The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Luke 19:11-27

Click Here to download the MP3on Luke 19:11-27
Whew!  It is up before Thursday!  Last weeks study on Jesus' final parable before entering Jerusalem is now uploaded so you can download it!  Looking forward to wrapping things up this Thursday morning on our adventure through Jesus' parables in Luke's gospel.

Marks of Prayer...the MP3

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God is not interested in just forgiving one people BUT all people. And all people who are wanting to walk God's way must walk the way of forgiveness.

Eva Kor, is a Holocaust Survivor and was a human experiment under Dr. Mengel while in Aushwitz. And she has done this radical step – forgiving the Nazis. She said, Some people are afraid to give up their pain, to give up their anger. But pain and anger create revenge. Forgiveness is an act of self healing and self improvement (1).” 

People who hurt leave scars on people. People who forgive leave marks on the world.  We need to understand, maybe now more than ever, justice is important but for the soul, forgiveness is what is freeing.

Leave A Mark - Marks of Prayer

Talking to God. Yeah, right. That sounds good coming from a pastor. That sounds so easy for a pastor to talk about when I can't see God or touch God and by all indications, I'm not even sure God is there.

And you're right, coming from a pastor, whose job it is to be spiritual, it maybe a little hard to swallow especially with what you're facing. And there are plenty of places in the Bible that prayer is a lot easier to talk about than the one we'll look at today.

Click here for the link for today's scripture passage: Mark11:12-25

Let me start with William Barclay who I read from a couple of weeks ago. Barclay speculates that, “Maybe our trouble [with prayer] is that what we want from God is our answer, and we do not recognize his answer when it comes.”  

We have tried to make out prayer to be something so easy. The church through the last few centuries has tried to make out talking to God to be nothing more than talking to your BFF. Yet we know from experience and from the Bible itself, talking, and having a conversation with God are different things. Prayer is conversation and sometimes, even in conversation, we don't hear correctly.

On the surface, this story may not look like it has much to do with prayer at all. It has this odd scene of Jesus cursing a fig tree and the clearing of the temple. And yet, the consist theme surrounding these verses is prayer – communication with God.

We're walking in the footsteps of history now. Just a few weeks from Easter Sunday, we're in the middle of the story, retelling how Jesus came to Jerusalem. I get the feel, reading the words, the disciples are little bit on edge. They knew the leaders of the Jews weren't happy with Jesus. The situation is escalating.

Jesus gets hungry for a snack. He goes to the figtree. Even out of season, the pre-fruits of the fig tree should be showing that the tree is going to provide something. Jesus finds nothing, and he prays, in fact, his prayer is a curse. It may seem odd and out of place to us, but WAS part of being the Messiah: Jesus did in fact come to pass judgement and he did so in the same way as the prophets of Old (Is 20:1-6; Jer 13:1-11, Ezek 4:1-15).

It wasn't rash. It wasn't cause Jesus was being petty. It doesn't mean we curse the drive-thru when the fries aren't ready. There is a bigger picture, Mark seems to say. Step back.

And so in the middle of this figgy story, comes the casting out of moneylenders and cleaning up the riff-raff out of the temple. Jesus could have said a lot of things about this incident. A lot of verses could have been pointed to but he called out one in particular...Isa 56:7 NKJV Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations."

Jesus, now done with living out his parables and done with turning heads, turns to his disciples and to us. He says, in essence, prayer is marked by two things.
  1. Faith in God (v.22)
  2. Forgiveness of Others (v.25)
When we talked two weeks ago, the sermon was on the mark of Faith, and how we need to plant whatever faith we have, no matter the size. Jesus gets back to that here: our prayer is dependent on faith.

But then Jesus adds this piece of forgiveness and our focus clears a bit. He wasn't very forgiving of that poor little tree nor was he calm and collected in the temple. None of that demonstrated forgiveness...well, yes, yes it did.

You see, over and over again God has forgiven Israel. And it is clear God is not going to stop forgiving so throw that idea out. Jerusalem in the first century was at a cross roads of civilization and people were coming from miles to the temple, people who were coming to know the one true God.

Yet the leaders were content in living by law. They had more faith in practices than in prayer. And Jesus steps in, taking on the full responsbility of the Messiah, as a prophet, priest and king. Jesus steps out and steps up, fulfilling the prophecies that speak of a place for all people. This is to be the way of the Cross. This is to be the way of the Church.

God is not interested in just forgiving one people BUT all people. And all people who are wanting to walk God's way must walk the way of forgiveness.

Prayer. The marks of it come from sowing the seed of faith and forgiving others. Along the way to the cross, Jesus is going to come back to this very same thing: forgiving others. This was not the last part of Jesus story.

Eva Kor, is a Holocaust Survivor and was a human experiment under Dr. Mengel while in Aushwitz. And she has done this radical step – forgiving the Nazis. She said, Some people are afraid to give up their pain, to give up their anger. But pain and anger create revenge. Forgiveness is an act of self healing and self improvement (1).People who hurt leave scars on people. People who forgive leave marks on the world.

I cannot tell you who to forgive. I can tell you need to start. You probably already know the negative issues related to grudges anyway, we leave a trail of that. But God seeks us to be like him, to be people, yes, of justice but more importantly, to be people of forgiveness. In a sense, it is your first intercessory prayer.

Ken is the Associate Pastor at Cumming First United Methodist and lead preacher for the NEW 9:51 Worship service meeting each Sunday morning. 

One Eye Blind - I'll Take My Sight

“I'm blind in one eye and can't see out the other,” has been one of my parents' favorite expressions through the years. It is a word usually spoken in our family after finding something that was right in front of us we kept overlooking.

Most people can look. A few people are said to have “vision.” Most of us just don't see.

Within less than two months time I've lost about 60% of the vision in my right eye because of a swollen optical nerve. I had never heard of such a thing. I had also never heard of a neuro-opthomologist either. Both have now become familiar to me. If we aren't looking we surely won't see.

“Vision” is overrated. I'll take my sight any day and anytime.

If you can see, you won't take for granted the words on the page you can read or the simple green clover at your foot. Vision has you looking for what isn't even there and you miss seeing who is directly in front of you.

John of the Cross noted there are only two paths. One is to go after Jesus wherever he leads, taking up the cross and learn what it means to deny oneself. The other path is “to seek the fulfillment of ourselves in God. This type of spirituality is the enemy of the cross of Christ.” -Ascent of Mount Carmel.

With General Conference around the corner for the United Methodist Church, plenty of other changes in other denominations, and enough controversy to go around, it is time for the Church to add more contemplatives to the conversation rather than trying to find more visionaries.  It maybe we can't see contemplatives because we're “blind in one eye and can't see out the other.” If we can't, then let's start practicing denying ourselves and following Jesus. Even with one good eye, I can still see who they are.

Ken is the Associate Pastor at Cumming First United Methodist and lead preacher for the NEW 9:51 Worship service meeting each Sunday morning. 

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly...The nitty gritty on prayer

I'm not going to pull any punches here.  For most of us guys, we don't pray with some high-fluting words and eloquence.  Prayer for me has often been one more thing on my to-do list.

That was until I wrestled with today's parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector:

Luke 18:9-14 NKJV  Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:  (10)  "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  (11)  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  (12)  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'  (13)  And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'  (14)  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Download MP3 of Today's Study By Clicking Here!
"Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner."  That simple prayer, known as the "Jesus Prayer" is only part of this story.  But it is part of my story and one which has helped me to learn to pray, simply, concisely and from my soul.

You do realize that there is over 2,000 years of church history and prayer practices right?  Who we are in 2012 as a church has been influenced by many of these practices long forgotten.  But just cause their forgotten doesn't mean they have less value, it just means we need to take a new look...and listen.

Ken is the Associate Pastor at Cumming First United Methodist and lead preacher for the NEW 9:51 Worship service meeting each Sunday morning.

Nothing Bundt Paying It Forward

Don't think you can pay it forward?  Don't think you can plant a seed that makes a difference?


See today, I was waiting for my MRI results in Dunwoody, GA when a lady comes in to deliver a cake for the office to promote their new business. "Awesome!" I said, "Great idea, I hope you delivered to Dunwoody UMC! " She said she had. I then said I wish she could deliver to Cumming since that is where I work (Couldn't tell if she saw my name tag).

She came back moments later and gave me three mini bundt cakes from here new business in Sandy Springs, GA:  She didn't know why I was there.  She had no way to know that I have been losing my vision, that it was an incredibly difficult day and I really had few words to offer anybody else.  She could have kept on going and I wouldn't have thought less of her...bundt she didn't.

She sowed a seed.  It didn't make my pain go away or make my vision any better.  But it surprised me.  It helped, more than you  know.  Maybe more than I'll know.

So Tisha and Stephanie, here is to you - keep paying it forward.  And to everyone out there who says,

But I can't!!  Wrong...bundt you can.

Leave A Mark: Mark of Faith

You may not know who Mackie Shilstone is but for the past 30 years, over 3,000 professional athletes have been looking to him to increase their stamina and performance to win. The NFL, NBA and MLB all have looked to Mackie. Tennis star Serena Williams has been counting on him. Boxers Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. have been influenced by him so much that KO magazine  voted him among the top 50 most influential people in the history of boxing! Even if you're a Braves fan you have to appreciate Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith of my St. Louis Cardinals who included Mackie in his induction speech. What you may not know is that Mackie stands tall at 5'8” and weighs in at 137. (Check out Mackie's info here:

Mark may be the smallest Gospel, but good things often come in small packages. That it is the shortest, means for me, I need to consider just why did Mark include certain things and not others. Take for instance these two parables...

Agriculture has always been a part of life in Israel. But we're not much into farming here in the suburbs of the ATL. Living off the land is a bit foreign to us . Until we stop. Ever notice how a weed can manage to find away to grow in the smallest patch of dirt on the side of the interstate? Or check out the slow growth of a tree root as little by little, day by day, destroys a section of concrete. Over time, nature will reclaim all our work. It never complains about time passing.

As we've gone through parables in our Men's Breakfast and Bible study, we've learned that parables from Jesus are supposed to make us uncomfortable. Are their meanings obvious to you? Are these stories about size or is it about something more? That I can find, Jesus never seemed to make things too easy for them so can they be for us?

Could it be these parables about the idea of growth. Both parables are about planting, about nature and farming. Surely in an agricultural setting this would make since. Simple people were hearing Jesus so simple stories right? But there is always a secret in these parables of Jesus. It isn't THAT easy.

Maybe the idea of the kingdom of God is the primary thing they have in common. I mean, Jesus even says that in the beginning. But notice that Jesus never says: the Kingdom of God is EXACTLY this way! Nope, he only says the kingdom is like “a man scattering seed,” and “ like a mustard seed.” Maybe that is why Mark put them together, the Kingdom.

Dr. William Barclay wrote in his commentary on the book of Mark a simple observation about these parables. He pointed out that “...everything has a beginning. Nothing emerges full grown.” We have to wait. And waiting takes patience. It takes faith. It is for God to give the increase. Not only that, do not be surprised at how full that growth is going to be.

Maybe you're wondering where you've heard this idea of mustard seed and faith before. It is because Jesus liked the comparison! In Matthew 17:20 he said, “ don't have enough faith! But I can promise you this. If you had faith no larger than a mustard seed, you could tell this mountain to move from here to there. And it would. Everything would be possible for you.”

Does knowing facts change our faith? Does knowing how tiny a mustard weed seed is change the wonder about how large the plant grows? Does knowing the process of seed growth change that we really don't know the moment the seed dies and becomes a plant?

The kingdom of God is going some place. God is at work. From us, he asks for us to go about the work by faith. If God had been interested in changing the world in a moment, he could have done so BUT HE DIDN'T! Remember...born as a baby to parents of no reputation in a backwater town in an occupied country and then he counted on the anybodies and everybodies to spread the word!

Honestly, who is the one with great faith, us who are trying to believe in an all-powerful being we can't see OR God, who has put his faith in us whose small mindedness is evidenced for all to see for all time?

The mark of faith, simply put, is to drop that seed into the ground. Sow it. Put it out there. As a people marked by grace, we've been marked by followers. We're right alongside that rag-tag group of guys and gals who wandered the countryside with Jesus. God didn't expect Jesus to turn around the world overnight. In fact, the plan was to pass the torch to us!

Nor did he say it would be easy.

There is an old story and it is told with different characters. In one, a man began watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. After a long struggle, it appeared to be exhausted and remained absolutely still. The man decided to help the butterfly and so cut open the cocoon, thus releasing the butterfly. However, the butterfly’s body was very small and wrinkled and its wings were all crumpled. The man continued to watch, hoping that, the butterfly would open its wings and fly. Nope. In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its brief life dragging around its shrunken body and shriveled wings, incapable of flight.

Jedi Master Yoda said, “Size Matters Not!” Despite the small beginnings, God's kingdom will grow when we plant our faith no matter the size. Barclay noted that, “If God is the God we believe him to be there is no room for pessimism.” But I want to add, if we are the people God believes us to be there is no reason to doubt.

Jesus believes your life has an unlimited capacity to grow – what do you believe about you? Don't think a small thing you do matters? Then you need to be part of Cumming FUMC's One Great Day of Service. Take on the mantra of “Pay It Forward” or “Random Acts of Kindness.” Doing one thing is all about sowing that one seed. Don't overlook the significance of the small seed. Sow your faith!

Download MP3 here!

Ken is the Associate Pastor at Cumming First United Methodist and lead preacher for the NEW 9:51 Worship service meeting each Sunday morning... even on daylight savings time Sundays!

Bigger Isn't Always Better

As I get older, I am learning the truth of bigger isn't always better.

It isn't a political statement or a philosophy though you could make that argument based on the world economic system.  Take churches for instance.  Large churches and small churches usually have the same problems.  The difference is the number of zeros you add.  Are you short 1 volunteer in a small church?  You're likely short 10 or even 100 in larger churches.

Perspective is key.  Watch the video...

Jesus really like the word picture of the mustard seed.  He used it to describe both the kingdom of God and faith.  Based on what Jesus said, they are similar: it is all in perspective.  Don't miss the significance of the small seeds and whatever you do, don't shortchange your faith.  Whatever faith you've got, plant it.  It won't grow until you do.  For that matter, don't try to cling so much to your idea of God's kingdom being in need of you.  God's kingdom started with one rabbi and twelve disciples.  Go figure.

Finally, Jesus said: What is God's kingdom like? What story can I use to explain it?  It is like what happens when a mustard seed is planted in the ground. It is the smallest seed in all the world.  Mark 4:30-31 CEV

May I Ask?  When have you been most surprised by a small thing growing into something huge?  What did you learn?

May I Suggest?  Commit to doing a Random Act of Kindness everyday during the days leading up to Easter.  AND if you live in Forsyth County, join us for ONE GREAT DAY OF SERVICE at Cumming FUMC on March 24th!

Ken is the Associate Pastor at Cumming First United Methodist and lead preacher for the NEW 9:51 Worship service meeting each Sunday morning.

TV9:51 - The Mark of Following

I can't find the verse anywhere in the Bible that says I'm called to be a great leader.  I haven't found it.  There are some great leaders but I haven't found that one.  What seems abundantly clear is that if we're called to be a Christian, then we're called to be a follower...even if we are a church leader.  

May I Ask?  When have you found business/faith principles to be in conflict?  How did you respond?

May I Suggest?  Consider living out one thing for one week that you have read in the Bible that would make the world a better place.  Consider James 1:27 for example.  Stop by at the end of the week and share what you learned by following.

Click to download the FREE small group / personal study guide to the next steps to becoming a better follower.

Leave A Mark: Marks Of Following

 As of today the count is 1,141 days. For the past 1,141 days, Scott Ginsberg has been wearing a name tag, 24 – 7 – 365 / 366. Scott has a ton of stories and has learned so much about people from wearing at nametag.  But because of the temptation of so many people to take off his nametag, he finally had it tattooed on his chest. Scott's goal is to make the world friendlier through name-tagging and as you have probably guessed, I'm not only a friend of Scott's, I'm a follower.

No, I don't nametag all day, everyday. But I've had the privilege of being an unpaid employee of some great companies like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Dollar Tree and others. I've worked on hospital staff and on staff at public libraries. Why? People in need are drawn to ask for help from people they know. Did they know me? Of course not...AH!!! But...they knew my name...and so they knew ME. What Scott learned and what I learned from him was that a NAME TAG = INVITATION. “We have all the ideas we can handle,” Scott wrote recently, “You don't need an idea, you need an 'I did.'” 

Living in an occupied nation, they were a people waiting for something, or someone to make a, we find a group of people who were waiting and what they did...

Scott may be right on business but he is wrong on faith. I think this happens too much when we mix business-principles with faith-principles. Principles and principles are like apples and apples. There maybe both apples but one is a Granny Smith and the other, a Red Delicious - same BUT distinctively different.

I can go half way with Scott, we do have everything we need to begin. But like those Levi the tax collector...the only thing we are waiting for is an invitation. And one day in the middle east, 2000 years ago, a carpenter-turned Rabbi, gave an invitation to a group of fishermen who were waiting...then he did the same to a tax collector named Levi.

For the fishermen, it meant leaving behind both business and family. For Levi the tax collector, it meant leaving behind an affluent lifestyle. But there is an old blessing, “May you be covered with dust of your rabbi.” What your teacher does, this what you should also do. Where Jesus has already gotten in the habit of being condemned for being associated with sinners like tax collectors, Levi, maybe knowing this, invites his “sinner” friends over to a party meet this rabbi. A rabbi who doesn't believe anyone is “too sinful.”  So Levi did what he saw his rabbi do - invite!

The church does need leaders, don't get me wrong. But there is a unique organizational structure to this thing called “Church.” The true Head, is always going to be Jesus (Ephesians 1:22). The Body is the Church. The mark of following is saying “Here I Come!” when Jesus says, “Come follow me!”

And today as we come to this table of communion, the invitation is being giving even now, Come follow me...Are you ready to be marked as a follower?

Ken is the Associate Pastor at Cumming First United Methodist and lead preacher for the NEW 9:51 Worship service each Sunday morning.  (Just so you know, these are my notes and may not reflect the full sermon in it's entirety.  But they are a lot of work and I pray they help!)

Leaving Your Mark Matters.

How often have you thought about the mark you are leaving on this world every day?  It is tempting, even as a clergy, to go about my day with no thought beyond my to do list and my "what is coming up?" list.  So before you go farther...stop...take a time out for the next few minutes and hit play on the video below...

Her mark saved her son...and how many others?  Did she just do her job?  Yep, but when she did, she knew she had "a dog in the fight."  From what I know of the generation however, it wouldn't have mattered, everyone knew someone whose life was on the line.

With seven billion people in this world today, it is not all that easy to stand out and set yourself apart.  Then again, sometime it is just the little things that make the biggest difference.  Today is a good day to remember that leaving a mark has as much to do with majoring on the minors as it does with going for the gold.

"...that's how it should be with you. When you've done all you should, then say, "We are merely servants, and we have simply done our duty."  Luke 17:10 CEV

May I Ask?  Who has made their 'mark' on your life?

May I Suggest?  Take a moment to inventory your past week and consider the one ahead.  Where can/did you leave a mark of significance?  Where will you?

Ken is the Associate Pastor at Cumming First United Methodist and lead preacher for the NEW 9:51 Worship service each Sunday morning.

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