Thursday, March 31, 2011

He had spit on the man’s eyes

Mark 8:1-26
Some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When He had spit on the man’s eyes and put His hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

Once more Jesus put His hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

Not only do I notice that each healing is different in detail, but here I notice an interesting thing.

Jesus is weird.

I mean, why did He spit on the man's eyes? Did He have to do it that way? It's, well, it's disgusting! And as I look at this with new eyes, I notice that if I was there, quite honestly, I would think Jesus was weird and I would start thinking of ways to re-direct Him so He wouldn't be so offensive at times.

Even to the Pharisees, Jesus is downright rude in this passage. Couldn't He be more cordial? More polite? More politically correct? I mean, the Pharisees were the heavy-weights of the religious world.

But Jesus is not weird. He is perfect, by definition. He is God. He doesn't have to impress people, or show people who He is, or try to be popular, or ask people to "Like" Him on Facebook. We don't have to approve or even understand Him. And we certainly do not need to change Him.

So of course, this leads me to remember all the other men I have tried to re-direct. Maybe that was a bad idea. Maybe. Maybe they were more like Jesus than I am, and my definition of weird is off.

Maybe I am being judgmental. Ya think?

Father, help me to see You with new eyes, and to see Your beloveds with new eyes too. Help me be less judgmental and more loving. Let me love even the weird people. Because only then am I loving You.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

she kept begging Him

Mark 7:24-37
At once, a woman whose little daughter had, was under the control of, an unclean spirit heard about Him and came and flung herself down at His feet. Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by nationality. And she kept begging Him to drive the demon out of her little daughter.

And He said to her, First let the children be fed, for it is not becoming or proper or right to take the children's bread and throw it to the little house dogs.

But she answered Him, Yes, Lord, yet even the small pups under the table eat the little children's scraps of food.

And He said to her, Because of this saying, you may go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter permanently.

On Sunday, Pastor Tim talked about prayer and my heart opened up to a great truth: be bold, be honest. Pastor Tim said God always answers: sometimes He says NO, sometimes He says GROW (we need to grow/mature before God can give us what He has planned for us), sometimes He says SLOW (I am always in a hurry, God is not), and sometimes God says GO (or YES, my favorite answer).

For me, it is all about control. I want to know what to expect, what will happen, when I pray. But God is so unpredictable. You never know what He is going to do, or how He is going to answer. I realized then how much I want to control the outcome. Almost like I'd rather pray a lesser prayer and be more confident of the outcome, than to pray the bold prayer and worry about the rejection of getting a NO.

That's why this story is so important. Look how shamelessly bold this Greek woman is! She does not care even how Jesus answers her, she is relentless in her pursuit of a healing for her daughter. Father, this is how I want to be all the time. I want to be totally honest with what I want and think I need so You and I can wrestle with these things and I can receive Your answer in truth. I want to trust You so much that I can rest in You controlling the outcome.

However, contrast this with the story that follows about the deaf mute who was healed. He did NOTHING!! He said nothing. And still Jesus healed him. We cannot control Jesus by doing anything--it is ALL about HIS mercy.

Yesterday I had jury duty. As I went through the process of signing in, being called and questioned, it became very real to me that the judge was in control of my life for perhaps a few days, perhaps a few weeks. There was nothing I could do.

Free fall. That is really how life is, all else is an illusion of control. I need to give it up, Father, and ask for what I need and let the chips fall where they may. I need to rest in the fact of Your wisdom and Your love. In all cases, every answer, the NOs, GROWs, SLOWs and GOs are all a product of your love. You who made me, love me, saved me, are better at choosing. Let me say with those who saw you in Mark's gospel:

He has done everything excellently, commendably and nobly! He even makes the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It comes from within

Mark 7:1-23
For the Pharisees and all of the Jews do not eat unless [merely for ceremonial reasons] they wash their hands [diligently up to the elbow] with clenched fist, adhering [carefully and faithfully] to the tradition of [practices and customs handed down to them by] their forefathers [to be observed]...

And [Jesus] said, What comes out of a man is what makes a man unclean and renders [him] unhallowed... All these evil [purposes and desires] come from within, and they make the man unclean and render him unhallowed.

We're reading a book by that name, by Andy Stanley. Actually I bought it and Al grabbed it and started reading it first. Here is that scripture-source -- evil comes from our hearts, from within.

It strikes me how "carefully and faithfully" the Pharisees were to follow their own traditions, and how careless and faithless they were about the things of God--the things He specifically laid out in His Law.

How am I different? In my house, I have a way to do things. A way to do the laundry, stack the dishes in the drainer, select foods at the supermarket. Now that I am working full time and Al has been trying to help me more, we talked about that, how I insist on my own way and how that discourages him to help me. Why can't I be just as eager to follow God's clear commands? Why do I insist on my own way?

It's because I think I am so smart, so right, so good. That is just what the Pharisees thought here. They thought they were so smart, so right, so good, that in fact, they totally missed the Messiah, the one their nation had been waiting for.

What am I totally missing?

Father, humble my heart to hear Your Word. Empower my heart to follow Your commands carefully and faithfully. For Your Word is truth and Your commands sweet life to my body. Let me not miss it. Let me see You clearly.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

as many as touched Him were restored

Mark 6:30-56
But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

This sections starts and ends with the crowds running to Jesus and His great compassion for them. Even though Jesus intended to go away with His disciples for a rest, He was driven with the compassion He had towards His people. He could not turn away from them, and He healed and fed them.

Part of His plan for the disciples, and for us it seems, is to love His people with the deep compassion and passion as He did. But also to grasp and rely on God's power within us. We give up too soon, sense the impossible, even when God fully intends to do the miraculous. I wonder why God does so little in our midst, but do I trust Him for the bigger things? I think to myself, yes, it is foolish that the disciples were amazed that Jesus walked on water after He just fed 5,000 men plus their families with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread, but am I any different? Is not my heart just as dull as theirs?

And He went up into the boat with them, and the wind ceased (sank to rest as if exhausted by its own beating). And they were astonished exceedingly, beyond measure, for they failed to consider or understand the teaching and meaning of the miracle of the loaves; in fact their hearts had grown callous and had become dull and had lost the power of understanding.

All this action, Lord, can be distracting. It seems what You are really trying to tell us is that You adore us, love us with such tenderness, in fact, that you cannot turn away from our pain and need. But we don't trust You. You did all this because You wanted us to believe and trust You. And I don't enough.

And wherever He came into villages or cities or the country, they would lay the sick in the marketplaces and beg Him that they might touch even the fringe of His outer garment, and as many as touched Him were restored to health.

Beloved, You created universes from Your spoken word, from the heights of the sky to the depths of the sea, to the microscopic parts of our wondrous bodies. Nothing is impossible for You! Allow me to know the difference between the vain imaginations of my own heart, and the truly miraculous that You desire to do with our hands. Help us to run to You, reach out to You, and not be afraid because You Are.

Friday, March 25, 2011

His head on a platter

Mark 6:14-29
Herod was in awe of John. Convinced that he was a holy man, he gave him special treatment. Whenever he listened to him he was miserable with guilt—and yet he couldn't stay away. Something in John kept pulling him back...
...Unwilling to lose face with his guests, he caved in and let her have her wish. The king sent the executioner off to the prison with orders to bring back John's head.

The story turns back to John the Baptist, demonstrating that loving God is not about getting the life you always wanted, but losing your life. Sometimes, God causes miracles and saves lives. Sometime, inexplicably, almost randomly, evil prevails (see Acts 12). It makes it difficult to believe in God's goodness. Makes you think twice about telling the truth about God's holiness, as that was what John did that cost him his head.

And yet, Father, although I may never lose my head for serving You, I have lost other things, maybe lessor things, but loss just as well. And I hold them up beside You and they are not worthy of my days. Your beauty, siding with Your party was so much sweeter than anything else I could have ever had or done.

But back to Herod. In contrast, he did not have the courage, the humility, whatever it takes to say yes to You. He knew!! He knew what John said was true. And yet, he could not leave the depth of his sin to come to You. He continued to wallow in the mire of it. What a sad, sad man.

And yet, at the time, I am sure as the disciples of John carried his body off to bury him with dignity, they must have wondered about it with deeply broken hearts. Was it worth it? Is God really good?

There are times in our lives where we all wrestle with these things. When I think of people, good people who I loved dearly, who died young, I wonder about Your purpose, Father. But in the end, You are beautiful and true and there is no where else to go. Whatever it takes, whatever I lose, I choose You!
I choose You!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

telling everyone they met

Mark 6:7-13
"... if any community will not receive and accept and welcome you, and they refuse to listen to you, when you depart, shake off the dust that is on your feet, for a testimony against them."

I still worry about what people think of me. I worry about offending them, turning them off to Christianity. I was re-reading Blue Like Jazz today and could really relate to what Don Miller said: "So much of me believes strongly in letting everybody live their own lives, and when I share my faith, I feel like a network marketing guy trying to build my down line." Sometimes when I talk, I feel like I am selling religion, trying to make it sound appealing, or worse, selling my church.

I also feel like I am going to let God down, mess it up for Him with other people. I don't know how to do it right, I don't know how to make people respond well. Truth be told, I am an awful salesman.

The point is not, as Don Miller points out, to get other people to agree with your beliefs, or to change religions, or even become a Christian, whatever that means. It is about introducing them to Jesus. Telling them that I believe Jesus loves me, even likes me. And that He loves them too.

But their response, whether they believe or not, no matter what I tell them, or how I do it, is not about me at all. It is about them. Their choice is to believe or not.

My choice is to be courageous and tell. Or not.

Father, help me to share how You love me, and with these others, in a good and pure way. And help me not to blame myself for their response. It is really between You and them. Not me. Help me see that in a way that encourages me to tell them about You.

So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to God. And they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

He’s just a carpenter

Mark 6:1-6
They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.

Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.” And because of their unbelief, He couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place His hands on a few sick people and heal them. And He was amazed at their unbelief.

In contrast to Jesus being amazed at faith, here He is amazed at unbelief. But even worse, these are the people in His own neighborhood, people who He grew up with, who knew Him.

It is easy to be impressed at someone's faith and spiritual gifts who we do not know, and harder to accept that the people we do know and are close to are able to change and grow in God. But that is unbelief in the power of the Holy Spirit. Help me to remember people grow up Spiritually like my grandson grows tall and to see old friends in new spiritual realms, because the Spirit does work in people, even people we know! I am amazed how God has worked in my husband Al. He is truly a new man! Help me to guard against being offended at the growing faith of others, or being cautious to trust it. Help me to remember that I am really trusting You, Father.

The other point is the lack of Christ's power in the face of their unbelief. On one hand we need to remember, God works often in spite of us. But how much more He would work if we would believe Him for bigger things! I want to find out, Father! I want my faith to be bigger - to be foolish in my trusting in You! Help me, Beloved, trust You more, to trust You totally.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

You took a risk of faith

Mark 5:21-43

Jesus said to her, "Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you're healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague."
While he was still talking, some people came from the leader's house and told him, "Your daughter is dead. Why bother the Teacher any more?"
Jesus overheard what they were talking about and said to the leader, "Don't listen to them; just trust Me."
I don't trust Jesus for healing. There, I said it, confessed it. I pray, but I don't believe. I pray small so as not to risk looking stupid ... or what?

But the gospels are clear, especially Mark. Jesus doesn't even waste time teaching much, He just does miracles, and especially He heals. He can hardly help Himself. The young and the old. Here we see two especially hopeless cases. This poor woman was sick for decades and treated probably in every different way under the sun. And the girl could not even speak for herself, because she was dead. You don't get much more hopeless than dead.

And each time it is different. The woman with bleeding didn't even want to ask, she felt so unclean and unworthy that she preferred to stay hidden. She only reached to touch Him and was healed. The young girl did not have to do anything, even have faith. She was dead! It was almost like Jesus was just showing off. There is no pattern. There is only mercy and hope.

Faith is a risk. It is a risk to ask the Father, because sometimes He does say no. But when He says yes, what a great miracle that is! How blessed He seems, at the woman's faith, so He blesses her, makes her healed and whole, something that never would have happened if she did not take the risk.

Father, help me take the risk of faith to trust You for the big things and trust that even if You say no, I will be able to withstand it. There are some prayers that will never be answered if I do not pray them. Help me to pray them and not to listen to others, not even to listen to the voice that tells me You will not help me. Let me only hear the one that says, "Just trust Me."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tell them everything the Lord has done for you

Mark 5:1-20
Then those who had seen what happened told the others about the demon-possessed man and the pigs. And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone.

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon possessed begged to go with him. But Jesus said, “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.” So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns of that region and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them.

This story of Mark is exhausting, just reading it! Jesus, how comforted I am to know You really understand and can sympathize with the busy-ness of our lives!

Again I find interesting the vastly different reactions to Jesus. They saw the same miracle, the towns people and the man who had been demon possessed, and yet, the townspeople wanted Jesus to go away, and the man who had been demon possessed wanted to go with Jesus. Unlike Matthew and the other disciples, this man was not invited to follow Jesus. His job was no less important: to tell others what had been done for him. This reminds me how we are all called to different things, some to follow Jesus and teach, others to share in testimony, but all are important to the kingdom. Especially people who have experienced a miracle at the hands of Christ, need to be willing to, and invited to tell their story, because it often creates responses of faith.

Jesus, help me to hear where You want me to go, and what You want me to do, not looking to the left or the right, but to follow Your voice and trust You, indeed rest in You. Remind me that the small portion You have given me is important and my contribution is valuable. Let me be active and passionate to show love to others in the way You have shown it to me.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Who is this?

Mark 4:35-41
Suddenly a windstorm struck the lake. Waves started splashing into the boat, and it was about to sink. Jesus was in the back of the boat with his head on a pillow, and he was asleep. His disciples woke him and said, "Teacher, don't you care that we're about to drown?"

Jesus got up and ordered the wind and the waves to be quiet. The wind stopped, and everything was calm. Jesus asked his disciples, "Why were you afraid? Don't you have any faith?"

Now they were more afraid than ever and said to each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"

Today , it struck me why this exercise to blog every day about Mark's gospel is so difficult -- the stories are so familiar. At first glance (and second and third) nothing jumped out at me. But as I diligently mediated on this passage, I am reminded that scripture is so deep, we cannot exhaust it's wealth no matter how many times we study it.

I find so comforting the disciples struggled with the same questions I have when I am facing a storm, even a storm Jesus instructed me to row into: (1) Are You aware? (2) Do You care?

Even though I know how the story ends even before I begin to read it, the disciples did NOT know. As they woke up Jesus, they did not expect Him to calm the storm. Maybe they wanted Him to help bail, or did not want Him to drown in His sleep. They were amazed and surprised when He calmed the sea.

On the other hand, Jesus rebuked them for their lack of faith. After all the miracles they had already seen, His take was, they should not be asking "who is this?" They were the closest to Him. They saw all His miracles. They should have known! They should have known the answers to those questions -- Yes, God is aware and yes, He does care -- PLUS God is powerful enough to intervene -- in a BIG way.

But they did not. And often, neither do I! And I pray feeble little prayers like I have a feeble little God. Forgive me!

Pastor Ed often encourages us to pray: "God surprise me today with Your goodness." That is certainly what Jesus did here--surprised them with His goodness, even with their lack of faith. Matter of fact, it is good to note, even though they did not believe He was aware, cared or could calm the sea, still He did. His mercy does not depend on our faith. Even when we are faithless, He is faithful. (2 Timothy 2:13)

Jesus, I thank You for all the times You have surprised me with Your goodness and Your power. I thank You that Your mercy and goodness does not depend on my faith. Surprise me with Your wonders and goodness anew. Help my faith be contagious and beautiful and give glory to You.

If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.

Mark 4:21-34
And [Jesus] said to them, "Is the lamp brought in to be put under a peck measure or under a bed, and not to be put on the lampstand? Things are hidden temporarily only as a means to revelation. For there is nothing hidden except to be revealed, nor is anything temporarily kept secret except in order that it may be made known. If any man has ears to hear, let him be listening and let him perceive and comprehend."

And He said to them, "Be careful what you are hearing. The measure of thought and study you give to the truth you hear will be the measure of virtue and knowledge that comes back to you--and more besides will be given to you who hear. For to him who has will more be given; and from him who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away by force."

We are currently doing a marriage course at church, and a recent class talked about communication. After listening to the teaching I realized how terrible I am at communication, and especially listening, to Al in particular. I have this terrible habit of zoning off into my own little world while listening to the sweet sound of his voice. The worse part is, it hurts Al's feelings deeply when I do this. Often when he realizes I am not listening, he stops talking altogether. I have been trying to be more careful to really pay attention.

Today, I talked to Al during the day, and talked with him after work, while he fixed my car, during dinner, and while he prepared for bed. It was only at almost midnight before he just left for work that he told me the thing laying heaviest on his heart. Last night Al learned that a man from work, only 44 years old, died suddenly. He was a good, honest man, Al said, and he had known him for years. I thought it was funny that he waiting until the last possible second of the day to tell me this. If it was me, I would have come out and told him right off. But Al is not like that. He had to warm up before he could speak of it.

Sometimes I think God is like that too. He wants to see if we are really listening, as we read His word, or listen to teaching, or even when we pray. Are we quiet in our souls? Are our thoughts zoning off into our own little world, as we listen to teaching, or even as we try to pray? Are we too busy doing things and planning things that all we hear is blah blah blah? And when we DO hear, do we obey? Or do we just say, "oh, that's nice," and continue on as before?

I think, like Al, God's feelings are hurt deeply when we do not listen to Him. And He stops talking to us. God longs to be partners with us, in our lives and in building His Kingdom. He wants to tell us everything and help us understand. But He cannot make us listen. That is up to us, our part of the dance we do with Him.

Father in Heaven, please help me to listen to You and to Al with more passion and purpose. It is only by Your mercy we are still on earth together! Help me enjoy our days while we have them. Help me to enjoy You too!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

the worries of this life

Mark 4:1-20
"The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to others. The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away.

The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word.

The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced."

After my husband Al committed his life to the Lord, a dear woman from my church, Lyn, would tell me how she continued to pray for his faith fervently. I did not understand this. We prayed so hard for him to receive the Lord, I did not understand why we were not "done" with that request and could go on to pray for other things. But these verses explain that.

Even after, or maybe especially after, we commit our lives to Christ, we continue to have the danger of our fruitfulness being compromised by persecution and the worries of this life. How true I know this! Today, we are concerned about Al's brother, who is in the hospital, without insurance, concerned about his placement into a rehab facility. It consumed my day with worry. Being fruitful is the issue, because when you are concerned about yourself and your issues, you cannot be concerned with expanding the Kingdom. When we do not have the deep roots of good devotional practices, of personal study, worship, prayer, and sitting under good teaching, it is easy to fall away from the truth, even after it has been accepted.

Like babes, new believers must be nurtured and loved, fed and comforted, and after a time, be encouraged and challenged to walk on their own and to give back as they have been given. They need places to go to, but also people with more mature faith, to run after them, as the Good Shepherd, and bring them back to the fold when they stray.

Father thank You for putting people like that in my life. Please help me be that to others. And help me see the worries of this life through the lens of Your love for me and ultimate power. Let me present them to You, placed at the foot of Your cross. And let my fruitfulness be 100-fold!

And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

He would send them out to proclaim the Word

Mark 3:7-35
"I'm warning you. There's nothing done or said that can't be forgiven. But if you persist in your slanders against God's Holy Spirit, you are repudiating the very One who forgives, sawing off the branch on which you're sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives."

The litmus test is our reaction to Jesus. Everything wrong we do can be forgiven. But if we can not believe Jesus is the God who saves, there is no one left to save us.

But belief must lead to action for it to be real. "The person who obeys God's will is My brother and sister and mother," Jesus says at the end of the chapter. Jesus is inviting us all to become part of His family. It is free but not cheap. It comes with surrender. It is confusing! We cannot do anything to merit or lose God's favor, and yet, obedience must be the RESULT of our faith, or our faith is not real.

The players in the drama continue to have different reactions to Jesus:

The crowd of hurting people were pushing and shoving to get near and touch Him. They wanted something from Him.

Evil spirits recognized Him, fell down and cried out. They knew and feared Him.

His friends heard what was going on and went to rescue Him, by force if necessary. They suspected he was getting carried away with Himself. They wanted to save Him from Himself.

The religion scholars from Jerusalem were spreading rumors that He was working black magic, using devil tricks. They were jealous of Him and wanted to eliminate Him.

Even His own mother, brothers and sisters were concerned about Him. They wanted to mother Him and was not able to believe He was who he was, yet.

Jesus did not allow any of that to deter Him, change His approach or His message.

Father, this is what I need to do as I share my life with others. Share Your message and not be concerned about the reactions of others. I am overly concerned with pleasing people and what their reactions will be to me, and my words about You. Help me to shine Your light and not be concerned with their reactions, only monitor my own reactions, my own motives, my own heart.

Jesus, I want to be Your sister, Your bride! Help my faith so I can better obey in all things, but especially to share Your Good News!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sabbath Best

Mark 3:1-6 (MSG)
Then [Jesus] went back in the meeting place where He found a man with a crippled hand. The Pharisees had their eyes on Jesus to see if He would heal him, hoping to catch Him in a Sabbath infraction. He said to the man with the crippled hand, "Stand here where we can see you."

Then He spoke to the people: "What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?" No one said a word.

He looked them in the eye, one after another, angry now, furious at their hard-nosed religion. He said to the man, "Hold out your hand." He held it out—it was as good as new! The Pharisees got out as fast as they could, sputtering about how they would join forces with Herod's followers and ruin him.

Agendas. We all have them. Jesus had one and so did the Pharisees. Jesus' agenda was to do His Father's will--teach about the reality of the Kingdom come and to heal. Jesus could not, would not, turn away from the man with the crippled hand. He noticed him right off, and would not leave without healing him. And the consequences did not matter, only following the Father's will for this man to have two good hands.

The Pharisees' agenda was to throw dirt on Jesus. And they did. Nothing would change their minds about Jesus--not what He did or what He said. And even in His anger at them, He still hurt for them, as the Amplified says, "grieved at the hardening of their hearts."

Hearts. We all have them. Does our heart break like Jesus for those who are hurting? Are we more concerned with doing the Father's will and pleasing our Father than pleasing the crowd? Are our words healing and encouraging or are do they accuse, blame and criticize like the Pharisees?

As I think on this, Beloved, I remember all my hurtful accusations, blame and criticism towards those I loved the most. How You must have been grieved at my hard heart! Help me to do the Sabbath Best. Help me to say healing words every day of the week!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

new wine and new wineskins

Mark 2:18-28
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the bottles destroyed; but new wine is to be put in new (fresh) wineskins.

There was a large cement stadium near our home at Foley Field. It has been there for all of my life, however, the last few years it had begun to crumble, and the town voted to have it rebuilt. Today I drove past it, and the large impressive cement structure had been reduced to rubble, large broken up stones waiting to be carted away. Such is life. Old things crumble and can no longer be used, and new things come to take their place.

The same with the Church. The message of good news stays the same, the essence of it, but as culture changes, the expression of it morphs to speak to the next generation. Also, as the scribes show here, sometimes our religious systems get too inbred and we lose the meanings of the law, and instead merely follow the traditions and the rules. It is not that good men mean to go astray, but the truth is, even for the righteous, there is a danger to go off to the left or the right. But God is faithful to allow old damaging ways to begin to crumble, and to be bring in the new to take its place.

As now I am the older woman, it is getting easier for me to hold onto the predictable and comfortable when in fact, it is crumbling and really dangerous like the Foley stadium was.

My grandson, Giovanni, will never remember the old cement Foley stadium. At age 4, he is too young. He will always remember whatever will be built in its place. However, the spirit of the place, a place where town sports can be enjoyed, will remain the same.

Father, help me not fear when the old crumbles, but trust in You, that You are always doing a new thing, and it is good.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

side with My party

Mark 2:13-17
Jesus went out again along the seashore; and all the multitude kept gathering about Him, and He kept teaching them. And as He was passing by, He saw Levi (Matthew) son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, Follow Me! [Be joined to Me as a disciple, side with My party!] And he arose and joined Him as His disciple and sided with His party and accompanied Him. (AMP)

It is pretty amazing to be singled out from a multitude of people and to be invited to a party. It is interesting to consider who Jesus invites and how He does it. I love how the Amplified version puts it: "side with My party."

Jesus calls Matthew the tax collector, the sinner and not the religious scribes. Matthew's response is to leave his table and follow Jesus. Contrast this with the scribes, who, as the Amplified Bible puts it, are "belonging to the party of the Pharisees." Unlike Matthew, who recognizes the good news of Jesus calling him, the scribes sit in judgment of Jesus and criticize Him, saying, "Why does He eat and drink with tax collectors and notorious sinners?" Scribes do not side with Jesus' party but instead, belong to another. One has to pick a party. One or the other and not both.

Out of the multitude, Jesus calls us too, to "side with His party." Or we can choose to sit with those others who judge and criticize. And do not be deceived, if we side with Jesus' party, we will also be judged and criticized as well. Worse, when we extend love and mercy and compassion to those who are of the more notorious kind of sinners, we can be misunderstood even by those who claim to believe the Good News.

Thank You, Jesus, for calling me too! Yes, I am glad to follow and side with Your party. But Beloved, sometimes it is difficult to deal with the criticism in a way that honors You, with a peaceful confidence that You are with me. Help me, Beloved! Give me your power to love the those who still have not chosen Your party and to help them to see Your beauty by the type of life I lead and the love I show them. Help me to keep on and not to give up hope. Help me to be patient and trust in You and Your perfect timing!

Friday, March 11, 2011

That you may know

Mark 2:1-12
Recently I read a Christian book and they were discussing the power guilt had on our lives, and as I read it, I vividly remembered that sin. Maybe you have a sin like this too. It was so ugly and so huge that it never gets forgotten. It does not get talked about because it is too horrific and embarrassing. But worst of all, it is the type of sin that keeps haunting me, as my life journey continues and I meet repeatedly with the same exact temptation again...and I wonder, would I succumb to this sin again?

It keeps coming up like this, and I tell myself, because I know better...Jesus has forgiven me, He has paid the penalty, it is over, and so I take a big breath and life goes on.

Yet still there is this nagging thing in me, did I repent enough? Did I confess to the right people at the right time in the right way? Do I avoid this sin enough? Is there something wrong about me, deep inside me that cannot be righted somehow?

Enter the paralyzed man, from the roof, no less. His friends carry him to see Jesus, unable to get in the door for the crowd, they climb up on the roof, carrying their friend, break open the roof and lower him to Jesus. Jesus takes one look at him and the faith of his friends and is amazed and said "Son, your sins are forgiven."

I can almost picture the paralyzed man, who expected Jesus to heal him, begin to weep as he hears this from Jesus. Because Jesus looked into his heart and saw what the paralyzed man needed most.

What we all need most. Forgiveness.

We can't see forgiveness. It is not big or small, blue or red, smooth or rough. Forgiveness is invisible, like the wind, we cannot see it, only its affects. But that is what He came to do, that was His purpose: our forgiveness. As the Amplified Bible puts it: the penalty is remitted, the sense of guilt removed, and you are made upright and in right standing with God.

Sometimes it is hard to believe Jesus can, or even is willing to forgive us, repeatedly, of our ugly, horrific, devastating sins. Like the scribes did that day, we say to ourselves, Who can forgive sins, remove guilt, remit the penalty, and bestow righteousness instead, except God alone? We have difficulty believing too. So we feel guilty still even when Jesus removed it, we try to pay back with good works or devotions when Jesus remitted the penalty and paid our debt in full, we try to act righteous, when Jesus has bestowed righteousness on us as a free gift.

But Jesus is patient and willing to teach us and show us.

"But that you may know positively and beyond a doubt that the Son of Man has right and authority and power on earth to forgive sins"--[Jesus] said to the paralyzed man, "I say to you, arise, pick up and carry your sleeping mat, and be going on home." And he arose at once and picked up the sleeping mat and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and recognized and praised and thanked God.

Jesus did miracles as signs. Signs that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that He has the right and authority and power on earth to forgive sins. He will heal our bodies finally in Heaven. But most importantly, most urgently, He needs us to know beyond a doubt that He has forgiven us our sins. All our sins.

Even that most ugly, horrific, embarrassing sin and He loves us dearly. Anyway.

Beloved Jesus, help me to believe You and and know that guilt is not mine--You have given me Your righteousness!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

You are My Beloved Son; in You I am well pleased

Mark 1:9-45
Jesus bursts into the scene, and Mark's first chapter continues with a whirlwind of activity surrounding Jesus. And all who came into contact with Jesus, reacted to Him differently.
  • God the Father was well pleased with Him.
  • The Holy Spirit filled and anointed Him.
  • Satan tempted Him - to no avail!
  • Angels cared for Him.
  • Fishermen of Galilee at once ... left their nets and yielding up all claim to them followed with Him, joining Him as disciples and siding with His party ... abandoning all mutual claims ... left their father... and went off with Him.
  • Jews in the synagogues who heard His teaching were completely astonished.
  • Demons recognized and feared Him, obeying His commands.
  • People who saw His miracles were amazed and almost terrified and spread rumors immediately about Him.
  • Friends and family brought their sick to Him.
  • Crowds followed Him, pursuing Him eagerly and hunting Him out.
  • The leper had faith enough to ask Him for healing. Then healed, the leper disobeyed Jesus' direct command and told everyone about Him.
I ponder, why is it that the demons obeyed Jesus but the healed leper did not? And more importantly, why do the demons obey Jesus and I do not?

But most importantly, what is my response to Jesus? Do I stop enough to consider His power? His mercy? Do I bring my sick friends to Jesus? Do I have the faith to believe, as the leper did, that Jesus can indeed, make us clean? Even though the leper walked away, unable to contain the Good News of the arrival of the God/Man, Jesus, he at least had the faith to believe for his healing. Do I?

Help me, Beloved, to believe in Your power and trust in Your goodness and come to You for the hard things, the astonishing things. I confess that sometimes I ask too little, trying to protect You from looking bad! How silly I am! Allow me, like the leper, to come begging You on my knees and saying -- If You are willing, You are able to make me clean.

I can trust You for the response.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Beginning of the Good News

Mark 1:1-8
Lent starts today, Ash Wednesday, according the Catholic calendar. And for the past years, I have not followed the prescription of Lent, the fasting, the ashes, etc.

But this year, I feel called to a fast and when I asked the Lord about it, it feels like this is what He has called me to. A fast of daily devotion to His Word and to write about the story, the beginning of the Good News--the Gospel. And so I picked Mark, the Gospel that starts with John the Baptist and the beginning of Jesus' ministry, to take this daily journey and to write this devotional of sorts.

The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer. And so we begin with Mark 1, when John the Baptism prepares the way for the coming of Jesus. John begins with a call to repentance, which the Amplified Bible defines as a change of one's mind for the better, heartily amending one's ways, with abhorrence of his past sins. Sounds like a message that would be unpopular, but throngs of people came from Judea not only to hear John, but to submit themselves to his baptism.

When God created the world, He spoke it into being with His words. All of creation was formed in this way. Then with man, God formed him lovingly with His own hands and then blew the breath of Life into his nostrils. And all of creation obeys God's words, except for us, His crowning creation, made in His image. Instead, we all have gone astray.

And in the great act of mercy and love, He comes to find us and restore us as Jesus, a poor man and holy God. But before Jesus makes His way onto the center stage, John the Baptist is sent to prepare a people for Him to hear His words of truth and grace.

"The real action comes next," John told the crowd. "The star in this drama, to whom I'm a mere stagehand, will change your life. I'm baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out." (Mark 1:7-8 MSG)

Repent. To turn from going our way to His way. Maybe the crowd was tired of the futility of going their own ways. Maybe many were ripe for a savior. I know I am. Led into the water by a man who was humble and truthful, they went, and so too, I want to go. I want this life change, life exchange, my old life for new. I want to experience the breakthrough of truly hating my sins enough to leave them.

Beloved, Jesus, only Your Spirit can do this in my life! Blow on me too, help me repent and follow Your word, as You intended all creation to. Change me too from the inside out! Amen.

~ ~ ~ ~ 

Here are all the posts on this journey:

You are My Beloved Son; in You I am well pleased - Mark 1:9-45
That you may know - Mark 2:1-12
side with My party - Mark 2:13-17
new wine and new wineskins - Mark 2:18-28
Sabbath Best - Mark 3:1-6
He would send them out to proclaim the Word - Mark 3:7-35
the worries of this life - Mark 4:1-20
If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear. - Mark 4:21-34
Who is this? - Mark 4:35-41
Tell them everything the Lord has done for you - Mark 5:1-20
You took a risk of faith - Mark 5:21-43
He’s just a carpenter - Mark 6:1-6
telling everyone they met - Mark 6:7-13
His head on a platter - Mark 6:14-29
as many as touched Him were restored - Mark 6:30-56
It comes from within - Mark 7:1-23
she kept begging Him - Mark 7:24-37
He had spit on the man’s eyes  - Mark 8:1-26
My way, to saving yourself, your true self - Mark 8:27-38
be treated with utter contempt - Mark 9:1-13
His face and person yet glistening - Mark 9:14-29
take last place and be the servant of everyone else - Mark 9:30-50
simplicity of a child - Mark 10:1-15
Sell everything - Mark 10:17-31
the highest places of honor - Mark 10:32-45
Many tried to hush him up, but he yelled all the louder - Mark 10:46-52
Hosanna in the highest! - Mark 11:1-26
Show us your credentials - Mark 11:27-33
Come, let us kill Him - Mark 12:1-12
much more than burnt offerings -Mark 12:13-24
she gave extravagantly...she gave her all - Mark 12:35-44
Stay at your post. Keep Watch. - Mark 13
and they prepared the Passover meal - Mark 14
Crucify Him! - Mark 15:1-39
a very large stone against the door of the tomb - Mark 15:40-47
He Has Risen! - Mark 16:1-8
So Celebrate This Festival - Exodus 13-14