High Crimes and Misdemeanors

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. Mark 7:21-22

It’s easy to slip by biblical lists of sins apparently unscathed. Am I a murderer? No. I’m I an adulterer? No. I’m I a thief? No.

Then you skip the sexual sins because you want to avoid splitting hairs with Jesus, for example concepts like “lust in the heart.”

Then come the misdemeanors. By this time your attention has waned and you’re looking ahead to something that’s useful.

It’s about time we rewind the tape and camp out at “envy, slander, pride and foolishness,” and notice too that all these sins usher forth from the list-leader “evil thoughts.”

Here are some synonyms that amplify their meanings: begrudging, defaming, scornful and insensitive, respectively.

According to Jesus, perhaps with a little commentary by Mark, such sins festering in one’s heart, with or without any outward manifestation, have the same defiling effect as the high crimes. Know this, that eventually, inevitably and invariably they’ll see the light of day!

It’s high time we expunge (remove) these insidious (gradual, subtle) and pernicious (gradually and subtly harmful) evils and let the Lord’s cleansing blood course through us freely.

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Inside Out

This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. Mark 7:6

As with many of Jesus’ teachings, say, “if you have lust in your heart,” (Matthew 5:28) and here, dealing with heartless worship, it’s impossible to hide from his penetrating eyes.

We all dread the various procedures doctors use to “scope out” firsthand the condition of our bodies. There’s no hiding what they see. Woe to us if Jesus spots a heart that’s at odds with our religious words and deeds. And he sees all.

We need to live our lives inside out. I remember what Joseph said in closed quarters to Potiphar’s wife when propositioned, “How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9)

The only lust in his heart was for God.

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Chasing Jesus

They ran about that whole country and began to carry here and there on their pallets those who were sick, to the place they heard He was. Mark 6:55

This passage paints quite a picture. More appropriately a moving one. These days we can well relate to the clammer of fans reacting to politicians, sports phenoms, performers and movie stars.

I admire the faith and persistence of those caring for the sick. In turn, Jesus lowered the bar for them, to a touch of the tassels of his outer cloak for relief. One would hope that bodily healing reached deep into their hearts.

We want to be well physically, but do we expend such an effort to be whole spiritually? Do we chase Jesus for a touch of his mercy and grace?

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Permission to Come Aboard

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd away.  After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray. When it was evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. Seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them. But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.” Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened. Mark 6:45-52

I look at this account and tend to want to criticize the disciples for lack of faith and understanding right off the feeding of the 5,000. Then I think of myself, how I’ve watched the Lord work “miracles” in my life, and then soon thereafter, I’m quaking in my boots the very next time the same issue pops up.

I happen to think their heads were spinning from all that they were witnessing. They were probably fine when they were with Jesus, as he certainly kept them engaged. But now he’s putting them on a boat by themselves and instructing them to go to the other side of the lake. The last time they got into a boat he was at the stern, albeit asleep.

Halfway through, as could be anticipated, they encountered a strong harassing headwind and were straining at the oars. The encouraging thing to all of us was that the Lord saw their predicament and set out “on foot” to help them. Not by land but by sea.

That’s life by the way. On our own. Middle of something. Rowing against a strong wind.

The passage says he intended to “pass by them,” but he ended up coming alongside the boat. The experts are split on if the text says he wanted to pass them by or come alongside. Relying on the context, you’d want to think he set out to help rather than to beat them to the other shore. The “coming alongside” interpretation also allows for some corollaries to the Spirit-led life.

For teaching purposes, in reality, life requires us to face tough obstacles. For those trained by many trials, it should be enough to know Jesus is in the general vicinity. But here I don’t think these men were ready for a solo flight. After all, they thought he was a ghost.

I wonder if anyone among these men expected to see Jesus. The practical lesson for us is this: when in the midst of a tough row, expect Jesus to show up!

You can read Matthew 8:27 and following and see that Jesus couldn’t get a straight answer from them on who he was, except from Peter, who then followed his bold declarative with a lecture to Jesus to stop talk of his impending death.

Jesus’ assessment of the condition of the disciples’ hearts as he reined in the winds was incisive. Their hearts were calloused, not subtle as they should be. Here, they just witnessed him feeding over 5,000 people through them!

All this just tells me the essential value of the presence of the Holy Spirit to give me the mind of God. I simply can’t appraise my circumstances without it. The disciples required Christ’s physical presence. We’ve got him on board.

As new creatures our struggles are reminders to us that the Spirit is our helper who comes alongside for a pep talk and assistance. You’ll certainly hear the Lord say, “I’ve got this, don’t worry,” for the umpteenth million time, and all anxiety subsides.

One last point. The wind does not subside until Jesus’ climbs in. Don’t deny him permission to come aboard!

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A Lot from a Little

And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all.  Mark 6:41

If she can get the family together on a rare occasion, on short notice my wife can whip up a banquet meal in no time. It may take a quick trip to the grocery store down the street, but she can make a quickly devised plan happen. I think of Peter’s mother-in-law as a prime example, who came off her sickbed to serve Jesus and his disciples (Mark 1:31).

Rarely though does all this get done without her Herculean effort, as she shoulders most if not all the load. In time, the torch will be passed to those whose menial assigned tasks now are to ready the table and the high chairs. In this particular case, more is caught than taught.

One thing Jesus was doing with this impromptu picnic on the grounds (Mark 6:33-44) was teaching his men that God can miraculously provide a lot from a very little, or perhaps out of thin air. All you need is a plan and a prayer. He provides the provisions.

We read in John’s account (John 6:1-14) that initially Jesus was contemplating a run into the city to pick up a few things (but he knew full well that wasn’t going to work out! John 6:6). But Philip postulated that even 200 days of wages wouldn’t feed a little to a crowd this big. Always one on the team seeing the bright side of things! What Philip didn’t know was that even if they drained their meager treasury in town, what little they brought back would have done the trick! It’s ironic that Jesus ended up using five loaves and two fishes, a little boy’s packed lunch, for starters.

The important thing to note in this account is that Jesus let his men do the work. This was his chance to teach them not only to be fishers of men, but feeders as well. Not lost in this story is Jesus’ compassion for the people and his prayer to his Father to bless the meal.

In the end, 5,000 men plus women and children were fed, with twelve full baskets of food leftover, one for each disciple.

In a few short years these same men would be called on to do the same thing, with thousands added daily to the church (Acts 2:47), and widows going hungry (Acts 6:1).

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My Safe Place

We hear a lot today about “safe places.” From what I can gather, it’s a place where you can go to avoid hearing something you don’t want to hear, as if words could cause bodily harm. You get the impression that someone in need of such a place is holed up shaking somewhere in a fetal position, with his or her fingers jammed in their ears.

We actually have people in this state in institutions of higher learning, and even more weird, those whose one calling in life is to provide safe places from all sorts of verbal “assaults.”

You can’t expect sympathy from the sticks or stones crowd, of which I belong. But I can tell you I have a safe place, and that’s with Jesus in a quiet prayerful place with the Word of God in front of me, albeit on an iPad.

If you’re exhausted from godly pursuits, or you’re simply mad as you know what and can’t take it anymore, it’s time to get away to a secluded place and hang out with him. Now that’s a real safe place!

They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves. Mark 6:32

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Basic Training

7 And He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits… 12 They went out and preached that men should repent. 13 And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them. Mark 6:7-13

Perhaps now that Jesus could not use his native city of Nazareth as his home base, he chose to divide and conquer to reach the surrounding cities (Mark 6:6b). In the business world, he was delegating.

But we all know the decision to send out his disciples two by two wasn’t to be more effective. The Lord didn’t need to rely on a shrewd strategy to proclaim the gospel. This was for their benefit and ours!

It’s first of all interesting that he stripped them of anything to make the charge easier or more comfortable. The Boy Scouts in the group must have convulsed at the notion of leaving behind their backpacks! It’s interesting that they were allowed only a staff, one tunic and sandals. The bare necessities.

They’d be doing the same kinds of things Jesus was doing, calling people to repentance, healing the sick, and casting out evil spirits (with his authority). I find it interesting that the disciples used oil in their healing, perhaps to have power emanate from it rather than their own hands.

They were also given a protocol to follow if and when rejected. It’s helpful to remember that there are consequences for unbelief. There are no mulligans when you reject God, or so it appears. Perhaps though some would reconsider in the face of that rejection, who knows.

Bottomline, he wants us totally dependent on him for the message and power to act. The results are subject to God’s sovereign will, but we pray that our efforts are fruitful.

He also wanted his men to sense the joy of seeing the people repent, to experience his provisions at the hands of gracious hosts, and to feel the sting of rejection.

All this would come in handy in the fateful days ahead.

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