Bible Reading Blog

Bible Reading Blog

Congregational Bible Reading

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Taking It To The Extreme

Monday, July 15, 2019

BIBLE READING: Mark 9

If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off (Mark 9.43-47) – Yikes! Jesus seems to be taking things to the extreme. He was notorious for making bold statements that were confusing or made people uncomfortable (Mark 9.32) … but this just seems to take it too far.

Jesus concludes this section by saying “…everyone will be salted with fire” (Mark 9.49). Throughout his ministry, Jesus used these two figures to represent preservation (salt) and purification (fire). And so, Jesus is saying that his followers will be preserved by the removal of things that are sinful.

Everyone who tries to follow Jesus will encounter this process as they become more like him. It is the process of discipline and it hurts (Hebrews 12.4-11). We will struggle against sinful desires and come to the realization that if we will overcome them, something has to go. We often glaze over this teaching or attempt to put it into our social context to make sense of them… but what if Jesus was serious? What if he is actually calling you to cut off part of your body if it kept you from sinning?

I'm not saying he is, but we must recognize that this is once again a statement of priority from Jesus. Maybe you don’t need to cut off your hand, but we all have things that hinder our total devotion to God. And so, we must ask ourselves: Are there are things in my life that I need to cut out? Sometimes we think sin only manifests in overtly bad thing... but Satan often uses every day things to separate us from God.

Would you be willing to cut off your cable or your cell phone to preserve your purity? Would you be willing to cut off a relationship that demands too much of your time?

Is there anything you wouldn’t be willing to give up in your life? More importantly, is there anything in this life worth the distraction or the time investment if it keeps us from knowing God and growing closer to him?

The things we value most in this life are the things that have the most potential to keep us separated from God. Jesus plainly exposes the consequences of divided devotion to provoke us to action (Mark 9.43, 47-48). If we excuse or allow things in our life that make holy living more difficult, we are willingly leaving the door open for temptation.

Jesus' point is that there is no action too extreme when it comes to sin. We must identify and remove the things that hinder us from total devotion to God. It is a purifying process that is necessary to preserve and protect our soul (1 Peter 1.6-7, 22). If we would follow Jesus, we must be people motivated by conviction to protect our relationship with God at all costs.

“…It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.” (Mark 9.44b)

What Does It Profit?

Monday, July 08, 2019

BIBLE READING: Mark 8

In the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii, there is a very interesting skeleton of a man. When the volcano started to erupt, this man was collecting his things and his gold spilled on the floor. As he reached out for it, the fumes and ash overcame him. Now, he is embalmed for all time, grasping that gold.

Even though the folly of his decision is evident, he saw those things as so valuable that he couldn’t leave them behind. But what is his gold worth to him now?

In our culture of comfort, we surround ourselves with things that would be superfluous in other societies. We make concessions for why these possessions exist in our lives, not realizing the value we are placing on these things. However, Jesus’ teaching demands we evaluate the priorities of our possessions.

Human choices are determined by what we value. In the business world this is called a cost/benefit analysis: Is the reward worth what I must give up? This is the proposition Jesus offers in Mark 8. “If you would save your life you will lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake and the gospel’s you will save it.” (Mark 8.35).   

Jesus often made polarizing statements that we tend to glaze over or excuse away. “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” He is literally telling people, to follow him is to be willing to give up everything. If Jesus showed up today and said, “Follow me… and bring an electric chair with you” would we be so eager to do so?

We need to appreciate the intensity of Jesus’ call. To follow him, you cannot be halfhearted or lukewarm because there is no such thing. That type of mentality is near-sighted and blind to the reality of life. Everyone will die and there is no human power to control life beyond death. The need for hope beyond this life exists… but do we see that clearly?

Jesus teaches this sobering reality of life to get us to think long-term. The riches of this world will harden us into self-sufficiency when we need to abandon those things and follow Jesus. I’m not suggesting that Jesus calls us to poverty but rather to priority. When put in the context of life and death, our things are insignificant. The greatest challenge in life is to see through the temporary and realize that ultimate fulfillment comes when I deny myself for the sake of the gospel.

This means every decision I make is important. Do I realize that the decisions I make today will affect me, not just tomorrow, but for eternity? This is why Paul encourages us to “make the best use of our time” (Ephesians 5.16) … we don’t know which moment will be our last and so we must invest in things that will be of value in eternity.

“What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8.36)

Who Would You Be?

Monday, July 01, 2019

BIBLE READING: Mark 6

Jesus sent out the 12 apostles in power with a mission: constrain the power of evil in word and deed (Matthew 10.7-8; Mark 6.12-13). They did and said many incredible things that created a following (Mark 6.33), and afterwards they gave Jesus a report of their work (Mark 6.30). Although their works gave the apostles a certain level of distinction (Mark 6.33), even their “celebrity” was known to be contingent on Jesus (Mark 6.14). The were sent out by Jesus, in the power of Jesus, for the purpose of Jesus.

The impact Jesus had in the lives of these men cannot be overstated. His very presence changed the trajectory of their lives forever. However, over the course of time and life they had moments where their natural self wanted to take credit for the things they could do. At one point, the apostles quibbled about who was the greatest (Mark 9.33-34) because they saw their power as a means of gain but were quickly reminded of their inferiority in the presence of Jesus.

The change we see in their lives and their significance in history was inextricably tied to the mission and call of Jesus. An important lesson, especially critical to our faith, is that we must remember who calls us and what produces change in our lives. Pride often results from a failure to properly acknowledge that the power to change does not come from within ourselves, but from the words and power of Jesus.

If not for Jesus, what kind of person would you be? You may have been a “good” person, but before Jesus called you the scriptures remind us you were dead, separated from God and without hope… but because of Christ you have been made alive, empowered to live with purpose (Colossians 1.22-23; Ephesians 2.1-10). The very trajectory of our lives are forever altered when we encounter Jesus. There are moments we see this clearly, but sometimes we do not. We have times when we overemphasize what we have done to overcome failure and sin without remembering that it is Jesus who enlightened and encouraged us to change. (Titus 2.11-12).

To think for a moment that our knowledge of scripture or acts of service are worthy of some sort of glory from others is to miss the point. The peace and purpose we experience as believers only exists because we have committed to knowing and following Jesus. Jesus is the reason for the change in the lives of believers (1 Corinthians 1.30; Ephesians 4.20-24; Colossians 2.7). His words and example have given us power to live this life with purpose. And so, let us never forget the impact of Jesus in our lives and “let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1.31).

"I will not boast in anything; no gifts, no power, no wisdom.
But I will boast in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from his reward? I cannot give an answer.
But this I know with all my heart: His wounds have paid my ransom."
-
In Christ Alone, verse 3

Dealing With Demons

Monday, June 24, 2019

BIBLE READING: Mark 5

“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Mark 5.7)

Mark 5 exists to pull back the curtain on a world we can’t fully understand. Jesus is so powerful that even the most insidious legion of demons recognized his authority and submitted to him (Mark 5.7). His power is beyond our human comprehension. But despite the presence of these spiritual forces, notice how Jesus brings his power down to a human level.  

Jesus engaged the demon possessed man in a conversation. This was a man whom the town had cast-off as hopeless and was forced to live by himself in a destructive condition (Mark 5.4-5). His demon possession had become his identity (Mark 5.3-4), but Jesus shows up and treats him like he did everyone else. In fact, Jesus even asks the demon his name (Mark 5.9).

Consider the contrast between the actions of Jesus and the townspeople. They tried to bind and subdue this man (Mark 5.3-4), but to no avail and so they rejected him. He was a person with a problem, and it was easier to let the demons do their thing where it wouldn’t bother them.

The townspeople are often an afterthought in this story, but they were as much in need as this demon possessed man. The townspeople had become comfortable with the presence of the demons as long as they could continue their lives as usual. However, when that dynamic changed, “they began to beg Jesus to depart” (Mark 5.17) because in him they met a situation beyond their control.

Jesus’ actions show us that he is in the business of personally engaging people. He didn’t brush anyone aside but instead he engaged every situation with a hands-on, personal approach. He wanted this man to know he cared, and he wanted to help.

This story allegorically depicts the feelings of rejection and struggle many of us face within ourselves. Much like this man, we sometimes experience chaos, confusion and fear as we battle “demons” from our past and present. We may come to Jesus wanting to change and then buck against him when he calls us to do it. These things can overwhelm to the point where it comes to define our existence. In fact, we may fear losing these things because we have come to accept them as part of our identity.

But Jesus doesn’t see us for our “demons” but for our humanity. He commands and wicked, broken, degenerate, dead lives are restored (John 6.63; Ephesians 2.4-6). Although he doesn’t physically engage us in conversation, his words are the mode for encouragement and restoration. Jesus’ power is in his words.

This story should also challenge us regarding how we see and interact with other people. It’s easier to stay aloof than to invest in the lives of other. We need to be careful not to dismiss those who are unlike us, or who may have baggage in their lives. God designed us to be relational people who serve and speak with others.

These types of relationships can be uncomfortable and challenging for some of us. Our flesh wants something it can know and control. But Jesus imposes on the comfort zones of each one of us with patience and grace. The question is, will we beg him to leave or will we beg to follow him (Mark 5.17-18)?

“Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mark 5.19)

It's Not For the Birds

Monday, June 17, 2019

BIBLE READING: Mark 4

The parable of the sower brings to light many positive elements regarding our relationship to God and his word. The baseline implication of the parable is that the word wants to change the hearts of men because that is what it is designed to do (Isaiah 55.10-11). Notice however, the entrance of the seed also encourages some negative things. Whenever the seed is cast, the birds come to eat.

This is not a good thing because the birds have a conflicting motivation with that of the sower. They are selfish and seek only to remove something that could potentially change the situation. In his explanation, Jesus tells us that Satan is like the birds (Mark 4.15). Whenever the hearts of men are exposed to the word of God, Satan makes it a point to be there.

We don’t often talk about the tactics of Satan, but need to acknowledge that he is working against us to minimize the effect God's word can have in our lives. He operates in a variety of unseen ways (Ephesians 6.12) but his first line of defense is to steal away God's power from our lives. When we are exposed to the word of God, Satan will show up in our lives because he wants to get to us before the word has an opportunity to change us. But he doesn't show up in a little red jumpsuit with a pitchfork and let us know what he is doing. 

He works through seemingly unavoidable situations that create distraction, discouragement, and disillusionment. Ultimately if he can get us to believe the word of God cannot change us or if we do not allow ourselves time to consider its application to our life, he has succeeded in taking it away from us because we are like the hard ground. The word cannot sink in, and we provide Satan an opportunity to swoop in and take away the potential for God’s power in our life. So how do we combat this tactic of Satan?

1. We must saturate our lives with the word of God. Where there is no seed, there are no birds, and there is no change in the ground. But when the seed is sown, the birds are on the prowl. The more we expose ourselves to God’s word, the harder Satan has to work to take it away from us.

2. We must be open to change. Notice that where the ground is soft, the seed can sink in and begin to work. The only way he has opportunity to take away the seed is if the ground is hard. In the same way, we must cultivate our hearts to be soft to receive the word of God.

Satan is a liar and a deceiver. He understands the potential of God's word and he does not want us to be changed by it. When we cultivate our hearts to receive “the implanted word which is able to save our souls” (James 1.21), not only do we diminish Satan’s opportunity to take it away from us, but we create occasion for God to fulfil His purpose in us. The word has incredible power to change our lives when we accept its instruction. Don't let Satan take that away from you … it’s not for the birds.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5.8)

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