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.

Travel Light

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Mark 6:6b-13 (NIV)

There are a variety of ways people pack when going on a trip. If it is a business trip a person must pack business attire with a few casual outfits included. Packing for a vacation requires a much different type of clothing. Destination also impacts the choice of apparel as well. The amount of items packed varies among individuals. Mode of transportation will influence the number and weight of luggage chosen. Duration of stay is a variable in packing decisions. I usually monitor the weather forecast in the community to which I am traveling so I know the type of clothing to pack. I always take extra clothes in case I get something on what I plan to wear or if there is a delay with my return.

Jesus gives packing instructions to the Twelve disciples who he is sending to other villages. In Mark’s account, Jesus is traveling from village to village. He calls the Twelve and gives them authority to teach and heal. The Twelve are told to skip packing altogether. They are not to even take along a spare shirt. Jesus wants them to rely on the hospitality of a stranger. The disciples are vulnerable and dependent which would humble them. This would project a non-threatening image to the people. Such an image encourages open dialogue. Jesus tells the Twelve that if they encounter resistance, they are to leave that village behind and forget about it. Mark records that the disciples experienced much success.

A lesson can be learned from this story regarding how we are to approach others with the Gospel. We are to be humble and vulnerable in our approach. Vulnerability encourages openness since there is no sense of threat. Another important point is leaving baggage behind. We may be tempted to bring along all the trappings of our religious backgrounds. These can be overwhelming to those who we are approaching and can deter them from listening to us. The other message Jesus communicates here is not taking rejection personally but instead we are to move on and no longer be concerned about the one who rejects us. The Lord will choose what the next step is for them.

The Lord sends you, remember this lesson as you prepare to go.

Faith and Trust

21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 5:21-43 (NIV)

Sometimes in life, taking the first step can be the most difficult thing to do. Near the small town of Spring Green in southern Wisconsin is an attraction known as The House on the Rock. This attraction opened by Alex Jordan in 1960 is a house built on top of a rock chimney. Jordan began collecting an array of exotic and unusual items to fill the house once it was constructed. A feature which he included in the design of the house is known as the infinity room. The room extends without any support 218 feet over a scenic valley and is composed of glass planes on the sides for an amazing view of the valley. Taking the first steps into the room can cause anxiety and fear as the movement of the floor can be felt. A person who has faith in the design and construction of the room is rewarded with a spectacular glimpse of beauty below.

The healing stories in today’s passage are familiar to many. The Bible has a number of healing stories, especially in the accounts of Jesus’s ministry. Healing stories can be somewhat problematic because they lend themselves to easily being misinterpreted. Too often the focus of interpretations is on the actual act of healing when in reality the purpose of telling the story is often to communicate a different message.

Today’s story contains a message regarding taking the scary step of believing. In the first healing story, a woman who has experienced many years of bleeding uncontrollably takes a step of faith and reaches out to touch Jesus’s cloak. She is confident that in taking this action she will no longer suffer. The second healing story involves the daughter of a synagogue leader. The leader comes to Jesus believing he could prevent his daughter from dying. The message in both their stories is not found in Jesus healing but in the two people who believed that Jesus could heal. They exhibited a trust in Jesus. Each of them took the somewhat scary step of approaching Jesus. In their actions we see a demonstration of faith and confidence in the Lord.

For us today, the question is do we exhibit the same level of faith and confidence in the Lord? Would we take the step of approaching the Lord? Too often many of us try to take care of items on our own instead of approaching the Lord. Why is that? Do we not trust that the Lord is able to help? The woman and the leader clearly thought Jesus could help. Jesus tells us, “Don’t be afraid, just believe.”

Faith on the Water

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Mark 4:35-41 (NIV)

One spring day when I was in college, a friend invited me  to join him on a sailboat which students could check out from our college’s recreation department. I had never been on a sailboat before but thought it would be fun to be on the lake. After getting the boat from the recreation shed, we carried it to the lake and proceeded to get out on the water. The sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze. I followed my friend’s instructions as we tacked and jibed across the lake. We were in the middle portion of the lake when the breeze died. Since it was a beautiful afternoon, we decided to just float until the breeze returned. Then we noticed some dark clouds moving towards the lake from the west. Having no oars with us and being a few thousand feet from any shore, even farther from where we began, I started becoming worried. My friend assured me that the wind would return before the storm moved in and we would get back. Short bursts of wind allowed us to move some but still did not get us close to shore. My friend now became concerned and we began to paddle with our hands. The storm was approaching as we paddled. Right before the rain began, we made it close enough to shore to get out of the boat. We tugged it along by rope until we reached the college. I learned what it is like to be on the lake with an approaching storm.

We hear of a storm when the disciples and Jesus are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee in today’s passage. The disciples became fearful as the waves and wind increased. Jesus is not concerned as he sleeps in the boat. The disciples wake Jesus who promptly commands the storm to calm. Then he asks the disciples why their faith did not alleviate their fear. They were amazed by his power.

Having faith in my friend’s sailing ability led me to go out in the boat with him. My trust in his abilities waivered as the storm approached while we stranded one the lake. It is easy for us to have faith when everything is going well and as planned. Our faith can waiver though when an impending storm comes into our lives. We can question the Lord’s ability to keep us safe. During such times it is important for us to recall the many times we have been kept safe by the power of our Lord. Remembering these times will assist us in strengthening our faith. The Lord truly does have the ability to keep us safe in the storm.