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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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Texting God Isn’t Loving Him

 

Recently I took The 5 Love Languages assessment, which tells whether you give and receive love most through: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, physical touch, or acts of service. It turns out my strongest love language is quality time. I love long, face-to-face conversations with people. Visits over coffee. Walks through nature. Meals at home. It doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing as long as we connect in a meaningful way. Even a decent phone call can communicate love.

But in the past months, I haven’t given God even that. Instead I settled for texting God. Life got busy, and I made excuses. I was doing lots of great stuff, all for him (that’s what I said). Meanwhile, we stopped talking like we used to.

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Credit: Lord Jim (https://flic.kr/p/8iH4En)

Many things can make fulfilling quality time. Texting is not one of them. Texting is useful for simple questions or quick information.

“I’m at store. Do we need milk?”

“Yes”

“K. Got it.”

“Thx :)”

Texting is a great tool. And a poor way to love someone.

We used to meet every morning. I’d settle in a chair with my breakfast, coffee, and Bible. Sometimes writing in a journal; other times meditating on what I read. I would tell him about the day I had planned. Sometimes he’d tell me what he had planned too. I liked to listen for a while and wait on him to interrupt the stillness. The front porch was a good place to sit on warm spring mornings, watching the tree limbs swaying and birds taking flight.

Now my prayers are short, direct, to the point. A few seconds sent heavenward. Texted prayers.

“Get milk.”

Usually I think of them in the car. “Thanks for the sunshine today, God.” Or, “This day is tough. Please give me strength to get through it.” Maybe it’s because driving gives me time to think or because the Christian radio station is playing. Maybe I’m lonely driving by myself. But texting while driving is a dangerous habit. Another driver or a light or the GPS soon distracts me. I press send and move on.

That kind of relationship never grows deep. How could it? There’s no time for intimacy in 140 characters.

In the book Too Busy Not to Pray, Pastor Bill Hybels writes:

“Some people tell me they don’t need to schedule regular time for prayer; they pray on the run. These people are kidding themselves. Just try building a marriage on the run. You can’t build a relationship that way, with God or with another person. To get to know someone, you have to slow down and spend time together.”

Some friendships can survive months or years without contact and yet the friendship won’t suffer for it. The friends say they “pick up where we left off.” But could you imagine treating someone you’re dating or married to that way? Your relationship will die. There may be nothing left to pick up when you get back to it. I’d guess most committed couples expect to hear from their partners daily. Months or years are out of the question.

If that’s the case, and there’s a God of the universe who cares for us, then how much more should we communicate with our Creator, Father, and Savior? No wonder Paul wrote to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2016 in Other thoughts

 

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Finding Hope in Suffering

I moved in with my sister’s family when she was already five months pregnant. She said these last few months felt more difficult than her first pregnancy. I wasn’t around the first time, but for this one, I had a front-row view of the restless nights, the back pains, the swollen ankles. Almost every day had its own challenge to endure. By the last month, she felt ready to be done. Instead, the pain continued to increase as the baby grew.

The contractions began two days before her due date. At first she wasn’t sure if the pain was part of labor or only false signs. We took a walk around the neighborhood, putting my niece in a stroller. When we returned home, the pains had gotten worse. She timed the lapse between each wave. Some made her halt in place, braced against the kitchen counter or couch back.

All the while, I stayed nearby and kept my niece distracted, wondering what else I could do to make my sister feel better. It gave me a new understanding of Romans 8:18-24. Paul writes about the groaning of creation, like an expectant mother, anticipating relief from its present pain.

“The midwife said that the hardest contractions are the ones that do the most good,” my sister told me.

That didn’t make it easier to watch her in pain. As the birth drew closer, the contractions magnified. They grew more painful and more frequent. My sister could do little more than shuffle restlessly around the house. But good was happening, even though it didn’t feel good at the time. When it came time to push, her groans rose to the crescendo of screams. Nothing less could express her agony. And in the end, the pain was overcome with joy when her second daughter took her first breaths. My sister glowed in euphoria, hugging the precious baby to her chest. The pain had been worth it for this gift. There were no more utterances for how much she hurt, only for how beautiful her daughter looked.

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Credit: David J Laporte (https://flic.kr/p/9jYqvc)

In Romans, Paul pictured childbirth to describe all of creation’s suffering. He wrote, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” I don’t know if Paul was ever close to a woman about to give birth, but after seeing my sister’s experience, I’m inclined to agree with him. Paul was thinking about the corruption of everything that was once good, which started with the original fall of Adam and Eve. Since then, nothing has been the same. God’s creation was damaged beyond healing. It was true in Paul’s day and it’s true now.

But like any childbirth, the pain is getting worse. We’re seeing widespread suffering and crises on a magnitude that Paul never experienced. Any regular reader of my blog knows that I don’t normally comment on trending issues. However, I wonder if current events like ISIS attacks, the Syrian refugee crisis, even the polarization of Americans, are all part of birth pains just like Paul said.

Agonizing events like the Paris bombings last week shock us all, not just because of what it means for particular people but its ultimate impact on all humanity. The state of this world isn’t looking good. Where can we find hope?

Paul wrote, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Thankfully, we’re promised that redemption is coming (or in process already). Joy will overtake pain. Good will conquer in the end. This is what we cling to; this is what creation longs for in groaning.

I don’t often write on issues under debate, the “timely” or “relevant” news, because I’d much rather focus on the One who will end suffering. If I only have a number of words to use in my life, I want to dedicate them to Our Savior, the only good news that is always timely and always relevant because he came to redeem all people. I’m called to tell the good news until my last breath. Why water down that message with trendy arguments and debates? They may tempt temporary relief, but what else sustains a mother like the expectation of seeing her labor’s result? If we must argue, let us argue Christ.

“And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. … Be on your guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come” (Matt. 13:7-8, 33).

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

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Choosing Between the Plane and the Freefall

There were fourteen people squashed inside the back of the gutted airplane. We couldn’t see much out of the windows. The smoke from Eastern Washington’s summer fires had finally rolled over the Cascades. Seated behind me, my tandem instructor said he would normally point out the nearby islands but they were lost in the grey. I nodded, a little disappointed we wouldn’t have a view for what was coming next.

“Spotty” asked me why I had decided to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Good question.

“I like heights.” Besides, it seemed a better option than whitewater rafting. “You’ve got to choose something,” I said. Why not skydiving?

A cloudy view.

Spotty had been skydiving ever since his first jump for a hospice’s charity event.

“What’s your favorite part?” I asked him.

“Jumping out.”

Funny. That was the part my friends and I were most afraid of. If there was any point likely to test our courage, we felt sitting at the open door looking down at miles of open air would be it. Self-preservation tells you to stay seated. Courage is all talk until there’s nothing holding you up.

It wasn’t exactly the freefall that scared me though. I knew that part would be amazing. It’s called “the ultimate freedom” for a reason. I knew I would enjoy the flight up and the fall down, but it was the transition between the two that had me worried. Maybe it’s the self-preservation instinct, but I think it’s because I hate change.

I wish I had Spotty’s attitude in the rest of life. He didn’t choose either the plane or the freefall but rather the moment in-between. He had already jumped at least nine times that day, but it was still his favorite part of every trip. Lately life has felt like skydiving tandem with God, and I still dread the leaps of faith. I know I like where I am, and I know I will like where God calls me to next. Both are great. It’s just the in-between that terrifies me into paralysis.

Cross arms. Look up. Say a prayer.

Cross arms. Look up. Say a prayer.

When it came to it, I didn’t actually jump. And no one asked if I was ready. Instead, my instructor told me to put my arms in the “safety position”– crossed over my chest, like a dead person. We dangled our legs out the door. He told me to lean my head back and look up. And he pushed us off. One moment we were seated safely on the plane and the next we were plummeting through free air, 13, 500 feet off the ground.

Switching between the plane and the open air caught my breath. I couldn’t think, only react. So I screamed as loud as I could in the rushing air. It was as much from overwhelming joy as awe and terror. After the first few seconds of shock, I could put thoughts to what I was feeling: “This is really happening! I’m really here! This isn’t a dream! This is AMAZING!”

Flying with Spotty.

Flying in the airplane–seat-belted in safety–was a fun ride. The tandem instructors were cracking jokes. The new skydivers were nervously laughing. We had a pretty view of the ground through the windows. But skydiving…that was exhilarating. So much better than the airplane.

In the Christian life, there’s a similar choice of experiences. I could be safe and have a pleasant life without ever taking risks for Christ, but I don’t believe that’s the kind of life God wants for me. The other choice is to go all-in, giving up everything and following Christ whatever the cost on an adventure beyond my imagination. Too often, it’s tempting to settle for less than the exhilarating ride God offers. I pray that he will give me the courage to sit on the edge, the faith to look up, and the trust–when the time is right–to be pushed out.

“My lips will shout for joy,
when I sing praises to you;
my soul also, which you have redeemed.”
Psalm 71:23
When has God told you to jump in faith? Did you let fear keep you in the airplane, or did you jump gladly, trusting in him?
 
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Posted by on September 1, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

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