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Monthly Archives: March 2016

Mark, Episode 2: Who Jesus Loves

Last week in Mark, we read about what Jesus came to do. This week we will find out who he came for.

Crowds followed Jesus in the first chapter of Mark. The general public loved him, especially the sick and disabled. In the second chapter, the Pharisees have joined them, but not to be his disciples or seek healing. Instead they are skeptics watching Jesus carefully, waiting to either approve or reject him as a worthy teacher.

Mark 2:1-17

Jesus returns home to Capernaum. Both followers and skeptics pack his house to listen to him teach. Some guys show up with a paralyzed man. Evidently they had heard the rumors of healings and wanted to help this man back on his feet.

We don’t know how he was paralyzed or who these guys carrying him are. But we know his healing mattered so much to them that they could not wait for Jesus to come outside. They couldn’t wait for him to finish preaching. Not even for other people to make room for them. Maybe the man’s life was in danger. Whatever the situation, the men take him to the roof of the house and literally make a hole big enough to lower down the paralyzed man on a mat. Can you imagine their boldness, breaking into Jesus’ house, interrupting his lesson to a crowded room, and expecting him to heal their friend?

Their bold faith moves Jesus’ heart. So much so that he goes beyond healing the man’s physical disability. He extends spiritual healing as well. Rather than be impressed, the skeptics immediately begin doubting. They judge him as a blasphemer. But Jesus knew their thoughts, and in his response, he gives himself the title “Son of Man.” This was a prophetic name used for the Messiah, which the scribes would have recognized. He still doesn’t identify as God, but he claims authority from God. Just like in the first chapter, he uses a miracle to prove his identity. He equates the power to heal with the power to forgive.

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Credit: Kennisland (https://flic.kr/p/8PwLTK)

Jesus goes on to call a new disciple named Levi. Like the fishermen in chapter 1, Levi follows without question. In Luke 5, Levi hosts a big party in Jesus’ honor and invites his friends. These include other tax collectors and the only people who would associate with tax collectors–the unsavory types of society. So Jesus were at Levi’s party when the scribes criticize him again.

The Pharisees believed eating with the unrighteous would make themselves unrighteous, as if sin was a contagious disease. They were worried about being infected. Yes, one sinner can influence others to sin, but the Pharisees considered any association with known sinners to put themselves at risk of losing God’s approval. Jesus, on the other hand, knew eating with sinners would have the opposite effect. He had no fear of “catching” their sin, because he would actually be their cure.

Jesus refers again to the metaphor between spiritual and physical healing. A righteous person does not need saving. Since Jesus came as the Messiah, that meant he was only of use to the spiritually sick who did need saving. The Pharisees believed they were righteous, but the apostle Paul would later teach that no one is righteous and that is why all must be saved by Jesus Christ (Romans 3:10).

So when Jesus says he came not for the righteous, but for sinners, really he means he came for all people. The scribes couldn’t understand this because they thought God kept favorites. They thought he loved the good and obedient more than the rebellious. But Jesus says they’ve got God wrong. There are no scales, no weighing good deeds against the bad. God loves all people equally because they are equally sinful. He expresses his love by sending them a savior.

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Posted by on March 28, 2016 in Other thoughts

 

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Mark, Episode 1: When Everyone Looked for Jesus

Welcome to the start of a new series on Reviewed Thought! As I announced last week, I will review the Gospel of Mark. We’ll start with chapter one and work our way through to the end, however many weeks that takes. Look for a post every Monday.

So let’s get started, shall we?

Mark 1

In this chapter, three things stood out to me about Jesus.

1. His Timing

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Credit: Lawrence OP (https://flic.kr/p/5RPzh7)

Isaiah prophesied that a messenger would prepare the people for their Messiah’s arrival. Mark introduces the messenger as John the Baptist and the prophesied Messiah as Jesus of Nazareth. John announced Jesus’ coming, but Jesus doesn’t enter the stage immediately and get to work. Nope. Instead he gets baptized and receives the Spirit’s blessing.

You’d think he’s ready to announce his candidacy, right? Nope. Rather than go to the people, he walks into the wilderness and lives with the wild animals. He stays in isolation from civilization for 40 days. Anyone who has made a Lenten vow knows 40 days is a long time to wait.

Then, when Jesus finally goes public, he silenced spirits who knew who he was and told healed people to not spread the news. Isn’t that contrary to the Great Commission given at the end of Matthew? If I were the promised Messiah, I would start my ministry full-throttle. Hire a marketing team! Build a platform! Get interviewed on late night talk shows!

But Jesus was more patient than that. He didn’t want short-lived sensationalism to jeopardize his long-term strategy. When the cleansed leper ignored Jesus’ instructions, it stirred up such attention that Jesus couldn’t walk freely in towns. But even that didn’t keep people from searching for him.

2. His Influence

Despite his attempts to lay low, Jesus held surprising influence wherever he went. He wasn’t a rabbi or political leader or other well-known public figure. Yet he immediately gathered disciples when he returned from the wilderness.

Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, and John all left their trades as fishermen at the call of Jesus. James and John left their father Zebedee behind. Mark writes that Simon had a mother-in-law and therefore also a wife. These men gave up their homes, jobs, and families to follow and be discipled by this unknown Jesus of Nazareth. What was it about him that was so compelling?

The people in the Capernaum synagogue were astounded by his teaching, unlike anything they had heard from the scribes (the equivalent of professors or keepers of the Jewish law). They are further impressed by his power over spirits. They couldn’t repost or tweet his teaching, but they do go out telling everyone in the region about Jesus of Nazareth. He went viral in ancient Galilee. What could he have preached that would be that infectious?

From then on, determined people who needed healing also start following Jesus. Remember they had only heard word-of-mouth rumors. They couldn’t go to his website for tour dates. But that didn’t stop people from pursuing him to whatever “desolate places” he had camped with his disciples. When Jesus took a break one early morning to pray, his disciples interrupt to say, “Everyone is looking for you.”

3. His Identity

At this point, no one knew who Jesus would eventually claim to be. Even the disciples. He was just an ordinary working-class person, a carpenter’s son from Nazareth. He had no rabbinic training. So how could anyone explain how he spoke with power in a way they had never heard? Or how he banished demons and healed diseases by his command?

Jesus stays silent and goes so far as forbidding an unclean spirit from revealing his identity. Jesus was undercover. He didn’t walk into towns saying, “Hey folks, the Son of God has arrived!” Instead of telling people his credentials, he let them make their own conclusions from observation.

In Matthew 11, John the Baptist sends some of his disciples to ask whether Jesus is the Messiah he had been sent to announce. Jesus’ answer? “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” In other words: “See for yourselves.”

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Writer’s Block and Overcoming Fear

Two posts in one week! Incredible! If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you will recognize this as a momentous moment. Posts here are as spotty as free coffee shop WiFi. It falls just shy of the standard for miracle-worthy.

So what could justify the sudden escalation of communication?

My former lack of communication. Writer’s block, to be blunt.

You see, Wednesday’s post was weeks in the making. I meant to finish it within a couple days of the idea. Actually writing the post wasn’t that difficult. But it was more difficult letting it be read. I hesitated to publish, rereading it, tweaking a sentence here or there, waiting for the fairy dust that would make it perfect.

I was worried what people might say. I wondered if it was even relevant to this blog. I thought maybe I should keep it to myself. Maybe it was only useful to me and no one else.

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Credit: Alun Salt (https://flic.kr/p/opKr6)

My drafts folder has other posts that may never get published. Some are half-formed thoughts I haven’t taken the time to finish. Others are a topic–a phrase or single line–more than a thesis. I told myself that my life was too busy, that I would blog more if I didn’t have so many other priorities. Meanwhile I watched other bloggers generate new posts every morning.

The same problem appears in writing beyond the blog. It’s gotten to the point that freelance articles take far more hours than they should and I’ve totally given up opening the Word document with my book manuscript.

Last Monday, toiling all evening on an over-due article, I complained to my sister, “When did writing get so hard?” Second only to Christ, being a writer has defined my identity since first grade.

I was thinking about this on Wednesday and why I hadn’t posted anything for so long. Not only could I not publish, but I couldn’t write. I am scared of typing something (which could be easily deleted) because it might not be perfect, it might be misunderstood, it might be rejected. Fear keeps me from both writing and publishing what I wrote.

My writer’s block is nothing more than fear.

I believe fear is one of our greatest dangers. Of course, fear saves us from harm, but it can also hold us back from good. The Israelites refused to go into the Promised Land because they were afraid of the Canaanites living there. They were so intimidated by the size of the Canaanites that they forgot how big God is. The consequence was 40 years wandering the wilderness instead of the land flowing with milk and honey (Numbers 14).

In the Bible, God tells his people repeatedly to not fear. Why do you think humans need this reminder so often? Whenever an angel shows up, the first thing he says is, “Do not be afraid.” When Jesus calmed the storm on the sea, he asked his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40). After Jesus ascended, when Paul was traveling to share the good news, the Lord spoke to Paul in Corinth: “And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people'” (Acts 18:9-10).

I don’t want to be controlled by fear. I don’t want to be so afraid that I miss out on the Promised Land. I don’t want fear of people to keep me from blessing them, giving them everything I have to offer–even if it’s just a blog post. It’s said we should face our fears, so it seems the best method to overcome my fear of writing is to…write.

That’s why I’m starting a new series on the Gospel of Mark.

I’ve been writing on this blog four years. I’ve reviewed several books in that time. That’s where the title “Reviewed Thought” comes from. But never have I reviewed a book of the Bible. Since Jesus is at the heart of the whole Scripture, I’d like to start with one of the gospel accounts of his life. That leaves Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John. Matthew and Luke get a lot of attention for featuring the Christmas story. John includes many stories of Jesus that were left out by the other writers. John is also known for an unique, personal voice easily accessible to people unfamiliar with the Bible. But what about Mark?

Mark is the shortest Gospel of the four, but it’s believed to have been written before the others, even being used as source material for Matthew and Luke. It was also likely written for a Gentile audience, Romans who didn’t know Jewish history or scriptures. I can’t remember ever giving Mark much thought, so I’ve chosen this Gospel for my first biblical study on Reviewed Thought.

Look for the first post on Monday. I plan to add a new post from Mark every week. Posts on other topics may appear occasionally as well, probably on Thursdays or Fridays. Hopefully this new book study will keep me accountable to write something and not let fear stop me.

When have you felt fear holding you back?

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark 1:1

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2016 in Other thoughts

 

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Seeing the End of Spiritual Slavery

Slavery still exists. The vision of International Justice Mission is to see an end to it.

People around the world–real human beings–are trapped, suffering, separated from their families, and forced to work. Because of IJM, thousands of slaves now have restored lives and freedom from their captors.

I watched this video at a conference for women seeking what it looks like to follow Christ. The video started tears in my eyes. I empathized with the suffering of slaves and what it must mean for them to be freed. To be reunited with their families. To receive medical treatment and counseling. To overcome fear. To embrace freedom.

And then I had another thought:

Forced workers and trafficking victims are not the only slaves in our world. There are others who are more hidden even than these, and yet they are right in front of us. There are billions of them.

They are the spiritual slaves (Rom. 6:16).

Some Christians tend to ignore that there are other spiritual forces at play besides God and his angels. But Jesus didn’t. So I won’t either. Actually he was constantly warning his disciples about Satan and his fallen angels, the ones who chose to rebel against God. The Gospels record multiple occasions of Jesus banishing demons from possessed people. These people had conditions we would now treat medically, yet Jesus didn’t give out drug prescriptions or herbal remedies. Instead, he called diseases as he saw them–spiritual oppression (Luke 13:16).

If such oppression existed in his day, has it disappeared in ours? Not likely. Rather, Satan continues to have great power over this world (1 John 5:19). He won’t be finally defeated until Jesus returns to claim what is rightfully his. For now, we continue to battle evil forces beyond human dictators, terrorists, or political candidates we don’t like (1 John 4:1).

As this thought came together in my mind, I recalled a few faces of people I love. I remembered lies that they had believed, pain they had suffered, or fear they had borne. God revealed these people for what they were in his eyes: slaves. They were deceived by Satan, burdened in sin, and condemned to death (Matt. 16:15-16, Rom. 6:20-23).

And instead of crying, I got angry.

I hated the thought that anyone would enslave people I care for. I wanted justice. I wanted them to be free and to enjoy full, rich lives. I wanted them to have the best of everything God offers for his children (Rom. 8:15-16). I wanted them to know and feel they are loved.

If one of your beloved family members or friends was sold for profit and forced into hard labor–with no rights, no help, no future–wouldn’t you do everything in your power to rescue them? Wouldn’t you defend them? Wouldn’t you refuse to rest until they saw justice and mercy?

If you had the opportunity, wouldn’t you rescue any person suffering in slavery, regardless of whether you knew or cared for them?

A speaker from the same conference put it this way: If this is the real spiritual condition of people, and if you have the good news that would free them, how much would you have to hate someone to stay silent?

Slavery still exists. What will you do about it?

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:1-7

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2016 in Uncategorized