Stop Trying So Hard

Wed in the WordI finished up with the book of Mark while on vacation last week.  I enjoyed reading a book of Scripture through from start to finish one chapter a day.  Thanks to Courtney over at Good Morning Girls for walking us through the Bible that way.  Next she is starting Deuteronomy.  I would love to say that I’m over-the-moon excited for that Old Testament gem, but… I haven’t decided if I’ll be tagging along when it starts or venturing off on my own.


 

For today though, I find myself stuck in a great place.  Luke.  With Easter still firmly in my front thought {that may be like forethought} you know, the thought that is just right there waiting to be turned over & over in your mind until you’ve examined every single angle it holds and played with it until it sinks deep into your soul.  Please say you do this too.  I don’t want to be the weird one.  Again.  ha ha.  so…

Luke 23:39-43

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed [or blasphemed] at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

I very much find myself believing that those two who hung on crosses on either side of Jesus represent the whole of humanity.  You’ve got the one who is hanging there, likely beaten and bloody and dying, hurling abuse at Jesus in the midst of his their horrific situation.  And in the next breath, while meant to be sarcastic in tone most likely, he is suggesting that Jesus prove himself by getting them all out of this predicament.  “If you are really who you say you are, which by the way is why you find yourself hanging here dying, then prove it and save yourself…and me too.  Then I will believe”

On the other side of Jesus you see another likely bruised and beaten and dying fellow.  This man has clearly lived a life with less than excellent choices.  He admits that he has wronged and deserves the punishment for which he finds himself.  But in this moment, he sees Jesus.  He recognizes who Jesus is.  He understands that Jesus will reign over a kingdom.  He doesn’t ask Jesus to prove himself, he doesn’t question why the King of kings would find himself dying on a cross.  He simply believes.  And he asks him only to remember him. “I believe you are the King & I ask you to simply remember me when you are in your Kingdom.”

Such contrast.  The one who mocks Jesus and will not believe He is the King of kings unless He has proof.  The one who sees Jesus and without any proof at all believes that He is the King and will reign in His Kingdom forever.  Pride versus humility.  Proof versus faith.

We don’t know if Jesus took the time to respond to the disbeliever – it isn’t recorded in the passage.  But we do hear {read} Jesus’ words to the thief who had faith.  “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

This is the part that really gets me.  Whispers to me deep in my heart past where my thinking & logic can reach.  This man, sentenced to die for his crimes which he agrees he committed {read:: has not made great life choices}, has likely not been to church {synagog} in maybe forever, has likely not tithed or served or ever done a random act of kindness {you know, paying for the persons meal behind him at Starbucks}.  He is moments away from death, so it’s unlikely he’ll have time to join a Bible study or attend a conference or even be baptized.  He has no time to do anything other than call out in complete belief to Jesus.

If Christianity was based on weighing the “good” things against the “bad” things and hoping that the scale leaned more to the “good” side, this thief would be in bad, sorry shape.  But Jesus has no concern.  He didn’t say, “Look, I will remember you, but unfortunately I won’t be seeing you.  You see you didn’t do anything to earn your way into my Kingdom.  Not a single thing.  And look at the really awful things you did that were against my teachings.  And, by the way, I was everywhere teaching in this area, so I know you’ve heard of me before today and could have followed me sooner.  It’s unfortunate.  My Kingdom’s pretty amazing.  Paradise, actually.”  Instead, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

He didn’t do a single thing.  Not one.  No baptism, no meal delivery, no volunteering in the church nursery.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  He believed Jesus was who He said He was.  Reminds me of an Old Testament guy Abram.  {Genesis 15:6}  He believed the Lord for the absurd & it was counted to him as righteousness.  This man, hanging next to Jesus believed the absurd too – that Jesus was the Son of God with a Kingdom that would never end and it too was counted to him as righteousness.  His belief alone.

I find myself trying too hard sometimes.  A lot of the time.  I may say with my mouth, “I am saved by grace, not by works” but do I live that?  Not that I shouldn’t be tithing & serving & being kind – I should.  But I should do that as an overflow of my faith rather than a stepping stool to achieve it.  How do I know the difference in the two?  I suppose it’s all about the heart.  Do I serve with joy?  Do I give with a cheerful heart?  Do I love with grace & kindness the way that Jesus loved?  Is my “doing” out of humility?  Or do I go-go-go-go trying to prove something?  Am I wanting to win the approval of others?  Am I striving to be “better” than someone else, do more, earn more “heaven-points” {like gold stars on a chore chart}?  This “doing” is powered by pride.

It’s a battle us humans all face.  It’s in our nature.  But it’s so clear that Jesus & His Kingdom don’t operate that way.  He invited the man hanging beside Him to join Him.  Even though that man could do nothing but believe before his final breath.  Believing was enough.  Believing is enough.  Good enough.

Forgetful Disciples :: Mark 8

Wed in the WordI’m reading along through the book of Mark with the gals over at Good Morning Girls.  One chapter a day, Monday-Friday, until the book is done.  This week is chapters 6-10.  I have been enjoying reading at a leisurely pace through one book, something I don’t think I have done before.  It makes room for making connections that I often miss if I’m skipping around studying a particular topic or person.  This was completely evident today as I read Mark 8.

First let’s back up in the book just a smidgen to a fairly familiar story.  It can be found in Mark 6:30-44.  Jesus & his apostles were trying to get away for a little rest and rejuvenation.  {verse 31-32}

side note::I love that Jesus recognized that there are times when we need to take a break, get away, and rest.  We needn’t be go-go-go all.the.time!  ::back to the story  

While trying to get away, the crowds found them anyway.  It must have been a bit frustrating to always have people chasing after you.  The Bible says people “ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them”.  {verse 33-34} Ugh.  They just wanted a little break & people would not leave them be.  Kind of like when you need a moment, just a moment, when you have toddlers and you escape to the bathroom for a minute of R&R, not because you have to go but just because you need to be alone- just for one little moment.  And just when you think you’re in the clear, you see those tiny fingers reaching under the door.  Ugh!

Had I been an apostle {again unlikely because I’m a woman and not Jewish} but if I had, I would have wanted nothing more than to see Jesus tell these folks to go away.  Heck, Jesus just told us to take some time to get away from all these crowds and rest.  That sounds like tropics and a nap in a hammock to me.  But now all these people have found us?  Seriously, Jesus, can you just tell them to go away?  Maybe in your rebuking voice.  I like that voice…when it’s not directed towards me.  Ready, Jesus?  Rebuke!

But instead, Jesus has compassion {darn his perfect character qualities} and begins to teach the crowds.  The apostle in me would have definitely been complaining to another apostle about the outrageousness of how my little vacation had been interrupted & I definitely would have been a little more than upset with Jesus, ruining our rest and all.

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And then, not only is my vacation ruined, now Jesus is asking me & the others to find some food.  For over 5,000 people!  In a desolate place {where I was supposed to be relaxing by the water with a cool drink in my hand, remember?  I’m still not over that}  And Jesus doesn’t even bat an eye.  But the apostles {I see so much of me in them} question Jesus, I imagine asking almost with a sarcastic tone, “Shall we go & buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” {verse 37}  Translated to sarcasm:: “Ummmm, so Jesus.  You want us to feed all these people?  Do you see how many?  We’ll just take all this money, that we don’t have, and go buy enough bread for everyone.  Sure.  We see no problem with that.”

And then, ignoring the disciples’ tone, and as only Jesus does, he simply takes what’s there and provides for everyone in a miraculous way.  Five loaves and 2 fish feeds them all.  Bam!

Onto Mark 8.  Verses 1-10 and 14-21

Jesus is teaching a crowd that has been with him for 3 days.  He asks his disciples to get the crowd some food because he’s afraid if he sends them home on an empty stomach they might faint on the way.  And he has compassion again.  {verse 1-3}

The disciples ask Jesus “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”

Seriously?  Were you not paying any attention?  Just not too awful long ago you were in a desolate place with a crowd who was hungry & Jesus managed to feed them all with five loaves and two fish.  And you took up 12 baskets of leftovers  Remember that?

I love that Jesus just goes on without hesitating.  He doesn’t even acknowledge their question.  Verse 5 he asks them how many loaves they have.  There are 7 loaves and a few fish.  And again, miraculously, Jesus feeds the crowd of over 4,000 and there are leftovers.  AGAIN.

After feeding that crowd, Jesus and his disciples get into a boat.  They forgot to bring bread along.  Forgot bread?  Seriously?  {verse 14}  I chuckled just a little reading this thinking that of all the things to forget, bread would be the least of my worries given that Jesus, the bread & fish multiplier, was along.

But, oh, silly, forgetful disciples.  They have a long discussion with each other about the fact that they had no bread. {verse 16}  I can imagine it included a lot of “I told you to get some food before we got into this boat” & “that’s not my job” & “I got it last time”.  Back and forth like irritated and hungry siblings.  This time, in the privacy of the boat,  Jesus finally says something after listening to them bicker about their bread predicament:

“Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread?  Do you not yet perceive or understand?  Are your hearts hardened?  Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up? And the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?  Do you not yet understand?”

Humbling.  How often do I see the hand of God all over something written in my life?  And then, just a few pages further along in my story I find myself in a predicament & cannot fathom how it could ever be resolved.  I forget.  I see Him feed the thousands yet when I need to feed another thousand or even myself, I forget that He can do it.  And what’s worse, how often do I drag others into my issue – bickering, blaming, complaining together?  Oh, the patience of Jesus.  Thankful for the patience of Jesus.  I am so much like those silly disciples.

Jesus didn’t get rid of His guys.  Even though I think they probably drove Him to the brink of sanity at times, He kept them around.  He continued to teach them, to love them, to trust them with the most important message.  And even though I am forgetful & have a hard time understanding & perceiving, I know He will keep me too.  -smile-  He asks tough questions sometimes & He pushes me to have more faith & trust, but He never walks away, arms raised up, saying “I’m done with you!”  Hallelujah!

Oh, Silly Pharisees: Mark 3

I’ve decided this month to follow along with Courtney Joseph over at Good Morning Girls.  I had the privilege of spending some time with Courtney back in November at the Hearts at Home conference and very much enjoyed her & her speaking.  Each couple of months she selects a new book of the Bible & then each day reads one chapter.  Definitely head over to her site to learn more about how she studies using colored highlighters & the S.O.A.P. method.  She also has some amazing resources available there!  Mark-SPINE

For the month of March, she is jumping into the book of Mark.  And I’ve decided to jump in too.  She has a journal available through Amazon, but it isn’t a requirement to use it.   It comes full of great resources & information.  But if you choose, like me, you can certainly use a notebook or journal you already have. Or just choose to read the chapter, one per day, and let each one soak into you without any journalling at all.  There’s no wrong way to study the Bible.

Wed in the Word


 

Mark 3

“Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?”  [Jesus asked]

But they were silent.

And Jesus looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart.

Mark 3:4-5

I’m a rule follower.  Ask anyone.  I enjoy staying within the confines of the guardrails of rules.  It makes little difference to me whether the rule is a good rule or whether the rule has a purpose.  I will seldom, if ever, question a rule.  I will follow blindly. I feel safe within the lines of rules.  There is a security there – real or perceived.  And, I’ll admit it, there is a certain level of pride that comes from rule following {did I just admit that?}  It’s the ugly side of being a rule follower.

I clearly would have been a Pharisee.  {Well, likely not because I’m a woman…and not Jewish}  But besides that, I would have totally been a Pharisee.

Pharisees loved their rules.  We love to pick on the Pharisees.  We do!  We sit back from the comfort of our air-conditioned pews and  look at the ridiculousness of the Pharisees’ behavior.  “Of course you should allow healing on the Sabbath!”  How can they be so judgmental?  “Take that plank out of your eye, Mr. Pharisee.  You’re being crazy & heartless!”  From this side, we can see that the intent behind the command to not work on the Sabbath was to give the people a space to take a break from the hard work & spend time together and with God.  The idea was not just to not work, but to not work and worship!  But the Pharisees lost the reason behind the rule & it morphed over time into a hard rule that didn’t allow for compassion or healing or saving.  Which were the very things that the rule was intended to provide space for.  Oh silly Pharisees.

The trouble with the Pharisees was one of pride.  Their rule following was often, I think, because they wanted the satisfaction of saying they followed the rule…to.the.letter.  It wasn’t rule following because by using the guidelines God had given them, they would be able to be more fruitful, it was more along the lines of they could look over at the “sinners” not following the rules and point and turn their noses up at them.  It was a pride thing.

Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

As much as I would like to imagine that I am nothing like those silly, rule-following, often-prideful Pharisees, I am afraid more times than not, I am.  I have taken the Word of God and morphed it at times to fit my little agenda of pride.  I have forgotten the heart behind the rule & followed blindly to puff up my imagine of myself.  “well at least I’m not like those people.”  Luke 18:9-14

It is clear that forgetting the heart behind the guidelines set by the Word grieves Jesus.  He was angered & grieved that the Pharisees didn’t get it.  I’m sure he is still angered and grieved by my not getting it either.  The gospel is good news, it is grace-filled & overflowing with love.  It is not rules and requirements, good out-weighing bad, hopefully being better than the next guy on the scale of badness.  We’re all a mess.  We all need Jesus.  And I think to reach out to those who haven’t been introduced to Him yet looks a lot more inviting from a place of love & grace than from a place of rigid rules and strict guidelines.  The following will come with love & understanding of what Jesus did.  Truth will follow closely if someone has truly met Jesus & has a desire to follow after him.  The Spirit will see to that.  Jesus knew this & healed the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath rather than passing him over.  Compassion & love should always, always win.