40 Days in Mark’s Gospel – Day 15

Mark 6:34  “When Jesus disembarked the boat, He saw a great multitude of people, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.”

Pastoral care lies in disarray.

In our churches, we have no shortage of men and women willing to take the title “pastor” but it has become a synonym for “leader.” The two are not the same. Indeed, they function entirely differently.

ShepherdLeadership involves influence; moving people from point A to point B. It’s vital and it’s valid. We need leaders. Our greatest achievements and most important developments (socially, politically, economically, technologically, and in every way imaginable) have required leadership. But leading people and pastoring people involve different skills and different foci.

The word “pastor” derives from a Latin term meaning “shepherd.” Pastors, historically, have shepherded their people. Put simply, this has meant spiritual sensitivity to what God is doing in another person’s life; one person at a time. Pastors, historically, have protected and practiced “Word, prayer, and sacrament.” They have prayed frequently, opened God’s Word constantly, and extended God’s grace faithfully, as under-shepherds of the Great Shepherd, Christ.

I understand the rise of contemporary Western Church leaders. They develop systems, create church models, organize staff, manage budgets, finance buildings, woo donors, recruit volunteers, design training programs, and perhaps speak at conferences. I understand it, because I have been it.

But every now and then I meet a pastor; and it does my soul good. I bump into someone whose life is neither harried nor hurried; someone who looks for Christ in me more than me in their program; someone who sees me with the compassion of Christ; a shepherd of the soul.

And as everything within me wells up with joy, peace, and gratitude, I face again the question: “Am I this to others?”

When Jesus saw the great multitude waiting for Him on the shore, He did not see “potential”. He did not see “dollar signs.” He did not envisage a large church, or start to bask in His celebrity status. He saw them not as a crowd but as individuals; sheep without a shepherd. May we be moved in the same way, and may the call of the pastor rest upon us all!

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40 Days in Mark’s Gospel – Day 14

Mark 6:5-6  “Jesus could do no miracle in Nazareth except that He laid His hands upon a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled at their unbelief.”

The gospels record Jesus as “marveling” just twice; here in Mark 6:6 and also in Matthew 8:10. In Matthew, Jesus marvels at the faith of an outsider, a centurion. In this passage, He marvels at the lack of faith of His own people.

If He looked at the church today and marveled, would it be for our surprisingly deep faith or our surprisingly shallow faith?

Faith - TrustIn the 1960s John Wimber became a Christian. As a young Christian, after reading the New Testament, he famously asked at a Bible study one evening: “When does the stuff happen?” Those in attendance asked, “What stuff?” Wimber replied (more or less): “The signs and wonders stuff, the miracles and healings, the demons cast out and the afflicted set free? Surely if it happened in the ministry of Jesus and in the life of the early church, it should be normal for the Kingdom of God, across culture and across time.”

Wimber’s question eventually led him to leadership of the Vineyard Movement before his untimely death in 1997 at 63 years of age.

Mark 6 rekindles Wimber’s question for me. And it begs some additional questions which may not be easy to answer. Why has the church become so much more like a classroom than a field hospital? Why are so few miracles or healings happening in so many congregations? If the risen Christ abides with us, with all of His power and authority established post-resurrection, why does His ministry seem so sedate in so many places? Does this reflect on our faith in any way? Have some contemporary congregations become mirrors of ancient Nazareth?

So many questions…and more.

If the Lord made an assessment of our lives today, I suspect He would rightly describe many of us as faithful. But would He describe us as faith-filled? The difference is significant.

The people of Nazareth surprised Jesus. Those who knew most about Him, had not really learned to trust Him. And “He could do no miracle there.”

On this 14th day of Lent, are we trusting Him more? Filled with more confidence and courage? Willing to step out of the boat just because He calls us? Merely faithful or thoroughly faith-filled?

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40 Days in Mark’s Gospel – Day 13

Mark 5:39  “Entering the house, Jesus said to the people, ‘Why make a commotion and weep? The child has not died but is asleep.”

Jairus’ daughter lay dead in the room. Nobody had any doubt. She had been that way long enough for the professional mourners and wailers to arrive and gather outside. Jairus had desperately tried to reach Jesus in time — a last ditch effort to save his child — but failed. The pall of grief hung over the home when he returned.

Understandable. Natural. All too common. Death had flexed its muscles once more.

jairus daughterJesus accompanied the father to the home. But how differently He responded this time than in the later incident with Lazarus, over whom He wept before raising him from the dead. This time, Jesus appears to chide the people for their weeping and grieving. Why?

We’d mis-hear the story if we concluded that Christ-followers should never mourn or grieve. Tears and sadness always have a place in a fallen world marked by pain and loss. Christianity is not a new form of Stoicism, calling us to Vulcan-like rationality. Raw emotions can be expressed.

Perhaps in this moment Jesus simply challenges despair. If we will trust Him, we remain a people of hope even when we experience loss. Death hurts. It separates us. It can hurl us into loneliness or fear. But can we grieve our loss while still holding to hope? Is it possible to see death as nothing more final than sleep? (“She is not dead, but asleep.”) Do we believe — can we believe — that we shall all awaken together in the morning, because Christ has come to the house?

Jesus took the child by the hand, in private, and said “Little girl, get up!” And immediately she did.

He continues to do this for all who die in Christ. In private, away from the stare of the crowd and the glare of publicity, He still takes the dead by the hand and invites them to “get up.”

The incident with Jairus and his daughter, provides a profound picture of eternity. Desperation turns into confidence. Despair becomes certainty. Death loses its finality.

Weep with those who weep. Mourn with those who mourn. And tell the story again of Jairus’ daughter.

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40 Days in Mark’s Gospel – Day 12

Mark 5:34  “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”

A week with the flu gets us down. Six weeks with a sprain or broken bone may drive us crazy. But 12 years of chronic illness? Most of us have little sense of what that would feel like.

An unnamed woman in Mark 5 knew the feeling all too well. For 12 years she had battled a health affliction, and it affected her far more deeply than an extended bout of asthma. She had a bleeding problem. And, it seems, everyone knew about it. Which meant she also had a shame problem and an outcast problem.

In Diary of a Wimpy Kid, an old slice of cheese lies on the blacktop in the school playground. All the kids know that if anyone touches the cheese they will have “the cheese touch.” It makes them unclean. And everyone scrambles to avoid that person so that they don’t get the dreaded “cheese touch” too.

The woman in the crowd that surrounded Jesus that day had the proverbial “cheese touch.” She had seen doctor after doctor, without progress. She had spent every penny she had, trying to get help, without success. Now she faced both sickness and poverty.

That day, in desperation, she crept up close to Jesus in the crowd. Gingerly, she reached out to touch Him, hoping — believing — for a miracle. When she touched the edge of Jesus’ robe, power flowed through Him and from Him and she felt instantly healed. She knew something had happened. Jesus knew it too. “Who touched me?”

The woman, afraid and over-awed by what had just happened, stepped forward and confessed. You can almost hear the crowd gasp. They know her. They’re horrified at what she has done. Whispers begin behind cupped hands.

But, in a twist that nobody saw coming, Jesus extends an extraordinarily tender response. He does not berate her for jeopardizing his role as a rabbi. Neither does He criticize her for being presumptuous and taking something from Him without asking.

On the contrary, Jesus addresses her with tenderness — “Daughter” — and affirms her faith. Then He blesses her. “Go in peace.” Perhaps it had been years since anyone had blessed her like that.

Jesus not only restored her body. In a moment, He restored her dignity, her worth, and her status in the community. He still does that. Far beyond healing the physical, Jesus heals the soul. He welcomes all of us who are sufficiently faith-filled to walk to Him and touch His robe.

Push through the crowd today. Reach out. Touch Him. Be blessed.

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40 Days in Mark’s Gospel – Day 11t

Mark 5:15  “The townspeople came to Jesus and saw the man who had been demon-possessed, sitting down, clothed, and in his right mind, the very man who had had the ‘legion'; and they became frightened.”

It’s one of the great texts in the Gospels. A wild man, who had been living among the tombs, gashing himself with rocks, broken chains hanging from his wrists, running around
Gadarene Demoniacnaked, acting violently, possessed by an army of demons, and terrifying anyone who came near him, encounters Jesus. And before it is all over, he’s “sitting down, clothed, and in his right mind.”

I love the picture of healing and restoration. Someone that everyone had given up on, is not beyond the redeeming and delivering reach of Christ.

The Gerasene demoniac reflects many of us; isolated, cut off from his community, overwhelmed by spiritual forces  beyond himself. How long had he been that way? We don’t know. We do know that he could not deliver himself, that his bondage broke every significant relationship he had, and that nobody could help him — until Jesus.

Many Christians have an under-developed understanding of the spiritual realm. Long ago, perhaps with the Enlightenment, we started to see the world in purely mechanistic and scientific terms. We struggle to believe that demons roam the world — roam our part of the world — looking for pathways and gateways to enter our lives. We tend to rely most heavily on science or psychology to explain deviant behavior. It’s all genetic or conditioning.

But every now and then, the darkness looks so thick, the powers look so strong, and the conditions look so hopeless that we realize neither science nor psychology can really explain or restore our loved ones. In such moments, look again beyond the shore. Christ comes. And for those willing to trust Him, He makes it possible again for the oppressed and the afflicted to once more sit down; “clothed, and in their right minds.”

Take a moment and pray today for those in the grip of Satan. Be specific. A family member? A colleague? A friend? If their life seems lived among the tombs, pray that He who has conquered the grave might shine the Light of God into their darkness.

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40 Days in Mark’s Gospel – Day 10

Mark 4:40  “And Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? How is it that you have no faith?'”

Between May 27 and June 4, 1940, 340,000 Allied troops were evacuated from the beaches ofDunkirk Dunkirk (France). They had been stranded there, cut off by the advancing German army, and faced certain capture or death. In response to a speech by the British Prime Minister to the people of England, a flotilla of about 800 boats — many of them fishing boats, merchant boats, and pleasure craft — headed for France and successfully evacuated the troops in just nine days. Winston Churchill described it as “a miracle of deliverance.” It remains unparalleled in scope, daring, and success.

At the end of Mark 4, Jesus heads out onto the Sea of Galilee in the evening. Mark notes that “other boats were with Him”; a small flotilla. In His weariness He lay down and fell asleep, even as a fierce storm arose. He slept on, much to the chagrin of the disciples. How could He possibly sleep through this?

The disciples wakened Jesus and issued a desperate cry for help: “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” Jesus stood, rebuked the wind and the waves, and the storm subsided. Then He chided His disciples for ever doubting that all would be OK.

I sympathize with the boat-hands.

How often have we faced storms in our lives that threatened to swamp our boats? The reality of what we can see, tends to overshadow everything. Water is pouring in, the sails are flapping wildly … and where is Jesus? Snoozing? The marriage is crumbling, the job is on the line, the kids are breaking our hearts, the news just arrived from the doctor, the church is in upheaval. Storm upon storm.

Yet, this Gospel story pushes the pointed question at each of us. “Why are you so afraid? How is it that you have no faith?” I might be angry at such questions from a peer, but when they come from the Son of God, who casts out demons and calms the chaos, I need to pause.

We may feel trapped on the beach, or caught in a storm today. Shall we panic or pray? Shall we be terrified or trust? He knows; He sees; He saves. Trust Him more today.

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40 Days in Mark’s Gospel – Day 9

Mark 4:3-20  The Parable of the Sower

The Parable of the Sower helps and disturbs me at the same time.

In the parable, Jesus identifies three groups of people who hear the word of God. First, there are those who hear it with enthusiasm, jump on board, then just as quickly fall away because they have no deep roots. Second, there are those who say yes to the word, but Sowertheir desire and fruitfulness for God gets choked out by worries, the pursuit of wealth, or desire for other things. Finally, there are those who receive the word of God, let it take deep root in their lives, and go on to be productive at different levels; some a little, some moderately, some greatly.

On the positive, the parable helps me understand other people. Not everyone will thrive in their faith.

Some folk will be a flash-in-the-pan. They’ll start with fire, but their roots do not go deeply enough to sustain them for the long haul. Other folk will constantly struggle with the worries of the world. They simply can’t, don’t, or won’t trust what the Word of God declares. And then there are those folk who stay in the Word, and the Word abides in them, and even they will yield at different levels; some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold, and others a hundred-fold.

We all respond differently to the Word, and we all have different capacities even with the Word. Perhaps it’s cold comfort, but the parable helps us not be so surprised by others. But I’m challenged by a single question: Which category best describes me?

The issue is not productivity or passion but how deeply I get into the Word and remain in the Word. The common thread throughout the parable is the role of the Word of God within us all.

Did I start with a bang, and am finishing with a whimper? Did I grow a little, but basically let my other interests crowd the Word out of my life? Or am I deeply in the Word (and the Word deeply in me) allowing God to produce what He likes through me?

The parable presumes a mystery; the mysterious power of God through His Word in the lives of His people. Where do you fit in the parable? It’s certainly not too late, nor too hard, to adjust categories.  :-)

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