Withered

I need to wake up. It is not all about how warm and fuzzy I feel during worship in a place of safety and aesthetically pleasing surroundings.

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The Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree – Mark 11:23-24
“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
I would not have expected this statement. Is it true? I must say that it is inspiring. Where is the “But”? Jesus made this statement as a carpenter. Everything that Jesus did on earth he did as a man fashioned just like me. When he was building stuff in his father’s shop and hit his thumb with a hammer, it hurt him as much as it would hurt me. When consider this startling statement, maybe Jesus is moving me out of low-grade praying. Maybe He is moving me toward elevated prayers. Is this sort of prayer possible coming from my level of confidence?
As with all things originating with God, there is a certain way that things work. And there is a way that things will not work. Too often I just assume that God will just do things outside of the way that He designed things to work; including prayer. If I am going to be able to move a mountain, then I need to shift my mindset in a different direction. I need to wake up to the reality of the way that God does things.
Consider this insight that the Spirit of Jesus gave to John in exile: Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Rev 12:7-11 Based on human event thought out time and on the opposition toward Jesus while He was on earth and the opposition thrown against those who follow Jesus, it is hard to argue that there is not some sort of holy war going thought human history. And it is a brutal war. Paul wrote to the house churches in Ephesus: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
I need to wake up. It is not all about how warm and fuzzy I feel during worship in a place of safety and aesthetically pleasing surroundings. The Apostle Peter writes to warn us: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1Pe 5:8 In some sense, that adversary is not something in a red suit with horns. It can be seen in our culture where to stand up for biblical principles is to invite an onslaught of hate-filled opposition. There is no room for ‘agreeing to disagree’ but if you do not agree you are labeled with ugly names and having no value to society.
Part of the mind-set of growing up is that I need to change how I interact with God. Instead of asking Jesus to do stuff for me, maybe I need to ask Jesus what I can do for Him? Sound familiar? Growing up means understanding things from a different perspective. When I was a child I had no clue why my parents would tell me certain things other than to deprive me of what I wanted. But then when I became a parent it became clearer what they were doing. God wants me to grow up. Again the Apostle Paul puts it succinctly regarding God’s agenda for me: “… to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” But do not look for some magic wand, formula or way of worship to accomplish this. It takes an act of commitment and just like moving from childhood to adulthood, it takes work and learning ‘how stuff works.’
I think the problem is simple and yet difficult. We are invited by Jesus to grow up. We are invited to related to God not as children but as son and daughters. Ask yourself, do you pray as a son or daughter. Do you talk to God the Father as a son or daughter who know their position in the family of God? That is what Jesus was trying to tell His twelve close followers that gave up everything to be like Him. The Apostle relates that one time Jesus told the group that He alone has overcome the opposition in the world: “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. … In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” John 16:24 & 27 In living out life here on earth, we move from childhood to adult. Somewhere in that journey we need to understand and make sure that we are really children of God, related to Jesus by blood and not just by some ecclesiastical name. King David recorded this insight: “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He makes known to them His covenant.”
 

too much fear …

Laying down what we want to protect or are afraid of losing or are terrified we will never have is not the same thing as losing those things.

Good words from John Eldridge …
You probably know what you have been afraid to entrust to God. When we surrender our fear, we are offering it to Jesus. We are saying, “This fear is too much fear for me to bear. I give it to you because I believe you are good and worthy of my trust.” When we actively, by faith, lay down our fears at the feet of Jesus, we pick up his love in return. It is an uneven trade, a heavenly exchange…

Laying down what we want to protect or are afraid of losing or are terrified we will never have is not the same thing as losing those things. It is surrendering them. It is opening up our clenched hand around them and allowing God access to them and to us. It is actually saying yes to God for them. Yes to his plan. Yes to his way. It is believing that just as his ways are higher than the heavens are above the earth, so his way for the things we fear for is higher. This God of ours is a God of life, of goodness. He is the God of the Resurrection. We lay down our fear. We pick up Jesus. He is the only way we can live beyond fear. He is the Way.

 

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Valuation

If you take the time to read the Bible as a book you will find it’s not some sort of rule manual but a book of art. It has great literature and high stakes drama. It opens people’s lives to the public viewing. It demonstrates humanity at its best and it’s worse. It shows how human value others for better or worse. And it reveals the heart of God the Creator and the importance He places on every human being regardless of their outward appearance and actions. God told Ezekiel: “… all souls are mine …” A few years ago a child into into a very narrow and deep well. Strangers to the child went to great lengths and expense to rescue the child. If anyone, if just one child who has no economic value is that valuable, then shouldn’t everyone be just as valuable. If it’s true for just one person then it is true for everyone.

The apostle Paul told the church in Ephesus that “God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ ( by grace you have been saved)…” God just never seems to run out of mercy. And this is a repeated theme throughout the Bible; God is a God of mercy. That is what sets this God apart from all other gods.

Consider the Creation. When God was planning out what He was going to create, it was no accident that humans were created with free will. God the Creator no doubt ‘ran the numbers’ and realized that giving us free will could very well put a fly in the ointment of His flawless creation. He went ahead and created us anyway and felt like it was worth it. Sometimes we spend too much time paying attention to the negative things in our life and not saying “yes” to our value as God sees us. We are not worthless to Him no matter what we’ve done. And if we say “yes” to our own value as set by God, agreeing with God that we are worthwhile, then we have to say “yes” to the value of others around us.

Seeing ourselves as valuable and worthwhile to God is not a ‘head’ game. It is a matter of the heart’s conviction. Jesus often instructed his disciples in human values. Here is how Matthew records it: “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘Idiot’ shall be guilty before the Supreme Court; and whoever says, you ‘fool or moron’ shall be guilty enough to go to the fires of hell.” We as a society have become so loose in our conversation and what Jesus says is almost meaningless. But what He is bringing out is the contemptible attitude in our hearts toward other people. James, who didn’t become a Christ follower until after the death of his half-brother, makes this observation: “… with our tongues we bless our Lord and father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God …”

Shadow’s Warning

A chill went through his body and a disturbing sense of dread that something was not right.

Andrew, young man in his sophomore year of college, who grew up in an atheist home setting, had made it his life’s goal to be an Olympic gold-medal diver. He spent every waking moment training individually and with the college team toward that goal. Peter, one of his teammates and a friend, who trained just as diligently as he did, was an outspoken yet respectful Christ-follower.

Sunday was a mandatory non-training day to give their bodies a chance to rest and rebuild. They were used to rising early for training during the week so it was natural on Sundays they would meet up at the college coffee to chill. Andrew always thought it just a little weird that Peter was so adept at turning a discussion often toward Christianity. Andrew listened politely. He had to admit that what Peter shared from the bible made sense, sometimes. He even debated with his friend but that is as far as he wanted to go. Several times he was almost persuaded to ask Christ into his life. Almost. But ‘first things first’ were his motto. His focus was on getting to the Olympic stand and having that gold medal hanging around his neck.

One night, intending on going to the library for some research, he found the library closed. He stood for a moment wondering what to do next. Always thinking about training, he headed for the pool. He had gotten into the habit that semester of always carrying his trunks in his backpack. He got to the pool and found the door open but the lights were off, He did not know where the switch box was located. However, as the pool had large skylights and there was a full moon overhead, even though it was a little dark, there was enough light to practice by. He dug his swim trucks out of his backpack, changed and climbed up the 10-meter diving board. Stepping onto the board Andrew walked to the end. Looking down at his feet he turned around to position his feet on the board correctly for his first dive.

As he shifted his feet and weight of his body, his mind was running through some of the coaching tips he had gotten earlier that day. Lifting his head and straightened his body for the dive, he raised his arms straight out from his body sideways before bringing them together in front of him. Suddenly he froze. There on the wall was his shadow from the moon and it looked like a man on a cross. A chill went through his body and a disturbing sense of dread that something was not right. Suddenly it all sort of made sense what Peter had been sharing with him for months. He could not put off Jesus calling him. He took a step forward on the board away from the edge and knelt down. He prayed a simple prayer and somehow that sense of dread left him. As he stood up he heard a door closing at the end of the pool. Then he heard a rattling of keys and the next thing he was bathed in a flood of light as the lights came on. Now he could see the maintenance man by the electrical panel. Then he saw something else that put a chill into his heart. Looking down he saw that the pool had been drained of water.