Monthly Archives: April 2015

To See Thee More Clearly

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”  But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.  Mark 9:38-39

Now this is a puzzling passage.  Why did Jesus tell them to not stop this guy?  I mean, look at what Jesus says in Matt 7:21-23 —

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

So shouldn’t Jesus want the disciples to say to this guy, “Away from us, you evil doer?” I mean, after all, the guy wasn’t following Jesus.  How could he be doing the will of the Father?

I’ve thought of numerous reasons why Jesus told the disciples not to stop, but the one that rings most true for me right now is that he’s teaching them a lesson about pride.

There’s a subtext here.  What the disciples are really saying is,”We tried to stop him, because he wasn’t following Jesus like WE are.  We’re the privileged ones, we’re the ones who know Jesus.  I mean, we just saw Moses and Elijah!  We’re going to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in his kingdom.  We’re the ones doing it the right way.”

And that’s why Jesus tells them not to stop the man.  He’s saying. “You’re not better than this guy.  You’re not ‘holier than thou.'”

It doesn’t mean the exorcist guy was right with God or knew Him.

But the disciples don’t seem to have a clue about God either.  In spite of all the time with Jesus, they still don’t get it.  They keep doing stuff like arguing about who’s the greatest, worrying about how much bread they have, and rebuking Jesus when he says he is going to be killed.  They think Jesus is going to be pleased with them when they tell the guy casting out demons to scram.

It brings to light that it is so important to KNOW God, and what really pleases Him, not what we THINK pleases Him.  The disciples thought they were hot stuff because they were followers of Jesus.  But they still missed the point.

Are we missing the point too?  We can’t just be seekers of God.  We have to seek to KNOW Him.

How much do ask ourselves, “What is God’s will in this situation?”  I think often I only give perfunctory attention to this.  Sometimes I don’t think about it, and sometimes I run it through my mind and make a quick determination and move on.

But Jesus wrestled with knowing God’s will for hours, until he was sweating blood.

It takes effort to get outside of our personal biases and see instead what matters to God.

Ken turned me on to a great sermon by John Louis.  (Scroll  on the link to March 29, 2015)  It’s about knowing God.  And the gist of it is that the Hebrew word for knowing is yada‘, which means to know by experience.

How do we know by experience God? We acknowledge how He’s worked and is working in our lives.  We recount all the ways He’s been faithful.  We don’t just see our lives as this random collection of happenstance, we recognize and NAME that it is only because of God that each good thing has happened.

That means that we should cultivate gratitude.  Every time we thank God, we experience Him.

And here is the thing.  Religious pride keeps us from experiencing God.  Because when we have religious pride, it’s all about us and what we’re doing for God.  It’s not about what HE is doing.  We can’t see it.

Also, when we have religious pride, we  can’t see what’s important to God: PEOPLE. We’re self important, and thus, others can only be less important.

So let’s yada’ God.  As things happen, don’t just react.  Ask instead, “What does God see here?  What is God doing?  What is the Spirit doing?”

Because that’s what I think Jesus was trying to get at when he told the disciples, “no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.

Jesus was saying the Spirit was at work.  We don’t know how or understand this even today. But Jesus didn’t want the disciples to deter the work.

Think about these verses:

  • Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.  I Cor. 12:3
  • “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them,  John 6:44

Let’s have a reverence for the workings of God in the lives of others.  That doesn’t mean we leave them alone.  We can still proclaim to them the whole will of God.

But let’s not have the religious pride that blinds us.  Let’s not miss the yada’, the knowing by experience of God.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matt 5:8

In the song “Day by Day” from the musical “Godspell” there is a line, “Oh dear Lord, three things I pray — to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly.”

(Tried to insert video.  Can’t get the silly thing to work today.  Here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtR7xrgZ_Fk)

It’s a great line, because it’s true.  The more clearly we see God, the more we love Him, and the more closely we’ll follow Him.

I’m trying to see God more.  I’m working on being thankful, working on “riding God’s train” and not my own.

But I find pockets of self righteous pride in myself.  That’s why I can relate to this story.

It’s easy to hear about activists who help the downtrodden.  I get all teary eyed and think, “Oh that’s so wonderful.  I want to do that too.”  But then when I actually interact with “one of the least of these,” I see their messy life and  cringe.  I am supposed to be the warm welcoming angel of mercy, and instead part of me squirms. “They should be doing better,” I think.  What that really means is, “I’m better than they are.”  All of my “holier than thou” comes out of the closet.

I have a long way to go.  And so did the disciples.  But they were on a journey, traveling with Jesus, getting to yada’ him, and I am too.  God’s presence and constant love shines on me and helps me to deal with the creepy crawly attitudes.

In the name of Jesus, power is evoked, demons are exorcised.  Maybe the real demons that need to be cast out are the demons of pride.  Let’s get our priorities straight.

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Dust Kicker for the Undeserving

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”  He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”

This is a challenging passage.  It says we must be last.  It’s like going to the VERY end of the line, EVERY TIME.  And it’s especially challenging because it uses the word pantos — ALL — twice.  We are to be the last of ALL, putting ourselves after every being on this planet.  We are to be the servant of ALL, of everyone who exists.

And to help us understand this, Jesus gets a little child.  Now we know that children are special.  But the kids haven’t earned their place yet.  They aren’t wise yet.  They don’t have the rights of an adult.

And yet Jesus gives them preference.  He says we should readily welcome  them with warmth and eagerness.  The Greek voice used here stresses a high level of self-involvement.  It’s like greeting someone with open arms, hugging them, and immersing ourselves in their cares and concerns.

I love what one commentary said about this passage.  It said that Jesus was lifting up “whoever shows respect, and performs the least office of love and kindness to the meanest believer, comparable to a little child.” (Gill)  Because the wording of the verse is actually, “Whoever welcomes a little child such as this.”.

Ah.  Here’s the heart of the passage.  It’s not about being nice to children, it’s about giving to the least, the lowest of the low.  It’s about serving the person you think is beneath you, the one don’t like, the one who gets on your nerves, the one you think doesn’t deserve it.

And that is challenging to me, because there is a person in my life right now who is hard to be involved with. And I need to dive into their life and sincerely support them.

I need to be a dust kicker to the undeserving.  And of course, we are all undeserving.  That’s why we do it, because Jesus cared about the least of these — ME!

Being the last means dying to self.  I have been working on this since I wrote the blog about dying more to produce more.  I am practicing dying more.  But I’m not doing it out of insecure compulsion.  I’m practicing giving cheerfully to others late at night., making that phone call instead of putting it off, responding to the frustrating message with love.

I am just trying, just approaching living out the verse, “I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”  Phil 3:10

It says earlier in Philippians that Christ made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.  Christ was a dust kicker to the undeserving.

Let’s follow Him!

 

 

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Developing Self Love

Then they came to Capernaum. While Jesus was at home, he asked the disciples, “What were you arguing about on the road?”  They were silent. On the road they had argued about who was the greatest.  He sat down and called the twelve apostles. He told them, “Whoever wants to be the most important person must take the last place and be a servant to everyone else.”  Mark 9:33-35

Okay, in the spirit of the apostles, who had to be vulnerable at some point to make this story known, I confess.  I want to be the greatest too.  I want to be better than others with my attractiveness, smarts, and competence.

Why? Probably because of my low self esteem.  Brene Brown said in her book “Dare Greatly” that narcissists fear being ordinary.  I can relate to that.  I’m always wanting to do something big.  If I live large, it proves I am worthwhile, right? But I also fear chaos.  Controlling my environment, being great instead of being a failure, seems so vital.

So I need to work on self esteem.  And that is just what my support group has been doing, as we do the “Healing for Damaged Emotions Workbook” together.

We’re learning that we should love ourselves because we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves.  “Jesus plainly made a proper self-love the basis for a proper love for neighbor.” wrote the author, David Seamands.

Love myself?  I don’t know how to do that without feeling conceited.

Hmmm.  So I started listing things I like about myself, starting with the way I look.  I realized I keep wanting to see myself in terms of flaws — the imperfect teeth, the cellulitey veiny legs.   Am I allowed to like my hair, my face, my shape?  Can I see the good physical characteristics as God’s creation, something to exalt God and not myself?  Because honestly it’s so easy to let them be a source of affirmation.

But all of my physical characteristics are just cells and mechanisms that I am husbanding for God.  They aren’t the true me, but the way I use them can reflect the true me, the things I like to do and have the ability to do.   My fingers can be creative, play music, or type quickly.  My feet can jog or dance.  My eyes can twinkle and emote warmth.   My voice can harmonize, encourage.

And I realize that the mechanisms behind doing all these things are amazingly complicated.  If I write this blog, it isn’t just talent working, it also involves muscles, nerves, bones, the brain.  Every time I hit a key, I am reflecting how amazing God is, that he could create something as complex as the human body.  The more I think about it, the more it comes to me.  The harmony of my soul and my physical being is MARVELOUS!   “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”  Ps 139:4

Here’s a thought.  If we are to love self, then Jesus loved himself when he was on earth.   I would think he would hate the physical tent – so messy, so limiting.  But he saw it as God’s creation — wonderful and marvelous.  Jesus had to have been comfortable with his skin, his appearance.  And he had to be happy with his character — his heart to love, his desire to teach, his passion for righteousness.

I love the Phillips translation of Eph 5:28-30 — “The love a man gives his wife is the extending of his love for himself to enfold her. Nobody ever hates or neglects his own body; he feeds and looks after it. And that is what Christ does for his body, the Church.”

Jesus extended his love for himself to enfold us.

And developing self love can makes us want to fold others in, reach out and embrace them,  serve them.  It increases our reservoirs of warm fuzzies.

How do we develop self love?  We can appreciate our God given attributes, as I discussed above.  But as I talked with the group, I realized that developing self love involves nurturing yourself, giving yourself permission to do the things you uniquely enjoy.  Here are some of the things we came up with:

  • Listening to music
  • Talking a walk in nature
  • Bubble baths
  • Worship
  • Writing poetry
  • Spending time with loved ones

I’ve been wrestling with something this weekend that has me tied in knots.  This morning I went for a prayer jog, and it was so soothing to my soul.  I experienced the pastel smears of  clouds as the sun rose, the yellow glow of streetlights radiating through the haze, the whistle of birds, the sublime music of hymns on Pandora — all of it washed over me and through me and I felt reborn.  All I wanted to do is spend happy time with God, not petition Him with my anxieties.

The sky this morning.

The sky this morning.

It’s so important for us to make our time with God something that is special to us, personally. We each connect in different ways.  It may be music and nature for me.  For you, it may be listening to a rousing sermon.  Learn to appreciate what YOU like.

Work on self love.  It’s a way we love God.

Working on self love is hard for me, because I have a pattern of self-criticism.  If you ask me how God feel towards me I would say it feels like He thinks I should do better, that I’m not doing enough.  I need to be doing more, more, more.  Meet more people.  Keep up with my friends more. Be more effective when I am with people.

In other words, I think I should be GREATER.  No wonder I can relate to the disciples.

But I AM enough.

It is enough to commit one act of love.  It is enough to be enthralled with gratitude for the beauty of one morning.

The Jewish Talmud says, “He who saves a single life, saves the world entire.” Great acts can be the smallest and humblest of acts.

In closing, I want to list the prayer Seamands encourages his readers to pray.  I think it is awesome!  I’ve typed it up so I can post it and remember it, and work on building SELF LOVE!

“Lord Jesus, I know you love me. Thank you for making me in an amazing and wonderful way. What you have created is precious.

Thank you Father for calling me your child. Knowing this gives me a sense of being honored.

God you declared your value of me when you gave the life of your son, Jesus to redeem me. Thank you for valuing me so highly.

Jesus, you have promised to supply all my needs according to your riches. Today I choose to trust you with every need that I have. Thank you for providing for me so fully.

Lord, even before the foundation of the world You chose to adopt me as your own child. Thank you for having planned for me so carefully.

God, thank you for looking at me in Christ and declaring me accepted and beloved. It is awesome to think that you are delighted in me.”

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When It’s Too Daunting

Jesus asked the scribes, “What are you arguing about with them?” A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son. He is possessed by a spirit that won’t let him talk.  Whenever the spirit brings on a seizure, it throws him to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes exhausted. I asked your disciples to force the spirit out, but they didn’t have the power to do it.” Jesus said to them, “You unbelieving generation! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him to me!”  They brought the boy to him. As soon as the spirit saw Jesus, it threw the boy into convulsions. He fell on the ground, rolled around, and foamed at the mouth.  Jesus asked his father, “How long has he been like this?” The father replied, “He has been this way since he was a child.  The demon has often thrown him into fire or into water to destroy him. If it’s possible for you, put yourself in our place, and help us!”  Jesus said to him, “As far as possibilities go, everything is possible for the person who believes.”  The child’s father cried out at once, “I believe! Help my lack of faith.”  When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he gave an order to the evil spirit. He said, “You spirit that won’t let him talk, I command you to come out of him and never enter him again.”  The evil spirit screamed, shook the child violently, and came out. The boy looked as if he were dead, and everyone said, “He’s dead!”  Jesus took his hand and helped him to stand up.  When Jesus went into a house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we force the spirit out of the boy?”  He told them, “This kind of spirit can be forced out only by prayer.”  Mark 9:16-29  GWT

Some situations just seem hopeless.  They engender fear, we cringe and think, “How can I overcome this great obstacle?”   This is probably how the disciples viewed the boy.  They tried to heal him, but in their hearts, it was too daunting.

The changes that need to happen for our church to grow are daunting to me.  Can it really happen?  Can we somehow break through the barrier to the religious people who seem so satisfied with their own lives?  It seems like this island that’s so far away that I don’t know how to reach it.

Jesus had done so many miracles at this point.  Yet the disciples still didn’t have enough faith to do the hard stuff.  The same is true for me.  God has done so much with our church.  But does this give me the faith to go forward boldly, believing God is going to multiply us?  Like the disciples, I go through the motions, but do I have that deep down gut level solid faith?

So Jesus says, “You unbelieving generation!  How long must I be with you?”  We had a great house church last night about truly appreciating the gifts God has given us.  We talked about how we so often don’t see HOW MUCH God has given us, how much He puts his heart into what He gives us.  It was convicting.  It made me want to see God more, be more humble, thank Him more.

In the same way, I need to really SEE how much God has done, so I can have greater faith.  I need to cry out,  “I believe!  Help my lack of faith.”

Here is a picture I want to keep in my mind.

Marge at House Church

It’s a picture of Marge and Grace last night at a small house church in an outlying town that’s a part of the North River Congregation in Atlanta.   Looking at the faces, it reminds me that there are people JUST LIKE THESE WOMEN, who want to know Christ more, be in a more wholehearted relationship with him.

Yesterday I read this great statement by a woman in her early thirties who writes about what she tells people her generation is looking for in a church —

I told them we’re tired of culture wars, tired of Christianity getting entangled in party politics and power. Millennials want to be known by what we’re for, I said, not just what we’re against. We don’t want to choose between science and religion, or between our intellectual integrity and our faith. Instead, we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. We want to talk about the tough stuff – Biblical interpretation, religious plurality, sexuality, racial reconciliation and social justice – but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers. We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask.. . . And I told them that, contrary to popular belief, we can’t be won back by hipper worship bands, fancy coffee shops or pastors who wear skinny jeans. We millennials have been advertised to our entire lives, so we can smell b.s. from a mile away. The church is the last place we want to be sold another product, the last place we want to be entertained.  Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity, I said. We’re looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus . . . ”  Rachel Held Evans, “Searching for Sunday.”

There are scads of people like Rachel looking for Jesus and not finding him in their local churches.  They ARE out there.

So maybe my problem isn’t that there aren’t people who are seeking.  Maybe my problem is ME, that I am too daunted, that I can’t see past the barrier, that I don’t have the gut level faith.

“This kind of spirit can only be forced out by prayer,” Jesus said.  This can be true on many levels, but right now, for me, it means that my heart can only be changed through prayer to have faith against the daunting situations.  It’s only through concerted focused time of wrestling with God and listening to Him that I will get the kind of faith where I march joyfully forward, confident that God is working.

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Filed under Faith, Having the Right Heart, Mark

Powerful Encounters, Powerful Love

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”  Mark 9:2-6

This is a crazy story.  Jesus tells the religious leaders he’s not going to give a sign, and then he does here, at least to Peter, James and John.  We get to see without a doubt that there is something extraordinary and supernatural about Jesus.  He is not just a man.

And Peter later uses this in his testimony –“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”  II Peter 1:16-18

And it probably influenced John’s testimony as well –“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  John 1:14

So what is so cool about this, is that through the transfiguration, God gave a powerful experience to men who would later have be able to impact the whole world through their strong convictions.  It’s not that Jesus didn’t want to do signs and wonders, it’s that he was going to do them at the right time, for the right reasons.

And I think the same is true for us.  God is not stingy with His grace.  There are times when we have powerful experiences Let’s be sure to attribute them to God, and let them impact us, and thus the world. 

Maybe it’s not on the same scale as the transfiguration, but I am amazed that I was able to have a yard sale last Saturday.  It is something that seemed completely overwhelming to me for years. Yet I was able to get it planned, get the stuff together, put out an ad, and price my items.  Tons of people came and we made $300 for special contribution!  Also, I think Easter Sunday was pretty astounding.  We had almost 90 people at church, including 16 children!  With the picnic afterwards, it was an idyllic day.

Jesus sought out powerful encounters with God.  He didn’t just go off somewhere to pray.  He went to a HIGH mountain.  It was a place where they could be by THEMSELVES. They had to put in some effort to get there.

We need to seek powerful encounters, mountain top experiences, too — times we go to meet with God and be transformed!

This is why we go on retreats.  But that’s not enough.  When I lived in Atlanta, in the pressure cooker of raising my kids, I used to have some pretty bad days.  When I was full of tears and emotion and felt at the end of my rope, I would drive to Stone Mountain and hike up to the top, praying all the way.  There was something about being up there with my Bible, looking out over the city as I wrestled with God, that helped.  I always felt better.

I remember other times when I would just take a walk, or go outside in the evening where it was just me and the fireflies.  There I would lay my troubles on God and try to work through them.

A couple of months ago I had a long car trip by myself, and I used that time to listen to the Bible and talk to God like He was in the seat next to me.  It helped a lot with what I was going through.  Sometimes I fast for a day, and spend some time with God and a notebook, writing it down as I feel like I get resolution from the Spirit on things that perplex me.

Okay, enough about that.  But here is one more thing I want to say about mountain top experiences.  We may be having them right now, and not even know it. 

I realized yesterday that I’ve been YEARNING to build the married and family ministry here.  In doing so, I’ve taken on an, “if only” attitude.  “If only we could convert some married, then things would be all right.”

The thing I realized about that, was that this is the same thing I’ve through through the years about other wants.  “If only we could convert a campus girl so Jessica wasn’t the only one.”  “If only we could have some baptisms.”  “If only we could get a leader.”

If only we could get those things, then I would be happy.  Then things would be all right.

The thing about that, is that attitude could keep me from relishing the amazing blessings I had, blessings I see even more clearly in retrospect.  They were awesome days when Jessica was the only girl, and we had great times getting together!  I can think of so many awesome times with people over the years.  I miss those people who have moved away!

SO TODAY, EVEN IF WE DON’T HAVE EVERYTHING WE WANT IN THE MINISTRY, IT IS THE BEST OF TIMES!  Let us be present and relish the relationships we have, and realize how powerful it is that God has given us this.

Going on, another thing about the transfiguration story that’s encouraging is that we can see the process of being physically transformed.  It helps me to have faith in what I will be one day.  My flesh will decay, but somehow I will have a spiritual body like Jesus.  After all, the Bible says he clothes us with his righteousness.  “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  II Cor 5:21

The last thing I a going to talk about here, and maybe my most favorite thing, is what God said to Jesus:  “This is my beloved son.”

The word for beloved is an extension of the word agape, the word for unconditional love.  The word used here is agapetos, and it means more than just loved unconditionally, it means divinely-loved; personally experiencing God’s “agapē-love.”

God basically told Jesus that He loves him in an extraordinary way, a full on Godly way.  It was a special kind of encouragement for Jesus.  It must have filled him to the brim with good feeling, even empowered him.

But remember, that Mark 9 starts with the statement that some will see the kingdom of God come with power.  And this is what I want to stress .  That the kingdom coming is not just a time when we die to self and have new birth, as I mentioned in the previous blog.

The kingdom ushers in a time when WE can be God’s children — HIS BELOVED, even as Jesus was the beloved son.  “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”  I John 3:1

This means so much to me.  In our emotional healing support group this past week I realized that one of the main things I need to be healed of is feeling that I don’t belong.  As I REALLY realize that I am God’s beloved child, I begin to KNOW that I BELONG.  That is just what I need.

God gives us his spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing that we are divine, that we are His and we have a place in His eternal kingdom.

I am enough.  I am not flawed, I DO fit in.  I am perfectly the person God made me to be, and He thinks I am incredibly special, and believes in my potential, even eagerly anticipates seeing me fulfill my potential, just as I anticipate this for my children.

So let’s seek powerful encounters with God.  Let’s appreciate the powerful ways He is already working in our lives.  And most of all, let’s bask in the sure conviction that we are beloved, and He will equip us with everything we need for the future.

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Filed under Love, Mark, Self Worth

The Power of the Singularity

singularity

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

Truly” here is the word Amen, and it is used to call attention to a statement of pivotal importance.

What is of importance? That some of them will actually SEE the kingdom coming.  The monumental thing that’s been foretold for ages will come to life before their very eyes!

It is the beginning of a new age.  I love what I heard John Lennox, an Oxford scholar say in an intellectual discussion of Christianity — that the universe started with an inexplicable singularity, and Christianity started with a singularity as well — Christ inexplicably rising from the dead.

It gives me a vision of exponential growth.  The universe burst forth and expanded with the Big Bang.  A new age, the kingdom of God, burst forth with Christ.  Death to self leads to our own powerful internal resurrection.  We can have new hearts, a new identity as a child of God.

We can become the powerful continuation of the singularity of Christ.

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

Just as Christ’s death brought forth a whole new age, our death to self can bring about salvation for those around us.  Remember that Mark 9:1 is a continuation of the passage where Jesus tells his disciples they must deny self and take up their cross.

I keep wondering how I can help more people know God.  Should I pray more?  Invite more?  Develop more programs?  Hold a special event?

I think the answer is I need to die more.

Die to fear of what people will think.  Die to lack of faith.  Die to comfort, to doing what I want to do.  I want to keep my ministry civilized, a little reaching out, a little loving others – nothing that will make my life too messy.  I have to give myself to others more.

Because the word that is used for come in Mark 9 is not a one time occurrence kind of word.  The way it’s used in the Greek  means that the effects will linger.  We STILL see the kingdom coming with power.

It’s funny.  I don’t understand much about physics, but I read that many theorists believe that nothing existed before the singularity that created the universe.  Prior to the singularity, nothing existed, not space, time, matter, or energy – nothing.”  (big-bang-theory.com)

Nothing is the counter intuitive goal for growth — to be the seed that dies to produce many seeds, to lose your life to gain your life, to die to self so others may live.

And here’s one more cool thing about a singularity — it’s defined as a one-dimensional point where the laws of physics as we know them cease to operate. (physicsoftheuniverse.com)

The laws of physics cease to operate.  Impossibilities cease to exist.  It reminds me that there is a place outside of physical limitations.  God is not bound by space and time.

To me, that means that anything is possible!

Amen.  Truly.  Pay attention, this is of pivotal importance. We will SEE the kingdom of God continue to come with power.

The first step is just to die, to shrink in until there is nothing left of self, and everything left of God, to become a singularity with infinite potential.

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Self Denial — Changing our Paradigm

In my study of Mark, I have come to the passage on denying self and taking up our cross.

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. 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? 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 8:35-38

I’ve studied this passage so much with others, I really wanted to skip over it.  But I trusted the Spirit, and held the course.

And it has been awesome!  I’ve found so much inspiration.

First, I looked at the chronology.  Although I’ve heard that Mark is a piecemeal composite of stories of Jesus, there is a definite time line in this part of Mark 8.

  1. Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah.
  2. Then, Jesus begins to teach his disciples that he must suffer, be rejected and die.
  3. Peter rebukes Jesus, and Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan.  You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
  4. Then Jesus calls the crowd to him and teaches them they must deny self and take up the cross.

It helps to know the timeline, because it has bearing on what Jesus is saying here.  When he tells them to deny self, the Greek word for deny is much stronger than simply disregarding something.  The word is aparneomai.  The Greek word arneomai already means deny, so adding a prefix to it makes it stronger.  You STRONGLY REJECT something, disown it, repudiate it.

It’s just like what Jesus does when he says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”  Jesus is repudiating everything about what Peter is telling him.  Jesus is wholly rejecting the “human concerns” and embracing the concerns of God.  He maintains his identity as a spiritual being, God’s child.

How different this makes me see this verse!  I don’t just deny myself, push away that selfish desire.  I REJECT it, turn my back on it, push it far away!  It is not for me as a child of God.

And what is for me as a child of God?  Taking up the cross.

What?  That is a sad destiny.  Aren’t we supposed to have the abundant life?

It really struck me here Jesus was telling people to follow him to death, and then to resurrection in heaven.  Our destiny is to go to heaven.  This earth is just a way station.

As much as I want to focus on the positive things,  being grateful, and seeing the many ways I am blessed here on earth, I can’t forget that all that is rubbish compared to what I will have in my TRUE home in eternity, wrapped in the arms of God.

And so, Jesus says, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”  What good is it for me, even if I got ALL the things I want — a comfortable conflict free existence?  The cost for this is a mind that becomes focused on human concerns, and not Godly concerns.  I lose my spirituality, my very identity as God’s child.

And here’s the real kicker.  I lose the power of the resurrection.  Jesus isn’t telling us to follow him in some kind of funeral march, so we should be glum and dressed in black as we contemplate our sad fate.

No!  He is helping us to go through death, including death to self, so we can go through the resurrection.  Totally cool!  He’s trying to take us to be most amazing place there is. It’s an epic journey.

Not only that, but by dying to self, we can have the power of the resurrection right now in our lives.  We can become new.  We can overcome that character infirmity that is a like a dog on our back.  The church can blossom and grow.  The impossible is possible!

But Satan wants us to believe the lie.  He paints this picture of a dreary life as a Christian.  We see our trials and think that will be our life.  We lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel.

Here’s how I can relate to this.  Last night I went to House Church with some emotional baggage.  It was at Mike and Marge’s house, and the last time we met there I was still going through my menopausal depression.  I remembered the struggles I had with my attitude.  So even though now things are different, I couldn’t help dreading going back to the site that reminded me of my struggles.  It was great to see everyone, but as the discussion started, my heart was heavy and I couldn’t get past that. I kept on, and finally the darkness lifted.  The emotional baggage left me and my eyes were opened.  Now I could see light, not darkness!  We were discussing the resurrection, and I saw each person there as a miraculous product of the resurrection.  I saw that my dreams of the church growing in the future would be accomplished by the power of the resurrection.  A huge weight lifted from me.

Satan wants to put a darkness and a dread upon us.  But our eyes can be opened to see that God is light and His way is good.  Satan wants us to fear self denial and the cross.  God says they are the way of giving us the very best.

Yesterday I went to visit Marge on her “cruise ship.”  That is what she calls the Cancer Center where she’s staying.  It’s something you have to see to understand.  Usually when you think of being treated for cancer, you think of this miserable existence of bleak antiseptic clinics, brusque doctors, and bored receptionists who make you wait hours for your procedure.

The Cancer Center changes the paradigm.  It’s like a resort — a beautiful carpeted colorful facility, with people who are nice to you at every turn, and good food, and options to take excursions to take in local sights.

Let’s change our paradigm.  Self denial and taking up our cross is a good thing.  It’s leaving the emptiness and lies of the world behind, and embracing our rich destiny as children of God.

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