Saturday, July 26, 2014

Who is My Brother, Sister or Mother? Mark 3:20-34

Jesus Accused by His Family and by Teachers of the Law
20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”


Reflection:
The teachers of the Law had quite a vested interest in figuring out a way to derail Jesus' ministry, as we have said before mainly for selfish reasons. Since not much else was working, they tried a new tactic today. They said he was possessed by Beelzebul (the head of all demons) and by his power was driving out demons. Since they couldn't deny the powerful things that were happening, they had to figure out another way to explain them so as to discredit Jesus. But the problem today as Jesus quickly exposes, is their argument makes no sense. Jesus says, "why would Satan cast out himself?" For a kingdom to get stronger it wouldn't decimate or divide itself. The only way for Jesus to cast out demons was that he had more authority than Satan himself. It was an issue of power. Only because Jesus had more power than these demons could he drive them out. And that is why don't need to be afraid of evil spirits because we too have the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus. As John has said, "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world!"

Then Jesus gives a stern warning. You are on dangerous ground when you attribute something done in the power of the Holy Spirit to Satan. It is a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, in whose power Jesus did these things. You may ask why is that sin any more heinous than any other sin? Because when you blaspheme the Holy Spirit you take away the one who can lead you to repentance and believe in Jesus and receive forgiveness. As the scripture says, "No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Spirit!"

Then, Jesus' mother and brothers came to see him. When people had told them what was happening and that he was casting out demons, they concluded, "he was out of his mind". Even his own family did not fully understand his true identity and calling. This is why when the crowds told him that they were and looking for him he says, "whoever does the will of my Father is my mother, brother or sister!" Did he do this to disrespect his mom and brothers? I don't think so. Again he was explaining that in the kingdom of God, a new family is formed as we become God's children through faith in Christ and baptism into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So we have this tension of honoring our parents and families of origin, but also realizing that as we become part of the family of God through the Church, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and need to care for each other. Amen.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Jesus Appoints the Twelve

Jesus Appoints the Twelve
13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Reflection:
Up to this point Jesus has been ministering largely by himself, but now an important turn is about to take place. Jesus is going to move from carrying the mantle of leadership primarily by himself to equipping others to do the things he was doing. Notice the manner in which he calls or appoints the disciples to become apostles. He goes to a mountainside to pray. Like before anything else he did which was of utmost importance, he retreats to be with His Father so that in prayer He might be in concert with the Father. And when you think of it, if Jesus needs to keep such a discipline, how much more do we need to when facing big decisions in our lives.

After this time of prayer and reflection it says he, "called to him those he wanted". It would be easy to miss this detail with a casual and cursory reading. Notice especially he called those he wanted to be with. It wasn't out of obligation, but these are the guys he desired to appoint to carry on the ministry he had started. They were persons of peace for him, though we know one of them would betray him as was destined to happen. And then it says they came to him. Again see that they came willingly not out of compulsion. They sensed the call and it was if they could do no other.

And what did he call them and ordain them to do. In Mark's version it says to do two things: preach and drive out demons. To preach is to announce or proclaim something publicly. And do so with conviction and extreme unction because one feels so compelled that others need to hear this truth. And they were to preach the same thing as Jesus. Repent for the kingdom of God has come near and is at hand! And not only would they preach about the kingdom, but show it forth as well. In this case the authority is given to drive out demons. As we talked about yesterday, Jesus minced no words about the reality of evil and spiritual forces. He had faced it in the wilderness with his testing and he knew that as the disciples pushed forth the kingdom they would too. And in the same authority (with the authority of the Word) that Jesus cast out demons, he bestowed upon them to do the same.

What does this mean? It means our preaching and deliverance are every bit as ordained by God and Jesus today as they were with the first disciples. And you might say I'm not a preacher and certainly don't want to be an exorcist. And maybe there is a sense in which this is gift relegated to those who have been called and appointed as modern day apostles. And yet, I think every believer has opportunities to proclaim what Jesus has done and also have the authority to cast our demons. Why? Because we all have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. And while we each have particular spiritual gifts, which guide where we serve in the body, we are all called to give a reason for the hope we have in Jesus (aka preach). And we are called to rebuke the enemy, if even in our own lives as we are tempted by him.

Where is God calling you to be more aware of the authority he has given you as a believer and as one filled with the
Holy Spirit through faith and baptism into Christ? Just as Christ sent his disciples, he sends us to announce and bring in His kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Crowds Follow Jesus - Mark 3:7-10

Crowds Follow Jesus
7 Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. 8 When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. 9 Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. 10 For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. 11 Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him.

Reflection:

After another rigorous day of ministry, Jesus goes down to the lake for a little retreat, but the crowds won't have it. The news spread of the healings and exorcisms and his confrontation with the religious leaders. And the people came from all over the regions to see him. What we will find when we start operating in kingdom power is that it will be an attractional ministry. In order to keep a little distance, Jesus told the disciples to get a boat ready for him, as people just wanted to touch him thinking even this might heal them.

Then an ironic thing happens. The impure, or evil spirits, we might call them demons, fell down and cried out, "You are the Son of God!" They recognized his authority and knew right away where he came from. They could see the spiritual power at work in Jesus, even if others could only see the outward manifestations. But rather than jumping for joy that finally someone got it, he forbids them to tell others about it. Why? Because this is exactly the sort of the thing that will get him arrested and killed. Jesus knows that as his ministry and following grows, that the leaders would get more and more jealous of him, which would speed up his going to the cross. And he knew that he had other areas he needed to go to and announce the kingdom was at hand in word and deed.

A lot of people get freaked out by the talk of evil spirits or demons. But we don't need to. The same authority they recognized in Jesus, they see in a believer filled with the Holy Spirit. Why? Because it is the Spirit of Jesus. And that is why when we don't know what to pray the Spirit intercedes with words we don't even know. That is why we can discern when their is evil in our midst. That is why we can say "get behind me Satan" in the same authority he had and in His name. That is why when the disciples came back from the mission Jesus sent them on they said, "Even the demons submit to us in your name." So though we need to respect the spiritual powers out there, we never need to be afraid of them.

Remember perfect love casts out all fear! Amen.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Jesus Heals on the Sabbath - Mark 3

Jesus Heals on the Sabbath
3 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

Reflection:
On another Sabbath, Jesus again went into the Sabbath, presumably to teach and also show forth his teaching with works of mercy and healing. This time it was a man with a shriveled hand, which probably prevented him from working. The Pharisees had laws about just who could be attended to on the Sabbath, and who could not be based on the severity of their sickness or disability. But in this case, they had an eye to catch Jesus in an offense, rather than having any compassion for the disabled man. Jesus wanted to show forth plainly what he was doing so he had the man stand up. He used it as a teaching example to reveal the hard hearts of the leaders. He asked a simple question. Which was lawful to do good or evil on the Sabbath? To bring life or death? He was hoping that the people would have compassion on the man, but they were so bent on catching him in a trap, they completely missed the point.

And we see Jesus was angry! We might say, how can Jesus get angry? Isn't that a sin? We must remember what Jesus was angry about, their hard hearts and stubbornness. This was all about control. Jesus threatened their power and control and they didn't like it. This is the same stubbornness that would prevent their belief. There are people today who also see the power of Jesus in the lives of people whose hearts and lives have been changed. But they dismiss it, and speak against it because they don't want to lose control either. In the end, Jesus completely heals the man, again showing that the Sabbath was made for man, not man made for the Sabbath. The Law leads to control and death, the Gospel leads to freedom and life.

Notice too that Jesus is distressed or saddened by their spiritual state. He so desires that they will come to a knowledge of the truth. He has taught the truth and showed them the truth, but they are still so obstinate and it makes him angry. Why? Because he knows their hard hearts will lead them to their death, not just now but eternally. Just like the verse in 2 Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

There are two questions we might ask ourselves today? One, where has our heart become hardened to the truth. Where is God showing us His work and we are slow to believe, or would rather stay in control than yield to what God wants in our lives? Second, do we grieve at the stubborn hearts of those we see, who resist the Gospel? Do we look for ways to show them the truth at work in everyday life situations, where Christ can show that He is real and heals today. Do we pray for those with stubborn hearts that they might see God and Christ's deep love for them in what Jesus did to save them? Take some time to pray about these things and how God might use these truths in your life today. Amen.



Monday, July 21, 2014

The Sabbath is Made for Man, Not Man Made for the Sabbath!

Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath
23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Reflection: Note the similarity of the Pharisees' inquisition today with yesterday. Yesterday they accused the disciples of not fasting enough while Jesus was with them. And today they rebuke Jesus for allowing his disciples to eat on the Sabbath day. Note they are only plucking ears of corn, not a full blown feast. They are getting enough sustenance to continue their travel and ministry. But the real point of the story is Jesus' explanation. He says, "The Sabbath is made for man, not man made for the Sabbath."

It is important to know that any commandment God has given is out of love for us and our own benefit, this one as well. The Sabbath was a day of rest for both one's body and soul. A day to rest the body from a week of work, and a time to feed the soul with the things of God. Note it is not a day to put unnecessary strain on the body, and in this case to feed it when it is hungry. The Pharisees had generally made all the laws burdensome to the people by tying heavy loads on their backs and then not lifting a finger to help lift them. Jesus says, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest, rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

So how do we make the Sabbath a burden today or not realize it is made for man not the opposite? Commonly going to church is thought of as the penultimate way to honor the Sabbath. And of course worshipping God on a regular and consistent basis is an important discipline, which not only feeds our soul and but is also a time of rest and reflection on our spiritual life in community with others. But Church is not meant to be a burden. And if going to church is consistently burdensome to you something is amiss.

Secondly, we live in a world where being a work-aholic is accepted if not applauded. Working 50-60 hours a week for many is the norm, including those in full time ministry. And you may ask what is the problem with that? Aren't we supposed to work, didn't God command that? Yes work is good, but when it becomes idolatry it is bad. When it is the most important thing in our lives, it affects our relationship with God, and our family and friends. Do we really think God would want is to work so much that in the meantime our family gets only the leftovers of a tired, worn out person? I don't think so!

It is really wise for us to reflect on Jesus' words today, which are every bit as important to us today as to his disciples back then. Do you have a regular time for resting your body and soul in your weekly rhythm of life? Note it doesn't have to be necessarily on Sunday. The day is not as important as the habit. Secondly, is there a healthy balance between work and the rest of your life? At the end of your life will you look back and say I gave all of myself to work and what do I have to show for it? God's wants us to have the right priorities in our lives so that our lives might have maximum impact in the kingdom and for those who we love, especially our families. Amen.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

New Wine, New Wineskins! Mark 2:18-22

Jesus Questioned About Fasting
18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

19 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”


Reflection:
In today's passage Jesus gives us a new way to look at spiritual disciplines like reading the bible, praying, silence and solitude, and fasting to name a few. But the Pharisees and John's disciples had missed the purpose of these disciplines which is to be with Jesus. Jesus said, "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?"
The purpose of the discipline is to connect us with Jesus and His grace, that we might be able to do the things he does. They move us out of reliance on ourselves to reliance on and in Him.

Then, Jesus uses another analogy. He says, "No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment." Meaning we don't put the old with the new, and no one puts new wine in an old wineskins. No they put new wine into new wineskins. The Pharisees were stuck in the old garment of trying to become right with God by observing the Law. The were burdened by the old wineskins, which couldn't hold Jesus.

So how are we like the Pharisees? How do our spiritual disciplines become old and life less, like old clothing and old wineskins. And how can we know? One clear sign is that they have become a burden. If you are like, "Oh I guess I have to pray again. I might as well, after all this is what Christians do!" If this becomes our attitude I think we are missing the point. What was meant to be a grace filled habit that brings us new life and a stronger relationship with Jesus, has become a new burdensome law. If this describes you, maybe you need a break? Maybe you need to try something new. I know I need to be reminded that in these disciplines we meet Jesus and He is the One who changes us.

Another helpful practice might as you pray think of it as you are actually talking to a person. How would you talk to your best friend? What would you share? Now obviously God is in a different category than best friend, but I am saying this to make a point. Many people pray as if no one is really listening, or worse yet no one really cares. They just pray out of duty, or it is the right thing to do. But yet God our Father loves us and wants to meet with us daily. My prayer for me and you is that going to God will be like your daily bread. Just like we would probably not think of missing a meal, my hope is that we would become hungry for God's Word, and hunger for it.

As we seek the living Lord, let us be careful not to pour the new wine into the old wineskins, for if we do we will miss out on the relationship with the One who came to make all things new, including me and you. Amen.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Jesus Calls Levi and Eats With Sinners

Jesus Calls Levi and Eats With Sinners
13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Reflection:

As we seek to follow Jesus and emulate the way he lives his life, today we see yet another way in which he reaches out to lost people. When he sees Levi the tax collector, he says follow me. Remember tax collectors were employed to get as much money as they could for the Roman government, and were therefore despised by the Jewish people. But in this case we see Jesus came to seek and save all people, regardless of their past. Levi, also called Matthew, is so intrigued he invites him into his home. For Jesus to go into a home a sinner was a big risk. He cared so much about Matthew, Jesus willingly took the risk.

And while they were eating, there were many other tax collectors and other "sinners" who came to meet Jesus. Notice Jesus meets them on their turf and this is attractional. But the Pharisees aren't so thrilled. When they see him they ask his disciples (notice not Jesus), why Jesus does such a thing? Jesus must have overheard them, after all He was God. And he answers their inquiry by saying, "it is not the healthy who need a doctor but those who are ill." Then, he makes a clarifying statement, which is the main point of the story. He says, "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners."

So what does that look like for us? We are usually more comfortable hanging out with people like us. People who dress like us, drive the same cars, and hang out in the same places. The longer we are in the church, the more detached we get from "people in the world" who don't know Christ. Oftentimes we are sent on missions, which of course is great, especially where there is great need for conversion, as well things like schools and sustainable food programs etc.
But what about those in our backyard, or better yet down our own street. Do we know them? Do we care about their spiritual condition? It is not as if we should go up and say, "Pardon me are you a sinner?" But what would it be like to build a relationship with people as far as we can discern are lost, so as to "earn the right to share the Gospel with them."

A good first step is to pray for those who are in your circle of influence. Secondly, when God gives you the opportunity, be prepared to give a reason for the hope you have in Christ. This is not cramming it down people's throats, but natural conversations that flow out of relationships. One of the most thrilling things in the world is sharing the Good News and have a chance to be part of someone's eternal destiny by God's grace. Amen.