The Battle to be Kingdom Minded

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The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”  They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”  Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.”  He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” Mark 8:14-21

You know, I think I’m pretty spiritual, until I am in a different environment, away from my usual routines.  A couple of weeks ago, I went to California to help my dad and stepmother, Mom C, while she was in the hospital.

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I had good intentions of doing all kinds of great stuff while I was there.  I planned to text friends and encourage them in my free time.  I found myself reading a book instead.  I planned to get on the computer in the evenings and work on the church newsletter, but slid into the comfort of watching TV with my dad.  I wanted to have good conversations with people there, and sometimes said what they wanted to hear, instead of sticking to my convictions.

It was good for me to be reminded how hard it can be to stay kingdom minded.  Right now I can sympathize more with sisters who live with unbelieving husbands, people who work all day in a worldly atmosphere, and others in challenging circumstances.

I say all this because I think that being kingdom minded is what this passage in Mark is all about.  Jesus had one way of thinking.  His disciples had another.

The disciples cared about food.  Jesus cared about the “yeast” of the Pharisees and Herod — the effect of false teachings and hypocritical lives.  He knew that Satan was always working, trying to get people away from a pure heart and faith.  Later in the chapter he rebuked Peter, “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Then he told his disciples, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Being kingdom minded means being more concerned about the soul than the body.  It’s realizing what is really important.

The second thing that impresses me about this passage is that Jesus was so confident that God was going to take care of him.  It wasn’t even on his radar to make sure and take along bread.  He wasn’t at all worried  that they only had one loaf.  He had great certainty that God would provide for their needs.

Being kingdom minded really is the conviction that if we seek the kingdom first, we don’t have to worry about our physical needs.  (Matt 6:33)

This was a great thing to be studying while I was in California.  I remembered it when I felt like I was getting a UTI, and instead of freaking out, I just kept on going and trusting in God.  I remembered it when Mom C was about to be sent to the rehab center and we didn’t know what that would be like.  I told her, “God’s taken care of you this far, and he’s going to keep on doing it,” and we went forward.

I remembered it when I got with my friend Ashley.  Now that was a serendipity!  I happened to text her before I came to California, and mentioned that I would be in San Diego.  She responded, “I am there too!” It turned out that she was doing one of her medical school rotations at the children’s hospital there.

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So Ashley and I got together for dinner.   I shared with her about this verse, and how it can give us confidence that God will provide for our futures.  For her, that means that when she graduates, God will lead her to just the right residency and just the right church where she can have great spiritual relationships.  For me, it means that God will lead me to the best way to use my time in the future, something I’ve been praying about a lot.

And here is the best breakthrough I had about how God takes care of us.  My father and I had a very nice time visiting and talking.  One conversation we had was about how he provided child support for me after my parents divorced when I was eight.  He said that the agreement was that instead of paying just a flat monthly amount, he would pay a lower regular amount and then pay for everything I needed — clothes, my flute, my braces, etc.  As I thought about this, I realized that this is how my father has shown his love to me over the years.  He lived in one state and I lived in another, so I saw him twice a year and talked on the phone, but it didn’t feel like he was involved in my life as much.  But he was pouring out his love for me by providing for me.  Realizing that made me feel so warm inside because for all those years I had just taken for granted that my needs had been taken care of.  I hadn’t really seen the love behind it.

Daddy and me!

And my greatest insight was seeing that God is the same way.  He loves me like a father, by providing for my needs.  I am feeling more loved by God!

The third thing I see about the passage is that Jesus seriously expects his followers to be kingdom minded.  He totally got onto his disciples for not understanding what he was saying about the yeast of the Pharisees.

That always seemed harsh to me.  But then I remembered what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? .  .  .  pagans run after those things.”  (Matt 6:25, 31)  That’s a strong statement.  It means that when his disciples had tunnel vision about the bread, they were acting like pagans, like base unbelievers!

What about us?  Do we have tunnel vision too?  Where is it focused?  On our job, achievements, home, security, relationships, leisure pursuits or retirement?  On politics or issues?

This verse came to me last week:  “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.”  What a scary verse!  It implies that most believers aren’t going to make it to heaven.   For those of us with faith, the bad influences of the world are always working on us.  Satan is using all these things to leech away our faith and convictions.  He doesn’t have to come up with a fancy new weapon to use against us.  He can just rely on the influence of the stuff all around us!

We probably don’t even see it happening.  That’s what is so scary about the story of the disciples and the loaf of bread.  They were oblivious.  Surely that’s why Jesus was sharp with them.

Jesus knows that it is essential for us to continuously fight for our heart, mind and soul!

“There is a battle we have to face every single day.  There are weapons we have to pick up and be ready to defend ourselves with — every single day.  To live in this world and not allow ourselves to be bullied and enticed by a mindset that is not biblical, we have to be seriously engaged, and seriously on our guard.”  (Lisa Chan, “You and Me Together)

And that is what was a little clearer to me when I was in California.  It would have been so easy to give into the comfort and let God drift to the back burner.   I had to really push myself to be even a little kingdom minded.

Yet I am so glad I did, because doing so gave me the greatest rewards.  You know, like the disciples, we think we need the bread of the world.  But what we really need is to look to God, who provides the richest fare — things that are good, satisfying and meaningful.

Here are a few ways God fed my soul.  I woke at 4:30 AM, which was what my body was used to in my time zone, and the Spirit whispered encouraging truths to me as I lay in bed.  I had one of the best visits ever with my parents, with many good one-on-one conversations.  I got with Ashley.  I saw prayers being answered.  I took a walk and discovered God’s beauty.

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After I returned, Mom C wrote on a Facebook, “Kat,your visit with us has been wonderful! I so enjoyed the times that you and I had together, especially the spiritual moments. I think we have created yet another bond.”

Let’s take the leap, a hundred times a day, away from our needs and worries, into God’s arms. He WILL provide.  He will take care of us.  Only HE can be our sufficiency, our source, our answer.

It’s hard.  It’s a battle.  But it is worth it.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  Matt. 5:6

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Vanquishing the Doom Gloom

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Last week someone close to me hurt my feelings, and it sent me into this crazy downward spiral of emotions.  I thought I dealt with that, but then I had other ups and downs, and realized that I still had some kind of strong uneasiness going on.

I finally put my finger on it.  The incident had triggered the Doom Gloom in me.  Doom Gloom is to be distinguished from Doom and Gloom, which is being characterized by a glum disposition. Doom Gloom is a strong foreboding that something got broken, and is not going to work, and life is going to stink!

As I studied out the passage for this week’s blog, it gave me some insight into my Doom Gloom, and led me to a powerful way to deal with it.

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven.  He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.”  Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.  Mark 8:11-13

These verses talk about how the Pharisees tried to get Jesus to show them his creds.

This bummed Jesus out.  Why?  I mean, it seems reasonable to ask him to prove who he was.  Others in the Bible were given signs.  Gideon asked for and received a sign with the fleece.  God gave Moses a sign through his staff.

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To understand this, we have to understand how God views “testing.”  Look at the time when Jesus was tempted in the desert.  The devil took him to a high place and told him to throw himself off the edge, because the scriptures said the angels would catch him when he did.  Jesus replied by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

The scripture Jesus used refers to Exodus 17, when the Israelites were in the desert and came to a place where there wasn’t any water.   They freaked out and ganged up on Moses, telling him he had better come through with something to drink!  Moses told them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?” (Ex 17:2)

So then we want to know how it was that they were putting God to the test in this situation.   The end of the story tells us, “they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (v. 7)

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When the Israelites couldn’t see God, they couldn’t have faith.  The Lord had helped them in so many ways.  Yet when they lacked water, they started doubting that he was among them.  They had to have a sign, physical evidence.

The Pharisees were doing the same thing.  Really, as Jesus said, it wasn’t just the Pharisees.  It was the whole generation.  Everyone wanted to see immediate physical evidence, over and over again, that the Lord was with them in the person of Jesus.  Otherwise they couldn’t have faith.

And I want to make one more point here.  In the case of the Pharisees, asking for a sign was probably bogus.  They already had their minds made up that he wasn’t from God.  In Mark 3, Jesus had been doing miracles and the teachers of the law said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”  They saw signs, but to them the signs meant that Jesus was working with the power of the devil.  Somehow all of their religious knowledge made them so wise in their own eyes that they couldn’t see the truth.

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And all this made Jesus sigh deeply.  He was sad that a generation which had a history of God being among them still couldn’t have faith.  He was sad that the religious leaders had closed the eyes and doors to their hearts.

The lesson for us, of course, is not to fall into either category.  We need to have steadfast faith and open hearts.

First, just like the Israelites, we need to steadfastly believe that God is with us because we, too, have a history of him being among us.  Look at these verses:

  • Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Acts 14:17
  • For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.  Romans 1:20
  • “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?  Job 12:8-10
  • Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. Isa 40:22

I know when I think over my life, I can see the mile markers of God taking care of me.  He orchestrated a way for me to know him and attend a wonderful church.  He provided a husband who would be my partner in faith, and made my marriage immeasurably more than I could have asked or imagined.  Over the years he’s given me a hope and purpose, an amazing job, success in raising my children, stronger mental health, and a mission that is a dream come true.  He’s worked in so many ways.  I could go on and on.

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A recent outing with my family. I am so blessed!

Yet when something goes wrong, I’m still like the Israelites, doubting that God’s going to take care of me.  I get the Doom Gloom.  I have to fight this!

Second, we need to constantly work on humility so that we won’t be so wise in our own eyes that we miss the truth.

“No!” we think.  “We’re not missing the truth.  We know it and we’re living by it.”  We think we’ve figured out God.

But God works in so many ways that we don’t expect.  And we have blind spots.  We still need to learn and grow.  We’re not there yet.

I certainly have grown in my convictions over the years.  I’ve found out that I need to stay humble and open.  I need to keep going back to the scriptures to gain deeper insights.  I need to pray for wisdom and ask God to show me the truth.  I need to realize that although I’m pretty sure I’m right, I might be wrong.

Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them. Prov. 26:12

In the end, this passage about the Pharisees trying to test Jesus is changing my life.  I’m loving it! Why?  Because after I studied it out, I asked myself, “How would my day be different if I really believed that God is with me?”  I saw a lot of ways. It was convicting.

So I started remembering and believing that God is with me in the different things I do.  I found myself being less timid and more giving.   I believed God was with me when I checked out at the store, and I had a great chat with the clerk.  I believed God was with me when I got with someone who needed encouragement, and I found I had more to say. I believed God was with me when I was tired and emotional and wanted to hide, and I was able to push through.  I believed God is with me when I prayed, and I prayed for more impossible things.

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I am so thankful that God works in our times with friends!

Let me encourage you to do the same!  It is SO HARD when things go wrong and we get the Doom Gloom.  We so badly want to test God and have him show us that he is among us, instead of looking to ourselves to develop our faith muscle.

Let’s repeat over and over to ourselves, “God is with me.”

Satan wants us to freak out. Satan wants us to be blind in our own conceit.

But we can live with strength.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession. . . II Cor 2:14a

 

 

 

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When the Hurt Wins

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “My heart yearns over the multitude, because they have stayed with me now three days, and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”  

And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”  And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.”

 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd.  And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them.  And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.  Mark 8:1-9 (mixture of translations)

To me, it’s pretty incredible that Jesus had compassion on this crowd.  It’s hard for me to have empathy for large groups of people.  It’s feels too overwhelming.  It seems to impossible to help them.

If ever there was a good time to read this Bible story about compassion, it’s now.  It’s CRAZY lately! We’re having hurricanes, wildfires, an earthquake.  My stepmother is very ill in the hospital.  A close friend just underwent a tragedy.  (Here’s Irma at my house.)

Yet I confess that I often don’t feel the compassion I should.  I was talking to my aunt earlier in the week.  She called to see if we were okay in the approaching storm.  As I listened to her, I could tell her heart was very heavy.   She was feeling really down about all the hurricanes and wildfires.  It was a heart check for me.  I need to be more like her.

The goal is always to have a soft heart.

And one thing I am learning is that, although some people have the gift of compassion, most of us need to work at softening our hearts.   For me, I tend to get intent on my life, and what I need to do.  I might even be intent on the way I need to serve others.  But when I do so, it’s like I have blinders on and I don’t see anything else.  The needs around me don’t make a great impression on me.blinders1

So how do we soften our hearts to be more like Jesus?  First, we need to try to see things from their perspective.  Jesus said, “if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”  

Jesus really looked at what it was like for them.  He saw they faced a long hungry journey home. In the same way, we need to constantly ask ourselves, “What are they going through?  What does it feel like?”

Second, we try to relate.  As I thought about those whose houses had been flooded in Hurricane Harvey, I remembered when my house was hit by an ice storm and we were without power for several days.  I had to made accommodations to live and sleep elsewhere.  I was homeless, just as they are.  This made me more motivated to help the hurricane victims.

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The fallout from the ice storm, many branches down in our yard.

What will help in relating is admitting just how needy we, ourselves, are, on a daily basis.  When we are in touch with our own desperation, we can connect to the desperation of others.  Our prayer time with God needs to be real.  We need to lower the barricades and and pour out our hearts to Him.

Third,  we need to put a face to it.  The news and social media are great for this.  When we see the individuals, we care more.

This week I’m reading a book that is in part about the boat people who fled Vietnam after the war there.  It was a terrible situation, and many lost their lives.

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One American man saw a picture in the paper of the face of one of the boat people.  Maybe something like this —

Boat people

That man happened to be the president of World Vision.  The face he saw motivated him so much that he put in a great deal of effort and fought for six months against many odds to expand World Vision to start caring for the boat people.  They were able to save many lives.

Will we look at the faces?  Will we see the person behind the face, and let it motivate us?

Because here’s the thing.  We’re all brothers.  That is why Jesus made the effort to help the crowd.

I love what Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Have we forgotten, or do we remember?  Do we remember that the second most important commandment is to love your brother as yourself?  Do we remember that, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it?”  (I Cor 12:26a)

Do we feel kinship, or do we feel apart from the rest, like they’re not our tribe, or like we’re better than them in some way?  In the book I mentioned in my last blog, Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle wrote, “”Often we strike the high moral distance the separates ‘us’ from ‘them,’ and yet it is God’s dream come true when we recognize that there exists no daylight between us . . . Jesus was not a ‘man for others’; he was one with them.”

Jesus was one with others.  It is God’s dream come true that we live this out as well.

But now I’m back at the place I started.  I want to have a softer heart.  I’m working on it. But it’s still too overwhelming!  There are too many people, and too many needs.

Last night I watched a well done documentary about missionaries to New Guinea.

What really inspired me was what the missionaries in the field said were the qualifications  for being a missionary there.  It wasn’t being a Bible scholar or an eloquent speaker or having some special gift.  It was having a willingness to go and do what they could.

And that is what I see in the story of Jesus feeding the 4,000.  Jesus wasn’t paralyzed by the great number and the great need.  He was willing to do what he could.

Are we willing to do something, even if it seems like we only have a “few loaves and a few small fish?”

I guess the question is not, “Can God use me to meet this need?”  But it’s, “How can I not put myself out there to be used to meet this need?”

In Tattoos on the Heart, Boyle tells the story of a mother who lost two of her grown children to gang violence.  It absolutely tore her up.  And then she had heart attack symptoms and found herself in an emergency room bed next to a rival gang member who had been shot.  The medical staff was frantically trying to save this guy, and as she looked over, she realized it was probably someone who had killed one of her sons.  At that point she had a battle going on inside.  She could wish he would die or pray for him to live.  She found herself crying as never before and fervently begging God to save his life.  Why?  Because she realized didn’t want his mother to go through what she went through.  “The hurt wins,” she explained.

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We have to find a way to let the hurt win.  We must soften our hearts enough so that the pain of the need motivates us more than the other things that pull at us.

That is having the heart of Jesus.  That is why we put ourselves out there even when it seems overwhelming.

And when we are moved to put ourselves out there with what little we can do, God takes over and does amazing things, just as he multiplied the loaves and the fish.  I believe it.

For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.  II Cor 8:12

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Compassion that Transforms

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him

After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue.  He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!”(which means “Be opened!”).   At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.  People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”  (Mark 7:31-37)

Can you imagine being locked away in your head, not able to hear, not able to articulate your thoughts?

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Deaf Chinese girl

It would be tough.   For most of us, it’s way outside of our realm of experience.

But there are other ways of feeling locked away.  I recently read a fictional story about a college age girl who had been in foster care all her life, and was finally adopted at 16.  Because of the deep scars from her past, when she gained a family she still found it almost impossible to engage with the world.  She couldn’t believe that she had worth, that people could really care about her.  She isolated herself and did everything alone.

The story isn’t about a real person, but it probably resonates with a lot of us. We also have had hard times in life that have caused us to withdraw.  And the irony is that although our circumstances might be the cause of our withdrawal, we ourselves choose to continue staying in confinement long after the circumstances have passed.

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I’m speaking from experience.  As I’ve been working on my character, I’ve come up against these walls I didn’t even know I had.  I hide behind them in fear.  I’m scared to step out and engage.

It’s interesting.  The passage above says that Jesus gave a deep sigh when he healed the deaf man.  The Greek word used here for sigh actually means to groan.  I think it was the sound Jesus made as he felt the man’s inner anguish and the magnitude of the task of healing.  Healing for Jesus wasn’t just a callous flick of miraculous power.   No, he was MOVED to his core to focus his whole efforts on helping that person.

That’s the kind of amazing compassion Jesus has for us.  Yet it’s hard to believe in.

In the story, the girl’s father sends her care packages while she is at college.  But she can’t bring herself to open them.  Finally, the day comes when she cautiously unwraps the most recent one.  She sees that her father has written her a note, “I know you’re not opening these, but I’m still going to send them.  Because that’s what fathers do.”

Doesn’t this remind of of God?  He gives to us, not because we deserve it, but because that is what he does.

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The question is, can we venture out of our internal refuge and unwrap the gifts God is giving us?  Can we engage more fully?  I want to.  But often I have this sense of dread and fear that holds me back.

Going back to the passage, when Jesus healed the deaf mute, he put his fingers in the man’s ears.  He touched his tongue.  That is another manifestation of the compassion of Jesus.  He doesn’t just tell us to get better.  He reaches out to us and puts his finger on the blockage, the source of our problem.

As I was praying this morning, I realized that the blockage for me is feeling like I am not enough.  I play over my recent interactions and think I should have done better.  I contemplate the day ahead and feel weight of expectation.

My problem is guilt and shame.

I’ve been reading another book lately, “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion,” by Gregory Boyle.  (Warning:  this book contains rough language.)

It is written by a Catholic Jesuit who ministers to the inner city gangs in Los Angeles. Boyle writes that all of the gang members have one thing in common: shame.  “There is a palpable sense of disgrace strapped like an oxygen tank onto the back of every homie I know.  In a letter from prison, a gang member writes, ‘people see me like less.'”

So many of us feel like people see us like less, and we come to believe it is true.

We need the compassion of Jesus, that he would touch our shame.  We need the truth of it to penetrate our walls.

Here are verses that are penetrating my walls.  I’m learning to be kind and gentle with myself, as I see God’s kindness and gentleness.

  • He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Luke 6:36b
  • While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8b
  • He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matt 5:45
  • If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matt 7:11
  • Love is patient, love is kind. . . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  I Cor 13:4,7
  • His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.  Lam. 3:22b-23a
  • As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.  Ps 103:13-14

In conclusion, when Jesus healed the deaf mute, Mark says the people were overwhelmed with amazement.  Why were they so amazed?  Hadn’t they seen or heard of other miracles Jesus performed?  This healing had to have been especially wonderful for them.  A man who had never uttered a word could not only hear, he could also hold a conversation.  When you think about it, it IS astounding.

It gives me faith as I work on my character.  I can change, with Jesus’ help.  He believes in me.  His compassion loosens the stuck places in my heart.  He gives me “gifts” that help me grow, if I will unwrap them.

Here is one gift I’ve been given.  We now have a mature women’s discipling group!  We call it WOW, “Woman of Wisdom.

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One of the greatest things about the WOW group is that I don’t have to feel shame with them.  We bare our souls and see that we all have similar weaknesses.  We have compassion on one another, and say, “you are enough.”

That is how God is.  He sees all our warts and failures and still is merciful.  He delights in us and tells us, “you are enough.”  That is what will melt our defenses and transform us.

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When You Feel Like You Can’t

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.  In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet.  The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.  Mark 7:24-30

Have you ever had an “Invasion of the Flies” day?  One morning last week I woke up and heard this buzzing in the laundry room.  I pulled up the blind on the window there and saw thirty or forty flies congregating on the pane!  Bleck!  And this was in addition to other flies that had gotten in and were zipping all over the house.

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I became like a madwoman with the flyswatter.  At first, I executed calculated swats to take out invading buzzers.  But then I just started flailing the swatter in every direction.

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I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish that day.  But no matter how many flies I killed, when I’d sit down to do something, I’d see another one and go on the warpath again.

After awhile, I sort of felt like I was in the Twilight Zone or something.  Outside it was overcast and dreary.   Inside I was wandering around for hours with a flyswatter.  I kind of got lost in this sense of defeat.

The “Invasion of the Flies” can be like life sometimes.  We want to accomplish things, but the obstacles make it seem impossible.  We get discouraged.

Okay, maybe it’s not a perfect metaphor, but how do we act when we feel like we CAN’T do something?  That’s what is compelling to me about the story of the woman from Tyre.  Everything pointed to her not being able to get help from Jesus.  She was a Gentile,  an outsider.  She knew Jesus wasn’t ministering to her kind.  (Of course, God’s plan was to include the Gentiles later.)  She could have felt like it was hopeless.

But instead of feeling hopeless, this woman had incredible faith!   What can we learn from her?

The power of being poor in spirit.  This woman reached for a solution that was far outside of what any of her friends would consider.  She must have been strongly driven.  She must have realized that she needed and wanted this more than anything else.  The aching of her heart would have eclipsed all other concerns.

So here’s the thing — it is only poverty of spirit that motivates us to reach out to Jesus in a radical way.

Are we able to see and admit how desperately we need Jesus?  I confess that I like to keep life civilized.  I keep my prayers civilized.  Sure, I pray for what I want, but I don’t visit that place in my heart where I am hurting and scared, where the need is screaming.  If I pray about that concern, I’ll have to revisit the scary emotions.  I’ll have to feel vulnerable.  More than that, I’ll have to open myself up to disappointment.  What if God doesn’t fix my need right away?  I’ll feel hopeless and discouraged.

But the civilized life goes further than that.  Most of the time I think, “I’ve got this.”  I do pray and ask God for help with it.  I do realize I need his help.  But I don’t think I desperately need his help.  It’s like, “I’m going to do this and that today.  Here are things I can do that should be effective.  Let me pray and ask God to be involved.  Okay.  I’ve done what I can. I’m ready to go.”

The more I’ve been meditating on this the past several days, the more I’ve realized how deceived and self reliant I’ve been, how desperately I need God in so many circumstances.  I’ve been praying more frequently, and in a more needy way.

There IS power in being poor in spirit.  It compels us to plead for the power of Jesus.

The power of believing in God’s goodness.  If I were this woman, I wouldn’t have tried to talk to Jesus because I would have doubted that he would be interested in helping me.   I certainly wouldn’t have pursued it further if he told me no. But this woman must have believed that Jesus had enough goodness in him to respond to her request.

I can use cynicism as a protection mechanism.  If I expect that people will let me down, then I can’t get hurt.  I’ve seen people who don’t care.  I’ve blown this up to expecting it from everyone.

I’m exaggerating this a bit, because I can believe the best in people.  But I see how my insecurities and protection cynicism can extend towards God.  It’s hard to believe that he will care enough about my small time concerns to exert effort to help me.

I forget that God is good.  Jesus is good.  The more we believe that, the more we will take our concerns to him with the faith that he will exert effort to help us.

The power of focusing on CAN, not CAN’T.  The woman didn’t dwell on the fact that she was a Gentile.  She thought, “Well, Jesus is in town.  I have the ability go to see him.  I actually can ask for his help.”  When he turned her down, she still focused on the CAN.  She could continue to make her case.

As I get older, I still have the expectation that I can accomplish the things I did when I was younger.  But then I come face to face with a diminished energy level, mild health challenges, and bouts of moodiness.  It’s easy for me to get down on myself.

But last week, as I was hearing the voice that said, “You’re a failure,” I talked to God about it and heard the Spirit say, “God loves you for what you CAN do, not for what you can’t.”  And I realized that God created me with a certain temperament and abilities.  I may not be able to do as much as I used to, but there are things I can do, and I need to take joy in those things.

So I did what I could do, and it felt beautiful.  I went to the retirement home and played monopoly with the golden years guys.  I found a the components for a craft and put it together for kid’s Sunday School.  I called friends and family members and had encouraging conversations.

Satan wants us to focus on the CAN’Ts.  He wants us to feel defeated.

God wants us to focus on the CANs.  And just like the woman, it’s exciting to focus on the CANs, because we have faith that God can and will work with our CANs.

You know, everyone loves quoting Phil. 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

But let’s remember the context of that verse.  Paul said right before that, “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.”

This verse isn’t talking about having the strength through Christ to run a race or do amazing things, although Christ certainly can give us strength to do that.  This verse is about having the strength to be content.  THAT is the goal.

There is power in contentment.  It keeps us from feeling discouraged and defeated.  It keeps us firmly in the province of faith.

A few weeks ago, while she was here for a stay, my longtime young friend Jacquelyn bought me a gift.

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I love this sign!   I put it on my shelf and look at it often.  It encourages me to focus on what I do have, what I can do, and to remember that life with God is beautiful.

We all have times where we face the “Invasion of the Flies” (and much worse), times when the obstacles make it seem impossible.  Let’s take inspiration from the woman in Tyre.  Let’s admit our desperation, believe in God’s goodness and willingness to help, and then do what we CAN do (with contentment).

You know, it’s only when we are in impossible circumstances that we have the chance to develop the faith that God is looking for.   Instead of feeling hopeless, let’s see our times of CAN’T as opportunities to learn to practice incredible faith!

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Fighting Godzilla

fighting godzilla

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”  Mark 7:14-15, 20-23

Recently I had the great idea that I would try to wean myself off my menopause hormone therapy.  Ack!  What was I thinking? I know I’m going to have to come off of it at some point, but doing so was miserable.   I started feeling listless and unmotivated.  I found myself experiencing depression, paranoia, insecurity, low self-esteem, fear and negativity.

It would have been easy to blame all of this on my med change.  And in a way, that’s true.  But what is also true is that the new chemical imbalance was a catalyst to bring out what was already in my heart.

Jesus said something radical in the passage above.  He said it doesn’t matter how good our life looks.  What matters is what is in our heart.  Because if there is bad gunk in there, it will come out at some point or another.  It will affect us and others.

I had this moment of clarity a couple of Sundays ago.  Ken and I were driving to church, and I was picking at my husband.  (Don’t we always struggle with something on a Sunday morning?)  But this time, instead of taking the niggling issue to its conclusion, I stopped and looked at my heart.

If my heart was like a pool of water, I could see that the water was brackish, slimy with bitterness, anger and fear.  I saw that the thing I was talking to my husband about wasn’t really the problem at all.  The problem was my fear.  I was afraid that my husband’s actions would trigger a downward spiral.

And I saw more clearly than ever that this fear is the theme of my life.  I fear so much that one bad thing is going to lead to another.  Chaos will win, and I will be powerless to stop life from going down the drain.  I hate that feeling. (I know,  I’ve blogged about this before.  But I keep grappling with it.)

So my solution is to be like the Dutch boy who keeps his finger in the dike.

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I’ve got to stop every leak to make sure chaos can’t get in.  I work very hard at making sure everything goes right.  I try to be a good wife, mom and Christian.

But keeping my finger in the dike never really gets rid of the fear, the fear that is so huge, so solid, that all my years of Bible study have only chipped away at it, not done away with it.

It’s like a Godzilla Fear!

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It’s like a Terminator Emotion.   Remember those movies and how they kept trying to kill the bad Terminator, but it kept coming back?

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That is what my fear can be like.

Probably a lot of us have Godzilla Terminator Emotions — anger, bitterness, hurt, or insecurities  — feelings that we think we’ve gotten under control, but reemerge in the pressure cooker of life, and then loom so big and real that we act out of them instead of our faith and convictions.

And this is the stuff Jesus says defiles us, that we need to clean out of our inner selves.  But how?  It seems impossible!

Here are a few things I’m learning that are helpful.  (And also, let me be sure and say here that emotions themselves aren’t necessarily bad.  But they can come from sinful thinking, and lead to sin.)

Find the root. I do a lot of yard work. One of the most frustrating parts of it is dealing with the vines and small trees that grow out of my bushes.

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Sure, I can snip at them when I trim the bushes and my yard will look nice for a while, but they’ll be back, fouling my nice landscape!  The only real way to get rid of these “weeds” is to go under the bush, find the root, and pull it out.

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The same thing is true with our heart.  We need to go under the surface, find out what’s really bothering us, and deal with that.   In gardening, pushing through stubborn branches and digging in the dirt is unpleasant.  So is digging through our emotional baggage.   But we’re not going to be able to get rid of it if we don’t see clearly what the problem is.

There are effective tools in helping us with this.  I recommend reading a book like “Spiritual Discovery,” and having someone to talk with (even a professional) to help you process.

Look for the shoots.  In the passage above, Jesus listed a whole number of nasty things that can come out of our heart.  It reminds me that sin doesn’t just sit there passively.  It propagates more sin

There are weeds in my yard that have a root system.  I can pull out one weed, but others still pop up because the weed has sent out shoots into the soil.

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The two sprigs in front are connected weeds.  I’ve tried to get rid of these things a thousand times!

In my life, I see how my root of fear leads to other sins popping up – faithlessness, self-hatred, and the big one, PRIDE.  Pride shows up when I think I have to fix the world to keep the chaos out.  It’s up to ME.

So trying to get rid of sin can be like nightmare weeding!  Is there hope?  I have found that what is most effective is to not only seek to take out the sin, but to replace the sin with something good.  In my yard, Ken and I took out this huge oleander plant that was getting out of control.  Once it was gone, the other nice plants in my landscaping thrived, and I put a knockout rose in the empty space that also took off.  (Okay, the rose bush is kind of obscured in the picture.)

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So here is what we can put in our heart that will really help us:

A more total dependence on God!

I recently read this great book, “No Place to Hide.

It was written by W. Lee Warren, a neurosurgeon and admitted control freak who was a military doctor in the Gulf War.  He talked about a pivotal moment in his life when he was out in the open and bombs began to rain down:  “During that attack, huddled against a concrete wall in nothing but a running outfit, it became laughingly obvious to me that even my own survival was utterly out of my control.“

It was then that Warren finally let go of control, finally let go of fear.  When he did, he said, “The mental clarity that resulted was stunning to me, and the list of things I could not control played across my mind like movie credits rolling up the screen. . . And then, at the end of the list of all the things I couldn’t do, I finally understood the one thing I could do:  have faith that whatever God intended to do would be best for me and for my kids.”

In the end, what we really need is the Big Guy with the Big Guns.  We need to give EVERYTHING to him, every bit of control, every worry, every insecurity, every failing, every hurt.  Ultimately, the most effective thing we CAN do is have faith.

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”  John 6:29

Having faith takes work.

Last week I watched a Ted Talk that was utterly compelling.  It was given by a Colombian woman, Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped by rebels and held captive in the jungle for six years.

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She talked about how much faith helped her get through this terrible time.   She said, “Faith isn’t rational or emotional. Faith is an exercise of the will. It’s the discipline of the will. It’s what allows us to transform everything that we are — our weaknesses, our frailties, into strength, into power. It’s truly a transformation. It’s what gives us the strength to stand up in the face of fear look above it, and see beyond it.”

Wow.  I want that kind of faith.  But, as Betancourt said, I’m going to have to exercise my will to build it.

So that is what I’ve been doing, having “faith workouts.”  Every time the emotions start to rise, I start doing “reps,” telling myself over and over what I believe.   Here are a few of the truths I repeat:

  1. God loves me incredibly.  Romans 5:8, Matt. 18:12-14
  2. God is merciful and compassionate.  Lam. 3:22-23, Titus 3:5
  3. God is a provider.  Phil. 4:19, Gen. 22:14
  4. God is good.  I Chron 16:34, Ex 33:19
  5. God is perfect in all of his ways. Ps 18:30
  6. God is my father.  Matt. 6:9
  7. God is faithful.  II Thes 3:3, I Cor. 1:9
  8. God will fight for me.  Ex 14:14
  9. God will mature me.  Phil. 1:6
  10. God wants to give me good gifts, and all things.  Luke 11:13, Rom. 8:32
  11. That I can approach the throne with confidence.  Heb 4:16
  12. That my name is written in heaven. Luke 10:20, Heb 12:23, Phil 4:3
  13. That there is hope. Rom 5:5
  14. That Jesus is willing.  Matt. 8:3
  15. That my prayers will be answered.  Mark 11:24

This is just a starting point.  Let’s all think of many more truth exercises.

I’m still fighting my Godzilla Terminator Emotions.  But I have to tell myself that the good thing about this is that they reveal what is in my heart.  They help me see the “roots” and the “shoots.”  I am beginning to see, too, the dysfunctional patterns they cause in me, like my efforts to control everything.

All of this brings me on my knees before God, and that is the best place to be. More than ever, I know that I need to keep putting things into HIS hands, doing this a thousand times a day with every concern and upsetting feeling.  My efforts have to be put into having faith, not control.

And faith feels good.  It is purifying and healing my heart.  And that is the goal.

 

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But I’m Trying So Hard!

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The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. . . So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” 

He replied, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules’  . . .  You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!”  Mark 7:1-2, 5-7, 9

I’m the “Pharisee” in our family.   I feel like you have to go by the rules.  For example, when I bike, I always wear a helmet and stop at the stop signs.

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Biking in Albuquerque

When Ken and I bike around Auburn, there’s this one place where you are not supposed to make a left turn, but instead make a long detour.  That might be fine if you’re in a car, but it’s a drag when you’re riding a bike.  I’ve seen bicyclists make the left turn anyway.  But I’m so legalistic, I have to stop, and walk my bike across the intersection to make sure I’m not disobeying the sign.

What were the real Pharisees like? They were the party of Jews who ministered to the common people.  Their thing was keeping a set of oral laws in addition to keeping the written laws.  They believed that Moses gave oral laws that told people how to apply the written law.  These oral laws were handed down from generation to generation, and were just as binding as the laws of the Old Testament.

And one of the oral laws was that you had to wash your hands in a prescribed way before you ate.  According to my research, if you were going to eat the ceremonial offering, you were supposed to wash your hands all the way up to your elbow.  If you ate with an individual, you would wash your fingers.

This went much further than the written law, which only listed one short verse about the washing of hands: “Anyone the man with a discharge touches without rinsing his hands with water must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.  (Lev. 15:11)

But it does seem like a good idea.  Modern science tells us that it is certainly hygienic.  And the Pharisees were trying to be zealous.  They were trying to ensure that everyone would be sure to be obedient to the scriptures.  You would think God would like people to expend all this effort to try and please him.

Instead, Jesus let us know that God was highly displeased.  Something had gone way wrong.  His people had gotten to the point where their focus was on following on their traditions instead of following the commands of God.

Isn’t this what can happen with all of us, that our focus gets off of God and onto man?

We think we are serving God in a better way, but our gaze subtly changes to our own efforts and plans.

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Ultimately, we can get so wrapped up in seeking to DO things for God that we don’t seek to KNOW God.

Last weekend I hosted my daughter and a young woman who was one of her best friends while she was growing up.

 

It was a wonderful visit.  We shared a lot of memories, and it reminded me of the highs and lows of raising children.

You know, I thought I could do all of the right things and my kids would make the right choices.   I came up with all of these plans and implemented them.

But in their teen years, things still went south.

I confess, I was angry and discouraged.  I had tried so hard to do the right things.  Why didn’t that work?

But then I felt like the Spirit taught me that God didn’t want me to rely on my plans, even though they included many good things. If I did, I would think that success was due to following the plans.  God wanted me to, instead, completely rely on him, and know that success would only come from that.

God wanted me to seek to KNOW him.  And that is what I started doing.  I stopped thinking that I knew what I should be doing, and instead, like a desperate beggar, prayed, each day, that he would give me the wisdom and insight to know what I should do that day.   I lived by the verse, “Your grace is sufficient.

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And every day his grace was sufficient.  He supplied what I needed to raise my teens.  (By the way, my kids are awesome!)  I’m still learning to apply this today.

What is a Pharisee?  Let me tell you about something scatterbrained I did last week.  I vacuumed the whole house, and I was so intent on watching where the vacuum needed to go that I didn’t notice that the canister was missing.  I hadn’t replaced it after I emptied it.  I vacuumed everything, but all the dust went right back into the air!

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That’s what being a Pharisee is like.  We get so intent on doing things for God that we forget the component that makes it all work.

That component is understanding God.  It’s learning, day by day, to have his heart.

We’re trying so hard!  Let’s make sure our efforts are taking us closer to God, and not further away.

This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.  Jer 9:23-24

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