Then he saw you.

Then he saw you.

Mark 16:14-20

“And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world…’ ” v. 15

Yeshua just stood there in the corner of the room grinning and drinking in the reactions. Mary Magdalene squealed an “I told you to so.” type of laugh, then settled into her normal “Don’t mess with this girl.” stance, while the two who had seen him earlier stood together like a couple of bosses. The rest were frozen in disbelief. Then the reality seized them.

The silent shock evaporated into shouts, and tears. Yeshua held out his hands and embraced them all. Simon Peter nearly trampled the others to the floor and embraced his Lord, both men sobbing for the longest time.

After nearly an hour of embracing and talking, apologizing and forgiving each other all of them reclined around the table on the floor. Yeshua seemed to get a kick out of them staring at him while he ate. Crumbs and drops of wine don’t fall from the mouth of a ghost. Eventually he got them to eat as well. John nearly passed out when Yeshua decided to have some fun. He lifted up his wrist and peered through the hole at the beloved disciple, making him a bit queasy. After that everyone laughed and relaxed a little.

Usually meals together involved a great deal of mundane chatter, but what do you talk about at a time like this? When everything you thought was gone forever is suddenly given back to you, at your least deserving moment, what do you say in return? How do you say thanks in the face of such amazing grace? Moments like these are rare and only happen by the grace of God. They are neither earned nor deserved, they are just granted and received and passed on to others. Such a gift is never fully received until the recipient pays it forward. That is what Yeshua would tell them to do.

Eleven men and a few women sat there basking in this miracle of miracles. There was no doubt that they were dining in the very presence of God. They all marveled at such a gift, especially Simon Peter. They all wondered what they could possibly do in return. Yeshua, looked around the room. Before speaking he peered with a loving intensity into each of them. His gaze seemed to embrace each one completely, despite their weaknesses, fears and doubts. These were his brothers and sisters forever. In his eyes his saints were flawless. He saw what the future held for each of them. He saw how they would live, where they would go, what they would suffer and how they would die. Then he looked farther.

He saw generations of believers from every tribe, every tongue and every nation hearing his name, joining him at his table along with these. He saw men and women of all races and stations in life, kings, queens, thugs, terrorists, prostitutes, professors, and all sorts receiving his grace and passing it along until every nation on earth knew his name.

He continued to look. He saw some things that hurt to think about. He saw crusades and so-called “Holy wars”, inquisitions and witch hunts, and all sorts of evil done in his name. He saw wealthy religious empires trampling the poor into the dust. He saw church splits, political games, and sexual abuse perpetrated by those claiming to serve him. He saw self satisfied saints pushing people out rather than bringing them in, easy believism with no call to follow, and a gospel that calls people to a false prosperity. But even through all of those things he foresaw, he knew it would be worth it. Such darkness would serve only to form a contrast to accentuate the light.

Despite the darkness he saw billions saved and changed through the centuries. He saw Hospitals, orphanages, universities and charitable organizations, all birthed by the true work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. He saw faithful grandmothers kneeling beside their beds, saints sharing pieces of forbidden scriptures in prisons, and little children bringing their shiny offerings to Sunday school to help the missionaries around the world. He saw good neighbors caring for each other and faithful churches transforming communities. He saw innumerable seeds of grace springing up across the centuries. But do you know what he saw that really touched his heart? What really made it worth all the toil and perils?

He saw you. He saw you in this moment. Right here. Right now hearing his gospel. He saw you being invited to come, just as you are with all your good and bad, all your strength and weakness, all your joy and brokenness, and join him at this table of incredible grace and pass it on. When he saw the look in your face he smiled and said to his Apostles:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation….”

And that is the beginning of the gospel. It begins afresh every time someone joins him at the table. Let it begin with you today, and every day let it begin again, until the whole world knows.

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Did he or didn’t he?

Mark 16:9-13

“and they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.” v. 13

“Enough!” Peter shouted. His eyes were weary with grief but still had enough fire in them to burn your skin right off. In three years the disciples had learned when to back off and just let the big fisherman alone.

“I expect such tales from that crazy Magdalene woman, but you should know better! He’s dead! Gone. And if I hear any more of these wishful stories you just might join him. Besides if he were alive do you think he’d ever trust us again?”

Peter stormed out and climbed up on the roof top to be alone.

The two who had claimed they had seen Yeshua sat on the floor and looked hopefully around the room to the others. The other eight men swam around in awkward silence trying to avoid eye contact. It was clear that no one in the room was ready to believe that Yeshua was actually alive. After a few moments the silence gave way to Levi’s words to the two men.

“Brothers, I know these have been terrible days for you..for all of us. There is not a man here who would not want to see Yeshua alive again….”

“Levi we talked with him!…He said…” Levi holds his hand up.

“I know you two met someone who reminded you of him, and you felt a fire burning in your heart. Maybe God sent someone along who reminded you of Yeshua to comfort you. It’s okay to feel this way, but He’s gone. You’re going to have to face that.”

The two looked hopelessly at one another. One started to speak, but the other said, “It’s no use. We shouldn’t have expected…”

Bartholomew tried to reason with them. “You know brothers, in a sense Yeshua is alive. In our hearts. Yes. In a spiritual way. We can believe he is alive, because he lives in our memory.”

The two didn’t respond, but the others seemed to take comfort in that. Then from the entrance of the room another voice cutting through the dusty air.

” Leave it to a group of men to miss the obvious!” Dumbfounded, the men turned to see Mary Magdalene glaring at them like a mother reprimanding her sons. Then she mockingly waved her hands and pranced around the room mimicking Bartholomew’s words in a deep man voice,

“Maybe he lives in our memory. Maybe in a Spiritual sense he is alive. Blah Blah Blah! Are you serious? Why did Yeshua call such thickheaded men!”

She stood there with both hands on her hips, and in a confrontive stance. One they had seen from her many times. Andrew looked at the stairway praying Peter didn’t come down. She just glared defiantly, “Where is that Simon Peter! Bring him down here. He doesn’t scare me!”

Nobody moved.

“Look at you little boys, sitting here feeling sorry for yourselves. Three of us have seen him in person, The other women went to the tomb and it’s empty….”

Thaddeus weakly suggested, “Maybe somebody stole him…”

“From under the noses of Roman soldiers, they moved a gigantic stone, and just walked away with a dead body? I suppose the whole squad just happened to fall asleep at the same time, and nobody heard the noise.” Mary placed both fingers on her temples and closed her eyes.

“Men”

The another said, “Um maybe Yeshua wasn’t really dead and when he came too he pushed the stone and escaped….”

Everyone laughed at the idea of that one. A man having endured such blood loss, suddenly finding the strength to move a half ton stone then sneak past a squad of soldiers,undetected, didn’t seem too likely.

Mary Magdalene looked out the window then at the two who had claimed to see him alive. Then she took a deep breath and spoke a final word. By this time Simon Peter was standing at the end of the staircase. Mary fired the next words right between his eyes.

“You men have a decision to make. You can sit here and rationalize and feel sorry for yourselves, coming up with theories you can feel comfortable with if you want to. You can all sneak back to your lives acting as if nothing happened, and forget all Yeshua has done. That will certainly be easier. Or you can put on your big boy clothes and take a chance that maybe Yeshua, as always, did what he said he would do. He said he would be killed and on the third day rise again. So did he or didn’t he? ”

Then she turned, threw up her hands and walked out, “Men! Can’t do anything with them.”

The exercise

Mark 15:16-20

“and they began to salute him, ‘Hail King of the Jews!'” v. 18

“Well, men I have a special treat for you today!” The commander blared in the kind of sarcastic tone only a military commander can master. We stood there a little unnerved as he went on.
“It seems these mewling Hebrews are bickering again, only this time they’ve handed over one of their Prophets for a little exercise.” 

Whenever our commander says “a little exercise” he says it with a sadistic bite that let’s us all know, somebody’s about to get a beating. I have to be honest, I kind of enjoyed these “exercises”.

I’ve been stationed here in this dirty place for six years now. I patrol the streets of this flea infested country and do what I can to keep peace. I haven’t seen my family or my home in forever, and with all the angry stares I wonder if I ever will again.  I have to watch my back every minute if I don’t want to find a dagger between my shoulders in some alley. 

I don’t speak Hebrew, but curses sound the same in any language. Don’t these fools know we’re here to improve their lives? If only they could see the glory of Rome and her gods, they would want to evolve out of this obsessive, intolerant religion of theirs.

So you can understand my sheer enjoyment when they bring us a piece of Hebrew flesh to butcher.  This one, they say, thinks he’s some kind of king. These Jews and their kings! What a joke. The commander speaks as they bring in the “King”

“Now men, we’re going to have a little coronation today. Just remember we have to keep this one alive because he has a full day ahead of him.” We all knew what that meant. Another stinking body hanging beside the highway. He would be crucified with the others.  

 “let’s get started.” We all had a good laugh watching the commander dress up “His majesty” in a robe and parade him around while we bowed mockingly. Then one of the Centurions made a crown  of thorns and slammed it down on his head with such force blood literally spit out in all directions. There he stood in the center of the pavement while we shouted, “Hail King of the Jews!” For the next hour or so we took turns unleashing our rage on him. He just stood there and took it. This was my chance to unload on these Hebrews and I meant to enjoy every moment of it. But I have to admit this Jew was a little different than most.

Most of the time they either fight back or they scream for mercy. I was kind of hoping he would too. But he just seemed to absorb it all. After awhile I stepped back to let some of the younger recruits get a few punches in, while I tended my knuckles. That’s when things became a little weird. I made a crucial mistake in my business. I started to feel for the guy. And I began to notice to looks on our faces, and what I could see of his.

Years ago when I was a young boy I saw a pack of wolves tear apart one of my father’s sheep. Today reminded me of that. We were a pack of wolves tearing apart an innocent sheep. This is why it’s not advisable to think too much at one of these exercises. Thinking leads to feeling and feeling makes you vulnerable. It’s best to keep up your guard or that lamb might get too close, then you’re done for.

I watched him in the midst of that pack. It was like he literally absorbed our hate for this people and their god. I found myself sinking back to the perimeter of the mob. All I could do was watch them toss him back and forth, sending his blood spattering on their faces. There wasn’t a man there who wasn’t covered in his blood.

I found it easier to stand in the back ground and join the chanting, “Hail King of the Jews!” but I found myself losing my sarcastic edge. I just kept saying it and watching him. “Hail …King…of the Jews!” Hoping this frenzy would soon end I chanted with an unexplainable sense of empathy, like I was starting the believe it. “Hail…King….”

Why was I weeping now? “Hail King…” My heart felt weak. I feared being noticed, so I made my way to an outer room. I looked down at my bloodied hands trying to understand what was happening to me. Weeping broke into a torrent of unexplainable sobs. I’ve done these “exercises” a hundred times. But this time I couldn’t escape the eerie feeling that something really terrible and powerful was happening.

Regaining my composure, I rushed back to the pavement, hoping no one saw my reddened eyes. The frenzy had stopped. The commander ripped off the mock robe and dressed him. All the soldiers stood there exhausted, some smiling, others maybe a little shaken. As they led him out I just stood in the back repeating those words, hoping no one would notice the change in my tone. “Hail King of the Jews!”

I spent the next hour cleaning up and trying to shake myself back to normal. I had been assigned to the execution in the afternoon. I tried to prepare, but nothing could prepare me for what would happen next.

Promises are easier kept around the table.

Mark 14:66-72

“And he broke down and wept.” v. 72 

Promises are easier kept around the table than before the fire. The one Yeshua had named the rock, now lay in pieces in an alley outside the courtyard. The accusing roosters scream tore into his inner ear with unrelenting mockery. There’s a kind of weeping that is so deep that it makes your whole body convulse until you vomit up burning grief from deep places you had no idea existed. Peter was discovering depths of sadness that tore his soul to shreds.

“I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me…” He had said. “One who dips his bread with me…” 

Writhing on the ground Peter felt like a serpent impaled with a spear. All he could do was relive those horrible moments.

He had been standing by the fire warming himself, not sure if he should fight or run. He knew for sure he would be arrested for assaulting that servant, so he considered going into hiding. But he was unable to move. Suspended helplessly between his concern for Jesus, and his instinct to avoid further trouble, he warmed his hands while his synapses raced for a plan. Then she approached.

She didn’t bring any accusations, just a simple statement. Why does it seem our greatest temptations come wrapped in plain brown paper, almost unnoticeable until too late? She casually mentioned, “You were with that Nazarene.”

Fearful that she would point him out as the one who assaulted the servant, he tried to protect his cover,

“No, sorry, you’ve got the wrong guy lady.”     

The Rooster crowed.

Peter reasoned to himself, “I wasn’t denying him, just my association, in case they’re looking for me.”

Not only does temptation come in plain brown paper, it finds an opening and keeps coming.

Enter the servant girl again, only this time she told all the bystanders.

“Hey this is one of the disciples of that Nazarene.”

Fearing this time they would surely report him, he denied it.

“I’m not denying him, just my association with him. I can tell them later after all this blows over.” He assured himself.      

Then another chimed in, “Hey I can tell by your accent, you’re a Galilean. I know you’re one of them!”  Temptation also plays hard on your fears, and Peter was fearful of more trouble.

“_______it! I don’t know this Nazarene you’re talking about.” He shouted.

Almost immediately the rooster cut through the night with a menacing indictment. At this all his rationalizing and reasoning fell into a million scathing pieces. Peter ran into the night, oblivious to the laughing crowd behind him.

The sound of his master’s warning couldn’t be drowned out by his convulsing heart.

“Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” Yeshua had said.

Promises are easier kept around the table than before the fire.

Satan delivered a package in brown paper and Peter received it first class.  What do you do when the promise you gave the Lord at the table, fails the test of fire?

Through the torrents of emotion Peter could only think of his dear friend, betrayed by those he had given so much to. Flashes of memory cascaded into his consciousness compounding his grief.

Every word Yeshua had spoken, every deed he had done hovered over Peter with a crushing heaviness. Glimpses of walking on water, passing out bread, and opening blind eyes hammered  him with unstoppable force.

Peter spent hours sitting in the corner of his home, arms folded around legs, rocking back and forth. “He gave me a life, and I gave him death. Oh God have mercy. His blood is on my head.”

But somewhere in the night something clicked. “Yeshua knew this would happen. He warned me. He wasn’t surprised. He knew I would falter. But he didn’t send me away.”    

That thought seemed to give him some hope, although he didn’t know why.

He knows that much of what we say at the table doesn’t make it past the door of the upper room, much less to the fire of trial. Yet he still calls us to be with him.   That’s the gospel.

Is it time to start running?

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Mark 13:14-23

“But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” v. 14

When the Devil is standing in the pulpit, it’s time to leave town. Unfortunately, we run the danger of not recognizing him when he’s standing right in front of us.

In today’s passage, Jesus is beginning to predict two things at once. His disciples have asked him about the destruction of the temple and of his return. As we said earlier, he has predicted, war, famine, earthquakes, false Christs, and the preaching of the gospel to every nation on earth. When that happens the pushback from the darkness moves into high gear. This begins with “The Abomination that causes desolation.” standing in the Temple. Quick explanation here. Jesus makes reference to Daniels prophecy (9:27) of one who come and attack the people of God, by first desecrating the temple.

As in many prophecies, there is usually an immediate and an ultimate fulfillment. In a.d. 168 Antiochus Epiphanes set up a pagan altar in the Jewish Temple. This was a time of horrible tribulation for the Jews, sparking the Maccabean revolt. That was the immediate fulfillment. But there is more to come with Daniel’s prophecy.

Jesus referred to this prophecy to say that before Christs return, one like Antiochus, but clearly much worse, would seek to oppose Christianity, in a way unlike any other in history. This ruler is referred to as the Antichrist. (2 Thess. 2:1-12, I John 4, Revelation 13) Jesus said, in effect, “when you see the Antichrist in the temple, it’s time to head for the hills, because things are about to get ugly for the people of God. You think Antiochus was bad, you aint seen nothing yet!”

How foolish it would be to see evil so clearly displayed in the house of God, and just shrug our shoulders and go on with business as usual. When the Devil is standing in the pulpit it’s time to do something. Here is the thing that frightens me. Today there is such a growing tolerance for compromise with darkness among many in the church, that I fear a time may come when we are so comfortable with the darkness of the world that we wouldn’t recognize such a person if he were standing in our pulpit on Sunday morning.

I our day of watering down the gospel to accommodate our culture, increased worldliness and materialism among God’s people, and a “don’t judge me, I can live any way I want” attitude among God’s people, how can we recognize the antichrist unless we are faithfully following Christ? Friends, even today the devil is standing in pulpits, and people are happy to listen to his message.

I write this with trembling, knowing that none of us preachers have it all together. I have no desire to slam any denomination or go witch hunting for bad preachers. My point is not to accuse but to warn us all to be on guard, as Jesus said. We must be on guard against the antichrist message pervading our culture. It’s even coming from pulpits.

Jesus said when you see the antichrist, it’s time to run. Some of us need to do that. If you are hearing a false gospel it’s time to run. You might want to head for the hills if you are hearing a gospel…

…..with no cross or resurrection.

….with no repentance of sin.

…with no salvation by grace through faith.

…with no obedience to God’s word.

…with no concern for the lost and broken world.

…with no love for God and neighbor.

…with no Jesus as Lord and Savior.

These are days in which we can no longer afford the luxury of just getting along and getting by. Jesus has called us to be his disciples, who lay down our lives for his gospel. We have to be on guard against the spirit of antichrist that is already at work among us. the best way to steer clear of the antichrist is to fully embrace the true Christ. Let us follow him wherever he goes.

Why doesn’t Jesus fix the system?

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Mark 12:41-44

“all she had to live on…” v. 44

Why doesn’t God make everything fair? Why does he seem to allow some people to skate through life in ease while others struggle? I don’t have a complete answer for you, but I do have something to think about that may shed light on it.

We’re all inspired by the story of the widow’s mite. Who hasn’t heard about this remarkable woman who gave her last cent, literally, to the temple? Jesus says that she gave more than all the wealthy donors, who gave merely a sample of their riches. This is a powerful story of what true giving is. But today this story raises an odd question for me, not about the woman, but about Jesus. Why didn’t he do something?

He was obviously moved by the faith it took for her to give out of her poverty. He said so. But why did he let her do it? He saw her put in her last penny and walk away. Why didn’t he reach into the treasury and take out a handful of cash and give it to her? Instead he let her make the sacrifice and go home penniless. Doesn’t this make you wonder? She went home without anything to show for her sacrifice. In fact she may have never known that Jesus saw her. As far as she knew it was just another day to give what she had to the Lord.

What happened to her next? What was her name? How old was she? How long did she live? We don’t know any of these things. But as I said, the greatest question for me is, why didn’t Jesus stop her from giving all she had? Why didn’t he go up to some of those rich folks and demand that they give her some of their wealth?

Why didn’t he start some kind of program that required the wealthy to give her help out of their riches? Why not tell this woman that she wasn’t allowed to give because she clearly was not capable of making better financial decisions? Why didn’t he let her off the hook and tell her she didn’t have to give, because she was too poor?

At the very least he could have made cash appear in her purse supernaturally. Didn’t he care about this poor woman? Couldn’t the man who had cleared the temple, just days earlier, have done something to even out this unfair system that allows the rich to give leftovers while the poor give all they have? I have some thoughts to consider.

Perhaps one reason had to do with preserving her dignity. It could be that Jesus was more concerned with who this woman was than with what she had. He allowed her the privilege of voluntarily making a sacrifice for her God and trusting him to meet her needs. Sometimes God shows his love for us best by not fixing things, but allowing us the dignity and freedom to walk through them by faith.

Maybe it had something to do with allowing her to take responsibility for her own life and for the faith community she was involved in. Perhaps he knew that to take away a person’s right to be responsible beyond themselves, even at great personal cost, was a greater crime than economic unfairness. Even the needy have a responsibility, and should be allowed to fulfill it as they are able.

Or it could have been his desire to grant her power. She exercised great power in that moment. We can only imagine her thoughts as she dropped those tiny coins into the treasury. But it must have been a bit empowering for her to see that she was not completely helpless. She had the power to do something, no matter how small. The alternative would have been to make her feel helpless and useless in her community.

Then again, it could have been that he wanted to honor her faith, by allowing her to express it freely. When you take away a person’s ability to believe, and act on that belief you tear out a piece of their soul. I have no doubt that after this event the Lord honored her great faith and somehow provided for her. God always honors faith. I’m so glad Jesus allowed her to use it.

So what does this all mean for us? You tell me. What does it mean that our Lord will allow us the freedom to struggle, sacrifice, give, and live by faith? What does it mean that he allows, and even expects all of us to be responsible for how we live out our faith? What does it mean that he will even allow things to be unfair at times, but still expects us to live by obedient faith?

What does this tell us about how to treat the poor? The rich?

How do we minister to least of these without destroying their dignity and sense of responsibility in the process?

How do we challenge the wealthy without demonizing them?

What about faith? sacrifice? Do the same rules apply to everyone?

What does all this mean for our ministries and mission trips?

I’m gonna leave you hanging at this point, because I respect your ability to come to your own conclusions and live out your faith accordingly. Have a great day.

Unholy holiness

Mark 12:35-40

“Beware of the scribes…” v. 38

There is a kind of holiness that is repulsive to God, in fact it only appears holy until you go beyond outward appearances. We see a hint of it here in Jesus warning about the scribes. Is it possible to be so right, you’re wrong? From Jesus warning about the scribes it would appear so.

First, who were the scribes? In Jesus day, they were the Bible scholars. They would study and interpret the law for Israel. If you wanted an answer to a Bible question, or wanted to know what certain laws meant, you would ask a scribe. The equivalent in our day, professionally speaking, would be a theologian or a Bible professor, or perhaps a teaching pastor. The people of Israel had a high view of scripture and it’s teachings. They would fit in nicely in a church that views the Bible as a source of authority. But there was a problem with the scribes, that gave Jesus reason to say, “Beware.” “Watch out!” “Don’t go there.” In today’s passage we see three criticisms Jesus makes of these men, who had become so Biblical they were unbiblical. They were so holy they were becoming unholy, so righteous they were unrighteous. It happened to them and it can happen to us.

  1. They know about God, but don’t know God. In verses 35-37 Jesus points out that the scribes call Jesus the Son of David, being his descendant, which is actually true, but refuse to call him Lord, which David called him, in the Psalms. So they are all about David being the ancestor of the messiah, but ignore what David said about him, before Jesus was even born. The scribes had God all figured out, on the surface. Even today it is possible to be so devoted to your ideas about God, biblical though they may be, that you never experience more of God than you know right now. For some people God is no larger than a set of doctrines. At best this limits your experience of God. At worst it becomes idolatry. Do you spend too much time arguing for a particular doctrine? Are you more known for your opinions about God than your service to him?
  2. They use God rather than being used by God. Second, Jesus warned of the scribes, who love the privilege of being treated with honor by others. In other words they love being scribes because of what they get out of it personally in terms of popularity and prestige. For the scribes, it was all about the show. I love ministry. I love praying with people. I love preaching. I even love being known as a minister of the gospel. But herein lies the danger. I can be so caught up in what I get out of ministry that I love it more than I love people, or God. When I find myself clutching on to my position or privileges, or protecting “MY ministry” I know I need to head back to the prayer closet and get some perspective. I don’t want to use God. I want God to use me. What about you?
  3. Then they use their religious activities to cover up wicked deeds. They would kick a poor widow out of her home, for some contrived legal reason, then as she was being put out on the street, they would stand and say long beautiful prayers to appear concerned for her. Jesus said, “They will receive the greater condemnation.” There is a kind of pride that is very subtle as Christians grow, and start doing ministry. It’s the kind of pride that says, “I’m a servant of God, so I can indulge myself in ways, others cannot.” This is repulsive. The minster who thinks his years in service give him license to entertain sin is in for a rude awakening some day. The Christian who mistreats people all week long, who does crooked business, or acts deceitfully, then comes to church, lifting up hands in worship, singing, ” I surrender all ” is no better than the scribes, who destroy people then hide behind long prayers. Nothing I do inside the church can hide what I am outside the church for long.

Jesus warned us to beware of the scribes. We must beware of people who are so right, they’re wrong, so good they’re bad, so Biblical, they’re unbiblical. We need to watch out for the scribes out there, lest they mislead us into thinking that being a Christian is all about appearances. But more important than watching out for the scribes out there, is the need to watch out for the scribe that lurks inside all of us. We all have the tendency to limit God to our ideas, to use God for our own self promotion, and to use our faith to cover up what we do in the dark. We all must come to the cross each day and ask our Lord to help us keep it real. Watch out for the scribes today.