Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Devotional: Kingdom Living in an Evil Age, Mark 13:1-23

Mark 13.1-25 outline

As Jesus and the disciples left the temple area, after Jesus had symbolically pronounced judgment on it and the system it represented and defended his authority to do so, he instructed them explicitly about what these signs meant. The old order has passed away and the temple is about to be completely destroyed. When the disciples asked about the signs of the end they were expecting that the destruction of the temple and the end of the age would be simultaneous events. But Jesus corrected this idea by letting them know that there would be an unspecified length of time between the two events in which nations will rise, fight and fall. It will be a time of persecution for Jesus’ followers, but even that persecution will lead to witness, even in the strongholds of worldly power and oppression, Jesus’ followers will follow the same path that Jesus took through the cross to glory. God’s kingdom will grow in the midst of the evil age and, in the end, just as it seems evil will win, the Son of Man will return, defeat evil, gather his people and bring in the age of peace and righteousness, In the meantime what are God’s people supposed to do?

Twice Jesus tells his disciples that they are supposed to “watch.” (13:5, 9) so that no one leads them astray. False prophets will come who will interpret the events of the age as a sign of the swift return of Jesus giving people false hope. There have been false teachers through the last 2000 years who claimed to know the dates of Jesus’ return but all have been shown to be false. False prophets also look at the normal events of the age, earthquakes, wars etc., as harbingers of the apocalypse, but again these are to be expected and endured. Instead of obsessing over dates and times, the church needs to focus on its mission of discipling the nations. This is how to be ready for the 2nd coming which will happen suddenly, without precipitating events or signs.

Secondly, Jesus tells his disciples to anticipate trouble, persecution and suffering. In their generation they will experience persecution at the hand of their own families and friends, oppression from the ruling authorities and the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. This all took place within 40 years of Jesus’ resurrection. The early church faced persecution and death at the hands of their own Jewish relatives and from the Roman authorities. Jesus said that this would be the opportunity for supernatural witness and history shows that his prediction was accurate. Persecutors like Paul were turned into witnesses and whole nations turned to Christ. This is the pattern for the age. Our response to persecution and suffering becomes the “seed” that grows the church.

Jesus calls us to watch for those who come, even with signs and wonders, to give us false hopes and bind us with fear because of world events. Instead we are to live our lives in community with other believers as islands of love, hope and kingdom purpose in the chaotic sea of a world apart from God.  We can do this because God has already won the battle and has given us his Spirit to speak and act through us.. Even the world’s opposition will accomplish God’s purposes and we can be sure of victory and reward in the end. Watch and be faithful!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Devotional: Right and Wrong Responses to God, Mark 12:38-44

Mark 12.38-44 outline

Mark 12 closes with a contrast between two responses to God’s ultimate revelation of himself and his mission in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Jesus has already commended a scribe who sees that the real goal of the Torah and the desire of God for his people was always that his people would devote their whole being to knowing, loving and serving God. This service is best seen in daily practical acts of service and love for God’s people, especially those who are poor, needy and outcast from society. This involves commitment of ourselves to God, directing our thoughts and intelligence to knowing God and his world better, and focusing all of our physical abilities on accomplishing his mission to make God known and pass on his blessing to those around us. Now Jesus points out an example of how not to do this and how to do it.

It is not surprising that the negative example is the Jewish leadership. He condemns them for their pretentious show of power and authority, “flowing long robes,” their desire for people to recognize and honor them, and their hypocritical public display of religiosity that covers their greed and disregard of the needs of the people in their care. The focus of their hearts was not on God or his mission but on wealth, power, and the admiration of their peers and people. Jesus condemns religion that is practiced only for public consumption. Jesus condemns religious practice (giving) that attempts to buy off God so that one may pursue one’s own agenda instead of God’s. Jesus, like the prophets of old, rejects a response that does not come from the heart.

The positive example is a poor widow who deposits only a couple pennies in the temple collection box. Jesus ignores the large sums, that would have made a lot of noise as they were thrown into the metal box, given by the rich because there was no sacrifice involved in their giving. They were still rich when they went home. The widow is commended because she gave “all she had to live on.” This woman’s gift reflected that she had responded to God with all her heart, soul, mind and strength.

The widow was willing to throw away all her living for the sake of the temple, while the temple leaders were using the temple to enrich and honor themselves and preserve their power at the expense of the people they claimed to serve. Giving and service to God are not something we do to get it over with so we can get on with our own lives. Love and service for God must be the sum total of our lives. God’s revelation in Jesus requires a response of total allegiance and devotion. Our religious acts must proceed from that. This is how we share in Jesus’ cross and this is how we will share in Jesus’ resurrection and glory.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Devotional: Correcting an Inadequate View of Jesus, Mark 12:18-37

Mark 12.18-37 outline

The main theme of the Gospel of Mark is that Jesus is the Divine Son of God but that his kingdom must go through the cross before it fully realizes and experiences his glory. The problem is that this idea is so different from what the religious leaders, and even Jesus’ own disciples, expect that Jesus constantly needs to explain, in various ways, who he is and what his kingdom is all about. In this section Jesus continues to deal with these inadequate views about his identity and about the kingdom he is announcing. The titles Messiah and Son of David are inadequate to fully explain Jesus’ identity and mission. Jesus challenges them to expand their understanding by identifying himself with the mysterious lord (Adonai) who sits at the right hand of the Father (YHWH) and will rule with all creation at his feet (12:35-37). Here Mark challenges us to expand our view of Jesus and recognize him as LORD and God. Jesus is the One who rules next to the Father and to follow him is to draw near, get to know, and love the Father. Devotion to Jesus now prepares us for the age of resurrection that is to come.

This discussion begins with a question from a delegation of Sadducees, the political, priestly partly within the Jewish leadership (12:18-27). They were the more theologically liberal group who denied the idea of bodily resurrection. They tended to be more concerned with wealth and political power. They mocked Jesus by proposing an absurd view of what life after resurrection would be like. Jesus begins and ends his answer by saying that they are deceived and do not understand the scriptures because they deny the power of God. Resurrection life will not just be a continuation of this one. It will have a different quality so it is foolish to speculate on what it will be like. What we know from scripture is that, like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we will be with God. The power of God will bring in the age to come and implied here is that they will see it when Jesus rises from the dead. In the meantime, we prepare for the resurrection by following the risen Jesus now.

The next paragraph deals with this proper response (12:28-34). One of the scribes asks Jesus, then “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus responds with the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), the basic creed of the Jews: to recognize who God is and love him with all one’s being. Jesus then adds a second “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:19) These commandments sum up the totality of the Old Testament and make the point that an intimate relationship with the Father that trusts his promises is the most important thing. The new family and new order that Jesus is beginning will not be about buildings, ritual or nationality but about devotion to God and caring for and building up his people. This should be our focus.

So how do you view Jesus? In Jesus, the God who rules from heaven has come close to the people he has created. He calls us to devote our whole being to God by following him on his path through the cross to resurrection and the glory of the age to come. He calls us to draw near to him and then serve others as he served those around him. In doing this we experience the resurrection power of God and get to see a little of the age to come now. That is what Jesus is all about.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Friends, Family and Places We Have Seen in October


We spent a few days in Santa Cruz. This is the (former) natural bridge. Joyce and I took our pictures here for our wedding invitations back in 1979. Back then the bridge was still intact. We must be old!

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While in Santa Cruz we spent time seeing the sights with Joyce’s sister Janet and bro-in-law Paul. (left) We went to church at Gateway where we saw old friends Janet and Naomi (center) and Jo Romaniello (right).


Family at the hospital during my dad’s surgery (left), With the Caskey family, friends from Guam. Well we knew Jeremy and Adina on Guam. The kids came later and we were meeting them for the 1st time. (center), Jim and Tracy Course, I have known Jim since kindergarten days (right)


And of course there was computer chat time with granddaughters Courage and Arie

San Diego #2–Soccer Day


Last Saturday in San Diego was soccer day for us. We went to the park to watch Ahni and Milo’s teams play a little soccer. They both seem to enjoy playing very much and have made some good friends on their teams. Both of them did well. Ahni made 4 goals and her team won 12-1. Milo scored 5 goals and his team won 6-0. Matt coaches Milo’s team. Here grandma warms up Ahni before her game.


Ahni in action on the field and in the goal


Joyce poses with 5 goal scorer and everyone enjoys an after-game frozen yogurt


We even had an after game concert. In the evening we went to church and listened to Matt play in a worship band concert. .

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Devotional: Jesus’ Kingdom Authority, Mark 11:27-12:17

Mark 11.27-12.17 outline

11:27 begins a new section (11:27-12:44) in which Jesus debates, with the Jewish leadership, the source of his authority to bring in the kingdom of the “age to come” and to rule over it. The big point is that his authority is God’s authority and, because, the promised king is present, everyone must make a decision about whether or not they will submit to Jesus and his heavenly kingdom or continue to resist God and be removed from their positions of leadership of God’s people. They will continue to reject and resist Jesus’ claim and kill him thinking that they have squashed and removed him. But his resurrection will vindicate his claim. The Son of God has broken into his creation and calls his people into his kingdom. Will they listen and obey?

The Jewish leadership responds to Jesus’ acted out parable of judgment on the temple by questioning his authority to do so (11:27-33). They ask who gave him the authority over the temple. His answer is very clear. The same authority that authorized the preaching of John the Baptist authorized his temple actions. John had already announced that Jesus was the coming one who would bring in the kingdom and called the nation to repent to be ready to serve him. Jesus is saying that his call to the people to prepare for judgment and follow him is also authorized by God. Jesus will not allow the religious leaders' arguments against his authority to deter His mission of setting up the new order that God had promised.

The challenge of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus about paying taxes to Caesar makes the same point (12:13-17). They think they have trapped Jesus between loyalty to Caesar and loyalty to God. But, Jesus rebukes their worldly view of how authority functions. Caesar has limited power. His coins claim ultimate power but really he has been delegated only limited power by God (the Pharisees’ use of the coins showed that they recognized this power as well.), But God (the authority Jesus claimed) rules over the whole being of every person. God’s kingdom supersedes and replaces all human kingdoms. We recognize that God delegates authority to governments,and we honor that, but ultimate authority belongs to God. When governments make claims beyond that, whether they are Roman, Jewish or American, their claims must be rejected. The real solutions are not political. They are found in submission to God’s rule through Jesus Christ and within the new community he has set up, as it humbly serves, endures persecution and builds up his people. 

The parable of the murderous tenant farmers (12:1-11) is framed by Jesus’ claim to Divine authority. This is an updated version of Isaiah’s vineyard parable (Isaiah 5). Israel was God’s kingdom and its land was God’s. He gave it to his people as a stewardship and they were to work in it to serve God’s people and accomplish God’s mission. This was the fruit God desired. God had done everything possible to make that mission a success. But the nation took God’s gifts and used them selfishly. They misused the temple (the vineyard tower represented the temple) for personal power and prestige. Instead of listening to the many prophets throughout their history they resisted, persecuted and even killed some of them. Now they were about to reject the ultimate expression and revelation of God: his own Son. This would be a mistake from which there would be no going back.

Jesus has handled the leaders’ questions in a way that showed clearly his Divine authority and the corruption of their leadership. They had missed the point that devotion to God and taking care of His people is the most important thing. Thus, they did not see what God was doing in their time, they rejected His Messiah, missed His kingdom and would soon be subject to judgment. We all must keep close account on our devotion to God and our tendency to compromise with worldly power and honor, so that we do not miss what He is doing around us now.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Weekend in San Diego #1–Grandparenting


We enjoyed spending the weekend down in San Diego the past few days. We arrived on Thursday and watched the kids on their off-day from school on Friday. We had a great time with Matt and Kristin too.


Even though we missed the actual birthdate we did get to celebrate a late mini-birthday party for Meika. All 3 kids really enjoyed the bubble machine we got for her.

Devotional: Missing The Moment, Mark 11:13-26

Mark 11.12-26 outline

The next section (13-26) is an acted out judgment on the temple and nation of Israel. The two sections about the fig tree bracket Jesus’ disruption of the temple ministry. Like the fig tree, the temple and what it stood for was rejected for lack of “fruit.” Israel had been chosen to bless the nations by making God and his blessings accessible to them, but instead they proudly thought of themselves as better than the nations, selfishly used God’s blessing to enrich themselves and rejected God’s Messiah. So, Jesus symbolically condemns the sacrificial system, the corruption of its leadership, and the perversion of its purpose away from God's design for it. God had come through on his promise. Messiah, the glory of the incarnate Son of God,  had come to his temple (Haggai 2:7, Malachi 3:1) but his people were not ready.Their leaders rejected him because they were too busy taking care of their own business.

Jesus’ symbolic actions with the fig tree showed that the temple religious system had failed and was about to be replaced. The temple was supposed to be “a shining city on the hill” that would attract the nations to God and serve as a center of outreach to the poor and needy. But, as in the days of Jeremiah, it had become a den of thieves” (Jeremiah 7:4-12) that had allowed selfish, perverted people to think that they were insulated from God’s judgment. As in the days of Isaiah (56:7) the temple was not a “house of prayer for the nations,” but instead was a nationalistic shrine which separated and excluded foreigners and outcasts from salvation. With a few exceptions this had been the story of the history of Israel. Now, the Jerusalem mountain (11:23) was about to be removed. God was now doing something new in Jesus and that old system, like the fig tree, had been rejected from the roots up. The nation’s hope, like ours, was not to be in a building, a symbol, a program or a ritual but in “receiving” the LORD who had come to his temple and replaced it, and would now reside in his people.

The old way was done and the new way had begun, so Jesus closes this section by describing what his new way would require. Jesus’ kingdom would be all about “faith in God (22)” Prayer would be effective everywhere, not just Jerusalem, because the whole earth will be reclaimed by God. Prayer that trusts God and his promises for the impossible will accomplish its goal. Instead of excluding, the new way will be characterized by forgiveness which reconciles people to God and to one another. Jesus was there offering this new way of forgiveness, life and blessing. Sadly, the leaders missed their moment. Because of their fear (11:18) they tried to destroy him and, in doing that, destroyed themselves. Today, bearing fruit means a faithful witness to the nations in word and action, prayer that trusts God’s promises as the basis for life and a willingness to forgive as God has forgiven you.  This is the fruit Jesus is looking for today. May he find some on our trees.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Devotional: Be Ready for the King’s Arrival, Mark 11:1-11

Mark 11.1-11 outline

Chapter 11 begins the climactic section of the Gospel of Mark. Mark has been taking his readers on a journey with Jesus and the disciples to discover who Jesus is and what that means for the lives of those who come into contact with him. In this passage, Jesus, very deliberately, presents himself to the nation as the Messiah, the one to fulfill the prophecies about the great Son of David and the one who would bring in the age to come. The disciples and the people of Jerusalem recognized what Jesus was doing and rejoiced that the promised deliverer had come. But, just as Jesus had been cautioning in his teaching all along, he came in a way they did not expect. They were expecting a bloody, conquering messiah who would fulfill their personal and national hopes. But, as promised to Abraham and throughout the Old Testament, Jesus came to free everyone oppressed by evil and death and to be a blessing to all the families and nations of the earth. To do that he would not shed the blood of others but pour out his own blood as a “ransom” for the liberation of all humankind. The “Day of the LORD” had come and no one, including the disciples, was ready for it.

Jesus makes his entrance into Jerusalem when it was packed with people for the Passover celebration. Speculation would have been rampant about what this popular healer and teacher was about to do. He makes his entrance in a way that would have brought to mind well-known messianic prophecy (Genesis 49:10-11 and Zechariah 9:9). As king, he commandeers the donkey colt and it is given to him. The people recognize the statement the king is making. The problem is that the people, especially the disciples, have not been listening to what Jesus has been saying about his kingship. Their preconceived ideas and their own selfish desires have kept them from hearing the word of Jesus which leads to life and faith. Thus, when the events unfold exactly as Jesus said they would, everyone, again including the disciples, abandons him.

The section ends with Jesus arriving at the temple and  “looking around at everything.” On that first day of the passion week Jesus came to reveal himself as king but also to assess the nation for judgment. The revelation of Jesus as Messiah, King and Son of God calls for a faithful response. Sadly the people’s foolish expectations of their own glory led to a shallow response, that turned into rejection when those expectations were not met. Thus, they missed the blessing Jesus was coming to give. Let us make sure we listen to Jesus carefully, submit to his agenda and take up his cross and mission so that we do not make the same mistake.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Literary Structure of Mark 8:22-10:52

Structure of Mark 8.22-10.52

Devotional: The Way to Glory, Mark 10:32-52

Mark 10.32-52 outline

Mark closes his account of Jesus’ teaching and preparation of the disciples for his upcoming rejection and crucifixion in Jerusalem in 10:32-52. His teaching has scared and confused them so Jesus clarifies what is about to happen to him when they get to Jerusalem: he is going to be rejected, disrespected and killed, but will rise from the dead on the third day. However, John and James’ request for the prime places of authority in Jesus’ kingdom shows that they still don’t really get what he is saying. The way to real greatness and glory is not found by seizing power or manipulating others (the ways the world does it) but through service and giving one’s life to help and save others. This can only be appreciated by those who have experienced Jesus’ miraculous touch and had their eyes opened by him so that they are enabled to follow him. This is what the disciples needed and this is what we need every moment of our lives. 

Jesus now makes clear (10:32-34) that his road to glory and kingdom runs through Jerusalem where he faces betrayal, mocking, rejection, pain and death. Resurrection, ascension and glory will only come after this. For us to follow Jesus requires the same willingness to give up our own lives to serve and save others. Jesus explains that his life will be the “ransom” that sets free “many” to experience God’s forgiveness and freedom from sin, death and all its other consequences. Those that follow Jesus should expect to “drink the same cup” and for God to graciously work through their service to provide that same freedom to others.

John and James were not wrong to want to share Jesus’ glory. That is the goal of his incarnation. The problem was that they chose the wrong method. They tried to get in first (after all they were among the first disciples chosen) to get the best seats. Jesus was correcting their approach and method. The way to greatness is not through using people, seeking power, or pushing your own agenda. The way to real glory, power and authority is the way Jesus did it: through self-sacrifice and service to those who cry out (Bartimaeus) in need.

The section ends with the healing of blind Bartimaeus. He is a picture of what is required to follow Jesus to greatness. He acknowledges that he cannot see or help himself. He accepts the touch of Jesus and is healed. He then responds by leaving behind everything in his old life and following Jesus. With eyes opened by Jesus he is now ready to “go” and follow Jesus example. The reader should contrast the right response from the  unexpected person, blind Bartimaeus, with those who would have been expected to do the right things. The religious leaders try to manipulate God and the torah and trap God's Messiah. The disciples try to restrict access to Jesus and manipulate Him for personal ambition and power. The "good" man tries to reduce Jesus' demands to something he can handle on his own without following Jesus. We cannot save ourselves. Salvation requires a ransom (the life and death of Jesus). We need to meditate on what it means to follow someone who characterizes Himself as a ransom and servant.

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.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Devotional: Jesus the Worldwide Messiah, Mark 7:24-8:10

Mark 7.24-8.10 outline

In 7:24, Mark moves the story back into Gentile territory, Tyre and Sidon, to continue Jesus’ teaching that the expectations of the Jewish leadership and the disciples of what their Messiah would be and the extent of His kingdom were too small. Jesus, by his words and actions, continues to show them that their view of what constitutes holiness is too shallow and their perspective on who is included in the people of God is too narrow. Jesus does three remarkable miracles in Canaanite territory for Gentiles to enlarge and widen the kingdom view of the disciples, and Mark’s readers, beyond their own people and desire for personal blessing, to include God’s concern for “blessing all the families of the earth” and preaching the gospel of Jesus “to the whole creation.”

In the first miracle (7:24-30) Jesus expels a demon from the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman. This miracle prefigures what Jesus will do in his death and resurrection to free the Gentile nations of the world from the domination of the demonic “principalities and powers” to which they have been enslaved since the tower of Babel. Thus, Jesus’ makes the point that this miracle “jumps the gun” a little on God’s plan to redeem the world. Nevertheless, because of her faithful response, he performs the miracle by a word, without even the need to be in the presence of the daughter. Jesus is truly the one who can free the nations from the bondage of darkness. The woman also provides a rebuke to the faithlessness and denseness of the Jewish leadership, and disciples, who have an invitation to sit at the kingdom banquet table but do not trust Jesus eagerly, like a little “puppy” who is “under the table eating the children’s crumbs.”  This woman’s faith should be a challenge and example to all of us.

The second miracle is the healing of a deaf man in Decapolis (7:31-37). Jesus takes him aside and heals his deafness and speech impediment by placing his fingers in his ears and touching his tongue. All of us need that kind of intimate connection with Jesus if we want to hear him and speak for him properly. Again we see Jesus “opening” what the powers of darkness had kept closed for thousands of years, and Jesus warns the man to “tell no one,” because the full realization of this freedom awaited his resurrection and ascension. Just like the deaf man, even the disciples (and us very often) were deaf to what He was saying and needed to humble themselves and receive what Jesus offered before their “speech impediment” could be removed and they could announce this “good news” message of God’s kingdom.

Finally, Jesus repeats the miracle of the feeding of a large crowd (8:1-10), this time with seven loaves and a few fish. The point should have been quite clear to the disciples: The God who provided bread for the Jewish nation to enter the promised land is now extending the offer of salvation, kingdom and blessing to the whole world. God has always had compassion for the needs of the whole world and the disciples are now being called to experience the intimate healing word and touch of the Messiah, the Son of God, and distribute its benefits to all of creation.

This is the lesson for us. We are to be as eager for the word and touch of Jesus as open-mouthed hungry puppies under a banquet table. And when we receive it, God calls us to pass it on to whoever is around us.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Principles on Forgiveness From the Life of Joseph (Genesis 37-50)

Principles on Forgiveness and Reconciliation from The Life of Joseph

  • Sometimes the means of the world’s salvation is your pain, betrayal and suffering
  • Forgiveness and Reconciliation are not the Same Thing
    • They are part of the same process but different parts of the process
    • Forgiveness must be given unilaterally but reconciliation requires the cooperation of both the victim and perpetrator

Principles of Internal Forgiveness

Definition: Internal forgiveness is a unilateral decision made within the heart of the victim to accept what has happened as part of the plan of God to bless him/her, and a commitment to be a conduit of God’s blessing to the offender. This does not mean that the victim condones the behavior of the perpetrator in any way. The behavior of the perpetrator must be faced and named for what it is, but the victim gives over the response to God and the proper authorities (state, church etc.) to hold the perpetrator accountable.

  • The victim must release the desire for revenge and retribution
  • The victim must see his/her suffering as something God can use to bring blessing to him/herself and to others
  • The basis for internal forgiveness is the character and plan of God
  • Internal forgiveness should be given quickly as possible, although deep pain may make this a long process
  • Forgiveness must be granted freely, permanently and unconditionally
  • Internal forgiveness must be given over and over despite what the offender does. The behavior of the perpetrator is not the responsibility of the victim
  • Forgiveness must be granted sacrificially
  • Forgiveness obligates one to seek reconciliation although it should be recognized that with some offenses reconciliation will never be possible

Principles of Interpersonal Forgiveness/Reconciliation

  • Full reconciliation must not be given until the offender has fully repented from the action and it is reasonable to believe that the victim or others will not be hurt by a repetition of the offense
  • Interpersonal forgiveness should be granted with the level of publicity at which the offense took place.
  • Reconciliation of relationships is an important means in God’s plan to bless the world.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Devotional: What Is Holiness? Mark 7.1-23

Mark 7.1-23 outline

The big question for all religions is, what is it that brings us into God’s presence?" What is it that God wants us to be and do? Jesus answers that question in a unique way in Mark 7.1-23 when the Pharisees question him about keeping their traditions that had been passed down over the years after Israel’s return from exile. Interestingly, Jesus does not really respond directly to their accusation, but questions their entire premise: their basis for holiness. The Pharisees had created many traditions that they thought placed a “fence” around the law and protected it and thus, identified the people of God by keeping ritual and rules. But Jesus rejected this means of identifying God’s people and granting them relationship with God. Instead, he taught that holiness does not come from external actions or traditions, which tend to separate us from one another and become a "who's in, who's out" criteria, but from inner attitudes of submission and love for God and for others that come out in our actions to one another. Relationship with God is only possible through a change of heart, (predicted by Moses, Jeremiah and Ezekiel in their new covenant prophecies) accomplished by Christ and implemented by the Holy Spirit, which then results in thoughts and actions that reflect the image of God.

In 7:1-13, Mark recounts Jesus’ dialog with the Pharisees about keeping rules and traditions. Jesus’ point is that reducing the commands of God to external human rules is just a way to avoid obeying the harder issues to which God calls His people: self-sacrificing love for God and for other people and attitudes and actions which reflect the character of God. Instead of loving God and serving people, these human rules put barriers between people that allow us to self-righteously condemn others and justify ourselves while we fail to allow God to deal with the sinful issues in our own lives. Jesus’ example is the Pharisaic rule of “Corban” which allowed a person to designate a future gift to God so that he did not have to use it to take care of one’s parents – something directly commanded by God. Rules allow people with hard hearts to keep a semblance of religion while denying its heart and soul.

Jesus then explains his point to the disciples in 7:14-23. Sin that causes people to separate themselves from God comes from the heart and out into the actions, not the other way around. The issue is the heart, not the outside. Rules about ritual and food do not make people acceptable to come into God’s presence. Thus, all foods, and associations with all people are clean. The problem is not external but an internal compulsion that expresses itself in a wide variety of evil actions. Jesus here is pointing out the need for a changed heart. And who can do that but the one who can heal all diseases, expel demons with a word and calm the chaotic sea? The issue is the heart and only connection to Jesus can fix that.