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5 Scripture Verses for Those Who Strive

Is it just me, or have we made striving a virtue? We admire those who overachieve, who rise above expectations because of sweat and diligence. It seems like the harder a person pushes toward perfectionism, the more she’s admired. We call it a good work ethic.

Wrong.

We’ve taken a good thing–hard work–and warped it into over-work. Not only is this exhausting, but it’s futile. We’re placing our trust in the idea that perfection is possible if we try hard enough. This isn’t true in careers, and it certainly isn’t true in our spiritual lives. We will never reach heaven by working a bit harder than we did last year, a little harder than our neighbor, a little more efficiently than our coworkers.

perfection is not possible

In my upcoming novel One Plus One Equals Trouble, debuting early November, my heroine is a striver, an over-worker. She feels like what she does is never enough.

Are you there, in that place of striving and exhaustion?

Be encouraged by these five verses. They erupt from passages of chaos and human endeavor and dust us with a layer of grace.

  1. Exodus 14:13-14

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Context: Israel trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army. What did instinct tell them to do? Fight. But God said to stand firm and let him fight for them. In other words, “Don’t think you’re getting out of this mess by any clever means or sweat of your own.”

2. Psalm 46:10

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Context: A Psalm of assurance that amidst earthquakes, warfare, or the threatening of homes, God’s power is greater. In other words, “Enough!” God says. “Settle down and know I am who I say I am.”

3. Isaiah 30:15-16

This 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. You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’ Therefore you will flee! You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’ Therefore your pursuers will be swift!

Context: Israel has panicked and gone down to Egypt to seek an alliance.  They’ve sought refuge in a nation, rather than in Yahweh. In other words, “Come back to me, your strength, and find refuge by ceasing your panicked striving.”

4. Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Context: Jesus is teaching his disciples that the way to learn and follow him is not by taking on lists of rules. Rabbi Jesus offers a yoke different than the yokes forced on disciples by other rabbis. In other words, “Only in me will you find true rest. You won’t find rest in the rules offered by other religions. You won’t find rest by doing good deeds.”

5. John 15:4-5

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Context: Jesus is about to die. It’s his last Passover meal with the disciples, and he wants to reiterate the oneness of himself with the Father, and subsequently, the oneness his disciples can have with him because of his death and coming resurrection. In other words, “I’m not just your teacher. I’m your life. Apart from me, you will be lifeless, fruitless. Not even your best efforts will produce fruit. Remain in me and see the life I will cause to flourish in you.”

What are your favorite verses on resting in grace?

You might also like Five Scriptures About Finding Worth in Christ.

It’s Time to Fall Again

Fall.

My favorite season.

I close the windows of summer and bask in the new quietness of the inside.

bask in quietness

The spicy aroma of cinnamon, apples, and cloves overcomes the sweet fragrances of snapdragons, lilies, and roses. Nature walks lead to pockets full of pine cones, acorn hats, and seed pods. Tree limbs bow, yielding to wind’s power. Leaves dry, crinkle, and . . .

. . . fall.

They come down, and I receive their beauty like blessings.

James 1, 17

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). And we do see the shifting shadows around us. The shortening of days, the brisk movement of clouds across the sky, blocking the sun, casting shapes across hilly landscapes.

Nature is hunkering down, preparing for dormancy. I am ushered to stillness by this thought. I am brought to that place where I can utter, “Speak, Lord.” The clutter drops from my life like the chestnuts from my neighbor’s tree, and I know if I reach to pick up the busyness again, I’ll be pricked.

Busyness

Fall.

Twelve years ago, he fell into my heart and sent down thick roots. And eleven years ago, October 15, our I do’s not only fell on the ears of friends and family, but rooted deep into God’s heart. A holy covenant formed. That man of mine, he still falls a bit deeper every year.

And when I fall–which I do so often–he catches.

I slip my feet into socks, the first time in months, and the threads hug my toes, a feeling that by January I won’t even notice, but now seems foreign. I light a candle. The soft glow from the string of white lights twining around my bookshelf brightens my heart. Tea on the stove, book in hand, afghan across my lap, and Strauss waltzes on the iPod. Thanksgiving floats through my soul, prominent as the pollen stirring up my sneezes.

And can I mention that great game? Football—the grinding of padded warriors working together, fighting, winning, falling. The delight of my loved ones, cheering, smiling, laughing, yelling at a television screen.

Yes, as an introvert, I love the intimacy of fall. The winding down, drawing in of nature. The time for gathering close what really matters—food for the soul—and storing it up for the barren seasons. Harvest time, a season of celebration for His provision. The garden finishes its offerings, and the dirty potato I pull up paints a silly smile on my face. I made this. I grew it. For this non-green-thumb, that sense of accomplishment is a grace gift.

food for the soul

Fall.

As a church musician, I pull out the Christmas music, begin to anticipate the bursting in of the baby Savior. The joy of the incarnation washes over me, like the pelting rain against the window. I let Christmas linger in the distance, the light at the end of the tunnel, and I keep my eye on it throughout the pumpkins, the football, the pilgrims, and the turkeys. Always, Christ coming . . . as flesh, as divine . . . into my life, wrapping around the sin and yanking it out by the roots.

Soup simmers on the stove next to the fresh applesauce, and so much simmers in my heart. Hopes for my children, quiet moments with my husband, prayers for the peace of the world, love for friends and family.

Fall.

What do you love about it?

Steadfast

I woke up this morning praying for encouragement in a sort of desperate, oh my do I have to get out of bed, way. And quickly repented. I didn’t need encouragement. I needed Presence. Him. The Godhead. I needed more than blessings. I needed the Source.

Then I read this, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

I Corinthians 15, 58

And I received encouragement through the Presence of his Word.

Life is full of constant change, from the march of time to the aging of our bodies. The flux barrages us on all sides until we are worn. Maybe you’ve had one too many changes and you feel like you want to retreat into a cave and settle in for hibernation. I’m there with you.

Or maybe it’s not change that pressures you into seclusion, but failure or jealousy or bitterness or a headache.

Take comfort that his steadfastness enables your steadfastness. It’s those three words, in the Lord, that anchor us for carrying on our work through the twists and turns. You may come to the end of your patience and ability to endure, but He has no end. And neither do his mercies. So we remain in the Lord, where nothing we do is in vain. That is, a life that is swallowed up in the presence of the Almighty abounds with purpose so that even the smallest deed is done unto him.

Be steadfast today in the Lord. Enjoy his presence.

Numbering Our Days

1 Chronicles 1 and 2
The descendants of Adam were Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared,  Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, and Noah. The sons of Noah were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The descendants of Japheth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. The descendants of Gomer were Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. The descendants of Javan were Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Rodanim. The descendants of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. The descendants of Cush were Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The descendants of Raamah were Sheba and Dedan. Cush was also the ancestor of Nimrod, who was the first heroic warrior on earth. Mizraim was the ancestor of the Ludites, Anamites, Lehabites, Naphtuhites,  Pathrusites, Casluhites, and the Caphtorites, from whom the Philistines came. Canaan’s oldest son was Sidon, the ancestor of the Sidonians. Canaan was also the ancestor of the Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites,  Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, Arvadites, Zemarites, and Hamathites. The descendants of Shem were Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram. The descendants of Aram were Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash. Arphaxad was the father of Shelah. Shelah was the father of Eber. Eber had two sons. The first was named Peleg (which means “division”), for during his lifetime the people of the world were divided into different language groups. His brother’s name was Joktan. Joktan was the ancestor of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Obal, Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab. All these were descendants of Joktan. So this is the family line descended from Shem: Arphaxad, Shelah, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, Terah, and Abram, later known as Abraham. The sons of Abraham were Isaac and Ishmael. These are their genealogical records: The sons of Ishmael were Nebaioth (the oldest), Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. These were the sons of Ishmael. The sons of Keturah, Abraham’s concubine, were Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. The sons of Jokshan were Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Abraham through his concubine Keturah. Abraham was the father of Isaac. The sons of Isaac were Esau and Israel. The sons of Esau were Eliphaz, Reuel, Jeush, Jalam, and Korah. The sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, Kenaz, and Amalek, who was born to Timna.  The sons of Reuel were Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah. The sons of Seir were Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan. The sons of Lotan were Hori and Heman. Lotan’s sister was named Timna. The sons of Shobal were Alvan, Manahath, Ebal, Shepho, and Onam. The sons of Zibeon were Aiah and Anah. The son of Anah was Dishon. The sons of Dishon were Hemdan, Eshban, Ithran, and Keran. The sons of Ezer were Bilhan, Zaavan, and Akan. The sons of Dishan were Uz and Aran. These are the kings who ruled in Edom before there were kings in Israel: Bela son of Beor, who ruled from his city of Dinhabah. When Bela died, Jobab son of Zerah from Bozrah became king. When Jobab died, Husham from the land of the Temanites became king. When Husham died, Hadad son of Bedad became king and ruled from the city of Avith. He was the one who destroyed the Midianite army in the land of Moab. When Hadad died, Samlah from the city of Masrekah became king. When Samlah died, Shaul from the city of Rehoboth on the river became king. When Shaul died, Baal-hanan son of Acbor became king. When Baal-hanan died, Hadad became king and ruled from the city of Pau. His wife was Mehetabel, the daughter of Matred and granddaughter of Me-zahab. Then Hadad died. The clan leaders of Edom were Timna, Alvah, Jetheth, Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, Magdiel, and Iram. These were the clan leaders of Edom.
The sons of Israel were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Joseph, Benjamin, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. Judah had three sons from Bathshua, a Canaanite woman. Their names were Er, Onan, and Shelah. But the LORD saw that the oldest son, Er, was a wicked man, so he killed him. Later Judah had twin sons from Tamar, his widowed daughter-in-law. Their names were Perez and Zerah. So Judah had five sons in all. The sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul. The sons of Zerah were Zimri, Ethan, Heman, Calcol, and Darda– five in all. The son of Carmi (a descendant of Zimri) was Achan, who brought disaster on Israel by taking plunder that had been set apart for the LORD. The son of Ethan was Azariah. The sons of Hezron were Jerahmeel, Ram, and Caleb. Ram was the father of Amminadab. Amminadab was the father of Nahshon, a leader of Judah. Nahshon was the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz. Boaz was the father of Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse. Jesse’s first son was Eliab, his second was Abinadab, his third was Shimea, his fourth was Nethanel, his fifth was Raddai, his sixth was Ozem, and his seventh was David. Their sisters were named Zeruiah and Abigail. Zeruiah had three sons named Abishai, Joab, and Asahel. Abigail married a man named Jether, an Ishmaelite, and they had a son named Amasa. Hezron’s son Caleb had sons from his wife Azubah and from Jerioth. Her sons were named Jesher, Shobab, and Ardon. After Azubah died, Caleb married Ephrathah, and they had a son named Hur. Hur was the father of Uri. Uri was the father of Bezalel. When Hezron was sixty years old, he married Gilead’s sister, the daughter of Makir. They had a son named Segub. Segub was the father of Jair, who ruled twenty-three towns in the land of Gilead. (But Geshur and Aram captured the Towns of Jair and also took Kenath and its sixty surrounding villages.) All these were descendants of Makir, the father of Gilead. Soon after Hezron died in the town of Caleb-ephrathah, his wife Abijah gave birth to a son named Ashhur (the father of Tekoa). The sons of Jerahmeel, the oldest son of Hezron, were Ram (the firstborn), Bunah, Oren, Ozem, and Ahijah. Jerahmeel had a second wife named Atarah. She was the mother of Onam. The sons of Ram, the oldest son of Jerahmeel, were Maaz, Jamin, and Eker. The sons of Onam were Shammai and Jada. The sons of Shammai were Nadab and Abishur. The sons of Abishur and his wife Abihail were Ahban and Molid. The sons of Nadab were Seled and Appaim. Seled died without children, but Appaim had a son named Ishi. The son of Ishi was Sheshan. Sheshan had a descendant named Ahlai. The sons of Jada, Shammai’s brother, were Jether and Jonathan. Jether died without children, but Jonathan had two sons named Peleth and Zaza. These were all descendants of Jerahmeel. Sheshan had no sons, though he did have daughters. He also had an Egyptian servant named Jarha. Sheshan gave one of his daughters to be the wife of Jarha, and they had a son named Attai. Attai was the father of Nathan. Nathan was the father of Zabad. Zabad was the father of Ephlal. Ephlal was the father of Obed. Obed was the father of Jehu. Jehu was the father of Azariah. Azariah was the father of Helez. Helez was the father of Eleasah. Eleasah was the father of Sismai. Sismai was the father of Shallum. Shallum was the father of Jekamiah. Jekamiah was the father of Elishama. The descendants of Caleb, the brother of Jerahmeel, included Mesha (the firstborn), who became the father of Ziph. Caleb’s descendants also included the sons of Mareshah, the father of Hebron. The sons of Hebron were Korah, Tappuah, Rekem, and Shema. Shema was the father of Raham. Raham was the father of Jorkeam. Rekem was the father of Shammai. The son of Shammai was Maon. Maon was the father of Beth-zur. Caleb’s concubine Ephah gave birth to Haran, Moza, and Gazez. Haran was the father of Gazez. The sons of Jahdai were Regem, Jotham, Geshan, Pelet, Ephah, and Shaaph. Another of Caleb’s concubines, Maacah, gave birth to Sheber and Tirhanah. She also gave birth to Shaaph (the father of Madmannah) and Sheva (the father of Macbenah and Gibea). Caleb also had a daughter named Acsah. These were all descendants of Caleb. The sons of Hur, the oldest son of Caleb’s wife Ephrathah, were Shobal (the founder of Kiriath-jearim), Salma (the founder of Bethlehem), and Hareph (the founder of Beth-gader). The descendants of Shobal (the founder of Kiriath-jearim) were Haroeh, half the Manahathites, and the families of Kiriath-jearim– the Ithrites, Puthites, Shumathites, and Mishraites, from whom came the people of Zorah and Eshtaol. The descendants of Salma were the people of Bethlehem, the Netophathites, Atroth-beth-joab, the other half of the Manahathites, the Zorites, and the families of scribes living at Jabez– the Tirathites, Shimeathites, and Sucathites. All these were Kenites who descended from Hammath, the father of the family of Recab.

I Chronicles 1 and 2 read like a county record book. Or maybe a baby name book, if you’re seeking the unusual. Or even still, like a fairy tale. Once upon a time lived all these people. They were born. And then they died.

What do we make of these genealogies? We gloss over them as lists, as if reading these names is just something to be checked off our list.

But these were real people. They laughed at jokes. They worked so hard their muscles hurt. They had good moments in which their words streamed encouragement. And they had bad moments in which impatience overtook them and they scolded loved ones.

They were like you and me. Human.

People with dreams and a hope for the future. People plagued by failures from their past.

As I make my way through these lists, wondering who these strange-named ancestors of my faith were, I am reminded of Psalm 90:12 “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom” (New Living Translation). Many of us know the version, “Teach us to number our days….”

What is man? His days are like a breath, like dew that the sun dries up.

Psalm 103, 15, 16

The world and all its glory is here today and gone ______________ (you know the saying). This fleeting time on earth is powerless to promise us anything lasting. We can fix our eyes on this temporary existence and become discouraged.

Or we can fix our eyes on the unseen, the eternal, the Creator, whose promises never fail or disappoint.

These people had successes, moments of victory and amazing innovation. Yet those moments passed and left behind nothing but a yearning for more. It’s that More that brings us to our knees in worship. The More of Christ and his eternal purpose. The More of God the Almighty and eternity is what infuses the today with goodness and enjoyment.

Because this life is good, and we are meant to enjoy it. However fleeting, God reflects his goodness in it.

Let us because not to mistake the good pleasures of this life as the bottom line. The satisfaction. Period. Let us look instead to what is beyond: the Giver of Life, the Creator of all things.

In what ways is the world tempting you to find satisfaction in the passing moments? In what ways are the fleeting things distracting you? Set aside the chasing after the wind (Solomon’s term from Ecclesiastes) and pursue treasures that are stored up in heaven where moths cannot eat them and rust cannot destroy them.

Questioning Through Mark: 8:22-26

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 go into the village.

Who were these people who brought a blind man to Jesus and begged Jesus to heal him? Why didn’t the blind man come on his own? Did these people seize the man by the arm and drag him to Jesus in order to see a miracle? To be entertained by this strange, holy healer?

We are those people wanting to be amused, seeking the fascinating, but not willing to seek the Fascinator.

Perhaps Jesus saw the hearts of these people who wanted only to test his power or be amused. Perhaps he saw the crowd forming. Thus, he took the blind man by the hand–a gentle way to lead a person–and led him outside the village, away from those who wanted to use the man for sport.

And there, Jesus healed the man. In two awkward steps. Spit and a touch. Why couldn’t Jesus skip the spit and simply touch away the blindness? Because Jesus wanted to give the man an opportunity to enter in to the healing process. To come on his own, in a sense, by answering Jesus’s question, “Do you see anything?”

The man could have replied, “Thanks anyway. It didn’t quite work.” But instead, he answers with honest faith, “I see men like trees, walking around.” In these words, I hear an invitation for Jesus to touch his eyes again. I hear the anticipation that sight is coming and is almost there.

Am I inviting Jesus by the words that I speak, by my responses to his questions?

Then Jesus touches the man’s eyes once more, and sight is restored. The man is sent home, not into the village. In other words, Jesus doesn’t want the man to subject himself to questioners, naysayers, or people who may steal his joy and cause him to sin.

Don’t (as Psalm 1 says) “walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.”

But go home. Go home physically, and go home in your heart . . . to belief in Jesus.

Jesus’s works aren’t for our entertainment. They are faith-fuel for our hearts. They point us to him so that we can give our lives to him.

Go home in your heart

When Jesus asks us if we see anything, what will we say? Will we see an invitation to follow him or will we see a miracle for our amusement?

Questioning Through Mark: 8:1-21

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”
His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?” “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked. “Seven,” they replied.
He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them.
The people ate and were satisfied.
Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand men were present.
And having sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha. 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 miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.
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?”
  1. The abundance of Jesus is complete, meaning he can’t give us more than he’s already given. The loaves and fish only mirror the greater, spiritual gifts he gives. In scripture, twelve and seven and numbers of completeness. Perfection. Twelve tribes equal the fullness of God’s people. Seven days in a week equals the fullness of God’s work and salvation. Have we accused him of holding back?
  2. Jesus satisfied the basic physical need of the crowd. He met them in their humanity, validating that how God the Father had created them–with physical needs–was good. The need to eat is not a result of the Fall. Not having enough food is. But with Jesus there is more than enough. Have we sought satisfaction from sources other than Jesus?
  3. Sometimes we feel like the bread and fish collected and stored away in baskets. We’ve missed out on the ministry. We’ve been passed over. But hear this: the left over is not useless. It is testimony. It is witness to God’s abundance. And more so, the fish and loaves were not discarded. Jesus doesn’t waste. They were set aside for later. For the journey home. Not being used in the moment is not the same as not being used at all. Are we so focused playing a specific role in God’s kingdom that we have mistaken being left over for being left behind?
  4. In the scriptures, Jesus sets himself in front of us. He reveals himself and asks, “Do you still not understand?” We will give account someday for who we say he is. Let us not follow in the steps of the religious leaders who fancied religion over relationship. They had no need for a Messiah. Let us instead have ears to hear and eyes to see that we not only have need of a Messiah, but in Jesus, we have been given (abundantly, satisfingly) that Messiah. Do we get it?

The Gentle Shove of the Shepherd: Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:1-3

The beginning of this pastoral Psalm conjures up a picturesque setting. Lush meadows await with beds of grass. Streams rush with refreshment and sustenance. There is a Narnia like beauty that tickles the imagination while we take in the first few verses . . .

Until we move beyond the scenery to the sheep who are apparently running a muck. The are doing their own thing and unable to find their own way. Why else would the Psalmist say that the Shepherd makes us lie down? Who needs to be forced to rest? I’ll rest when I’m tired, is our mantra. And yet, we don’t.

The Shepherd is all action. He is restoring. He is making. He is leading, and from what I gather, leading sheep is no easy task. A sheep dog expends great energy running circles around the sheep to get them herded in the right direction. A Shepherd needs tools, not only for fighting off enemies, but for getting the sheep to do what is in their best interest–because left to their own desires, they aren’t choosing their best.

sheep in green pastures

So the questions for us–the sheep–are:
  • Are we heeding the nudge of the Shepherd on the path where He’s leading?
  • Are we resting when He says rest?
  • Are we moving when He says move?
  • Are we resisting His invitation to lie down in the green pastures, to be restored?

Let us not rush past these verses because they are common. There is a message here that is convicting, if we pause to let the Spirit convict. In a world of run-a-muck sheep, a Shepherd waits with an unbelievable offer: restoration for our souls.

Death in the Pot: Thoughts on 2 Kings 4:38-41

Elisha returned to Gilgal and there was a famine in that region. While the company of the prophets was meeting with him, he said to his servant, “Put on the large pot and cook some stew for these men.” One of them went out into the fields to gather herbs and found a wild vine. He gathered some of its gourds and filled the fold of his cloak. When he returned, he cut them up into the pot of stew, though no one knew what they were. The stew was poured out for the men, but as they began to eat it, they cried out, “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it. Elisha said, “Get some flour.” He put it into the pot and said, “Serve it to the people to eat.” And there was nothing harmful in the pot.

Famine has wracked the region of Gilgal. People are hungry, desperate. The company of prophets comes together, I suppose to discuss what Yahweh is doing in the land and what should be done about the famine. They are gathered to hear from the Lord.

Elisha instructs his servant to prepare stew for the prophets. Then the text says that “one of them” went out to the field to gather herbs. It’s not clear if “one of them” is a servant or a prophet. It doesn’t matter. What matters is what happens next. The man spies a wild vine full of fruit—a beautiful and unusual sight during this famine. He fills his cloak with gourds from the vine, returns, chops them up, and puts them into the stew “though no one knew what they were.”

When the men begin to eat, they cry out “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” Elisha puts flour into the stew, healing the killer properties of the vine, and the prophets eat and are filled.

At first we might feel bad for the servant who prepared the stew. He did his best, but he made a mistake.

No. In a desperate time, a man made a desperate choice, and the prophets of God almost died. Instead of seeking the Lord’s provision, the man went out, saw a vine flourishing in an otherwise barren landscape, and assumed that vine was the answer. It was right there. It was the easy choice.

But he lacked discernment. No one knew what the fruits were. And instead of pausing to ask the Lord, they tossed it in and hoped for the best. A decision made out of desperation in the man’s own strength.

Man’s ways are never better than God’s ways. Desperate times do not call for desperate measures. They call for prayerful measures. Panic and rushing into action without thought never helps.

You may be in a place of desperation—a metaphorical famine of sorts—where you’re tempted to reach for whatever looks good and right in the moment.

Don’t do it. Stop and pray. Seek the wisdom of God. Ask him for his provision. Maybe that fruitful vine is his provision, but let’s not make the mistake of assuming what looks right in the moment is what God wants for us.

Abraham did what he thought was wise when he slept with Hagar. That was the custom of the day. A man needed an heir. But it wasn’t God’s ways, and that desperate decision cost more than Abraham could have imagined.

So stop. Take a deep breath. And ask the Lord to reveal himself to you in whatever famine you’re facing. He promises to be found when we call on his name. He is not a God whose ways are hidden. He’s given us his Word, his Spirit, and his people to help us walk through life with wisdom and discernment.

The Sought-After: Ezekiel 36 and the New Covenant

“For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. “Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. Ezekiel 36:24-28   

Do you catch the initiative of God? Those words “I will” slam into us the reality that He seeks us, He works in us, He regenerates us. We offer nothing to the miracle of the New Covenant.

We are the Sought-After.

While Israel turned and worshiped other gods, Yahweh was seeking. While Israel campaigned to take over the Promised Land in their own strength, Yahweh was seeking. While Israel got busy with daily life and forgot their deliverance from Egypt, Yahweh was seeking.

And what about you? Temptations from work pull at you to advance your career at the expense of others. Images from social media deceive you into thinking that you must appear perfect like that next woman. Busyness distracts you from being present to your family and friends. To Jesus, whom you call Savior.

All the while, Yahweh seeks you.  

The Sought After

The beauty of the New Covenant is that God places within us a desire and an ability to know him, follow him, be committed to him. Under the Old Covenant, we struggled to abide by God’s Law. We failed. We had no staying power. But the power of the New Covenant is that Jesus completes that work of righteousness in us so that we are capable of communing with God.

Simply put, He makes our hearts soft. Flesh-like. Able to respond to grace.

Belonging to him, as his people, gives us the assurance that when we seek, we will find. When our lives become wrapped up in all He is—his goodness, love, faithfulness, holiness—then his Spirit is continually seeking and finding us, and we return that communion by seeking and finding him.

It’s a circle of oneness. That’s the New Covenant. Is that your reality today? It can be. Be sprinkled. Be cleansed. Be the Sought-After.

Ezekiel 36, 25

Praying Psalm 119

A wildfire near our house has caused the valley to fill up with smoke the past few mornings. The air doesn’t look extremely smokey, but the smell is strong. Isn’t it amazing how only a little smoke can infiltrate our senses?

What’s bombarding your senses today? How about beauty from God’s Word? We can breathe in the smoke of this world, or we can breathe the fresh mercies of God every morning.

Today I’m focused on one of my favorites, Psalm 119.

Consider all the ways the Psalmist speaks about God’s promises, Word, laws, and ways. The Psalmist . . .

  • Hopes in God’s Word
  • Pleads to understand God’s Statues
  • Grieves when the Law is broken
  • Loves God’s commands
  • Stands in awe of His Laws
  • Praises the nature of God’s decrees
  • Faints with longing for God’s ways
  • Commits to meditating on God’s precepts
  • Delights in God’s Law and its freedom
  • Praises God’s faithfulness
  • Seeks strength from God’s Word

psalm 119 8182

Would you join me today in breathing in and out the truths of these words?

Delights of Psalm 119

  • My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times. (20)
  • You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees. (68)
  • Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (89)
  • Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you. (91)
  • The statutes you have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy. (138)

Prayers of Psalm 119

  • My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. (28)
  • Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. (37)
  • May your unfailing love come to me, O LORD, your salvation according to your promise. (41)
  • Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands. (66)
  • Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end. (111-112)
  • Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me. (133)
  • I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands. (176)
SONY DSC
SONY DSC

Commitments of Psalm 119

  • I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free. (32)
  • I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame. (46)
  • Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge. In the night I remember your name, O LORD, and I will keep your law. (54-55)

 

(please join me Mondays over at Fiction411.com where I blog about the writing life and craft)

When Something Seems REALLY Scary: What’s Your Perspective?

And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.

Matthew 8:26

Silas looking at moth

The youngest came to me with furrowed brows, wearing more concern than clothes. It took me a minute to see what he saw. He pointed under the azalea, but still, I didn’t know what I was looking for, and he didn’t know what to tell me that it was. A snake? I certainly didn’t want to get too close.

And then I saw it. A beautiful, camouflaged moth.

Moth

Despite my efforts to assure him that it was safe—no stinger!—and only wanted to sleep, he abandoned his outside play. Really? I asked. You’re going to set aside the fun of building a worm hotel on the driveway because it’s within ten feet of the azalea bush that is the current home of a harmless moth?

Perspective is everything, and to a five-year-old, that strange insect was the cause of concern. No matter how I framed the situation, we saw different pictures. He saw a threat. I saw a cool science opportunity.

What sort of things cause me to fear that are actually—in the perspective of my heavenly Father—harmless?

Without belittling the fears of my son, I must admit, I was frustrated with him. He didn’t need to fear, but I couldn’t convince him of that.

Friends, you know the analogy here. Let’s ask some simple questions and let the Lord speak:

Are you abandoning something that God is calling you to because of fear?

Are you perceiving danger in something when there is none?
Or maybe there is danger, but you need to trust God’s unlimited perspective?
Is fear robbing you from what might be an avenue for joy?

What questions do you see in this analogy?

A True Utopia: God’s Hope for You

Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice. Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.

Isaiah 32:1-2

Faith and Grandpa Lake Wenatchee

A ruler who brings shelter, streams of water, and shade? This is not the picture we get when we look at worldly kingdoms.

But it is God’s reality. God’s picture of our future.

Hidden Lake

What refreshing verses to read this morning. What a beautiful picture of safety and security. I want to be in that place. I want to jump right in to those words and find myself surrounded by this utopia.

Are you with me?

Silas Lake Wenatchee

This isn’t some far off wisp of a fleeting image. It’s for the here and now as we find ourselves wrapped up in King Jesus.  Whatever your dry place, whatever your weary land, you can find peace. Now. Amidst the seen realities of this world, you can hope in the greater realities of the unseen.

Trees looking up

 

A Galatians Fourth of July: True Freedom in Christ

Happy birthday, America! I pray God’s blessings on you, for as a Christian, I am to seek the well-being of the land where God has placed me (Jeremiah 29:7). I celebrate the freedom I have found in your borders, and I remember those who fought for that freedom. For freedom is not cheap–politically or spiritually.

As I think of the freedoms of my country, I remember the bedrock of freedom I have in Christ.

galatians 5,1

And what is this freedom? True and ultimate freedom is:

  • Being out from under the curse of sin (Galatians 3:10-11)
  • Receiving God’s promise of righteousness by faith (Galatians 3:21-22)
  • Found in the Gospel of Christ, not “the different gospel–which is really no gospel at all,” (Galatians 1:6-7). A gospel driven by the approval of men, in other words, popular opinion. A changeable, socially acceptable gospel. And of these men who grant approval, Paul writes, “These people are zealous to win you over, but for no good,” (Galatians 4:17).

galatians 1, 10

  • Dying to self and living in Christ (Galatians 2:20).
  • A calling in Christ and an invitation to serve others (Galatians 5:13).

galatians 2. 20

  • Evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
  • Keeping in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

galatians 5, 25

Are you grateful for freedom today–both your country’s and your spirit’s?

The Work of Jesus: Making Oaks of Righteousness

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.  Aliens will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast.”

Isaiah 61:1-6

We read the first half of this passage with the image of Jesus in the temple, opening the scroll of Isaiah and proclaiming his purpose to bind and heal, release, bring favor, and bestow beauty. Jesus, the Messiah, adopted this passage as his mission statement for his three years of earthly ministry.

Then we reach that pivotal verse, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” The conduit of God’s Kingdom work has shifted from Jesus, to the people he has healed, restored, made into oaks of righteousness.

Isaiah 61.4

Now it is “they” who rebuild ancient ruins and restore devastated places. “They” who renew. Who is this “they” but the very ones Christ binds and heals.

The work of Christ is to take the poor, brokenhearted captives who wear ashes and to transform them into a display for Yahweh’s splendor.

Simplified, the Messiah redeems sinners for the Father’s glory.

The beauty of this passage is not just the wondrous works Jesus brings to undeserving sinners, but that Jesus then sends those healed people off to be “ministers of our God.” We are more than cleaned-up has-beens. We are commissioned-will-bes.

Questioning Through Mark: Mark 7:24-36

And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. But immediately a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.
And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Mark 7:24-37

1. Are you attracted to Jesus? He drew others to himself like bees to honeysuckle. They came, hungry. Not only the Jews, but also the Gentiles. Maybe even especially the Gentiles. Jesus’ own people tended toward curious skepticism. What about us?

2. What does it mean to be tested by Jesus? At first glance, Jesus’ words to the Gentile woman seem harsh. But they aren’t. Jesus came first as a Jew, to the Jews, to fulfill the Messianic promise to Israel which in turn, would open up salvation for every tribe, tongue, and nation. (Remember God’s promise to Abraham that he would be blessed to be a blessing?) But Jesus’ own people rejected him. Kicked him out of Nazareth. Dismissed him, “Isn’t this Mary’s son? The carpenter?”

Jesus’s words to the Gentile woman are an invitation to express faith. Does she truly believe that He is for her and her people? Yes, she does. And what a compliment Jesus gives her, praising her for her faith.

3. Do you get Jesus? Ironically, the spiritual reality of many who followed Jesus was the same as this deaf man. They were drawn to Jesus, listened to his teaching, but remained spiritually unhearing. They didn’t get him.

What Jesus accomplished in the physical realm–opening the eyes of the blind, unstopping the ears of the deaf, raising the dead–mirrors what he accomplished in the spiritual realm. His words, “Be opened,” to this deaf man are just as much a pleading for his disciples to get him as they are a command to free this deaf man from a soundless life.

Psalm 40.6

4. We are amazed by Jesus’ physical miracles, but how much more should we be amazed by his miracles of the heart? Those who saw Jesus perform miracles were astounded and said, “He has done all things well.” He has done. But did they go a step further and say, “He is all things well, good, and loving. He is Savior.” Jesus calls us not only to appreciate the works He does, but who He is. Salvation doesn’t come by admiring him. It comes through recognizing him as Lord and Savior.

 

God’s Rebuilding Work in Our Lives

“In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent. I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name,” declares the LORD, who will do these things.
Amos 9:11-12 

These are the words after judgment. Words of mercy and restoration. God is not a god of unwarranted anger. He is a God who rebuilds and renews. And what is the restoration of David’s line? It’s Jesus, the forever King in the line of David.

For Israel, the surprising truth of Amos’s prophecy is that when God restored them, they would become balm for their enemies. “Possessing the remnant” doesn’t imply dominance or payback. The Hebrew word for “possess” might also be translated “seek.” When James quotes Amos in Acts 15, he says, “After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord…” That is a word of purpose. The purpose for Israel’s restoration is that others will seek the Lord.

Amos 9, 11 12

And so Amos’s prophecy ends with this hope: God will put Jesus on David’s throne in order to tear down the barrier between Jew and Gentile, .

How about when God restores our fallen tents? Can the broken places and ruins of our lives be used to draw others to the Lord? Yes. Even our enemies? Yes. That is the hope of God’s redemption.

Jesus Makes Everything New

everything new

For those days when life feels like a tattered old dishrag,

Jesus says, “I am making everything new” (Revelation 21:5).

For the moments when words escape your mouth and you want them back,

“I am making everything new.”

For the dark hours when old wounds raise ugly heads, and for the early dawn hours when thoughts steal sleep,

“I am making everything new.”

For that twenty-fourth time of trying to get it right,

“I am making everything new.”

For that success that doesn’t bring joy anymore,

“I am making everything new.”

For the emptiness that grows a bit each day, and for the losses of dear loved ones,

“I am making everything new.”

For this, that, and the other,

“I am making everything new.”

Look to the future, Christian. Your hope is secure in Jesus Christ, and your eternal glory awaits.

Questioning Through Mark: 6:30-44

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.  31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” 
32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.  33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.  34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. 
35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late.  36 Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”  37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take eight months of a man’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”  38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five– and two fish.” 
39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass.  40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.  41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.  42 They all ate and were satisfied,  43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish.  44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

1. What is the rhythm of your life? Jesus had an in-and-out rhythm to his ministry that he sought to instill in his disciples. After they returned from their mission, Jesus took them to a quiet place for rest. For the introverts, this is a welcome reminder that it’s okay to retreat, that ministry is marked by seasons. For the extroverts, retreat might seem unnecessary, even like the rejection of responsibility. But notice that even though Jesus knew the great amount of work to be done, he still took his disciples away for rest. Ministry happens even in the seemingly dormant seasons of our lives.

2. How do you view a crowd? Jesus was always moved by people’s brokenness. Compassion welled in him as people crowded around him because he sensed their lost-ness. The disciples wanted to send the crowds away, but Jesus welcomed them.

Mark 6 34

3. What is your level of desperation for Jesus? This crowd was so desperate that they followed him to a remote place without thought of food or shelter. Maybe that’s irresponsible, but I see it as the strong pull of Jesus. People were drawn to him. They wanted to hear him teach—they needed him in such a way that they forgot the essentials of life. Might we have that same hunger?

4. What is your first response to the request of Jesus? The disciple’s first response is a: reason (“that would take eight months” wages) and b: selfishness (“are we to go and spend that much?”) To be sure, reason is a gift from God and to be used, but reason must be subject to God, just like emotion. There is a time for reason and there is a time God calls us to reach beyond the rational to a greater, heavenly reality. That which is seen will pass away, wrote Paul, but that which is unseen is eternal.

5. “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” Jesus engages the disciples in the miracle by giving them a part. This is the moment they are called to obedience. Many of us seem more comfortable on the sidelines watching when Jesus is trying to push us into the game.

6. What is the significance of Jesus looking to heaven, giving thanks, and breaking the loaves? It’s a moment fraught with symbolism. The breaking of bread pounds us with the image of Christ, the Bread of Life. Looking to heaven reminds us of the Dove descending on Jesus after his baptism. The connection between Father, Son, and Spirit seems especially significant in this moment. How many times does Jesus tell his disciples that he only does what he sees his Father doing? And how many times were the Jewish leaders offended by the way Jesus connected himself to God, the Father? This public giving of thanks and looking to heaven is yet another instant where Jesus shows the intimacy between him and the Father. And what flows from such intimacy? A miracle.

Questioning Through Mark: 6:14-29

14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”  15 Others said, “He is Elijah.” And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”  16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” 
17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married.  18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”  19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to,  20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. 
21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee.  22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.”  23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”  24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” “The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.  25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”  26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her.  27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison,  28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 
29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

1. The gospels force us to face the question, Who is Jesus? We cannot remain undecided. Or rather, indecision is itself an answer. In verses 14-16, Mark highlights again the identity confusion surrounding Jesus. Is he Elijah? A prophet? Herod even thinks Jesus might be John raised from the dead. Our biggest evangelistic tool might not be brilliant exegesis or snazzy apologetics, but this one question: Who is Jesus to you? We must help others honestly face this question.

  1. What are your nursing in your heart? Herodias nursed a grudge. She watered the seed of bitterness until its vine strangled life—John’s life, literally, and hers, spiritually. Whatever we water, grows. If we nurse the fruit of the Spirit and feed on God’s Word, his character grows within us. But if we feed the life-strangling passions of jealousy, anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness, our hearts become consumed to the point of death.

Mark 6, 22 23

  1. Whom do you fear? God or man? Herod respected John as a godly man. More so, Herod was moved—convicted—by John’s message. And yet, Herod’s fear of man—what others thought of him—was greater. He was manipulated by Herodias, and made a rash vow. Still, he could have broken that vow. He could have repented and chosen right over wrong. Does this remind you of anyone in the Old Testament, another man whose vow cost him an innocent life? Judges 11 tells the story of Jephthah, the warrior leader of Israel, who was so desperate to defeat the Ammonites that he attempted to bargain with God, saying, “If you give me this victory, I will sacrifice the first thing out of my house when I return home.” After his victory, he returned home. And who came out first? His only child, a daughter. What is so terribly sad is that he felt he needed to follow through with his vow and sacrifice her. He shoved Yahweh into the same category as the Baals of the Ammonites, believing he had no choice but to do as he vowed or else risk the wrath of God. He didn’t truly know that Yahweh, the God of Israel, desired mercy, not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6), desired the sacrifice of a humble and broken spirit over the sacrifice of flesh and blood. Jephthah could have repented. Herod could have repented. What about us? Do we truly know the heart of God?

Questioning Through Mark: 6:6b-13

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.  7 Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.  8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff– no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.  9 Wear sandals but not an extra tunic.  10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.  11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”  12 They went out and preached that people should repent.  13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Mark 6,8 9

1. Do you remember who sent you or have you lost sight of the One behind your calling?

2. Jesus “gave them authority.” In Jesus’ day, to follow or learn from someone was to be under his authority. When disciples of that day spoke the message of their rabbi, it was with that rabbi’s authority and blessing. This is what we see Jesus doing here. It’s what we see Jesus doing again in The Great Commission. Sending us out in his authority. Do we go about our daily lives with the knowledge of this authority? With the clarity of this simple mission?

3. “Take nothing.” This doesn’t sound like a well-planned mission. As a fifth grader, I attended an outdoor education camp where we learned to pack a survival kit in a film roll canister (remember those?). Our motto: always be prepared. So why were the disciples to take only a staff? Maybe for the freedom of traveling light. Or maybe because everything about following Jesus required trust, even this mission. They’d already left home and career for him, why not leave behind extra clothes and money?

But why a staff? A staff was used as a walking aid, an instrument of discipline, or a tool for herding animals. Kings had staffs. Shepherds had staffs. The nomad and the villager had staffs.

Moses had a staff. When it became a snake, it was a sign of God’s power and authority over other gods. When it parted the Red Sea, it was a sign of God’s miraculous provision. When Moses stood atop a hill and prayed for Joshua’s battle, it was a sign of God’s favor and victory.

4. Are you humble enough to shake the dust off? Leaving is hard to do, especially when we leave feeling like a failure. The disciples weren’t to argue, push harder, manipulate. I see this as God’s way of saying, “I’m in charge of who receives my message.” And I’m reminded of Paul’s words in Second Corinthians 4, “We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” There is grace here. You are free to shake the dust off, free to leave. The salvation of others is not in your hands.

5. What is our message? The message of this world is love. Love everyone, everywhere, at all times, in all ways. And what is meant by that is, everything goes and don’t you dare tell me otherwise.

The love we preach is different. It’s a love embedded in repentance. What an unpopular and hated message. Repentance implies wrongdoing, requires humility and life change. Let’s face it, bearers of this message aren’t given a king’s welcome.

But there’s another facet to our message, and it’s seen in the action of the disciples: wholeness of body and soul. The disciples drove our demons, anointed the sick and healed them. They used deeds, not only words, in their outreach. So too, we must reach with our hands, not just with our voices. We must offer what is fundamentally and universally hungered for: healing of brokenness.