And He Said This Plainly

I’m continuing my lectio divina study of Mark, and today I read how Jesus began to teach the disciples about His mission. They understood that He was the Christ, the Messiah. So He went on to tell them that he would be rejected, suffer, be killed, and after three days rise from the dead. Mark notes, He said this plainly. (Mark 8:32). In other words, He didn’t beat around the bush or use euphemisms, He told them right out — I’m going to die and rise again. We can tell from what happens later that in spite of this plain speaking, his followers didn’t get it. Peter tries to rescue Him when He’s arrested. They flee and hide while He’s being crucified. They’re doubtful and astounded when Mary Magdalene reports she’s seen Him. It seems incredible, that after being told exactly what to expect, they managed to ignore or forget them.

It makes me wonder how often I do the same thing. There are plenty of places in the Bible when Jesus tells me how to behave or what to do, and I find a way to weasel out or misunderstand. For example:

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:30-31

Of course I try to love God and my neighbor. Don’t all Christians? But do I love God with all my heart? Don’t I save a piece for my husband, my children, my home and my own comfort and security (in other words it’s at least partly about me). Then there’s the love for my neighbor. God couldn’t possibly mean that I would love my neighbor in the same way as I love myself, could He? That would mean helping him when it’s inconvenient, maybe even sacrificing for him. That would mean loving him when he’s been unfriendly and annoying, or refused to help me! That would mean not gossiping about him, and seeking his welfare. Even worse, if I read the parable of the Good Samaritan closely, it’s plain to see that my neighbor isn’t just the fellow who lives upstairs or down the street, but anyone who needs me.

I marvel at how dense the disciples were. Jesus told them plainly. And they’re not alone. He tells me plainly, too. I’m no different from those early followers; I hear the things I like, and ignore the ones I don’t. However, Jesus and the Bible speak plainly. You and I just need to hear.

For more on the Gospel of Mark see:

Take Heart; it is I

Rest a While

Go Home

The Commandment of God or the Tradition of Men?

Here’s what stood out for me in my lectio divina reading of Mark, chapter 7:

“You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”  Mark 7:8

I didn’t really want to address this verse, and I even tried reading the chapter over a few more times, hoping something else would replace it.  No dice.  This is the one God wants me to hear.

At this point Jesus is telling the Pharisees what hypocrites they are.  They use their traditional religious practices to justify ignoring God’s Word and His real intention about how their daily lives should be lived.  For example, they avoid helping their parents by telling them they have no excess to give them — it’s promised to God.

This brings up several thoughts in my mind.  Lutherans (and I’m sure many others) are often accused of immediately countering a new idea with the phrase, “we never did it that way before.”  I must admit, I like my traditions.  I love the liturgy;  I love certain hymns that I associate with particular seasons of the church year; I love taking prayer requests during the service, so that we hear and can share in our common griefs and joys.  There are good reasons for doing these things.  The liturgy teaches us words directly from Scripture;  the hymns reinforce the mood of the season we’re experiencing;  group prayer binds us together.  However, I also need to remember to keep the main thing the main thing.  All of these traditions, good and helpful though they may be, are adiaphora, a Greek word meaning indifferent or unimportant.  I need to focus more on why we’re doing something than how we’re doing it.  As humans, all of us are likely to start thinking that our particular and comfortable way of doing things is the “right” way.  Doing something new can be helpful, as long as the something new is taking us in the right direction — loving and obeying God.

There’s another way to think about this verse, however–the way we let society and the ways of the world influence us.  We twist the words of the Bible, or ignore them, because they no longer suit our worldly understanding.  Pronouns and certain ways of referring to God become offensive and politically incorrect.  Things that are commonly accepted as part of life are no longer seen as sin.  We pick and choose the parts of Scripture that fit into our culture, and reject the parts that don’t.  This also seems to me to be putting our own traditions above God’s commands.

I’ve pondered about all this long enough.  It comes down to this:  in making a decision, go to God and His Word.  What does it say?  What does it mean?  What’s really important?  Would God be pleased with my choice?

For more on the book of Mark see:

Take Heart; it is I

Why Are You So Afraid?

Come Here!

 

Be Wise

I’m preparing for an adult Sunday School class, and the topic is wisdom — something that, in my opinion, we’re not showing much of lately in our country.  What is true wisdom?  Well, it goes beyond book learning and intellectual accomplishments.  For the Christian, wisdom is knowing God’s Word and applying it well to life.

For example, right now we are facing a pandemic.  The Coronavirus is spreading.  People are panicking. What should we do?  Some would say the Bible has no advice on this problem, but it does– for example, remember the parable about the farmer who decided to build bigger barns to store his excess produce?  Here’s what God said to him:

” ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'” Luke 12:20

In other words, God tells us not to hoard. It may not benefit us at all, and it will harm others. So why on earth are experiencing a shortage of toilet paper?  This is not wise behavior.  What the Bible does say is “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)  Before you empty that shelf, stop and remember that your neighbor needs these items as well.

People are becoming excessively worried about going out among others.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  If you have a chronic health condition that puts you at risk, or are elderly or in another high risk group, of course, stay in,    Everyone else — take reasonable precautions– wash your hands, keep them away from your face, cover your coughs, disinfect what you can.  Don’t make unnecessary trips to public venues.  Seek medical attention and self isolate if you have symptoms. Then stop worrying.  Again, the Bible asks us:

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?”  Luke 12:25

I understand.  I’m an anxious person myself, and with the barrage of negative information we’re receiving it’s tempting to give in to fear and act in what seems to be our own best ( sometimes selfish) interest. But if knowing what the Bible says doesn’t lead us to act in obedience, what’s the point in saying we’re Christians? (for more on this topic see The Right Kind of Faith) We will experience true peace, even at times like this, when we depend upon Christ and admit that He’s in control and we are not.  In fact, we never were!  Maybe that’s the lesson God is teaching us.

But I trust in you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand
    deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
    from those who pursue me.” Psalm 31: 14-15

 

 

 

Your Will Not Mine

Why do you pray?  Is it to get what you want?  Change something that makes you unhappy?  Find a way out of a desperate situation?  It’s okay.  We all pray like this, sometimes, and God wants us to pour out our innermost thoughts, desires and fears to Him.  It’s a beginning.  However, the motivating factor behind our prayer life should be this:  to know His will and obey Him.  I found this quote that expresses true prayer well:

“That prayer which does not succeed in moderating our wish, in changing the passionate desire into still submission, the anxious, tumultuous expectation into silent surrender, is no true prayer and proves that that we have not the spirit of true prayer.  That life is most holy in which there is least of petition and desire, and most of waiting upon God;  that in which petition most often passes into thanksgiving.  Pray till prayer makes you forget your own wish, and leave it or merge it in God’s will.  The Divine wisdom has given us prayer, not as a means whereby to obtain the good things of earth, but as a means whereby we learn to do without them;  not as a means whereby we escape evil, but as a means whereby we become strong to meet it.” F.W. Robertson

This is how Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It was an anguished, but genuine prayer;  a prayer that was all about the Father and His plan.

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42

Can you follow His lead and pray to be led into God’s will, not your own?  It’s a prayer that will never fail.

Serve Like A Son

“…when we were children, we were slaves to the elements of the universe.  But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So through God you are no longer a slave but a son ….” Galatians 4:1-7

In a recent sermon my husband spoke about his childhood.  Now and then he and his oldest brother and sister would become so unruly and disobedient that his mother, in frustration, would go into the pantry, sit on a lard can and cry.  For the kids, this was the worst punishment ever.  They had made their mom, the person they loved more than anybody or anything in the world, so unhappy that she cried.  What pain and remorse they felt!  Not because they expected to be punished, but because they cared deeply for their mother and never wanted her to be disappointed in them.

This story tells us something about what our motive for serving should be.  When we are selfish and disobedient, it hurts God; God, our Father in Heaven who loved us so much that he sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins;  God who provides for us every day of our lives;  God who has mercy and compassion on us, even when we turn away from Him and forget Him.

Children don’t serve and obey their parents out of fear, or even because they may gain a reward.  They serve their parents out of love and gratitude for who they are and what they have done for the family.

God made us His children;  He loves us;  He takes care of us.  Don’t disappoint Him.  Serve like a son!

The Willing Servant

“…behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. …When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him:  he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son.  And he called his name Jesus.” Matthew 1:20b-21; 24-25

We’ve talked about Mary this month, who was indeed God’s servant, but today I thought it would be appropriate to mention Joseph.  His sacrifice for God was also great.  No doubt he endured some disapproval and/or ridicule for marrying an already pregnant girl.  Later, after another God-sent dream, he flees with the family to Egypt, abandoning his home, friends and livelihood.  He does all this without complaint or questioning.  He doesn’t hesitate or procrastinate.  In fact, He never speaks!  The Bible does not include a single word spoken by Joseph. What we do have is a record of his action — obedience.  God knew the kind of man He wanted to raise His son;  a man who understood servanthood and could model it for Jesus as He grew up.

Christmas

It is humbling to realize how far I fall short of this ideal.  Often I obey, but in a slow and grudging manner.  I whine about my circumstances and wish for an easier life.  I don’t usually want to suffer or sacrifice, even if it’s for the good of others, even if it seems to be God’s will.  If I’m honest, I’ll have to admit that I’m more like Jonah than Joseph.

So today, of all days, amidst the gifts and the feast, the visiting and rejoicing, I need to take time to meditate on the lives of Joseph and Mary, God’s faithful servants.  The people who raised Jesus, the God-man who lived and died as a servant to all of us.  I’ll remember what truly pleases God.

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.”  1 Samuel 15:22

God doesn’t want us to be “good” people;  He wants us to be His people. Dear readers, I wish you a Merry and Blessed Christmas.  Go in peace;  serve the Lord.

 

 

 

Remembering What We Are

“For he (God) knows our frame;  he remembers that we are dust.”  Psalm 103:4

God knows us because he made us.  In Genesis we learn:

“…the Lord God formed man of dirt from the ground, and breathed in to his nostrils the breath of life;  and man became a living being.”  Genesis 1:7

Sometimes we forget who and what we really are.  God created us, and he sustains us.  Our body is fragile and temporary.  We are dust, and in a few short years our time on earth will be over.

On one hand, it can be depressing to realize this;  on the other, it makes our lives precious and meaningful.  Do I really what to delude myself by thinking I am in charge of the world?  Or do I want to make a difference by obeying the one who made me?  Do I want to waste my time acquiring things that don’t matter in the long run?  Or do I want to contribute to God’s plan and hear the words, “well done, good and faithful servant?”

Your time here is short.  God knows who you are and what you are?  Do you know Him?

 

Come and See

“Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means teacher), ‘where are you staying?’  He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’  So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.  One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah (which means Christ).  He brought him to Jesus.  Jesus looked at him and said, ‘So you are Simon, the son of John?  You shall be called Cephas (which means Peter).”  John 1:38-42

This is a continuation of my last post.  Notice that Jesus doesn’t give them details about where they are going, he just says “Come with me and see.”  They learn from him, and immediately Andrew tells somebody else about Jesus — his brother Simon, who becomes Peter, the rock of the church.

Obedience has results.  Immediate results(they got to know Jesus) and long term results(they introduced Peter, who played a significant role in God’s plan).  I can certainly see the same kind of results in my own life.  I’m a very shy person, but following Jesus has led me to do things I would never have been able to without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  I teach adult Sunday School, I’ve lead retreats and workshops, I am even able to put some details of my personal life and struggles out there for others in this blog!  I’ve been able to use my gifts for God, and I think I’ve encouraged others to do the same.  I’ve been blessed and I hope those around me have been blessed by my obedience, even though it has often been slow and grudging.  Maybe one day, when I die and am judged, I’ll see the really long term results of my obedience and also my disobedience.  I’m sure I’ll be amazed at what obedience has done, and dismayed to see what those times of disobedience led to.

What about you?  Have you been willing to “come and see”?  Are you just beginning the journey?  Or have you been on the road for years?  Bloggers, please write, and readers please comment.  I want to hear your story.

 

 

Maintaining the Balance

“And when they had brought them they set them before the council.  And the high priest questioned them saying, ‘We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’  But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men. The of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.  God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.'” Acts 5:27-32

In my last post, I wrote about Paul’s instructions in the Book of Romans, advising us to obey the authorities placed over us by God.  We see in the verses about that obedience to other authorities must be balanced with the necessity to place God’s commandments above all others.

Obvious, right?  However, the more I thought about this, the more difficult it became to sort out.  In the instance above, Peter and the apostles were told by an angel to “…stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”(Acts 5:20).  This is what prompted their willingness to face the consequences(imprisonment, etc.) of disobeying the Jewish authorities to obey God.

Most of us don’t get such concise instructions delivered by angelic visitors.  Our primary source is the Bible.  The Ten Commandments can guide us in many situations:  if our employer tells us to be dishonest in our business practices, we refuse;  if we’re called upon to testify in court, we tell the truth, even if someone in authority tells us to lie.  We wouldn’t renounce our faith, even if we lived in a country where Christianity was a crime.

But then there are other things…. if our government tells us to kill people, we say no, correct? Well….what about soldiers?  Is it acceptable for them to kill the enemy?  And what about the death penalty in certain criminal cases?  Can a Christian agree to this extreme punishment if they are on a jury?  Can they pull the switch to execute someone if it’s part of their job description?

Suppose the government declares something to be legal that many Christians deem morally wrong — abortion,, for example.  What action should we take?  Peaceful demonstration?  Should disruptive or even violent behavior be taken to prevent something God says is wrong? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran theologian I have quoted often our our blog participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler.  Was he being obedient to God in trying to save innocent lives?  Or disobedient in planning to take a life?  I’m beginning to see why the Jews tried to formulate all those rules to nail down the precise meaning of the commandments!

There is sometimes (maybe more often than we like to admit), a tension between obeying the authorities that God has place over us, and obeying God.  How do we hold both of these  instructions in balance?  I hope some of the other Lutheran lady bloggers and readers will weigh in on this.  I want to hear your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

A Quote from John Calvin

It was true in the garden, and true for believers today.