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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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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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.

texas shooting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do We Have “Following Faith?”

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

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

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

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abraham journey

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

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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