Monthly Archives: November 2017

Not Ashamed!

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

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

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

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

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

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Lin with our friend Jack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Misha coaching the Phenix City High School softball team.

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

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

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Misha receiving the “Lets Make A Difference” Award.

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

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

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

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

Perfect submission, all is at rest; 

I in my Savior am happy and blessed

Watching and waiting, looking above;

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

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Balm for the Soul

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

Last weekend didn’t go as expected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Having the Right Heart, Mark, Self Worth, Things I Am Learning

Do We Have “Following Faith?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Joshua and Caleb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Following faith is a big deal to God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yeech, I need to repent!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fred Gray and Me

Fred Gray and me.

 

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Filed under Discipleship, Faith, Mark