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Which Denomination is the Best?

In my last post, I talked about the path to leadership in the kingdom of God.  It requires a servant’s heart.  Today, Jesus will continue teaching along those lines with His disciples.

He took a little child and had him stand among them.  Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
Mark 9:36-37

We need to understand what the Lord is talking about in this passage.  In the past, I’ve heard it misapplied all over the place.

Jesus is talking to His disciples.  These are the people He has set apart for the leadership of the church.  They were also specifically chosen to minister to Israel – God’s covenant people (Matthew 10:5-6).  So the Lord is talking about receiving a covenant child in His name.

As the disciples are listening to Him, they have an “Aha! moment”.  They realize that Jesus is not just talking about physical children.  They’re beginning to understand His teaching style.  They apply what He says to an incident that recently happened to them.

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
Mark 9:38

They remember telling someone to stop driving out demons in the name of Jesus.  But their reasoning is important to us.  The Greek verse literally says that the disciples told him to stop because he did not follow us.

Notice that it wasn’t because he didn’t follow Christ, but that he didn’t follow the disciples.  We know from the last post that they had a high opinion of themselves.  After all, they gave up everything to follow Christ.  This man, who was driving out demons, didn’t.

On the other hand, even though he didn’t give up everything to follow Jesus, he had the evidence of the power of God operating in his ministry.  He also must have understood a lot of the Lord’s teachings.  People were being delivered as he preached Christ.

This is where we are at our point in history.  Many Christian denominations are a part of the spiritual landscape before us.  What did the Lord say about this?

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said.  “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.  I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.”
Mark 9:39-41

By saying this, Jesus has settled the matter of denominations.  Do all of them follow Christ to the same degree?  Obviously not.  But that’s not the issue.  The question is; are they operating in the name of Jesus?

Jesus is telling His disciples that you don’t have to be a super-apostle, trained by Jesus Christ, Himself, in order to get a reward.  If you’ve trusted Christ for your salvation, and your calling is as simple as giving water to someone, you’ll have a reward for fulfilling that calling.

We may not all be in the same denomination, but we must all receive each other in the name of Jesus Christ.

Question: How have you learned to respect other believers who don’t worship as you do?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

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Posted by on April 20, 2018 in Fellowship, Leadership, Ministry, The Church

 

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Servants First

What do you think is the best path to leadership in the kingdom of God?  There was a principle of leadership that Jesus had to get across to His disciples.  After all, they were going to be leading the church after His ascension.

They left that place and passed through Galilee.  Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples.  He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.  They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”  But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
Mark 9:30-32

As Jesus approaches the time of the cross, He spends more alone time with His disciples.  He needs to prepare them for the challenges ahead.  Part of this was to instruct them about the cross.  He was going to suffer, die, and then rise from the dead three days later.

The disciples just couldn’t grasp what the Lord was trying to get across to them.  But now, after Peter’s rebuke, they were afraid to ask the Lord to explain it.

As they walked along, the disciples started to debate something among themselves.  I’m sure that it got pretty heated.

They came to Capernaum.  When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
Mark 9:33-34

This argument probably started with, “What if Jesus were to die?  Who would be in charge of this group?”  I’m sure that Peter, James, and John all thought that they were eminently qualified.  That is until Jesus shared His views with them.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
Mark 9:35

The Lord explains that the true path to leadership is through servanthood.  That’s something that we have a hard time grasping in the church these days.

Jesus is our prime example.  The disciples were arguing over who was greatest, right after Jesus told them His plan.  He became Lord of all creation.  But the path He took involved laying down His life – serving – all of humanity.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:5-8

I think that it’s funny the way we get into leadership in our generation.  If someone wants to be a pastor or teacher, they go to a Bible college for years.  Then they graduate and send their resumes to churches.  A lot of them will get voted in and installed as pastors having never served in ministry.

I think that’s why there’s such a high burn-out rate in the ministry.  We haven’t learned that the path to knowing your calling is service in the kingdom.  Without being a true servant, there’s no way of understanding the needs of those you’re leading.

That was the path that Christ took.  It hasn’t changed.  The Father is looking for qualified servants to lead His people.  Don’t ever look down on that season of your life.  Enjoy your call to servanthood.

Question: How are you called to serve in God’s kingdom?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2018 in Leadership, Ministry, The Church

 

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Prayer and Fasting – A Foundation for Faith

Did you know that waiting for a problem to arise before you strengthen your faith is a bad idea?  Too many people only press into God and His Word when their back is against the wall.  Jesus teaches that the time to prepare is well before you need a breakthrough.

In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9 and verses 14-29, we see what happened as Jesus and His three closest disciples were coming down from the mountain of transfiguration.  You may want to read that passage in the Bible before continuing in this post.

It seems that they walked into a storm of controversy.  A crowd had formed around the other disciples.  Bedlam had broken out.

There was a demon possessed boy whose father had brought him to them for deliverance.  They tried everything they knew, yet the demon would not leave.  Jesus’ response to all of this is important for us to see.

“O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you?  How long shall I put up with you?  Bring the boy to me.”
Mark 9:19

The implication of what the Lord is saying here is, “How long will I have to be in this nation trying to turn you around?”  It sounds like Jesus is swimming against the flow, in a river of humanity.

The only way for Israel to get back on track is to trust in the Messiah.  Unfortunately, they want to continue in their unbelief.  Their “faith” is based on what they think is possible.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered.  “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him.  But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Mark 9:21-24

Mark makes it clear that the main issue is about faith and unbelief.  It’s not about spiritual authority or how loud you can yell at the demon.  How deeply you trust the Lord is at the heart of the matter.

The Gospel writer wants us to see, through this event in the life of Christ, how to grow in our faith.  The point of this story is to understand how to overcome my unbelief.  That’s where the disciples are headed as the Lord continues His work with them.

Immediately, the Lord rebukes the demon and commands it to leave the boy.  The young man was delivered and set free from the demon from that day forward.  It seemed to be no problem for Jesus.

But the disciples still had some questions.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.”
Mark 9:28-29

Please understand that the demon doesn’t care whether or not you fast and pray.  Also, notice that Jesus didn’t tell the man, “Bring the boy to me in a week.  I need to fast and pray before I can deliver him.”

Jesus is answering the question of unbelief.  Fasting and prayer should be the lifestyle of a mature believer.  Fasting and prayer are what drives out the unbelief of our fleshly nature.  It opens us up to the manifestation of God’s supernatural power.

Follow the example of Jesus.  Walk before God by regularly setting times of fasting and prayer.  Then you’ll see your unbelief start to fade and a greater capacity for the miraculous.

Question: How have you seen the effects of fasting and prayer in your spiritual life?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
 

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Understanding Brings More Questions

Have you ever noticed that the more you understand Scripture and your spiritual walk, the more questions you seem to have?  That’s normal.  Even the disciples of Christ experienced it.

In my last post, three of the disciples went with Jesus up a mountain and saw Him transfigured into His heavenly glory.  Then the Lord explained to them about His coming death and resurrection.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.
Mark 9:9-10

Of course, looking back to this time, the phrase “rising from the dead” seems pretty simple to understand.  That’s especially true since Jesus had already started preparing all of His disciples on this subject.

I think the problem is that none of them wanted to believe that the way to our salvation was for Jesus to physically die.  They were in denial about the literal meaning of what the Lord was saying.

But as they were discussing this, more questions were arising.

And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”
Mark 9:11

I think that’s funny.  They couldn’t accept the literal teaching that Jesus had to die.  And yet, they couldn’t grasp that Elijah’s appearing was symbolically fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist.  It’s amazing the way our minds work.

We always think along the lines that are most comfortable for us.  That’s why if we don’t like what a passage of Scripture is saying, we ask for peoples’ opinions about it.  Then, we go with the explanation that disturbs us the least.

Jesus answers their questions – both the spoken and unspoken ones.

Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things.  Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?  But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.”
Mark 9:12-13

The Lord takes the time to explain about His ministry and the ministry of John the Baptist.  Why is this important to us?

I think that too many times we’re under the impression that you can never question God.  We’re told not to ask Him about what’s going on in our lives.  They say that it shows a lack of faith.

On the contrary, I see in the life of Christ a willingness to answer the tough questions.  We serve a big God.  He’s not intimidated by anything we may ask.

Of course, attitude is everything.  I’m talking about asking with a humble heart.  I’ve received answers to these types of prayers.

“Lord, why am I going through this?  Is there something in me that needs to change?”

“What do I need to do to grow in your grace?  How can I be more like You, Jesus?”

I’ve found that God usually answers these prayers.  But you have to be willing to accept whatever He tells you…even if it’s uncomfortable.

It blesses me to know that the Lord wants a conversational relationship with His children.

Question: What have you learned from asking God questions?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2018 in Prayer, Spiritual Walk, Word of God

 

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The Mountaintop Experience

So many people are hungering to see a manifestation of the power of God.  That’s the Lord’s will for us as well.  It’s something that you have to seek and pursue.  Jesus told His disciples about it.

And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”
Mark 9:1

Three of the disciples were about to witness the power and glory of the kingdom of God.  The Lord was taking them on a special trip.

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone.  There he was transfigured before them.  His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.  And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Mark 9:2-4

Many times during His ministry, Jesus would go off by Himself to a remote location and pray.  He would spend time in the Father’s presence, hearing what His next assignment would be.

Now, the Lord takes His three closest disciples with Him up a mountain.  They are about to learn from a mountaintop experience.  It should speak to us as well.

The first key to a mountaintop experience is the fact that they were all alone.  There were no distractions.  They could concentrate on what was happening with Jesus.  We need to get to that place of an unhindered focus on the Lord and what He’s speaking to us.

It was in that place that they had a revelation of the glory which Christ possessed from eternity past.  That’s the defining characteristic of a mountaintop, at least in Scripture.  It’s all about clarity of vision.  You can suddenly see clearly what God wants you to see.

When you’re on top of a mountain, above the tree line, you have an unobstructed view in all directions.  You can see clearly both where you came from, and where you’re going to.  And even more than that, you get a fresh revelation of Christ.

In that place, you have a greater understanding of who Jesus is and what He wants to accomplish in you.  It’s a place of spiritual clarity.

The disciples didn’t know how to handle it.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.  Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
Mark 9:5-6

Here we see one of the biggest problems of our flesh in the Lord’s presence.  Why do we always think that we need to say or do something?  Why can’t we just stay quiet, listen for His voice, and drink in His Spirit?

We need to learn to just be still in the Holy Spirit’s presence.  It’s what the Father told the disciples.

Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to him!”
Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
Mark 9:7-8

If we will quiet our hearts before God, we could have this type of mountaintop experience.  Not with our physical eyes, but in the spirit.

The results are well worth it.  We will “no longer see anyone but Jesus.”  That’s the change that can only happen in the spirit.

Question: Have you ever had a mountaintop experience and what did you learn from it?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 

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The Cross in Our Generation

In my last post, we saw Jesus explaining to His disciples the need to give up their human, fleshly way of thinking.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Mark 8:34

Remember, the Lord had just called Peter an accuser and told him to “get behind me.”  Now Jesus uses that exact same word and says “if anyone would get behind me…”  Getting behind Jesus, following Him, requires taking up your cross.

What does Jesus mean by this?  I’ve heard people use it in a lot of different ways.  Sometimes they’ll use this term in talking about an ongoing illness, or even their spouse.

“That’s just my cross that I have to bear.”

Is that what it’s all about?  I don’t think so.  Carrying a cross is a sign that you’re about to die.  Very soon you’re going to be laying down your life.

In the next few verses, Jesus makes it clear what He’s talking about.

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Mark 8:35-37

The Lord is speaking about giving up the temporary in order to gain the eternal.  The word, life, that He uses here is the actual word for soul.  It’s the seat of who you are as a person; your personality, likes, dislikes, desires, and experiences.

We have to lay all of that down if we’re going to experience God’s destiny for our lives.  That’s the only place where we can experience true fulfillment.  It’s the kind of life where we can look back a million years from today and say that it was all worth it.

But there’s more to it than just that.  There’s a tougher part that needs to be laid down.

“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Mark 8:38

I believe that this speaks directly to where we are as God’s people at this point in history.  The word, generation, could also mean a people group.  So Jesus is talking about being ashamed of what He does or says in the midst of an adulterous people group.

Hear what He’s saying.  In order to be adulterous, you have to be in a covenant relationship.  The Lord isn’t talking about the unsaved here.  He’s talking about those who want to follow Him within a church that’s following after the world’s way of living.

There’s a huge segment of the church today that’s ashamed of what Christ does and says in the Scripture.

“Oh, no, we don’t talk about that subject in our church.  We don’t want to offend anybody.”

I thought that the Good News of Christ is that we are headed in the wrong direction – eternity separated from God because of our lifestyle.  But now because of what Christ did on the cross, we can be reconciled to God and CHANGED by the power of the Holy Spirit placed within us.

Father God, I pray that you give your people the boldness to proclaim Your message and to accomplish Your work.

Question: How have you experienced shame over the ministry or teachings described in Scripture?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2018 in Ministry, Revival, Spiritual Walk, The Gospel

 

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Getting Behind Christ

As we continue to study the Gospel of Mark, we see the Lord bringing His disciples to a deeper level of knowledge about Himself.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.  He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
Mark 8:31-32

Jesus began to explain to the disciples that the Messiah must undergo rejection by Israel.  Then, He needed to die on the cross, be buried and three days later, rise from the dead.

Peter was obviously upset by this.  He was so taken back by hearing about the Lord’s death that he totally missed the part about rising from the dead.  He began to rebuke Jesus for His “negative confession.”

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 things of God, but the things of men.”
Mark 8:33

No, Peter was not possessed by the devil at this time.  The Greek word, satan, means accuser.  Jesus was not calling Peter the devil, but describing his actions.  (Actually, the devil would have enjoyed seeing Jesus die.)

In his statement, Peter was accusing Jesus of being out of the will of God for his life.  Peter was placing himself on the same level as Christ, telling Him what He should be doing.

That’s why the Lord told him to get behind me.  In other words, you’re not my peer; get back in line following me where you belong.  He explained that Peter was not thinking like God thinks, but like men think.

Jesus took this as a teachable moment.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

“What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Mark 8:34-38

Christ makes it clear that in following Him, we have to give up our fleshly, human way of thinking.  Ministry in the kingdom of God is not based on what I think is best for God.  It’s about what He thinks is best.

Too often we’re guilty of giving God our opinion of what should be done.  Then, we run off with our plans and seek God’s blessing on it.  We then get frustrated wondering why it has no effect.

Instead, we need to seek the Holy Spirit to change the way we think.  We need our minds to be renewed.  Because if I can think the way God does, then I’m going to want His perfect will.

This is important.  I won’t need to seek His will; I’ll know it because I want what He wants.  Then it will be blessed – not because I prayed for God to bless it, but because it’s already anointed by God.

That’s why we need to spend quality time in the Lord’s presence.  But not spending all our time seeking things and answers to problems.  We must desire to know Him better – His thoughts, His will, and His heartbeat.

Question: What’s the difference between seeking God’s will and seeking God’s heart?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 

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