January 31, 2012 § 1 Comment
After teaching and healing in the synagogue, Jesus went to Simon Peter’s house (Mark 1:29-31). There he found Simon Peter’s mother-in-law in the grip of a fever. In the ancient world of that time this was a serious matter that could lead to death. So Jesus took her hand, got her up, and the fever left her (1:31). Jesus healed her through “raising her up.” The Greek verb used in this verse (egeiro) is literally the same one that would later apply to Jesus in Mark 16:6 when He has risen from the death. The same power of God that raised Jesus from the death was the power authorized by Jesus in healing this woman. However, the result of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law’s raising from the death is the fascinating piece that is sometimes overlooked. The NIV translations simply says, “and she began to wait on them” (1:31). The Greek verb used in this case is diakoneo which means served. It is also a verb that Jesus would later apply to himself in Mark 10:45 when indicating that He did not come to be served, but to serve others. That is what waiting on others mean… to serve them the way Jesus served us. Do you and I take for granted God’s new life to us every day, or do we realize He is giving new life to us so that we can become the servants of others?
January 30, 2012 § 1 Comment
Isaiah 40:21-31 is a passage of hope. It creates trust in God over and against any other source of help. It draws a picture of the power of God’s movement in the midst of human history. In order to do so, the writer draws sharp distinction between God and all these other sources that claim to have power or give life. The writer clearly disputes the claims of these other sources and invites us as readers to do the wise thing by participating in God’s movement rather than trusting these other sources. The “idols critique” is devastating: princes come to naught and rulers are nothing (40:24); they wither and a whirlwind easily sweeps them away like chaff (40:25). Nothing can compare with God (40:26). He is the true Creator and the only One with power and strength (40:26). We can trust Him. He will not grow tired or weary (40:28). Therefore, He is the only source of hope; the only One that can provide the weary and weak with wings like eagles (40:31). Where do you and I put our hearts today? Especially for those circumstances where we feel weakness and weariness? Do we look somewhere else for help rather than getting on eagles’ wings?
January 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
We may think that 1 Corinthians 8 is all about whether one should eat food sacrificed to idols or not. But that is just an illustration of a more fundamental issue addressed in this passage, namely the impact of our actions on the lives of others and how such impact might be a good reason to restrict our own behavior. The bottom line is this: to have the correct knowledge about something or to be right about something is not the only consideration that matters. Frank Crouch tries to explain the issue with a somewhat exaggerated modern analogy: “Suppose that there is a covered-dish supper at your church. Someone brings a platter of food saying, ‘The local Satan-worshippers had a table set up at the mall giving away this food. It’s delicious!’ Would you eat it in front of everyone? There would be no actual power of Satan in the food. It would be fine to eat it. But how might that be interpreted by others? What impact might it have on a new convert or on someone who would take that to mean that there’s no real difference between things offered to Satan and things offered to God? In a context where no one would have a problem with it, it would be fine. In a context where someone might be led to ‘fall’ because of it, it would be wrong.” Paul does not take sides in this debate. He attacks both sides of the debate by showing that there is more at stake than winning an argument on who is right and who is wrong. That is why he came up with this powerful formulation: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (8:1). If you have to choose between being loving or being right, be loving. People are at different points in their relationship with God, and even if we are right about what God wants, our first priority is always to love people and meet them where they are. Actually, that is exactly how God chose to save us in Jesus Christ! If it was about being right and perfect, we would all be condemned to hell. But fortunately and thankfully God’s first posture is unconditional love and mercy!
January 25, 2012 § Leave a comment
With Psalm 111 we are singing God’s praises! The Giver of all goodness. The Redeemer of our lives. We are children of His abundance… daughters and sons of privilege. His deeds are glorious and majestic (111:3). He is gracious and compassionate (111:4). He provides every day (111:5). And we are grateful. He is the Giver who overrides our fears, concerns, and confusions. His abundance takes us beyond our sense of scarcity. Because He is faithful and trustworthy (111:8). Therefore, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, all who follow his precepts have good understanding” (111:10). We know our gratitude can never match His generosity. But at least we can give thanks to help us focus on Him rather than all the other gods that are competing for our attendance. Indeed, “to him belongs eternal praise” (111:10).
January 24, 2012 § Leave a comment
According to the Gospel of Mark, the public ministry of Jesus is inaugurated with an exorcism story (Mark 1:21-28). Right from the beginning, Mark is illustrating how the Kingdom of God is embodied in Jesus and the powerful difference it makes in the real struggles of people. In a world where demonic powers are real in their enslavement of people, Jesus has broken its hold. With the coming of God’s Kingdom in Jesus, evil forces have no more power over us. That is still true today. We too have been rescued from evil forces through the lordship of the crucified and risen Christ. The problem is that we live in a modern era in which it is hard for people to believe that our lives are impacted by forces from outside us. Charles Taylor, in his book “A Secular Age”, calls our world a “disenchanted world” with “buffered selves” who cannot think of ourselves as “porous” to the influences of forces from outside us. How do we live with this exorcism story from a first century world in our so-called sophisticated 21st century world which questions the realness of such matters? Do you believe in the realness of God’s victorious power through his Son Jesus Christ as making all the difference in the midst of all kinds of forces in your life today?
January 23, 2012 § Leave a comment
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 gives us an indication of how difficult it is to discern the authentic word of God among the many voices competing for our loyalty. It might have been easier if false prophets were clearly speaking on behalf of gods other than the true God, but the problem is that a false prophet might also claim to speak for the true God (18:20). Callie Plunket-Brewton writes, “Most people and communities have a hard time hearing the words that demand a drastic change of belief or practices, and so the tendency is to ignore such words of judgment or to dismiss them as the words of a false prophet. We find layers upon layers of difficulty before us in our effort to discern the word of God in our midst, and yet the task is of the utmost importance. The task of determining God’s word to us requires a great effort on our part and a willingness to listen for the word that challenges all that we hold dear and believe to be true. The word of God is, indeed, difficult to bear and to hear, but the alternative — being cut off from God, unable to look beyond our human limits and see God’s dream for us — is untenable.” The message of a prophet is usually uncomfortable and challenge us on taken for granted beliefs. How are you challenged in terms of something that you hold dear?
January 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
1 Corinthians 7:29-31 is not popular news in contemporary consumerist culture. Everything in our daily lives drives home the message that our purpose in life is to want, to desire, to have. The belief in our society is that an abundance of goods (for some even an abundance of Facebook friends!) bring happiness. Every day is a quest to be more beautiful/handsome, more confident about yourself, and more successful. And we measure these goals in terms of how much money we have, the prestige of our jobs, and the value of commodities such as houses and clothes. Paul’s message represents a sharp contrast to such a culture of desire and want. For him, our status in terms of worldly standards has no bearing on the quality of life. “For this world in its present form is passing away” (7:31). Therefore, “those who buy something, (should live) as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them” (7:30-31). Rather, we are called to shift our focus to the fact “that the time is short” (7:29). For Christians, every day there is another kind of urgency in the air. Not the self-indulgent urgency to gather more stuff or prestige. But an urgency that focuses away from the self to God and people. We are not called to our own self-satisfaction, but to self-sacrifice for the sake of others. You and I are not “born to shop” (popular bumper sticker); we are born to love.