June 10 – The Transfiguration

Mark 9: 1 – 12 NLT

“Jesus went on to say, “I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Kingdom of God arrive in great power!”

The Transfiguration

2 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them. 4 Then Elijah and Moses appeared and began talking with Jesus.

5 Peter exclaimed, “Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified.

7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.” 8 Suddenly, when they looked around, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus with them.

9 As they went back down the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept it to themselves, but they often asked each other what he meant by “rising from the dead.”

11 Then they asked him, “Why do the teachers of religious law insist that Elijah must return before the Messiah comes?”

12 Jesus responded, “Elijah is indeed coming first to get everything ready. Yet why do the Scriptures say that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be treated with utter contempt? 13 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they chose to abuse him, just as the Scriptures predicted.”

Where were they as this amazing event took place? From the end of chapter 8, we know they were in the region of Caesarea Philippi. Steve Wilmhurst in his commentary, A Ransom for Many, says this about the location: “Caesarea Philippi is in the foothills of the Hermon range; it is reasonable to assume it is Mount Hermon that Jesus now climbs, along with the three who are his inner circle, Peter, James and John. The highest summit of Mount Hermon is over 9000 feet high and often has snow on it; so even if they don’t reach the top this is quite a hike. As they climb, they are no doubt wondering what Jesus wants to share with them. They don’t know what it is, but they do know that mountains are places where special things happen. They know that it’s on mountains, elevated as it were above and beyond the ordinary life of this world, that God has often met with and spoken to his people.”

We read about one of those events where a cloud covered a mountain while God spoke to Moses.

Exodus 24:12-18 (NLT)

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain. Stay there, and I will give you the tablets of stone on which I have inscribed the instructions and commands so you can teach the people.” 13 So Moses and his assistant Joshua set out, and Moses climbed up the mountain of God.

14 Moses told the elders, “Stay here and wait for us until we come back. Aaron and Hur are here with you. If anyone has a dispute while I am gone, consult with them.”

15 Then Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. 16 And the glory of
the LORD settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from inside the cloud. 17 To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the LORD appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. 18 Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. He remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights.”

Peter, James and John are overwhelmed by this experience. As usual, impetuous Peter is the one with something to say. I don’t know what he hoped would happen – would Moses and Elijah stay with them? The account says they were terrified, and really didn’t know what to say. But what they saw had an enormous impact on those three men who would become major leaders in the new church. It seems like God knew these men needed this glimpse of the future to take them through what would come next. Peter talks about this event in his epistle:

2 Peter 1:16-18 (NLT)

“For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our

Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes 17 when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” 18 We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.”

Mark tells us about the questions swirling through their heads when they came down from the mountain. What is Jesus talking about when he says he will rise from the dead? I don’t think that means they don’t know what those words actually meant; they are more perplexed about why he would rise from the dead. Does that mean he will die? How can that happen? They just saw Jesus in all his Messianic glory. To them, that must mean he has come to earth to set up his kingdom, so where does death come in? They are perplexed. They also wonder why Elijah hasn’t come yet as prophesied in Malachi 4: 5 – “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.” Jesus explains to them that Elijah has already come, a verification of John the Baptist as the prophesied Elijah.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, we see Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Moses led the nation of Israel out of slavery into the freedom of their own country. Elijah foretold the coming of the Messiah, and he was present that day to be with Jesus. Jesus was the Messiah who had come to earth. What the disciples didn’t understand, was that his purpose was to free all people from sin and bring them into his family forever. They did believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but were confused about what that actually meant.

We need to remember that Israel was under the rule of the Roman Empire. It had been 400 years since the last prophet had spoken. They were consumed with the idea that the Messiah would free them from Rome, and make their country important again. Instead of Rome, Israel would be the head of a reigning empire. So, I’m not surprised at their confusion about what Jesus is talking about now. He has shown his power by healing, casting out demons, calming the seas – they are sure now that he is the Messiah. So why is he talking about suffering and death? I find it interesting that the prophecy in Isaiah was ignored. I don’t know what the priests and temple leaders thought those words were about. Obviously, they didn’t tie them to the Messiah.

We often get confused in our relationship with God too. We believe that Jesus died and rose again to deal with our sin. But then we worry about the things we’ve done wrong, and wonder if

God has truly forgiven us. We carry around the shame of our mistakes. We wonder if we can lose our salvation. What would happen if we died in some unforeseen event, and we hadn’t confessed our sin? We need to read our Bibles and get the whole picture too, and not be like the Jewish leaders who forgot about Isaiah. For example, in answer to the questions raised in this paragraph, the Bible says when we accept Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we belong to him.

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8: 38 – 39 NLT

In closing, I thought I’d include that passage in Isaiah that the Jewish leaders ignored. It’s a good one to read and think about.

Isaiah 53

Who has believed our message?
To whom has the LORD revealed his powerful arm?
2 My servant grew up in the LORD’s presence like a tender green shoot,
like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
nothing to attract us to him.
3 He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
5 But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all.
7 He was oppressed and treated harshly,
yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
8 Unjustly condemned,
he was led away.
No one cared that he died without descendants,
that his life was cut short in midstream.
But he was struck down
for the rebellion of my people.
9 He had done no wrong
and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
he was put in a rich man’s grave.
10 But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him
and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
for he will bear all their sins.
12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.”

A Ransom for Many: The Gospel of Mark Simply Explained, Wilmhurst, Steve – Chapter 13 – Welwyn Commentary Series, Evangelical Press, 2011

June 9 – The Turning Point

Mark 8: 27 – 9: 1 NLT

“Peter’s Declaration about Jesus

27 Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and went up to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
28 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.”
29 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.”
30 But Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Jesus Predicts His Death

31 Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. 32 As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things.
33 Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
34 Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. 36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

9 Jesus went on to say, “I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Kingdom of God arrive in great power!”

These verses took place in Caesarea Philippi which was located in a more northern part of Israel, a place that Jesus seldom went to. Apparently, it was more of a Roman area, and Herod had his palace there. It was also known for the worship of pagan gods. I thought that was an interesting place for Jesus to ask the disciples who they thought he was. Perhaps it was a purposeful declaration in the most pagan area of the country – God had arrived on earth.

There were several answers given. Remember how Herod thought John the Baptist, who he had beheaded, had come to life? (6:16) I guess his guilty conscience was bothering him. But apparently that was something many people believed. Others thought Jesus was Elijah. Do you wonder why they came up with that idea? Steve Wilmhurst in A Ransom for Many explains where that idea came from:

“What about option number two – Elijah? Now Elijah is a really interesting possibility. He was one of the most dynamic of Old Testament prophets, living during the reigns of some really terrible kings in Israel around 800 years earlier. But the key point is that the very last Old Testament prophet, Malachi, foretold that Elijah would be sent by God to prepare for the Day of the Lord, when he would intervene in human history and bring in his judgement and eternal reign (Malachi 4:5). Faithful Jews are watching for the appearance of this great prophet who will herald the dawning of the new age. Maybe this Jesus is the promised Elijah!

What people don’t seem to realize is that these two options are actually one and the same. Option 1 – John: a radical prophet who wears a hair cloak and a leather belt, has an eccentric diet, spends a lot of time in the desert and says he is preparing for a greater one who will follow him. Option 2 – Elijah: a radical prophet who wears a hair cloak and a leather belt, has an eccentric diet, spends a lot of time in the desert and was prophesied to return and prepare for God who will follow him. Doesn’t that suggest anything? Yes: John the Baptist is the Elijah who was to come – and that is exactly what Jesus says about him in 9:13. Perhaps we need to point out that this is not about reincarnation! It is Elijah’s promised ministry that is seen in John the Baptist. John is the Elijah who was to return to prepare the way for God’s coming – and what does that make Jesus? Here is one more jigsaw piece of evidence about Jesus’ identity.”

Many people said Jesus was a prophet – just an important person with a message from God. That is actually similar to the way many people today think of Jesus. He was a good man with many excellent ideas about how to live well. Many other religions including Islam agree that Jesus was a prophet – a good person.

Peter has an inspiration from God and declares that Jesus is the Messiah. That was a turning point moment. Up to now in Mark, he has written about the amazing things Jesus has done and taught – proof of who Jesus is; but now he will begin writing about why Jesus has really come to earth. “Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead.” (v. 31)

Don’t you find it interesting that just a few moments later Peter takes Jesus aside and reprimands him for talking about dying and rising from the dead? He has just declared that Jesus is the Messiah. Just like us, Peter and the rest of Jesus’ disciples are slow to truly comprehend who Jesus is. They know, but in a way they don’t know. Just as I mentioned yesterday, we can believe that Jesus is God, that he died and rose again to forgive us our sin, but there are times when we doubt God’s care for us or even his existence. Have you had doubts like that? Like Peter, we are slow to genuinely understand everything God is. Jesus says we see “things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s”. (v. 33)

Jesus goes on to say, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (v. 34) What is Jesus saying? We must be prepared to live a life with no promises of security, wealth, stability, etc.? We are to follow Jesus who ended up suffering and dying on a cross? Sometimes today, Christianity is portrayed as a crutch to help people live their lives. They may be too afraid and think they are not that competent, so they rely on this ‘faith thing’ to prop themselves up. Other folks see Christianity as a good way to live. Follow the Golden Rule and be kind to people. If you are generous and donate to worthy causes, you are looked up to in the community. Others actually preach a ‘prosperity gospel’ – follow Jesus as best you can, and you will stay healthy and prosper financially.

Jesus says none of that! If we follow him, we will likely face a difficult, tough road ahead – just like he did. People will misunderstand us. We may find we are overlooked for promotions because we are seen as too religious. Or life may go well by our 2020 standards. We don’t know. What we do know is that we must follow Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit no matter what the consequences may be. For people who say ‘no’, I’ll do it my way, there will be rejection by God. This decision to be a Christ follower is a huge one. Will God become first in my life, or will I put myself first? Our natural inclination is to put ourselves first. We want things to go well for us. Many of our decisions are based on what is best for me.

This is a huge challenge for me. I want to follow God’s leading, but sometimes I put that aside. Does that mean God will reject me? No. I also have to remember that God is patient with us and is willing to forgive us when we fail. This is not a case of being accepted and rejected by God depending on my behaviour.

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1: 9)

Jesus finishes this conversation by saying, “I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Kingdom of God arrive in great power!” (9: 1) Does that mean the disciples will see God’s kingdom arrive on earth during their lifetime? Actually, that is the introduction to what we call the transfiguration of Jesus, when three of the disciples see Jesus transfigured into the way he actually is as God.

These last verses in Mark 8 are definitely the turning point in the gospel. Jesus becomes more open about what the future for him holds. By his miracles and teaching, he has told them he is the Messiah. Now he will explain further what that actually means, and it’s not just doing wonderful things.

A Ransom for Many: The Gospel of Mark Simply Explained, Wilmhurst, Steve – Chapter 12 – Welwyn Commentary Series, Evangelical Press, 2011

June 8 – God Help Us!

Watching the news over the past couple of weeks has been so distressing. We’ve seen anger out of control; we seen special moments with policemen with their arms around distressed black individuals. We’ve heard people encouraging others to be peaceful; we heard others fanning the flames of animosity. We saw the raw side of police brutality and the rage and grief of racism.

In 1968, I was a university student who worked as a customs officer during my summers at the Bluewater Bridge in Sarnia. From our point at the bridge we could see the smoke from fires in the Port Huron area, but the biggest thing I remember were the thousands of cars and trucks packed with belongings of people fleeing and hoping Canada would take them in. We had to erect barriers on our end, and open a gate so the traffic could be turned around and sent back to the US before entering Canada.

Here we are 50 years later.

I truly hope and pray that this time there will be the incentive to correct injustice and racism. In Canada, we can’t point our finger at the US. Whether racism is worse somewhere else or not, doesn’t count. It shouldn’t be anywhere.

The words of Psalm 103 strike me as a prayer of longing and thankfulness for each one of us. We mess up big time, but God wants to heal us. He knows how weak we are. He is loving and forgiving. I’ve put in bold the lines that especially speak to me in this enraged time.

Psalm 103

1 Let all that I am praise the LORD;
with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
2 Let all that I am praise the LORD;
may I never forget the good things he does for me.
3 He forgives all my sins
and heals all my diseases.
(those diseases don’t have to be physical ones; they can be our
attitude and faulty thinking)
4 He redeems me from death
and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
5 He fills my life with good things.
My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!
6 The LORD gives righteousness
and justice to all who are treated unfairly
.
7 He revealed his character to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel.
8 The LORD is compassionate and merciful,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.

9 He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.
0 He does not punish us for all our sins;
he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.

11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
12 He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.
13 The LORD is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
14 For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.

There is another verse in Isaiah that touches me as well. God was so willing to take the brunt of our sin and despicable behaviour. He took it so we could be healed.
“But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.” (Isaiah 53: 5)

When I look at how God deals with me, how can I treat anyone in a biased way? Yet, when I look closely at how I react to various ethnic people, I can’t say I am totally kind and accepting. God accepts everyone. How can I not? “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3: 28)

As Christians, we need to stand up for those who are discriminated against. We need to support efforts to close the gap between people. God could have looked at me and you, and said we weren’t worth that much, we had gone astray and didn’t deserve reconciliation. Yet, God was willing to suffer for me, for you in order to fix the problem.

Here in Windsor, I’m not sure what we can do practically. Is there an organization that we can support? I know that the DWCC (working with people in the downtown area) and Mathew House (working with immigrants) are supporting people facing difficult circumstances. Recently, LSA helped with a food drive for the DWCC’s Glengarry Project. If you are aware of a group that is supporting any marginalized people, let us know. Perhaps we need to stop being complacent, and thinking we are isolated in middle-class east Windsor and get involved.

Today’s song is one created by Casting Crowns that challenges us in these times.

Start Right Here – By Casting Crowns

We want our coffee in the lobby
We watch our worship on a screen
We got a Rockstar preacher
Who won’t wake us from our dreams
We want our blessings in our pocket
We keep our missions overseas
But for the hurting in our cities
Would we even cross the street?

Huh but we wanna see the heart set free and the tyrants kneel
The walls fall down and our land be healed
But church if we want to see a change in the world out there

It’s got to start right here
It’s got to start right now Lord,
I’m starting right here Lord,
I’m starting right now

I’m like the brother of the prodigal
Who turned his nose and puffed his chest
He didn’t run off like his brother
But his soul was just as dead
What if the church on Sunday

Was still the church on Monday too?
What if we came down from our towers
And walked a mile in someone’s shoes?

Hmm ’cause we wanna see the heart set free and the tyrants kneel
The walls fall down and our land be healed
But church if we want to see a change in the world out there

It’s got to start right here
It’s got to start right now
Lord, I’m starting right here Lord,
I’m starting right now

We’re the people who are called by His name
If we’ll surrender all our pride and turn from our ways
He will hear from Heaven and forgive our sin
He will heal our land but it starts right here
We’re the people who are called by His name
If we’ll surrender all our pride and turn from our ways
He will hear from Heaven and forgive our sin
He will heal our land

It’s got to start right here
It’s got to start right now
Lord, I’m starting right here Lord,
I’m starting right now
It’s got to start right here
It’s got to start right now
Lord, I’m starting right here Lord,
I’m starting right now

Songwriters: Mark John Hall / Bernie Herms / Seth David Mosley / Matthew Joseph West Start Right Here lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

June 5 – What is the Matter with the Disciples?

As you start reading today, you might think this sounds familiar. Didn’t Jesus just feed 5000+ people? There is an interesting repetition from the end of chapter 6 to chapter 8. The first accounts that began with the feeding of the 5000 took place on the west side of the Sea of Galilee in a predominantly Jewish area. Jesus reprimands the Pharisees, is in the boat with the disciples, and heals a man. The similar events we read in chapter 8 take place on the east side of the Sea of Galilee where the population was mainly Gentile. Mark’s gospel shows Jesus reaching all people – both Jews and Gentiles.

Mark 8: 1 – 26 NLT

Jesus Feeds Four Thousand

“About this time another large crowd had gathered, and the people ran out of food again. Jesus called his disciples and told them, 2 “I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. 3 If I send them home hungry, they will faint along the way. For some of them have come a long distance.”

4 His disciples replied, “How are we supposed to find enough food to feed them out here in the wilderness?”

5 Jesus asked, “How much bread do you have?”

“Seven loaves,” they replied.

6 So Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to his disciples, who distributed the bread to the crowd. 7 A few small fish were found, too, so Jesus also blessed these and told the disciples to distribute them.

8 They ate as much as they wanted. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. 9 There were about 4,000 men in the crowd that day, and Jesus sent them home after they had eaten. 10 Immediately after this, he got into a boat with his disciples and crossed over to the region of Dalmanutha.

Pharisees Demand a Miraculous Sign

11 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had arrived, they came and started to argue with him. Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority.

12 When he heard this, he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why do these people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not give this generation any such sign.” 13 So he got back into the boat and left them, and he crossed to the other side of the lake.

Yeast of the Pharisees and Herod

14 But the disciples had forgotten to bring any food. They had only one loaf of bread with them in the boat. 15 As they were crossing the lake, Jesus warned them, “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.”

16 At this they began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread. 17 Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? 18 ‘You have eyes— can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?’ (Jeremiah 5: 21) Don’t you remember anything at all? 19 When I fed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread, how many baskets of leftovers did you pick up afterward?”

“Twelve,” they said.

20 “And when I fed the 4,000 with seven loaves, how many large baskets of leftovers did you pick up?”

“Seven,” they said.

21 “Don’t you understand yet?” he asked them.

Jesus Heals a Blind Man

22 When they arrived at Bethsaida, some people brought a blind man to Jesus, and they begged him to touch the man and heal him. 23 Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Then, spitting on the man’s eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked, “Can you see anything now?”

24 The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.”

25 Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again, and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored, and he could see everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him away, saying, “Don’t go back into the village on your way home.”

The first half of Mark’s gospel is about this question: Who is Jesus? When we look at these verses in chapter 8, you might wonder why the disciples hadn’t figured out the answer to that question. Perhaps to give them a bit of an excuse, these events likely happened over a period of months. It wasn’t a case of feeding the 5000 and then a few days later feeding 4000. But even so, it does seem strange that they don’t seem to remember what Jesus is capable of. I think I would have remembered such an amazing event as feeding well over 5000 people with basically nothing for a long time. And then they get in the boat, forget to bring some food, and get upset about it. What? These disciples sure don’t sound very bright.

But before we get too judgmental, let’s stop and think about this for a minute.

When did you become a Christ follower? How long had you heard about Jesus? How many Bible stories did you hear both from the Old Testament and the New Testament? How many Christians had you met who took their faith seriously, and you thought they were a little crazy? In fact, did you ever think that this Christianity stuff was just myth and absolutely unbelievable from a scientific point of view?

You might say I’ve been a Christ follower since I was a young child. I was raised in a Christian home, and have believed for as long as I can remember. I have another question for you. Have you ever doubted that God was taking care of you? Have you ever doubted while in a difficult situation that God’s promise that ‘all things will work together for good’ is true? Have you ever felt that you’ve made some mistakes that you’re not sure God has forgiven? Are you carrying around that shame in your mind? Do you truly believe that God loves you no matter what?

You see, we’re not always that accepting of what God says and does either? I was raised in a Christian home and accepted Jesus personally when I was 8 years old. There were times when I questioned whether I had been fed a nice, proper religious line, especially when I was away from home at university. Even after I decided my faith was genuine, there have been times when life got rough that I wondered if God was really there, had I built my life on a myth. I can’t point my finger at the disciples.

So I can’t judge the disciples, and I suspect, neither can you. Tomorrow we’ll look at the turning point in the disciples’ lives. They were following Jesus, no doubt about that. They had left their jobs and families to travel with Jesus. They thought he was wonderful, and worth being with, but at this point, they still didn’t really comprehend who he was. But that is going to change. That doesn’t mean they will be perfect Jesus followers, but they are finally getting it. We’re just like them. We’re not perfect in our faith either, but God is patient and continues to work with each one of us.

Romans 2:4 – “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”

June 4 – Something Exciting

Today, I’m excited to introduce another devotions writer from LSA. I’ve been praying for other volunteers for this ministry, so that I can take a break now and then. Also, I think we all benefit from the perspective of more than one person. Here’s some info about Brittany, and then her first devotion for us.

Brittany McCann (Hayward)

Brittany McCann is a long-time resident of Essex County, where she resides with her husband, daughter and step-son. Brittany has lived abroad in both Australia and Hawaii and has spent many years travelling. She has a degree in Communications and Visual Arts, as well as a theological Masters in Global Studies which has taken her studies to Israel and Rwanda. She has attended Lakeshore St. Andrews church for over 15 years, consistently involved in church ministries. Currently a stay-at-home mom, Brittany finds herself outside with her husband and kids, applying and challenging her faith, and asking how to live life to the fullest.

PAUSE

Lately, my 7-year old step-son inquires how many days it is leading up to his birthday, sharing with us how he will spend the day. Although, the other day, he wanted to know how many days he’s been alive. Through an online calculator, we figured out that as of yesterday afternoon he is 2 709 days, 3 902 976 minutes and 234 124 633 seconds old. As, I watched the seconds click by on the online counter I thought about how all these many seconds have surpassed on this stopwatch, but I can’t tell him what number they will stop at.

Unlike years passed, 2020 has felt like a stop watch that has paused, or maybe even broke down. Life as we know it seems to have halted. Days become a blur and mimic each other, the four walls that surround us seem to be closing in.

Thinking on all these things, makes me reflect that our time on earth is limited and worth something. That we can conclude much about humanity, yet no scientist, or scholar can predict when our time will be up. So, with this extra time, or paused time, ‘should’ I take up my time reading, baking bread, shopping online, purging clothes? I’m not sure how you’ve preached to yourself that it’s going to be okay, but I’m reminded we all have the same amount of time in a day. Time can be used, wasted, or treasured but never gotten back. What seemed to fill my day previous to the pandemic wasn’t deemed too essential when it came down to it, yet it revealed all that I was left with- which was time.

“The best use of life is love. The best expression of love is time. The best time to love is now. “
Rick Warren *

A passage for your interpretation is Ecclesiastes 3: 9-12 MSG, which reads:

“But in the end, does it really make a difference what anyone does? I’ve had a good look at what God has given us to do—busywork, mostly. True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time—but he’s left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he’s coming or going.”

Reading that, almost frees up your productive mind – simplifies things. What we can conclude is to enjoy the minutes, the seconds. Enjoy the faces you live with, the things you laugh at, the food you cook with. Our lives have been forced to be stripped back. It pushes us to find gratitude.

We’ve all felt the pain of not seeing loved ones, distancing from embraces, and loosing out on simple social freedoms. What I can encourage is; do what you can, yet, be okay with not doing. Love the space you live in, and think on the moments that have gone before you. And even though there’re days that we can’t seem to, we know there’s a God who can.

“Though the cherry trees don’t blossom
and the strawberries don’t ripen,
Though the apples are worm-eaten
and the wheat fields stunted,
Though the sheep pens are sheepless
and the cattle barns empty,
I’m singing joyful praise to God.
I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.
Counting on God’s Rule to prevail,
I take heart and gain strength.”

Habakkuk 3:17 MSG

I remember an art professor of mine who had tattooed on her forearm, pause. It always caught my eye. I never knew the meaning behind it. Perhaps a personal mantra, or reflective reminder. I want to think of quarantine as to be life on pause, oppose to a complete stop. Maybe this can help our days ahead to look differently, to value what may seem empty, but is yet a very full life lived, and cherish whatever seconds lie ahead.

“I hope today is one of those days you find joy right here in the waiting. I hope uncertainty in this season does not hinder you from creating. You are free to paint new things without knowing what tomorrow will be. You are free to practise the art of trusting right here in the wild of waiting. So much unknown and yet, there is this effortless rhythm called grace, inviting you to go deeper into living right HERE, before the future things fall in place.“ -Morgan Harper Nichols * further reading:

Romans 1:19 MSG

“Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being.”

Proverbs 13:7 MSG
A pretentious, showy life is an empty life; a plain and simple life is a full life.

June 3 – Jesus Ventures into Gentile Territory

Mark 7: 24 – 36 NLT

“The Faith of a Gentile Woman

24 Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know which house he was staying in, but he couldn’t keep it a secret. 25 Right away a woman who had heard about him came and fell at his feet. Her little girl was possessed by an evil spirit, 26 and she begged him to cast out the demon from her daughter.

Since she was a Gentile, born in Syrian Phoenicia, 27 Jesus told her, “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

28 She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even the dogs under the table are allowed to eat the scraps from the children’s plates.”

29 “Good answer!” he said. “Now go home, for the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And when she arrived home, she found her little girl lying quietly in bed, and the demon was gone.”

Jesus and his disciples have been incredibly busy. They tried to go to a remote place for some rest, but the crowds followed them there and needed to be fed. Coming back into Galilee didn’t make things less busy. So Jesus leaves Galilee and heads to an area about 20 miles north of Capernaum which was considered primarily Gentile territory. His name and stories of miracles have preceded him as a Gentile woman comes into the house where he is staying and falls at his feet asking him to cast a demon out of her daughter.

As Christians today, when we read this account in Mark, we likely cringe when Jesus says, “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” To call Gentiles “dogs” is really rude. Once again, I turned to commentaries to see what they had to say. Steve Wilmhurst in A Ransom for Many says this: “she is a Greek-speaker, culturally alien to Israel. She is from Phoenicia, the coastal strip of what is now Lebanon – administratively it is part of Syria, but what counts is her: she has nothing to do with the Jews. To understand what this means we must remember how the Jews thought of the Gentiles. One of the daily prayers used by Jewish men of the time went like this: ‘Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has not created me a woman; who has not created me a Gentile; who has not created me a slave, or an ignoramus.’ But here is a Gentile woman, the lowest of the low for a devout Jewish man. So how will Jesus, a devout Jewish man, respond to her? Perhaps given that background, his response is not quite so unexpected, but it still shocks us (v.27). His meaning is plain enough: he is here to feed the children, not the dogs.” …

There are two reasons why he speaks as he does. One is that he is simply telling the truth. Jesus’ mission at this point is focused on the Jews. Two thousand years of history, beginning with Abraham and running down through the centuries since, have not quite finished yet. Everything about Jesus is Jewish. His royal ancestry through the line of David; his birth in Bethlehem, ‘royal David’s city’; his religious upbringing; his visits to the Temple; the language he speaks – all are Jewish; and all reflect the fact that for two thousand years God has been dealing with the world through the nation of Israel and the Jewish race. If the rest of the world want to encounter the one, true living God, they need to go up to Jerusalem and become Jews. Up to this point, they are the children and we Gentiles are the dogs. Jesus’ mission continues that story. His ministry of teaching, healing and driving out demons is for the Jews. The children must be fed: he cannot take their bread and fling it to the dogs. The Jews come first in the purposes of God.

But there is a second reason for Jesus’ response. We know that by the way the story concludes. In the end, Jesus will not reject this woman. This verdict about the children and the dogs is not the final word. Jesus is testing her to see how she herself will respond to such a blunt judgement. If Jesus’ response shocks us, the woman’s reply to him is breathtaking (v.28). She makes just a small change to the picture he has painted. In her picture, the dogs are under the table, where they can pick up the crumbs that fall from the master’s table – but they are still dogs! She is willing to take the lowly position he has assigned her. In effect she is saying, I understand that the Jews are your first love and they demand all your attention. But surely there are some small leftovers for me – surely you can drop me a few crumbs – and that is all I am asking! Almost unique in the gospel story, this Gentile woman, this outsider, holds her own in a conversation with the Lord Jesus. She puts his own dull, male disciples to shame! She does so, not by being proud and laying down the Law, as the Pharisees have done; not by trying to outwit him with smart arguments, as the Sadducees would do; but wonderfully, by listening to his words; looking into his face; and asking him for mercy.”

There was a definite divide between Jews and Gentiles. For over 2000 years, the Jews had been God’s special people, a light to the world around them. Jesus’ coming was going to change that. In the various gospel accounts, we see Jesus interacting with the Gentiles. None were ever turned aside, even though they may have been questioned about their faith. Paul talks about this divide in Ephesians, and we’ll take a look at what was said there:

“Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.” (Romans 2: 11 – 22)

God’s love and forgiveness are for all people today. We can be critical of the Jews in Jesus’ day thinking they were incredibly prejudiced and intolerant. But, we need to be careful that we don’t divide people into categories based on race, economic differences, education, job status, etc. “For this is how God loved the WORLD: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3: 16)

“Jesus Heals a Deaf Man

31 Jesus left Tyre and went up to Sidon before going back to the Sea of Galilee and the region of the Ten Towns. 32 A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to him, and the people begged Jesus to lay his hands on the man to heal him.

33 Jesus led him away from the crowd so they could be alone. He put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then, spitting on his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue. 34 Looking up to heaven, he sighed and said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened!” 35 Instantly the man could hear perfectly, and his tongue was freed so he could speak plainly!

36 Jesus told the crowd not to tell anyone, but the more he told them not to, the more they spread the news. 37 They were completely amazed and said again and again, “Everything he does is wonderful. He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who cannot speak.”

Jesus is now going to the east side of the Sea of Galilee, an area not far from the place where the herd of pigs drowned when possessed by demons. Mark is the only one who includes this story in his gospel. Thanks to the commentaries I’ve read, this story is a bit unusual and has a prophetic message.

Friends brought this man who was deaf and had a speech impediment to Jesus; he didn’t come on his own. Jesus takes him away to a more private place which is unusual. It appears that Jesus wanted this man to completely understand what was happening. Jesus could have healed him by just saying so; in fact, Jesus doesn’t even have to be with someone to heal them. He had just healed the Gentile woman’s daughter by saying the demons were gone when the girl was in her home. Here Jesus puts his fingers in the man’s ears – as if to make sure the man realized that Jesus would do something for his hearing. He then touched the man’s tongue, again making sure the man knew something would happen with his speech issue. Jesus looked up to heaven helping the man be aware that his healing came from God. Then Jesus used a word rarely used in the Bible – ephphatha. It is also used in Isaiah in a passage that describes the Messiah bringing a new age. There is a verse in the New Testament that also talks about Jesus’ coming bringing a new time. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5: 17 NIV)

Mark is deliberately telling us stories that show who Jesus really is – God Himself come to earth. He is bringing a new time – a time where the traditions of the Pharisees are no longer a way to earn God’s favour, a time when Gentiles will also have God’s healing power, a time when people who don’t understand who Jesus is will come to know him personally.

Today’s devotions are more of a teaching/learning experience. I appreciate getting to understand what the Bible says, and to learn about practices or language that help me understand how complex the Bible is. This reinforces my conviction that the Bible is truth, and not some fairy- tale myth.

June 2 – Tradition or Relationship?

Mark 7: 1 – 23 NLT

Jesus Teaches about Inner Purity

7 One day some Pharisees and teachers of religious law arrived from Jerusalem to see
Jesus. 2 They noticed that some of his disciples failed to follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating. 3 (The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions. 4 Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of many traditions they have clung to—such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles.)

5 So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, “Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.”

6 Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 Their worship is a farce,
for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’ (Isaiah 29: 13)

8 For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.”

9 Then he said, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. 10 For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’(Exodus
20:12) and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’(Exodus 21: 17) 11 But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’(tradition known as corban) 12 In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. 13 And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.”

14 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.” (Some translations also include “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” v. 16)

17 Then Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowd, and his disciples asked him what he meant by the parable he had just used. 18 “Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? 19 Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)

[Scholars say the Book of Mark was written while Mark was in Rome with Paul. Peter was also there, and they were likely discussing Peter’s experience in Acts 10: 9 – 20) where Peter has the vision with the sheet dropping from the skies with ‘unclean’ animals and God telling him to eat them. This was also God’s instructions to spread the gospel to the Gentiles.]

20 And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”

It’s interesting that almost right after Jesus feeds 5000 and more people, that the Pharisees come with a complaint about washing your hands before eating. (Would those people in a remote area have washed their hands?) From reading commentaries, I discovered that cleanliness was an Old Testament requirement before coming in God’s presence. The priests especially were required to clean their hands before going into the tabernacle or later, the temple. It was definitely a requirement before offering a sacrifice. Over the hundreds of years, the Pharisees made hand washing into a big requirement for many things. People who did that faithfully would receive God’s blessing. This became a man-made tradition, and since it was often done publicly, people could admire you for your religious faithfulness.

Jesus lambastes the Pharisees for their hypocritical behaviour. They are all concerned about appearances, not what is really going on within a person. He gives that dreadful example of people who wanted to keep their money; they would say it belonged to God. The priests would accept that in a ceremony, but the money wasn’t required until the person died. That way, they could enjoy their money and leave their parents destitute – religious tradition superseding care for family.

Steve Wilmhurst says this about the Pharisees in his book, A Ransom for Many:

“The laws about what was clean and unclean were there to teach God’s people a vital lesson, a symbol of the fundamental truth that to come into God’s presence you have to be pure, because he himself is holy and pure. So God set up this system to teach them about holiness, purity and cleanness. The Pharisees hijacked that system and made it into a heavy weight to hang round people’s necks, but the basic idea was there in the Law and for good reason. Now, with Jesus’ arrival on the scene, none of that is needed any more. Just as all the animal sacrifices point forward to the death of the real sacrifice, the Lord Jesus himself, so all the teaching about ‘clean and unclean’ points to the cleanness on the inside that only Jesus can give us. So when Jesus arrives, no more sacrifices are needed and no more kosher laws either.
The fact is that traditions give us a comfort zone. If you ask someone who has converted to Islam why they have done that, they will often tell you that Islam offers a system. It tells you exactly what to do in every situation: a structure to fit into; an exact time and place to pray; an exact calculation of how much money to give: in short, precise measurements of godliness. You can always tell exactly how well you are doing. Isn’t that appealing – isn’t that attractive – isn’t that safe? As it was for the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, tradition becomes a security blanket. All that matters is that you keep to the tradition, keep to the rules, and all will be well.

Even closer to home, this is the way that many so-called Christians live their lives. Perhaps their parents brought them up to be religious, to try their best and keep the rules? For them, going to church is about looking right, going through the right motions. Then whatever happens the rest of the week, at least they have been in church, ticked the box one more time, kept the tradition. But what does Jesus say? ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; and they worship me in vain’ (v. 6 – 7) In other words, their lives are nothing more than outward show. If we have no genuine, live engagement with God, then we have completely missed the point – just as the Pharisees did in the time of Jesus.”

Jesus says, “It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.” With the arrival of God in human form on this planet, things have changed. It’s not about following rules and traditions. It’s now about a relationship with God that stems from a clean heart. How in the world do we get that when Jesus says all the horrible things come from our hearts? “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” (v. 20 – 23)

That is why Jesus’ death was necessary. That paid for all the sin of each one of us. Jesus rose from the dead to affirm that our separation from God because of sin was done away with forever. The Book of Romans has so many verses that tell us that Jesus’ death and resurrection did what was necessary for us. Let’s look at some of those verses.

By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand —out in the wide-open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.” (5: 1 – 2 The Message)

“We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.” (6: 6 NLT)

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” (8: 1 – 2 NLT)

“The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.” (8: 11 NLT)

“So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” (8: 15 – 16)

“If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 12 Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” (10: 9 – 13 NLT)

This relationship with God through faith is amazing. That is what we rely on throughout our lives. But sometimes, we get caught up in traditions too. We tend to judge people in our minds by what they do, where they go, etc. So … here are some questions from Francis Chan for each of us, including myself, to think about:

Consider your spiritual life. How have you unwittingly added conditions to your righteousness, behaving as if adherence to traditions or rules will determine how pleased God is with you?

What sort of actions look righteous? Now, how can a person engage in those while inwardly being unrighteous? When have you done this? How can you avoid such double-mindedness in the future?

A Ransom for Many: the Gospel of Mark Simply Explained – Chapter 7 – Steve Wilmhurst, Welwyn Commentary Series, 2011, Evangelical Press

June 1 – With His Love He Will Calm All Your Fears

Zephaniah 3:17  (NLT)

Zephaniah 3:17  (NLT)

“For the Lord your God is living among you.    
He is a mighty saviour.
He will take delight in you with gladness.    
With his love, he will calm all your fears    
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

In this pandemic time, we have so man conflicting moments. Sometimes I feel relaxed and happy to be able to read a good book, or get some things done I’ve been putting off. Sometimes I feel edgy, just can’t seem to concentrate on much. Sometimes I feel so sad that I can’t spend time with family and friends the way I used to. I wonder when things will return to normal – whatever that may look like. I suspect you feel the same way.

A verse like the one today helps calm those fears and worries. “For the Lord your God is living among you.” We need to remind ourselves that God is living with us, in the present, and in our lives. He is right here! Sometimes when I worry, God seems so far away. I need to remind myself He is present in these difficult times. “God is living among you.” He is living in you and me! He is living in this pandemic.

God is a “mighty saviour”. Sometimes when I think about Jesus as my savior, the picture that comes to mind is Jesus on the cross. That’s almost a sad and helpless picture – one of someone suffering at the hands of others. But God is a “mighty saviour”, and that is truth. He can suffer absolute horror in bearing our sin, and rise again victorious. This is the God who is living with you – a might savior. He knows how to live through a pandemic, and come out the other side triumphant.

“He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

Aren’t those marvelous words? He loves you. He delights in being with you. He’s actually singing over you. Just imagine a deep, soothing baritone voice singing over you – calming all your fears. Oh, Heavenly Father, when I’m worried and upset, help me to remember you understand and you are with me – that you love me and will take care of me.

When we are going through difficult times, we need to remind ourselves that there is a bright side in practical ways. MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) at our church has been meeting on Zoom since this pandemic started. I’m one of the mentor moms for the group – a job I love because of the fun and friendships in the group, and also, I learn so much from them. We were talking about the ups and downs of being in a pandemic. With young children, it’s so hard being kept away from their extended family’s support, and for their children not being able to have play dates or go to the park. But, several of them said their children were getting along better with each other, that they seemed to have figured out it was better to play and respect each other rather than fight and bicker over everything. Some kind of laughed about how their bank accounts seemed to be balancing better these days. Despite definitely hoping they could meet with friends soon, they admitted there were some upsides.

Today, I want you to think about the positive side of dealing with Covid-19. Can you think of something in your life that has actually improved over the past 3 months? Are there things you had been putting aside because you were too busy, and now you’ve had a chance to get caught up? Have you tried some new hobbies? My granddaughter works in a garden nursery, and apparently the business there is much greater than usual. People are doing more gardening. I’ve been more in touch with my sisters who live around the province using media chat rooms. On Sundays, it’s “game time” as my daughters and grandchildren get together to play games on Zoom – that includes my daughter who lives in the UK. I wonder if we’ll keep it up a little once the pandemic ends?

Think of those positive things, but more than that, think of the God who loves you.

“For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

Here is our song for today – Nobody Loves Me Like You Do by Chris Tomlin

Morning, I see You in the sunrise every morning
It’s like a picture that You’ve painted for me
A love letter in the sky

Story, I could’ve had a really different story
But You came down from heaven to restore me
Forever saved my life

Nobody loves me like You love me, Jesus
I stand in awe of Your amazing ways
I worship You as long as I am breathing
God, You are faithful and true
Nobody loves me like You

Mountains, You’re breaking down the weight of all my mountains
Even when it feels like I’m surrounded
You never leave my side, oh oh oh

Nobody loves me like You love me, Jesus
I stand in awe of Your amazing ways
I worship You as long as I am breathing
God, You are faithful and true
Nobody loves me like You

Oh, what a song to sing
Oh, what a song to sing
Oh, what a song to sing
Oh, what a song (my heart keeps singing)
Oh, what a song to sing (what a song)
Oh, what a song to sing (I’ll never stop)
Oh, what a song to sing
Jesus, You love me
And I love You, God

Nobody loves me like You love me, Jesus
I stand in awe of Your amazing ways
I worship You as long as I am breathing
God, I will worship You, forever worship You
Nobody loves me like You love me, Jesus
I stand in awe of Your amazing ways
I worship You as long as I am breathing
God, You are faithful and true
Nobody loves me like You

Nobody loves me like You love me, Jesus (I’m a child of God)
I stand in awe of Your amazing ways (yes, I am)
Nobody loves me like You
Nobody loves me like You

May 29 – Jesus Loves Me, This I Know

Romans 8:35-39 (NLT)

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” – Psalm 44:22) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I think these verses are in the top favourites of mine. There is really nothing more I can say about these verses. They state so clearly that God loves me. There is nothing that can happen, or that I can do, that will stop God from loving me. In this pandemic time, the phrase that stands out to me is “neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow … can separate us from God’s love”.

Stop for a moment and think about the loving relationships you have had in your life. We live in a broken world, so even the best relationships can have some rocky times. But think about the love your parents had for you, and all the crazy things you did that they overlooked because they loved you. Think about the love you shared with your siblings and your friends. Think about the love you have for your partner, your children. Despite the ups and downs of our human relationships, we tend to do as much as we can to make them flourish. We don’t ignore them or do things we know will upset them a lot. We usually go out of our way to show them we love them. Yet our love on earth is flawed, but God’s isn’t.

God is perfect, God Almighty. God says NOTHING can separate us from his love. Read these verses again in the paraphrase from The Message. If you are struggling with the isolation and frustration of living with the coronavirus, remember that you are loved and cherished by God. He will not abandon you or ignore you.

“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable— absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”

Song for today: The Love of God by Mercy Me

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell
The guilty pair, bowed down with care
God gave His Son to win
His erring child He reconciled
And pardoned from his sin

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade

To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song

May 28 – God Is So Patient

Mark 6: 30 – 56 NLT

“Jesus Feeds Five Thousand

30 The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. 31 Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.

32 So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone. 33 But many people recognized them and saw them leaving, and people from many towns ran ahead along the shore and got there ahead of them. 34 Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

35 Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. 36 Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.”

37 But Jesus said, “You feed them.”

“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money (Greek It would take 200 denarii. A denarius was equivalent to a laborer’s full day’s wage) to buy food for all these people!”

38 “How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.”
They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”

39 Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of fifty or a hundred.

41 Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. 42 They all ate as much as they wanted, 43 and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. 44 A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed.”

“Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.” Have you ever been busy like that? So busy you didn’t even have time to eat? At that precise point in time, Jesus and his disciples had been through stressful, busy times. The disciples were back from their first mission. John the Baptist had just been beheaded. Can you imagine how Jesus felt about that death? His cousin’s death? The one who came to announce the coming of the Messiah? No wonder they wanted to get away to a quiet, restful place.

When they arrived at a remote place, there were thousands of people waiting for them. From the disciples’ reactions to the crowd and the eating dilemma, I suspect they found this waiting throng upsetting. They had counted on some special time alone with Jesus. But Jesus “had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd”. God, himself, couldn’t brush these people aside. He saw how confused and troubled they were, how much they needed him. If there’s ever a day when you question whether God really pays attention to you, remember this account in Mark. Jesus was tired, emotionally grieving, and hungry – but he cared for those people who really didn’t acknowledge who he was; they were just searching for something to make life better. When you feel like you are’ at the end of your rope’, God cares. He won’t ignore you.

There were at least 5000 people there. Some think there could have been as many as 10, 000 since women and children weren’t usually counted in that historical time. They were hungry and in a remote place. Some translations say a desert place. Jesus feeds them with 5 loaves of bread (likely more like what we call rolls/buns) and 2 fish. Frankly, I think we could say Jesus fed them out of nothing. These people had been walking all day tracking Jesus’ movements in the boat as it crossed the sea. They had little to eat, and I’m assuming were very hungry – and tired. They ate as much as they could so they would have the energy to walk home. AND there were 12 baskets of leftovers collected.

I wonder if this event ‘rang any bells’ in their heads about Jewish history. The Jewish people were wandering in the wilderness (a remote, desert area) for 40 years under the leadership of Moses. They were on a slow move, not settled down in one place where they could grow crops.

God fed them daily with manna. God can take care of his people. He takes care of the most basic needs – food. Paul repeated that truth as he wrote to the Philippians.

“And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” (4: 19) Once again, I need to remind myself and remind you that God cares for us, and is able to take care of what we need.

“Jesus Walks on Water

45 Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and head across the lake to Bethsaida, while he sent the people home. 46 After telling everyone good-bye, he went up into the hills by himself to pray.

47 Late that night, the disciples were in their boat in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land. 48 He saw that they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the water, they cried out in terror, thinking he was a ghost. 50 They were all terrified when they saw him.

But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage! I am here!” 51 Then he climbed into the boat, and the wind stopped. They were totally amazed, 52 for they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.

53 After they had crossed the lake, they landed at Gennesaret. They brought the boat to
shore 54 and climbed out. The people recognized Jesus at once, 55 and they ran throughout the whole area, carrying sick people on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 Wherever he went— in villages, cities, or the countryside—they brought the sick out to the marketplaces. They begged him to let the sick touch at least the fringe of his robe, and all who touched him were healed.”

Jesus likely sent the disciples away quickly to avoid some kind of uprising by these people who would see Jesus as a better leader than the Romans. Leading a political rebellion was not Jesus’ mission on earth; he may have wanted the disciples to get out of there before they could get caught up in something like that. Jesus also wanted some time alone with God. Jesus could see the boat out on the sea, and knew they were facing tough winds. This wasn’t the horrific storm that we read about in chapter 4 – just tough rowing in strong wind.

There is an interesting statement in verse 48. “About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them.” Jesus came to them quickly when they cried out in terror, but why did he intend to go by them in the first place. Steve Wilmhurst in his book, A Ransom for Many, talks about that verse:

“Just as the feeding of the five thousand is about much more than filling people’s stomachs, so this miracle of walking on the water is far more than Jesus proving he has an alternative to the boat! Once again, this story has deep roots in the Old Testament. This time we look back to the book of Job, and to this speech where Job is praising God for his wisdom and power in creating the world: Job 9:8-11. ‘He alone’ – that is, God alone – ‘treads on the waves of the sea’. Now here is Jesus, treading on the waves of the sea. What does that make Jesus? Here is the first clue to something that was quite puzzling in the story. In v.48 we read ‘he was about to pass by them’.
If Jesus wants to come and help them, why would he be heading straight past? The Job passage is a hint. In the Old Testament, when people get a glimpse of the glory of God, it’s often said that he ‘passes by’. When God appears to Moses at Sinai, we read that ‘he passed in front of Moses’ (Exodus 34:6). 1 Kings 19:11 says something similar. Out on the lake, Jesus is doing what God does: passing by in his power and glory. In this story we see the Lord Jesus as the majestic Creator, the Lord Jesus who is God himself, who can tread on the waters of the sea because he has made them, they belong to him and they obey his command. If walking on the water breaks the laws of physics, which of course it does, that is not a problem for the one who devised those laws before the universe was made. We can call them ‘laws’ only because they reflect the faithful character of the God who sustains them. If he wills to ‘break’ them, he can do so!”

When I read commentaries on the verses for a day’s devotions, I get some good information about the history of the time, and the meaning of the verses from scholars who do great research. Sometimes I also read some relevant comments that apply to our lives, and I don’t want to summarize them or not give credit to the original author. Steve Wilmhurst goes on to talk about the disciples and their reaction to Jesus that night. He has some great comments about God’s patience with people who love God, but tend to lack faith. Again, God cares about us and is patient as we get to know him more.

“Look at the disciples. They have been struggling to row across the lake; Jesus arrives, walking on the water, and they are terrified. Look again at vv.51-52. Now of course the disciples know that a miracle happened when Jesus fed the crowds. But for all that, they don’t understand. They don’t get the point about who Jesus really is. Mark tells us ‘their hearts were hardened’ – they don’t have that spiritual openness to grasp the real Jesus and trust him. In fact they don’t understand Jesus much better than his enemies, at this point. They have spent so much time with him, seen him do so much, but they still don’t see. They should see that if Jesus can make one bread roll feed a thousand people, there is no limit to what he can do; that if he cares enough to feed a whole crowd of strangers, he is hardly likely to abandon his best friends. But this kind of hardness is not about your intelligence, it’s about faith, about believing in Jesus.

The disciples should also understand what living with Jesus is like. If you want a good picture of the Christian life, look at this story. You get into trouble; you struggle; you cry for help; and Jesus comes to your rescue. Then pretty soon it happens again. It’s a constant pattern of trial and deliverance, trial and deliverance. Trials and difficulties are perfectly normal in the Christian life. These disciples are in difficulty not because they’ve done anything wrong: they have done exactly what Jesus has told them to do. They’re not in trouble because they’ve gone wrong; they’re in trouble because that’s what happens. The path of obeying Christ lies through trials and difficulties. As Jesus says to his disciples later: ‘In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33) – one of the simplest but most important lessons a Christian has to learn. We should never expect the Christian life to be plain sailing. All too often it’s more like rowing into a strong headwind. It’s through these struggles that our faith is built up. This is how we learn to trust in the Lord for everything – you don’t learn that when everything is going swimmingly, you learn it when it’s tough.”

From: A Ransom for Many: the Gospel of Mark Simply Explained by Steve Wilmhurst, Welwyn Commentary Series, Evangelical Press, 2011 – chapter 7

May 27 – How Do People React to Jesus?

Mark 6: 1 – 29 NLT

“Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

Jesus left that part of the country and returned with his disciples to Nazareth, his hometown. 2 The next Sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. They asked, “Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?” 3 Then they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.

4 Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.” 5 And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.”

Today we look at that story about Jesus’ hometown rejecting him, and wonder why they didn’t see how wonderful he was. First of all, we need to understand the concept of God that the Jewish people had back then. He was God Almighty, someone they feared. They had the Ten Commandments to keep along with many other rules and regulations. The high priest was only allowed to go into the Holy of Holies once a year, and that was looked on with great awe. God was powerful and remote. But, here was Jesus. He grew up here. They knew his family. He had left the town earlier, and just came back, and now claimed to be God’s son? This was just crazy. “They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.”

Francis Chan talks about them being offended in his Bible study on the Book of Mark. “Mark writes that when the Jewish community heard Jesus teaching, they took offense. The Greek word is skandalizo, from which we get the English term ‘scandal’. Throughout the New Testament, skandalizo often shows up to describe Jewish reactions to Jesus. Sometimes it takes the form of a noun and gets translated ‘stumbling block’”.

In 2020, talking about Jesus is almost looked at with disdain. So many in the media portray Christians as bigoted, cliquish, not very bright. We also don’t want to offend anyone, so we hesitate to talk about our faith. We don’t want to look prejudiced in a culture that touts tolerance. Francis Chan says, “That doesn’t mean we should be divisive or impolite when we tell people about Jesus. But we should expect the message itself to come across like a scandal.”

Think about times you’ve talked about Jesus and faced resistance. What objections did the person/people you were talking to bring up? Was your faith strengthened by this uncomfortable faith conversation? Or are you even more nervous now about sharing your faith? Even though we are aware that people will challenge us if we talk about our faith, God wants us to share this wonderful news. Frankly, in 2020, that scares me to death. I am very aware that many reactions to Jesus will mean rejection – and I don’t want to upset people.

“Jesus Sends Out the Twelve Disciples

Then Jesus went from village to village, teaching the people. 7 And he called his twelve disciples together and began sending them out two by two, giving them authority to cast out
evil spirits. 8 He told them to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick—no food, no traveler’s bag, no money. 9 He allowed them to wear sandals but not to take a change of clothes.

10 “Wherever you go,” he said, “stay in the same house until you leave town. 11 But if any place refuses to welcome you or listen to you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.”

12 So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to
God. 13 And they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil. …

30 The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught.”

Here we have the account of the disciples’ first training mission. Jesus sent them out in pairs. The Bible never tells us who the pairs were, but it would be interesting to know who they were with. For example, was doubting, shy Thomas sent with impetuous Peter? Jesus gave them special power to heal and cast out demons. They were to preach repentance and turning to God. He told them to go without any supplies, allowing them to experience life totally dependent on God. Jesus told them some would reject them, and to expect that. If people did not welcome them, they were to leave. When they returned, they had many stories to tell about what they had done, and what they had learned. It sounds like they were excited about that first mission on their own.

We too should expect both rejection and acceptance when we share our faith. The exciting part is some do decide to follow Jesus. Have you ever invited someone to come to your church with you, and eventually they decide to become a Christ follower? I’ve talked with friends at LSA who were neighbours for years. One rather joked about the other’s religious bent for years, but now is an excited believer. Isn’t that fantastic!

Now we’re going to read a horrific story.

“The Death of John the Baptist

14 Herod Antipas, the king, soon heard about Jesus, because everyone was talking about him. Some were saying, “This must be John the Baptist raised from the dead. That is why he can do such miracles.” 15 Others said, “He’s the prophet Elijah.” Still others said, “He’s a prophet like the other great prophets of the past.”

16 When Herod heard about Jesus, he said, “John, the man I beheaded, has come back from the dead.”

17 For Herod had sent soldiers to arrest and imprison John as a favor to Herodias. She had been his brother Philip’s wife, but Herod had married her. 18 John had been telling Herod, “It is against God’s law for you to marry your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias bore a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But without Herod’s approval she was powerless, 20 for Herod respected John; and knowing that he was a good and holy man, he protected him. Herod was greatly disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him.

21 Herodias’s chance finally came on Herod’s birthday. He gave a party for his high government officials, army officers, and the leading citizens of Galilee. 22 Then his daughter, also named Herodias, (some manuscripts say the daughter of Herodias) came in and performed a dance that greatly pleased Herod and his guests. “Ask me for anything you like,” the king said to the girl, “and I will give it to you.” 23 He even vowed, “I will give you whatever you ask, up to half my kingdom!”

24 She went out and asked her mother, “What should I ask for?” Her mother told her, “Ask for the head of John the Baptist!”

25 So the girl hurried back to the king and told him, “I want the head of John the Baptist, right now, on a tray!”

26 Then the king deeply regretted what he had said; but because of the vows he had made in front of his guests, he couldn’t refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner to the prison to cut off John’s head and bring it to him. The soldier beheaded John in the prison, 28 brought his head on a tray, and gave it to the girl, who took it to her mother. 29 When John’s disciples heard what had happened, they came to get his body and buried it in a tomb.”

John the Baptist was the most amazing, humble man. All of his adult life, he lived in a wilderness area preaching and baptizing people, getting them ready for the Messiah. When Jesus came to be baptized, John felt he was completely unworthy to do that, to even stoop and tie Jesus’ sandals. This was a man completely devoted to God. And look at what happened to him. He was imprisoned, and then executed suddenly with no warning, with no support by his side.

This execution was by the hand of a depraved man used to getting whatever he wanted. He was one of the sons of Herod, the Great who was king when Jesus was born, who decided to kill all the Jewish boys 2 years old and under. Herod the Great had several wives and sons. Herodias was married to one of them when she decided to switch to Herod Antipas. The fact that she would send her daughter, likely a teenager, in to dance provocatively to a group of drunk men also shows what kind of family Herod had. To be a Christ follower in this situation would definitely be dangerous. But it didn’t stop John the Baptist from telling Herod Antipas that he was disobeying God.

In Canada, we are very unlikely to be subject to that kind of rule and lawlessness. But there are countries around our world that are very against the gospel. Pray for the missionaries who are called to those countries. By our standards, they are being very brave, but they are willing to follow God’s leading into very threatening situations.

These three stories in Mark 6 show us that some people accept the gospel message, some don’t really consider it seriously, and some totally reject Jesus. But the results don’t influence the call to share our faith. Jesus came himself, and sent his followers out as well. Honestly, it scares me to talk about my faith. I have a neighbour who often states her negative opinion about Christianity. We see each other often as she invites me for coffee on the patio in the evenings. I pray that someday, I’ll be brave enough to politely and nicely say I don’t agree with what she said.

Let’s pray for each other that we will share the good news of our faith, regardless of the outcome.

May 26 – God Really Wants Me to Deal with This Trust Issue

First of all, I want to acknowledge that Francis Chan’s Bible study on the Gospel of Mark influenced what I’m writing today. I watched the video on RightNow Media, and read over the study questions. His perspective really challenged me, and many of the things I’m going to ask you to think about came from his ideas.

Here are a couple of questions to start us off:

When have you experienced something that made you afraid? It might be right now during the pandemic with your job at risk, or your emotional health feeling a little shaky by being so shut-in and isolated. Or it could have been a time when you were facing a serious health crisis. Or a time when your marriage was falling apart. Or a time when your child was struggling with something. When have you been afraid?

In the middle of that fear, what was your perspective of God? Did do you have trouble trusting God with specific problems? If so, which ones and why?

Today’s scripture reading tells about 4 situations where people faced difficult situations.

Mark 4: 35 – 41 NLT “Jesus Calms the Storm

35 As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the sea.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.
38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”
39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”

Several of the disciples were fishermen who were quite familiar with the Sea of Galilee. They would be used to various weather situations on the sea, and the fact that they were terrified means it was a super bad storm. Jesus was asleep! The disciples woke him up and shouted, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” Stop for a moment. What were they saying? What were they asking? It looks like they were upset, afraid for their lives, and Jesus was the reason they were in this mess. He was the one who asked them to take him to the other side of the sea. Why wasn’t he at least awake and scared with them?

Jesus calms the sea – “Silence! Be still!” What was their reaction? They were terrified! What? Terrified? Shouldn’t they have been excited? Relieved? They had seen him teach and heal people. But his command over nature – wind and waves – seemed even greater. Who was he really?

Just think about yourself. You say you have faith in Jesus like the disciples would have said. But do you truly comprehend that Jesus has power over absolutely everything? Do you really believe that? When you face difficulties in our broken world, do you really think that Jesus is with you and can help you deal with whatever it is?

Mark 5: 1 – 43 NLT

“Jesus Heals a Demon-Possessed Man

So they arrived at the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus climbed out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. 4 Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones.

6 When Jesus was still some distance away, the man saw him, ran to meet him, and bowed low before him. 7 With a shriek, he screamed, “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In the name of God, I beg you, don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had already said to the spirit, “Come out of the man, you evil spirit.”

9 Then Jesus demanded, “What is your name?”
And he replied, “My name is Legion, because there are many of us inside this man.” 10 Then the

evil spirits begged him again and again not to send them to some distant place.

11 There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby. 12 “Send us into those pigs,” the spirits begged. “Let us enter them.”

13 So Jesus gave them permission. The evil spirits came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the entire herd of about 2,000 pigs plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned in the water.

14 The herdsmen fled to the nearby town and the surrounding countryside, spreading the news as they ran. People rushed out to see what had happened. 15 A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, and they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons. He was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid. 16 Then those who had seen what happened told the others about the demon-possessed man and the pigs. 17 And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone.

18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon possessed begged to go with him. 19 But Jesus said, “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.” 20 So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns (Decapolis) of that region and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them.”

Nature obeys Jesus! Demons obey Jesus! The man who was healed begs Jesus to take him along as Jesus gets into the boat. Try to picture that scene. This man has been extremely physically strong from the demons’ power. He has lived naked, screaming and cutting himself among the cave graveyard sites. Now he is calm and mentally and emotionally well. To say he ‘begged’ Jesus to come along is an understatement. I’m sure he desperately wanted to stay with Jesus. But he did what Jesus asked him to – he stayed and told people throughout the area how Jesus healed him. Here is a man who followed what Jesus asked of him, even though he would have preferred to accompany Jesus.

Then there were the people in the town. Were they excited that Jesus healed this man who had been so disruptive in the area? No. “And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone.” Jesus had disrupted their lifestyle when the pigs had drowned. We might have a tendency to think those people were foolish, and unwilling to accept Jesus – kind of ‘write-offs’. But here is a question for you and for me.

Do you truly believe Jesus is who he claims to be – God Himself? Are we willing to disrupt our daily routine or lifestyle to follow him? Do we feel the nudge of the Holy Spirit to get involved in some particular thing, but brush it aside because we already have plans or because it would mean we had to make some changes?

“Jesus Heals in Response to Faith

21 Jesus got into the boat again and went back to the other side of the lake, where a large crowd gathered around him on the shore. 22 Then a leader of the local synagogue, whose name was Jairus, arrived. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet, 23 pleading fervently with him. “My little daughter is dying,” he said. “Please come and lay your hands on her; heal her so she can live.”

24 Jesus went with him, and all the people followed, crowding around him. 25 A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. 26 She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. 28 For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition.

30 Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?”

31 His disciples said to him, “Look at this crowd pressing around you. How can you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

32 But he kept on looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell to her knees in front of him and told him what she had done. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”

35 While he was still speaking to her, messengers arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. They told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.”

36 But Jesus overheard (or ignored) them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”

37 Then Jesus stopped the crowd and wouldn’t let anyone go with him except Peter, James, and John (the brother of James). 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw much commotion and weeping and wailing. 39 He went inside and asked, “Why all this commotion and weeping? The child isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.”

40 The crowd laughed at him. But he made them all leave, and he took the girl’s father and mother and his three disciples into the room where the girl was lying. 41 Holding her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means “Little girl, get up!” 42 And the girl, who was twelve years old, immediately stood up and walked around! They were overwhelmed and totally amazed. 43 Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone what had happened, and then he told them to give her something to eat.”

There are 2 stories intertwined here. First, there is a lady who has been suffering from a bleeding issue for 12 years. She has spent all her money on various doctors and possible remedies. On this day, she acts on what she has heard, that Jesus can heal, so she wants to just touch him and hopes that will work. Maybe she had a strong faith, but I wonder if it was more like pure desperation. What I loved about Jesus’ response was that he wasn’t going to let her leave without connecting with him personally. “And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”

Jesus is a loving God. He wants us to have a personal relationship with him. He wants us to know his healing touch in our lives, so we can give the credit to him. Later we won’t say it was a lucky break, or maybe something else had influenced the outcome.

We see further evidence of Jesus’ love for us as he raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Jesus doesn’t make this a big event, something to make him even more famous. As he entered Jairus’ house, he said the girl was just sleeping. The crowd at the house laughed at that since they were sure she had died. But then, Jesus tells Jairus and his wife, as well as the three disciples with him, not to talk about what had happened. His incredible power over death was to remain quiet for now. Look at how Jesus healed her. He held her hand, and said some endearing words, “Little girl, get up!” That was something akin to “Sweetie, come here.” Jesus, Almighty God, has a loving relationship with us.

So, here are some questions for you and me:
* Do you have trouble trusting God with specific fears? If so, which ones and why?
* Have you ever been in a place in your life when you felt things were too far gone even for Jesus? * 8 * * What words would you use to describe that time in your life?
* How does this fact – that Jesus wants to be with you – impact your daily life? What can you do to remind yourself throughout the day of this truth – that a compassionate loving Saviour wants to be with you?

May 25 – Trust???

Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT
Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6 The Message
Trust GOD from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for GOD’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to GOD!

As the restrictions in the pandemic are gradually being lifted, what is your level of trust? Are you more nervous about going to stores and restaurants? Are you worried about the second wave of the pandemic getting its start? Some people don’t seem to understand the 6 feet social distancing guide. One day in the grocery store as I was picking up apples, an older man came right up next to me and reached over in front of me to pick some apples of his own. I just backed quietly away. I’m not sure if he realized what he was doing, since that behaviour was actually the norm before. Some people appear to be super nervous. I walk daily around Aspen Lake pond where there are usually not that many people – maybe 10 around the whole pond. Yet some people wear masks as they walk with no one remotely near them. In 2020, we definitely learning more about trust or a lack of it.

Proverbs tells us to trust God with all our hearts or from the bottom of our hearts. That would indicate a total complete trust. I suspect if you are like me, that you would say you do trust God totally. After all, God is Almighty God, Supreme, Creator of the Universe, loving, etc. Why wouldn’t I completely trust God. But …

I live in a broken world. Would God let me catch the coronavirus and die? Would God allow me to get some serious illness? Would God allow something bad to happen to my children? To my extended family? Would God let my marriage fall apart? Would God allow me to lose my job? Now do you get a hint of what I’m thinking? How much do I really trust God? When things in my life start to unravel, how much do I trust God?

I see some instructions in these verses in Proverbs. First, I do need to trust in God. When I get scared and nervous, I need to stop, take a deep breath, and affirm my trust in God, remind myself of who he is. A short prayer asking God to help me in that situation helps me remember that I can trust God.

“Do not depend on your own understanding”, “lean not on your own understanding”, “don’t try to figure out everything on your own”, “don’t assume that you know it all”.

I don’t think God is asking us to put our brains aside. We are made in God’s image, and he created us with the ability to think, dream and create. There’s a difference between searching for information, thinking things through and coming to what you think is a good solution to a problem – and – being intent on controlling everything around you. I have to admit that I have a tendency to want to keep things under control, to make sure everything goes smoothly and is well planned out. It’s taken a lot of experience over my 70+ years to realize that I need to trust God even when I think life is going downhill. One of those lessons came when I was looking for a teaching job after being a stay-at-home mom for 18 years. My husband had been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, and we had three daughters ranging in age from 10 to 18. The job in alternative education was one I never would have taken except I was desperate and it was the only one offered. Yet that job turned out to be the best one of my life, a job I enjoyed so much, and where I grew so much as a person. I learned once again that I could trust God.

“Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” “Submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

“Listen for GOD’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.”

How do I do that? I get to know my Bible so I know what God’s instructions are. For example, I know that God wants me to love my neighbour as myself – even though my neighbour might not be my first choice of a great person. I know that God says I should deal with my anger before the sun goes down. I know that God wants me to respect my parents. I know that God wants me to share my faith with others. And the list goes on and on. Not one of us will ever be perfect in this life, but we need a desire to live the way God would want us to. As the Holy Spirit convicts us of behaviour or attitudes that need to be fixed, we need to be willing to listen.

And we need to pray. It’s amazing how prayer can change our attitude and plans. As we talk with God about our problems and dreams, we can get a sense of what the right direction is. Now, I don’t mean some light-filled idea will strike us on the spot. Our prayer life is an ongoing conversation with God about our life together. Sometimes the nudging of the Spirit is over days or weeks. In some imperfect ways, it’s like the conversations we have with our partner. Sometimes the solution comes right away; sometimes we talk about it for a while before a decision is made.

Trusting God doesn’t mean our path will be smoothly paved with lovely flower gardens along the side, and with softly glowing lights in the evenings as we wander along a lake or stream. Proverbs says, God will show us “which path to take”, or “he will make your paths straight”, or “he’s the one who will keep you on track.” God has a plan for each one of us, and when we trust him, we will get on that path. It might include difficult times, or it might include times of great joy and peace, but no matter what our emotions are, we will know we are where God wants us to be.

So as we face uncertain times in 2020, with questions of trust in what is happening around us – read that verse in today’s devotions. We can trust God! Yes, we can!

Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT
Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

Here’s our song for today by Lauren Daigle – Trust in You

Letting go of every single dream
I lay each one down at Your feet
Every moment of my wandering
Never changes what You see
I try to win this war
I confess, my hands are weary, I need Your rest
Mighty warrior, king of the fight
No matter what I face You’re by my side

When You don’t move the mountains
I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You

Truth is, You know what tomorrow brings
There’s not a day ahead You have not seen
So let all things be my life and breath
I want what You want Lord and nothing less

When You don’t move the mountains
‘m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You
I will trust in You

You are my strength and comfort
You are my steady hand
You are my firm foundation
The rock on which I stand
Your ways are always higher
Your plans are always good
There’s not a place where I’ll go
You’ve not already stood

When You don’t move the mountains
I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You

I will trust in You
I will trust in You
I will trust in You

May 22 – Hope

In this pandemic time, the word HOPE is one we use frequently. We hope the virus will decide to die out – likely wishful thinking. We hope a vaccine will be developed sooner rather than later. We hope we will stay healthy if we have to go back to work, or just go out into the community. We hope our family will stay safe. We hope to see family and friends again soon. We hope restrictions will be lifted soon. Now that warmer spring weather has finally arrived, we hope we can enjoy outdoor spaces once again. We hope we’ll come out of this okay financially. We hope the business we work in doesn’t go under. We hope sooo much!

Hope is something that has been with us for thousands of years. David lived a life full of stress and difficulty. He would quite readily admit that things seemed hopeless, but … he would also know that God was with him. Let’s see what David had to say about hope in the Psalms.

“When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.” Psalm 94:19 “Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone.” Psalm 33: 22

“Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and my God!” Psalm 43: 5

When David was discouraged, he prayed for comfort and to sense God’s love surrounding him. He also praised God. When we find ourselves edgy and depressed, pray. In our prayers acknowledge that God is in control. We don’t have to fix everything; God loves us and cares for us. Find some worship music (CD’s. Alexa, radio, etc.) and sing along. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about what we sound like when we are home alone. Praise God! Focus on him!

“Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.” Psalm 25: 5

David has another suggestion – “lead me by your truth and teach me”. How does God teach us to hope in him? By reading his Word. So, as much as possible, start each day by reading your Bible. See what God has to say to you. Find some verses that you love, write them on a card, and work on memorizing them. That way, when you are feeling hopeless about when this all will end, you can repeat those verses in your mind.

As Paul is finishing up writing Romans, he has this to say:

Romans 15: 13 – 14

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I am fully convinced, my dear brothers and sisters, that you are full of goodness. You know these things so well you can teach each other all about them.”

As Christ followers, we have the Holy Spirit living within us. His power will give us confident hope. We may think we become hopeful because life is going well. If we ‘get a handle’ on the coronavirus, we’ll be hopeful and cheerful once again. Hope comes from a good life. That’s is actually fantasy. It’s God who is the source of hope. When we trust him, we are filled completely with joy and peace.

Paul mentions that he is confident the Christians he is writing to are trusting God. I like this statement – “You know these things so well you can teach each other all about them.” We can support each other. That’s a great idea in this historical time. Write notes of encouragement to others. When a person comes to mind, stop and send an email – just a quick reminder that God loves us and is in control. Just imagine how you’d feel if you opened up your email, or a note/ card that came in the mail, and someone said something encouraging to you. That feels so good! So pass along that great feeling today.

“Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone.” Psalm 33: 22

Here is the song that matches today’s devotions.

I’ve been running through rain
That I thought would never end
Trying to make it on faith
In a struggle against the wind
I’ve seen the dark and the broken places But I know in my soul

No matter how bad it gets I’ll be alright

There’s hope in front of me
There’s a light, I still see it
There’s a hand still holding me
Even when I don’t believe it

I might be down but I’m not dead
There’s better days still up ahead
Even after all I’ve seen
There’s hope in front of me

There’s a place at the end of the storm
You finally find
Where the hurt and the tears and the pain
All fall behind

You open up your eyes and up ahead
There’s a big sun shining
Right then and there you realize
You’ll be alright

There’s hope in front of me
There’s a light, I still see it
There’s a hand still holding me
Even when I don’t believe it
I might be down but I’m not dead
There’s better days still up ahead
Even after all I’ve seen
There’s hope in front of me

There’s a hope still burning
I can feel it rising through the night
And my world’s still turning
I can feel your love here by my side

You’re my hope
You’re the light, I still see it
Your hands are holding me
Even when I don’t believe it
I’ve got to believe
I still have hope
You are my hope

May 21 – Something Small Grows to Something Big

Mark 4: 21 – 34 NLT

Parable of the Lamp

21 Then Jesus asked them, “Would anyone light a lamp and then put it under a basket or under a bed? Of course not! A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light will shine. 22 For everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to
light. 23 Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

24 Then he added, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given – and you will receive even more. 25 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.”

Parable of the Growing Seed

26 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the
ground. 27 Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. 28 The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. 29 And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.”

Parable of the Mustard Seed

30 Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? 31 It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, 32 but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.”

33 Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. 34 In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them.”

Jesus is talking about growing God’s kingdom. If you need light, you don’t put your lamp under a basket or a bed. You put it where the light can shine in that environment. Jesus is not talking about search lights, strobe lights, rows of ceiling lights, etc. Even in his day, important government leaders would have multitudes of lights/candles to keep their palace or gardens brightly lit.

Jesus is talking about one lamp. That’s you! One single person – you! Don’t hide. In practical terms, what does that mean? Let others see you as someone different. They can see a kind person, someone who is friendly and loving. They can see someone who doesn’t hold grudges, is willing to give people a second chance. They see someone who is honest, doesn’t try to cheat on their taxes, or puts in a hard day’s work. There are so many characteristics of Jesus that apply to life in 2020. That’s what the people around us can see.

Be brave. Don’t hide your faith. It doesn’t mean you have to be spouting off about the Bible or religious topics all the time. You’ve probably met someone at work or in your neighbourhood like that; people try to avoid them. But, when an opportunity comes, don’t be afraid to speak. When I look back over my life, I see opportunities when I could have spoken, but didn’t. I was worried about upsetting people, or I wanted to fit in so didn’t want to look religious. I regret those times. I realize now that speaking wouldn’t have had the social consequences I was so afraid of. Talking doesn’t mean you have to be obnoxious, just kindly giving one more opinion in the conversation.

Jesus also told a parable about seeds growing in a farmer’s field quite all by themselves. It’s the natural light of the sun, rain, and rich soil that produces the crop. Those are things the farmer has no control over. He reaps the benefit, but can’t claim to be the sole source of the crop. When we get right down to it, we have to admit that God is the one who is growing his kingdom. We can assist God in a variety of ways, just like the farmer can take care of his fields. But, it is the Holy Spirit who speaks to that person’s soul. It’s God who arranges circumstances that get that individual thinking and pondering about a need for a personal relationship with God.

The third parable was about a mustard seed – “the smallest of all seeds”. Jesus said it could grow to tree size and shelter birds. I wondered about that. Was Jesus exaggerating? So I looked it up on my computer. I discovered mustard plants thrive in full sun with poor soil. That is why they are mostly found in Africa, India and the Middle East. Homeguides.sfgate says, “Mustard bushes reach an average mature height of between 6 and 20 feet with a 20-foot spread, although exceptional plants can reach 30 feet tall under ideal conditions. They have a spreading, multi- stemmed growth habit with a drooping or weeping branch structure.” So that tiny seed does become a huge tree.

Again, we have a plant producing lots of mustard crop with a tiny origin and no results based on human effort. God takes tiny beginnings and grows them. The real growth depends on God, not so much us. We’re definitely needed, but it’s not all up to us. If we have a tendency to want praise and recognition, then that is rather disappointing. We can’t take all the credit. But if you have a tendency to downplay yourself, and think you’re not good enough – then this is such an encouragement. God can take that little we do and turn it into something special.

Jesus began his ministry on earth with a group of 12 ordinary men. They weren’t trained theologians or well-known citizens of their day. They were actually quite a motley crew. But they were the men who would lead the new church and spread the gospel news around the world. Because they were amazing successful men? No! They loved Jesus, and wanted to learn from him. Remember what Jesus said?

“Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given – and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.” (v. 24 – 25)

When we keep our relationship with God as a priority, and are eager to learn from him, then the growth of God’s kingdom will result. We may not be aware of the seeds we have planted, but God grows them. That is such a challenge for me, and I suspect for you too.

May 20 – God’s Kingdom Grows

Mark 4: 1 – 20 NLT

Parable of the Farmer Scattering Seed

Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat in the boat while all the people remained on the
shore. 2 He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:

3 “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4 As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” 9 Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

10 Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him what the parables meant.

11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret (also translated mystery) of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders, 12 so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:

‘When they see what I do,
they will learn nothing.
When they hear what I say,
they will not understand.
Otherwise, they will turn to me
and be forgiven.’ Isaiah 6: 9 – 10

13 Then Jesus said to them, “If you can’t understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables? 14 The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to
others. 15 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away. 16 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 17 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. 18 The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, 19 but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced. 20 And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

This parable is one of the most known of Jesus’ parables. Four situations are described in the parable. Some seeds fell on a well-traveled foot path, and they had no chance to root at all. Some seeds fell on shallow soil with rocks underneath; although they sprouted quickly, they died just as quickly since there was too much heat and no sustenance (water). Other seeds fell on thorny ground (lots of weeds); they continued to survive, but didn’t produce any fruit. Then there were the seeds that fell on fertile ground, and various quantities of crops were produced. Jesus goes on to explain what that parable meant.

I’m going to try my hand at interpreting the parable in 2020. It was Christmas Eve, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day – whatever holiday you can think of on a day celebrated in churches. Bill comes along with his parents because his dad put the pressure on to join the family. Bill thinks this church stuff is silly, for people who need some kind of crutch to get along in life. He thinks a lot of the church people are old fashioned, just a little bit out of touch – kind of like his parents. Not that he doesn’t love his parents, but he doesn’t agree with their religious bent. He hears the message about Jesus; he knows it’s a good story, but really it has nothing to do with life today in our modern society.

Those are the first seeds described in the parable. They are people who ignore anything to do with Christianity. They have decided it is irrelevant to them. If you are searching out the Christian faith, wondering if it might be something you need, this type of seed described first does not apply to you. These are people who have decided that Christianity is definitely not for them.

The next group are the seeds that fell on shallow soil. Jesus described them as “The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word.” Jane was invited by her neighbour, Susan, to come to church. Susan told her that LSA had a great program for kids and Jane’s preschooler and SK daughter would love it. Jane was feeling a bit left out of things; her husband was so busy with his job, and looking after a 3 and 5 year old was hectic. So, she decided to try it out, and she was quite excited about this modern church. The people seemed so friendly, and her kids loved the children’s program. She liked the fact that there were security measures in place for the kids, so she could relax. The coffee was pretty good too. The music was good; in fact, she recognized one of the musicians also played at a coffee bar she, her husband and their friends went to. She came out a few times, but getting the kids and herself ready early Sunday morning was a bit of a chore; she rather loved lazy Sunday mornings, and her husband was usually at home too. In fact, her husband thought going to church interfered with the one day they could plan things with their family – or get things done around the house. Actually, he sort of made fun of her for going to church – getting religious, eh? Church was good, but staying home seemed easier after a while.

I wonder how many people attend our church that way. How could we keep them connected? Do we need to connect with their spouse? Does someone who knows them need to invite them over for dinner, coffee, an evening, etc.? Does someone with kids their age, initiate play dates? When someone new arrives at our church door, we need to pay attention. It’s not just the job of the greeter at the door. How can we connect with them in a deeper way, not just a casual hello?

Then there were the seeds that fell on thorny (weedy) ground. Carol and Bob decided to try out that church in their neighbourhood. They noticed there were a lot of cars there every Sunday; in fact, the place seemed busy throughout the week. Bob knew one of his bosses at work attended that church, and the guy seemed really nice and was great to work with. Carol had just started back to work half-time since their kids were in their early teens and didn’t need as much supervision anymore. They discovered the youth program was great, and their kids found several of their classmates went to the youth meetings. The service was good – great music and the sermon was interesting. In fact, Bob and Carol talked about what they were hearing at church, and realized there was a kind of emotional/mental need they had that was being met at church. So, they decided to join. But, then they were asked to get involved. Carol ended up helping with the youth group. Bob was asked to join the finance committee since he had a job in banking. But Bob was also on the verge of promotion to a great job with much better pay. Bob and Carol started to go to various social occasions which you really needed to do in Bob’s new position. They needed to get their house renovated/updated since they were required to entertain business associates. They were starting to get worried about their oldest son, who had just turned 16. He was anxious to learn to drive, and he also had some rather interesting friends. Carol wondered if those friends were a good influence or not. She enjoyed the status and extra money from Bob’s new job. In fact, she was thinking of going to work full-time since there were possibilities for promotion even in her job. Life was getting complicated. Church was good, they believed in God, but there were so many other things that needed their attention.

This situation is one that could describe many in our church today. There are so many things that interfere with developing a close relationship with God. Success in our jobs is important in 2020. That often means more than just a 9 to 5 work day – sometimes, way more. We watch HGTV and dream of making our homes just as beautiful. Does that mean an extra job to afford the renovations or get our home ready to sell so we can buy up? Our kids can keep us running – on sports teams at school, sports with travel teams, supervising their homework, entertaining their friends, etc. Sometimes we’re struggling because of a lost job. We feel so overwhelmed. Or a serious illness strikes the family – our immediate family or our parents. Or we are juggling looking after our own family, but also helping mom (or dad) who is alone and struggling. Frankly, life in 2020 is hectic. That’s the norm. When do we have time to pray and have a personal devotion time? When do we have time to fit in various church activities? Having a summer cottage is so good to get away for a few months from the city. Heading to Florida for the winter is such a nice reward for working hard before retirement – that kind of curtails how much we can be involved in our church. At the end of the day, we drive into our garages, go into the house by the inside garage door, and relax for the evening or head out for another meeting. Neighbours? Who are they? See how our modern lifestyle keeps us from “producing fruit”? It’s not that we reject our Christian faith. We’re just so caught up with things that our faith can get put by the wayside.

Then there are the seeds that are planted on fertile soil. These are the people who put their commitment to Jesus first. Are these the people who basically live at the church because they are so committed? Not necessarily. They probably are involved in some form of ministry; churches can’t survive and thrive without volunteers. But that fertile ground is present because of a personal relationship with God that means everything to a person. That individual takes time to pray, meditate, and read the Bible for their own personal growth. That doesn’t mean that person is someone we almost idolize, someone who brings many other people to faith, someone who lives in poverty like Mother Theresa. It’s just someone who says quietly to themselves – God you mean everything to me.

It may be the person who shovels snow for the elderly lady down the block. It may be the person who serves coffee on a Sunday morning in the church foyer. It may be the person who organizes coffee and play dates with other young moms on the street. It may be the guy who works hard and doesn’t ‘cheat’ the company of a full day’s work. It may be the person who volunteers in a downtown organization. It may be the nurse, RPN, or PSW who takes extra care of their patients, who tries to take a moment to talk with each patient to encourage them. It may be the volunteer coach of your kid’s hockey team who stresses playing fair, and plays each kid on the team no matter how talented they are. It’s just anyone who tries to live life with Jesus as an example, and who puts God first in their decisions about how to live.

Does that mean that every sincere Christian will lead many to Christ? Notice the crop results in Jesus’ parable. “And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Their life will be productive, but in various degrees. There may be one person who comes to a relationship with God because of you; there may be many more. Jesus doesn’t distinguish on the basis of results. He seems quite happy with various amounts of success. You could be the pastor of a small country church or you could be the pastor of an urban mega- church. One is not closer to, or more important, to God than the other. You may work in the nursery at church or you may lead a Bible study. One is not more important than the other.

It’s your personal relationship with God that matters, because it is God who produces the results. We’ll look at that more in tomorrow’s devotions.

May 19 – Who Is Jesus’ Family?

Mark 3: 7 – 33 NLT

(Verses 1 to 6 were covered in a devotion in Mark 2 on Friday)

“Crowds Follow Jesus

7 Jesus went out to the lake with his disciples, and a large crowd followed him. They came from all over Galilee, Judea, 8 Jerusalem, Idumea, from east of the Jordan River, and even from as far north as Tyre and Sidon. The news about his miracles had spread far and wide, and vast numbers of people came to see him.

9 Jesus instructed his disciples to have a boat ready so the crowd would not crush him. 10 He had healed many people that day, so all the sick people eagerly pushed forward to touch him. 11 And whenever those possessed by evil spirits caught sight of him, the spirits would throw them to the ground in front of him shrieking, “You are the Son of God!” 12 But Jesus sternly commanded the spirits not to reveal who he was.

Jesus Chooses the Twelve Apostles

13 Afterward Jesus went up on a mountain and called out the ones he wanted to go with him. And they came to him. 14 Then he appointed twelve of them and called them his apostles. They were to accompany him, and he would send them out to preach, 15 giving them authority to cast out demons. 16 These are the twelve he chose:

Simon (whom he named Peter),
17 James and John (the sons of Zebedee, but Jesus nicknamed them “Sons of Thunder”), 18 Andrew,
Philip,
Bartholomew,
Matthew,
Thomas,
James (son of Alphaeus),
Thaddaeus,
Simon (the zealot – also means nationalist),
19 Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him).”

There is a huge contrast in these verses – massive crowds and twelve followers. Occasionally on the news we hear about people being crushed to death in panicking crowds. I can’t imagine what that would be like. Perhaps you are in a stadium with thousands of people, there is a startling bang and perhaps smoke and more noise, and everyone rushes for the exit. Even at professional sports events, when the game is over, it can be hard to stay with family and friends as the crowd pushes for the exits. Jesus is exactly in that same situation. “Jesus instructed his disciples to have a boat ready so the crowd would not crush him.” (v.9) Jesus is so popular that crowds from all over Israel are arriving to see him, to be healed, to touch him and they are pushing forward so much that Jesus could be crushed to death. Stop for a moment and try to visualize that picture. Keep that picture in mind as we read through this chapter.

Jesus then climbs up a mountain with 12 men he asked to come with him. What an interesting group. First there is Simon who Jesus renamed Peter, a name that means ‘rock’. Peter seemed to be the most impulsive one in the group – hardly a rock. He was the one who stepped out of the boat and tried to walk to Jesus in the night, and when he had second thoughts, began to sink. He was the one at Jesus’ transfiguration who wanted to build a small altar/temple place to commemorate the event. He was the one who cut off the ear of the high priest’s aide when they tried to arrest Jesus. He was the one who went to the outer court to see what was happening to Jesus, but denied he ever knew him when asked by a servant girl. Peter was a rock? Yet, Peter was one of the main figures in the founding of the church. Following Jesus transformed him.

James and John were called the ‘sons of thunder’ by Jesus. That’s also an interesting ‘nickname’. Yet John later becomes known for his deep love for Jesus, and he is often seen sitting close to Jesus at various social events. The Gospel of John and 1,2, and 3 John are epistles that concentrate on love. In that group of twelve, we also see Thomas who became known as a doubter when he couldn’t believe that Jesus had really risen until he could touch Jesus. We see Simon, the nationalist, who was all about freeing Israel from Rome’s domination. And he sat beside Matthew, the tax collector for Rome? And there was Judas Iscariot who seemed to be in the group to get fame and money, and betrayed Jesus in the end.

What a group Jesus took up the side of that mountain because “they were to accompany him, and he would send them out to preach, giving them authority to cast out demons.” (v. 14 – 15) Jesus wanted to be with them, wanted them to spread his message, and wanted them to face battle with Satan. Wow!

“Jesus and the Prince of Demons

20 One time Jesus entered a house, and the crowds began to gather again. Soon he and his disciples couldn’t even find time to eat. 21 When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said.

22 But the teachers of religious law who had arrived from Jerusalem said, “He’s possessed by Satan, the prince of demons. That’s where he gets the power to cast out demons.”

23 Jesus called them over and responded with an illustration. “How can Satan cast out Satan?” he asked. 24 “A kingdom divided by civil war will collapse. 25 Similarly, a family splintered by feuding will fall apart. 26 And if Satan is divided and fights against himself, how can he stand? He would never survive. 27 Let me illustrate this further. Who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger—someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house.

28 “I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, 29 but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences.” 30 He told them this because they were saying, “He’s possessed by an evil spirit.”

Once again, the Pharisees show up. They are frankly jealous. Just like our society today, the ability to draw crowds is admired. Fame is exciting! But now it’s Jesus who is getting all the attention, and they want to take it away. They are in a difficult spot because they can’t do the miracles that Jesus does. How do they explain this conundrum? They accuse Jesus of being empowered by Satan. Jesus dispels that myth with obvious reason – Satan would not destroy himself. That was absurd.

There are 2 verses in this passage that make some people a little nervous. “I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences”. (v. 28 – 29) Some people worry that they may have committed the “unforgivable sin”. What is that unforgivable sin? It is a deliberate and constant denial of who the trinity is – God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit – a person who refuses to accept that as truth. Notice the first part of Jesus’ statement: “I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but …” Jesus’ death and resurrection has dealt with all sin, and anyone who accepts that is forgiven. Only those who refuse deliberately to acknowledge that are not forgiven.

“The True Family of Jesus

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him. They stood outside and sent word for him to come out and talk with them. 32 There was a crowd sitting around Jesus, and someone said, “Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.”

33 Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 34 Then he looked at those around him and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. 35 Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

These 5 verses seem so mean and harsh. Why would Jesus treat his mother and brothers this way? If God is love, why would Jesus speak like this? In my commentary reading, I came across this explanation that I thought was super good. Instead of trying to summarize it, I decided to just copy and paste from this online commentary. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

“Now it is time to meet the family – v.31. They have been on their way and now they turn up: Mary and her other sons. Presumably they know where to find him because this is his regular base. They wrongly assume that if they send a messenger into the house, then Jesus will immediately drop whatever he is doing and emerge. That’s what the culture assumes. Inside, the house is crowded as usual, the message is passed along until it reaches him and soon everyone knows that the family is waiting outside (v.32). Jesus responds with a distinctly odd question (v.33). Then he looks around. Now the house is crowded, but of course this is not the heaving crowd of thousands we see with Jesus by the lakeside. This is a house in a fishing village; at most a few dozen people are within earshot and these are not the sensation seekers. These are people who want to sit and listen to his words: a group that consists of his core team of twelve with a wider group of others.
In vv.34-35 Jesus gives his verdict. He looks at the group gathered round him on the floor. Then he looks at the messenger at the door and speaks through him to the family gathered outside; and he says, You say they’re outside looking for me? No: my true family have already found me. My true family are here, on the inside. It’s not so much that he is rejecting his human family – though we should note there is no special place given to Mary his mother here. But this is one more way that Jesus is overturning people’s assumptions, redrawing the boundaries. He’s speaking to a nation who believe that family is everything. These people live and die by genealogies. They think God will accept them simply because two thousand years ago they had an ancestor called Abraham.

But, says Jesus, my true people (and therefore God’s true people) are these: the ones who know me, who listen to me, who do the will of God – the God who is creating a new people that doesn’t depend on physical family ties, or on the nation you were born into, but only on belonging to Jesus. It’s a family that will extend right round the world, into every country and across every boundary. It doesn’t divide people by their background, or their colour or race. In every local church we have a small fragment of that big family. It’s not perfect, because it’s full of people who still get things wrong. Sometimes bad things happen in this family. But the good news is that the head of this family is perfect. The day will finally come when we are too: we will see Jesus face to face and he will look at us and say: yes, you are my brother, my sister. In this family, we are united by ties much stronger, far deeper, than even the closest human family. These ties are stronger than genetics, stronger than marriage, stronger than human love. They are ties based on blood, but not ours. The life of this family begins with the blood of Jesus.”

Here’s the question that titled today’s devotions. Who is Jesus’ family? It’s not the crowds that follow him because they think he can do something for them – make life here on earth better by healing their illnesses. It’s not the Pharisees, religious people who are enthralled by popularity and big followings, and get jealous if someone else seems to be doing better. It’s not people who belong to one nationality or keep religious rules. It is “Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” That can be you and me.

From online A Ransom for Many: the Gospel of Mark Simply Explained (Welwyn Commentary Series) Wilmhurst, Steve 2011 Evangelical Press

If you like music by Bill Gaither, here’s his mix of The Family of God (1968)

For I’m part of the family,
The family of God.

You will notice we say “brother
And sister” ’round here-
It’s because we’re a family
And these folks are so near;
When one has a heartache

We all share the tears,
And rejoice in each victory
In this family so dear.

Refrain:
I’m so glad I’m a part
Of the family of God-
I’ve been washed in the fountain,
Cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus
As we travel this sod,
For I’m part of the family,
The family of God.

From the door of an orphanage
To the house of the King-
No longer an outcast,
A new song I sing;
From rags unto riches,
From the weak to the strong,
I’m not worthy to be here,
But, praise God, I belong!

Refrain:
I’m so glad I’m a part
Of the family of God-
I’ve been washed in the fountain,
Cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus
As we travel this sod,
For I’m part of the family,
The family of God.

Yes I’m part of the family,
The family of God.

May 18 – The LORD Himself Watches Over You

Psalm 121 NLT

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

1 I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there?
2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth!

3 He will not let you stumble;
the one who watches over you will not slumber.
4 Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.

5 The LORD himself watches over you!
The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade.
6 The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night.

7 The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life.
8 The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.

This psalm was written for the Jewish people as they travelled to Jerusalem for special religious observances. Most of them walked, and the journey could take several days depending on where you were coming from. You could stumble as you walked, you might face scorching hot days, or you might meet bandits along the way. This would be an encouraging song to sing as you walked along.

This is a psalm for us as we travel through life, especially now as we travel through this crazy pandemic time. There is one phrase that appears 5 times – “watches over you”. Verse 5 is super amazing. “The LORD himself watches over you!”

I don’t know about you, but my emotions are all over the place these days. I find the physical distancing so hard. On Mother’s Day, my daughter’s family came over for a few minutes, and we sat in our double car garage to avoid the cold and rain – 2 meters apart. I miss those hugs, especially from my almost 16 year old grandson who is 6 foot 3 inches, and loves to “crush me to death”, now that he can look down on grandma. Sometimes it’s just plain frustration, the inability to go to the store for some small thing I could use right now. I go for daily walks; some people say hi – others rush by with heads turned away. One of my daughters, and her university- aged daughter live with me. At supper time, conversation lags. What do you talk about when you are at home all day? Here we are on Victoria Day weekend, and how exciting are your plans? It’s just strange!

Does God care about me during this pandemic? Yes, he is watching over me!

“My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth”. This is no helpless God. He is the creator of the universe. He is powerful and knows exactly how everything works. He knows what is happening right now, and what will come tomorrow. He never sleeps. He is watching over you every minute 24/7. He is not looking away, caught up in some other event, and oops – he didn’t see what happened to you.

Verses 5 and 6 about protective shade and being cared for both day and night, remind me of the year we lived in Kenya. Kijabe was located on the Rift Valley Escarpment which was at a fairly high elevation. When we first got there, we found walking from our little house up to a higher level of the mission station left us gasping for breath. It took a few days to get accustomed to being that high up. We were also located close to the equator. During the day, it was usually over 100 degrees; it was really hot in the open sunshine, but bearable in the shade. At night it was cold, so, we lit the small fireplace in our home every night to keep warm. That stark contrast was also due to the high elevation. That experience really stresses God’s protection no matter how unusual the circumstances. God is our “protective shade” today.

“The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.” The Bible never promises that we will sail through life with no problems or difficult situations. The word “harm” can be better translated as disaster, something that can’t be fixed. We live in a broken world, and bad things happen. But God “watches over you” all through those hard situations. He watches over us as we “come and go” in our daily lives. He watches us “both now and forever”.

Joseph was an example of someone who experienced a lot of hardship. His brothers were jealous of him being Dad’s favourite son, so they sold him to a slave trader from Egypt. His master’s wife got upset when he refused to have sex with her, and Joseph ended up in prison for years. Through divine intervention, Joseph ended up a key government figure who managed the country through years of famine. When his brothers showed up looking for food, Joseph made sure they got what they needed, but also arranged to meet with them. They were embarrassed and frightened for their lives, knowing they had intended to harm Joseph. This is what Joseph told them: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50: 20)

If you are having a hard time with all this pandemic stuff, keep this psalm handy to read. Know that God cares for you no matter what is happening. He is “watching over you”. Turn your eyes from all the frustrating, sad things, and look to him.

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5: 7)

Here is a hymn that echoes the thoughts of today’s devotions.

God Will Take Care of You – By Civilla Martin, 1904

Be not dismayed whate’er betide
God will take care of you
Beneath His wings of love abide
God will take care of you

God will take care of you
Through every day, o’er all the way
He will take care of you
God will take care of you

No matter what may be the test
God will take care of you
Lean, weary one, upon His breast
God will take care of you

God will take care of you
Through every day, o’er all the way
He will take care of you
God will take care of you

He will take care of you
God will take care of you

May 15 – My Strength, My Rock

Psalm 18 New Living Translation (NLT)

(A psalm of David, the servant of the LORD. He sang this song to the LORD on the day the LORD rescued him from all his enemies and from Saul.)

1 I love you, LORD; you are my strength.
2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.
3 I called on the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and he saved me from my enemies. …

28 You light a lamp for me.
The LORD, my God, lights up my darkness.
29 In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall.
30 God’s way is perfect.
All the LORD’s promises prove true.
He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.
31 For who is God except the LORD? Who but our God is a solid rock?
32 God arms me with strength, and he makes my way perfect.
33 He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights.
34 He trains my hands for battle;
he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow.
35 You have given me your shield of victory. Your right hand supports me;
your help has made me great.
36 You have made a wide path for my feet
to keep them from slipping. …

46 The LORD lives! Praise to my Rock!
May the God of my salvation be exalted!

David did not have an easy life, especially just before this psalm was written. He had been on the run from Saul for a while. At one point, he and his supporting friends were so hungry, they went into the tabernacle and took the bread from the altar. That shows desperation. Eventually, Saul died, and David began his reign as Israel’s king. That wouldn’t be easy either, since David was the king who fought many battles to secure Israel’s borders. This psalm was David’s thank you and praise to God who helped through those early difficult years.

This pandemic time is not easy either. Social isolation, financial hardship, the cancellation of many of our favourite events, etc. has changed life so much. One thing I pray for myself and all of you is that this time will strengthen our trust and dependence on God. It did for David.

I want you to reread the verses from Psalm 18, and ask yourself, “What did David learn from his hard time?”

Let’s look at some of the words David used: my strength, my rock, my fortress, my savior, protection, my shield, power that saves me, my place of safety, a lamp, the LORD’s promises prove true, he makes my way perfect, he makes me surefooted as a deer, enables me stand on mountain heights, you have given me your shield of victory, your right hand supports me, your help has made me great, keep my feet from slipping.

Isn’t that an amazing list!

When we go through difficult times, and depend on our Heavenly Father to give us the strength to endure, He brings us through. That doesn’t mean we avoid stressful times. It doesn’t mean everything works out totally fine in the end. Some of our hard times bring illness that results in some permanent aftereffects, or the death of a loved one, or an ongoing situation that we wish wasn’t there. It’s not so much that hardship goes away. It’s the calm and peace that God brings to everything. This is what makes us say:

“The LORD lives! Praise to my Rock!
May the God of my salvation be exalted!”

I have a creative challenge for some of you. Take those first 3 verses (or some of the other verses if you found them more meaningful for you personally) and copy them on computer page or rewrite them. Decorate the page with your own drawing (or use Google Images) and make a page you can hang on your frig or your bathroom/bedroom mirror. As you do this project, think about and absorb the words. Use them to remind yourself that you will come through this pandemic praising God for all the reassurance and safety he has given you.

Here is a song that reflects the words of this psalm.

I Will Fear No More By The Afters

Every anxious thought that steals my breath
It’s a heavy weight upon my chest
As I lie awake and wonder what the future will hold
Help me to remember that You’re in control

You’re my courage when I worry in the dead of night
You’re my strength ’cause I’m not strong enough to win this fight
You are greater than the battle raging in my mind
I will trust You, Lord
I will fear no more

I will lift my eyes
I will lift my cares
Lay them in Your hands
I’ll leave them there
When the wind and waves are coming
You shelter me
Even though I’m in the storm, the storm is not in me

You’re my courage when I worry in the dead of night
You’re my strength ’cause I’m not strong enough to win this fight
You are greater than the battle raging in my mind
I will trust You, Lord
I will fear no more
(Oh-oh-oh-ohh, oh-oh-oh-ohh) I will fear no more
(Oh-oh-oh-ohh, oh-oh-oh-ohh) I will fear no more

No power can come against me
‘Cause You have overcome
No darkness can overwhelm me
‘Cause You’ve already won
No power can come against me
‘Cause You have overcome
(Oh-oh-oh-ohh, oh-oh-oh-ohh)
No darkness can overwhelm me
‘Cause You’ve already won
(Oh-oh-oh-ohh, oh-oh-oh-ohh)

You’re my courage when I worry in the dead of night
You’re my strength ’cause I’m not strong enough to win this fight
You are greater than the battle raging in my mind
I will trust You, Lord (Trust You, Lord)
I will fear no more (Fear no more)

May 14 – Fasting and Resting: Are These Actually Good Things?

Mark 2: 18 – Mark 3: 6 NLT

A Discussion about Fasting

18 Once when John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people came to Jesus and asked, “Why don’t your disciples fast like John’s disciples and the Pharisees do?”

19 Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. They can’t fast while the groom is with them. 20 But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.
21 “Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before.
22 “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.”

A Discussion about the Sabbath

23 One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat. 24 But the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?”
25 Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 26 He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest) and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions.”
27 Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”

3 Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. 2 Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” 4 Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him.
5 He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! 6 At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus.”

These verses in Mark delve into rule keeping. The Pharisees were concerned about fasting and keeping the Sabbath rules. These rules were extremely important to them since they considered following them was doing what God wanted, and what God had instructed in the Old Testament. I can understand their concern, because as a Christ follower, I read the New Testament and look for things Jesus wants us to be and do. That is important to me today. So, let’s take a look at the rules the Pharisees were so on the defensive about.

First, let’s look at fasting. What is it, and should we doing it today? Fasting can be about abstaining from food or a particular food. It can also mean not participating in some activity for a specific period of time. In the Old Testament, fasting was required only one day a year, the Day of Atonement. (The Pharisees obviously overemphasized fasting) GotQuestions.org talks about fasting among Christians:

“Scripture does not command Christians to fast. God does not require or demand it of Christians. At the same time, the Bible presents fasting as something that is good, profitable, and beneficial. The book of Acts records believers fasting before they made important decisions (Acts
13:2; 14:23). Fasting and prayer are often linked together (Luke 2:37; 5:33). Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. Instead, the purpose of fasting should be to take your eyes off the things of this world to focus completely on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God, and to ourselves, that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God …

By taking our eyes off the things of this world, we can more successfully turn our attention to Christ. Fasting is not a way to get God to do what we want. Fasting changes us, not God. Fasting is not a way to appear more spiritual than others. Fasting is to be done in a spirit of humility and a joyful attitude. Matthew 6:16-18 declares, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

The Pharisees also made a big deal about the Sabbath – tons of rules to keep. You shouldn’t eat at all between sunrise and sundown. You shouldn’t do any work at all during the Sabbath. Jesus’ disciples were picking of heads of grain and eating it as they walked along. Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Even today among orthodox Jews, there are many rules to keep about the Sabbath. They tend to live near their synagogue so they can walk there since cars are considered work-related. All food is prepared the day ahead.

Francis Chan, in his Bible study course on Mark, has some interesting things to say about the Pharisees and their Sabbath rules:

“The word ‘Sabbath’ means ‘cease, rest, or desist’ and occurs, in its various forms, 104 times in the Old Testament alone. Though the word does not appear in Genesis, the concept of Sabbath is shown in Genesis 1: 1 – 24 where God creates the world and all living things in 6 days, then rests on the seventh.

Exodus 20: 11 clarifies that the seventh day is meant to be the Sabbath day, holy and blessed. The text implies that, because God rested on the seventh day of creation, humankind should follow his example and rest on the seventh day. But over the centuries, as Israel turned from Yahweh, they abandoned the regular practice of Sabbath. … and made up rules of their own.”

Jesus’ disciples in Mark 2 and 3 weren’t breaking the original purpose of Sabbath – a day of rest. Jesus is introducing a whole new way of worship and following God. Jesus uses a wedding as an example. He is the bridegroom of the coming church. You don’t fast at a wedding. It’s a celebration, and our worship today is a celebration of Jesus’ coming to earth and taking our punishment for sin. Dozens of rules about keeping a day of rest doesn’t mean a restful day; in fact, rules likely will result in a difficult day.

This idea of a day of rest on the seventh day of the week – is something God initiated at the creation of the world. “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he
rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.” (Genesis 2: 2 – 3) Today, we don’t observe the Sabbath, but rather the first day of the week, the day Jesus rose from the dead. Today, we don’t observe the Sabbath, but rather the first day of the week, the day Jesus rose from the dead.

This idea of taking a day of rest and making it “holy” or worshipful is something we should think about. Do we do that today? Do you observe Sunday as an intentional time of rest? What does Sunday look like to you? Do you have a day of rest that influences your spiritual life, your physical and emotional health? Let each one of us, including myself, really think about this. If God took a day of rest, shouldn’t we? What kind of schedule on a Sunday (or another day if necessary) would be restful for you?