Friday, April 29, 2011


George Barna in his book Revolution predicts that by 2025 "the majority of US Christians will gravitate out of the local church entirely, and two-thirds will find their spiritual nurture equally in other options.." These will combine together to create "the personal church of the individual."
Our culture's value on human autonomy can be traced back to the Enlightenment which placed humanity as the standard for or the center of all things. Unfortunately, this focus on the individual can shape the way we read Scripture. Take for example the word "you" as it appears in Scripture. We usually read that word "you" as meaning us, ourselves, our person. Yet the word "you" is usually plural, so as to not mean a single individual, but the community of the faithful (even when it is singular). Take for example Jeremiah 29:11 that is often quoted. Try and read it again through the lens that the meaning is all of Israel and not simply an individual. 
Today's Reading: Acts 2:41-47. This time notice the repetition of the word "together."
How biblical is this notion of church that begins with our interest and needs?
How might the rise of autonomy work to undermined the authority of the church in our lives?
How might the sheer number of Protestant denominations show the effects of individualism? Is this a positive or negative for unity within the Kingdom of God?
If a friend asked you why they should join a church how would you answer?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Traditional religion seems more and more replaced by iReligion - a religion that begins with our individual experience, our reason, and our resources. Do you see this as a good thing or a bad thing? This tendency to rely on self and internet resources and other professional services has led some to predict the demise of the church in America. In the current book I am reading the author asks, "Does the future have a church?"
Today's reading: Acts 2:41-47
Some of the conclusions I draw from this passage is how important the community of believers were to the early church. They learned from those who passed down knowledge and experience (apostle's teaching and fellowship). They broke bread together which was not simply an act of remembrance but formed their identity together and helped them to be accountability to one another (see 1 Corinthians). As well they were extremely generous toward one another which helped them to do so for others not yet in the community (rest of Acts). Notice also in this passage the emphasis on togetherness.
How does the picture of the early church challenge how we do church and religion today?
How would you answer the question about the future of the church?
What are other observations you draw from this passage that speaks to today?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ecclesiology - Part I

Due to popular demand (or a few nice people's request) my blog with continue. While before it was mainly a daily devotional, now the blog will included devotional elements as well as random wonderings. No doubt my way of questioning will continue and I invite you to see these questions not as rhetorical, but as conversation starters. Feel free to post your opinions and maybe we'll grow and discover where God is moving together.
Today's question comes from what is a growing interest of mine: ecclesiology or what we think about the church. Because we live in such an individualistic and anti-authoritative culture and with the rise of resources on the internet the church's authority and reach is increasing marginalized. My question for you is where does the church rank for you? Is it vitally important to your relationship with God? Is it important only so far as it was established by Christ but has become corrupted by layers and layers of tradition? For many more today, the church is increasingly seen as one resources among many others (google, wikipedia, spirituality fairs, self-help books, etc.) or regulated to the place of archaic and antiquated.
Today's reading: Matthew 16:13-19
What is Christ's Church build on?
What is the connection for you between individual faith and the church?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Lent Day 40 - Mark 16

Easter and fear? The women go to the tomb, not in hopes of resurrection, but to complete the burial process properly. Women were not allowed to be witnesses in court. Yet women are there at Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection. Instead of finding the tomb as expected they encounter an angel who proclaims: "Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.   "But go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'"
Scholars continue to debate where the original ending to Mark's Gospel should be. Did Mark really want his Gospel to end on the note of fear (and in the Greek it ends with a preposition)? Was there a longer ending that we're missing? Scholars are agreed that the longer and shorter ending to the book is not original to Mark. Later scribes who knew the resurrection accounts from other Gospels felt compelled to tell us the rest of the story.
However, there are some arguments for this being the original ending to Mark (and it is all we have to go on really). Fear may not be theme most preached on this Easter morning, but fear is a logical response to the events of Easter morning. As we've all heard, there are two certainties to life - death and taxes. The frightful events of Easter morning lead the women to fear because if Jesus has in fact been resurrected, what in the world might that mean? When we feel like we are certain of something, when we feel like it is solid rock beneath our feet and that certainty, that foundation is ripped from under us, isn't fear then the natural response? Perhaps we've become too accustomed to the Good News of Easter. Perhaps fear is one of a number of proper Easter response s- God has raised Jesus from the tomb! Jesus has conquered! With God, all things are possible!
What do you make of Mark's use of women?
What emotions do you feel this morning?
Why does the Easter story give us such hope for today and for the future?
How might fear lead to a deeper understanding of the resurrection?
How does the notion of discipleship change by following a risen Savior?
If you had to explain to a friend why you believed in the resurrection, how would you respond? How would you respond if you had to explain why the resurrection is the source of Christian hope, what would you say?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lent Day 39 - Mark 15 Good Friday (Special Edition)

King of the Jews? Pilate, a historically violent figure, is amazed by this silent King of the Jews. When Pilate tries to release Jesus, the crowds beg for Barabbas. In Aramaic Barabbas means - Son of the Father. In Matthew's Gospel, he is identified as Jesus Barabbas. Which Son of the Father does the crowd want? The violent, murderer, insurrectionist leading Jesus Barabbas or Jesus, King of the Jews who rides into Jerusalem humbly on a donkey, who says He can tear down the glorious Temple but will build it up in three days, who heals and teaches forgiveness? Which of these figures is more likely to lead to peace? The religious leaders stir up the crowd against Jesus and Pilate identifies the reason, jealousy (v. 10).
Jesus is condemned to crucifixion, beaten, and mocked. He is mocked by all people, the soldiers, the crowds, and religious leaders all get in the act. All segments of the population both of high status and of none; both spheres of rule, political and religious are all guilty. Jesus quotes the opening line from Psalm 22 which describes the anguish of crucifixion prophetically. Yet it ends with the theme of hope and trust in God's vindication. Even in feeling abandonment, Jesus trust in God's victory.
When Jesus breathed His last, the Temple curtain was torn from top to bottom. Being 40 feet high, this was a sign God wasn't absent from the events of the day. God was working to defeat that which has separated people from God. It was not a political oppression that was the real enemy, but a spiritual oppressor - sin. Satan, also the enemy, no doubt was thinking he too had won. Satan had defeated God's perfect Son. (But as the poem goes - It's Friday but Sunday's Comin'!)
Mark observes a Roman centurion who saw in the way Jesus died, as evidence that He was God's Son. Ironic that religious leaders mock, the disciples were fleeing in fear, yet it is a Gentile soldier who doubtlessly had seen his share of crucifixions sees God at work through Jesus' death.
There are a few women followers of Jesus who watch from a distance (where are the men?). As well a noble man named Joseph of Arimathea secured Jesus' body and lied it in a tomb. No doubt time was of the essence as the Sabbath was beginning so proper burial procedures would have to wait. The stone was rolled in front of the tomb, but this isn't the end of the story because although it is Friday, Sunday's Comin'! 
What does Jesus Barabbas, Pilate, the death of Jesus on a Roman cross, and the charge of blasphemy from the religious leaders tell us about the scope of Jesus' death?
How was Jesus' death a ransom (10:45)? Who did Jesus ransom us from? What was the cost of the ransom? What does it mean to be ransomed? How does it feel that you have been ransomed?
What might it say that a Roman soldier can believe in the God of Israel?
How would you explain to a friend who asked what difference Jesus' death has made in your life?

Lent Day 38 - Mark 14:42-72

Betrayer, Condemners, escapers, and a denier. Jesus is betrayed by a kiss from Judas. While often portrayed as money hungry or simplistic back stabber, there is much more to Judas plot. To me Judas has hatched a plot to make Jesus to be the kind of Messiah, Judas would have him be - a violent revolutionary. Judas is starting a fight by having the soldiers come with clubs and swords to arrest Jesus. As Jesus points out there is no reason for them to come that way. And why might this disciple have gotten this sword? Might Judas have planted that as well?
Jesus allows himself to be arrested. Ten of the disciples escape.  Jesus says little to refute the false accusations against Him, is charged with blasphemy, mocked and beaten as a false Messiah. Jesus quotes from Psalm 110 and Daniel 7:13 as an answer to the main question of the trial in v. 61: "Are you the Christ (Messiah)?" Being a Messiah wasn't criminal, but claiming to be a Messiah in such a way that you share the throne of Israel's God was tyranny. If Jesus was a false Messiah and couldn't deliver on kicking out Rome, then Rome would come down hard on the Jews (which later happened in 70ad). Here Jesus was claiming to be king, but they couldn't grasp just what kind of king. It certainly wasn't the king they were hoping to have. Jesus' ultimate undoing is that He believed God would vindicate them and thus condemning the those leading the trial.
Interwoven is the story of Peter's three denials of knowing Jesus. Perhaps Peter justified by saving his own skin or wondering if he really did know this Jesus as Messiah.
What does the way Jesus was arrest and the way the trial was conducted tell us about how Messiahs were viewed?
How do we act similarly to Judas and Peter? How would you feel if you were Judas? Or Peter?
Go back and read Mark 8:35. How are those words coming true with regards to both Jesus and Mark?
What does it mean to lose our life in order that it would be saved?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lent Day 37 - Mark 14:1-41

On this Maundy Thursday, it is fitting to read of Jesus' last days on earth. In yesterday's passage Jesus instructed His disciples to keep awake. Today's passage shows us that when the difficult time came they were busy sleeping while Jesus was praying for God's will to be done.
This story begins with irony. While the religious plot Jesus' death and Judas leaves to betray Jesus, a woman anoints Jesus (for burial!) with costly perfume. Again the disciples misunderstanding shows their lack of comprehension about what awaits Jesus and what Jesus has in fact repeatedly told them.
Then Jesus and His disciples share the Passover Meal together. Tonight for the Maundy Thursday service, we'll look in depth about the different aspects to the Passover Meal that recounts the story of God's deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. The themes are rich: freedom, slavery, faith, hope, and love. Yet Jesus breaks the flow of this service by announcing one among them will betray Him and that a new covenant is being enacted by the upcoming events.
Even though Peter insist he will not let Jesus down, none of the three disciples can seem to stay awake as Jesus struggles in prayer. Can they not keep watch? Can they not stay awake at this most crucial time? While they slumber, while plots swirl, Jesus prayer, "Abba, Father! All things are possible for You…yet not what I will, but what you will. Yet the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
What might this contrast between the men seeking Jesus' death and the woman anointing Jesus be saying? How might the costly anointing oil highlight that?
The Passover Meal served to highlight the identity of God's people but also had political overtones: freedom from foreign oppressors, God's deliverance into a Promised way of life without slavery and oppression, and so forth. How are things coming to a head during this Passover meal? How might Jesus' words about new covenant give meaning for the disciples to grasp the events of the new few days? How might it help us understand better the Kingdom of God? How does Communion serve today as a way that serves as a source of our identity? What other themes from the Passover do you see?
What answer does Jesus receive from God when He prays? What might we learn from that about prayer? How might that help us to "stay awake"?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lent Day 36 - Mark 13:28-37

This passage obviously reaches back to the parable of the fig tree in chapter 11. Jesus gives a parable to His disciples reinforcing His point - stay awake! Jesus doesn't urge them to study every coded word for specific signs of His coming. In fact, Jesus tells that not even He knows when that will be. N. T. Wright is accurate to say such searching reduces God's Word to "the level of horoscope." Instead Jesus is inviting us to a relationship with God that forms our every thought and behavior. Jesus calls us to trust and be awake for whatever God is doing at the moment. Will the disciples be able to "stay awake" with what is about to happen that Jesus has already alerted them to?
How can we better position ourselves to stay awake to what God is doing around us? How can Lenten practices of self-denial help put us in a more trust position?
How might you better trust God and see what He is doing?
If the Bible is not to be read as a horoscope how would you describe to read Scripture to a friend? Would it be history or love letter? Biography (if so whose story?) or book of rules? Narrative or science book? Or are there parts of some or all of these?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lent Day 35 - Mark 13:1-27

The misunderstanding of the disciples prompts Jesus to speak with apocalyptic images about the notoriously grand and important temple. While so many admired the impressive structure that was the Temple, in the last few chapters we've seen Jesus repeated speak against the Temple and all that it stood for (the fig tree, great commandments over sacrifices, etc.).
Though the apocalyptic images Jesus uses are often taken to be about the end of the world, clearly the context is the destruction of the Temple (which happened in 70ad). Similar images were often used in the Old Testament when speaking about such important events as what was happening with Jesus. Because for many, the Temple wasn't just a symbol it was the nexus of heaven and earth to speak of its destruction was a cosmic event. Additionally, to speak about birth pangs would also indicate that God was birthing something of cosmic proportion. The key for the disciples isn't about figuring out the timing of these events (70ad) as their patience when it happens. The key for disciples today isn't timing but that the Spirit will guide us in our time of need.
How do we still see people trying to mislead believers by saying look here or there?
When times of persecution come for believers by what power are they to speak?
How can you cultivate the fruit of the spirit of patience? A reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lent Day 34 - Mark 12:35-44

These two stories end this chapter where Jesus has answered tough questions. By these answers Jesus has condemned the religious leaders and these two stories do similarly. In the first story Jesus contrast His Sonship that is from and like King David's, that is from true authority, and the religious leaders who use their position for selfish gain and from selfish motivation.
The second story truly presents a contrast to the religious leaders' actions. The first story had Jesus teaching in the Temple to the crowds approval. In the second story, Jesus brings His disciples close to observe a widow putting in two coins worth a mere penny. Unlike the extravagant and noisy way rich people were putting their large sums of money into the Temple treasury, the widow puts her gift of almost no monetary worth. Yet Jesus notes to the disciples that her gift is worth more than all the other contributors. She gave all that she had and not simply out of abundance.
What king of King is Jesus? How is His authority in contrast to the religious leaders of His day?
What things do you do for show and what things do you do from the pure motivation of love?
How might the story of the widow's mite challenge our notions of what is of worth? And what it means to have riches? What prevents you from giving more in terms of your talents and money? How does following Christ relate to our giving?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Lent Day 33 - Mark 12:13-34

More testing questions for Jesus. The first test for Jesus comes from the Pharisees and Herodians. They test Jesus on the issue of paying tax to Caesar. Unfortunately, this passage is often used to justify the separation of church and state. I say unfortunately, because that's simply not what this passage is about. It couldn't be. Separation of church and state was unheard of for many centuries following the passage. Rather, in trying to trap Jesus into either being pro Rome (and losing all credibility as a Jewish Messiah) or totally a political zealot against Rome, Jesus traps them. Why is it they happen to have this coin on them? This reveals their allegiance as with Caesar and not with God. Thus Jesus quote about "rendering" is a condemnation against them.
Secondly, Sadducees come to test Jesus on the issue of resurrection. Which is ironic since the Sadducees didn't believe in resurrection as Mark tells us. (Thus the joke - the Sadducees didn't believe in the resurrection so they were sad-you-see?) This hypothetical test, Jesus turns around on them as a misunderstanding of the power of God (v. 24). Jesus' teaching is difficult to grasp outside of understanding a first century Jewish concept, but N.T. Wright puts in concisely, "[Resurrection] will be a recognizable and reembodied human existence; but a great change will have taken place as well, whose precise nature we can at present only guess at."
Third comes a scribe. His seems not so much a test as an honest inquiry. Jesus' answer on the one hand isn't so radical in quoting the Shema, but on the other hand it has dangerous implications. This is seen in the scribes reply that Jesus responds makes him very near the Kingdom of God. Loving God and neighbor can be done without the ritual of the Temple system! This was a very dangerous assertion for any Jewish leader, much less a Messiah figure. Perhaps that is why now, there was no longer any need for questioning Jesus.
If Jesus wasn't asserting Church-state separation, (for in fact God is sovereign over all not just "spiritual" stuff) what aspects of life are also included as part of our faith? What do you think the church's role should be in politics?
How are you challenged by the thought of resurrection? What does it matter that resurrection will be a "reembodied" existence and not a dis-embodied existence?
How might Jesus' answer to the scribe challenge our priorities and values? What would it actually look like to love our neighbors (don't limit it to geographical)? How is the Kingdom of God very near when that happens?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Lent Day 32 Mark 12:1-12

Jesus and more images of judgment? Jesus tells a parable of a vineyard owner that echoes Isaiah 5. His audience no doubt caught this. There is no follow up questions by the Pharisees to this parable or explanation to the disciples because it needed none. In Isaiah 5 God speaks of His people as a lush vineyard that God does all He can to make it "fruitful." But when the fruit expected is not produced, God's response is to destroy the vineyard. Though we may like a Jesus that is all compassion and mercy, this compassion and mercy has the flipside of judgment.
Jesus goes on to quote from Psalm 118, the same used just earlier by the crowds when they shouted their hosannas. Here however, Jesus' use is directed against those who are missing the "marvelous" works of God right in front of them!
How does God's judgment and compassion go together? Why is it necessary that they go together?
Why does Jesus speak this parable against the religious leaders? What is their response to Jesus' parable?
How would you explain the necessary attribute of God's judgment to an inquiring friend?
Where do you see God's marvelous works today?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lent Day 31 Mark 11:12-33

Jesus' authority and judgment. Though there is much that happens in these verses they are held together by their location, in and around Jerusalem, and the issues of God's judgment and Jesus' authority. The story of Jesus overturning the tables in the Temple is surrounded by the living parable of the fig tree Jesus cursed. The tables overturned in the Temple is what some scholars believe led the religious leaders to see Jesus as particularly threatening and plot His demise. Especially interesting is the note in v. 20 that the tree is withering from the roots up. Normally we observe trees withering from the outside inward. This is a divine or supernatural cursing. The implication from Jesus' answer to Peter is that those having faith can do extraordinary things because of God's power. But note that Jesus says "this mountain" and not "a mountain" while likely being on the Mount of Olives over looking the city of Jerusalem that also sits atop a mountain. Lest we see only selfish motivations, the example Jesus gives of this power is that such extraordinary things like forgiveness can happen through prayer. Judgment and forgiveness go together.
The decaying nature of the religious leaders is evidenced in their inability to answer the issue of Jesus' authority. They can't decide, not because the question is too difficult, but out of fear. Thus Mark reveals to us that these religious lack of faith. Those supposed to be leading the people of God are in fact devoid of fruit within. The fig tree is a living parable of what is happening between God and His people.
What reasons does Jesus give for His actions in the Temple? How might Jesus' actions in the temple teach us about righteous anger? What things would Jesus be angry at today? Why would this cause such a commotion among the religious leaders?
Why does Jesus curse the fig tree? If Jesus were to look at you as a fig tree would he see fruit or just the appearance of leaves yet without fruit? What about the church? (Look up Jeremiah 8:11-13 and 24:1-10)
How does Jesus' authority connect with the extraordinary possibilities that exist for believers? When is the last time you prayed in a spirit of boldness? When is the last time you prayed for forgiveness?
Earlier in Mark's Gospel Jesus' authority had to do with healings and the sort. Now what is Mark implying about Jesus' authority? What might Jesus' authority, the possibility for extraordinary activities say about discipleship?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lent Day 30 Mark 11:1-11

Jesus enters Jerusalem to cheers. Fitting that we are in this section of the Gospel of Mark with Palm Sunday coming up this Sunday. It is an awkward image of Jesus coming into Jerusalem as the prophet Zechariah had predicted. Messiahs, Saviors, came into major cities riding war horses and with chariots. Here Jesus enters to the people's excitement, proclaiming Him as one bringing the kingdom like one in lineage from King David, but riding a servants animal. Jesus doesn't just come in to town, but goes right into the Temple. Questions:
What might this scene say about the Kingdom of God? About Jesus' Messiahship? About power?
What do you imagine the crowd was thinking when they went to greet Jesus? How would seeing Jesus on a donkey have changed their expectations?
What do the crowds shout? (v. 9) Hosanna is a word that is praise to God and a prayer for His coming. What are they hoping Jesus would be doing?
What else do the crowds do? (v. 8) What is Jesus' kingship calling us to do? To give up?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lent Day 28 - Mark 10:32-52

Jesus now makes the turn directly on the way toward Jerusalem. Again Jesus predicts what will take place there (now for the third time). Then Mark gives two stories that are connected by Jesus' question, "What do you want Me to do for you?" (v. 36 and v. 51). The first story is James and John who ask for power and glory, clearly demonstrating their lack of understanding about Jesus' prediction. The second story, in Jericho which is a few miles down hill of Jerusalem, is of a blind man calling out to Jesus for healing. The other connection between these stories is the word "way." Jesus and the disciples are on the "way" to Jerusalem. Bartimaeus is sitting on the way. After being healed, Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way. So there is the contrast of the disciples who ask for humanly glory, status, and power and Bartimaues who simply wants sight! Mark tells us, this blind beggar sees better than the disciples.
In v. 32 what were they amazed at and/or fearful of?
What is the relationship between Jesus' prediction and James and John's request to Jesus?
Why do you think Jesus again has to relate who will be great in the Kingdom? What might that say about leadership or discipleship?
How does the blind address Jesus? How is that in contrast to how others have addressed Jesus?
How has the blind man's faith healed him? What is getting in the way between you and God? What do you want Jesus to do for you?
What did the blind man do once he sees? How is that in contrast to the disciples?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lent Day 27 - Mark 10:17-31

Who can be saved? It was generally believed those blessed by God were seen in their richness. We're not sure what the motivations were for the man who asked the question about eternal life. Probably there were many. Obviously this man was pious keeping the commands of God. Yet this obviously brought little in the way of security and intimacy with God. He still felt far away from God or he wouldn't have asked the question. Jesus' first response is the compassion he has on the man (v. 21). Then Jesus surmises what has kept the man from God was his many possessions. In contrast to Jesus' compassion, this man is sad as he left unwilling to give up those things that brought a false security and intimacy. The disciples are amazed at Jesus' answer since it overturned conventional wisdom. In fact, it pointed in the direction of down right impossibility. (The point of the needle's eye and the camel is emphasizing that money and possessions are not able to buy us our way into the Kingdom.) It is only because of the God of compassion and grace that any can experience security and intimacy. Peter questions, I imagine with a tone of questioning about their fate, that the disciples have left all to follow Jesus and if Jesus is verging on renouncing signs of security like property, what will their reward be. In fact, Jesus notes their reward is both now and later (v. 30). In case, we don't catch this reversal, Jesus repeats that those things that seem important are in fact of lesser value than we might imagine.
Which commandments does Jesus quote? Which does He leave off? What is the focus of the commands Jesus does quote? How might that be significant?
What are signs of false security and intimacy today? How do they keep us from discipleship in the Kingdom? Why do we continue to seek after false security and intimacy outside of God's Kingdom and presence?
If wealth and possessions are not a sign of God's blessing (and in fact can be obstacles), what might be? What are obstacles for you?
Since most of us reading this are part of the wealthiest in the world, what does this passage speak to us?
Again we see that discipleship requires sacrifice. How has God been speaking to you about what you may need to be giving up?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lent Day 26: Mark 10:1-16

Jesus is questioned on the issue of divorce. As had become customary for Jesus, He was teaching. The Pharisees came again to test Jesus this time over the issue of divorce. More than a theological issue, this was a political issue. King Herod had taken his brother's wife. Interestingly, Jesus points them backward to Moses' "command" and creation whereas the Pharisees quote what Moses "permitted". Jesus notes that the reason for this permission was their "hardness of heart." While there is disagreement about exactly what Jesus is teaching about divorce here, the story with the children is obviously connected and insightful by way of contrast. Again children are being brought to Jesus and we see the disciples model the attitude we've mentioned about children - not the innocent and wonderful creatures we imagine them to be. Jesus is angry at the disciples' attitude. Jesus used the children again as a teaching point. Jesus proclaimed that receiving (or entering) the Kingdom of God must be done like a child. Unlike those who are hard-hearted are those entering the Kingdom of God must do so like dependent children!
What happened to John the Baptist when he took sides on the issue of King Herod's wife? (see Mark 6) How might this guide how Jesus answered the question? What might it say about the Pharisees motivation for asking the question?
How do these two stories go together?
How does that help us understand what Jesus is saying about the Kingdom and the issue of divorce?
So if you were asked today about what Jesus believed about divorce (based on this passage), what would you say?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lent Day 25: Mark 9:38-50

Are you salty? The disciples still show that they misunderstand Jesus' mission by tattling about a person who was casting out demons but not doing so as part of their group. Jesus seem to suggest as long as a persons' actions are inline with His, other things will fall into place.
Jesus goes on to teach about the rigors of being a disciple in the Kingdom. This passage is connected to yesterday's passage by Jesus' reference to "little ones" and Jesus concluding words at the end of the chapter. Jesus' words about salt here, interestingly, apply to all. "Everyone will be salted with fire." Fire usually has the connotation of judgment (and is in the context of the quote from Isaiah 66:24: an image of eternal torment is the worm that does not die). Thus judgment happens in this life as those things that keep us from God are done away with. Salt, a preserver, seems to be discipleship that is willing to let go of status, habits, and anything else that keep us from full life in the Kingdom of God. Thus salt brings peace not only to yourself, but to those around you experiencing your saltiness.
How can we be like the disciples attitudes toward other groups that are not exactly not like us?
What do you think Jesus is getting at when He is speaking about the causes for stumbling both for us and how we might do so for others? When has your hand, foot, or eye tempted you to lose your faith? What does that say about discipleship? What are some things that cause you to stumble that you could give up during the rest of Lent?
What can you do to be more salty and help bring peace to yourself and those around you?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lent Day 24: Mark 9: 30-37

Discipleship in the Kingdom of God. This passage begins with Jesus still around the region of the Sea of Galilee (though it seems an expanded area) and Jesus does so still desiring secrecy. Yet again Jesus teaches His disciples about His future demise. This is the second time (of three) Jesus predicts this conclusion. Yet again the disciples fail to understand. Not only were they afraid to ask Jesus, but they were discussing who will be the greatest when Jesus' kingdom comes to power! To make His point more vividly, after His famous reversal the last and the servant being first, Jesus brings a child among them. Children were not viewed the way they are today. instead of a symbol of innocence, children were mouths to feed and dependent, selfish creatures. Jesus is highlighting those who receive the kingdom such as these dependent children are dependent for life, receive the King and Kingdom life.
Why are the disciples continuing to misunderstand Jesus? What is getting in their way? What gets in our way in trying to understand Jesus and His message about the Kingdom?
What does the disciples discussion tell you about the way they were thinking of Jesus' kingdom? How does Jesus' example using the child contrast that thinking?
What symbols of status get in our way in regards to thinking clearly about Kingdom living? From this passage how would you describe what a 'great' disciple looks like in God's Kingdom?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lent Day 23 - Mark 9:14-29

Who will rescue us? Jesus descends down the mountain to find the other disciples and the scribes in a situation beyond their abilities. A man with a son in need of healing clarifies the issue. His son is thrown into the fire and water by the unclean spirits and is only saved if some one "comes to his aid". His father responds to Jesus' question about having faith asking Jesus to help his unbelief or "come to his aid." A lot of translations read that the man of the son with demons implores Jesus, "If you can do anything take pity on us and help." Jesus responds affirming are possible for those who believe. The man responds by affirming his belief but acknowledging it isn't perfect. In fact, just as the boys is saved only if someone comes to his aid, so the man invokes Jesus to come to his aid. In contrast to his former state of chaos being thrown here and there, he is so still that he is thought to be a corpse.
Who is this story about - the father asking Jesus to help his belief or the healing of his son?
Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation as the father? You know you need help beyond yourself, you have faith, but not perfectly and desire someone to come to your aid? What was it like?
What might Jesus have meant by telling his disciples that their inability to cast out the demon was due to prayer? What might this say about the connection between belief and prayer?
Before the disciples experienced some success in ministry (Mark 6:12-13), now things are becoming harder. Why might that be the case? Do you think it is true generally that the Christian life gets messier and harder as we grow closer in our journey as a disciple of Jesus? What might this say about the connection of discipleship and belief?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lent Day 22 - Mark 9:2-13

Farther misunderstandings about the Messiah. Up on the mountain when Jesus is transfigured Peter, in his fear and lack of understanding, wants to stay. Down off the mountain there is misunderstanding about Jesus speaking about rising again and John the Baptist's ministry. On the mountain we have the voice of God's affirmation of the Son "This is my beloved." The voice goes on to add an imperative: "Listen to Him!" Off the mountain the three disciples are discussing what it means that they are not to tell about this episode until "the Son of Man rose from the dead." So far from their expectation was a dead Messiah, that a risen Messiah made that much less sense. As well, the belief in Jesus' day was a resurrection for all at the end of time. So then it would be meaningless to talk about a time after resurrection when anyone would tell about earthly episodes.
How is Jesus like Moses and Elijah? How has Jesus expanded upon the ministries of Moses and Elijah?
Especially during this season of Lent, what can we do to better listen to Jesus? (Notice this wasn't an option, but a command.) If we did listen better, what do you think we'd hear? Might we too hear the affirmation that we too are God's beloved?
What does Jesus mean that Elijah has already come?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lent Day 21 - Mark 8:22-9:1

 How clearly do you see Jesus? These two stories, though in different cities, are coupled together by the theme of seeing clearly. The first is in the city of Bethsaida and the second in Caesarea Philippi. In the first story Jesus heals a blind man. This is not a straight forward healing story as Jesus must heal the man twice. After he first time the man doesn't see clearly.

In the second story, Jesus questions His disciples about who people are saying He is. The answers are many but incorrect. In Jesus' time people expected a leader that would physically rule over the people in a godly and political manner. Peter's affirmation is that Jesus is the Messiah, but we see his answers is not totally accurate when Peter rebuked Jesus. Jesus explains that His Messiah-ship will come with suffering, persecution, and even death. Peter's rebuke is trying to correct Jesus' faulty notions. Only failed Messiahs would have such problems. This reveals that Peter does not see clearly how Jesus will be a Messiah. Like Peter and others of his generation, we too can make Jesus be the kind of Christ we want instead of the Christ we need. Jesus declares His generation is not seeing clearly but they will when the Kingdom of God comes with power. Thus Mark leaves open the question to us, will we have the eyes to see clearly who Jesus is?
How do we do like Peter? How do we confess with our lips great affirmations about God but continue to fail to comprehend Jesus' message and action in the world? How do we box God in, instead of allowing God to define Himself? What do you think keeps us from "seeing clearly?"
What do you think Jesus means that His followers, disciples, will also "must deny himself and take up their cross?" What does that look like in 2011? What is keeping you from doing that today?
How do you answer that question from Jesus "Who do you say that I am?" (Leave your response in the comment section so we can see the different responses.)
How might you describe what a Christian looks like from this passage? How does that challenge your life?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Lent Day 20 - Mark 8:1-21

"Do you not yet understand?" Have you ever tried to teach and the class failed to grasp what you were trying to impart? Or has the fear of that kept you from teaching? Take heart: Jesus too had this problem. Following another miraculous feeding story (only a mere 4,000 this time) there is farther misunderstanding by the Pharisees and Jesus' own Disciples. Ironically, Mark puts the Pharisees request for sign following the feeding story to help us see how it was actually a test and not an honest inquiry. Then the disciples misunderstood Jesus' teaching about the "leaven" of the Pharisees and Herodians. Jesus quotes to the Jeremiah 5:21 in exasperation. That is to say what was happening in Jeremiah's day is happening again. Instead of following God, they are following the whims of political pressure and selfish concerns.
What similarities and differences do you see between this miraculous feeding story and the feeding of the 5,000 in Mark 6? One similarity is how Jesus includes the disciples. What might that say about discipleship? How might Jesus' compassion for the crowds (v. 2) be a part of that as well?
What signs have you demanded in the past as a prerequisite for belief? How is this testing God?
Why do you think Jesus warns the disciples of the Pharisees' "leaven"?
What do you think would make Jesus quote Jeremiah 5:21 to us today? During this time of Lent is a great time to examine our lives in light of this question.