living a life of ups and downs

1

Category : Jesus, Mark, bible, living a life of faith

Peter (one of Jesus’ closest friends) often seems like two different people.  In one moment he’s lopping off an ear.  In the next he’s running away.  At one instance he’s walking on water.  In another he’s terrified of drowning.

It seems as if Peter just isn’t very consistent.

Which means he’s just like you and me.

All of this comes into play just before Jesus is arrested.  Jesus and a few disciples head out to pray.  Jesus knows what’s about to happen.  He knows he’s going to die in a way very few of us can imagine.  All he wants to do is pray, and have his friends stay with him.  But despite Peter’s best efforts, Peter keeps falling asleep.

Jesus is understandably upset with Peter, and says something profound: “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  That line sums up our existence pretty nicely.  We have all experienced moments where we want to do the right thing.  But when that moment comes, something happens.  We end up not following through.  We become afraid.  Pride takes over.  Greed overwhelms us.  Whatever it is, we end up caving.

Peter, despite his best intent, ended up running away.

But as I said, you and I aren’t that different from Peter.  What sets Peter apart is the fact Peter said the things you and I think.  If Jesus told us, “you will deny me.”  We might think “yeah right!  No way Jesus!”  But Peter didn’t seem to have much of a filter between thought and talking – so he actually said it.

It’s a shame that Peter is sometimes portrayed as a coward.  In many ways he never stood a chance.  He always wanted to do the right thing, but his flesh was weak.

I don’t know what the takeaway from this is, other than maybe we need to give ourselves some more slack when we screw up.  And I think be a little more like Peter.  Because no matter how publicly he messed up, he always came back to give it another try.

photo provided by flickr user pittsinger

the most shocking thing in the bible

Category : God, Mark, bible, different, miracles

The Bible says many shocking things.  Some of it is so shocking that people say it must be made up (i.e., Moses parting the sea.)   Others are so shocking because they go against how we see the world (Jesus didn’t really mean that we should love our enemies, right?)

But I have a different view.

I think the most shocking thing in the Bible is a story about Jesus returning to his hometown.  This is where Jesus grew up.  Yet people didn’t recognize him.  Jesus’ response was simple, yet profound: “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”

Jesus is saying that it’s only around those that know us the best, are we least recognized.  The Bible then goes on to say, “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.” (Mark 6: 4-6)

Read that last sentence again.  “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d consider healing sick people pretty much a miracle!  Imagine going into a doctors’ office after a horrible car accident.  You found yourself suddenly paralyzed and your entire life was about to change.  Then the doctor walks in, looks at you, touches your leg and suddenly you can walk again.

When the media shows up to talk about how he made you walk, the doctor simply shrugs and says, “Well I didn’t do anything really.  At least nothing important.”

What?!  Are you kidding me?!

But that’s what Jesus just said.  He couldn’t do any miracles, except miraculously healing people!

We have such a world-bound, outcome-based view of things that this sentence is difficult to understand.  It’s shocking.  It rocks our world.

God is more concerned about changing people’s hearts than doing something that defies explanation.  He defines miracles not by amazing feats, but by the simple change in our hearts.

If you ask me, that’s pretty shocking.

would you recognize Jesus if you grew up with him?

Category : Jesus, Mark, bible, different

I don’t get home very often these days.  When I was in college and graduate school I would go home for the holidays, but thanks to something called “work” I just don’t have that luxury anymore.  Now I grew up in a small town.  (It was a great place to grow up, despite having to walk uphill both ways in the snow to school.  But that’s another story.)  Even as a kid I always knew I’d be leaving.  There weren’t many jobs for an aspiring psychologist.  There still aren’t.  Such is the life of a small town.

Each time I went back home, I couldn’t help but notice something: the more I change, the less my home town recognizes it.  When I walk into my old church, or run into my old friends, they see me as the person I was.

I have changed in countless ways since I lived in that small town.  Yet when I go back, I am viewed as that shy, awkward teenager that left.  For them it’s hard to see what I’ve done with my life.

My guess is you have a similar story.  The people you grew up with see you as someone you really aren’t.  You might see this play out in your high school or college reunions.  You might even see this with your family.  They want to see you as someone different, but they just can’t quite wrap their mind around the fact that you are no longer “little Sally.”  (Especially since your name isn’t Sally.)

Jesus faced something similar.  When he went back to the small town he grew up in, people couldn’t quite get their minds around who he was.

“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?”  (Mark 6: 2-3)

They saw him as the carpenter’s kid.  Not as God.  “And they took offense at him.”

Here the people who should have known Jesus the best, were the ones who ended up knowing him the least.  They were upset that Jesus was claiming to be God.  (A natural reaction by Jews who believed in only one God – going around claiming you were God was a crime in that culture).  But instead of taking time to re-evaluate their opinions, they just went with their old assumptions.  And they missed out on seeing the change.

The same will be true for you.  As you move closer to Jesus, your life will transform.  But people you don’t talk to regularly will miss that change.  They will want to see you as they’ve always seen you.  That represents a challenge for us.  For one it makes it easier for us to fall into our old habits.  But it also means people aren’t getting to see the best testimony to God’s existence – the changes in your life.

Sadly, it’s often easier to ignore change if it means you need to reevaluate your views.

misquoted bible verses

Category : Mark, humor

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From the always funny ReverendFun.com.

i’m a loser

Category : Jesus, Mark, choice, failure, faith, taking action

 

Success.  Failure.  We all experience these things.  Even if you’re Bill Gates or Tom Brady you will have both highs and lows in your life.  That’s just the way it is.  In fact, we’re all losers – we all have more failures than successes. 

In the AFC championship game a Steelers rookie dropped a pass that was a guaranteed touchdown.  He was so wide open it was embarrassing.  And yet at the moment that would have crowned his rookie year, he blew it.  A moment that would have sealed him in Steelers history, he choked and took his eyes off the ball.

We’ve all been there.  Well, ok, maybe we haven’t screwed up before a live TV audience.  But we’ve all screwed up in public ways.  And we have all wanted to lie on the ground and pretend we’re injured, just like Sweed did.  We think, “well if we’re injured, at least we have an excuse.”  Which feels so much better than admitting you’re a loser.

We live in a world that pretends you can be successful 100% of the time.  We’re told that life can be easy.  That it can be safe.  That the worst thing that can happen to us is to be placed in danger.  But the truth is, that’s a lie. 

The world is filled with failure.  And we are all losers. 

The question isn’t, “will I fail?”  The questions is, “will I get back up again?”  Limas Sweed almost didn’t get back up.  He almost stayed on the ground.  But something changed his mind.  Something made him get back up.  And you know what?  He became a winner.  He had two key plays that changed the course of the game.  He unleashed a devastating block and had a key catch.

In one game Sweed was both a loser and a winner.  That sounds a lot like our lives, doesn’t it?   

Peter had days like that too.  On the day Jesus was arrested, Peter put his best foot forward and declared,  ”even if all fall away, I will not!“  I think most of us would be thrilled to make such a bold statement.  We’d love to take a stand for Jesus that many people refused to do.  Yet, within a few hours Peter was hiding in fear, denying his relationship to Jesus. 

Peter was a loser.

But that’s not where his story ends.  And it doesn’t have to be where our story ends.  Peter went on to change the world with his life.  He got back up.  And because of that was able to do something amazing. 

That’s what God wants for all of us: to get back up.  We may be laying on the ground, just like Peter, but we don’t have to stay there.  We can get up and keep moving forward.  That’s the whole point of grace. 

There may be no better definition of faith then getting up one more time – especially when we don’t feel like it.  That’s what it means to live out a life of faith. 

Peter’s redemption

Category : God, Mark, faith, hope

 

Peter’s world had just come crashing down around him.  The man he thought was God had just been arrested.  The man he thought was going to free Israel from the oppressive Roman rule had given up without a fight.  Now this same man was being beaten and disgraced.  And because things weren’t bad enough, Peter had just denied even knowing him.

All of this came only hours after swearing that he would be willing to die for Jesus.  Now Peter had to confront the fact that he had failed.  Spectacularly.  The thing is, Jesus had even told Peter all of this would happen.  But Peter was too proud to listen.  He was too sure of himself.

Up to this point Peter had a history of acting boldly.  Perhaps even impulsively.  He had never run away from God before.  So this was new territory. 

It must have been lonely.

I don’t think it’s a surprise that after all this Peter “broke down and wept.” (Mark 14:72)

If this is where the story ended it would be pretty depressing.  But fortunately this is just the beginning.

All too often we live with the belief that if we fail, even a little bit, God will become angry with us.  That somehow making a mistake is the worst thing we could do.  And therefore we don’t try at all. 

But this is clearly not the case.

Peter failed spectacularly.  His mistake is recorded in the Bible, which means people will read about it for thousands of years.  Talk about embarrassing!  And yet God used him to do amazing things. 

That’s one of the most remarkable things about God – no matter what we’ve done, he gives us another chance.  He says, “don’t worry about the mistakes in the past, trust in the promises I make for your future.  And act on them now.”

I guess that really takes all of my excuses away for not acting.  If God can use Peter after denying God, then I think he can use me too.

i don’t need to listen to God

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Category : God, Jesus, Mark, bible, shame

  

“Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’” (Mark 14: 29)

That’s a bold statement.  You’d have to be pretty confident in yourself to say that no matter what happened, the only person to stay faithful is you. 

Peter was determined though. 

When Jesus responded saying that all of the disciples, including Peter, would turn away from him, Peter reaffirms his statement.  Telling Jesus emphatically “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Mark 14: 31)

Cue ominous music.

We all know what happened: Jesus was right and Peter denied him.  But I have to wonder – what would have happened if Peter had listened to Jesus?  If Peter had been more interested in listening to what Jesus was saying than proving his loyalty, would Peter have remained loyal?  Would being aware of his weakness allow him to overcome it? 

There’s no way to know, obviously.  But reading about this incident forces me think about the role pride plays in my own life.  When I feel pride I don’t want to admit I’m wrong.  I become invested in protecting my definition of reality.  And often that means I’m not prepared to handle dramatic change. 

I bet Peter wasn’t much different. 

And lets face it, Jesus’ arrest was something Peter didn’t expect.  He never dreamed that Jesus would be lead away without a fight.  He never dreamed Jesus wouldn’t use his powers to protect himself.  It must have been crushing to Peter to see Jesus give up “so easily.”

If he was filled with pride before, his emotions must have been raging.  He must have felt the fear that comes when we believe our world is being destroyed.  But more than that, he must have felt shame.  Shame at believing in someone who wouldn’t (or perhaps it crossed his mind – couldn’t – save himself.) 

It’s no wonder Peter denied Jesus.

Peter was so intent on following his pride that he couldn’t hear Jesus’ warning.  Even though Jesus told all the disciples that he was about to die for them, they simply refused to believe it.  Their pride kept them from the truth.   

Sometimes we think God takes pleasure in hiding the truth from us.  But I have to wonder, how often does he tell us what’s going to happen, and we respond saying, “that’s nice God, but let me tell you what’s really going on.”

How many things would be different in my life if I simply listened when God spoke, instead of trying to explain to God why he was wrong?