Monday, November 22, 2010

Mark 6:30-44; Overtime

It had been quite a day. Word of John the Baptist probably had reached Jesus, he had taught many people and his apostles were coming back full of excitement and news. Time to take a break; time to get away. I appreciate this part of the story. The one who created rest still advocates it. He and the apostles pulled away from the crowd from some downtime.

When they land on the other side, there is another crowd. Now a mere 5000 people (minimum) are expecting something from him. This is where everything inside of me would cry out "no!". He was supposed to be resting but he could not.

Some call it spiritual overtime. You have given all you have and the day is supposed to be over, but it is not. Like overtime in sports, the day keeps going and you have to as well.

Yet Jesus did it with love in his heart. There is no self-pity, fussing or irritability in the story. He truly had compassion for others and did not think of himself. For him it became a great moment to bless the crowds.

There are many times that I feel I am in spiritual overtime; that is not my challenge. My challenge is to be in overtime with the same attitude that Jesus had.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mark 6:7-28; Bad Ending

I read this morning of Jesus calling the twelve and sending them out. I was struck by the immediacy of the sending. We tend to call people into our community and then beg them not to leave. When a person does rise up who wants to be a missionary (the Latin term for apostle or "one sent out"), we immediately ask how much do you need? That is code for "how little can you survive on so that we can spend most of our money on ourselves while spending as little as possible to keep you alive?"

As I read the next story, seeking a broader perspective or completion for the first story, I was struck by the abrupt ending. John's followers and surely John himself were praying for deliverance. Then, for no apparent reason, John's life was taken. It was taken by the powerful on a whim. To satisfy a grudge held by a God-less woman, John was killed. Even the one giving the ultimate order knew it was wrong.

Yesterday I watched as a few good young men were passed over and disrespected in a sporting event by their own coaches. Most of the fans were oblivious; the young men were deeply hurt. As I read the story of John, all I could think was that life often has bad endings. As much as I want to explain it away or give it a nice theological package, the bottom line is that for John, his followers and a few young men yesterday, life was totally unfair while for a few ruthless powerful people life was fun.

I hate stories like these. I hate bad endings. When I read them or experience them, they make me hope that heaven and hell are not just metaphors. They make me hope that the story is really not over and there is another ending yet to come.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mark 6:1-6; Amazed

If you are God and create the entire world, what would it take to amaze you? After all, you know everything and have seen everything . . . literally. So when the text says that Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith, that's a pretty bold statement. God stood in awe of their depth of failure. What a sad statement regarding spiritual bankruptcy.

The story amazes me too but in different ways. In my imaginary reconstruction of the life of Jesus, I always see people fascinated with his miracles. That, after all, is what would amaze me. If someone walked into our university and began to heal people in wheelchairs, stop fever and mend broken bones simply by his touch, I would be pretty impressed to say the least. Yet the text lists that as the third thing that the people took notice of.

The first things that they were amazed by were his teachings and wisdom. It was the power of his word that drew them in. It was the difference between his words and the words of others that amazed them. Somehow his words were even more impressive than raising the dead and healing the sick.

So from this section on "amazement", I have to ask myself. First, is God amazed at me? Is he amazed at my lack of faith like he was this group of people? Does Jesus offend me in some way so that I pull back from him? Second, if his words were so amazing to them, why are they not so amazing to me? Have I become immune? Have I missed something? Have I forgotten how to listen? That would be sad . . . amazingly sad.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mark 5:21-42; New World

Jesus seemed to live in a different reality. He seemed to see things in spiritual ways that others could not. Those who entered that world with him were very blessed; but not many entered it. After all, new worlds usually don't feel very safe.

A crowd of people bumped into him and touched him. Yet only one person touched him in a way that connected. When it happened the All-Knowing made sure everyone was aware of it. I wonder how many of us go to church or join the masses living as "Christians" but really we are only bumping into him -- not really connecting.

Then there was the father who had a very special need and came to connect with Jesus. When the bad news arrives, the text says that Jesus overheard or ignored the news (depending on the translation). At any rate the implication is that it was not spoken to him. His response was to call the father to not lose his faith based upon only that which is seen. He called the dad to hope against hope based upon a worldview that was exclusive to God. How much faith did it take for that dad to walk home with Jesus? How did he feel when Jesus sent the mourners away? If Jesus failed him, he would have been disgraced.

For both the sick lady and the desperate father, Jesus offered a new world. In the crowd that day, only those two entered into a new reality -- God's reality. What will it take for me to do the same?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mark 5:1-20; Safe?

"Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

That's how Mr. Beaver spoke of Aslan in the Chonicles of Narnia (books). It is a great summary of what stands out to me in this story of Jesus. The demons knew he was not safe. The possessed man knew Jesus was powerful. The entire town recognized that he overpowered someone that they could never overpower. In fact, the demons submitted to him and begged his permission to act. This is not a safe person.

But oh how we tame Jesus. We only talk about the one who touches lepers, cradles children and talks about love. Whatever happened to recognizing him as the King? How did we lose sight of him controlling demons or the winds and waves?

A tame Jesus really doesn't do me much good at times. He doesn't really help a lot when I have serious issues. He is not the Jesus I appeal to when a friend is in ICU. He is not the Jesus I want when I've been treated unjustly. I want the Jesus who has power to change things. It's not just "our father" that I pray to but rather "our father in heaven."

That means a Jesus who is not on my level; who is much more powerful than me. It means a Jesus that is not safe. After all, supreme beings with infinite power tend to do things their way. Yet it forces me to give up my comfort zone of pat answers and predictability if I truly accept an unsafe Jesus. The more I think about it, the less Jesus seems to fit in this society.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mark 4:26-41; The Faith Question

The contrasting questions are interesting. The apostles ask Jesus (God), "Don't you care if we drown?" He asks them "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
"Do you care?" is answered with "Do you have faith?"

I think the same conversation is still going on today. I hear myself asking God is he cares about my friends who are suffering, my family struggles and my major decisions. I can only imagine that he is asking back "Do you still have no faith?"

The silence of God bothers us. We want answers before the problems come so that we avoid the problems. We want him to act as the problems first start to build, not wait until they are flowing in over the side and about to swamp us. We want him to act so that we don't have to have faith.

Yet if Schwietzer was right when he said that "relationship is the only thing", then instead of concern for X situation, my concern should be about God in X situation. What does he want from me in this moment? What do I need to do in this circumstance to honor him? How do I demonstrate faith in him now? How do I act so that he won't ask me again, "Do you still have no faith?"

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mark 4:21-25; Contemplate

Contemplate. It is a word that we don't use much anymore. It brings up images of people sitting in one spot with their eyes closed and maybe even humming softly to themselves. For others it sounds like hard work or even frustrating work. For all of us it means exiting the fast lane for a period of time. Perhaps that is why it is so infrequently practiced.

Jesus called his disciples to contemplate or consider carefully what he was saying. It was not "just do it" but rather "if you don't focus on this now, you may never understand". He called us to deeper knowing.

It is an intriguing and perhaps scary to know that by contemplation I can come to understand much more but that without it, I will actually lose what I have already understood. Therefore it is impossible to "arrive" at a spirituality that does not require ongoing effort. To be spiritual requires listening. To listen requires effort. To truly live requires effort. It requires the effort of focus and the effort of not "just doing" until we have truly heard.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mark 4:1-20; Unfruitful

It is so easy to think that others suffer from being choked out while I am the last soil; but I have to be honest. When I act stressed over the "to do list" of today, am I not choking out the fruit of the Spirit in my life? When I worry about a certain event (a deadline, an activity) am I not choking my spiritual life?

It is hard to live in the land of affluence and not become blind to the needs of others. While most of the world lives on a dollar a day, I waste multiple dollars daily on junk food, coffee or unnecessary items, all the while thinking that I am not deceived like others. All the while I think I can watch today's media and not let it control my desires either. Innocently or ignorantly I watch commercial after commercial and slowly become discontent with what I have so that I start to desire what I do not have . . . and do not need.

In my garden there is a weed that I hate. It is pretty at first and it grows at phenomenal rates. It even has some pretty morning-glory-like flowers. Yet if I leave it alone for a week, it will wrap around and weave through other plants so much that it chokes them. It is an amazing plant that perfectly represents the worries of life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desire for other things. Left unattended my spirit gets invaded. My heart and original intent can still be seen but only as remnants of what they could have been.

I don't want to be a skeleton of what could have been. I don't want to get to the end of life and see that I almost lived out my convictions. I don't want to be choked into living almost spiritually. . . almost but not enough to have significant fruit.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mark 3:20-35; Seated and Listenting

The section begins and ends with family. In the middle it deals with those who are supposed to be the most informed and studied religious leaders of their day. All of them missed who Jesus was. Only the people seated at Jesus' feet are complimented; everyone else ends up on the outside of a relationship with him.

So where am I? What does it look like today to be seated at the feet of Jesus? It is easy to claim a "once and for all" relationship with him but then not act like family. Indeed I think that is what repulses most people about Christians, i.e., we claim a right and relationship with him but then act as if we want to change him rather than be changed by him. The Pharisees had the same attitude; it was easier to explain away Jesus than follow him. His physical family and the scholars could not bring themselves to sit at his feet.

It seems to boil down to submission. Those who humble themselves to sit and learn are accepted over those who have some other claim to Jesus. It makes me question my heart and my Christianity. Am I a Christian due to a one time act of faith or due to ongoing discipleship? Do I base my claim upon having come to know him at some point in time or upon daily submission to his guidance? Do I accept or resist the leading of his Spirit in my life? And how do I evaluate others? Do I believe a person is in the Jesus family due to a one time action or due to ongoing submission to him as the head of the family?