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Mark 11 – Behold The Servant King!

You see crowed gathering. You feel the excitement all around you. As you follow the crowds out of the city you begin to hear chants and cheers of acclamation. Finally, you arrive at a vast parade. The army comes first. You hear the thunder of hoofs as the cavalry marching by. Banners fill the sky. The army has been victorious and the king has returned. You see him in the distance. He’s dressed in his finest robes standing tall on his chariot. His best horses lead the way. This is a victorious king displaying his power for his people to take pride in. This king is displaying commanding message to the world that he is mighty and no one will stand in his way.

This is not the entry Jesus makes into Jerusalem when he comes as king. This is not the kind of king Jesus is. The world expects pomp and circumstance but much like Jesus’ birth (and unlike Baby George who was just born into the British Royal Family) he enters Jerusalem humbly as a servant king. While they shouted “Hosanna” they would have marveled at the king of king Jesus was depicting himself to be. Nonetheless, Jesus was in fact depicting himself as king.

He goes into the Temple to clear it out. There was an expectation that the would-be Messiah would restore the Temple. Throughout Jewish history different people who tried to establish themselves as rulers or thought they were the Messiah did what they could to restore the Temple. Herod the Great built the Second Temple so that the Jews might accept him as their king. Jesus clears the Temple to vividly proclaim that he is king. He continues to proclaim that God is for all people, all nations. The part of the Temple he cleared was probably in the gentile section where they often had a market for those needing to make sacrifices. Jesus demonstrates that he is a king who cares about all people.

This is why the first question asked of him is what authority he has to do these things. The first accusations against Jesus after he is arrested have to do with his actions in the Temple (Mark 14). What he is doing in the Temple is not just throwing a holy temper tantrum. He is provocatively demonstrating himself as king. When asked about his authority for doing these things he puts them in a bind that produces the profound answer “We don’t know.” It is these actions that will lead Jesus directly to the cross.

This chapter sets the stage for the next few chapters to follow. If there was one thing to take away from this section, it is that Jesus does not do what the world expects him to do as king. Jesus continually turns the world’s expectations on its head and shows us a new way. We are followers of the Servant King. We are citizens of His Kingdom and we are called to look like our King.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2013 in Bible Blog, Mark

 

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Mark 9 – Help my Unbelief!

Jesus takes his inner circle with him up on the mountain where he would be transfigured before them. Peter doesn’t know what to make of this event so he just says what he thinks is best. What better place to be then with Elijah, Moses, and the Messiah! While Peter is fumbling over his words, God gives him a divine “SHHHHH!” and then confirms that this is His Son so they should listen. There is a lot of speculation as to what is going on here in this passage. There may have been debates between the early church and the Jews about Elijah’s appearance before the coming of the messiah and this story addresses that. One thing I take away from this story is that while there is a lot of emphasis placed on Moses and the Prophets, God emphasizes that it is His Son that they should be listening to. After the cloud lifts, Jesus remains and the others are gone again. We need to know the voice of Jesus well and listen for it. We need to continually listen to what is being said about Jesus and make sure it lines up with who Jesus is.

Why couldn’t the disciples drive the demon from the little boy? They didn’t pray. I don’t think Mark is giving us a formula for exorcisms but is reminding us that faith and prayer have to go hand in hand. We continually see Jesus modeling both in his life. When Jesus questions the father on the boy’s condition the father says, “If you can do anything…” Jesus’ reply is great! “If you can?!” Jesus then reminds the man that all things are possible for one who believes. The man then replies with something we should all remember, “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” We all live and function under the impression that we believe. The reality is that if you take a moment to examine you’re life you will find that your dependence is in a lot of things other than Christ. Help our unbelief! We continually worry about each day as though God does not exist in our day. Help our unbelief! We worry about the economy. Help our unbelief! We fail to see those around us in need because we are concerned about our own well-being. Help our unbelief! We worry about governing authorities forgetting that we have a King and a Kingdom that the gates of hell will not overcome. Help our unbelief!! We have a God who spoke everything into existence, who has not given up on His creation, and who has conquered death for us yet we continue to live terrified of death and do our best to figure out of to get out of this life alive. Lord, help our unbelief! We need to continue to live out our lives in faith and continually pray allowing our interactions with God to shape who we are.

From there, Jesus separates himself with his disciples from the crowds so that he can teach them. All throughout the Mark’s gospel, and in the other gospels as well, there is an emphasis that Jesus wants his disciples to understand what he is teaching even when they are in the minority of understanding who Jesus is. This is a good reminder to Christians who are continually in the minority. Jesus calls us to live a certain way that puts us in the minority of understanding. This way of life is embodied in his death. Jesus is a different kind of king. He is the servant king who came to destroy Rome by allowing himself to be crucified. This is the life Christ calls his followers to live out. The disciples demonstrate their struggle to understand this through their arguing over who is the greatest.

Jesus talks about welcoming “little ones” and not causing them to stumble. Between these comments about the “little ones” John tells Jesus that someone was driving out demons in his name but they were told to stop since they weren’t part of the Jesus club. Jesus, still holding on to the child, reminds them that the kingdom is for everyone and not just his special group of disciples. If they are doing the work of Christ then you should be careful to not get in the way. If you do cause someone, a follower of Christ, to stumble then it would be better for you to take on a milestone and drop yourself in the sea. We need to be careful of our arrogance in dealing with others who bow their knee to Christ.

This last bit about cutting off limbs that cause us to stumble is a hard one that I’ve heard a lot said about at different points in Bible classes. We don’t take it literally but often use it as analogy for how we should get rid of things in our lives that cause us to stumble. This time when I read this passage, it occurred to me that the context seems to be about the Christian community and how we respond towards one another. Could Jesus be saying that it would be better to remove those who are causing others to stumble from the community? The hope would be that they would realize that their actions are wrong and change. Is it better for some to be cut off from the church so that they don’t drag others down? These would be drastic circumstances but should they be considered?

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2013 in Bible Blog, Mark

 

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1 Peter 5 – Shaped Like the Cross

The cross, as a symbol of Christianity, has lost a lot of its meaning. You find it everywhere. Scantily clad women dangle it. You see it tattooed on men who are singing about their unChristlike lifestyles. We upholster the cross with cowhide. Adorn it with gold or silver to decorate our walls. The cross in a lot of ways has become a symbol that has lost meaning.

For the early church, when the cross began to be associated with Christianity more and more, the cross was a continual reminder of the life they has been called to. Christ called us to pick up our cross and follow him. The cross is a reminder that we, in all areas of our lives, should become cruciform (shaped like the cross). Peter, as one of the few who witnessed Christ’s sufferings, reminds the Elders and the flock that they till will undergo suffering. If you are living out the cross of Christ suffering will happen. As Elders, they should take their call seriously as servant leaders who look to best serve the flock and to set an example for them. They will receive a reward when the Chief Shepherd appears.

Peter has continued in his push for humility. It isn’t just for those who have high positions but for everyone. Humble yourselves so that you will be lifted up. This is a hard one to grasp. I’ve seen people use this concept in incredibly arrogant ways. Their humility becomes a point of pride and in the end they elevate themselves. Be completely humble with faith knowing that you will be exalted in the end. This is still hard to get my mind around though…because true humility does not look to your own gain. All in all…let the cross shape your life and your humility. You see Jesus agonizing over the upcoming crucifixion while in the Garden. Jesus believed that he would be raised from the dead and glorified in the resurrection. Humbly he went to the cross knowing this to be the reality. We too are called to live humbly knowing that we will be glorified in our resurrection. The cross shapes our humility.

Suffering will happen when you allow the cross to shape your life. Be alert! The devil is present around us always. One of my friends went on safari in Africa and his guide told them that if they could hear the lion then they were safe. I don’t think this would be much comfort for me. The lion does not announce his presence if he is prowling around. Satan acts in the same way. He is crafty and undetected. Be alert! Be sober in your thinking! Have a clear understanding of the faith. In the faith we are united with a family who undergoes the same kind of suffering. We are not alone. The faith we are firm in is the faith that unites the Family of God. After suffering comes glory. He will make us strong, firm, and steadfast. These are things we cannot do ourselves. Submit yourself to God and allow Him to do this for you.

Peter ends his letter with a blessing of peace to all who are in Christ. When we think of peace, we think of a life lacking trial and suffering. Peter has spent a good amount of time talking about how suffering is inevitable and how they should go about living while undergoing suffering. The peace Peter ends with is a peace that is found deep at the core of a your being. It is a peace that is otherworldly. It is a peace that comes from knowing your foundation and security are in Christ. Peace be with you!

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2013 in 1 Peter, Bible Blog

 

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James 4 – I Wish More People Were as Humble as I am…

It is a common lament of mine that the Christians around me aren’t as humble as I am. If they were more humble, like myself, we would have a more righteous church. Whenever New Years comes along people begin looking at themselves for what they can resolve to change. I like to spend this time helping people realize the changes they need to make in their lives to be better people. I don’t actually make resolutions myself; I help other’s see what needs to change in them. I’m just doing my part to help create a better world. Hopefully you realize that I’ve said all of this in jest.

James continues into chapter 4 in the theme of humility. Those who are truly wise are characterized by humility (3:13); it is the position for receiving God’s grace (4:6); and in the description of repentance, it is required (4:10). The opposite of humility is implied in the question immediately preceding in 4:11-12, “But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?” It is quite natural for James to transition from the call to humility and confront the problem of arrogance.

 

 

“Judging” has become a hot topic in our culture. We have developed an idea that to not judge someone is to never disagree with what they are doing. This mindset really puts James in quite the conundrum. “Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it.” Isn’t James judging them and therefore contradicting himself at the same time? He is…if we have a poor understanding of what it means to judge. There is a difference between judging someone based on an evaluation of Biblical standards of conduct (are they in the image of Christ) and forming a negative, and usually self-righteous, opinion about someone because they do not measure up to these standards, or because we simply don’t agree with what they are doing. It would be an unfortunate misunderstanding of this passage to read it and assume that when we see a Brother or Sister not living up to the image of Christ that we shouldn’t lovingly confront them. There is a level of humility that has to be there to do that.

There is one God and judge of all who is able to save and destroy…you are not God. Never take on the position of God and bring condemnation on others. It is warranted to point them back to the way they should be living but we need to be careful in how we approach these situations. In short…we need, in every way, to be humble in all we say and do.

Humility is an elusive virtue. As soon as you realize you have it, pride sets in. We often associate humility with downplaying yourself and thinking less of yourself. When it comes to boasting about tomorrow…we like to talk ourselves up about the things we will do. I remember reading these verses and thinking that we always had to say, “if it is the Lord’s will” or we are going about life wrong. I look back over my life and there are lots of things that have not gone like I projected they would. I’ve loosened up my grip a bit on my future and have allowed my plans to change. I never intended on being back in this part of the country but God has blessed me greatly through the changes He has brought to my life. I’ve had to swallow my pride at times and be humbled. I hold my plans a lot more loosely now but I still have room to grow in humility. The overall question that needs to be asked at the end of this chapter is, what does humility look like? C.S. Lewis captures powerfully what humility looks like in Mere Christianity:

To even get near [humility], even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.

Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.

If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Bible Blog, James

 

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2 Corinthians 12 – Spiritual Highs and Thorns

My friend has this problem…  

We have all been in various situations where we have heard somebody somewhat awkwardly say, “Uh…I have this friend who is having this problem…”  When we hear this, our first assumption is that this person is sharing their own personal problem but don’t want to admit it.  Is that what Paul is doing here at the beginning of 2 Corinthians 12 with this someone who went to the third heaven?  It is a possibility, but we don’t know.  Whether its Paul or somebody else, Paul definitely doesn’t fully understand what happened fourteen years ago.  What he does know is that it doesn’t matter how “high” your most spiritual experiences take you, we don’t need to be boasting or comparing yourself to others.  After all, if Paul wanted to boast, he could because he could back it up.  But we shouldn’t.  So he won’t.  

Because of this blasted thorn…

Even if Paul wanted to be proud, he couldn’t because God has given him a burden that he describes as a thorn in his side.  What was this thorn?  We don’t know, which doesn’t keep people from speculating.  Many people think it was a disease, partly because the way Paul says he asked that it be taken away but it remained sounds like an illness.  Others have suggested it has to do with the constant persecution that Paul experienced throughout his ministry.  It’s also been suggested that it had to do with his own guilt about his early persecution of Christians.  There is also a way to combine the last two, in that Paul was constantly persecuted by people who thought like he used to think.  Paul approved of the stoning of Stephen as a zealous Pharisee.  Now, Paul was stoned, imprisoned and persecuted by people just like “Saul,” every time a reminder of what he had done.  I tend to think something along these lines, but its all speculation.  There are lots of ideas much more bizarre, but not worth going into.  

Ultimately, what matters is Paul’s understanding that God had provided him with humility through his weakness and that through his weakness God’s power was truly demonstrated.  This willingness to accept our own weakness and give them to God to use for his glory is what is truly powerful and what we really need to focus on in this passage.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2012 in 2 Corinthians, Pauline Epistles

 

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2 Corinthians 10 – Seize the Thought

This picture says “Be Bold.” Can you see it?

This is an interesting and challenging chapter, balancing the humility of Christ with the boldness by which we might tear down strongholds.  Paul recognizes that there are some problems in Corinth that must be dealt with and it appears that some might have said of Paul that “he is bold when writing letters from far away, but when he’s here he’s unimpressive and his speech amounts to nothing.”  In other words, Paul expects that some will hear his letter read, recognize how convicted they should be by Paul’s instructions, and simply respond, “No big deal.  It’s just Paul.  He’s all bark and no bite.  I’ll ignore him when he gets here too.”  Paul’s promise to those people is that he will arrive with all of the forcefulness that is necessary to demolish foolishness and sin in the church.

In fact, Paul challenges us to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.  I love this idea.  Last year in one of his sermons, Bill told the church that God doesn’t just want to forgive you of your sins.  God wants to take your sins and weaknesses and redeem them so completely that he turns them into strengths.  God can even use our sins for the benefit of his Kingdom.  This is obviously not an encouragement to sin, but helps us see that he can take our evil thoughts, capture them, redeem them, and make them obedient to Christ.  That’s bold stuff.

Starting in verse 12, Paul acknowledges that there has been some competitive Christianity going on.  He essentially says, “Look, I don’t need to figure out where I stand by measuring myself against others.  When people do that they are fools.  I measure myself by what God measures me by.”  Paul wants to be clear that God has given him authority for his ministry and that his ministry in Corinth was within that authority and he hopes to do more and go farther.  And yet, the authority was and is God’s.  The success is God’s.  Paul’s just the messenger.  If people claim to be better than Paul, they need to realize that Paul only claims to do God’s work.  So if you think your work is better than Paul’s work, then you are implying that your work is better than God’s.  And be careful…that’s a dangerous place to go.

Paul really illustrates here that as ministers of God’s Kingdom, it really is important (and he proves it’s possible) for humility and boldness to exist in Christian leaders.  If you ever find yourself to meek and humble to boldly speak out against sin in the church you need to read this passage.  If you ever find yourself feeling a little too bold, proclaiming that others should be more like you (competitive Christianity) then you need to read this passage.  It requires balance.  Are you balanced?

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in 2 Corinthians, Pauline Epistles

 

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Romans 15 – The Value of Being Flexible

The Strong Must Bend

When we think of strength, we think of huge men or towering oak trees.  And yet, Paul begins this chapter with a different idea entirely.  It’s easy for strong people to look down on those around them.  It’s easy to walk all over people who don’t match your abilities or prowess.  But Paul expects something different from Christians who are strong in the faith.  Paul expects them to use their strength to be flexible and accommodating to those who are weaker.  Certainly the greatest example of this is Jesus Christ, who showed each of us how to use our strengths to be a blessing to others, even when it is difficult and requires personal sacrifice.

Of course, there is a little bit of brilliance here as well.  Paul is concerned about the ability of churches to manage conflict, especially in the face of merging cultures.  So imagine two individuals in a Christian community who have some disagreement with one another.  It has become a matter of pride and they both feel that they are arguing from a position of being in the right.  Clearly the stronger Christian of the two will persevere in this matter.  And suddenly Paul says, “Whichever of you is the stronger Christian will humbly allow the other to have their way.  In doing so you reflect the attitude of Christ.”

Suddenly winning looks like losing and losing looks an awful lot like winning.  When people embrace this way of living that is almost forgiveness in advance of wrongdoing, that you are so committed to putting others first that you are humbled for their benefit, Christian communities thrive.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and…Paul?

At the end of this chapter Paul notes that he is travelling towards Jerusalem with a large sum of money to give to the Jewish believers there.  This money has been donated by the Gentile churches Paul has been working with.  Clearly his request for prayers shows that he is concerned about how he will be received by non-believers and even other Christians in Jerusalem.  We know from the book of Acts (chapters 21-28) that Paul was right to be worried.  His arrival was met with trials, beatings, stonings, and eventually an imprisonment of two years followed by an armed escort aboard a ship for Rome.

Paul speaks here of his plans to go to Spain (the westernmost frontier of civilization) and Rome (the center of civilization) to continue advancing the Gospel.  It’s clear that he is passionate about this cause and feels very called by God to go on these trips.  In fact, the book of Romans was written largely to help prepare the church for his arrival there.  Paul doesn’t seem to suspect that he would only see Rome under house arrest and never travel to Spain.  But even when Paul’s plans were radically changed he continued to be flexible and allow God to use him in the best way under any circumstances.  After all, just his desire to go to Spain and Rome led to him writing the wonderful book of Romans.  And it’s likely that he spent a considerable amount of time with another Christian author named Luke during those years of imprisonment possibly working on other literary projects that we benefit so much from today.  It’s remarkable how much God can use us even when we feel like everything is going wrong.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2012 in Pauline Epistles, Romans

 

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Romans 12 – Instructions for Christian Living

Everybody Live This Way…

One of the common misconceptions about the Bible is that it is an entire book telling people how to live and what to do, a book of rules.  It’s much more the story of God and his relationship with people.  Now that being said, Romans 12 is actually a bunch of rules for good Christian living.  This chapter is also a great place to talk about how Christian living isn’t just rules.  It’s not right and wrong, black and white.  Paul’s instructions here are wise principles that will bring our lives more in line with what God wants for us.

The first principle is to make ourselves living sacrifices.  In a culture like ours that admires self-sacrifice for the greater good, this is an appealing call.  However, it means something completely different if you are a first century Jew who has watched the streets of Jerusalem turned red with the blood of sheep burned on the alter as a gift to God.  The image of living life like a slaughtered sheep is more poignant than what we often envision.  This is one of several passages in Paul’s letters where he radically calls people to die to their own desire so that they might come alive to God’s will for their lives.  He indicates that this is an ongoing transformation of continually making God’s will our will.

Paul then makes one of his many pleas for Christian unity.  In this case, he tells us that the key to unity is humility.  If we think back to any argument in churches (or any group for that matter) at some point it probably involves at least one person who thinks they are more important than they ought.  When we prioritize our wants, goals, and opinions above others, we set ourselves up for division.  However, when we recognize that what we have in common is more important than anything that divides us and humbly set those things aside, we can live in a unified family.  In this section, Paul finds about five different ways to say “Be humble.”  He definitely thinks its important for Christian living.

I think this chapter is a great place for Christians to look and find areas they can improve.  There are a dozen or so different instructions in this chapter alone.  I would encourage you to take time today and find the one that really sticks out to you as the one you have the most room to grow.  For me, at this moment, I need to work on hating evil.  It’s easy for me to become complacent about sin and evil in the world and ignore that which doesn’t affect me, but I need to remember that part of seeing the world through God’s eyes and conforming to his will is seeing evil as God sees it.

Which of the instructions that Paul gives in this chapter do you need to work on right now?

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2012 in Pauline Epistles, Romans

 

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Acts 9 – Ananias and Saul

We often think of the Pharisees as being leaders with some kind of authority (at least I did for years). They were really just a popular group within society who held themselves to a certain level of beliefs and practices within Judaism. Saul, we will find out later, was/is a Pharisee. He had to receive permission to go and discipline this unruly group of Jews (that we know of as Christians).

Let’s think about Saul for minute. Here we have an up and coming Pharisee. He was apparently becoming quite the big deal amongst his peers. He was a really good Jew. Obviously passionate. Nationalistic. I would say he cared deeply for God’s Word. I’m currently working on a Masters in Divinity, primarily focusing on Theology, and it consumes most of my thoughts. If I’m on a long drive, I’m usually listening to a lecture or just thinking through different areas of Scripture (I’m revealing my nerdiness a bit). I imagine Saul; on his long journey down the Damascus road was doing much of the same. He has obviously heard of this Jesus movement and it seems to really be taking over his passion. While he is traveling down the road, I imagine him thinking through the prophesies of the coming Messiah and how Jesus did not fit the mold. He knows his stance on the subject and he’s well prepared to go and shut this movement down. Then everything changed…

Saul’s encounter with the risen Jesus changed everything. What he thought he knew about the prophets, he now has to rethink because of the risen Jesus. What he knew about God and His People, has now changed because of his encounter with the risen Savior. The people he has been persecuting because they were out of line are now to be viewed as Brothers and Sisters because of his encounter with the risen Lord. The blinded Saul now spends the next few days thinking through all of this.

I’m sure rumors were spreading all over Damascus that Saul was on his way. Hearing what has gone on in other areas I’m sure that a lot of these Jesus followers left town. For whatever reason, Ananias stayed home and gets his name in the history books. God gives him the task of receiving Saul and restoring his sight. This has to be humbling for both Ananias and Saul. Ananias has the power (to some extent) to let Saul remain blind as punishment for all that he has done to The Way. Saul has to place himself within the care of one of the people he came to throw in jail. We never hear of Ananias again but he is an example to us, that we are called to love the worst of sinners whom God has called to be our Brother.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog

 

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