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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 But as Jesus points out multiple times in his ministry, the Pharisees’ rules superseded God.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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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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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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My Life Isn’t What I Thought It’d Be

On Sunday morning, I took the stage at my church. They wanted to hear my story and how I came to pursue missionary service. I told everyone that three years ago I couldn’t have imagined that I would one day be standing in front of them all.

Several of my friends are preparing to graduate college in a few short weeks. I remember being in their shoes three years ago. At the time, I had no idea of the journey God would take me on.

My biggest dream was to be a book editor. I thought that was what I wanted to do with my life. Read other people’s stories and clean them up for the world to enjoy. I thought I would live in the United States with only occasional, brief trips to see the world. I thought I would be the Christian who stayed home, doing quiet good and inviting my neighbors to know God.

But as often happens in one’s early twenties, what I wanted changed. My dreams grew bigger. Beyond what I felt capable of achieving. Beyond what seemed feasible or practical.

Credit: Louis Vest (https://flic.kr/p/obARz7)

Credit: Louis Vest (https://flic.kr/p/obARz7)

I had the 9-to-5 editorial career and it wasn’t enough. I had a blog and enjoyed writing on the side, but I wanted to write more and I wanted it to be meaningful and important. I wanted something to be passionate about and to dedicate all my energy and love to. I wanted to fall into bed at the end of the day exhausted not from boredom but from accomplishing something that mattered.

In short, I felt restless.

Getting laid off gave me the push I needed to do something about it.

Now I’m in the application process of becoming a missionary in a ministry I’ve been privileged to visit and serve before. I told my church how God has placed one step after another to bring me on a great adventure beyond anything I could have planned myself. It’s an adventure that will require all of me, applying everything I’ve learned so far and all the passions that make me come alive. Everything is falling into its place. He is the great storyteller and it’s only in looking back that I can see the genius and grace in the plot line he’s written for me.

“Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.” Psalm 77:19

How has God amazed you in writing your story?

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

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When He Calls Your Name

Do you remember classroom roll calls? The teacher would read down an alphabetical list of names, glancing up for a half-second before pressing on. When you heard your name, you were expected to speak up before the teacher marked you absent.

Most kids in my public schools would say, “Here.” But once in a while, some advanced thinker would instead shout, “Present!” I wondered in elementary school why the teachers seemed to go along with it. If a kid could demand a gift during roll call, could I have said any word I wanted instead of just the boring “here”? I didn’t understand the full meaning of “present” at the time.

Credit: "School children" from stockvault.net

Credit: “School children” from stockvault.net

Nowadays “be present” is taking its turn in cultural slang. Who knows how long it’ll last before it joins outdated sayings like “groovy” or “fresh”?

It’s a compliment: “The best thing about that guy is he knows how to be present.”

It’s a goal: “I just want to be present every day.”

It’s a need: “Hey, would you just be present for two minutes with me here?”

It’s a way of saying to give all of your alert and undivided attention. To be present is to not be distracted by anything going on besides what is the here and now reality right in front of you. To be present has the sense of to “live in the moment.”

Lately I’ve had a curious image of God replaying in my head, like one of those catchy tunes that won’t go away. The image is God standing in front of me, close as if meaning to whisper an intimate secret. He’s reaching out to me. He longs to cradle my face in his gentle hands so that my eyes will rise to his…but he holds back. In a soft, pleading sort of voice, he says to me, “Be present with me here. Be present with me now.”

He wants my attention. Not for what’s happening in another city or another country. Not for future plans or past mistakes. He wants me present here and now.

When a kid shouted “present” during roll call, it implied two things. One, the student was physically present in the classroom. Two, the student was present with at least enough attention to hear their name called.

I want to be present in such a way that when God calls my name, I can shout back, “Here I am!”

Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” … The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:4,10

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2014 in Other thoughts

 

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God Doesn’t Leave Voicemail

Imagine you have a long-distance best friend. Maybe you already do, so it isn’t hard to imagine. Anyway, it’s been a while since your last visit, and your friend decides to give you a call. You don’t answer. They text instead. You don’t respond. After a week goes by, they stalk your Facebook wall to make sure you’re alive. Yep, you posted at work that morning about your delicious breakfast burrito. There are pictures from the last night when you went bowling with some friends. Your friend decides your phone must be broken and posts to your wall an inside joke about a porcupine, knowing you’re the only person who would get it.

No reply.

Months go by. Your friend eventually gives up trying to reach you.

One day you see a porcupine on TV. You remember your friend and decide to give them a call. They don’t answer. You try again but it goes directly to voicemail. As time goes on without reciprocation, you first feel annoyed. Then irritated. You wonder if they are intentionally ignoring you. Maybe they don’t care about you anymore. Maybe they never did.

On the other end of the line, your hurt friend watches their phone ring and wonders if they want to answer after you wouldn’t answer their own calls. After being neglected for long months, why should they pick up where you left off? Why should they still call you a friend?

Credit: Robert S. Digby, Creative Commons (https://flic.kr/p/7rKqYa)

Credit: Robert S. Digby, Creative Commons (https://flic.kr/p/7rKqYa)

In Isaiah 65, the Lord declares curses on his people of Israel who had rebelled against him and served other gods. They abandoned him. They ignored him. So God replies, “I will destine you for the sword, and all of you will fall in the slaughter; for I called but you did not answer, I spoke but you did not listen. You did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me” (v. 12). But for the one who obeys the one true God, he promises to bless them and “the past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from my eyes” (v. 16). He then describes a day of “new heavens and a new earth” when rejoicing will replace all suffering. In that day, he says, “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (v. 17, 24).

When times are good, we often let God’s calls go to voicemail. We assume we’re doing fine on our own and that he’ll still be there when we need him. Then a crisis appears, and we wonder why God isn’t answering our cries for help. We ask why God is silent.

Now I don’t want to imply God is a resentful friend harboring old hurts, but why should we expect to hear from him after ignoring his attempts at contact? Is that a healthy relationship? If we’re not listening to his voice in good times, how are we going to receive a word from him when times are hard? God might not be the one who grew distant.

Do you need to apologize and ask forgiveness for ignoring God?

“Please leave a message after the tone.”

Beep.

“Hi, friend. Sorry I’ve been a jerk. I should have returned your calls. Will you forgive me?”

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2014 in Other thoughts

 

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With Open Hands

On the night of February 14, my valentine was another woman without a date. We went to an open mic event where we listened to humorously awful love poetry. Then we ate out, making up for our reduced-calorie entrees with fried mozzarella sticks, and we laughed together over our own horrific love stories (or lack thereof). At my house, we shared red velvet cheesecake brownies while commiserating with each other for our mutual relational struggles.

She told me she hates when someone asks her, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” The socially acceptable answer has to do with where you want to live or what kind of employment you want to have. My friend would like to say she will be someone’s wife, someone’s mother. But what control does she have over the ambition for a family?

I can’t describe my life in five years either. I complained to her about not knowing where I will be, what I will be doing, or who I will be with in just a few months from now. I have no plans, only daydreams. But of course, even people with rock-solid plans don’t know what tomorrow might bring. Whatever plans we make, life doesn’t give guarantees.

My friend remarked that God likes to surprise us, just like a human father does for his children. Being blindfolded might make us nervous as we’re led through the dark, but the surprise is usually worth it.

Credit: Derrick Tyson, http://flic.kr/p/xPGJ

Credit: Derrick Tyson, http://flic.kr/p/xPGJ

She recommended that I approach the future with open hands. She held up one fist and said, “A fist is only good for holding onto something or for punching through.” Her other hand relaxed into a cupped shape. “An open hand can still hold things,” she added, “but it can also receive.”

A fist doesn’t receive anything except bruised knuckles. A fist is untrusting. Held at eye level, it can be a boxer’s guard. At the waist, it’s a martial artist’s security against a threat. Down at either side, they are stubbornly demanding. Pounded on the ground, the fist is a child’s temper tantrum.

But an open, upturned hand held out…there is vulnerability. It’s the child waiting for a cookie or maybe for medicine. It’s someone offering to hold a friend’s hand through the worst. It’s a sign for giving up and letting go. It’s the release from a tight grip. The open hand is willing and welcoming.

I could clench my fists and demand God for answers about my future, or with open hands, I can wait patiently for whatever surprise my Father has planned. It will be worth the wait.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Other thoughts

 

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