Monday, January 31, 2011

Mark 14:43-65; Sitting by the Fire

"There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire." That seems like a creepy statement to me. Peter went from being Jesus "right arm" to sitting with the enemy. While Jesus was being abused by guards, Peter was visiting with them. There was probably small talk about the weather or current events as they warmed up to the fire; Peter surely was trying to blend in by participating at a moderate level. Across the way, Jesus was anything but blending in; he was the central focus of every statement. Peter was looking out for Peter and noone else; Jesus was looking out for Peter and everyone else, even those abusing him.

It would be easy to condemn Peter and shake our self-righteous heads at him. Yet we do the same thing over and over again. We warm ourselves by the societal fires of popularity and comfort while Jesus calls us to step out. We engage in all the same activities as those who have never heard of Christ and try to blend in. We dress, talk and spend our money no differently than those sitting at the fire of selfishness and greed while Jesus walks the path of selflessness and generosity alone.

So how do you keep yourself from sitting at society's fires? Perhaps the only way is to not runaway in the garden. If Peter had not allowed distance to come between him and Jesus in the garden, then he would have stood with Jesus in the trial. It would have been painful but it would have also been shameless instead of shameful. So in the still of this morning I get to make the same decision as Peter, how closely will I stand with Jesus now in order to avoid compromising decisions later? Those moments sitting by the wrong fire are indicators of poor garden decisions.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mark 14:27-42; Just an Hour

He knew before they did. How frustrating that must have been and how humbling when the apostles looked back at the event. Jesus predicted they would not stand up to the hour of trial and then they chose to tend to physical needs rather than spiritual needs.

It is the question Jesus asked Peter that seems haunting to me. "Couldn't you keep watch for one hour?" How might the scene have played out if Peter and the others had spent the night in prayer? Jesus would have continued on towards the cross but other events might have been different. Perhaps they would not have abandoned Jesus in the garden. Perhaps Peter would not have stayed at a distance and then denied he even knew Jesus. Perhaps they would not have been so confused by the events of the next three days. Perhaps.

What I know is that I very often choose to take care of physical needs instead of spiritual ones. It is easy to not keep watch for an hour. It is easy to ignore the spiritual events around me. Instead of denying self and following him, it is easy to deny him and follow self.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mark 14:12-26; Family Meal

There is so much to think about in this section that I have a hard time keeping one train of thought. The richness of the Jewish tradition, the breadth of behind-the-scenes emotions and the cryptic Old Testament allusions all draw me in. Yet, during this reading, it was simply the question of the disciples that prevailed in my mind. “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

The Passover was a family meal shared in the home. The question of the disciples brings up the necessary inference of ". . . because we are all homeless." Jesus was traveling with a small group that had indeed become his family. They had no plot of land to call home but they had each other to call brother and sister. It was with these that Jesus chose to share his most significant meal.

I hold strongly to old ideas of family. My wife, children and I eat together daily, spend holidays together, travel together, etc. Yet living far away from extended family has taught me that family can be more than blood relations.

So I ask myself with whom would I share my last meal on earth? What twelve people would I ask to spend special time with me? Who has become my family in my journey here? How have I treated them? How have I influenced them? Do they know they are significant to me?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Mark 14:1-11; Spiritual Lenses

When the little old lady dropped in her two coins, Jesus called it a spiritual act. When the teacher of the law spoke up about the Shema, Jesus called it a spiritual act. Now when an unnamed woman comes off of the street to annoint him with an entire jar of rediculously expensive perfume, he calls it a spiritual act.

While the apostles were struggling with financial concerns and the highest ranking priests were struggling with envy, Jesus looked at life through a different lens. He saw a beautiful expression of personal faith that others could not see.

What troubles me about this story is that I (and most church leaders?) would most likely have agreed with the apostles. How many mission committee decisions spin around cost rather than spiritual expression? How many opportunities for spiritual expression have been lost in faith communities due to a lack of spiritual lenses by leaders? How many people have I frustrated by sitting in the apostles seat?

The whole story is just a little strange, e.g., priests planning murder, lepers hosting the Messiah and homeless apostles worried about money. The ones that seem to act true to their nature are the unknown woman and Jesus. Perhaps the reason that the story has endured is that it calls all of us to live by a truly spiritual compass that the majority will never understand but which allows us to appreciate the influence of God when we see it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mark 13; What We Do Know

A few years ago I had the chance to attend a synagogue in New York City. It was a very enjoyable and enlightening experience. After everyone had left, I was blessed to sit and visit with the rabbi. As we talked, I asked him questions about something I had been reading that dealt with the "end times". His response was wise. Rather than engage in the conversation he simply said, "Let's talk about what we do know rather than what we don't."

As Jesus talked to his disciples he gave them some insights into the future with a special focus upon Jerusalem. Since I don't live in Jerusalem and have to worry about fleeing from it, that section does not really grab me. Otherwise the primary message I seem to walk away with is A) there are major world events to come and B) I should be alert regarding my spiritual life so that I am prepared to testify about Jesus under any circumstance. That is what we do know.

It is popular to play with the conjecture and debate the future. It is much more difficult to accept the challenge and live prepared.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mark 12:38-44; Sit

Yesterday I drove my son's truck. The gas gauge indicated I would need to stop soon and the temperature gauge indicated that it would take a few minutes before the engine warmed up enough to run the heater. The gas and temperature gauges were not the reality, just indicators of reality. I had to interpret the information they gave me and draw conclusions about reality.

Jesus looked at the actions of the teachers of the law as they prayed and worked in the synagogues. He looked at the actions of a "little old lady" as well. From those external indicators, he interpreted their reality.

I wish I could glance at a person like I glance at the gas gauge in order to understand their reality. Maybe what is the most instructive to me are the two verbs about Jesus, i.e., "sat" and "watched". It is not easy to spend time watching the indicators. It is not easy to stay fully present in the moment. The desires for other achievements and the hurry-sickness of our society call for casting glances rather than sitting and watching. Yet how often does the Bible record Jesus sitting down with people? It happens throughout his life; it says something about his life in the present moment.

Today I will work to practice the discipline of sitting with people.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mark 12:28-37; Sincere Faith

Just when we think that Jesus was an anti-institutional rebel, he throws a curve ball at us.

It is popular today to denounce the institutional church for her faults. Yes, there are many but at the same time, all is not lost. Jesus was confronted by the religious leaders of his day and indeed they had many faults as well. Yet, he stopped to recognize honest, sincere faith. Did he approve of the egocentrism of the teachers of the law? Obviously not from what follows. Yet he did not condemn the good hearts of those who worked within the system.

My children and my grandchildren will one day stand in judgment over my efforts to teach and guide. Will they see a man who conformed to the religious norms of his day or one who was swept along by the anti-institutional trends of the times? Will they see a conformist or a confrontationalist? Hopefully they will see neither since Jesus was neither. Hopefully they will see an honest man who recognized and honored sincere faith in whatever situation he encountered it.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mark 12:13-27; Shared Views

When Pharisees (those who pledged to resist foreign influence) work together with Herodians (supporters of the reigning Idumean non-Jewish kings), something is badly wrong. With opposite political views on government, surely Jesus would offend one of them; so they cooperated against a common enemy. Jesus saw through it and answered a political question with a political answer. When Sadducees ask resurrection details though everyone knows they do not believe in the resurrection, something is wrong. Jesus answered them by going to the only portion of the Bible they accepted (the Torah). He then added "you are badly mistaken". Ouch!

Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees and the church today -- that's an odd combination. Yet we all share the common characteristic of trying to squeeze God into our worldview boxes. "Surely God holds my political views," said the Pharisees and Herodians (and the Republicans and the Democrats and the Libertarians and . . . "Surely God understands scripture the way I do," said the Catholics and the
Protestants and the Anglicans and . . .

It truly troubles me to think of how many times I have sounded like a Pharisee, Sadducee or Herodian in my opinions, worldviews and advice to others. May God have mercy on my feeble understandings and my efforts to instruct others.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mark 11:27-12:12; Fear Led

Both of these stories climax with fear of the crowd. The Jewish leaders could not answer Jesus clearly because of that fear and then later would not speak out against him due to that same fear. As an observer outside the story, it is easy to snub one's nose at the leaders. After all, how can one lead if one fears the followers?

Then I look at our normal daily life. Does Washington ever make or not make policy due to fear of the crowd? Do politicians make or not make promises based upon public opinion? Do church leaders ever sit silently due to fear of congregational reaction? Do I fail to live for Christ or take a stand out of fear of the opinions of others?

This fear of the crowd led the leaders. It escorted them down a dark path that culminated in the death of Jesus. It is valid to ask "where is it leading me?"

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mark 11:12-25; Mountain Moving

Jesus demonstrated his condemnation of the improper use of religion by the side story of the fig tree. I think those with him understood the point. What seems out of place at first glance is not the fig tree but the final statement about forgiveness.

It seems like the amazing actions are those of withering a tree or moving a mountain. Yet Jesus assures all of us that these can be done with faith. The hard part is forgiveness. Mountain moving is no big deal when compared to turning loose of pain. Perhaps it is easier to change the future of a tree than to let go of a desire for justice. Maybe the real mountains that we must grapple with moving are those in our souls. To let go of my right to demand justice against the person who mistreated me, the person who abused me, the one who lied to me, the one who betrayed my trust, the one who hurt my child . . . those are truly mountains. And those are hard to move. Indeed they cannot be moved without faith.

So in spite of the fact that it seems like the miracle of the fig tree was an impressive miracle to teach us about the condemnation of misguided religion, perhaps the weightier teaching is that the greatest miracle is the one that God works in the human heart when we forgive.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Mark 10:46-11:11; What the Blind Man Saw

If Bartimaeus wrote a journal, maybe it would read like this. . .

I woke up this morning and my friend helped me to my usual street corner where I could spend the day begging. It was so cold sitting on the ground but eventually the sun came up and I slid over into the light a little. It seemed like a normal day with almost everyone ignoring me as they passed. I called out but they did their best to act like they couldn't hear me. I could hear them with their condescending grunts and self-righteous sniffs.

Then chaos hit. A huge mob came bustling down the road; I feared I would be trampled at first. The pieces of chatter I picked up were all about the Messiah, a new kingdom, new teachings and miracles. Then it hit me that this must be that prophet that everyone says is the promised descendant of David who will restore Israel. I had heard that he could even give the dead life again. I knew it was my only chance and I started to shout to him. I assumed he had already passed by and so I shouted louder. The ones closest to me seemed annoyed. They threw harsh words my way telling me to shut up, act a little decently, respect the man's time and other things like that. But it was my only chance. Truly a once in my lifetime moment. I shifted from shouting to screaming with words. Then the mob slowed to a stop. Someone grabbed me by the arm and said "Come on; he wants to talk to you." I felt like I had been grabbed by a policeman but my excitement was off the charts. Then I heard his voice. Out of the confusion and darkness came soft, clear words. "What to you want me to do for you?" They were not condescending words. They did not feel like they came from someone in a hurry. I know there was a crowd around us but it felt like there was no one else on earth, just the gentle speaker of those words and me. I wanted to respond eloquently but all I could do was blurt out, "Teacher, I want to see." The next thing I knew there was a face in front of me. It was smiling at me with kind eyes that seemed to look into my heart. I will never forget that moment -- the first time I saw a human face and it was the face of God.

I joined the mob and we walked to Jerusalem. The whole city turned out as Jesus rode into town like a conquering king. Surely Israel was about to be restored. The excitement gave all of us an adrenaline rush. This was not only my moment but it was the nation's moment. And the leader of it all had stopped for me. What a day. What a man . . . Messiah . . . God. Wow.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mark 10:35-45; Powerlessness

Somehow we are wired to seek power; Jesus has all power and seeks those who relinquish power. In the early paragraphs of this chapter little children are accepted while the actions of adults are spurned and rich men are stumped while poor people are embraced. Yet James and John still wanted power. Obviously the indignation of the other apostles was not due to their lack of seeking power but due to jealousy; otherwise, Jesus would not have stopped to teach them again.

Perhaps the greatest irony is that all this occurs as the king of the world is marching to surrender himself to his enemies. There is no scene that conveys a greater lack of power than that of the accused and abused Jesus who refuses to fight back. On his way to surrender, his disciples audaciously play power games.

Two thousand years later, we do not have it down either. Often church leaders are those who have success in business, who "get things done by running over others" or who have higher degrees. Success and education are good things but were never meant by Jesus to be the goal of life nor the reason for promoting someone to leadership in the kingdom. What would the church look like today with child-hearted, economically unsuccessful leaders whose first reaction was to surrender rather than fight back?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mark 10:13-31; Answers when Approached

Pharisees, little children and a rich man approach Jesus in this chapter. The Pharisees came to critique and left ashamed. The little children were brought in innocence and were received. The rich man came asking for more information and was told what he already knew. We all approach Jesus in different ways; what we find is never complicated. This seems the most explicit with the rich man. Instead of more details about life, Jesus responded with the last 6 of the 10 commandments. He skipped the first 4 which deal with a relationship with God and focused only the last 6 which deal with human interaction. When the rich man did not understand, he simply added "complete devotion shown in giving to the poor and following Jesus" to the list, i.e., basically the first commandment. Nothing fancy or complicated, just living life the way the innocent children would.

People today often seek Jesus today by going to a church. They are met with a new set of social norms (unspoken and unintended but very real) and rigid schedule demands (such as be here twice Sunday and participate in one of these other ministries). I don't think they find the simple answers about daily living that Jesus gave. Sometimes I wonder if we would let Jesus be a leader in our churches; he certainly did not seem to fit the norm for a modern minister trying to build a community.

I know my perspective is skewed and I can only see a glimmer of the glaring truth that Jesus spoke. Yet it is enough to realize that I still have a long way to go in order to be as simple and refreshing as Jesus. The followership he called for was not a light burden with regard to its complexity but heavy with regard to its implications for daily living.