Category Archives: Bible Study

Acceptance and Love

Mark 2:14 “As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.”

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Why call a hated, despised tax collector to be a disciple?  Why call odoriferous, gross, and rough fishermen?  Why call a young man out of a tree?  Why take a chance on a zealous Roman hater to join the merry men?  Why select a man that was from the beginning unwilling to acknowledge Jesus? It would have made much more sense to reach out to the religious, to the highly born, to the Roman aristocracy. Jesus chose who he did just because they were unloved. They were neglected and marginalized. And to their surprise, the previously unloved found a place of acceptance and love.  To be loved when you know you are unlovely.  I am loved today.  I will praise God all day for that acceptance and love.

Rain drops falling on my head.

John 14:26-27 “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

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Everywhere I look, there is everything but peace. Wars, pandemics, political infighting, the declining health of those I love, all wanting to steal my inner tranquility. Like B. J. Thomas sang, “The rain keeps falling on my head, And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed, nothing seems to fit,” Life doesn’t conform to my standards.  Yet there is still a feeling of peace in my soul.  Praise God!  My sins are forgiven.  I have declared to be at peace with God.  God is at peace with me. Today I will experience the peace that is simply incomprehensible. I trust in a God that loves, cares, draws, forgives, restores, destroys fear, and limits trouble within my heart.

I live with peace within myself, I live in peace with one another, I live at peace with God.

1+1=2

Mark 12:42,43 “A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

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Science is not a bad thing.  Being able to prove two plus two is a good understanding when you have to pay for something.  Yet when science tells me the cold clear water coming from a mountain stream which rushes down from the crest of a snowcapped mountain is equal to the tepid liquid coming out of my kitchen faucet, while true, is a little disappointing. In science, the granite gravel in my dad’s driveway is the same as the grand sheer face of Half Dome in Yosemite. There is no wonder in science.  There is no place for miracles. The mystery of the world hides behind the constant scientific explanation and presumption.  The very fabric of our seemingly poor, browbeat days are miracles.  Two small coins became a treasure; a miracle. Each miracle shines brightly, and sometimes we do not notice.

True Justice

Romans 3:28-31 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

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Paul was a dedicated, energetic, almost driven keeper of the Law. For Paul, the law was kept by acts of the will: doing things. Further the law was a social construct of behavior: it was designed for his group, his ethnicity, his class. All his life he had been taught the exclusivity of the “People of God”, the “God of the Jews”.

Then he encountered Jesus. That encounter changed everything. No longer was his fixation on class, race, gender, or lifestyle.  No longer were they a part of his life.  He saw through the eyes of God and saw the unity of faith. He now saw the law and justice as divine gifts, bestowed upon everyone. No longer was anyone defined by the group to which society was placing upon them. Sure, the law was kept.  But it was kept by faith in the perfect vision of God’s image of all people.  True justice.

Living up to a name

Writer David Roper wrote of an account in an elevator. Three men were quietly and complacently riding down from their workplaces. None of them seemed excited or even aware of their surroundings. For them, the day was done and were anxious to go home. Two floors above the lobby the elevator stopped to let on more passengers. The doors opened and a larger-than-life image of cowboy stared in. He was wearing an old and stained grey hat, a stained sheepskin coat and well scuffed boots.

This tall, rough, and lanky man looked intently through the open door at the current occupants and said, “Good, evening men.” All three men immediately straightened up and squared their shoulders. They all were making a new effort to live up to the name “men.”

Living up to the name. Being a Christian is more than living a life not much different from everyone else. Being a Christian is not living up to an idea or an implied expectation. Being a Christian is straightening up our shoulders and bearing proudly our faith.

Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. I Corinthians 16:13

On the Move

The accounts of Jesus seem to be characterized by movement.  He would never stay tarry long in any one spot.  Move, walk, go, come, get into a boat, go to a wedding, Jerusalem, Capernaum, always moving.  

The disciples had been sent two by two on missionary journeys. The teams were now returning to report their successes and disappointments. When the disciples had returned to the Master, they were tired, hungry, and wanted to share their experiences (Mark 6:30).  These disciples had traveled far and upon arrival, they were confronted by throngs of the curious, the hangers-on, and other would-be disciples all trying to get the attention of the Master. Pushing through the crowd they were situating themselves in the little space which remained in front of Jesus.  Each taking a seat in a semi-circle to isolate Jesus from the masses. It was their place of honor; all the others would have to wait. The oral reports were made, duly given in turn.  It was difficult to hear over the crowd’s comings and goings. Additionally, the rumbling of empty stomachs was adding to the distractions.

They had completed the stories of great and small successes and a few not so great.  Jesus listened intently and said nothing in direct response. They wanted to hear how they had scored on their first missionary efforts. They expected great accolades and praise from Jesus after recounting the fantastic things they had done.

“Come with me.” “I know you need rest and a time to recoup, but let’s take a walk first.”

They were already footsore from walking for the last two weeks or so.  Reluctantly these tired, hungry, and now frustrated disciples followed Jesus for a brisk two-mile hike down to the Sea of Galilee. Just a little stretch of the legs.  Besides, it was not time to eat lunch quite yet.

They arrived at the shoreline. The Sea edge was soft with small breaking waves. The soft breezes of the lake filled their lungs.  It was a good place to stop and rest. One by one the weary disciples sat down on the sand.

“Let’s get into the boats and to over to the other shore.”

Back on their feet they all boarded one of the boats and set sail for the other side. The wind was blowing in a direction making the journey longer than expected. Unfortunately for the missionary travelers, the word got out that they were on the move, and the people arrived at their destination first. The slow boat of disciples was slower than running around the lake.

They had been recognized and the whole of the region was alerted. Five thousand had come to see and hear Jesus. Jesus had compassion on them and started to teach.  As the words of God flowed as water upon the dusty ground the crowd was in rapt attention.

It was now late in the day and the disciples had not eaten much of anything all day.  Jesus did not show any hint of a conclusion. and with rumbling stomachs and sore feet, the disciples attracted the attention of Jesus saying, “We are in a very secluded spot and it is getting late. It would be best if you would send the crowds away so they can secure their physical needs.”

“You give them something to eat.”

They looked at Judas who was carrying the cadre’s combined treasury who simply shook his head. “That would take almost a year’s wages. Are we to spend the last of our money to feed the uninvited?”

After additional ceremony and miracles, the five thousand and the disciples were fed.

Time to move again, “Get into the boat and off you go to Bethsaida, I will meet you there.”

I get the impression from this account and many like them, that Jesus is a restless spirit.

I like the sense of God moving around. I like to think that God is already ahead of me wherever I am going, preparing the way, hoping that I will notice him in that place and that time. I also like the idea of Jesus continually on the move. He went to where the people were. And once he showed up somewhere, more people thronged to see him. The presence of Jesus was compelling, and even his detractors showed up to see what all the fuss was about.

Did the foot-sore disciples ever get their well-deserved rest?  The closest I find is in the upper room, as they were reclining at table.  Yet even then Jesus was still teaching.  He goes before us and He goes with us, and sometimes he hangs back to clean up our mess.  God is always moving.

Motive and action

I don’t think I am a bad person.  I may not get along with everyone and often become the source of criticism because I ask questions that are hard to answer.  I have a friend that is both caring and inquisitive. In my opinion, he listens to my rants and questions because he is too polite to tell me off.  It is not a judgment of my self-worth or even my methods, but frustration with my methods.  One of my favorite idioms is, “One good question is better than a hundred bad answers.”  Therefore, I ask and sometimes my friend almost blows steam out of his ears in frustration.   I ask not because there are good answers or even bad but to make my friend think, to challenge the norm, to overcome complacency in his own intellectual pursuits.  

There seems to be an internal desire to set standards for good and bad.  Good is determined by mostly external sources and the most common determination is the lack of bad.  Sources such as laws, rules, culture, norms, and sometimes the perceived condemnation or acceptance of a close loved one.  Every action is measured by the company we keep. 

In my most recent foray into understanding the revealed intent of God for me, my focus has been on the words and actions of Jesus.  My prime source of determination of good and bad is set by that singular man. He is the solid surface by which I set my level.  I can find no better.

One of the interactions between Jesus and his historical culture is summed up by a question presented by a self-proclaimed culture measurer, “Of all the commandments, which is most important?” Mark 12:28-34 For any teacher or rabbi, it was an excellent question. It is the motive behind the question which draws my attention today. Why did he ask the question?  What was his motive behind the question?  What is the need that required satisfaction?  If there is no motive, no need, why ask in the first place.

There are well over 600 commandments in the Old Testament Law.  Each of these commandments was written to address practically every facet of Jewish life.  The teachers had difficult times to keep up with every commandment, mandate, rule, and punishment.  The question this teacher of the law presented was a very valid question. 

Every action, thought, attitude, impression is metered by a need.  Paired with every volitional act there is a twin need.  There is a necessity, a reason for doing.  The why of the act.  We may well focus on the response of Jesus.  I will save that response for another day. Never-the-less I need to understand the inquisitor and his motives. I want to step into the world of this teacher and understand what motivates, what empowers, what energizes this act of inquiry. Very seldom does an action have a singular motive.  The motive of the questioner must be taken into the understanding of the answer from Jesus.  I can quickly pick at the knot of understanding by examining the possible why of the question.

Looking at the context from Mark12:12-34, there are several groups confronting Jesus. First with the Pharisees and Herodians questioned about money to cast Jesus as a revolutionary against Rome.  as.  Then the Sadducees took their turn questioning Jesus on Marriage and the Resurrection. Each in turn tried to catch Jesus in a logical error. The Pharisees, the Herodians, and then the Sadducees all failed at their questioning.  Each in turn was simply trying to trap Jesus in some heresy.

Most writers on this passage lump this lone teacher in with the other entrapment groups. The teacher questioner was trying to trap Jesus into saying something out of the norm.  He was not trying to show the others up but was trying to be accepted by them. He took on this adversarial role to be accepted by the religious, legalistic, self-promoting, and judgmental upper-class religionist group. He was trying to be seen as part of a larger cultural social strata. That he deserved to be in their company. “I can join in and emulate your line of questioning and be as good as you.” A motive of acceptance of perceived superiors.

Secondly, perhaps this simple teacher thought he could do better than the other judgmental entrappers.  Perhaps, part of the motivation of this Rabbi, this teacher of the law, was to show his hierarchal superiors he could do better. To state a question to demonstrate his superior intellect.  An intellect that would reveal his current place in life did not restrict his upward mobility. To show he deserved to be among this upper class. If he could show them up he could raise his status in the religious hierarchy of the culture. If he could submit a question that was better formed, more effective, more thought-provoking than all the best religionist questions previously made he could show them up. “You guys all failed, now watch and learn.”  Simply it was a motive of self-promotion. I can do better.

The third motive in this gamut of conversations could be a simple academic exercise. An earnest quest for knowledge and understanding. Teachers are always thirsty for knowledge, for new ideas, new insights, new questions, new conclusions.  Here was this new rabbi proclaiming the Kingdom of God and the questioner wanted to soak it all in. A tell me more attitude from a sincere learner. “Rabbi, in your understanding of God, what do you place as more important than any other.   I need to make note of these for my upcoming debates with my study group.”  The motive of learning or self-actualization.

Another of the paramount motives a person can have is for a good self-image.  It is self-awareness of where you fit. It may be judged by the external, but in reality, we are who we think we are. It is only the individual which can look deep within himself to see the good and the bad, the lovely and the ugly. You may call it honor, or reputation, or even “thine on-self be true.” It is a deeply personal thing that calls from our very soul.  As David said, “Search me and know me.” This inquisitive questioner this interrogatory was simply asking for reinforcement of his own view of himself. “Jesus draw for me a line so I can compare my soul and spirit to your estimation of the hierarchy of good and bad”.  The motive of self-worth

Fifth motive for this teacher is judgmentalism.  Being a judge has always been seen as a very important place in society. Impartial, knowledgeable, just, and fair are all qualities of a judge. Here the inquisitor of the law was simply asking the question of the greatest commandment to set a measuring rod for his quest for impartiality.  I have said to my children, “I don’t care what are the rules, just don’t change them mid-game.” Here the teacher of the law needed a stated expectation of goodness. And with that statement, he could count himself worthy to judge others. If I can meet your expectation of goodness, I can feel better about myself and can rightly judge everyone around me.” Judgmental qualifications as a motive.

Additionally, the motive could well be an effort to set for himself a line by which he would or could did not cross.  To see himself as better than the other guy.  I have heard it in the church, “At least I don’t steal from the offering plate.” It was a motive that was and is most selfish of all.  Self-justification. I don’t need God or man to judge me.  I can do what I will if I keep this one thing. “Show me the line by which I may justify myself.”  Self-justification is a motivating factor.

There could have been many more motives.  But every motive is driven by need. The question could have been motivated by the need to be accepted in a new and upwardly mobile religious group of Jesus. The crowds had become larger and larger.  Miracles of bread and fish, of resurrections and water into wine.  “I want to be a part of that.”  “I want to be a friend of Jesus.”  Every society, culture, or group has requirements for membership. The question could well be taken as a measuring rod for inclusion. He was posing the question needing an invitation to belong. “Tell me if I can join you in your quest of God. Give me an absolute measuring rod, so I may conform to your expectations and include me into your circle of friends.”The motivation of being part of something new and fresh.  The unique motive.

Whether the reason for the question was to be acceptance of authority, self-promotion, intellectual appetite, appraisal of self-worth, qualification of credentials, a friend of Jesus, or a combination of two or more, I would submit it went deeper than all these motives. He was something special. 

Had Jesus given an answer similar to those given to the other religious groups, it would have stopped there. Jesus saw beyond all the other possible motives and saw someone genially seeking God. In the Hebrew mindset, it was all about rules and commandments.  When Jesus quoted from the Old Testament there was a mutual agreement. But look closely at this account as it continued.

Jesus made his statement. ‘Hear O Israel; The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this; Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these”.

In response, the teacher rephrased it to include something very important. He added, “these are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  The establishment, the religious culture, the other trapper groups based all their questions on hypothetical situations.  Each question or hypothetical was to provide no out in the response. Each was dependent on outward acts and they could construe or twist into the alienation of a portion of the culture. To them, it was all about the action and not the motive.  As long as you did a certain thing you could be seen as righteous.

The teacher of the Law concluded, it was the motive and not the action.  All the actions of sacrifice, burnt offerings, all the things they did to justify themselves were not as important as the Love of God and the Love of man.

It was not actions that promoted acceptance by authority, it was not actions to promote self, it was not an intellectual exercise, it was not an assessment of self, it was not a qualification of duty, it was not even to be a friend of Jesus.  None of these things mean anything without the love of God and of man.   Hence, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

So why do I ask questions and sometimes make those who hear a little annoyed? Because I need them to come closer to God.  To irritate them to a point of understanding, like the teacher of the law, it is about why you do more than what you do.

The Intent of God

Fear does not rule my life. I live in hope and great expectations.  Never-the-less, I look at our current place in history and perceive a radical change in our culture.  The number of persons which have no belief in God it at about 7%. Further 16% of the world’s population do not identify with any religion. Both these statistics suffer from the ebbs and flows of perception.  That is not what is disturbing me.

What brings me to a point of consternation is the change in the loss of the understanding of the true intent of God. Theology (Study of God), Christology (Study of Christ), Ecclesiology (Study of the Church), and the plethora of Bible resources all have become entities in themselves without much on the intent of God.  Study for study sake has taken the place of study to discover what God wants. To discover what God’s intent is toward me.  What does God want for me?

What does God’s intent mean to the way I live my life?  What does God’s intent change me?  Or for that matter how am I to know that I need to change?

Maybe I it is just to late for me to embark on a quest for God’s intent for me and simply and blindly follow all those who have boldly gone before.  Or just perchance there is an inner need that has to be satisfied.  A need to know.  And in knowing, a chance to change.

I have a dream

To steal a phrase of Martin Luther King Jr. and a synopsis of the Sermon on the Mount, this is the text of my dream for the church which are honored Citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Written by someone who is a PINOGAM.  (Person In Need Of Grace And Mercy).

My fellow citizens, I have a dream for you today!

A dream:

Where The Kingdom of Heaven’s gates are thrown open to the Poor in Spirit.
Where those who are oppressed and put down are comforted,
Where the meek and lowly are welcomed to their inheritance,
Where those who have found a deep longing for righteousness are filled,
Where those who show mercy will be welcomed and forgiven,
Where The pure in heart will be overwhelmed and awed by the sight of God,
Where those who have sought peace and justice will receive their rightful name of children of heaven,
Where those who have been ridiculed, made fun of, put down, hung up, killed, ostracized will permanently possess the Kingdom of heaven.

You see I have a dream for you!

A dream for you to be the flavor and brightness of the world.
A dream that you will find a place of righteousness greater than any in the time of Jesus.
A dream where murder, adultery, divorce, broken promises, retribution, never happen in your lives.
A dream where there is true and unfailing love for your enemies.

I pray for a day,

When the needy will be supplied
When prayer will be more than lip service
When forgiveness is the new normal
When fasting is more than way to loose weight

There is a dream in my heart for you all, A day in which:

Your treasures in heaven become more important than any here on earth.
Your eyes are open to new opportunities and light.
All that happens in your life does not shadow God’s blessings.

I have a dream where:

We come to a place where we are able to discern right from wrong without any planks in our eyes,
Where we can petition God for heavenly things instead of earthly.

I have a dream in which all who search for the narrow gate will find it.

I have a dream where Kingdom of Heaven Citizens:

Might look at every teacher, preacher or prophet, and look carefully at their fruit that you will know true from false.
That God can search me and find nothing that would shadow my words as I have taught and will teach.
Where there is no hypocrisy in our deeds.
Where there is no hypocrisy in our motives.
Where there is no hypocrisy in our character.

I have a dream:

In that great storm which is coming that I know my foundation is true.

I have a dream today.

A dream of a great and glorious day:

Where every valley shall be raised, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see this day together. 

God Bless you and Keep you as you make your own dreams. 

Just Larry

God the only judge of character.

It is going to happen whether we like it or not. The presidential election. It has been touted as the most important in this or last century. It is discouraging to contemplate the two candidates running for the highest leadership position in our country. Both and neither seem to check all the boxes for me. Never-the-less, the election will be held, and someone will be in the white house for four years.

In the middle of the sometimes heated discussions of politics, we are distracted from the headlong ubiquitous degradation of America’s moral foundation and fundamental liberties. My inclination to discover what their vision is for the future and vote for that future. I want to do my civic duty. My vote is not about the personal values of the candidate but the change or lack of change for our country.

Yet there are many within the church who strongly disagree about one or both candidates. I have heard some will not vote, out of protest. Others condemning anyone one not seeing it the way they do. Others explicitly state their mandate is only to vote if it does not compromise their Christian witness whatever that means. And others say, “If you don’t vote you are not Christian.”

My thoughts here are from my study of the Bible. Both candidates profess the Christian faith. Where is my responsibility to include in my criteria for voting the genuineness of their Christianity? Where does it say a criterion of who is the best leader in this time of turmoil, pandemic, and social unrest, be based on my judgment of Christian their character? I can’t find it. Judge as you would be judged.

Our political decisions may well lead to discussions and even to outward persuasions, but I will not judge. That kind of Judgement is God’s and I am not looking for a job. I Cor 4:5 states that Jesus will judge. It is for him alone to bring to light what is now hidden and to commend or rebuke. So my friends, let us “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, [bear] with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). Let us not dismiss our own faith by doing anything else.