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.

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?

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.

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: 5:1-20

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”
Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened.
When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man– and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Mark 5,3

1. Do you feel like you (or your circumstances) are beyond help? Are the things you’re looking to for help only binding you more?

Jesus helps the unhelpable. The community had tried to help this man and had failed. They’d tried to bind him, restrain him, keep him from wildly wreaking havoc in their area. Do you catch the irony? They’d tried to chain him, but couldn’t. The demons had already chained him and had rule within him.

Jesus’ help is the help of freedom. True, life-giving help. Help that is beyond our means, our attaining by our own goodness or strength.

2. Am I amazed by Jesus’ power? The community was terrified to find that man in his right mind again, dressed and calm. Jesus astounds us with his power and compassion. And if you aren’t tuned in to his true identity, such power and compassion are causes for fear. Amazement and fear can be similar, can overlap. When we are in that place of surprise or shock–if that doesn’t springboard us to worship, we can fall prey to fear.

3. Am I recognizing Jesus for who He is? Do I know him? This passage is so perfectly placed after the passage of the disciples fearful on the lake in the storm. They failed to recognize Jesus’ lordship (remember, Jesus asked, “Do you still have no faith?”). The demons recognize Jesus’ lordship. They fear his authority over them. Before Jesus reaches this man, the man is running, recognizing the Savior, pleading with Jesus. And in minutes, this man goes from not knowing Jesus to knowing him.

Watching Jesus is not the same as knowing him. Being with him is not the same as knowing him. The disciples were afraid of Jesus in the previous passage and they’d been following him. The community is afraid of Jesus and they’d witnessed a miracle.

4. Am I telling my story?

You might think you don’t have a story to tell. But you do. We all do. Oftentimes we want to go places and do things that others are called to do–because it looks fun, seems more important. But God calls us to stay where we are and testify of his work in our lives. It’s that simple. Let what God has done for you and in you be your witness.

For your worship and celebration: Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)

chains gone

Questioning Through Mark: 4:21-24

He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you– and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”

1. Have we deceived ourselves that the kingdom of God is all love and peace? Freedom for the chained? Justice for the oppressed? How beautiful God’s kingdom is that it does bring freedom and justice, love and peace. But it brings those things because sin is dealt with. And how is sin dealt with? Through judgement. Through the satisfaction of God’s wrath as it is poured out on Jesus on the cross.

This passage is not about letting your witness shine, as we might want to pretend it is. The judgment of God is real–holy wrath worked out against sin. God’s kingdom shines the light of truth to reveal sin’s hidden, deceptive ways. God’s kingdom brings into the light that which is broken and ugly. That which must be dealt with.

mark4,22

Which is why Jesus said, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” Because Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and he wants us to hear. He wants us to come into the light, have our sins revealed before the cross and dealt with. Better now than later.

2. So do we hear? Can we hear? Satan doesn’t want us to hear. Sometimes our ears are filled with good sounding things that culture tells us is truth. Our ears are full of the mundane. Daily tasks yell at us. Whining children distract us. Silly things amuse us. And we don’t hear.

Lord, strip away the lies from our ears. Give us ears to hear.

We don’t have ears to hear–not on our own.

3. What measure are you using? Are we letting God reveal and deal with our sin through the judgment and wrath Christ bears? Or are we placating ourselves and others by false ideas of grace–that truth is relevant and our actions will not truly be judged as sin? When we use God’s kingdom measure–a measure that finds wrath satisfied in the sacrifice of Christ–we also receive that measure of grace. When we use the measure of relevance–a measure that excuses sin and its penalties–we receive the fruit of that measure, a measure that has no power to save or justify. So let us hold up the standard of truth as expressed in scripture. Let us take cover in the justification of Jesus’ blood, and thus receive true grace, the withholding of God’s wrath.

 

Defending Christ

2thessalonians3,3

When Christ is slurred everywhere in the media–and his followers with him–I can become discouraged. After the fight dies out in me (that charge-into-battle mentality that has me spitting out verses and defenses to my patient husband), I come to rest on one reality:

Christ doesn’t need my defense. He doesn’t need me to prove him to the world. He’s capable of proving himself.

Christ requires my faithfulness.

It’s that simple. I don’t need to contribute a brilliant apologetic of the faith, though some are gifted with that and I admire them. But when words fail and we are left looking like foolish people (Paul warned that the Gospel would be foolishness to the world), we can rest ourselves on his faithfulness and offer ours in return.

“Be faithful even to the point of death,
and I will give you the crown of life.”
Revelation 2:10

We are not instructed to deliver a stellar apologetic to the point of death, but to be faithful. To not shy away from our alliance with Jesus Christ and his holy word. To hold unswervingly to the truth of scripture as our guide for life when many others toss aside the authority of scripture.

Sometimes being faithful means looking like a fool, and if that is the case, God’s faithfulness will carry us.

Questioning Through Mark: 4:10-20

mark 4, 11
When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,
“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'”
Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop– thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”

I’ve not been looking forward to these verses. The quote from Isaiah is one of the hardest pieces of scripture for me to understand, so truly, I’m questioning this morning, “Why, Jesus?” I’m okay if I don’t receive a clear answer because part of faith is clinging to the Person of Jesus and trusting that the Bible’s life-giving truth is not dependent upon my understanding (or lack of).

Why would Jesus want his words to be hard to understand, and thus salvation hidden from the common listener?

This parable is found in Matthew and Luke as well, and Matthew’s presentation of it offers insight. Here is Matthew’s relaying of Jesus’ explanation to the disciples (starting at 13:10):

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

Point one: The parable of the sower is about the kingdom of God. Jesus’ coming to earth was to bring God’s kingdom here–“as it is in heaven.” But the reality is that not all receive his kingdom, which is partly what this parable is saying.

Point two: We know from other passages of scripture that God doesn’t want anyone to perish. “God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world,” (John 3:17). And consider Jesus’ words, “This is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day,” (John 6:39-40). Ironically, Jesus spoke these words during a particularly hard teaching after which many stopped following him.

Which leads me to the questions . . .

1. Are we yielded to the voice of the Holy Spirit? Because without this Guide, we can’t understand God’s words, and furthermore, we can’t follow him. One of the concepts of this passage, as we see in Matthew’s version, is that when we yield to the Holy Spirit and truly hear the Gospel, we are set in motion to hearing and understanding: Whoever has will be given more . . .

But the flip side is, whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. From the world’s perspective, the Gospel is foolishness. It is not only confusing; it’s a turnoff. And the more people turn from the Gospel, the harder it is to come back. Truth rejected is a seed that takes root, making the heart soil hard and impenetrable. In other words, good soil leads to abundance, and but bad soil takes the heart down a path of increasing hardness. So I ask . . .

2. Have you grown hard-hearted? It’s easy to consider Jesus’ explanation of this parable as categories by which we can file people we know. But this is not so. Gospel-response is a continuum, not a set of categories, and all of us move along that continuum during different seasons or situations of life. For instance, I might have a heart of good soil when I consider God’s instruction for controlling my speech and treating those around me with patience and love. But when I come up against a hard teaching, and culture wants to pull me in a direction away from scripture, is my heart good for Gospel seed or does it turn to the rocky path? You see, the dynamic between hard and soft heartedness is tricky. On the one hand, we see God hardening hearts (Pharaoh) but we also hear the imperative from the author of Hebrews not to harden our hearts. Thus, there is a human component to hard-heartedness and I think Jesus hits on that here in Mark.

Conclusion: God desires all to be saved. But because he’s given us the choice to choose or reject him, all will not be saved. However, this parable promises that good soil produces a huge crop, “thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.” So even though Jesus quotes Isaiah about many not understanding, his parable promises that many will be saved–through the witness of those who receive his seed in good, fertile soil. But lest we take credit for having good soil, we are reminded that ears to hear is something given to us (verse 11) and not of our own doing.

 

The Cure for Discontentment

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.
Psalm 27:4

“Keep your eye on the ball.” Who hasn’t been told this at least once? Whether you actually plaid a sport where this was necessary, or just suffered through a P.E. class, you’ve heard these instructive words.

And cringed–because the reason you heard these words was that you swung and missed.

Maybe your heart has swung and missed today, so let me breathe a bit of hope into you and say, “Keep your eyes on Jesus. Gaze on his beauty.”

psalm27,4

Let me tell you a bit about God’s glory: it’s beautiful, weighty, and ours for enjoying in Jesus Christ.

Let me tell you something else about God’s glory. It is the only thing that satisfies us because HIS GLORY is the essence of his goodness. We can cast our gazes on many things that contain a reflection of his glory–and find a modicum of satisfaction–but until we gaze upon Jesus, the fullness of his glory, our hearts will remain discontent.

So what are you waiting for? Why settle for water that does not quench when Living Water is available?

Look to Jesus and see in his glory an invitation to true worship. When you look, you will see, for he has promised, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

 

Lean Into the More

longing

The longing for more . . . embrace it, lean into it, loose it in your core . . . as long as its object is Jesus Christ and your heavenly home.

This is NOT discontentment. This is the knowledge of the greatest reality juxtaposed with the anguish of a broken existence. This is eternity in your heart, at war with the effects of sin in this world.

If you are human, you are made in His image and you possess this longing, whether it’s forefront in your heart or not.

eternity

This longing shifts my focus beyond present struggles. It allows me to have hope for friends in shattering circumstances. It allows me to set aside petty, selfish thoughts. The temptation to hate how I look? Shot down. The frustration at lack of success? Set aside. The lie that I’ll never measure up? Conquered. The weariness of my body that makes it hard to lift my teacup to my mouth?

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Take hold of the longing for eternity and hang on to where it leads you: heavenward to Jesus Christ.

Worship for your day: Endless Hallelujah, Matt Redman

Questioning Through Mark: 1:21-34

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.
Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are– the Holy One of God!”
“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!”
The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching– and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.”
News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
  1. Are we surprised at what Jesus does in our lives or are we expecting? Today, we have the testament of scripture and the Holy Spirit to teach us. The people who first saw Jesus heal were not expecting a teacher to do miracles like this. Thus they were amazed, or we can translate, “surprised.” May we expect the power of Jesus to be at work in our lives and not be caught off guard by it.
  2. To whom are you bringing your sick and demon-possessed? Come to Jesus first, not the self-help books.
  3. How do we see the kingdom of God at work in this passage? Jesus advances the kingdom through the power of his teaching and healing, not by loud proclamation that He is the Son of God. The testimony of the demons, though true, was out of place and the wrong timing.

Questioning Through Mark: 1:14-20

Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News.  “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him. A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men.
  1. Is your repentance tied to belief? Jesus instructed people to repent and believe. Repentance is a letting go of sin and turning from sin. Belief in the Good News is what fills the hole when we turn from sin.
  1. How is your response time to Jesus? Is it “at once?” Or is it, “Let me consider?”
  1. How has God used your past and your gifts for his kingdom? Jesus made a great play on words when he told fishermen that he would show them how to fish for men. We all have a past filled with good and bad things. When we come to Jesus, none of that is wasted. He uses who we were in a new and redeemed way.

Questioning our Way: Mark1:14-20

The Message

At this time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. The moment he came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God’s Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him. Along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”
At once, this same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by Satan. Wild animals were his companions, and angels took care of him.
  1. Are you living in submission to the Father? Jesus placed himself under the authority that God had ordained—John—to be baptized. God is not a mean boss, a disapproving father. Look at how he responds to Jesus’s submission, “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love.” This same favor is extended to all who submit to him.
  2. What voice are you listening to? God’s voice is one of favor and delight. Even in moments of conviction, God’s love is spoken. Other voices, however, tell us we are not good enough for God’s love, have sinned too greatly, lack the right gifts to be useful, or will only mess up God’s work.
  3. Are you willing to follow the Spirit? Following the Spirit might take us into surprising places. Jesus, after being baptized and receiving the Spirit, does not march into the ministry of healing and preaching, but rather enters the wilderness for a period of temptation.

At a recent Bible study, we delved into an honest heart-to-heart conversation revolving around one word: Why? We were studying Hosea, and had discussed how God had lured his people into the desert, the wilderness, the place of infertility, in order to redeem her. He stripped his people of good things so that she would know Him as the source of those good things.

Why is it that God has to break us before he heals us? And why does that breaking have to hurt so much?

Why

Wrestling with this one worded question can harden a soul to the point of bitterness. Or it can harden a soul into a fierce gripping faith in the goodness of God.

How do we come to terms with the fact that God is beyond our understanding. The paradox is, God doesn’t hide himself. He sent his Son to take on flesh so that we might know him. Really, truly know him with an intimacy that goes beyond our human relationships. He took the initiative to come to us. He took the nails.

But eventually, every Christian comes to the place of why. We come to the end of our mental capacity and must wave the white flag. We don’t get why God has written history as he has. Why God has allowed something to happen, or not healed, saved, protected, guided, given…..as we think He should.

If we let it, this question can choke our joy and squeeze the life right out of our souls. Which is why in the same breath we utter, “Why?” we must also cry out what we know, “You are good. You are sovereign. You are just. You created all things and in you all things hold together. You have ultimate victory over sin and death and hell. You hold my heart in your hands.”

Some of us are Questioners. The questions will call us from sleep and pound us at night. Others of us are Answerers. The questions swirl in our minds, but they don’t plague us. We rest in the answers we know (or think we know).

How about you? Are you a Questioner or an Answerer? When was the last time that question of “Why?” cut open your heart and bled out your hope? And how has Jesus met you there? Because be assured, Jesus wants to meet you there.