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Bible Study

This past year has been a wonderful time of growth as we’ve read through the Bible each day. Thank you so much to all our writers and moderators who have helped make this past year such a success! Even though we’ve finished our Bible Reading plan, we are going to keep growing and pursuing God in this upcoming year! Subscribe to the blog to get devotions about Bible Study, gaining Wisdom, how to live in the Spirit, and more!

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Diving into Romans 8

Romans 8-5

Happy Sunday Everyone!

My name is Jennie Montgomery and I am SO excited to study Romans 8 with you guys this week. Here’s a quick video introducing myself and telling you a little bit more about our study this week.

I can’t wait to grow alongside you as we dive into God’s word!

Rom 8-6a.pngRomans 8-6 b

From Jennie…

A Vibrant Conversation with the Living God

Jeremiah 29-13

Closing (Saturday)

 

It’s been another fun week of digging through scripture to hear the word that God is speaking to us today. When we dive into the Word and start investigating the trail of inspiration and hope that it has left throughout the years, we are engaging in a vibrant conversation with the living God. We are engaging the One who is alive and active still. This week, our look at Mark 9-16 has brought out a number of themes that I’d like to just tie together quickly for us.

First, the gospels are texts that were written to be heard and to be engaged with as a whole – much like a novel. Like any good author, Mark is weaving together numerous strands of thought and repeating patterns for us to pick up on as we engage with the story of Jesus’s life. Knowing this, we can bring together the various things that Mark is trying to teach us.

In Mark 9, we are encouraged to acknowledge and embrace the places where we question and have doubt. It’s a part of the life of faith. We are pushed to not just accept our unbelief, but to express it and call out for a grace that will see us through it. In Mark 10, the request for help is answered. With the end of the messianic secret, Jesus restores sight and illuminates the darkness (the darkness of unbelief). In Mark 11 & 12, Jesus starts turning over tables. He challenges injustice and urges us to do the same. We are called to use our new sight to break the cycles of brokenness in the world and give all that we have to aid those who are in need. In Mark 13 & 14, we are urged to be on the alert. To remain vigilant in our new sight and be prepared for the suffering that will come our way. In Mark 16, Mark urges us to new life beyond suffering and tells us to go out into the world to find where Jesus has already gone and is currently waiting.

Mark’s gospel lays out a call to life that is tangible, realistic, and filled with hope for believers. My hope for you is that your life is filled with as much grace and love as this gospel commands.

-Graysen Pack

Searching for Jesus

Mark 16:1-8 (Friday)

Mark 16-6

On the Sunday after Jesus was crucified, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James & Salome went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body.  They went first thing, right as the sun was rising (as early as they could and still respect the Sabbath).  When they reach the tomb, they find the stone rolled away and a young man in white telling them Jesus was raised from the dead and was no longer here.  He tells them go and tell Jesus’s disciples and Peter that “He is going ahead of you to Galilee to meet you there.”  So the two women fled from the tomb in astonishment and trembling, saying nothing.

And that is how the oldest versions of Mark end.  That’s it.  All the rest of chapter 16 (verses 9 – 20) were added afterwards.  No appearances of the risen Jesus.  No commission to the world.  No ascending up to heaven.  Just an empty tomb and silence.

What in the world is Mark doing?!  If this were a movie, it would easily be one of the worst movie endings of all time.  And that includes some pretty unsatisfying movie endings (Inception, X-Men 3, Matrix Reloaded…).  BUT, as we’ve seen, Mark isn’t a crummy writer.  Remember his artful use of “stay alert” and his plot timings in the Temple?  Mark knew how to craft a remarkable story and to tell it with purpose.  I believe that Mark was up to something here that makes me like this older ending more than the extended one (it’s like the original vs the extended edition).  Here’s my take on Mark’s original ending.

First, we – as the reader/audience – are in the know.  From the very beginning we know that Jesus has been raised and that the church emerged as his followers continued his work.  So we know what happened.  Because we know that the church exists and that the disciples continued the work, we know that Mary & Mary weren’t silent forever.  The word spread and the gospel message grew.  I think that Mark is using our knowledge of this as a way to emphasize the irony of this moment and as a challenge for the audience to do what they know wasn’t done: DON’T BE SILENT!  Spread the good news!  From the first verses, Mark is preparing us to speak out; to be the voice in the wilderness shouting out.  We are meant to take the message forth to take up the responsibility we know we have but that is left unfulfilled in the text.

Second, the audience is meant to experience the suffering and despair of the crucifixion – not just for Jesus but for his followers as well.  Mark leaves us unsatisfied as a tool for helping us step into the shoes of those who were living this out in real time.  We experience the uncertainty and trepidation that comes with uncertainty.  BUT we still must move in light of that uncertainty.  Which then becomes faith.  Faith is belief in things unseen.  In Mark’s gospel, that faith is put into the text literally with the absence of the risen Christ.  If Mark wasn’t written until the disciples and witnesses of Jesus were all dying, then it was for an audience that would have never seen Jesus face to face.  Their faith isn’t based on some encounter with a man but an encounter with his love in the community he started.  Mark’s original ending helps us feel the void of uncertainty (what happens in our lives all the time) but also move us to a faith that is open to uncertainty and still demands that we act anyways.

Finally, I think that Mark is leaving the story in our hands.  The man in the tomb says, “Jesus is going ahead of you; there you will see him.”  Jesus isn’t in heaven in this story.  Jesus is out there – in the world.  Waiting for us.  We have to go find him.  We have to search for him.  We have to take this story and find Jesus in the love and grace and truth of a community that is searching together in the world.  This is my favorite idea in Mark; that this ending calls us to go forth and live a life for Christ so that we might find him.  But where can we find Christ?  We’ll find him in the orphan we adopt, the prisoner we visit, the poor we protect, the immigrant we give refuge, the sick we heal, the hungry we feed, and the oppressed we redeem.  I know that Jesus is in heaven now, and I can’t see heaven.  But I can see the Kingdom of God – the good news he came to spread – break into this world bit by bit when I live out the life I was created to live.  Jesus is out there, waiting for us to come and serve and find him.

Now Mark says, what are you going to do?  Will you remain here, quiet?  Or will you go and be a part of the work God is doing?

-Graysen Pack

Be on the Alert!

Mark 13 & 14 (Thursday)

Mark 13 33

The thirteenth chapter of Mark finds Jesus teaching his disciples on the Mount of Olives outside of Jerusalem.  Jesus is teaching his disciples about the tribulations that are to come and his second coming.  He ends with this admonition in 13:35-37…

“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, or in the morning – in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep.  What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’”

Jesus begins and ends his command with “be on the alert.”  In fact, Jesus says “be on the alert” in verses 33, 34, 35, and 37.  For Mark’s audience, this is like shining the spotlight on the words while fading everything else to black.  Like we covered earlier this week, the gospel was meant to be heard and hearing the same phrase back to back like this is a sign that it should be held onto.

Now, let’s jump just ahead a bit to Mark 14:32.  We’ve been through the Last Supper and Jesus has taken his disciples to Gethsemane.  He picks his three favorites (Peter, James, & John) and takes them a bit further than the rest.  He says to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.”

You ready for this?  Jesus is using the exact same word as he did back in chapter 13.  It’s even in the same tense!  The word is gregoreo by the way (like gregarious).  It’s a command directed directly at his listener.  Jesus was asking his disciples to do something much more than just stay awake.  He was pointing them back to what they had heard the night before: to be alert because the end is approaching.

In fact, when Jesus returns to find his disciples sleeping the first and second time, he repeats this same command to them, gregoreo!  Stay alert!  But upon his third visit he says it is enough, the time is now here.  In Mark 13, Jesus commands his disciples to be alert so that they may be prepared for the (ultimate) end, but in Mark 14, when the (immediate) end comes, they are asleep at their post and ultimately all leave him and flee (14:50).

This is not just a word by Jesus for his disciples but a word for us today as well.  Like the chorus in a Greek play, Mark’s words in 13:37, “What I say to you I say to all…” is a clear calling out to us here today.  Be on the alert for the end is coming and we must be prepared.  We must be prepared to face our own crucifixion – to die each day as a living sacrifice – as our own immediate ends in service, love, and sacrifice for others.  It is the cup we are called to bear as followers of the one who showed us the way.

OK – tomorrow is the big finale!  Mark’s last words to the earliest followers of Christ.  It’s a shocking, amazing, inspiring vision of Jesus’ ministry.

-Graysen Pack

A Den of Robbers

Mark 11 & 12 (Wednesday)

Mark 11 17

Once Jesus enters Jerusalem, the timeline for Mark slows down significantly.  While the first half of the book takes place over almost a year, the second half occurs in about a week.  Mark is letting us know that this is what his gospel and Jesus have been preparing for.  Mark 11 and 12 takes a closer look at the first 3 days Jesus is in Jerusalem.

While there’s a lot that we could cover here, I’d like to focus on Jesus’s experience in the Temple and how we can better understand a well known story that we may misinterpret.

On Jesus’s first day in Jerusalem, after the triumphal entry, he enters the Temple and “looks around at everything.” (11:11).  He leaves for Bethany outside of Jerusalem – using it as a kind of safe spot – instead of staying the nights in the city.  On the second day, he goes back to the city with his disciples and enters the Temple again.  However, instead of just observing, he begins to cause a scene.  Mark tells us that he starts “to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and over-turned tables of the money changers and the seats of those selling doves; and he would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple.”

Whoa.  That’s a pretty radical departure from the Jesus who didn’t want anyone to talk about the miracles he was performing.  It’s as if the shy kid from the back of the class suddenly started burning textbooks in the auditorium screaming “You won’t do any more homework while I’m around! Ha ha ha!”  It’s a little weird.  And, the principals would be rightly concerned about what was going on (like the chief priests and scribes).

So, what is going on?  First, let’s clear up some misconceptions about what the Temple looked like.  We may think that Jesus was clearing out the Temple area because the vendors were causing problems for the act of worship.  That doesn’t really fit with what we know about the Temple.  First, the area where Jesus is clearing house is HUGE.  I mean really big.  It’s approximately the size of 11 soccer fields.  That’s massive (about 704,000 square feet).  There weren’t enough vendors in all of Israel to fill that space.

Another idea is that Jesus was fed up with the temple system completely and was overturning the model that the temple existed on.  This tends to emerge when we think that Jesus is somehow trying to move beyond Judaism and create his own new thing.  Well, Jesus isn’t.  He was and is a Jew.  Mark’s gospel itself undermines this idea in chapter 12.  On the third day, Jesus returns to the Temple (where he wrecked it the day before) and sits across from the treasury.  A widow comes and puts in her 2 pennies.  Notice, Jesus doesn’t say that she is being scammed out of her pennies, that she should do something better with her money, that it isn’t right for her to give to the current system, or that she’s being robbed by the temple.  No – he says that what she’s done is more than everyone else AND it seems to be a great thing!  Even today, this widow is meant to be a role model for us.

So, what is Jesus trying to do?   Let’s look at the text.  After he drives out the merchants, he says that the temple had “become a robber’s den.” (11:17)  Was the temple robbing people?  No – a robber’s den isn’t where robbers actually rob people.  It’s a place where robbers can go and be safe.  It’s a hideout where they don’t have to worry about the law coming after them.  I don’t think that Jesus was calling out the merchants or the temple system, but rather the leadership in the Temple for their willful blindness to injustice and sheltering those who do injustice in their midst.  His criticism of the Temple isn’t for how it works or what it does, but rather for what it isn’t doing.  I think that Jesus is taking up the call of Isaiah, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isa. 1:17)

This is where I think we can find a message for our lives and churches today.  Would Jesus level the same criticism against us today?  Not that we have vendors in the church, but that we allow ourselves to become a den for those who rob others?  Jesus’s problem with the temple wasn’t directed at the merchants or vendors but at those who were complacent in the face of wrong-doing, injustice, and evil.  Standing against injustice – especially when we find it in our own house, community, and ideals can be scary and seem life-threatening.  But, I think, like the widow, we are called to give what we have – “all that [we] have to live on” – to offer hope and justice to those starving for it.

-Graysen Pack

News Too Good to Keep Silent

Mark 10 52a

As we continue to work our way through Mark, we approach the end of one of Mark’s most intriguing themes: Jesus’ emphasis on keeping his identity secret.  So far in the gospel, whenever Jesus has acted in a way that would point out that he is the messiah, he has quickly followed his action with a command for those in-the-know to be silent.

Biblical scholars call this the “Messianic Secret” of Mark.  And honestly, it’s still largely a mystery as to why Jesus does this and why Mark records it as a prevalent theme throughout his gospel.  In fact, Luke was so uncomfortable with this idea that it was explained as an attempt by Jesus to not be overwhelmed by large crowds (Luke 5:15-16).  Remember, Luke and Matthew based their gospels off of Mark’s framework.  So the healing of the leper in Mark 1 shows up in Luke 5 and Matthew 8 from their perspective.

I say all of this to point out that Mark 10 marks (ha!) the end of the Messianic Secret.  In verses 46-52 we have the story of the healing of Bartimaeus.  In the final verse, Jesus says, “Go; your faith has made you well.”  That’s it!  Before this, we would have expected Jesus to say something like “Be healed, but shush!”  No, instead Jesus heals him and that’s it.  The missing admonition is emphasized even more because in the opening of the scene, it is all of Jesus’s followers who were telling him to be quiet…very interesting… But, Jesus himself says nothing.  While Jesus may be the first example of being emo (‘I liked being quiet before it was a thing.  Now that it’s a thing, don’t.’), I don’t think that’s what Jesus or Mark had in mind.

If we look back at chapter 1 of Mark, Jesus’ first miracle happens in the synagogue (church).  He casts an unclean spirit from a man (Mark 1:23-28) telling the spirit to “Be quiet, and come out of him!”  Whoa!  The first thing Jesus says is shut it!  Now, in Mark 10, Jesus’ final miracle is the healing of Bartimaeus and he doesn’t say anything about silence.  And, it’s a miracle where a man’s sight is restored!  If Jesus is trying to hide his messiah-ship, then the restoration of sight (seeing that Jesus is the messiah) is the perfect way to emphasize it’s end.

So, what happens next?  The triumphant entry into Jerusalem where EVERYONE sees and claims the messianic nature of Jesus.  Whoa!  Mark is doing some crazy, mind-blowing stuff here that would work on even the best dramatic television shows today.

As we continue to explore Mark, we’ll get to see how this theme becomes a critical foundation for what is to come and for Mark’s final message to his reader.  So, stick around and we’ll keep digging through this amazing text together.

-Graysen Pack

What to Do with Doubt

Mark 9:14-32 (Monday)

Mark 9 24

None of Scripture was intended to be read.  Although that may seem strange to us today, the ability to read was incredibly rare.  For today, it’d be like having a doctorate.  There are a number of professor’s out there, but you don’t run into them every day.  Reading just wasn’t something most people needed to be able to do to get through their day.  The agricultural and craftsman lifestyles didn’t need to keep many notes themselves.  As a result, the writings, when they were used, were usually read aloud in a collective setting – and this is key.  Because Scripture is meant to be heard – not read!  All those with EARS, let them HEAR.

Because of this, there weren’t any of the nifty little headings that we find in our Bibles today.  It was just one long story without breaks or chapters.  So, the nice breaks that we often get around stories didn’t exist except for the past few hundred years.  For today’s reading, both of these things are really important.

These two vignettes in Mark 9:14-32 (the healing of the child and the misunderstanding of the disciples) come back to back and would have been heard that way by Mark’s original audience.  So, what I’d like you to do is try it.  Take just a second to read these verses out loud. If you’re somewhere public, just try whispering if you want.  But read it out loud and see what sticks out to you.  I’ll wait here and I’ll do it too…

[waiting]

So, how was it?  Awkward? Weird?  Probably a little.  But when I did it something new really stood out to me about this passage.  In the first story, a man comes to Jesus asking for healing for his son. Jesus responds ‘oh you faithless people…how much longer do I have to put up with you.  Bring me the boy.’  The father, distraught over Jesus’ seemingly kinda cruel response, cries out – ‘I want to believe! Please help my unbelief!’  He wants to save his son and will do whatever it takes to save him.

The next story is between Jesus and his disciples.  He’s teaching them about what’s going to happen to him when he reaches Jerusalem.  But they don’t get it.  They don’t have belief/faith, just like the dad in the previous story.  However, instead of putting aside their pride and asking for Jesus to help their unbelief (lack of understanding), they stay silent.

Here, in these few verses, a man from “this faithless generation” reaches out, pleads, and finds Jesus meeting him in his unbelief while the ones who are part of Jesus’ own inner-circle remain unmoved in their faithlessness.  And this at a time when Jesus’s time with them was literally drawing short.

The problem with this is never unbelief.  The problem is how we respond to it.  We won’t have all the answers.  We will doubt and question.  Jesus doesn’t lament our struggle – it is one that he himself walked through (for he shared in all things but without sin).  Embrace the places where you are unsure.  Lean into the spots where the struggle is the most real and you are shaken like the son in the story.  Push forward and call out for a help, a grace that will fill us in our uncertainty and bring healing.

-Graysen Pack