Showing posts from February, 2012

God, If You're There... [Mark 8:11-13]

How many of you have ever thought that it would be SO much easier to believe in God if he would just give you some sort of sign? If he would just speak to me directly... If he would just show me once and for all... If he would just (________), then I would (____________).

Throughout history mankind has desired and sought after "signs and wonders" from the gods. Especially now that we live in such a science-driven, secular society, we think that the only way to truly believe something is to have tangible evidence. Honestly, the ancients weren't much different. They didn't just blindly believe in things they could never experience or test.

Ever since humanity first stepped on the scene we have been faced with death. It's the one experience we know better than any other. Was it any easier for the ancients to believe a dead person had come back to life? Absolutely not. They needed some type of proof.

And some of them got proof.

And that seems unfair to us.

The thing we…

Crumbs from God's Table [Mark 8:1-10]

Mark 8 tells what seems to be a very similar story to the feeding of the 5000 recorded just 2 chapters earlier. I say seems to be similar because there are some key differences that help us understand what Jesus' mission entails.

The most obvious difference is that Jesus feeds 4000 men in chapter 8, slightly down from the 5000 men of chapter 6. But this figure seems to be somewhat arbitrary in light of the other glaring difference. The focus this time is not so much on how many but on who.

This miraculous feeding takes place in Gentile territory!

The first feast was given somewhere slightly north and west of the Sea of Galilee - prime Jewish hill country. This second feast is hosted in the region of the Decapolis, south of the Sea and east of the Jordan river. This crowd of 4000 men would have been predominately Gentile for not many Jews lived east of the Jordan.

It's also possible, when comparing the two stories, that the Gentile crowds had stayed with Jesus longer and travel…

Oh No, He Didn't! [Mark 7:24-30]

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably noticed that this is an election year. There are currently four men trying their best to secure the Republican presidential nomination to run against President Obama. One reality about which every single candidate is fully aware is the intense scrutiny they face for every word that comes out of their mouths. Every sentence is subject to intense dissection and criticism. It could be the death of their campaign to let something slip that is not deemed "politically correct." One misplaced word, one misspoken phrase, could turn thousands of people against a candidate.

Somebody forgot to tell Jesus that.

In his bestselling book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie includes a section "Six Ways to Make People Like You." Here's what he says it takes:

Become genuinely interested in other people.Smile.Remember that a person's name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important soun…

Tradition: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly [Mark 7:1-23]

For some reading this, "tradition" might be a four-letter-word. Even thinking about the word makes your skin crawl, just like the terms "doctrine," "systematic theology," or "plan of salvation." And in some sense, your distaste is warranted.

For others, the word "tradition" gives you the same reaction as a big plate of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese. It's a source of comfort. It gives you ties to a beloved past. And in some sense, your comfort is also warranted.

Jesus has some interesting things to say about traditions of men, especially when it comes to the church.

There are some who think that traditions were made to be broken. Traditions are stifling, restrictive, boring, and out of touch. They want to move forward in a direction that seems best to them, leaving the past (and the missteps of prior church-going generations) far behind. They want to take Christianity and their faith into the 21st Century and be…

Ghost Adventures [Mark 6:45-56]

One reality that most ministers face is that people can sometimes be really thick-headed. You try and explain the gospel to them - who Jesus is, what salvation is about, what kind of lives God wants us to live, etc. - but they just don't get it. It can be so frustrating to see people about whom you care deeply worshiping God on Sunday and then falling back into old habits on Monday.

It makes you want to grab them by the shoulders and shout, "What are you thinking?! Don't you get it yet?!"

I'm sure Jesus must have felt that way with his own disciples quite often. They may not have been the best and brightest theologians of that era, but they were with Jesus 24/7 for three years! What I wouldn't give just to be with Jesus for one day during his earthly ministry. Sheeesh...

However, one feature of the gospel accounts that speaks to their authenticity is this very fact. The disciples, the earliest leaders of the church, were just as flawed, prideful, and clueless…

2012 Goal: Year-to-Date

My goal (not resolution) for 2012 is to read an average of 2 books each month, or at least 24 books over the course of the year. So far I've done pretty well. Here's where I am:

Completed: King's Cross by Timothy Keller
Forgotten God by Francis Chan
Erasing Hell by Francis Chan
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Currently Reading: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
Miracles by C. S. Lewis

So, I'm done with 4, working on 5 and 6, and it's only mid-February. Not too shabby...

Two Kings, Two Feasts, One Choice [Mark 6:14-44]

By this time, I hope you are beginning to notice just how clever of a writer Mark really is. The way sews the story of Jesus together is so fluid and full of motion. This story is going somewhere and you can tell it. But then in chapter 6, he devotes a large portion of the text to a flashback!

We are told in Mark 1:14 that John was put into prison, but it's just left at that...until now.

I think it becomes clear that Mark has purposefully held off the story of John's death until now in order to compare Herod's feast with Jesus' feast. Let's take a look.

Mark begins in 6:14 by introducing "King" Herod. This must have been a bit tongue-in-cheek because Herod at this time was not a king. When King Herod the Great died around AD 6, Rome divided the territory between his sons. The Herod in this story was not a king, but more of a viceroy over about 1/5 of the kingdom. His title was Herod the Tetrarch.

Herod was not truly a king, yet threw a big party in his pal…

Feast Fit for a King [Mark 6:31-44]

The miraculous feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle other than the resurrection that is recorded in all four gospel accounts. It can be found in Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; and John 6:5-15. The fact that this miracle is in all four gospels not only testifies to the authenticity of the event but also to its importance. And by reading each account on its own merits, it seems like an interesting miracle but hardly something as exciting or powerful as, say, raising someone from the dead. But when you piece them together, you begin to understand what exactly is going on.

First, Matthew tells us that there were 5000 men "besides" women and children. The word translated "besides" more frequently means "without" or "apart from." That understanding makes a lot more sense given that Matthew is the only one to mention women or children - simply to say that these men didn't have them! If women and children had been present, it would…

On Going Home [Mark 6:1-6]

It always seems to happen.

That youth rally, that summer camp, that mission trip was AWESOME! God was truly at work. The worship was incredible, the speakers were passionate, the service projects were inspiring and humbling. Now you're on the top of the world. God's Spirit is alive and active inside you. You feel like you can do anything through God's power, and you're ready to change the world!

And then you go home.

Back to where people know your past. Back to where people have seen your failures. Back to where the worship is just routine, the preacher is old and irrelevant, and life is WAY to busy to volunteer or serve.

And the fire dies.

I'm positive that everyone who is involved in youth ministry - students, ministers, and volunteers - has experienced this sometime is his/her life. For some it happens multiple times every year. You are taken from this great spiritual high, then you suffer withdrawal-like symptoms, and if you are not careful it can even spiral d…

Dead Babies - Then and Now

13 For you created my inmost being; 
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 
   your works are wonderful, 
   I know that full well. 
15 My frame was not hidden from you 
   when I was made in the secret place. 
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 
16 your eyes saw my unformed body. 
All the days ordained for me 
   were written in your book 
   before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139

All of this talk about The Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood has really got me (and a lot of people) thinking again about the issue of abortion. I had somewhat unclear views and beliefs about abortion for a while, but recently I have settled on my stance.

Transport yourself back 2,000 years into the first few centuries AD. The Greeks, the Romans, and many other Pagan cultures practiced rampant infanticide. It was legal, and even encouraged, to dispose of babies with any birth defect or were simply deemed "weak." It…

On Miracles [Mark 5]

I'm no expert. I haven't studied miracles in depth. I don't claim to know all the answers when it comes to the power of God to act in real time. I've never witnessed something I could truly call a "miracle." But there are a couple of things that have helped me get a better grasp on the idea of miracles, and I hope it helps you, too.

1) The two most important miraculous events to believe in would be the creation of the universe and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Consequently, these are the two most hotly debated miracles.

There is more evidence for these two miracles than any other. Just look around you. There are signs of created order all over the place! Scientists try and debunk the idea that the universe was designed by a Creator, but they do and always will fail to answer the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

As for the resurrection, there is more historical and logical evidence for its occurrence than you may thin…

Pigs, Blood, and Dead People [Mark 5]

Sometimes it helps me understand Scripture better when I try and read the stories as if I were one of the original audience. And when reading the gospel accounts, it is especially helpful to read these stories through the lens of a first century Jew.

And this is incredibly helpful in the case of Mark 5 to uncover a secondary purpose in recording these stories.

Jesus' first stop after calming the storm was the land of the Gerasenes. These were Gentile people who worshiped pagan Gods. They were not of the nation of Israel. They were not Jews. They did not worship YHWH. This should be the first red flag.

You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own. Leviticus 20:26

The first person who meets them is a man with an "unclean" spirit who lives among the tombs. So not only was he possessed by an army of demonic/ unclean/ evil spirits, but he also lived in and around open graves full of rotting corpses.

Anyone out in …