Wednesday, July 31- Jesus in the Gospels: The Gospel of Mark- An Overview

      (Wednesdays are Bible Study Day here at Stick With Jesus. Today, we continue our current 9-week study called Jesus in the Gospels. Each week, we look at how each of the 4 Gospel writers saw Jesus and how they presented Him to their intended audience. 
     Let me say up front that I take a different approach to authorship claims in the Bible than do many of my colleagues. Do I KNOW that Matthew actually wrote the Gospel of Matthew? No. But can I PROVE that someone else specifically IS the author? No. Ultimately, does the text say what the text says REGARDLESS of authorship? Yes! Therefore I am perfectly comfortable to attribute authorship to the name historically credited with such!) Matthew’s Gospel is the link between the Old and New Testaments, with many Old Testament prophetic references.)
• The author is Mark. The name means “warlike, hammer, defender”- and speaking for “Marks” everywhere…how cool is THAT?!) His Hebrew name was John (Acts 12:12), which means “the Lord is gracious”. He was not one of the original 12 disciples.
• Barnabas was his cousin (Colossians 4:10).
• He came from a well-to-do family
 His mother, Mary, owned a large house and had a servant (Rhoda, Acts 12:12-13)
 His home was in Jerusalem (Acts 12:25)
• Jesus’ followers gathered there (Acts 12:12)
 The house could have been the “upper room”, but there is no concrete evidence
 Peter went to the house after the angel saved him from prison (Acts 12:12ff)
• Mark probably came to know Jesus through Peter
• He went with Paul and Barnabas on missionary trips (Acts 11:27-30, 12:25, 13:1, 13:4-5)
• He was the reason Paul and Barnabas split
• He was a close associate of Paul (greetings from Mark are included in both Colossians 4:10 & Philemon 1:24)
• Non-canonical resources (a fancy way of say “non-Biblical sources”) like church historian Eusebius have Mark being martyred in Egypt

• Internal evidence is scant and external evidence is contradictory
• Scholarly thought is that it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.)
• It also appears that the persecution from Nero was going on
• It was probably written around 64 A.D.

• Mark’s Gospel was probably written in Italy, perhaps in Rome

• It begins with, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
• It’s the “origin story” of the Good News of Jesus Christ
• Mark’s gospel is the simplest and shortest of all the gospels
• It is written like fast-paced novel
• It is a straightforward account suited to Rome’s practical, straightforward approach (I call it the “Dragnet- just the facts maam” Gospel!)
• It is the 2nd book in canonical (Biblical) order
• It was probably the 1st book written

The Gospel of Mark is organized into seven sections-

Section 1 (1:1-13) includes:
• a quotation from Isaiah and the appearance of John the Baptist
• the baptism
• the temptation

Section 2 (1:14-6:29) includes-
• the calling of the disciples
• the performing of miracles

Section 3 (6:30-9:32) includes
• the withdrawal from Galilee
• the feeding of the five thousand
• walking on water
• Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah
• the transfiguration
• Jesus predicts His death and resurrection

Section 4 (9:33-50) includes-
• Jesus goes to Capernaum
• preaches about who is the greatest

Section 5 (10:1-52) includes-
• Jesus goes to Judea
• teaches on many subjects
• performs the miracle of restoring sight to Bartimaeus
• again predicts His death and resurrection

Section 6 (11:1-15:47) includes-
• The triumphal entry into Jerusalem
• Jesus teaches many lessons
• The  Last Supper
• Jesus is arrested, tried and crucified

Section 7 (16:1-20) includes-
• The resurrection

This book is sometimes referred to as Peter’s Gospel, as it might have been Peter who was the primary source of Mark’s writing
• It highlights the facts and accounts of Peter’s ministry with Jesus
• John says Mark wrote the gospel but refers to it as the gospel of Peter
• Early church bishop Papias says Mark’s gospel contains Peter’s teaching and preaching
• Mark’s gospel includes Peter’s first hand experiences
 The calling of Peter to be a disciple appears early in the first chapter (Mark 1:16-18)
 Jesus’ activities in Capernaum are said to have taken place near Peter’s house
 Jesus went to Peter’s house and healed his mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31)
 The whole city of Capernaum gathered at Peter’s door (Mark 1:32-34)
 When Jesus was gone, it was “Peter and his companions” who looked for Him (Mark 1:35-37)
 It’s Peter, as spokesman for the group, who confesses Jesus as Lord
 It’s Peter who rebukes Jesus about His suffering, death, and resurrection (Mark 8:27-33)
• All these first-hand experiences point to Mark’s gospel being Peter’s eyewitness account

• Mark didn’t write his gospel for Jewish people familiar with the Old Testament
 He quoted the Old Testament only once, at the beginning of the gospel
 He explained Jewish customs to his readers (ceremonial washing- 7:3-4, and preparation day was the day before the Sabbath- 15:42)
 He translated Jewish Aramaic terms for his readers (3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 14:36; 15:22)
 He used Latin (rather than Greek) words
• Instead, he wrote it for people unfamiliar with the Old Testament
• Mark wrote his gospel for Gentile Christians in Italy/Rome
• His purpose was to present Jesus as a Servant

     Next week, we will dig deeper into the Gospel of Mark and his image of Jesus as Servant.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Sometimes, You Just HAVE To Eat Your Dessert FIRST!

Tuesday, July 30- “Oh, I Wish I Was in the Land of Joplin!”

     “Oh, I wish I was in the land of Joplin! Old times there are not…” Uummm…eerrr…SHOOT! What rhymes with “Joplin”? 
     Beginning at somewhere in the neighborhood of 5:38PM on Sunday, May 22, 2011, an EF5 multi-vortex tornado cut a vicious 6-mile long and 1-mile wide path through the city of Joplin, MO. When it was over, 158 people were dead and the damage was estimated to be somewhere around $2.8 billion. 
     5 weeks later, on Sunday, June 26, I led a group of 17 people on a mission trip to that very same Joplin, MO. We lived in a church in Carl’s Junction, MO (just outside of Joplin) and worked in variety of settings throughout the week. It was an amazing, humbling, nearly overwhelming experience. To stand in Ground Zero and see nothing…NOTHING…of any substance still standing for blocks and blocks and blocks…wow! Even the trees were gone, with only about 2 trees/block still standing…without any limbs OR bark.
     My interest in the trip was rather personal. Along with having a cousin who, between her and her extended family, lost something like 3 houses and 7 cars, her sister, who was performing in a play when the tornado hit, was one of the 158 who lost their lives. It was a very challenging, rewarding, emotional week.
     Fast-forward two years to…now. This is my first full summer at the church I now serve and I wanted to put together a week-long mission trip. I considered several options, but Joplin kept popping back into my head. So I got on the internet and read about where they were at in the rebuilding process- they still needed lots of help! I thought it would be helpful that I had already been there once AND I wanted to see how far they had come, so I put together a trip.
     At one point, there were about 14 people who were on the list to go. But I learned a LONG time ago that mission trip rosters and very fluid creatures! And then…May 28th came and I was told that I had this…THING…in my head! After a few whirlwind weeks, I suddenly realized that I needed to do SOMETHING about the mission trip. I simply could NOT go, so I had 2 choices: 1. cancel or 2. ask one of the folks going to take over leadership. I went to my Worship Director, who was scheduled to be part of the team, and talked to him. He had, of course, already thought of it and was more than willing to step into the leadership role!
     Fast-forward again to this past Sunday. 6 folks (I TOLD you mission trip rosters were fluid!) packed their gear and headed south. They arrived in Joplin about 9:45PM, tired, glad to be there and ready to go bed! Yesterday, they got up early, rolled up their sleeves and went to work! They spent the day inside a home currently under construction, helping do “finishing” work.
     Then, at dinner, my iPhone started making the “Skype” noise. I pulled it out of my pocket and it was…the mission team! I got to see and talk to 4 of the 6. They looked good, were in great spirits and had great stories to tell. How awesome is THAT?!
     It meant SO much to me that they took the time to Skype me. I am SO happy that things are going well and although I DO wish I was in the land of Joplin, I can’t wait for them to get back and share the life-changing experiences they had this week! If you ever have the chance to go on a mission trip…take it! You will GO expecting to GIVE, but you will RETURN realizing that you GOT much more than you GAVE!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Jesus in the Gospels: The Gospel of Mark- An Overview

Monday, July 29- The Intolerant Side of Tolerance

    When I was in seminary, I became aware of a fascinating phenomenon. The “buzz phrase” then was “open and affirming”. Not sure what that means? I’ll use it in a sentence- “As Christians, we should be open and affirming to all people.” “OK, Pastor…got it!” 
     Now it seemed to me at the time…in fact, it STILL seems to me…that is a GOOD thought. Why? Because as Christians, we SHOULD try and be open and affirming of other people- that seems marvelously Biblical. The problem I ran in to in seminary is the way the whole “open and affirming” thing played out in real time.
     I have learned that, at any given time in history, in any given scenario, there is what my dad would have called a “whipping boy”- that group of people who are on the receiving end of everybody’s frustration and anger. Sometimes, it’s obvious who that is- Nazi Germany during WW2 would be a good example. At other times, and in other settings, it’s not always so obvious. 
     When I was in seminary (I graduated with my Master’s Degree in 2000), the “whipping boy” was…me! Actually, it was white males…which is…me! The thought behind it was that white males had held everybody else down for too long. Therefore, it was important to set things right. And you know what? I agree. Ours has been a very patriarchal society and we DO need to strive for greater equality. No disagreement there. But the fascinating thing, to me, was the fact that, in their efforts to point out how whites males had failed to be open and affirming, lots of folks were failing to be…wait…for it…open and affirming back! In other words, a group was told consistently that they failed to be a good example of being a Christian…by being told what horrible humans they were! In their efforts to seek “open and affirming”, they proved themselves guilty of the EXACT SAME BEHAVIOR…and failed to see it.
     I fear that happens a lot in our society. I see people offended by any number of topics- gender issues, racial issues, sexual orientation…whatever. They feel marginalized (and often rightfully so), yet in their response, they simply add fuel to the fire. I see that all around us. The most recent example is in the varied responses to the George Zimmerman trial. There seemed to be 2 camps:
1. those who thought the verdict was just and were mad at the racially-charged backlash that occurred. In their responses, some threw racial epithets and threats right back.
2. those who were horrified by the verdict. In their responses, some lamented what they saw as the racial bias of the decision, yet threatened racial violence as the response.
     It seems to me that until we ALL admit that we struggle with “us and them”, this will NEVER change. Where can we turn for guidance? A little thing I like to call the Bible! In the New Testament, Jesus is clear that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. Although we don’t look the same on the outside, we are ALL children of God on the inside. I’m no better than you, and you’re no better than me. We are just frighteningly flawed humans, trying to fin our place in the world. And if we could find a way to stop focusing on what makes us different and instead focus on what we have in common, the world would be a better place!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- “Oh, I Wish I Was in the Land of Joplin!”

Sunday, July 28- 3:16- Beyond the Gospel of John; Ars, Gratia, Artis

          When I was little, we had a dog named Ginger. She was part shepherd, part collie, part…mutt and ALL dog. We lived out in the middle of nowhere and she was an outside, “farm” kind of  dog. You never quite knew what she was going to do. One day, a neighboring farmer delivered a load of straw bales to us. He backed the truck up by the garden and started to unload. He had 2 baled off the truck and on the ground when, seemingly out of nowhere, Ginger jumped up on top of one of the bales he had already unloaded…and ROARED at him! He jumped in the truck and honked the horn until one of us came out! She was a rough and tumble kind of dog, perfectly willing to knock my older sibling down as they all played in the yard. But she treated me, the bay of the family, differently. If I fell down, she would come over, put her head under me and help me get to my feet and then lick my face. One day, 3 stray dogs came out of the woods, into our yard and headed straight for me. She came and stood between me and those dogs, hair up on her back, teeth bared, growling an unmistakable warning that, if they came one step further, they weren’t going to like what they found. They weighed their options…and then headed back into the words. Ginger was a loud, thundering voice, to be sure. But she was also a strong place of safety for me.
     Today, we continue our current sermon series- 3:16: Beyond the Gospel of John, that will lead us all the way to Labor Day. For 7 weeks, we are looking at a series of “Chapter 3, Verse 16’s”, from both the Old and New Testaments, that help us better understand what it means to live our lives more fully in the shadow of God. Last week, we looked at Daniel 3:16 and talked about the fact that God empowers us to take a stand. Today, we look at Joel 3:16 and remind ourselves that God is our strong tower in the midst of change.
Proverbs 18:10 The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.
          The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. That sounds great, but a strong tower for what? Is it for protection? Is it to keep us from physical danger? If so, then physical danger…from what? How about this?
     ”Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound! Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman! Yes, it’s Superman, strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands; and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.”
     There is a phenomenon I call Superman Theology. Those who ascribe to it think they can draw all the strength they need from themselves and their own powers. And if we’re honest, we are ALL guilty of Superman theology at some point. But the truth is- we are not invincible. Instead, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, filled with frailties and shortcomings. We all have our own Kryptonite- we face weaknesses and challenges every day. We know them…and we try to avoid them.
     In the end, our spiritual formation, our strength, our power only comes through God. Corrie Ten Boom said, “If God sends us on strong paths, we are always provided strong shoes.” Often God is our strong tower that protects us from…ourselves.
     Do you remember the MGM movie studio logo, lion? It’s a lion who roars at the camera. And if you look closely, under the lion is a banner which reads, “Ars, Gratia, Artis”. That phrase is Latin and translates to, “art for art’s sake”. The philosophy behind that statement points to the intrinsic value of art. It implies that only “true” art is separated from any educational, moral and practical function; true art is said to be autotelic- that is, it’s complete and has a purpose in and of itself alone, with no ulterior motives. Ars gratia artis? Art for art’s sake? How about Deo Gratia Deo- God for God’s sake. With that as a backdrop, let’s look at today’s 3:16-
     Joel 3:16 The LORD will roar like a lion from Jerusalem; his loud voice will thunder from that city, and the sky and the earth will shake. But the LORD will be a safe place for his people, a strong place of safety for the people of Israel.
     There was a guy painting the outside of the church. In true “church” fashion, he was trying to cut corners on the cost, so he added some water to the paint. When he got done, it looked GREAT…until it rained. The rain washed all the watered-down paint off the building. He was very upset by that and thought that, perhaps, he should pray about it. He got on his knees, looked up to Heaven and said, “Dear God, I’m just trying to do the best I can for the church while saving some money. You obviously want me to learn something from this- please tell me what that is.” Suddenly the clouds parted, a beam of light shone through…right on him, and a voice from Heaven said, “Here is what I want you to learn, my son! Repaint…repaint and thin no more!”
     Joel 3:16 takes place in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, which is also known as the valley of decision. It is a scene about a decision, but not the people making a positive decision about God and repenting. Instead, it is about a decision made by God…to judge the people for their behavior. God’s judgment is to be handed down on “the day of Lord”, the Great Tribulation, the end times. It is often seen as a scary time, but only people who are against God need be scared. To people who have responded to His call and called out to Him, God is NOT scary. Instead, He is a source of shelter and strength.
     In the book of Joel, the people are in the valley of decisions. We often find ourselves there, too…don’t we? We have to make decisions about jobs, about finances, about relationships, about our children and about God. And what we decide affects who are…and what we become.
     Remember that true art is complete, having purpose in and of itself alone with no ulterior motives? God loves us so much that He gave His only son- and because Jesus died, we can face yesterday. Because Jesus suffered- we can face today. Because Jesus lives, we can face tomorrow. Jesus suffered an incredible burden to release us from the stress of that burden. We don’t have to carry the big load…because Jesus does the heavy lifting. Jesus suffered the humility of rejection to heal our broken relationships. Jesus suffered open wounds to heal us of our shame. Jesus suffered bodily injury and pain to heal our sinful heart. Your wounds may be beneath the surface, not visible to the naked eye, but they still cause pain.
     Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on. Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength. Deeply loving someone gives you courage. God’s love gives us strength. Our love for God gives us courage. We can turn to God for protection, security, strength and love.
     So, where is YOUR treasure? On what do you base your faith? Do you base it on own worth, on worldly things…or on God? People put their trust in
money, in possessions, in fame and in power. And when trouble comes, we try to hide behind those things– but they prove to be illusive, a phantom, nothing more than false protection.
2 Thessalonians 3:3, 5 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.
     A rather delicate and proper older lady was planning to take her mobile home one a trip to Florida. She sent an email to a campground she had heard about, asking about reservations. She wanted to make sure the campground was…fully equipped, but couldn’t quite bring herself to write the word “toilet”. After much deliberation, she finally came up with “Bathroom Commode”! But she worried even that might be a bit too forward, so she decided to refer to the Bathroom Commode as simply the B.C. So in her letter, she wrote, “Does the campground have its own B.C.?” The campground manager couldn’t figure out what in the world the lady was talking about- “B.C.” really stumped him. He showed the email to other people, but they couldn’t figure out what she meant either. He finally came to the conclusion that she must be asking about the location of the local…Baptist Church- B.C. So he emailed her the following reply: “Dear Madam: Please accept my apology for the delay in answering your email. The “B.C.” is located nine miles north of the camp site and is capable of seating 250 people. Although it’s quite a distance away if you are in the habit of going regularly, you will no doubt be pleased to know that many people take their lunches and make a day of it. The last time my wife and I went, it was so crowded we had to stand up the whole time. It pains me that we don’t go more regularly, but it’s not for lack of desire on my part. As we grow older, it seems to be more and more of an effort, particularly in cold weather. If you decide to come to the campground, perhaps I could go with you to the B.C. the first time you go. I could sit with you and introduce you to all the other folks!
     People say to me, “I just don’t know what to pray! I prayed for something specific, but it didn’t come true.”  My response? Prayers don’t come true….wishes do. When we pray in such a way as to try and tell God what to do, we are NOT praying, we are wishing. God is not the genie of Aladdin’s lamp-  all the power in universe…in an itty, bitty little living space, just waiting for us to rub the lamp so that He can  come out, grant our wish…and then go back in and wait for the next time we call Him.
     God is…God- Deo gratia Deo, God for God’s sake. So what should we pray for? Well, here’s what we should NOT pray for- an easy life. Instead, we should pray for strength to deal with the life we have. Don’t pray that the tasks you’re given are equal to the power you already have. Instead, pray that the power you have would be equal to the tasks you are given.
     Ginger the dog loved me unconditionally- ars gratia artis- art for art’s sake…and nothing more. She loved me unconditionally, with no ulterior motives. God loves us that same way….unconditionally, with no ulterior motives. He loves us SO much that He willingly laid down His life for us. Do you know and believe in Jesus? Have you accepted Him as your Lord and Savior? Do you want to receive His eternal salvation? Do you want to live in His tower of safety and security, or are you content to be on the outside looking in? God is our strong tower, a shelter over us. He is the beautiful, mighty, everlasting king. He is the fortress when we’re weak and His name is true and holy. Is His face all you seek? 
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- The Intolerant Side of Tolerance

Saturday, July 27- A Life Well Lived

     I am in my 17th year of ministry. I have NOT kept a detailed count (on purpose) of how many funerals I have performed in that amount of time. But if I had to guess (remembering that there was one year when I did 25 funerals and one year when I did 4!), I would say I have performed somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 funerals.
     Out of 120 funerals, many of them have been foe people I didn’t know. It’s just part of the “pastor gig”- it goes with the territory. Folks who don’t have a pastor or any connection to a church die and SOMEBODY needs to perform the funeral. And of course, in the minds of MANY in this country, the one to perform a funeral is…a pastor! 
     Doing a funeral for someone you didn’t know is a bit of a challenge. beyond the obvious part (not really knowing much of anything about them), the challenge can be in the fact that you don’t know anything about their FAITH. I know lots of pastors who seem all too willing to preach absolutely everybody immediately into Heaven- do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars, go straight to Heaven! But I simply cannot do that. I can’t, in good conscience, promise the family that their loved one is dancing on streets of gold when I simply don’t know what their level of faith was. So I end up dancing around the issue- talking in generalities about HOW one gets to Heaven. On the other hand, it is an incredible gift to perform the funeral of someone who A. I knew and B. I was sure of their faith. And had just such a gift yesterday!
     A true matriarch of my church died EARLY last Monday morning. As heartbreaking as it was to lose her, it was a blessing that, after a long, full life, she was no longer suffer. I had the opportunity to spend some time with her that night, praying with her, reading Scripture to her…and making her smile with jokes about my playing the drums! She passed about 2 hours after my wife and I left the hospital. 
     Her funeral was yesterday, at the church, which I ALWAYS think is a good thing. LOTS of folks turned out to honor and remember her. We sang a couple of classic hymns of the faith, and a talented soloist sang a third. One of her granddaughters delivered a spectacular eulogy. Tears were shed. A few laughs were had. And we had an opportunity to say goodbye to a great lady. We went to the cemetery to pay our last respects and then went back to the church to do what us United Methodists do best- eat and talk! 
     It is SO rewarding as a pastor to officiate at the funeral of such a great lady, a true Christian…a life well lived. I pray that when my days on this earth are complete, folks can say HALF the amount of good things about me!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- 3:16- Beyond the Gospel of John; Ars, Gratia, Artis

Friday, July 26- “Lord, Help Me Be the Person My DOG Thinks I Am!”

     The dog in the picture is my dog. (My younger son thinks she’s HIS dog, just because we got her for his birthday! But I know the REAL story…she’s MY dog!!) She is an 8-year old Black Lab/English Pointer mix. We got her from the Human Society when she was a year and a half old. From the beginning, she was a spirited dog. The hunting nature that is genetically hardwired in her DNA simply can’t help but come out in nearly boundless energy.
     Our vet at the time that we got her was a friend of ours who was also a parishioner. During one of her first visits to him, I asked, “I know she is going to be pretty spirited, but at what age can we expect her to start to lose some of that ‘exuberant puppy’ energy?” He said that, based on her breed, she could be 3 before she started to slow down. When she was 7, I said to him, “Do you remember when you said that? Apparently she wasn’t listening!”
     We recently were out of town for 48 hours…doctor’s appointments and lab work! (It’s become the story of my life over the past 2 months!) Our dog stayed at the kennel while we were gone. We specifically got back into town before noon on Wednesday, the day we returned, so that we could pick her up in time. We live close to the kennel, so I dropped my wife and younger son off at home and then went to pick up “the baby”!
     I got to the kennel and they went in the back to get her. There was a momentarily lull, and then the barking started! All the dogs who were there wanted to be THE ONE going home, but this time…it was my dog! They brought her out (she was pulling all the way!) and she was pretty quiet…until she saw me. She started her usual crying/whining/yipping blend that she does when she’s really excited. She was up on her hind legs, pulling, desperate to get to me! Our happy reunion happened and she couldn’t stop licking me and wagging her  tail! I had already paid for her, so we left the kennel and headed for home.
     My dog thinks I am THE most awesome person ever to walk the face of the planet. She thinks I am Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Abraham Lincoln- all rolled up into one big ball of freakin’ redonkulousness. Her love for me is unconditional and without guidelines. And I think to myself, “How could I EVER actually live up to that?!” 
     So, can I ACTUALLY be the person my dog THINKS I am? No- no one could! But could I try a little more ever day to be a little better person than I was yesterday? Yes! Could we ALL do that? Yes! We could all, present company included, stand to try a bit harder every day to be a bit better. And I want you to imagine, for just a moment, just who much better this world would be if we all actually did that. Your goal for the day? Try to be a little more like the person your dog (or MY dog, if you don’t have one) thinks you are!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- A Life Well Lived

Thursday, July 25- I’m on Drugs!

     A few weeks ago, I wrote an entry about using drugs. I had surgery and was on a pretty high-powered pain medication that was causing some pretty nasty dreams/nightmares. I joked about using drugs but was more than a little happy to stop using it!
     Last night, on quite the other hand, I started a drug therapy in an attempt to treat this…THING…in my head. And unlike the drugs that I joked about after surgery, I have actually been ANXIOUS to start this one!
     You see, after 43 days of…nothing…I was ready to actually get started on some kind of treatment that might A. stop this…THING…in my head from growing and B. shrink it so that my symptoms will decrease. I have been through a series of doctors who felt they weren’t the right person to help. I have been passed from one doctor to the other for…well…43 days! But yesterday, I FINALLY met THE GUY! I met a doctor who actually seems interested, even eager to work with me! Gotta love it!
     After 4 1/2 hours at the Barnes Hospital/Washington University complex, a stretch that included: 7 vials of blood drawn, two rather lengthy conversations with the doctor, a physical exam, a specialized DNA sample taken for research into possible genetic mutations and a skeletal survey (20 x-rays that covered literally every bone in my body), it was decided to start immediately with the medicine I wanted to start 43 days ago!
     Radiation is a possibility, but not a great one. Chemo is not a viable option. Surgery is not terribly viable right now, due to the size and location of the tumor. (It is involved in my carotid artery, my right ear canal and a facial nerve that controls the top right quadrant of my face.) So that leaves two medications as the best current options. One of them is untested on what I have and has some pretty decent side effects, while the other is Calcitonin, a drug that has minimal side effects and has some limited success on what I have.
     The original plan was daily subcutaneous injections. But my doctor feels that, due to the fact that I will be taking this drug for at least 6-12 months and possibly as long as 5 years, a nasal spray is a better choice. So…I picked up the drug yesterday afternoon and took my first “toot for the snoot” last night. “And they’re off!”
     I will be having regular MRI’s every 3 months to track the progress of this…THING…in my head. If it starts to shrink- HUZZAH! And I continue with the calcitonin. If it doesn’t change…we keep taking the drug for a while. If it continues to grow…we drop back and punt!
     It’s frustrating, but it is also exciting to finally be trying something. I have greatly appreciated all of the prayers and well-wishes and I STILL stand firmly on the fact that God is good, all the time!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- “Lord, Let Me Be the Person My DOG Thinks I Am!”

Wednesday, July 24- Jesus in the Gospels: The Gospel of Matthew- Digging Deeper

     (Wednesdays are Bible Study Day here at Stick With Jesus. Today, we continue our current 9-week study called Jesus in the Gospels. Each week, we look at how each of the 4 Gospel writers saw Jesus and how they presented Him to their intended audience.
     Let me say up front that I take a different approach to authorship claims in the Bible than do many of my colleagues. Do I KNOW that Matthew actually wrote the Gospel of Matthew? No. But can I PROVE that someone else specifically IS the author? No. Ultimately, does the text say what the text says REGARDLESS of authorship? Yes! Therefore I am perfectly comfortable to attribute authorship to the name historically credited with such!) Matthew’s Gospel is the link between the Old and New Testaments, with many Old Testament prophetic references.)
     Last week, we looked at an overview of the Gospel of Matthew and how he saw Jesus. Today, we dig deeper. Matthew’s natural inclination for order makes him what some scholars call a literary architect. Also, Matthew’s Gospel knows great division- a new Church is being birthed from the synagogue and the labor pains are great. 30 years after the Gospel was written, some were still going to synagogue on Saturday and then church on Sunday.
     In the Gospels, Jesus asks the question, “Who do you say that I am?” The purpose of Matthew’s Gospel is to present Jesus as the Messiah, and Matthew shows this in a variety of ways. Jesus is:

1.  from the family of David
A. This is a fulfillment of prophecy that the Messiah (the Redeemer) would be a descendant of David (2Samuel 7:12-16).
B. Jesus is often called “Son of David” in this Gospel (Mt 9:27; 12:23; 15:22, 20:30-31; 21:9).

2. the new Moses
A. This is a fulfillment of prophecy that God promised to raise up a Messiah as a new Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-18).
B. Just as Moses was threatened as a child, Jesus was in danger at a young age. (Matthew 2:13-15)
C. Just as Moses spread the old law (10 Commandments) on Mt. Sinai, Jesus spreads his Law (8 Beatitudes) on a mountain. (Mt 5:1)
D. Just as Moses experienced 40 days of fasting (Exodus 34:28), so did Jesus. (Matthew 4)
E. Moses appears as Jesus’ forerunner at the transfiguration. (Mt 17:1-3)
F. Jesus directly addresses the Law of Moses- the 10 Commandments. (Mt 5:17-48) He picks 6 (murder, theft, divorce, oaths, vengeance, hatred) of the 10 that target the attitudes that underlie our behavior.

3. the new Israel
A. The people of Israel wandered the desert for 40 years (Exodus 16:34-35), Jesus for 40 days. (Matthew 4)
1) The 1st temptation- calling a hungry Jesus to turn stone into bread, which he refuses to do, Matthew 4:4 (Deut 8.3): “One does not live by bread alone.” It counters the failure of Israel to show reliance on God, demanding that God provide them bread.
2) The 2nd temptation- Jesus is led up to the highest point of the temple where the devil encourages Him to jump, knowing the angels will save Him. Jesus responses with Matthew 4:7 (Deut. 6:16) “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” The people’s journey through the wilderness is full of episodes where they test God.
3) The 3rd temptation- the devil leads Jesus to a mountain, where he shows Him the world and offers it all, if Jesus will worship him. Jesus responds with Matthew 4:10 (Deut. 6:13) “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” It contrasts ancient Israel, which turned from God and worshipped the golden idol.
B. Jesus is the new Israel, overcoming trials in the desert that they could not.

4. the Messiah
A. The term “Messiah” first appears in the initial verse of Matthew. (Matthew 1:1)
B. Matthew’s genealogy is presented in three sets of fourteen generations, each of which establishes one of the lines of descent.
1) The 1st segment spans the period from Abraham until David, establishing Jesus as the Son of Abraham (heir to all the families on earth).
2) The 2nd segment covers the generations from David until the exile to Babylon, establishing Jesus as the Son of David (King whose reign would have no end).
3) The 3rd segment covers from the exile to the birth, establishing Jesus as the Messiah.
C. A star/comet/heavenly messenger was a sign of a change in leadership.
D. In Chapter 11, it says: “When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” And Jesus replied (Matthew 11:4-6) “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
E. For Matthew, Jesus constitutes the high point of Israel’s history by virtue of his title of “Messiah”.

     Matthew frequently says that a certain event happened “in order to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet”. Such instances are:
1) Mt 1:23, 22 Jesus’ birth of a virgin. Is 7:14
2) Mt 2:15 the flight to Egypt Hosea 11:1
3) Mt 2:18 the murder of the innocents Jer 31:1S
4) Mt 4: 15-16 Jesus’ ministry in Galilee Is 9: 1-2
5) Mt 8:17 Jesus’ miraculous cures Is 53:4
6) Mt 12:17-21 Jesus’ unassuming leadership Is 42:1-4
7) Mt 13:14-15 the blindness of the people Is 6:9-10
8) Mt 13:35 Jesus’ preaching in parables Ps 78:2
9) Mt 21:4-5 Jesus’ riding on an ass Is 62:11; Zach. 9:9
10) Mt 27:9-10 Judas’ treachery Zach 11:12; Jer 32:6-15; 18:1-2.

     The Jewish people knew the Old Testament well, so Matthew did his best to point out every prophecy that was fulfilled through Jesus’ life. He even referenced when Jesus himself referred to the Old Testament.
1) “for it is written” Mt 2:5; 4:4, 6, 7, 10; 11:10; 21: 13; 26:31.
2) “Have you never read?” Mt 19:4; 21:16; 21:42; 22:31;
3) “God said” Mt 15:4: 19:5.

     Matthew’s Gospel links the Old and New Testaments, bridging the 400 year “intertestamental” (time between the Old and New Testaments) gap. It shows that New Testament Christianity doesn’t replace Old Testament religion but instead fulfills it, carrying it forward. Jesus is shown as the consummation of Old Testament history, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.
     Matthew quotes from or alludes to more Old Testament prophecies than any other New Testament book (60+ Old Testament quotations and allusions). Matthew’s Jesus is:
A teacher
Emmanuel (God with us)
He does not focus on sentiment; He will likely tear families apart
He came not to exert peace but a sword- to defend God’s Word (Matthew 10:34)

     For Matthew, Jesus is the Messiah who deepens and completes the Torah (the Pentateuch, the 1st 5 books of the Old Testament). Next week we will look at an overview of the Gospel of Mark.

     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please come back again tomorrow and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- I’m on Drugs!!

Tuesday, July 23- Just Call Me Snowball!

     I would guess (because most of the good folks that read this daily are reasonable, appropriate…sane folks) that you are not a big fan of Pinky and the Brain. “Pinky and the WHAT, Pastor? Never heard of it!” Like I said! Pinky and the Brain was a WB cartoon that was on TV from 1995 – 1998. My family (you HAVE to understand that we are not…normal!) watched it EVERY week! (As I recall, it ran on Sunday nights! I’m not sure what that says about us!!) 
     It was a show about 2 laboratory mice…Pinky and the Brain…who spend each evening, after the lab staff goes home for the day, trying to take over the world. Each episode, they would ALMOST succeed in their quest, but at the last minute, Pinky would do something stupid and spoil the whole thing. (Think “Gilligan’s Island” as they tried to get off the island every week!)
     There are many goofy episodes I remember, but the one that comes to mind was an episode from 1996 simply called Snowball. The “guest star: of the week was a laboratory guinea pig named…well…Snowball. He was the Brain’s arch-enemy and the whole episode was about them trying to foil each other’s plans for world domination. In the end, the ever-dangerous Snowball lost…and went back to being nothing more than a laboratory guinea pig.
     “Well, WHAT it the world does some goofy cartoon from 1996 about some goofy guinea pig have to do with YOU, Pastor?” Thanks foe asking! Starting today…just call me Snowball! Early this afternoon, I meet with a doctor who specializes in oncology and immunology. I will spend an hour talking with him. And when that hour is over, the good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I will FINALLY have a treatment plan to deal with this…THING…in my head. (I’m not going to lie- if, at the end of the hour, the doctor tells me to leave WITHOUT a plan…I’m going to drop to the floor, right there in his office, in front of God and everybody, and throw a monumental fit, worthy of the most precocious 4-year old you’ve ever seen!)
      “Why are you Snowball?”, you patiently ask, wishing I would stay on track. I am Snowball because there is NO real “roadmap” for treatment for what I have. There are so few cases of what I have where I have it (18, to be exact), that there is simply not much in the way of previous examples to go from. So…the doctor is simply going to have to make his best guess, step out in faith and TRY something- run it up the flagpole and see if anybody is willing to salute it!
     Does that fact scare me? Does it worry me? Do I worry about receiving a “best-guess” treatment? Not in the least! I have done enough reading since this…THING…was discovered in my head on May 28th to know that there is nothing conventional about it. Therefore, I gave up on conventional several weeks ago. I’m ready for…experimental! I’m ready for, “Let’s give this a shot!” I’m ready for…SNOWBALL!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Jesus in the Gospels: The Book of Matthew- Digging Deeper

Monday, July 22- Hot Summer Days…and Body Bags

     That great theologian John Denver once said, “Some days are diamonds; some days are stones.” Last Friday was a stone…of monumental proportions.
     Because of my recent health issues, I have been trying to take a nap sometime during the day. Last Friday, I laid down about 1:30PM for that express purpose. BUT…the cell phone had others plans! I don’t want to miss any medically-related calls, so I basically don’t turn my ringer off these days. And soon after I laid down, I got first one and then another call that, between the two of them, took almost an hour. So about 3PM, after I finished the 2nd call, I decided that a nap was simply not meant to be and got up.
     I had been back downstairs with the family for about 5 minutes when…my phone rang. I was being called out (in my role as the Chaplain for the Sheriff’s Department) to the site of an ongoing search and rescue- 2 brothers, one 12 years old and the other 7 years old, had been missing since late morning…and they had just found the body of one of the boys in the river. I ran to change my clothes and before I had even left the house, I got another call…they had found the other boy’s body.
     As I left the house, I made 2 assumptions: 1. they wanted me out there as soon as possible because the family would be brought in soon and 2. nearly every law enforcement office in the county was already on the scene. So…I drove 85-90 MPH and got there pretty quickly. Once I got through the roadblock created by a state trooper (a “uniform” and a badge help!), I drove as close as I could and walked the rest of the way in. The heat index was somewhere over 100 degrees and the tar was bubbling on the road. After a brief update on the situation, I saw what I knew had to be the parents…about 50 feet away. 
     After spending some time with the parents, the time came…they wanted to see their sons. I walked with them and the coroner down the road. As we passed a full-sized pickup truck, suddenly the coroner turned and walked up to the back of the truck. There, in the bed, were 2 large bags…body bags. As he unzipped them, I thought to myself, “Nothing I learned in seminary or have done in 16 years of ministry has remotely prepared me for this.” 
     I put on a hand on both of the parents and tried to hang on to my own emotions as they said goodbye to their boys. It was one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever experienced. I prayed with them and then…they were gone- taken home. After the car drove off, I could do nothing but sit on the guardrail for a moment and try to get a handle of what happened. I talked with some of the folks on-site and then I got in the car to head back to the Sheriff’s Office. Once I was back in the privacy of my van, I wept so openly that I almost had to pull over because it was hard to see.
    In a perfect world, parents don’t have to bury their babies. It just shouldn’t happen. But…we don’t live in a perfect world. Bad things happen…it’s just the truth. Is there ANY way to adequately explain what happened? No. I wish there was…but there’s not. Sometimes, the only thing we can do is accept the fact that there will simply not be answers to all of our questions. We have to trust God, knowing that, this side of Heaven, we won’t be able to know everything. And some days…that’s just the best we can do.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Just Call Me Snowball!