Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
Mallards on a pond in the village of Raspordin

Friday, October 20, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Oct 21, Mar 14

Today's readings are Mar 14.

Mar 14:1-2 mentions the developing plot to kill Jesus. Verse 2 indicates the leaders were hesitant to move forward during the feast for fear of creating an uproar. With the massive number of travelers in Jerusalem for the Passover and overcrowded conditions throughout the city, the potential for riots was always lingering just under the service. Watch as this body of supposedly wise spiritual leaders allows their resentment and animosity at Jesus to overcome their common sense.

Jesus is anointed for burial in Mar 14:3-9. During the incident, we read in verse 7, that there is a time to minister to the poor and a time to focus on Christ. What Jesus is teaching the disciples here is that their relationship with Him comes first. The church exists to worship and exalt God. Feeding the poor, caring for the elderly and any other good work the church may do is secondary to how it relates to and exalts the Creator. A church that emphasizes social action, interpersonal relationships, self-improvement or any other activity more than it does Christ is missing the point. Jesus establishes that time with Him, and knowledge of Him are to be the highest priorities in the lives of His followers. He is to be given priority over all our possessions (the alabaster jar) and everything we do (feed the poor), even the "good" things we do.

This level of commitment to Christ can be difficult and is only achieved with the help and presence of the Holy Spirit who has yet to be poured out. Peter, still in his infancy as a believer, believes he can do it on his own as do the rest of the disciples. Jesus warns them about what is to come (Mar 14:26-31).

The first indications that the disciples are not yet empowered to do the things they are called to do occurs in the Garden of Gethsemane when they are unable to stay awake (Mar 14:32-42). Meanwhile, in the dark hours of a very dark night, we witness a model of perfect prayer and submission to the Father (Mar 14:36).

The disciples want to help Jesus as He is being betrayed and arrested (Mar 14:43-50). One of them wants to defend Him as if He could not defend Himself. Jesus needs neither their assistance nor their efforts at protecting Him. He had just told them He was going to be arrested and crucified. Now, their instincts lead them to try and prevent this from happening.

There’s a profound lesson in this vignette, one concerning the church and those who feel they need to protect and defend it. The Scriptures tell us the church will be persecuted and hated. As we see this becoming a reality, day by day, some think they should draw their swords and cut off the ear of the evil oppressors (Mar 14:47). Jesus would say to those who take it upon themselves to preserve the church, “Put away your sword (Mat 26:52)!" God is perfectly capable of preserving His church and tells us He will. We, as believers, would do well to remember that our mission field is--everyone, even those who oppose the church, perhaps them even more so (Mat 9:12).

Jesus is given a hearing during which, despite their best efforts, the council is unable to come up with any tangible evidence of wrongdoing (Mar 14:53-59). Ironically, they pass judgment on Him for speaking the truth (Mar 14:60-65).

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Oct 20, Mar 12-13

Today's readings are Mar 12-13.

In Mar 12:1-12, Jesus relates the parable of the Tenants to the Pharisees.  It is a blatant slap in the face to them. They know they are the evil tenants. They oppressed and rejected the prophets and are about to do the same to the Son of God. Even as the words of Jesus sound harsh, they are an act of mercy. They are true and accurate in every detail giving those who hear them an opportunity to repent before it’s too late. The chief priests, scribes and elders can never say they were not warned.

This is how Scripture should work in the life of a believer. Just as Jesus’s parables were a mirror for the leaders, Scripture is for us. We can read it and believe it’s not about us, as the priests, scribes and elders did. Or we can objectively use it to measure the state of our heart. The leaders failed at being objective and, as a result, they were condemned.

Jesus continues teaching on taxes, the resurrection, the great commandment and who He is (all in Mat 22). With each teaching, He humiliates the religious rulers and exposes them for the shallow, false teachers they are. We read much the same lesson in His warning about the scribes in Mar 12:38-40.

Finally, Jesus tells them in the incident with the widow and her mites (Mar 12:41-44) that it's not how much they give, it's the attitude of the heart that gives.  Compare the widow’s devotion and surrender to those who avoid the responsibility of caring for their aged parents by selfishly claiming Corban (Mar 7:11). Those who used the principle of Corban as a way of keeping their assets did not have hearts that surrendered all to the Lord. The widow gave all she had, placing herself in a position where she had to trust the Lord to sustain her.
We can easily fall victim to the same sentiment as those who hid behind Corban. If we tithe after we pay our bills and meet our obligations, in other words, give to God out of what is left over—if any at all—we are no less guilty than the religious leaders. The Old Testament practice of giving the first fruits and of sacrificing a blemish-free offering are lessons in how we should give. God should always be first and should receive our best, not our leftovers.

Mar 13 relates prophecies indicating trials for the church. The verses in Mar 13:14-20 are a graphic description of what will happen in Jerusalem in 70 AD. By most estimates, nearly a million Jews were brutally slaughtered, and the temple was destroyed. The Roman general Titus stood on the spot where the Holy of Holies was and sacrificed a pig. To the Jews who survived to witness this act, it was the "abomination of desolation." The abomination was the sacrifice of an unclean animal by a Gentile on the spot once dedicated to the ark of the covenant and the presence of God. The desolation was the ruined temple, the remains of which were pushed off the temple mount and were left lying in heaps of rubble surrounding the mount.

Large amounts of rubble from 70 AD remain at the base of the temple mount today.
The roadway at the base of the temple mount still shows the crushing impact of the stones of the temple as they were pushed off the mount above.
Mar 13:21 begins with "And then" indicating a prophecy of events that will follow the destruction of the temple. At some point after Jerusalem is raised, false Christs will arise, and people will begin flocking to them. We know they are false because Christ is in us, not in the next town or country. There will be false prophets as well. They will perform signs and wonders. This should make us cautious about how we view miracles.  While it is apparent that God can and does perform miracles at times, there are those who believe the Holy Spirit is present only when signs and wonders are, or that the absence of signs and wonders indicates the absence of the Holy Spirit. This passage tells us that the presence of miracles can also be a sign of false prophets and false Christs. Our familiarity with our God and our in-depth knowledge of His word will help us discern which is which.

Mar 13:32-37 brings it all into focus. Instead of being preoccupied with all the end time events, Christians are to be awake, alert and " charge, each with his work." We are to do what we are called to do -- be witnesses for the gospel. The prophecies concerning the end times are given to us to let us know that there is indeed an end and it will come quickly, "like a thief in the night." This should inspire us with some urgency to be bearers of the gospel. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Oct 19, Mar 10-11

Today’s readings are Mar 10-11.

Mar 10:1-12 addresses several contemporary issues regarding marriage. Jesus makes it clear that divorce was allowed by Moses and the Law because of the “hard hearts” of those involved. Divorce is not part of God’s design for marriage as the “but” in Mar 10:6 indicates. Rather than allowing these intricacies to become a stumbling block, it would be better to just live our lives and conduct our marriages in a manner that honors God at every turn.

Perhaps more pertinent to our current cultural milieu, though, is Jesus’s statement in Mar 10:5-7 concerning the nature of marriage being between a man and a woman. For those who believe Jesus never taught on this aspect of the marriage relationship, His remarks can be challenging.
The story about the rich young man is revealing (Mar 10:17-22). When the young man asks how to inherit eternal life, he calls Jesus “good teacher,” not Lord or Savior. Jesus responds that no one is good but God, a veiled reference to His oneness with the Father. The young man misses the point altogether. He called Jesus “good.” Jesus said, “Only God is good.” Christ is laying before this young man the fact the He is God. Furthermore, when Jesus recites the commandments, He leaves out those that pertain to worshiping only God and coveting material things. The young man has done fine in most areas of his life but not all. When Jesus tells him to sell everything, he can’t. His reluctance shows that he wants eternal life without making God his highest priority.

Jesus' comment about the camel passing through the eye of a needle (Mar 10:23-27) has garnered much attention. Many teach that there was some small gate called the “Eye of the Needle” in Jerusalem. There is no archeological or historical evidence of this being true despite its wide and ready acceptance. Supposedly, to get a camel through that gate, the owner had to remove everything the camel was carrying. It was supposed to be a metaphor for divesting yourself of all material possessions before getting into heaven. In other words, you can be saved if you give up everything you own. This teaching ignores Mar 10:27 where Jesus says that it is impossible for man to be saved apart from the work of God. See? It’s possible for the camel to get through that small gate. It just has to get rid of its load. Then it can go through. That’s not what Jesus is teaching here. He’s trying to show that the young man was not moved by the Spirit of God, but by his own desire to live eternally. The man asked what he had to do and when Jesus told him he had to obey all the commandments, the young man declined. The Jesus turned to His disciples told them it’s not possible to enter heaven by “doing” anything, it is the work of God in whom all things are possible.

After this, we see a revealing series of events. Jesus says those who want to be first shall be last (Mar 10:29-31). Next He tells the disciples He must go to Jerusalem and die (Mat 10:32-34). Amazingly, as if to show they weren’t really listening, James and John ask to sit in prominent positions of authority in glory (Mar 10:35-37). Jesus responds by telling them they should be careful what they ask for. They will indeed be with Him in glory, but the process will not be what they think it will be (Mar 10:37-45). Immediately afterward, Jesus heals another blind man (Mar 10:46-52). The Lord’s message is clear, many do not yet see, even among His disciples. He will heal those who follow Him, but the journey may not be pleasant.

Mar 11 gives us a few details on the Triumphal Entry that is not in the other gospels. The disciples are sent to get a donkey for Jesus to ride on (Mar 11:1-6). There is the curious exchange between the disciples and the people standing near the donkey. Is something supernatural happening or was the borrowing of the donkey prearranged? Do the people standing near the donkey know of Jesus and approve? Has Jesus made these arrangements beforehand? The text doesn't say. We should be careful not to make assumptions about how and why some things occur they way they are depicted.  However, we should be thankful that God provides in any way He chooses whether it be by miraculous knowledge or by wise and prudent preparations for the future. In this case, we see that God provides a symbolic ride on which His Son will enter Jerusalem. Jesus arriving on a donkey would denote that He comes in peace.

In Mar 11:12-14, Jesus curses a fig tree. Throughout the Scriptures, Israel is repeatedly compared to a fig tree. This particular tree is described as "in leaf." In other words, it is very close to producing fruit but not yet ready. It looks good but remains unproductive. What is intended here is a condemnation of Israel, who looks good and is close to producing spiritual fruit but will soon reject Jesus Christ. Their rejection will make it impossible to bring forth the fruit for which they are designed, the truth of God and His plan for redemption.

Immediately after cursing the fig tree, Jesus cleanses the temple (Mar 11:15-18). Note the progression between the fig tree and the temple cleansing. Israel has two primary spiritual problems. She is producing no fruit of any eternal value, and she is spiritually unclean. In the parable of the fig tree and in the temple cleansing we see judgment falling on Israel. She is not producing the fruit she was designed to produce, and the temple is not being used the way it was designed to be used.

The next day, the fig tree is withered and incapable of producing fruit (Mar 11:20-25). The fig tree is now a metaphor for Israel who will not bear the fruit it could have. The prophetic judgment is sealed based on Israel's decision to turn away from Jesus.

Jesus does not appear to address Peter's acknowledgment of the withered tree but instead begins to teach (Mar 11:22-25). His teaching is about faith and prayer, perhaps addressing the withered fig tree, after all, and what can be learned from it.

The core of the teaching is that the difficulties of life (mountains) can be removed through prayer and faith. This is not a secret formula for success or a way to get our prayers answered regardless of what they may be. Neither is it a method similar to, "If I can just work up enough faith, I'll get what I pray for!" The teaching in this passage is an encouragement to pray more frequently and intimately, striving for a deeper relationship with God by spending more focused time with Him.

However, this teaching does not stand alone. It must harmonize with the overall narrative of the Bible. One of the things Scripture has shown us is that God reveals Himself in and through His word. So, we see a relationship between three spiritual disciplines - prayer, studying the word and knowing God. The deeper we go into the first two, the better we are at the last. As we are diligent to do this, our prayers become more than telling our wants and needs to God. They begin to line up with His character and nature. When they do, we find that those God-centered prayers are answered and blessed more frequently than praying apart from the word or reading the word apart from praying.

This fits in with Mark's narrative in that Israel was failing to be God-centered in its prayer and practice of godly living. Her prayers and practice had become increasingly self-centered. God will not bless them. Indeed, Jesus curses both their prayers and their practices. The path to answered prayers and rewarded practice is in knowing God, His Son and His word so intimately that they form and inhabit our prayers to such an extent that we pray His will and His word more than we pray our will and our desires.

Hearing all this, a challenge rises from the three most influential sectors of Jewish culture (Mar 11:27-33): the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders. These groups comprise the Sanhedrin. Their naive challenge only affirms that everything Jesus has said about them is true.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Oct 18, Mar 8-9

Today's reading ar Mar 8-9.

The feeding of the four thousand depicted in Mar 8:1-10 is similar to the version on Mat 15.

Incredibly, after this miracle, the Pharisees demand to see a sign (Mar 8:11-15). Notice the difference between the compassion Jesus has on the crowd, who demands nothing more than His presence and teaching, and His harsh reply to the Pharisees who repeatedly demand proof.

Jesus uses the skepticism of the Pharisees to warn the disciples against their teaching, comparing it to leaven. This leads to a discussion among the disciples about their lack of bread (Mar 8:14-21). They have missed the point of the feedings. Jesus is showing that He is the bread of life. He brings life to those who believe in Him, as He demonstrated in the feeding of the four thousand. While the crowd needs food, the more profound teaching was not about lunch. He was showing that He will sustain them. The Pharisees, who have contaminated the truth, will receive none of the blessings that are inherent in a relationship with Christ. 

After all this, the disciples complain that they have no bread. Jesus uses their hunger as an opportunity to draw them deeper. Ironically, they are concerned about their empty stomachs while the bread of life is sitting in their midst. Jesus is not denying them food or telling them they should have no need for physical bread. He’s driving home the weightier lessons in the feedings.

As if to give the disciples an example of how they will progress into a better understanding of Jesus and His teaching, Jesus heals another blind man (Mar 8:22-26). But, this time He does it in stages. He’s showing the disciples that they will eventually see the truth of who He is and what He’s doing. 

To drive His point home, Jesus asks the disciples who He is (Mar 8:27-30). Peter has the right answer, revealed to him by the Holy Spirit (Mat 16:17). The disciples are growing!
We grow in the same manner. Our spiritual growth can be dramatic at times and slower at others. So long as we turn to Jesus and His word for the truth, as the disciples did, we will continue to grow and see more clearly.

Mar 9:1 is a verse that has caused much discussion. To whom is Jesus speaking? Who will not taste death until they see the kingdom? Many believe this is an end-times prophecy and Jesus is speaking to that last generation. If so, what about the ones standing in front of Him? They all died before the end times came. Did Jesus miss it? The only sensible way to interpret what Jesus says here is to apply it directly to the men standing there. If that's the case, then the prophecy is accurate and precise.

The power mentioned is the power the disciples will receive in Acts 2, the same power that they will to go to Jerusalem and wait upon (Act 1:8). The kingdom is not, as some teach, an event that will happen in the future, it is Christ. Like the disciples in Acts 2, if we have the resurrected Christ, we have the kingdom and the power. There is no need to wait. There are no believers that are left without or with less.

Mar 9:14-29 provides additional detail to the healing of the demon-possessed boy. Jesus tells the disciples that this kind of demon comes out only by prayer (Mar 9:29). This statement must harmonize with the teaching in Mat 17:20. In that verse, we found that the faith of the disciples was not yet fully developed. The power to heal and cast out demons is not in them apart from a close and mature relationship with Christ. Jesus is not saying, "If you pray more, then the demons will leave." He's telling them that a sincere and committed relationship with Him will lead to them being able to move in faith in all they do -- move mountains, cast out demons, etc. Their goal is not to perform miracles, but to have a more intimate walk with Him. Prayer is fellowship and communion with Him. Their spiritual growth will be commensurate with their prayer life.

As an aside, they are in or near Caesarea Philippi when much of this happens. This is actually the Northern-most part of Jesus' journey. This is where they turn and start heading for Jerusalem. There was an ancient sacrificial site there, in a cave, that some say known as "The Gates of Hell." Here's what the cave looks like today;

The disciples miss many of the points Jesus is teaching and fall into a disagreement as to who is the greatest (Mar 9:33-37). They make the common mistake of thinking that the kingdom is about them and the benefits they will receive when it arrives. Jesus brings the correction by telling them that He--and they--have come to serve, not be exalted.

Jesus addresses minor doctrinal differences in Mar 9:38-41 saying those who are genuinely on His side will all receive a reward. The point of primary importance is that those "who are not against us are for us." Those who are not actively opposing Christ but moving in "His name," His character and nature, are working for Him albeit not directly with the disciples. Jesus tells the disciples to leave those people alone. This is a snapshot of the diversity the kingdom will exhibit and a caution against judging people or denominations that may have a different ecclesiology while remaining gospel-centered.

Mk 9:42-50 is an admonishment to the disciples to do whatever is necessary to eliminate sin from their lives. In this, Jesus redirects the disciples to examine themselves rather than others. Far from being an endorsement for self-mutilation, Jesus is encouraging them to ruthlessly pursue eliminating sinful thoughts and behavior from their lives.

Examining the flow of Mar 9, we see an incredible teaching about the kingdom of God and how it operates. Along with it is a caution that the kingdom is not about you or me, but about Christ and His work. Furthermore, we should not fall into the same poor behavior of the Pharisees by judging those who are not like us in practicing our faith. We should welcome and be thankful for all those who are actively working to advance the kingdom and are devoted to Christ. Instead of critiquing them, we should look inward and examine ourselves.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sainte Mere Eglise & the Airborne Museum

While we were visiting Normandy, our first stop was St. Mere Eglise, one of the first villages liberated by the paratroopers on D Day. It is strategically located on Route N13 which was a major supply route for the Nazis in occupied France.  Gaining control over the village would be instrumental in preventing any significant counter-attack by the Third Reich after the D Day invasion. The battle was fierce with the first wave of paratroopers inadvertently landing in the middle of the village taking on heavy casualties. However, through sheer determination and a heroic effort, the village was under Allied control by the end of the day. It became instrumental in maintaining the progress of liberating France. The village is proud of its heritage and prominently displays their gratitude toward the Allied forces. 

The "chapel" sits in the middle of town. Most towns and villages in Brittany are centered around a church/.

Atop the bell tower rests an homage to paratrooper John Steele whose chute got hung up on the steeple. He was taken prisoner but managed to escape and help liberate the village. 

In the '60's a new stained glass window was added to the sanctuary, depicting thanks for the paratroopers.

The sanctuary

The Airborne Museum
A Sherman tank outside the museum

A sculpture honoring the paratroopers and the flags of all the nations involved in D Day

Army Jeep

The museum displays a number of military vehicles

Ike addresses the troops before they launch the D Day invasion

Displays are amazingly lifelike 

The town is dotted with reminders and memorials to those who fought.

Many of the local businesses relate to D Day, some of them a bit awkwardly!
The village is warm and friendly. Kelly and I had lunch at this cafe, just a few steps away from the chapel.