Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mark 10:1-12; Teacher

So many discussions about divorce have come from these verses; yet it is not the subject of divorce that catches my attention. What jumped out at me today was the phrase "as was his custom, he taught them." By nature, Jesus was a teacher. He came as the herald of a new kingdom. The text does not say, "as was his nature, he healed them or set up a hospital." That Jesus cared for the physical nature of humanity is undoubted; yet, his reputation was that of the teacher -- one who guided and instructed. When our world looks at the followers of Jesus today (more directly -- when people look at me), what do they see? How would the sentence end today? "As was his nature, Gary ________." If I am to walk in the steps of Jesus, it stands to reason that the word "taught" should fill the blank. What would our world look like if all Christians were known as those who were apt to teach about the spiritual kingdom of God?

With that mindset, I find the discussion with the Pharisees even more enlightening. As so many of us do, they came asking where is the line? Today's questions are similar. How far is too far on a date between singles? How much do I need to give in offerings? How frequently must I meet with other Christians? How many drinks can I take before its a sin? All are questions of legality and limit seeking. Jesus, the master teacher, did not engage in limit seeking. His response was to look at the heart of God; to call people back to the core principle of unity rather than delineate how far we can walk away from God and still be spiritually alive.

My prayer today is to stay focused upon the heart of God and teach it to others.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Mark 9:30-50; Last Place

Yesterday I read Scott Bessenecker's How To Inherit the Earth. Great book. Challenging book. As I read through these verses, they say the same thing as his book, i.e., somehow along the way we have allowed corporate America to invade the church. We don't think like Jesus but rather we think like the apostles on the road. We still do not recognize true servants and pursue last place.

When I was in college the book that drove us all to achieve was The Pursuit of Excellence. It was classic 80s literature for forming yuppies. We all came away desiring to be the best at everything . . . except at being last. Whatever happened to forming ourselves by the literature of the first century which calls for just that?

I have to admit that when I read this section on being salted, I really wish Peter had pulled one of his verbal blunders that would have spurred Jesus on to a longer explanation. Yet what I can walk away with is simply this -- causing innocent people to sin is bad. Ignoring innocent people while we pursue "excellence" is bad. The ultimate reward for both is really bad. Being touched (salted) by Jesus is good. So we should be content with being touched by Jesus and learn to be at peace with the position (or lack of position) in life that results from that touch.

So maybe we didn't need Peter to ask questions after all. The hard part is not understanding; what's hard is contentment as opposed to pursuit.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mark 9:14-29; Unbelief

"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief." Those words ring so true. They come straight from the heart and express the struggle within each of us. Oh, it is easy to believe when there is no cost or risk. When following Jesus is merely a check-mark on a census form, a means of social identity or a mental orientation, then believing is not so difficult. "Yes, I believe in Jesus" we proclaim when there is nothing to lose. But what about when all my hopes and expectations are on the line? When this man was confronted by Jesus about his belief, it was not about his mental assent but rather about his hope for his son's future. Do I believe in Jesus when the health of my child is on the line? When my baby may not survive without a miracle from God, can I say "I believe" with as much confidence as I did when I checked the blank on the census form? When I face the problem of pain and death, do I believe? When my answer to an interview question will determine my future and that of my family, do I believe? When I have committed the same mistake and hurt the same people for the thousandth time, do I believe? Do I believe that he can change me? Change others? Change anything?

Perhaps the greater question is do I want to take the risk of letting go of my unbelief? Unbelief, after all, is a security blanket into which one can wrap oneself for protection. By not counting totally on Jesus a backdoor is left open, a place where one can be less vulnerable and say "well, I knew he wouldn't respond." Belief when taken seriously leaves one vulnerable. The real question, therefore, is am I willing to utter the second half of the father's statement, i.e., "help me overcome my unbelief?"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mark 9:1-13; Peter

According to Irenaeus (2nd Century), Mark wrote from the teachings of Peter. With that in mind it is interested to read the narrative comments in this section. The description of the whiteness of Jesus' garments strikes me as coming from an eyewitness. Yet is is the comment of "he did not know what to say, they were so frightened" and the comment that they did not understand what rising from the dead meant that strike me the most.

Peter really didn't understand Jesus for most of Jesus' life. Yet, he had a deep enough conviction to stay near Jesus. He might not have been able to write a systematic theology, but he understood that this man was special. Peter would go on to mess up even after Jesus was raised from the dead (in Galatians Paul talks about confronting him in his error). Yet the heart of the man was never in doubt.

If ever there was a person that Jesus (and God the father in this story) had reason to give up on or cast out for failure, it was Peter. Jesus' patience with him and even inclusion of him into the "inner circle" inspire me. Whenever I feel like I don't understand God or have just acted ignorantly or totally failed in my faith, I think of Jesus' patience with Peter.

If I had three years to save the world, Peter would not have been my first choice of followers. How grateful I am that God looks at the heart and not just the actions.
1 Samuel 16: 7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mark 8:27-38; Following

After Jesus feeds four thousand and heals a blind man, he asks the disciples "do you get it? Do you know who I am?" Peter gives the right answer but does not understand what it means. I wonder how common that is?

According to everything I read, our society hears us proclaim that we follow Jesus but then notes that our lives declare that we really don't know what that means. How do we say we follow Jesus and then move our buildings to the suburbs when the neighborhood becomes too _____ (the blank can be filled in with words like violent, racial, poor, etc.).

Yet it is always easier to point the finger at others than look at self. I proclaim that I follow the Messiah (not just recognize him) but when my children look at my life do they see me follow him? Do my conversations with students, actions on a golf course, attitudes while driving proclaim the same?

The most amazing thing to me is that Jesus knew we would all fall so short. Yet he came anyway. And he let's us use his name. Would I let a bunch of people that I knew were doomed to fail call themselves by my name? It makes the failures seem even more sad.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mark 8:14-26; One More Time

I am so glad that the apostles often did not understand Jesus; it keeps me from feeling alone.

It is so easy to shake our heads at the apostles for missing the point and forgetting who Jesus was. Yet, I don't doubt that they look down at me now and shake their heads more. Jesus asked them about their short-term memory regarding two occasions. In my case, he could rip off a list of dozens.

"Don't you remember what happened when you prayed for your friend in high school? Don't you remember what happened when you prayed about not having children? Don't you remember what happened when you prayed for guidance about where to move, or when to return to the states, or which job to take, or how to lead different groups and individuals, don't you remember . . ?"

To make the point just a little more bluntly, the next thing Jesus did was heal a blind man. Interestingly, he healed him with a second touch. I know that I have already had a second touch and don't deserve another. My prayer is that I will not fall back into blindness but have clearer memory and that Jesus will not tire of touching me a second or third or . . . time.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mark 8:1-13; See the Need

It is intriguing that Jesus does not actually ask the apostles to feed this crowd. He simply points out the need. Then they begin to figure out how to respond.

So often in life God seems to operate this way. He simply presents needs to us. There are times, I must confess, that I am frustrated with others around me who can stroll by those needs without seeing a thing. How can they be so blind? How can they be so content in their blindness?

Yet the real difficulty comes in responding to any presented need. Like this story I often feel that what I have to work with is laughingly insufficient. Yet in this story the insufficient was made sufficient through Jesus' touch. They key will be to make myself remember that the next time I see a student who needs personal mentoring, a body of believers with no direction, a group stuck in confusion, etc.

To be honest the most lacking resources seem to be time and energy. In other words, there is an insufficient amount of me. Therefore the issue becomes do I believe that Jesus can touch and multiply me to meet the needs. Obviously I mentally assent to the concept and believe it in my heart. But will I default to that belief the next time I see a need?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mark 7:24-37; Spiritual begging

This mother had every reason to give up. She was not the right race, she was powerless politically and Jesus flatly told her no. If ever there was a moment to give up, it was then. Yet she basically ignored Jesus' "no" and persisted in her begging.

The next story has a man brought to Jesus and the story says that his friends begged. No asking or just put him nearby like some people. These openly begged for Jesus to respond. That fact that they begged implies the need to beg, i.e., a slow response from Jesus.

In comparison my prayers don't seem very passionate. Often I have taken the first rejection as a "no" from God. And what does this mean to a generation that looks for "signs" from God more than it looks to Jesus? If either of these stories had occurred within the millennial generation, I think they would have ended differently. They would have definitely settled for a "no" answer. Yet perhaps the entire section is recorded to teach us about the person of Jesus and how we get his attention. If so, how does my prayer life compare? Perhaps another question that I have to answer would be "what is there in my life that I am so passionate about that I am ready to beg?"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mark 7:1-23; Modern Pharisees

So what would it be now? What would Jesus point to in our religious world and scoff at? What would Jesus not like about Christianity?

Would he be upset that the money that goes into enhancing the beauty of a church building or paying the electricity bill for a church building was money not spent on helping the poor? Would he be sad that expenditures on a youth group to have fun and build relationships was not an expenditure to feed and cloth someone? Would he be angry that the time spent in dedication to him is dwarfed by the time spent in sports? Would he shake his head that non-profit organizations often do more Christian service than churches? Would he be upset that the formality and unspoken rules associated with many churches prohibit the spiritually bankrupt from setting foot in the door?

It is so easy for us to look down on the Pharisees but I fear that I might be more inconsistent than they were. I fear that Jesus might look at my life and the lives of many around me and shake his head in disappointment.

I pray that he will open my eyes now rather than doing so on judgment day.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mark 6:45-56; Comments

"They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened." It is often the comments of the narrator of stories like these that bother me the most. I could read through the entire account and contemplate the scene, be impressed with how Jesus could walk on water and control the winds. I could be encouraged about how he sent the apostles away to get some rest and how he pulled away himself. Then I bump into a comment by Mark (as perhaps told him by Peter).

Basically the punch of the comment is "if you think that is amazing it's because you don't understand anything yet. You really don't understand that Jesus is God. You don't get it, do you?"

And the sad thing is that I have to admit that he is correct. If I saw Jesus walking on water or controlling a storm, I would still be impressed. My natural self is so entrenched in the rules of this physical world that I forget that he lives by another set of rules. I forget that God is not limited like me.

I wonder how many times God did something last week so outside of my realm of understanding that I totally missed seeing him at work. How many times did he answer prayers last month but I gave credit to some person changing their mind or some disease not being as bad as we thought. How many times, I wonder, has he calmed storms around me or walked by me and I was so amazed at the change in normal circumstances that I either totally missed him or revealed my total lack of faith in him by the way he answered. In those moments, Mark would say "the only reason that you are so amazed right now is that you really don't understand God."

I really don't like those comments . . . because they cut so deep.