Thankful for Jesus

Mark 14 begins with an extravagant expression of love toward Jesus and ends with one of His closest friends denying Him. It mirrors His week in Jerusalem which begins with shouts of hosanna and ends in the tomb. Each time I read Mark 14, a different part of it stands out in my mind. There are many things we could see as the focus, but I just find myself being thankful for Jesus and what each part of the chapter tells me about Him.
 
I’m thankful that He is anointed and shown honor as the chapter opens and that even knowing what Judas will soon do, He deals with the objections of Judas patiently. I’m thankful that He gives us a way to remember His sacrifice that we still take part in each Sunday. The symbolism of the bread and juice each week help us to remember in a way that goes beyond words. I’m thankful that he is direct with Peter about the denial to come, but I’m more thankful to know that Peter’s story does not end there. I’m thankful He takes time out to pray in the midst of an incredibly difficult time. Even in His struggle, He provides an example for how we should handle struggles. I’m thankful that we get to see that He understands the difficulty of what is about to happen, but He puts the Father’s will above His own. Our priority should also be to follow the Father’s will. I’m thankful that in the midst of an unjust arrest, He shows compassion to heal the servant of the high priest. I’m thankful that He boldly said that He is the Messiah and that because that is true, we can be with Him forever.
 
There is so much to be thankful for in the life of Jesus. Be thankful this week. Whatever challenges we are dealing with are temporary. We serve an eternal God!
 
Brian


More Than the Others

When I was in high school, our youth group sat on the second and third rows in the auditorium during the worship service. (No one ever sits on the front row. I’m assuming we’re saving the best seats for our guests.) There were some Sundays that the group was more engaged than others, but I remember a particular Sunday when the sermon was about giving. The preacher said that sometimes he wished the guys passing the collection trays would just throw them like Frisbees from one end of the youth group row to the other, because it never stopped to have money added to it on those rows anyway. We all laughed at the thought of trays flying by, but it made us think. Most of us had bought into the idea that whatever we might have the ability to give was insignificant compared to the needs of the church budget. He taught us that day that we were wrong about that.
 
In Mark 12, a widow approaches the offering with what seems to be an irrelevant amount of money to the temple treasury, but Jesus calls attention to how important her gift was. He said she had actually given more than the others. We would think of her as one who might need help from the church, yet she was giving instead. God desires that we be giving people, and he does not quantify that the way our world does. There are not levels of donations honored on plaques. Instead God just asks that we give as we are prospered, whether that’s a lot or a little in the eyes of our society. If we are giving with the right heart, God will be honored and pleased.
 
Brian
 
And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” – Mark 12:43-44


Do Whatever We Ask

In Mark 10:35, James and John have one request of Jesus: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” It’s probably not the request Jesus would hope to hear in the context of Mark 10. After all, he had just finished talking about how the kingdom would be populated by people who become like children and people who help the poor. Their request of trying to get Jesus to promise something without saying upfront exactly what they want Him to promise sounds like something a child might do. So what is it that James and John want: a better understanding of how to be like a child or maybe some practical strategies for how to best help the poor? No, that’s not even close. They want the best seats in heaven. They want glory. After everything Jesus has taught them, they are still looking out for their own interests. I don’t think selfishness is the child-like trait that Jesus had in mind for them to replicate.
 
As frustrated as we might be by the request of these two apostles, we often focus on our own desires instead of the needs of others. We have a hard time getting past our selfishness. We like things our way. In contrast, Jesus gives example after example of the importance of considering those around us. He shows us that other people are more important than our things or our status. He showed us by the way that he lived. He says that he “did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Mark 10:45) Jesus wants us to do the same, and He wants us to want to serve even more than we want things for ourselves.
 
Brian
 
Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.  As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. (1 Peter 4:9-10) 


A Mountaintop Experience

We’ve all had memorable experiences. I may have shared this story already, but consider it in this context. A couple years ago a friend and I were at a conference and decided to take in a baseball game during a free night. We weren’t fans of either team but we like baseball and thought it might be fun to see a game in a stadium we had never visited. The first half of the game was alright. The concessions were overpriced, and there were some loud guys who had been over-served behind us; but it was still baseball. Around the 7th inning, I turned to my friend and asked if the visiting team had a hit yet. They hadn’t. For the next couple innings an average game between teams we didn’t follow became a lot more exciting, and we witnessed a pitcher’s first no-hitter. As the team celebrated with him, an older couple came on to the field. His parents were at the game. Out of close to 40 games he would start that season, they were at this one. What a great experience!
 
In Mark 9 Peter, James and John were eye witnesses to something far greater than any mountaintop experience we might imagine. Jesus was transfigured before them with Moses on one side and Elijah on the other. One of the greatest of the patriarchs and one of the greatest of the prophets appeared there and talked with the Messiah. “This is my beloved Son; listen to him,” a Voice from heaven said. And then just like their roles in life, Moses and Elijah faded away and only Jesus remained. Peter would later write about the experience in 2 Peter 1:16, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” They had a mountaintop experience, and their lives were forever changed. Listen to Him, and yours will be too.
 
Brian


It’s Not Going to Be Easy

Will it be worth the effort? Have you ever asked yourself that question before starting on a task? At our house in Arkansas, my wife and I decided to update our kitchen. It was a lengthy, incremental project that included stripping and painting cabinets, replacing countertops, installing a new sink and faucet, tiling a backsplash, installing new appliances and painting. We did most of the work ourselves in an attempt to save money. The whole process took YEARS. It was not years of daily work but just projects here and there. Somewhere in the midst of it all, we decided that starting the project might not have been a good idea, and we would hire someone if we ever wanted to do something like that again. We got to enjoy the completed kitchen for less than a month when we started packing everything up to move to Oregon. If we had known all that at the beginning, we probably would have done things much differently.
 
Jesus is very upfront with his disciples and the crowd in Mark 8, when he tells them that following him will not be easy. The idea of a person taking up his cross would have been all too familiar in their culture, and it would not be something that anyone would seek out. He wants them to understand the cost. He wants their commitment. He asks the same thing of us today. If we are living the lives that Jesus calls us to live, there is a cost. It requires our time. It requires using our talents. It requires our giving. It requires our hearts. It requires that we become living sacrifices. And is it worth the effort? Absolutely.
 
Brian
 
 
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mark 8:35-37)


Don’t Tell Anyone

Can you keep a secret? It is difficult sometimes, isn’t it? There is something exciting about knowing some piece of information that others do not know and being the one who shares that information. You get to see the their look of surprise. You are the one who knows. There are people who absolutely love moments like that. Usually they are the last people you want to confide in when you have a secret of your own.
 
What about when it is your experience that you want to share? When is the last time you could not wait to tell someone about the exciting thing that happened to you? You had a great first date. You received or gave an amazing gift. You found a great sale somewhere. You just returned from one of the best vacations ever. We love to share those experiences with others.
 
In Mark 7, Jesus encounters a man who is deaf and can barely talk. The man’s friends bring him to Jesus to be healed, and Jesus does not disappoint. When Jesus heals him, he is immediately able to hear and speak plainly. As the man and his friends left, Jesus made only one request of them: don’t tell anyone. But the text tells us, “The more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.” (Mark 7:36 NIV) They could not help themselves. It was the most incredible thing they had ever experienced. They had to tell others about it.
 
God loves us enough that He sent His Son here to the world to live a difficult life and die on our behalf, so that we could live with Him eternally. Don’t tell anyone? We cannot help ourselves. It’s the most incredible thing we have ever experienced. We have to tell others about it.
 
Brian


Sheep Without a Shepherd

In Mark 6, Jesus and his apostles get on a boat to escape the crowd and find a quiet place to rest. The crowd has other ideas and meets them on the shore when they arrive. Rather than get frustrated, Jesus “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” When I see those words, I am reminded of an article I read in 2005.
 
ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) — First one sheep jumped to its death. Then stunned Turkish shepherds, who had left the herd to graze while they had breakfast, watched as nearly 1,500 others followed, each leaping off the same cliff, Turkish media reported. In the end, 450 dead animals lay on top of one another in a billowy white pile, the Aksam newspaper said. Those who jumped later were saved as the pile got higher and the fall more cushioned, Aksam reported. “There’s nothing we can do. They’re all wasted,” Nevzat Bayhan, a member of one of 26 families whose sheep were grazing together in the herd, was quoted as saying by Aksam. The estimated loss to families in the town of Gevas, located in Van province in eastern Turkey, tops $100,000, a significant amount of money in a country where average GDP per head is around $2,700. “Every family had an average of 20 sheep,” Aksam quoted another villager, Abdullah Hazar as saying. “But now only a few families have sheep left. It’s going to be hard for us.” (USA Today, 7-8-05)
 
It’s a sad, yet almost comical story to think of one sheep after another walking off that cliff. It’s easy to step back and think of just how dumb those sheep must be. Don’t people do the same kind of thing every day though? How many times do we see people blindly following others into self-destructive actions? How many times do we continue to make the same mistakes and fall into the same sins? Too many times we are like sheep without a shepherd just like this crowd was. Jesus responds not with impatience, frustrations, or an I told you so. He has compassion, teaches and even feeds more than 5000 of them. In John 10:11, He goes even further and says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Let’s all step out of the line of sheep heading toward that cliff and follow the good shepherd who loves us enough to lay down His life for us.
 
Brian


Who Touched My Clothes?

When our family lived in Eugene, we attended two Oregon football games at Autzen Stadium. They were a lot of fun and incredibly loud, but there was one thing that had a big impact on the games and the experiences: the crowd. We learned quickly that although the stadium was built to seat over 50,000 people, it was difficult to get around when a lot of those people are trying to leave at the same time. It was even more difficult to try to keep a family of four together during that mass exodus.
 
In Mark 5, we encounter Jesus in the middle of a crowd on his way to help the dying daughter of Jairus. One woman within that crowd is sick and just wants to make physical contact with the edge of His clothes. She is so convinced of His power that she believes she can be healed through that contact. When she touches the edge of his cloak Jesus asked, “Who touched my clothes?” When I hear the question, I imagine myself back in the concourse of the stadium trying to wade through the flow of the crowd toward the exit. What if I had stopped and said, “Who touched my clothes?” What kind of responses would I get? I would expect sarcasm or laughter or something like the response given by the disciples. So why did He ask the question?
 
Jesus did not let the important teaching moments pass by unnoticed. Whether it’s a question with an obvious answer or drawing in the sand, Jesus has a way of making people pause and listen. He could have healed the woman without a word, or He could have ignored her and hurried on to His life saving task for the daughter of Jairus. He had just driven a demon out and was on his way to heal a sick girl. Clearly it was a very busy day, yet he stopped and shared this moment with the woman and the entire crowd. She had amazing faith. He had compassion, both on the woman through healing and on the crowd through sharing an unforgettable moment with them. And amazingly it all happens along the way between the two miracles that seem like the point of the story. The most amazing things often happen along the journey.
 
Brian


Planting the Seed

In a story about planting in Mark 4, we are introduced to a teaching technique that Jesus uses frequently throughout the gospels: parables. Since childhood, I’ve heard parables defined as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” For thousands of years people have told stories to illustrate points that might otherwise be too complex for most to understand. Jesus uses this same tool, and his illustrations often involve agriculture. Personally, I don’t know much about gardening and agriculture. What little I do know, I have learned from my wife’s family who have a farm in Nebraska.
 
From them I’ve learned that farming can be hard work. It involves long days. It necessitates intentional planning. It demands adaptation of techniques. Some things about it have been the same for centuries, and other things change over time. I saw a video once of a combine from the early 1900’s being pulled by a team of mules. My brother-in-law, Steve, doesn’t use one of those. He uses a combine that requires a ladder on the side to climb into, has a GPS built in and enough horsepower to thrill any muscle car enthusiast. But his goal is still the same as it was for the farmers driving those mules. His goal is a good crop.
 
The crop is always uncertain. Some years it’s amazing; some years it’s sparse. Some years it’s the best looking crop ever, and it’s taken out by a hail storm the evening before harvest is planned. There are some variables of the crop that are under the planter’s control, but there are many that are not. And Jesus tells us in Mark 4, that spreading the gospel works the same way. Our job is to plant. Not everyone will respond in the same way, but our job is to plant. Not everyone will grow at the same rate, but our job is to plant. And as with farming, it might require hard work, long days, intentional planning and using the new technology available to us today. Sometimes it is much simpler. It is just us telling people about how Jesus has changed our lives and can change theirs. How can you plant the seed this week? Who’s your one?
 
Brian


Relationships

Last week we learned in the second chapter of Mark that Jesus has become well known. The crowds are great. There is a paralytic seeking healing, and his friends are determined enough to lower him through the roof of the house where Jesus is. Jesus takes note of their faith, tells the man his sins are forgiven then heals him. There are several things we can learn from this story, but I would like you draw your attention to two things specifically.
 
First, isn’t it a wonderful thing to have good friends? So many people would have seen the crowd surrounding the house where Jesus was and thought that it just would not be possible to reach Him. Many would have given up and gone back home. These friends were not content with that option. They wanted to get their friend to Jesus no matter what length (or height) they had to go to. I hope that we all have friends like that, and I hope even more that we can all BE friends like that.
 
Second, even though we tend to focus on our physical needs and wants, Jesus has a way of refocusing us on our spiritual needs. As we talked about last Sunday, this man was likely not thinking much about his sins as he was being carried to the roof and lowered down. He wanted to walk. Jesus was willing to fix that problem, but He also knew that the man had a greater need and gave him so much more. Jesus knew that sin was a greater barrier in the man’s life than the crowd, the roof or his paralysis. That same Jesus understands what we really need too. He knows we have a hard time seeing past medical, financial or relationship issues to spiritual ones, and he wants us to bring them all to Him.
 
On the surface this story is about healing, but it also has a lot to do with relationships. It is about this man’s relationship with his friends and about his relationship with God. We should see the importance of those same relationships in our own lives.
 
Brian