Hands and Feet and Voice
Both Ed and I love the Gospel of Mark. It is filled stories of the people Jesus met and the miracles he performed. But have you noticed that in Mark’s account, each of the miracles of Jesus appear to be somewhat incidental? Performing miracles was not the primary purpose of Jesus. He was almost always in the middle of doing something else when a separate need captured his attention.

For example, take a look at Jesus’ miracles performed just in Chapters 1 and 2 of Mark’s Gospel:

  • Jesus was teaching in a synagogue in Capernaum when a demon-possessed man engaged him—so Jesus cast the demon out. (Mark 1:21-25)

  • After teaching, Jesus went to rest at the home of Simon Peter and Andrew. There, they discovered that Simon’s mother-in-law had become gravely ill. So, Jesus healed her. (Mark 1:29-31)

  • Jesus was on the road to preach in nearby villages when he was approached by a leper. So, he cured the man’s leprosy. (Mark 1:40-45)

  • A few days later, Jesus was teaching in his home when a paralyzed man was lowered through the roof by his friends. The man soon left walking out the front door, carrying the mat he had been lowered in, and realizing that his sins had been forgiven. (Mark 2:1-12)

In almost every case, Jesus was in the middle of his ministry when he was interrupted. He was sharing the gospel message of salvation—declaring that it was time to get right with God, and that the only way to do that was to believe that he was God’s Son! This message was Jesus’ priority. The miracles he performed along the way were merely a means to validate his message. They proved that he truly was who he claimed to be—the Son of God.

The first two chapters of Mark teach us that there are three vital components in Jesus’ ministry. If we are to be successful in spreading the gospel, we too must incorporate all three into our daily lives.

First, we must spend time alone with God. Mark 1:35 tells us that early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went to a solitary place where he prayed.

Secondly, we must have compassion for people in need. Jesus was moved by compassion to heal their illnesses. We must treat others as though are the children of God—as they are—and to give them the respect and attention they need.

Thirdly, we must be able to present a clear Gospel message. None of our compassion and charitable efforts have any eternal consequences if we don’t also share the message that Jesus shared. There are four basic parts to the Gospel message:

1.God’s Position. God loves us and wants to have a relationship with us.
2.Our Condition.  Sin prevents us from having a relationship with God. Sin keeps us from entering into God’s holy presence.
3.God’ Solution.  God sent Jesus to tell us and show us that God wants to forgive our sins. Jesus was willing to be our substitute, to die on the cross in our place, so that we don’t have to be eternally separated from God.
4.Our Decision.  Everyone must choose to accept or reject this offer.

It isn’t enough for us to be just the hands and feet of Jesus. We need to be his voice as well. We each need to be able to present this message very clearly to those he allows us to minister to.

Some of you are saying, “Whoa! No Way! This kind of ministry is not for me. I haven’t been called to do that.” Yes, you have. More than that, you have been commanded to! In Matthew 28:19, Jesus said “Therefore go and make disciples of all people, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Gwen Diaz
71:17 Ministry
Get Ahead of It!
Someone once said that Bad news travels at the speed of light; good news travels like molasses. The late American columnist and editor Doug Larson is credited with saying, “Bad news travels fast. Good news takes the scenic route.”

When the news is bad, and I mean bad, i.e., global health and racism pandemics, scripture gives us reason to have courage and faith, while exercising our responsible action.

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
  they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
  their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear.
Psalm 112:6-8 (NIV)

The words of the Psalm remind us of God’s love and care as we struggle in the tension of faith, which sometimes includes bad news, with all its doubts and questions, and yes, at times, fears.

Now imagine those early disciples with whom Jesus spoke talk and traveled. Imagine all they learned as they listened to him, traveled the dusty roads of Palestine, and mingled with the crowds which contained sick and desperate people. They heard the words of life and salvation and witnessed healing miracles of every kind imaginable. By the time, Jesus embarked on the Holy Week leg of the journey, the disciples believed that he could do anything, almost. You see his entrance into Jerusalem was the good news for which they hoped, a glorious, logical next Appointment.

When he began to say strange things following the Passover meal in the upper room, and later was arrested, his disciples, (especially Judas and Peter), realized that things had gone horribly wrong and that they had played an inglorious role in the tragedy. By Friday morning, it became apparent that what they’d thought about his power and the power of his love, had more of a self-sacrificial quality to it than anything they had imagined. Because of this, they thought his crucifixion was a bad news story and this was the story they believed.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. This sounds like bad news.” So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”  Sounds like more bad news.

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally, the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

John outran Peter. Simon Peter went into the tomb followed by John where they both saw that the body of Jesus was no longer there.

Did you only tell the news about the entrance to the tomb or the absence of the body, or have you received the entire story this morning? Get ahead of the news, failures and despair, that seek to hold you back!

May the full story of the resurrected Savior be re-confirmed in our hearts and in our lives this day! Easter Joy!

Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin
Interim Co-District Superintendent
Gulf Central District

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Night Will End and Morning Will Come

If the Bible tells us anything it tells us that God hears the cries of his children, and that is good news to anyone who is distressed. Trouble often seems like night, so we speak of times that seem like “the dark night of the soul”. In the midst of such dark nights, we are prone to think that God has deserted us and that he does not care about our misery. Darkness can seem heavy and activity and even breathing laborious. And yet we somehow cling to the hope that morning will come. That hope, however weak, helps us make it through the night.

Daylight is a welcome sight. It has always been so. That is how it was in the days of the prophet Jeremiah. After Jerusalem had been destroyed, most of the Hebrew people were exiles and slaves in a foreign land. A few were allowed to remain in Jerusalem, where Jeremiah helped them to understand the ways of the Lord. Overwhelmed by sorrow, uprooted from their homeland, the Israelites had little hope for the future.

They had disobeyed God. Now they were enduring God’s punishment for their sins. Most of us know from experience what that feels like. Despite their stubbornness, God did not abandon them.

In fact, God never stopped loving them. Just when they needed it most, God gave them the precious gift of hope. This hope was made flesh in the promise of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah urged them to see beyond their present suffering and look to a future filled with the goodness of God. Jeremiah knew that hope was more powerful than grief and joy greater than sorrow. No matter how dark the night, the morning would soon come.

Few greater of visions of God are recorded in Holy Scripture that this one found from the pen of the weeping prophet:

Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is their faithfulness. I say to myself: “the Lord is my portion; therefore, I will wait for him. (Lamentation 3:22-24 NIV)

This is the vision that great hymn of the church—“How Great is Thy Faithfulness”. This soul-stirring song often brings me to my knees in worship—especially the words “All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided.”

God’s mercies are new each morning. No matter what pain or misfortune we endured during the night, God’s mercies are as sure as the morning light, and ours for the asking. After a good night’s rest, we feel renewed, and we have fresh energy. The aroma of fresh coffee makes many of us glad to be alive.

The Rev. E. Stanley Jones was being shown to his room in a retreat center. His hostess was a cheerful Catholic nun who provided him with towels and soap. Politely she asked if there was anything else he needed. With a twinkle in his eye, the famous evangelist replied, “More grace”. Smiling, the alert and witty nun replied, “Help yourself. It’s all around you.” She was right because God is faithful, and he keeps his promises.

Our troubles may weigh us down, but we need not stay down. Whenever we will, we can reach out and help ourselves to the mercies of God. Faith helps us believe that “His eye is on the sparrow,” and thus upon you and me and all his children. He cares about our sorrows. He hurts when we hurt. Every new morning can be a new beginning because his compassion never fails. Shout it until you believe it with all your heart and mind and soul.

The night will end, and the morning will come! Yes, it will! And never forget that God’s grace is the reason why.

Rev. Walter Albritton
Dr. Rev. Sharon Austin, Interim Co-Superintendent, Gulf Central District
Do You Compartmentalize Christ?
Do you feel close to Christ only when you are in a prayer closet? Or worse: Do you keep Christ in a closet?” Many people are guilty of compartmentalizing Christ or God, saying “There are things I do to be in the world, and there are other things I do to be close to Christ.”

The Bible is filled with examples of men and women thinking that they could escape from God’s presence or believing that they had to be in a certain place or condition to be in God’s presence.

Remember that song we sang as children: “God is so high you can’t get over him, so wide you can’t get around him?” That simple song raises a concern for us to think about. Does our Sunday behavior differ from our behavior on other days? Or, putting it another way, Does our weekday behavior include actions we try to avoid on Sunday?

There are places—like inside a church sanctuary—where it is easy feel God’s presence. But rest assured, even though we may not feel that way, God is always nearby. That is not something to fear, but something to embrace in each and every situation, and in each and every location.

Gil Hanke, Chief Executive Officer
General Commission of UM Men