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)

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The cultural marriage norms followed by the patriarchs and passed down by Moses were condemned by Jesus.

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Stretch Out Your Hand

Scripture Focus: Mark 3.2-6
2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” 

4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. 

5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. 

Reflection: Stretch Out Your Hand
By John Tillman

The man with the shriveled hand seems to be there only so the leaders can see if Jesus will break one of their interpretations of Sabbath law. It’s a trap recorded by three different gospel writers. (Matthew 12.9-15; Mark 3.1-5; Luke 6.6-11

Mark focuses on Jesus’ inner frustrations. Jesus is angry that the leaders’ hearts are so hardened that they cared more for a human interpretation of the law than a human life.

Jesus called Pharisees “teachers” of Israel. He said, “Do what they say.” They were good teachers but bad leaders. Their lives did not reflect their own teachings, so Jesus also said, “Don’t do as they do.” (Matthew 23.3)

Jesus’ ministry had barely begun but already, they sought “a reason to accuse” rather than reasons to believe. Many people we meet may also be looking for reasons to accuse, reasons to doubt, reasons to deny faith. Some of those reasons may be found in how they are treated by the Pharisees of today.

In Jesus’ day and in ours, those who are wounded or who suffer in life are often not treated well. Sometimes, like the man with the shriveled hand, they are used as props in arguments. Often they are viewed with suspicion by the religious, the comfortable, or the wealthy. The prevailing logic, a form of prosperity gospel, says that sickness, anxiety, or any kind of struggle is caused by sin. Those stricken by these things are often assumed to be of poor character. At times they are told to “pray” their problems away or are forced to jump through hoops to obtain any assistance or acceptance.

Jesus gives us a different example. He gives every person, even his enemies, every opportunity to believe. All he says to the man at the center of this trap is, “stretch out your hand.” When he does, the man is healed. Both Matthew and Mark tell us that after this, Jesus leaves and many other sick people follow him and he heals them. 

Forgiveness and healing are often tied together in scripture. (Psalm 103.3; Isaiah 19.22; Jeremiah 3.22) So bring to Jesus your wounded friends. Encourage them to look for a reason to believe. Regardless of their sins and regardless of what the religious elite will say, to all who stretch out their hands to Jesus, he offers forgiveness and healing.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. — Psalm 51.16

Today’s Readings
Genesis 25 (Listen 4:18
Mark 3 (Listen 3:41)

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Forgiving Sins is Offensive and Praiseworthy

Scripture Focus: Mark 2.5-12
5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 

6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 

8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

Reflection: Forgiving Sins is Offensive and Praiseworthy
By John Tillman

Whether listening to a political or a religious leader, I often find myself saying what the Pharisees said, “Why did he say that?” People will regularly disappoint us or shock us with poorly worded, or simply wrong statements. 

Unintentional blunders are one thing, but there are some who take outrage to the bank. They dress up half-truths to be as offensive as possible. Then they act as if they are persecuted when people get angry. Their double-edged statements are specifically sharpened for two target audiences.

One audience is the people they hope to offend. They don’t care about this audience. They don’t want to convince them or win them over, although they often pretend to. They just want to say something hurtful enough that they will react in anger. The other target is the people they hope will leap to their defense, attacking the injured audience when they speak out against the offensive statement. The outrage-mongers don’t care about this audience either, although they often pretend to. This group is just the mob they hope to sic on their enemies. 

Others, as if there isn’t enough outrage in the world, seek it out. Modern people spend much time and energy finding offense in people’s words. They read others uncharitably and intentionally misinterpret them just to stir up controversy.

Jesus inspires offense and praise. When Jesus said things that “offended,” he wasn’t making unintentional blunders. But he also wasn’t intentionally stirring up conflict. We see in Jesus a different model of communication. He speaks to the religious leaders and the religious outcasts with the same motive: to call them to repentance. The truths Christ tells may prick but are not intended to wound. They may goad (Acts 9.4-5 KJV) but are not intended to bruise. (Matthew 12.15-21)

Mark is laying out for us in these chapters a series of escalating conflicts with the religious leaders. We will see the tension continue to grow. Threats, conspiracy, and violence will be the outcome.

Jesus warned that because he was hated, his followers would be hated. But that is not license to be hateful. If we speak in the name of Jesus, we must remember that there is no audience Jesus does not care for. He wants to win them all over and he weeps when any refuse to come to him to be healed. It is his will that all would come to salvation.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Let my mouth be full of your praise and your glory all the day long. — Psalm 71.8

Today’s Readings
Genesis 24 (Listen 9:42
Mark 2 (Listen 3:55)

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The paralyzed man’s faith is questionable—perhaps so weak that only Jesus could see it.

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Defining Moment

Scripture Focus: John 20.3-10; 28-29
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. 

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 

Reflection: Defining Moment
By John Tillman

Bible scholars love a good joke or humorous moment in scripture. One that frequently provides levity is noticing that John seems keen to point out that he outran Peter to the tomb. Even though Peter entered first, John notes, twice, that he was the first to arrive. We imagine Peter reading it, saying, “Okay. We get it, John. You’re fast.”

But that’s not all John arrived at first. John was the first to arrive at the conclusion that Jesus was alive without seeing Jesus in the flesh. After hearing the testimony of Mary Magdelene, racing Peter to the empty tomb, and going in to see the carefully arranged graveclothes, John believed. Others needed more convincing.

The most famous of these, of course, is Thomas. Thomas also beat Peter to something. Thomas was the first disciple to express that he was willing to die with Jesus. That’s exactly what Thomas expected when they returned to Bethany before Lazarus was raised. (John 11.16

Thomas had good moments but history remembers and has named him for his worst moment. Thomas’s doubt is part of his story, but it is not his whole story. His doubt teaches us the important lesson that the disciples investigated the evidence and were convinced utterly that Jesus was alive. Thomas’s doubt helps our certainty. But his doubt isn’t his identity. 

Jesus doesn’t want you, or Thomas, to be defined by your lowest moment. Jesus didn’t give Thomas the nickname “doubting” and Jesus doesn’t have a nickname for you based on your failures either. 

Coming to faith in Jesus isn’t a race to be won. You can be quick to believe, like John, confused, like Peter, or cynical, like Thomas. Keep searching among the community of faith. Jesus will show up searching for you, bringing new and better adjectives.

We can edit our identity because of Jesus. He takes our descriptors and gives us his. We were sinners. Now we are righteous. We were dead. Now we are alive.

Do you, like Thomas, have an adjective attached to your name? As a writer and editor, let me encourage you to delete it. What adjectives do you carry with you? Doubting? Wounded? Worthless? Unreliable? Delete them and accept the new descriptors that are given to us in Jesus: 

Your defining moment is no longer your lowest moment. It is Jesus’ victory through the cross and resurrection.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. — Psalm 85.13

Today’s Readings
Genesis 21 (Listen 3:59
John 20 (Listen 4:17)

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Another “first” to note in the resurrection appearances of Jesus, is the first person to believe that Jesus was resurrected without seeing him.

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