A response

Read: Numbers 34-36, Mark 10:32-52

Do you ever read a verse or two in the Bible and think, I’ve read this somewhere before… For me, today was one of those days. As I read through the account of blind Bartimaeus in Mark, I was reminded of another passage in scripture. And no, it wasn’t someone else’s account of the same man. It was in Hebrews and it feels like a response to the account in Mark. Let me show you what I found.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…

Hebrews 12:1a (NIV)

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd…

Mark 10:46a (NIV)

I understand that Hebrews is referring to all of those great men and women of the faith that have gone before us, but the crowd in Mark also served as witnesses. Some didn’t feel that Bartimaeus deserved Jesus’ attention, but others did.

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”

Mark 10:48-49 (NIV)

Without these people who encouraged him, Bartimaeus would never have experienced what happened next. The passage wouldn’t even be in the Gospels. How inconsequential would a man calling after Jesus be? I’m sure it happened all the time. But because this beggar was surrounded by those who had already seen or experienced Jesus, we have his story to tell.

Let us throw off everything that hinders and thes in that so easily entangles.

Hebrews 12:1b (NIV)

Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

Mark 10:50 (NIV)

Throw, throwing, both of these words come from the same root that mean to get away from. The implication is that it wasn’t a slothful trod away from hindrance, but a sudden casting away from that which may entangle a person. It is likely that Bartimaeus would not have been able to jump up had he remained wrapped up in his cloak. But because he didn’t want to lose his chance at speaking with Jesus, he tossed it aside and got away from it.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.

Hebrews 12:2a (NIV)

“Rabbi, I want to see.”

Mark 10:51b (NIV)

One translation goes so far to say, “That I may see thee.” Bartimaeus didn’t just want to see, he wanted to see Jesus.

…and let us run with perseverance the race marked for us.

Hebrews 12:1c (NIV)

Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Mark 10:52b (NIV)

Many Christians are under the impression that we must be trailblazers, crashing ahead, clearing a path that has yet to be trod. Never once did Jesus tell his followers to go somewhere he’d never been or do something he’d never done. Bartimaeus got up and followed Jesus. The writer in Hebrews tells us to run the race that’s been marked for us.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:2 (NIV)

Jesus already blazed the trail with his suffering. He marked it with his blood. It is through our faith—that begins and ends with Christ—that we see that road before us. And, like Bartimaeus, we must refuse to give in to those who would shut us up or discourage us from receiving that which we’ve been promised, cast away anything that might hold us back, jump up, declare what we want from Jesus, and follow him.

The name game

Read: Numbers 18-20, Mark 7:1-13

What’s a name? Is it just something we call ourselves to differentiate us from others? Is it part of our identity? Is it our entire identity? Do our names make us who we are or do we define our names? We use names lightly and we take them seriously. They become associations and labels. They let others know who we are, what we do, and where we belong. Names can lift people up or tear them down. They can be forever or they can be for convenience.

Several groups in the Bible had some issues with their names. They assumed a name, but rejected the identity that went along with the name.

Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here?”

Numbers 20:2-4 (NIV)

In one sentence, the spokesperson for Israel both declares them to be a nation belonging to God and a nation who rejects God. They had just gone through the whole ordeal of having proven Moses and Aaron as leaders of the nation, yet the people still weren’t pleased. They liked to remember and point out their status as God’s children, but quickly forgot all He had done for them and all they had done in disobedience to Him.

Jesus also encountered a group of people who used their name for status and wealth.

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teaching are but rules taught by men.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”

Mark 7:6-8 (NIV)

For both the Israelites and the Pharisees, it suited them to be associated with God. It was helpful and beneficial to assume a relationship with the name of the Lord, but that’s all it was—a nominal association.

Sound familiar? Who hasn’t met a person who call themself a Christian, but like the Pharisees and teachers of the law, merely honours God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him?

CHRISTIAN: A real disciple of Christ; one who believes in the truth of the Christian religion, and studies to follow the example, and obey the precepts, of Christ; a believer in Christ who is characterized by real piety.

Being a Christian is far more than assuming a name. In the early days of the church, to bear the name of Christ meant a constant threat of painful death. Followers of The Way were all to aware of the consequences of those they associated with, yet they took the name anyway, giving themselves completely to the cause of Christ.

Few of us regularly consider why we even call ourselves Christians. We simply are. Do we take the time to meditate on what that really means? Or do we use the name because it is useful to us? We should all consider our purpose and reason for bearing the name of Christ. We must determine if our claim to Christ is one of convenience or commitment.

Square peg

Read: Number 14-15, Mark 6:1-32

You may have heard the term, like fitting a square peg into a round hole. No matter how hard you try, those corners are not going to magically round off so that the square peg can fit into a circle. Sometimes, the way we minister is the square peg and those we’re ministering to are the round hole. No matter what you say or how you say it, the message isn’t going to get through. Jesus had some advice for his disciples for such a time as this.

And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.

Mark 6:11 (NIV)

As I’ve been turning this verse over in my mind throughout the day, I’ve come to several conclusions.

  1. This is not an excuse to leave when things get difficult. There is a difference between difficult and not being received altogether. Sometimes ministry—our Christian lives—is hard. A lot of the time it’s hard. But that doesn’t mean we’re just supposed to give up. Welcome and comfort are not always equal. My pastor said this morning that complacency is the greatest stifler of the church. When we get all cozy, we do nothing.
  2. Leaving someone or some place that doesn’t welcome you is not giving up. Notice that Jesus didn’t tell his disciples that they had to stay in one place until everyone accepted the Good News. He didn’t expect them to stay in an unwelcome place. He wanted them to be where the Gospel would be received.
  3. The Gospel spreads faster where it is welcome. Our Great Commission as believers is to share the Gospel with every nation. That doesn’t mean we have to start with the hardest ones first. I think Jesus actually wanted his disciples to start with the easy ones. Do you want to know why? More people get saved in the easy ones and the more people who are saved, the more people will get saved. I believe that some of those cities who scoffed at the disciples, after hearing of the miracles that followed them wished they’d have been more welcoming.

Mark 6-12-13.jpg

The disciples went where they were welcome, where they were made to fit. They didn’t stick around as square pegs in a round hole trying to make something work.

If God has told you to be where you are, stay. I don’t want to tell someone that, because something is hard, they should leave. Sometimes God asks us to stick around through very difficult situations and I believe that He can and will work through them.

And I’m also not saying that the path of least resistance is the one we should all be taking. The Bible is full of seemingly contradictory teaching and it is up to us to read through it carefully and depend on the Holy Spirit to help us discern what is right for each of us.

Sometimes that peg will never fit. Sometimes the peg needs to be whittled down to fit. Sometimes the hole need to be chiseled to accommodate. And sometimes, we just need to light it all on fire with the power of the Gospel.

Isolate

Read: Leviticus 13, Matthew 26:20-54

Leviticus 13 is probably one of the most disgusting chapters in the Bible. I don’t mean that in a Hey man, that was totally disgusting! (which really means cool) kind of way. I mean it’s gross. It’s an entire chapter on rashes, boils, pus, and other infections that I’d rather not read about in such detail. But it’s important.

In a practical sense, removing from the camp those with infections was helpful to the entire nation. Left to fester, a person could end up infecting a high percentage of the population over a period of time.

In a spiritual sense, we can take away a few things. If we take the concept of an infection and apply it to our spiritual lives, those infections become ideas. Some ideas are good and, like a nasty rash, some are bad and can spread in a hurry. So what can we do?

  1. Identify. Is my perceived issue really an issue at all? Are the ideas rolling around in my head just ideas or are they more? Do they have the potential to create bigger issues down the road if left unchecked? If you’re not sure about some thoughts or ideas you’ve been entertaining, check with the Word of God. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says that we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. Once you’ve identified whether a thought is obedient to Christ or not, we can move on.
  2. Incubate. Some ideas never go beyond an initial thought. They come and go. Others may need more time to fully form so that they can be weighed against the Bible. Leviticus describes some skin rashes that either healed over a period of seven days or began to fester and spread. Some thoughts will be brought into line simply by renewing our minds while others may start to get out of control if not reined in.
  3. Isolate. If a thought or idea that you’ve been entertaining proves to be set against the knowledge of God, it’s time to isolate. When a person was found to have an infectious skin disease, they were isolated until they were healed and could once again be made ceremonially clean. If the infection persisted, these people were forced to live outside the camp to prevent the infection from spreading to others. If you find your thoughts leading you astray, isolate them. Take them captive. Don’t entertain them. Don’t spread them.

Leviticus 13:46

Ideas, when they become words, are like an infection. Once they’re out there, it’s pretty difficult to take them back without a great deal of effort and energy. By dealing with issues before they ever get to the contagious stage, we could solve a lot of issues in the church. Our standard always has been and should be the Word of God. If what we think or say is not for God, it is against Him. And it is up to us to keep ourselves and each other in line—even if it means taking the time to correct our thought patterns. Better to live in isolation for while than to have to live outside the camp and fellowship of other believers.

Difficult? Maybe. But we have the mind of Christ according to 1 Corinthians 2:16.

es·ta·blished

In 2017, I made the decision to read my Bible every day. And not just read it, but learn from it and grow from it. Thus began the Daily: A Year in the Word of God series. Over the course of 365 days, I read my Bible from cover to cover. As I read, I prayed that God would show me something, anything, from His Word. He never failed. I found something applicable to me every day from January to December, from Genesis through Revelation.

In 2018, I want to go further. I want to take what God brought into my life last year and get it rooted down deep. I want to be more established in His truth. So, being careful not to repeat myself, Established is the next step from Daily in which I will pray once again that God reveal Himself to me on every page of His word. I’ve begun January 1, but feel free to start at anytime (after all, there is no time like the present).

This year, I have selected a new Bible to read from. As before, I want to start with a clean slate. I find that, as I read from a well-used Bible, I am drawn to passages that I have already marked and, since my New Living Translation is now marked up, I will take up the NIV Archaeological Study Bible.

As you read through your own Bible, I encourage you to find either a new copy or one that has few markings. Let God show you new and different things that you may not have seen before.

In addition to a fresh Bible, I will continue to reference Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language (webstersdictionary1828.com) as well as several commentaries including Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, The Abingdon Bible Commentary, and The International Bible Commentary. Try looking a little deeper for yourself. I tend to stay away from electronic devices when at all possible (the internet is mighty big distraction), but if you are unable to find a commentary (I found mine on my grandmother’s bookshelf and at a second hand store),
biblegateway.com or biblehub.com are great resources. The YouVersion Bible app is also available on nearly any internet-ready device.

Let it grow

If you’ve never heard the song Let It Go from Disney’s Frozen, you’ve probably been living under a rock for the past few years. Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you can probably belt out a line or two of the chorus. And anything that sounds remotely like “let it go” can (and probably has been) turned into a parody. Our verse today lands us in this boat.

Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.

James 1:2-4 (NLT)
emphasis added

Immediately, images of the blonde princess blasting ice everywhere came to mind and I wondered how this could possibly apply to the Bible. But if you think hard enough, you can apply just about anything—even a cartoon.

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway

In the film, Else—a princess with magical wintery powers, runs away and embraces her struggle. She no longer has to hide her abilities and, once she accepts that, she becomes stronger for it.

Now, we don’t have the ability to make an ice castle from nothing or bring on an eternal winter in the middle of a beautiful summer, but we do encounter struggles. Inside us all is a strong, confident person trying to get out and prove something. But the storms life throws at us push that confidence deep down inside. We get down, maybe depressed, because the storms never seem to end.

But what if, like the princess, we embraced the storm? Instead of seeing a setback, we saw opportunity? Naturally speaking, storms can be beneficial. They bring rain to promote plant growth. They bring cool air to moderate the climate. Lightening actually improves soil quality by converting nitrogen gas into nitrogen compounds which help soil fertility. Storms also help diminish pollution.

If natural storms can do all this, don’t you think that spiritual storms can do the same? Sometimes we need a little rain to stir us up. If we never struggled at all, how would we ever become stronger? What if your current struggle is meant to take some pollution—some unnecessary and poisonous things—out of your life?

Don’t fight the storm. Allow your faith to be tested, tried, and strengthened. Then let it grow.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 20-21, James 1

Living power

For those of us blessed with literacy, our daily lives are filled with words. Emails, books, signs, letters, newspapers. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to read and comprehend words. But, because we see so many of them, they can start to lose meaning. They’re just words.

Because words are just words, we can also have a tendency to apply that attitude toward the Word of God. They’re just words. Numbers. Letters. Stories. Like the words we are surrounded by, the Word of God can become meaningless if we fail to see it for what it really is—full of living power.

For the Word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires It exposes us for what we really are.

Hebrews 4:12 (NLT)

Full of living power. Let’s look at a few more words to explain these three big ones.

FULL: Replete, having within its limits all that it can contain; abounding with, having a large quantity or abundance; supplied, not vacant; large, entire, not partial; strong, not faint; abundant, plenteous, sufficient.

LIVING: Dwelling, residing, existing, subsisting; issuing continually, running, flowing; producing action, animation and vigor, quickening.

POWER: The faculty of doing or performing any thing, moving or producing a change in something, ability or strength; force, energy.

We should never allow ourselves to look at God’s Word as just words. The text contained in the Bible isn’t just anything. Those words contain the power to heal and bring life. They also have the power to cut—not to harm, but to remove all of the things that would hinder us from growing into the people that God has called us to be.

There are no limits to God’s Word. The strength and force within His Word flows continually, without end. And that flow isn’t just a trickle. It’s abundant. Large. Not faint. And He’s given that Word, full of living power, to us.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 46-48, Hebrews 4

Faithful

FAITHFUL: Firm in adherence to the truth and to the duties of religion; fidelity, loyal, true to allegiance; constant in the performance of duties or services; constant.

Faithfulness is a rare trait these days. Contracts are broken when it no longer suits one or both parties. Vows are unmade when temptations become too strong. Promises are about as strong as thin ice over a puddle after the first frost.

Since fidelity is no longer a trait we strive toward, it makes our walk of faith even more difficult. No longer do we hear my word is my bond and then see such statements carried out. A handshake is nothing more than a greasy agreement, easily slipped out of. So how can we possibly remain faithful in our Christianity when we have nothing with which to base our fidelity on?

But if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.

Hebrews 3:14 (NLT)

Just because faithfulness hold little value in society doesn’t give us an excuse to allow the world’s views to spill over into our relationship with God. The world may not be able to give us a solid example of faithfulness, but they don’t have to. God already has. Open your Bible. Those thin pages are full of accounts of weighty promises that have never been broken. At one time, we all as believers, put enough trust in Christ to rescue us from an eternity in hell and we must do all that we can to hold on to that first faith.

We have our example and we must strive to follow it to the very best of our ability—with a little help from our friends.

Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God.

Hebrews 3:12-13 (NLT)

Being faithful doesn’t have to be a lonely walk. It shouldn’t be. By instituting the fellowship of the saints, Jesus set in motion a plan to help us help each other. If we only hold each other accountable and allow ourselves to be held accountable, this whole business of remaining faithful becomes a lot easier.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 43-45, Hebrews 3

Why wait?

There are many reasons we wait in life. There’s a line. We’re not ready. We’re not prepared. We don’t have the right supplies or equipment. Maybe we’re anxious or afraid or shy. Maybe it isn’t the right time. Whatever the reason, we wait. A lot. Even when we shouldn’t.

Timothy may have be one who had a tendency to wait because Paul gave him this instruction:

Preach the word of God. Be persistent whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.

2 Timothy 4:2 (NLT)

I think we’d all like to wait for a favourable time, the right time. And often, waiting for the right time becomes a grand excuse to never really accomplish anything—especially when it comes to sharing the Gospel.

Paul told Timothy to be persistent whether the time is favorable or not.

PERSIST: To continue steadily and firmly in the pursuit of any business or course commenced.

When Jesus commissioned the disciples to go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, he didn’t qualify his statement with a time or place. He told them to go. He told them what they could do if they did and then he was gone.

So what are our excuses for waiting to share the Good News? Maybe we’re waiting to be alone with a certain person. Maybe we don’t think we know enough. Perhaps we wait until we’re comfortable.

If you’re not alone, go for it. Maybe someone else needs to hear what you have to say. If you’ve been saved and know Jesus, you know enough. Get your Bible out and read. If you want to be comfortable, good luck. The message of the cross is uncomfortable.

But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.

2 Timothy 4:5 (NLT)

As the body of Christ, we can no longer afford to wait for the favourable time—because there isn’t one. We’ve been given a message. We’ve been given a commission. We’ve been given power and authority. So what are we waiting for?

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 27-28, 2 Timothy 4

 

Your name here

As we read the Bible, we should always take into consideration the context in which the verses were written. Who wrote them? Who are they talking to? Are they talking about a specific event or period of time? Is it culturally relevant? There are many variables that can change the way we perceive the Word of God. As Pastor Morris Watson put it in his message Do You Know What You’re Asking For?, not everything in the Bible is meant for us personally. But that’s not to say that we can’t take some of it personally.

There are those who like to take scripture and insert their own name into it. I’m not usually one to make a habit of it, but since today’s portion of scripture already has a name in it, why not try inserting your own name in place of Timothy’s?

But you, (insert your name here), belong to God; so run from all these evil things, and follow what is right and good. Pursue a godly life, along with faith, love,  perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for what we believe. Hold tightly to the eternal life that God has given you, which you have confessed so well before so many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:11-12 (NLT)

Paul has been writing to Timothy about avoiding many of the pitfalls the Jewish nation was prone to. We’re pretty much in the same boat as the Jews were at that time. The world pushes against us trying to force us into their way of thinking and holding on to the truth becomes more and more difficult.

So today, if you find your faith being pressured, remember these words. Insert your name here and remember that you belong to God. Follow what is right and good. Pursue a godly life. All of these things that Paul encouraged Timothy to do still apply to us today.

Take these words to heart. Take them personally and then you and I can fight the good fight for what we all believe.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 17-19, 1 Timothy 6