A Different Justice System

Mark 2:23-29 – Sabbath Snacks

Ancient Fast FoodAnother few verses into the Gospel of Mark and yet another “I never noticed” moment.  In the previous verses, Jesus was asked about His disciples not fasting like John’s followers and the Pharisees.  He was being questioned about the actions of His disciples.  It was His disciples that were feasting when everyone else was fasting. Now he is answering for them again .. It was His followers that were plucking grain (reaping) on the Sabbath.  Two chapters in and already he shows His vocation as advocate for others, answering accusations made against apparent sinners.

And who were these guys following them around looking for ways to discredit the new teacher anyway? These guys were just a bunch of intellectuals with no authority, akin to many of the talking heads of today. Masters of the art of influence and persuasion, adept at swaying public opinion. Acting like the prosecuting attorney without any actual authority to render a judgement. (Rather Satanic actually). Were they actually intent on bringing about justice, or were they more interested in maintaining the power and status that comes from “winning?”

Jesus came to take on the accuser on our behalf. What an awesome way to begin defining His role as Messiah!   The Messiah is not an accuser. As a matter of fact, there is not an accuser in the Godhead.  Although God demands righteousness, He is not the prosecuting attorney, He is the judge.  He leaves the defense to Jesus.

God is not mad at me and brings no accusation against me.  It is not that He does not care when I stumble, on the contrary.  He sent us an advocate to help turn things around; an advocate with a goal to restore us to His image so that I can take me rightful place in the society of His kingdom. He did not send the newbie public defender,  He deployed the best, His Son to defend not only us, but all of His creation.  He didn’t stop there, He sent His Spirit to walk us through rehab and to protect us from the Accuser. What an awesome model of justice!

Each of us has a role to play in this system, we also need to be like Jesus and defend the defenseless with compassion.  By modeling His empathy and mercy we help to disarm the prosecutor and establish a different justice system.

When the Mountains Come to You

 Mark 4:35-41:  Jesus Calms the Storm

Sea story … December 1992 on the USS LY Spear, crossing the Atlantic on our way home from the Persian Gulf. We were experiencing heavy seas for 5 days straight.  The Spear was a flat bottomed, 645 ft monster of a ship.  Being a flat bottomed vessel allowed her to give us an exciting ride with 6 to 10 ft swells.  Standing on the covered quarter deck beneath the helicopter pad made for an interesting ride.  While riding the mountains of ocean, one moment as we rolled to starboard looking down over the side, I could not see the ocean and then as the she rolled back to port I could no longer see the sky.  At first it was a bit novel for most of us who were submarine sailors.  Some of us who had stronger stomachs made fun of those who were sick, after a couple of days, the ship reeked of vomit and all of us where vying for a piece of floor near the waterline where the effects of the waves was the least.

rough-seas1

On day 5 our chaplain, a medal of honor recipient from Vietnam had had about enough.  During his 1700 (5pm for you civilian types) prayer he cried out to God on behalf of the crew. He quoted Mark 4:35-41 and then prayed, “Father, we have had about enough of these crazy seas and we would real appreciate it if you could give us some relief.”  Within the hour, the seas calmed down.  He was an even more beloved chaplain after that.

For 4 chapters, Jesus has been doing amazing miracles and telling stories about the power of this new kingdom.  He tried to explain how little is actually expect of us and that all we need to do is place our faith and confidence Him.  He’s got our back.  He is a little disappointed in their ability to get it.

I am looking forward to getting it.

“By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; the one who by his strength established the mountains,  being girded with might; who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.” (Psalm 65:5-8)”

The Unseen Farmer and an Unexpected Harvest

 Mark 4:26-34:  More Seed Parables

Again I find myself reflecting on thoughts that I here expressed over and over again.  Thoughts that have flooded my mind at times. Thoughts something like this. “Is this all that there is?  I get up, do the daily routine, go to sleep and then start all over again.  I barely see myself moving much less a move of God!”  I remember thinking this when I had a young family and, although I do not really see the growth in my own life, from that “daily grind” God has produced seven young adults that love God and are beginning to make an impact on the world around them.  They have started their own invisible farming process.

So in goes the sickle and because the harvest is come!  I often do not recognize the harvest that God has already brought.  If I did, I might be more excited for the harvest yet to come.

“Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.

Go in, tread, for the winepress is full.

The vats overflow, for their evil is great.

Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision!

For the day of the Lord is nearing the valley of decision.” (Joel 3:13-14)

 

If in the years that I barely knew whether I was coming or going, God brought about such a great work from the unseen seeds in my own family.  What great things are on the horizon with the seeds that are being planted today.  I am actually getting excited about the harvest that He is preparing today.  Even the smallest word or deed sown today, God can use to bring about new and abundant life beyond anything I can imagine.

Every day seed is planted, everyday seed is growing and every day His Kingdom is spreading it’s branches to make a home for a world that needs Him so desperately.

So I every night I will go to bed with excitement and every day I will get up expecting the wondrous work of those unseen hands and the harvest that is sure to come.

Hand & Seedling

Get out of the Mud / Regaining a Grip

Yes, I have slipped on my commitment to sharing my journeys with Mark.  I will pick it up again tomorrow.

I loved mud.  Walking in it, playing in it, slinging it … the boy in me has always considered  mud to be an oozing, gushy, slimy delight.  Mud between the toes is an experience to be relished.  One of my greatest childhood memories is of the days John Coyner and I spent days jumping into a huge mud pit. the mud was so deep that it we sunk almost our arm pits.  It was an awesome bluish/black slimy that had been dredged from the bottom of the Tred Avon River and deposited within a berm just for our recreation. We would jump in, claw our way out and then go lay on the beach until it dried and our skin looked like it was cracking.  Then we would jump in the river to clean off and then go right back to the mud. In those carefree days of childhood when I was free of responsibilities mud like such an appealing distraction.

Pig in the mudOne of the things I think I love about mud is that it is so slippery and hard to handle.  It makes every action unpredictable.  I makes walking difficult, climbing nearly treacherous, and grasping objects nearly impossible.  In sports like football and horse racing, odds makers often have to change the odds completely when the event is held in the mud.  It often a great equalizer.

I have been reminded over the past couple of weeks that when I allow my priorities to be “muddied up”, my walk becomes more difficult, climbing up from a stumble becomes treacherous, and maintaining a grasp of situations become nearly impossible.  The harder I seem to try and get a good hold on my life, the more it tends to slip away.

A couple of weeks ago, I made some life changes.  Just some dietary changes and a re-commitment to improving my physical health.  As is often my habit, I did not really do this prayerfully and as a result, my priorities became quite muddy.  I tried hard to better “manage” my time to clarify things, but I kept falling farther behind.  The main thing I stopped doing was writing.  This may not seem like a big deal to most people.  It is not like a make a living writing or that people rely on my daily blog posts. Writing is my accountability.  It is a check point that is crucial to the race course that God has set before me.

So the question has been for me, “how do I get back on track?”

GRACE!

Until I realized that I was too slimy to get out of my predicament and that I would need to rely on Him to clean me up and pull me up, I was going to continue to slip back into the mud.  Grace says you don’t have to worry about catching up and making up for past failures.  I don’t have to do two weeks of blogs over the weekend to get back on track (which was my plan).  I just need to seek His face and His will for me today.  Yesterday is gone. (Also see Taking Advantage of a Mulligan)

I understand that in some cases, restitution for our sin is required, but God makes a way for us in those cases.  He does not leave us to deal with those on our own.  If we try to make everything right in our own power, timing, and ability, we may very well end up in a worse condition.  I have many examples of messing this up as well.  His grace is sufficient in every situation.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:6-10)

We Are Not Camels – Don’t Skip the Watering Hole

 Mark 4:21-25:  Lamp on a Stand

It appears to me, Jesus is issuing a warning to His disciples and to us.  The Good News is here and even though it is being revealed privately at first, it cannot be contained and it is going to be heard.  We need to proactively hear the News and then apply it.  Then what? … well go back and get some more.

Marathon DayBack in 2007 when I started this blog, it was intended to be a training journal and now that I have revived it from near extinction, it still is a journal of sorts. From January to April of 2008 I trained consistently to overcome years of neglect with the hope of improving my physical form.  In actuality, I was trying to shake this mid-life cloud of discontent that had settled into my heart.  My goal however was to run 26.2 miles.  Training included short early morning runs and weekend long team runs.  The blog allowed me to share my adventure and share the things that God was showing me through the process.  On the surface, it seemed that this was just the ticket to get me back on track.  It did not take long after the marathon to find that I had missed something significant.

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—” (2 Cor 13:5)

My blog entries were filled with scripture and encouraging thoughts.  I was actually picking up that bible more than I had in years so obviously I must have been growing stronger in my faith … right?  In retrospect, I can see that it was all a bit of sham.  I was pulling out scriptures I already knew and applying them as best I could to the situation at hand.  After all, I had been a Christian for over 20 years.  I had a wealth of knowledge to draw upon.  The whole thing was an act of pride.  I never examined myself and was not chasing after God.  It was actually acceptance from others that I was chasing. Once the race was over, I fell deeper into the abyss.

camelWe are not camels. Most runners that fail to finish long races can trace the problem back to dehydration or some nutritional deficiency.  Even if one is well hydrated before a race, the race itself deletes more than our bodies store.

Over the years, my live has had periods of great spiritual growth; times when I could not get enough of the Lord.  It is a great mistake to think that once we find salvation, put some Jesus into our lives, and take an occasional drink of Living Water that we can just coast to the finish line. 

Yes, I know Jesus … but not enough.  What makes me think that I do not need to experience more of Him?  The truth is, that I need more of Him and that if I do not seek him continually with all of my heart, I might find myself as the one who has not and ” even what he has will be taken away.”

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.  counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” (Rev 3:15-18) 

“Don’t let your special character and values,

 the secret that you know and no one else does, the truth

– don’t let that get swallowed up by the great chewing complacency.” 

Aesop

 

Jesus and His Rocky Family – Life Making Good Soil

If you are following along in Mark I am a bit behind on my posts, I have not talked about Mark 3:31-35 and Mark 4:1-20. So here is a couple of quick thoughts.

Mark 3:31-35: The Family

I What in the world? Jesus seems to blow off His family.  Actually, if you look back at verse 21, His family had actually tried to restrain Him thinking He was crazy, so obviously, they were missing something. In light of this Jesus’ inference that “Here is my mother, and “Here are my brothers” makes perfect sense. These were the ones who were beginning to receive the gospel and were getting the idea that He might be “The One”. His family just thought He was “special“.

As a dad, I know that at times, I have neglected to recognize the full potential of my children. My own prejudice based on past experience has blinded me to the purposes and plans that God has prepared for them. I may say the right words of encouragement, but they see right through that. Imagine if God’s plan for a family member was to be the Messiah … How do you encourage a purpose and a plan that is higher than anything you can fathom.

I pray that I will not only get out of the way, but will learn to encourage my family, friends and others to strive for all that God has for them and not limit my vision to my own sight.

Mark 4:1-20 The Parable of the Sower

This sort of carries on from this previous thought. Jesus’ family thought the problem might be Jesus, His actions and His words (The Seed), so they tried to restrain Him. The challenge actually rested on the receivers/hearers (The Soil). The Seed is perfect and will grow and bear fruit according to the medium that it is sown. Knowing the rest of the story, it is encouraging that His family, who rejected Him in the beginning (rocky soil), in the end fully excepted the Good News and bore much fruit.

Have you ever been discouraged about the prospects of someone receiving the Gospel? I am even discouraged by my own ability to receive all that God offers me, so of course I have difficulty seeing how God is going to get a seed into some of the rocks I have been praying for. I think we can say with assurance that the Holy Spirit can break up even the hardest ground and turn it into good soil

(He can even take our own waste and turn it into fantastic compost!)

compost-toilet-life-cycle

Sticks, Stones, & Stealing Satan’s Stuff

Mark 3:20-30:  Jesus & Beelzebub

I am not sure if this the origin of the term “demonizing”, but it would make a whole lot of sense if it came from this story.   Jesus, instead of returning venom with venom, kind of teases them with His response, but adds a stiff warning at the end.

bsgfan4evr.deviantart.com
bsgfan4evr.deviantart.com

Now it is not surprising I guess for the family to call Him crazy, I mean, He is the step-child. On the other hand, these other dudes from out of town coming in accusing Him of being a demon or the prince of demons even is quite uncalled for.  First, He breaks down their argument, but with very pointed change of words. He uses the Hebrew word, Satan (accuser) instead of the pagan demon Beelzebub (Lord of the Flies).  This is interesting since they came to him as accusers (and actually were pretty annoying like flies). His argument actually left them with a win-win situation either Satan was in a civil war which would weaken his kingdom or a stronger Man had come along that was going to bring down that kingdom anyway.  WINNING!  Jesus was sort of declaring Himself a thief in Satan’s house.  (A much better thief than Bilbo I think)  If you cannot tell, I find this whole interchange quite amusing.

Then, the hammer falls. Jesus gives a pretty harsh warning about calling God’s work demonic.  Generally, when we hear about the whole blaspheming the Holy Spirit, we isolate as the unforgivable sin and leave it out of the context of the story.  The ‘accusers’ have mocked the works of God and credited His work and His healing power to Beelzebub.  Most of us do not like someone taking credit for our work,but when the one taking the credit stands for the exact opposite of your whole being this is more than enough to send us over the edge.  Pretty serious stuff these experts of the law are doling out.

As the seriousness of the situation begins to sink in, I wonder how many times I attribute the greatness of God to other powers.  Maybe I don’t attribute His awesome works to Satan, I do think at times I may take credit myself for things that I had a hand in and withhold glory due to Him.  On the other hand, do I accuse God of being the bringer of evil or difficulty, hanging my head in self pity or shaking my first at Him.  I know that in some degree, I often lose sight of the giver all good gifts and confuse Him with that old liar.  I do not want to make a political statement, but I will tell you that I have to repent of some of the things I have said about people with different view points.  I do not believe that is no place demonizing or disparaging any person or group.  Jesus took the high (obviously) and set an example for us.  The Good News is that He left the door open for every one of us to recognize the great gift of life that He is offering us.  It is our job to keep that door open for those that have not seen it yet and avoid giving them reason to attribute our mean or hateful behavior to a God who knows none of that.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,

who put darkness for light and light for darkness,

who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,

and shrewd in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20,21)

Assembling the Posse – You do the Math

Mark 3:13-19:  The Twelve are Appointed

Twelve: We all know the biblical significance of the number 12. Obviously, to the people of Jesus time twelve was representative of twelve tribes of Israel and only added the excitement that God was doing a new thing.  From my limited study, apparently 10 tribes were still considered “lost” at this time and reconciling the twelve tribes would be very significant.

Bible history and Jewish significance aside, 12 is a really cool number.  A twelve sided shape is a dodecagon, but a three dimensional shape with three flat sides is a dodecahedron, now that is an awesome name for a shape.  As a matter of fact, some scientist believe that the universe is a dodecahedron.

Twelve ToesMathematically, Twelve can be divided by two, three, four and six, making it one of the easiest low numbers to work with and separate into groups, said Dr. Kristen L. Zacharias, a historian of science and philosophy assistant professor at Albright College.  The Romans loved 12 so much that they measured weight, length, and money in units of 12.  That is all great, but when I think of numbers I usually go the source of all mathematical wisdom … “Schoolhouse Rock”.  “Little Twelve Toes” is not one of my favorites, but it does make you think.  Actually, Some ancient cultures did use 12 as the basis of their numbering system. How could that be practical?

Glad you asked.  They counted the joints on their hands, three joints per finger.  Add a thumb, also made up of three joints and you have a very useful hand to perform just about any task imaginable.

So Jesus gathered HIs fingers together to begin the work.  Maybe no great insight here, but it is apparent that Jesus was setting a precedence early in His ministry that there was work to be done and that His people were going to be a part of it.

Work is not easy and it is especially hard on the fingers.  How many times has the wrench slipped you busted those knuckles.  From jammed fingers and scraped knuckles to losing a nail. Years ago, I ran my hand through an electric pizza roller.  It smashed all four fingers on my left hand to a point where the skin actually split. Our fingers are on the front line of everything we do.

Regardless, I am one of the fingers that Jesus has chosen to carry out the work and I am supposed to be on the front lines.  Often times, I am not that enthusiastic about the whole work thing.  As a matter of fact, I can down-right lazy.

“How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?” (Prov 6:9)

He created me with a purpose and laziness is not an option.  It is time to get to work.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10)

working-hands-

Want to start from the beginning of Mark?  Good News with Mark

Healing of the Man with the Withered Hand

Mark 3:1-6 Healing of the Man with the Withered Hand

Let me tell you about my best friend Charlie.

Charlie CroppedI was deep into one of the worst years of my life. Due to an injury, I had lost my long time dream of wrestling in college and had subsequently dropped out of school.  I had an on-going conflict with my parents and moved back to Kentucky were my fiancé was coming to school with the hopes that I would be able to rehab and get back into school and wrestle again.  I took a job at Steak and Egg Kitchen and enrolled in a couple of classes.  About two weeks into the semester, she dumped me to experience more fully, the college life.  This was the last straw. I plunged deep into depression and was contemplating taking my own life.

Charlie was a tall, drug dealing, long haired, long bearded, blue eyed (Some said he resembled Charlie Manson) janitor at the University of Kentucky Student Center.  Despite his many short comings, he waws highly intelligent, had an infectious smile and loved to laugh.

CaprisHe worked 3 to 11 and I worked 11-7, so about 11:30 he would wander in and sit at the end of the bar, drink coffee, and we talked.  He might leave for a while if we got busy, but he would be back.  On days that I got off early, he would throw my bike into the back his Mercury Capris and take me back to my apartment.  Sensing that I was unstable and never left until he thought I was going to make it through the day.  He would sit in a rocker and talk until I fell asleep and then he would quietly head out.

Wow has it changed!
Wow has it changed!

After a while, my depression began to lift. I started hanging around with him at the student center until I headed to work.  We pretty much became inseparable. While he did introduce me to some things that were not quite savory, together we both realized that we wanted more from our lives than just a day-to-day existence.  While I explored many different religions and philosophies, Charley never really showed any interest until one day we both stumbled across the Gospel of John.  Together, the two of us tore hungrily into the writings of “the one whom Jesus loved” wanting desperately to know this love.  On the evening of August 12th 1982, on a sidewalk of a busy commercial area in Lexington, that same Jesus came and made Himself real to us and we were forever changed.

Charlie and I walked through that first several months of new life together.  We learned to worship, pray and seek the face of the One who met us that day on the Euclid Avenue.  I was beginning a new life in more than one way.  Within six months, I would be a husband and a father and Charlie was there through that whole transition as well.  My best man and God father to our first child, one would think that would we were destined to be joined together for a long time.

Circumstances and direction can change quickly, but we know that God is sovereign and has a plan that we have no clue about at times.  Only 3 months after our wedding, we moved 600 miles away in hopes of some stability for our family.  Charlie heart would begin to break for a world that, like me , needed to know the love that John had described to us.  He gave and he loved and he told everyone that would listen and even some who would not that they did not have to go through life unloved.

We moved back to Lexington about 18 months later for a short period of time as I prepared to enter the Navy.  Charlie and I had some time to catch up and pray.  We spent one night just before I shipped out praying at his apartment and we both had visions. I saw Him speaking words of love to a crowd and as He turned to leave, fiery arrows  pierced his back.  He saw himself in a pit trapped with an ugly version of himself and he was scrambling to escape.  Needless to say, we were both pretty freaked out. I shipped out and he went back to touching lives.

He had taken in a young, homeless street-wise teenager who was struggling with some very evil influences.  Although the young man knew that he wanted his life to change, he was not ready to give up on his old life.  One moment he appreciated the guide lines that Charlie set for him, and then some outside influence drew him away.  It was frustrating for Charlie, but being patient, Charlie hung in there with him.

I was on hold in Great Lakes, IL awaiting the birth of our third daughter when I received the call.  This young man that Charlie had love and cared for and a middle aged lady had brutally killed my friend, stabling him dozens of times in the back him the closet of his apartment.

Charlie SmileWhy do I tell this story when I read Mark 3:1-6?  Yes, this passage address how the world often rejects the love, healing, and love that Jesus brings and responds with hatred, evil plots, and death.  You could draw the obvious analogies. Maybe, you think it the fact the Sabbath is for healing and rest and that Charlie has entered his rest and you would be absolutely correct.  But the truth is that I will always think of Charlie when I read about these verses because on that day back in 1985, Jesus said to my friend “stretch out yours hand“.   You see, my friend, the whom Jesus loved … had a withered hand.

 

What an Awesome Justice System

Mark 2:23-29 – Sabbath Snacks

Ancient Fast FoodAnother few verses and another “I never noticed” moment.  Like the whole fasting thing, Jesus was not be accused of doing anything wrong.  He was being questioned about the actions of His disciples.  It was His disciples that were feasting when everyone else was fasting … It was His followers that were plucking grain (reaping) on the Sabbath.  So right from the beginning, He was an advocate for others, answering accusations made against apparent sinners.

And who were these guys following them around looking for ways to discredit the new teacher anyway?  They were guys were just a bunch of intellectuals with no authority, akin to many of the talking heads of today. Masters of the art of influence and persuasion, they could sway public opinion.  Much like a prosecuting attorney without the authority. (Rather Satanic actually).  They were not out for justice, they were more interested in the status that comes from winning.

Jesus came to take on the accuser on our behalf. What an awesome way to begin defining His role as Messiah!   The Messiah is not an accuser. As a matter of fact, there is not an accuser in the Godhead.  Although God demands righteousness, He is not the prosecuting attorney, He is the judge.  He leaves the defense to Jesus.

God is not made at me and brings no accusation against me.  It is not that He does not care when I stumble, it is that His real goal is to restore me to His image so that I can take me rightful place in the society of His kingdom.  He wanted this so badly that He deployed His Son and Spirit to walk me through my rehab and to protect me from the Accuser.  Can’t beat that for a justice system!