Pastor Miles began this week's message by briefly recounting the story of Daniel.
After being kidnapped as a child and taken to Babylon, Daniel grew to become a confidant of the king. In a plot to remove Daniel from his influential position, his enemies passed a law saying that it was illegal to pray to any god or man other than King Darius for 30 days.
Daniel 6:10 says, Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.
In this story, Daniel is an example to all of us-if we practice our faith daily, then when it gets challenged we will be faithful to continue to follow the path God has set for us.
Back in our continuing study of Mark, chapter 14 includes the narrative of much of Christ's last days on Earth, including the last supper. It's here, in Mark 14:18, where Jesus predicts Judas' betrayal. In this case, Pastor Miles explains, Judas' betrayal of Christ leads him to suffer permanent consequences when he commits suicide.
Although it looks different, we betray Christ every day when we don't acknowledge him as God, when we don't correct those who recognize Jesus as only a good teacher, or when we take a relativistic stance by saying that other religions are valid paths to salvation.
The truth is that all disciples stumble. Even Peter, the rock of Jesus' church, denied Christ three times. When Jesus predicted this, Peter reacted the way any of us would, I will never disown you he said in verse 27. Yet, just like Peter, we often disown Jesus when we think it will save us from embarrassment, isolation, or ridicule. We say the wrong thing or we avoid the right thing, but even these have consequences in our lives.From the example of Peter's denial of Christ described in Mark 14:66-72, Pastor Miles points out three ways that we can work to perfect the practice of our faith.
1. Practice defending your faith by regularly explaining what you believe.
In Peter's first denial of Christ, he claims ignorance.
Mark 14:66-68 says while Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. "You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus," she said. But he denied it. "I don't know or understand what you're talking about," he said, and went out into the entryway.
In order to avoid repeating Peter's denial, we have the responsibility to not only be clear on what we believe, but to be able to confidently tell others. 1 Peter 3:15 calls us to always be ready to give an account for the hope we have.
Pastor Miles reminds us that the best way to be ready is to practice. He told a story about practicing football in the street when he was a kid, his dad calling plays and throwing passes in the street until it was too dark to see the ball. After the playing was over, Pastor Miles practiced the post-game interview, his father holding a pencil as a microphone and asking him questions about his performance.
As Christians, being prepared to share our faith is the most important thing we can be prepared for. Pastor Miles recommended that we begin by interviewing each other. If we first become comfortable giving our answers to someone whom we know when they challenge us, then we can move with confidence into practicing with strangers. Asking a stranger on the airplane if they mind giving us an opportunity to practice talking about Jesus is a great way to begin sharing the gospel.
Jesus had predicted that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed twice. It's not an accident that after Peter's first denial, the rooster crowed for the first time. This was God's warning to Peter that his actions were taking him down the wrong path. What ways does the rooster crow in our own lives when we are choosing to sin? When you call and no one answers, or when someone is not home, these things are often God's way of warning us away from the sin we are pursuing. But, like Peter, we often ignore the warning.
2. Practice being a faithful friend by being accountable to someone for your faith.
Peter's second denial is that he is one of the disciples.Mark 14:69-70a says when the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, "This fellow is one of them." Again he denied it.
Oftentimes people don't want to be associated with certain perceptions of what it means to be a Christian. We hide our faith so that our friends and co-workers won't think that we're one of those born-again bible-beaters. Sometimes we hide our faith so that others won't assume that we belong to a certain political party. Pastor Miles reminds us, however, that there are people of all kinds inside the church and outside. The only way we can honestly represent Christ to people is if we are honest about who we are, as individuals and as Christians.
One of the best ways to combat the urge to distance yourself from the church is to build loving relationships with other Christians. By having friends that actively support your efforts to be more godly, while you actively support them, you can grow to be more effective in avoiding sin and living in God's will.
3. Practice the presence of God in your life pursuing a daily God experience.
To allow yourself to be transformed by God, church should not be the only part of your faith. Pastor Miles warns us that it shouldn't even be the biggest part of the practice of our faith. Church is for learning, fellowship, and worship, but it will not get you ready for the challenges of a strong faith. Like Daniel, the practice of our faith should be daily and unquestionably important.
In closing, Pastor Miles returns to the consequences of our sin. Christians are not like Judas-we don't have to pay with our lives as he did. At the same time, we will stumble and there will be consequences. The everyday stumbles in our lives determine how significant our sin is and how significant the consequences will be. For Peter, the consequence was his own guilt:
Mark 14:70b-72 says after a little while, those standing near said to Peter, "Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean." He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, "I don't know this man you're talking about." Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times." And he broke down and wept.
In the end, we need to practice strengthening our faith every day with both God and people, so that when our faith is challenged we don't stumble.
Next week: Quiz on the Book of Mark