Monthly Archives: November 2015

The Path to a Tender Heart

pathway-to-sky

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.  Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.  She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.  Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  Mark 14:3-9

What an interesting place for this story.  Jesus just finished discussing all of the terrible things that would happen in the future.  And then a woman poured expensive perfume all over him.  The talk of ugliness is juxtaposed with an act of beauty.

I think the two are related.  But the first thing all of this makes me wonder is why Jesus said there had to be so many hard times.  Why does the path to his glorious return have to be paved with trials?

I guess the real question here is why do we have to go through so many trials and disappointments?  I’ve been reading a great book lately, “Grand Weaver” by Ravi Zacharias.  In in Zacharias shows us eloquently how God has a design behind each one of our lives, and that we can trust the process.  This is one of my favorite passages so far:

“…at the end of your life one of three things will happen to your heart: it will grow hard, it will be broken, or it will be tender.  Nobody escapes.  Your heart will become coarse and desensitized, be crushed under the weight of disappointment, or be made tender by that which makes the heart of God tender as well.”

Reading this really impacted my life.  Because it made me see that I harden my heart when things hurt me, instead of letting the circumstances soften my heart.

On Dec. 22, 1998, my mother passed away unexpectedly.

My mom.  She loved to take videos of her loved ones.

My mom. She loved to take videos of her loved ones.

Ever since that time, I won’t let myself think of my mom, or that time.  I close myself off.

And I never could understand why my mother had to die.  Other people might say they found something good in their tragedy.  Not me.  I just want my mom back, want her to see how beautifully her grandchildren are growing, want her to experience milestones with me.  I’ve never stopped missing her.  I couldn’t see what good there could be in her not being here.

But now I can see something else.  I can see that there is benefit in experiencing emotional pain. The pain that I carry around in my heart helps me to treasure the relationships I have more.  It compels me to reach out and touch others in distress.  It makes me feel compassionate towards others in their troubles.

It helps me understand the cross more.

God has a plan for all of us to create more tender hearts in all of us.

That is why the story of the woman above is more meaningful.  I can’t help but think that the woman would not have been so generous unless her heart had been made tender by heartbreak in the past.  Her life had been a journey up to that point, and her inner pain welled up and caused her to pour herself out in sacrificial giving to Jesus.

The word Jesus used to describe the woman’s act is kalós, which means “attractively good; good that inspires (motivates) others to embrace what is lovely (beautiful, praiseworthy).”

The beautiful act of service performed by this woman would inspire others through the ages to perform beautiful acts of service as well.

And that is what I want to leave you with this Thanksgiving week.  I charge you to serve in gratitude, because you have Jesus, a place of succor, when you are poor in spirit.

Has life been painful?  Don’t shut yourself off to the pain.  Experience it, weep over it, and then let it well up in you and compel you to reach out to others, and pour yourself out on their behalf.

There is ugliness in the world, but it can create beauty.

And that is God’s design.

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Filed under Compassion, Mark, Servanthood, Things I Am Learning

Miracles I’m Not Taking for Granted

I decided yesterday was one of the high points of my life.

First, out of the blue, my old friend Kristen Kopp showed up to worship with us at the North River Church service.  That was such an awesome surprise.  I hadn’t seen her in a long time.

Then, at church, we showed part of a video that I helped put together.

Video

I can’t describe how gratified I was to finally see this video.  Over the past few years I’ve tried at least twice before to put together a promotional video for the church, and it always didn’t quite come together in the end.  Then we started working on this video, and Michael, the brother who filmed it, loaded the footage in his computer and then his computer broke in a car crash.  The video got put on hold.  And then when Michael did get his computer fixed, and had time to edit the video, we used too much copyrighted footage, and YouTube wouldn’t support it.  So I didn’t get to see it.

So this past Friday Michael uploaded the video to Google docs and I saw the video at last.  He did such an awesome job.  I teared up and my throat welled with emotion.  I thought, “This is something awesome that I was a part of, that I used my talents to help create.’  It was immensely gratifying. And it was even more special because for so long I’d felt sad and frustrated because I hadn’t been able to get a video done.  And then it was even more moving, because we were actually able to show at least part of the video to a large group of people.  We achieved our objective!

Another thing that made the day a high point was that we had a baptism that was an unbelievably good surprise for me.  It was Courtland, one of the Tuskegee students who has been studying the Bible.

Courtland baptism courtland

With all the low points our church has been through in the last year, I can’t describe how encouraging it was to have this baptism at the North River service.  It was like a huge confirmation:  God is working!!

After church, our North River friends put on a wonderful lunch for us, and tons of people who have been involved in our ministry were there.  It was over-the-top encouraging.

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And one person who was at the lunch was Ashley Nutt, a sister I LOVE who I helped study the Bible with, and is now at medical school in Philadelphia.

Ashley on the left. (Sorry my camera wasn't set right and it's blurry.)

Ashley on the left. (Sorry my camera wasn’t set right and it’s blurry.)

It was great to see Ashley and hear her talk about how well she is doing.  But my heart soared as she related to me how wonderful our ministry is to her.  She said that no other ministry she’s been in has such a sense of family and dedication.  She was so passionate about the great spirit that defines our group that I felt lifted up and restored, again, because I felt like we’ve been through so much in the past year.

Finally, I went to the wedding shower for my son and his fiancee, Elizabeth.  It was one of the most lovely showers I have ever attended.

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The women went over and above to make it an outstanding event.

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But even more special to me, was to be able to celebrate at this tangible reminder that my son, Max actually is getting married to an awesome young woman.  I’ve talked before about how amazingly God has worked in Max’s life to bring him to this point.  So my heart was already full because of that.  But also, Max and Elizabeth have had some tough trials on the road to getting everything ready to have a marriage together, especially in the last week or so.  It was absolutely refreshing to be with loved ones and rejoice in all the good things they have.  God is good.

So, all in all, it was an incredible day.

But what made it incredible wasn’t just that awesome things happened.  It was that I very much recognized that each one of these things was a miracle.  Each occurrence could have gone a very different way.

And that recognition of miracles, after the struggles and lowliness of heart I’ve experienced, was especially poignant.

So the scripture in Mark for today is:

When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.

“If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

“But in those days, following that distress, ‘the sun will be darkened,and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky,and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

“At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.”  Mark 13:14-26

It’s a long passage.  But Jesus was saying that grueling, frightening times were coming, but then at the end, Jesus will come back and, with great fanfare, and gather us and transport us to be with him in heaven.

None of us know how many struggles we’re going to have to go through before the end comes.  But there will be struggles.

That’s what makes the miracles that happen along the way especially awesome.

And my message today, is that we need to see the miracles that are happening, and not take them for granted.

Jeff Hickman preached yesterday that we should exult in the miracle of our salvation.  He quoted Titus 3:3-5a

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. . .

He pointed out that we CANNOT take our salvation for granted.  We would be in such a mess without it.

The same is true for our lives.  God gives us so many things, at just the right time, that are wonderful.

Let’s recognize these things.  The days are dark.  The very fact that so many things have gone right is a miracle!

And if you are at a low point, waiting and wishing for something you desperately need to turn out for the good, keep holding on and remembering what God has already done.  Something good is coming!

Today I am utterly thankful for the ways God has worked.  Life is a series of miracles.  I don’t take them for granted.

 

 

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Filed under Abundance/Greatness of God, Diary, Faith, Gratitude, Mark, Miracles

How I’m Keeping Watch

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert ! You do not know when that time will come.  It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.  If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ”  Mar 13:32-37

As I get older, I find that it gets more difficult to stay alert.  I feel dull.  I don’t have the same energy level.

For instance, yesterday a young sister, Misha, told me the story of the time in her life when she was studying the Bible.  One night her apartment was broken into, and she was so upset.  Her friend who was studying the Bible with her, whom she hadn’t known long, came right over and supported her for several hours.  It made such a difference in Misha’s life that someone she didn’t even know that well would care so much about her.

As I heard this story, I thought, “That’s what we need to do.  I want to do that.  But I feel tired and dull.  These days I often let those kinds of opportunities to love and serve my friends slip through my fingers because I am not alert.”

So how do we stay alert when life is so distracting, and our energy levels wane?  I think one major way is to pray.  For the last few days I have REALLY been praying.  I’ve felt like my kids needed extra prayer — there’s a lot going on in their lives — so I decided that I wasn’t going to eat or drink anything but water in the mornings until I had a great focused prayer time.  It has made such a difference.

I am remembering that the best time in prayer is after the first 15 or 20 minutes, when I’ve gone through all of my prayer requests for everyone.  Then I start to be more quiet and listen to God.  Then my heart starts to remember what is really important to God.  (And it’s not my agenda!)  Then I find peace and inspiration.  I have a better perspective on life and my day to come.  I’m even re-energized!

Here’s one story for today.  I am far from perfect, but I did prayerfully consider what I should do this week.  One thing that came to mind is that Ken and I need to visit his nephew, who is now stationed at Fort Benning.  It took a little bit of being intentional and reaching out, but the result was that last night we took the nephew and his new wife out to dinner.  We had such a wonderful time!!  We saw their lovely new apartment.  We got to know them both, and really enjoyed finding out what great people they are.

It reminded me of how important it is to get out of my routine and make the effort to do the extra things.

That’s what watching and being alert is to me.  It’s praying and keeping my eyes open for opportunities, then praying some more to have the energy and means to take those opportunities!

What does the word “watch” mean literally, in the Greek?  It means to “be awake.”  To me, life is a constant battle of trying to stay awake.  I just keep on wanting to curl up somewhere and get comfortable and check out.  Especially when it’s cold and rainy outside!

Let’s pray, and  allow God to “wake us up” every morning.  He has so many great things to teach us, so many great opportunities for us to take.

The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.  Isa 50:4

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Filed under Balance, Diary, Mark, Prayer, Things I Am Learning

To Love is To Endure

Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.   Mark 13:13

How hard it is to endure!  We are disappointed, crushed by life’s woes, broken in heart by those we love.  Our friends fall away.  People let us down.   Things don’t go as we planned.  The world seems to fall apart.

Yet Jesus calls us to endure.

How do we do this?  Sure, it’s easy to have it as a lofty goal.  We’re all inspired by stories of the those who persevere in spite of great hardship to the very end.

crossing finish line

But then we find out that it’s a lot harder in practice than it is in concept.

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What makes it so difficult?  I want to suggest that it’s not just the trials, it’s our mindset during the trials that makes us lose heart.

Look at this parallel passage in Matthew 24:12, “Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. And the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

Let’s break down this verse.

First of all, what is lawlessness?  The Greek word here is anomía (from A “not” and nómos, “law”).  In other words, without law.  It describes people who don’t want to follow God or His precepts.  Instead, they want to do things their way.

Or maybe I should say it describes us when we do what we want instead of what God wants. “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own.” (Isaiah 53:6)  

And then, what kind of love are we talking about here?  The Greek word is agape, which means a committed, sacrificial, unconditional love.  Agape is the way God loves us.  He is righteous.  He is faithful to us no matter what.   He is the one who proclaimed, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”   (Isa 46:4)

So, looking at Matthew 24:12 again, it’s saying people will have an increasingly prideful and independent mindset.  And this will cause them to lose the passionate unconditional love for God they once had.  If they don’t feel like it, they won’t obey Him.   They will no longer commit themselves to Him on His terms.

It does seem like this is especially true today.  With the Internet, it’s such a temptation to think we’re well informed, and thus we know the best way to look at things.   As we read and cultivate opinions, we define ourselves in sharp lines, and we are sure we know how the world should go.

pride

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

The trouble with this is that we start thinking that God has to fit into the construct of our own personal world view.  And thus if some part of following Him doesn’t fit with our paradigm, or make sense to us, it seems very reasonable and rational that we not do it.

We start to drift away in small ways, both in practice and attitude.

And then the trials hit, and we flounder.  We know we should keep on, but we’ve taken God with a grain of salt.  We’ve lessened our commitment to him.  It’s easy to be tempted to give up.

In addition, we can feel stuck, because we’ve required God to make sense to us, and what we’re going through doesn’t make sense. We don’t know how to move forward.

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How sad if feels to be in this place where our heart isn’t what it once was!

So it’s vitally important that we maintain our passion for God.  It is our wellspring, our source. 

spring

Above everything else guard your heart, because from it flow the springs of life.  Prov 4:23

Here is what I’ve learned: No matter what happens, it’s me and God.  That relationship is my sweetest delight.   Regardless of what is going on with my loved ones, or my church, or my life, I have God.  I have His love, like a hidden treasure.  It is enough.

And I want that for all of us!  Let’s fight for it!!  Here’s a battle plan:

Let’s REMEMBER WE ARE LOVED with agape love.  Because HE set an example of loving us no matter what, we can press on to show our love for Him.  “For Christ’s love compels us…” ( II Cor 5:14)  “We love because he first loved us.”  (I John 4:19)

Let’s COMMIT AND GRIT our way through.  Like marriage, love for God is for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health.  It is a promise to continue in ANY circumstance.   Like I Corinthians 13 says, “love always perseveres. Love never fails.”  We have to set our face forward with teeth clenched determination that we’re going to follow God and do the right thing no matter what.  “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.”  (John 14;23)

Let’s TRUST.  We need to live our life on our knees, admitting in humble acknowledgment that He knows better than we do, and that He loves us and wants what is best for us.  “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.”  Prov 3:5

Let’s REALIZE HE IS WALKING WITH US.  When my mother died, there was nothing that could take away my pain.  But it meant the world to me that my friends came and supported me through the pain.  It’s the same way with God.  He sometimes doesn’t take away the pain, but He does He walks with us through the it.  “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  Ps 23:4

Let’s HOPE.   It is infinitely helpful to know that our efforts are not futile, that they WILL bear fruit.   “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  (I Cor. 15:58)  “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  (Gal 6:9)

Jesus wanted his disciples to know very clearly that trials would come.  And he called them to endure through the trials, to the very end.  He would not have said this if it wasn’t possible.

Satan’s goal is to keep this from happening. And he’s got some pretty heavy artillery.  Jesus mentioned some gruesome trials — being betrayed by family, being put to death.

But even with all of that, Satan’s greatest weapon is to attack our minds and hearts.

He wants us to dilute our love for God, little by little, with love for self.

He wants us to distract us from drinking deep from the well of God, so we feel like we’ve run dry, and get weary and tired.

He wants us to feel like our challenges are bigger than they are.

barking dog

But Satan is often all bark.  Satan just stirs up our fears and uses them against us.

“he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”  I John 4:4

Let’s fight for our hearts!  Let’s hang on, even if it’s by our fingertips!

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The one thing Satan doesn’t want is for us to keep on going.  It doesn’t have to be pretty, but as long as we don’t give up, we’re in the battle.

And look what is in store for us!

  • To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations  Rev 2:26
  • To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.  Rev. 2:7
  • ‘He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne  Rev. 3:21
  • He that overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. Rev. 21:7

To love is to endure.  We can do it.  It is worth it.

 

 

 

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Filed under Battle Against Evil, Mark, Perseverance

Fix the Bad or Spread the Good?

“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains

You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”

There is so much strife in the world.  Right now, what I see is politics.  I intensely dislike the antagonism there.  My Republican friends post on Facebook about how stupid the Democrats are.  The Democrats post about how dumb the Republicans are.  It is just so hateful, so inconsiderate.

But this is nothing compared to the conflict all over the world.  It is utterly disturbing to see the fighting in Syria, the Middle East, and other places — people killing one another, full  of rage and antagonism, over and over, without end.

Looking at the above passage in Mark 13, there is a huge contrast between the strife foretold, and the building of God’s kingdom.  One makes it seem like the world is falling apart, and the other speaks of a kingdom that is GROWING through all the hardship.  One is bad news, the other is good news.

So does Jesus want us to fix the bad news, or does he want us to focus on the good news?

I think it’s obvious he wants us to focus on the good news.  Look at the wording of verse 10 again:  “And the gospel MUST FIRST be preached to all nations.”  That is the priority of Jesus. He doesn’t once say they should engage in the wars, or even fight it if they are arrested.

No, in fact, they are to use the conflict they encounter as a platform to be WITNESSES.

I think the same should be true today.  Our main focus should be on the spreading of the gospel, not in fixing the wrongs of the world.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I think there’s a place for righting injustices. “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.  Isa 1:17a 

And most definitely we need to serve the poor and needy.  After all, pure religion is to take care of the orphans and widows. (James 1:27)  Jesus said that in caring for “the least of these” — the sick, the hungry, those in prison — we are caring for him.  And Isaiah said about true fasting: “Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”  Isa 58:7

But the gospel MUST be preached.  I guarantee, most of us want to put it on the back burner instead of the front.

So what is the “gospel?”   I looked through the first few chapters of Mark to see what good news Jesus was telling people, and I found almost nothing.  The only thing I saw was this:

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”  Mark 1:14-15

The good news was that it was time for the kingdom of God to come.

And what did the kingdom mean to the Jews?  They thought God would make them a sovereign nation, as He did in the time of David and Solomon.  They would be an empire, great on earth.

But this wasn’t the kingdom Jesus was bringing.  Even if we don’t see him describing it, we can see what he was doing.  Jesus was amazing people with new teachings about God.  He was casting out demons.  He was healing the sick.  He was forgiving sin.

And that shows us that actually, JESUS was the good news.  He was the kingdom that was coming.  The king, God, was WITH men as never before.

Sure, God was with his people in times of old.  He told Joshua, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you.”  (Joshua 1:5)

But God wasn’t with men in a physical sense, as He was when Jesus came to earth.  And what a powerful time it was!  Demons were conquered.  Sin was forgiven.  Words of life were spoken.  Needs were met.  Bread was multiplied.  Love was manifest.

God was with them.  That was the good news.  And, of course, it became even better news than that, because Jesus made a way for people to be WITH God always.

So whether there were disasters or wars, or any manner of catastrophes, Jesus ushered in a time when it didn’t matter what was going on, because the Almighty God was WITH them.  He didn’t come to bring an end to their suffering.  He came to bring them power amidst the suffering.  THAT was the good news.

And it still is the good news.  Last night Ken and I were praying with our friends, Mike and Carol.  I confess, that when it gets to be about 8 PM, I am just gutting it out sometimes.  I love my friends, and I love to pray to God.  But I’m tired.  And so my prayers can be listless.  But last night I remembered the good news.  The powerful God was with me!  And I KNEW He would do exciting things because of our prayers.  So I started to be infused with strength and excitement.  I felt alive.

The gospel is such good news.  I could go on an on about the hope we have, the impossible prayers that have been answered, the miracle being a part of the family of God.  It’s not lackluster, it’s HUGE and glorious.

Thus, the gospel must be preached.  It is bigger than any catastrophe, because no matter what happens, we can be WITH God.  People need to know this truth that will transform them forever.

May this calling swell in our hearts.  Let’s not get distracted by ranting about the numerous wrongs in the world.  Yes, let’s seek to right injustices.  Yes, let’s spend ourselves on behalf of the needy.

But let’s also seek to give people the thing that will help them find hope and strength in their difficulties.

Let’s give them the Jesus who will make possible immeasurably more than all they can ask or imagine.

Let’s give them something that will last far beyond the troubles on this earth.

The world will always be falling apart.

With our help, there’s something more.  The kingdom that will always be growing.

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Filed under Evangelism, Good news, Mark

The Jesus We Need to Make It Through

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you.  Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.”    Mark 13:306

As I read this, it really hit me that people need to see the REAL Jesus, not a deceptive one.  And I began to realize I haven’t always been reflecting the real Jesus to my friends.

Because I want to make Jesus easy for my friends.

When my friends are having a hard time, I want to empathize with them, and tell them it’s okay. I don’t want to be seen as self-righteous or closed minded by telling them they have to do the right thing no matter how difficult it is.

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After all, I haven’t walked a mile in their footsteps, I don’t know what they’re going through.  Would I be able to do better if I were in their shoes?

So I’m soft and I let them settle.

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And I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong.  I really don’t have the wisdom to understand what they’re going through, or what their journey should look like.

The thing is, though, that I may be withholding from them the thing that could help them most – the real Jesus.  Yes, I tell them about the Jesus who is loving and compassionate, and this is vital.  Without these qualities in Jesus, we could never make it.  We need his understanding and loving mercies so desperately.

But we also need the hard-nosed Jesus.  We need the Jesus who set his face towards Jerusalem and gutted it through to his death.  We need the Jesus who pushed through in the garden and kept praying until he had the heart to do the right thing.  We need the Jesus who willingly took the way of suffering.

Because we’re all going to suffer, and if our only goal is to end that suffering, we’re going to miss the point.  It’s in pushing through the suffering that we are able to grow, overcome and be our best.  If we just settle for where we are because it’s too hard and painful try to do better, we’ll never become the best version of ourselves.  We cheat ourselves of the joy of victory, the joy of being our best selves.

I’ve got to reflect the beneficent Jesus, but I also have to call people to follow the Jesus who never did what he wanted, but always sought to please the Father (John 8:29), the Jesus whose sweat was like drops of blood as he prayed to be able to do the right thing, (Luke 22:44) the Jesus who gave his ALL.

Unless I show my friends this Jesus, and call them to imitate him, I am leaving out the one thing that can help them through their trials: the Jesus who found a way to be righteous when it was hard. THIS is their lifeline! Because there IS a way through. There’s a better place ahead, if they’ll just keep fighting.

If you read the whole chapter of Mark 13, you see that Jesus was sending a clear message to his listeners:  struggles and hard times were coming.  This is a message people have never wanted to hear.

Case in point, we all love Jeremiah 29:11, and how God has plans to give us a hope and a future. But right before that in 29:8 He said, “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have.”

The Israelites were going to have to go through seventy years of captivity before they got to the place where God was going to bless them.  And they didn’t want to hear about that.  They wanted to listen to false prophets who would tell them it wasn’t going to happen.

We all gather around us teachers who will tell us what our itching ears want to hear (II Tim 4:3), that we’re going to be free from struggles.

itching ears

Is this how the early disciples encouraged one another? By telling them that life doesn’t have to be hard?

Acts 14 says of Paul and Barnabas, “Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,they said.

Paul and Barnabas built up the churches by telling them that they would be in for a hard time.

What was the real Jesus Paul preached? Here is a part of his sermon in Acts 13:

Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have (Jesus) executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. Acts 13:28-31

Paul preached the Jesus who suffered, died and came back to life.

THIS is the Jesus we imitate in our lives, and encourage our friends to imitate.  We get beaten down by life, but we rise again!  We live out the gospel over, and over again, as we go through hardships.

Let’s not be deceived, like the writer of Ps 73 almost was:

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.

We can’t think the be all and end all is the cessation of struggles.  But we can have the mindset, and help others to have the mindset, that there WILL be challenges and we CAN get through them, just as Christ did.

Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:17

For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. II Cor 1:5

So going back to the beginning, maybe instead of being self righteous and telling my friends to do the right thing no matter how tough it is, or being soft and letting them settle, I should tell them that I’ll cheer for them and be with them every step of the way as they fight through!

It’s just like the illustration we had Sunday in our lesson.  Mitchell, who was preaching, had someone from the audience, Nate, go up front and do push ups.

nate pushups

Nate thought he could only do 40 push ups, but when he had people cheering him on, he did 73!  Check out the following link below if you want to see it in action: Video

WE CAN DO IT, with encouragement from one another, and the real Jesus is our inspiration!  He gave his ALL!  And as we strive to give our all, we will realize more and more the abundant life God intends for us to have.

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Filed under Battle Against Evil, Discipleship, Make Every Effort, Mark, Perseverance