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.

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?

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.

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

 

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.

 

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.

Questioning Through Mark: 6:1-6

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?”
And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith. Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.
  1. Are you overwhelmed by who Jesus is? His wisdom, character, and authority should floor us, yank the carpet right out from under us. Those in Nazareth were astounded by Jesus, a man they thought they knew. The NIV translates this verb “amazed,” but the stronger word choice (used in other translations) is “astounded.” The Louw-Nida Greek Lexicon defines this verb as “to be so amazed as to be practically overwhelmed.” Seventeen times in Mark we read of people being astonished or amazed (he uses five different Greek verbs). The take away is this: Jesus stood out radically among the teachers and leaders of that day. He rendered his followers speechless, even his closest friends. We cannot consider ourselves people who know him if we are not likewise dumbstruck by his greatness.Mark 6,3
  2. How do you identify Jesus? This is a huge question in Mark, a question that structures his entire Gospel. “Isn’t this the carpenter?” “Isn’t this Mary’s son?” (In other words, a jab at the unknown nature of Jesus’ father.) Mark is building his Gospel to its first climax in chapter eight where we read Peter’s great confession that Jesus is the Christ. Identifying Jesus as the Christ today immediately places you under the microscope for uncomfortable observation and labeling. Claiming Jesus as Lord and Savior comes with a cost, part of which is the astonishment of others.
  3. Do you find Jesus offensive? And if so, what road is that offense leading you down? “They took offense.” That Greek verb occurs twenty-five times in the Gospels, meaning literally to cause someone to give up belief, stumble, fall away. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon suggests several meanings, “to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey; to cause to fall away,” and “to see in another what I disapprove of and what hinders me from acknowledging his authority.” Don’t be one who lets offense take you away from Jesus.
  4. Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. The Greek verb here is different than previously when Mark states that the people were amazed. The verb here implies wonder, marvel. Rather than being overwhelmed or astonished, Jesus ponders their lack of faith. It doesn’t shock him. It wounds him.

Questioning Through Mark: 5:21-43

When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”
Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?'” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?” Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James.
When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

1. Do I come to Jesus boldly, believing my circumstances are important to him? Jairus, a synagogue ruler–important in society–made public pronunciation of faith by falling at Jesus’ feet and pleading for him to heal his daughter. Am I desperate enough for Jesus that I will fall at his feet publicly?

2. Do you have faith to “tell the whole truth?” The bleeding woman is a strange mixture of faith and fear. In faith, she touches Jesus’ robes because she believes in his power. Yet she does it secretly, quietly, almost as if afraid to draw attention to herself, because unlike Jairus, she is not among the important people of society. She is an outcast, made unclean by her illness. What does she have to lose if she touches his robe and is not healed? But Jesus calls out the person who touched him and gives the woman opportunity to come forward. And she does. She falls at his feet trembling with fear and tells the whole truth. Interesting that both Jairus and the woman fall at his feet . . . one voluntarily and the other called out.

Mark 5, 27

3. How do I handle my disappointment with Jesus? If we are honest, we can all admit to being disappointed with Jesus at some time or another. He didn’t answer a prayer like we expected. He seems silent when we need direction. He takes something precious from us. We aren’t given what we expected.

For the bleeding woman, she’d suffered not only twelve years or illness, but twelve years of disappointment. Twelve years of questioning why. And then, in one moment, in one grab of his robe, she’s healed.

Do I have faith to take my disappointment to Jesus and try again? We get no sense of bitterness from this woman. Perhaps fear and weariness, but not bitterness. Bitterness poisons us from trying again. It locks the door of our heart and keeps hope out. Can I reach, like the woman, despite disappointment?

Mark 5, 41

4. Do I laugh at Jesus? This might seem a silly question, but consider Sarah in Genesis 18. She laughed when God promised Abraham a son. And her laughter wasn’t joy. It was disbelief. Those waiting to see what Jesus would do with Jairus’s daughter laughed. Not in expectancy or joy, but at what they considered a preposterous statement by Jesus. Faith, by nature, reaches beyond reality and clasps the words of Almighty God as truth. If we laugh, let it be with joy.

 

Questioning Through Mark: 4:35-41

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.
Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

1. When has God called you to go to the other side? Jesus led his disciples away from the crowd, away from needs and possibilities, away from people hungry to learn. Going to the other side sometimes means leaving a fruitful place. It might not make sense when Jesus leads us away from something. Until we get to the something else.

2. Are you expecting a smooth ride? At this point in Jesus’ ministry, the disciples were fairly new followers. How sure were they of who this man really was? Not sure at all. He was wise. He was powerful. They understood that. He was about the Kingdom of God, and they were too. They’d made decisions to follow him, but they didn’t know what that meant. “A furious squall came up . . .” What were they expecting of Jesus? I’m not sure. Maybe they were upset that he was sleeping. But maybe the resentment went deeper, like “why is this happening when someone like him is in our boat?” We can ask that same question when trials come, as if a life with Jesus means smooth sailing. It doesn’t. No where in scripture are we guaranteed freedom from storms or suffering because we’re in the same boat with Jesus.

3. Have you ever asked the wrong question? “Don’t you care if we drown?” the disciples asked Jesus. How flippant. How focused on circumstances. How outrageous to ask the man you’ve committed to following if He cares.

But we ask. It is the question that haunts humanity. The Serpent got Adam and Eve wondering if God really cared, because if God cared, why would He hold back from Adam and Eve? Abraham wondered if God really cared about giving him an heir, because why would He be so slow? The grumpy, wandering Israelites wondered if God really cared about them out there in the desert.

If we’re focused on our circumstances, this is a fully legitimate question. Which is why we’re told not to fixate on our circumstances. We’re commanded to look up, beyond ourselves, and fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. The Son of Man, lifted up.

“Do you care?” is a way of saying “I don’t think you do, because if you did . . .” fill in your complaint.

So what question should we be asking?

4. “Who is this?” the disciples said to themselves after Jesus stood and commanded the storm to cease. And they were so right to ask. When you see your wise rabbi calm the waves with several simple words, you better ask if it’s time to expand your view on him. You better wonder if you’ve misunderstood who He really is.

The infinite God, who accomplishes deeds with his spoken word, invites us to continually ask, “Who is this?” And He answers, continually with “I Am.” Deeper and deeper this question goes and the Answer reveals more of Himself. When we cease to be amazed by God, we cease to explore him. And that should terrify us.

Mark 4,40

5. Jesus asks a question of his own: Why are you so afraid? Umm, really? “Because we are about to die,” I can hear the disciples defending themselves, and I want to defend them also. Isn’t Jesus being too harsh?

No. Because he’s not asking if the storm is fearful to them. He’s not asking what about their present circumstances do they find fearful? The focus of the question is not the fear but the why. His next questions proves this, “Do you still have no faith?” In other words, after hearing me teach, being in my presence, following me . . . do you still not get who I am?

They didn’t get it. He was “Teacher,” and so they feared. What they feared is inconsequential. That they feared because they didn’t get it, is the point.

So what does this mean for us? The dark is a scary thing for my five-year-old (and I admit, I’m not crazy about it either). Riding her bike without training wheels is scary for my seven-year-old. All of us have fears and those fears range across the spectrum from irrational to rational, small to large. I’m not the expert on ridding yourself of fear. But ask yourself long and hard, “Who is this?” and take a look at Jesus. When the answer to “Who is this?” takes your focus off “Do you care?” see if your fears lessen.

Examining who Jesus is will strengthen our faith, and that, in turn, will lessen our fears.

Taking Sides

I made the mistake last night of reading something right before turning my light out that lit up my mind and burned my heart. You can imagine how long I laid in bed, miles from sleep. I should know better than to stir myself up with controversial issues before seeking rest.

Because taking sides is not peaceful. By definition, you’re throwing in your lot with one idea at the expense of rejecting other ideas.

And we are all called to do it. Believing strongly about something is not a sin. Advocating for healthy choices and just legislation is not something we need to apologize for.

I’ve sensed lately in the huge world of social media that although there is much stand-taking (in good and bad ways), there is also the idea that we need to back off and focus on our shared qualities–like motherhood, or whatever. Whereas I agree that we should find connections with others through those shared qualities, I also believe that having strong opinions on issues and advocating for them, can be healthy, helpful, and should not be avoided.

Foundational to the Christian faith is that we take sides–meaning, we align ourselves with Jesus Christ and what He’s revealed as truth in his Word. I believe I’m a sinner. That’s a side that I land on. I believe that the only way to heaven is through acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That’s the side I’m on. And by aligning myself with those beliefs, I’m saying that the opposite side is not truth. I understand that’s offensive. But it doesn’t mean I don’t love you if you disagree. Love is not defined by ascent to beliefs of others. That’s way too simple and dismissive of Biblical love.

Taking Sides

I understand that some people are uncomfortable with controversy. That some people promote peace at all costs (but what is that peace they promote?).

But I want to encourage you today to take a stand. For Jesus, yes. But also for what the Lord puts on your heart to stand for–so long as you find scriptural support for it.

And there’s where it gets tricky, huh? We can all stand against sex trafficking. There is obvious scriptural support for standing against sexual abuse.

What about taking a stand for infant baptism? Or your interpretation of end times? Interpretation of scripture on these issues varies. Taking a stand on such issues must be done with huge amounts of grace and humility.

How we stand is vital. Are our words seasoned with grace? Are we encouraging dialogue? Are we honoring the image of God in those who believe differently from us?

Sometimes we are called to take our stand in silence, not defending ourselves. Sometimes we are called to take our stand with words that might have consequences.

So what was it that got me so stirred up last night? The issue of vaccination. I’m apologetically for it–for so many reasons. But this post is not about that. This post is to encourage you to humbly hold to your beliefs with gusto. Starting–and ending–with the truth of Jesus Christ.

Taking sides can be polarizing–because by nature, it contains a polarizing element–but it doesn’t have to be derisive. It can be graceful and a powerful element for change.

Questioning Through Mark: 4:26-34

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain– first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.” With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.

1. God’s kingdom is explosive. It can’t be contained. Do I want to be a part of this? Do you?

as it is in heaven

2. God’s kingdom is not a smorgasbord. We don’t get to choose what we like about it and what we don’t. It’s a package deal. God’s kingdom brings salvation, rule, mercy, and judgment. The sickle is as much a part of his kingdom as the mercy seat. Have I ignored certain aspects of the kingdom of God?

3. The kingdom of God is unstoppable. When I look at evil in the world, am I discouraged? Do I capitulate to the lies that we’re in a losing battle? Or do I join the kingdom work with kingdom prayer, “Thy will be done . . . “?

Friends, put on your kingdom eyes today and see the scattering, sprouting, growing, and harvesting that is going on all around you.

 

Get On Your Knees–And Stay There

The stirring happens a bit after five. An awakeness stumbles into my sleep and jars me. I look at my husband’s clock, automatically doing the eight-minute math to make up for his funny time sensitivity that propels him to set his clock fast (as if time actually changes).

Not time to rise, so I roll over and push the alertness aside, seeking instead another half hour of sleep. Then, before I know it, the alarm is going off and I’m pushing the snooze. Too early. Too sleepy. Must. Get. Rest.

Now I’m reflecting on what would have happened if I’d obeyed the waking sensation at 5:15 and rose early to pray.

Mark 1,35

Not that rising early and praying is the ticket to answered prayer or a deeper spiritual life.

But how often do we miss the Spirit’s invitation because it’s inconvenient?

There’s always a good excuse not to get on our knees, and the best solution is to live on our knees. That is, bend the heart down and keep it there. Maintain that submissive posture to the Lord sometimes literally, but always metaphorically.

Kneeling is a posture of surrender, respect. All too often, we want to kneel only to ourselves and our own ideas. We’ve untethered ourselves from authority, making our hearts our own guide, doing what is right in our own eyes. And this is a problem.

Getting back on our knees and living from this position of submission reminds us that we answer to a higher authority. The highest authority. Jesus Christ, King of Kings.

Paul writes that someday every knee will bow to Jesus. Let’s bow now, before we don’t have a choice. Let’s live in that posture of humility.

So whether you actually drag yourself out of bed in the morning and fall to your knees, or whether your heart sits quiet at the cross of Christ during your lunch hour, get on your knees and stay there. Even as you walk about your routine, limp along injured from disappointments, and make the final sprint to bedtime.

Questioning Through Mark: 4:1-9

The Parable of the Sower:

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said:
“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.”
Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

1. Do you have ears to hear? Ears to hear compared to what? Ears to speak or see? Jesus’ phrasing is interesting. Ears, by nature, are for hearing. So why does Jesus say “ears to hear” instead of “Do you hear?” Because Jesus is highlighting the difficulty of hearing truth and receiving it into the heart. Hearing is more than processing sound. It is internalizing the heart of what is being said and responding to it with wisdom and understanding. Ironically, in the next passage, Jesus must explain to his disciples what the parable means. And the whole point of the parable is that some who hear the Gospel get it and produce fruit, and some don’t–for various reasons like temptation or worldly cares.

mark 4, 9

2. What are your expectations for the Gospel? Are we expecting that every time the Gospel goes out it will land on good soil? Or are our hearts defeated and frustrated, believing that the only soil left is shallow and that the seeds of the Gospel can find no good place to land anymore? Jesus relies on common agricultural knowledge in this parable. Farmers sowed seed indiscriminately over a wide area of land, sometimes through crossroads, knowing that not all seed would provide crop. Sometimes, seed was sown before the ground was even plowed–on hard soil–and then farmers went back and plowed later. What is Jesus’ point? Not all who hear will receive and produce a crop. Many who hear the Gospel will not receive it. But that doesn’t mean we don’t spread the seed. We are called to be farmers of the Gospel. 

3. Are you farming the Gospel? Or are you concerned with sowing something else? Some other legacy? Some other good cause? It is no good to fight for issues of social justice without the backdrop of the cross and resurrection and a call to repentance.

An Every Day Sabbath

The difference between living shackled to the law or free in grace?

The Sabbath Lifestyle.

An Every Day Sabbath

Just because Christ has come and inaugurated the New Covenant doesn’t mean we can toss the Sabbath to the roadside. The rhythm of Sabbath is woven into the creation of this world. A principle as old as the beginning of heaven, earth, and time.

The message for us? We need Sabbath like we need our next breath. The gift Christ bought for us on the cross is the gift of rest: rest from guilt and condemnation, rest from the mandates of the law, rest from the punishment of hell.

Christ fulfilled the letter of the Sabbath law to provide for us an opportunity to enter fully into the lifestyle of the Sabbath. Every day. Rest for our striving souls.

The author of Hebrews, echoing the Psalmist, expounds:

“‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.’ Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.”

Do you hear the warning? By recalling the sins of the Israelite’s–who failed to accept God’s gift of rest–the author of Hebrews encourages us to press in to the Sabbath lifestyle because therein lies promises and all the gifts of grace we need to live a godly life (read Hebrews chapters 3 and 4).

Do not resolve to live the Sabbath life this year, for what good is our own resolve? It flourishes for a little while–or for those with greater discipline, a longer while–but eventually our discipline sputters out and leaves us aching in our failure. So do not resolve (conjure up from your own strength).

Rather, accept and abide. Accept that God has offered you more than you could ever have earned. Abide in the presence of Jesus, your Rest.

Promise of Rest

The Sabbath lifestyle recognizes that nothing we do is enough (need), that all that He does is more than enough (provision), and that resting in his enough overcomes our not enough (grace).

Let this be our mantra for the New Year: that Sabbath is available to us every day, in the midst of all circumstances, and triumphing over all emotional states.

Crawling toward the Manger: Day 21

crawling toward the manger daily21We can become so engrossed in our American Christmas bubble that we float by the sorrows of a broken world without noticing.

Friends, today is a day to look up and notice. To pray.

Consider the tension in the Middle East. Many are fleeing from ISIS. Check these pictures out: refugees celebrating Christmas after having left their homes for the safety of an Ankawa camp.

These are beautiful people, and I wish I could be there to pray with them, hold their hands. I am grateful that we are part of a country with resources that can help, and as I pray for these war-torn areas of the world, I am also grateful for those who serve in the military to make our world safer and to offer humanitarian aid.

Let us keep in prayer those suffering and also those making sacrifices for us.

Looking in Our Blind Spots: We All Have Them

He was merging on the freeway when it happened. A large, gray SUV crashed into the rear driver’s side of my husband’s car, sending my husband’s hat flying backward. Is that breaking the law of physics? I don’t know.

The police asked if he’d looked in his mirrors, checked his blind spot. Of course he did, I thought. It’s a habit. But maybe he didn’t. Or maybe he did it too quickly. Whatever the cause, it was an accident. That’s what an accident is: something you don’t plan for or expect, but something that happens for some reason, and in this case, no one was ticketed.

kia accident

Excuse me for spiritualizing and making an obvious analogy, but we can get lulled into our routines of checking mirrors and blind spots, only to be blindsided by sin. It happens because we have that perpetual weak spot through our sin natures.

I thought I checked my mirrors, we might say to ourselves while rummaging through the consequences of sin. I thought I was a better driver of my life. Or maybe even, I thought I was beyond mirrors and blind spots, after all, I’ve been a Christian for years.

Be on your guard, Paul says.

We might be tempted to say that our sin is an accident. I didn’t mean to say those words (and maybe we really didn’t). But we are without excuse. God has laid out mirrors for us to see our blind spots, to be warned of sin’s traps, and God has provided a way out of temptation.

The mirror of Scripture. 

The mirror of community.

The mirror of spiritual authority. If you don’t know who has spiritual authority in your life, figure it out. We are all called to be under some form of spiritual authority.

The mirror of the Holy Spirit.

The mirror of common sense. You were given a brain for a reason. God’s common grace is showered on us all through a general sense of what to do and what not to do. I know it’s not a strong mirror, but it’s present.

Know your mirrors, friends, and most importantly: use them.

Questioning through Mark: 3:20-35

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.”
Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

out of his mind

Wow. Jesus is getting hit from all sides. Crushed by the crowd so that he cannot even eat. Convicted by strangers and law keepers of being powered by the demonic. And then his embarrassed family tries to shut him down.

We have a lot of questions to ask ourselves in this passage:

1. Are we crowding Jesus? And I mean this in the good way. Are we pushing in because we need him? Are we following him around, wanting more of his teaching, his miraculous, and his presence in our lives?

2. Are we seeing Jesus for who he truly is? Crowding him is not enough. We must know him and where he comes from: God, the Father. We must give him the glory he deserves.

The Pharisees only crowded him to find fault with him. What greater fault could they find than to say he was acting in Satan’s power? “He is out of his mind,” they said. Notice, Jesus doesn’t say, “You’re the ones out of your minds.” He refrains from arguing and instead speaks in parables. He gives an example of why the Pharisees accusations make no sense: how can Satan cast out Satan? If you want to rob someone, you must tie him up first to do it.

What’s the take-away for us? Crowd him for the right reasons. Know him. And we only do that by believing what the Bible says is true. A good place for a foundation of Christology: Colossians 1. Christ is not only in his right mind, but we can only be in ours when we know who he really is.

3. Are we embarrassed by Jesus? It’s okay to admit that we are embarrassed sometimes. It’s not okay to try to subdue Jesus in our lives. If we are following him and know him, we must let him do his work in us and the world. There is no taming Jesus. Ironically, in this passage, it is not Jesus, the accused, who is acting in Satan’s power. It is his family, the pharisees, and the crowd–all who want to tone him down and make him safe, make him fit their understanding of a good teacher and powerful leader. Later, Peter cries out against Jesus’s work on the cross and Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan.”

Are we letting Jesus be Jesus?

Questioning through Mark: 3:7-19

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was.
Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve– designating them apostles–that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Jesus couldn’t get away. He pulled back, they advanced. He had something they needed and would do almost anything to get: power to heal, to change, to restore. And yet they didn’t know who He was. Didn’t see He was a sacrificial Messiah. The dying Lamb.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you’ve ever wanted to get away from the action, you’re not alone, and you shouldn’t feel guilty. You need rest. You need privacy. You need companionship. Away from ministry does not always mean away from your friends. Nor does it necessarily mean away from action.

However, we don’t always get what we seek. So although rest is necessary, it doesn’t come on our terms. We have crowds that follow, people who need us, and when we can’t back off, we must turn around and engage.

Jesus sought rest, and sometimes that meant He wanted to be alone, but other times it meant He wanted time with his team. Reading the Gospels reveals a pattern: Jesus comes and goes. He moves around. He actively engages in teaching, healing, casting our demons, and then he withdraws and prays. He walks along the road with just his team. He rides in a boat with his team. And then He’s back in the crowd.

What about you?

1. Do you hide in the business of life to avoid the work of withdrawing? Because it can be a discipline, especially for an extrovert. Being alone or with close friends requires you to be honest and prayerful, to face what’s in your heart, to face Him who sees your heart.

2. On the flip side, are you constantly withdrawing? Running from the crowd that’s following you? Maybe you need to turn around and engage, face the disease and demons of others.

3. Who’s with you? Jesus “called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.” Though he withdrew, he called. When you call someone to come alongside you in ministry or friendship, choose carefully. Choose prayerfully. We do not choose who is in the Body of Christ with us. We do choose who we let close to us, who we trust. As Christians we sometimes think we must be close to everyone in the body. This is not realistic, nor wise. You can’t be everyone’s best friend, and let us not deceive ourselves with the prideful thought that we would be a good best friend for everyone. We are called to love and serve others, regardless. But taking someone into your inner circle, that’s not a calling to dish out lightly. Jesus took it seriously, and we should too.