40 Days in Mark’s Gospel – Day 32

Mark 13:11  “When they arrest you and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit.”

“I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to pray.” How often have those words, or thoughts, crossed our mind? Speaking

Some folk say that the #1 fear in America is public speaking. Death is #2. We’d rather die than have to speak in public. No wonder, then, that we struggle for words in any context that seems important. We fear looking foolish. What if people judge us? Better to say nothing and be thought a fool than to open our mouths and remove all doubt. Consequently, the golden rule has become golden silence.

Jesus’ words in Mark 13:11 speak to this.

When we face a difficult conversation with a colleague, or a tough chat with a family member, or an opportunity to share with a group of strangers, it’s not our cleverness that will win the day. The issue is not our IQ, EQ, or eloquence, but trust. Will we trust that the Holy Spirit can take even the most ordinary and feeble words, when we are fully surrendered to Him, and use them for powerful purposes?

We could probably capture the ministry of the Holy Spirit throughout Scripture with three key words: creation, power, and prophecy. He creates us afresh in the image of Christ. He empowers us for the work and ministry of Christ. And He inspires us with the words of Christ to a world in darkness.

The Holy Spirit specializes in inspiring words of wisdom, words of knowledge, prophecy, Scripture, and tongues. But it’s not the words themselves that wow the listeners. Rather, the Holy Spirit makes the ordinary extraordinary by driving the words into the heart, beyond the ear.

Oratory has a distinguished history, all the way back to the ancient world. Speech-writers have learned how to construct words and use rhetorical devices to move people. But the most profound and spiritually impactful words usually appear unadorned and in plain-wrap. It’s the timing and placement of the word — beyond our control — that makes the difference.

When we think we’ve said nothing in a spoken word, an email, or a text, we discover that those few random words, produced in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, have unexpected value.

“It is not you who speak, it is the Holy Spirit.” Trust Him and look to Him today.

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40 Days in Mark’s Gospel – Day 31

Mark 12:38-39  “And in His teaching, Jesus was saying, ‘Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues, and places of honor at banquets….'”

Many of us crave the attention of others. We want people to notice us. To like us.

It happens in the school, in the workplace, in the church — even in the family. Sometimes it’s a child wanting attention from parents. Other times, it’s a guy or gal wanting attention from the opposite sex. It’s a core feature of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and WordPress. Everyone likes to be liked and wants to be noticed.

AttentionAs Jesus looked around, He saw leaders who dressed the part and expected respect and honor. They wore titles and liked court-side seats. They sat where people would see them. They wanted to stand out from the crowd. They considered themselves important and wanted others to affirm it.

Jesus was less than impressed.

Whenever we work to catch the eye of others, we have taken our eye off Christ. The shift happens very subtly. Before long, ten people may affirm us but all we can remember is the one critic. And we then focus our energy on winning over the one critic, rather than honoring the One whom we really serve.

Conversely, we start believing the plaudits and praise that a few generous folk hand our way and, almost imperceptibly, we start expecting such honor. We elevate ourselves. We feel entitled to the perks, the privileges, and the special attention. And without realizing it, pride gets a grip on us.

Some people want to be famous. They like, or would like, to be well-known. The irony, of course, is that most people who are widely-known are not well-known.

As Jesus watched the scribes jostle for prominence, He warned His disciples against it. The flourishing life is not the prominent or the privileged life, but the peaceful life. Those who insist on self-promotion actually experience self-demotion. Those who have to lead, probably should not. Those who want to stand out, should probably stand down while they reorder their spiritual lives.

This is not a temptation merely for Type-A personalities, but for all of us. Is it enough, today, that Jesus sees us? Is it enough, today, to please Him alone?

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40 Days in Mark’s Gospel – Day 30

Mark 12:17  “Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were amazed at Him.”

They laid the trap rather nicely. Give Jesus a coin and ask if the people should pay a poll-tax to Caesar. If He says “No” then the Romans will come looking for Him; if He says “Yes” then He’ll fall out of favor with the Jewish people.

CoinJesus looks at the coin, holds it up, and does what we have struggled to do ever since; He drew a sharp line between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God. Physical currency (coins, gold, or other material items) does not govern the Kingdom of God.

The trap was clever because it focused on something of profound significance to most people: money. Anytime you want to press the emotional buttons of people, get personal about money. Threaten to take it or tell people what they should do with it, and you’ll likely get some heat. Indeed, we can get so wrapped up in “the coin” that we lose sight of the Kingdom.

Money has a bewitching power for most of us. It doesn’t need to be a lot of money; just any money. At times it represents our security, our hope, and our freedom. With it, we feel free and independent. Without it, we stress and worry.

This “coin moment” with Jesus challenges “the coin” in each of our lives. When the coin usurps the Kingdom of God — and the King who is Christ — it has dragged us to a level that is lesser and lower than Christ intended. “Give it to Caesar,” said Jesus. He refused to fret about His livelihood. He would not fight for something physical.

How are we doing with coins and kingdoms in our own lives? Does our generosity reflect our faith? Is our confidence in our currency or in Christ?

In the West, replete with government safety-nets and community resources, the worst poverty we’re likely to experience — those of us with internet access to read this — is not financial poverty but poverty of the heart. “The coin” continues to test us.

The season of Lent centers around self-denial. It tends to highlight how tightly we hold onto some things, and how tightly some things hold onto us. A looser grip, driven by a broader view of the Kingdom and a deeper faith in Christ, might actually produce a freedom for which we yearn.

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40 Days in Mark’s Gospel – Day 29

Mark 11:23  “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.”

I’ve never seen anyone toss a mountain into the sea, and I’ve certainly never done it myself. Indeed, there’s no record in the Gospels of Jesus doing it either. Mountain-tossing, at a strictly literal level, still awaits its first successful attempt.

MountainIt’s an unusual and unexpected example from Jesus. In typical fashion, He turns His surroundings into an object lesson designed to stun His listeners. We’d have remembered this line, too, if we had heard Jesus say it.

A mountain? And all I have to do is believe it’s going to happen? We can imagine a delusional person believing it. Or someone with a severely over-sized ego. But the average person? Yet, Jesus was talking to His disciples; everyday people.

A mountain? Sounds extreme. But is it any more extreme than raising a staff and believing that the Red Sea will open (Exodus 14:16)? Any more extreme than stepping into the Jordan River and believing that the waters will roll back so the people can walk through (Joshua 3:14-16)? Any more extreme than walking around a city, blasting trumpets, believing that God would take the city for you (Joshua 6:8-9)? Any more extreme than taking five loaves and two fish and believing it will feed 5000 people (Mark 6:41)?

The more I think about it, the more I realize that I have seen mountains moved by faith. I have seen strongholds broken in people’s lives when they believe. I have seen citadels of Satan crumble in the face of the Gospel. I have seen mountains of despair cast into the sea; mountains of selfishness demolished; mountains of fear reduced to nothing. I’ve seen mountains in my own life moved from center-stage. I’ve watched the circumstances of my life and the topography of my heart changed by the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps this Monday morning — two weeks from Easter — you’ve started the day with a mountain looming large before you. Some mountains dominate our horizon for a long time. Other mountains pop up unexpectedly. They don’t move just because we tell them to, but because we trust the One who moves them; Christ.

Look to Him with fresh faith, true trust, this morning. He raises the valleys and flattens the mountains to “make a smooth highway in the desert” (Isaiah 40:3).

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40 Days in Mark’s Gospel – Day 28

Mark 11:17-18  “And Jesus began to teach and to say to them, ‘Is it not written ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a robber’s den.’ And the chief priests and scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him.”

In a burst of indignation, Jesus went into the Temple, and began to cast out the merchants who had set up shop there; everyone who had turned the Temple into a business for profit. He overturned the tables of the money-changers who preyed on pilgrims by exchanging their foreign currency for acceptable “Temple currency” at immoral exchange rates.

Cleansing the TempleWhen He finished the man-handling, Jesus chastised the people for their money-grubbing ways and reminded them that the Temple was to be a house of prayer for all the nations; not a way to extort wealth from foreigners.

Predictably, this did little to impress the priests and scribes who undoubtedly had a financial interest in it all. Jesus had painted a target on His back.

It’s easy, in our humanity, to lose sight of the main thing. Jesus reminded His audience that day that the ancient Temple is not a place for business but a base for prayer.

We should be careful about drawing too many direct parallels between the ancient Temple of Israel and the modern Church. One was a building with a purpose; the other is a people with a purpose. But this stark incident in the ministry of Jesus begs a question or two: Is the Church, as the body and bride of Christ, fulfilling her purpose? And, of course, do we have clarity on that purpose?

We need a spiritual compass that points to true north.

Our fallen DNA tends to distort (usually in subtle and gradual ways) every good thing that Christ gives to us. Thus, we tend to speak of the church as a building or location (“Meet you at the church”) or an event (“How was church this morning?”) or an organization (“What’s the church’s view on gay marriage?). Perhaps we are as confused about our purpose and identity as those money-changers and animal-sellers in the days of Jesus.

The church is the people of God bearing witness to the Lordship of Christ, the hope of the Gospel, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the kingdom of God in the world. Each of these elements forms a crucial corner of the foundation. And if these mark the church, it’s only because they mark our personal lives.

How does that checklist look for you?

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40 Days in Mark’s Gospel – Day 27

Mark 11:9  “As Jesus approached Jerusalem, those who went before Him, and those who followed after Him, were crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest.'”

The word hosanna intrigues me.

HosannaGrowing up, I assumed (in the absence of any explanation), that hosanna was a variation of the somewhat similar word hallelujah. Okay, at least they both start with an “h” (in English). But hosanna is different. Hallelujah declares “praise the Lord” while hosanna cries out “Save me!”

It must have irked the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem as Jesus approached the city. Those religious and civic leaders had worked hard to cultivate a tolerable co-existence with the Roman occupiers. They had established a fragile and vulnerable peace, at best. This was certainly no time for an uneducated (albeit popular) peasant teacher from Galilee to ride into the city openly declaring a revolution. The crowds crying Hosanna, if correctly understood by the Romans, could ruin everything.

The palm branches and the adulation was akin to saying, “At last! The King is here! Let’s do this!!” No wonder, then, that the trajectory of Jesus’ ministry took a turn at this point.

Periodically, I think of that crowd. Desperate for deliverance, disillusioned by their dire circumstances, they sought a different destiny. I’ve had times like that, too; a mind racing to dark places, a heart stressed by events, circumstances that seem insurmountable. We’ve all been there. And for those moments — for people like us — hosanna says it all.

In those moments when the pain threatens to overwhelm us — hosanna.

In those times when fear looms large — hosanna.

In those circumstances when we feel most helpless — hosanna.

When words won’t come and prayer seems almost impossible — hosanna.

“Hosanna in the highest,” the crowd cried. They declared that salvation, true salvation, comes from God alone. I’m not smart enough, strong enough, educated enough, or resourced enough to save myself. “Hosanna in the highest.”

Today, perhaps this breath prayer is for yourself: “Hosanna! Save me!” Or perhaps we could pray it for those we know who feel buried by suffering or who face a daunting mountain. “Hosanna. God. Save.”

It’s an ancient cry and Christ never tires of hearing it.

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40 Days in Mark’s Gospel – Day 26

Mark 10:43-44  “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant (diakonos); and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave (doulos) of all.”

We have a lot of confusion about leadership. Definitions abound. Models, too.

We could talk about transactional leadership, situational leadership, transformational leadership, participative leadership, and a whole lot more. Let’s just talk about Christian leadership for a moment. Specifically, what makes Christian leadership Christian?

FootwashingSome people assume that a Christian who leads, automatically offers Christian leadership. Not at all. Others suggest that Christian leadership is what happens in Christian environments. There’s no connection. Still others propose that Christian leadership is marked by Christian tasks (prayer, preaching, etc). Not necessarily.

Perhaps it would help if we thought of Christian leadership differently, and with just two simple phrases: servant leadership and spiritual leadership.

Jesus makes it clear that leadership in the kingdom of God means serving, not controlling. Common leadership tends to be task-oriented, success-focused, power-conscious, and status-sensitive. Authority in common leadership is often positional, not moral; people lead because of power rather than character.

Servant-leadership, by contrast, focuses first on building people and building a community. It coaches more than controls, and inverts the usual hierarchy. It requires heavy doses of humility, great commitment to caring, unusual devotion to empowering others, and makes the task secondary to the individual. It is not a single action but a way of thinking; a way of living.

Spiritual leadership, as defined by Henry and Richard Blackaby, is simply “moving people onto God’s agenda.” Much could be said about it, but it presupposes that we know God’s agenda; that we have learned the art of hearing His voice, discerning His Word, and knowing His leading.

That, I suspect, is Christian leadership in a nutshell; servant-leadership and spiritual leadership. If we grasp these two prongs, most everything else falls into place. It stands in stark contrast to the common leadership of our culture; just another vivid example of the upside down kingdom of God.

As we lead others today — in the workplace, the church, the community, or the family — will they see in us the heart of a servant who is in touch with the agenda of God? The world longs for truly Christian leadership. Do we have sufficient faith to really offer it?

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