Friday, February 23, 2018

"An Exhilarating Combination!"

Mark 12.24 NAS

“Jesus said to them, ‘Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God?’”

There are two things you must understand as a leader in the body of Christ… “the Scriptures” and “the power of God.” Jesus’ condemned the cherished beliefs of a popular aristocratic sect of Jewish leadership when He claimed they knew nothing of “the Scriptures or the power of God.” The Sadducees ridiculed the notion of a bodily resurrection and denied the existence of angels. They were religious skeptics, the deists of Christ’s day. They understood neither “the Scriptures” which taught life after death nor “the power of God” which made possible life after death.

I once drove away from church leaving my Bible on top of my car. I made my way to the freeway entrance and headed home on Highway 26. The next time I saw my Bible was in the rear view mirror flopping through the air. I pulled off at the median ditch on the north side of the busy freeway and ran back to fetch “the Scriptures” which had come to rest on the center dividing line between both lanes of eastbound traffic. This was my favorite, fully underlined and highlighted NIV Bible with personal margin notes. I wanted it back. I knew where it was. I could see it just 30 feet beyond my reach. Cars were whizzing by at speeds exceeding 60 miles an hour. I quickly understood the helplessness of my position. If I ventured into traffic, I could easily be killed or cause a serious accident. I could not take that risk, yet I wanted my Bible. God knew my dilemma, so I offered a prayer for help…
“Jesus, that is not my Bible. It’s Yours. You know I want it back but I cannot retrieve it by myself. I am willing to let it go and walk away. If you want me to have my Bible back then make that possible by Your power. Intervene on my behalf. Otherwise, I will say good-bye to my Bible and drive home now. Amen.”

What happened next was miraculous. At the instant of my “Amen,” I heard a high pitched, whirring sound in the distance. To the west I saw the flashing lights of an ambulance under the Murray Boulevard overpass rushing in my direction. All traffic slowed to a stop by the side of the freeway. The ambulance sped by and I walked easily onto the freeway. I bent to pick up my Bible then stood to face the traffic God stopped just for me. I waved at the east bound motorists and made my way back to my parked vehicle with precious cargo in hand. It was miracle! A modern day parting of the Red Sea!

That day I experienced both “the Scriptures” and “the power of God.” What an exhilarating combination!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

"Untie It!"

Mark 11.2, 4 NASU

“Go into the village opposite you, and immed- iately as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here.”

They went away and found a colt tied at the door, outside in the street; and they untied it.”

“Find a colt” and “untie it.” The disciples did what they were told. They “found a colt tied at the door” and “they untied it.” That’s the nature of the world in which we live. It’s all tied up. Our job is to “untie it.” The “untying” ministry starts with me. I must “untie” my tongue and speak with conviction when bold talk is called for. I must “untie” my hands when there’s work to do.I must “untie” my feet and go to the places I am called, even when I prefer to relax at home. I must help “untie” those who suffer the bondage of sin and shame. Sometimes I must “untie” the people I love and let them go. 

My mother slipped on a throw rug in her bathroom on her eightieth birthday, about ten years ago. She knocked a hole in the wall and banged her head. Blood was everywhere. X-rays revealed a fracture in the C2 vertebra in her neck. My brother called from the emergency room. She came out of the hospital a few days later with instructions to keep her neck absolutely still for a month or risk surgery. Someone had to stay with her. My wife was the only available and qualified candidate so she volunteered to take my youngest child (Rachel, now sixteen years old) out of kindergarten and travel to Bothell, Washington.

I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t want my wife to go. I would rather have had her remain home to provide the loving services I had grown to expect from her. There was no question that she should go, but I would miss her. My son and I muddled through our days of work and school alone. Well, not quite alone. Adonica wonderfully prearranged with our extraordinary neighbors to assist me with food and childcare. I was obviously called to “untie” my precious wife and send her with Jesus in Bothell. I would also learn to “untie” my dependence upon her for the days we had to be apart. This was my “untying” ministry and I was (somewhat) happy to perform it.

Today, both my mother and my wife are with Jesus. Adonica  died of cancer almost about two and a half years ago. I would never voluntarily and permanently “untie” my wife. The ties that bound my heart to hers were just too strong. At fifty, she was way too young to die. My teenage children and I miss her more than we can express in words. There are less tears now than in the months following her death, but they still occasionally flow. We must now face the unthinkable and learn to “untie” our our wife and mother. We still deeply love Adonica and want her back, but this time she will never return to our home. 

Our grief is intense, but we are not alone. Everyone will experience loss. We are called to “find” and “untie” that which is bound up with the suffering that characterizes the human condition. Jesus promised to direct and empower our ministry of “untying”…

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Matthew 16.19 NIV

After praying, Jesus shouted to the dearly departed, “Lazarus, come out!” The man literally came back from the dead! Like Lazarus, whose “hands and feet were wrapped with strips of burial cloth,” people today are bound with cords of fear, brokenness, and desperation. His command is exactly the same as it was twenty centuries ago…

“Jesus then told the people, ‘Untie him and let him go.’
John 11.43-44 CEV

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

"Losers of the Bible"

Mark 10.46-48 NLT

“A blind beggar named Bartimaeus… began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 

‘Be quiet!’ many of the people yelled at him. But he only shouted louder, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’

Bartimaeus had nothing to lose. He knew what he was... a blind beggar ostracized by his community. Bart was a social outcast. He could have no lesser status. Compliance with the local ‘noise ordinance’ meant nothing to a blind beggar. Bartimaeus was desperate, and with Jesus nearby, he fully recognized the chance of his pathetic lifetime. 

Bartimaeus would make Jesus notice him. He shouted unashamedly and repeatedly…

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Bartimaeus was an embarrassment to the good folks of Jericho. Dirty, loud, destitute, blind, and too obvious to the visitors they hoped to impress. The only person in Jericho more despicable than Bartimaeus was the fat, little tax collecting cheat, Zaccheus.[1] Bartimaeus and Zaccheus would top the list of “Losers of the Bible” if you could find such a resource in your local Bible bookstore.

Check out Jericho in your New Testament concordance. The town is rarely mentioned. Yet Jesus came to Jericho for only two reasons of record… to heal Bartimaeus and have lunch with Zaccheus. Jerichoan dignitaries were not on the Son of God’s itinerary.

He came for losers. If Jesus came to hobnob with the elite, the upper social crust, the notable and quotable people in my community, then I would not qualify for a divine visitation. Jesus, however, came for losers. That gives all of us a chance at Jesus.
______________

[1] Luke 10.1-10.

"Loser" image at the top of this post is of unknown source. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

"Our Common Ingredient"

Mark 9.38-40, 50 NKJV

“Now John answered Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not forbid him,… for he who is not against us is on our side.’ ”

“Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.

St. Peter was showing a new arrival around heaven. As they approached a certain cloud, the patriarch insisted his guest remain very quiet. “The Baptists live over there and they think they’re the only ones here.”

Hyper-conservative Baptists are not the only ones who think they’re the only ones who can be saved. Some Pentecostals, Nazarenes, Presbyterians, and so-called Independents think they are only ones doctrinally right enough to make it through the gates of heaven. If certain Christian sects had their way, the gate would be too narrow for even Jesus to get in. Yes, “the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7.14), but not that narrow.

Paul broadened “the way... that leads to life” in his letter to the Romans:

“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
Romans 10.12-13 NASU

The man “casting out demons” in Jesus’ name was only unacceptable to the disciples. “He did not follow us.” they complained. Jesus was concerned with the content of the man’s ministry, not its form. Demons were cast out and that was good enough for Jesus. “For he who is not against us is on our side.”

Open a menu at your favorite restaurant. There is only one common element. Salt. You will find a variety of tasty options but not one without salt. Take salt from your diet and meals lose their appeal. Without salt every menu item becomes drably similar. No salt, no flavor. You might as well skip the restaurant experience entirely and take your food intravenously. Remove salt and the joy of eating is gone.

I assume Jesus takes great joy in the diversity of His children. Christians come in a wide assortment of flavors. Salt is what distinguishes believers and sets them apart, giving them impact and making them tasty. All those “who call on the name of the Lord” are on heaven’s menu. There is a countless variety of types of Christians. Each believer is unique. That may not be okay with some of His followers, but it’s apparently okay with Jesus.

Jesus demands “salt” and “peace.” He has no plan to meld all believers into one indistinct, collective, anonymous mass. The restaurant that put all its selections in a blender and served only nutritious, unsalted protein slurpies would quickly go out of business. Jesus enjoys the variety. He created it. Jesus understands that some members of His body don’t mix well, but each menu option has salt, and that is enough.

Retain uniqueness and learn to get along. Salt and peace. If that’s good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for you.

“Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.”

Monday, February 19, 2018

"The Misunderstanding that Didn't Happen"

Mark 8.32-33 NAS


“And He [Jesus] was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. 

But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter, and said, ‘Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man’s.’”


Most misunderstandings begin innocently. What one party meant is not what the other heard. Both leave confused. They fume and friendships end with the silent ritual of avoidance. Time passes and hurt festers. When confrontation does occur, each erupts defensively spilling their pain like bags of marbles on a hardwood floor. Personalities collide, conflicts escalate, and relationships come to a permanent end.

My dear friend Julie excitedly introduced me to her daughter and her daughter’s fiancée. I was overjoyed to meet such a fine young couple. We discussed their wedding date and plans and then Julie said, “Dave, you know all about this, having been through it a couple of times before. You’ll probably do it a few more times,” she added with a wink and a smile.

I was momentarily stunned. Yes, I was married more than once. Julie was right... I’d “been through it a couple of times before.” But why would she remind me of my past failure and divorce in a happy moment like this? Then to tease me about the possibility of future divorce and remarriage seemed inappropriate and insensitive. I felt the instant stab of emotional pain.   

What Jesus predicted seemed inappropriate to Peter. Jesus stated “the matter plainly,” that is, the matter of His suffering, death, and resurrection.

“…the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected…
and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Messiah’s announcement did not set well with Peter. The disciple took Jesus aside for a word of correction which, as it turned out, was a bad idea. Jesus called Peter “Satan” and the relationship nearly ended on the spot.

I gently pressed my friend Julie and acknowledged the fact that I have been divorced and remarried. With the look of horror, she blurted out, “I was talking about your children, not you!

My brain slowly awakened to the truth. Julie was lovingly referring to the fact that I had already married off two of my grown daughters and I would likely see more of my children tie the happy knot. I was simultaneously struck with revelation and relief. Together Julie and I started to chuckle, then laughed almost uncontrollably at the misunderstanding that (thankfully) didn’t happen.

Even the most obvious truth stated in the clearest possible manner can be misunderstood. Before allowing the words or actions of another to fester in my soul, and certainly before I take someone aside to “rebuke,” I should gently verify what I think I heard.

Friday, February 16, 2018

"Say Less"

Mark 7:24; 36 NIV

Jesus…entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.”

Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.”

I found myself siding with the heathen and wishing the preacher would sit down. “Sit down. Sit down. Sit down,” as if repeating it silently and glaring at the orator would get my message across to the man who many minutes ago overstayed his welcome at the podium. Funerals are favorite forums for windy pulpiteers who cannot suppress the need to unload way too much salvation theology. People come to pay respects and grieve the loss of a loved one. All they want is a little hope. Instead, mourners are forced to endure a prolonged ‘altar call’ they are in no condition to comprehend.

The good reverend should learn the three rules of public speaking… “Stand up, speak up, and shut up!” I wonder how the preacher will feel when he learns that his good intentions had the opposite effect. Instead of winning souls, his over-sermonizing actually drove people away from Jesus. Is that possible? Every pagan knows it is. How incredible! How unlike Jesus! These ‘men of the cloth’ can’t help themselves. Unbridled zeal overcomes them and they forget to control their passion. These speakers fail to hear the Holy Spirit calling them to be still. 

“Jesus commanded” over-talkers “not to tell anyone.” 

“...But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.”
 
Jesus taught His followers to say less, not more, about their experience with Him. Jesus clearly understated Himself and His identity. In Mark’s account, Jesus prefers the title “Son of Man” to “Son of God.” Some scholars have accused Jesus of keeping a “Messianic Secret.”[1] He warned devils, disciples, and those He healed not to tell others who He was.[2] Why?

“To affirm his Messiahship outright would have been to court misunderstanding. His contemporaries would immediately have foisted upon him their traditional conception of the Messiah as one designed to slay their foes and lift them high. But Jesus was not such a Messiah; he was Messiah, but so unlike the picture of the Messiah which his hearers had in their minds that he wanted to avoid the term. He was the Messiah but not their Messiah.” [3]

According to W. D. Davies, Jesus “was the Messiah but not their Messiah,” When it became evident the message would not be received, Jesus quit talking. He was too intelligent and sensitive to “throw... pearls before swine” (Matthew 7.6). Jesus may have “wondered at their unbelief” but He he would not try to persuade “His hometown” with miracles and healing (Mark 6.1-6).

The Master studied His audience before opening His mouth. Effective preachers still do. If ambassadors for Christ followed the example of Christ, they might tend to say less, not more.
____________________

[1] The so-called “Messianic Secret,” first advanced by William Wrede in 1901, claimed that secrecy regarding Jesus’ role as the Jewish Messiah was not original with Jesus. Rather, the author of Mark (or a later editor of his gospel) added the secrecy theme to explain the reluctance of religious leaders to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Conservative scholars dispute this theory.

[2] Mark 1.34; 3.12 (devils); 8.30; 9.9 (disciples); 1.44; 5.43; 7.36; 8.26 (those Christ healed). See also Mark 7.24b; 9.30.

[3] Invitation to the New Testament ~ A Guide to Its Main Witnesses, W.D. Davies, Anchor Books, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1969, p. 206.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

"The Annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue"

Mark 6.1 NKJV

“Then He [Jesus] went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him.”

I follow Jesus. I am a disciple of Christ, but not always a very good one. Sometimes I want to lay down my cross and veer a little from the path. That’s why God gave me 22 years with a great woman. He knows I mean well and, with a little help from my wife, I just might stay (nearer to the center of) the course.

Adonica was a sports fanatic. She once subscribed to Sports Illustrated magazine and enjoyed the weekly updates on favorite teams and the mostly well written articles about athletes personal and team achievements. I occasionally glanced at the magazine.

Like most guys, I was aware of the annual swimsuit edition in which beautiful women model tiny bits of fabric. I’m not sure what this has to do with sports but I am fairly certain it boosts magazines sales and revenues. Maybe I would take one of my “occasional glances” when the swimsuit issue arrived in the mail. I would be nonchalant.

Adonica informed me the annual swimsuit issue had arrived.

“Oh yeah, where is it?,” feigning only casual interest.

“In the recycling. I didn’t even bring it into the house,” she replied.

“So you mean its in the red recycling box in the garage?”

“No. I mean it was picked up today and taken to the dump. It’s gone for good.”

“Good,” I said. “Darn,” I thought.

My dear wife saw this as a teaching opportunity. She explained that the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated is really soft pornography and had no business in our home. She also discovered that subscribers can ‘opt out’ of receiving the swimsuit issue and get an extra magazine at the end of their subscription. I learned that’s what we would do if we re-subscribed.

The incident described above happened about ten years ago. Given the opportunity, I doubt I would have opened the magazine. God faithfully provides a way of escape with every temptation I face (1st Corinthians 10.13). By His amazing grace, I have not viewed pornography (or an SI swimsuit issue) for nearly twenty years. Nor have I started up my old sexually addictive behavior patterns since my dear Adonica died nearly two and a half years ago. I am acutely aware of the enormous weight that sin once carried in my life and I don’t want to go there again. However, I most certainly would have been tempted and I am glad I had a marriage partner who understood that. I am deeply saddened as I write these words, for she is no longer here to remind what a good man is and does. Now I must figure that out on my own.

And yet, she is here. In August 2015, Adonica joined that “great cloud of witnesses” who surrounds and reminds me to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” me, (Hebrews 12.1). Together we “followed Him” on earth and stayed on the path. Alone, I might have taken a detour. I certainly was not watching where I was going. 

The woman I married lovingly removed stumbling blocks and helped me remain true to my convictions. To me, she was the most beautiful woman on planet earth. Now she’s in heaven and she’s still beautiful. I still love her and, in a sense, I still have her. By Gods grace, I will not dishonor Adonicas memory. I will keep following Jesus and be the man she always wanted and deserved and expected and helped me to be.   

__________________________

The beautiful image of the ring on the Bible casting a heart-shaped shadow is by Canadian photographer Travis Parsons of Vinland Photography, Newfoundland. You can view his exceptional wedding photography at http://www.vinland-blog.com/.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"The Moment of Truth"

Mark 5.33-34 NAS

“But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.’”

“The Moment of Truth” was a new reality show following Fox network’s most popular television series “American Idol” on Wednesday nights in January, 2008. Hopefully your kids were in bed and your entire family missed an opportunity to see people go down in a blaze of widescreen, high def humiliation. Game participants were wired to polygraphs and given questions that began as probing and escalated to damning.

The show was a throwback to olden days when townsfolk gathered for a public lynching. And gather they did. “More than 23 million viewers sat through ‘Truth’s’ first episode on Jan. 23”[1]. I did not watch, barely overcoming the temptation to satisfy my morbid curiosity.

It’s mentally healthy and spiritually cleansing to spill all, but not in public. Be selective. Find trustworthy friends, then “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (James 5.16). Given the right set of questions, no one alive could leave “The Moment of Truth’s” hot seat unscathed. 

Ultimately, there’s one person with enough compassion to safely hold your dark secrets. With great “fearing and trembling” a very sick woman fell at the feet of this one and “told Him the whole truth.” The result?

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; 
go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”

I doubt anyone finished an episode of “The Moment of Truth” whole. I assume both contestants and audience left a piece of themselves behind. Like most sensationalist endeavors, ratings spiked and then dropped. “A very impressive start but viewership declined quickly, reaching a low of 8.6 million.”[2] Fox network made a little money. The cost? Everyone walked away from what may have been the cruelest ‘reality TV’ program ever, a little more raw, exposed, and broken than they expected. Something inside of all of us died.

Tell Jesus and trusted confidants the “whole truth” and that’s exactly how you will leave your encounter with Him… whole.

__________________

[1] “‘Truth’ hits contestants with utter destruction; no wonder you love it,” Peter Ames Carlin, Living, section B-1, The Oregonian, Wednesday, February 13, 2008.

[2] "The Moment of Truth: FOX Losing Confidence in Lie Detector Show?" by TV Series Finale, August 7, 2008 (http://tvseriesfinale.com/tv-show/the-moment-of-truth-fox-losing-confidence-in-lie-detector-show/). This television program, hosted by Emmy nominated, television personality Mark L. Walberg, premiered on January 23, 2008 and ended on August 8, 2009.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"Relax a Little"

Mark 4.26-29 “The Message”

“Then Jesus said, ‘God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it.

The seed sprouts and grows — he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain.

When the grain is fully formed, he reaps — harvest time!’ ”

A new pastor came to town and an elderly woman parishioner invited him home for dinner. The woman’s husband did not attend church and before meal time the pastor found the man in his back yard working in the family garden. Wanting to make a good impression, the young clergyman observed, “This sure is a beautiful garden you and the Lord have” to which the older gentleman replied, “Yeah? You should have seen it when just the Lord had it!”

All work, including the work of the gospel, is not done by the Lord alone. He equips His children to perform certain tasks in partnership with Him. Beautiful gardens don’t just appear. It’s a joint God-human venture. As Paul once explained, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.” (1st Corinthians 3.6). You could say, 'Without God, I can’t. Without me He won’t.'

We have been handed an earth and a mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it,” (Genesis 1.28b). We are called to help create culture and beauty, gardens and cities, art and music, sales and income, peace and joy, disciples and friends. We must do our part to make this world a better place than we found it. This has been our Maker’s expectation since day six.

We were born to work and work well. This is our part. But when our part is done, we must let it go and learn to relax. It’s called trust. People who can’t trust, can’t relax. After a full day of seed throwing, a man of faith “goes to bed and forgets about it.” He trusts that “harvest time” will come.

Jesus knew how to relax. He took a nap at the back of a boat threatened by “a fierce gale of wind” with waves “breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up” with water (Mark 4.37). In this moment Jesus is “seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3.1). He is not on His feet peering over the edge of His heavenly cloud, shaking a fist at those crazy humans. Things are under control. Jesus knows how to relax a little.

The man in Christ’s parable casts the seed and “then goes to bed and forgets about it.” The seed sower “has no idea how it happens, but somehow the garden flourishes. “The earth does it all without his help.” Amazing! Good things happen without my persistent oversight. I may as well learn to trust and relax a little.
_____________________

"Storm on the Sea of Galilee" ca. 1633 by Rembrandt van Rijn.

Monday, February 12, 2018

"I Just Want My Dad"

Mark 3.13-15 NRSV

“He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons.”

“The kid hated needles. But it hardly mattered. About once a week he'd roll up his sleeve, expose his shoulder and feel the cold metal plunge into what little muscle he had there. He would scrunch up his face as if he had smelled something foul and often close his eyes until the contents of the syringe emptied into his bloodstream. Then he could return to his PlayStation 2.” [1]

Corey Gahan was a twelve year old boy who loved in-line skating. His father put him on a regimen of steroids and human growth hormones (HgH). The performance enhancing drugs had their desired effect. Corey, 5’ 5” tall at the time, went from one hundred and twenty pounds to one hundred and sixty in the first year. At fifteen Corey was a “national champion at 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters,” His times shattered previous U.S. Indoor Speedskating records. Shortly after his thirteenth birthday, the boy was tested and found to have twenty times the normal testosterone level of an adult male. Corey’s dad served a six year term in Federal Prison. At age eighteen, when the story broke, Corey was fifteen pounds lighter than he was at fifteen years old. He is a victim of a lost childhood and suffers remorse for…

  • cooperating with investigators who forced his father’s guilty plea landing him in jail.
  • agreeing with his dad to use drugs even though “I knew I was doing something wrong.” 
  • surrendering his winning records after being suspended from the sport he loved.
  • sacrificing his mental balance for drugs that “turn you… into a monster.”
  • losing the opportunity to prove himself a champion without performance enhancers.

Jesus had expectations of His disciples. He sent them out to “proclaim the message” and “cast out demons.” They were to perform in the arena of faith and crush the demonic competition for the souls of men and women. But it was not all about winning with Jesus and it’s not all about winning with our Father God. Jesus called “those whom he wanted.” We are “wanted” whether we win or not. He “appointed twelve… to be with him.” We are called by Jesus “to be with him.” You and I are among “those whom he wanted… to be with.” It’s about relationship, not performance. A loving and caring relationship is more important to a good father than breaking records or winning notoriety.

Corey wanted to win. But that wasn’t all he wanted, or even what he wanted most. At thirteen he could not have told you that what he really desired was a relationship with his father. Corey now reflects, “We had our bouts because I very much wanted a dad and he wanted a business relationship. At a young age it’s hard to understand why winning all the time matters so much.”

What a joy to know that God the Father sent Jesus to earth so we may be counted among “those whom he wanted… to be with.” It feels good to be wanted.
_______________

[1] “Sins of a Father,” Sports Illustrated, January 21, 2008 edition.

Friday, February 09, 2018

"613 Reasons"

Mark 2.23-24 NKJV; 2.27-28 NLT

“Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, ‘Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!’

Rules are intended to benefit everyone in the organization. Company policies are supposed to protect employees and employers alike. Contracts are made to safeguard the interests of both parties to the transaction. Building codes are enforced so tenants don’t suffer injury and landlords don’t get sued. Conditions, Covenants and Restrictions (CCR's) are written to help all homeowners maintain home values in their subdivision. Marriage vows remind couples to remain faithful to the family during the hard times. Laws exist to support every citizen of a nation.

Rules, covenants, vows, policies, contracts, and laws are good. Without them relationships falter, societies crumble, and people get hurt. We need rules until... the rules take on a life of their own. Sometimes members of organizations blindly comply for reasons they cannot remember. The purpose of a law can actually become secondary to the law itself. Policies may evolve to define, rather than enhance membership. “We’ve always done it that way” might be the only truthful explanation for outdated and stupid regulations. That’s when courageous people must take action to make a change.

Jesus Christ was a courageous agent for change. He knew it was against Jewish law to “pluck the heads of grain” on the Sabbath, but His guys were hungry! That apparently mattered more to Jesus than the impact of His violation.

Rule-making is fun and personally gratifying, in a self-centered sort of way. Humans have a strong tendency toward self-justification. Rule-keeping satisfies our clamor for self-approval and our ever-present need to “be right. The more rigorous the rules and higher the standards, the better compliance makes us feel. When my inner sense of “OK-ness” depends upon my outward obedience to a code of conduct then I must only find (or create) a personal moral code to which adherence is achievable. It’s simple and makes me feel good. It’s also ungodly, that is, quite unlike God. 

Jewish tradition holds to a total of 613 laws corresponding to the number of commandments in the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, also known as the “Law”). These laws are divided into 365 negative commands (for each day of the solar year) and 248 affirmative commandments (ascribed to the number of bones and important organs of the human body). Pretty neat, huh? 613 is also the number of Hebrew letters in the 10 Commandments.[1] Numerology like this appeals to the unregenerate mind. The discovery of such, so-called, deep and secret knowledge confers an almost magical or Gnostic” power to those who are eager to earn their ‘rightness’ with a god of their own creation.

Jesus is much bigger than any set of laws that govern human behavior. He is “Lord, even over the Sabbath.” He subscribes only to standards that made sense for the people He loves and serves. Rules which do not benefit people are of no use to Jesus. 

That’s just one of the (many more than) 613 reasons I love Jesus.
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[1] I first learned of this interesting numeric legal standard from a sermon by Phil Comer, founding pastor of A Jesus Church (formerly Solid Rock) at the Westside campus in Tigard, Oregon, delivered on January 20, 2008. I found an abundance of information on the Internet for historical fascination with the number 613. I actually dusted off my Biblica Hebraica and counted all the Hebrew characters in the Exodus 20.2-17 version of the 10 Commandments. I came up with 620, but I may have miscounted by 7 letters. The parallel passage in Deuteronomy 5.1b-21 contains nearly 1,000 Hebrew characters.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

"Follow Me... It's Urgent"

Mark 1.17-18 NASU

“And Jesus said to them [Simon and Andrew],

‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’


Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.

Going a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. 

Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.”

There is a sense of urgency in the Gospel of Mark. The Greek adverb ευθύς (yoo-thoos’) normally translated “immediately” is found forty-two of its eighty-seven New Testament occurrences in the book of Mark and twelve times in Mark’s chapter 1 alone.[1] 

Open the 1st chapter of the 2nd Gospel and see if you can find each usage. Depending upon your version of the Bible, ευθύς will be Greek for “immediately,” “at once,” “instantly,” “as soon as,” “right then,” “without delay,” “didn’t ask questions,” “the moment,” “just then,” “suddenly,” “just at that time,” “right off,” and even “straightway” or “forthwith” in some older translations. A sense of urgency accompanies each use of the word. For Mark, there’s no time to waste. His is the shortest Gospel. It’s succinct in its presentation and full of immediate action. Some call it the Gospel of Pow!

Certain doors of opportunity almost never open. When they do, one must act and, according to the Gospel of Mark, act now! Chances of a lifetime must be seized before they disappear. About two thousand years ago, four commercial fishermen recognized just such an opportunity. They “immediately… left their nets and followed Him.”

I was once a commercial fisherman. I worked a season on the Bernice, a Whitney Fidalgo purse seiner. Built in 1912, this boat leaked like a rusty colander. When running, we had to pump the bilge by hand every couple hours. Our casting technique was a little different than the sons of Zebedee’s. After we made a set and dragged the net, men in a skiff helped us connect the gear to the Bernice's power block and the weighted lead cord was cinched up like a purse string. The web was 90 feet deep and kept afloat with corks along a 1/3 mile long stretch of net. This was major gear and difficult to handle, especially in southeast Alaskan choppy seas in 1972. It was also an immense amount of net to repair. I recall countless crew hours and long days “mending the nets” as we prepared for our salmon season.

Jesus found Simon and Andrew “casting a net.” When He met “He saw James... and John his brother,” they were busy “mending the nets.” All four fishermen were in exactly the right place at the right time. They had only a moment to react. The door of opportunity was closing as quickly as it opened. Simon and Andrew had an instinct about Rabbi Jesus. A quick decision had to be made. They would not call for a committee meeting, stop to strategize, or hire a consultant. Instead, these men “immediately… left their nets and followed Him.” Brothers James and John did the same. They “left their father” and a thriving family business to follow Christ. These fishermen heard and deeply felt a sense of urgency in the words “Follow Me.”

Do I understand the sense of urgency? Commercial fishing enterprises have come and gone. Nobody (except me) remembers my commercial fishing days. Everything I do to make a living is temporary. But my relationship with Jesus lasts for eternity. Do I feel the immediacy in my soul when I am busy “casting” and “mending the nets”? Will I drop everything and follow Him… immediately?
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The beautiful photographs "Purse Seiner" and "Floats" in this post were taken by Gary Robertshaw in August 2003 and made part of his Waterfront Walk Gallery ("Photos from an afternoon walk along Morro Bay California's waterfront." Gary kindly gave me permission to use his photographs here. Check out his wonderful work at http://www.pbase.com/roberthouse.

[1] “As an adv.‎ ευθύς ‎appears 87 times in the NT… It is a temporal adv. and appears almost exclusively in narrative texts (miracles, figurative language, parables).” There is a “striking frequency [of this word] in Mark (42 times)…” from article entitled “ευθύς” by W. Pöhlmann, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament © 1990 by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

"In God We Doubt"

Matthew 28.16-17 AMP

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed and made appointment with them. And when they saw Him, they fell down and worshiped Him; but some doubted.”

These are curious verses. Some among the original “eleven disciples” actually doubted. Why would these men doubt when the risen Christ was standing before them? Could it be…

  • The doubting disciples concluded that Jesus never actually died if He was alive and now speaking to them (e.g., the doubters questioned the reality of Christ’s death)?
  • The risen Jesus was not the pre-crucified Jesus they remembered (e.g., they doubted the resurrection assuming the man before them was not really Jesus)?

Exactly what was “doubted” by “some” of the “eleven?” Was it the death or the resurrection of Jesus? Neither option seems plausible to me. The disciples should have known what Jesus looked like. The women at the tomb, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary,” recognized the resurrected Christ immediately (Matthew 28.1-10). Likewise, it could take even more faith to believe that Jesus survived the crucifixion, than to accept His death and resurrection. So why would “some [have] doubted” and precisely what was in doubt?

I think all eleven of the disciples knew the man standing before them was, in fact, the authentic and risen Jesus Christ. They had every good reason to believe their eyes and ears, yet “some doubted.”

The fact that some disciples doubted the obvious should not surprise us. Doubt does not have to make sense. Doubt is a powerful force which can, and often does, override reason. A miraculous intervention by God makes no difference to the confirmed doubter. Even a personal visitation from the risen Christ will not change a doubter’s mind. 

Jesus explained this phenomenon in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man tried reasoned, “I have five brothers... warn them.”  But Abraham said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

No one can prove faith. Doubt cannot be overcome with solid reasoning or miraculous intervention. Not even God can make a doubter believe. Only the doubter can stop his doubting, and choose instead to believe the obvious. 

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

"The Lowest Form of Humor"

Matthew 27.27-31 NKJV

“Then the soldiers... stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand.

And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’

Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.”

The soldiers did not believe Jesus was a king even though “they bowed the knee before Him” and proclaimed, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They were being sarcastic. Their ritual of mock worship was purely cheap entertainment for weak-minded prison guards who had nothing better to do than kick a Savior when He’s down. Their shameful display was intended to get a few crumby laughs at Jesus’ horrible expense. After scourging the Lord to a shredded and unrecognizable mass of blood and flesh, they jammed thorns into His scalp, spit on Him, and beat His head with a stick. Pilate’s thugs not only tortured Jesus physically with spit, whips, thorns, and sticks, they also added insult to injury with sarcasm.

Sarcasm is a nasty form of wit. Sarcasm comes from the ancient Greek word sarx (σάρξ) which means ‘flesh.’ Sarx is associated with circumcision in the New Testament, which is, of course, the cutting of the flesh.[1] Sometime in the latter part of the 16th century the word ‘sarcasm’ began appearing in English literature and was considered “the lowest form of wit.”[2] Its original meaning was to “tear flesh, gnash the teeth, speak bitterly.”[3] Those who use sarcasm figuratively tear the emotional skin off their victims. Sarcasm is painful for the object of its cruelty. 

Sarcasm is no way to make a point. Those using it are no better than the soldiers who abused Christ. They should resist the temptation to grab a laugh at someone else’s expense. What may seem funny to the sarcastic is not funny to the victim of its low level, flesh-tearing wit.

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[1] “Paul… speaks of the ‘thorn in the flesh’ (2nd Corinthians 12:7) to express that he is a person plagued by the body. Circumcision is performed ‘in the flesh’ (Gal 6:12,13; Phil 3:3,4; Rom 2:28). Σάρξ ‎has an unspecific meaning in these OT-influenced passages; only from the context do we discover that Paul rejects circumcision ‘in the flesh.’ ” (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament © 1990 by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.)

[2] “Sarcasm”, Wikipedia, Notes at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarcasm. See also, Online Etymology Dictionary at http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=sarcasm.

[3] “Sarcasm”, The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, edited by C.T. Onions, Oxford University Press, 1966, p. 788.

Monday, February 05, 2018

"Following at a Distance"

Matthew 26.58 NIV

“But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.”

Peter was fooling himself. He thought he was a fully devoted follower of Christ, yet he “followed” the Lord at a safe “distance.” Peter tried to make himself indistinguishable from the crowd when he entered “the courtyard of the high priest” and “sat down with the guards.” He had an sincere interest in Jesus, but that was all. 

Like so many others, Peter was curious to “see the outcome” of Christ’s arrest. But when recognized as a disciple of Jesus, Peter denied it, just like Jesus said he would. Peter was an ‘arm’s length’ follower of Christ. Even after a few years of personal involvement, he was not committed in his pursuit of the Lord. The disciple was not fully invested. He was unwilling to risk his life for Jesus. When faced with a decision he lied, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 28.72).

I am a follower of sports, and yesterday’s Super Bowl 52 was no exception. The Eagles’ win over the Patriots was a stunning upset. As great as the game was, nothing compares in my mind to the Giants vs. Patriots Super Bowl faceoff on on February 3rd, 2008. According to Aaron Fentress of the Oregonian, a certain end of game play could well “go down as one of the greatest in Super bowl history.[1]

That day, I was an avid follower of Eli Peyton. I watched “at a distance” as he skillfully avoided what I thought was a guaranteed sack and make an incredible 32 yard pass to David Tyree. Then with only 59 seconds left in the game and trailing by 4 points Manning completed the game winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress for a Giant upset at the University of Phoenix Stadium. New England could not score for the perfect 19-0 season they hoped for. The Giants regained the football and, with only one second on the clock, Eli Manning knelt to win both the game and an MVP Trophy. It was an afternoon of amazing football. 

For a few hours each year, I am a follower of football. But my allegiance quickly wanes. I am an occasional adherent of the game. Ten years ago I was an avid supporter of Eli Manning.  To show you just how fickle I am, 24 hours ago I was a bigger fan of the halftime entertainer, Justin Timberlake, than quarterback Nick Foles. I watched Justin “at a distance” from the comfort of a soft living room couch. I was glued to the television and, like Peter, “sat down… to see the outcome.” Do I know Justin Timberlake or Nick Foles? No. I never met the men. Neither do I qualify as a fully devoted follower of Russel Wilson, Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Aaron Rodgers, John Elway, Brett Favre, or any other winning Super Bowl quarterback. 

Sometime after Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and came to know intimately the man he initially “followed… at a distance.” He became a fully devoted follower of Christ and leader of the early Jesus movement. 

There is a difference between following Christ at a distance and being His fully devoted follower.
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[1] “Super Bowl: Giants sack Tom Brady five times”, Aaron Fentress, The Oregonian, Sports, section D, page 9, Monday February 4, 2008.