Leave A Mark...Marks of Grace


Maybe it is on the door frame in the laundry room at Grandma’s house where you marked the spot that you finally outgrew your older sister. Do you see the dirty finger prints on the top of the door frame going out of the front door cause your finally tall enough jump high enough? Hand prints and paw prints are left in concrete. Scars are left behind on trees. For about six years I covered up the scar that matches leave on carpet…that was until we packed up our house to move.

We leave behind marks and marks are left on us. The physical ones are the easiest to see but there are marks which leave far more telling and influential impressions on our lives. These marks are left upon our lives most often by places, predicaments and people. When and where have you seen your life marked? Who has made an impact on you? I regularly credit Don and Jon Hall and Curtis Martin who were both youth counselors and Scoutmasters in Troops for shaping me.

The marks are marks of grace for they are gifts to us. They are teachers and markers, guides for our journey. Each mark is unique; their power and purpose aren't always the same. I think it was evident that Elizabeth’s story is a story of just such a mark. We may not all have such an experience of divine intervention but marks of grace aren't intended for just a one time thing as Elizabeth noted. They are for a lifetime. But one thing I'd like you to remember is this as we journey through the next six weeks...Jesus is only baptized once. Once was enough.

Check out Mark 1:9-13 CEV ...
About that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. (10) As soon as Jesus came out of the water, he saw the sky open and the Holy Spirit coming down to him like a dove. (11) A voice from heaven said, "You are my own dear Son, and I am pleased with you." (12) Right away God's Spirit made Jesus go into the desert. (13) He stayed there for forty days while Satan tested him. Jesus was with the wild animals, but angels took care of him.

Before Jesus goes to the wilderness there is this moment. Before His ministry gets underway, before he takes responsibility, Jesus takes pause to be marked – marked by the baptism of John in the Jordan River. The voice of the God the Father spoke and the Holy Spirit as a dove descended upon God the Son confirming Jesus as the Christ. And “Right away God's Spirit made Jesus go into the desert...(v12).”

Now Mark's desert has some distinctives...
      1. God knows there are wilderness times.
      2. God knows there are temptation times.
      3. God knows there are wild beasts out there.

We'll come back to those in a minute. But let's remember that one baptism was enough. A true mark of grace like baptism will continue on indefinitely signifying you are God's own. Once done, it never has to be repeated, the Holy Spirit does not have to be reminded you are a son or daughter of God. A mark of grace isn't for the moment but for the moments which follow.

Other gospel writers get into more detail regarding the temptations. But that Mark keeps it simple and concise, I think, is more than just keeping with his story. The history of the desert is different for us all. Sometimes the desert is a wilderness and that is what we face: isolation. Other times the desert place is about facing temptations: yes, it is about Satan. And still other times there are wild beasts and the desert presents itself as a struggle for survival.

In the early centuries of the church, there were a group of men and women called the abbas and the ammas who went to the desert following this very pattern. Their histories and writings confirm the marks of grace are to sustain us no matter what we face in the desert.

What we dare not lose sight of is that Jesus faced all of these. God, in the flesh, left a mark by facing all that the desert place has to throw at us. The writer of Hebrews explains that... “[Jesus] had to be one of us, so that he could serve God as our merciful and faithful high priest ...And now that Jesus has suffered and was tempted, he can help anyone else who is tempted. (Heb 2:17-18 CEV)”

Is it easy for me to talk about suffering? No. So much has been said about it and not understood. As a pastor, what I can tell you that the mark of baptism is mark of adoption into the family of God. Communion is a mark of grace which sustains us on our journey. But those aren't the only marks I carry. I carry the marks of radiation treatment from cancer. I get to admit to my tattoos that marked me. Earlier this month, I woke up and suddenly discovered I had lost close to 40% of the vision in my right eye due to a swollen optical nerve. As I have walked through the desert these days, I have been reminded and upheld by marks of grace.  Those same marks from cancer became marks of grace in my desert of vision loss and I have been reminded - "...now that Jesus has suffered and was tempted, he can help anyone else..."

In a recent devotion in The Upper Room, the writer shared hearing a conversation between two high school girls where one said, “I’ve unfriended Jessica.” “Really?” came the reply.” “She really messed up this time. Our friendship is over for good.”

This act of “unfriending” — removing someone’s name from a list of friends onFacebook — has become so common that “unfriend” is now in dictionaries. It is sad that friendship is tossed away by a tap on key or a swipe on the screen. We all do stumble and it has been the help of a good friend, more often than not, that has helped me back on track.

Unlike people, however, God will never unfriend us. In fact, today is about how far God has gone to FRIEND us. He became like us. Gave us the mark of grace in baptism and marked himself in the struggles of the desert so he can help anyone else. My invitation to you today is to accept the friend request of God.   

What Mark Did Jesus Leave? What Mark Are You Leaving?

What kind of mark did Jesus intend to leave behind?

Over the next six weeks join John Cromartie and I at Cumming First United Methodist Church (www.cfumcga.com) at 8:45, 9:51 and 11:00 as we explore Jesus' marks and the potential we all have to leave our own.

This unique series will feature video stories of experiences from our own congregation, the launch of brand new worship experience at 9:51am and a congregation-wide series that engages the whole church in the same message and study guide follow-up question for Sunday Schools and small groups.

Don't spend the weeks leading up to Easter still wondering what you could be doing with your new year.  Make your mark.  Start now at Cumming First United Methodist Church...a Tradtional Church for Contemporary People!

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Week 5...Getting to some good stuff

Click here to download the free MP3 of the study

It is a story that could come from a Clint Eastwood western only someone would probably get shot.  King Duncan tells the story of a young man who bought a horse from a farmer for $100. The farmer agreed to deliver the horse the next day. However when the next day arrived, the farmer reneged on his promise.

"I'm afraid the horse has died," he explained.
The young man said, "Well, then give me my money back."
The farmer said, "Can't do that. I spent it already."
The young man thought for a moment and said, "Ok, then, just bring me the dead horse."
The farmer asked, "What you going to do with a dead horse?"
The young man said, "I'm going to raffle it off."
The farmer said, "You can't raffle off a dead horse!"
The young man said, "Sure I can. Watch me.”

A month later, the farmer met up with the young man and asked, "What happened with that dead horse?"

The young man said, "I raffled him off. I sold 500 tickets at two dollars apiece and made a profit of $998..."

For a society that has sterilized our scoundrels and pirates, it is a wonder we still have a problem with this parable that Jesus tells in Luke 16:1-13 about the shrewd manager.  The reality is that it will hurt when God forces our hand. It is going to be uncomfortable "...it's in the pain that we discover our desire for God..." writes author Larry Crabb. The problem with a pirate's life long term is that it is a life lived a the cost of others, even ourselves. But the radical grace of God sometimes hurts and it gives you permission to go after God.

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly: Parables From Luke Week 4

Click here to download the MP3 of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly Week 4.

After spending time with Luke's gospel and the Parable from 14:12-24 and reading some of the things that were said about him, I'm left thinking that Jesus would have liked hanging with Toby Keith.  From all I can determine, he would spend more time with red solo cups than most of us give Jesus credit for.

Does that bother you?  I really don't mean it to BUT if it does you really need to consider the reputation Jesus had back in the day.  If you've missed some of what I've been talking about in these podcasts, you need to know Jesus' parables were meant to SHOCK us.  Some of his behaviors shocked people in his day as well.

You'll hear me share it if you listen today but I do want to make sure you hear this, "No healthy pleasure is forbidden to a Christian...for a Christian is like [one] who is forever at a wedding feast."   Those words from William Barclay in his commentary ought to wake us up to our call to be more 'party people.'  But how should that look?  Take a listen...

Oh yeah, three things I noted but certainly NOT the Cliff Notes from today's study...
1.  In three years of ministry, do you think Jesus used the same parable more than once?
2.  Be very careful about taking parables and turning them into church law.
3.  John Wesley did have some bad ideas.  He obviously never had children.

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly: Parables From Luke Week 3

Parables were intended to have shock value.  They were intended to illicit response; whether immediate or in time, it made little difference.   Surely we're missing something if a parable doesn't effect us right?  Maybe that is why GBU didn't get the critical acclaim it deserved when first released.  It needed time.

If you get a moment, read the parable in Luke 12:13-21

The easiest response is to think a parable applies to other people.  But as Dr. Roberta Bondi noted in The Five-Day Academy of Spiritual Formation in North Carolina this past fall, the early fathers of the church were, "...convinced judgementalism was about the greatest sin."

Don't put it on the clergy to make it easy for you either.  In Adam Clarke's Commentary on this passage, he writes about judging, saying, "...a minister of Christ ought not concern himself with secular affairs, any farther than charity and the order of discipline require it...He who preaches salvation to all should never make himself a party man; otherwise he loses the confidence, and consequently the opportunity of doing good to the party against whom he decides."

No, there is more going on here.  Take a listen to mp3 and be sure to also visit www.globalrichlist.com.  We could use a little shock. 

May I ask?  What response does this parable raise up in you?

May I suggest?  Take a Bible into your storage spaces.  Pull up a chair and then read it again out loud.  Look at your stuff.  What response do you feel now?

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