Monday, October 15
Read: Mark 1:21-28
Consider: One of the things that always stands out to me in this account is the comparison the people drew between those who had previously taught them and the One who was standing before them.
“The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (1:22)
Those of us who preach and teach cringe when we hear this. We don’t want to be those teachers with harsh words and an empty message. We don’t want our hearers to go away saying, “So what?” because we’ve answered questions that no one is asking. And we don’t want to simply fill the air with words that don’t honor God.
I’m sure there were some wonderful, well-meaning Pharisees in Jesus’ day. We tend to hold the Pharisees in low esteem because the ones who confronted Jesus always seemed to have ulterior motives. We know that because Jesus made it clear. He—the One who knew their hearts—called them hypocrites.
So why did the teaching of the Pharisees ring so hollow, while Jesus’ words rang so true? Well, there are a host of reasons that Jesus spoke with authority. His words were the Father’s words. His heart was the Father’s heart. He and the Father were one and the same (John 1:1).
So, what about those authority-less teachers of the law? What was missing? They didn’t have authority because they were trying to use power. They were using their religion as a club to beat people into submission. Theirs was not the passionate call of love, but the coercive rule of law.
There are times when contemporary Christians are compared to the Pharisees. It happens when they try to use power, rather than love. When a “Christian” message berates and belittles, it’s not the message of Christ. While it may carry fear, it carries no authority. When a “Christian” leader determines who is out and who is in—who is worthy and who is unworthy—people see arrogance, but no one sees Jesus.
As we try to be light in a dark world, it’s important that we don’t try to do it on our own power. We have no power to be light. But when we love like Jesus loved, with a lay-down-your-life-for-others-love, our message is beautiful.
Pray: “Jesus, I can’t love like you love on my own. The best I can do is to allow you to love others through me. In my imperfection, I invite you to be the light that shines through me. Amen.”
Tuesday, October 16
Read: Mark 1:29-35
Consider: The miracles performed by the hand and heart of Jesus are fascinating to us. He healed, he cast out demons, he calmed the storm, he raised the dead. If we’re not careful, we may look at these as some sort of effortless sweep of the hand. We’ve grown up watching fairy tales of wizards with magic wands. In those fables the people with power effortlessly waved their wands—and POOF—everything was fixed for a happy ending.
Or course, Mark was not writing a fairy tale. Jesus’ miracles are much more complex. We find God incarnated in Jesus, so it seems that his power would be infinite. And yet, Mark and the other New Testament writers keep reminding us that Jesus set aside his power and glory. He came to us as a man. As we read the gospels we get the impression that his work was not effortless, but that Jesus was constantly emptying himself—pouring himself out because of his powerful love and compassion for those who suffered.
It is no wonder, then, that after “the whole town gathered at the door” and Jesus “healed many” and “drove out demons” (1:33-34), something had to happen. Because of Jesus’ humanity, he had to be replenished. And so…
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (1:35)
Why do we pray? There are so many reasons. We pray for strength. We pray for guidance. We pray to intercede for others. We often go to prayer in a listening mode, desiring to hear from God. In fact, I really can’t think of any bad reasons to pray.
But sometimes what we need is the replenishment that comes from simply being in God’s presence. Sometimes we need to leave—leave the responsibilities, the noise, the distractions—and go to a solitary place. It’s not always possible to physically leave our surroundings and go to a quiet spot. But when that is not possible, we can teach our minds and our spirits to go to that solitary place to spend some time with Jesus.
Perhaps today you don’t need to take a prayer list to Jesus. You don’t have to articulate anything that hasn’t already been said. Maybe today you just need to be with him in a solitary place.
Pray: “Thank you, Lord, for your presence.”
Wednesday, October 17
Read: Mark 1:33-39
Consider: This story makes me tired. “The whole town” came to Jesus asking for help. He poured himself out for them, meeting their needs. And then when he went to a solitary place to pray, his disciples searched him out and exclaimed, “Everyone is looking for you!” Wow! Can’t a guy get a break?
Well, I’m not Jesus and neither are you. We can’t imagine the stress that he must have felt and the immense fatigue that he experienced. And yet, in our own way, we can identify with Jesus. Often, when we are empty, people ask for more. The demands of life are not evenly distributed across our monthly schedule. They come in bunches. So, we try to distinguish between what is important and what is simply urgent, but that is not always an easy thing to do. Sometimes a great number of important issues come to our door and we feel overwhelmed. Physical, mental and spiritual fatigue sets in and we wonder how we’re going to survive.
At these times I’m inclined to make a huge mistake. (I’m guessing that you face the same temptation.) I put off making time for myself. I think that I must address the needs before me and that I’ll be able to catch up mentally, emotionally and spiritually when the rush has passed. Bad idea! In fact, that has the potential to be a catastrophic idea.
You are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). You are a precious gift. We are taught to steward—to manage—God’s gifts in responsible and loving ways. Our time, our abilities and talents, and our material resources are all gifts from God to be used in ways that honor him. But you are the greatest gift that God has given to you and to those around you. And this very day you are to honor him with how you manage you.
I’m always challenged by the saying that every one of us needs half an hour a day for meditation, except when we are busy—then we need an hour. I’m challenged by that because it is difficult to do, but I know it is true.
Depending on what has been happening in your life, it is possible that the greatest gift you can give to God this week is to make time to rest.
Pray: “Lord, help me to somehow arrange my life so that I can meet you in a solitary place. I need your help. I pray for your rest in my body, my mind and my spirit. Thank you.”
Thursday, October 18
Read: Matthew 11:25-30
Consider: I’ve always been intrigued by Jesus’ statement in Matthew 11:30 — “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” It seems at odds with Jesus’ call to discipleship. Throughout the four gospels, Jesus made it clear that following him would cost us everything. Later in Matthew we hear him say…
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (16:24-25)
Carrying our cross—to our own deaths—doesn’t exactly sound like a light burden or an easy load.
The light burden began to make sense to me when I remembered what a yoke was. It was that wooden beam that was laid across the shoulders of a pair of oxen. A yoke was never laid on one animal. It was made for two. They shared the load, went in the same direction, made the same turns. They were bound to each other by the yoke.
Jesus called that yoke “my yoke” (11:29, 30). He didn’t say, “Take an impossible burden upon yourself.” He said, “Take my yoke upon you” (11:29). So, we walk side by side, sharing the burden, knowing that at every turn we are never alone. And the weight of the yoke gets lighter because Jesus is bearing the load.
I don’t usually read from paraphrases of the Bible. I prefer translations. But I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this great passage. It helps us see the partnership of the yoke.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)
Pray: “Lord, I’m often tempted to think it’s my yoke—my burden to carry. But you said it was your burden and that we would carry it together. Thank you, Jesus, for the privilege of walking with you.”
Friday, October 19
Read: Mark 8:31-33
Consider: This is a pretty intense scene. Something we usually don’t see in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. Yes, we’ve seen Jesus use harsh language to rebuke the Pharisees. He could see the intent of their hearts. Jesus used the word “hypocrite” to describe them. That was the Greek word for an actor—one who was simply playing a part. Jesus knew that many of the Pharisees lacked genuine love for God and people, and he hated their hypocrisy and the way they had distorted and perverted their religion.
But we’re not used to hearing sharp rebukes from Jesus to those who were sincerely seeking him. So, when Jesus says to Simon, “Out of my sight, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men,” we find ourselves a little out of balance. Imagine how Peter must have felt at that moment.
Jesus didn’t really see Peter as the embodiment of Satan. But he did see in Peter’s words and intent Satan’s resistance to the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus had come to lay down his life. The Kingdom would come in a manner which no one ever suspected. And now Peter was trying to lay down the law—he rebuked Jesus—by stating that no such thing should ever take place.
Peter wasn’t a bad man, but he was resisting thinking in kingdom terms—he was resisting “the things of God” for “the things of men” (8:33). We’re not bad people, but it is easy for us to do the very thing that Peter did. We can embrace the violence and hate of this world and think we’re doing it for the right reasons. We can believe that we can say and do bad things so that good things will happen. That is the way of Satan, not the way of Jesus.
It’s interesting to me that Jesus’ harshest language was reserved for hypocrites and for those who believed that the ends justify the means. I pray that you and I will fall into neither of those categories.
Pray: “Lord, I want a clear head and a clean heart. I want to see the work of your kingdom clearly and not confuse it with the ways of this world. I also want a pure spirit—free from hypocrisy—so that I may love as you love. I need your help and the power of your Spirit to live in this beautiful way.”
Saturday, October 20
Read: Mark 8:31-9:1
Consider: The intensity of Jesus’ rebuke of Peter heightens as Jesus explains his call to his disciples. He has just told them that he was walking into the midst of darkness and that it would result in his death. Mark tells us that “He spoke plainly about this” (8:32). And then he plainly said…
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (8:34-35)
The disciples were still reeling from Jesus’ words about his own death and now he calls them to join him.
What did he mean? Would they literally be killed? Well, yes. Most of his disciples gave their lives for Jesus and his good news. So, what does that mean for us? What does it look like for you and me to lay down our lives? What does it look like for us to pick up our crosses—those instruments of death?
This is part of our journey. In fact, this is at the center of our journey. We come to Christ, not asking what he can do for us, but asking what he wants from us. But we need to understand the context in which we must ask that question. We don’t say, “Jesus, what do you want from me? After you let me know, I’ll think about it and get back to you.” No, we ask what he wants, followed by the statement, “And whatever it is, it is yours. I am yours. You can have whatever you want because you have all of me.”
Some people think the kingdom of God is a future thing only. They think that someday it will come, but not today. But Jesus taught something much different.
“And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’” (9:1)
Today, as we give ourselves fully to him, we can see him and see his power at work in our world. And we can experience his kingdom advancing through us.
Pray:“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth’— through me, your church, your people — ‘as it is in heaven’” (Matthew 6:9-10).