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Mark, Episode 8: How Jesus Takes a Break

I’ve often struggled deciding when to work and when to rest. Work too much and you’re a workaholic. But too much downtime and you’re a lazy bum. So where’s the balance between the two? God created the Sabbath for a full day of rest, but does that mean the appropriate ratio is one day of rest to every six days of work? Is there no time for Netflix at the end of a long Monday?

Jesus recognized the need for both work and rest in his ministry.

Read Mark 6:30-56.

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Just resting my eyes for a second… Credit: michael (https://flic.kr/p/nrgY)

Many studies on productivity recommend frequent short breaks for more efficient, purposeful work. The Pomodoro Technique uses 25-minute work periods followed by 5-minute breaks. After a few work/rest cycles, there’s a half-hour break. The 52/17 Method by the Draugiem Group bases its ratio on the schedules of its most productive employees. Their sweet spot is 52 minutes of work to 17 minutes of rest.

After the disciples finished the mission assigned to them, Jesus told them to take a break. Even though there would be more work to do, he knew they would need to “refuel” before going on. This wasn’t a hindrance to the ministry or putting the ministry “on hold.” It meant the disciples would be refreshed and ready for the next leg of following Jesus.

Jesus meant to rest with his disciples, but he put that aside temporarily when he saw the great need of the crowd, people who were so lost and desperate that they had chased him on foot. I read another book last week that mentioned this story. Ministering Cross-Culturally by Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers pointed out how Jesus perfectly balance the priorities of task (going to rest) and people (meeting the crowd’s needs). He didn’t ignore the people to accomplish his task, but he didn’t give up his task either. After healing, teaching, and feeding everyone, he sent the disciples on in the boat and sent the crowd home. Then he went alone up the mountain for quality time with his Father.

“Few of us have the strength or will to follow this example,” wrote Lingenfelter and Mayers. “Jesus attended to the multitude around him, and then he ministered to himself.”

 

But Jesus didn’t stay away any longer than he needed. In the early morning, he could see the boat making slow progress and went to meet them. The wind stopped as soon as he stepped into the boat, recalling the time he calmed a storm after taking a nap. The disciples had been shocked that time too. Even after everything they had seen, they still didn’t know what to make of this man.

Jesus could have controlled the wind from the mountain rather than going down on the water, but then the disciples would not have witnessed his power and received further confirmation that he was something more than an ordinary human. Jesus came down from the mountain because he had more to teach them. His rest on the mountain prepared him to continue the work.

Reading this passage, I wonder if the key to work/rest balance is an awareness of needs–both that of others and our own. Jesus was acutely aware of his disciples’ need for rest, the crowd’s need for a “shepherd,” and his need to be alone in prayer. The amazing thing is he didn’t let any of these needs suffer. He may have put some on hold for a time to meet whatever need was most urgent, but he eventually addressed everything that he had to.

We can follow his example by being more intentional about weighing needs around and in us. Is the most important thing to meet work or social responsibilities or do we need to slow down for our own health and well-being? We can do as Jesus did to decide whether work or rest takes priority in the moment.

But we can also fill the roles of the disciples or crowd and know that Jesus will look after our needs (even if we don’t!). We may need to join him in the boat or chase after him along the shore, but Jesus will have compassion on us, satisfy our hunger, and walk across stormy seas to be with us.

…But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Mark 6:50b

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Posted by on May 10, 2016 in Other thoughts

 

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Mark, Episode 7: When the Disciples Spread the Word

The twelve disciples had a passive role in Jesus’ early ministry. They listened to Jesus, learned from him, and followed him around the countryside and across seas. But Jesus had more planned. He had work for them to do.

Read Mark 6:7-29.

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Credit: Tommy Clark (https://flic.kr/p/gpgfji)

Jesus sent his disciples out to announce his coming. Just like John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, so did his disciples. They were his publicists. They called people to repentance, freed the possessed, and healed the sick. Jesus delegated to them what he was doing already, what people crowded around him for. The people came to Jesus, and now he sent his disciples to the people.

You may note that this story shows Jesus’ power was transferable. He wasn’t some superhero with special powers only he could control. He could actually share his ability to banish demons and heal diseases, perhaps because of the intensive time the disciples had already spent with him.

Power alone wouldn’t guarantee acceptance though. Not everyone accepted Jesus or his teaching, and he knew his disciples would face the same challenge. If they would be welcome everywhere, then why would he give them instructions on what to do when they were not?

John the Baptist was also unwelcome. He criticized Herod for marrying his brother’s wife (Matt. 14:4). He was killed for speaking the truth. Herod was apparently not threatened by John because he “heard him gladly.” He was also afraid of the public backlash if anything happened to John. But Herodias did feel threatened. She wanted John gone. She did not want to repent for marrying her husband’s brother.

Not all good teachers will be respected or treated like they deserve. Some people don’t want to hear the truth because it might mean they are wrong or have to change. They would rather be left alone to do whatever they want, despite the possible consequences. Fun facts: Herod’s domain was later attacked by the kingdom of his ex-wife, whom he left for Herodias. Soon after, Herodias’ mischief led to the Roman emperor banishing Herod to Gaul. Not a wise marriage on Herod’s part.

Jesus knew that his disciples would be rejected, like John and himself, but there was good news too. He sent them with nothing but staffs in their hands and sandals on their feet. Just the minimum tools for their travel. I will be traveling this summer, and I’ve been working on my packing list for months. I can’t imagine leaving with nothing more than a hiking stick and shoes. But leaving with nothing more than a staff and sandals meant they would have to trust God on their journey. It meant there would be people to receive them in their homes and listen to their message.

Some people would ignore, criticize, or chase the disciples out of town. But it would be worth it for those who would listen, repent, and be freed and healed. That gives me hope. No matter how much opposition I might face for my faith and following Jesus, God will open the right doors and provide the opportunities he means me to have.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus, John 16:33

 

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2016 in Other thoughts

 

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Mark, Episode 6: How People React to Jesus

Believe in Jesus or reject him. Devote your life to him or deny him. Praise him or criticize him. There are many ways to react to Jesus, but one thing you can’t do is ignore him. There is no middle ground.

From the end of Mark 4 to the beginning of chapter 6, Jesus continues his tour across the sea and back home. Along the way, he interacts with many different characters. But they all choose to react in either fear or faith.

Read Mark 4:35-6:6.

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Credit: Benjamin Disinger (https://flic.kr/p/oQ8px5)

This section is a little long, but these stories are interesting to compare side-by-side. At first, Jesus crosses the sea with his disciples and settles down for a much-needed nap. The disciples rudely awake him when a sudden squall threatens to capsize the boat. I imagine them pointing at the waves breaking over the boat and shouting, “How can you sleep when our lives are in danger? Why are you not freaking out like us?” Maybe one of them shoved a bucket into his hands and cried, “Help us bail out the boat!”

Jesus knew buckets were not enough to save the boat. Mere human power could not save their. So he stood up and stopped the storm at its source. Then looking at his disciples, Jesus questioned their trust in him. He was saying, “You don’t need to be afraid when I am with you. I am in control of the happy ending. My actions have proven you can trust me.”

The disciples were stunned. Their faith may have increased, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his power over the storm scared them too.

For the rest of the trip, Jesus naturally draws people to him, either to send him away or ask his help. And they are all afraid of something. The possessed man ran to him while he was still far off. The unclean spirits were afraid of his wrath. The people in the area, afraid of his power, come to beg him to leave (imagine the negative economic impact of losing 2,000 pigs). The freed man wanted to be with Jesus. Across the sea again, Jairus falls at his feet afraid for his daughter’s life (even though the Jewish religious leaders like himself were Jesus’ greatest critics). The sick woman was so desperate that she struggled through the crowd just to brush her fingers on his cloak. She was afraid to ask his help because her disease made her unclean. But her faith was stronger than her fear.

Her response to Jesus couldn’t have been more opposite to the reception waiting for him at home. When Jesus returned to Nazareth, his hometown where all the neighbors watched him grow up, the people there couldn’t grasp that the boy they knew from infancy had become a travelling rabbi and sensational miracle worker. They were so offended by his presumption that Jesus couldn’t show them as great of miracles as he had done elsewhere. “And he marveled because of their unbelief” (vs. 6:6).

The people who knew Jesus the longest were blind to his miracles and deaf to his teaching. Like his family, they may have worried his antics would embarrass or otherwise mar their community. He was defying the expected social norms, and they wanted nothing to do with his new movement.

They chose fear over faith.

Jesus has offered the choice between fear and faith ever since. Either we can continue living in fear–fear of change, fear of consequences, fear of what Jesus might do in our lives if we let him. Or we can surrender it all and listen when he says, “Do not fear, only believe” (vs. 5:36).

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2016 in Other thoughts, Uncategorized

 

Mark, Episode 5: Why Jesus Told Stories

Sometimes it’s easier to teach truth with a bit of fiction. Think of all the fairytales that manage to teach children about life, lessons like generosity, kindness, and honesty. A child might not listen to, let alone understand, a straightforward harangue on always telling the truth, but they won’t forget the boy who cried wolf.

 

Jesus was king of the metaphor. He wanted to teach people about the kingdom of God, so he told stories. Like Aesop’s fables, every one of Jesus’ parables had a message.

Read Mark 4:1-34.

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Credit: Paul Kline (https://flic.kr/p/nwcSf1)

Jesus used parables that the common people could easily understand to introduce complex concepts harder to grasp. He was speaking in their language, which was richly agricultural. The Israelites lived everyday with the realities of livestock, crops, and harvests. So those were the subjects Jesus would use to talk about other, less relatable concepts.

Theologians have analyzed and interpreted each of his parables, sometimes devoting entire books to the study of a single one. You can find those books if you’re curious to really get into the details. I won’t do that today. Instead I will focus on the same theme of my previous posts: what does Mark tell us about Jesus?

First, Jesus is still being careful about his public image. He would teach the general public, but he wouldn’t tell them everything. He saved that confidence for his closest disciples. The last two verses of this passage are a perfect summary: “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.”

I believe this reveals a careful shrewdness in his character. He knew the public would not be able to accept everything he had to say, so they heard abridged versions–fairytales–while the disciples traveling with him heard the full story. Why? It isn’t much different from mass media today. Every story is bound to get distorted or misunderstood at some point between the original source and the audience. Personally teaching a small group of students, though, creates much more accurate and effective communication. Jesus says the disciples are given “the secret of the kingdom of God.” They are the good soil that received the seed and will produce an abundant harvest.

Jesus quotes a vision of Isaiah, when the Lord told Isaiah to prophesy to the Israelites: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed” (Isaiah 6:9-10).

I’ve never studied ancient Hebrew, but my friends who have told me the verb tenses can be tricky to translate. In the case of these verses, I’ve heard it explained that the prophecy states Israel’s already hardened heart rather than declares a curse to make it so. It’s saying how things are, not how they should be. God didn’t want Israel to hear and not understand. But that was exactly what Israel was doing. It was their own indifference that kept them from repentance and healing.

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Credit: mental_surfeit (https://flic.kr/p/GYCaV)

In quoting this prophecy, Jesus compares Israel of his day to the Israel of Isaiah’s. The people still had hard hearts. Even if Jesus explained everything to the public like he did for the disciples, they would not understand, would not repent, and would not receive forgiveness. They were the bad soil where the seed could not grow.

But Jesus did not give up on them and ignore the crowds. Here we see his compassion for Israel. Matthew and Luke quote Jesus near the end of his ministry saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34). Jesus yearned for Israel to have an open heart and receive the word he described as producing a harvest to the hundredfold. He kept teaching, even if in parables, because good soil can be hidden in the path, rocks, or thorns.

He invested more time, though, where it would be most useful: his disciples. They were the ones who would keep sowing after he was gone and until the whole world heard the word. They were the ones who would watch the seed grow without knowing how (Mark 4:27). They were the ones who would gather the fruit, making more disciples just like Jesus taught them (Matt. 28:19-20).

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2016 in Other thoughts

 

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Mark, Episode 3: When Jesus Breaks the Rules

So far in this Mark study, we’ve found out why and who for Jesus came. The next stories tell us a bit of the how. Even though Jesus made clear claims to be the long-expected Jewish Messiah, he was not the Messiah that the Jews expected. I’m not denying that he was the Messiah, just that he wasn’t the one the Jews thought he would be.

 

The general public loved him and he quickly gathered a large following (without the help of Facebook or Twitter). But the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees, were skeptical. Why? In short, because he didn’t follow their rules. Because he wasn’t the kind of Messiah they wanted. He didn’t fit in their box.

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Credit: Pat Dalton… (https://flic.kr/p/6K1ih2)

Read Mark 2:18-3:6.

If you know anything about the origin of the Bible, you might know that the original writings didn’t have either chapters or verses. The recent organizational invention is usually helpful if often arbitrary. In this case, I’ve chosen 2:18-3:6 because the three stories here have a common thread: Jesus breaks the rules.

Necessary background info: the Pharisees loved the rules. Not the beautiful and good kind of love, but the one that’s obsessive to the point of restraining orders. To the Pharisees, rules were the whole of their religion. Their theology was that good obedience to the rules meant acceptance from God. But as Jesus points out multiple times in his ministry, the Pharisees’ rules superseded God. They worshiped not God but the rules.

In The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard, he presents two extreme views of spiritual discipline. The modern view, he writes, is that discipline is unnecessary to good spiritual health and growth. Most Christians reject discipline, instead favoring closeness with God that comes “naturally” (read: relying on highly unpredictable, varying moods to experience the spiritual).

Willard contrasts this with the early church view, which was based on the teaching of Jesus and Paul. The early Christians believed the spiritual, just like the physical body, needed rigorous, diligent exercise to be strengthened. However, over time, long after the Apostles were gone, some Christian leaders took spiritual discipline to ridiculous extremes. Examples include: “eating no cooked food for seven years, exposing the naked body to poisonous flies while sleeping in a marsh for six months, not lying down to sleep for forty or fifty years, not speaking a word for many years, proudly keeping a record of the years since one had seen a woman, carrying heavy weights everywhere one went, or living in iron bracelets and chains, explicitly vying with one another for the championship in austerities.”

Willard goes on to compare this fanatic level of asceticism to someone consumed by their diet or bodybuilding. He writes: “The point no longer seems to be health or strength, but self-admiration, self-righteousness, and self-obsession. In such bodybuilding groups, we often see muscle for muscle’s sake. Similarly, in the excesses of spiritual ‘asceticism’ we see asceticism for asceticism’s sake. These people are no longer truly ascetic, no longer are they truly concerned about taking pains for the end of a healthy, outgoing union with the healthy, outgoing, and sociable Christ who also loves himself and all of God’s creation. … Here it is a matter of taking pains about taking pains. It is in fact a variety of self-obsession–narcissism–a thing farthest removed from the worship and service of God. It is actually losing one’s life through trying to save it.”

The Pharisees had lost the point. The rules had never been about gaining God’s approval. And they definitely were not about the rules themselves. As if God felt bored one day and made up random laws for the hell of it.

Rather, every law was for the good of humans, not much different from a parent’s rules for the health and safety of their children. As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Letting the disciples starve for the day would defeat the Sabbath’s purpose.

Jesus does not deny that fasting or honoring the Sabbath are important disciplines and should be followed, but he also does not advocate for obedience regardless of whatever other harm it may cause. He’s also not saying that the laws depend completely on personal judgment, but neither are they as inflexible as the Pharisees believed. Sometimes the question needs to be asked, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?”

Which extreme do you lean toward: laissez faire abandonment or tyrannical diligence? How have you seen either one come between you and God?

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2016 in Other thoughts

 

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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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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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