse and resignation:

In the past few days I've begun to atone for my private failing with my wife, Silda, my children and my entire family. The remorse I feel will always be with me. Words cannot describe how grateful I am for the love and compassion they have shown me.
From those to whom much is given, much is expected.... I am deeply sorry I did not live up to what was expected of me.
To every New Yorker, and to all those who believed in what I tried to stand for, I sincerely apologize. I look at my time as governor with a sense of what might have been....

His words express so much of what I felt and what I wish I could have said when my moment came and my life crashed around me. Years have gone by, but to any who haven't heard me say it, I am sincerely and deeply sorry. The changes I've made in my life now, I wish I could have made them so much sooner.

I sincerely hope that Eliot Spitzer is able to begin the journey of recovery from sexual addiction. What? Is Spitzer a sexual addict? Does it really sound sane to spend over $4000 to fly in a hooker on the eve before Valentine's Day? They're estimating he's spent over $80,000 in the last 8 months for encounters with prostitutes in Dallas, Florida and Washington. I see a life spinning out of control - an addiction being fully acted out as shown by the incredible inability to stop which is the sine qua non of sexual addiction. When a person violates their own personal standards and can no longer direct themselves out of harm's way, it is usually safe to conclude that some sort of addiction is in play.

King David, of Old Testament Israel, was exposed for his sins of adultery with Bathsheba, trying to cover it up and then having her husband killed. In describing the consequences of his sins and what he would do, the LORD said to David, “Although you have acted in secret, I will do this thing before all Israel, and in broad daylight” (2 Samuel 12:12). It is no small thing when political and spiritual leaders fall from grace. And yet we don't seem to be able to protect ourselves from politicians and pastors whose sexual behaviour ultimately destroys their public service. We've focused our attention on trying to prevent such disasters from happening, and yet they continue to happen. Perhaps, we must also begin to better consider how the fallen can be restored. After all, history still described David as "a man after God's own heart." Does Christianity today offer a message of hope, forgiveness and restoration to those who fall from grace into sexual sins?

Related Sermons

David, Jim Baker & Jimmy Swaggart
Looking to 1 Samuel 11 & 12, this message critically examines how Jim Baker, Jimmy Swaggart and I as a pastor each responded to the kind of temptation which led David to seduce Bathsheba, get her pregnant, try to cover it all up, arrange to have her husband killed and then marry her. Why does sexual sin so quickly turn into such a devastating spiral of destruction? Why do pastors today not learn from David's experience? How can Christians today including "desperate housewives" and porn-addicted men find a way of stopping the devastating spiral?

2 Samuel 13 is a very telling account of sexuality gone wrong. What can we learn from the Scriptures to help us face a world in which perversion is no longer something not talked about, but rather one of the biggest, fastest growing markets on the Internet? What's gone wrong?


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