Archive for December, 2009

Gaining Eyes to See — Mark 8

Demanding a Sign (v. 11)

The Pharisees reveal their blindness in that they ask for a sign immediately after Jesus has fed 4,000 people with seven loaves of bread.  Jesus openly displays his displeasure with an angry sigh.  Because they rejected Jesus’ identity (about to be discussed in v. 27-30) they cannot or will not see the miracles that are done in their presence.

We are not granted the option of partial or selective vision.  God does not allow us to choose what we do and do not agree with concerning His character and activity.  As we will see, verses 22-26 are an acted parable that we do receive progressive vision.  However, if we reject what God has done in our lives to us, we will not be able to accept the rest of what God has made known.

Reflection Questions:  What aspect of God’s character or activity in your life do you have the hardest time accepting?  Pray earnestly to God that He would grant you the grace to accept this truth.  Speak with a mature Christian friend or pastor about this struggle to ensure your thinking correctly about what you are trying to accept.  If need be, start with the prayer, “I believe.  Help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).

Do You Have Eyes But Fail to See?

Don’t you feel sorry for the disciples?  They doubt the bread and God does a miracle.  They start thinking about bread and miss the point of the miracle.  They could answer all the factual questions, but missed the question of relevance.  Why?  They did not yet understand who Jesus was or what He was up to.  This impeded their ability get the significance of all they were blessed to experience.

That raises a very relevant question for us, “Do we understand who Jesus is and what He is up to in our lives?”  If not, even the grandest works of God in our lives will be misunderstood.  We may be able to answer many factual questions and be willing to give God credit for it all.  However, we would still be missing the point.

As you seek to make sense of Christ, consider these foundational truths about His work in our lives.

  • Jesus came to glorify the Father and everything He does is for that purpose (John 17:1).
  • Jesus is willing to sacrifice greatly for our benefit (John 3:16).
  • Jesus expects us to find joy by being sacrificial people (Mark 8:34-38).
  • Jesus knows that lasting joy is only found in holy character (Matt 5:48)
  • Jesus does not promise to remove suffering (Matt 5:11-12).
  • Jesus works in the midst of suffering (Matt 5:43-47).
  • Jesus hates suffering even when it is produces great good (Matt 26:38-39).
  • Jesus is not soft on those who inflict suffering (Mark 9:42).
  • Jesus does not work on our time table (Mark 13:11).
  • Jesus will not and does not leave us alone (John14:18, 26).
  • Jesus has complete compassion and understanding of our circumstances (Heb :15).
  • Jesus rewards those who are faithful (Rev 22:12-16)

If you are in a time when you feel blind to what God is doing, then take time to meditate on these truths about your Savior in light of your circumstances.  Pray with a humble, patient heart that God would show you His full character and activity.  Pray you would have eyes to see it.

Progressive Vision Restoration (v. 22-26)

Jesus performs this miracle in between His rebuke of the disciples regarding their spiritual blindness and their guessing towards His true identity as the long-awaited Messiah.  This is an acted parable of grace.  While we must accept who Christ is, our vision may be restored gradually so long as we do not defiantly resist what is made known.

This is truly Jesus stepping out of high usual pattern (instantaneous healing when He heals) to demonstrate His patience with our slow process of understanding.  Notice in the next verses the disciple’s eyes are opened to Jesus identity as the Messiah as slowly as this blind man’s site was restored.

Balanced View of God: The disgust Jesus demonstrated with the Pharisees in verse 12 does not carry over to the blind man or the disciples.  Both experience spiritual blindness.  The Pharisees were willfully blind.  The disciples were blind from fear or confusion. Notice that Jesus does not respond to them on the basis of their condition (blindness) but on the condition of their heart (hard or humble).  Let this be a comfort to you.


Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.

Five Loaves, Two Fish, A Walk on the Water & One Message — Mark 6

He Had Compassion on Them (v. 34)

Context makes this phrase amazing.  Jesus was hungry and exhausted; so were His disciples (v. 31).  They tried to get away for rest (a good model for us to follow as well).  In His time of rest needy people found Jesus.  Unlike us, Jesus saw them.  More than He saw His fatigue, He saw their lostness.  They were “sheep without a shepherd (v. 34).”

Reflective Questions: What physical need or relational desire do you get least and crave most?  When, how, or with whom does this frequently make you blind to ministry opportunities?  Do you intentionally plan times to fulfill these longings so that you are not so famished that your cravings further blind you?  Should your first action step be one of fasting (to put to death self-centeredness) or resting (to care for the body and life God has given you)?

A Model Testimony By Omission

Take a moment and compare the account of Jesus walking on the water after feeding the 5,000 in Matthew 14 with the account in Mark 6.  Do you see one major omission? Mark leaves out the fact that Peter also walked on the water.  That is significant because Mark’s Gospel comes from the preaching of Peter to the church at Rome.

What are we to make of this?  Should we never reference ourselves or significant events when giving our testimony or sharing the Gospel? That would be a bit extreme.  After all, Peter is a major character in the Gospel of Mark.

I think a more accurate point would be we should not speak (or speak less) of ourselves when it distracts from the message of Christ.  Peter acknowledges that he left a successful fishing business to follow Christ (Mark 1:16-18), because that highlights that Jesus was worth it!  Peter omits his walking on water because people would want him to prove it or get his autograph and miss that Jesus was Lord of all Creation.

Consider the following questions as you seek to prepare yourself to give your testimony in a way that brings the most glory to Christ.

  • What were you like before your conversion?  What things were most important to you?  How did you spend your time?  How did you reward yourself?  What was the best of all possible days?
  • When you accepted Christ what was it that convicted you of your sin?  What made you realize that Jesus was the only remedy for your guilt?
  • What things changed immediately in your character, behavior, language, relationships, or values?  What things resisted change?
  • What have been some of the more significant moments in your Christian maturity?  How has God changed you in ways you would have never expected?  What circumstances, people, or passages of Scripture were most prominent in your process of change?
  • What were some of the good things that God has done that (in the moment) you completely missed or did not like at the time?  How do you see God’s patience, kindness, and even sense of humor in this process?

I hope these questions guide you to tell your story with God as the main character and that these moments of reflection have made your more comfortable sharing your story with others.

They Were Amazed…Their Hearts Were Hard (v. 51-52)

Is it just me, or do these two phrases not belong together?  The disciples experienced a great miracle (one even participated in it), they are amazed at the power of God in Christ, but they didn’t get it because their hearts were hard.  If nothing else this verse should give us pause to saying (or thinking) “I understand” or “I know how I hurt you” when someone speaks or we are reading a familiar passage of Scripture.  Too often these responses are instinctuous pride responses that reveal a hard unreceptive heart.

Another question worth examining is, “What did the disciples miss?”  They missed the implication of feeding 5,000 people with 5 fish and 2 loaves.  If Jesus can do that, then the laws of nature are subject to Him.  Might they have been able to answer a theology quiz if given time to use deductive reasoning?  Sure.  But when life happened (in the form of a storm), they were amazed (read shocked/surprised more than worshipful celebration).

One final observation, Jesus did not condemn them for their hard hearts (v. 50, Jesus comforted them).  Jesus was teaching them.  If they did not lack understanding and faith, His presence would not be needed.  This is something we must remember with those we teach and shepherd (particularly our children).  If they did not lack maturity, discipline, understanding, or “common sense” they would not need parents, teachers, supervisors, or pastors.

Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.

Three “Seed” Messages (Salvation, Evangelism, & Faith) — Mark 4

Seeds Reveal Our Response in Salvation

“What must I do to be saved?” asked the jailer in Acts 16:30.  Paul replied simply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).”  In the parable of the sower, Jesus expands upon Paul’s answer.  Below are the four responses we can have to the Gospel and the adversary most prone to disrupt the growth of the Gospel in the soil of our heart (given in parentheses).

The Path: (Satan) This person does not pay attention, retain, or value the Gospel when it is presented.  Satan’s work is to not let the seed sit long enough to sprout.  The application for this person is to listen and be willing to consider eternal things—things heavenly seem insignificant compared to things earthly.  The battle is one of attention span and embracing conviction.

Rocky Soil: (Trouble or Persecution) This person is attentive and celebrates the goodness of God’s conviction.  Yet for this person earthly things (although initially viewed as less significant than things heavenly) like trouble and persecution distract and drown out things eternal.  The lack of roots – discipleship and involvement within a local church community – make it too difficult to weather this heat and they wither.

Thorn Soil: (Worry, Success, & Desire) This person weathers trouble and persecution with reliance upon and understanding of God’s Word in a context of Christian community.  Yet God’s blessings become their demise.  Worries concerning the family, health, finances, and dreams God blessed them with cause them to take their life back into their own hands.  God gives them the desires of their heart and then they choose the desires of their heart over God.

Good Soil: (Fruit) This person is content to be a fruit producer.  They value things eternal, weather persecution, experience God’s blessing, but maintain their primary identity as laborer/citizen of God’s kingdom.  Because God’s blessings did not become their measure of worth (the yield of the crop fluctuates), they could take joy in what they were allowed to contribute to and avoid getting lost in various self-preoccupations.

I pray you are able to use this sheet to take a “soil test” of your life now and to trace your own Christian journey.

Seeds and the Role of the Evangelist (v. 26-29)

Confusion is a common reason for avoiding evangelism.  We are not sure how it works, so we don’t know if we have done it right and we sure do not want to foul up someone’s eternal destiny.  Jesus says we need not understand how sharing the gospel penetrates a stony, hard heart to bring life from death anymore than a farmer needs to hold a Masters degree in biology to understand how dry and wet dirt combine to produce fruit.

The farmer has one task and that task is not professor, it is sower.  Similarly, the Christian sharing his/her faith has one task and that task is not theologian, but witness.  It may be helpful for many to consider that the same faith with which we share the gospel (somewhat fearful and uncertain of how it will work) is the same faith with which an unbeliever receives the gospel.  In this the Christian models what he/she is asking of the unbeliever while asking them to respond.

If we had to understand more in evangelism than the farmer does in sowing, then our faith would not be in the grace of God and work of Christ but in the system we presented.  If we know that we are sinful and that Christ as our substitute is our only hope, then let us sow and be amazed whenever and however the harvest comes.

Seeds and the Impact of Faith (v. 30-32)

“God is doing something large and my life, my abilities, my understanding, or my available time is so small.  There has to be a problem.”  Have you ever thought something like this?  Jesus replies, “That’s the point!  That is what my kingdom is all about.”

A major question that this parable raises is, “Where do you find your security?”  What is it that you think you should offer God that would make your contribution to His kingdom significant?  Those are the very things that fuel our insecurities and hinder the activity of God’s kingdom in our lives.

In light of this thought, read I Corinthians 1:18-31 for another picture of God’s kingdom and the normal object of our security.  Our chief mission in life is to bring God glory.  When we have done that we have done the highest thing a human (or any other part of creation) can do.  Any largeness on our part gets in the way.  When God makes great bushes (does awesome works that blesses others—“birds of the air perch”) with small seeds (ordinary folks) then God gets the total glory.  The seed is secure throughout the entire process because it was only concerned with its mission (glorifying God) and gets to be the “largest of all garden plant” in the end (which still may not be a Giant Redwood Tree).

Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.

A Year’s Worth of Marital Conversations & Prayer Subjects

We have all said it, and we all sigh when other’s say it. “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” I want to offer you a year’s plan for meaningful conversation and prayer with your spouse in 2010.

Don’t read “meaningful” to mean deep, serious talk-talks. The goal of this document is to provide a balance of playful, reflective, appreciative, flirty, confessional, planning, and romantic conversations with prayer topics that build on that day’s theme of conversation.

As you follow the guide, feel free to chase rabbits. It is not meant to be a script, but jumper cables. If you think of yourself as one who struggles with conversation, put these pages where you dress in the morning. That way you can review the “subject of the day” and think about it on your commute or during a break. This way meaningful conversation will not “put you on the spot.”

Hopefully these pages will eliminate the pressure of initiation and creativity in communication, so that you and your spouse can spend 2010 knowing and being known by one another in new, exciting, satisfying, and refreshing ways.


Lying vs. Living Falsely: Is There a Difference?

Have you ever tried to convince someone they were lying and they genuinely did not believe you?  This may be because their definition of lying was reduced to, “Intentionally sharing information that is known to be false for the purpose of deceiving another person to gain some type of advantage.”  I believe that is a very good definition of lying.  It captures much of what is prohibited in Exodus 20:16, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor,” from the Ten Commandments.

But let us ask another question.  Does the above definition capture everything that Jesus said we are to pursue in John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free”?  I believe Jesus’ call to live in the truth is more than the avoidance of intentional, premeditated false statements.

But what else is there?  There are all of those facts and realities that we just wish were not true.  Maybe it’s a particular insecurity we feel, the effect of eating too many desserts, a fact about our family we wish were not true, an ability we wish we had but do not, a gadget we cannot afford but want anyway, or something else that we wish that was which is not (or vise versa).

How many of us choose to ignore one of these truths and then become a slave to the choices we made as we ignored them?  This is what Jesus went on to say in John 8:34, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”  The contrast to sin and slavery in this passage is not righteousness and choice, but truth and freedom.

How does this relate to our original question?  When you live falsely it becomes very difficult (if not impossible) to speak truthfully.  However, because you have ignored certain realities, you do not hear yourself lying.  In fact you may not be intentionally sharing information that is known to be false for the purpose of deceiving another person to gain some type of advantage.  You may be sincerely seeking to get someone to understand your point of view.

BUT, this “point of view” is one that has ignored certain key realities.  Therefore, the sincerity cannot be equated with honesty or truth.  While what is being said may not fit our Exodus 20 definition of lying, it falls short of our John 8 definition of living truly.

The conclusion of this matter is that denial is deception.  It is self-deception that as we interact with others we expect them to buy into (and often become offended if they do not).  The application of this material has to do with how to disciple someone in this situation.  In order to “win your brother” (Matthew 18:15) in this situation, you must help them see their denial.  Until they recognize or acknowledge what they are denying, they will not be convicted of the falseness (of folly) of their statements.

Ultimately, we cannot convict another person and we cannot give someone “eyes to see.”  This is the job of the Holy Spirit.  But you now know how to pray for them.  You understand the situation in a way that makes their sin less of a personal offense (and ultimately between them and God – Psalm 51:4).  You also know how to cooperate with the work of God in your friend’s life.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Character” post which address other facets of this subject.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Emotions” post which address other facets of this subject.

Lightning McQueen, Doc Hudson, & Psalm 119:11

You can guess the age of my children by the title of this post.  You may remember the scene I’m about to paraphrase.  McQueen lost a race (and the chance to get out of town) to the old, run-down Doc Hudson because he kept sliding out of the turn on the small town dirt track.

Later McQueen has enough humility to ask Doc how to make a fast-speed turn on a dirt track.  Doc replies, “Turn right to go left.”  McQueen’s humility gives way to this absurd answer (again I paraphrase), “Oh sure!  Your answer is as backwards as this small town.  I guess this is backwards day.  Turn right to go left.  Say good-bye if you mean hello.  Freeze water to make it boil.  That’s great.  Sorry I asked.  Turn right to go left, Huh?!”

You might be wondering what in the world this could have to do with Psalm 119:11, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”  Hopefully it helps us see something significant about the place God calls us to hide His Word – that being our heart.  Too often we reduce the application of this verse to “I should memorize more Scripture.”  And we should.  Personally, I think you ought to know at least one verse for every Bible you own.

McQueen could repeat verbatim what he heard from Doc.  McQueen just didn’t believe a word of it.  It was backwards and absurd, but quoting it was no problem (it made a great punch line for a joke).

A key part of properly applying Psalm 119:11 is to meditate and practice the verse(s) we are memorizing until they become a part of how we understand our world and actually determine the values by which we live our lives.

How easy is it to memorize (and subtly mock, or at least doubt) verses like Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath,” or Matthew 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,” or Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” or I Timothy 6:6 “But godliness with contentment is great gain,” or insert the verse you know but have the hardest time with.

Our goal in applying Psalm 119:11 is like another scene from the Cars movie. McQueen has escaped Radiator Springs and finally made it to the big Piston Cup race (my apologies to all adults who do not currently have small children).  He is near the end of the race when his nemesis Chick Hicks bumps onto the inner track turf.  McQueen’s tires lose traction and as he skids he remembers “Turn right to go left.”  As a much humbled (and therefore wiser) car, McQueen places his life-and-bumper in reliance upon these wise words.

That is the intent of Psalm 119:11.  Not that we know the words of God’s book. But that we have so been changed by them that we cast our lives entirely upon them to avoid the ways of destruction.  When everything else in our culture would join with us in mocking the absurdity of such archaic phrases, we have forged such a bond of love and trust with their Author that doubt seems more bizarre than faith.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Parenting” post which address other facets of this subject.

The Light and Darkness of Christmas – Luke 2:22-35

A Light for Revelation to the Gentiles (v. 32)

The first Christmas was the beginning of the end.  Christ came to be the full disclosure of God in bodily form.  Jesus’ birth tore the distinction between Jew and Gentile like His death tore the veil to the Holy of Holies.  Where there was confusion there would be clarity.  Where there was division there could now be unity.  While it had been clearly hinted at throughout the entire Old Testament, it must now be recognized “God so loved the world” and not just one people group or geographic region.

This portion of Simeon’s prophecy is ripe and overflowing with hope and celebration.  Joseph and Mary marveled at his words (v. 33).  The reversal of the Tower of Babel (which had continued to unravel like a hole in little boys blue jeans) was beginning.  Now instead of their being continual division and only unity through war and violence, the King of kings and Price of Peace (the long-awaited Messiah) steps on the scene to stop the madness.

QUESTION:  What promise of God seems too far-fetched to you at this time?  Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection should give us hope to conquer our doubts.  The fact that God could work through this frailest of human forms in the darkest of times should maintain our hope that we are not beyond His power.

However, Christmas also reminds us that we are caught between the “already” and “not yet” of God’s activity.  God is still mending while the world is still unraveling.  Sin and death have been conquered but not silenced.  As the Jews looked to Christmas (confused, doubting, hurting, longing), so we Christians look to Christ’s second coming.  The miraculous faithfulness of the first coming gives us hope for the second.

A Child for the Fall and Rising of Many (v. 34)

The Christmas wars did not begin with the assault on the phrase “Merry Christmas.”  From the first records Jesus’ birth has been divisive.  The dividing point of history (BC vs AD) is also the dividing point of humanity (believing vs. unbelieving).  In spite of the joyousness of the occasion what you believe about Christmas impacts everything else you believe.

Either Jesus was the Son of God incarnate as a human baby sent to save the world from our sin, or he wasn’t.  If Jesus is those things, we have a loving, involved God and we are sinful needy people.  If Jesus is not those things, we are basically good at heart and an idea of God is fine as long as he serves you and you do not impose that belief on anyone else.

APPLICATION:  Christmas is no tame holiday (apologies to C.S. Lewis).  Decorations, presents, big meals, and visits with family are wonderful.  But they cannot (or at least should not) mask the magnitude of what we celebrate.  As you seek to prepare for Christmas use not only the carols, mangers, and lights to stir your reflections, but also the conflict, division, and turmoil.  If Jesus were not who He claimed to be then neither the intense pleasure nor intense strife would surround this sacred day.

Experiencing Christmas

It is wonderful to enjoy Christmas.  Even for those who struggle during the Christmas season with grief or painful memories, we all long to enjoy and appreciate this sacred season for what it is—God’s arrival to earth as a baby.

However, we face many obstacles: the ever increasing commercialization of Christmas; shopping; planning all the visits with family and friends; the familiarity of having “done Christmas” so many times; the longing for it to be like what we’ve experienced before; and the sense that the whole thing is bordering on a fairy tale (apart from divine revelation it would be easier to believe Frosty the Snowman than Jesus the Infant God-man).

Here are some suggestions for all ages about how to prepare yourself to enjoy Christmas for the celebration it truly is.

  • Read the opening of each of the Gospels in the week leading up to Christmas (not just on Christmas morning before opening presents).
  • Print the lyrics to your favorite Christmas carols and talk about them at family meals.
  • Look at baby pictures of each member of the family and how they grew up.  Consider the sacrifice it was for God to “grow up.”
  • Create a “Gospel Gift” a family.  It might be a donation to a mission’s agency.  Open that gift first before any other presents.  As you “open” the gift share opportunities you had to share the gospel during the year.  Leave the package out during the year to remind one another than to share the gospel is to celebrate Christmas.
  • Laugh together.  Jesus came that there might be joy in unity; not pleasure in individualism.  This may be most difficult for the young ones and should be a muscle that is strengthened not a rule that is enforced.  The present of Christmas (the Gospel) was made to be shared and the full enjoyment of that present is seeing it bring joy to others.  The other-mindedness of enjoying the pleasure and blessing of another is a mark that we truly understand and have embraced the message of Christmas.

Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.