Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mark 3:7-19; Be

Out of this massive crowd that was large enough it caused Jesus to plan an escape route (the boat), Jesus selected twelve to whom he would entrust his ministry. Surely he had watched these twelve for some time already. How did they act or react? What was their heart like? Some had already received a general call to follow him - Peter, Andrew, James, John, Levi - but this was more. This was a call to a very focused ministry. It makes me wonder how closely do I "watch the crowd" so that I can call a few to a higher standard or greater challenge?

What stands out to me is what he called them to. He listed three things, i.e., be with him, send them to preach and give them authority over demons. We focus our time almost exclusively on preaching; whatever happened to the first and last portions? We seem to have bought into the concept that authority is a bad thing - since it is so ofter abused - and so we tend to steer away from embracing it. That leaves us often with non-authoritative preaching.

Yet it is step one that really gets left out. As long as we suffer from hurry-sickness in this culture, we will never manage to just "be with him". Why is that so hard for us? Why do we so undervalue the idea of spending time in a spiritual relationship with our Creator? Before they were sent or given power, they were called to "be with". Of the three, it is the simplest action to understand; yet it is the hardest to do.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mark 3:1-6; Updated Version

These are my thoughts on what this story would look like if / when it happens today.

One Sunday morning at the local church, a homeless man who smelled absolutely horrible came in. He was dressed in dirty jeans, his hair was matted and he was sniffling from a head cold. Half of the church just stared at him and some who were sitting near him moved to another section. No one liked him being there; it goes without saying that no one initiated a conversation with him.

Then Jesus stood up to preach. He could see the looks being cast towards the stranger, the negative expressions on their faces and the ten foot circle of empty space around the man. So Jesus called the man into the pulpit with him. Everyone was shocked and waited to see how Jesus would treat him. Jesus placed his arm around the stranger and began to talk about his pure heart. He explained how the young man had fallen on hard times that were not all his fault and how he was just as loved by God as anyone else in the building. Then Jesus pulled out the church checkbook and wrote the man a check for $500.oo in the presence of everyone. He gave it to the young man with no strings attached.

This upset many of the long term members of the congregation. Many of the older members who were among the primary financial supporters of the church went out to lunch with a group of deacons to discuss what should be done about Jesus and his actions.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mark 2:23-28; Lordship

I think the Pharisees often get a bad rap. We put them down as the bad guys that Jesus stood up to; rarely are they painted in a good light. Yet they were people trying to do their best to serve God. They knew the word of God better than anyone I can think of now. Still, they missed the point so often that it is scary to think of how I, someone with less knowledge than they, must miss the point so frequently.

So what would be the law or issue that I would point out to Jesus regarding other followers? What little thing do I miss the point on? Maybe it would be that they are undisciplined? How can someone be serving God if they let themselves go physically and don't practice any discipline in their life? Maybe it would be that they don't dress in the right way to show respect or moral integrity? Maybe it would be that they are less focused upon knowing scripture than I think is healthy or that they focus on parts of scripture that I don't think are as relative? Maybe I would point out that their personality is too abrasive or not outgoing enough or in some way does not seem Christ-like?

Maybe in that same conversation Jesus would turn to me and proclaim that the Son of Man is Lord of whatever area I am complaining about. Maybe today my primary job is to back off of my critical nature and just be a faithful follower. Maybe my job is to let Jesus rather than me be Lord of everything and everyone.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mark 2:13-22; I Wonder

I wonder. I wonder if Jesus felt any different around the morally upstanding and the morally depraved. He could see the faults of everyone and he chose to spend his time with those whom we call sinners. I wonder how they felt in his presence? Did they feel uncomfortable or encouraged as he ate with them?

He recognized the crowd called the "sinners" as being in need and did not argue that they were "sick". He granted that fact to the Pharisees but he reacted to them so differently. I wonder if that made them feel more sinful or more accepted?

I wonder if they cleaned up their language, stopped drinking and acted more ethical around Jesus? I wonder if it mattered as much to him as it did the Pharisees? I wonder if Jesus told jokes with them? I wonder if he toasted with them? I wonder if they hated to see him leave?

I wonder how close I come to making others feel the way he did? I wonder.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mark 2:1-12; Popular

So why was Jesus so popular? In chapter one people flooded the house where he was, searched for him early in the morning and followed him in such numbers that he could not enter towns. Chapter two begins with the crowd overflowing from the house into the street. When they could not reach him, people dug through the roof to see him.

So why do so many church buildings sit vacant today? Why are so many people angry with Christians? Gandhi once said "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ."

Ouch but amen at the same time. People flocked to Jesus or tried to kill him. He had a polarizing effect. That is not a description of most North American Christians. I wonder how he feels about the phenomenon?

Why are we not comfortable being polarizing agents in society? I have to ask myself if it Jesus that we really want to be like or something / someone else?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mark 1:40-45; Risk

Many things amaze me about this story. The faith of the leper was impressive. He basically stated his total confidence in the power of Jesus and said the prayer that Jesus said in the garden, i.e., "your will be done." Jesus reached out and touched the man before saying a word. It should have made him unclean as well; every person standing there probably held his / her breath. What would happen to the great teacher if he contracted leprosy? Five words later the man was redeemed. It was more than healing his skin, it was giving him life again. He could leave the caves, reconnect with family and resume his place in society. With his touch and his words, Jesus radically transformed the man and touched everyone he knew.

The leper took a chance in approaching Jesus. Every other Jew would have rejected him. He knew he was breaking the Levitical law in approaching Jesus. Yet he came.

Jesus took a chance in touching the man. He knew that contracting an infectious disease would end his ministry. Yet before saying a word, he touched the man.

Risk. Society, tradition and fear all tell us to avoid it. Yet both characters in this story took a chance. And a miracle resulted. Being vulnerable, taking a chance is to give room for God to work. Without taking a chance, we have no hope of a miracle story. I wonder how many lives will NOT be touched today because we will not take a chance.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mark 1:29-39; The Quiet

Jesus drew a crowd. They followed him from the synagogue to Peter's house and brought more people with them. Early the next morning, the crowd was back. Peter and the others surely thought that this meant success. They wanted Jesus to show up for the crowd; but Jesus left. He left to spend time alone in prayer. Then he left with the apostles to introduce the kingdom to other villages. The crowd meant nothing to him.

It seems to me that North Americans seek to be busy. We seek it like Jesus sought the quiet. We seek the crowd and events while he left them behind. We act like Peter attempting to get Jesus back on stage, though we should act like Jesus leaving the stage behind. As long as we measure success by popularity and numbers, we will never experience the peace that comes from time alone in quiet places with the Father.

I have often looked at Jesus' solitude moments and contemplated what went on. As God, did he need to express a list of petitions to the rest of God? Surely not. Yet isn't that what we commonly believe prayer to be? We use it like a Christmas list of needs, e.g., "I want, I need . . ." Yet it must be much more. Jesus sought it when life became busy. Instead of energizing off of the crowd, he energized from his time in communion with the Father. He experienced a relationship that filled his soul, gave him peace and clarified his purpose. I don't think that can happen in a crowd.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mark 1:14-27; The Kingdom

Jesus announced a new world; he called people to change their lives in order to live in the kingdom of God, which was imminent. Jesus said that the coming of the new world was good. Peter, Andrew, James and John all believed the message enough to walk away from their daily life. A demon possessed man even recognized it. But what was he doing in the synagogue? What kind of a world is it where the demon possessed sit together with the God seekers to study the Torah? How serious could he have been or the other followers around him have been? Indeed Jesus was calling for something different.

I wonder what it looks like to Jesus now? As he looks at the church, does he still see the demon possessed blending in with the God-seekers? Are we any more serious about following God than they were? Are we living in the kingdom of God?

Jesus was amazing. People were stunned by him. I don't want to live a life that makes me indistinguishable from the demon possessed. I don't want to live in a community where someone with such a core of evil blends in with the rest. I want to live in a kingdom ruled by God where amazing things happen.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mark 1:9-13; Spiritual Lows

Jesus went from the spiritual high of heaven being torn open, the Spirit descending on him and the Father speaking his approval to the spiritual depths of isolation, not eating for 40 days and Satanic temptation. From one extreme to the other overnight.

So what makes me think that my life should be any different? Somehow most of us have come to believe that we should have "normal" days or even "good" days. We expect God to take care of most of my problems and let me bump along without too much effort. Yet, if Jesus went from highs to lows so quickly, why should I expect to be more privileged than him?

Also it seems that the lows are when we question God's presence and concern. Yet his concern for the life of Jesus never wavered. So when I so often feel abandoned by God or question his concern, what does that say about me? Am I unable to recognize a desert experience? Do I think that I should be given an easier life than Jesus? Why do I think my life should be so easy when his was not?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mark 1:1-8; John

John sounds like an odd character. I doubt he would have been hired by most churches today. He dressed and ate in an odd manner; surely he stood out among his peers. His ministry is described as one calling out in the desert. It sounds lonely and very unproductive. He did not cry out in the marketplace or busy intersections but rather in the desert. Yet his ministry was used by God and people somehow heard him. His efforts were all directed at preparing people for Jesus. One message was all he had.

And so starts the good news about Jesus. It begins with an odd man, repeating the same message over and over in the desert. Yet somehow, God used him to prepare a society for what was to come.

It makes me ask myself about my life and ministry? Am I comfortable being counter-cultural? Am I content if I am not used in the busy places of life but am placed by God in more desert settings? Am I satisfied with spending my life pointing people to Jesus rather than to self? Am I able to accept John as normative for those who seek God? Could I have accepted the call that God gave to John? Or am I just another cultural Christian who wants what every UnChristian wants, i.e., human acceptance rather than God acceptance?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Philippians 4:10-23; Content

I wonder what impact it would have on the US economy if every Christian learned to be content? Our advertising industry is designed to make us discontent by believing we need more. It soon becomes the air we breath and we think that something new makes us feel better. We actually learn to be discontent in all circumstances. Therefore there is no difference in how Christians and unChristians spend money.

As soon as we buy a coke, we are asked if we are dissatisfied and would rather super size it. As soon as we buy a phone, we are told the upgrade will come out soon. We are taught dissatisfaction. This text calls us to satisfaction; it raises the question of do I really trust God or not?

My closet and my garage, therefore, are a testimony to trust. There is a bumper-sticker that reads, "The one with the most toys wins." Not true.

Proverbs 30:8, ". . . give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Philippians 4:8-9; Positive

Dr B could find something good in every student and every case, no matter how muddled it was. I had blown a diagnosis and I knew it that morning of my last year in Vet School. Dr B was my supervisor and I expected to be not only corrected but belittled; that was the norm. Yet he found a couple of positive aspects, i.e., the way I talked to the client, certain tests I recommended. The impact of that positive response during a moment of complete failure still is fresh on my mind. I want to be like Dr B.

I'm wired, however, for criticism. As a doctor I'm trained to look for what is hurt, broken or abnormal and fix it. It causes me to overlook the person and seek only pathology. Yet God calls us to rewire our outlook in order to find that which is good, honorable and noble. He also calls us to live the same way, not just think it but show it.

Instead of seeing the "glass as half empty" today, I pray that I can see the beauty of the glass and the positive attributes of the one who holds it. Maybe then I can have a little of the impact on others that Dr B or a Jewish carpenter have had on me.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Philippians 4:4-7; Living in the Presence

We are called to be joyful and thankful; we are told that gentleness and peacefulness will be the result. In a society that has a huge industry dedicated to making me feel anxious about not having the best (advertising), it is hard to be thankful. We are bombarded with "you need more" messages, when we really don't. In fact, we probably need much less in order to be truly healthy.

So how do you stay joyful and thankful when daily you are told that you are lacking? I think the answer is the little line "The Lord is near." If I really believe that, then what can a simple electronic device add to my life? If I believe that the Creator of the universe walks with me, is a new manmade anything going to add more joy to my heart? Is there room for anxiety in my heart when I experience the presence of God daily?

Tielhard de Chardin once said "Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God." Maybe put another way, it would seem that joy is the meter used to read how filled I am with God. I pray that today I can stay focused upon the simple act of rejoicing in the presence of God.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Philippians 4:1-3; More than Church

Nagging, backbiting and gossip. It is so disheartening to find it in church. How can we claim to be followers of Christ when his body is a bunch of cliques? How will society ever see Jesus if we can't get along? Surely it was never like this back in the day. . . but then again, Euodia and Syntyche apparently were just like that.

Perhaps what is striking is not that they had contention in the church but that Paul says that their names are written in the book of life. Sometimes we tend to think of people as members of a local congregation but maybe not with a claim to heaven. Yet these bickering women were among those that had entry through the pearly gates.

It calls into question my own beliefs. Do I really see the church as belonging to Christ and that he wants to forgive and redeem her? Do I really believe that the church is more than a local group of people but rather is an entity that will last for eternity? Will I let Jesus be the judge and quit evaluating people based upon my own standards? Can I look at those I don't like very much or don't feel try very hard in their faith and see them as "written in the book of life?" Can I see the local congregation with all her faults as the bride of Christ?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Philippians 3:12-21; Hard Work

It seems that we have a view of Christianity as sort of a spiritual club we join. We visit to see if we like it, go through a joining process and then become a member. After that we boil down its significance to avoiding the most atrocious errors, coupling the word spiritual with the word patriotic, and showing our face in a gathering of the other members. I have serious doubts that Paul would consider this behavior as living up to what we have already attained.

The call he gives here is to "press on" and "strive", words that carry a sense of hard work and struggle. Usually we use the word struggle to talk about sin; primarily it means "I keep committing the same mistake and I feel bad about it." Struggle rarely involves the effort to change relationships, schedule and habits. It is even more seldom about proactive growth.

So bluntly speaking, what will I make a pointed effort to change now? Before I quit reading, close the computer and walk away to begin a fast paced day, what will I resolve to "struggle" with today so that I treat someone differently or look more like Christ by day's end? How will I press on today?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Philippians 3:1-11; Sharing Everything

I am egotistical enough that I like to read a passage and check off my own attributes. I like to read and say "yep, I do that" (even when the passage, like this one, is specifically talking about not depending upon one's own abilities, I still find myself responding the same way). Then Paul throws in "share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death."

Since death is the end of us all, I can mentally defer, be it ever so passive, and say "yep, I'll do that." Yet this "share in his sufferings" is another thing.

I can handle living like Jesus, being a loving person, even changing life goals but to look forward to suffering is a stretch. Paul wanted to go through everything that Jesus did so that he could understand him in every way. So the real question here is not "do I want to share in the sufferings of Jesus" but "how much do I want to get to know him?" How close a relationship do I want to have with Jesus? How much do I value closeness with him?

I hate it when simple questions cut so deep.