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.

By fire

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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Not Ashamed!

“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”  Mark 8:38

We tend to think about this verse when we’re in a position to share with someone.  We tell ourselves that if we don’t open our mouth, we’re ashamed of Christ.

And that’s good.  But if we read this verse in context, it means much more.  First of all, Peter had just rebuked Jesus for saying that he was going to suffer and die.  So Jesus was telling his disciples that they shouldn’t be ashamed that he was going to take the way of disgrace and weakness.

Second, Jesus had just told his disciples that they should deny themselves and take up their cross.  So Jesus was also telling his disciples that they, themselves, shouldn’t be ashamed of taking the way of disgrace and weakness.

A few years ago I studied the Bible with a Chinese student, Lin, who became a dear friend to me.

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Lin with our friend Jack.

Lin loved God.  We had so many good times reading the Bible together and talking.

But Lin had a hard time with Jesus.  She literally said he was “weak.”

We forget what the cross looks like to an outsider.  To her, someone strong wouldn’t have died.  It wasn’t a example she wanted to follow.

What example are we not willing to follow?  Being mistreated and wronged?  Having people think badly of us?

Or maybe it’s more subtle.  Maybe it’s hard to follow Christ when things don’t feel right, or don’t make sense.  Think again of Peter.  He gave up everything to follow Christ.  But then he was queasy about the whole cross thing.  Don’t we get queasy too?  We start saying in our heart, “That isn’t the way it is supposed to go.”  We draw lines, “Following Jesus doesn’t mean going that far.”  Or we do follow, but we do it on our own terms.  Or we follow, but inside, we’re grumbling and resisting.

Isn’t that also being ashamed?  We’re not putting our heart behind Jesus and his mission.

I’m really convicted by the way Jesus followed God in “weakness.”

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Jesus followed God in submission.  He said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but to do the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 5:19)  And also, “I have not spoken on My own, but the Father who sent Me has commanded Me what to say and how to say it.” (John 12:49)

Jesus told us, “Take my yoke upon you.” (Matt 11:29)

Wow. Do you think of Jesus being so submissive to God that he likened it to wearing a yoke?   I haven’t ever led a team of oxen, but I have been on a horse.  A bridle on is similar to a yoke.  They both involve someone else being in control.

When I’ve ridden horses, I notice that they don’t like someone being in control of them.   One time, when I was young, I was riding a little pony named Sweet Tarts.  Sweet Tarts decided he didn’t like where I was going.  He wanted to go back to the barn.  He ran away with me and rode me straight into a chest high line of barbed wire.  I grabbed onto the wire and slid off the back of the horse.  I still have a tiny scar on my hand.

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Don’t have a picture of me on Sweet Tarts, but here is me getting my first taste of riding!

Well, like the saying goes, if you fall off a horse, you get right back on.  I rode many times after that and stayed in better control.  But the horses still fought me at times.

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Riding with my daughter. Sorry it’s from behind!

But isn’t that what we’re like?  We submit to God and let him be in control, but sometimes we buck a bit, or want to go in a different direction.

I asked my aunt, who has lived all of her on a ranch with horses, if she had horses that didn’t fight her.  She said she most certainly did.  They key was that she worked with them regularly. Then they came to a point where they wanted to please and do as she asked.

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My Aunt Ruth preparing to ride her horse in a parade.

Spending time with the master makes all the difference!  The more we spend time with God, the more we will trust him and want to follow.

Do you know why I think Jesus said his yoke was easy?  Because he didn’t fight God.  He trusted God with his whole heart, and let God do the directing.

Let that be a lesson for us.  We know the one who is holding the reins.  He is a good master.  He has taken care of us and shown his love in so many ways.  We can relax, even through he is leading us in the valley of death.  We can take the way of weakness and disgrace.  We can stay the path, even when  it feels wrong.

One more thing here.  My aunt did tell me that there were some horses that never quit fighting her.  “I just got rid of them and got another one,” she told me.

Yikes.  Does that say something about God, if we keep being hard headed?

I want to close with a story of my friend Misha.

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Misha’s dream is to coach softball.  But it’s hard to find that kind of position.  She started substitute teaching to make ends meet.  This led to a wonderful thing.  The school system hired her to work part time teaching coding to middle schoolers, and then to be an assistant coach for their high school softball team.  It was a dream come true!  It was even more a dream come true when the school system created a full time position with benefits for her the following year.

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Misha coaching the Phenix City High School softball team.

But the dream came with challenges.  Misha was teaching 300 students a day, a different class every 30 minutes.  She felt like she was drowning.  She asked herself, “Is there a way I can do this and not grumble, but find joy?”

Misha wrestled with this, and found spiritual strength through her Bible and her relationships.  She continued to be a light to her students, giving to them and encouraging them, and the administrators took notice.  She was named the Teacher of the Month for October.  They voted for her to receive the “I Make a Difference Award.”  And then they awarded her with STEM Teacher of the Year.

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Misha receiving the “Lets Make A Difference” Award.

“I am now content with where God wants me to be,” said Misha.  “Seeing these kids strive to do good things, being able to make an impact, that makes it worth it,” she said.  “Now I can see God’s plan a lot better.  I’m grateful God has allowed me to go through all of that.”  (If you’d like to read the complete version of Misha’s story, click HERE.)

Misha is a great example of someone who fought to follow God wholeheartedly.

Let’s wrestle to not be ashamed of Jesus on any level.  Let’s take the way of weakness and disgrace without grumbling.  And let’s learn to be joyfully submissive.

May the words of the old hymn, Blessed Assurance, inspire us:

Perfect submission, all is at rest; 

I in my Savior am happy and blessed

Watching and waiting, looking above;

Filled with his goodness, lost in his love. (From Blessed Assurance)

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Balm for the Soul

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”  Mark 8:35-37

Last weekend didn’t go as expected.

It started well. On Friday afternoon,  I went to Chewacla State Park with my friend Marisha, her daughter Makenzie, and our little friend Lexie.  It was a beautiful autumn day, and we had a wonderful time together.

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But then everything else I had planned for Friday night and Saturday fell through — two sets of people coming over for dinner and a women’s get together.  My spirits plummeted.  I knew it shouldn’t be a big deal, but I couldn’t help but feel down.

So I was wrestling with this, but then I thought, “Well,  I can have Saturday with my husband.  That will be great!  We haven’t had a Saturday together in awhile.”  I started thinking of how we could ride our bikes and go to coffee.  Then we could run errands and get caught up on some things we need to get done.  Wonderful!

Well, on Saturday morning, my husband dropped the bombshell.  “I want to go door knocking today,” he said adamantly, out of the blue.  I wanted to cry.  I didn’t feel like I had the emotional energy to go up and knock on the doors of strangers.  This was something I needed to pray about days in advance so I could get strength to do it.  I didn’t have to go with him, but then I would have felt like a spiritual slug and a selfish wife if I didn’t.

To make the story short, after awhile, the Spirit helped me get on board with this, and Ken and I went out in the cold grey afternoon for an hour or so and met some great people.  In the end we were very glad we pushed through.

What really got me, though, was what I realized when I was praying through my prayer list the following morning.  The second request on my list is for my husband’s evangelism.  I’ve started praying specific things for my husband that he’s mentioned to me, and that is one area he wants to grow in.

So that means that God was answering my prayer, and I didn’t even see it!  Instead, I wanted to oppose it.  Oh boy.  It makes me laugh and shake my head.

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Last weekend was a great illustration of the root character weaknesses that God has been revealing in me   — the need to control, and the need for personal affirmation (i.e. glory hogging).  It was so hard for me when things didn’t go according to plan.  And it was hard when I thought I wouldn’t be able to accomplish things, because doing things makes me feel important and valued. It assuages my insecurity.

I’m declaring smackdown on these weaknesses!  Here’s the verse that has been helping so much: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Matt 10:28

Do you know what brought that verse to my attention?  It was quoted by Max Lucado in response to the Texas shooting. Lucado could have said a lot of things to help us deal with such a horrific event.  But instead, he got to the root of the matter.  We aren’t to fear the evil outside.

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We’re to fear what will happen if we don’t deal with the evil inside.

I have a lot of inappropriate fear.  I fear that I will do the wrong thing today.  I fear that I did the wrong thing yesterday.  I fear that things aren’t going as they should. I fear that something bad will happen and mess everything up.

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And what is appropriate fear?  It’s to fear the things that are destroying me on the inside.  And those things are the need for control and the need for affirmation.  Or in Biblical terms, they’re pride and more pride, with a side of unbelief.

So all of this leads up to today’s passage from Mark, and how Jesus said, “Those who want to save their life will lose itbut whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”   My heart is so convicted to realize that my efforts to control, so I can “save my life,” are having the opposite effect.  They’re causing me to lose my life, my soul!  I keep trying to figure out how I can fix what seems to be going wrong.  Doing that is hurting instead of helping!  My way of operating is innately destructive.

Now I’ve started to say, “No” to my deep craving for stability, and instead plunge myself into the goodness that is God.  I’m looking to him, not myself.  I ‘m losing my life a thousand times a day, to save it.

When Jesus said these words, he was dealing with people who didn’t get it.  They were worried about bread.  They told him he shouldn’t suffer.  In this passage, he was trying to key them in on what they really needed — to have a purity of heart and singleness of mind.  To know that the only thing that matters is the soul.

Because it’s the double mindedness that drives us crazy.  James wrote,  “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  (James 4:8b )   And he explained what this can look like: “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there there is disorder and every kind of evil. .” (James 3:16)

If our desires are for anything else, we end up like I was this weekend, feeling disordered,  emotional, confused and fearful.

Having a singleness of focus will see us through the troubled waters of our days.

troubled4Learning to be single minded has been like balm for me.  I can feel healing in the places I’ve inadvertently been damaging.

Here are some ways I’m working on being constructive, instead of destructive.  Perhaps they will be balm to your soul, as well.

  • Repeating passages over and over to myself that remind me what my inner state should be,  “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, etc.” (Phil 4:8) and, “The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, etc.” (Gal 5:22) 
  • Praising God throughout the day, which is much more appropriate than micromanaging him!
  • Picturing myself, like the elders in Revelation 4:10, laying my crown at the feet of Jesus.
  • Picturing myself going to God and drawing from his well of  goodness, rather than giving into my desires for control and affirmation.

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Do We Have “Following Faith?”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)

When Jesus asked his disciples to follow him, it wasn’t something new.  From the beginning, God asked people to “follow” him.

He told Abraham (then Abram) to leave his homeland and go where God led him. “The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12:1)

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He led the Israelites out of Egypt with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire.

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The thing is that people often weren’t great followers.  One case in point is the Israelites.  God tried to lead them through the desert, but they kept complaining.  When Moses went up on the mountain, they created an idol and worshiped it.  Once they got to the Promise Land, they didn’t believe they could take it.

But then there were Joshua and Caleb.  They were quintessential examples of how to follow God.  Let’s look at Caleb.  After scouting out the Promise Land, he reported, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

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Joshua and Caleb

Caleb got it, when so many others didn’t.  God said about him, “But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me fully, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.” (Numbers 14:24)

Caleb had incredible faith.  But God described him, not in terms of his faith, but in terms of the way he followed.  He followed fully, or as some translations say, wholeheartedly.

That really got me thinking about the correlation between discipleship and faith.  Could it be that the reason Caleb had incredible faith was because his entire heart was set on God and his entire life was centered around God?  His heart wasn’t pulled in other directions, or sapped by love for other things.  And that meant that, to him, God was HUGE and all powerful.

It makes sense to me.  The more we get our needs met by something else, the smaller God becomes.  And the more we go to God as the real source that will meet our needs, the bigger he becomes.

We need to have what I am going to call following faith, the kind of faith that comes from following God fully.

It’s pretty convicting. Out of all the thousands of Israelites who were brought out of Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb were able to take possession of the Promise Land.

“Because they have not followed me wholeheartedly, not one of those who were twenty years old or more when they came up out of Egypt will see the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob— not one except Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua son of Nun, for they followed the Lord wholeheartedly.’”  Numbers 32:11-12

Following faith is a big deal to God.

Now I’m seeing what Jesus said in Mark 8:34 in a whole new light.  Of course he asks for self denial and commitment to the point of dying!  Only that will produce following faith.  And if Joshua and Caleb needed to have following faith in order to follow God into the Promise Land, how much more will we need following faith to follow Jesus into heaven?  How much more will we need following faith to be Jesus here on earth, and carry out the Great Commission?

So how is my faith?  Hmmm, let me check.  Do I believe God will work when the obstacles seem like they’re too much?  Do I believe God is ready to do something amazing in my life?  As I think of my recent prayers for our church, for people who are in tough situations, and for myself, I have to admit that I’m far from saying, “Let’s go take that land, for we can surely do it!”

This past week I attended a totally cool event.  A global charitable organization, HOPE worldwide, was presenting a Civil Rights pioneer, Fred Gray, with a Lifetime Service Award.   Gray lives in nearby Tuskegee, and the awards ceremony was held there.

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Fred Grey with HOPE CEO Robert Carrillo. (Photo: Mickey Welsh/Advertiser)

I was excited that I was asked to compose and send out the press release to promote the event.  It was a fun challenge to write it and get it to the proper individuals.  But then I needed to call and follow up by actually talking to the members of the media.  Oh, this I dreaded!  I procrastinated.  I made excuses.  I tried to tell myself we’d be fine without it.  And it really hit me how little faith I had.  If I thought  God was working in amazing ways, it would have been easy to make the phone calls.  But I was afraid that the newspaper and TV people wouldn’t think this story was as big I thought, and would feel like I was bothering them.

The end of the story is that the Spirit worked, and I did make the calls, and we had great media attendance!

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But it was a wake up call to me that my faith needs to grow.  After studying this out, I’ve been asking myself, “Is my faith small because I’m loving other things too much?”  You know what the answer is?  Yes!

I think part of the problem is that I’m so comfortable in my lifestyle that I don’t want to put forth the energy to act in accordance with more faith, and go out and “take the land.”  Just thinking about God doing incredible things makes me feel tired.  I just want to stay in my little cozy nest of routines.  It’s like there’s this tether of comfort holding me down.  Trying to pull away feels like I’m fighting against something sticky.

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Yeech, I need to repent!

How can I do that?  How can we develop more of a following faith?

  1. Go to the world less. What is that called?  Oh yeah, self denial.  For me, this means going less to the things that numb.  It means watching less television, because I can see that I’m becoming addicted to Hulu zone out!  I’m learning to, instead, go to God more when I’m tired and emotional.  “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.” Ps 62:5
  2. Make God bigger.  We need to remind ourselves often how HUGE and all powerful God really is.  Praise God daily for all of his incredible qualities.  Pray impossible prayers. knowing he can answer them.  Find verses that magnify the Almighty.
  3. Take leaps of faith!  What would we do differently if we really believed God is working in amazing ways?  We would jump off our cliff of comfort.  We would take action to help bring about those things we’re praying for and dreaming about.
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My daughter Celeste jumping off a cliff.  (Her Facebook cover page.)

As I attended the awards ceremony for Fred Gray, and visited the civil rights museum there afterwards, I was deeply impressed.  How different the world would be if men like Fred Gray hadn’t stepped out to do what they could.

“As a teenager in Montgomery, I saw problems that needed to be corrected,” Gray said in his acceptance speech.  “With a lot of help along the way from a lot of people, including divine help, I believe we have been instrumental in changing the landscape of America.”

Gray is a godly man who didn’t shrink back in fear, but lived what he believed.  Surely that is an inspiration for us all to do the same.

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Gray conducting a tour of the Tuskegee History Museum.  (Photo:  Mickey Welsh/Advertiser)

Fred Gray and Me

Fred Gray and me.

 

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When it Feels Wrong

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He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.  He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him  But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Mark 8:31-34

I think I would be like Peter, “Say, what?  The Messiah is going to have to suffer?  He’s going to die?  Oh, no, no, no Jesus, you’ve got it all wrong.  I’m investing my life in you.  You’re my shining hope.   You’re going to throw down the establishment.  You’re going to make everything better.”

I just have this mindset that suffering means something is wrong.  I’ve been on this life long quest to live the right life, a safe life.  And to me, that means a life where I don’t make mistakes and I avoid suffering.  Because, again, suffering would mean that something is going wrong. It would mean that Satan is winning, that worse is sure to happen.

It would mean being out of control.  After all, how could being sucked into a vortex of chaos be part of God’s plan?

But when Peter tried to tell Jesus something like this, he got rebuked.  Jesus called him out in front of his bros, said he was “Satan.”  Ouch.

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God just sees things in a whole different way than we do.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how one of the attributes of God is peace.  Peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22)  The famous blessing of Numbers 6 says, “May the LORD show you his favor and give you his peace.” (Num 6:26 NLT)

And I’ve thought, “How can God be peaceful?  There’s so much bad going on all the time.”

But then I realized that God isn’t afraid of the bad things.  They grieve him deeply, but he doesn’t fear them.  Because he is stronger than evil.  Because he can stop it at any time.  Because he knows his plan, which is good and unfolding as he intends.  Because he knows he will win.

God really is peace.

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And I saw that this peace extends to me.  I am never outside of God’s control, never out of the reach of his hand.  Chaos cannot sweep me away.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  Ps 139:9

Okay, confession here.  I love to read romances. There’s a frequent theme — a female character who is beautiful but bratty gets pursued by a male character who has such a force of love for her that no matter what she does, he’s not deterred.

Of course this is fiction.  I could do a lot of damage to my marriage by being bratty.

But it’s not fiction when it comes to God.  My little fits and snits aren’t going to scare him away. He doesn’t think, “Sheesh, this girl has issues!   Let me go hang with someone else instead.”

No!  His heart’s desire to hang with me — and with you!  He will never turn away.

And that is why Jesus had to suffer and die.  It was part of his plan for you.  He pursued you, and nothing is going to deter him from sticking to you like glue.

It just doesn’t feel like love, sometimes.  It doesn’t feel like things are going right.

Here’s what we think it should feel like– the song from the Lego Movie.

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And it’s so hard to not be like prideful Peter when it doesn’t go that way.

We just had an outdoor service on one of the coldest days of the year. It was preceded by a men’s campout the night before, where the guys had to endure rain and temperatures in the thirties!

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We planned to have piping hot chili for our fellowship lunch.  I fussed and slaved over cooking my chili.  I heated it in the crock pot, and then once I got to the location, I got out our special extension cord with multiple outlets and plugged it in so it wouldn’t get cold.

There was just one thing.  There were at least 7 other crock pots of chili and soups.  Some of them were cold when they got there, and had to be heated up.  But there weren’t enough outlets on the serving table.  So we had to unplug the warm ones and plug in the colds ones.

Then we started church.  I tried to focus on worship.  But I kept getting nervous.  What if the crock pots that were unplugged were getting cold? It was 38 degrees, and windy!  Would there be anything worse than eating cold chili on a cold day?  So I brought a couple of the crock pots, including mine, into the kitchen to plug them in there.  I had to set them on a narrow ledge by the sink.  In the process of arranging them, my crock pot fell in the sink with a loud clatter, dumping out a sizable part of my wonderful chili.  Ack!!

It reminds me of my life.  I try so hard to make everything perfect, and my efforts can actually make things worse!

It would be easy to complain about the things that were challenging about our outdoor service.  I do need to apologize to the moms who brought their little children.  I thought that would work, but it was too cold for the babies.

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Ken feeding a cold Elena.

But as I kept rehashing the things I wished had gone more smoothly, it occurred to me that maybe there was a reason God made the coldest time to be the days of our men’s campout and outdoor service.

Maybe God’s thinking wasn’t our thinking.  Maybe he wanted us to see that happiness isn’t based on living our comfortable routines, but on something deeper.

Maybe we needed for our chili to spill and our fingertips to get numb to learn that we could find joy anyway.

I saw so many things that inspired me.  Brian having his quiet time in the chilly early morning.

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Bill going above and beyond to cook a hearty breakfast.

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Graham preaching when he was frozen to the bone and had to wear a blanket.  Here he is leading a prayer.

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Nate manning the little camping stove and heating a pan of water so everyone could have hot drinks.  (Wish I had a picture of that.)  I could go on and on.

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Cairo was a trooper too!

You know, even though it was challenging, everyone was cheerful and looking for ways to serve.

It was like the Grinch who stole Christmas.  No matter what, we still had a joyful time being together.

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Sometimes God doesn’t have things go like we think they should.  Sometimes it feels wrong.

But we can let Jesus’s rebuke to Peter be one to us as well.  Get behind us, Satan!  No complaining!  No faithlessness!  No just thinking of the concerns of men!

Let’s seek to have God’s mindset.  Let’s seek to have his peace, as we trust that he is in control, and know that he is committed to us.

When we do, just like what happened with the outdoor service, we will be stronger.  We will find deeper joy.

 

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When Healing Takes Awhile

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They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.  He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.  Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”  Mark 8:23-36

“They look like trees walking around.”  I think thing that resonates with this story for me is that the man wasn’t completely healed on the first go around.  I can relate to his blurry vision!  I, too, take my hurts and weaknesses to the Lord, and I get some better, but I still feel like I’m bumping around in the world.

Ha!  Just like the people in the story, we expect that when we come to Jesus, everything is going to get fixed right away.  It often doesn’t work that way.

I have an underlying anger (with flavors of discontent, pride and faithlessness) that I wish Jesus would just poof away in me.  It’s so hard to get a handle on.  I work on it.  I look at the example of Jesus.  I look at the cross.  I look at my sin.  I seek to trust more.  All of these things help.  But then  I feel the anger bubble up out of what seems to be nowhere, and it begins to simmering under the surface. If I’m not careful, it will rule my day.

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But I have finally been getting a better handle on my anger.  I’ve gotten to the root of it more.  I’ve found Biblical solutions that finally clicked!

I’m so glad I hung in there. I think sometimes God just wants us to learn to persevere.

  • By your patient endurance, you will gain your souls.  Luke 21:19
  • Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4
  • You need to persevere, so that after you have done God’s will, you will receive what He has promised.  Heb 10:36
  • . . . because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Allow perseverance to finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1:3-4
  • He who perseveres to the end will be saved.  Matt 24:13

I believe that one reason God allows us to struggle, is so that we will come to him.  The blind man was willing to take Jesus’s hand and go wherever he was led.  He was willing to let Jesus put spit on his eyes!  Okay, maybe the blind man didn’t think that is as gross as we think.  But what does it take to get to the point of going with Jesus whereever he leads?  Look at what Paul wrote in II Corinthians 1:8b-9:

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  II Cor 1:8-9

Things happen so we learn to rely on God.

Is this to be a one time lesson?

I learned something interesting about the beatitude, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” (Matt 5:6)   The actual wording of that verse means that you have a continual hunger for righteousness, not a hunger where you’re satisfied and it’s gone.

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Okay, maybe it’s a bit extreme. But it’s funny!

I think we’re meant to have a continual hunger.  I think that we’re meant to go through life like the blind man who is half healed, with blurry vision.  “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror . . . ”  (I Cor 13:12)  We’re not there yet, and that’s a good thing, because it keeps us thirsting for God.   It keeps us looking to him as the only real source and solution.

Jesus does heal.  I am so thankful that God gave me the strength to persevere.  I can think of so many things in my life that are miraculously better — my marriage, my friendships, situations with my family, situations with my emotional health.  Many of my spiritual dreams have come true.

But there will always be other things, like my anger, that tempt me to despair.

I have to remember that even Paul, who had the power to heal others, couldn’t heal his own “thorn in the flesh.”  Jesus told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  II Cor 12:9a

Sometimes we need grace, more than we need healing.  Because Grace is sufficient.  It can assuage the hunger.

Last week I visited my friend Bobbie.

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Love this picture of Bobbie (right) with our friend Nanyumpka.

Bobbie has some health challenges, and hasn’t been able to get out much.   This is hard, because Bobbi has a huge heart.  She wants to be with people and love them.

“My body wants to be full of energy and stamina,” Bobbie told me.  “But this is a different season.  I am so content and happy.” 

Isn’t that amazing that Bobbie is content and happy?  Bobbie has learned to feed on the grace, the spiritual food that satisfies her even when her health is poor and her life could dissatisfy.

Let’s all learn to feed on the grace.  Let’s learn to persevere.  And let’s learn to hope.

Because healing in some areas will come while we’re on earth.  And one day we will be completely healed in heaven.

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Filed under Healing, Mark, Perseverance

Being Good Yeast

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Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”  “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”  Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”  Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.  Mark 8:27-30

Peter flat blurted it out, “You are the Messiah.”  He didn’t make it more palatable or politically correct.  He just put the truth out there.

And this was actually a pretty amazing thing.  Because most people were watering down who Jesus was.  Sure, they thought he was impressive.  But they didn’t go all the way, and say he was the Messiah.

Peter was the one who uncloaked the elephant in the room.  And I think when he said it, the light came on for the other disciples.  They may have known it on some level, but Peter’s confession tore away the cobwebs and the excuses and stuck a chord of truth.

I’ve been impressed lately about the power of proclaiming and living the truth in a pure and simple way.  It is good yeast on the lives around us.

I’ve been totally inspired by the book we’re reading in our marriage group, the “You and Me Together” by Francis and Lisa Chan.

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Last week’s marriage group.

The Chans do something so cool.  They actually try to live by the scriptures.  Yeah, I thought I was doing that.  But the book called me higher, just like when Peter made his confession.   I realized that I was watering my convictions down.  I wasn’t going for the pure, good stuff, like living as if my treasure is in heaven.

Peter had the ability to be single minded and direct, and that changed the world.  In Matthew’s rendition of this passage, Jesus says that his church would be built on the confession that Jesus is Lord.  He also said that Peter would have the keys of the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 16:18-19)  And this came true.  On the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2, Peter laid out the truth plainly, and when he did so, he unlocked the door to heaven for people by preaching the message that showed them how to be saved.

We need this message.  We need the good yeast!  We drift towards wishy-washiness over time.

There’s just one thing.  In this passage, Jesus did the the total opposite of what I just said.  He warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah.

Hmmm.  Of course, ultimately Jesus did want people to spread the good news.  He said at the end of Mark, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”

So it must not have been the right time for the disciples to preach.  Also, I think that while he was on earth, Jesus wanted to see who would have the heart to completely respond to him.  He liked to say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:9, 4:23 Matthew 11:15, 13:9)

Thus, there are two elements in play in this passage.  We see the need for truth that is not compromised, and we see the need to respond without compromising.

A week ago Ken and I were stymied by a sticky marriage situation a couple was having, and we asked a wise person for advice.    I thought we would be given a practical solution.  Instead, we were told that the man and woman need to surrender to the Lord more.  And it was like a veil fell away from my mind.  “Of course,” I said to myself.  “It’s so simple, but it’s so true.”

In reading “You and Me Together,” I thought we would be getting more nuts and bolts on how to have a good marriage.  Instead it’s about 90% about how to have the right relationship with God.

The nuts and bolts are good.  But what we need most is Jesus as our Messiah, our Lord.

What would we have said if we had been with him when Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?”  Honestly, I would have been tempted to temper my response and give a safe answer.  I might not have flung myself into the deep end, like Peter.

But being a disciple is about flinging ourselves in the deep end.  We die to self.  We lose our lives.

All of us so desperately need the good yeast to help us to go all the way.  Let’s be that for one another.  Let’s proclaim that Jesus is Lord with our words and our lives.

The church is still built on this truth.

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Filed under Discipleship, Mark