Monthly Archives: September 2015

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015 – The Mighty Movement of God

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. – Mark 1:35-39

Jesus was a hit in Capernaum.  That’s what Mark tells us.  When he went out to be by himself and pray, his disciples looked for him, and when they found him, they told him, “Everyone is searching for you.”  The people in Capernaum received Jesus warmly – so warmly in fact that Mark records that Jesus made his adult home in Capernaum, a village on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 2:1).  Several places were key in the life of Jesus it seems.  The scriptural record tells us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, that he grew up in Nazareth, that he moved to Capernaum, and that he was crucified in Jerusalem. He was a hit in Capernaum.  Unlike in Nazareth or in the country of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:17), the people in Capernaum loved him and gladly welcomed him into their city.

In reality Jesus was not in Capernaum much, at least according to the Mark.  Perhaps Capernaum was Jesus’ home base, where he received his mail, but we have no record of him having a home and settling down; there has never been a place in Capernaum marked, “Jesus’ house.”

The fact is, Jesus would not stay put.  He “was born a rambling man.”  Just in the first chapter of Mark we see the pattern emerging, as we read that Jesus came to John at the Jordan to be baptized, that he went into the wilderness where he was tempted, that he walked along the Sea of Galilee where he found and called his first disciples, and that he went to Capernaum where he taught and healed and proclaimed the kingdom of God.  Just when it seemed that he might linger a bit longer there, he left.

When Jesus was told that people were searching for him, he made clear his intentions – actually it was more than that.  He made clear his mission.  “Let us go on to the neighboring towns so that I may proclaim the message there also.”  And then Jesus added, “For that is what I came out to do.”

What do we make of this?  Most certainly we find that the Jesus never intended his work to be limited to one place, to be defined by a locale, to be confined by a building, to be restricted to a structure.  There was nothing static about Jesus’ mission.  It was dynamic, ever changing, ever moving.  And that’s the key, isn’t it?  Jesus “came out” to begin a movement – the Mighty Movement of God, and he kept moving.

When we are tempted to be overly protective of our church structure or finely appointed buildings or static beliefs or rigid rules, we need to remember that while all of these things may be helpful to us, Jesus did not “come out” for any of that.  He did not “come out” to settle down or to settle for anything less than the mighty movement of God.  And Mark tells us, “He went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”

Good Father, how mighty is this movement!  Bid me and your church to “come out” of the safety and security of our structures and to follow Christ Jesus, wherever he leads us.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015 – “Moved with Pity”

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.  After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter. – Mark 1:40-45

The fast-paced first chapter of Mark comes to a close with an account of Jesus’ encounter with a leper. We may know about just such encounters.  From time to time, we may be approached by a homeless person or someone who is destitute and dirty.  Perhaps we try to look away and avoid eye contact.  Maybe we cross the street to avoid them completely.  Perhaps we nervously acknowledge their presence, and in our awkwardness and fear, hurry past.

Jesus had just such an encounter with a homeless, dirty, poor man who was covered in leprosy.  The meeting was made awkward only by the prevailing culture and laws of the day, but Mark tells us that Jesus stopped and talked with the man, listened to the his problems, had compassion on his plight, reached out and took his hand, and offered him assistance.  I wonder if we would find the poor and powerless less frightening if, like Jesus, we recognized them as fellow human beings rather than as strangers.

In Jesus’ day, lepers were required to live outside walled cities; they were cut off from their families, separated from their friends, and unwelcome in their community.  They were required to dishevel their hair, to wear a bell around their necks like a cow, and to cover their upper lips and cry out “unclean” if someone ever came near.  Mark tells us that Jesus met just such an unclean, unwelcome, unhealthy, ulcerated leper, and we read that his response was not disgust or fear, but “pity.”

So strong was Jesus’ compassion for the man that it caused him to break the law to care for and touch him.  In doing so, he broke open not only the legal barriers which dehumanized lepers, but also the protective barrier that kept the leper in isolation.   Jesus broke it open, as he reached out and touched this man to make him clean.

When Jesus touches us with his power, it is not only to cleanse us from all separates us from God and others, but also to engage us in his work in the mighty movement of God.  He empowers us to respond with Christ-like compassion to an unclean, hurting, and lonely world.

Lord Jesus, touch me with your power that I may be clean and extend your compassion throughout the world.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Thursday, September 17, 2015 – With Authority!

They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” – Mark 1:21-27

Mark tells us that Jesus led his new disciples into the city of Capernaum, which is on the Sea of Galilee. This is rather interesting because we learn in verse 29 that this is the hometown of Simon Peter and Andrew.  In fact, a visit to the Holy Land will reveal that the synagogue, which is the setting for this narrative, is very near the home of the brothers.  It seems that Jesus’ invitation for the men to follow him was not simply geographical but more profoundly spiritual.

At any rate, Jesus and the disciples went to synagogue on the Sabbath day, where Jesus taught.  The teaching, while not shared by Mark, had an anointed power, an amazing authority unlike that of other rabbis or scribes.  While we do not know the words Jesus spoke, we can imagine that they conveyed grace and truth and that they offered no accommodation for evil or error.

And then Mark tells us something rather fascinating: there was a person with an unclean spirit in the synagogue. We may feign shock at the thought that such an ungodly spirit would show up for divine worship.  Mark, it seems, was not surprised, nor for that matter were the congregants gathered.  Perhaps their experience was the same as ours; perhaps like them we know that in reality unclean spirits – critical spirits, hateful spirits, spirits of greed and vice, spirits consumed with base desires – show up in worship all the time, even within us.  That an unclean spirit was in worship seems unremarkable in the account.

What makes this account gospel is what transpired when the unclean spirit encountered Jesus of Nazareth. The spirit was neither coddled nor accommodated.  It was confronted, tormented, and cast out. The congregation was amazed both by the grace and truth which made no room for evil and by the authority of Jesus who defeated and dismissed the evil spirit.

My friends, Mark tells us that Christ Jesus shares no space with evil spirits.  His “new wine” is both intoxicating and explosive, and when it enters a synagogue or a temple or a church or a individual it casts out that which is unclean, purifies that which is soiled, heals that which is broken, reorders that which is untoward, and pours forth grace and truth.

The people in Capernaum worshiped in spirit and truth that day. They were amazed by and in awe of God’s presence and power. “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

Good Father, your grace and truth are amazing and powerful, authoritative and demanding.  You make no accommodation for evil.  Cast out any unclean spirit in me, cleanse me of all evil thoughts, purify my heart, heal my brokenness, fill me with your life-giving spirit, and be glorified in my awe and wonder!  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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September 14, 2015 – Finding Our True Self-Identity

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. – Mark 1:16-18

One of the most interesting verses in the Bible is Mark’s account of Jesus’ call of his first disciples.  We are told very little about the account other than that Jesus came to meet these men by the Sea of Galilee – at their workplace.  Mark goes on to say that Jesus asked them to follow him, and they left everything and followed him.  The brevity of the account, coupled with the gravity of invitation, makes it all the more intriguing.

The verse that fascinates me is the off-hand comment Mark includes that Simon and Andrew were “casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen.”  Isn’t that a strange little thing to say, “they were fishing, because they were fishermen”?  You can almost tell from the way this passage is written that Jesus is going to challenge the self-identity of these unsuspecting men.

We don’t have the dialog, but we could rather imagine Jesus asking, “What are you doing fishing?” To which Simon and Andrew might respond, “We are fishing, because we are fishermen.”  And in typical rabbinical fashion Jesus might respond, “Now, how do you know that you are fishermen?  Who told you that you were fishermen?”  And they might reply, “Of course we are fishermen.  We’ve always been fishermen.  We were born in a fishing village; our father is a fisherman; his father was a fishermen; all our friends are fishermen. We look like fishermen; we smell like fishermen; we think like fishermen. It’s what we know; it’s what we do; it’s who we are.  We are fishermen.”  To which Jesus breaks in and says, “Nonsense.  The fact is, you don’t know who you are.  Follow me and I will show you your true identity.  Follow me and your life will take on new meaning and great purpose.  Follow me and you will become a part of God’s mighty movement to transform the world.  Follow me and you will reclaim your identity” – “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And Mark tells us that Simon and Andrew dropped their nets on the spot, followed Jesus, and began a wild pursuit to find…themselves.  What they came to find was what we all find, that the journey to find themselves, to recover their true identity, was tied up in discovering the identity of the one they were following.

And so it is with you and me, we develop all kinds of ideas about who we are – a winner or a loser, fast or slow, smart or dumb, important or insignificant, good or bad, successful or a failure.  Our self-identity is shaped by the culture in which we live and the experiences we have as we interact with that culture.  All of it shapes our self-concept, our self-identity.  In it all, like Simon and Andrew, we see ourselves less in terms of the possibilities and opportunities which lie ahead of us and more in terms of the limitations which define us.

It is important for us to know that Jesus does not see us in the limiting categories of the culture but in the limitless wonder of the eternal kingdom of God.  Simon and Andrew may have understood themselves to be ordinary fishermen, but Jesus invited them, just as he invites us, to see themselves when bathed in the grace and truth of God and to find their true identity by coming to know the one who created them.

Lord Jesus, you know me better than I know myself.  Help me come to know who I am by coming to know who you are.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

 

 

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Saturday, September 12, 2015 – The Time Is Now

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. – Mark 1:15

When Jesus announced, “the time is fulfilled,” he was in many ways saying, “The time is now.”  That is an important lesson for us.

It is both tempting and relatively easy for us to overlook the “now, ” to become stuck either in the past with its triumphs and tragedies or on the future with its excessive dread or false hopes.  Of course, we do well not to forget the past, but there is a great difference between remembering the past and reliving it.  The goal is to appreciate days gone by without glorifying  them and to heal and learn from past hurts and disappointments without being haunted by them.  Jesus’ pronouncement tells us that he has come to set us free from the distractions and bondage of the past – whether that be arrogance or guilt, entitlement or brokenness.

Jesus also comes to correct the fatalism and fantasy of a future focus.  While we do well to take the long view of things and to plan and prepare, there is a significant difference between looking out for the future and becoming lost in it.  The goal is to recognize the direction of things and to calculate the impact that our decisions today will have on tomorrow.  However, to live in the future causes us to discount today, to stumble over the things at hand, to miss opportunity, to deceive ourselves, and to be consumed by a feeling either of helplessness in the grip of fate or arrogance in the relentless pursuit of blind ambition.

Jesus’ announcement of good news is an assurance that God is up to something right now, setting us free from past hurts and grafting us into a glorious future.  We respond to Jesus’ invitation by turning our lives away from guilt, fear, resentment, and hurt, and by turning our lives not simply toward the future, but toward God.  We live out our future by focusing on the present moment – a sacred opportunity to live fully and faithfully in God’s care and keeping.

It may be helpful for us to note that from our human perspective we understand time to unfold in a linear way in which one event follows another, a concept called chronos.  We think of things chronologically, that is in ordered sequence.  Such is not the case with God’s time, a concept referred to as kairosKairos is not a sequential unfolding of things but rather an eternal moment, packed full of God’s grace and truth.  Jesus’ invitation is for us to experience kairos, to live fully in the present with faith, hope, and love, and to both expect and experience the fullness of God’s grace and truth.  Truly, “the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near.”

Good Father, give us today our daily bread.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston.

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Monday, September 7, 2015 – A Time Fulfilled

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” – Mark 1:14-15

In the thirteen verses which lead up to today’s passage, Mark has told us that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptizer and that he was tempted  during a forty-day sojourn in the wilderness.  Now, Mark reports that John has been arrested, that Jesus is in Galilee, and that “the time is fulfilled.”

Do you wonder what is meant by that saying, “the time is fulfilled”?  In our lives we might say, the time is “filled full” rather than “fulfilled.”  For the most part, we are bombarded with news and events and deadlines, and our calendars and times are simply filled full.  But it seems that Jesus meant more than just the times were busy and hectic.

Perhaps Jesus was talking more in terms of a promise being fulfilled.  He could have meant that the long-awaited day of justice and righteousness was dawning, that the time prophesied long ago had finally arrived.  Or, he could have been talking in terms of the times being fulfilling, that  the days which were once meaningless and mundane were now pregnant with meaning and significance and expectation.

Whatever he meant, he surely was proclaiming that God was up to something, that this was a special time.  In fact, Jesus proclaimed, “the kingdom of God is at hand.”  No longer aloof and unattainable through complex rituals and burdensome rules, God had made himself approachable.  God’s kingdom was well within reach.  What’s more, Jesus told the people in Galilee that all they had to do to come under God’s reign and to be received into God’s household was to “repent and believe.”

We sometimes think that repent means to apologize or confess our wrong-doing, but repent actually means to turn around.  Jesus’ call to repentance is a summons for us to turn our lives away from our own narrow self-interest and toward God’s kingdom.  This is not a condemnation of those who have sinned.  Instead, it is a recognition that all of us have erred and strayed in our self-absorption.  The invitation is gracious, as Jesus compels us to turn the focus of our lives Godward.

And Jesus tells us to believe.  We can sometimes get the idea that God wants us to believe a certain dogma or hold to a certain creed, but the truth is, theology is not for God but for us.  We seek to understand God more fully through our statements of faith.  But Jesus is not talking about holding a specific theological position when he calls the world to believe.  He is simply calling us to place our trust not in ourselves or in our culture, but in God.  Often God’s grace and truth run counter to our sensibilities and our self-preserving ways.  We can only really experience God’s reign in our lives if we trust God enough to submit to his authority.

Jesus did not come to Galilee to condemn anyone.  He came proclaiming good news.  He was simply inviting the world into God’s kingdom as part of God’s household under God’s authority by turning away from our selves and placing our complete trust in God.

That is the offer of the gospel.  That is the “good news of God,” and those who respond to Jesus’ call find both God’s promise and their lives fulfilled.

Lord Jesus, help me to hear your gracious invitation and to respond by seeking your face and submitting to your Lordship.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Friday, September 4, 2015 – Temptation

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. – Mark 1:12-13

Mark tells us that Jesus was tempted.  In his terse style, Mark tells us almost nothing about the event, but we learn that Jesus faced temptation immediately after he was baptized by John and anointed by God.

It is easy for us to get the idea that when we commit ourselves to God and surrender ourselves to God’s will, that we will be protected from temptation.  We find that quite the opposite is the case.  It seems, in fact, that the stronger the commitment, the nobler the stand, and the bolder the resolution, the greater is the temptation to give it all up.  Temptation often rushes in, immediately after we stake our claim on godliness and righteousness.

Of course, the problem is that we are sinners by nature – that is that our human nature is sinful.  We are naturally predisposed to exert our energies to advance our own narrow, personal interests and to seek pleasure and comfort.  Anytime we dare to raise our vision to pursue a higher calling, temptation rushes in to drag us down.  Our base human nature holds us captive and thwarts our noblest efforts.

Jesus committed himself to God, and he was tempted immediately.  That’s what Mark tells us.  And just as succinctly, Mark tells us that the angels ministered to him.  Jesus was tempted by ungodly forces, but he was able to resist temptation with divine help.

In your life and mine, temptation often masks itself as caution, justifiable action, or a well-deserved indulgence; however, behind its masks we find that temptation is really base, self-serving passion.  What we also find is that resisting temptation requires more than just self-discipline.  This is a spiritual battle, which will be lost, if not fought spiritually.

“We are not contending against flesh and blood,” the Apostle Paul writes, “but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places”  (Ephesians 6:12).  The battle in every temptation is against the gravitational pull of meaninglessness, of self-aggrandizement, of mean-spiritedness, of small-mindedness, of paralyzing fear, of human nature.  Only the supernatural can break us free.  As Jesus bound himself to God’s grand will and mighty movement of grace and truth, so too God bound himself to Christ Jesus, and empowered him  to turn away from anything which would diminish or defeat him.

So it is with you and me.  The calling is impossibly high and the temptation is incredibly real, but God’s presence is overwhelmingly empowering.

Good Father, we thank you that you do not lead us into temptation but rather that you deliver us from evil.  Give us courage to bind ourselves to you, to follow you, and to rely on your strength.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015 – Breaking In and Breaking Open

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” – Mark 1:9-11

Each of the four gospels includes an account of the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River.  Mark tells the story with an incredible economy of words.  Jesus came, was baptized, saw, and heard. The other gospels add more details – conversations between Jesus and John, conversations between John and others.  Not Mark, he just sticks with “the facts.”

In spite of its brevity, Mark’s account still holds a quite distinctive element, centered on one little word.  All the Gospels talk of the Holy Spirit anointing Jesus at his baptism, in the form of a dove; and Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell that the heavens were parted at this anointing.  It is at this point that we find Mark’s distinction.  Matthew and Luke use the Greek word, anoigo, which means opened – the way one might open a curtain or a jar of mayonnaise.  Mark, on the other hand, uses the Greek word, schizo, from which we get the word schism and schizophrenia.  It carries a sense of being broken open, of being burst open, of being ripped open – as we find in the NRSV, account, “the heavens were torn apart.”

As we work our way through Mark, we find many things are broken or ripped open – wineskins and roofs and garments and alabaster jars and the veil of the Temple.  All of these point to the radical, almost violent, ways in which Christ Jesus enters our world and our lives, breaking open our small-minded, self-serving ways, rupturing our self-indulgent worldview, breaking down our godless altars, tearing down our prejudices, ripping away our false security, and replacing it all with the life-transforming power and presence of God.

The prophet Joel calls for repentance, saying “Rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2:13). From the start, Mark makes it clear that Jesus Christ has come to fulfill that message.  Christ will not be a tame savior who simply works to make things easier or more comfortable.  He does not accommodate our self-serving ways but challenges us to our core.  His work to transform the world begins by breaking into our lives and breaking open our hearts.

Lord Jesus, your love is all-consuming and life-giving.  Give me courage to break free from all that would diminish and defeat me, and fill my life with your presence and power.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston