“Repent and Believe!”, part 5 (Mark 7-8)

We started this series by asking what it really means to “repent and believe,” since this is the fundamental invitation given by Jesus in the Gospels. (See the previous parts of the series here.) The parallel way to describe “repent and believe” is “leave and follow”—and in Mark’s Gospel, both sets of imperatives clearly involve the whole life of the disciple, with sometimes radically challenging implications. In this part of the series, we’ll look at how “repent and believe” looks in Mark 7—8.

In Mark 7:1–23, Jesus has some pretty sharp confrontations with the religious folk of his day. He renders a sharp indictment against them: “You nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down” (v. 13). That’s a serious charge—that their religious traditions actually “nullify” (cancel, disregard, render void) the word of God, by setting up other standards and norms that obscure the clear desires of God for his people. The call for those of us who would “repent and believe” is to examine our own cherished religious traditions under the ruthless, piercing laser light of the Holy Spirit, in order to discern where they point people to God and where they actually obscure a clear view of God’s character and will.

And then, just in case we might be tempted to set ourselves safely outside the scrutiny of institutional or organizational behaviors and values, Jesus gets uncomfortably personal (Mark 7:17–23). “Repent and believe” means a willingness to allow that same ruthless laser light of the Holy Spirit to illuminate our “inner yuck”—the sinful attitudes that are the seedbed of sinful behavior.

It’s probably no coincidence that in the wake of these tough conversations with religious folk in his own homeland, Jesus takes the disciples on a ministry trip into “foreign lands”—Tyre, Sidon, and the Decapolis (Mark 7:31–8:9). “Repent and believe” and “leave and follow” mean going with Jesus across social, ethnic, and cultural boundaries to offer grace to people who are outside our tribe. And it also means sighing and groaning with Jesus (7:34) over the distortions, diseases, and disorders that bind the lives of the human beings we encounter in those uncomfortable places.

Finally, in that great juxtaposition of scenes at the end of Mark 8, we discover that “repent and believe” means allowing our “head knowledge” about Jesus to translate into a perspective on life that is fully shaped by Jesus’ identity and Jesus’ purposes. In that wonderful scene in Caesarea Philippi (you’d hear music building to a great crescendo here if this were playing out on screen), Peter makes a resounding declaration of knowledge about Jesus—“You are the Messiah!” (8:29). But almost immediately, Peter turns around and acts out of a totally contradictory perspective, asking Jesus to please do the Messiah thing in a way that will be more comfortable for his followers (8:31–33). Jesus’ rebuke to him (“Get behind me, Satan!”) is probably the sharpest one uttered in the Gospels. Jesus clearly diagnoses the root of Peter’s problem: “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (v. 33, NLT). Ouch! “Repent and believe” means relinquishing my right to define what is good and right and necessary, and submitting to Jesus’ definitions.

Questions to consider:

  • Have you taken the risk to set your religious traditions alongside the Word of God and allow the Holy Spirit to see where and if they align? What might be keeping you (and your faith community) from doing so?
  • Will you risk the same Spirit-illumined examination of your own inner attitudes and beliefs?
  • Where might Jesus be inviting you to cross some uncomfortable boundaries with him?
  • What will it take for you to relinquish the “right to choose” what is good, right, and necessary, and submit to Jesus’ definition of those things?

 

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“Repent and Believe,” part 4 (Mark 6)

 

Dr. Rachel Coleman

“Repent and believe” is the central invitation that Jesus offers in the Gospels, sometimes formulated as “leave and follow.” As we’ve been tracking this through Mark’s Gospel (see the series here), it is strikingly clear that accepting Jesus’ invitation will leave no corner of our lives unchanged. Mark 6—8 offers us more glimpses into the implications of stepping into this whole-life invitation.

We haven’t seen John the Baptist for a while in Mark’s narrative, but in Mark 6:14–29, he makes his final appearance. John demonstrates here the hard truth that “repent and believe” can sometimes mean losing your head—literally! When Jesus-followers who are shaped by kingdom values and kingdom priorities run up against the desperate honor-seeking and power-grabbing of the dominant empire, it often results in danger and sometimes in death. (See here for stories of places where Jesus’ followers confront this reality on a daily basis.) The good news is that Herod—the representative of “empire” in this situation—is presented as penultimate and peripheral in comparison to the ultimate, central reality of the kingdom of God.

Mark 6 is full of evidence that “repent and believe” plays out in ways that make us supremely uncomfortable, because it strikes continual blows against our self-focused lives. John’s experience tops the chart, but the disciples are also strained by other aspects of following Jesus. When he sends them out on a mission to do his works, they experience resounding success (6:6–13). They report to Jesus with enthusiasm (v. 30), but he seems to recognize that they are about to sink into a post-ministry let-down moment. (Think of your pastor’s need for a Sunday afternoon nap!) So Jesus invites the disciples on a retreat (v. 31)—and then promptly lets his compassion for other people interrupt their rest (v. 34)! “Repent and believe” includes allowing Jesus’ compassion toward lost, hungry people to turn unwelcome interruptions into miraculous opportunities. It means living, as Jesus did, out of the fullness of the Holy Spirit rather than the emptiness or strain of our own human limitations.

Jesus went on to add fuel to the fire of their discomfort. Not only did he allow their cherished retreat time to be interrupted, he handed them a crazy task in the midst of their weariness. Jesus looks at the thousands of people who have crammed into what was supposed to be their get-away space; then he looks at the overwhelmed disciples and says, “Okay, boys, give them a meal” (v. 37). When they make a feeble protest, he asks, “What kind of resources do you have available?” (v. 38). And here’s where we see that the whole accumulated experience of “repent and believe” has radically impacted these frail followers. They look at the problem and identify their meager resources with clear-eyed, hard-headed realism; what goes unstated is the obvious insufficiency of five loaves and two fishes to feed 10,000 people. But there’s something about following Jesus that allows them to set these ludicrously small resources before Jesus and not fall to the ground laughing (or crying!) when he tells them to “set the table” 9v. 39). They stay with Jesus in the massive gap between the need and the resources, and they trust that he will be the bridge to connect the two.

Questions to consider:

  • Where might following Jesus lead you into confrontation with the honor-seeking, power-grabbing values of the empire?
  • How is Jesus calling you to replace impatience over interruptions with his compassion for the interrupters? What are your biggest barriers to following Jesus at this point?
  • Where are you struggling to set meager resources alongside massive need? What might Jesus do if you stay with him in the gap between the two?

 

 

 

“Repent and Believe,” part 3 (Mark 5)

 Dr. Rachel Coleman

We’re continuing to track the call to “repent and believe” through Mark’s Gospel—and it is increasingly clear that this is no innocuous, “safe” invitation that Jesus is offering us! Mark 5 provides some more glimpses into the radically life-shaping invitation to repent and believe. Far more than mere intellectual assent to a set of beliefs about Jesus, this call requires hands, feet, head, and heart. (Click here to read Parts 1 and 2 of this series.)

Another gospel invitation that parallels “repent and believe” is “leave and follow.” Part 2 of this series finished with Jesus’ perplexed disciples following him across the stormy lake into a scary confrontation with a demon-possessed man (Mark 5:1–20). Now as we watch Jesus bring transformation and wholeness to that tormented soul, we see the healed man learning two necessary aspects of his new identity as a Jesus-follower. First, he sits with Jesus (v. 15)—the proper posture of one who has received powerful grace. In his gratitude and joy, he sits with the Joy-giver—can’t you just picture him seated at Jesus’ feet, leaning against his knee, gazing up into his face, listening intently to his words, quietly marveling at the peace that has eluded him for so long? But Jesus does not allow him to remain there indefinitely; he sends him out to tell his friends and family about the grace he has received (v. 19). Sitting with Jesus in grateful quiet and going out to tell of his goodness to us are inseparable parts of true repentance and belief.

Almost immediately in Mark’s narrative, we see that “repent and believe,” when put into action, sometimes involves following Jesus even when the route he sets is not straight and clear, but full of zig-zags and double-backs. What is up with all this criss-crossing of the lake (Mark 5:21), the disciples must have been wondering? It’s pretty obvious that the encounter on the far side of the lake was neither accidental nor incidental; Jesus had a plan for crossing the lake in the first place, and he left redemptive transformation in his wake. Sometimes “leaving and following” take us to places or along routes that make no human sense, but if Jesus is setting the course, there is absolute certainty that redemption will happen along the way.

Still in Mark 5 (what a chapter!), we discover that “repent and believe” means learning to see the situations of life through Jesus’ eyes. Here the “leave” in “leave and follow” means leaving behind common sense and reason as the only acceptable lenses through which to view life. Jesus takes his disciples into a scene of grief and asks this startling question: “Why all this commotion and wailing?” (v. 39). (Do you sometimes wonder if the disciples responded to Jesus’ odd questions by staring at him and muttering in embarrassment under their breath, “Well, duh, Jesus!”?) A little girl had just died; common sense and reason assessed this as a situation of irreversible tragedy, which led to weeping and wailing. And when Jesus challenged their perspective (“she is dead,” the observation of reason) with another (“she is asleep,” the declaration of hope rooted in power), they mocked him. When Jesus turned their understanding of reality on its head, everyone in the room—including, presumably, the three disciples—was “overcome by amazement” (v. 42).

Questions to consider:

  • Are you “sitting with Jesus” on a regular basis? And do those times of sweet fellowship spill over into “going to tell” about what he has done for you?
  • Is Jesus leading you on a zig-zagging path in this season of life? What glimpses of his redemptive purposes can you see along the way?
  • Where is Jesus calling you to lay aside reason and common sense as your primary lenses, and to put on a new way of seeing? Are you ready to be amazed by what you will see him do?

“Repent and Believe”–musings on Mark’s Gospel (part 2)

(Part 1, https://bumcdayton.wordpress.com/2018/08/30/repent-and-believe-musings-on-marks-gospel/ )

by Dr. Rachel Coleman

Let’s pick up with Mark 3:31, and continue exploring what kind of “teeth” Mark gives to the over-arching command to “repent and believe the gospel.” What does “repent and believe” actually look like in practice, as people leave behind their old lives and follow Jesus into newness of life? (“Leave and follow” is another big-picture way the Gospels describe “repent and believe.”) Here are some musings on the nitty-gritty content of “repent and believe” in Mark 3—5.

First, another big-picture synonym for repent and believe in Scripture is “doing the will of God.” In Mark 3:31–35, a central aspect of doing God’s will is simply being with Jesus. In that sharply uncomfortable little passage, Jesus looks around him and identifies the doers of God’s will as those who are “seated in a circle around him” (v. 34). All the small enactments of repent and believe/leave and follow/do God’s will have their roots in being present with and for Jesus. The question: How are we practicing being with Jesus? How are we offering him our presence and enjoying his presence?

In the beautiful story of the wild storm that is calmed (Mark 4:35–41), a couple more insights come to the surface. Repent and believe plays out when we take Jesus into the boat with us (v. 36). And a key little phrase follows that action by Jesus’ disciples: they took him along in the boat, “just as he was.” Oh wow! That’s a bit of a zinger! Are we welcoming Jesus into our lives “just as he is,” or are we trying to force him to fit a mold that might be a bit more comfortable, a bit less risky for us?

In that same story, we see that the life of discipleship that begins with repentance and belief includes trusting Jesus to bring peace in the midst of our storms. When the boat was bobbing wildly from side to side, nearly submerged by the waves, the disciples cried out, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (v. 38). Jesus’ response was a startlingly effective rebuke of the wind and waves, followed by a plaintive question about their continued anxiety and anemic faith (vs. 39–40). It seems clear that “taking Jesus into the boat” as an act of repentance and belief is an invitation to trust that he is both good enough and powerful enough to be all we need in the midst of rocky seas. Where are the cracks in our faith that allow anxiety to trump peace? Where are we doubting either Jesus’ goodness toward us or his power to keep us?

Right on the heels of the storm, as soon as they landed on the other side of the lake, Jesus led them straight into another faith-making situation (Mark 5:1–8). From a scary natural phenomenon to a terrifying psycho-spiritual encounter, Jesus leads them straight from one “impossible situation” to another. It seems that part of a life shaped by “repent and believe” is a willingness to go with Jesus into impossible situations. In both the storm and the encounter with the demon-possessed man, all it took was an authoritative word from Jesus to bring order and peace out of chaos and terror. Where do we need to invite Jesus into our “impossibilities,” to heal us, still our storms, cast out our impurities, or cast down our strongholds?

Mark, it seems, has a great deal to teach us about what it means to live a life shaped by the decision to repent and believe! And we’re only five chapters in—what new insights might lie ahead as the remaining 11 chapters unfold?

 

Transitioning Well

Rev. Jordan McKenzie

As most of you know, I will soon be moving from Belmont UMC to another church as I embrace the new opportunities to which God has called me. This of course will be a major transition for myself and my family. Likewise, it will be a major transition for Belmont UMC, as it always is whenever there is a change in staff–especially in the pastoral staff.

Now truth be told, transitions aren’t always easy. In fact, transitions are often downright hard. They bring uncertainty, fear, and apprehension. They lead to changes that sometimes we may not know how to navigate. Yet, as difficult as they can be, transitions are simply a part of life. No matter who we are, we all face these times over and over again. In our relationships, our families, our jobs, and all kinds of other areas, we experience times of transition and change. The better we are at dealing with them, the better off we will be.

As I was thinking about this recently, I was pondering Jesus’s passion (his final days as he was betrayed and crucified). I realized that this time in Jesus’s life can teach us a lot about how to handle transitions, as Jesus himself was experiencing a major transition during this time, from being a beloved teacher and rabbi to the one who was beaten, whipped, and crucified as a criminal.

Of course we all know how the story turned out (spoiler alert: Jesus wins in the end), but that doesn’t mean that the transition wasn’t difficult for Jesus. In fact, a careful reading of the situation shows just how hard this time was for Jesus. So what can we learn from how he handled the situation? What sort of a blueprint does he offer us?

I would say there are three key things that Jesus chose to do that can help us deal with our own times of transition and change.

First, Jesus surrounded himself with a strong support network. When Jesus faced his impending betrayal and death, Jesus’s first move was to spend time with those he was closest to. He didn’t stay isolated or go into the situation by himself, but deliberately spent time with his closest followers. Note that he didn’t just choose for them to be with him at his last supper, but he also chose to have them pray with him in the garden (though they didn’t do a very good job of that). He even called them, for the first time, friends. Thus Jesus was intentional about making sure he was not alone (physically or emotionally), even on those last days of his life.

Second, Jesus prayed about the situation and what God was calling him to do. When Jesus came to the point at which he knew he was going to be arrested, Jesus went straight to prayer. And it was not a shallow, half-hearted sort of prayer. Rather Jesus’s time of prayer was a time where he poured his soul out before God and wrestled with what God was calling him to do. He earnestly tried to figure out God’s will with everything he had. Without being rooted in God’s love and presence during the time of his greatest challenge, things may have been far more difficult for him.

ThirdJesus trusted God in the midst of the challenging circumstances. While he was able to have a strong network of supporters and was intimately connected to God in prayer, in the end there was still fear and trepidation on the part of Jesus, to the point of him sweating blood and pleading to have “this cup taken from him.” He struggled with what was going to happen and even why it needed to happen. Yet through it all, he trusted God. Even while on the cross in unspeakable pain and near death, Jesus said “not my will, but your will, be done.” Regardless of how challenging the circumstances were, he trusted in God’s faithfulness.

As we reflect on these points, I think it can empower us to better handle times of transition and change. We need to rely on those closest to us to encourage us and keep us accountable. We need to go beyond lip service to rely on God in prayer and meditate on His will for what we should do. And lastly–and most importantly– we need to trust that God is with us and for us in the situation.

As I sign off of this blog and look toward the future, I hope that all of us will embrace God’s promises for that future– and follow Jesus’s example on how to handle times of transition and change. Sure, these times will never be easy, but they will be opportunities for our faithfulness to grow and God’s faithfulness to shine.

May God’s Spirit continue to lead us forward.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

“Repent and Believe”–musings on Mark’s Gospel

 

by Dr. Rachel Coleman

Sometimes there are words and phrases in Scripture that have become so familiar that we begin to lose sight of what they really mean or what their true impact could be. In recent weeks, I’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark with an online community (www.seedbed.com/daily-text-subscribe ), and my attention was caught by Jesus’ initial announcement of his ministry in Mark 1:15. He said, “The kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (NRSV). Those two commands, “repent and believe,” are the heart of his invitation to us—but what do they really mean? What does it look like to “repent and believe in the good news”? So I’ve been on a journey to “track” that theme as we’re reading through Mark. We’re only in Mark 3, so there’s a lot more observing to do, but one thing is becoming abundantly clear—“repent and believe” is much more than giving intellectual assent to a set of truths about Jesus, God, or the kingdom. “Repent and believe” involves a whole host of concrete actions. Here are some things that stand out to me so far.

First, “repent and believe” means to “leave and follow” (see Mark 1:16–20). In order to follow Jesus, those first disciples left behind all their former sources of security—regular jobs, family traditions, prior identities (“Simon the fisherman,” “sons of Zebedee”). Their new center of security and identity was their relationship with Jesus and their relationship with each other in the community that was forming around Jesus.

Second, disciples demonstrate their repentance and belief, their leaving and following, by seeking Jesus (see Mark 1:35). There is a deep desire for his presence, an awareness of not being able to face the demands of the day without knowing that he is with them.

Third, when repentance and belief are real, there will be a starkly visible contrast between our “before Jesus” and “after Jesus” conditions. That marked difference will be a witness to those who watch us and we will be intentional in offering that witness. (See the story of the cleansed leper in Mark 1:40–45, where Jesus told the healed man to “go, show yourself to the priest.”)

Fourth, “repent and believe” means a definitive change of position. For the paralyzed man to be healed, he had to “stand up and walk” (Mark 2:1–12). For Levi to answer Jesus’ call, it was necessary for him to “get up and follow” (Mark 2:13–17). That change of position may be an actual physical act, as it was for the paralytic and for Levi, or it may be a reversal of attitudes and perspectives, but a definitive new movement is required. In Mark 2:18–22, Jesus describes this newness as a willingness to become “new wineskins” that can hold the bursting vitality of the new wine (the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ presence with us).

Finally (at least to this point in the journey through Mark), “repent and believe” includes abandoning the desire for honor and acclaim. In Mark 3:20–29, we see that Jesus’ family thought he was nuts and the religious leaders of the day thought that he was in league with Satan. Healing, preaching the good news of the kingdom, teaching what God looks like “with skin on”—instead of generating honor and respect, these activities led to disrespect and dishonor. If this is the “Jesus pattern,” we can expect that it might also be ours.

Loving the journey and looking forward to new glimpses of what “repent and believe” look like in lived-out realities. Will you join me on the journey?

 

 

Put Down the Phone!

by Jordan McKenzie

As many of you know, though I serve at Belmont United Methodist Church, I live about 25 minutes north of Belmont in Tipp City.

I was actually born and lived part of my life in Springfield and have lived a couple of other places as an adult, but Tipp City is my hometown. Likewise, it is my wife Emma’s hometown as well (though, like me, she has also spent time a couple other places). We’re lucky to be able to still live in Tipp.

Tipp City is a beautiful community. It has a historic downtown, wonderful little shops and restaurants, and that warm, small-town atmosphere. In fact, it was recently voted the best small town in Ohio by one publication.

Emma and the boys and I live in downtown Tipp City—just one street over from main street. (Fun fact: we used to live on the other side of main street in another house and moved to the other side for a larger house.)

Because we live in town, one of my favorite things to do in the summertime is to take long evening walks around the town. I really enjoy my walks, but I’ve noticed something. There are lots of people around town at night, but nearly all of them are busy on their cellphones as they’re out and about. So much so that they don”t even seem to enjoy what’s happening around them. Oftentimes I literally walk right past someone on the sidewalk and they don’t even look up at me or acknowledge me. They can’t even muster a simple hello or smile… because they’re glued to their phone.

This is not unique. I go to dinner and see entire families not looking at one another, but instead all silently looking at their phones. I stop at stoplights and notice nearly everyone looking at their phones, no doubt checking social media or texting.

Now, before I sound all high-and-mighty, I will admit that I’m often just as bad as anyone else. I’m no saint when it comes to technology. But I just wonder, how much are we missing when we’re glued to our cellphones? How many of our country’s problems could be solved if we simply put down our phones more often and talked with one another? What if we actually cared more about the person right in front of us than the other people off in cyberspace? What if we truly took time to be present to one another?

Cell phones and other technology are great tools. They’re not sinful or evil or anything like that.  But I do wonder how often they get in the way of the life that God wants for us. I think there’s a lot that God could teach us, a lot that God could show us, about each other and the beauty that surrounds us, if we put our phones down every once and awhile.

Perhaps you’d like to join me in being intentional about sometimes setting the phone down and being present where you’re at. Who knows what God may do?