Thoughts for Teenagers: Live by Dying

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Mark 8:1-10, 27-38 NIV: During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied.

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand were present. After he had sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and then he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and rebuked him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

There are certain people that we either love or hate. Kanye West. Taylor Swift. The Duck Dynasty folks. Tim Tebow. These people provoke a response just by being themselves. They are what you might call “polarizing personalities.” They are so influential, controversial, and “out there” that people have to decide what to do with them!

Jesus is a lot like this. He provoked a response. People were all in – or not.

At this stage in the game, Jesus is uber-popular. 4,000 people are following him around. That’s amazing! That’s half the population of the town I grew up in. Jesus is taking the world by storm.

Yet there are a wide variety of opinions about Jesus. Some love him. Some hate him. Some just don’t know what to do with him but they’re happy to gain from him!

People know he can do cool stuff. He heals people and casts out demons. But now Jesus is going to really shock them. He feeds them miraculously. It’s spectacular. There are baskets left over. But after eating, everyone just heads home. They follow Jesus because of what he can do. Then once he has taken care of them, they’re packing their bags and then they’re off.

They don’t really know who he is or what he is all about – they think he is some kind of prophet. Like Elijah, John the Baptist, or the other prophets Jesus seems to have a similarly wild and bold ministry that threatens the corrupt establishment and that calls people back to God. But fundamentally, they don’t understand who he is – “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). No – they are only interested in Jesus because they think he can really make their lives better here and now.

In fact, the views of the crowd come out in Peter himself. Peter embodies the crowd: “You are the Christ,” Peter says one minute, but then has the gall to rebuke Jesus the next minute for teaching them that he will be rejected and killed. Peter wants a fair-weather Jesus. He wants a lollipop and bubble-gum Jesus. He wants a messiah-king to bring peace and prosperity. He wants the American Dream – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But Jesus will take them to life, liberty, and happiness by a completely different route.

He will take them there by the way of the cross.

And a bloody, Roman crucifixion is the last thing Peter wants for this exciting, dynamic movement he is now a part of.

So each of us must answer honestly Jesus’ question: but who do you say that I am?

People embrace all sorts of different “Jesuses.” Which Jesus do you embrace? The Jesus who gives good gifts without demands? Or the Jesus who calls you to follow him to the cross, to lose your life in order to find it. Or…do you, like the Pharisees, reject Jesus entirely?

For each of us, Jesus calls us to come and die. According to church tradition, Peter was in fact crucified. He died following Jesus. Again, Jesus’ call is radical: come and lose your life! Come and be rejected by your friends and family! What?!? Even your friends??? Yes – come and be the uncool Christian kid. Come and be that guy.

Why?

Because if we do not come to him as Lord we do not come to him at all. 

But those who do lose their lives for him will find their souls.

Those who embrace him as Saviour and Lord will find that when he returns in glory, as Lord of All, they too will be glorified.

The cost is worth paying.

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Thoughts for Teenagers: Honour Your Father and Mother

Mark 7: The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“ ‘These people honor me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me.

They worship me in vain;

their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)—then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

[The New International Version. (2011). (Mk 7:1–13). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.]

One of the nastiest things you will ever see is a Christian who is a total selfish jerk with a verse to back it all up. So what you come across from time to time are parents who neglect their children, sleep around, divorce, and then remarry – all the while saying this is all okay before God, because of course, “God wants me to be happy.” Likewise you can get what you have here with the Pharisees – young men and women who leave the house and disregard their parents entirely in order to pursue God, or so they think.

No – the will of God is clear in Scripture – honour your Father and Mother. And what Jesus hints at here is what some have argued is explicit in the Old Testament; namely, that “honour” does not just mean some sort of respect for authority – it is that – but it is much more. Honour means take care of your parents physically. It means make sure they are fed and clothed. The idea here is that they took care of you for the first 18 years of your life – so now you need to take care of them for their last 18 years. “Honour Father and Mother” is a civil law. It’s a social arrangement.

But the trouble is that we are selfish. And we use “spirituality” as a cover for selfishness. Don’t do that. This is perhaps the nastiest little sin among Christians. Most of us are guilty of it. Who has ever broken up with a boyfriend or girlfriend and given the reason that “it wasn’t God’s will.” Well that may or may not be true – but give some actual reasons. Explain yourself – the other person deserves an explanation. Don’t be the kind of person who goes from job to job, resigning because “it just doesn’t seem like God’s will.” No – commit to what you start out to do. Grow in integrity (oh what a dirty word for us). The fact is you will be better for it if you keep your word – fulfill your obligations and make good on your promises. And central in all of that is your duty to your family, your church, your boss, and your society. You will be more spiritual for it!

Now – the truth is, many parents do hurt their kids. That’s because of sin. Kids also hurt parents. That’s also because of sin. The reality is that we must all answer to God himself. And God calls you to honour your parents based on their position, regardless of how honourable they are. You honour a policeman even if they are a putz. You honour them because they have a badge. So it is with your parents – honour them – you don’t even have to like them per se! You may find their personality totally different and weird – but honour them. And the first place to start is to give up the attitude that you are better than them. You aren’t. (Even if you are – no Christian ever has the right to think they are better than others.) That’s what the Pharisees did all day long, not realizing that from all our hearts come “sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (v.22). We all need grace. So try extending grace to your parents when they need it.

Ultimately, the command of Jesus here is to grow up into the kind of man or woman who contributes and produces and can actually take care of parents. Part of this, of course, is work that needs to be done in the heart – are you bitter against your parents? Do you judge your parents? Do you think you are better than they are? This is the great temptation of youth. It is arrogance. It is so easy to judge your parents, but if you want to learn to be a man or woman of God you must learn from your parents. You must “process” your relationship with them – in other words – forgive them. Even if you can’t make them treat you better, let go of the bitterness. The sooner you can get over your bitterness, frustration, resentment, the sooner you will mature into the man or woman God wants you to be. So suck it up, ask Jesus to forgive you and to help you, and then learn to show them love even if you feel like is none in return. Do hard things.

Mostly, grow in your walk with God. The teenage years are a time of finding out who you are. So find out who you are. Pursue different things. Figure out your beliefs, your view of God, your view of politics. Learn a trade or a skill of some kind. Become independent. Become your own man. Become your own woman. “Stand on your own two feet.” This is all good. This is all natural. But then take that independence and from that place of maturity and strength, be a blessing to those around you. Bless and give and enrich others. And start first with your parents. How can you show them you really care? How can you love them with thoughtfulness and sacrifice? Think about it and then act on it.