Urgent Desire for More

Scripture Focus: Mark 10.17
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Reflection: Urgent Desire for More
By John Tillman

Everything about how the rich man approached Jesus communicated urgency.

The rich man rushed up to Jesus and knelt down in a show of humility and concern. The way he approached was similar to the way Jairus approached when his daughter was dying. It was the way lepers knelt, desperate for healing. It is similar to the way a father approached Jesus when his demon-possessed child could not be healed by the disciples or the way the Syrophoenician woman begged for her child’s life to be delivered from demonic oppression. It was the way the demoniac of Gerasenes approached Jesus. 

Most everyone who approached Jesus in this way had someone’s life on the line but the rich man was concerned with something else. He asked to know how to “inherit eternal life.”

The word translated “inherit” is fairly common in scripture. It consistently refers to receiving something of value that one has not earned. There are many promises of God that we can inherit, but none we deserve or earn. 

We don’t know much else about the rich man but it seems safe to assume that he was familiar with earning and with inheriting. He was immersed in a system of earning and a system of spiritual achievement. He saw eternal life as the cherry on top of the delightful treat his life already was in contrast to those around him. 

Jesus’ answer dashed his anticipation. Urgency melted to apathy. The wealthy young man wasn’t ready to give up earning and he didn’t yet trust what he would stand to inherit. We are so similar to him. Especially in the West, we have more in common with the rich young man than we do with Christ’s disciples who “gave up everything” to follow him. 

Do we trust what we will inherit by giving up our worldly possessions to benefit others?
Are we willing to give up earning our righteousness and counting our trophies of achievement?

Scripture is silent about it but I like to imagine that the rich man eventually came back. After all, Jesus tells the disciples regarding this, “…all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10.27) The rich young ruler is not beyond saving and neither are we.

May we have an urgency about eternity and a dispassionate hold on the temporal. 
May we have an urgent desire for more than we can earn.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

Today’s Readings
Genesis 32 (Listen 4:40
Mark 10 (Listen 6:42)

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The Miracle of Faith

Scripture Focus: Mark 9.23-24
23 “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” 

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Reflection: The Miracle of Faith
By John Tillman

At the beginning of this passage, the disciples are failing at ministry, surrounded by needs they can’t meet, and distracted by arguments with religious opponents. Then Jesus comes to them.

In many sermons, I have heard pastors scold the disciples for their lack of faith, for not praying and fasting, or for not believing, but Jesus doesn’t scold them.

Christ’s complaint about unbelief is directed to “this generation” not to the twelve. When Jesus tells the disciples that “this kind only comes out by prayer,” he isn’t necessarily impugning the disciples’ prayer lives.

Jesus knew what it was like to be unable to succeed in ministry due to a community’s lack of faith. When Jesus was in his own hometown, not only did they attempt to kill him after he preached that they would have to share the benefits of God’s kingdom with outsiders, they had so little faith that Jesus couldn’t do many miracles there. The scriptures tell us that Jesus was “amazed” at their lack of faith.

Many times in his ministry, Jesus addressed spiritual healing before physical healing. Jesus’ greatest miracles were not ones of stopping storms or diseases or demons. His greatest miracles were helping the faithless to believe again. Helping the cynical to trust again. Helping the hardened to love again.

And when we, or our communities, are faithless, cynical, and hardened, Jesus comes to us as well, to change our prayer like he changed the prayer of the father in this passage.

The father’s nakedly honest prayer has long been one of my favorite verses in the Bible. It has also been one of the scriptures that I turn to as a prayer in my own life.

I long to be filled with faith, but I’m often filled with other things.
Sometimes I am filled with doubt, like John the Baptist in prison.
Sometimes I am filled with fear, like the disciples after the storm.
Sometimes I am filled with shame, like the woman caught in adultery.
Sometimes I am filled with pride, like the rich young ruler who claimed to have kept all the commandments.
Sometimes I am filled with feelings of inadequacy, like Peter, begging Jesus to keep his distance.

Despite this, Jesus comes. Bringing faith for those who ask.

Let Jesus change your prayer today. Ask him to drain you of sin, anxiety, and inadequacy and fill you with faith.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Look upon you covenant; the dark places of the earth are haunts of violence. — Psalm 74.19

Today’s Readings
Genesis 31 (Listen 7:47
Mark 9 (Listen 6:16)

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Help us to remember with thanks the transformative work you have done in our lives.

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Progression Not Perfection

Scripture Focus: Mark 6.14-16
14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptizer has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” 

15 Others said, “He is Elijah.” 

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” 

16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” 

Reflection: Progression Not Perfection
By John Tillman

Jesus began sending out followers to heal and drive out demonic spirits just as he had done. This not only spread the gospel but sparked rumors of a powerful prophet among the people. Some said Elijah had returned and some said other prophets from long ago.

When rumors reached the palace of Herod Antipas, he did not think of prophets long in their graves. He thought of John the Baptizer, whom he had recently beheaded.

If John had produced a podcast, Herod would have been its number-one fan. This was not, however, because John was tickling Herod’s ears. John wasn’t the ear-tickling type. John’s critique is what got him imprisoned by Herod in the first place.

Herod had taken the wife of his brother (Also a Herod…there were a LOT of Herods.). In modern minds, Herod Antipas and Herodias’s story might be seen as a love story. When Herodias was eight years old, she was forced into a marriage to Herod Phillip II. Later, she fell in love with Herod Antipas, who was closer to her age, when he visited Phillip in Rome. If we ignore that both of these men were her uncle, Herod and Herodias might be a more sympathetic couple.

This marriage was considered by many faithful Jewish people to be wildly immoral and disgusting. (Leviticus 18.16) John regularly told Herod his marriage was sinful and against God’s Law. Despite this, Herod protected John because he was a righteous and holy man. Herod liked listening to John even though he didn’t seem to understand (or obey) anything John said.

People can enjoy “listening to” preachers, to the Bible, to Christian music, to theology podcasts, or to online devotionals and never cross the line of belief. One sign of right belief is right action. Everyone who believes does not act perfectly. However, if faith has never changed your actions, you should ponder whether you have truly given your heart to it.

Like Herod, you might start as a fan, but you can become a follower. Jesus’ disciples begin as normal tradesmen. They were prone to sin, violence, threats, anger, bitterness, and fear…but they progressed. We see them become empowered, changed into those who could command demons, heal, and give their lives for the gospel. Do not ask yourself if you are perfect. You aren’t. Ask yourself if you are progressing.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. — 2 Corinthians 4.6

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him. — Psalm 62.6

Today’s Readings
Genesis 28 (Listen 3:17
Mark 6 (Listen 7:23)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 29 (Listen 4:45Mark 7 (Listen 4:28)
Genesis 30 (Listen 6:10Mark 8 (Listen 4:29)

Read more about Resisting Herods
Today’s Christian leaders must demonstrate the ability to stand before today’s Herods with more of John the Baptist’s moral compass…

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When To Step Out Boldly

Scripture Focus: Mark 5.35-43
35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” 

36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” 

37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him. 

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat. 

Reflection: When To Step Out Boldly
By John Tillman

There is often great faith involved in being a “secret” disciple but there always comes a moment to step out of the shadows.

When Jairus came to Jesus, the religious leaders had already decided to kill Jesus. Even if Jairus was not at the synagogue where the decision was made, he must have known about it. Coming to Jesus was risky. He was associating with a man marked for death.

Jesus seemed to understand this and took pains to give Jairus plausible deniability. He publicly stated the child was asleep, not dead. He sent away witnesses. He took only an inner circle of disciples and warned those present not to speak of what had happened.

Some would have us focus on moments where scripture seems to criticize secret Jesus followers who did not want to be “canceled” by the religious leaders. (John 12.42) However, scripture also testifies that these secret believers were never totally silent and were an important part of the Jesus movement. 

They defended Jesus within the council (John 7.50-52; Luke 23.50-55) and stepped forward when none of the other disciples could to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Mark describes Joseph of Arimathea’s action as bold, Luke adds that he dissented from the council’s decision, and John tells us that Nicodemus joined. (Mark 15.43; Luke 23.50-55; John 19.38-40)

All around the world, there are places where openly living as a Christian invites violence. Sometimes it is state-sponsored violence or violent gangs or mass shooters. Walking with Jesus is often risky.

Even if we do not face death for our beliefs, many face cultural forces that make being a Christian increasingly uncomfortable. Some of us, like Jairus, may not feel as free as others, depending on our situation. Jesus spoke to and loved Nicodemus. He went with and raised Jairus’s daughter. He will speak to you, too. And he is with you even when you can’t be outspoken.

All of us must find our moments to defend Jesus within the power structures we work in. We must find when it is necessary for us to step boldly from the shadows and lay claim to Jesus, associating ourselves with his cross and his death. We need not fear the death of our careers, our place in the community, or even our bodies. For we serve him who brings life to those who have died.

From John: The overwhelming majority of our readers live in spaces where it is no more dangerous to be a Christian than any other faith. However, if you DO live in a space that is unsafe, we are praying, today and every day, for your safety and for the spread of the gospel where you are.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him. — Psalm 62.6

Today’s Readings
Genesis 27 (Listen 6:25
Mark 5 (Listen 5:21)

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If we are willing to take bold steps forward in obedience, we will receive what he has promised.

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Little Lies

Scripture Focus: Genesis 26:9-10
9 So Abimelek summoned Isaac and said, “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’?”

Isaac answered him, “Because I thought I might lose my life on account of her.”

10 Then Abimelek said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the men might well have slept with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.”

Reflection: Little Lies
By Erin Newton

On three separate occasions, one of the patriarchs attempted to pass off his wife as his sister to save himself. Abraham deceived the Egyptian Pharaoh in chapter 12 and King Abimelech in chapter 20. Isaac, just like his father, introduced Rebekah as his sister to King Abimelech.

Within the ancient context, there is some legitimacy to the sister-wife claim. There can be arguments made for their lineage and lack of progeny. In any case, each situation calls into question the patriarch’s faith in the promises of God. It also expresses the reverberating consequences of lack of faith.

God promised to bless Abraham by making him a great nation. For this promise to be fulfilled, Abraham would need land, children, and means. In the sister-wife accounts, each of these areas is in jeopardy. Isaac feared losing his life, which would eliminate the possibility of his heirs developing into a great nation.

In this scheme of self-preservation, he inflicts the negative side of Abraham’s covenant. His lie created the potential of a curse upon his neighbors. His desire for self-preservation, by his own efforts, endangered the people around him. Abimelech had suffered the consequences of Abraham’s lie when his household was stricken with barrenness. Isaac put Abimelech in danger again.

These stories highlight the patriarchs’ weak faith. We can place ourselves in their shoes, reflect on the promises of God, and consider how we fail to trust him. Let us diverge from the immediately obvious lessons. Let us take a moment and step into the shoes of King Abimelech and Rebekah.

Abimelech was innocent in his interactions with Sarah and before Rebekah was taken, the ruse was revealed. No wrong was committed. But Abimelech was keenly aware of the danger Isaac imposed. Rebekah was a pawn in Isaac’s scheme. The voice of women is hidden in most of the Bible, but it is not hard to imagine the pain, fear, and betrayal this situation caused her.

Are we harming our neighbors through our lack of faith? Are we telling half-truths that can lead someone into sin?

The church has been guilty of half-truths in the name of self-preservation. Within abuse cases, it has endangered the vulnerable to protect its reputation. It fails to trust God to hold together his promises. We fear it will all unravel if we don’t create a scheme.

No wonder, like Isaac, our neighbors send us away.

DivineHours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us saying: “Again, you have heard how it was said to our ancestors, ‘You must not break your oath, but must fulfill your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say this to you, do not swear at all…All you need say is, ‘Yes’ if you mean yes, ‘No’ if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the Evil One.” — Matthew 5.33-37

Today’s Readings
Genesis 26 (Listen 4:31
Mark 4 (Listen 5:01)

Read more about Resisting Culture’s Mold
The cultural marriage norms followed by the patriarchs and passed down by Moses were condemned by Jesus.

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