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Called In, Sent Out (Mk 3:13-19)

Meditating on Mark — Mark 3:13-19

(I’m reading slowly through the book of Mark, seeking what I can learn about God and about being a follower of Jesus from each passage. I’m also letting my imagination get involved and trying to crawl into each story, to let it speak to me as it will and to respond from inside. I’ve decided to share some of them here as I go along and would love to hear your comments and reflections on the same scriptures.)

“And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.” (English Standard Version)

Jesus and the disciples.jpg

I find myself yearning to do great things for God. Oh, I don’t mean great things as in preaching to thousands in stadium events around the world or writing best-selling books that move people closer to God. The great things I long for are everyday great things like speaking and acting in love every day in every relationship and initiating and making the most of conversations that lead the people around me closer to God. I long to bear fruit for the kingdom of God, fruit that will last (from my favorite chapter of the Bible — John 15). I want to be like the disciples here: sent out to preach and teach and heal and to have authority even over the demons that plague people I meet.

My hand shoots up and my heart cries out, “Pick me, Jesus! Pick me to send! Use me, Lord!”

But today I noticed these words: “that they might be with him”.

When Jesus called the twelve, he called them for the purpose of sending them out. He was soon to entrust to them, and to the hundred or so other followers around him, the impossible task of taking the Good News from God into the entire world — the people all around them, the people all around the world, and the people who would come with every succeeding generation. He called the twelve for ministry — to go and to do. He called them to commission them. He called in them to send them out. 

But first he called them to be with him. There were days and months and years of being with Jesus before they were sent out. And that time was spent simply being with Jesus. During that time they learned from him. They listened to him and questioned him and watched him. They saw what he did and how he did it and they learned why he did it and for what purpose. During that time their hearts and minds were transformed, shaped for the sending.

Oh, God, thank you for this reminder! I want to go and do and make a difference in my world. Help me remember to stop and “be with you”. I want to, I need to, spend time with you. I need to know your heart and to be transformed by you. I need to be empowered by your Spirit. I know this comes only by being present with you — conversing with you and reading your Word. 

I come to you, Father, today, to be with you. I will live a life of being with you. I’m yours to teach, to transform, to equip. And I am yours to send in your authority to bear fruit for your kingdom. Call me in, Lord, and send me out!

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Stiff-Necked or Stretched Out (Mk 3:1-6)

Meditating on Mark — Mark 3:1-6

(I’m reading slowly through the book of Mark, seeking what I can learn about God and about being a follower of Jesus from each passage. I’m also letting my imagination get involved and trying to crawl into each story, to let it speak to me as it will and to respond from inside. I’ve decided to share some of them here as I go along and would love to hear your comments and reflections on the same scriptures.)

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.   (English Standard Version)

The Man With The Withered Hand

It doesn’t seem that anything grieved Jesus like this silence, this refusal. These men had heard Jesus teach and seen him perform miracles. They absolutely knew that he spoke truth, yet they refused to yield to it. They saw miracles and refused to believe. In fact, in this instance, immediately after witnessing this miracle with their own eyes, rather than following Jesus, they began to plot his death. 

I can’t imagine anyone doing this. Who could be so stiff-necked? But then, with little effort, I can feel that hardness of heart. I can remember in my body the refusal — refusal to be moved, feet planted, legs stiff, shoulders squared, hands shoved in pockets, chin up, jaw set, eyes hard, and heart unyielding. I’ll do it my own way, thank you. Don’t tell me what is right; I’ve got this figured out. 

Today I ponder the contrast between the man with the withered hand and the Jewish leaders. I think it was this: The man’s simple response. See, the leaders hardened their hearts, refused to respond, and both they and Jesus became angry. But the man stretched out his hand. That’s all he did. He simply reached toward Jesus. But in so doing he responded to Jesus’ call and he was healed, and I’m pretty sure the atmosphere in that room changed as undoubtedly both he and Jesus rejoiced.  

Oh, Lord, it isn’t just the Scribes and Pharisees. Sometimes it’s me, too. Thank you, Jesus, for saving me. I don’t ever want to grieve you. I don’t want to have a stubborn heart. Guard me from hardness; keep my heart soft. Keep me pliable in your hands. Give me always a responsive spirit. I stretch out my hands and my heart to you. Teach me, shape me, soften my heart. Let me always hear your voice and let me always respond. Oh, patient and loving God, I don’t ever want to grieve you.

A Friend Like That (Mk 2:1-12)

Meditating on Mark in Lent — Mark 2:1-12 

(I’m reading slowly through the book of Mark, seeking what I can learn about God and about being a follower of Jesus from each passage. I’m also letting my imagination get involved and trying to crawl into each story, to let it speak to me as it will and to respond from inside. I’ve decided to share some of them here as I go along and would love to hear your comments and reflections on the same scriptures.)

And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven. . . But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

What kind of people cause such a scene? The house was packed with people who had arrived before them. The good seats were already taken. In fact, all the seats were taken. Even the doorway was filled with the later arrivals, too late to squeeze into the house and settling on listening and peering in from outside.

And then these men came. They were too late, the house packed with even the SRO tickets sold out. The show had already begun; Jesus was teaching.

But these men didn’t let that stop them. They were going to get their friend in front of Jesus. They knew what Jesus could do, they wanted their friend well, and they weren’t going to wait. Right in the middle of the teaching, interrupting the great teacher himself, not caring that they were interrupting, not caring what he would think or how their disruption would annoy the others, they removed the roof and got their friend in front of Jesus.

Mark 2 1-12

Can you imagine what the others in the room thought? What were their reactions? Hey, we were here first! Wait your turn. Who do you think you are?

And how did Jesus respond? Was he startled at the unexpected interruption? At what point did Jesus realize what was happening? What was his reaction — at first to the noise and disturbance and then to the realization of what was going on? I can imagine a slow grin appearing on his face and a twinkle in his eye as he saw the crazy bold faith of these friends. I imagine his delight at their tenacious love and faith. I imagine him thinking, “Now, this is a story that will be told for eternity.” And then he healed the man and the crowd, astounded at what they had seen, praised God.

Jesus, give me friends like this, friends who will go to great lengths to bring me to you.

And, Jesus, let me be a friend like that.

Fill me, Holy Spirit, Power of God, fill me with this kind of bold love and faith. Move through me to bring people to Jesus. And move in healing, Jesus, that people would be amazed at what you do and glorify God.

 

If You Will, You Can (Mk 1:35-45)

Meditating on Mark in Lent — Mark 1:35-45 

I’m reading slowly through the book of Mark during Lent this year, seeking what I can learn about God and what I can learn about being a follower of Jesus from each passage. I’m also letting my imagination get involved and trying to crawl into each story, to let it speak to me as it will and to respond from inside. I’ve decided to share some of them here as I go along and would love to hear your comments and reflections on the same scriptures.

If you are willing

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.                                                (Mk 1:41-42, English Standard Version)

“If you will, you can. . .” This man came to Jesus with plenty of faith — faith, that is, in Jesus’ ability. What he was lacking, though, was faith in Jesus’ heart. He seemed to have no doubt that Jesus could heal him, but he wasn’t sure if Jesus would want to. 

“If you will, you can. . .”

After all who would blame Jesus if he didn’t want to? No one else wanted to be near this man, or the many like him. No one else wanted to chance making themselves unclean by getting close enough for an accidental touching, a chance brushing up against. No one else wanted to risk infection with the disease themselves.

Everyone stayed safely away. No one touched him. How long had it been since anyone had touched this man? Did he remember what did it feel like to be touched by another? Had he resigned himself to living the rest of his life without human touch?

But Jesus was moved with pity and did the unthinkable. Jesus touched him. There was no reason he needed to. He had healed many with his touch. But he also had healed many with only his words. Some, in fact, were in another location, perhaps another city, when Jesus spoke and made them well. But that’s not what he did in this story. Moved by compassion for the man — heart as well as body — he reached out and placed his hands on the man, unclean as the man was. And the man was healed.

If anyone else had touched the man, the person would have been made unclean. But not Jesus. When Jesus touched this man, the opposite happened. Jesus wasn’t made dirty; the man was made clean.

And this, friends, is the story of the incarnation, the story of our salvation.

Moved with pity, God, through Jesus, stretched out to touch us in our defiled, sinful, unclean state. And rather than God becoming defiled by our sin, we were made clean!

If we had a God with desire to heal us but lacking the ability to do so, we would be lost. And if we had a God with the ability to heal us but without the desire, we would be just as lost. But thanks be to God! Our Creator is our Redeemer! Our God has both the ability and the desire to save us!

Oh, God, glory to your name! You haven’t left us without hope, for you have everything we need for salvation. You, Lord, have both the ability and the desire to make me clean!

Repent, Believe, and Follow (Mk 1:14-20)

Meditating on Mark in Lent — Mark 1:14-20

I’m reading slowly through the book of Mark during Lent this year, seeking what I can learn about God and what I can learn about being a follower of Jesus from each passage. I’m also letting my imagination get involved and trying to crawl into each story, to let it speak to me as it will and to respond from inside. I’ve decided to share some of them here as I go along and would love to hear your comments and reflections on the same scriptures.

See, Love, Follow

Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.                                                                                                               (vv 14-18) English Standard Version

I try to read the gospels with a particular perspective. I want to learn more about my Father God by learning more about Jesus — his motives, his actions, his heart, his desires, his habits, his commands, etc. I want to know the Father better because of what see in Jesus in the gospels. And I want to ask myself, “So, what?” What does what I learn have to do with me? How does it affect me and the way I think and live? 

I don’t want just head knowledge of the stories; I want to be changed by them.

Part of this kind of reading is that I like to observe what Jesus asked of people when he was here. What did he require of the men and women who came to hear him preach?How did he call them to live? In this passage, we see three things Jesus asked of people around him. Jesus called the people of Galilee to the first two in verse 15: “repent and believe the good news.” Because the time had come and the kingdom of God had come near, he told the people to repent and believe.

Repentance, it seems, is a laying down of our own ways and a turning toward God. And the good news at this point in the story seems to be that the kingdom of God had come near. It was at hand. He wanted them to lay down their earthly thinking and turn toward God expectantly. That’s about all they had for now. They didn’t know much about this man Jesus. The rest of the story was yet to unfold. But he called them to turn and watch expectantly. Something big was about to happen!

Then, in verse seven, Jesus simply says, “Follow me.” That’s it. That’s all he asked. The rest of the sentence is what he planned to do for those who followed.

Pretty simple, so far. Repent, believe, follow. Just start there. The rest will unfold; it will make more sense later. For now, repent, believe, follow. I like it. It’s simple enough for me. I can do this much. And I will do it with my eyes on Jesus, watching and listening and receiving and responding. 

I’ll do it, Jesus! I do it now. I lay down my earthly wisdom, my worldly pursuits, my own ways, and I turn to you in the belief that you have something big in store. I will follow you. I want to see you at work and do what you do. I want to learn from you — learn about the Father from you, learn your ways and learn his ways. I want to be changed by you.

Father, as I move on through my reading of Mark and the life of Jesus, allow me to get to know you better. Teach me what it means to be a follower of Christ. Teach me, lead me, shape me, and send me out to “fish” for people.  Amen

Time Out, Please

One regret I have about our world today is the lack of time.
 
We don’t take time anymore — time to listen, time to read, time to ponder and consider motives and effects, time to pray, time to allow something to percolate or the real substance to be distilled.
 
We don’t have time anymore — time to gather information and form our own thoughts, time to be uncertain for right now about how we feel about an issue, time to have conversations with those around us whose wisdom we respect. Our news feed fills with what those managing our media perceive we already believe, news that reinforces our already-held slants and fears. Memes are made, slogans generated, tweets retweeted, reactionary rallies formed. Celebrities speak and politicians react. People rush to the front lines of the new battle that has formed; we don’t want history to find us having done nothing. University presidents and ministry leaders feel compelled to make a statement because people are demanding to know where they stand on this issues. “Are you for or against?”
 
This all happens in the first 24 or 48 hours and is based, of course, on partial and changing information because the whole truth isn’t available yet, only first impressions and sound bites.
 
I am sorry and more than a little frightened about the rush we are in.
 
I have decided that I will breathe and I will pray and I will learn what I can. I will take time for conversation with those around me. I will think. And when I have had time, when I am a little wiser, when it is time, if it is my time, I will speak and I will act.

Lessons from a High-Ropes Course

 

This is something I wrote nearly ten years ago. I’ve thought of it several times lately and decided to pull it out, dust it off, and post it here.

high-ropes

     One day, way back in 1986, my husband and I took our youth group to Camp Joy to do a high ropes course. We did some group-building activities on the ground, had lunch and then headed for the ropes. After learning the rules and safety precautions, we headed up to the treetops to begin our adventure. I started out on the first obstacle. Almost immediately I was overcome with fear and grabbed the nearest tree. 

I found I couldn’t let go. 

I stood hugging that tree for a while, sweat pouring from me in fear, and finally

I had to give up and go down. 

   

     At the same time, one of our youth,  a 12-year-old named Jon,  was beginning his turn on the course. I’m not sure how he began or when he first fell. But I do know that he seemed fearless as he completed the entire ropes course. Oh, he didn’t do it flawlessly. It seemed he was hanging by his harness almost as much as he was on the ropes. I can almost see him dangling there like a spider. He would try the obstacle, fall as often as not, then get back up and try it again. He completed the entire course in this manner.

 

     One day years later, as I recalled that day, the Lord began to use that experience to teach me a lesson. You see, that day in the tree I was so afraid of falling that I could do nothing. I was paralyzed by my fear. I had listened to the same instructions as Jon had (indeed, I had probably listened far more carefully than he had!). I understood that if I followed the instructions I was given, I was perfectly safe. I could not fall. I knew all that in my head. 

But, I didn’t believe it. 

Not deep down where it really mattered. Logically I knew I was safe, but my fear of falling was so strong that I couldn’t hear what logic was saying. I was listening only to my fears, and I was paralyzed. 

 

     Jon’s story was different. You see, Jon fell. He didn’t fall on purpose, he just slipped, but he fell almost right away. And once he fell, Jon knew he was safe. He didn’t know it just in his head as I did.  He knew it with all his being. If the system of harness and straps and carabineers was not enough to save him, he would have been twenty feet below, badly injured or dead. But it was enough. He had fallen and he was okay. He knew then that he was safe, and now he was free to try every challenge the course offered.

     

     When I looked back years later, God showed me something.He showed me this:

I was so afraid of falling that I could do nothing, but Jon fell and, therefore, was afraid of nothing. 

He could do everything. I saw myself living frequently out of that same kind of fear that I had had on the ropes. Sure, I knew that God loved me and would never leave me.  I knew that his grace was enough to cover any mistake I might make. But I didn’t live like I really knew it. I have often lived a timid life – afraid to try anything new or anything that I didn’t already know I could do well. I was afraid of many things, but failure was the biggest, especially failure in front of people. So, I rarely risked anything for God. I would cry out to God to use me for his glory, to do great things with my life, but I ended up doing very little because I was afraid to try, afraid to fail.

 

     On the other hand was Jon. Jon has grown up in the years since. He continued in our youth group until he completed high school. During his senior year, he allowed God to get ahold of his life. And after finishing college, he worked as a youth pastor for several years at a church we were serving, so I had the opportunity to witness his life over many years.  I have seen him live his life just as he did that day on the ropes. He has a confidence in the God who holds him. He knows that God is his safety and his security. He knows it like he knew that day that his equipment would hold him safely in the trees. With that settled, he is free to live for God – to live fully, an all-out, no-holds-barred abundant life for God.  Fear is gone. He knows that he can try anything for God, because if he slips, if he makes a mistake, or when he makes a mistake, it isn’t fatal. He falls, rather, right into the hands of God, his loving Father, who helps him climb back onto the ropes and go again. 

 

     Over the past several years, as God has taught me the lesson of the high ropes course, I have resolved to live differently. It wasn’t an instant change. It has been slow at times, but I am changing. I have decided that anytime I have the opportunity to do something for God I will try it. It has led me to try some new, and sometimes risky, things. At first I would sometimes feel led to stand during worship when everyone else was sitting or to kneel when no one else was, and for a change I would do it.  It wasn’t much, but it was risky for me – what would people think!  I have taught the middle school Sunday School class (every adult knows how scary that can be!). I have led singing at VBS and After-School Club and, believe me, me singing is risky! I have been on a few international mission trips. As I stepped out in faith, trusting him, he has led me to bigger things. In recent years, God has led me into prison ministry and Aaron and I into adopting a teen-age son. If I had not learned the lessons of the ropes course and been willing to try the smaller things, I would never have been able to “let go of the tree” and try either of these. Some of the things I’ve tried have been successes, but some haven’t (leading VBS music…). And I’m okay. I’ve learned that

falling isn’t fatal.

He really does catch me when I fall!

 

     A few years later, as a counselor at a junior high camp, I had an opportunity to try the ropes course again. I really wanted to do it all this time. It was so hard! I was crying as I climbed the last couple feet of the climbing wall and stepped over onto the first platform. But this time, I kept my focus on my equipment and the people instructing me. I kept reminding myself that they were trustworthy. I called down to ask my instructor, Sarge, if he was really watching me. I checked and double-checked my carabineers, my connection to the safety cables, and yanked on my straps. Then, knowing they were secure, I took one step at a time until I had finished the course. It was actually fun! I had moments when the fear would come back, but I would refocus my mind on the people below whom I could trust (calling out to Sarge one more time to see if he was really watching me) and on my secure connection to the safety line (touch the carabineers and yank on those straps again), and I could go on.  

 

     When I got to the end, I had to push off the final platform onto a zip-line that took me streaking through the woods and then safely down to the ground. It was so hard to push off that platform! Again, I had to remind myself (I actually had to say it aloud!) that Sarge was watching me and my connection to the safety equipment was secure.  

Then I did it! 

I pushed off into space. And it was one scary ride, but much more fun than I expected and I landed safe and sound and excited about my big accomplishment!

   

      I want to remember this lesson all of my life. I want to do anything God asks me to do. I want to face any challenge that comes my way. I have decided not to focus on my fears, but to remember that

my God is trustworthy and my connection to him is secure.

     

     You see, just like on the ropes course when, if I fell from the obstacle, I could only fall a couple feet because I was firmly connected to the cable, if I fall in life, I remain firmly connected to him and I can only fall into his hands. What could be safer than that? A fall isn’t fatal; it’s a fall into my Father’s hand, the Father who will gently set me back upright and onto my path. So, I tug a little on my connection to him and might even call out to him, “God, you’re watching, aren’t you?” Then, truly knowing that he is faithful, I can push off into space, confident that, as he says in Jude verse 24, He is able to keep me from falling and to present me before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.

 

     Is there anything keeping you from stepping out into the risky and the unknown in your life? Is it that no one has ever challenged you to dream big?  If so, I would recommend that you ask God to begin to lead you, to break your heart with the things that break his heart. Then, get moving. 

 

     Or is it that, like me, you are afraid you might fail?  You might look stupid?  I understand where you are. I lived much of my life there.  I want to encourage you to remember your “instructor”. Remember that, what Sarge did for me, God will do for you. He is always watching out for your interests and will keep his eye on you. You know, I never called out without finding that Sarge was right with me. He took his responsibility seriously and he understood my fears. He cared for me. In the same way, remember that God understand your fears and takes you seriously and that he is 

“able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.”

Double-check your connection to him. Are you abiding in him? Are you following him? Trusting him for your very life? If so, hang onto that, ask God to lead, and start living adventurously for him now. It might be a scary ride, but will likely be more fun than you expected. And you will land safe and sound in him and excited about being used for his kingdom. 

There is no telling what you and God might do!