Tag Archives: Mark

Life – The Big Picture

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?”

Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.               (Mark 12. 28-34)

When Jesus recited the greatest of the commandments, He repeated the word “all” four times. Later Paul emphasized that “all things were created” through and for Christ (Colossians 1.15-18). How much of “all” is all?

Here’s how the typical American who lives to be 75 year old will spend his or her life: 8% Preschool; 12% School; 39% Work; 28% Time Off; 18% Retirement; and .9% Church.

In light of the use of time, when does a person “love the Lord God” as Jesus commanded? Is that limited to what one does for an hour or so on Sunday morning? If so, then worship takes up a mere 3,900 hours, or 0.9 percent, of one’s waking life – assuming that one goes to church every Sunday for 75 years!

Is that what Jesus or Paul had in mind? No, Christ is Lord of all life – not just Sunday mornings, but weekdays, too, including time at work. Furthermore, He is Lord not only of our time, but of our money and possessions as well. Unfortunately, many Christians in the West have developed some dangerous attitude in these areas that push God to the fringes of life. For example:

Myth: One-seventh of our time belongs to God.

Some Christians speak of Sunday as “the Lord’s Day,” a day of religion. And so it might be if Christians worshipped from sunup to sundown. But for most people Sunday worship means as hour-long service before an afternoon of televised sporting events. Thus the “day of worship” is effectively reduced to less than one-twentieth of the week.

That was never what God intended. Originally, the seventh day or Sabbath rest was viewed as the completion of the week, not a break or separation from the work week. It was a time for review, celebration, and restoration.

Yet already by Jesus’ day there were major distortions regarding the Sabbath. It had become a day of legalistic ritual. Jesus sought to restore it as a day of compassion and worship (Luke 6.1-11; John 5.1-18).

Dedicating all of our time to God does not mean apportioning so much to family, so much to a job, so much for ourselves, and a little left over for God. No, all 168 hours or the week, all 52 weeks of the year, and all of the years of a lifetime belong to God and are on loan to us to manage for Him.

Myth: Ten percent of our money belongs to God.

Some Christians believe that God expects them to give a flat 10 percent of their income to church and other ministries. The reality is that on the average, American believers give only 2.3 percent of their income to religious or charitable causes of any kind.

The underlying principle that needs to be considered is that God has given us the ability to earn money, so actually all 100 percent of our earnings belong to Him. We are called to manage our money – not just what we give away, but what we keep, too – according to His values.

Tithing was intended as a discipline to remind God’s people that all of what they have or earn belongs to Him. Originally a voluntary activity (Genesis 14.13-24; 28.20-22), it was intended for the care of others and as a representation of the worship of God (Deuteronomy 26.1-19). Tithing was never intended to replace obedience to all of God’s commands.

 – The Word in Life Study Bible

 

Abundant Life

On the night Jesus was arrested, Mark records that “a certain young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him.” But the young man tore himself free of his assailants and leaving the linen sheet in their hands, ran off naked into the night (14.51-52).

That strange incident of long ago reminds me of the lives of all those who turn and run away from Jesus – they are naked and empty. Mylon Lefevre poetically captures the futility of life without Christ:

Without Him I would be nothing;
Without Him I’d surely fail.
Without Him I would be drifting,
Like a ship without a sail.

A life without Jesus as its model and guide is one that is empty and without meaning. How sad that so many people live apart from Him. Granted, such lives may be happy and worthwhile by human standards, but that soon ends. Then what?

Often, when a well known personality dies, the media extols and lauds their earthly achievements. The person may have been a great statesman, a compassionate physician, a gifted composer of songs or sonnets, famous and lamented for their accomplishments. Yet upon reading such eulogies another question always comes to my mind: “Were they Christians, born of water and spirit, redeemed from sin by the blood of Jesus? If they were not, regardless of all they accomplished and for all they are remembered, their life was tragic and meaningless.

Physical life on earth without spiritual life in Christ is absolutely empty, meaningless, and void of hope. Jesus fills us abundantly with cause and meaning and purpose for this life, with hope and confidence and assurance for the life to come.

Well did Joel prophesy of the abundant life in Christ when he wrote,

“And it will come about in that day that the mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with milk, and the brooks of Judah will flow with water, and a spring will go out from the house of the LORD to water the valley of Acacias” (Joel 3.18).

God loves and cares and provides richly and abundantly for His people, both now and in eternity.

– Bill

 

Baptism in the New Testament

Tree_logoThe controversy about baptism, one of the most debated and discussed issues in religious circles, is not so much over what the Bible says about baptism, but what people have been taught about it. For many people, baptism is a matter of personal choice, subject to one’s own particular ideas, beliefs, or traditions. Whatever one does in the name of Christ regarding baptism – be it immersion, sprinkling, pouring, or christening of infants – pleases God, because it’s the intention of the person that’s important.

The simple words of Jesus in Mark 16.15-16 are easy to understand: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

The Simple Progression of Mark 16:15-16

  1. “GO…” – a charge to act
  2. “Go PREACH…” – to proclaim, persuade
  3. “Preach the GOSPEL…” – the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, His death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15.1-11).
  4. “He who BELIEVES…” – believes what? The Gospel, the message of salvation, the “good news” that Jesus redeemed sinful humanity on the cross with His blood.
  5. “And is BAPTIZED…” – the divinely ordered response for expressing belief in the Gospel of Christ. It is from the Greek word baptizo, meaning to dip, immerse, plunge. It is a “going down into and coming up out of” water (Acts 8.38-39). It is a burial, a covering up in water, an act compared with the Lord’s burial (Romans 6.1-11). It is a symbolic washing that cleanses one from sin (Acts 22.16). And it is the act of obedience, the visible demonstration of a person’s faith, that saves (1 Peter 3.21-22).
  6. “WILL BE SAVED…” – the direct and immediate consequence of one’s belief in Jesus as Savior and baptism into Jesus for remission of sins. One without the other renders either action invalid. Belief and baptism are inseparably linked and thus must be inseparably enjoined in order to obtain the desired and promised result of “saved.”

Matthew 28:19-20

Take a look at the parallel account in Matthew 28.19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…”

  1. “Go make DISCIPLES…” – a learner or a follower, one who has been taught.
  2. “Baptizing THEM…” – them who? Them disciples, the ones who have been taught. Taught what? Taught the Gospel, the good news of salvation in Christ (Mark 16.15).
  3. “TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE ALL THINGS whatsoever I HAVE COMMANDED YOU….” After one has been taught the Gospel and baptized, he or she needs to continue to learn and do the things Christ has commanded – to live as Christians, renewed with the mind of Christ.
  4. Those two statements of Jesus in Mark and Matthew demonstrate an important point: The ones being baptized must be capable of 1) learning (Matthew 28.19); 2) believing (Mark 16.15); and 3) continuing to learn (Matthew 28.20). In other words, baptism, according to the Bible, is for those who are able to make intelligent, rational, moral decisions. That would exclude infants and small children. In every instance in the New Testament where people were baptized, it was in direct response to the teaching and learning of the Gospel. Read these passages and see for yourself: Acts 2.22-41; 8.12-13; 8.26-40; 9.1-19 (22.1-16); 10.3-11.4; 16.14-15; and 16.25-34.

—Bill

 

“Coptic” Christians

“Are Coptics Christians?” asked one of our members recently. “And what is the Coptic Church? I’ve never heard of it before.”

“Coptic” Christians and the Coptic Church have been in the news lately, mainly because they have become the targets of religious persecution following the ouster of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

Origin of the Word “Coptic”

Egypt may have the longest documented history of any language in the world, having remained in written use from approximately 3200 BC to the Middle Ages and as a spoken language for even longer. Coptic belongs to the Later Egyptian phase, which started to be written in the New Kingdom (1600-1100 BC). In the first century AD the language began to be written using the Greek alphabet and developed into what is known as the Coptic Script.

The Origin of the word “Copts” derives from the word Aigyptos, which means “Egypt” in Greek. The word was corrupted when the Arabs invaded Egypt in 641 AD. The Arabs couldn’t pronounce Aigyptos; instead they pronounced it as “Gypt” or “Kipt.” They called Egypt the Land of the “Kipt,” or “Copt.”

Origin of the Coptic Church

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is the official name for the largest “Christian” church in Egypt and the Middle East. The Church belongs to the Oriental Orthodox family of churches, which has been a distinct church body since the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, when it took a different position over Christological theology from that of the body of churches that would later split into Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. The precise differences in theology that caused the split with the Coptic Christians are still disputed, but mainly are concerned with the nature of Christ.

The foundational roots of the Church are based in Egypt, but it has a worldwide following. According to tradition, the church was established by Mark the evangelist (Acts 12.12; Colossians 4.10) in the middle of the first century (approximately AD 42). The head of the Coptic Church is the Pope of Alexandria (like the Roman Catholic Pope is also the “Bishop of Rome”). Their current head is a fellow called Pope Shenouda III. More than 95% of Egypt’s Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, but currently constitute only 9% of the Egyptian population.

Relationship to Monasticism

Many Egyptian Christians went to the desert during the third century, and remained there to pray and work and dedicate their lives to seclusion and worship of God. This was the beginning of the monastic movement. “Christian monasticism” was born in Egypt and was instrumental in the formation of the Coptic Orthodox Church’s character of submission, simplicity and humility. By the end of the fifth century, there were hundreds of monasteries and thousands of cells and caves scattered throughout the Egyptian desert. A great number of these monasteries are still in existence to this day.

All Christian monasticism stems, either directly or indirectly, from the Egyptian/Coptic example. Basil, the  “archbishop” of Caesarea of Cappadocia, founder and organizer of the monastic movement in Asia Minor, visited Egypt around AD 357; his rule is followed by the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin, passed through Egypt while en route to Jerusalem around AD 400, leaving details of his experiences in his letters. Benedict founded the Benedictine Order in the sixth century on the model of Pachomius, a Coptic monk credited with organizing early monasteries, but in a stricter form. Even today, countless pilgrims continue the “Desert Fathers” to emulate their spiritual, disciplined lives.

Coptic Orthodox Church Around the World

There are about 20 million Coptic Orthodox Christians in the world. Between 7 and 10 million of them are found in Egypt under the jurisdiction of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. There are also significant numbers in the “diaspora” (scattering or dispersion, “the movement, migration, or scattering of people away from an established or ancestral homeland”) in countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, and Sudan. The number of Coptic Orthodox Christians in the diaspora is roughly four million. In addition, there are between 350,000 and 400,000 native African adherents in East, Central and South Africa. Although under the jurisdiction of the Coptic Orthodox Church, these adherents are not considered Copts, since they are not ethnic Egyptians.

The Coptic Church is a form of “Catholicism” of which there are several distinct “families” – Roman Catholicism, Coptic Orthodox Catholicism, Greek Orthodox Catholicism, Serbian Orthodox Catholicism, and Russian Orthodox Catholicism, to name a few.

– Bi

The Eye of a Needle

A young man ran up to Jesus one day and asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” When Jesus told him to keep the commandments of the Law, he replied, “I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Jesus told him to go sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. When he heard that, the young man turned and walked away. He was wealthy, and discipleship cost too much. (Mark 10:17-31)

The Cost of Salvation

Paul tells us in Ephesians 2.8 that our salvation is freely given. However, it’s acquired only at great personal cost – we must give ourselves in return. That’s always been the hardest thing to do. “Strive to enter by the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13.24). The word “strive” in that passage is the same Greek word from which we get “agonize.” The meaning is clear. It is not easy – it is hard. It is agony to surrender self. Not many are able to do it, but for those who do, theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Problem with Wealth

As Jesus stood and watched that young man leave, He warned His disciples about the problems associated with material wealth. “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Mark 10.23), and again, “…how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God!” (verse 24), and finally, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” (verse 25).

Some have attempted to explain the Lord’s impossible illustration by suggesting He had reference to a small gate in a city’s wall through which a camel, after its load had been removed, might barely and with great strain squeeze through. Such an explanation robs the statement of its power; it takes that which is obviously impossible and makes it possible. The picture Jesus wanted His hearers to imagine was a literal camel trying to pass through the eye of a literal needle. He wasn’t suggesting that it might be done – He was stressing the utter impossibility of the act.

On another occasion Jesus accused the scribes and Pharisees of straining out gnats and swallowing camels (Matthew 23.24). He didn’t mean they were actually swallowing camels, but that they were so picky about small, insignificant matters that they were unaware of their large and obvious failures.

Only God Can Save

The camel and the needle teach us that we are unable to save ourselves, even if we are rich and powerful. In fact, wealth creates greater problems for those who have it than for those who don’t. It was hard for that young man – the Gospels describe him as a “rich, young, ruler” – to picture himself as a “broke, young, servant.” He couldn’t and he wouldn’t.

The Lord’s words startled His disciples. “Then who can be saved?” they asked, verse 26. If the rich are not acceptable, then how can we poor simple folk even begin to hope?

Jesus’ answer reveals the power, mercy, and glory of God. “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God” (verse 27). Entrance into God’s Kingdom isn’t dependent on what we have or who we are, but to Whom we turn.

What Does God Require of Us?

This passage in Mark alarms me. Comparing ourselves today to the disciples of Jesus then, and possibly to the rich, young, ruler himself, we are all extremely wealthy. Our advanced culture and our level of affluence makes us think we are self-sufficient. Because we have more, there’s the danger of thinking we’re better. That’s not so – we are more accountable. “…to whom much is given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12.48).

– Bill

 

The End Is upon Us!

“Rape, murder, earthquakes and floods, single-parent families, war, AIDS. They’re all part of God’s plan to destroy Earth within the next 10 years.” That was the prediction of Rev. Carl Holland of York Assembly of God in York County, Virginia as reported by Ken Baker in the Wichita Eagle on February 4, 1995. That article was written 16 years ago.

Through two thousand years of Western history millions of people have believed that they were living in the last days. Many sincere, devout, and knowledgeable people have seen the end as imminent. But they have all been wrong. However, the failure of such prognostications should not dull our sensitivities to end-time events.

Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert. Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the morning— in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. What I say to you I say to all, Watch! Mark 13.33-37

Rather, we should live with the full realization that someday the world will end. Sensible people recognize that Apocalyptic ideas and predictions are shaped by each generation’s historical context. As has been demonstrated time and time again, all have been proven to be false and fanciful. Nevertheless, we must not allow such failures to lull us into a sense of false security, of thinking the end is nowhere near. As Christians we must be constantly prepared for Christ’s return. The “signs” indicating the last days are not new – they have been visible for two millennia.

– Bill

 

The Power of the Seed

And He was saying, The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows — how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come. Mark 4.26-29

Jesus reminds us through this parable that the results of our labor lie not within ourselves and are not dependent on what we do – the power is in the seed. As everyone who lives in our part of the country knows, it takes time for the crop to develop. The parable emphasizes the principle of cooperation and patience; if we do our part, the seed will work its power and produce life.

Not every seed sown will germinate. Just as the sower broadcast the seed across various soil types, so the gospel will fall upon deaf and careless ears just as certainly as it will be heard by those who will readily receive it into their hearts. Scripture affirms that God’s Word will not return to Him void (Isaiah 55.11). We are the planters and waterers in God’s field; the results, the increase are in His hands (1 Corinthians 3.6).

You men who work the fields are demonstrating a parable. You’ve recently finished planting, and look at your fields. The seeds have sprouted, sent up their first shoots – now begins the weeks of watching, watering, working, and waiting for the crop to mature and produce its fruit – but don’t you still marvel at the wonder of it? How does that little seed do it?

The same wonder and faith apply to the Kingdom. We don’t have to understand how growth is going to occur before we begin our work of planting. Faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Romans 10.17). It is God’s Word through the Spirit that convicts the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16.8). God’s Word is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4.12). Jesus called that Word a “seed” to remind us that the power is in the seed and not the sower.

As we look out across the fields of maturing wheat and freshly sown corn, let’s think about these principles of seed growth, because it’s easy to become discouraged or frustrated at what appears to be lack of growth or progress. Let’s remember the Lord’s assurance that if we cast the seed upon the soil, the seed will sprout and grow.

So then, let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary (Galatians 6.9).

– Bill

 

“Doomsday” – The Signs of the Times – Mark 13

Wars and rumors of wars…earthquakes and famines…pestilence and disease…worst disasters ever! Looking at current events certainly causes a bit of anxiety as to what the future holds, especially for our children and grandchildren.

Jesus’ teaching in Mark 13 (parallel accounts in Matthew 24 and Luke 21) speak to these issues. They certainly made an indelible impression on His disciples. What touched off the discussion was the disciples’ comments about the solidity, strength, and magnificence of the Temple buildings. Jesus was not impressed, telling them they were only temporary structures and would someday be torn down with not one stone left standing on another.

The disciples, thinking such destruction could occur only at the end of the world, asked the Lord when it was going to happen. Jesus replied it will happen when there are wars and rumors of wars, pestilence and disease, famine and earthquakes, persecution and trial, when family turns against family, and when deceit and deception are common place.

Those conditions characterize any and every age – the “time” is always at hand. Jesus concludes His teaching with these provoking words: “Watch therefore, for you do not know when the Master of the house is coming – in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning – lest, coming suddenly, He find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all – Watch!”


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Memorial Day

Tomorrow our nation will pause to observe Memorial Day in remembrance of the men and women who have lost their lives in the service of our country and specifically in memory of those who perished in war.

Freedom. That’s the watchword of our republic, and while taken for granted so much of the time, it must be remembered it has been secured and maintained at a precious cost. Those who laid down their lives to protect the freedom of others deserve to be remembered.

Sunday, and each Lord’s Day, is also a Memorial Day. Continue reading Memorial Day