Monday, October 15, 2018

Devotional: Too Difficult, But Really Easy, Mark 10:1-31

Mark 10.1-31 outline

In chapter 10 Jesus continues teaching the disciples to correct their misunderstandings about who Jesus was, what he was doing and what his kingdom is like. In this section are two scenes (1-12 and 17-22) in which Jesus is asked to give a ruling about the law bracketing a short section (13-16) in which Jesus blesses and welcomes children and rebukes the disciples for trying to block them from his presence. Then Jesus drives his point home (23-31) as he explains the main point of the section: Salvation (entrance and living in God’s kingdom)  is very difficult, actually impossible, by human effort but easy for God to accomplish when we are totally dependent on him.

In the two law sections Jesus increases the requirements of the law in response to questioners who were looking to find loopholes that would make their commitment easier. Underlying the law is God’s design for relationships that requires one’s whole person to be focused on loving God, resulting in human relationships focused on loving and serving one another. Thus, marriage is not just a social transaction but is a lifetime relationship commitment, the breaking of which is always the result of sin (of at least one of the parties). Our possessions are not our own but, instead, they all belong to God and are to be used by us for advancing his kingdom and serving God’s people. Jesus raises the commitment requirement to be in his kingdom to such a high standard no human could possibly do it by his/her own effort.

The key is the middle section. Being part of Jesus’ kingdom does not happen through anything we do. It happens when we come to God like children, with total dependence on him and on what he has provided in Jesus Christ. Our efforts to make ourselves acceptable to God will always come up short. Goodness, access to God, and salvation only come as a gift from God through Jesus. In this way salvation, for us, is easy.

But salvation is also very difficult. Receiving the gift of God in Jesus requires us to deny ourselves, repent of our hope and trust in our own abilities and goodness, relinquish all of our possessions as belonging to us and there primarily for our use, and submit to God’s rule over every part of our life. Peter rashly responds, “we have left everything and followed you (ESV 10:28). Surprisingly, Peter gets no rebuke here. Instead he gets a grace-filled promise. Whatever, you give up for Jesus and the kingdom you will get back one hundred times as much “now in this time” and eternal life in the age to come. But even this will not be easy. It comes with persecution and difficulty as Jesus will demonstrate in his passion.

This is the paradox of salvation. It is easy because nothing is impossible for God to do and he has done everything needed in Christ to accomplish it. We receive it as a gift. Salvation is difficult because it calls us to give up everything we have to God. Salvation is easy because it comes with great blessing. Salvation is hard and painful because it come with persecution. But, overshadowing all of that is that salvation provides life forever in God’s presence.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Devotional: The Way to Greatness in the Kingdom, Mark 9:33-50

Mark 9.33-50 outline

The rest of chapter 9 begins a teaching section which goes through the end of chapter 10. Jesus rebukes the disciples’ use of worldly standards to define greatness and their desire for privilege which leads to the exclusion of others. This is the kind of attitude that leads to judgment and not blessing. Kingdom living is not about status, tribalism, or personal ambition, but it is about service, trust in God, connecting with those who are different from us, reaching out to the needy, and relinquishing personal pride and agendas. Jesus ends the chapter by exhorting the disciples that living in peace with one another, even with those who are not part of "our group," is one of the key indicators of real kingdom living. A relationship with Jesus connects us with God and should also connect us with the rest of God’s family throughout the world.

Jesus begins with a rebuke of the disciples (33-37) for their discussion about who was the “greatest.” I can imagine the disciples with their heads down, ashamed to look at each other as Jesus pointed out their selfish attitude. Instead of striving for privilege, honor, and status, to follow Jesus means to regard oneself with the status of a little child or a menial servant. There is nothing that carries more honor than serving the Lord of the universe and he regards serving the one with no status (a child) as serving him.

The next subject comes up as John (38-41), probably expecting an “attaboy” from Jesus, announces that he rebuked an exorcist for using Jesus’ name when he was not part of their group. Instead, he receives a sharp rebuke. We should not be so quick to condemn those who serve Jesus, but do it in a way different than we do. Other groups may worship in a different way, emphasize different things, and do things we don’t understand, but if they worship the same Lord Jesus Christ they are fellow-servants in Jesus’ house and we should be thankful for them. There are enough people who oppose us. We should be happy to have these allies.

This tendency to exclude others not like us is a very serious sin (42-50). Jesus says it that it would be better to drown in the sea than to exclude one of his children and it places one in danger of the fire of judgment. It would be better to lose body parts than to lose brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. The big issue is who “belongs to Christ.” (41). Our devotion to Christ is shown by reaching out to, including and serving those who belong to Jesus, despite their status or what they can give to us. That is how you become great in the kingdom.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Devotional: Glory, Suffering, and Faith, Mark 9:2-32

Mark 9.2-32 outline

In the previous chapter Jesus has unveiled the new and surprising information that the kingdom of the age to come will be brought in through his, and his disciples’, suffering, persecution and death. Does Jesus have the authority to introduce this major innovation into the hope that was prophesied and established in the covenants of the Hebrew scriptures? This is the issue Mark deals with as he presents Jesus, on the mountain and in the cloud of the presence of YHWH, as someone beyond Moses who brings a new and superior revelation. Jesus is the predicted beloved, pleasing Son of God. YHWH verifies Jesus’ authority and trustworthiness when he tells Peter, James and John to “listen to him.” Jesus, with the heroes of the Old Testament around him, corrects their view that the kingdom will come with immediate triumph, but instead will come through his suffering, death and resurrection. The disciples, and all subsequent followers of Jesus, will be called to share in his suffering before they share in his victory.

Jesus, thus gives Peter, James and John, a preview of Jesus’ glory so that they can be sure that the suffering they are called to do will certainly result in the promised glory. Both Peter, “we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:18), and John, “we beheld his glory” John 1:14),  in their writings make reference to this event as being foundational to their faith. However, it will not be until after the resurrection, the coming of the Spirit and much reflection that they understand the full implications of what they experienced on the mountain. The curtain between heaven and earth is pulled back and Jesus' Divine glory is seen in the vision, but he reminds them, like with John the Baptist, it is also seen in Jesus' humility, obedience, suffering and sacrifice. This is the part the disciples refuse to accept and Jesus will need to respond with more teaching. The point here is that, as we trust the sure witness about the glory that is to come, we will have the God-given strength to endure the trials, persecution and suffering.

This is the point of Jesus’ teaching and actions in the next section as he expels the demon from the mute boy. Jesus is able to do it with just a word because of his great faithfulness, connection with, and trust in the Father. This powerful demon could not resist that kind of faith. The disciples, fresh off their successful preaching and miracle tour, had forgotten that this kind of power is a result of the faith and connectedness to God that is seen in a life of prayer. The prayer of the follower of Jesus must continue to be “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9.24). It is from this kind of practical dependence on God that all life and ministry must flow.

Jesus unveils the glory of God on earth even as he suffers and dies. We too, as we stay connected to him, can show his glory in both the good and difficult times we face. Faith grows as we pray and listen. Glory is certainly coming.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

The “Ups and Downs” of Lower Extremity Edema


1999I haven’t done a medical update in a while because the bottom line is not very exciting. I am recovering slowly, a little better each day, from the effects of the cancer, chemo and the stem cell transplant. According to my oncologist, the process takes about two years and I am approaching the one-year anniversary at the end of November. At that time I will have to get revaccinated and may go on a bit different recovery regimen. I am regaining strength. Joyce and I are up to about a 1/2 hour one mile daily walk and I am doing some other regular core strengthening exercises. In the meantime, I get to do a lot of reading and studying, which I enjoy very much, and am working on an “exegetical devotional” of the Gospel of Mark, which I have been posting from here on this blog. Comments are welcome on those posts.

The big issue for me is the “lower extremity edema” which is a result of the lymphoma which ravaged my lymph nodes in 2016-17. The cancer is gone but the damage done to the lymph nodes remains. I also had to have a lymph node removed from the right side of my pelvis which inhibits flow and removal a the lymph fluids from my body. This causes swelling in my pelvic area and legs. To manage it I go to a physical therapist, who gave me instruction for self-care which includes massage, exercises and the wearing of compression gear during the day. This will be something that I will have to manage the rest of my life. We are also hoping that I will qualify and be able to benefit from a machine that moves the lymph out of my lower body. It doesn’t work for everyone and it is not covered by any insurance. We are waiting for one to become available to try it out and see if it will work for me. We’d appreciate your prayers on that.

So, here are some “ups and downs” of having lower extremity edema….

The Downs

  1. It takes a long time to get up in the morning and to get ready for bed. First, there is the putting on or taking off the compression gear. That includes a jockstrap-like pad that goes on first followed by compression stockings and then compression shorts. At night they come off in the opposite order. Before I put them on and after I take them off I have a 20+ minute regimen of massage and exercise that I go through. It really helps in controlling the swelling, but I have also learned that bad results happen when I slack off on this regimen.
  2. It is uncomfortable. The pad is a little bulky and the compression gear can dry the skin. So some days the gear can cause a bit of chafing. Also the multi-layers of gear under the clothing can lead to a lot of sweating. This slows down the active life a little. As winter approaches though I am hoping the layers of gear will keep me warm and toasty, instead of just being hot like in the summer.
  3. My biggest concern when I go somewhere is how good are the bathrooms. Using one involves a bit of extra effort than in my pre-cancer days. (See above with gear off and on) I found that I loved attending a game at the Golden One Center but the Oakland Coliseum left a lot to be desired – managed it with a bit of bathroom gymnastics. Basically, it just requires a little extra time and effort.
  4. I need to watch my salt intake and make sure my body stays hydrated. Thankfully my diet restrictions aren’t much more stringent than that. I need to drink a lot of water, which seems counter-intuitive considering the problem seems to be retaining water. But what I am really retaining is lymph fluid and water moves it through my system.
  5. It hurts a little once in a while, but I am thankful the pain is pretty minimal. I have been on line and seen some cases far worse than what I have .

The Ups

  1. The regimen forces me to live one day at a time. God has made us physical, as well as spiritual, creatures and having physical needs reminds me of my daily dependence on God. That is easy to forget when you are healthy. The “chaos” is always hovering out there on the horizon and we should not forget that God is the only One who has defeated and will defeat that sin, death, sickness and evil chaos.
  2. It also reminds me of the daily spiritual care that is needed for living life. If I blow off days of massage and exercise I will see negative results. In the same way, if I blow off times of daily prayer and listening to the Spirit I will also see negative results that are just as real. This is how I can cooperate with God as he holds back the chaos.

This was supposed to be a short post so I’ll end it here. I am so thankful to God who has healed me from cancer and gives me daily strength to live day to day, no matter what we face.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Devotional: Right and Wrong at the Same Time Mark 8:22-9:1

Mark 8.23-9.1 outline

The rest of chapter completes the transition section to Jesus’ revelation to his disciples that, as Messiah, he would have to go to the cross, die and rise from the dead to open the way for the world to experience the blessings of God’s kingdom. This teaching was completely unexpected by the disciples who expected Jesus to defeat the enemies of their nation and bring in the glorious kingdom of God right away. Peter’s confession and subsequent rebuke by Jesus represented the view of all the disciples who recognized who Jesus was but failed to understand how the kingdom was to come and what their part in it would be. Thus, they needed further teaching and exposure to Jesus before they were ready to begin what would be their mission: the founding of the church community and taking the message of the gospel to the world. This teaching section (8:22-10:45) is bracketed by the healings of two blind men to show that the disciples’ blindness to Jesus and his mission needed to be fixed before they were ready for this mission.

The healing of the blind man at Bethsaida concludes the previous section (the revelation of Jesus as God’s Son) and begins this next teaching section. Jesus heals the blind man by spitting in his eye and laying his hands on him. The healing takes place in stages. After the healing Jesus tells the man to keep it quiet. The details seem strange, but they are a picture of what Jesus is about to do for the disciples. After the first stage of the healing the man says, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking” (Mark 8:24 ESV). This pictures the disciples’ understanding of Jesus.. They needed further experience of him and exposure to his teaching before they were ready to do what God had called them to do. At the end of this section, the healing of Bartimaeus (10:52) will be immediate and Jesus will command him to “go.”

Peter’s confession is like the blind man’s sight when he sees people as trees. He gets the label right, Messiah, but totally misunderstands what it means and what being part of God's kingdom is all about. Jesus rebukes Peter (he will strongly rebuke the disciples four times in this section) because he makes the same mistake as the Pharisees. He wants a Jesus who conforms to his own selfish agenda, “the things of man,” but Jesus will only bless on his terms. For the first time in Mark, Jesus reveals that the kingdom must go through the cross and resurrection and that His disciples must deny themselves and take up His cross of suffering to follow Him. He promises glory. but the cross and self-denial must come first. To teach anything else is to be a "satan."

Like Peter, and the rest of the disciples, we need regular exposure to the touch and word of Jesus to enable us to rise above our own selfish agendas and change our bad theology (wrong ideas about the character of God and the mission he calls us to do). The disciples listened, gave their lives and did their job and left us with a legacy and a body of faith to follow. We build on that foundation as we listen to the Spirit and apply Jesus’ word to our daily life and work. Jesus calls us to pick up his cross and follow his agenda for the day which may be difficult, but is only the only way to “glory” and “to gain the whole world.” The disciples were about to get a glimpse of that glory (9:1).

Saturday, October 06, 2018

OT Message on One Page?

Old Testament One Page

The Old Testament records the story of God breaking back into His creation through the nation of Israel over a period of about 1000 years as he develops relationships with key people to teach the nations what He wants them to be and to do.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Devotional: The “Leaven” of Unbelief, Mark 8:11-21

Mark 8.11-22 outline

The next passage (8:11-21) is a critical hinge passage, along with 8:22-9:1, to conclude the previous section, in which Jesus provides the signs that the promised King and God’s Kingdom were then present, but also records the misunderstanding and rejection of these signs by the Jewish leadership and most of the people. It then introduces the next section of Mark (8:22-10:52) in which Jesus will explicitly reveal himself to the disciples as the Son of God and Messiah, but correct their misconceptions of what that means. The big point is that the Jewish leadership’s unbelief and lack of openness to what God is doing through Jesus will permeate their lives, like yeast in dough, and cause them to miss God’s blessing. He calls the disciples, and us, to really look at what Jesus has done, exercise discernment and follow him, even though, it will mean a cross, persecution and difficulty before resurrection, blessing and victory.

We see the “leaven of the Pharisees” in 8:11-13. They ask Jesus for a “sign from heaven” to prove who he was. You might be asking, “What else does he have to do?” This guy has already defeated demons, healed many kinds of disease, calmed the chaos of nature and raised the dead, but the Pharisees were looking for a sign that would have validated their own agenda for what a Messiah should do. They wanted God on their terms, not God’s terms. Thus, they repeated the sin of Eden, Babel, and that of the majority of Israelites throughout their rebellious history. With sadness, Jesus refused their request. They would get a great sign, the cross and resurrection, but God would not give them the kind of sign they wanted. At this point, Jesus “left them,” “gave them up (Romans 1.24, 26, 28), and left their country.

On the way across the lake, Jesus warns the disciples not to make the same mistake as the Pharisees. He calls them to watch carefully and discern what God is doing through him. They should not allow their preconceptions of who God is and what they thought he must do cloud their discernment about what Jesus is doing right in front of their eyes. The new greater than Moses was there revealing God’s Presence and offering life in a way that had never happened before. To understand God and what He was doing in the world would require ears that really hear what Jesus is saying and eyes that really see what Jesus is doing.

This is what Jesus calls us to do as we experience him in the Gospel of Mark. Look at what Jesus does. Listen to what Jesus says. Then let go of your own agenda. Let go of your own striving to please God in your own power. Trust him to provide the daily bread of life and follow him no matter where he leads.