Friday, January 30, 2009

Romans 6 -- Freedom to Follow

Should we continue to sin all the more that God's grace may be more evident? This is the question Paul begins this section of his letter to the Romans with. The answer seems to be pretty obvious, yet all too often we seem to function differently. In my days at Houghton when headed out and about for an evening of not much good, we would half jokingly and half serious say we were going to build a testimony. In other words we were going to conduct ourselves in ways that allowed more of God's grace to be shown.

As obvious as it is, that is not what the grace of God is for and that is not the intended purpose. The Grace of God is poured out so that we might exchange what we follow. Prior to realizing and accepting God's grace, it is there even if we do not know it, we followed after many things. For the sake of time I will call them worldly desires. We lived, still do, in a world where more is always better. If I can gain just a little more than I have then I will be happy. So why would this not hold true with God's grace? This reveals our faulty thinking. God's grace is not given out in little doses, it is all there all the time. The amount of grace in our lives does not ebb and flow like the tides, it is a matter of what we are following.

The power of grace is seen in forgiveness certainly, however, the greatest work of grace is seen as we continue to live our lives. Grace offers freedom from the ways of the world in exchange for freedom in the ways of God. Paul uses the language of slavery here, that we were slaves to sin, and through grace we can be slaves to God. I think our contextual understanding of a slave hurts our understanding. I prefer to use the image of a follower. We all follow something, and what we follow informs our decisions. God's grace declares freedom so that we may follow God.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Romans 5 -- The Sin Problem

Quite possibly the oldest doctrine of the Christian tradition is found dealing with the issue of sin. From early on in the Biblical record sin is a part of the struggle of humanity. Over the centuries many have interacted with sin in different ways. Paul wrote trying to find a balance between the antinominalist, those who say because of God's grace we can do whatever we want, and the legalists, who were giving us a list of do's and don'ts. In the end sin must be dealt with.

So what are we to do? We cannot deny the presence of sin on our world, yet we cannot be consumed with it. When we are consumed by sin we easily find ourselves there. When we are consumed by sin it becomes easy to think the only reason Jesus came to this earth was to eradicate sin. Cleansing of sin was certainly a crucial part of the ministry of Christ, but it was not the whole reason for the earthly pilgrimage. Still it cannot be ignored.

Is it possible that in the process of reconciling our sin, there is more than a legal transaction? Could it be that the work of transformation begins. Not transformation from a sinner to a saint, but the transformation from sinner to reconciled sinner patterning a life after the One who offers forgiveness. Sin is not simply a matter of making us unclean, it is a matter of creating a rupture in the relationship between God and creation.

Adam and Eve may have had the distinction of the first ones to sin. They certainly are not the last. We do know however that once and for all the issue of sin has been dealt with through Jesus Christ. We must remember this is more than a legal transaction.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Romans 4 -- Righteousness

Romans 4 begins Paul's look at the servant Abraham. In fact for Paul, Abraham was more than a servant, he was the earthly Father of Israel. We are reminded it is not by our actions we receive faith, rather it is the work of God by which we receive faith. To illustrate this Paul uses that ever popular topic of circumcision.

Circumcision was instituted of God for all the people would would followers of God prior to Jesus Christ. The permanent altering of the body was meant to show the permanent altering which took place in a persons heart. It was an outward and visible sign of the inner relationship a person had with God, much like the sacrament of Baptism in today's church. However, it was not the act of circumcision which makes a person righteous before God, just like baptism is not the tool by which we become righteous. It is through the altering of our heart, the way we live and interact with others, which shows our true connection.

Circumcision was a part of the law which the Jewish people followed with great devotion. The struggle is found in trying to live up to all the rules and regulations. Plain and simple, it is not possible to live out 100% of the law, 100% of the time. If we are depending on following the rules to provide our righteous standing with God, we are tragically doomed. It is through the grace of God, offered to us in Jesus Christ that brings about of righteous standing with God. Anything short of the God's grace through Jesus, will come up short.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Romans 3 -- Who's In and Who's Out

As I continue to read through the book of Romans I find it amazing the struggle humanity has had regarding the matter of who belongs to God and who does not. By no means is this simply a contemporary issue. For centuries, long before Christ graced us with his presence, there has been a battle to clearly define who is in and who is out. It is not wonder those outside of the church only see the church as a place of exclusion, because for centuries that is the sad legacy which we bring.

Paul speaks to the church in Rome and to us when he warns quite strongly against such infighting. With the words of one of the more famous passages of Scripture Paul declares all of us have fallen short or the measure God has put in front of us (paraphrase of Rom 3:23). There is a great equalizer which exists in our world, and it is sin. To some it might be heresy to say but everyone, even the Pope has sin in their lives. That means short of Jesus Christ we all miss out on the fullness of life God calls us to.

I wonder what would happen if the church of Jesus Christ spend as much time, energy, effort and resources focusing on what brings us together as it does on what separates us? Would it be possible to recognize that all of us have some faulty understandings of God and what it means to be a follower of God? It matters not our political leanings, it matters not the label we have chosen or has been applied to us. What matters is that God is God and we are not. What matters is that Jesus Christ is the great equalizer, not the starting point of division. It is not our responsibility to determine who is a part of the Kingdom of God and who is not. Our responsibility is to be Christ to everyone, and let the only One who is just make the judgments.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Romans 2 -- What Really Matters

Romans 2 is a direct continuation of Romans 1, again the artificial numbering system can let us down. Many people read Romans 1, myself included, with great gusto ready to go out there and convict all those people who are making God angry. We finish reading Romans 1, close the book and head for the door. Before you get to the door, go back to the book and read through Romans 2. We are the people listed in Romans 1 and the people listed in Romans 1 are us.

The list of does and don't is not what matters most. A life that has truly been transformed by God is what matters most. Paul has some harsh words for his fellow Jews regarding the law, and doing all the right activities with out the right heart. There is no need to be Jewish to fall pray to this. The only requirement is to have a pulse. Actions are easier because they can be measures and checked off a list. The condition of the heart can only be known by One, and the condition of the heart is what really matters.

Isaiah convicts the people of God, Israel, for drawing close to God with their mouths but having their hearts far from God. That conviction applies to my life all too often, and I am guessing I am not alone. It is much easier to use words to engage a pursuit to rid the world of sinful evil doers who are bent on bringing the wrath of God upon humanity. The more difficult role is to allow God to be God, and allow our hearts to be shaped and molded by the very hand and work of God. We should be encouraging each other to steer clear of sin, and to highlight when it appears we might not be living up to the call of God in our lives. Still conviction alone belongs to the Holy Spirit.

This does not mean we allow anything, the libertine position. It means we should find a middle ground between there and legalism. That middle ground is found on the battleground of our own heart. Fighting against judgment and untransformed living, yielding to the work and breath of God offered through grace to all. That is what really matters.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Romans 1 -- Easy Mistakes

As we begin the new book, Romans, we make a dramatic shift in focus of the writer. In the Gospel of Mark the writer was focusing on telling what happened in Jesus' life and the corresponding choices we must make. For Romans Paul, the writer, is not as concerned with telling us who Jesus is, and how Jesus lives, as he is concerned with how we conduct our lives as individuals and as the Body of Christ in light of the mission of Christ.

Romans 1 is a chapter full of great information that can be used for great harm the Body of Christ. Toward the end of the chapter Paul takes on the issues which create separation between humanity and God. Commonly this could be called sin, and God is not real excited about our sin. Through this section of Scripture Paul offers some listings of actions by people that cause the anger of the Lord to rise up. As he does this there is an easy mistake to be made. We can begin to see Paul's list as prescriptive. Meaning we see it as an exact listing of what is wrong and what is right. Clearly, there is right and wrong to be seen and discussed in this section. However, we must take great care as we explore what is at the heart of Paul's message.

Whenever we read the work of Paul we must remember Paul was not a theologian. While he was classically trained as a Pharisee, Paul does not function as a scholar outlining a systematic theology. Rather, Paul is a pastor who is writing to encourage the church to be the community of people God has called them to be. So when the list of things which cause the anger of the Lord to boil we must keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list, nor is it a universal list. It is a representative list is the types of things which cause us to be separate from God. Meaning if you are engaged in an activity which is not on the list, it does not mean you are totally in the clear. Those activities listed are apparently what was troubling the Roman church most.

It is nearly impossible to do justice to working with Romans 1 without addressing the issue of homosexuality. There are few issues more divisive in the church today. On both sides of the issue there is great passion about the rightness of the other side. Through this single issue the church has appeared to be more a place of hate than a place of love. So what are we to do with this issue? First, I believe the scriptures indicate homosexual activity is outside the bounds of what God would desire for humanity. In same breath all must remember we need not look far to find a corresponding activity in all our lives. Can I say 100% if homosexuality is in line with or against the will of God....No. I can share what I read in the scripture, and how I understand the teachings of God through the Scriptures. Additionally, I can share with you that in this issue we as humanity try to usurp the role of God. We are not to be in the management business, we are in the sales department. Let's let God sort out the details, and have us be concerned with how we live out our faith, lest we find ourselves on the Romans list.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mark 16 -- Resurrection

Well we made it. The first book of the New Testament has run its course. Here in the last chapter of Mark we have the story of Easter morning. The women went to the tomb to anoint Jesus. I find it interesting they were more concerned with the moving of the stone than they were with the thought of going into the tomb. Upon finding the tomb open, they just walk in, in a matter of fact kind of way. Now this may have been common in those days, however in my mind there is nothing common about walking into tombs. Then again the whole day was fairly uncommon. Jesus delivered on his word. This validated the whole thing.

It must be recognized there are many alternative stories of that morning. Some have said the disciples stole the body to create a false proof of Jesus teaching. Others said Jesus never really died. Still others have come up with all kinds of explanations about why Jesus was not in the tomb. At another time in another place those arguments can be examined, and debated. For the time being, we will focus on what the resurrection means for us.

The resurrection of Jesus means that out faith is not in vain. If Jesus is still in the tomb, if Jesus is simply dead, the messiah he was not. If Jesus is still dead, all the great miracles and teachings are important, however not the work of the incarnate God. If Jesus is in the tomb on that third day, the whole of Christianity is a farce. Having said that, the tomb could not hold Jesus, and therefore will not hold us. Jesus' absence from the tomb announces freedom to the captives, declares the door of freedom, justice and fullness of life has been flung wide open. That morning, like no other morning in all of creation, changed forever the course of history.

In the end, science cannot prove or disprove the resurrection. Theology cannot even pull off the task. No amount of study and thinking will bring us to a total conclusion. What it comes down to is do you believe.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mark 15 -- The Passion

Mark 15 holds what could be seen as the hallmark section of the Scriptures. We find the final earthly days of Jesus. Every time I read this section of Scripture I am amazed by the fact that Jesus never speaks defensively. In fact Jesus says very little. There is not doubt in my mind I would be speaking and speaking a lot. I would crying out for anyone to listen to my plea. Not Jesus. The standard religious answer is because he knew this was part of the plan of redemption and needed to go through with it. My wrestling won't let me go there.

Sure it helps when Jesus is fully human and fully God, but it seems like there should be more a defense mounted by Jesus. I have wondered if there was more of a defense, but no one was there to have a memory. I have wondered if the writers of the Gospel accounts wanted Jesus to be silent for dramatic effect. Close to the truth, I think, can be found in other Gospel accounts when Jesus reminds Pilot, and us, that no one can take his life from him, Jesus gives it up. There is a defense to be found, just not the one I am looking for. The defense of Jesus is found in the fact that He is offering himself as a sacrifice for all humanity. Not that we may receive salvation, while that is essential for a full relationship with God, rather that we might have the freedom to live the life Jesus showed us in his life.

The defense was already in place, it was the way he lived his earthly life. Now it was time for freedom to come, and for the course of history to be forever changed. Jesus breathed his last, and gave up his life for you and I.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mark 14 -- Bold Claim

One of my favorite movies all time, and I think one of the best movies ever to grace the big screen is Top Gun. This movie has everything. Screaming fighter jets, cool motorcycles, a love story, even the trials of death. In the midst of the movie the young and arrogant Tom Cruise is making some bold claims about his ability and doing some things outside the bounds of Navy protocol. This causes his superior to shout at him, "Your ego is writing checks your body can't cash!"

I think those words apply to Peter here in Mark 14. Jesus has just been anointed by the woman, he has just shared the Last Supper, and he is letting the disciples know that one of them will betray him. Peter steps to the plate first, as is Peter's tendency, and declares even if it means death he will not deny Christ. What a bold claim. I personally like the claim. Peter is putting it our there, and staking his claim with Jesus. Now if we have read the story before we know how it goes, but I love the devotion Peter shows. Jesus response is not at all what I expected. Instead of complementing Peter on his zeal and commitment, Jesus informs Peter that he will deny Jesus this very night.

How often is it that we make claims about how we are going to relate to God, only to come up short or different. There are times when I am thankful my claims were not realized because they were made with human passion and eyes. There are plenty of times however when I weep because of how short I fall of the passion God has placed within me. I tend to be a person of bold claims, and I am trying to be a person who sees those claims through.

What happens when we come up short? Usually feelings of failure, anger, disappointment and depression if we stay at that place too long. We need to see the life of Peter through. Peter is the one who God uses to initiate the church in Acts 2. Peter recovers. Our stumbles and short-comings, are not fatal. In spite of bold claims left unfulfilled, we can overcome, not by our strength, but by the One who calls us.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mark 13 -- Scenes From The End

At the outset of Mark 13 we have Jesus making one of those claims that is hard to figure out. They are gathered in the temple and the disciples are marveling at the size of the stone work. Jesus lets them know the building will be destroyed. Their response, confusion and question. Later in the day when they are at a distance from the temple, four of the disciples question Jesus about the timeline of the destruction. The answer given is Mark 13.

Essentially what Jesus tells the disciples and tells us is the exact timing and date do not really matter. What matters is, that we are ready when that day comes. Great. How in does one know if they are ready for such events? Over the past 50 years or more the popular way to tell if you were ready is to fulfill the checklist of activities. First, have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior. Then to move on to questions of discipline. Are you praying daily, are your reading scriptures daily, are your doing good works etc, the list can go on and on. The problem is, the list will always come up short.

Don't get me wrong, Faith in Jesus is the starting point, and prayer, study of scriptures, along with good works are important parts of our faith journey. They are false gods however if we only do them to check them off the list. The point of all these important moments and activities is not to pad a Christian resume. The point is they all enhance, inform and develop our relationship with God. Checklists are never the point, rather relationship is always the point.

There will come a time when the world as we know it will end. There are some clues in the scriptures about this time, yet we do not know the date and time. We do know we are told to be ready. How is it we are ready? By being deeply rooted in a love relationship, and living our loves are an outpouring of that relationship.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mark 12 -- What Does God Require

There are too many different accounts in this chapter to go through them all, so I thought I would look for some common threads. I find that all the accounts in the chapter have at the center one theme, what does God require of us. God expects us to tend the vineyard until his return, God expects us to obey civil law while giving to God all that belongs to God. God expects us to love God above all else and have that love for God be displayed in our love for each other. We are to trust God completely, with everything we have.

I know I have spend many hours and walked with others who were spending hours wrestling with the question of what God wants them to do. More than not for me it was a specific detail I was looking to solve. I would not get my answers because I was not caring for the ongoing relationship with God. God wants or requires that we give our whole life, and trust the outcome of God's leading. Jesus warns the religious leaders of confusing the issue. Trying to make unimportant things the focus. The reality is we all do that. Jesus calls us to focus on God with all that we are and have.

Quite simply, in whatever we do, God requires us to be faithful. God requires us to love Him more than anything or anyone else. However, this love is shown best in how we love those whom God brings across our path.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mark 11 -- What are You Holding?

Mark 11 brings with it a significant transition in this Gospel account. Jesus makes his "triumphant" entry to the city, goes on to cleanse the temple, and leaves. The religious leaders were once again planning on how they would kill Jesus, and the religious leaders were living in fear of the people because they had started to see Jesus as a prophet worth listening to.

The religious leaders were in quite a dilemma. The had repeatedly condemned the work of Jesus in public. They knew if what Jesus was teaching they were in trouble, and their whole livelihood was at stake. The were planning how to kill Jesus. It is obvious they are not very good at planning to kill someone. It seems as though throughout the Gospel they are planning to kill Jesus. In the end they get their man, but it sure takes a while.

As for the religious leaders dilemma. I think we all have this dilemma in some ways. There are things that I have believed about Jesus over the years that I have learned to be not as true as once thought. I have had to go through the painful experience of saying I was wrong in how I thought. That is not simply before I was a pastor. Recently I have gone back and read through my paperwork for entering ministry and for my ordination. To be honest with you, I am amazed they let me in. I was looking at some old sermon noted the other day, and felt I might have to apologize for my teaching. The religious leaders of the day, had build a strong wall between them and Jesus. they made sure people knew they were not on the side of Jesus, to the end that even if they wanted to state differently, they couldn't.

I wonder if that is how we function with Jesus. The religious leaders were so tied to tradition and keeping things the way the have always been change was not possible. Are we so tied to Jesus that out faith is unwavering? Would denying our life in Christ be denying our very lifestyle? That is not to say we have it all figured out, and that we are not going to learn more about who Christ is and who we are in Christ. Are we willing to be seen as foolish for holding onto what Christ has showed us? I hope so. The religious leaders were holding onto the wrong things, they missed God in their midst. May we not make the same mistake.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mark 10 -- Jockey for Position

In Mark 10 I really enjoy reading the account of James and John asking Jesus to sit in the places of honor when he comes into his kingdom. It is no wonder the other disciples get a little indignant, as the NLT tells us. Jesus tries to tell them they have it all wrong, and things do not really work that way. However, I am not sure they understand.

Part of the difficulty is found in what people during the days of Jesus were looking for in a Messiah. Many were looking for a political messiah. Someone who would reclaim the throne of David, reestablish Israel as an independent nation, and rule with the guidance of God. I am not sure they were even looking for someone who was of Divine nature. So as the group moves closer to Jerusalem, and Jesus steps up the discussion about what is going to happen in Jerusalem, the disciples are getting excited and confused all at the same time. Excited because they will soon see the political messiah take his place. Confused because Jesus keeps on talking about dying.

All of the disciples are jockeying for position in an earthly court. Jesus reminds them he is not the one who determines who is in the court and, it is not an earthly kingdom which is being established. Basically Jesus tells the disciples, and you and me, to keep doing the work we have been shown. Keep in mission t o the world, and let God sort out all the details of placement, and prestige. We must trust God to move us to where we need to be when we need to be there. If that is the right hand of the King so be it, if it is cleaning the latrine of heaven so be it, if that is where God has send us to be.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mark 9 -- Being A Disciple is Hard

As I read Mark 9 my overwhelming thought is, "Being a disciple is hard." Due to the fact that most of us in the Western world strive for perfection and excellence we view the disciples in that light. It can be very easy to see the disciples and a group of inept, uneducated, dense people who don't seem to get the program. I mean it is plain to see, it is right there in scripture what it is to follow and who Jesus is. Big problem, the disciples did not have the New Testament to read, they were too busy being the characters. Not to mention the things Jesus was leading them to do were not easy things. He asked followers to give up their lives that they might gain. He asked the to make sense of hearing the voice of God. Jesus asked them to face crowds of people demanding miraculous works. In the top challenge Jesus was asking the disciple not to simply believe, but to pattern their very lives after him, the long awaited Messiah. No one had ever been down that road before.

The disciples come off as a pretty challenged group. Yet I wonder if I would have, or am, functioned any different. it is easy for me to lob shots at the disciples for not getting it. But do I. When I experience a hard teaching from Jesus, do I respond that differently than the disciples. You know this disciple thing really is hard. For those living in the ever increasing Western world, we have many messages which fill out days and minds which are counter-Gospel. We can have fast food our way right away, we are to look out for ourselves because no one else is going to. The art of delayed gratification is all but a lost art. To follow Jesus, to live like we have been called is hard work. We are asked to understand and follow things this world considers foolish. We are to humble ourselves and let others move ahead. Tough stuff.

In the end, I am not sure the disciples are all that different than we are. A group of anybodies, doing their best to follow Jesus. Sometimes we reflect the teacher well, sometimes we reflect how much more we have to learn.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Mark 8 -- Power of Jesus

As we turn this week to Mark 8-12, we start off with a few passages showing the great power and ability Jesus has. There are two of the accounts I am drawn to in this mix. The first is the blind man, and the second is when Peter is reprimanded by Christ.

First the blind man. Upon his first attempt the blind man can only partially see. The touch of Jesus has restored his sight, but only partly. "The look like trees," is what the man says after the first time Jesus lays his hands on him. A second attempt appears to do the trick and the blind man is able to see perfectly. I have always been somewhat troubled by this passage. It seems the power of Jesus was limited. In almost all the other accounts of healing Jesus, speaks and things happen. With this situation Jesus works and things partially happen. Was Jesus just having an off day or is there something more. Perhaps it is the fault of the blind man. Perhaps he didn't have enough faith. A popular idea, simply not enough evidence, Jesus never comments on that, and we can read Jesus was never shy to tell people when their faith was weak. Could it simply by that there are times when we need more than one encounter with Jesus to work in our lives. Our faith is not a once and done situation. We need the ongoing touch of Jesus in order for us to see perfectly, no matter what out eyes can see.

Second is the rebuke of Peter. This passage always reminds me of Peter's boldness. Can you imagine, Peter has just told Jesus he is the Messiah, in the next breath he is being rebuked. The audacity of of Peter to try and rebuke the one whom you have just declared to be Messiah. Jesus rebuke Peter harshly for his audacity. They key is not in the rebuke but in the focus of Peter. Peter is looking with earthly eyes. Peter is not seeing with clear eyes, he needs another touch from Jesus. Not with hands, but with words Jesus reaches out to Peter. What follows is a hard teaching about needing to give up our lives to gain it. The whole premise of our life is that we are not our own, rather we follow Jesus in giving ourselves up so that we can gain full relationship with God.

Often we have vision problems. Our ability to see is impaired. We need another touch of Jesus.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Mark 7 -- Opening The Door

In Mark 7 Jesus continues to challenge the common actions of the religious leaders of the day. In the process he creates a broader landscape on which people can function. First, Jesus addresses the issue of food and washing of hands. Second Jesus takes on who he has come to serve.

When it comes to the food and washing the key word is defilement. The religious leaders of the day went through a process of ceremonial washing before they would eat. They would was the bowls, plates, cups and utensils, as well as washing all the food. This was done so that nothing unclean would be eaten. They also followed with extreme care the rules regarding what was acceptable to eat. The religious leaders believed they could be defiled by what was consumed. Jesus flips the script and says it is not what goes into you that defiles, rather it is what comes from your mouth which defiles you. Keeping the rules was less the issue. The greater issue is how you live your life.

When it comes to who Jesus came to serve we meet the women from Syria Phoenicia. She is a gentile, believed by Jews to be outside the family of God. In a puzzling action Jesus attempts to dismiss her and when she asks for deliverance of her daughter. She challenges Jesus to say that all can benefit from the work of Christ. She gives the kind of answer Jesus is looking for. The testament of her faith produces the fruit of the demon leaving her daughter.

There are two questions to wrestle with. First, are we living lives which bring honor and glory to God, or are we simply following the religious rules. Second, are we disqualifying those who God seeks to minister to?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Mark 6 -- A Three Hour Tour

In this midst of all the great accounts we find in Mark 6 I am always drawn to the sending of the 12 on their ministry tour. We cannot be sure of the exact time line to measure the distance from when they started following to when they were sent by Jesus, but we do know it was inside if three years. I can only imagine the 12 receiving their instruction and thinking, there is not way I can do this. Surely they felt inadequate for what Jesus had sent them to do. Yet they are sent.

With instructions in hand off they go. Jesus didn't want them to simply be following him around watching what was going on. He didn't want them to merely be spectators to the work of God. The 12 were meant to get in the game and get their hands and feet dirty. When we get to some of the other Gospel accounts of the ministry tour we will find more detail about what happened, but I am not sure the detail is what matters most.

What matters most is that Jesus sent the disciples. Their belief and faith was not to be just a witness watching, but a witness engaged in the work of the teacher. They were to leave the relative comfort and safety of their training and head into the field. They went from town to town doing the work their teacher had taught them to do.

Are you just sitting and soaking at the feet of Jesus? We all need to do that from time to time. There are times when we need to simple grab hold of Jesus and experience the comfort and peace which come from that. However, we cannot live there. Jesus will comfort us, Jesus does grant us peace. Jesus also sends us. Are you ready to go where he calls?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mark 5 -- Three Helings

Jesus has just journeyed across the lake and before his feet were even on solid ground he is confronted with a man who is demon possessed. The initial response of the demon was to leave them alone, and to not send them to some distant place. So Jesus gives them permission to go into a herd of pigs. The man delivered was beyond grateful and was ready to follow Jesus wherever he went. The people of the region, who had been tormented by this man possessed, wanted Jesus to leave right away. In response to the gracious work of God, the people were afraid and wanted Jesus to leave them alone. Their response is much like the demons before Jesus sends them into the pigs.

The second encounter is an interruption on Jesus way to heal a little girl. The women with bleeding for 12 years didn't want any of Jesus time, didn't want to slow him down. All she wanted was to tough his clothes. Her faith and desperation were so great, this was a last effort attempt, she knew all she needed to do was touch the clothes of Jesus and she would be made well. She got much more than she bargained for. Not only was she healed, secondary in my opinion, but she was restored through relationship. This woman would have been an outcast in here village due to her gender and the bleeding issue. Jesus didn't want or need to change her gender, but he did remove the bleeding, but restoration through relationship was the greater healing. Jesus stopped the crowd, found her and established relationship with her. Everyone in the crowd knew Jesus as at least a Teacher or Rabbi. This status to the masses gave him a place of respect and prominence. If Jesus took time to be in relationship, the whole community could, and should.

The final encounter is with the daughter of the a synagogue leader. This is one of only a few instances where a leader in the religious structure of the day seeks after Jesus for a miracle. On his way to help Jesus is slowed by the women with the bleeding. Word then comes the girl has died, not need to bother the teacher. Jesus goes anyway, because the girl is not dead. I cannot even begin to imagine the ridicule Jesus faced when he said the girl is not dead. It is pretty obvious when someone is dead. The account ends with a 12 year old girl getting lunch, and her parents being told not to tell anyone how it all happened.

Three accounts of Jesus healing, three very different responses. I wonder how each of us responds to the ways we receive healing? Are some ready to follow Jesus anywhere, only to have those around us push Jesus away. Are some restored to relationship by the work of Christ. Are others told the impossible only to see it happen right in front of their eyes. I think God is still at work through the Holy Spirit. I also think we fail to recognize the work of God in the small things and therefore have no ability to see God work in the big things. I wonder if all too often we get word the girl is dead, and we do not allow Jesus to press on and bring life where death was believed to have taken hold.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Mark 4 -- Can You Hear Me Now

Jesus is so amazingly gentle with the disciples at the beginning of this chapter. Jesus teaches what we now call the parable of the sower, and the disciples do not quite get it. So when the classroom shifts from the lecture hall of the public square to the more intimate setting of a living room, Jesus explains the parable. In fact Jesus explains why he teaches in parables and not just plainly saying what he wants communicated.

the reason for parables, to clarify those who are open to what God has to teach. Jesus tells the disciples, along with you and me, those who are open to the message will understand. Wait just a minute. I feel like I am very open to the message of Christ yet I do not always understand what Christ teaches. Does this mean that I am fooling myself? Do I really lack the faith to hear from the Son of God? The answer is yes and no. It is not about whether I have faith or not, it is about the place I am at on the journey. The depth of understanding I have is incomplete. Hopefully the depth of understanding is always changing, getting deeper, but as I sit here writing this, I know there are things I do not understand about God. My openness is limited not by my faith, rather by my ability to sift through the pieces of my life I cannot seem to give up. We are reminded however, if we seek after the understanding of God and do so with all our heart, we will find understanding.

The end of the chapter shares the account of Jesus calming the sea. The waves are crashing over the edge of the boat and the wind is whipping. Jesus response, he is sleeping in the back of the boat. The disciples are frantic, they fear death is their next destination. Upon being woken up Jesus settles everything, the wind, the waves and the disciples. Isn't that how it often works, Jesus not only settles the situation, but he settles us when we allow that peace to come.

At the end of the chapter, I often read Jesus as being angry, reality is he is probably disappointed, when he says do you still not have faith in me? Jesus had just told the disciples he was giving them insider information, that he was giving then some extra lessons that they may understand on a greater level. Yet they still think he will allow them to die at sea during a storm. I can hear Jesus voice carrying some exasperation, can't you hear what I am telling you?

We have opportunity to understand so much more of the teachings of Christ than the disciples did. We have the teachings written in front of us, and have a huge cloud of witnesses who have gone before us. Do we really seek to hear Jesus now?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mark 3 -- Troublesome Passages

Mark 3 begins with Jesus continuing to be a rule breaker. This time the defiance of the religious leaders is very much in your face. The man with the deformed hand is brought in front of everyone, and then Jesus looks right at the religious leaders to question them about doing good or harm on the Sabbath. Not getting an answer, which was in fact an answer, Jesus heals the man. This obviously sent the religious leaders into a tizzy and seemed to build Jesus resolution to do the work he was sent to do.

After the confrontational healing, Jesus selects the twelve that will be his closest companions. We are all called to be disciples, these were called to be the Apostles, the twelve who would lead the rest of the disciples once Jesus was seated at the Throne. I always find it interesting that Judas is selected. It was known even at this point of selection Judas would be the one to betray the Lord.

The next section is the one where things get more difficult. Jesus is accused by the religious leaders of being from Satan. To respond Jesus uses some good logic about a house divided against itself, Abe Lincoln didn't make it up. Then Jesus shares one of the more difficult passages of scripture, "anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, It is an eternal sin."(v29) That it tough stuff, what does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit? Essential Jesus is chalking up another claim against the religious leaders. Throughout the book of Mark to this point all they have done is scoff at the grace of God and the work of God in people's lives. In Chapter three they go as far as to say the work of God is really the work of Satan. There you have it. When the true and authentic work from God is called the work of Satan, the Holy Spirit has been blasphemed. I have heard it said if you are wondering if you have committed such a sin you are safe. The religious leaders who Jesus was directing these comments toward, really believed Jesus to be doing the work of evil, because he was operating outside of their religious playbook. Their hearts were so hard they could not see the work of God as that.

Once we make it through that passage we come across a passage which is equally as challenging. Verses 31-35 do not exactly sound like the voice of family values. The lines of family are blurred in this brief teaching of Jesus. It is not exactly what we expect to hear. I am as much in favor of being a spiritual leader to my family first as the next person. Yet, the teachings of Jesus here might be warning that we can make too much of this. Other places in scripture warn about the need to manage our families well, but I think Jesus is warning about over identifying with our family. Our primary identity is not found in our earthly family, rather in the family of God. Therefore, all the people of God are our family.

The context of this cannot be overlooked either. Jesus family had just come to take him home because he was "out of his mind." (v21). At that point I wonder if Jesus knew they were not there to participate in the work of God he had been sent to do. I wonder if he knew they only wanted to see him so they could try to silence him and keep him from being an embarrassment to the family. At this point of his ministry, his family was not part of those who followed. It seems even Mary has lost sight of who Jesus is. Perhaps that is where Jesus teaching comes from.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Mark 2 -- The Rule Breaker

As we open up to Mark 2 we find Jesus doing what Jesus does, healing people. Four friends go through great lengths to get their friend to the feet of Jesus, and Jesus heals the man. In the process Jesus offers forgiveness for the man's sins. The religious leaders cry foul.

The next section we find Jesus sitting down for dinner with people of questionable reputations. Even calling one of them, Levi, to come and be his disciple. Again the religious leaders cry foul. They want to know how Jesus could be eating with such scum.

After Jesus' rebuke of the religious leaders the questioning turns to fasting. The followers of John the Baptist, and the religious leaders regularly fasted. The followers of Jesus did not. Jesus responds with a few illustrations. Guests at the wedding, patching clothes, and wineskins. At the outset they might not look related to the question of fasting, or with each other. Yet Jesus is issuing a big challenge to the religious leaders. This passage is directly connected to the one before about who Jesus was eating with. The religious people were not understanding what God was doing, so Jesus needed to get new people involved who would.

The last section of Mark 2 is another account of Jesus and his followers breaking the rules. They pick heads of wheat on the Sabbath, and the religious leaders are there right away to let it be know that is not how things are done.

In this whole chapter we find Jesus getting in trouble with the religious establishment because he is not playing by their rules. It seems as though he is using a different playbook than they are. In fact Jesus is. The religious leaders, called Pharisees in other places, had set up all the rules and regulations they could to keep people from breaking the laws of Moses. It has been said they were building a fence around the law so people would not come close to breaking the ultimate law. The problem was these rules or laws became more important than people and relationship.

Jesus invited his disciples, along with you and me, to be rule breakers. Not just for the sake of breaking the rules, and not breaking every rule. That is to say no one should decide murder is alright. However, false rules, especially in the church, should be challenged. I find there are many areas of our faith where we follow the rules and do not even know why. We assume, gotta be careful, there is a certain way to behave if you are a follower of Christ, and the church must function just as it always has. The leads to the church being modern day Pharisees in need to a Savior to challenge us.

How do we know which rules to break and which ones to keep? Simple follow the leader, Jesus.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Mark 1

Today begins our journey with Mark 1. Here the writer, presumably named Mark starts out a little different than other Gospel writers. Mark entrust the information of genealogies to the fellow writers of Matthew and Luke, along with the more detailed events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Mark jumps right in with the account of John the Baptist and right into the ministry of Jesus. Unlike the Gospel of John, Mark has Jesus first public ministry act as an exorcism.

Jesus calls the first disciples away from their fishing boats and into the training of Jesus. Directly from there Jesus is found teaching in the synagogue where he casts out demons, and heals many. Right out of the gate we find Jesus engaged in supernatural healing. From the moment the first disciples left their nets they were front row witnesses to the work of Jesus. Exorcisms and healings were the primary order of business. Out of this, the word about Jesus spreads quickly, even though Jesus warns people to not tell.

I have always been taken back by Jesus instructions to not tell people about what has happened. We will find throughout Mark there is the same warning. Along with others I have wondered if Jesus was telling them to keep quiet for their own and his safety. That does not seem consistent with who Jesus is and the places and situations he calls his followers to. Perhaps it is all about timing. Often missed in all of scripture is the importance of timing, more specifically God's timetable. Jesus would know better than anyone the timetable of God for the full realization of Jesus as Messiah. In all of Mark 1 timing matters. The coming of John the Baptist was part of specific timing about the arrival of Messiah. The temptation of Jesus, we know from other Gospels to be 40 days and nights, important timing. Jesus taking time in the early morning to connect with the One who sent him, timing, timing, timing.

By the time we finish reading Mark 1 we see the ministry of Jesus is set in motion, and the miraculous is the order of business. For Mark the primary way Jesus reveals is through the healings and exorcisms. These might not seem like a common occurrence in our lives and church, and we might think Jesus does not work that way anymore. The truth is Jesus is longing to work in our lives everyday in small ways and in the miraculous. We do not always see it because often we do not believe it to be possible, or we try to control the way God works. God has sent the Holy Spirit to continue the work of Jesus in our time, are we willing and ready?