Mark 8

Greetings!  This reading is Mark 8.

I am trying a new format.  You can still click the link above to read the whole passage separately, but I thought I would try pasting the verses below then commenting in between passages.  Leave a comment or email me at neil@4simpsons.com if you have a preference. It seems like this method would be more readable, but I’m open to suggestions.

Mark 8 During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.” His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?” “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked. “Seven,” they replied. He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand men were present. And having sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.

Jesus fed another huge crowd – 4,000 men plus women and children – with only 7 loaves and a few fishes.  It is not clear exactly how long it was between the first mass feeding and this one, but the disciples were either dropping hints to Jesus or they weren’t sure if He would do the miracle again.  I thought it was interesting that with the first miracle feeding there were 12 baskets of food left over – one per disciple!  I’m not sure if there is significance with the 7 baskets in this miracle. 

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.

Oddly, Jesus is performing miracles left and right yet the Pharisees want a special miracle in the sky.  Sometimes people think that if they could just see one miracle then they would believe in God.  But people are quick to rationalize or deny miracles.  After Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead (John 11) many people put their faith in Jesus.  Yet the religious leaders not only ignored the power of the miracle Jesus performed but they plotted to kill Jesus and Lazarus to hide the evidence!  It can take more than miracles to change rebellious hearts to turn towards God.

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.” Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”  

Jesus warned again about the dangers of false teachings.  He noted that they were like yeast, which represents evil in this passage.  Just as a little yeast makes the whole loaf of bread rise, a little bad teaching can do great damage to people and cultures.  For example, see False teachers in action.

Jesus performs another miraculous healing of a blind man.  He did it in two stages, perhaps to show that some healings will be gradual.

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t go into the village.

There is an interesting contrast in the last two passages.  Peter acknowledges that Jesus is the Christ (the promised Messiah of Israel).  In the parallel passage in Matthew 16 Jesus praises Peter for saying this.  Yet when he rebukes Jesus for predicting his death Peter is criticized for speaking as Satan would.  Among other things, there is a good lesson in here about knowing some things about Jesus but remembering we don’t know everything (ironically, my first analysis of this passage had an error!).

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Jesus asks Peter a crucial question that we all must answer: Who do you say that I am?  Is He my Lord and Savior, or just some guy who taught a few good things and a few things I don’t like?

When Jesus said to come after him is to “take up your cross and follow” it meant a lot to those listeners.  Crucifixion was the cruelest form of execution ever devised, and the condemned killer had to carry his cross publicly to the execution site.  Jesus offers eternal life and peace in this life, but He does warn that following him comes with a cost. 

Meditate on these words of Jesus: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Reflect on what stood out to you in this reading and share your comments and questions if you like.

The next reading is Mark 9.

Weekly roundup

Enjoy the three day weekend!

1. Bad marketing ploy of the week – Miller Beer supports illegal alien protest in Chicago.

2. Religious bigotry is alive and well in California – Daystar, a religious broadcaster, significantly outbid others but was denied the right to purchase a TV station.  I’m sure the ACLU will drop in to save the day.  By the way, I am not a fan of Daystar.  Most of their preachers have seriously bad teachings.  I prefer Christian radio.  But that doesn’t mean denying them the station wasn’t illegal, stupid and petty.

3. Arnold shows that he is a RINO (Republican In Name Only) and signs a bill tossing sexual moral conduct codes for any insitutions with students who get any state assistance.

4. Wal-Mart is either trying to appease the Left or to be an equal opportunity offender and alienate the Right as well.

5. Good overview of the Emergent Church.

If you want to hear from God . . .

If you want to hear from God, read the Bible.

If you want to hear from God out loud, read the Bible out loud.

Seriously, the Bible is God’s preferred method of speaking to people.  It is possible that He could use some other means such as an angel or a dream, but it is not likely.  And if He does speak in some manner outside the Bible, the message will never contradict anything in the Bible.  This is good news, not bad news, because it means you can hear from him anytime you want.  Like right now!

You can learn about what God is like, why Jesus the Son came (to save lost sinners), what the chief problem of man is (sin), how to be forgiven for all your sins and be reconciled to him, how to best live your life, how to love others, how to be a better spouse / parent / friend, and much more.  No one should go through life without reading the book written by the inspiration of the creator of the universe. 

Also see Listening to the Bible.

Mark 7

Greetings!  This reading is Mark 7.

The first section about washing hands had nothing to do with germs.  The issue wasn’t whether everyone was using Purell or not; the washing in question was ceremonial in nature.  It was a ritual the Pharisees (religious leaders) came up with on their own and expected the other Jews to follow.  Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy, noting that they pretended to honor God but really worshipped their man-made rules. 

As you read the Gospels, note how much time Jesus spends correcting false teaching.  False teachers are still a big problem today.  We need to exercise caution to ensure our teachers use the Bible as their source of guidance.  Also see Doctrine counts for some verses relating to the importance of sound teaching.

Then Jesus gets very specific in verses 14-15 and provides a fairly detailed list of what comes out of us that is evil in verse 21 & 22.  Read the list slowly and think about each item.  It is a very convicting list.

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’

For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.

The Bible typically shows how people had to be aware of their problem of sin before they turned to accept Jesus as their Savior.   

Note that in verse 19 Jesus declared all foods at “clean.”  This is another one of his claims to be God.  God the Father had established the Jewish dietary laws in the Old Testament as one of the ways He was setting them apart from other people.  For Jesus to undo that was a major claim.

The story of the woman with the demon-possessed daughter can be confusing at first.  Jesus wasn’t being cruel to the woman.  He was just pointing out that she was interrupting his teaching of the disciples.  He healed the girl without even being there in person.   

The chapter closes with Jesus healing a man who was deaf and mute.  Imagine the joy the man felt at being able to hear and speak!  The people there were “overwhelmed with amazement.”  We should be, too.

Reflect on what stood out to you in this reading and share your comments and questions if you like.

The next reading is Mark 8.

False teachers in action

I am disappointed that false teachers have so much influence on the church today.  I realize that Jesus said it would happen so I shouldn’t be surprised.  But that doesn’t mean we should stop identifying and removing these teachers. 

I have no problem with people asking questions about the faith.  In fact, I strongly encourage it.  Getting answers to tough questions was a major part of my path to being a believer.  The Bible encourages critical thinking and examination of the evidence.  You don’t have to be a Bible expert to be saved (the criminal on the cross probably hadn’t led too many Bible studies). 

But the church often gives the microphone to false teachers who harm people with their lies. Here is an example.  It is a Q&A by Dr. Marcus Borg, liberal theologian, from explorefaith.org

How can I know the truth about Christianity if I question the Bible’s status as the literal Word of God?

For people who are literalists and see the Bible as a divine product, having a divine guarantee to be true, if that set of beliefs isn’t getting in their way, if it’s not causing them intellectual problems, and if they’re not using those beliefs to judge other people and beat up on other people, then I have no need to try to change them.  

The question is a good and fair one.  It is the answer that is the problem.  Notice the sleight of hand where Borg assumes that the Bible is not divinely inspired and that it is OK to believe it is as long as that false “set of beliefs isn’t getting in their way” and “if they’re not using those beliefs to judge other people.”  Looks to me like Borg is judging people quite a bit here.  He doesn’t “need” to change you from your wrong beliefs as long as you follow his rules – i.e., believe whatever you want as long as you don’t act as if it is true.  Where did he get his notion that judging was wrong? 

The spirit can work through Biblical literalism.

Really?  It can?  Which spirit?  I wonder what his source of information is for that?  It can’t be the Bible, as he has already eliminated that as a source of truth.   

Most often, of course, it does lead to a division of the world into the “saved” and the “unsaved .” But basically, if a literalistic way of seeing the Bible is leading to a life that is more and more filled with the spirit and filled with compassion, I have no problem with people staying in that place.  

He dogmatically assumes that the world isn’t split into “saved” and “unsaved” people.  Again, what is his source of truth for that grandiose claim?  That immediately puts him at odds with nearly all religions, including his professed religion of Christianity.   Again, what “spirit” is he referring to?  Isn’t that nice that he doesn’t mind you staying “in that place” (a belief in the authority of scripture) as long as you meet his definition of compassion?  What is his source of truth that compassion trumps all other virtues?

But for people who can’t be literalists and for people who are literalists and are fearful if they let go of [their literalism] then the whole thing falls into ruin, I would say that in one sense of the word know, we can’t know that Christianity, or any of the religions, is true in the sense of being able to demonstrate it. One use of the word “know” in the modern period is something you can verify. In that sense, we can’t know.

Christianity is an evidential and historical religion.  The Bible contains information about real people in real places at real times.  Archeology is the Bible’s best friend.  The manuscript evidence for the Bible is far better than for any other work of antiquity.  The fulfilled prophecies had to have come from God.  Perhaps we can’t prove every item to Borg’s satisfaction, but there is much evidence to point to the literal life, death and resurrection of Christ. 

But we can take seriously a different kind of knowing. It’s a very ancient kind of knowing. The ancients called it intuition. And, unfortunately, in our world, intuition is seen as kind of a weak thing. It’s associated with women’s intuition, a vague hunching or something like that. But the ancient meaning of the word “intuition” or “intuitive knowing” is direct knowing, a knowing that’s not dependent upon verification. A synonym for intuitive knowing would be mystical knowing. There are people in every culture who have had what they regard as direct knowing experiences of God or the sacred. That kind of knowing is possible, and for me personally, it’s that direct knowing, that intuitive knowing, that is the most persuasive soft data for affirming that God or the sacred is real.

OK, this is where it gets even more foolish.  He now explains the source of his spiritual information: intuition.  Read the items in bold carefully [emphasis in original].  Borg is claiming that his intuitive knowing trumps all other evidence that God or the sacred is real.  Presumably this intuitive knowing says that the Bible isn’t God’s inspired Word.  But what if my intuitive knowing says it is?  I’m pretty sure that Osama B. would claim his intuitive knowing is valid regarding spiritual matters.  When your intuition is the opposite of Borg’s, can you both be right?  No, because we are talking about facts, not opinions.

If he wants to appeal to intuition, here’s a much better argument: Intuition tells us that something can’t be “A” and “not A” at the same time.  For example, Jesus either died on the cross (Christianity and secular historians) or a body double did (Islam).  Jesus was the Messiah (Christianity) or He wasn’t (Judaism).  We live one life and after that we face judgment (Christianity, Hebrews 9:7) or we are reincarnated (Hinduism, New Age).  It works with non-spiritual examples as well.  Two plus two either equals four or it doesn’t; the answer can’t be four and “not four” at the same time. 

Folks, nonsense like letting your intuition trump all other evidence and logic is the worst kind of postmodern reasoning.  It leads to all sorts of bad thinking.  This guy has a Phd, yet he says these illogical things . . . and people believe him and buy his books.  A group at my church studied a book Borg wrote with N.T. Wright (a conservative theologian) and they actually took Borg seriously and thought he was an authentic Christian.  I sat in on part of the class.  It was pretty painful.  It reminds me of this verse:

2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

The Bible claims to speak for God many hundreds of times and there are one hundred specific passages saying that Jesus is the only way to salvation.  If Borg and other liberal theologians don’t believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, they are entitled to their opinions.  No one can force them to change.  If they are right then the Bible is hopelessly flawed and useless for any purpose, spiritual or otherwise (name one book you would bother to read if you knew it had that many errors).  But to call themselves “Christians” is to trash the 2,000 year old meaning of the word and replace it with a new definition, and to look to them for spiritual guidance is foolishness.

Also see Biblical literalists? and Doctrine counts.

Mark 6

Greetings!

This reading is Mark 6

People who knew Jesus from his youth were amazed at his teachings and miracles.  The Bible records very little of his youth.  This passage notes that Jesus had at least four brothers and two sisters.  

Yet some people were offended by his message (this hasn’t changed in 2,000 years!).  When it says Jesus “could not” do miracles there, it is in the sense of not being able to do them because he chose not to.  He was God in flesh, so He could do miracles at any time.  He only did them where there was faith, though.  And Jesus was “amazed at their lack of faith.”  Pay close attention to what really brings joy to Jesus and you’ll see that faith is the #1 thing.   

Note the singular message that the Disciples took to the villages: Repent (v. 12).  To repent is to turn away from our sins and turn towards God.  Many parts of the Bible can be difficult to understand, but our core problem is that we are sinners in need of a Savior.  Repentance is a critical part of being reconciled to God. 

King Herod was tricked by his wife into beheading John the Baptist (No one said the Bible wasn’t PG-13 or even R-rated at times.  It records what really happened.) 

The famous miracles of the loaves and fishes is recorded here.  Assuming the 5,000 men had families with them, roughly 20,000 people were fed by the 5 loaves and 2 fishes.  Jesus did what they thought was impossible, and once again showed his power over nature.

Jesus walked on water and amazed his disciples.  The Gospel of Matthew records how Peter walked on water (temporarily) as well.  Jesus told them, “Don’t be afraid.”  Trivia fact: The Bible says, “Do not fear” 366 times – one for each day of the year, including leap year.  Keep that in mind when the world makes you fearful. 

In closing, think about Jesus’ words to his disciples in v. 31: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”  Jesus wants us to spend time with him alone and He knows the importance of rest for us.

Reflect on what stood out to you in this reading and share your comments and questions if you like.

The next reading is Mark 7.

Labels

Pro-choice media often refer to pro-lifers as “anti-abortionists.”  I suppose the name is somewhat accurate, but it is obvious they are using it in a pejorative (put down) sense and they use it relentlessly despite our preference to be referred to as pro-life.

But if we are anti-abortionists, wouldn’t they be pro-abortionists?  Pro-choicers typically bristle at this, noting that nobody really wants abortions to happen.  I think for many pro-choicers that is true, so I try to use their preferred name.  I sometimes slip and use “pro-abortion” in the sense of “pro-legalized abortion” but not in the sense that I think their attitude is “Woo-hoo!  Abortions are swell!” 

 Still, most pro-choicers I am aware of publicly and privately do fall into this category:

Pro-abortion on demand for any reason up to and including partial birth abortion, without parental notification requirements for minors, without anesthesia for the unborn, lower standards than hospitals, against 24 hour waiting periods, government funded if necessary, and critical and unsupportive of Crisis Pregnancy Centers.

Phew.  That is a little wordy, so I’ll stick to referring to them as pro-choice.

We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.