Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mark Chapter 12

There are a number of parables found in today’s lesson. Some, like the parable of the tenants, were found in our earlier discussion on the book of Matthew. Others, like the treatise on marriage at the resurrection, are unique to this chapter. I find it fascinating to see how Jesus constantly deflects verbal arguments in the temple knowing what He had to face in the coming week. Once again, we see that the leaders and teacher of the day were trying to trip Him up, but Jesus prevails. Mostly what Jesus faces here are attacks on the idea of the resurrection.

24Jesus replied, "Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? 27He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!" – Mark 12:24-27

The Sadducees were against the concept of the Resurrection. They felt it was an absurd concept that could not possibly take place. They based most of their doctrine on the five books of the Old Testament written by Moses. These books were Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Numbers, and Leviticus. Obviously, there was much more to the Old Testament than this. Jesus points out that by the time of Moses, Abraham was long dead. Still, God is quoted as saying that He is the God of Abraham. That meant that Abraham still existed at least somewhere in the universe. In this way, Jesus turns their own arguments against them. How can God be the God of someone who is dead? It is impossible, therefore we have hope in the Resurrection.

32"Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
34When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. – Mark 12:32-34

This passage kind of blows me away because it shows that one of the Sadducees is actually showing some intelligence and is actually listening to Jesus. This is in response to the greatest commandment of all. We are told to love God with everything we have. As Romans 12 states, this is our only reasonable response to what God provides for us. In that, we must exhibit this love toward our neighbors. I have spoken on this before, but it even carries over to loving our enemies as we love ourselves. Finally, we even see this at the end of the chapter when the poor widow provides an example that fits in with this commandment. She gave everything she had because she knew that she owed it all to God. This is a strong commandment, as under Mosaic law, mankind was only asked to give 10%. With change, however, comes greater responsibility.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mark Chapter 11

What would Jesus be like if he were an action hero? We get a glimpse of that in Mark chapter 11, as Jesus begins his final week before the Crucifixion. We see him as he enters the city of Jerusalem like a boxer before legions of His adoring fans. He also comes through immediately by going to the temple and clearing it out of money changers and people selling doves for sacrifices. If this were a movie, there would surely be a dramatic speech as Jesus shows a rare moment of righteous anger.

15On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written: " 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'" – Mark 11:15-17

Jesus was more than justified in His rage at this moment. How would you feel if you were in His shoes? Salvation and everlasting life is meant to be a free gift. This is even more true with the sacrifice Christ was about to make. Even under Mosaic law with its system of sacrifices, it was still meant to be free. Those in the temple had perverted the process by charging for the doves used in said sacrifices. Not only that, they were doing it in God’s house, directly flying in the face of the Creator they claimed to love. To Jesus, this was a perversion of the highest order, and more so because He was fully God as well as fully man. It is no wonder He did not stand for it.

27They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. 28"By what authority are you doing these things?" they asked. "And who gave you authority to do this?"
29Jesus replied, "I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 30John's baptism—was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!"
31They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?' 32But if we say, 'From men'...." (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)
33So they answered Jesus, "We don't know." Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things." – Mark 11:27-33

Here the Pharisees had one last chance to understand Christ’s message, and they failed miserably. This shows that sometimes the worst thing you can do is nothing at all. They were asked a simple question, and all they needed to do was answer. Christ didn’t even specify if they needed to answer correctly or not. He merely asked for them to answer. Out of fear, they did not. They feared the people or they feared Him asking another question because it would have given recognition to His power. If they gave recognition to Christ’s power, that would threaten the power the Pharisees held. As a result, they failed one final time.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Mark Chapter 10, Part 2

Everyone knows what it is like when they bite off more than they can chew. We think we can do everything, but sometimes we can take on too much at once and it becomes overwhelming no matter how gung-ho we are. We see an example of this in the second part of Mark 10 today, as James and John think that they can receive an honor that is really too much for them and not even Jesus’ to give. As a result, they face the anger of their peers as well as a subtle rebuke from Jesus Himself.

35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask."
36"What do you want me to do for you?" he asked.
37They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory."
38"You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said. "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?"
39"We can," they answered. Jesus said to them, "You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared." – Mark 10:35-40

I don’t think that James and John really understood what they were asking for her. They did not understand that by the cup and baptism, Jesus meant that he was going to suffer and die a martyr's death for all of humanity. James and John were accepting a very hard life, and even then, Jesus could not guarantee the reward they were asking for. Mark goes further on the subject when the rest of the disciples find out, causing Jesus to allay a potentially dangerous and disintegrating situation.

41When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. – Mark 10:41-45

We saw this as part of Jesus’s message previously, but it is really one of the central themes in His preaching. For all of His power, Jesus came to serve, not to rule. Think about that for a moment. Imagine having all of the power of God at your fingertips. You can literally do anything. How tempting would it be to rule over others, even benevolently? Jesus had this power, yet He continually reiterated that His mission was one of servitude. One does not truly become great by exalting themselves. Instead, we must learn to serve others. This is the prime example set by Jesus that we must follow.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mark Chapter 10, Part 1

Divorce is a terrible thing. I am thankful that I have never felt its consequences, but everyone in my immediate family sadly has. My sister had to go through it with my mother and her father. My father had to go through it with his parents. My aunt had a double dose of it with her parents and her own marriage. It destroys families and is plainly contrary to God’s will. That is why when I got married I went into it with the simple condition: the only way one of us was getting out of the marriage was by putting the other in the ground. We’ve had some rough times in three and a half years, but so far we have made it.

Jesus speaks on the topic of divorce at the beginning of chapter 10 in the book of Mark. As usual, he takes a much harder stance on the issue than the original law dictated. The original Mosaic law gave very few rights to women. A man could divorce his wife if she simply displeased him. Jesus, however, states that man and woman truly become one when they marry. This is meant to be a bond that cannot be broken and only gains in strength when made in the context of Christ. Jesus only makes a case for divorce in situations involving adultery, while Paul later says a believing spouse may be deserted by an unbelieving spouse.

13People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." – Mark 10:13-15

What does it mean to be a child when you’re physically an adult? I think that Jesus is speaking on matters of faith needed to enter the kingdom of heaven. Think about when you were a child. There were certain things you believed in just because. You believed that Santa Claus existed just because, and I think that is what Jesus means here. We need to reach a point where we believe in Him just because. Children are the model of innocence as well as trust. We need that innocence in the form of humility as well as trust in our Savior. Children also must rely on adults for most everything needed in their development, just as we must rely on Christ.

21Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
22At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"
24The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
26The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?"
27Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."

I often ask myself if I have given up everything in order to follow God’s calling. This is especially true when I go through periods where I wonder if I am even following God’s will. We must remember, however, that God’s grace covers where we fall short spiritually. We are asked to believe, therefore that is what we must do. Material wealth has nothing to do with our salvation, but our spiritual wealth and offering is paramount. Because of this, God can overcome the impossible obstacle, by human standards, of salvation.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mark, Chapter 9

At times, I don’t like the picture that Mark’s gospel paints of Jesus. I know that in part it comes from the Reader’s Digest style of writing, but it make’s Jesus come off as impatient and even arrogant. An example of that is in today’s reading on chapter 9. At other times, especially in this chapter, it seems as if the Word doesn’t even make any sense because it is disconnected. The impatience and arrogance seems directed at the disciples here, but that may come from the fact that they spent so much time with Jesus, yet still struggled with issues of faith. This brings a human element to the character of the disciples, which is needed to ground the gospel. In that, I do think the impatience shown by Jesus serves a purpose.

17A man in the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not."
19"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."
20So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
21Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?"
"From childhood," he answered. 22"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."
23" 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."
24Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"
25When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. "You deaf and mute spirit," he said, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again."

I like the part of this story where the boy’s father asks Jesus to help him overcome his unbelief. It paints such a picture of humanity’s inherent weakness and need for Christ. This man believed that Jesus was capable of healing his son, yet he knew that unbelief within him could not be overcome by his own faith. He knew that even in believing, he needed Jesus’ help. The people around him were unbelieving as well, and this frustrated Jesus. The boy’s father, however, recognizes his weakness in his unbelief and admitted it. This show the type of humility that Christ asks of us. We must recognize that we can do nothing without Christ. Once we do that, we begin to truly grow with Christ, as opposed to without Him. That humility is exhibited later in the chapter here:

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

In accepting the mantle of being the last, we humble ourselves before God. Each person’s method of serving is different as well, depending on what we are called to do. The way I am called to serve is completely different from the way my wife is called to serve. This is what makes God such an awesome God, because he can manage the needs and missions of more than 6.5 billion people at the time down to the last exquisite details. Personally, I can’t wait to ask God how He does it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mark Chapter 8

Sometimes the proof in front of our face isn’t enough. Sometimes we ask for more when we have more than enough to make an informed decision. I am, sadly, often guilty of this. My wife calls me the worst decision maker in the world. We laugh about seeing examples in the world of people who are slower at making decisions than me, saying that particularly bad situations make me look decisive by comparison. Unfortunately, it is common that we look for one more sign from God before proceeding. It is often not enough that we have to make decisions on our own. We need a parting of the clouds and a voice from heaven before moving forward. The unfortunate thing is that this very rarely happens. God is certainly capable of it, but He asks us to act on faith.

11The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. 12He sighed deeply and said, "Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it." 13Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side. – Mark 8:11-13

In the context of this message, what the Pharisees were asking was absurd. To this point, Jesus had already performed dozens of miracles. If we take these chapters as being chronological, He had already fed several thousand people with just a few loaves of bread and some fish. He had miraculously healed dozens of people and driven out demons. It is no wonder that Jesus, the One with infinite patience, gets frustrated here. If I were in his shoes, I would certainly wonder what more these people wanted. Jesus wanted these people to act on faith, but time and again they fell short.

34Then 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. 35For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38If 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

This is what we are asked to commit when we choose to follow Christ. In a way, it is much more than what the original law laid down in the Old Testament asked for. Under that law, only part was needed. Since Christ came to establish a New Covenant, we are asked to give everything we have. He gave everything He had for us, so anything less than the same from us is still far from enough. This is the only reasonable action we can take when presented with Christ’s sacrifice. It is the only way we can gain that which is not ours, and that is eternal life. We also cannot accept this sacrifice with shame. We must accept it with the honor it deserves. As we see, if we view our faith with shame, Christ will view us with shame. This goes back to the great commandment, somewhat, in that we must go forth and make disciples. The only way to do that is to accept this mantle without shame. If you wear shame with it, why would anyone else want it?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mark Chapter 7

Our perception often defines our reality. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. In the case of the Pharisees, it was a bad thing. Our own short-sightedness can be our downfall. We see that here with the Pharisees as they simply refused to open their eyes and see the big picture as far as Christ is concerned. They were so caught up in tradition and the laws of man that they feared any deviation. To them, change meant a potential loss of power, even if it meant surrendering to the power that they supposedly followed.

9And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' 11But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban' (that is, a gift devoted to God), 12then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. 13Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that."

14Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.' "

17After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18"Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? 19For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.")

20He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' 21For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.' "

This is a large section, but it makes a very good point. The point here is that the word of God trumps anything that man can come up with. The Pharisees were trying to say that man can become unclean by things he consumes or touches. Quite frankly, this is ridiculous. Jesus points out how ridiculous this is because food cannot possibly tarnish the heart or the spirit. This is what matters in the eyes of the Lord. That which taints is already inside of us because man’s heart is already tarnished.

This is why we have a need for Christ. Jesus made His point here so we would see that need. It is not what we physically do that is important. It is where our hearts are that decides our fate. The Pharisees clearly did not have their hearts in line with God because they were more concerned with maintaining the status quo. Instead of listening to Jesus, they viewed Him as a threat. Jesus came to earth to set about change, but like many people in power, they viewed that change as wrong.

The beautiful lesson in this is that there is still hope for us. Though we are corrupted, we can be cleansed. Just as we cannot be physically made unclean, it is not a physical cleansing that guarantees our salvation. It is, instead, a spiritual one. That spiritual cleansing can only come from the blood of Christ. It is a gift freely given, but it must be accepted.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mark Chapter 6, Part 2

We begin the second half of Mark 6 today with the story of John the Baptist’s death. John the Baptist is a fascinating character because of how humble he is. In a way, he shares many similar qualities to Jesus, but obviously is not on the same level because of his humanity. He knew this as well, and accepted it as part of his calling. In this section of Scripture, we see this humility come through as John continues to spread the good news even though he is in prison facing death. This even had an effect on Herod, as he believed that Jesus was the resurrection of John the Baptist.

14King Herod heard about this, for Jesus' name had become well known. Some were saying,[c] "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him."
15Others said, "He is Elijah."
And still others claimed, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago."

16But when Herod heard this, he said, "John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!" – Mark 6:14-16

This is merely another way that John the Baptist prepared the way. He was, in a way, working in tandem with Jesus. His ministry was much longer than the three years that Jesus had a public ministry. It also began long before Jesus’s public ministry. Through his ministry, people became ready for when Jesus came on the season. This gave Jesus’s message more power in the sense that He amplified some of the teachings John had made.

The rest of this chapter deals with the miracles of feeding the five thousand and walking on water. We touched on these miracles when I wrote about the book of Matthew, so this is really nothing new. It is merely a different account of these stories in more of a digest form, as the book of Mark is written. This does not take away from the significance of the stories. Instead, it provides a different perspective and therefore gives them credence. It is another way that we can know the Bible is true - because of multiple eyewitness accounts. The life of Jesus is one of the few places where we get multiple accounts of the same stories, but considering Jesus’s importance it is certainly merited.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Mark, Chapter 6, Part 1

It is hard to picture a man like Jesus not having honor. Still, this is what we see when he tried to speak in his hometown of Nazareth. Why would something like this happen? Why would a man that was quite revolutionary wherever He went be virtually ignored in a place where you would expect Him to be loved? A large part of the reason likely comes from the fact that He was already familiar to those people in a way we don't see in the Bible. Jesus' public ministry only lasted about three years. Up until that time, he was a regular carpenter in his hometown of Nazareth. He had learned the trade under His earthly father, Joseph, and had continued it until He began his public ministry at about the age of 30.

Now, I am 28 years old. The equivalent of this would be if I had begun a revolutionary and very public ministry, then went back to my home town of Kokomo, Indiana. I'm sure there would be a number of people that would react in the same way we see here.

2When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
"Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! 3Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.-- Mark 6:2-3

"Isn't this the sportswriter from the Tribune?" is something I would likely here. Obviously, I have no plans to begin a ministry that will come even close to Jesus's, but if I did, I am sure that is the type of reaction I would hear in my hometown. It is when we are close to the situation that we often struggle the most to understand a point. There are lessons in my life that my parents, who are among the closest people to me, tried to teach me, yet those lessons went ignored because they came from a source that was so close to me. In these cases, I would often learn the lesson in question the hard way. It's not ideal, but it happens. We tend to ignore teaching that comes from those close to us, and that is the point that is illustrated here.

The second part of this chapter deals with the sending out of the 12 apostles. I find this fascinating because of their origins. When I was growing up, I always pictured the 12 disciples as these titans of the Christian faith. They were without fear in my mind. What is amazing is that in reality, they were just as normal as you or me. They were not the religious leaders of the day, but ordinary people called by Christ to fulfill an extraordinary mission. They were exceedingly human and fallible, thus making what they accomplished seem even more extraordinary.

8These were his instructions: "Take nothing for the journey except a staff-no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. 10Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them." -- Mark 6:8-11

This is an incredible lesson in faith. Remember, these men were incredibly ordinary. Surely they had the same questions you or I would have had we been selected. Jesus essentially told them, "Go, change the world. Take nothing to do so because I will provide everything." This was also in a time when it was much harder to travel. There was no Holiday Inn to stop at, or McDonald's to grab a quick bite to eat. I can't imagine doing this now with the modern amenities available, let alone in the First Century. Therefore, our only reasonable response when we are called to do something that isn't nearly as dramatic is to go. We must have faith that God will provide.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mark, Chapter 5

This has been one of the more interesting weeks of life. It has been a week full of stress, but with the almost overwhelming sense of promise from the Father. In the midst of this storm, which has felt like a Category Five most of the time, I have the presence of the Father reassuring me that something great is on the horizon. I need only to stick it out through the storm. It has been very hard to keep focused on that promise. I have even almost completely lost sight of it, but it is still there. That is why I plan to focus on it for the weekend, instead of the despair.

This is similar to what we with the three prominent stories seen in Mark, Chapter 5. We have a man that is possessed by so many demons that he is forced to live amongst tombs, cutting himself with rocks. He is feared by society because of this, and they cannot control him. We have a woman that is faced with constant bleeding for 12 years who also appeared to be in a hopeless situation. Finally, we have a little girl in the ultimate hopeless situation: she was dead. Jesus was able to intervene in all three situations to prove a point. He is all-powerful, and in these storms we must have faith.

6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" 8For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!" – Mark 5:6-8

I have no idea what it is like to be possessed by thousands of evil spirits, but it is clearly a difficult situation to rectify. With merely His voice, Jesus was able to take full control of everything and release this man from his torment. As we see, the pig farmers weren’t happy, but that is merely another case of human short-sightedness. There were unable to see past earthly things, in this case a herd of pigs jumping off the cliff, and see what was right in front of them in the form of a genuine miracle.

27When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed." 29Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?"

31"You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?' "

32But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering." – Mark 5:27-34

This is the type of faith I wish I had. One of my weaknesses is that I cannot prioritize things well in the context of my life. When I am working on a job I am fine, but my life itself can quickly become overwhelmed because I tend to spread myself way too thin without giving any downtime. As a result, I lose faith very quickly and immediately jump to a hopeless conclusion. This occurs with the smallest things. This woman, however, definitely had a hopeless situation. Her illness had cost her everything, but she still sought Jesus. She was then rewarded for her faith.

How can we apply this to our daily lives, however? There don’t seem to be too many Jesus figures walking around that can magically make things go away by having someone merely touching their clothes. Faith, unfortunately, is a lot harder to come by when we continually practice it, yet don’t get the answers we want. In this, we must persevere. We must remember James 1:2 and the lesson that perseverance leaves with us. We may stumble, even fall, but we have to get back up. As the legendary basketball coach Jim Valvano said shortly before his death, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” In a famous speech at the Espy’s while dealing with terminal bone cancer he said, “Cancer can do many things, but it cannot touch my heart, it cannot touch my mind, and it cannot touch my spirit.” These are the three places that faith resides, and it is also where Christ resides to provide strength.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mark, Chapter 4

One of Jesus’s most preferred methods of teaching was through parables. More than simply stating His point, by teaching in parables He got people to think about their meaning. Jesus does not want us to simple observe and absorb the knowledge we are given. Instead, He wants us to think about it. He wants us to explore the deeper meaning because, in doing so, we learn even more. This chapter of Mark is laced with much of Jesus’s most famous parable. In each, we see that even His disciples struggled to understand the underlying message.

15Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown." – Mark 4:15-20

When I see this I ask myself, what kind of seed did I accept? It is my hope that I am producing a crop with the seed that I have received. Many days, however, I feel like the worries of life makes me unfruitful. This has been especially true lately. With the busy world that we live in, I think this may happen more than the other three examples of the Word. Think of the number of things that we have to worry about compared to just 100 years ago. Things are even drastically different within the span of our own lifetimes. Ten years ago, I was in the wonderful summer between high school and college without a care in the world, but things are much different now. Making a fruitful crop takes not only work on our end, but work through Christ as well. We must trust Him to make the word fruitful once we try to spread it, but we must still make the effort to spread it.

30Again he said, "What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade." – Mark 4:30-32

Thinking of the sheer enormity of the kingdom of God makes my brain hurt. Regular readers of this blog know that I like to make huge examples in order to prove a point. Right now, there are about 6.5 billion people on the planet. Of that number, there are estimated to be more than 1 billion Christians, possibly 2 billion. Let’s consider that the earthly kingdom of God. I have attended a football game at the largest American Football stadium in the world, Michigan Stadium. At that game, there were more than 111,000 people in the stands. That 111,000 pales in comparison to 2 billion. It is roughly 1/10th of 1 percent of that earthly kingdom. This doesn’t even begin to describe the heavenly host, which thinking about its number makes my brain hurt even more.

All this grew from a single man, Jesus Christ. While Jesus was a man, he was also fully God, and therefore imbued with the power to make something so large that no man could have. Even if you are completely agnostic you have to agree that the life of that one “ordinary man”, Jesus, has more effect on the course of human history than any other person, ever. He has crossed every boundry, every barrier, and has reached every nation. What other man in history can claim that? Even in North Korea, one of the most repressive nations on earth, there is still a strong underground church. It is no wonder this parable makes so much sense, but only when you think about it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mark, Chapter 3

I woke up this morning asking myself the question, “How can I view my situation differently?” I recently got myself into a difficult, but not untenable, situation professionally. It is a situation hat has made me feel like lashing out, though I haven’t because I realize that it would accomplish nothing. The situation itself is already making me incredibly tense, causing stress that is far from needed. Jumping to conclusions and going off would only make matters worse in the sense that I may not have a job much longer after that. I was faced with two choices this morning: I could fight it, or I could deal with it.

At the beginning of Mark 3, we see the Pharisees facing a similar choice. Jesus was preaching in the synagogue, and they were far from comfortable with it. In a way, they were spoiling for a fight. They were looking to confront Jesus, making them deaf to the message he was preaching. In doing so, they completely missed the point because they were focused solely on themselves.

4Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent.

5He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. – Mark 3:4-6

In my situation, as the Pharisees did in this situation, we both missed the point of the demonstration. I am missing the point of being where I am currently at because I am obviously supposed to learn some sort of lesson before moving on. The Pharisees failed to learn the lesson necessary here, that being that Jesus was here to change things, including the Sabbath. As we saw in yesterday’s lesson, they were more caught up in maintaining the status quo than learning. I am guilty of the same thing when I put my own agenda ahead of what is asked of me. Therefore, I must ask this morning, how I can view the situation differently.

13Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach. – Mark 3:13-14

I am a fan of this passage because it is so simple, yet so important. The very reason that we have a Christian faith is because of this passage. Jesus selected each of these men for a purpose, and that purpose would echo down throughout the centuries to the present day. Jesus knew at the time of their selection that He would only have a very short time with them. In that time, He had to prepare them for what they would do after His death and resurrection. Not only would they act as his associate pastors during His earthly ministry, they would go on to build the church we have today.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mark, Chapter 2

In my opinion, faith is a commodity that ebbs and flows as we walk through life. There are moments where I am so full of faith that I feel like I am flying. At other times, I feel so empty that I openly question whether there is any point in having faith. To make matters more confusing, there are even times where it feels like faith is the only thing we have because nothing else is going to work. I think we see an example of that in the beginning of Mark, chapter 2. In this situation, Jesus chooses to deliver important lessons, as well as detract from His critics.

3Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

6Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7"Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

8Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? 9Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? 10But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . ." – Mark 2:3-10

What did these men have to lose? The friend they were trying to help was a paralytic, and likely had been for years. Clearly, medical technology at the time couldn’t help him. It is even more likely that this guy was lucky to be alive at that point. The last thing on his mind was probably sinning, yet forgiving his sins is the first thing that Jesus did for him. Jesus saw first his need for eternal salvation. Even if Jesus had healed him first, the man would still have been in need of salvation. To Jesus, this was more important. His primary message was one of forgiveness, so He took this opportunity to demonstrate as such. The fact that he later also healed the man backed up His point.

27Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." – Mark 2:27-28

This is an important point here. It comes at a time where Jesus was correcting those who had put too much emphasis on the method as opposed to the result of such methods. To the Pharisees, they had become so consumed with the rituals and methods they were supposed to carry out they had forgotten the meaning of why they were carried out. They did not realize that they were supposed to serve God, not the Sabbath. I think we see this somewhat today in the current church. We see it when churches get caught up more in finding sin than in forgiving it. The best example I can think of is the church in from Wichita, Kansas, that campaigns heavily against homosexuality. They carry placards saying “God hates Fags” while protesting at soldiers’ funerals. Instead of hating the sin, as Jesus did, they are hating the sinner. God does not hate anyone. What He hates is the way that sin corrupts us and makes us lose sight of Him. This is what Jesus spoke of here against the Pharisees.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Mark, Chapter 1

Today, we switch gears back to the gospels and look at the second gospel, the book of Mark. I like to think of Mark as CNN Headline News. It doesn’t go into as much detail as some of the other gospels, but rather hits on the highlights in a very brief format. Mark’s style of writing seems to be more of a Reader’s Digest style. We get to see a synopsis of the events of Jesus’s life, and Mark’s gospel is one of the few that does not deal with Jesus’s birth.

Mark’s gospel begins with a focus on the work of John the Baptist. John the Baptist is easily one of the more important characters in the Bible because of the way that he fulfilled his mission. He was a bit of a radical, whose style of ministry was vastly different than what the Jewish culture was used to. Because of this, he prepared the way for Jesus’s ministry, which was even more radical. As always it seems, this was a fulfillment of prophesy as we see from the first few verses of this chapter.

7And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." – Mark 1:7-8

This is important because it shows that John the Baptist had a clear understanding of not only his mission, but his place. John knew that he was here merely to serve a purpose for Christ. He was the voice crying out in the wilderness that prepared the way for Jesus. This, in turn, gave more credence and power to Jesus’s ministry. In a way, God knew that the change that Jesus was going to bring about would be too radical to be accepted. Therefore, John the Baptist was sent to bring about that change more gradually. He lived a life that was closer to the great prophet Elijah, who was very well respected, making his message more easily accepted.

9At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." – Mark 1:9-11

This is another significant event because it shows Jesus’s humble nature. Jewish culture used baptism as a symbolic act of cleansing for those who converted to the faith. This is a connection to Jesus’s side, as he did not think of Himself as greater than a man in need of cleansing. With this symbolic act, Jesus showed that He was prepared to fulfill what was asked of Him. It is from here that He was prepared to go out and begin His public ministry.

The rest of this first chapter deals with the beginning of that ministry. We see Mark’s account differ from Matthew’s in that it lacks the detail of many significant events, such as the calling of the first disciples and Jesus’s temptation in the desert. One of the main reasons I believe this difference is shown is to give truth to the Bible. If we had simply one account of Jesus’s earthly life it would be easy to discredit it. With the gospels, however, we get four accounts. Across them, many of the events mentioned are the same, yet viewed from different perspectives. God planned for this like any good lawyer making his case by providing multiple examples of the evidence before us, but He still allows for us to make our own decisions. We, therefore, can think of the book of Mark as merely “exhibit B” in the case for Christ.

Friday, July 11, 2008

1 John 5

Today is the last day we will spend on the very short book that is 1 John. The author continues his theme of love and how we can express that love back to God.

1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. – 1 John 5:1-4

This is not easy. Sometimes it is very hard to obey God’s commands because they interfere with what we think is best. Right now, I am going through such a period, but in a way, it feels like I am always going through such a period. When God says “stay” while you want nothing more than to run it is a difficult situation. In our consciousness, matters become even more difficult because we can think for ourselves. We know our situation and we think that we obviously know better. That is not always the case.

Almost 10 years ago, I followed what I believed was God’s command, and ever since then, I have felt I was on the right path. I decided to change my college major, thereby drastically altering the course of my life. Ten years later, I have seen that path take me to places that have honestly made me question if it is for the best. It is hard to believe that you are following God’s command when there seems to be little development or change in your surroundings as a result of that command. In that time, I recognize that mistakes have been made, but that love that is promised has never faltered. Mistakes can sometimes alter the method of getting from place to place, but we are promised that as long as we follow God, we will eventually get there. My wife would scowl at me for having the attitude of, “whatever it takes to accomplish the task,” but in essence, God will do whatever it takes to accomplish the task. It is only as I age that I see some methods are better than others, however.

13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. – 1 John 5:13-15

I wanted to end on this because it is important that we keep in mind the fact that God’s will trumps everything. I have been feeling pretty low of late. Today is an especially hard day, but in general, I feel like I have gone through a period of about four months where I have been seeking God’s will only to find it very elusive. Our wills have been clashing to say the least, but I have done my best to surrender to what He wants for us. We can only do as He commands: no more, no less. The beauty of living according to His will comes in the reward. We are promised peace and joy, but that doesn’t always mean happiness. It is peace in knowing we are where we are supposed to be, and joy in knowing that someone far more capable than us is in charge.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

1 John, Chapter 4

Today’s chapter in 1John is all about love. To me, it almost sounds like the elephant Love Song Medley from the movie Moulin Rouge. In that movie, the two lead characters sing a song of their love for each other using snippets of popular songs about love. Here, John weaves a tapestry of God’s love and how it relates to our salvation. In short, God is the ultimate representation of love. Love, therefore is one of the central themes of faith. Without the love of our Creator, there is very little reason to have the faith required for salvation. Essentially, the whole system doesn’t work without love.

7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. – 1 John 4:7-10

It is no wonder that love is one of the greatest emotions we can experience. It was created by God and it was given as one of his greatest expressions to us. Love is one of the most varied emotions we have, as well. For example. I love my wife, but I love my family in a different way. As a huge fan of high school basketball in Indiana, I can say I love my high school’s team in yet another way because of my experiences in the game while growing up. I love the university I went to for different reasons from those, especially since I did not have the same experiences there. When you throw in the love for very close friends, we have yet another expression of love.
All of these expressions of love come from the central theme of God’s love. In a way, His love is perfect because it is never faltering. As the verses above state, we cannot know God unless we first know love. The good thing is that God reaches out to us with love, so we get to know it as we get to know Him. That reaching out is through His Son, Jesus.

13We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. – 1 John 4:13-16

If this sounds familiar it is because it is very close to the gospel of John earlier in the New Testament. Since they were written by the same person it is natural that these books take on similar tones. When we come to rely on the love that God has for us, it opens the door to what he has in store for us. It is not the easiest road to walk, but it certainly beats the hopeless alternative.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

1 John, Chapter 3

This particular chapter of the book of 1 John is a little confusing in its nature. In it, we are told that once we become a child of God, we cannot sin. I find this confusing because I know that it is impossible for us to be perfect because of our human nature. We can only be perfect once we are like Christ. We see here that this is not promised until he appears.

2Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:2-3

We are then told in verse six that no one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. It seems like this is almost contradictory because we don’t know what we will be like until Christ returns. I think that maybe this is a vision of the future for what life will be like once He returns. In our bodies, we cannot possibly be made pure except through the blood of Christ. We are purified only by hope in him, and not by anything we do. Once we accept this, however, we can eventually made pure and sinless upon His return. I think that John sees this as the idyllic glimpse of a world without sin. Obviously, this is something that we cannot imagine. As long as sin exists in the world, it will taint us.

A lot of this deals with the idea of two births. In our first birth, our human birth, we are born into sin. We cannot escape this on our own. It takes a second birth, the birth in God mentioned in verse 9, to change things.

8He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. 9No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. – 1 John 3:8-9

We have seen illustrations of the power of sin all over the Bible. To me, it is something that is difficult to comprehend because we are fallen from the beginning. We have no choice but to be born into sin, and because of that, we are powerless to break free of that. Still, we see not only God’s power to break through that, but His mercy at His willingness to do so. To me, it is His mercy that is even more astounding than His power. He has no individual need for us, yet He loves us as His own and sacrificed so much to save us.

16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. -- 1John 3:16

Take a look at the symmetry found in this verse. John 3:16 is arguably the most famous verse in Scripture. 1 John 3:16 is very similar in describing that love one more time. The Bible is God’s love letter to His people. Therefore, what else can we do but love him back and give him our all?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

1 John, Chapter 2

I apologize for the delay in posting, but new circumstances have forced me to change some things up as far as finding times and places to publish this. I am not sure if anyone is still reading this, but at least it is a good place for me to write some thoughts down and at least use this as a personal Bible study. I’ll keep publishing when I can and hope that someone out there is still listening.

Today I wanted to continue writing on the book of 1 John. It is a very short but powerful book that deals with the power of sin and how Jesus triumphed over this power. Today’s chapter deals with something I have struggled with for a long time. I have tried to be fairly transparent in my writings here. Bitterness is an issue that I have long battled. We see the result of that bitterness when left unchecked in today’s lesson.

9Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. – 1 John 2:9-11

Our bitterness when we struggle to forgive others is what blinds us even if we have Christ in our hearts. I am reminded of this every year at this time. 13 years ago I made a mistake that I now see wasn’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, but for years I held it so close to my heart that it was nearly unforgiveable. Over time, it began to affect many of my personal relationships, not because I had made the mistake, but because I feared so deeply that I would make it again. Like many things in my life, this fear became almost irrational. It wasn’t that I refused to love my brother in this case, but I refused to love myself. This made me stumble a number of times.

Bitterness does nothing but breed more bitterness. It is counterproductive to what God has intended for us, and therefore must be cleaned out. Still, it is one of the most difficult personal lessons to learn.

15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. – 1 John 2:15-17

It is very hard to love this world with the way it is today. Because we live in this world, however, with the inherently sinful nature that comes from being human means that we can very easily fall prey to the ways of the world. It is easy to become boastful and believe our achievements come from ourselves. I can easily sit here and say that I wrote this, when the truth is that I only write here because God allows me to write here. I have long viewed this not as my own creation, but a reflection of what God wants me to create. That is why we can draw strength from one of the final verses in this chapter.

26I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. – 1 John 2:26-27

As I search for peace, the one place I can always begin is in a promise such as this one. I have been anointed in Christ, therefore he remains in me. Nothing can take that away at any time.