Christians with Bad Gas

Mark 8:14-21

A lot of Christians have bad gas.  They stink.  Their stench is partly to blame for driving people away from the church.  Of course, I say ‘partly,’ because those who don’t go to church have to take responsibility for their actions and stop blaming Christians with gas.  But I digress.

I’m not talking about butt gas, but ego gas, and, believe it or not, there’s a difference.  We’re up to Mark 8:14-21, where Jesus warns his followers about the gas of religious people, only Jesus calls it ‘leaven.’  But, let’s be honest, it’s more fun to say gas.

Leaven is the agent in bread that gives off gas so the bread will rise.  Leaven could be either chemically based, like baking soda, or naturally based, like yeast, sour milk, or beer (mmmm, beer).

When the leaven begins to break down, it releases gas inside the body of the bread and the bread rises, becoming bigger than it really is.  A lump of dough could grow twice its size because of the leaven. 

This helps us to understand why Jesus cautioned his disciples, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15).  What did Jesus mean?  Jesus knew that a lot of religious people were puffed up, making themselves appear bigger than they really were.  In other words, they had leaven gas inside them, which inflated them to about twice their size.  That’s why Jesus couldn’t stand the smell of religious people.

There was a kind of leaven inside the Pharisees that gave them an inflated ego or sense of self-importance.  They thought they were bigger and better than everyone else; and they felt their good works made them bigger and better in God’s eyes, too, which is really damnable.  The bottom line (no pun intended) is that they trusted their good works to make them righteous before God and men.  They were inflated, puffed up, and full of gas.

Scour the Bible and you’ll discover that there’s nothing Jesus hated more than self-righteous, puffed up religious people.  Jesus embraced all kinds of people, but not the ‘Pharisee’ kind.  He embraced dirty lepers, prostitutes, drunks, liers, thieves, and even murderers, but he had no patience for puffed up religious folk.  Hell, Jesus even made time for demons and the demon possessed, that’s how low his standards were!

Jesus just wanted the bread how it was, not all puffed up.  He didn’t want self-righteous leven in it.  And that’s pretty cool.  Jesus will take bread that’s moldy, half-eaten, soggy, small, burnt, or underbaked, but he won’t have anything to do with deceptive, leavened bread.  That’s the good news.

But there is bad news: everyone who has ever lived is infected with the leaven of the Pharisees.  It’s in our human DNA.  It’s what makes you want to puff yourself up and look better than others; it’s why social media works.  It’s what makes you think you can earn God’s favor by being good or obeying his commandments.  It’s what makes you give up on yourself for failing, because you think you’re better (and bigger) than you really are.  It’s what causes you to thumb your nose at religious folks, because you think you’re better than they are.  Wow, that just came full circle.

There’s no getting around the fact that we all have religious leaven in us, giving us spiritual gas.  So how do we get rid of it?

Let’s go back to our passage of Scripture.  

The disciples forgot to bring bread (14) and were arguing about the fact that they had no bread to eat (16).  That’s when Jesus chimed in with his cautionary tale about leaven, which seemed to come out of right field.  The disciples wondered what the heck he was talking about, for they were starving and Jesus was warning them about the dangers of leaven.  So Jesus told them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread?  Do you not yet perceive or understand?” (17). 

They were still confused, so Jesus reminded them of the multiple times he provided bread for them when they didn’t have any.  “Don’t you remember?” (18), he asked them, when there was just the twelve of you, I miraculously provided bread for over 5,000 people, then I did the same for over 4,000 people, and each time there were leftovers!

In other words, Jesus reasoned, trust me to give you bread when you don’t have any; also, trust me to give you the kind of bread you need.

When we are empty, Jesus will provide what we need.  When we don’t have what it takes to earn God’s favor, Jesus will provide for us.  When we don’t have our own righteousness, Jesus will give us his righteousness.   There’s no sense in puffing yourself up in order to look twice your size, because Jesus is able to give you 9,000 loaves of bread with plenty to spare!  (That’s about 9,000 times your size!)  You don’t need to be full of gas when Jesus is full of grace.

Just be you.  Be ordinary, flimsy, plain-bagel-you.  Stop trying to impress God and those around you.  Jesus is able to provide all you need, and then some.

Here’s a thought that just occurred to me: there are two kinds of people, those who tell the truth and those who trust in their own inflating self-righteousness.

The Breakdown

  1. What did Jesus mean by ‘leaven?’  Where do you see leaven in your life?
  2. In what situations are you afraid to be your ordinary self?  Why do you think this is?
  3. Have you ever been ‘empty’ and experienced the grace of Jesus filling you up?  What was that like?  Was the ‘bread’ he provided better than what you would have been able to provide on your own?
  4. What do you think the last sentence means (“There are two kinds of people, those who tell the truth and those who trust in their own inflating self-righteousness.”)?

True Judgment Free Zone

Mark 8:11-13

The Pharisees were the religious leaders in Jesus’s day and Jesus clashed with them quite a bit.  They were literally the ‘religious police’ of their day, judging and condemning those who did not live up to their impossibly high standards.  

Near where I live, there’s a Planet Fitness gym; on the building there’s a huge banner that says, ‘judgment free zone.’  In our day, we frown upon judgment, in fact, we do everything we can to create safe spaces for people and help them feel accepted, rather than judged.  

When we pick up the Bible and learn about the Pharisees, we’re quick to side against them, thinking we’d never be like them.  They were so judgmental and we’re so accepting, we assume.  

But I’ve got a secret to share with you: the role of the Pharisees in the Bible is to show us ourselves.  Those who wrote the Bible needed a ‘mirror’ to show people what they were like, so they chose the Pharisees.  When we look at the Pharisees, we’re supposed to see what we look like, for we are as judgmental as they are, despite our gym banners. 

And the more unbelievable it seems to you that you are just as judgmental as the Pharisees, the blinder you are to the reality of your snobby, pharisaical heart; hence, the more important it is that the Bible shows us the Pharisees so we can see what we look like.

Here’s how this plays out in our short passage today, Mark 8:11-13.  The Pharisees were up to their usual ways of judging Jesus, demanding he perform a miraculous sign for them to prove his claims.  They were testing him.  But Jesus knew how their hearts were operating, so he refused to comply.  He sighed deeply in his spirit about the generation who demanded a sign.  And then he left.

What’s really going on here and how are we like the Pharisees?

A Pharisee is anyone who thinks that we can look better in God’s eyes by keeping the law.  “If I do this, then God will look with favor on me,” is the reasoning.  Now look closely and you’ll see the telltale sign of the law, which is a conditional if/then statement.  “If I do this…then this will be the result.”  

Not only was Jesus’s day filled with the law, but also ours is today.  

“If I lose weight, then people will like me more.”

“If I make more money, then I’ll be better off.”

“If I don’t do bad things, then I’ll be a good person.”

“If I keep the Ten Commandments, then God will love me more.”

You get the idea.  Now, it’s important to realize that these sorts of law-conditional statements could be true!  If you look a certain way, then people (albeit shallow people!) might accept you more.  Again, that could be true, but that’s not the issue here.

The issue is whether or not our conditional mentality can give us more favor in God’s eyes.  And Jesus’s resounding answer is, “No!”  

But first he has to break our addiction to the law, and to do this, he cannot play along with our legal demands.  So when the Pharisees come at him with their conditional statement, “If you perform a miraculous sign, then we will believe you…” Jesus must not comply, for if he did, then he’d be sanctioning the age-old law-mentality.  It’s as if they tossed him a coin, but he let it drop to the ground.

So let’s use the analogy of a coin.  There are two sides to the law coin, God’s and ours.  On God’s side, the inscription reads, ‘If God does a miraculous sign for me, then I will trust him.”  But on the other side of the coin, our side, the inscription is, “If I keep the law, then God will save me.”  That’s the law coin in a nutshell, the coin humanity has been flipping for generations, down through the ages.  On the one hand, we honestly believe that if we do the right things, then God will save us; and on the other hand, we honestly think that if God did a miracle for us then we would believe him.

But Jesus wants to take this kind of coin out of circulation and introduce a new coin to the world, the grace coin.  

The grace coin has two sides, as well, God’s and ours.  God’s side says, “I will not do a sign, but you can still trust me” and if you flip it over to our side, the inscription says, “You don’t have to perform any good work, and I will still save you.”  And that’s where the real money is at.

By not giving a sign, Jesus does not validate their current system.  Instead, he refuses to play along and challenges the world’s system of law and judgment.  He wants us to doubt our current system so that he can introduce his radical new currency of grace, which is the greatest treasure the world can discover.  

We can hang all the banners we want that say, ‘judgment free zone,’ but people will keep on judging until the world ends.  Ironically, the only one who does not judge is THE Judge, himself, God.  God doesn’t require us to keep if/then laws to earn his favor.  He does not say to us, “If you do this, then I will accept you.”  Humans do that, but God doesn’t.  

Only humans say, “If I make all the correct choices, then I will live happily ever after.”  That’s the way all our old myths go, but Jesus has a new, true myth for us, which says, “You can make all the wrong moves and still live happily ever after with me.”  Jesus says to us, “Let’s make a deal, I don’t have to prove myself to you and you don’t have to prove yourself to me.”  That’s the new formula of grace.  

But grace has a jarring side effect to it: God won’t always perform for you when you ask him to.  In fact, in order to shake the law coins from our tight pockets, he’ll gladly interrupt our current life system, so we stop flipping the law coin in his face.  As he did with Job, God may cause things to happen in your life that make no sense at all.  This is not to punish you, but to liberate you from your reliance on the law.  Again, he doesn’t have to perform for you and you don’t have to perform for him, he wants and gives only love.

There is a tiny Pharisee lurking in every person’s heart, trying at all times to convince us of the law.  This makes Jesus very sad.  He doesn’t want anything to do with the spirit of judgment.  Instead, he wants to pour his love into our hearts and make us worthy by his grace.

The Breakdown

  1. Can you see a tiny Pharisee in your heart?  What sorts of judgments about the world and others is he/she making?  Why do you think this is the case?
  2. How can Jesus break our addiction to the law?  (Think about how you might attempt to break the addiction in a loved one.)
  3. What do you think keeps you from realizing God’s love right now?  Be honest and read over Mark 8:11-13 again.  What might Jesus be doing in your life?

Empathy and Action

Mark 8:1-10

Empathy means to “feel into” the situation of another.  To have empathy for the plight of another is to be able to put yourself in his or her shoes and feel what the person feels, as if you were going through the same situation as that person would.  Truly to have empathy doesn’t mean you experience their situation as you would experience it, but as they would experience it.  You try to imagine what it must be like to be that person, with the same history and hindrances, facing the same situation.  

Quite often, my ability to feel empathy is hijacked by my lack of sensitivity to the disposition of the other person, so I end up thinking to myself, “Well, if that were me, I’d just do this or this; it’s not a big deal, I could handle it.”  Again, this is not true empathy.

Jesus showed true empathy to the large crowd in Mark 8:1-10.  Even though there were about four thousand people there, he ‘felt into’ each person individually.  “I have compassion on the crowd,” he said.  To have compassion means to be moved in one’s inward parts, the bowels, to be specific.  Jesus had a belly ache for each person there, his stomach was in knots, just thinking about each person in the crowd.  

He stepped into their shoes and experienced their circumstance not as if he were the Son of God, but as if he were one of them.  Notice the detail in the text.  Jesus knows they had been with him “three days” and he realized they had “nothing to eat.”  Then he imagines each person on the long journey home and says, “And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way.”  He even knew how far each person had travelled, “And some of them have come from far away.” 

Jesus felt into the plight of each person and was emotionally moved.  He had true empathy.

What is your plight right now?  What are you facing?  What are you lacking?  What dangers are ahead of you if something doesn’t happen soon?  Friend, Jesus feels into your life and circumstances today, just as much as he did then.  Whether you realize it or not, he stands in your shoes each morning and walks with you to face all your problems.  His stomach still turns when he sees what you see and feels what you feel. 

When he said, “I have compassion on the crowd,” you and I are in that crowd.  

But Jesus does more than have empathy, he also takes action.  He has empathy and action; he feels into your plight and takes action out of it.  Sometimes Jesus takes action directly, but sometimes he uses other people, as in Mark 8.  Remember this great truth: Jesus loves to use ‘means.’  He uses other people, objects, or events to minister to us.  

In Mark 8:1-10, Jesus used the means of the disciples and the bread and fish they were able to collect.  Jesus could have instantly filled the bellies of the four thousand people, but instead, he used the actions of the disciples to gather seven loaves of bread and a few small fish.  

How does Jesus act?  Now, it’s really important to see the pattern here, because it’s repeated twice in this passage, both with the bread and the fish, for emphasis.  Here are the seven steps of Jesus’s action in our lives.

  1. He uses what we have.  Again, God often uses means in order to minister to us.  He tends to use what we already have, rather than giving us something completely new.  Most likely, the answer to your problem is with you already, but you just don’t know it.
  2. He adds up our resources so that we can see they are not enough.  There were just seven loaves of bread and a few small fish.  Part of his action is for us to realize we don’t have what it takes.  His action doesn’t happen when we think we have it covered, but when we’re staring at an empty plate.
  3. He has us sit.  He directed the crowd to sit down.  For us, this means he humbles us, puts us in a posture of reception, waiting, and patience.  Also, sitting is the posture of grace: he serves us as a waiter as we sit and enjoy.   
  4. He takes away what we have and puts it in his own hands.  The crowd only had seven loaves of bread and a few fish, but Jesus took these away from the crowd.  Often, God will take away what little we have before he acts.
  5. He blesses or gives thanks for it.  We struggle to give thanks for what little we have, but Jesus doesn’t.  He gives thanks on our behalf for what we have.  He blesses what we have, in case we forget how special the little we have truly is.  
  6. He breaks it.  After taking away our meager resources, he breaks them.  While his breaking hurts us and we don’t understand what he is doing, it is necessary.  Just as a grape must be broken to produce wine, so must our hopes and dreams be crushed.  Useful things are broken things.   
  7. He has his disciples set it before us.  We depend on other people more than we realize.  When we’re broken and hungry and waiting on the Lord, other people will minister to us.  God loves to bring us to a desolate place where we have no resources and can no longer depend on our own strength; then he uses other weak and hungry people to care for us.  Sometimes we don’t realize how much God is using other people to help us; it’s okay to let it happen.  The most important meal others can serve to you is the word of God itself, reminding you of the truth of God’s grace in your life.  This is the meal that truly satisfies.   

Look at these seven steps, can you see any of them unfolding in your circumstance right now?  If you can, then you can see the action of Jesus.  Remember, he acts mysteriously and he uses others on his behalf, but he is directing the miracle.  His action will never turn out how we normally think it would, because he is always doing something new and gracious.  But in the end, his way is always best and always satisfies the most.  

There were four thousand in the crowd that day and you were one of them.

The Breakdown

  1. What is empathy?  When have you experienced true empathy?  When have you given true empathy?
  2. Go through the seven steps of Jesus’s action.  Which do you see at work in your life?  
  3. How has God used other people to care for you?  Take one minute and think about all the ways other people have loved you.

He Heals by Breaking

Mark 7:31-37

So far in Mark’s gospel, we’ve been learning about the power of Jesus’s words.  His words are like seeds planted in soil that break open, grow, and bear fruit.  His words are not sterile, but potent.  We’ve learned this is why Jesus is constantly repeating, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” because Jesus’s powerful words are meant to be heard.  Once they are heard, they go to work and do something in our souls.  His words get inside us like impregnating seeds and cause new life to form inside us.  This is part of his plan of grace, it’s not something we do on our own, but something he does to us.  He gives us new life, he causes us to believe, he heals us.  

But what if you cannot hear him when he speaks?  In other words, what if you’re literally deaf?  Does this mean Jesus’s words cannot get inside you and change you?  Mark 7:31-37 tells the story of a deaf and mute man, who can neither hear Jesus’s words nor confess Jesus to be his Lord.  As we will learn, not even he is beyond hope.  

There are no special cases, in case you think you might be one.  You are not beyond hope, so let’s turn to the story to see how this truth is shown.

“And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him” (Mark 7:32).  Here is a man who cannot hear Jesus preach the word, nor can the man voice his faith in him.  But this does not mean he is beyond the reach of Jesus.  This man might not have been able to hear or speak, but he had wonderful friends, who cared enough to take him to Jesus.  His friends did more than casually ask Jesus on his behalf; rather, they begged Jesus to help him.  So far, Mark’s story is leading to this point, because of the emphasis on hearing and responding to Jesus’s word; suddenly, here is a man who can do neither.  What will become of him?  

If there’s one thing I’d like people to know about Jesus it’s this: there are no cookie-cutter solutions.  Jesus is not an assembly line worker, applying the same nut and bolt to everyone he meets.  He takes each person as he or she comes and ministers to his or her individual needs.  He knows you personally and cares for you personally.  He honors, values, and respects your struggles, situation, and needs.  And you are not beyond his reach.  You may look at yourself in the mirror and honestly believe you’re a ‘special case’ that Jesus hasn’t dealt with before; but even if he has not seen ‘your kind’ before, he will joyfully, lovingly, and gladly make an exception for you.  He will take you as you are and determine the approach that works best with who you are and what you need.  He honors and respects every individual story and soul.  

Here’s how it looked for the deaf, mute man, for Jesus did something to him we don’t read anywhere else.  “And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.  And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’  And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” (Mark 7:33-35).  

What a beautiful scene!  In all its weirdness, it’s incredibly intimate and individual.  Jesus intimately fingers his ear holes; Jesus touches the man’s tongue; the man’s tongue gets Jesus’s spit on it!  On the surface it might seem awkward, but, when you think about it for a moment, it’s incredibly beautiful.  Could you imagine having the spit of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, on your tongue, so that you’re literally tasting Salvation?  

Doesn’t that stir your heart like nothing else?  In everything we do, whether eat a cinnamon roll, write a song, do the dishes, or argue with our coworker, we are looking to taste salvation.  We want to be saved, healed, made whole, fixed, repaired, fulfilled, embraced, completed, once and for all.  This man got to taste the Savior who gives salvation.

Notice the ironic actions of Jesus: the man couldn’t hear, so Jesus stuck his fingers in his ears; the man couldn’t speak, so Jesus held his tongue.  Jesus plugged his ears and held his tongue in order to get him to have unplugged ears and a free tongue.  

Take in that extraordinary truth for a moment and think about your life.  Jesus restricts in order to make free.  You have an issue, a problem, an inability; to surrender to God means to let him hold you down.  He won’t just instantly take away your problem, but he will solve your problem with a problem.  He will crucify your problem.  To be free, you have to nail yourself to him.  

Think about how Jesus destroyed death.  He did it by going to the cross and dying.  He destroyed death with death!  In the same way, he destroyed deafness by making the man deaf; and he destroyed muteness by holding the man’s tongue and making him mute.  This is God’s strange and wild work!  However you think he should help you, chances are, he’ll do the opposite.  

Your problem cannot be solved by logic or keeping the law, do you realize this?  In other words, if your problem is sexual immorality, you can’t solve it by trying to keep the law of being sexually pure.  Nobody can keep the law and the law cannot keep anybody safe from sin.  We must stop trying to fix ourselves by keeping the law; we must surrender to Jesus, instead.  Bind yourself to Christ who will crucify your flesh.  He will do the opposite of what you think and cause you pain in order to heal your pain.  He heals by breaking.

Jesus gave the man unique treatment and ‘crucified’ his deafness and muteness.  The man was healed and set free.  Afterwards, the people who saw it said, “He has done all things well.  He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:37).  Jesus found a way to get his living word inside the deaf man, so it could take root and grow.  There is nothing he can’t do well.

This means he knows just what to do for you, too.  You are not beyond hope.  When it says, “He can do all things well,” it means he can heal you ‘well,’ too.  Jesus will embrace your weakness until you’re able to make it on your own.

Finally, in order for God to help you, you have to come clean and show him your weakness.  Even more, you have to let him put his hands all over your weakness.  We like to keep our dirt away from him, we like to keep our problems at a safe distance, because we think he’d be too offended by them.  However, as this passage demonstrates, Jesus wants to grab hold of our tongues and put his spit on them!  He wants to finger our earwax!  In other words, Jesus is not afraid to get dirty.  He longs to be intimate with you and take hold of your problems, no matter how disgusting they might seem.  Don’t be too proud to be real with Jesus Christ.  Expose your weaknesses and shameful underbelly to him.  

This is a message for the church, too, who often is too afraid and too proud to show its dirt to others.  Thank God the deaf and mute man wasn’t too proud to expose himself and his weaknesses in front of his friends and his God.  That is true Christiantiy.  

The Breakdown

  1. Be honest, do you think you’re a ‘special case’ that God cannot help?  That he does not want to help?  Why do you think this way?  Who gave you this message?
  2. If Jesus were to touch a part of you right now, what would it be?  Where do you need healing?  Consider how Jesus made the man deaf and mute in order to heal him of being deaf and mute, what would Jesus do for you?
  3. You must allow God to know your weakness and touch your weakness.  This might be incredibly scary to do, but there’s no other way.  Pray right now and confess your weakness and ask God to grab hold of it.  Also pray for the courage to expose your weakness and shameful failing to another person.

Bitch May I Be…

Mark 7:24-30

There are several provocative things about this passage of Scripture.  First, Jesus was hiding (Mark 7:24).  He didn’t want anyone to know where he was.  Has this ever happened to you?  You were looking for God, but he was hiding from you?  

Next, a strange woman tracked him down (Mark 7:25-26).  She not only found out which town he was in, but also she located his exact hideout.  Whether we’d admit it or not, sometimes it’s the strange ones who find God before anyone else does, for some reason, the ‘normal’ ones don’t know where to look.  

Third, the strange foreigner had a demon-possessed daughter and believed Jesus could cast out the unclean spirit (Mark 7:26).  We don’t believe in unclean spirits anymore, fewer of us have ever witnessed an exorcism.  Do you believe demons can possess a person?  

Fourth, Jesus refused to help the woman because of her race, for she was not Jewish, but Syphrophoenician (Mark 7:27).  So he wouldn’t give her the healing gifts meant for his own people.  Has God ever done anything that seemed unfair or unjust to you?  

Next, even though she begged him, he called her a name, a bitch, to be exact.  “Let the children be fed first,” as the old saying went, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27).  It’s bad enough he called her a dog, but, you’ve got to understand, in ancient times, dogs were not thought of as cute and loyal pets, but wild, dirty scavengers.  The name ‘bitch’ captures the sense the best.  Has God ever offended you like this before?

Sixth, the woman didn’t slink away in disgust, disappointment, or depression, but stood up to Jesus Christ.  She immediately responded to him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28).  She believed wholeheartedly that the crumbs of Jesus were far better than the richest delights of this world.  “Bitch may I be,” she smirked, “but you have all the goods!”  Have you ever violently asserted your confidence in the magnificence of Jesus Christ, even when you had been previously denied?     

Seventh, Jesus turned her words of confession into healing agents, saying to the woman, “For this statement you may go your way, the demon has left your daughter” (Mark 7:29).  The woman went home and found her daughter lying peacefully in bed without the demon (30).  Did you know your words carried authority in spiritual realms?  Did you know your thoughts and words about your life and your God matter?

This passage has many disturbing elements to it, but probably the greatest one is the woman’s initial sense of entitlement.  Just because she had a problem (a daughter with a demon), she felt entitled to receive help from Jesus, as if Jesus owed her.  But Jesus doesn’t owe anybody grace…

Which is why it’s called ‘grace.’  God gives his grace freely and lovingly to those in need.  We don’t merit it or deserve it.  We don’t get grace because of our race, accomplishments, or level of need, for if we did, it would be based on our merit, rather than God’s love.  

Finally, consider how God often roughs us up, before he helps us.  Jesus knew he could speak roughly with the woman, he knew there was something inside her that could handle it.  In testing her, he brought out treasure hidden deeply within her, which would have remained buried, if he had granted her request immediately.  The treasure he found was true faith.  The woman would have never known this kind of true faith was in her if Jesus had gone easy on her.  

Have you been hurt by Jesus?  Has God ever let you down?  Often, there are two parts of God’s grace toward us, the rough side and the smooth side, and we need both.  The rough side of grace shows us our sin, helps us to see we are undeserving, and calls forth a richer faith from within us.  

“We need to realize just how much we need God’s mercy and goodwill,” wrote Martin Luther.  The rough side of God’s grace exposes our true situation and need. 

If you’re experiencing the rough side of God right now, meditate on the faith of this strange woman, learn from her, and wait in faith and hope.  

Go to God and pray, “Bitch may I be, but your grace is all I need.” 

The Breakdown

  1. Out of the seven things mentioned, which surprised you the most?  Why?
  2. How has God been ‘rough’ with you?  How did you respond?  How would you like to respond next time?
  3. If there is treasure hidden within you, how can God mine for it?

Are You Out of Touch?

Mark 7:14-23

Jesus gives us a pretty heavy dose of reality in these verses.  The religious leaders had been telling everyone to perform religious traditions, such as ceremonial hand washing, and condemning those who didn’t.  But, as Jesus pointed out, these religious leaders didn’t really love God, they only loved looking better than other people.  They worked hard at keeping up the appearance of being godly, but, ironically, their hearts were far from God.  

So Jesus called his followers to himself and said, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him” (Mark 7:15).  In other words, they had to realize that performing religious rituals would not help their relationship with God, because the source of all their problems was within them.  

Recently, we had one rotten potato in our cupboard, making the whole kitchen stink!  It didn’t matter if we scrubbed every countertop, washed every pot and pan, and sterilized every appliance, so long as the black potato sat undisturbed in the back of the cupboard.

Religiously speaking, you can eat all the right things, wash all the right ways, perform all the right tasks, and you wouldn’t have touched the true problem.  The problem is not ‘out there,’ but it’s inside.  You can keep all the rules, be a good person, go to church, and pray five hours a day, and you wouldn’t be any closer to God (or closer to your true self, for that matter!).

Don’t believe me?  Well, consider what Jesus says next.

Jesus went on to teach, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23).

Did you notice the sort of things that come out of the human heart?  Evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, deceit, and so forth…  Notice these are the broken Ten Commandments.  The broken Ten Commandments live inside your heart, all the time.

The Pharisees and religious leaders thought they could keep all the commandments and all would be well.  Since keeping the Ten Commandments seemed so difficult to everyone, they broke them down into doable chunks, baby steps, if you will, like washing your hands and giving your money, so that practically anyone could be successful at keeping the law.  

While the religious leaders looked to an external law to keep, Jesus taught, “It’s a little late for that!  For every broken commandment is constantly gushing from every human heart!”  As soon as we fell into sin in the Garden of Eden, we became manufacturers and septic tanks of broken laws.  Our hearts are constantly producing broken laws; the problem is not ‘out there,’ but the problem is in here.  Trying to keep the law in order to be undefiled is like trying to stay dry when you’re already sunk two miles beneath the Pacific Ocean.  

There are two things I want to point out from this passage of Scripture.  First, be careful you don’t become out of touch with yourself.  The Pharisees thought everything and everyone else was the problem, failing to realize they carried around the problem with them at all times in their hearts.  Imagine being paranoid about bugs.  I mean, they seriously freak you out.  So you’re constantly checking every where you go, terrified you might find a bug.  All the while, you have live grenades strapped to your chest and you don’t even realize it.  

We have to own ourselves and our dirt; we can’t pretend we’re fine.  We can’t pretend like we don’t struggle with sin, have issues, are weak, doubt, and hate God.  If I pretend like I don’t have some of these problems, then not only am I out of touch with myself, but I am a danger to everyone else!  I walk around thinking the problem is out there, so I become careless with the grenades on my chest.  We see this all too often today, as everyone’s pointing their fingers at everyone but themselves.  We’re champions at blaming others, blaming the system, blaming politicians, blaming parents, blaming circumstances, etc.; but we fail to take ownership of the lion’s share of evil gushing out from our own hearts into this world.  

You are never more dangerous to society and yourself than when you are not conscious of the evil within.  In fact, as Jesus is saying, the more you notice evil ‘out there,’ the more you’re probably hiding the same evil (or worse!) in your own life.

Here is the second thing I’d like to point out: we cannot fix ourselves, but desperately need a Savior.  Jesus teaches this parable not so we’ll try even harder!  He doesn’t want us to become aware of the evil within ourselves, just so we can figure out how to fix it.  Rather, he wants us to know about our evil hearts so we realize we’re trapped, doomed, and can do nothing to save ourselves.  Then we will cry out to him to save us.  

We are not saved by our good works, by keeping the law, or even by being enlightened; rather, we are saved by Christ on the cross.  This frees us to come out of hiding, be honest with ourselves, and stop pretending to be better than we really are.  This frees us to embrace ourselves and others, rather than condemn. 

The Breakdown

  1. How is God speaking to you through the Bible today?
  2. Have you been quick to point out the sins of others, but have failed to see the same sins in yourself?  Take an inventory of yourself, ask God to help you see the broken commandments that live within you.
  3. Why is someone who is out of touch with themselves so dangerous?  Where do you see this today?

The Big Secret about Super Religious People

Mark 7:1-13

The Pharisees turned God into a checklist of traditions people could accomplish, making their faith superficial and their hearts far from God.  The Pharisees were the elite religious leaders during the time of Jesus and they looked down their long noses at Jesus and his disciples.  Verse 1 says they had “come from Jerusalem,” indicating to us right away that they were coming from a place of authority and tradition.  The Pharisees, “saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed” (2).  The disciples didn’t do the proper ceremonial washing like they were supposed to do, they didn’t follow the rituals of the Pharisees, but just dug in!

We are also told the Pharisees never ate without washing; in fact, it says they washed not just their hands, but also their cups, pots, copper vessels, and dining couches (4).  That’s quite a list!  So they asked Jesus about his renegade group of followers, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (5).  They were trying to catch Jesus and his followers doing something wrong, so they could accuse and condemn them.  

I’ve got a big secret to share about overly religious people like the Pharisees, wanna hear it?  We look at all their hundreds of traditions and rituals and think, ‘Wow!  They must really be serious about their faith!  I could never keep all those commandments!’  We tend to think the more rules and regulations there are, the harder the religion is.  (Let me put on all caps for a moment.)  BUT THAT IS COMPLETELY FALSE!  That’s where they are tricking you.  They are not serious about their faith, but they are serious about looking good in front of others.  They want you to think more highly of them; they want you to think they are super-spiritual; they want you to believe their way is the hardest and most godly one, but it’s not!  Allow me to explain…

Have you ever had a huge project to do?  Have you ever had an enormous goal to reach?  As you sat there overwhelmed by it all, what did people encourage you to do?  Take it one step at a time, right?  All the experts agree on this: if you have a huge task, break it down into small, accomplishable chunks.  Take one baby step.  Then take another.  After 15,000 small steps, you’ll eventually arrive.  

The way to accomplish big goals is to break them down into small pieces.

This is exactly what the Pharisees were doing in Jesus’s day.  They knew God had told them to “Be holy” (Leviticus 19:2).  But how could anyone reach this enormous goal?  So the Pharisees got an idea: they would break it down into small, manageable steps.  Wash your hands.  That’s easy enough to do.  Wash your cups.  Again, any idiot can do that.  Clean your couch.  Done, I’ll even clean my pillows.  Scrub your copper vessel.  My what??  Nevermind.

Do you see how it worked?  In order to accomplish the huge goal of “be holy,” the religious leaders broke it down into small steps that anyone could do.  But let me ask you, if your life depended on it (and it does!), which commandment would you rather have to do today: ‘be holy’ or ‘wash your hands before dinner.’  Do you see the difference?  The first is impossible, but the second is doable.  Here’s the principle: the Pharisees made the commandments easier, not harder.  They made the law doable, at least, according to them.

And by refusing to wash their hands before dinner, the disciples were protesting against the artificial religious traditions of the Pharisees.

Jesus called them out on another commandment they were trying to make “more doable” with their religious traditions, which was the fifth commandment, “honor your father and mother” (10).  Since that true commandment from God seemed impossible to accomplish, once again, the Pharisees broke it down into manageable steps.  So they created a new tradition called “Corban” (11).  According to Corban, you simply had to give a few bucks to the religious leaders.  Easy enough, right?  You didn’t have to take care of your parents when they got old, honor them when you were a child, respect their wishes when you were a young adult, and so forth.  According to the Pharisees, you only had to hand over some dough to the religious leaders (not your parents, notice, but to the religious leaders!).  

Jesus denounces their tradition of Corban, letting the Pharisees know it actually did the opposite of honoring your parents (12).  Then he added, “Thus making void the word of God by your traditions that you have handed down” (13).  

But the center of Jesus’s critique of the Pharisees is found in verses 6-7, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”  Jesus called them hypocrites, for they pretended like they were religious, but they were actually doing more harm than good.  Do you know any religious people like this?  I do, and just to be honest, there are times when I act like the Pharisees, too.

What can we learn from this?  First, understand the difference between human religious traditions and God’s Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-17).  The Ten Commandments are from God and we are meant to keep them; the religious traditions are from humans and they are an attempt to make the Ten Commandments doable, easier.

Second, however, no matter how hard we try, nobody can keep the Ten Commandments.  Nobody, except for Jesus, can keep God’s law.  God’s law condemns us all, which is what it’s supposed to do.  We are not supposed to keep God’s law, but it is supposed to keep us in line.  God’s law shows us how sinful we are, so we do not rely on ourselves, but on Christ, to save us.  The Pharisees want us to think we can keep the law, so we rely on them and on ourselves.  

Third, we must put our faith in Jesus, not in ourselves and our efforts to keep the law (or any other religious tradition).  When others point their accusing fingers at us and say, ‘You’re not clean enough’ or ‘You’re not good enough,’ we don’t then have to try to get clean or get good; rather, we have to trust Jesus to save us.  He makes us clean.  The real question is not ‘Am I clean enough,’ but ‘Where is my heart?’  

We all give God quite a bit of lip service.  We also give the world quite a bit of lip service, too.  We pretend to be more than we really are.  But Jesus doesn’t care what you can accomplish, he only cares about your heart.  He doesn’t care if you’re clean, but if you’re truthful and sincere.  

The law will condemn you, but Jesus won’t.  He wants your heart, not your good works, so can you give your heart to him?  He traded his perfect life for your imperfect life by dying on the cross in your place.  

He loves you just as you are, dirty hands and all.  

The Breakdown

  1. What are some religious traditions we get caught up with today?  
  2. What is the purpose of the law?  It’s very important to know the answer. 
  3. In what areas of your life are you giving God lip service?  How can you give him your heart?

Love Contagion

Mark 6:53-56

Has anyone yet told you they loved you today?  We thought so.  Maybe you just got done looking at porn, maybe you just got done looking at divorce papers.  Maybe you just got off a double shift, maybe you just got off a bar stool.  Whether you’re beginning your day or wishing it all would end, before you close your eyes, we want you to know we love you.  

It’s crazy to think God would love any of us, if you don’t think it’s crazy, then you’re probably out of touch with yourself.  Most people don’t realize how much God loves them, just as they are.  They think God could love, would love, might possibly love, a certain version of themselves, but that’s where most get it wrong.  God doesn’t love the good you, he loves the awful you

Stick that in your Twitter feed and smoke it.

It’s easy to read a passage of the Bible like this and think Jesus just healed a bunch of people.  He didn’t just heal a bunch of people, he loved a bunch of people, who didn’t deserve it, who woke up that morning in the arms of another lover or hungover with a headache or wallowing in their own sickness and self-pity or still wrecked by the words a parent shouted at them two days before.  In their wildest dreams they never thought that day they’d meet a God who loved them.

Do you?

Words are more powerful than sight, just in case you think words are cheap.  They aren’t.  If my son came to me covered in mud and filth, because he wrecked his life, the sight of him wouldn’t decrease my love for him, because I love him from my heart, not from my pupils.  If anything, the more needy he becomes, the more I love him!  When God tells you he loves you, his words aren’t cheap.  He sees you in your desperate state and runs to you with a love song in his heart.

You could be going through hell, but when someone tells you they love you, it fortifies you, doesn’t it?  When they look at you, knowing full well what you are and what you’ve done and yet still say, “I love you,” it makes you stand up just a little taller, because you know you can get through it.

We live in a time when there’s not a whole lot of lovin’ going on.  We’re a far cry from loving the people around us like they did on the shores of Gennesaret.  “And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was” (Mark 6:54-55).  They physically picked up the outcast and marginalized and diseased and carried them to Jesus.  What a beautiful picture of love!

Who can you carry to the love of Jesus today?  And I mean today.  You are surrounded by many people who didn’t get to hear, “I love you” from anyone yet today, or maybe in a long time.  If you recognize Jesus, can you bring someone to his love?  

Maybe it’s someone who is from a different political party.  Maybe it’s someone who’s been sick.  Maybe it’s someone of a different race.  Maybe it’s someone who’s been making your life hard.  Maybe it’s someone you’ve been taking for granted.  Who can you carry to Jesus today?

How?  Tell them you love them.  That’s all you need to do, because if the love of Christ lives in you, then you share it by opening your heart (and mouth) to someone in need.

In his new book Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortland points to a wonderful truth about Jesus Christ.  It helps to understand the Old Testament background of clean and unclean.  All life was divided up into these two categories and if you came into contact with something unclean, then you would become unclean, too.  You would be morally impure, cut off from God and other people.  That’s why this story is so shocking, because people are running around recklessly, touching the unclean sick and bringing them to Jesus, so he can lay his hands on them.  

But instead of furthering the spread of uncleanness, there’s healing!  “And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment.  And as many as touched it were made well.” (Mark 6:56).  You see, Jesus had his own contagion to spread, a love contagion.  Whoever touched him became holy.  Whoever touched him received love.  Whoever touched him received healing.  

“But I can’t heal anyone!” you say.  I disagree, for you can love them!  You can help spread the contagion of love, which will free the oppressed, bring hope to the despairing, and lift the burden of those heavy with life.  

“There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).  This does NOT mean that fear will kill love; rather, it means love will kill fear.  So you can’t wait for fear to leave before you love someone, you have to love them first.  The only way to eradicate fear is with love, and that puts all of us on the hook, for where else does love come from?  You have the contagion in your heart and it is yours to spread.  If you don’t love those around you, then no one else will.

Our world today is filled with uncertainty and fear.  Perhaps some politicians are using this to their advantage to get you to vote for them.  But politicians do not drive out fear, love does.  

Your love does.

Beloved, the world needs your love.  People on bar stools, people going through a divorce, people struggling with addiction, people wrecked by dysfunction.  

So we implore you, go spread the love contagion today. 

 The Breakdown

  1. What version of you do you think God loves most?  Do you know he loves the true you?
  2. Did you think of anyone you can “carry” to Jesus today?  
  3. How can you spread the love contagion this week?

The Real Meaning of Jesus Walking on Water

Mark 6:45-52

The story of Jesus walking on water is not a story to show you he can do miracles, it’s not even a story to show you he’s God, but it’s a story to show you he is undoing the old law and putting the gospel in its place.  

In order to help us see the connection to the law, there are four references to the law of Moses in Mark 6:45-52.  The first reference is in verse 46, “And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.”  Just as Moses went up on a mountain by himself to pray and left the people, so did Jesus.  The second reference is in verse 50, “for they all saw him and were terrified.”  Just as the disciples were terrified of Jesus, the people were terrified of Moses, because the glowing, holy presence of God was upon him when he came down from the mountain.  Next, also in verse 50, Jesus referred to himself by the exact name God used when talking with Moses, “I am.”  When Jesus said, “It is I,” you could also translate it, “I am,” which is the name the Lord told to Moses.  The fourth reference to the Moses story is in verse 52, “for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”  Just like God hardened the hearts of Pharaoh and others who didn’t believe him, so were the hearts of the disciples hardened.

Why these four references to Moses and the law?  Because God wants you to see he is going to defy the reign and terror of the old law in your life.  He accomplishes this by strutting out on the water in bold defiance of the laws of nature.  When you see Jesus walking on the water, you’re not meant to think, “Cool trick!” but, rather, “Who is this God who defies the law in order to come to me in my helplessness?” 

The story of Jesus walking on the water is meant to show us just as Jesus defies physical laws, so does he defy moral and spiritual laws to be with us. 

The laws of religion have always gone something like this: I must give to God, then he will give to me.  In other words, I must live a good life, make sacrifices, and do certain rituals or behaviors to manipulate God and get him to accept me.  I must give to God in order to make God happy.

But Jesus breaks that law just as much as he breaks the law that says he’ll sink in the water if he steps on it.

In its place, Jesus boldly brings an un-law, which says, God will give to me, even when I don’t deserve it: I do not have to live a good life, because he will live a good life for me; I do not have to make a sacrifice, because he will sacrifice himself for me; I do not have to do a ritual to earn his favor, because he has brought all rituals to an end.  This is the un-law of Jesus who walks on water.

The disciples didn’t understand the new message Jesus was bringing to them, probably because they were so used to the old law, “For they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (52).  Do you remember the lesson of the loaves from the last section?  It was this, When you finally realize you’re not enough, that’s when you become more than enough.  That’s the lesson Jesus was trying to teach his disciples when he fed 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread.  But the hearts of the disciples were still hardened by law mentality, which taught them you have to have in order to have: you have to have enough food in order to feed a lot of people; you have to have a sufficient amount of good works in order to make a good impression on God; and you have to have a good moral record in order to be rewarded for a good life. 

But the un-law of Jesus was teaching them to walk on water, not good works.  You do not have to have a solid standing on good works in order to stand before God.  As it turns out, the good news of the gospel teaches we don’t have to have in order to have.  You don’t have to have good works and a perfect life in order to have blessing, honor, righteousness, and peace with God. 

Jesus walking on water was not meant to be proof that he is God, but it’s meant to be proof that we are righteous, no matter what the devil whispers in your ear at 3 A.M., the hour of the wolf.  

It’s not meant to show that Jesus must be all powerful, because only an all powerful person could walk on water; rather, it’s meant to show you that God is doing away with the old law and instituting an un-law in your life, which makes you free from the law. 

I want you to picture Jesus walking on the water to you when you’re at your weariest.  Every time you imagine this, I want you to realize you are clean, forgiven, and righteous before God.  When you finally realize you don’t have enough, that’s when you become more than enough.  When you go to God and say, “I don’t have,” that’s when you’ll receive.  When you come to him with your faults and sins, he’ll give you his grace and love.

Satan will continue to throw the old law in your face to get you to despair of your life and God’s love for you, but let your mind go back to the moment when Jesus did the impossible and walked on the water, defying the law in order to come to your rescue. 

Jesus has to defy the law in order to rescue you from your plight.  He came down from the mountain not to tell you your damned, but to say to you, “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid” (50).

Repeat Jesus’s words to yourself, over and over; see him walking on the water, trampling on your expectations of what you deserve because of your sins, and welcome him into the boat.  Just as Jesus will not sink in the water, you will not sink in your sin.  

One more thing, sometimes we think that when bad things happen to us, it’s because we broke the law and God is punishing us, but this cannot be, because it’s using the logic of the law.  Remember, Jesus defies our law thinking and gives us the un-law of grace.  So when bad things happen to you, don’t think God is punishing you for breaking the law, but instead realize Jesus will do whatever it takes to come to you on your scary voyage.  The law asks the question, “Why?” but Jesus’s new and better question is “What?”  

What will Jesus do?  He will comfort you.  What will Jesus do?  He will die on the cross for all sin.  What will Jesus do?  He will stand by your side though all hell break out against you, and will not leave you.  What will Jesus do?  He will love you more than you love your sin and even when you doubt him.  

Sound impossible?  Well, he can walk on water.  

The Breakdown

  1. In what areas do you keep sinking in sin?
  2. What do you think of the last sentence, “Just as Jesus will not sink in the water, you will not sink in your sin”?  How does this buoy (no pun intended) your faith?
  3. The last verse says, “For they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”  What’s the connection between Jesus walking on the water and the feeding of the 5,000?  Hint: the connection is NOT that Jesus demonstrates his power as God, think deeper than that!

You Are More Than Enough

Mark 6:30-44

You want us to do what?

Feed them.

But they’re like 5,000 people here!


And we’re in the middle of nowhere…


And none of us have jobs, because we left them to follow You, in case You forgot.

And your point is?

It would take a year’s salary to feed all these people, where do You expect us to get that kind of money?

Then what do you have?  Anything?

We don’t have anything.

Are you sure?  Look around you.

It looks like this kid over here has five loaves of bread and a pair of fish, but that’s only enough for a few children, not 5,000 grown men! 

That’ll be more than enough.

Then Jesus told the crowd to sit in groups so the disciples could pass out dinner.  Jesus took the five loaves and two fish and said a blessing over them.  Then he broke the bread and gave the meal to the disciples to set before the people.  Everyone ate and was satisfied, and there were some leftovers, twelve baskets full of bread and fish.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve faced some pretty challenging circumstances in my life.  There have been many times when my back was against the wall, when I ran out of resources, when I didn’t know where my help would come from.  Like the disciples, I looked at what I had and it didn’t look like much.

You’ve probably looked at yourself in the mirror and thought, That doesn’t look like much.  You’ve probably looked at your talents or opportunities and said, That doesn’t look like much.  You’ve probably looked at the enormous task before you and what you had to work with and sighed, That doesn’t look like much.

Do you know the lesson God loves to teach us, over and over again?  It’s the same lesson we’ve been encountering throughout Mark’s gospel in every chapter so far, when you finally realize you’re not enough, that’s when you become more than enough.

By contrast, the Pharisees and other religious leaders thought they were more than enough to begin with, so Jesus had to show them they were not.  Jesus constantly cried out against the religious leaders who trusted in themselves and believed they were better than others and thought they deserved God’s favor. 

But then there were others, the demon-possessed, the prostitutes, the tax-collectors, the sick, the sinful, who looked at themselves and realized they were not enough.  They could never earn God’s favor, they would never be like the Pharisees.  They were broken, unacceptable, and full of failure.  They were poor in spirit and knew they fell short of the glory of God.  In a word, they realized they were sick.

They felt like the spiritual equivalent of a couple of dried fish and five loaves of crusty, moldy bread.

As this passage of Scripture teaches us, God loves to work with nothing.  After all, God created the world out of nothing, so he has done it before!

When you finally realize you’re not enough, that’s when you become more than enough.  God wants us to realize salvation is impossible for us, but possible for him.  So he’ll put us in impossible situations and pin us down by our limitations, just to get us to trust in him. 

Think about it this way, God is constantly looking for a window to come into your life, and whatever you lack IS that window.  Our limitations are a portal through which God enters our circumstances. 

So embrace them!

Embrace your weaknesses and limitations, do not try to hide them or pretend they are not there.  What does it look like to embrace your limitations?  Give yourself to Jesus, because he wants to do four things with you.  As Henri Nouwen pointed out in his book Life of the Beloved, Jesus takes the bread, blesses the bread, breaks the bread, and then gives the bread (Mark 6:41).

Take, bless, break, give.

God takes you to himself, blesses you in Christ, breaks you in life’s circumstances, and then gives you out to the world to fulfill your mission.  We are simply five loaves of bread and a couple of fish, but we are more than enough in the hands of Jesus.

The Breakdown

  1.  What are your limitations right now?  What obstacles are you facing?  Be honest, share from the heart, no matter how scary it might be to admit.
  2. This passage teaches us that God can use limited resources and have leftovers!  What are the limited resources you can place in Jesus’s hands today?  Most of us wait until we have more to offer, but God wants only what we have to offer today. 
  3. How have you been taken by God?  How has God blessed you?  How have you been broken?  How have you been given to the world?  If you don’t know yet, then start at the beginning and ask God to take you for himself.  Make this your prayer.