When it Feels Wrong

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He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.  He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him  But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Mark 8:31-34

I think I would be like Peter, “Say, what?  The Messiah is going to have to suffer?  He’s going to die?  Oh, no, no, no Jesus, you’ve got it all wrong.  I’m investing my life in you.  You’re my shining hope.   You’re going to throw down the establishment.  You’re going to make everything better.”

I just have this mindset that suffering means something is wrong.  I’ve been on this life long quest to live the right life, a safe life.  And to me, that means a life where I don’t make mistakes and I avoid suffering.  Because, again, suffering would mean that something is going wrong. It would mean that Satan is winning, that worse is sure to happen.

It would mean being out of control.  After all, how could being sucked into a vortex of chaos be part of God’s plan?

But when Peter tried to tell Jesus something like this, he got rebuked.  Jesus called him out in front of his bros, said he was “Satan.”  Ouch.

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God just sees things in a whole different way than we do.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how one of the attributes of God is peace.  Peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22)  The famous blessing of Numbers 6 says, “May the LORD show you his favor and give you his peace.” (Num 6:26 NLT)

And I’ve thought, “How can God be peaceful?  There’s so much bad going on all the time.”

But then I realized that God isn’t afraid of the bad things.  They grieve him deeply, but he doesn’t fear them.  Because he is stronger than evil.  Because he can stop it at any time.  Because he knows his plan, which is good and unfolding as he intends.  Because he knows he will win.

God really is peace.

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And I saw that this peace extends to me.  I am never outside of God’s control, never out of the reach of his hand.  Chaos cannot sweep me away.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  Ps 139:9

Okay, confession here.  I love to read romances. There’s a frequent theme — a female character who is beautiful but bratty gets pursued by a male character who has such a force of love for her that no matter what she does, he’s not deterred.

Of course this is fiction.  I could do a lot of damage to my marriage by being bratty.

But it’s not fiction when it comes to God.  My little fits and snits aren’t going to scare him away. He doesn’t think, “Sheesh, this girl has issues!   Let me go hang with someone else instead.”

No!  His heart’s desire to hang with me — and with you!  He will never turn away.

And that is why Jesus had to suffer and die.  It was part of his plan for you.  He pursued you, and nothing is going to deter him from sticking to you like glue.

It just doesn’t feel like love, sometimes.  It doesn’t feel like things are going right.

Here’s what we think it should feel like– the song from the Lego Movie.

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And it’s so hard to not be like prideful Peter when it doesn’t go that way.

We just had an outdoor service on one of the coldest days of the year. It was preceded by a men’s campout the night before, where the guys had to endure rain and temperatures in the thirties!

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We planned to have piping hot chili for our fellowship lunch.  I fussed and slaved over cooking my chili.  I heated it in the crock pot, and then once I got to the location, I got out our special extension cord with multiple outlets and plugged it in so it wouldn’t get cold.

There was just one thing.  There were at least 7 other crock pots of chili and soups.  Some of them were cold when they got there, and had to be heated up.  But there weren’t enough outlets on the serving table.  So we had to unplug the warm ones and plug in the colds ones.

Then we started church.  I tried to focus on worship.  But I kept getting nervous.  What if the crock pots that were unplugged were getting cold? It was 38 degrees, and windy!  Would there be anything worse than eating cold chili on a cold day?  So I brought a couple of the crock pots, including mine, into the kitchen to plug them in there.  I had to set them on a narrow ledge by the sink.  In the process of arranging them, my crock pot fell in the sink with a loud clatter, dumping out a sizable part of my wonderful chili.  Ack!!

It reminds me of my life.  I try so hard to make everything perfect, and my efforts can actually make things worse!

It would be easy to complain about the things that were challenging about our outdoor service.  I do need to apologize to the moms who brought their little children.  I thought that would work, but it was too cold for the babies.

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Ken feeding a cold Elena.

But as I kept rehashing the things I wished had gone more smoothly, it occurred to me that maybe there was a reason God made the coldest time to be the days of our men’s campout and outdoor service.

Maybe God’s thinking wasn’t our thinking.  Maybe he wanted us to see that happiness isn’t based on living our comfortable routines, but on something deeper.

Maybe we needed for our chili to spill and our fingertips to get numb to learn that we could find joy anyway.

I saw so many things that inspired me.  Brian having his quiet time in the chilly early morning.

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Bill going above and beyond to cook a hearty breakfast.

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Graham preaching when he was frozen to the bone and had to wear a blanket.  Here he is leading a prayer.

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Nate manning the little camping stove and heating a pan of water so everyone could have hot drinks.  (Wish I had a picture of that.)  I could go on and on.

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Cairo was a trooper too!

You know, even though it was challenging, everyone was cheerful and looking for ways to serve.

It was like the Grinch who stole Christmas.  No matter what, we still had a joyful time being together.

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Sometimes God doesn’t have things go like we think they should.  Sometimes it feels wrong.

But we can let Jesus’s rebuke to Peter be one to us as well.  Get behind us, Satan!  No complaining!  No faithlessness!  No just thinking of the concerns of men!

Let’s seek to have God’s mindset.  Let’s seek to have his peace, as we trust that he is in control, and know that he is committed to us.

When we do, just like what happened with the outdoor service, we will be stronger.  We will find deeper joy.

 

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Filed under Mark, Peace

When Healing Takes Awhile

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They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.  He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.  Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”  Mark 8:23-36

“They look like trees walking around.”  I think thing that resonates with this story for me is that the man wasn’t completely healed on the first go around.  I can relate to his blurry vision!  I, too, take my hurts and weaknesses to the Lord, and I get some better, but I still feel like I’m bumping around in the world.

Ha!  Just like the people in the story, we expect that when we come to Jesus, everything is going to get fixed right away.  It often doesn’t work that way.

I have an underlying anger (with flavors of discontent, pride and faithlessness) that I wish Jesus would just poof away in me.  It’s so hard to get a handle on.  I work on it.  I look at the example of Jesus.  I look at the cross.  I look at my sin.  I seek to trust more.  All of these things help.  But then  I feel the anger bubble up out of what seems to be nowhere, and it begins to simmering under the surface. If I’m not careful, it will rule my day.

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But I have finally been getting a better handle on my anger.  I’ve gotten to the root of it more.  I’ve found Biblical solutions that finally clicked!

I’m so glad I hung in there. I think sometimes God just wants us to learn to persevere.

  • By your patient endurance, you will gain your souls.  Luke 21:19
  • Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4
  • You need to persevere, so that after you have done God’s will, you will receive what He has promised.  Heb 10:36
  • . . . because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Allow perseverance to finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1:3-4
  • He who perseveres to the end will be saved.  Matt 24:13

I believe that one reason God allows us to struggle, is so that we will come to him.  The blind man was willing to take Jesus’s hand and go wherever he was led.  He was willing to let Jesus put spit on his eyes!  Okay, maybe the blind man didn’t think that is as gross as we think.  But what does it take to get to the point of going with Jesus whereever he leads?  Look at what Paul wrote in II Corinthians 1:8b-9:

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  II Cor 1:8-9

Things happen so we learn to rely on God.

Is this to be a one time lesson?

I learned something interesting about the beatitude, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” (Matt 5:6)   The actual wording of that verse means that you have a continual hunger for righteousness, not a hunger where you’re satisfied and it’s gone.

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Okay, maybe it’s a bit extreme. But it’s funny!

I think we’re meant to have a continual hunger.  I think that we’re meant to go through life like the blind man who is half healed, with blurry vision.  “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror . . . ”  (I Cor 13:12)  We’re not there yet, and that’s a good thing, because it keeps us thirsting for God.   It keeps us looking to him as the only real source and solution.

Jesus does heal.  I am so thankful that God gave me the strength to persevere.  I can think of so many things in my life that are miraculously better — my marriage, my friendships, situations with my family, situations with my emotional health.  Many of my spiritual dreams have come true.

But there will always be other things, like my anger, that tempt me to despair.

I have to remember that even Paul, who had the power to heal others, couldn’t heal his own “thorn in the flesh.”  Jesus told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  II Cor 12:9a

Sometimes we need grace, more than we need healing.  Because Grace is sufficient.  It can assuage the hunger.

Last week I visited my friend Bobbie.

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Love this picture of Bobbie (right) with our friend Nanyumpka.

Bobbie has some health challenges, and hasn’t been able to get out much.   This is hard, because Bobbi has a huge heart.  She wants to be with people and love them.

“My body wants to be full of energy and stamina,” Bobbie told me.  “But this is a different season.  I am so content and happy.” 

Isn’t that amazing that Bobbie is content and happy?  Bobbie has learned to feed on the grace, the spiritual food that satisfies her even when her health is poor and her life could dissatisfy.

Let’s all learn to feed on the grace.  Let’s learn to persevere.  And let’s learn to hope.

Because healing in some areas will come while we’re on earth.  And one day we will be completely healed in heaven.

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Filed under Healing, Mark, Perseverance

Being Good Yeast

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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.

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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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Filed under Discipleship, Mark

The Battle to be Kingdom Minded

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The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”  They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”  Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.”  He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” Mark 8:14-21

You know, I think I’m pretty spiritual, until I am in a different environment, away from my usual routines.  A couple of weeks ago, I went to California to help my dad and stepmother, Mom C, while she was in the hospital.

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I had good intentions of doing all kinds of great stuff while I was there.  I planned to text friends and encourage them in my free time.  I found myself reading a book instead.  I planned to get on the computer in the evenings and work on the church newsletter, but slid into the comfort of watching TV with my dad.  I wanted to have good conversations with people there, and sometimes said what they wanted to hear, instead of sticking to my convictions.

It was good for me to be reminded how hard it can be to stay kingdom minded.  Right now I can sympathize more with sisters who live with unbelieving husbands, people who work all day in a worldly atmosphere, and others in challenging circumstances.

I say all this because I think that being kingdom minded is what this passage in Mark is all about.  Jesus had one way of thinking.  His disciples had another.

The disciples cared about food.  Jesus cared about the “yeast” of the Pharisees and Herod — the effect of false teachings and hypocritical lives.  He knew that Satan was always working, trying to get people away from a pure heart and faith.  Later in the chapter he rebuked Peter, “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Then he told his disciples, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Being kingdom minded means being more concerned about the soul than the body.  It’s realizing what is really important.

The second thing that impresses me about this passage is that Jesus was so confident that God was going to take care of him.  It wasn’t even on his radar to make sure and take along bread.  He wasn’t at all worried  that they only had one loaf.  He had great certainty that God would provide for their needs.

Being kingdom minded really is the conviction that if we seek the kingdom first, we don’t have to worry about our physical needs.  (Matt 6:33)

This was a great thing to be studying while I was in California.  I remembered it when I felt like I was getting a UTI, and instead of freaking out, I just kept on going and trusting in God.  I remembered it when Mom C was about to be sent to the rehab center and we didn’t know what that would be like.  I told her, “God’s taken care of you this far, and he’s going to keep on doing it,” and we went forward.

I remembered it when I got with my friend Ashley.  Now that was a serendipity!  I happened to text her before I came to California, and mentioned that I would be in San Diego.  She responded, “I am there too!” It turned out that she was doing one of her medical school rotations at the children’s hospital there.

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So Ashley and I got together for dinner.   I shared with her about this verse, and how it can give us confidence that God will provide for our futures.  For her, that means that when she graduates, God will lead her to just the right residency and just the right church where she can have great spiritual relationships.  For me, it means that God will lead me to the best way to use my time in the future, something I’ve been praying about a lot.

And here is the best breakthrough I had about how God takes care of us.  My father and I had a very nice time visiting and talking.  One conversation we had was about how he provided child support for me after my parents divorced when I was eight.  He said that the agreement was that instead of paying just a flat monthly amount, he would pay a lower regular amount and then pay for everything I needed — clothes, my flute, my braces, etc.  As I thought about this, I realized that this is how my father has shown his love to me over the years.  He lived in one state and I lived in another, so I saw him twice a year and talked on the phone, but it didn’t feel like he was involved in my life as much.  But he was pouring out his love for me by providing for me.  Realizing that made me feel so warm inside because for all those years I had just taken for granted that my needs had been taken care of.  I hadn’t really seen the love behind it.

Daddy and me!

And my greatest insight was seeing that God is the same way.  He loves me like a father, by providing for my needs.  I am feeling more loved by God!

The third thing I see about the passage is that Jesus seriously expects his followers to be kingdom minded.  He totally got onto his disciples for not understanding what he was saying about the yeast of the Pharisees.

That always seemed harsh to me.  But then I remembered what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? .  .  .  pagans run after those things.”  (Matt 6:25, 31)  That’s a strong statement.  It means that when his disciples had tunnel vision about the bread, they were acting like pagans, like base unbelievers!

What about us?  Do we have tunnel vision too?  Where is it focused?  On our job, achievements, home, security, relationships, leisure pursuits or retirement?  On politics or issues?

This verse came to me last week:  “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.”  What a scary verse!  It implies that most believers aren’t going to make it to heaven.   For those of us with faith, the bad influences of the world are always working on us.  Satan is using all these things to leech away our faith and convictions.  He doesn’t have to come up with a fancy new weapon to use against us.  He can just rely on the influence of the stuff all around us!

We probably don’t even see it happening.  That’s what is so scary about the story of the disciples and the loaf of bread.  They were oblivious.  Surely that’s why Jesus was sharp with them.

Jesus knows that it is essential for us to continuously fight for our heart, mind and soul!

“There is a battle we have to face every single day.  There are weapons we have to pick up and be ready to defend ourselves with — every single day.  To live in this world and not allow ourselves to be bullied and enticed by a mindset that is not biblical, we have to be seriously engaged, and seriously on our guard.”  (Lisa Chan, “You and Me Together)

And that is what was a little clearer to me when I was in California.  It would have been so easy to give into the comfort and let God drift to the back burner.   I had to really push myself to be even a little kingdom minded.

Yet I am so glad I did, because doing so gave me the greatest rewards.  You know, like the disciples, we think we need the bread of the world.  But what we really need is to look to God, who provides the richest fare — things that are good, satisfying and meaningful.

Here are a few ways God fed my soul.  I woke at 4:30 AM, which was what my body was used to in my time zone, and the Spirit whispered encouraging truths to me as I lay in bed.  I had one of the best visits ever with my parents, with many good one-on-one conversations.  I got with Ashley.  I saw prayers being answered.  I took a walk and discovered God’s beauty.

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After I returned, Mom C wrote on a Facebook, “Kat,your visit with us has been wonderful! I so enjoyed the times that you and I had together, especially the spiritual moments. I think we have created yet another bond.”

Let’s take the leap, a hundred times a day, away from our needs and worries, into God’s arms. He WILL provide.  He will take care of us.  Only HE can be our sufficiency, our source, our answer.

It’s hard.  It’s a battle.  But it is worth it.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  Matt. 5:6

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Filed under Battle Against Evil, Faith, Mark

Vanquishing the Doom Gloom

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Last week someone close to me hurt my feelings, and it sent me into this crazy downward spiral of emotions.  I thought I dealt with that, but then I had other ups and downs, and realized that I still had some kind of strong uneasiness going on.

I finally put my finger on it.  The incident had triggered the Doom Gloom in me.  Doom Gloom is to be distinguished from Doom and Gloom, which is being characterized by a glum disposition. Doom Gloom is a strong foreboding that something got broken, and is not going to work, and life is going to stink!

As I studied out the passage for this week’s blog, it gave me some insight into my Doom Gloom, and led me to a powerful way to deal with it.

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven.  He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.”  Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.  Mark 8:11-13

These verses talk about how the Pharisees tried to get Jesus to show them his creds.

This bummed Jesus out.  Why?  I mean, it seems reasonable to ask him to prove who he was.  Others in the Bible were given signs.  Gideon asked for and received a sign with the fleece.  God gave Moses a sign through his staff.

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To understand this, we have to understand how God views “testing.”  Look at the time when Jesus was tempted in the desert.  The devil took him to a high place and told him to throw himself off the edge, because the scriptures said the angels would catch him when he did.  Jesus replied by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

The scripture Jesus used refers to Exodus 17, when the Israelites were in the desert and came to a place where there wasn’t any water.   They freaked out and ganged up on Moses, telling him he had better come through with something to drink!  Moses told them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?” (Ex 17:2)

So then we want to know how it was that they were putting God to the test in this situation.   The end of the story tells us, “they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (v. 7)

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When the Israelites couldn’t see God, they couldn’t have faith.  The Lord had helped them in so many ways.  Yet when they lacked water, they started doubting that he was among them.  They had to have a sign, physical evidence.

The Pharisees were doing the same thing.  Really, as Jesus said, it wasn’t just the Pharisees.  It was the whole generation.  Everyone wanted to see immediate physical evidence, over and over again, that the Lord was with them in the person of Jesus.  Otherwise they couldn’t have faith.

And I want to make one more point here.  In the case of the Pharisees, asking for a sign was probably bogus.  They already had their minds made up that he wasn’t from God.  In Mark 3, Jesus had been doing miracles and the teachers of the law said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”  They saw signs, but to them the signs meant that Jesus was working with the power of the devil.  Somehow all of their religious knowledge made them so wise in their own eyes that they couldn’t see the truth.

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And all this made Jesus sigh deeply.  He was sad that a generation which had a history of God being among them still couldn’t have faith.  He was sad that the religious leaders had closed the eyes and doors to their hearts.

The lesson for us, of course, is not to fall into either category.  We need to have steadfast faith and open hearts.

First, just like the Israelites, we need to steadfastly believe that God is with us because we, too, have a history of him being among us.  Look at these verses:

  • Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Acts 14:17
  • For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.  Romans 1:20
  • “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?  Job 12:8-10
  • Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. Isa 40:22

I know when I think over my life, I can see the mile markers of God taking care of me.  He orchestrated a way for me to know him and attend a wonderful church.  He provided a husband who would be my partner in faith, and made my marriage immeasurably more than I could have asked or imagined.  Over the years he’s given me a hope and purpose, an amazing job, success in raising my children, stronger mental health, and a mission that is a dream come true.  He’s worked in so many ways.  I could go on and on.

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A recent outing with my family. I am so blessed!

Yet when something goes wrong, I’m still like the Israelites, doubting that God’s going to take care of me.  I get the Doom Gloom.  I have to fight this!

Second, we need to constantly work on humility so that we won’t be so wise in our own eyes that we miss the truth.

“No!” we think.  “We’re not missing the truth.  We know it and we’re living by it.”  We think we’ve figured out God.

But God works in so many ways that we don’t expect.  And we have blind spots.  We still need to learn and grow.  We’re not there yet.

I certainly have grown in my convictions over the years.  I’ve found out that I need to stay humble and open.  I need to keep going back to the scriptures to gain deeper insights.  I need to pray for wisdom and ask God to show me the truth.  I need to realize that although I’m pretty sure I’m right, I might be wrong.

Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them. Prov. 26:12

In the end, this passage about the Pharisees trying to test Jesus is changing my life.  I’m loving it! Why?  Because after I studied it out, I asked myself, “How would my day be different if I really believed that God is with me?”  I saw a lot of ways. It was convicting.

So I started remembering and believing that God is with me in the different things I do.  I found myself being less timid and more giving.   I believed God was with me when I checked out at the store, and I had a great chat with the clerk.  I believed God was with me when I got with someone who needed encouragement, and I found I had more to say. I believed God was with me when I was tired and emotional and wanted to hide, and I was able to push through.  I believed God is with me when I prayed, and I prayed for more impossible things.

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I am so thankful that God works in our times with friends!

Let me encourage you to do the same!  It is SO HARD when things go wrong and we get the Doom Gloom.  We so badly want to test God and have him show us that he is among us, instead of looking to ourselves to develop our faith muscle.

Let’s repeat over and over to ourselves, “God is with me.”

Satan wants us to freak out. Satan wants us to be blind in our own conceit.

But we can live with strength.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession. . . II Cor 2:14a

 

 

 

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When the Hurt Wins

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “My heart yearns over the multitude, because they have stayed with me now three days, and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”  

And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”  And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.”

 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd.  And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them.  And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.  Mark 8:1-9 (mixture of translations)

To me, it’s pretty incredible that Jesus had compassion on this crowd.  It’s hard for me to have empathy for large groups of people.  It’s feels too overwhelming.  It seems to impossible to help them.

If ever there was a good time to read this Bible story about compassion, it’s now.  It’s CRAZY lately! We’re having hurricanes, wildfires, an earthquake.  My stepmother is very ill in the hospital.  A close friend just underwent a tragedy.  (Here’s Irma at my house.)

Yet I confess that I often don’t feel the compassion I should.  I was talking to my aunt earlier in the week.  She called to see if we were okay in the approaching storm.  As I listened to her, I could tell her heart was very heavy.   She was feeling really down about all the hurricanes and wildfires.  It was a heart check for me.  I need to be more like her.

The goal is always to have a soft heart.

And one thing I am learning is that, although some people have the gift of compassion, most of us need to work at softening our hearts.   For me, I tend to get intent on my life, and what I need to do.  I might even be intent on the way I need to serve others.  But when I do so, it’s like I have blinders on and I don’t see anything else.  The needs around me don’t make a great impression on me.blinders1

So how do we soften our hearts to be more like Jesus?  First, we need to try to see things from their perspective.  Jesus said, “if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”  

Jesus really looked at what it was like for them.  He saw they faced a long hungry journey home. In the same way, we need to constantly ask ourselves, “What are they going through?  What does it feel like?”

Second, we try to relate.  As I thought about those whose houses had been flooded in Hurricane Harvey, I remembered when my house was hit by an ice storm and we were without power for several days.  I had to made accommodations to live and sleep elsewhere.  I was homeless, just as they are.  This made me more motivated to help the hurricane victims.

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The fallout from the ice storm, many branches down in our yard.

What will help in relating is admitting just how needy we, ourselves, are, on a daily basis.  When we are in touch with our own desperation, we can connect to the desperation of others.  Our prayer time with God needs to be real.  We need to lower the barricades and and pour out our hearts to Him.

Third,  we need to put a face to it.  The news and social media are great for this.  When we see the individuals, we care more.

This week I’m reading a book that is in part about the boat people who fled Vietnam after the war there.  It was a terrible situation, and many lost their lives.

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One American man saw a picture in the paper of the face of one of the boat people.  Maybe something like this —

Boat people

That man happened to be the president of World Vision.  The face he saw motivated him so much that he put in a great deal of effort and fought for six months against many odds to expand World Vision to start caring for the boat people.  They were able to save many lives.

Will we look at the faces?  Will we see the person behind the face, and let it motivate us?

Because here’s the thing.  We’re all brothers.  That is why Jesus made the effort to help the crowd.

I love what Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Have we forgotten, or do we remember?  Do we remember that the second most important commandment is to love your brother as yourself?  Do we remember that, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it?”  (I Cor 12:26a)

Do we feel kinship, or do we feel apart from the rest, like they’re not our tribe, or like we’re better than them in some way?  In the book I mentioned in my last blog, Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle wrote, “”Often we strike the high moral distance the separates ‘us’ from ‘them,’ and yet it is God’s dream come true when we recognize that there exists no daylight between us . . . Jesus was not a ‘man for others’; he was one with them.”

Jesus was one with others.  It is God’s dream come true that we live this out as well.

But now I’m back at the place I started.  I want to have a softer heart.  I’m working on it. But it’s still too overwhelming!  There are too many people, and too many needs.

Last night I watched a well done documentary about missionaries to New Guinea.

What really inspired me was what the missionaries in the field said were the qualifications  for being a missionary there.  It wasn’t being a Bible scholar or an eloquent speaker or having some special gift.  It was having a willingness to go and do what they could.

And that is what I see in the story of Jesus feeding the 4,000.  Jesus wasn’t paralyzed by the great number and the great need.  He was willing to do what he could.

Are we willing to do something, even if it seems like we only have a “few loaves and a few small fish?”

I guess the question is not, “Can God use me to meet this need?”  But it’s, “How can I not put myself out there to be used to meet this need?”

In Tattoos on the Heart, Boyle tells the story of a mother who lost two of her grown children to gang violence.  It absolutely tore her up.  And then she had heart attack symptoms and found herself in an emergency room bed next to a rival gang member who had been shot.  The medical staff was frantically trying to save this guy, and as she looked over, she realized it was probably someone who had killed one of her sons.  At that point she had a battle going on inside.  She could wish he would die or pray for him to live.  She found herself crying as never before and fervently begging God to save his life.  Why?  Because she realized didn’t want his mother to go through what she went through.  “The hurt wins,” she explained.

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We have to find a way to let the hurt win.  We must soften our hearts enough so that the pain of the need motivates us more than the other things that pull at us.

That is having the heart of Jesus.  That is why we put ourselves out there even when it seems overwhelming.

And when we are moved to put ourselves out there with what little we can do, God takes over and does amazing things, just as he multiplied the loaves and the fish.  I believe it.

For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.  II Cor 8:12

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Compassion that Transforms

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him

After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue.  He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!”(which means “Be opened!”).   At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.  People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”  (Mark 7:31-37)

Can you imagine being locked away in your head, not able to hear, not able to articulate your thoughts?

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Deaf Chinese girl

It would be tough.   For most of us, it’s way outside of our realm of experience.

But there are other ways of feeling locked away.  I recently read a fictional story about a college age girl who had been in foster care all her life, and was finally adopted at 16.  Because of the deep scars from her past, when she gained a family she still found it almost impossible to engage with the world.  She couldn’t believe that she had worth, that people could really care about her.  She isolated herself and did everything alone.

The story isn’t about a real person, but it probably resonates with a lot of us. We also have had hard times in life that have caused us to withdraw.  And the irony is that although our circumstances might be the cause of our withdrawal, we ourselves choose to continue staying in confinement long after the circumstances have passed.

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I’m speaking from experience.  As I’ve been working on my character, I’ve come up against these walls I didn’t even know I had.  I hide behind them in fear.  I’m scared to step out and engage.

It’s interesting.  The passage above says that Jesus gave a deep sigh when he healed the deaf man.  The Greek word used here for sigh actually means to groan.  I think it was the sound Jesus made as he felt the man’s inner anguish and the magnitude of the task of healing.  Healing for Jesus wasn’t just a callous flick of miraculous power.   No, he was MOVED to his core to focus his whole efforts on helping that person.

That’s the kind of amazing compassion Jesus has for us.  Yet it’s hard to believe in.

In the story, the girl’s father sends her care packages while she is at college.  But she can’t bring herself to open them.  Finally, the day comes when she cautiously unwraps the most recent one.  She sees that her father has written her a note, “I know you’re not opening these, but I’m still going to send them.  Because that’s what fathers do.”

Doesn’t this remind of of God?  He gives to us, not because we deserve it, but because that is what he does.

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The question is, can we venture out of our internal refuge and unwrap the gifts God is giving us?  Can we engage more fully?  I want to.  But often I have this sense of dread and fear that holds me back.

Going back to the passage, when Jesus healed the deaf mute, he put his fingers in the man’s ears.  He touched his tongue.  That is another manifestation of the compassion of Jesus.  He doesn’t just tell us to get better.  He reaches out to us and puts his finger on the blockage, the source of our problem.

As I was praying this morning, I realized that the blockage for me is feeling like I am not enough.  I play over my recent interactions and think I should have done better.  I contemplate the day ahead and feel weight of expectation.

My problem is guilt and shame.

I’ve been reading another book lately, “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion,” by Gregory Boyle.  (Warning:  this book contains rough language.)

It is written by a Catholic Jesuit who ministers to the inner city gangs in Los Angeles. Boyle writes that all of the gang members have one thing in common: shame.  “There is a palpable sense of disgrace strapped like an oxygen tank onto the back of every homie I know.  In a letter from prison, a gang member writes, ‘people see me like less.'”

So many of us feel like people see us like less, and we come to believe it is true.

We need the compassion of Jesus, that he would touch our shame.  We need the truth of it to penetrate our walls.

Here are verses that are penetrating my walls.  I’m learning to be kind and gentle with myself, as I see God’s kindness and gentleness.

  • He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Luke 6:36b
  • While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8b
  • He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matt 5:45
  • If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matt 7:11
  • Love is patient, love is kind. . . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  I Cor 13:4,7
  • His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.  Lam. 3:22b-23a
  • As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.  Ps 103:13-14

In conclusion, when Jesus healed the deaf mute, Mark says the people were overwhelmed with amazement.  Why were they so amazed?  Hadn’t they seen or heard of other miracles Jesus performed?  This healing had to have been especially wonderful for them.  A man who had never uttered a word could not only hear, he could also hold a conversation.  When you think about it, it IS astounding.

It gives me faith as I work on my character.  I can change, with Jesus’ help.  He believes in me.  His compassion loosens the stuck places in my heart.  He gives me “gifts” that help me grow, if I will unwrap them.

Here is one gift I’ve been given.  We now have a mature women’s discipling group!  We call it WOW, “Woman of Wisdom.

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One of the greatest things about the WOW group is that I don’t have to feel shame with them.  We bare our souls and see that we all have similar weaknesses.  We have compassion on one another, and say, “you are enough.”

That is how God is.  He sees all our warts and failures and still is merciful.  He delights in us and tells us, “you are enough.”  That is what will melt our defenses and transform us.

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