February 28, 2013

Mark 6:14-29

I am glad you are here reading along with me.  If you were not there reading, I am sure I would have slacked off already and missed a day.

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 6:14-29.
O-John was killed because he did what was right.
A-Live rightly, unafraid of any consequences that come as a result.
P-Pray for wisdom and courage to always do what is right.

I didn't finish out the whole of yesterday's passage.  I want to start there to lay the groundwork for today's passage.

All along, Jesus has been proclaiming the good news--that the kingdom of God has come.  In the kingdom of God, God is the king.  Those who live within the kingdom of God live their lives with God as king.  At the end of yesterday's passage, we see Jesus sending his disciples out to proclaim the good news.  He gives them some directions.  He gives them authority.  He sends them out.  And, as Mark 6:12 says, "They went out and preached that people should repent.  They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them."

These disciples who couldn't understand the parable of the sower a few chapters earlier are now being bearers of the good news, proclaiming that the Kingdom has come near AND they are showing it has by doing miracles, just like Jesus.

The kingdom of God is growing.  It is a place where the sick are made healthy, the lame can walk, and the dead rise to life.  It is a place where sins are forgiven.  With all of these things come hope and peace.  Jesus is the son of the king, God Almighty.  And, if we live out the kingdom of God and follow the will of the father, Jesus says that we will be called his brothers, sisters, and mother (Mark 3:35).  We become part of the royal family of the Kingdom of God.  That is important for us in the next passage.

Now to Herod and John the Baptist.  Herod's family tree and marital life is a bit of a mess.  Pay attention now.  His father is Herod the Great, the Herod that tried to kill the baby Jesus when the wise men came looking for him.  Herod the Great had five wives and at least ten children.  One son was our Herod in our story.  Another son, from another wife was Aristobulus.  And yet another son, from another wife was Herod II.  Nothing out of the norm yet.

Aristobulus had a daughter, named Herodias.  She was the granddaughter of Herod the Great.  She married her uncle Herod II.  Yes, you read that right, she married her uncle.  Same grandfather, different grandmothers.  Creeped out yet?  It only gets better.

Now, at some point, our Herod became smitten with his brother's wife.  Josephus, a Jewish historian from Biblical times, says that our Herod stayed with his brother and Herodias for a time on his way from one place to Rome.  That's where the love interest was kindled.  I would assume that the feeling was mutual between the two love birds, otherwise what happens next wouldn't have happened.  When his brother, Herod II died, our Herod divorced his wife at Herodias' request, and married Herodias.  Herodias became our Herod's wife/niece/ex-sister in law.  Makes sense right?  Some scholars say that Herodias is trying to climb the family ladder and get more power.  I wouldn't be surprised if she offed Herod II to move on to our Herod.

Here's the thing.  When our Herod married Herodias, John the Baptist called him out.  See, Herod's family was practicing Judaism.  In Jewish law, the brother married the wife of the deceased brother IF there was no heir to his "kingdom".  Herodias and Herod II had children, including a first born son, who was the heir.  So, not only did our Herod break the Jewish law by divorcing his wife, he also broke the law by marrying his brother's wife/niece.  John the Baptist is pointing out Herod's sin.

From the way our passage reads, Herodias didn't like this.  She seems to have it out for John.  But, for some reason, our Herod has a soft spot for John.  He arrests him to protect him.  I believe that what John the Baptist was saying was making sense to Herod.  He wanted to keep him around to listen to him more.

And then there is this party.  If you think things were weird before, they are about to get even worse.

Our Herod throws a birthday party for himself.  At this party his step daughter, the daughter of Herodias, presumably the daughter of his brother Herod II comes in and dances for him.  This dance isn't just your run of the mill dance.  Scholars say that there was something more--like an erotic dance of sorts.  This would make sense as messed up as the family tree is at this point.  It was something special because Herod then tells his stepdaughter/niece that he will give her anything she wants, up to half his kingdom--which really isn't his, because it actually belongs to the emperor of Rome.  Oh the things drunkenness and wild parties will do to you.

His stepdaughter goes and consults with her mom, Herodias.  Herodias sees the opportunity.  She finally has her chance to get the revenge she wants on John the Baptist.  She has her daughter ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.  What a present!

I wonder if the party slowed down after that.

Now, in our passage, all of the above is a flashback that Mark is giving us so we know the back story.  The front story in our passage is that Herod is hearing of this Jesus, the one proclaiming the good news, the one doing all these miracles and raising people to life.  He is being compared to Elijah and some of the other prophets.  Herod, though believes he is John the Baptist, the man that Herod has already turned into a party center piece, raised from the dead.  I wonder what horror is going through Herod's mind at that point.  This prophet of God, who he had beheaded, and who proclaimed that the good news was coming in Jesus, has now been replaced by Jesus--one who has power, one who is the Son of God.

The moral of the story is don't marry your brother's wife who is also your niece.  Don't have wild birthday parties where your stepdaughter "dances" for you.  In the case of Herodias, don't try and climb the ladder of power.  And, most of all, don't seek revenge.  Rather, be one who lives like the disciples, calling for people to repent and become a part of the kingdom of God.  Herod's kingdom is long gone.  God's kingdom is still growing.

Lord, help us to live like Jesus, for your glory, proclaiming the good news and calling others join us in our living.

February 27, 2013

Mark 6:1-13

An early start in the office this morning, thanks to the weather and a snow day....

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 6:1-13.
O-Jesus was amazed at the people’s lack of faith, so he could not do miracles in his hometown.
A-Just like your faith can cause miracles, as seen yesterday, your lack of faith can prevent miracles.  What type of faith does your life reflect?
P-Pray once again that God will bolster your faith.

Think about the people you have met in the last few years.  Who in those people was the average status quo person?  This is the person you know who you don't expect to become anything.  They continue on doing what they've always been doing.  Imagine if you found out that this person had then become something more.  Would you be shocked?  Would you question the source of the info and not believe that this person has become something?  This is what is going on in our passage today.

Jesus has lived his first 30 years of life in Galilee, in his home town.  He's grown up learning his father's trade.  He is probably known as Joseph's son, the carpenter, which in that day could have meant anything from a cabinet maker, a house builder, to a stone mason.  He's the son of a construction worker who has become a construction worker. 

Mark's gospel begins with Jesus leaving his home and his profession to proclaim the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near.  And over the last two and a half weeks, we have read and reflected on this new journey.  A journey where Jesus commands power over the sick and demon possessed.  We've read about him calm the wind and the waves.  We've even read about him bringing Jairus' daughter back to life.  These are amazing things.  Jesus has authority over the spiritual realm.  As a bearer of the Kingdom of God, life for those who come in contact with him becomes different.  That is, until he returns to his hometown.

As we read in the story, Jesus shows up in his home town, goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath, and begins to teach, just like he has in earlier stories.  The response of the people, though is much different. While they are amazed, they begin questioning.  "We know this boy.  He built my uncle's house down the street a few years ago.  What has happened to him?  How did he get to be this smart?"

I wonder what type of skepticism began to seep into the people at the synagogue that day.  He was your average, run of the mill boy who grew up and learned the family trade.  There's no way he could have become this smart or achieved this so quickly.  Maybe they think that since he's become who he is he is talking down to them?  I don't fully know.  What we do know is that their amazement in verse 2 is quickly soured and gone by verse 3.

What strikes me the most is the influence of the community's disbelief on what Jesus could or could not do miracle wise in his home town.  There can be two answers.  One, the people simply didn't believe he could do such miracles, so they didn't bring their sick and demon possessed to him.  Or, their lack of faith directly limited what the Kingdom of God could do.  

To me, the second makes more sense.  I've seen it in my own life.  God can do miracles with things, depending on how we choose to respond.  I've seen marriages that were in total ruins restored because both sides were willing to trust that God could do something more and rebuild what was lost.  At the same time, I've seen marriages that were in ruins, totally destroyed because one side or the other chose to fully give up on the situation.  

We saw this in yesterdays passage.  The faith of both the woman who was bleeding and Jairus came into play.  Had they not had faith that Jesus could change their current situations (bleeding and sickness) they would have never approached him to intervene.  Their faith drew him in, so to speak.

This makes me engaged is God with us right now because of our faith?  Am I living on the knife's edge so that God has to be there also?  Or, am I doing what I am doing out of routine, experience, and my own power?  Is this how we are living as a church right now?  Even more, if I can't come up with a solid answer of yes, we are living on the good edge of faith, then what questions do we need to be asking so that we can move in that direction?  How do we step all in?  

Lord, help us to be honest with ourselves.  Help us to reflect on these hard questions.  Give us wisdom and insight as we ponder.  Help us to see the path that you want us to live, so that we can be bearers of your Good News!

February 26, 2013

Mark 5:21-43

Please be in prayer for myself and the leadership at South Lansing Christian Church.  We started a 40 day prayer journey together yesterday.  We are launching a new strategic plan in a month.  Many things are happening around here.  Its exciting and overwhelming.  God is doing some great things, and going to do even greater things.  Your prayers are appreciated!

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 5:21-43
O-Without even talking to Jesus, the woman’s faith healed her.
A-Does your life reflect one whose faith is just as strong?
P-Pray that God will bolster your faith.

Today's reading is going to be a challenge because there is so much going on.  None of you have posted any comments about frustration with the length of these blogs.  I'll assume that your silence means you don't mind.

Our passage today starts with a man named Jairus coming to Jesus in hopes that he will heal his daughter.  Jairus, as the text tells us is the leader of a synagogue.  It was a lot like a church, but more so.  It was the place where they went to hear the scriptures read.  It was also the place they went to pray.  It was the gathering place for community events.  It was the happening place in the community.  So, this Jairus has to be well known in the community that Jesus is coming to in our passage.

Also notice the difference in reception for Jesus here.  In the passage from yesterday, there was no one there to greet him.  The only one who raised a commotion was the demon possessed man.  Here, on the other side of the lake, a large crowd seems to almost immediately materialize.  So much so, that Jesus and his disciples are having to push through the crowd to get to Jairus' daughter.

At this point, Mark gives us a story inside the story.  There is this woman who has some sort of female plumbing issue.  She has had continual bleeding for twelve years.  This has had a great impact on her life.  For starters, Mark tells us she has spent lots of money trying to fix the problem through doctors and that she has "suffered" in their care.  Certainly, the health system back then was much different than today's system.  One can only imagine the procedures and processes first century doctors might have put her through.  On top of that, anyone who knew her would have been effected in some way, since by Jewish law, her physical problems meant she was spiritually unclean for those twelve years.  Anyone who touched her would be deemed unclean and have to wash their garments and take steps to become clean again.  Anything she touched or sat on would be deemed unclean.  It would have to be purified or destroyed depending on the item.  And, even greater, because of her unclean state, she would have not been allowed to go to the temple during that time.  In society, she was just as bad as a leper.

As I allow my mind to mess with the scene we are seeing, I wonder how her presence in the crowd affected what was going on.  Did the people know she was unclean?  As they were pressing in towards Jesus did they see her coming and scurry the other way so they wouldn't touch her?  Certainly, her presence in the crowd, pushing towards Jesus, complicated things.  And yet, she had the faith that if she were to touch Jesus, he could heal her.

Lets think about that for a minute.  Think about the possibility that everyone in the region who has heard of this Jesus who heals wants to get to Jesus.  Why wouldn't you?  Think of the masses of people that would line up if they knew this Jesus was on his way to our city?  I envision the hospitals emptying and then some...back to the story!

So this woman, who has this problem, decides she's going to simply push in the crowd, touch Jesus--because she knows he can heal her--and sneak away without a scene.  It makes sense, since she's been an unwanted person for so long with her health problems.  And, she's only planning on touching his cloak.  With everyone around him, he won't even no.  Unfortunately for her, Jesus knew.  He felt the power go out of him.  He asks the question, "Who touched my clothes?"  At that point, she can get away.  But she doesn't.   She steps forward and says, "It was me."

The thing that catches me the most is the response that Jesus gives her.  "Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."  Imagine the peace that this woman is going to have now.  Free from her bleeding.  Free to be found clean and worship in the temple.  Free to not be a burden to those around her anymore.  No suffering and much peace, because she has experienced the good news.

Jairus, at this point is not feeling peace.  He needs Jesus to go now.  I have a daughter.  If I were in his situation, I could relate.  Jesus needs to be urgent with his problem.

And then the news.  Someone comes and tells Jairus that his daughter has died.  I don't really have to wonder what he's feeling at that moment.  I can easily step into his shoes.  There's frustration with the woman for stopping the urgency of Jesus getting to his house.  There's probably frustration with Jesus for asking who touched him.  There is horror and pain from hearing that his girl is now dead.  Maybe there is frustration and horror in the callousness of the one who came to tell him his girl was dead.  "Your daughter is dead, why bother the teacher anymore?"  Really?

Jesus hears the conversation.  He knows what the good news is.  He knows the power that God has given him.  He knows what happens when the Kingdom of God is present.  The sick and the bleeding are healed.  The demons are cast out.  The wind and the waves are silenced and calmed.  Can it also raise the dead?

As you have read, Jesus proceeds to the synagogue leader's house.  He encounters the mourners.  He tells them the girl is just sleeping and the laugh at him.  They don't know the power of the Kingdom.  Jesus does...and the girl is raised to life.

So, what do we learn from all of this?  My take is this:  Don't underestimate the Kingdom.  The woman who was bleeding didn't underestimate the kingdom.  Neither did Jairus.

What if we were to have the faith that these two had?  Have we put ourselves in a place where we can exist on little faith?  What might we need to do to put ourselves in a place where God has to show up?

February 25, 2013

Mark 5:1-20

It is a new day and a new week.  I haven't missed a day yet!  I don't know that you will fully realize how big of an accomplishment that is.  Now, on to Mark...

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 5:1-20.
O-By sending the demons into the pigs, Jesus allowed someone’s livelihood to be destroyed for the sake of one man’s life.
A-What are you willing to let be destroyed for the sake of others?
P-Pray for the courage to allow Jesus to work, no matter the cost.

Have you ever been anywhere where there is someone famous around?  I remember one time back in the 90s when the president of the time was coming to Northeast Ohio to talk about something.  That morning, as I drove from my home in East Canton to The University of Akron, I passed probably 50 police cars.  There was a police car at every on ramp and off ramp and on every overpass.  They had to keep the president safe.  I would assume that wherever he was speaking also went through lots of preparation, making sure things were secure.  More importantly, they probably did some cleaning and organizing, AND made sure that everyone who was important was going to be there.  He is the president after all!

As I read our passage for today, I'm struck by the welcoming committee in the story.  No dignitaries, no college or high school bands.  No fancy carpets or fanfare.  No, for Jesus, it is simply the town's naked, crazy, demon possessed man who lives in the graveyard.  Mark tells us that this is no run of the mill crazy man.  No, this guy is so possessed that no one can bind him, not even with chains.  Welcome to our village, Jesus!

I think its a bit more intriguing that its the demons who come and find out Jesus.  One would think that if the enemy is coming to town, those who oppose him would either go and hide somewhere so he wouldn't see them, or they would be standing out along the road picketing his arrival.  I doubt there would be no interaction. That's not the case in our story.  The dude comes running up to Jesus, falls at his feet and asks, "What do you want of me, Jesus, son of the most high God?  In God's name don't torture me!"

Lets stop and think for a minute.  The demon in the guy comes before Jesus.  He acknowledges Jesus as who he is, the son of the most high God.  He inquires from Jesus what Jesus wants of him.  And, most intriguing to me, he asks in the name of God, that Jesus would not torture him.  This is an enemy surrendering, acknowledging the head coach of the other team, and asking, in the name of the coach, that he be treated fairly.  The presence of Jesus has an authority about it, in a good way, in a world changing way, both spiritually and physically.  We'll come back to that in a moment....

The conversation between Jesus and the demon/demons continues.  The way Mark portrays the conversation is Jesus asking a simple few questions and the demon/demons doing most of the talking.  Again they plead for Jesus to be gentle with them and then they suggest he send them off to a herd of pigs that are near by.  Pigs were unclean and vile to Jews in the time of Jesus.  That Jesus is in a place where there is a herd of pigs is extremely intriguing to me.  He's on the Eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, in a place that is more Greek than Jewish.  I also find it humorous that the demons, maybe knowing that the Jewish faith had issues with swine, saw an opportunity to keep Jesus from torturing them by asking to go into the pigs...not that we ever have an instance of Jesus torturing an evil spirit.

Jesus grants them their wish.  They take off for the pigs, and then the pigs to a little cliff diving.  Again, its is humorous to me.  It is not very humorous to the pig herders though.  Put yourself in their shoes for a moment.  You are there in the field taking care of business.  You see a man talking with the town crazy.  I wonder if that struck you as odd?  The next thing you know, your pig herd is acting all crazy and bolting towards the steep bank to commit swine-icide.  (Sorry.  I had to...)  Your food source is now gone.  Your livelihood is now dead and floating in the lake.  You do what any normal person would do.  You go tell everyone in the town what happened!

In a flash, the demon possessed guy is healed.  The swine are gone.  The whole town has been drawn out to the countryside to see what is going on.  Everyone is there.  They see the man who was once impossible to bind and clothe there dressed and calm.  Are they amazed?  Mark tells us they were afraid.  I think I could relate to that.  I've never been around a demon.  I've never seen or heard of someone casting out a demon.  If I were to ever witness any of it, I am sure I would be afraid.  How could you not?  The townspeople are afraid.  Just like the demon, they begin to plead with Jesus--pleading with him to leave.

My big question at this point is what are Jesus and the disciples doing through all of this?  Are they standing there quietly taking it all in?  Is Jesus responding to the townspeople?  Has he apologized to the pig farmers?

And then there is the dude that was healed.  Jesus has changed his life.  I'm sure his reputation in the city is ruined.  It makes sense that he wants to go with Jesus.  Yet, Jesus won't let him.  Rather, he tells him to go to his "own people" and proclaim what his interaction with the Kingdom of God has done to his life.

There is so much more in the background that Mark doesn't let us in on.  Why is that? Maybe he wants us to keep us focused on something?  My best guess at the moment, thinking back over the other stories we have recently been through in Mark.  My mind goes back to the Parable of the Sower.  The disciples strained to get the point of the parable.  And, then, here in front of them, they are seeing it played out.  The disciples have seen the good news sowed in front of them.  The townspeople and the pig farmers have seen and heard what happened to the demon possessed man.  Yet, in what they heard they are at the best, driven to fear and at the worst, unchanged.  That makes them either the poor, rocky soil or the path at this point.  The good news does nothing.  It doesn't grow.  It doesn't take hold of anything.  It's wasted.  Its almost as if the ground spits the seed out.

Then there is the demon possessed man.  He's the fertile soil.  The good news, through the power of Jesus, has totally changed his life.  In a few moments we see the seed planted, we see it sprout, and we see it grow to an almost maturity.  What what does Jesus tell the man?  Go and spread the good news to your people.

Who are you in the story?  Are you being Jesus to those around you?  Are you living in a way that the evil spirits see you, engage, and ask you to deal with them nicely?  Or, are you like the townspeople, seeing everything happen with a callousness and a lack of faith?  Maybe you are the possessed man, in need of healing from the demons that bind you, that keep you from living.

I said this a few days ago, and I'll say it again today.  God doesn't care who you have been or where you have come from.  He's about restoring and making new.  He's for healing and giving new life.  Don't be like the townspeople or the pig farmers.  Hear the good news!  Allow it to change your life.  If you need help figuring this out and taking the next step in your faith journey, please let me know.  We would love to help you grow!

Lord, thank you for the gospel that Mark gives us.  Thank you for allowing us to read about who Jesus was and how your creation interacted with him.  May we be challenged by the good news, challenged to seek you out for hope, forgiveness, and new life!

February 22, 2013

Mark 4:35-41

Sorry, there was a two hour snow delay on blogging today.   It is a bit funny that today's reading about Jesus calming a storm is today.  We've had a good shot of snow today, and it made travel a little edgy.  But, it is nothing like the disciples are dealing with.

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 4:35-41
O-Jesus slept while the disciples panicked, and when Jesus had had enough, he made the weather itself obey.
A-Do you have a habit of worrying about small things, forgetting the power our God holds?
P-Pray that you keep all things in perspective and trust Jesus to watch over you.

I've only ever been out on big open water a few times.  I mostly enjoyed those excursions, all except for one.  When I was in Haiti on a mission trip, we took a boat ride from the main island of Hispaniola to the little island north of it called Tortuga.  This wasn't your normal boat ride.  In the 80s, I remember going on a ferry to Put In Bay on Lake Erie.  That was a large boat with lots of power.  It wasn't scary at all.  The journey in Haiti was much different.  Our vessel was a hand made boat about 20 feet long and maybe 10 feet wide.  It was a sail boat, piloted by a little Haitian man.  There were probably 15 people on the boat.  Seven or eight of the people that were with me, and some locals.  All of us packed onto this little boat, crossing a 10 mile channel from a big island to a small island.

I distinctly remember wondering why I had put myself in that situation.  From the shore the trip looked fairly harmless.  However, half way across the swells, which were calm swells, seemed to be 5 to 10 feet high.  They were simple rolling waves with no crests.  We would be on top of one, then at the bottom of one.  We could see everything, then we were below the water horizon.  Add to that the commotion of one of my students puking over the side of the boat from sea sickness and another student getting yelled at in Creole by one of the locals for accidentally stepping on her bag of fruit.  It was stressful and nerve wracking, even with the sun shining above us.  And this was all on the trip to Tortuga!

So, as I read this story about Jesus and his disciples in a boat crossing the sea in a storm, I don't envy them at all.  I know how bad the sunny sea swell excursion was, and can't even begin to imagine how horrible the storm is for the disciples.  And yet, Jesus is in back of the boat sleeping.  I can understand why the disciples are flipping out a little.  They are in the fight for their lives and Jesus is zonked on a cushion.

So, they do what any sensible person would do.  They wake up everyone else to make sure they can flip out with them.  I wonder if they thought about what his response would be?  Did they think he would simply start freaking out with them?  Did they think, since they had seen him do some amazing things, he might be able to calm the storm?  Their response to what Jesus does leads me to think that they didn't think he could calm the storm.

They wake Jesus.  He gets up and "rebuked the wind and said to the waves, 'Quiet!  Be still!'"  And the wind and the waves responded...and it was completely calm.

At this point, after witnessing miracles, seeing demons cast out, and now the weather controlled by Jesus, if I am a disciple I'm in.  I don't know if I get it fully, but I see that he has something that no one else has around me.

Yet, the disciples are terrified and asking one another, "Who is this?  Even the wind and the waves obey him!"  Really?  That's where you are at right now?  You've seen him heal the lame guy whose friends dug through the roof!  You've heard him say, "Your sins are forgiven, pick up your mat and walk!"  I just don't get it.

As I sit and think about this for a minute, and look at the Application question above, I can't help but think that I sometimes get lost like the disciples are.  I know the stories of miracles that they got to witness.  I trust and believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the good news that God has come near.  I am all in.  Yet, at times my actions and my words don't match what my faith says.  I push through the routine of ministry and sometimes do it on my own.  I wonder if I were in the boat that night.  Would I have been calm, or would I have been the one to go running and shake Jesus awake.  I am no different than them.

Thank you God, for having patience with us as we struggle to live lives worthy of the grace you have shown us.  May you help us to engage you more so we can know that you are in control, so that we can focus on the things you need us to do, rather than what we want to do.

February 21, 2013

Mark 4:21-34

I sat here for five minutes trying to come up with something witty and fun to say before I got into today's reading.  This is the best I can do.  Sad.

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 4:21-34
O-Jesus spoke no more than what the people could understand.
A-How often do you forget that God will never give you more than you can handle?
P-Pray for the courage to face life with the knowledge that God will never let you be in over your head.

Today we have an eclectic grouping of Scripture chunks.  They are a continuation of the conversation Jesus is having with those around him.  We need to talk about that for a moment.  Yesterday's reading began with Jesus sharing the Parable of the Sower to the crowd on the shore from a boat.  After that, his disciples and some other people gather around Jesus to get an explanation about the parable.  I totally read over this yesterday.  The large crowd always followed Jesus.  Yet, at times, the crowd would disperse and leave a smaller crowd.  Think of it as more committed followers.  Then, in amidst this smaller group were the disciples.  This helps us make sense of the last few lines of this section of scripture.

So, our reading today is a continuation of the discussion that Jesus is having with this group of followers.  He has just explained the parable of the sower to them - a parable that they did not understand.  Now, he is leaning into them more.  I think he is telling them that what he is saying is meant to be understood.  You wouldn't hide good news under a bowl.  Even more, as they hear the good news, they are responsible for it.  They would be considered in the "those who have more measured to them" class in verses 24 and 25.

I've heard someone say before, "...with responsibility comes accountability."  We simply cannot sit, hear, understand, and do nothing.  There is more too it.  We saw that yesterday in the parable of the sower.  The good news calls us to action.

Jesus continues the conversation by giving two more parables.  One is about a man who sows seed and does nothing more.  The soil does its thing and the seed ends up growing into a plant that produces more seed.  The intriguing thing to me in this parable is the statement that the man doesn't fully understand how the seed grows.  I can relate to that.  Even more, the man's focus is harvesting the use it and to plant more seed.  Sort of ties in to the previous account about being responsible.  You don't have to know all the mechanics of the good news, you simply need to be sharing and living the good news so that the seed has a chance to fall on the soil.  God will do the rest.

Then one final parable, about a mustard seed.  A mustard seed is about the size of a pinhead.  Yet, as Jesus states in the parable, it grows large enough to become a shady resting place for the birds.

So, what's the point of these parables that are strung together.  They all focus on the Kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God is like the man who sows seed, expects it to grow though he doesn't fully know how, and then harvests.  Its like the mustard seed that is tiny, yet grows huge.  The Kingdom of God has potential!  Yet, I think the key for me is, that it needs to be used.  the man with the seed needs to plant it.  The mustard seed must be put in the ground, fertile soil, before it can become something.  The problem isn't the ability to grow, its about getting the opportunity to grow.

To me, this points back to the first passage we read today.  The New American Standard translates the beginning of verse 24 this way, "Take care of what you listen to!"  Take care of it.  Treasure it.  Make it active.  Plant it every type of soil you can.  Allow God the chance to grow the Kingdom.

Lord, help us to shine your Kingdom.  Help us to hear what you are calling us to, and give us a desire to live it out with tenacity.

February 20, 2013

Mark 4:1-20

I'm sitting in my office enjoying a nice cup of Guatemalan coffee by Larry's Beans.  There is nothing better than a great cup of coffee to go along with some quiet time with God.

I hope and pray that you are enjoying this journey in Mark.  If you haven't joined us yet, you can.  Simply go here and download the latest reading guide for Mark.  I'm writing for two reasons.  One, to give an example to those on this journey with us of how one might journal through a passage of Scripture.  Two, taking time to write about Scripture for me helps my mind and imagination get into the story.  It challenges me to read the passage a few times and reflect more than if I were doing a simple read through.

Come on this journey with us.  You won't regret it!

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 4:1-20
O-Jesus describes four basic types of people who encounter the word of God and how they react.
A-Where do you see yourself in the four descriptions given? What can you do to move closer to being in the good soil, or multiplying more if you are already in the good soil?
P-Pray that you make progress in multiplying and spreading the word to those around you.

I have been involved in summer church camp for the last two decades.  Don't know what summer church camp is?  Church camp is a place where students go for a week at a time to get away from life to focus on God and hang out with other students their age.  I've been involved in organizing, planning, facilitating, and leading high school weeks of camp a long time.  Its a lot of fun, very fulfilling, and it helps me to think that I'm still young.

This parable that we are reading today has a special place in my heart because of a week of camp at Rock Lake.  I don't remember the theme for the week that year, but I do remember that the parable of the sower was an integral part of one of the days.  We spent the whole morning digging into it.  We even made the students walk around to different places in camp to help illustrate the different types of soil involved.  I bet we walked them a mile to go from one side of the camp to the back 40 acres where there was as corn field.  It was hot and miserable.  But, we, being the leaders we were, pushed the kids through the adversity of foot travel to get the point...or so we thought.

Now, understand, there is a lot going on in this parable.  There's the sower.  There's the seed.  There's the four different types of ground (the path, the rocks, the thorns, and the good soil).  The sower throws the seed on the four different places and different things happen, the best being the good soil.  Not real rocket science here.

Jesus closes out this teaching with a simple statement, "Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear."

Unfortunately, the disciples didn't get it.  They wait till the crowd has gone so they can sit down with Jesus and say, "What?  We don't get it."  I wonder what their real confusion was?  At camp, we'd been specific.  We thought we had illustrated it well so the students would get it.  But they did not.  Our whole way back from the corn field we could hear them talking and asking, "Are we the soil?  Are we the seed?  Are we the sower?"  I wonder what problems the disciples were having with understanding? Were they struggling with who in the parable they were like our students?  Was there something else that had tripped them up?

As soon as we arrived back to the tabernacle, the large meeting place at Rock Lake, we sat the students down and walked through the parable again, specifically telling them what we wanted them to understand and get out of the teaching.  Jesus did the same thing.  He had to explain it point blank.  I wonder if the disciples got it then, or if they looked at Jesus with the "yeah I get it, but I really don't" looks on their faces.  Our students seemed to get it, for the most part.

The challenging thing with this parable is that depending on where you are at spiritually, you can be the soil or the sower.

Maybe in your life right now, you are the skeptic of this faith thing.  You've heard people talk about Jesus, but you just don't buy it.  You would be the rocky path.  The good news is heard, but you don't really hear it and take it to heart.  It doesn't even get the chance to germinate.  The birds come along and eat the good news.

Maybe in your life right now, you hear the good news and you let it begin to effect you.  But you simply aren't willing to fully commit to it.  So, the influence of what you've heard is short lived--the roots never fully take. And it drys up and blows away.

Maybe you hear the good news and you want to fully jump in.  Yet, around you are people who criticize you for this new faith you have and make you question your faith.  You can't deal with the pressure from your friends or your family.  Maybe its a coworker who mocks you for your new faith.  You cave to the peer pressure.  And your new found faith is wiped away.

Maybe you are like the good soil.  You've heard the good news.  You get it.  Your in a place where you've been able to let it grow.  You've given it the right things--good soil, good water.  You've worked at it and grown faith that can withstand the peer pressure to the point where your faith is now a healthy, sturdy, growing plant.

The beauty of this parable is this: As a seed gets into the good soil and grows, it becomes a plant that produces more seed.  It simply doesn't grow for itself.  It grows to make more of itself.  It becomes the sower, so to speak.

So, the question then becomes, where are you in the story?  Be honest about it.  I'm here at my computer in my office.  You are there reading this blog.  No one is going to judge you for being honest.   Maybe you find yourself somewhere in the first three.  Its ok.  We all were once there in the first three soils.  The challenge and my encouragement to you is to move yourself to be the soil.  Allow the good news that Jesus has come to change your life and see what he does with your life!

Now, I know what you are thinking.  "You have no idea who I am deep down inside!  You don't know what history is in the closet of my life!  I can't commit because of how it would affect my family!"

I could spend the next hour typing out legitimate concerns about not becoming fertile soil.  All of your concerns can be answered with Jesus.  Now, I know that sounds smug.  I'm not being smug.  I'm just as ugly as you are on the inside.  I'm not proud of lots of what I've done with my life.  My commitment to my faith has been a challenge on my family at times.  As we read a few days ago in Mark 2, Jesus doesn't care about your past and your sin.  He wants to forgive you.  He wants to help you walk again. He wants to make you into something new, something that is growing, alive, and green.

One last observation, since this has gotten long again.  If you are going to grow something, you have to work on it.  Its not as easy as simply planting a seed and letting it go.  There is work that the soil does in  feeding the plant.  There's watering that needs to happen.  There's replanting and pruning that needs to happen.  You are not alone on this journey.  We are here to help.  We want to help.  All you need to do is ask.  You have to have the want to change--to move towards being better soil so the good news can do amazing things.  At the top of this page, there is a link to email me.  Take some time to pray about what you need to do, and then shoot me an email.  I will do everything I can to help you grow.

Lord, let us hear what you have to say.  Let us hear what you are calling us to.  Let us do more than simply hear.  Let us become your Kingdom!

February 18, 2013

Mark 3:7-35

Look at me....getting a jump on tomorrow.

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 3:7-35.
O-Jesus declares a familial bond with all who follow God’s will.
A-Does your life reflect one who follows God’s will? Why or why not?
P-Pray that you live like a brother or sister to your fellow Christians.

First observation.  In my 40+ years of life, I have never really drawn a huge crowd.  I have never had an evil spirit bow down to my authority.  I have never had enough followers that I had to pick twelve of the best to be my close followers.  Not that I think God is calling me to be those things.  Yet, I wonder what more should/could I be doing for the Kingdom.

Second observation.  I am a fairly protective parent.  Granted, my daughter is nine.  I honestly dread the day that I have to send her away to college or give her away as a bride.  Even then I'll want to protect her.  My wife and I have already told her that she's not allowed to date until she is at least 18.  I know, we are going to have issues....more our issues than her issues.

As I read the latter part of this passage, I put myself in the shoes of Jesus' family.  They have had him with them for 30 years.  He's done well at the family business.  Then, all of the sudden, he's off proclaiming the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near.  In a matter of moments there are crowds, healings, and evil spirits being sent packing.  Jesus is a viral movement.  If he had a twitter feed it would have blown up.  If I am his family, I wonder how much I know/understand of his divinity.  I'm sure Mary talked of his miracle birth and so on.  I know that he is something more than human.  But, when does it become too much?

In our last account in this passage, it becomes too much when the family hears that the crowd is so big that Jesus and his disciples cannot even eat.  My mind goes wandering in the story again.  Has the crowd surrounded the house so much that the food can't be brought in?  Or, are they simply so focused on engaging with Jesus that he and his disciples can't get a break?  At any rate, as a part of the family, I see the danger level rising.  I would want to intervene into the situation and save him, just like his family.

Yet, Jesus response does not surprise me.  He knows what he is here to do.  He's engaged in proclaiming the good news.  His response is, "Bring it on!"  Well.  Ok.  He didn't really say that.  No.  He says, "Who are my mother and my brothers?"  What?  Had I ever said that in the presence of my big brother, I would have paid for it.  But then, Jesus explains his point...those who are engaged in God's will are my mother and brothers.

This again, leads me to questions about my own life.  How am I engaged in God's will, proclaiming the good news of Jesus?  Am I engaged as much as I do this for a living, or would I be more engaged if I was doing this as volunteer?  What do I need to change to be more about proclaiming the good news and less about the business of doing ministry?  

Lord, help me have clarity in how I live my life.  May I be able to keep a balance of proclaiming and doing ministry.  May I be what you need me to be.

Mark 2:18-3:6

A New week in the book of Mark.  Are you ready?  Here we go!

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 2:18-3:6.
O-Jesus performs actions that seem to some as if they break the law.
A-Do these verses supply a basis for times when it is ok to act outside of the law? Why or why not?
P-Pray for the courage to do what’s right, whether it’s hard, confusing, or won’t even make a difference.

Jesus the rule breaker!  Jesus the rebel!  I was going to try for one more, but I got nothing.  The way this next set of scripture starts out should not surprise us.  On Friday we saw Jesus sitting down at the table with the tax collector Levi and his sinner friends.

Today there are three quick stories that we happen upon.  The first story is about why Jesus and his disciples are not fasting.  The second and third stories are about doing work on the Sabbath.  While we don't have time to discuss all the details of these three little stories here, we can certainly make some observations that challenge us.

Before we do that, a little background on all these rules.  The Jewish religious system was totally shaped around the Torah--the first five books of the Bible.  The Torah was life to them and their ancestors, known as the Israelites.  It told of how God created and how His creation continually turned from Him.  One of the central themes of the Torah was the giving of the Law.  In Exodus, God chooses to make a covenant with Israel.  In a covenant, both parties involved in the contract with one another agree to live in certain ways.  The Law was God's statement to the Israelites of a new way of life...a God shaped way of life.  And, if God gives you a new way of life/living, you tend to get a bit obsessive about about it.

The problem is, the Israelites got a little crazy with the Law.  They took what was written in the Torah and complicated it.  For example, there is the Torah--the first 5 books of the Old Testament.  Then, the Jewish people felt there was another oral explanation that was given about the Law to Moses.  It is recorded in the Mishnah.  Think of it this way.  God said, don't work on the Sabbath.  Well, the question is then, what is work?  The Mishnah gave more insight and explanation of what thinks like work were.  But then, there needed to be commentary or more explanation of this Mishnah.  That section is called the Gemara.  These two components make up the Talmud.  Makes total sense, right?  To make it even more clear, there were specific respected teachers of the Law in history, and so they had their own renditions of the Talmud.

Think of it like BBQ sauce.  Yes, I said BBQ sauce.  Someone created BBQ Sauce.  They think its the best.  However, someone else thinks the sauce isn't good enough.  So, they work on their own recipe of BBQ sauce.  And then someone else does the same thing.  Its all still BBQ sauce, yet flavored in a different way by each person.

So in all of this Law, the commentary on the Law, and the commentary on the commentary of the Law, you had to be vigilante that you lived up to the Law.  Otherwise, you were sinning against God.

Now, I know what you are thinking.  "Who cares!"  Well.  In the stories we are reading today, the Jewish people cared.  They knew that you had to live out the Law to be good little Jewish people.  You had to fast.  Otherwise, you weren't following God's Law.  Also, you couldn't work on the Sabbath.   Work could be translated as, for example, cooking/prepping food, walking too far, and lighting a candle.

If you wanted to stay holy with God, you lived the Law and didn't work on the Sabbath.

Yet, in each of these passages, we see Jesus NOT living the Law.  This puts us in a quandary.   Is Jesus really breaking the Law?  Are the people simply flipping out of some simple things?  Is Jesus challenging the Law, and subsequently, God?  Or, is Jesus challenging the commentary on the commentary on the commentary of the Law (I.E., the way the Jewish people have decided to live out their faithfulness to God)?

I believe Jesus is challenging the system.  He's challenging the religious leaders and all those living out the Law to question whether their tenacity of following the Law has gotten in the way of their faith.  Even more, I think he's challenging them to think about how their tenacity has limited the Kingdom of God.  They can't see the forest from the trees.

The challenge then for us is this: what things--in our lives, in our faith, in our being the church--what things are holding back the Kingdom of God?  Are we all about ourselves?  Do our spiritual practices (or the lack there of) hinder us in some way? Are we caught up in our religious practices so much so that we have lost the focus for the lost?

And then there is this question....How do we need to change?  I know, I said it.  I used the C word.  Hopefully you aren't plotting on how to kill me now, like the Pharisees did with Jesus.  I am no Jesus.  I don't have good answers to these questions.  Check that, I don't have any easy answers to these questions.

Jesus calls us to be tenacious about the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come near.  As it does, lives are changed.  Sins are forgiven.  The lame walk.  The blind see.  The lost are found.  The down and out have hope...are given hope.  To do these things we, as the Kingdom of God, must be the Kingdom of God to all.

Lord, help us to really question how we are living as your people.  Give us the ability to be honest with ourselves and to desire change for the sake of your Kingdom.  Give us a passion for the lost, as Jesus had.  Help us to become Your Kingdom here on the earth.  Help us overcome our unfaithfulness and our fear of change for Your glory.

February 15, 2013

Mark 2:13-17

Here we go...the last reading for this week.  Hope this has been helpful to you.  It has been somewhat refreshing to me.

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 2:13-17.
O-Jesus eats with the outcasts and specifically calls one to follow him.
A-How open are you to Jesus connecting you with the outcasts in your life?
P-Pray that you are open to how God views people instead of how the world views people.

So few verses with so much going on.  This passage starts out with Jesus going out to the lake again.  This is similar to the passage before, where he goes off to pray.  He is simply finding time for himself and God.  With all that is going on in the life of Jesus, it has the foundation of a continual connection with the Almighty.  We should be following His example, even as challenging as it is, especially with as much time as we put into social media and the Internet.  I am just as guilty if not more than the next guy.  What would happen if we spent more time in prayer and in the Word than we did online?

As the passage states, quickly Jesus has people around him again.  So, with a crowd, he begins to teach.  Jesus always draws a crowd.  he always has something to say.  Questions that come up in my head are, do I draw a crowd?  Would I have the right things to say?  What do I need to do to be more engaging with the world and what do I need to be ready to say to them?

The passage then brings us to the calling of Levi, the tax collector.  Otherwise known as Matthew.  Earlier in the gospel we saw Jesus call some fishermen.  I guess they could be the rough neck type and so his calling them is interesting.  But, a tax collector?  Really?  In biblical times, they are some of the most crooked people in society.  Yet, Jesus sees worth in the fishermen.  He sees worth in Levi.

This should cause us to think for a moment.  Jesus uses the most unsuspecting people to do great things for the Kingdom of God.  He doesn't go to the synagogue or to the temple to find the smartest and most religious people.  He chooses the not so impressive ones.  As earlier, my mind has a ton of questions at this point?  If Jesus were to come today, would he come to the church to find his disciples?  If the answer is no, how have we missed the mark that he wouldn't choose us?  If Jesus came today, where would he be connecting with people?  Would he be at the churches?  I guess he would at least come to our church like he went to the synagogues.  But, what would he find at our churches?  Would he come and teach to call us out?  Would he find us doing what he is doing in the passage in Mark 2--hanging out with the lowly and unwanted?

The final scene in this passage is Jesus at Levi's house for dinner.  Some not so savory characters are there at dinner, which is not surprising.  I find it interesting that the text specifically says sinners, almost as if to help us feel and understand the judgement that the Pharisees were having on the situation.  Jesus and his disciples seem to be at home in this environment.

Which leads us to more questions.  Would we be comfortable in such a situation?  Are we as Christians comfortable in "sinner" environments?  Where would we find Jesus hanging out today?  I would guess we would find him at the local bar on weeknights?  We might find him at the DHS office during the day talking with and showing love/grace to the down and out in our communities.

Are we missing the mark?  How should we change in light of all of this?  How do we become people who are for the sick, and not just the righteous?  How do we allow our lives to engage the world?

Lord, thank you for giving me the weekend to really chew on all these questions.  I pray that you will help us as a church to learn from our journey through the book of Mark.  Allow it to reshape us into people who live like you and love like you.  May it make us look more like your Kingdom and help us to live out your Kingdom here and now.

February 14, 2013

Mark 2:1-12

Happy Valentine's Day to the three or four of you that read this.  I only buy Valentine's for my wife and daughter.  You'll have to get your own chocolates today...and every day for that matter.  Time for SOAP!

South's SOAP for the Day

S-Read Mark 2:1-12.
O-The paralyzed man was healed because of his faith.
A-How much trust do we put in our faith to be enough to change people and circumstances around us?
P-Pray for a faith that is unwavering.

This is one of my favorite stories about Jesus.  There is so much going on in the story, especially if you take a moment and put yourself in the shoes of some of the people in the story.  Think of yourself, for a minute as the homeowner where Jesus is teaching?  You have the guy who's causing such a commotion in your city in your living room.  He's there teaching while the whole town tries to get in to listen.  You are so cool!  Yet, as you sit there listening to Jesus teach, you notice the ceiling of your house starting to crumble.  In your head you think, "What's going on here?"  At that point, you see a big chunk of ceiling fall to the ground in front of Jesus....and you realize there are people digging through your roof. What?

At that point, put yourself in the shoes of one of these guys who is bringing the lame man to Jesus.  You are so sure of Jesus being someone who can help this guy, that you will carry him up on a roof of someone's house and proceed to dig a hole through it.  Maybe you know the guy who owns the house. Maybe he's the guy who used to always get picked first for whatever you were playing.  You are finding sweet revenge in ripping up his house...

Wait!  We don't know that.  At best, we know that there are at least 4 guys who bring this paralyzed man to the crowd, in hopes of getting him in front of Jesus.  When they can't get in, they start tearing into the roof to get him to Jesus.

Stop and think about it for a minute.  That's some passion for this lame guy.  I've always wondered if they guys who brought him to Jesus knew him.  My gut tells me they did, it makes the story even more awesome if they didn't.  Think about it for a moment if you are the lame guy.  Its great if you had four friends who would take you to see Jesus to get healed.  Its even greater if they are crazy enough to rip through a roof to get you in front of Jesus to get healed.  Its even greater still if they are four people you don't know, who come by, pick you up, and haul you to Jesus.

Now for the twist.  Your friends have accomplished their goal.  They have lowered you right in front of Jesus.  They have interrupted the commotion with boldness.  Your palms are sweaty as you lay there on your mat, partially because you were freaking out as the guys lowered you down through the roof and partly because all eyes are on you right now.  All eyes looking at you on your mat, with your non working legs as everyone thinks, "What is Jesus going to do now?"

And what does Jesus say?  "Your sins are forgiven!"  What?  The teachers of the law that are there start flipping out because Jesus just claimed he was God in front of them by saying, "Your sins are forgiven!"  I'm sure the guys who worked so hard to get the dude there in the first place were at the least screaming in their heads, "Jesus, what about his LEGS!!!"  I'm sure that if you are the lame guy, you are thinking the same thing, only maybe with a few more capital letters.

This story goes back to our thoughts yesterday.  This being God's people thing has two sides to it in my opinion.  There is the spiritual side of it - the "Your sins are forgiven!" part.  And, at least in the context of Jesus, the Holy One of God, the Messiah, the Kingdom of God here and now, there's a healing side of things.

The question we have to ask is what can we do?  Do we have faith enough to make paralyzed people walk?  I wish we did.  I've never been able to do a miracle like Jesus.  But, we need to ask the question, what CAN we do?  How can we do the spiritual sin forgiving AND the healing side of things since we are the church, the Kingdom of God present now?

The story helps us know.  We need to be the hands and feet of those who can't make it to Jesus.  We need to go looking for them.  We need to find out their stories and step into their messes.  We need to be brave enough, have faith enough, to get involved to the point that we are willing to rip through a roof to help them to our God.

Our God is big enough to do amazing things.  We know He can do amazing things because we read it in the pages of Scripture.  I think He's waiting on us to engage and put ourselves in a place where He has to do great things...and He will!

Lord, help us to have the passion for the lost, the sick, and the hurting that the guys in this story had.  Give us the boldness to step into the messes and be the people you want us to be for your world.

February 13, 2013

Mark 1:29-45

Day three of journaling through Mark.  While it doesn't seem like that much of a challenge to be consistent with three day s of journaling, this is impressive for me.  We'll see if we make it to double digits without a hiccup.

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 1:29-45.
O-Jesus ignored the sick and possessed to go elsewhere and preach.
A-How are some ways that you get focused on the little things (physical health) and the cost of the important things (spiritual health)?
P-Pray for the ability to focus on what is truly important in life.

If you know me, I am a detail type of guy.  I have a program on my computer that helps me stay focused on all the tasks I have to do for work, home, and so on.  I am the one in staff meetings at the church that asks a bazillion questions when we are talking about an event...all the little details and possibilities that my mind begins thinking about.  Needless to say, I can get lost in the details sometimes.

As Jesus begins his ministry with his disciples, he has a much bigger perspective than just one small town.  Again, put yourself in the crowd of people who are packed around Simon and Andrew's house. The whole town is there because of Jesus.  As you are there, and you see Jesus healing people, I am sure you are thinking in your head, who else do I know that needs healed?  Maybe its your cousin.  Maybe its a distant relative that lives in the next town over.

Yet, Jesus sneaks out in the calm of the morning to pray, with a bigger focus in mind.  He, the good news, isn't simply there for Simon and Andrew's town.  He's there to show that the Kingdom of God has come near and when it does, the world is changed.  The blind see.  The sick and fevered are healed.  Sins are forgiven.  The good news is bigger than just one town.

The thing that catches my attention the most in this passage is the back and forth between Jesus' presence making such a big commotion, yet Jesus continually quieting and holding back the viral nature of his presence.  The WHOLE town shows up at Simon and Andrew's house, yet Jesus tells the leper that he heals to not tell anyone about the whole thing.

My question is this...were the people in the story more caught up with the physical healing that Jesus was doing, or did they get the bigger picture that Jesus was the Holy One of God, the Messiah, the good news that the Kingdom of God had come near.

In all honesty, I think we as the church have it backwards sometimes.  We are so focused on our spirituality that we sometimes miss what we could do as the church, the Kingdom of God present now, for the sick, lonely, and hurting.  If we made it a both, and type of thing, I believe we would have a much greater impact.  We are on the right track....we simply need to do more.

Lord, help us to have open eyes and ears for those around us who need loved, need helped, need your grace and peace.  May we understand why you came, how you lived, and may we model it with our own lives.

February 12, 2013

Mark 1:14-28

Day two of reading and journaling through Mark.  As I stated yesterday, we are following a model called SOAP in our journey.  SOAP stands for Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer.

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 1:14-28.
O-Jesus has authority over everything; men listen to him and demons obey him.
A-What part of your life do you have the hardest time giving Jesus authority over?
P-Pray for the ability to trust God to lead you.

When I read this section of Scripture, I can't but help let my imagination run.  Just imagine, sitting in the synagogue (think Jewish church), listening to Jesus teaching on a passage.  All is probably calm and quiet as Jesus speaks.  I would guess the people are on the edge of their seats and engaged and mesmerized by what Jesus is teaching more than they normally are.  They had to be for Mark to say, "he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law." And then, all of the sudden, some demon possessed dude starts screaming at the top of his lungs, "WHAT DO YOU WANT WITH US, JESUS OF NAZARETH?"  Think of the shock.  Think of the looks that people had when it happened.  If I were sitting there, I certainly would have jumped from the outburst at the very least. 

Then, in all of the commotion, you here the evil spirit say this: "Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are--the Holy One of God!"  Again, lets let our imagination run again here.  You are amazed at the teaching of this Jesus.  He is teaching with authority!  Then this evil spirit bursts into the conversation and says he is the Holy One of God.  What did he just say?  That's not something that happens every day.  Holy One means Messiah.  The Jewish people were continually waiting on God to send His messiah to restore Israel. If you are sitting there in the synagogue and you hear this proclamation, you are even more amazed.  

Then Jesus tells the spirit to be quiet and sends him packing from the man he had possessed.

At this point I am one of two things.  I am either running out the door screaming my head off from all that is transpiring, or, I'm running forward trying to figure out more about this Jesus.  If he is the Holy One, I'm in--just like the disciples he's called before this synagogue scene.  

But what does that mean?  That means, I give my life.  And that's hard to do, because I am selfish.  I like my stuff.  I like my life.  I like the comfort that is given to me because of where I live and so on and so on.  I like being in control.  I really struggle sometimes with answering the application question above.  I could easily name two or three areas.  There are many more.  That's the problem.  Jesus wants it all.  We have to be willing to go all in.

At the fear of this post getting to long, I have one more story and then I'll be done.  I just finished reading Seeing Through the Fog by Ed Dobson.  He's a writer/pastor who I enjoy reading.  In his book, he talks about one time when he was preaching on giving. 
I was teaching from 2 Corinthians about generosity: "and they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will" (2 Cor 8:5).  As I spoke I realized we had just received the offering prior to the start of the sermon.  And it dawned on me.  I asked one of the ushers to bring me an offering plate.  I told the congregation that when the offering plate was passed a few moments ago, they should have stood up and gotten in the offering plate.  The usher brought the offering plate, and for the rest of the sermon, I stood in the offering plate and spoke. 
I asked the congregation, "What are you holding back from the offering late?  What ares of your life need to get into the offering plate?"  Walking alone down the back hallway after the last service, I began asking myself, What am I holding back from the offering plate?  What areas of my life need to get into the plate?  Then I realized that my speaking and preaching should be in the offering plate.  I can take you to the very place in that back hallway where I  put those things in the offering plate for God.  I prayed, "I am now surrendering my speaking and preaching to You.  I'm putting it in the offering plate.  If the day comes when I can lo longer speak or preach, I want You to know that it's ok with me."  Several days later, one of the Sunday school classes gave me a photo of me standing in the offering plate.  At the bottom of the photo were the words my dad often spoke to me: "you are indispensable until your work on earth is done." (p.137-138)
Lord, help me put all of me in the offering plate.  May my life be indispensable for You and Your Kingdom while you give me life here on the earth.

February 11, 2013

Mark 1:1-13

The church I work at is journeying through Mark over the next 8 weeks.  We put the challenge out to our people to journal as they read through Mark.  We also provided some questions in the form of SOAP....Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer.  I figure since we challenged them, I should blog mine as an example to them.  Plus, it will help me stay on task with blogging.  So, here you go!

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 1:1-13.
O-God was proud of Jesus, but the Spirit still tossed Jesus into the desert to be tempted right away. 
A-What will you do to help be ready for trials and temptations that can come at any time?
P-Pray for determination to resist temptation and strength to endure trials.

Being ready is an interesting concept.  We always hear, "You need to be ready."  I am ready for certain things.  I have a flashlight at the bottom of the basement steps, in case the power goes out, so I can find my way around.  I have jumper cables in my car and in my truck, in case it needs a jump.  When weather warnings are issued, like the recent snow storm, we make sure we are stocked up on essentials to get us through.

As I sit here and think, I'm surprised by the amount of things I am ready for in case something bad happens.  My car battery not working would be bad, and I'm prepared for it.  The lights going out would be bad, and I'm prepared for it.  But, what good things am I preparing for?  What things am I preparing for to help others?  I have jumper cables, so I could help someone else with battery issues, but really that is only by default because I have them ready for me.

As I look at the text more, and chew on this, I see that the word tempted could also be translated tested. When i think of tests, I think of having to be ready.  You don't (or shouldn't) go into a test not being ready.  How am I ready for anything in my spiritual life?  How am I ready if I'm going to be tested like Jesus was?  To be ready I need to be growing in my relationship with God.  I need to be learning more about Jesus and how he lived.  I need to be interacting with others on faith so I can learn from them.  This will help me be focused on what could happen..what should happen.  And in doing so, I'll also probably be ready for the bad stuff.

Lord, help me to be more engaged in growing myself with you.  Help me be more engaged in growing my family with you.  Help me be more engaged growing our church in you.