Chapter-a-Day Mark 10

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The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.

Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” Mark 10:26-27 (NLT)

I believe that the most prevalent false notion I’ve witnessed thus far in my journey is that our salvation is somehow dependent on our goodness or badness.

It is a very human trait to ascribe reward to merit.  As children we are generally rewarded for doing our chores, getting good grades and keeping our noses clean. If we are bad, Santa Claus will give us a lump of coal, but if we are good he will give us a lot of presents under the tree. In extra-curricular activities we are rewarded when we work hard and display exceptional abilities. As adults we learn that if we do good work our employer will not only pay us, but might also give us a bonus. Conversely, our “bad” deeds may earn us fines and punishment.

How easy, then, to slip into the belief that the God of the Universe operates on the same human paradigm. If we are good we will go to heaven. If we are bad we will go to hell. So, we carefully consider our behavior and try to keep the “good” side of the ledger ahead of the “bad.” If we start getting a little concerned about how things will shake out, we begin to play the comparison game as if to prepare our case for admittance through the Pearly Gates. “Sure,” we say to ourselves, “I’m not perfect, but at least I didn’t kill millions of people like Hitler or swindle people out of their life savings like Bernie Madoff.”

Jesus made a few things abundantly clear in His teaching:

  1. We can’t avoid having enough check marks on the “bad” side of the ledger because our sinfulness is not a matter of our bad deeds but the condition of our hearts. Like a drop of food coloring in the cake batter, one drop of “bad” taints the entire being and renders us unacceptable to God. As Jesus put it, the person who shouts “you idiot” in anger is as guilty as the mass murderer in God’s economy.
  2. We can never be “good enough” to earn our way into heaven. No amount of good deeds can wipe away the sin that taints the very core of our being (see #1). Go ahead and try to keep a list if you want. It will never be long enough. Jesus said it himself. It is humanly impossible to enter God’s kingdom.

No lack of badness or amount of goodness can merit the entry fee to God’s kingdom. The only way to enter is by going directly to Jesus, who paid the entry fee for us when He died on the cross and took upon Himself the penalty for the “badness.” God loved us so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever would simply believe in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.

And, that’s the true reason to be excited about Christmas.

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Tom’s 30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 20

If you had to pick the worst movie in history, which one would get the dubious honor?

Sweet Dreams PosterThere are so many movies that could get the honor. I don’t know about the worst movie of all time, but I do know the one movie that I have loathed since I sat through it at the Barrington Discount Theatres in college. As a poor college student, even the discounted $2.00 ticket price was a lot to spend on entertainment. The biggest waste of $2.00 was spent to watch what I consider the worst movie I’ve ever seen: Sweet Dreams, the 1985 biographical story of female country crooner Patsy Cline. When I think of the phrase “two hours of my life I’ll never get back,” this is the movie that comes to mind. Only, the two hours felt like an entire lifetime of torture – so I feel like I should be credited extra for having to endure such a horrific movie. And, to quote a much better movie from the 1980s: “TWO DOLLARS I WANT MY TWO DOLLARS!”

Chapter-a-Day Mark 9

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The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:24 (NLT)

Of all the people I’ve met in my journey through the scriptures, I sometimes think that I most identify with the man who uttered these words in today’s chapter. This is a person in process. This is a guy struggling on a faith journey of his own. Like a child playing “Mother, May I?” the man is beckoned to take one giant faith-step forward, only to seek Jesus’ permission to do so.

Jesus, can you?!”

Shackled by years of enduring his son’s torturous suffering, every possible opportunity to finding a cure or relief had ended in abyssmal failure. Every hope he had of finding a cure for his boy had proven to have been a false hope. The man’s soul had scabbed over with layer upon layer of doubt, grief, anger, sorrow and eventually despair. It is no wonder that the man struggled. His step of faith left him straddling a precipice of contradiction. One foot crossed over and stood in faith that Jesus could accomplish what no one else had been able to do, the other foot remained mired in the experienced reality of dashed hopes, broken promises and unrealized expectations.

I picture the man straddling the void and I think to myself: “that’s me.” How often have I desired to step out in faith only to be held back by the layers of doubt, fear, and failure that have built up on my own soul?

Today, I am once again uttering this man’s humble prayer. I believe, but Jesus will you please help me with my unbelief?


“I’m hanging in the balance of the reality of man,
Like every sparrow fallen, like every grain of sand.”
Bob Dylan

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Chapter-a-Day Mark 8

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Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” Mark 8:33 (MSG)

This past weekend, Wendy and I went to see the musical Wicked at the Des Moines Civic Center. For those who don’t know anything about the musical, Wicked tells the untold back story to the well known Wizard of Oz. The Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, and Glinda are roommates at school. Glinda is Miss Popular while Elphaba is shunned and misunderstood with her mysterious green skin. Initially hating one another, the two begin to see things from a different perspective as they grow to understand and appreciate one another. As we left the theatre and walked towards our car, Wendy said, “Now I have to rethink everything I thought I knew about the Wizard of Oz.”

I’m reminded this morning of how often conflict comes from misperception and misunderstanding. I expect everyone to simply see things the way I do. I project my way of thinking on someone else and then get irritated when he or she misunderstands me and “just doesn’t get it.” I think about how many silly arguments around the house are rooted in a male and a female having different perspectives as they approach a particular circumstance.

Taking it a step further, how many frustrations in life are rooted in refusing to see or to trust God’s perspective? Upon hearing Jesus prophetically announce that He must be rejected, crucified and resurrected, Peter pulls Him aside and reprimands his teacher and friend. Peter and the boys have seen Jesus’ miracles, and from their perspective a completely different plan is in order. They have plans to ride triumphantly into Jerusalem, kill the Romans, put the religious leaders under their thumb and live a life of power and prestige with Jesus on the throne. Jesus gives His own reprimand to Peter for seeing things with such a self-centered, temporal perspective.

Just as many little conflicts around the house are rooted in misunderstanding or being ignorant of my wife’s perspective, I am increasingly aware that many of life’s sorrows are rooted in misunderstanding or being ignorant of God’s eternal perspective. Like Peter, I find myself thinking only of myself in this space at this moment in time. In my spirit I reprimand God for not seeing things my way, I bark at Him for not following my plan.

The end of Wicked, like all Broadway musicals, is wrapped in a happy ending. Glinda comes to the realization that her life was “changed for the better” for having known the wicked, green witch.

Today, I’m acknowledging my limited, narrow perspective. I’m asking God to continually open my eyes to His eternal truth that this temporal life might be eternally changed for the better for knowing Him more.

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Chapter-a-Day Mark 7

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“Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.) And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” Mark 7:18-23 (NLT)

I have watched with interest as the growth of the natural, healthy, and organic food market. Ten or fifteen years ago the health food market was confined to small mom and pop stores in major cities and food co-ops for the granola set. Today, almost every major grocery store carries a plethora of all natural and organic foods. There are now large, national chains of health food stores.

Our culture has increasingly embraced more healthy and organic foods in contrast to the highly processed mass market foods available in every grocery aisle. I’m not adverse to this. I think it is a good thing. God advocates taking care of our bodies and treating them like a temple.

Nevertheless, I remember Jesus’ words: “What does it profit you to gain the whole world and lose your soul.” Reading Jesus’ words about food in today’s chapter, I hear Him making a corresponding point. What does it profit you to eat all natural and organic food, and work to keep your body in optimum health, if on the inside your spirit is withering in anger, depression, malice, greed, lust, or shame?

Our bodies are good for, at best, eighty to just over a hundred years. Our spirit is eternal. Where should I make the greatest investment?

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Tom’s Blogging Challenge Day 19

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If you could choose a musical instrument that best describes your character, what would it be?

I would choose the guitar. The guitar is versatile. It sometimes provides simple rhythm and structure for everyone else, but it can also do its own thing. It blends well with others, but can also shine in the spotlight for a solo. It is often quiet and contemplative, but it can also rock out and sometimes it plays the blues.

It is also complex in structure, having many different components and materials.

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New Connections

I’m glad to announce that my blog has been added to the ranks of the Fellowship of Devotional Bloggers. Many thanks to Tony Kummer for giving us the high-five. There are all sorts of great bloggers there with their own daily thoughts and devotions. Tony also has a free site devoted to children’s ministry worth checking out!

Chaper-a-Day Mark 6

Saved By GraceThen they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph,  Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him. Mark 6:3 (NLT)

This past weekend, my friend Matthew and I led a weekend workshop for men about shame. We shared the truth that we are all products of broken families, broken cultures, and we ourselves are broken people. Our past is riddled with painful memories, scathing and destructive messages, moral failures, and embarrassing moments that easily mix themselves into a cocktail of shame. Instead of accepting the truth that we have made mistakes and being motivated to let God change us, we become paralyzed with the notion that we are mistakes who can never change.

Our faith journey is about moving forward and pressing on. Along the way we progress and experience God’s transforming work in our lives. Old things pass away and new things come. Yet, there will always be those who are determined to remind us of who we were while casting a blind eye to who we have become. Some will refuse to accept the change in us. Others will go so far as to continually remind us of our past.

During a question and answer time this weekend, Matthew and I were asked how each of us handled our own public failures, the lies, slander and misjudgement which accompanied them. For me, there were two key ingredients that kept me pushing forward. First, my relationship with God was strong and remained unphased by all the chaos. God and I both knew what was true. Second, I had a few precious friends who had my back.

I thought about that as I read of Jesus’ own experience with public doubt and scandal. His old neighbors could not make the mental leap from the preconceived notions they had about Him and the reality of who He was. But Jesus was in a tight relationship with His heavenly Father and knew the truth of who He was and what He was called to do. And, He had a few close followers who knew Him and believed in Him.

Today, I’m thankful for the person God has allowed me to become – especially as I acknowledge and learn from the person I have been.

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Tom’s 30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 17

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If you could be a guest on any television talk show, which would it be?

I’m always a sucker for the underdog. Forget Jay, Dave or Conan. I’d choose Craig Ferguson. I love his Scottish accent and British humor. I love his laid-back conversational style. I love the way he tears up the blue card with all the canned discussion questions and just talks to his guest. I always get a sense that the other talk show hosts are more concerned about themselves and don’t genuinely care about any of their guests. Craig seems to be less pretentious and he seems to like having real “get to know you” conversations with people.

Plus, he’s got a skeleton robot as a co-host. How cool is that?

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