Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mark, Chapter Sixteen

Chapter 16

Verses 1-8, the resurrection

When Jesus appeared to Saul, he identified himself as Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 22:8). Why did the angel at the empty tomb use the identifier Jesus the Nazarene? What mission did the angel give the women? Did they carry it out (Luke 24:9-12)?

Verses 9-20 (earliest, most reliable manuscripts do not contain these verses)

If Mark indeed ended his gospel-telling at verse 8, do the last nine words of that verse speak powerfully about witnessing about the Christ to both his Christian, Roman and Gentile readers: They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Summary Thought: As followers of God, our hope is placed in Jesus and the miracle of three words: He is risen!

Prayer Endings: In the name of Jesus who topples gravestones (vs. 3-4). I pray through Jesus, who is good news (vs. 15).

Note from Cathy: May we embrace the courage and mission of Christ to model the gospel to all—empowered by his manners, meekness, forgiveness, and the generous Holy Spirit.

At the very beginning of this study, I referred to Jesus as the “breathtaking Savior.” May Mark’s portrait-in-words of Jesus’ deity so grab our souls that we share with any who come near us the wonder of God who walked this earth.


Halley’s Bible Handbook; Pulpit Commentary; Inductive Study Bible; Burton Coffman Commentary; Walk with Me by Prentice Meador and Bob Chisholm; NIV Bible on CD; Matthew Henry Commentary; Navigator’s Daily Walk (November 2002)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Mark, Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Fifteen

Verses 1-15, Jesus before Pilate

Here, Jesus is bound, questioned, accused of wrongs, and yet, he remained silent. Pilate is amazed. How did Jesus’ silence set him apart from ordinary prisoners?

Verses 16-20, the soldiers mock Jesus

The irreverent whole company of soldiers, stripped Jesus naked, clothed him with a purple robe, crowned him with thorns, shouted to him as a king, repeatedly hit his head with a staff, spit on him, and fell on their knees in false worship. Stripped of the purple robe, they put Jesus’ seamless tunic back on him. Compare the silent Lamb of God—robed with the honor of obedience to his father—to the sham soldiers. What might a Roman think when he read Mark’s account nearly 100 years later?

Verses 21-32, the crucifixion

On the cross, the extreme physical suffering plus verbal abuse continued. Also crushing the spirit of The Anointed One was my and your sins, and God-in-One would pray forgive them. Consider the total depravity of man and the extravagant love of God.

Verses 33-41, the death of Jesus

Is it any wonder that the lights of heaven darkened during the last hours of Jesus’ cross bearing? Take a look at each person or group mentioned as being near the cross. Who were they and what purpose did they have in being nearby?

Verses 42-47, the burial of Jesus

Describe Joseph of Arimathea’s position and probably mindset.

Summary Thought: Throughout the horrific events of this chapter, Jesus remains distinct in his behavior and true to his calling to become the firstborn son.

Prayer Endings: In the name of Jesus who recognizes false worship (vs. 19). In the name of Jesus, who capably rebuilds human temples (vs. 29).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mark, Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fourteen

Verses 1-11, Jesus anointed at Bethany

Mark says Jesus’ dinner host was described or known as “Simon, the Leper.” If folk referred to you with a description what might they tag you with in your story on earth? Who is the woman who anointed Jesus (John 12:3)?

Verses 12-26, the Lord’s Supper

Compare the long ago events of Passover to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (Exodus 12).

Verses 27-31, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial

Here Jesus says Peter will deny his relationship with Jesus. After Jesus’ resurrection, he addresses Peter and teaches him about real allegiance and God’s kind of love. Read about this encounter at the Sea of Tiberius (John 21:15-19). What touches you as you read?

Verses 32-42, Gethsemane

“Gethsemane” means olive press. This was a location where the olive harvest was processed—where oil came from the end of the harvest. What does the symbolism of the place where Jesus prayed mean to you? What pressed upon Jesus in this place? What does the word “cup” represent in Jesus’ earnest plea? What eventual sustenance for all mankind came through Jesus’ prayer-struggle in Gethsemane?

Verses 33-51, Jesus arrested

The original says that Judas “kissed him much”—, that he produced deceptive over-the-top acting to show that he really loved Jesus. Verse 51 probably refers to Mark, a young man (possibly around 15 years old) wearing only a linen garment. The soldiers seized him and he fled naked into the night—Judas had a bare soul and Mark a bare body. What does this verse mean to you—Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14)?

Verses 53-65, before the Sanhedrin

Here, the Son of the Blessed One, our current High Priest is confronted by a tainted high priest of the Jews. What laws did he break when he tore his clothes (Lev. 21:10)?

Verses 66-72, Peter disowns Jesus

Is there a difference to you between the words “denies” and “disowns.”

Summary Thought: Stark contrasts are revealed in this chapter between fake follower Judas, the vacillating-follower Peter, and the steadfast, love-driven, God-obeying Jesus.

Prayer Endings: In the name of Jesus, who still cries Abba Father for me (vs. 36). In the name of Jesus, who sets the example of keeping silent at appropriate times (vs. 61).

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mark, Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Thirteen

Verses1-31, signs of the end of the Age

Jesus gives the commands to watch out and be on guard against folk who make predictions. Why? How are prophecies and prophets to be “proved” (Deuteronomy 18:22)?

Verses 32-37, the day and hour unknown

Jesus said only the Father knew the end of time. How sobering is Jesus’ warning, “If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping”? David Willy’s study in January covered 1 Thessalonians, re-read chapter 4:13-18.

Summary Thought: The Lord’s return is not to cause anxiety or fear but comfort. Talk about this with a fellow Christian this week. How could we better implement this in our time with each other?

Prayer Endings: In Jesus name, who comforts us with thoughts of his return (vs. 26); In the name of Jesus, who helps me find and carry out my assigned tasks for him (vs. 34).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mark, Chapter Twelve

Chapter Twelve

Verses 1-12, parable of the tenants

Earlier parables about the kingdom were not understood by the crowds, possibly allowing them time to discover and ponder the underlying message. Cloaked in another story was a cryptic message about the Jewish leaders plotting to kill Jesus, but they clearly understood he spoke of them. Why?

Verses 13-17, paying taxes to Caesar

Give back to Caesar what is Caesars and give back to God what is God’s. How do you live this out in your life?

Verses 18-27, marriage at the resurrection

Duplicity seems to be inherent in folk who serve self interests. What deceit do you see in verse 18 and the question posed to Jesus (verses 19-23)?

Verses 28-34, the greatest commandment

This teacher of the law asks a sincere question. After Jesus’ reply, he made a statement about the teacher. What was Jesus’ observation and what do you think it meant?

Verses 35-40, whose son is the Christ?

As Jesus taught in the temple courts, the large crowd listened to him with delight. What is different about Jesus’ teaching and the pride-filled, iron rule of the Jewish leaders?

Verses 41-44, the widow’s offering

Jesus watched the crowd put money into the temple treasury. Although his human eyes took in the gestures and amounts, what was he really measuring?

Summary Thought: Jesus was recognized as a man of integrity even by those who opposed him because it was obvious that he did not operate on the opinions men had of him (vs. 14).

Prayer Endings: In the name of Jesus the God of the living (vs. 26-27); In the name of glorious Jesus, the capstone of my life (vs. 10).

Friday, May 21, 2010

By Word of Mouth

Edward Heath – Prime Minister of England from 1970 to 1974 – failed in the 1974 elections and the public voted in Margaret Thatcher. Early in Heath’s career, London newspaper owner William Airken (better known as Lord Beaverbrook) wrote a “highly derogatory” editorial about Heath.

Several days afterward, Heath ran into Lord Beaverbrook in the washroom of a private club in London. Beaverbrook, having had time to think over his editorial, had decided that he made wrong assessments. He extended his hand to Heath saying, “My dear chap, I’ve been thinking it over, and I was wrong in that editorial.” He continued, “Here and now, I wish to apologize.”

Heath replied, “Very well, but next time, I wish you’d insult me in the washroom and apologize in your newspaper.” I read that story in Dr. Mardy Grothe’s book “Viva La Repartee.” From Dr. Grothe’s other titles, obviously he loves language: “Oxymoronica” and “Never Let a Fool Kiss You or Let a Kiss Fool You.”

Mark Twain said that “Repartee is something we think of twenty-four hours too late.” How many times have you later thought of a comeback and said, “I wish I’d thought to say that.”

God gave us a powerful tool when he gave us language and words. As you have experienced, they communicate many things when we speak them or write them. They can soothe or deceive. They can heal, encourage, instruct, destroy, inform, or persuade. And that’s only a minute list of their power.

The New Testament writer James communicated to his readers the influence of words when he talked about the tongue in chapter three. First, he mentions that we all stumble. He also says if you ever meet someone who has neared perfection then you have met someone who has learned to control their words and who also monitors their thoughts and actions.

James then uses a few similes to help his readers understand how spoken words can fuel or guide. A bit on a horse harness causes the rider to have control. Even sailing ships, driven by strong winds, are guided by a small rudder beneath the water. The tongue is small but it directs most of the happenings in the world.

James reminds his readers how a tiny spark can burn down a huge forested area. And we’ve seen the effects of wicked words in our personal lives and how evil words, boastful power, can topple good people and destroy thousands of innocents.

James described our restless tongues 2,000 years ago, and his words remain relevant, “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue.” Anyone, who doubts that has never compared training a lion and taming his own tongue.

Adolph Hitler, German Chancellor and leader of the Nazi party said, “All epoch-making revolutionary events have been produced not by the written, but by the spoken word.” If evil men know how to use words to stir up a world of strife, think how much good children of God can do when we bless with words of light.

Today, pay attention to the thoughts that feed your words. Pay attention to the actual words that you give voice to, and watch for their effect on others. Also, listen carefully to the tones and inflections that you give to words.

Remember that when you speak, your hearers file your words away where they will be written into their lives. Few words are passive. Use yours to write blessings upon the lives of others.

I’m writing a new book about contentment and I’m seeking a few first person stories, of how you arrived at a place of contentment. If interested in possible inclusion in the book, please contact me for guidelines.)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mark, Chapter Eleven

Chapter Eleven

Verses1-11, the triumphal entry

The crowd created great fanfare when Jesus entered Jerusalem. Within a week, they went from palm waving and shouting praises to screaming Crucify him! Crucify him! Is your devotion to Christ growing? Sometimes it’s easier to talk in general terms about God to others, how often do you speak and honor the name of Jesus?

Verses 12-26, Jesus cleanses the temple, the withered fig tree

In these two combined sections the fig tree without fruit shrivels at Jesus’ command and the Gentile court is cleansed of the buyers and sellers. Compare the purpose of the fig tree, the temple, and your God-ordained purpose.

What “aside” lesson is taught when Peter pointed out the withered fig tree?

Verses 27-33, the authority of Jesus questioned

Why did Jesus refuse to answer the question of the elders, chief priests, and the teachers of the law?

Summary Thought: I find it significant that in the context of cleansing the temple that Jesus calls people back to the original purpose of his house—that it would be called a house of prayer for all nations. This is why he is moving toward the cross so all may kneel there.

Prayer Endings: In the name of Jesus, the cornerstone of a new house (vs. 17). In the name of Jesus who said: ask, believe, receive (vs. 24).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mark, Chapter Ten

Chapter Ten

Verses 1-12, divorce

In the perfect world there would be no marital conflicts. Has your world ever been rocked by divorce—yours or someone else’s?

Jesus pointed back to creation and God’s intentions for marriage instead of dwelling on man’s inadequacies. If you have time look up the original meaning of helpmeet, it just might define a part of marriage that is vital to its happiness and missions.

Verses 13-16, the little children and Jesus

Children delight in receiving gifts and kingdom entry is a gift. Compare your kingdom-receiving to a child accepting a gift.

Verses 17-31, the rich young ruler

Do you think Jesus’ teaching about riches meant that only the poor qualified to be in God’s kingdom? Here, was he dealing with gold, silver, possessions, or the heart?

Verses 32-34, Jesus again predicts his death

Again, Jesus brings up the subject of his suffering, death, and resurrection. Astonishment and fear are both mentioned here. Within the context of these verses, think through these differences in attitude and write down your thoughts.

Verses 35-45, the requests of James and John

A wide gap exists between James and John wanting to be first in the coming kingdom and Jesus being a servant on earth. Thinking on a scale of 1 to 10, James and John at 1 and Jesus at 10. Where are you? Do you want recognition with James and John or a life of service with Jesus?

Verses 46-52, blind Bartimaeus receives his sight

From this story, my favorite words are “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Name at least three exact things Bartimaeus did to get to Jesus.

Summary Thought: Jesus literally called them together (verse 42). His actions reflect his core message that his disciples then and now are to be known for having the mind of Christ and for serving one another (Ephesians 4:32).

Prayer Endings: In Jesus’ name, who calls us (vs. 49); In the name of Jesus, worth more than silver and gold (vs. 21)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mark, Chapter NIne

Chapter Nine

Verses 1-13, the transfiguration

Jesus introduced three of his disciples to members of his heavenly family: Moses and Elijah. This was a premier private event that would help the disciples’ later understand the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus—a lot to ponder as they descended the mountain.

Verses 14-32, the healing of a boy with an evil spirit

Jesus said to the boy’s father, Everything is possible to him who believes. Has the father’s astute prayer ever been your prayer: I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief? What were your circumstances?

Verses 33-37, who is the greatest?

Jesus taught the Twelve how to welcome God by standing a child among them? Why was the lesson needed? What did he teach?

Verses 38-41, whoever is not against us is for us

Write in practical terms what these four verses say to you?

Verses 42-50, causing to sin

What extreme examples does Jesus use to illustrate the seriousness of sin’s infectious hold on a life?

Summary Thought: The necessary busyness of Jesus is prevalent in the book of Mark. Thousands follow for bread, and space around Jesus is a nightmare emergency clinic, demons are tossed out of hosts, Elijah and Moses re-visit Earth, and the disciples rehash childhood dreams of “Me first.” No wonder Jesus makes sure to get his disciples away from the crowds, alone to teach them. Have you learned the lesson of being refreshed with Jesus away from crowds (vs. 30)?

Prayer Endings: Blessed Jesus, in memory of your salt and peace, make me like you (vs. 50); In the name of Jesus who took children in his arms, may we teach our little ones to honor you (vs. 36).

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mark, Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight

Verses1-13, Jesus feeds the four thousand

Very crowded. Three days and nights. No decent sleeping arrangements for so many. Concentrate on Jesus’ words, “I have compassion for these people….” How does my charity compare in even less trying circumstances?

Verses 14-21, the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod

The disciples have forgotten to bring along bread again, so when Jesus begins a spiritual lesson, the temporal overrides his teaching. They have ears, but aren’t hearing, eyes but aren’t seeing; brains but not understanding, and these are Jesus’ chosen learners.

Verses 22-26, the healing of a blind man at Bethsaida

Everything about this scene is touching, you’ve heard of the blind leading the blind, but here, Jesus “took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village.” Precious Jesus hold my hand!

Verses 27-30, Peter’s confession of Christ

Our confession of Christ as Lord and Son of God at our Christian baptism is just the beginning of lifetime-confessions. Today, sometime, confess to God your belief that Jesus is the Son of God.

Verses 31-37, Jesus predicts his death

When Jesus rebuked Peter, he also said, “You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.” How could this assessment also fit our lives today?

Summary Thought: Jesus introduces even deeper teachings after he announces his impending suffering and death: he talks about cross bearing and living a life for the gospel. He calls his disciples to live out his death, burial and resurrection each day.

Prayer Endings: Through Jesus who sighs deeply for me at the throne of God (vs. 12);

Open my eyes, Lord, through Jesus who led blind men and blind disciples (vs. 23, 37).

Kings and Queens

Released in 2006, the movie “One Night with the King” portrays the story of Hadassah, later known as Queen Esther. Tiffany Dupont, Peter O’Toole, and Omar Sharif, star in key roles. Although romanticized, the history and setting are close to the biblical account. If you chose to rent or buy the movie, you’ll see the portrayal of the Citadel of Susa, surrounded by 60’ walls and a mote. You’ll also see Esther’s character and devotion to God depicted in scene after scene.

A few artistic intrusions occur, especially the appearance of the Star of David in a piece of jewelry. Historians tell us that the Star of David came into use in the Middle Ages, but overall, watching the movie can boost your faith in how God walks ahead of his people and arranges for their future needs.

I suggest reading the short book of Esther in the Bible (10 chapters), and then watching the movie. God’s name is not mentioned in Esther, but through reading the biblical account, you will see God-behind-the scenes, orchestrating the future for his chosen people.

The real Queen Esther of long ago could not be billed as a drama queen. When King Xerxes finally chose a young woman to wear the official title of queen, he chose Hadassah of Jewish heritage—discreet, obedient, and wise beyond her years. In today’s column, we’ll wind up our look at Esther.

Already, we considered Esther’s early beginnings and the obvious training she received from her guardian-cousin Mordecai. While living at the palace, she remained in touch with her cousin, who helped to guide her.

After Esther became queen, the rest of the story encompasses the universal theme of evil verses good. Mordecai overheard that a high official Haman had hatched a plan to destroy and kill all the Jews throughout Persia and Media (127 provinces). The influential Haman arranged a future day of slaughter, which was then signed into irrevocable law.

When Mordecai heard about the plan, he sent a message to Queen Esther, who chose to fast and she also asked Mordecai and the Jews in Susa to not eat or drink for three days. An additional hurdle also lay ahead—the palace law forbade anyone gaining an audience with the king unless the king summoned them into his presence. King Xerxes had the power to decapitate, drown in the moat, burn at the stake, or whatever brutal means he chose to dispose of any person who displeased him.

Esther needed to see the king, but she had not been called into his presence for 30 days. Her cousin Mordecai bolstered her courage through a longer message that also contained his classic statement, “Who knows but what you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (4:14). Esther made plans to go see the king, and sealed her fate with these words, “If I perish, I perish” (4:16).

After the days of fasting, she moved beyond any desire to spare her own life and entered the throne room of the king. He held out his royal scepter signaling his welcome. Soon after, the king got news of Haman’s wickedness. The date for the attack could not be changed. Persian law was Persian law. But an edict went throughout the land issuing Jews the right to defend themselves on the day deemed for attack.

After winning defense tactics, the Jews celebrated with feasts and giving of gifts. Today, Jews celebrate the Feast of Purim by listening to the book of Esther. They hiss, stamp their feet (some write Haman’s name on their shoe soles), and use rattle makers to blot out his evil name. On February 28, 2010 at sundown, Jews celebrated the Feast of Purim worldwide. I understand the celebrating. When wickedness disperses, giddy praise takes over.

I’m sure that when the palace squad searched for young beautiful girls to become queen, that no one suspected the thievery of daughters would ever bring about good. However, God has a track record throughout the Bible of walking ahead of us, preparing in advance for what we will need in two days, 10 or 50 years.

Watch for God’s footprints ahead of yours, preparing the way for you to do his will as queen or king of the small domains under your care.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mark, Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven

Verses 1-23, Clean and unclean

In prayer to God read aloud verses 20-23, and ask for him to reveal and heal any heart impurities. “Did you wash our hands?” How many times did we hear that from our moms? Jesus knew about germs on the outside, but he knew the deadliest of all lurk in hearts.

Verses 24-30, the faith of the Syrian Phoenician woman

Jesus looked at the woman’s heart and heritage. Give your thoughts about the dialog between Jesus and the woman.

Verses 31-37, the healing of a deaf and dumb man

Jesus returns to the Decapolis—region of ten cities—where the former demoniac has been a witness. In verse 14, what does Jesus’ sighing mean to you? Elwood Sanner calls Jesus’ sigh a “prayer without words.”

Summary Thought: For those who set themselves up as religious teachers, Jesus toughest criticisms landed on them, “You nullify (reverse, quash, cancel out, invalidate) the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

Prayer Endings: In the name of Jesus, who verifies the word of God (vs. 18); In the name of Jesus who cleans the heart whiter than snow (vs. 14).

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mark, Chapter Six

Chapter Six

Verses 1-6, a prophet without honor

Why did the community of Nazareth—the place of Jesus’ boyhood and young adult life—reject his teaching and power?

Verses 7-13, Jesus sends out the twelve

Jesus told these short term missionary disciples not to furnish things for their journey. Read Deut. 1:26-31 and Exodus 19:4-6. What picture of God as provider do you see there? What similar things did the disciples most likely learn about God’s provisions?

Verses 14-29, John the Baptist beheaded

Salome danced before Herod and asked on her mother’s behalf for John’s head on a platter. History reveals that her demise came about when she fell through ice, nearly severing her head and causing her death.

Ten members of this tyrannical family are mentioned in the New Testament. All I could think of when I read the historical that God is not mocked. I suppose that Zechariah and Elizabeth were already dead by the time of John’s demise for they were very old when John the Baby came to them. I so hope they didn’t have to suffer this betrayal and loss of their son.

Verses 30-44, Jesus feeds the five thousand

Jesus and his disciples reel from the news of John’s death, and yet when the hungry need feeding, Jesus sets aside his grief and dons an apron. He had compassion on them because they were like “sheep without a shepherd.” Compare the self-interests of Herod, the Pharisees and teachers of the law to Shepherd Jesus.

Verses 45-56, Jesus walks on water

Jesus arranges to get his disciples a brief rest in a boat and himself some prayer time in the hills. Even after all the miracles witnessed, they didn’t understand the source of Jesus’

power. Read and then picture in your mind verses 54-56 about the storm and Jesus walking on the lake. I refuse to judge these disciples for I fear what my skeptic nature would have thought had I been there. Swamped by water! Swamped by miracles! What a sight it must have been.

Summary Thought: The tenderness of Jesus oozes from this chapter. Even a Roman citizen who later read this could not fail to compare Herod’s wretched beheading of John with the shepherd/healer Jesus. Destruction verses Life.

Prayer Endings: In the name of Jesus my compassionate guide (vs. 34), In the name of Jesus who is able to break through to my understanding and hardened heart (vs. 51-52).

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Mark, Chapter Five

Chapter Five

Verses 1-20, the healing of a demon-possessed man

In the cemetery a demon-tortured man (2 in Matthew) lived, when healed he begged Jesus to take him along with him.

By contrast, the pig herders who lost their revenue monetarily urged Jesus to leave their region.

Whom did Jesus leave behind to give an accurate accounting of God’s miraculous powers and glory?

Verses 21-43, a dead girl and a sick woman

As soon as the boat landed, a needy crowd gathered. Among them was Jairus whose 12 year old daughter was near death. Jesus agreed to see the girl, and on the way to Jairus’ house, a woman who had hemorrhaged for 12 years touched Jesus and was healed. Minister Steve Yates titled a sermon “The story of two daughters, the story of two twelves.”

Read Lev. 15:25, how might this type of isolation have affected this woman’s life? In your opinion how much courage and faith did this desperate woman possess to make it through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment?

When Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, only her parents and Peter, James and John were present, and they were “completely astonished.” Recall a time the Lord completely astonished you in a time of need.

Summary Thought: The compassion of Christ is front and center in the graveyard, when the untouchable woman touched him, and beside the grieving parents.

Prayer Endings: In the name of Jesus who restores lives (vs. 15, 29, 42); In the name of Jesus, who brings healing to a graveyard (vs. 2)

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Motherless Hadassah

Two of my closest friends—in my teen years—didn’t have mothers. One had lost her mother in a car accident and only knew her from stories and pictures. My other friend’s mother died of cancer as her daughter entered her teen years. Last week, we considered the motherless Hadassah, biblical heroine Queen Esther.

Even though Hadassah grew up in the care of her male cousin, he instilled solid concepts that guided her entire life. Like many today, Hadassah didn’t grow up in a traditional home with her birth parents, but her godly training showed up in the way she later conducted herself.

Even under the additional trial of her and her countrymen’s captivity, Hadassah thrived. King Xerxes reigned over 127 provinces stretching from India to Ethiopia, plus many captives. When the king needed a replacement queen, his staff robbed the young beauties from every province so the king could have first dubs on gorgeous. The Persian version of the “The Bachelor” was about to begin. During the seizing, they accidentally picked the young Jewish girl Hadassah and deposited her into the care of Hegai, a eunuch in charge of the king’s harem. The harem was in the citadel of Susa surrounded by a moat.

“Every day,” her substitute parent, Mordecai “walked back and forth near the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her” (2:11). Her cousin somehow got word for her to not reveal their heritage, and Esther complied. Esther’s story also reveals that during the confined year of required beauty treatments that Esther “continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up” (2:20). This says a moat load about her character. Even away from her guardian, her heart would not betray family instilled goodness.

Esther was already a captive of the Persia and Media Empires, so in the harem she became a double captive of the system. For her, she was most likely moved from bare-existence living into luxury. It would be like a teen of today moving from the streets to a shopping mall, where she could have her choice of clothing and a food court where nothing had a price tag.

Any girl in Esther’s position might go a little crazy if plunged from poverty to palace—but not Esther. She was so compliant that she immediately won the favor of Hegai and he gave her seven personal maids from the King’s palace. These weren’t mere scullery maids, and she and her servants were given the best harem accommodations.

The young Esther was obviously not bedazzled by her lavish treatment. When it came time for any of the virgins to go to the king, she could pick whatever garment, perfume or beauty treatment she desired. Can you just imagine the razzle-dazzle that some of the girls chose, or what about the costumes that some of today’s teens might chose. But when Esther’s time came, she asked for nothing other than what the attendant suggested.

It’s simply human nature to be impressed with better-than-what-you-have. David and I won a night at the Hyatt Regency downtown Houston, and we were housed in an oversized room near the top with our own terry bath robes and a lovely hospitality room on that floor.

After his shower that evening, my husband said as he was drying off on the thick-as-carpet towel, “I didn’t realize how nice it is to have fluffy towels without raveled strings on the sides to catch my toes.” (I replaced our towels soon after).

Whether living in prosperity or through difficulties, the young Esther remained true to her identity in God. She embodied integrity. I like to imagine little Hadassah’s mother hearing her child’s story one day and delighting in her character. As we honor our mothers this weekend, even if your mother has stepped beyond this world, be the person she longed for you to be.

Happy Mother’s Day. 

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Mark, Chapter Four

Chapter Four

Verses 1-20, the parable of the sower

The parable of the sower includes descriptions of the different patches of earth where the farmer scattered seeds. How would you describe your patch of ground when you first heard God’s word? What does the patch of ground resemble now?

The word of God is always productive. What causes the word to get choked—for the spiritual breath of God to have no effect? Read 2 Cor. 12:7. There, Paul describes his thorn in the flesh as a messenger of Satan. Do you have any thorns crowding out good growth and resulting fruit?

Verses 21-25, a lamp on the stand

Mark pauses in the rapid telling of Jesus’ ministry to relay Jesus’ teachings:

1) A lamp’s purpose is to give light and the gospel was/is not a secret to be kept but should go out into the entire world

2) Listen carefully in regard to all things

3) Each person’s meted out condemnation or mercy determines how they will be judged

4) Be diligent in seeking God and more spiritual growth will come. Be a spiritual sloth and what small connection you have with God will dwindle.

Which one of these short teachings spoke to you?

Verses 26-29, the parable of the growing seed

The parable of a planted seed growing while the planter goes about his normal routine reflects a spiritual lesson. What is Jesus telling his “listening” followers, the ones with ears to hear?

Verses 30-34, Jesus calms the storm

Obviously, the tiny mustard seed—which can grow into a huge tree—represents the kingdom of God. Mark says Jesus told the crowds as many parables as they could understand and then explained the meanings when he was alone with his disciples.

Why do you think Jesus so often spoke in parables to the crowds?

Verses 35-41, Jesus calms the storm

Jesus sets a good precedent here when his disciples’ fears mounted because of the storm: he first helps alleviate stress and then builds up their faith. When you encounter people who have physical burdens—finances, health, relationships—how do approach and help them?

Summary Thought: Jesus spoke to the crowd in parables, stories about common things. However, the stories had a hidden message, and the crowds recognized that element giving them time to ponder instead of immediately dismissing Jesus’ teachings.

Prayer Endings: In the name of parable-teller Jesus (vs. 2); In the name of Jesus who stills and quiets my rocking boat (vs. 36)

Monday, May 03, 2010

Mark, Chapter Three

Chapter Three

Verses 1-6, Lord of Sabbath, continued

Deep distress overcame Jesus because of legalists who watched to find fault instead of looking for ways to help the broken. Consider your last 24 hours. Which camp are you in: The Camp of the Legalist or the Camp of Healing the Broken?

Verses 7-12, crowds follow Jesus

Consider the frequency of these phrases in these five verses: “large crowd,” “many people,” “crowd,” “crowding him,” “pushing forward to touch him.” Think through this scene: the curious and the ill had followed Jesus.

Do you ever feel that your day is crowded with the needy, too? Do you consider those meetings a blessing?

Verses13-19, the appointing of the twelve apostles

Jesus chose 12 apostles “that they might be with him.” Consider how their association with Jesus affected their lives.

Just for fun: Jesus called James and John by another name sometimes: Sons of Thunder. If Jesus renamed you according to your personality, what might your new moniker be?

Verses 20-30, Jesus and Beelzebub

Jesus had opposition from family and from the teachers of the law who said his wonders were performed because of Jesus’ allegiance with the devil. In reply, Jesus talks about divided kingdoms and about blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. How does putting out the Spirit’s fire equate with spiritual death? Read 1 Thess. 5:19

Verses 31-35, Jesus mother and brothers

Here, Jesus asked a question and then answers it. I like that! When told that his mother and brothers awaited him, he looked at a crowd seated around him and asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” He then declared the crowd, the followers, the learners and listeners were his mother and brothers. He said it with enthusiasm (an exclamation point follows his declaration). Explain about his spiritual family.

Summary Thought: A lot of irony and mystery permeate this chapter: While ridiculing Jesus of healing a shriveled hand on the Sabbath, the Pharisees began their plot to kill Jesus on the Sabbath, a day set aside to “recognize” God through worship. Evil spirits recognized Jesus as the “Son of God,” while the witnesses of miracles claimed his power emanated from Beelzebub, the prince of demons. May we read about, recognize, and receive Jesus with clarity.

Prayer Endings: In the name of Jesus, champion of an undivided kingdom (vs. 24), In the name of my brother Jesus (vs. 34).

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Mark Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Verses 1-12, Jesus heals a paralytic

This is the occasion when friends brought a paralytic to be healed by Jesus. The crowded home offered no entrance, so they created one through a roof and lowered their friend near Jesus’ healing hands. In verse 12, the onlookers were amazed when they saw the miracles performed that day.

How can we help our friends move from “amazed” to becoming saved by God’s hand?

Verses 13-17, the calling of Levi

As [Jesus] walked along he saw Levi, Son of Alphaeus, sitting in the tax collector’s booth. In a Bible class, teacher Bill Owens mentioned that when Jesus passed by Levi (also know as Matthew) that he saw Levi. Others saw him and labeled him a tax collector. Honestly, do we sometimes label people or do we see the person before us, the individual?

Verses 18-22, Jesus questioned about fasting

Animal skins were pliable storage and expanded when new wine fermented. Jesus concluded his conversation about fasting with the old cloth/new cloth and new wineskins/old wineskins statement. What spiritual lesson is he teaching when he says about a winemaker: “He pours new wine into new wineskins”?

Verses 23-27, Lord of the Sabbath

Explain in a sentence or two what Jesus meant when he said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Summary Thought: I love the statement in verse 15: “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were eating with him.” The text goes on to say many followed him. Ask yourself: Where do I rub shoulders with the world so I can bring them to the banquet of Christ?

Prayer Endings: In the name of Jesus who knows the thoughts of my heart (vs. 8). In the name of the physical and spiritual healer Jesus (vs. 17). In the name of Sabbath-Jesus, who interpreted God through scripture (vs. 25-26). In the name of Jesus who re-directs wrong thinking (vs. 27-28).