I loved this book. If you've ever wondered about what happens after you die this is a great resource to investigate other people's near death experience stories. It includes discussions from people from all around the world, different ages, faith and backgrounds. You'll be encouraged.
Do you know anyone with a near death experience?
THAT'S THE BOOK: MARK
My daughters are both taking piano lessons. One of the weekly assignments this year is to listen to a classical piece of music and then write down a personal response. The little one is supposed to write what it makes her feel. Tonight we decided to start with Beethoven's Fifth. Everyone has heard of Beethoven's Fifth but I wondered if they'd ever actually heard it. As the familiar opening Ba Ba Ba Boom played I watched my girls' faces. I listened with fresh ears. Its a very different thing to know of a work of art and to actually take the time to listen to it for yourself.
The book of Mark is the shortest of the four accounts of Jesus' life. Like Beethoven's Fifth, it is packed with action, movement, and big emotions. The book focuses on the power of Jesus and how his life overturned the status quo. As I read through Mark this last week I was thinking about how many people know of Jesus but have never read the book. In pop culture, Jesus is frequently portrayed as meek and mild. Or boring. This is not the Jesus found in Mark.
The beauty of the book of Mark is it calls readers to get to know the whole Jesus. Not just a flat substitute. As I read this week I tried to compare what I think about Jesus with what the story actually told. Here are the things I wrestled with. If you read Mark this week let me know what you think. Where were your preconceived thoughts of Jesus challenged?
If my faith doesn't include the teachings of Jesus which call us to care for the broken hearted, to rescue the lost, to welcome the stranger or to host a dinner party for the most difficult people in your neighborhood than I think I may be following only half of his legacy. A gospel without compassion makes a mockery of Jesus' teachings.
"On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17
On the flip side, Mark makes it clear Jesus cared about people's behavior and frequently called people to leave their former lifestyles behind them. So while current culture wants my faith to be ONLY about serving the broken while ignoring personal integrity or repentance from sins, I think that's missing half the story. If the church preaches a gospel without repentance it is editing the work of Jesus.
He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” Mark 7:20-23
Can I be honest? Sometimes I cringe when I hear mention of end times. It's confusing and can be embarrassing. But then I am disregarding a major sermon topic from Jesus. The entire chapter 13 of Mark is all Jesus' prophecies about the end of the world. And Jesus says the sermon is for everyone. When the church ignores sections of Jesus' teaching because its uncomfortable its like telling God we know better.
"What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” Mark 13: 37
Honestly we all have our favorite verses and can spin the word to support our particular cause. Me too. Reading Mark is convicting. If I want to know the real Jesus I have to read the whole story and recognize that choosing to follow him may actually undermine my status quo. My power structure. My habits. My preferences. At one point in Mark he does enough miracles in an area that the people become scared and ask Jesus to leave. I understand. It can be scary to follow.
BUT. When people left behind their former lives to follow Jesus they were witness to the miraculous.
The real Jesus was incredible and powerful and joyful - he was a man of deep distress, of sorrow to the point of death, of compassion and courage, of miracles and wonder. Jesus was constantly on the move, teaching, preaching, and healing. He expressed a wide range of emotions including anger, compassion, sorrow, indignation and humor. He taught, healed, walked on water, called a storm with a word. He was tempted by the devil, attended to by angels. He was anointed by a prostitute, had dinner with sinners, gave orders, helped children, prayed, taught. cleared out the temple and rose from the dead. Not mild or boring.
Perhaps my favorite story in Mark is this one.
Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
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.”
Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
I love this. Cheer up. On your feet! He's calling you. If you follow, count on adventure.
When I asked my littlest one what Beethoven's Fifth made her feel she said 'What if it made me feel angry, sad and happy?" Well my love. I'd say that's how life works. Rarely are things experienced on one flat plane. It was gorgeous though, Same with Christianity. Scary, uncomfortable, challenging, exciting and beautiful. But I believe its true. The whole thing. Want a faith checkup? Read the book of Mark with fresh eyes.
Another gospel? Same story? Nope. The guys at the Bible Project show in this Read Scripture video why the book of Mark is important and distinct. Watch and learn.
You have no time? Want the big picture. Here you go - courtesy of New Spring Church.
Quilts are like relationships. They get old and worn out. I made this quilt 18 years ago for my husband. It has holes and is threadbare. I've had to decide if I should keep it or throw it out. Really - we all make the same decisions in all of our relationships.
I woke up to news of a massive earthquake in Mexico and hurricane Irma set to hit. Fires and floods. And that is just our continent. The verses in Mark 13 came to mind. Yikes! My eyes look to the hills. I think perhaps today is the kind of day we need to DO something to show the love of Jesus. So I've got a challenge for you (and for me). How about we see what kind of comfort we can spread today. Here is a five ways to give list. How many can you get done today?
1. Donate. (I'm going to post a few items to sell on local boards and donate to Samaritan's Purse.) Cash tight? Sell something. Share with those in need.
2. Say thank you. Write a note of gratitude to the fire fighters. To a veteran. To a pastor.
3. Be friendly. On purpose. Smile and say hello to someone in line. Ask someone at work if they are doing okay with all the bad news. Listen to their answer.
4. Break Bread. Find a way to share food with someone in your community. Grab an extra coffee, lunch, muffin and give it to a neighbor.
5. Love. Hug. Pat. Kiss. Wave. Call. Pretend you are five for a couple minutes and do some great gesture of love. My five year old tells strangers they look beautiful. They look happier than before she showed up.
The world is hurting. You can help.
Ever have a flashback as you are doing something mundane and random like drying your hair for the day?
My mind beamed back to several years ago, when I use to homeschool our oldest daughter, Amberly. We would meet with a handful of other homeschoolers at our church on Fridays for a season. It would be a time of studying and receiving tutoring if it was needed.
One of the other mothers, who was fluent in Spanish, had offered to tutor our daughter in her Spanish.
I distinctly remember one Friday when our daughter was in a room with her tutor and another mom was in a different room helping her daughter with her studies. I was in charge of the room with 4 other students to monitor them as they worked on their studies.
It was extremely quiet and studious in that room. I was rather impressed. Then, one of the boys asked to go talk to his mother with some help he was needing on his lesson. I said, “Sure. Go for it.”
Soon, one of the girls asked to go see her mother who was tutoring her little sister to ask her a question. Again, “Sure!’
The room remained quiet this entire time. The remaining boy appeared deep into his book as is all I could see was the crown of his head and his eyebrows above the horizon of his book that he had standing up on end.
Soon, his sister, who was sitting beside him, asked if she could go to use the bathroom. “Okay.” I said. It seemed like a reasonable request to me.
The room was quiet… so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Just me and Nick, sitting on opposite sides of the table. No one had returned as the minutes ticked on.
Then, suddenly, from behind the book, a voice spoke, in Nick’s “Spock-like” logical fashion of speaking. Again, nothing but the tip of his head and eyebrows showing…. “It would appear that the population of this room is diminishing.”
I about fell out of my chair in giggles. He was very much aware of what was going on and in perfect timing, said the perfect thing that totally broke the silence.
You ever have those seasons where you read the Bible and read the Bible and read the Bible and pray and pray and all you feel is silence? Nothing is zinging in your spirit. No great revelations are being revealed to address the deepest concerns of your mind and heart.
Don’t give up! Because Someone is indeed paying attention behind the Book! And in His perfect timing He will speak the words that will cut through the silence and bring the breakthrough you have been aching for.
There is someone watching behind the Book!
This is an ugly, heartbreaking, important and beautiful book. Ugly because the main character's chronic mental illness and suicide are, by nature, not pretty. Heartbreaking because its a true memoir told by the victim's wife. Important because people all around you struggle silently. Beautiful because the author's brave story gives a window into what went wrong, what could help and what gives her hope today. If you struggle with mental illness, with depression or with suicidal thoughts please know there are good options. You are greatly loved. Ask for help. If someone in your life shows symptoms you don't understand, ask those hard questions. This book may give you courage to do so.
As I watch the floods in Texas and the fires in the west the only spots of hope or joy are when people run to the hurting to help. That analogy works in mental health crisis too. Of course that must be done With great care to not endanger the rescuers. The best option seems to be to call in the professional. But ignoring the flood or fire only makes them worse. And help is available.
What books have you read which shed light on hard topics?
That's The Book: Matthew
Last week our eldest entered middle school. We put her on the bus with the big kids. She went off to school looking a lot like I did at her age. Blue Converse and a pink ESPRIT bag and a smattering of freckles across her nose. As the bus pulled out, I held my five-year-old's hand. I needed the comfort. I prayed my middle schooler wouldn't trip or spill her lunch or get lost or cry. I prayed she would remember what we've taught her about her worth and her character. I prayed she would listen and learn. I prayed she would filter what others tell her through her history. I prayed she'd speak words of life to the people around her.
Welcome back to That's the Book. One of my goals with this feature is to make the Bible accessible for people who have no church background. Each week I'll review one book of the Bible. You'll notice I try to share a little about how I apply the text to my own life. I've found such direction and comfort in this book. I hope you do as well. How is that for a standard heartfelt teacher welcome back to school speech?
In the biggest picture possible the Bible is split into two sections, the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament I covered last year. The Old Testament is split into five major categories. History Books, Law books, Wisdom Books, Major Prophets and Minor Prophets. For a review of each you can go HERE.
The Old Testament tells the story of God's grand plan to rescue his creation through the people of Israel. God gave lots of hints throughout the OT books to to how He planned to save the world. The Old Testament says God planned to send a person to save humanity; a savior or Messiah. The OT is full of prophecies about how people could recognize the savior when he came.
The New Testament tells how this plan played out in the life of Jesus and the early church. The New Testament is split into three major sections. The gospels, the letters and prophecy. Today we begin with the first book in the section of the New Testament called the gospels. Gospel means good news. The first 4 books of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell the story of the life of Jesus. Each book covers the same time in history but from a different point of view. Matthew comes first.
Matthew was a Jewish tax collector. Tax collectors in Israel were considered traitors and thieves. They were Jewish people who agreed to work for the Romans and exact taxes from their countryman. Most of them cheated and took way more money to line their own pockets. Matthew was likely a hated, greedy, lecherous person. Then he met a man named Jesus. His whole life changed. Matthew's account of Jesus' life is written to convince his countryman that the person of Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament.
I loved going back to school. I liked new clothes, old friends, mountains of books and I really liked when teachers handed out a syllabus. Something nerd in me geeks out with a big organized schedule of what is to come along with a tidy to-do list. I absolutely can not summarize the 28 chapters of Matthew in one blog post. Not possible. It's much more important and effective if you read it yourself. But I would like to point out a few rafter level understandings to watch for as you work through the book. It's your faith journey after all. But these assignments may help you work through the book and learn the very most.
WORDS POINTING TO JESUS:
93 different times the Old Testament is quoted in the book of Matthew. These are used as pointers to the OT prophecies to show how Jesus fulfilled the promises and should be trusted as the savior.I read through Matthew this last week looking just for these markers. Remember word searches? A favorite handout from teachers in those early awkward first days back to school. So try reading through Matthew grabbing all the verses which talk about prophecies being fulfilled. Can you find all 93? Here is one to get you started.
Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet; I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world." Matthew 13: 34-25
At one point in the story, Jesus asks his team of guys who have been following him around (church people call them disciples) who they think he is. And Peter's response sums up the point of the entire book of Matthew.
"But what about you?" he asked, "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Matthew 16:15
WORDS FROM JESUS POINTING THE WAY
The second major topic on the book of Matthew is the lessons Jesus himself spoke. In the book of Matthew many of these sermons are filtered through the context of the Old Testament. Jesus wanted people to remember their history while he expanded the lessons. Think of this like the back to school "what did you do over the summer?" assignment. You know your teachers didn't really care about your camping trips or summer vacations. They gave out the question to see if you were paying attention and to get you thinking. Jesus did the same thing. He was calling them to remember their history as a starting point and then he expanded it to fulfill what God's intent was the whole time.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets: I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matthew 5:17
Here is one of the examples. See if you can find more.
You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbor and hate our enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:43-44
WORDS OF LIFE
I care about what my daughter learns. I dutifully look over her homework and encourage her to do her best. We cheer for good grades and high five when she completes an assignment with excellence. It's not really what I care about the most though. For me, it's all about relationships. If she learns to get along, to stand up for the underdog, to forgive an offense, to stand alone when necessary and to carry herself with character I'll be a thrilled mama. Heavy list isn't it?
I believe it is good to know the context of the book of Matthew. I'll argue understanding how the prophesies of the Old Testament fit makes it easier to understand the message of the New Testament. But those details, while interesting, aren't what is most important. The book of Matthew is about finding a relationship with the very Word of Life. Its why a man like Matthew changed from a greedy tax collector to a committed follower. Its why a person like me writes and prays and cares at all. Its why I pray for my daughter as she walks the halls of her school.
Back to school comes with pressure, homework and high expectations. Jesus has an assignment for you too. Jesus calls you to be light. To love your enemy. To walk in good character. Its a heavy syllabus. Do you need some encouragement? The grading scale is stacked in your favor. Jesus already passed the test.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28
Your assignment today? Matthew is a treasure. Crack the book.
Here we go! If you read along through the Old Testament you'll know I'm a fan of the Bible Project and their Read Scripture YouTube Channel. Here are the two they did for the book of Matthew.
Infographics help me. I'm a visual learner so if I can see it I retain it. You too? Check out New Spring Church and their great collection of Bible Studies and infographics. Here is the one for Matthew.
I cleaned out my photo storage yesterday. I realized I take the same photos of vegetables out of my garden every August. This photo was actually from my parents. I take pictures of other people's vegetables also. Watch the video to see why.
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
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