Category Archives: Discipleship

Of Lows, Discipleship and Kites

A couple of nights ago, I got to feeling low.  I tried to fight it off.  I tried to look at the good side of things.  But the situation was just too heavy.  The emotions were too big.  And, just as I was feeling burdened by that, I got a text about another situation that discouraged me.  Deep sigh. It was definitely one of those overwhelming times when I was tired and didn’t feel resiliant.  I couldn’t shake the sense of foreboding.

God takes us on journeys, and my journey for the day had started earlier, with a study of Jesus’s statements on judgment in John 5.   It’s going to seem like I’m completely changing subjects for awhile, but I’ll bring it back together at the end.  Here are the verses I read:

  • The Father judges no one, but has assigned all judgment to the Son so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.
  • I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.
  • The time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment.
  • I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.

The context of these passages is that Jesus is answering the accusations of Jews that he was making himself equal with God.  The first part of his answer, which we discussed in the last blog, is that he has the power of life.  So yes, he can claim to be equal to God.  The second part of his explanation is that God has designated him as the judge who will determine what happens to people’s souls after death. And that is what we’re discussing here.

It’s super sobering.  I don’t think enough about Jesus being the judge.  But other passages back this up:

  • For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (II Cor. 5:10)
  • For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.  (Matt 16:17)
  • “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.”  (Rev. 22:12)

As much as Jesus is the face of love and compassion, he’s also the face of accountability.  We’re all going to come before him some day.

So it’s important that we look carefully at what Jesus says here.  Let’s look at the main points from the passage:

  1. Jesus has been given all authority to judge.
  2. He is given this authority so that people will honor him.
  3. There will be a judgment, and at this judgment we will either be condemned, or have eternal life.
  4. The judgment will be based on our belief in Jesus, and on our deeds.
  5. The judgment will be conducted with the goal of  pleasing God and doing his will.

What does this mean for us? It means that it doesn’t matter what we think about how we’ve lived.  What matters in the end is what Jesus thinks.

This isn’t to ignore grace, or the fact that we can’t be saved through our own efforts.  That’s a topic for another time.

But it’s imperative that we endeavor to have the behavior and faith that Jesus is looking for.  I’m not talking about being good enough.  I’m talking about discipleship.  I’m talking about going to Jesus to learn how to follow him.  And he wants to teach us.  That’s why he came to earth and gave us truths and examples.  That’s why why he gave us the indwelling of the Spirit.  That’s why he promised that those who seek will find.

Jesus determines the end of our story. But he also wants our story to have a happy ending.

And this ties in with the rest of my journey a couple of days ago.  When I was feeling low, I started watching a movie to distract me.  I have a free week of Disney+ right now, so I streamed one of their offerings, “Saving Mr. Banks.”  The movie was about someone else who was feeling low, PL Travers, who wrote Mary Poppins.  Mrs. Travers was battling with the script writers at Disney over how the story of Mary Poppins would be portrayed in their film adaption.  But the deeper battle was actually her fight to come to terms with the death of her father, who had many similarities to the character Mr. Banks.  Although her father’s life had ended in tragedy, she wanted a better ending for Mr. Banks.

I enjoyed the film much more than I expected.  In its touching close (spoiler alert!), the Disney script writers realized that the character Mary Poppins came to the family, not to save the children, but to save Mr. Banks.  They changed the conclusion of the Mary Poppins movie to have Mr. Banks finally spend quality time with his family.  The result is the scene which has moved the hearts of viewers through the ages.  The Banks family goes to the park and sings, “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.”

Mrs. Travers couldn’t control her father’s story.  But she could write the ending she thought her father wanted.  We can’t control all of the elements of our own story.  But Jesus can write the ending we want. Just as Mrs. Travers believed the best about her father, Jesus believes the best about us.

So yes, we must be sober, and make every effort to follow Jesus, knowing we will face him and be accountable one day.  But he stands ready, every day, to help us. He stands ready to “write” past the areas where we hit a wall.  

Let’s put our hand in his each morning and let him guide us.  As the lyrics of the song, he will take our paper and strings, and give us wings.

“With tuppence for paper and strings
You can have your own set of wings
With your feet on the ground
You’re a bird in a flight
With your fist holding tight
To the string of your kite.”  (From the movie, “Mary Poppins”)

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Filed under Discipleship, John, Red Letter

The One Who Finds Us

The next day Jesus decided to set out for Galilee. Finding Philip, He told him, “Follow Me.” (John 1:43)

The cool thing about this passage is that Jesus found Philip.  He didn’t just come across him.  He actively looked for him until he located him.

Isn’t it amazing that we serve a Savior who searches for us?  It’s like we’re living out the story of the shepherd who left the ninety-nine sheep on the hill and went after the one who was lost.  (Matt 18:12-14)  I can look back and see how Jesus sought me; how he set up situations so I would encounter him.  One of my favorite verses has been, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”  (John 15:8a)

Does he still look for me?  Does he come to me in my whirlwind of “to-dos” and struggles and side roads, and say to me, “You’re getting off track. Come on. Remember. Follow me.”

I need to stop, and look into his eyes and hear his earnest call again, “I believe in you.  I have a purpose for you.  This is the way.”

Yes!  This is the way.  This is it!  That must be what Philip thought when Jesus called him.  Philip went right away and told his brother, Nathanael, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law, the One the prophets foretold.” (John 1:45)

Philip had the heart to recognize the call, and how momentous it was.  Can we say the same?

This past week the 50 members of our little church gave $14,000 in a special contribution that will enable our ministry to continue.  We were tremendously encouraged.  It is astounding that we were able to give that much.  It says something about the hearts of the members.  They believe in what we’re doing.  It resonates deeply with them.  What they gave was, in a sense, a response to the call of Jesus they heard.

“Follow me.”  When we get it, and do it, it feels glorious!

But many times, we don’t recognize the call.  Many times, we follow imperfectly.

You know, I think the reason Philip responded to the call was because he could see what Jesus was, instead of what Jesus wasn’t.  We know what Nathanael saw at first.  He asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  All Nathanael could think about was how Nazareth was so sketchy.

And we can be the same way.  We’re supposed to look at who Jesus is, but instead we look at all the things that are sketchy — “My marriage is struggling.  I lost my job.  I don’t have the money to pay my bills.  This didn’t turn out like I expected. That person upset me.”

And we feel muddled.  Sigh.  As I think about it, I know the good news is that Jesus still comes to find us.

I can see the evidence of Jesus’s search for me like a breadcrumb trail through this past week.   My friend, Kenonia, and I got together and prayed, and within a minute, the prayer was answered.  Our friends, the Johnsons, sent an email detailing their plans to come and encourage our church in a couple of weeks.  A young woman I studied the Bible with years ago texted me that she’s now studying the Bible again.  My daughter and her husband successfully navigated together the complicated decision of whether to buy a house.  One friend who has had some challenges told me they are now doing better.  Another friend was on the brink of failing nursing school, and told me she passed.  And, of course, our church raised $14,000!  So many prayers were answered!

It’s not that Jesus at one time went after us to save us, or that he occasionally shows up in our lives.  It’s that Jesus is ALWAYS looking for us and leaving evidence of who he is, and how much he cares.

Then, when he finally gets our attention, he says, “Follow me.” 

Will we hear?  Will we respond?

When we remember who he is, and how momentous is the call, we will.

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Filed under Discipleship, John, Red Letter, Uncategorized

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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abraham journey

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

pillar of cloud

pillar of fire

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.”

Caleb and Joshua

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.

Hope Award

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.

Celeste leaping

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

Being Good Yeast

influence

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”  “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”  Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”  Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.  Mark 8:27-30

Peter flat blurted it out, “You are the Messiah.”  He didn’t make it more palatable or politically correct.  He just put the truth out there.

And this was actually a pretty amazing thing.  Because most people were watering down who Jesus was.  Sure, they thought he was impressive.  But they didn’t go all the way, and say he was the Messiah.

Peter was the one who uncloaked the elephant in the room.  And I think when he said it, the light came on for the other disciples.  They may have known it on some level, but Peter’s confession tore away the cobwebs and the excuses and stuck a chord of truth.

I’ve been impressed lately about the power of proclaiming and living the truth in a pure and simple way.  It is good yeast on the lives around us.

I’ve been totally inspired by the book we’re reading in our marriage group, the “You and Me Together” by Francis and Lisa Chan.

Married class5

Last week’s marriage group.

The Chans do something so cool.  They actually try to live by the scriptures.  Yeah, I thought I was doing that.  But the book called me higher, just like when Peter made his confession.   I realized that I was watering my convictions down.  I wasn’t going for the pure, good stuff, like living as if my treasure is in heaven.

Peter had the ability to be single minded and direct, and that changed the world.  In Matthew’s rendition of this passage, Jesus says that his church would be built on the confession that Jesus is Lord.  He also said that Peter would have the keys of the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 16:18-19)  And this came true.  On the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2, Peter laid out the truth plainly, and when he did so, he unlocked the door to heaven for people by preaching the message that showed them how to be saved.

We need this message.  We need the good yeast!  We drift towards wishy-washiness over time.

There’s just one thing.  In this passage, Jesus did the the total opposite of what I just said.  He warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah.

Hmmm.  Of course, ultimately Jesus did want people to spread the good news.  He said at the end of Mark, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”

So it must not have been the right time for the disciples to preach.  Also, I think that while he was on earth, Jesus wanted to see who would have the heart to completely respond to him.  He liked to say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:9, 4:23 Matthew 11:15, 13:9)

Thus, there are two elements in play in this passage.  We see the need for truth that is not compromised, and we see the need to respond without compromising.

A week ago Ken and I were stymied by a sticky marriage situation a couple was having, and we asked a wise person for advice.    I thought we would be given a practical solution.  Instead, we were told that the man and woman need to surrender to the Lord more.  And it was like a veil fell away from my mind.  “Of course,” I said to myself.  “It’s so simple, but it’s so true.”

In reading “You and Me Together,” I thought we would be getting more nuts and bolts on how to have a good marriage.  Instead it’s about 90% about how to have the right relationship with God.

The nuts and bolts are good.  But what we need most is Jesus as our Messiah, our Lord.

What would we have said if we had been with him when Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?”  Honestly, I would have been tempted to temper my response and give a safe answer.  I might not have flung myself into the deep end, like Peter.

But being a disciple is about flinging ourselves in the deep end.  We die to self.  We lose our lives.

All of us so desperately need the good yeast to help us to go all the way.  Let’s be that for one another.  Let’s proclaim that Jesus is Lord with our words and our lives.

The church is still built on this truth.

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Becoming a Land of Delight

Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.  Mal 3:12

God declares here his desire to bless the Hebrew nation and make it abundantly fruitful.  This encourages me so much, because I believe he has the same dreams for us.  He wants to rain down goodness upon us so we will flourish.

But there’s a caveat.  We have to give him the fullness of our lives in order for us to experience the fullness of his goodness.  The Jews in this passage were urged to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.

I wish so deeply for people to commit more to God.  But many don’t.   They come to church services here and there.  They follow Jesus some.  And then they complain because life somehow isn’t working.  They long for a life that is really a life, but they can’t be convinced that they need to completely let go to get there.  And I want to plead with them, “Give it all to God.  Believe!  When you lose your life, you really do save your life.  You get so much more!”

Of course, this is true for disciples too.  We need to keep letting go.  We tend to start getting comfortable.  We hoard our efforts and energies.  Then we begin to feel that malaise again, not realizing that we’ve got to go back out on that limb for God.

It’s a consistent message throughout the Bible:  “If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land–your grain, new wine and olive oil–the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.” (Deut 7:12-13)

But people think it sounds hard and unpleasant.

I so much want to stress that pouring yourself out to God is a joyful thing, not a painful one!!  Once you make that decision to take the plunge, it feels GREAT to give your all to the Almighty, merciful God who IS love and light and all goodness.

One thing I love about Malachi 3:12 is that God says that his people, themselves, will  be a “land of delight,” not just that their land will be fruitful, although that would certainly be true.  As I wrote at the beginning of the blog, God planned for his people to be bounteously fruitful.

It reminds me of John 15, where Jesus promised his followers, “Remain in me and you will bear much fruit.”

And that brings me to the second thing that’s necessary to experience the fullness of God’s blessings.  Once we give our all to him, we need to remain close to him.

I love how Leviticus 26 expresses that fruitfulness is associated with obedience and God’s nearness: “Do not make idols. . . If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands. . . I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you.  You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new.  I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you.  I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.  Lev. 26

The Hebrews had a time when God’s presence was with them in a tabernacle or temple.  Today, it is so amazing that we as disciples can come into the very presence of God, the presence that in times past only the high priest could enter once a year. As the writer of Hebrews declares, “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus.” (Hebrews 10:19)

But are we utilizing this great resource?  Are we appreciating the closeness of God?  Do we drink it in?  “For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.  But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless, and its curse is imminent. In the end it will be burned.”  (Heb 6:7)

I listened to a great lesson this week by Robert Carillo.  He talked about the importance of connecting with God, not just learning about him.  The Hebrew word for knowing, “yada,” doesn’t mean intellectual knowledge.  It means knowing through experience, like you do when you have a relationship with someone.

That’s how we need to know God.

Do we reach out and connect with him throughout our day?  Because the more we do, the more we will naturally grow into the glorious creation God made us to be.  “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

Our souls are hardwired to be fertile soil, and God can supply all we need to produce a wonderful crop.

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This is my peach tree.  It is FULL of peaches this year!  And this picture was taken after we picked a bunch!

But my tree didn’t just automatically get full of fat sweet peaches.  There are some things that helped it to happen.  We pruned it back last year.  Our neighbor cut down their huge Bradford Pear tree that stole our tree’s sunshine.  We didn’t have a late frost this year.  I thinned the peaches while they were small, so the ones that remain will grow larger and sweeter.

It’s the same for us.  God has designed us to be fruitful.  But there are some things that need to happen.  We need to do our part.

We need to get rid of the things that keep us from giving our all and being close to God.  I think of my daughter, Celeste, who rearranged her life so she would have more time for church and personal devotionals.  I think of my friends, Markeya and Antoinette, who shared at midweek service about how they are using the scripture to battle negative thoughts and attitudes.  I think of my friend Paulette, who was so joyful and radiant this week.  She’s been off of work and spending a lot of time in the Bible, and you can SEE the difference it makes.  (I’m not advocating for people to quit their jobs.  I’m just pointing out that making time for God pays off!)

We need to die to self more completely, and in doing so, plant seeds that will receive his spark of life.  “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.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  (John 12:24-25)

We need to stay connected with him.

And one more thing, which has helped me a lot this week.  We need to TRUST in his goodness. 

I have felt discouraged sometimes this week.   I’ve also been in a situation that is like a rock in my shoe.  It constantly chaffs me.

And the source of strength and encouragement for me through this has been my belief that God is good.  When I remember that, it is like water that invigorates a wilting plant.

My empowering verse for this week has been: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”  I Peter 2:23

It is so amazing that Jesus could be in a situation where it seems like everything is going wrong, yet he completely gives himself into God’s hands.  He trusts entirely that God will take care of it.  In the moment it doesn’t LOOK at all like God is good, but Jesus still KNOWS it is true.

That is what we do when things don’t seen to go as they should.  We put our faith in God’s goodness, even though we don’t see it.  Look at these verses:

  • Yet, the strength of those who wait with hope in the LORD will be renewed. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and won’t become weary. They will walk and won’t grow tired.  Isa 40:31
  • Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  Heb 11:1

These verses don’t speak of God’s tangible blessings.  No, it is in the midst of our scarcity that we are to hope with confidence.  And that energizes us.

We believe in the promise of Malachi 3:12, which is also expressed in so many other verses.  We believe that he wants us to thrive and be radiant.  And thus we give our little spindly sprout of a life to him, and in his time, he fulfills his promise of bloom and bounty.

No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married.” Isa 62:4

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Filed under Discipleship, Faith, Malachi, Relationship with God, Surrender

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

When it’s Hard to Give it All

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”  Mark 12:41-44

What was the motivation for the widow to give her last two mites?  I would guess thankfulness, and reverence for God.

And I think her motivation could also could be desperation.  The widow had no where else to turn but God. When we reach the end of our rope, we are willing to throw in the towel and give it all.

You know, it would have been so easy for this woman to justify not giving.  She had bills to pay.  She needed to eat.  Surely God would want her to take care of those things first.

But Jesus commends her for throwing her last two pennies in the till.

What was Jesus feeling as he watched her give?   He had just come to Jerusalem, riding on a donkey and being hailed by the crowd as a king.  But it was a challenging time for him.  He went in the temple and saw it was full of “thieves,”  so he drove them out.  He had religious leaders on every side trying to combat him with verbal tricks and arguments.   He remarked on teachers of the law who just cared about looking good.  He knew he was going to die, and told a parable about the son who came to collect the landowner’s money, and was killed by the tenants.

And then he saw this widow who was giving her all.  Maybe he related to her.  He was also giving his all.  He was also at the end of his rope.  He saw how evil the land was, how everyone was serving God in the wrong way.  No one seemed to get it.

Yet he knew he had come to Jerusalem to die for these people.  Jesus was throwing all his eggs in the basket of God, just as the widow was.

But Jesus was taking it even one step further.  He was throwing the eggs of ALL of us in the basket of God.  He was giving his life, everything he had. with the belief that it was the only hope for the people he saw, and the people yet to come.

And so he was willing to walk through the dark valley, right into death.

Getting back to the widow, some of us would ask, “How could God want her to give her last two coins?  Why would he require that of her?”

We could also ask, “Why would God require the Israelites to face trials in the desert where they didn’t have water or food?”  Or, “Why would Abraham be asked to sacrifice his only son?”

God wants to see if we will still give to him when things are tough, when we’re down to our last two mites.

The purpose of these troubles is to test your faith as fire tests how genuine gold is.  I Peter 1:7 GWT

So when things go wrong and craziness is raging all around us, will we still give, or will we hunker down, circle the wagons, and hoard the little we have left to take care of ourselves?

Because I’ll admit it.  I’m an ostrich.  I want to hide and lick my wounds, not stick my neck out and give more.  I get paralyzed by my fears.

I am so thankful that Jesus showed us the way through the valley, that Jesus still went forward, still gave, at the hardest time.

And now, when it’s scary, when the way is dark before us, we still go forward, putting ALL that we have into God’s hands, with thanksgiving, with reverence, and with faith that He will bring us through.

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Filed under Discipleship, Hope, Mark, Surrender