January 4, 2012 Devotion Sharing

Submitted by Jeanie O. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
Today’s text depicts the beginning of Jesus ministry. Study the chapter, and draw some personal applications about what kind of beginning you need to make this year.

Mark 1:8-11
I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Even before Jesus had done anything, before his first trial, these words were sent from heaven. God himself affirmed the identity of Jesus, “You are my son,” and his stance toward him, “whom I love; with you I am well pleased…” Jesus humbled himself to be baptized by a man and to identify with sinners only to be raised by God’s powerful words of love. Jesus had the total approval of God by virtue of his identity before he was ever tested.

As I am given another year by God, even before anticipating the inevitable trials and failures that will come, I have to be reminded of my identity and God’s stance toward me. I have become a daughter by grace. He is pleased with me because of the righteousness that was purchased for me on Calvary. Because of his atonement, God sees me the same way as he would see Jesus. God’s grace and salvation is permanent and cannot be taken away from me. This ecstatic fact is sometimes referred to as the “perseverance of the saints” as I learned from Pastor Ed’s class on systematic theology. Indeed it is a beautiful way to capture the effect that grace has to rejuvenate my willingness to try again. Every year is filled with more regrets and sin. “Why couldn’t I let go of that petty gripe that I had? Why was I so quick to blame? I know I could have done a better job if…” Given the bleak statistics of my life, it is hard to look at another year without being cynical or defeated or overwhelmed by the weight of what must be done. But God’s words of love and pleasure at who I am before him al because of Jesus gives me the joy and the hope to persevere. Before facing any wilderness, before confronting whatever comes my way, hearing the words of God is where it should all begin. Jesus had to humble himself and it was God who sent his words and his dove. In the same way, I need to humble myself, come before Jesus and confess to receive the grace and peace I need for each day, to receive the perseverance of the saints which is the assurance that I am and will forever remain his daughter with whom he is well pleased.

Mark 1:12-13
12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, 13 and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Before Jesus called his disciples or preached or performed miraculous signs, he was tempted in the wilderness. We hear of prophets that can perform miraculous signs, take disciples for themselves and preach the word of God, but how many of them were tempted by Satan himself? Only God can confront Satan himself. Jesus was no ordinary prophet and by denying himself and withstanding the extraordinary trials in the wilderness, he established his mission and his identity. It says the Spirit sent him out into the desert. He had to confront those temptations. What about me? In order to do ministry, I have to deny myself. I cannot be chasing after the same things as the world and expect to do ministry. Jesus’ ministry was characterized by self-denial. Those temptations didn’t stop at the wilderness. Till the very end of his life people were saying to him “Save yourself if you are…” Before I talk to people, before I do my daily tasks, before I consider myself doing God’s work, I have to do battle with temptations in my life, both on my knees in prayer and in my body. I can say to someone, “You cannot serve both man and money..” but it has no power if I have not battled with deriving comfort from hoarding money. What I say and do can be misinterpreted if I do not demonstrate a life of self-denial like Jesus. Like it says in James 1:22, it is not a battle that is merely played out in my head or in my spirit but something that translates into direct action. After long nights of making videos, shooting footage, helping with food prep, etc., at least at home, I feel the entitlement to rest. This is a lie as we are all servants. But there is that temptation to give into Satan’s lies. Whether I succumbed will be evident by whether I push my body to pick up those dishes, to do my share of the choirs, to clean, etc. This year I want to focus more on these battles of self-denial. Like Jesus was alone in the desert, it is a battle that begins in my mind and in my heart, places where no one can accompany me. It would be a lonely, hopeless battle were it not for the church. I’m thankful for the community of believers that can keep me accountable in pursuing a life of self-denial. It’s not easy for anyone to live a life of self-denial but by being surrounded by like-minded people that will call on me for concrete acts of selfishness, I feel more assured that I will not be deluded or spiral down into a pit of worldly pursuits.

Mark 1:35, 44
35 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”…He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was…44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone.

On the surface, it does not seem to make sense that Jesus is reluctant to reveal who he is. Yet we see Jesus silencing the demons from disclosing his true identity and telling the leper to keep his healing a secret. Why? God had marked out the timing and manner of Jesus’ revelation during his days on earth and Jesus submitted to God’s plan. How? Jesus woke up earlier than his disciples and went to a solitary place to pray. Often times, I thoughtlessly jump from one activity to another, saying this and that, prioritizing things in the way that seems best to me at the time. The decision seems good on the surface. But often times, I know that I failed in many things because I did not approach the day prayerfully. Jesus fought the battle in his body to push away exhaustion after late nights of healing and preaching and traveling, only to wake up early the next morning to pray in a solitary place. What about me? Do I fight that battle to prioritize prayer into my schedule? Do I have sufficient motivation to pray? Making judgments in a reactionary way is a sure recipe for disaster because God’s ways are so creative and unpredictable. How many times have I made unwise decisions because of my lack of prayer? They are numerous. It ought to be a constant reminder of how I must take the discipline of solitude and prayer seriously if I expect to be a positive force in the building of God’s kingdom. Like Jesus began his days and his ministry with prayer, I want to again commit to fighting my body to make times of solitude and prayer before approaching the trials of the day.
Submitted by Ken H. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
I. John the Baptist Preparing the Way for the Beginning of Jesus’ Ministry (Mark 1:2-3)
The ministry of Jesus began with John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus by first baptizing people and preaching for people to repent for the forgiveness of sins. John the Baptist also prepared the way for Jesus by announcing the news of Jesus’ coming to the people. It was a message of proclaiming the coming of the Jesus by demanding that the people first repent, to have their hearts be set to be right before God so that there is room in the heart to welcome Jesus into their lives.

As everyone starts new year, it is common to make inspiring plans for the new year–for example, to gain a healthier lifestyle, to exercise, to make progress in one’s financial future to be more secured, to be more successful, etc. There is often a lot of optimism and hope driven by one’s own motivation to turn the page from the past year, as well as the general upbeat mood that people have for the new year. As I start this new year, I also have many inspiring thoughts, or even bravado of how my life can be very different from the past year: how I want to live my life differently to be a better husband, to be a better friend, to be more generous, to be less lazy, to be a more committed disciple of God, to pray more, to love people more, and to serve more, etc. Today’s passage reminds me that, while it is not wrong for me to want to live a more committed life in this new year, my priority should really be to start the year off by having my heart to be set right before God, to prepare my heart in first acknowledging and confessing my sins to him so that there is room in my heart allow Jesus to dwell in my life.

Rather than believing that somehow the new year will be “different” or motivating myself to buy into my own hype, I need to humbly acknowledge that all of these seemingly wonderful plans and wishful thinking about what I would like to take place in the upcoming year are irrelevant compared to the fact that any of my unconfessed, unrepentant sins will poison my heart and make my heart an inhabitable place for Jesus to dwell and work in my life. This is the same reason why John the Baptist needed to preach this very direct message to everyone at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, because unless people set their hearts right before God, to view themselves correctly and to see their true needs to before God—the forgiveness of their sins–Jesus’ coming would not be able to make any meaningful impact on their lives. In other words, rather than being so automatically hopeful for this new year and for all the seemingly wonderful possibilities and projections I can have for my own life, it is all the more important to look, directly and squarely, inside my heart, and to see my actions, my words, and my thoughts that had negatively hurt or impacted my own relationship with God and with others over this past year and to be sober about them. I need to ask God for forgiveness and a heart that genuinely desires repentance, so that my life can be baptized again and be renewed to welcome whatever Jesus will do in my life. The greed, pride, jealousy, lust, and anger that occupied my heart need to be cleansed and forgiven by God, and my life needs to be re-baptized like this on a daily basis, so that each new day can begin and be led by God and carried by his grace rather than through my own wishful thinking, motivation, and bravado.

II. Leaving valuables Behind to be with Jesus and to become Fishers of Men (Mark 1:16-20)
When Jesus began proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God and repentance, he also began calling the disciples to him and to make them fishers of men. When Peter and Andrew were called they left their nets, their livelihood, at once to join Jesus. When James and John were called, they also left their nets and boats, as well as the hired men, all of which represent their livelihood, to follow Jesus. More significantly, when Jesus called James and John without delay to join his ministry, James and John also left their father Zebedee in order to follow Jesus.

For Peter, Andrew, James, and John, Jesus’ call for them to join the ministry to become the fishers of men must have not taken lightly by them. It must not have been a casual decision. These four men had to leave behind their livelihood, and perhaps even more significantly, their family whom they had spent their entire life with to cast their lot with Jesus in order to do God’s ministry. This picture of discipleship contrasts sharply with the picture of our 21st century churches in the west where people congregate comfortably once a week every Sunday, often with family and friends, to worship God and then shortly afterward retreat to their castles of protection (home and nuclear family) to continue the pursuit of a secured life. Peter, Andrew, James, and John had to leave their families in order to join Jesus, and practically not knowing where their next meal would be coming from as Jesus traveled from town to town in order to minister and heal various people.

The call of discipleship requires costly personal sacrifices, and Jesus’ first disciples model this life for me. In addition, I also know that I am by surrounded this great crowd of witnesses at our church, in which many had stayed for more than twenty years in order to give their all to serve God and to bring the good news of salvations, in which I was one of such recipients of this incredible gift of salvation. I was reminded of the costly sacrifices that many of the older brothers and sisters who have been part of our church for over 20 years have made in order to join God’s ministry and to carry out the ministry. In those early days in which our church was still small, these brothers and sisters gave so much financially and in other means. They stuck it out even during some of the more difficult periods, and God was faithful to them and the fruits of their labor were so evident today. From their sharing, I know some of their decisions were not easy, and many times even painful. Nevertheless, they did so out of their obedience and love to God, as well as knowing that they and the church together would be contending as one to do God’s work.

I am so thankful to be a recipient of this rich legacy and tradition of personal obedience and sacrifice, and as I look into my own life, I know that in the same way, God has made the same call to me to continue to join him in his work at our church, and particularly to minister to younger brothers and to the youth students. This means in practicality when my heart wants to shrink back either emotionally, physically, or financially in the different arenas of service to God, I need to remember and be reminded of these very first disciples, as well as the many lives at our church that I have personally witnessed, and to make decisions to not shrink back, but rather make decisive actions and commitments of sacrifice and giving, to become a fisher of man and to pass down this legacy of giving and sacrifice, so that others may receive this same gift of God’s love and salvation.

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