Mom Quandaries — How to Make Confident Choices

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I tell you, from the moment you become a mom, your head starts to spin.  All of a sudden you are faced with all of these critical choices.  Do you breastfeed?  For how long?  What if it doesn’t work?  Do you have your baby sleep in the same room or bed as you?  Do you let them cry?  Do you use cloth or disposable diapers?  Do you spend the extra money to go organic?  What do you do when your child gets older and hits, throws a tantrum, bites or screams?  How and when do you discipline them?

The thing is, you’re so caught up in a whirlwind of chores, childcare and exhaustion that you can’t even think straight to know how to make these choices!

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You think that it will get better when they get older, but then your mind is reeling from trying to keep up with all of the activities, and the clutter, and the piles of paper that accumulate every time you turn your back.  You’re trying to decide what kind of schooling your children should have, and how to keep them from fighting, and how to get them to do chores, and what to do when other kids are mean to them.

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img_00101-e1519397025274.jpgAnd you’re sure you will get relief when they’re teenagers, but somehow there’s even less time.  And there are even more difficult decisions.  When can they start dating?  How do you prepare them for college?  What do you do about bad influences?  How much do you control where they go?  When should their curfew be?  When can they drive?  Who can be in the car with them?  Will you be the world’s strictest mom, or the person they can talk to?

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As moms, our life is a quagmire of Mom Quandaries.  It’s up to us to make the right choices so our children will grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted, responsible, successful and have faith.  It’s too much!  In fact, each choice feels like too much because we feel the weight of our child’s future on our shoulders.

So moms, I giving you the advice that I would give to my 20 something self as I picture her sitting in a disheveled house, surrounded by rowdy kids, and feeling completely inadequate to determine what to do.

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I would give her these verses:

“Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” (Prov. 16:3)

“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”  (Prov. 3:6)

Sister moms, God has our back!  I can’t state it strongly enough. If we will continue to commit our lives to him, HE will work with the choices we make and help things go well.

Our stress comes because we can’t believe this.  It’s too scary.  There’s too much at stake.  So our decisions become too much about us, and not enough about God.  We put enormous pressure on ourselves to make the right choice.  We act like it’s all up to us.  Because when it comes to our children, we have to stay in control.  We can’t leave things up to chance.

This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD.”  Jeremiah 17:5

We really, really need God to be a big part of raising our children.  And because it’s so hard for us moms to let go, my next piece of advice is to pray, pray, pray!

“But I don’t have any time,” you say.  “My children get up at the crack of dawn.”

I remember one time when I was at the end of my rope.  My youngest daughter was a baby, and she wasn’t gaining weight.  I was so worried and afraid.  She cried all day, and my days were this crazy blur of trying to take care of her and trying to stay on top of my other two toddlers.  I finally got up one morning at 4 AM, and just prayed, and kept praying until I could finally trust God.  Yes, I was exhausted for the rest of the day, but I had a peace that was worth it.

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And that is what we need, as moms.  I know, this blog is supposed to be about making decisions, and Mom Quandaries.  What I am saying is that you can’t make good decisions unless you find a way to truly give it to God.

Next, you need to seek wisdom from the scriptures.  When I had that third baby, I remember how I would finally get all of the children to sleep at night, and then, instead of just collapsing, I would read the Bible like a starving person, looking for that thing that would click and give me some kind of hope or strength to keep me going.  I always found it.

And then I wrote it down.  I kept a list of “life-saving” scriptures.  I would read them whenever I needed to keep my sanity.

Moms, this is so vital.  We need truths that will ground us, so we can make decisions from a good foundation.  “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.” (II Tim 3:16 NLT)

These truths tell us the core principles of a life that really works, not a treadmill kind of existence.   They remind us that if we do all kinds of great things, but forget to love, it is worthless (I Cor 13); that we actually need to lose our life to save our life (Luke 9); that we have to guard against putting our children ahead of God.  (Luke 14:26)

These truths also keep us from giving way to fear.

Fear plays such a huge part in decision making for moms.  You know, we didn’t used to be Nervous Nellies.  We were willing to try all kinds of stuff without thinking of the consequences.

But now, as moms, we see the peril in every situation.   We see the accidents waiting to happen.  We see the health concerns.  We see the bad influences.   We see the potential for our children to go in the wrong direction and ruin their whole lives!  (Yes, we are drama queens.)

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Fear is why we have a hard time making decisions.  So here is the sum of my advice to moms about decision making:  you have to make a decision out of faith, not fear.

“You are [Sarah’s]  daughters if you do what is right and refuse to quiver in fear.”  (I Peter 3:6)

You have to make a decision out of faith that God is with you, and he is good, and you can rely on that goodness.  And then you need to hold tightly to your faith.  Because there will be times when it will seem like it’s all falling apart and your child is hurdling towards a chasm of danger.  At that point, everything in you will scream that you need to take matters into your own hands.

And maybe there is something you need to do.  But don’t ever let go of God’s hand.  Don’t ever stop having faith that he is with you, working on your child’s behalf.  Don’t be tempted to think that if you can just make the right decisions, you’ll keep your children safe.  Because our faith isn’t in our decisions, it is in God.

When I was raising my children, I thought I could figure it all out, and do everything right, and my kids would turn out great.  So I gave my life to God, taught my kids all about him, got them involved in the church, and helped them have good friends and activities.

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But they still had some majorly scary bumps.  It was a very low time.

Here is the verse that sustained me,  “My grace is sufficient for you.”  (II Cor 12:9)  I realized that I couldn’t figure everything out, but that his grace was enough to get me through, one day at a time.

The best decision you can make is to trust God, each day, that he will give you exactly what you need to raise your children for that day.  He may not show you how to fix everything for the rest of their lives.  But he will provide the direction, wisdom and intervention you need for the day.  Just like he gave the Israelites manna in the desert, which was only enough for the day, he will give you your daily bread.

In conclusion, the goal of this blog is to help you look to God in decision making, and not get stuck in all of the pressures and fears.  But I do want to offer you some practical nuts and bolts as well.  Let me leave you with a few things that may help as you face your maternal dilemmas.

  1. Articulate clearly what your options are. Write down the pros and cons.
  2. Articulate your core values. It’s easier to make a decision when you’re clear on what is important to you.  Weigh your pros and cons accordingly.
  3. Determine your long term goals. It’s helpful to see where you are aiming.  Then you can determine which steps would best get you there.
  4. Count the cost. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?”  (Luke 14:8) This verse has to do with following Jesus, but it’s still a good principle.  Look at what your decision will require of you, and decide if you can realistically give what is needed.  When you do this, be honest with yourself about your weaknesses.  Our emotions have us wanting to do all kinds of wonderful sounding things, but when we act on them, we’re like, “What was I thinking?” For instance, when I had my first child, I loved having a baby so much I thought it would be great to get pregnant again right away.  Boy, did I not count the cost!  It was very hard.
  5. Ask, “What would I regret the most?” Often, what helps me make a decision is asking myself which path I would wish I would have taken.
  6. Ask for advice.Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”  (Proverbs 15:22.) There’s such pressure these days to figure it out on your own.  But God says it’s good to get all kinds of input.   I don’t know how I would have raised my children without the wisdom of older, godly women.  But here’s what’s funny to me.  I just watched this documentary on new moms in China.  They go stay at a mom hotel for a month and pay someone to come help them with the baby.  The tradition is to have their mother in law help, but, as one mom explained, “times are different.”  They don’t want the old school voice of experience.  They want the current “expert.”  Are you like that?  Will you listen to the voice of experience, or are you only interested in the current experts?  We tend to mistrust authority and the old ways.  But God decreed that the older women are to teach the younger ones.  (Titus 2:3-4)
  7. Determine the spiritual impact. How will this choice affect your walk with God?  Will it make it harder for you to have time for personal devotionals or church attendance?  Resolve to act on your belief that if you seek the kingdom first, everything else will be given to you as well. (Matt 6:33)
  8. Keep it in perspective. Is it really so important?  Is it the hill you want to die on?  I know one woman who was determined to breast feed her baby.  Nursing didn’t work for her, but she could pump.  Yet the pumping took so much of her time, and she kept with it for so many weeks, that it really did a number on her sanity and her marriage.  We get in that kind of crazy zone when we’re moms.    We need perspective to get out of it.
  9. Make your best decision and move forwardDon’t obsess. Don’t dither.  We keep trying to make the perfect decision.  So we make no decision.  We don’t need to be rash, but we do need to push through and act, and then trust God that he will make our path straight.
  10. Fast. “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2) Fasting can give you spiritual clarity and move your heart to trust more.

As I look back at my mind-muddled self of 30 years ago, I want to tell her the same thing that I want to tell you:  be more at peace.  Love God, and trust him, and teach your children to do the same.  That is the really important choice, not the stuff you’re stressing over.   

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I think of King Solomon, who was said to be the wisest man.  He went after wealth, knowledge and accomplishments and gained them all.  His conclusion about them was, “Everything is meaningless,”  and that whole duty of man is to “fear God and keep his commandments.” (Ecc 1:2)  The sad thing was that Solomon didn’t hold to this wisdom.  “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God.”  (I Kings 11:4a)  The really sad thing was that his offspring paid the price.  As a consequence, God took the kingdom away from his son, Rehoboam.  (II Kings 11:11-12)

Sister moms, let us resolve to never stop looking to God.  That is what our children really need.

Yes, fight for your children every day.  But then take a deep breath, put your hand in Jesus’s hand, and walk forward with assurance.  Our days of mothering may seem crazy, and the Mom Quandaries may seem impossible, but His grace will always be sufficient.

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”  (II Chronicles 20:12)

“Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” ( Ps 143:8b)

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Mom Guilt, and What Will Help

Mom Guilt.  I had my struggles with it when I raised my kids,

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But it seems to have hit today’s generation especially hard.

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Celeste's family

When I surveyed my friends on Facebook about their Mom Guilt, the answers poured in.

“Oh man what do I not feel guilty about? There is so much contradicting advice to new mothers.  No matter how I do something it is easy to feel as if it is the wrong way.”

“I feel guilty during sleep training, when my baby cries for more than 5 min. I also feel guilty that I seem to struggle with finding a balance between taking care of her, meeting my family’s needs and school work/career.”

“I feel guilty about talents or strengths that I saw in my children that I did not nurture enough, or weaknesses that I did not discipline and help them overcome.”

“I feel guilty for overreacting, and for not playing with them every time they ask me to.”

Can you identify?  But what to do?  Dealing with Mom Guilt is like trying to get chewing gum off of the bottom of your shoe.  The more you try, the stickier it gets.

Our Mom Guilt is complicated.  But I’ve learned some things that will help, and I want to share them.

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LEGITIMATE GUILT V.S. ILLEGITIMATE GUILT

First of all, we need to figure out is whether our guilt is legitimate guilt or illegitimate guilt.  We’re plagued with remorse, but a lot of times we don’t need to be. I’m telling you, Satan has a field day with moms!  Just like the Bible says in John 8:44, lies are the devil’s native language.  Just like the Hebrew translation of his name, Satan is “the accuser.”  He whispers to us that we’re messing up, that we should do more, that other moms are better moms, that we’re damaging our children.

So how do we tell if our guilt is illegitimate?   We start by being honest with ourselves that we’re feeling guilty, and specify exactly what we’re feeling guilty about.  We have to see clearly what we’re dealing with.

That’s the easy part.  The hard part is seeing clearly whether the thing we did was wrong or not.

To address that, I’m going to recommend that you start praying about your guilt, “Father God, show me if it is true that I should have done better in this situation.” I’m also going to recommend that you ask for input from a trusted friend or family member.  Sometimes they can see more clearly than we can.  Plus, it feels good to talk about it with someone!

We can also tell if our guilt is illegitimate by looking at our motivations.  Does it stem from trying to please others?  From trying to live up to what they do?  Does it stem from trying to please ourselves?    You know, I think some of us are harder on ourselves than God is!

Here’s a verse that has helped me many a time, “Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.” (John 7:18)

If we seek anything other than the glory of God, it’s going to trip us up.  But seeking to please God is an absolutely pure motivation.  It feels so good to say, “God, you are completely awesome.  I want my life to be praise for you, and that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.  It’s not so others will think I’m a great mom.  It’s not so I can pat myself on the back.   It’s so you will smile at me.  It’s so I can live out my love for you.”

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A huge source of illegitimate guilt is having unrealistic expectations.  One mom told me that she feels guilty anytime she goes against the “norm” of what motherhood says is acceptable, like when she chose formula over breastfeeding.  There are so many norms these days. We’re besieged by images of a mom should be.  In my day, we thought we needed to be supermom.  Now it’s like moms are supposed to have evolved through the increase in information to be the best moms in history!  There’s this constant message, “You should do this.  You should do that.  Should, should, should, should, should….”

Ack!  Here’s the verse that has saved my sanity,  “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12:3)

We have to quit thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought!  We need to have sober judgement and realize that we don’t have the ability, or the capability, to do everything we think we should do.

Let’s look at this a little more.  First of all, let’s look at our abilities.  Each of us has unique strengths and weaknesses.  Why is it, then, that when we become a mom we think we’re supposed to be good at everything?  I love the reminder of I Corinthians 12, “If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. . . In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary.”  This passage makes it plain that we each have something that we’re good at, and that is vitally important.  It also reminds us to not feel shame for not being able to excel at what someone else can do well.

Here’s an example.  I have a friend who suffers from mega guilt because she is often late.  Now I’m not saying that she shouldn’t work on being on time.  But I love that she is one of the few people I know who is good at being present.  She’s not always anxious about the next thing she needs to do.  She gives each person her full attention.  You feel important when you’re with her.  This is an awesome strength!

You have awesome strengths too, but they may come with a weakness you don’t like.

But speaking of time management, let’s talk about our capabilities.  We all have our schedule demands, so even if we do have the ability to do something, we may not have the time to do it.  In addition, we each have differing energy levels and health situations.  Some of us do better with nine hours of sleep, and some of us are wide awake after six hours.  Some of us can keep going all day and through the evening, and others of us are completely pooped by lunch time.  Be honest with yourself.  What can you realistically expect out of yourself?  I’m not giving you a license to be lazy.  But don’t allow yourself to feel guilty if you’re not wired to be Miss Energizer Bunny.  Don’t tell God that you should have been created differently, or be in a different situation.

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LEGITIMATE GUILT

Now that we’ve dispelled some of our illegitimate guilt, let’s talk about legitimate guilt.  Legitimate guilt comes from not doing the important things that you have the ability and capability to do.  But what is important?  We can think of twenty things that seem vital and necessary. I mean, this is our children we’re talking about.  How can it not be super important to see to their health, their education, their character development, and their need to be loved?

We have to make time periodically to reevaluate.  We have to prioritize. 

And God has to come first.

Here is one of my favorite verses, because it’s such a good reminder for me,  “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat– for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Ps 127:1-2)

Moms, if you’re not putting God first, all of the efforts you are putting into parenting can be in vain.  Putting God first means making time for personal devotion and church attendance.  It means obeying the Bible and teaching your children to do the same.

It’s the same principle as Matthew 6:33.  Seeking the kingdom first helps everything else to work out.  If you feel guilty because you’re letting other things in life crowd out God, this is legitimate.  It’s the important thing you need to address over the urgent demands.

The next priority is your marriage.   You made a covenant with him that is holy in God’s eyes.  You vowed to cherish him.

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So how is it that your husband got moved to the back burner?

I’m going to pass on to you what was stressed over and over to me: your husband comes before your children.  Yes, I know that your children’s needs are more immediate.  But God designated you to be your husband’s helper. (Genesis 2:18) That doesn’t mean to be his little wife slave.  It means you are in a singular position to support him, believe in him and build him up. What you say and do affects him more than the words and actions of anyone else on earth.

That is why God commands us to respect our husbands.  (Eph 5:33) They need our positive reinforcement, even if they don’t ask for it.  They need to feel like they are important to us.  And they’re not going to feel this if we don’t treat them like they are worthy of our time.

So if you feel guilty because you’re not making time for your husband, or not meeting his needs, you have legitimate guilt.  Be intentional.  Schedule them in.  Try to drop what you’re doing when they desire your attention.  I’m telling you, with the strongest conviction of 37 years of marriage, that it’s worth it.

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And THEN, you can decide what you can do for your children.  Top the list with spending time with your them.  In almost every statement about Mom Guilt, women wrote that they wished they spent more time with their children.  One mom lamented, “I think the biggest thing I feel guilty about is lost opportunities. When I realize that the day has slipped away and I didn’t spend my time the way I intended to, or when the months and years slip away and I don’t have as much to show for the time (in terms of relationship building with my children, character training, homeschooling, etc.) as I had hoped.”

So this is something we want to consciously work on.  Again, we need to have realistic expectations.  We often can’t spend as much time as we’d like to.  But knowing that we are making this a priority will go a long way towards assuaging Mom Guilt.

Make a list, in order of priority, of the other things you would like to do for your children (and for your life, that’s a whole other subject).  Decide what you can do, and resist the temptation to try to do more than that.

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ONE MORE THING — IMPATIENCE

The second highest source of guilt for the moms I surveyed was their loss of patience.  One mom shared, “I feel guilty constantly but what makes me feel the most guilty is when I sin in front of my kids (for example yell at them).”

On one hand this is legitimate guilt.  It’s our responsibility to work on our self-control. We can’t place the blame for the lack of it on the behavior of others.  We can’t excuse it by saying we’ve had a bad day, or that our PMS is making us crazy.  Jesus said,  “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come.”  (Mark 7:21)  Maybe we don’t have evil thoughts, but we do need to work on our heart.

On the other hand, we need to remember that God is gentle and kind with us, so we need to be gentle and kind with ourselves.  I love that the fruits of the Spirit include goodness, gentleness and kindness. (Gal. 5:20-21) That means those are characteristics of God.  And it’s comforting that Isaiah 40:11 says, “He gently leads those that have young.”

So if you do or say something you regret, apologize (even to your child).  And then let it go.  Don’t let Satan use the guilt to open your ears to his lies. It might be true that you lost your temper.  But it’s probably not true that you are a terrible mother and you are ruining your child.

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CONCLUSION — LEARNING TO BE CONTENT

In conclusion, all of this is easy to say, and sooooo hard to do!  Because Mom Guilt is complicated.

Do you know what one of the biggest things is that I still can struggle with Mom Guilt about?  It’s that I didn’t give my youngest daughter better opportunities in extracurricular activities.

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I had two older children, and their sports travel teams took up most of our time.  So I sometimes put my youngest daughter in activities that were easy on the schedule.  I wish I had put her in the harp lessons across town, like she wanted at one time, or more advanced dance lessons.

As I reflect on this, I realize that it’s kind of an irrational guilt.  On one hand, I know I was trying really hard to juggle a lot of things.  But on the other hand, my daughter means the world to me, and I wanted to give her the best.

And that is why I think we have so much Mom Guilt.  We want to give our children the best, and we feel bad when we don’t, no matter what our abilities or our capabilities are.

When is all said and done, we have to realize that we’re never going to parent perfectly.  Yes, we need to strive to do what is most important.  But if we’re making an effort to do that, we also need to give ourselves a break.  We’re good moms!   We’re loving our children.  We’re making a lot of good parenting choices.

One of the hardest thing about being a mom is having the ability to be content.  This passage speaks to our struggle so well, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  Phil 4:12-13

We always hear the last part of this verse about being able to do all things through Christ who strengthens us. But do we remember that it is referring to contentment?

It takes a lot of strength to be able to be content, and we have to fight for it.  Just like we need learn to be content with what we have, instead of wishing for what we can’t have, we need to learn to be content with what we can do, instead of wishing to do more.

In material things, the Bible says that food and drink are all we need to be content.  “But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”  (I Timothy 6:8)

In parenting, I’m going to say that putting God first and actively loving our children are all we need to do to be content and free from guilt.  When I started raising my children, I had loads of Mom Guilt.  But over the years, I learned to make these two things a priority.  I came to have much more peace.  I didn’t do them perfectly.  But having the confidence that I was doing what was most important made a huge difference in my sense of well being.

Mom Guilt. We all struggle with it.  But it doesn’t have to dominate, or dictate our lives.  Let’s fight for the joy of motherhood, with which we have been blessed!

Let’s put these into practice:

  1. Ask yourself, “What specifically am I feeling guilty about?”
  2. Pray, “God, should I feel guilty about this?”
  3. Ask someone you trust, “Should I feel guilty about this?”
  4. Look at your motivations. Who are you trying to please?  Seek only to please God.
  5. Ask yourself if you have realistic expectations, according to your abilities and capabilities.
  6. Determine what is most important, and make sure you are taking steps to do it.
  7. Reevaluate and prioritize on a periodic basis.
  8. Be kind and gentle with yourself.
  9. Pray to have the strength to be content with what you can do.

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“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed–or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:41-42

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Wrestling with Religious Division

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When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them.  Mark 9:14

I have to admit, the political climate right now is driving me crazy.  I cringe when I look at the headlines, like I’m opening a container of moldy leftovers.

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Yeech!  But the main thing that is driving me crazy is the rabid discord.  It makes my heart sad to see people hating on each other.

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And then I think, “Surely, we as Christians should be different.”

Yet often we are not.  That’s why I wanted to explore this verse, which is a part of the story that I discussed in my last blog.  It concerns something that is much on my heart — our tendency to be contentious about religious matters.

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Whenever I read how the teachers of the law opposed Jesus, I want to shake them and say, “Don’t you get it?  This is the Messiah that you’ve been waiting for!”  I have such a strong desire for people to overcome their biases and LISTEN, for them to live in harmony and be unified, just like Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one.” (John 17:21)

But it is the nature of man to dispute.  And just like this wrangling broke out when Jesus was away, the tendency to dispute is amplified when people get in a place where they don’t see Jesus and his power and wisdom.

I wrestle so much with the religious division I see today.

I could go on and on about it, but one of the main things I want to say is that we need to have convictions, but we also need to be humble.  We need to remain open, listen to others, and not think we have it all figured out.

I’ve been reading a totally mind blowing book about people throughout history who were martyred for holding to what they believed the Bible said.  I can’t help but be inspired by them.

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Yet at the same time I get turned off when I see churches split because one group thinks they need to follow the Bible more stringently.

What to do? Should we be more rigid or more tolerant?

I believe the answer is to be like Jesus, to be  “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Like Jesus, we need to have strong commitment to live by the truth.  When Jesus faced temptation, he answered it with scripture, and said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4)  All of his actions were righteous.  He maintained, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.  The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”  (John 8:28b-29)

But we also need to remember that Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'”  (Matt 9:13) 

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We need to remember that Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  He didn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery.  He told his disciples to accept those who were not part of their group and yet performed miracles in his name, “For the one who is not against us is for us.”  (Mark 9:40)

Again, we need to make it our top priority to fulfill the most important commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'”  (Mark 12:30)  A top priority should also be to help others do the same, “teaching them to obey everything.”   (Matt 28:20)

Yet we can never be self righteous.  Jesus related that the tax collector who stood at a distance and prayed, “Have mercy on me, a sinner” was justified, not the Pharisee who was proud of how he kept the law.  (Luke 18:13)  We so badly want to feel superior and tell someone that they aren’t committed enough if their commitment doesn’t look like ours.  But we need to be careful.  There is always someone more committed — someone who has given away all their material possessions, someone who is devoted to service, someone who is saving souls right and left.

Instead, we need to practice Romans 14:1, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.”  There is a place for the sister who is committed, but weak.  Encourage her, and give space for her to grow and for God to work. (Phil 1:6, Romans 14:4)

Timothy summed this all up so well.  He started by saying in II Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” and then went on to pronounce:

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Going back to today’s reading, what did Jesus do when he was faced with religious disputing?   You know, you would think that when Jesus appeared, he would have waded in the argument and set the teachers of the law straight.  Instead, it seems like he got onto the apostles for not being able to heal the boy, “You unbelieving generation. How long must I put up with you?” (Mark 9:19)

I think this shows us that Jesus expects that our focus should be solely on God.  He was looking for faith, the vertical relationship.  But his apostles ended up getting tangled in horizontal interactions.   How would it have been different if they had looked to God when things didn’t go as planned?  What if they had said, “Hmmm, this didn’t work, so let’s pray more and seek the Lord about this?”

I say this because I can relate.  I’m trying to remember to look to God.  But often, when things are challenging, I start reaching for any safety strap I can find.  I get bent out of shape.  It goes better when I think, “Wow, this is tough.  What’s going on, God?  What do I need to learn?  What do I need to do differently?  How can I trust?”

So let’s sum this all up.  What can you do if you are faced with a difference of opinion regarding a religious matter?

  1. Take time to take the matter before the Lord in careful prayer.
  2. Be humble.  Listen and try to understand the other person’s position.  Don’t be self righteous.
  3. Look to your own righteousness before God.  Do you have a log in your eye that you need to remove before you address the speck from someone else’s eye?
  4. Decide if the scriptures are clear cut on the issue.  It is a disputable matter or a salvation issue?  Does it regard a sin a person needs to repent of immediately, or is it an area in which they need to grow?
  5. If you do have a clear scriptural principle to defend, stand up for it!  But do so without quarreling.  Be respectful.  Treat others as you would want to be treated.

May our dream be, as Christ’s was, that we all may be unified!!  “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”  (Ps 133:1)

I think it is totally good and pleasant in our church!  I love that we are like family.  Here are a few recent pictures.

Singles at church

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Me with Elena and Edie

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Alicia and Travis

But we’ve had to work for our unity.

Some say that unity will only happen when everyone lives by the scriptures.

But I say that unity will only happen when we obey the scriptures, pray for wisdom, and have open honest discussions in respect and humility.

Discussion is vital.  And that means that Satan would like to cut off all discussion, or make it unproductive.

The great tragedy is that he often succeeds.

The great victory is that we can vanquish him by living in truth and grace.

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The Best Resolution for the New Year

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them.  As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech.  Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”  Mark 9:14-19

As I face 2018, I confess that I am in a bit of a funk.

I had the most wonderful Christmas.  The highlight of it was that my son and daughter in law surprised me and showed up at my door Christmas Eve.  I didn’t think that I would be able to see them.  But they came, and my whole family got to be together for the holiday.  I was beyond ecstatic.  Here are a few scenes —

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My husband and son grilling Christmas steaks.

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But now I feel like my grandson after we took him to a the small town of Valley’s Christmas celebration.  He rode the merry go round.  He saw Santa.  He slid down the slide bunches of times, and jumped in several bouncy houses.

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But when it was time to go, he got an attitude and kicked the ground.

He wanted to do more.

I want more — more time with my children, more ways for God to work.  I know it’s ungrateful, and I am so awed and thankful for the many things God has done.

But now I am facing the year ahead with a feeling of insufficiency.  There are things my heart is looking for in the new year that I feel totally inadequate to help bring about.

Today’s reading is perfect for this, because it gives me my answer.   The disciples were also feeling totally inadequate.  They couldn’t heal the boy.  I didn’t include the scriptures for whole story, but Jesus did drive out the evil spirit from the boy, and at the end, when his disciples asked him why they couldn’t drive it out, he said, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” (Mark 9:29)

This year, things will only be accomplished by prayer.  This doesn’t just mean intense prayer, or prolonged prayer, although these are good.  But Jesus healed the boy in an instant, not with many words.

His disciples were stymied, because they had previously been able to drive out many evil spirits.  (Mark 6:13)  So there was something they were missing here, and Jesus said the missing ingredient was prayer, but not just any prayer.  It had to be the kind of prayer that was deep and daily, the kind that would bring them into a more faithful and powerful relationship with God.

That is what we need: deep and daily prayer.

We need to pray with listening ears, so that God will give us wonderful sustaining insights. “I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.”  (Ps 16:7)

We need to pray so that our faith is strengthened, by putting our requests before God and waiting in thankful expectation.  (Ps 5:3, Phil 4:6)

We need to pray so that we will remain in Christ, close to his power, just as he remained close to God.   “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  John 15:7

And much more.  What are the ways you will deepen your prayer life in 2018?

There are daunting things we will face in the coming year.  Will we be an unbelieving generation?  Or will we be able to face them with a strong faithful relationship with God?

“This kind can only come out with prayer.”  That’s the only way we can face the challenges to come.  That’s the only way to deal with our feelings of insufficiency.  That’s the New Year’s resolution we need.

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Repentance Brings Restoration

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Recently, I had the best time celebrating the graduation of my son and of my daughter in law.  They were both awarded their master’s degree in Nursing Anesthesia.

IMG_1010I am so proud of them, because I know some of what was behind these degrees.  I remember the days when my son was young, and hated schoolwork.  I think of how he had to do extra work to get in to the college he wanted to attend, and how he ultimately made the decision to switch from music to nursing, and rose to the top of his class.  I think of how difficult it was for him to go back to square one of not knowing anything and learn a new specialization, after being a respected ICU nurse.  Then recently, I know it was hard for him and my daughter in law to be newly married and have to be separated for all kinds of clinical rotations in all kinds of locations.

But they pushed through and made it.  And now they have great careers ahead of them.

There’s a life lesson in this.  We want the gain.  But are we willing to go through the pain?

Today’s reading speaks to this question in an amazing way.  Check it out —

And they asked him , “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”  Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?  But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” Mark 9:11-13

There are all kinds of cool things to discover about this passage.

First, let’s look at what the teachers of the law were talking about when they said that Elijah had to come before the Messiah would appear. They were referring to Malachi 4:5, “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.”   This is the last thing written in the Old Testament.  It places readers on the edge of their seats, anticipating the Lord’s coming.

Second, how would Elijah come?  In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel prophesied about John the Baptist, “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah.”  (Luke 1:17)  Elijah came as John the Baptist.   John wasn’t the physical embodiment of Elijah (John 1:21), but he had the spirit and power of Elijah.

Third, looking more deeply at these two verses gives us insight into what the coming of Elijah/John the Baptist would be.  Malachi 4:5 is followed by, “He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”  Luke 1:17 goes on to say, “He will change parents’ attitudes toward their children. He will change disobedient people so that they will accept the wisdom of those who have God’s approval. In this way he will prepare the people for their Lord.” (GWT)

The job of John the Baptist was to help people repent.  Then they would be prepared for Jesus to come, and ultimately, be in line for the final judgement.

I totally love how Jesus worded this: “Elijah does come first and restores all things.”

How wonderful it is that John the Baptist came to restore!  Through preaching repentance, he came to get people back the close relationship with God they were created to have.

For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.  I Peter 2:25 

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We long for this restoration, to be right with the Lord, to be safe and comforted in his arms.  And we can have this now on earth.

But we will have it infinitely more in heaven.  Jesus went on to say, “Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?”  You see, Jesus was talking about a progression of restoration.  First, Elijah would come, and people would repent.  Then, the Messiah would come, and he would suffer, die and be resurrected.  This would open the way for men to have their home with God forever.

Here’s the coolest thing — look how Peter’s words in Acts 3:19-21 sum this all up:  “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. For he must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets.” Acts 3:19-21

Repentance brings restoration.  It’s the path to the achievement of God’s will.  On a personal level, it’s the path to the things we need and want.

The question is, will we go through the pain to get the gain?

repentanceThis is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”  Isa 30:15

During the holidays, my heart’s desire was to have a wonderful Christmas with my family.  But I had to constantly work at repentance for this to happen.  I had to keep denying my worry, anxiety, anger, grumpiness, fear, and especially, pride of thinking that things had to go a certain way.  I had to decide, over and over again, to trust God more completely, and find delight in pleasing him.

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Sometimes it was the small stuff.  I remember one morning before Christmas I woke up and saw that Ken had been eating the cookies I had baked the day before.  It had taken a lot of energy to get the cookie making together, and ride herd over my rowdy grandkids to roll and cut out shapes, and then decorate them.  I felt like the cookies had to last all through Christmas.  I was so grumpy!

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I had to wrestle to be righteous.  Isn’t it funny?  It takes work to have a happy life.  And it’s the same thing in other areas.  It takes work to have a good marriage.  It takes work to have a functional family.  Like my son and daughter in law, it takes work to have a good career.

John the Baptist gave us the key.  We need to do the work of repentance.  This will bring us to the things we long for.

Yet we will still have tragedy.  After all, John the Baptist was executed.  Jesus alluded to this in the reading, “Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished.”

That is why the promise of a final restoration is so important.  That is why we continue to repent, even if we don’t see the fruit of it.  Being completely with God will be so incredible.  It will give us everything our heart ever longed for, and even things we didn’t realize we longed for.

“The biblical meaning of the word ‘restoration’ is to receive back more than has been lost to the point where the final state is greater than the original condition.  The main point is that someone or something is improved beyond measure.” (From a church website.)

The gain will be far greater than the pain.  Let’s remember that, and let it motivate us.  May it be our life’s work to help others to be restored as well.

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  II Cor 5:20

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Needing a Mountaintop

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them.  His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus . . . Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”  Mark 9:2-4,7

Do you suffer from year-end fatigue?  I know I do.  And it doesn’t help that the pace of life picks up between September and December like a roller coaster racing downhill.

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I start to expend more than I take in. I begin to feel like there are parched neglected places inside of me.

Whew!  What to do?  Well, there’s all this wonderful holiday stuff, guaranteed to lift my spirits!  So I immerse myself in shopping,  decorating, baking, feasting, and special activities.  And I start to experience this sort of a strange mix of euphoria and depletion — like eating a diet of sweets.

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After awhile I realize I need something more.

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That’s why I think Jesus went up on the mountaintop.  He needed something more.

And in doing so, he was showing us that we all really need mountaintop experiences.  We need times of extra connection with God, and extra assurance that he is with us.

I don’t think it was just random timing that Jesus went through the transfiguration six days after he told his disciples that he would have to die.  He deliberately went up on a mountain, as he had on other occasions, to be strengthened by God for his coming ordeal.

And he was strengthened in a huge way.  First of all, he was strengthened as he prayed.  According to the parallel account in the book of Luke, as Jesus began to pray, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.”

Jesus was also strengthened because God gave him two of the biggest spiritual powerhouses, Moses and Elijah, to talk with and encourage him.  Luke lets us know what the conversation was about, “They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:31)  Jesus had some hard times coming, but he got to benefit from the experience of two men who faced challenges with faith and humility.

Finally, Jesus was strengthened because God spoke from heaven and gave him a massive verbal affirmation.

But Jesus wasn’t the only one who was strengthened by this time.  It made a huge impact on Peter, John and James.  We know this because Peter mentioned it in his second letter.  “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.  He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ And we ourselves heard this voice from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain”  (II Peter 1:16-17)  

What’s really cool about this is that Peter came to have the same mindset as Jesus had, in looking towards his death. “I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.  And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.”  

Peter knew that life on earth was in preparation for the next life.  This is true for us too, and that makes it especially important that we have times of strengthening so we can carry out our mission and make it to the finish line.

So let’s plan a mountaintop experience!  Any time of getting away to spend time with God is good.  A day of fasting is good.

But there’s just something about praying in the midst of God’s creation.  I’ve found that it’s especially powerful on a mountaintop.  When I lived in Atlanta, there were times when I felt like I was at the absolute end of the rope.  Then I would drive to Stone Mountain, holding back tears the whole way, and hike up the mountain.  There, at the top, I would find a solitary place where I could see the whole city.  I would open my Bible, read scriptures and pour out my heart to God.  I always felt the weight lifting, and my mind clearing as I did so.  The Spirit would lead me to just the verses and truths I needed.  I would be completely refreshed and invigorated.

We may not realize it, but we’re thirsting for that!   It’s wild.  I find myself surfing different sites on the web, and I realize that I’m reaching out.  I’m hungry for a connection with something. Ha! Why do I think  that I’m going to get this need met electronically?

God is standing ready to meet our needs for more.  And here is one more encouraging thing about that.  We think it was supernatural that Jesus became radiant when he prayed on the mountain.  But II Corinthians 3 promises us that we can become radiant.  “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”   (II Cor 3:18)

We are going through a transfiguration as well!  Ours is just taking more time.  But think about it.  We live in a time when we can come into God’s very presence, the Most Holy Place, that only the high priest could enter.  “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus.” Heb 10:19

Every day, we have an astounding opportunity to be transformed by the very presence of God.  We just need to draw near to him.

This past weekend we put on a little Christmas show for church, and I performed a piece on Naomi.  Naomi came to a place in her life where she felt completely empty.  But as she got on the road to return to the land of her God, the Lord remembered her and began to bless her abundantly.  She was redeemed.

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God is the one who redeems us from hopeless places!  He takes us from emptiness to fullness, from depletion to invigoration, from the valley to the mountaintop.

Let’s deliberately go to him, as Jesus did.  God will strengthen us in a huge way.

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When the Bottom Drops Out

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”  Mark 9:1

I am so grateful that we had a wonderful Thanksgiving with my daughter and friends.

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Thanksgiving 2017

We also had a super encouraging baptism of a young Tuskegee student who is dear to me.

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But then it was like the bottom dropped out.

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Travis looks like the bottom dropped out here, but it really didn’t. It’s just a funny picture.

My husband had some major problems at work.  He had to work from home the rest of Thanksgiving vacation.

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Here I am having a lovely morning by the fire. You can just see a bit of my husband wrestling with a situation on his work computer in the background.

And many other challenging situations arose for my loved ones:  a broken engagement, constant pain, attempted suicide, late term miscarriage, mental health issues, quitting church, substance abuse, raising grandchildren, marriage in crisis.    I myself experienced a couple of episodes of emotional overload that were discouraging.

Today’s verse can help with all of this.

To understand it, we need to realize that Mark 9:1 belongs sequentially at the end of Chapter 8, beginning with the passage where Jesus had told his disciples that he would suffer, die and be raised again.  This is followed by Peter rebuking him.  Then Jesus gathered his followers and told them all this heavy stuff — that anyone who wanted to follow him would have to deny themselves and take up their cross.  That they must lose their lives to save them.  That there would be dire consequences for anyone ashamed of him.

But Jesus closed this all out by saying something positive.  The kingdom was coming!  It’s like he was saying to those who were looking for him to be their king, “I know I’ve told you a lot of hard things, but take heart.  You are going to see the kingdom. And it’s going to be awesome!”

I don’t pretend to understand everything about the kingdom.  I used to teach people that the kingdom came when 3,000 people were baptized in Acts 2, and that the kingdom is the church.

Now I realize that the kingdom is a lot more.

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There’s this mind blowing book called “The Kingdom of God” by Tom Jones and Steve Brown.   It says,  “In Jesus’s teaching, the kingdom was seen as the now, but was also as something that was not yet here in all its finality.”

The scriptures bear this out.  Look at Matthew’s parallel passage to Mark 9:1.  Jesus leads into it by saying,  “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”  (Matt 16:27)  That speaks of a time still to come.

But then Jesus also made statements like, “But if I am casting out demons by the power of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you.”  (Luke 11:20)  It’s plain that the kingdom was also present at the time Jesus was on earth.

Do you know what is exciting about this?  It means our king is  reigning, and will reign exponentially more in the future!!!  “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.'”  (Romans 14:11)

It means that we are living in a time of power, because Jesus said that the kingdom would come power.   John the Baptist also spoke about this.  He said,  “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  (Matt 3:11)

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It means that we, as citizens of the kingdom, have power.  In fact, we have incomparably great power.   (Eph 1:19)

We have power because we have the  indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  

  • “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”  I Tim 1:7
  • “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”   John 4:4
  • “But if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”  Romans 8:13

We have power because Christ is interceding for us.

  • Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”  Romans 8:34
  • (Jesus said) “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”  John 14:12

But there is one more aspect of this power that I want to mention, which is perhaps most important of all.   None of this power would be available  if Christ hadn’t died.  Through the whole passage we’ve been studying, Jesus was telling his disciples that death was the essential ingredient.  No wonder he got in Peter’s face when Peter rebuked him.  Jesus was trying to say, “If I don’t die, you won’t have the kingdom.  If you don’t die, you won’t be the kingdom.”

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  John 12:24

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Death is the source of power.

That means a lot of things, but what does that mean to us when we are going through major struggles?  The first thing I tend to do is start turning the situation over and over in my mind to figure out a solution.  Or I start doing things to fix the situation.  It doesn’t have to be my personal troubles, I do this to try to help others as well.  But it makes me constantly restless and anxious.

But lately I’m realizing that the best thing I can do is to die completely to having any control over matters, and instead to plant prayers, like kernels of wheat, in the soil of God.  Only as I give them over to God completely, will his power be able to work them out.

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Let’s remember that we’re living in a time when we can see the power of of the kingdom. That fires me up!  Let’s pray to see it more.  Let’s die more, so it is more available to us.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know . . . his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  Eph 1:18-21

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