Thursday, December 29, 2016

Dedicated to Learning; Dedicated to God

Like most people, I have many hats to wear. Some I have chosen (husband, father) while others chosen me (pastor, teacher). And some are a little of both (student, friend). In every part of my life, I hope that I am learning. As my #1 Rule of Life says, “When you stop learning, you start dying.” I have learned much in 2016, so in my final post of the year, I will share one brief thought from each of the following areas of my life. As a:

Husband: Cherishing my wife becomes difficult when our lines of communication are strained.
Father: Two great young adults are proof of the decision to raise future adults (rather than children).
Son: The sacrifices our parents made/make cannot be understood until we have been through the process of parenting our children at the same stage of life.
Friend: It is impossible to over-estimate the impact of good friendships.
Student: I have learned so much about Jesus this year, and it makes me want to know Him more.
Pastor: I need to lead better in order to accomplish all that God has for me and His church.
Teacher: When I quit learning from my students, it is time to stop teaching.
Missionary: God is at work around the world. Now that I have found my place, I must press on to know, and complete, the task He has given me.
Child of God: I may make progress most years, but I am nowhere near being an imitator of God (Ephesians 5.1).

This past Sunday, I preached on the idea of our being dedicated to Jesus. It should be the desire of each person to be dedicated each day and yet we all waver constantly. This past year has been met with a particular focus to learn more about Jesus so that I might know Him, and serve Him better.

I woke up on January 1st of this year in Amman, Jordan at the beginning of a ten-day journey to better understand the Bible – it’s places and message. Ultimately, my goal was to “walk WHERE Jesus walked so I can better walk AS Jesus walked.” I did the first part of this phrase (and hope to do so again), but have a long way to go on the second portion. While 2016 was a great year, I must now dedicate myself to continued learning in 2017. I do so not for the sake of learning itself (as important as learning is), but in order that I can become better in each area above. In doing so, I should then become more like Christ and imitate God a little better as one of His beloved children. If God can accomplish this through and for me, then regardless of whatever else 2017 may bring, I will have to consider it a successful year.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

7 Helps to Gain Biblical Insight

This past week, I preached from a passage that many people have a difficult time understanding. Frankly, I think that is good to be challenged in our understanding, but it can lead to problems. The problem is that too many people often think they know the Bible so well they do not need to study it (see 2 Timothy 2.15 for an exhortation) or do not think the Bible can be understood so they quit trying. Both reactions are wrong and represent the extremes.

As I mentioned last week, I was surprised to learn some new information about Jesus entry into Jerusalem. The fact that I can learn from a familiar passage is both exciting and humbling. It is exciting because it means that I should be able to continue to learn from all parts of the Bible. It is humbling because when I don’t learn, I must consider if it is a lack of serious study or something within me (pride?).

So, this week’s passage related to Jesus cursing a fig tree. It is a challenging passage for many because it appears that Jesus gets angry and takes out His anger on a little tree. But we are not told the size of the tree, and after my research this week, I would guess it had decent size (mature trees can be 15-30 feet tall), because Jesus action would make more sense if it was not a little tree. Ultimately, Jesus performed this (destructive) miracle as a parable (an action parable) to show what would happen to the temple in due time. (You can read more details from my sermon notes here.)

Again, many people have difficulty understanding the Bible and thus they give up. Much could be said about this, but I want to focus on those who are believers and have a desire to know, but just can’t seem to understand certain passages or the Bible in general. Let me provide a seven brief thoughts here that might help for the coming year. Consider this my Christmas gift to you.

1. Let the Holy Spirit be the guide.

The Spirit guided the writing of the Bible, so He can, and should, be a part of interpreting it (2 Timothy 3.16). If you are not a believer, this makes this part impossible (1 Corinthians 2.12-14), but Jesus promised His followers that they would know and understand the truth (John 14.16; 16.13-14). Of course, the Spirit helps us to live according to God’s Word as well, but we cannot live what we do not understand. So, asking the Holy Spirit to guide you in understanding the Bible is a critical first step.

2. Talk with others.

An important part of allowing the Holy Spirit to guide is to not only study in private, but to study, or at least consult, with others. Christianity was never meant to be a private affair. Both the Old Testament (the Israelites) and New Testament (the Church) talk about living in community with one another. We must learn and study on our own, but we must use that basis to learn and study with others as well. And, of course, we learn best when we apply our knowledge. Living out the principles of the Bible in the context of others will bring understanding that otherwise might not be developed.

3. Gaining knowledge is not an event, it is a journey.

We may often gain insights that transform us, seemingly in the moment. However, we cannot discern the mind of God, and thus we can never truly understand the depths of His Word. God does reveal His Word to us as we seek to know it, which is ultimately to seek to know Him. As you study the Bible (2 Tim. 2.15), remain humble (James 4.6). You may know parts of it very well, but we can never understand any of it perfectly on this side of eternity. But we can continue to know more about God, and indeed, truly know Him better over months and years of study until our journey is truly complete (Philippians 1.6)

4. The translation makes a difference.

Remember, the goal here is gain knowledge and understanding. Thus, a big key is to find a good translation that makes sense to you (personally, my two preferences are the ESV and NASB). Not all translations are correct (denominational/religious bias is a factor), but many translations are very good at representing the original manuscripts. (Click here for a chart which not only compares many translations but provides a chart comparing key characteristics of the translations.)

5. Study bibles are helpful.

Study bibles can be very beneficial because they provide some commentary about select verses that can be difficult to understand. Of course, they also provide better insight on verses which might already be understood. So, a good Study Bible is important. Good commentaries are important, but it is best to consult a commentary AFTER you have grappled with the text a bit so that you can measure your thoughts against others, not have them formed by others. While study bibles are helpful...

6. A good commentary (series) is a must for understanding.

Study bibles are helpful because if you have your Bible with you, then you have the notes. But the purpose of printing a Bible is the Bible itself and thus the notes are very limited. A commentary might have a few pages on one particular verse. While publishers may put a limit on the amount of content, good commentaries will go into far more detail. Again, not all commentaries are made equal and some can be very technical.

7. Learn how to understand the Bible.

This item should have gone earlier, but the most important thing is to include it. In our culture, we know to interpret what we see on a movie screen is different than interpreting a letter from someone we love. The same is true for interpreting the Bible. Finding a resource that can help you interpret the Bible for yourself is key. One that is very good for beginning to learn the process is entitled, Grasping God’s Word (Hays & Duvall). Remember, the Holy Spirit should be our guide, but knowing some how-to principles will help greatly.

These seven thoughts are not inclusive of all aspects for understanding the Bible. But, these seven ideas are possible for anyone, and except for #6 are very inexpensive (and even #6 can be done online with some success). While I certainly agree that the Bible has some challenging verses to understand, we will not have any excuse for our lack of studying when we stand before the Author. As 2016 draws to a close, I encourage you to find some resources that can help you study and understand so that you can better live the life you have been called to live (Ephesians 4.1).

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Just Keep Learning, Just Keep Learning

For those who may wonder, yes, the title is in regard to Dory the fish who said, “Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming.” Be honest, if you have seen “Finding Nemo”, you have almost certainly paraphrased her words yourself somewhere along the line. See, I knew it. So, please, indulge my paraphrase too.

One of my life’s maxims is “When you stop learning, you start dying.” Of course, in today’s world where new information is growing exponentially, it might be said that it is impossible to not learn something new every day. Perhaps that is true, but learning requires more than just being exposed to new data through our various senses. True learning requires us to process the data we receive and then do something with it. Frankly, I concern myself with a lot of data that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme (e.g. sports stats), but sometimes knowing certain facts can be fun, and what is important is, in part, relative to each person.

Of course, one challenge to learning occurs when we are exposed to new material that challenges what we already know. This has been a recurring theme lately on the church blog (and here too) as I continue to work through the book of Mark. As I have said many times to date, it is easy to pick on the disciples lack of understanding because we are looking back on their story. But this week, the tables were turned, they saw something far more clearly than I ever had (as a learner and a teacher). The details are laid out here, but essentially, the issue is the way I have likely misunderstood Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem (what we call Palm Sunday).

While it is great to learn, we must determine our reaction to learning – when it goes against our preconceived ideas and especially against what we have been taught by others we respect. For me, I am usually encouraged to determine what else I only think I know. That is, if I learn something new, or different, about something I already knew, I often seek to know even more to uncover the real truth or more of it. Of course, there are limitations, but those limitations – time and interests primarily – are my limitations. If time was unlimited and my interests were better expanded, I wonder how much I might dig into everything!

As for the issue that brought this about (the details of Jesus’ entry), you might ask, “Does it matter?” Again, time and interests might be a part of your question. But for me, it matters deeply. First, it matters because I want to be true to God’s Word – especially in teaching it to others. This detail might not affect how I live out my faith directly. However, it does impact whether or not I can say that the same crowd who cheered for Jesus on Sunday called for Him to be crucified later in the week. That is not an insignificant statement, and it is one I have made in the past. Now, I find that the likelihood of that statement is false. Certainly crowds can be fickle, which is how this idea is generally espoused, but if Jesus had not yet entered Jerusalem when people were shouting “Hosanna,” then two distinct crowds exist. If so, then that is very significant!

When it comes to the Bible, it should be impossible not to learn more. God is omniscient and His word is deep! What we understand in part can save us, but we can never reach the depths of understanding on this side of eternity (Romans 11.33-34; and though I give deference to Paul (1 Corinthians 13.12), I am not certain we can then either). But many people do not care to learn more, or do not give the effort to do so. Or perhaps, it is a matter of understanding how to dig deeper. The truth is that many opportunities exists to learn how, but the care to learn and desire for learning must first come from within.

So, let us desire to learn and keep learning. Because as we learn, we have the opportunity to grow. And as we grow, we have the opportunity to become. This is true in all of life, but particularly so with regards to the ways of God. If we give ourselves to Him, He can teach us great things – even when we thought we already knew. And then, as we are becoming, what we become will be more like Him (Ephesians 5.1, Romans 8.29), which is the very desire He has for each of us.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Learning to See Clearly

This past week, my sermon began with Mark 10.46-52 and the story of Bartimaeus, but I then went back to explore the three sayings of Jesus where He revealed to His disciples what was to come (Mark 8.31; 9.31; 10.33-34). As I have been reflecting on His words, and how the disciples did not understand them, I have thought about all that I misunderstand as well. Of course, the list is far too long for this post (or even a series of posts), but I must speak for a moment on this issue.

The disciples were with Jesus every day for 3 1/2 years and yet they did not understand. It seems hard to fathom this, as it does the lack of trust the Israelites had in God despite following the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Yet, the disciples fully understood after the resurrection, and their actions changed the world. But what about us? What about me?

Do you believe someone could rise from the dead after being buried three days? If you are a believer in Jesus, you do. And, of course, Jesus raised Lazarus a day later than that. But what if you didn’t have that knowledge? I think it would be hard, if not impossible to believe.

What if you were told that the leader who had been promised for centuries was here? And this leader did not refute that He was Messiah, but His actions and the miracles gave further proof He was. And what if, because He was Messiah, that meant that all of those wonderful names mentioned by Isaiah were true of Him as well: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9.6)? And further, if that was true, then His government, upon the throne of David, would increase and know no end (Isaiah 9.7).  If all of these were true, the context of Jesus’ statements about suffering and dying upon entry into Jerusalem would make no sense at all.

But looking back Jesus' words do make sense. We have the advantage of hindsight. We look back and ask how the disciples could miss the truth of who Jesus was. But don’t we miss this as well?

What if our lives were recorded in such a way that people reviewed our (lack of) understanding years, or even centuries, from now? What if people reviewed my post of last week for instance (Carte Blanche) and wondered why it took me so long to do that? Of course, if I could, I would defend myself by saying, “Well, I have in the past, but I just keep forgetting how much I can trust God with my life?” To which, the people of the future would be as dumbfounded at me, as I often am of the Twelve (and other disciples).

The truth is that the disciples did have Jesus with them, but I have the Spirit with me (sent by Jesus, John 15.16-17). How can I not understand? Why am I so thick-headed regarding my situation sometimes? It isn’t for lack of knowledge (in most cases); it is for lack of understanding. More specifically, it is a lack of faith.

As I continue my journey, I need to remember where I have been and what life has taught me. I need not remain there, because I must go forward and become the man that God wants me to be (Ephesians 5.1). To do that, I must better reflect on what God has already done for me so that I am ready to trust Him regardless of what lies before me.

Like the disciples. I may not know what the future holds. Unlike the disciples, I do not have Jesus teaching me face to face what is to come. But what I have is far greater than what they had before the resurrection – knowledge that Jesus did what He said He would. The question is: will I respond as well as the disciples did once they understood what I am still seeking to understand. Because it is good to know and have knowledge, but it is another to understand and then live with the assurance that comes with the knowledge. As I continue to learn to see Jesus more clearly, may my life better reflect the assurance I want, the assurance I need, and ultimately the assurance He has already provided for me.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Carte Blanche

Over the past month, I have been giving the idea of prayer a lot of thought. I guess it began when I was preaching from Mark 9 when the disciples could not heal the demon-possessed boy. The story concludes with Jesus stating that prayer was needed to drive out that kind. The implication being, the nine disciples not with Jesus on the mountain had not prayed.

As I began to reflect on this statement further, I decided I would have our Community Groups work through a study entitled, Praying with Jesus. The study has been helpful so far, and has prompted further thoughts for me. This past week, I preached through the portion of Mark 10 which includes James and John making a request of Jesus (Matthew records this instance as the mother asking, but the important part is what is requested.)

A few keys to this passage are in the request before the request and in Jesus’ response to the request. First, before James and John ask the question, they preface their request with a statement, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” After they make their request (to sit at Jesus right and left), Jesus does not say, “No.” Instead, he says it is not His place to grant their request. (For more specifics on the passage, click here for the notes from my sermon.)

What James and John did was incredulous. They asked for a blank check from Jesus. “Do whatever we want you to do!” Wow! How bold. How often are we willing to make that request to another human being? Yet, here, the Brothers of Thunder show their brashness by making the request of the God-man.

As I have reflected on these verses, I realize that my prayers do something similar, even if the wording may be a bit more veiled. And my requests may be for others, but asking for a blank check is asking for a blank check, regardless of who you intend the beneficiary to be. Of course, this does not mean that we should not make our requests to God, but improving our understanding of prayer will also make us realize the importance of praying “in Jesus’ name” being far more than a tag-line to sign off from our communication, but rather to pray as He would pray (John 14.13-14).

As one thought has led to another, I keep coming back to one simple thought. While we may often request a blank check from God, the reality is that He is the one asking us for a blank check. Furthermore, only He is worthy of receiving a blank check. I cannot be trusted with such a responsibility, but He can. He knows me better than I know myself. He created me. He cares for me. He provides for me. He gave Himself for me. He loves me. At the very best, those statements are only partially true when reversed, and some might be absurd (e.g. I did not create God).

If that is true, then why am I unwilling to give God a blank check. I am not saying that I haven’t, but I tend to ask Him to hold it for awhile. Or perhaps I take it back from Him for “safekeeping” until I am ready. Really, like my hands are safer than His? So, it comes down to this. If I am not willing to give God a blank check, then I do not trust God. And trust is the basis for faith. So, as logic would dictate, not giving God a blank check means I do not have, or at a minimum am not living by, faith in God.

The reality is that I have experienced far too much of God’s grace and goodness to hold back. I may have given a few blank checks before, but now I give Him the whole checkbook with a simple prayer attached: Let my faith in You always be more than my trust in me.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Day to be Thankful

Today is Thanksgiving Day. It is a day that has been celebrated, even if unofficially, for nearly 400 years in what is now known as the United States of America. On this year, many will argue that the states are more divided than united, but this is Thanksgiving, not a Misgiving, so let us stay positive.

That said, I have much for which to be thankful. This past year has been amazing in so many ways, but I want to focus on one particular aspect – my family. I mean this in a very complete sense as I am thankful for those to whom I am related by birth or by other circumstance that connects us. However, I am very grateful for my brothers and sisters and mothers and children (Mark 10.30) that God has put into my life over the past many years, with a particular thanks this year for the family I “discovered” in Kenya this year.

Like many who may read this, I will celebrate with close family this week. We will eat, talk, reflect, and hopefully have a good deal of fun. I am thankful for the time we will spend together including our first Thanksgiving with a son-in-law.

But today, I am thankful for many others as well.

I am thankful for the fun I had with a group of brothers while eating, talking, reflecting, and having fun this past Monday. 

I am thankful for my calling to lead the church to which He has brought me. I will think of those in the church I lead who are with families celebrating and others who are not. 

I am thankful for the town in which I live, and think of others in the town who find themselves filled with joy and anticipation as the holiday season begins in earnest. But I will remember those who struggle to celebrate at this time of year for any number of reasons. 

I am thankful for those in distant cities who have a place a special in my life – knowing that some of them I may never see again on this side of eternity, but a bond exists that will bring us together on the other side.

I am thankful for the opportunity to travel to Kenya and remember the lives we touched. I am also thankful for the lives who touched me deeply during the trip.

I am thankful that the rains have finally begun to fall in parts of Kenya which will bring an end to the year-long drought many have experienced.

I am thankful for a wonderful adventure with personal family, church family, and new friends that journeyed to walk where Jesus walked as we began this almost completed year.

And most importantly, I will express my thanks to the One who made all of the above possible, all of the unmentioned possible, and who is preparing a future which becomes reality day by day.

Thank You, Jesus for giving yourself to me, a sinner. May I never forget your sacrifice. May I never forget to express my thanks to You. Again, thank You, for who You are and for all you have done for me in 2016 and throughout my life.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hard Hearts or "Well Done"

Like many people, I find myself busy. Like many people, it is because of the choices I have made. Most of my choices are not reactionary or the result of others, but rather my own decision and my own determination. That said, I have bitten off more than I am comfortable chewing right now and am learning a good lesson through this time. I am managing, but the past few weeks have been a test of time-management skills and I have found myself in Q1 far more than I wish (if you know Covey, that makes sense. If not, click here. The .pdf has a lot in it. Page 3 in the document, or page 4 of the file will help clarify).

That said, my wife has also been busier that usual with her own interests. She has reached a time for a break (earlier than expected), but she has also helped me greatly over these last four weeks as I have tried to stay afloat. I mention this because something she always tells me is that she wants me “to look good.” Frankly, I need a wife to do that for me. I create a good deal of content (blogs, sermons, lessons – church and seminary, communication pieces, meeting information, etc.), just like many others do. But I am grateful that after I create the content, with just a few notes, she is able to apply her skills to make the documents look uniform, create resources to help (e.g. PowerPoint), etc. It is not that I cannot do these particular things, but I cannot do them nearly as quickly, nor as well as she does. And while she takes care of these items, I can move on to other responsibilities. I am grateful for her. And I am grateful that she is my helper.

The word helper (ESV) is from the Hebrew word ’ezer. God says He will make a “helper” for the man because he was alone. Many may find this condescending (or worse), but this same Hebrew word is used in Psalm 121.1-2 when the psalmist asks “I life my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Anyone who demeans the word helper in Genesis 2 does not understand the ramifications of doing so, because essentially, they are demeaning help from the Lord as well. (A real argument does exist on the role of gender in the Bible, and people do use Genesis 2 in support there, but not everyone demeans the “helper” in that argument and I do not wish to infer that all do.)

So my wife is my helper. And help she does! And yet sometimes her efforts are not exactly what I expected. Sometimes the result is better, but not always. In these instances, we usually work to correct the matter after some discussion to see what might work best. As we have done this over time, we both know one another’s expectations and the process has been easier.

Why do I write this? Because I very much appreciate my wife. She is my helper, but so much more. (I do not say more than I am, because I do not wish to embarrass her. She will read this before it is posted). And while neither of us are perfect, she is perfect for me. So when something is amiss, I simply need to remember God has provided her to me as my helper. God has provided me with the greatest gift I have received apart from my salvation through the blood of Jesus.

And that is why I struggle with the ancient Jewish practice of divorce. Divorce is a sticky subject in our world today, but the Bible is clear that God’s perfect design does not include divorce. However, in the ancient Jewish culture, a man could divorce his wife for burning the food, for not looking attractive, etc. I suppose a similar idea would be my throwing a fit because a word on the PowerPoint was misspelled. That’s ludicrous. She is helping me, just like a Jewish wife was helping her husband. I may be oversimplifying matters here a bit, but not much.

Thus, in Mark 10, when the Pharisees ask Jesus if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife (the implied here is – “under any reason”), Jesus reminds them that Moses may have made an allowance, but God designed marriage under a different set of expectations (Genesis 2.24). It is the hard hearts of mankind that required Moses to intervene (to protect the woman, see Deuteronomy 24.1-3. You can see the notes from my message here.).

Ultimately, it is the hard hearts of men and women today that bring us to not keeping with God’s design in any number of areas. All have sinned, the Bible tells us. And thus, all fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3.23). Like the Jews with divorce, most all of us react far more harshly than is often deserved. But that does not mean we are resigned to that. No, we have a choice. We can choose to live as God’s children or not. We can choose to become more like Him (Ephesians 5.1) or remain tied to the world (1 John 2.15). The choice we make will have an impact in this life, but also in the age to come.

My choice is to follow Jesus. I will not be perfect in that, but I can further yield myself to be conformed to His image (Romans 8.29). As I do, I will continue become a better helper (in this case, servant) for His Kingdom. I may never be able to help Him as much as my wife helps me, but what little I may do in faith, I know will please Him (Hebrews 11.6). And as much as I appreciate all of the help I receive from my wife, my words to her pale in comparison to either of us (or truly anyone) hearing “Well done” from Him.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Perceptions, Paradigms, and Politics (Part 2 of 2)

In last week’s post, I asked the question: How do we form our perceptions? Then, I asked a deeper question: How do our perceptions form us? These questions are on the heals of a series of posts regarding how certain people or groups perceived Jesus based upon Mark 8. Today, I turn to Mark 9, but bring in the political process as well.

On Tuesday night, much of the country tuned into various television networks or internet sites to follow the election results. What some had estimated would be a short night with Hillary Clinton being crowned victor, turned into many hours of a “stunning development.” Finally, in the wee hours of the morning, a new president had been chosen and the winner was Donald Trump. Of course, this fact is known, but what is unknown (and now dominates the conversation) is what kind of President will Mr. Trump be. So what do you think?

Capture the thoughts you just had. Now, why do you think that is true? Whatever you think, realize, we don’t know at this point. He has not been president yet, and so we cannot know. We can discern from his past comments and behaviors, but at this point President-Elect Trump is just that – President Elect – not President Trump.

This is the problem with paradigms and politics. Many Americans have deep feelings on how the country should be led. But feelings may be misguided or based upon unsubstantiated facts. I am not saying that feelings are wrong, because facts can lead us to incorrect conclusions as well if we misinterpret their meaning or their application. However, the feelings or facts that most citizens have are based on far less than a complete understanding of the full picture of government. Only a select few have “all” of the information, and even then, not every detail or consideration can be known. 

Therefore, our paradigms of how to govern are skewed. First, they are often based upon the perceptions of others and how do we know if their perceptions are correct? Furthermore, many develop the attitude that anothers ideas are completely wrong without having an idea as to how/why the other person formed their ideas. I have said before that I believe that almost every politician (in any relation to the “aisle”) initially goes to Washington (or wherever) with the idea of making the country better – from their perspective. Many changes can and do happen (deals, corruption, etc.), but the original intent was honorable – even if it is different from others.

So, how does this relate to Mark 9. Well, in the middle verses, a father brings his boy to be healed by Jesus. He has not come down the mountain yet (with James, John, and Peter), so the man asks the other disciples to cast out a demon. They are unable. After Jesus does heal the boy, the group heads south, and along the way, the disciples argue about which of them is greater. When they arrive in Capernaum, Jesus confronts them and says that to truly be great, one must serve. To be first, one must be last. Jesus is taking another opportunity to affect the paradigms of His followers. (A detailed look at this passage from Mark 9 is found here.)

Unlike our politicians who may (or may not) have good ideas, Jesus knew exactly what needed to be done. But He still needed people to choose to do it. The people (in this case, His disciples) needed to change their paradigm in order to truly accomplish their purpose. They would have to put aside all of their goals and ambitions in order to accomplish a greater purpose for God. Making this change would not be easy, but such a change was truly possible only if they altered their paradigm and began to see matters very differently.

Jesus knew that the leaders of the day “lorded” their position over people. They led by position (Level 1 Leadership per John Maxwell), which was effective, but only because of power, not true persuasion. Jesus knew that true change was possible if leaders would serve others first, gaining the trust of the people. The approach would help the leaders see the needs of the people from the people’s perspective instead of approaching the situation with a pre-conceived notion because of a paradigm that was developed from a completely different mindset. Jesus knew that an approach of servant-leadership would create an opportunity to persuade others over time. Covey’s idea of “Seek first to understand then to be understood” carries a similar idea in this context.

For you and I, we need to understand the foundations of our paradigms. As we begin to better understand what we believe, we should ask what stimuli helped form those beliefs in us and why? Only then will we begin to understand ourselves. And we can only truly begin to understand others after we have an idea about ourselves.

So, over these next few weeks as we watch the transition from one president to another, consider your emotions, your feelings, the facts, etc. But consider how and why these aspects influence you. Then attempt to consider the same information from the side of someone who may be on the opposite side. If you stop there, you will likely be discouraged, so step back to get an even different perspective and think not as someone with a preference to a political party, but consider the perspective as an American over party. If we all do this, we might find more common ground than we might otherwise imagine, and if that is true, we might truly forge a bright future for this country by learning to serve others again.

If you follow Jesus, you have one further step. Beyond considering yourself an American, it is necessary to find the Christian perspective. Thus, beyond seeking to work alongside others through a new paradigm, we must love others through God’s paradigm. Everything else can be the same, but the work and attitude must be expressions of love.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Problem of Perceptions and Paradigms (Pt 1 of 2)

Over the past seven weeks, I posted a series of blogs about how the perceptions of the various individuals and groups present in Mark 8 might influence an evaluation of Jesus’ ministry. I have given quite a bit of thought to the idea of perceptions and paradigms over these past several weeks, and will flesh out a few ideas here.

I recall a situation from a previous church which caused me to begin to understand the adage “perception is reality” in a way I never had truly experienced. The perception of the individual was not reality (at least not more than a small part of it), but to that person, in that time, the way the situation was understood by that person, was completely through a particular lens. Thus, for that individual, a distorted reality was the result.

And that is the case with perceptions. Our perceptions are important, but they are how we perceive reality; they are not necessarily reality. This should lead us to consider the basis for our paradigms (or perspectives, which are created by perceptions), but most people are simply happy to believe what they want rather than understanding why? Actually, the previous statement is true of all people to a large extent. For instance, I have no idea how I can type or talk into my cell phone and have the message received elsewhere exactly as it was typed or said, and I don’t really care as long as it works correctly. You, on the other hand might understand that technology perfectly, but might not know how a brown cow can eat green grass and produce white milk (btw, I don’t know either – again, as long as it works, right?!) So, why do we care about some questions and not about others? I have no way of knowing that about you, but for me it usually comes down to priorities. But, if we don’t know the details, and we do know something about a topic or issue, then the question becomes: How do we form our perceptions?

The answer to such a question is relatively easy. Among other possibilities, our perceptions are primarily formed by people (parents, relatives, friends, schoolmates, fellow employees, etc), the media (books, magazines, television, social media, blogs(!), etc), as well as general observation.

But here is the better question: How do our perceptions form us?

We all have perceptions which then form our paradigms. But how do these paradigms inform our decisions, our structures, our lives? Let me provide an example.

DirecTV has the slogan, “Don’t just watch tv, DIRECTV.” This is a nice play on words, but is brilliant in concept. The perception they are trying to create is that you no longer have to be tied to the scheduled that broadcasters have established. Instead, you can take control of when (and even where) you want to watch. In other words, instead of racing home from wherever you might be in order not to miss a certain show, you can simply set the show to record and then watch it on your own time. Again, brilliant. To take advantage of this idea, our perceptions (and our paradigm) have to change from one of letting the television studios control the time, to taking ownership of when to watch.

But! But because of the DVR, you can now record shows that you otherwise would not watch. Or record movies that you do not have time to watch, but for which you pay anyway. Thus, you find yourself being directed by the DVR instead of the television so you are no better off than you would have been. In fact, in many cases you are in a worse position. This is what I mean with the concept of our perceptions forming us. The perspective formed from the perception that we are now in control (in this example) may lead to a behavior in which we lose the control again. Sometimes the result may be inconsequential, but they might also be devastating.

As I mentioned above, our priorities and schedules often dictate what we are willing to evaluate and what we merely accept. And truly it is impractical for any one person to fully evaluate the basis for every perspective we have. However, we all have certain beliefs, understandings, and practices that are important to us and those ideas should be reviewed in order to gain clarity not only on what, but on why, we understand (or think ) what we do. The advantage is that we will then begin to know the reasons for our actions (or lack of action). Or, if our actions do not align with our beliefs, we will be better equipped to change our patterns in either direction until they do.

I will conclude these thoughts next week by bringing these thoughts in line with Mark 9.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Evaluating a Ministry, Part 7 (Conclusion)

This post is the final of a seven-part series which has looked at the evaluation of Jesus’ ministry through the eyes of the participants in Mark 8. The basis for this series came from a student questioning me on how to properly evaluate a ministry. Ultimately, evaluation comes down to expectations, performance, and perspective. The problem is that most people only evaluate based on their perspective of performance. Unfortunately, a major reason is a lack of expectations (or of making them known). As I consider this issue, I must admit my own neglect of expectations in certain areas and have set in place a process to correct that neglect.

In Mark 8, the participants are the Pharisees, disciples, the crowd, Jesus, and God (as Father). All evaluated Jesus, but none but God and Jesus had any idea what the expectations were. The others allowed their preconceptions to provide their false perspectives onto Jesus’ ministry and purpose. Their understanding was incomplete, at best. But Jesus knew the Father’s expectations, and as was expressed last week, was obviously meeting them for God to tell the three disciples on the mountaintop with Jesus, “This is My beloved Son;  listen to Him” (Mark 9.7).

In short, the effective evaluation of a ministry must include:

1) Expectations. Both the party responsible for the work and those evaluating should know these before the evaluation begins and should agree on them accordingly. Letting the person performing the ministry have input in establishing the expectations is very beneficial as well. Without clearly defined expectations the other two elements are merely based upon opinions and therefore can never truly be evaluated.

2) Performance. The person must perform. But the time involved in evaluation should be considered in this area as well. Guidelines and timelines should definitely be established. But ministry cannot be evaluated as easily as math. One plus one always equals two, but being effective and affecting the lives of others is not so easily calculated. Thus, even with clearly defined expectations, performance may vary depending on a number of factors which should not be considered in the evaluation process.

3) Perspective. Regardless of the expectations, perspective does still matter. But perspective can be, and should be, guided by prayer. Are own perspective (perceptions) may cause us to interpret some matter incorrectly. This is not to imply a need to judge by the letter of the law, nor by the intent of the law. My point is that an effective evaluation must be done by applying the right Spirit to the right law (expectation), and thus prayer must be involved.

More could be said, and maybe I will address this further later. But to close, I want to provide a bit more clarity on this entire series by briefly considering a statement all believers desire to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

This simple statement captures the essence of expectations, performance, and perspective.

Expectations: The words “well” and “good” (if not “faithful”) clearly reveal that the expectations were met, and therefore were at least inferred, if not known.

Performance: “Done” means that the task is complete.

Perspective: “Servant” (and I would add “faithful” here) means that the motive was not just to labor for a master, but to honor the master’s intent. Thus, the perspective of both the servant and the master are in relative harmony here.

One final note about this statement. The words are not “Fast done, good and faithful servant.” Fast equates to efficiency; well equates to effectiveness. Ministry will never be efficient, though certain tasks may be completed efficiently, and certain jobs may require efficiency. But ministry as a whole, should be measured in effectiveness, not how quickly things are done.

In closing, all Christians are called to minister (maybe vocationally, maybe not). As Paul said, church leaders are to equip the saints to “do the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4.13). So, if that is the case, how is it progressing? I would suggest that the answer will depend on whom you ask (as this series has shown). Some will suggest you are doing well (maybe Great!), others will say you are lacking in many ways. Still others, may say you are a failure. The truth is to those different people – based upon their perspective, some truth may be found in any of those statements. Therefore, you must seek to know which feedback is constructive and which is not.

Even if the ministry is already established, but especially if you are entering a new opportunity, seek to clarify expectations. Perhaps, you may be able to help craft them. If so, be honest, and challenge yourself, because ultimately it is God whom you are serving. And that is the greatest purpose of these posts. Whatever those around you may say – good or bad – remember that, ultimately, it is God that is the true evaluator of a ministry. And it is He from whom we long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Evaluating a Ministry, Part 6

In the previous posts, I first introduced the basis for this series, and then proceeded to establish an evaluation based on the various perspectives as estimated from Mark 8. But the fullness of the evaluation does not come from others who think they know what should happen (Pharisees), those who are participating in the ministry (disciples), those who are recipients of ministry (the crowd), or even the minister himself/herself. (In this case, the minister is Jesus so humanly the previous statement might be true, but divinely it would not be and because we cannot distort the human from the divine in the case of Jesus, we must allow Him to be the exception to my statement!)

The Final Evaluator

The one “character” who is implied throughout the story is God (the Father). The Father is explicitly mentioned in v. 38, which ties the teaching of Son of Man (in v. 31) directly to God. This is also made abundantly clear in Jesus’ rebuke of Peter in verse 33. However, for the majority of the story, the implication is that God is either present, or being requested for proof of Jesus’ actions. God is certainly implied as the Recipient of Jesus’ thanks (v. 6), and from Matthew (16.17), we know He is the source of Peter’s confession about Jesus. However, God is the hidden meaning in the Pharisees’ request for a sign from “heaven” (Mark 8.11). A practicing Jew was careful not to utter the name of YHWH, and thus heaven became a suitable alternative for speaking of God.

So, God is, indeed, present in the passage under review. Interestingly, notice that the minister is thankful to God, the disciples are instructed by God, the religious leaders mistakenly try to use God to their advantage, and the crowd may be oblivious to God’s role in this. (Certainly, the crowd followed Jesus for three days (v. 2), but for what purpose? If these were Gentiles, as I believe, then they had no messianic expectations unlike the earlier crowd in Chapter 6. Thus, after they were fed, they may have simply left as Jesus requested.) If this scenario is true, it is not unlike many scenarios in churches today. But the question at hand, is truly what does God think?

The answer comes in Chapter 9. Let me review the sequence of events before disclosing God’s evaluation. In Mark 8, Jesus feeds the 4000, is confronted by the Pharisees, rebukes the disciples, heals a blind man, asks the disciples who others and they think He is, corrects their expectations about His coming, and casts a new understanding of what being His disciple truly means.

Following this series of events, Jesus takes three disciples with Him up the mountain where they see Jesus in all of His glory. This transfiguration of Jesus certainly would never be forgotten by these three (Peter, James, and John), but it is the words that God speaks that provide our evaluation.

Perspective: These men have just seen Jesus in His glory, but they must now focus on learning before they see Him beaten and battered. “I have shown them a glimpse of what is to come but they must focus on the present for now.”

Evaluation – Well done! “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him” (Mark 9.7). If we were to elaborate these exact words, God is essentially saying: “He is doing what He has been sent to do. He is teaching the truth that needs to be known. He is ushering in My Kingdom. Pay attention!”

In Mark 1.11, “a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.’” God was speaking to Jesus as He was now entering a time of testing and then beginning His public ministry. In Mark 9, God speaks to those near to Jesus confirming that all that has been done is according to plan and they should listen to Jesus so they are ready when it is their time to go forth as well.

The Point

Everyone who has heard of Jesus has an opinion of Him. That is true now, and it was certainly true when He lived. Some only cared for what He could do (the miracle mongers), some only cared why He did what He did (the Pharisees), some were invited to join (the disciples), and some were perplexed by it all (e.g. Nicodemus). But all had an opinion. However, the only opinion that mattered to Jesus was that of His Father. In fact, Jesus said that He only did what He saw the Father doing (John 5.19). Thus, Jesus was not acting on His own behalf, but was completely following God’s lead.

In doing so, Jesus ministered in such a way as to not only know who was truly evaluating Him, but how the evaluation was to be conducted. In essence, Jesus knew the expectations and thus could choose to fulfill them or not. But Jesus knew how to fulfill the expectations because He was watching for guidance from the One doing the evaluations! Therefore, the outcome was not only being getting God’s approval, but His endorsement as well.


What is true for Jesus is true for us as well! Only God was truly capable of evaluating Jesus ministry. No one else understood – especially, before the resurrection. (The disciples did not understand the term resurrection, let alone its implications!) But God had a plan and Jesus was working to fulfill His appointed mission regardless of the praise and adoration of some, the sneers and jeers of others, or the apathy of the rest. His focus was on doing God’s work and only paying attention to God’s critique.

Of course, we do not have the same insights that Jesus had, but a part of that is that many of us ascribe to the saying (intentionally or not) of being too busy doing ministry that we don’t have time to minister. Sometimes this is due to the expectations of others, but often it is fulfilling our own expectations of ourselves. But when this is true, it is never the expectation of God. Surely, we all have times of busyness. I doubt that anyone had more (differing) expectations on Him than Jesus. Yet, Jesus knew when His time had not yet come (e.g. John 2.4; 7.6). The truth is that God has given everyone the same amount of time in a day. And that amount of time is perfect to accomplish all that He wants us to accomplish for Him on that day. As we learn to know God better, we will discover that we might indeed find ourselves busier than ever. However, what we find ourselves doing will have consequences that reach much further and last much longer than the concerns of most people – including those that may evaluate us.

The truth is that while most people in ministry may not know exactly what God’s expectations are, they realize that their efforts do not match the expectations God likely has for them or their ministry. But rather than wonder, Jesus took the time to know God and to know what He wanted – each and every day. What if today’s ministers did the same? Again, we may not have the exact insights that Jesus had, but God has promised to draw near to those who draw near to Him (James 4.8). That verse is just after the statement the need to resist the devil, who is aiming to take us off course. If we seek to gain God’s approval, we must maintain our focus on the only evaluation – and the only Evaluator – that matters.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Evaluating a Ministry, Part 5

This series is to help provide a glimpse into understanding the various aspects of evaluating a ministry. The most powerful aspect is perspective, but it can also be the most misleading. In the previous three posts I have reviewed the evaluation and perspective of the Pharisees, the Twelve, and the crowd. This week, we look at the next participant who has the perspective of the minister himself – Jesus.

Many people consider Jesus to be a man who wandered about the countryside teaching as He went. While that statement has some truth to it, the wandering was anything but random. Jesus was purposeful in everything He did (or didn’t do). Consider the passage of our focus for this series – Mark 8. Jesus is in the Decapolis region (see Mark 7.31, and then “those days” in 8.1), and a “great crowd” has gathered around Him (8.1). How did they know about Jesus? Why would these Gentiles be willing to follow this Jew? The answer (at least, in part) is that Jesus had been to the Decapolis region before. His stay was brief (maybe just a few hours), but His time there was not soon forgotten.

In Mark 5, a story is recorded that might otherwise seem out of place, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to heal a demon-possessed man. After the healing the people begged Jesus to leave and the man begged Jesus to be able to go with Him. However, Jesus told the man to “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5.19). Verse 20 says that everyone marveled at the report. So imagine the anticipation of waiting for this Man to return. And when Jesus did return, they followed Him, and, it seems, even forgot about the necessity of food while with Him (8.2).

As we saw last week, the crowd was favorable toward Jesus, but while Jesus compassion made the crowd the beneficiary of a miracle, the focus here is on what and who He is teaching. The what is the will of God. The who is, primarily, the disciples.

The Teaching

The will of God is to include all people in the redemptive plan. The Jews as the chosen people of God certainly believed God had a place for them in the Kingdom. The Gentiles might not have believed it, but after receiving this food in a similar manner as the Jews had in Mark 6, they might begin to believe (not to mention the two stories which immediately precede the feeding with the healing of two Gentiles – a daughter and a deaf man with a speech impediment). But the Pharisees and disciples were appalled at Jesus for this work of God. And thus, this miracle was for them as much as anything.

As to the Pharisees, the teaching merely consisted of Jesus saying that only the sign of Jonah would be given (click here for more on this). The disciples, on the other hand, would get into the boat with Jesus where they would first be rebuked (Mark 8.17-18), then questioned (v. 29), and finally instructed on what a disciple of Jesus must consider (vv. 34-38).

In the third post of this series, I mentioned the calling of the Twelve. In Mark 3.14, the text says Jesus appoints the twelve disciples. Understanding this word is important. The word “appoints” is the Greek word poieo which generally means “to make.” Jesus didn’t just “point” to these men and magically make them something they weren’t. Rather, He worked with them, formed them molded them until they became the men they were called to be. He made them as a sculptor forges a masterpiece or a writer constructs a poem. (Poieo is the origin for the English word poem.)

This “making” including teaching them, having them observe Him, and correcting any erroneous understandings. As we see in Mark 8, much remains in the making of these disciples. They are not thrilled that Jesus is feeding “these” people (v. 4), they argue over inconsequential matters (v. 16, “discussing” could be considered “arguing”), and misinterpret the meaning of Jesus life when they correctly refer to Him as the Messiah (v. 29, 31-33).

Thus, one-half way through the book of Mark, the disciples seem to be a rather unworthy bunch. Furthermore, they do not appear to be getting any closer to truly grasping their mission, or more importantly the mission of Jesus. Still, Jesus is now ready to leave the countryside and take this crew to Jerusalem where the challenges will intensify. So what might Jesus think of His ministry at this point? Of course any answer is speculative, but given Jesus was very purposeful and without sin, I do not believe that He would be as negative as we might think. He had to know that the paradigms He was shifting would not be easy to change.

Perspective: These disciples need to understand what it means to be devoted to God as I am. “How can I improve their understanding in the time that I have left? Are they ready for the hostilities that will come when we reach Jerusalem?”

Evaluation: In Progress. “They realize I am the Christ, but do not yet understand the significance. They realize they are following Me, but have false expectations of where that will lead. I will begin to reveal the fullness of My mission to them now.” (Mark 8.31)

(I use “In Progress” instead of “Incomplete” because I believe that Jesus would have seen progress. Incomplete has more of a sense of finality to it, and Jesus certainly did not give up – although we have the rest of the story to provide that information for us. Nonetheless, I believe Mark 8.29-30 and 9.1 provide evidence enough to make the claim from this portion of Scripture alone.)

Mark records very little of Jesus’ teachings; he is far more focused on what Jesus did. (Mark 4 is largely focused on Jesus teaching and the last verses of Mark 8 are explicit teachings as well.) But, again, what Jesus did was intentional and his actions constituted a form of teaching. But, as He sets His face toward Jerusalem, Jesus begins to clarify Himself in the verses which conclude Mark 8. It because imperative that that the disciples learn – and learn quickly.  It was time for the disciples to do more than make progress – it was time for them to embrace their calling. Words such as “Lose your life to gain it” or “Save your life you will lose it” were said to the crowd at large (v. 34) but these words fit perfectly with the mission that Jesus had just described for Himself in verse 31, and were meant to challenge His closest followers, especially, to prepare them for the challenges they would face as well.

The Point

A good minister will be one who has a plan AND is working the plan. Detours, speed bumps, potholes, and other delays might affect the timing and even the desired outcomes, but such matters will not deter the goal.

A good minister will also properly evaluate him or herself in regards to the plan. I believe this is a critical reason that Jesus asked His followers, “Who do others say I am?” and even more importantly, “Who do you say I am?” The intent behind the questions was not because Jesus was having an identity crisis, but rather to make sure the disciples would not have one later. Although their understanding was less than complete, the answer signified that they were growing in their understanding (i.e. the plan was working). Per Matthew’s account of this story, their answer reveals that God was working in their lives (Matthew 16.17, the Father revealed this truth). God’s perspective will be the focus of the post next week.

While we cannot be Jesus, we can be intentional about having a plan and working the plan. We can also evaluate ourselves according to the plan as well. We may not have the insights into the lives of others that Jesus had, but we do have His example on how to mold (that is, make) disciples. It takes time and persistence, and most importantly, it takes the work of God.

The Conclusion

It seems odd to evaluate the ministry of Jesus. It seems especially odd to do so at this point in the story. But to truly evaluate His ministry at this point, we have to do so based upon what we know ONLY to this point of the story. Perhaps my evaluation is skewed because I do know what happens, but given that the Great Confession in Mark 8.29, the disciples are beginning to understand a little, which shows progress is being made in Jesus “making” them.

And that is really one of the principle aspects of this series. It is possible to evaluate an event, but it is much more difficult to evaluate a ministry. A ministry unfolds over time and has both ups and downs, and perhaps the perceived negatives will outweigh the positives for an extended period of time. Yet, it is impossible to measure the intangibles (of course, this is true of the outcome of an event as well). And it is even more challenging to effectively measure anything with only part of the information. For instance, I have not mentioned the “success” of the disciples ministry when sent out to the villages early in Mark 6. Furthermore, we only have a handful of stories from the life of Jesus. How many other stories, teachings, miracles, etc. could help us to better understand who He was and how He “made” the disciples? (This is addressed in John 21.25.) But what isn’t in the Bible is not as important as what is! God gave us exactly what He needed to communicate so that we could understand His plan, and His ways as much as we needed in order to know, trust, serve, and love Him. How we respond is a part of the overall evaluation and, again, God’s perspective is the focus for next week’s post.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Evaluating a Ministry, Part 4

This series is designed to help us determine some characteristics of how ministries are often evaluated and how they might better be. I am centering this study on Mark 8, evaluating Jesus ministry by the perspective of those involved. To date, I have reviewed the Pharisees (who were interested observers with a loaded agenda) and the disciples (who were included participants but had little understanding). This week, we look at the crowd.

The Crowd

The crowd plays an important role in Mark. The word first appears in Mark 2.4, but the evidence of a crowd is obvious in Mark 1 in verse 22 (compare verse 28 as this crowd was now spreading the fame of Jesus), verse 32 (the whole town came after sunset), and in verse 37 (everyone who wasn’t healed the night before returned. In Mark 3, “crowd” becomes a negative term as they might “crush him” (v. 9). They were so insistent on Him helping them they “pressed around him to touch him” (v. 10). Jesus taught the crowd in Mark 4, but held the explanation for those closest to Him (v. 11) and in chapter five, the crowd begged Jesus to leave (v. 17). Again the crowd presses around Jesus so tightly after He arrived back on the other side, the word “thronged” is used (v. 24). These instances and others set up the great feeding in Mark 6 (for the Israelites) and ultimately prepare us for the evaluation from the crowd in Mark 8 (Gentiles).

For the remainder of the post, I need to clarify that the “crowd” being considered does not include the Pharisees nor the disciples. Obviously, both groups were present during the instances above and for the miracle in Mark 8.1-10. However, both have been reviewed independently, so the crowd in question will not include these groups. It is important to remember that these two groups were stunned (and appalled) at the miracle Jesus performs here – not for what He does, but for whom He does it.

Most of Jesus’ ministry was in Israel, but he did venture into Gentile territory occasionally. (In Mark 5, He healed the demoniac on the other side of the sea, for instance.) Mark 8 begins by stating “in those days” He had a crowd following Him. The days relate to the end of Mark 7 where He has been in the Decapolis (7.31), so we are dealing with a Gentile crowd. (This is important because many – most? – of Mark’s initial readers were in Rome and, therefore, Gentile, so Mark is showing the God’s ministry concerns them as well.)

The Adoration

We can further ascertain the group is Gentile if we understand the word “these” in Mark 8.4 to be read in a sarcastic tone (as in these people?), which I believe is likely. These people have been following Jesus for three days and had nothing to eat. If they were willing to follow Jesus for that long, like the crowds in Israel, they were enamored with Him. Thus, at this point, their evaluation of Jesus’ ministry would likely have been “Excellent” but may have begun to fade toward “Very Good” because of their physical needs.

Jesus feeds these people from the scraps and certainly wins their adoration. Not only did this Jew (Jesus) come and spend time with these Gentiles, but He provided care for them as well – in the same manner He had for the Jews earlier. No other rabbi would make this gesture; very few, if any, Jews would make this gesture – and that is not even considering the miracle!

Perspective: What can you do for me? “This man is special. He is a Jew who came to our territory and has taught us many wonderful things. Now, he has even provided food for us.”

Evaluation: Outstanding! Unbelievable! “I never thought I would see the day that a Jew would help one of us (a Gentile).”

Of course, it was my fictitious quote here that is the primary factor for the evaluation in these posts. The Pharisees and disciples has a perspective of doubt and skepticism while the Gentiles would have been bewildered in a positive way.

The Point

Unlike the Pharisees or the disciples, from the verses in Mark 8, we cannot perceive that this crowd had any agenda nor a definitive calling. Therefore, their participation in this pericope is not only voluntary, but largely free of expectations. Granted, the demoniac that Jesus healed in Mark 5 was told to stay in the region and tell others “how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (v. 10), so the news of Jesus’ power and mercy would have stirred some interest when He returned to the region. Any interest which had been stirred was now fully realized as this crowd saw Jesus’ mercy (feeding these people) and His power (4000 fed from seven loaves and a few small fish). Each member of the crowd had to make their own determination about Jesus, but what had once only been hearsay, was now experienced in person.

The Conclusion

The crowd does provide a perspective on ministry, but the size of crowd should not be the indicator! In fact, in John 6, Jesus tried to thin the crowd (and succeeded!) because they were not true followers, but were miracle-mongers and the like (see John 6.66). While the crowd does add a perspective (what can you do for me?), the crowd is rarely the best evaluator of anything – including a ministry. Why? Because the crowd is usually gathered for what it can get and will go along with others due to the idea of “group think.”

Consider, for instance, a sporting event. If the home team does something poorly, the crowd will boo (you are not giving me what I want). Even very young children, who do not understand the game in general (let alone nuances of it) will begin to boo. Why? It is what the group is doing. We must remember this is what happened to Jesus at His public trial. Many of the same people who heralded Jesus as Messiah as He entered Jerusalem on Sunday were calling for Him to be killed (and Barabbas released) just a few days later.

So, while the crowd is an important element of ministry, their lack of knowledge of the ministry’s goals and purpose, the processes involved, and other factors such as lack of personnel (or good help, as with the disciples as of Mark 8), usually makes it unsuitable for properly evaluating a ministry. Generally, when the crowd is happy, they will say the ministry is going well. When they are distressed about anything, the verdict will be something less. The problem is that this change may take place in the course of minutes or hours, and as I mentioned two weeks ago, any single event (the test the Pharisees wanted, v. 11) can bring success of failure (happiness or sadness) and is not truly indicative of a ministry’s (or minister’s) value. 

Thus, we must continue to look elsewhere for how to best evaluate a ministry. Next week, we will add one major piece, before tying them together the following week, and concluding the series the week after that.