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Part of the FBCS 2010 Read Through the Bible Project: Enter the Story. Join the Song.

Archive for June, 2010

“I” Means “Us” . . .

Mark 10:32-52     2 Samuel 24     Hosea 4:1-10

“But let me not fall into human hands” (2 Samuel 24:14). David made a choice. Afterward, he was “stricken to the heart” and confessed, “I have sinned greatly” (v.10). Then he made another choice: “Let us fall into the hand of the Lord,” (v.14) and 70,000 people died (15). David sinned and the people paid. Dearly. Add to this James and John asking for position and the effect this request had on the group of disciples (Mark 10:41). And Hosea’s stunning statement, “There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land . . . Therefore the land mourns” (Hosea 4:1-3). And then note that Jesus’ choice to go up to Jerusalem had the effect of amazing and frightening his followers (Mark 10:32) . . .  Well. Apparently, like it or not and for better or worse, we’re in this story together. And “I” means “us.”

“Even the fish of the sea are perishing”  (Hosea 4:3). A result of a lack of faithfulness to, and knowledge of, God. We love to declare our independence and make our own choices, don’t we? And it is easy to believe that my decisions have no impact on others. But it simply is not so. Our decisions and actions — private and public — affect the world God loves, for good or for ill. This is clear in today’s readings. David, Israel, James, John, Jesus . . . What “I” do matters to “Us.” This is the way God has designed life. My choices have an impact on you. Your actions have an effect on me. The good news in this is that we can, each one, influence the world for God as we choose to follow the words and ways of Jesus, who came “to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

“Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43). The cost of discipleship. The path to being like Jesus in the world. The key to choosing to be the kind of “Me” that makes “Us” better. David could have made a different choice, but it would have cost him personally (2 Samuel 24:13). Jesus gave his life. And he ransomed many (Mark 10:45). May we choose faithfulness this day. And the knowledge of God. May we follow Jesus, not only for our sake, but for the sake of his kingdom. And for the sake of the world that God so loves. Because “I” really does mean “Us.” Amen. And Amen.

“I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.”
     — 2 Samuel 24:24


Impossible? Possible.

Mark 10:1-31     2 Samuel 23     Hosea 3

“He was shocked and went away grieving”  (Mark 10:22). He just could not part with his stuff. It grieved him, but he couldn’t do it. Not even “to inherit eternal life” (Mark 10:17) . . . Today’s texts are filled with impossible things. Honoring covenants and keeping our commitments to others (Mark 10:9), becoming childlike in our trust (v.15), letting go of that which stands between us and God (v.21), entering the kingdom of God (v.26,27) . . . God’s word to Hosea: “Go love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves” (Hosea 3:1). And David’s audacious assertion: “The spirit of the Lord speaks through me” (2 Samuel 23:2).  Impossible stuff, this.

“So I bought her” (Hosea 3:2). Hosea did it. He redeemed Gomer. And loved her. And it cost him to do so. And there were those who “left everything and followed” Jesus (Mark 10:28). Just as the man with “many possessions” could have done . . . And there are, indeed, times when God’s word “is upon my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). And yours. And David’s. This is the way it is in the story we are invited to enter. Impossible things — decisions, commitments, actions —  are possible. Not because we can, but because God can do all things in and through us. And it is bigger and better than the heroic (see 2 Samuel 23:13-17). God makes the truly important and eternal possible: Faithful love; following Jesus; entering the kingdom . . . 

“The favorite of the Strong One” (2 Samuel 23:1). So David identifies himself. And so we are. You. Me. All who seek to follow Jesus into life.  “Jesus, looking at him, loved him”  (Mark 10:21). With David and Mary and the man with many possessions, you are beloved and favored by God. And, if you will allow it, God will make the impossible possible in and through you. Enter the story. Join the song. In the power and name of the Strong One, do the next right thing. Today. Amen.  

“For God all things are possible.”
     — Mark 10:27 

Love That Will Not Let Us Go

Mark 9:2-50     2 Samuel 22     Hosea 2:2-23

“What are you arguing about?” (Mark 9:16). So Jesus asks his disciples. Twice in today’s gospel reading (Mark 9:33), as arguing is contrasted to faith and prayer (v.19,29), a desire to be first is corrected with a call to servanthood (v.35), and welcome is set against jealousy (v.37-42). To this, our day’s readings add God’s faithfulness toward wayward Israel (Hosea 2) and David’s hymn of praise to the Lord, which includes this phrase: “with the pure you show yourself pure” (2 Samuel 22:27). Well.

“I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). The word of a distraught father, occurring in right in the middle of Mark 9. Oh, and lest we forget, David was not always faithful or pure (see 2 Samuel 11) . . . Faith is a messy business, isn’t it? And, more often than not,  it is experienced as a mix of belief and unbelief. In fact, sometimes it looks more like faithlessness (Mark 9:19) than the righteousness and loyalty claimed and extolled in David’s song (2 Samuel 22:21,26). But here is where the most amazing grace emerges: Jesus heals that father’s son (Mark 9:25-27). And he not only puts up with the disciples, but he continues teaching them. And God’s promise to David proves true (2 Samuel 22:31) despite his failings. And Hosea loves Gomer. And God faithfully loves Israel through her shame (Hosea 2:19,20). In Jesus, God helps us in our unbelief. Thanks be to God for that!

“This kind can come out only through prayer” (Mark 9:29). May we hear the hope and instruction in this. Help isn’t dependent on the purity of our believing. Nor is our salvation tied to our ability to argue our case, understand everything Jesus says, or always get it right. Our help and salvation is found in God, who loves us with a love that will not let us go. Ever (see David, Gomer, and the disciples). And prayer to God, who loves us faithfully, is all the faith we need. O Lord, I believe; help me in my unbelief! Amen.

“This God — his way is perfect;
the promise of the Lord proves true;
he is a shield for all who take refuge in him.”
     — 2 Samuel 22:31      

Who Will We Follow?

Mark 8:22-9:1     2 Samuel 20-21     Hosea 1:1-2:1

“You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:29). I am reflecting today on the contrast between the way of Joab and the way of Jesus . . . Joab, who “was in command” (2 Samuel 20:23), and Jesus, who must undergo “great suffering, and be rejected” (Mark 8:31). Joab, who will do anything to hold on to power (2 Samuel 20:9,10), and Jesus, who teaches “those who lose their life for my sake . . . will save it” (Mark 8:35). Joab, whose forces batter walls to break them down (2 Samuel 20:15), and Jesus, who must “be killed, and after three days rise again” (v.31) . . . Peter, I’m thinking, envisioned his Messiah a bit more like Joab than Jesus. How about us?

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves” (Mark 8:34).  Self-denial. Cross-bearing. Suffering.  Laying down our lives . . . this is the way of Jesus. No battering ram. No overwhelming force. Love. Even when the beloved is unfaithful (Hosea 1) . . . So who do you and I most naturally follow? Joab? Or Jesus? And who do — will — we choose to follow this day? And what difference does — will — it make in the way we live our lives and share this life with others? May we be honest with ourselves and God. May we choose to follow Jesus, rather than Joab. And may our lives, by God’s grace, be saved in the process. Amen. 

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
     — Mark 8:34

Perceiving . . .

Mark 8:1-21     2 Samuel 19     Daniel 12

“Do you still not perceive or understand?”  (Mark 8:17). So speaks Jesus to his disciples as they fret about having no bread. And this after witnessing the feeding of the four thousand. And the five thousand . . .  What we perceive (and do not perceive) plays a major role in our approach to life and our understanding of God’s good news story. This can be seen clearly in today’s scripture readings, as the disciples do not yet comprehend who Jesus is and what he is offering, David is so lost in his grief for Absalom that he completely disregards those who saved his life (2 Samuel 19:1-6), and Michael seeks to expand Daniel’s perception beyond the present time of trouble (Daniel 12:1-3).   

“Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember?”  (Mark 8:18). Jesus’ line of questioning directs us to a transforming truth: Perception can be corrected and expanded by intentionality and spiritual discipline. What we choose to see, hear, and remember can either diminish our ability to perceive and understand, or sharpen our focus. To be sure, David’s grief was profound. But it did not need to blind him to the victory that had been achieved on his behalf by his loyal defenders.  The situation in which Daniel’s readers found themselves was dire. But they could choose to hear the rest of the story. And the disciples? Well. They certainly were not helpless when it came to what they were choosing to remember . . .

“Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:21). When you look at your current circumstances, what do you see? When you read the story God, what do you hear? And when you review your story to date, what do you remember? We have a choice, you know. There is great grace to be seen even in the midst of great grief. Do our eyes see it? Our current challenges are but a chapter in the much larger story of faithfulness and love that God is writing. Are our ears open to hearing it? And there have been so many “God moments” in our stories to date. Are we tuning our hearts and minds to remember them? May we perceive and understand the story of God with us. Amen.

“Those who are wise shall shine as the brightness of the sky,
and those who lead many to righteousness,
like the stars forever and ever.”
     — Daniel 12:3   

Be Opened

Mark 7:14-37     2 Samuel 18     Daniel 11:21-45

“But only for a time” (Daniel 11:24). It is the word of encouragement, given to the readers of Daniel, who are suffering under the rule of a “contemptible person” (v.21). Only for a time. Consider it: Absalom rises only for a time. Then comes his end (2 Samuel 18). Evil intentions rule the day only for a time. Then comes Jesus, speaking truth (Mark 7:14-23). The good news must first be delivered to the Jews, but the healing of a Gentile’s daughter gives us a glimpse: it is only for a time. And in God’s kingdom come, it is only a matter of time until that which is closed will be opened (Mark 7:31-35) . . .

“It is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (Mark 11:21). Be it the pride of Absalom (2 Samuel 18:18), the wickedness of Antiochus Epiphanes (Daniel 11:31,36), or the folly of the Pharisees (Mark 7:1-13), the things that defile our lives come from within. But, if we are open to the transforming power of Jesus, the influence of such evil has sway only for a time. And what is true for us is true for all of creation, for the day is coming when “the period of wrath is completed” (Daniel 11:36) and God will set all things right. It will happen. 

“He has done everything well” (Mark 7:37). He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak. Do you hear it? Do you believe it? In Jesus, God has done, is doing, and will do all things well. Evil will not triumph. It is God’s good word to all who will receive it. May the ears and eyes of our hearts be opened to the truth: Jesus does all things well. Amen.

“Ephphatha . . . Be Opened.”
     — Mark 7:34

Many Things Like This.

Mark 7:1-13     2 Samuel 17     Daniel 11:3-20

“Then shall arise in his place . . .” (Daniel 11:20). David . . . Absalom . . . Ahithophel . . . Hushai . . . the king of the north . . . the king of the south . . . There is a great deal of rising and falling, succeeding and failing, coming and going, hiding and seeking going on in today’s texts. And there is the abandoning of God’s law by the Pharisees and scribes. In wading through these plots and sub-plots, I am left with one primary impression: There are a whole lot of folks engaged in the writing of their own stories here; and the common thread is that self is at center. . .  The word Jesus speaks to the Pharisees and scribes in Mark 7 serves as an insightful commentary on all of these narratives: 

“And you do many things like this” (Mark 7:13). That is, not only have the Pharisees and scribes created a way to appear generous toward God while circumventing honorable behavior toward parents (Mark 7:10-13), but many of their cherished traditions void the word of God. Well. So it is with folks who write their own stories . . . When we place ourselves at center, making everything about our advantage, our security, or our image, is it not true that we inevitably abandon God’s word and will along the way? “And you do many things like this.” Where do I see myself in today’s stories? Where might you get a glimpse of yourself? How might we be rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep our own traditions? What is the story we are writing? And who is at the center of that story?

“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mark 7:6). May this not be said of us. May we choose this day to honor God with heart and hand and voices. May our steps be guided by God’s word and will. May the story of our lives always place God at center. Amen.

“Lord I give You my heart
I give You my soul
I live for You alone
Every breath that I take
Every moment I’m awake
Lord have Your way in me.”
   — Lord, I Give You My Heart, Darlene Zschech

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