An Offering for a King

Read Mark 12:33

As we begin the season of Advent, we focus upon preparing to receive our Christ and King. Scripture tells us that what God considers the greatest offering is our very selves. When we think about what we might offer to our coming Christ, the offering which our Lord deserves is our love and the life choices which we make. Consider what Christmas offering you may choose to make this season as you listen to this song by Casting Crowns.

Impressive

Read Mark 13:1-2

Walking in Manhattan in New York City, it is easy to become mesmerized by the huge buildings which surround you. Everything from the height, to the architecture, to the ornate facades causes a person to marvel at the accomplishments of humanity. The Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and the new One World Trade Center astonish visitors to the Big Apple over and over. This is just one example of a location where human ingenuity, creativity and hard labor astounds us. There are many other examples such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam, and the Space Needle which exist throughout the United States. If one was to look throughout the world even more examples exist; the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, Big Ben, Taj Mahal, Great Pyramids and the Great Wall of China are some international examples. All of these structures cause awe in us when seen.

During Jesus’s time, the Temple in Jerusalem was awe-inspiring. Today’s passage makes this clear. As the disciples are leaving the Temple with Jesus, one mentions to him in casual conversation how wonderful the structure is to him. Jesus foretells a time when these amazing human structures will be destroyed. This will be true a few decades after Jesus’s death and resurrection.

The discussion which Jesus has with his disciples should cause us to pause and consider where we place our awe. Often we can become overly impressed with human achievements. At times we are so impressed that we lose sight of the most awesome reality in our lives, God actively engaged in our life is more amazing than anything found on this earth. The disciple was possibly more amazed in the Temple than in the fact that he was walking with the Son of God. Whether the truth that the Almighty God is actively in relationship with each of our lives has became part of our ordinary assumptions or we fail to even consider the idea, we often focus more on the things around us, things which do not last.

Jesus is attempting to redirect the disciple, and us, from being awed by an earthly structure toward the reality of being in relationship with the God of all creation. As inspiring as the achievements of humanity may be, the work of God is so much more inspiring. Besides, God’s work is eternal while humanity’s will pass away.

Going Fishing

Read Mark 1:16-20

Growing up, my father would take me fishing occasionally. I was never much of a fisherman because I did not like to put the worm on the hook, nor did I want to take the fish off the hook when I was fortunate enough to catch one. Where we would go fishing, the most frequently caught type of fish was a bullhead. Bullheads have whisker-like appendages that could “sting” you if you touched them. Due to this, I either wore gloves or made my dad take the fish off the hook. He would get tired of taking the fish off the hook so we would go home. As an adult, I can count the number of times I have gone fishing on one hand. While I enjoy the calming effect of being near the water, fishing is not how I want to spend the time by the water.

In the passage from Mark, we see and hear about fishing. We witness Jesus “fishing” for disciples and then we hear from Jesus that his disciples will be fishing for people. The four disciples mentioned here, who later would be part of the inner circle and became apostles, were fishermen by trade. Fishing was one of the prominent sources of income and sustenance  for many in the area. Net fishing was the way in which these four men practiced their trade. They were very aware of the best techniques to yield the highest number of fish in their nets. Jesus will teach them new techniques to bring people into the fellowship.

As disciples today, we are to also bring others into the fellowship. This is not to be done through manipulative or deceptive methods. Instead, it is to be done by following Jesus’s example. Jesus taught Simon, Andrew, James, John and the others by modeling for them the correct methods. Jesus began with love. First, and foremost, Jesus loved the ones he would invite. Then Jesus sought to understand the most pressing need(s) of the person. Jesus’s next step was doing all things possible to meet the need(s). Through this method, Jesus communicated that the person was valued and this was what led people to accept the invitation. Jesus did not force, attempt to coerce, or talk anyone into being a part of the fellowship. Instead, Jesus loved the person and demonstrated that through actions of compassion.

Let us “fish” for people using the techniques Jesus has taught. Even if we do not witness someone become a part of the fellowship, we will have extended the love of the Lord to one of God’s children. Cast the net wide because all are welcome. 

One of Us

Read Mark 9:38-40

There is a phrase which is frequently stated when a stranger comes into a new area, “you aint from these parts are you?” In the use of the phrase, the idea that the newcomer has done or said something which is unusual to the local culture is communicated. The person has been identified as an outsider, someone who does not belong. Since the individual is not “one of us,” they might be made fun of or even ostracized. This can cause the stranger to be denied certain privileges or opportunities.

The passage for today is found in Mark’s gospel shortly after the telling of Jesus’s transfiguration. A few of Jesus’s disciples come to him to let him know that an outsider was using Jesus’s name to cast out demons. The disciples indicated they had stopped the man. They anticipated words of appreciation and a pat on the back from Jesus. Instead, Jesus tells the disciples that their action was wrong. Anyone doing a positive act and attributing it to the power of Jesus is not inclined to speak ill about Jesus in the next breath. He says that a person who attributes their acts of love and compassion to Jesus is a benefit to the ministry.

Those who constitute the fellowship of the Church have at times acted like John and the disciples in this passage. Too often when word of a person or group who are making positive impacts within the community is received, those within the fellowship make disparaging remarks or attempt to sabotage the work. The expectation of a person having met a human-determined set of criteria as the only way to attribute the name of Jesus to their work has prevailed in the Church at times. Yes, a sense of caution is necessary to ensure that only actions aligned with the Lord’s teachings and purposes are associated with the Lord. But when this alignment exists, it is not our place or a benefit to halt the association. Afterall, all good things are from and a part of the Lord. The Church should be more concerned about the destructive nature of some of the actions which its members do while evoking the Lord’s name.  In these situations, we should seek to partner with those attributing their actions to the Lord.  

Opening the Eyes

Read Mark 8:22-26

In the story of Jesus healing a blind man near the town of Bethsaida, we see the power of Jesus to open that which has been closed. Jesus takes the blind man who has been brought to him outside of the village. The man is taken out of his comfort zone, his familiar. Once outside the village

Jesus touches his eyes and then asks the man to describe what he sees. The man’s description indicates to us that his sight is only partially restored. Like Paul describes in 1 Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly…” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NRSV) Jesus touches the man’s eyes again and the man’s eyesight is fully restored.

We are spiritually like the blind man. We are unable to see Jesus in a spiritual way. We remain in the familiar because we are unable to navigate safely in the spiritual realm. Then someone brings us to Jesus. Jesus takes us out of our comfort zone. Our spirits are touched by the Lord’s Spirit. At first we can only partially see the fullness of Christ and only partially understand the grace and magnitude of the Lord’s love. There will come a day when our hearts will be touched by the Spirit again and we will be open to see the completeness of our Lord. 

For now we pray this…

Kingdom Plants

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Mark 4:26-29 (NIV)

A characteristic of a great story teller is being able to connect with people using imagery with which the receiver can relate. If a reader or listener is unable to connect elements of the story to their own life or experiences they are familiar with, they will become bored and disinterested in the story being told. A much repeated piece of advice to speakers, writers, and communicators is “know your audience.” By following this advice, the one sharing a message can personalize the message which leads to a more effective deliverance.

Jesus was a tremendous story teller. The Gospels contain evidence of this fact in the many recounts of stories which Jesus used to communicate all types of concepts and life lessons. Today we read one of Jesus’s stories. His audience was very familiar with the growth cycle and processes of plants. Jesus is providing images to explain the essence of the kingdom of God. The image of seed being scattered on the ground and becoming a mature plant creates the sense of mystery regarding growth within the kingdom. Jesus also tells the listener that a time will come when the plants will be harvested because they have reached full maturity. The listener understands that there will be a growth of the individuals in the kingdom and a time will come when a gathering will take place.

This story which Jesus uses to explain God’s kingdom provides imagery which allows us to see ourselves in the kingdom. We are the plants which begin as seeds. Our growth in the kingdom is not of our own doing but solely reliant upon God. There is mystery in how God causes this to happen. We grow up and mature within the kingdom. Then we await our gathering up by the Lord once we have fully matured.

Need Help

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Mark 10:46-52 (NIV)

Every person has times in their lives when they are in the need of help. Barriers to receiving assistance can exist for a variety of reasons. A barrier which presents itself is the reluctance on the part of the individual to reach out and request help. Pride or fear of being turned away could be the cause. Another barrier may be the interference of others who attempt to block necessary access. Socio-economic situations, language differences, or cultural taboos can also block the path to transforming help. Whenever assistance is prevented, the individual can feel abandoned, alone, and hopeless. All of us are charged by the Lord to work for the reduction of barriers to assistance. Until this change is realized, individuals will have to persistently work to overcome the barriers on their own.

Today we read about a blind man who experienced barriers as he attempts to get help from the Lord. Since this lack of eyesight prevented him from working to support himself, he was forced to sit along a roadside and beg travelers to supply his basic needs. He encounters a socio-economic barrier and would have been viewed as a much lesser person. When he hears that Jesus is walking on his road, he begins to seek help from Jesus by shouting. Bartimaeus clearly does not allow pride to be a barrier. Those around him though attempt to silence him and create another barrier due to cultural norms and perception of his status socially. The man is undeterred and only increases his plea for access. Jesus hears the man, calls him forward and gives him the help for which he asks. While Bartimaeus receives physical healing, Jesus’s actions go much further because they demonstrate a giving of sight to those observing as well.

Many times we are blind. Our blindness may not be a physical impairment but a much deeper one. We can physically see someone in need of assistance but are blind to the barriers around them in obtaining that assistance, some which we may help to create. As individuals, we may be the ones in need of assistance but we refuse to make the request. Our needs may be spiritual in nature. We may need to have our sight restored so we can see Jesus and the love which he offers. Like Bartimaeus, we sit beside the road in need of crying out to the Lord.

This passage challenges us in two ways. The first is to see the Bartimaeus of our lives and not attempt to silence them but assist in breaking down any barriers. The second is realizing we may be Bartimaeus and must cry out to the Lord for the sight, or whatever else, we so desperately need. Jesus does not disappoint.

Jesus Teaching

I am trying out a new devotional format for today. Please give me feedback regarding how you feel about this format versus others which I have used.

Recommended process to follow:

  1. Find a quiet place and spend a short time calming your heart and mind.
  2. Pray to the Lord and ask that the Lord would open your heart and mind to hear and understand.
  3. Respond to the opening questions.
  4. Read the passage.
  5. Respond to the questions
  6. Read the passage again.
  7. Finish in prayer
  1. What gives authority to a person’s words?
  2. Who have you heard that has amazed you?  Why?

Read Mark 1:21-28

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Mark 1:21-28 (NIV)
  1. How does Capernaum play an important role in Jesus’ ministry?
  2. What pattern in Jesus’ ministry do we see demonstrated here?
  3. How is Jesus’ teaching different from the accustomed teachings which the people heard?
  4. In what way would we describe evil spirits today?
  5. Why would Jesus silence the man?
  6. What caused amazement in the people?
  7. How does Jesus amaze you?

Unbelief

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

Mark 9:14-29 (NIV)

In the Star Wars movie, “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back,” Yoda is attempting to train Luke Skywalker in the Jedi ways. Luke is impatient and quickly gives up when the tasks which Yoda gives him prove extremely difficult. As part of his training, Yoda instructs Lake to use his mind and the Force to lift Luke’s X-wing fighter out of the swamp where he crashed. Luke does not think it will be possible but tells Yoda that he will try. Yoda responds, “No. Try not. Do…or do not. There is no try.” Yoda emphasizes that only by believing you can will anything be possible.

In Mark’s account of Jesus’s ministry, we witness a scene when a man brings his son to be cured of an unclean spirit. When the man arrives with his son, Jesus is on a mountainside with three of his closest disciples. The remaining disciples attempt to cure the boy in Jesus’s absence but are unsuccessful. When Jesus rejoins them, the man requests Jesus’s help but begins the request with, “If you can…” Jesus repeats those words back to the man with what appears to be a bit of frustration. He then goes on to say that belief can make things possible. Jesus’s words prompt the man to declare his belief and requests Jesus to assist him in overcoming his unbelief.

Yoda has to show Luke the importance of believing in himself. Jesus has to show the man the importance of believing in Jesus. Frequently, we need to be reminded of the importance of believing. Believing not to just get something we desire but believing as the starting point in accomplishing in the midst of difficulty. The man’s response to Jesus is one which we all can echo. Even in the midst of our belief, we have areas of doubt or unbelief. Some of these doubts are not easy to overcome. We need to reach out to the Lord for assistance. Through the Spirit we can receive the tools to overcome our doubts. Sometimes those tools are provided through other people placed on our path. Sometimes these tools are only found in the midst of prayer as Jesus states at the end of our passage. Still other times, we receive the tools through the study of the Word.

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”

Open Eyes

14 The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

16 They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”

17 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied.

20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

They answered, “Seven.”

21 He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into[a] the village.”

Mark 8:14-26 (NIV)

Eyesight is a wonderful blessing. Many of us experience changes in our eyesight as we age. As an optometrist explained, when we get older our retinas become less flexible which causes changes in our sight. The availability of corrective leases is a blessing. For those who have never had, or lose for some reason, the gift of eyesight, there are challenges. Our creator has cared for these individuals by giving the other senses the ability to be enhanced so the person can adapt.

The ability to see is a focus in the passage for today. This passage deals not only with using our eyes to see but also the ability for our minds to see. Jesus warns the disciples to be careful of the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod. The disciples interpret Jesus as speaking about bread and their lack of it. Instead Jesus is giving a warning in regard to how these individuals can mingle their errant understandings into the thoughts and minds of the disciples and others. Then Jesus heals a blindman in Bethsaida. At first the man’s sight remains hazy but after Jesus’s second touch it becomes clear.

The two portions of this passage are intended to impress upon us our great need for Jesus’s touch so we can see. Like the disciples, our hearts and minds may not be open to receive the message from the Lord. We may be blind to seeing what is being communicated to us. The healing of the blindman reminds us of the impact of the Lord’s touch on our ability to see and understand. At first things may still be murky but will clear with continued contact.

Open our eyes Lord.