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!

So.

And we’re in the middle of nowhere…

So.

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.

From Prison to Platter

Our Scripture passage today, Mark 6:14-29, tells us what happened to John the Baptist.  King Herod put John in prison because John kept telling Herod he was abusing his power by taking his brother’s wife, Herodias.  One day, during a party, Herodias’s daughter danced so well for King Herod that Herod promised to give her anything she asked.  Upon consulting her mother, the girl asked King Herod for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.  Even though Herod really didn’t want to kill John, because he was quite fond of him, he did anyway, because his guests heard him give an oath.  So John’s head was removed from him and served up on a platter for King Herod and all his guests.  

I want to talk about the law today, and I promise you, it won’t be too boring.  If you can begin to grasp these fundamental truths about the law, you will grow in your understanding of God’s love.

John the Baptist Represents the Law

John the Baptist represents the law.  It was his role to show people their sins, tell them to turn from them, and urge them to flee to Jesus for help.  This is exactly what we see John doing in this passage, “For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife’” (Mark 6:18).  As a representative of the law, John pointed out sins.

What is NOT the purpose of the Law?

What is the purpose of the Law?  Have you ever thought about that?  Most of us have a dysfunctional relationship with the law, much like an alcoholic has a dysfunctional relationship with booze.  And if this is the case, we’d better pay attention to what this passage of Scripture can teach us about the law.

Let’s answer the question from the negative first or What is NOT the purpose of the law?  Here are four answers from the negative.

First, the purpose of the law is NOT to save you.  

Some people think God expects them to keep his rules, to behave, and if not, he’ll send them to hell.  Likewise, some think if they can keep God’s law, do what is right, then they will be saved.  This is wrong, for the purpose of the law is not to save you.  Even if you kept the law perfectly, which you can’t, it could not save you.  We fall into a trap when we think we just need to be better to merit salvation.      

Second, the purpose of the law is NOT to give you power to fight sin.  

We are surrounded by laws from humans and laws from God, telling us what we should and should not do.  We think that if we can follow the rules, then we’d get the upper hand on sin.  Don’t look at porn.  Don’t eat too much.  Don’t lie.  Don’t complain.  Don’t get drunk.  

While it is true these laws can benefit your life, they will not help you to fight sin.  On the one hand, if you’re an alcoholic, “Don’t drink” is probably the best rule for you, but on the other hand, the rule itself will not help you fight the urge to drink.  Again, the law only can point out sin, but the law cannot give you the power to fight sin.  Why?  As soon as I tell you, “Don’t do that sin,” then you either think one of two things: one, I can do it; or two, I cannot do it.  In other words, you either fall into the state of pride (I can do it) or despair (I cannot do it).  

In both of these conditions (pride or despair), you are powerless and ineffective.  Why?  Because you’re looking to yourself for the answer, either the self who can or the self who can’t.  That’s why the Twelve Steps programs for alcoholics teach us to look to a Higher Power for help, because the answer is not within us.  All sinners are addicted to their sin and keeping the law will not give you the power to get free.   

Third, the purpose of the law is not to help you impress God or win his favor by keeping it.  

We often think God smiles when we manage not to sin and frowns when we fall into sin.  This is wrong.  So long as I am trying to keep the law in effort to win God’s favor or impress him, then God is frowning.  

God frowns at us when we try to live life on our own, apart from his help.  God frowns when we think he will not love us when we sin.  God frowns when we think we’ve lost his favor when we fail to keep the law.  Can you see why?  The law is getting in the way of my relationship with God.  Some of us are more in love with keeping the law (being good, impressing God) than we are in love with God.  Again, the law can only drive us to pride or despair, not to the love of God.  As we’ve seen so far in the book of Mark, because the Pharisees kept the law and thought they were “healthy,” they did not seek the Great Physician Jesus for a remedy.      

Fourth, the purpose of the law is not to improve your life.  

Rather, those who try their hardest to keep the law will only make their lives worse.  I know this sounds counterintuitive, but it’s something we need to come to terms with.  If you’ve ever said to yourself, “I will never do that,” then watch out, because saying such things is how you bind your will and inflame the desire of sin within you (see Romans 7:9).  The presence of the law causes sin to come alive in prideful hearts.      

Consider King Herod.  He first put John the Baptist in prison, which was terrible to do, but it only got worse.  Because Herod refused to listen to John, greater sin came alive in him, for soon he murdered John!  Can you see how Herod’s sin grew worse?  We’re told Herod respected John and didn’t want to harm him, but he ended up killing him!  So what happened?  Wasn’t Herod in control of his own will?  This is the power of the law to inflame our sin nature and get us to become worse, rather than better.  

For us today, if we think we do not need God’s help, thinking we can just live the best lives we can and everything will be fine, then we had better watch out. 

Sin Is Like Mold

Sin is like mold, so long as it’s kept undisturbed in the dark, it’s going to grow and get much worse.  You need to expose sin, shine light on it, and vigorously disturb it.  You need to open yourself up to someone about it, because if you can’t, then it will grow in power.  When it comes to dealing with sin, we cannot rely on ourselves, but we must rely on sources external to ourselves, such as God and other people.  

The law is a mirror that will show us the mold in the basement of our souls, but it does not have the power to improve the condition. 

What IS the Purpose of the Law?

So what is the purpose of the law?  The purpose of the law is to show us our sins.  The purpose of the law is to attack our confidence and trust in ourselves, in order to get us to trust in Jesus.  When the law is attacking you, causing you to throw up your hands in despair, then turn to Jesus.  Go to God.  Tell another person and stop trusting in yourself.  The whole purpose of the law is to expose our sins, not remedy them, and to cause us to run to Christ for help, not whiteknuckle it and keep trying harder.  

We’re not suggesting that you should go on sinning without a care in the world.  We’re not encouraging you to break God’s law and do whatever you wish.  We’re assuming you want help fighting sin.  We are urging you to stop looking to the law for help, for it has been beheaded.  Instead, look outside of yourself for help.  Depend on God in prayer, engage in honest confession to other people, and repent, returning to your loving heavenly Father for rest.

You Don’t Need to Fail Less

Both John the Baptist and Jesus were killed, John was beheaded and Jesus was crucified, but only one of them resurrected from the dead, demonstrating the power of Jesus over the power of the law.  You don’t need a better ability to keep the law, you need Jesus.  You don’t need to fail less, but you need to flee to Jesus more.  

Fail into his arms.

And think about it, it may not be good for you to have “victory” over a particular sin, so long as having victory would keep you from resting in Jesus Christ.  As a parent, I would rather my child come to me with a problem than keep his distance because he doesn’t need me.  To have a relationship with God does not mean to keep rules, but to come to him with our heavy burdens.  

I once had the opportunity to hear Korn founder and band member Brian “Head” Welch share his story.  Speaking of addiction, he struggled a great deal with drugs and alcohol.  In all his struggles, he did not find freedom by cleaning up his life, but by coming to Jesus as he was.  The Bible verse he got tattooed on the right side of his neck is the perfect summary: 

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).  

Keeping the law will not give you rest, only Jesus will.  

The Breakdown

  1. Are you a perfectionist?  How might a perfectionist struggle with this teaching about the law?
  2. Are you NOT a perfectionist?  How might you struggle with this teaching?
  3. How does the law inflame sin in us?  
  4. How are you doing with prayer, honest confession, and repentance?  Grade yourself on a scale of 1 to 10.  Now come up with a way to improve your score by just 1 percent this week.

Dust Dance

“And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” —Mark 6:11

Jesus sent out his followers on their first mission without him.  He didn’t allow them to take much with them, either, only the shoes on their feet and the shirt on their backs.  They would go out in pairs, from town to town, confronting evil and calling people to return to God.  Jesus warned them that they would be rejected, because not everybody would believe in him.  The disciples would be mocked, silenced, hated, and persecuted.  Many would not trust them or give them a chance in the first place.  Even worse, many would curse them and wish harm to come upon the disciples because of who they were, what they believed, and what they were doing.  

The world can be a ruthless, merciless place.  At work people can be vicious and backstabbing, at home family can be cold and crippling, at school peers can be judgmental and shaming.  We’re mocked for how we look, the ways we’ve failed, where we come from, and how much we make.  The world often condemns what we stand for, our mission, and our individual dreams.  Singer songwriter Jason Isbell delivers a devastating line in his song Chaos and Clothes, “…But nobody ever wants to hear about my dreams.”  Even if they did, they’d tell us they were wrong, anyway.  

So you better not be fat, skinny, white, black, Republican, Democrat, gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, atheist, agnostic, perpetrator, victim, zealous, apathetic, rich, poor, powerful, weak, successful, failing, attractive, ugly, African, European, smart, or dumb.  You better not be any of these, because the world will crush you, mock you, reject you, and throw dust in your face.  

How do you handle the dust?

Jesus told the disciples to be ready for antagonism and rejection.  He said to them, “And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”  The word “dust” has deep roots in the Bible, going all the way back to the first chapters of Genesis.  Right after Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, God cursed Satan and told him he’d eat dust like a snake for the rest of his life.  Then God told Adam that he would return to dust when he died.  So dust symbolizes both “curse” and “death.”  

If you haven’t figured it out by now, the Enemy is constantly trying to throw dust in our faces, covering us with cursing and death.  Day after day he wants us to feel like we’re cursed and rejected.  He wants us to get confused about who we are, whether anyone loves us, and how we’ll ever survive. 

But Jesus empowers us to do something about it.  Jesus commands us to shake it off, right back onto the enemy.  In fact, according to Jesus, it’s not good to let this dust pile up on us, layer after layer, week after week, year after year.  Jesus says we need to shake it off as soon as it gets on us.  In fact, he commands us to do it.  This is his prescription for handling rejection and maintaining your integrity. 

It’s not just a metaphor, either, but Jesus really wants us to shake the dust from our lives.  This might be incredibly therapeutic for you to try.  Bring to mind the curses you’re carrying, and then physically shake them off.  Play some music if you need to, do a freedom dance, and shake the dust from yourself.  Shake off their curses, gossip, slander, backstabbing, ridicule, and threats!  Don’t let it stay on you, because Jesus says it’s not yours to bear, but theirs.  So shake it baby, shake it!

Do the dust dance as a testimony against those who want to stop you. 

The Breakdown

  1. Are you carrying around some dust?  How have you been rejected?  It’d be best if you could talk honestly about it with a trusted person in your life.
  2. What are your dreams?  We’d love to hear about them! 
  3. Plan your own dust dance.  What music will you play?  Where will you go?  Will you be dancing with just you and God or is there someone else that needs to be there?  When will you do it?  Remember, don’t let the dust pile up.

Stripped

Mark 6:7-13

As we saw last time, Jesus was rejected by the people of his hometown, which was a preparation for what was to come, the complete rejection of Jesus on the cross, as he hung between heaven and earth, forsaken by both.  Now it’s the disciples’ turn.

To be a disciple of the Rejected One would be to be rejected, as well, which is what Jesus’s closest friends needed to know before he sent them out on their first mission.  They would continue to do what Jesus had been doing by himself, ushering in the kingdom of God.  He called them together and gave them their assignments.  He told them they could only go out with one other person, two by two.  Right away, each disciple must have raised his eyebrows in surprise.  Wouldn’t it be better if we went out as one group, for strength in numbers?  But it got worse.  Jesus charged them to take nothing on their journey but a walking stick and the clothing on their backs.  They were not allowed to bring food, not even bread, no bag, no money, and no extra tunic to wear.  

They probably felt like Gideon, no doubt one of their heroes from the Old Testament.  Before Gideon faced the overwhelming Midianite army, which boasted 135,000 soldiers, God reduced the size of Gideon’s army from 32,000 to just 300 men.  The disciples probably thought about David, too, the teenager who fought the heavily-armed and feared giant, Goliath, with just a sling and a stone.  They might have thought of the Israelite slaves, whom God allowed to be trapped in the desert between the Red Sea and the mighty Egyptian army.  God seemed to have a pattern of stripping people down to practically nothing before placing them in an overwhelming situation to do an impossible task. 

“I’d better get back to the store.”  I said to myself after tapping my homescreen to check the time to see if my lunch break was over.  I was feeling particularly miserable and sorry for myself earlier today.  My family had just been through a string of setbacks.  Both our cars broke down, bills totalling over $2100.  One of our kids broke his arm.  Three weeks later, he did it again, which cost us an arm and a leg, or should I say, an arm and an arm.  Our property tax bill was due, too; two elective surgeries would not be covered by our insurance; my wife was being severely bullied at work; and my own menial job was increasingly unfulfilling.  On top of it all, we had legal issues.  It seemed like God was stripping everything away and I was questioning my purpose in life.  God, just tell me what you want me to do with my life.  Tell me what direction to go and how to fix it, because pretty soon, I’d be just like the disciples, down to my last shirt and pair of sandals.  

Ever been here?

I tucked a book under my arm and began to walk back to work.  I had been sitting at a park bench, eating my lunch, and reading a poem by Rumi:

“A King sent you to a country to carry out one special, specific task.  You go to the country and you perform a hundred other tasks, but if you have not performed the task you were sent for, it is as if you have performed nothing at all.  So man has come into the world for a particular task and that is his purpose.  If he doesn’t perform it, he will have done nothing.”

As I thought about this poem, I realized it sounded a lot like our passage today, Mark 6:7-13.  In both stories, there’s a King who sends his people into a country to do a task, not just a job, but a specific duty.  Rumi’s words were echoing in my mind as I bemoaned my life and questioned what I was to do on earth.  I wanted God to tell me what he wanted me to do; I wanted him to be clear.  I didn’t want to end up like the person Rumi warned about, who did a hundred other jobs, but not the one task the King sent him to do.  

Then I thought again of Jesus’s instructions to his disciples and I started to realize the profundity of them.  King Jesus sent his disciples into the country to do a task, but he limited their options, rather than multiplied them.  He didn’t load them with a lot of cargo and then prep them for every sort of scenario.  He didn’t give them a list with a hundred different tasks on it.  By not letting them bring extra items, by stripping them down to practically nothing, Jesus empowered them for just one task.  Their job was to confront evil: to expose it and call people to turn from it.  Jesus did not tell them to speak with the governor, reform temple worship, take on the Pharisees, teach people the Bible, root out sexual immorality in their culture, feed the homeless, teach parents how to raise kids who fear the Lord, lead worship services, or any of the other hundred things he might have sent them to do.  They had one job, so Jesus stripped away everything that was not necessary to that job.  

The King does the same for you and me, too.  He strips away all we don’t need in order to do the one job he sent us to do.  God is not sentimental with us, either.  It doesn’t bother him one bit to take almost everything away from us.  Why?  Because it’s the only way to guide our straying, seasick hearts.  The King is not just a ruler, but the Author of the story of this life.  He sends us into the plot like the author of a book sends in the next character.  He designs each character for a specific role within the plot, giving him or her the tools they need to accomplish their part in the great drama of redemption.  

He strips us to almost nothing so we won’t rely on ourselves, but on him, making our weakness our greatest strength.  Our weaknesses are the concrete barriers on the edges of the highway, keeping us from falling into the ditches of our own strength and guiding us to our destination.  

As I sit outside a closed coffee shop to use their internet for Google Drive, so that I can write this devotional on Mark 6, and wait to pick up my son with two broken arms and wonder how my wife is being treated on the night shift and how I will pay bills with money I don’t have, I rejoice that I have a shoe on each foot, a hoodie, and fingers that can declare Christ to be the King—the King who has sent me into this chapter of life to do this one job.  

Don’t spend your short life on a hundred jobs, because there’s only enough time for one—and you don’t need much to do it. 

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.  He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts—but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.  And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there.  And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”  So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent.  And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. —Mark 6:7-13

The Breakdown

  1. Has God ever stripped you of the things you thought you needed?  What happened and what did you discover about God?  About yourself? 
  2. Why do you think it’s hard for people to accept that they might just have one calling to do in life?  
  3. If you could only do one thing for all eternity, what would it be?  What does this tell you about your calling, in other words, the reason the King sent you here?

10 Powerful Ways to Handle Rejection

I want to take a moment really to sink our teeth into Mark 6:1-6, the text we covered in our last devotional, which was affectionately titled, “God Pooped.”  If you haven’t read that one, then be sure to check it out!  Let’s cover the same text, but this time, let’s pull from its lessons on rejection.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve been rejected plenty in my life.  So let’s see how Jesus dealt with rejection.  Learning from Jesus, here are ten powerful ways to handle rejection.

  1. Don’t avoid rejection or live a paranoid life

We’re told right away that Jesus, “…went away from there and came to his hometown” (Mark 6:1).  Jesus wasn’t naive, he knew what he was headed for when he decided to go to his hometown.  Rather than spending his whole life avoiding the inevitable challenges of life, he faced them head on, for he knew if you’re truly living the way you’re supposed to live, then it’s not possible to live a life free of rejection.  Jesus had realistic expectations about being rejected, so it didn’t rile him when it happened, nor did it keep him from taking risks in life. 

  1. Do what you were made to do.

It says that Jesus, “…began to teach in the synagogue” (2).  Jesus was born to teach and challenge the status quo, so this is what he did, even if people rejected him for it.  If you have a gift and passion, then you have to do it, or else you’ll go crazy.  

  1. Expect people to question you.

Those who heard Jesus said, “Where did this man get these things?  What is the wisdom given to him?  How are such mighty works done by his hands?” (2).  While none of us will do the kind of astonishing works Jesus did, we will still do things that others question.  This is a mark of an authentic life.  If people do not question what you are doing, then you’re probably just living a life of the crowd.  You’re playing it safe, not doing what you were made to do.

  1. Embrace your humanity.

Even though Jesus was truly God, he did not take advantage of his divinity, but instead, he embraced his humanity.  The people of his hometown accused, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?  And are not his sisters here with us?” (3).  Jesus was never vexed by their accusations or embarrassed by his humanity.  He never said, “No, really, I’m no son of Mary, no brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon…I’m much better than they.”  Instead, Jesus embraces his humanity in full, never denying his heritage, skin, weaknesses, and warts.  Unfortunately, these days, this is where Chrisitanity tends to flop, but, if you take Jesus seriously, Christianity can really shine.  God wants you to embrace your humanity, not be ashamed of it.  Are you weak?  Embrace your weakness.  Struggle with your sexuality?  Embrace your homosexuality.  Wrestle with conditions, phobias, fears, uncertainties, anxieties, failures, shortcomings, or histories?  Embrace them all!  We’re not repeating the tired cultural cliche “you do you,” but, instead, we’re trying to get you not to rely on someone else’s version of what it means to be a child of God and help you understand God’s grace, which proclaims to you that God loves you just as you are.  God’s grace teaches us to say fuck self-righteousness, I’m going in for Christ’s righteousness.  Others may reject you, but you better not, because Jesus doesn’t.  Embrace yourself and then take yourself to Jesus to see what to do next. 

  1. Sit back at the table with brother Jesus and enjoy the family resemblance. 

People rejected Jesus and if you’re in his family, then you’ll bear this same family resemblance.  People will reject you, too.  So grab a beer, sit back at the table, and enjoy true fellowship with your brother, Jesus Christ, who was rejected first.  “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household” (4).

  1. Don’t waste your time on those who don’t want what you have.

Because the people rejected the kind of God that Jesus was, he didn’t do that many miracles for them.  He didn’t heal as many as he could or teach as much as he was able.  Jesus knew not to waste his time and energy on those who rejected him.  Likewise, let’s learn from Jesus.  Instead of breaking your head trying to win people over, let it go.  As Jesus says elsewhere, shake the dust from your feet and move on.  Don’t humiliate yourself or let people walk all over you.  

  1. Spend time with and care for those who actually need you.

There were a few in the town who actually needed him and believed in him, so Jesus chose to spend his time and energy with them.  “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them” (5).  Let’s learn from this!  Many might reject you, and I mean many, but not all.  Some people still believe in you and need you.  In this case, don’t miss the trees for the forest.  The masses might reject you and not need you, but that’s no big deal!  There are some hurting people around you who need you.  It might be a family member, lonely friend, or a pet.  If Jesus himself didn’t think too much of himself to care for just a few, then neither should you think you’re too important to care for just a single lonely dog or orphan or senior citizen or neighbor or friend.  

  1. Marvel at how they really reject Jesus, not you. 

“And he marveled because of their unbelief” (6).  Jesus was amazed at their unbelief.  Notice how Jesus did not react.  He did not indulge in self-pity, he did not lash back, he did not sulk, he did not get angry, he did not criticize, he did not curse, he did not mock, he did not escape in denial, he did not project this problem elsewhere, he did not get embarrassed, he did not let it ruin his day, he did not cry, he did not minimize their reaction, he did not condescend, and he did not escape to an addiction.  Instead, he marveled at their unbelief, which is incredibly instructive to us on how to handle rejection!  Now, if you’re being a dick, then that’s one thing, so stop being a dick as soon as possible.  But if people are rejecting you when you’re being your authentic self, trying to love them truly from the heart, and they reject you, then all that’s left to do is marvel at their rejection of Jesus.  Remember, they are not rejecting you, but Jesus in you, so let your reaction be to marvel at them and don’t take it so personally.  Don’t let it destroy your day.  

  1. Realize God’s crucifying grace.

When his hometown rejected him, this was just a foretaste of what was to come, for Jesus was on his way to the cross, to hang between heaven and earth and be rejected by both.  In other words, all rejections we experience in life are pointing to the reality of God’s crucifying grace.  By letting us experience rejection, God is crucifying our old nature, nailing it to a cross, helping us to shed its power.  Therefore, we must learn to embrace rejection, because God is dealing with something in our lives he wishes to kill off.  

  1. Know that you’ll meet Jesus in a special way in rejection.  

Finally, when you are rejected, you’ll meet Jesus in deeper and more profound ways.  You’ll enter into the fraternity of the rejected.  In your rejection, you’ll learn more about Jesus than you could ever learn when the world is all sunshine and rainbows and things are going your way.  Rejection is synonymous with Jesus and grace.

God Pooped

If you’re offended by the title, then this little devotional is already starting to do its job!  I want us to feel what the folks in Mark 6:1-6 felt when Jesus returned to his hometown.  He taught in the local synagogue and everyone was astonished at his teaching.  Like everyone who heard him, they thought he was wonderful, powerful, and wise.  They marveled at the mighty works he did, too, saying, “How are such mighty works done by his hands?” (2).  After all, they were very familiar with his hands, because they saw these hands grow from the delicate hands of an infant into the rough hands of a carpenter.  “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?  And are not his sisters here with us?” (3).  They even knew his snot nosed brothers and sisters and all their typical problems, too.

It took balls for Jesus to return to his hometown, because you can’t pull the wool over anyone’s eyes there.  If Jesus were a conman, then they’d be the first to blow the whistle; but Jesus wasn’t afraid, because he wasn’t fake.  His going to his hometown proves he had nothing to hide.

Still, his neighbors couldn’t wrap their minds around what they saw.  On the one hand, his teaching seemed to be otherworldly, but on the other hand, they had seen him poop.  They were there when he learned to walk, went through puberty, and smashed his finger with a carpenter’s mallet.  Now the whole world’s going berserk, saying he’s God?  I mean, yes he teaches with power and calms the storm and raises the dead, but we were there when he learned to talk, was caught in a storm, and cried at his dead dad’s funeral.  “And they took offense at him.” (3).  Literally, they were “scandalized” by him, as the Greek word for “offense” indicates. 

So Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household” (4).  As a result, “He could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And he marveled because of their unbelief.” (5-6).

We might be tempted to think Jesus was not able to do miracles in his hometown because the people didn’t believe hard enough, but that interpretation would contradict everything Jesus stood for.  It turns Jesus into a vending machine or genie, just rub his belly hard enough and he’ll grant you a wish!  But you can’t manipulate Jesus, nor does he reward us for our good works, as if our good works could merit eternal salvation.  

Here’s what’s really going on.  The people of Jesus’s hometown didn’t want the kind of God Jesus was, so they rejected him.  And when you reject Jesus, then you reject the kind of God he is, a God who loves, heals, helps, accepts, and forgives.  

The Bible presents us with this fundamental truth about God over and over: God shows up in our lives on his terms.  God decides who he is and will be.  “I am who I am!” he told Moses.  We don’t get to dictate who God is or what he is like, just because of some stilted stereotypes we might have.  If God wants to show up in our lives as a pooping, burping, table-making carpenter with jealous siblings, then so be it.  He gets to be God how he wants to be God.

There are so many times in my life that I’ve missed out on being close to God or seeing him, because I was looking for the wrong kind of god, do you know what I mean?  I was looking for a god of my making, an idol.  God isn’t predictable, as we’d like him to be.  God isn’t normal, either.  The people of Jesus’s hometown probably thought the Messiah would come riding in on a big white horse with lightning bolts shooting out of his ass, who knows.  But Jesus smashes their expectations and hides right in front of their eyes in ordinary grimy human skin.

Maybe God is hiding right in front of your eyes right now.  Have you ever thought about that?  Maybe God is hiding within a problem you have, which you’ve been avoiding to deal with, so you’ve actually been ducking him.  Maybe God is in a coworker who’s been making your life a living hell, but you refuse to see the God who wants to help you grow.  Maybe God is hiding in a fear that keeps you up at night, which you refuse to face, so you keep praying for God to take it away, but that would only mean taking himself away.  Have you thought about that?  

Maybe God is hiding in the depths of your failure and you can only see him if you go deep enough into the darkness where you’ll find him in his joy.

When I cross-referenced Mark 6:5, I discovered an unnerving connection to Isaiah 59:1-2, which says, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”  In other words, the prophet Isaiah (who Mark references again and again in his gospel) said that God is able to heal and save us, but sometimes he doesn’t, because of our sins.  The sins referred to here are the sins of rejecting God’s plan to save us.  In Isaiah’s time, God wanted to save his people through their pagan enemies, the Persians (Isaiah 45:1), which God’s people couldn’t stomach.  But when we don’t like how God wants to save us, Isaiah warns, then God hides from us and doesn’t give us any other options.  

God is not hidden, as if he’s materially invisible and we just can’t see him, but he actually hides himself from us.  Like a father hiding in the closet during a game of hide and go seek with his child, God is here, but not here, at the same time.

In the same way, God was right there with the people of his hometown, but not there, at the same time.  He was hiding in their rejection and hiding in their false assumptions.  He was hiding in all their fears of what a Messiah should not be like.  He was hiding in ordinariness and familiarity and weakness, but they rejected a God like that.

And one day, most of them would completely reject and be scandalized by the God who went to the cross to die, which is what our text today is hinting at.

God loves to save us by the things that scandalize us, in order to humble us and help us rely on his grace, rather than our goodness.  

I’m convinced, if you can’t see the God who pooped, then you’ll never be able to see God in your life, because you’ll be looking in all the wrong places.  Again, you have to look in the places that scandalize you to see him. 

Jesus only saves those who take him on his terms, as he is, not those who wish to squeeze him into some other kind of mold.  Take Jesus as the Incarnate, defecating, killable God, or don’t take him at all.

The Breakdown

  1. Be honest, what expectations and stereotypes are you trying to force on God right now?  Write them down and ask yourself, “Do these look more like the God of the Bible or the god in my head?”
  2. As you’ve been encountering Jesus in Mark’s gospel, how have your perceptions of him changed?  What has surprised you?  What are you still wrestling with?
  3. Where is God hiding in your life right now?  Remember, like any good hider, God loves to hide in the darkest and least expected spots he can find.