Thursday, March 24, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 24


The Gospel according to Mark, Chapter nine

Doubt is not the absence of faith. Too often we are told we either have faith or we don't--we either are "strong" in faith or we are are weak. This isn't the case. Many people who we would consider spiritual giants have wrestled with doubt. Every journey of faith will encounter unbelief, and it is time we acknowledge doubt's role in our lives.

Doubt can keep us humble. There's nothing anti-Christian about remaining humble in our faith. To acknowledge that our entire system of belief is, in fact, belief, and not knowledge is a good thing. It keeps us from starting religious wars. 

In Mark nine, we find Jesus meeting a dad whose son needs help. There can be no more miserable feeling than being unable to help someone you love. This father is desperate for his son to be made healthy again. He will do anything to help him, so he has come to Jesus.

If you can do anything, take pity on us

It takes a lot of humility to ask someone else to take pity on you. It takes a firm grasp of reality, which is the true meaning of humility. To be humble is to be aware of your place in the world and your status compared to all others around you. This father knew where he stood. He knew Jesus' disciples were unable to help him, but he believed Jesus might.

Jesus assures the boy's father that He can do anything. More importantly, "all things are possible for those who believe." 

The father believes.  

Just like those of us who have chosen to follow this homeless Palestinian carpenter's teachings.

We are like this father. We need Jesus' help, but sometimes we aren't sure. We have tried other things and nothing else seems to fill the void. We have made a mess of so much and just need a re-do. We are scared of admitting we still don't feel like our faith is where it needs to be. 

I believe. Help me with my unbelief.

Two lines. Let them be our prayer as we dance between faith and doubt with a God who has mercy on us.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 15


Week 8, Day 1, The Gospel according to Mark, Chapter Eight

Suffering is one of the most constant facts of the human condition. We will all encounter suffering in our lives and will all seek to deal with suffering in our own ways. Every spiritual teacher, guru, or leader must at some point come to terms with how we are to deal with suffering. Who do we turn to, what do we do, how should our attitude be?

Jesus is more than a magician. In this chapter we see Him making calculated steps towards distancing Himself from the teachings of the Pharisees and the Zealots (a group that wanted to overthrow Rome). He wasn't doing things their way. He wasn't their to clarify a rule book. He wasn't there to usher in a political revolution. Jesus was there to teach them, and us by proxy, how to live. 

Deny yourself

We each have some deep suffering in our lives. Whether it's an illness or grief or disappointment, we each have some burden we are carrying. Many people would try to tell us to put those burdens down, to blame them on someone else, or to find ways to not think about them. What Jesus says here is fascinating. He says to deny yourself. Some of us need to stop there with this command and ponder it deeply. What does it mean to deny ourselves? 

Sometimes a fast or a cleanse is a good way to deny ourselves of temporal things. Sometimes it just means doing something for someone else, and thinking of ourselves less. It means to think of making life easier for others before you worry about yourself. Denying our selves runs completely counter to a culture of indulgence and comfort. We have an extremely hard time denying ourselves things that make us more comfortable, especially when we feel we have "earned" them.

Take up your cross

The problems in our lives--our suffering--are not to be avoided. We are not trying to put an end to suffering by forgetting about it when we come across it. Instead, Jesus says to take up our cross--to pick up the thing that makes us suffer and carry it with us. We are to go through our suffering. 

Many counselors will tell you that avoiding your problems will never solve them. If we choose to deny the existence of our suffering, or to blame our mistakes on others, we will never grow through them. The only way to resolve conflict, suffering, or pain in our lives is to first deal with it head-on. We have to carry it for a while. 

Follow me

This is a remarkable statement. The image I chose for today's meditation is the way I picture this statement. We are carrying our crosses, but Jesus is carrying His too. He knows what we are going through and is sympathetic to us. We have a leader who knows how we feel. He's not telling us to do anything He hasn't already done. He is in front of us, always our example, carrying His burdens and ours. 

In following Him, in denying our selves, and in taking up our crosses, we will find true life. Not "heaven" because that's not what He is talking about here, but real life right now. Our lives are better when used for others. Our lives are better when we deal with suffering in positive ways. Most importantly, our lives are better when we follow the example of Christ.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 12


Week Seven, Day Five, The Gospel according to Mark, Chapter seven

Jesus is getting tired of the Pharisees' hypocrisy. In a world in which your social standing was based on your pious adherence to arbitrary rules, Jesus was out of place. These people had subjected the poor and downtrodden to their interpretation of the Jewish law, and cared more about how religious they looked than how they actually felt. 

We still do this in our own way. Or society for the most part doesn't care about pious adherence to religious law, but in many church circles, that is still the case. Humans are often quick to draw party lines regardless of the situation. We love belonging to a group, and the best way to identify who is in our group is do identify who is out

All these evils come from inside

We often blame outside forces for our mistakes. It's natural. In nonreligious circles, we blame other people. In the church, we often blame the devil. What Jesus makes clear in this teaching is the devil doesn't have to do much, we do his job for him most of the time. I'm not denying the existence of Satan ("the accuser" in Hebrew) but I am saying we are often our own Satan, our own accuser. We can be terribly accusatory of others who don't fit our system of belief. We can be terribly accusatory of ourselves for falling short of our own expectations of what a "good person" is.

All these evils come from inside

Quick to judge, slow to love. That describes us so often, but it does not describe God. He is slow to judge, quick to  love. Always merciful, forgiving, and affirming of us. He isn't concerned about the cleanliness of our hands. He isn't concerned with how well we jump through religious hoops. He is only concerned with how clean our hearts are. 

If we are slow to judge others based on our definition of "good," or "religious," or "christian," then we will be transformed into the type of person Jesus was. A loving, caring, and kind person. The problems we face, and struggles we have are often a result of ourselves or others acting in a way unlike Jesus. And all these evils come from inside.

Clean hearts is our prayer. Non-judgemental eyes are our goal.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 10


Week Seven, Day Four, The Gospel according to Mark, Chapter 6

The disciples were exhausted. Mark makes a point of saying they had been so busy they didn't have time to eat. Ministering to and helping others can be tiring. Counselors talk about something called "compassion fatigue," a phenomenon where those who are listening to the pain of others constantly can become overcome with the weight of that pain themselves. It can drive many ministers, counselors, teachers, and social workers to burn out. Jesus recognizes this in the excited disciples as they recount all they had seen and done, so He takes them to a secluded place for rest. 

The place is desolate

When the crowd hears word of this plan to cross the sea, they beat Jesus there and are waiting for more miracles and teachings. Jesus teaches them, because He loves them, and is moved with compassion for them. Then the disciples, who are already exhausted ask Him to tell the people to leave. They want to rest. He promised them rest. 

The place is desolate

It would cost too much to feed all these people. Jesus asked them to see what they already have, which was five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus blessed the food, split the crowd up into groups, and then the meager amount of food was multiplied to fill everyone's need. 

The place is desolate

Many of us have read this story or heard it hundreds of times, but how many times have we noticed that phrase. The place is desolate. The disciples had nothing left to give. They were burned out, exhausted, running on fumes. Their hearts were now desolate as they had succumbed (naturally) to compassion fatigue. 

It is in these desolate places where we see Jesus continue to operate. In the desolate places, He provides sustenance. In the desolate places, He provides energy. The love that holds the universe together provides strength and power and sustains all things. When we give it what we have, no matter how empty the basket looks beforehand, Christ can use it to bring hope to desolate places. 

John Chrysostom, one of the earliest followers of the Jesus way, said this about this passage:
Even though the place is desolate, yet the One who feeds the world is present. And even though the hour is late, yet the one who is not subject to the hour is conversing with you.
May we feel Hope in the desolate places. May we feel comfort in our exhaustion.
 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 9


Week Seven, Day Three, The Gospel according to Mark, Chapter Five

Jesus in the midst of miraculous ministry. His signs and wonders are drawing a crowd of admirers and onlookers. Skeptics and believers alike were following Him. In Mark five, Jesus heals a man afflicted with a multitude of demonic possessions, and then is asked to follow a religious official named Jairus to his house to heal his daughter. 

On the way to Jairus' house, Mark introduces the reader to a woman. Her name isn't given, and everything written about her paints her as the outcast of the outcast. She had been suffering from a disease for years. She had found no relief from what passed for a doctor in the first century, and she was now penniless and living on the street. The nature of her affliction would have made her "unclean" by the religious rules of the day. Her affliction, which was not her fault, would have cut her off from society. 

Daughter

If you were touched by an unclean person, you became unclean. For this woman to have the guts to touch Jesus as He passed her, shows how desperate she was for help. She is completely destitute, in pain, and alone so she makes a move, having faith that maybe this new teacher would have mercy on her. 

Jesus notices her. Even though the disciples argue there's no way to find out who touched Him in the crowd they were in, He knew she was there. Instead of cutting her off further, instead of labeling her as a sinful woman--or as unclean--Jesus heals her and calls her "Daughter."

Daughter

This statement wasn't degrading, it was uplifting. To call her daughter was to identify as being with her. She is one of us, she is worthy, she is a person. Jesus heals her from her disease, yes, but He also affirms her identity. He sends her on her way, telling her to be healed of her affliction.

But she was already healed. 

What was the affliction He was talking about?

Her loneliness, her status as outcast, her lack of social or material capital would have been almost a worse affliction than the disease. Jesus heals her of both with one word. He identifies with the outcast, the destitute, and the afflicted. Jesus is with us.

Jesus calls us His family, and that is our identity. It means we are wanted. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 8

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt, 1632
Week Seven, Day Two, The Gospel according to Mark, Chapter Four

Fear is a destructive force. It causes people to act in ways they wouldn't normally act. It turns rational, sophisticated people into animals--initiating the fight or flight instinct dormant in our 21st Century brains. In Scripture fear is often referred to in negative terms because fear is the absence of love and hope. 

Who is this then?

In Mark Four we see the disciples and Jesus continuing their ministry near the Sea of Galilee. We then see them get in a boat and take off towards the far shore during the night. Jesus, likely exhausted from long days of ministry and teaching, is asleep on the boat when a storm begins shaking the frame of the boat all around the disciples, terrifying them. 

Who is this then?

When the disciples wake Jesus, they ask Him if He cares if they all die. He woke up and simply commanded the waves to be quiet, and they were. This showed His superiority over nature, but also how little He was worried. He wasn't overcome with fear, and He wasn't shaking with anxiety. There were times in Jesus' life where He became overcome with stress and worry, but over things He knew to be within God's plan. In this moment, against what would be a terrifying storm to anyone on a tiny boat in the middle of a sea, He was calm and confident. 

Who is this then?
Jesus' response to the disciples pierces to my insecurity. He asked them "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?" Fear is our reaction to things we don't understand, or can't control. By it's nature, it is the opposite of faith. Fear leads us to hate others, faith leads us to love them. Fear leads us to superstition, faith leads us to communion. Fear leads us to see Jesus in our presence and ask Him why He isn't doing enough for us. Faith leads us to see Jesus acting even when we can't see Him in our presence. Fear comes from the natural world, from our animal brains, from our desperate need to survive. Faith comes from our Christ-brains, from God, from our identity as commingling participants in the divine reality.

I assume Jesus went back to sleep after asking them these questions. The ultimate picture of Divine serenity and contentment. The disciples were now more freaked out than before. They began asking themselves what would become the single most important question in the history of the world.  

Who is this then?

Answer that question for yourself. Who is He? Does He lead you from your fears and into faith?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 7


Week Seven, Day One, The Gospel according to Mark, Chapter Three

In Mark three, Jesus is continuing His ministry at a furious pace. Not pausing for the Sabbath has made some of the religious elite upset, but not as upset as Jesus' justification for it which pointed at their hypocrisy. The religious elite, certain of their righteousness, accused Jesus of performing miracles using the power of Satan. 

Then He will plunder his house

How many times does our spiritual arrogance cause us to judge a different interpretation or stream of faith to be bankrupt or lacking or even evil? Certainty is the enemy of spiritual growth. You can't grow in faith if you are content with your faith, or if you think you have it figured out. 

In Mark three we see the groundwork for one of the earliest theological thoughts of what came to be known as Christianity. Jesus makes a remark while defending Himself from the accusations of the Pharisees, saying He isn't working under the power of the devil, and that "no one can enter the strong man's house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house."

This remark came to be the bedrock of something called "Christus Victor" theology which many believe to be the earliest doctrine of atonement of the early Church. Christ's Incarnation, death, and resurrection was the binding of the strong man. This was God method of gaining victory over the forces that held humanity enslaved to death. Instead of a view of a God who is angry and thirsty for blood to satisfy His rage, we see a God who is desperate enough for people who He loves to risk death to rescue them. 

Then He will plunder his house

Jesus didn't come to heal a few sick people, He came to end sickness. He came to conquer death, so we don't have to experience it anymore. Jesus didn't sneak out of heaven to try to get us to repent so God would stop being angry with us. Jesus is what God is saying to us. He loves us, and has rescued us. 

Any act that brings more happiness, joy, health, or love to the world is an act of plundering the strong man's house. In this view, the forces of the world have already been defeated, and Christ is already victorious over them. We are now to continue His robbery of Satan by spreading love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in this world. 

Then He will plunder his house

Don't wait for a future victory. It has already happened. Be urgent in your actions today, bringing about forgiveness and mercy, love and hope, peace and kindness everywhere, to everyone, all the time. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 4


Week 6, Day 5, The Gospel According to Mark, Chapter 2

Mark takes some time with this story at the beginning of Chapter two. This story is one of my favorites in the Gospels and I remember the old flannel-graphs in Sunday school growing up, teaching me lessons of friendship. 

Sin is a sickness. It doesn't just cause sickness, but it is a disease that infects all of us with death. Jesus' has come to defeat death, and to heal the sickness of sin from the world. In this story, we see this theology played out in flesh and blood. A man has a physical ailment--in this case something that has led to paralysis--as well as the spiritual ailment of sin. Jesus, in a effort to show not only are sins and physical ailments not related, but also He is on earth to cure both. 

Pick up your pallet and go home

This story has amazing characters. The friends of a sick man wanted their friend healed so badly they were willing to dig a hole in the roof of a house in order to get their friend an audience with Jesus. These friends were heroes. They recognized a problem and a solution. Our problems have a solution, and we need to simply find ourselves in front of it. We need to be receptive to the forgiveness offered--the unconditional Love that requires nothing of us. We need to feel the healing, and then we need to pick up our pallet and go home.

In chapter two, we also read the story of Levi following Jesus. In Mark's typical fashion, we don't get much drama in this story, just the facts. Levi was a tax-collector. He would have been hated by his countrymen and by his neighbors. He worked for the occupiers, and not the occupied. He was a 'sinner' to the religious elite--someone to be ostracized. 

Pick up your pallet and go home

We see the sickness of sin mentioned again when the religious leaders criticize Jesus for associating Himself with Levi. Jesus calmly responds to them "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." The sickness of sin, and it's elimination, was the purpose of Christ's incarnation. He came to call us, and to heal us, and to send us back into the world to find others. 

Jesus wants to hang out with you. He wants to be around you, and to heal your sickness. But He also wants you to go home and find others who need to hang out with Jesus. He wants you to be the man on the mat, and also the guys digging the hole in the roof. He wants you to be the tax-collector Levi, and also the man Matthew (same guy!) who wrote the book of Matthew. 

We have to be able to experience the healing of Jesus, and also be able to show it to others. 


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 3

Icon of St. Mark the Evangelist, 1657
Week 6, Day 4, The Gospel According to Mark, Chapter 1

We have finished with Matthew's account of the life and teachings of Jesus and are now starting on the book traditionally attributed to Mark. This book is the oldest of the Gospel accounts, and the shortest. You can feel the bare-bones nature of the writing as you read it, as if Mark was rushing to get this on paper. The events of Jesus' life were still fresh in the mind of the author. He was writing this during the 60's AD, probably in Rome, and was writing to a mostly non-Jewish audience. These were tumultuous times for the early church, as Nero was persecuting and murdering hundreds of believers a year. 

What Mark 1 shows us is the urgency of Christ. He only ministered for around three years, and had a lot to accomplish in that time. From the moment Mark begins, Jesus is hitting the ground running. It reads like someone out of breath telling you about the best concert they've ever seen. 

Immediately

The translation I usually read is the NASB, and in its account of Mark 1 alone, the word "immediately" is used 10 times. Often we think of "God's timing," as slow, methodical, or just not as fast as we want it to be. We have problems, we need solutions. We want God to act instantly. We want suffering to end swiftly.

Immediately

The Greek phrase that has been translated into "and immediately" is kai euthus and it is repeated over and over again throughout the Gospel of Mark. Remember this book was written while Christians were having their homes and bodies burned by Nero and the Jews were revolting against the Romans--these were urgent times. This phrase, its repetition, and the stripped down, just-the-facts nature of Mark reflects when it was written. People needed to hear this story. In a world that seemed to be on fire, people needed to hear about a God that had changed the world.

Immediately

The world is still on fire, it seems. Things seem to be spinning out of control, and everyone is terrified of everyone else. We like to think of ourselves as progressive and advanced, but we are still scared, violent humans just like they were in the first century. We still need the urgent action of Love that was unleashed on the world in the first century. We are too easily pulled backwards into regressive actions of violence or hatred or legalism when the truth is all of those actions were rendered obsolete. When we realize we don't have to live in fear or hate or legalistic restriction any longer, our lives change.

Immediately

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 2



Week 6, Day 3, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 28

If your best friend had just been murdered by the state and every leader you are supposed to respect, if the one teacher you had ever felt taught like He knew something worth knowing had just been tortured to death, if the person who brought you life like never before had just been brutally killed—would you risk going to his grave? In today’s passage, we see two brave women risk being persecuted in order to respect their dead friend.

Jesus, the giver and bringer of Life couldn’t stay dead. Because love does nothing but create life, the Christ would have to come back from the dead. God is a singularity of self-giving and creating love at the center of all things. Christ is this essence of God working in the world. Jesus, being the manifestation of this essence, was the “first-born from among the dead,” as St. Paul would later say.

I am with you. Always.

Love is the central fact of the universe. It is the energy that keeps atoms arranged and planets spinning. The universe is expanding into an existence less infinite than the love on which it floats. Any war or hatred or persecution or bullying or prejudice that exists is the last-ditch effort of a world-view that has lost so completely it couldn't even keep one man dead. Love will always win, because love is in control.

When Jesus meets His disciples, some are immediately overcome with joy and worship Him. The interesting thing in Matthew is the inclusion of the phrase “but some doubted.” What would it take for those people to believe?

I am with you. Always.


Sometimes we doubt. Sometimes, even though I have had experiences with the love at the center of the universe, I still doubt it. I can be covered in love, wrapped in it, and feeling nothing but God’s presence, and then ten minutes later forget the whole experience. That is part of faith. We are all insecure because the world around us tells us we have to do or be or buy differently in order to be better than we are. Some religious leaders will try to tell us that we have to do or give or pray more in order to feel God’s presence.

I am with you. Always.

In the silence, He is there. In grief, He is there. In doubt, He is there. In pain, He is there. In the times we win, He is there. He is there because He is holding the universe together and also deeply in love with me.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Daily Devotional: March 1


Week 6, Day 2, The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 27

During Lent it is very easy to wait until the week before Easter to focus on the Passion Story. I am thankful for this meditation series and for great pastors whose podcasts inspire me. I borrow pretty heavily from guys like Brian Zahnd, and I want to point you guys to him as well because I know he can influence you too. 

Today we are reading what must have been a tough passage for Matthew to write. We have reason to believe he watched these events unfold first-hand. Even though he knows the end of the story as he is writing it, he must have found it hard to think about his best friend and Lord being beaten and rejected and murdered.

Give us Barabbas 

The last chance for Jesus was this moment where Pilate offers the crowd the release of one prisoner. He thinks they will surely pick Jesus of Nazareth, because this man was a hero. Another man, Jesus Barabbas, who ironically shared a first name with Jesus Christ, was in prison. He was a different kind of hero. He was in prison for basically inciting a riot. Historians believe he was a revolutionary, the type of man who believed in armed conflict against the Romans. He was a political prisoner of the Roman state. 

One man offered peace at all costs, one man believed in a quick-strike revolution. One man stood for a revolution of mercy and forgiveness, the other for a political revolution. We see who the crowd chose. We often think of them as being under the influence of mob mentality, or of some sinful spirit and that's why they would choose Jesus Barabbas over Jesus of Nazareth, but that doesn't have to be the case.

Give us Barabbas

We shout the same thing when we choose the easy way out, the way of destruction. We shout the same thing when we look to our finances or guns to save us. We shout the same thing when we want to protect our necks at the cost of some other people group, religion, or race to be wiped off the face of the earth. We shout the same thing when we want to build walls and not bridges.

Give us Barabbas

We want it our way! We don't want the peaceful hero, we want the guy with the biggest gun! Give us the biggest bombs! Give us the kingdom we want, or else!

Don't choose Barabbas. Choose the other Jesus, the one who offers love and mercy.

About Drew

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A follower of Jesus, trying to build myself and others up from the inside out.