Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Mountain Climbing with Jesus

Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them...
Mark 9:2

Have you ever climbed a mountain? I've been blessed to climb quite a few and I can say three things with certainty about mountain climbing. (And these are just as true for the small tourist attraction mountains with gift shops as they are for the big mountains out in the backcountry that you have to hike miles to get to.) 
  1. Mountain climbing is hard. It necessarily involves walking uphill. Whether it's a paved path with steps or a winding trail with cutbacks, my quads burn.
  2. There will always be more people at the bottom than at the top. Some will choose to stay down in the gift shop. Others will start the climb and have to quit halfway up. Inevitably, there will be fewer people on the peak than there are at the base.
  3. The view from the top is always worth the work. I've never climbed a mountain and been underwhelmed. You are always glad you did it. 

And I believe these three truths give us some insight into the story of the transfiguration. Jesus chose a mountain because mountain climbing is hard. There is a fellowship to be had in the hours it takes to climb a truly high mountain. It gives plenty of time to talk. And it breeds a certain type of camaraderie to suffer together. (Philippians 3:10-11) These men were Jesus' inner ring of disciples and He chose a perfect activity to get alone with them. 

Jesus likely chose a high mountain because He wanted to get alone with these three. This particular mountain was high enough to ensure that the crowds wouldn't dare follow. Jesus made sure they would be alone because He wanted to reveal something special to them. 

And you better believe that the special view they received into Jesus' true nature was well worth the effort. What they saw on that mountain was a revelation that they would talk about for years to come!

So remember this the next time God leads you up a hard path in life. The harder the path, the closer the fellowship you build with Him. The more difficult the route, the less people will follow you. Which means the glimpse you receive of God's goodness will be all the more rare and unique a gift. So when God leads you up a steep path and you're not sure the pain is worth it, think ahead to the view that you'll enjoy at the end of the journey and choose to enjoy the fellowship along the way. And press on!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A man named Fool

One of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, saying, “Behold, David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master, and he scorned them... Now therefore…consider what you should do, for evil is plotted against our master and against all his household; and he is such a worthless man that no one can speak to him.”
Excerpts from I Samuel 25:14-17 

Have you ever known someone who was their own worst enemy? They seem to go from one crisis to the next and are completely unaware that much of it is due to their own poor decisions. Maybe you tried to tell them this, but you learned your lesson. No one can tell them anything. They're convinced that everything is someone else's fault. Even when they do take responsibility for something they are careful to point out that they weren't as wrong as everyone else thinks they were.

Nabal was kind of like that. He was a rich man, but his name means fool and his loved ones describe him in the most unflattering of terms. One of his employees said he was harsh, evil in his dealings, and completely unwilling to receive correction. You see David sent men to Nabal asking him for food as repayment for David's army protecting his flocks. This was in keeping with the custom of the day, and David's men were very respectful. But Nabal dealt harshly with them, insulted David and his family, and sent them away empty-handed. In a fit of rage, David and his men strap on their swords and ride out exact revenge. But Nabal's household intervenes. 

One of his young men runs to tell Nabal's wife, Abigail. Abigail knows that Nabal is a "worthless fool" who will never listen so she is forced to go behind his back and clean up his mess. She gathers food and rides out to meet David with an apology. David relents, Abigail is praised, and Nabal is struck dead by the Lord ten days later.

One of the things we can't help but notice in this passage is how much better off Nabal would have been had he been willing to receive correction from those who loved him. Those around him knew his flaws better than he did. Don't think for a second that your co-workers, spouse, and friends don't know yours. Believe me, they do. They know them all too well, even the ones you're blind to. You see just like Nabal we are often blind or overly dismissive of our faults. That's why we all need people we can trust to lovingly confront us when we are headed for disaster. 

Do you listen to those around you? Do you intentionally give the people you trust permission to draw your attention to your struggles and failings? Is anyone holding you accountable? If not, then I would challenge you to choose someone you love and trust and ask them these questions:
  • What sin do you see in my life?
  • Do you think I am harsh or that I mistreat people in any way?
  • What faults or poor choices do you see in my life that you think maybe I am blind to or overly dismissive of?

Go ahead, ask someone. I dare you!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Unrelenting Paul

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith...When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Acts 14:19-23

At Pisidian Antioch the Jews drove Paul out of town. At Iconium they plotted to stone him, and they followed him all the way to Lystra to do it. This is how much they truly hated the Apostle Paul and his gospel. They left their families, their businesses, and their homes and traveled for days and possibly weeks just for the chance to end the life of this religious rabble rouser. For those from Pisidian Antioch this meant travelling 100 miles! That's how much they hated Paul.

When they got to Lystra this bloodthirsty mob convinced a crowd of locals to help them stone him. They picked up stones and hurled them at Paul has hard as they could until they thought he was dead. They drug Paul's lifeless body out of the city and left him for the scavenging birds and dogs to eat. But God had other plans. As the few converts who had believed Paul's message gathered around his lifeless body, Paul got up! He wasn't dead after all! In fact, he walked right back into the city.

The next day Paul began a 60 mile trek to Derbe. After making many disciples there, Paul does something very surprising. He turns around and goes right back to every town that had opposed and tried to kill him. Why? 

Paul was concerned for the believers he had left behind in those towns. Paul had been forced to leave these towns before the churches were strong enough to make it on their own. He hadn't been able to finish his teaching or appoint pastors for them. How could the faith of these new believers survive the opposition they were bound to face? It couldn't. So Paul went back to each church to strengthen and encourage them and to appoint pastors for them. He went back to Lystra. He went back to Iconium. And he went back to Antioch.

We learn something about Paul's grit in the details of this first missionary journey. Paul was willing to give up everything for the sake of the gospel. What are you willing to give up to share the gospel? What are you willing to risk to talk to somebody about Jesus? Don't let anything keep you from it! Commit with me to take a risk and find an opportunity to talk to somebody about Jesus this week. 

For further reading...

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Water from the Temple

I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple...The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar...He said to me, “This water flows toward the...Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. 
Ezekiel 47:1, 8-9

Did you know that the Dead Sea is nearly ten times saltier than the ocean? It's so salty that only microscopic bacteria and microbial fungi can live in it. No fish or aquatic plants live in the Dead Sea at all. This, of course, is how it got its name. It is a dead sea, a harsh environment in which nothing can live.

I don't know about you but there were times in my life when my soul felt just this dead and inhospitable. Scripture assures us that this is true of all who are apart from Christ. Until Christ enters our lives we are completely and utterly dead in our trespasses and sins. But just like the Dead Sea, we are not beyond God's reviving touch.

In Ezekiel 47 we read in the prophet's vision that one day a river will flow from God's temple into the old Dead Sea and bring a revival of new life! This sea that is so famously inhospitable to life will one day teem with fish. The shores will bustle with activity as fisherman stand along the shores. And fruit trees will grow there on its shores year round without fail (v. 9-12). What a beautiful image of God's ability to breathe fresh life into dead people and things!

Whether this passage is metaphorical or whether we should look for a literal fulfillment in the future, I don't know. Either way the prophet's point has been made. We serve a God who can breathe new life and spiritual vitality into the most dead of places and human hearts. 

But how can we gain access to this living water? Only through Jesus! Notice that this river originates from the temple. This temple was where heaven and earth overlapped. It was where God dwelt on earth. But when Jesus took on flesh that changed. Now it's in Jesus that we find heaven and earth intersecting, and it is only through His atoning blood that we access this reviving, living water. Consider Jesus' words in John 7:37-38: "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them."

No matter how dead, parched, or soul-thirsty you may feel today, God can revive you. Look to Jesus! Even believers can begin to feel a bit thirsty for God, especially during periods in which we are neglecting our relationship with the Savior. Jesus is the spiritual rejuvenation you need! So spend time with Him today. Read His Word, pray to Him. Seek hard after Him and be revived!