This outline describes this movement and shows how Jesus' followers are to follow him into humility, servanthood, and even suffering.
When we live in ways that are disconnected from Jesus and his mission, we find ourselves pulling away from humility and pursuing our own status. Jesus' life and call on our lives continually draws us into discipleship, and with that, growth in humility and faith. A large narrative unit, in Mark 8:22-10:52, exemplifies this movement.
This outline describes this movement and shows how Jesus' followers are to follow him into humility, servanthood, and even suffering.
I had a very vivid nightmare when I was a young child that I still remember. I was on a mountain and I was being chased by a witch. She chased me around and around until, as I looked behind me to see where she was, I accidentally ran off the side of the mountain. That, of course, is when I woke up.
Inspired by a house at the end of a dead end road I used to walk in, I had an idea for a story that involved a guy being chased through the woods by someone else. The chase itself would be the trigger to help the guy work through some of the issues in his life he was too fearful to work through previously.
It seems that the theme of being chased will bring all sorts of thoughts to our forefronts. We run from our fears. We run from our anxieties. Sometimes we even run from things that are good for us.
Psalm 56 identifies something else we run from--our enemies. For some of us, our enemies are prevalent. In those times when we feel surrounded by enemies, when their accusations have beaten us down, when their actions have scarred us, when their threats have unsettled us, we need to remember to cry out to God for his mercy.
When we are fearful, let us put our trust in him.
It is only God who can bring us through, who can defeat our enemies. It is only God who can deliver us.
Let us walk in the light of his love.
What enemies are you facing today? Instead of running from them, how can you trust God to deliver you from them?
Psalm 51 is a well-known psalm of repentance. It presents itself as a psalm composed by David after he was confronted Nathan, the prophet, as a result of his infidelity with Bathsheba and the conspiracy to murder her husband. The psalm explores the depths of repentance and mercy and includes some of the clearest expressions of these things in the entire Bible. Despite it being a psalm, it is an almost an exposition of grace and mercy. Meditating on Psalm 51 will reveal the gospel to us.
Although this psalm is very well-known, I suggest that part of it is not as well-known as the rest. The first twelve verses of this psalm are the most appreciated verses of this psalm. But it's the last seven verses I want to look at in this blog post.
The psalm moves from the need for repentance to acknowledgment of sin to the need for cleansing which will result in renewed life in God. But there is a purpose for all this! The result of cleansing through repentance is not only a renewed life but also a renewed focus on sharing this good news with others!
As a result of being made clean, the writer will teach transgressors the ways of God, so that they might turn back to God! His repentance taught him the goodness of God in a way that caused him to reach out with this good news to others.
How often has your repentance led to outreach? All genuine repentance produces humility within us. Humility turns us outward to others. Sin is selfish. We sin because we were focused on ourselves. But with repentance comes humility, outreach, and service.
When is the last time you really repented? How might your repentance lead you to serve others?
Psalm 49 is "of the sons of Korah." These psalms tend towards being wisdom or royal psalms. In Psalm 49, the writer picks up the theme of wealth. If we compared the teaching about wealth of this psalm with the teaching about wealth in Proverbs, we would find many similarities. Wealth is often used as a foil, and while not condemned outright, the idea is that those who pursue or have wealth do so at their own risk. Evidently, it is hard to maintain wealth and wisdom.
In this psalm, "wealth" is seen as opposed to wisdom. The writer establishes his own words as wisdom and understanding, though he speaks a proverb and a riddle to those who hear. He frames this cryptically because it takes some work to cut through the layers of falseness that we surround our lives with. Those with wisdom will see his point; those with wealth probably will not.
Therefore, the psalm is an encouragement to those who are not yet wealthy to not become absorbed with the quest for wealth.
Instead, those who understand this point will find wisdom in the teaching of the sons of Korah. The pursuit of wisdom and understanding is where real value lies. Salvation is for the wise, those who trust in God, not for those who trust in themselves.
While the psalmist calls out wealth, we might see his critique more broadly. We might consider our lives, to see where we find ourselves distracted from the wisdom of God. We might pledge ourselves more to meditation on God's word, to obedience to him, and to service to others. Therein we find the wisdom that will save us.
Are you more interested in wealth than in wisdom? How is God speaking to you about those two things?
The Art of Ministry, Jesus-Style: Trusting God, Praying and Going, Representing Jesus, By His Authority
Missionary stories and biographies inspire us. We love reading about their successes, as they set out in jungles or villages to find lost tribes, preach the gospel, and convert people. But when it comes to our own experience, many of us shy away from evangelism and outreach.
We know the need is there. In Luke 10, Jesus declares the need when he says, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few." If we believe this need exists (and we should, by merely looking around us), why do we back off when it comes to reaping the harvest?
There are many reasons. Some think that they don't know how to do outreach, while others worry that they don't know enough to evangelize. For some, these feelings create fear, and they are scared to reach out, while others fear the rejection that might come if they try to evangelize a friend who is not interested.
As a result, many Christians live their entire lives not sharing the gospel with anyone, believing that evangelism is a job best left to the religious "professionals."
Jesus' idea, on the other hand, is that evangelism and outreach is for all! In fact, in Jesus' view, evangelism is nothing more than inviting people to enter into the kingdom of God!
So, when Jesus sends out the 70, he acknowledges the need (the plentiful harvest; v. 2) and sends them out as workers with some simple instructions. He teaches them to pray and go. That's it. "Ask the Lord of the harvest...to send out workers" (2), and then, "Go!" (3)
As we pray about the harvest, God begins to work within us, showing us people and networks that are ready to be receptive to the gospel. And then we go. But notice that we don't go alone--Jesus sent the 70 out in pairs. We enter into ministry as a team, working alongside each other, praying together about the harvest, and going as a team, trusting God (4). As we go, we represent Jesus and we have all authority to go and do the mission he is sending us on (16, 19).
Therefore, let us pray about the harvest and resolve to go. A useful tool for this is Life Transformation Groups (LTG). I've discussed Life Transformation Groups before. In a LTG you gather with another believer (i.e., a ministry team) and read scripture, confess sin, and pray for people in the harvest. As these people begin to be reached, you can incorporate them into your LTG for discipleship and allow it to multiply as necessary.
Developing a network of Life Transformation Groups is one clear way we can begin to go on mission with Jesus.
Last night we attended a cookout and fireworks that was put on by some friends. We had a good time visiting, eating, and enjoying the fireworks. Fireworks are fun. They are pretty, there are lots of colors, and they are loud! They are exciting and nice to look at.
But what is left? After the fireworks go off, there is an empty shell that is now useless, ready to be discarded. Garbage. After the excitement and flash, there is emptiness. It is burned up.
Is your life like this? Is there a lack of substance beneath the flash of your life? Are you more about the experience, the flash, the "bang," only to have nothing left after that flash has been extinguished? Do you burn out just like fireworks do?
Or do you draw from a deeper source? Do you spend time with God, reflecting on him, drawing strength from him to go out and serve? Many Christians, ministers even, who burn out do so because they have not abided long enough with God.
I'm part of a group, a huddle, where we are learning about discipleship. One of the key things we're learning about is that we must rest in God, and that we work out of that rest. We do not rest from our work.
Psalm 36:5-9 says:
"Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep...
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house...
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light."
We know God's abundance, righteous, faithfulness and love when we rest in him. As we draw from him daily, we find strength to serve so that we do not burn out.
Do you rest in God each day? What can you do today to begin drawing strength from God?
Psalm 34 is another wisdom psalm. If we heed the instruction, we will find prosperity in the Lord.
The writer calls the hearers to join him in glorifying the Lord, in extolling his name, and praising him. The reason for the psalmist's joy is simple: he sought the Lord, and the Lord answered him! He was delivered from his fears and saved from his troubles. (1-7)
On the basis of his experience of deliverance, he is able to call others to follow him in growing in relationship with God. His instruction is the voice that hearers must listen to, but his teaching is authentic and emerges out of the fear of the Lord. The path is simple: If you love life and desire to see many good days, love God and love others. (8-14)
We want to see many good days. We want to be able to claim, honestly, that we love life. But for many of us, we struggle with this. We have anxiety in our lives, fears, things that slow us down and distract our focus away from God. How do we maintain our love for God and our love for others with these other things pulling at us?
The psalmist has already provided the answer! Let us seek the Lord! It is the Lord, and only the Lord, who is able to--and will--deliver us from our fears and save us from our troubles (4, 6). And when we are freed from these things, we are left open to love.
Seek the Lord in the morning. Seek him throughout the day. Seek him before you go to bed at night. Pray simple prayers that keep you connected to him. Meditate on a key verse from the Bible. Keep him in your mind before you.
What troubles and fears do you need to be set free from? How will you begin to seek the Lord on a regular basis?
If you want to find wisdom in the Bible, you will often flip to Proverbs or maybe to James. But Psalms contains several psalms that are classified as "wisdom psalms." Psalm 24 is one such psalm. A wisdom psalm teaches about life. Unlike other types of psalms, it does not really focus on the emotions or spiritual ups-and-downs of the composer. Wisdom psalms draw out an implication from life made from observation. This implication is grounded in the reality of God, and a lesson about faith or trust is extrapolated out from observing that reality.
In Psalm 24, the writer spend some time observing creation, which led to a statement of trust and confidence in God: "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it" (1). The one who created such majesty is obviously king over these things. The rest of this psalm is a meditation on the glory of that king.
So, the psalmist asks, "Who may ascend to his throne?" (3) It is the one who is pure, who knows God, and who has left a life of idolatry behind (4). This person will receive blessings and vindication from God (5).
The psalm ends with a reflection on the Lord, who is the King of glory.
How may we live into such a psalm? As we observe the events of our lives, and think about ourselves within God's story of creation and redemption, we pause to think about what God's creative redemption calls us to--the same purity and trust that the psalmist saw.
Do you stop to ponder creation? Do you find the basis for a pure life in the gift of God?
Happy Independence Day! On July 4th, the United States recognizes and celebrates its independence. Many people gather with friends and families for a cookout and fireworks as they think about the freedom they have and share.
While Americans have freedom in a political sense, Christians experience freedom in a spiritual sense. We worship and give our loyalty to a King, Jesus, who is the Lord's anointed. "The LORD gives victory to his anointed." Through this King, we experience the defeat and end of all our enemies.
In Psalm 20, the psalmist composes a song about the king. He calls on God to give victory to the king over his enemies and to also continue giving victory to his king. For these reasons, the psalmist begins his psalm with several petitions made to God on behalf of the king. Note that these petitions are not for the psalmist or for the people; they are for the king. If the king does well, so do the people.
How do the people experience this? By developing a deeper sense of trust in the LORD as he answers the petitions, strengthens the king and brings victory over enemies. In seeing these answers to prayer in the life of the king, trust in the Lord is developed and trust in other things is minimized.
"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, / but we trust in the name of the LORD our God" (7).
This begs the questions for us: What do we trust in? For many, we claim to trust the Lord but our trust is really in other things: our retirement plans, our homes, our family's image, and especially in the political structure of the USA, as seen in the military.
On Independence Day, let us be thankful for freedom and independence, but let those of us who call upon the Lord recognize that call as a way of moving into deeper trust. Let us keep calling upon the name of the Lord as we follow him more closely.
Who or what do you trust? What decisions do you need to make to trust the Lord more?
Many people want to know the way to God. The way is clear. The difficulty is in doing what is required.
God wants to transform our lives. The transformed life has obvious marks about it. Psalm 15 spells these out:
"Whoever does these things will never be shaken" (6).
I could go on at length about these things, writing an entire blog or sermon series. But at some point we need to wrestle with the idea that following God, and being drawn closer to him, is within our grasp. It is a matter of setting our minds to follow him.
He has given us clear ideas of what to do. Let us line up the direction of our lives to be those who "dwell in [his] sacred tent" (1).
Which of these areas will you begin to work in and on? What will your plan to be to draw closer to God?
This blog is for articles and book reviews. I post my sermons at my Sermons page, where you can listen to sermons online or download them in MP3 format.
Although I work for the Otisville Church of Christ in Otisville, Michigan, this blog represents my own thoughts and does not necessarily correspond to the views and workings of the Otisville Church of Christ.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.