Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Jesus Heals a Deaf and Mute Man Mark 7:31-37

Jesus Heals a Deaf and Mute Man
31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. 33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” which means “Be opened!” 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. 36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Reflection:
As Jesus left the area where he healed the Syro-Phoenician woman, he returned to the vicinity he did most of his ministry in, the Sea of Galilee. But this time he returned by another route through Sidon, perhaps to avoid the crowds, who were increasingly following him. Then a man was brought to him who couldn't hear him and couldn't talk. He was deaf and mute. He was deprived of two of the most essential things we have as human beings, hearing and talking.

This miracle/healing is recorded only in Mark's gospel. We call Mark the power gospel, as it focuses a lot on Jesus' power and authority. And today this power is manifested by Jesus laying on of his hands, which they begged him to do. Jesus took him a way from the crowds, perhaps because of the unique way he would heal this man. In this case, he literally touched the two areas the man needed healing. He put his hands in his ears and unplugged them and loosened his tongue by touching it, or untying it. Right away he began to speak plainly.

Like in other cases, Jesus commanded the man to keep the miracle to himself. But the man overwhelmed with his new ability to talk, can't stop talking about what happened to him. This was not as much in disobedience to Jesus, as it was his excitement about what Jesus had done for him. When we are healed by Jesus it is hard to keep it inside. In fact evangelism, or telling the Good News, is something that flows from Jesus healing of us in the soul. The word salvation comes from the root for "healing". If Evangelism it will always come off as superficial at best, and manipulative at its worst. It can make people feel like a number rather than a child of God.

Jesus not opens eyes and ears, but the hearts of those who look to him for ultimate healing. Amen.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Jesus Honors a SyroPhoenician Woman's Faith

Jesus Honors a Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith
24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. 27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” 28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

This is quite an amazing story for many reasons.

1. Jesus left the busyness of ministry to get away. He went as far as he could, to the coast into the Gentile region where he had hoped he had not become too popular yet. He went into a home hoping for some respite from the grind of ministry. And yet even here he could not keep his presence a secret.

2. A Greek speaking woman from the area came in humility begging Jesus to heal her daughter, who was possessed by a demon. Though many of Jesus' own people and even his disciples were sometimes slow to believe, this woman believed from her head to her toes that Jesus could deliver her daughter.

3. At first Jesus balked referring to the primary mission he was on to the Jewish people. He even seems to want to dismiss her, saying it is not right to give the children's bread to the dogs. Upon hearing this a lot of us would walk away. But this woman persists by saying that she would take even a crumb if it came from Jesus. Perhaps she had heard of the feeding of the 5,000 and the basketfuls left over.

4. Jesus recognizes and honors her great faith by delivering her daughter from the demon. Notice Jesus' word was so powerful he had power over the demons from a distance. And when the woman came home her daughter was lying in bed waiting to share the good news that she was free at last. We can only imagine how great was her joy!

What can we learn from this story?

1. First and foremost the perseverance of this woman. How often do we quit praying when we don't see an immediate answer? Sometimes God answers our prayers for healing right away, at other times he calls us to trust him in continuing to persevere in prayer. It is a test of our faith. Where do you need to persevere in prayer today? Perhaps it is something in your own life you are praying for. Or, maybe a family member or friend you have been interceding for God to come into their life in a deeper way through Jesus. Let us remember this humble woman, who didn't give up and finally saw her prayers answered.

2. We see Jesus' humanity. He needed at times to get away from the grind of ministry. And yet, there are times that even when we are getting away that we can minister to others. We don't compartmentalize our faith, but it goes with us wherever we go. And we are ready at any time to give a reason for the hope that is within us, or pray for someone who needs God's help.

Let us persevere in prayer waiting for God to honor our prayers in His timing and in His way. Amen.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

More on That Which Defiles Mark 7:14-22

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”


Reflection:

Similar to yesterday, Jesus is defining an authentic spirituality. He is saying it is not dealing so much with externals, what goes into the body, but what is going on inside that matters. Some have characterized it as, "an inside job." And why do we need something to come from outside to deal with is going on inside us. Jesus says that our evil thoughts (notice not actions) come out of a person's heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says, "the heart is deceitful above all else."

Does that mean we are completely evil and only bad things, like Jesus describes, come out of our hearts? No. But it does mean we have a sin problem that doesn't start by what comes into us, but what goes out. And the disciples are slow to get this. All of their lives, they have been trained to think of righteousness as something you do or by what you put into your bodies. To be sure there were kosher food laws in the Old Testament, which explains some of it. But they didn't see the primary thing God wanted was, "to love The Lord your God with all of your heart and love your neighbor as yourselves!" This was a summary of all the Law, but was not the main thing happening in the hearts of the people of God. Jesus will be the answer for a heart hardened by sin's deceitfulness, but we are not yet at this part of the story.

So what can this mean for us?

1. As Jesus was concerned primarily with one's heart condition, how do we measure ours? We have all kinds of machines and tests to evaluate the health of our physical hearts, but do we know if our spiritual heart is clogged up. I think this starts with the love of God, which fuels our love of others, both close to us and those we meet. When something other than God has taken first place in our hearts it will affect our relationships as well. God initiates a love relationship with us through sending His Son to show how much He loves us. We can love because he first loves us!

2. We need disciplines in our lives that help us to keep our hearts in the right place. Spiritual disciplines are the means of grace that we partner with to help us to become more like Christ. John 15 puts it this way. As you abide in me, I will abide in you. Together with me you will bear much, apart from me you can do nothing. Spiritual disciplines like silence and solitude, prayer, and reading the bible with an ear to hear what is God saying to me are primary ways we can abide in Christ.

3. Finally, by having others in our lives that we are living out faith with in community. Others can help us to discern when our hearts are out of alignment with God's will for our lives. It is good to have at least 2-3 people, who know us very well and can speak truth into our lives. They can be there to talk to us when we need to confess where we are at with God.

These are just some of the ways we can, "guard our hearts which are the wellspring of all life!" Proverbs 4:23
Amen.

Friday, August 15, 2014

That Which Defiles - Mark 7

That Which Defiles
7 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.'
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe[c] your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’[d] and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[e] 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”


Today Jesus confronts the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. The presenting issue was the disciples were eating food with unwashed hands. There were some laws concerning what was clean and unclean but the elders went beyond the basic teachings of the Law and added their own traditions. So Jesus here gives us several symptoms of hypocrisy including:

1. They give lip service to Jesus but their actions betray the condition of their hearts. Their walk didn't match their talk.

2. Their worship was in vain. It was driven by human personality rather than the Holy Spirit leading people into the presence of God.

3. They actually don't even observe God's commands as summarized in the Ten Commandments, but create their own version of what is right.

4. They were neglecting the 4th commandment of honoring your mother and father, by hyper spiritualizing and saying the resources that could be given to help their parents needed to go in their so called devoted to God treasuries.

5. Finally the kicker. He says you do many things like that. Their lives are characterized by this kind of duplicity.

Does any of this look familiar? Do you see any of things present in the modern church? In you/me? I do!!!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Jesus Walks on Water - Mark 6:45-56

Jesus Walks on the Water
45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.

47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.

Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Reflection:
Yesterday we saw Jesus suspending the natural laws, by feeding 5,000 with a few loaves of fish and bread. Today he suspends the laws of gravity and physics by walking on water. It is not surprising then when he gets into the boat that he says, "It is I, don't be afraid!" So what caused this miracle to come into place?

We know after feeding the five thousand, as he often did, he went by the mountainside to pray. When we wonder where this sort of power comes from, it starts for Jesus with time alone with the Father and in prayer. And we see he prayed for quite some time, and in the time right before dawn he goes out to meet them. And he meets them walking on the lake. He sees them straining at the oars, has compassion on them, and goes out to meet them. Notice he goes out even before they call out to him. He sees their need and goes to them.

When he climbed into the boat and the wind died down, it says they were amazed because they had not understood the feeding of the 5,000, for their hearts were "hardened". I am interested in this word hardened. Did it mean they couldn't see because they were not allowed to see? I.e. God had hardened their hearts. Or, is it because there hearts were hardened by their unbelief. I am not sure it really matters all that much, for they had not yet received the power of the Holy Spirit. Without the power of the Holy Spirit we cannot come to believe either. And yet, Jesus is preparing them for belief, as someone recounted this story of faith with the eyes of belief, or at least this was passed on from the now believing apostles.

So what can we learn from this story? I would suggest these 3 lessons:

1. Jesus' power came from prayer and meeting with the Father in solitude. We too must get away from the crowds, and even our partners in ministry, to commune and abide in and with the Father.

2. Jesus meets us in the storms of life. When the waves are furious about us, He sees us and meets us in the storm and calms it down. Out of these experiences we can minister to others who are in their storms.

3. It is out these experiences that they are empowered and equipped to go and minister to the broken and sick. Jesus is so full of the Holy Spirit and God's power, that the people back on shore, begged him to let them touch the edge of his cloak and they were healed.

This is a great model to learn from as we seek to follow Jesus and be an agent of His kingdom today, amidst the storms in our lives and others. Amen.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand - Mark 6:30-43

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 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.

35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”

39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

Reflection: Today we get insight into how Jesus not only met spiritual, emotional and physical needs for healing, he was also aware and sensitive the everyday needs of people. In this case there were so many people following him, they didn't even have time to eat. This shows how desperate people were to be in Jesus' presence. He could have dismissed them either because of their sheer size, or because he had better and more important things to do. But instead he says to his disciples, "you give them something to eat!" To which they reply, "yeah right how are we going to do that?"

We see an important concept now, as Jesus says, "how much do you have currently on hand?" When they counted, they had a mere 5 loaves and 2 fish. But Jesus told them to organize them in groups of fifty and hundred. After all, if you are going to feed that many people, you might need a seating chart. Jesus gave thanks to God, and distributed to the disciples, who distributed to the people. And not only did they all eat, but they were all satisfied. I.e. There was plenty of food. And to further illustrate the abundance, there were even 12 basketfuls of broken pieces left. This could possibly be a reference to the 12 tribes of Israelites, and the symbolism of after Jesus fed the Gentiles there was still enough for God's chosen ones.

So what can this mean for us today? I know that so often I operate in a scarcity mode. My anxiety often stems from how am I going to satisfy the demands around me. And in doing so, I usually look to my own limited resources. I forget to rely on God and others to meet the needs around me. I don't start with what I have as meager as that is and thank God for it, and then allow God to use what I can offer to meet this need. Do you ever do this? I think the fact that Jesus fed 5,000 with a few fish and loaves is another illustration of how things operate in the kingdom of God. When we operate in the natural we are limited. But when we trust God he can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. Rather than relying on just our own resources, why don't we in faith trust God to multiply what we have for his glory with others we are called to do ministry with. Amen.

Monday, August 11, 2014

John the Baptist Beheaded - Mark 6:14-29

John the Baptist Beheaded
14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Reflection:
The immediate occasion for this somewhat horrific story about John the Baptist's beheading is Herod's fascination with Jesus and the haunting fear that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead. Herod had a personal court with John and was interested in his teaching. He even deemed him a holy and just man. He was being convicted by the Holy Spirit of his need to repent of marrying his brother's wife and yet he also didn't want to repent.

At this point the story of John's beheading at the request of this same wife as a result of her daughter's dancing presumably forced Herod's hand to keep the oath he made. But at the end of the day we see the cover up of his own sin and his refusal to repent ended up in him killing the very one who had the words to give him life. Because he was so guilty of this horrific act, he interpreted Jesus to be John reincarnated. Instead of the life and peace he would have had by turning from his sin and being saved, he denied it and killed the very source of it.

It would be easy for us to spend all of our time reflecting on how horrible and gruesome King Herod was. But we know at a point Herod was open and curious to the Christian faith. He was what we might call a seeker. But in the end his sin and the people around him prevented him from coming into the abundant life Jesus came to give.

So the question for is to ponder today is, where is God calling us to turn from things we know are wrong? Where are we covering up sin despite the Holy Spirit's nudging us to repent and turn to God for forgiveness? And do we kill the prophets who point out our sin. God will use other people to point out our sin, but when they do we kill the prophet to maintain our own righteousness. The problem with that is that we will never be at peace. We end up paying the price for holding on to something we know is wrong.

May we not be like Herod who knew what he did was wrong, and even was open to the truth. But in the end he snuffed it out only to his eventual demise in both body and spirit.