July 19, 2009

Follow the Leader!

#6 The First Refocus

Mark 1:35-39



          When was the last time you were frazzled, at your wits end, and thought, “I need a break.  I need to take a deep breath and get my bearings.”  On the way here today?  Life is busy, isn’t it?  It was for Jesus, too.  His first day on the job, He was overwhelmed by people who needed His help, and He stayed up late into the evening helping them.  You can’t keep doing that without stopping to refill.  How did Jesus do that?  We’ll see in today’s story in the gospel of Mark, which I’m calling, “The first refocus.” 


Offering and announcements:

Middle School Camp – registration deadline is Thursday! (back of tear-off)  It will be a great camp.  Collide—our high school camp—was last week, and it was awesome!  216 student up at Schweitzer; Laina and I went up Wednesday and were so impressed with the students, the staff, the setting—the whole thing was fabulous!

Adventureland: Today I’d like to introduce you to Rachel.  (baby picture is displayed).  As a baby her parents brought her to our AdventureLand children’s ministry while they attended church.  (picture on swing is displayed)  She advanced through the different classes and here’s a picture of Rachel in her class at our former location on Nora. (classroom picture is displayed). Rachel finally “graduated” from AdventureLand (5th grade picture displayed).  This summer she was a cabin leader at kid’s camp and a leader at our music drama day camp (current picture displayed).  Today her entire family serves in AdventureLand.  The common denominator in Rachel’s story is that people like you decided to serve in our children’s ministry.”

In the program you were given is a form to record your volunteer service in AdventureLand.  Today there’s child like Rachel in our children’s ministry who will benefit from your service in her class.  I hope you’ll choose to serve today.  After you complete the form keep the 3rd page and return the top two in the offering or to the info center.”

Nicaragua mission trip—and final donations must be here by tomorrow!  (and prayer for team).  Our team of 21 leaves next Sunday morning and returns August 4th.  They will be building a very tall chain link fence all by hand, which means painting the posts, digging the holes, and stretching the fencing all by hand. They will also be doing building repairs and painting, 2 separate VBS’s in Jinotega and Los Cedros. All of this and most importantly interacting with the orphans.



Last week, Bobby did a nice job talking about Jesus’ first day at the office.  After Jesus calls his first followers, he rolls up his sleeves and goes to work: in his first day on the job, he teaches in the synagogue at Capernaum, frees people who were oppressed by the devil, and heals the sick.  Word gets around town quickly, and by evening, the whole town had gathered at Simon and Andrew’s home, and they had brought all the sick and demonized.  Jesus worked late into the night healing and freeing people.  He must have gone to bed exhausted, spent.  Here’s what happens next.

Mark 1:35-39 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

I’m calling this the first refocus.  After staying up late into the night helping people, Jesus got up early the next morning and went off by himself to pray.  He got refocused on God.  And when Simon and the guys came looking for him to take him back to town, Jesus had other plans.  He got refocused on His mission.

          We’re going to talk about getting refocused in these two ways.


1. Get refocused on God. 35

          After a busy first day at the office, Jesus got alone and got refocused on God.  He got up early, left the house, went off to a solitary place and prayed.  Notice these three things.

A. Jesus prayed.  There are many examples of Jesus praying in the four gospels; Mark tells us of  only three times when Jesus prayed, but he’s very selective.  He gives an example from the beginning, the middle and the end of Jesus’ ministry.

  • Here at the beginning of His ministry, after His first full day on the job, Jesus prays. After serving others and giving of Himself late into the night, Jesus got up very early the next morning—“while it was still dark”—and went off by Himself to pray.  He went alone to talk with God.  I think He went to be refilled and replenished.  He had emptied himself the night before, given Himself to people; now it was time to give Himself to God and be refilled.  So He got alone with God. 
  • The second instance is in Mark 6:46 in the middle of His ministry.  Jesus sent the disciples out on a preaching tour; while they were gone, Jesus’ cousin and friend John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod.  When the disciples returned from their tour, they reported to Jesus all they had done and taught.  Jesus must have been weary from grief and the disciples weary from their mission, and they were besieged with crowds.  So Jesus said, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”  (Mark 6:31) They got in a boat and sailed away to remote place; but the crowds figured out where they were going and were there waiting for them.  Bummer!  Imagine going on vacation and everyone from work is there waiting for you!  What would you have done?  I would have gotten back in the boat—bye-bye—and sailed away!  Not Jesus.  He had compassion on them and taught them.  At the end of the day, the still-weary disciples suggested He send everyone away to get something to eat; He said, “you feed them.”  What happened next?  Jesus took a little boy’s Happy Meal—a few fish-sticks and buns—and multiplied them to feed the whole crowd!  Finally, he told the disciples to get into the boat while He dismissed the crowd.  Then He did what He’d been trying to do all along—He went away alone to pray. 
  • The third instance is in Mark 14:32-42 at the end of His ministry, when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Facing death on the cross, Jesus once again gets alone in the garden—a spot that Jesus often went to—and there He prayed.

These weren’t the only three times that Jesus prayed.  Luke tells us:

Luke 5:16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Jesus often withdrew and prayed—this was His habit—but Mark selects these three occasions as representative.  All through His life, in the beginning, the middle and the end, Jesus prayed.  After a day of success, Jesus prayed.  Before a day of horror, Jesus prayed.  In the middle of chaos and busyness, Jesus prayed.  All through His life—start to finish—Jesus prayed.

Jesus prayed.  Jesus needed quiet communion with God.  So here is what strikes me.  If Jesus, the sinless Son of God, needed to pray, how much more do we?  If this was Jesus’ habit, shouldn’t it be mine as well? 

          I do pretty well talking with God as I go: while I’m driving, while I’m doing things, I pray.  I talk with God all during the day—and that’s good.  What is harder for me is what Jesus did: getting alone and doing nothing but praying.  Giving God my undivided attention.  Focusing completely on God in prayer.  This is hard for me.  Maybe I’ve got ADD—I’m so easily distracted.  Maybe I’m just an active guy—it’s hard for me to sit still for anything.  I’m always multi-tasking…I can’t just do one thing.  When I’m watching TV, I have a couple things I’m reading at the same time.  I’m a sick man!  It’s hard, but when I do take the time to stop and be alone and give God my undivided attention, I’m always glad I did. 

          I’ve discovered that I pray best when I do what Jesus did: get away.  “Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”  I don’t pray well in front of my computer, or the TV, or near the phone, or anywhere near my desk!  I have to get away—away from distractions.  Last week, I went out on my deck and prayed.  Sometimes I go for a walk and pray—that is one of my favorite ways to pray.  I love to ride my motorcycle on a back road and pray.  I also like to sit in my hot tub and pray—I’m a Christian hedonist!  What do all of these have in common?  They are all outside…away from distractions.  This is why Jesus “left the house and went off to a solitary place”.  There’s a lot of wisdom in those words!

ILL: Methodist missionary and author E. Stanley Jones described prayer as a “time exposure to God.”  He said that we are like a photographic plate; when we are exposed to God, His image is burned into our lives.  The longer the exposure, the stronger the image. 

Get away and pray.  It does not have to be hours and hours, but we need to pray! Begin small, but do it.  We need that time exposure to God.  Jesus did it, and we need to do it. Follow the Leader.


          B. Jesus lived in humble dependence on His Father. 

          The fact that Jesus prayed suggests that He wasn’t trying to live independently.  He wasn’t on His own. He depended on God.  And this is the way He wants us to live. 

          I think Jesus prayed to get His bearings and fresh direction.  He had just had a very successful first day at work, and it would be natural to assume that you stay in Capernaum and build on that success.  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!  If it’s working for you, keep going!”  That’s what you’d naturally assume, but Jesus didn’t assume that; I think He asked God what He wanted for today.  He wasn’t marching on yesterday’s orders.  He got fresh marching orders for today.  I think you see that when the disciples show up and expect Him to come back to town, and He has other plans.

          How many of you want to be successful?  Me too!  I want to be successful and I hope you are too!  However, there is a dark side to success of which we need to be aware.  When we succeed, it is very easy to become proud, to take too much of the credit ourselves.  If you’re not careful, success can derail you!  That’s what happened to King Uzziah. 

2 Chronicles 26:5 He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success.

Uzziah was successful but he had help.  Who helped him?  Zechariah instructed him and God gave him success.  He had help; in fact, look at:

2 Chronicles 26:15-16 His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful. 16 But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.

Uzziah succeeded, became powerful and proud and left the very things that had made him successful: the fear of God, humbly seeking God.  When you are successful, it is very easy to become proud, and leave behind the very things that made you successful. 

          That’s why it’s significant that Jesus follows up his first day of ministry—a very successful day—by slipping away to pray alone.  After success, solitude and prayer.  There’s a great example for us here.  Follow the leader, and when you succeed, don’t let it go to your head; go to your knees.

ILL: Did you hear about the turtle who wanted to spend the winter in Florida?  He knew he could never walk that far, so he convinced a couple of geese to help him.  They each took one end of a piece of rope, while he clamped his vise-like jaws in the center.

          The flight went fine until someone on the ground looked up in admiration and asked, “Who in the world thought of that?”

          Unable to resist the chance to take credit, the turtle opened his mouth to shout, “I did–“

          Jesus lived in humble dependence on His Father.  “Lead me.  What do you want me to do?  I’m seeking You.”  He wants us to do the same.  Follow the Leader.


          C. Jesus lived with rhythm

There is a beautiful rhythm or balance in the life of Jesus.  He was surrounded by people clamoring for His help, but He never seems rushed or busy.  He had time and energy for people, and for God.  Our Leader lived with a rhythm of

  • give and receive,
  • public and private,
  • being with crowds and being alone,
  • teaching and prayer,
  • engagement and withdrawal. 

You see this rhythm often in the life of Jesus, and you see it here.  He stays up late into the night helping people, then He goes off alone to be refilled and refreshed.  Work then rest.  Help then pray.  People then God.   Crowds then solitude.

To follow the Leader, we need to learn the same.  We need to live with balance and rhythm, and not let ourselves get caught up in a rat-race where we find ourselves perpetually depleted and exhausted.

ILL: John Ortburg wrote this:

Ministry must be done in a rhythm of engagement and withdrawal. Wise followers of Christ have always understood solitude to be the foundational practice. Jesus engaged in it frequently. But what makes it so important? Solitude is the one place where we gain freedom from the forces of society that otherwise relentlessly mold us. It is (in one old phrase) the “furnace of transformation.”

Dallas Willard noted an experiment done with mice a few years ago. A researcher found that when amphetamines are given to a mouse in solitude, it takes a high dosage to kill it. Give it to a group of mice, and they start hopping around and hyping each other up so much that a fraction of the dosage will be lethal. In fact, a mouse given no amphetamines at all, placed in a group on the drug, will get so hyper that in 10 minutes or so it will be dead. “In groups,” Willard noted, “they go off like popcorn.”

You’d think only mice would be foolish enough to hang out with other mice that are so hopped up that they put their own lives at risk.

How are you living your life?  Like a mouse on speed—the rat race?  Or like Jesus—with rhythm and balance.

          Let me suggest a couple of important rhythms.

          First, there is a weekly rhythm: the rhythm of the Sabbath.  Every seventh day, stop working, rest and worship God.  Think about it: Christians have been doing this—meeting on Sunday—every Sunday, for almost 2000 years.  You are part of a rhythm that has been going on for over 103,000 Sundays in a row! 

ILL: I was talking with my friend Stan Simmons last week, and he was concerned that Christians are going to church less than ever.  Many Christians make it once a month instead of once a week.  We talked about how much more there is competing for our time and attention: sports, hobbies, entertainment, and lots of work.  I told Stan that in Kenya, many people go to church every day—not once a week, but once a day!  Why?  There’s not much else to do.  That’s not true here—there’s a lot to do!  I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t enjoy sports, hobbies or entertainment—but when you’re too busy to keep the Sabbath, when you’re too busy to stop and worship God—well, you’re too busy.  You’ve lost the rhythm, and sooner or later, you’ll go off like popcorn!

Sabbath keeping doesn’t happen automatically.  You have to make a decision about what’s important and make it happen.  Jesus thought it was important to get up early and leave the house and pray.  You have to make that kind of decision to keep the rhythm of the Sabbath.  “Every Sunday, we go to church; we worship God.”  The weekly rhythm of the Sabbath.

          Second, there is a daily rhythm: the rhythm of your daily time with God.  The Sabbath is commanded by God; the daily time with God isn’t commanded anywhere, but it’s modeled by Jesus.  That’s what is happening here.  Jesus began His day by getting alone with God.  Before He stood before men and spoke, He knelt before God and listened.  Through 2000 years of Christian history, followers of Jesus have done the same.  They have tried to make time in their day to pray, to ponder the Scripture, to listen to God, to be still, to worship.  We don’t do this as some sort of legalistic duty; we do it out of necessity, because we need to know God, and we can’t know Him without spending some time with Him. 

          If you’re not doing this, we encourage you to get a journal at our Resource Center, or a copy of our Bible Reading Plan, start reading the Bible each day.  Ask God for one thing, and write that down and pray it back to God.  If I’m not sure what the one thing is, I go back and pray my way through the reading, praying the Bible back to God. 

          If you would like to see what I write in my journal and how I do it, or maybe compare what you’re learning with what I’m learning, we’ve begun “Pastor Joe’s Blog” on our website.  Most days, I post my journal there—and occasionally throw in something else for free.  Go to our website (www.lifecenter.net) and click on the Resources tab, then “Pastor Joe’s Blog”.  You can leave your comments as well.

          I can’t think of anything you can do that will deepen your relationship with God more than the rhythm of a daily time with God.

          Jesus lived with rhythm—follow the Leader!

          One last thing:


2. Get refocused on your mission. 36-39

          The disciples woke up that morning to a crowd that had already begun to gather at the door!  “Someone get Jesus,” Peter yelled.  Andrew said, “We can’t find Him.  He’s gone.” 

          “Oh great,” Peter muttered, and took off looking for Him.

          When they finally found Him, Peter said, “Everyone is looking for you!”  There may have been some annoyance in voice.  What was Jesus thinking, taking off like that, leaving them alone there?  Maybe they thought Jesus was failing to capitalize on a great opportunity.  Last night was a home run, a huge success, and the crowd was back today for an encore.  More miracles, Jesus!  Jesus’ reply must have stunned them.

Mark 1:38-39 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Go somewhere else?  Things are cooking here!  Crowds are gathering; everyone wanted Him to stay.  Luke tells us that the people tried to keep Jesus from leaving.  “Stay here in Capernaum, Jesus.”  But Jesus had other plans.

“Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

Luke records it this way:

Luke 4:43 But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

That is why I have come; that is why I was sent.  Why?  To preach the good news of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus had a clear sense of mission.  And it was so clear that He didn’t let other people’s agendas derail or distract Him. 

          “We want you to stay here and do more miracles.”

          “God wants me to go to other places and preach the good news of the Kingdom.”  Jesus got refocused on His mission.

          It is very easy for Christians or churches to be pulled off course, to lose sight of their mission, the thing God called them to do.  We can be distracted by good things and well-intentioned people who say, “Do this.”  How do you keep a clear sense of mission?  How do you maintain laser-like focus on what God wants you to do?  I think you follow the Leader.  You do what Jesus did, which is regularly meet with God and let Him refocus you on your mission. 

          When I pray, I often ask God to help us be more effective at our mission: love, win, grow, send.  I don’t pray that God will make us bigger—I stopped praying that a long time ago.  I pray that He’ll make us better at what He wants us to do.  And we believe God has given us this mission:

  • Love: to love God with all we’ve got and love people.
  • Win: to win our friends and family to Jesus.
  • Grow: to grow new believers into whole-hearted followers of Jesus.
  • Send: to send people out to share the gospel, serve the poor and start new churches.

Sometimes good people come to me and say, “Can the church do this, or this?”  And they are good things…but they are not our mission.  This is why it’s always good to pray first: “God, what do You want us to do?”  Get alone with God and get refocused on your mission.

For more about our mission, please check out “The Culture We Want” – part 2 of our Vision Series, The Big Story.