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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 4: Who People Think Jesus Is

Just calling yourself the next president of the United States doesn’t make it true. And plenty of people will argue about whether you’re fit for the job. It’s the same case if you claimed to be the Messiah in first-century Israel.

Lots of spiritual leaders had made the same claim before, and many have since. Not all of them could be the Messiah. Obviously, it was a grandiose statement to announce and worth evaluating critically. Even though Jesus had already associated himself with the Messiah, there was a lot of debate about who he was reallyThe rest of chapter 3 describes the growing controversy surrounding Jesus.

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Credit: The Hamster Factor (https://flic.kr/p/54MV4X)

Read Mark 3:7-35.

Different groups of people took sides on who they thought Jesus was. “Unclean spirits” (demons) possessing people called Jesus the Son of God. He didn’t deny it, but he did tell them to shut up about it (vs. 12). A normal human being claiming divinity amounted to blasphemy, which was punishable by death. So calling yourself the Son of God was much riskier than claims to being the Messiah.

The religious scribes knew the messianic prophecies forwards and backwards. When they saw Jesus banishing unclean spirits, they deduced that he must be Beelzebul, the prince of demons. How else would he have power over demons? Jesus told them their logic was flawed. If he really was on Satan’s side, then he would be a double agent. Ordering demons to leave weakens Satan’s kingdom rather than strengthens it. Then he turned the scrutiny around and accused them of blasphemy for slandering the Holy Spirit. Basically he said, “I have the Spirit of God in me, not a demon, and you are liars to say such a thing.”

The family of Jesus came forward with a third explanation. Jesus finally returned home with a huge following, like a superstar who needs a cohort of bodyguards just to get from the hotel to his car. Imagine if your brother or son with no political or legal background decided to run for president. He started a viral social media campaign and a national tour. People would pack stadiums to hear him speak. He promised to save the country. Like Jesus’ family, you might say he’s crazy. For goodness sake, this is little “JJ”, the boy you watched play in the sandbox. He’s no president, let alone a savior. Since Israel was a communal society, where everything you did reflected on who you belonged to, Jesus’ family was probably shocked and ashamed. So they physically attempted to “seize him”.

When that didn’t work, they returned later and called him outside for a talk. Jesus said something really crazy in a communal society. He denied his family waiting outside and instead called the people around him and anyone else who obeys God part of his family. It’s like saying, “If my mother and brother don’t support what I’m doing, then they don’t really love me and I’m going to keep doing God’s work anyway.” Could you imagine being the guy who had to give his family that message?

So we see the demons, the scribes, and even his own family speaking out. None of them are on his side. I think it’s interesting that the only people who would claim him were his disciples and the people who wanted to be healed. These followers benefited from his miracles and teaching while everyone else argued about his identity. At this point, his apostles may have had some ideas about whether or not Jesus was the Messiah, but I think they were more concerned with the amazing things he did and said. They were busy watching and listening to him.

Jesus wasn’t telling them, “Here are the things you must believe about me to follow me.” He was again pointing to his words and actions and letting his apostles think for themselves about what it all meant.

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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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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

 

5 Steps to Judging Thy Neighbour

“It’s their choice.”

Sometimes these words come as a choker chain pulling me into check, and I know there is nothing more to say. But I’ve heard the same words often used with misguided implications. At those times, every neuron of my brain protests any further silence.

Of course, not every situation is so straight or crooked. Your friend drinks Fireball shots on weekends until the bar goes lopsided. Your roommate disappears to their significant other’s place every night because they’re “crazy about each other.” And your little sister got a rainbow unicorn tattoo on her birthday, with plans to add a lollipop forest across her lower back.

When someone you love makes choices that you question, what is the “Christian” response? Do you cover your eyes and repeat something like, “They can run their life however they want”? Or do you kidnap them and stage an intervention at a remote cabin, complete with cult-worthy brainwashing?

Credit: Thomas Leth-Olsen (https://flic.kr/p/fkF6E5)

Credit: Thomas Leth-Olsen (https://flic.kr/p/fkF6E5)

This is a much more complicated question than what’s right and wrong. My mental processing in these situations runs like this (along with copious prayers for guidance):

1. Are their actions one-size-fits-all sins?

Before all else, are we dealing with sins or something I’ve personally been convicted by? Just because something makes me uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s wrong for someone else to do (Romans 14). We are free to do anything, yet there are some things God has made clear throughout history that are not healthy choices for anyone (1 Cor. 10:23). Is the lifestyle in question explicitly dishonoring God and disobeying his Word?

2. Am I being a hypocrite?

Who listens to the advice of a hypocrite? No one. So if you are one, just drop the issue now and save everyone’s time. How do you know if you are a hypocrite? See Matthew 7:4-5. Jesus basically says (in not-so-friendly terms) deal with your own issues before nitpicking other people’s lives. Maybe you are struggling against the same sins as your friend (or are avoiding addressing something worse). For example, people who suffer from road rage are more likely to accuse other drivers. Am I seeing my friend’s choices without a “log in my eye”?

3. Is this person a believer in Christ?

If not, then you should be concerned with only one choice: will they choose Christ? We have no authority to judge the sins of unbelievers (1 Cor. 5:12). Christ always has to come first because we are all saved “while still sinners” (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 2:3-4).

Read the stories of when two tax collectors met Jesus (Luke 5:27-30, 19:1-10). In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were considered thieving, exploiting, traitorous scum. But once Levi met Jesus, he became an apostle and author of the Gospel of Matthew. When Zacchaeus met Jesus, he was so overwhelmed by gratitude that he immediately offered restitution for anyone he had cheated.

Real change can only happen when Jesus is present. Can I genuinely call my loved one a brother or sister in Christ?

4. Is God telling me to speak up?

Paul envisioned the ideal Body of Christ together growing more like Christ himself by stable teaching and “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:14-16). Paul demonstrated this when he wrote a disciplinary letter to the Corinthian believers. The letter hurt both Paul and the Corinthians, but he didn’t regret sending it because the correction brought about their greater good (2 Cor. 7:8-12).

He instructed Timothy to follow his example, and I believe every believer shares the same duty to “correct, rebuke, and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:1-2).

The New Testament Church carries a theme of mutual accountability. The apostles couldn’t be with every group of believers at all times, so God had to speak through each group’s own people to prod them towards greater fullness in Christ (Gal. 6:1; James 5:19-20). Every believer needed to be responsible for each other, just as we ask children to keep their younger siblings out of trouble.

Don’t ignore the pressing feeling that I need to say something. Could it be that God wants to use me as his voice?

5. What is the best way to share Christ in this situation?

So I think God may be leading me towards a climax. Before I get too hasty, I need to take time to pause, thoroughly study the Word, and earnestly pray about what my next steps should be. Whatever I may like to tell my loved one may not be what’s most honoring of Christ. Remember that we are challenged to use our words in the name of Christ to build each other up (Col. 3:17; Eph. 4:29). Test the words that come to you in study and prayer and then keep whatever is good and of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19-22).

It may be that the Spirit doesn’t give me words—at least not this time. Maybe words are not strong enough in this case and action is required instead. Re-evaluate whether your life shows Christ to others and strive to be the light that will not be covered or hidden (Matt. 5:16).

This is what it all really comes down to. What’s most important: that this person gives up their sinful lifestyle or that they come to know and love Jesus Christ? As any Christian should have witnessed in their own journey, if you have the latter, then the former necessarily follows.

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:17-19

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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When You Can’t Make the World Stop Spinning

Credit: "French Manege" by frhuynh, stockvault.net

Credit: “French Manege” by frhuynh, stockvault.net

Sometimes a waltz feels like a carousel. There’s this lilting tune that goes along with the up and down movement of the waltz steps. There are people laughing, bright lights all around, it’s crowded. People stand in line along the walls, waiting for their turn. And those enjoying the ride are going up and down, up and down. We’re spinning, spinning, all around. I imagine myself riding a white pony with bright ribbons painted into its carved hair.

And I’m suddenly dizzy. I lose my balance, but the ride isn’t stopping. I’m holding onto my dance partner for support, willing my feet to stay beneath my body rather than over my head.

I close my eyes, and that makes it worse. So I try to appear calm while calculating how to survive the song. Then, perhaps by chance, perhaps just to find comfort, I look into the face of the dance partner I’m gripping so tightly to keep from falling. He notices and smiles. I return an obliging smirk. It’s at that point that I remember something from the lesson earlier. The teacher told us to watch our partners to stay stable. Because when you’re spinning in circles, the only thing in your eyesight that isn’t moving is the partner in front of you.

Yoga has similar advice. Many moves require standing on one foot or else placing your feet in such a way to make steadiness difficult. One trick while holding a pose is to stare at something not moving. This can be almost anything, like a dark spot in the grain of wood floors. Stare at that spot on the ground, really focus on it, and somehow balance becomes easier. Look around again and you’ll instantly sense your body wavering.

So as awkward as it feels, I force myself to look at my partner, a guy I barely know and yet am compelled to trust.

How like God.

“Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.” Psalm 105:4

How often have I panicked and felt overwhelmed when looking at the world spinning around me? Final essays, exams, friends in crisis, debilitating illness, short deadlines, family conflict, and, on top of it all, the kitchen sink is overflowing with dishes and I’m out of clean underwear.

Get me off this ride!

But God says, Look at me, dear one.

I’m the spot on the ground that keeps you standing. I’m the partner staring you in the face, holding you in my arms. I’m unmoving and constant. I’m in control. Focus on me.

When I do, the carousel seems to slow down, and the background blurs. We’re the only dancers in the room, and nothing else matters.

“Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” Isaiah 26:4

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

To Be One in the Body

What if your hand decided it didn’t like being attached to your body? It thinks your stomach is a little too flabby or your armpits need better deodorant. It thinks it would be better off on its own. So your hand decides to sever itself. What would happen?

Obviously, it’d die.

With the body, your hand can paint a masterpiece (more or less) as well as feed the body (for better or worse). But a severed hand is useless (excepting Thing). It can do nothing. Not even sustain its own life. Your hand is dependent on your body and cannot function alone.

Further, my pastor added in church that a hand disconnected from the body is, by extension, disconnected from the head. The Bible calls Christians the body of Christ while Christ himself is the head. Each Christian makes up one part of his body, just like a hand is one part of yours. Therefore, if we want connection to Christ, we have to be connected to his body. If we want oneness with Christ, then we must be one with his body. There is no having Christ without having his church (which just means other Christians).

stockvault-people-walking-on-the-beach132394Christians also like to call each other “family.” Once upon ages past, family had a weightier meaning than it often does in today’s American culture. The majority of the world has kept this “traditional” style of family, where the family is the most basic social unit, not the individual person. Families are there seen more like a body, and I believe this is the way families were seen in biblical times. But American families now look increasingly segmented and estranged rather than a united and close-knit body.

Sometimes I wonder which of the two kinds Christians refer to: the modern American family or the more globally historical one. If the first, that would explain many issues now present in the American church. A family that is not a body is easily divided, easily weakened, easily destroyed. If the second meaning of family is used, then the church is full of hypocrites, which we already knew.

What we need is a resurrection of the family body. May all Christians live as if other believers are actually part of the same body. When one part of your body hurts, the whole body suffers. I’d like to see my brothers and sisters stop being ashamed of each other or setting themselves up as judge. Stop criticizing; start encouraging. We need to stop attacking and start defending. As one body, we belong to each other in Christ. “Be devoted to one another.”

Once we can stand up for each other, we need to also lay down. Lay down our pride, our self-righteousness. Let’s be courageous enough to be vulnerable. Let’s admit that we are dependent on each other. Let’s humble ourselves in front of our family and confess to one another that we don’t have life together and that we do need help. No one is immune to discouragement and stumbling. God works through his people, so let him use his people to answer our prayers. Care for the body, and let the body care for you.

After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. Ephesians 5:29-30
 
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Posted by on September 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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