On the Other Hand…

Putting yourself in a role as “pastor” of a flock of people as a new believer is a dangerous proposition. You will recall that Paul went off to Arabia to sit under the Holy Spirit for an extended period of time (Galatians 1:17-18) prior to being chosen to do the teaching on the first missionary team (Acts 13:2) and write most of the New Testament. While he did initially hit the ground running (“At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.” Acts 9:20), he was led to gain the spiritual foundation he needed for the long and winding road ahead.

If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. Mark 9:42

As a dad, I’m always worried about causing any of my four kids to stumble by my behavior or example. A heavy millstone is clearly not the kind of life preserver you’d want if cast into the sea, and this is better than causing innocent believers to go theologically astray. The same danger is faced by pastors of all kinds.

 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell. Mark 9:47

There’s really nothing more important or anything worth keeping that causes you to stumble. I like the word eschew here. Get rid of anything deleterious to your Christian walk. That’s a pretty tall task for someone with everything, that’s done everything.

Hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. Mark 9:48

Also not lost in this passage is the clear indication from Jesus himself that hell is a real and horrible place to go. We know from the Bible it’s a fiery place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, where eternal death is spent in separation from God. So, a Christian leader must make sure on his watch, no one goes there.

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Benefit of the Doubt

The apparent conversion of Kanye West has drawn the skorn of many Christians. He’s trying to buy his way in like Simon the Magician (Acts 8:9). It’s just a ploy to sell his music. He’ll lead the unwashed masses astray. Have you listened to his previous music? And so on. It’s been a fascinating topic of conversation. And on the flip side, he’s viewed with derision by Hollywood.

But what if he did find the Lord, would it not look something like this? Kanye doing what he does best with a totally new message? We need to remember that the Apostle Paul was viewed with significant cynicism upon his conversion, and continued to be feared (Acts 9:13-14).

We can’t really know for sure, unless we are God, but following the lead of Jesus we should give Kanye the benefit of the doubt.

For he who is not against us is on our side. Mark 9:4

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Who’s the Greatest?

They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest. Mark 9:33-34

I witnessed Muhammad Ali in his heyday. He constantly referred to himself as the greatest boxer who ever lived. He may well have been, but for sure he was the greatest bragger who ever lived.

The word greatest has mega as its root. The animated movie Megamind comes immediately to mind. He’s the greatest supervillain who ever lived, yet the most unsuccessful. Against Metro Man, he’s constantly thwarted, until he finally defeats him, but then he has no purpose in life! To be the greatest someone has got to be the least. There’s got to be a fall guy.

Not in God’s economy. To be the greatest means you spend the least amount of time thinking about how you match up with or excel over others. The “greatest” in a biblical sense is so wrapped up in serving others he or she seldom think about themselves.

It’s really best not to think of one’s self more highly than you ought to think (Roman 12:3) because there’s always going to be someone out there you can’t touch! If you watch a lot of sports TV, they’re constantly doing shows on the greatest this and that, team, game, player, era, conference, you name it. The person Jesus describes here will never be mentioned. His or her stats won’t match up.

There’ll be a time for our deeds to be judged and crowns to be won, but as would be expected of those who win such crowns, they’ll throw them back at the Lord’s feet (Revelation 4:10).

Spend your time thinking and doing for others, and less time on your press releases.

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If You Can

But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!”  And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” Mark 9:22-24

It’s easy to be skeptical that God can handle the really big problems of life when you’re living through them. But when the situation gets intolerable we’re likely to throw a “Hail Mary” pass his way anyway.

Turning to God in times of crisis is not in and of itself belief. Turning to him at the end of your rope may be one last act of desperation.

Here (Mark 9:14-29) no one could contend with an “unclean spirit” in a young boy, apparently one of the highest order. Turns out according to Jesus that only prayer would work in this case.

But here’s the point: the real question with Jesus is not “if God can” but “if God will!”

In any of life’s dramas, there are two prayers to be offered, for relief and to “help my unbelief.”

We all need to get into our thick skulls that with people things are impossible, but with God all things are possible. Mark 10:27

This includes outcomes that we might not think are good and profitable for us. Jesus well understood this concept, i.e. the Cup, and were glad he did.

And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” Mark 14:36

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No Name Tags

Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Mark 9:2-4

I remember first hearing this story when I was in the primary department in Sunday school 60 years ago. My teacher Mrs. Batchelor vividly painted the picture of the transfigured Christ with the help of a flannel board. Later, I heard many a preacher focus on Peter’s hairbrained idea to build three tabernacles for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses.

Funny how you can still get something new out of something so familiar.

First, the fact that Elijah and Moses are present with Jesus talking amongst themselves is exciting to me. Elijah was a man whose nature was like mine (James 5:17), and Moses was the meekest man to walk the earth (Numbers 12:3), and they’re alive and friends of God and each other. This tells me a lot about my future. Someday I’ll be exchanging truths with the greats and Jesus. I may need to get on the waiting list for this, but it could happen.

Also note that Peter, James, and John recognized who Elijah and Moses were. There are no names tags in heaven.

We also understand that the jobs of Elijah and Moses may not be finished. Both may return as the “two witnesses” in Revelation 11.

Finally, I can’t resist making the point that the “launderer” in heaven can get out even the most indelible sin stain, and certainty those caused by the shedding of blood! He who has “glory in his bosom transfigures you and me!”

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Brass Tacks

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Mark 8:34

Sooner or later everyone will need to reckon with who Jesus really is. Christians are the only ones who know enough to fathom his reach. Those outside the fold see him as a prophet or facsimile of some great teacher.

Peter, like us, knew he was the Christ, the Messiah. But, like us, he was far too casual with the Lord of the Universe. He brashly pulled Jesus aside to counsel him on saying too much. As he saw it, Jesus wasn’t helping his cause by speaking so frankly. He was hoping the Lord would just stick with parables or something less direct. All this plain talk about suffering, rejection, and death was far too disturbing.

But for Jesus, it was time to get down to brass tacks, to thin the ranks, so he turned to the crowd to issue discipleship requirements, after outing Satan’s devious attempt to thwart his message through Peter.

Some takeaways. Let’s be careful not to be used as Satan’s mouthpiece. Obviously, it’s pretty easy to do so. Knowing God’s word is essential to staying on message.

Second, discipleship is exacting and costly. It takes discipline and sacrifice. It’s not a stroll in the park.

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Curve Ball

And they came to Bethsaida. And they brought a blind man to Jesus and implored Him to touch him. Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.” Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly. And He sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.” Mark 8:22-26

Just when they thought they were figuring out Jesus, he throws them a curveball. In past days, the people brought him their sick, lame, demon-possessed, and blind for healing. Earlier we read it took only a touch of his outer garment to be cured. Here his miracle is in super-slow motion.

First, he takes the man from his sponsors out of the village for a one-on-one. He started by spitting on the man’s eyes with a laying on of hands. It’s unclear whether the ancients thought saliva was therapeutic, but it surely was in Jesus’ case.

Instantly, no partially, he could see men moving about “like trees.” Perhaps the man was thinking, is this the best Jesus can do? Or, wouldn’t I be the first to come to him after he changed his policies! But Jesus laid his hands on him again, and he saw clearly– no doubt the Lord’s face!

Interestingly, Jesus didn’t want the man to go into the village, but to go home. It may be that this was just between the man and the Lord, and those who brought him to Jesus might feel a sense of self-importance, that their mission was accomplished.

Whatever the case, this episode teaches us God is sovereign. He does things his own way,  in his own timing. It also teaches us faith is a one-on-one matter between us and the Lord.

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