Day One with Mark: Mark 1:1-8

As we start our journey through Mark together, today we are going to look at Chapter 1:1-8:  In the NRSV this section is entitled The Proclamation of John the Baptist

1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

stjohnA few things that jump out to me in this passage.  First, in verse 1, the “good news.” That’s what the word Gospel means.  It is good news.  Jesus is Good News.  The grace of God is good news. When we tell folks about God, we are telling them about good news!  God loves you!  Do we communicate that “good news” like it is actual good news?

In verses 2-3, we see a quotation from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.  Mark’s Gospel doesn’t have as many Old Testament quotations as Matthew does, but he does quote from the Old Testament a good bit.  Why? Well, a couple of reasons.  First, this shows the Jewish believers that this “new” Christian faith is really the same faith that their ancestors were pointing to.  It is actually what Abraham and Moses and others were hoping and longing for.

And second, it shows us non-Jewish (i.e. Gentile) believers that God was at work for a long time.  We aren’t the first believers in God ever.  God was working all of history towards the coming of Jesus Christ.  And we as Christians, we should not forsake the Old Testament. We should treasure it and read it as well.  It is our story as well. We believe that all the Bible is inspired.  The Old Testament matters to us as well!

In verses 4-8, we see the entrance of John the Baptist.  Can’t you just picture him with this description. And you know what?  He looks different, doesn’t he?  Mark makes it clear to us that he is not like the other religious leaders.  Not in his dress, not in his actions (baptism of repentance) and not in his message – the savior is coming.

John was different. But what was his purpose?  To prepare the way for Jesus.  To get folks ready for Jesus.  To make sure that people knew Jesus and were ready to follow him.

In fact, you and I have the same purpose.  To make Jesus known.  So, we too have a different message and a different purpose.  Just like John, we are called to be different. And we are called to point folks to Jesus.

Today, we share that same mission as John.  To point folks to Jesus.

What questions do you have?  How does this strike you?  Shoot me an email, comment below, or connect with me through social media.

Tomorrow we’ll look at Mark 1:9-15.

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Where Do I Start Reading the Bible

godwin_bible460I’ve been doing this daily blog for over a decade now.  It started out as an email and then has morphed a lot into several forms. But basically what I’ve always done is this.  I follow the Morning Office out the Book of Common Prayer.  Here’s a link to the website I use.  Each morning there are three passages (an Old Testament, a New Testament, and a Gospel. There are also Psalms and other readings.

I read from them, and then whichever one speaks to me, I write a devotional on it.

But I’ve had something happen a few times recently, and it’s made me one to do something a little different.  I’ve had different people in different places come to me and ask, Andy, how do I start reading the Bible?  Where do I start?  What do I do?

And this is the thing that I tell them, and I want to be honest, it’s my suggestion.  I’m not saying it’s perfect for everyone, it’s just what I suggest.

I alway say this.  Start with Mark.  Don’t worry about starting in Genesis.  We can get there later.  Start with Mark.  I say start with a Gospel, because if you want to know who God is, you need to know Jesus.  He is the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).  When you see Jesus, you see God.

So, start with a Gospel. But why Mark?  Like I said, this is just me, I like starting with Mark because it’s the shortest and quickest-moving.  Most scholars think it was the first Gospel written.  And I think it’s the easiest to understand.

Some folks say start with John, and that’s perfectly fine.  John’s got some of the passages that we love the most.

But I like starting with Mark.  To me, it’s the easiest to understand of the Gospels.

So, that’s what we are going to do. For the next, oh, I don’t know, until we are finished, we are going to read through Mark together.  Each morning, there will be a passage of Mark, and I’ll offer my own reflection from it.

I’m thinking about doing a podcast with it perhaps, and maybe even a vlog.

But I think this will be a nice change-up, and a way for us to really get into the Bible.

So, starting tomorrow, we’ll read through Mark. I’m going to be pulling the readings from and I’ll be using the NRSV, mainly because that’s the most commonly used Bible at the church I serve.

But the great thing about this website is you can read for any number of translations.

So, starting tomorrow, Mark 1.  If you want to get a head start, we’ll be looking at Mark 1:1-8.

What do you think?  I’d welcome any feedback.  Shoot me an email or connect with me through Facebook or Twitter!

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prayerPrayer is an experience.  It’s a conversation.  It’s a heartfelt movement of the spirit when God is drawing us closer to Himself.  Some prayers are prayers that expressions of the heart that flow from our mouths.  Other prayers are prayers that have been passed from generation to generation, that have been played by our parents and grandparents.  Some of these prayers are even prayers that have been passed down to us by Jesus Himself.  Other prayers are simply said in silence, with no words expressed.

No matter the prayer, no matter the place, no matter the movement, these prayers are precious.

And sometimes it feels like our prayers are bouncing off the floor of heaven, not ascending to God.  We’ve all been there.  And I think Jesus Himself even knows what that feels like.  Listen to what happened today in Mark 14:33-36:

33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”

Jesus, before He goes to the cross, goes to the Garden to pray.  And He knows what is coming.  He knows it’s going to be hard, and He knows it’s going to be necessary.  And He goes to pray.

And He says, take this from me.  But not what I want.  What you want.

And I think in this prayer, we learn a HUGE prayer concept.  Prayer is not just us telling God what we want Him to do, or who we want Him to bless.  Prayer is taking that attitude of Jesus.

Not my will, but yours.

Not my stuff, but yours.

Not my life, but yours.

That’s the key to a truly powerful prayer life.  It’s not just about us giving our requests to God.  But it is about us, receiving our directions from God.

In our prayer life, may we give to God our hurts, our loss, our fear, our worry, our doubts. But may we also take that attitude of Jesus.

Your will, God.  Your plan, God.  Your life, God.

May that be our attitude and our prayer today!

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Light Has Come

Feels dark sometimes, doesn’t it?  Feels like there is darkness in the world, darkness in ourselves, darkness all over.  In the news, in our communities, all over.  It just feels dark sometimes.

Every morning I read and reflect from the Morning Office, which gives a listing of an Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospel Lesson (or reading) for the day.  Between those passages, you can read other acts of worship or readings of scripture.  And one of those daily readings is from Isaiah.  And that reading jumped out to me today.  It’s from Isaiah 60: 1-3:

1 Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

sunriseArise.  Shine.  Light has come.  Darkness covers the earth, thick darkness over the people.

Yeah, that’s how it feels sometimes, huh?  Dark.  Thick darkness.  A hopeless darkness.  Things are bad and they aren’t getting better.  Yeah, we feel that sometimes.

So that’s why I think it’s cool that every day, there is this reading.  Every day, we are reminded that light has come.  Every day we are reminded that as dark as the darkness is, the light is brighter.  The light is stronger.  The light is more powerful.

The light is stronger than the dark.  In our world.  In our souls.  In all that is happening.

Don’t given into the lie that darkness wins or is great than the light.  It is is not.  Light has come.  Light wins.  Light brings hope, peace, power, and light.

Feel the light today.  I think of the words of Psalm 139:12:

even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

That is true, because even in the darkness, God is there, we can’t flee from His presence.  And if He is there, then the darkness will be driven out.  Hope hope today.  God is good.  Trust in Him.  Cling to light.  And know that no matter how dark it seems, His light has come.

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Some of my Thoughts on Ashley Madison

Writing is one of those things that I do to help my think through things.  Here are some thoughts that have been running through my head these past few days.  I hope they can help you process all unfolding in this age we live in.

Unless you’ve been under a rock recently, you’ve heard about the Ashley Madison hack. It’s something that affected many families, industries, even the military and churches.

There are lists floating around of who is on it, and there are the names. Open for anyone to see. Some spread the lists. Others were afraid to look for fear they knew someone. There it is, all out in the open. To mourn over. To pass along. All there, right there in the open for everyone to see.

So many lives, if not destroyed, forever changed. Right there for all us all to google, search and see, by name or zip code. So many families harmed. So much, right there in front of us.

And as I thought through this, several thoughts came to my mind. But first a word. This is in no way to defend Ashley Madison or those that were part of this site. One of my favorite quotes about sin is something that I read once by Max Lucado, “The reason God hates sin so much is because it destroys His children.” That’s what I see all around in this instance. Sin that destroys so, so, so many lives.

MANTEARSAs I have read and thought and prayed, besides the destructive power of sin, a few things have come to my mind.

First, is the notion of public shame. Those whose names are on the list, it’s right there, all out in the open. On the internet. For everyone to see. To laugh at. To mock. To gossip about it. Man, that’s heavy. It’s a heavy thing to have to wear your shame in public. We all make mistakes. But for most of us, our mistakes in private and unless they have harmed others, they are our stories to reveal when we feel necessary. Those caught up in this have lost that. And that is just sad.

Second, and this is something that we all need to know, karma is not a Christian concept. The mainstream idea of karma is this; we get what is coming to us. That’s not what we believe as Christians. It’s just not. All that any of us has coming to us is judgment. We haven’t earned anything other than that. One of my favorite Christian artists, Lecrae raps this in his song Boasting:

Every day that I lie, every moment I covet
I’m deserving to die, I’m just earning your judgment.
I, without the cross there’s only condemnation.
If Jesus wasn’t executed, there’s no celebration.

And later he raps:

God has never been obligated to give us life.
If we fought for our rights, we’d be in hell tonight.
Mere sinners owed nothing but a fierce hand.
We never loved him; we pushed away his pierced hands.
I rejected his love, grace, kindness, and mercy.
Dying of thirst, yet, willing to die thirsty.

Too many Christians talk about karma. That’s just not who we are. We are people of grace. I’ve heard it said, “they got what was coming to them.” Maybe. Sin has a way of coming forth. But don’t we all have what’s coming to us?

And instead of that, don’t we want grace? Yes. Yes, we do. We all deserve judgment. And we all desire grace. And grace is never, ever deserved. That’s why it’s grace.

Grace is always an undeserved, unearned gift. That’s why it’s grace. And it goes to the most undeserving.

And one last thought. We are all broken. All of us. I am. You are. Even the self-righteous broken are still broken. And Jesus died for them too.  Jesus died for the individuals on this list.  Jesus died even for the ones doing things that offend you and I.  That doesn’t mean we’ve got to agree with their actions or condone what they are doing.

But it does mean that we have to understand that Jesus died for all of us, even the most broken among us.

I was talking with some of team today at St. Matthew’s, talking about this and other things and I told them, when I err, I will always err on the side of grace.

So, tonight, pray for families that are broken. Pray for those affected by all of this hurt. And pray for grace to make the broken whole. That’s what God desires to do, heal the broken.

May He heal the brokenness within us, so we can help heal the brokenness of others.

The Answer is Jesus

What do you think of when you think of “witnessing?”  When you think about sharing your faith, what do you think?

Many (most) of us don’t like to think about it.  Our palms may start sweating.  Our heart may start beating faster.  We don’t want to do it.  Even if we really love Jesus.  Even if we know that folks need Him. Even if we want to tell others about Him, it still makes us nervous.

Yeah, I’m a preacher, and I understand!  So listen to what we are told today in 1 Peter 3: 14-16:

14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence.

jesus-christPeter gives us this word.  Always be ready to make a defense (other versions say give an answer) for your hope.

Why do you have hope in a bad situation?

Why do you forgive others when they don’t deserve it?

How do you find the strength to get off the mat when knocked down?

How can you love, serve, and give?

Why are you different?

The answer is Jesus.  Jesus is why.  He is why we have hope, peace, and show mercy.  He is why we can believe in the darkest hour. He is why our lives can be restored and bring restoration to others.

The answer is Jesus.

So, today, we witness.  But we don’t have to witness with our words.  Now hear me, I’m not saying we shouldn’t witness with our words.  If the Lord wants you to talk to someone or say something, do it!  What you say matters!  It really does.

But, our lives, they scream as loudly as words.  Today, may we live our that hope.  And may our hope be so alive, that folks want to know why we have it.

The answer is Jesus.

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Keep it Simple

One my mentors said this once, and it’s always stuck with me.  Jesus isn’t hard to understand, He’s just hard to follow.  That’s one of those statements that’s alway just kind of hung there with me.  Forgiving your enemies isn’t complicated.  It’s just hard to do, and something we can’t do apart from Him.

The Gospel isn’t necessary complicated.  It’s actually simple.  Listen to what Paul writes today in 1 Corinthians 2: 1-2:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

When Paul comes to Corinth to preach, he says this – I will preach this simple message.  Jesus loves and died for us so that we could be brought back home to God.  He didn’t preach anything overly complicated or mysterious, just the simple word of God.

555390cc37bd22b75c366b7b_minimal-desktop-wallpaper-keep-it-simpleFirst, the Gospel at its core really is simple.  We are all broke and in need of saving.  God sent His son to die our sins and brokenness so that we could be saved.  By accepting Him and following Him, we will know life now and life forever.  We need Him, He came to us, He brings us to Himself.

We can debate lots of stuff about the Bible. Lot’s of stuff about faith.  Lots of stuff about everything. But this core, simple message of our need for God and the efforts He went through to save us, that’s the very heart of the Gospel.

That’s the simple message that Paul preached.

And second, is this.  It’s easy to worry about and fuss over the mysteries.  We can debate them all day long.  But here’s what I really believe.  I believe that God is not as worried about what we don’t know, as He is worried about what we do know, and what we do about it.

Do we know all the mysteries?  No.  None of us do. But we do know this.  We are called to love and to follow Jesus with all that we are.  We are called to forgive.  To serve.  To be faithful.  To show grace.

We don’t know the mysteries. But we do know these simple things.

Today, do we focus on what divides us the things that we don’t understand?  Or do we focus on the simple truths of God and live into those?

Today, may we keep it simple.

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What Mattered to Jesus

If you could ask Jesus what was the most important thing to do, what do you think He’d say?  What do you think he’d tell you is the most important thing for us to do as Christians?  Lots of choices, lots of options, huh?  Lots of things that He could say.

Well, you know what?  That scenario happened in scripture.  We actually know what He’d say.  Listen to what happened in Mark 12: 28-31:

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ 29Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel:the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you 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.”31The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’

love-god-love-neighborHe was asked, what is the greatest commandment?  What matters most?  What is most important?

There were a lot of things that Jesus could say, lots of places that Jesus could go.  And what did He say?

Love the Lord with all your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength.  In other words, love God with all that you are.  Love God with every fiber of your being.  With your intellect.  With your emotions.  With your body.  With everything.  Love God with every inch of who you are.

But that’s not all He tells us.  Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  So there, we see two more loves.  Love your neighbor.  And of course, we’ve seen Jesus tell us that this doesn’t mean our physical neighbor alone, but it means all the folks we come in contact with.

Love.  As Christians, we are called to love.  We have to love the people we come in contact with.  We have to show them that love.  It’s our command as Christians.  Love.

But, there is another love.  As you love yourself.  You matter.  You are important.  God loves you. That means you are to love yourself.  Stop beating yourself up.  God believes in you.  You believe in you.  You are His precious and His beloved.  And honestly, you can’t fully love your neighbor, until you love yourself.

CS Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

We are called not just to love God, love our neighbor, but love ourselves too.  Because God does.

So, we see what mattered to Jesus.  And we see what should matter to us.  Today, may we live out that love towards God, others, and ourselves, that He has called us to!

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Cause and Effect

In our lives, we all desire to have peace.  We all want to know that assurance that God is with us, that He loves us, and that everything will be ok.  And here’s the good part.  In scripture, we are promised that will happen.  In scripture, over and over again, we are promised peace.

We are promised what the Bible calls the peace that passes all understanding.  We are promised a peace that is so good, so powerful, so comforting that we cannot even understand it.

Wow!  What a promise!  What a hope!  Something to look for, something to hope in!  That peace that passes understanding.  Look at what it says in Philippians 4:6-7:

6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

cause-and-effect-essaysThat peace that passes understanding will guard our hearts.  That’s what we desire.  But look what the text tells us about when that peace comes.  First don’t worry.  But then, with prayer and supplication, make your requests known to God.  And the peace that passes all understanding will guard your heart and mind.

You will have your heart and mind guarded by God’s peace.  You will.

But first, you have to give those requests to God.  You have to take your worries, your fears, your doubts, all these things, take them to God.  Give them to Him.  And then that peace will guard your hearts and minds.

Yes, He gives us peace.  But that peace comes only through our prayer life.  It’s a cause and effect type of thing.  We pray, we receive peace.  We give our concerns to Him, we receive peace.  We lay them before Him, we receive peace.

Today, God really does offer you this gift of peace.  It’s yours.  He wants to guard your heart and your mind.

But first you’ve got to give it to Him.  He can’t help you, unless you give it to Him.  When we do that, though, that peace comes.

Today, may we all know that peace that passes understanding.  And may we find that peace when we find His face in prayer.  And may we find our hearts, and our minds, guarded by Him.

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The Secret

How do you live a happy life?  For you, what would result in happiness?

We may have a list.  If I have this.  Or if I have that.  If I’m able to accomplish this.  Or if this happens at work, or at home, or in my own life, then I’ll be happy.  We’ve probably all got our list of what we want, or want to happen, in our lives, that will make us happy.

I was thinking about that today when I read what Paul had to say in Philippians 2: 1-4.  Listen to what he shares with us:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

happy-womanHe actually gives us the secret to happiness.  As tempting as it would be to think that our happiness will come from getting what we want, or doing what we want, our having our needs/wants met, Paul turns that on its head.

If there anything good, be of the same mind with each other.  Don’t be selfish, don’t act selfishly.  Regard others as better than you, and look to their interests first.

That sounds good, until you actually think about it.  Regard others as better than you.  I don’t (and don’t want to) do that.  I want to do what I want when I want it.  We all do, don’t we, to some extent.

And that’s what our culture tells us.  Our culture tells us that happiness comes from our stuff, from us being in charge, from us being number one.  Live your life the way that you, doing what you want, achieving what you want because it’s all about you, your life, your contentment.

Today, though, we see the secret.  We see the secret to true happiness and life.  It’s not about us.

The Gospel is so countercultural.  The Gospel says – it’s not really about you.  In fact, to find life, give it away.  To find happiness, stop worrying about it.  To really live, live for others.

And I guarantee, if we try that Gospel-life we will find happiness a lot faster than any other way.  We think in living for what we think we want, we will find that happiness we desire.  We won’t.

But when we live that Gospel-life, living for Jesus, loving others, serving, giving, we find abundant, eternal life.

Today, you were made for that abundant, Gospel-centered life.  Today, live thinking of others first.  Give it a test drive.  Try it and see.  And see if you aren’t, in the end, happy.

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