Monday, January 25, 2016

Ch-ch-ch-changes!

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.  On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  And he was amazed at their unbelief.  Mark 6:1-6

David Bowe recently passed away...but I always think of the above song when I hear Mark 6.  Jesus had changed.  He changed when he was cradled in John the Baptizer's arms, was dunked in the Jordan River, came up gasping for air and water running from his face...and a dove descended and he heard, "You are my beloved."  That will change you.  He was in the wilderness...tempted...that will change you.  He was transformed as he started preaching about God's realm being right here and right inside you.  That kind of message can change you.  He was transformed as he healed people  Imagine being able to take away pain...but perhaps Jesus absorbed some of the pain too.  Those kinds of moments can change and challenge you.  He preached...some he offended...some he softened hearts. The responses of people will change you.

There are changes in life.  Sometimes when we change others around us don't like it.   Have you ever wanted to change something and those around you try to tell you it is a bad idea; more because of who they are and less because of who you are or what you want to do?  That has happened to me.  Ch-ch-cha-changes might be part of life, but we don't always like it.

The people in the synagogue wanted Jesus to remain stuck where he was...wanted him to stay who he was.  Unfortunately, this can still happen in churches today.  The phrase, "We've never done it that way before" comes to mind.  Change awakens some fear, upsets the equilibrium we crave.

So, what kinds of changes are you facing right now?
How are other people responding?
How are others speaking truth in love?
How are they speaking truth for the sake of keeping the peace?

Those are tough questions that need more than trace of God's grace.  May you feel and experience God's presence as you prayerfully ponder this.

Grace and peace ~  

Friday, January 22, 2016

Review



We are four chapters into Mark and it is good to pause to catch our breath.  So, far, Mark starts off with an incomplete, grammatically incorrect sentence in 1:1, wanting to tell us that Jesus is Son of God and Messiah.  Jesus is the One who is God in the flesh, incarnate.  Jesus is also the One who offers salvation, which is not so much about canceling out a debt...but about reorienting our lives toward God every day.  Mark races through Jesus' baptism, temptation, and beginning of preaching and healing.  The first few chapters shine a light on the truth that Jesus is not only interested in giving us head knowledge, but speaking to our hearts.  Jesus takes us to the storms of life and challenges us with understandings of family.  Behind all this, beneath the surface, is a gospel written to people in the shadow of the Roman Empire...during a time when Rome was looking to scapegoat and blame Christians for setting a fire to the city of Rome (even though some scholars say that Emperor Nero set it himself).  Jesus tells parable about not hiding your light under a basket and planting seeds around us (even when the ground is frozen or inhospitable).  

What I love about Mark is we are not even halfway through, we have already encountered and had Scripture read our lives in amazing ways.  Mark is already helping us see that there will be storms in life, we will (like the man who lived among the tombs) face chains in life.  Mark is telling us that faith is not some insurance policy for life to be all chocolate rivers and pony rides.  Life is stormy.  Life hurts.  We need folks who listen...folks who help us name the pains that confound us in life.  

What I find so fascinating in Mark is his powerful use of words.  He is able much more concisely than I to tell a compelling story.  So, here is my question:

What three words would you want to describe your life?  
What one story do you sense represents your life?

Those are tough questions.  I am coming up on 400 blog posts...and I still don't know that I have fully answered those two questions.  I pray that we will take a breath and ponder prayerfully the ways we tell our story and the words that matter most to us.

Grace and peace ~  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Light


21 He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. 23 Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”  Mark 4:21-25

This is one of the passages that make me say, "Huh?"  I get the whole, "don't put your light under a bushel."  First, it is a fire hazard...Smoky the Bear would not be happy with that.  Second, we like the image of us, as individuals, shining a light.  But, remember, early followers of Jesus in Rome when the empire has a target on them.  They were to blame for the fire that destroyed the city, so said Nero the one with the power...and who historians say might have actually set the fire.  When we are afraid, we do tend to hide...we tend to flee or freeze or fight.  So, Jesus is saying that in times when life is not going well...when we encounter the storms of life...we need to continue to let our light shine. That is not easy.  It is easier to go with the flow.  It is easier to laugh at the joke rather than call a friend on it being inappropriate.  It is easier to go with the flow of buying and consuming, even if it is not sustainable for the earth or other humans making low wages.  It is easier to believe there is nothing we can do rather than step out and share our light.

Maybe that is what the second part means.  We need to pay attention to the blessings...not the fear.  When we pay attention to what is going good, it can help us see more good.  When we pay attention to the light, rather than the dark, we start to see even more.  That doesn't really help with the last line.  Verse 25 sounds like something that Adam Smith or free capitalists would say...not Jesus.  Yet, this is also a reminder to me that I don't always understand what Jesus is trying to say.  It is good to remember we don't control or completely have a handle of what Jesus would do...because we don't always get what Jesus did/said.  Of course, Jesus could be sarcastic here.  He could be pointing out an injustice.  Or maybe, and this is the one that really gets me, is that perhaps Jesus is saying when we shine our light in the world, when we pay attention, we are going to see things that make our hearts break.  We are going to see millionaires getting tax breaks.  When we shine a light, we might see the least and the lowly...still being treated as the least and lowly.  Shining a light alone will not making everything better.  But, when we see...when we keep paying attention...when we keep shining a light and not lose heart....maybe God's grace will stir in new ways.

So often we turn faith into a proposition...if we work for justice, poof there should be justice.  But the evil that brought the injustice isn't going to scurry away like a frightened raccoon when the garage light comes on.  To keep on keeping on...to keep shining the light, to keep paying attention, and with a heavy dose of God's grace, we inch closer to God's realm.

So, what ways can you persistently shine a light?  To keep paying attention...to keep being open even when we want to look away from the injustice in the world...that might just help let this passage read our life and make a difference in this world.

Blessings ~  

Friday, January 15, 2016

Family


Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.  When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”  And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.  But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.  “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter;  but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”   Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.  A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  Mark 3:20-34

After Jesus has healed, preached, taught, journeyed around, called disciples...did more in the first two chapters than I have in two years of ministry...then he went home.  Are there four words more loaded than those?  Of course, Tom Wolfe famously said, you can't go home again.  On the other hand, Henri Nouwen once said, "home is the place you go where you have to be accepted." What kinds of images does the word, "Home" bring to your mind?  Positive?  Negative?  Is there pain that has not been processed so you don't pass it along?  Let's go deeper...what kinds of expectations do you have around home?  I think we can agree that no home should hurt physically or emotionally.  But beyond that, is home a place of laughter?  Where everyone has their own space?  And more to the point... what is the deal with Jesus' family?

So, Jesus comes home...laundry and twelve friends in tow like you used to from college.  The house is full.  And the family...who perhaps were out at work...come home to chaos.  Some people were restraining Jesus, saying he was possessed by demons, and the family is just trying to do what they can to help.  For families who struggle with mental illness, the family adjust.  Some talk about walking on egg shells; others talk about the struggle to love the family member or reach out for support; still others know that there is a stigma that is strong in our culture.  We call people, "Crazy" as an acceptable description or even joke.  A few years ago, I sat in a class on those who struggle with mental illness where the instructor thoughtfully said, "The brain is an organ just like your heart or lungs...and if you had a problem with your heart or lung you would think nothing of getting treatment.  But we still shy away from raising awareness about the struggles people of with this organ."  That is really good wisdom.  Too often we believe people can just "think positive" or change if they want to do so.  But we don't see that with other illness.

What hurts the most in this passage is at the end, Jesus seems to denounce his family.  One history note might help.  In the days of Mark, there was a disagreement between Jewish and early followers of The Way (Christians).  It was a family fight, which can often be the most painful.  Jewish folks did not see Jesus as Son of God or Messiah.  Then to complicate things...which tends to happen...because there was a fire in Rome...which some say was the community Mark wrote to.  Christians were blamed from the fire by some in the Jewish community.  Brokenness can beget brokenness.  Yet, sometimes we do need to have distance from our family, especially if we cannot interact in healthy ways.

So, does your experience with your family connect or disconnect with Jesus?  Have you felt freed or restrained by your family?  Have you ever felt like your family was contributing negatively to your mental well-being?

I pray you will find a place of home that is healthy and where you can rest in the full grace of God.

Blessings ~ 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Asking Good Questions



18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.  21 “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.  23 One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”  Mark 2:18-28

Faith and questioning go together like hand/glove.  Faith and questioning dance with each other in amazing ways.  But sometimes the glove doesn't fit or toes get stepped on.  I love questions, but it is our pesky, insensate need to find the solution once and for all.  But good questions don't always have answers.  And sometimes our questions themselves need to be examined.  There is the age-old question, Why?  Why this suffering?  Why this pain?  This cancer?  This illness?  This family dysfunction?  And most of the time the responses to that work better in a blog post than a doctor's office.  In the end, we don't know.  We can throw out words like "God's plan" or "Mystery" or even "Just have faith"...but that really helps the person who is saying the words more than the one hearing them.  When someone asks a question usually they have some thoughts on responses...they might just be waiting to see if you will allow space.  The problem with trying to justify suffering is it does two things.  First, we try to let God off the hook.  The Psalmist never did.  They scream and yell...hoot and shout...shake their fist, head and walk away.  I don't know why we think God needs our defense.  Second, we continue to prop up the sense that faith is some insurance policy against bad things happening to good people.  And the real challenge is that while we ask "Why" in the face of struggles, I rarely ask why my family loves me unconditionally or why I have a roof over my head and food on my table.  If I ask why in bad times, what about the why of good times?  Partly because life is not a balance sheet or an accounting problem.

We need to ask questions...and we need to ask good questions.  the Pharisees today ask a question mainly to justify their understandings/way of life.  To be clear, we still do this in politics, in the church, around the office, and in our families.  We feel threatened when someone lives/thinks/acts differently.  Jesus' response reminds us that we are constantly changing.  And when we try to take an old wineskin or even a NEW piece of cloth and use it indeterminately that can have consequences.  We see this in the world today.  We see this in trying to deal with terrorism...which is a war...but is different.  We see in this trying to face issues of immigration, which we have always struggled with as a country, and yet it is different.  Every problem has historical roots and new branches springing forth.  Every questions is grounded in our lives and yet has new growing/tension points.  

When the Pharisees ask about picking grain, you can tell they are just trying to find some place to trip and trick Jesus.  When the church keeps asking, where are the young people?  Why doesn't everyone love Bach on the organ?  Why would YOU come join US?  We are asking important questions.  BUT maybe there are better questions.  Maybe a better question is how can we meet people today where they are...especially those who say they are spiritual and not religious.  Can we listen to what that means?  Maybe we can try to listen to some music in other ways and ask why a person finds that type meaningful?  Maybe we can see the young folks who are coming to church...and realize it is hurtful to say/imply that they are not enough.

Questions reveal the unfolding paradox and tension, which is what Mark is up to in his gospels... see my previous posts.  Questions start poking around to see if we can figure out why.  And often our initial questions are good...but there are other ones too.  Just as the questions we asked in 1st grade are good...but by 6th grade we hope the questions have changed.  Not because we solved all our 1st grade queries...but with new experiences our questions change.

So...what questions are you asking right now about life?  Faith?  Understanding?
What responses do you have?
Who can you engage in dialogue so that new experiences, insights and ideas might keep us asking good questions?

May there be more than a trace of God's grace as we do this!

Blessings ~  

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Healing

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”  Mar 2:1-12

So far, Mark has offered us an introduction to Jesus who is Messiah/Christ and Son of God.  Who is both the One who will challenge the religious and political authorities of the day.  The One who calls us to repent, brings us back into a relationship with God at the center.  The One who says that the realm and reign of God is right here...right now...right inside each of us.  Mark talks about the tension of life, because even though Jesus is here, life still is broken.  Even though there is a new order, the old order is oppresses.  Even though there is new life, the old life still lingers on.  Even though we are more than a week into a new year, the problems of 2015 managed to stick around and are now trying to tempt you with that chocolate bar that is not on your diet!  So, Mark says, we live in the midst of tension.

As chapter one concludes and you turn to chapter two, you read several stories of healing.  Healing a man at church; healing Simon's mother-in-law at her home; healing a leper; healing many others.  Healing.  In the midst of tension, we long for healing.  In the midst of pain/suffering, we long for relief.  In the midst of hurt that occupies our life and impacts everything, we long for peace (shalom that will embrace everything!).  As a pastor, I am challenged by Jesus' healing rather than doing more pastoral-y things.  The gospel doesn't say, Jesus was baptized and preached the best sermon ever.  The gospel doesn't say, Jesus proclaimed the realm/reign of God was near and attended a committee meeting.  The gospel doesn't say, Jesus declared good news...in a blog!  Jesus went and met people where they were at.

Increasingly, I believe Jeff Jones is correct, the question for the church is not how do we bring people in...but how do we go out?  How do I go out?  Get out of the office/study and into the homes of people who are hurting.  I am challenged that only one of the healing stories takes place in a religious space.  But there is ONE...so perhaps that is to say there is a place for church.  But it is not the only place where healing happens.

Experience tells us this.  Healing happens over dinning room tables, in coffee shops, in hospital or hospice rooms, in parks, in the rain, snow, and sunshine.  Healing...which is different than a CURE.  A cure is about treating an illness.  Healing is about making us whole...healing and shalom (peace which embraces both the brokenness and blessedness of life) are related.  Healing and shalom can hang out, even when the cancer continues.  Healing and shalom can hang out, even when when there is no cure.  And a cure does not necessarily mean healing.  I know people who have received transplants and keep on doing that which caused the illness in the first place.  I have seen extended hospital stays where the person is better physically, but not emotionally or spiritually.  Healing and cure are different, even though there are many similarities.

Which leads to Scripture reading your life right now...

Where do you need healing?  Cure?  Is it the same?
Who are the friends who would help you carry the mat?  Many people say that illness tells them who their friends really are.
Who is willing to go the extra mile...climb the roof...and help you?  I always laugh at what that poor homeowner said when he called his insurance agent.  "I am sorry," the Allstate agent says, "You are not covered for people DIGGING through your roof.  I don't care if it WAS an act of God."

I pray you will ponder the healing and cure in these days.  I pray you will let this Scripture read your life...and there will be MORE than a trace of grace.

Blessings ~

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Baptism


In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;with you I am well pleased.  12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.  14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.  Mark 1:10-20

My baptism took place when I was twelve years old at Eden United Church of Christ in Cedar Rapids, IA.  I remember the sun streaming in through the stained glass window.  I remember I wore a corduroy jacket with patches on the elbows...very stylish.  I remember my aunt and uncle stood up with me.  I don't know why my parents waited to have me baptized...but I am thankful that they did.  Baptism is one of those moments that takes a few seconds...and lasts a life time.  As Barth said, "We are always and forever beginners."  I don't think we ever "figure" out the faith as though it is a mathematical equation to be solved.  At moments we have insights and ideas that seem so brilliant, only abandon those thoughts a few years later.  

What I love about Mark is his willingness to set the life of faith in tension.  Each verse above has a built in yin and yang sense to it.  
Mark tells us the heavens are TORN open...and then...a dove claims Jesus as beloved.
Mark tell us there was wilderness and temptation....and then....angels wait on Jesus.
Mark tell us John was arrested....and then...Jesus comes proclaiming Good news.
Mark tell us in the midst of an ordinary day while fishing...and then...Jesus calls us to be disciples.

There is a built in tension within these verse that tugs at us back and forth, which is one way to describe life.  This truth might lead us to ask Scripture to read our lives by pondering prayerfully:

What is torn open right now in your life...and where do you still feel beloved?
What is wilderness or tempting you right now...and where do you need to be attended to by someone else?
What feels trapped, arrested...and where is there still good news?

In our compartmentalized way of viewing the world, we often don't always allow for such tensions.  Immigrants are all bad, politicians declare.  We need more bombs...even though we have enough to blow up the world multiple times over.  It is the worse ever....except when women could not vote (or run for president), we justified slavery, we declare people communists, we hid under desks in fear of Cuba, we were in an arms race with the Soviet Union, AIDS was killing people left and right.  It is true that those who do not hold onto history will repeat it.  And we often fail to learn from the past.

But then again...we are starting to say that we need a different view on immigration.  We start to say that perhaps violence begets violence.  We start to see people as people regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation.  We stop thinking we can bomb for peace.  We start to question what is sustainable in a world/creation groaning for relief?

Notice that Jesus doesn't swoop in like a superhero to solve all the problems.  He doesn't wear a "S" on his chest.  He doesn't say, "Elect me and everything will be chocolate rivers and pony rides."  He says follow.  Follow down the path that will lead to a cross and resurrection which is perhaps one of the most paradoxical, tension filled truths at the heart of the faith...but more on that in a future post. 

For today, I invite you to ponder prayerfully where you sense tension...where you feel tugged this way or that.  And as you do may you find not only the bad news...but the good news and more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~ 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Gospel of Mark


The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  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.  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  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.  I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:1-8

With a new year, begins a new set of posts focusing on the Gospel of Mark. Mark is the earliest gospel, the shortest gospel, and Mark selects each word carefully.  Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not mention a word about Jesus' birth.  No angels singing, no shepherds or wise ones coming to the manger, not even a single word uttered about how Jesus came to earth.  Instead, Mark starts off with what in the original language would have been an incomplete, grammatically incorrect, sentence.  Beginning!  Good News!  Jesus!  the Christ! Son of God!  Each word carries weight.  Each word invites us to dwell deeply.  Beginning echoes back to Genesis 1, when God began (present tense...rather than past tense) to create all that is.  Good news is an amplification of the word gospel or evangelion in Greek.  Right there, Mark has set side by side the tension of what he is up to.  You see, gospel does not just describe what you read in the New Testament.  Evangelion, good news, is what Caesar declared to bring when he came marking with his global military superpower into your town conquering you.  Evagnelion, good news, now you belong to Rome.  Bad news...taxes to pay for said global military superpower, who by the way takes control away from your life.  Mark is theologically saying, remember God was there from the very beginning.  God is still here, even when the boot of the Roman empire is oppressing you.  

To declare good news into that kind of a situation is a paradox...a mystery that on the surface makes no sense...but the more you explore...the more you realize the truth laying just beneath.  Good news is what God has, is, and will always be up to in the world.  Even in the midst of continued violence.  Even in the midst of fear.  Even in the midst of pain, brokenness, and death.  You see, good news is about more than what we can explain intellectually.  Good news...God news...is about more than just politics and power.  Good news...God news...is about more than what we see, touch, taste, and feel.  God's good news changes everything, even when on the outside it appears that nothing has changed, inside we know life to be different.

The difference is about the Christ (or Messiah) and the Son of God (which is what people called Caesar).  The good news...God news...will turn upside down everything.  And in our texting, tweeting, microwaving, instant society, we say, "Okay then God...let's see it...NOW!"  But the good news Mark is going to tell us about takes time.  Mark stretches back to Isaiah, when the prophet in a time of exile of foreign rule, boot on your neck, conquered, bleak moment (just as people during Jesus' time felt); Isaiah declared there was another path.  A path that was not might makes right.  A path that was not fear driven.  A path that was not tax drive.  A path that was not about conquering or military complex.  A whole new path...that some might say we still don't full realize or travel.  That is the path way toward the One who is the Messiah (who confronts the religious brokenness) and the Son of God (who confronts the human brokenness).  

And then, we get the arrival of John...who bursts on the scene with a strange diet and even stranger message.  Repent...which is not about guilt.  Repent is about getting on the road to God...hear how that echos Isaiah?  Repent means pay attention to here and now because it matters.  We've turned repentance into a golden ticket for another, future life.  But repentance means living a life where this present moment, the choices we make right now, matter.  As Rob Bell says, 'How you do anything is how you do everything...everything is spiritual'.  We need to remember that a community of faith is not a self-congratulatory, self-indulge, self-centered place for us to remind us we are God's chosen.  A community of faith is to challenge us to keep on the path...and pick us up when we stumble.  A community of faith holds us accountable with love...just as John does...but not under the guise that we can buy our way through our offerings back into God's grace.  Grace is.  Grace beckons.  Grace calls out.  We respond to the best of our ability here and now.  And then the next day.  And then the day after that.

I am always amazing that eight verse of Mark...and the above only scratched the surface.  I also want to invite you to let Scripture READ your life.  
What path are you on as you start a new year?  Where are you heading?  What road signs are around you?
 How does the baptismal claim of God upon your life challenge or change where your life is right now?

I pray that in the coming posts you will sense MORE than a trace of God's grace.  May these posts continue to help re-orient our lives toward the One who does make all the difference.

Blessings ~