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.

March 19, 2013

Mark 10:32-52

Ok.  Now for the second blog so I stay on my schedule.

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 10:32-52.
O-It isn’t about who is the greatest. It’s about serving others.
A-Place yourself below another today and serve them.
P-Pray for humility.

Today's passage is a continuation of the "on the way" journey that Jesus and his disciples are on.  A few days ago, in our reading, they were in Capernaum, a town northwest of the Sea of Galilee.  In yesterday's passage we found them somewhere in Judea, the larger territory south of Galilee.  By the end of today, Jesus will be in Jericho, and tomorrow, Jesus enters Jerusalem.  There has been much that we have seen and heard about through the Mark's gospel so far....and so much yet to learn.

As Jesus and his disciples are on the way to Jerusalem, Mark gives us a barometer, so to speak, of the emotional status of the entourage on the way.  Jesus is leading the way, full of resolve to head to Jerusalem.  His disciples were astonished, while the rest of the crowd was afraid.

What were the disciples astonished about?  Was it that Jesus was heading to Jerusalem?  Were they wondering how he could be so bold?  Or, maybe their astonishment was fueled by their excitement that as he heads into Jerusalem, his Messiahship will will revealed?  Even more than this, what do the rest of the crowd know?  Jesus has told his disciples not to talk about the things he's shared with them about what is to come.  The crowd shouldn't know anything.  Why are they afraid?  Maybe they see the intensity and resolve in the eyes of Jesus.  Mark doesn't give us any more info.

As they are headed on the way, Jesus pulls the twelve aside and shares what is about to happen for the third time.  There is more description this time--condemned to death by the Jewish leaders, then handed over to the Gentiles to be mocked, spit upon, flogged, and killed.  There is no statement to the disciples to keep this to themselves this time.

No sooner than Jesus is done telling them what will happen, Mark tells us that James and John, two of the inner three disciples, come up to Jesus to ask a question.  They start buttering him up by saying, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”  Immediately, we should know its not good.  They haven't heard a thing Jesus has told them.  James and John proceed to ask Jesus to let them sit on the right hand and the left hand of him, in the places of honor.

What do you think Jesus is thinking at this point?  If it were me, the cynic in me would have said, "I thought the teaching with the children would stick.  These guys are dense!"  Or maybe, "Did they not see the face of the rich man as he walked away?  Did they not listen to me when I said, you must lose yourself to have life?"

Yet, Jesus doesn't seem to chastise them at this point.  He questions them a bit to see what is really underneath the surface of their request,  “You don’t know what you are asking.  Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”  These two, along with all the other disciples have heard Jesus say three times now, I'm going to Jerusalem to be killed.  This last time he described what specifically was going to happen.  They have heard all this, yet they've asked to sit at the right and the left.  Do they realize that that question puts them second and third in this journey "on the way" to the cross?  What Jesus is going to endure isn't just a simple sprinkling of death.  As Garland states in his commentary, Jesus is going to be immersed (baptized) into death.

I wonder if at this point the disciples really get it still.  Do they really want the places of honor, or are they finally getting the depth of this following that Jesus has been calling them to.  Their response of "we can" seems to hint at the fact that they get what it means to follow.  The future will show that they do get it, giving their lives to live out the way of the Kingdom.

And again, in this moment, Jesus teaches them again.  “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”  Its not Jesus call.  He is not in control.  He is living his life in the way that the Father wants him to live, living out the Kingdom as the good news, the good news that will go to the cross.

When the other disciples hear what James and John have done, they are angry.  Are they mad that these two beat them to the punch in asking Jesus for the good seats?  Are they mad that they haven't let this argument that started along the road a few stories ago die?  Mark doesn't tell us.  Rather, he does tell us that Jesus pulls them together to do a little more teaching and instructing.
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many
Lets try and read between the lines here.  Rulers in the Gentile realm lord their position over everyone else.  This is a perspective that the Jewish leaders have taken on.  The desired place is the top for stature and power.  Jesus tells his disciples, "not so with you."  The kingdom is not shaped in this way.  Rather, to be a part of the kingdom, to earn eternal life (as the rich man wanted), if you want to be great you become servants.  Jesus takes it one step further, saying if you want to be first, you must be a slave of all.

Then Jesus caps it all with his statement that he, the Son of man, the Messiah, the King of the Jews, didn't come to rule or be served.  Rather, he came to serve and give his life as a ransom.  This is the only gospel where Jesus gives a definitive why concerning his death on the cross.

Mark doesn't give us any insight on how the disciples respond to this.  He continues to take us on the journey to Jerusalem.  Jesus and his disciples have now gotten to Jericho.  They are now only 15 miles from Jerusalem.  Its one last climb up the mountain to the City of David.

Mark tells us that a crowd has gathered again as they ready to leave the city.  The idea of the crowd here, as I read this passage for the third or fourth time today, is multiplied by the time of year.  Jews are heading to Jerusalem for Passover--the time when Israel gathers to offer sacrifices for their sins in accordance and remembering back to the passover in Exodus.  Put your minds in this mix.  You already are planning to go to Jerusalem.  You maybe have heard of this Jesus by now.  He's been healing his way around Galilee the last three years.  He's drawn the attention of the Pharisees.  He's drawn lots of attention from everywhere.  Some probably have put two and two together and are wondering if he is the one, the Messiah.  Think of the crowd following him into the city with anticipation of what might happen.  We will see in a few days that the crowd gets it and cries out "Hosanna!"

In all of this commotion, Mark tells us of one last healing, which as normal, follows a moment when the disciples didn't fully get what Jesus was telling them.  This time a blind man named Bartimaeus shouts out to Jesus when he hears he is close.  Mark tells us that many told him to be quiet.  He's blind.  He embarrasses them.  What would Jesus want with him.  He's on his way to Jerusalem.  This doesn't stop him.  He yells louder, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Jesus hears him.  Jesus hears him say, "Son of David".  This is the only time this name is used in Mark. Son of David connects Jesus with being a descendant of David, the great King of Israel.  The messiah will come from his lineage.  The disciples don't get it, but this blind man in Jericho does.

Jesus asks what he wants from him.  Bartimaeus answers, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

Then, through no touch, no prayer, no anything.  Jesus states, "Your faith has healed you.”

Bartimaeus can now see.  He leaves his cloak behind and follows Jesus on the way.

Do we fully get who Jesus is?  Do we hear him calling us to be servants?  Do we hear him calling us to become slaves to the lowly, like little children?  What do you need to change to get it?  What do you need to let go of to be all in and follow on the way?

God, may we follow.  May these next two weeks as we journey with your son to the cross, may we be changed for your glory.  May we live lives that look like your son.

Mark 10:1-31

Today is a new day.  Lets get at it.

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 10:1-31.
O-We must have faith like a child.
A-Simply believe. Do not allow yourself to get caught up in the little things.
P-Pray that your faith will be pure and innocent like that of a child.

Our passage today is a large passage.  There are three different topics, divorce, children, and money.  Sounds like a fun time, eh?  We will start with verse 1-12.

Jesus and his disciples have traveled from Capernaum, which is on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee.  They are now in Judea.  This is land south west of the Sea of Galilee.  Jerusalem is the capital of Galilee.  Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem.  He's been doing his best to stay away from the crowds so he can teach his disciples more before he goes to the cross.  Our passage today shows that this was no easy task.  The people are coming to him, which gives him the chance to teach.

On this occasion, the Pharisees come to him and ask a question--to test him, to trap him.  "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"  Jesus knows the answer to this question.  He's a good Jew.  He knows the Torah by heart.  He could easily recite to them what Moses had said in the Law.  He also knows that they know the answer to the question.  Some scholars think they Pharisees here are trying to get Jesus to speak out against divorce so that Herod and his niece/wife will take care of him, like they did John the Baptist.  

Jesus sees they are doing more than simply asking a theological question.  So he asks them a question back, "What did Moses command you?  The question moves their question about any man's right to what rights they have been given by Moses.

The scholar I've been journeying through Mark with points out here that when the Pharisees approach the Law, the question is not, "How does it tell me to live?"  Rather, their approach is more focused on "What does it allow me to do?" or "What can I get away with?"  Its not about responsibilities, its about rights.  This is a very insightful perspective.  One that will play out later in our passage.

The Pharisees response, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away."  They have quoted back the law Moses gives in Deuteronomy.  Some background is needed here.  Again, scholars are very helpful.  Back in the day, a man was allowed to divorce his wife with a certificate for divorce.  This did two things.  One, it showed that she had not been unfaithful.  Had the woman been unfaithful and the husband found out, the community would have the obligation to take her and her lover outside the community walls and stone them to death.  The idea of divorce here has nothing to do with infidelity.  Second, it removes all right that the man has to the woman after he divorces her.  Women in that day were regarded more as property.  Had he not written a certificate of divorce, he still would have some right to her, which would then make her an adulteress if any man married her again--that is, she would not be marry-able without the divorce paper.  Rather, it is simply if the man gets tired of her.  The woman gets protection.  She still gets cared for either by returning to her family or by being married again.  The collateral damage of the divorce is limited as best it can be.

Jesus, knowing all this background, leans into the Pharisees with the book of Genesis, quoting about how man shall leave his mother and become one with his wife.  "One flesh" is the term used.  The thought is that they have bound themselves together as one, in a covenant of marriage.  Then Jesus says, "Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate."  Garland, the scholar I'm leaning on, states, "Since God is the one who joins the two together, he is the Lord of the union."  

Reading between the lines, Jesus is telling the Pharisees, its not about what rights you have and that you feel you can change wives on the fly because you are tired of her or whatever.  You are not the lord of the union, God is.  You have made a covenant with her, blessed by God.  Your wife is to be respected and cherished.

Being a part of the Kingdom of God means you uphold the promises and covenants you make.  Being a part of the Kingdom means you are not lord of your own life, God is the Lord of your life.  Being part of the Kingdom means that cultural norms are challenged.

The second section of our passage is about the little children.  Children, as we have said earlier, were seen with little worth, with little power.  People are bringing their kids to Jesus so he can bless them.  The disciples are trying to control that.  Maybe they are protecting Jesus' privacy.  Maybe they are flexing their felt rights, just as they did when they told the one casting out demons in Jesus name to stop.   Regardless, Jesus doesn't like what they are doing.  He says to them,
Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.
When I read this chunk, I think of my daughter.  She's nine.  She doesn't really hate anyone.  She isn't afraid to engage with anyone.  She's innocent and loving.  Anything makes her happy.  Yes, she has toys and she would love another American Girl doll, but, she can be content with just about anything.  She doesn't fully have the "need" disease yet.  She doesn't know of social status.

That is how we need to come to the kingdom.  We need to come asking how we should live, not what can I get away with.  What do I need to do so I can skate by without fully giving up my own life.

This leads us to our last passage, the man with the money.

Mark states that Jesus is again "on his way".  He is interrupted in his journey by a man.  The man kneels before him and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  With all that has taken on before this passage, my mind quickly thinks back to our earlier discussion--what can I do to get by, rather than what are my responsibilities.

Jesus is taken back by the Good teacher comment.  It makes sense to me.  Jesus is under God's leadership as the son.  He deflects the good to God.  I think he is also deflecting the idea that the guy can do anything on his own to get "eternal life".  There is more to it.

As with the Pharisees, Jesus starts with the Law.  Don't murder, don't steal, no false testimony, don't defraud, and honor your father and mother are stated in the text.  Jesus puts in front of this guy a chunk of the Ten Commandments.  They are the pinnacle of the Law.  They are the sign of the Law, the sign of the covenant that God made with Israel.  As a covenant between two parties is made, the last part of the process was called the document clause.  It was the establishment of something that was reviewed and used to remind each party in the covenant what their responsibilities were.  For the Israelites, it was the stone tablets that contained the Ten Commandments.  These tablets were put into the Ark of the Covenant--the place where God's presence was in amidst the community.

I wonder if Jesus has asked this list of commandments to see if this guy fully is engaged in the Law and gets the bigger picture.  Seems he does, since he responds with, "I've done these since my youth."  This statement catches Jesus.  Mark tells us that Jesus looked at the man and loved him.  Scholars think this implies that Jesus sees worth in the man, sees that he gets it.  Jesus wants to push him farther in his faith.

Jesus does push him.  He calls him out.  “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  I wonder what catches Jesus to say this.  Does the guy have on a nice toga that shows his stature in the community?  Did he walk up with the best camel in the town?  We don't really know.  What we do know is that Jesus tells him to go all in.  Somehow he sees or senses that this guy hasn't fully let go of everything to become last and follow.

Scholars say that what Jesus says here isn't necessarily out of the ordinary.  In that day and age, if you wanted to be devout to something, this was the radical statement you were challenged with.  The man came to Jesus asking about what he needed to do.  Jesus told him.  As an aside here, in the book of Acts, we see people doing this.  They sell their possessions and their real estate and give it to the community so they can care for one another and for the poor around them.  Their status isn't about what they own or who they are.  It is about what is good for the kingdom.

The man's response is one of dejection.  He has much.  Mark tells us he went away sad.  There isn't a rush to go and do what Jesus has said so he can follow.  He walks away heavy hearted.  I've always wondered if this man lets go of his worldly stuff, or if he gives up on his quest for eternal life.

The disciples are amazed.  We don't fully know why.  Are they amazed at what Jesus says or are they amazed that the man doesn't do it, especially since they have left everything and are following.

Jesus expounds on it more to his disciples talking about a needle and a camel.  Through these two things he shows the challenge that money has over us.  The eye of a needle is very, very small.  Jesus compares that with the camel, the largest animal in that region.  With money comes status, power, and stuff.  These are all things that are a challenge to let go of.  But, to live the kingdom, we must allow the kingdom to reign, not our wallets.

The disciples say something very profound to me.  "Who then can be saved?"  The idea here in my mind is that we all have this disease of stuff.  It grips us.  We allow it to grip us.  I would assume the need for power and stature in that culture was just the same, if not stronger.  The disciples wonder how anyone could let go.  They've just seen this man who has lived the Law walk away because it seems that he can't let go of his stuff.

Jesus' response?  “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

The question that we must ask ourselves is this:  Are we living like the disciples?  Have we went all in?  They've left family.  They've left security.  While they don't fully get it, they are still "on the way" with Jesus.  Are we on the way?

March 18, 2013


It is Monday.  Mondays are normally bad.  Then I looked at the passage.  Thirty-one verses?  A third of which are on divorce and money?  So much for getting this blog done and out the door during the daytime.

One bonus is that I have read some for blogging on the passage today, but have not gotten to pounding it all out on the page.  Hopefully tonight or sometime tomorrow.  Thank you for being patient with today!

Enjoy dinner!

March 15, 2013

Mark 9:38-50

I'm trying to get my blogging done in the morning today, since the last two days have been late nights.  I only have hour though right now.  Any bets on if this will be posted by 11:30am?

South's SOAP of the Day
S-Mark 9:38-50.
O-The disciples worried about someone doing miracles because the person wasn’t part of their group.
A-Realize what is important and work together with all your fellow Christians.
P-Pray for unity among Christians.

Our passage today is a continuation of the teaching time Jesus started with his disciples in yesterday's reading.  John starts out this time, telling Jesus that he has told someone driving out demons in the name of Jesus to stop.  Was there a lull in the conversation right before John speaks?  Maybe the disciples are staring at Jesus and the kid he is holding.  They are processing what Jesus has told them.  Is there a tension in the air?  Does John feel the need to get Jesus back to praising them?  It could be.  As I read his statement, I hear a proud tone coming through.

Yet, if we think about it, we realize the irony here.  A few stories before, we see the disciples unable to cast out a demon.  John is present there, though he walks up on the scene with Jesus.  They did not have the power that they are now telling someone else not to use.  His statement of "we saw someone" means this is a collective squelching the power of someone else in Jesus name.  The capstone of what he says to me is, "because they were not following us."

My brain plays out the scene here a little.  If I had the ability to be Jesus, this is what I would have said:
Not following us?  Us?  You are following me.  You sometimes lack the faith in the power.  Yet, you argue along the road who is going to be the leader.  Who is giving you this authority?  Do you deserve it?  What right do you have?
The words of Jesus are nicer, yet still direct.  "Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me"  After they do such a miracle, they will realize the power of the good news.  They will be in awe of it, and will not speak ill of me.  We are all on the same team.  This statement makes me wonder what Jesus would say to all the animosity and quarreling within the church.  Jesus is willing to take any help he can get in this quest of sharing the good news.  Even if the help is a simple cup of cold water, which is probably the easiest thing to give.

Jesus quickly returns the attention to the child he is holding.  He returns to the teaching he was giving about humility and serving.
If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.
Do you know how big a mill stone is?  Do you know what a mill stone is?  A mill stone was a large stone that was probably flat on one side.  It would have had grooves in it.  There would be a matching stone that sat on top of it.  The bottom stone was stationary.  The top stone was spun.  Anything in between the stones was ground and pulverized.  It was a way to take a hard seed, like wheat, and make it into flour.  We aren't talking a small stone here.  Not everyone had a mill.  There were probably a few grinders in each area.  They would have had to do decent volumes of grinding.   The stone would have had to be at least 3 feet across and thick enough to have enough weight to mill the product.  It easily could have been larger.

Allow your mind to paint the picture.  It is better for you to be drug to the bottom of the sea by a millstone than to cause the stumbling of ones who believe in Jesus.  That is a start, harsh reality.  Jesus doesn't stop there.

Jesus then turns to the personal life.  "If you hand causes you to stumble, cut it off." "If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off."  "If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out."  All three statements are followed by solid reasoning.  It is better to enter the Kingdom of God maimed in some way rather than go the place where God is not, Hell.

One must be careful to not cause others to stumble.  One must be extra careful to live in a way that sin does not steal away the Kingdom of God.

Jesus closes out this time of teaching by telling his disciples they will be "salted by fire."  Scholars tell us that salt was used in the Old Testament to purify sacrifices.  The reference here is that fire, or persecution, will be the new purification to show that you are "on the way" and living as Jesus is challenging you to do.  That's why there is the followup statement, "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again?"  Salt is good to flavor things.  It makes things better.  You don't eat salt on its own.  It accompanies other food making it better.  If its not used for what its purposed for, then it it worthless.

Jesus final comment about salt is directed to the beginning of their conversation.  "Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other."  Flavor one another that you are making one another better, not tearing one another down.  That is, don't be arguing about who will be first and who is the greatest.  Be humble and have peace among one another.  Have peace with those who are on the same journey for the Kingdom of God with you.

I don't know that we need to do much more reflection than that.  We are called to live right lives that are focused on serving everyone.  Now we must do.

Lord, let us hear your Son.  Let us see his life.  Let us live like him.

Mark 9:30-37

Well.  Here we are again.  Its late.  I've tried to make headway with the day.  I've not done a good job at it.  Hopefully, the rest of the evening will be a little more productive.   We will see.

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Mark 9:30-37.
O-Jesus’ model for us is servant leadership. Put yourself below others.
A-Do at least one act of selfless service today.
P-Pray for a humble spirit as you practice putting others first.

Have you ever had one of those moments when you are so focused on something you don't want to be interrupted or distracted?  Since Jesus told his disciples what will happen in the future--that he will quarrel and be rejected by the Pharisees and the teachers of the law and that he will die and rise again--his focus has been on Jerusalem.  Mark highlights this by stating that Jesus didn't want anyone to know where they were.  He wanted time to teach his disciples.  There is much they need to get before he leaves them.  That is definitely evident by yesterday's passage.  

Jesus has finished his ministry in Galilee.  He is "on the way" to the cross.  We've seen him do his last healings in the Gospel of Mark with the Syro Phoenician woman's daughter and the blind man in Decapolis.  We've read of his transfiguration on the mountain.  We've seen his sense of frustration in yesterday's passage.  There is much to teach his disciples, as it seems.  That is where we find ourselves with today's passage.

Jesus and his disciples have passed through Galilee.  Jesus seems to be doing everything he can to avoid the crowds along the way.  Mark tells us he wants a quiet place to teach them.  The crowds and the commotion are interruptions and distractions.  There are bigger things on the horizon.  Jesus tells his disciples again of what is coming.  This time he changes his wording some.  Rather than being rejected,  he tells his disciples he will be "delivered" into the hands of men.  I wonder if the disciples at that point begin to look around the room and think about who the betrayer among them might be?  He also tells them again that he will be killed and rise from the dead.  But, as per usual, the disciples don't fully get it.

Mark also tells us they are afraid to ask about what Jesus has said.  This is a change from them in the past.  They couldn't wait to get Jesus alone to ask him about the parable of the sower earlier in the gospel.  Even in yesterday's passage, they are quick to ask, "Why couldn't we cast out the demon?"  Maybe they are gun shy.  Maybe they don't want to think about it.  Maybe the know they are in over their heads at this moment.  What's the point of asking then.

Then they get to Capernaum.  If we think back through Mark, we will remember that Capernaum is the first city that Jesus and his disciples entered after he called them to follow.  It is there they saw him do his first miracles.  It was also there that they saw the lame man lowered down through the roof.  Have they returned to Simon and Andrew's house, where Jesus healed Simon's mother in law?  I am sure there are a rush of memories coming to them.  And in all of this remembering, they are shocked at what Jesus says next.
What were you arguing about on the way?
Again they are silent.  They knew what they were arguing about.  Maybe they had hoped that he hadn't heard them.  Maybe they thought they were being discreet.  But he had heard them.  He was calling them out.  Jesus sits down, he calls the twelve to him and he begins to teach.  "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."  This echoes his earlier challenge to them about the last will be first and the first will be last.  On the way, they had been arguing about who was the greatest of the twelve.  Reading between the lines, who will take the place of Jesus if he dies?  Who is the next in line?  Earlier they are questioning why they can't cast out a demon and then they argue about who is the first?    Now they here their leader, the Messiah, tell them the first must be last.  And, even in being last, they must be the servant of all.

At this point, what are they thinking?  Are they remembering back to such things as Jesus touching and healing the leper--one who in the place of society is an outcast?  What about the bleeding woman?  Even more lowly would be the Syro Phoenician woman and her daughter--a woman and a Gentile.  No one is a low enough place that any of his disciples should claim superiority over them.  No, they are to be servants.

To drive home the point, Jesus then brings in front of them a little child.  I have a 9 year old daughter.  She is the cutest girl ever.  She was cute and sweet when she was born.  She was cute as a baby.  She's  grown more and more cute and perfect as the years have passed by.   In Bible times, children weren't seen as all rosy and lovely like today.  Some scholars say that children in that day were not respected.  They had no place of honor.  They had no status.  They had no power.

I think of Jace, the son of our close friends, Tim and Jackie.  Jace is almost 6 months old.  He has nothing.  He is nothing in human terms.  He fully needs his parents to care for him.  He needs them to feed him and change him.  Without them he is vulnerable and helpless.  In the grand scheme of men, he is not first.  This is the image that Jesus is putting in front of the twelve.
Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.
Mark leaves the story hang.  No more explanation from Jesus.  Simply a child in their midst as the words of Jesus sink in.

On the mountain God spoke to Matthew, James and John.  "This is my son, whom I love.  Listen to him."  Are they listening?

Are we listening?  How often do we try to be first?  Where is out humility in our faith?  Are we welcoming the little children....those that are helpless and in need?  Are we being servants to them?  Or are we arguing with one another, jostling to be in charge?

Lord, help us to be humble.  Help us to have the compassion that we see in Jesus to minister to the lowest of the low.  Help us to be servants, to put others before us.  Help us to die to our wants and needs, losing our lives, so that we can live new lives of the good news.  Let us be like parents, who have all the power in the world over our children, yet love them enough to serve and care for them in their helplessness.

March 14, 2013

Mark 9:30-37 -- Part 1

I just finished today's (yesterday's) blog.  I'm somewhat in a zone, so I'm going to attempt another one.  Plus, it is only 7 verses for this blog.  That shouldn't be too hard, right?

(reading the passage....)

Who am I kidding?  Lots to kick around in 7 verses.  I'm going to bed.  I'll see you in the morning.

Mark 9:14-29

Do you ever have one of those days where you find it extremely hard to focus?  Today was one of those days for me.  Well.  Most days seem like that for me.   This blog was started way early in the day.  Now, twenty minutes after midnight, it is done.  I'll start all over tomorrow morning.  I haven't missed one though, yet!!!

South's SOAP for the Day
S-Read Mark 9:14-29.
O-Everything is possible for one who believes.
A-How often are you doubtful or cautious in your prayers and actions?
P-Pray that God helps you in your disbelief.

Our passage today is about a boy who has been possessed by an evil spirit.  He has had this spirit since he was young.  The boy's father has brought him to Jesus.  Unfortunately, Jesus is not there.  The next best thing in the man's mind is those who follow Jesus--the disciples.  He brings the boy to them in hopes that they can cast out the spirit.  Yet, they cannot do it.  Their inability causes a bit of a scene.  Picture it.  There are the disciples, minus Mathew, James, and John, huddled together arguing with the teachers of the law about why they can't heal the boy.  One would assume that this argument is about power.  Maybe the teachers are claiming that Jesus really is of the evil world since his disciples don't have his power.  Do you think one of the disciples responded back, "You don't have the power either!"

My mind also shifts to the father.  He has come, in hope and faith, to find Jesus.  He has heard of the mighty things that Jesus can do.  Yet, he couldn't find Jesus.  All he found were his disciples.  When they tried to heal his son, they couldn't do it.  Then the fight broke out.  All the attention that he wanted is gone.  A crowd is gathering in all the commotion, and his son is not healed.  It is certainly not the way the man probably envisioned the day playing out.

All of the attention shifts to Jesus as he and his three disciples return from the mountain.  They walk up on the scene and immediately become the center of attention.  Mark tells us that the crowd was "overwhelmed with wonder".  The one with real power is here now.

Rather than addressing the the man and his son or the crowd, Jesus' first question is to his disciples.  "What are you arguing with them about?  I wonder what tone Jesus has?  Is it one of frustration or is he simply being inquisitive to find out what's going on?  The disciples track record with not fully understanding everything makes me figure it was more frustration than anything.

The boy's father tells Jesus what is going on.  I wonder if he simply spoke up quickly after the question, not giving anyone else the opportunity to say what's going on with his haste.  Did the disciples try to answer Jesus question quickly, or did they stand there silent?  Irregardless, the boy's father give Jesus the play by play, remembering to point out that the disciples were not able to heal his son.

Jesus responds to what the man says with some frustration, “You unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”  There is frustration with the unbelief that is amidst the people in the crowd.  Some scholars remind us that Jesus encountered this type of unbelief earlier in his home town, Nazareth.  On the flip side, Mark has told us many times about the faith that miracle seekers have as they come to Jesus with their specific needs.  Scholars also hint that the "how long" isn't a wish for Jesus to be rid of the faithless.  Rather, they believe it is Jesus responding to the reality that is in front of him--that his time is short.  There is so much to teach his disciples.

Jesus has them bring the boy to him.  He asks the father about how long the demon has been haunting the boy.  The father responds with the answer and some more detail of how the spirit has afflicted him.  He then adds, "But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

Has the father, in the heat of the situation, lost faith that Jesus can help?  Or, is he simply exasperated with the situation?  If you listen carefully, I think you can hear the desperation in his voice, especially following the comment, "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him."

"If you can?" Jesus responds.  Part of me feels like Jesus is on edge here.  His response to the man has the same frustrated tone that has been in his voice the whole way through this passage.  I wonder if the reality of the cross is on his mind here.  He's just met on the mountainside with Elijah and Moses.  He has shared the plan with his disciples.  He knows his time is drawing short.  Yet, the good news is falling on less than fertile soil at times.  Jesus assures the boys father that everything is possible for one who believes.

The father responds with one of the most frank and honest statements I think you can find in Scripture.  "I believe, help me in my unbelief!"  There isn't that much to unpack there.  I believe, yet I still doubt.  Show me the way, Jesus.  Show me what belief fully looks like.

At this point, enough time has passed that even more people are coming to the scene.  Jesus sees the people coming and quickly deals with the spirit.  There is haste, it seems, to do the miracle before there is an even larger crowd.  Yet, when all is said and done, Jesus doesn't give his normal request to keep the miracle on the down low.  Mark doesn't give us any insight either, in that regard.  What he does tell us is that Jesus speaks directly to the spirit with commands and it obeys--even without Jesus touching the boy.  As it exits it leaves the boy lifeless.

Someone in the crowd proclaims that the boy is dead.  We don't really know.  It doesn't matter, Jesus has the power to deal with that also.  He takes the boy by the hand, the physical touch that is so often mentioned by Mark, and helps him up.  Scholars are quick to note that Mark is using resurrection language here, the same language used when Jesus raises Jairus' daughter from the dead.  Probably the same language he will use in a few chapters when Jesus overcomes death.

Our story closes with the disciples asking Jesus why they couldn't heal the boy.  With all the frustration that Jesus has had throughout the passage, one would think that there would be a longer corrective discussion here.  Nope, not this time.  Jesus simply responds, "This kind can only come out by prayer."

We must observe here, the prayer that Jesus is referencing here isn't a prayer said for God to heal the boy.  Rather, its a daily, moment by moment connection/conversation with the Father.  We know this.  We've seen Jesus away in quiet places praying all throughout the gospels.  The power of prayer here can be translated into a continual connection with the God above about the good news.  Its a continual connection and feeding.  Its not directed at specific situations or people, in my opinion.  I believe its a continual conversation with God concerning the growth and proliferation of the Gospel.  Its outward prayers that are about sharing hope, peace, and love.  Its not self serving.

How are we praying as a church?  Are we crying out to God about those who live around our church who don't have any idea about what the good news is?  Are we praying for our people to have boldness to share their faith with someone they know?  Or are our prayers more self serving?

Lord, help us to have the boldness to pray crazy things for the Kingdom.  Give us boldness.  Give us tenacity.  Wow us with how you respond.  Help us to expect to be wowed by you!