You Do It!

Daily Readings: Psalm 50; Isaiah 49:1-12; Mark 6:30-44

Mark 6:30 – The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” 32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”

39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand. (NIV)

The feeding of the multitude is one of the most well known miracle stories found in the Bible, and for good reason.  The feeding of the five-thousand is the only miracle, apart from the resurrection, that is found in all four Gospels.  In addition, the Gospels of Mark and Matthew also record a second miraculous feeding (Mark 8:1-9; Matthew 15:32-39).  There are many lessons to be learned from the miraculous feeding, but Jesus’ response always gets my attention: “You give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14;16; Mark 6:37; Luke 9:13)

This question confronts me, and it causes me to ask myself:  “Do I look to Jesus for strength, or as a crutch?”  In other words, do I want Jesus to do for me, and for others, what I am capable of doing if I would only seek the strength from Jesus.  Faith in Jesus should move us forward, and allow for us to tackle the difficult issues of life.  Christians should never sit back and say – “I wish God would do something about …” When we talk like that, God responds, “You do something about it.”

Let’s be quick to seek strength from our relationship with Jesus, but let us also be quick to respond to the needs of others that surround us.

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Leave Babylon!

Daily Readings: Psalm 49; Isaiah 48:17-22; Mark 6:13-29

Isaiah 48:17 – This is what the Lord says—
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you what is best for you,
who directs you in the way you should go.
18 If only you had paid attention to my commands,
your peace would have been like a river,
your well-being like the waves of the sea.
19 Your descendants would have been like the sand,
your children like its numberless grains;
their name would never be blotted out
nor destroyed from before me.”

20 Leave Babylon,
flee from the Babylonians!
Announce this with shouts of joy
and proclaim it.
Send it out to the ends of the earth;
say, “The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob.”
21 They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts;
he made water flow for them from the rock;
he split the rock
and water gushed out.

22 “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.” (NIV)

In today’s reading from Isaiah, God is commanding the people of God to flee from Babylon.  This passage follows the prophecy of fall of Babylon to king Cyrus.  When the fall took place, and when Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to their homeland, why would God need to command them to flee?  Wouldn’t they be eager to return home?  Wouldn’t they have a deep desire to return to their homeland, to reunite with long lost relatives?  We would like to think that this displaced group of people made a mass exodus much like their ancestors did when leaving Egypt centuries before.  The truth of the matter, however, is that only a small percentage of the people left Babylon.  There were several waves of returning refugees, but many chose to remain.  Why would they remain in Babylon?  They remained because they had grown accustomed to life in Babylon.  They had, in essence, become Babylonians.  They were comfortable.

What a lesson for us!  Sometimes, we grow comfortable in our own ways.  We become comfortable with the language that we use, the grudges that we keep, and the prejudices that we hold onto.  We become comfortable with who and what we are.  While we may be good people, or not as bad as others, God calls us forward.  True, God loves us as we are, but God loves us too much to leave us this way!  God’s love and grace continuously calls us to move forward in our discipleship.  God wants nothing more for us than to look back at where we are today from a year forward, or a month forward, and say, “Thank you God, for bringing me closer to you.”

Whatever it is that may be our Babylon – whatever it is that we have grown comfortable with – let us flee from it today!  Let us heed God’s call and move forward in our discipleship.

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Share The News!

Daily Readings: Psalm 45; Isaiah 48:1-11; Mark 6:b-13

Mark 6b – Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. (NIV)

The Gospels have several accounts of Jesus sending out followers to share the Good News.  In this reading, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples.  Matthew 10 also has Jesus sending out the twelve. In Luke 10, Jesus sends out seventy-two.  Clearly, Jesus wants his followers to share the message!  We have a verse in today’s reading, and it is also found in the Matthew 10 account, that can be troubling for some: “And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6:11).  This troubles some people because they feel it is wrong to give up on someone.  We should note what Jesus says at the end of Matthew 9, just before he sends out the twelve.  We also find Jesus saying this before he sends out the seventy-two in Luke 10: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”

There are many who are ready for a spiritual harvest right now, and sadly, many miss the harvest because of a lack of harvesters.  The harvest is plentiful, but not everyone is ready for the harvest.  Sure, we wish they all were, but just as some crops take longer to harvest, so it is with the spiritual lives of people.  When we share the Good News with someone, we need not hound them until they submit, lest they submit just to get us off their backs!  We should, as Jesus taught, move on when people are unreceptive.  We should not stop praying for them, however.  Perhaps, they may be ready for a harvest at a later time, and maybe someone else will be the worker who brings in that harvest.

The lesson is clear – we need harvesters!  We need to share the Good News of God’s grace and love.  If you do not know how to share your faith, or how to explain the Gospel, talk to your pastor or a trusted Christian friend.  Sharing our faith should not be something we dread, but something we look forward to.  After all, the harvest is ready!

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God Alone Can Sustain

Daily Readings: Psalm 41; Isaiah 46:1-7; Mark 5:21-43

Isaiah 46:1 – Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low;
their idols are borne by beasts of burden.
The images that are carried about are burdensome,
a burden for the weary.
They stoop and bow down together;
unable to rescue the burden,
they themselves go off into captivity.

“Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
and have carried since you were born.
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

“With whom will you compare me or count me equal?
To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?
Some pour out gold from their bags
and weigh out silver on the scales;
they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god,
and they bow down and worship it.
They lift it to their shoulders and carry it;
they set it up in its place, and there it stands.
From that spot it cannot move.
Even though someone cries out to it, it cannot answer;
it cannot save them from their troubles. (NIV)

In today’s reading we find God speaking once again to the Jews who were in exile in Babylon.  In verse one, we are told that Bel and Nebo stoop low.  Bel is Baal, one of the chief gods of Babylon.  Nebo was also a chief god, and was known by several names, including Nebuchadnezzar.  We are told that these idols were being carried away.  This would refer to Cyrus’ army.  The idols would have been made of gold, and would have been valuable to the new government.  In verses three and four, God reminds them that God alone is their maker and sustainer throughout their entire lives.  Unlike an idol that would be carried away, God would never abandon them.

We are told in verse six that some poured out gold and silver to make an idol.  This was referring to the Jews, not the Babylonians.  Many of the Jews adopted the worship of Babylonian gods and their religious practices.  I believe that this speaks to us in our modern world, as well.  What idols do we create?  What do we worship more than God?  Do we adopt the practices of unbelievers with whom we live in our own land?  These are questions we can only answer for ourselves, but they are questions we must address.  We should continually examine our lives so that we don’t drift from the One who has cared for us ‘since we were born’ (verse 3).  Only God can save us from our troubles (verse 7).

As we pray this day, let us examine our lives.  Let us put God before everything else, and trust God for God’s continuous care and guidance.

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Jesus, Don’t You Care?

Daily Readings: Psalm 31; Isaiah 45:18-25; Mark 4:35-41

Mark 4:35 – That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (NIV)

On January 11th, the name of my blog post was, “Ask Jesus To Get Into The Boat.”  The reading was from John 6.  In that passage, the disciples crossed the sea without waiting for Jesus.  After the a storm arose, and after Jesus came towards them on the water, John 6:21 states: “Then they were willing to take him into the boat.”  I wrote that we must be willing to take Jesus along, and when we don’t, we often face unnecessary trials. In today’s reading, the disciples do take Jesus into the boat, and troubles still come!

There are two lessons from today’s reading that I would like to share.  First, a relationship with Jesus is not a magic formula that causes all of our problems to disappear.  Remember, God goes with us through the storms (see January 21st post, Through It All).  Troubles will come, but God is with us.

The second lesson is this – even when we invite Jesus into our lives, we don’t always rely of Jesus’ presence.  We might pray for God’s guidance in the morning, but when the storms of life confront us in the afternoon, how quickly do we forget our morning prayers?  Like the disciples who had Jesus in the boat, how quick are we to ask, “Jesus, don’t you care?”  Jesus does care.  Troubles will come.  Let us be quick to remember the one who told us that he would be with us always, even until the end of the age.  The age has not ended, Jesus is still with us!

Today, let us not waste time when troubles come.  Let us quickly turn to Jesus in prayer.

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Free To Serve

Daily Readings: Psalm 130; Isaiah 45:8-17; Mark 4:21-34

Psalm 130:1 – Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
    Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins. (NIV)

There are a number of Psalms that are called ‘penitential psalms’, of which Psalm 130 is one.  The penitential psalms stress repentance and forgiveness of sins.  Scholars also note that Psalm 130 was most likely one of the psalms that was written during the time of Babylonian captivity.  Sin and captivity – the two are certainly related.  The Jews believed that their sin as a people led to their captivity.  Likewise, our sinful behavior will hold us captive, as well.

Out of their depth of captivity (verse 1), they cried out to the Lord.  Whether we recognize it or not, this is humanity’s plea.  Humanity’s search for fulfillment – which often leads to sin – can only be found in the one who can forgive sin.  Our forgiveness can only be found in the one who, if we were left to stand upon our own merit, we could not stand before (verse 3).

The psalmist, speaking for those held captive, was waiting for the Lord (verse 6).  The Good News is that our wait is over!  In verse eight the psalmist looked forward to the time of redemption, and we know that that time has come, redemption has come through Jesus our Lord.

While this is a powerful psalm, I am drawn to verse four: “But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.”  This verse speaks to the age old question of the relationship between works and forgiveness.  We don’t work to receive forgiveness, for our sin does not deserve forgiveness.  We work – we serve – because we are freely offered forgiveness!  Verse four speaks to this – forgiveness is given and then we are free to serve.  Our service to the Lord is our loving response to the free gift of salvation.

Today, let us give thanks and praises to the Lord who forgives!  Let us thank God in tangible ways, as well – through loving service to our Lord.

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King Cyrus, God’s Anointed

Daily Readings: Psalm 38; Isaiah 45:1-7; Mark 4:1-20

Isaiah 45:1 – “This is what the Lord says to his anointed,
to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of
to subdue nations before him
and to strip kings of their armor,
to open doors before him
so that gates will not be shut:
I will go before you
and will level the mountains;
I will break down gates of bronze
and cut through bars of iron.
I will give you hidden treasures,
riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the Lord,
the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
For the sake of Jacob my servant,
of Israel my chosen,
I summon you by name
and bestow on you a title of honor,
though you do not acknowledge me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you,
though you have not acknowledged me,
so that from the rising of the sun
to the place of its setting
people may know there is none besides me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the Lord, do all these things. (NIV)

Today we have a very interesting passage.  It’s interesting because it is about the Lord’s anointed (verse 1).  This wasn’t Jesus.  This wasn’t even a Jew!  This was Cyrus, also known as Cyrus the Great, king of Persia.  Why would a non Jewish king be God’s anointed?  To understand, we must open ourselves to a biblical truth – God is in control of everything!  While this might receive a hearty ‘Amen’ from most Christians, today’s passage also tells us that God can and does use non-believers to bring about God’s will.

Cyrus was not only the king of Persia, his army defeated the Babylonian army, and he took control of their lands.  Remember, many Jews were captives in Babylon.  When he gained control of Babylon, Cyrus was sympathetic to the Jewish people.  Ezra 1:1-4 gives the edict that Cyrus set forth – basically freeing the Jewish people, and giving them his blessing to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.  Now, some would note that this was for political reasons.  They maintain that Cyrus’ policy was enacted so as to bring a level of stability into the land.  This may be true, and the Jewish people may have understood this, but they knew that God was behind it.

The lesson from Cyrus, king of Persia, is that the Will of God will be done!  God will use whomever God can to bring about God’s plan.  Did Cyrus ever become a Jew?  No, he did not, but God used him anyway.  It should be our prayer, as those who know and love God, that we would do what we can to help God’s plan come to fruition.

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