Pastor's Blog

Two Ways: The Perseverance of the Blessed or the Brevity of the Wicked

Thoughts on Psalm One

Psalm 1 begins with a description of the “Blessed Man” (vv. 1–2). Notice that the man is “blessed,” which is a statement of God’s grace. Blessing only comes from heaven, not manufactured by the hands of men. The text lists negations and positive statements that make up the full description. Next, the “Blessed Man” is contrasted against the “Wicked,” specifically the endurance of each way of life is compared—wherein the “Blessed Man” produces a timelessly prospering life, but the “Wicked’s” life is soon driven away by “the wind” (vv. 3–4). Maybe it is nothing, but in my own devotional time here in Psalm 1, I found the proportion interesting—the “Blessed Man” is grammatically singular whereas the “Wicked” is plural; that is to say, the “Wicked” out number the “Blessed.” Finally, the destiny of every man is a meeting & reckoning with the Lord. The final destiny of the “Blessed Man” will find favor and protection from the Lord. The “Wicked” faces a final destiny fixed with crippling judgment, deplorable shame, and certain death (vv. 5–6).

A Prayer from Psalm One

Oh Lord, by your grace in the riches of Christ, please make me a Blessed Person! Set me free in every way from the route of the wicked and set my feet firmly on the road of the righteous. Make me blessed and a blessing to all those around me for your glory and praise. In Christ’s name and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Posted by Rex Howe

Questions We’ve Mastered Instead of Mastered In the Questions

If we’re honest, we all have questions that we’d like to ask God. Mark 12 is such a scene. Jesus is asked many questions by a variety of groups. The chapter starts off with a daunting parable from the Lord—warning all about their present posture toward the “beloved son of the vineyard owner” (Mark 12:1–9). It is a terrifying thing that those in charge of “building” the religious life of the temple in Jerusalem seemed to have rejected the “cornerstone” whom God has sent (12:10–11).

The parable is followed by three groups from among the religious elite—first the Pharisees and Herodians, then the Sadducees, and finally the scribes—who attempt to challenge the teaching authority of Jesus (12:13–17, 18–27, and 28–34). In response to their questions, Jesus emphasizes the ownership of God over all things—ownership over the image of God (i.e., human beings), which is bigger than taxes; ownership over the eternal experience of humans, which is bigger than the earthly institution of marriage; and finally God’s ownership over the law, which belongs to him and reveals him. Next, Jesus takes up the role of examiner in verses 35–37—asking a question that silences his opponents and makes the crowd glad. At the close of the chapter, he warns hearers and readers about the honor-hungry scribes, and he happily witnesses the action of a poor widow woman.

In verses 13–34, it seems to me that these groups approach Jesus with their “best shots” at causing him to stumble in his responses. They bring to him the questions for which they have mastered the answers, or so they thought. They think that they are ready for him; to trap him. Of course, the narrative reveals that Jesus is able to hold his own with authority, as has been the case throughout Mark’s Gospel. Once he’s exhausted their efforts, he delivers a question, which they had yet to master and to which they have no answer to offer because to answer verses 35–37 would be to submit to Jesus’ authority. It would mean to be mastered in the questions, which they were not willing to do.

Then along comes this woman. A poor woman. She has nothing, nothing but two lepta, which totaled approximately 1/64 of a day’s wage for a laborer. This woman lives a life of questions. She gives all she has, Jesus says. Where will she get more money? How will she get food? Who will take care of her? What if . . . ? So many questions. You see, the religious elite came to Jesus with all the questions that they had mastered. This woman came to God with many questions, but willing to be mastered by him in the midst of her questions. She came not to receive honor, for her offering was hardly measurable; she came not to demonstrate her wisdom and knowledge, for she had run out of those, which is exhibited by her lowly estate. No rather, she came to meet with God and to be mastered by God. This is why she gives, and this is why Jesus speaks so highly of the lowly widow.

Posted by Rex Howe

Seeing the Ugly Within

I am convinced that the Gospel of Mark teaches disciples to first see the ugly within before they fix their gaze on Jesus. John the Baptist didn’t come to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Mark 1:1–8) by causing great geographical shifts — demolition of mountain regions or the filling up of the nearby valleys with earth — no rather, he came to begin a different kind of demolition. His preaching and his baptism sought to demolish the ugly within a person, so that their hearts may see the beloved Son, with whom the Father is pleased (Mark 1:11; 9:7).

Mark employs the majority of Jesus’ Galilee ministry (chapters 1-7) to demonstrate to the reader who is inside and near to Jesus and who is outside and far from Jesus. There are many surprises along the way—like the religious leaders and Jesus’ own family are outside (3:20–35), but the tax collector (2:13–17), the recovering demon-possesed man (5:1–20), and the medically-desperate, unclean woman (5:25–34) are inside.

Chapter seven adds one more surprising round of exclusion and inclusion, just before Jesus takes some intensive time to investigate, instruct, and illuminate the faith of his twelve disciples (chapters 8-9). Controversy once again arises in chapter seven over Jesus’ authority, particularly his authority to establish religious practice and perspective regarding internal, moral cleanliness. In Mark, it is always one’s response to Jesus’ authority that demonstrates whether one is in or out. Here, his authoritative words on what makes a person clean or unclean causes further scandal for the religious leaders (7:1–13). Although the original goal of the traditions of the elders were to prevent law-breaking and therefore the holiness of God’s people, these traditions eventually became a law of their own, at times (like in Jesus’ example) causing the people to actually break God’s law.

Jesus proceeds to speak authoritatively about the origin of uncleanness and evil. We do well to listen carefully. In essence, Jesus instructs that the things outside of us do not make us unclean. Dirty hands do not make me unclean. If I may go further with this, TV doesn’t make me unclean, other men or women do not make me unclean, alcohol doesn’t make me unclean, computers and the existence of filth on the internet doesn’t make me unclean. No. Jesus nails us here. It is what is already in us that makes us unclean. The “want-to” of evil is already within, planted deep within. As he says, “All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:23). It’s sin within; it’s the ugly within that we must first see before on the Savior we fix our gaze. James speaks of this,

But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death (James 1:14–15 NET).

There is a mess in each of us that we must see; and we must be honest about what is there. We must see and confess the ugly within.

Now, verses 24–30 make me smile. Immediately after this confrontation, Mark tells us of a woman who sought Jesus out. I suggest to you that this woman is on the inside. She is on the inside because she sees the ugly within, and reaches for the only cure for it—grace from God. When she asks Jesus to expel a demon from her daughter, Jesus responds in a way that demonstrates his focus on a ministry to Israelites and calls attention to the woman’s uncleanness as a Gentile. And what does she do? She receives the Lord’s verdict about her uncleanness and the aim of his ministry, and then in humility asks for grace,

Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs (Mark 7:28 ESV).

She is an insider because she agrees with Jesus (“Yes, Lord”) about her uncleanness. She doesn’t resist him or fight him. She knows the ugly within. After agreeing with him, she persists in her quest to experience God’s grace and mercy, and she receives it. Oh, she receives it!

Oh that we would see ourselves as dogs. Just dirty dogs. Yes, Lord; we are dog’s, but give us the crumbs of your grace. Do not pass us by Lord. Thank you for the crumbs.

But wait. Did she just receive the crumbs? Verses 29–30 say,

Then he said to her, “Because you said this, you may go. The demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone (Mark 7:29–30 NET).

She sought crumbs, but she received so much more. She received the power of God and the defeat of evil in her home that day. She and her household experienced a major deliverance by the grace of God. But don’t forget that her experience started with seeing the ugly within.

Posted by Rex Howe

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