Monthly Archives: December 2017

Repentance Brings Restoration

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Recently, I had the best time celebrating the graduation of my son and of my daughter in law.  They were both awarded their master’s degree in Nursing Anesthesia.

IMG_1010I am so proud of them, because I know some of what was behind these degrees.  I remember the days when my son was young, and hated schoolwork.  I think of how he had to do extra work to get in to the college he wanted to attend, and how he ultimately made the decision to switch from music to nursing, and rose to the top of his class.  I think of how difficult it was for him to go back to square one of not knowing anything and learn a new specialization, after being a respected ICU nurse.  Then recently, I know it was hard for him and my daughter in law to be newly married and have to be separated for all kinds of clinical rotations in all kinds of locations.

But they pushed through and made it.  And now they have great careers ahead of them.

There’s a life lesson in this.  We want the gain.  But are we willing to go through the pain?

Today’s reading speaks to this question in an amazing way.  Check it out —

And they asked him , “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”  Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?  But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” Mark 9:11-13

There are all kinds of cool things to discover about this passage.

First, let’s look at what the teachers of the law were talking about when they said that Elijah had to come before the Messiah would appear. They were referring to Malachi 4:5, “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.”   This is the last thing written in the Old Testament.  It places readers on the edge of their seats, anticipating the Lord’s coming.

Second, how would Elijah come?  In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel prophesied about John the Baptist, “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah.”  (Luke 1:17)  Elijah came as John the Baptist.   John wasn’t the physical embodiment of Elijah (John 1:21), but he had the spirit and power of Elijah.

Third, looking more deeply at these two verses gives us insight into what the coming of Elijah/John the Baptist would be.  Malachi 4:5 is followed by, “He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”  Luke 1:17 goes on to say, “He will change parents’ attitudes toward their children. He will change disobedient people so that they will accept the wisdom of those who have God’s approval. In this way he will prepare the people for their Lord.” (GWT)

The job of John the Baptist was to help people repent.  Then they would be prepared for Jesus to come, and ultimately, be in line for the final judgement.

I totally love how Jesus worded this: “Elijah does come first and restores all things.”

How wonderful it is that John the Baptist came to restore!  Through preaching repentance, he came to get people back the close relationship with God they were created to have.

For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.  I Peter 2:25 

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We long for this restoration, to be right with the Lord, to be safe and comforted in his arms.  And we can have this now on earth.

But we will have it infinitely more in heaven.  Jesus went on to say, “Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?”  You see, Jesus was talking about a progression of restoration.  First, Elijah would come, and people would repent.  Then, the Messiah would come, and he would suffer, die and be resurrected.  This would open the way for men to have their home with God forever.

Here’s the coolest thing — look how Peter’s words in Acts 3:19-21 sum this all up:  “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. For he must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets.” Acts 3:19-21

Repentance brings restoration.  It’s the path to the achievement of God’s will.  On a personal level, it’s the path to the things we need and want.

The question is, will we go through the pain to get the gain?

repentanceThis is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”  Isa 30:15

During the holidays, my heart’s desire was to have a wonderful Christmas with my family.  But I had to constantly work at repentance for this to happen.  I had to keep denying my worry, anxiety, anger, grumpiness, fear, and especially, pride of thinking that things had to go a certain way.  I had to decide, over and over again, to trust God more completely, and find delight in pleasing him.

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Sometimes it was the small stuff.  I remember one morning before Christmas I woke up and saw that Ken had been eating the cookies I had baked the day before.  It had taken a lot of energy to get the cookie making together, and ride herd over my rowdy grandkids to roll and cut out shapes, and then decorate them.  I felt like the cookies had to last all through Christmas.  I was so grumpy!

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I had to wrestle to be righteous.  Isn’t it funny?  It takes work to have a happy life.  And it’s the same thing in other areas.  It takes work to have a good marriage.  It takes work to have a functional family.  Like my son and daughter in law, it takes work to have a good career.

John the Baptist gave us the key.  We need to do the work of repentance.  This will bring us to the things we long for.

Yet we will still have tragedy.  After all, John the Baptist was executed.  Jesus alluded to this in the reading, “Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished.”

That is why the promise of a final restoration is so important.  That is why we continue to repent, even if we don’t see the fruit of it.  Being completely with God will be so incredible.  It will give us everything our heart ever longed for, and even things we didn’t realize we longed for.

“The biblical meaning of the word ‘restoration’ is to receive back more than has been lost to the point where the final state is greater than the original condition.  The main point is that someone or something is improved beyond measure.” (From a church website.)

The gain will be far greater than the pain.  Let’s remember that, and let it motivate us.  May it be our life’s work to help others to be restored as well.

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  II Cor 5:20

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Needing a Mountaintop

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them.  His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus . . . Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”  Mark 9:2-4,7

Do you suffer from year-end fatigue?  I know I do.  And it doesn’t help that the pace of life picks up between September and December like a roller coaster racing downhill.

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I start to expend more than I take in. I begin to feel like there are parched neglected places inside of me.

Whew!  What to do?  Well, there’s all this wonderful holiday stuff, guaranteed to lift my spirits!  So I immerse myself in shopping,  decorating, baking, feasting, and special activities.  And I start to experience this sort of a strange mix of euphoria and depletion — like eating a diet of sweets.

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After awhile I realize I need something more.

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That’s why I think Jesus went up on the mountaintop.  He needed something more.

And in doing so, he was showing us that we all really need mountaintop experiences.  We need times of extra connection with God, and extra assurance that he is with us.

I don’t think it was just random timing that Jesus went through the transfiguration six days after he told his disciples that he would have to die.  He deliberately went up on a mountain, as he had on other occasions, to be strengthened by God for his coming ordeal.

And he was strengthened in a huge way.  First of all, he was strengthened as he prayed.  According to the parallel account in the book of Luke, as Jesus began to pray, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.”

Jesus was also strengthened because God gave him two of the biggest spiritual powerhouses, Moses and Elijah, to talk with and encourage him.  Luke lets us know what the conversation was about, “They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:31)  Jesus had some hard times coming, but he got to benefit from the experience of two men who faced challenges with faith and humility.

Finally, Jesus was strengthened because God spoke from heaven and gave him a massive verbal affirmation.

But Jesus wasn’t the only one who was strengthened by this time.  It made a huge impact on Peter, John and James.  We know this because Peter mentioned it in his second letter.  “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.  He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ And we ourselves heard this voice from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain”  (II Peter 1:16-17)  

What’s really cool about this is that Peter came to have the same mindset as Jesus had, in looking towards his death. “I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.  And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.”  

Peter knew that life on earth was in preparation for the next life.  This is true for us too, and that makes it especially important that we have times of strengthening so we can carry out our mission and make it to the finish line.

So let’s plan a mountaintop experience!  Any time of getting away to spend time with God is good.  A day of fasting is good.

But there’s just something about praying in the midst of God’s creation.  I’ve found that it’s especially powerful on a mountaintop.  When I lived in Atlanta, there were times when I felt like I was at the absolute end of the rope.  Then I would drive to Stone Mountain, holding back tears the whole way, and hike up the mountain.  There, at the top, I would find a solitary place where I could see the whole city.  I would open my Bible, read scriptures and pour out my heart to God.  I always felt the weight lifting, and my mind clearing as I did so.  The Spirit would lead me to just the verses and truths I needed.  I would be completely refreshed and invigorated.

We may not realize it, but we’re thirsting for that!   It’s wild.  I find myself surfing different sites on the web, and I realize that I’m reaching out.  I’m hungry for a connection with something. Ha! Why do I think  that I’m going to get this need met electronically?

God is standing ready to meet our needs for more.  And here is one more encouraging thing about that.  We think it was supernatural that Jesus became radiant when he prayed on the mountain.  But II Corinthians 3 promises us that we can become radiant.  “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”   (II Cor 3:18)

We are going through a transfiguration as well!  Ours is just taking more time.  But think about it.  We live in a time when we can come into God’s very presence, the Most Holy Place, that only the high priest could enter.  “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus.” Heb 10:19

Every day, we have an astounding opportunity to be transformed by the very presence of God.  We just need to draw near to him.

This past weekend we put on a little Christmas show for church, and I performed a piece on Naomi.  Naomi came to a place in her life where she felt completely empty.  But as she got on the road to return to the land of her God, the Lord remembered her and began to bless her abundantly.  She was redeemed.

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God is the one who redeems us from hopeless places!  He takes us from emptiness to fullness, from depletion to invigoration, from the valley to the mountaintop.

Let’s deliberately go to him, as Jesus did.  God will strengthen us in a huge way.

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When the Bottom Drops Out

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”  Mark 9:1

I am so grateful that we had a wonderful Thanksgiving with my daughter and friends.

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Thanksgiving 2017

We also had a super encouraging baptism of a young Tuskegee student who is dear to me.

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But then it was like the bottom dropped out.

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Travis looks like the bottom dropped out here, but it really didn’t. It’s just a funny picture.

My husband had some major problems at work.  He had to work from home the rest of Thanksgiving vacation.

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Here I am having a lovely morning by the fire. You can just see a bit of my husband wrestling with a situation on his work computer in the background.

And many other challenging situations arose for my loved ones:  a broken engagement, constant pain, attempted suicide, late term miscarriage, mental health issues, quitting church, substance abuse, raising grandchildren, marriage in crisis.    I myself experienced a couple of episodes of emotional overload that were discouraging.

Today’s verse can help with all of this.

To understand it, we need to realize that Mark 9:1 belongs sequentially at the end of Chapter 8, beginning with the passage where Jesus had told his disciples that he would suffer, die and be raised again.  This is followed by Peter rebuking him.  Then Jesus gathered his followers and told them all this heavy stuff — that anyone who wanted to follow him would have to deny themselves and take up their cross.  That they must lose their lives to save them.  That there would be dire consequences for anyone ashamed of him.

But Jesus closed this all out by saying something positive.  The kingdom was coming!  It’s like he was saying to those who were looking for him to be their king, “I know I’ve told you a lot of hard things, but take heart.  You are going to see the kingdom. And it’s going to be awesome!”

I don’t pretend to understand everything about the kingdom.  I used to teach people that the kingdom came when 3,000 people were baptized in Acts 2, and that the kingdom is the church.

Now I realize that the kingdom is a lot more.

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There’s this mind blowing book called “The Kingdom of God” by Tom Jones and Steve Brown.   It says,  “In Jesus’s teaching, the kingdom was seen as the now, but was also as something that was not yet here in all its finality.”

The scriptures bear this out.  Look at Matthew’s parallel passage to Mark 9:1.  Jesus leads into it by saying,  “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”  (Matt 16:27)  That speaks of a time still to come.

But then Jesus also made statements like, “But if I am casting out demons by the power of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you.”  (Luke 11:20)  It’s plain that the kingdom was also present at the time Jesus was on earth.

Do you know what is exciting about this?  It means our king is  reigning, and will reign exponentially more in the future!!!  “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.'”  (Romans 14:11)

It means that we are living in a time of power, because Jesus said that the kingdom would come power.   John the Baptist also spoke about this.  He said,  “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  (Matt 3:11)

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It means that we, as citizens of the kingdom, have power.  In fact, we have incomparably great power.   (Eph 1:19)

We have power because we have the  indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  

  • “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”  I Tim 1:7
  • “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”   John 4:4
  • “But if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”  Romans 8:13

We have power because Christ is interceding for us.

  • Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”  Romans 8:34
  • (Jesus said) “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”  John 14:12

But there is one more aspect of this power that I want to mention, which is perhaps most important of all.   None of this power would be available  if Christ hadn’t died.  Through the whole passage we’ve been studying, Jesus was telling his disciples that death was the essential ingredient.  No wonder he got in Peter’s face when Peter rebuked him.  Jesus was trying to say, “If I don’t die, you won’t have the kingdom.  If you don’t die, you won’t be the kingdom.”

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  John 12:24

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Death is the source of power.

That means a lot of things, but what does that mean to us when we are going through major struggles?  The first thing I tend to do is start turning the situation over and over in my mind to figure out a solution.  Or I start doing things to fix the situation.  It doesn’t have to be my personal troubles, I do this to try to help others as well.  But it makes me constantly restless and anxious.

But lately I’m realizing that the best thing I can do is to die completely to having any control over matters, and instead to plant prayers, like kernels of wheat, in the soil of God.  Only as I give them over to God completely, will his power be able to work them out.

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Let’s remember that we’re living in a time when we can see the power of of the kingdom. That fires me up!  Let’s pray to see it more.  Let’s die more, so it is more available to us.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know . . . his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  Eph 1:18-21

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