Friday, March 31, 2017

Lenten Devotionals - Mark 10:46-51


I feel like we have been in Mark 10 for forever.

Anyway. Bartimaeus gets his sight back, so: another healing! And again, he has to ask, and yell, to be heard. So I guess you have to be loud, sometimes, to be heard by God. To scream. To really push God because He will ignore you otherwise.

Am I being harsh on God? I mean, He is ignoring if He doesn't give you a yes or no. In this instance, Jesus might not have been able to physically hear Bartimaeus, but He's also God. He knew that Bartimaeus wanted His sight back. He knew Bartimaeus was yelling out. Surely He knew that Bartimaeus really, really wanted his sight, to the point where he would keep on yelling out for help. Maybe God wanted proof, but Bartimaeus was proven persistent enough. So why make him keep yelling?

Why make anyone keep on asking, and asking, and asking? Either they are going to give up because they are weakened or don't want something very much, or they are going to keep on going. What's the point in proving the difference if God already knows the difference? It would be one thing if God didn't want to heal, but Jesus did. Jesus has been healing tons of people. Why does it have to be so much effort?

It doesn't make sense to me.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lenten Devotionals - Mark 10:35-45

Okay, I admittedly was somewhat half-hearted yesterday. I’ll do better today.

So. James and John have a lot of gumption in this passage, I suppose. I mean, I guess you need to ask at some point. But still. I don’t think I would ask God for that, because He knows all of my faults and flaws better than I do, so He would know how completely unworthy I am of that position. James and John are kind of conceited to ask for it. Do they really think that they have been that superior to the other disciples, let alone everyone else?

And then they say that they are able to handle what Jesus is going to go through, or to handle following Him. Which is sort of true, since Jesus doesn’t dismiss it. It reminds me of being a naïve kid and thinking I could handle anything God would throw at me, because my faith was strong and pure and limitless! Of course, God knows exactly where in the gut it would hurt most to punch. Stupid naïve Christine, asking to prove her faith. Stupid naïve James and John here.

So of course the other disciples are going to feel indignant. The second part, though, I think goes more into the idea of what is a leader: a person who serves. Which isn’t as easy to be as it is so to be said. I mean, politicians say all the time that they try to serve the public—you can even call them civil servants—but they’re also voting for their pay increases and pensions. That isn’t a true leader. A servant isn’t getting paid the most.

It’s how I would appreciate leadership in a job setting. I think Richard Branson (in secular terms) one said that to manage, he takes care of his employees, because they will in turn take care of the clients. I think that’s sort of the crux of servant leadership. Taking care of those you are supervising; assisting them, helping them, training them. They will do the work in turn. That’s the sort of boss I would want to work for, and the sort of boss I would want to be.

And that’s probably the best sort of community leader, too. Working to serve the community so they can be a community. It’s the back seat, and it isn’t glorious, but it’s the most effective way to lead. It’s not about bossing people around. It’s about helping people so they can do the right thing.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Lenten Devotionals - Mark 10:32-34

Another short passage! Yay.

We are getting to the serious part of Lent, I guess. And Jesus is warning the disciples but they aren't understanding it which makes me wonder: what is God telling me that I'm not understanding?

I dunno.  I guess I'm not understanding until the end of everything.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lenten Devotionals - Mark 10:17-31


Hmm. There's a lot here.

It's weird that Jesus says he isn't good...oh, well, I suppose he doesn't say that. He is confused at how the man knows that He is good--and thus, God. Alright. that part makes a bit more sense.

I guess, here is someone a bit like me. He has faith in God--He knows that Jesus is God, after all. But there's no trust. The rich young ruler doesn't trust that he will be okay without his earthly things. He can't give everything up and follow God because he has so much to begin with.

Am I that way? I think I trust a little bit more, at least. I am following up. I'm willing to give everything up. I'm kicking and screaming about it (at least a little bit). I'm angry about it. But I'm technically doing it. I could have my heart in it a bit more, but I am, at the end of the day, trying to follow God. I'm just terrified about everything I am giving up.

But then, I'm worried about the emotional things I'm giving up, and I wasn't that emotionally rich to begin with. So I'm not a camel going through the eye of a needle. I'm a camel going down a...big needle thingy. Let's say a highway overpass. Camel going through a highway overpass.

So I guess I should be getting emotional riches come heaven? Ooh. That sounds nice. I like that.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Lenten Devotionals - Mark 10:13-16


Woot, short passage!

I mean, it's a fairly simple one, I think, which means that I have to really pay attention. The kingdom of God belongs to children, or people like children. I guess that means...innocent? The people who see the world in black and white? The people who find it so easy (for the most part) to trust God and feel it will all work out?

Ha. I used to be that last one, I think.

But there is something about that wide-eyed wonder, that simple acceptance of everything, that I think is important. I think I could, when entering Heaven, be excited like a kid in a candy story. I could want to run up to God and give him a hug. I could be the little kid again, because I've kept in touch with my childlike side pretty well.

But there's part of me that's old, and bitter, and so angry about everything. There's part of me that hates anyone who still has that childlike appreciation for God because they are so stupid and easily content. Why aren't they actually doing any good work instead of selfishly living so satisfied? There's things to do! Stop living in your rose-tinted world and get out!

Ugh. I hate people like that. And I guess I'm supposed to be one. Deny myself again...

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Lenten Devotionals - Mark 10:1-12


I have done a lot of meditating on this passage today.

On one hand, this doesn't apply to me. It can apply to advice I give to other people, or to other covenants I make (either with God or with other people), but basically, it doesn't apply to me yet. I'm not married.

But then again...I am a single, educated, upper-20s Christian female. Most of the Bible wouldn't apply to me unless I analyze it. So maybe I should take this as instructions for any sort of commitment. And I do try to keep my commitments. I honor my Bible study by arriving on time and preparing. I honor the people I work with by doing the work I'm assigned. I honor the people I work for (in a volunteer-y sense) by showing up, energized and ready to work. I honor God by trying to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and then loving my neighbour as myself. Do I fail? Yes. But I try. I try to keep these commitments. And maybe I'm not in a covenant-y relationship like marriage, but I'm trying to keep them as I would keep a covenant-y relationship.

Are there reasons to leave? Yes. But it's clear that Jesus doesn't think much of them. It is because of the hardness of humans that we had to be given the option of divorce (and I would say that the hardness of humans extends to times such as abuse--meaning that it's the hardness of the abuser that we have to be given the option of divorce). Most reasons aren't good enough to leave.

And leave the commitments I have isn't exactly like a divorce. I wouldn't say that, say, quitting my job is breaking my commitment. Providing notice and leaving in a fair way (paying back any signing bonus or whatnot) is honourable. That's the difference between the commitments I have and marriage, I guess. I can leave.

But I don't, which you think would prove that I'm marriageable material. But evidently God doesn't think so. Anyway. Keep commitments. Keep on keeping my commitments. Got it. Moving on.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Lenten Devotionals - Mark 9:38-29


This passage is entitled DIRE WARNINGS, which certainly makes you sit up and listen.

I think this passage really does follow up with what we have yesterday. We have reference to the children again, but also a reminder that you are either for or against God. There is no third front. You can't choose to not be involved. I think some people think that the default is for God, which this passage doesn't actually deny. It just says who causes little ones to stumble are, well, damned.

Now, I think if you choose to be apathetic you're choosing against God, and certainly the Bible says that at other points. You have to choose forgiveness, choose God, or else the default is against God. And even the "good" rhetoric in our society kind of leans kids against God. We're so busy telling each other not to yuck someone's yum that you can't really evangelize unless someone asks. Maybe it was like that back in Rome as well, but in any case, the idea of the default choice being negative isn't one that our society would like to believe.

Although, if the default was to choose God, I can't imagine our society would be anything like this. But that's beside the point.

The salt thing is a bit more confusing. Salt as a preservative, maybe--through fire, we will be preserved? Salt as bring out flavor--through fire, we will become more flavorful? Stronger? Actually, both of those would be good things. Hmm. Maybe this salt analogy is better than I give credit for. I don't think I'm interpreting it correctly, though.

Also: I should start telling people to "have salt in themself".

Friday, March 24, 2017

Lenten Devotionals - Mark 9:30-37


Wheee, short passage tonight!

There's really two half to this one. First of all, Jesus foretells his death (and resurrection) again. It's an interesting phrasing. He will be delivered into the hands of men. I mean, it may have been phrased like this last time, but I'm finding it interesting this time. It sort of takes God out of the equation. Men will be able to do with Jesus what they want, and guess what that is? Men want to kill Jesus.

And sin is, sort of, killing God? I mean, it's ignoring God, sometimes. Sometimes it's trying to fight against God. Sometimes it's trying to do what you want instead of what God wants. But it's always opposing God in some way. But I guess what I'm thinking of is, when mankind can do with God what they want, they want no God--which, in earthly terms, means killing God. And sure enough, when God doesn't fight back, when God lets mankind does what it wants, that means man gets to kill God.

Of course, joke is on them, because that just lets people get delivered from sin, doesn't it? It's such an elegant solution to sin. I mean, it's terrible, and I would rather it not need to happen. But part of me thinks it's a kind of beautiful solution? Poetic. Am I allowed to say that? Hmm.

Anyway. Part two of the passage is Jesus and the children. The whole receiving children being receiving God reminds me a bit about the verse (I can't remember where) about helping angels on accident. (Oh, I looked it up--Hebrews 13:2.) I guess it's all sort of the same. Whenever you do something loving, you're doing that to Jesus--which means, to God.

It's interesting, to think of all the ways I volunteer, and picture doing that to God. But it makes me take it a bit more seriously? And the things you do to friends, as well. Basically, you should always behave and love, because you do that to God in turn--either good or bad.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lenten Devotionals - Mark 9:14-29


This passage made me think back to the whole faith vs. trust issue.

Here we see a father, who says if Jesus could help him, please would he. This father is lacking in faith; he doesn't know, for sure, if Jesus could banish the spirit, especially since the disciples were already unable to do so. This makes Jesus grumpy (or as grumpy as we ever see him, anyway), because the man doesn't believe that Jesus can. The issue is one of faith--but not, it seems, of trust. The man seems confident that if Jesus could, he would--the phrase "take pity and help us" seems almost like a dare. The man trusts Jesus would; he doesn't seem sure if he can.

My problem is the opposite. I'm more the person begging on the sides. I know Jesus can cast out the demons, can heal the sick, can do...well, anything. My issue is more if Jesus would for me. I think that's more an issue of trust, not of faith, since I'm not doubting the power of God. I'm doubting the character of God.

Which on one hand, seems silly. Jesus has not turned anyone away. Any time someone asks him for help, they have received it. Perhaps it is because the things they are asking for--a cure from leprosy, or a demon to be cast out, or some food so they won't starve on the way home--are related to needs over wants. I don't see anyone begging Jesus for something to make them happy. I can think of Old Testament stories like that--pretty much every woman who asked for a child comes to mind immediately--but not really any in the New Testament.

And God has provided for my needs well. I have a good job, which trained me a solid career. I have a lovely little apartment. I have a church that, while full of humans, is a good church. I can afford to live and take a vacation and do things I enjoy. If my life was to continue on the next forty years this way, it would be a good life. Boring, perhaps, but good. This is why I think I'm too demanding when I complain about the things I don't have: God has granted me a good life.

But it's a stationary life. I'm bored. I want the change that everyone else gets. I want to be able to move, and marry, and have kids, and have seasons again. I have lost my ability to have seasons. Is that a need? Is that necessary? No. Absolutely not. I can live a good life as is. I just don't want my life to forever be as is. I'm not ungrateful for what I have. I just want to know this isn't all I'm getting. I want change. If I knew it was coming, I would be so much happier.

But I'm supposed to deny myself and take up my cross. And a life like this, even if it doesn't change, isn't much of a cross really. I'll be hit with envy from all sides, and probably fatigue, but it's not going to be that bad. Denying myself, not allowing myself to change, is going to be difficult. But when all is said and done, I probably have it easy.

I believe God could grant me change. I just don't think he will. And Jesus isn't going around fixing people's lives to make them happier, so I should just shut up and be satisfied as is. Enjoy my volunteering and general productivity. Sigh about the lack of change, but know that I'm at least not becoming a insufferable married person. Silver linings, I suppose.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lenten Devotionals - Mark 9:1-13


Well, one question answered today, at least a little bit. Jesus specifies not to tell anyone until the Son of Man comes back from the dead, which is a pretty decent code as far as codes go. I don't read that as applying to everything, but at least for today, I think the disciples did as they were told regarding keeping secrets.

Today's passage seems to focus more on the divinity of Jesus. We see Jesus meeting with Elijah and Moses, who are two of the more important Jewish prophets, and He's in "God clothing" and gets another shout out from God. Jesus, at least in retrospect, seems to pretty clearly be from God. Peter already knew for sure, but now James and John had to feel pretty certain about something Messianic, right? There's some favor from God, more than we hear from Moses or Elijah. Both of them may have met with God, but Jesus is the only person who gets praised by God.

I don't really understand that last part, though, about how the Son of Man negates Elijah (the word "yet" is particularly confusing). I mean, prophets were told about the Messiah. So unless the Elijah-coming-first part references that Elijah saw everything unfold as it does, and Elijah's coming was actually time traveling paradoxical wibbly-wobby timey-wimey stuff, it doesn't make sense. I mean, it doesn't need to, I guess. Elijah came. Jesus came. Elijah technically came back in this passage. Maybe that is what is meant.

Anyway. Jesus is God. I knew this. Moving on.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Lenten Devotionals - Mark 8:27-37

Well, this is heavy.

So we start off with Peter acknowledging Christ, but being told not to tell anyone about this. Which, again, seems weird in comparison to today’s culture. There must be a reprieve at some point, a change in Jesus’ instruction, but I can’t recall when that is. I suppose I’ll find out in a few weeks.

And we are getting closer. I think is the first crucifixion reference in Mark; if not, it’s one of the first This was said plainly, but I don’t think it takes into account that nobody is really going to believe Jesus at this point. People were expecting the Messiah to defeat Rome, and they were expecting Jesus to live a long life given that He was so popular and evidently so powerful. These are reasonable assertions, all things considered, but God had bigger plans than that.

But then we get to the meat of the matter. We have to deny ourselves to follow Christ. And after last night, my initial thought is that I have to deny my wants and desires for Christ. I need to deny those desires to follow God. There doesn’t seem to be a loophole about whether they are good desires, though. I might want good things—marriage, children, fostering kids, a house with room for all of this, a supportive community around me, and to be a writer because I can be a writer and manage all of these things—but God doesn’t specify that.

I want to be good. That can’t be what is meant by denying yourself, is it? My internet isn’t working too well, so I can’t look up the root word for denying yourself, but I would think denying yourself should have to do more with self-control. Oh, now it’s working—let’s see. I guess it could be more with self-control. It does literally mean to deny, but here’s also a definition that means to affirm that you have no acquaintance, and then another to forget one’s self (including interests). That’s a harsh form of deny. That’s not merely self control.

Take up your own cross and all of that. Give up your wants, never mind if that’s what makes you you. Don’t your wishes and dreams inform who you become? I don’t know. But here’s proof, I suppose, that God doesn’t care about what I want. So I suppose all that matters, then, is whether I want Him, and the answer to that is yes. Oh.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Lenten Devotionals - Mark 8:1-26


Whew. Long passage tonight.

First off: another feeding scene. This time, I feel the feeding is slightly more, I don't know, compassionate? Maybe I'm just less cynical today. But this time the passage says that Jesus wanted to feed the people so they could get home. It wasn't just feeding people so they could continue to learn and be busy and productive. It was still for a literal need--people gotta eat--but it was more to help than to use. I mean, I suppose people have to go home so they can share what they have learned from Jesus, so maybe I'm misreading things. But it feels a little more like Jesus had them in mind, as opposed to what they would do with what He is teaching.

Then the Pharisees show up and ask for a sign, which they already had? They had 4000 witnesses to this latest miracle. But I guess you aren't allowed to ask for a sign, not like this. Goes back to faith. And the Pharisees don't have any, which I think is what is meant by the leaven of Herod and the Pharisees. They don't want to see God; they don't want miracles. They want a world they can control. And while I understand that want, I'm still willing to believe. I do believe.

Belief isn't my problem. It's the cynicism. I see a God feeding 4000 people, and see strings attached. I see needs met and assume that there is a price that comes along with that. There was a plan all along, after all. God expects Jesus to fulfill the plan. God expects me to fulfill the plan too. And the food I get is just so I can go home and do work, or continue learning, or what not. The things that I'm given aren't about me. Nothing is. And that's the point, and I need to accept that.

Am I selfish, maybe? Wanting things to make me happy? It feels like human nature. And I don't think the things I want are inherently bad. Perhaps I'm not supposed to want anything at all. Just be a compliant little puppet, staying in the lines, obediently doing what God tells me to do because I never question and never think for myself. I'm nowhere near that, and frankly, I don't want to be. I want to think. I want to know why.

Also: another healing, and another set of instructions to remain quiet. Still curious about how that relates to sharing the gospel.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lenten Devotionals - Mark 7:24-37


Confusing passage, again! Mark wasn't supposed to be this confusing, but oh well.

There are two stories here. First of all, we have the Syrophonecian woman. Jesus says that the children have to be fed, because nobody should give the children's food to the dogs, but the woman replies that the dogs at least get crumbs. I'm guessing this is all analogus to the Jews and the Gentiles--in this case, the Jews being the children, the chosen ones, and the dogs being the Gentiles.

But it's weird to hear the woman to describe herself as a dog. We're studying Acts right now at church, and constantly hearing about how the Gentiles can be the chosen ones too after Christ. Maybe it's because this is before Christ (well, before his death, anyway), but it's odd to hear the Gentiles to be described as dogs who are just getting the scraps from the Jews. I mean, Jesus often says that he has come for the unusual groups (the verse that is coming to mind is the one about the sick needing the doctor, not the healthy, but Jesus is also constantly hanging out with sinners and undesirables), but here He seems to agree that the Gentiles are lower.

And the lady gets her wish; her child is healed, so there's not exactly discrimination. But Jesus does describe the Gentiles as dogs. I guess I wasn't expecting Him to be so frank about the Gentiles being lower than the Jews. And true: the Jews are the chosen people of God at this point. But the dog example is just weird. He is willing to work with the dogs, and He heals the daughter, but...still. Anyway. It seems clear that the faith of the Syrophonecian woman is what matters, and it does heal her, so that's that. Faith is the important thing. And I don't know if the Syrophonecian trusts God, exactly. She argues with Him. She fights for what she wants, and she keeps on asking Him. I don't know if she trusted that she would get through to Him, but she fights anyway. I suppose I'm in the same boat, there.

Although I'm not fighting to have a demon taken out of a child, so there's that. My wants are less important than that.

Part two is more straightforward: another healing! This time, a deaf man can hear and no longer has a speech impediment. I would guess, if he could speak but just have a speech impediment, that means he must have been able to hear at one point--he must have gotten sick and lost his hearing then. But once again, Jesus asks him not to tell, and he does the healing in private.

So are we not supposed to tell people about our blessings from God? Are we supposed to keep them secret? This goes against about 50% of Christians on Facebook if that is the case. I don't know. Maybe it was just a small instruction for the time, like a temporary thing to prevent Jesus' celebrity from overshadowing Him. I'll have to follow that train of thought through future healings, because now I'm wondering about it. Jesus seems to tell the healed to keep things quiet almost all of the town. Does the Great Commission mention anything about telling people? It talks about telling people about Christ, but healings? Miracles?

All things to think about, me thinks.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Lenten Devotionals - Mark 7:14-23


Some significant things here in terms of eating kosher (or not, as the text proves), but what strikes me is the idea of what comes out being what defines a person. That means the defilement is in me already. Sin is already taken root. I can't change that. 

That is why self control is so important, although in really terrible at it. Really terrible. I can control some things (lent is an exercise in self control) but not all, and I do want what I want when I want it. I want things and don't get them and it makes me irrationally angry and upset. I get angry with God, really. 

Is that sin? To want things? To not trust God? He was supposed to have given me these desires, but here it implies that is wrong. Well, desire isn't wrong exactly, but lust and coveting are.  I'm not allowed to freely want. I suppose the real example I am thinking of right now is marriage. I want it, but God ignores that want. He doesn't care. So I guess that makes it sinful. 

But how am I supposed to exercise self control when I want something so desperately? Every part of me craves it. It's not my fault God doesn't indulge this want. Am I only allowed to want things that get given to me? How am I supposed to make that call? When is a want that you crave so much wrong?

This isn't my fault. He is the one who isn't answering. So now I'm in sin, I guess. This could have all been averted. Hmph.