Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Jesus took the children. . . and blessed them.

Mark 10:13-16 NLT  
13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. 
  14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” 16 Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.

As you and I live our daily lives seeking to do God's will by trusting in Christ alone, then we will find things happening to us that make us think more and more like Jesus thought. Jesus loved children. To the adults around him children may have been merely tolerated but not treasured, except by their own parents. But Jesus treasured each child. This passage describes just how much. He took up each child, praying for him or her according to God's will and placing a blessing on them. God blesses children, though there are so very many who suffer in this world. Their eternal lives are being watched over by the Lord and His angels- we know form scripture but for some, their daily existence is little short of a 'hell.' Many suffer abuse, deprivation, hunger, or just a loveless home. God would have it be better for them but does not usually interfere with the adults' free will who should be providing for and protecting those children. 

For sure our churches today should value children every bit as much as our Lord did. Children should not just be tolerated but must be treasured in our church activities and services. Instead of rolling your eyes and complaining or murmuring in your service next time a baby cries or a youngster fusses, look at him or her, smile, and pray a blessing on that child. Is it not what Jesus would do?
your servant in Christ's love

Monday, August 30, 2010

Riches and Eternal Life

Mark 10:17-27 NLT  
  17 As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and 
  18  “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. 19 But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’”
  20  “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” 
  21 Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
  22  At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. 
  23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” 24 This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. 25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
  26 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. 
  27 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”

Some details in Mark's account of this interaction with the one Christian history has come to call "the rich young ruler" offer important insights into the entire question of total submission to the Lordship of God in Jesus Christ. Notice that Mark says  that the man "came running up to him." This was an impetuous man not wanting to miss this opportunity to ask Jesus a question burning on his heart. Next, notice that he "knelt down" to ask his question. Jews did not kneel to other people-- it was forbidden. To do so was to recognize equity with God in that person. Then the man called Jesus "Good Teacher" something even Jesus questioned to reveal truth. He knew that only God was Good and used that term deliberately. It was much like today's believers calling Jesus "Lord."

The exchange that followed involved a masterful instruction by the Master Teacher. He related to what the man knew-- "the commandments. The man affirmed faithfulness in those areas, as far as he understood. But Jesus knew the problem was not in how this man revered God but in how he obeyed God with regard to human relationships. Jesus spotted the obvious wealth in the young man and knew how to lead him with a next question.  Since the man was asking , then he obviously did not know how be certain he would 'inherit eternal live.'  Building upon the man's own confession that he had obeyed at least the first four commands his who life, Jesus took him right to his point of need. Jesus does that with you and me as well. He meets us where we are and, if we will permit his honesty, will take us right to our need. Jesus nailed it for the young man. Did he also nail it for you and me at the same time?

Scripture says that Jesus 'Looking at the man, . . felt genuine love him. Other passages reveal how Jesus had the ability to see into the heart of people when he looked at them. He could tell if they were truthful or not. He could accurately assess their honesty. He loved this man because he possessed the infinite unconditional love of God the Father. He loved the man because the man was sincerely seeking to make God first in his live, as far as the man understood. But now the ultimate test of his commitment would fall upon him like boulders from a cliff.

"There is still one ting you haven't done" the Scripture records Jesus' challenge. "Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me."  This was a two-fold challenge. The first was to lay aside all that was actually preventing the man from finding what he sought. His great wealth had become a source of his strength and was preventing him from having to trust in God as the poor have to do. So first, to inherit eternal life, the man had to divest himself of all that hindered his search. He could not see God so long as his god was his wealth.  Mark records the man's reaction that "his face fell, for he had many possessions." He was excited enough to run up to Jesus. He, apparently recognized Jesus as Lord, Messiah. He was excited to hear Jesus affirm him for his adherence tot he commandments. But this one last thing was more than he could endure. It was not a command. Jesus said "there is one thing you lack."  Jesus loved him and wanted to help him find what he sought. Jesus was revealing to him that which hindered his search for eternal life. The second step was that THEN the man could come and follow Jesus.

Your servant in Christ's love

Friday, August 27, 2010

Those who seem least important will be the greatest!

Mark 10:28-31 NLT 
  28 Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said.  
  29  “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, 30 will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. 31 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.”

Just prior to this conversation Jesus had demonstrated a shocking truth about the impact wealth might have on people in regards to their access to God's Kingdom. That is the context for Peter's question, here , he was not just bragging about what the disciples had done. He was actually concerned about 'making it' into the Kingdom of God. He wanted to set a record straight regarding his willingness to give up earthly wealth for the work of the Kingdom. He may have overstated his case, but, Peter and the others had, indeed left their personal resources to follow an itinerant preacher around and learn about the Kingdom of God. And Jesus did not fail to recognize their sacrifice.

History is filled with stories of God's servants leaving family, friends, jobs, great careers, fame, fortune, and possessions for the work of the Kingdom of God at the call of the Holy Spirit. The stories are not told but history is yet full of instances where persons claiming to be in the body of Christ have not given up very much at all, in contrast. But it matters not what we give up in comparison to others, but it does matter what we do when God calls us to do it.

This passage is very specific about the losses and gains because of our obedience to God's call to the Kingdom work.  It seems that we will receive something NOW (vs 30) and that something will be equal to a hundred times that which we have surrendered or lost because of the Kingdom work we do. Even lost loved ones will be replenished, somehow, a hundred fold.  But don't skip over the "-- along with persecution" part. That could be a hundred fold as well. If the world persecuted the Lord we love and serve and who inhabits us, then it will persecute us as well.

Verse 30 ends with "and in the world to come. . ." There is coming a world, a universe, that is glorious, eternal, without any sort of suffering, and filled with the harvest of fruit we are now planting in our work for God's kingdom. And human expectations about greatness may well surprise many of us when that time comes. I say that because of verse 31. It goes along with what Jesus would later say-- that the ones who are truly 'great' are those who become the servants of all. Look around at those who we tend to think of as least important-- but who fill faithful functions in the body of Christ. You may be looking at some of God's great ones for the days of the eternal kingdom.

Be a servant to someone today.
Your servant in His love

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Living in the Resurrection

Mark 10:32-34 NLT  
  32They were now on the way up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. The disciples were filled with awe, and the people following behind were overwhelmed with fear. Taking the twelve disciples aside, Jesus once more began to describe everything that was about to happen to him. 33 “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. 34 They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.”

At this high point in their public ministry, when people were acclaiming the work of Christ and the twelve disciples-- mostly of Christ, though, the disciples were absolutely giddy with the attention. Notice that people following the team were "overwhelmed with fear." Jesus had certainly gotten everyone's attention, the people, the leaders, the rulers, even the normally inattentive. The disciples were expecting things to break out in what would amount to political greatness for them as 'His disciples." Jesus had told them before but their star-studded hearts were only looking for evidence of what that "THOUGHT" a messiah should bring upon them-- greatness!

Once more Jesus tells them, speaking ever so seriously to them about what was about to happen. Who could Jesus be speaking of-- this 'son of man' who was going to be betrayed. Who ever would be given over to priests and religious lawyers? Who would it be that they will sentence to die and hand over to the Romans? Certainly this could not be Jesus. Why they had declared him to be Messiah. And, Messiah was supposed to become king and deliver Jews from oppression, by their own leaders and by other nations. Who did Jesus mean was going to be flogged. Who was going to mock and spit on him? Why he was talking about HIMSELF!  This realization drove them into silence and confusion. And the events of the great passion week would leave them scattered and running for their lives. From the very heights of what they thought was about to become fame, to the very depths of discouragement in just a few days.

Just as the first followers of Christ failed to grasp the truth about Messiah and Lord, and Savior, we, too, can fall into such inattention. We, also, can become so devoted to our 'religious' traditions and expectations-- to what we read in leaders' books about Christianity that we can miss what God says about Christ, about us, about the outcome in the world, and about the coming judgment. We, too, can forget to really listen to the Holy Spirit of God. We must be focused on the inspired Word of God and devoted to listening to the Inspiration of God's Holy Spirit to guide our daily thinking. We need to be ready to release the popular ideas of religious writers and permit God to unveil His plan to us, and to the world through us. We must be willing to become like Christ. Christ was willing to sacrifice so others could be forgiven. Are we? Do we remember that, just as Jesus fulfilled his own prophesy "after three days he will rise again" so will we. When we rise again among God's resurrected ones to rule with Him, what we possessed in this life will not matter at all. What we submitted to do through God's will is what will be then recognized. Mostly it will be THAT we submitted to His will ahead of our own.

How about today-- are you living in your resurrected power yet? Ask.
Your servant in Chirst's love

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

To be first, be the slave of all

Mark 10:35-45 NLT  
  35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do us a favor.” 
  36 “What is your request?” he asked. 
  37 They replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” 
  38  But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?
  39 “Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!” Then Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering. 40 But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. God has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”
  41 When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant.  42 So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them.  43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.  44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else.  45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The other Gospels have this request put forth, first by Mrs. Zebedee, their mother, whom the ambitious disciples, no doubt, put up to the task. Many times Jesus had spoken of 'asking what you want to in my name' so the boys were doing what he had asked weren't they? No, their request betrays their motive. To ask to sit at Jesus' right and left hand was to request to be made ruler over all the others of the Body of Christ, who will rule with Jesus. It was to request to be supreme ruler next only to God. Their request also shows they did not yet fully appreciate to whom they were talking. Even the most extreme egos would not dare to ask God to make them higher than everyone else under God. Jesus' sensitivity and compassion is revealed in his response. The Ten others were upset, but not because the sons of Zebedee had asked this unthinkable request. No, they were concerned that they had asked it BEFORE the rest could get up the nerve to do it instead. Was it any wonder Jesus had nick-named James and John the "sons of thunder!'

Jesus made clear that to ask this request brought with it the commitment to endure limitless self-sacrifice-- to drink the cup and receive the baptism-- that was assigned to the Lord. One ought to be mindful what one asks the God of the universe because one just might be granted it. Jesus told them that extreme sacrifice was indeed in their future. James would be tortured and then killed with a sword.  John, though living to old age would be repeatedly tortured and ultimately boiled in oil.

The larger issue was revealed in the Lord's response. Places of great honor are determined by God alone and are not the result of efforts made or even of our requests. More than likely the ones invited to the front table at the 'great wedding feast of the Lamb in Heaven will, at first, look around to wonder to whom is the Lord speaking when He points to them and calls them forward. More than likely these will be ones who lived lives so much in humble service that recognition of their accomplishment had rarely, if ever crossed their mind.

Jesus taught those disciples, and us as well, that to seek a place of 'lording it over' others was to be far from anything that members of the Bride of Christ should ever think. Those who think they want to lead should serve more, and more. True leadership is in service rather than in manipulating and controlling. True leadership is being a blessing to others in ways that leaves them wondering by whom were they blessed. The greatest leadership is the lowest task of service to another, done in love and without thought for anything in return.

Notice verse 43, Jesus says that "it WILL be different among" us who follow Him. That was a prophetic statement. By the power of the Holy Spirit within us we, who follow the Lord shall serve selflessly and without thought of return. We will just give until we have given out the entirety of whom we are. I find, however, that the more we give of ourselves, the more there appears back in our reservoir to give again tomorrow. I haven't been able to come to the end of the resources within me to serve others--without caring who gets the credit. Have you?. Perhaps I should try to give-out myself a little more, what do you think?

Your servant in Christ's Love

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What would you be willing to ask of Jesus?

Mark 10:46-52 NLT   
  46 Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed him.  blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road.  47 When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 
  48  “Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him. But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 
  49  When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.” So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, he’s calling you!” 50 Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus. 
  51  “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. “My rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!” 
  52 And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.

In our world we see the prominent, the demonstrative, the flagrant, the famous, and the rich. There is a saying among desperately poor people in North America where they refer to themselves as 'the invisible ones.' They tell of people passing them by, diverting their eyes so as not to have to be personally confronted with their obvious need. "Blind Bart" was just that sort of person. He had probably sat at that spot on this busy traffic way into and out of Jericho begging for alms for years, trying to eek out enough resources to buy food so he could live one more day. Bart got up, somehow made his way to his spot on the Jericho Road and waited for people with much to share a tiny bit so he, too, could live. It was in their culture to care for the needy but the Jews had long since largely ignored much of that part of their culture and Biblical heritage.

This day came as Jesus was passing by out of town. "Blind Bart", doubtlessly, noticed the crowd passing by was larger than normal and many were buzzing about "Jesus." Bart had heard about Jesus-- the one who had healed another blind man, cleansed a leper, raised a dead girl, healed a lame man, walked on water, generated enough food-- on two occasions-- from just a small amount into sufficient quantities that fed thousands on the spot. Decades of sitting by the road, begging and hoping for someone to be generous had broken his heart but not his hope. Suddenly, he began to call out to Jesus. No longer was he calling out to the non-personal passers by doing their best not to notice him. Now he was calling on the name of the Son of God, the Lord of the Universe. I'm sure Bart didn't fully understand all that, but something inside him led him to realize that it was now or never for newness to come into his life.

Those walking behind Jesus became embarrassed that this blind nothing-nobody of a person should distract this so very important person on his way to do meaningfully great things, so they thought. Bart called out Jesus Name. He must have thought back to a name he had learned in his childhood for the coming Messiah-- 'Son of David.' Louder, he cried out "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon me!"  Over and over, he called. First one, then two then, perhaps dozens of those passing by shushed him--- telling him to be quiet. It was clear to them that this man was not worthy the attention of the great miracle worker from Nazareth. They had dismissed Bart, but Jesus, the Lord and Savior did not.

How willing are you to call upon the name of Jesus, even over the objections and commands to stay quiet by those around you. We have a world in North America, now that insists Christians become invisible and silent in their Faith. They threaten us with charges of 'hate crimes' for calling out to a world gone mad and going to Hell, that Jesus is the Son of God and the only way to God's eternal presence. For the most part we have capitulated to this world and shrunk back into our corners beside the road, instead of calling out loudly upon the name of the Savior. Bart, however, would not be silent. He called repeatedly and then, when Jesus was sure that all the crowd had heard him call, He spoke. No doubt Jesus heard him, perhaps even noticed him at first glance. No doubt Jesus had instantaneous compassion upon Bart. But Jesus wanted the rest of people around to Notice Bart as well. So, at the proper moment, Jesus spoke to invite Bart. When someone told him about this, the scripture says that Bart 'jumped up and came to Jesus.' It is a pretty awkward thing for a blind person to do-- to jump up-- but he wasted no time. And then the question.

Jesus asked Bart this water-shed of life's questions, "What do you want me to do for you."  Jesus asks you and I that question as well. What DO you want the Lord of the universe to do for you. He doesn't really have to do anything for you but he came willing to do it. What will you ask Him? Bart didn't hesitate but replied "I want to see."  Bart's statement revealed a complete and unreasonable non-human level of trust in this One whom Bart had never before  known. It revealed an absolute blind faith that this man was the Son of God and the only one in the universe who could make a blind man to see. It was the most outrageous and unreasonable thing anyone could ask. I'm sure many in the crowd raised eyebrows, perhaps even snickered a bit. That was, until the blind man began describing the things he could suddenly see. As the party passed on down Jericho Road, now there was a new follower-- this one absolutely convinced that Jesus was God With us. Bart was, perhaps one of the most convinced believers on the Jericho Road that day.  So what are you willing to ask Jesus for that will allow Him to change your live and through you change the world?

Your servant in Christ's love

Monday, August 23, 2010

Live today to Praise God in Highest Heaven

Mark 11:1-10
  1 As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. 2 “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks, ‘What are you doing?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it and will return it soon.’” 4  The two disciples left and found the colt standing in the street, tied outside the front door.  5 As they were untying it, some bystanders demanded, “What are you doing, untying that colt?”  6 They said what Jesus had told them to say, and they were permitted to take it.  7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it, and he sat on it. 
  8  Many in the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others spread leafy branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,
     “Praise God!
         Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD! 
    10  Blessings on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David!
         Praise God in highest heaven!”

This must have been such an exciting event. We've all been to a football or baseball game where ten thousand to fifty or even ninety thousand screaming crazy fans whoop it up for their favorite team. Sometimes they get really crazy in their happiness. Sometimes, when their team is not doing as they wish, they look really dejected, as if the world was at an end for them. In this scene the long awaited 'Messiah' the Son of God, King of the Universe was coming into town. They expected many things of Messiah and their cries of glee illustrated those expectations. Even in the preparations leading up to the entry-- we call it Christ's Triumphal Entry-- the unexpected was the normal. There was the theretofore  unknown connection between the owner of the donkey and the disciples whom the Lord gave liberty to go and 'borrow' for Him to use. People taking off their cloaks and coverings to lay on the ground along with tree palm fr awns, to minimize the dust raised up by the donkey and the crowd, lets the entering hero have to breathe it. The expectation of the "coming Kingdom of our ancestor David" held high anticipation for every Jew.

Wrongly, they were expecting to turn the tables on all the nations that held them under oppression and, instead, oppress the nations. This shows how little they understood their God and His Messiah. It shows how little they had read from the prophets about the suffering lamb of God and the sacrifice for sin. It shows they were not thinking about God's perspective on humanity but man's.  In other gospels, just after all this hoopla, we read where Jesus, overlooking the city that evening, wept about their failure to embrace who He was and who God is. I often wonder how today's Christian churches would respond if placed in the same setting as that day and the coming of the Lord. Do we embrace our Lord and His call upon us or do we, rather, embrace our religious traditions and personal religious comforts and habits? Do we celebrate Jesus or celebrate music about Jesus? Are we inspired to face each day to do His will or our own? Are we able to discern the difference? Do we share what we have because of Christ within us or do we preserve what we have, distributing it only sparingly to those who have our personal approval?

Will we live this day solely to "Praise God in highest Heaven!?"

Your Servant in our Lord's love

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jesus, the Temple, and the Message

Mark 11:11-19 NLT  
  11  So Jesus came to Jerusalem and went into the Temple. After looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late in the afternoon. Then he returned to Bethany with the twelve disciples. 
  12  The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. 14 Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it. 
  15  When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16 and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. 17 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”
  18  When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching.
  19  That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city. 

 In Chapter 11 Mark does a great job of interweaving over-lapping stories and events and then relating their conclusion within context of a subsequent event. I have a couple of friends who have published books, one non-fiction biographies and another mysteries, and they work hard to accomplish that same skill very nicely. Since Mark was being inspired by the Holy Spirit we can, of course, conclude that God is the greatest of writers. But did you notice, in all the times you have read about the incident when Jesus exploded upon the Temple.  At first we are tempted to think that Jesus seems to react emotionally to the abuse of this sacred ground by people holding a flea-market type event, and overcharging in the process.  The Priests, of course, got a cut of all the income, and this sin was underwritten by their authority. Was this a sudden impulse by our Lord and Savior, or was it a carefully planned event? Did you notice in verse 11 that the previous day he went into the temple and looked "around carefully at everything?" He had the entire night to pray and plan what his response was going to be to the gross sin in God's hallowed place.

His actions were not opposed by the priests, though they could have called their temple soldiers to stop Jesus. The people knew that the priests were sinning and profaning God's holy place but they had no power to stop them, they were at the mercy of the religious leaders. They could not perform their required religious worship to honor God without playing the Pharisees' and Saducees' game of greed.

I believe the Lord planned each step he was to take the next day as he overturned the money changers tables and released all the caged and corralled animals held for sacrifice. There was no need for those sacrifices since HE was there. He would become the sacrifice, all the animals could be set free and not sold for the greed of religious leaders.

Then, there was the overlapping story about the Fig Tree. Mark used these incidents to foreshadow that Jesus is The Christ, The Sacrificial Lamb, Lord over all of nature, and that he had in mind to deliver humanity from all bondage. Where are you clinging this day-- in a "den of thieves" or in a "house of prayer?" You can choose either, regardless of the structure that presently houses you.
Your servant in Christ's Love

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Casting Mountains and Forgiving Offenses

Mark 11:20-25 NLT  
  20 The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up. 21 Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!”  
  22  Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”

So many of Jesus' miracles were done as lessons for the disciples who would not understanding them until after the coming of the Holy Spirit upon them to enlighten their minds and hearts. The issue of the withered fig tree opened the window for Jesus to teach about amazing miracles done by faith. He describes a most impossible task-- speak to a mountain and expect it to be thrown into the ocean. Yet, given enough time and large machinery, we could take some smaller mountains and put the dirt into the sea. In the Middle east, entire mountains worth of ground are being poured into the ocean to form small man made islands that are becoming private homes for the rich and the famous in a development called The United Nations. Each island is shaped like a country or a continent. Those are not miracles, but to first century people it sound like an impossible thing to do.

I have to wonder, however, if it was the moving of a mountain that Jesus wanted to point out as a faith driven miracle. Notice where he went with his point. 'You can pray for anything. . . and it will be yours.  But. . .first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against.'  I have known hundreds of our brother and sister Christ followers who repeatedly get tripped up with the grudges they hold against other believers. I have been tripped up, myself, in that same way. We get trapped into an unconscious swelling of our personal ego and start casting blame on others out of jealousy. We become bitter because someone received a blessing while we did not. We start thinking about how we are much more deserving for a blessing or a desired outcome than our brother or sister.  God's Word teaches that we should rejoice when others are blessed but sometimes we are secretly bitter because we are not blessed as much, right? No, no one told on you, I'm just revealing my own struggles here.

I believe it a much greater exercise of pure faith in the power of God for you and I to forgive someone whom we might think has harmed us. It is a much larger miracle for us to let go of the long-held grudge than it would be to speak a mountain up and out into the sea. How about it today-- are you ready to move a mountain? Forgive someone.
Your servant in Christ's Love

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Whose Vinyard are You Working?

Mark 12:1-11 NLT
  1 Then Jesus began teaching them with stories: “A man planted a vineyard. He built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. 2 At the time of the grape harvest, he sent one of his servants to collect his share of the crop. 3 But the farmers grabbed the servant, beat him up, and sent him back empty-handed. 4 The owner then sent another servant, but they insulted him and beat him over the head. 5 The next servant he sent was killed. Others he sent were either beaten or killed, 6 until there was only one left—his son whom he loved dearly. The owner finally sent him, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’
  7  “But the tenant farmers said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ 8 So they grabbed him and murdered him and threw his body out of the vineyard. 9  “What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do?” Jesus asked. “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others. 10 Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures? ‘The stone that the builders rejected  has now become the cornerstone. 11 This is the LORD’s doing,  and it is wonderful to see.’”

The mastery of a truly great teacher is that he or she can take real life and use it to instruct, represent, illustrate, and clarify the truth that must be learned. Jesus is, after all THE teacher so it is no wonder he was able to have such wonderful lessons that appear to come out of thin air and make sense of the world and of faith. Jesus was not hiding truth but representing it in terms that his hearers could relate to. They were farmers and vine dressers, and herdsmen, and fishermen, humble hard working people under the thumb of a disobedient ruling class of religious thinkers who were driven by greed and self preservation rather than service. Hence this story-- God is the Farmer. The share croppers are the Pharisees and Sadducee's, who had only loan of the land for a time. The many servants were the many prophets God sent to call Israel to account and repent over the millennia of its history. The Farmers only son was, of course the Christ whom God sent KNOWING he would be killed. Not only this, the Son came, himself knowing this was why he must come-- to be killed as a sacrifice for the sins of the very ones who would kill him.

In Marks Gospel, as in the others, it is clear, when we read a modern translation, that the religious leaders knew well whom they were dealing with, and simply did not want to relinquish power over people, over Israel, and over their own lives. So much like people today who refuse to say 'no' to self and 'yes' to God, they invert the correct action into a rejection of God's ultimate show of love. Should you confront them about it, they distract with twisted lies and misstated facts so as to prevent themselves from having to confess their sin and evil. In the end, that evil will be revealed to all the universe.

For now, we have been given the task to encourage all of 'them' to find the forgiveness from God that we all so desperately need. We have been called to persist in presenting the claims of Christ over their objections, over their rejection, and especially over their persecution of us as the image-bearers of Christ. It is not ours to retaliate for such persecution but to rejoice that someone sees Christ so clearly within us that they would bother. If the Enemy senses we are a threat, then there will be persecution. If you are not being persecuted, could it be that you are not threat to the Enemy's power? In fact are you with the tenant farmers or with the people from The Farmer?
Your servant in Christ's love

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Give to God what Belongs to God

Mark 12:12-17 NLT  
  12 The religious leaders wanted to arrest Jesus because they realized he was telling the story against them—they were the wicked farmers. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away. 
  13Later the leaders sent some Pharisees and supporters of Herod to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. 14 “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay them, or shouldn’t we?” Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin, and I’ll tell you.”16 When they handed it to him, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied.  
  17 “Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” His reply completely amazed them.

Like the other accounts we've been studying together these last few days in Mark's Gospel, this one was based in a purpose that is well stated by Mark in verse 12-- they wanted to arrest Jesus. They sound a lot like the liberal authorities and media officials of our own day who go out of their way to mis-state truth and then try to trap Christian believers in their own twisting of what is real. These officials put a 'spin' on their statements so they could have 'plausible deniability' when should the people react negatively toward them for their actions. They were dishonest and sneaky, yet they were the 'leaders' of the people. Why do we expect modern day leaders to be any different-- all of them come from the same people group, those who have fallen from God's original design into the sin (self-centered) nature.

These leaders were just arrogant enough to think they could trap the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, in their twisty word games. Like yesterday's question about the seven-times widowed childless lady marrying seven brothers, this question is equally ridiculous. God had already taught Jews about His supreme authority and that governments are in place because He permits it. They new this but asked the question anyway showing their own ignorance of God's Holy Word. Should we pay taxes? The obvious answer is 'of course.' Taxes are the means of funding a civilizations' public services. To refuse that is to refuse public service and public order. Jesus teaches them that the purpose of taxes were to fund the governments operation. They relied on the government's operation to keep the order and the privilege they were, at that moment, enjoying as 'leaders.' Jesus showed his wisdom with this simple parable about what belongs to the government and what belongs to God. They were not giving God what belongs to Him while they were making a fuss about paying the "Cesar" what belongs to his government. Jesus called their bluff (verse 15) in seeing their hypocrisy and confronted them about it.

When we face ridiculous charges because of our faith, we need to call the bluff of those challenging us and quote God's Word alone as the authority for our beliefs and being. But then one would hope that we are faithfully living by God's Word and authority too.

Your servant in Christ's Love

Monday, August 16, 2010

The God of the Living, Not the Dead

Mark 12:18-27
  18 Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. They posed this question: 19 “Teacher, Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife without children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name. 20 Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died . . . So the second brother . . .Then the third brother . . .all seven of them, . . . Last of all, the woman also 23 So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her.”
  24 Jesus replied, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. 25 For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven. 26  “But now, as to whether the dead will be raised—haven’t you ever read about this in the writings of Moses, in the story of the burning bush? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said to Moses, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’
27 So he is the God of the living, not the dead. You have made a serious error.”

Since these folks already did not believe in a resurrection it was clear their question was insincere and meant to cause harm. We have people alive today who approach Christ and Christians in the same way-- intent to harm and distract. They are driven by God's enemy, the Devil. They are not in control of themselves, but the Enemy is. You, however, are not under the enemy's control if you have yielded your life to God through faith in Christ as Savior and Lord.

Jesus knew their intention and he yet loved them, so he taught them truth nevertheless. He explained their erroneous belief and then led them into a more important question. In effect he was saying  that God is Lord over the Living and those faithful servants that history had reported as having died, were, nevertheless, living int he presence of God. His lesson had a moral to it. What will YOU do with the Living God who raises the righteous dead to be with Him?  His answer impressed at least one of them for he followed up with the famous question about his soul and Jesus told him that he was not 'far from the Kingdom of God (Mark 12:34). So, in their attempt to trap Jesus, now at least this one of them was trapped because Jesus had just told him how close he was but that he was not yet in the Kingdom. He may have been telling the man that his life was about to end, as well, we don't know for sure. Point was that they did not believe in The Christ so they were not yet included in God's Kingdom.

Do you believe in The Christ? How will today's actions let anyone know who may be observing you?

Your servant in the Lord's Love

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How Close are YOU to The Kingdom of God?

Mark 12:28-34 NLT
  28  One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 
  29  Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. 30 And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
  32  The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other.  33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.” 
  34  Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”. . .
How close was the man, since Jesus said he was 'not far from the Kingdom of God? Is it important just to be close to the Lord's Kingdom or should one be within it. Jesus had said elsewhere that The Kingdom of God was present then and is in those who believe. Since this man was 'not far' does that mean his beliefs were only partial.

How often do we, as Christ followers stand close but not within The Kingdom of God. Does our life reflect our citizenship in that great Kingdom? Do we reflect the nature of Him who sacrificed all to remake us into His image and nature? What goals do we pursue with our whole being? Are those goals of the Kingdom or of self? How close are you today to the Kingdom of God

Your Servant in Christ's love

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Give it All to Jesus

Mark 12:41-44 NLT
  41 Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. 42 Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins. 
  43  Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. 44 For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”

How much do we give to God? Those of us with much may give large sums of money, but do we give 'all?'  And some might say "it is unfair to compare a 'gazillionaire' who gives 'millions' with a pauper who gives just two pennies, though it is all she had?"  "Was the pauper going out to wait for death next or was she going to rely on the charity system of the temple to take dare of her?" "Could she really do anything with two pennies anyway?" Remember the rich man in Luke 18 23,who asked Jesus what he needed "to inherit eternal life?" After Jesus tested his commitment to righteousness and faith knowledge, He found the young man ready to be considered a candidate to be a disciple. Jesus invited him to 'sell all you have, give it to the poor, come follow me.'  The scripture has recorded for everyone to read these past two thousand years that "he went away 'very sad, for he was very rich.'  We never do learn if the young rich man was able to turn his wealth into blessing for the needy and come follow Jesus. He could have had a place in history along with John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul and the rest. But now all we know is that he was a rich young man whom it saddened to be asked to give God all his wealth.

Are we saddened to give it all to God? What if we were asked, what would we say? We like to say we would give it all to God but we do a fair amount of reserving it all for ourselves most of the time, I suspect. I can only pray and ask God that I would be as willing as this poor widow to toss all my resources into the offering to God as she was to toss her last two pennies. I can only pray that I would be able to trust God as she was, apparently willing to trust God for 'whatever' in His will.  We are very quick to sing "give it all, give it all to Jesus-- shattered dreams, wounded hearts, broken lives." We may not be so quick to meaningfully lift our hands in praise and sing "take my silver, and my gold, not a mite would I withhold." The Martyrs of Christ, throughout the history of the World, have sung the latter and done so with Joy. Let's pray today that we are able as they, to 'give it all to Jesus.

Your servant in Christ's Love
Dan Elliott

Monday, August 9, 2010

Watch out! I have warned you about this ahead of time!

Mark 13:2-27 NLT (excerpted)  
   2 Jesus replied, “Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one   
  3  Later, . . ,. Peter, James, John, and Andrew came to him privately and asked him, . . . 4 when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled?” 
   5  Jesus replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, 6 for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. 7 And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. 8 Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in many parts of the world, as well as famines. But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.
   9  “When these things begin to happen, watch out! You will be handed over to the local councils and beaten in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. 10 For the Good News must first be preached to all nations. 11 But when you are arrested and stand trial, don’t worry in advance about what to say. Just say what God tells you at that time, for it is not you who will be speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
   12   “A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. 13 And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
   14  “The day is coming when you will see the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing where he should not be.” (Reader, pay attention!) “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. 15 A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. 16 A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. 17 How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. 18 And pray that your flight will not be in winter. 19 For there will be greater anguish in those days than at any time since God created the world. And it will never be so great again. 20 In fact, unless the Lord shortens that time of calamity, not a single person will survive. But for the sake of his chosen ones he has shortened those days. 
   21  “Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. 23 Watch out! I have warned you about this ahead of time! 
   24   “At that time, after the anguish of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will give no light, 25 the stars will fall from the sky,  and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 
   26  Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.

I have long struggled with this passage and struggled again as I prepared for this edition or our inspirational sharing. When commentators and preachers talk about 'end times' this passage inevitably comes up, but there is a serious question to ask. Was Jesus referring to 'end times' throughout the passage? Notice that he was responding to the disciple's question (verse 1) about the magnificence of the masonry walls in the Temple. His response was to say that the time was coming when all this magnificent work would be torn down (verse 2)-- something that implies a total destruction of Jerusalem for it to happen at all. History records that the city was destroyed in 70 AD, about 40 years after Jesus gave this prophesy. History also verifies that the Believers in Jerusalem, remembering this prophesy, heeded it and did not go back into their homes to pack but fled immediately. They got out before the Roman General, Titus, moved on the city. Millions of Jews were killed but Christians were dispersed across the empire to spread the Gospel.

The wars, earthquakes, false messiahs, and all that Jesus describes could be his telling of the struggles throughout the church age and not merely the few years leading up to the sacking of Jerusalem by Rome. His prophesy jumps between the 70 AD event and up to our times. His point was to tell us to persevere and not get over excited when certain times of hardship come. History also chides Christians for the times when silly misguided believers heeded a false prophet and wasted their time waiting on a mountain top for a non-event. Jesus called us to serve not sit around. Jesus called us to persevere until he came. The Apostles were repeatedly asking for a date-certain to know of His coming. However, at the time of their question they were still not fully understanding of who Jesus was and why he came in the first place. A careful reading of the Book of Acts can check off most of the events that Jesus listed for these early believers and he did not want them to mistakenly think his return was eminent when these intermediate things took place. Notice in verse 8, that these events were merely the first of more to come.

The Jewish believers who were to witness the fulfillment of verse 14--when Titus sacrificed a pig on the altar, repeating a historical event from centuries earlier. Even this event was not the ultimate indicator of Christ's return. There was a ministry to engage in whereby the people of Christ would share Christ all across the globe.

I have settled on the view that Jesus was describing the millennia of living for Christ around the world and the cyclical experiences of persecution, victory, disfavor, and more persecution of the church by the world. His detailed message was to say 'hang in there no matter what you face.'  I think that it was not until the passage covered by Mark starting in verse 21 was he talking about leading up to end times. He wanted believers of all centuries to realize that when Christ did return, EVERYONE will see it (vs 26).

So much has been written, and filmed, of perspectives and stories leading up to Christ's return, depicting yet more intense persecution of believers. In fact, there is more to come, according to the Book of Revelation. In fact, almost anywhere outside of North America, you can find Christians facing the very sort of persecution described and originally applied to the first and second centuries. Communism, Islam, the Taoism, Buddhism, all brings life-threatening persecution to Christ's people around the world. In North America we are a bit safer, but even our safety appears to be dissipating from the work of Godless atheists steadily gaining control of western governments. Jesus said 23 Watch out! I have warned you about this ahead of time!. 

Your servant in Christ's Love

Friday, August 6, 2010

Will You Be Alert Today?

Mark 13:28-33 NLT 
  28 “Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. 29 In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that his return is very near, right at the door. 30 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene before all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.
  32 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. 33 And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!

Last time, we considered the verses just following this passage where Jesus illustrated is second-coming with a parable about the master going on a long trip. This passage today starts with a different story-- about a fig tree. This story makes the point that the season of the Lord's return will be evidenced by observable fruit-- conditions and events around the globe. There have been debates for centuries about which generation it was that "will not pass away before all these things take place." For sure we know that we have not missed His return. For sure we know that he is returning in His time. For sure we know what we are supposed to be doing-- his will-- while watching for his return. For sure we understand that the Lord has told us, through the disciples to whom he spoke then, to "Stay alert!."

The passage just prior to Mark 13:28-33 goes into great detail about the time and conditions of the days during which time he will return. We will discuss some of the early applications for those verses next time and also what we should make of them in 2010 and 2011. For now, lets focus on the "Stay Alert" part. How alert? What should we focus our alertness upon? Since we do not know the day or hour of Christ's return-- but we know He's coming, what implications are there for us if we are to be 'alert?' 

Today, you and I can be alert to loving those whom Jesus loves. We can be alert by putting Christ's standards for morality and social living into our daily practices. We can be alert by standing firm on those same standards even though the political leaders of our society want to trash them and the Lord who commanded them. We can be alert by sharing our faith, first by what we do for others selflessly and then by helping them to see they can have the joy we have.

Will you be alert today?

Your Servant in Christ's Love
Dan Elliott

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Are You Watching?

Mark 13:34-37  
  34“The coming of the Son of Man can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. When he left home, he gave each of his slaves instructions about the work they were to do, and he told the gatekeeper to watch for his return. 35 You, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know when the master of the household will return—in the evening, at midnight, before dawn, or at daybreak. 36 Don’t let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning. 37 I say to you what I say to everyone: Watch for him!”

Jesus had spent three years preparing the first disciples to launch the church. The call was to be for disciples to make disciples everywhere God's Spirit would lead them. Notice that his illustration started with 'servants.'  This means that the 'Master' in his story had a relationship with people who knew their responsibility was to serve in the Master's name doing the Master's business, according to the Master's priorities. In his story, one of the responsibilities for some of the servants-- especially the 'gatekeeper' was to watch for the 'Master's' return. Why? So that the rest of the servants could be alerted to make all of the final preparations for the Master's arrival.

Jesus applied the story directly to the disciples-- and to us as well when He said that we, also, must keep watch. Are we watching for our Lord and Master's return? Are we keeping in mind all those things He has taught us to live out from His written inspired holy Word?  Are we living in unconditional regard for our fellow believers? Are we allowing God's Spirit within us to equip us with His love to share even with enemies? Are we caring for the needy? Or are we devoting our attentions to our own comforts, plans, desires, and goals? Jesus even pointed out in verse 36 that he says 'to everyone' to watch for Him. How are you watching today?

Your Servant in Christ's Love
Dan Elliott

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Two Responses-- To Murder HIm or to Praise Him

Mark 14:1-9 
  1 It was now two days before Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The leading priests and the teachers of religious law were still looking for an opportunity to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. 2 “But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.” 
  3  Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over his head. 
  4  Some of those at the table were indignant. “Why waste such expensive perfume?” they asked. 5 “It could have been sold for a year’s wages and the money given to the poor!” So they scolded her harshly. 
  6  But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? 7 You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. 9 I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”

What an interesting dichotomous way people were treating the Messiah. While one group was plotting to Kill him, others were learning from him and one among them was pouring out her soul in loving sacrifice to bless and anoint him.  How odd that some (men of course) among the group would be so callous to criticize her decision to make this great sacrifice to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Of course the scripture writer in other Gospels adds the explanation that the critic really just wanted the money for himself since it was known he always helped himself to the funds in their operations bag. How silly their complaint sounds in light of the millenia during which-- as Jesus predicted and willed-- her story has been repeated to her credit. When humankind tries to discredit, God can, nevertheless bring you glory for your obedience to Him.

Jesus even pointed out his awareness of what the first group was doing at that very moment-- plotting to kill him when he said that what Mary had done was 'for my burial. And the Lord was correct on both accounts-- it was for His burial and here we are, two thousand years later still discussion Mary's great deed of worship. She had no need to correct or retaliate toward her condemner since God defended her.

How like Mary we could be these days-- withholding our negative or defensive responses when we are attacked, injured, or criticized. Instead, we can simply continue to pour out our hearts in obedience to our Lord, loving even our detractors with His love. Unfortunately, among the members of the body of Jesus Christ, there are far too many who are more like the critic in this passage than like Mary. What if we simply laid aside all our reasons for criticizing another brother or sister in Christ-- regardless of what they have or have not done. What if we just asked God for His love to love them with? And what if, as He gave us that love, we exercised it in measurable, and observable ways? What if?

Your Servant in Christ
Dan Elliott

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Is it I who will betay you?

Mark 14:17-24(NLT)
  17 In the evening Jesus arrived with the twelve disciples. 18 As they were at the table eating, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you eating with me here will betray me.”
   19  Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one?”
   20 He replied, “It is one of you twelve who is eating from this bowl with me. 21 For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”
  22  As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take it, for this is my body.”
  23  And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many.

Every so often-- weekly, monthly, or quarterly, you and I participate in the Holy Sacrament of The Lord's Supper (also called 'Communion' by some denominations). Usually the pastor or other person presiding over the ceremony reads from the Gospel passages, perhaps from Mark 14:22-24, as Jesus describes it. He held up the bread and reminded them that he had often called himself 'the bread of life' or the 'bread from heaven.'  He next commanded them (it was not optional) to eat, as a means of remembering Christ's physical body was sacrificed for the forgiveness of sin. Next He commanded them to drink from the cup that represented Christ's shed blood. He reminded them that this shed blood confirmed the covenant between God and His people. God was finally providing his own lamb for the great blood sacrifice.

However, we seldom connect this passage with the paragraphs just prior. As they were sitting down to dinner, Jesus revealed that one of the twelve of them would betray him. The fact that several responded with the question "Lord, is it I" is very telling. Judas was not the only one who was questioning all that Jesus was teaching, saying, and doing. Judas was not the only one having second thoughts about who this man was claiming to be. If they knew for certain that they were unswervingly committed to His lordship, then they would not have asked the question.  The Lord responded that the bowl containing the shared meal of the sacrament was also being used by the one who would betray Him.  He clarified that this particular person would be better to never have lived at all. Apparently the consequence for betraying the Son of God, even though God gave Him to be sacrificed, was worse than anything ever experienced by any living person. I'm sure this must have sobered up the group. It prepped them for seeing the seriousness of the sacrament of remembrance He was introducing to His followers.

Do you wonder if there are betrayers in our midst in our churches and Christian organizations? Do you ever worry that you might make a decision to act in a way that would embarrass the name of Christ? Do you ever worry that you might decide to say or do something that would communicate you do NOT believe in Christ as God and Lord over all? How have your decisions and actions gone so far today? Let's take it to Him in prayer, shall we?

Your Servant in Christ's Love
Dan Elliott

Monday, August 2, 2010

“Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!”

Mark 14:27-31 NLT  
     27 On the way, Jesus told them, “All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say,
     ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’
     28 But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.”
     29 Peter said to him, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.”   
     30  Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times that you even know me.”
     31 “No!” Peter declared emphatically. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the others vowed the same.

Oue dear brother Peter-- God bless him! In the face of confusion, challenged, he lets his bravado speak ahead of where his mind and faith really were at that moment. Peter and the early disciples did not have the testimony of history from New Testament Scripture, spiritual mentors and the examples of generations of faithful Christ followers to help their faith be strong. They were working it out on the fly as they went. The Holy Spirit had not yet come to become one with them. No one had explained the Messiah to them in ways that matched what Jesus was explaining, teaching, and demonstrating. Confused, Peter makes another brave promise knowing that all eyes were upon him, and knowing the outrageous thing the Lord had just said to them all. He was to be crucified! And all of them were to desert Him? Peter could not let that statement go unchallenged. How unfortunate it was to be that Peter would be the first to publicly deny Christ-- though they all denied Him in many other, albeit quiet, ways. Jesus didn't accuse or condemn Peter, but simply let him know how his denial would take shape.

We are not unlike Peter. We make promises to our Lord too. Do we live them out. Do we remember to be faithful witnesses of Him, as we promised we would? When we declared Him to be Lord, do we remember to obey Him as "Lord?" Are we faithful with the promises to serve Him? When we understand His call upon our lives for specific things that might be uncomfortable, do we 'deny ourselves and follow Him?'  Do we embrace true humility, as He embraced it or do we hang out somewhere near the circle of pride and self-will?

Many are saying we are getting nearer to Christ's return and calling us all to be with Him as He winds up the story of rebellion on our planet. He once told stories to His followers and to us, about servants,upon the Master's return,  needing to be found doing what the Master had directed them to do. How about us today? Do you think we need to be more obedient and engaged in God's call upon us as Christ's disciple makers? Have you begun? Today would be a fine day to begin, would it not?

Your Servant,
Dan Elliott
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