Immediate Missions–Mark 1:29-30

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her.

When my pastor has the good sense to wrap up his sermon at a decent hour, I can avoid bolting out of the building like the anti-social person I really am and still make it to my favorite restaurant before the masses fill the place. There, I can share the morning’s gossip with my family before shuttling home to see how badly the Chiefs are being beaten. Once the ball game is over, I’ll lounge about the house for a few hours. If I have to go back to church for some meeting or other, I’ll do that, but often I get to relax my way all the way to bedtime. Sundays are marvelous.

That being said, I have to confess that today’s scripture makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. It seems that Jesus, upon leaving the synagogue, did not head for Cracker Barrel. He didn’t even care who was winning the football game. No, Jesus, “As soon as” he left the synagogue took himself to the mission field. And when did the two pairs of brothers mention the illness of Peter’s mother-in-law? “Immediately.”

How often do we walk out of church and then allow the world’s demands to sweep us away from the things that we should do. We get swept into the ads for flashy electronics or the latest movie-of-the-decade. We watch the Chiefs lose or the rest of the family snooze. Back in the pews, we had great intentions to visit the afflicted and pray like crazy, but once we arrive home, things…change.

The point of a worship service is not to give us our religion fix, to fill us up like we do our car at the gas pump. Or maybe it is. Maybe we worship together in order to be able to drive off and actually go somewhere for God. You’d never consider filling up with unleaded on Sunday afternoon and then pulling away from the pump and leaving the car idling until the gas gauge read “E,” would you? That would be pointless and wasteful.

How much more pointless and wasteful is it to “fuel up” on Sunday morning only to idle away our time through the week. Instead, let’s leave church and launch into mission–immediately.

Spread the Word–Mark 1:28

News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

News travels fast. Today, a rumor about a sports team or a politician can fly around the world through Twitter and Facebook in just seconds. When Usain Bolt won the 200m gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, the news flew at 80,000 Tweets per minute.

On the other hand, not all news travels fast. When I Tweet something, it pretty much just sits there. My handful of followers rarely if ever retweet or comment on my items. My favorite hashtag should probably be measured in Tweets per month.

The same goes in less tech-dependent communication. The really hot news, say in your church, will fly around the place. When my church’s youth pastor announced his resignation a couple of months back, it had gotten around the church thoroughly by the next day. When the church announced an upcoming budget meeting, the buzz didn’t quite move as quickly.

Whether it is bad new or good, we tend to spread the remarkable stuff. We want the people in our circle to know how miserable or how fortunate we are. Knowing how my circle might overlap your circle, it just makes sense that the really juicy news will get around in short order.

When we look at the verse today, the response to Jesus casting a demon out of the man in the synagogue, we shouldn’t be surprised that, even without Twitter and iPhones, the people of Galilee managed to get the word around quickly and thoroughly. They had seen something remarkable, something amazing; thus, they simply had to spread the word. My guess is that they did not spread news of the synagogue’s upcoming silent auction with quite so much enthusiasm.

As usual, my interest here is not so much with what some 1st-century Galileans did but with what you and I do. If we don’t spread the “news of him” with the same vigor that those people in Capernaum showed, might that not mean that we don’t really consider the news quite as good as we say? If we’re more eager to spread a movie review, outrage at the government, or the cute thing a child said than we are to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, then perhaps we should look back to that Good News and understand just how remarkable it is.

Amazing Stories–Mark 1:27

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”

 When was the last time you were amazed by God? I’ve heard people talk about God’s power through prayer for years. I’ve experienced it myself at times, but I have to admit that some of those examples of power can be explained without resorting to God. I’m reminded of the skeptic who, seeing the abandoned crutches and canes, supposedly left by those healed at the Marian shrine at Lourdes, said, “I’ll believe when I see a wooden leg left behind.”

I can claim to be amazed that God has granted me all the provision I need, but could as easily say it was my hard work that allowed that to happen. Since I haven’t received a check directly from God, there’s a limit to my amazement.

When the people in Capernaum watched Jesus heal that possessed man, they saw the people of God going from a defensive posture to an offensive posture. The whole Mosaic Law had not been established as a means of taking the world for God. It stands as more of a hedge against ruin. Yes, there were some moments of offense in the Old Testament. Joshua’s move into Canaan springs to mind, but largely the watchword of the people in the Old Testament was “Don’t mess it up!”

That changed on a Saturday in Capernaum, leading to the people being amazed. And we should continue to be amazed. No, we don’t have Jesus physically present with us, but he has promised to be with us. As we read through the book of Acts, we find amazing things following Peter and Stephen and Paul and Philip. We should be experiencing amazement within the church, at least now and then.

But are we? When was the last time you were amazed by God? And if you’re not being amazed by God, then why do you think that’s happened? From my own experience, I know that when I don’t feel God close, it’s because I’ve drawn away. When I don’t find myself amazed by God, it’s probably because I’ve tried to do so much for myself that I remove many opportunities for amazement.

Perhaps we’re not amazed by God because we need to be the vehicles through which the amazing deed takes place. Perhaps we can, enlivened by the Spirit, change the world, heal the sick, cast out demons, and even raise the dead (Matthew 10:7-8) Can we have faith and still be amazed? Give it a try. You might be amazed at what happens.

Don’t Suffer Fools–Mark 1:25-26

“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!”  The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

Several years ago, I attended a church that was rocked by a series of mistakes by the pastor and others on the staff. I will not defend the grievous sin that began the whole debacle or the actions of the pastor that some considered a cover-up. That’s not what I’d like to focus on here. Instead, I’d like to consider the actions of a significant number of church members, several of whom I counted as friends, that undoubtedly made the matter worse and reflected very poorly on this body of Christ.

To this day, I recall with discomfort sitting in a clandestine deacon meeting in which a cabal of self-appointed leaders had stacked the agenda to achieve their ends. When the rank and file failed to immediately embrace their ends, one of my friends leaped up and berated us: “What are you afraid of?”

To this day, I wish I had stood and rebuked him, saying “Be quiet.” I’m not suggesting that this man was demon possessed. He’d have a better excuse if he were. Instead, I think he just let the emotions of the thing carry him away.

When Jesus heard foolish talk, whether prompted by a spirit or the flesh, he spoke against it. In this case, he went on, calling the spirit out of the man in dramatic fashion. When he rebukes the Pharisees, he doesn’t drive out demons from them as they were not possessed. But he does not simply stand by and listen to foolish talk.

How much foolish talk do I tolerate in the course of a day. I’m not talking about the foolish talk regarding how the Kansas City Royals should rebuild the pitching staff. I mean talk that matters. Do I listen to unkind gossip? Do I listen to talk that tears down the church? Do I listen silently to destructive theology? All too often, like that evening at my former church, I do that.

How did Jesus respond? He stopped the foolish talk and then took the appropriate counter action. That approach could work for us as well.

Do You Hear Voices?–Mark 1:23-24

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out,  “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

Every church has some people that, if you take the time to get to know them, you’ll think are some of the most marvelous folks on this earth. At the same time, every church seems to have somebody who will just drive you crazy. If you haven’t found those people in your church, then you’re probably not sufficiently plugged in.

The extremes are not what Mark’s dealing with in today’s verses. In many churches, you’ll find someone who isn’t just annoying but who is downright evil, people who, if we had a Geiger counter to detect who is saved and who isn’t, would probably be kicked onto the street in a heartbeat. We shouldn’t feel superior to the Jews of Jesus’ day when we read that they had a man with an evil spirit in their synagogue. You might not want to know who all is sitting in the pews of your church.

The NIV, quoted above, says that this man was “possessed by” the unclean spirit. The Greek text doesn’t actually have a word for “possessed” here. Literally, the sentence would call him a “man with an unclean spirit.” I’m not sure if there’s a difference between those, but the literal rendering sure sounds less horrible to me.

How ironic it is that the unclean spirit would challenge Jesus by revealing him as “the Holy One of God.” How sad that the people apparently didn’t find that statement terribly impressive. Some of them, undoubtedly, heard this man and said, “Yeah, who does this Jesus think he is?” Maybe they agreed that Jesus’ course would destroy them, or at least their self-satisfied way of life. Perhaps they simply dismissed this guy’s words. After all, I doubt this was the first time he’d blurted something.

On this side of heaven, we have to inhabit churches that will be filled with all sorts of voices, including voices that would work against the Gospel. Our call is not to separate ourselves so that we cannot hear those impure voices. Instead, we have to tune ourselves to the Spirit within so that we can understand those voices for just what they are.

Allowing the Author to Speak–Mark 1:22

The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. –Mark 1:22

One of the things that I enjoy more than anything else is working with others to create some sort of dramatic production. It could be a brief skit, a short drama for VBS, or a lengthy production. I can direct, act, write, or perform whatever role. It doesn’t matter; I simply enjoy watching the final project unfold. (Okay, I lied. I enjoy acting more than any of the rest.)

In my current church, I have become the go-to person for directing dramatic work. It’s not that I’m particularly gifted in directing, but I seem to be the best person available. In the course of doing several productions, I’ve discovered something interesting. When I have written the script, I find myself much more confident in my decisions than if I’m attempting to interpret someone else’s text.

In the same vein, I’ve sat under choir directors who had written the music in our laps. Those people know precisely what they intended measure 33 to sound like. They understand exactly how much that crescendo on the second page is supposed to grow or just how much slow down the molto ritard on the last page was intended to evoke. Anyone else, even someone who has spoken with the actual writer, will be doing their best to interpret what the other person said. They might be imposing their own view intentionally or unintentionally, but they’ll undoubtedly impose their own ideas.

When Jesus taught in the synagogue, he didn’t simply appear as the author of the  scriptures that he read. He stood there as the author of human life, of the natural world, and of everything that those scriptures related to. The only thing Jesus did not author was himself. (And if we think too hard in that area, our brains begin to hurt.)

When I teach Sunday School, I will be like one of the teachers of the law, an interpreter of someone else’s text (even though I wrote this month’s curriculum). When you share the gospel with someone, you’ll be like a teacher of the law. Regardless of how you encounter God’s Word, it will always be God’s Word, not yours.

However, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, we can speak as one with authority. When Stephen delivered the eloquent sermon that wound up placing him on the wrong end of a stoning, do you believe that those were just his interpretation? When, on the day of Pentecost, Peter preached and drew 3,000 people into fellowship, did he speak under his own authority or Christ’s?

I cannot speak with the same authority that Jesus employed in Capernaum, but I can, I must, speak with the Spirit’s guidance and authority rather than as a mere interpreter of the law. Failing that, we’re no better than the scribes of Jesus’ day.

We Gather Together–Mark 1:21

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. –Mark 1:21

“I don’t need to go to church to be a good Christian. I can worship just as easily in the great outdoors as I can inside the church.” Have you ever heard that sort of a statement? Have you ever noticed that those members of the Church of the Great Outdoors rarely seem to spend Sunday in their self-selected sanctuary unless they’re chasing largemouth bass or lying in wait for deer.

“I don’t need to go to Arrowhead Stadium to be a good Chiefs fan.”  (Talk about an act of faith this season!) This is true. I can follow my favorite football team on the TV or the radio. I can read about them online or in the paper and still be a genuine fan. And since parking at the stadium now costs enough to put a person through college, I have no great desire to brave the elements and shed my cash in order to “worship” in that great red church.

But honestly, I have to admit that if I were a Chiefs season ticket holder, I might feel more strongly about the team. I’d probably know player names and numbers. I’d be inclined to talk about their ups and plentiful downs. Maybe I’d even be one of those who would pay big bucks to fly a banner around the stadium demanding the firing of the Goat du jour. As a non-attendee, I find it abundantly simple to ignore the Chiefs.

When Christians cease to spend time together for the purposes of worship, it’s increasingly easy for them to simply ignore the demands and blessings of the Christian life. As well-intentioned as they might be, those who spend Sunday morning in the “Great Outdoors” typically find matters of God fleeing from their minds.

Where did Jesus go on the Sabbath? Obviously he didn’t darken the door of Capernaum Community Church, since the church had not yet been created. But he went to the synagogue. Was that synagogue full of hypocrites? Probably, but Jesus went there. Did they sing the sort of songs that he liked? We don’t know, but I can’t see him staying away because of that. Could Jesus have worshiped just as well in the great outdoors? What a silly question. Jesus was God. Wherever he went, worship took place.

If Jesus saw fit not only to attend that fallible synagogue in Capernaum but to serve them by teaching, how much more should the common Christian do that? The great outdoors is terrific, but the church needs to be together to be the church.

Without Delay–Mark 1:19-20

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

This morning, when I rose, I heard the blower on our woodstove still pumping warm air into the house, nearly eight hours after I had last added wood. Should I desire I warm house in the morning–and for the sake of this discussion, I’ll pretend that we don’t have the furnace as a backup–then I have to make sure to put a full firebox of big, high-quality wood in the stove just before I turn in for the night.

But actually there’s more to it than that. To stoke the fire just before bed, I need to have a stack of firewood sitting outside on the porch. And to have the firewood on the porch, I need to have split and stacked it by the barn. And to make that happen, I need to have cut it to length in the woods and brought it up to the barn. I could go on by speaking of the need to have chainsaw oil and sharp chains, but I think you get the picture. Most things worth doing require preparation.

There’s one word in today’s passage that suggests to me that–Sons of Thunder or not–the sons of Zebedee were not impulsive young men. Rather than just blundering out on the water, these men sat with their father “preparing their nets.” They must have understood that in order to get the most of their fishing labors, they needed to perform all the proper preparatory steps.

That’s what makes their obedience to Jesus “without delay” all the more remarkable to me. These fellows, unless they just really wanted to get away from home, don’t seem the sort to run off after the first shiny thing that appeared. They would prepare, but in this case they didn’t.

I must confess that I rarely follow Christ with reckless abandon. I don’t abandon the good and important work that I find before me, work that my family approves, to chase after this rabbi from Nazareth. But shouldn’t I?

Wouldn’t the church be stronger if the prudent and judicious people followed Jesus without a thought to the worldly ramifications of their deeds? Sure, it’s folly to go on a mission trip where you don’t know the language, but go anyway. Maybe it’s nonsense to charge into some exciting new program, but if that is Christ’s call, then let’s do it. Sometimes I think we use “preparing our nets” as an excuse to avoid an uncomfortable obedience.

 

 

 

To Fish or Not–Mark 1:16-18

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

I enjoy fishing. I enjoy fishing sufficiently that I wrote my doctoral dissertation about fly-fishing literature. We don’t know whether Simon Peter and Andrew really enjoyed fishing or simply did it as the family business, although the fact that they went back to it after Jesus’ death seems to suggest that they at least tolerated the occupation.

Whether they enjoyed the work or not, these men must have been smart enough to know that you don’t run off and leave a perfectly good job to follow some broke and homeless fellow who’s offering to make you a “fisher of men.” I can’t imagine leaving my current job simply because some clever fellow walked down the hall offered an exciting–although awfully hazy–future in teaching “the language of love” rather than English.

We know that Peter was married. What did his wife have to say about this sudden career change? Perhaps more to the point, what did his mother-in-law say? Yes, Jesus would heal her, which surely scored some points, but can’t you imagine some fairly tense moments in the Simon Peter household?

Proverbs 14:12 tells us that there is a way that seems right to man but that leads to death. At the risk of adding to the scripture, let me suggest that there’s also a way that seems foolish to man but leads to everlasting life. (Of course, this notion is no novelty as 1 Corinthians 1:18 shows.)

Notice that Jesus did not call every fisherman around the Sea of Galilee to come follow him. For most of them, their best choice was to keep fishing. After all, had all the fishermen become preachers, the people would have had no fish to eat. For some, the call of Jesus was to keep fishing, but to these two, it was to do something else: to become fishers of men. In all cases, the call of Jesus was the call to the right thing, the best thing.

It might have seemed discouraging to the fishermen Ephraim and Jabez as they watched their friends wander along after this man Jesus. “Why didn’t he want us to go?” As so frequently happens with God’s matters, the answer isn’t completely clear.  But while the answer might not be clear, the action is: Put down your nets or take them up as Christ commands. It will be the best choice.

 

The Time Has Come–Mark 1:14-15

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Allow me to share some of my techniques for getting things done. As a natural procrastinator, I have to pay special attention to the due dates of tasks. Jobs can be placed into three categories.

  • First, there are those tasks that simply must be done right now. For example, I ate a leftover, ridiculously spicy burrito for lunch. Had I delayed washing my plate, the sauce and melted cheese would have hardened into something like barnacle toughness. Such tasks as urgent.
  • Second, there are tasks that cannot be done at present due to some situation. For example, regardless of how motivated I am to prepare my income taxes for this year, I can’t do it until the various documents begin to roll in. Similarly, I cannot grade all of my students’ final projects until after their due date.
  • Third, we have the tasks that could be done at any time between now and some real or imagined due date. For example, once those student papers roll in, I’ll have a couple of weeks to complete the grading. I could do it immediately or I could wait until so close to the deadline that I ruin my mood for a few days. At my best, I’ll spread the work out so that it’s not unpleasant.

Look at what Jesus said to the people to whom he first preached. “The time has come.” When is the time? Now. He doesn’t tell his listeners to put repentance and belief on their To-Do lists. He says to do it now.

The time for response to the message of the Gospel is different for everyone, but actually it is always the same. The time is now. When Jesus encountered people he didn’t suggest that they mull the matter over. He wanted their response right then. As we’ll read in the next few days, the time for Peter came slightly before the time for John, yet the time in both cases was now. The time for Zacchaeus came years later, but the time was still now. The time for me came perhaps earlier, perhaps later than the time for you, but in both cases it came when Jesus came near and said, “Now.”

If you read what I write, you’ve probably already experienced that “Now” moment with Christ, but the time is “now” when Jesus calls us to acts of love and giving and service. Two thousand years later, the time is always now.