Category Archives: Mark

Wrestling with Religious Division

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When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them.  Mark 9:14

I have to admit, the political climate right now is driving me crazy.  I cringe when I look at the headlines, like I’m opening a container of moldy leftovers.

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Yeech!  But the main thing that is driving me crazy is the rabid discord.  It makes my heart sad to see people hating on each other.

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And then I think, “Surely, we as Christians should be different.”

Yet often we are not.  That’s why I wanted to explore this verse, which is a part of the story that I discussed in my last blog.  It concerns something that is much on my heart — our tendency to be contentious about religious matters.

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Whenever I read how the teachers of the law opposed Jesus, I want to shake them and say, “Don’t you get it?  This is the Messiah that you’ve been waiting for!”  I have such a strong desire for people to overcome their biases and LISTEN, for them to live in harmony and be unified, just like Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one.” (John 17:21)

But it is the nature of man to dispute.  And just like this wrangling broke out when Jesus was away, the tendency to dispute is amplified when people get in a place where they don’t see Jesus and his power and wisdom.

I wrestle so much with the religious division I see today.

I could go on and on about it, but one of the main things I want to say is that we need to have convictions, but we also need to be humble.  We need to remain open, listen to others, and not think we have it all figured out.

I’ve been reading a totally mind blowing book about people throughout history who were martyred for holding to what they believed the Bible said.  I can’t help but be inspired by them.

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Yet at the same time I get turned off when I see churches split because one group thinks they need to follow the Bible more stringently.

What to do? Should we be more rigid or more tolerant?

I believe the answer is to be like Jesus, to be  “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Like Jesus, we need to have strong commitment to live by the truth.  When Jesus faced temptation, he answered it with scripture, and said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4)  All of his actions were righteous.  He maintained, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.  The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”  (John 8:28b-29)

But we also need to remember that Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'”  (Matt 9:13) 

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We need to remember that Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  He didn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery.  He told his disciples to accept those who were not part of their group and yet performed miracles in his name, “For the one who is not against us is for us.”  (Mark 9:40)

Again, we need to make it our top priority to fulfill the most important commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'”  (Mark 12:30)  A top priority should also be to help others do the same, “teaching them to obey everything.”   (Matt 28:20)

Yet we can never be self righteous.  Jesus related that the tax collector who stood at a distance and prayed, “Have mercy on me, a sinner” was justified, not the Pharisee who was proud of how he kept the law.  (Luke 18:13)  We so badly want to feel superior and tell someone that they aren’t committed enough if their commitment doesn’t look like ours.  But we need to be careful.  There is always someone more committed — someone who has given away all their material possessions, someone who is devoted to service, someone who is saving souls right and left.

Instead, we need to practice Romans 14:1, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.”  There is a place for the sister who is committed, but weak.  Encourage her, and give space for her to grow and for God to work. (Phil 1:6, Romans 14:4)

Timothy summed this all up so well.  He started by saying in II Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” and then went on to pronounce:

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Going back to today’s reading, what did Jesus do when he was faced with religious disputing?   You know, you would think that when Jesus appeared, he would have waded in the argument and set the teachers of the law straight.  Instead, it seems like he got onto the apostles for not being able to heal the boy, “You unbelieving generation. How long must I put up with you?” (Mark 9:19)

I think this shows us that Jesus expects that our focus should be solely on God.  He was looking for faith, the vertical relationship.  But his apostles ended up getting tangled in horizontal interactions.   How would it have been different if they had looked to God when things didn’t go as planned?  What if they had said, “Hmmm, this didn’t work, so let’s pray more and seek the Lord about this?”

I say this because I can relate.  I’m trying to remember to look to God.  But often, when things are challenging, I start reaching for any safety strap I can find.  I get bent out of shape.  It goes better when I think, “Wow, this is tough.  What’s going on, God?  What do I need to learn?  What do I need to do differently?  How can I trust?”

So let’s sum this all up.  What can you do if you are faced with a difference of opinion regarding a religious matter?

  1. Take time to take the matter before the Lord in careful prayer.
  2. Be humble.  Listen and try to understand the other person’s position.  Don’t be self righteous.
  3. Look to your own righteousness before God.  Do you have a log in your eye that you need to remove before you address the speck from someone else’s eye?
  4. Decide if the scriptures are clear cut on the issue.  It is a disputable matter or a salvation issue?  Does it regard a sin a person needs to repent of immediately, or is it an area in which they need to grow?
  5. If you do have a clear scriptural principle to defend, stand up for it!  But do so without quarreling.  Be respectful.  Treat others as you would want to be treated.

May our dream be, as Christ’s was, that we all may be unified!!  “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”  (Ps 133:1)

I think it is totally good and pleasant in our church!  I love that we are like family.  Here are a few recent pictures.

Singles at church

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Me with Elena and Edie

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Alicia and Travis

But we’ve had to work for our unity.

Some say that unity will only happen when everyone lives by the scriptures.

But I say that unity will only happen when we obey the scriptures, pray for wisdom, and have open honest discussions in respect and humility.

Discussion is vital.  And that means that Satan would like to cut off all discussion, or make it unproductive.

The great tragedy is that he often succeeds.

The great victory is that we can vanquish him by living in truth and grace.

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Filed under Mark, Unity

The Best Resolution for the New Year

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them.  As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech.  Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”  Mark 9:14-19

As I face 2018, I confess that I am in a bit of a funk.

I had the most wonderful Christmas.  The highlight of it was that my son and daughter in law surprised me and showed up at my door Christmas Eve.  I didn’t think that I would be able to see them.  But they came, and my whole family got to be together for the holiday.  I was beyond ecstatic.  Here are a few scenes —

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My husband and son grilling Christmas steaks.

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But now I feel like my grandson after we took him to a the small town of Valley’s Christmas celebration.  He rode the merry go round.  He saw Santa.  He slid down the slide bunches of times, and jumped in several bouncy houses.

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But when it was time to go, he got an attitude and kicked the ground.

He wanted to do more.

I want more — more time with my children, more ways for God to work.  I know it’s ungrateful, and I am so awed and thankful for the many things God has done.

But now I am facing the year ahead with a feeling of insufficiency.  There are things my heart is looking for in the new year that I feel totally inadequate to help bring about.

Today’s reading is perfect for this, because it gives me my answer.   The disciples were also feeling totally inadequate.  They couldn’t heal the boy.  I didn’t include the scriptures for whole story, but Jesus did drive out the evil spirit from the boy, and at the end, when his disciples asked him why they couldn’t drive it out, he said, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” (Mark 9:29)

This year, things will only be accomplished by prayer.  This doesn’t just mean intense prayer, or prolonged prayer, although these are good.  But Jesus healed the boy in an instant, not with many words.

His disciples were stymied, because they had previously been able to drive out many evil spirits.  (Mark 6:13)  So there was something they were missing here, and Jesus said the missing ingredient was prayer, but not just any prayer.  It had to be the kind of prayer that was deep and daily, the kind that would bring them into a more faithful and powerful relationship with God.

That is what we need: deep and daily prayer.

We need to pray with listening ears, so that God will give us wonderful sustaining insights. “I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.”  (Ps 16:7)

We need to pray so that our faith is strengthened, by putting our requests before God and waiting in thankful expectation.  (Ps 5:3, Phil 4:6)

We need to pray so that we will remain in Christ, close to his power, just as he remained close to God.   “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  John 15:7

And much more.  What are the ways you will deepen your prayer life in 2018?

There are daunting things we will face in the coming year.  Will we be an unbelieving generation?  Or will we be able to face them with a strong faithful relationship with God?

“This kind can only come out with prayer.”  That’s the only way we can face the challenges to come.  That’s the only way to deal with our feelings of insufficiency.  That’s the New Year’s resolution we need.

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Filed under Faith, Mark, Prayer, Self Worth

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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Filed under Mark, Strength in God, Transformation

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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Filed under Mark, Power, Strength in God

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