November 14, 2013


The other day when I was helping lead something here at the church, the idea of passion came to my mind.  I wrote the following thought on the page of to dos I was creating at that time:

What are we passionate about?  What if we were passionate about the Kingdom of God in ways that we are passionate about other things?  What if our passion was like God's, that he was so passioned to restore his creation that he would send is Son to die for it.

I want to throw away that piece of paper and I had to record what I wrote somewhere.  So, there it is. Maybe today as you stop by this blog, you will think about what you are passionate about.  What do you spend your time on?  What do you make time for?  That is your passion.  Does it line up with what God calls us to be as followers of Jesus? 

I know.  Its a hard question.  But, it is what God calls us to.  

October 11, 2013

Car Bombs and Faith

In my inability to stay focused on the task I'm working on, I just looked at my Yahoo news page.  Listed there was yet another car bomb attack in some foreign land.  It seems that every day there is a new bomb delivered by someone who was prepared to die for whatever cause they were bombing for...and they did die because they delivered the bomb.

Understand, I am completely naive on the extremist perspective of life.  I don't know what makes them tick.  I don't know if they are forced into being destruction delivery people or if they freely choose to be a dying sacrifice to the cause.  I simply know that the news continually has report after report of such people blowing up other people for a reason.

As I was reading, my mind ran a little, which it happens to do quite often.  I wondered if Christians, while not into car bombings, had that all in, willing to die capacity in their faith?  I'm would guess the car bombing people have some struggle getting people to sign up for the job.  But what about the other things they need help with?  In the church, it is sometimes a challenge to get people to sign up or commit to anything.  Even the simple things like shaking peoples hands at the door once a week.

It seems we have an attitude like this:  Yes, God, I love you and I revel in your grace!  You want me to do what?  No, I can't do that.  I have this going on or that going on.  Billy needs this so I can't give that money.  I don't have time for that because it will interfere with my golf.  My vacation will be during that time.  I need to save money for it rather than give to this initiative that the church is doing.  I can't get up any earlier to make it to church to pray before worship, God.  Sunday is only one of my two days off.  You know that.  Those two days are my Sabbath....

I am no more innocent of this type of attitude than anyone else.  I am just as good as the next person in justifying my faith so I don't have to fully commit at times.  We all do.  We are human...or at least that is our excuse, which is pretty poor if you think about it.

When will we allow our faith to take root in our souls?  When will we get and understand Paul's call to be a living sacrifice in Romans 12?  What would the church look like if we got that and lived it?  If we traded our worldy stuff and wants for things of the Kingdom?  We can read in scripture and see what the disciples were able to do.  What more could we do?

We are called to be living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12).  Jesus tells us that if we live out life following his actions, we will be persecuted, which could lead to death, just as it did for him and many of his disciples (Matthew 5:1-12).  Paul tells us to live is Christ, to die is gain (Phil 1:21).  In living or dying, the idea is that we are sacrificing our person, self filled lives to live out the Kingdom of God.

May that thought not leave your mind for hours.  May it make you squirm and struggle today.  May it challenge you to make changes in your life so that you are living it out.

October 10, 2013


This morning I was in the process of connecting my phone to Flickr.  They are giving away one TB of photo storage space for my pictures.  Yes, that's right, 1000 gigabytes of space.  Thank you, Flickr (yahoo).  As I was uploading pictures I found the one shown with this post.

Each week at South, when we take communion, we get to enjoy this.  It is homemade communion bread.  Nope, we don't have that nasty prepackaged white, icky, bland Jesus bread stuff at our church.  We have the real deal--homemade, just as good as any pie crust you could imagine, pie crust Jesus bread.  Seriously, this stuff is the bomb.  It makes communion even more enjoyable!

Sometimes, I will accidentally miss communion during worship.  When I'm done leading, I head into the kitchen to take communion, because that's where the leftover communion goes when the guys are done serving.  Lucky for me, there is no one in there.  I know they throw out what isn't used each day because of all the hands that have been in the plate.  Its such a waste.  I don't want to see Jesus' body wasted.  Not at all!  Its sacrilegious.  So, to make sure this doesn't happen, I pound Jesus' body by the handful.   It is so good!

The beauty of all of this is the love that goes into the bread.  A lady here at South takes time every couple weeks to bake this bread.  She gets it.  She understands that this meal we are having is something more than made than Jesus body in a box that comes from who knows where and who knows when it was made.  She wants communion to be the best that it can be for our people.

She is no different than our children's ministry workers, our youth workers, or the people I get the privilege to lead beside on the stage each week.  They understand that they are here to serve.  We are living out our worship in the things we do, the passion we have for the Kingdom.

How are you living out your passion for God?

October 9, 2013

To Be Known

If you were to go back in the blog and read, you might see some patterns.  You will see that I seem to continually talk about the same things.  I continually talk about how I'm way too busy and lose time as I turn around.  You might also see that I'm not consistent.  I'll blog a few days or weeks in a row and then go totally dormant for months at a time.  The only time this isn't the case is when I blogged almost a whole month while studying through the Gospel of Mark, which I have not finished....because I don't have/didn't make the time.

My blogging is a lot like my journaling.  I started journaling a long, long time ago.  I used to use simple notebooks with the spiral wire down the side of them.  At some point I graduated up to actual hardback journals, and from there, the Moleskine.  I try to sit down every day or two to converse with the pen and paper, writing down my thoughts, my struggles, and my prayers.  Sometimes I do well and I have a good stretch of writing.  Other times I go weeks at a time without writing.

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out a drawer in my office and came across all my old journals.  They dated back to the early/mid 90s.  I read my thoughts a few days before I got married.  As I read, I remembered where and when I wrote it.  As I looked through all the journals, I came to notice some patterns, just like one could see if they read my blog.  I'm inconsistent.  I'm always whining about not having time, I'm always wanting more.

As I read, it felt like I am no farther along in my walk, faith, life than I was back in the 90s.  Sure, I understand that I've done things.  I've grown spiritually (and physically).  I've had a positive influence on people in their lives.  But, as I read, I couldn't help but ask the question, "What more could you have done if you hadn't been distracted, overly busy, or had you simply put your priorities in a different order?"

In the last year or so, I've been having these types of thoughts.  What more could you have done?  When I hit the 10 year mark here at South there was lots of these thoughts.  Ok.  You did some things, but what more should you have done?  When I turned 40 last August more of those thoughts bubbled to the surface.  I don't know that I dealt with them, other than thinking, "You can't go back and change things."

Unfortunately, thinking that didn't stop the thoughts from coming.  They have seemed to press in on me and frustrate me.  The past, that I can't change, grips me and at times paralyzes me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Can you relate?

As a minister, my goal in life is to help others realize the presence of God around them.  I believe that in all things, we can see God if we choose.  I think we can show God in all we do, if we choose.  The point in that is that its our choice to see and live the Kingdom of God in us and around us.  The kick here is, if we choose.

Here's where it gets serious.  What happens when one who feels he is called to do this, gets lost in the past, gets lost in the busy-ness and can't see what it is he's challenging others to see and live?  What happens?  You get almost nothing.  You get more thoughts of "What more could you have done?"  You get the timidity.  You get frustration.  You get a big fat mess.

This is how I have felt on and off the last few years.  I've tried to take it on myself.  I've won the battle sometimes.  I've faked my way through it at other times.  All in all, I find myself wanting more, wanting to do more, wanting to be more, yet not being able to do anything.

Last week I traveled to Atlanta, GA to attend the Catalyst Conference.  The theme this year was To Be Known.  The big picture idea is that to be known by God fills our need for approval, gives us hope in the Kingdom, and helps us make sense of our messes.  Of all the speakers I heard that week, there were four that really chiseled on my soul and situation.  I don't have the time or space to lay all of them out here.  I wish I did.  They are messages that I think everyone should hear.  Instead, I'm going to give a conglomeration of their talks.

God created and wanted to create.  He created us in the image of himself.  We are creations of God with a NATURE created by God to display God's NATURE--greatness, beauty, and worth.  Our identity is made in displaying God's greatness and worth.  That means God knows me.  He knew me before I was made.  He wants me to understand what it means to be known and how that reshapes how I live--to display His NATURE in my life.

At times though, as I talked about above, we lose sight of why we were created and what our purpose is.  We get it.  We understand it.  But, we forget it.  We lose our identity, a lot like the prodigal son.  He chose to squander his identity and being.  He went and lived the life he wanted to live to the fullest.  In the end, he realized what he wanted was empty.  He wanted to return to his family and simply be a servant.  Yet, when his father saw him returning, they threw a party and danced, because the son had returned.  The father put the son back in his place, as a son, not a servant.  God wants us to realize that if we continually return to him and seek him, he will restore us...just as he illustrated in the story of Hosea, having Hosea go and buy back his wife and make her his wife again.  God wants to restore us to our created NATURE--to glorify him.  That nature is fed through learning more about his nature and reveling in his nature.

In all of this we have a shift in life--I've had a shift.  Our eyes are opened and our living is empowered.  As God calls us to dance and live our rightful place, as sons and daughters, He helps us to let go of the past.  "...the old is gone, the new is here" (2 Corinthians 5:17).  He's calling us to live!  In our living, we realize the opportunities we still have.  If a jar of marbles represents the weeks of life you have with family, friends, your church, and so on, you come to realization that looking back caused you to focus on the empty space in the jar, what has already been done, rather than in the marbles left, what is yet to come--the space of life that you still have to live out God's NATURE.

Catalyst was everything I needed and more.  It really helped me frame some things that I knew, but had forgotten or couldn't see because of where I am.  God loves me.  He wants me to engage in him.  The way to draw me out is to find my joy in Him again and push forward in my feeding on Scripture and reading.  In doing so, I will allow him to lead forward.  I needed to hear the messages that people like John Piper, Reggie Joiner, Jud Whilhite, and Judah Smith shared.  I needed to realize that I was looking at my life through the eyes of the older brother, rather than seeing that the Father wanted me to not allow the past to shape who I was.  Rather he wanted me to dance and revel in the fact that he still sees me as a son. I needed to realize that its not about the past, its about the opportunities I still have left--the marbles I still leave in my jar.  

I need to get over the past…the things that I can't change.  I need to love with reckless abandon right now.  I need to lead right now.  I need to do everything I can to put good time in on the things that I think matter.  I need to learn how to deal with urgent and important so I can focus on the stuff that makes my heart sing--the important, yet un-urgent.  it needs to become my urgent!  

A few nights ago, when I was laying in bed, I felt the urge to write myself a letter.  As I laid their and thought, it went something like this....

Hey moron,

Remember this.  Yes, you are 41.  Yes, you have lots of regrets.  There is lots more you could have done if you had not allowed yourself to be distracted from the life you had been called to live.  You've lost focus on the one thing at times.  And, in all of that, you've allowed yourself to become a reactor rather than a catalyst.  You shouldn't be focused on the past anymore, other than to allow you to push forward from it--to use it as motivation to engage in life and do something more than you have in your last 41 years.  You still have a lot of life left.  Its time to get busy.  Its time to get serious.  Its time to lead those around you.  Its time to be the light that God has called you to be.  You want to do this.  You need to do this.  Not so that people will remember you and how you led, rather so that they will be moved closer to the father…so they will know what it looks like to LIVE as the lost son who was found.  Learn to be still again.  Learn to be bold again.  Learn to love recklessly.  Take others on this journey with you.  Help them to understand this, "worshipping Him with my life".  You understand it.  You know what it is.  You can do it.  Do it and help others do it.  God will take care of everything else.

Worshipping Him with my life,

Let us live and be known!

October 2, 2013


I am addicted to my electronic devices.  There I said it.  I've been honest with you.  That's not the point of this post.  The point of this post is how apps work.

On my iPad, I have four or five note taking apps.  I have the ever awesome Evernote.  It is the primary place where I put things.  I'm working to move all of my paper files into Evernote.  It is really the place where everything can be.  I like the interface, its easy to use, what more could I want?

Today I downloaded the Moleskine notebook app.  If you are into cool things, you certainly know about Moleskin journals.  They are overpriced, leather bound, quality paper journals that come in many fashionable colors, sizes and paper styles.  It is the journal that I have been using for my hand written journal now for probably 5 or 10 years.  I do my best to find them on clearance at the bargain books store because I can't stomach the $15 pricetag other places.

Because I use one in real life, I figured I would give the digital version a whirl and see what it could do.  In the few minutes I messed with it this afternoon, I was rather impressed.  It has the ability to do many, many notebooks, all cool looking on a shelf with color coding and your choice of digital paper--lines, no lines, storyboard boxes, graph paper, and weekly agenda.  What more could one want?  Even more, you can type through a keyboard, like I am doing now, or there is a handwriting function that will allow you to draw, paint, write, puke, and what not on the page.  Then, if you get all the settings right, you can sync it to Dropbox or Evernote.  I haven't tried it yet.  I didn't want to lose too much time in messing with it.

As I was screwing around with the app, I came to this realization.  I've had three or four of these apps on my iPad at any given time.  Each time I installed one, I thought, "This will give me a place to write and so on when I have down time or I need to write without distraction, like that is even possible.  The problem is, I never use them.  I have good intentions to use them, but I never do.

I think that is the hangup I have with my electronic devices.  Everything is always new and shiny.  Developers are always updating things and making new apps that make me believe I'm going to be more productive.  I think I am going to get more done and be more efficient, when in reality, all I do is waste more time being wowed by the shiny appeal rather than being undistracted.

So, thank you Moleskine app.  I don't know how helpful you are going to be in my life, since I already have the ever powerful Evernote.  But, you did engage me enough to spend some time to blog, which I needed to do.

What else should I do....where's my iPhone?

July 31, 2013

See What the Lord Has Done

I just spent some time in chapter 6 of The Story.  Here are the things that my brain decided to click on...scattered as they are.

First, how happy would you be if you realized that as God is chastising the people and telling them that anyone over 20 will die before going into the promised land your birthday is next week?  Bonus!

The flip side to that is being the last person to die...everyone is staring at you every day, waiting for you to die so they can go into the promised land.  #thatsabadday

It intrigues me how quickly the Israelites forget everything.  They see God do amazing things through the plagues to get them out of Egypt so they can worship Him, yet they grumble.  They see Pharaoh and his army drowned in the sea, yet they want to go back to Egypt.  God feeds them manna from the heavens, yet they complain and want meat amongst other things.  God leads them with Moses, and yet they say, "we should appoint a new leader to take us back to Egypt."

Does their grumbling ever work out for them?  Not really, if you ask me.  They are shamed every time something bad happens.  Moses corrects them and makes them drink the dust of the golden calf.  God wants to wipe them out and start over with Moses multiple times, yet somehow Moses talks God out of it.  They want meat, so God sends quail to them, up to two cubits deep (that's 3 feet deep) and a day's walk thick in any direction.  That is a lot of quail.  When the people received this blessing, they went hog wild.  Scripture states that each person gathered no less than ten homers.  That's enough quail to fill a 76 cubic foot box--think 75 milk crates full of quail per person.  God gets so frustrated with their gluttony that he strikes them with a plague.

And then there are the 40 years.  God tells the Israelites to go in and take over the promised land.  They send spies, who report how great it is.  Yet, they doubt in their own abilities and don't even think about God's abilities.  Only two, Caleb and Joshua, understand.  As a result, they wander for 40 years until all the doubters and non-remember-ers die off.

We need to remember that with God on our side, we can do all things.  Our faith, if we allow it to be big enough, will put us in places where God HAS to show up.  But do we have that kind of faith?

Moses had that big of a faith.  He wasn't afraid to go toe to toe with God about things.  Though he tried to get out of a lot of things, God always showed faithful when Moses chose to have great faith.  He threw down his staff and God turned it into a snake eating snake.  He stepped into the Red Sea and God parted the waters.  He reminded God time and time again that Israel was His people and God showed them mercy.

Yet, Moses was susceptible to being too full of himself.  He takes credit for bringing water from a rock for the people, rather than giving God the glory.  His parting gift for that event, a trip to see the promised land, but not enter in.

If we think about us, where do we fail?  What do we whine about that we don't have?  How glutenous are we with our lives?  Why has God shown us mercy and not sent a plague?

For me, the big struggle is ministry.  All too often, because this is my job (which I love), I do things rather than engaging with God to do things.  I have a faith in God, yet I rest too much on the faith in myself, especially since I am doing "God's work".  I realize that I am no different than Moses or the Israelites.

What I need is to live by the statement, "See what the Lord has done."  I realize that I am gifted with the chance to be a part of that doing and that is glorious.  Yet, it is not my life I am living, but Christ living through me.  If I dechurchify that statement, its me choosing to live my life differently--not focusing on what I want and need, but putting what God wants as the driving force.

July 20, 2013


As I sit in my office trying to work on the message I am going to give tomorrow at South, I frequently (probably all too frequently) take breaks after some time.  About an hour ago I checked yahoo and saw a headline that read, Showing Prostitutes the Rings of Saturn.  I was drawn in.  Seems like a good idea to people who are hurting and lost and a glimpse of the the beauty and immensity of God's creation.  I clicked through to see the article.  I was not ready for what I was about to see.

The byline of the article talked about a guy, Chris Arnade, who shoots photos of people in NYC.  I clicked through to his Flickr feed and ended up losing the last hour or more.  I was drawn in by the stories of the people he was photographing...hookers, addicts, and people who live in the macrocosm of NYC.  There was depth of hurt in their stories, stories of rape, abuse, and hopelessness.  Many of them knew they were in a bad place and wanted out, yet could not step away from the pull of the addictions they were dealing with.  His images were filled with such heartbreak.

Now my head is swirling filled with empathy for the distant faces in the pictures. As I clicked through image after image and read story after story, I thought of this question: What faces and stories are here close to me in Lansing and in Detroit?

And then I had this thought.  Would you even notice them?  Do you even care?  If you did notice them, what would you do?

Understand where I am at right now...I have been very reflective lately.  Maybe its because I turn 41 in a few weeks.  Maybe its because I feel like I never make and progress on the work that I have to do.  Maybe its me being envious of opportunities that others have gotten I wish I had.  Maybe its this message on the 10 Commandments that I've been chewing on for days and weeks now.  Whatever it is has had me continually asking the question, "What have you really done?"  And, shortly after that question comes, "What could you have done?" and "What should you have done?"

There is a scene at the end of Schindler's List where Oskar Schindler comes to the realization that he could have saved many more lives.  He becomes fully aware that he has been frivolous with his life.  He makes the statement, "This pin...two people.  This car...10 people."  He is overcome with emotion.

This is where I feel I am.  I'm half way through my life.  What have I done?  Have I attained my dreams?  What do I have to show for 41 years of life?  What do I have to show for 13 years of full time ministry?  What do I need to change?  How do I need to change?  What things in my life need to change?  Its a very tiring place to be.

Understand, I'm not looking for a pity party for Wally here.  I'm not looking for you to tell me all the good things I've done.  I know that if I were to compare my life to others, I could be proud of where I am and who I am.  I know that God has used my life in good ways.  Yet, I've gotten in the way all too often of what He has wanted to do.  I've not had the moxie to say things I should have said or to do things I should have done.  I've missed opportunities with life and wasted a lot of time on dumb things.  What time I haven't wasted, I've done ok things, always feeling that I could have done them better.

I have squandered a lot of life.

As I type this blog I realize I am not much different than the people in the pictures...full of hope, yet hopeless.  Yearning for change, yet too afraid to take the first step.  I know what I need to do and I have the power and ability to do it, yet I choose to sit still most of the time.

I don't want to sit still anymore.  There is too much living to be done.  I don't want to waste my life.  It is not my life to waste.

I waited till the end, here, to give you the link to the flickr feed.  Look at your own risk.  The images are painful and the hurt can be seen and read.  Don't just look and move on.  Allow the images to haunt you.  Allow them to challenge your heart and your life.  There are faces like this close to you wherever you are at.  We are called, as the church, to be people who show prostitutes the rings of Saturn and the other wonders of God.

Here is the Flickr Feed.

June 24, 2013

A Quote

I received this from Day Carr, a lady who has been a part of my camp faculty for almost two decades.  Yes, you read that right, two decades.  She is a down to earth lady with a love for God, His creation, and the slowness of life.  Any morning at camp you can hear her playing her lap dulcimer and singing as she communes with God.  In the evenings, she sings the girls in her cabin to sleep.  She is an awesome lady!

She gave out this quote hand written on a sheet of paper.  It was tagged to Saint Bernard.  I wanted to get the reference right.  In my searching, I found the original quote, which comes from Thomas Merton.  I'm going to give her version, and then Merton's.
Untie my hands
and deliver me 
from my sloth
Set me free 
from the laziness
that goes about 
disguised as activity
when activity
is not demanded by You, Oh Lord
rather it is an escape
from the sacrifice
that it takes
to be with you

Here is the statement from Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation (p. 45)
Untie my hands and deliver my heart from sloth. Set me free from the laziness that goes about disguised as activity when activity is not required of me, and from the cowardice that does what is not demanded, in order to escape sacrifice.
Certainly something to pray regularly.

June 2, 2013

An Intriguing Question

"How many people who go to church every week are going to hell?"

This was a question that Francis Chan put out at the recent Exponential Conference.  I don't remember much at this point about his message.  The only thing I wrote down was that question.  Is it because he didn't have other good things to say?  Chan always has great things to say.  I think its because that question is so haunting to me.

What have I done in my years of ministry to influence the answer to that question?  Have I done positive things that have encouraged people to grow in their spiritual lives?  Or, have I focused on things that, while important, have caused complacency and drift?

These are the things that challenge me every day.  They sometimes take my focus away.  They are challenging me to rethink what I do and why I do it.

Thank you for making me think, Mr. Chan.

April 25, 2013

Mark 13 -- Part 2

Well....weeks later...a month later.   Last time I posted was before Easter.  Its been too long.  If you are still coming around, I thank you for your consistency to come and be interested in my writing and musings.  Your stamina is better than mine.

We need to recap a little, since its been so long.  Jesus has come to Jerusalem with his disciples.  He has had is triumphal entry, with all the people shouting, "Hosanna!" while laying down their coats and the palm branches.  Jesus has condemned the temple system by clearing out the courts of the temple.  He has stated that the temple is to be a house of prayer.  He has also had multiple conversations with the religious leaders.  They have come to him in hopes of trapping him with his words.  Their conversations have not gone well for them.

Now we are to the challenging sections of Mark 13.  Any time the discussion is about the end times, I tend to cringe a little.  Its always hard to grasp.  Its even easier to misinterpret.  And even easier to simply get silly and stupid with the misinterpretation.  My motto has always been to not really focus much on heaven and the end times.  I think it distracts us too much.  We certainly have too much kingdom living and advancing to do now as it is.  If we would simply stay focused on that and trust that God has the end all figured out, we will be fine.

Unfortunately, Jesus talks about what is to come in Mark 13.  I could say, "He talks about it.  Let's move on!"  But, I think that would be a cop out.  So.  Lets dive in.

In the last post, we talked about the four disciples (Peter, James, John, and Andrew) sitting down with Jesus to ask about when everything was going to happen between Jesus death and the fall/destruction of the temple.  We made it through the first part of Jesus response.  He has told them to not be distracted by the happenings that signal the beginning of time.  He has also told them that they will suffer much for the Gospel.

We continue on through verse 14 to the end of the chapter.
When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out.  Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak.  How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!  Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.
The "abomination that causes desolation" is a reference back to Daniel and some of the harsh things that happened to Israel and Jerusalem before Jesus.  They suffered horrible persecution from the likes of rulers like Antiochus IV Epiphanes.  There were huge atrocities carried out under his rule.  Things like putting an eagle on the temple and sacrificing a pig, an unclean animal, on the altar in the temple.  Many were killed as he sacked Jerusalem for a second time in the 2nd century BC.

As Jesus references this abomination, his disciples are certain to know their history and heritage.  They certainly know the ugliness that happened then.  They get the perfect picture that what is to come is not good.  So much so that those in Jerusalem will flee to the hills to get away from the desolation.  The idea of fleeing from your city, the place where you worship, your connection to God is a traumatic thing.

Its also interesting to note that in Jesus' words, people, who will want to return to get their things or their babies will not be able to.  If this is the end of the world, those things are fully needed.  What he speaks of here is something in the in between times of the now that he is in and the end of the world, which he will talk about in a minute.

Does your head hurt?  Mine does.

Verse 20 states that if God had not cut short the days, no one would have survived.  But for the sake of the "elect" or those in the Kingdom, he shortened the days.    Some of the scholars referenced in the commentary I am reading hint at the fact that this passage here talks about leaving the city as ok because they were leaving the temple behind.  It has past its prime.  This is in agreement with all that Jesus has said earlier in Mark.  They add that if the gospel were involved, standing their ground and losing their lives would be ok.  But, that is not the case here.  Judgement is coming on the temple, not the gospel.

Jesus continues this line of thought with the warnings of not to get lost up in false prophets and signs and wonders.  There is no hope for the temple.  God will not deliver it.  There is something new on the horizon--a new vision of the temple, one that is made of living stones.  (see 1 Peter 1-2)

And then, there is the glimmer of hope, as the son of man returns again.  The scripture quoted comes from Isaiah.  They are not signs of what is to come, but reactions to the Son of Man, Jesus, coming!  When the time is right, Jesus will come, the angels will gather those in the Kingdom.

At this point, Jesus doesn't give any more description of what will happen.  Scholars think that is because, as I stated in my frustration with end times above, the focus is to be in the living and the now, being Good News people who live out the life of Jesus.

Are you with me?  Its going to get even better now.

Jesus then says, "Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near."  As I think back to what Jesus has said about the fig tree, I think back to the fig tree he cursed a few days earlier when he entered the city.  It was a symbol of the life of the temple drawing to a close.  But, this new parable or metaphor is about a fig tree sprouting in spring.  Is Jesus helping them to see that this new Kingdom that he is establishing by his death and resurrection will be their focus between now and his second coming?

"Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door." (v29) to me seems to reference back to the "abomination".  It also helps the next few verses make sense:
Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
This generation is a reference used throughout Mark to mean those who stand in opposition with Jesus.    They will all see the coming destruction of the temple and the fading of the Jewish faith.  They were certainly witness to all of the destruction, which culminated in the temple being destroyed and Jerusalem being laid waste around 70 BCE.

Then, there comes my favorite part of this passage.
But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 
Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’
Be ready.  Be focused on what God has put us in charge of--living out the Kingdom and sharing the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come near in Jesus!

April 3, 2013


I have not forgotten about this blog.  I have not forgotten about my need to finish blogging through the gospel of Mark.  I will begin again in a few days....maybe even tonight.  I am on a little getaway with my girls right now.  It has been a much needed break.

We will return to our regularly scheduled programming shortly!

March 31, 2013


Tonight was a hard night in the Lowman household.  Bingo went in for a bath and wasn't ready for bed when the time came.  Who is Bingo you ask, and why wasn't she ready for bed?  I'll tell you.

Bingo is a stuffed animal.  A dog to be exact.  She was a gift to my daughter from one of our friends.  She is the main stuffed animal for my daughter right now.  Hannah has made her friendship bracelets and collars and sto on that she wears.  Bingo goes with us to school every morning.  Hannah always asks me to take Bingo inside when I get to the office so she doesn't get cold, and I do because I'm that kind of a dad.  While not the only stuffed animal in the bed, Bingo is the main stuffed animal in the bedtime routine.

Today, Bingo needed a bath.  It had been awhile and she was starting to smell (how do stuffed animals turn smelly???).  So, into the laundry she went.  Unfortunately, she didn't get through it all in time for bed.

When Hannah went to do her bedtime routine, she asked her mom where Bingo was.  "She's still in the laundry," said momma.  The look on Hannah's face was one of total disappointment.  I assured her that she would be ok, that we could make it through one night, and then hurried her off to put on her pjs and brush her teeth.  I even went so far as to give her extra time before bed to snuggle with me on the couch.  I thought we were going to make it.

When we went to bed, there again was the sad look of disappointment on her face.  We did our songs and she snuggled in.  We had made it.

About 15 minutes later, Hannah called out to her momma, wondering if Bingo was through the wash yet.  When Steph told her it would be another hour, Hannah said ok and rustled in her bed some.  I went to check on her a few minutes later and she was laying there crying.

Being the dad that I am, the one that carries a stuffed animal into his office because his daughter asks him to, I crawled in bed wit her so she would calm down.  I tried to give her comfort, and I think my presence did.  She fell asleep after awhile.  But, the thing that could have made it all better instantly would have been Bingo.

As I laid there with her, the thought that kept going through my mind is this:  How often is God there, ready to give us comfort and solace, when all we  do is want something else.  Luckily for me, Hannah is nine.  She still trusts me. My continual prayer is that she will still trust me as she hits the double digits and progresses through her teen years.

How do we respond to God?  Do we allow him to comfort us and take the place of the Bingos in our life?  Or do we fight him for whatever reason.

Lord, may you let us come to you like little children...who sometimes get lost in stuffed animals, but quickly learn to trust in you.  

March 30, 2013

A Dark Night

Today I should have blogged on the rest of Mark 13 and probably all of 14 and 15.  I am behind.  I wanted to blog on the crucifixion today.  But, things have not played out the way that I wanted them to.

As I reflect on what this day means for Christians.  I've tried to keep this whole week in perspective.  And, I must admit that it has been hard.  Though I've been focused on prepping for Easter celebrations at church and so on, its been a challenge to keep the cross in front of me.  There simply are too many things around me that take away my focus.

Last night should have been some sort of group meal with friends where we shared in communion and talked about the sacrifice that Jesus went through on the cross for us.  Today should have been a solemn day of sorrow and reflection on the actual cross.

I wonder how the disciples handled the shock of the cross.  They had heard Jesus talk about the cross multiple times.  They had heard him tell them that if they wanted to follow, they needed to die to themselves and pick up their cross to follow.  They had heard him talk about how he would be treated.  Now as they see everything play out in front of themselves, what were they thinking?  Was it total shock?

The only time I really ever remember feeling a sense of helplessness like I would expect they felt that night was the day that the Twin Towers in NY were attacked.  I remember the quietness and uneasiness of that day.  As we gathered that night as a church to pray, there was an emptiness there.  Is that some of what the disciples are feeling at this point?

Did they get any sleep that night?  How did Peter respond?  Did he find a place by himself to reflect over the day, the reality of his failures and denials of Christ?  Did he sit there and play each encounter that day over and over and over in his mind?

What about the other disciples?  I am sure there wasn't any jostling for who was going to lead at this point.  Are they wondering where Judas went?

And then, there is the crowd.  The crowd proclaimed Jesus as Messiah a few days ago, laying down their cloaks and palm branches to honor his march into the city.  They saw him battle with the religious leaders, gaining energy for his unveiling as the true Messiah that they had been waiting for.  Then, in the matter of moments, their Messiah is on the cross.  Maybe the crowd that ushered him in were in the crowd that cried, "Crucify!"  If they weren't there, maybe they made it into the crowd at Golgatha.  Did they stand there in disbelief as Jesus was hung on a cross and crucified?  How could this happen?  He was our Messiah?  What is going on here?  This cannot be!

Among them, there was no hope and there was no peace.

I wonder what the religious leaders are doing at this moment.  Were they having a large celebration now that they had dealt with the problem named Jesus?  Were they sorrowful for what they had done?  Did they think they had done anything wrong?

So many questions.  So much unknown in that time as the sun went down.  I would guess there were more sleepless than sleeping that night.

How did you handle the last two nights?  Was there a constant reflection on the Jesus and the cross or did life steal away your attention?  God wants our full attention.  May we learn to have ears to hear and eyes to see.

Lord, give us sight.  Give us hearing.  Move us by your sacrifice.  Move us into action with the Good News.

March 28, 2013

Mark 13 -- Part 1

A whole chapter?  Really?  And then its a whole chapter of teaching?  Really?  Do I sound like the annoying guy on the Arbys fish sandwich commercial?  Really?  I don't like that commercial.  Really!

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 13.
O-Without knowing when God will return, we must always be ready for Him to return.
A-Do you live your life like Jesus could return at any time?
P-Pray that you will not be found sleeping when Jesus returns.

Chapter 13 begins with one of the disciples marveling at the architecture of the temple.  As Mark describes it, this disciple is mesmerized by the temple.  He almost comes off like a five year old marveling at the circus.  Jesus quickly puts the disciple in his place, stating that the temple itself will be completely destroyed, all the stones strewn about, not one on top of another.

Jesus then returns to the Mount of Olives, the place where his triumphal entry began a few days ago.  Mark tells us that the closest three disciples to Jesus, (Peter James, and John) and Andrew sit down with Jesus to discuss all that he has been talking about.  They have heard Jesus say three times now that he will be killed.  They have witnessed his condemnation of the temple over the last few days.  And they just heard him say that the temple was physically going to be destroyed.  I think they are beginning to put everything together in their minds, maybe thinking that everything Jesus is talking about is going to happen in one shot.  And, think about it.  If someone is going to come in and destroy a temple, there is going to be much calamity happening in the process.

I wonder why the disciples want to know this.  Is it because they want to be prepared so they can survive such a thing?  Or, is the inquiry more focused on how they can get ahead in it?

Jesus responds to their question.  he tells them of many things that will happen as the time comes.  He mentions things like earthquakes, rumors of wars and wars themselves, nation lashing out against nation, and so on.  "These are the beginning of the birth pains."  We must notice that he is telling them to not be deceived by these things.   He continues on,
You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them.  And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.  Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. 
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
I wonder what these disciples are thinking at this point.  They really haven't seen this happen to Jesus.  They've seen the tension between him and the religious leaders, but nothing has ever escalated to this level.  I also wonder if they think back to Jesus' response to James and John about sitting at his right hand and left.  Jesus' response to them then was, "Are you able to drink the cup I drink..."  That is, can you take on the persecution and punishment that I am going to receive.  He followed that up with, "You will drink..."  Are their eyes wide open now, knowing they are all in here?

One thing that really catches my attention here is the statement that they will be flogged in the synagogue.  The synagogue is the Jewish center of community life.  It is where the Jews go to pray and to corporately hear Scripture read and taught.  Yet, in this place, they will be flogged.  The gospel will stand opposed to these places?  Yes.  It happened.  It still happens today.  I've had friends in ministry who have been chewed up and beat down by the churches they serve because they were doing Kingdom focused things.

Jesus does give the disciples assurance that the Holy Spirit will be with them and speak through them.  That, as we see later on in Acts, gives them a tenacious faith in the Gospel as they spread the good news.  The persecution that Jesus talks about and the persecution they feel later helps them to know they are on The Way.

We will continue in a little while with the second part of this chapter.

March 26, 2013

Mark 12:28-44

Almost caught up....who am I kidding.  There are four chunks in this short 16 verses.  You'll be lucky to see this post tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon. I was doing so good!!!!

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 12:28-44.
O-Love God with everything you have.
A-Do you truly love your neighbor as much as you love yourself?
P-Pray that you completely surrender your time, talent, and money to God.

Ok.  We may go into high gear here.  We'll see what comes out.  Its now 9:30pm.  Afternoon.  What was I thinking?

Jesus has just had a battle of questions with some of the Jewish leaders.  The first encounter questioned the authority of Jesus--where it came from.  That one is bookmarked by Jesus clearing the temple and a parable about unfit keepers of the vineyard.  Then the Pharisees and the Herodians come to him and ask about taxes.  On the heals of them are the Sadducees, to ask about brothers and marriages and heaven.

This leads us to the beginning of today's (yesterday's) passage.

One of the teachers of the law is in the crowd.  He's heard at least the last discussion between the Sadducees and Jesus.  He's ready to take his turn with Jesus.  Mark tells us that he understood the "good answer" that Jesus had given the Sadducees, one based on the Torah.  As a teacher of the Law, this seems to peak his interest.  I wonder why that is.  Maybe this is the first time that this teacher of the Law has come face to face with Jesus.  Maybe he's been hearing about Jesus from all the other religious leaders and his view has been tainted.

This guy comes in and begins to put Jesus to a test.  He asks him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
"The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.   Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.”
Jesus responds with the Shema--the beginning statement of both the morning and evening prayers of the Jews.  It grounds them in knowing that their God, Yahweh, is the one and only God.  Jesus then states the greatest commandment, which follows the Shema in Deuteronomy 6.  Then he quotes a scripture from Leviticus 19 about loving your neighbor.

His response pleased the teacher of the Law.  He affirms what Jesus has said and highlights that these commands--the whole love of God and loving your neighbor are more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices.

Lets stop for a minute and think here.  Did the the teacher of the Law just say that?  That these two commandments are greater than offerings and sacrifices?  Isn't this what Jesus was hinting at a few passages earlier when he ran the money changers, the sellers, and the buyers of temple sacrifices out of the courtyard?  Does this teacher actually get it?  I wonder what is going through the heads of the crowd at this point.  Jesus has dogged on each of the people who have come after him before this, and here this guy is agreeing and encouraging Jesus?

He almost got away with it.  Mark tells us that when Jesus heard the teacher's response, he responded back to him saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Not far means, close, but not there yet.  Is Jesus telling this guy, "You know the right things to say and we are all good on paper, but does your life match what you know?"  It certainly seems that way since Mark follows up Jesus' statement by saying that no one else challenged him after this.  I certainly wouldn't have said anything to him.  He was on fire!

Since no one else comes and asks questions, Jesus starts teaching in the temple courts.  He starts asking a questions about the Messiah.
Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David?  David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: 
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
    under your feet.”
David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”
The teachers of the Law say that the Messiah will be one of the descendants of David.  And this is partially right.  However, Jesus wants to add something more to it.  His quoting of Psalm 110 shows that there is something more to this Messiah than a simple earthy heir of David.  Jesus is beyond that. He is something greater than David.  He doesn't fully affirm here in front of the crowd that he is the Messiah, but that he is talking about this certainly encourages them to think that.  They've possibly heard Bartimaeus, the blind guy from Jericho who Jesus healed right before the triumphal entry, call him Son of David.  They've heard the crowd at the triumphal entry declare the same thing.  There is not a doubt in my mind that the crowd partially gets it because they listen to him "with delight."  Though, I think they are still wanting him to become the hero/national messiah.

After almost affirming himself as Messiah, he then tells the crowd to beware of the teachers of the law.  He says,
They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.  They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.
Flowing robes were to show they were important, worthy of respect, and above others.  They also want the best seats everywhere they go.  They are distinguished and worthy of the honor.  This all seems to go against "the first shall be last, and the last shall be first."  And, you probably wouldn't see a teacher of the law interacting or caring for a little child.  They were too good for that.

"They devour widows houses" means that they didn't care for the poor, which as you read the prophets in the OT, that was one of the main things that the Israelites failed at in their covenant with God.  Yet, they show that they are "religious" by praying long prayers.

The teachers of the law are fakes.  They are full of show and want for the places of honor, yet their lives show that they care for no one other than themselves.  Mark affirms this in the next section.

After Jesus is done warning about the law teachers, Mark gives us a visual to affirm what Jesus had said.  He and his disciples are hanging around where the offerings are collected.  Scholars tell us these would have been large trumpet like looking receptacles for offerings most likely made out of some sort of metal.  Put yourself there in among the crowd.  You see one of these flowing robed fakies coming to throw in their offering.  Maybe they are walking beside a couple rich people that they have befriended. They are walking them to give their offering, being very showy about it.  You see one of the rich people take a large purse full of coins out of his robe.  You hear the money clanking on the metal offering receptacle.  Clang, clink, clang, clink.  They pour them slowly so everyone will take notice of the offering going in.

After the hubbub of the big offering, the mass of people clears.  In comes a widow who puts in a couple copper pennies--the smallest of coins in that day.  Jesus notes that she's put in everything she has--"all she had to live on."

She has come to give everything she has to the temple system, the religious institution of the Jews.  They are to care for people like her, since she has no one to care for her since her husband has passed.  The rich people gave much more than her, but gave out of excess and for show.  They didn't give everything.  At this point, my mind flashes back to the rich man that asked what he needed to do to be in the Kingdom.  "Sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and follow me."

So, what's the point for us?  The point is, "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first."  "You must die to yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me."  "You must be servants (slaves) to these little ones."  "Love God with everything you are, AND love your neighbor as yourself."

One cannot read these things, believe, and not live differently.  The belief must become lived out action.  Otherwise, we are no different than the teacher who questions Jesus about the greatest commandment or the rich man who questions Jesus about how to get into Heaven.  Jesus is staring directly at the cross.  He is telling us it is go time.  Will you change?  Will I change?  Its our move.

Lord, help us to move.  Help us to die.  Help us to follow!

March 25, 2013

Mark 12:1-27--Part 2

Ok.  Now to finish the last part of last Friday's passage....will I ever catch up?

The first story we encounter is Jesus being questioned about taxes.  The Pharisees and the Herodians come to Jesus to try and catch him in a verbal trap.  We've talked about the Pharisees before, but this is the first time we've encountered the Herodians.  While the Herodians were not a religious sect or grouping like the Pharisees, they were a political group of people who were in favor of Herod, his rule, and his policies.

This makes us stop for a moment.  Here are the Pharisees, these purists of the Jewish faith, buddied up with the Herodians, people who were all about Herod, and in turn, ok with the rule of Rome.  We've talked about that before.  Rome was in full control of everything surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.  Because of their rule, they levied taxes on everywhere.  Thus, even if you were on the family piece of property in Israel that you and your family have owned for 100s and 100s of years, you still had to pay tax to Rome.

The Pharisees and Herodians come to Jesus to ask him if they he felt people should pay the tax.  They butter him up at the beginning of the conversation saying,
Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
Wow.  That's the nicest thing they have ever said about Jesus.  Interestingly, everything they say about Jesus is true.  Not that they are admitting it.  They are more than likely saying this for the crowds.  Think of all that has transpired so far.  Jesus has come to the temple and caused a ruckus by throwing out the people selling and buying offerings for the temple, along with the money changers--the people who collect the taxes for the temple.  Then, the next day, he gets in a verbal war with the religious leaders.  Each time there has been an interaction there has been a crowd of people there to take it in.  They've witnessed everything.  They've heard the exchanges and seen the reactions.  The Pharisees and Herodians are completely aware of this. They must act like they are being honest and sincere as they interact with Jesus, otherwise, the crowds will turn on them.

So they are nice to Jesus.  Kind with their words.  Then they pose the question, "Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?  Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”

No one likes paying taxes, especially taxes levied from people who are far away, who aren't giving you anything other than the peace of not beating you down when you pay your taxes.  There question, however, doesn't phase Jesus.  He is totally on to them.
Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?
One must ask the question, do these guys even think before opening their mouths?  Did they really think that Jesus would give them a straight up yes or no answer to their question.  Didn't they learn from the earlier question to Jesus about where his authority comes from?  That didn't work well for them either.  They've put themselves in a pickle again.

Garland notes that Jesus asking for a coin here infers that he did not have a coin on him.  He also walks through the inscriptions on coin the Pharisees and Herodians produce for Jesus.  Inscriptions that talk about Caesar being divine.  These two people groups dont' have a problem with carrying this type of coin, one inscribed to show that Caesar is divine.  Now, for the Herodians, that's not a problem.  They aren't religious.  However, the Pharisees have a problem.  No Gods before me and no idols are both a part of the 10 Commandments.  This coin could have been seen as an acknowledgement of Caesar as divine and as an idol.  I wonder if it was a Herodian that had the coin?

Had Jesus answered yes to the question, that they should pay the tax, the crowd would have flipped out.  That would be like a politician saying he thought it would be best to raise taxes.  The people felt oppressed by the empire.  Jesus affirming that would have went against what the Messiah stood for.

Answering no would have put him in just as much trouble.  With Rome in power, you did what you needed to do to keep Rome happy.  Not paying taxes would have been one thing.  Telling everyone in a public forum to not pay taxes would have been treason.

Jesus isn't going to answer either way.  He's caught the two groups in their game.  As he asks about the coin, they have to respond, "Caesar's" because that's the answer.  Its his face and his words.

And then there is Jesus' final statement, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

Think of it this way.  If you are going to live under Caesar and use his money, you live under his rule and have to follow what he requires.  That is easy.  Do what you need to to keep yourself out of trouble  and you will be all good.  That's really what the religious leaders have been doing.

Give to God what is God's is much different.  Jesus has already stated the expectations of one who follows.  It was no different for the Jews under the Law.  God expected full commitment to the Covenant that he made with Israel.  He expected them to live out the Law, not as things the had to do, but a new way of life, one that was shaped by His presence and politics, not by the outside world.  Such a strong statement that Jesus makes.  So much so that it amazes them.

A question meant to trap turns into yet another blaring light on the fault of those in power and of the systems in place.

Right after this exchange, the Sadducees step up and take their turn in questioning Jesus.  The Sadducees where religious, just like the Pharisees.  They differed in some theology, though.  The biggest difference is that they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.  That's why they were sad, you see (I know, that was bad.  But you know who they are now).  The Sadducees were totally committed to the Torah, but the Torah only.  Any later interpretations, like the Mishnah, were off limits and out in their regard.  They come to Jesus to question him about the raising of the dead.  Rather than get into a full on theological debate, they put a scenario in front of Jesus.
Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.  Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too.  At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
Did you follow that?  In that day, if one of your brothers was married and died without a son, you stepped in as husband and had a son with her.  That way, the family had an heir, one who would continue the ownership of the land and so on.  Creepy right?  Normal to them.  The question then is, if all of these brothers are married to the woman, who's her husband at the resurrection?

Jesus' first response should have been, "Um....y'all don't believe in the resurrection.  Why are you asking this question?"  Maybe he's thinking it.  Maybe the crowd is thinking this.  Mark doesn't tell us.  He only gives us Jesus' response.
Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?  When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.  Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!
He does it again.  He quickly deals with the question with something more than what the questioner is looking for.  This is how he responds:

First, you are ignorant because you don't know Scripture.

Second, rising from the dead isn't about family reunions, its about the Kingdom of God and presence with God.

Third, since you all believe in the Torah, you know what God says at the burning bush--that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  At this point when he is telling Moses this, they are all dead.  So either God is the God of dead people, or God is the God of people who have some sort of presence/life after this life.

Fourth, you are ignorant.  God is the God of the living.

So what's the take home for us in the middle of all this?  First, and foremost, don't get into a verbal argument with God and try to trick him.  It won't turn out well for you.  Second, if we are people of the Kingdom, the Kingdom takes up our focus, not the world or politics or taxes.  God's Kingdom reigns over all those things.  Third, at the end of life on this Kingdom, God has all worked out.  Its not about family reunions.  Its about presence with God, being in the place where the Kingdom of God is in its fullest.  Since God's got all of that under control, lets focus on being the Kingdom now and let God take care of the rest.

Lord, help us focus on the right things!

Mark 12:1-27--Part 1

Well.  This post was supposed to be up on Friday.  I worked on it some Saturday, also.  Simply too much to chew on.  May break it up into a few chunks.  Pray that God really wows us this week with the crucifixion and resurrection.

South's SOAP of the Day
S-Mark 12:1-27.
O-If we reject Jesus, we are like the tenants.
A-Realize that all we have was given to us by God. It is not ours.
P-Pray that you place proper ownership on things in your life

Ok.  Another large chunk of Scripture to talk about.  And, now that I read this new section, I realized that I missed an exchange between Jesus and the chief priests in the temple with the crowd around them.  We must back track a little, since it totally feeds into our section of scripture today.

Jesus and his disciples have returned to the temple for the third day.  Day one, triumphal entry and visit temple.  Day two, curse tree, visit temple, run the people out of the temple, make house of prayer/den of robbers statement.  Day three, come back to the temple and see what else you can get into.  Makes sense to me.

This time, its others that begin the ruckus.  Mark tells us that the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him--the ones he has predicted will rebuke and kill him.  Jesus took it to them yesterday, calling the institution they oversee and run a den of robbers.  Its there turn.  They have had the evening to plot and figure out how to kill Jesus.  They have come to trap him.  "By what authority do you do these things, and who gave you that authority?"  Does this apply to what he said yesterday in condemning the temple?  Or is it looking back farther, like to one of his first healings when he forgives sins in addition to healing the lame man lowered down through the roof.   They ask Jesus about his power in hopes that he will claim that his authority is from Heaven, which it it.

Jesus doesn't play their game.  Rather than step into their trap, Jesus pushes with a question--a question about John the Baptist's baptism--a question that they don't want to answer because either answer would be bad for them.  Mark explains their predicament and tells us that they don't answer the question.  Jesus has won the discussion.  The tension is building.  The excitement/anxiety is growing.  What else could happen?  Its about to get really ugly.

Remember, its the the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders there in front of him, plus the whole crowd.  One would assume this is a large crowd.  All those that shouted Hosanna are probably on edge watching Jesus, waiting for him to become their Messiah.  They were probably there in the temple yesterday to witness the condemning of the temple.  They've just came to Jesus to show him up from yesterday's exchange, but Jesus has out witted them.  Is the steam coming out of their ears here in this scene?  I would think it was a combo frustration, anger, and maybe fear or confusion.  I can see them looking at one another and silently communicating, "Ok, that didn't go as planned.  Now what?"

As soon as this exchange is done, Jesus takes over the conversation and pushes the leaders further by sharing a parable about a man and his vineyard.  You've read the parable.  The man buys land and plants a vineyard--which represents God's relationship with Israel.  He puts farmers/tenants in charge of it--the people of Israel.  Some scholars say the original hearers, i.e. the crowd, would have thought Jesus was talking about Rome for a moment.  They were the ones really in charge of the land of Israel at this point.  This fits in with the want for the national hero Messiah.

When it is time for harvest, the owner sends a servant/steward to tenants to get some of the harvest.  At this point, the scholars say the hearers would have started to remember scripture from the OT.  Prophets in the OT were called servants.  They know that a parable/story has deeper meanings, and as good Jews, they are always in tune to things in parallel an referencing the OT.  The crowd and the leaders arguing with Jesus quickly come to the realization that Rome isn't the bad guy in this story.  Its the leaders standing there...and referencing all the leaders of Israel through the ages.  They did not heed the warnings of the servants/prophets.  They ignored them and killed them, as Jesus draws out in the parable.

The first servant they beat and sent away without any fruit (a reference back to the fig tree and yesterday's scene).

The second servant they "struck on the head and treated him shamefully."  Some scholars feel this may reference back to John the Baptist, who was beheaded at the call of Herod.  Jesus just referenced him in the previous conversation.  It makes some sense, though it doesn't make sense in the order of they beat up, the second one they hit in the head and shamed him.  Then the third servant they killed.

Mark tells us that the owner sent other servants.  All he sent were mistreated in some way.  He didn't give up. He continually is seeking fruit from the farmers.  Their role in the story has totally side stepped the harvest.  Its lost in the story because of the heinousness of the farmers.

Then, the owner decides to send his son, whom he loves.  This echoes back to Jesus' baptism and God's confession to James, John and Peter on the mountain when Jesus was transfigured.  The owner says, "They will respect my son."

Yet, the farmers see the heir coming to them.  Its their chance to take ownership of the land, or so they think.  They kill the son and throw him out of the vineyard.

Sound familiar?  At this point, the leaders that are there have to be flipping out inside.  They are doing everything they can not to flinch.  But how could they not?  The crowd has to be a bit on the edge too.  They've come to see the duel, but this is getting intense!  My mind wonders how much the crowd in general has sensed the tension between Jesus and the Jewish leaders?  How many of them have seen an earlier exchange?  How many of them have heard of the tension through the proverbial grape vine?  I would guess that even in the last few days as Jesus has become vocal and public with what he thinks, the tension is known by most.  There is now way that it couldn't.  There's the expectation of this Jesus becoming the Messiah.  He has the ear of the crowd...and of the leaders, the former waiting to see what happens, the latter wanting to eliminate him and keep the current system in place.

Jesus pushes further by asking the question, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do?"  I wonder if he paused here a little to let everyone contemplate in their minds what the owner, God, might do?  It certainly would have been effective!  Jesus doesn't wait for an answer, though.  He answers the question himself:
He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture:

‘The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
  the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
Boom!  Jesus drops the hammer.  The owner, God, won't sit by idly like it seems he was in the story.  No.  he is active in the story.  He was patiently waiting for the tenants to produce fruit and treat his servants and son well.  They did not.  He will intervene, kill them, and give the vineyard to someone else.

Jesus is coming to set a new order, a new covenant.  The Jewish leaders have not lead the Jewish people well.  The system of the temple, its sacrifices, its role in their faith, has become defunct.  The way of life it was to bring about has been lost.  Jesus is putting forward a new way of life.  One where the sick and the broken are given hope and healing.  One where forgiveness is given freely.  One where the Good News changes lives because the presence of God is there.

For a finality to his words, Jesus quotes from Psalm 118.  Read that Psalm and think about what is going on.

The Psalm itself is calling out the failure of following men, rulers, and earthly things.  It states that God is the refuge.  It talks about the rejection that some will have against the Good News of God.  Those verses, which Jesus quotes here are verses 22 and 23.  Following those verses is a verse that the crowd shouted a few days before at Jesus' triumphal entry--"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Psalm 118:26).

Think of all the people that were present at the triumphal entry.  Certainly the Jewish leaders were there.  Mark doesn't tell us that, but the other gospels do.  The leaders even interact with Jesus, telling him to quiet down the crowd because they are afraid that the noise and excitement is going to attract too much attention from the Roman rule.  One would think that both the leaders and the crowd has heard the quoting of Psalm 118.  Psalms to them were like our hymns.  Everyone knew them all by heart.  Just like, if I said, "Amazing Grace", you would think, "how sweet the sound" along with all the other verses.

Jesus is using Scripture said by the crowd in this parable a few days later, to show that he understands who he is and what is about to happen.  Without specifically saying it, he has called out the Jewish leaders as the evil ones who have rejected God and has affirmed the words that the crowd called out--that He is in fact the Messiah.

One would think that with all of this going on, the Jewish leaders would get a clue.  They would go, "OK.  We get it now.  We need to repent because we are horrible and follow Jesus!"  Unfortunately, this is not their response.  Nope, not at all.  Mark tells us what they are thinking:
Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.
They get that Jesus has taken aim on them. Yet, in their pride, they think they are still right.  They must kill this Jesus to keep control.

I wonder what the disciples are thinking at this point?  Do they get it?  Is the light bulb flicking on for them?  Did it come on for the crowd?

What about us?  If we allow ourselves into this story, into the sandals of those involved here, we must really come to grips with reality and ask some questions.

What in my faith hinders the good news?  What in my faith helps the good news?  How is my life showing that the good news is alive and advancing?

Those are hard questions.  When I began this journey of journaling through Scripture I never imagined having such hard questions put in my mind.  I never thought that this reading through Mark, which I have done many times before, would really dig at my own soul and my ministry the way that it is.  I wonder how it is digging at your life.

To be honest, I've become comfortable in doing ministry.  I do what I think I need to do to keep the church moving forward.  The problem is, that moving forward is for the church.  That is not necessarily wrong.  But, what am I doing to shine outside the church?  What are we doing as a church to BE the church, the salt that Jesus talks about to the world.  If we are simply being salt to be salt, we aren't doing what we are called to do.  We aren't allowing the Good News to drive us, we are driving ourselves.

The Jewish leaders put themselves in a place where they couldn't ask, "How can we change?"  They were so far in they simply couldn't let go of who they were.  I don't think we are that far in.  I think if we are honest with one another, we can change and move and BE on the way with Jesus.

If you are a member of South, pray that we have open eyes and ears as we head into the next few weeks.  We are going to challenge ourselves to be more than we have been in the past.  If you are not a a part of South, allow the above questions to challenge your heart.  make changes and live out the good news.

God, help us to dive into the next few weeks here at South.  Allow those who are coming to this blog and reading to be challenged.  May we change and be your kingdom here and now.  May we be a place where the world can experience your love, your forgiveness and your healing.  Use us. Give us the boldness to change.  Give us the tenacity and love for the world that you have.  May we be empowered by your Holy Spirit!

March 22, 2013

Mark 11:12-33

I started this blog yesterday in a car going down the I-75 in Kentucky.  That's how much I am enjoying this and how important this stuff is!  Unfortunately, my head started hurting from reading in the car.  So, you get a double installment today (hopefully)!

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Mark 11:12-33.
O-Jesus acted and put a stop to the sin in the temple courts.
A-Do not let sin go unaddressed.
P-Pray for boldness to do as Jesus desires.

Our passage begins on a new day in Jerusalem.  The day before, Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The scene closed out with no one in the temple.  This is a new morning. Jesus is ready to head back into Jerusalem (they spent the night in Bethany).

Before the temple, Mark gives us the view of a quick interaction that Jesus has with a fig tree.  Jesus is hungry and goes looking for food.  Mark tells us that though the fig tree is i leaf, it has no fruit.  He also tells us it is not fig season.  Finding no fruit, Jesus curses the tree.  At this point I scratch my head.  How is this so. It's not time for the tree to produce fruit.  The tree is innocent.  Why is it getting cursed? Mark comes back to the tree after Jesus clears the temple.  We must wait to see if there is more insight there.

Jesus and his disciples head into Jerusalem after the tree incident.  Jesus enters the temple and begins to cause a ruckus.  Just let yesterday, Jesus isn't focused on keeping his identity under wraps anymore.  Now he is in the temple throwing people out of the temple.  Mark tells us Jesus begins to drive people out of the temple.  He takes aim at both those who were buy AND selling, the money changers, and the people selling doves.  We need to unpack a lot of things here.

First off, lets talk about the people at the scene that are getting ran out by Jesus.  First, there are sellers.  They are there selling things for use in the temple.  In the temple, people had to offer sacrifices.  If you are coming from far away, it makes sense that you would be able to buy the thing you need to sacrifice at the temple.  One example we get are the doves.  Doves were a part of the sacrificial system for the Jews.  If you had to make and offering for a certain thing, say a skin disease or the birth of a child, a dove was one of the approved animals to offer.  In our scene in Mark, sellers of these types of sacrifices are there somewhere in the temple, which at that time is rather elaborate.

Mark also tells us that there are buyers there.  The people there to carry out their sacrifices.  They are doing as they should in the system that is in place, paying what they need to for their sacrifices.  Scholars note that their actions here, along with the actions of the sellers, are normal.  Yet, Jesus takes issue with them.

Then there are the moneychangers.  The moneychangers here were the tables set up to collect the set temple tax that every male would have had to pay to the temple every year.  It helped pay for all the other sacrifices and things that were to happen at the temple.  Things like daily sacrifices, etc.  Jewish historians and interpreters talk about them in the Mishnah, the interpretation of the Torah--the first five books of the Bible.  Again, perfectly expected in this situation to be in the temple and a viable part of the system.

Then he says:
Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’
Jesus quotes Scripture here.  The statement that the temple should be "a house of prayer for all nations" comes from Isaiah 56:7.  The chapter that contains this quote is focused on eunuchs (males who have been castrated) and foreigners (those who are not Jews).   The passage talks about God bringing these people groups, those incomplete and those outside the community, to his Holy mountain.  God says he will bring them to "my house of prayer".  My house symbolizing the place where He is--where His presence is.  His presence is for all nations.

Then there is the comment of "den of robbers", which comes from Jeremiah 7.   If we simply unpack the statement, a den is a place where someone/something gathers.  So, in the passage, Jesus is saying that the temple has become a place where robbers congregate.  If you have a house of robbers, you have a place where people who lie and steal congregate.  You have a place that is not a place of purity, rather it is a place of the world.  Not what his temple was supposed to be.  When we read the passage in Jeremiah 7, we get an even more clear picture.  The passage is offering Judah (a part of Israel) the chance to continue to live in the promised land.  However, they have not been living up to how God wants them to live.  He gives them the chance to change their ways and live according to the Law--the way of life that is godly.  Or, they can live against him.  He then says in verse 9-11:
‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury,[a] burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?  Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.
Cool stuff, huh?  Following that statement in Jeremiah, God tells Judah to go look a Shiloh, which was another place where God was worshipped, where his presence was.  It has been destroyed and wiped away because of the unfaithfulness of the people.

So, if we step back here, Jesus isn't addressing the changing of money and the selling of things.  He's taking issue with the entire Temple system.  He's taking issue with the role it plays, more of a national thing now, rather than a place where God's presence is--a presence that calls people to live Godly lives. By the statement "den of robbers", the temple has become a place where people who are doing only what they need to come to hide and feel good about themselves.  Garland says it best:
Calling the temple a robbers' den is therefore not a cry of outrage against any dishonest business practices in the temple.  Jesus indirectly attacks them for allowing the temple to degenerate into a safe hiding place where people think that they find forgiveness and fellowship with Go no matter how they act on the outside (Garland, 439).
It makes sense then that the crowd is amazed and that the priests begin to plot the death of Jesus.  He's calling into question the whole of Judaism--the system itself.  Jesus statement here is that the system is broken.  They've missed the mark.

Which brings us back to the tree.  In the beginning Jesus comes to the tree to get food.  But its not been kept right and isn't producing fruit.  He curses it because it has failed to do what it is supposed to do.  Scholars, allude to the fact that this is a foreshadowing of Jesus' judgement of the temple that we just talked about.  The Jewish system is not producing fruit for the Kingdom.  It is a disgrace of the Kingdom.  It will not produce good anymore.

Mark says that the disciples are headed back out of the city that evening, and Peter notices the tree.  Mark tells us it has shriveled from the roots.  Its foundation, which should be rooted in God, is not.  It has died from the roots up.  It cannot be pruned and cared for anymore.  Its done.

Interestingly, Jesus then has a conversation with his disciples about prayer at this point.  As God's house becomes a house of prayer, Jesus tells his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

We must remember, this isn't about what I need for me, like a pizza.  This is what you need to be the Kingdom, live out the Kingdom, etc.  Its cloaked in the role of us being slaves to all for the Gospel.  It challenges us to ask what we are praying for, why we are praying for it, and how God will respond.  It makes our prayers for things that aren't focused on the Kingdom silly.  And, more importantly, it challenges us to be focused on the kingdom....focused on being a house of prayer for the Kingdom, which also calls us to make sure we are rooted in God so that we are producing fruit.  Otherwise, we are worthless trees.

Lord, don't let us be worthless trees.  Allow us to be vibrant, fruit bearing trees for you and your kingdom.  May we be your good news to the world around us.

March 20, 2013

Mark 11:1-11

Good evening!  I am blogging to you tonight from Florence, Kentucky.  Made a quick road trip with a friend to Catalyst One Day.  Honestly, we are here for the conference, not for the Skyline Chili and the Chick-fil-a, though those are two bonuses of the trip.   It would have been an even better trip had I had time to connect with my friend David Joe (Sorry, David Joe).  But, its a quick trip.  Its 10:22pm.  Time to get to our scripture for today.

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 11:1-11.
O-Before Jesus’ death, people praised Him and what He was bringing to the world.
A-Give proper honor and glory to Jesus as the Son of God.
P-Pray that your actions today properly glorify Jesus.

Today's passage is the beginning of last section of Mark.  Over the last ten chapters we have seen Jesus begin and do ministry in Galilee.  We've seen him pull together twelve guys who struggle to see the fullness of the good news.  We've seen many people healed and restored.  We've read about demons being sent packing and teachers of the Law frustrated.  We've also heard Jesus talk about his coming death on the cross in Jerusalem.  And now, we enter the city.

Jesus begins his entrance into the city from the Mount of Olives.  Its to the east of Jerusalem.  That is an important thing that we will talk about in a few moments.  Second, his entrance is different than anything we've read about so far in Mark.  Before, Jesus moved around by walking or when needed, by boat.  Here, we see Jesus tell his disciples to go get a colt, a colt that hasn't been ridden by anyone yet.  That is significant.  Scholars tell us no one is allowed to ride the King's horse.  This colt fits the bill.  Also, with it being a colt.  It is young.  It is inexperienced.  Its not a trained war horse.  Its a simple colt tied up, waiting to be used.

Jesus even goes so far to tell the disciples what to say if someone questions them about borrowing the colt.  Tell them, "The Lord needs it."  And as he said, people asked.  The disciples responded and brought the colt to Jesus.

Then, the disciples take their cloaks and make a saddle for Jesus.  The crowd that is there with them takes their cloaks and lines the road so that as Jesus rides through, the colt doesn't have to touch the ground.  Scholars note that this references when another king in the Old Testament was inaugurated (1 Kings 9:12ff).  Even greater than that, the people start shouting as Jesus enters the town.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our father David!
Hosanna in the highest!
All through the first ten chapters of Mark's gospel, Jesus is telling his disciples and most everyone he heals to keep quiet about who he is and what he is doing.  That is all done now.  The King of the Jews, the descendant of David, is coming into the city.  Think of the emotion here.  There are probably tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Jews heading to the city at this time for Passover.  They all know about this messiah that will come.  They know the prophecies.  They are on the edge of their seats waiting.  And here he is.  It is quite the event.

I've heard a sermon or two on this passage.  In one of the sermons, the speaker referenced the bigger picture going on here.  We need to talk about some politics.  Jerusalem at this point is not run by the Jews.  Remember Herod?  He's in control of this region.  He didn't live in Jerusalem.  He probably lived out by the sea.  It was nicer there.  There weren't any Jews.  He didn't have to deal with them there.  He doesn't answer to the Jews.  He answers to Rome.  Rome is in control of everything.  By control, we don't just mean they own it and let the Jews exist in Jerusalem.  No, they control it.  They rule over them.  They oppress them and make sure they don't too out of line.

Jerusalem will fill with people for Passover.  There is reason for Herod and his minions to come to Jerusalem and keep the peace--keep control.  If I'm going to show my power somewhere, I'm going to make an entrance statement.  I'm going to show that I am in control.  When you are ruling a place with an iron fist, you send in an army, so people know not to get out of line.  The army comes from where Herod is staying, to the WEST of Jerusalem.

He and his minions come in power from the west to show who is in control, marching along, with armor and shields clanging as they walk.  I'm sure there was no cheering for them.  Rather, those seeing this procession were probably quiet and respectful, just as Herod wanted it.  Juxtaposed from that entrance is Jesus, the King of the Jews, riding in peacefully on a colt, with no army.  There is no force to show that he should be feared.  The people are not running for cover.  Rather, there are Jews making the way for him to enter better by laying down their coats and crying out "Hosanna!", which is "God save us!"

Yet another thing to think about is the understanding of the messiah.  Over the last few weeks we've mentioned the desired messiah that the Jews were waiting on.  One who would come in and drive out Rome.  One who would raise up the nation of Israel and make it great again, in worldly, empire terms.  I think the people in the crowd shouting for Jesus as he comes in are looking for this messiah.  Maybe they've seen him heal in the past or heard him speak.  Maybe they were in one of the crowds and ate the food he provided.  They've had this gut feeling about him.  They made extra certain that they could come to Jerusalem for Passover to see if he would come in power.  At this point in our story, I think they are caught up in awe of what is happening before them.  They are on the edge of their proverbial seats waiting for the real show of power to start.  They are yelling and screaming to amplify the situation.  I'm sure it was a sight to see.

Mark tells us, though that when Jesus gets into town, everything is quiet.  Nothing is happening.  He goes to the temple, where the action will happen in the next few days, and it seems deserted.  How anticlimactic.

Is Mark making a statement here?  He doesn't tell us how the people responded when Jesus finally made it to the temple.  Was it a pep rally that lasted too long without the actions that the crowd wanted?  Did they walk away broken because the messiah they were looking for didn't show up?  it certainly isn't a blockbuster ending to the parade.

But I think that's the point.  This Jesus isn't what they are expecting.  He's something greater.  Its not the first time they will be shocked this week of the passion.  There is so much more that will happen.  And, through it all, Jesus is going to establish something far beyond what they ever imagined.

So what's the point for us?  Jesus is King.  We need to live our lives with him as the King.  That means, we don't set the rules of what the king is to be.  Rather, we look to the king for the example of what to be, then we follow.

Father, may we fully grasp the idea of following.  May we fully grasp the idea of the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.  Wow us over the next few days as we experience the good news of Jesus coming the way YOU wanted him to come.  Allow us eyes to see and ears to hear.