Monthly Archives: May 2015

Making it Across the Finish Line

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”  The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”  Mark 10:23-27

I agree.  It IS hard to enter the kingdom of God.  But it’s not just hard to give up things to follow Jesus.

It’s hard to make it to the finish line.

I saw this awesome cartoon Roger Lamb shared yesterday:


We think when do Jesus the favor of following Him, he’s going to make our life nice and smooth.

Instead, we find ourselves in a mine field.

“This is not where I am supposed to be!” we cry angrily.  “Something went wrong.”

But what if that pit is a part of God’s map for you to make it to the finish line?  What if that is the route you NEED to take?

You know, it’s funny, but when the way gets hard, we start abandoning our baggage.

too much baggage

All those things that we treat as important?  They become less important.  When it’s really hard, the only thing that matters is God.

I read a marine’s account of going through basic training.  He said EVERYONE became religious by the end.  They were so desperate, exhausted, bodies falling apart, that they ALL prayed.

Maybe we need to go through times like that to give up our idols and really seek God.

Because our idols can keep us from making it to the finish line.

How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God.

This past Monday my family went to the Renaissance Faire and my son in law held a snake


Do you know how a snake like this kills?  It wraps around its prey and gradually tightens, suffocating it.

Just like what the parable of the soils says about the thorny soil —

But the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Bit by bit the things we’re involved with can coil around us and choke us.

Yikes!  Should we all become monks, then?  Give up all our worldly possessions and pursuits?

Who then, can be saved?

With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.

The thing is, that God is doing the saving, not us.  And it’s not just a one time thing at our conversion.  God is saving us every day, getting us ready for heaven.

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.  Phil 2:13

God is taking us on the exact path we need to travel to run through the tape.

And what do we need to do?


As Philippians 2 goes on to say, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.”

We protest, “But it’s so hard.  I know God doesn’t want me to go through these financial troubles, these heath problems, these emotional challenges, this anguish.”


Because God’s plan is to transform us.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  Heb 12:11

God is training us.  It is not impossible for us to make it because He is WORKING MIRACLES.

And He works His miracles in us by bringing us through minefields and pits.

By compelling us to seek His presence.  “To be in the presence of God is to change.”  (Richard Foster, “The Celebration of Discipline.”)

By making us a part of His body.  As Gordon Ferguson points out in “The Power of Discipling,”  God has created for us a fellowship where,”the sinful tendencies will be discouraged and the godly tendencies will be encouraged.”

This is God’s work.

What is our work?

To trust.

To not grumble or argue.  (Especially with God!)

To lay each pursuit, each worldly possession, each situation, each moment, each thought, on the altar for His glory.  This keeps us from being choked.

Who then can be saved?

Just the moment I think I have it all figured out, that I know how to be saved, God gives me an unexpected twist, a pit I can’t get out of, and I have to trust him all over again.

And once again I find It IS hard, even impossible, to enter the kingdom.

Except by holding His hand, and letting him get me there.

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Transforming the Heart

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ”  “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”  Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.  Mark 10:17-22

It is amazing here that Jesus won’t let anyone call him good.  He was without sin, we know he WAS good,

But it is also comforting in a way to know that no one is good.  We all sin.  We’re like Romans 7 — “I don’t do the good I want to do. Instead, I do the evil that I don’t want to do.”

This really seems true to me lately.  I have come face to face with things in my character that cause me to struggle.  And no matter how much I wrestle with them, I am still struggling.  I tell myself not to let my mind go there, and a minute later, the same thing is going round and round in my head again!

But there’s hope!  There is hope because God gave us what we need to TRANSFORM!

I love that word: “transform.”  It’s one of those metamorphosis words.  It means we can ACTUALLY CHANGE on the inside.

I’ve been reading “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster.  It’s an old school book, but it has some good stuff in it.

“Willpower . . . is incapable of bringing about the necessary transformation of the spirit. . . .  The needed change within us is God’s work, not ours.  The demand is for an inside job, and only God can work from the inside.  . .  The Disciplines [of meditation, prayer, fasting and study]  allow us to place ourselves before God so He can transform us.”

We can’t change just by wanting to.  All the grunting and sweating of self effort won’t alter our inner selves.  I know.  I’ve tried it many a time.  I’ve come up with all kinds of programs that I’ve attempted by my own wisdom and strength.  Yeah, they’re helpful.  But I still come back to the same place, the same weaknesses.

That’s why it’s so encouraging that God knows how to change our heart.  He’s given us the resources to employ that allow HIM to work within us.  When we pray, meditate, study the Bible, and so on, it gives the Spirit ways to tinker with our inner workings.  And the Spirit is the MASTER workman extraordinaire!  It KNOWS JUST HOW to fix hearts!

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2

So that encourages me to spend more time in the “Disciplines,” to listen to my audio Bible in the car or while I’m cooking, to have more one on one time with God, to be quiet before Him.

Because sooner or later, we’re going to have a rich young ruler encounter, this time when God asks us to give up that one thing we don’t want to give up. Our hearts will be tested.

Boy is that true of me!  I am being asked to trust God in ways that are SO HARD for me.  I cry out to God.  “It’s too hard,” I say.  “Don’t ask me to give that up.”

And God replies “But I need to be #1.”

Exodus 20:23 says, “Do not make any gods to be alongside me.”  God doesn’t want anything in his presence that even hints of being as important as He is.

I love the illustration Kyle Idleman uses in his book, “Gods at War” —

“God declines to sit atop an organizational flowchart.  He is the organization.  He is not interested in being chairman of the board.  He is the board.  And life doesn’t work unless everyone sitting around the table in the boardroom of your heart is fired.”

God is GOD.  He needs to be the be all and end all.  Life doesn’t work otherwise.

So with the rich young ruler, Jesus wasn’t trying to say that everyone has to give up all their stash.

He was saying that the ruler could have no other gods.

He wasn’t saying this to make the ruler a miserable pauper.  He was saying it to take away the things that gave false joy and replace them with the thing that will give real joy.  And, of course, the ultimate joy will be in heaven.

You know, the ruler asked Jesus a question.  But he really didn’t want to hear the answer.

And that is my challenge lately.  To hear.  To ask God, “What are you trying to teach me today,” and be attentive for His answer.  And then, of course, act on what I hear.

He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.  Isa 50:4b

I need to listen so I can be transformed, so I won’t be that wretched person who’s always trying, but never changing.

I need to listen because I am not good.  I need to entrust myself to God’s goodness, bask in His goodness– the Word, His presence.

Why did the rich young ruler go away sad?  We usually say it’s because he was not ready to give up what he loved.

But maybe it’s also that he was afraid.  He was sure that the cost was worse than the cure.

And we know the cost is not worse than the cure.  It’s totally worth it.

Don’t you want to go up to that ruler and get in his face and plead with him? “Don’t leave!  Don’t give into your fears. Good things are coming!”

Let’s plead that with ourselves.  Plead it with our friends.  Wrestle to believe that whatever we give up, it’s totally worth it.

And submit ourselves to God with a listening ear, immerse ourselves in Him, so he can shape in us a heart that craves no other gods but Him.





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Filed under Having the Right Heart, Humility, Mark

Taking Time for the Important

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.  Mark 10:13-16

The disciples thought that Jesus had more important things to do than minister to snot nosed kids.  After all, they’re so juvenile.  They don’t merit the attention of an important teacher .

Holding child

Here’s a picture that’s gone viral this week.  It’s a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem who picked up a baby who was crying during his class, and kept on teaching.  People LOVE that this professor would care for the child, instead of sending the little one out of class so he could continue his lecture.  The professor had a different set of priorities.  The child was important.

What is important to us?  Are we like the disciples?  Are some people more important than others?

As Ken and I were praying this morning, he remembered in prayer that it was not the rich influential impressive people Jesus reached out to.  It was the common man.  Ken prayed this because we had just had a challenging night of service to someone whose life is a bit messy.  We had to remind ourselves that this is the kind of person Jesus ministered to — those who have one hardship after another, those we would look at and say, “They need to get their life together!”

We get so self important.  We get so tied up in our busy lives that we can forget what is really important.

I have been reading “Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty.   I thought this paragraph from the book was such a great description of people today —

“Mothers took their mothering so seriously now.  Their frantic little faces.  Their busy little bottoms strutting into the school in the tight gym gear.  Ponytails swinging.  Eyes fixed on the mobile phones held in the palms of their hands like compasses.”

In the book, when someone would ask one of the mothers how they were, they would always reply, “Busy.  Frantic!

Our lives are slammed with things we think are essential to do.

By contrast, I drove through the neighborhood yesterday afternoon and saw a group of children playing on a long stretch of lawn.  It looked idyllic.  They weren’t consumed with all they had to do.  They were focused on the now.

children playing

We need to be more like children.

I was with my grandchildren this past weekend on Mother’s Day.  At the end of our time, I told my grandson, barely three, that it was time for us to go.

“I don’t want you to go,” he said.

Then I told my five year old granddaughter goodbye.  She said the same thing.  “But I don’t want you to go.”

Grandkids playing in bubbles on Mother's Day.

Grandkids playing in bubbles on Mother’s Day.

Kids don’t care about schedules or things that need to get done.  They care about relationships.  They want to be with their friends, their loved ones.

Is that the way I am?

Last night at house church we talked about how we need to love one another as Jesus did.  And it occurred to me — Jesus was only able to love a few people well.  To show what love is, he focused on 12 disciples, and a few others, like Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

And I thought, I can do that.  I can focus on loving a few people well.

I let myself get so busy.  I spread myself so thin.  But when I realize that Jesus focused his time on a handful of individuals, it makes me see that I CAN make people the priority.  It’s not overwhelming.

We need to make time for one another.

But what about God?  Do we have time for Him?

Because God has things He would like to tell us, if we would slow down and listen.

I love to watch birds at my birdbath.  I fill it every day, so they have a fresh supply of water.


It gives me such pleasure to see the birds perch on the edge and take a long drink, or jump in and wriggle and ruffle their features in blissful enjoyment.

God has water for us, wisdom ready for the taking.  It makes Him happy when we come to him, when we listen.

Listen in the quietness of prayer, not besieging Him with petitions, but waiting for His voice.

Listen for His will, His agenda, not our own.

Listen to pick up what He is teaching us through life.

Listen to hear what is really important.

It’s strange.  We have to block out all the things that seem important to be able to hear the things that are really important.

And somehow a child knows what’s important.  Somehow as we become adults, we forget it.

How is it that growing up has made us more selfish rather than less?

Today  I went and visited an elderly lady who’s in hospice.  It felt meaningful.  It felt important.  As I left, I took her hand in mine and prayed with her.  “Thank you, you’re so sweet,” she said.

She wasn’t a child, but it’s the same thing Jesus was talking about.  The elderly are often demoted.

Let’s take the “children” in our arms and bless them.  Let’s take time for the stranger, for the casual acquaintance.

And those who are close to us, may we love them really well.


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Radical Obedience — To What Extent?

When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this.  He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.  And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”  Mark 10:10-12

Yikes!  Who wants to study out this verse?  It is too hard, there are too many differing opinions.  It makes me emotional as I think of so many divorce situations I’ve come upon through my life.

Do we apply this passage literally, no matter what?  Do we practice radical obedience to it?

That brings up a few thoughts about radical obedience.  I just read a blog by Jonathan Hollingsworth about being a radical Christian —

“When you’re obsessed with being a “real” Christian, you start noticing Christians all around you who don’t seem to fit the bill. And if you’re like me, you start pointing fingers.  I thought I was some kind of prophet, preaching a lifestyle of sacrifice and self-abandon that I expected everyone to follow. But my concern for the suffering was making me insufferable.”

Radical obedience can make us insufferable.  It can make us think we’re obeying in the right way, and everyone else is wrong. .

Here’s an example.  Before we were married, Ken and I attended the small mainline church of Christ he grew up in.  Ken’s parents went to that church as well, and the members there were like family to them.

Ken’s mom had a best friend at church and they had long wonderful conversations every day.  But then, the issue of divorce came up in the church — this very passage.  There was a couple who were members  who had divorced and remarried before they were baptized.  Some people felt that they were committing adultery and should not stay together.  Others felt that it was okay.

My mother in law was on the it’s okay side, and her best friend was on the it’s a sin side.  The church split over this issue.  The best friend and others sent out letters to other churches telling them to not have anything to do with those who thought this couple was okay.  My mother in law was deeply hurt.  Her best friend stopped talking to her.

About 25 years later, my mother in law passed away.  Her former best friend came to the funeral, very sad.  She put a letter of apology in my mother in law’s casket.  But it was too late.  The bridges were burned.

We REALLY need wisdom in our obedience.  We cannot just blindly and rigidly apply verses without regard for situation and circumstances, without compassion, without prayerful consideration, without careful study, without Godly advice.

Because it was not the intention of Jesus to divide.  In Mark, he had just talked about being at peace with one another, about humility and serving one another.

Yesterday I was reading on the ICOC Facebook page a post about one of the forefathers of our fellowship of churches, Kip McKean.  Over and over again, I read how the main issue our church leaders have had against him is that he is divisive.  They quoted this statement from McKean:

“You see we believe our congregation is unique here in Portland. Now I think there are other baptized disciples in other fellowships. But I don’t think there is any other fellowship that is composed solely of sold-out baptized disciples.”

Kip said their fellowship obeyed the Bible better than other fellowships.  Radical obedience can be divisive.  It’s vital to keep this in mind.

Does this mean we start fudging on obeying?  Of course not!  We still need to wholeheartedly follow the teachings of the Bible.

But let’s pray every day to practice radical obedience with wisdom, let’s talk among one another, and let’s be led by grace.  Obedience always needs to be accompanied by humility, love, compassion, an awareness of God’s goodness.  Because without these things, what bubbles up out of our heart is self righteousness, indignation and frustration.

There’s a happy ending to the story of my father in law and the church split.  He remarried, and just a few weeks ago found himself in the position of needing to find a new church home.   Where did he end up but at the church that had separated from his so many years ago!  He thought they would not want him there, but his old friends welcomed him and his wife warmly.  The troublemakers of the past had moved on in one way or another.

God is SO GOOD.  His blessings surround us.  May this direct us in our quest for righteousness.

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”  Romans 14:17

ACTION ITEM:  What is your blind spot when it comes to obedience to the Bible?  Get input from a spiritual friend on something you’re struggling to do from the Bible.

(If you want to study out this divorce issue in depth, here is a great article on this passage by Rubel Shelly.  He does a far better job than I can do.)

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Filed under Having the Right Heart, Mark

The Goodness of Unity

I woke up this morning thinking of God’s goodness.  “I NEED God’s goodness,” I told myself.  “If I wasn’t connected with God’s goodness, I would wither up and die.”

A little melodramatic, but it describes what I feel.

Anyway, today’s reading is Mark 10, and I as this blog unfolds, I am going to tie it in with God’s goodness.

Some Pharisees came to test him. They asked, “Can a husband divorce his wife?”  Jesus answered them, “What command did Moses give you?”  They said, “Moses allowed a man to give his wife a written notice to divorce her.”  Jesus said to them, “He wrote this command for you because you’re heartless.  But God made them male and female in the beginning, at creation.  That’s why a man will leave his father and mother and will remain united with his wife,  and the two will be one. So they are no longer two but one.  Therefore, don’t let anyone separate what God has joined together.”

You know, when God made the world, He saw that it was good.  This is so true for me.  Almost any time I am struggling, I can go out into nature and feel the very presence of God’s goodness.  It is beautifully overwhelming.  It is healing.

And then when God made man, He said it was very good.  This is important for me to remember because I tend to be down on myself.  I have to work on self love.  I have to remember I am God’s unique creation, one that is not just good, but very good!  How can I naysay God and act like I don’t have worth!

But God declared one thing to be not good, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  So God took his very good creation, man, and gave him something else that was very good, a “helpmeet,” a companion who would make him better and life better.

So this is what marriage is to be — the best thing, the daily providence of God’s goodness in our lives.

And that is why Jesus doesn’t support divorce — not because he wants anyone to stay in miserable marriages, but because he wants people to have one of the best gifts he can give.   He’s saying, “Don’t give up!  If you persevere and apply Godly principles, I will bless you through this marriage!”

I mean, look at I Cor. 13 and what love is to be —

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn’t jealous. It doesn’t sing its own praises. It isn’t arrogant. It isn’t rude. It doesn’t think about itself. It isn’t irritable. It doesn’t keep track of wrongs. It isn’t happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. (GWT)

If we had a spouse who was consistently like this, wouldn’t we be joyful every day!

If we were consistently like this, how would it make a difference in our marriage?  I was thinking of it yesterday as I was driving in the car with my husband and we were trying to work out Mother’s Day plans with our kids.  We couldn’t decide where to go.  We were hungry.  It was hot.  “Love is patient,” I kept telling myself.  “It isn’t irritable.  It isn’t rude.”

What about for our friends?  What if we loved them this way?  Jesus just talked in Mark 9 about “have salt in you and be at peace.”  I wrote a blog on the power of peace and unity.  Can we be united with our friends?

I mean, what was the last thing Jesus prayed for before he was put on the cross?  My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”  (John 17:20)

Do we pray for unity?  Do we seek that all men would know us by our love, our love that is patient and kind, that bears all things?

If marriage is a holy union because God has made man and woman one, what about the body of Christ?  “He makes the whole body fit together and unites it through the support of every joint.”  (Eph 4:16 GWT)

It is not good to be alone.  It is the epitome of goodness to be united — in marriage, and as brothers and sisters.  Church can be epically wonderful!

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!  Ps 133:1

But just as marriage takes work, it takes work to be united as disciples.  We intentionally encourage.  We overlook insults.  (Prov. 12:16)  We remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of evil. (Eph 6)

May God’s goodness grow and spread as we grow in unity and in number.


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Sow Peace

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”  Mark 9:50

What salt is Jesus discussing here?  It could refer to so many areas of our Christian influence.

But I think the clue here is that this verse ends with “be at peace with each other.”  In Mark 9 the disciples are arguing about healing the demon possessed boy.  They argue about who is the greatest.  Then they try to stop someone from driving out demons in the name of Jesus.

The disciples promote dissension.  They may not mean to incite negativity, but that is what happens.

So Jesus tells them to have salt among themselves.  They need to have a preservative affect, not a corrosive one.

Peace is very powerful.  Think of what Jesus said in John 17:21-24

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

I love what the Pulpit Commentary says about this verse, even if it uses old timey language —

“Do not be idly contending about place or position, as not long ago you were disputing (ver. 33). Our Lord foresaw that this kind of contention, these rivalries, and these ambitious aims, would prove a great scandal and a great hindrance to the progress of his Church in the future ages of the world. But he also knew that if his disciples in every ago would endeavor to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” their influence would be irresistible, and they would draw all men to them and to himself, the great Centre of attraction.”

If we will but keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

I have found this is VERY HARD.  My low self esteem can cause me to feel negative towards people who unknowingly provoke my insecurities.  I worry whether they will think badly about me and so I get anger in my heart about them.    Also, I constantly rank people.  I pick at their weaknesses.  This doesn’t promote unity or peace at all.

If it is hard for me, how hard it is for all of us.  There are so many individuals who get tangled up in an attitude with someone.  It’s like a poison that spreads.I’ve seen churches split.  I’ve seen churches that can’t find a way to come back together.

And do you know what else is a hindrance to peace?   Will worship.  I am finding it is a great snare to me.

What is will worship?  It’s also translated self made religion or self-imposed worship:

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?  These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.  Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

I get overly focused on what I am supposed to be doing, and it becomes all about me.  I think I am worshiping God, but I am actually worshiping myself and how “awesome” I am at following God.

Here’s what Richard Foster said about this in “Celebration of Disciplines,”  “Isn’t it ironic that Paul looks at the most strenuous efforts in the spiritual walk and calls them ‘will worship?’”

I can work so hard, but it can be for the wrong reasons.

And it doesn’t promote peace because it makes me want to impose my same rigid standards on others.

If only we can see that we don’t need to live that way!  As it says earlier in Colossians 2 —

God made you alive with Christ when he forgave all our failures.  He did this by erasing the charges that were brought against us by the written laws God had established. He took the charges away by nailing them to the cross. Col 2:13b-14

The charges are taken away.  We can live at peace with ourselves and others.

And our peace will be powerful.  A gentle word turns away wrath.  A lamb that is led to the slaughter without opening its mouth saves the world.

Let’s be that kind of leavening influence today.  It will be hard.  It will involve turning the other cheek and loving enemies.  But it is the ONLY way, and the only hope for us to be unified, and thus impact others.

Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. James 3:18

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Matt 5:9


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Encourage My Soul

Gross picture, but it's fake!

Gross picture, but it’s fake!

So if your hand causes you to lose your faith, cut it off! It is better for you to enter life disabled than to have two hands and go to hell, to the fire that cannot be put out.  If your foot causes you to lose your faith, cut it off! It is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.  If your eye causes you to lose your faith, tear it out! It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.   In hell worms that eat the body never die, and the fire is never put out.  Everyone will be salted with fire.  Mark 9:43-49

Okay, here we have the classic radical repentance scripture, only I’m using a different translation  –the God’s Word Translation, which phrases stumble or sin as lose faith.  It gives us something to think about.

Losing faith.  You know, this is really Satan’s goal.  It isn’t just to cause us to lose our temper, or be bitter, or lust, get selfish, greedy, etc.  It’s to cause us to  lose sight of how real and good God is, or even that it matters to Him what we do.

So our goal needs to be to do whatever it takes to keep our faith.

 A lot of people who do long distance running say they use a focal point to reach their goal.  They find a tree or something in the distance and just focus on getting to that.  Then they find something else and focus on getting to that.


If we have a focal point, something we can SEE that we’re working towards, it’s easier to make it.  It’s the same way in working through our struggles.  If we keep thinking about how hard it is, we get bogged down.  But if we can look to where we want to end up, the way becomes clear.

I found that was true this week.  I was struggling with something — one of those things that takes over your head and you can’t get rid of it.  I was stuck.  Then I pictured how God has worked out my schedule in the past.  He has always worked out the tough situations in my life,  And I realized He is going to help me find a way through this as well!  I pictured the resolution God WILL help me find, and I felt so much better.

Faith is what we need. An unhampered vision of what God will do.

And Satan wants to find ways to obscure our vision, sabotage our faith.

So lately, instead of just trying to not sin, I have starting asking myself, “What is causing me to lose faith right now?”

And do you know what the answer has been?  FEAR.  Fear that people will think badly of me.  Fear that I will fail.  Fear that things won’t work out, that something will go wrong.

Fear messes me up so I keep focusing on my problems instead of God.

Fear is something I need to cut off, tear out!

Fear is something I need to replace with trust that God will guide me out of every dark valley.

dark valley

Replace with humility, bowing before God and letting Him teach me.

Replace with the wonderful encouraging vision of the resolution, what God will do.

Replace with the vision of heaven.

But there’s more.  I can’t just tell myself not to fear.  I can’t just replace it with other things.

Why?  Because I have to address the source of my fears.

This passage in Mark says, “everyone will be salted with fire.”   Judgement Day is coming.  And what is going to be judged?  In Hebrews 4 it says,  “For the word of God is alive and active. . . .  it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. . . . Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

It is our thoughts and attitudes that will be laid bare and judged.  And the word for attitudes here is énnoia, which means “settled (thought-out) opinions, attitudes.”

So it is our entrenched attitudes which will be judged.  It’s not just what we think, it’s what we are intense and passionate about, what we’re invested in.

That is why I can’t just tell myself not to fear anymore.  I have to figure out the ennoia that’s at the base of my fears and root it out.

That is why we can’t just stop one instance of wrong thinking.  We have a whole system of thinking that’s wrong.   It feels like our very self.  It’s like we have to cut off a piece of our heart.


And THAT IS painful and scary, just like the picture of the girl with the gouged out eye at the beginning of this blog.

But faith is so good.  When I feel it, I’m like, why was I holding onto the fear, the selfishness, the pride, and so on?

Deep change seems scary, but the truth is that it actually like walking into the sunlight.

bright sunlight

Giving up control completely to God, giving up even our way of thinking, brings such clarity, such relief.  God’s goodness eclipses everything, and it’s expanding all the time, like light swallowing up darkness.

Living by faith is nourishment to our soul.  And Satan wants to keep us starved in our sins and struggles.

So let’s address those things that hamper our faith.  Let’s dig down and root them out at the source.

What is the root for me?  Simply a lack of trust in God.  I’ve been working on asking Him, “What are you teaching me through this” instead of resenting my situations, and it has been so much better.

With faith, Satan can’t get me to lose sight of God’s gleaming goodness.

I see that the storm is passing over.

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.  Ps 27:13

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Take Care for Snares!


Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.  Mark 9:41-42

We have the power to encourage or discourage.

We can give a “cup of water” to someone,” and God is fired up!  In our fellowship of churches, our mantra has been to “encourage one another daily. . .  so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”  (Heb 3:13)  We know very clearly that we personally can have a positive impact on our brother or sister.  We can keep them from sinning.

But this passage also makes it clear that we can cause people to sin, and God HATES that.  A millstone is a huge heavy thing.  This is a strong statement.

Actually, the Greek says we cause people to “skandalizo,” to stumble.  The word refers to a trap or snareI get the picture of a person walking along, and then their foot is caught and they can’t move forward.  

caught in snare

Our actions and words can trip people up, distract them, get them off track. This can even happen when we are well intentioned.  I think that’s the point of Romans 14.  “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. . .  make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.

The God’s Word Translation phrases it as causing them to lose faith.  This makes sense.  People get tangled up, pulled into sin and away from God.


They get discouraged instead of encouraged.  And we can be the cause.

Am I strengthening or weakening?  Strengthening should be the goal of every interaction.  “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may give grace to those who hear.”  Eph 4:29

Consider these verses:

  • Not many of you should presume to be teachers.  For we all stumble in many ways.  . . . And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.  James 3:2a, 6
  • See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.   Heb 12:15

A lot of wisdom is needed in our dealings with others.  We can’t be careless.  Instead we need to be very careful.

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”  Matt 12:36

We also need to be very careful with our hearts.  We will not only give account for our words, but for our inner thoughts and attitudes.  (Hebrews 4:2)

Because our attitudes DO affect others. The careless words referred to in Matt 12:36 come from the fact that, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”  (Matt 12:34)

Cleaning our inner selves is like cleaning the refrigerator.  You think you have it spic and span, and then you find another container in the back with something rotten in it.

rotten food

In our support group, I’m finding more and more in my character that I need to work on.  It’s a good thing!  But it’s sobering.

We’ve been learning about perfectionism.  Our book  quotes John Wesley, who said that having a “scrupulous conscience” is a “sore evil.”

What? Evil? Surely not!  I would think it is great to have a tender conscience.  It would drive us to be our best for God, and to help others more.

But Wesley describes those who carry it to an extreme, “condemning themselves without cause, imagining something to be sinful where Scripture nowhere condemns it, supposing other things to be their duty where Scripture nowhere enjoins it.”

Wow, now I understand.

I understand because I can be too much of a perfectionist and tie myself in knots.  A friend was in need this past weekend, but I wasn’t comfortable with the way I could help her.  I felt guilty and wretched.  “Jesus would do it, what about the Good Samaritan?” I told myself.  “I should be willing to help her.”

Then I went to a family reunion, and already out of sorts, I fell victim to more feelings of guilt.  My conscience said, “You should have talked to your father in law more.  You should have . . . ”  Once I start down that path, it can go on and on.

And then later in the week I had a talk with a friend that was intended to be righteous, but ended up being a downer for us both.

We get tangled up.  Snares abound.


traps surround

And Satan wants us to be part of the process.

Fight him by realizing how precious each person is.

Fight him by being careful with our words and actions.

Fight him by avoiding unnecessary arguments.

Fight him by dealing with our heart.

Fight him by praying earnestly for wisdom and guidance.

Fight him by seeking to strengthen and encourage, to LOVE!

Because we need each other to get through.  How we need each other!  And we carelessly sabotage that without even realizing.

Let’s give very careful thought to how we interact.  Is it going to build someone up or weigh them down?

There’s so much to do.  There’s a world to be won!  There’s a race to win, with heaven as the prize!  Satan wants to trip us up, get us off track, use us to get others off track.

Let’s foil him, with God’s help.

trap avoid

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  Hebrews 12:1-4

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