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“Faithful Fathering: From Consumer to Committed”

Father’s Day - June 17, 2012 Mk 9:14-29


Our congregational meeting last Sunday featured some healthy discussion about what type of space we need in which to meet, and by which to minister to our community. Some have wondered whether people are just driving on by Sunday mornings because we’re meeting in a school and so don’t match their traditional expectations of “church” – that is, in the shape of our building, not having pews, or lots of options for children’s programs that larger, more established churches can offer. For parents that are out church-shopping, looking for a traditional worship-feel and an organization that will completely look after their children’s every need, we may not be what they’re looking for! But should we be worried about catering to such a “consumer”? A mindset that wants you to “do it all for me” risks fostering a powerless, immature quasi-Christian who sits back and abdicates their responsibility toward their children. They may feel they can ‘farm out’ that duty – that their responsibility for their kids’ spiritual development ends once they get them inside the church door. The extreme form of this is those parents who used to drop off their kids for Sunday School and pick them up after, but never attend either Sunday School or worship themselves. Their own non-involvement speaks volumes to their offspring. Kids are smart: they interpret this to mean, “Dad’s only bringing me because he figures it’s good for me, but not for him.” What do such kids do when they’re too old for Sunday School? They ‘graduate’ out of church life altogether. So lots of rural churches are closing their doors permanently because parents have failed to convince their kids of the importance of a real, credible, relationship with God; a relationship that takes time to be nurtured on Sundays, and individually and in one’s family the rest of the week.
    God doesn’t want “consumers”; He’s looking for the “committed” who are willing to trust Him, know Him, obey Him, and give themselves for Christ and His Kingdom. In today’s lesson, we see Jesus challenge a “consumer” dad to become a committed, faith-driven father instead.


We can learn something about faithfulness and fathering by looking at the context for today’s passage. This is the time during which Jesus was preparing the disciples for the final ‘push’ to Jerusalem. Once in each chapter of Mark 8, 9, and 10, He predicts His approaching suffering, death, and resurrection at the hands of the Jewish leaders. Three predictions – repeated for emphasis’ sake. Following each prediction, there’s a misunderstanding by the disciples, and further teaching by Jesus on what the implications of the cross are for our own personal lives – the commitment it’s going to call for from us, the ‘cost of discipleship’.
    Before Jesus dies, it seems God the Father wants to pull back the curtain a bit and give a very few of the disciples a “sneak peak” of who Jesus really is. So at the beginning of Mark 9 we find Christ taking Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. Then in the so-called “transfiguration”, the Father seems to be authorizing and honouring the Son for the big task just ahead. We dads can take a few pointers based on what the heavenly Father does for Jesus in these few, exceptional verses. How does the Father “commit” Himself to the project? What does He give to His dear offspring? How does the Father ‘bless’ the Son?
    To start with, there’s a beautifying, glorifying, adorning or enrobing. Mark records, “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” (Mr 9:3)
    Next, there’s an endorsing or honouring. Mark says Elijah and Moses, two very famous Old Testament prophets, appeared and were talking with Jesus. It really honoured Jesus that the renowned spiritual giants would show up to meet with Him.
    And verse 7 is packed with significance. God’s voice came from the cloud saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; listen to Him!” There’s ownership, claiming as one’s own: “This is my Son!” One can almost imagine a beaming, proud parent pointing out their own child - “That’s MY boy!”
    Also, affirming - the words, “whom I LOVE.” What child doesn’t crave to hear that from their parent? To know and hear it expressed that you’re dear to your father or mother.
    And the heavenly Father authorizes Jesus the Son for significance. He adds the words, “Listen to Him!” God knows humans’ lives will run best when we make Jesus our prime authority figure, incorporating His teaching into our thought-life and goals, submitting to His truth. He is the “author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2), the beginner and completer of our walk with God. Listen to Him, let His teaching shape your life, your values, your goals.
    So, here in the transfiguration, you have an example of one Father (God, in this case!) getting it right in empowering and supporting and commissioning His Son. A dad that believes in His Child and is “there” for Him – expressing confidence in Him in the face of upcoming trials.


Now, what happens next must be quite a contrast for Jesus. With the tones and approval of His heavenly Father’s powerful voice still echoing in His ears, Christ descends the mountain with the three disciples only to find shrill, contentious voices arguing – some of them His own disciples. What’s happened? V18b, a man asked the disciples to drive out the spirit that causes his son to fall down and have convulsions, but they couldn’t. They were STUMPED. Something was blocking the healing and deliverance from occurring – even though back in chapter 6(13) the same disciples, sent out by Jesus on a preaching mission, “drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.”
    Besides, God’s servants were being SLANDERED. Mark says in v14 the teachers of the law were “arguing” with the disciples. Robinson suggests, “They gleefully nagged and quizzed them.” John MacArthur comments that the unbelieving scribes “were no doubt gloating over the disciples’ failure.” Faithlessness leads to God’s work being hindered, and His people slandered, criticized, scorned. When we are stumped by unbelief, the Enemy rather enjoys our defeat.
    And there are SCARS. The boy’s dad describes several consequences of the boy’s possession; it’s more than just medical, as Jesus makes clear in v25 when He addresses the spirit directly. The dad calls it in v17 “a spirit that has robbed him of speech.” In 25 Jesus calls it a “deaf and mute spirit” so it seems the boy’s hearing was affected, too. V18, the dad explains that when the spirit seizes him, “it throws him to the ground.He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid.” This introduced another set of dangers; v22, “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him.”
    Even normal, healthy kids can get into enough danger on their own. Once we had to rush Meredith to the London Children’s Hospital when a bee sting caused her eye and face to swell. Now that we have grandchildren, there has been the odd trip to emergency when they ingested something dangerous. You have to keep an eye on children to guard them from danger. Imagine how much harder it would be if they were possessed by a demon that was out to harm them by making them fall in fire or water! The burns and scars; the endless anxiety of making sure they didn’t drown. The constant concern about seizures, so serious that one “foams at the mouth” and gnashes teeth and becomes “rigid” (18). Thinking about this, one starts to really sympathize with this poor father there in front of Jesus. And sure enough, when the spirit saw Jesus, it promptly threw the little lad into a convulsion, rolling around in the dirt, such that a crowd started to gather.
    Such are the effects of faithlessness upon this “unbelieving generation” as Jesus calls it (19): being stumped, slandered, and scarred.


The man comes to Jesus as a consumer with dubious trust. V18, “I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit...”  Sometimes the ‘consumer’ side of us may be tempted to treat God like a vending machine: we put in the request and take out what we want.  But if other people always treated YOU that way, you would pretty soon feel ‘used’ and devalued, treated as if it were expected of you, that they were entitled to have you serve them. Treating God like that attempts to puts us over Him – when religion becomes mechanical, no ‘faithing’ element to the relationship.
    The man adds in v22, “IF You can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” The way this is asked suggests doubt as to whether Jesus actually has the power or ability to do anything about the boy’s problem. The disciples certainly haven’t been able to; maybe this man’s coming has been a waste of time? Maybe he’ll be stuck with a son doing this the rest of his short life?
    Doubt is disastrous when it comes to spiritual matters. Faith and trust are what’s needed when you’re dealing with the Lord. Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” James (1:6-8) notes, “But when [a person seeking wisdom from God] asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” DOUBT makes us DOUBle-minded.
    Note that this man’s statement is quite different from that of the leper in Mark 1:40: “A man with leprosy came to [Jesus] and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’” There Jesus was filled with compassion, touched him and said, “I am willing; be clean!” The leper said “If you are willing, you can...” Whether Jesus was ABLE to heal him was never questioned in the leper’s mind; it was just a matter of Jesus’ willingness. But here in 9:22, the epileptic’s father definitely says, “If you CAN do anything...”
    Jesus picks up on this right away. This man doesn’t only have a son with sickness-problem; he himself has a heart with a sin-problem, namely unbelief. His god is too small. 9:23, “"‘If you can’?" said Jesus."Everything is possible for him who believes."”
    That is a radical statement that sets Biblical faith apart from numerous other belief-systems. Other religions may resign themselves to disease and unjust systems by shrugging their shoulders and saying, “It is the will of Allah,” or you’re born into a certain state of humiliation because “it’s your karma”. But the person who trusts in Jesus knows with resurrection-surety that “all things are possible”. Elsewhere, Jesus promised - Matthew 21:22: “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” To Martha objecting about the idea of opening the tomb where her brother has been lying dead and decaying in the heat for 4 days, Jesus responds, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (Jn 11:40) Then occurs the great miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. Faith is crucial!
    V24 has the father’s response which shows he’s starting to make the move from ‘consumer’ to ‘committed’: “Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"” To translate it more literally, “I believe; help my unbelief!” He’s no longer stand-offish, saying “do this for me on my terms”; he’s getting involved, ready to commit, to admit his spiritual poverty and need for God’s help.
    In response to such commitment and honesty, limited in faith though it may be, God grants a miraculous healing. Vv25-27, Jesus commands the spirit to come out; the spirit convulsed the boy violently and left him like a corpse, prompting bystanders to say, “He’s dead.” But Jesus takes him by the hand, and lifts him to his feet. Perhaps a hint or premonition here of Jesus’ own death and resurrection, not so long hence. As at Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus vividly proves His power and victory over death. Faith is not unfounded!
    The last couple of verses reveal a private dialogue between the disciples and their Master about why they were unable to drive out the evil spirit. He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” When we pray, we cast ourselves totally on God’s grace, mercy, and power; faith issues or finds voice in prayer. By praying we’re showing that we’re relying on God not our own strength. In the parallel account of the same incident in Matthew 17(20), Jesus responds to their question of why they couldn’t exorcise the demon, “Because you have so little faith.I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Another way of putting what we heard in Mk 9:23, “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
    Later, James (5:15) reminded the church, “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.”


The ‘consumer society’ does tempt us to develop a ‘consumer mentality’ – to see how we can get the most value out of product or organization X for our investment. But Christianity works the other way around; there’s more blessing in GIVING than in getting (Acts 20:35). Faith is the means by which we give of ourselves, entrust all we have and are to the Lord, put our whole selves in. In recent years the national leadership team of EMCC has been promoting what they call the “7-fold way of following Jesus”. Here are a few of the statements that reflect commitment rather than consumerism. “I have begun to follow Jesus, and am depending on the Spirit of Jesus in my journey. I am being sent by Jesus to bless others and invite them to follow Him. I am learning to be like Jesus in my attitudes, behaviours, character. I am helping someone and someone is helping me to be a growing follower of Jesus.”
    President Phil Delsaut comments, “At the end of the day, I, as a follower of Jesus must own my responsibility for my journey with my Master...It is about ME following Jesus, not about what someone else tells me to do or does for me...It is the responsibility of parents to raise and teach their children, and it is the responsibility of a follower of Jesus to invite and help others to begin that journey too.As parents we appreciate the support of school and church but we must not let either supplant us as parents...I cannot let the Church supplant my responsibility and my privilege of inviting others to begin that journey with Jesus.There is no ‘program’ that is as powerful and as attractive as Christ in me and Christ in us the hope of glory.”
    One of the largest EMC churches in Canada is Centre Street Church in Calgary. A couple of years ago they revamped their goals to include 14 initiatives, including these two: “We will move from the church taking responsibility for causing individual spiritual growth to happen to helping people take responsibility for their own growth through practising spiritual habits.We will move from the church carrying the responsibility for the ‘discipling’ of children to equipping parents to disciple their children.”
    How about in your own spiritual journey? Are you a ‘consumer’ or ‘committed’, owning responsibility for your relationship with Jesus? For those who are parents, dads in particular: do you look to the church to disciple your kids FOR you as a consumer, OR have you accepted that coaching them through their spiritual adventure is primarily YOUR responsibility as a parent? Once you realize that, it’s bound not to be too long before you’re crying out for God’s help like the dad in the story – “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”


For a long time, the famous tightrope walker Blondin has been a favourite illustration for preachers on the subject of faith. In one version he carried a man on his back; in another, he pushed a wheelbarrow along the tightrope across the chasm. The crowd said they were sure he could carry someone across in the wheelbarrow, but when Blondin asked for a volunteer, no one stepped forward. That’s the difference between believing “that” and believing “in” - you’ve got to commit, give yourself despite the risk. Eventually I understand Blondin’s own mother made the ride in the wheelbarrow!
    This past Friday, tightrope walker Nik Wallenda, 33, crossed 200 feet above the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara on a 2" cable, some 1800 feet long. He has six Guinness records. Wallenda is a born-again Christian; how does he stay calm on the wire? By talking to God, quoting scripture, and praying. He puts his faith into practice.
    A side note in the news article caught my attention. It described his children’s confidence in their father’s ability. The article stated that his 3 children are normally so comfortable with what he does that he once spied his two boys playing Nintendo games whil he walked 200 feet above them over the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh! They were so certain he could do it that they went on with other pastimes.
    How confident are we in our Heavenly Father’s ability to carry out His purposes? Are we like the dad in the story, saying to Jesus with a doubtful tone, “IF you can do anything...?” Or can we trust God completely, citing His promise, “Everything is possible for the one who believes”? (9:23) Our children, or (if you’re not a parent) others that we may have invited to journey with Jesus, will surely notice! Let’s pray.